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To this person
The name of Hughes was formerly written Hews. Mr. Malone says that it is probable the first 126 sonnets are addressed, and the remaining 28 to a lady. The play upon the author's own Christian name in the 135th and 143rd sonnets seems in accordance with this notion
“ Let no unkind, no fair beseeches kill ;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will."
“ So will I pray that thou may'st have thy Will.”
It may be observed, by the way, that these truly contemptible puns and equivoques in a species of composition that was not addressed to a mixed circle like the author's dramas, of which the occasional bad taste has hitherto been thought an unwilling sacrifice to the “groundlings,” seem to prove an early and innate propensity to sins of this description. But no poet is perfect. The 20th sonnet, in which the word Hews occurs, is the most puzzling and inexplicable of the whole series. I would extract it entire, if it did not appear objectionable on the score of decency. If I understand it rightly, of which I am very far from being certain, it is in every respect a disgrace to the name of Shakespeare. (And yet how can we know that it is really his ?) The reverend Mr. Dyce, the editor of a new edition of these poems, praises Mr. Tyrwhitt's “ ingenuity” in the conjectures concerning Mr. Hughes, but without much cause. It is not certain that Shakespeare in this case intends to commit a pun on a name, because the word hew in Shakespeare's time, as Dr. Drake observes, meant mien and appearance, as well as tint, and it is possible that the poet is playing on the different meanings. Who is W. Hughes ? " A Mr. Hughes,”
“ A Mr. Hughes," as Mr. Dyce calls him ;-he seems created for the occasion. He is a name and nothing else. Is it likely that such a person, of whom no one has heard, was the great patrician patron of our immortal bard? and is it possi
ble that he should have been addressed by Shakespeare in such lines as the following ?
The following passages evidently allude to one who was the observed of all observers, the object of more than one complimentary Muse, and the patron of the learned.
“ So oft have I invoked thee for my muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse,
hath got my use,
* And having thee, of all men's pride I boast.”
It is, I think, pretty clear, that “ A Mr. Hughes" is not the person who was
"all men's pride,” and who gave “grace a double majesty." But if Tyrwhitt and Malone fell into the error of giving Shakespeare a patron and a subject somewhat too humble and obscure, Mr. George Chalmers has made a very opposite mistake, and in his anxiety to find a sufficiently dignified object for the poet's praise and gratitude has fixed upon royalty itself. He insists upon it that the whole series of sonnets (154) is addressed to Queen Elizabeth! To those who are familiar with the sonnets, and the palpable indications of many of them being addressed to a male object, this opinion seems too ridiculous to be received with any other answer than a laugh. I have gone through the sonnets with great attention, to satisfy myself as to the sex of the object or objects of them, and the following are some of the many passages which I found glaringly opposed to the notion of Mr. Chalmers :
“ Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest,
Now is the time that face should form another ;
“ Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye
That thou consumest thyself in single life
“ Dear my love, you know, You had a father ; let your son say so.”
“ Now stand you on the top of happy hours ;
And many maiden garlands yet unset,
“ O carve not with thine hours my love's fair brow,
And draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
“ Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage”
“ The region cloud hath masked him from me now,
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth.”
“ Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won;
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed ;
“ Beauteous and lovely youth, When that shall fade, my verse distils your truth.”
“ His beauty shall in these black lines be seen."
“Ah ! wherefore with imperfection should he live,
And with his presence grace impiety,
“ Thus is his cheek the map of outworn day.”
Nothing, sweet boy, &c.”
“O! thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power-—". Son. 126. Queen Elizabeth must have been an old woman (about 64) when she was thus addressed by Shakespeare, according to Mr. George Chalmers, as his “sweet boy !” The W. H. of the dedication, and the perpetual allusions to a male object, are no obstacles to our critic, who does not even hesitate to unsex the Queen for the sake of his ingenious speculation. He supposes that the masculine phrases were addressed to her in her character of sovereign! Some of the sonnets that have a female object are any thing but complimentary; and if they were really addressed to Elizabeth, either prove her majesty to have been a base and licentious woman, or William Shakespeare to have been guilty of a gross and malicious libel on a Virgin Queen.”
“In nothing art thou black, save in thy deeds."
“ For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.”
« Oh ! how I love what others do abhor.”'
He calls her also in different sonnets, “ his false plague,” his “ female evil,” his colored ill,” and accuses her of “seducing his friend.”
Absurd as is the conjecture of Mr. George Chalmers, there has been no want of mad or careless critics to keep him in coun
tenance. The early editors, Gildon and Sewell, both maintained that the whole collection is addressed to a female !
Some of the commentators have been puzzled by the amatory character of the expressions unequivocally applied in many instances to a male object. But it should be remembered, that in the age of Shakespeare there was very little distinction between the ordinary expressions of love and friendship. The latter frequently bordered on the strongest language of the former. Warton observes, that in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, there were published entire sets of sonnets devoted to the record of a species of tender attachment beween male friends, which, though wholly free from any direct impurity of expression or open immodesty of sentiment, would not be tolerated in these days. He alludes, as an instance, to the “ Affectionate Shepherde” of Richard Barnfielde, printed in 1595, in a series of twenty “ not inelegant sonnets,” which were exceedingly popular. The poet bewails his unsuccessful love for a beautiful youth, in “ a strain of the most tender passion, yet with professions of the chastest affection.” The meaning attached to the ardent phrases that are now confined to the intercourse of sexual passion, is not to be given by the modern reader to the same expressions in some of our elder writers. It will be generally admitted, however, that the revolution in our language in this respect is a very pleasant and proper one; and it cannot be denied that in too much of the poetry of the 15th and 16th centuries the effect of great originality, force, and beauty of imagery and thought, is often injured by the disagreeable feeling, bordering on disgust, with which we encounter expressions, that however customary and decorous in the olden time, have acquired an air of indelicacy in consequence of the great change that has since occurred in their meaning and their mode of application.
Dr. Drake has entered into a very elaborate, and certainly a very ingenious and plausible disquisition, to prove that the first