No. 2051, FEB.
Palais de l'lnstitut, Paris, Feb. 9, 1867.
BEFORE I intrude upon your pages and beg a short
hearing for the result of my protracted researches concerning the old
riddle of the Shakspearian Sonnets, allow me to address a few remarks to
Mr. Gerald Massey, the clever author of the last elucidation of the same
enigma. I come fresh from the perusal of his eloquent and erudite
pages, and begin by admitting that I have found them full of useful
information, good hints, bright thoughts and pleasant flowers of rhetoric.
They also contain some very hard words against the small fry of sceptical
critics who fail to chime in with the author's settled opinions. Although
a I cannot always agree with him, I admire Mr. Massey's talent; and to Him
I intend to dedicate my humbler volume on Shakspeare's Sonnets.
As the form of my dedication explains my reading of a puzzle
which remains unsolved, you will perhaps allow me to quote it here:—
TO . THE . SUBTLE . EXPOUNDER . OF .
THE . SHAKSPEARIAN . SONNETS .
MR. P. C. ALL . HONOURS .
AND . THAT . REWARD .
HIS . MOST-ERUDITE . SAGACITY .
THE . WELL-WISHING .
ADVENTURER . IN .
* Henry Plon, the Parisian Editor and Printer.
To . The . Onlie . Begetter . Of .
These . Isuing . Sonnets .
Mr. W. H. All . Happinesse .
And . That . Eternitie .
Our. Ever-Living . Poet.
The . Well-Wishing .
Adventurer. In .
The above is an exact copy of the famous dedication of Thomas
Thorpe. Why Mr. Massey wastes any doubts on the very evident sense
of the words which I reproduce is more than I can understand. Most
dedications of the Elizabethan period are written in the same form, the
name of the dedicator following closely that of the dedicatee, and the
verb being left at the end of the sentence.
But, says Mr. Gerald Massey, why divide a single sentence
into two parts? I answer, that Thomas Thorpe's addition is a mere
signature, a flourish, a postscriptum. I answer, that the great man of the
batch is the one first mentioned, the begetter, the only true creator,
the father of Shakspeare's Sonnets, Southampton. He
figures at the head of the inscription, crowned with immortality, while T.
T. remains humbly crouching at the base, and W. H. kneels in an obscure
Who is the begetter of Shakspeare's genius?—Lord Southampton.
Who is the timid adventurer, T. T., who fears to lose his
money and wishes well, hoping with a gentle sigh that the enterprise may
be profitable?—Thomas Thorpe (the publisher).
And, lastly, who is the still more bashful "well-wisher"?
Who is this W. H.? To unravel this mystery seems the most difficult
part of our task.
Who is this W. H., who does not even claim a whole line for
himself, and advances, hat in hand, with bended knee, requesting our great
Lord to excuse him, asking pardon from the begetter of the poems which he
dares to print with the help of the publisher Thomas Thorpe?
Who is W. H.?
W. H. is clearly a man of small note, a timid man; but he has
a right to dedicate the book to Lord Southampton. What kind of
right? Has he collected the scattered poems, the sibylline leaves,
which had fallen, shaken by the tempest, from the aspen-tree of passion,
love and meditation of Shakspeare's genius—to be handed from lord to lady,
from lady to lord, circulating amongst the author's private friends?
My first idea, which the Athenæum had the kindness to record (No.
1737, Jan, 25, 1862), led me to believe that W. H. was William Herbert,
Earl of Pembroke. Maturer reflection induces me to abandon that
ground. A man of the world, a knight of the Garter, a
Court-favourite, could scarcely submit, especially in the proud days of
Elizabeth's reign, to such a forgetfulness of his rank and titles.
After due consideration, and some obstinate peering into old
books, I remain convinced that Lord Pembroke and W. H. are not the same
person. But who was he? I wandered through the Hughes', Hewes',
Harpmans, Hartmans, Heywoods, Hallaways, Holloways, Heartseasee, Hickmans,
Horners, Hornbys, Hutchinsons, and others who happened to have a W. for
their baptismal initial. The man can have been but a Mister,
or even a Master; still, he must have been rather intimate, or at
least familiarly acquainted, with the poet, whom he salutes in the most
I see but one person in whom the two requisite conditions
could be fulfilled. He must, about the time of the publication of
the Sonnets, not only have been an inhabitant of London, but often and
necessarily with Shakspeare. The great thinker, after many years of
hard labour as actor, author and manager, probably tired of the turmoil of
the metropolis, had then made up his mind, counted his savings, built his
future abode, settled his accounts with his partners, and was ready to
retire to New Place, in order to enjoy a dignified rural repose. He
was loved and courted by the whole community of Stratfordians; some would
wish to make an inroad on his purse; others sought his patronage. We
know of no quarrel between him, his cousins, half-brothers, or nephews.
That the brother of his wife Ann Hathaway (whom he married when he was
still in his teens—a right strong woman, who survived him for six
years),—that William Hathaway (W. H.) should have visited his relative,
William Shakspeare, cannot be a matter of doubt. That those visits
may have become more frequent and protracted at the time of Shakspeare's
projected withdrawal from London, when he had to draw up his inventories
and arrange his papers, does not seem an idle surmise. I use the
word surmise purposely. All Shakspearian facts, if we except
some dates, are but conjectures. Let us accept the most likely.
What ever may be the shrewdness, the sagacity, the divining art of the
guesser, we must rest satisfied with a mere calculation of probabilities,
partaking more or less of mathematical exactness.
Without rashly venturing to affirm,—and putting forward some
conjectures (which in such a matter have a right to claim a hearing, but
nothing more), I say that W. H. and William Hathaway may be identical;
that Shakspeare, whose youthful verses made much noise, had probably kept
rough draughts, copies and duplicates of his fugitive pieces, seems also
very probable. He thought little about glory, publicity and literary
rewards; this is most unquestionably proved by the incorrect state in
which he left his dramas, and by the testimony of his colleagues, who
became his publishers after his death. His carelessness in this
respect is one of the most curious anomalies recorded in the history of
Well, he cared little about his Poems, either amatory or
dramatic. He had made his fortune, and was tired with the battle of
life, so valiantly waged by him during twenty long years. This being
the case, if the brother of his wife, then a young man, begged from his
generosity the gift of those scattered, loose, unarranged poems, of those
studies, imitations from the Italian, juvenile essays, passionate
utterings, sentimental effusions, left all topsy-turvy, dateless,
nameless, probably written on separate sheets (for what man of letters is
not aware of the chaotic state in which such old papers are generally
left?),—if W. H., or William Hathaway, who perhaps was no stranger to the
money-griping propensities of the family, requested from his illustrious
relative to give him (W. H.) the right of publishing the
never-imprinted Sonnets,—how could Shakspeare refuse to comply?
It was a very good bargain for Shakspeare himself. The Sonnets were
really Lord Southampton's property,—that noble and impassioned gentleman
of the Sydney school being the godfather, the truest begetter (Be
and Ge, the Teutonic roots indicating acquisition and creation),—Southampton,
I repeat, being the real Minerva, the Begetter and fecundating power of
Shakspeare's Muse. The Sonnets belonged (Be-Longed) to him; for they
were made after his fashion, in the mood of Surrey's, Spenser's and
In 1606 and 1609 Southampton was following his stormy and
sturdy career, travelling by land and sea, fighting through clouds and
smoke. Was it not a sort of breach of friendship to print; to render
public, the Sonnets which, though addressed by Shakspeare to several
persons, and alluding to many people and to many events, had been inspired
by Southampton alone?
Following the thread of our very simple and likely
imaginings, we may fancy that William Hathaway was made aware of that
difficulty by the poet whose tact never deserted him through the whole
course of his life, and who, though attached to Essex, to James, to
Southampton, was clever enough to avoid being embroiled in their dangerous
plots, but remained true to friendship, and invincibly devoted to
A manuscript requires a publisher; the Sonnets wanted one.
Here steps forward the famous Thorpe. He was, as appears from the
little we know of his life, a rather odd man; literary, priggish,
sententious, and a lover of erudite riddles. Mr. Gerald Massey, in
his useful work, produces specimens of the Holophernes-Malvolio style of
that conceited publisher. If William Hathaway, having in his
possession the disorderly matter of the never-before-imprinted (and
never-to-be-understood) Sonnets, chanced to meet Thorpe, and asked him to
print them, no doubt the bookseller consented, but with a reserve.
He stood, of course, in awe of Southampton, and concocted for Hathaway the
enigmatical dedication upon which so many pates and poetical
annotators have floundered and been wrecked.
"Pray, my Lord, (so says the good rustic to Southampton)
excuse the liberty we take, Mr. Editor and I, in printing the poems of my
brother-in-law, William Shakspeare. I am aware they are yours,
though Shakspeare wrote them. Shakspeare is our poet, you know.
He is England's poet. I am his by my sister's marriage, as he
is yours by friendship and literary relationship. You may
forgive our breach of trust, since, in these very Sonnets, your name is
gloriously emblazoned, crowned with immortality. As I have no
authority from you, my Lord, I dare not mention your name in full, and
hope you will remain satisfied with my modest homage."
Assuredly I am far from swearing to the absolute truth of
these possibilities, the links of which agree, but which cannot bear the
test of a judicial inquiry. I aver only, and maintain
(to use the energetic language of Mr. Massey) that my explanation is
simple, probable, without a flaw; that it has in its favour the date of
the publication, and the character of the persons concerned. It
harmonizes with Southampton's fiery pride, with William Hathaway's humble
position, with Shakspeare's established reputation and literary habits,
and, last of all, with Thorpe's eccentric personality, which appears in
strong light at the end of the dedication, and shows itself in the
flourish of his signature.
"Well," says the Malvolio bookseller, "must I, the
capitalist, the man who ventures his money and his credit, must I, T. T.,
be debarred from the benefit of publicity? No! I will have
room, and be permitted to show my honourable face. You, my Lord, are
the begetter, and Mr. William Hathaway is the go-between;
but I, Thomas Thorpe, the money'd man, am the adventurer, and say
so. May I not lose my money!"
Such is my view of that business; and, if my scruples have
delayed the publication of a work on which I have spent with love nearly
ten years of study, I hope to be able to redeem my pledge by soon
publishing the modest, but complete, mature, and definitive result of my
long researches on the subject. As to the bold and apocalyptic
interpretation of Mr. Gerald Massey, though dressed in all the
gorgeousness of modern draperies, and sustained by the most elaborate and
subtle arguments, I confess that a second and third perusal of his 500
brilliant pages has not converted me to the author's strange dream.
Herr Barnstorff had imagined that "W. H." meant William Himself.
Chambers had fancied that Queen Elizabeth "transformed" was no other than
W. H. A more recent inventor declares that a Hegelian system of
esthetics was concealed by Shakspeare under the Sonnets. Mr. Gerald
Massey ushers in the novel idea that Lady Rich's, Pembroke's, and
Elizabeth Vernon's secret amours, jealousies, constancies, inconstancies,
shifting and prismatic caprices are shadowed forth by Shakspeare, and form
the web of his verses. Not only do historical facts and dates run
counter to this theory, but it is morally untenable.
Gallantry—"that painted flame," as Dryden has it,—may use the
Sonnet, as an experienced artist executes variations on the violin;—Malherbe,
Desportes, Donne, Drayton, and perhaps Shakspeare in his lighter moods,
have done so. But can we imagine a Raleigh, a Southampton, who could
write their own verses, and the proudest of men, borrowing or purchasing
the pen of any poet to express their feelings and confess their vices?
What man who has seen something of the world, who knows the human heart,
can fancy such a poet and such a gentleman as Shakspeare trudging
at the heels of the fiery and serious Southampton, of the foppish and vain
Pembroke (himself a poet), or of Elizabeth Vernon, the true and faithful
wife of Southampton, in order to note down their faults and descant on
their failings, and, what is more, on the mysteries of their love-bowers,
their hidden tears, or gushes of illicit passion?
PHILARÈTE CHASLES, Mazarinæus.
No. 2055, MAR.
Ward's Hurst, H. Hempstead, March, 1867.
LIVING out of the world as I do, where my papers at
times reach me irregularly, I have only just seen M. Chasles' letter in
the Athenæum of Feb. 16. Allow me to thank the learned
Professor for the honour he proposes conferring on me in the dedication.
At the same time I can assure him that Englishmen will never see his
intention; they will of necessity read the inscription as a dedication
from "H. P." to "Philarète Chasles." In proof, let me point to Mr.
Neil's letter. He has totally misapprehended the drift of M. Chasles'
ingenuity. And so will others. I could not desire a more conclusive
proof of the rightness of my reading, in the matter of Thorpe's
inscription, than M. Chasles is good enough to supply in his "exact copy."
I have not a single doubt to "waste on the very evident sense of the
My argument is, that Thorpe inscribed the Sonnets to Mr. W.
H. (William Herbert) as the "only Begetter," in the sense of the only
obtainer. The word beget originally signified obtain.
I have quoted proofs from the Anglo-Saxon, from Alfred, from Chaucer, and
from Dekker; and that Thorpe inscribed the Sonnets to "Mr. W. S." in that
sense, is illustrated by all the circumstances, enforced by all the facts,
demanded by all the necessities of the case. The Sonnets tell us in
many ways that there was no "only begetter," in the creative sense; both
sexes are addressed, and the speakers include various characters. On
this point M. Chasles defeats his own argument. He says "the Sonnets
were addressed by Shakspeare to several persons''! How then
could Southampton be the "only begetter" in the creative sense?
It is not to the inspirer of Shakspeare's genius,—nothing so general as
that,—but to the "only begetter of these ensuing Sonnets, Mr. W. H.,"
which is doubly particular, that the Sonnets are inscribed.
But, after devoting years of labour to the whole subject, and, as I think,
reaching the heart of the maze, I do not care now to stand on the outside,
and argue about the inscription. No making out of the "Mr. W. H."
could be satisfactory to me which left all the rest of the difficulties in
outer darkness. M. Chasles is content to discuss the inscription on
the condition that the Sonnets themselves are "never to be understood."
I am not. My reading of the Sonnets and interpretation of the dedication
go together. They throw light on each other; and this we have a
right to demand from any grapple with the subject. Still,
there are two or three things in M. Chasles' letter I wish to reply to, if
you will give me space.
The learned Professor appears to entertain the notion that we
have a confused collection of odds and ends, written for all sorts of
purposes, and put forth as a general gathering of Shakspeare's
Sonnets. There is one fact quite fatal to this loose and drifting
view. In the 'Passionate Pilgrim' (1599) appeared some seven or
eight Sonnets, undoubtedly written by Shakspeare, and only two of these
come into print in Thorpe's book. If the book had been intended to
contain Shakspeare's Sonnets in the general sense, Thorpe would
surely have printed all he could lay hands on. This fact serves to
shut up the Sonnets most securely in the hands of "Mr. W. H.," who, being
one of those "private friends" mentioned by Meres, knew what was what, and
only included those Sonnets which had been written for the "private
friends." Through the latter Sonnets I connect "Mr. W. H."
with William Herbert. They image his spirit, as it is reflected for
us in his life and his poetry. The players tell us with what favour
and familiarity he, in company with his still more dissolute brother,
pursued our poet. My reading for the first time identifies or
localizes their meaning. And when M. Chasles urges that a man of the
world, a Knight of the Garter, a Court favourite, could scarcely submit to
such a forgetfulness of his rank and titles as is implied in his being
addressed as "Mr. W. H.," I answer, such was his share in the
transaction that he had his own, personal reasons for the concealment.
What these were I find in the latter Sonnets and in the underhand method
of publication. "Mr. W. H.," being the only obtainer of the
Sonnets, had sufficient power to be inscribed to as he thought fit!
Of course it was not the custom of the time to address an earl as "Mr.,"
but who ever thought this was a case to be settled merely by
referring to the custom of the time?
I should be glad to know what historical facts and
dates they are which, according to M. Chasles, run counter to my
theory. Certainly they are not to be found in the life of
Southampton, or the characters of Herbert and Lady Rich. There the
external evidence is entirely corroborative, so far as it goes. I
did not, however, propose to make out the mystery of the Sonnets simply by
what history has recorded. If the matter had been so publicly
explained, there would have remained nothing for me to evolve from the
Sonnets themselves! Contemporary history took but little note of
Shakspeare's whole life; none whatever of his death. But why there
should be any difficulty, for instance, in believing that Southampton may
have given his mistress some slight cause for her to become jealous of
Lady Rich, who was such a siren, I cannot conceive, when history tells us
that in the first year of King James's reign this same earl was
arrested on suspicion of intriguing with the Queen for amatory purposes!
Here is one of those tallies of character in which my interpretation of
the Sonnets abounds. If M. Chasles alludes to the fact that Lady
Rich was seventeen years older than Herbert in 1599, I reply, That is the
fact of facts in my favour, for the two versions of Sonnet 138 are both
founded on it, and the Sonnet was altered on purpose to suppress this very
prominent fact of the speaker's youth, and the lady's age, which had been
dealt with thus ironically.
In common with others of my critics, M. Chasles holds that my
view of the latter Sonnets is "morally untenable." They
refuse to believe that Shakspeare could do such a thing as write those
Sonnets for a youth like Herbert, on his passion for a woman like Lady
Rich, because in doing so he would be a panderer. I ask, What
answer is that to my theory? Would it be any worse, in a moral point
of view, than if he had written those latter Sonnets on a guilty amour of
his own, and then given away the most damning proofs of his unfaithfulness
to his wife?—especially if he had given them to the brother of that wife
whom he had so wronged—eh, M. Chasles? I do not see how
that would be "morally tenable." First, he would write
them on his own sin; secondly, he would part with them to publish that
sin; and, thirdly, to bring the matter home, he would be making the wife's
brother the medium of publicly proclaiming the husband's shame. My
critics had better keep the question of morality in the background for the
present. They cannot touch my theory on the score of Shakspeare's
character. There are the Sonnets first to be accounted for, most
of them bearing the indubitable marks of Shakspeare's own hand.
(I am satisfied for various reasons, but chiefly on the score of bad
workmanship, that Herbert wrote Nos. 96, 130, 145, 151 and 153.)
The fact of morality is bound up with the writing of them rather than with
their object. But does he pander to the passion which he has
accepted for his theme? I think not; only so far as is implied in
his acceptance of the subject. When writing, he fights all he can
against the frantic youth's infatuation. The Sonnets paint the
situations, but do not flatter the person addressed. Such language
is employed as could not have furthered the speaker's ends. Her
character is treated with the utmost levity and grossness. She is
mocked at on account of her age; she is asked to "play the mother's part";
her charms are derided; her broken marriage-vow is flung in her face; her
breath is said to "reek" from her; her breasts are likened in colour to
the dun-deer. Love is called a blind fool for casting his
spell over the lover's eyes, and making them put "fair truth upon so foul
a face," and causing him to follow her who is as "black as hell, as dark
Again, M. Chasles asks, Can we imagine that Southampton would
"borrow or purchase the pen of any poet to express," &c.? There is
no need to imagine. Shakspeare himself tells us, in his Dedication
to 'Lucrece,' that what he has written and what he has then to write
was for Southampton, who was a part in all that he had devoted to him.
He there makes a promise which never had fulfilment except in the Sonnets;
and in them it could only be fulfilled in one way. He could only
devote Sonnets to the Earl's service by writing about the Earl's
affairs. And, in perfect accordance with this declaration in
prose, the thirty-eighth Sonnet tells us that the Earl is about to furnish
his "own sweet argument" for the poet to versify, and has thus
given "invention light," i.e. he has invented a new method of
dealing with his own love affairs by suggesting the dramatic treatment.
And as M. Chasles cannot fancy that such a gentleman as
Shakspeare would be "trudging after the heels of the fiery and serious
Southampton," let me point to the fact of Shakspeare's alteration of
'Richard the Second,' with the deposition-scene newly added to suit the
plans of the Essex conspirators—at whose suggestion, I wonder, if not at
The unwillingness of critics to follow my reading of what I
call the Dramatic Sonnets, perplexes me exceedingly. Will you allow me to
quote just three of the Southampton series?—
No; Time, thou shalt not boast that I do
Thy pyramids, built up with newer might,
To me are nothing novel—nothing strange—
They are but dressings of a former sight:
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old,
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them told:
Thy Registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy Records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste!
This I do vow, and this shall ever be,
I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.
If my dear love were but the child of State,
It might for Fortune's bastard be unfathered—
As subject to Time's love, or to Time's hate;
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered:
No, it was builded far from accident!
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thrallèd Discontent,
Whereto the inviting time our Fashion calls:
It fears not Policy—that Heretic,
Which works on leases of short-numbered hours—
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers
To this I witness call the fools of Time,
Which die for goodness who have lived for crime.
Were it ought to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring?
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more by paying too much rent?
For compound sweet foregoing simple savour;
Pitiful thrivers in their gazing spent!
No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee!
Hence, thou suborn'd Informer, a true soul
When most impeach'd stands least in thy control!
These three Sonnets have never been read on any theory. No one can
make them personal to Shakspeare. But let us suppose Southampton to
be the speaker,—that he is imprisoned in the Tower, which is made up of
towers, or "pyramids," and which was then the great repository of national
"Records" and "Registers,"—that he addresses his Countess, and exults in
the fact of their marriage before this calamity came, so that if he be a
prisoner of State his love is no longer the mere "Child of State," and, as
such, subject to each whim of royal caprice or policy, that, being shut
up, his "love" cannot come within range of the "blow of thralled
Discontent," e.g., the Irish Rebellion, to suppress which the
Earl's comrades were at the very moment being summoned by Mountjoy, —that,
as witnesses, he summons the spirits of those who died on Tower Hill, to
make sport for the crowd,—that, finally, after using the reflex image of
Imprisonment, he flings his disdain at the "suborned Informer," who
was the cause of the Earl's being impeached for treason,—the very
man whom Camden alludes to, though he could not discover which of the
Essex conspirators it was. I am quite willing to stake my theory,
that the poet wrote vicariously for his friend, on those three Sonnets.
Yet, permit me to point out one more bit of evidence, as it
is not in my book. My argument is, that Sonnets 29, 30, 31 are
spoken by Southampton chiefly in memory of his father's death; and he
alludes to "Love's long-since cancelled woe." Now, how can such a
loss, such a woe, have been cancelled at all? I answer, only
in one sense, which warrants the legal expression, and only in
Southampton's case. The "woe" was the loss of his father, who died
when Southampton was eight years old, and it was "cancelled" "long
since" by the re-marriage of Lady Southampton to Sir Thomas Heneage, who
became an affectionate step-father to the young Earl, and, as such, as
well as from his relationship to the players, was thought worthy of the
allusion. I may add, that in fifty places does the dramatic
interpretation touch ground as firm where no other touches ground at
all; in truth, it offers the only anchorage in the midst of a tossed and
troubled sea of speculation.
But the Sonnets must be studied and dwelt with awhile in this
new light, and the internal evidence must be pondered over from this
stand-point, where alone its peculiar nature, its subtle allusiveness
to facts that seem so plain, can be grasped. There are persons who
cannot believe in anything new, because they have grown old. I do
not appeal to such. Nor have I any great faith in the so-called
Shakspearians, with a very few exceptions; least of all those who have
already formed a theory of the Sonnets. So potent is the tyranny of
association, and so few are the minds that can emancipate themselves from
it! My trust is rather in those who come fresh to the subject
untrammelled by preconceived opinions. Of course I am not alluding
to Prof. Chasles. I thank him for his courtesy; I sympathize with
him in his labour of love, and sincerely wish him all success and honour.