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And thus he pursues the contradictions and antinomies which perplex philosophy and try the faith of love, growing up in the soil—the heartthat they infest. It is the old contest between the carnal and moral, erotically expressed. Familiar terms are preferred; thus, the "fair friend who never can be old;" that immortal youth whose absence he deplores the poet now addresses as “sweet boy,” and boasts of his “eternal love;" and then, excusing his own wanderings, of which before he had said nothing, by his repentings and returnings, exclaims enthusiastically,
"For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.” In the next sonnet he arrives at the climax; he speaks it out plainly. This “fair friend,” this “sweet boy,” this “rose” selected from the “wide universe," is—“a God in love :"
“Alas, 'tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made myself a motley to the view;
Made old offences of affections new.
Askance and strangely; but by all above,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Mine appetite. I never more will grind
A God in love, to whom I am confined.
E'en to thy pure and most, most loving breast.” And thus the poet has completed his Divine Ideal in a Human Form. Comparing himself therewith, he finds himself wanting. He discovers that he is not only merely a part of it, but a part of a part. He is not only an individual, but a speciality. He is a poor theatrical artist-not so much a man as an actor. Not Socrates more strongly denounced this sacrifice of the purely human to the professional, than Shakespeare does. The sonnet in which he expresses his regret for this necessity is the best known of the series. What man, conscious of immortal aims, has not felt what it describes ?
"O for my sake do thou with fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
Than public means, which public manners breeds.
And almost thence my nature is subdued
Pity me then, and wish I were renewed,
Potions of eysell, 'gainst my strong infection;
Nor double penance to correct correction.
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.”
sonnets is abundantly manifest. They are built up after the fashion, and on the platform, as it were, of a Platonic dialogue. The argument begins with the earthly and animal; but passes, through the intellectual and rational, to the heavenly and divine. Falling back from that sublime contemplation, a sense of his own frailties overwhelms the poet. But he cares nothing, since that celestial friend is his all the world."
"In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of other's voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are." Adder's sense, like “lay on me this cross,” in a former sonnet, is a scriptural reference; and shows the truth of Hazlitt's statement, that the translation of the Bible had a great influence on the Elizabethan poets and dramatists, both as regards the diction and the tone of thought. And we shall soon see that the poet had now turned his attention indeed to that "pure well of English undefiled.” He had carried his subject as far as Plato could help him,—and he was now proceeding to carry it farther, by means of an illumination which Plato wanted. He had opened the Book, and borrowed from it what remains of his argument.
This Celestial Friend he now finds to be mystically represented in all objects, whether of earth or heaven. The meanest are as privileged as the highest to be his symbols. At this the poet wonders, and demands,
"Or whether doth my mind, being crowned with you,
Drink up the monarch's plague, this flattery,
And that your love taught it this alchymy,
Such cherubims as your sweet self resemble,
As fast as objects to his beams assemble ?" Yes, yes; not only the kingdoms of nature animate and inanimate, -“bird, or flower, or shape," “ the mountain or the sea, the day or night, the crow or dove;" —but the cherubims themselves resemble the marvellous object of his idolatry.” It is evident that words and phrases from the Sacred Oracles may now be expected; for Shakespeare has unclasped the Volume, and is poring on its pages. The “ deaf adder" and the “cherubims” are both there, and he writes them down, with others still more significant, as we shall soon see. Note, too, how he elevates his conception of Love.
"Love is not love
Or bends with the remover to remove :
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken.” It is “not Time's fool;” it changes not“ to the edge of doom.” We can see that the poet has adopted the biblical sentiment of a "perfect love that casts out fear.” Nay, further, he had even discovered the
“Benefit of ill!--now I find true
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater."
Surely it is not necessary to point out the theological meaning of these lines; if it be, let the reader turn for himself to, and read thoughtfully, the seven next sonnets (120-126); after which commences a new theme.
And what a theme! It is the woman who had gained from the humble friend the affections of the Ideal Man. And here matters have become reversed ;-the Woman is portrayed in far other colours. Was the man fair? She is black! Love certainly delighteth in contrasts, and here is an extraordinary one. Desdemona the Moor, and not Othello ! Methinks, there is here some riddle to read.
There is—but it is one easily read. The lady is black in two senses, morally and physically, in her deeds as well as in her features. She, like the poet's Ideal Friend, has been “foresworn;" and the poet has in her case likewise to remonstrate, and then to absolve. The like resolution of differences and contradictions is necessary. But, as we have said, the poet has the Book open before him. He is in fact reading the Canticles; and there he finds the Bride who is “black but comely"- at once the bride of his Celestial Friend and his own. These confused relations afford the poet an abundant source for quibbles, many of them remarkably pretty, all lovingly playful. In some of them the theological reference slyly peeps out.
"So now I have confessed that he is thine,
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will;
Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:
For thou art covetous, and he is kind :
Under that bond, that him as fast doth bind.
Thou usurer, that putt'st forth all to use,
So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
He pays the whole, and yet I am not free." The language of love and religion are the same, and sometimes that of law assimilates. Some such perception as this here throws Shakespeare into a merry mood; and he begins to pun on his Christian name, and to charge all the perjuries at which Jove laughs on his dark beauty, speaking all ill of her, and then recanting; and all this because he does not "love her with his eyes," but with his heart, that loves what they despise.” As it was with Adam in relation to Eve, so with Shakespeare in relation to his “ darke ladye.”
"Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,
Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving." In all this, perhaps, Shakespeare carries his fancies rather too far. Yet let us not judge him harshly. The terrestrial embodiment of this mysterious woman was self-contradictory, and her appearance at least very equivocal. Hence he wrote:
“ Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still;
The worser spirit, a woman, coloured ill.
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.” Shakespeare found himself between two loves,-the Celibate Church on the one hand, that deified herself; and the Reformed Church on the other, that eschewed Mariolatry, and restored worship to its proper object. Such was his position at the beginning of his argument, which having now exhausted, the circle completes itself, and he finds himself again on the earth, which for a while he had transcended. At once he lowers his tone, and brings the series to an end by some fanciful sonnets, which serve no other purpose than to veil his meaning from the incompetent reader.
This interpretation, which is the pure result of induction, effectually relieves Shakespeare from Skottowe's charge of having praised the personal beauty and accomplishments of a youthful friend in a manner “far too ardent to be pleasing.” The unclean suggestion belongs alone to the pseudo critic, and leaves the “withers” of the poet “unwrung.” The characteristics attributed to this Ideal Friend befit nothing but the Ideal; they never were proper to any actual mortal man. It was common, as I have already said, for poets in his and the previous age so to veil their meaning; signifying religion or government by the term love,' and treating them by analogues borrowed from the tender passion. The danger sought to be avoided was not entirely at an end even in Queen Elizabeth's day. The Monarch, as understood by her and her successors down to James II., still clung to the past, though looking forward to the future, and represented transition rather than progress. The literary mind, however, was in advance, and instinctively held rather by the coming age, of which it was alike prophetic and productive. It was expedient, therefore, for Shakespeare, while writing a series of sonnets expressive of the spirit of that transition, to adopt the usual safeguards. Love, too, and its rights were properly the argument of the Reformation itself, as projected by Luther. It was eminently the emancipation of the natural appetites, within rational limits, from spiritual prohibition,-substituting a possible moderation for an impossible abstinence.
FIGHTING THE BATTLE.
The new year began in sadness at Felden Woods, for it found Archibald Floyd watching in the sick-room of his only daughter.
Aurora had taken her place at the long dinner-table upon the night of Talbot's departure; and, except for being perhaps a little more vivacious and brilliant than usual, her manner had in no way changed after that terrible interview in the bay-windowed room. She had talked to John Mellish, and had played and sung to her younger cousins ; she had stood behind her father, looking over his cards through all the fluctuating fortunes of a rubber of long whist; and the next morning her maid had found her in a raging fever, with burning cheeks and blood-shot eyes, her long purple-black hair all tumbled and tossed about the pillows, and her dry hands scorching to the touch. The telegraph brought two grave London physicians to Felden before noon; and the house was clear of visitors by nightfall, only Mrs. Alexander and Lucy remaining to assist in nursing the invalid. The West-End doctors said very little. This fever was as other fevers to them. The young lady had caught a cold perhaps; she had been imprudent, as these young people will be, and had received some sudden chill. She had very likely over-heated herself with dancing, or had sat in a draught, or eaten an ice. There was no immediate danger to be apprehended. The patient had a superb constitution; there was wonderful vitality in the system; and, with careful treatment, she would soon come round. Careful treatment meant a twoguinea visit every day from each of these learned gentlemen, though, perhaps, had they given utterance to their inmost thoughts, they would have owned that, for all they could tell to the contrary, Aurora Floyd wanted nothing but to be let alone, and left in a darkened chamber to fight out the battle by herself. But the banker would have had all Saville Row summoned to the sick-bed of his child, if he could by such a measure have saved her a moment's pain; and he implored the two physicians to come to Felden twice a day if necessary, and to call in other physicians if they had the least fear for their patient. Aurora was delirious; but she revealed very little in that delirium. I do not quite believe that people often make the pretty, sentimental, consecutive confessions under the influence of fever which are so freely attributed to them by the writers of
We rave about foolish things in those cruel moments or feverish madness. We are wretched because there is a man with a white hat on in the room, or a black cat upon the counterpane, or spiders crawling about the bed-curtains, or a coal-heaver who will put a sack of coals on our chest. Our delirious fancies are like our dreams, and have very
little connexion with the sorrows or joys which make up the sum of our lives.