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(the reader, that in the translation of the sonnets from their obvious or apparent, to the real or hidden meaning, there must be some-much-elasticity allowed in the construing or meaning of words. The author of the sonnets was a man of vast imagination. Very few objects or emotions impressed him simply by or with their names. It was in the quality of his mind to see and describe by analogy. His metaphors were endless, and he had the power of lucidity in the use of them, that make things and actions, thoughts and passions, appear plainer when presented by comparative methods, than when bluntly announced. He did not respect restrictions in the meanings of words, but used them daringly and recklessly whenever he found them pregnant with the power of suggestion.
In order to read the Sonnets and poems, and to extract their meaning, it is believed that it would be helpful to preface them with a brief statement of Shakespeare's habits and mental characteristics, as they are set out in these writings, by himself. Whatever shall be stated as to these will not be founded in imagination or impression, but upon the divulgements which these writings, themselves, make, and from which it is believed that the conclusions to be expressed can with certainty be drawn:
In his youth, as he was approaching manhood, Shakespeare, probably as did the most of the young men of his time, contracted the habit of using intoxicants, and at the same time was developing his poetic art. Undoubtedly he appreciated the dangers threatening him through the excessive use of intoxicants, and sought to restrain himself in the indulgement, and very likely began a course of absolute abstinence. It was a question with him, whether he was at his best, when free from stimulants, or when writing under the inspiration which he imagined he gained through them. However that may have been, he followed the dictates of his better senses, and restricted himself in the uses of wine, and while thus denying his appetite, he was endeavoring to continue his poetical course. Prior to and during this time of abstention he gained a reputation as a poet, and had won his own confidence in himself and in his artistic powers. He also believed, which was probably true, that he had won the admiration and approval of all, and was held in the highest esteem. While much of the foregoing may be deduced from The Sonnets,
it is more specifically set forth in The Lover's Complaint, in its recitals.
After Shakespeare had proceeded for a way on his course of abstinence, he imagined that his powers as a poet were beginning to stale. Whether this came from the fact that he had become irrecoverably poisoned by his youthful indulgence, or, as he seems to have thought to be the case, that his only inspiration came through the use of wine, is not for us to determine. AU that can be said is, that Shakespeare concluded, that without wine there would be an end to his art,
and that he had accomplished his best, and that nothing worthy could follow. It would seem that he had determined to sacrifice all, rather than return to wine and its use, and that he had consented to bury his aspirations as a poet. It was in this state of mind that he wrote that
enigmatical poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle, wherein he resigns all hope, and celebrates the obsequies of the Phoenixhis Genius.
Although he would thus seem to have determined on an unending course of abstinence and temperance, at all cost, his strength of resolution was not sufficient to continue to restrain him. Either his appetite, or the appeal of his genius, which he believed could thrive only on wine, overcame his good intentions and sent him back to his stimulant. In The Sonnets he makes the latter his excuse, in order, as he declares, that he might live and perpetuate himself in his works. He returned to wine joyously, but with fear, caution and misgivings. He rejoiced because he thought it would be of real assistance, but he feared the enthralling effects. In all of the poems to be reviewed, he looks upon himself as of double nature-himself and his genius, each attracting, and each repelling the other." His genius, or art, loved and demanded wine, while his moral nature despised and rejected it. The history of the conflict of the two is recorded in the first 18 sonnets. He was aware that beneath the tempting offer there lurked an ambush of danger and destruction. His better nature rebelled and refused to submit, to be debauched, and plead that reason might have her hearing. But his love, his passionate love-his art-urged and plead and showed that there was no other way; that without this inspiring, fertile help, there could be no increase and no son of his genius; without it he must die, and worms become his heirs, and that there could be
no immortality in his lines. He chided himself for his waste in "niggarding,” and for squandering his unused beauty, and plead for the prostitution of his better self, in order that the image of his youth might not become cztinct. The offspring for which he plead was not his bodily heirs, but his immortal poetry, in which he might live when his body should be dead.
After the 18th sonnet it is recorded that Shakespeare surrendered to these importunities to admit wine—the betrayerand his better-self is cast out, and in its place is enthroned the tempter, which becomes his only love and master, and this leads him, through his infatuation to the very brink of hell.
After Shakespeare had admitted, and become reconciled to the spoiler, he personified it as the spirit of his love. He then blessed and deified it, and felt that he owed it his undying gratitude and devotion; that he must sing its praises and give it every due, even to the limit of making it the author of his unparalleled
He promised to distil it and give it an immortality, because through it had his verse come into being, inspired by life, youth and beauty. His inspiring angel was to him perennial and youth-preserving, and through it his faculties were multiplied ten fold, and then by ten. He felt that without it there would be an end and doom of his inspiration wherein resided his youth and beauty, and he made it the master-mistress of his passion.
When Shakespeare began the Sonnets he looked forward to the age of 40 as the end of his fruitful labor. He felt that whatever was to be done by him, must be done in the period of his youth; that youth only is fair, tender, sweet, fresh, golden, beauteous, lovely, brave, true, glorious. In youth only could he bear fruit; his time was therefore opportune and short, and its waste an unthrift; only while his sun was ascending could he expect to hold the eye of the observer; the evening—the declining-sun is feeble age, that "reeleth from the sky," and all the eyes that had paid homage to the morning sun are now “turned another way." But, all this may be read in the tale of the Sonnets.
But, it will be asked: to whom were the Sonnets addressed? For the purpose of applying the proposed test it is not material to inquire. That the test may have a fair trial, the reader is asked to believe, tentatively, of course, that they were not addressed to anyone. Or, if they were addressed, or purported to be addressed, it was part of the disguise, by which their true meaning was concealed. If this proposal shall be accepted, it is confidently believed, that upon a full reading and a mature consideration, it must be conceded that further inquiry on the subject would be unnecessary. But, even should it after all be agreed that the given key fully unlocks the meaning of the Sonnets, there will still exist a very natural curiosity as to why they should have been written in this most perplexing form. This curiosity may never be satisfied. There is, however, a theory to be advanced, which at present cannot be developed, but must await a detailed examination of the Sonnets.
In asking the reader to conclude, for the time being, that the Sonnets were not addressed at all, it is the purpose to ask him to eliminate from his consideration all third parties, except in a few instances arising as the Sonnets are pursued, and which will be considered when such Sonnets as do refer to other parties, are under review. As the Sonnets progress, Shakespeare personifies Wine, and gives it a separate and distinct existence from his own, and makes it quite as real as if it were flesh and blood, possessing individual character, mentality and power, and this counterfeit is so true to life, that all who have attempted to construe the Sonnets have
accepted it as real and substantial, and have thereby been confounded.
The greatest difficulty in reading the obscured meaning into the Sonnets will be encountered in the first 18. Superficially considered these sonnets would appear to be addressed to a young man, advising him to marriage and the begetting of children. The young man addressed is supposed to be a friend and associate of the writer, or perhaps a patron. All of this will be found to be illusory, for there was no such purpose in mind. The whole figure is deceptive, and the deception consists in the use, or rather misuse, of words, and in the fact that it is written in the third person, when it should have been in the first throughout, had there been no purpose to disguise the meaning.
The solution proposed is: The person addressed is none other than Shakespeare, himself; the marriage advised is the espousal of, surrender to, Wine, and the progeny to be begotten are not children of the body, but the products of the mind, poetry. By the use of these substitutions the obscurities of these 18 sonnets will be found to dissolve, and their meaning will be
come clear and consistent. There are also other instances in these sonnets where words of well known meaning have been applied in an unusual manner, and with unauthorized meanings, and yet, keeping in view the key as given, and Shakespeare's plan to use words in an analogous, rather than in a direct, sense, in order to continue the illusion, the meaning which he proposed the words should have at once becomes evident. This will appear as the sonnets are read and discussed.
This same solution will not be found applicable after the first 18 sonnets. Thereafter the disguise becomes less complete, and the plan of the sonnets changed, and the meaning will be more easily arrived at, and the difficulties of less moment.
Though perhaps not always necessary, suggestive readings will be appended to each sonnet, showing how it should be read and interpreted in order to bear out the proposed construction. These suggestions, of course, are not an attempt to improve either the sense or beauty of the Sonnets. On the contrary, the effort will be rather to destroy their beauty, which in a large measure is the disguise under which their meaning is concealed. To many of the sonnets suggestions are not necessary, but it is felt that it would be better to err on the side of excessive elucidation, rather than let it be suspected that something might be passed which is not capable of adaptation to the proposed theory.
In the construction of the first 18 sonnets, consider Shakespeare in soliloquy, addressing himself in the third person, which, with men, is not an unusual habit. In the suggestions to these sonnets, in order to bring out the meaning clearly, first person pronouns and verbs to correspond, will be substituted for those of the third person.