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In a copy of Speght's edition of Chaucer, which formerly belonged to Dr. Gabriel Harvey, this physician, the noted opponent of Nash, has inserted the following remarks: -"The younger sort take much delight in Shakspeare's Venus and Adonis; but his Lucrece, and his tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmarke, have it in them to please the wiser sort, 1598." *

Meres, also, in his "Wit's Treasury," published in the same year with the above date, draws a parallel between Ovid and Shakspeare, resulting from the composition of this piece and his other minor poems. "As the soule of Euphorbus," he observes, "was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweete wittie soule of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare, witnes his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred sonnets among his private friends, &c." +

A third tribute, and of a similar kind, was paid to the early efforts of our author in 1598, by Richard Barnefield, from which it must be inferred that the versification of Shakspeare was considered by his contemporaries as pre-eminently sweet and melodious, a decision for which many stanzas in the Venus and Adonis might furnish sufficient foundation :

"And Shakspeare thou, whose honey-flowing vein,
(Pleasing the world,) thy praises doth contain,
Whose Venus, and whose Lucrece, sweet and chaste,
Thy name in fame's immortal book hath plac'd,
Live ever you,
at least in fame live ever!

Well may the body die, but fame die never.” ‡

That singularly curious old comedy," The Returne from Parnassus," written in 1606, descanting on the poets of the age, introduces Shakspeare solely on account of his miscellaneous poems, a

* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 2. note by Steevens.

+ Censura Literaria, vol. ix. p. 45, 46.

Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 197.

striking proof of their popularity; and, like his predecessors, the author characterises them by the sweetness of their metre:

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It appears, likewise, from this extract, and will further appear from two subsequent quotations, that the meretricious tendency of the Venus and Adonis did not altogether escape the notice or the censure of the period which produced it.

A more ample eulogium on the merits of Shakspeare's first production issued from the press in 1607, in a poem composed by William Barksted, and entitled, Mirrha the Mother of Adonis; or Lustes Prodigies, of which the concluding lines thus appreciate the value of his model:

"But stay, my Muse, in thine own confines keep,

And wage not warre with so deere lov'd a neighbour;
But having sung thy day-song, rest and sleep;
Preserve thy small fame, and his greater favor.
His song was worthie merit; Shakspeare, hee
Sung the faire blossome, thou the wither'd tree:
Laurel is due to him; his art and wit

Hath purchas'd it; cyprus thy brows will fit." +

A pasquinade on the literature of his times was published by John Davies of Hereford in 1611; it first appeared in his " Scourge of Folly," under the title of " A Scourge for Paper-Persecutors," and among other objects of his satire Paper, here personified, is represented as complaining of the pruriency of Shakspeare's youthful fancy.

"Another (ah, harde happe) mee vilifies
With art of love, and how to subtilize,

Ancient British Drama, vol. i. p. 49. col. 2.

+ Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 463.

Making lewd Venus with eternal lines
To tie Adonis to her love's designes ;

Fine wit is shewn therein: but finer 'twere,
If not attired in such bawdy geare." *


The charge of subtilizing which this passage conveys, may be substantiated against the minor poetry of our bard: no small portion of it is visible in the Venus and Adonis; but the Rape of Lucrece is extended by its admission to nearly a duplicate of what ought to have been its proper size.

To the quotations now given, as commemorative of Shakspeare's primary effort in poetry, we shall add one, whose note of praise is, that our author was equally excellent in painting lust or continency:

"Shakspeare, that nimble Mercury thy brain

Lulls many-hundred Argus' eyes asleep,

So fit for all thou fashionest thy vein,

At the horse-foot fountain thou hast drunk full deep.

Virtue's or vice's theme to thee all one is ;

Who loves chaste life, there's Lucrece for a teacher:

Who list read lust, there's Venus and Adonis

True model of a most lascivious lecher." +

From the admiration thus warmly expressed by numerous contemporaries, even when connected with slight censure, it will, of course,

* Censura Literaria, vol. vi. p. 276. A second edition of this satire was published separately, in 4to. 1625.

+ Reed's Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 197, 198.- Many passages, I believe, might be added to those given in the text, which point out the great popularity of our author's earliest effort in poetry. Thus, in the Merrie Conceited Jests of George Peele, an author who died in or before 1598, the Tapster of an Inn in Pye-corner is represented as "much given to poetry: for he had ingrossed the Knight of the Sunne, Venus and Adonis, and other pamphlets.”— Reprint, p. 28.

Again in the Dumb Knight, an Historical Comedy, by Lewis Machin, printed in 1608, one of the characters, after quoting several lines from Venus and Adonis, concludes by saying,

"Go thy way, thou best book in the world.

"Veloups. I pray you, sir, what book do you read?

"President. A book that never an orator's clerk in this kingdom but is beholden unto; it is called, Maid's Philosophy, or Venus and Adonis."

Ancient British Drama, vol. ii. p. 146.

tion of the public for many years, and successively presented in new and various forms by different poets. Lucretia was the grand example of conjugal fidelity throughout the Gothic ages.

It is more

One material advantage which the Rape of Lucrece possesses over its predecessor, is, that its moral is unexceptionable; and, on this account, we have the authority of Dr. Gabriel Harvey, that it was preferred by the graver readers. In every other respect, no very decided superiority, we are afraid, can be adduced. studied and elaborate, it is true; but the result of this labour has in many instances been only an accumulation of far-fetched imagery and fatiguing circumlocution. Yet, notwithstanding these defects, palpable as they are, the poem has not merited the depreciation to which it has been subjected by some very fastidious critics. It occasionally delights us by a few fervid sketches of imagination and description; and by several passages of a moral and pathetic cast, clothed in language of much energy and beauty; and though the general tone of the versification be more heavy and encumbered than that of the Venus and Adonis, it is sometimes distinguished by point, legerity, and grace. The quotations, indeed, which we are about to give from this neglected poem, are not only such as would confer distinction on any work, but, to say more, they are worthy of the poet which produced them.

Of metrical sweetness, of moral reflection, and of splendid and appropriate imagery, we find an exquisite specimen at the very opening of the poem. Collatine, boasting of his felicity possession of his beauteous mate," the bard exclaims

"O happiness enjoy'd but of a few!
And, if possess'd, as soon decayed and done
As is the morning's silver melting dew,
Against the golden splendour of the sun!

A date expir'd, and cancel'd ere begun." +

Stanza iv.

" in the

* Warton's History of English Poetry, vol. iii. p. 415, 416." It is remarkable," says the historian, in a note on this passage, "that the sign of Berthelette, the king's printer in Fleet-street, who flourished about 1540, was the Lucretia, or as he writes it, Lucretia


+ The last line of this extract is taken from the 12mo. edit. of 1616.

copious Argument prefixed, which, as Mr. Malone remarks, is a curiosity, being, with the two dedications to the Earl of Southampton, the only prose compositions of our great poet (not in a dramatic form) now remaining.


The Rape of Lucrece is written in stanzas of seven lines each; the first four in alternate rhyme; the fifth line corresponding with the second and fourth, and the sixth and seventh lines forming a couplet. To this construction it is probable that Shakspeare was led through the popularity of Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond, which was published in 1592, and exhibits the same metrical system.

If we had just reason for condemning the prolixity of Venus and Adonis, a still greater motive for similar censure will be found in the Rape of Lucrece, which occupies no less than two hundred and sixtyfive stanzas, and, of course, includes one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five lines, whilst the tale, as conducted by Ovid, is impressively related in about one hundred and forty verses!

From what source Shakspeare derived his fable, whether through a classic or a Gothic channel is uncertain. The story is of frequent occurrence in ancient writers; for, independent of the narrative in the Fasti of the Roman poet, it has been told by Dionysius Halicarnassensis, by Livy, by Dion Cassius, and Diodorus Siculus. " I learn from Coxeter's notes," says Warton, " that the Fasti were translated into English verse before the year 1570. If so, the many little pieces now current on the subject of Lucretia, although her legend is in Chaucer, might immediately originate from this source. In 1568, occurs a Ballett called, 'The grevious complaynt of Lucrece.' And afterwards, in the year 1569, is licenced to James Robertes, A ballet of the death of Lucryssia.' There is also a ballad of the legend of Lucrece, printed in 1576. These publications might give rise to Shakspeare's Rape of Lucrece, which appeared in 1594. At this period of our poetry, we find the same subject occupying the atten


* Malone's Supplement, vol. i. p. 469. note.



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