« PreviousContinue »
VENUS AND ADONIS.
Vilia miretur vulgus, mihi flavus Apollo
TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON, AND BARON OF TICHFIELD.
I KNOW not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burthen: only, if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land', for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your honourable
EAR SO barren a land,] To ear, is to plow. See vol. xii. p. 182, n. 3. MALONE.
survey, and your honour 2 to to your heart's content; which I wish may always answer your own wish, and the world's hopeful expectation 3.
Your Honour's in all duty,
and your HONOUR-] This was formerly the usual mode of address to noblemen. So, in a Letter written by Sir Francis Bacon to Robert, lord Cecil, July 3, 1603: "Lastly, for this divulged and almost prostituted title of knighthood, I could without charge, by your honour's mean, be content to have it." Birch's Collection, p. 24. MALONE.
3 — hopeful expectation.] Lord Southampton was but twenty years old when this poem was dedicated to him by Shakspeare, who was then twenty-seven. MALONE.
For a memoir of this accomplished nobleman, see the end of this volume. BOSWELL.
VENUS AND ADONIS'.
EVEN as the sun with purple-colour'd face
1 Our author himself has told us that this poem was his first composition. It was entered in the Stationers' books by Richard Field, on the 18th of April, 1593. When I first republished this poem in 1790 I had seen no earlier edition than that which was printed for John Harrison, in small octavo, in 1596; but I have since become possessed of the first edition, printed by Richard Field in 1593, which I have now followed.-This poem is frequently alluded to by our author's contemporaries. "As the soul of Euphorbus (says Meres in his Wit's Treasury, 1598,) was thought to live in Pythagoras, so the sweet, witty soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakspeare. Witness his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece," &c.-In the early part of Shakspeare's life, his poems seem to have gained him more reputation than his plays;-at least they are oftener mentioned, or alluded to. Thus the author of an old comedy called The Return from Parnassus, written about the year 1602, in his review of the poets of the time, says not a word of his dramatick compositions, but allots him his portion of fame solely on account of the poems that he had produced. When the name of William Shakspeare is read, one of the characters pronounces this eulogium:
"Who loves Adonis' love, or Lucrece' rape?
"His sweeter verse contains heart-robbing life; "Could but a graver subject him content, "Without love's foolish lazy languishment." This subject was probably suggested to Shakspeare either by