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Some have believed that “Mr. W. H.” was William Herbert ; and a German critic supposes the initials to signify “William Himself.” But the American Cyclopedia says:

“To whom they were written, and in whose person is among the most difficult of unsolved literary problems. . . . . Who this ‘onlie begetter’ was no man has yet been able satisfactorily to show.”*

In regard to the hypothesis that “W. H.” was William Herbert, the same authority says there is almost as much ground for the notion that the person addressed was Queen Elizabeth in doublet and hose.

In 1872 we first read Nathaniel Holmes’s “Authorship of Shakspere; ” since then we have never entertained a reasonable doubt that Bacon was the author of the Plays. In 1882 we reread them all in the light of that discovery; but until July 31, 1883, we had never read a page of the “Sonnets,” nor when we began to read them on that day did we remember to have heard who “W. H.” was supposed to be. But coming to the twenty-fifth sonnet, we suspected that the poem was addressed to the Earl of Essex, and subsequent research confirmed that suspicion.

Herbert was sixteen years younger than Shakspere, and nineteen years younger than Bacon. If, therefore, the poem was written in 1590, which we purpose to show, it is impossible for Herbert to have been the

* Dr. Charles Mackay attempts to solve the problem in an elaborate article in the Wineteenth Century, August, 1884, entitled “A Tangled Skein Unravelled.” He claims only to have found indications of mixed authorship. But this only makes the tangle worse, which began with Shakspere's ostensible authorship ; and the last despairing words of the astute unraveller are : “All is supposition, the mystery is insoluble.”

“onlie begetter of these Sonnets,” for he was then only ten years old. Of course no one will date their composition as late as 1609, when Shakspere was forty-five and Bacon forty-eight. At that time the former had retired from the stage, and Bacon had been for six years King's counsel and three years a married man. And certainly two sonnets (138 and 144) were composed as early as 1599, for they are repeated at the beginning of “The Passionate Pilgrim,” which was first published in that year. All the internal and external evidence points to the year 1590 as the date, Francis Bacon as the writer, and the Earl of Essex as the person addressed. It is said that Bacon made the acquaintance of Essex about 1590, but it would be remarkable if he did not know him years before. In sonnet 104 the poet says: “Three winters cold Have from the forests shook three summers' pride, Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned In process of the seasons have I seen, Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned, Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.” Let us suppose that Bacon began to cultivate the Earl's friendship in 1590. He was then twenty-two years old ; three years earlier, when Bacon first saw him, the Earl was “fresh ;” now he is “yet green.” Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex, was born Nov. 10, 1567, and was beheaded for treason

*A letter from Bacon to the Earl of Leicester, asking for his furtherance in some suit which the Earl of Essex had moved in his behalf, has recently been found, written in 1588. (Spedding’s “Bacon,” 1878, i, 50, note.)

Feb. 25, 1601. He succeeded to the title at ten years of age. At twenty he was appointed master of the horse. At twenty-one the Queen created him captain-general of the cavalry, and conferred on him the honor of the garter. In the same year an expedition was undertaken against Portugal, and he secretly followed the armament. This was without the Queen's permission, but he was quickly reconciled with her after his return, and at once assumed a superiority over Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Charles Blount, rival competitors for royal favor. He was challenged by Blount and wounded in the knee, and the Queen is said to have expressed her gratification that some one had taken him down, as otherwise there would be no ruling him. He was an accomplished scholar and patron of literature. He erected a monument to Spenser and gave an estate to Bacon. But we have omitted one striking characteristic which has an important bearing on the question of his identity with “Mr. W. H.” The young Earl of Essex was a remarkably handsome man. Now the beauty of the person addressed in the “Sonnets” is a constantly recurring theme, and the burden of the poem is an appeal to the beloved and beautiful young man to marry. It begins thus: “From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty's rose might never die.” The next Sonnet begins: “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field, Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now, Will be a tattered weed of small worth held.”

The last line of Sonnet 13 reads:

“You had a father; let your son say so.”

The father of Essex died in 1576. In 1590 the second Earl married the widow of Sir Philip Sidney, Essex being twenty-two years old and she a little younger. The marriage was secret to avoid the opposition of Elizabeth. By October, concealment was no longer possible, and on the 22d of January, 1591, (not 1592 as some have it,) the first child was born. (“Earls of Essex,” 1853.) The mother of Essex was celebrated for her beauty; his father was not handsome. (See portrait in “Earls of Essex.”) The son's inheritance of his mother's features is told in the third Sonnet: “Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee Calls back the lovely April of her prime; So thou through windows of thine age shalt see, Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.” For further description of the young Earl's beauty, take the following: “If I could write the beauty of your eyes, And in fresh numbers number all your graces, The age to come would say, ‘This poet lies; Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.”

“Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you; -
On Helen's cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian 'tires are painted new.”

Essex having become the special favorite of the Queen, of course became an object of envy and slander. Mark now what the poet says: “Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won; Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed.”

“That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,
For slander's mark was ever yet the fair;
The ornament of beauty is suspect,
A crow that flies in heaven's sweetest air.

So be thou good; slander doth but approve Thy worth the greater, being wooed of time.” In 1590 Bacon had acquired a reputation as an orator in the House of Commons, but was without available means of livelihood in keeping with his wants and station. Up to this time his efforts for promotion were thwarted by the Queen's minister, Lord Burleigh (Cecil,) who regarded him as a dangerous rival for his son. With the rise of young Essex into royal favor Bacon turned to him as a friend at court. From 1590 to 1594 the Earl tried in vain to advance Bacon, and at last, when the vacant office of Attorney General was filled by another, Essex, blaming himself for the disappointment, insisted on presenting him with an estate worth £1,800. With these facts in mind, see how perfectly the following lines fit the persons and the time, 1590: “Let those who are in favor with their stars, Of public honor and proud titles boast, Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars, Unlooked for joy in that I honor most.”

“When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising,
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.”

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