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of the Roman raconteur,—that dawn-world in which Adonis, in alternating seasons lost to Venus and restored to her, symbolised the passing of the life of Nature in autumn and its renewal in spring.
Yet the filling in of the story contains elements quite alien to Ovid. Every critic has dwelt upon the wealth of native observation,—the harvest of an eye not quiet' indeed, or brooding, or, as yet, subtle and profound, but marvellously accurate and alert, an eye which apprehends every individual trait and detail with a vividness that at times kills for the moment everything else in the picture. Nothing can exceed in explicit distinctness the descriptions of the horse and of the hunted hare ; but the first is a classic example of realism which obscures reality in its eagerness to illuminate every corner of it: the horse is lost in its attributes. Far better is the description of the hare; where a touch as luminous as Ovid's works out effects caught not from his enamel and gold and marble, but from the dewy morning meads on Cotswold or by Avon. Yet there are other touches again not of Naturalism. There are,' as Mr. Wyndham
“ has pointed out, 'wilful and half-humorous perversions of Nature. When Shakespeare in praise of Adonis' beauty says that
To see his face, the lion walked along
Behind some hedge, because he would not fear him, you feel that you are still in the age which painted St. Jerome's lion and St. Francis preaching to the birds.'1
Yet it is to be noted that these perversions occur in the extravagant laments of Venus. They are not very convincingly dramatic, but they are dramatic in intention, symbols of the hyperbole of mortally wounded passion. * G. Wyndham : The Poems of Shakespeare, p. lxxxv.
Venus and Adonis was the famous book of its year, and for the greater part of a generation it remained without a rival in the Elizabethan library of choice erotics ;-—the delight of young lovers, the idol of undergraduates, the vademecum of the bashful wooer, the boudoir-companion of the fashionable courtesan. The chorus of praise first becomes distinct, to our ears, in 1598. Richard Barnfield in that year celebrated Shakespeare (in company with Spenser, Daniel, and Drayton) for his 'hony-flowing Vaine':
Whose Venus and whose Lucrece (sweet and chaste)
Meres, in the same year, delivered his famous testimony, in nearly similar terms, to the mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare,' in whom lives the sweet witty soul of Ovid,' as witness ‘his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his private friends.' Gullio in the Return from Parnassus (c. 1600) is resolved to have the picture of sweet Mr. Shakespeare' in his study at court, and 'to lay his Venus and Adonis under my pillow, as we read of one (I do not remember his name, but I am sure he was a king) slept with Homer under his bed's head.' Peele's' poetical Tapster had ingrossed Venus and Adonis among other poetic romances. Heywood's Bowdler never read anything but Venus and Adonis ;3 and Sharpe's 'Pupillus' in
in The Noble Stranger (1640) longed, in the manner of Jonson's Master Stephen, 'for the book of Venus and Adonis to court
1 A Remembrance of some 1598 ; but the attribution is for English Poets,' in his Poems in the most part mythical. Divers Humors.
3 Merrie Conceited Jests of 3 The Fair Maid of the Exe George Peele.
Peele died in change, 1607.
my mistress by. But a note of gentle criticism is early heard, and Shakespeare's subsequent careernay, the very phrases of his own Dedication—went far to justify those who, with the Cambridge Judicio in the Third Parnassus play, wished to see his sweeter verse,' with its heart-throbbing life,' applied to 'a graver subject'
Without love's foolish lazy languishment ; or who, like the aging Gabriel Harvey, turned with some relief from the. Venus and Adonis, in which 'the younger sort take much delight,' to 'his Lucrece and his Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,' which have it in them to please the wiser sort.' Harvey had once, it is true, done his best to persuade Spenser to renounce the Faerie Queene ; his recognition of Hamlet shows that the 'pedantry' for which we brand his name did not rest entirely upon prosaic temper and bad taste.
VENUS AND ADONIS
• Vilia miretur vulgus ; mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.'
RIGHT HONOURABLE HENRY WRIOTHESLEY,
EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON, AND BARON OF TITCHFIELD.
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 burden: 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 god-father, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your heart's content ; which I wish may always answer your own wish and the world's hopeful expectation.
Your honour's in all duty,
Even as the sun with purple-colour'd face
3. Adonis, the son of Myrrha, phone, queen of the underworld, and favourite of Aphrodite, was who refused to give him up to consigned to the care of Perse- Aphrodite. Zeus, on appeal VOL. X