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William Shakespeare, Sonnet cxxv

Were it aught to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all, and more, by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet foregoing simple savour,
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?
No; -- let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mix'd with seconds, knows no art, [*]
But mutual render, only me for thee.
Hence, thou suborn'd informer! a true soul,
When most impeach'd, stands least in thy control.


line 11: Seconds. The only note on this passage in the variorum editions is that of Steevens: -- "I am just informed by an old lady that seconds is a provincial term for the second kind of flour, which is collected after the smaller bran is sifted. That our author's oblation was pure, unmixed with baser matter, is all he meant to say." Mr Dyce called this note "preposterously absurd". Steevens, however, knew what he was doing. He mentions the flour, as in almost every other note upon the Sonnets, to throw discredit upon compositions with which he could not sympathise. He had a sharp, cunning, pettifogging mind; and he knew many prosaic things well enough. He knew that a second in a duel, a seconder in a debate, a secondary in ecclesiastical affairs, meant one next to the principle. The poet's friend has his chief oblation; no seconds, or inferior persons, are mixed up with his tribute of affection.

In the copy of the sonnets in the Bodleian Library, formerly belonging to Malone (and which is bound in the same volume with the 'Lucrece', &c.), is a very cleverly drawn caricature representing Shakespeare addressing a periwig-pated old fellow in these lines: --

If thou couldst, Doctor, cast
The water of my Sonnets, find their disease,
Or purge my Editor till he understood them,
I would applaud thee.
Under this Malone has written, "Mr Steevens borrowed this volume from me in 1779, to peruse the 'Rape of Lucrece', in the original edition, of which he was not possessed. When he returned it he made this drawing. I was then confined by a sore throat, and attended by Mr Atkinson, the apothecary, of whom the above figure, whom Shakespeare addresses, is a caricature." [ Back to text ]

Most notes to Shakespeare's sonnets are from Charles Knight's edition, but those in square brackets are mine.