Shakespeare’s Minor Poems

Cormell Price

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Mackail, J. W. Life of William Morris .

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


This essay is by Cormell Price (1835-1902). Price was the youngest member of the brotherhood, a year behind Morris and Burne-Jones at Oxford. He remained close friends with both throughout his life, and was the head of the United Services College while Burne-Jones’s nephew, Rudyard Kipling, was a student there.

Price was supposed to accompany Morris and Burne-Jones on their trip to the continent in the summer of 1855, but he canceled at the last minute (Mackail 68). Morris wrote often to Price during this trip, giving his impressions of the PRB paintings he saw in Paris, and several times alluding to the Magazine (69-71).

In this essay, Price uses George Steevens’s dismissal of some of Shakespeare’s sonnets as a launching point to discuss the general treatment of lesser-known works of famous writers. He is particularly interested in how Shakespeare’s minor poems can be read in a biographical context. He spends the majority of the essay on Shakespeare’s sonnets, investigating the identity of the “W. H.” to whom the sonnets are addressed, and attempting in general to ascertain the dates the sonnets were composed, and their proper order. The biographical focus recalls Heeley’s essay on Sidney.

Also significant in this essay is Price’s discussion of originality. He defends Shakespeare’s use of history and legend as a sources for his works, claiming “The invention of our ancestors in legend and incident is our heir-loom; we may vary it in detail, and engraft our own addition, but its depth will be according to the measure of that man’s power who handles it, and breathes into it his own spirit” (118). Price favors originality of form and treatment over that of theme, and he applies this idea to painting and architecture, as well as to poetry.

Price’s treatment of Shakespeare bears several similarities to Fulford’s essay on Tennyson. Like Fulford, Price links poetry to music, praising the musical meter of “Venus and Adonis”. Writing on Tennyson, Fulford compares poetry to “painting in words”, and Price also sees written and material arts as interwoven; he extends his discussions of poetry into musings on painting and architecture. Such similarities demonstrate the extent to which the Morris brotherhood read and commented on each other’s work. Accounts of their time at Oxford tell of continual meetings to read and discuss poetry, and through the essays in the Magazine one sees their theories applied to a remarkable variety of works, historical and contemporary.

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , February, 1856.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: Price001.raw.xml