« VorigeDoorgaan »
upon the matter of authorship, that more works are now produced in English in a single year than all that existed in the language from the earliest times down to the time of the invention of the art of printing. The few authors and works enumerated in the preceding chapters include all of any value down to the time of Caxton, the first English printer. From his time, books grew apace.
William Caxton, 1412-1492, the first English printer, like all the early printers, was himself a man of learning, and wrote many of the works which he printed. Most of them were translations.
History.- Caxton was a merchant of London, and was employed by Edward IV. to negotiate a treaty with the Duke of Burgundy. While at the court of the Duke, he translated into English and printed The History of Troy. This was the first book printed in the English language. It was printed on the continent, about the year 1474. Caxton soon after returned to England, and set up his printing-press in Westminster. He printed sixty-four different books, a good many of which he wrote or translated himself. The first book printed in England was The Game and Play of Chess.
Sir Thomas More. Sir Thomas More, 1480-1535, was, next to Erasmus and Cardinal Wolsey, the most conspicuous and shining character in the reign of Henry VIII. He was a man of wonderful versatility as well as force of genius, being equally distinguished as a statesman, a man of lively wit, a scholar, and a devout Christian.
Works. — More wrote many works, mostly of a controversial kind. The only work by which he is now known is The Utopia.
His Education. — More was born in London, the only son of Sir John Moro, a Judge of the Court of King's Bench. After a careful course of instruction by a private tutor, he was transferred at the age of fifteen to the family of Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, that he might mingle with the celebrated and learned men who frequented the house of that dignitary. At the age of seventeen he went to Oxford, where he made the acquaintance of Erasmus, then resident at the University.
His Rise to Power.-On leaving the University, More studied law, and began to practise. He rose rapidly in his profession, and was soon retained on one side or the other of almost every important case. He was elected a member of Parliament at an early age; according to some accounts when only twenty-one. On the accession of Henry VIII., in 1509, More was employed in some negotiations with the Archduke Charles (afterwards the Emperor Charles V.), and displayed such ability that the young King and his prime minister Wolsey seemed desirous of occupying his whole time with public affairs More accordingly retired gradually from the pursuit of his profession, and gave himself up entirely to the service of the King. In 1521 he was knighted. He was made also Treasurer of the Exchequer, and a privy councillor. He greatly delighted the King by the brilliancy of his conversation. So great a favorite was he that Henry would often go unexpectedly to More's house, and spend the day with him. On the downfall of Wolsey, in 1529, More became Lord High Chancellor. This office he filled for three years with scrupulous integrity, and in a manner that elicited general applause. The only blot upon this part of his career is the harshness which he exercised towards Tyndale and his associates.
His Dounfall.- Of his sincerity and official integrity, More gave one signal example, which has indeed immortalized his memory. Henry is believed to have advanced More to the Chancellorship, with the hope of having the assistance of his reputation as a theologian and a scholar in bringing about the contemplated divorce from Catharine. Henry pressed the Chancellor for an opinion. More looked with horror upon a project which had been expressly denounced by the Pope, and rather than give it the sanction of his official co-operation, he asked leave to retire from the King's service. Thenceforth the vindictive monarch sought to ruin the friend whom he could not corrupt, and by the instrumentality of a pliant Parliament he succeeded in bringing his illustrious victim to the scaffold. More was beheaded, July 6, 1535, at the age of fisty-five. He submitted to the unrighteous sentence, not only with fortitude, but with a degree of cheerfulness approaching to gayety.
His Character. - One of the most striking traits in Sir Thomas More's character was his disposition to jest. His jests do not seem to have contained anything offensive to morals or to taste, or inconsistent with the most scrupulous integrity and the most sincere piety. The disposition seems, in his case, to have arisen from a lively wit, combined with great buoyancy of natural feeling, and that inward satisfaction which springs from the sense of conscious rectitude of purpose and integrity of life. Whatever the cause, it is certain that he did jest on all occasions, not excepting the scaffold, where, just before receiving the fatal blow, he uttered a lively repartee. In his private and domestic relations, Sir Thomas More presented a character singularly beautiful. As his jesting was not allied to vice, so his piety was free from asceticism. If a liveliness of fancy, capable of eliciting sparks from the dullest materials, an eru. dition that attracted the attention even of Erasmus, a childlike simplicity and playfulness of manner, coupled with the most sturdy and masculine integrity of conduct and purpose, a generosity of heart that could not say nay to a friend except at the call of conscience, a ready eloquence, a universal cheerfulness that begat its like in all with whom it came into contact, and a controlling piety that instead of being put on for set occasions seemed to interpenetrate overy faculty of the man,
“And give to every power a double power
Above their functions and their offices,”if all these united make a character on which it is a pleasure to dwell, one may be excused perhaps for giving to the amiable author of The Utopia a somewhat larger space than is due to him merely as a writer.
The Utopia. — This word, derived from the Greek oů (not) and tómos (place), and meaning literally “Nowhere,” is the name given by Sir Thomas More to an imaginary island which he feigns to have been discovered by one of the companions of Amerigo Vespucci. This island is made the scene of Sir Thomas's famous political romance. Here he pictures a commonwealth in which all the laws and all the customs of society are wise and good.
John Skelton, 1460–1529, was a poet of some note in the early part of the reign of Henry VIII. Erasmus styled him “the light and ornament of English letters."
Although this encomium is plainly undeserved, it yet shows that Skelton must have had abilities above the common order.
History. - Skelton studied at Cambridge, and afterwards took orders in the Church. He was made poet-laureate, but wore the crown with little pretension to dig. nity or grace. He had much reputation for learning and wit, and was tutor to the young Duke of York, afterwards Henry VIII. Ilis works are not very numerous, and to a modern reader not very attractive. The chief of them are Colin Cloul, Philip Sparrow, and Why Come Ye Not to Court, the last a satire on Cardinal Wolsey which succeeded in arousing that prolate's wrath very effectually. Skelton was obliged to take refuge in the sanctuary of Westminster.
“Skelton is certainly not a poet, unless some degree of comic humor, and a torrentlike volubility of words in doggerel rhyme, can make one; but this uncommon fertility in a language so little copious as ours was at this time, bespeaks a mind of some original vigor. Few English writers come nearer, in this respect, to Rabelais, whom Skelton preceded. His attempts in serious poetry are utterly contemptible; but the satirical lines on Cardinal Wolsey wero probably not ineffective. It is impossible to determine whether they were written before 1520. Though these are better known than any poem of Skelton's, his dirge on Philip Sparrow is the most comic and image jpative." - Hallam.
Hugh Latimer, 1472–1555, a Bishop of the English Church in the time of Henry VIII., was celebrated beyond all the English Reformers for his pulpit eloquence.
Latimer's Sermons have been published in 2 vols., 8vo. They are remarkable for a familiarity and drollery of style, which would hardly be tolerated in polite congregations now, though it was very popular, and produced a powerful impression then.
“Latimer, more than any other man, promoted the Reformation by his preaching. The straight-forward honesty of his remarks, the liveliness of his illustrations, luis bomely wit, his racy manner, his manly freedom, the playfulness of his temper, the simplicity of his heart, tho sincerity of his understanding, gave life and vigor to his sermons, when they were delivered, and render them now the most amusing produc. tions of that age, and to us perhaps the most valuable." – Gilpin.
Cavendish. George Cavendish, 1557, gentleman usher to Cardinal Wolsey, left in manuscript a work, The Negotiations of Thomas Wolsey, which is a valuable addition to the literature of the period.
Character of the Work. - Cavendish was on the most intimate terms with both Wolsey and Henry. In a reign in which public affairs were to an extraordinary degree controlled by personal caprice and the ebullitions of individual passion, it necessarily happened that the real history of many of the most important transactions met no eye or ear but that of the gentleman usher. Though Cavendish was a friendly witness, he yet evidently recorded with fidelity and accuracy what he actually saw and heard. Elis memoirs of Wolsey, for that is the real character of the work, are of great value, therefore, to the historian, as containing authentic information on many important points connected with that reign. The work, moreover, is written in a sort of gossiping, conversational style, that makes it pleasant reading. Another circumstance given special value to this work. Ilis account of IIenry and Wolsey was the one followed by Shakspeare, in the play of Henry VIII., many of the passages in Shakspeare being Cavendish's prose turned into verse.
Berners. John Bourchier, Lord Berners, 1532, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Henry VIII., has connected his name very pleasantly with literature by his translations from the old chronicles, and particularly by his translation of Froissart. The translation was made at the request of King Henry.
"A soldier, a statesman, and a scholar, this nobleman was singularly well adapted for the task which he undertook. Indeed, considering the period of its completion, it was a sort of literary miracle." - Dibdin.
SIR Joux BELLENDEN, 1550, was a Scotch historian and poet of some repute in the reign of James V. of Scotland.
While Berners was translating Froissart for his royal master in England, Bellenden was doing a like office for James in Scotland. At the request of the latter, Bellenden translated a Latin work, “The Chronicles of Scotland," and the first five books of Livy. The Chronicle, printed in 1536, is worthy of note as being the earliest specimen of prose in the northern part of the island, and likewise as containing the story followed by Shakspeare in the tragedy of Macbeth.
Barclay. Alexander Barclay, 1552, is one of the names of poetical note in the first half of the sixteenth century.
Barclay employed his pen chiefly in translation. This principal work is The Ship of Fonls, from the German of Brandt, with numerous adaptations to English manners, giving a variety of follies which he found among his own countrymen. The satire consists in giving a description of each of the passengers on board the ship. The first Fool described is The Bookworm, who begins his story as follows:
" Lo in likewise of bookës I have store,
"All ancient satirical writings, even those of an inferior cast, have their morit, and deserve attention, as they transmit pictures of familiar manners, and preserve popular customs. In this light, at least, Barclay's Ship of Fools, which is a general satire on the times, will be found entertaining. Nor must it be denied, that his language is more cultivated than that of many of his contemporaries, and that he contributed his share to the improvement of the English phraseology." — Warton.
Wyatt. Sir Thomas Wyatt, 1503-1542, was an accomplished diplomatist and statesman in the reign of Henry VIII. Wyatt is also favorably known as a poet.
Wyatt wrote no long poems. His effusions are chiefly amatory, or satirical.
His Career. - Wyatt entered Cambridge at a very early age, was graduated, and, through strong family influence, rose high in Court favor under Henry VIII. During the stormy time between the outbreak of the Reformation and the peace of Augsburg, Wyatt was ambassador for two years at the Court of Charles V. of Germany. Once or twice under a cloud, he finally died high in the King's favor.
His Poetry.-Wyatt, like so many of the statesmen of that day, also cultivated the muses. Ile was an accomplished cavalier and a writer of verses after the approved fashion. He is generally classed with Surrey, and their poems have often been published in the same volume. Wyatt's love-poetry is tender and graceful, but somewhat spoiled by the conceits of his Italian models. His satires are more idiomatic and more spirited.
“We must agree with a critic above quoted that Wyatt co-operated with Surrey in having corrected the roughness of our poetic style. But Wyatt, although snfficiently distinguished from the common versifiers of his age, is confessedly inferior to Surrey in harmony of numbers, perspicuity of expression, and facility of phraseology. Nor is he equal to Surrey in elegance of sentiment, in nature and sensibility. His feelings are disguised by affectation and disfigured by conceit. His declarations of passion are also enibarrassed by wit and fancy, and his style is not intelligible in proportion as it is careless and unndorned.
The truth is, his genius was of the moral and didactic species; and his poems abound more in good sense, satire, and observations on life, than in pathos or imagination." -- Warton.
Surrey. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, 1516–1547, one of the brilliant ornaments of the reign of Henry VIII., is distinguished in letters by his Sonnets and Songs, and especially by his being the first writer of Blank Verse in English.
Surrey translated into blank verse the first and fourth books of Virgil's Æneid. He also was the first Englishman that wrote Sonnets after the Italian model.