(Circa 1338.) John Capgrave, born at Lynn in Norfolk, and monk of St. Augustine's monastery at Canterbury, is known as the translator into English verse of a Life of St. Catherine, written originally in Greek by Athanasius, and rendered thence into Latin by a priest named Arreck. Sir Henry Spelman, in whose possession the work (now one of the Rawlinson Mss., No. 118) once was, gives this description of the nature of the poem, and of its author : “A preiste, which this author, John Capgrave, nameth Arreck, having heard much of St. Katherin, bestowed eighteen years to search out her life, and for that purpose spent twelve of them in Greece. At last, by direction of a vision in the days of Peter king of Cyprus and Pope Urban V., he digged up in Cyprus an old booke of that very matter, written by Athanasius, byshop of Alexandria (but whether he that made the creede or not the author doubteth), and hidden there 100 yeares before by Anylon FitzAmarack. Then did this Arreck compile her story into Latin ; and then also did he make it into English verse, but leaving it unperfected, and in obscure rude English. Capgrave not only enlarged it, but refyned it to the phrase of his tyme, as himselfe testifyethe. This priest, as Capgrave also sheweth, died at Lynn, many yeares before his tyme.” Capgrave was also the author of a Commentary on Genesis, dedicated by him to Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. The library of Oriel College, Oxford, possesses the author's original manuscript of this work. In the superb initial letter of the dedicatory epistle is a curious illumination of the author humbly presenting his book to his patron, the duke, who is seated and covered with a sort of hat. At the end is this entry in the handwriting of the Duke Humphrey :

Cest livre est a moy, Ilumfrey duc de Gloucestre, du don de frere Jehan Capgrave, quy le me fist presenter a mon manoyr de Pensherst le jour ... de lan MCCCXXXVIII," This is one of the books which Humphrey gave to his new library at Oxford, destroyed or dispersed by the active reformers under young Edward.


(Circa 1350.) The distinctive character of Welsh poetry, during the last seventy years of the 14th century, writes Mr. Stephens, is love. Other subjects also occupied the attention of the bards; and the era is remark

able for the variety of the topics embraced, as well as for the sweetness of the poems and the elegance of the versification; for the country being at peace, they were no longer compelled to dedicate their talents to the service of war, and were consequently allowed greater latitude in the selection of their subjects. But the fair sex quite monopolised the favour of the poets; and there is scarcely one of them who has not written amatory verses. We have two love-poems by Jorwerth Vychan; by Casnoden, one; by Gruffyd ap Meredydd, six; by Gronwy ap Davydd, three; by Gronwy Gyrriog, one ; by Jorwerth Gyrriog, one; by Sevnyn, one; by Gronwy Ddu, one; by Mab y Clochyddyn, one; by Davydd ap Gwilym, the Cambrian Petrarch, seven score and seven ; and last, though not least, by Rhys Goch ap Rhiccert, who has left us twenty poems, chiefly on the same subject. The latter poet lived at Tir Tarll, in Glamorganshire; and in common with his contemporary, Davydd ap Gwilym, “ the nightingale of Dyved,” displayed an exuberance of fancy, an elegance of taste, and a fertility of invention, almost unknown to their poetical predecessors in the principality.


(Circa 1350.) Alexander, prior of the monastery of Essebie, in the reign of King Edward III., was reckoned among the chief of English poets and orators of that age.


(Circa 1369.) Peter Fenton, a monk of Melrose Abbey, is said to have written 6 in old ryme, like to Chaucer,” a narrative of the adventures of Robert Bruce. The work is mentioned by Gordon, in the preface to his poem on the same subject; but there is no trace of it, and it is not improbable that Fenton merely transcribed Barbour's poem.


(1370-1454.) Particulars of Hoccleve's life have been very sparingly transmitted to us: some of those too which we have are totally inconsistent

with many of his sentiments, as delivered by him in his poetry. The very time of his birth, and the duration of his existence, are left ex, ceedingly at large by all who mention him. Yet both of these may be pretty nearly ascertained from his writings. It is most probable

[graphic][merged small]

that Hoccleve was born about the year 1370. From what our poet says of himself, he has been styled Chaucer's disciple. The age he was of when first honoured by the notice of this great master does not appear; but according to the computation of his birth, he must have been thirty years old when Chaucer died.

Pitts says that Hoccleve studied the law at Chester's Inn, and was a writer to the Privy Seal for twenty years. His residence at “ Chestres Inn* by the Strande” is testified by himself in the introduction to his poem De Regimine Principum. That he belonged to the Privy Seal for a considerable length of time, in the younger and middle part of his life, is almost manifest in his first poems. When he quitted this office, or what means of subsistence he afterwards had, cannot be so clearly determined. Pitts seems to insinuate that he was provided for by Humphrey duke of Gloucester, saying, “that he wonderfully celebrated this patron in his verses.” Both these things may possibly be true ; but no specific vouchers are adduced for either by Pitts. Mr. Warton, indeed, strengthens the

* This, one of the buildings pulled down for the first erection of Somerset House, was once the town residence of the Bishops of Lichfield, who were formerly called Bishops of Chester.

latter assertion by saying, “ Hoccleve in this poem (De Regimine Principum), and in others, often celebrates Humphrey duke of Gloucester.” As to these others, Warton probably had grounds for what he advanced ; but the poem De Regimine Principum makes no mention of Humphrey, nor was it at all likely that it should; since, at the time of Hoccleve's promulgating that work, Humphrey was neither duke of Gloucester nor of an age to be a patron. There are passages of the poems to Prince John which almost imply his being then under a tutor; and Humphrey was the youngest of the princes. In all the seventeen pieces published by Mr. Mason there is certainly not a word of Humphrey. One of the dates assigned as his era in Tanner's Bibliotheca is 1454, which is very likely to have been the year of his decease.

Bale tells us " that Hoccleve had imbibed the religious tenets of Wicliff and Berengarius," and seemingly quotes a passage from Walsingham to prove it. As the passage stands in the printed copies of Walsingham, it has been grievously misquoted by Bale. The historian is speaking of Wicliff in the year 1381, and says of him: “re-assumens damnatas opiniones Berengarii et Ocklefe.” This passage would make Wicliff an Ocklesian, instead of Ocklefe a Wicliffian, and could never relate to our Hoccleve, then a boy not twelve years old. Indeed, from comparing Walsingham with himself in his Y podeigma Neustrive, and with the Monk of Evesham's Life of Richard II., the words “et Ocklefe" seem rather some blundering interpolation. Our author had so little imbibed the tenets of that early reformer, that he frequently shows himself much too violent against Wicliff's followers.

Many circumstances of Hoccleve's private life are displayed in his poems. Private anecdotes in the least degree characteristic are always amusing; and when they bring us acquainted with peculiar habits and manners after the intervention of centuries, can hardly fail to interest readers of curiosity. The subject of one of his poems is the poet's own dissipated life. Nor is his propensity to extravagance unaccountable, since the example of the second Richard's courts was always before his eyes in his youth.

The poetical merit of our author has been variously estimated by those who have treated of it. It would be idle to refer to Pitts or Bale as arbiters in this way; but William Browne, who had an easy vein of harmonious poetry, and cannot well be supposed an incompetent judge on the subject, has incorporated into his Shepheard's Pipe a whole poem written by Hoccleve, translated from the Gesta Romanorum, and entitled The Story of Jonathas. Browne soon after says:

“ Well I wot, the man that first

Sung this lay did quench his thirst
Deeply as did ever one
In the Muses' Helicon."

Mr. Warton, in his dissertation on the Gesta Romanorum, directly dissents from the writer of these praises; yet his chief reason for doing so seems not to be warranted by the real state of the fact. His words are: “He (Hoccleve) has given no sort of embellishment to his original.” Now, though Hoccleve adheres closely to the substance of the story, yet he embellishes it in various places by judicious insertions of his own, and of which there are no traces at all in his original. The tale would absolutely appear in certain parts of it as if it had been mutilated, were it not for these additional touches. In some of them there is a strain of pleasantry similar to that of Prior.

In his earlier volume of the History of English Poetry, Mr. Warton speaks unfavourably of the talents of Hoccleve, calling him “a feeble writer as a poet;" and goes so far as to say, “the titles of his pieces indicate coldness of genius.” And may not such a remark be said to indicate some degree of prejudice ? Many an admirable poem would stand in danger of being consigned to oblivion, if an index expurgatorius should be framed from the bare construction of titles. The very person here stigmatised for coldness of genius is (a few pages after) deservedly commended by his censurer for expressing great warmth of sensibility in some lines to the memory of Chaucer.

Mr. Warton's final sentence against Hoccleve is grounded on supposing in him a total want of “invention and fancy.” But there are strong reasons for believing that none of Hoccleve's poems published by Mr. Mason, except two of the shortest, could ever have been seen by Mr. Warton. Of the remaining fifteen, the title only of one is to be seen in Tanner, who could give no intimation as to where the poem itself existed. Mr. Tyrwhitt knew of no other ms. in which any of these fifteen pieces were to be met with. Had some of these been seen by Mr. Warton, it is highly probable that he would have perceived more originality in Hoccleve than he deemed him possessed of, and consequently have held him in a somewhat higher degree of estimation. There is at least through the whole of the poems of Hoccleve printed by Mr. Mason a negative merit, which Mr. Warton must have accounted singular in a poet of so early a period, since this very merit is alleged by himself against allowing the authenticity of the poems called Rowley's,—the merit that there are no anachronisms, no incongruous combinations. It is not meant to be asserted that Hoccleve was always free from any defect of this sort;

« VorigeDoorgaan »