The opinions which prevailed with regard to these topics in the days of Shakspeare, were such as exactly suited the higher regions of poetry, without giving any violent shock to the deductions of advancing philosophy. The national credulity had been, in fact, greatly chastised, through the efforts of enquiry and research, and though it may still appear great to us, was in perfect accordance with the progress of civilisation, and certainly much better calculated for poetic purposes than has been any subsequent though purer creed.

The state of literature, too, was precisely of that kind which favoured, in a very high degree, the nurture of poetical genius. The vocabulary of our language was rich, beyond all example, both in natives and exotics; not only in a new grafts of old withered words, "'* but in a multitude of expressive terms borrowed from the learned languages; and this wealth was used freely and without restriction, and without the smallest apprehension of censure.

An enthusiastic spirit for literary acquisition had been created and cherished by the revival, the study, and the translation of the ancient classics; and through this medium an exhaustless mine of imagery and illusion was laid open to our verpacular poets.

Nor were these advantages blighted or checked by the fastidious canons of dictatorial criticism. Puttenham's was the only “ Art of poetry” which had made its appearance, and, though a taste for discussion of this kind was rapidly advancing, the poet was yet lest independent of the critic; at liberty to indulge every flight of imagination, and every sally of feeling; to pursue his first mode of conception, and to adopt the free diction of the moment,

The age of chivalry and romance, also, had not yet passed away; the former, it is true, was verging fast towards dissolution, but its tone was still exalting and heroic, while the latter continued to throw a rich, though occasionally a fantastic light over every species of poetic composition. In short, the unrestricted copiousness of our language, the striking peculiarities of our national superstition, the wild beauties of Gothic invention, and the playful sallies of Italian fiction, combined with a plentiful infusion of classic lore, and operating on native genius, gave origin, not only to an unparalleled number of great bards, but to a cast of poetry unequalled in this country for its powers of description and creation, for its simplicity and energy of diction, and for its wide dominion over the feelings.

If we proceed to consider the versification, economy, and sentiment of the Elizabethan poetry, candour must confess, that considerable defects will be found associated with beauties equally prominent, especially in the first and second of these departments. We must be understood, however, as speaking here only of rhymed poetry, for were the blank verse of our dramatic poets of this epoch included, there can be no doubt but that in versification likewise the palm must be awarded to Shakspeare and his contemporaries. Indeed, even in the construction of rhyme, the inferiority of our ancestors is nearly, if not altogether, confined to their management of the pentameter couplet ; and here, it must be granted, that, in their best artificers of this measure, in the pages of Daniel, Drayton, and Browne, great deficiencies are often perceptible both in harmony and cadence, in polish and compactness. It has been said by a very pleasing, and, in general, a very judicious critic, “the older poets disdained stooping to the character of syllable-mongers; as their conceptions were vigorous, they trusted to the simple provision of nature for their equipment; and though often introduced into the world ragged, they are always healthy."+ Now versification is to poetry what colouring is to painting, and though by no means among the higher provinces of the art, yet he who disdains its cultivation, loses one material hold upon the reader's attention; for, though plainness and simplicity of garb best accord with

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• Preface to Gondibert. Vide Chalmers's English Poets, vol. vi. p. 351.
+ Headley's Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry, vol. i. Introduction, p. 19. edit. 1810.

vigour, sublimity, or pathos of conception, raggedness can never coincide in the production of any grand or pleasing effect.

It is remarkable, however, that, in lyrical composition, the poets of Elizabeth's reign, so far from being defective in harmony of metre, frequently possess the most studied modulation; and numbers of their songs and madrigals, as well as many stanzas of their longer poems constructed on the model of the Italian octava rima, exhibit in their versification so much high-finishing, and such an exquisite polish, as must render doubtful, in this province at least, the assumed superiority of modern art.

A more striking desideratum in the poetry of this era has arisen from a want of economy in the use of imagery and ornament, and in the distribution of parts as relative to a whole. That relief, which is produced by a judicious management of light and shade, appears to have been greatly neglected; the eye, after having been fatigued by an unsubdued splendour and warmth of style, suddenly passes to an extreme poverty of colouring, without any intermediate tint to blend and harmonize the parts; in short, to drop the metaphor, after a prodigal profusion of imagery and description, the exhausted bard sinks for pages together into a strain remarkable only for its flatness and imbecility. To this want of union in style, may be added an equal defalcation in the disposition, connection, and dependency of the various portions of an extended whole. These requisites, which are usually the result of long and elaborate study, have been successfully cultivated by the moderns, who, since the days of Pope, have paid a scrupulous attention to the mechanism of versification, to the consonancy and keeping of style, and to the niceties and economy of arrangement.

We can ascribe, however, to the poets of Elizabeth's reign the greater merit of excelling in energy and truth of sentiment, in simplicity of diction, in that artless language of nature which irresistibly makes its way to the heart. To excite the emotions of sublimity, of pity, an appeal to the artificial graces of modern growth will not be found successful; on the contrary, experience has taught us, that in the higher walks of poetry, where sensations of grandeur and astonishment are to be raised, or where the passions in all their native vigour are to be called forth, we must turn to the earlier stages of the art, when the poet, unshackled by the overwhelming influence of venerated models, unawed by the frowns of criticism, and his flow of thought undiverted by any laborious attention to the minutiæ of diction and cadence, looked abroad for himself, and drew fresh from the page of surrounding nature, and from the workings of his own breast, the imagery, and the feelings, which he was solicitous to impress. In consequence of this self-dependence, this appeal to original sources, the poetry of the period under our notice possesses a strength, a raciness, and verisimilitude which have since very rarely been attained, and which more than compensate for any subordinate defects in the ornamental departments of metre, or style.

It is conceivable, indeed, that a poet may arise, who shall happily combine, even in a long poem of the highest class, the utmost refinements of recent art, with the originality, strength, and independency of our elder bards ; it is a phenomenon, however, rather to be wished for than expected, as the excellencies peculiar to these widely separated eras appear to be, in their highest degree, nearly incompatible. Yet is the attempt not to be given up in despair; in short poems, especially of the lyric species, we know that this union has been effected among us; for Gray, to very lofty flights of sublimity, has happily united the utmost splendour of diction, and the utmost brilliancy of versification; and even in a later and more extended instance, in “ The Pleasures of Hope" by Mr. Campbell, we find some of the noblest conceptions of poetry clothed in metre exquisitely sweet, and possessing at the same time great variety of modulation, and a considerable share of simplicity in its construction.

Is, however, upon the large scale, which the highest cast of poetry demands,

the studied harmony of later times be found incapable of coalescing with effect, there can be no doubt what school we should adopt; for who would not prefer the sublime though unadorned conception of Michael Angelo to the glowing colouring even of such an artist as Titian?

of the larger poems of the age of Shakspeare, the defects may be considered as of two kinds, either apparent only, or real ; under the first may be classed that want of high-finishing which is the result, partly of its incompatibility with grsatness of design, and partly as the effect of a just taste; for much of the minor poetry of the reign of Elizabeth, as hath been previously observed, is polished even to excess; while under the second are to be placed the positive defects of want of union in style, and want of connection and arrangement in economy; omissions not resulting from necessity, and which are scarcely to be atoned for by any excellencies, however transcendent.

It is creditable to the present age, that in the higher poetry several of our bards have in a great degree reverted to the ancient school; that, in attempting to emulate the genius of their predecessors, they have judiciously adopted their strength and simplicity of diction, their freedom and variety of metre, preserving at the same time, and especially in the disposition of their materials, and the keeping of their style, whatever of modern refinement can aptly blend with or heighten the effect of the sublime, though often severely chaste outline, of the first masters of their art.

That meretricious glare of colouring, that uniform though seductive polish, and that monotony of versification, which are but too apparent in the school of Pope, and which have been carried to a disgusting excess by Darwin and his disciples, not only vitiate and dilute all development of intense emotion, but even paralyse that power of picturesque delineation, which can only subsist under an uncontrolled freedom of execution, where, both in language and rhythm, the utmost variety and energy have their full play. He who in sublimity and pathos has made the nearest approach to our three immortal bards, Spenser, Shakspeare and Milton, and who may, therefore, claim the fourth place in our poetical annals, the lamented Chatterton; and be who, in the present day, stands unrivalled for his numerous and masterly sketches of character, and for the truth, locality, and vigour of his descriptions, the poet of Marmion and of Rokeby, are both well known to have built their fame upon what may be emphatically termed the old English school of poesy. The difference between them is, that while both revert to the costume and imagery of the olden time, one adheres, in a great measure, to the language of his day, while the other must be deemed a laborious though not very successful imitator of the phraseology and extrinsic garb of the remote period to which, for no very laudable purpose, he has assigned his productions.

These few remarks on the poetry of our ancestors being premised, the critical notices to which we have alluded, may with propriety commence; and in executing this part of the subject, as well as in the tabular form which follows, an alphabetical arrangement will be observed.

1. BEAUMONT, SIR JOHN. Though the poems of this author were not published, yet were they written, during the age of Shakspeare, and consequently demand our notice in this chapter. He was the elder brother of Francis the dramatic poet, and was born at Gracedieu, in Leicestershire, in 1582. He very early attached himself to poetical studies, and all his productions in this way were the amusements of his youthful days. Of these, the most elaborate is entitled “ Bosworth Field,” a very animated and often a very poetical detail of the circumstances which are supposed immediately to precede and accompany this celebrated struggle. The versification merits peculiar praise; there is an ease, a vigour, and a harmony in it, not equalled, perhaps, by any other poet of his time; many of the couplets, indeed, are such as would be distinguished for the beauty of their construction, even in the writings of Pope. An encomium so strong as this may require some proofs for its support, and among the number which might


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be brought forward, three shall be adduced as specimens not only of finished versification, but of the energy and heroism of the sentiments which pervade this striking poem.

« There he beholds a high and glorious throne,

Where sits a king by lawrell garlands knowne,
Like bright Apollo in the Muses' quires,
His radiant eyes are watchfull heavenly fires;
Beneath his seete pale Envie bites her chaine,

And snaky Discord whets her sting in vaine."
Ferrers, addressing Richard, exclaims,-

" I will obtaine to-day, alive or dead,
The crownes that grace a faithfull souldiers head.
* Blest be thy tongue,' replies the king,' in thee
The strength of all thine ancestors I see,
Extending warlike armes for England's good,

By thee their heire, in valour as in blood.” On the flight of Gatesby, who advises Richard to embrace a similar mode of securing his

personal safety, the King indignantly answers,

“ Let cowards trust their horses' nimble feete,

And in their course with new destruction meete;
Gaine thou some houres to draw thy fearefull breath :

To me ignoble flight is worse than death.” Of the conclusion of Bosworth Field, Mr. Chalmers has justly observed, that “ the lines describing the death of the tyrant may be submitted with confidence to the admirers of Shakspeare.'

The translations and miscellaneous poems of Sir John include several pieces of considerable merit. We would particularly point out Claudian's Epigram on the Old Man of Verona, and the verses on his “ dear sonne Gervase Beaumont."

Sir John died in the winter of 1628, aged forty-six.

2. BRETON, NICHOLAS. Of this prolific poet few authenticated facts are known. His first publication, entitled, “A small handfull of fragrant flowers," was printed in 1575; if we therefore allow him to have reached the age of twentyone before he commenced a writer, the date of his birth may, with some probabability, be assigned to the year 1554. The number of his productions was so great, that a character in Beaumont and Fletcher's “ Scornful Lady,” declares that he had undertaken “ with labour and experience the collection of those thousand pieces of that our honour'd Englishman, Nich. Breton.” (Act ii.) Ritson has given a catalogue of twenty-nine, independent of his contributions to the “Phænix Nest” and “England's Helicon," and five more are recorded by Mr. Park in the Censura Literaria. * Most of these are poetical, some a mixed composition of rhyme and prose, and a few entirely prose; they are all extremely scarce, certainly not the consequence of mediocrity or want of notice, for they have been praised by Puttenham, + Meres, I and Phillips; and one of his most beautiful ballads is inserted in The Muse's Library," 1740. After a lapse of twenty-five years, Dr. Percy recalled the attention of the public to our author by inserting in his Reliques the same piece which Mrs. Cowper had previously chosen; Sin 1801 Mr. Ellis favoured us with eight specimens, from his pamphlets and “ England's Helicon, and Mr. Park has since added two very valuable extracts to the number. 4+ These induce us to wish for a more copious selection, and at the same time enable us to declare, that as a lyric and pastoral poet he possessed, if not a splendid, yet a pleasing and elegant flow of sancy, together with great sweetness

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* * *

• Vol. ix. p. 163.

Arte of English Poesie, reprint of 1911. p. 19. Vide Censura Literaria, vol. ix. p. 47.

Percy's Reliques, vol. iii. p. 62. ** Specimens of the Early English Poets, vol. ii. p.140. ++ Censura Literaria, vol. ix. pp. 169, 161.

and simplicity of expression, and a more than common portion of metrical harmony.

He is supposed, on the authority of an epitaph in the church of Norton, a village in Northamptonshire, to have died on the 22d of June, 1624.*

3. BROWNE, WILLIAM, was born at Tavistock, in Devonshire, in 1590, and, there is reason to suppose, began very early to cultivate his poetical talents; for in the first book of his “Britannias Pastorals," which were published in folio, in 1613, when in his twenty-third year, he speaks of himself, “ as weake in yeares as skill"#, which leads to the supposition that his earlier pastorals were written before he had attained the age of twenty. Indeed, all his poetry appears to have been written previous to his thirtieth year. In 1614, he printed in octavo, “ The Shepherd's Pipe,” in seven eclogues; in 1616, the second part of his “Britannias Pastorals” was given to the public, and in 1620, his “Inner Temple Mask” is supposed to have been first exhibited.

Browne enjoyed a large share of popularity during his life-time; numerous commendatory poems are prefixed to the first edition of his pastorals; and, in a copy of the second impression of 1625, in the possession of Mr. Beloe, and which seems to have been a presentation copy to Exeter College, Oxford, of which Browne was a member and Master of Arts, there are thirteen adulatory addresses to the poet, from different students of this society, and in the handwriting of each. Among his earliest eulogists are found the great characters Selden, Drayton, and Jonson, by whom he was highly respected both as a poet and as a man; and as a still more imperishable honour, we must not forget to mention, that he was a favourite with our divine Milton.

Until lately, however, he has been under little obligation to subsequent times; nearly one hundred and fifty years elapsed before a third edition of his poems employed the press; this came out in 1772, under the auspices of Mr. Thomas Davies, and, with the exception of some extracts) in Hayward's British Muse, this long interval passed without any attempt to revive his fame, by any judicious specimens of his genius. A more propitious era followed the republication of Davies ; in 1787, Mr. Headley obliged us with some striking proofs of, and some excellent remarks on, his beauties; in 1792, his whole works were incorporated in the edition of the poets, by Dr. Anderson; in 1801, Mr. Ellis gave further extension to his fame by additional examples, and in 1810 his productions again became a component part of a body of English poetry in the very elaborate and comprehensive edition of the English poets, by Mr. Chalmers.

Still it appears to us, that sufficient justice has not, since the era of Milton, been paid to his talents ; for, though it be true, as Mr. Headley has observed, that puerilities, forced allusions, and conceits, have frequently debased his materials; yet are these amply atoned for by some of the highest excellencies of his art; by an imagination ardent and fertile, and sometimes sublime; by a vivid personification of passion ; by a minute and truly faithful delineation of rural scenery; by a peculiar vein of tenderness which runs through the whole of his pastorals, and by a versification uncommonly varied and melodious. With these are combined a species of romantic extravagancy which sometimes heightens, but more frequently degrades, the effect of his pictures. Had he exhibited greater judgment in the selection of his imagery, and greater simplicity in his style, his claim on posterity would have been valid, had been general and undisputed, Browne is conjectured by Wood to have died in the winter of 1645. S

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Shaw's Staffordshire, vol. i. p. 442. Ritson's Bibliographia Poetica, p. 143.
Chalmers's English Poets, vol. vi. p. 268. col. 2.

It is sufficient praise, however, to remark, that Milton, both in his L'Allegro and his Lycidas, is under many obligations to our author.

We are told by Prince, in his " Worthies of Devonshire," that as Browne “ had honoured his country with his sweet and elegant Pastorals, so it was expected, and he also entreated a little farther to grace it

, by his drawing out the line of his poetic ancestors, beginning in Joseph Jocanus, and ending in himself.”. Had this design been executed, how much more full and curious had our information been with regard to

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