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confessor of his poem a good Catholic as well as minister of the laughing eyed goddess of antiquity, and an instructor at least as learned in his breviary as in Ovid.
The revival of learning threw open the rich stores of classical literature to the studious; and they were too absorbed in contemplating the treasures of antiquity, and fathoming the subtle discussions of the old philosophers, to cultivate the bold yet simple strains of national poetry. Humbler minstrels strove for the wreaths of the muses, and in their unpolished ballads and fugitive verses, full of strong and marked character and expression, spoke plainly of the popular feelings and common tastes of the period. Soon afterwards the invention of printing multiplied the ancient manuscripts, and with them were sent to the world the legends* of monks and controversies of divines, until the spirit of metaphysical enquiry became general, and damped for a while the more creative genius of imagination.
But adverse to poetry as this new turn of study may have been, the troubles of the times were far more fatal to its success. Amidst the turbulence and fever of the civil wars the young spirit of intelligence struggled with a feeble power, and required the peace and reflection of after years to strengthen into maturity. It would seem that literature and the fine arts are among the bright
* See note at the end of the volume.
influences which mark the happiness and prosperity of a nation: for like delicate flames they have flickered and smouldered in the tempests of internal discord, and brightened with renewed beauty and animation in the ensuing calm of public security.
After Chaucer there is scarcely a name worthy of remembrance till the reign of Henry the Eighth. There lived however about 1420 OcCLEVE, a lawyer, who is supposed to have been Chaucer's scholar;* LYDGATE, a Benedictine monk, but not merely the poet of the monastery—at disguisings, may games, masks, mummings, and processions of pageants, he was consulted in the ceremonies and wrote the verse. There were JAMES THE FIRST of Scotland (who sang the sorrows of his captivity at Windsor, and his romantic affection for the fair Lady Jane Beaufort); HENRYSON, the schoolmaster, DUNBAR, and SIR DAVID LYNDSAY, all minstrels of the north ;-BARCLAY, and his rival, SKELTON, who was little inspired by the muses, but had the courage to declaim against Wolsey, and was only protected by the sanctuary from the vengeance of the cardinal; GAWIN DOUGLAS, a quaint but spirited translator; LORD ROCHFORD, the brother of Anna Boleyne; SIR FRANCIS BRYAN, and LORD VAUX.
HENRY HOWARD, the Earl of Surrey, whose execution was one of the last crimes of Henry the Eighth's reign, is
* Chaucer was Occleve's model rather than master. 2 Warton, 353.
highly renowned for his accomplishments, learning, and valor, as well as his romantic life and melancholy fate. He signalized himself not only at tilt and tournament, but on the battle field; and celebrated the beauty of the Lady Geraldine with the gallantry, while he defended it with the courage of a knight errant. His sonnets are polished and expressive, wanting in power, yet free from that conceit which gives an air of affectation to the works of his friend, WYATT. Both were zealous imitators of the Italian writers, but Surrey had the better discrimination and finer vein of poetry. He was the first English composer of sustained blank verse, and this, in a translation of the Æneid of Virgil, he has employed with a force and grandeur worthy of later times. His description and praise of his love Geraldine, although often quoted, is too full of personal interest to be passed over in silence :
From Tuscane came my Ladies worthy race,
The following is a favorable specimen of Wyatt:
Venemous thornes that are so sharpe and kene,
And unto man his health doth oft renue,
The fyre that all things eke consumeth clene,
The spirit of literature seemed for a time prostrated during the turbulent reign of Queen Mary, when a gloom fell alike over the humanity and the institutions of our country. The Mirrour for Magistrates however appeared at this period, and for a long time obtained a popularity which the novelty of its design and merit of its execution fully deserved. This bold and extensive poem was conceived by Thomas Sackville, the first Lord Buckhurst, and Earl of Dorset. He had purposed that all the illustrious but unfortunate characters from the Conquest to the end of the fourteenth century should pass in review before the author, who descends, like Dante, into the infernal regions, conducted by Sorrow. But Sackville only lived to complete the prefatory poem, which he calls the Induction, and the solitary legend of Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, by far the best and most eloquent part of the work, which was afterwards published with the additions of Baldwyn, Ferrers, Churchyard, Fayer, and some other authors. Sackville possessed to a certain degree that wonderful power of personification, of giving form and shape to the passions, thoughts, and affections, and representing under the guise of fabled beings the
vices and deformities of our nature, in which Spenser was afterwards unrivalled; and the curious have carefully traced the influence of the former poet upon the loftier and nobler conceptions of the latter. His personification of war, although not the most minute in detail, is lofty and imposing.
Lastly stoode Warre in glitteryng armes yclad,
With visage grym, sterne lookes, and blackely hewed:
In his right hand a naked sworde he had,
That to the hiltes was al with bloud embrewed;
Cities he sakt, and realmes that whilom flowered,
Sackville in early life, while a student at the Inner Temple, composed, in conjunction with Norton (a fellow laborer of Sternhold and Hopkins) a tragedy called Ferrex and Pollex, which is supposed to have been the first English tragedy. It is written in elevated. blank verse, the dialogue is sustained, and the characters and action appropriate. It was acted before Queen Elizabeth at Whitehall in 1561, by the students of the Inner Temple.