« ForrigeFortsæt »
the best known, which may serve as a sample of the somewhat gross satirical humour of the rest, turns upon a dispute between the Four Ps of its title,-a Palmer, a Pardoner, a 'Poticary, and a Pedlar--as to who can tell the greatest falsehood. The Palmer, following in his turn, and commenting upon some previous statement unfavourable to women, asserts, as if accidentally, that
'Nat one good cytye, towne nor borough
Of all the women that I have sene,
I never sawe nor knewe in my conscyens
It is needless to add that the speaker is at once held to have attained the maximum of mendacity.
31. Ballad Poetry.—In his description of the 'Seven Deadly Sins,' the author of Piers the Plowman makes the priest, Sloth, confess his ignorance of his paternoster, as the prest it syngeth,' but acknowledge his familiarity with rymes of Robyn hood and Randolf erle of Chestre.'* Numbers of such rymes' or ballads, chanted or recited from house to house by minstrels of the humbler order, were current during this period, though the majority of them are lost to us. But, even now, those collected by Ritson with reference to the Sherwood outlaw (so popular even in Bishop Latimer's day as to make the good prelate complain bitterly that his sermons were neglected for the traytoure' Robyn Hood †), make a book by themselves. For Chevy Chace, Sir Patrick Spence, The Gaberlunzie Man, The Not-Browne Mayde, and the remainder of those which Time has spared, the student is referred to the Reliques of Bishop Percy, the Border Minstrelsy of Scott, the Ballad Book of William Allingham, and the collections of Motherwell, Jamieson, Bell, Aytoun, and others.
Piers the Plowman, Edited by Skeat, 1869: B-text, Passus v. See the entire passage in Appendix A, Extract XI.
+ Sixth Sermon before Edward VI., 1549, 173-4 (Arber's reprint, 1869). See also Appendix A, Extract XX.
THE AGE OF SPENSER, SHAKESPEARE, AND
32. SUMMARY OF THE PERIOD.-33. THE POETS: GASCOIGNE, SACKVILLE.— 34. SIDNEY.-35. SPENSER. -36. THE MINOR POETS.-37. THE GROWTH OF THE ENGLISH DRAMA.-38. EARLY ENGLISH PLAYS.-39. THE PRECURSORS OF MARLOWE, ETC. 40. SHAKESPEARE. 41. THE CONTEMPORARIES OF SHAKESPEARE: JONSON, WEBSTER, BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER, MASSINGER, ETC.-42. THE PROSE WRITERS: ASCHAM.43. LYLY.-44. HOOKER, RALEIGH.-45. BACON.-46. BURTON, SELDEN, LORD HERBERT.-47. THE MINOR PROSE WRITERS.-48. THE AUTHORISED VERSION OF THE BIBLE.
32. Summary of the Period.-According to the classification we have hitherto adopted, the stage of Middle English,' or English in revival' or 'supremacy,' came to an end with the first half of the sixteenth century (see p. 8, s. 3). With 1550 begins the period of Modern English,' or English in' sole dominion.' This continues to the present day; for, generally speaking, the English of the Victorians does not essentially differ from that of the Elizabethans. The more material alterations in the grammar and vocabulary of the language had been effected when the two great revolutions had done their work. It must, however, be once more repeated that the dates here given for the commencement and termination of these successive stages of transition are at the best approximate. During the second revolution, that breaking-up of the grammar which is the main characteristic of the first, would still proceed, though less appreciably; and, if it be asserted that no so-called linguistic revolution has taken place since 1550, it does not by any means follow that our language has undergone no changes in structure or substance during the period that intervenes. The dates used simply denote or limit the epochs during which the two great movements were in most noticeable activity. Time, says one of the great writers of this era (Lord Bacon), 'Innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees,
scarce to be perceived;'* and the alterations of a language are effected in the same imperceptible yet resistless manner.
The foregoing chapter extended over two centuries; the present includes seventy-five years only. But these seventy-five years constitute the most prolific period in our literature. Never, in England at least, has been witnessed so magnificent an outburst of the creative faculty, so rare an assembling of splendid and diverse powers. Spenser, Shakespeare, Bacon—the luminous names alone out-dazzle all around them. Yet the plays of Webster and Marlowe (to take a pair at random), the verse of Sackville and Sidney, the prose of Hooker and Raleigh, might well have sufficed to make a time illustrious; and behind these again there is a host of contemporaries scarcely less gifted.
The three great writers of this 'golden age' of English historyfor, be it remembered, it was also the age of Drake, of Cecil, and of Walsingham-serve to centralize the different groups of poets, playwrights, and prose-writers. Spenser's brief life ended in 1599, and the majority of his poems were produced in the latter half of the reign of Elizabeth. To the close of the same period, and the early years of James, belong the plays of Shakespeare; while Bacon's works are confined, almost exclusively, to James' reign. Romantic poetry may therefore be said to have reached its zenith first, dramatic poetry next, and prose last. Hence, the writers of the period under consideration fall easily into the succession adopted in this chapter. If a classification be desirable, s. 33 to s. 37 may be said to treat of 'Spenser and the Poets,' s. 37 to s. 42 of 'Shakespeare and the Dramatists' and s. 42 to s. 48 of Bacon and the Prose Writers' But such an arrangement can be adopted solely for convenience sake, as some of the so-called poets wrote plays and prose, and many of the dramatists are famous by works that are purely poetical.
33. The Poets: Gascoigne, Sackville.—The Steele Glas, a by-no-means 'toothless satire,' in blank verse, on contemporary fashions and follies, is the most important of the poetical works of George Gascoigne (1536?-1577), who, after varied fortunes, settled down as a courtier and masque writer, in which latter capacity he contributed, by his Princelye Pleasures at Kenelworth, to the entertainment given by Leicester to Queen Elizabeth in 1575 (see also p. 61, s. 38). The literary reputation of Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset (1536-1608), Lord High Treasurer of England, rests
Essayes or Counsels, Cirill and Morall, 1625, p. 527 (Arber's reprint, 1871).
chiefly upon his connection with the Myrroure for Magistrates, the plan of which he had himself originated, a series of metrical narratives of the lives of illustrious and unfortunate persons-Boccacio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium over again, in fact (see p. 41, s. 19). The first edition of the Myrroure by William Baldwin (f. xvi. cent.) and George Ferrers (1512?-79) was published in 1559; to the second, Sackville contributed an Induction or prologue in the seven-line stanza, and the Complaint of Henry, Duke of Buckingham -the Buckingham of Shakespeare's Richard III. (d. 1483). It was subsequently continued by various hands'-Thomas Phaer, who translated the Eneid, and Thomas Churchyard (1520– 1604), a multifarious poet, among others; but Sackville's portions alone have saved the work from comparative oblivion. The scene of the Induction is laid in Hell, where, at the gates of Elysium, the characters relate their stories, and it includes a number of sombre and powerful personifications of Remorse, Avarice, and so forth, which will bear a comparison with Spenser's delineations. 'But,' says Campbell, though the Induction to The Mirror for Magistrates displays some potent sketches, it bears the complexion of a saturnine genius, and resembles a bold and gloomy landscape on which the sun never shines* (see also p. 61, s. 38).
34. Sidney. Having regard to his historical eminence, the works of Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) are scarcely equal to his fame. One is almost disconcerted to find that the literary claims of the noble soldier of Zutphen, the Lumen familiæ suæ,' and 'jewell of his times,'-the candid courtier and the precocious ambassador-are based upon a lengthy (yet unfinished) pastoral romance,' a few fashionable love-poems, and a not very extensive essay. Yet it should be remembered that these were, at best, but recreations, not destined for the public eye.† The Arcadia, 1590 (first referred to), was composed in retirement at Wilton ten years previously to amuse the poet's sister, Mary, Countess of Pembroke, Ben Jonson's 'subject of all verse;' and its author is said to have expressed his desire that it should be destroyed; the Astrophel and Stella are sonnets to Penelope Devereux, afterwards Lady Rich; and the Apologie for Poetrie, though undoubtedly prompted by the strictures upon poets in the Schoole of Abuse, and its sequel, published in 1579 by Stephen Gosson (1555-1624), remained in MS. until 1595. The poems and the essay are the most memorable of his productions. Charles Lamb (there can be no more competent judge of Elizabethan
Essay on English Poetry, 1848, p. 152.
'work) praises the sonnets highly ;* and the reader may be especially referred to the one beginning, With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies; and to the Highway, since you my chief Parnassus be-which even Hazlitt, who failed to admire the author, could not refrain from quoting.† Longfellow has called the Apologie a golden little volume, which the scholar may lay beneath his pillow.' But, despite its exalted chivalry and elaborate eloquence,-for, be it remarked, Sidney's prose is, artistically, far in advance of that of preceding writers, the tediousness of the Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia will always to some extent neutralise the beauties that it undoubtedly contains.
35. Spenser. Under his pseudonym of Astrophel, Sidney was mourned by a more illustrious contemporary-Edmund Spenser (1552?-99), whose beautiful monody upon the death of his friend was published in 1595, inscribed to Sidney's widow, then Countess of Essex. The record of Spenser's life is as scant as that of Chaucer or Shakespeare. Born in London in 1552, he was educated at Cambridge, where he formed a friendship with that Gabriel Harvey (1545-1630), who desired that he might be epitaphed the inventor of the [not yet naturalised] English hexameter,' and by whom he was later (circa 1578) introduced to Sidney. To Sidney, 'as most worthie of all titles both of learning and chivalry,' he inscribed his first published work—the Shepheard's Calendar—in which Harvey figures as Hobbinol.' In 1580 he went to Ireland as Lord Wilton's secretary, returning in 1582. Four years after this, Elizabeth presented him with the estate of Kilcolman, the obligation by patent to cultivate which, determined his residence in Ireland. Here he designed and wrote the commencement of the Faery Queene. Raleigh the Shepherd of the Ocean'-(as Spenser afterwards styles him in a poetical account of the occurrence),‡ visited him at this period, and urged him to present his poem to Elizabeth. The Queen received it graciously, and granted the poet a pension of 50l. per annum, from which it has been inferred that he was, virtually, the first of the Laureates. In 1594, he was married, at Cork, to the lady whose wooing and winning he has celebrated in his Amoretti and Epithalamion. During Tyrone's Rebellion, in 1598, the Irish insurgents burned his castle of Kilcolman, and one of his children perished in the flames. The poet himself escaped to London, and died shortly after in King Street, Westminster, certainly in
*Last Essays of Elia.
↑ Lectures on the Literature of the Age of Elizabeth, 1870, vi. 212. See also Appendix A, Extract XXV.
Colin Cloute's come home again.