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against the free exercise of the human understand. ing. Wit and poetry, which in the former age had given deep offence to all orders of ecclesiastics, by the reckless levity and ridicule with which they exposed the rapacity and craft, the luxury and corruptions of churchmen, began to be dreaded as dangerous, as well as to be hated from being insulting ; and both were virtually “bound over to keep the peace" under penalties which, if they could not stop their occasional eccentric flights, effectually prevented their steady progress.
In the subsequent reigns many spirit-stirring scenes were witnessed by Englishmen at home and abroad, but no poet rose to record them; and the few worthless names which remain in poetical history at this time rather serve to cumber the memory than to add to the stores of knowledge or pleasure.
The settlement of the government by Henry VII. is the date in English history on which the philosopher, the legislator, and the poet fix, as the commencement of a better era ; but the dawn of poetry may be referred to the reign of his successor, Henry VIII. It would, however, be unpardonable to neglect our first female writer and poet, though we must return to the fifteenth century to do homage to this paragon.
The worthy lady, Dame Juliana Berners, prior. ess of Sopewell, is no bright instance of either the genius or delicacy of her sex in the fifteenth century. In the age of love and romance, of virelais, rondeaus, balades, and bargarets, when the Court OF LOVE and the FLORAL GAMES could scarcely have been forgotten, and love-stories were the only polite literature, the Prioress composed a treatise on hunting, hawking, and heraldry, in prose and verse. It was published in 1481 at the neighbouring monastery of St Albans, where the art of printing was now practised ; and again by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496. The gross and indelicate manners of the times can easily be guessed at from her Ladyship's pages ; for even in assuming to teach the mystery of “gentle wood-craft,” she could not so far have laid aside the decencies of her sex and profession, had there been any thing to wonder at in her broad speech and free allusions. Warton conjectures that these treatises are translations from the French or Latin, but brings nothing to support this supposition. The verses are as rugged as it is possible for rhymes to be; but Elis has given the epilogue to the treatise, which is at once quaint and sagacious, and much smoother in language. It appears, indeed, to me to be of later date than the Dame Juliana's works; but on the authority of Ellis a stanza is here subjoined :
TO HAVE A FAITHFUL PRIEND.
It befell me upon a time,
The only valuable poetical relique which we possess between the death of Chaucer and the tin of Surrey is the dramatic ballad of the NutBROWN Maid. Its date is the end of the fif. teenth, or the beginning of the sixteenth century, its author is unknown. This lovely and unclaimed story possesses a refinement and tenderness of sentiment, and a simplicity and touching beauty of expression, which render cold and flat the courtly strains of even Surrey and Wyatt. The unhappy paraphrase of this ballad, attempted by Prior in his poem of Henry and Emma, is the best illustration that could be desired of the difference between the natural and the artificial in poetry. It is mortifying to find, that one who could in any degree feel the delicacy of this old ballad, durst profane its intrinsic beauty. All attempts to modernize the elder poets have ever failed more or less. Dryden has often smoothed the lines of Chaucer, while he lopped or distorted his ideas ; but here the failure is complete, and the contrast between native genius and sensibility, and merely happy talents, aided by the nicest polish of art, is marked in a way that ought to be of useful example. Besides, by tricking out
and disguising the Nut-Brown Maid in this modish fashion, Prior has drawn the moral fore-hammer of Johnson upon her devoted head ; and it is not a little amusing to find the “ great moralist,” who seems entirely unacquainted with the real NutBrown Maid, or the materials on which Prior worked, earnestly and gravely denouncing Emma as 'a forward minx whose example is of very dangerous tendency. This is indeed
To break a butterfly upon the wheel.
At the risk of dwelling too long on this “ flower in the winter-solstice of our poetry,” a few verses of the Nut-Brown Maid are submitted to the indulgence of the modern reader.
A high-born lover, who, in the disguise of a squire of low degree, has gained the affections of the Nut-Brown Maid, a baron's daughter, wishes to put her love and fidelity the extreme trial the female mind can sustain; and telling her that he has committed a crime, for which he must suffer death or fly, bids her farewell. Her reply to this alarming intelligence is as follows:
That changeth as the mone!
Is derked before the none.
We départ nat so sone.
Alas! what have ye done ?
All my welfare to sorrowe and care
Sholde chaunge, yf ye were gone; For, in my mynde, of all mankynde
I love but you alone.
I can beleve, it shall you greve,
And somewhat you dystrayne ;
Within a day or twayne
Comfort to you agayne.
Your labour were in vayne.
As hartely, as I can;
Alone, a banyshed man.
The secret of your mynde,
Lyke as ye shall me fynde.
I wolle not leve behynde; Shall never be sayd, the Not. browne Mayd
Was to her love unkynde :
Allthough it were anone;
I love but you alone.