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THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.
AFTER the birth of a Chaucer, a Shakspere, or a Milton, it is long before the genial force of a nation can again culminate in such a triumph: time is required for the growth of the conditions. Between the birth of Chaucer and the birth of Shakspere, his sole equal, a period of more than two centuries had to elapse. It is but small compensation for this, that the more original, that is simple, natural, and true to his own nature a man is, the more certain is he to have a crowd of imitators. I do not say that such are .of no use in the world. They do not indeed advance art, but they widen the sphere of its operation ; for many will talk with the man who know nothing of the master. Too often intending but their own glory, they point the way to the source of it, and are straightway themselves forgotten.
Very little of the poetry of the fifteenth century is worthy of a different fate from that which has befallen it. Possibly the Wars of the Roses may in some measure account for the barrenness of the time; but JOHN LYDGATE.
I do not think they will explain it. In the midst of the commotions of the seventeenth century we find Milton, the only English poet of whom we are yet sure as worthy of being named with Chaucer and Shakspere.
It is in quality, however, and not in quantity that the period is deficient. It had a good many writers of poetry, some of them prolific. John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, a great imitator of Chaucer, was the principal of these, and wrote an enormous quantity of verse.
We shall find for our use enough as it were to keep us alive in passing through this desert to the Paradise of the sixteenth century-a land indeed flowing with milk and honey. For even in the desert of the fifteenth are spots luxuriant with the rich grass of language, although they greet the eye with few flowers of individual thought or graphic speech.
Rather than give portions of several of Lydgate's poems, I will give one entire--the best I know. It is entitled, Thonke God of alle 1
THANK GOD FOR ALL.
By a way wandering as I went,
Well sore I sorrowed, for sighing sad :
Mourning me made almost mad;2
1 A poem so like this that it may have been written immediately after reading it, is attributed to Robert Henryson, the Scotch poet. It has the same refrain to every verse as Lydgate's.
Mourning for mishaps that I had caught made me almost mad.”
Till a letter all one me lad,
A blissful word that on I rad, 2
Full good intent I took there till:5
Nought is to strive against his will ; it is useless.
He may us spare and also spill :
Or any sickness be on thee set,
snared. And worldés weal be from thee fall,
fallen. I cannot say thou mayst do bet,
And royally lead thy life in rest,
None the like by east nor west ;
Think God thee sent as him lest; as it pleased him.
in every condition.
And thou wax a poor man,
1 “Led me all one :” “ brought me back to peace, unity, harmony."(?) 3 “That I read on (it).” 3 Of in the original, as in the title. 4 Does this mean by contemplation on it ? 5 “I paid good attention to it.” 6 « Greeted thee”-in the very affliction.
THANK GOD FOR ALL.
Christ himself forsooth began-
am capable of.
He waxed poor from day to day ;
His cattle vanished all away ;
He was put in poor array,
But in simple weed, as clerkés say, clothes: learned men.
He may both give and take ;
He is mighty enough our sorrow to slake. [be in.
Full good amends he will us make,
Or any distress men do thee bede,
And ever have mind on thy creed ;
Think he faileth us never at need,
When thou art sorry, thereof take heed,
And death by rene hend 5 their life,
It is nought against God to strive : it is useless.
1 “For Christ's love let us do the same.
? “Whatever grief or woe enslaves thee.” But thrall is a blunder, for the word ought to have rhymed with make. 3 "The precious leader that shall judge us."
“When thou art in sorry plight, think of this.”
Himself maked both man and wife-
he bring. However thou thole or thrive,
Here or in any other place,
The sooner God will send his grace.
low. Let not thy heart adown fall,
But think that God is where he was,
And thou far’st not so well as he,
wish.(?) For his wealth envious to be :
The king of heaven himself can see
Thus each man in his degree,
counsel. For Cristés love, be not so wild,
But rule thee by reason within and without;
The sonde that God sent all about ; the gospel.(?)
Then dare I say withouten doubt,
bow. Alway thank God for all.
I cannot say there is much poetry in this, but there is much truth and wisdom. There is the finest poetry, however, too, in the line—I give it now letter for letter :
But think that God ys ther he was.
i Sending, message : whatever varying decree God sends thee.” 2 “Receives his message :” “accepts his will."