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Plays. In them we see the losing victory of invention over the imagination that works with given facts. No doubt in the Moral Plays there is more exercise of intellect as well as of ingenuity; for they consist of metaphysical facts turned into individual existences by personification, and their relations then dramatized by allegory. But their poetry is greatly inferior both in character and execution to that of the Miracles. They have a religious tendency, as everything moral must have, and sometimes they go even farther, as in one, for instance, called The Castle of Perseverance, in which we have all the cardinal virtues and all the cardinal sins contending for the possession of Humanum Genus, the Human Race being presented as a new-born child, who grows old and dies in the course of the play; but it was a great stride in art when human nature and human history began again to be exemplified after a simple human fashion, in the story, that is, of real men and women, instead of by allegorical personifications of the analysed and abstracted constituents of them. Allegory has her place, and a lofty one, in literature; but when her plants cover the garden and run to seed, Allegory herself is ashamed of her children: the loveliest among them are despised for the general obtrusiveness of the family. Imitation not only brings the thing imitated into disrepute, but tends to destroy what original faculty the imitator may have possessed.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ELIZABETHAN ERA.
POETS now began to write more smoothly-not a great virtue, but indicative of a growing desire for finish, which, in any art, is a great virtue. No doubt smoothness is often confounded with, and mistaken for finish; but you might have a mirror-like polish on the surface of a statue, for instance, and yet the marble be full of inanity, or vagueness, or even vulgarity of result—irrespective altogether of its idea. The influence of Italian poetry reviving once more in the country, roused such men as Wyat and Surrey to polish the sound of their verses ; but smoothness, I repeat, is not melody, and where the attention paid to the outside of the form results in flatness, and, still worse, in obscurity, as is the case with both of these poets, little is gained and much is lost.
Each has paraphrased portions of Scripture, but with results of little value; and there is nothing of a religious nature I care to quote from either, except these five lines from an epistle of Sir Thomas Wyat's :
Thyself content with that is thee assigned,
Then seek no more out of thyself to find
Students of versification will allow me to remark that Sir Thomas was the first English poet, so far as I know, who used the terza rima, Dante's chief mode of rhyming : the above is too small a fragment to show that it belongs to a poem in that manner. It has never been popular in England, although to my mind it is the finest form of continuous rhyme in any language. Again, we owe his friend Surrey far more for being the first to write English blank verse, whether invented by himself or not, than for any matter he has left us in poetic shape.
This period is somewhat barren of such poetry as we want. Here is a portion of the Fifty-first Psalm, translated amongst others into English verse by John Croke, Master in Chancery, in the reign of Henry VIII.
Open my lips first to confess
My sin conceived inwardly ;
Thy laud and praises outwardly.
If I should offer for my sin,
Or sacrifice do unto thee
To stir thy wrath more towards ine.
Offer we must for sacrifice
A troubled mind with sorrow's smart :
The humble and the contrite heart.
GASCOIGNE'S GOOD MORROW.
To us of Sion that be born,
If thou thy favour wilt renew,
The walls and all shall be made new.
The sacrifice then shall we make
Of justice and of pure intent ;
That we shall offer or present.
In the works of George Gascoigne I find one poem fit for quoting here. He is not an interesting writer, and, although his verse is very good, there is little likelihood of its ever being read more than it is now. The date of his birth is unknown, but probably he was in his teens when Surrey was beheaded in the year 1547. He is the only poet whose style reminds me of his, although the wherefore will hardly be evident from my quotation. It is equally flat, but more articulate. I need not detain my reader with remarks upon him. The fact is, I am glad to have something, if not "a cart-load of wholesome instructions," to cast into this Slough of Despond, should it be only to see it vanish. The poem is called
GASCOIGNE'S GOOD MORROW.
You that have spent the silent night
In sleep and quiet rest,
That riseth in the east;
Come lielp me now to sing ;
To praise the heavenly King,
This is not so bad, but it is enough. There are six stanzas more of it. I transcribe yet another, that my reader may enjoy a smile in passing. He is “ moralizing" the aspects of morning :
The carrion crow, that loathsome beast,
Which cries against the rain,
The Devil resembleth plain ;
For spoiling our relief,
With gunshot of belief.