Page images



This ielofer amiable;
This moste goodly floure
This blossome of freshe coloure
So Jupiter me succoure
She florysheth new and new
In beauty and vertue ;
Hac claritate gemina,
O gloriosa foemina,
Bonitatem fecisti cum servo tuo domina,

Et ex præcordiis sonant præconia.' Surrey (1517-1547) and Wyatt (1503-1541) were other two poets of the reign of Henry VIII., to the former of whom is ascribed the introduction of blank verse and of the sonnet into our language, and who will be remembered as of the number of those who fell victims to the tyrannical cruelty of that monarch. The writings of these poets are marked by much refinement and sentiment, and are antique only in spelling. Here is one of Surrey's sonnets :



The soote season, that bud and blome forth brings,
With grene hath clad the hill, and eke the vale :
The nightingale with fethers new she sings :
The turtle to her mate hath told her tale:
Somer is come, for every spray now springs :
The hart hath hong his old hed on the pale ;
The buck in brake

his winter coate he Alings :
The fishes flete with new repaired scale :
The adder all her slough away she flings;
The swift swalow pursueth the flies smale :
The busy bee her hony now she mings,
Winter is worne, that was the flowers bale.

And thus I se among these pleasant things

Eche care decayes; and yet my sorow springs. Thomas Tusser (1523-1580), the British Varro, as Warton has styled him, with his quaint proverbial-like rhymed utterances, on agricultural and rural life in


general, in his “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry,” may be pointed out to the student as thoroughly original and vigorous writer in his peculiar and unapproached line; but it is very possible that the nature of his subject and his extremely odd way of putting it will limit the number of his readers. It is to be said, however, that Tusser's style is most unaffected and facile. He was also the author of a number of miscellaneous pieces.

The critical reader will perhaps miss the names of a few other important minor poets, but the present survey does not profess to be an exhaustive one: here, therefore, I will close my short account of the poets who flourished before the so-called Elizabethan* period properly begins—a period distinguished by the rise of two such bright luminaries as Spenser and Shakespeare.

* The term “Elizabethan" is commonly, though somewhat in. correctly, applied to the whole of the literature of the reign of Elizabeth and of the first James and Charles.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

(Continued.) HAUCER, the "milky fountain, clear

strand, and rose rial,” or royal, as Gawen Douglas describes him, whose works should be read and studied, not only for

their beauty but for the great lessons that they teach, is of an entirely different class from those poets whom modern young men delight to honour; who are not the didactic, explanatory poets, but those whose imagination is boundless, and who do not relate things which have happened or can happen to mando not teach by the example of human teachings, but who lead you into a kingdom of their own, upon the highest top (so they say) of Parnassus; who invent, symbolize, dress up realities, in forms utterly imaginative; and who are scarcely of this world, so much as of the world of Mind or Imagination.

Now, there are many who call this last poetry, and the other of which we have been treating, merely rhyme. But a body can be imperfect without its limbs or trunk as well as without its head; and if it be conceded that the highest boundary of poetry is fancy, then the lower and most permanent must be philosophical good sense. He who appreciates only one kind of poetry is imperfect. Let us do as did Charles Lambthank God for a catholic (universal) taste, which will let us ascend the highest scale, and yet run down to the lowest. All great poets have been able to do this. Shakespeare, as we know, could create such unknown beings as Puck, Caliban, the Witches, Ariel, and yet portray Dogberry, Verges, and Doll Tearsheet.


Shakespeare is the plainest, most direct, and simplest writer of all. He has more of the common sense of prose in his deepest poetry than any poet; and yet he well describes the "fine frenzy” in which the creations of those to whom the reader is now about to be introduced had birth. He says that at such times

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And, as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

It is this creation of something just as tangible indeed as the names of history, that the imaginative poet claims as his highest performance. And in this he is something of the dramatist, for he forms an illusion or momentary belief in that which is utterly unreal; and thereby he satisfies the mind : for, as Hallam says, “the mind requires an objective possibility, a capacity for real existence, not only in all the separate portions of the imagined story, but in their relationship and coherency to the common whole."

Spenser is the great allegorical poet of England; but

[blocks in formation]

there are others who preceded and followed him, whom we shall class with him, occasionally infringing the rule of strict chronological order; for true poets are not of an age, but for all time. Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset (1536-1608), appears to have first introduced into England this allegorical writing. His great narrative poem, “The Mirrour for Magistrates,” by which he seems to have meant a lesson to those that govern, is said to have been suggested by a Latin work of Boccaccio's, entitled, “The Fall of Princes," a translation of which, in verse, had been published some time before by Lydgate. The scene of the poem he lays in hell, as did Dante, and, under the guidance of Sorrow, beholds the sufferings and relates the history of the people placed there. This visionary style of poem will be found to crop up again and again as occasion demands it. Southey, when he wished to flatter the son, made an apotheosis of the dead George III., and called it the “Vision of Judgment;" in the close of which, with great force and abundantly fine imagery, he fairly sends the king to heaven. Byron, to ridicule Southey, has a “ Vision of Judgment,” too, abundantly profane-laughing, with the scepticism of Voltaire and the mockery of Tom Paine, at the belief in future reward and punishment. Thomas Cooper—a living poet, much neglected, but fully worthy to be mentioned with these--a learned, self-taught working man, of great genius, has written the “Purgatory of Suicides;" in which he, with fine poetic imagery and splendid declamation, and an amount of learning which shows the author's application and acquirements, illustrates the history of self-killers, from Judas Iscariot, and even before him, to Lord Castlereagh. To return to Sack

« PreviousContinue »