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The sound judgment that directed the new poet's choice of verses of his own for printing is shown also by the absence from his published works of all experiment in the new versifying. We have seen that under the
Versifying. influence of Sidney and Dyer, when they were feverish in this direction, Spenser caught the infection, and had an eruption of iambic Trimeters, Hexameters, and other classic forms of unrhymed verse. He followed Thomas Drant's rules, and busied himself a while with what Harvey afterwards called " Dranting of verses.” He believed in quantity and grieved over the stubbornness of accent, which he sought to force into submission to classic laws of quantity. So he was guilty of rather worse verse in the manner of the ancients than that of his friend Gabriel Harvey, who was in this matter less pedantic and a shade more practical. But of all this not a trace is to be found in Spenser's published works. All transitory fashions of the Court and of the schools, however he may at times have been lost in the mist they spread about him, melted in air beneath the sunlight of the genius of Chaucer, by which Spenser saw the path he was to follow.
Thomas Drant had entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in the year of Elizabeth's accession, and had presented verses in Greek, Latin, and English to the queen when she visited Cambridge in 1564, the year he became Master of Arts. He began active life under the patronage of Edmund Grindal, with whom he lived as domestic chaplain. Grindal, as Bishop of London, appointed Drant a divinity reader at St. Paul's and obtained for him a prebend in the cathedral. In January, 1570, Drant, who had lately proceeded to the degree of B.D., obtained a prebend in Chichester Cathedral, and was presented to the Sussex rectory of Slinfold. A month later he became Archdeacon of Lewes, and as the archdeaconry was vacant in April, 1578, it was, no doubt, vacated because
Drant died at that time. He described himself as fairhaired and fat, cared much for verse, and was zealous in his office as a preacher. He translated into English rhyme, in 1566, under the title of “A Medicinable Morall," Horace's Satires into English, versified Jeremiah, and added in the same volume a few English and Latin verses of his own. Next
year he published verse translation of Horace's Art of Poetry and of the other Epistles. He produced, in 1572, a Latin poetical paraphrase of Ecclesiastes, and late in life produced verse of his own as a “ Sylva.” Before his death he had proceeded through five books of an unpublished translation of the “Iliad.” Two sermons preached by him ---one in 1569, the other in 1570—were published together without date. One was before the Court at Windsor, denouncing vanity of dress; the other was preached in the City, at St. Mary Spital, and denounced the sensuality of citizens. Drant, then, was dead in 1580, when Spenser and Harvey were discussing rules he had drawn up for English versifying in the manner of the Greeks and Latins.
The interest in this question of an English reformed versifying was, on its scholarly side, maintained very strongly in the
University of Cambridge. On its poetical and courtly side its chief support was from the goodwill to it of Philip Sidney, and what Harvey called the Areopagus in which Sidney and the
poets who were his close friends framed law. The period of its most active discussion was of about sixteen years, if we may reckon it from the publishing of Ascham's "Schoolmaster," in 1570, to Sidney's death, in 1586. It had distinct significance, and is not to be passed over slightingly.
If any English writers, with the sense of a new strength now come into the lives of Englishmen, and with faith in the resources of the English language, felt the want of an unrhymed measure as musical as that of Homer or of Virgil,
as simple in its dignity, as capable of various expression, and as free from apparent tricks of ornament, they felt a want that really did exist and was to be supplied, though in a way that no man then could possibly foresee. The first care in a deliberate endeavour to supply this want was to consider whether the old metres of Greece and Rome could not be naturalised in England. It was agreed on all hands that as the old classic measures were created and established by the genius of great poets who used them, so the new English versification, whenever it came, must rely for its creation and establishment upon example set by two or three great poets of England. Thomas Drant, of course, did not suppose that his rules were sufficient. They were good only as indications of the direction in which he wished to see one or two poets of high mark and influence using their genius to shape the manner of our verse. No one had then any reason to think that the blank verse which Surrey had introduced from Italy, and used as an English measure in which Virgil might be reproduced, would receive just such development from the genius of two of England's greatest poets yet to come—Shakespeare and Milton. There was nothing in the verse as then written to show that it could be fashioned into more than men were hoping for. Who could see in the verse of “Gorboduc" or The Steel Glass” the childhood of an unrhymed measure that would live and grow on English soil, and would remain but as a child elsewhere? It was not a mere servile following of Italian efforts in a similar direction since the Renaissance. I take it rather as a sign of the new force in English literature, that there was this feeling in the dark towards a metre fit for the expression of the highest life and thought. Experiments upon hexameters and sapphics failed, no doubt, and were set aside as failures. So it is, in the laboratory of the man of science, that the first experiments towards discovery of some great force of Nature fail, and by failing show the way to happier attempts.
Ascham on the Reformed
Roger Ascham, who was a Fellow of Drant's collegeSt. John's—when Drant was an undergraduate, gave in
“ The Schoolmaster” the first strong impulse to
St. John's man, Thomas Watson, who
within a year of his own age. Watson was ad-
1553, at the age of thirty-seven, and was created D.D. in 1554. He had been domestic chaplain to Stephen Gardiner, and in December, 1556, Thomas Watson was elected to the Bishopric of Lincoln, which he held at the accession of Elizabeth. He was deprived of his bishopric in June, 1559, and was at various times in Elizabeth's reign a prisoner in the Tower, remaining till his death in September, 1584, a faithful Roman Catholic, though temperate in his opinions and loyal to the queen. Apart from published sermons and disputations, Watson wrote a Latin tragedy of “Absolon,” * which was not published, and a translation of the first book of Homer's “Odyssey” into English verse. Difference of religious opinion did not break Ascham's friendship for his old college friend, who was a prisoner of honour in the custody of Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London, when Ascham referred to him in “The Schoolmaster”
one of the best scholars that ever St. John's bred, M. Watson, mine old friend, sometime Bishop of Lincoln.”
“When M. Watson, in S. Iohn's College at Cambrige wrote his excellent Tragedie of Absolon, M. Cheke, he and I, for that part of trew Imitation, had many pleasant talkes togither, in comparing the preceptes of Aristotle and Horace de Arte Poetica with the example of Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca. Few men in writyng of Tragedies in our dayes, have shot at this marke. Some in England, more in France, Germanie, and Italie, also have written Tragedies in our tyme : of the which, not one I am sure is able to abyde the trew touch of Aristotles preceptes, and Euripides examples, saue onely two, that euer I saw, M. Watson's Absolon, and Georgius Buckananus Tepthe.”—Ascham's “ Schoolmaster," Book II.
Ascham quoted two lines from his friend's lost translation of the first book of the “ Odyssey” to show “how our English tongue, in avoiding barbarous rhyming, may as well receive right quantity of syllables and true order of versifying as either Greek or Latin." These were the lines, which have often been re-quoted
“ All travellers do gladly report great praise of Ulysses,
For that he knew many men's manners and saw many cities.”
In the second book of “The Schoolmaster” Ascham treated at some length of the desire shared with him by Cheke and Watson, “as Virgil and Horace were not wedded to follow the faults of former fathers, but by right imitation of the perfect Grecians had brought poetry to perfectness also in the Latin tongue, that we Englishmen likewise would acknowledge and understand rightfully our rude beggarly rhyming, brought first into Italy by Goths and Huns when all good verses, and all good learning too, were destroyed by them, and after carried into France and Germany, and at last received into England by men of excellent wit, indeed, but of small learning and less judgment in that behalf. But now, when men know the difference and have the examples both of the best and of the worst, surely to follow rather the Goths in rhyming than the Greeks in true versifying, were even to eat acorns with swine when we may freely eat wheaten bread among men.” There was more to the same effect. Of the Earl of Surrey's blank verse translation of two books of Virgil, and of the translation of the “Odyssey" into Spanish blank verse by Gonsalvo Perez, Ascham said that both translators had avoided the fault of rhyming, “yet neither of them hath fully hit perfect and true versifying Indeed they observe just numbers and even feet, but here is the fault, that their feet be feet without joints, that is to say, not distinct by true quantity of syllables, and so such feet be but numb feet and be even as unfit for a verse to