Slike strani
PDF
ePub

NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS.

A.-MINOR POETS.

(1.) The Followers of Chaucer.

After the death of Gower the flickering light of allegorical and epic poetry went out, and only the ghosts of the real thing remained. Nevertheless, two poets demand mention who, close to one another in age, were in no sense great writers, but remained closely faithful to the Chaucerian traditions.

He

JOHN LYDGATE (circ. 1370-circ. 1451) was a native of Suffolk and a monk of Bury St. Edmunds. travelled, probably in Italy, where he is said to have studied at Padua, and certainly in France; and was well acquainted with foreign literature. He was Prior of Hatfield Broad Oak from 1423 to about 1430, and, returning to Bury in 1434, spent his last years there. Most of his work was done as a commission from princes of the blood and great noblemen, who kept him hard at work; and most of it is translation or adaptation of foreign epics. The chief of these are The Troy Book, finished in 1420, and translated at Henry V's command from an Italian epic by Guido delle Colonne; The Story of Thebes, an abbreviation of Statius' Thebais; and a colossal translation, through a French medium, of Boccaccio's De Casibus Illustrium Virorum, which Lydgate called The Falls of Princes. This task was undertaken by order of the unfortunate Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester-who perished mysteriously at Lydgate's own town of Bury-and was finished in 1438. These epics, heroic and moral, with many other narrative works, belong to his maturity. Of his earlier works, which were all allegorical, the chief is The Temple of Glass, a legend in the common tortured vein of love-allegory. Gray had a very high opinion of Lydgate, and reckoned that "he came nearest to

Chaucer of any contemporary writer I am acquainted with. His choice of expression and the smoothness of his verse far surpass both Gower and Hoccleve. He wanted not art in raising the more tender emotions of the mind." This may be; but to prefer Lydgate to Gower and Hoccleve is merely to say that he is a shade less dull; and it must be confessed that these poets act, generally speaking, but as foils to the great genius of Chaucer. Lydgate's work is, of course, interesting to students of language and metre, but to the general reader its usual lack of originality and imagination is a serious drawback for which occasional touches of real poetical feeling hardly compensate.

THOMAS HOCCLEVE (1368 or 69circ. 1450) was, as his name shows, a native of Hockliffe in Bedfordshire, and from 1388 to 1425 was a clerk in the Privy Seal Office. He was a poor poet, but his income from his position probably made him independent of patronage, and his poems-La Male Regle (1406) and Hoccleve's Complaint and Dialogue (circ. 1421)-give us a very interesting glimpse of his personal life and habits. He wrote a rambling allegorical poem, De Regimine Principum (1411-12), to counsel the unstaid youth of Henry V. He knew Chaucer and professed himself his disciple in the art of metre; but this, it must be confessed, does not say much for Chaucer's teaching.

By

One point that should be noticed with regard to these soi-disant followers of Chaucer is that their attitude differs entirely from his as regards their own times. Lydgate and Hoccleve mark no progress in English verse: they are reactionaries. nature they were both incapable of writing English as though it were their own language. Both monk and lawyer would have found themselves more at home in Latin or Norman-French. Lydgate's work

eventually resolved itself into trans- | century, when compared with Englation. Hoccleve began his career by adapting, without acknowledgment, in his Epistle to Cupid (1402), Christine de Pisan's L'Epitre au Dieu d'Amours. Both, again, abandon the worldly-wise tone about love and chivalry which Jehan de Meung adopted in his part of the Roman de la Rose, and go back, in their allegories, to the stereotyped notions of the feudal period, which, in Chaucer's work, are conspicuous by their absence. And while Chaucer had satirised the abuses of the Church and magnified the virtues of the Wycliffites, Lydgate and Hoccleve show all that fervent orthodoxy which returned with the accession of the House of Lancaster. A great deal of this reactionary spirit may be put down to the circumstances of these poets; but the whole tone of their work is a natural ultra-conservatism. Their admiration of Chaucer was doubtless unfeigned; their failure to imitate his methods arose from their incapacity to comprehend his spirit. Their position sufficiently explains the deadness of English literature in the fifteenth century. Most of their successors in the epic school were men like JOHN HARDYNG (1378-1465?), who wrote a metrical Chronicle of England, coming down to the reign of Edward IV and dedicated to that king. The poetry is wretched and deserves the attention only of the antiquary. In the allegorical school their chief successor was Stephen Hawes, who has been mentioned in the text. No one can say that his work is better than theirs; if he has more command of phrase, and if his art is less strained, he is at all events not a conspicuous step in the path of progress. The real awakening of the Renaissance came late to England. Chaucer was the false dawn before light.

(2.) Scottish Poetry.

While Chaucer's influence was thus represented, badly and inadequately, in England, Scottish poetry showed more signs of progress. We have spoken in the text of the brilliancy of Scottish verse in the fifteenth

His

lish, and of the chief poets of the
school. The transference, if one
may call it so, of the Chaucerian
spirit to Scotland is no doubt ex-
plained by the historical fact of
James I's long captivity in England.
Its characteristics were vigorously
maintained by Dunbar and Bishop
Douglas. The dialect of Scottish
poetry is, of course, local, and in fact
the common patois of the North
of England. SIR David LyndsaY
(1490-1555), Lord Lyon King at
Arms, who was an intimate friend of
James V, is the poet who, in Scotland,
marks the transition from medieval
poetry to the poetry of the sixteenth
century. Lyndsay was a pupil, like the
other Scottish allegorists, of Chaucer.
Like all the Chaucerian school, he
shows a strong propensity for imita-
tion of Boccaccio, and there is no
trace in his work of that appreciation
of form which, during his lifetime,
Surrey and Wyatt were deriving
from the study of Petrarch.
work is still Gothic and angular, and
this provoked Hallam's criticism that
"in his ordinary versification he
seems not to rise much above the
prosaic and tedious rhymers of the
fifteenth century. But his poetry is
not ugly or even dull, like Lydgate's;
it has its human interest. Lyndsay
contributed by his poems, as well as
by active support, to the Reforma-
tion in Scotland. His Dream (1528)
and his Complaynt of the Papyngo
(i.e. parrot-1530) are satires on
Court life and bitter meditations on
the state of his country; and there
was no more powerful factor in the
work of the Reformation in Scotland
than his interlude of The Three
Estates, which was probably first
acted in 1540. We come closer to
his theological position in The Tra-
gedy of the Late Cardinal, a hostile
elegy on Cardinal Beaton (1547),
which, like Chaucer's Monk's Tale
and Lydgate's interminable Falls of
Princes, was inspired by Boccaccio's
De Casibus. His last and longest
poem is The Monarchy (1554), a far
from lively dialogue between a cour-
tier and Experience. Squire Mel-
drum (1550) is a spirited chivalrous
romance. If, in the matter of form,

Lyndsay makes no decided advance, he is, of all Chaucer's school, intellectually the most forward, and we shall see how the grave and reverend authors of The Mirror for Magistrates used his work and ideas.

(3.) The Companions of Surrey
and Wyatt.

A note is necessary on the collection called Tottel's Miscellany, in which, it has been said, the poems of Wyatt and Surrey first appeared. In this, the first printed poetical miscellany in English, we find the influence, not of Chaucer, but of the Italian poets, the sonneteers and song-writers as distinct from the narrative and epic poets, and principally of the great fountain of Renaissance learning, Petrarch. This book, published in June 1557, is the first-born of the English Renaissance. Apart from Surrey and Wyatt, the names of the authors are left to conjecture. SIR FRANCIS BRYAN (d. 1550), the nephew of Lord Berners, the translator of Froissart, and GEORGE BOLEYN, VISCOUNT ROCHFORD, brother of Anne Boleyn, beheaded, two days before his sister, in 1536, are supposed to have had a share in it. More certainty is attached to the part taken by THOMAS LORD VAUX (1510-1556), Captain of the Isle of Jersey under Henry VIII. His lyric, "Ilothe that I did love," was adapted by Shakespeare for the grave-digger's song in Hamlet, and some of his poems are printed in the collection called The Paradise of Dainty Devices (see p. 108). Puttenham, in his Art of Poesy, describes Lord Vaux as "a man of much facilitie in vulgar makings." The chief of the band, however, if we are to judge by the initials N. G. appended to several songs in the Miscellany, was NICHOLAS GRIMALD or GRIMOALD (1519-1562), a Huntingdonshire man, who was first at Christ's College, Cambridge, and afterwards, proceeding to his Master's degree at Oxford, became a senior student of Christ Church. As chaplain to Bishop Ridley, for whom he did some theological translation

work, he naturally fell into difficulties in Mary's reign, but is said to have recanted in prison. Grimald was primarily a classical scholar, and no doubt his classical essays and his translation of Cicero de Officiis (1553). dedicated to Thomas Thirlby, Bishop of Ely, occupied most of his time. His poetical work is full of the classical spirit; it is learned and neat in phrase, and is written, for the most part, in heroic couplets.

at

We should not forget THOMAS TUSSER (1527-1580), although his work is not, strictly speaking, very memorable. He was born at Rivenhall in Essex, was educated Cambridge, and passed two years at Court under the patronage of William, Lord Paget. He afterwards settled as a farmer at Cattiwade in Suffolk, where he wrote his didactic poem, The Hundred Good Points of Husbandry (1557). He practised farming in other parts of the country, was a singing man in Norwich Cathedral, and died poor in London. His work, after going through four editions, was published in an enlarged form (1577), under the title of Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, united to as many of Good Huswifery. It is written in familiar verse, and is, says Warton, "valuable as a genuine picture of the agriculture, the rural arts, and the domestic economy and customs of our industrious ancestors." is scarcely valuable for any other reason.

It

B.-MINOR PROSE WRITERS.

If the gap in poetry after Chaucer's death is considerable, the history of prose after Wycliffe is even more desultory. Wycliffe's prose, it should not be forgotten, is by no means to be compared, for literary importance, with Chaucer's poetry: apart from its moral influence, its chief significance is its place in the formation of the vernacular. It is homely and direct-plain language for plain people: it has none of the art of prose-writing about it, and naturally the modern reader studies it with an interest which is almost entirely antiquarian and grammati

cal.

Consequently, while its influence on the language is very great indeed, its influence on literature is small. The natural language of Wycliffe, as a Schoolman, was Latin; and the ecclesiastical writers of the Lancastrian period reverted to Latin as the language of the Church. Italian prose, which became, in the hands of Boccaccio. so delicate an instrument, and all through the fifteenth century went on increasing in power and subtle art, touched no responsive note in the England of Wycliffe's day. English prose, in short, during the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, is, wherever it occurs, an individual attempt, not to create a literary language, but to use the spoken vernacular for private purposes. The real impetus to prosewriting as an art was given by the Tudor translators of the classics and of the Italian novelists. It was the accumulated heap of translations, those fine sonorous pieces of work which showed how the Elizabethan mind could appropriate the rhythm and sound of the ancient authors, which prepared the way for the prose of Hooker and the three great Caroline masters, Milton, Browne, and Jeremy Taylor.

of course in these respects considerably behind that of the contemporary poetical writers. Thus, while these latter authors, as well as some of earlier date, employ the objective plural pronoun them, and the plural possessive pronoun their, Pecock always writes hem for the personal, and her for the possessive pronoun. These pronominal forms soon fell into disuse, and they are hardly to be met with in any English writer of later date than Pecock. With respect to one of them, however-the objective hem for them-it may be remarked that it has not become obsolete in colloquial speech to the present day; for in such phrases as I saw 'em, I told 'em, and the like, the pronoun em (or 'em) is not, as is popularly supposed, a vulgar corruption of the full pronoun them, which alone is found in modern books, but it is the true AngloSaxon and old English objective plural, which, in our spoken dialect, has remained unchanged for a thousand years."

In the meantime we may select from the heterogeneous employers of spoken English, REGINALD PECOCK (1395?-1460?), Bishop of St. Asaph from 1444 to 1450, and of Chichester from 1450 to 1457. Although he wrote against the Lollards, his own theological views were very heterodox; he was obliged to recant, was deprived of his bishopric, and passed the rest of his life in prison at Thorney Abbey. His principal work, The Repressor of Over-much Blaming of the Clergy, was written in 1449 and published about 1455. There is an excellent edition of this book by Professor Churchill Babington (1863). With respect to its language, we may quote Marsh. 'Although, in diction and arrangement of sentences, the Repressor is much in advance of the chronicles of Pecock's age, the grammar, both in accidence and syntax, is in many points nearly where Wycliffe had left it; and it is

[ocr errors]

SIR THOMAS MALORY, who lived in the reign of Edward IV, is the exception who proves the general rule with regard to the prose of the late Plantagenet era. As a matter of fact, he is the first of the translators. His Morte Arthur, printed by Caxton in 1485, is a compilation and translation of the various legends which, during the Middle Ages, had sprung round the heroic name of King Arthur. The Britons who had fled before the Saxon invasions into Armorica, men like the historian Gildas, had taken with them the memory of the great king, and had built up round it the Arthurian cycle of epic traditions, which had found its way back into Britain and had proved so fruitful a mine for the Norman chroniclers to draw from. In the difficult task of welding this confused mass of myths together Malory proved himself a master. His story is, naturally enough, rambling and disconnected in detail, but its episodes hang together well enough to show that Malory had a considerable sense of form; and the general impression which it leaves is that of a chronicle with a logical

sequence of events. At the same time the style is picturesque and romantic; it has the colloquial character of the day; but there is much of the art of story-telling in it, and that sense of the effectiveness of words which is the secret of style. In this respect it can well compare with the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles or any contemporary work of French prose. An attempt at this date to bring together these legends might have proved the coup de grâce of the Arthurian romance: in Malory's hands the story has been handed down, with all its freshness, to our own century.

Beside those of whom we have already spoken, the most eminent writers of prose during the early Tudor period were as follows:

JOHN BALE (1495-1563), Bishop of Ossory in Ireland, was the author of several theological works. shall have more to say in another We chapter about his coarsely satirical plays and interludes, which, in their attitude towards political and religious abuses, bear a strong family likeness to Lyndsay's Pleasant Satire of the Three Estates. The work by which he is best known is the Britannia Scriptores, written in Latin, and containing an account of illustrious writers in Great Britain from Japhet to the year 1550.

JOHN BELLENDEN (d. 1587 ?), Archdeacon of Moray in the reign of James V, deserves mention as one of the earliest prose writers in Scotland. His translation of the Scottish History of the monk Hector Boece (not to be confounded with Boëthius), was published in 1536.

GEORGE CAVENDISH 1561?)-not, as is frequently stated, (1500Sir William-was gentleman-usher to Cardinal Wolsey, and wrote his master's life, from which Shakespeare and Fletcher, in Henry VIII, borrowed many passages. The book is a small masterpiece of simple and eloquent narrative prose, and deserves the closest attention from every reader.

SIR THOMAS ELYOT (1490?-1546) was an eminent scholar in the reign of Henry VIII, by whom he was employed in several embassies.

He

praise of being one of the begetters shares with Sir Thomas More the of English prose. (1531) may almost stand beside His Governor Utopia as an attempt at the construction of an ideal commonwealth. With few of the graces of style, shows a firm grasp of practical education are especially valuable. common-sense, and its theories of The spread of treatises of this kind, written in a serious and sober style, is a reflection of the Italian fashion of the day, and shows that, with the influence of Petrarch on English poetry, a certain Italianism crept into English prose.

dinal and Bishop of Rochester, was JOHN FISHER (1459?-1535), Carput to death by Henry VIII a fortEnglish works are sermons; but his night before Sir Thomas More. His great claim to renown is the service In his love for learning he was a which he did to English education. President of Queens' College he true prelate of the Renaissance. As so helped to lay the foundation of invited Erasmus to Cambridge, and Greek scholarship in England; as spiritual director of Lady Margaret Beaufort, he aided her in establishing Cambridge, and in the foundation of her professorships at Oxford and Christ's College in Cambridge. After by founding St. John's College in the her death he carried out her legacy same University. English learning enlightened bishop, a man of great is under an enormous debt to this piety and a martyr for conscience' sake, the foremost of the band who improved the whole groundwork of education in England.

JOHN LELAND (1506?-1552), the St. Paul's School, London, and at eminent antiquary, was educated at Cambridge and Oxford. He received from Henry VIII, who also gave several ecclesiastical preferments him the title of the King's Antiquary. English his Itinerary, giving Beside his Latin works he wrote in account of his travels. The work

an

still of great value for English
quaint, but a little dreary; it is
topography. It was not published
until 1710, when an edition
prepared at Oxford.

was

« PrejšnjaNaprej »