HotFreeBooks.com
Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth
by Lucy Aikin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Elizabeth quitted Elvetham so highly gratified by the attentions of the noble owner, that she made him a voluntary promise of her special favor and protection; but we shall find hereafter, that her long-enduring displeasure against him relative to his first marriage was not yet so entirely laid aside but that a slight pretext was sufficient to bring it once more into malignant activity.

Early in the same summer the queen had also paid a visit to lord Burleigh at his favorite seat in Hertfordshire, of which sir Thomas Wylks thus speaks in a letter to sir Robert Sidney:

"I suppose you have heard of her majesty's great entertainment at Theobalds', of her knighting Mr. Robert Cecil, and of the expectation of his advancement to the secretaryship; but so it is as we say in court, that the knighthood must serve for both[106]."

[Note 106: "Sidney Papers."]

Sir Christopher Hatton died in the latter end of the year 1591. It appears that he had been languishing for a considerable time under a mortal disease; yet the vulgar appetite for the wonderful and the tragical occasioned it to be reported that he died of a broken heart, in consequence of her majesty's having demanded of him, with a rigor which he had not anticipated, the payment of certain moneys received by him for tenths and first fruits: it was added, that struck with compunction on learning to what extremity her severity had reduced him, her majesty had paid him several visits, and endeavoured by her gracious and soothing speeches to revive his failing spirits;—but that the blow was struck, and her repentance came too late. It is indeed certain that the queen manifested great interest in the fate of her chancellor, and paid him during his last illness very extraordinary personal attentions:—but it ought to be mentioned, in refutation of the former part of the story, that she remitted to his nephew and heir, who was married to a grand-daughter of Burleigh's, all her claims on the property which he left behind him.

During his lifetime, also, Hatton seems to have tasted more largely than most of his competitors of the solid fruits of royal favor. Elizabeth persevered in the practice originating in the reigns of her father and brother, of endowing her courtiers out of the spoils of the church. Sometimes, to the public scandal, she would keep a bishopric many years vacant for the sake of appropriating its whole revenues to secular uses and persons; and still more frequently, the presentation to a see was given under the condition, express or implied, that certain manors should be detached from its possessions, or beneficial leases of lands and tenements granted to particular persons. Thus the bishop of Ely was required to make a cession to sir Christopher Hatton of the garden and orchard of Ely-house near Holborn; on the refusal of the prelate to surrender property which he regarded himself as bound in honor and conscience to transmit unimpaired to his successors, Hatton instituted against him a chancery suit; and having at length succeeded in wresting from him the land, made it the site of a splendid house surrounded by gardens, which have been succeeded by the street still bearing his name. He had even sufficient interest with her majesty to cause her to address to the bishop the following violent letter, several times, with some variations, reprinted.

* * * * *

"Proud prelate;

"I understand you are backward in complying with your agreement; but I would have you to know, that I who made you what you are can unmake you; and if you do not forthwith fulfil your engagement, by God I will immediately unfrock you.

"Yours as you demean yourself,

"ELIZABETH."

* * * * *

Sir John Harrington, in his Brief View of the Church of England, accuses the lord-chancellor Hatton of coveting likewise a certain manor attached to the see of Bath and Wells, and of inflaming the queen's indignation against bishop Godwin on account of his second marriage, in order to frighten him into compliance; a manoeuvre which in part succeeded, since the bishop was reduced, by way of compromise, to grant him a long lease of another manor somewhat inferior in value.

With all this, Hatton, as we have formerly observed, was distinguished as the patron of the established church against the puritans: but his zeal in its behalf, whether real or affected, was attended by a spirit of moderation then rare and always commendable. He disliked, and sometimes checked, the oppressions exercised against the papists by the rigid enforcement of recent statutes; and he is reported to have held the doctrine, at that time a novel one, that neither fire nor steel ought ever to be employed on a religious account.

The chancellor, besides his other merits and accomplishments, was a cultivator of the drama. In 1568 a tragedy was performed before her majesty, and afterwards published, entitled Tancred and Gismund, or Gismonde of Salerne, the joint performance of five students of the Temple, who appear each to have taken an act; the fourth bears the signature of Hatton. It is also probable that he gave the queen some assistance in similar pursuits, as her translation of a part of the tragedy of Hercules Oetaeus, preserved in the Bodleian, is in his handwriting.

But it was never forgotten by others, nor apparently by himself, that he was brought into notice by his dancing; and we learn from a contemporary letter-writer, that even after he had attained the dignity of lord chancellor he laid aside his gown to dance at the wedding of his nephew. The circumstance is pleasantly alluded to by Gray in the description of Stoke-Pogeis house with which his "Long Story" opens.

"In Britain's isle, no matter where, An ancient pile of building stands; The Huntingdons and Hattons there Employed the power of fairy hands

To raise the ceiling's fretted height, Each pannel in achievements clothing, Rich windows that exclude the light, And passages that lead to nothing.

Full oft within the spacious walls, When he had fifty winters o'er him, My grave lord keeper led the brawls, The seal and maces danced before him.

His bushy beard and shoe-strings green, His high-crown'd hat and satin doublet, Moved the stout heart of England's queen, Though pope and Spaniard could not trouble it."

As chancellor of Oxford, Hatton was succeeded by lord Buckhurst, to the fresh mortification of Essex, who again advanced pretensions to this honorary office, and was a second time baffled by her majesty's open interference in behalf of his competitor.

The more important post of lord chancellor remained vacant for some months, the seals being put in commission; after which serjeant Pickering was appointed lord keeper,—a person of respectable character, who appears to have performed the duties of his office without taking any conspicuous part in the court factions, or exercising any marked influence over the general administration of affairs.

Towards one person of considerable note in his day, sir John Perrot, some time deputy of Ireland, Hatton is reported to have acted the part of an industrious and contriving enemy; being provoked by the taunts which sir John was continually throwing out against him as one who "had entered the court in a galliard," and further instigated by the complaints, well or ill founded, against the deputy, of some of his particular friends and adherents.

Sir John Perrot derived from a considerable family of that name seated at Haroldstone in Pembrokeshire, his name and large estates; but his features, his figure, his air, and common fame, gave him king Henry VIII. for a father. Nor was his resemblance to this redoubted monarch merely external; his temper was haughty and violent, his behaviour blustering, his language always coarse, and, in the fits of rage to which he was subject, abusive to excess. Yet was he destitute neither of merit nor abilities. As president of Munster, he had rendered great services to her majesty in 1572 by his vigorous conduct against the rebels. As lord deputy of Ireland between the years 1584 and 1588, he had made efforts still more praiseworthy towards the pacification of that unhappy and ill-governed country, by checking as much as possible the oppressions of every kind exercised by the English of the pale against the miserable natives, towards whom his policy was liberal and benevolent. But his attempts at reformation armed against him, as usual, a host of foes, amongst whom was particularly distinguished Loftus archbishop of Dublin, whom he had exasperated by proposing to apply the revenues of St. Patrick's cathedral to the foundation of an university in the capital of Ireland. Forged letters were amongst the means to which the unprincipled malice of his adversaries resorted for his destruction. One of these atrocious fabrications, in which an Irish chieftain was made to complain of excessive injustice on the part of the deputy, was detected by the exertions of the supposed writer, whom Perrot had in reality attached to himself by many benefits; but a second letter, which contained a protection to a catholic priest and made him employ the words our castle of Dublin, our kingdom of Ireland, produced a fatally strong impression on the jealous mind of Elizabeth.

Meantime the ill-fated deputy, conscious of his own fidelity and essential loyalty, and unsuspicious of the snares spread around him, was often unguarded enough to give vent in gross and furious invective against the person of majesty itself, to the profound vexation which he, in common with all preceding and following governors of Ireland under Elizabeth, was destined to endure from the penury of her supplies and the magnitude of her requisitions. His words were all carried to the queen, mingled with such artful insinuations as served to impart to these unmeaning ebullitions of a hasty temper the air of deliberate contempt and meditated disloyalty towards his sovereign.

Just before the sailing of the armada, Perrot was recalled, partly indeed at his own request. A rigid or rather a malicious inquiry was then instituted into all the details of his actions, words and behaviour in Ireland, and he was committed to the friendly custody of lord Burleigh. Afterwards, the lords Hunsdon and Buckhurst, with two or three other councillors, were ordered to search and seize his papers in the house of the lord treasurer without the participation of this great minister, who was at once offended and alarmed at the step. Perrot was carried to the Tower, and at length, in April 1592, put upon his trial for high treason. The principal heads of accusation were;—his contemptuous words of the queen;—his secret encouragement of O'Rourk's rebellion and the Spanish invasion, and his favoring of traitors. Of all these charges except the first he seems to have proved his innocence, and on this he excused himself by the heat of his temper and the absence of all ill intention from his mind. He was however found guilty by a jury much more studious of the reputation of loyalty than careful of the rights of Englishmen.

On leaving the bar, he is reported to have exclaimed, "God's death! will the queen suffer her brother to be offered up as a sacrifice to the envy of my frisking adversaries!"

The queen felt the force of this appeal to the ties of blood. It was long before she could be brought to confirm his sentence, and she would never sign a warrant for its execution. Burleigh shed tears on hearing the verdict, saying with a sigh, that hatred was always the more inveterate the less it was deserved.

Elizabeth, when her first emotions of anger had passed away, was now frequently heard to praise that rescript of the emperor Theodosius in which it is thus written:—

"Should any one have spoken evil of the emperor, if through levity, it should be despised; if through insanity, pitied; if through malice, forgiven." She is likewise said, in language more familiar to her, to have sworn a great oath that they who accused Perrot were all knaves, and he an honest and faithful man. It was accordingly presumed that she entertained the design of extending to him the royal pardon; but her mercy, if such it merits to be called, was tardy; and in September 1592, six months after his condemnation, this victim of malice perished in the Tower, of disease, according to Camden; but, by other accounts, of a broken heart. In either case the story is an affecting one, and worthy to be had in lasting remembrance, as a striking and terrible example of the potency of court-intrigue, and the guilty subserviency of judicial tribunals under the jealous rule of the last of the Tudors.

English literature, under the auspices of Elizabeth and her learned court, had been advancing with a steady and rapid progress; and it may be interesting to contemplate the state of one of its fairest provinces as exhibited by the pen of an able critic, who in the year 1589 gave to the world an Art of English Poesy. This work, though addressed to the queen, was published with a dedication by the printer to lord Burleigh; for the author thought proper to remain concealed: on its first appearance its merit caused it to be ascribed to Spenser by some, and by others to Sidney; but it was traced at length to Puttenham, one of her majesty's gentleman-pensioners, the author of some adulatory poems addressed to her and called Partheniads, and of various other pieces now lost.

The subject is here methodically treated in three books; the first, "Of Poets and Poesy;" the second, "Of Proportion;" the third, "Of Ornament." After some remarks on the origin of the art and its earliest professors, and an account of the various kinds of poems known to the ancients,—in which there is an absence of pedantry, of quaintness, and of every species of puerility, very rare among the didactic writers of the age,—the critic proceeds to an enumeration of our principal vernacular poets, or "vulgar makers," as he is pleased to anglicize the words. Beginning with a just tribute to Chaucer, as the father of genuine English verse, he passes rapidly to the latter end of the reign of Henry VIII., when, as he observes, there "sprung up a new company of courtly makers, of whom sir Thomas Wyat the elder and Henry earl of Surry were the two chieftains; who having travelled into Italy, and there tasted the sweet and stately measures and style of the Italian poesy, as novices newly crept out of the schools of Dante, Arioste, and Petrarch, they greatly polished our rude and homely manner of vulgar poesy, from that it had been before, and for that cause may justly be said the first reformers of our English metre and style[107]."

[Note 107: I have quoted this passage partly for the sake of the express and authentic testimony which it bears to the fact of Surry's having visited Italy, which Mr. Chalmers and after him Dr. Nott, in their respective biographies of the noble poet, have been induced to call in question.]

After slight notice of the minor poets, who flourished under Edward VI. and Mary, he goes on to observe that "in her majesty's time that now is, are sprung up another crew of courtly makers, noblemen and gentlemen of her majesty's own servants, who have written excellently well, as it would appear if their doing could be found out and made public with the rest." And in a subsequent passage he thus awards to each of them his appropriate commendation. "Of the latter sort I think thus: That for tragedy the lord Buckhurst and master Edward Ferrys (Ferrers), for such doings as I have seen of theirs do deserve the highest price. The earl of Oxford and master Edwards of her majesty's chapel for comedy and interlude. For eglogue and pastoral poesy, sir Philip Sidney and master Chaloner, and that other gentleman who wrate the late 'Shepherd's Calendar'[108]. For dirty and amorous ode I find sir Walter Raleigh's vein most lofty, insolent and passionate. Master Edward Dyer for elegy, most sweet, solemn and of high conceit. Gascoigne for a good metre and for a plentiful vein. Phaer and Golding for a learned and well corrected verse, specially in translation clear and very faithfully answering their author's intent. Others have also written with much facility, but more commendably perchance if they had not written so much nor so popularly[109]." The passage concludes with a piece of flattery to her majesty in her poetical capacity, unworthy of transcription.

[Note 108: Spenser published this work under the signature of "Immerito."]

[Note 109: Art of English Poesy, book i.]

Under the head of "Poetical proportion" or metre, our author writes learnedly of the measures of the ancients, and on those employed by our native poets with singular taste and judgement, except that the artist-like pride in difficulty overcome has inspired him with an unwarrantable fondness for verses arranged in eggs, roundels, lozenges, triquets, and other ingenious figures, of which he has given diagrams further illustrated by finished specimens of his own construction.

Great efforts had been made about this period by a literary party, of which Stainhurst the translator of Virgil, Sidney and Gabriel Hervey were the leaders, to introduce the Greek and Roman measures into English verse, and Puttenham has judged it necessary to compose a chapter thus intituled: "How, if all manner of sudden innovations were not very scandalous, specially in the laws of any language or art, the use of Greek and Latin feet might be brought into our vulgar poesy, and with good grace enough." But it is evident on the whole, that he bore no good will to this pedantic novelty.

In treating of "Ornament," our author enumerates, explains and exemplifies all the rhetorical figures of the Greeks; adding, for the benefit of courtiers and ladies, to whom his work is principally addressed, translations of their names; several of which would require to be retranslated for the benefit of the modern reader, as for example the three following, all figures of derision:—"The fleering frump;"—"The broad flout;"—"The privy nip." At the present day, however, the work of Puttenham is most of all to be valued for the remarks on language and on manners, and the contemporary anecdotes with which it abounds, and of which some examples may be quoted. After observing that "as it hath been always reputed a great fault to use figurative speeches foolishly and indiscreetly, so it is esteemed no less an imperfection in man's utterance, to have none use of figure at all, specially in our writing and speeches public, making them but as our ordinary talk, than which nothing can be more unsavory and far from all civility:—'I remember,' says he, 'in the first year of queen Mary's reign a knight of Yorkshire was chosen speaker of the parliament, a good gentleman and wise, in the affairs of his shire, and not unlearned in the laws of the realm; but as well for lack of some of his teeth as for want of language, nothing well spoken, which at that time and business was most behoveful for him to have been: this man, after he had made his oration to the queen; which ye know is of course to be done at the first assembly of both houses; a bencher of the Temple, both well learned and very eloquent, returning from the parliament house asked another gentleman his friend how he liked Mr. Speaker's oration; 'Mary,' quoth the other, 'methinks I heard not a better alehouse tale told this seven years.'... And though grave and wise councillors in their consultations do not use much superfluous eloquence, and also in their judicial hearings do much mislike all scholastical rhetorics: yet in such a case... if the lord chancellor of England or archbishop of Canterbury himself were to speak, he ought to do it cunningly and eloquently, which cannot be without the use of figures: and nevertheless none impeachment or blemish to the gravity of the persons or of the cause: wherein I report me to them that knew sir Nicholas Bacon lord keeper of the great seal, or the now lord treasurer of England, and have been conversant with their speeches made in the Parliament house and Star-chamber. From whose lips I have seen to proceed more grave and natural eloquence, than from all the orators of Oxford or Cambridge; but all is as it is handled, and maketh no matter whether the same eloquence be natural to them or artificial (though I rather think natural); yet were they known to be learned and not unskilful of the art when they were younger men.... I have come to the lord keeper sir Nicholas Bacon, and found him sitting in his gallery alone with the works of Quintilian before him; indeed he was a most eloquent man, and of rare learning and wisdom as ever I knew England to breed; and one that joyed as much in learned men and men of good wits." He mentions being a by-stander when a doctor of civil law, "pleading in a litigious cause betwixt a man and his wife, before a great magistrate, who (as they can tell that knew him) was a man very well learned and grave, but somewhat sour and of no plausible utterance: the gentleman's chance was to say: 'My lord, the simple woman is not so much to blame as her leud abettors, who by violent persuasions have led her into this wilfulness.' Quoth the Judge; 'What need such eloquent terms in this place?' The gentleman replied, 'Doth your lordship mislike the term (violent)? and methinks I speak it to great purpose; for I am sure she would never have done it, but by force of persuasion.'" &c.

Pursuing the subject of language, which, he says, "in our maker or poet must be heedily looked unto that it be natural, pure, and the most usual of all his country," after some other rules or cautions he adds: "Our maker therefore at these days shall not follow Piers Plowman, nor Gower, nor Lydgate, nor yet Chaucer, for their language is now out of use with us: neither shall he take the terms of Northern men, such as they use in daily talk, whether they be noblemen or gentlemen or of their best clerks, all is a matter; nor in effect any speech used beyond the river of Trent, though no man can deny but that theirs is the purer English Saxon at this day, yet it is not so courtly nor so current as our Southern English is; no more is the far Western man's speech: ye shall therefore take the usual speech of the court, and that of London and the shires lying about London within sixty miles and not much above. I say not this but in every shire of England there be gentlemen and others that speak, but specially write, as good Southern as we of Middlesex or Surry do; but not the common people of every shire, to whom the gentlemen and also their learned clerks do for the most part condescend; but herein we are ruled by the English dictionaries and other books written by learned men, and therefore it needeth none other direction in that behalf. Albeit peradventure some small admonition be not impertinent, for we find in our English writers many words and speeches amendable, and ye shall see in some many inkhorn terms so ill affected brought in by men of learning, as preachers and schoolmasters; and many strange terms of other languages by secretaries and merchants and travellers, and many dark words and not usual nor well sounding, though they be daily spoken in court. Wherefore great heed must be taken by our maker in this point that his choice be good." He modestly expresses his apprehensions that in some of these respects he may himself be accounted a transgressor, and he subjoins a list of the new, foreign or unusual words employed by him in this tract, with his reasons for their adoption. Of this number are; scientific, conduict, "a French word, but well allowed of us, and long since usual; it sounds something more than this word (leading) for it is applied only to the leading of a captain, and not as a little boy should lead a blind man;" idiom, from the Greek; significative, "borrowed of the Latin and French, but to us brought in first by some noblemen's secretary, as I think, yet doth so well serve the turn as it could not now be spared; and many more like usurped Latin and French words; as, method, methodical, placation, function, assubtiling, refining, compendious, prolix, figurative, inveigle, a term borrowed of our common lawyers: impression, also a new term, but well expressing the matter, and more than our English word:" penetrate, penetrable, indignity in the sense of unworthiness, and a few more[110]. The whole enumeration is curious, and strikingly exhibits the state of language at this epoch, when the rapid advancement of letters and of all the arts of social life was creating a daily want of new terms, which writers in all classes and individuals in every walk of life regarded themselves as authorized to supply at their own discretion, in any manner and from any sources most accessible to them, whether pure or corrupt, ancient or modern. The pedants of the universities, and the travelled coxcombs of the court, had each a neological jargon of their own, unintelligible to each other and to the people at large; on the other hand, there were a few persons of grave professions and austere characters, who, like Cato the Censor during a similar period of accelerated progress in the Roman state, prided themselves on preserving in all its unsophisticated simplicity, or primitive rudeness, the tongue of their forefathers. The judicious Puttenham, uniting the accuracy of scholastic learning with the enlargement of mind acquired by long intercourse among foreign nations, and with the polish of a courtier, places himself between the contending parties, and with a manly disdain of every species of affectation, but especially that of rusticity and barbarism, avails himself, without scruple as without excess, of the copiousness of other languages to supply the remaining deficiencies of his own.

[Note 110: Art of English Poesy, book iii.]

Several chapters of the book "of Ornament" are devoted to the discussion of the decent, or seemly, in words and actions, and prove the author to have been a nice observer of manners as well as a refined critic of style. He severely censures a certain translator of Virgil, who said "that AEneas was fain to trudge out of Troy; which term better became to be spoken of a beggar, or of a rogue, or of a lackey:" and another who called the same hero "by fate a fugitive;" and who inquires "What moved Juno to tug so great a captain;" a word "the most indecent in this case that could have been devised, since it is derived from the cart, and signifies the draught or pull of the horses." The phrase "a prince's pelf" is reprobated, because pelf means properly "the scraps or shreds of taylors and of skinners." He gives strict rules for the decorous behaviour of ambassadors and all who address themselves to princes, being himself a courtier, and having probably exercised some diplomatic function. "I have seen," says he, "foreign ambassadors in the queen's presence laugh so dissolutely at some rare pastime or sport that hath been made there, that nothing in the world could have worse becomen them." With respect to men in other stations of life he is pleased to say, it is decent for a priest "to be sober and sad;" "a judge to be incorrupted, solitary, and unacquainted with courtiers or courtly entertainments... without plait or wrinkle, sour in look and churlish in speech; contrariwise a courtly gentleman to be lofty and curious in countenance, yet sometimes a creeper and a curry favell with his superiors." "And in a prince it is decent to go slowly and to march with leisure, and with a certain grandity rather than gravity; as our sovereign lady and mistress, the very image of majesty and magnificence, is accustomed to do generally, unless it be when she walketh apace for her pleasure, or to catch her a heat in the cold mornings. Nevertheless it is not so decent in a meaner person, as I have discerned in some counterfeit ladies of the country, which use it much to their own derision. This comeliness was wanting in queen Mary, otherwise a very good and honorable princess. And was some blemish to the emperor Ferdinando, a most noble-minded man, yet so careless and forgetful of himself in that behalf, as I have seen him run up a pair of stairs so swift and nimble a pace, as almost had not become a very mean man, who had not gone in some hasty business."

Respecting the poets mentioned by Puttenham whose names have not already occurred in the present work, it may be observed, that excepting a few lines quoted by this critic, there is nothing remaining of sir Edward Dyer's, except, which is highly probable, he is to be reckoned among the anonymous contributors to the popular collections of that day. Of Gascoigne, on the contrary, enough is left to exhaust the patience of any modern reader. In his youth, neglecting the study of the law for poetry and pleasure, he poured forth an abundance of amatory pieces; some of them sonnets closely imitating the Italian ones in style as well as structure. Afterwards, during a five-years service in the war of Flanders, he found leisure for much serious thought; and discarding the levities of his early years, he composed by way of expiation a moral satire in blank verse called the Steel Glass, and several religious pieces. Notwithstanding however this newly assumed seriousness, he attended her majesty in her progress in the summer of 1575, and composed a large number of courtly verses as a contribution to "the princely pleasures of Kennelworth." Gascoigne died in October 1577. Of his minor poems the following may be cited as a pleasing specimen.

THE LULLABY OF A LOVER.

Sing lullaby as women do, Wherewith they bring their babes to rest, And lullaby can I sing too As womanly as can the best. With lullaby they still the child; And if I be not much beguil'd, Full many wanton babes have I, Which must be still'd with lullaby.

First lullaby my youthful years. It is now time to go to bed, For crooked age and hoary years Have won the haven within my head: With lullaby then youth be still, With lullaby content thy will, Since courage quails and comes behind, Go sleep and so beguile thy mind.

Next lullaby my gazing eyes, Which wonted were to glaunce apace; For every glass may now suffice To shew the furrows in my face. With lullaby then wink awhile, With lullaby your looks beguile: Let no fair face or beauty bright Entice you eft with vain delight.

And lullaby my wanton will, Let reason's rule now reign thy thought, Since all too late I find by skill, How dear I have thy fancies bought: With lullaby now take thine ease, With lullaby thy doubts appease; For trust to this, if thou be still, My body shall obey thy will.

Thus lullaby my youth, mine eyes, My will, my ware, and all that was, I can no mo delays devise, But welcome pain, let pleasure pass: With lullaby now take your leave, With lullaby your dreams deceive, And when you rise with waking eye, Remember then this lullaby.

Respecting another poet of greater popularity than Gascoigne, and of a more original turn of genius, Warner, the author of Albion's England, Puttenham has preserved a discreet silence; for his great work had been prohibited by the capricious tyranny, or rigid decorum, of archbishop Whitgift, and seizure made in 1586 of the copies surreptitiously printed. This long and singular poem is a kind of metrical chronicle, containing the remarkable events of English history from the flood,—the starting point of all chroniclers,—to the reign of queen Elizabeth. It is written in the common ballad measure, and in a style often creeping and prosaic, sometimes quaint and affected; but passages of beautiful simplicity and strokes of genuine pathos frequently occur to redeem its faults, and the tediousness of the historical narration is relieved by a large intermixture of interesting and entertaining episodes. The ballads of Queen Eleanor and fair Rosamond, Argentile and Curan, and the Patient Countess, selected by Dr. Percy in his Relics of Ancient Poetry, may be regarded by the poetical student of the present day as a sufficient specimen of the talents of Warner: but in his own time he was complimented as the Homer or Virgil of the age; the persevering reader travelled, not only with patience but delight, through his seventy-seven long chapters; and it is said that the work became popular enough, notwithstanding its prohibition by authority, to supersede in some degree its celebrated predecessor the Mirror for Magistrates.



CHAPTER XXIII.

FROM 1591 TO 1593.

Naval war against Spain.—Death of sir Richard Grenville—Notice of Cavendish.—Establishment of the East India company.—Results of voyages of discovery.—Transactions between Raleigh and the queen.—Anecdotes of Robert Cary—of the Holles family.—Progress of the drama.—Dramatic poets before Shakespeare.—Notice of Shakespeare.—Proclamation respecting bear-baiting and acting of plays.—Censorship of the drama.—Anecdote of the queen and Tarleton.

The maritime war with Spain, notwithstanding the cautious temper of the queen, was strenuously waged during the year 1591, and produced some striking indications of the rising spirit of the English navy.

A squadron under lord Thomas Howard, which had been waiting six months at the Azores to intercept the homeward bound ships from Spanish America, was there surprised by a vastly more numerous fleet of the enemy which had been sent out for their convoy. The English admiral got to sea in all haste and made good his retreat, followed by his whole squadron excepting the Revenge, which was entangled in a narrow channel between the port and an island. Sir Richard Grenville her commander, after a vain attempt to break through the Spanish line, determined, with a kind of heroic desperation, to sustain alone the conflict with a whole fleet of fifty-seven sail, and to confront all extremities rather than strike his colors. From three o'clock in the afternoon till day-break he resisted, by almost incredible efforts of valor, all the force which could be brought to bear against him, and fifteen times beat back the boarding parties from his deck. At length, when all his bravest had fallen, and he himself was disabled by many wounds; his powder also being exhausted, his small-arms lost or broken, and his ship a perfect wreck, he proposed to his gallant crew to sink her, that no trophy might remain to the enemy. But this proposal, though applauded by several, was overruled by the majority: the Revenge struck to the Spaniards; and two days after, her brave commander died on board their admiral's ship of his glorious wounds, "with a joyful and quiet mind," as he expressed himself, and admired by his enemies themselves for his high spirit and invincible resolution. This was the first English ship of any considerable size captured by the Spaniards during the whole war, and it did them little good; for, besides that the vessel had been shattered to pieces, and sunk a few days after with two hundred Spanish sailors on board, the example of heroic self-devotion set by sir Richard Grenville long continued in the hour of battle to strike awe and terror to their hearts.

Thomas Cavendish, elated by the splendid success of that first expedition in which, with three slender barks of insignificant size carrying only one hundred and twenty-three persons of every degree, he had plundered the whole coast of New Spain and Peru, burned Paita and Acapulco, and captured a Spanish admiral of seven hundred tons, besides many other vessels taken or burned;—then crossed the great South Sea, and circumnavigated the globe in the shortest time in which that exploit had yet been performed;—set sail again in August 1591 on a second voyage. But this time, when his far greater force and more adequate preparations of every kind seemed to promise results still more profitable and glorious, scarce any thing but disasters awaited him. He took indeed the town of Santos in Brazil, which was an acquisition of some importance; but delaying here too long, he arrived at a wrong season in the Straits of Magellan, and was compelled to endure the winter of that inhospitable clime; where seeing his numbers thinned by sickness and hardship, and his plans baffled by dissentions and insubordination, he found it necessary to abandon his original design of crossing the South Sea, and resolved to undertake the voyage to China by the Cape of Good Hope. First, however, he was fatally prevailed upon to return to the coast of Brazil, where he lost many men in rash attempts against various towns, which expecting his attacks were now armed for their defence, and a still greater number by desertion. Baffled in all his designs, worn out with fatigue, anxieties, and chagrin, this brave but unfortunate adventurer breathed his last far from England on the wide ocean, and so obscurely that even the date of his death is unknown.

At this period, a peculiar education was regarded as not more necessary to enable a gentleman to assume the direction of a naval expedition than the command of a troop of horse; and it is probable that even by Cavendish, whose exploits we read with amazement, but a very slender stock of maritime experience was possessed when he first embarked on board the vessel in which he had undertaken to circumnavigate the globe. He was the third son of a Suffolk gentleman of large estate; came early to court; and having there consumed his patrimony in the fashionable magnificence of the time, suddenly discovered within himself sufficient courage to attempt the reparation of his broken fortunes by that favorite resource, the plunder of the Spanish settlements. On his return from his first voyage he sailed up the Thames in a kind of triumph, displaying a top-sail of cloth of gold, and making ostentation of the profit rather than the glory of the enterprise. He appears to have been equally deficient in the enlightened prudence which makes an essential feature of the great commander, and in that lofty disinterestedness of motive which constitutes the hero; but in the activity, the enterprise, the brilliant valor, which now form the spirit of the English navy, he had few equals and especially few predecessors; and amongst the founders of its glory the name of Cavendish is therefore worthy of a conspicuous and enduring place.

By the failure of the late attempt to seat don Antonio on the throne of Portugal, the sovereignty of Philip II. over that country and its dependencies had finally been established; and in consequence its trade and settlements in the East offered a fair and tempting prize to the ambition or cupidity of English adventurers.

The passage by the Cape of Good Hope, repeatedly accomplished by circumnavigators of this nation, had now ceased to oppose any formidable obstacle to the spirit of maritime enterprise; and the papal donation was a bulwark still less capable of preserving inviolate to the sovereigns of Portugal their own rich Indies. The first expedition ever fitted out from England for those eastern regions, where it now possesses an extent of territory in comparison of which itself is but a petty province, consisted of three "tall ships," which sailed in this year under the conduct of George Raymond and James Lancaster. After doubling the Cape and refreshing themselves in Saldanha Bay, which the Portuguese had named but not yet settled, the navigators steered along the eastern coast of Africa, where the ship commanded by Raymond was lost. With the other two, however, they proceeded still eastward; passed without impediment all the stations of the Portuguese on the shores of the Indian ocean, doubled Cape Comorin, and extended their voyage to the Nicobar isles, and even to the peninsula of Malacca. They landed in several parts, where they found means to open an advantageous traffic with the natives; and, after capturing many Portuguese vessels laden with various kinds of merchandise, repassed the Cape in perfect safety with all their booty. In their way home they visited the West Indies, where great disasters overtook them; for here their two remaining ships were lost, and Lancaster, with the slender remnant of their crews, was glad to obtain a passage to Europe on board a French ship which happily arrived to their relief. But as far as respected the eastern part of the expedition, their success had been such as strongly to invite the attempts of future adventurers; and nine years after its sailing, her majesty was prevailed upon to grant a charter of incorporation with ample privileges to an East India company, under whose auspices Lancaster consented to undertake a second voyage. Annual fleets were from this period fitted out by these enterprising traders, and factories of their establishment soon arose in Surat, in Masulipatam, in Bantam, in Siam, and even in Japan. The history of their progress makes no part of the subject of the present work; but the foundation of a mercantile company which has advanced itself to power and importance absolutely unparalleled in the annals of the world, forms a feature not to be overlooked in the glory of Elizabeth.

These long and hazardous voyages of discovery, of hostility, or of commerce, began henceforth to afford one of the most honorable occupations to those among the youthful nobility or gentry of the country, whose active spirits disdained the luxurious and servile idleness of the court: they also opened a welcome resource to younger sons, and younger brothers, impatient to emancipate themselves from the galling miseries of that necessitous dependence on the head of their house to which the customs of the age and country relentlessly condemned them.

Thus Shakespeare in his Two Gentlemen of Verona,

..."He wondered that your lordship Would suffer him to spend his youth at home, While other men of slender reputation Put forth their sons to seek preferment out: Some to the wars to try their fortune there; Some to discover islands far away; Some to the studious universities. For any or for all these exercises, He said, that Protheus your son was meet: And did request me to importune you To let him spend his time no more at home; Which would be great impeachment to his age, In having known no travel in his youth."

But the advancement of the fortunes of individuals was by no means the principal or most permanent good which accrued to the nation by these enterprises. The period was still indeed far distant, in which voyages of discovery were to be undertaken on scientific principles and with large views of general utility; but new animals, new vegetables, natural productions or manufactured articles before unknown to them, attracted the attention even of these first unskilful explorers. Specimens in every kind were brought home, and, recommended as they never failed to be by fabulous or grossly exaggerated descriptions, in the first instance only served to gratify and inflame the vulgar passion for wonders. But the attention excited to these striking novelties gradually became enlightened; a more familiar acquaintance disclosed their genuine properties, and the purposes to which they might be applied at home;—Raleigh introduced the potatoe on his Irish estates;—an acceptable however inelegant luxury was discovered in the use of tobacco; and somewhat later, the introduction of tea gradually brought sobriety and refinement into the system of modern English manners.

Many allusions to the prevailing passion for beholding foreign, or, as they were then accounted, monstrous animals, may be found scattered over the works of Shakespeare and contemporary dramatists. Trinculo says, speaking of Caliban, "Were I but in England now... and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver. There would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian." And again; "Do you put tricks upon's with savages and men of Inde?" &c. The whole play of the Tempest, exquisite as it is, must have derived a still more poignant relish, to the taste of that age, from the romantic ideas of desert islands then floating in the imaginations of men.

In the following year, 1592, Raleigh, weary of his Irish exile, and anxious by some splendid exploit to revive the declining favor of the queen, projected a formidable attack on the Spanish power in America, and engaged without difficulty in the enterprise a large number of volunteers. But unavoidable obstacles arose, by which the fleet was detained till the proper season for its sailing was past: Elizabeth recalled Raleigh to court; and the only fortunate result of the expedition, to the command of which Martin Frobisher succeeded, was the capture of one wealthy carrack and the destruction of another.

Raleigh, in the meantime, was amusing his involuntary idleness by an intrigue with one of her majesty's maids of honor, a daughter of the celebrated sir Nicholas Throgmorton. The queen, in the heat of her indignation at the scandal brought upon her court by the consequences of this amour, resorted, as in a thousand other cases, to a vigor beyond the laws; and though sir Walter offered immediately to make the lady the best reparation in his power, by marrying her, which he afterwards performed, Elizabeth unfeelingly published her shame to the whole world by sending both culprits to the Tower.

Sir Walter remained a prisoner during several months. Meanwhile his ships returned from their cruise, and the profits from the sale of the captured carrack were to be divided among the queen, the admiral, the sailors, and the several contributors to the outfit. Disputes arose; her majesty was dissatisfied with the share allotted her; and taking advantage of the situation into which her own despotic violence had thrown Raleigh, she appears to have compelled him to buy his liberty, and the undisturbed enjoyment of all that he held under her, by the sacrifice of no less than eighty thousand pounds due to him as admiral. Such was the disinterested purity of that zeal for morals of which Elizabeth judged it incumbent on her to make profession!

It may be curious to learn, from another incident which occurred about the same time, at what rate her majesty caused her forgiveness of lawful matrimony to be purchased.

Robert Cary, third son of lord Hunsdon, created lord Leppington by James I. and earl of Monmouth by his successor,—from whose memoirs of himself the following particulars are derived,—was at this time a young man and an assiduous attendant on the court of his illustrious kinswoman. Being a younger son, he had no patrimony either in possession or reversion; he received from the exchequer only one hundred pounds per annum during pleasure, and by the style of life which he found it necessary to support, had incurred a debt of a thousand pounds. In this situation he married a widow possessed of five hundred pounds per annum and some ready money. His father evinced no displeasure on the occasion; but his other friends, and especially the queen, were so much offended at the match, that he took his wife to Carlisle and remained there without approaching the court till the next year. Being then obliged to visit London on business, his father suggested the expediency of his paying the queen the compliment of appearing on her day. Accordingly, he secretly prepared caparisons and a present for her majesty, at the cost of more than four hundred pounds, and presented himself in the tilt-yard in the character of "a forsaken knight who had vowed solitariness." The festival over, he made himself known to his friends in court; but the queen, though she had received his gift, would not take notice of his presence.

It happened soon after, that the king of Scots sent to Cary's elder brother, then marshal of Berwick, to beg that he would wait upon him to receive a secret message which he wanted to transmit to the queen. The marshal wrote to his father to inquire her majesty's pleasure in the matter. She did not choose that he should stir out of Berwick; but "knowing, though she would not know it," that Robert Cary was in court, she said at length to lord Hunsdon, "I hear your fine son that has married lately so worthily is hereabouts; send him if you will to know the king's pleasure." His lordship answered, that he knew he would be happy to obey her commands. "No," said she, "do you bid him go, for I have nothing to do with him." Robert Cary thought it hard to be sent off without first seeing the queen; "Sir," said he to his father, who urged his going, "if she be on such hard terms with me, I had need be wary what I do. If I go to the king without her license, it were in her power to hang me at my return, and that, for any thing I see, it were ill trusting her." Lord Hunsdon "merrily" told the queen what he said. "If the gentleman be so distrustful," she answered, "let the secretary make a safe-conduct to go and come, and I will sign it." On his return with letters from James, Robert Cary hastened to court, and entered the presence-chamber splashed and dirty as he was; but not finding the queen there, lord Hunsdon went to her to announce his son's arrival. She desired him to receive the letter, or message, and bring it to her. But the young gentleman knew the court and the queen too well to consent to give up his dispatches even to his father; he insisted on delivering them himself, and at length, with much difficulty gained admission.

The first encounter was, as he expresses it, "stormy and terrible," which he passed over with silence; but when the queen had "said her pleasure" of himself and his wife, he made her a courtly excuse; with which she was so well appeased, that she at length assured him all was forgiven and forgotten, and received him into her wonted favor. After this happy conclusion of an adventure so perilous to a courtier of Elizabeth, Cary returned to Carlisle; and his father's death soon occurring, he had orders to take upon himself the government of Berwick till further orders. In this situation he remained a year without salary; impairing much his small estate, and unable to obtain from court either an allowance, or leave of absence to enable him to solicit one in person. At length, necessity rendering him bold, he resolved to hazard the step of going up without permission. On his arrival, however, neither secretary Cecil nor even his own brother would venture to introduce him to the queen's presence, but advised him to hasten back before his absence should be known, for fear of her anger. At last, as he stood sorrowfully pondering on his case, a gentleman of the chamber, touched with pity, undertook to mention his arrival to her majesty in a way which should not displease her: and he opened the case by telling her, that she was more beholden to the love and service of one man than of many whom she favored more. This excited her curiosity; and on her asking who this person might be, he answered that it was Robert Cary, who, unable longer to bear his absence from her sight, had posted up to kiss her hand and instantly return. She sent for him directly, received him with greater favor than ever, allowed him after the interview to lead her out by the hand, which seemed to his brother and the secretary nothing less than a miracle; and what was more, granted him five hundred pounds immediately, a patent of the wardenry of the east marches, and a renewal of his grant of Norham-castle. It was this able courtier, rather than grateful kinsman, who earned the good graces of king James by being the first to bring him the welcome tidings of the decease of Elizabeth.

Incidental mention has already been made of sir William Holles of Haughton in Nottinghamshire, the gentleman who refused to marry his daughter to the earl of Cumberland, because he did not choose "to stand cap in hand" to his son-in-law: this worthy knight died at a great age in the year 1590; and a few further particulars respecting him and his descendants may deserve record, on account of the strong light which they reflect on several points of manners. Sir William was distinguished, perhaps beyond any other person of the same rank in the kingdom, for boundless hospitality and a magnificent style of living. "He began his Christmas," says the historian of the family, "at Allhallowtide and continued it until Candlemas; during which any man was permitted to stay three days, without being asked whence he came or what he was." For each of the twelve days of Christmas he allowed a fat ox and other provisions in proportion. He would never dine till after one o'clock; and being asked why he preferred so unusually late an hour, he answered, that "for aught he knew there might a friend come twenty miles to dine with him, and he would be loth he should lose his labor."

At the coronation of Edward VI. he appeared with fifty followers in blue coats and badges,—then the ordinary costume of retainers and serving-men,—and he never went to the sessions at Retford, though only four miles from his own mansion, without thirty "proper fellows" at his heels. What was then rare among the greatest subjects, he kept a company of actors of his own to perform plays and masques at festival times; in summer they travelled about the country.

This sir William was succeeded in his estates by sir John Holles his grandson, who was one of the band of gentlemen pensioners to Elizabeth, and in the reign of James I. purchased the title of earl of Clare. His grandfather had engaged his hand to a kinswoman of the earl of Shrewsbury; but the young man declining to complete this contract, and taking to wife a daughter of sir Thomas Stanhope, the consequence was a long and inveterate feud between the houses of Holles and of Talbot, which was productive of several remarkable incidents. Its first effect was a duel between Orme, a servant of Holles, and Pudsey, master of horse to the earl of Shrewsbury, in which the latter was slain. The earl prosecuted Orme, and sought to take away his life; but sir John Holles in the first instance caused him to be conveyed away to Ireland, and afterwards obtained his pardon of the queen. For his conduct in this business he was himself challenged by Gervase Markham, champion and gallant to the countess of Shrewsbury; but he refused the duel, because the unreasonable demand of Markham, that it should take place in a park belonging to the earl his enemy, gave him just ground to apprehend that some treachery was meditated. Anxious however to wipe away the aspersions which his adversary had taken occasion to cast upon his courage, he sought a rencounter which might wear the appearance of accident; and soon after, having met Markham on the road, they immediately dismounted and attacked each other with their rapiers; Markham fell, severely wounded, and the earl of Shrewsbury lost no time in raising his servants and tenantry to the number of one hundred and twenty in order to apprehend Holles in case Markham's hurt should prove mortal. On the other side lord Sheffield, the kinsman of Holles, joined him with sixty men. "I hear, cousin," said he on his arrival, "that my lord of Shrewsbury is prepared to trouble you; but take my word, before he carry you it shall cost many a broken pate;" and he and his company remained at Haughton till the wounded man was out of danger. Markham had vowed never to eat supper or take the sacrament till he was revenged, and in consequence found himself obliged to abstain from both to the day of his death[111]. What appears the most extraordinary part of the story is, that we do not find the queen and council interfering to put a stop to this private war, worthy of the barbarism of the feudal ages. Gervase Markham, who was the portionless younger son of a Nottinghamshire gentleman of ancient family, became the most voluminous miscellaneous writer of his age, using his pen apparently as his chief means of subsistence. He wrote on a vast variety of subjects, and both in verse and prose; but his works on farriery and husbandry appear to have been the most useful, and those on field sports the most entertaining, of his performances.

[Note 111: See Historical Collections, by Collins.]

The progress of the drama is a subject which claims in this place some share of our attention, partly because it excited in a variety of ways that of Elizabeth herself. By the appearance of Ferrex and Porrex in 1561, and that of Gammer Gurton's Needle five years later, a new impulse had been given to English genius; and both tragedies and comedies approaching the regular models, besides historical and pastoral dramas, allegorical pieces resembling the old moralities, and translations from the ancients, were from this time produced in abundance, and received by all classes with avidity and delight.

About twenty dramatic poets flourished between 1561 and 1590; and an inspection of the titles alone of their numerous productions would furnish evidence of an acquaintance with the stores of history, mythology, classical fiction, and romance, strikingly illustrative of the literary diligence and intellectual activity of the age.

Richard Edwards produced a tragi-comedy on the affecting ancient story of Damon and Pithias, besides his comedy of Palamon and Arcite, formerly noticed as having been performed for the entertainment of her majesty at Oxford. In connexion with this latter piece it may be remarked, that of the chivalrous idea of Theseus in this celebrated tale and in the Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as of all the other gothicized representations of ancient heroes, of which Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, his Rape of Lucrece, and some passages of Spenser's Faery Queen, afford further examples, Guido Colonna's Historia Trojana, written in 1260, was the original: a work long and widely popular, which had been translated, paraphrased and imitated in French and English, and which the barbarism of its incongruities, however palpable, had not as yet consigned to oblivion or contempt.

George Gascoigne, besides his tragedy from Euripides, translated also a comedy from Ariosto, performed by the students of Gray's Inn under the title of The Supposes; which was the first specimen in our language of a drama in prose. Italian literature was at this period cultivated amongst us with an assiduity unequalled either before or since, and it possessed few authors of merit or celebrity whose works were not speedily familiarized to the English public through the medium of translations. The study of this enchanting language found however a vehement opponent in Roger Ascham, who exclaims against the "enchantments of Circe, brought out of Italy to mar men's manners in England; much by examples of ill life, but more by precepts of fond books, of late translated out of Italian into English, and sold in every shop in London." He afterwards declares that "there be more of these ungracious books set out in print within these few months than have been seen in England many years before." To these strictures on the moral tendencies of the popular writers of Italy some force must be allowed; but it is obvious to remark, that similar objections might be urged with at least equal cogency against the favorite classics of Ascham; and that the use of so valuable an instrument of intellectual advancement as the free introduction of the literature of a highly polished nation into one comparatively rude, is not to be denied to beings capable of moral discrimination, from the apprehension of such partial and incidental injury as may arise out of its abuse. Italy, in fact, was at once the plenteous store-house whence the English poets, dramatists and romance writers of the latter half of the sixteenth century drew their most precious materials; the school where they acquired taste and skill to adapt them to their various purposes; and the Parnassian mount on which they caught the purest inspirations of the muse.

Elizabeth was a zealous patroness of these studies; she spoke the Italian language with fluency and elegance, and used it frequently in her mottos and devices: by her encouragement, as we shall see, Harrington was urged to complete his version of the Orlando Furioso, and she willingly accepted in the year 1600 the dedication of Fairfax's admirable translation of the great epic of Tasso.

But to return to our dramatic writers:... Thomas Kyd was the author of a tragedy entitled Jeronimo, which for the absurd horrors of its plot, and the mingled puerility and bombast of its language, was a source of perpetual ridicule to rival poets, while from a certain wild pathos combined with its imposing grandiloquence it was long a favorite with the people. The same person also translated a play by Garnier on the story of Cornelia the wife of Pompey;—a solitary instance apparently of obligation to the French theatre on the part of these founders of our national drama.

By Thomas Hughes the misfortunes of Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, were made the subject of a tragedy performed before the queen.

Preston, to whom when a youth her majesty had granted a pension of a shilling a day in consideration of his excellent acting in the play of Palamon and Arcite, composed on the story of Cambyses king of Persia "A lamentable tragedy mixed full of pleasant mirth," which is now only remembered as having been an object of ridicule to Shakespeare.

Lilly, the author of Euphues, composed six court comedies and other pieces principally on classical subjects, but disfigured by all the barbarous affectations of style which had marked his earlier production.

Christopher Marlow, unquestionably a man of genius, however deficient in taste and judgement, astonished the world with his Tamburlain the Great, which became in a manner proverbial for its rant and extravagance: he also composed, but in a purer style and with a pathetic cast of sentiment, a drama on the subject of king Edward II., and ministered fuel to the ferocious prejudices of the age by his fiend-like portraiture of Barabas in The rich Jew of Malta. Marlow was also the author of a tragedy, in which the sublime and the grotesque were extraordinarily mingled, on the noted story of Dr. Faustus; a tale of preternatural horrors, which, after the lapse of two centuries, was again to receive a similar distinction from the pen of one of the most celebrated of German dramatists: not the only example which could be produced of a coincidence of taste between the early tragedians of the two countries.

Of the works of these and other contemporary poets, the fathers of the English theatre, some are extant in print, others have come down to us in manuscript, and of no inconsiderable portion the titles alone survive. A few have acquired an incidental value in the eyes of the curious, as having furnished the ground-work of some of the dramas of our great poet; but not one of the number can justly be said to make a part of the living literature of the country.

It was reserved for the transcendent genius of Shakespeare alone, in that infancy of our theatre when nothing proceeded from the crowd of rival dramatists but rude and abortive efforts, ridiculed by the learned and judicious of their own age and forgotten by posterity, to astonish and enchant the nation with those inimitable works which form the perpetual boast and immortal heritage of Englishmen.

By a strange kind of fatality, which excites at once our surprise and our unavailing regrets, the domestic and the literary history of this great luminary of his age are almost equally enveloped in doubt and obscurity. Even of the few particulars of his origin and early adventures which have reached us through various channels, the greater number are either imperfectly attested, or exposed to objections of different kinds which render them of little value; and respecting his theatrical life the most important circumstances still remain matter of conjecture, or at best of remote inference.

When Shakespeare first became a writer for the stage;—what was his earliest production;—whether all the pieces usually ascribed to him be really his, and whether there be any others of which he was in whole or in part the author;—what degree of assistance he either received from other dramatic writers or lent to them;—in what chronological order his acknowledged pieces ought to be arranged, and what dates should be assigned to their first representation;—are all questions on which the ingenuity and indefatigable diligence of a crowd of editors, critics and biographers have long been exerted, without producing any considerable approximation to certainty or to general agreement.

On a subject so intricate, it will suffice for the purposes of the present work to state a few of the leading facts which appear to rest on the most satisfactory authorities. William Shakespeare, who was born in 1564, settled in London about 1586 or 1587, and seems to have almost immediately adopted the profession of an actor. Yet his earliest effort in composition was not of the dramatic kind; for in 1593 he dedicated to his great patron the earl of Southampton, as "the first heir of his invention," his Venus and Adonis, a narrative poem of considerable length in the six-line stanza then popular. In the subsequent year he also inscribed to the same noble friend his Rape of Lucrece, a still longer poem of similar form in the stanza of seven lines, and containing passages of vivid description, of exquisite imagery, and of sentimental excellence, which, had he written nothing more, would have entitled him to rank on a level with the author of the Faery Queen, and far above all other contemporary poets. He likewise employed his pen occasionally in the composition of sonnets, principally devoted to love and friendship, and written perhaps in emulation of those of Spenser, who, as one of these sonnets testifies, was at this period the object of his ardent admiration.

Before the publication however of any one of these poems he must already have attained considerable note as a dramatic writer, since Robert Green, in a satirical piece printed in 1592, speaking of theatrical concerns, stigmatizes this "player" as "an absolute Joannes Factotum," and one who was "in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country."

The tragedy of Pericles, which was published in 1609 with the name of Shakespeare in the title-page, and of which Dryden says in one of his prologues to a first play, "Shakespeare's own muse his Pericles first bore," was probably acted in 1590, and appears to have been long popular. Romeo and Juliet was certainly an early production of his muse, and one which excited much interest, as may well be imagined, amongst the younger portion of theatrical spectators.

There is high satisfaction in observing, that the age showed itself worthy of the immortal genius whom it had produced and fostered. It is agreed on all hands that Shakespeare was beloved as a man, and admired and patronized as a poet. In the profession of an actor, indeed, his success does not appear to have been conspicuous; but the never-failing attraction of his pieces brought overflowing audiences to the Globe theatre in Southwark, of which he was enabled to become a joint proprietor. Lord Southampton is said to have once bestowed on him a munificent donation of a thousand pounds to enable him to complete a purchase; and it is probable that this nobleman might also introduce him to the notice of his beloved friend the earl of Essex. Of any particular gratuities bestowed on him by her majesty we are not informed: but there is every reason to suppose that he must have received from her on various occasions both praises and remuneration; for we are told that she caused several of his pieces to be represented before her, and that the Merry Wives of Windsor in particular owed its origin to her desire of seeing Falstaff exhibited in love.

It remains to notice the principal legal enactments of Elizabeth respecting the conduct of the theatre, some of which are remarkable. During the early part of her reign, Sunday being still regarded principally in the light of a holiday, her majesty not only selected that day, more frequently than any other, for the representation of plays at court for her own amusement, but by her license granted to Burbage in 1574 authorized the performance of them at the public theatre, on Sundays only out of the hours of prayer. Five years after, however, Gosson in his School of Abuse complains that the players, "because they are allowed to play every Sunday, make four or five Sundays at least every week." To limit this abuse, an order was issued by the privy-council in July 1591, purporting that no plays should be publicly exhibited on Thursdays, because on that day bear-baiting and similar pastimes had usually been practised; and in an injunction to the lord mayor four days after, the representation of plays on Sunday (or the Sabbath as it now began to be called among the stricter sort of people) was utterly condemned; and it was further complained that on "all other days of the week in divers places the players do use to recite their plays, to the great hurt and destruction of the game of bear-baiting, and like pastimes, which are maintained for her majesty's pleasure."

In the year 1589 her majesty thought proper to appoint commissioners to inspect all performances of writers for the stage, with full powers to reject and obliterate whatever they might esteem unmannerly, licentious, or irreverent:—a regulation which might seem to claim the applause of every friend to public decency, were not the state in which the dramas of this age have come down to posterity sufficient evidence, that to render these impressive appeals to the passions of assembled multitudes politically and not morally inoffensive, was the genuine or principal motive of this act of power.

In illustration of this remark the following passage may be quoted: "At supper" the queen "would divert herself with her friends and attendants; and if they made her no answer, she would put them upon mirth and pleasant discourse with great civility. She would then admit Tarleton, a famous comedian and pleasant talker, and other such men, to divert her with stories of the town, and the common jests and accidents. Tarleton, who was then the best comedian in England, had made a pleasant play; and when it was acting before the queen, he pointed at Raleigh, and said, 'See the knave commands the queen!' for which he was corrected by a frown from the queen: yet he had the confidence to add, that he was of too much and too intolerable a power; and going on with the same liberty, he reflected on the too great power of the earl of Leicester; which was so universally applauded by all present, that she thought fit to bear these reflections with a seeming unconcernedness. But yet she was so offended that she forbad Tarleton and all jesters from coming near her table[112]."

[Note 112: See Bohun's Character of Queen Elizabeth. Among the various sources whence the preceding dramatic notices have been derived, it is proper to point out Dr. Drake's Memoirs of Shakspeare and his Age, and Warton's History of English Poetry.]



CHAPTER XXIV.

FROM 1593 TO 1597.

A parliament.—Haughty language of the queen.—Committal of Wentworth and other members—of Morice.—His letter to lord Burleigh.—Act to retain subjects in their due obedience.—Debates on the subsidy.—Free speeches of Francis Bacon and sir E. Hobby.—Queen's speech.—Notice of Francis Bacon—of Anthony Bacon.—Connexion of the two Bacons with Essex.—Francis disappointed of preferment.—Conduct of Burleigh towards him.—Of Fulk Greville.—Reflections.—Conversion of Henry IV.—Behaviour of Elizabeth.—War in Bretagne.—Anecdote of the queen and sir C. Blount.—Affair of Dr. Lopez.—Squire's attempt on the life of the queen.—Notice of Ferdinando earl of Derby.—Letter of the queen to lord Willoughby.—Particulars of sir Walter Raleigh.—His expedition to Guiana.—Unfortunate enterprise of Drake and Hawkins.—Death of Hawkins.—Death and character of Drake.—Letters of Rowland Whyte.—Case of the earl of Hertford.—Anecdote of Essex.—Queen at the lord keeper's.—Anecdote of the queen and bishop Rudd.—Case of sir T. Arundel.

Notwithstanding all the frugal arts of Elizabeth, the state of her finances compelled her in the spring of 1593 to summon a parliament. It was four entire years since this assembly had last met: but her majesty took care to let the commons know, that the causes of offence which had then occurred were still fresh in her memory, and that her resolution to preserve her own prerogative in its rigor, and the ecclesiastical commission in all its terrors, was still inflexible.

It even appeared, that an apprehension lest her present necessities might embolden the parliament to treat her despotic mandates with a deference less profound than formerly, irritated her temper, and prompted her to assume a more haughty and menacing style than her habitual study of popularity had hitherto permitted her to employ. In answer to the three customary requests made by the speaker, for liberty of speech, freedom from arrests, and access to her person, she replied by her lord keeper, That such liberty of speech as the commons were justly entitled to,—liberty, namely, of aye and no,—she was willing to grant; but by no means a liberty for every one to speak what he listed. And if any idle heads should be found careless enough of their own safety to attempt innovations in the state, or reforms in the church, she laid her injunctions on the speaker to refuse the bills offered for such purposes till they should have been examined by those who were better qualified to judge of these matters. She promised that she would not impeach the liberty of their persons, provided they did not permit themselves to imagine that any neglect of duty would be allowed to pass unpunished under shelter of this privilege; and she engaged not to deny them access to her person on weighty affairs, and at convenient seasons, when she should have leisure from other important business of state.

But threats alone were not found sufficient to restrain all attempts on the part of the commons to exercise their known rights and fulfil their duty to the country. Peter Wentworth, a member whose courageous and independent spirit had already drawn upon him repeated manifestations of royal displeasure, presented to the lord keeper a petition, praying that the upper house would join with the lower in a supplication to the queen for fixing the succession. Elizabeth, enraged at the bare mention of a subject so offensive to her, instantly committed to the Fleet prison Wentworth, sir Thomas Bromley who had seconded him, and two other members to whom he had imparted the business; and when the house was preparing to petition her for their release, some privy-councillors dissuaded the step, as one which could only prove injurious to these gentlemen by giving additional offence to her majesty.

Soon after, James Morice, an eminent lawyer, who was attorney of the court of Wards and chancellor of the Duchy, made a motion for redress of the abuses in the bishops' courts, and especially of the monstrous ones committed under the High Commission. Several members supported the motion: but the queen, sending in wrath for the speaker, required him to deliver up to her the bill; reminded him of her strict injunctions at the opening of the sessions, and testified her extreme indignation and surprise at the boldness of the commons in intermeddling with subjects which she had expressly forbidden them to discuss. She informed him, that it lay in her power to summon parliaments and to dismiss them; and to sanction or to reject any determination of theirs; that she had at present called them together for the twofold purpose, of enacting further laws for the maintenance of religious conformity, and of providing for the national defence against Spain; and that these ought therefore to be the objects of their deliberations.

As for Morice, he was seized by a serjeant at arms in the house itself, stripped of his offices, rendered incapable of practising as a lawyer, and committed to prison, whence he soon after addressed to Burleigh the following high-minded appeal:

* * * * *

"Right honorable my very good lord;

"That I am no more hardly handled, I impute next unto God to your honorable good will and favor; for although I am assured that the cause I took in hand is good and honest, yet I believe that, besides your lordship and that honorable person your son, I have never an honorable friend. But no matter; for the best causes seldom find the most friends, especially having many, and those mighty, enemies.

"I see no cause in my conscience to repent me of that I have done, nor to be dismayed, although grieved, by this my restraint of liberty; for I stand for the maintenance of the honor of God and of my prince, and for the preservation of public justice and the liberties of my country against wrong and oppression; being well content, at her majesty's good pleasure and commandment, (whom I beseech God long to preserve in all princely felicity,) to suffer and abide much more. But I had thought that the judges ecclesiastical, being charged in the great council of the realm to be dishonorers of God and of her majesty, perverters of law and public justice, and wrong-doers unto the liberties and freedoms of all her majesty's subjects, by their extorted oaths, wrongful imprisonments, lawless subscription, and unjust absolutions, would rather have sought means to be cleared of this weighty accusation, than to shrowd themselves under the suppressing of the complaint and shadow of mine imprisonment.

"There is fault found with me that I, as a private person, preferred not my complaint to her majesty. Surely, my lord, your wisdom can conceive what a proper piece of work I had then made of that: The worst prison had been I think too good for me, since now (sustaining the person of a public counsellor of the realm speaking for her majesty's prerogatives, which by oath I am bound to assist and maintain) I cannot escape displeasure and restraint of liberty. Another fault, or error, is objected; in that I preferred these causes before the matters delivered from her majesty were determined. My good lord, to have stayed so long, I verily think, had been to come too late. Bills of assize of bread, shipping of fish, pleadings, and such like, may be offered and received into the house, and no offence to her majesty's royal commandment (being but as the tything of mint); but the great causes of the law and public justice may not be touched without offence. Well, my good lord, be it so; yet I hope her majesty and you of her honorable privy-council will at length thoroughly consider of these things, lest, as heretofore we prayed, From the tyranny of the bishop of Rome, good Lord deliver us, we be compelled to say, From the tyranny of the clergy of England, good Lord deliver us.

"Pardon my plain speech, I humbly beseech your honor, for it proceedeth from an upright heart and sound conscience, although in a weak and sickly body: and by God's grace, while life doth last, which I hope now, after so many cracks and crazes, will not be long, I will not be ashamed in good and lawful sort to strive for the freedom of conscience, public justice, and the liberty of my country. And you, my good lord, to whose hand the stern of this commonwealth is chiefly committed, I humbly beseech, (as I doubt not but you do,) graciously respect both me and the causes I have preferred, and be a mean to pacify and appease her majesty's displeasure conceived against me her poor, yet faithful, servant and subject." &c.[113]

[Note 113: Nugae.]

* * * * *

In October following, the earl of Essex ventured to mention to her majesty this persecuted patriot amongst lawyers qualified for the post of attorney-general, when "her majesty acknowledged his gifts, but said his speaking against her in such manner as he had done, should be a bar against any preferment at her hands." He is said to have been kept for some years a prisoner in Tilbury castle; and whether he ever recovered his liberty may seem doubtful, since he died in February 1596, aged 48.

The house of commons, unacquainted as yet with its own strength, submitted without further question to regard as law the will of an imperious mistress, and passed with little opposition "An act to retain her majesty's subjects in their due obedience," which vied in cruelty with the noted Six Articles of her tyrannical father.

By this law, any person above sixteen who should refuse during a month to attend the established worship was to be imprisoned; when, should he further persist in his refusal during three months longer, he must abjure the realm; but in case of his rejecting this alternative, or returning from banishment, his offence was declared felony without benefit of clergy.

The business of supplies was next taken into consideration, and the commons voted two subsidies and four fifteenths; but this not appearing to the ministry sufficient for the exigencies of the state, the peers were induced to request a conference with the lower house for the purpose of proposing the augmentation of the grant to four subsidies and six fifteenths. The commons resented at first this interference with their acknowledged privilege of originating all money bills; but dread of the well-known consequences of offending their superiors, prevailed at length over their indignation; and first the conference, then the additional supply, was acceded to. Some debate, however, arose on the time to be allowed for the payment of so heavy an imposition; and the illustrious Francis Bacon, then member for Middlesex, enlarged upon the distresses of the people, and the danger lest the house, by this grant, should be establishing a precedent against themselves and their posterity, in a speech to which his courtly kinsman sir Robert Cecil replied with much warmth, and of which her majesty showed a resentful remembrance on his appearing soon after as a candidate for the office of attorney-general. His cousin sir Edward Hobby also, whose speeches in the former parliament had been ill-received by certain great persons, took such a part in some of the questions now at issue between the crown and the commons, as procured him an imprisonment till the end of the sessions, when he was at length liberated; "but not," as Anthony Bacon wrote to his mother, "without a notable public disgrace laid upon him by her majesty's royal censure delivered amongst other things, by herself, after my lord keeper's speech[114]."

[Note 114: Birch's Memoirs, vol. i. p. 96.]

In this parting harangue to her parliament, the queen, little touched by the unprecedented liberality of the supplies which it had granted her, and the passing of her favorite bill against the schismatics and recusants, animadverted in severe terms on the oppositionists, reiterated the lofty claims with which she had opened the sessions, and pronounced an eulogium on the justice and moderation of her own government. She also entered into the grounds of her quarrel with the king of Spain; showed herself undismayed by the apprehension of any thing which his once dreaded power could attempt against her; and characteristically added, in adverting to the defeat of the armada, the following energetic warning: "I am informed, that when he attempted this last invasion, some upon the sea coast forsook their towns, fled up higher into the country, and left all naked and exposed to his entrance. But I swear unto you by God, if I knew those persons, or may know hereafter, I will make them know what it is to be fearful in so urgent a cause."

The appearance of Francis Bacon in the house of commons affords a fit occasion of tracing the previous history of this wonderful man, and of explaining his peculiar situation between the two great factions of the court and the influence exerted by this circumstance on his character and after fortunes. That early promise of his genius which in childhood attracted the admiring observation of Elizabeth herself, had been confirmed by every succeeding year. In the thirteenth of his age, an earlier period than was even then customary, he was entered, together with his elder brother Anthony, of Trinity college Cambridge. At this seat of learning he remained three years, during which, besides exhibiting his powers of memory and application by great proficiency in the ordinary studies of the place, he evinced the extraordinary precocity of his penetrating and original intellect, by forming the first sketch of a new system of philosophy in opposition to that of Aristotle.

His father, designing him for public life, now sent him to complete his education in the house of sir Amias Paulet, the queen's ambassador in France. He gained the confidence of this able and honorable man to such a degree, as to be intrusted by him with a mission to her majesty requiring secrecy and dispatch, of which he acquitted himself with great applause. Returning to France, he engaged in several excursions through its different provinces, and diligently occupied himself in the collection of facts and observations, which he afterwards threw together in a "Brief View of the State of Europe;" a work, however juvenile, which is said to exhibit much both of the peculiar spirit and of the method of its illustrious author. But the death of his father, in 1580, put an end to his travels, and cast a melancholy blight upon his opening prospects.

For Anthony Bacon, the eldest of his sons by his second marriage, the lord keeper had handsomely provided by the gift of his manor of Gorhambury, and he had amassed a considerable sum with which he was about to purchase another estate for the portion of the younger, when death interrupted his design; and only one-fifth of this money falling to Francis under the provisions of his father's will, he unexpectedly found himself compelled to resort to the practice of some gainful profession for his support. That of the law naturally engaged his preference. He entered himself of Gray's Inn, and passed within its precincts several studious years, during which he made himself master of the general principles of jurisprudence, as well as of the rules of legal practice in his own country; and he also found leisure to trace the outlines of his new philosophy in a work not now known to exist in a separate state, but incorporated probably in one of his more finished productions. In 1588 her majesty, desirous perhaps of encouraging a more entire devotion of his talents to the study of the law, distinguished him by the title of her Counsel extraordinary,—an office of little emolument, though valuable as an introduction to practice. But the genius of Bacon disdained to plod in the trammels of a laborious profession; he felt that it was given him for higher and larger purposes: yet perceiving, at the same time, that the narrowness of his circumstances would prove an insuperable bar to his ambition of becoming, as he once beautifully expressed it, "the servant of posterity," he thus, in 1591, solicited the patronage of his uncle lord Burleigh: "Again, the meanness of my estate doth somewhat move me; for though I cannot accuse myself that I am either prodigal or slothful; yet my health is not to spend, nor my course to get: Lastly, I confess that I have as vast contemplative ends as I have moderate civil ends; for I have taken all knowledge to be my province; and if I could purge it of two sorts of rovers, whereof the one with frivolous disputations, confutations and verbosities, the other with blind experiments and auricular traditions and impostures, hath committed so many spoils, I hope I should bring in industrious observations, grounded conclusions, and profitable inventions and discoveries, the best state of that province. This, whether it be curiosity, or vain glory, or nature, or, if one take it favorably, philanthropia, is so fixed in my mind as it cannot be removed. And I do easily see, that place of any reasonable countenance doth bring commandment of more wits than a man's own; which is the thing I do greatly affect."

Burleigh was no philosopher, though a lover of learning, and it could not perhaps be expected that he should at once perceive how eminently worthy was this laborer of the hire which he was reduced to solicit. He contented himself therefore with procuring for his kinsman the reversion of the place of register of the Star-chamber, worth about sixteen hundred pounds per annum. Of this office however, which might amply have satisfied the wants of a student, it was unfortunately near twenty years before Bacon obtained possession; and during this tedious time of expectation, he was wont to say, "that it was like another man's ground abutting upon his house, which might mend his prospect, but it did not fill his barn." He made however a grateful return to the lord treasurer for this instance of patronage, by composing an answer to a popish libel, entitled "A Declaration of the true Causes of the late Troubles," in which he warmly vindicated the conduct of this minister, of his own father, and of other members of the administration; not forgetting to make a high eulogium on the talents and dispositions of Robert Cecil,—now the most powerful instrument at court to serve or to injure. Unhappily for the fortunes of Bacon, and in some respects for his moral character also, this selfish and perfidious statesman was endowed with sufficient reach of intellect to form some estimate of the transcendent abilities of his kinsman; and struck with dread or envy, he seems to have formed a systematic design of impeding by every art his favor and advancement. Unmoved by the eloquent adulation with which Bacon sought to propitiate his regard, he took all occasions to represent him to the queen, and with some degree of justice though more of malice, as a man of too speculative a turn to apply in earnest to the practical details of business; one moreover whose head was so filled with abstract and philosophical notions, that he would not fail to perplex any public affairs in which he might be permitted to take a lead. The effect of these suggestions on the mind of Elizabeth was greatly aggravated by the conduct of Bacon in the parliament of 1593, in consequence of which her majesty for a considerable time denied him that access to her person with which he had hitherto been freely and graciously indulged.

Some years before this period, Francis Bacon had become known to the earl of Essex, whose genuine love of merit induced him to offer him his friendship and protection. The eagerness with which these were accepted had deeply offended the Cecils; and their displeasure was about this time increased, on seeing Anthony Bacon, by his brother's persuasion, enlist himself under the banner of the same political leader.

Anthony, whose singular history is on many accounts worthy of notice, was a man of an inquisitive and crafty turn of mind, and seemingly born for a politician. He, like his brother, had been induced to pay a visit to France, as the completion of a liberal education; and not finding himself involved in the same pecuniary difficulties, he had been enabled to make his abode in that country of much longer duration. From Paris, which he first visited in 1579, he proceeded to Bourges, Geneva, Montpelier, Marseilles, Montauban and Bordeaux, in each of which cities he resided for a considerable length of time. At the latter place he rendered some services to the protestant inhabitants at great personal hazard. In 1584 he visited Henry IV., then king of Navarre, at Bearn, and in 1586 he contracted at Montauban an intimacy with the celebrated Hugonot leader, du Plessis de Mornay. As Anthony Bacon was invested with no public character, his continued and voluntary abode in a catholic country began at length to excite a suspicion in the mind of his mother, his friends, and the queen herself, that his conduct was influenced by some secret bias towards the Romish faith;—an impression which received confirmation from the intimacies which he cultivated with several English exiles and pensioners of the king of Spain. This idea appears, however, to have been unfounded. It was often by the express, though secret, request of Burleigh that he formed these connexions; and he had frequently supplied this minister with important articles of intelligence procured from such persons, with whom it was by no means unusual to perform the office of spy to England and to Spain alternately, or even to both at the same time. At length, the urgency of his friends and the clamors of his mother, whose protestant zeal, setting a sharper edge on a temper naturally keen, prompted her to employ expressions of great violence, compelled him, after many delays, to quit the continent; and in the beginning of 1592 he returned to his native country. His miserable state of health, from the gout and other disorders which rendered him a cripple for life, prevented his encountering the fatigues of the usual court attendance: yet he lost no time in procuring a seat in parliament; and his close connexion with the Cecils, joined to the opinion entertained of his political talents, seems to have excited a general expectation of his rising to high importance in the state. But he was not long in discovering, that for some unknown reason the lord treasurer was little his friend; and offended at the coolness with which his secret intelligence from numerous foreign correspondents was received by this minister and his son, in their joint capacity of secretaries of state, he was easily prevailed upon to address himself to Essex.

The earl had by this time learned, that there was no surer mode of recommending himself to her majesty, and persuading her of his extraordinary zeal for her service, than to provide her with a constant supply of authentic and early intelligence from the various countries of Europe, on which she kept a vigilant and jealous eye. He was accordingly occupied in establishing news-agents in every quarter, and the opportune offers of Anthony Bacon were accepted by him with the utmost eagerness. A connexion was immediately established between them, which ripened with time into so confidential an intimacy, that in 1595 the earl prevailed on Mr. Bacon to accept of apartments in Essex-house, which he continued to occupy till commanded by her majesty to quit them on the breaking out of the last rash enterprise of his patron.

Struck with the boundless affection manifested by Anthony towards his brother, with whom he had established an entire community of interests, Essex now espoused with more warmth than ever the cause of Francis. He strained every nerve to gain for him, in 1592, the situation of attorney-general: but Burleigh opposed the appointment; Robert Cecil openly expressed to the earl his surprise that he should seek to procure it for "a raw youth;" and her majesty declared that, after the manner in which Francis Bacon had stood up against her in parliament, admission to her presence was the only favor to which he ought to aspire. She added, that in her father's time such conduct would have been sufficient to banish a man the court for life. Lowering his tone, Essex afterwards sought for his friend the office of solicitor-general; but the same prejudices and antipathies still thwarted him: and finding all his efforts vain to establish him in any public station of honor or emolument, he nobly compensated his disappointment and relieved his necessities by the gift of an estate.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18     Next Part
Home - Random Browse