A History of English Literature - Elizabethan Literature
by George Saintsbury
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse



- A HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE In Six Volumes, Crown 8vo. ENGLISH LITERATURE FROM THE BEGINNING TO THE NORMAN CONQUEST. By Rev. STOPFORD A. BROOKE, M.A. 8s. 6d. ENGLISH LITERATURE FROM THE NORMAN CONQUEST TO CHAUCER. By Prof. W. H. SCHOFIELD, Ph.D. 8s. 6d. THE AGE OF CHAUCER. By Professor W. H. SCHOFIELD, Ph.D. [In preparation. ELIZABETHAN LITERATURE (1560-1665). By GEORGE SAINTSBURY. 8s. 6d. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY LITERATURE (1660-1780). By EDMUND GOSSE, M.A. 8s. 6d. NINETEENTH CENTURY LITERATURE (1780-1900). By GEORGE SAINTSBURY. 8s. 6d. By GEORGE SAINTSBURY. A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE. Crown 8vo. 10s. Also in five Parts. 2s. 6d. each. A HISTORY OF ENGLISH PROSODY FROM THE TWELFTH CENTURY TO THE PRESENT DAY. 3 vols. 8vo. Vol. I. From the Origins to Spenser. 12s. 6d. net. Vol. II. From Shakespeare to Crabbe. 18s. net. Vol. III. From Blake to Mr. Swinburne. 18s. net. HISTORICAL MANUAL OF ENGLISH PROSODY. Crown 8vo. 6s. 6d. net. A HISTORY OF THE FRENCH NOVEL. 8vo. Vol. I. From the Beginning to 1880. 18s. net. Vol. II. From 1800 to 1900. 18s. net. A HISTORY OF ENGLISH PROSE RHYTHM. 8vo. 18s. net. LIFE OF DRYDEN. Library Edition. Crown 8vo, 3s. net; Pocket Edition, Fcap. 8vo, 2s. net. [English Men of Letters. A FIRST BOOK OF ENGLISH LITERATURE. Globe 8vo. Sewed, 2s. Stiff Boards, 2s. 3d. NOTES ON A CELLAR-BOOK. Small 4to. 7s. 6d. net. MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON. -








First Edition 1887. Second Edition 1890.

Reprinted 1893, 1894, 1896, 1898, 1901, 1903, 1907, 1910, 1913, 1918, 1920.


As was explained in the Note to the Preface of the previous editions and impressions of this book, after the first, hardly one of them appeared without careful revision, and the insertion of a more or less considerable number of additions and corrections. I found, indeed, few errors of a kind that need have seemed serious except to Momus or Zoilus. But in the enormous number of statements of fact which literary history of the more exact kind requires, minor blunders, be they more or fewer, are sure to creep in. No writer, again, who endeavours constantly to keep up and extend his knowledge of such a subject as Elizabethan literature, can fail to have something new to say from time to time. And though no one who is competent originally for his task ought to experience any violent changes of view, any one's views may undergo modification. In particular, he may find that readers have misunderstood him, and that alterations of expression are desirable. For all these reasons and others I have not spared trouble in the various revisions referred to; I think the book has been kept by them fairly abreast of its author's knowledge, and I hope it is not too far behind that of others.

It will, however, almost inevitably happen that a long series of piecemeal corrections and codicils somewhat disfigures the character of the composition as a whole. And after nearly the full score of years, and not much less than half a score of re-appearances, it has seemed to me desirable to make a somewhat more thorough, minute, and above all connected revision than I have ever made before. And so, my publishers falling in with this view, the present edition represents the result. I do not think it necessary to reprint the original preface. When I wrote it I had already had some, and since I wrote it I have had much more, experience in writing literary history. I have never seen reason to alter the opinion that, to make such history of any value at all, the critical judgments and descriptions must represent direct, original, and first-hand reading and thought; and that in these critical judgments and descriptions the value of it consists. Even summaries and analyses of the matter of books, except in so far as they are necessary to criticism, come far second; while biographical and bibliographical details are of much less importance, and may (as indeed in one way or another they generally must) be taken at second hand. The completion of the Dictionary of National Biography has at once facilitated the task of the writer, and to a great extent disarmed the candid critic who delights, in cases of disputed date, to assume that the date which his author chooses is the wrong one. And I have in the main adjusted the dates in this book (where necessary) accordingly. The bibliographical additions which have been made to the Index will be found not inconsiderable.

I believe that, in my present plan, there is no author of importance omitted (there were not many even in the first edition), and that I have been able somewhat to improve the book from the results of twenty years' additional study, twelve of which have been mainly devoted to English literature. How far it must still be from being worthy of its subject, nobody can know better than I do. But I know also, and I am very happy to know, that, as an Elizabethan himself might have said, my unworthiness has guided many worthy ones to something like knowledge, and to what is more important than knowledge, love, of a subject so fascinating and so magnificent. And that the book may still have the chance of doing this, I hope to spare no trouble upon it as often as the opportunity presents itself.[1]

EDINBURGH, January 30, 1907.

[1] In the last (eleventh) re-impression no alterations seemed necessary. In this, one or two bibliographical matters may call for notice. Every student of Donne should now consult Professor Grierson's edition of the Poems (2 vols., Oxford, 1912), and as inquiries have been made as to the third volume of my own Caroline Poets (see Index), containing Cleveland, King, Stanley, and some less known authors, I may be permitted to say that it has been in the press for years, and a large part of it is completed. But various stoppages, in no case due to neglect, and latterly made absolute by the war, have prevented its appearance.—BATH, October 8, 1918.




The starting-point—Tottel's Miscellany—Its method and authorship—The characteristics of its poetry—Wyatt—Surrey—Grimald—Their metres —The stuff of their poems—The Mirror for Magistrates—Sackville —His contributions and their characteristics—Remarks on the formal criticism of poetry—Gascoigne—Churchyard—Tusser—Turberville— Googe—The translators—Classical metres—Stanyhurst—Other miscellanies Pages 1-27



Outlines of Early Elizabethan Prose—Its origins—Cheke and his contemporaries—Ascham—His style—Miscellaneous writers—Critics— Webbe—Puttenham—Lyly—Euphues and Euphuism—Sidney—His style and critical principles—Hooker—Greville—Knolles—Mulcaster 28-49



Divisions of Elizabethan Drama—Its general character—Origins—Ralph Roister DoisterGammer Gurton's NeedleGorboduc—The Senecan Drama—Other early plays—The "university wits"—Their lives and characters—Lyly (dramas)—The Marlowe group—Peele—Greene—Kyd— Marlowe—The actor playwrights 50-81



Spenser—His life and the order of his works—The Shepherd's Calendar —The minor poems—The Faerie Queene—Its scheme—The Spenserian stanza—Spenser's language—His general poetical qualities— Comparison with other English poets—His peculiar charm—The Sonneteers—Fulke Greville—Sidney—Watson—Barnes—Giles Fletcher the elder—Lodge—Avisa—Percy—Zepheria—Constable—Daniel— Drayton—Alcilia—Griffin—Lynch—Smith—Barnfield—Southwell—The song and madrigal writers—Campion—Raleigh—Dyer—Oxford, etc.— Gifford—Howell, Grove, and others—The historians—Warner—The larger poetical works of Daniel and Drayton—The satirists—Lodge— Donne—The poems of Donne generally—Hall—Marston—Guilpin—Tourneur 82-156



Difficulty of writing about Shakespere—His life—His reputation in England and its history—Divisions of his work—The Poems—The Sonnets—The Plays—Characteristics of Shakespere—Never unnatural— His attitude to morality—His humour—Universality of his range— Comments on him—His manner of working—His variety—Final remarks— Dramatists to be grouped with Shakespere—Ben Jonson—Chapman— Marston—Dekker 157-206



Bacon—Raleigh—The Authorised Version—Jonson and Daniel as prose-writers—Hakluyt—The Pamphleteers—Greene—Lodge—Harvey—Nash —Dekker—Breton—The Martin Marprelate Controversy—Account of it, with specimens of the chief tracts 207-252



Characteristics—Beaumont and Fletcher—Middleton—Webster—Heywood— Tourneur—Day 253-288



Sylvester—Davies of Hereford—Sir John Davies—Giles and Phineas Fletcher—William Browne—Wither—Drummond—Stirling—Minor Jacobean poets—Songs from the dramatists 289-314



The quintet—Milton's life—His character—His periods of literary production—First Period, the minor poems—The special excellences of ComusLycidas—Second Period, the pamphlets—Their merits and defects—Milton's prose style—Third Period, the larger poems— Milton's blank verse—His origins—His comparative position—Jeremy Taylor's life—His principal works—His style—Characteristics of his thought and manner—Sir Thomas Browne—His life, works, and editions —His literary manner—Characteristics of his style and vocabulary— His Latinising—Remarkable adjustment of his thought and expression— Clarendon—His life—Great merits of his History—Faults of his style—Hobbes—His life and works—Extraordinary strength and clearness of his style 315-353



Herrick—Carew—Crashaw—Divisions of Minor Caroline poetry—Miscellanies —George Herbert—Sandys—Vaughan—Lovelace and Suckling—Montrose— Quarles—More—Beaumont—Habington—Chalkhill—Marmion—Kynaston— Chamberlayne—Benlowes—Stanley—John Hall—Patrick Carey—Cleveland —Corbet—Cartwright, Sherburne, and Brome—Cotton—The general characteristics of Caroline poetry—A defence of the Caroline poets 354-393



Weakening of dramatic strength—Massinger—Ford—Shirley—Randolph—Brome —Cokain—Glapthorne—Davenant—Suckling—Minor and anonymous plays of the Fourth and other Periods—The Shakesperian Apocrypha 394-427



Burton—Fuller—Lord Herbert of Cherbury—Izaak Walton—Howell—Earle— Felltham—The rest 428-444




In a work like the present, forming part of a larger whole and preceded by another part, the writer has the advantage of being almost wholly free from a difficulty which often presses on historians of a limited and definite period, whether of literary or of any other history. That difficulty lies in the discussion and decision of the question of origins—in the allotment of sufficient, and not more than sufficient, space to a preliminary recapitulation of the causes and circumstances of the actual events to be related. Here there is no need for any but the very briefest references of the kind to connect the present volume with its forerunner, or rather to indicate the connection of the two.

There has been little difference of opinion as to the long dead-season of English poetry, broken chiefly, if not wholly, by poets Scottish rather than English, which lasted through almost the whole of the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth centuries. There has also been little difference in regarding the remarkable work (known as Tottel's Miscellany, but more properly called Songs and Sonnets, written by the Right Honourable Lord Henry Howard, late Earl of Surrey, and other) which was published by Richard Tottel in 1557, and which went through two editions in the summer of that year, as marking the dawn of the new period. The book is, indeed, remarkable in many ways. The first thing, probably, which strikes the modern reader about it is the fact that great part of its contents is anonymous and only conjecturally to be attributed, while as to the part which is more certainly known to be the work of several authors, most of those authors were either dead or had written long before. Mr. Arber's remarks in his introduction (which, though I have rather an objection to putting mere citations before the public, I am glad here to quote as a testimony in the forefront of this book to the excellent deserts of one who by himself has done as much as any living man to facilitate the study of Elizabethan literature) are entirely to the point—how entirely to the point only students of foreign as well as of English literature know. "The poets of that age," says Mr. Arber, "wrote for their own delectation and for that of their friends, and not for the general public. They generally had the greatest aversion to their works appearing in print." This aversion, which continued in France till the end of the seventeenth century, if not later, had been somewhat broken down in England by the middle of the sixteenth, though vestiges of it long survived, and in the form of a reluctance to be known to write for money, may be found even within the confines of the nineteenth. The humbler means and lesser public of the English booksellers have saved English literature from the bewildering multitude of pirated editions, printed from private and not always faithful manuscript copies, which were for so long the despair of the editors of many French classics. But the manuscript copies themselves survive to a certain extent, and in the more sumptuous and elaborate editions of our poets (such as, for instance, Dr. Grosart's Donne) what they have yielded may be studied with some interest. Moreover, they have occasionally preserved for us work nowhere else to be obtained, as, for instance, in the remarkable folio which has supplied Mr. Bullen with so much of his invaluable collection of Old Plays. At the early period of Tottel's Miscellany it would appear that the very idea of publication in print had hardly occurred to many writers' minds. When the book appeared, both its main contributors, Surrey and Wyatt, had been long dead, as well as others (Sir Francis Bryan and Anne Boleyn's unlucky brother, George Lord Rochford) who are supposed to be represented. The short Printer's Address to the Reader gives absolutely no intelligence as to the circumstances of the publication, the person responsible for the editing, or the authority which the editor and printer may have had for their inclusion of different authors' work. It is only a theory, though a sufficiently plausible one, that the editor was Nicholas Grimald, chaplain to Bishop Thirlby of Ely, a Cambridge man who some ten years before had been incorporated at Oxford and had been elected to a Fellowship at Merton College. In Grimald's or Grimoald's connection with the book there was certainly something peculiar, for the first edition contains forty poems contributed by him and signed with his name, while in the second the full name is replaced by "N. G.," and a considerable number of his poems give way to others. More than one construction might, no doubt, be placed on this curious fact; but hardly any construction can be placed on it which does not in some way connect Grimald with the publication. It may be added that, while his, Surrey's, and Wyatt's contributions are substantive and known—the numbers of separate poems contributed being respectively forty for Surrey, the same for Grimald, and ninety-six for Wyatt—no less than one hundred and thirty-four poems, reckoning the contents of the first and second editions together, are attributed to "other" or "uncertain" authors. And of these, though it is pretty positively known that certain writers did contribute to the book, only four poems have been even conjecturally traced to particular authors. The most interesting of these by far is the poem attributed, with that which immediately precedes it, to Lord Vaux, and containing the verses "For age with stealing steps," known to every one from the gravedigger in Hamlet. Nor is this the only connection of Tottel's Miscellany with Shakespere, for there is no reasonable doubt that the "Book of Songs and Sonnets," to the absence of which Slender so pathetically refers in The Merry Wives of Windsor, is Tottel's, which, as the first to use the title, long retained it by right of precedence. Indeed, one of its authors, Churchyard, who, though not in his first youth at its appearance, survived into the reign of James, quotes it as such, and so does Drayton even later. No sonnets had been seen in England before, nor was the whole style of the verse which it contained less novel than this particular form.

As is the case with many if not most of the authors of our period, a rather unnecessary amount of ink has been spilt on questions very distantly connected with the question of the absolute and relative merit of Surrey and Wyatt in English poetry. In particular, the influence of the one poet on the other, and the consequent degree of originality to be assigned to each, have been much discussed. A very few dates and facts will supply most of the information necessary to enable the reader to decide this and other questions for himself. Sir Thomas Wyatt, son of Sir Henry Wyatt of Allington, Kent, was born in 1503, entered St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1515, became a favourite of Henry VIII., received important diplomatic appointments, and died in 1542. Lord Henry Howard was born (as is supposed) in 1517, and became Earl of Surrey by courtesy (he was not, the account of his judicial murder says, a lord of Parliament) at eight years old. Very little is really known of his life, and his love for "Geraldine" was made the basis of a series of fictions by Nash half a century after his death. He cannot have been more than thirty when, in the Reign of Terror towards the close of Henry VIII.'s life, he was arrested on frivolous charges, the gravest being the assumption of the royal arms, found guilty of treason, and beheaded on Tower Hill on 19th January 1547. Thus it will be seen that Wyatt was at Cambridge before Surrey was born, and died five years before him; to which it need only be added that Surrey has an epitaph on Wyatt which clearly expresses the relation of disciple to master. Yet despite this relation and the community of influences which acted on both, their characteristics are markedly different, and each is of the greatest importance in English poetical history.

In order to appreciate exactly what this importance is we must remember in what state Wyatt and Surrey found the art which they practised and in which they made a new start. Speaking roughly but with sufficient accuracy for the purpose, that state is typically exhibited in two writers, Hawes and Skelton. The former represents the last phase of the Chaucerian school, weakened not merely by the absence of men of great talent during more than a century, but by the continual imitation during that period of weaker and ever weaker French models—the last faint echoes of the Roman de la Rose and the first extravagances of the Rhetoriqueurs. Skelton, on the other hand, with all his vigour, represents the English tendency to prosaic doggerel. Whether Wyatt and his younger companion deliberately had recourse to Italian example in order to avoid these two dangers it would be impossible to say. But the example was evidently before them, and the result is certainly such an avoidance. Nevertheless both, and especially Wyatt, had a great deal to learn. It is perfectly evident that neither had any theory of English prosody before him. Wyatt's first sonnet displays the completest indifference to quantity, not merely scanning "harber," "banner," and "suffer" as iambs (which might admit of some defence), but making a rhyme of "feareth" and "appeareth," not on the penultimates, but on the mere "eth." In the following poems even worse liberties are found, and the strange turns and twists which the poet gives to his decasyllables suggest either a total want of ear or such a study in foreign languages that the student had actually forgotten the intonation and cadences of his own tongue. So stumbling and knock-kneed is his verse that any one who remembers the admirable versification of Chaucer may now and then be inclined to think that Wyatt had much better have left his innovations alone. But this petulance is soon rebuked by the appearance of such a sonnet as this:—

(The lover having dreamed enjoying of his love complaineth that the dream is not either longer or truer.)

"Unstable dream, according to the place Be steadfast once, or else at least be true. By tasted sweetness, make me not to rue The sudden loss of thy false feigned grace. By good respect in such a dangerous case Thou brought'st not her into these tossing seas But mad'st my sprite to live, my care to increase,[2] My body in tempest her delight to embrace. The body dead, the sprite had his desire: Painless was th' one, the other in delight. Why then, alas! did it not keep it right, But thus return to leap into the fire? And where it was at wish, could not remain? Such mocks of dreams do turn to deadly pain."

[2] In original "tencrease," and below "timbrace." This substitution of elision for slur or hiatus (found in Chaucerian MSS.) passed later into the t' and th' of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Wyatt's awkwardness is not limited to the decasyllable, but some of his short poems in short lines recover rhythmical grace very remarkably, and set a great example.

Surrey is a far superior metrist. Neither in his sonnets, nor in his various stanzas composed of heroics, nor in what may be called his doggerel metres—the fatally fluent Alexandrines, fourteeners, and admixtures of both, which dominated English poetry from his time to Spenser's, and were never quite rejected during the Elizabethan period—do we find evidence of the want of ear, or the want of command of language, which makes Wyatt's versification frequently disgusting. Surrey has even no small mastery of what may be called the architecture of verse, the valuing of cadence in successive lines so as to produce a concerted piece and not a mere reduplication of the same notes. And in his translations of the AEneid (not published in Tottel's Miscellany) he has the great honour of being the originator of blank verse, and blank verse of by no means a bad pattern. The following sonnet, combined Alexandrine and fourteener, and blank verse extract, may be useful:—

(Complaint that his lady after she knew of his love kept her face alway hidden from him.)

"I never saw my lady lay apart Her cornet black, in cold nor yet in heat, Sith first she knew my grief was grown so great; Which other fancies driveth from my heart, That to myself I do the thought reserve, The which unwares did wound my woeful breast. But on her face mine eyes mought never rest Yet, since she knew I did her love, and serve Her golden tresses clad alway with black, Her smiling looks that hid[es] thus evermore And that restrains which I desire so sore. So doth this cornet govern me, alack! In summer sun, in winter's breath, a frost Whereby the lights of her fair looks I lost."[3]

[3] As printed exactly in both first and second editions this sonnet is evidently corrupt, and the variations between the two are additional evidence of this. I have ventured to change "hid" to "hides" in line 10, and to alter the punctuation in line 13. If the reader takes "that" in line 5 as = "so that," "that" in line 10 as = "which" (i.e. "black"), and "that" in line 11 with "which," he will now, I think, find it intelligible. Line 13 is usually printed:

"In summer, sun: in winter's breath, a frost."

Now no one would compare a black silk hood to the sun, and a reference to line 2 will show the real meaning. The hood is a frost which lasts through summer and winter alike.

(Complaint of the absence of her lover being upon the sea.)

"Good ladies, ye that have your pleasures in exile, Step in your foot, come take a place, and mourn with me a while. And such as by their lords do set but little price, Let them sit still: it skills them not what chance come on the dice. But ye whom love hath bound by order of desire, To love your lords whose good deserts none other would require, Come ye yet once again and set your foot by mine, Whose woeful plight and sorrows great, no tongue can well define."[4]

[4] In reading these combinations it must be remembered that there is always a strong caesura in the midst of the first and Alexandrine line. It is the Alexandrine which Mr. Browning has imitated in Fifine, not that of Drayton, or of the various practitioners of the Spenserian stanza from Spenser himself downwards.

"It was the(n)[5] night; the sound and quiet sleep Had through the earth the weary bodies caught, The woods, the raging seas, were fallen to rest, When that the stars had half their course declined. The fields whist: beasts and fowls of divers hue, And what so that in the broad lakes remained, Or yet among the bushy thicks[6] of briar, Laid down to sleep by silence of the night, 'Gan swage their cares, mindless of travails past. Not so the spirit of this Phenician. Unhappy she that on no sleep could chance, Nor yet night's rest enter in eye or breast. Her cares redouble: love doth rise and rage again,[7] And overflows with swelling storms of wrath."

[5] In these extracts () signifies that something found in text seems better away; [] that something wanting in text has been conjecturally supplied.

[6] Thickets.

[7] This Alexandrine is not common, and is probably a mere oversight.

The "other" or "uncertain" authors, though interesting enough for purposes of literary comparison, are very inferior to Wyatt and Surrey. Grimald, the supposed editor, though his verse must not, of course, be judged with reference to a more advanced state of things than his own, is but a journeyman verse-smith.

"Sith, Blackwood, you have mind to take a wife, I pray you tell wherefore you like that life,"

is a kind of foretaste of Crabbe in its bland ignoring of the formal graces of poetry. He acquits himself tolerably in the combinations of Alexandrines and fourteeners noticed above (the "poulter's measure," as Gascoigne was to call it later), nor does he ever fall into the worst kind of jog-trot. His epitaphs and elegies are his best work, and the best of them is that on his mother. Very much the same may be said of the strictly miscellaneous part of the Miscellany. The greater part of the Uncertain Authors are less ambitious, but also less irregular than Wyatt, while they fall far short of Surrey in every respect. Sometimes, as in the famous "I loath that I did love," both syntax and prosody hardly show the reform at all; they recall the ruder snatches of an earlier time. But, on the whole, the characteristics of these poets, both in matter and form, are sufficiently uniform and sufficiently interesting. Metrically, they show, on the one side, a desire to use a rejuvenated heroic, either in couplets or in various combined forms, the simplest of which is the elegiac quatrain of alternately rhyming lines, and the most complicated the sonnet; while between them various stanzas more or less suggested by Italian are to be ranked. Of this thing there has been and will be no end as long as English poetry lasts. The attempt to arrange the old and apparently almost indigenous "eights and sixes" into fourteener lines and into alternate fourteeners and Alexandrines, seems to have commended itself even more to contemporary taste, and, as we have seen and shall see, it was eagerly followed for more than half a century. But it was not destined to succeed. These long lines, unless very sparingly used, or with the ground-foot changed from the iambus to the anapaest or the trochee, are not in keeping with the genius of English poetry, as even the great examples of Chapman's Homer and the Polyolbion may be said to have shown once for all. In the hands, moreover, of the poets of this particular time, whether they were printed at length or cut up into eights and sixes, they had an almost irresistible tendency to degenerate into a kind of lolloping amble which is inexpressibly monotonous. Even when the spur of a really poetical inspiration excites this amble into something more fiery (the best example existing is probably Southwell's wonderful "Burning Babe"), the sensitive ear feels that there is constant danger of a relapse, and at the worst the thing becomes mere doggerel. Yet for about a quarter of a century these overgrown lines held the field in verse and drama alike, and the encouragement of them must be counted as a certain drawback to the benefits which Surrey, Wyatt, and the other contributors of the Miscellany conferred on English literature by their exercises, here and elsewhere, in the blank verse decasyllable, the couplet, the stanza, and, above all, the sonnet.

It remains to say something of the matter as distinguished from the form of this poetry, and for once the form is of hardly superior importance to the matter. It is a question of some interest, though unfortunately one wholly incapable of solution, whether the change in the character of poetical thought and theme which Wyatt and Surrey wrought was accidental, and consequent merely on their choice of models, and especially of Petrarch, or essential and deliberate. If it was accidental, there is no greater accident in the history of literature. The absence of the personal note in mediaeval poetry is a commonplace, and nowhere had that absence been more marked than in England. With Wyatt and Surrey English poetry became at a bound the most personal (and in a rather bad but unavoidable word) the most "introspective" in Europe. There had of course been love poetry before, but its convention had been a convention of impersonality. It now became exactly the reverse. The lover sang less his joys than his sorrows, and he tried to express those sorrows and their effect on him in the most personal way he could. Although allegory still retained a strong hold on the national taste, and was yet to receive its greatest poetical expression in The Faerie Queene, it was allegory of quite a different kind from that which in the Roman de la Rose had taken Europe captive, and had since dominated European poetry in all departments, and especially in the department of love-making. "Dangier" and his fellow-phantoms fled before the dawn of the new poetry in England, and the depressing influences of a common form—a conventional stock of images, personages, and almost language—disappeared. No doubt there was conventionality enough in the following of the Petrarchian model, but it was a less stiff and uniform conventionality; it allowed and indeed invited the individual to wear his rue with a difference, and to avail himself at least of the almost infinite diversity of circumstance and feeling which the life of the actual man affords, instead of reducing everything to the moods and forms of an already generalised and allegorised experience. With the new theme to handle and the new forms ready as tools for the handler, with the general ferment of European spirits, it might readily have been supposed that a remarkable out-turn of work would be the certain and immediate result.

The result in fact may have been certain but it was not immediate, being delayed for nearly a quarter of a century; and the next remarkable piece of work done in English poetry after Tottel's Miscellany—a piece of work of greater actual poetical merit than anything in that Miscellany itself—was in the old forms, and showed little if any influence of the new poetical learning. This was the famous Mirror for Magistrates, or rather that part of it contributed by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. The Mirror as a whole has bibliographical and prosodic rather than literary interest. It was certainly planned as early as 1555 by way of a supplement to Lydgate's translation of Boccaccio's Fall of Princes. It was at first edited by a certain William Baldwin, and for nearly half a century it received additions and alterations from various respectable hacks of letters; but the "Induction" and the "Complaint of Buckingham" which Sackville furnished to it in 1559, though they were not published till four years later, completely outweigh all the rest in value. To my own fancy the fact that Sackville was (in what proportion is disputed) also author of Gorboduc (see Chapter III.) adds but little to its interest. His contributions to The Mirror for Magistrates contain the best poetry written in the English language between Chaucer and Spenser, and are most certainly the originals or at least the models of some of Spenser's finest work. He has had but faint praise of late years. According to the late Professor Minto, he "affords abundant traces of the influence of Wyatt and Surrey." I do not know what the traces are, and I should say myself that few contemporary or nearly contemporary efforts are more distinct. Dean Church says that we see in him a faint anticipation of Spenser. My estimate of Spenser, as I hope to show, is not below that of any living critic; but considerations of bulk being allowed, and it being fully granted that Sackville had nothing like Spenser's magnificent range, I cannot see any "faintness" in the case. If the "Induction" had not been written it is at least possible that the "Cave of Despair" would never have enriched English poetry.

Thomas Sackville was born at Buckhurst in Sussex, in the year 1536, of a family which was of the most ancient extraction and the most honourable standing. He was educated at Oxford, at the now extinct Hart Hall, whence, according to a practice as common then as it is uncommon now (except in the cases of royal princes and a few persons of difficult and inconstant taste), he moved to Cambridge. Then he entered the Inner Temple, married early, travelled, became noted in literature, was made Lord Buckhurst at the age of thirty-one, was for many years one of Elizabeth's chief councillors and officers, was promoted to the Earldom of Dorset at the accession of James I., and died, it is said, at the Council table on the 19th of April 1608.

We shall deal with Gorboduc hereafter: the two contributions to The Mirror for Magistrates concern us here. And I have little hesitation in saying that no more astonishing contribution to English poetry, when the due reservations of that historical criticism which is the life of all criticism are made, is to be found anywhere. The bulk is not great: twelve or fifteen hundred lines must cover the whole of it. The form is not new, being merely the seven-line stanza already familiar in Chaucer. The arrangement is in no way novel, combining as it does the allegorical presentment of embodied virtues, vices, and qualities with the melancholy narrative common in poets for many years before. But the poetical value of the whole is extraordinary. The two constituents of that value, the formal and the material, are represented with a singular equality of development. There is nothing here of Wyatt's floundering prosody, nothing of the well-intentioned doggerel in which Surrey himself indulges and in which his pupils simply revel. The cadences of the verse are perfect, the imagery fresh and sharp, the presentation of nature singularly original, when it is compared with the battered copies of the poets with whom Sackville must have been most familiar, the followers of Chaucer from Occleve to Hawes. Even the general plan of the poem—the weakest part of nearly all poems of this time—is extraordinarily effective and makes one sincerely sorry that Sackville's taste, or his other occupations, did not permit him to carry out the whole scheme on his own account. The "Induction," in which the author is brought face to face with Sorrow, and the central passages of the "Complaint of Buckingham," have a depth and fulness of poetical sound and sense for which we must look backwards a hundred and fifty years, or forwards nearly five and twenty. Take, for instance, these stanzas:—

"Thence come we to the horror and the hell, The large great kingdoms, and the dreadful reign Of Pluto in his throne where he did dwell, The wide waste places, and the hugy plain, The wailings, shrieks, and sundry sorts of pain, The sighs, the sobs, the deep and deadly groan; Earth, air, and all, resounding plaint and moan.

"Here puled the babes, and here the maids unwed With folded hands their sorry chance bewailed, Here wept the guiltless slain, and lovers dead, That slew themselves when nothing else availed; A thousand sorts of sorrows here, that wailed With sighs and tears, sobs, shrieks, and all yfere That oh, alas! it was a hell to hear.

* * * * *

"Lo here, quoth Sorrow, princes of renown, That whilom sat on top of fortune's wheel, Now laid full low; like wretches whirled down, Ev'n with one frown, that stayed but with a smile; And now behold the thing that thou, erewhile, Saw only in thought: and what thou now shalt hear, Recount the same to kesar, king, and peer."[8]

[8] The precedent descriptions of Sorrow herself, of Misery, and of Old Age, are even finer than the above, which, however, I have preferred for three reasons. First, it has been less often quoted; secondly, its subject is a kind of commonplace, and, therefore, shows the poet's strength of handling; thirdly, because of the singular and characteristic majesty of the opening lines.

It is perhaps well, in an early passage of a book which will have much to do with the criticism of poetry, to dwell a little on what seems to the critic to be the root of that matter. In the first place, I must entirely differ with those persons who have sought to create an independent prosody for English verse under the head of "beats" or "accents" or something of that sort. Every English metre since Chaucer at least can be scanned, within the proper limits, according to the strictest rules of classical prosody: and while all good English metre comes out scatheless from the application of those rules, nothing exhibits the badness of bad English metre so well as that application. It is, alongside of their great merits, the distinguishing fault of Wyatt eminently, of Surrey to a less degree, and of all the new school up to Spenser more or less, that they neglect the quantity test too freely; it is the merit of Sackville that, holding on in this respect to the good school of Chaucer, he observes it. You will find no "jawbreakers" in Sackville, no attempts to adjust English words on a Procrustean bed of independent quantification. He has not indeed the manifold music of Spenser—it would be unreasonable to expect that he should have it. But his stanzas, as the foregoing examples will show, are of remarkable melody, and they have about them a command, a completeness of accomplishment within the writer's intentions, which is very noteworthy in so young a man. The extraordinary richness and stateliness of the measure has escaped no critic. There is indeed a certain one-sidedness about it, and a devil's advocate might urge that a long poem couched in verse (let alone the subject) of such unbroken gloom would be intolerable. But Sackville did not write a long poem, and his complete command within his limits of the effect at which he evidently aimed is most remarkable.

The second thing to note about the poem is the extraordinary freshness and truth of its imagery. From a young poet we always expect second-hand presentations of nature, and in Sackville's day second-hand presentation of nature had been elevated to the rank of a science. Here the new school—Surrey, Wyatt, and their followers—even if he had studied them, could have given him little or no help, for great as are the merits of Tottel's Miscellany, no one would go to it for representations of nature. Among his predecessors in his own style he had to go back to Chaucer (putting the Scotch school out of the question) before he could find anything original. Yet it may be questioned whether the sketches of external scenery in these brief essays of his, or the embodiments of internal thought in the pictures of Sorrow and the other allegorical wights, are most striking. It is perfectly clear that Thomas Sackville had, in the first place, a poetical eye to see, within as well as without, the objects of poetical presentment; in the second place, a poetical vocabulary in which to clothe the results of his seeing; and in the third place, a poetical ear by aid of which to arrange his language in the musical co-ordination necessary to poetry. Wyatt had been too much to seek in the last; Surrey had not been very obviously furnished with the first; and all three were not to be possessed by any one else till Edmund Spenser arose to put Sackville's lessons in practice on a wider scale, and with a less monotonous lyre. It is possible that Sackville's claims in drama may have been exaggerated—they have of late years rather been undervalued: but his claims in poetry proper can only be overlooked by those who decline to consider the most important part of poetry. In the subject of even his part of The Mirror there is nothing new: there is only a following of Chaucer, and Gower, and Occleve, and Lydgate, and Hawes, and many others. But in the handling there is one novelty which makes all others of no effect or interest. It is the novelty of a new poetry.

It has already been remarked that these two important books were not immediately followed by any others in poetry corresponding to their importance. The poetry of the first half of Elizabeth's reign is as mediocre as the poetry of the last half of her reign is magnificent. Although it had taken some hints from Wyatt and Surrey it had not taken the best; and the inexplicable devotion of most of the versifiers of the time to the doggerel metres already referred to seems to have prevented them from cultivating anything better. Yet the pains which were spent upon translation during this time were considerable, and undoubtedly had much to do with strengthening and improving the language. The formal part of poetry became for the first time a subject of study resulting in the Instructions of Gascoigne, and in the noteworthy critical works which will be mentioned in the next chapter; while the popularity of poetical miscellanies showed the audience that existed for verse. The translators and the miscellanists will each call for some brief notice; but first it is necessary to mention some individual, and in their way, original writers who, though not possessing merit at all equal to that of Wyatt, Surrey, and Sackville, yet deserve to be singled from the crowd. These are Gascoigne, Churchyard, Turberville, Googe, and Tusser.

The poetaster and literary hack, Whetstone, who wrote a poetical memoir of George Gascoigne after his death, entitles it a remembrance of "the well employed life and godly end" of his hero. It is not necessary to dispute that Gascoigne's end was godly; but except for the fact that he was for some years a diligent and not unmeritorious writer, it is not so certain that his life was well employed. At any rate he does not seem to have thought so himself. The date of his birth has been put as early as 1525 and as late as 1536: he certainly died in 1577. His father, a knight of good family and estate in Essex, disinherited him; but he was educated at Cambridge, if not at both universities, was twice elected to Parliament, travelled and fought abroad, and took part in the famous festival at Kenilworth. His work is, as has been said, considerable, and is remarkable for the number of first attempts in English which it contains. It has at least been claimed for him (though careful students of literary history know that these attributions are always rather hazardous) that he wrote the first English prose comedy (The Supposes, a version of Ariosto), the first regular verse satire (The Steel Glass), the first prose tale (a version from Bandello), the first translation from Greek tragedy (Jocasta), and the first critical essay (the above-mentioned Notes of Instruction). Most of these things, it will be seen, were merely adaptations of foreign originals; but they certainly make up a remarkable budget for one man. In addition to them, and to a good number of shorter and miscellaneous poems, must be mentioned the Glass of Government (a kind of morality or serious comedy, moulded, it would seem, on German originals), and the rather prettily, if fantastically termed Flowers, Herbs, and Weeds. Gascoigne has a very fair command of metre: he is not a great sinner in the childish alliteration which, surviving from the older English poetry, helps to convert so much of his contemporaries' work into doggerel. The pretty "Lullaby of a Lover," and "Gascoigne's Good Morrow" may be mentioned, and part of one of them may be quoted, as a fair specimen of his work, which is always tolerable if never first-rate.

"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 beguiled, Full many wanton babes have I Which must be stilled with lullaby.

"First lullaby, my youthful years. It is now time to go to bed, For crooked age and hoary hairs Have won the hav'n 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 wanton were to glance apace, For every glass may now suffice To show the furrows in my face. With lullaby then wink awhile, With lullaby your looks beguile; Let no fair face, nor beauty bright, Entice you oft with vain delight.

"And lullaby, my wanton will, Let reason(s) rule now rein 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."

Thomas Churchyard was an inferior sort of Gascoigne, who led a much longer if less eventful life. He was about the Court for the greater part of the century, and had a habit of calling his little books, which were numerous, and written both in verse and prose, by alliterative titles playing on his own name, such as Churchyard's Chips, Churchyard's Choice, and so forth. He was a person of no great literary power, and chiefly noteworthy because of his long life after contributing to Tottel's Miscellany, which makes him a link between the old literature and the new.

The literary interests and tentative character of the time, together with its absence of original genius, and the constant symptoms of not having "found its way," are also very noteworthy in George Turberville and Barnabe Googe, who were friends and verse writers of not dissimilar character. Turberville, of whom not much is known, was a Dorsetshire man of good family, and was educated at Winchester and Oxford. His birth and death dates are both extremely uncertain. Besides a book on Falconry and numerous translations (to which, like all the men of his school and day, he was much addicted), he wrote a good many occasional poems, trying even blank verse. Barnabe Googe, a Lincolnshire man, and a member of both universities, appears to have been born in 1540, was employed in Ireland, and died in 1594. He was kin to the Cecils, and Mr. Arber has recovered some rather interesting details about his love affairs, in which he was assisted by Lord Burghley. He, too, was an indefatigable translator, and wrote some original poems. Both poets affected the combination of Alexandrine and fourteener (split up or not, as the printer chose, into six, six, eight, six), the popularity of which has been noted, and both succumbed too often to its capacities of doggerel. Turberville's best work is the following song in a pretty metre well kept up:—

"The green that you did wish me wear Aye for your love, And on my helm a branch to bear Not to remove, Was ever you to have in mind Whom Cupid hath my feire assigned.

"As I in this have done your will And mind to do, So I request you to fulfil My fancy too; A green and loving heart to have, And this is all that I do crave.

"For if your flowering heart should change His colour green, Or you at length a lady strange Of me be seen, Then will my branch against his use His colour change for your refuse.[9]

"As winter's force cannot deface This branch his hue, So let no change of love disgrace Your friendship true; You were mine own, and so be still, So shall we live and love our fill.

"Then I may think myself to be Well recompensed, For wearing of the tree that is So well defensed Against all weather that doth fall When wayward winter spits his gall.

"And when we meet, to try me true, Look on my head, And I will crave an oath of you Whe'r[10] Faith be fled; So shall we both answered be, Both I of you, and you of me."

[9] Refusal.

[10] Short for "whether."

The most considerable and the most interesting part of Googe's work is a set of eight eclogues which may not have been without influence on The Shepherd's Calendar, and a poem of some length entitled Cupido Conquered, which Spenser may also have seen. Googe has more sustained power than Turberville, but is much inferior to him in command of metre and in lyrical swing. In him, or at least in his printer, the mania for cutting up long verses reaches its height, and his very decasyllables are found arranged in the strange fashion of four and six as thus:—

"Good aged Bale: That with thy hoary hairs Dost still persist To turn the painful book, O happy man, That hast obtained such years, And leav'st not yet On papers pale to look. Give over now To beat thy wearied brain, And rest thy pen, That long hath laboured sore."

Thomas Tusser (1524?-1580) has often been regarded as merely a writer of doggerel, which is assuredly not lacking in his Hundred (later Five Hundred) Points of Husbandry (1557-1573). But he has some piquancy of phrase, and is particularly noticeable for the variety, and to a certain extent the accomplishment, of his prosodic experiments—a point of much importance for the time.

To these five, of whom some substantive notice has been given, many shadowy names might be added if the catalogue were of any use: such as those of Kinwelmersh, Whetstone, Phaer, Neville, Blundeston, Edwards, Golding, and many others. They seem to have been for the most part personally acquainted with one another; the literary energies of England being almost confined to the universities and the Inns of Court, so that most of those who devoted themselves to literature came into contact and formed what is sometimes called a clique. They were all studiously and rather indiscriminately given to translation (the body of foreign work, ancient and modern, which was turned into English during this quarter of a century being very large indeed), and all or many of them were contributors of commendatory verses to each other's work and of pieces of different descriptions to the poetical miscellanies of the time. Of these miscellanies and of the chief translations from the classics some little notice may be taken because of the great part which both played in the poetical education of England. It has been said that almost all the original poets were also translators. Thus Googe Englished, among other things, the Zodiacus Vitae of Marcellus Palingenius, the Regnum Papisticum of Kirchmayer, the Four Books of Husbandry of Conrad Heresbach, and the Proverbs of the Marquis of Santillana; but some of the translators were not distinguished by any original work. Thus Jasper Heywood, followed by Neville above mentioned, by Studley, and others, translated between 1560 and 1580 those tragedies of Seneca which had such a vast influence on foreign literature and, fortunately, so small an influence on English. Arthur Golding gave in 1567 a version, by no means destitute of merit, of the Metamorphoses which had a great influence on English poetry. We have already mentioned Surrey's blank-verse translation of Virgil. This was followed up, in 1555-60, by Thomas Phaer, who, like most of the persons mentioned in this paragraph, used the fourteener, broken up or not, as accident or the necessities of the printer brought it about.

It was beyond doubt this abundant translation, and perhaps also the manifest deficiencies of the fourteener thus used, which brought about at the close of the present period and the beginning of the next the extraordinary attempt to reproduce classical metres in English verse, which for a time seduced even Spenser, which was not a little countenanced by most of the critical writers of the period, which led Gabriel Harvey and others into such absurdities, and which was scarcely slain even by Daniel's famous and capital Defence of Rhyme. The discussion of this absurd attempt (for which rules, not now extant, came from Drant of Cambridge) in the correspondence of Spenser and Harvey, and the sensible fashion in which Nash laughed at it, are among the best known things in the gossiping history of English Letters. But the coxcombry of Harvey and the felicitous impertinence of Nash have sometimes diverted attention from the actual state of the case. William Webbe (a very sober-minded person with taste enough to admire the "new poet," as he calls Spenser) makes elaborate attempts not merely at hexameters, which, though only a curiosity, are a possible curiosity in English, but at Sapphics which could never (except as burlesque) be tolerable. Sidney, Spenser, and others gave serious heed to the scheme of substituting classical metres without rhyme for indigenous metres with rhyme. And unless the two causes which brought this about are constantly kept in mind, the reason of it will not be understood. It was undoubtedly the weakness of contemporary English verse which reinforced the general Renaissance admiration for the classics; nor must it be forgotten that Wyatt takes, in vernacular metres and with rhyme, nearly as great liberties with the intonation and prosody of the language as any of the classicists in their unlucky hexameters and elegiacs. The majesty and grace of the learned tongues, contrasting with the poverty of their own language, impressed, and to a great extent rightly impressed, the early Elizabethans, so that they naturally enough cast about for any means to improve the one, and hesitated at any peculiarity which was not found in the other. It was unpardonable in Milton to sneer at rhyme after the fifty years of magnificent production which had put English on a level with Greek and above Latin as a literary instrument. But for Harvey and Spenser, Sidney and Webbe, with those fifty years still to come, the state of the case was very different.

The translation mania and the classicising mania together led to the production of perhaps the most absurd book in all literature—a book which deserves extended notice here, partly because it has only recently become accessible to the general reader in its original form, and partly because it is, though a caricature, yet a very instructive caricature of the tendencies and literary ideas of the time. This is Richard Stanyhurst's translation of the first four books of the AEneid, first printed at Leyden in the summer of 1582, and reprinted in London a year later. This wonderful book (in which the spelling is only less marvellous than the phraseology and verse) shows more than anything else the active throes which English literature was undergoing, and though the result was but a false birth it is none the less interesting.

Stanyhurst was not, as might be hastily imagined, a person of insufficient culture or insufficient brains. He was an Irish Roman Catholic gentleman, brother-in-law to Lord Dunsany, and uncle to Archbishop Usher, and though he was author of the Irish part of Holinshed's History, he has always been regarded by the madder sort of Hibernians as a traitor to the nation. His father was Recorder of Dublin, and he himself, having been born about 1547, was educated at University College, Oxford, and went thence, if not to the Inns of Court, at any rate to those of Chancery, and became a student of Furnival's Inn. He died at Brussels in 1618. Here is an example of his prose, the latter part of which is profitable for matter as well as for form:—

"How beyt[11] I haue heere haulf a guesh, that two sorts of carpers wyl seeme too spurne at this myne enterprise. Thee one vtterlie ignorant, the oother meanlye letterd. Thee ignorant wyl imagin, that thee passage was nothing craggye, in as much as M. Phaere hath broken thee ice before me: Thee meaner clarcks wyl suppose my trauail in theese heroical verses too carrye no great difficultie, in that yt lay in my choice too make what word I would short or long, hauing no English writer beefore mee in this kind of poetrye with whose squire I should leauel my syllables.

[11] This and the next extract are given literatim to show Stanyhurst's marvellous spelling.

* * * * *

Haue not theese men made a fayre speake? If they had put in Mightye Joue, and gods in thee plural number, and Venus with Cupide thee blynd Boy, al had beene in thee nick, thee rythme had been of a right stamp. For a few such stiches boch vp oure newe fashion makers. Prouyded not wythstanding alwayes that Artaxerxes, al be yt hee bee spurgalde, beeing so much gallop, bee placed in thee dedicatory epistle receauing a cuppe of water of a swayne, or elles al is not wurth a beane. Good God what a frye of wooden rythmours dooth swarme in stacioners shops, who neauer enstructed in any grammar schoole, not atayning too thee paaringes of thee Latin or Greeke tongue, yeet like blind bayards rush on forward, fostring theyre vayne conceits wyth such ouerweening silly follyes, as they reck not too bee condemned of thee learned for ignorant, so they bee commended of thee ignorant for learned. Thee reddyest way, therefore, too flap theese droanes from the sweete senting hiues of Poetrye, is for thee learned too applye theym selues wholye (yf they be delighted wyth that veyne) too thee true making of verses in such wise as thee Greekes and Latins, thee fathurs of knowledge, haue doone; and too leaue too theese doltish coystrels theyre rude rythming and balducktoom ballads."

Given a person capable of this lingo, given the prevalent mania for English hexameters, and even what follows may not seem too impossible.

"This sayd, with darcksoom night shade quite clowdye she vannisht. Grislye faces frouncing, eke against Troy leaged in hatred Of Saincts soure deities dyd I see. Then dyd I marck playnely thee castle of Ilion vplayd, And Troian buyldings quit topsy turvye remooued. Much lyk on a mountayn thee tree dry wythered oaken Sliest by the clowne Coridon rusticks with twibbil or hatchet. Then the tre deepe minced, far chopt dooth terrifye swinckers With menacing becking thee branches palsye before tyme, Vntil with sowghing yt grunts, as wounded in hacking. At length with rounsefal, from stock vntruncked yt harssheth.

* * * * *

Hee rested wylful lyk a wayward obstinat oldgrey.

* * * * *

Theese woords owt showting with her howling the house she replennisht."

There is perhaps no greater evidence of the reverence in which the ancients were held than that such frantic balderdash as this did not extinguish it. Yet this was what a man of undoubted talent, of considerable learning, and of no small acuteness (for Stanyhurst's Preface to this very translation shows something more than glimmerings on the subject of classical and English prosody), could produce. It must never be forgotten that the men of this time were at a hopelessly wrong point of view. It never occurred to them that English left to itself could equal Greek or Latin. They simply endeavoured, with the utmost pains and skill, to drag English up to the same level as these unapproachable languages by forcing it into the same moulds which Greek and Latin had endured. Properly speaking we ought not to laugh at them. They were carrying out in literature what the older books of arithmetic call "The Rule of False,"—that is to say, they were trying what the English tongue could not bear. No one was so successful as Stanyhurst in applying this test of the rack: yet it is fair to say that Harvey and Webbe, nay, Spenser and Sidney, had practically, though, except in Spenser's case, it would appear unconsciously, arrived at the same conclusion before. How much we owe to such adventurers of the impossible few men know except those who have tried to study literature as a whole.

A few words have to be said in passing as to the miscellanies which played such an important part in the poetical literature of the day. Tottel and The Mirror for Magistrates (which was, considering its constant accretions, a sort of miscellany) have been already noticed. They were followed by not a few others. The first in date was The Paradise of Dainty Devices (1576), edited by R. Edwards, a dramatist of industry if not of genius, and containing a certain amount of interesting work. It was very popular, going through nine or ten editions in thirty years, but with a few scattered exceptions it does not yield much to the historian of English poetry. Its popularity shows what was expected; its contents show what, at any rate at the date of its first appearance, was given. It is possible that the doleful contents of The Mirror for Magistrates (which was reprinted six times during our present period, and which busied itself wholly with what magistrates should avoid, and with the sorrowful departing out of this life of the subjects) may have had a strong effect on Edwards, though one at least of his contributors, W. Hunnis, was a man of mould. It was followed in 1578 by A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions, supposed to have been edited by Roydon and Proctor, which is a still drier stick. The next miscellany, six years later, A Handful of Pleasant Delights, edited by Clement Robinson, is somewhat better though not much. It is followed by the Phoenix Nest, an interesting collection, by no less than three miscellanies in 1600, edited by "A. B." and R. Allot, and named England's Helicon, England's Parnassus, and Belvedere (the two latter being rather anthologies of extracts than miscellanies proper), and by Francis Davison's famous Poetical Rhapsody, 1602, all which last belong to a much later date than our present subjects.

To call the general poetical merit of these earlier miscellanies high would be absurd. But what at once strikes the reader, not merely of them but of the collections of individual work which accompany them, as so astonishing, is the level which is occasionally reached. The work is often the work of persons quite unknown or unimportant in literature as persons. But we constantly see in it a flash, a symptom of the presence of the true poetical spirit which it is often impossible to find for years together in other periods of poetry. For instance, if ever there was a "dull dog" in verse it was Richard Edwards. Yet in The Paradise of Dainty Devices Edwards's poem with the refrain "The falling out of faithful friends renewing is of love," is one of the most charming things anywhere to be found. So is, after many years, the poem attributed to John Wooton in England's Helicon (the best of the whole set), beginning "Her eyes like shining lamps," so is the exquisite "Come, little babe" from The Arbour of Amorous Devices, so are dozens and scores more which may be found in their proper places, and many of them in Mr. Arber's admirable English Garner. The spirit of poetry, rising slowly, was rising surely in the England of these years: no man knew exactly where it would appear, and the greatest poets were—for their praises of themselves and their fellows are quite unconscious and simple—as ignorant as others. The first thirty years of the reign were occupied with simple education—study of models, efforts in this or that kind, translation, and the rest. But the right models had been provided by Wyatt and Surrey's study of the Italians, and by the study of the classics which all men then pursued; and the original inspiration, without which the best models are useless, though itself can do little when the best models are not used, was abundantly present. Few things are more curious than to compare, let us say, Googe and Spenser. Yet few things are more certain than that without the study and experiments which Googe represents Spenser could not have existed. Those who decry the historical method in criticism ignore this; and ignorance like wisdom is justified of all her children.



The history of the earlier Elizabethan prose, if we except the name of Hooker, in whom it culminates, is to a great extent the history of curiosities of literature—of tentative and imperfect efforts, scarcely resulting in any real vernacular style at all. It is, however, emphatically the Period of Origins of modern English prose, and as such cannot but be interesting. We shall therefore rapidly survey its chief developments, noting first what had been done before Elizabeth came to the throne, then taking Ascham (who stands, though part of his work was written earlier, very much as the first Elizabethan prosaist), noticing the schools of historians, translators, controversialists, and especially critics who illustrated the middle period of the reign, and singling out the noteworthy personality of Sidney. We shall also say something of Lyly (as far as Euphues is concerned) and his singular attempts in prose style, and shall finish with Hooker, the one really great name of the period. Its voluminous pamphleteering, though much of it, especially the Martin Marprelate controversy, might come chronologically within the limit of this chapter, will be better reserved for a notice in Chapter VI. of the whole pamphlet literature of the reigns of Elizabeth and James—an interesting subject, the relation of which to the modern periodical has been somewhat overlooked, and which indeed was, until a comparatively recent period, not very easy to study. Gabriel Harvey alone, as distinctly belonging to the earlier Elizabethans, may be here included with other critics.

It was an inevitable result of the discovery of printing that the cultivation of the vernacular for purposes of all work—that is to say, for prose—should be largely increased. Yet a different influence arising, or at least eked out, from the same source, rather checked this increase. The study of the classical writers had at first a tendency to render inveterate the habit of employing Latin for the journey-work of literature, and in the two countries which were to lead Western Europe for the future (the literary date of Italy was already drawing to a close, and Italy had long possessed vernacular prose masterpieces), it was not till the middle of the sixteenth century that the writing of vernacular prose was warmly advocated and systematically undertaken. The most interesting monuments of this crusade, as it may almost be called, in England are connected with a school of Cambridge scholars who flourished a little before our period, though not a few of them, such as Ascham, Wilson, and others, lived into it. A letter of Sir John Cheke's in the very year of the accession of Elizabeth is the most noteworthy document on the subject. It was written to another father of English prose, Sir Thomas Hoby, the translator of Castiglione's Courtier. But Ascham had already and some years earlier published his Toxophilus, and various not unimportant attempts, detailed notice of which would be an antedating of our proper period, had been made. More's chief work, Utopia, had been written in Latin, and was translated into English by another hand, but his History of Edward V. was not a mean contribution to English prose. Tyndale's New Testament had given a new and powerful impulse to the reading of English; Elyot's Governor had set the example of treating serious subjects in a style not unworthy of them, and Leland's quaint Itinerary the example of describing more or less faithfully if somewhat uncouthly. Hall had followed Fabyan as an English historian, and, above all, Latimer's Sermons had shown how to transform spoken English of the raciest kind into literature. Lord Berners's translations of Froissart and of divers examples of late Continental romance had provided much prose of no mean quality for light reading, and also by their imitation of the florid and fanciful style of the French-Flemish rhetoriqueurs (with which Berners was familiar both as a student of French and as governor of Calais) had probably contributed not a little to supply and furnish forth the side of Elizabethan expression which found so memorable an exponent in the author of Euphues.

For our purpose, however, Roger Ascham may serve as a starting-point. His Toxophilus was written and printed as early as 1545; his Schoolmaster did not appear till after his death, and seems to have been chiefly written in the very last days of his life. There is thus nearly a quarter of a century between them, yet they are not very different in style. Ascham was a Yorkshire man born at Kirbywiske, near Northallerton, in 1515; he went to St. John's College at Cambridge, then a notable seat of learning, in 1530; was elected scholar, fellow, and lecturer, became public orator the year after the appearance of Toxophilus, acted as tutor to the Princess Elizabeth, went on diplomatic business to Germany, was Latin secretary to Queen Mary, and after her death to his old pupil, and died on the 30th December 1568. A treatise on Cock-fighting (of which sport he was very fond) appears to have been written by him, and was perhaps printed, but is unluckily lost. We have also Epistles from him, and his works, both English and Latin, have been in whole or part frequently edited. The great interest of Ascham is expressed as happily as possible by his own words in the dedication of Toxophilus to Henry VIII. "Although," he says, "to have written this book either in Latin or Greek ... had been more easier and fit for my trade in study, yet ... I have written this English matter in the English tongue for Englishmen"—a memorable sentence none the worse for its jingle and repetition, which are well in place. Until scholars like Ascham, who with the rarest exceptions were the only persons likely or able to write at all, cared to write "English matters in English tongue for Englishmen," the formation of English prose style was impossible; and that it required some courage to do so, Cheke's letter, written twelve years later, shows.[12]

"I am of this opinion that our own tongue should be written clean and pure, unmixed and unmingled with borrowing of other tongues, wherein, if we take not heed by time, ever borrowing and never paying, she shall be fain to keep her house as bankrupt. For then doth our tongue naturally and praisably utter her meaning, when she borroweth no counterfeitures of other tongues to attire herself withal, but useth plainly her own with such shift as nature, craft, experience, and following of other excellent doth lead her unto, and if she want at any time (as being imperfect she must) yet let her borrow with such bashfulness that it may appear, that if either the mould of our own tongue could serve us to fashion a word of our own, or if the old denizened words could content and ease this need we would not boldly venture of unknown words."[13]

[12] The letter is given in full by Mr. Arber in his introduction to Ascham's Schoolmaster, p. 5.

[13] It will be seen that Cheke writes what he argues for, "clean and pure English." "Other excellent" is perhaps the only doubtful phrase in the extract or in the letter.

The Toxophilus and the Schoolmaster are both in their different ways very pleasant reading; and the English is far more correct than that of much greater men than Ascham in the next century. It is, however, merely as style, less interesting, because it is clear that the author is doing little more than translate in his head, instead of on the paper, good current Latin (such as it would have been "more easier" for him to write) into current English. He does not indulge in any undue classicism; he takes few of the liberties with English grammar which, a little later, it was the habit to take on the strength of classical examples. But, on the other hand, he does not attempt, and it would be rather unreasonable to expect that he should have attempted, experiments in the literary power of English itself. A slight sense of its not being so "easy" to write in English as in Latin, and of the consequent advisableness of keeping to a sober beaten path, to a kind of style which is not much more English (except for being composed of good English words in straightforward order) than it is any literary language framed to a great extent on the classics, shows itself in him. One might translate passage after passage of Ascham, keeping almost the whole order of the words, into very good sound Latin prose; and, indeed, his great secret in the Schoolmaster (the perpetual translation and retranslation of English into the learned languages, and especially Latin) is exactly what would form such a style. It is, as the following examples from both works will show, clear, not inelegant, invaluable as a kind of go-cart to habituate the infant limbs of prose English to orderly movement; but it is not original, or striking, or characteristic, or calculated to show the native powers and capacities of the language.

"I can teach you to shoot fair, even as Socrates taught a man once to know God. For when he asked him what was God? 'Nay,' saith he, 'I can tell you better what God is not, as God is not ill, God is unspeakable, unsearchable, and so forth. Even likewise can I say of fair shooting, it hath not this discommodity with it nor that discommodity, and at last a man may so shift all the discommodities from shooting that there shall be left nothing behind but fair shooting. And to do this the better you must remember how that I told you when I described generally the whole nature of shooting, that fair shooting came of these things of standing, nocking, drawing, holding and loosing; the which I will go over as shortly as I can, describing the discommodities that men commonly use in all parts of their bodies, that you, if you fault in any such, may know it, and go about to amend it. Faults in archers do exceed the number of archers, which come with use of shooting without teaching. Use and custom separated from knowledge and learning, doth not only hurt shooting, but the most weighty things in the world beside. And, therefore, I marvel much at those people which be the maintainers of uses without knowledge, having no other word in their mouth but this use, use, custom, custom. Such men, more wilful than wise, beside other discommodities, take all place and occasion from all amendment. And this I speak generally of use and custom."

* * * * *

"Time was when Italy and Rome have been, to the great good of us who now live, the best breeders and bringers up of the worthiest men, not only for wise speaking, but also for well-doing in all civil affairs that ever was in the world. But now that time is gone; and though the place remain, yet the old and present manners do differ as far as black and white, as virtue and vice. Virtue once made that country mistress over all the world: vice now maketh that country slave to them that before were glad to serve it. All man [i.e. mankind] seeth it; they themselves confess it, namely such as be best and wisest amongst them. For sin, by lust and vanity, hath and doth breed up everywhere common contempt of God's word, private contention in many families, open factions in every city; and so making themselves bond to vanity and vice at home, they are content to bear the yoke of serving strangers abroad. Italy now is not that Italy it was wont to be; and therefore now not so fit a place as some do count it for young men to fetch either wisdom or honesty from thence. For surely they will make others but bad scholars that be so ill masters to themselves."

This same characteristic, or absence of characteristic, which reaches its climax—a climax endowing it with something like substantive life and merit—in Hooker, displays itself, with more and more admixture of raciness and native peculiarity, in almost all the prose of the early Elizabethan period up to the singular escapade of Lyly, who certainly tried to write not a classical style but a style of his own. The better men, with Thomas Wilson and Ascham himself at their head, made indeed earnest protests against Latinising the vocabulary (the great fault of the contemporary French Pleiade), but they were not quite aware how much they were under the influence of Latin in other matters. The translators, such as North, whose famous version of Plutarch after Amyot had the immortal honour of suggesting not a little of Shakespere's greatest work, had the chief excuse and temptation in doing this; but all writers did it more or less: the theologians (to whom it would no doubt have been "more easier" to write in Latin), the historians (though the little known Holinshed has broken off into a much more vernacular but also much more disorderly style), the rare geographers (of whom the chief is Richard Eden, the first English writer on America), and the rest. Of this rest the most interesting, perhaps, are the small but curious knot of critics who lead up in various ways to Sidney and Harvey, who seem to have excited considerable interest at the time, and who were not succeeded, after the early years of James, by any considerable body of critics of English till John Dryden began to write in the last third of the following century. Of these (putting out of sight Stephen Gosson, the immediate begetter of Sidney's Apology for Poetry, Campion, the chief champion of classical metres in English, and by a quaint contrast the author of some of the most charming of English songs in purely romantic style, with his adversary the poet Daniel, Meres, etc.), the chief is the author of the anonymous Art of English Poesie, published the year after the Armada, and just before the appearance of The Faerie Queene. This Art has chiefly to be compared with the Discourse of English Poetrie, published three years earlier by William Webbe. Webbe, of whom nothing is known save that he was a private tutor at one or two gentlemen's houses in Essex, exhibits that dislike and disdain of rhyme which was an offshoot of the passion for humanist studies, which was importantly represented all through the sixteenth and early seventeenth century in England, and which had Milton for its last and greatest exponent. The Art of English Poesie, which is attributed on no grounds of contemporary evidence to George Puttenham, though the book was generally reputed his in the next generation, is a much more considerable treatise, some four times the length of Webbe's, dealing with a large number of questions subsidiary to Ars Poetica, and containing no few selections of illustrative verse, many of the author's own. As far as style goes both Webbe and Puttenham fall into the rather colourless but not incorrect class already described, and are of the tribe of Ascham. Here is a sample of each:—

(Webbe's Preface to the Noble Poets of England.)

"Among the innumerable sorts of English books, and infinite fardels of printed pamphlets, wherewith this country is pestered, all shops stuffed, and every study furnished; the greater part, I think, in any one kind, are such as are either mere poetical, or which tend in some respects (as either in matter or form) to poetry. Of such books, therefore, sith I have been one that have had a desire to read not the fewest, and because it is an argument which men of great learning have no leisure to handle, or at least having to do with more serious matters do least regard. If I write something, concerning what I think of our English poets, or adventure to set down my simple judgment of English poetry, I trust the learned poets will give me leave, and vouchsafe my book passage, as being for the rudeness thereof no prejudice to their noble studies, but even (as my intent is) an instar cotis to stir up some other of meet ability to bestow travail in this matter; whereby, I think, we may not only get the means which we yet want, to discern between good writers and bad, but perhaps also challenge from the rude multitude of rustical rhymers, who will be called poets, the right practice and orderly course of true poetry."

* * * * *

(Puttenham on Style.)

"Style is a constant and continual phrase or tenour of speaking and writing, extending to the whole tale or process of the poem or history, and not properly to any piece or member of a tale; but is of words, speeches, and sentences together; a certain contrived form and quality, many times natural to the writer, many times his peculiar bye-election and art, and such as either he keepeth by skill or holdeth on by ignorance, and will not or peradventure cannot easily alter into any other. So we say that Cicero's style and Sallust's were not one, nor Caesar's and Livy's, nor Homer's and Hesiodus',[14] nor Herodotus' and Thucydides', nor Euripides' and Aristophanes', nor Erasmus' and Budeus' styles. And because this continual course and manner of writing or speech sheweth the matter and disposition of the writer's mind more than one or two instances can show, therefore there be that have called style the image of man (mentis character). For man is but his mind, and as his mind is tempered and qualified, so are his speeches and language at large; and his inward conceits be the metal of his mind, and his manner of utterance the very warp and woof of his conceits, more plain or busy and intricate or otherwise affected after the rate."[15]

[14] The final s of such names often at the time appears unaltered.

[15] i.e. "in proportion."

Contemporary with these, however, there was growing up a quite different school of English prose which showed itself on one side in the estilo culto of Lyly and the university wits of his time; on the other, in the extremely vernacular and sometimes extremely vulgar manner of the pamphleteers, who were very often the same persons. Lyly himself exhibits both styles in Euphues; and if Pap with a Hatchet and An Almond for a Parrot are rightly attributed to him, still more in these. So also does Gabriel Harvey, Spenser's friend, a curious coxcomb who endeavoured to dissuade Spenser from continuing The Faerie Queene, devoted much time himself and strove to devote other people to the thankless task of composing English hexameters and trimeters, engaged (very much to his discomfiture) in a furious pamphlet war with Thomas Nash, and altogether presents one of the most characteristic though least favourable specimens of the Elizabethan man of letters. We may speak of him further when we come to the pamphleteers generally.

John Lyly is a person of much more consequence in English literature than the conceited and pragmatical pedant who wrote Pierce's Supererogation. He is familiar, almost literally to every schoolboy, as the author of the charming piece, "Cupid with my Campaspe Played," and his dramatic work will come in for notice in a future chapter; but he is chiefly thought of by posterity, whether favourably or the reverse, as the author of Euphues. Exceedingly little is known about his life, and it is necessary to say that the usually accepted dates of his death, his children's birth, and so forth, depend wholly on the identification of a John Lilly, who is the subject of such entries in the registers of a London church, with the euphuist and dramatist—an identification which requires confirmation. A still more wanton attempt to supplement ignorance with knowledge has been made in the further identification with Lyly of a certain "witty and bold atheist," who annoyed Bishop Hall in his first cure at Hawstead, in Suffolk, and who is called "Mr. Lilly." All supposed facts about him (or some other John Lyly), his membership of Parliament and so forth, have been diligently set forth by Mr. Bond in his Oxford edition of the Works, with the documents which are supposed to prove them. He is supposed, on uncertain but tolerable inferences, to have been born about 1554, and he certainly entered Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1569, though he was not matriculated till two years later. He is described as plebeii filius, was not on the foundation, and took his degree in 1573. He must have had some connection with the Cecils, for a letter of 1574 is extant from him to Burleigh. He cannot have been five and twenty when he wrote Euphues, which was licensed at the end of 1578, and was published (the first part) early next year, while the second part followed with a very short interval. In 1582 he wrote an unmistakable letter commendatory to Watson's Hecatompathia, and between 1580 and 1590 he must have written his plays. He appears to have continued to reside at Magdalen for a considerable time, and then to have haunted the Court. A melancholy petition is extant to Queen Elizabeth from him, the second of its kind, in which he writes: "Thirteen years your highness' servant, but yet nothing." This was in 1598: he is supposed to have died in 1606. Euphues is a very singular book, which was constantly reprinted and eagerly read for fifty years, then forgotten for nearly two hundred, then frequently discussed, but very seldom read, even it may be suspected in Mr. Arber's excellent reprint of it, or in that of Mr. Bond. It gave a word to English, and even yet there is no very distinct idea attaching to the word. It induced one of the most gifted restorers of old times to make a blunder, amusing in itself, but not in the least what its author intended it to be, and of late years especially it has prompted constant discussions as to the origin of the peculiarities which mark it. As usual, we shall try to discuss it with less reference to what has been said about it than to itself.

Euphues (properly divided into two parts, "Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit," and "Euphues and his England," the scene of the first lying in Naples) is a kind of love story; the action, however, being next to nothing, and subordinated to an infinite amount of moral and courtly discourse. Oddly enough, the unfavourable sentence of Hallam, that it is "a very dull story," and the favourable sentence of Kingsley, that it is "a brave, righteous, and pious book," are both quite true, and, indeed, any one can see that there is nothing incompatible in them. At the present day, however, its substance, which chiefly consists of the moral discourses aforesaid, is infinitely inferior in interest to its manner. Of that manner, any one who imagines it to be reproduced by Sir Piercie Shafton's extravagances in The Monastery has an entirely false idea. It is much odder than Shaftonese, but also quite different from it. Lyly's two secrets are in the first place an antithesis, more laboured, more monotonous, and infinitely more pointless than Macaulay's—which antithesis seems to have met with not a little favour, and was indeed an obvious expedient for lightening up and giving character to the correct but featureless prose of Ascham and other "Latiners." The second was a fancy, which amounts to a mania, for similes, strung together in endless lists, and derived as a rule from animals, vegetables, or minerals, especially from the Fauna and Flora of fancy. It is impossible to open a page of Euphues without finding an example of this eccentric and tasteless trick, and in it, as far as in any single thing, must be found the recipe for euphuism, pure and simple. As used in modern language for conceited and precious language in general, the term has only a very partial application to its original, or to that original's author. Indeed Lyly's vocabulary, except occasionally in his similes, is decidedly vernacular, and he very commonly mingles extremely homely words with his highest flights. No better specimen of him can be given than from the aforesaid letter commendatory to the Hecatompathia.

"My good friend, I have read your new passions, and they have renewed mine old pleasures, the which brought to me no less delight than they have done to your self-commendations. And certes had not one of mine eyes about serious affairs been watchful, both by being too busy, had been wanton: such is the nature of persuading pleasure, that it melteth the marrow before it scorch the skin and burneth before it warmeth. Not unlike unto the oil of jet, which rotteth the bone and never rankleth the flesh, or the scarab flies which enter into the root and never touch the fruit.

"And whereas you desire to have my opinion, you may imagine that my stomach is rather cloyed than queasy, and therefore mine appetite of less force than my affection, fearing rather a surfeit of sweetness than desiring a satisfying. The repeating of love wrought in me a semblance of liking; but searching the very veins of my heart I could find nothing but a broad scar where I left a deep wound: and loose strings where I tied hard knots: and a table of steel where I framed a plot of wax.

"Whereby I noted that young swans are grey, and the old white, young trees tender and the old tough, young men amorous, and, growing in years, either wiser or warier. The coral plant in the water is a soft weed, on the land a hard stone: a sword frieth in the fire like a black eel; but laid in earth like white snow: the heart in love is altogether passionate; but free from desire altogether careless.

"But it is not my intent to inveigh against love, which women account but a bare word and men reverence as the best God. Only this I would add without offence to gentlewomen, that were not men more superstitious in their praises than women are constant in their passions love would either be worn out of use, or men out of love, or women out of lightness. I can condemn none but by conjecture, nor commend any but by lying, yet suspicion is as free as thought, and as far as I can see as necessary as credulity.

"Touching your mistress I must needs think well, seeing you have written so well, but as false glasses shew the fairest faces so fine gloses amend the baddest fancies. Appelles painted the phoenix by hearsay not by sight, and Lysippus engraved Vulcan with a straight leg whom nature framed with a poult foot, which proveth men to be of greater affection their [then? = than] judgment. But in that so aptly you have varied upon women I will not vary from you, so confess I must, and if I should not, yet mought I be compelled, that to love would be the sweetest thing in the earth if women were the faithfulest, and that women would be more constant if men were more wise.

"And seeing you have used me so friendly as to make me acquainted with your passions, I will shortly make you privy to mine which I would be loth the printer should see, for that my fancies being never so crooked he would put them into straight lines unfit for my humour, necessary for his art, who setteth down blind in as many letters as seeing.[16]—Farewell."

[16] "Blinde" with the e according to the old spelling having six letters, the same number as seeing. This curious epistle is both in style and matter an epitome of Euphues, which had appeared some three years before.

Many efforts have been made to discover some model for Lyly's oddities. Spanish and Italian influences have been alleged, and there is a special theory that Lord Berners's translations have the credit or discredit of the paternity. The curious similes are certainly found very early in Spanish, and may be due to an Eastern origin. The habit of overloading the sentence with elaborate and far-fetched language, especially with similes, may also have come from the French rhetoriqueurs already mentioned—a school of pedantic writers (Chastellain, Robertet, Cretin, and some others being the chief) who flourished during the last half of the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth, while the latest examples of them were hardly dead when Lyly was born. The desire, very laudably felt all over Europe, to adorn and exalt the vernacular tongues, so as to make them vehicles of literature worthy of taking rank with Latin and Greek, naturally led to these follies, of which euphuism in its proper sense was only one.

Michael Drayton, in some verse complimentary to Sidney, stigmatises not much too strongly Lyly's prevailing faults, and attributes to the hero of Zutphen the purification of England from euphuism. This is hardly critical. That Sidney—a young man, and a man of fashion at the time when Lyly's oddities were fashionable—should have to a great extent (for his resistance is by no means absolute) resisted the temptation to imitate them, is very creditable. But the influence of Euphues was at least as strong for many years as the influence of the Arcadia and the Apology; and the chief thing that can be said for Sidney is that he did not wholly follow Lyly to do evil. Nor is his positive excellence in prose to be compared for a moment with his positive excellence in poetry. His life is so universally known that nothing need be said about it beyond reminding the reader that he was born, as Lyly is supposed to have been, in 1554; that he was the son of Sir Henry Sidney, afterwards Viceroy of Ireland, and of Lady Mary, eldest daughter of the luckless Dudley, Duke of Northumberland; that he was educated at Shrewsbury and Christ Church, travelled much, acquiring the repute of one of the most accomplished cavaliers of Europe, loved without success Penelope Devereux ("Stella"), married Frances Walsingham, and died of his wounds at the battle of Zutphen, when he was not yet thirty-two years old. His prose works are the famous pastoral romance of the Arcadia, written to please his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, and the short Apology for Poetry, a very spirited piece of work, immediately provoked by a rather silly diatribe against the theatre by one Stephen Gosson, once a playwright himself, but turned Puritan clergyman. Both appear to have been written about the same time—that is to say, between 1579 and 1581; Sidney being then in London and in the society of Spenser and other men of letters.

The amiability of Sidney's character, his romantic history, the exquisite charm of his verse at its best, and last, not least, the fact of his enthusiastic appreciation and patronage of literature at a time when literary men never failed to give aristocratic patrons somewhat more than quid pro quo, have perhaps caused his prose work to be traditionally a little overvalued. The Apology for Poetry is full of generous ardour, contains many striking and poetical expressions, and explains more than any other single book the secret of the wonderful literary production of the half-century which followed. The Arcadia, especially when contrasted with Euphues, has the great merit of abundant and stirring incident and interest, of freedom from any single affectation so pestering and continuous as Lyly's similes, and of constant purple patches of poetical description and expression, which are indeed not a little out of place in prose, but which are undeniably beautiful in themselves. But when this is said all is said. Enthusiastic as Sidney's love for poetry and for literature was, it was enthusiasm not at all according to knowledge. In the Apology, by his vindication of the Unities, and his denunciation of the mixture of tragedy and comedy, he was (of course without knowing it) laying down exactly the two principles, a fortunate abjuration and scouting whereof gave us the greatest possession in mass and variety of merit that any literature possesses—the Elizabethan drama from Shakespere and Marlowe to Ford and Shirley. Follow Sidney, and good-bye to Faustus, to Hamlet, to Philaster, to The Duchess of Malfi, to The Changeling, to The Virgin Martyr, to The Broken Heart. We must content ourselves with Gorboduc and Cornelia, with Cleopatra and Philotas, at the very best with Sejanus and The Silent Woman. Again Sidney commits himself in this same piece to the pestilent heresy of prose-poetry, saying that verse is "only an ornament of poetry;" nor is there any doubt that Milton, whether he meant it or not, fixed a deserved stigma on the Arcadia by calling it a "vain and amatorious poem." It is a poem in prose, which is as much as to say, in other words, that it unites the faults of both kinds. Nor is Sidney less an enemy (though a "sweet enemy" in his own or Bruno's words) of the minor and more formal graces of style. If his actual vocabulary is not Latinised, or Italianised, or Lylyfied, he was one of the greatest of sinners in the special Elizabethan sin of convoluting and entangling his phrases (after the fashion best known in the mouths of Shakespere's fine gentlemen), so as to say the simplest thing in the least simple manner. Not Osric nor Iachimo detests the mot propre more than Sidney. Yet again, he is one of the arch offenders in the matter of spoiling the syntax of the sentence and the paragraph. As has been observed already, the unpretending writers noticed above, if they have little harmony or balance of phrase, are seldom confused or breathless. Sidney was one of the first writers of great popularity and influence (for the Arcadia was very widely read) to introduce what may be called the sentence-and-paragraph-heap, in which clause is linked on to clause till not merely the grammatical but the philosophical integer is hopelessly lost sight of in a tangle of jointings and appendices. It is not that he could not do better; but that he seems to have taken no trouble not to do worse. His youth, his numerous avocations, and the certainty that he never formally prepared any of his work for the press, would of course be ample excuses, even if the singular and seductive beauty of many scraps throughout this work did not redeem it. But neither of the radical difference in nature and purpose between prose and verse, nor of the due discipline and management of prose itself, does Sidney seem to have had the slightest idea. Although he seldom or never reaches the beauties of the flamboyant period of prose, which began soon after his death and filled the middle of the seventeenth century, he contains examples of almost all its defects; and considering that he is nearly the first writer to do this, and that his writings were (and were deservedly) the favourite study of generous literary youth for more than a generation, it is scarcely uncharitable to hold him directly responsible for much mischief. The faults of Euphues were faults which were certain to work their own cure; those of the Arcadia were so engaging in themselves, and linked with so many merits and beauties, that they were sure to set a dangerous example. I believe, indeed, that if Sidney had lived he might have pruned his style not a little without weakening it, and then the richness of his imagination would probably have made him the equal of Bacon and the superior of Raleigh. But as it is, his light in English prose (we shall speak and speak very differently of his verse hereafter) was only too often a will-o'-the-wisp. I am aware that critics whom I respect have thought and spoken in an opposite sense, but the difference comes from a more important and radical difference of opinion as to the nature, functions, and limitations of English prose. Sidney's style may be perhaps best illustrated by part of his Dedication; the narrative parts of the Arcadia not lending themselves well to brief excerpt, while the Apology is less remarkable for style than for matter.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse