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The Progress of the Nation page 9


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Lyly, the Euphuist, wrote nine plays, amongst them "Alexander and Campaspe," "Sappho and Phaon," "Midos," "Gallathea," &c. Lyly, as it will be seen, was fond of Greek subjects, but he could also enjoy English comedy, as in "Mother Bombie," and others; which are regular comedies, divided into acts and scenes, and interspersed with agreeable songs. Contemporary with the preceding, as well as with Shakespeare, Marlowe is the greatest name which precedes that of the supreme dramatist. We can do no more here than name some of his chief tragedies, for Marlowe was essentially a tragedian. These were "Tamburlaine the Great," in two parts, "The Massacre of Paris," "Edward II.," including the fall of Mortimer and Gaveston, "Doctor Faustus," "The Rich Jew of Malta," and " Lust's Dominion; or, the Lascivious Queen." Marlowe was, moreover, a beautiful lyrical poet, as is evident by his charming madrigal "Come, live with me and be my love," given in Walton's Angler. Greene, Peele, Marlowe, Nash, and that whole company were extremely dissipated in their lives, and lived and died in deep poverty. To these we must add, as dramatic poets of this era, but whom it will be essential to our continuous view of the progress of the drama to dismiss with the rest, Decker; Kyd, author of "Jeronimo," and the "Spanish Tragedy;" Lodge, author of "The Wounds of Civil War," &c.; Gascoine; Chapman, also the celebrated author of the translation of Homer; Jasper Heywood, son of John Heywood; Weston, Marston, &c. So much was the drama now advanced in estimation, that even Elizabeth's Lord Chancellor, Hatton, was in part author of the tragedy of "Tancred and Sigismunda," founded on the story of Boccaccio.

Amongst the lyrical poets, the reign of Henry VIII. presents us with a remarkable trio, who were associated as well by their genius as their position and fate. These were Sir Thomas Wyatt, the early lover of Anne Boleyn, her brother, George Boleyn, afterwards the unfortunate Earl of Rochford, and the equally unfortunate Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the last victim of the sanguinary Henry VIII. Surrey was the cousin-german of the Boleyns, Wyatt was their early neighbour and playfellow; together they all figured amongst the most accomplished courtiers; two of them lost their heads, the third only narrowly escaping; and their poetry was printed together in one volume.

Sir Thomas Wyatt (called the Elder, to distinguish him from his son of the same name, who was executed for rebellion in the reign of Queen Mary) was one of the most distinguished men of the Court of Henry VIII. His country-house was Allington Castle, in Kent, and its vicinity to the residence of the Boleyns made him a youthful companion of Anne and her brother and sister. He became attached to Anne, but was obliged to give way to the passion of the king, not without some danger. After that he was long employed abroad in embassies to France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Incurring the king's displeasure for aiding Cromwell in the promotion of the marriage with Anne of Cleves, he prudently withdrew from Court to his castle in Kent. He had never ceased writing poetry even when engaged in his diplomatic missions, and he now more than ever cultivated the muses, His amatory verses are polished and elegant, but his satires display more vigour, and are remarkable as containing the earliest English version of "The Town and Country Mouse." Besides his poems he has left letters, in which he not only gives us many insights into the state of the Courts where he resided, but various particulars regarding the fate of Anne Boleyn, and some addressed to his son, which place him in a most favourable light as a man and a father. His prose has been greatly admired. A short lyric, which we may give, addressed to Anne Boleyn, when her creation of Marchioness of Pembroke warned him that he saw in her the future queen, clearly informs us that he had been her accepted lover: -

Forget not yet the tried intent
Of such a truth as I have meant;
My great travail so gladly spent,
Forget not yet.
Forget not yet when first began
The weary life ye know j since when
The suit, the service none tell can,
Forget not yet.
Forget not yet the great assays,
The cruel wrongs, the scornful ways,
The painful patience, and delays,
Forget not yet.
Forget not, O! forget not this,
How long ago had been and is
The love that never meant amiss,
Forget not yet.
Forget not now thine own approved,
The which so constant hath thee loved,
Whose steadfast faith hath never moved,
Forget not yet.

His friend George Boleyn was, perhaps, a more spirited poet than himself, and is said to have sung the night before his execution a lyric which had been printed some time, along with the poems of Wyatt, called, "Farewell, my lute," the refrain of which was too strikingly applicable to his situation: -

"Farewell, my lute, this is the last
Labour that thou and I shall waste,
For ended is that we began;
Now is the song both sung and passed;
My lute, be still, for I have done."

But most illustrious of these was the Earl of Surrey. Like his friend Wyatt, he had travelled in Italy, and brought home a high admiration of the great Italian poets, Dante, Ariosto, and Petrarch, on whose model he formed his taste. Like his ancestor, the conqueror of Flodden, he was brave and high-spirited, but seems to have had a facility for getting into scrapes, both with his own family and the Government. As a gay courtier, however, he was greatly admired by the ladies, and still more by people of taste for his poetry, which went through four editions in two months, and through seven more in the thirty years after their appearance. They are supposed to have strongly influenced the taste of Spenser and Milton. The great theme of his lyrics was the fair Geraldine, but who she was precisely neither critics nor historians have quite determined, though believed to be a lady of the Irish family of Fitzgerald. A single stanza may indicate the spirit with which he proclaimed her beauty: -

"Give place, ye lovers, here before
That spent your boasts and brags in vain!
My lady's beauty passeth more
The best of yours, I dare well say'n,
Than doth the sun the candle-light,
Or brightest day the darkest night."

But the most important fact in Surrey's poetical history is his introduction of blank verse into the English language, a simple but, in its consequences, most eventful innovation, liberating both the heroic and the dramatic muse from the shackles of rhyme, and leading the way to the magnificent works of Shakespeare and Milton, in that free form. There has been much dispute amongst the critics as to whether Surrey invented blank verse, or merely copied it from some other language; but the only wonder seems that some one of our poets had not attempted it before. What so likely as that Surrey, in translating the first and fourth books of the "AEneid," should adopt the blank verse in which the original was written, not precisely the hexameter, but a measure more suitable to the English language? All the verse of the ancient Greeks and Romans is of this blank species; and it is extraordinary that men well versed in these speeches had so long omitted the experiment; especially as the Italians, the French, and the Spaniards had tried it. Gonsalvo Perez, secretary to Charles V., had translated Homer's "Odyssey" into blank verse; and in 1528, Trissino, in order to root out the terza rima of Dante, had published his "Italia Liberata di Goti" - Italy delivered from the Goths - in blank verse. In the reign of Francis I. two of the most popular poets of France, Jodelle and De Baif, wrote poems in this style. Gawin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, had already translated the "AEneid" into Scotch metre, and it would seem as if Surrey, in trying his hand on two books of the same poem, had been induced to make the essay of blank verse at the same time. Whatever was the immediate cause, nothing could exceed the success of Surrey's experiment. His verse flows with a stately dignity full of music and strength. We take a specimen from the fourth book of the "AEneid," where Dido, who has vowed never to marry again, perceives her new passion for AEneas, and discloses her pain to her sister: -

"Ne to her lymmes care graunteth quiet rest.
The next niorrowe with Phoebus' lampe the erthe
Alightened clere, and eke the dawning daye,
The shaclowe danke gan from the pole remove,
When all unsownd her sister of like minde,
Thus spoke she to: O sister An, what dremes
Be these that me tormenten, thus afraide?
What newcomo gest unto our realm ys come?
What one of chere? How stowt of harte in arms?
Truelie I think, ne vaine ys my beliefe,
Of goddishe race some of springe should he seeme,
Cowardie noteth harts swarved owt of kinde
He driven, lord, with how hard destmie!
What battelis eke atcliieved did lie tell!
And but my minde was fixt immovablie
Never with wight in wedlocke for to joine,
Sithe my first love me lefte by deth dissevericl,
Yf bridal bowndes and bed me lothed not,
To this one fawlt perchaunce yeet might I yeld;
For I will grauiit sith wretched Syche's dethe,
My spouse and hawse with brother slaughter stained,
This onley man hath made my senses bend,
And pricketh forthe the mind that gan to slide:
Feelinglie I taste the steppes of mine old name.
But first I wishe the erth me swallow downe,
Or with thunder the mighty Lord me send
To the pale gostes of hell and darkness depe,
Or I thee stayne shamefastness, or the lawes."

If we turn to Sackville's "Gorboduc," acted before Queen Elizabeth in 1561, we shall see how thoroughly blank verse had asserted its freedom of the language. Even Greene, in his "Friar Bacon," in 1594, has passages that in their rich and harmonious diction display the wonderful power of blank verse. The true vehicle for the deathless dramas of Shakespeare was established, and already he had taken possession of it with some of his noblest imaginings, for Nash, as early as 1589, alludes to "Hamlet."

But before coming to Shakespeare, we must add another word regarding Sackville. In 1559 he had published "The Mirrour for Magistrates." He was then a mere youth, but the poetical preface to this work, which he called "The Induction," and the "Complaint of Henry, Duke of Buckingham," displayed the most remarkable powers of poetry, and at once arrested the public attention. The work itself was a mere series of the lives of personages prominent in English history, supposed to be an imitation of Lydgato's "Fall of Princes;" but expanded by the loftier genius of the author, and the induction so illustrated by allegory, as to give rise to the belief that Spenser was greatly indebted to him.

Edmund Spenser, the greatest of our allegoric poets, was born in East Smithfield, in London, and was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. He had the good fortune to secure the friendship of the all-powerful Earl of Leicester, of Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir Walter Raleigh. By their introduction to Queen Elizabeth, he obtained an annuity of 50 a year; and besides being employed by Leicester on a mission to France, went to Ireland in 1580, with Lord Grey de Wilton. We have noticed his "Views on the State of Ireland" under the head of the prose writers of this period, and for that able work, as well as for other services, he received a grant of the abbey and manor of Enniscorthy, in Wexford, which the same year, probably under pressure of necessity, he transferred to a Mr. Lynot. The estate, at the time of Gilbert's survey of Ireland, was worth 8,000 a year. Afterwards lie obtained the grant of the Castle of Kilcolman, in the county of Cork, part of the estate of the unfortunate Earl of Desmond, with 3,000 acres of land. On this property Spenser went to live, and his dear friend Sir Philip Sidney being just then killed at the battle of Zutphen, he wrote his pastoral elegy of "Astrophel" in his honour. He also wrote his great work the "Faerie Queen" there; but in 1597 he was chased by the exasperated Irish from his castle, which was burned over his head, his youngest child perishing in the cradle. He reached London, with his wife and two boys and a girl, and thus broken down by his misfortunes, he sank and died at an inn or lodging-house in King Street, Westminster. Ben Jonson says "he died for lake of bread, yet refused twenty pieces sent to him by my Lord of Essex, adding he was sorry he had not time to spend them."

It has been asked how he could die of "lack of bread" with an annuity of 80 a year. The thing is very possible. Burleigh was his life-long enemy. He hated him as the commonplace soul instinctively hates the man of genius, and this hatred was aggravated by his being patronised by Leicester, Essex, and Raleigh, all men who were detested by him. Nothing was, therefore, easier than for Burleigh to withhold the dying poet's pension, or his son Robert Cecil, who now possessed his power, for Burleigh was in his last days, and Cecil inherited all his meanness. Spenser has recorded the malice of Burleigh in various places. In his "Ruins of Time" ho says: -

"The rugged foremost that with grave foresight
Wields kingdoms' causes and affairs of state,
My looser verse, I wot, doth sharply wite
For praising love."

And at the close of the sixth book of "The Faerie Queen," he declares there is no hope of escaping "his venomous despite." Spenser's verses in "Mother Hubbard's Tales," describing the miseries of court dependence, have often been quoted: -

"Full little knowest thou that hast not tried
What hell it is in suing long to byde;
To lose good days that might be better spent;
To waste long nights in pensive discontent;
To speed to-day, to be put back to-morrow;
To feed on hope, to pine with fear and sorrow;
To have thy prince's grace, yet want her peeres';
To have thy asking, yet wait many years;
To fret thy soul with crosses and with cares;
To eat thy heart with comfortless despairs;
To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
To spend, to give, to want, to be undone."

The minor poems of Spenser beside the "Astrophel," are the "Epithalamion" on his own marriage; four "Hymns to Love and Beauty;" "Sonnets;" "Colin Clout come Homo again;" "The Tears of the Muses;" "Mother Hubbard's Tales," which refer to court characters of the time; "The Ruins of Time;" "Petrarch's Visions," "Bellaye's Visions," &c. In all these there is much beauty and fancy, mingled with much that is far-fetched and fantastic - the inevitable fault of that age. The "Faerie Queen" rises above all these as the cathedral over the lesser churches of a great city. It was written in a stanza which from him has ever since been called the Spenserian, a stanza so capable of every grace, strength, and harmony, that there are few poets who have not essayed it: Thomson's "Castle of Indolence," Beattie's "Minstrel," Mrs. Tyghe's "Psyche," Campbell's "Gertrude of Wyoming," and Byron's "Childe Harold," have made it the vehicle of many immortal thoughts.

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 9

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