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his versification often harmonious, but his poetry is of a grave and sententious turn. He has much good sense, solid reflection and useful observation, but he is serious and didactic, on all occasions preserving the tone of the moralist and the scholar on the most lively topics. Hence he is characterised by Chaucer as the Moral Gower.
The interval between Chaucer and Spencer is long, and unadorned in England by any names of remarkable eminence. In Scotland considerably better work was done. The first of the Scottish poets, omitting Thomas of Erceldoune, is John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen (1326-1396). His great work is The Bruce, a national history of Robert the First, in which we have the whole of the eager struggle for national independence which closed at Bannockburn. Both as poet and historian Barbour merits great praise. He himself boasts of the “ sooth fastness,” of his work, and the lofty sentiments and vivid descriptions with which it abounds prove him to have been well-fitted for the task which he undertook.
In the early part of the fifteenth century we have a royal poet of distinguished ability in the person of James I. of Scotland (1395-1437), whose King's Quair is superior to any poetry besides that of Chaucer produced in England before the reign of Elizabeth. The subject of this poem is the royal poet's love for Lady Joan Beaufort, described in the allegorical style of the age, but with much fine description, sentiment, and poetic fancy.
William Dunbar, who lived between 1465 and 1530, is pronounced by Ellis to be the greatest poet Scotland has produced. His writings, however, with scarcely an exception, remained in the obscurity of manuscript till the beginning of last century, since which time his fame has been continually rising. His chief poems are the The Thistle and the Rose, The Dance, and The Golden Terge.
Almost as remarkable a man as Dunbar is Gawin Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, who died in 1522, at the court of Henry VIII., and was buried in the Savoy. He is the author of the first English metrical translation from the original of any
Latin book. He translated Ovid's Ait of Love, and afterwards, in 1513, with truth and spirit, the Æneid of Virgil.
Poetry in England revived as an art about the close of the reign of Henry VIII., in Sir Thomas Wyatt (d. 1541) and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (d. 1546), whose poems are generally published together, as they were contemporaries and warm personal friends, as well as among the first improvers of the English language. They were men whose minds may be said to have been cast in the same mould ; for they differ only in those minute shades of character which always must exist in human nature. In their love of virtue and truth, instinctive hatred and contempt of vice ; in their freedom from personal jealousy ; in their thirst after knowledge and intellectual improvement ; in nice observation of nature, promptitude to action, intrepidity, and fondness for romantic enterprise, and in everything connected with sentiment and principle they were one and the same ; but when those qualities branch out into particulars, they will be found in some respects to differ.
Wyatt and Surrey were both Italian travellers, and in bringing back to England the inspiration they had gained from Petrarcha they re-made English poetry. “ They are,” says the Rev. Stopford A. Brooke, “our first really modern poets; the first who have anything of the modern manner. Though Italian in sentiment, their language is more English than Chaucer's, that is, they use fewer romantic words. They handed down this purity of language to the Elizabethan poets, to Sackville, Spencer, and Shakspeare.
The course of time brings us now to the age of Elizabeth, a time by far the mightiest in the history of English literature, or indeed of human intellect and capacity. “There never was anywhere,” says a writer in the Edinburgh Review, "anything like the sixty or seventy years that elapsed from the middle of Elizabeth's reign, to the period of the Restoration. In point of real force and originality of genius, neither the age of Pericles, nor the age of Augustus, nor the times of Leo X., nor of Louis XIV., can come at all into comparison ; for in that short period, we shall find the names of al
most all the very great men that this nation has ever produced the names of Shakspeare and Bacon, and Spencer and Sidney, and Hooker and Taylor, and Barrow and Raleigh, and Napier and Hobbes, and many others; men, all of them, not merely of great talents and accomplishments, but of vast compass and reach of understanding, and of minds truly creative and original ; not perfecting art by the delicacy of their taste, or digesting knowledge by the justness of their reasonings, but making vast and substantial additions to the materials upon which taste and reason must hereafter be employed, and enlarging to an incredible and unparalleled extent both the stores and the resources of the human faculties."
The first and preparatory Elizabethan period may be said to have lasted from 1559, the year of her accession, till 1579, when it was followed by the great literary outburst of the days of Spencer and Shakspeare.
Poetry was first represented by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and ultimately Earl of Dorset, and lord high treasurer of England (1536-1608). In him we have the author of the first regular English tragedy, entitled Ferrex and Porrex. The poem by which Sackville is best known is called The Mirror for Magistrates. He did not write the whole of it, but the part executed by him exhibits a strength of description, and a power of drawing allegorical characters scarcely inferior to Spencer, and had he completed the whole, and with the same power as he exhibited in the commencement, he would have ranked among the first poets of our country.
George Gascoigne (d. 577), whose satire, the Steele Glas, 1576, is our first long satirical poem, is the best among a
The later Elizabethan poetry begins with the publication of the Shepheardes Calendar in 1579. This at once elevated Spencer to the position of the first poet of the day, and its literary freshness was such that men felt that for the first time since Chaucer England had given birth to a great poet.
Edmund Spencer, the illustrious author of the Faerie Queene, was born in 1553. Had he never written the Faerie Queene, many of his minor poems, for example, the Shepheardes Calendar, which we have just named, and especially his Divine Hymns, would have given him a high, a very high place in English literature. But the Faerie Queene, from its unequalled richness and beauty, has thrown the rest of his writings comparatively into the shade. Two things, however, have prevented its being generally read ; one is its antiquated diction, and the other its allegorical character. The latter has been a kind of bugbear-a vague image of terror brooding over it, and deterring many from even attempting its perusal. To borrow a lively expression of Hazlitt's “they are afraid of the allegory, as if they thought it would bite them.” But though it be an allegorical poem, it is only so to a certain extent, and to a limited degree. The interest which the reader feels is a warm flesh-and-blood interest, not in the delineation of a virtue, but in the adventures of a knight or lady. It is Una—the trembling, tearful woman-for whom our hearts are moved with pity, and not forsaken truth. We may fairly lay the allegory aside, and the poem will lose little or nothing of its charm. The grand procession of stately and beautiful forms, the chivalrous glow, the stirring adventures, the noble sentiments, the picturesque descriptions, the delicious poetry, would all be left unimpaired.
Spencer excels in the two qualities in which Chaucer is most deficient-invention and fancy. The invention shown in his allegorical personages is endless, as the fancy shown in his description of them is gorgeous and delightful. He is the poet of romance. He describes things as in a splendid and voluptuous drama.
“Spencer's command of imagery,” says Campbell, "is wide, easy, and luxuriant. He threw the soul of harmony into our verse, and made it more warmly, tenderly, and magnificently descriptive than it ever was before, or, with a few exceptions, than it ever has been since. It must certainly be owned that in description he exhibits nothing of the brief strokes and robust power which characterise the very greatest poets, but we shall nowhere find more airy and expansive images of visionary things, a sweeter tone of sentiment, or a finer flush in the colour of language, than in this Rubens of English poetry.”
A poetic name of some respectability, belonging to the later Elizabethan period, is that of Robert Southwell (15621595). The poems of this writer are all on moral and religious subjects ; though they have not many of the endowments of fancy, they are peculiarly pleasing for the simplicity of their diction, and especially for the fine moral truths and lessons they convey. Life's uncertainty and the world's vanity, the crimes and follies of humanity, and the consolations and glories of religion, are the constant themes of his writings, both in prose and verse ; and the kindness and benignity of his nature, and the moral excellence of his character, are diffused alike over both.
The first Scottish poet who wrote well in English was William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649), the character of whose poetry is various, consisting of sonnets, epigrams, epitaphs, religious and other poems. His highest charm is unaffected feeling and unaffected language.
We turn now to that department of literature in which the English have excelled all the other nations of the world—the drama. The Rev. Stopford Brooke in his English Literature states, that the first stage of the regular drama begins with the first English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister, written by Nicholas U dall, master of Eton, known to have been acted before 1551, but not published till 1566. In it, we have our earliest picture of London manners : the characters are well drawn : it is divided into regular acts and scenes, and is made in rhyme.
The second stage of the drama is from 1580 to 1596, and includes the works of Lyly, the plays of Peele, Greene, Marlowe, and others, as well as the earliest works of Shakspeare. Peele, Greene, and Marlowe are the three important names of the period. They are the first in whose hands the play of human passion and action is expressed with any true