Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

in this place, earnestly becseching all gentlemen, of what qualitie soever they bee, to advaunce poetrie, or at least to admire it, and not bee so hastie shamefully to abuse that, which they may honestly and lawfully obtayne."


We shall conclude these observations on the miscellaneous literature of Shakspeare's time, by noticing one of the earliest of our Facetia, the production of an author who may be termed, in allusion to this jeu d'esprit, the Rabelais of England. Had the subject of this satire been less exceptionable in its nature, the popularity which it acquired for a season might have been permanent; but its grossness is such as not to admit of adequate atonement by any portion of wit, however poignant. It is entitled "A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. Written by Misacmos to his friend and cosin Philostilpnos," London, 1596, and is said to have originated from the author's invention of a water-closet for his house at Kelkston. The conceit, or pun upon the word Ajax, or a jakes, appears to have been a familiar joke of the time, and had been previously introduced by Shakspeare in his Love's Labour's Lost, when Costard tells Sir Nathaniel, the Curate, on his failure in the character of Alexander, " you will be scraped out of the painted cloth for this: your lion, that holds his poll-ax sitting on a close-stool, will be given to A-jax: he will be the ninth worthy." Act v. sc. 2. A similar allusion is to be found in Camden and Ben Jonson. The Metamorphosis, for which Sir John published a witty apology, under the appellation of "An Anatomie of the Metamorphosed Ajax," abounds with humour and sarcastic satire, and is valuable as an illustration of the domestic manners of the age. Either from its indecency, however, or its severity upon her courtiers, the facetious author incurred the displeasure of Elizabeth, and was banished for some time from her presence. It is probably to the latter cause that his exile is to be attributed; for in a letter addressed to the knight by his friend, Mr. Robert Markham, and dated 1598, he says:

"Since your departure from hence, you have been spoke of, and with no ill will, both by the nobles and the Queene herself. Your book is almoste forgiven, and I may say forgotten; but not for its lack of wit or satyr. Those whome you feared moste are now bosoming themselves in the Queene's grace; and tho' her Highnesse signified displeasure in outwarde sorte, yet did she like the marrowe of your booke. Your great enemye, Sir James, did once mention the Star-Chamber, but your good esteeme in better mindes outdid his endeavours, and all is silente again. The Queen is minded to take you to her favour, but she sweareth that she believes you will make epigrams and write misacmos again on her and all the courte; she hath been heard to say, that merry poet, her godson, must not come to Greenwich, till he hath grown sober, and leaveth the ladies sportes and frolicks.' She did conceive much disquiet on being tolde you had aimed a shafte at Leicester."

[ocr errors]

The genius of Harrington was destined to revive, with additional vigour, in the person of Swift, who, to an equal share of physical impurity, united a richer and more fertile vein of coarse humour and caustic satire.

That Shakspeare was well acquainted with the various works which we have noticed in this class of literature, and probably with most of their authors, there is much reason to infer. We have already found that he was justly offended with Robert Green, for the notice which he was pleased to take of him in his "Groat's Worth of Witte bought with a Million of Repentance," and there can be no doubt that the philippics of Gosson and Stubbes, being pointedly directed against the stage, would excite his curiosity, and occasionally rouse his indignation. The very popular satires also of Nash and Decker must necessarily have attracted his notice, nor could a mind so excursive as his, have neglected to cull from the varied store which the numerous miscellanies, characters, and essays of the age presented to his view. It can

* Pritish Bibliographer, No. VIII. p. 272.

‡ Idem, vol, i. p. 239, 243.

Nuga Antiquæ, vol. i. p. xi. edit. 1804.
Part II. chap. 1.

be no difficult task to conceive the delight, and the mental profit, whic a genius such as Shakspeare's, of which one characteristic is its fertility in aphoristic precept, must have derived from the study of Lord Bacon's Essay The apothegmatic treasures of Shakspeare have been lately condensed int a single volume by the judgment and industry of Mr. Loft, and it may b safely affirmed, that no uninspired works, either in our own or any othe language, can be produced, however bulky or voluminous, which contain richer mine of preceptive wisdom than may be found in those two books o the philosopher and the poet, the Essays of Bacon, and the Aphorisms o Shakspeare,


View of Romantic Literature during the Age of Shakspeare-Shakspeare's Attachment to, and Use of, Romances, Tales, and Ballads.

THAT a considerable, and perhaps the greater, portion of Shakspeare's Library consisted of Romances and Tales, we have already mentioned as a conclusion fully warranted, from the extensive use which he has made of them in his dramatic works. What the precious tomes specifically were which covered his shelves, we have now no means of positively ascertaining; but it is evident that we shall make a near approximation to the truth, if we can bring forward the library of a contemporary collector of romantic literature, and at the same time contemporary authority for the romances then most in vogue.

Now it fortunately happens, that we have not only a few curious descriptions. by the most unexceptionable authors of the reigns of Elizabeth and James, of the popular reading of their day, but we possess also a catalogue of the collection of one of the most enthusiastic hoarders of the sixteenth century, in the various branches of romantic lore; a document which may be considered, in fact, as placing within our view a kind of fac-simile of this, the most copious department of Shakspeare's book boudoir.

The interesting detail has been given us by Laneham, in his "Account of the Queen's Entertainment at Killingworth Castle, 1575." The author is describing the Storial Show by a procession of the Coventry men, in celebration of Hock Tuesday, when he suddenly exclaims,-" But aware, keep bak, make room noow, heer they cum.

'And fyrst Captain Cox, an old man I promiz yoo; by profession a Mason, aud that right skilfull; very cunning in fens, and hardy az Gavin; for his ton-sword hangs at hiz tablz eend ; great oversight hath he in matters of storie: For az for King Arthurz book, Huon of Burdeaus, the foour sons of Aymon, Bevys of Hampton, The Squyre of lo degree, The Knight of Courtesy, and the Lady Faguell, Frederick of Gene, Syr Eglamoour, Syr Tryamoour, Syr Lamwell, Syr Isenbras, Syr Gawyn, Olyver of the Castl, Lucres and Curialus, Virgil's Life, the Cast of Ladiez, the Wido Edyth, the King and the Tanner, Frier Rous, Howleglas, Gargantua, Robinhood, Adam Bel, Clim of the Clough and William of Cloudsley, the Churl and the Burd, the Seven Wise Masters, the Wife lapt in a Morels Skin, the Sak full of Nuez, the Seargeaunt that became a Fryar, Skogan, Collyn Clout, the Fryar and the Boy, Elynor Rumming, and the Nutbrocan Alaid, with many moe then 1 rehearz heere; I believe hee have them all at his fingers endz.

Then in Philosophy, both morail and naturall, I think hee be az naturally overseen; beside Poetrie and Astronomie, and oother hid Sciencez, az I may gesse by the omberty of his books, whearof part, az I remember, The Shepherdz Kalender, The Ship of Foolz, Danie z Dreams, the Booke of Fortune, Stans puer ad Mensam, The by way to the Spill-house, Julian of Brain

[ocr errors]

herd's Testament, the Castle of Love, the Booget of Demaunds, the Hundred Mery Talez, the Book of Riddels, the Seaven Sororz of Wemen, the proond Wives Pater Noster, the Chapman of a Peneworth of Wit: Beside his Auncient Playz, Yooth and Charitee, Hikskorner, Nugizee, lately Impacient Poverty, and herewith Doctor Boords Breviary of Health. What should I rehearz heer, Laf, what a bunch of Ballets and Songs, all auncient; as Broom broom on Hill, So Wo iz me begon, Our ontroly lo, Over a Whinny Meg, Hey ding a ding, Bony lass upon a green, My hony on gave me a bek, By a bank as I lay and a hundred more he hath fair wrapt up in parchment, and bound with a whip cord. And az for Almanacks of Antiquitee (a point for Ephemeridees), I ween he can sheaw from Jazper Laet of Antwarp unto Nostradam of Frauns, and thens unto oour John 1nd Securiz of Salsbury. To stay yee no longer heerein, I dare say hee hath az fair a Library for

nous, v

in the



theez Sciencez, and az many goodly monuments both in prose and poetry, and at after noonz can can talk az much without book, az ony inholder betwixt Brainford and Bagshot, what degree soever he be."

Of the library of this military bibliomaniac, who is represented as "marching on valiantly before, clean trust and gartered above the knee, all fresh in a velvet cap, flourishing with his ton sword," Mr. Dibdin has appreciated the value when he declares, that he should have preferred it to the extensive collection of the once celebrated magician, Dr. Dee. "How many," he observes, “of Dee's magical books he had exchanged for the pleasanter magic of Old Ballads and Romances, I will not take upon me to say: but that this said bibliomaniacal Captain had a library, which, even from Mr. Laneham's imperfect description of it, I should have preferred to the four thousand volumes of Dr. John Dee, is most unquestionable."

He then adds in a note, in reference to the "Bunch of Ballads and Songs, all auncient :-fair wrapt up in parchment, and bound with a whip cord!" "it is no wonder that Ritson, in the jonhistorical essay prefixed to his collection of Scottish Songs, should speak of some of these balPady

ch be's


lads with a zest, as if he would have sacrificed half his library to untie the said whip cord' packet. And equally joyous, I ween, would my friend Mr. R. H. Evans, of Pall-Mall, have been-during his editorial labors in publishing a new edition of his father's collection of Ballads-(an edition, by the by, which gives us more of the genuine spirit of the Coxean Collection than any with which I am acquainted)-equally joyous would Mr. Evans have been, to have had the inspection of some of these bonny' songs. The late Duke of Roxburghe, of never-dying bibliomanical celebrity, Would have parted with half the insignia of his order of the Garter, to have obtained clean original the copies of these fascinating effusions!"†

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

Though the Romances and Ballads in Captain Cox's Library are truly termed zeli ancient," yet it appears, from unquestionable contemporary authority, that these romances, either in their original dress or somewhat modernised, were still sung to the harp, in Shakspeare's days, as well in the halls of the nobility and gentry, as in the streets and ale-houses, for the recreation of the multitude: thus Puttenham, in his "Arte of English Poesie," published in 1589, speaking of historical poetry adapted to the voice, says,


"We our selves who compiled this treatise have written for pleasure a little brief Romance or historicall ditty in the English tong of the Isle of Great Britaine in short and long meetres, and by breaches or di visions to be more commodiously song to the harpe in places of assembly, where the company shal be desirous to heare of old adventures and reliaunces of noble knights in times past, as are those of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, Sir Berys of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke and others like;" and he afterwards notices the blind harpers or such like taverne minstrels that give a fit of mirth for a groat, their matters being for the most part stories of old time, as the tale of Sir Topaz, the reportes of Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, Adam Bell, and Clymme of the Clough, and such other old Romances or historicall rimes, made purposely for recreation of the common people at Christmasse diners and bride ales, and in tavernes and ale-houses, and such other places of base resort."

Bishop Hall, likewise, in his Satires printed in 1598, alluding to the tales

that lay

"In chimney-corners smok'd with winter fires,
To read and rock asleep our drowsy sires,"

Nichols's Progresses, vol i. Laneham's Letter, p. 34–36.
Dibdin's Bibliographical Romance, p. 349, 350, and note
Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie, reprint of 1811, p. 33, 69.


"No man his threshold better knowes, than I
Brute's first arrival, and first victory;

St. George's sorrel, or his crosse of blood,
Arthur's round board, or Caledonian wood,

Or holy battles of bold Charlemaine,

What were his knights did Salem's siege maintaine:
How the mad rival of faire Angelice

Was physick'd from the new-found paradise!*

and even so late as Burton, who finished his interesting work just previous to our great poet's decease, we have sufficient testimony that the major part of our gentry was employed in the perusal of these seductive narratives: "If they read a book at any time," remarks this eccentric writer, "'tis an English Chronicle, Sr. Huon of Bordeaux, Amadis de Gaul, etc.; and subsequently, in depicting the inamoratoes of the day, he accuses them of "reading nothing but play books, idle poems, jests, Amadis de Gaul, the Knight of the Sun, the Seven Champions, Palmerin de Oliva, Huon of Bordeaux, etc."t

These contemporary authorities prove, to a certain extent, what were considered the most popular romances in the reigns of Elizabeth and James; but it will be satisfactory to enquire a little more minutely into this branch of literature. The origin of the metrical Romance may be traced to the fostering influence of our early Norman monarchs, who cultivated with great ardour the French language; and it was from the courts of these sovereigns that the French themselves derived the first romances in their own tongue. The gratification resulting from the recital or chaunting of these metrical tales was then confined, and continued to be for some centuries, to the mansions of the great, owing to the vast expense of maintaining or rewarding the minstrels with whom, at that time, a knowledge of these splendid fictions exclusively rested. No sooner, however, was the art of printing discovered, than the wonders of romance were thrown open to the eager curiosity of the public, and the presses of Caxton and Winkin de Worde groaned under the production of prose versions from the romantic poesy of the Anglo-Norman bards.

So fascinating were the wild incidents and machinery of these volumes, and so rapid was their consequent circulation, that neither the varied learning nor the theological polemics of the succeeding age, availed to interrupt their progress; and it was not until towards the close of the seventeenth century, that the feats of the knight and the spells of the enchanter ceased to astonish and exhilarate the halls of our fathers.

In the whole course of this extensive career, from the era of the conquest to the age of Milton, a poet whose youth, as he himself tells us, was nourished "among those lofty fables and romances, which recount, in sublime cantos, the deeds of knighthood," perhaps no period can be mentioned in which a greater love of romantic fiction existed, than that which marks the reign of Elizabeth; and this, too, notwithstanding the improvement of taste, and the progress of classical learning; for though the national credulity had been chastened by the gradual efforts of reason and science, yet was the daring imagery of romance still the favourite resource of the bard and the novelist, who, skilfully blending its potent magic with the colder but now fashionable fictions of pagan antiquity, flung increasing splendour over the union, and gave that permanency of attraction which only the peculiar and unfettered genius of the Elizabethan era could bestow. Confining ourselves at present, however, chiefly to the consideration of the prose romance, we may observe, that five distinct classes of it were prevalent in the age of Shakspeare, which we may designate by the appellations of AngloNorman, Oriental, Italian, Spanish, and Pastoral Romance.

Chalmer's English Poets, vol. v. p. 283, col. 2.

Anatomy of Melancholy, 8th edit. p. 84. 177, + See Ellis's Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances, vol. i. Introduction, p. 28; and the Abbe de la Rue's Dissertations on the Anglo-Norman poets, Archæologia, vol. xii, and xiii,

Under the first of these titles, the Anglo-Norman, we include all those productions which have been formed on the metrical romances of the feudal or Anglo-Norman period, and to which the terms Gothic or Chivalric have been commonly, though not exclusively, applied. These are blended not only with much classical fiction, but with a large portion of oriental fable, derived from our commerce with the East during the period of the Crusades, and are principally occupied either in relating the achievements of Arthur, Charlemagne, and the knights engaged in the holy wars, or in chivalarising, if we may use the word, the heroes of antiquity, or in expanding the wonders of oriental machinery.

The most popular prose romance of this class was undoubtedly "La Morte d'Arthur," translated from various French romances by Sir Thomas Malory, and printed by Caxton in 1485, a work which includes in a condensed form the most celebrated achievements of the knights of the Round Table.* This noble and joyous book," as it is termed by its venerable printer, was the delight of our ancestors until the age of Charles the First; and in no period more decidedly so than in the reign of Elizabeth, when probably there were few lordly mansions without a copy of this seducing tome, either in the great hall cr in the ladies bower. Such were its fascinations, indeed, as to excite the apprehensions, and call forth the indignant and somewhat puritanical strictures of Ascham and Meres; the former in his "Schoole Master," 1571, when, reprobating the inordinate attachment to books of chivalry, instancing, as one for example, Morte Arthur, the whole pleasure of which booke," he says, "standeth in two specyall poyntes, in open mans slaghter and bolde bawdrie: in which booke, those be counted the noblest knights that doe kill most men without any quarrell, and commit fowlest adoultries by sutlest shifts; as, Syr Lancelote with the wife of King Arthure, his maister; Syr Tristram with the wife of King Marke, his uncle: Syr Lameroche with the wife of King Lote, that was his own aunte. This is good stuffe for wise men to laughe at, or honest men to take pleasure at. Yet I knowe when God's Bible was banished the court and Morte Arthure receaved into the princes chamber, what toyes the dayly reading of such a booke may worke in the will of a yong gentleman, or a yong maide that liveth welthely and idlely, wise men can judge, and honest men do pittie;" and the latter declaring in his "Wits Commonwealth," that "as the Lord de la Nonne in the sixe discourse of his politike and military discourses censureth of the bookes of Amadis de Gaule, which he saith are no less hurtfull to youth, than the workes of Machiavell to age; so these bookes are accordingly to be censured of, whose names follow; Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwicke, Arthur of the Round Table, etc."

That these strictures are too severe, and that the consequences apprehended by these ingenious scholars did not necessarily follow, we have the authority of Milton to prove; who, so far from deprecating the study of romances as dangerous to morality, declares" that even those books proved to me so many enticements to the love and stedfast observation of virtue;"‡ a passage which appears to have kindled in the mind of a modern writer, a spirited defence of the utility of these productions, even at the present day.

"There is yet a point of view," he remarks, in which Romance may be regarded to advantage, even in the present age. The most interesting qualities in a chivalrous knight, are his hightoned enthusiasm, and disinterested spirit of adventure-qualities to which, when properly modified and directed, society owes its highest improvements. Such are the feelings of benevolent genius yearning to diffuse love and peace and happiness among the human race. The gorgeous visions of imagination, familiar to the enthusiastic soul, purify the heart from selfish pollutions, and animate to great and beneficent actions. Indeed, nothing great or eminently beneficial ever

The title of this first edition, as gathered from the prologue and colophon, has been thus given by M. Dibdin: A BOOK OF THE NOBLE HYSTORYES OF KYNGE ARTHUR, and of certeyn of his knyghtes. Wiehe book was reduced in to englyshe by syr Thomas Malory knyght and by me devyded into XXI kes chapytred and enprynted, and funysshed in the abbey Westmestre the last day of July the ere of our lord Mecce.lxxxv. folio."--Dibdin's Typographical Antiquities, vol. i. p. 241. Ascham's Works, Bennet's edit. p. 254. Toland's Life of Milton, p. 35.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »