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the studied harmony of later times be found incapable of coalescing with effect, there can be no doubt what school we should adopt; for who would not prefer the sublime though unadorned conception of Michael Angelo to the glowing colouring even of such an artist as Titian?
Of the larger poems of the age of Shakspeare, the defects may be considered as of two kinds, either apparent only, or real; under the first may be classed that want of high-finishing which is the result, partly of its incompatibility with grsatness of design, and partly as the effect of a just taste; for much of the minor poetry of the reign of Elizabeth, as hath been previously observed, is polished even to excess; while under the second are to be placed the positive defects of want of union in style, and want of connection and arrangement in economy; omissions not resulting from necessity, and which are scarcely to be atoned for by any excellencies, however transcendent.
It is creditable to the present age, that in the higher poetry several of our bards have in a great degree reverted to the ancient school; that, in attempting to emulate the genius of their predecessors, they have judiciously adopted their strength and simplicity of diction, their freedom and variety of metre, preserving at the same time, and especially in the disposition of their materials, and the keeping of their style, whatever of modern refinement can aptly blend with or heighten the effect of the sublime, though often severely chaste outline, of the first masters of their art.
That meretricious glare of colouring, that uniform though seductive polish, and that monotony of versification, which are but too apparent in the school of Pope, and which have been carried to a disgusting excess by Darwin and his disriples, not only vitiate and dilute all development of intense emotion, but even paralyse that power of picturesque delineation, which can only subsist under an uncontrolled freedom of execution, where, both in language and rhythm, the utmost variety and energy have their full play. He who in sublimity and pathos has made the nearest approach to our three immortal bards, Spenser, Shakspeare and Milton, and who may, therefore, claim the fourth place in our poetical annals, the lamented Chatterton; and he who, in the present day, stands unrivalled for his numerous and masterly sketches of character, and for the truth, locality, and vigour of his descriptions, the poet of Marmion and of Rokeby, are both well known to have built their fame upon what may be emphatically termed the old English school of poesy. The difference between them is, that while both revert to the costume and imagery of the olden time, one adheres, in a great measure, to the language of his day, while the other must be deemed a laborious though not very successful imitator of the phraseology and extrinsic garb of the remote period to which, for no very laudable purpose, he has assigned his productions. These few remarks on the poetry of our ancestors being premised, the critical notices to which we have alluded, may with propriety commence; and in executing this part of the subject, as well as in the tabular form which follows, an alphabetical arrangement will be observed.
1. BEAUMONT, SIR JOHN. Though the poems of this author were not published, yet were they written, during the age of Shakspeare, and consequently demand our notice in this chapter. He was the elder brother of Francis the dramatic poet, and was born at Gracedieu, in Leicestershire, in 1582. He very early attached himself to poetical studies, and all his productions in this way were the amusements of his youthful days. Of these, the most elaborate is entitled "Bosworth Field," a very animated and often a very poetical detail of the circumstances which are supposed immediately to precede and accompany this celebrated struggle. The versification merits peculiar praise; there is an ease, a vigour, and a harmony in it, not equalled, perhaps, by any other poet of his time; many of the couplets, indeed, are such as would be distinguished for the beauty of their construction, even in the writings of Pope. An encomium so strong as this may require some proofs for its support, and among the number which might
be brought forward, three shall be adduced as specimens not only of finished versification, but of the energy and heroism of the sentiments which pervade this striking poem.
"There he beholds a high and glorious throne,
Ferrers, addressing Richard, exclaims,—
"I will obtaine to-day, alive or dead,
The crownes that grace a faithfull souldiers head.
Extending warlike armes for England's good,
On the flight of Catesby, who advises Richard to embrace a similar mode of securing his personal safety, the King indignantly answers,
"Let cowards trust their horses' nimble feete,
Gaine thou some houres to draw thy fearefull breath:
To me ignoble flight is worse than death."
Of the conclusion of Bosworth Field, Mr. Chalmers has justly observed, that "the lines describing the death of the tyrant may be submitted with confidence to the admirers of Shakspeare.'
The translations and miscellaneous poems of Sir John include several pieces of considerable merit. We would particularly point out Claudian's Epigram on the Old Man of Verona, and the verses on his "dear sonne Gervase Beaumont." Sir John died in the winter of 1628, aged forty-six.
2. BRETON, NICHOLAS. Of this prolific poet few authenticated facts are known. His first publication, entitled, "A small handfull of fragrant flowers," was printed in 1575; if we therefore allow him to have reached the age of twentyone before he commenced a writer, the date of his birth may, with some probabability, be assigned to the year 1554. The number of his productions was so great, that a character in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Scornful Lady," declares that he had undertaken "with labour and experience the collection of those thousand pieces-of that our honour'd Englishman, Nich. Breton." (Act ii.) Ritson has given a catalogue of twenty-nine, independent of his contributions to the "Phoenix Nest" and "England's Helicon," and five more are recorded by Mr. Park in the Censura Literaria. Most of these are poetical, some a mixed composition of rhyme and prose, and a few entirely prose; they are all extremely scarce, certainly not the consequence of mediocrity or want of notice, for they have been praised by Puttenham, † Meres, ‡ and Phillips; and one of his most beautiful ballads is inserted in "The Muse's Library," 1740. After a lapse of twenty-five years, Dr. Percy recalled the attention of the public to our author by inserting in his Reliques the same piece which Mrs. Cowper had previously chosen; §in 1801 Mr. Ellis favoured us with eight specimens, from his pamphlets and England's Helicon," and Mr. Park has since added two very valuable extracts to the number. These induce us to wish for a more copious selection, and at the same time enable us to declare, that as a lyric and pastoral poet he possessed, if not a splendid, yet a pleasing and elegant flow of fancy, together with great sweetness
Arte of English Poesie, reprint of 1811. p. 49.
tt Censura Literaria, vol. ix. pp. 159, 161,
and simplicity of expression, and a more than common portion of metrical har
He is supposed, on the authority of an epitaph in the church of Norton, a village in Northamptonshire, to have died on the 22d of June, 1624.*
3. BROWNE, WILLIAM, was born at Tavistock, in Devonshire, in 1590, and, there is reason to suppose, began very early to cultivate his poetical talents; for in the first book of his "Britannias Pastorals," which were published in folio, in 1613, when in his twenty-third year, he speaks of himself, "as weake in yeares as skill", which leads to the supposition that his earlier pastorals were written before he had attained the age of twenty. Indeed, all his poetry appears to have been written previous to his thirtieth year. In' 1614, he printed in octavo, "The Shepherd's Pipe," in seven eclogues; in 1616, the second part of his "Britannias Pastorals" was given to the public, and in 1620, his "Inner Temple Mask" is supposed to have been first exhibited.
Browne enjoyed a large share of popularity during his life-time; numerous commendatory poems are prefixed to the first edition of his pastorals; and, in a copy of the second impression of 1625, in the possession of Mr. Beloe, and which seems to have been a presentation copy to Exeter College, Oxford, of which Browne was a member and Master of Arts, there are thirteen adulatory addresses to the poet, from different students of this society, and in the handwriting of each. Among his earliest eulogists are found the great characters Selden, Drayton, and Jonson, by whom he was highly respected both as a poet and as a man; and as a still more imperishable honour, we must not forget to mention, that he was a favourite with our divine Milton.
Until lately, however, he has been under little obligation to subsequent times; nearly one hundred and fifty years elapsed before a third edition of his poems employed the press; this came out in 1772, under the auspices of Mr. Thomas Davies, and, with the exception of some extracts] in Hayward's British Muse, this long interval passed without any attempt to revive his fame, by any judicious specimens of his genius. A more propitious era followed the republication of Davies; in 1787, Mr. Headley obliged us with some striking proofs of, and some excellent remarks on, his beauties; in 1792, his whole works were incorporated in the edition of the poets, by Dr. Anderson; in 1801, Mr. Ellis gave further extension to his fame by additional examples, and in 1810 his productions again became a component part of a body of English poetry in the very elaborate and comprehensive edition of the English poets, by Mr. Chalmers. Still it appears to us, that sufficient justice has not, since the era of Milton, been paid to his talents; for, though it be true, as Mr. Headley has observed, that puerilities, forced allusions, and conceits, have frequently debased his materials; yet are these amply atoned for by some of the highest excellencies of his art; by an imagination ardent and fertile, and sometimes sublime; by a vivid personification of passion; by a minute and truly faithful delineation of rural scenery; by a peculiar vein of tenderness which runs through the whole of his pastorals, and by a versification uncommonly, varied and melodious. With these are combined a species of romantic extravagancy which sometimes heightens, but more frequently degrades, the effect of his pictures. Had he exhibited greater judgment in the selection of his imagery, and greater simplicity in his style, hist claim on posterity would have been valid, had been general and undisputed. Browne is conjectured by Wood to have died in the winter of 1645. §
Shaw's Staffordshire, vol. i. p. 442. Ritson's Bibliographia Poetica, p. 143.
Chalmers's English Poets, vol. vi. p. 268. col. 2.
It is sufficient praise, however, to remark, that Milton, both in his L'Allegro and his Lycidas, is under
many obligations to our author.
We are told by Prince, in his “Worthies of Devonshire," that as Browne “had honoured his country with his sweet and elegant Pastorals, so it was expected, and he also entreated a little farther to grace it, by his drawing out the line of his poetic ancestors, beginning in Joseph Iscanus, and endtng in himself." Had this design been executed, how much more full and curious had our information been with regard to
4. CHALKHILL, JOHN. This poet was the intimate friend of Spenser, a genman, a scholar, and, to complete the encomium, a man of strict moral character. He was the author of a pastoral history, entitled, "Thealma and Clearchus;" but "he died," relates Mrs. Cooper, "before he could perfect even the Fable of his poem, and, by many passages in it, I half believe, he had not given the last hand to what he has left behind him. However, to do both him and his editor justice, if my opinion can be of any weight, 'tis great pity so beautiful a relique should be lost; and the quotations I have extracted from it will sufficiently evidence a fine vein of imagination, a taste far from being indelicate, and both language and numbers uncommonly harmonious and polite."
The editor alluded to by Mrs. Cooper was the amiable Isaac Walton, who published this elegant fragment in 8vo, in 1683, when he was ninety years old, and who has likewise inserted two songs by Chalkhill in his "Complete Angler."+
The pastoral strains of Chalkhill merit the eulogium of their female critic; the versification, more especially, demands our notice, and may be described, in many instances, as possessing the spirit, variety, and harmony of Dryden. To verify this assertion, let us listen to the following passages; describing the Golden age, he informs us,
Their sheep found cloathing, earth provided food,
How beautifully versified is the opening of his picture of the Temple of Diana!
Within a little silent grove hard by,
As the wind gave it Being: so sweet an air
Pourtraying the cell of an Enchantress, he says,
"About the walls lascivious pictures hung,
Muses Library, p. 317, 319, 327.
Mr. Beloe, in the first volume of his Anecdotes, p. 70, has given us a Latin epitaph on a John Chalkhill, copied from Warton's History of Winchester. This inscription tells us, that the person whom it commemorates died a Fellow of Winchester College, on the 20th of May, 1679, aged eighty; and yet Mr. Beloe, merely from similarity of name and character, contends that this personage must have been the Chalkhill of Isaac Walton; a supposition which a slight retrospection as to dates would have proved impossible. Walton, in the title
Shakspeare and his contemporaries, and how much is it to be lamented that so noble a scheme was re linquished.
Since these critical notices were written, Sir Egerton Brydges has favoured the world with some hitherto unpublished poems of Browne; productions which not only support the opinions given in the text, but which tend very considerably to heighten our estimation of the genius and imagination of this for old bard. Bagster's edit. 1808. p. 156, 276.
Muses Library, 1741. p. 315.
page of Thealma and Clearchus, describes Chalkhill as an acquaintance and friend of Edmund Spenser; now as Spenser died in January, 1598, and the subject of this epitaph, aged 80, in 1679, the latter must consequently have been born in 1599, the year after Spenser's death! The coincidence of character and name is certainly remarkable, but by no means improbable or unexampled.
5. CHAPMAN, GEORGE, who was born in 1557, and died in 1634, aged seventyseven, is here introduced as the principal translator of his age; to him we are indebted for Homer, Musæus, and part of Hesiod. His first published attempt on Homer appeared in 1592,* under the title of "Seaven Bookes of the Shades of Homer, Prince of Poets;" and shortly after the accession of James the First, the entire Iliad was completed and entitled, "The Iliads of Homer, Prince of Poets. Never before in any language truly translated. With a comment upon some of his chief places: done according to the Greeke."
This version, which was highly prized by his contemporaries, is executed in rhymed couplets, each line containing fourteen syllables; a species of versification singularly cumbrous and void of harmony; and, notwithstanding this protracted metre, fidelity is, by no means, the characteristic of Chapman. He is not only often very paraphrastic, but takes the liberty of omitting, without notice, what he could not comprehend. It has been asserted by Pope, that a daring fiery spirit, something like what we might imagine Homer himself to have written before he arrived to years of discretion, animates his translation, and covers his defects; an opinion which seems rather the result of partiality than unbiassed judgment; for though Chapman is certainly superior to his successor Hobbes, and occasionally exhibits some splendid passages, he must be considered by every critic of the present day as, in general, coarse, bombastic, and often disgusting; a violator, indeed, in almost every page, of the dignity and simplicity of his original. The magnitude and novelty of the undertaking, however, deserved and met with encouragement, and Chapman was induced, in 1614, to present the world with a version of the Odyssey. This is in the pentameter couplet; inferior in vigour to his Iliad, but in diction and versification more chaste and natural. Of his Musæus and his Georgics of Hesiod, we shall only remark that the former was printed in 1616, the latter in 1618, and that the first, which we have alone seen, does not much exceed the character of mediocrity. As an original writer, we shall have to notice Chapman under the dramatic department, and shall merely add now, that he was, in a moral light, a very estimable character, and the friend of Spenser, Shakspeare, Marlowe, Daniel, and Drayton.
6. CHURCHYARD, THOMAS. This, author merits notice rather for the quantity than the quality of his productions, though a few of his pieces deserve to be res cued from utter oblivion. He commenced a writer, according to his own account,† in the reign of King Edward the Sixth, and as Wood informs us, that at the age of seventeen he went to seek his fortune at court, and lived four years with Howard, Earl of Surry, who died 1546, it is probable that he was born about 1524. Shrewsbury had the honour of producing him, and he continued publishing poetical tracts until the accession of James the First. Ritson has given us a catalogue, which might be enlarged, of seventeen of his publications, with dates, from 1558 to 1599, independent of a variety of scattered pieces; some of these are of such bulk as to include from twelve to twenty subjects, and in framing their titles the old bard seems to have been very partial to alliteration; for We have "Churchyards Chippes, 1575; Churchyards Choice, 1579; Churchyards Charge, 1580; Churchyards Change; Churchyards Chance, 1680; Churchyards Challenge, 1593; and Churchyards Charity, 1595." In the "Mirror
*See Beloe's Anecdotes, vol. ii p. 83. Ritson has erroneously dated this publication 1598
In his "Challenge" he tells us, that his first publication was "a book named Davie Dicars Dream, in King Edward's daies."
* This publication, which was likewise called “ A Musicall Consort of heavenly Harmonie,” is not mentoned by Ritson.