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winded measures employed by the elder poets ; and Greene's touch is not always sure. But there is no fault to be found with Lyly's songs. Would that he had devoted himself to song-writing instead of toiling at his ponderous romance! “Sing to Apollo, God of day,” and “O Cupid, monarch over king,” are jewels that “from each facet flash a laugh at time.”
Thomas Lodge and Robert Greene (unlike Lyly) have no songs in their plays, but relieved the tedium of their romances by frequent lyrical interludes. Greene's romances and love-pamphlets are insipid reading ; but the poetry interspersed is frequently excellent. There is no sweeter cradle-song than “Weep not, my wanton, smile upon my knee,” which was written about the time when he cruelly deserted his wife and young children. The story of his miserable life is too well known. He died at thirty, worn out by his excesses. In his last sickness none of his boon companions came near him; but he was visited by a former mistress, the mother of his son Fortunatus. He lay in the squalid house of a poor shoemaker, near Dowgate; and on the day before his death he wrote that most pathetic letter to the wife whom he had abandoned, " Doll, I charge thee, by the love of our youth and by my soul's rest, that thou wilt see this man paid; for if he and his wife had not succoured me, I had died in the streets. Robert Greene.” His pious hostess,
in obedience to his last injunction, crowned his dead body with a garland of bays. Though his life was irregular, no charge of depravity can be brought against his writings. Throughout his novels, he was careful to inculcate rules of virtuous conduct. He lived in the baser parts of London, consorting with thieves and sharpers; but he sang of “Flora and the country green,” of wise content and quiet simplicity.
Thomas Lodge candidly acknowledges at times his indebtedness to foreign originals. In A Margarite of America, 1589, he gives us renderings of several Italian sonnets, and mentions the authors' names. But he is not always careful to express his obligations. In Scylla's Metamorphosis, 1589, he has a dainty poem, beginning
“The earth late choked with showers,
These verses have been justly admired, but it has not been noticed that they are closely imitated from the opening stanzas of a longer poem of Philippe Desportes :
“La terre, naguère glacée,
Desportes was widely read in England. Indeed Lodge, in A Margarite of America, speaks of his “poetical writings” as “being already for the most part Englished, and ordinarily in every man's hands." This seems to be an exaggeration, but there can be no doubt that Desportes had some influence on English poetry. Whenever Lodge imitates Desportes, he greatly improves on his model. Desportes has a sonnet beginning
“On verra défaillir tous les astres aux cieux,
que la fureur des rapports envieux
Compare this with Lodge's poem beginning
"First shall the heavens want starry light,
The April flowers and leaf and tree,
Desportes' sonnet is a bundle of dry conceits; Lodge's song is musical as a running brook.
Lodge's lyrical measures have frequently a flavour of Ronsard. He does not adopt the metres invented by Ronsard, but his own inventions seem to have been inspired by Ronsard's example.
Though Peele's plays have but a dusty antiquarian interest, his songs are as fresh as the flowers in May. He was a shifty rogue, according to the traditional account; but the author of The Arraignment of Paris and of the noble song in Polyhymnia must surely have been a man of gentle and chivalrous character. The reader will not fail to notice the beauty of the lyrical snatches from The Old Wive's Tale. It is a pity that we possess only fragments of Peele's pastoral play, The Hunting of Cupid, which was licensed for the press
Thomas Nashe, "ingenious, ingenuous, fluent, facetious T. Nashe,” was very serious at times. Witness his Christ's Tears over Jerusalem, that woeful cry wrung from the depths of a passionate soul. The songs in Summer's last Will and Testament are of a sombre turn. We have, it is true, the delicious verses in praise of spring; and what a pleasure it is to croon them over!
“The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
But when the play was produced it was sickly autumn, and the plague was stalking through the land :
‘Short days, sharp days, long nights come on apace :
Very vividly does Nashe depict the feeling of for
lorn hopelessness caused by the dolorous advent of the dreaded pestilence. His address to the fading summer, “ Go not yet hence, bright soul of the sad year,” is no empty rhetorical appeal, but a solemn supplication; and those pathetic stanzas, “ Adieu ; farewell, earth's bliss," must have had strange significance at a time when on every side the deathbells were tolling.
Shakespeare's songs are of course written divinely well." Yet I must frankly confess that I cannot determine to my own satisfaction whether Shakespeare or Fletcher wrote the opening song, “Roses, their sharp spines being gone,” in The Two Noble Kinsmen. Such a line as
Oxlips in their cradles growing” would seem to be Shakespeare's very own.
With all my admiration for Ben Jonson, I venture to think that his lyrics-excellent as they frequently are—want the natural magic that we find in the songs of some of his less famous contemporaries.
Still to be neat, still to be drest,” and others, are polished ad unguem, so that the severest critic cannot discover a flaw. And who can fail to appreciate the fertility of invention that Jonson displays in his masques ? Few, indeed, are the poets who have so happily combined learning, smoothness, and sprightliness. He has mingled
" all the sweets and salts That none may say the triumph halts.”