« PreviousContinue »
BORN 1574.-DIED 1656.
Bishop Hall, who for his ethical eloquence has been sometimes denominated the Christian Seneca, was also the first who gave our language an example of epistolary composition in prose. He wrote besides a satirical fiction, entitled Mundus alter et idem, in which, under pretence of describing the Terra Australis Incognita, he reversed the plan of Sir Thomas More's Utopia, and characterized the vices of existing nations. Of our satirical poetry, taking satire in its moral and dignified sense, he claims, and may be allowed, to be the founder: for the ribaldry of Skelton, and the crude essays of the graver Wyatt, hardly entitle them to that appellation. Though he lived till beyond the middle of the seventeenth century, his satires were written before, and his Mundus alter et idem about, the year 1600: so that his antiquity, no less than his strength, gives him an important place in the formation of our literature'. In his Satires, which were published at the age
of twenty-three, he discovered not only the early vigour of his own genius, but the powers and pliability of his native tongue. Unfortunately, perhaps unconsciously, he caught, from studying Juvenal and Persius as his models, an elliptical manner and an antique allusion, which cast obscurity over his other. wise spirited and amusing traits of English manners; though the satirist himself was so far from anticipating this objection, that he formally apologises for “ too much stooping to the low reach of the vulgar.” But in many instances he redeems the antiquity of his allusions by their ingenious adaptation to modern manners; and this is but a small part of his praise ; for in the point, and volubility, and vigour of Hall's numbers, we might frequently imagine ourselves perusing Dryden'. This may be exemplified in the harmony and picturesqueness of the following description of a magnificent, rural mansion, which the traveller approaches in the hopes of reaching the seat of ancient hospitality, but finds it deserted by its selfish owner.
1 His name is therefore placed in these Specimens with a variation from the general order, not according to the date of his death, but about the time of his appearance as a poet,
1 The satire which I think contains the most vigorous and mu. sical couplets of this old poet, is the first of Book 3d, beginning,
and that was term'd the time of gold, When world and time were young, that now are old. I preferred, however, the insertion of others as examples of his poetry, as they are more descriptive of English manners than the fanciful praises of the golden age, which that satire contains. It is flowing and fanciful, but conveys only the insipid moral of men decaying by the progress of civilization; a doctrine not unlike that which Gulliver found in the book of the old woman of Brobdignag, whose author lamented the tiny size of the modern Brobdignagdians compared with that of their ancestors.
Beat the broad gates, a goodly hollow sound,
Look to the tow'red chimnies, which should be
His satires are neither cramped by personal hostility, nor spun out to vague declamations on vice, but give us the form and pressure of the times exhibited in the faults of coeval literature, and in the foppery or sordid traits of prevailing manpers. The age was undoubtedly fertile in eccentricity. His picture of its literature may at first view appear to be overcharged with severity, accustomed as we are to associate a general idea of excellence with the period of Elizabeth ; but when Hall wrote there was not a great poet firmly established in the language
except Spenser, and on him he has bestowed ample applause. With regard to Shakspeare, the reader will observe a passage in the first satire, where the poet speaks of resigning the honours of heroic and tragic poetry to more inspired geniuses, and it is possible that the great dramatist may be here alluded to, as well as Spenser. But the allusion is indistinct, and not necessarily applicable to the bard of Avon. Shakspeare's Romeo and Juliet, Richard 2d and 3d, have been traced in print to no earlier date than the year 1597, in which Hall's first series of satires appeared; and we have no sufficient proof of his previous fame as a dramatist having been so great as to leave Hall without excuse for omitting to pay him homage But the sunrise of the drama with Shakspeare was not without abundance of attendant mists in the contemporary fustian of inferior playmakers, who are severely ridiculed by our satirist. In addition to this, our poetry was still haunted by the whining ghosts of the Mirror for Magistrates, while obscenity walked in barbarous pakedness, and the very genius of the language was threatened by revolutionary prosodists.
From the literature of the age Hall proceeds to its manners and prejudices, and among the latter derides the prevalent confidence in alchymy and astrology. To us this ridicule appears an ordinary effort of reason; but it was in him a common sense above the level of the times. If any proof were required to illustrate the slow departure of prejudices, it would be found in the fact of an astrologer being
patronized, half a century afterwards, by the government of England'. · During his youth and education he had to struggle with poverty; and in his old age he was one of those sufferers in the cause of episcopacy whose virtues shed a lustre on its fall. He was born in the parish of Ashby de la Zouche, in Leicestershire, studied and took orders at Cambridge, and was for some time master of the school of Tiverton, in Devonshire. An accidental opportunity which he had of preaching before Prince Henry seems to have given the first impulse to his preferment, till by gradual promotion he rose to be bishop of Exeter, having previously, accompanied King James, as one of his chaplains, to Scotland, and attended the Synod of Dort at a convocation of the protestant divines. As bishop of Exeter he was so mild in his conduct towards the puritans, that he who was one of the last broken pillars of the church, was nearly persecuted for favouring them. Had such conduct been, at this critical period, pursued by the high churchmen in general, the history of a bloody age might have been
1 William Lilly received a pension from the council of state, in 1648. He was, besides, consulted by Charles ; and, duriug the siege of Colchester, was sent for by the heads of the parliamentary army, to encourage the soldiers, by assuring them that the town would be taken. Fairfax told the seer, that he did not understand his art, but hoped it was lawful, and agreeable to God's word. Butler alludes to this when he says,
Do not our great Reformers use