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to the medieval times, as Homer's to the heroic. Chaucer's longest production is his translation of the once-famous Roman de la Rose-that singular summary of the licensed and unlicensed feelings and speculations current in feudal Europe, far more spoken of than known, and which, if known, would surprise many who have praised it. He seems to have been wanting in a certain lightness of touch, conciseness, and melody; and hence the lyrical manner of the Troubadours and of the early poets of Italy and Swabia is unrepresented in his collection. But, this excepted, he has given admirable specimens of every form of poetical literature then practised; closing in his old age with that magnificent Prologue to the Pilgrimage which gives intimations of a vast advance in nature and invention. Blake, the painter, finely said of this poem, As Linnæus numbered the plants, so Chaucer numbered the classes of then.' But, amongst the crowd of characters presented, the heart of the noble poet was clearly not with monk or merchant, priest or ploughman, but with the very parfit gentle knight,'
His poems neither were, nor could be, precursors or models in any strict sense for the poets of modern England. Chaucer is the Hesperus of what, in absence of a better term, we must call our Feudal Ages.
The world was changed when poetry reappeared amongst us. A revolution had passed over Europe, almost as striking as that revolution which substituted the rule of the Teutonic races for the Roman, And at that earlier period, in no country was the contrast between old and new so abrupt as in our own. England under Edward III., all things considered, stood highest in arts, arms, and letters in European Christendom. But England under Henry VIII. was, at the moment, below France, Italy, and Germany in literature; and below France, Germany, and Spain in power. For the last time, the far west had to look eastward for the renewal of its civilization. In poetry, as in architecture, what men at first borrowed thus was rather form than substance; and the forms naturally selected in each case were taken from Italy-the only country which, in 1500, supplied living examples of both. The Earl of Surrey-a man of fine genius, though the state of
*We are glad to learn that Messrs. Macmillan are about to publish an Illustrated Life of this great artist, which has been for some time in preparation under the careful and competent editorship of Mr. A. Gilchrist.
our language and literature prevented him from becoming a great poet-like those early travellers who carried home from Athens imperfect drawings from the masterworks of Phidias and Ictinus, brought before his countrymen some resemblance of the grace of Petrarch, some fragments from the art of Virgil and of Horace. Here is a specimen of his art.
'The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
And thus I see among these pleasant things
We have quoted this perhaps familiar sonnet (exceptional to Surrey's general manner in its naturalism), to point out that, whilst imitative on the whole of Petrarch's Zefiro torna,' in the attempt at a closer painting from nature it connects Surrey with our earlier poets, and foreshadows a style which has been since eminently characteristic of English poetry. How rapidly this style was taken up may be seen in a poem published a few years after Surrey's death, and (although we are convinced without foundation) sometimes ascribed to him.
'The restless state of the Lover when absent from the Mistress of his heart. The sun, when he hath spread his rays, The trees, the herbs, the towers strong, And show'd his face ten thousand ways, The castles, and the rivers long! Ten thousand things do then begin The hunter then sounds out his horn, To show the life that they are in. And rangeth straight through wool and corn. [The heaven shows lively art and hue On hills then show the ewe and lamb, Of sundry shapes and colours new, And every young one with his dam. And laughs upon the earth; anon Then lovers walk and tell their tale The earth, as cold as any stone, Both of their bliss and of their bale, Wet in the tears of her own kind, And how they serve, and how they do, 'Gins then to take a joyful mind. And how their lady loves them too. For well she feels that out and out Then tune the birds their harmony, The sun doth warm her right about, Then flock the fowls in company, And dries her children tenderly, Then everything doth pleasure find And shows them forth full orderly. In that, that comforts all their kind. The mountains high, and how they stand! No dreams do drench them of the night The valleys, and the great main land! Of foes, that would them slay or bite,
"As hounds, to hunt them at the tail,
And thus all things have comforting
Nor aught that God hath wrought and done
That she is one of the worthiest,
On thee she speaks, on thee she thinks,
To thee she says full oft, "Good night,”
We have noticed Lord Surrey before Sir T. Wyat; but it is probable that Surrey's rank and early violent death have led critics to invert the influence really exercised over English poetry by these remarkable men. Surrey's epitaph on his friend, praising
The hand that taught what might be said in rhyme,
-marks at least his own opinion: and Wyat's remaining poems exhibit a calm and sustained strength which, we think, no writer possessed between Chaucer and Spenser. It is true that he adopts often those false ornaments of conceit and fantastic idea which are often the besetting sin of genius: that his poetry, like all that of his century (Shakespeare excepted), falls within certain limitations of thought which we shall presently notice; that in grace and lightness he yields to the Elizabethan poets. Any one who will compare his translations from Petrarch with the original, e. g. the translation of the sonnet beginning
'S' una fede amorosa, un cor non finto,'
will see at once how far Wyat is from the celestial grace, the sweet solemnity of his model! Take him, however, on Eng
lish ground, and we shall find many instances of simplicity and seriousness, and many lines of natural elegance: nor must the variety and frequent excellence of the metres which he has tried or invented be overlooked. Wyat, in short, though not of commanding genius, affords clear anticipations of much that in later days was to raise English lyric poetry to its peculiar excellence. We give one specimen of this quality :
'Forget not yet the tried intent
Of such a truth as I have meant;
Forget not yet when first began
Forget not yet the great assays,
Forget not, O, forget not this,
Forget not then thine own approved,
Upon the whole, it must be allowed that the success actually achieved was very moderate before the Faery Queen' first proved modern England capable of a great poem. But before we quit this part of the subject, we must notice the curious fact that the style followed by Wyat and Surrey in the first quarter of the sixteenth century was brought to perfection in Scotland a hundred years Drummond of Hawthornden, a poet little known in proportion to his merits, is in most respects the lineal representative of those early amourists, although his models appear to have been Petrarch and his own contemporaries. His translations, for instance, that of
'Vago augelletto, che cantando vai,'
though not absolutely successful, show a great advance upon Wyat; and here also the poet's original compositions best display his natural force.
'Madrigal. This Life, which seems so fair,
Is like a bubble blown up in the air
By sporting children's breath,
Who chase it everywhere,
And strive who can most motion it bequeath.
And firm to hover in that empty height,
This fine poem, expressing a sentiment which we have noticed as common in the ante-Elizabethan writers, though rarely versified with such skill, may be followed by a sonnet in a still more striking key, and analogous to more than one of those which dye with the deepest tints the pages of Shakespeare's collection.
The World's Way.
Doth then the world go thus, doth all thus move?
Those souls which vice's moody mists most blind,
Ah! if a Providence doth sway this all,
Why should best minds groan under most distress?
Heavens! hinder, stop this fate! or grant a time
There is a common and very natural illusion, by which those who have real interest in any human art attribute to its beginnings a large portion of the glory which surrounds its triumph. More especially has this been exemplified in the case of sculpture and painting. Men look on the groups from Egina, or the frescoes of Assisi and of Pisa, and imagine that the perfect form or the truthful expression of Phidias and of Leonardo were in some way inherent in the heart, if not in the hand, of their predecessors. But, allowing fully that the tentative steps of intelligence upward are more delightful and interesting than the feebleness of declining maturity, we doubt much whether the excellence of any perfect art is implicitly involved in work which is not perfect. The favourite analogy from the vegetable kingdom of bud and flower and falling leaf has very little meaning when applied to successive human creatures. Excellence in all the higher spheres of man's labour is in truth (after the animating influence of high example) so greatly due to simple steady cultivation and experience, to the widening process of the years, and to inherited gifts and graces, that we are rather disposed to expect greater realized merit about the last days of Poetry than about her infancy. Our early poetry, from Chaucer to Spenser, cannot be regarded as an altogether spontaneous effort of the national spirit; in its formation influences not only foreign, but derived from an earlier and in many ways a