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of unity; although some of the scenes and figures are inspired with the poet's warmest glow of fancy.*
THE MINOR POETS OF THE TIME.
5. Our file of Non-Dramatic poets from this age, beginning with the name of Spenser, will end with that of Milton. Between these two men, there were none whose genius can fairly be held equal to that of the minor play-writers. The drama would, though
* EDMUND SPENSER.
From “ The Faerie Queene."
1. UNA DESERTED BY THE RED-CROSS KNIGHT.
Yet she, most faithful Lady, all this while
Forsaken, -woeful, solitary maid,
In wilderness and wasteful deserts strayed,
Had her abandoned :-She, of nought afraid,
From her unhasty beast she did alight;
In secret shadow, far from all men's sight:
From her fair head her fillet she undight,
As the great eye of heaven shined bright,
And made a sunshine in the shady place:
A ramping lion rushëd suddenly,
Soon as the Royal Virgin he did spy,
With gaping mouth at her ran greedily,
But, to the prey when as he drew more nigh,
And lick’d her lily hands, with fawning tongue,
Oh, bow can Beauty master the most strong,
And simple Truth subdue Avenging Wrong!
Still dreading death when she had markëd long,
Shakspeare's works were withdrawn, be the kind of poetry, for the sake of which the time of Elizabeth and her next successors is most worthy of admiration.
Yet the non-dramatic poetry of those two or three generations not only was abundant, but contains many specimens possessing very great excellence. Indeed the merit of the drama is a guarantee for merit here. For the same poets generally laboured in both fields; and the truth is, that the prevailing fashion, which drew away the most imaginative men to write for the stage, produced not a few indifferent dramas, whose authors might have been eminent in other walks if they had confined themselves to them.
In endeavouring to form a general notion of the large mass of literary works here lying before us, we find ourselves to be embarrassed by the remarkable variety of forms which poetry took, and in many of which also the same poet exerted himself by turns. Thus Shakspeare and Jonson, best known as dramatists, were successful writers of lyrical and other poems : Drayton and Daniel, remembered now, if at all, for their non-dramatic poems, possessed in their own day no small note as play-writers. Drayton, again, if we look beyond his plays, wrote poems belonging to almost every one of the kinds which will immediately be enumerated.
We require to classify, but cannot easily find a principle. One which is somewhat famous must be discarded at once, but, being instructive, should be described. It is that according to which
II. ANGELS WATCHING OVER MANKIND.
And is there care in heaven, and is there love
In heavenly spirits to these creatures base,
There is :-else much more wretched were the case
Of men than beasts: But, oh! the exceeding grace
And all his works with mercy doth embrace;
How oft do they their silver bowërs leave,
To come to succour us that succour want!
The flitting skies, like flying pursuivant,
Against foul fiends to aid us militant!
And their bright squadrons round about us plant;
Samuel Johnson classed together, under the title of Metaphysical, a large number of the poets of James's reign and the following generation, beginning the list with Donne, and closing it with Cowley. “These were such as laboured after conceits, or novel turns of thought, usually false, and resting upon some equivocation of language or exceedingly remote analogy.” This is just a description of that corrupt taste towards which our English poets leant throughout the first half of the seventeenth century, and which had had its beginning even earlier; a taste, likewise, which affected prose literature deeply, and which we have seen hurting especially the eloquence of the pulpit. It would be impossible to name any poet of the time, in whose writings symptoms of it could not be traced. The only distinction we could draw is, between those who gave way to it only occasionally, (like Shakspeare, whose besetting sin it was,) and those who indulged in it purposely and incessantly, holding its manifestations indeed to be their finest strokes of art. The disease had doubtless travelled from Italy: but it was naturalized as early as Lyly, assuming only some peculiarities which suited it for diffusion in its new climate.
6. All the poetical works of that age, whose authors demand our acquaintance, may be distributed into Seven Classes, which, though the distinctions between them are not quite exact, may easily be kept apart from each other. They are these : the Metrical Translations; those Narrative Poems whose themes may be described as Historical; the Descriptive Poems; the Pastorals; the Satires; the Didactic Poems; and the Lyrics.
The earliest of the Translations, worthless as poems, exerted perhaps greater influence than the more meritorious works which followed. They were the means of kindling, more widely than it would otherwise have spread, that mixed spirit of classicism and chivalry which breathes through so much of the Elizabethan poetry. This doubtful praise was earned, in the early part of the queen's reign, by several attempts which were alluded to when we began to study the literature of this great period. Translations from the Italian, both in prose and verse, showed themselves as early, and furnished stories to Shakspeare; and others from the French were yet more common.
We do not discover in those efforts any thing deserving to be called poetry, till we reach the translations of Marlowe, from Ovid, Lucan, and the pseudo-Musæus. An undertaking still bolder was that of the dramatist Chapman, who, beginning in 1596, published at length an entire translation of the Iliad into English Alexandrines. This work, spirited and poetical, but rough and
incorrect, was not ill described by Pope when he said, that it was such an Iliad as Homer might have written before he came to years of discretion. The Odyssey followed from the same pen. Among the translations from the great poets of Italy, Harrington's Orlando Furioso deserves notice only as having just followed the Faerie Queene. Fairfax's Tasso, published in 1600, has been called by a modern poet one of the glories of Elizabeth's reign. It is equally poetical, accurate, and good in style: and no modern work can contest with it the honour of being still our best version of the Jerusalem Delivered. Sandys' Metamorphoses of Ovid, and his Metrical Translations from Scripture, are poetically pleasing; and they have a merit in diction and versification which has been acknowledged thankfully by later poets.
7. Poems of that second kind, which our list has called Historical Narratives, were the most ambitious of the original compositions. But, though all that are worth remembering came after Spenser, none of them attempted to recreate his world of allegoric and chivalrous wonders. Nor was this by any means the most successful walk of the art.
The favourite topics, besides a few religious ones, were Classical stories, which were treated frequently, or passages from English history, which were still more common, and were often dealt with in avowed imitation or continuation of the old Mirror of Magistrates. In the former class, the most striking are two youthful poems of Shakspeare, the Lucrece, and the Venus and Adonis; pieces morally equivocal in tone, but characteristically beautiful in sentiment and imagery. Of the extracts from the national history, there are not a few which were very celebrated. Daniel's series of poems from the Wars of the Roses, is soft and pleasing in details, but verbose and languid. Drayton's "Barons' Wars,” and “England's Heroical Epistles,” are much more interesting, and in many passages both touching and imaginative; but in neither of them is there shown a just conception of the poet's prerogative of idealizing the actual. The good taste of our own time has rescued from forgetfulness two interesting poems of this class : Chamberlayne's Pharonnida;" and the "Thealma and Clearchus,” which Walton published as the work of an unknown poet named Chalkhill. Several others must be left quite unnoticed: and this series may be closed with the vigorous fragment of “Gondibert,” by the dramatist Sir William Davenant.
But different from all these were the religious poems composed by the two brothers Fletcher, cousins of the dramatic writer. “The Purple Island” of the younger brother, Phineas, is the nearest thing we have to an imitation of Spenster; but it
b. ab. 1580. d. 1623.
is hardly worthy of its fame. It is an undisguised and wearisome allegory, symbolizing all parts and functions both of man's body and of his mind; and it is redeemed only by the poetical spirit
given us one of the most beautiful religious poems in any language, animated in narrative, lively in fancy, and touching in feeling. Over-abundant it is, doubtless, in allegory; but the interest is wonderfully well sustained in spite of this. It is a narrative, which reminds us of Milton, and with which Milton was familiar, of the redemption of man; and its four parts are joined together under the common title of “ Christ's Victory and Triumphs."*
8. Not easily distinguishable from our last kind of poems, in some points, are the Pastorals, a kind of composition which probably gave birth, early in the seventeenth century, to a larger array of attractive passages of verse than any other. From
* GILES FLETCHER.
From “ Christ's Victory in Heaven.”
Smoothing the wrinkles of her Father's brow,
As when a vapour from a moory slough,
Meeting with fresh Eoüs, that but now
Doth heav'n's bright face of his rays disarray,
She was a virgin of austere regard;
Not, as the world esteems her, deaf and blind;
Her eye with heav'n's, so and more brightly shined
Her lamping sight; for she the same could wind
The silence of the thought loud-speaking hears;
No riot of affection revel kept
Within her breast; but a still apathy
Securely, without tempest: no sad cry
Awakes her pity: but wrong'd poverty,
With hideous clamours ever struck her ears,