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the merit of these lines more apparent to the inexperienced reader, by slightly modernizing the orthography; but we had rather the gentle lineaments of Griseldis should dawn upon him from the painting of Chaucer, and a very few minutes of contemplation will be sufficient. Happy should we be if any exhortations of ours could send pilgrims to the Well of English Undefiled: its waters will act like a mental tonic upon nerves relaxed by the melo-dramatic excitement of modern literature. As a descriptive poet, he has the same freshness we are delighted with in Homer; the sylvan glades open to the golden day in his verse; his morning landscapes, in particular, glow luxuriance; you
hear the lark salute the gray;” and behold the “ silver droppis hanging on the leves," until the sun climbs into his meridian glory, and
“All the orient laugheth at the sight.”
with a sunny
With these delicious flushes of colouring, he combined a very opposite talent; he puts his own figures into his pictures, drawn after the life, and representing every variety of physiognomy. Of all our poets, Shakspeare alone enjoyed a wider versatility of manner. His sublimity has the quality mentioned by Longinus; it is brief, vivid, energetic: his simplicity is of Nature; his pathos of Truth.
In the humbler strain of Gower, a vein of thoughtfulness and reflection is also present, which obtained for him the title of Moral Gower. Thus Painter, in his “ Palace of Pleasure,” praises him—
“ As Morall Gower whose sentencious dewe
Adowne reflareth with fair golden beames,
Of moral vertue." But Gower wanted the embalming power of genius. Who would imagine, from a perusal of the “ Confessio Amantis” and the “ Canterbury Tales,” that they were written by contemporary authors ? Chaucer composed a language of his own, sweetened with the music of the south; while Gower adopted, without alteration or improvement, the harsh barbarisms of his age. Thus, though in a different sense from its original application, we may apply to him Ben Jonson's remark upon Donne; he has perished through not being understood. Gower is supposed to have been a fellow-student in the Temple with Chaucer, who mentions him in the concluding book of “ Troilus and Creseide," that affecting story which received the praise of Sidney, and kindled the imagination of Shakspeare. The 6 sentencious dewe” which Painter commends in Gower, has always distinguished the early poetry of every nation. Quintillian speaks of the Latin poets, the founders of the Roman drama, as clarissimi gravitate sententiarum. Gray remarks that nearly all the ideas of the Greeks respecting their mythology were borrowed from the poets. The didactic verse of Euripides suggested to many
the assistance of Socrates; and the moral manner of Pindar has been most happily characterised by Lord Bacon,-Animos hominum sententiolâ aliquá mirabili, veluti virgulâ divinâ, percutit.
We cannot pass over this period of our history without mentioning the Miracle Plays, or mysteries, which continued until the reign of Henry VI., and the Moralities which, after subsisting to the nineteenth century, were lost in the legitimate drama. Of the Miracle Plays, three separate series exist,—the Chester, the Towneley, and the Coventry,--some of which have undergone a careful analysis by Mr. Payne Collyer, in his History of Dramatic Poetry, and more recently by a writer in Lardner's Cyclopedia. “ Nothing, indeed,” says the last writer, “could exceed the delight with which our ancestors witnessed the representation of Miracle Plays. They seem to have been customary in the great festivals of the Church, when the people were suffered to escape from the labours and cares of life. Allusions to them abound in Chaucer, Gower, and Shakspeare. Thus Chaucer makes his “ Wife of Bath amuse herself with such shows during Lent; and in describing the theatric taste of a priest, he says,
• He placeth Herod on a scaffold high.'"
But however interesting in an antiquarian view an analysis of these strange compositions may be, our readers would derive no gratification from the attempt. It is, indeed, difficult to imagine how such combinations of licentious fancy and daring paraphrases and accommodations of Scripture, could have been tolerated, much less listened to, even in the fourteenth century; yet we read that about that period an application was made to Richard II. by the choristers and scholars of St. Paul's, beseeching him “ to prohibit some ignorant persons from performing a series of historical plays taken from the Old Testament,” assigning as a reason the money expended by the clergy of that church in preparing their own exhibition for the coming Christmas.
Towards the close of the reign of Henry VIII. learning took rapid strides; the British Muse, by contemplating her features in the transparent streams of Grecian literature, awoke to a livelier sense of her wants and defects; Music and Painting, her Sister Graces, grew into maturer beauty ; the melody of Petrarch's lute was breathed from the lips of Surrey; and the horizon began to kindle with the approaching dawn. At this period a revolution occurred which diverted the popular mind from its accustomed channels, and conducted it to fountains purer and more grateful than ever flowed in the gardens of Italy or Greece. The Reformation infused a new life into our literature, enriching the language, elevating the imagination, stimulating the invention, and chastening the fancy. Who can tell how much of the sublimity and richness of our early literature is attributable to the unsealing of the Sacred Book! Its influence was at first, indeed, productive of no literary excellence. Warton speaks without sufficient seriousness of the “infection of sacred song” which reached England from the continent. To this period we are to assign that well-known version of the Psalms by Sternhold and Hopkins, which was the first used in our Church, and still exists a model of bad versification and uninspired minstrelsy. Sternhold filled an official situation at the court of Henry VIII., and though we ought not to expect from any writer of that age a very high excellence of style, it seems difficult to comprehend the lifelessness to which he reduced the sublimity of the Psalms, especially when we recollect that Surrey and Wyatt had already improved our language. Let the reader compare the following verses in the Psalms with Sternhold's translation:
"O God! when thou wentest forth before the people, when thou wentest through the wilderness; the earth shook, and the heavens dropped at the presence of God, even as Sinai also was moved at the presence of God, who is the God of Israel. Thou, O God, sentedst a gracious rain upon thine inheritance, and refreshedst it when it was weary. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels; and the Lord is among them as in the holy place of Sinai.”
" When thou didst march before thy folk,
The Egyptians from among,
Which was both wide and long :
Heard were great claps of thunder ;
As it would cleave in sunder.
Abundantly was washt,
By thee it was refresht."
By what mental process the magnificence of the sacred imagery could thus be debased into senseless rhymes, we cannot comprehend; the very rare instances in which better success attends his labours, are those in which he transferred the scriptural language, almost without the change of a word, as in the following wellknown stanzas ::
« The Lord descended from above,
And bowde the heavens high,
The darkness of the sky.
Full royallie he rode,
Came flying all abrode."
We should not have dwelt so long upon the character of Sternhold, if the length of time during which his version of the Psalms has maintained its place in our public worship had not lent it an air of interest and importance. To this period belong the compositions of Hunnis, William Baldwyn, the version of the Psalms by Archbishop Parker, (who, in the eighteenth Psalm, has given proof of poetical feeling,) and the adventurous attempt of Christopher Tye, who actually put the Acts of the Apostles into metre, which were sung in the chapel of Edward VI., of which he was, we believe, the organist. The folly of the design seems to have been apparent even in that day. We will not protract these remarks upon a band of religious rhymers, who, in the words of Warton, from principles of the most unfeigned piety laboured to darken the lustre and enervate the force of the divine pages. Our own times can show authors equally wellintentioned and equally unhappy in their endeavours. Such productions do not belong to a survey of religious song, properly so called; but, as the historian of our poetry has observed, the absurdities, as well as the excellencies of the human mind, claim our regard ; nor is it unpleasing to contemplate and to trace those strange incongruities, and false ideas of perfection, which, at various times, either affectation, or caprice, or fashion, or opinion, or prejudice, or ignorance, or enthusiasm, present to the conceptions of men in the shape of truth. They are also deeply interesting, as furnishing us with the means of estimating the improvements introduced into the language by succeeding writers. We shall better appreciate the “ Paradise Lost” when we have read “ A Handful of Honeysuckles," by Hunnis.
The reign of Mary was a season of darkness and sorrow; literature was overcast, and the Muse seemed to have departed from the scene of horror and dismay. But genius of the highest order is independent of outward circumstances, and can retire, as it were, into itself from the tumult of the world. The noblest works are those which have been produced in times of the greatest peril and excitement. “ The age of Pericles and of the Peloponnesian War was the same.” The hand that traced the glowing scenes of the Persae and the “Seven against Thebes" had wielded the sword at Salamis and Platæa; the poet of the Inferno was the warrior of Campidoglio; amid the fearful contest for the dominion of the world, Lucretius poured out his lofty strains of philosophic meditation, and Virgil woke with even a sweeter lip the Doric reed of Theocritus. So it was in our own country, that during the murderous life of Mary a poem was planned and partially completed which illuminates the dreary interval between Surrey and Spenser. We refer to the “Mirrour for Magistrates " by Sackville, better known as Lord Buckhurst. In this poem he proposed to embrace a review of all the illustrious and unfortunate characters in English history, from the Conquest to the end of the fourteenth century. Each individual was to relate his misfortunes in a distinct soliloquy, and the work was to be embellished by the interspersion of tragedies written by Sackville, who, in Gorboduc, had furnished the first regular tragedy in our language. But he had not proceeded beyond the Induction, or the Legend of the Earl of Stafford, when he relinquished the task to Richard Baldwyne and George Ferrers, who, with the aid of Churchyard and Phaer, names not unknown to our poetry, carried on the work. But Sackville's mantle did not fall upon his successors.
Had he persisted in his original plan, we might have boasted a Divine Comedy of our own, not, indeed, so gigantic or impressive as that which overshadowed the soul of Dante, but full of stern and terrific tableaux, and alive with all the grotesque sublimity of that immortal painter. Like him, too, he was to descend into the Regions of Death, with Sorrow for his guide, as Dante had taken Virgil. Warton observes, that although a descent into hell had been suggested by other poets, the application of such a fiction to the present design is a conspicuous proof of genius and invention. The opening is noble and picturesque; the poet, walking in the fields and moralizing upon the vanity of life, at length quickens his pace at the approach of night, when on a sudden the form of SORROW meets his eye. With this companion, who is powerfully described, he visits the place of punishment and happiness. The celebrated scene in the sixth book of the Æneid is here recalled to the memory, but Sackville has expanded the romance of Virgil into a Gothic wildness and extravagance. His impersonations of Remorse, Dread, Revenge, Misery, Care, Sleep
Heavy Sleep, the cousin of death ". Old Age, Malady, Famine, and War, are dashed off with a sweep and amplitude of imagination which have hardly been equalled by the happiest touches of Spenser. We know not where to seek, from Æschylus to Milton, for any picture more thrilling or original than the following :
“ Lastly stood War in glittering arms 'yclad,
With visage grim, stern-look'd, and blackly-hued ;
He razed towns, and threw down towers, and all.” These lines remind us of Chaucer's picture of Mars, with his glittering standard. From Sackville to Spenser the transition is easy and natural; he both imitated his allegorical manner, and commemorated with becoming enthusiasm his “learned Muse”