Sayfadaki görseller
PDF
ePub

The nearest exceptions, however, to the above remarks will be found in Gifford's Posie, which, though published in 1580, may, in his editor's opinion, represent work of the previous twenty years. Here we have a humorous tale, reminding one in substance of Chaucer and other old fabulists, of much spirit and liveliness; and (in a higher vein of poetry) a spirited address to the Soldiers of the day, which has a direct and practical air very unusual in the writings of the time. In these pieces, and in several charming addresses to lady-loves or friends, Gifford has the modern character which I shall notice in the following poets, whilst in point of tenderness, grace and inventive fancy, he stands much above thein. But Gifford, even more than Watson, (afterwards to be characterized, does not appear to have reached the popularity due to his merits in his own age.

Having, above, briefly noticed those writers who, as the first creators of our renewed poetry, possess an interest altogether special and peculiar, I shall with even more brevity review those who intervene, and who were the representatives of the art during Spenser's youth. Turbervile, whose volume of miscellaneous poems appeared in 1567 and 1570, strikes us at first by his singular modernness : his style, metres, language might be the commonplace of our own, or indeed of any age. He maintains a facile literary level through his long and, it must be owned, often tedious pieces, whilst his predecessors rarely attempt more than brief Aights ; in this respect only giving evidence of literary advance, for Turbervile wants alike the depth and seriousness of the earlier writers, and the charm and imaginative beauty which we associate with the Elizabethan period. Turbervile further marks increasing culture in his translation of Ovid's Heroides (1567). The best piece I have found in him is the rendering of the Asterie epigram ascribed to Plato:

My Girl, thou gazest much upon the golden skies:
Would I were Heaven, I would behold thee then with

all mine eyes! With Turbervile, who “scarcely ventures to leave the ground," we may join Tusser. His Points of Good Husbandrie (1557) are homely precepts expressed in lively metre. Once popular, they now deserve note here only as showing the extension of literary activity into a practical field of common life; they speak of a wider class of readers than those whom Surrey or Edwards would have found.

George Gascoigne's Hundred Flowers, published in 1572, were, however, as his Preface notes, the “ Posies and rimes” of his youth, and may date during the ten years following 1554. This miscellaneous collection appears to be more original in its sources than the title-page, which puts forward translations from Euripides, Ovid, Petrarch, and Ariosto, prepares us to expect: and there is no strong impress of the Renaissance movement upon his allusions or his style. Amongst the numerous love-poems the "Arraignment” is a bright and neatly written allegory; and others show a musical fluency which, as with Turbervile, is in a certain sense more modern than the deeply-inwoven harmonies of Spenser, or Shakespeare in his lyrical work. Other pieces are in the moralizing vein of the older anthologies. The “ Mask devised for Lord Mountacute contains a rather

• Hallam : Part II., ch. v.

vigorous description of the Battle of Lepanto in fourteensyllable metre, which is a kind of prelude to such narratives as we afterwards find in Drayton and others. But the "Fruites of Warre” and other long pieces of this miscellany are tedious and commonplace.

Gascoigne's Steele Glas (1576) has the credit of being “the earliest instance of English satire.” * Beginning with a rather pretentious allegory on the birth of satire, the “Glas" professes to image the world as it is. But though we have here many curious details of the time, set forth in clear, simple language, and a flowing though monotonous blank-verse, it does not seem to me to show any real insight into its tooambitious subject, and the style rarely rises above prose.

Several translations, including one from the Phænissa, described by Warton as full of paraphrase and omission, are also due to Gascoigne. It is, in fact, this wide range of matter which renders him noteworthy in the gradual development of our poetry: he attempts, in a commonplace way, much of what the next generation was destined to accomplish.

The last place in this little survey I have reserved for Sackville's Induction or Prologue to the Mirror of Magistrates (published, according to Sir E. Brydges, not before 1563), which, in Hallam's phrase, “in the first days of Elizabeth's reign, is the herald of the splendour in which it was to close.” The gloom and grandeur of this piece places Sackville alone amongst the writers who, here and in Scotland, had preceded him in trying the difficult path of allegory,

• Hallam: Part II., ch. v.

and it is natural to suppose that Spenser was influenced in youth by so signal a display of vividness and power. In the seriousness and darkness of its atmosphere, the strange and gigantic forms which people it, this brief poem recalls the designs with which, not long before, Michel Angelo had vaulted the Sistine, and might be termed the consummation of that cast of thought which I have noticed in the writers who lived during the revolutions of that bad period which extends from the middle of Henry the Eighth's reign to the close of Mary's. Sackville's metre (the noble Rhyme Royal of Chaucer) and his diction seem to me of an intentionally antique quality ; but the sustained majesty of his style, the closeness in thought and in imagery, are his own.

Sackville stands single in his strength among the writers of Spenser's youth, and preludes to him more clearly than any other since Chaucer. Putting him aside, I may sum up the result of the preceding essay thus :We have first a period of true Renaissance impulse in its best sense in Surrey and those who worked in his manner. But the range of poetry attempted is narrow : the chief value of the work done lies in its grace, its elegance of form, its simple and incisive language. These high qualities then fade away: what follows is an epoch of fluency and variety of aim, whilst the style assumes a distinctively modern character, which is partly aided by the singular deficiency in imaginative power exhibited. The twilight is past: the hour is here for the auroral splendour of Spenser and his contemporaries.

II. GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO “THE SHEPHEARDES

CALENDER.”

1579-80. THAT side of Spenser's work for the advance of our literature which lay rather in the form than the matter, rather in showing his contemporaries how to deal with language and metre, how to give symmetry and unity, how to use foreign models, new or old, than in creating poems of intense and enduring interest on their own account, is most fully exhibited in the Calender. It is at once the ante-room to his own glorious palace of poetry, and to that which, from Shakespeare to Milton, was created by the first and greatest group of the modern master-singers of England. Dating the age of conscious Renaissance among us from 1490 or 1500, the first fruits of its poetry (as my preceding sketch has noticed), during the fifty years before 1580, gave a sair number of single pieces which in simplicity of style, in depth of thought, in expression of natural feeling, occasionally in melody of words, equal or surpass Spenser's production But "the strength of an eagle," as Hallam remarks, when comparing Sackville with Spenser, “is not to be measured only by the height of his place, but by the time that he continues on the wing”; and the Calender, as Spenser's latest and best biographer truly observes, proves that “at the age of twenty-seven Spenser had realized an idea of English poetry far in advance of anything which his age had yet conceived or seen.'

• Dean Church : ch. ii.

« ÖncekiDevam »