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Save I, alas! whom care, of force, doth so constrain
And when I hear the sound of song or instrument
Very different, however, is the tone of really wounded affection in the elegiac pieces commemorating Surrey's friend Wyatt; he
That reft Chaucer the glory of his wit. Our literature, in the three centuries and a half since, has little of such condensed praise, at once so manly and so tender. The pure voice of Nature speaks throughout this short poem ; it is hence, also, purely English ; hardly a word or a turn of thought obsolete. Its simplicity, and freedom both from exaggeration and mannerism, place it at once above elegies to which art and ornament have given much greater celebrity ; and few at twenty-five have written so well.
Surrey's Vergilian translation, according to Hallam, is the earliest introduction of “blank verse
into our poetry. The narrative is admirably presented, and there is a charm in the simple closeness of the version by virtue of which Surrey is nearer Vergil than most of his later translators. The metre, as must naturally occur in a first experiment, wants modulation. Of attempt to render or to replace the exquisite touches of the original, the Maronian magic, there is no sign. But who, indeed, in that field has ever succeeded ? who without folly may hope for success ?
A truly wonderful achievement, this little book, for the few and distracted years of the writer,--and the scaffold before him as his sovereign's reward for loyal service ! Surrey's work has the best spirit of chivalry, —even beyond Sidney's, beyond Spenser's, deeply tainted as at least the latter is by Elizabethan servility. Surrey's rejection of trivial phrases; his power, whilst preserving simplicity, never to drop into the prosaic, his use of classical and Italian poetry not in the mere ornamental manner of most Renaissance writers, made him a natural model in style; and whilst these merits explain the many editions of his poems which rapidly followed that of 1557 (eight are enumerated by 1587), this popularity, we may fairly add, does great credit to the taste of his countrymen.
Sir Thomas Wyatt, a man at least thirteen years senior to Surrey (died 1542), spent most of his life also in the public service, and was only known by publication in the Tottel's Miscellany of 1557, where his poems follow his friend Surrey's. Wyatt's work (the actual date of which, as of Surrey's, can hardly ever be given), is often more primitive in style; the Sonnets especially have greatly the air of early imitations from Petrarch, though in reading them it is best not to remember the originals. A lighter touch appears in the Rondeaux; a more modern rhythm ; these little poems, although somewhat monotonous, rise at times to a great elegance in the simple expression of feeling. Here also Wyatt displays considerable power in satire ; his love (or loves) have little of Surrey's sweet ideality. Wyatt, to use a modern phrase, is in every way more “realistic" than his friend ; his passion has not the disinterested character of Sidney's chivalrous temperament. His satirical epistles, on the other hand, have more irony, knowledge of mankind, and point: the language is remarkably clear and direct, and the verse in general free from archaic rudeness. His “best poem in this style,” says Hallam, " is a very close imitation of the tenth Satire of Alamanni”: published in 1532.
But it is in the Odes that Wyatt, perhaps less hampered by foreign models, reaches his highest quality as a poet; and in these his skilful use of the refrain is especially noteworthy. What has been said of Surrey's style, in point of simplicity and clearness, applies to Wyatt's; the main difference being that he is less influenced by Renaissance elegance; he pushes absence of ornament to baldness; the one writes as an able man of the world, the other as the forerunner of Sidney Hence the English didactic element, the seriousness of the race, becomes too prominent in Wyatt : his Odes have an elegiac rather than a lyrical movement. These characteristics were easier to seize than Surrey's ; and we accordingly find Wyatt's style largely reproduced in the other numerous poems contained in Tottel (1557), and in that other early authority, the Paradise of Dainty Devises; which, though published in 1576, seems to represent in general, not the movement which was headed by Spenser and Watson, but that which began with Wyatt and Surrey.
It is noteworthy that, in case of these two poets, as afterwards of Sidney, whilst we have some record of their active life, and letters from them regarding their public careers, not one syllable (so far as I have been able to ascertain) relating to their literary aims and studies can be discovered. To this melancholy dearth of that information which we are most anxious to possess I shall return hereafter. Here I notice that as we have evidence from his official letters that Wyatt was in Barcelona (accredited Ambassador to Charles V) twice during the year 1538, there is reasonable ground for supposing that he may have there met with the Barcelonese poet Boscan, who, according to Bouterwek,) was then residing in honour and court-favour at his birthplace. As Boscan did for the poetry of Spain precisely what Surrey mainly, but Wyatt also in his degree, did for English poetry,—naturalizing Italian Renaissance models, strenuous to follow classical form, writing lyrics and Horatian epistles,—the parallelism between the two men is very close, and suggests that they may probably at least have met as friends on the ground of intellectual sympathy. Boscan's poetry was published about the time of his death, in 1543.
Space does not allow me here to examine closely these invaluable Canzonieri,* which, with the later and more distinctly Elizabethan anthologies, would form a body of early poetry no way beneath their Italian predecessors, if our collectors had not, as a rule, excluded two or three of the greatest poets from their pages. But I may note that Grimald, in Tottel's
* Tottel's (1557) has been reprinted by Chalmers and by Mr. Arber; and reprints, more or less accessible, of the Paradise (1576), the Phænix Nest (1593), the Helicon (1600), the Rhapsody (1602), exist.
book, worthily accompanies Surrey in his sweet and musical directness of phrase, his simple and genuine expression of feeling. The "Garden" shows that lively sense of its charm in which Englishmen have rarely been wanting ; yet here there is little selection as yet of idea and phrase ; and, as one often notes in early description, little sign of close study from Nature. But the pedantry of immature and commonplace classical allusion often intervenes in Grimald and his contemporaries; they are only novices, as yet, in the school of the Renaissance. And much the same may be said, in general, of Edwards, the principal contributor to the Paradise, Lord Oxford, Lord Vaux, and others: graceful and tender pieces are not wanting ; but on the whole a tone of melancholy moralization prevails ; we feel the heavy and storm-broken atmosphere of England under Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth's first regnal years.* The old alliterative element of our poetry is also often unpleasantly prominent; the aid it lends is anything but artful ; the metres almost without exception a re forms of Iambic, often disposed in lines of somewhat oppressive length, a source of heaviness in effect which the skill of Surrey disguises. Rarely have we any lightly-pacing stanza, such as Tottel offers in the Paradise—the rhymes follow our present accentuation, the peculiar form of forced final accent which Spenser revived, with unsatisfactory effect, from Chaucer, being avoided. On the
*“Whatever be the subject,” says Hallam, "a tone of sadness reigns through this misnamed Paradise of Daintiness, as it does through all the English poetry of this particular age. It seems as if the confluence of the poetic melancholy of the Petrarchists with the reflective seriousness of the Reformation overpowered the lighter sentiments of the soul.”