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There seems a reference to Chaucer in the wording of the following lines
“ Then saw I how he smiled with slaying knife
Wrapp'd under cloke, then saw I deep deceit
Sir Philip Sidney says of this tragedy: “ Gorboduc is full of stately speeches, and well sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality; which it doth most delightfully teach, and thereby obtain the very end of poetry.” And Mr. Pope, whose taste in such matters was very different from Sir Philip Sidney's, says in still stronger terms: “ That the writers of the succeeding age might have improved as much in other respects, by copying from him a propriety in the sentiments, an unaffected perspicuity of style, and an easy flow in the numbers. In a word, that chastity, correctness, and gravity of style, which are so essential to tragedy, and which all the tragic poets who followed, not excepting Shakespear himself, either little understood, or perpetually neglected.” It was well for us and them that they did so!
The Induction to the Mirrour for Magistrates
* “ The smiler with the knife under liis cloke."
does his Muse more credit. It sometimes reminds one of Chaucer, and at others seems like an anticipation, in some degree, both of the measure and manner of Spenser. The following stanzas may give the reader an idea of the merit of this old poem, which was published in 1563.
“By him lay heauie Sleepe cosin of Death
Flat on the ground, and still as any stone,
Of high renowne, but as a liuing death,
The bodies rest, the quiet of the hart,
Without respect esteeming equally
And next in order sad Old Age we found,
His vitall thred, and ended with their knife
There heard we him with broke and hollow plaint
With sweete remembrance of his pleasures past,
Recounting which, how would he sob and shreek?
And to be yong againe of Ioue beseeke.
Had brought on him, all were it woe and griefe,
He might a while yet linger forth his life, And not so soone descend into the pit: Where Death, when he the mortall corps hath slaine, With wretchlesse hand in graue doth couer it, Thereafter neuer to enioy againe The gladsome light, but in the ground ylaine,
In depth of darknesse waste and weare to nought, As he had nere into the world been brought. ,
But who had seene him, sobbing how he stood
This wretched Age should life desire so faine,
And knowes ful wel life doth but length his paine. Crookebackt he was, toothshaken, and blere eyde, Went on three feete, and sometime crept on foure, With old lame bones, that ratled by his side, His scalpe all pild, and he with eld forelore : His withred fist still knocking at Deaths dore,
Fumbling and driueling as he drawes his breath, For briefe, the shape and messenger of Death."
John Lyly (born in the Weold of Kent about the year 1553), was the author of Midas and Endymion, of Alexander and Campaspe, and of the comedy of Mother Bombie. Of the last it may be said, that it is very much what its name would import, old, quaint, and vulgar.-—I may here observe, once for all, that I would not be understood to say, that the age of Elizabeth was all of gold without any alloy. There was both gold and lead in it, and often in one and the same writer. In our impatience to form an opinion, we conclude, when we first meet with a good thing, that it is owing to the age; or,
if we meet with a bad one, it is characteristic of the age, when, in fact, it is neither; for there are good and bad in almost all ages, and one age excels in one thing, another in another :-only one age may excel more and in higher things than another, but none can excel equally and completely in all. The writers of Elizabeth, as poets, soared to the height they did, by indulging their own unrestrained enthusiasm : as comic writers, they chiefly copied the manners of the age, which did not give them the same advantages over their successors. Lyly's comedy, for instance, is “ poor, unfledged, has never winged from view o'th' nest," and tries in vain to rise above the ground with crude conceits and clumsy levity. Lydia, the heroine of the piece, is silly
enough, if the rest were but as witty. But the author has shewn no partiality in the distribution of his gifts. To say truth, it was a very common fault of the old comedy, that its humours were too low, and the weaknesses exposed too great to be credible, or an object of ridicule, even if they
The affectation of their courtiers is passable, and diverting as a contrast to present manners; but the eccentricities of their clowns
very tolerable, and not to be endured.” Any kind of activity of mind might seem to the writers better than' none : any nonsense served to amuse their hearers; any cant phrase, any coarse allusion, any pompous absurdity, was taken for wit and drollery. Nothing could be too mean, too foolish, too improbable, or too offensive, to be a proper subject for laughter. Any one (looking hastily at this side of the question only) might be tempted to suppose the youngest children of Thespis a very callow brood, chirping their slender notes, or silly swains
grating their lean and flashy jests on scrannel pipes of wretched straw.” The genius of comedy looked too often like a lean and hectic pantaloon; love was a slip-shod shepherdess ; wit a parti-coloured fool like Harlequin, and the plot came hobbling, like a clown, after all. A string of impertinent and farcical jests (or rather blunders), was with great formality ushered into