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Art. IX.-Pithy, Pleasant, and Profitable Workes of Maister

Skelton, Poet Laureate to Henry VIII.

Britannicarum Literarum lumen et decus.

Erasmi Epist. ad Hen. VIII.

London, 1736.

There are many cogent reasons for not pursuing the order of time in these our notices of the authors of ages gone by. One, among others, is,--that such an arrangement would lose us many a good critique ; for we should only be able to accept the offers of those who had chosen a subject suited in time as well as in subject. For our readers must not imagine that we are some particular few who devote ourselves to the studies necessary for establishing and adorning a work of this kind, and who might just as well commence at the beginning as well as any where else, and thus pioneer our way through all the rubbish of antiquity, and arrive at the remarkable and the interesting by regular approaches. This mode has been recommended to us by more than one kind anonymous friend, but such individuals have however mistaken the nature of our constitution. They who will cast an eye over our contents, and give but a peep into the various styles of writing, and different modes of thinking, in our volumes, will readily perceive that we are not a body organized in the most regular fashion; and that we by no means proceed on any settled and determinate plan. A great number of our articles have been written by those who had a decided partiality for the author they were reviewing, whose beauties had long been intimately known to them, and had often, perhaps, afforded a consolation and a resource. While this circumstance may give somewhat of an eulogical character to our work, it assures a vivid feeling and relish for the subject, and very frequently a spirit in the expression, and delight in the analysis of it, which we may, with boldness, contrast to the lifelessness which the necessity of proceeding in a regular chronological series would have necessarily produced. In our literary and friendly intercourse, it is no uncommon occurrence to meet with lovers of old English books : amongst these, we almost invariably find each has some two or three favourites. The temptation of spreading the fame of a dear but antiquated and, perhaps, obscure friend; of dwelling upon his character; retracing the source of the pleasure he has felt in his society; and dragging into light those hidden and secret virtues, only known to

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himself; is generally too much for him who has a real attachment; and he, at length, yields to gracing our pages with as accurate a portrait as his art and zeal will permit him to take. In this kind we may instance the papers on the Memoirs of a Cavalier, by Defoe; and the 'Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney ; which never could have been written without a sincere and ardent love of the subject, which a wading and plodding up to them in regular succession must have damped or destroyed. Besides, we have long tasks in the performance of our duty, which cannot fail to be attended with some portion of weariness and disgust; so that, unless we were privileged to light now and then upon a flower, though not in the beaten path, we should be inclined to throw up our labours at once. We may add, that an attention to chronological order would have filled our earlier numbers with such authors as we are at present about to review; an argument which may be more forcibly felt at the end than at the beginning of this article: we well know that such an arrangement would have conferred as little pleasure upon our readers as profit upon ourselves. While, however, Skelton is not exactly of our choice, he is yet a curious, able, and remarkable writer, and one who was styled, in his turn, by as great a scholar as ever lived, the light and ornament of Britain. And as he doubtless produced a considerable effect upon English poetry and the English language, he is well worthy of a notice here.

Very little is known of the life of John Skelton, and that little to be got from the Athena Oxonienses. He passed through Oxford with a high reputation, and became rector of Dysse, in Norfolk, when he fell under the displeasure of Nykke, bishop of Norwich. Not only because he " was esteemed more fit for the stage than the pew or pulpit,” but because he indulged too freely in his writings, in censures on the Monks and Dominicans; and, moreover, had the hardihood to reflect, in no very mild terms, on the manners and life of Cardinal Wolsey. For which last offence he was so closely pursued by the cardinal's officers, that he was obliged to take sanctuary at Westminster, where he was kindly entertained by John Islip, the abbot, and continued there till the time of his death. Anthony Wood adds, that “ Erasmus, in an epistle to King Henry VÌII., stiles this poet Britannicarum Literarum Lumen et Decus, and of the like opinion were many of his time. Yet the generality said, that his witty discourses were biting; his laughter opprobrious and scornful; and his jokes commonly sharp and reflecting.” Skelton's reputation was undoubtedly high among his cotemporaries; and we cannot give a better evidence of it, nor, at the same time, introduce Škelton better to the notice of our readers,


than by the praises of his friend Thomas Churchyard, who is, at the same time, recommending the early English poets in general.

“ Nor scorne your mother-tongue,

O babes of English breed :
I have of other language seen
And you at full may

Fine verses trimly wrought,

And couch'd in comely sort ;
But never you or I, I trowe,

In sentence plaine and short,
Did ever yet beholde with eye,

In any foraigne tongue,
A higher verse, a statelyer style,

That may be read or sung,
Than is this day, indeed,

Our English verse and rhyme,
The grace whereof doth touch the Gods,

And reach the cloudes sometime!
Thro' earth and waters deepe

The pen by skill doth passe,
And featly nips the worlde's abuse,

And shows us, in a glass,
The vertue and the vice

Of every wight alive:
The hony-combe that bee doth make

Is not so sweet in hive,
As are the golden leaves

That drop from poets' head,
Which do surmount our common talke

As far as gold doth lead.
The flour is sifted cleane,

The bran is cast aside,
And so good corne is known from chaffe,

And each fine grain is spied.
Piers Ploughman was full plaine,

And Chaucer's spreet was great;
Earl Surrey had a goodly veine,

Lord Vaux the marke did beat.
And Phaer did hit the pricke

In things he did translate,
And Edwards had a special gift;

And divers men, of late,
Have helpt our English tongue,

That first was base and brute,

Oh! shall I leave out Skelton's name,

The blossom of my fruit !
The tree whereon, indeed,

My branches all might grow :
Nay, Skelton wore the laurel wreath,

And past in schools, ye know,
A poet for his art,

Whose judgement sure was high,
And had great practise of the pen,

His workes they will not lie;
His termes to taunts did leane,

His talke was as he wrate;
Full quick of wit, right sharp of wordes,

And skilful of the state ;
Of reason ripe and good,

And to the hateful minde,
That did disdaine his doings still,

A scorner of his kinde;
Most pleasant every waye,

As poets ought to be,
And seldom out of princes' grace,

And great with each degree:
Thus have you heard at full
What Skelton


A further knowledge shall you have

If you his books do read.
I have, of mere good will,

These verses written here,
To honour virtue as I ought,

And make his fame appear;
That wore the garland gay

Of laurel leaves but late,
Small is my pain, great is his praise,

That thus such honour gate.” The contents of this book appear to have been printed separately in small pamphlets, and afterwards collected by Skelton himself; at least they are preceded by an introduction from the hand of the poet himself, in which he, however, in enumerating his works, speaks of many which are not to be found here. This introduction is an allegorical piece, in which the Queen of Fame and Dame Pallas are personages, who at length hand the poet over to Occupation, who gives him employment, and sets certain fair ladies about composing him a laurel. To each of them, Skelton addresses copies of verses.

One set, to Mistress Margaret Hussey, is beautiful, and gives one an idea

of a most amiable character. In this instance we will modernize the spelling.

To Mistress Margaret Hussey.

Merry Margaret
As midsummer flower,
Gentle as falcon,
Or hawk of the tower,
With solace and gladness,
Much mirth and no madness,
All good, and no badness;
So joyously,
So maidenly,
So womanly,
Her demeaning
In every thing,
Far, far passing
That I can indite,
Or suffice to write,
Of merry Margaret,
As midsummer flower,
Gentle as falcon,
Or hawk of the tower;
As patient and as still,
And as full of good will
As fair Isiphil,
Sweet Pomander,
Good Cassander;
Stedfast of thought,
Well made, well wrought,
Far may be sought
Erst you can find
So courteouse, so kind,
As merry Margaret,
This midsummer flower,
Gentle as falcon,
Or hawk of the tower."

After the introduction, which is styled the Crown of Laurel, the different pieces follow; the principal of which, are The Bouge of the Court, an allegorical poem on the vices of a court; The Duke of Albany, full of virulent abuse of the Scots; Ware the Hawk, against the vices of the clergy; The Tunning of Eleanor Rumming, a very singular and humorous but very

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