Page images
PDF
EPUB

Thus it will be seen that in this, the perfect form of the sonnet, there are only four rhymes, though the sequence of these does not always correspond with that of the above model. The first eight lines are supposed to introduce the subject of the sonnet, which is described in the concluding six, in which much variety of arrangement is permitted. In the last line the subject should reach its climax.

Sonnets in Surrey's time were generally grouped around one individual. The poet would choose some one whom he knew, and make this person the hero or heroine of a number of sonnets. Thus the Earl of Surrey chose a young orphan girl named Elizabeth Fitzgerald for the heroine of his sonnets. She was of Italian race, her ancestors having come from Tuscany--from Florence—the very home of the sonnet. Her father was Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare; and from her family name, Surrey calls her Geraldine in the poems. When she was a little child her father was imprisoned in the Tower for treason, where he afterwards died; and her mother, who was cousin to Henry VIII., being dead, she was brought to Court, and was taken care of by the Princess Mary. She was a beautiful little child, and became, no doubt, the pet and favourite of the Court. When Surrey began to make her the heroine of his sonnets she was only about eight or nine years old.

The Earl of Surrey, besides writing sonnets, was the first important writer in England of the kind of poetry called blank verse. This also he found in Italian literature. Blank verse has five feet in a line, each consisting of two syllables, and the accent generally falls on the second. The chief difference between it and the metre used by Chaucer is that the last words do not rhyme. Thus Chaucer writes

* Bě-fēll | thăt in | thăt sēa- , son on I å dāy,
În South- / wărk āt | thě Tā- | bărd ās l lāy,
Read-ỹ | tỏ wẽnd | ăn ôn | mỹ pil- | grim-äge
To Cān- | těr-bůry | with full | dě-voūt | co-rāge.”

The following, from a translation by Surrey, of the second and fourth books of Virgil's "Æneid,” are some of the first lines of blank verse in English literature

“Thěy whīst | ěd āll | with fix. | ěd fãce | in-tēnt,
Whěn Prīnce | Æ-nē. | ăs from | thě rõy | ăl sēat
Thủs gān | tỏ spēak, 1 0 Quēen | it is thỹ will
I should | rě-nēw | ă wõe | căn-not | bě tõld.”

We have seen how that love of truth and deep, living earnestness, which was to be the soul of the Elizabethan literature, had already sprung into life; and now we find men like Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey bringing into England some of those artistic forms of the Italian literature which were to prepare a fair and graceful body, as it were,

for the noble and heroic soul.

H

CHAPTER VII.

ELIZABETHAN LITERATURE--POETRY

(1588—1599). We now pass on in the story of our English Literature to a period so full of works of every kind, that it will be impossible to do more than notice the chief; but while we give attention to these, we must keep in mind that the fulness of life is everywhere bursting forth like the buds and blossoms in a fruitful spring-time. The reign of Queen Elizabeth is like a garden in a very favourable season; while some flowers reach a wonderful degree of growth and beauty, and attract the eyes of all, there are an unusual number also of smaller blossoms, sweet and dainty, which pass

unnoticed for the very reason of their profusion.

We may remember how through the dreary time which followed after Chaucer, Langland, and Gower, many forces were at work preparing for this fruitful season in our literature. Before we begin the story of the chief writers and greatest works of the Elizabethan time, we must try to understand a little more of those things which were at work among the people, and which helped to form the soul, as it were, of the literature, and which gave to it so much energy and richness of life. These were

1. A more widespread independence of thought.-We have seen how scholars and students were stirred by the new learning to search for truth in things, and to question whether all that had been taught them was true and right; and the freer spirit of Greek literature, its unrestrained thought and

1

bold trust in nature, had given courage to its students. Now this spirit had become general; for the breaking up of the idea that the Church alone had authority to decree . what was to be believed, and the giving of the Bible to the laity, had stirred the minds of the people and made them think, and this earnest thinking for themselves quickened the intellect and wakened originality.

2. Religious earnestness.There were many reasons why a strong interest in religion, and deep feeling about it, should be roused at this time. It was a time of conflict, when scarcely any one could be indifferent to those religious questions on which men's minds were divided. There was the question of the old Church; that Church to which many still clung with ardent affection as the Church of their ancestors, while many others looked upon it as the enemy of truth and holiness.

Among the Protestants, too, there was conflict, as we shall see, for as soon as measures were taken, on Elizabeth's coming to the throne, to separate the English Church from that of Rome again, questions arose as to what were now to be the articles of faith, the order of government, and the forms of worship in the reformed English Church, for the idea was still almost universal that there was to be but one outward Church. The persecutions too of the last five years, when so many had seen the terrible sight of their best loved friends burning at the stake, deeply stirred the hearts of the English people, and made them feel that religion was something worth caring for and dying for.

3. The spread of a purer, simpler faith.-Men like Latimer had done much to give the people a truer idea of their relation to God, for they taught them what Christ has revealed to us of God, that He is our Father, and near to every one of us; and from this sprang that faith and trust in God Himself which gave courage and joy in the midst of dangers, and that love of God which is the root of

430001 duty, so that men were ready to risk all for His honour instead of seeking to buy pardons for breaking his commands.

4. Patriotism.-A strong love of England and the queen runs through all the Elizabethan literature. It was a time of great danger to our country, and the perils at home and abroad called forth all the steadfast heroic love of her true sons for England. With this was so joined an enthusiastic devotion to the queen, that we cannot separate the two feelings. Elizabeth was in every way the very representation of the England of her day, and much that sounds like mere compliment to a woman must be taken as the expression of enthusiasm for all that the queen personified. In her were the independence of thought, the earnestness, the courage, the new love of learning, the bright imagination and poetry, the artistic skill in the use of words of the England of her day; the dangers of the country were her dangers, and her devotion to England was as strong as England's devotion to her.

5. Vigour of imagination.There were many things at this time which gave great exercise to the imagination, and set before it many new pictures of life. The old English stories of Chaucer and the old ballads were reprinted and widely read, and many new stories of life in Italy and ancient Greece came into England with the Italian and Greek literature, besides which there were the wonderful tales of South America and other foreign lands which the bold navigators and discoverers of the time were constantly bringing home.

While all these influences were at work in shaping the soul of the Elizabethan literature, the Italian literature gave it outward form. We have seen how Wyatt and Surrey took the form of their poems from the Italian ; and in Elizabeth's reign Italian literature was considered to be the model for all other. Its influence is seen in the clever use of words, in the search for similes (comparing one thing to another)

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »