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friend to the dark ages, as they are called, than is commonly supposed. Our writers caught this vein from the provencial poets. There are indeed the writings of some english poets now remaining, who wrote besore Gower or Chaucer. But these are merely chroniclers in rhyme, and seem to have left us the last dregs of that fort of composition, which was practiced by the British Bards: for instance, the * Chronicle
* That laborious antiquary Thomas Hearne, first printed this aus thor, at Oxford, 1724. In his preface, he tells us, p. 10. how he was first tempted to publish this rare piece. “ When I first saw a MSS. “ of this author (which was even when I was a young under-graduate) « in the Bodleian Library, being one of the firf MSS. I had ever pe“ rosed there, I was WONDERFULLY DELIGHTED with it.” He afterwards informs us, with no small degree of triumph, p. 84. “ As “ the Acts of the Apostles, that I published from arch-bishop Laud's “ MSS. is the first entire book that was ever printed in England, in “ capital letters ; fo this Chronicle of Robert of Glocester is the first “ entire book, that was ever printed in this kingdom, (it may be in the “ whole world) in the manner I have done it, that is, in the black leto “ ter, with a mixture of fome Saxon characters." In the next page he proceeds to enter into a warm defence of the old black letter. " As “ it is a reproach to us, that the Saxon language should be so forgot,
as to have but few (comparatively speaking) that are able to read it; • so 'tis a greater reproach that the black letter, which was the cha“ racter so much in use in our grandfathers days, should be now, as it
were, disused and rejected ; especially, when we know the best edi« tions of our English bibles and common prayer (to say nothing of other ve books) are printed in it." I shall cite one more inftance of our an. riquary’s extreme thrA after antient things, p. 19. “ But tho' I have " taken so much pleasure in perusing the English bible of the year 1541, “ yet ’ris nothing equal to that I should take, in turning over that of 11 the year 1539."
of Robert of Glocester, who wrote, according to his account, about the year 1280. The moft antient allegorical poem which I have seen in our language, is a manuscript Vision, in the Bodleian library, written il. the reign of Edward II. by Adam Davie. It is in the short verfe of the old metrical romance. However Gower and Chaucer were justly reputed the first english poets, because they were the first, of any note at least, who introduced INVENTION into our poetry ; the first who MORALISED THEIR SONG, and strove to render virtue more amiable by eloathing her in the veil of fiction. Chaucer, it must be acknowledged, deserves to be placed the first in time of our english poets, on another account ;, his admirable artifice in painting the familiar manners, which none before him had ever attempted in the most imperfect degree: and it should be remembered to his immortal honour, that he was the first writer who gave the english nation, in their own language, an idea of HUMOUR. About the same time flourished an allegorical fatyrist, the author of Piers Plowman's Visions *. To these fucteeded Lydgate ; who from his principal performances, the FALL OF PRINCES +,
* An account of this poem will be given at large hereafter. + The book on which it is founded, viz. Boccace de CASIBU: Vi.. 20xUM ILLUSTRIUM, is a plain bistorical narrative,
and STORY OF THEbes, more properly may be classed among the legendary poets, although the first of there is in great measure a series of vifions. But we have of this author two poems, viz. The TEMPLE OF Glass, and the DANCE OF DEATH, besides several other pieces, chiefly in manuscript, professedly written in this species. Lydgate has received numberless encomiums from our old english poets, which he merited more from his language than his imagination. Lydgate is an unanimated writer, yet he made considerable improvements in the rude state of English versification; and is perhaps the first of our poets whom common readers can peruse with little hesitation and difficulty. He was followed by Hardyng, who wrote a chronicle in verse, of all the english kings, from Brutus, the favorite subject of the british bards, or poetical genealogifts *, down to the reign of Edward IV. in whose reign he lived. This piece is often commended and quoted by our most learned antiquaries. But the poet is lost in the historian: care in collecting and truth in relating events, are incompatible with the fallies of invention. So frigid and
* These were the only historians, and their pieces were sung, as I : before observed. In the statutes of a college at Oxford, founded about 1386, it is prescribed, that the scholars, on festival days, for their common entertainment in the hall, shall fing CHRONICA Regum Anglia. Coll, Nov, Stat. Rubric, xviii,
prosaic a performance, after such promising improvements, seemed to indicate, that poetry was relapsing into its primitive barbarism ; and that the rudeness of Robert of Glocester, would be soon reinstated in the place of Chaucer's judgement and imagination.
However, in the reign of Henry VII. this interval of darkness was happily removed by Stephen Hawes, a name generally unknown, and not mentioned by any compiler of the lives of english poets. This author was at this period the restorer of invention, which seems to have suffered a gradual degeneracy from the days of Chaucer. He not only revived, but improved, the antient allegoric vein, which Hardyng had almost entirely banished. Instead of that dryness of descrip. tion, fo remarkably disgusting in many of his predeceffors, we are by this poet often entertained with the luxuriant effufions of Spenser. Hawes refined Lydgate's versification, and gave it sentiment and imagination : added new graces to the seven-lined stanza which Chaucer and Gower had adopted from the italian ; and, to sum up all, was the first of our poets who decorated invention with perspicuous and harmo. nious numbers. The title of his principal performance is almost as obscure as his name, viz. “ The historie of “ GRAUNDE AMOURE and LA BEL PUCEL, called “ the Pastime of PLEASURE; contayning the knowVOL. II.
ledge of the seven sciences, and the course of man's
lyfe in this worlde. Invented by Stephen Hawes, “ groome of kyng Henry the seventh his chamber *. Henry VII. is said to have preferred Hawes to this station, chiefly on account of his extraordinary memory, for he could repeat by heart most of the english poets, especially Lydgate f. This reign produced another allegorical poem, entitled the Ship of Fooles I. It was translated from the high-dutch, and professes to ridicule the vices and absurdities of all ranks of
The language is tolerably pure : but it has nothing of the invention and pleasantry which the plan seems to promise ; neither of which, however, could be expected, if we consider it's original.
In the reign of Henry VIII. classical literature began to be received and studied in England ; and the writings of the antients were cultivated with true taste and erudition, by Sir Thomas More, Colet, Ascham,
vii, or 1505.
* In a note after the contents it is said to be written, art. 21. Hen.
“ Such is the fate of poetry, says Wood, that this book, “ which in the time of Henry VII, and VIII. was taken into the “ hands of all ingenious men, is now thought but worthy of a ballad“ monger's stall.” Athen. Oxon. ed. 2. vol. 1. pag. 6. col. 2. It is in Mus. Alhmol. Oxon. Cod. impres. A. Wood. He also wrote the
LE of GLASS, Wynk, de Worde, 1500. 4to, and other pieces.