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Leland, Cheke, and other illustrious rivals in polished compofition. Erasmus was entertained and patronised by the king and nobility ; and the greek language, that inestimable repository of genuine elegance and fublimity, was taught and admired. In this age fourished John Skelton; who, notwithstanding the great and new lights with which he was surrounded, contributed nothing to what his ancestors had left him : nor do I perceive, that his versification is, in any degree, more refined than that of one of his immediate predecessors, Hawes. Indeed, one would hardly, fuspect, that he wrote in the same age with his elegant cotemporaries Surrey and Wyat. His best pieces are written in the allegorical manner, and are his Crowne of Lawrell, and Bowse of Court. But the genius of Skelton seems little better qualified for picturesque than satyrical poetry. In the one he wants invention, grace, and dignity; in the other wit and good manners *.
I should be guilty of injustice to a nation, which amid a variety of disadvantages, has kept a constant pace with England in the progress of literature, if I
* Wood informs us, that Skelton, for his satirical abuses of the Dominican monks, incurred the severe cenfure of Richard Nykke, bi. shop of Norwich ; and that he was moreover, “ guilty of certain crimes, AS MOST POETS ARE," Ubi supr. vol. 1. pag. 23.
neglected to mention, in this general review, two scottish poets who flourished about this period, Sir David Lyndesay, and Sir William Dunbar; the former of which in his DREAM, and other pieces, and the latter in his GOLDEN TERGE, or Shield, appear to have been animated with the noblest spirit of alle
Soon afterwards appeared a series of poems, entitled, the MIRROR of MAGISTRATES, formed upon a dramatic * plan, and capable of admitting some of the the most affecting pathetical strokes. But these pieces, however honoured with the commendation of Sydney,
* Every Person is introduced speaking. Richard II, is thus introduced in a particular situation : “ Suppose you see the corpse of this “ prince, all to be mangled with blewe wounds, lying pale and wan, “ all naked, upon the stones, in St. Paules Church, the people stand“ ing round about him, and making his complaynt, in manner follow« ing, &c."...... Lydgate's FALL of PRINCES gave rise to the MIRROUR of MAGISTRATEs. In the year 1550, R. Baldwine was requested to continue Lydgate's series of the great Unfortunate ; but he chose rather to confine himself entirely to our english story, and began with Robert Tresilian, 1388, and ended with Lord Hastings, 1483. In this work he was aflifted by others; and particularly by Thomas Sackville, who wrote the life of the Duke of Buckingham, together with this INDUCTION; intending, at the same time, to write all those remarkable lives which occurred from the Conquest to Trefilian, with whom Baldwine originally begun, and to have printed his additional part, together with all that Baldwine, and his friends, had already performed, in one volume, and to have prefixed this INDUCTION as a general preface to the whole. But this was never executed. Afterwards another collection appeared under the same title, by W. Higgins, 1587.
seem to be little better than a biographical detail *. There is one poem indeed, among the rest, which exhibits a groupe of imaginary personages, so beautifully drawn, that in all probability, they contributed to direct, at least to stimulate, Spenser's imagination in the construction of the like representations. Thus much may be truly faid, that Sackville's INDUCTION approaches nearer to the FAIRY Queen in the richness of allegoric description, than any previous or succeeding poem.
After the Fairy Queen, allegory began to decline, and by degrees gave place to a species of po
The last edition of the whole, with additions, was published by Richard Niccols, 1610. Drayton's Legends are written on this plan; and are therefore added in Niccols's edition.
Mr. Walpole, in his entertaining account of Royal and Noble Authors, remarks, that this set of poems gave rise to the fashion of historical plays, particularly to Shakespeare's. vol. 1. pag. 166. ed. 2. But the custom of acting HISTORIES seems to have been very old on our stage. Stowe seems to make them a distinct species of drama ; but perhaps improperly. « Of late days, instead of those Aage-playes, (at Skinner's " Well, 1391, and 1409.) have been used comedies, tragedies, enter“ ludes, and HISTORIES, both true and fained.” Survey of London, edit. 1618. quarto, pag. 144.
* Bishop Hall ridicules the Mirror of Magiflrates, in the following passage of his facires.
Another whose more heavie-hearted saint
B. 1. f. 5.
etry *, whose images were of the metaphysical and abstracted kind. This fashion evidently took it's rise from the predominant studies of the times, in which the disquisitions of school divinity, and the perplexed subtilities of philosophic disputation, became the principal pursuits of the learned.
Then UNA FAIR gan drop her PRINCELY MIENT.
James I. is contemptuously called a PEDANTIC monarch. But surely, nothing could be more serviceable to the interests of learning, at it's infancy, than this supposed foible.
6 To stick the doctor's chair into the “ throne," was to patronise the literature of the times. In a more enlightened age, the same attention to letters, and love of scholars, might have produced proportionable effects on sciences of real utility. This caft of mind in the king, however indulged in some cases to an oftentatious affectation, was at leaft innocent.
* Mason's MUSÆUS. But the spirit of chivalry, of which prince Henry was remarkably fond, together with shews and pageantries, ftill continued, yet in a less degree. Hence G. Wither introduces Britannia thus lamenting the death of prince Henry.
Alas, who now shall grace my Turnaments,
Prince Henries Obseq. Eleg. 31. pag. 368. Lond. 1617. + See Davies on the IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL, Lord Brooke's TRLATISE OF HUMAN LEARNING, Donne's Works, &c.
Allegory, notwithstanding, unexpectedly rekindled some faint sparks of it's native splendor, in the PurPLE ISLAND * of Fletcher, with whom it almost as foon disappeared : when a poetry succeeded, in which imagination gave way to correctness, sublimity of description to delicacy of sentiment, and majestic imagery to conceit and epigram. Poets began now to be more attentive to words, than to things and objects. The nicer beauties of happy expression were preferred to the daring strokes of great conception. Satire, that bane of the sublime, was imported from France. The muses were debauched at court, and polite life, and familiar manners, became their only themes t.
* Printed in the year 1633. The principal fault of this poem is, that the author has discovered to much of the anatomist. The Purple Island, is the Ine of Man, whose parts and construction the poet has described in an allegorical manner, viz. the bones are the foundation of it, the veins it's brooks, &c. Afterwards the intellectual faculties are represented as persons : but he principally shines where he personifies the paffions and evil concupiscencies of the heart, who attack the good qualities of the heart alike personified, which under the conduct of their leader INTELLECT, rout the former. In this poem there is too somewhat of a metaphysical turn. As the whole is supposed to be sung by two shepherds, the poet has found an opportunity of adorning the beginnings and endings of his cantos with some very pleasing pastoral touches. This poem seems to bear some resemblance to the PsYCOMACHIA of Prudentius.
+ Thus when Voltaire read his HENRIADE to Malezieuz, that learned man assured him, his work would not be tasted ; for, says he, “ Les “ François n'ont pas le tete epique.” In other words. “ The French have
no idea of SOLEMN and SUBLIME poetry ; of FICTION and FABLE: " the Satires of Boileau will be preferred to the best epic poem.”