« PreviousContinue »
The short and sanguinary reign of this female fanatic, does not seem to have left any traces of its malignant influence on our literary history. The narrowness of the queen's temper, the gloom of her court, and her frequent proscriptions, were not likely to excite a taste, or to furnish subjects, for poetry, nevertheless they did not materially check the impulse already given. Indeed, if Mr. Warton's mode of arrangement be admitted, it is to this reign, that we are indebted for the first regular tragedy, and the first attempt at epic poetry, in the English language, as weil as for two critical dissertations of very considerable merit.
The tragedy of Gorboduc, afterwards published under the title of Ferrex and Porrex, was written by Sackville lord Buckhurst, and first earl of Dorset, who was born in 1530. It is said to have been completed and fitted for the stage by the assistance of Norton; but Mr. Warton thinks that the whole was Sackville's composition, and finished in the beginning of this reign, when he was a student at the Inner Temple. In 1557 he formed the outline of a poem of the epic kind, and which, in its plan and character, had some resemblance to the Inferno of Dante. It was intended to exhibit. all the illustrious and unfortunate characters of English history, from the Conquest, to the end of the fourteenth century; who were to pass in review before the poet, and severally recite to him their misfortunes. The scene was hell, to which the poet was supposed to have descended, under the guidanca of SORROW. But Sackville had only leisure to finish the induction, or poetical preface, and the concluding legend, which was that of Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham.
The two associates (Baldwin and Ferrers) to whom he delegated the completion of the work, materially altered its structure; substituting for his machinery, the contrivance adopted by Boccace, in his treatise “ de Casibus Principum." A company is assembled, each of whom, excepting one, personates an unfortunate sufferer, and under that assumed character, relates his adventures to the silent person of the assembly. The work thus arranged,was published by Thomas Marsh in 1559. After passing through four editions, it was republished, in 1587, with considerable additions, under the care of a new editor, John Higgins; and, its popularity still continuing, it was again edited by Richard Niccols, in 1610, with the addition of a “ a winter night's vision," and of a new poem, called “ England's Eliza."
The Toxophilus, by Roger Ascham, and the “ Art " of Rhetorick," by Thomas Wilson, both of which were intended as models of a pure English style, and contain many just and pertinent remarks on our language, are referred, by Mr. Warton, to this reign. But Wilson's Rhetorick, though first printed in 1553, must have been composed in the reign of Edward VI.: and the Toxophilus, which was published in 1545, seems to belong to that of Henry VIII. It may also be doubted whether the greater part of the poems in the “ Paradise of Dainty “ Devices” were composed during this reign; but having no means of ascertaining the date of such anonymous pieces as are extracted from that mis. cellany, I have thought it best to follow Mr. Warton's authority.