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the dramatists as such. Shakspeare must be classed alone. There are in his writings a breadth of range, a freedom from merely local and temporary influences, which separate them by a vast interval from all other writings of the time, and compel us to consider them apart Most of the men whom we have named wrote during the last twenty years of the reign of Elizabeth. In the following reign there was introduced a manner less musical and more contrained, with a quaintness of thought, a display of learning, and an affectation of wit, of which the most striking examples are to be found in the verses of Donne, Herbert, and Cowley.
Attempts, more or less successful, have been made to determine the cause of the Stidden appearance in England at the close of the sixteenth century of so many masters of the ait of song—to discover the reason of
"Those melodious bursts, that fill The spacious times of great Elizabeth With sounds ii..-. i echo Mill."
We do not intend to enter into the discussion of this question. But we think that in order fully to understand the Elizabethan poetry, there must be borne in mind the circumstances in which it was composed; and we propose therefore very briefly to set before our readers the state of affairs in England during the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth.
We may regard this period as an interval—a kind of breathing time, between the religious conflicts that occupied the nation during a great part of the sixteenth century, and those political contests that were in the following century yet more terribly to distract it. The Catholics were still of sufficient importance to be visited with severe penal laws. Indeed it is probable that during the greater portion of Elizabeth's reign, they were in numbers not much inferior to the Protestants. But neither by the persecutions which they endured, nor by the intrigues of seminary priests, were any considerable number of them induced to adopt the practice of treason as an article of their religion ; and after the great •body of the Catholic gentry had proved its loyalty in the preparations to resist the Spanish armada, the bitterness of the
antipathy that had existed between the two sects appeared to be extinguished, for the time by their common patriotism. Another difference, that between the High-Church party and the Puritans, existed more or less among all classes and in all parts of the country; but it was still a difference of religious opinion only, and had not yet become synonymous with a difference of political creed that was to rend asunder families and households.
The statesmen who were the chief advisers of the Queen were confirmed in the Protestant faith, which either from political feeling or religious conviction they had adopted, by their sympathy with the Calvinists of the Low Countries and the Huguenots of France, as well as by the constant hostility to England of the Pope and the King of Spain. To foil the devices of these enemies was the constant study of Burleigh and Cecil; and the nation was kept in continual readiness to meet their attacks. We can not doubt that the continuance of this attitude of preparation, producing a sturdy relf-reliance and a strong mutual confidence, influenced very materially the character of the people. The quick sense of danger unaccompanied by any feeling of fear, the intense patriotism and enthusiastic loyalty which have been for many generations characteristic of the English nation, seem to have become more marked, if they did not arise, in the sixteenth century. This development of the national character was accompanied and in no small measure aided by the rapid growth in political importance of the middle class. By the great increase of commerce and the extravagant expenditure of the nobles, many of the merchants and shopkeepers were much enriched. The broad line of distinction between the gentleman and the citizen began to be obliterated, and marriages between persons of rank and the daughters of rich commoners became not infrequent. A further cause of the rise of the middle class is to be found in that passion for adventure which obtained for men distinguished by their daring, though of obscure families, the companionship of nobles, and in some instances the favor of the Queen herself. There had lately been opened to persons of humble birth yet another road to eminence. Classic studies were now no longer the exclusive privilege of the clergy. The great revival of learning was late in reaching England, but its influence here was not less remarkable than it had been on the Continent. During the latter part of the sixteenth century a knowledge of the Latin writers had become an essential part of the education of a gentleman, and if this knowledge was seldom profound, it was at least employed with a greater appearance of freedom than has generally accompanied its use in later times. The Queen herself and many of the ladies of the court had made no inconsiderable progress in classic studies. All persons of rank were presumed . to be well acquainted with the fables of I the Ilomarr mythology, and a continual and unrestrained allusion to these fables, which would appear to us an offensive pedantry, was to the courtiers of Eliza-1 Ip-tli an ordinary grace of expression. The fashion was imitated by persons of lower station, and the numerous translations from Latin writers published at this time aided its diffusion. The allegorical pageants in which all classes took delight, were for the most part representations of the deities of ancient Rome. Such were the shows prepared for the entertainment of the Queen by the noblemen at whose houses she visited, and that bid her welcome at the gates of the cities which she entered in the course of her progresses. The speeches that were addressed to her by wood-nymphs and Tritons, were often written by gentlemen of the Court; for the practice as well as the study of literature was fashionable, and it was the ambition of a gentleman to excel as much in the composition of a sonnet, or the production of an impromptu rhyme, as in the exercises of the tilt-yard. Hence the Court, rather than either of the Universities, I >ur;i me the centre of attraction to men of letters, and scholars and poets began to seek the patronage of nobles, or even to solicit the notice of the Queen. In all this there was doubtless combined with what was favorable, much that was detrimental to the interests of sound learning. How in these circumstances English literature fared we shall presently see.
We find in the "Arte of English Poesie," supposed to have been written by George Puttenham, a list of the poets who were then held in most repute. It will be noticed that many of these are courtiers:
"Of the later sort," says Puttenham, "I think thus. That for Tragedie, the Lord of Buckhurst and Maister Edward Ferrys for such doings as I have sene of theirs do deserue the hyest price: Th' Earle of Oxford and Maister Edwardes of her Majesties Chappell for Comedy and Enterlude. For Eglogue and pastoral! Poesie, Sir Philip Sidney and Maister Challenner and that other Gentleman who wrate the late Shepheardes Callender. For dittie and amourous ode I find Sir Walter Rawleyghs vayne most loftie, insolent and passionate. Maister Edward Dyar for Elegie most sweet, solempne and of high conceit. Qascon for a good meetre and fora plentiful vayne. Phaer and Uolding for a learned and well corrected verse, specially in translation cleare and very faithfully answering their authours intent. Others have also written with much facilitie, but more commendably perchance if they had not written so much nor so popularly. But last in recitall and first in degree is the Queene our soveraigne Lady, whose learned, delicate, noble Muse, easily sunnounteth all the rest that have written before her time or since, for sencc, sweetness and subtillitie, be it in Ode, Elegie, Epigram, or any other kinde of Poesie Heroicke or Lyricke, wherein it shall please her Maiestie to employ her penne, euen by as much oddes as her owne excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble vassalls."
We have quoted this passage at length, because the criticisms are not only interesting as the opinion of a contemporary, but are also for the most part remarkably just It will be noticed that Shakspeare, who had probably begun to write before 1589, is not mentioned by Puttenham. It has been suggested in explanation of this that the " Arte of Poesie" was written several years before its publication, a supposition which is confirmed by the fact that Spenser's " Shepheardes Callender" was published in 1579. In 1589 its author must have been well known as the friend of Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. In a later part of the "Arte of Poesie" we are furnished with a means of testing its author's estimate of Queen Elizabeth's skill in poetry, an estimate which we may perhaps reasonably believe to have been in some slight degree influenced by the fact that he was one of her Gentlemen Pensioners. He gives at length what he calls a "dittie of her Maiesties owne making, passing sweete, and harmonicall." From this ditty, written at the time of the discovery of the plots made in favor of the Queen of Scots, we extract a few lines, in which, through the conceits and allitteration which were the fashion of the time, appear much of the vigor and imperionsness that marked the character of Elizabeth:
«' The doubt of future foes exiles my present ioy, And wit me warnes to shun such snares as
threaten mine annoy, For fnkehood now doth flow, and subiect faith
doth ebbe, Which would not be, if reason rnl'd, or wisdom
wriiYi the webbe.
The dnughter of debate that eke discord doth
sowe Shal reap no gaine where form or role hath
taught stil peace to growe. No forreine banisht wight shall ancrc in this
port. Our renlme it brookes no strangers force, let
them elsewhere resort. Our rusty sword with rest, shall first his edge
employ, To poll their toppes that seek such change and
gape for ioy."
Of the poets named by Puttenham in the passage quoted above, almost all are notable as writers of songs. The same may be remarked of the later poets of the time, of Greene, Marlowe, Lodge, and constable, and of Shakepeare. Excellency in song may indeed be regarded as the one chief and common merit of the poets of the Elizabethan age.
Other merits they have—not a few— but this one belongs to almost all of them, as compared with the poets of other times, in a remarkable degree. Under the name of song we do not include every short poem that possesses a certain unity and completeness, even though with these be combined fire and force of expression. To entitle a poem to be called a song, we think it requisite in the first place that it should have in itself some aptitnde for being sung. In verses possessing this primary and essential qualification of a song, the Elizabethan poetry is peculiarly rich. Take as examples, this verse from Shakspeare's "Measure for Measure,"—
"Take, oh take those lips away,
That ro sweetly were forsworn; And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn; But my kisses bring agoin,—bring again, Seals of lore, but scal'd in vain,—seal'd in vain."
and this, from a poem by Thomas Heywood,—
"Pack, clouds, away, and welcome day,
With night we banish sorrow;
To give my love good morrow.
Notes from the lark I'll borrow;
To give my love good morrow,
It is not difficult to give a reason for the perfection of these Elizabethan songs. "We have abundant evidence in the records which we possess of the social life of the time, and particularly in its plays, that the English were then, more emphatically than ever since, a musical people. From the familiarity of the poets with good music resulted the exquisite beauty of the rhythm of their songs. The shrill pipe and the lute, which to later poets have been mere figures of speech, were to them present realities. Singing, now an accomplishment, was then the natural expression of joy or sadness. The Queen sung, and the courtiers; men and women of all degrees sung at their work and at their entertainments ; they sung when alone. Indeed the best of the poems of the time were set to music. Many that have come down to us are taken out of "M. Bird's set songs," "M. Morley's madrigals," and " M. John Dowland's book of tableture for the lute." We wish that the musical composers of the present day would imitate M. Bird, M. Morley, and M. Dowland. We are inclined to think that one chief cause of the want of hearty love for singing evident among educated persons, is the utter inanity or absurdity of the words to which even good music is now commcmly set An improvement in the quality of the words of our songs might lead in time to an improvement also in the general character of the music, and we might have less of what Mendelssohn justly describes as "neither forcible, nor effective, nor poetical, but only supplementary, collateral, musical music."
Several artifices were adopted by the Elizabethan poets for the purpose of rendering their songs melodious. Before the end of the period these artifices began to be used in excess, and in their extravagant use produced a constrained and affected manner from which the earlier writers of the time were free Among them we may notice a play upon words, an iteration of the same syllable or sound, the use of double rhymes, and the rhyming of words with words immediately preceding,—devices which were employed constantly in the refrain, and which occur not infrequently in the body of the song. Take as examples of their use these verses by Nicholas Breton,
"Say that I should say, I love ye.
Would yon say, 'tis but a saying?
Will yon not be mov'd with praying?
"Write that I do write yon blessed,
Will you write, 'tie bat a writing?
this couplet of Sir Walter Raleigh's,—
"With Wisdom's eyes had but blind Fortnne
seen, Then had my love my love forever been,"
and these verses from Spenser's 'Shepheardes Callender,—
"Thou feeble flock, whose fleece is rough and
Whose knees are weak throngh fast and evil fare,
I love this lass (alas! why do I love ?)
In the following stanza from an anonymous poem printed in " England's Helicon," there may be discerned a more subtle skill,—
"Come away, come sweet Love,
I But where the artifice, instead of being the means to an end, became itself the
I object of the writer, there resulted the
, utmost affectation in manner and extravagance of conceit. The following verses
| by Nicholas Breton display these characteristics of the worst school of the time:
"Fair in a mom (O fairest mom)
Was never morn so fair,
That shineth in the air.
(Was never such a creature)
That carried such a feature.)
Was never hill so blessed,
For woman so distressed).
"This man had hap (O happy man)
More happy none than he,
That none had hap to sec.
Are men of meanest grace)
To'hap on such a face.
And pitied so his puin
But guvc him life again."
Another device frequently employed is the alternation of question and answer. It appears in this little song from "England's Helicon," signed "I. M.," and supposed to be by Jervase Markham:
"Sweet thrall, first step to Love's felicity. Sweet thrall, no stop to perfect liberty.
OLifel What Life?
Sweet Life! No Life more sweet.
OLove! What Love?
But the artifice most constantly used is alliteration, either the arrangement in immediate sequence of several words beginning with the same letter, or the more subtle and musical alliteration of alternate words, or of accented syllables and words upon which falls the cadence of the verse. There are rarely found in the poetry of this period many lines together without an alliterative passage. Wisely and moderately used, the artifice contributed nrfuch to the beauty and melody of the Verse, but the passion for its employment became extravagant. Its use—or perhaps we should rather say, its abuse— was one of the prominent features of the new style of writing, which was intro- j duced by Lyly in his "Romance of Euphues," published in 1580; aud while this fashion lasted, to compose allitera-, tive verges was the constant pastime of the courtiers and labor of the poets. The fashion yielded at length to good taste and common sense. It was mocked by Sidney in his sonnets and the "Defence of Poesie," and by Shakspeare in the play of "Love's Labor Lost." When restrained within proper limits, alliteration ceased to be offensive, and by none was it used more sucessfully then by those who ridiculed its abuse. Shaksperae \ practices alliteration less frequently than other writers of the time, but when he does use it, it is with a subtle power that is truly admirable: thus in the beginning of the thirtieth sonnet,—
"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought I .- Miiimi'ii np remembrance of things past,
I sigh the1 lack of many a thing I sought, And with old woes new wuil my dear time's waste."
and in the song of Ariel, from the "Tempest,"
"Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cownlip's bell 1 lie;
There I couth when owls do cry j
On the bat's buck I do fly
After summer merrily; Merrily, merrily, shall I live now Under the blossom that hangs on the bough."
We have dwelt at length on the beauty in form of the Elizabethan songs, because this kind of beauty is peculiarly characteristic of them; but it must not therefore be thought that they possess no other merit. They are confined for the most part to representations of the different phases of the one great passion of Love. The changes of this passion they portray with great fullness, and in general with much simplicity and freedom from exaggeration. They are distinguished by a sweet and delicate fancy, and a remarkable quickness and brightness of thought and feeling. If they express sorrow, it is not a hopeless sorrow; if pain, it is not an incurable pain. They never touch the deepest and sternest passions of human nature. There is not to be found in them the energy and bitterness of Hood's "Song of the Shirt," and "Bridge of Sighs," nor do they ever give expression to that form of patriotic enthusiasm which
appears in Campbell's "Batth of the Baltic." They seldom depict the settled pensiveness, the sober sorrow, identifying with itself the forms and voices of nature, which is found so commonly in the songs of our more modern poets, and particularly in those of Shelley and Tennyson. It may be thought perhaps that what we have said is disproved by the occurrence of such poems as Edmund Bolton's "Palinode:"
"As withereth the primrose by the river,
As fadcth summer's sun from gliding fountains,
As vanishcth the light blown bubble ever.
As mclteth snow upon the mossic mountains,
So melts, so vanisheth, so fades, so withers,
The rose, the shine, the bubble, and the snow
Of praise, pomp, glory, joy, which short life
Fair praise, vain pomp, sweet glory, brittle joy.
But the melancholy of these verses, as manifestly appears in the whole tenor of the poem, and especially in the last two lines, is a purely fanciful, philosophic melancholy. It has no reality in it, no link of connection whatever with the intensity of sorrow that is implied rather than expressed in this song of Shelley's:
"A widow bird sate mourning for her Love
Upon a wintry bough,
"There was no leaf upon the forest tree,
No flower upon the ground,
Within their own limited range, however, the songs of the Elizabethan poets are unsurpassed for truthfulness, vividness, and power. For this latter merit especially, and for their brightness of fancy and fullness and richness of color, the songs of Thomas Lodge may be reckoned among the most remarkable. Lodge, a student of the law, and afterwards a physician, was the author of a book entitled " Euphues' Golden Legacy," intended as a continuation of Lyly's romance which we have already mentioned. In this book, written, as we learn from the dedication, during " a voyage to the Islands of Terceras and the Canaries," are some songs of exquisite