H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

Social England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) online

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Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 17 of 68)
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was Sir Thomas Elyot, author of the remarkable book partly
political, but mainly dealing with the education of a gentleman
called "The Governor" (1531; p. 124); there was Latimer,
raciest of preachers, and an ancestor of a line of vernacular
English writers which includes Bimyan, Defoe, and Cobbett.
There were the early dramatists, partly writers of moralities
and interludes, the chief of whom was John Heywood (1497-
1575) ; partly anticipators of the actual drama, like Nicholas
Udall (d. 1556), who, in apparent imitation of the Terentian
or Plautine style, or, more probably still, of the Renaissance
Latin imitations of it, stumbled on Ralpli Roister Doister (in
1540), and thereby wrote what has been generally and justly
held to be the first English comedy.

But in a very brief notice of the literature of this period The Four
more than in such a notice of almost any other, it is difficult to
avoid committing two mistakes : mentioning authors of really
second-rate importance, without sufficient detail, for which there
is no room, and omitting others of hardly less importance alto-
gether. It will, therefore, be better to end with four persons
who, if none of them is actually first-rate, all have intrinsic
worth beyond the common, who represent (Sackville being-
postponed as more properly Elizabethan) the highest achieve-
ments in English prose and verse of the century before the
accession of Elizabeth, and who, in the case of three of them
at least, either actually display or very closely foreshadow the
innovations in prose and verse style which were to introduce
those great ages of English literature to which Chaucer alone,
of all the forerunners, had distinctly pointed. These four names
are those of More, Ascham, Wyatt, and Surrey ; the first
writing comparatively early, and more noteworthy for matter
than for form ; the second party belonging to the period, and
very characteristic of it ; the third and fourth unpublished
till its very end, but exemplifying in point of composition and
influence the heart of it all.

The lives of these four are much better known than those
of most of the authors previously mentioned ; and that More
in 1535, and Surrey in 1547, died on the scaffold, victims of
Henry's capricious despotism, is, perhaps, the best known fact



of all. Wyatt, a man of position and a prominent diplomatist,
had more than one escape of a similar fate, and was perhaps
fortunate in the opportunity of dying- quietly in 1542, having

Ascham. hardly reached middle age. Ascham, too, was of the Court
circle, but his humbler rank, or his greater prudence, protected
him, and he outlived the terrors both of Henry VIII. and
Mary. His well-known "Toxophilus" (1540) dates from this
period, and, though a little more vernacular than the later
" Scholemaster," is an excellent example of the style which
scholarly Englishmen, conscious of the superiority of classic
models but not willing to make English a mere copy of Greek
and Latin, were at the time writing in considerable quantity,
though seldom with such taste or such judgment as Ascham's.

More. As for the elder, and, in non-literary matters, more illustrious

prose-writer, it may, perhaps, seem odd that his greatest work
the only work by which he is generally known was not written
in English at all. The "Utopia" first printed (abroad) in 1516,
was written by More in Latin, and was first introduced " in the
English tongue to English men " long after its author's death,
in a version by Ralph Robinson in 1551. As a matter of fact
More was a voluminous writer enough in English prose (he
wrote in verse, too), the great bulk of it consisting of contro-
versial pamphlets against the Lutherans, though he also left a
"History of Edward V. and Richard III.," and other matter.
Yet, paradoxical as it may seem, posterity, which is v-.-ry
generally though not always right, has been right in fixing on
the " Utopia," which he never wrote in English, as his chief
contribution to English literature. For it is almost the earliest
exposition by an Englishman of the spirit of the earlier English
Renaissance. More was an Oxford man, deeply imbued with
Oxford Humanism ; and in this little treatise (in form a kind of
sketch of a Platonic commonwealth) he has exemplified at once
the religious liberalism (free in his case from any laxity of
belief), the comparative spirit in regard to ancient and modern
literatures and institutions, the enthusiasm excited by the
discovery of a New World all the ingredients, in short, of
the fermenting mixture which was at work on the national
mind (p. 160).

The literary position of the two poets was different and more
distinct being concerned almost entirely with form. Their



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wyatt work, first presented together to the public, as above observed
su?rey. in 1557 > b y ' Tottel's Miscellany," was of consideral.lv earlier
date. Wyatt, so far as we know, introduced the sonnet into
English; Surrey, so far as we know, introduced regular deca-
syllabic blank verse. Both are sometimes said to have intro-
duced a "New Prosody" a phrase which is capable of being
used in a rather misleading manner, though it is here right
enough in intention. Strictly speaking, it is impossible to
introduce a new prosody into any language ; for prosody is
an inseparable accident, if not an essential property, of every
language, as it is developed b}^ its own organic growth. The
followers of Wyatt and Surrey did endeavour to introduce
a new prosody sapphics, hexameters, alcaics, and what not-
and failed as they were bound to fail. All that Surrey and
Wyatt themselves did was to tighten up the bearings (if we mav
so speak) of English verse on the lines which the greatest
English poets had themselves used, but which had been neglected
or carelessly misused by their followers. The decasyllable,
which was their staple metre, was the decasyllable of Chaucer,
adjusted at first, especially by Wyatt, to the awkwardly enough
altered pronunciation of the language. The Alexandrines and
Fourteeners with which they varied it were also nothing radically
novel. But they discouraged the mere doggerel alliterative or
other which had survived the Chaucerian reforms, and had
been specially patronised in different forms by Skelton and by
the Scotch poets ; and they rejected the loose versification
(whether due to imperfect printing or not is a question differed
upon by experts) which is remarkable in the printed work of
Hawes. The Italian models which they studied, and still more
the great Italian form of the sonnet which they introduced
and cultivated, must have been of inestimable service in
assisting them to observe this increased exactitude. At the
same time, their anxiety to be accurate led them occasionally to
wrest accentuation, to force rhyme, and in other wa}'s to distort
and play tricks with their mother-tongue.

But this drawback, such as it was, was as nothing com-
pared to the advantages which they gained. Whether Wyatt,
at least, had a very good ear may be doubted ; some of his
experiments hardly look like it. But Surrey was evidently a
born master of metre, and his elder contemporary was saved




by his models from the stumbles to which he was naturally
rather inclined. Both, moreover, had either by idiosyncrasy,
or by saturating themselves with the spirit of these models,
attained to a heat of poetical (chiefly amatory) conception,
which enabled them to present their poetry in a fused and
shapen form far different from the half-inarticulate titterings

TR OTHE. outfiomme&tiym txemyesalt,


.Sticki' tt (f-t-Tr?tbe,anJ etu-rmrrf thau fhiti
T\mufb CfotftJSJttg Henry, tbel^oktantli
j^// tnaner 0f enemies, quite ouer(jprcve,


or mutterings of their predecessors. Alliteration on the one
hand, and the endless repetition of French allegorising on the
other, had brought those predecessors sometimes very near to
the verge of nonsense. Skelton in particular (and that not
merely in the part of his verse which is popular, satiric, and
burlesque) is sometimes very nearly impossible to construe ;
and, side by side with the nobler passages of such men as the
Scotchman Dunbar, we often find other passages where words



seem to be used, if not with no meaning- at all, at any rate
in a reckless fashion of " piling up," very much as a child
smears the colours from its paint-box one over another.

All this Wyatt and Surrey changed ; at least, of the change
of all this they set an example which, slowly and not verv
promisingly followed, produced at last, after the transitional
and undecided though fine work of Sackville, the magnificent
poetical medium of Spenser. The companions who appeared
with them in " Tottel's Miscellany," and who, with others of
the same kind, peopled English literature during the third
quarter of the century, Avere for the most part poor if respect-
able creatures. Xo one, except Sackville himself, had the
least spark of divine fire. But the hearth for the reception of
that fire had been laid, the implements and materials for its
maintenance and adjustment had been fashioned or collected.

This was, in short, to recur to the point from which we
started, the office of the whole period, though it was not so
strikingly or thoroughly performed by any man in prose as by
these two men in verse. Indeed, it was nearly a full century,
or more than a full century (according as Jonson with some, or
Cowley with others, is taken to be the Wyatt of English prose),
Character that prose itself was thoroughly reformed. But the whole
Period period was one, if not of eager experiment it had hardly the
original genius for that at its disposal of diligent collection of
material, of patient exploration and comparison of what had
been done by others, of discontent (not scornful or insolent, but
genuine) with the mere following of ancient ways, of attempts to
refine and to correct which were saved from the frequently
narrowing tendencies of such attempts by the abundance and
variety of the new interests and the new matter upon which the
slowly increasing literary scholarship of the age had to work.
To read Skelton and then to read Surrey even to read Hawes
and then to read Wyatt is to pass at once and with the most
vivid sensation of change from one age of literature to another -.
it might indeed almost seem that something had been skipped
in the passing that there must be a transition period some-
where so abrupt and marked is the change. It is not possible
for reasons already given, and for others which, no doubt,
depend upon the accidents of personality to arrange any such
striking contrast in prose : but both could hardly be expected.




On the whole, this most interesting period has hitherto had
scant attention from professed historians and scantier study
from ordinary students. Yet at no time, perhaps, has the spirit
of literature, such as it was, been more thoroughly a spirit
of the age ; and at none has it been more closely connected
with the production of the greater things that were to come.

Photo: Walker & Coakerell,

(National Portrait Gallery.)

IN the last chapter we left the brilliant Gawin Douglas after his H. FRANK
first attempt in literature, made when he was a very young man ^ c ^^
(Vol. II, p. 711). The "Palice of Honour" was an elaborate Litera-
allegory with little to recommend it but its high purpose, 1
its descriptions of natural scenes, and its occasional gleams
of humour. The Palace of Venus reminds one of " The House
of Fame " ; the constant allegory is a feature common to a score
of works which excel this one, but the grotesque detail with
which the beauty in ugliness, the more dreary, wilder aspects
of Nature are described, and the humorous passages, such
as that upon contemporary literature, give a distinctive
flavour which makes the " Palice of Honour " better reading



Gawm than many works of higher artistic attainment. And this
Douglas's m S pjf e o f tJ ie o'eneral similarity of the plan to the " House
works: of Fame." Douglas was a poet stricken with the love of affairs,
'Aeneid" a taste he afterwards paid for dearly. His family pride and his
ambition were more constantly with him than his muse, and
it was not till a dozen years later l that his translation of the
"Aeneid" (1513) appeared. This work is one of the clearest
signs of the passing of the literary middle ages. The forms
were still medieval, but Douglas was a pioneer in the critical
methods of the Humanists. Chaucer's translation of Boethius,
judged by modern standards, was slipshod and careless.
Caxton's " Recueil of the History of Troy," and " Eneydos "
were nothing more than translations of French romances. 2
Douglas's was the first serious attempt at a faithful rendering
of a great classical author. He has a true appreciation of
the beauties of the Virgilian verse, and is able to put
himself at the author's point of view. He insists that
Chaucer was wrong in blaming Aeneas for the desertion of
Dido the traditional medieval view for the hero only acted
at the bidding of the gods :

" Certes Virgill schawis Enee did na thing
Frome Dido of Cartaige at his departing,
Bot quliilk the goddes eomniandit him to forne ;
Ami gif that thair command maid him mansworne,
That war repreif to thair diuinite
And ua reproche unto the said Enee."

It is true that he does not scruple to change the local colour
of the original to make the appeal to his countrymen livelier,
but he quotes Horace and Boccaccio in his support. He there-
fore has no hesitation in making the Sibyl a lady of religion
who advises Aeneas 'to "tell his beads," 3 or in talking of the
" nuns of Bacchus." It is true that the commentary which he
commenced and did not carry further than the first book shows
him to have been not only a humanist, but a bishop, for he
remarks on the passage quoted above

1 Cf. the " Dyrection of his Buik." prefixed to the translation.

: The ' Recueil des Histoires de Troyes" (14(U) of Raoul Lefevre. and the
"Eneydos" (14!i:i) of Guillaume de Roy.

' A < '/. Michael Angelo s picture of the company of Sibyls in the Sistine



" This argument excusis nocht the tratory of Eneas na his maynswavyng,
considering quhat is said heirafoir .... that is

Juno nor Yeuus goddess neuer wer, etc.

It followis than that Eneas vroucht not be command of ony goddis, bot of
his awyn fre wyl, be the permission of God, quhilk sufferis al thing and
stoppis nocht, ua puttis uocht necessite to fre wyll."

And he explains elsewhere how Jupiter, King of Crete, and
Juno, his "sistir and spows," became deities through their
identification with the elements, and quotes with evident
approval the commentary of Cristoferus Landynus, " that
Avrites morally upon Yirgill," and shows how the adventures of
Aeneas are but the striving of a "just man" towards the
" soveran bonte and gudnes " to be found " in contemplation of
godly thingis." But in spite of these medievalisms he is good
enough critic to assert that the thirteenth book of Maphaeus
Vegius accorded " to the text

Neuer a deill
Mair than langis to the cart the fyft quheyll,"

and that " hys stile be nocht to Yirgill like." He only consents
to add a translation of it under the compulsion of " twenty
strokes " from the ghost of the enraged Christian continuator.
In the " Dyrection of his Buik " he expresses the hope that his
translation will be found useful in the grammar schools, and the
sense he had that the beauty of his original was so profound-

" Me semyt oft throw the deep sey to waid.
And sa mysty urnquhyle this poesy
My spreit was reft half deill in extasy."

The original prologues added to each of the thirteen books
deal with a variety of subjects- reflective, critical and descrip-
tive. Some, such as that prefixed to the seventh book, describing
the dreariness of winter, and those to the twelfth and thirteenth
books, descriptive of May and June landscapes, are certainly the
best of Douglas's work. The ninth is interesting as the earliest
example of the critical essay. Douglas discusses the verse and
diction best suited to the epic, and decides for the heroic
measure and a language grave and sententious. The translation
and six of the prologues are therefore in the heroic couplet, the
remainder in stanzas of varying length. The eighth prologue,
a poem which reminds one of Langland, is based on the text,



" Ressonn and rycht is rent by fals rite," and is written in rimed
alliterative metre arranged in a thirteen-lined stanza, which is
very similar to Dunbar's " Ballad of Kynd Kittok." l

Though Douglas does not reach the conciseness of the
Roman poet, and seldom renders the pathos of the original,
at any rate to the full, yet his style is always vigorous, and in
passages of dramatic situation and rapid movement, such as the
death of Priam, the funeral games, and even the complaint and
death of Dido, he is very successful. Moreover, his translation
formed the basis of Surrey's blank- verse version of the first two
books, and is, therefore, the first Scotch work to influence
literature south of the Tweed. The book was completed in
sixteen months from the date of commencement (cf. the short
epilogue), a rapidity of work which was, perhaps, due to the
practice in translation he had given himself in the rendering
of the " De Remedio Amoris," a " Scottis " version of which
Tanner assigns to him. This work is not extant. He has also
been credited with " dramatic poems founded on incidents in
sacred history," and " comoedias aliquot," besides other works,
but all we know beyond his four extant poems is that Lyndsay,
in his " Testament of the Papyngo," speaks of him as the
author of five works.

"King The date of " King Hart," his third important production,

is uncertain. It is generally placed between the " Palice of
Honour " and the " Aeneid," " but internal evidence points to a
later date, and although he was doubtless too occupied
immediately after Flodden for literary work, there was nothing
to prevent such a use of his leisure when engaged in the routine
work of his bishopric after 1510. Compared with the "Palice
of Honour," the tone of the poem is sadder and more self-
restrained It is more reflective and less turgid, the allegory
is less complicated, the strophe simpler, and the verse
more correct. The subject gives less room for hope, } T et the
sentiment is sounder and untinged with sentimentality: some
passages, such as that in which King Hart takes leave of

1 In Douglas's poem the ninth line is a long: one, like those that precede
it : in .Dunbar's it is short like those which follow it. Rime order,
ti li ii b ii 1> it }> < if t/ (1 i'.

- Largely because at the close of the latter work he takes leave of




Youtheid, showing the pathetic sincerity only possible to the
man who is looking back to the friend who " man pas."

The idea is old, an allegory of the endless conflict of the
spirit with the flesh, the main theme being taken from the
allegorical autobiography in verse and prose of his contemporary
Octavien de St. Gelais, called " Le Sejour d'Honneur," some
suggestions from which had already found their way into the
" Palice of Honour." Some of the details are borrowed, such
as the battle between Dame Pleasance and King Hart, which is

Photo: A. F. Mackenzie, Birnam.


similar to the theme of the " Goldyn Targe," and others remind
of Piers Plowman. The verse is the eight-lined stanza used
by Chaucer. And yet the reserve, the terse expression, the
weight laid on action rather than description, the refinement
of handling, and, above all, the sincerity of this poem,
render it the most personal and the ripest, if not the best,
of his work.

The little poem in four stanzas of " rhyme royal," called
" Conscience," is a witty " conceit " upon the corruption of the
Church worthy of the " Tale of a Tub." The latter part of
the Bishop of Dunkeld's life was spent in the hopeless at-
tempt to support the cause of his weak-kneed nephew the




Earl of Angus, who had married Queen Margaret soon after
Flodden, and had lost his influence over her almost as quick ly.
Douglas died as an exile in London in 1522, his last years
being chiefly spent in helping his friend 1'olydore Yergil, the
Dean of Wells, in the Scottish portion of his colossal English

Lyndsay. ^i 1 ' David Lyndsay (1490-1555) is not so good a poet as

Douglas, but is no less interesting as a writer. He had great
political insight, a considerable power of putting things pithily,
and no small gift of wit, but, like Lydgate, his poetical ambition
exceeded his capacity. Lyndsay, indeed, drew his inspiration
from Dunbar as Lydgate did from Chaucer, but directly he
leaves politics or the life of the times his work becomes bad.
His first Avork, " The Dreme" (1528, in " rhyme royal " ; Vol. II.,
p. 282), is a parody of the Divine Comedy, a picture of the
three kingdoms of the w r orld through which the poet is con-
ducted by Dame Remembrance a sort of summary of things in
general ending with a description of Scotland, and a speech
from John the Commonweal, who attributes the poverty of the
land to robbery and oppression and a lack of justice and policy.
The only hope is to have a " gude auld prudent king," for " wo
to the realm that hes ower young ane king." The " Complaint
to the King" (1529) congratulates him on the acquisition of full
power, and " The Testament and Complaynt of our Soverane
Lordis Papyngo " (1530) denounces abuses even more boldly.
The short poem in which he answers the king's " Flyting " is
one of the most outspoken poems ever addressed to a sovereign,
whilst one of the best of his satires, in the manner of Dunbar,
is "The Complaynt of Bagsche, the Kingis auld Hound, to
Bawtie, the Kingis best belovit Dog, and his companions."
Of his lighter social satire the most amusing is his " Suppli-
cation directit to the Kingis Grace in Contemptioun of Syde
Taillis," a poem similar to Lydgate's upon the ladies' head-
dresses of his day, but far coarser. Both in its good qualities
and its defects it reminds one more of Dunbar than any of
his pieces. His "Deploration of the Death of Queen Mag-
dalene" (1537) was written on the sad death of James Y.'s
fragile bride of France, within forty days of her landing in
Scotland. Of his longer poems, " The Historic and Testament
of Squyer Meldrum " (c. 1550), a realistic romance of a con-




temporary gentleman, is the best, and " The Monarche " l
(1554), the last of the medieval riming guides to know-
ledge, is the worst. His " Tragedy of the Cardinal " (1547)
is a poem on the death of his old schoolfellow Cardinal
Beaton, told by himself in the manner of the " Mirror for
Magistrates." Two poems, " Kittie's Confessioun," a satire on
the confessional, and " Ane description of Peder Coffer,"
found only in the Bannatyne MS., are not quite certainly
his. " The Register of Arms of the Scottish Nobility and
Gentry" (1542) is a piece of work done in his capacity as
Lyon King-at-Arms.

His most interesting and important work is " Ane
Satire of the Three Estaits," the
earliest Scottish morality extant. It
differs from other plays of the kind,
for the allegory is almost completely
merged in the satiric element; and
besides, the ordinary shadowy person-
ifications of virtues and vices, real
Scotch characters are introduced, such
as Common Theft the border moss-
trooper, Pauper the poor man, the
Pardoner and others, all of whom
stand out as clearly as the characters
in Burns's " Halloween." The same
variety in verse-form is used as in
other moralities the real step for-
ward in dramatic evolution being

the introduction of concrete characters not only into the
interlude, but into the play itself. The play was acted
for the first time at Linlithgow on the Feast of Epiphany,

Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 17 of 68)