GOSSIP IN A LIBRARY
OTHER WORKS BY MR. EDMUND GOSSE
Northern Studies. 1879.
Life of Gray. 1882.
Seventeenth-Century Studies. 1883.
Life of Congreve. 1888.
A History of Eighteenth-Century Literature. 1889
Life of Philip Henry Gosse, F.R.S. 1890.
The Secret of Narcisse: a Romance. 1892.
Questions at Issue. 1893.
Critical Kit-Kats. 1896.
A Short History of Modern English Literature. 1897.
Life and Letters of John Donne. 1899.
French Profiles. 1904.
Life of Jeremy Taylor. 1904.
Life of Sir Thomas Browne. 1905.
Father and Son. 1907.
Life of Ibsen. 1908.
Two Visits to Denmark. 1911.
Collected Poems. 1911.
Portraits and Sketches. 1912.
A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES
A POET IN PRISON
A VOLUME OF OLD PLAYS
A CENSOR OF POETS
THE ROMANCE OF A DICTIONARY
LADY WINCHILSEA'S POEMS
LOVE AND BUSINESS
WHAT ANN LANG READ
POMPEY THE LITTLE
THE LIFE OF JOHN BUNGLE
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF SELBORNE
THE DIARY OF A LOVER OF LITERATURE
PETER BELL AND HIS TORMENTORS
THE DUKE OF RUTLAND'S POEMS
THE SHAVING OF SHAGPAT
O blessed Letters, that combine in one All ages past, and make one live with all: By you we doe conferre with who are gone, And the dead-living unto councell call: By you th' unborne shall have communion Of what we feele, and what doth us befall.
SAM. DANIEL Musophilus. 1602.
It is curious to reflect that the library, in our customary sense, is quite a modern institution. Three hundred years ago there were no public libraries in Europe. The Ambrosian, at Milan, dates from 1608; the Bodleian, at Oxford, from 1612. To these Angelo Rocca added his in Rome, in 1620. But private collections of books always existed, and these were the haunts of learning, the little glimmering hearths over which knowledge spread her cold fingers, in the darkest ages of the world. To-day, although national and private munificence has increased the number of public libraries so widely that almost every reader is within reach of books, the private library still flourishes. There are men all through the civilised world to whom a book is a jewel—an individual possession of great price. I have been asked to gossip about my books, for I also am a bibliophile. But when I think of the great collections of fine books, of the libraries of the magnificent, I do not know whether I dare admit any stranger to glance at mine. The Mayor of Queenborough feels as though he were a very important personage till Royalty drives through his borough without noticing his scarf and his cocked hat; and then, for the first time, he observes how small the Queenborough town-hall is. But if one is to gossip about books, it is, perhaps, as well that one should have some limits. I will leave the masters of bibliography to sing of greater matters, and will launch upon no more daring voyage than one autour de ma pauvre bibliotheque.
I have heard that the late Mr. Edward Solly, a very pious and worshipful lover of books, under several examples of whose book-plate I have lately reverently placed my own, was so anxious to fly all outward noise that he built himself a library in his garden. I have been told that the books stood there in perfect order, with the rose-spray flapping at the window, and great Japanese vases exhaling such odours as most annoy an insect-nostril. The very bees would come to the window, and sniff, and boom indignantly away again. The silence there was perfect. It must have been in such a secluded library that Christian Mentzelius was at work when he heard the male book-worm flap his wings, and crow like a cock in calling to his mate. I feel sure that even Mentzelius, a very courageous writer, would hardly pretend that he could hear such a "shadow of all sound" elsewhere. That is the library I should like to have. In my sleep, "where dreams are multitude," I sometimes fancy that one day I shall have a library in a garden. The phrase seems to contain the whole felicity of man—"a library in a garden!" It sounds like having a castle in Spain, or a sheep-walk in Arcadia, and I suppose that merely to wish for it is to be what indignant journalists call "a faddling hedonist."
In the meanwhile, my books are scattered about in cases in different parts of a double sitting-room, where the cats carouse on one side, and the hurdy-gurdy man girds up his loins on the other. A friend of Boethius had a library lined with slabs of ivory and pale green marble. I like to think of that when I am jealous of Mr. Frederick Locker-Lampson, as the peasant thinks of the White Czar when his master's banqueting hall dazzles him. If I cannot have cabinets of ebony and cedar, I may just as well have plain deal, with common glass doors to keep the dust out. I detest your Persian apparatus.
It is a curious reflection, that the ordinary private person who collects objects of a modest luxury, has nothing about him so old as his books. If a wave of the rod made everything around him disappear that did not exist a century ago, he would suddenly find himself with one or two sticks of furniture, perhaps, but otherwise alone with his books. Let the work of another century pass, and certainly nothing but these little brown volumes would be left, so many caskets full of passion and tenderness, disappointed ambition, fruitless hope, self-torturing envy, conceit aware, in maddening lucid moments, of its own folly. I think if Mentzelius had been worth his salt, those ears of his, which heard the book-worm crow, might have caught the echo of a sigh from beneath many a pathetic vellum cover. There is something awful to me, of nights, and when I am alone, in thinking of all the souls imprisoned in the ancient books around me. Not one, I suppose, but was ushered into the world with pride and glee, with a flushed cheek and heightened pulse; not one enjoyed a career that in all points justified those ample hopes and flattering promises.
The outward and visible mark of the citizenship of the book-lover is his book-plate. There are many good bibliophiles who abide in the trenches, and never proclaim their loyalty by a book-plate. They are with us, but not of us; they lack the courage of their opinions; they collect with timidity or carelessness; they have no need for the morrow. Such a man is liable to great temptations. He is brought face to face with that enemy of his species, the borrower, and dares not speak with him in the gate. If he had a book-plate he would say, "Oh! certainly I will lend you this volume, if it has not my book-plate in it; of course, one makes a rule never to lend a book that has." He would say this, and feign to look inside the volume, knowing right well that this safeguard against the borrower is there already. To have a book-plate gives a collector great serenity and self-confidence. We have laboured in a far more conscientious spirit since we had ours than we did before. A learned poet, Lord De Tabley, wrote a fascinating volume on book-plates, some years ago, with copious illustrations. There is not, however, one specimen in his book which I would exchange for mine, the work and the gift of one of the most imaginative of American artists, the late Edwin A. Abbey. It represents a very fine gentleman of about 1610, walking in broad sunlight in a garden, reading a little book of verses. The name is coiled around him, with the motto, Gravis cantantibus umbra. I will not presume to translate this tag of an eclogue, and I only venture to mention such an uninteresting matter, that my indulgent readers may have a more vivid notion of what I call my library. Mr. Abbey's fine art is there, always before me, to keep my ideal high.
To possess few books, and those not too rich and rare for daily use, has this advantage, that the possessor can make himself master of them all, can recollect their peculiarities, and often remind himself of their contents. The man that has two or three thousand books can be familiar with them all; he that has thirty thousand can hardly have a speaking acquaintance with more than a few. The more conscientious he is, the more he becomes like Lucian's amateur, who was so much occupied in rubbing the bindings of his books with sandal-wood and saffron, that he had no time left to study the contents. After all, with every due respect paid to "states" and editions and bindings and tall copies, the inside of the volume is really the essential part of it.
The excuses for collecting, however, are more than satire is ready to admit. The first edition represents the author's first thought; in it we read his words as he sent them out to the world in his first heat, with the type he chose, and with such peculiarities of form as he selected to do most justice to his creation. We often discover little individual points in a first edition, which never occur again. And if it be conceded that there is an advantage in reading a book in the form which the author originally designed for it, then all the other refinements of the collector become so many acts of respect paid to this first virgin apparition, touching and suitable homage of cleanness and fit adornment. It is only when this homage becomes mere eye-service, when a book radically unworthy of such dignity is too delicately cultivated, too richly bound, that a poor dilettantism comes in between the reader and what he reads. Indeed, the best of volumes may, in my estimation, be destroyed as a possession by a binding so sumptuous that no fingers dare to open it for perusal. To the feudal splendours of Mr. Cobden-Sanderson, a tenpenny book in a ten-pound binding, I say fie. Perhaps the ideal library, after all, is a small one, where the books are carefully selected and thoughtfully arranged in accordance with one central code of taste, and intended to be respectfully consulted at any moment by the master of their destinies. If fortune made me possessor of one book of excessive value, I should hasten to part with it. In a little working library, to hold a first quarto of Hamlet, would be like entertaining a reigning monarch in a small farmhouse at harvesting.
Much has of late been written, however, and pleasantly written, about the collecting and preserving of books. It is not my intention here to add to this department of modern literature. But I shall select from among my volumes some which seem less known in detail to modern readers than they should be, and I shall give brief "retrospective reviews" of these as though they were new discoveries. In other cases, where the personal history of a well-known book seems worth detaching from our critical estimate of it, that shall be the subject of my lucubration. Perhaps it may not be an unwelcome novelty to apply to old books the test we so familiarly apply to new ones. They will bear it well, for in their case there is no temptation to introduce any element of prejudice. Mr. Bludyer himself does not fly into a passion over a squat volume published two centuries ago, even when, as in the case of the first edition of Harrington's Oceana, there is such a monstrous list of errata that the writer has to tell us, by way of excuse, that a spaniel has been "questing" among his papers.
These scarce and neglected books are full of interesting things. Voltaire never made a more unfortunate observation than when he said that rare books were worth nothing, since, if they were worth anything, they would not be rare. We know better nowadays; we know how much there is in them which may appeal to only one man here and there, and yet to him with a voice like a clarion. There are books that have lain silent for a century, and then have spoken with the trumpet of a prophecy. We shall disdain nothing; we shall have a little criticism, a little anecdote, a little bibliography; and our old book shall go back to the shelves before it has had time to be tedious in its babbling.
BRITAIN: or a chorographical description of the most flourishing Kingdomes, England, Scotland and Ireland, and the Ilands adioyning; out of the depth of Antiquitie: beautified with Mappes of the severall Shires of England; Written first in Latine by William Camden, Clarenceux K. of A. Translated newly into English by Philemon Holland. Londini, Impensis Georgii Bishop & Joannis Norton, M.DC.X.
There is no more remarkable example of the difference between the readers of our light and hurrying age and those who obeyed "Eliza and our James," than the fact that the book we have before us at this moment, a folio of some eleven hundred pages, adorned, like a fighting elephant, with all the weightiest panoply of learning, was one of the most popular works of its time. It went through six editions, this vast antiquarian itinerary, before the natural demand of the vulgar released it from its Latin austerity; and the title-page we have quoted is that of the earliest English edition, specially translated, under the author's eye, by Dr. Philemon Holland, a laborious schoolmaster of Coventry. Once open to the general public, although then at the close of its first quarter of a century, the Britannia flourished with a new lease of life, and continued to bloom, like a literary magnolia, all down the seventeenth century. It Is now as little read as other famous books of uncompromising size. The bookshelves of to-day are not fitted for the reception of these heroic folios, and if we want British antiquities now, we find them in terser form and more accurately, or at least more plausibly, annotated in the writings of later antiquaries. Giant Camden moulders at his cave's mouth, a huge and reverend form seldom disturbed by puny passers-by. But his once popular folio was the life work of a particularly interesting and human person; and without affecting to penetrate to the darkest corners of the cavern, it may be instructive to stand a little while on the threshold.
When this first English edition of the Britannia was published, Camden was one of the most famous of living English writers. For one man of position who had heard of Shakespeare, there would be twenty, at least, who were quite familiar with the claims of the Head-master of Westminster and Clarenceux King-of-Arms. Camden was in his sixtieth year, in 1610; he had enjoyed slow success, violent detraction, and final triumph. His health was poor, but he continued to write history, eager, as he says, to show that "though I have been a studious admirer of venerable antiquity, yet have I not been altogether an incurious spectator of modern occurrences." He stood easily first among the historians of his time; he was respected and adored by the Court and by the Universities, and that his fame might be completed by the chrism of detraction, his popularity was assured from year to year by the dropping fire of obloquy which the Papists scattered from their secret presses. It had not been without a struggle that Camden had attained this pinnacle; and the Britannia had been his alpenstock.
This first English edition has the special interest of representing Camden's last thoughts. It is nominally a translation of the sixth Latin edition, but it has a good deal of additional matter supplied to Philemon Holland by the author, whereas later English issues containing fresh material are believed to be so far spurious. The Britannia grew with the life of Camden. He tells us that it was when he was a young man of six-and-twenty, lately started on his professional career as second master in Westminster School, that the famous Dutch geographer, Abraham Ortelius, "dealt earnestly with me that I would illustrate this isle of Britain." This was no light task to undertake in 1577. The authorities were few, and these in the highest degree occasional or fragmentary. It was not a question of compiling a collection of topographical antiquities. The whole process had to be gone through "from the egg."
As a youth at Oxford, Camden had turned all his best attention to this branch of study, and what the ancients had written about England was intimately known to him. Any one who looks at his book will see that the first 180 pages of the Britannia could be written by a scholar without stirring from his chair at Westminster. But when it came to the minute description of the counties there was nothing for it but personal travel; and accordingly Camden spent what holidays he could snatch from his labours as a schoolmaster in making a deliberate survey of the divisions of England. We possess some particulars of one of these journeys, that which occupied 1582, in which he started by Suffolk, through Yorkshire, and returned through Lancashire. He was a very rapid worker, he spared no pains, and in 1586, nine years after Ortelius set him going, his first draft was issued from the press. In later times, and when his accuracy had been cruelly impeached, he set forth his claims to attention with dignity. He said: "I have in no wise neglected such things as are most material to search and sift out the truth. I have attained to some skill of the most ancient British and Anglo-Saxon tongues; I have travelled over all England for the most part, I have conferred with most skilful observers in each county.... I have been diligent in the records of this realm. I have looked into most libraries, registers and memorials of churches, cities and corporations, I have pored upon many an old roll and evidence ... that the honour of verity might in no wise be impeached."
It was no slight task to undertake such a work on such a scale. And when the first Latin edition appeared, it was hailed as a first glory in the diadem of Elizabeth. Specialists in particular counties found that Camden knew more about their little circle than they themselves had taken all their lives to learn. Lombard, the great Kentish antiquary, said that he never knew Kent properly, till he read of it in the Britannia. But Camden was not content to rest on his laurels. Still, year by year, he made his painful journeys through the length and breadth of the land, and still, as new editions were called forth, the book grew from octavo into folio. Suddenly, about twelve years after its first unchallenged appearance, there was issued, like a bolt out of the blue, a very nasty pamphlet, called Discovery of certain Errors Published in the much-commended Britannia, which created a fine storm in the antiquarian teapot. This attack was the work of a man who would otherwise be forgotten, Ralph Brooke, the York Herald. He had formerly been an admirer of Camden's, his "humble friend," he called himself; but when Camden was promoted over his head to be Clarenceux King-of-Arms, it seemed to Ralph Brooke that it became his duty to denounce the too successful antiquary as a charlatan. He accordingly fired off the unpleasant little gun already mentioned, and, for the moment, he hit Camden rather hard.
The author of the Britannia, to justify his new advancement, had introduced into a fresh edition of his book a good deal of information regarding the descent of barons and other noble families. This was York Herald's own subject, and he was able to convict Camden of a startling number of negligences, and what he calls "many gross mistakings." The worst part of it was that York Herald had privately pointed out these blunders to Camden, and that the latter had said it was too much trouble to alter them. This, at least, is what the enemy states in his attack, and if this be true, it can hardly be doubled that Camden had sailed too long in fair weather, or that he needed a squall to recall him to the duties of the helm. He answered Brooke, who replied with increased contemptuous tartness. It is admitted that Camden was indiscreet in his manner of reply, and that some genuine holes had been pricked in his heraldry. But the Britannia lay high out of the reach of fatal pedantic attack, and this little cloud over the reputation of the book passed entirely away, and is remembered now only as a curiosity of literature.
In the preface the author quaintly admits that "many have found a defect in this work that maps were not adjoined, which do allure the eyes by pleasant portraitures, ... yet my ability could not compass it." They must, then, have been added at the last by a generous afterthought, for this book is full of maps. The maritime ones are adorned with ships in full sail, and bold sea-monsters with curly tails; the inland ones are speckled with trees and spires and hillocks. In spite of these old-fashioned oddities, the maps are remarkably accurate. They are signed by John Norden and William Kip, the master map-makers of that reign. The book opens with an account of the first inhabitants of Britain, and their manners and customs; how the Romans fared, and what antiquities they left behind, with copious plates of Roman coins. By degrees we come down, through Saxons and Normans, to that work which was peculiarly Camden's, the topographical antiquarianism. He begins with Cornwall, "that region which, according to the geographers, is the first of all Britain," and then proceeds to what he calls "Denshire" and we Devonshire, a county, as he remarks, "barbarous on either side."
With page 822 he finds himself at the end of his last English county, Northumberland, looking across the Tweed to Berwick, "the strongest hold in all Britain," where it is "no marvel that soldiers without other light do play here all night long at dice, considering the side light that the sunbeams cast all night long." This rather exaggerated statement is evidently that of a man accustomed to look upon Berwick as the northernmost point of his country, as we shall all do, no doubt, when Scotland has secured Home Rule. We are, therefore, not surprised to find Scotland added, in a kind of hurried appendix, in special honour to James I and VI. The introduction to the Scottish section is in a queer tone of banter; Camden knows little and cares less about the "commonwealth of the Scots," and "withall will lightly pass over it." In point of fact, he gets to Duncansby Head in fifty-two pages, and not without some considerable slips of information. Ireland interests him more, and he finally closes with a sheet of learned gossip about the outlying islands.
The scope of Camden's work did not give Philemon Holland much opportunity for spreading the wings of his style. Anxious to present Camden fairly, the translator is curiously uneven in manner, now stately, now slipshod, weaving melodious sentences, but forgetting to tie them up with a verb. He is commonly too busy with hard facts to be a Euphuist. But here is a pretty and ingenious passage about Cambridge, unusually popular in manner, and exceedingly handsome in the mouth of an Oxford man:
"On this side the bridge, where standeth the greater part by far of the City, you have a pleasant sight everywhere to the eye, what of fair streets orderly ranged, what of a number of churches, and of sixteen colleges, sacred mansions of the Muses, wherein a number of great learned men are maintained, and wherein the knowledge of the best arts, and the skill in tongues, so flourish, that they may rightly be counted the fountains of literature, religion and all knowledge whatsoever, who right sweetly bedew and sprinkle, with most wholesome waters, the gardens of the Church and Commonwealth through England. Nor is there wanting anything here, that a man may require in a most flourishing University, were it not that the air is somewhat unhealthful, arising as it doth out of a fenny ground hard by. And yet, peradventure, they that first founded a University in that place, allowed of Plato's judgment. For he, being of a very excellent and strong constitution of body, chose out the Academia, an unwholesome place of Attica, for to study in, and so the superfluous rankness of body which might overlay the mind, might be kept under by the dis-temperature of the place."
The poor scholars in the mouldering garrets of Clare, looking over waste land to the oozy Cam, no doubt wished that their foundress had been less Spartan. Very little of the domestic architecture that Camden admired in Cambridge is now left; and yet probably it and Oxford are the two places of all which he describes that it would give him least trouble to identify if he came to life again three hundred years after the first appearance of his famous Britannia.
A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES
A MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES: being a true Chronicle Historie of the untimely falles of such unfortunate Princes and men of note, as have happened since the first entrance of Brute into this Iland, untill this our latter Age. Newly enlarged with a last part, called A WINTER NIGHTS VISION, being an addition of such Tragedies, especially famous, as are exempted in the former Historie, with a Poem annexed, called ENGLAND'S ELIZA. At London. Imprinted by Felix Kyngston, 1610.
This huge quarto of 875 pages, all in verse, is the final form, though far from the latest impression, of a poetical miscellany which had been swelling and spreading for nearly sixty years without ever losing its original character. We may obtain some imperfect notion of the Mirror for Magistrates if we imagine a composite poem planned by Sir Walter Scott, and contributed to by Wordsworth and Southey, being still issued, generation after generation, with additions by the youngest versifiers of to-day. The Mirror for Magistrates was conceived when Mary's protomartyrs were burning at Smithfield, and it was not finished until James I. had been on the throne seven years. From first to last, at least sixteen writers had a finger in this pie, and the youngest of them was not born when the eldest of them died.
It is commonly said, even by such exact critics as the late Dean Church, that the Mirror for Magistrates was planned by the most famous of the poets who took part in its execution, Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst. If a very clever man is combined in any enterprise with people of less prominence, it is ten to one that he gets all the credit of the adventure. But the evidence on this point goes to prove that it was not until the work was well advanced that Sackville contributed to it at all. The inventor of the Mirror for Magistrates seems, rather, to have been George Ferrers, a prominent lawyer and politician, who was master of the King's Pastimes at the very close of Henry VIII.'s reign. Ferrers was ambitious to create a drama in England, and lacked only genius to be the British Aeschylus. The time was not ripe, but he was evidently very anxious to set the world tripping to his goatherd's pipe. He advertised for help in these designs, and the list of persons he wanted is an amusing one; he was willing to engage "a divine, a philosopher, an astronomer, a poet, a physician, an apothecary, a master of requests, a civilian, a clown, two gentlemen ushers, besides jugglers, tumblers, fools, friars, and such others," Fortune sent him, from Oxford, one William Baldwin, who was most of these things, especially divine and poet, and who became Ferrers' confidential factotum. The master and assistant-master of Pastimes were humming merrily on at their masques and triumphs, when, the King expired. Under Queen Mary, revels might not flourish, but the friendship between Ferrers and Baldwin did not cease. They planned a more doleful but more durable form of entertainment, and the Mirror for Magistrates was started. Those who claim for Sackville the main part of this invention, forget that he is not mentioned as a contributor till what was really the third edition, and that, when the first went to press, he was only eighteen years of age.
Ferrers well comprehended the taste of his age when he conceived the notion of a series of poems, in which famous kings and nobles should describe in their own persons the frailty and instability of worldly prosperity, even in those whom Fortune seems most highly to favour. One of the most popular books of the preceding century had been Lydgate's version of Boccaccio's poems on the calamities of illustrious men, a vast monody in nine books, all harping on that single chord of the universal mutability of fortune. Lydgate's Fall of Princes had, by the time that Mary ascended the throne, existed in popular esteem for a hundred years. Its language and versification were now so antiquated as to be obsolete; it was time that princes should fall to a more modern measure.
The first edition of Baldwin and Ferrers' book went to press early in 1555, but of this edition only one or two fragments exist. It was "hindered by the Lord Chancellor that then was," Stephen Gardiner, and was entirely suppressed. The leaf in the British Museum is closely printed in double columns, and suggests that Baldwin and Ferrers meant to make a huge volume of it. The death of Mary removed the embargo, and before Elizabeth had been Queen for many months, the second (or genuine first) edition of the Myrroure for Magistrates made its appearance, a thin quarto, charmingly printed in two kinds of type. This contained twenty lives—Haslewood, the only critic who has described this edition, says nineteen, but he overlooked Ferrers' tale of "Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester"—and was the work, so Baldwin tells us, of seven persons besides himself.
The first story in the book, a story which finally appears at p. 276 of the edition before us, recounts the "Fall of Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice of England, and other of his fellows, for misconstruing the laws and expounding them to serve the Prince's affections, Anno 1388." The manner in which this story is presented is a good example of the mode adopted throughout the miscellany. The corrupt judge and his fellow-lawyers appear, as in a mirror, or like personages behind the illuminated sheet at the "Chat Noir," and lamentably recount their woes in chorus. The story of Tresilian was written by Ferrers, but the persons who speak it address his companion:
Baldwin, we beseech thee with our names to begin
—which support Baldwin's claim to be looked upon as the editor of the whole book. It is very dreary doggerel, it must be confessed, but no worse than most of the poetry indited in England at that uninspired moment in the national history. A short example—a flower culled from any of these promiscuous thickets—will suffice to give a general notion of the garden. Here is part of the lament of "The Lord Clifford":
_Because my father Lord John Clifford died, Slain at St. Alban's, in his prince's aid, Against the Duke my heart for malice fired, So that I could from wreck no way be stayed, But, to avenge my father's death, assayed All means I might the Duke of York to annoy, And all his kin and friends for to destroy.
This made me with my bloody dagger wound His guiltless son, that never 'gainst me stored; His father's body lying dead on ground To pierce with spear, eke with my cruel sword To part his neck, and with his head to board, Invested with a royal paper crown, From place to place to bear it up and down.
But cruelty can never 'scape the scourge Of shame, of horror, or of sudden death; Repentance self that other sins may purge Doth fly from this, so sore the soul it slayeth; Despair dissolves the tyrant's bitter breath, For sudden vengeance suddenly alights On cruel deeds to quit their bloody spites_.
The only contribution to this earliest form of the Mirror which is attributed to an eminent writer, is the "Edward IV" of Skelton, and this is one of the most tuneless of all. It reminds the ear of a whining ballad snuffled out in the street at night by some unhappy minstrel that has got no work to do. As Baldwin professes to quote it from memory, Skelton being then dead, perhaps its versification suffered in his hands.
This is not the place to enter minutely into the history of the building up of this curious book. The next edition, that of 1563, was enriched by Sackville's splendid "Induction" and the tale of "Buckingham," both of which are comparatively known so well, and have been so often reprinted separately, that I need not dwell upon them here. They occupy pp. 255-271 and 433-455 of the volume before us. In 1574 a very voluminous contributor to the constantly swelling tide of verse appears. Thomas Blener Hasset, a soldier on service in Guernsey Castle, thought that the magisterial ladies had been neglected, and proceeded in 1578 to sing the fall of princesses. It is needless to continue the roll of poets, but it is worth while to point out the remarkable fact that each new candidate held up the mirror to the magistrates so precisely in the manner of his predecessors, that it is difficult to distinguish Newton from Baldwin, or Churchyard from Niccols.
Richard Niccols, who is responsible for the collection in its final state, was a person of adventure, who had fought against Cadiz in the Ark, and understood the noble practice of the science of artillery. By the time it came down to him, in 1610, the Mirror for Magistrates had attained such a size that he was obliged to omit what had formed a pleasing portion of it, the prose dialogues which knit the tales in verse together, such pleasant familiar chatter between the poets as "Ferrers, said Baldwin, take you the chronicles and mark them as they come," and the like. It was a pity to lose all this, but Niccols had additions of his own verse to make; ten new legends entitled "A Winter Night's Vision," and a long eulogy upon Queen Elizabeth, "England's Eliza." He would have been more than human, if he had not considered all this far more valuable than the old prose babbling in black letter. This copy of mine is of the greatest rarity, for it contains two dedicatory sonnets by Richard Niccols, one addressed to Lady Elizabeth Clere and the other to the Earl of Nottingham, which seem to have been instantly suppressed, and are only known to exist in this and, I believe, one or two other examples of the book. These are, perhaps, worth reprinting for their curiosity. The first runs as follows:—
My Muse, that whilom wail'd those Briton kings, Who unto her in vision did appear, Craves leave to strengthen her night-weathered wings In the warm sunshine of your golden Clere [clear]; Where she, fair Lady, tuning her chaste lays Of England's Empress to her hymnic string For your affect, to hear that virgins praise, Makes choice of your chaste self to hear her sing, Whose royal worth, (true virtue's paragon,) Here made me dare to engrave your worthy name. In hope that unto you the same alone Will so excuse me of presumptuous blame, That graceful entertain my Muse may find And even bear such grace in thankful mind.
The sonnet to the Earl of Nottingham, the famous admiral and quondam rival of Sir Walter Raleigh, is more interesting:—
As once that dove (true honour's aged Lord), Hovering with wearied wings about your ark, When Cadiz towers did fall beneath your sword, To rest herself did single out that bark, So my meek Muse,—from all that conquering rout, Conducted through the sea's wild wilderness By your great self, to grave their names about The Iberian pillars of Jove's Hercules,— Most humbly craves your lordly lion's aid 'Gainst monster envy, while she tells her story Of Britain's princes, and that royall maid In whose chaste hymn her Clio sings your glory, Which if, great Lord, you grant, my Muse shall frame Mirrors most worthy your renowned name.
But apparently the "great Lord" would not grant permission, and so the sonnet had to be rigorously suppressed.
The Mirror for Magistrates has ceased to be more than a curiosity and a collector's rarity, but it once assumed a very ambitious function. It was a serious attempt to build up, as a cathedral is built by successive architects, a great national epic, the work of many hands. In a gloomy season of English history, in a violent age of tyranny, fanaticism, and legalised lawlessness, it endeavoured to present, to all whom it might concern, a solemn succession of discrowned tyrants and law-makers smitten by the cruel laws they had made. Sometimes, in its bold and not very delicate way, the Mirror for Magistrates is impressive still from its lofty moral tone, its gloomy fatalism, and its contempt for temporary renown. As we read its sombre pages we see the wheel of fortune revolving; the same motion which makes the tiara glitter one moment at the summit, plunges it at the next into the pit of pain and oblivion. Steadily, uniformly, the unflinching poetasters grind out in their monotonous rime royal how "Thomas Wolsey fell into great disgrace," and how "Sir Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, was causeless imprisoned and cruelly wounded"; how "King Kimarus was devoured by wild beasts," and how "Sigeburt, for his wicked life, was thrust from his throne and miserably slain by a herdsman." It gives us a strange feeling of sympathy to realise that the immense popularity of this book must have been mainly due to the fact that it comforted the multitudes who groaned under a harsh and violent despotism to be told over and over again that cruel kings and unjust judges habitually came at last to a bad end.
A POET IN PRISON
THE SHEPHEARDS HUNTING: being Certain Eglogues written during the time of the Authors Imprisonment in the Marshalsey. By George Wyther, Gentleman. London, printed by W. White for George Norton, and are to be sold at the signe of the red-Bull neere Temple-barre. 1615.
If ever a man needed resuscitation in our antiquarian times it was George Wither. When most of the Jacobean poets sank into comfortable oblivion, which merely meant being laid with a piece of camphor in cotton-wool to keep fresh for us, Wither had the misfortune to be recollected. He became a byword of contempt, and the Age of Anne persistently called him Withers, a name, I believe, only possessed really by one distinguished person, Cleopatra Skewton's page-boy. Swift, in The Battle of the Books, brings in this poet as the meanest common trooper that he can mention in his modern army. Pope speaks of him with the utmost freedom as "wretched Withers." It is true that he lived too long and wrote too much—a great deal too much. Mr. Hazlitt gives the titles of more than one hundred of his publications, and some of them are wonderfully unattractive. I should not like to be shut up on a rainy day with his Salt upon Salt, which seems to have lost its savour, nor do I yearn to blow upon his Tuba Pacifica, although it was "disposed of rather for love than money." The truth is that good George Wither lost his poetry early, was an upright, honest, and patriotic man who unhappily developed into a scold, and got into the bad habit of pouring out "precautions," "cautional expressions," "prophetic phrensies," "epistles at random," "personal contributions to the national humiliation," "passages," "raptures," and "allarums," until he really became the greatest bore in Christendom. It was Charles Lamb who swept away this whole tedious structure of Wither's later writings and showed us what a lovely poet he was in his youth.
When the book before us was printed, George Wither was aged twenty-seven. He had just stepped gingerly out of the Marshalsea Prison, and his poems reveal an amusing mixture of protest against having been put there at all and deprecation of being put there again. Let no one waste the tear of sensibility over that shell of the Marshalsea Prison, which still, I believe, exists. The family of the Dorrits languished in quite another place from the original Marshalsea of Wither's time, although that also lay across the water in Southwark. It is said that the prison was used for the confinement of persons who had spoken lewdly of dignitaries about the Court. Wither, as we shall see, makes a great parade of telling us why he was imprisoned; but his language is obscure. Perhaps he was afraid to be explicit. In 1613 he had published a little volume of satires, called Abuses stript and whipt. This had been very popular, running into six or seven editions within a short time, and some one in office, no doubt, had fitted on the fool's cap. Five years later the poor poet would have had a chance of being shipped straight off to Virginia, as a "debauched person"; as it was, the Marshalsea seems to have been tolerably unpleasant. We gather, however, that he enjoyed some alleviations. He could say, like Leigh Hunt, "the visits of my friends were the bright side of my captivity; I read verses without end, and wrote almost as many." The poems we have before us were written in the Marshalsea. The book itself is very tiny and pretty, with a sort of leafy trellis-work at the top and bottom of every page, almost suggesting a little posy of wild-flowers thrown through the iron bars of the poet's cage, and pressed between the pages of his manuscript. Nor is there any book of Wither's which breathes more deeply of the perfume of the fields than this which was written in the noisome seclusion of the Marshalsea.
Although the title-page assures us that these "eglogues" were written during the author's imprisonment, we may have a suspicion that the first three were composed just after his release. They are very distinct from the rest in form and character. To understand them we must remember that in 1614, just before the imprisonment, Wither had taken a share with his bosom friend, William Browne, of the Inner Temple, in bringing out a little volume of pastorals, called The Shepherd's Pipe. Browne, a poet who deserves well of all Devonshire men, was two years younger than Wither, and had just begun to come before the public as the author of that charming, lazy, Virgilian poem of Britannia's Pastorals. There was something of Keats in Browne, an artist who let the world pass him by; something of Shelley in Wither, a prophet who longed to set his seal on human progress. In the Shepherd's Pipe Willy (William Browne) and Roget (Geo-t-r) had been the interlocutors, and Christopher Brooke, another rhyming friend, had written an eclogue under the name of Cutty. These personages reappear in The Shepherd's Hunting, and give us a glimpse of pleasant personal relations. In the first "eglogue," Willy comes to the Marshalsea one afternoon to condole with Roget, but finds him very cheerful. The prisoner poet assures his friend that
This barren place yields somewhat to relieve, For I have found sufficient to content me, And more true bliss than ever freedom lent me;
and Willy goes away, when it is growing dark, rejoiced to find that "the cage doth some birds good." Next morning he returns and brings Cutty, or Cuddy, with him, for Cuddy has news to tell the prisoner that all England is taking an interest in him, and that this adversity has made him much more popular than he was before. But Willy and Cuddy are extremely anxious to know what it was that caused Roget's imprisonment, and at last he agrees to tell them. Hitherto the poem has been written in ottava rima, a form which is sufficiently uncommon in our early seventeenth-century poetry to demand special notice in this case. In a prose postscript to this book Wither tells us that the title, The Shepherd's Hunting, which he seems to feel needs explanation, is due to the stationer, or, as we should say now, to the publisher. But perhaps this was an afterthought, for in the account he gives to Willy and Cuddy he certainly suggests the title himself. He represents himself as the shepherd given up to the delights of hunting the human passions through the soul; the simile seems a little confused, because he represents these qualities not as the quarry, but as the hounds, and so the story of Actaeon is reversed; instead of the hounds pursuing their master, the master hunts his dogs. At all events, the result is that he "dips his staff in blood, and onwards leads his thunder to the wood," where he is ignominiously captured by his Majesty's gamekeeper. But the allegory hardly runs upon all-fours.
The next "eglogue" represents again another visit to the prisoner, and this time Willy and Cuddy bring Alexis with them; perhaps Alexis is John Davies, of Hereford, another contributor to The Shepherd's Pipe. Roget starts his allegory again, in the same mild, satiric manner he had adopted, to his hurt, in Abuses stript and whipt. Wither becomes quite delightful again, when cheerfulness breaks through this satirical philosophy, and when he tells us:
But though that all the world's delight forsake me, I have a Muse, and she shall music make me; Whose aery notes, in spite of closest cages, Shall give content to me and after ages.
They all felt certain of immortality, these cheerful poets of Elizabeth and James, and Prince Posterity has seen proper to admit the claim in more instances than might well have been expected.
But the delightful part of The Shepherd's Hunting has yet to come. With the fourth "eglogue" the caged bird begins to sing like a lark at Heaven's gate, and it is the prisoned man—who ought to be in doleful dumps—that rallies his free friend Browne on his low spirits. It is time, he says, to be merry:
Coridon, with his bold rout, Hath already been about, For the elder shepherds' dole, And fetched in the summer pole; Whilst the rest have built a bower To defend them from a shower, Sealed so close, with boughs all green, Titan cannot pry between; Now the dairy-wenches dream Of their strawberries and cream, And each doth herself advance, To be taken in to dance.
What summer thoughts are these to come from a pale prisoner in the hot and putrid Marshalsea! They are either symptoms of acute nostalgia, or proofs of a cheerfulness that lifts their author above a mortal pitch. But Willy declines to join the Lady of the May at her high junketings; he also has troubles, and prefers to whisper them through Roget's iron bars. There are those who "my Music do contemn," who will none of the poetry of Master William Browne of the Inner Temple. It is useless for him to wrestle with brown shepherds for the
Cups of turned maple-root, Whereupon the skilful man Hath engraved the Loves of Pan,
or contend for the "fine napkin wrought with blue," if those base clowns called critics are busy with his detraction. But Roget instructs him that Verse is its own high reward, that the songs of a true poet will naturally arise like the moon out of and beyond all racks of envious cloud, and that the last thing he should do is to despair. He rises to his own greatest and best work in this encouragement of a brother-poet, and no one who reads such noble verses as these dare question Wither's claim to a fauteuil in the Academy of Parnassus:
If thy Verse do bravely tower As she makes wing, she gets power, Yet the higher she doth soar, She's affronted still the more; Till she to the highest hath past, Then she rests with Fame at last. Let nought therefore thee affright, But make forward in thy flight; For if I could match thy rhyme To the very stars I'd climb, There begin again, and fly Till I reached Eternity.
In the fifth "eglogue" Roget and Alexis compare notes about their early happiness in phrases of an odd commixture. The pastoral character of the poetry has to be carried out, and so we read of how Roget on a great occasion played a match at football, "having scarce twenty Satyrs on his side," against some of "the best tried Ruffians in the land." Great Pan presided at that match by the banks of Thames, and though the satyrs and their laureate leader were worsted, the moral victory, as people call it, remained with the latter. All this is an allegory; and indeed we walk in the very shadow of innuendo all through The Shepherd's Hunting.
The moral of the whole thing is that eternal ditty of tuneful youth: All for Verse and the World well lost. The enemy is around them on all sides, jailers of the Marshalsea and envious critics, the evil shepherds that preside over grates of steel and noisome beds of straw, but Youth has its mocking answer to all these:
Let them disdain and fret till they are weary! We in ourselves have that shall make us merry; Which he that wants and had the power to know it, Would give his life that he might die a poet.
It was no small thing to be suffering for Apollo's sake in 1614. Shakespeare might hear of it at Stratford, and talk of the prisoner as he strolled with some friend on the banks of Avon. A greater than Shakespeare—as most men thought in those days—Ben Jonson himself, might talk the matter over "at those lyric feasts, Made at the Sun, The Dog, the triple Tun"; for had not he himself languished in a worse dungeon and under a heavier charge than Wither? To be seven-and-twenty, to be in trouble with the Government about one's verses, and to have other young poets, in a ferment of enthusiasm, clinging like swallows to the prison-bars—how delicious a torment! And to know that it will soon be over, and that the sweet, pure meadows lie just outside the reek of Southwark, that summer lingers still and that shepherds pipe and play, that Fame is sitting by her cheerful fountain with a garland for the weary head, and that lasses, "who more excell Than the sweet-voic'd Philomel," are ready to cluster round the Interesting captive, and lead him away in daisy-chains—what could be more consolatory! And we close the little dainty volume, with its delicate perfume of friendship and poetry and hope.
DEATH'S DVELL; or, A Consolation to the Soule, against the dying Life, and living Death of the Body. Delivered in a Sermon at White Hall, before the King's Maiesty, in the beginning of Lent, 1630. By that late learned and Reverend Divine, John Donne, Dr. in Divinity, & Deane of S. Pauls, London. Being his last Sermon, and called by his Maiesties houshold The Doctor's owne Funerall Sermon. London, Printed by Thomas Harper, for Richard Redmer and Benjamin Fisher, and are to be sold at the signe of the Talbot in Alders-gate street. MDCXXXII.
The value of this tiny quarto with the enormous title depends entirely, so far as the collector is concerned, on whether or no it possesses the frontispiece. So many people, not having the fear of books before their eyes, have divorced the latter from the former, that a perfect copy of Death's Duel is quite a capture over which the young bibliophile may venture to glory; but let him not fancy that he has a prize if his copy does not possess the portrait-plate. One has but to glance for a moment at this frontispiece to see that there is here something very much out of the common. It is engraved in the best seventeenth-century style, and represents, apparently, the head and bust of a dead man wrapped in a winding-sheet. The eyes are shut, the mouth is drawn, and nothing was ever seen more ghastly.
Yet it is not really the picture of a dead man: it represents the result of one of the grimmest freaks that ever entered into a pious mind. In the early part of March 1630 (1631), the great Dr. Donne, Dean of St. Paul's, being desperately ill, and not likely to recover, called a wood-carver in to the Deanery, and ordered a small urn, just large enough to hold his feet, and a board as long as his body, to be produced. When these articles were ready, they were brought into his study, which was first warmed, and then the old man stripped off his clothes, wrapped himself in a winding-sheet which was open only so far as to reveal the face and beard, and then stood upright in the little wooden urn, supported by leaning against the board. His limbs were arranged like those of dead persons, and when his eyes had been closed, a painter was introduced into the room and desired to make a full-length and full-size picture of this terrific object, this solemn theatrical presentment of life in death. The frontispiece of Death's Duel gives a reproduction of the upper part of this picture. It was said to be a remarkably truthful portrait of the great poet and divine, and it certainly agrees in all its proportions with the accredited portrait of Donne as a young man.
It appears (for Walton's account is not precise) that it was after standing for this grim picture, but before its being finished, that the Dean preached his last sermon, that which is here printed. He had come up from Essex in great physical weakness in order not to miss his appointment to preach in his cathedral before the King on the first Friday in Lent. He entered the pulpit with so emaciated a frame and a face so pale and haggard, and spoke with a voice so faint and hollow, that at the end the King himself turned to one of his suite, and whispered, "The Dean has preached his own funeral sermon!" So, indeed, it proved to be; for he presently withdrew to his bed, and summoned his friends around to take a solemn farewell. He died very gradually after about a fortnight, his last words being, not in distress or anguish, but as it would seem in visionary rapture: "I were miserable if I might not die." All this fortnight and to the moment of his death, the terrible life-sized portrait of himself in his winding-sheet stood near his bedside, where it could be the "hourly object" of his attention. So one of the greatest Churchmen of the seventeenth century, and one of the greatest, if the most eccentric, of its lyrical poets passed away in the very pomp of death, on the 31st of March, 1631.
There was something eminently calculated to arrest and move the imagination in such an end as this, and people were eager to read the discourse which the "sacred authority" of his Majesty himself had styled the Dean's funeral sermon. It was therefore printed in 1632. As sermons of the period go it is not long, yet it takes a full hour to read it slowly aloud, and we may thus estimate the strain which it must have given to the worn-out voice and body of the Dean to deliver it. The present writer once heard a very eminent Churchman, who was also a great poet, preach his last sermon, at the age of ninety. This was the Danish bishop Grundtvig. In that case the effort of speaking, the extraction, as it seemed, of the sepulchral voice from the shrunken and ashen face, did not last more than ten minutes. But the English divines of the Jacobean age, like their Scottish brethren of to-day, were accustomed to stupendous efforts of endurance from their very diaconate.
The sermon is one of the most "creepy" fragments of theological literature it would be easy to find. It takes as its text the words from the sixty-eighth Psalm: "And unto God the Lord belong the issues of death." In long, stern sentences of sonorous magnificence, adorned with fine similes and gorgeous words, as the funeral trappings of a king might be with gold lace, the dying poet shrinks from no physical horror and no ghostly terror of the great crisis which he was himself to be the first to pass through. "That which we call life," he says, and our blood seems to turn chilly in our veins as we listen, "is but Hebdomada mortium, a week of death, seven days, seven periods of our life spent in dying, a dying seven times over, and there is an end. Our birth dies in infancy, and our infancy dies in youth, and youth and rest die in age, and age also dies and determines all. Nor do all these, youth out of infancy, or age out of youth, arise so as a Phoenix out of the ashes of another Phoenix formerly dead, but as a wasp or a serpent out of a carrion or as a snake out of dung." We can comprehend how an audience composed of men and women whose ne'er-do-weel relatives went to the theatre to be stirred by such tragedies as those of Marston and Cyril Tourneur would themselves snatch a sacred pleasure from awful language of this kind in the pulpit. There is not much that we should call doctrine, no pensive or consolatory teaching, no appeal to souls in the modern sense. The effect aimed at is that of horror, of solemn preparation for the advent of death, as by one who fears, in the flutter of mortality, to lose some peculiarity of the skeleton, some jag of the vast crooked scythe of the spectre. The most ingenious of poets, the most subtle of divines, whose life had been spent in examining Man in the crucible of his own alchemist fancy, seems anxious to preserve to the very last his powers of unflinching spiritual observation. The Dean of St. Paul's, whose reputation for learned sanctity had scarcely sufficed to shelter him from scandal on the ground of his fantastic defence of suicide, was familiar with the idea of Death, and greeted him as a welcome old friend whose face he was glad to look on long and closely.
The leaves at the end of this little book are filled up with two copies of funeral verses on Dean Donne. These are unsigned, but we know from other sources to whom to attribute them. Each is by an eminent man. The first was written by Dr. Henry King, then the royal chaplain, and afterward Bishop of Chichester, to whom the Dean had left, besides a model in gold of the Synod of Dort, that painting of himself in the winding-sheet of which we have already spoken. This portrait Dr. King put into the hands of Nicholas Stone, the sculptor, who made a reproduction of it in white marble, with the little urn concealing the feet. This was placed in St. Paul's Cathedral, of which King was chief residentiary, and may still be seen in the present Cathedral King's elegy is very prosy in starting, but improves as it goes along, and is most ingenious throughout. These are the words in which he refers to the appearance of the dying preacher in the pulpit:
Thou (like the dying Swan) didst lately sing Thy mournful dirge in audience of the King; When pale looks, and weak accents of thy breath Presented so to life that piece of death, That it was feared and prophesied by all Thou thither cam'st to preach thy funeral.
The other elegy is believed to have been written by a young man of twenty-one, who was modestly and enthusiastically seeking the company of the most famous London wits. This was Edward Hyde, thirty years later to become Earl of Clarendon, and finally to leave behind him manuscripts which should prove him the first great English historian. His verses here bespeak his good intention, but no facility in rhyming.
It was left for the riper disciples of the great divine to sing his funerals in more effective numbers. Of the crowd of poets who attended him with music to the grave, none expressed his merits in such excellent verses or with so much critical judgment as Thomas Carew, the king's sewer in ordinary. It is not so well known but that we quote some lines from it:
The fire That fills with spirit and heat the Delphic choir, Which, kindled first by thy Promethean breath, Glow'd here awhile, lies quench'd now in thy death. The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds O'erspread, was purg'd by thee, the lazy seeds Of servile imitation thrown away, And fresh invention planted; thou disdt pay The debts of our penurious bankrupt age.
* * * * *
Whatsoever wrong By ours was done the Greek or Latin tongue, Thou hast redeem'd, and opened us a mine Of rich and pregnant fancy, drawn a line Of masculine expression, which, had good Old Orpheus seen, or all the ancient brood Our superstitious fools admire, and hold Their lead more precious than thy burnish'd gold, Thou hadst been their exchequer.... Let others carve the rest; it will suffice I on thy grave this epitaph incise:— Here lies a King, that ruled as he thought fit The universal monarchy of wit; Here lies two Flamens, and both these the best,— Apollo's first, at last the True God's priest.
There was no full memoir of Dr. Donne until it was the privilege of the present writer, in 1900, to publish his Life and Letters in two substantial volumes. Since then, in 1912, his Poetical Works have been edited and sifted, with remarkable delicacy and judgment, by Professor Grierson. It is now, therefore, as easy as it can be expected ever to be to follow the career of this extraordinary man, with all its cold and hot fits, its rage of lyrical amativeness, its Roman passion, and the high and clouded austerity of its final Anglicanism. Donne is one of the most fascinating, in some ways one of the most inscrutable, figures in our literature, and we may contemplate him with instruction from his first wild escapade into the Azores down to his voluntary penitence in the pulpit and the winding-sheet.
THE HERBALL or General Historie of Plantes. Gathered by John Gerarde, of London, Master in Chirurgerie. Very much enlarged and amended by Thomas Johnson, citizen and apothecarye of London. London, Printed by Adam Islip, Joice Norton, and Richard Whitakers. Anno 1633.
The proverb says that a door must be either open or shut. The bibliophile is apt to think that a book should be either little or big. For my own part, I become more and more attached to "dumpy twelves"; but that does not preclude a certain discreet fondness for folios. If a man collects books, his library ought to contain a Herbal; and if he has but room for one, that should be the best. The luxurious and sufficient thing, I think, is to possess what booksellers call "the right edition of Gerard"; that is to say, the volume described at the head of this paper. There is no handsomer book to be found, none more stately or imposing, than this magnificent folio of sixteen hundred pages, with its close, elaborate letterpress, its innumerable plates, and John Payne's fine frontispiece in compartments, with Theophrastus and Dioscorides facing one another, and the author below them, holding in his right hand the new-found treasure of the potato plant.
This edition of 1633 is the final development of what had been a slow growth. The sixteenth century witnessed a great revival, almost a creation of the science of botany. People began to translate the great Materia Medica of the Greek physician, Dioscorides of Anazarba, and to comment upon it. The Germans were the first to append woodcuts to their botanical descriptions, and it is Otto Brunfelsius, in 1530, who has the credit of being the originator of such figures. In 1554 there was published the first great Herbal, that of Rembertus Dodonaeus, body-physician to the Emperor Maximilian II., who wrote in Dutch. An English translation of this, brought out in 1578, by Henry Lyte, was the earliest important Herbal in our language. Five years later, in 1583, a certain Dr. Priest translated all the botanical works of Dodonaeus, with much greater fulness than Lyte had done, and this volume was the germ of Gerard's far more famous production. John Gerard was a Cheshire man, born in 1545, who came up to London, and practised there as a surgeon.
According to his editor and continuator, Thomas Johnson, who speaks of Gerard with startling freedom, this excellent man was by no means well equipped for the task of compiling a great Herbal. He knew so little Latin, according to this too candid friend, that he imagined Leonard Fuchsius, who was a German contemporary of his own, to be one of the ancients. But Johnson is a little too zealous in magnifying his own office. He brings a worse accusation against Gerard, if I understand him rightly to charge him with using Dr. Priest's manuscript collections after his death, without giving that physician the credit of his labours. When Johnson made this accusation, Gerard had been dead twenty-six years. In any case it seems certain that Gerard's original Herbal, which, beyond question, surpassed all its predecessors when it was printed in folio in 1597, was built up upon the ground-work of Priest's translation of Dodonaeus. Nearly forty years later, Thomas Johnson, himself a celebrated botanist, took up the book, and spared no pains to reissue it in perfect form. The result is the great volume before us, an elephant among books, the noblest of all the English Herbals. Johnson was seventy-two years of age when he got this gigantic work off his hands, and he lived eleven years longer to enjoy his legitimate success.
The great charm of this book at the present time consists in the copious woodcuts. Of these there are more than two thousand, each a careful and original study from the plant itself. In the course of two centuries and a half, with all the advance in appliances, we have not improved a whit on the original artist of Gerard's and Johnson's time. The drawings are all in strong outline, with very little attempt at shading, but the characteristics of each plant are given with a truth and a simplicity which are almost Japanese. In no case is this more extraordinary than in that of the orchids, or "satyrions," as they were called in the days of the old herbalist. Here, in a succession of little figures, each not more than six inches high, the peculiarity of every portion of a full-grown flowering specimen of each species is given with absolute perfection, without being slurred over on the one hand, or exaggerated on the other. For instance, the little variety called "ladies' tresses" [Spiranthes], which throws a spiral head of pale green blossoms out of dry pastures, appears here with small bells hanging on a twisted stem, as accurately as the best photograph could give it, although the process of woodcutting, as then practised in England, was very rude, and although almost all other English illustrations of the period are rough and inartistic. It is plain that in every instance the botanist himself drew the form, with which he was already intelligently familiar, on the block, with the living plant lying at his side.
The plan on which the herbalist lays out his letterpress is methodical in the extreme. He begins by describing his plant, then gives its habitat, then discusses its nomenclature, and ends with a medical account of its nature and virtues. It is, of course, to be expected that we should find the line old names of plants enshrined in Gerard's pages. For instance, he gives to the deadly nightshade the name, which now only lingers in a corner of Devonshire, the "dwale." As an instance of his style, I may quote a passage from what he has to say about the virtues, or rather vices, of this plant:
"Banish it from your gardens and the use of it also, being a plant so furious and deadly; for it bringeth such as have eaten thereof into a dead sleep wherein many have died, as hath been often seen and proved by experience both in England and elsewhere. But to give you an example hereof it shall not be amiss. It came to pass that three boys of Wisbeach, in the Isle of Ely, did eat of the pleasant and beautiful fruit hereof, two whereof died in less than eight hours after they had eaten of them. The third child had a quantity of honey and water mixed together given him to drink, causing him to vomit often. God blessed this means, and the child recovered. Banish, therefore, these pernicious plants out of your gardens, and all places near to your houses where children do resort."
Gerard has continually to stop his description that he may repeat to his readers some anecdote which he remembers. Now it is how "Master Cartwright, a gentleman of Gray's Inn, who was grievously wounded into the lungs," was cured with the herb called "Saracen's Compound," "and that, by God's permission, in short space." Now it is to tell us that he has found yellow archangel growing under a sequestered hedge "on the left hand as you go from the village of Hampstead, near London, to the church," or that "this amiable and pleasant kind of primrose" (a sort of oxlip) was first brought to light by Mr. Hesketh, "a diligent searcher after simples," in a Yorkshire wood. While the groundlings were crowding to see new plays by Shirley and Massinger, the editor of this volume was examining fresh varieties of auricula in "the gardens of Mr. Tradescant and Mr. Tuggie." It is wonderful how modern the latter statement sounds, and how ancient the former. But the garden seems the one spot on earth where history does not assert itself, and, no doubt, when Nero was fiddling over the blaze of Rome, there were florists counting the petals of rival roses at Paestum as peacefully and conscientiously as any gardeners of to-day.
The herbalist and his editor write from personal experience, and this gives them a great advantage in dealing with superstitions. If there was anything which people were certain about in the early part of the seventeenth century, it was that the mandrake only grew under a gallows, where the dead body of a man had fallen to pieces, and that when it was dug up it gave a great shriek, which was fatal to the nearest living thing. Gerard contemptuously rejects all these and other tales as "old wives' dreams." He and his servants have often digged up mandrakes, and are not only still alive, but listened in vain for the dreadful scream. It might be supposed that such a statement, from so eminent an authority, would settle the point, but we find Sir Thomas Browne, in the next generation, battling these identical popular errors in the pages of his Pseudodoxia Epidemica. In the like manner, Gerard's botanical evidence seems to have been of no use in persuading the public that mistletoe was not generated out of birdlime dropped by thrushes into the boughs of trees, or that its berries were not desperately poisonous. To observe and state the truth is not enough. The ears of those to whom it is proclaimed must be ready to accept it.
Our good herbalist, however, cannot get through his sixteen hundred accurate and solemn pages without one slip. After accompanying him dutifully so far, we double up with uncontrollable laughter on p. 1587, for here begins the chapter which treats "of the Goose Tree, Barnacle Tree, or the Tree bearing Geese." But even here the habit of genuine observation clings to him. The picture represents a group of stalked barnacles—those shrimps fixed by their antennae, which modern science, I believe, calls Lepas anatifera; by the side of these stands a little goose, and the suggestion of course is that the latter has slipped out of the former, although the draughtsman has been far too conscientious to represent the occurrence. Yet the letterpress is confident that in the north parts of Scotland there are trees on which grow white shells, which ripen, and then, opening, drop little living geese into the waves below. Gerard himself avers that from Guernsey and Jersey he brought home with him to London shells, like limpets, containing little feathery objects, "which, no doubt, were the fowls called Barnacles." It is almost needless to say that these objects really were the plumose and flexible cirri which the barnacles throw out to catch their food with, and which lie, like a tiny feather-brush, just within the valves of the shell, when the creature is dead. Gerard was plainly unable to refuse credence to the mass of evidence which presented itself to him on this subject, yet he closes with a hint that this seems rather a "fabulous breed" of geese.
With the Barnacle Goose Tree the Herbal proper closes, in these quaint words:
"And thus having, through God's assistance, discoursed somewhat at large of grasses, herbs, shrubs, trees and mosses, and certain excrescences of the earth, with other things moe, incident to the history thereof, we conclude, and end our present volume with this wonder of England. For the which God's name be ever honoured and praised."
And so, at last, the Goose Tree receives the highest sanction.
PHARAMOND; or, The History of France. A New Romance. In four parts. Written originally in French, by the Author of Cassandra and Cleopatra: and now elegantly rendered into English. London: Printed by Ja: Cottrell for Samuel Speed, at the Rain-Bow in Fleetstreet, near the Inner Temple-Gate. (Folio.) 1662.
There is no better instance of the fact that books will not live by good works alone than is offered by the utterly neglected heroic novels of the seventeenth century. At the opening of the reign of Louis XIV. in France, several writers, in the general dearth of prose fiction, began to supply the public in Paris with a series of long romances, which for at least a generation absorbed the attention of the ladies and reigned unopposed in every boudoir. I wonder whether my lady readers have ever attempted to realise how their sisters of two hundred years ago spent their time? In an English country-house of 1650, there were no magazines, no newspapers, no lawn tennis or croquet, no afternoon-teas or glee-concerts, no mothers' meetings or zenana missions, no free social intercourse with neighbours, none of the thousand and one agreeable diversions with which the life of a modern girl is diversified. On the other hand, the ladies of the house had their needlework to attend to, they had to "stitch in a clout," as it was called; they had to attend to the duties of a housekeeper, and, when the sun shone, they tended the garden. Perhaps they rode or drove, in a stately fashion. But through long hours they sat over their embroidery frames or mended the solemn old tapestries which lined their walls, and during these sedate performances they required a long-winded, polite, unexciting, stately book that might be read aloud by turns. The heroic novel, as provided by Gombreville, Calprenede, and Mlle. de Scudery supplied this want to perfection.
The sentiments in these novels were of the most elevated class, and tedious as they seem nowadays to us, it was the sentiments, almost more than the action, which fascinated contemporary opinion. Madame de Sevigne herself, the brightest and wittiest of women, confessed herself to be a fly in the spider's web of their attractions. "The beauty of the sentiments," she writes, "the violence of the passions, the grandeur of the events, and the miraculous success of their redoubtable swords, all draw me on as though I were still a little girl." In these modern days of success, we may still start to learn that the Parisian publisher of Le Grand Cyrus made 100,000 crowns by that work, from the appearance of its first volume in 1649 to its close in 1653. The qualities so admirably summed up by Madame de Sevigne were those which appealed most directly to public feeling in France. There really were heroes in that day, the age of chivalric passions had not passed, great loves, great hates, great emotions of all kinds, were conceivable and within personal experience. When La Rochefoucauld wrote to Madame de Longueville the famous lines which may be thus translated:
To win that wonder of the world, A smile from her bright eyes, I fought my King, and would have hurled The gods out of their skies,
he was breathing the very atmosphere of the heroic novels. Their extraordinary artificial elevation of tone was partly the spirit of the age; it was also partly founded on a new literary ideal, the tone of Greek romance. No book had been read in France with greater avidity than the sixteenth-century translation of the old novel Heliodorus; and in the Polexandres and Clelies we see what this Greek spirit of romance could blossom into when grafted upon the stock of Louis XIV.
The vogue of these heroic novels in England has been misstated, for the whole subject has but met with neglect from successive historians of literature. It has been asserted that they were not read in England until after the Restoration. Nothing is further from the truth. Charles I. read Cassandra in prison, while we find Dorothy Osborne, in her exquisite letters to Sir William Temple, assiduously studying one heroic novel after another through the central years of Cromwell's rule. She reads Le Grand Cyrus while she has the ague; she desires Temple to tell her "which amant you have most compassion for, when you have read what each one says for himself." She and the King read them in the original, but soon there arrived English translations and imitations. These began to appear a good deal sooner than bibliographers have been prepared to admit. Of the Astree of D'Urfe—which, however, is properly a link between the Arcadia of Sidney and the genuine heroic novel—there was an English version as early as 1620. But, of the real thing, the first importation was Polexandre, in 1647, followed by Cassandra and Ibrahim in 1652, Artamenes in 1653, Cleopatra in 1654-8, and Clelie in 1655, all, it will be observed, published in England before the close of the Commonwealth.
Dorothy Osborne, who had studied the French originals, turned up her nose at these translations. She says that they were "so disguised that I, who am their old acquaintance, hardly knew them." They had, moreover, changed their form. In France they had come out in an infinite number of small, manageable tomes. For instance, Calprenede published his Cleopatre in twenty-three volumes; but the English Cleopatra is all contained in one monstrous elephant folio. Artamenes, the English translation of Le Grand Cyrus, is worse still, for it is comprised in five such folios. Many of the originals were translated over and over again, so popular were they; and as the heroic novels of any eminence in France were limited in number, it would be easy, by patiently hunting the translations up in old libraries, to make a pretty complete list of them. The principal heroic novels were eight in all; of these there is but one, the Almahide of Mile, de Scudery, which we have not already mentioned, and the original publication of the whole school is confined within less than thirty years.
The best master in a bad class of lumbering and tiresome fiction was the author of the book which is the text of this chapter. La Calprenede, whose full name was nothing less than Gautier de Costes de la Calprenede, was a Gascon gentleman of the Guards, of whose personal history the most notorious fact is that he had the temerity to marry a woman who had already buried five husbands. Some historians relate that she proceeded to poison number six, but this does not appear to be certain, while it does appear that Calprenede lived in the married state for fifteen years, a longer respite than the antecedents of madame gave him any right to anticipate. He made a great fame with his two huge Roman novels, Cassandra and Cleopatra, and then, some years later, he produced a third, Pharamond which was taken out of early French history. The translator, in the version before us, says of this book that it "is not a romance, but a history adorned with some excellent flourishes of language and loves, in which you may delightfully trace the author's learned pen through all those historians who wrote of the times he treats of." In other words, while Gombreville—with his King of the Canaries, and his Vanishing Islands, and his necromancers, and his dragons—canters through pure fairyland, and while Mlle. de Scudery elaborately builds up a romantic picture of her own times (in Clelie, for instance, where the three hundred and seventy several characters introduced are said to be all acquaintances of the author), Calprenede attempted to produce something like a proper historical novel, introducing invention, but embroidering it upon some sort of genuine framework of fact.
To describe the plot of Pharamond, or of any other heroic novel, would be a desperate task. The great number of personages introduced in pairs, the intrigues of each couple forming a separate thread wound into the complex web of the plot, is alone enough to make any following of the story a great difficulty. On the fly-leaf of a copy of Cleopatra which lies before me, some dear lady of the seventeenth century has very conscientiously written out "a list of the Pairs of Lovers," and there are thirteen pairs. Pharamond begins almost in the same manner as a novel by the late Mr. G.P.R. James might. When the book opens we discover the amorous Marcomine and the valiant Genebaud sallying forth along the bank of a river on two beautiful horses of the best jennet-race. Throughout the book all the men are valiant, all the ladies are passionate and chaste. The heroes enter the lists covered with rubies, loosely embroidered over surcoats of gold and silk tissue; their heads "shine with gold, enamel and precious stones, with the hinder part covered with an hundred plumes of different colours." They are mounted upon horses "whose whiteness might outvie the purest snow upon the frozen Alps." They pierce into woodland dells, where they by chance discover renowned princesses, nonpareils of beauty, in imminent danger, and release them. They attack hordes of deadly pirates, and scatter their bodies along the shore; and yet, for all their warlike fire and force, they are as gentle as marmozets in a lady's boudoir. They are especially admirable in the putting forth of sentiments, in glozing over a subtle difficulty in love, in tying a knot of silk or fastening a lock of hair to their bonnet. They will steal into a cabinet so softly that a lady who is seated there, in a reverie, will not perceive them; they are so adroit that they will seize a paper on which she has sketched a couplet, will complete it, pass away, and she not know whence the poetical miracle has come. In valour, in courtesy, in magnificence they have no rival, just as the ladies whom they court are unique in beauty, in purity, in passion, and in self-denial. Sometimes they correspond at immense length; in Pharamond the letters which pass between the Princess Hunnimonde and Prince Balamir would form a small volume by themselves, an easy introduction to the art of polite letter-writing. Mlle. de Scudery actually perceived this, and published a collection of model correspondence which was culled bodily from the huge store-house of her own romances, from Le Grand Cyrus and Clelie. These interchanges of letters were kept up by the severity of the heroines. It was not thought proper that the lady should yield her hand until the gentleman had exhausted the resources of language, and had spent years of amorous labour on her conquest. When Roger Boyle, in 1654, published his novel of Parthenissa, in four volumes, Dorothy Osborne objected to the ease with which the hero succeeded; she complains "the ladies are all so kind they make no sport."
This particular 1662 translation of Pharamond appears to be very rare, if not unique. At all events I find it in none of the bibliographies, nor has the British Museum Library a copy of it. The preface is signed J.D., and the version is probably therefore from the pen of John Davies, who helped Loveday to finish his enormous translation of Cleopatra in 1665. In 1677 there came out another version of Pharamond, by John Phillips, and this is common enough. Some day, perhaps, these elephantine old romances may come into fashion again, and we may obtain a precise list of them. At present no corner of our literary history is more thoroughly neglected.
[Footnote 1: Since this was written, a French critic of eminence, M. Jusserand, has made (in The English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare, 1890) a delightful contribution to this portion of our literary history. The earlier part of the last chapter of that volume may be recommended to all readers curious about the vogue of the heroic novel. But M. Jusserand does not happen to mention Pharamond, nor to cover the exact ground of my little study.]
A VOLUME OF OLD PLAYS
In his Ballad of the Book-Hunter, Andrew Lang describes how, in breeches baggy at the knees, the bibliophile hunts in all weathers:
No dismal stall escapes his eye; He turns o'er tomes of low degrees; There soiled romanticists may lie, Or Restoration comedies.
That speaks straight to my heart; for of all my weaknesses the weakest is that weakness of mine for Restoration plays. From 1660 down to 1710 nothing in dramatic form comes amiss, and I have great schemes, like the boards on which people play the game of solitaire, in which space is left for every drama needed to make this portion of my library complete. It is scarcely literature, I confess; it is a sport, a long game which I shall probably be still playing at, with three mouldy old tragedies and one opera yet needed to complete my set, when the Reaper comes to carry me where there is no amassing nor collecting. It would hardly be credited how much pleasure I have drained out of these dramas since I began to collect them judiciously in my still callow youth. I admit only first editions; but that is not so rigorous as it sounds, since at least half of the poor old things never went into a second.
As long as it is Congreve and Dryden and Otway, of course it is literature, and of a very high order; even Shadwell and Mrs. Behn and Southerne are literature; Settle and Ravenscroft may pass as legitimate literary curiosity. But there are depths below this where there is no excuse but sheer collectaneomania. Plays by people who never got into any schedule of English letters that ever was planned, dramatic nonentities, stage innocents massacred in their cradles, if only they were published in quarto I find room for them. I am not quite so pleased to get these anonymities, I must confess, as I am to get a clean, tall editio princeps of The Orphan or of Love for Love. But I neither reject nor despise them; each of them counts one; each serves to fill a place on my solitaire board, each hurries on that dreadful possible time coming when my collection shall be complete, and I shall have nothing to do but break my collecting rod and bury it fathoms deep.
A volume has just come in which happens to have nothing in it but those forgotten plays, whose very names are unknown to the historians of literature. First comes The Roman Empress, by William Joyner, printed in 1671. Joyner was an Oxford man, a fellow of Magdalen College. The little that has been recorded about him makes one wish to know more. He became persuaded of the truth of the Catholic faith, and made a voluntary resignation of his Oxford fellowship. He had to do something, and so he wrote this tragedy, which he dedicated to Sir Charles Sedley, the poet, and got acted at the Theatre Royal. The cast contains two good actors' names, Mohun and Kynaston, and it seems that it enjoyed a considerable success. But doubtless the stage was too rough a field for the gentle Oxford scholar. He retired into a sequestered country village, where he lingered on till 1706, when he was nearly ninety. But Joyner was none of the worst of poets. Here is a fragment of The Royal Empress, which is by no means despicably versed:
O thou bright, glorious morning, Thou Oriental spring-time of the day, Who with thy mixed vermilion colours paintest The sky, these hills and plains! thou dost return In thy accustom'd manner, but with thee Shall ne'er return my wonted happiness.
Through his Roman tragedy there runs a pensive vein of sadness, as though the poet were thinking less of his Aurelia and his Valentius than of the lost common-room and the arcades of Magdalen to be no more revisited.
Our next play is a worse one, but much more pretentious. It is the Usurper, of 1668, the first of four dramas published by the Hon. Edward Howard, one of Dryden's aristocratic brothers-in-law. Edward Howard is memorable for a couplet constantly quoted from his epic poem of The British Princes:
A vest as admired Vortiger had on, Which from a naked Pict his grandsire won.
Poor Howard has received the laughter of generations for representing Vortiger's grandsire as thus having stripped one who was bare already. But this is the wickedness of some ancient wag, perhaps of Dryden himself, who loved to laugh at his brother-in-law. At all events, the first (and, I suppose, only) edition of The British Princes is before me at this moment, and the second of these lines certainly runs:
Which from this island's foes his grandsire won.
Thus do the critics, leaping one after another, like so many sheep, follow the same wrong track, in this case for a couple of centuries. The Usurper is a tragedy, in which a Parasite, "a most perfidious villain," plays a mysterious part. He is led off to be hanged at last, much to the reader's satisfaction, who murmurs, in the words of R.L. Stevenson, "There's an end of that."
But though the Usurper is dull, we reach a lower depth and muddier lees of wit in the Carnival, a comedy by Major Thomas Porter, of 1664. It is odd, however, that the very worst production, if it be more than two hundred years old, is sure to contain some little thing interesting to a modern student. The Carnival has one such peculiarity. Whenever any of the characters is left alone on the stage, he begins to soliloquise in the stanza of Gray's Churchyard Elegy. This is a very quaint innovation, and one which possibly occurred to brave Major Porter in one of the marches and counter-marches of the Civil War.
But the man who perseveres is always rewarded, and the fourth play in our volume really repays us for pushing on so far. Here is a piece of wild and ghostly poetry that is well worth digging out of the Duke of Newcastle's Humorous Lovers:
At curfew-time, and at the dead of night, I will appear, thy conscious soul to fright, Make signs, and beckon thee my ghost to follow To sadder groves, and churchyards, where we'll hollo To darker caves and solitary woods, To fatal whirlpools and consuming floods; I'll tempt thee to pass by the unlucky ewe, Blasted with cursed droppings of mildew; Under an oak, that ne'er bore leaf, my moans Shall there be told thee by the mandrake's groans; The winds shall sighing tell thy cruelty, And how thy want of love did murder me; And when the cock shall crow, and day grow near, Then in a flash of fire I'll disappear.
But I cannot persuade myself that his Grace of Newcastle wrote those lines himself. Published in 1677, they were as much of a portent as a man in trunk hose and a slashed doublet. The Duke had died a month or two before the play was published; he had grown to be, in extreme old age, the most venerable figure of the Restoration, and it is possible that the Humorous Lovers may have been a relic of his Jacobean youth. He might very well have written it, so old was he, in Shakespeare's lifetime. But the Duke of Newcastle was never a very skilful poet, and it is known that he paid James Shirley to help him with his plays. I feel convinced that if all men had their own, the invocation I have just quoted would fly back into the works of Shirley, and so, no doubt, would the following quaintest bit of conceited fancy. It is part of a fantastical feast which Boldman promises to the Widow of his heart:
The twinkling stars shall to our wish Make a grand salad in a dish; Snow for our sugar shall not fail, Fine candied ice, comfits of hail; For oranges, gilt clouds will squeeze; The Milky Way we'll turn to cheese; Sunbeams we'll catch, shall stand in place Of hotter ginger, nutmegs, mace; Sun-setting clouds for roses sweet, And violet skies strewed for our feet; The spheres shall for our music play, While spirits dance the time away.
This is extravagant enough, but surely very picturesque. I seem to see the supper-room of some Elizabethan castle after an elaborate royal masque. The Duchess, who has been dancing, richly attired in sky-coloured silk, with gilt wings on her shoulders, is attended to the refreshments by the florid Duke, personating the river Thamesis, with a robe of cloth of silver around him. It seems the sort of thing a poet so habited might be expected to say between a galliard and a coranto.
At first sight we seem to have reached a really good rhetorical play when we arrive at Bancroft's tragedy of Sertorius, published in 1679, and so it would be if Dryden and Lee had never written. But its seeming excellence is greatly lessened when we recollect that All for Love and Mithridates, two great poems which are almost good plays, appeared in 1678, and inspired our poor imitative Bancroft. Sertorius is written in smooth and well-sustained blank verse, which is, however, nowhere quite good enough to be quoted. I suspect that John Bancroft was a very interesting man. He was a surgeon, and his practice lay particularly In the theatrical and literary world. He acquired, it is said, from his patients "a passion for the Muses," and an inclination to follow in the steps of those whom he cured or killed. The dramatist Ravenscroft wrote an epilogue to Sertorius, in which he says that—