Anglistica & Americana
A Series of Reprints Selected by Bernhard Fabian, Edgar Mertner, Karl Schneider and Marvin Spevack
GEORG OLMS VERLAGSBUCHHANDLUNG HILDESHEIM
The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753)
The present facsimile is reproduced from a copy in the possession of the Library of the University of Gottingen. Shelfmark: H. lit. biogr. I 8464.
Although the title-page of Volume I announces four volumes, the work is continued in a fifth volume of the same date. Like Volumes II, III, and IV, it is by "Mr. CIBBER, and other Hands" and is "Printed for R. GRIFFITHS".
GREAT BRITAIN and IRELAND,
To the TIME of
Compiled from ample Materials scattered in a Variety of Books, and especially from the MS. Notes of the late ingenious Mr. COXETER and others, collected for this Design,
By Mr. CIBBER.
In FOUR VOLUMES.
Chaucer Langland Gower Lydgate Harding Skelton Barclay More Surry Earl Wyat Sackville Churchyard Heywood Ferrars Sidney Marloe Green Spenser Heywood Lilly Overbury Marsten Shakespear Sylvester Daniel Harrington Decker Beaumont and Fletcher Lodge Davies Goff Greville L. Brooke Day Raleigh Donne Drayton Corbet Fairfax Randolph Chapman Johnson Carew Wotton Markham T. Heywood Cartwright Sandys Falkland Suckling Hausted Drummond Stirling Earl Hall Crashaw Rowley Nash Ford Middleton
THE LIVES OF THE POETS.
* * * *
It has been observed that men of eminence in all ages, and distinguished for the same excellence, have generally had something in their lives similar to each other. The place of Homer's nativity, has not been more variously conjectured, or his parents more differently assigned than our author's. Leland, who lived nearest to Chaucer's time of all those who have wrote his life, was commissioned by king Henry VIII, to search all the libraries, and religious houses in England, when those archives were preserved, before their destruction was produced by the reformation, or Polydore Virgil had consumed such curious pieces as would have contradicted his framed and fabulous history. He for some reasons believed Oxford or Berkshire to have given birth to this great man, but has not informed us what those reasons were that induced him to believe so, and at present there appears no other, but that the seats of his family were in those countries. Pitts positively asserts, without producing any authority to support it, that Woodstock was the place; which opinion Mr. Camden seems to hint at, where he mentions that town; but it may be suspected that Pitts had no other ground for the assertion, than Chaucer's mentioning Woodstock park in his works, and having a house there. But after all these different pretensions, he himself, in the Testament of Love, seems to point out the place of his nativity to be the city of London, and tho' Mr. Camden mentions the claim of Woodstock, he does not give much credit to it; for speaking of Spencer (who was uncontrovertedly born in London) he calls him fellow citizen to Chaucer.
The descent of Chaucer is as uncertain, and unfixed by the critics, as the place of his birth. Mr. Speight is of opinion that one Richard Chaucer was his father, and that one Elizabeth Chaucer, a nun of St. Helen's, in the second year of Richard II. might have been his sister, or of his kindred. But this conjecture, says Urry, seems very improbable; for this Richard was a vintner, living at the corner of Kirton-lane, and at his death left his house, tavern, and stock to the church of St. Mary Aldermary, which in all probability he would not have done if he had had any sons to possess his fortune; nor is it very likely he could enjoy the family estates mentioned by Leland in Oxfordshire, and at the same time follow such an occupation. Pitts asserts, that his father was a knight; but tho' there is no authority to support this assertion, yet it is reasonable to suppose that he was something superior to a common employ. We find one John Chaucer attending upon Edward III. and Queen Philippa, in their expedition to Flanders and Cologn, who had the King's protection to go over sea in the twelfth year of his reign. It is highly probable that this gentleman was father to our Geoffry, and the supposition is strengthened by Chaucer's first application, after leaving the university and inns of law, being to the Court; nor is it unlikely that the service of the father should recommend the son.
It is universally agreed, that he was born in the second year of the reign of King Edward III. A.D. 1328. His first studies were in the university of Cambridge, and when about eighteen years of age he wrote his Court of Love, but of what college he was is uncertain, there being no account of him in the records of the University. From Cambridge he was removed to Oxford in order to compleat his studies, and after a considerable stay there, and a strict application to the public lectures of the university, he became (says Leland) "a ready logician, a smooth rhetorician, a pleasant poet, a great philosopher, an ingenious mathematician, and a holy divine. That he was a great master in astronomy, is plain by his discourses of the Astrolabe. That he was versed in hermetic philosophy (which prevailed much at that time), appears by his Tale of the Chanons Yeoman: His knowledge in divinity is evident from his Parson's Tale, and his philosophy from the Testament of Love." Thus qualified to make a figure in the world, he left his learned retirement, and travelled into France, Holland, and other countries, where he spent some of his younger days. Upon his return he entered himself in the Inner Temple, where he studied the municipal laws of the land. But he had not long prosecuted that dry study, till his superior abilities were taken notice of by some persons of distinction, by whole patronage he then approached the splendor of the court. The reign of Edward III. was glorious and successful, he was a discerning as well as a fortunate Monarch; he had a taste as well for erudition as for arms; he was an encourager of men of wit and parts, and permitted them to approach him, without reserve. At Edward's court nothing but gallantry and a round of pleasure prevailed, and how well qualified our poet was to shine in the soft circles, whoever has read his works, will be at no loss to determine; but besides the advantages of his wit and learning, he possessed those of person in a very considerable degree. He was then about the age of thirty, of a fair beautiful complexion, his lips red and full, his size of a just medium, and his air polished and graceful, so that he united whatever could claim the approbation of the Great, and charm the eyes of the Fair. He had abilities to record the valour of the one, and celebrate the beauty of the other, and being qualified by his genteel behaviour to entertain both, he became a finished courtier. The first dignity to which we find him preferred, was that of page to the king, a place of so much honour and esteem at that time, that Richard II. leaves particular legacies to his pages, when few others of his servants are taken notice of. In the forty-first year of Edward III. he received as a reward of his services, an annuity of twenty marks per ann. payable out of the Exchequer, which in those days was no inconsiderable pension; in a year after he was advanced to be of his Majesty's privy chamber, and a very few months to be his shield bearer, a title, at that time, (tho' now extinct) of very great honour, being always next the king's person, and generally upon signal victories rewarded with military honours. Our poet being thus eminent by his places, contracted friendships, and procured the esteem of persons of the first quality. Queen Philippa, the Duke of Lancaster, and his Duchess Blanch, shewed particular honour to him, and lady Margaret the king's daughter, and the countess of Pembroke gave him their warmest patronage as a poet. In his poems called the Romaunt, and the Rose, and Troilus and Creseide, he gave offence to some court ladies by the looseness of his description, which the lady Margaret resented, and obliged him to atone for it, by his Legend of good Women, a piece as chaste as the others were luxuriously amorous, and, under the name of the Daisy, he veils lady Margaret, whom of all his patrons he most esteemed.
Thus loved and honoured, his younger years were dedicated to pleasure and the court. By the recommendation of the Dutchess Blanch, he married one Philippa Rouet, sister to the guardianess of her grace's children, who was a native of Hainault: He was then about thirty years of age, and being fixed by marriage, the king began to employ him in more public and advantageous posts. In the forty-sixth year of his majesty's reign, Chaucer was sent to Venice in commission with others, to treat with the Doge and Senate of Genoa, about affairs of great importance to our state. The duke of Lancaster, whose favourite passion was ambition, which demanded the assistance of learned men, engaged warmly in our poet's interest; besides, the duke was remarkably fond of Lady Catherine Swynford, his wife's sister, who was then guardianess to his children, and whom he afterwards made his wife; thus was he doubly attached to Chaucer, and with the varying fortune of the duke of Lancaster we find him rise or fall. Much about this time, for his successful negociations at Genoa, the king granted to him by letters patent, by the title of Armiger Noster, one pitcher of wine daily in the port of London, and soon after made him comptroller of the customs, with this particular proviso, that he should personally execute the office, and write the accounts relating to it with his own hand. But as he was advanced to higher places of trust, so he became more entangled in the affairs of state, the consequence of which proved very prejudicial to him. The duke of Lancaster having been the chief instrument of raising him to dignity, expected the fruits of those favours in a ready compliance with him in all his designs. That prince was certainly one of the proudest and most ambitious men of his time, nor could he patiently bear the name of a subject even to his father; nothing but absolute power, and the title of king could satisfy him; upon the death of his elder brother, Edward the black prince, he fixed an eye upon the English crown, and seemed to stretch out an impatient hand to reach it. In this view he sought, by all means possible, to secure his interest against the decease of the old king; and being afraid of the opposition of the clergy, who are always strenuous against an irregular succession, he embraced the opinions and espoused the interests of Wickliff, who now appeared at Oxford, and being a man of very great abilities, and much esteemed at court, drew over to his party great numbers, as well fashionable as low people. In this confusion, the duke of Lancaster endeavoured all he could to shake the power of the clergy, and to procure votaries amongst the leading popular men. Chaucer had no small hand in promoting these proceedings, both by his public interest and writings. Towards the close of Edward's reign, he was very active in the intrigues of the court party, and so recommended himself to the Prince successor, that upon his ascending the throne, he confirmed to him by the title of Dilectus Armiger Noster, the grant made by the late king of twenty marks per annum, and at the same time confirmed the other grant of the late King for a pitcher of wine to be delivered him daily in the port of London. In less than two years after this, we find our poet so reduced in his cirumstances, (but by what means is unknown) that the King in order to screen him from his creditors, took him under his protection, and allowed him still to enjoy his former grants. The duke of Lancaster, whose restless ambition ever excited him to disturb the state, engaged now with, all the interest of which he was master to promote himself to the crown; the opinions of Wickliff gained ground, and so great a commotion now prevailed amongst the clergy, that the king perceiving the state in danger, and being willing to support the clerical interest, suffered the archbishop of Canterbury to summon Wickliff to appear before him, whose interest after this arraignment very much decayed. The king who was devoted to his pleasures, resigned himself, to some young courtiers who hated the duke of Lancaster, and caused a fryar to accuse him of an attempt to kill the king; but before he had an opportunity of making out the charge against him, the fryar was murdered in a cruel and barbarous manner by lord John Holland, to whose care he had been committed. This lord John Holland, called lord Huntingdon, and duke of Exeter, was half brother to the King, and had married Elizabeth, daughter of the duke of Lancaster. He was a great patron of Chaucer, and much respected by him. With the duke of Lancaster's interest Chaucer's also sunk. His patron being unable to support him, he could no longer struggle against opposite parties, or maintain his posts of honour. The duke passing over sea, his friends felt all the malice of an enraged court; which induced them to call in a number of the populace to assist them, of which our poet was a zealous promoter. One John of Northampton, a late lord mayor of London was at the head of these disturbances; which did not long continue; for upon beheading one of the rioters, and Northampton's being taken into custody, the commotion subsided. Strict search was made after Chaucer, who escaped into Hainault; afterwards he went to France, and finding the king resolute to get him into his hands, he fled from thence to Zealand. Several accomplices in this affair were with him, whom he supported in their exile, while the chief ringleaders, (except Northampton who was condemned at Reading upon the evidence of his clerk) had restored themselves to court favour by acknowledging their crime, and now forgot the integrity and resolution of Chaucer, who suffered exile to secure their secrets; and so monstrously ungrateful were they, that they wished his death, and by keeping supplies of money from him, endeavoured to effect it;—While he expended his fortune in removing from place to place, and in supporting his fellow exiles, so far from receiving any assistance from England, his apartments were let, and the money received for rent was never acccounted for to him; nor could he recover any from those who owed it him, they being of opinion it was impossible for him ever to return to his own country. The government still pursuing their resentment against him and his friends, they were obliged to leave Zealand, and Chaucer being unable to bear longer the calamities of poverty and exile, and finding no security wherever he fled, chose rather to throw himself upon the laws of his country, than perish abroad by hunger and oppression. He had not long returned till he was arrested by order of the king, and confined in the tower of London. The court sometimes flattered him with the return of the royal favour if he would impeach his accomplices, and sometimes threatened him with immediate destruction; their threats and promises he along while disregarded, but recollecting the ingratitude of his old friends, and the miseries he had already suffered, he at last made a confession, and according to the custom of trials at that time, offered to prove the truth of it by combat. What the consequence of this discovery was to his accomplices, is uncertain, it no doubt exposed him to their resentment, and procured him the name of a traytor; but the king, who regarded him as one beloved by his grandfather, was pleased to pardon him. Thus fallen from a heighth of greatness, our poet retired to bemoan the fickleness of fortune, and then wrote his Testament of Love, in which are many pathetic exclamations concerning the vicissitude of human things, which he then bitterly experienced. But as he had formerly been the favourite of fortune, when dignities were multiplied thick upon him, so his miseries now succeeded with an equal swiftness; he was not only discarded by his majesty, unpensioned, and abandoned, but he lost the favour of the duke of Lancaster, as the influence of his wife's sister with that prince was now much lessened. The duke being dejected with the troubles in which he was involved, began to reflect on his vicious course of life, and particularly his keeping that lady as his concubine; which produced a resolution of putting her out of his house, and he made a vow to that purpose. Chaucer, thus reduced, and weary of the perpetual turmoils at court, retired to Woodstock, to enjoy a studious quiet; where he wrote his excellent treatise of the Astrolabe; but notwithstanding the severe treatment of the government, he still retained his loyalty, and strictly enjoined his son to pray for the king. As the pious resolutions of some people are often the consequence of a present evil, so at the return of prosperity they are soon dissipated. This proved the case with the duke of Lancaster: his party again gathered strength, his interest began to rise; upon which he took again his mistress to his bosom, and not content with heaping favours, honours, and titles upon her, he made her his wife, procured an act of parliament to legitimate her children, which gave great offence to the duchess of Gloucester, the countess of Derby, and Arundel, as she then was entitled to take place of them. With her interest, Chaucer's also returned, and after a long and bitter storm, the sun began to shine upon him with an evening ray; for at the sixty-fifth year of his age, the king granted to him, by the title of Delectus Armiger Noster, an annuity of twenty marks per annum during his life, as a compensation for the former pension his needy circumstances obliged him to part with; but however sufficient that might be for present support, yet as he was encumbered with debts, he durst not appear publickly till his majesty again granted him his royal protection to screen him from the persecution of his creditors; he also restored to him his grant of a pitcher of wine daily, and a pipe annually, to be delivered to him by his son Thomas, who that year possessed the office of chief butler to the king.
Now that I have mentioned his son, it will not be improper, to take a view of our author's domestical affairs, at least as far as we are enabled, by materials that have descended to our times.
Thomas his eldest son, was married to one of the greatest fortunes in England, Maud, daughter and heir of Sir John Burgheershe, knight of the garter, and Dr. Henry Burghurshe bishop of Lincoln, chancellor and treasurer of England. Mr. Speight says this lady was given him in marriage by Edward III. in return of his services performed in his embassies in France. His second son Lewis was born in 1381, for when his father wrote the treatise of the Astrolabe, he was ten years old; he was then a student in Merton college in Oxford, and pupil to Nicholas Strade, but there is no further account of him. Thomas who now enjoyed the office of chief butler to his majesty, had the same place confirmed to him for life, by letters patent to king Henry IV, and continued by Henry VI. In the 2d year of Henry IV, we find him Speaker of the House of Commons, Sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and Constable of Wallingford castle and Knaresborough castle during life. In the 6th year of the same prince, he was sent ambassador to France. In the 9th of the same reign the Commons presented him their Speaker; as they did likewise in the 11th year. Soon after this Queen Jane, granted to him for his good service, the manor of Woodstock, Hannerborough and Wotten during life; and in the 13th year, he was again presented Speaker as he was in the 2d of Henry V, and much about that time he was sent by the king, to treat of a marriage with Catherine daughter to the duke of Burgundy; he was sent again ambassador to France, and passed thro' a great many public stations. Mr. Stebbing says that he was knighted, but we find no such title given him in any record. He died at Ewelm, the chief place of his residence, in the year 1434. By his wife Maud he had one daughter named Alice, who was thrice married, first to Sir John Philips, and afterwards to Thomas Montacute earl of Salisbury: her third husband was the famous William de la Pole, duke of Suffolk, who lost his head by the fury of the Yorkists, who dreaded his influence in the opposite party, tho' he stood proscribed by the parliament of Henry VI. for misguiding that easy prince. Their son John had three sons, the second of whom, Edmund, forfeited his life to the crown for treason against Henry VII, by which means the estates which Chaucer's family possessed came to the crown. But to return to our poet: By means of the duke of Lancaster's marriage with his sister in law, he again grew to a considerable share of wealth; but being now about seventy years of age, and fatigued with a tedious view of hurried greatness, he quitted the stage of grandeur where he had acted so considerable a part with varied success, and retired to Dunnigton castle near Newbury, to reflect at leisure upon past transactions in the still retreats of contemplation. In this retirement did he spend his few remaining years, universally loved and honoured; he was familiar with all men of learning in his time, and contracted friendship with persons of the greatest eminence as well in literature as politics; Gower, Occleve, Lidgate, Wickliffe were great admirers, and particular friends of Chaucer; besides he was well acquainted with foreign poets, particularly Francis Petrarch the famous Italian poet, and refiner of the language. A Revolution in England soon after this happened, in which we find Chaucer but little concerned; he made no mean compliments to Henry IV, but Gower his cotemporary, though then very old, flattered the reigning prince, and insulted the memory of his murdered Sovereign. All acts of parliament and grants in the last reign being annulled, Chaucer again repaired to Court to get fresh grants, but bending with age and weakness, tho' he was successful in his request, the fatigue of attendance so overcame him, that death prevented his enjoying his new possessions. He died the 25th of October in the year 1400, in the second of Henry IV, in the 72d of his age, and bore the shock of death with the same fortitude and resignation with which he had undergone a variety of pressures, and vicissitudes of fortune.
Dryden says, he was poet laureat to three kings, but Urry is of opinion that Dryden must be mistaken, as among all his works not one court poem is to be found, and Selden observes, that he could find no poet honoured with that title in England before the reign of Edward IV, to whom one John Kaye dedicated the Siege of Rhodes in prose by the title of his Humble Poet Laureat.
I cannot better display the character of this great man than in the following words of Urry. "As to his temper, says he, he had a mixture of the gay, the modest and the grave. His reading was deep and extensive, his judgment sound and discerning; he was communicative of his knowledge, and ready to correct or pass over the faults of his cotemporary writers. He knew how to judge of and excuse the slips of weaker capacities, and pitied rather than exposed the ignorance of that age. In one word, he was a great scholar, a pleasant wit, a candid critic, a sociable companion, a stedfast friend, a great philosopher, a temperate oeconomist, and a pious christian." As to his genius as a poet, Dryden (than whom a higher authority cannot be produced) speaking of Homer and Virgil, positively asserts, that our author exceeded the latter, and stands in competition with the former.
His language, how unintelligible soever it may seem, is almost as modern as any of his cotemporaries, or of those who followed him at the distance of 50 or 60 years, as Harding, Skelton and others, and in some places it is so smooth and beautiful, that Dryden would not attempt to alter it; I shall now give some account of his works in the order in which they were written, so far as can be collected from them, and subjoin a specimen of his poetry, of which profession as he may justly be called the Morning Star, so as we descend into later times; we may see the progress of poetry in England from its great original, Chaucer, to its full blaze, and perfect consummation in Dryden.
Mr. Philips supposes a greater part of his works to be lost, than what we have extant of him; of that number may be many a song, and many a lecherous lay, which perhaps might have been written by him while he was a student at Cambridge.
The Court of Love, as has been before observed, was written while he resided at Cambridge in the 18th year of his age.
The Craft Lovers was written in the year of our Lord, 1348, and probably the Remedy of Love was written about that time, or not long after.
The Lamentation of Mary Magdalen taken from Origen, was written by him in his early years, and perhaps Boethius de Consolatione Philosophiae was translated by him about the same time.
The Romaunt of the Rose, is a translation from the French: this poem was begun by William de Lerris, and continued by John de Meun, both famous French poets; it seems to have been translated about the time of the rise of Wickliffe's Opinions, it consisting of violent invectives against religious orders.
The Complaint of the Black Knight, during John of Gaunt's courtship with Blanch is supposed to be written on account of the duke of Lancaster's marriage.
The poem of Troilus and Creseide was written in the early part of his life, translated (as he says) from Lollius an historiographer in Urbane in Italy; he has added several things of his own, and borrowed from others what he thought proper for the embellishment of this work, and in this respect was much indebted to his friend Petrarch the Italian poet.
The House of Fame; from this poem Mr. Pope acknowledges he took the hint of his Temple of Fame.
The book of Blaunch the Duchess, commonly called the Dreme of Chaucer, was written upon the death of that lady.
The Assembly of Fowls (or Parlement of Briddis, as he calls it in his Retraction) was written before the death of queen Philippa.
The Life of St. Cecilia seems to have been first a single poem, afterwards made one of his Canterbury Tales which is told by the second Nonne: and so perhaps was that of the Wife of Bath, which he advises John of Gaunt to read, and was afterwards inserted in his Canterbury Tales.
The Canterbury Tales were written about the year 1383. It is certain the Tale of the Nonnes Priest was written after the Insurrection of Jack Straw and Wat Tyler.
The Flower and the Leaf was written by him in the Prologue to the Legend of Gode Women.
Chaucer's ABC, called la Priere de nostre Dame, was written for the use of the duchess Blaunch.
The book of the Lion is mentioned in his Retraction, and by Lidgate in the prologue to the Fall of Princes, but is now lost, as is that.
De Vulcani vene, i. e. of the Brocke of Vulcan, which is likewise mentioned by Lidgate.
La belle Dame sans Mercy, was translated from the French of Alain Chartier, secretary to Lewis XI, king of France.
The Complaint of Mars and Venus was translated from the French of Sir Otes de Grantson, a French poet.
The Complaint of Annilida to false Arcite.
The Legend of Gode Women (called the Assembly of Ladies, and by some the Nineteen Ladies) was written to oblige the queen, at the request of the countess of Pembroke.
The treatise of the Conclusion of the Astrolabie was written in the year 1391.
Of the Cuckow and Nightingale, this seems by the description to have been written at Woodstock.
The Ballade beginning In Feverre, &c. was a compliment to the countess of Pembroke.
Several other ballads are ascribed to him, some of which are justly suspected not to have been his. The comedies imputed to him are no other than his Canterbury Tales, and the tragedies were those the monks tell in his Tales.
The Testament of Love was written in his trouble the latter part of his life.
The Song beginning Fly fro the Prese, &c. was written in his death-bed.
Leland says, that by the content of the learned in his time, the Plowman's Tale was attributed to Chaucer, but was suppressed in the edition then extant, because the vices of the clergy were exposed in it. Mr. Speight in his life of Chaucer, printed in 1602, mentions a tale in William Thynne's first printed book of Chaucer's works more odious to the clergy than the Plowman's Tale. One thing must not be omitted concerning the works of Chaucer. In the year 1526 the bishop of London prohibited a great number of books which he thought had a tendency to destroy religion and virtue, as did also the king in 1529, but in so great esteem were his works then, and so highly valued by the people of taste, that they were excepted out of the prohibition of that act.
The PARDONERS PROLOGUE.
Lordings! quoth he, in chirch when I preche, I paine mee to have an have an hauteine speche; And ring it out, as round as doth a bell; For I can all by rote that I tell. My teme is always one, and ever was, (Radix omnium malorum est cupiditas) First, I pronounce fro whence I come, And then my bills, I shew all and some: Our liege—lords seal on my patent! That shew I first, my body to warrent; That no man be so bold, priest ne clerk, Me to disturb of Christ's holy werke; And after that I tell forth my tales, Of bulls, of popes, and of cardinales, Of patriarkes, and of bishops I shew; And in Latin I speake wordes a few,
To faver with my predication, And for to stere men to devotion, Then shew I forth my long, christall stones, Ycrammed full of clouts and of bones; Relickes they been, as were they, echone! Then have I, in Latin a shoder-bone, Which that was of an holy Jewes shepe. Good men, fay, take of my words kepe! If this bone be washen in any well, If cow, or calfe, shepe, or oxe swell That any worm hath eaten, or hem strong, Take water of this well, and wash his tong. And it is hole a-non: And furthermore, Of pockes, and scabs, and every sore Shall shepe be hole, that of this well Drinketh a draught: Take keep of that I tell! If that the good man, that beasts oweth, Woll every day, ere the cocke croweth, Fasting drink of this well, a draught, (As thilk holy Jew our elders taught) His beasts and his store shall multiplie: And sirs, also it healeth jealousie, For, though a man be fall in jealous rage, Let make with this Water his potage, And never shall he more his wife mistrist, Thughe, in sooth, the defaut by her wist: All had she taken priests two or three! Here is a mittaine eke, that ye may see. He that has his hand well put in this mittaine; He shall have multiplying of his graine, When he hath sowen, be it wheat or otes; So that he offer good pens or grotes!
Those who would prefer the thoughts of this father of English poetry, in a modern dress, are referred to the elegant versions of him, by Dryden, Pope, and others, who have done ample justice to their illustrious predecessor.
[Footnote 1: Life of Chaucer prefixed to Ogle's edition of that author modernized.]
[Footnote 2: Some biographers of Chaucer say, that pope Gregory IX. gave orders to the archbishop of Canterbury to summon him, and that when a synod was convened at St. Paul's, a quarrel happened between the bishop of London and the duke of Lancaster, concerning Wickliff's sitting down in their presence.]
[Footnote 3: Mr. Camden gives a particular description of this castle.]
* * * * *
It has been disputed amongst the critics whether this poet preceded or followed Chaucer. Mrs. Cooper, author of the Muses Library, is of opinion that he preceded Chaucer, and observes that in more places than one that great poet seems to copy Langland; but I am rather inclined to believe that he was cotemporary with him, which accounts for her observation, and my conjecture is strengthened by the consideration of his stile, which is equally unmusical and obsolete with Chaucer's; and tho' Dryden has told us that Chaucer exceeded those who followed him at 50 or 60 years distance, in point of smoothness, yet with great submission to his judgment, I think there is some alteration even in Skelton and Harding, which will appear to the reader to the best advantage by a quotation. Of Langland's family we have no account. Selden in his notes on Draiton's Poly Olbion, quotes him with honour; but he is entirely neglected by Philips and Winstanly, tho' he seems to have been a man of great genius: Besides Chaucer, few poets in that or the subsequent age had more real inspiration or poetical enthusiasm in their compositions. One cannot read the works of this author, or Chaucer, without lamenting the unhappiness of a fluctuating language, that buries in its ruins even genius itself; for like edifices of sand, every breath of time defaces it, and if the form remain, the beauty is lost. The piece from which I shall quote a few lines, is a work of great length and labour, of the allegoric kind; it is animated with a lively and luxurious imagination; pointed with a variety of pungent satire; and dignified with many excellent lessons of morality; but as to the conduct of the whole, it does not appear to be of a piece; every vision seems a distinct rhapsody, and does not carry on either one single action or a series of many; but we ought rather to wonder at its beauties than cavil at its defects; and if the poetical design is broken, the moral is entire, which, is uniformly the advancement of piety, and reformation of the Roman clergy. The piece before us is entitled the Vision of Piers the Plowman, and I shall quote that particular part which seems to have furnished a hint to Milton in his Paradise Lost, b. 2. 1. 475.
Kinde Conscience tho' heard, and came out of the planets, And sent forth his sorrioues, fevers, and fluxes, Coughes, and cardicales, crampes and toothaches, Reums, and ragondes, and raynous scalles, Byles, and blothes, and burning agues, Freneses, and foul euyl, foragers of kinde! * * * * * There was harrow! and help! here cometh Kinde With death that's dreadful, to undone us all Age the hoore, he was in vaw-ward And bare the baner before death, by right he it claymed! Kinde came after, with many kene foxes, As pockes, and pestilences, and much purple shent; So Kinde, through corruptions killed full many: Death came driving after, and all to dust pashed Kyngs and bagaars, knights and popes.
* * * * * MILTON.
—————Immediately a place Before his eyes appear'd, sad, noisom, dark, A lazar-house it seem'd; wherein were laid
Numbers of all diseased: all maladies Of ghastly spasm, or racking torture, qualms Of heartsick agony, all fev'rous kinds, Convulsions, epilepsies, fierce catarrhs, Intestine stone and ulcer, cholic-pangs Demoniac phrenzy, moping melancholy And moon-struck madness, pining atrophy, Marasmus, and wide-wasting pestilence, Dropsies and asthmas, and joint-racking rheums; Dire was the tossing! deep the groans! despair Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch: And over them, triumphant death his dart Shook. P. L. b. xi. 1. 477.
* * * * *
Sir JOHN GOWER
Flourished in the reign of Edward III, and Richard II. He was cotemporary with Chaucer and much esteemed and honoured by him, as appears by his submitting his Troilus and Cressida to his censure. Stow in his Survey of London seems to be of opinion that he was no knight, but only an esquire; however, it is certain he was descended of a knightly family, at Sittenham in Yorkshire. He received his education in London, and studied the law, but being possessed of a great fortune, he dedicated himself more to pleasure and poetry than the bar; tho' he seems not to have made any proficiency in poetry, for his works are rather cool translations, than originals, and are quite destitute of poetical fire. Bale makes him Equitem Auratum & Poetam Laureatum, but Winstanly says that he was neither laureated nor bederated, but only rosated, having a chaplet of four roses about his head in his monumental stone erected in St. Mary Overy's, Southwark: He was held in great esteem by King Richard II, to whom he dedicates a book called Confessio Amantis. That he was a man of no honour appears by his behaviour when the revolution under Henry IV happened in England. He was under the highest obligations to Richard II; he had been preferred, patronized and honoured by him, yet no sooner did that unhappy prince (who owed his misfortunes in a great measure to his generosity and easiness of nature) fall a sacrifice to the policy of Henry and the rage of rebellion, but he worshiped the Rising Sun, he joined his interest with the new king, and tho' he was then stone-blind, and, as might naturally be imagined, too old to desire either riches or power, yet he was capable of the grossest flattery to the reigning prince, and like an ungrateful monster insulted the memory of his murdered sovereign and generous patron. He survived Chaucer two years; Winstanly says, that in his old age he was made a judge, possibly in consequence of his adulation to Henry IV. His death happened in the year 1402, and as he is said to have been born some years before Chaucer, so he must have been near fourscore years of age: He was buried in St. Mary Overy's in Southwark, in the chapel of St. John, where he founded a chauntry, and left money for a mass to be daily sung for him, as also an obit within the church to be kept on Friday after the feast of St. Gregory. He lies under a tomb of stone, with his image also of stone over him, the hair of his head auburn, long to his shoulders, but curling up, and a small forked beard; on his head a chaplet like a coronet of roses; an habit of purple, damasked down to his feet, and a collar of gold about his neck. Under his feet the likeness of three books which he compiled; the first named Speculum Meditantis, written in French; the second Vox Clamantis, in latin; the third Confessio Amantis, in English; this last piece was printed by one Thomas Berthalette, and by him dedicated to King Henry VIII. His Vox clamantis, with his Chronica Tripartita, and other works, both in Latin and French, Stow says he had in his possession, but his Speculum Meditantis he never saw. Besides on the wall where he lies, there were painted three virgins crowned, one of which was named Charity, holding this device,
En toy quies fitz de Dieu le pere, Sauve soit, qui gist fours cest pierre.
The second writing MERCY, with this device;
O bene Jesu fait ta mercy, A'lame, dont la corps gisticy.
The third writing PITY, with this decree;
Pour ta pitie Jesu regarde, Et met cest a me, en sauve garde.
His arms were in a Field Argent, on a Chevron Azure, three Leopards heads or, their tongues Gules, two Angels supporters, and the crest a Talbot.
Armigeri soltum nihil a modo fert sibi tutum, Reddidit immolutum morti generale tributum, Spiritus exutum se gaudeat esse solutum Est ubi virtutum regnum sine labe est statum.
I shall take a quotation from a small piece of his called the Envious Man and the Miser; by which it will appear, that he was not, as Winstanley says, a refiner of our language, but on the other hand, that poetry owes him few or no obligations.
Of the Envious MAN and the MISER.
Of Jupiter thus I find ywrite, How, whilom, that he woulde wite, Upon the plaintes, which he herde Among the men, how that it farde, As of her wronge condition To do justificacion. And, for that cause, downe he sent An angel, which aboute went, That he the sooth knowe maie.
Besides the works already mentioned our poet wrote the following:
De Compunctione Cordi, in one book.
Chronicon Ricardi secundi.
Ad Henricum Quartum, in one book.
Ad eundem de Laude Pacis, in one book.
De Rege Henrico, quarto, in one book.
De Peste Vitiorum, in one book.
Scrutinium Lucis, in one book.
De Regimine Principum.
De Conjugii Dignitate.
De Amoris Varietate.
* * * * *
Commonly called the monk of Bury, because a native of that place. He was another disciple and admirer of Chaucer, and it must be owned far excelled his master, in the article of versification. After sometime spent in our English universities, he travelled thro' France and Italy, improving his time to the accomplishment of learning the languages and arts. Pitseus says, he was not only an elegant poet, and an eloquent rhetorician, but also an expert mathematician, an acute philosopher, and no mean divine. His verses were so very smooth, and indeed to a modern ear they appear so, that it was said of him by his contemporaries, that his wit was framed and fashioned by the Muses themselves. After his return from France and Italy, he became tutor to many noblemen's sons, and for his excellent endowments was much esteemed and reverenced by them. He writ a poem called the Life and Death of Hector, from which I shall give a specimen of his versification.
I am a monk by my profession In Bury, called John Lydgate by my name, And wear a habit of perfection; (Although my life agree not with the same) That meddle should with things spiritual, As I must needs confess unto you all.
But seeing that I did herein proceed At his commands whom I could not refuse, I humbly do beseech all those that read, Or leisure have this story to peruse, If any fault therein they find to be, Or error that committed is by me,
That they will of their gentleness take pain, The rather to correct and mend the same, Than rashly to condemn it with disdain, For well I wot it is not without blame, Because I know the verse therein is wrong As being some too short, and some too long.
His prologue to the story of Thebes, a tale (as he says) he was constrained to tell, at the command of his host of the Tabard in Southwark, whom he found in Canterbury with the rest of the pilgrims who went to visit St. Thomas's shrine, is remarkably smooth for the age in which he writ. This story was first written in Latin by Chaucer, and translated by Lydgate into English verse, Pitseus says he writ, partly in prose and partly in verse, many exquisite learned books, amongst which are eclogues, odes, and satires. He flourished in the reign of Henry VI. and died in the sixtieth year of his age, ann. 1440. and was buried in his own convent at Bury, with this epitaph,
Mortuus saeclo, superis superstes, Hic jacet Lydgate tumulatus urna: Qui suit quondam celebris Britannae, Fama poesis.
Which is thus rendered into English by Winstanly;
Dead in this world, living above the sky, Intomb'd within this urn doth Lydgate lie; In former times fam'd for his poetry, All over England.
[Footnote 1: K. Henry V.]
* * * * *
John Harding, the famous English Chronologer, was born (says Bale) in the Northern parts, and probably Yorkshire, being an Esquire of an eminent parentage. He was a man addicted both to arms and arts, in the former of which he seems to have been the greatest proficient: His first military exploit was under Robert Umsreuil, governor of Roxborough Castle, where he distinguished himself against the Scots, before which the King of Scotland was then encamped, and unfortunately lost his life. He afterwards followed the standard of Edward IV. to whose interest both in prosperity and distress he honourably adhered. But what endeared him most to the favour of that Prince, and was indeed the masterpiece of his service, was his adventuring into Scotland, and by his courteous insinuating behaviour, so far ingratiating himself into the favour of their leading men, that he procured the privilege of looking into their records and original letters, a copy of which he brought to England and presented to the King. This successful achievement established him in his Prince's affections, as he was solicitous to know how often the Kings of Scotland had taken oaths of fealty and subjected themselves to the English Monarchs in order to secure their crown. These submissions are warmly disputed by the Scotch historians, who in honour of their country contend that they were only yielded for Cumberland and some parcels of land possessed by them in England south of Tweed; and indeed when the warlike temper and invincible spirit of that nation is considered, it is more than probable, that the Scotch historians in this particular contend only for truth. Our author wrote a chronicle in verse of all our English Kings from Brute to King Edward IV. for which Dr. Fuller and Winstanly bestow great encomiums upon him; but he seems to me to be totally destitute of poetry, both from the wretchedness of his lines, and the unhappiness of his subject, a chronicle being of all others the driest, and the least susceptible of poetical ornament; but let the reader judge by the specimen subjoined. He died about the year 1461, being then very aged. From Gower to Barclay it must be observed, that Kings and Princes were constantly the patrons of poets.
On the magnificent houshold of King Richard II,
Truly I herd Robert Irelese say, Clark of the Green Cloth, and that to the houshold, Came every day, forth most part alway, Ten thousand folk by his messes told; That followed the house, aye as they wold, And in the kitchen, three hundred scruitours, And in eche office many occupiours, And ladies faire, with their gentlewomen Chamberers also, and launderers, Three hundred of them were occupied then; There was great pride among the officers, And of all men far passing their compeers, Of rich arraye, and much more costous, Then was before, or sith, and more precious.
* * * * *
Was born of an ancient family in Cumberland, he received his education at Oxford, and entering into holy orders was made rector of Dysso in Norfolk in the reign of Henry VIII. tho' more probably he appeared first in that of Henry VII. and may be said to be the growth of that time. That he was a learned man Erasmus has confirmed, who in his letter to King Henry VIII. stileth him, Britanicarum Literarum Lumen & Decus: Tho' his stile is rambling and loose, yet he was not without invention, and his satire is strongly pointed. He lived near fourscore years after Chaucer, but seems to have made but little improvement in versification. He wrote some bitter satires against the clergy, and particularly, his keen reflections on Cardinal Wolsey drew on him such severe prosecutions, that he was obliged to fly for sanctuary to Westminster, under the protection of Islip the Abbot, where he died in the year 1529. It appears by his poem entitled, The Crown of Laurel, that his performances were numerous, and such as remain are chiefly these, Philip Sparrow, Speak Parrot, the Death of King Edward IV, a Treatise of the Scots, Ware the Hawk, the Tunning of Elianer Rumpkin. In these pieces there is a very rich vein of wit and humour, tho' much debased by the rust of the age he lived in. His satires are remarkably broad, open and ill-bred; the verse cramped by a very short measure, and encumbered with such a profusion of rhimes, as makes the poet appear almost as ridiculous as those he endeavours to expose. In his more serious pieces he is not guilty of this absurdity; and confines himself to a regular stanza, according to the then reigning mode. His Bouge of Court is a poem of some merit: it abounds with wit and imagination, and shews him well versed in human nature, and the insinuating manners of a court. The allegorical characters are finely described, and well sustained; the fabric of the whole I believe entirely his own, and not improbably may have the honour of furnishing a hint even to the inimitable Spencer. How or by whose interest he was made Laureat, or whether it was a title he assumed to himself, cannot be determined, neither is his principal patron any where named; but if his poem of the Crown Lawrel before mentioned has any covert meaning, he had the happiness of having the Ladies for his friends, and the countess of Surry, the lady Elizabeth Howard, and many others united their services in his favour. When on his death-bed he was charged with having children by a mistress he kept, he protected that in his conscience he kept her in the notion of a wife: And such was his cowardice, that he chose rather to confess adultery than own marriage, a crime at that time more subjected to punishment than the other.
The PROLOGUE to the BOUGE COURTS.
In autumne, whan the sunne in vyrgyne, By radyante hete, enryped hath our corne, When Luna, full of mucabylyte, As Emperes the dyademe hath worne Of our Pole artyke, smylynge half in scorne, At our foly, and our unstedfastnesse, The tyme when Mars to warre hym did dres
I, callynge to mynde the great auctoryte Of poetes olde, whiche full craftely, Under as couerte termes as coulde be, Can touche a trouthe, and cloke subtylly With fresh Utterance; full sentcyously, Dyverse in style: some spared not vyce to wryte, Some of mortalitie nobly dyd endyte.
His other works, as many as could be collected are chiefly these:
Meditations on St. Ann.
————on the Virgin of Kent.
Sonnets on Dame Anne,
Elyner Rummin, the famous alewife of England, often printed, the last edition 1624.
The Peregrinations of human Life.
The Art of dying well.
Manners of the Court.
Invective against William Lyle the Grammarian.
Epitaphs on Kings, Princes, and Nobles,
Poetical Fancies and Satires.
Verses on the Death of Arthur Prince of Wales.
* * * * *
He was an author of some eminence and merit, tho' there are few things preserved concerning him, and he has been neglected by almost all the biographers of the poets. That excellent writer Mrs. Cooper seems to have a pretty high opinion of his abilities; it is certain that he very considerably refined the language, and his verses are much smoother than those of Harding, who wrote but a few years before him. He stiles himself Priest, and Chaplain in the College of St. Mary, Otory, in the county of Devon, and afterwards Monk of Ely. His principal work is a translation of a satirical piece, written originally in high Dutch, and entitled the Ship of Fools: It exposes the characters, vices, and follies of all degrees of men, and tho' much inferior in its execution to the Canterbury Tales, has yet considerable merit, especially when it is considered how barren and unpolite the age was in which he flourished. In the prologue to this he makes an apology for his youth, and it appears that the whole was finished Anno Dom.-1508, which was about the close of the reign of Henry VII. In elegancy of manners he has the advantage of all his predecessors, as is particularly remarkable in his address to Sir Giles Alington, his patron. The poet was now grown old, and the knight desiring him to abridge and improve Gower's Confessio Amantis, he declines it in the politest manner, on account of his age, profession, and infirmities; 'but tho' love is an improper subject, 'says he, I am still an admirer of the sex, and shall 'introduce to the honour of your acquaintance, 'four of the finest ladies that nature ever framed, 'Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Magnanimity;' the whole of the address is exceeding courtly, and from this I shall quote a few lines, which will both illustrate his politeness and versification
To you these accorde; these unto you are due, Of you late proceeding as of their head fountayne; Your life as example in writing I ensue, For, more then my writing within it can contayne: Your manners performeth and doth there attayne: So touching these vertues, ye have in your living More than this my meter conteyneth in writing. My dities indited may counsell many one, But not you, your maners surmounteth my doctrine Wherefore, I regard you, and your maners all one, After whose living my processes, I combine: So other men instrusting, I must to you encline Conforming my process, as much as I am able, To your sad behaviour and maners commendable.
He was author of the following pieces.
Lives of several of the Saints.
Salust's History of the Jugurthiam war translatcd into English.
The Castle of Labour, translated from the French into English.
Bale gives this author but an indifferent character as to his morals; he is said to have intrigued with women, notwithstanding his clerical profession: It is certain he was a gay courtly man, and perhaps, tho' he espoused the Church in his profession, he held their celebacy and pretended chastity in contempt, and being a man of wit, indulged himself in those pleasures, which seem to be hereditary to the poets.
* * * * *
Sir THOMAS MORE.
Tho' poetry is none of the excellencies in which this great man was distinguished, yet as he wrote some verses with tolerable spirit, and was in almost every other respect one of the foremost geniusses our nation ever produced, I imagine a short account of his life here will not be disagreable to the readers, especially as all Biographers of the Poets before me have taken notice of him, and ranked him amongst the number of Bards. Sir Thomas More was born in Milk-street, London, A.D. 1480. He was son to Sir John More, Knight, and one of the Justices of the King's-Bench, a man held in the highest esteem at that time for his knowledge in the law and his integrity in the administration of justice. It was objected by the enemies of Sir Thomas, that his birth was obscure, and his family mean; but far otherwise was the real case. Judge More bore arms from his birth, having his coat of arms quartered, which proves his having come to his inheritance by descent. His mother was likewise a woman of family, and of an extraordinary virtue.
Doctor Clement relates from the authority of our author himself, a vision which his mother had, the next night after her marriage. She thought she saw in her sleep, as it were engraven in her wedding ring, the number and countenances of all the children she was to have, of whom the face of one was so dark and obscure, that she could not well discern it, and indeed she afterwards suffered an untimely delivery of one of them: the face of the other she beheld shining most gloriously, by which the future fame of Sir Thomas was pre-signified. She also bore two daughters. But tho' this story is told with warmth by his great grandson, who writes his life, yet, as he was a Roman Catholic, and and disposed to a superstitious belief in miracles and visions, there is no great stress to be laid upon it. Lady More might perhaps communicate this vision to her son, and he have embraced the belief of it; but it seems to have too little authority, to deserve credit from posterity.
Another miracle is related by Stapleton, which is said to have happened in the infancy of More. His nurse one day crossing a river, and her horse stepping into a deep place, exposed both her and the child to great danger. She being more anxious for the safety of the child than her own, threw him over a hedge into a field adjoining, and escaping likewise from the imminent danger, when she came to take him up, she found him quite unhurt and smiling sweetly upon her.
He was put to the free-school in London called St. Anthony's, under the care of the famous Nicholas Holt, and when he had with great rapidity acquired a knowledge of his grammar rules, he was placed by his father's interest under the great Cardinal Merton, archbishop of Canterbury, and Lord High Chancellor, whose gravity and learning, generosity and tenderness, allured all men to love and honour him. To him More dedicated his Utopia, which of all his works is unexceptionably the most masterly and finished. The Cardinal finding himself too much incumbered with business, and hurried with state affairs to superintend his education, placed him in Canterbury College in Oxford, whereby his assiduous application to books, his extraordinary temperance and vivacity of wit, he acquired the first character among the students, and then gave proofs of a genius that would one day make a great blaze in the world. When he was but eighteen years old such was the force of his understanding, he wrote many epigrams which were highly esteemed by men of eminence, as well abroad as at home. Beatus Rhenanus in his epistle to Bilibalus Pitchemerus, passes great encomiums upon them, as also Leodgarius a Quercu, public reader of humanity at Paris. One Brixius a German, who envied the reputation of this young epigramatist, wrote a book against these epigrams, under the title of Antimorus, which had no other effect than drawing Erasmus into the field, who celebrated and honoured More; whose high patronage was the greatest compliment the most ambitious writer could expect, so that the friendship of Erasmus was cheaply purchased by the malevolence of a thousand such critics as Brixius. About the same time of life he translated for his exercise one of Lucian's orations out of Greek into Latin, which he calls his First Fruits of the Greek Tongue; and adds another oration of his own to answer that of Lucian; for as he had defended him who had slain a tyrant, he opposed against it another with such forcible arguments, that it seems not to be inferior to Lucian's, either in invention or eloquence: When he was about twenty years old, finding his appetites and passions very predominant. He struggled with all the heroism of a christian against their influence, and inflicted severe whippings and austere mortifications upon himself every friday and on high fasting days, left his sensuality would grow too insolent, and at last subdue his reason. But notwithstanding all his efforts, finding his lusts ready to endanger his soul, he wisely determined to marry, a remedy much more natural than personal inflictions; and as a pattern of life, he proposed the example of a singular lay-man, John Picas Earl of Mirandula, who was a man famous for chastity, virtue, and learning. He translated this nobleman's life, as also many of his letters, and his twelve receipts of good life, which are extant in the beginning of his English works. For this end he also wrote a treatise of the four last things, which he did not quite finish, being called to other studies.
At his meals he was very abstemious, nor ever eat but of one dish, which was most commonly powdered beef, or some such saltmeat. In his youth he abstained wholly from wine; and as he was temperate in his diet, so was he heedless and negligent in his apparel. Being once told by his secretary Mr. Harris, that his shoes were all torn, he bad him tell his man to buy him new ones, whose business it was to take care of his cloaths, whom for this cause he called his tutor. His first wife's name was Jane Cole, descended of a genteel family, who bore him four children, and upon her decease, which in not many years happened, he married a second time a widow, one Mrs. Alice Middleton, by whom he had no children. This he says he did not to indulge his passions (for he observes that it it harder to keep chastity in wedlock than in a single life,) but to take care of his children and houshold affairs. Upon what principle this observation is founded, I cannot well conceive, and wish Sir Thomas had given his reasons why it is harder to be chaste in a married than single life. This wife was a worldly minded woman, had a very indifferent person, was advanced in years, and possessed no very agreeable temper. Much about this time he became obnoxious to Henry VII for opposing his exactions upon the people. Henry was a covetous mean prince, and entirely devoted to the council of Emson and Dudley, who then were very justly reckoned the caterpillars of the state. The King demanded a large subsidy to bestow on his eldest daughter, who was then about to be married to James IV. of Scotland. Sir Thomas being one of the burgesses, so influenced the lower house by the force of his arguments, (who were cowardly enough before not to oppose the King) that they refused the demands, upon which Mr. Tiler of the King's Privy-Chambers went presently to his Majesty, and told him that More had disappointed all their expectations, which circumstance not a little enraged him against More. Upon this Henry was base enough to pick a quarrel without a cause against Sir John More, his venerable father, and in revenge to the son, clapt him in the Tower, keeping him there prisoner till he had forced him to pay one hundred pounds of a fine, for no offence. King Henry soon after dying, his son who began his reign with some popular acts, tho' afterwards he degenerated into a monstrous tyrant, caused Dudley and Emson to be impeached of high treason for giving bad advice to his father; and however illegal such an arraignment might be, yet they met the just fate of oppressors and traitors to their country.
About the year 1516, he composed his famous book called the Utopia, and gained by it great reputation. Soon after it was published, it was translated both into French and Italian, Dutch and English. Dr. Stapleton enumerates the opinions of a great many learned men in its favour. This work tho' not writ in verse, yet in regard of the fancy and invention employed in composing it, may well enough pass for an allegorical poem. It contains the idea of a compleat Commonwealth in an imaginary island, (pretended to be lately discovered in America) and that so well counterfeited, that many upon reading it, mistook it for a real truth, in so much (says Winstanly) that some learned men, as Budeus, Johannes Plaudanus, out of a principle of fervent zeal, wished that some excellent divines might be sent hither to preach Christ's Gospel.
Much about the same time he wrote the history of Richard III. which was likewise held in esteem; these works were undertaken when he was discharged from the business of the state.
Roper, in his life of our author, relates that upon an occasion in which King Henry VIII. and the Pope were parties in a cause tryed in the Star Chamber, Sir Thomas most remarkably distinguished himself, and became so great a favourite with that discerning monarch, that he could no longer forbear calling him into his service.
A ship of the Pope's, by the violence of a storm was driven into Southampton, which the King claimed as a forfeiture; when the day of hearing came on before the Lord High Chancellor, and other Judges, More argued so forcibly in favour of the Pope, that tho' the Judges had resolved to give it for the King, yet they altered their opinion, and confirmed the Pope's right. In a short time after this, he was created a Knight, and after the death of Mr. Weston, he was made Treasurer of the Exchequer, and one of the Privy Council. He was now Speaker of the House of Commons, and thus exalted in dignity, the eyes of the nation were fixed upon him. Wolsey, who then governed the realm, found himself much grieved by the Burgesses, because all their transactions were so soon made public, and wanting a fresh subsidy, came to the house in person to complain of this usage. When the burgesses heard of his coming, it was long debated whether they should admit him or no, and Sir Thomas strongly urged that he should be admitted, for this reason, that if he shall find fault with the spreading of our secrets, (says he) we may lay the blame upon those his Grace brought with him. The proud Churchman having entered the House, made a long speech for granting the subsidy, and asked several of the Members opinion concerning it; they were all so confounded as not to be able to answer, and the House at last resolved that their Speaker should reply for them. Upon this Sir Thomas shewed that the cardinal's coming into the House was unprecedented, illegal, and a daring insult on the liberty of the burgesses, and that the subsidy demanded was unnecessary; upon which Wolsey suddenly departed in a rage, and ever after entertained suspicions of More, and became jealous of his great abilities. Our author's fame was not confined to England only; all the scholars and statesmen in every country in Europe had heard of, and corresponded with him, but of all strangers he had a peculiar esteem for Erasmus, who took a journey into England in order to converse with him, and enter more minutely into the merit of one whose learning he had so high an opinion of. They agreed to meet first at my Lord Mayor's table, and as they were personally unknown, to make the experiment whether they could discover one another by conversation. They met accordingly, and remained some hours undiscovered; at last an argument was started in which both engaged with great keenness, Erasmus designedly defended the unpopular side, but finding himself so strongly pressed, that he could hold it no longer, he broke out in an extasy, aut tu es Morus, aut Nullus. Upon which More replied, aut tu es Erasmus, aut Diabolus, as at that time Erasmus was striving to defend very impious propositions, in order to put his antagonist's strength to the proof.
When he lived in the city of London as a justice of peace, he used to attend the sessions at Newgate. There was then upon the bench a venerable old judge, who was very severe against those who had their purses cut; (as the phrase then was) and told them that it was by their negligence that so many purse-cutters came before him. Sir Thomas, who was a great lover of a joke, contrived to have this judge's purse cut from him in the sessions house by a felon. When the felon was arraigned, he told the court, that if he were permitted to speak to one of the judges in private, he could clear his innocence to them; they indulged him in his request, and he made choice of this old judge, and while he whispered something in his ear, he slily cut away his purse; the judge returned to the bench, and the felon made a sign to Sir Thomas of his having accomplished the scheme. Sir Thomas moved the court, that each of them should bestow some alms on a needy person who then stood falsly accused, and was a real object of compassion. The motion was agreed to, and when the old man came to put his hand in his purse, he was astonished to find it gone, and told the court, that he was sure he had it when he came there. What, says More in a pleasant manner, do you charge any of us with felony? the judge beginning to be angry, our facetious author desired the felon, to return his purse, and advised the old man never to be so bitter against innocent men's negligence, when he himself could not keep his purse safe in that open assembly.
Although he lived a courtier, and was much concerned in business, yet he never neglected his family at home, but instructed his daughters in all useful learning, and conversed familiarly with them; he was remarkably fond of his eldest daughter Margaret, as she had a greater capacity, and sprightlier genius than the rest. His children often used to translate out of Latin, into English, and out of English into Latin, and Dr. Stapleton observes, that he hath seen an apology of Sir Thomas More's to the university of Oxford, in defence of learning, turned into Latin by one of his daughters, and translated again into English by another. Margaret, whose wit was superior to the rest, writ a treatise on the four last things, which Sir Thomas declared was finer than his; she composed several Orations, especially one in answer to Quintilian, defending a rich man, which he accused for having poisoned a poor man's bees with certain venomous flowers in his garden, so eloquent and forcible that it may justly rival Quintilian himself. She also translated Eusebius out of Greek.
Tho' Sir Thomas was thus involved in public affairs and domestic concerns, yet he found leisure to write many books, either against Heretics, or of a devotional cast; for at that time, what he reckoned Heresy began to diffuse itself over all Germany and Flanders. He built a chapel in his parish church at Chelsea, which he constantly attended in the morning; so steady was he in his devotion. He hired a house also for many aged people in the parish, which he turned into an hospital, and supported at his own expence. He at last rose to the dignity of Lord High Chancellor upon the fall of Wolsey, and while he sat as the Chief Judge of the nation in one court, his father, aged upwards of 90, sat as Chief Justice in the King's Bench; a circumstance which never before, nor ever since happened, of a father being a Judge, and his son a Chancellor at the same time. Every day, as the Chancellor went to the Bench, he kneeled before his father, and asked his blessing. The people soon found the difference between the intolerable pride of Wolsey, and the gentleness and humility of More; he permitted every one to approach him without reserve; he dispatched business with great assiduity, and so cleared the court of tedious suits, that he more than once came to the Bench, and calling for a cause, there was none to try. As no dignity could inspire him with pride, so no application to the most important affairs could divert him from sallies of humour, and a pleasantry of behaviour. It once happened, that a beggar's little dog which she had lost, was presented to lady More, of which me was very fond; but at last the beggar getting notice where the dog was, she came to complain to Sir Thomas as he was sitting in his hall, that his lady withheld her dog from her; presently my lady was sent for, and the dog brought with her, which he taking in his hand, caused his wife to stand at the upper end of the hall, and the beggar at the other; he then bad each of them call the dog, which when they did, the dog went presently to the beggar, forsaking my lady. When he saw this, he bad my lady be contented for it was none of hers. My Lord Chancellor then gave the woman a piece of gold, which would have bought ten such dogs, and bid her be careful of it for the future.
A friend of his had spent much time in composing a book, and went to Sir Thomas to have his opinion of it; he desired him to turn it into rhime; which at the expence of many years labour he at last accomplished, and came again to have his opinion: Yea marry, says he, now it is somewhat; now it is rhime, but before it was neither rhime nor reason.
But fortune, which had been long propitious to our author, began now to change sides, and try him as well with affliction as prosperity, in both which characters, his behaviour, integrity and courage were irreproachable. The amorous monarch King Henry VIII, at last obtained from his Parliament and Council a divorce from his lawful wife, and being passionately fond of Anna Bullen, he married her, and declared her Queen of England: This marriage Sir Thomas had always opposed, and held it unlawful for his Sovereign to have another wife during his first wife's life. The Queen who was of a petulant disposition, and elated with her new dignity could not withhold her resentment against him, but animated all her relations, and the parties inclined to the protestant interest, to persecute him with rigour. Not long after the divorce, the Council gave authority for the publication of a book, in which the reasons why this divorce was granted were laid down; an answer was soon published, with which Sir Thomas More was charged as the author, of which report however he sufficiently cleared himself in a letter to Mr. Cromwel, then secretary, and a great favourite with King Henry. In the parliament held in the year 1534, there was an oath, framed, called the Oath of Supremacy, in which all English subjects should renounce the pope's authority, and swear also to the succession of Queen Ann's children, and lady Mary illegitimate. This oath was given to all the clergy as well bishops as priests, but no lay-man except Sir Thomas More was desired to take it; he was summoned to appear at Lambeth before archbishop Cranmer, the Lord Chancellor Audley, Mr. Secretary Cromwel, and the abbot of Westminster, appointed commissioners by the King to tender this oath. More absolutely refused to take it, from a principle of conscience: and after various expostulations he was ordered into the custody of the abbot of Westminster; and soon after he was sent to the tower, and the lieutenant had strict charge to prevent his writing, or holding conversation with any persons but those sent by the secretary. The Lord Chancellor, duke of Norfolk, and Mr. Cromwel paid him frequent visits, and pressed: him to take the oath, which he still refused. About a year after his commitment to the tower, by the importunity of Queen Ann, he was arraign'd at the King's Bench Bar, for obstinately refusing, the oath of supremacy, and wilfully and obstinately opposing the King's second marriage. He went to the court leaning on his staff, because he had been much weakened by his imprisonment; his judges were, Audley, Lord Chancellor; Fitz James, Chief Justice; Sir John Baldwin, Sir Richard Leister, Sir John Port, Sir John Spelman, Sir Walter Luke, Sir Anthony Fitzherbert: The King's attorney opened against him with a very opprobrious libel; the chief evidence were Mr. secretary Cromwell, to whom he had uttered some disrespectful expressions of the King's authority, the duke of Suffolk and earl of Wiltshire: He replied to the accusation with great composure and strength of argument; and when one Mr. Rich swore against him, he boldly asserted that Rich was perjured, and wished he might never see God's Countenance in mercy, if what he asserted was not true; besides that, Rich added to perjury, the baseness of betraying private conversation. But notwithstanding his defence, the jury, who were composed of creatures of the court, brought in their verdict, guilty; and he had sentence of death pronounced against him, which he heard without emotion. He then made a long speech addressed to the Chancellor, and observed to Mr. Rich, that he was more sorry for his perjury, than for the sentence that had just been pronounced against him: Rich had been sent by the secretary to take away all Sir Thomas's books and papers, during which time some conversation passed, which Rich misrepresented in order to advance himself in the King's favour. He was ordered again to the Tower till the King's pleasure should be known. When he landed at Tower Wharf, his favourite daughter Margaret, who had not seen him since his confinement, came there to take her last adieu, and forgetting the bashfulness and delicacy of her sex, press'd thro' the multitude, threw her arms about her father's neck and often embraced him; they had but little conversation, and their parting was so moving, that all the spectators dissolved in tears, and applauded the affection and tenderness of the lady which could enable her to take her farewel under so many disadvantages.
Some time after his condemnation Mr. secretary Cromwel waited on Sir Thomas, and entreated him to accept his Majesty's pardon, upon the condition of taking the oath, and expressed great tenderness towards him. This visit and seeming friendship of Cromwel not a little affected him, he revolved in his mind the proposal which he made, and as his fate was approaching, perhaps his resolution staggered a little, but calling to mind his former vows, his conscience, his honour, he recovered himself again, and stood firmly prepared for his fall. Upon this occasion it was that he wrote the following verses, mentioned both by Mr. Roper and Mr. Hoddeson, which I shall here insert as a specimen of his poetry.
Ey flattering fortune, loke thou never so fayre, Or never so pleasantly begin to smile, As tho' thou would'st my ruine all repayre, During my life thou shalt not me begile, Trust shall I God to entre in a while His haven of heaven sure and uniforme, Ever after thy calme loke I for a storme.
On the 6th of July, 1534, in the 54th year of his age, the sentence of condemnation was executed upon him on Tower Hill, by severing his head from his body. As he was carried to the scaffold, some low people hired by his enemies cruelly insulted him, to whom he gave cool and effectual answers. Being now under the scaffold, he looked at it with great calmness, and observing it too slenderly built, he said merrily to Mr. Lieutenant, "I pray you, Sir, see me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself." When he mounted on the scaffold, he threw his eyes round the multitude, desired them to pray for him, and to bear him witness that he died for the holy catholic church, a faithful servant both to God and the King. His gaiety and propension to jesting did not forsake him in his last moments; when he laid his head upon the block, he bad the executioner stay till he had removed aside his beard, saying, "that that had never committed treason." When the executioner asked his forgiveness, he kissed him and said, "thou wilt do me this day a greater benefit than any mortal man can be able to give me; pluck up thy spirit man, and be not afraid to do thy office, my neck is very short, take heed therefore that thou strike not awry for saving thy honesty."
Thus by an honest but mistaken zeal fell Sir Thomas More; a man of wit and parts superior to all his contemporaries of integrity unshaken; of a generous and noble disposition; of a courage intrepid; a great scholar and a devout christian. Wood says that he was but an indifferent divine, and that he was very ignorant of antiquity and the learning of the fathers, but he allows him to be a man of a pleasant and fruitful imagination, and a statesman beyond any that succeeded him.
His works besides those we have already mentioned are chiefly these,
A Merry Jest, How a Serjeant will learn to play a Friar, written in verse.
Verses on the hanging of a Painted Cloth in his Father's House.
Lamentations on Elizabeth Queen of Henry VII, 1503.
Verses on the Book of Fortune.
Dialogue concerning Heresies.
Supplication of Souls, writ in answer to a book called the Supplication of Beggars.
A Confutation of Tindal's Answer to More's Dialogues, printed 1533.
The Debellation of Salem and Bizance, 1533.
In answer to another book of Tindal's.
Treatise on the Passion of Chrift.
Letters while in the Tower, all printed 1557.
Responsio ad Convitia Martini Lutheri, 1523.
Quod pro Fide Mors fugienda non est, written in the Tower 1534.
Precationes ex Psalmis.
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HENRY HOWARD, Earl of SURRY
Was son of Thomas, duke of Norfolk, and Elizabeth, daughter of Edward, duke of Buckingham. The father of our author held the highest places under King Henry VIII, and had so faithfully and bravely served him, that the nobility grew jealous of his influence, and by their united efforts produced his ruin. After many excellent services in France, he was constituted Lord Treasurer, and made General of the King's whole army design'd to march against the Scots: At the battle of Flodden, in which the Scots were routed and their Sovereign slain, the earl of Surry remarkably distinguished himself; he commanded under his father, and as soon as the jealousy of the Peers had fastened upon the one, they took care that the other should not escape. He was the first nobleman (says Camden) that illustrated his high birth with the beauty of learning; he was acknowledged by all, to be the gallantest man, the politest lover, and the most compleat gentleman of his time. He received his education at Windsor with a natural son of Henry VIII, and became first eminent for his devotion to the beautiful Geraldine, Maid of Honour to Queen Catherine; the first inspired him with poetry, and that poetry has conferred immortality on her: So transported was he with his passion, that he made a tour to the most elegant courts in Europe, to maintain her peerless beauty against all opposers, and every where made good his challenge with honour. In his way to Florence, he touched at the emperor's court, where he became acquainted with the learned Cornelius Agrippa, so famous for magic, who shewed him the image of his Geraldine in a glass, sick, weeping on her bed, and melting into devotion for the absence of her lord; upon sight of this he wrote the following passionate sonnet, which for the smoothness of the verse, the tenderness of expression, and the heartfelt sentiments might do honour to the politest, easiest, most passionate poet in our own times.
All soul, no earthly flesh, why dost thou fade? All gold; no earthly dross, why look'st thou pale? Sickness how darest thou one so fair invade? Too base infirmity to work her bale. Heaven be distempered since she grieved pines, Never be dry, these my sad plaintive lines.
Pearch thou my spirit on her silver breasts, And with their pains redoubled musick beatings, Let them toss thee to world where all toil rests, Where bliss is subject to no fears defeatings, Her praise I tune, whose tongue doth tune the spheres, And gets new muses in her hearers ears.
Stars fall to fetch fresh light from the rich eyes, Her bright brow drives the fun to clouds beneath. Her hair reflex with red strakes paints the skyes, Sweet morn and evening dew flows from her breath: Phoebe rules tides, she my tears tides forth draws. In her sick bed love fits, and maketh laws.
Her dainty lips tinsel her silk-soft sheets, Her rose-crown'd cheeks eclipse my dazled sight. O glass with too much joy, my thoughts thou greets, And yet thou shewest me day but by twilight. I'll kiss thee for the kindness I have felt. Her lips one kiss would into nectar melt.
From the emperor's court he went to the city of Florence, the pride and glory of Italy, in which city his beauteous Geraldine was born, and he had no rest till he found out the house of her nativity, and being shewn the room where his charmer first drew air, he was transported with extasy of joy, his tongue overflowed with her praises, and Winstanly says he eclipsed the sun and moon with comparisons of his Geraldine, and wrote another sonnet in praise of the chamber that was honoured (as he says) with her radiant conception; this sonnet is equally amorous and spirited with that already inserted. In the duke of Florence's court he published a proud challenge against all comers, whether Christians, Turks, Canibals, Jews, or Saracens, in defence of his mistress's beauty; this challenge was the better received there, as she whom he defended was born in that city: The duke of Florence however sent for him, and enquired of his fortune, and the intent of his coming to his court; of which when the earl informed him, he granted to all countries whatever, as well enemies and outlaws, as friends and allies, free access into his dominions unmolested till the trial were ended.
In the course of his combats for his mistress, his valour and skill in arms so engaged the Duke to his interest, that he offered him the highest preferments if he would remain at his court. This proposal he rejected, as he intended to proceed thro' all the chief cities in Italy; but his design was frustrated by letters sent by King Henry VIII. which commanded his speedy return into England.
In the year 1544, upon the expedition to Boulogne in France, he was made field marshal of the English army, and after taking that town, being then knight of the garter, he was in the beginning of September 1545 constituted the King's lieutenant, and captain-general of all his army within the town and county of Boulogne. During his command there in 1546, hearing that a convoy of provisions of the enemy was coming to the fort at Oultreaw, he resolved to intercept it; but the Rhinegrave, with four thousand Lanskinets, together with a considerable number of French under the de Bieg, making an obstinate defence, the English were routed, Sir Edward Poynings with divers other gentlemen killed, and the Earl himself obliged to fly, tho' it appears, by a letter to the King dated January 8, 1548, that this advantage cost the enemy a great number of men. But the King was so highly displeased with this ill success, that from that time he contracted a prejudice against the Earl, and soon after removed him from his command, and appointed the Earl of Hertford to succeed him. Upon which Sir William Page wrote to the Earl of Surry to advise him to procure some eminent post under the Earl of Hertford, that he might not be unprovided in the town and field. The Earl being desirous in the mean time to regain his former favour with the King, skirmished with the French and routed them, but soon after writing over to the King's council that as the enemy had cast much larger cannon than had been yet seen, with which they imagined they should soon demolish Boulogne, it deserved consideration whether the lower town should stand, as not being defensible; the council ordered him to return to England in order to represent his sentiments more fully upon those points, and the Earl of Hertford was immediately sent over in his room. This exasperating the Earl of Surry, occasioned him to let fall some expressions which favoured of revenge and dislike to the King, and a hatred of his Councellors, and was probably one cause of his ruin, which soon after ensued. The Duke of Norfolk, who discovered the growing power of the Seymours, and the influence they were likely to bear in the next reign, was for making an alliance with them; he therefore pressed his son to marry the Earl of Hertford's daughter, and the Dutchess of Richmond, his own daughter, to marry Sir Thomas Seymour; but neither of these matches were effected, and the Seymours and Howards then became open enemies. The Seymours failed not to inspire the King with an aversion to the Norfolk-family, whose power they dreaded, and represented the ambitious views of the Earl of Surry; but to return to him as a poet.
That celebrated antiquary, John Leland, speaking of Sir Thomas Wyat the Elder, calls the Earl, 'The conscript enrolled heir of the said Sir Thomas, in his learning and other excellent qualities.' The author of a treatise, entitled, 'The Art of English Poetry, alledges, that Sir Thomas Wyat the Elder, and Henry Earl of Surry were the two chieftains, who having travelled into Italy, and there tasted the sweet and stately measures and stile of the Italian poetry, greatly polished our rude and homely manner of vulgar poetry, from what it had been before, and therefore may be justly called, The Reformers of our English Poetry and Stile.' Our noble author added to learning, wisdom, fortitude, munificence, and affability. Yet all these excellencies of character, could not prevent his falling a sacrifice to the jealousy of the Peers, or as some say to the resentment of the King for his attempting to wed the Princess Mary; and by these means to raise himself to the Crown. History is silent as to the reasons why the gallantries he performed for Geraldine did not issue in a marriage. Perhaps the reputation he acquired by arms, might have enflamed his soul with a love of glory; and this conjecture seems the more probable, as we find his ambition prompting him to make love to the Princess from no other views but those of dominion. He married Frances, daughter to John Earl of Oxford, after whose death he addressed Princess Mary, and his first marriage, perhaps, might be owing to a desire of strengthening his interest, and advancing his power in the realm. The adding some part of the royal arms to his own, was also made a pretence against him, but in this he was justified by the heralds, as he proved that a power of doing so was granted by some preceeding Monarchs to his forefathers. Upon the strength of these suspicions and surmises, he and his father were committed to the Tower of London, the one by water, the other by land, so that they knew not of each other's apprehension. The fifteenth day of January next following he was arraigned at Guildhall, where he was found guilty by twelve common jurymen, and received judgment. About nine days before the death of the King he lost his head on Tower-Hill; and had not that Monarch's decease so soon ensued, the fate of his father was likewise determined to have been the same with his sons.
It is said, when a courtier asked King Henry why he was so zealous in taking off Surry; "I observed him, says he, an enterprizing youth; his spirit was too great to brook subjection, and 'tho' I can manage him, yet no successor of mine will ever be able to do so; for which reason I have dispatched him in my own time."
He was first interred in the chapel of the Tower, and afterwards in the reign of King James, his remains were removed to Farmingam in Suffolk, by his second son Henry Earl of Northampton, with this epitaph.
Henrico Howardo, Thomae secundi Ducis Norfolciae filio primogenito. Thomae tertii Patri, Comiti Surriae, & Georgiani Ordinis Equiti Aurato, immature Anno Salutis 1546 abrepto. Et Franciscae Uxoris ejus, filiae Johannis Comitis Oxoniae. Henricus Howardus Comes Northamptoniae filius secundo genitus, hoc supremum pietatis in parentes monumentum posuit, A.D. 1614.
Upon the accession of Queen Mary the attainder was taken off his father, which circumstance has furnished some people with an opportunity to say, that the princess was fond of, and would have married, the Earl of Surry. I shall transcribe the act of repeal as I find it in Collins's Peerage of England, which has something singular enough in it.
'That there was no special matter in the Act of Attainder, but only general words of treason and conspiracy: and that out of their care for the preservation of the King and the Prince they passed it, and this Act of Repeal further sets forth, that the only thing of which he stood charged, was for bearing of arms, which he and his ancestors had born within and without the kingdom in the King's presence, and sight of his progenitors, as they might lawfully bear and give, as by good and substantial matter of record it did appear. It also added, that the King died after the date of the commission; likewise that he only empowered them to give his consent; but did not give it himself; and that it did not appear by any record that they gave it. Moreover, that the King did not sign the commission with his own hand, his stamp being only set to it, and that not to the upper part, but to the nether part of it, contrary to the King's custom.'
Besides the amorous and other poetical pieces of this noble author, he translated Virgil's AEneid, and rendered (says Wood) the first, second, and third book almost word for word:—All the Biographers of the poets have been lavish, and very justly, in his praise; he merits the highest encomiums as the refiner of our language, and challenges the gratitude and esteem of every man of literature, for the generous assistance he afforded it in its infancy, and his ready and liberal patronage to all men of merit in his time.
[Footnote 1: Dugdale's Baronage.]
* * * * *
Sir THOMAS WYAT.
Was distinguished by the appellation of the Elder, as there was one of the same name who raised a rebellion in the time of Queen Mary. He was son to Henry Wyat of Alington-castle in Kent. He received the rudiments of his education at Cambridge, and was afterwards placed at Oxford to finish it. He was in great esteem with King Henry VIII. on account of his wit and Love Elegies, pieces of poetry in which he remarkably succeeded. The affair of Anne Bullen came on, when he made some opposition to the King's passion for her, that was likely to prove fatal to him; but by his prudent behaviour, and retracting what he had formerly advanced, he was restored again to his royal patronage. He was cotemporary with the Earl of Surry, who held him in high esteem. He travelled into foreign parts, and as we have observed in the Earl of Surry's life, he added something towards refining the English stile, and polishing our numbers, tho' he seems not to have done so much in that way as his lordship. Pitts and Bale have entirely neglected him, yet for his translation of David's Psalms into English metre and other poetical works, Leland scruples not to compare him with Dante and Petrarch, by giving him this ample commendation.
Let Florence fair her Dantes justly boast, And royal Rome, her Petrarchs numbered feet, In English Wyat both of them doth coast: In whom all graceful eloquence doth meet.
Leland published all his works under the title of Naenia. Some of his Biographers (Mrs. Cooper and Winstanley) say that he died of the plague as he was going on an embassy to the Emperor Charles V. but Wood asserts, that he was only sent to Falmo by the King to meet the Spanish ambassador on the road, and conduct him to the court, which it seems demanded very great expedition; that by over-fatiguing himself, he was thrown into a fever, and in the thirty-eighth year of his age died in a little country-town in England, greatly lamented by all lovers of learning and politeness. In his poetical capacity, he does not appear to have much imagination, neither are his verses so musical and well polished as lord Surry's. Those of gallantry in particular seem to be too artificial and laboured for a lover, without that artless simplicity which is the genuine mark of feeling; and too stiff, and negligent of harmony for a His letters to John Poynes and Sir Francis Bryan deserve more notice, they argue him a man of great sense and honour, a critical observer of manners and well-qualified for an elegant and genteel satirist. These letters contain observations on the Courtier's Life, and I shall quote a few lines as a specimen, by which it will be seen how much he falls short of his noble cotemporary, lord Surry, and is above those writers that preceded him in versification.
The COURTIERS LIFE.
In court to serve decked with fresh araye, Of sugared meats seling the sweet repast, The life in blankets, and sundry kinds of playe, Amidst the press the worldly looks to waste, Hath with it joyned oft such bitter taste, That whoso joys such kind of life to holde, In prison joys, fetter'd with chains of golde.
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THOMAS SACKVILLE, Earl DORSET
Was son of Richard Sackville and Winifrede, daughter of Sir John Bruges, Lord of London. He was born at Buckhurst in the parish of Withiam in Suffex, and from his childhood was distinguished for wit and manly behaviour: He was first of the University of Oxford, but taking no degree there, he went to Cambridge, and commenced master of arts; he afterwards studied the law in the Inner-Temple, and became a barrister; but his genius being too lively to be confined to a dull plodding study, he chose rather to dedicate his hours to poetry and pleasure; he was the first that wrote scenes in verse, the Tragedy of Ferrex and Perrex, sons to Gorboduc King of Britain, being performed in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, long before Shakespear appeared on the stage, by the Gentlemen of the Inner-Temple, at Whitehall the 18th of January, 1561, which Sir Philip Sidney thus characterises: "It is full of stately speeches, and well founding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca's stile, and as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of poetry." In the course of his studies, he was most delighted with the history of his own country, and being likewise well acquainted with antient history, he formed a design of writing the lives of several great personages in verse, of which we have a specimen in a book published 1610, called the Mirror of Magistrates, being a true Chronicle History of the untimely falls of such unfortunate princes and men of note, as have happened since the first entrance of Brute into this Island until his own time. It appears by a preface of Richard Nicolls, that the original plan of the Mirror of Magistrates was principally owing to him, a work of great labour, use and beauty. The induction, from which I shall quote a few lines, is indeed a master-piece, and if the-whole could have been compleated in the same manner, it would have been an honour to the nation to this day, nor could have sunk under the ruins of time; but the courtier put an end to the poet; and one cannot help wishing for the sake of our national reputation, that his rise at court had been a little longer delayed: It may easily be seen that allegory was brought to great perfection before the appearance of Spencer, and if Mr. Sackville did not surpass him, it was because he had the disadvantage of writing first. Agreeable to what Tasso exclaimed on seeing Guarini's Pastor Fido; 'If he had not seen my Aminta, he had not excelled it.'
Our author's great abilities being distinguished at court, he was called to public affairs: In the 4th and 5th years of Queen Mary we find him in parliament; in the 5th year of Elizabeth, when his father was chosen for Sussex, he was returned one of the Knights of Buckinghamshire to the parliament then held. He afterwards travelled into foreign parts, and was detained for some time prisoner at Rome. His return into England being procured, in order to take possession of the vast inheritance his father left him, he was knighted by the duke of Norfolk in her Majesty's presence 1567, and at the same day advanced to the degree and dignity of a baron of this realm, by the title of lord Buckhurst: He was of so profuse a temper, that though he then enjoyed a great estate, yet by his magnificent way of living he spent more than the income of it, and a story is told of him, 'That calling on an alderman of London, who had got very considerably by the loan of his money to him, he was obliged to wait his coming down so long, as made such an impression on his generous humour, that thereupon he turned a thrifty improver of his estate.' But others make him the convert of Queen Elizabeth, (to whom he was allied, his grandfather having married a lady related to Ann Bullen) who by her frequent admonitions diverted the torrent of his profusion, and then received him into her particular favour. Camden says, that in the 14th of that Princess, he was sent ambassador to Charles IX King of France, to congratulate his marriage with the Emperor Maximilian's daughter, and on other important affairs where he was honourably received, according to his Queen's merit and his own; and having in company Guido Cavalcanti, a Gentleman of Florence, a person of great experience, and the Queen-mother being a Florentine, a treaty of marriage was publickly transacted between Queen Elizabeth and her son the duke of Anjou. In the 15th of her Majesty he was one of the peers that sat on the trial of Thomas Howard duke of Norfolk, and on the 29th of Elizabeth, was nominated one of the commissioners for the trial of Mary Queen of Scots, and at that time was of the privy council, but his lordship is not mentioned amongst the peers who met at Fotheringay Castle and condemned the Queen; yet when the parliament had confirmed the sentence, he was made choice of to convey the news to her Majesty, and see their determination put in execution against that beauteous Princess; possibly because he was a man of fine accomplishments, and tenderness of disposition, and could manage so delicate a point with more address than any other courtier. In the succeeding year he was sent ambassador to the States of the United Provinces, upon their dislike of the earl of Leicester's proceedings in a great many respects, there to examine the business, and compose the difference: He faithfully discharged this invidious office, but thereby incurred the earl of Leicester's displeasure; who prevailed with the Queen, as he was her favourite, to call the lord Buckhurst home, and confine him to his house for nine months; but surviving that earl, the Queen's favour returned, and he was elected the April following, without his knowledge, one of the Knights of the most noble Order of the Garter. He was one of the peers that sat on the trial of Philip Howard, earl of Arundel. In the 4th year of the Queen's reign he was joined with the Lord Treasurer Burleigh, in promoting a peace with Spain; in which trust he was so successful, that the High Admiral of Holland was sent over by the States, of the United Provinces, to renew their treaty with the crown of England, being afraid of its union with Spain. Lord Buckhurst had the sole management of that negotiation (as Burleigh then lay sick) and Concluded a treaty with him, by which his mistress was eased of no less than 120,000 l. per annum, besides other advantages.