Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

gained, however, from his admirable model, is some initiation in that smoothness and regularity of diction of which Chaucer's writings set the first great example. His own endowment of poetical power and feeling was very small—the very titles of his pieces, as Warton remarks, indicating the poverty and frigidity of his genius.

By far the most famous of these versifiers of the fifteenth century is John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, whom the Historian of our Poetry considers to have arrived at his highest point of eminence about the year 1430. Ritson has given a list of about 250 poems attributed to Lydgate. Indeed he seems to have followed the manufacture of rhymes as a sort of trade, furnishing any quantity to order whenever he was called upon. On one occasion, for instance, we find him employed by the historian Whethamstede, who was abbot of St. Alban's, to make a translation into English, for the use of that convent, of the Latin legend of its patron saint. "The chronicler who records a part of this anecdote," observes Warton, "seems to consider Lydgate's translation as a matter of mere manual mechanism; for he adds, that Whethamstede paid for the translation, the writing, and illuminations, one hundred shillings."* Lydgate, however, though excessively diffuse, and possessed of very little strength or originality of imagination, is a considerably livelier and more expert writer than Occleve. His memory was also abundantly stored with the learning of his age; he had travelled in France and Italy, and was intimately acquainted with the literature of both these countries; and his English makes perhaps a nearer * Hist. Eng. Poetry, vol. ii. p. 363.

approach to the modern form of the language than that of any preceding writer. His best known poem consists of nine books of 'Tragedies,' as he entitles them, respecting the falls of princes, translated from a Latin work of Boccaccio's: it was printed at London in the reign of Henry VIII. 'A Selection from the Minor Poems of Dan John Lydgate, edited by James Orchard Halliwell, Esq., F.R.S., &c. &c. &c.,' has been printed for the Percy Society, 8vo. Lon. 1840.

BCOTISH POETS.—WYNTON; JAMES I.; nENBYSON;
HOLLAND; BLIND HENRY.

The most remarkable portion of our poetical literature belonging to the fifteenth century (as also, we shall presently find, of that belonging to the first half of the sixteenth), was contributed by Scotish writers. The earliest successor of Barbour was Andrew of Wyntown, or Wynton, a canon regular of the Priory of St. Andrews, and Prior of the Monastery of St. Serf's Inch in Lochleven, one of the establishments subordinate to that great house, who is supposed to have been bor n about 1350, and whose 'Oryginale Cronykil of Scotland' appears to have been finished in the first years of the fifteenth century. It is a long poem, of nine books, written in the same octosyllabic rhyme with the 'Bruce' of Barbour, to which it was no doubt intended to be a companion. Wynton, however, has very little of the old archdeacon's poetic force and fervour; and even his style, though in general sufficiently simple and clear, is, if anything, rather ruder than that of his predecessor—a difference which is probably to be accounted for by Barbour's frequent residences in England and more extended intercourse with the world. The 'Chronykil' is principally interesting in an historical point of view, and in that respect it is of considerable value and authority, for Wynton, besides his merits as a distinct narrator, had evidently taken great pains to obtain the best information within his reach, with regard to the events both of his own and of preceding times. The work begins (as was then the fashion), with the creation of the world, and comes down to the year 1408; but the first five books are occupied rather with general than with Scotish history. The last four books, together with such partsof the preceding ones as contained anything relating to British affairs, were very carefully edited by the late Mr. David Macpherson (the author of the well-known Annals of Commerce and other works), in two volumes 8vo. (very sumptuously printed), Lon. 1795. It is deserving of notice that a considerable portion of Wynton's Chronicle is not his own composition, but was the contribution of another contemporary poet; namely, all from the 19th chapter of the Eighth to the 10th chapter of the Ninth Book inclusive, comprising the space from 1324 to 1390, and forming about a third of the four concluding books. This he conscientiously acknowledges, in very careful and explicit terms, both at the beginning and end of the insertion. We may give what he says in the latter place, as a short sample of his style:—

This part last treated beforn,

Pra Davy the Brus our king wes born,

While" his sister son Robert

The Second, our king, than called Stuert,

"Till.

That nestb him reigned successive,
His days had ended of his live,
Wit ye well, wes nonght my dite f
Thereof I dare me well acquite.
Wha that it dited, nevertheless,
He showed him of mair cunnandness
Than me commendisd his treatise,
Bute favour, wha1 will it clearly prize.
This part wes written to me send;
And I, that thought for to mak end
Of that purpose I took on hand,
Saw it was well accordand
To my matere; I wes right glad;
For I was in my travail sad;
I eked i it here to this dite,
For to mak me some respite.

This is interesting as making it probable that poetical, or at least metrical, composition in the national dialect was common in Scotland at this early date.

Of all our poets of the early part of the fifteenth century the one of greatest pretension must be considered to be King James I. of Scotland, even if he be only the author of ' The King's Quair' (that is, the King's quire or book), his claim to which has scarcely been disputed. It is a serious poem, of nearly 1400 lines, arranged in seven-line stanzas; the style in great part allegorical; the subject, the love of the royal poet for the lady Joanna Beaufort, whom he eventually married, and whom he is said to have first beheld walking in the

b Next. c Writing.

d He showed himself of more cunning (skill) than I who commend.

e Without. 'Whosoever. t Added.

garden below from the window of his prison in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle. The poem was in all probability written during his detention in England, and previous to his marriage, which took place in February 1424, a few months before his return to his native country. In the concluding stanza James makes grateful mention of his—

maisters dear
Gower and Chaucer, that on the steppes sate
Of rhetorick while they were livaud here,
Superlative as poets laureate,
Of morality and eloquence ornate;

and he is evidently an imitator of the great father of English poetry. The poem too must be regarded as written in English rather than in Scotch, though the difference between the two dialects, as we have seen, was not so great at this early date as it afterwards became, and although James, who was in his eleventh year when he was carried away to England in 1405 by Henry IV., may not have altogether avoided the peculiarities of his native idiom. The ' Quair' was first published from the only manuscript (one of the Selden Collection in the Bodleian Library), by Mr. W. Tytler at Edinburgh, in 1783; it has been several times printed since; but the best edition is that contained in 'The Poetic Remains of some of the Scotish Kings, now first collected by George Chalmers, Esq., F.R.S., &c.,' 8vo. Lon. 1824. The following specimen is transcribed from Mr. Chalmers' text; though without adhering in all cases either to his spelling, his pointing, or his explanations:—

« AnteriorContinuar »