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manner of that cold and wordy versifier. Lydgate and Hawes may stand together as perhaps the two writers who, in the century and a half that followed the death of Chaucer, contributed most to carry forward the regulation and modernisation of the language which he began; their mere poetical merits are not worth contending about. Barklay, who did not die till 1552, when he had attained a great age, employed his pen principally in translations, in which line his most celebrated performance is his 'Ship of Fools,' from the German of Sebastian Brandt, which was printed in 1508. Barklay, however, besides consulting both a French and a Latin version of Brandt's poem, has enlarged his original with the enumeration and description of a considerable variety of follies which he found flourishing among his own countrymen. This gives the work some value as a record of the English manners of the time; but both its poetical and its satirical pretensions are of the very humblest order. At this date most of our writers of what was called poetry seem to have been occupied with the words in which they were to clothe their ideas, almost to the exclusion of all the higher objects of the poetic art. And that, perhaps, is what of necessity happens at a particular stage in the progress of a nation's literature—at the stage corresponding to the transition state in the growth of the human being between the termination of free, rejoicing boyhood and the full assurance of manhood begun; which is peculiarly the season not of achievement but of preparation, not of accomplishing ends but of acquiring the use of means and instruments, and also, it may be added, of the aptitude to mistake the one of these things for the other.
TOL. n. M
But the poetry with the truest life in it, produced in the reign of Henry the Seventh and the earlier part of that of his son, is undoubtedly that of Skelton. John Skelton may have been born about or soon after 1460; he studied at Cambridge, if not at both universities; began to write and publish compositions in verse between 1480 and 1490; was graduated as poet laureat (a degree in grantmar, including versification and rhetoric) at Oxford before 1490; was admitted ad eundem at Cambridge in 1493; in 1498 took holy orders; was probably about the same time appointed tutor to the young prince Henry, afterwards Henry the Eighth; was eventually promoted to be rector of Diss in Norfolk; and died in 1529 in the sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, where he had taken refuge to escape the vengeance of cardinal Wolsey, originally his patron, but latterly the chief butt at which he had been wont to shoot his satiric shafts. As a scholar Skelton had a European reputation in his own day; and the great Erasmus has styled him Britarmicarum lilerarum deem et lumen (the light and ornament of English letters). His Latin verses are distinguished by their purity and classical spirit. As for his English poetry, it is generally more of a mingled yarn, and of a much coarser fabric. In many of his effusions indeed, poured forth in sympathy with or aid of some popular cry of the day, he is little better than a rhyming buffoon; much of his ribaldry is now nearly unintelligible; and it may be doubted if a considerable portion of his grotesque and apparently incoherent jingle even had much more than the sort of half meaning with which a tipsy writer may satisfy readers as far gone as himself. Even in the most reckless of these compositions, however, he rattles along, through sense and nonsense, with a vivacity that had been a stranger to our poetry for many a weary day; and his freedom and spirit, even where most unrefined, must have been exhilarating after the long fit of somnolency in which the English muse had dozed away the last hundred years. But much even of Skelton's satiric verse is instinct with genuine poetical vigour, and a fancy alert, sparkling, and various, to a wonderful degree. It is impossible, where the style and manner are, if not so diffuse, at least so rushing and river-like, to give any complete idea of the effect by extracts; but we will transcribe a small portion of the bitterest of his attacks upon Wolsey, his satire, or "little book," as he designates it, entitled ' Why come ye not to court V extending in all to nearly 1300 lines:—
Our barons be so bold
For an this cur do gnar
He 6aith they have no brain
In the chancery where he sits,
But this mad Amalek
* Well mannered. ""» In original spelling seke. Qy. a typographical error for sptke (or speak)? c Snort.
d Mamaluke. e Witness,
He ruling all at will,
He would dry up the streams
Regard to propriety. K Progenitorship? b Sangue royal, blood royal. 1 Realms. 3 Meddles.
k Fiery dragon. 1 Engine of torture.