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OF THE EARLIER ENGLISH MORAL SONGS AND POEMS.
No. I. We regard it as a sacred and sublime in this indeed identified, that they both truth, that among the various forms in involve the predominance of spirit over which human energy can influence the sense, of the sympathetic over the selminds of others, the poetical faculty fish emotions. It will not follow that contains in itself the best security that the life of the poet is as moral as his it will be nobly and beneficently em. lay, or that his works are unstained by ployed. Bestowed, doubtless, like error or blemish; for the man and the every similar gift, not as a playwriter will still be subject to the law thing or ornament, not as a snare or of humanity. But the poet, so far as seduction, but as an instrument for he is a poet, and in those creations in purifying and exalting our spiritual which he chiefly appears a poet, will, being, it seems distinguished from in direct proportion to his genius, dis. other powers by a peculiar incapa, play the truest susceptibility for those bility of being diverted from its pro- feelings and convictions by which the per end, or degraded to an unworthy soul of man is distinguished as a moral use. Genius or talent in other shapes spirit. may but imperfectly reach the deeper. In obeying the high vocation to seated sensibilities of the heart and which the poet is impelled, it is not conscience, or may, with comparative necessary that he should prominently indifference, be exerted for good or put forward the moral purposes which evil, for happiness or misery. Music, inseparably attend him. In seeking, sculpture, painting_powerful always no doubt, to excite devout or religious to confer exterior polish-may fail to feelings, the very nature of his task, affect the internal structure of the the noblest and most arduous that mind, and even though not termic poetry can attempt, implies that its nating in the outward senses, may object should openly appear. But it yet linger in a superficial region of is otherwise in the general prosecutaste and enjoyment, not directly lead. tion of that scheme of moral ameliora. ing to the inner sanctuaries of the tion which is next in importance. The soul. Courage and conduct, whether poet here has leave to deal with all military or political, oral or written the feelings of our frame, provided he eloquence, philosophical subtilty, all can so move them as to advance his of them agents of mighty force to great design of rendering the hearts of control the destinies and change the his hearers more obedient to the sway character of mankind, have been se- of sympathy and imagination. It is verally displayed in their brightest his duty to enlarge and strengthen excellence, in subserviency to de- his influence by choosing a field signs of cruelty, corruption, or of interest the most wide and attrac. falsehood. But the power of poetry tive that will permit him to labour in its essence implies a combination for the final objects of his art. The of moral and intellectual qualities, largest combination of literary pleathat cannot co-exist in perfection with sure and moral culture seems an undepravity of heart or perversity of pur. failing characteristic of poetry in its pose. A facility for uniting melodious most influential form, and therefore, in numbers to pointed diction or dazzling its highest perfection, as a means of fancies may be compatible with insen. human improvement. The poet, as a sibility to virtue or enslavement to pleasing and potent teacher of truth vice: and poets, even of a high order, and goodness, will not in this view may be allured to dally too fondly convey his lessons best by assuming with those affections which, though the rod of the schoolmaster, or the laudable within their limits, are vicious gown of the sage. His secret will be in excess. But the higher a poet rises to preserve a seeming community of in the scale of his art, the more closely thoughts and passions with the rest of must his tendencies and conceptions his race: to borrow his themes and conform to that standard of human topics from objects and events the excellence in which the purer and most alluring to their minds; and more heavenly faculties attain a right. in so doing to lead them insensibly ful ascendency. Virtue and poetry are to new perceptions and higher emotions, the result of that wonder-work- land, has poetry performed her allotted ing skill which, by an endless variety function as a teacher of virtue and and succession of golden links, can wisdom. The names of Chaucer and connect the meanest things of earth Spenser, Shakspeare and Milton, Pope and human life with the sublimest and Goldsmith, Thomson and Cowessences of heaven and immortality, per, Crabbe and Wordsworth, afford The Father of poetry was justly de- a proud and instantaneous proof of the scribed by a poet and moralist as one. assertion. In different forms and de. “ Qui, quid sit rectum, quid turpe, quid grees, and with reference to various utile, quid non,
modes of society and character, these Planius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore mighty masters have delivered the dicit."
precepts of moral government with a
truth and energy expressive of that 6 Whose pictured page, with living forms national spirit which they have helped impressed,
to form, and their noble poems, as the In warm imagination's colours dressed, faithful record of what nature is and The right, and fair, and good, will better ought to be, will for ever exert a beneteach
ficial sway over the minds of men, Than all that Crantor and Chrysippus even when the language in which they preach.”
sung may have been numbered with The great narrative and dramatic the dead. poems which genius has produced, It were an infinite task to traverse seem to tell the world of nothing but the wide range of usefulness and its own business and interests, and yet beauty which would be opened up by under every image and incident there a consideration of our great poets in lurks an unsuspected lesson in moral this aspect of their character. But we advancement more clear and cogent propose at present to gather from the than any that the porch or the cloister field of English poetry, and to weavo could inculcate.
into a very humble wreath, some The Muse is permitted even to as flowerets of a lowlier kind, which may sume a garb the most dissimilar to delight by their hues and fragrance, that of the professed instructress, and while they help to reveal the virtues in the disguise of gaiety and mer. of the generous soil and kindly sky to riment, may still discharge her ap- which they owe their birth. pointed duties. Not inconsiderable is Scattered through our miscellaneous her praise, when, in exercising a mas. English poetry, especially of an earlier tery over the light and sportive emo- date, there are a number of smaller tions, she moulds them impercep. and chiefly irregular moral poems, of tibly into forms of purity and love. varying merit and popularity, which liness. As a religious messenger, deserve consideration as a distinct intent on conveying peace and truth class. We rather think that they have to a rude people, may outwardly no precise parallel in the literature of conform to their language and cus- other countries, and they eminently toms, the better to win and change reflect some peculiarities of the Eng. them to his wishes, so may moral wis. Jish mind. They spring from that dom adopt the mask of mirth, and serious and sober character, that selfteach the gay to diversify their levi. dependent and contemplative disposities within permitted bounds, and to tion, which turns the eye inwards as temper in all things their hilarity with often as without, and which claims innocence.
kindred with noble qualities, the love Yet an honourable and appropriate of rural nature and of domestic quiet. purpose is also served by poetry of a The compositions we refer to are often cast more directly moral and reflective. bedewed with sweet sprinklings of The danger is, that a formally didactic fancy, and have almost always a purity poem may repel the disciple by con- of diction which time and change have tinued calls on his attention, and in failed to render obsolete. They are general it seems true that poems, avow- not always distinguished by poeti. edly moral, must, in order to please, be cal merit, but they generally present either confined within a short com- some characteristic feature that gives pass, or blended with a large mix- them an interest. Sometimes they are ture of incident or description. the effusions of simple minds, grateful
In no country, better than in Eng- for the slender talent of poetry which has been lent them, and pleased to dedi. sacred and devotional tone, and of cate it to the expression of those ear- which we may hereafter attempt a nest thoughts in which they find their separate examination. But in draw. sweetest employment. Sometimes ing these distinctions, we feel that it is thcy have afforded an occasional re neither easy nor necessary to observe fuge to men, who, flying from the the line of division with scrupulous weariness of business and publicity, accuracy. prove the purity of their heart and in the task which we now under. taste by the retired worship of those take we beg leave to disclaim in ourideal graces for which in practical life selves, though by no means to deprethey have longed in vain. Sometimes ciate in others, any pretensions to they speak the language of those who, black-letter precision or minute literary having wandered from the path of information. We propose to stand in duty, have forgot the practice though a middle and connecting position be. not the love of virtue, but who now, tween the antiquary and the popular in the intervals of passion, or in the reader, divested if possible of the nareturning of the prodigal to his fa- tural prepossessions and prejudices of ther's house, lift up an humble and both, and endeavouring to promote mournful hymn to proclaim from sad what is surely an important object, a experience the blessings of that rec- friendly but discriminating acquainttitude from which they have too easily ance with the less familiar literature of departed.
our country. The topics on which these compo We give, as our earliest example of sitions chiefly touch are confined with this kind of composition, two stanzas in a limited and uniform sphere. Life of “ a ditty upon the uncertainty of and its vanities, death and its certainty; this life," preserved in a manuscript affliction and its uses, prosperity and of the British Museum, and published its dangers ; the emptiness of outward in Ritson's Ancient Songs. It appears advantages, the felicity of a calm and to have been written about the middle, contemplative spirit; the cares of the or rather the end of the thirteenth court and city, the pleasures of soli- century, and is worth something as a tude and the country. There is much curiosity, if not as a poem. sameness in these subjects, and when in Winter wakeneth all my care, feebly handled they are senseless and Now these leavis waxeth bare : insipid. But when they flow sincerely Oft I sigh and mourne sare, from a sensitive heart, they affect us When it cometh in my thought, readily as their authors would have of this world's joy, how it go'th all to wished, and they tend to preserve in
nought. literature a sound and solemn spirit. “Now it is, and now it n' is, When tainted by affectation, or de. All so it ne'er n' were, I wis : faced by the tame diction and obscure That many man saith, sooth it is, imagery of a more modern mediocrity, All goeth, but Godis will: they entirely cease to please.
All we shall die, tho' us like ill."* We exclude from this examination Passing over a century, we notice poems of more considerable dimen- two little pieces, which have been sions, and those belonging to a more ascribed, though perhaps groundlessformal class, such as that of the regular ly, to the father of English poetry, to sonnet, otherwise so near akin to the whose great work we owe a debt both moral compositions we have in view of delight and instruction too large in We shall likewise abstain from refer- amount to be sensibly affected by the ring to those lyrics of a mixed charac. addition or deduction of such trifles. ter in which moral reflections are en- Of the “ Good Counsel of Chaucer,” grafted on the theme of love, or re- which contains some germs of beauty velry, or some other predominating imperfectly expanded, the first and last subject. We shall also pass over stanza may be inserted. those poems which are properly of a
“ Fly from the press, † and dwell with soothfastness :
Suflice unto thy good, tho' it be small :
Ritson's Ancient Songs, 65.
† The crowd.
Praise hath envy, and weal is blent o’er all.
Savouro no more than thee behove shall.
“ That thee is sent receive in buxomness: I
The wrestling of this world asketh a fall;
Forth, pilgrim, forth, beast, out of thy stall;
Look up on high and thanke God for all.
And truth shall thee deliver, it is no dread," The other verses attributed to Chaucer contain a simple and wholesome list of advices for all conditions.
“ Go forth, king, rule thee by sapience ;
“ People, obey your king and the law;
No comparison could be more illus. There then sprung up, as Puttenham trative and more pleasing than that tells us,tt“ a new company of courtly which has been drawn by Warton, makers, of whom Sir Thomas Wyatt himself a poet as well as the historian the elder, and Henry, Earl of Surrey, of poets, between the premature and were the two chieftains." With these solitary rise of Chaucer's genius and eminent names may be associated that the bright and brittle promises of a of Thomas Lord Vaux, who, at the genial day in an English spring! The same period, and probably earlier than truth of the picture cannot be apparent Surrey, though in a more simple and in the limited enquiry which we are vernacular style, contributed somenow pursuing: but even here we are thing to the refinement of taste and struck by the dreary barrenness that versification in England. The works ensues. Our respect for royalty can- of this cluster of poets were first pub. not constrain us to admit as an excep lished in 1557 in Tottel's Collection, tion the dull verses attributed to Henry the earliest printed miscellany of VI., of which the following stanza is poetry in the language, where the much the most tolerable, and, if genu poems of Surrey and Wyatt are fol. ine, is at least remarkable for being lowed by a number of others of “ Un. perfectly modern in its language and certain authors,” among which are at cadence.
least two by Lord Vaux. Those “ Kingdoms are but cares,
poems in this collection, of which the State is devoid of stay;
parentage is unknown, seem to extend Riches are ready snares,
back somewhat indefinitely in date, And hasten to decay."
for among them is included the “Good Towards the middle of the 16th Counsel of Chaucer," though under century there was a rapid and profit
this new title, “ To lead a virtuous able advance in poetical composition. and honest life.”
• Indulge thy taste.
Wyat's strength seems to lie in his We borrow from him, however, the ethical or satirical epistles, which ex- following irregular sonnet: ceed the compass of our present plan.
THAT PLEASURE IS MIXED WITH EVERY PAIN.
Bear flowers, we see, full fresh and fair of hue ;
And unto man his health doth oft renew.
May hurt and heal; then if that this be true,
To Surrey our poetry owes much, it. Love, though it may be doubt. independently of his having first used ed if it had much share in Surrey's in England, in his translation of Virgil, life, is the prevailing theme of his that noble form of versification in original compositions. But we extract which Shakspeare and Milton found from them the beginning of a little free and fit scope for their genius, and moral poem which suits our purpose. which at once stimulates and tests It is written in a pleasing and favourthe true poet by the high standard ite metre of that day. The title, as of thought and language, which its in the other cases likewise, seems to simple grandeur requires to sustain be Mr Tottel's.
HOW NO AGE IS CONTENT WITH HIS OWN ESTATE, AND HOW THE AGE OF CHILDREN IS
THE HAPPIEST, IF THEY HAD SKILL TO UNDERSTAND IT.
“ Laid in my quiet bed, in study as I were,
That man from wealth to live in wo doth ever seek to change." The compositions attributed to bouring for the dead. The poem has Lord Vaux are of unequal character, considerable merit. The following but he aimed often at a right mark, verses contain a not unexpressive picthough not a high one, and he some- ture of the encroaching torpor of old times hit it. His songs are not un. age. frequently fortunate in their ideas, neat and natural in their expression, “My lusts they do me leave, and smooth in their numbers. He My fancies all be fled, seems to have excited the simple won And tract of time begins to weave der of his time by the art of counter Grey hairs upon my head. feiting imaginary situations and feelings. His best and most popular piece is entitled by Tottel, « The Aged
“ My muse doth not delight Lover renounceth Love," a name too
Me as she did before ; limited for its subject, which embraces
My hand and pen are not in plight the more general contemplation of de
As they have been of yore. clining years and approaching death. Its dismal imagery supplied Shak
“For reason me denies speare with some appropriate frag This youthly idle rhyme ; ments of melancholy mirth for his sex. And day by day to me she cries, ton in Hamlet, while engaged in la Leave off these toys in time.