« AnteriorContinuar »
monument, or cairn, to which every man added his stone, or little separate specimen of brick and mortar, who conceived himself to have any skill in building the lofty rhyme. There were scarcely any limits to the size to which the book might have grown, except the mutability of the public taste, which will permit no one thing, good or bad, to go on for ever. The Mirror for Magistrates, however, for all its many authors, is of note in the history of our poetry for very little else which it contains, except the portions contributed by its contriver Sackville, consisting only of one legend, that of Henry, Duke of Buckingham (Richard the Third's famous accomplice and victim), and the introduction, or Induction, as it is called, prefixed to that narrative, which however appears to have been originally intended to stand at the head of the whole work. The induction begins with a picture of winter, which is drawn with vivid colours and a powerful pencil; then follow some brief reflections, suggested by the faded fields and scattered summer flowers, on the instability of all things here below; but suddenly the poet perceives that the night is drawing on faster, and thereupon redoubles his pace; when, he continues,
In black all clad there fell before my face
Her body small, forwithered and forspent,
I stood aghast, beholding all her plight,
Unwrap thy woes, whatever wight thou be
Alas, I, wretch, whom thus thou see'st distrained,
Whence come I am, the dreary destiny
Sorrow conducts the poet to the region of departed spirits; and then follows a long succession of allegoric pictures—including Remorse, Dread (or Fear), Revenge, Misery (that is, Avarice), Care, Sleep, Old Age, Malady, Famine, Death, War, Debate (or Strife), &c.; all drawn with extraordinary strength of imagination, and with a command of expressive, picturesque, and melodious language, nothing equal or approaching to which had till now been seen in our poetry, except only in Chaucer—and he can scarcely be said to have written in the same English the capabilities of which were thus brought out by Sackville. Both for his poetical genius, and in the history of the language, Sackville and his two poems in the Mirror for Magistrates—more especially this Induction—must be considered as forming the connecting link or bridge between Chaucer and Spenser, between the Canterbury Tales and the Fairy Queen. For the sake of affording a means of comparison with the style and manner of the extracts we shall presently have to give from the latter work, we will add here another of Sackville's delineations:—
And, next in order, sad OLD AGE we found,
There heard we him, with broke and hollow plaint,
But, an” the cruel fates so fixed be
* Utterly wasted and gone. • If.
And not so soon descend into the pit,
But who had seen him sobbing how he stood
Crook-backed he was, tooth-shaken, and blear-eyed, Went on three feet, and sometime crept on four; With old lame bones, that rattled by his side; His scalp all piled," and he with eld forelore ; His withered fist still knocking at death's door; Fumbling and drivelling as he draws his breath; For brief, the shape and messenger of Death. Nothing is wanting to Sackville that belongs to force either of conception or of expression. In his own world of the sombre and sad, also, he is almost as great an inventor as he is a colourist; and Spenser has been indebted to him for many hints, as well as for example and inspira– tion in a general sense: what most marks the immaturity of his style is a certain operose and constrained air, a stiffness and hardness of manner, like what we find in the works of the earliest school of the Italian painters, before Raphael and Michael Angelo arose to convert the art from a painful repetition or mimicry of reality into a process of creation—from the timid slave of nature into her glorified rival. Of the flow and variety, the genuine
* Peeled, bare, bald.
spirit of light and life, that we have in Spenser and Shakspeare, there is little in Sackville; his poetry—ponderous, gloomy, and monotonous—is still oppressed by the shadows of night; and we see that, although the darkness is retiring, the sun has not yet risen.
ORIGIN OF THE REGULAR DRAM.A.
From the first introduction of dramatic representations in England, probably as early as the beginning of the twelfth century, down to the beginning of the fifteenth, or perhaps somewhat later, the only species of drama known was that styled the Miracle, or Miracle-play. The subjects of the miracle-plays were all taken from the histories of the Old and New Testament, or from the legends of saints and martyrs; and, indeed, it is probable that their original design was chiefly to instruct the people in religious knowledge. They were often acted as well as written by clergymen, and were exhibited in abbeys, in churches, and in churchyards, on Sundays or other holidays. It appears to have been not till some time after their first introduction that miracle-plays came to be annually represented under the direction and at the expense of the guilds or trading companies of towns, as at Chester and elsewhere. The characters, or dramatis personae, of the miracle-plays, though sometimes supernatural or legendary, were always actual personages, historical or imaginary; and in that respect these primitive plays approached nearer to the regular drama than those by which they were succeeded—the Morals, or Moralplays, in which not a history, but an apologue was represented, and in which the characters were all allegorical.