« PreviousContinue »
entertained as well by the great friends my father made, as by mine own forwardness; where it being now but honey-moon, I endeavoured to court it with a grace, almost.past grace, laying more upon my back than my friends could well bear; having many times a brave cloak, and a thread-bare purse. Who so conversant with the Ladies as I? Who more prodigal ? Who more pleasant? Insomuch as I thought the time lost which was not spent either in their company with delight, or for their
company That John Lilly has, in the above passage, drawn his own character fairly, is proved by his various publications. The was a literary courtier; and spent the whole of his days in ministering to the vanity of the Queen and her ladies. It would be pleasant to record the fact that he received an adequate reward for his pains; it is however much too probable that empty fame, and perhaps, in his case, the labor ipse voluptas constituted bis only reward. The age of Elizabeth, though fertile in learned men, was by no means celebrated for patronage, and much greater writers than Lilly were repaid with neglect. That our courtly anthor was however, led by promises to expect some substantial reward, appears by a letter he addressed to the Queen in 1597, in which he reminds her majesty, that he had been during thirteen years in expectation of receiving the appointment of Master of the Revels. Whether he ever did acquire that, or any other recompence, does not satisfactorily appear.
Euphues and his England.
Mr. Ellis supposes Lilly to have died about the commencement of the 17th century; but he was probably alive so late as 1616, that being the year
in which the volume was published from whence the annexed motto is taken, which does not speak of him as dead, but as being in old age.
It has been the fate of John Lilly to suffer equally from the exaggerated praises of his contemporaries, and from the ridicule and neglect of posterity; and consequently an impartial estimate of his talents has never been made at any period of time. The following amusing contrast of opinions will sufficiently illustrate this remark. William Webbe, the author of a scarce pamphlet, published in 1586, with the title of * A Discourse on English Poetry," speaking of the eloquence of his contemporaries, thus expresses himself respecting our author :-" There is none, I think, will gainsay but that Master John Lilly hath deserved most high commendations, as he that hath stepped one step further than any. Whose works surely, in respect of his singular eloquence, and brave composition of apt words and sentences, let the learned examine, and make a trial thereof through all parts of rhetoric, in fit phrases, in pithy sentences, in gallant tropes, in flowing speech, in plain sense, and surely in my judgment. I think he will yield him that verdict, which Quintilian giveth of both the best orators, Demosthenes and Tully: that from the one nothing may be taken, and to the other nothing may be added.”—Mr. Ellis on the contrary, gives the following character of the same writings :-"He is said to have gained the admiration of Queen Elizabeth's court, by the invention of a new English, a model of which he exhibited in two prose
works. It is to be supposed that this strange and bar. barous jargon, the obscurity of which no intellect is able to pierce, was adopted by the fashionable beauties of that virgin court, for the purpose of shielding their Firtue from the addresses of importunate ignorance." The former of these doughty critics had certainly an advantage over the latter, in having formed his opinion from actual perusal of his author's work; since there is every reason to suppose, from the opinion advanced, that Mr. Ellis had never paid any attention to the books he.so severely censures. Lilly's style, faulty as it is, according to modern estimate, is by no means a jargon,* and it demands no violent stretch of intellect very justly to comprehend the meaning of every passage.
John Lilly was certainly a man of considerable genius. He was learned, and had stored his memory with the fruits of a most extensive reading ; he was also a close and a correct observer, and a candid judge of human actions. As a writer, he was perfectly original, and the founder of a school of temporary celebrity ; but failing in the essential requisite of good taste, he has
* “ Jargon,-unintelligible talk ; gabble, gibberish.”
Lilly. The former writer sums up bis character as follows:-
“ Talking of stones, starš, planets, fishes, fies.
been more commonly ridiculed of late years, for affectation and nonsense, than praised as he deserves for correct and nervous writing, for a fertile invention, a most active and poetic imagination, and for that strict attention to harmony in the construction of his periods, of which he was the first to give an example in English prose. Lilly attempted an ornamental style of writing, and he is unfortunate only, in having outstepped that just medium, so hard to hit. His pages are crowded with images and metaphors, frequently both apposite and beautiful, occasionally incongruous and absurd. His aim was, not merely to improve the language, but also the morals of the age in which he lived ; and it is highly probable that his books, from their popularity, effected in some degree his intention. It must be conceded, that he is most unsparing in his flattery of the * throned vestal” and her courtiers, both males and females, but that is a blemish he inherited in common with some of the best authors in our language, and was the prevailing vice of his time. It has been of late years a fashionable amusement among our gleaners in the fields of literature, to collect aphorisms from the domains of the elder writers; to such labourers we venture earnestly to recommend the works of our Kentish Lilly, who well deserves the character he obtained from his contemporaries of being, one of the refiners of the English tongue in the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Lilly's celebrated work is a kind of novel in two parts, the former under the title of “ Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit, &c.” was first published in 1581. The second part with the title of “ Euphues; and his England &c." appeared some years after, and from
internal evidence was written in 1583. Many subsequent editions followed, and one containing the former part only, is of so late a date as 1718. The first part is dedicated to William West Lord De la Warre, and contains two whimsical addresses to the Gentlemen Readers and to the Gentlemen Scholars of Oxford. The scene of the first part is laid in Naples, and narrates first a love adventure of the hero Euphues and his friend Philautus, condacted mostly in the form of a dialogue, and containing more argument than incident; -- secondly, a treatise on education ;-thirdly, a conversation between Euphues and Atheos, in which the latter, a decided atheist, is convinced by the arguments of the former, of the existence of a deity, and of the veracity of the christian revelation ;-fourthly, a series of letters on various subjects, some of them among
the best of our author's writings. The second part conducts Euphues and his friend to England, and is devoted to the love adventures of the latter with the English ladies. The former has become a philosopher, and entertains us with remarks upon the manners of the islanders, and the character of their queen and her court. This part is dedicated to Edward Vere Earl of Oxford, and contains two addresses also, to the Ladies and Gentlewomen of England, and to the Gentlemen Readers. The following extracts will enable the reader to form his judgment concerning this singular work :
“At thy coming into England, be not too inquisitive of news, neither curious of matters of state; in assemblies ask no questions, either concerning manpers, or men; be not too lavish of thy tongue, either in causes of weight, lest thou shew thyself an espial, or in wanton talk, lest thou prove thyself a fool.