Page images


BORN 1533—DIED 1603.

Let Genovicum* boast, for boast she may,
The birth of great Eliza,---Huil my queen,
And yet I'll call thee by a dearer name, -


This illustrious native of Kent was born at Greenwich, in 1533. “The seventh of September,” says John Stow, being Sunday, between three and four of the clock, at afternoon, the queen was delivered of a fair lady, for whose good deliverance, Te Deum was sung incontinently, and great preparation was made for the christening.” The ceremonials of this christening, from which Shakespeare has made a pageant in his play of Henry the eighth, are given at full by the honest chronicler, whose principal merit consists in his accurate descriptions of such scenes, in which he seems to have delighted.

This princess, if we may credit her historians, gave early proof of her talent for acquiring languages. “ When she was but twelve years old,” says Mr. Ballard, “she translated from the English tongue, into Latin, French, and Italian, certain prayers and meditations, selected for that purpose, by Queen Catherine. This work was dedicated to the King, her father, and dated at Hatfield, Dec. 30th, 1545.

* Greenwich.

She was instructed in the learned languages, first by William Grindall, who died when she was about sixteen, and afterwards by the celebrated Roger Ascham,* whe, in his Schoolmaster, 1570, speaks of Queen Elizabeth's literary pursuits in the following terms :—" It is to your shame, you young gentlemen of England, that one maid should go beyond you all in excellency of learning, and knowledge of divers tongues. Point out six of the best given gentlemen of this court, and they altogether, spend not so much time, bestow not so many hours daily, orderly and constantly, for the increase of learning and knowledge, as doth the Queen's majesty herself. Yea, I believe, that beside her perfect readiness in Latin, French, and Spanish she readeth here aí Windsor more Greek every day, than some Prebendary of this church, doth Latin in a whole week.”

Bizari, an Italian writer, bears testimony to the absolute command which the learned


had over his native tongue. Scaliger tells us that she spoke five languages, and knew more than all the great men then living. Sir Henry Savile in his dedication of Tacitus, speaks in terms of the highest commendation of several translations from classical authors, which she had made, some of which are extant at the present day. “ Her ready responses in Latin,” says Lord Orford, “to the compliments of the University of Cambridge, many

was a

*“ Mr. Ascham,” says Fuller; in his Holy State, good Schoolmaster to her, but affliction was a better, so that it is hard to say whether she was more happy in having a crown so soon, or in having it no sooner, till affliction had first laid in her a low, (and therefore sure) foundation of humility, for highness to be afterwards built thereupon."

years after she had ceased to have learned leisure, are well known; and her ingenious evasion of a captious theological question, is still more and deservedly applauded :

“ Christ was the word that spake it;
He took the bread and brake it;
And what that word did make it :
That I believe and take it."

She excelled even in things of a much more trifling nature. There cannot be a sillier species of poetry. than the rebus; yet of that kind there are few better than the following which the queen made upon Mr. Noel:

“ The word of denial and letter of fifty
Is that gentleman's name that will never be thrifty.”

For this we have the authority of Collins, who in his account of the house of Stanhope, mentions the following distich, in which her Majesty gave the characters of four Knights of Nottinghamshire :

"Gervase the gentle, Stanhope the stout,

Markham the lion, and Sutton the lout.” Fuller records on English hexameter, composed by this queen in imitation of Sir P. Sidney. Coming into a grammar school, she thus expressed her opinion of three classic authors :6 Persius a crabstaff; bawdy Martial; Ovid a fine wag.”

The same author relates that Sir Walter Raleigh having written on a window obvious to the queen's eye,

“ Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall :" she immediately wrote under it

“ If thy heart fail thee, climb not at all."

[ocr errors]

A greater instance of genius, and that too in latin, was her extempore reply to an insolent prohibition delivered to her from Philip the second, by his embassador, in this tetrastic :

Te veto ne pergas bello defendere Belgas :
Quæ Dracus eripuit, nunc restituantur oportet;
Quas pater evertit, jubeo te condere cellas;

Religio Papæ fac restituatur ad unguem.” She instantly answered, with as much spirit as she used to return his threatened invasion.

Ad Græcas, bone rex, fient mandata Calendas.”

An instance of the same spirit, and a proof that her compositions even in the learned tongues, were her own, is that rapid piece of eloquence with which she interrupted an insolent embassador from Poland.

Having ended her oration, she, lion-like, rising,” saith Speed her contemporary, “ daunted the malapert orator no less with her stately port, and majestic deporture, than with the tartness of her princely checks; and turning to the train of her attendants, said, “God's death! my lords, I have been forced this day, to scour up my old latin, that hath long been rusting.”

Puttenham, in his “Art of English Poesie," published in 1589, thus sums up the character of Queen Elizabeth's poetry. “ But last in recital, and first in degree, is the queen, our sovereign lady, whose

, learned, delicate, noble muse, easily surmounteth all the rest that have written before her time or since, be it in ode, elegy, epigram, or any other kind of poem, wherein it shall please her majesty to employ her pen, even by as much odds, as her own excellent estate and degree exceedeth all the rest of her most humble

vassals." • I find no example so well maintaining the figure of the gorgeous (Exargasia) as that ditty of her Majesty's own making, passing sweet and harmonical. And this was the action-our sovereign lady, perceiving how the Scottish queen's residence within this realm, at so great liberty and ease, as were scarce worthy of so great and dangerous a prisoner, bred secret factions among her people, and made many of her nobility inclined to favour her party_to declare that she was nothing ignorant in those secret favours, though she had long with great wisdom and patience dissembled it, writeth this ditty, most sweet and sententious,”

The doubt of future foes

Exiles my present joy,
And wit me warns to shun such snares

As threaten my annoy.
For falsehood now doth flow,

And subject faith doth ebb;
Which would not be if reason ruled,

Or wisdom weaved the webb
But clouds of toys untried

Do cloak aspiring minds,
Which turn to rain of late repent,

By course of changed winds.
The top of hope supported

The root of ruth will be,
And fruitless all their grafted guiles,

As shortly ye shall see.
Then dazzled eyes with pride,

Which great ambition blinds,
Shall be unsealed by worldly wights,

Whose foresight falsehood finds.

« PreviousContinue »