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MONTHLY REVIEW, ,
For M ARCH, 1782.
Art. I. Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. III. CONCLUDED.
See lait Month's Review.
and, as Mr. Warton justly observes, with uncommon lustre, by that once very popular work, The Mirror for Magiftrates. Its plan was confessedly borrowed from Boccace's De Cafibus Prime cipum. A company is feigned to be assembled, each person of which, one excepted, by turns personates the character of one of the great unfortunate. The whole was to form a kind of dramatic interlude, including a series of independent soliloquics. In the execution of this piece, it is well known many were concerned: but its most distinguished contributor, and, indeed, its inventor, was Thomas Sackville, the first Lord Buckhurst, as also the first Earl of Dorset. He is no less celebrated as the author of Gordobuc, the first legitimate tragedy in the English language. Of his share in this work, namely, the Induction, and the Complaynt of Henrye Duke of Buckingham, Mr. Warton has given an analysis. His examination of the Induction is accompanied by a general view of Dante's Italian poem, entitled Commedia, containing a description of Hell, Paradise, and Purgatory *. This juxtaposition of performances on similar subjects, as is rightly remarked, illustrates and ascertains the respective merits and genius of the different poets. We are sorry that we cannot make room for this ingenious criticism.
The principal fi&ion of Sackville's Induction is a descent inco Hell. VOL. LXVI.
This volume is brought down to the commencement of Queen Elizabeth's reign. And the concluding section of it contains a general view and character of poetry at that period. It is not Mr. Warton's principal merit, that he investigates his subject with the patience of an antiquary and the acuteness of a critic;
from bis accurate delineation of character, it is evident, that he has inspected the manners of mankind, as they occa-, fionally pass before him, with the penetrating eye of a philosopher.
• Enough has been opened of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, to afford us an opportunity of forming fome general reflections, tending to establish a full estimace of the genius of the poetry of thar reign; and which, by drawing conclusions from what has been said, and directing the Reader to what he is to expect, will at once be recapitulatory and preparatory. . Such a furvey perhaps might have ftcod with more propriety as an introduction to this reign. But it was first necessary to clear the way, by many circumstanrial details, and the regular narration of those particulars, which lay the foundation of principles, and suggest matter for discursive observation. My sentiments on this subject call therefore compose the concluding section of the present volume.
• The age of Queen Elisabeth is commionly called the golden age of English poetry. It certainly may not improperly be styled the molt POETIOAL age of these annals.
• Among the great features which strike us in the poetry of this period, are the predominancy of fable, of fidion, and fancy, and a predilection for interesting adventures and pathetic events. I will endeavour to align and explain the cause of this characteristic diftinction, wbich may chiefiy be referred to the following principles, sometimes blended, and sometimes operating singly : the revival and vernacular verfions of the classics, the importation and translation of Italian novels, the visionary reveries or refinements of false philoso. ply, a degree of superftition fufficient for the purposes of poetry, the adoption of the machineries of romance, and the frequency and improvements of allegoric exhibition in the popular spectacles.
• When the corruptions and impostures of popery were abolished, the falhion of cultivating the Greek and Roman learning became universal : and the literary character was no longer appropriated to scholars by profesion, but aflumed by the nobility and gentry. The ecclesiastics had found is their intereš to keep the languages of antiquity to themselves, and men were eager to know what had been so long injuriously concealed. Truth propagates truth, and the mantle of myttery was removed not only from religion but from literature. The laity, who had now been taught to affert their natural privileges, became impatient of the old monopoly of knowledge, and demanded admittance to the usurpations of the clergy: The general curioary for new discoveries, heightened either by juft or imaginary ideas of the treasures contained in the Greek and Roman writers, excited all perfons of leifure and fortune to study the claslics. The pedantry of ihe present age was the politeness of the last. An accurate comprebension of the phraseology and peculiarities of the ancient poets, hir
of her age;
torians, and orators, which yet seldom went farther than a kind of technical erudition, was an indispensable, and almost the principal object in the circle of a gentleman's education. Every young lady of falliion was carefully intiluted in clastical letters: and the daugh. ter of a duchess was taught, not only to distil strong waters, but to conftrue Greek. Among the learned females of high diftinction, Queen Elisabeth herself was the most conspicuous. Roger Ascham, her preceptor, speaks with rapture of her astonishing progress in the Greek nouos; and declares, with no smalt degree of triumph, tbas during a long residence at Windsor-cattle, she was accustomed to read more Greek in a day, than." some Prebendary of that church did: Latin, in one week*” And although perhaps a Princess looking out words in a lexicon, and writing down hard phrases from Plus tarch's Lives, may be thought at present a more incompatible and extraordinary charader, than a canon of Windsor understanding do Greek and but little Latin, yet Elisabeth's pallion for these acquifitions was then natural, and resulted from the genius and habitudes.
• The books of antiquity being thus familiarised to the great, every thing was tinctured
with ancient history and mythology. The heathen gods, although discountenanced by the Calvinilts on a fufpicion of their tending to cherish and revive a spirit of idolatry, camo into general vogue. When the Queen paraded through a countrytown, almolt every pageant was a pantheon. When the paid a visit at the hoofe of any of her nobility, at entering the ball The was faluted by the Penates, and conducted to her privy-chamber by Mercury. Even the pastry-cooks were expert mythologists. Ac dinnery select transformations of Ovid's metamorphoses were exhibited in confectionary: and the fplendid iceiog of an immense historic plumb-cake, was embossed with a delicious basso-relievo of the destruđion of Troy. In the afternoon, when the condescended to walk in the garden, the lake was covered with Tritong and Nereids: tho pages of the family. were converted into wood- nymphs, who peeped from every bower: and the foormen gamboled over the lawnsi in ebe figure of Satyrs. I speak it without deligning to inlinuate any unfavourable fafpicions, but it seems difficult to say, why Elisabeth's virginity should have been made the theme of perpetual and exceffive panegyrie; nor docs it immediately appear, that ihere is less merit or glory in a married than in a maiden Queen. Yet, the next morning, after sleeping in a room hung with the tapestry of the voyage of Eneas, when her Majesty hunted in the Park, he was mer by Diana, who pronouncing, our royal prude to be the brigbreit paragon of unspotted chastity, invited her to groves free from the intrusions of Atteon. The troch is, the was so profusely fa:tered for this virtuo, because it was esteemed the characteristical ornament of the heroines, as fantastic honour wat the chief pride of the champions, of the old barbarous romance. It was in conformity to the sentiments of chivalry, which fill continued in vogue, that she was celebrated for chattity: the compliment, however, was paid in a classical allofion.
• Schoolemafier, p. 19. b. edit. 1589. 4to.
Queens must be ridiculous when they would appear as women. The softer attractions of sex vanith on the throne. Elisabeth foughe all occasions of being extolled for her beauty, of which indeed, in the prime of her youth, the poffefied but a small thare, whatever might have been her pretenfions to absolute virginity, Nocuithstanding her exaggerated habits of dignity and ceremony, and a certain affectation of imperial severity, the did not perceive this ambition, of being complimented for beauty, to be an idle and unpardonable levity, 10tally inconfiltent with her high station and character. As the conquered all nations with her arms, it matters not what were she tri. umphs of her eyes. Of what consequence was the complexion of the mistress of the world to Not less vain of her person than her politics, this fiately coquet, the guardian of the Protestant faith, the terror of the sea, the niediatrix of the factions of France, and the scopsge of Spain, was infinitely mortified, if an ambassador, at the first audience, , did not tell her she was the finest woman in Europe. No negociation fucceeded unless she was addressed as a goddess. Encomiaftic harangues drawn from this topic, even on the fopposition of yoush and beauty, were furely super Auous, unsuitable, and unworthy; and were offered and received with an equal impropriety. Yet when the rode through the Atreets o: the city of Norwich, Cupid, at the com. mand of the Mayor and Aldermen, advancing from a groupe of gods who had left Olympus to grace the procesiion, gave her a golden arrow, the most effective weapon of his well-furnished quiver, which, under the influence of such irresistible charms was sure to wound the moit obdurate heart. “A gift, says honest Hollingshed, which her Majesty, now verging to her fiftieth year, received very thankful lie.” In one of the fulsome interludes at court, where she was prelent, the finging-boys of her chapel presented the story of the three rival goddeles op mount Ida, to which her Majesty was ingeniously added as a fourth: and Paris was arraigned in form for adjudging the golden apple to Veous, which was due 1o the Queen alone.
This inundation of clasical pedantry foon infected our poetry.. Qur writers, already trained in the school of fancy, were suddenly dazxled with these novel imaginations, and the divinities and heroes of pagan antiquity decorated every composition. The perpetual al. lufions to ancient fable were often introduced without the least regard to propriery. Shakespeare's Mrs. Page, who is not intended in any degree to be a learned or an affected lady, laughing at the cumber. fone courtship of her corpulent lover Falilaffe, says, “ I had rather be a giantess, and lie under mount Pelion t." This familiarity with the Pagan ftory was not, however, so much owing to the prevailing lludy of the original authors, as to the numerous English versions of them, which were consequently made. The translations of the clarfics, which now employed every pen, gave a currency and a celebrity so these fancies, and had the effect of diffusing them among the people. . No sooner were they delivered from the pale of the scholaltic.languages, than they acquired a general notoriety. Ovid's metamorphoses, juft translated by Golding, to instance no farther, dirclosed a new world of fiction, even to the illiterate, As we had now
• Chron. iii. f. 1297.
Merry Wives, Act ii. Sc. i.
all the ancient fables in English, learned allufions, whether in a poem or a pageant, were no longer obscure and unintelligible to common readers and coirmon spectators. And here we are led to observe, that at this restoration of the classics, we were first ftruck only with their fabulous inventions. We did not attend to their regularity of design and justness of feptiment. A rude age, beginning to read these writers, imitated their extravagancies, not their natural beauties. And these, like other novelties, were pursued to a blameable excess.
"I have before given a ketch of the introduction of classical flories, in the splendid show exhibited at the coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn. But that is a rare and a premature instance: and the Pagan fi&tions are there complicated with the barbarisms of the Catholic worhip, and the doctrines of scholastic theology. Clasical learning was not then so widely spread, either by ftudy or translation, as to bring these learned fpeétacles into fashion, to frame them with sufficient skill, and to present them with propriety.
Ano: her capital source of the poetry peculiar to this period, conlisted in the numerous translations of Italian tales inço English. There narratives, not dealing al:ogether in romantic inventions, but in real life and manners, and in artful arrangements of fiétitious yet probable events, afforded a new gratifcation to a people which yet retained their ancient relish for tale-telling, and became the falhionable amusement of all who profeffed to read for pleasure. They gave rise to innumerable plays and prems, which would not otherwise bave existed; and turned the choughts of our writers to new inventions of the same kind. Before these books became common, affecting fitua. tions, the combination of incident, and the pathos of catastrophe, were almost unknown. Distress, especially that arising from the conficts of the tender passion, had not yet been shewn in its molt inte. resting forms. It was hence our poers, particularly the dramatic, borrowed ideas of a legitimate plot, and the complication of facts necessary to consitute a story either of the comic or tragic species, In proportion as knowledge increased, genius had wanted subjects and materials. These pieces usurped the place of legends and chro. Dicles. And although the old hiltorical songs of the minstrels contained much bold adventure, heroic enterprise, and strong touches of rade delineation, yet they failed in that multiplication and disposition of circumstances, and in that description of characters and events approaching nearer to truth and reality, which were demanded by a more discerning and curious age. Even the rugged features of the original Gothic romance were softened by this sort of reading: and the I:alian pastoral, yet with some mixture of the kind of incidents described in Heliodorus's Ethiopic history now newly translated, was eografted on the feudal manners in Sydney's Arcadia.
. But the Reformation had not yet destroyed every delusion, nor dilinchanted all the strong holds of superstition. A few dim characters were yet legible in the mouldering creed of tradition. Every goblin of ignorance did not vanish at the first glimmerings of the morning of science. Reason suffered a few demons still to linger, which the chose to retain in her service under the guidance of poetry. Men believed, or were willing to believe, that spirits were yet ho