ad been saved by birisoned, finally behallengers of

in the breach, had been saved by his servant, magnificent, sumptuous, irritable, ambitious, four times imprisoned, finally beheaded. At the coronation of Ann of Cleves he was one of the challengers of the tourney. Denounced and placed in durance, he offered to fight unarmed against an armed adversary. Another time he was put in prison for having eaten flesh in Lent. No wonder if this prolongation of chivalric manners brought with it a prolongation of chivalric poetry; if in an age which had known Petrarch, poets displayed the sentiments of Petrarch. Lord Berners, Lord Sheffield, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Surrey in the tirst rank, were, like Petrarch, plaintive and platonic lovers. It was pure love to which Surrey gave expression; for his lady, the beautiful Geraldine, like Beatrice and Laura, was an ideal personage, and a child of thirteen years.

And yet, amid this languor of mystical tradition, a personal feeling had sway. In this spirit which imitated, and that badly at times, which still groped for an outlet, and now and then admitted into its polished stanzas the old, simple expressions and stale metaphors of heralds of arms and trouvères, there was already visible the Northern melancholy, the inner and gloomy emotion. This feature, which presently, at the finest moment of its richest blossom, in the splendid expansiveness of natural life, spreads a sombre tint over the poetry of Sidney, Spenser, Shakspeare, already in the first poet separates this pagan yet Teutonic world from the other, all in all voluptuous, which in Italy, with lively and refined irony, had no taste, except for art and pleasure. Surrey translated the Ecclesiastes into verse. Is it not singular, at this early hour, in this rising dawn, to find such a book in his hand ? A disenchantment, a sad or bitter dreaminess, an innate consciousness of the vanity of human things, are never lacking in this country and in this race; the inhabitants support life with difficulty, and know how to speak of death. Surrey's finest verses bear witness thus soon to his serious bent, this instinctive and grave philosophy. He records his griefs, regretting his beloved Wyatt, his friend Clère, his companion the young Duke of Richmond, all dead in their prime. Alone, a prisoner at Windsor, he recalls the happy days they have passed together :

"So cruel prison how could betide, alas,

As prond Windsor, where I in lust and joy,
With a Kinges son, my childish years did pass,

In greater feast than Priam's son of Troy.
Where each sweet place returns a taste full sour,

The large green courts, where we were wont to hove,
With eyes cast up into the Maiden's tower,

And easy sighs, such as folk draw in love.
The stately seats, the ladies bright of hue.

The dances short, long tales of great delight,
With words and looks, that tigers could but rue ;

Where each of us did plead the other's right.

The palme-play, where, despoiled for the game,

With dazed eyes oft we by gleams of love
Have miss'd the ball, and got sight of our dame,

To bait her eyes, which kept the leads above. ..
The secret thoughts, imparted with such trust;

The wanton talk, the divers change of play ;
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,

Wherewith we past the winter night away.
And with his thought the blood forsakes the face ;

The tears berain my cheeks of deadly hue :
The which, as soon as sobbing sighs, alas!

Up-supped have, thus I my plaint renew:
O place of bliss ! renewer of my woes!

Give me account, where is my noble fere ?
Whom in thy walls thou dost each night enclose;

To other lief; but unto me most dear.
Echo, alas! that doth my sorrow rue,

Returns thereto a hollow sound of plaint.'1
So in love, it is the sinking of a weary soul, to which he gives vent:

*For all things having life, sometime hath quiet rest;
The bearing ass, the drawing ox, and every other beast;
The peasant, and the post, that serves at all assays;
The ship-boy, and the galley-slave, have time to take their ease ;
Save I, alas! whom care of force doth so constrain,
To wail the day, and wake the night, continually in pain,
From pensiveness to plaint, from plaint to bitter tears,

From tears to painful plaint again ; and thus my life it wears.''
That which brings joy to others brings him grief:

• The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill, and eke the vale.
The nightingale with feathers new she sings ;
The turtle to her mate hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs;
The hart has hung his old head on the pale ;
The buck in brake his winter coat he slings;
The fishes flete with new repaired scale ;
The adder all her slough away she slings ;
The swift swallow pursueth the flies smale ;
The busy bee her honey now she mings;
Winter is worn that was the flowers' bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs!'s

1 Surrey's Poems, Pickering, 1831, p. 17.

2 Ibid. “The faithful lover declareth his pains and his uncertain joys, and with only hope recomforteth his woful heart,' p. 53.

3 Ibid. 'Description of Spring, wherein every thing renews, save only the lover,' p. 3.

For all that, he will love on to his last sigh.

• Yea, rather die a thousand times, than once to false my faith ;
And if my feeble corpse, through weight of woful smart
Do fail, or faint, my will it is that still she keep my heart.
And when this carcass here to earth shall be refar'd,

I do bequeath my wearied ghost to serve her afterward.'! An infinite love, and pure as Petrarch's; and she is worthy of it. In the midst of all these studied or imitated verses, an admirable portrait remains distinct, the simplest and truest we can imagine, a work of the heart now, and not of the memory, which behind the dame of chivalry shows the English wife, and behind the feudal gallantry domestic bliss. Surrey alone, restless, hears within him the firm tones of a good friend, a sincere counsellor, Hope, who speaks to him thus ,

• For I assure thee, even by oath,
And thereon take my hand and troth,
That she is one the worthiest,
The truest, and the faithfullest;
The gentlest and the meekest of mind
That here on earth a man may find :
And if that love and truth were gone,
In her it might be found alone.
For in her mind no thought there is,
But how she may be true, I wis ;
And tenders thee and all thy heal,
And wishes both thy health and weal;
And loves thee even as far forth than
As any woman may a man ;
And is thine own, and so she says;
And cares for thee ten thousand ways.
Of thee she speaks, on thee she thinks;
With thee she eats, with thee she drinks,
With thee she talks, with thee she moans ;
With thee she sighs, with thee she groans ;
With thee she says “Farewell mine own!"
When thou, God knows, full far art gone.
And even, to tell thee all aright,
To thee she says full oft “ Good night!"
And names thee oft her own most dear,
Her comfort, weal, and all her cheer ;
And tells her pillow all the tale
How thou hast done her woe and bale;
And how she longs, anıl plains for thee,
And says, “Why art thou so from me?"
Am I not she that loves thee best?
Do I not wish thine ease and rest?
Seek I not how I may thee please?
Why art thou so from thine ease ?

[ocr errors]

If I be she for whom thon carest,
For whom in torments so thou farest,
Alas! thou knowest to find me here,
Where I remain thine own most dear,
Thine own most true, thine own most just,
Thine own that loves thee still, and must;
Thine own that cares alone for thee,
As thou, I think, dost care for me;
And even the woman, she alone,
That is full bent to be thine own.'1

Certainly it is of his wife ? that he is thinking here, not of any imaginary Laura. The poetic dream of Petrarch has become the exact picture of deep and perfect conjugal affection, such as yet survives in England ; such as all the poets, from the authoress of the Nut-brown Maid to Dickens, have never failed to represent.


An English Petrarch: no juster title could be given to Surrey, for it expresses his talent as well as his disposition. In fact, like Petrarch, the oldest of the humanists, and the earliest exact writer of the modern tongue, Surrey introduces a new style, a manly style, which marks a great transformation of the mind; for this new form of writing is the result of a superior reflection, which, governing the primitive impulse, calculates and selects with an end in view. At last the intellect has grown capable of self-criticism, and actually criticises itself. It corrects its unconsidered works, infantine and incoherent, at once incomplete and superabundant; it strengthens and binds them together; it prunes and perfects them ; it takes from them the master idea, to set it free and in the light of day. This is what Surrey does, and his education had prepared him for it; for he had studied Virgil as well as Petrarch, and translated two books of the Æneid, almost verse for verse. In such company one cannot but select one's ideas and arrange one's phrases. After their example, he gauges the means of striking the attention, assisting the intelligence, avoiding fatigue and weariness. He looks forward to the last line whilst writing the first. He keeps the strongest word for the last, and shows the symmetry of ideas by the symmetry of phrases. Sometimes he guides the intelligence by a continuous series of contrasts to the final image; a kind of sparkling casket, in which he means to deposit the idea which he

* Ibid. 'A description of the restless state of the lover when absent from the mistress of his heart,' p. 78.

? In another piece, Complaint on the Absence of her Lover being upon the Sea, he speaks in exact terms of his wife, almost as assectionately.

ö Greene, Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Shakspeare, Ford, Otway, Richardson, De Foe, Fielding, Dickens, Thackeray, etc.

carries, and to which he directs our attention from the first.1 Sometimes he leads his reader to the close of a long flowery description, and then suddenly checks him with a sorrowful phrase. He arranges his process, and knows how to produce effects; he uses classical expressions, in which two substantives, each supported by its adjective, are balanced on either side of the verb.: He collects his phrases in harmonious periods, and does not neglect the delight of the ears any more than of the mind. By his inversions he adds force to his ideas, and weight to his argument. He selects elegant or noble terms, rejects idle words and redundant phrases. Every epithet contains an idea, every metaphor a sentiment. There is eloquence in the regular development of his thought; music in the sustained accent of his verse.

Such is the new-born art. Those who have ideas, now possess an instrument capable of expressing then. Like the Italian painters, who in fifty years had introduced or discovered all the technical tricks of the pencil, English writers, in half a century, introduce or discover all the artifices of language, period, style, heroic verse, stanza, so effectually, that a little later the most perfect versifiers, Dryden, and Pope himself, says Dr. Nott, will add scarce anything to the rules, invented or applied, which were employed in the earliest efforts.* Even Surrey is too near to these authors, too constrained in his models, not sufficiently free : he has not yet felt the great current of the age; we do not find in him a bold genius, an impassioned writer capable of wide expansion, but a courtier, a lover of elegance, who, penetrated by the beauties of two complete literatures, imitates Horace and the chosen masters of Italy, corrects and polishes little morsels, aims at speaking perfectly a fine language. Amongst semi-barbarians he wears a dresscoat becomingly. Yet he does not wear it completely at his ease: he keeps his eyes too exclusively on his models, and does not venture to permit himself frank and free gestures. He is still a scholar, makes too great use of hot and cold, wounds and martyrdom. Although a lover, and a genuine one, he thinks too much that he must be so in Petrarch's manner, that his phrase must be balanced and his image kept up. I had almost said that, in his sonnets of disappointed love, he thinks less often of the strength of love than of the beauty of his writing. He has conceits, ill-chosen words; he uses trite expressions ; he relates how Nature, having formed his lady, broke the mould; he assigns parts to Cupid and Venus; he employs the old machinery of the troubadours and the ancients, like a clever man who wishes to pass for a gallant. Scarce any mind dares be at first quite itself: when a new art arises, the first artist listens not to his heart, but

i The Frailty and Hurtfulness of Beauty.

Description of Spring. A Vow to love faithfully.
3 Complaint of the Lover disdained.
* Surrey, ed. Nott.

« ElőzőTovább »