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88 THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER.
arising from the king's capricious ferocity and the insidious hatred of the anti-reform party, Cranmer became, during the reign of Henry's gentle son Edward, a leader of the English Reformation and a founder of the English Church. A few years later, under poor, ill-tempered, misguided Mary, having been induced 1556 in the gloom of a prison cell to sign a denial of his ProtesA.D. tant belief-a deed which he afterwards utterly repealed —he underwent at Oxford that baptism of fire which has purified his memory from every stain. Cranmer's great fault was a want of decision and firmness. . There is a book, which ranks with our Bible and the Pilgrimo” - Progress, as containing some of the finest specimens of unadulterated English to be found in the whole range of our literature. It is The Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Churches of Great Britain and Ireland. To Cranmer the merit of compiling this beautiful service-book is chiefly due. The old Latin Missal, used in various forms all over England, was taken to pieces; many parts of it were discarded, especially the legends and the prayers to saints, and what remained was re-cast in an English mould. The Litany, differing only in a single petition from that now read, was added as a new feature of the service. By an Act of Parliament, passed in 1548, all ministers were ordered to use the Book of Common Prayer in the celebration of Divine service. And ever since, that sweet and solemn music of King Edward's Liturgy has been heard in our lands, rising through the sacred silence of many churches when the Sabbath bells have ceased to chime. A book of Twelve Homilies, or sermons, was also prepared under the superintendence of Cranmer, for the use of those clergymen who were not able to write sermons for themselves. The need of such a work shows us how far behind the lower clergy then were, even in the knowledge and use of their own tongue. Four of these Homilies are ascribed to the pen of Cranmer. His third great literary work was his superintendence of a revised translation of the Bible, which is commonly called either Cranmer's Bible from his share in its publication, or the Great Bible from its comparative size. This edition, which
The GREAT BIBLE. 89
came out in 1540, appears to have been founded on Tyndale's version. The Hebrew and Greek originals were carefully consulted, and the English was compared with them, many of the proof-sheets—perhaps all of them—passing under Cranmer's pen.
Cranmer's extant original works are very many, and possess considerable merit; but his literary reputation will always rest mainly on the fact that he was what we may call editor-in-chief of those three great works of the English Reformation already noticed, the Book of Common Prayer, the Twelve Homilies, and the Great Bible.
For two reasons the brilliant but unhappy Surrey holds à foremost place in the annals of our English literature. He was, so far as we know, the earliest writer of English blank verse, and he gave to English poetry a refinement and polish for which we search in vain among his predecessors.
His father was the third Duke of Norfolk; and his mother, Elizabeth, was a daughter of the great house of Buckingham. But Surrey had more from Heaven than noble birth could give, for the sacred fire of poetry burned in his breast. Of his boyhood we know nothing certain. Nursed in the lap of luxury, and the darling of a splendid Court, he yet won a soldier's laurels both in Scotland and in France.' But his fame was not to be carved out only with a sword. Travelling into Italy, he "tasted the sweet and stately measures and stile of the Italian poesie," and returned home to re-cast in the elegant mould of his accomplished mind the metres of his native land.
At home, however, he became involved in many troubles. Some of these resulted from the escapades of his own youthful folly. He was once imprisoned for rioting in the streets at night and breaking windows with a cross-bow. But other and
evils came. In the latter days of the reign, when “Bluff King Hal” had become “ Bloated King Hal,” and all the courtly circle saw that the huge heap of wickedness was sinking into the grave, there arose a keen contest between the noble houses of Howard
ExECUTION OF SURREY. 91
and Seymour. •The element of religious strife added to the bitterness of the feeling which grew up between these two rival families; for the Howards were Roman Catholics, and the Earl of Hertford, the head of the Seymours, was a secret friend of the Reformation. The grand aim of Hertford was to secure the protectorship of his young nephew Prince Edward when the old king was dead. Surrey and his father Norfolk, standing in the way, must perish. The thing was easy to do; the name of Howard was poison to the king, who had already soiled their proud escutcheon with an ugly smear of blood, drawn, four years earlier, from the fair neck of his fifth wife. Arrested for treason, the father and the son, each ignorant of the other's capture, were hurried Dec. 12, by different ways to the Tower. Surrey was tried at 1546 Guildhall on a flimsy charge of treason, supported chiefly A.D. by the fact that he had quartered the arms of Edward the Confessor on his shield with those of his own family. This was tortured into a proof that he aimed at the throne. He had long worn these arms, he said, even in the king's own sight; and the heralds had allowed him to do so in virtue of his royal descent. In spite of these simple truths, and the noble eloquence of his defence, the poet was doomed to die; and on the 19th of January 1547 his bright hair, all dabbled in blood, swept the dust of the scaffold. Eight days later, the blood-stained Henry died, just in time to save from the block the head of Norfolk, whose execution had been arranged for the following mornIng. Surrey's literary merits have been already noticed. Dr. Nott, who edited Surrey's works, claims for the poet the honour of having revolutionized English poetry, by substituting lines of fixed length, where the accents fall evenly, for the rhythmical lines of earlier poets, in which the number of syllables is irregular, and the equality of the lines requires to be kept up by certain pauses or cadences of the voice. But recent writers have shown that this theory cannot be maintained. In the words of Dr. Craik, “The true merit of Surrey is, that he restored to our poetry a correctness, polish, and general spirit of refinement, such as it had not known
92 THE EARLIEST ENGLISH BLANK-VERSE.
since Chaucer's time; and of which, therefore, in the language as now spoken, there was no previous example whatever.” Like Chaucer, he caught his inspiration from the great bards of Italy, and sat especially at the feet of Petrarch. In his purification of English verse, he did good service by casting out those clumsy Latin words, with which the lines of even Dunbar are heavily clogged. The poems of Petrarch ring the changes in exquisite music on his love for Laura. So the love-verses of Surrey are filled with the praises of the fair Geraldine, whom Horace Walpole has tried to identify with Lady Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a daughter of the Earl of Kildare. If this be so, Geraldine was only a girl of thirteen when the poet, already married to Frances Were for six years, sang of her beauty and her virtue. It is no unlikely thing that Surrey, an instinctive lover of the beautiful, was smitten with a deep admiration of the fresh, young, girlish face of one—
“Standing with reluctant feet,
Such a feeling could exist—it often has existed—in the poet's breast, free from all mingling of sin, and casting no shadow of reproach upon a husband's loyalty. Surrey's chief work was the translation into English blankverse of the Second and Fourth books of Virgil’s “A'neid.” Some think that he borrowed this verse from Italy; Dr. Nott supposes that he got the hint from Gavin Douglas, the Scottish translator of Virgil. Wherever the gem was found, Surrey has given it to English literature; a rough gem, indeed, at first, and shining with a dim, uncertain gleam, but soon, beneath Shakspere's magic hand, leaping forth to the sight of men, a diamond of the first water, flashing with a thousand coloured lights. Surrey is said to have written also the first English Sonnets.”
* The Sonnet is borrowed from the Italian. It is a poem of fourteen lines, two of its four stanzas having four lines each, and the others three lines. The rhymes are arranged according to a particular rule.