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Nothing like criticism upon the several works of these authors, can be useful to young readers. Read first, judge afterwards. All that is contained in this volume, is collected to inspire love for the pursuit of literature, and to make it agreeable by making it intelligible. Young persons are here introduced to a community of the most venerable and gifted minds that ever lived, and they are invited to assimilate their moral nature, by purity of heart and of thought, to this goodly fellowship ; -and to the repositories of their heavenly fancies, repairing "as to their fountain," thence to draw light that shall not grow dim with age, but shine brighter and brighter to the perfect day of their intellectual progress.
Various changes that the language has undergone are exhibited by English poetry. Our language has not always been written as it now is. English grammars and dictionaries were not in general use till the latter half of the last century ; before that time, however, good English writers nearly agreed in their orthography and grammatical construction, and from their practice, in respect to orthography and grammar, our rules are principally taken.
Here follow four specimens of English poetry, written at different times. The first is from Chaucer :
“ Emilie, that fayrer was to sene
Chaucer's Knighte's Tale, verses 1037—1048. If a school boy of the present time should alter these verses after his own habits, and preserve the words as nearly as possible, he would write them thus :
Emilie, that fairer was to see
For May will have no sluggishness of night.
And saith, arise, and do thine observance. Spenser published the Faery Queene in 1570—one hundred and seventy years after Chaucer died. The following description of a fine lady's ornaments and equipage is taken from the Faery Queene :
"Hee had a faire companion of his way,
With tinsel trappings woven like a wave,
Fairy Queene, Canto II., verse 13. This is not so simple a description, not so easy to be understood, nor does it present so beautiful an image, as that of the sweet Emilie—rising with the dawn, and going forth among the flowers in May,—" herself the fairest flower," as the poet Milton afterwards said of Eve in Paradise. Chaucer's lady is lovely in herself, but Spenser's fair one is thought much less of than the splendour with which she is attired and mounted. A fine woman dressed in a robe of scarlet, adorned with pearls and gold richly wrought, wearing a splendid crown, and governing a noble horse, himself covered with cloth of silver, and reined with a glittering and tinkling bridle, may be looked at for a moment with pleasure ; but not with the same satisfaction as she must be regarded, whose beauty is the expression of gracefulness, modesty, and kindness.
The next specimen shows the progress of our language, and teaches the
very lesson that a moral comparison between the preceding ones may do. It was written but a few years after that of Spenser. The author, Ben Johnson, died 1616.
“ Give me a look, give me a face
That make simplicity a grace.
The following specimen, written in 1821, is like the orthography of that which preceded it two hundred years :
" 'Tis eve, the soft, the purple hour,
The dew is glistening on the bower ;
The last sweet worshipper of day."—Croly. English poetry is not confined to the British dominions—our western world has produced poets whose memory will be proof "Gainst death, and all oblivious enmity” — whose verses embellish these pages, and whose talents we should cherish with sentiments of pride and pleasure.
Spenser is the earliest English poet whose writings afford any specimens suitable to this collection. English History furnishes an interesting and useful subject of study to the young scholar, if it afford him just views of English mind. If history describes those only who have conquered certain armies, who have devastated countries, or who have built towns and forts, it informs us of little that is useful and improving. But it is delightful to learn from history that wise men have arisen in a nation after long periods of general ignorance—delightful to read the works which during centuries have made one generation of men after another, wiser and better,—delightful to turn from the barbarous triumphs of mad ambition and physical force to the dominion of intellect, and to enrich the understanding by the genius of others, who have refined and exalted society ever since they came into being.
Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne of Britain in 1558. Elizabeth was attached to the Protestant faith, made it the na. tional religion, cultivated learning herself, and cherished genius in others. Shakspeare lived in her reign, and paid homage to this maiden queen. He styles her, fair star, throned in the west;" and makes one, speaking of her infancy, say,
“ Sheba was never
Truth shall nurse her ;
" In the reign of Elizabeth," says Campbell," the English mind put forth its energies in every direction, exalted by a purer religion, and enlarged by new views of truth. This was an age of royalty, adventure, and generous emulation. The chivalrous character was softened by intellectual pursuits, while the genius of chivalry itself still lingered, as if unwilling to depart, and paid his last homage to a warlike and female reign. A degree of romantic fancy remained in the manners and superstitions of the people ; and allegory might be said to parade the streets in their public pageants and festivals. Quaint and pedantic as those allegorical exhibitions might often be, they were nevertheless more expressive of erudition, ingenuity, and moral meaning, than they had been in former times.
“ The philosophy of the highest minds still partook of a visionary character. A poetical spirit infused itself into the practical heroism of the age ; and some of the worthies of that period seem less like ordinary men, than like beings called forth out of fiction, and arrayed in the brightness of her dreams. They had
High thoughts seated in a heart of courtesy. The life of Sir Philip Sidney was poetry put into action."
Three very memorable individuals adorned the age of Elizabeth, Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir Walter Raleigh. The latter two are more properly subjects of verse than poets, though their verses are found in collections of English poetry, but Spenser stands without a rival in his own style of poetic invention.
Edmund Spenser was born in London about the middle of the sixteenth century. After leaving the university of Cambridge, where he was educated, he passed some time in a state of rustic obscurity in the North of England, and there his mind was furnished with those natural images that abound in his works. He was afterwards introduced to Sir Philip Sidney, and once resided with him at Penshurst in Kent. By the influence of Sidney, Spenser procured the place of Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and subsequently, a grant from the Queen, of land in that country, in which he remained for several years.
Spenser's residence at Kilcolman, an ancient castle of the earls Desmond, commanded a view of above half the breadth of Ireland, and must have been a most romantic and pleasant situation. The river Mulla which Spenser has so often celebrated, ran through his grounds. In this retreat he was visited by Sir Walter Raleigh, at that time a captain in the Queen's army. His
visit occasioned the resolution of Spenser to prepare the first books of the Faery Queen for immediate publication. Spenser has commemorated this interview, and the inspiring influence of Raleigh's praise, under the figurative description of two shepherds turning their pipes, beneath the alders of the Mulla ;-—a fiction with which the mind, perhaps, will be much less satisfied, than by recalling the scene as it really existed.
When we conceive of Spenser reciting his compositions to Raleigh, is a scene so beautifully appropriate, the mind casts a pleasing retrospect over that influence which the enterprise of the discoverer of Virginia, and the genius of the author of the Faery Queen, have respectively produced on the fortune and language of England. The fancy might even be pardoned for a momentary superstition, that the Genius of their country hovered unseen over their meeting, casting her first look of regard on the poet, that was destined to inspire her future Milton, and the other on the maritime hero, who paved the way for colonizing distant regions of the earth, where the language of England was to be spoken, and the poetry of Spenser to be admired."
In 1597, a rebellion against the British government broke out in Ireland, and occasioned the precipitate flight of Spenser with his family to England. He died at London, January, 1599. He was buried, according to his own desire, near the tomb of Chaucer; and “the most celebrated poets of the time" says Mr. Campbell,—“Shakspeare was probably of the number, followed his hearse, and threw tributary verses into his grave."
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.
Sir Philip Sidney was the most celebrated man of his
age.The question immediately occurs—for what ?_“ Traits of character will distinguish great men independent of their pens or their swords," remarks Mr. Campbell. “ The contemporaries of Sidney knew the man : and foreigners, no less than his own countrymen, seem to have felt, from his personal influence and conversation, a homage for him, that could only be paid to a commanding intellect guiding the principles of a noble heart."
He spent part of his short life in the court of Queen Elizabeth, and another very brilliant portion of it in military service upon the continent. As a courtier, a scholar, and a soldier, he commanded the admiration of Europe, and all England wore mourning at his death. This event happened in 1580, when he was only 32 years of age. His writings are obsolete, but we sometimes hear of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia. This is an incom