Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

ment, were powerful instruments in awakening the imagination. He was, moreover, well versed in the scholastic learning of the age, with which his mind had been imbued in childhood; his praise was the theme of his noblest and most accomplished contemporaries. Erasmus beheld in him the parent of the golden age, and the amiable Melancthon delighted to compare him to the most illustrious of the Ptolemies, when the glory of Athens had passed into Alexandria, and kings rejoiced in the companionship of poets and philosophers. In the later years of his life, the mind of Henry underwent a melancholy change; but that the love of goodness and of learning never entirely forsook him, the professorships he founded at Oxford and Cambridge, in 1540, for Greek) Hebrew, civil law, divinity, and medicine, abundantly testify *.

The Reformation, while it introduced a fresh principle into the habits and feelings of the people, especially affected the structure of our poetry. The unsealed Book was studied with enthusiasm and religious delight. The brief and troubled reign of Edward the Sixth abounded with metrical translations of various parts of the Scriptures. Christopher Tye put the Acts of the Apostles into metre; and so late as 1604 Dr. Bridges, Bishop of Oxford, produced a translation of the New Testament into Latin hexameters, impelled to the task, as he declared, by a hope of impressing the Sacred Book more easily upon the recollection. The well-known version of the Psalms, by Sternhold and Hopkins, is alone remembered; having maintained its place in our churches until it was superseded by the inferior paraphrase of Brady and Tate.

* It is scarcely necessary to refer the reader to Turners History of the Reign of Henry the Eighth, and Dr. Nott's elaborate edition of the Karl of Surrey's Poems, for an ingenious and interesting account of the literature of this era.

Sternhold, who had received a collegiate education, was Groom of the Robes to Henry the Eighth; a situation which he obtained, as we learn from Braithwait, by his poetical talents. He retained his office in the court of Edward the Sixth.

Warton has pointed out a "coincidence of circumstances" between Sternhold and Marot. They were, indeed, both laymen and court-poets; and Sternhold dedicated his translation to Henry the Eighth, and Marot to Francis the First. I think the parallel extends no further. Sternhold, of a serious, ardent, and upright mind, seems to have been destitute of all the higher elements of his art; Marot, on the contrary, the idol of a romantic court, negligent and luxurious in his life, was endowed with a grace of style, a sportiveness of fancy, and a pathos of sentiment, not often in later times so harmoniously blended. Spenser borrowed from him one of his sweetest pastorals; and French critics date from his appearance the history of their poetry. Sternhold concluded his life, as he had passed it, in prosperity and peace; Marot, in poverty and affliction.

Of Sternhold's fellow-labourer Hopkins, the profession only has been ascertained; he was a clergyman and schoolmaster in Suffolk, and, in the opinion of Warton, a better poet than his companion. Among the other contributors to the collective version, we may notice William Whyttingham, the friend of Calvin and Knox; John Pullain, a student of Christchurch, and archdeacon of Colchester, in the reign of Elizabeth; Thomas Norton, more favourably known as the assistant of Lord Buckhurst, in the drama of Gorboduc; Robert Wisdome, whose apprehensions of the Pope and the Turk were ridiculed by the witty Bishop Corbet; and T. C, supposed to be Thomas Churchyard, a most indefatigable versifier, who, during more than half a century, continued, with unhappy facility, to pour out his honest but feeble rhymes. Warton supposes the prosaic mediocrity of the Collection to have recommended it to the vulgar, who were incapable of appreciating the graces of composition. The criticism is just. But while Sternhold and his assistants never rise into poetry, they sometimes become affecting and impressive from the homeliness and simplicity of their style. Many ambitious efforts of modern Psalmody might be rebuked by this natural and unaffected version of the 90th Psalm.

Psalm XC.

Thou, Lord, hast heen our sure defence,

Our rock, and place of rest,
In all times past, in all times since

Thy name is ever blest.

Ere there was mountain made or hill,

Or earth, and all abroad,
From age to age, and ever still,

For ever thou art God:

Thou bringest man through grief and pain

To death and dust, and then,
And then thou sayest, return again,

Again, ye sons of men.

The lasting of a thousand year

What is it in thy sight?
As yesterday it doth appear,

Or as a watch by night:

Whene'er thy judgments come on men,

Then is their life soon done;
All as a sleep, or like the grass,

Whose beauty soon is gone;

Which in the morning shines most bright,

But fadeth by and bye;
And is cut down ere it be night,

All withered, dead, and dry.

So, through thy wrath our days soon waste,

Till nought thereof remain;
Our years consume as word or Waste,

And ne'er return again.

Our age is three score years and ten

That we the sun behold;
Four score, if any see, yet then

We count them wondrous old;

And all this time our strength and life

Which we then count upon,
Are little else but painful strife,

Until our breath be gone.

Instruct us, then, O Lord, to know

How long our days remain,
That we may now our thoughts apply

True wisdom to attain.

Sternhold published thirty-seven Psalms in 1549; the complete version appeared in 1562.

Under the gloomy tyranny of Mary, poetry obtained little attention. But, though discouraged, it was not destroyed; the River of Gold seemed only to be hidden for a season, that it might issue forth in a more majestic torrent in the happier reign of Elizabeth. One name, however, sheds a lustre over this gloomy epoch, and awakens a train of romantic imagery which had slumbered since the death of Surrey. I allude to Sackville, afterwards Lord Buckhurst, who, in Gorboduc, written before he was twenty years old, had produced the first regular tragedy in our language. Pope, who considered its style more pure than the early plays of Shakspeare, recommended its republication to Spence; and Sir Philip Sidney, while censuring the violation of the] unities, eulogized its stately speeches and its "notable morality," so delightfully communicated, he said, as to fulfil the proper end of poetry. The praise of Pope was inspired by the enthusiasm of his classical taste; and Sackville is now remembered only for the display of his genius in a different order of imagination,—The Mirrour for Magistrates.

In this collection of poems, he proposed to embrace a review of all the illustrious and unfortunate persons in English history, from the Conquest to the close of the fourteenth century; each individual relating his own adventures. Sackville, however, had not proceeded beyond the Induction, and the legend of the Duke of Buckincham, when he relinquished the task to Richard Baldwyne and George Ferrers, who, with the aid of Churchyard and Phaer, names not unknown to our poetry, carried on the work. But Sackville's mantle did not fall upon his successors. Had he fulfilled his original design, we might have boasted a Divine Comedy of our own; not, perhaps, so majestic or impressive as the Vision which overshadowed the soul of Dante, but full of stern and animated tableaux, and alive with all the grotesque sublimity of that immortal painter. Like him, he descends into the shades, with Sorrow for his guide, as the Florentine had taken Virgil. Warton remarks that, although a descent into hell had been suggested by other poets, the application of such a fiction to the present composition, is a conspicuous proof of genius and invention. The only narrative contributed by Sackville, is introduced by that noble poem to which he gave the title of an Induction.

It opens with a picturesque description of a walk among the fields upon an autumnal, or winter evening. The leaves and blossoms are swept from the trees, and nature wears a dreary and melancholy aspect. The poet wanders on, while the shadows of night begin to deepen around him, and

Titan couched in his purple bed.

The decay of the flowers reminds him of the perishing character of human honour,

Which comes and goes more faster than we see
The flickering flame, that with the fire is wrought.

■Quickening his pace at the rapid approach of darkness, a

« AnteriorContinuar »