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LIVES OF SACRED POETS.
The pleasant study of English Poetry begins with the "ornate wryting” of Chaucer; and Sir Philip Sidney might well marvel that he could see so clearly in * “grey and misty time." The introduction of the Heroic measure forms an epoch in our poetical history". But it was in Chaucer's green old age, as Mr. T. Campbell has observed, that he put forth the full and ripe power of his genius in the Centerbury Tales. The feelings, the thoughts, and the manners of the fourteenth century, live in his verse. Who, after reading the Tales, does not sleep with the poet in “Southwerk, at the Tabard,” and “be erly for to rise" with the thirty pilgrims in the morning But it should never be forgotten, in speaking of Chaucer, that he was among the first to resort to that precious fountain which his contemporary Wickliffe had opened, and that he drank of the “water springing up to everlasting life.”
From the death of Chaucer to the reign of Henry the Eighth, the nation made little Progress in intellectual improvement; the morning-stars of our poetry went down in darkness, and the historian surveys a long and dreary period of war and wretchedness. Henry ascended
...See the Essay "poo, the Versification of Chaucer prefixed to the Edition of his works by Tyrwhit, vol. i.
the throne at a most auspicious season; and even the evils attending his father's policy may be said to have ultimately promoted the good of the country. The rapid advances of “fine literature”,” at a time when the kingdom rang with religious controversy, is indeed astonishing. The chivalrous character of the youthful Monarch, and the magnificence with which he invested the government, must have been 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 t. The Reformation, while it introduced a fresh principle in 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. The principal of these, and the only one to which I shall refer, is the well-known version of the Psalms by STERN Hold and Hopkins. The metrical Psalmody of John Huss_and Martin Luther, in Germany, had been followed by the translation of Clement Marót, in France. It was undertaken at the request, and made from the version, of the celebrated Vatable, professor of Hebrew in the University of Paris, one of the most learned men of the age, and the restorer of the study of Hebrew in France. The favourite of Francis the First and his Court, Marót's Sainctes Chansonettes, became universally popular, and were sung by the Monarch and his peers. Their publication was, however, attended with much inconvenience, and some danger to the poet. The Sorbonne discovered errors in the translation, and complained of them to the King; but Francis, who admired the poet, paid little attention to their remonstrances, and Marot, in some verses, alludes to the offending the Sorbonne as the natural result of pleasing the King. The sale of the work was, however, forbidden, and he subsequently found it necessary to retreat to Geneva". The infectious phrensy of sacred song, says Warton, soon reached England, at the very critical point of time when it had just embraced the Reformation. Wyatt and Surrey had, before this period, translated various psalms into verse, but the version of Sternhold was the first introduced into the Church of England. Sternhold, who had received a collegiate education, was groom of the robes to Henry the Eighth; a situation which, we are told by Braithwait, he obtained by his poetical
* Southey's Specimens of the later English Poets, vol. i.
t It is scarcely necessary to refer the reader to Turner's. History of the Reign of Henry the Eighth, and Dr. Nott's elaborate edition of the Earl of Surrey's Poems, for an ingenious and interesting account of the literature of this era.
* To the edition of Marót's Psalms published at Geneva in 1543, Calvin prefixed a Preface. See Dunster's Considerations on Psalmody.
talents”. He retained his office in the court of Edward
“William Kethe and his wife" occur in the Livre des Anglois a Généve,
wearied politician; at one time courted by the Royalists,
`as of many of his contemporaries. No available source
of information has been left uninvestigated, and much