« FöregåendeFortsätt »
the Scriptures. The principal of these, and the only one to which I shall refer, is the well-known version of the Psalms by STERNHOLD and HOPKINS.
The metrical Psalmody of John Huss and Martin Luther, in Germany, had been followed by the translation of Clement Marot, 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, Marût'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
• To the edition of Marôt'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 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 Edward, as Marót had done to Francis : I think the parallel extends no further. Sternhold, of a serious, ardent, and upright mind, seems to have been entirely destitute of literary talent and poetical feeling; 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. With him, in fact, the history of real French poetry commences; even his antiquity is only external. Il n'y a guère, observes La Bruyère, entre Marút et nous que la différence de quelques mots. Sternhold, I believe, departed from life as he had lived, in prosperity and comfort; Marot in poverty and destitution.
Of Sternhold's fellow-labourer Hopkins, nothing more than the profession has been ascertained ; he was a clergyman and schoolmaster in Suifolk, and Warton considers bim a rather better poet than Sternhold. Among the other contributors to the collective version, we may notice William Whyttingham, the friend of Calvin and Knox, and an inferior versifier even to the preceding t. Thomas Norton, more favourably known as the assistant of Lord Buckhurst in the drama of
• English Gentleman, p. 191. 163). . William Kethe (W. K.) was also a considerable contributor; M. Haslewood (Censura Lit. v. 10), assigns twenty-five Psalms to his pen. Soon after the accession of Mary, Keth Bed to Geneva. The names of “William Kethe and his wife" occur in the Livre des Anglois à Genève, Noveraber 5, 1566.
Gorboduc; Robert Wisdome, whose fears of the Pope and the Turk were ridiculed by the "witty, generous, and eloquent" Bishop Corbet; and T. C., supposed to be Thomas Churchyard, a most indefatigable writer of "sad and heavy verses *."
Sternhold died in 1549, and the fifty-one psalms versified by him were printed in the same year; the complete version was published in 1562.
After the death of the Earl of Surrey, the only work of genius produced before Spenser, was Lord BuckHURST's Induction to the Mirrour for Magistrates; the conception of his youthful mind, but abounding in the rugged grandeur and sublimity of Dante.
Under the gloomy tyranny of Mary, poetry obtained little attention; but, though discouraged, it was not destroyed f. The River of Gold was only hidden for a season, that it might flow forth in a more majestic torrent in the happier reign of ber successor.
To Spenser must be assigned the glory of having delivered the Muse from the lethargy that had so long oppressed her. The' appearance of the Faery Queen must
• Churchyard entitled his tribute to the memory of Whitgift, Sad and Heavy Verses for the Losse of Archbishop Whitgift. The supposition that the initials T.C. belong to Churchyard is rendered still more probable by his extended age. Mr. Chalmers, in his Apology for the Believers in the Shakspeare MSS., observes, p. 65, (n) 2, that he discovered from the Parish Register of St. Margaret's, Westminster, that Churchyard's burial took place the 4th of April, 1604.
The Paradise of Dainty Devises may be considered as belonging rather to the reign of Mary than Elizabeth. The first edition appeared in 1576. The terror of Mary's Government, as Sir Egerton Brydges has observed, tended to produce a moral severity, for which some of the poems in this collection are remarkable, One of the ablest contributors is Lord Vaux; in the first edition thirteen poems are attributed to his pen. In some we remark a plaintive tenderness, and in others a grand austerity of tone sometimes approaching to sublimity, as in the lines on the Instabilitie of Youth. That Lord Vaux possessed a vein of fancy, is proved by the Assault of Cupid, which has been inserted in Bishop Percy's Reliques of Poetry. He seems to have passed a virtuous and tranquil life, and to have died about the year 1555.
have been like the sudden rushing of an " Arabian heaven" upon the night of our poetry. The rising star of Shakspeare had not yet dispelled the darkness. To the reader, whose opinion of Spenser is not formed upon an accurate acquaintance with his poems, John Wesley's advice to the Methodists, who were desirous of proceeding through a course of academical learning, may appear paradoxical : he recommended them, in their second year, to combine with the study of the historic books of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Testament, the reading of the Faery Queen. And yet nothing more clearly displays the penetration of this remarkable individual than the advice referred to. That Spenser intended the Faery Queen to be a truly moral and religious poem, setting forth the rules and conduct of life, there can be no question. This fact, indeed, appears to be satisfactorily substantiated by a passage in Lodowick Bryskett's Discourse of Civill Life, published in 1606*, to which Mr. Todd has the merit of having first directed particular attention. In this Treatise a desire is expressed, that Spenser would " set down in English the precepts of those parts of moral philosophy, whereby our youth might speedily enter into the right course of virtuous life;" and the poet is represented as saying, in reply, that " he had already undertaken a work tending to the same effect, which was in heroic verse, under the title of a Faerie Queen, to represent all the moral virtues, assigning to every virtue a knight, to be the patron and defender of the same ; in whose actiors, the fcats of arms and cbivalry, the opera. tions of that virtue whereof he is the protector, are to be expressed ; and the vices and unruly appetites that
But written, according to the conjecture of Malone, between 1584 and 1589.
oppose themselves against the same, are to be beaten down and overcome."
In thus rendering chivalry subservient to a great inoral purpose, it should be remembered that Spenser was adopting a method the most likely to render his work interesting and successful. The scenes he described had not then faded from the eyes of the people, The gorgeous tournament, and the picturesque splendour of knight-pageantry were not become old and forgotten things. Sir Philip Sidney tilted at one of the entertainments given to the French Ambassador, and not long before, in the reign of Henry the Eighth, the romantic Earl of Surrey had made a pilgrimage to Florence, the birth-place of his mistress, and publicly challenged the world in defence of her beauty. If, therefore, the story of the Faery Quecn makes but a slight demand upon our sympathy, we must recollect that Spenser addressed himself to the sixteenth century, and not the nineteenth, and that the “fierce wars and faithful loves" were only employed “to moralize his song." Thus, in allusion to the characteristic features of Spenser's poetry, Bishop Hall speaks of his “misty moral types ;" Drayton called him “grave moral Spenser;" and Milton mentions him affectionately as, “our sage serious Spenser," whom he was not afraid to think “a better teacher than Scotus or Aquinas."
But the claims of Spenser to the title of Sacred Poet are to be estimated as much by the treasures we have lost, as by those we possess. We seek in vain for his translation of Ecclesiastes, and of the Canticum Canticorum, the Hours of Our Lord, the Sacrifice of a Sinner, and the Seven Psalms. Of these precious works it would now be idle to expect the recovery.