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How much ought we to regret the valuable time he fa. crificed to the false taste of his age, in the composition of abore 150 sonnets (the most difficult and infipid metrical structure ever invented), which, though from the pen of this immortai bard, we can scarcely endure to read!
Sir Philip Sidney wrote a number of things in and out of the Arcadia, which were then esteemed songs : but they are all too much in the affected and unnatural manner cf the Italian and Spanish pocts, to deserve this character at present. His friend, lord Brooke, has, however, left us one piece, which will be always accepted as a good fong. And some of the performances of Francis Davison appear the effusions of a real poetical genius, and deserve much praise.
The queen herself had a turn for poetry, which he did not disdain to cultivate. Specimens of her talents are preserved in fome contemporary publications; but none of them appears to be a perfect song.
Vere earl of Oxford, maiter Edwards of the queens chapel, George Gascoigne, Nicholas Breton, and many other diftinguithed and inferior poets, are among the song-writers of this reign.
The earliest drinking fong of any merit, in the language, is that inserted at page 71. of the second volume. How much, if at all, elder it is than the dramatic piece in which it is preserved does not appear.
It is, likewise, to the age of this princess we are to refer the origin of the English ballad. That the common people of this, like those of almost every other country, have always, even in their rudeft ftate, had songs to celebrate or record national or local occurrences, by whomsoever they may have been composed, is an incontrovertible fact. Unfortunately, however, of these pieces not more than two, both already noticed, are known to exist (142). All the rest, not having been collected or
(142) It may be proper to mention that the ballad of Captain Car, printed by Percy under the Scotish title of Edom (Adam) o Gordon, is extant in a MS. of queen Elizabeths time. But whether this be ori. ginally English, or only an alteration from the Scotish, and whether the name Tubjoined be that of the author or transcriber, are circum. ftançes altogether uncertain.
entered in lasge volumes, nor ever printed, are irrecoverably loft. What a treasure would it be to possess a collection of the vulgar songs composed and sung during the civil wars of York and Lancaster, in which almost every moment afforded some great, noble, interesting or pathetic subject for the imagination of the poet! How delightful, how instructive, would be the perusal of such a little history of that turbulent and bloody period! The ponderous tomes of Lydgate and Occleve have descended to us in the highest preservation ; one would gladly facrifice the whole for a single page! But the songs of which we are speaking appear to have born so little resemblance to the stile and manner of the old ballads with which we are now acquainted, and from which a part of the present collection is formed, that we may fairly infer that not one of the latter existed before the reign of the above princess. The learned and ingenious bishop Percy has, indeed, published a work, in which a considerable number of songs and ballads, that have never otherwise appeared, are alcribed to a very remote antiquity; an antiquity altogether incompatible with the stile and language of the compositions theirselves, most of which, one may be allowed to say, bear the strongest intrinsic marks of a very modern date. But the genuineness of these pieces cannot be properly investigated or determined without an inspection of the original manuscript, from which they are said to be extracted. As to the ancient black letter copies of the more common English ballads, of which there are several collections extant (143), not more than three are so old as the fixteenth century, nor double the number of a more early date than the reign of king Charles II. The rest, to the amount of many hundreds, appear to have been printed between the Restoration and the commencement of the present century. It is not, however, meant by this to infinuate that none of those in
(143) The largest is one of 5 vols. in the Pepysian library; the next one of 2 in the library of the late major Pearson. There is another in the British, and a fourth in the Ahmolean museum.
the two last descriptions are of equal antiquity, in point of compofition, with those in the firit: the contrary is certain. That these ballads were originally composed for public fingers by profession, and perhaps immediately for printers, booksellers, or those who vended such like things, is highly probable. But whether they were, in every case, first published in single sheets, and not, till afterwards collected into Garlands, or whether they made their first appearance in such collections, does not clearly appear. Thomas Deloney and Richard Johnfon, writers by profeffion of amusing books for the populace, were famous ballad-makers about this period. And could we be assured that they were the real authors of the Garlands, or collections published under their respective names, we might be able to refer most of the ballads in the present collection to the one or to the other. Elderton has been pronounced peerless in the compofition of ballads (144).
From him the laurel descended to Martin Parker, the last, perhaps, who was any way celebrated on this account.
The reign of queen Elizabeth is also the age of Madrigals, Catches and Glees : but, as these, though somewhat partaking of the nature of song, claim a much nearer affinity with Euterpe than with Polyhymnia, it will be sufficient to have just mentioned them.
Among the songsters of James the Firsts time, one is pleased to meet the name of that elegant writer and accomplished gentleman fir Henry Wotton. Dr. Donnes imitation of Marlow, and other pieces, intitle him to a place in the list. And of the following song by Ben Jonson, Anacreon, had Anacreon written in Englih, need not have been ashamed.
(144) See Song XLIX. Part III. Ons of his ballads is reprinted by Percy.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine,
I would not change for thine.
Not so much honouring thee,
It could not withered be:
And sent'st it back to me,
Not of itself, but thee.
The facetious bishop Corbett is likewise an author of this reign. His Fairies Farewell and Distracted Puritan, have much humour and merit. T'he poems of Carew afford many excellent fongs: a little more fimplicity might have considerably increased the number. Bishop King, whom it would be injustice to forget, must have written toward the end of this reign.
Waller, born in 1605, may be esteemed the first songwriter, as well as the best poet of the reign of Charles I. Milton has left us a few songs, which would have appeared to possess more merit if they had fallen from an author of less dignity: Sucklings chef d'auvre is his I'll tell thee Dick. It is to be regretted that the poetical excellence of this celebrated composition should be degraded by grossness of sentiment and impurity of language. Butler and fir John Denham chiefly signalized theirfelves in spirited attacks on the gloomy and barbarous Roundheads. Indeed the Rebellion and Usurpation form the epoch of satyric songs; with which the Cavaliers scem, until the Restoration, to have kept up a constant poetic fire, which, if it did not any great execution, at least kept the attention of loyalty awake, and, in some measure, no doubt, contributed to that happy event.
Cowley, who commenced author at a very early age, is likewise to be considered as a song-writer of this reign. His Chronicle is an admirable performance, and, had his judgement and taste been equal to his vivacity and
wit, would not have been the only song he had left us to commend. Lovelace, L'Estrange, and Shirley, were also writers of songs in this reign.
The reign of Charles the Second is the Augustan age of song : no period having produced so great a number of excellent writers in this species of poetry.
This prince was not only the admirer and patron of the art, he cultivated it hisself. We have a song of his, beginning
I pass all my hours in a shady old grove, which, though by no means remarkable for poetical merit, has certainly enough for the composition of a king. Dryden was undoubtedly great in every species of poetry, but the songs of Etherege, Eaton, Sedley, Rochester, Dorset, and Sheffield (afterwards duke of Bucks), are master-pieces in this ; some of them being absolutely without equal in the language. Amongit these is to be ranked Dorsets incomparable address to the ladies, written at fea, on the eve of an engagement (145).
Otways pathetic remonftrance to his inexorable mistress, would have entitled him to the character of an elegant writer, even if it had been his only composition. Scroop, Walsh, and many other song-writers of merit, are to be singled out of
The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease. Mrs. Behn deserves a more particular acknowlegement. And we should do injustice to a laborious, and, according to his own account, most successful and happy writer, were we to omit the honoured name of Tom D’Urfey; who, besides that he composed more songs, perhaps, than all his contemporaries put together; most of them being great favourites with the nation, and many of them ftill remaining fo, particularly his loyal ode of Joy to great Cæsar ; which, once ecchoed by all ranks, is yet frequently chanted with delight; and, as mr. Ad
(145) It is strange that any person should be so blind to the plain. tive tenderness of this elegant performance as to mistake thc wit and point with which it abounds for intentional burlesque !