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ESSAY

ON THE

POETICAL AND DRAMATIC WORKS OF

GEORGE CHAPMAN.

The fame which from his own day to ours has never wholly failed to attend the memory of George Chapman has yet been hitherto of a looser and vaguer kind than floats about the memory of most other poets. In the great revival of studious enthusiasm for the works of the many famous men who won themselves a name during the seventy-five memorable years of his laborious life, the mass of his original work has been left too long unnoticed and unhonoured. Our ‘Homer-Lucan,' as he was happily termed by Daniel in that admirable Defence of Rhyme which remains to this day one of the most perfect examples of sound and temperate sense, of pure style and just judgment, to be found in the literature of criticism, has received it may be not much less than his due meed of praise for those Homeric labours by which his name is still chiefly known : but what the great translator could accomplish when fighting for his own hand few students of English poetry have been careful to inquire or competent to appreciate.

And yet there are not many among his various and unequal writings which we can open without some sense of great qualities in the workman whose work lies before us. There are few poets from whose remains a more copious and noble anthology of detached beauties might be selected. He has a singular force and depth of moral thought, a constant energy and intensity of expression, an occasional delicacy and perfection of fanciful or reflective beauty, which should have ensured him a place in the front rank at least of gnomic poets. It is true that his “wisdom entangles itself in over-niceness ;" that his philosophy is apt to lose its way among brakes of digression and jungles of paradox; that his subtle and sleepless ingenuity can never resist the lure of any quaint or perverse illustration which may start across its path from some obscure corner at the unluckiest and unlikeliest time; that the rough and barren byways of incongruous allusion, of unseasonable reflection or preposterous and grotesque symbolism, are more tempting to his feet than the highway of art, and the brushwood or the morass of metaphysics. seems often preferable in his eyes to the pastures or the gardens of poetry. But from first to last the grave and frequent blemishes of his genius bear manifestly more likeness to the deformities of a giant than to the malformations of a dwarf, to the overstrained muscles of an athlete than to the withered limbs of a weakling

He was born between Spenser and Shakespeare, before the first dawn of English tragedy with the morning star of Marlowe. Five years later that great poet began a life more brief, more glorious and more fruitful in proportion to its brevity than that of any among his followers except Beaumont and Shelley : each of these leaving at the close of some thirty years of life a fresh crown of immortality to the national drama founded by the first-born of the three. A few months more, and Shakespeare was in the world ; ten years further, and Ben Jonson had followed. This latter poet, the loving and generous panegyrist of Chapman, was therefore fifteen years younger than his friend ; who was thus twenty years older than Fletcher, and twenty-seven years older than Beaumont. All these immortals he outlived on earth, with the single exception of Jonson, who died but three years after the death of the elder poet. No man could ever look round upon a more godlike company of his fellows; yet we have no record of his relations with any of these but Jonson and Fletcher.

The date of Chapman's birth is significant, and should be borne in mind when we attempt to determine his rank among the poets of that golden age. From the splendid and triumphant example of the one great poet whose popularity his earlier years must have witnessed, he may have caught a contagious love of allegory and moral symbolism ; he certainly caught nothing of the melodious ease and delicate grace which gave Spenser his supremacy in the soft empire of that moonlightcoloured world where only his genius was at home. Chapman's allegories are harsh, crude, and shapeless ; for the sweet airs and tender outlines and floating Elysian echoes of Spenser's vision, he has nothing to offer in exchange but the thick rank mist of a lowland inhabited by monstrous hybrids and haunted by jarring discords. Behind Spenser came Sidney and the Euphuists; and in their schools neither Chapman nor any other was likely to learn much good. The natural defects and dangers of his genius were precisely of the kind most likely to increase in the contagion of such company. He had received from nature at his birth a profuse and turbid imagination, a fiery energy and restless ardour of moral passion and spiritual ambition, with a plentiful lack of taste and judgment, and a notable excess of those precious qualities of pride and self-reliance which are at once needful to support and liable to misguide an artist on his way of work. The two main faults of the school of poets which blossomed and faded from the brief flower of court favour during the youth of Chapman were tedious excess of talk and grotesque encumbrance of imagery; and Chapman had unhappily a native tendency to the grotesque and tedious, which all his study of the highest and purest literature in the world was inadequate to suppress or to chasten. For all his labours in the field of Greek translation, no poet was ever less of a Greek in

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