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For in her mind no thought there is,
Certainly it is of his wife? that he is thinking here, not of an imaginary Laura. The poetic dream of Petrarch has become the exact picture of deep and perfect conjugal affection, such as yet survives in England; such as all the poets, from the authoress of the Nutbrown Maid to Dickens,3 have never failed to represent.
1 Surrey's Poems. “A description of the restless state of the lover when absent from the mistress of his heart,” p. 78.
2 In another piece, Complaint on the Absence of her Lover being upon the Sea, he speaks in direct terms of his wife, almost as affectionately.
3 Greene, Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Shakespeare, Ford, Otway, Richardson, De Foe, Fielding, Dickens, Thackeray, etc.
III. An English Petrarch: no juster title could be given to Surrey, for it expresses his talent as well as his disposition. In fact, like Petrarch, the oldest of the humanists, and the earliest exact writer of the modern tongue, Surrey introduces a new style, the manly style, which marks a great change of the mind; for this new form of writing is the result of superior reflection, which, governing the primitive impulse, calculates and selects with an end in view. At last the intellect has grown capable of selfcriticism, and actually criticises itself. It corrects its unconsidered works, infantine and incoherent, at once incomplete and superabundant; it strengthens and binds them together; it prunes and perfects them; it takes from them the master idea, to set it free and to show it clearly. . This is what Surrey does, and his education had prepared him for it; for he had studied Virgil as well as Petrarch, and translated two books of the Æneid, almost verse for verse. In such company a man cannot but select his ideas and connect his phrases. After their example, Surrey gauges the means of striking the attention, assisting the intelligence, avoiding fatigue and weariness. He looks forward to the last line whilst writing the first. He keeps the strongest word for the last, and shows the symmetry of ideas by the symmetry of phrases. Sometimes he guides the intelligence by a continuous series of contrasts to the final image; a kind of sparkling casket, in which he means to deposit the idea which he carries, and to which he directs our attention from the first.1 Sometimes he leads his reader to the close of a long flowery description, and then suddenly checks him with a sorrowful phrase.? He arranges his process, and knows how to produce effects; he uses even classical expressions, in which two substantives, each supported by its adjective, are balanced on either side of the verb. He collects his phrases in harmonious periods, and does not neglect the delight of the ears any more than of the mind. By his inversions he adds force to his ideas, and weight to his argument. He selects elegant or noble terms, rejects idle words and redundant phrases. Every epithet contains an idea, every metaphor a sentiment. There is eloquence in the regular devel
i The Frailty and Hurtfulness of Beauty.
3 Complaint of the Lover disdained.
opment of his thought; music in the sustained accent of his
Such is the new-born art. Those who have ideas, now possess an instrument capable of expressing them. Like the Italian painters, who in fifty years had introduced or discovered all the technical tricks of the brush, English writers, in half-a-century, introduce or discover all the artifices of language, period, elevated style, heroic verse, soon the grand stanza, so effectually, that a little later the most perfect versifiers, Dryden, and Pope himself, says Dr. Nott, will add scarce anything to the rules, invented or applied, which were employed in the earliest efforts. Even Surrey is too near to these authors, too constrained in his models, not sufficiently free; he has not yet felt the fiery blast of the age; we do not find in him a bold genius, an impassioned writer capable of wide expansion, but a courtier, a lover of elegance, who, penetrated by the beauties of two finished literatures, imitates Horace and the chosen masters of Italy, corrects and polishes little morsels, aims at speaking perfectly fine language. Amongst semi-barbarians he wears a full dress becomingly. Yet he does not wear it completely at his ease: he keeps his eyes too exclusively on his models, and does not venture on frank and free gestures. He is sometimes as a school-boy, makes too great use of “hot” and“cold,” wounds and martyrdom. Although a lover, and a genuine one, he thinks too much that he must be so in Petrarch's manner, that his phrase must be balanced and his image kept up. I had almost said that, in his sonnets of disappointed love, he thinks less often of the strength of love than of the beauty of his writing. He has conceits, ill-chosen words; he uses trite expressions; he relates how Nature, having formed his lady, broke the mould; he assigns parts to Cupid and Venus; he employs the old machinery of the troubadours and the ancients, like a clever man who wishes to pass for a gallant. At first scarce any mind dares be quite itself: when a new art arises, the first artist listens not to his heart, but to his masters, and asks himself at every step whether he be setting foot on solid ground, or whether he is not stumbling
1 Surrey, ed. Nott.
IV. Insensibly the growth became complete, and at the end of the century all was changed. A new, strange, overloaded style had been formed, destined to remain in force until the Restoration, not only in poetry, but also in prose, even in ceremonial speech and theological discourse, so suitable to the spirit of the age that we meet with it at the same time throughout the whole of Europe, in Ronsard and d'Aubigné, in Calderon, Gongora, and Marini. In 158o appeared Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit, by Lyly, which was its text-book, its masterpiece, its caricature, and was received with universal admiration. “Our nation,” says Edward Blount, “are in his debt for a new English which hee taught them. All our ladies were then his scollers; and that beautie in court who could not parley Euphuesme was as little regarded as shee which now there speakes not French.” The ladies knew the phrases of Euphues by heart : strange, studied, and refined phrases, enigmatical; whose author seems of set purpose to seek the least natural expressions and the most far-fetched, full of exaggeration and antithesis, in which mythological allusions, reminiscences from alchemy, botanical and astronomical metaphors, all the rubbish and medley of learning, travels, mannerism, roll in a flood of conceits and comparisons. Do not judge it by the grotesque picture that Walter Scott drew of it. Sir Piercie Shafton is but a pedant, a cold and dull copyist; it is its warmth and originality which give this style a true force and an accent of its own. You must conceive it, not as dead and inert, such as we have it to-day in old books, but springing from the lips of ladies and young lords in pearl-bedecked doublet, quickened by their vibrating voices, their laughter, the flash of their eyes, the motion of their hands as they played with the hilt of their swords or with their satin cloaks. They were full of life, their heads filled to overflowing; and they amused themselves, as our sensitive and eager artists do, at their ease in the studio. They did not speak to convince or be understood, but to satisfy their excited imagination, to expend their overflowing wit. They played with words, twisted, put them out of shape,
i The Speaker's address to Charles II. on his restoration. Compare it with the speech of M. de Fontanes under the Empire. In each case it was the close of a literary epoch. Read for illustration the speech before the University of Oxford, Athena Oxonienses, i. 193.
2 His second work, Euphues and his England, appeared in 1581. 3 See Shakespeare's young men, Mercutio especially.
enjoyed sudden views, strong contrasts, which they produced one after another, ever and anon, and in great quantities. They cast flower on flower, tinsel on tinsel: everything sparkling delighted them; they gilded and embroidered and plumed their language like their garments. They cared nothing for clearness, order, common sense; it was a festival and a madness; absurdity pleased them. They knew nothing more tempting than a carnival of splendors and oddities; all was huddled together: a coarse gaiety, a tender and sad word, a pastoral, a sounding flourish of unmeasured boasting, a gambol of a Jack-pudding. Eyes, ears, all the senses, eager and excited, are satisfied by this jingle of syllables, the display of fine high-colored words, the unexpected clash of droll or familiar images, the majestic roll of well-poised periods. Every one had his own oaths, his elegances, his style. “One would say," remarks Heylyn, "that they are ashamed of their mother-tongue, and do not find it sufficiently varied to express the whims of their mind.” We no longer imagine this inventiveness, this boldness of fancy, this ceaseless fertility of nervous sensibility: there was no genuine prose at that time; the poetic flood swallowed it up. A word was not an exact symbol, as with us; a document which from cabinet to cabinet carried a precise thought. It was part of a complete action, a little drama; when they read it they did not take it by itself, but imagined it with the intonation of a hissing and shrill voice, with the puckering of the lips, the knitting of the brows, and the succession of pictures which crowd behind it, and which it calls forth in a flash of lightning. Each one mimics and pronounces it in his own style, and impresses his own soul upon
it. It was a song, which, like the poet's verse, contains a thousand things besides the literal sense, and manifests the depth, warmth, and sparkling of the source whence it flowed. For in that time, even when the man was feeble, his work lived; there is some pulse in the least productions of this age; force and creative fire signalize it; they penetrate through bombast and affectation. Lyly himself, so fantastic that he seems to write purposely in defiance of common sense, is at times a genuine poet; a singer, a man capable of rapture, akin to Spenser and Shakespeare; one of those introspective dreamers who see dancing fairies, the purpled cheeks of goddesses, drunken, amorous woods, as he says:
“Adorned with the presence of my love,