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Such wood-ground, pastures, quarries, wealthy mines;
Such rocks in whom the diamond fairly shines;
And if the earth can show the like again,
Yet will she fail in her sea-ruling men.
Time never can produce men to o'ertake
The fames of Grenville, Davies, Gilbert, Drake,
Or worthy Hawkins, or of thousands more
That by their power made the Devonian shore
Mock the proud Tagus; for whose richest spoil
The boasting Spaniard left the Indian soil
Bankrupt of store, knowing it would quit cost
By winning this, though all the rest were lost." 1

Nothing to us who look back upon it-seems wanting in the mood or circumstances of the time. The men of the age themselves believed the stars most friendly. But the Muse had other intentions. Despite "the common wish, That the Majesty of Handling our History might once equal the Majesty of the Argument," 2 no national poem worthy of England's greatness appeared. Or rather, let us say, it appeared in a shape hitherto unknown to history. The true national epic is the chronicle play. In 1588, the Armada year, the year in which the young poets, Marlowe and Shakespeare, went up to London, the fever of patriotism burned fiercely. The city was afire. But while the readers of books might be numbered, the drama opened the only book for the million. An unlettered audience, in whom the love of country was eager and passionate, unaccustomed to the printed page, but with "a tolerance for spoken words" unknown to our impatient age, required its epic in a form unforeseen by the critics and unauthorised. At that moment to have turned away from so clamorous and ardent a company might well have argued a strange insensibility, a coldness of nature or a critical aloofness to which Marlowe and Shakespeare at least were certainly strangers. For the poet inspired by national enthusiasm, the doors of the theatre stood open, its summons proved irresistible. The drama offered the best medium for the story of England. "How would it have joyed brave Talbot (the terror of the French)," exclaims Nash, " to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times), who 1 Britannia's Pastorals, Bk. II. Song 3. 2 Bolton's Hypercritica.


in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding." 1 There is a tradition that Shakespeare in a conversation with Ben Jonson, said that "finding the nation generally very ignorant of history, he wrote plays in order to instruct the people in that particular.” 2 But the idea was not Shakespeare's. A generation earlier John Bale had written his King Johan, and its successors were many-such plays as The True Tragedy of Richard III., and The Contention of the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster. Marlowe too had attempted-with partial success only-to subdue the epic subject to the dramatic necessities of the day. The required epic was written by Shakespeare, who, with far greater theatrical skill, relates upon the stage three hundred years of his country's history. He wrote, or had a share in ten historical plays, in which he treats the more important portions of seven reigns, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. It is a majestic English chronicle from Richard II. to Henry VIII., a chronicle whose parts are brought into the indispensable unity in that they breathe throughout the sentiments and traditions of England. One sees that the method is the reverse of epic. The epic method magnifies and glorifies its subject, withdraws its hero into the distance from the spectator, idealises and makes of him a demi-god, whereas the dramatist brings his kings and statesmen forward out of the past, and realises them as men among other men. Shakespeare's kings are not," as Pater wrote, nor are meant to be great men: rather, little or quite ordinary humanity, thrust upon greatness, with those pathetic results, the natural self-pity of the weak heightened in them into irresistible appeal to others as the net result of their royal prerogative. One after another they seem to lie composed in Shakespeare's embalming pages, with just that touch of nature


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1 Nash: Pierce Pennilesse, p. 89 (Huth Library).

2 Halliwell: Introduction to the First Part of the Contention.

3 If we include the older Chronicle plays by other authors, we may say they covered four hundred years of English history, the twelfth to the sixteenth century.

4 King John deals with an earlier epoch, and we may with Schlegel regard it as the Prologue, Henry VIII., as the Epilogue to the others, eight in number.


about them, making the whole world akin, which has infused into their tombs at Westminster a rare poetic grace.

It is unorthodox, in a sense of course not epic at all, yet for that age the best, in spirit national, in temper heroic, so fullblooded and vital that beside it the accepted poems on national themes appear but strengthless academic shades. There is nothing in Spenser, nothing in Warner, “ Termed,says Meres, " of the best wits of both our universities, our English Homer," nothing in Daniel or Drayton to match

“This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed spot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Fear'd by their breed, and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home,
For Christian service and true chivalry,
As is the sepulchre in stubborn Jewry

Of the world's ransom, blessed Mary's son." The English “Histories” achieved all epic aims. "Plays," said Heywood, "have made the ignorant more apprehensive, taught the unlearned the knowledge of many famous histories, instructed such as cannot read in the discovery of all our English chronicles; and what men have you now of that weak capacity that cannot discourse of any notable thing recorded even from William the Conqueror, nay from the landing of Brute until this day?

Apart from the dramatists the first Elizabethan to celebrate his country's glory in a long poem was William Warner, a lively lawyer, who, says Meres, “ in his absolute · Albion's England, hath most admirably penned the history of his own country from Noah to his time.Meres will have it that Warner resembles Euripides and equals Homer, but his ten thousand lines of verse in a seven-foot couplet known as fourteeners are now

by those who have read them-less confidently praised. Too 1 Pater: Appreciations.

2 Apology for Actors, Bk. 3.

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ballad-like the trot, too easy the indifference with which he mingles things vulgar with things stately, too indelicate, shall we say, the episodes, too undistinguished the language--for all that Meres claims him as a refiner of the English tongue"—to sustain the severe contest in which time is usually victorious. He never achieves the miracle—the fusion of history and poetry —and his very cheerfulness is perhaps scarcely compatible with epic dignity. But duller writers have often been esteemed, and to spend an evening with him is no hardship. The rose of Warner's garden is the famous reference to Fair Rosamond struck by Queen Eleanor. With that she dasht her on the lippes, so dyed double red,

Hard was the heart that gave the blow, soft were those lips that bled.” Splendours like this, however, are not numerous in Albion's England. Here is a specimen of its more ordinary level-an earlier pastoral invitation than the famous Come live with me and be love “Then chuse a shepherd, with the sun he doth his flock unfold,

And all the day on hill or plaine his merrie chat can hold:
And with the sun doth folde againe, then jogging home betime
He turnes a crab or tunes a round, or sings some merrie ryme.
Nor lackes he gleefull tales to tell, whilst round the bole doth trot;
And sitteth singing care away, till he to bed hath got,
There sleepes he soundly all the night, forgetting morrow cares,
Nor feares he blasting of his corne nor uttering of his wares,
Or stormes by sea, or stirres on land, or cracke of credite lost,
Not spending franklier than his flocke shall still defray the cost.
Wel wot I, sooth they say that say: more quiet nightes and daies
The shepheard sleepes and wakes than he whose cattel he doth graize.” 1

A great subject—it is often forgotten-does not make, rather it requires a great poet. Warner's style, the style of the popular romancer, excellently suited those portions of his narrative where nobility was superfluous or elevation inappropriate. He is then most happy when at ease in the lighter passages, as, for instance, when he describes a holiday in Hell“Sterne Minos and grimme Radimant descend their duskie roomes;

The docke was also clear of ghosts, adjourn'd to after-doomes:
The Furies and the deadly Sinnes, with their invective scroles,
Depart the barre: the Feends rake up their ever-burning coles:

1 Albion's England, Bk. IV., chap xx. The story of Curan and Argentile here told, the best admired and quoted in Warner's poem, became a popular ballad and is given in Percy's Reliques.

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The Elves and Fairies taking fists, did hop a merrie round:
And Cerberus had lap enough: and Charon leisure found:
The airy sprights, the walking flames, and goblins great and small,
Had theare good cheere, and company and sport, the Divell and all:
To Tantalus the shrinking flood, nor starting fruit were such:
Nor Titius his bowels did the hungrie vulture touch,
Upon his stone sat Cisaphus: Ixeon on his wheele,
The Belides upon their tubs, no wonted toile they feele
Till in this anticke festivall, these last recited five
Of dignities for dueties there, they earnestly did strive:
And then the quarrel grew so hot, that Hell was Hell againe,

And flocking ghosts did severally their fauctors parts maintaine.” 1 This poetry is without wings, and neither Daniel nor Drayton, who followed Warner, succeeded in imparting powers of flight to their historical verse, though Spenser had faith in Daniel

“ Then rouse thy feathers quickly, Daniel,

And to what course thou please thyself advance." This poet's well-merited epithet," observed Coleridge, “is that of the 'well-languaged' Daniel; but likewise by the consent of his contemporaries no less than of all succeeding critics, the 'prosaic Daniel.'

Opinions on a poet reveal more often the reader's requirements than the writer's qualities. I hate long poems,” said Rossetti, which is in substance the judgment of Bagehot alsom" poetry should be memorable and emphatic, intense and soon over.” Poe was of the same mind—“I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, ' a long poem,' is simply a flat contradiction in terms.” The wise will not approve these violences. The truth is that impatience of this kind, impatience of the ambitious failures, overlooks, virtually, indeed, would suppress, the higher forms of poetry altogether. If we are to allow only short poems, what of Homer and Virgil, Dante and Milton, Qui Musas colunt severiores? “A long poem,” as Keats very truly said, " is a test of invention.” The grand style, which, in Arnold's words, " arises in poetry when a

noble nature, poetically gifted, treats with simplicity or severity a serious subject,3 can only be perfectly exhibited in a long poem, a poem of epic intentions. For some, and not the worst class of readers, such a poem takes fuller possession of the mind, more powerfully enlists the imagination, and provides a larger 1 Albion's England, chap. xviii. · Biographia Literaria. chap. xviii.

son Translating Homer.

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