« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
and HENRY HOWARD, EARL OF SURREY (about 1517– 1547), took the lead in introducing Italian meters, and in giving a touch of the Italian spirit to English verse. Both poets were men of education, high position, and refined tastes. Wyatt was handsome, manly, and accomplished. He excelled in conversation and played beautifully upon the lute. He was considerably older than Surrey, and the first to experiment in the new forms of verse. Not unnaturally his work is less smooth and finished than that of his follower, but his character seems to have been deeper and more serious.
Love was the great theme of Petrarch's famous series of Sonnets, and the greater part of both Wyatt's and Surrey's poems deal with the same subject. When poets tell us that they are dying for love, it does not do to take them too literally, and we may be sure that the doleful songs and sonnets in which Wyatt and Surrey detail their sufferings were largely poetical exercises. Yet in Wyatt, under all his affectations, there are touches of true feeling, a sadness not altogether assumed, and in some of his poems there is a real longing for a life of quiet apart from the falsehoods and distractions of the Court.
While Wyatt and Surrey had a genuine love for poetry, it was far from being the chief interest of their lives. They were courtiers, fine gentlemen, to whom verse-making was an elegant accomplishment, an occupation and amusement for their leisure hours. Yet, while they wrote as amateurs, they had a most important influence on the development of English poetry, for they were the first in England to use certain poetic forms and meters, which their successors adopted and improved. Wyatt introduced into England a kind of poem known as the sonnet, a poetic form in which
Dante, Petrarch, and other Italian poets had excelled, and it was not long before the sonnet became one of the glories of English literature.
The service which Surrey performed for English poetry was probably even more important, for he was the first Englishman to use the unrimed measure known as blank verse 2 Surrey, indeed, was not himself a great master of this verse, but he showed the way to his successors, and in their hands this meter became wonderfully melodious and majestic. Marlowe, Shakespeare, and the other great playwrights, used it in the drama; Milton made it the verse of his long narra
It now stands above all rivals as the distinctive dramatic and epic verse-form of English literature.
As Wyatt and Surrey were not professional authors,
1 A sonnet, in the modern sense, must consist of exactly fourteen lines, each line must contain five accented syllables, and the rimes must be arranged according to certain strict rules. Wyatt imitated Petrarch's sonnets, or, in some cases, translated them directly into English. Then Surrey, following Wyatt's example, whom he greatly admired, wrote sonnets likewise.
2 The first important feature of blank verse is, that while it possesses the measure, or meter, of verse, it is blank, or free from rime. All unrimed verse is not necessarily blank verse, although all blank verse is unrimed. In addition to the absence of rime, the verses, or lines as we commonly call them, must be in the measure, or meter, known as iambic pentameter. The line:
“The thing became a trumpet whence he blew " is an iambic pentameter line. This line contains ten syllables, and if you read it so as to bring out its regular beat or movement, you will 'naturally emphasize certain syllables. Thus — “The thing be-came a trum-pet whence he blew.” The accent is not always so regular as this, nor is the number of syllables invariably ten, but this is a good example of the ordinary, or normal, iambic pentameter line.
they did not print their verses, but simply circulated them in manuscript among their friends. In 1557, after both poets were dead, their poems were published in a collection of Songs and Sonnets by various authors. This book (which is commonly known as Tottel's Miscellany, because it was published by a man named Tottel) was the earliest of many similar collections of verse.
Poetry from Wyatt and Surrey to Spenser. — More than thirty years elapsed before the work begun by Wyatt and Surrey was taken up by any poet of the first rank. Surrey, who outlived Wyatt three years, was beheaded on the charge of treason in 1547, the last year of Henry VIII's reign. No great poet appeared during the reigns of Edward VI (1547-1553) and Mary (1553-1558); and Elizabeth had been on the throne for more than twenty years before the spirit of the Renaissance began to find an adequate expression in a wonderful outburst of literary genius which is one of the glories of her reign. When we speak of the Age of Elizabeth as “the Golden Age of English literature," we must not forget that this great literary period covers the latter and not the earlier half of her reign. She had ruled for more than twenty years before Spenser, the earliest of the great poets of her era, published his first important poem (1579), and her reign was more than half over before the name of Shakespeare began to be known to the London theater-goers.
Nevertheless, these thirty-two years between the death of Surrey and the coming of Spenser (1547-1579) were eventful years in the history of the nation. By religious dissensions and persecution, by the spread of new educational ideas, by many experiences, England was rapidly moving toward a new goal. Yet while we
find no man of supreme genius in literature between Surrey and Spenser, we find many writers, some of them men of marked ability, whose work was preparing the way for the great age that was close at hand. Among these men we may mention ROGER ASCHAM (1515–1568), at one time tutor to Queen Elizabeth, who was one of the leading scholars and prose writers of his day. Ascham did much to increase the taste for classical studies. He embodied his ideas on education in a famous book called The Schoolmaster (1570). The sermons of Hugh LATIMER (1485?-1555), a sturdy reformer, who was burnt at the stake in Queen Mary's reign, are remarkable for their vigor, simplicity, and homely humor. These men, with many others, show the increasing strength and importance of English prose. In poetry, GEORGE GASCOIGNE (1536?-1577), a man of restless energy and adventurous life, proved himself a clever writer and a keen critic of the evils of his time. He wrote a comedy, he was part author of one of the earliest English tragedies, he composed songs, tried his hand at blank verse, and through his experiments in many forms of composition became a pioneer of the coming age. The Steel Glass (1576), a satirical poem on the abuses and follies of the day, is probably his best known work.
Sackville. — Early in Queen Elizabeth's reign, THOMAS SACKVILLE (1536-1608), although then a very young man, won an honorable place for himself in the history of English poetry. He was a distant kinsman of the Queen, and he early won her notice and favor. Thus both opportunity and inclination pushed him toward a diplomatic and public career. But in his youth Sackville showed that he possessed powers that qualified him to win renown of a very different kind. Before he left the university, he had gained some reputation
as a poet, and he continued to write poetry after he came to London and had entered upon the study of the Law at the Inner Temple. In 1561 Christmas was celebrated at the Inner Temple with great festivities. Among the other features of the entertainment was a play composed for the occasion by Sackville and Thomas Norton, a fellow-member of the Inner Temple. This play was Gorboduc (or Ferrex and Porrex, as it is often called), famous as the first regular tragedy in the history of the English drama. It is written in the manner of the Latin playwright Seneca, and it shows the disastrous results of the selfish strife between two brothers, Ferrex and Porrex, between whom their father Gorboduc had divided the kingdom. Many of the speeches are long and tiresome, and the play as a whole is dull, dignified, and monotonous. But if we want to judge the play fairly, we must not dwell exclusively on the stiffness of the verse, or the heavy respectability which weighs down the play; we must think also of its merits and of the circumstances under which it was composed. We must not expect two young gentlemen of the Temple (with little or nothing in English to guide them) to create a new kind of drama at a stroke, or to dash off a tragic masterpiece at the first trial, in order to give variety to a Christmas entertainment. Plays were to be written before long which were to leave this
1 The Inner Temple was one of the four Inns of Court, that is legal societies, roughly corresponding to our modern law school, which had the exclusive right to admit persons to the bar. The other Inns were Lincoln's Inn, the Middle Temple, and Gray's Inn. The Inner and the Middle Temple occupied the land and buildings which had formerly been held by the Knights Templar. The place retained the name of the Temple after it was leased by the lawyers, and the students or members of the Inner or Middle Temple were often called Templars.