Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

and third, that Chaucer's propensity to narration and character was so truly his masterpassion in poetry, as to swallow up all the rest of his tendencies in that direction." To these reasons for the absence of the personal sonnet from English poetry (and the sonnet, so far, was nothing if not personal) might be added a fourth, which existed in the cast of the English mind, that was less fervid than the Italian mind, and, consequently, under better discipline. The difference between them is shadowed forth in the swallow song in "The Princess":

"O tell her, Swallow, thou that knowest each, That bright and fierce and fickle is the South, And dark and true and tender is the North."

If Chaucer had loved an English woman, he would hardly have canonized her, as Dante did Beatrice, nor would he have transformed her into a laurel, as Petrarch did Laura; and the chances are, in any event, that she would not have been the mother of eleven children! No English poet had yet learned to covet his neighbor's wife,—a refinement of passion reserved for the days of that brutal voluptuary, Henry the Eighth, who, Lamb says, kept wives where other kings kept mistresses.

·

Not until the first half of the sixteenth century do we find the sonnet in English poetry. A delicate exotic from the luxuriant gardens of the South, it lost its fair proportions in the sterile soil of the North, where it wasted its sweetness on the desert air. Whether it was first transplanted by Wyatt or Surrey cannot now be ascertained; but, as they were contemporaries and friends, it is certain that they cultivated it simultaneously, and it is probable that any priority which may have existed belonged to Wyatt, who was several years the elder. It is not known that either was ever in Italy, nor were there any love passages in their lives which would have accounted for their studiedly amorous effusions. I have not forgotten, of course, the romantic story of Surrey's passion for the fair Geraldine (Lady Elizabeth Gerald), which was never heard of until nearly fifty years after her death, but was invented by Thomas Nash, a notorious pamphleteer of the period, and inserted in "The Unfortunate Traveller, or, Life of Jack Wilton" (1594), a book of imaginary adventures which antedated by about a century the realistic fictions of De Foe. Drayton was credulous enough to accept the statements of Nash, to which he gave poetic currency in his "England's

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

|

closing with couplets. For the most part, the octaves are constructed correctly; the sestettes generally consist of three rhymes, of which two are sometimes arranged as in the quatrains, and sometimes as our elegiac stanza (i. e., 1-4-2-3, and 1-3-2-4), concluding in every instance with the inadmissible couplet. Practically speaking, they cannot be said to rank high, albeit they sparkle with felicitous phrases and spirited lines. "England's first sonnet, in Wyatt's hands, is as rough as if poetry itself had just been born in the woods, among the ruggedest of the sylvan gods."

The sonnets of Surrey, which are illegitimate, close with couplets. The first twelve lines of the first three ring the changes on two rhymes; the rest consist of three stanzas of four lines each, which are sometimes arranged as in the legitimate octave. Two have sufficient merit to justify their place in the collections, the" Description of Spring,"

"The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,"

and the "Description and Praise of his Love Geraldine,"

"From Tuscane came my lady's worthy race."

Neither Wyatt nor Surrey can be said to move easily in the sonnet, and the glory of the latter depends less upon his skill in it than upon his invention of the mighty lineblank verse. Extensively circulated in manuscript, their amorous fancies were first printed, together with numerous fugitive pieces by other writers, two years after Surrey's death, in a work called "Tottel's Miscellany" (1557), which was the first poetical collection in the language, and which met with extraordinary favor, being reprinted four times within two months, and passing through seven editions in twenty-two years; besides being printed in single sheets and "Garlands," and multiplied in manuscripts. The popularity of this work was so great that Shakspere is thought to have had it in mind when he made Slender say, "I had rather than forty shillings I had my Book of Songs and Sonnets here." It was followed by several similar publications, of which the chiefest were, "A Small Handful of Fragrant Flowers" (1575), "A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions" (1578), "The Paradise of Dainty Devices" (1578), "A Handful of Pleasant Delites" (1584), "A Phoenix Nest" (1593), and "England's Helicon" (1600). The quarter of a century covered by these

works, and others which might be named, was prolific in sonnets, though not so much so as in the class of nameless poems in which the sonnets of Wyatt and Surrey were set, and which corresponded to the odes, canzones, and madrigals in the sonnets of Petrarch. Most of the sonneteers included in these collections were poets of little or no reputation, who indulged in sonnet-writing because Wyatt and Surrey had set the fashion, and because their effusions seemed to have found readers in manuscript. With one or two exceptions, they were either ignorant of the form of the legitimate sonnet, or were unable to conform to its laws. A notable exception was Barnabe Barnes, whom Churchyard, his fellow-poet, called "Petrarch's Scholar," and whose "Divine Century of Spiritual Sonnets" contains only five which are of irregular construction. The sonnets in the "Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions," the " Handful of Pleasant Delites," and "England's Helicon," are nearly all, if not quite all, illegitimate. It was so much easier to write three elegiac stanzas and a couplet than to write genuine octaves and sestettes.

I must leave the consideration of these minor English sonneteers, however, and return to the chronological study of my subject, which now concerns itself with the sonnets of Sidney, who was the idol of his contemporaries, and whose name is to-day the synonym of all that is chivalrous and honorable :

"The expectancy and rose of the fair State." He was one upon whom every god did seem to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man. High-born and nobly bred, he excelled in all the learning of his time, and in all martial exercises; was an accomplished courtier and a gallant soldier, the patron of poets, and a poet himself. Fortune smiled upon his cradle, and all good fairies attended his footsteps. Prosperous and admired, he lacked but one thing,possession of the woman whom he loved, and whom he had hoped to wed. She was high-born like himself, the Lady Elizabeth Penelope Devereux, daughter of Walter, Earl of Essex, and a matrimonial treaty had been entered into by their parents; but it was broken off (why, we are not told), and she became the wife of Robert, Lord Rich, with whom she led an unhappy life. Sidney married a lady of family, a daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, who was remarked for "extraordinary handsomeness,"

and whom he respected, we may be sure, though he did not love her as he might have done if his heart had been fancy free. No whisper was ever breathed against him as a husband; and if Lady Rich forgot her wifely vows, it was not with him, but with her less Platonic lover, Charles Blount.

If we knew when Sidney wrote the "Arcadia" (in which she figures as Philoclea) and his sonnets (in which she figures as Stella), we should know just when his life was darkened by the shadow of Lady Rich. Whenever it was, it was not for long, for he died, before he was thirty-two, of the wound he received on the fatal field of Zutphen. He was the third English sonneteer in point of time and the first in point of merit within less than thirty years after the publication of the sonnets of Wyatt and Surrey, though he was not publicly known as such until five years later, when "Astrophel and Stella" was given to the world.

Most of the sonnets in "Astrophel and Stella" fulfill the laws of the sonnet as far as the octave is concerned, for out of the one hundred and eight in that collection seventythree are legitimate, the remainder consisting of elegiac stanzas. The sestettes are of irregular construction, the majority, to the number of eighty-four, ending in couplets. A slight comparison between them and the sonnets of Wyatt and Surrey shows that they were written in a more literate period than that of Henry the Eighth. Versification had become more fluent than it was then, and language had gained in copiousness and elegance. The numbers of Wyatt and Surrey are harsh beside those of Sidney, who is one of the most musical of poets. He abounds with conceits, but he sometimes relieves them (as well as his readers) by masculine thought and unaffected expression. To say that he did not feel strongly because he did not express himself simply, is to misunderstand him and his age. Poetry was an art which had not reached that higher art which passes for nature. It was fettered by limitations which it had imposed upon itself, and from which it never escaped, except at lucky moments. It is not easy to detect where art ends and nature begins, but such detection is not impossible, I think, in Sidney's sonnets, which faithfully reflect his personality. We have a glimpse of him in the twenty-seventh sonnet,

"Because I oft, in dark, abstracted guise," and more than a glimpse in the forty-first sonnet,

[blocks in formation]

favorite with Lamb. It is the thirty-first sonnet of "Astrophel and Stella":

"With how sad steps, O Moon! thou climb'st the skies!

How silently, and with how wan a face!
What! may it be that even in heavenly place
That busy Archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case;
I read it in thy looks: thy languished grace
that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, even of fellowship, O Moon! tell me,
Is constant love deem'd there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be loved, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call virtue there ungratefulness?"

To me,

The fourth English sonneteer was Spenser, though when his first sonnets were written cannot be determined. They appear to have been early productions, and are sixty-six in number. The first series, consisting of thirty-two sonnets, entitled, "Ruines of Rome," is a translation from Joachim du Bellay, a French poet of considerable reputation, who died in the childhood of Spenser: the second series, "Visions of the Worlds Vanitie," consists of twelve sonnets: the third and fourth series, which are called Visions, and consist respectively of fifteen and seven sonnets, are translations from Bellay and Petrarch, those from the latter being Englished from the French of Clement Marot. Whether Spenser was really the author of these productions cannot be positively ascertained, their authenticity depending solely upon the authority of his book-seller, by whom they were issued in a volume of "Complaints" the year after the publication of the first three books of the "Faerie Queene." To say To say that they are dull and pedantic, and that those which are translated from Bellay and Petrarch are not sonnets but quatorzains, closing with couplets, is to say all that is necessary. Of the form of the second series ("Visions of the Worlds Vanitie"), to which I shall return hereafter, I will only say here that it is thought to have been invented by Spenser, whose experiments in versification were not always crowned with success.

The next English sonneteer was one of the great names of the age of Elizabeth, soldier, sailor, adventurer, courtier-Raleigh. Out of favor with his royal mistress, he paid a visit to his friend Spenser, on his Irish estate at Kilcolman, about three years after the death of their common friend, Sidney, and while there he read in manuscript the first three books of the "Faerie Queene."

| Never had poet a more impassioned reader than this daring Shepherd of the Ocean, who might have ranked among the greatest of poets, if he had wooed the Muse as stoutly as he did Bellona. Fired with enthusiasm by the noble numbers of Spenser, he persuaded him to return to England, where he was graciously received by Elizabeth, to whom he read portions of his incomparable poem. It was soon published (1590) with a number of commendatory poems, among which was a magnificent sonnet by Raleigh. This sonnet was cast in the form of a Vision, wherein he saw the grave of Laura in a temple, where vestal fire was wont to burn. He was passing that way to see that buried dust of living fame, which fair Love and fairer Virtue kept, when he suddenly saw the Fairy Queen, at whose approach the soul of Petrarch wept. The Graces forsook the place to attend upon this Queen; and Oblivion laid himself down on the hearse of Laura. The hardest stones were seen to bleed, and the groans of buried ghosts pierced the heavens,

"Where Homers spright did tremble all for griefe, And curst th' accesse of that celestiall theife."

The conception of this sonnet is bold, and the execution, though careless, is spirited; everything in the process (as Hunt well observes) is as grandly as it is summarily done; and Raleigh's abolition of Laura, Petrarch, and Homer, all in a lump, in honor of his friend Spenser, is in the highest style of his willful and somewhat domineering genius. There are in the first edition of the "Faerie Queene," besides this sonnet of Raleigh's (which is composed of three stanzas and a couplet), seventeen sonnets by Spenser himself. They are addressed to the great personages of the time whom he was anxious to secure as his patrons,statesmen, noblemen, and the like,-Hatton, Burleigh, Northumberland, Essex, Buckhurst, Walsingham, not forgetting the Countess of Pembroke, and are written in the form which Spenser is supposed to have invented, and which he used for the first time in his "Visions of the Worlds Vanitie." They are as melodious as the stanzas of the "Faerie Queene," to which they are related, and whose Alexandrines they have borrowed to swell the musical volume of their close.

If it were as easy to detect causes as to describe effects, I might account for the succession of sonnets which now rapidly

succeeded one another in English poetry, | and were as true to the spirit of Italian sonnet writing as they were false to its letter. They may be partially accounted for, perhaps, by the popularity of Sidney's sonnets, the form of which failed, however, to impress itself on the minds of his followers. But whatever the cause, obvious or recondite, the sonnet was now naturalized in the language, and its chief inspiration was an affectation of amorousness. It had somehow become the fashion to write love poetry, and if the poet was not in love, he could at least pretend to be, and write accordingly.

The first of the new school of make-believers was Samuel Daniel, who published, in 1592, a collection of fifty-seven sonnets, entitled "Delia." He was an estimable He was an estimable man, and was a good poet, according to the standard of his day, which was more tolerant of tediousness than ours. That he was a lover is not evident from his sonnets, which are not without a certain tenderness and elegance, and which may be read as exercises of fancy with considerable pleasure. One of the best, an invocation to Sleep, will bear reading after Sidney's famous sonnet on the same subject. The highest compliment that can be paid them is to say that two or three of them might have been written by Shakspere, who seems to have had them in mind while writing his own sonnets. With the exception of two, which are Italian in the octaves, they are written in elegiac stanzas, and they close with couplets. Four of them (36-39) must be read as a single poem, the last lines of three being repeated as the opening lines of their successors.

As I have quoted Sidney's sonnet on Sleep, the readers of this paper may like to see Daniel's. It is the fifty-first sonnet in "Delia":

"Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
Brother to Death, in silent darkness born,
Relieve my languish, and restore the light;
With dark forgetting of my care return,
And let the day be time enough to mourn
The shipwreck of my ill-adventured youth:
Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn,
Without the torment of the night's untruth.
Cease, dreams, the images of day-desires,
To model forth the passions of the morrow;
Never let rising sun approve you liars,
To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow:
Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain,
And never wake to feel the day's disdain."

The nineteenth sonnet of "Delia" has always reminded me strongly of the manner of Shakspere:

"Restore thy tresses to the golden ore, Yield Cytherea's son those arcs of love;

Bequeath the heavens the stars that I adore,
And to the orient do thy pearls remove;
Yield thy hand's pride unto the ivory white,
To Arabian odors give thy breathing sweet,
Restore thy blush unto Aurora bright,
To Thetis give the honor of thy feet;
Let Venus have thy graces her resign'd,
And thy sweet voice give back unto the spheres;
But yet restore thy fierce and cruel mind
To Hyrcan tigers and to ruthless bears;
Yield to the marble thy hard heart again:
So shalt thou cease to plague, and I to pain."

Daniel's sonnets, artificial as we feel them to be, are natural when compared with the series which Drayton published in the following year (1593), under the fantastic title of "Idea." There are sixty-three of them, and all but nine are in the same measure as

those of Daniel, the exceptions being half octaves, or stanzas in which the first and fourth lines rhyme, the second and third lines making a couplet. Drayton's touch is less delicate than Daniel's, and his poetry is of a heavier character: it is dull. The best sonnet in the series ("Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part ") is not in the original edition. Drayton disclaims genuineness of feeling in a sonnet addressed that he celebrated a real woman, and that to the reader; but he asserts in his “Odes” Coventry was her birthplace. She was born on the fourth of August, at Mich-Park (a noted street in that old town), to which pilgrimages will in future be made in his and

her honor:

"The old Man passing by that way,
To his Sonne in Time shalt say:
There was that Lady borne, which long
To after Ages shall be sung;
Who unawares having passed by
Back to that House shall cast his Eye,
Speaking my Verses as he goes,
And with a Sigh shut ev'ry Close."

Henry Constable, whose " Diana "reached a second edition in 1594, was highly commended as a sonneteer by his contemporaries; but the specimens of his handiwork which have come down to us in the collections do not justify their commendations. A greater than he and his masters, Drayton and Daniel,-the poet's poet, Spenser, -was the next to take the world into his confidence by publishing for its delectation a volume of sonnets called "Amoretti." They were written (his biographers believe, from internal evidence) between the latter end of 1592 and the summer of 1594, and they describe in poetic fashion his attachment to the lady whom he married, and of whom nothing is known except that her name was Elizabeth. She is called a

« AnkstesnisTęsti »