« PreviousContinue »
Do, pious marble, let thy readers know
An everlasting monument to thee. As Aubius Persius Flaccus,' says Meres, in the Wit's Treasury, 'is reputed among all writers to be of an honest life and upright conversation ; SO Michael Drayton (quemtoties honoris et amoris causa nomino) among scholars, soldiers, poets, and all sorts of people, is held for a man of a virtuous disposition, honest conversation, and well governed carriage, which is almost miraculous among good wits in these declining and corrupt times, when there is nothing but roguery in villainous man; and when cheating and craftiness are counted the cleanest wit and the soundest wisdom?' Villainous man has been declining any time these four thousand years.
We can assign Drayton to no particular order of poets; for, so far as he is famous at all, he has equally distinguished himself under all the Muses, from a love-lorn sonnet up to what, for a more descriptive appellation, we must call an epic poem. The Poly-Olbion is a sort of historical, antiquarian, and topographical chronicle in verse; and is alike remarkable for the prolixity of its narrative, the length of its metre, and the variety of its information. It can hardly be called prose or verse, history or romance, argument or description; but an anomalous cento of all these species of composition; and, although it contains many poetical passages, and much curious detail, its merit as a whole can scarcely make us regret, that he did not coinplete his design, by extending the poem to Scot. land. The Baron's Wars are liable to the same Vol. II.
objections with the Poly-Olbion : the Legends and Heroical Epistles are in a much better taste; and the Nymphidia is among the best specimens of the wild and whimsical in the language. It is said to have suggested Shakespeare's witches in Macbeth. His Idias, Sonnets, and Divine Poems, are not distinguished by any peculiar excellence; and his general merits are so well expressed by Mr. Headly, that we shall spare ourselves the trouble of delineating them in our own language. Drayton possessed great command of his abilities. He has written no masques; his personifications of the passions are few; and the allegorical view which the popularity of Spenser's works may fairly be supposed to have rendered fashionable, and which overruns our earlier poetry, but seldom occurs in him. While his cotemporary Jonson peopled his pages with the heathen mythology, and gave our language new idiomes, by the introduction of latinisms, Drayton adopted a style, that, with a few exceptions, the present age may peruse without difficulty, and not unfrequently mistake for its own offspring. In a most pedantic æra he was unaffected, and seldom exhibits his learning at the expense of his judgment. The latter observation must be confined to particular passages; for, as applied to whole poems, the Poly-Olbion is an everlasting monument of the contrary.
THE COURT OF FAIRY.
Old Chaucer doth of Topas tell,
With such poor trifles playing:
But that they must be saying. Another sort there be, that will Be talking of the FAIRIES still, Nor never can they have their fill,
As they were wedded to them: No tales of them their thirst can slake, So much delight therein they take, And some strange thing they fain would make,
Knew they the way to do them. Then since no Muse hath been so bold, Or of the latter, or the old,
Those elvish secrets to unfold,
Which lie from others' reading; My active Muse to light shall bring The court of that proud fairy king, And tell there of the revelling,
Jove prosper my proceeding.
Which now I am in telling:
In numbers smoothly swelling.
Which way soe'er it blow it:
Pass to the Earth below it.
It curiously that builded :
With moonshine that are gilded.
And none but only fairies wake)
Descendeth for his pleasure:
With plagues them out of measure.
As hope of pastime hastes them : Which maids think on the hearth they see, When fires well-near consumed be, There dancing hays by two and three,
Just as their fancy casts them.
The house for cleanly sweeping:
Of which they have the keeping.
The fault therein to smother:
And took away the other.