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ENGLAND was licensed to be printed in 1580, on condition, that if any thing reprehensible was found in the book after publication, all the copies should be committed to the flames. Notwithstanding, it is remarkable, that in 1587, a new edition of Boccace's DECAMERON in Italian by Wolfe, should have been permitted by archbishop Whitgift"; and the English AMOROUS FIAMETTA* of Boccace, above mentioned, in the same year by the bishop of London".

But in the year 1599, the Hall of the Stationers underwent as great a purgation as was carried on in Don Quixote's library. Marston's Pygmalion, Marlowe's Ovid, the Satires of Hall and Marston, the Epigrams of Davies and others, and the CALTHA POETARUM, were ordered for immediate conflagration by the prelates Whitgift and Bancroft®. By the same authority, all the books of Nash and Gabriel Harvey were anathematised; and, like thieves and outlaws, were ordered to be taken wheresoever they maye be found. It was decreed, that no Satires or Epigrams should be printed for the future. No plays were to be printed without the inspection and permission of the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of London, nor any Englishe Historyes, I suppose novels and romances, without the sanction of the privy-council Any pieces of this nature, unlicensed, or now at large and wandering abroad, were to be diligently sought, recalled, and delivered over to the ecclesiastical arm at London-housed.

If any apology should be thought necessary for so prolix and intricate an examination of these compositions, I shelter this section under the authority of a polite and judicious Roman writer, "Sit apud te honos ANTIQUITATI, sit ingentibus factis, sit FABULIS quoque."

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Boccace limned; if ladies entertaine Bandel[lo] or Ariosto in their closets; if lovers embrace their phisition Ovid in extremities of their passion; then will gentlemen of all tribes much rather honour your Impresa, as a most rare jewell and delicate enchiridion. For there is not published a Florish upon Fancie, or Tarletons toyes or the sillie interlude of Diogenes," &c.-PARK.]

b Ibid. Sept. 18.

There are also recited, "The Shadowe of Truthe in Epigrams and Satires. Snarling Satyres. The booke againste women. The xv ioyes of marriage.'

d Registr. Station. C. fol. 316 a. b.
Plin. Epist. viii. 24.

SECTION LXI.

General view and character of the poetry of queen Elizabeth's age. ENOUGH has been opened of the reign of queen Elizabeth, to afford us an opportunity of forming some general reflections, tending to establish a full estimate of the genius of the poetry of that reign; and which, by drawing conclusions from what has been said, and directing the reader to what he is to expect, will at once be recapitulatory and preparatory. Such a survey perhaps might have stood with more propriety as an introduction to this reign. But it was first necessary to clear the way, by many circumstantial details, and the regular narration of those particulars, which lay the foundation of principles, and suggest matter for discursive observation. My sentiments on this subject shall therefore compose the concluding section of the present volume.

The age of queen Elizabeth is commonly called the golden age of English poetry. It certainly may not improperly be styled the most POETICAL age of these annals.

Among the great features which strike us in the poetry of this period, are the predominancy of fable, of fiction, and fancy, and a predilection for interesting adventures and pathetic events. I will endeavour to assign and explain the cause of this characteristic distinction, which may chiefly be referred to the following principles, sometimes blended, and sometimes operating singly: The revival and vernacular versions of the classics, the importation and translation of Italian novels, the visionary reveries or refinements of false philosophy, a degree of superstition sufficient for the purposes of poetry, the adoption of the machineries of romance, and the frequency and improvements of allegoric exhibition in the popular spectacles.

When the corruptions and impostures of popery were abolished, the fashion of cultivating the Greek and Roman learning became universal; and the literary character was no longer appropriated to scholars by profession, but assumed by the nobility and gentry. The ecclesiastics had found it their interest to keep the languages of antiquity to themselves, and men were eager to know what had been so long injuriously concealed. Truth propagates truth, and the mantle of mystery was removed not only from religion, but from literature. The laity, who had now been taught to assert their natural privileges, became impatient of the old monopoly of knowledge, and demanded admittance to the usurpations of the clergy. The general curiosity for new discoveries, heightened either by just or imaginary ideas of the treasures contained in the Greek and Roman writers, excited all persons of leisure and fortune to study the classics. The pedantry of the present age was the politeness of the last. An accurate comprehension

of the phraseology and peculiarities of the ancient poets, historians, and orators, which yet seldom went further than a kind of technical erudition, was an indispensable and almost the principal object in the circle of a gentleman's education. Every young lady of fashion was carefully instituted in classical letters; and the daughter of a duchess was taught, not only to distil strong waters, but to construe Greek. Among the learned females of high distinction, queen Elizabeth herself was the most conspicuous. Roger Ascham, her preceptor, speaks with rapture of her astonishing progress in the Greek nouns; and declares with no small degree of triumph, that during a long residence at Windsorcastle, she was accustomed to read more Greek in a day, than “ some prebendary of that church did Latin in one week"." And although perhaps a princess looking out words in a lexicon, and writing down hard phrases from Plutarch's Lives, may be thought at present a more incompatible and extraordinary character than a canon of Windsor understanding no Greek and but little Latin, yet Elizabeth's passion for these acquisitions was then natural, and resulted from the genius and habitudes of her age.

The books of antiquity being thus familiarised to the great, every thing was tinctured with ancient history and mythology. The heathen gods, although discountenanced by the Calvinists on a suspicion of their tending to cherish and revive a spirit of idolatry, came into general vogue. When the queen paraded through a country-town, almost every pageant was a pantheon. When she paid a visit at the house of any of her nobility, at entering the hall she was saluted by the Penates, and conducted to her privy-chamber by Mercury. Even the pastrycooks were expert mythologists. At dinner, select transformations of Ovid's metamorphoses were exhibited in confectionary; and the splendid iceing of an immense historic plum-cake was embossed with a delicious basso-relievo of the destruction of Troy. In the afternoon, when she condescended to walk in the garden, the lake was covered with Tritons and Nereids; the pages of the family were converted into Wood-nymphs who peeped from every bower; and the footmen gamboled over the lawns in the figure of Satyrs. I speak it without designing to insinuate any unfavourable suspicions; but it seems difficult to say, why Elizabeth's virginity should have been made the theme of perpetual and excessive panegyric: nor does it immediately appear, that there is less merit or glory in a married than a maiden queen. Yet, the next morning, after sleeping in a room hung with the tapestry of the voyage of Eneas, when her majesty hunted in the Park, she was met by Diana, who pronouncing our royal prude to be the brightest paragon of unspotted chastity, invited her to groves free from the intrusions of Acteon. The truth is, she was so profusely flattered for this virtue, because it was esteemed the characteristical ornament of

* Schoolemaster, p. 19 b. edit. 1589. 4to.

the heroines, as fantastic honour was the chief pride of the champions,
of the old barbarous romance. It was in conformity to the sentiments
of chivalry, which still continued in vogue, that she was celebrated for
chastity: the compliment, however, was paid in a classical allusion.

Queens must be ridiculous when they would appear as women. The
softer attractions of sex vanish on the throne. Elizabeth sought all
occasions of being extolled for her beauty, of which indeed in the
prime of her youth she possessed but a small share, whatever might
have been her pretensions to absolute virginity. Notwithstanding her
exaggerated habits of dignity and ceremony, and a certain affectation
of imperial severity, she did not perceive this ambition of being com-
plimented for beauty, to be an idle and unpardonable levity, totally
inconsistent with her high station and character. As she conquered
all nations with her arms, it matters not what were the triumphs of her
eyes. Of what consequence was the complexion of the mistress of the
world? Not less vain of her person than her politics, this stately
coquet, the guardian of the protestant faith, the terror of the sea, the
mediatrix of the factions of France, and the scourge of Spain, was in-
finitely mortified, if an ambassador, at the first audience, did not tell
her she was the finest woman in Europe. No negociation succeeded
unless she was addressed as a goddess. Encomiastic harangues drawn
from this topic, even on the supposition of youth and beauty, were
surely superfluous, unsuitable, and unworthy; and were offered and
received with an equal impropriety. Yet when she rode through the
streets of the city of Norwich, Cupid, at the command of the mayor
and aldermen, advancing from a group of gods who had left Olympus
to grace the procession, gave her a golden arrow, the most effective
weapon of his well-furnished quiver, which under the influence of such
irresistible charms was sure to wound the most obdurate heart.
gift," says honest Hollinshed," which her majesty, now verging to her
fiftieth year, received very thankfullie b." In one of the fulsome inter-
ludes at court, where she was present, the singing-boys of her chapel
presented the story of the three rival goddesses on mount Ida, to which
her majesty was ingeniously added as a fourth; and Paris was arraigned
in form for adjudging the golden apple to Venus, which was due to the
queen alone.

"A

This inundation of classical pedantry soon infected our poetry. Our writers, already trained in the school of fancy, were suddenly dazzled with these novel imaginations, and the divinities and heroes of pagan antiquity decorated every composition. The perpetual allusions to ancient fable were often introduced without the least regard to propriety. Shakspeare's Mrs. Page, who is not intended in any degree to be a learned or an affected lady*, laughing at the cumbersome courtship of

b Chron. iii. f. 1297.

* [This I cannot allow. I rather think that Shakspeare here spouted all his own

knowledge, rather than that of an honest
dame; because we do not find any more
of it in this play, or any other of his. We

her corpulent lover Falstaffe, says, "I had rather be a giantess and lie under mount Pelion." This familiarity with the pagan story was not, however, so much owing to the prevailing study of the original authors, as to the numerous English versions of them which were consequently made. The translations of the classics, which now employed every pen, gave a currency and a celebrity to these fancies, and had the effect of diffusing them among the people. No sooner were they delivered from the pale of the scholastic languages, than they acquired a general notoriety. Ovid's Metamorphoses just translated by Golding, to instance no further, disclosed a new world of fiction, even to the illiterate. As we had now all the ancient fables in English, learned allusions, whether in a poem or a pageant, were no longer obscure and unintelligible to common readers and common spectators. And here we are led to observe, that at this restoration of the classics, we were first struck only with their fabulous inventions. We did not attend to their regularity of design and justness of sentiment. A rude age, beginning to read these writers, imitated their extravagances, not their natural beauties. these, like other novelties, were pursued to a blameable excess.

And

I have before given a sketch of the introduction of classical stories, in the splendid show exhibited at the coronation of queen Anne Boleyn. But that is a rare and a premature instance; and the pagan fictions are there complicated with the barbarisms of the catholic worship, and the doctrines of scholastic theology. Classical learning was not then so widely spread, either by study or translation, as to bring these learned spectacles into fashion, to frame them with sufficient skill, and to present them with propriety.

Another capital source of the poetry peculiar to this period, consisted in the numerous translations of Italian tales into English. These narratives, not dealing altogether in romantic inventions, but in real life and manners, and in artful arrangements of fictitious yet probable events, afforded a new gratification to a people which yet retained their ancient relish for tale-telling, and became the fashionable amusement of all who professed to read for pleasure. They gave rise to innumerable plays and poems, which would not otherwise have existed; and turned the thoughts of our writers to new inventions of the same kind. Before these books became common, affecting situations, the combination of incident, and the pathos of catastrophe, were almost unknown. Distress, especially that arising from the conflicts of the tender passion, had not yet been shown in its most interesting forms. It was hence

might therefore as well affirm that all the valets and chambermaids in Queen Anne's time were infinitely witty, because Congreve has made them as much so as their masters and mistresses; that is, the poet bestowed all the wit he had upon all his characters indiscriminately.-ASHBY. But was it not the peculiar felicity and unri

valled merit of Shakspeare, to make his characters utter no more than nature herself set down for them? Hence Pope's just eulogium on the individuality of excellence in all his dramatis personæ, and hence his own directions to the players in Hamlet. -PARK.]

C Merry W. act ii. sc. I.

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