Imágenes de páginas


existence of Laura as anything but an most part fluent and insipid. But Apollonic laurel, or poetical abstrac- some Italian poets were complimented tion of glory, almost too subtle for with the laurel in Germany, where the analysis by metaphysics. We have no poetical college, founded at Vienna by such doubt of her materiality; for, Maximilian I., produced few native over and above all other evidence, laureates worthy of the honour. Yet there are many passages in those “ the Emperors of Germany,” says songs and sonnets, that tell of a love, D'Israeli, who condemned the Abbé in the poet at least, which, though ever Resnel's memoir on the subject, “ refined, was not all spiritual. In tained the laureateship in all its splenthe same way, Dante's Beatrice has dour. The selected bard was called been pronounced an incorporeal crea Il Poeta Cesareo. Apostolo Zeno, as tion,-a vision of theology, though celebrated for his erudition as for his in his Vila Nuora he expressly de- poetic powers, was succeeded by that clares who she was, where and when most enchanting poet Metastasio,”she was born, her age and his own, of whom, by-the-by, Sir James Macwhen he first met her, and the year kintosh has also written in enthusiand the day, and the very hour, when astic commendation; not, however, she died. Milton read them both for his felicity as a poet, but for the truly, and recognised in their writ- deep and well-digested critical learnings the language of the human heart, ing displayed in his prose treatise on and the truth of human passion unde- Aristotle's Art of Poetry. “ The based by a particle of grossness. French,” continues Mr. D’Israeli,,and Speaking of the laureate fraternity of we quote what he borrows from Respoets, and of his own early parti- nel, becanise, though they do not tell us ality for the elegiac writers, he nobly much, scarcely any other persons says: “ Above them all, I preferred have hitherto told us anything to the two famous renowners of Beatrice the purpose on this matter," the and Laura, who never write but in French never had a poet laureate, honour of them to whom they devote though they had royal poets, for none their verse, displaying sublime and were ever solemnly crowned. The pure thoughts without transgression.” Spanish nation, always desirous of After that lofty encomium from such titles of honour, seems to have known authority, may we venture to observe that of the laureate ; but little inforthat among the laureates of Italy there mation concerning it can be gathered is one still greater poet than the from their authors.” We fear there Recluse of Avignon? We do not must have been something suggestive say a greater man, for the popular of the hard, dry, see-saw of the turpis reputation of Petrarch, resting as it asella in the tone of the Spanish laudoes his accomplishment of reates; for Sancho Panza, in his tender verse, is not perhaps founded on the consolation to bis ass, Dapple, when strongest of his claims to admiration, they had both tumbled into the quarry, But Tasso, too, was a formally lau. says, “ Yo prometo de ponerle una reated bard. And his chaplet was corona de laurel en la cabeza que no unwithered in the dungeon, to which parezcas sino un laureado poeta, y de the cruellesi Turk among the desecra darle los piensos dobados.

I promise tors of Jerusalem would hardly have to give thee double feeds, and to place condemned him, for merely presump a crown of laurel on thy head, that tuous aspirations after a bright orna- thou mayest look like a poet-laureate." ment of his harem. Tasso's eulogium, But our main business is with the in his grand epic, of the Christian laureates of England; and the origin prince who afterwards became his of their office is sufficiently obscure, jailor, is an immortal reprobation of and not the less worthy of considerathe unfeeling tyrant. The wrongs of tion for the antiquity that such obgenius are avenged even by its praise, scurity implies. It has certainly been which, when thus proved to have been associated with our monarchical instiundeserved, is satire undisguised. tutions from very early times; and, Petrarch and Tasso appear to be the for that reason alone, if for no other, only distinguished laureates of Italy. we should be disposed, in this antiThe rest were mere versifiers, for the monarchical fever of the day, to re


[ocr errors]

spect the loyalty of the office, however rosity in Richard, that still recomlittle respect may have been due to mends him to us as a hero of romance, some who have held it, and however worthy of minstrel praise, in spite of higher than the office is every true his ferocious temper, his demerits as poet, “ whose mind to him a kingdom a son, and his indomitable wrongis,” and who possesses a royalty of headedness as a prince. The poem his own, wider than that of Charle- of Gulielmus is not extant, but it magne. We do not know tha the must have been interesting if he pos poets cited in the Saxon Chronicle sessed any genius. Richard's rough were rhymers more inspired by the warfare with the Soldan, his marriage mead of the court than of the cloister; with Berengaria, and his delivery from but the supposition is not improbable, the dungeon of the base Duke of --for we do know the fondness of Alfred Austria, were subjects as pregnant as for the gleeman's craft, and that he, any of the adventures of Hercules, an “ lord of the harp and liberating spear," idol of hero-worship whom he in some was himself a gleeman; nor are we respects resembles. In King John's unmindful that King Canute honoured reign, the poets seem to have been verse-men, and that he could even im- against the king, and in favour of the provise an accordant rhyme, still ex- opposing barons. Whether he contant, to the holy chant of the monks soled himself with the stipendiary of Ely, as his bargemen rowed him services of a court poet, we do not down the Ouse, under the chapel wall. discover. Throughout his long and It is not apparent that trourères fol- troubled reign he seems to have been lowed William of Normandy to Sussex pelted with lampoons. officially, or celebrated his triumph In the year 251, reign of Henry III., over Harold, for the story of Talieter the King's versifier was requited by is hardly a case in point, and we do an annual pension of 100 shillings not hear much about the northern -not such a very niggardly stipend trouvères till somewhat later, though as it now sounds, if we compare some writers will have it that they the value of money in those times are of older standing than the trou- with the price of commodities. In badours of the south of France. We the two following reigns we find a poetdo not imagine that William Rufus royal of some repute in Robert Baston. patronised harmony more intellectual He a Carmelite monk, and than the blast of the hurting horn. attained the dignity of prior of the But so early at least as the twelfth convent of that order at Scarborough. century, in the reign of Richard, “ the Bishop Bale (in his Illust um Maheart of courage leonine,” as Words- joris Britannic Scriptorum Summaworth calls him, we have a king's rium) says that Baston was a laureated versifier in the person of Gulielmus, poet and public orator at Oxford, of whom little is known, except that which Wood denies. But Bale might he produced a poem on the crusade of have had access to information which this romant poetical, bones-breaking could no longer be authenticated in Richard,-a prince whose Gothic blood Anthony's time; for Bale, though he (for it must be remembered that he was lived to be Edward the Sixth’s Bishop of the restored Saxon line) might seem of Assory, and a prebendary of the to have been tinged with orientalism by Cathedral of Canterbury, where he some unaccountable process; for, even died and was buried, had himself been before his embarkation on his adventure a Carmelite friar. “Great confusion," with his red-cross knights, his character obserres Warton, “ has entered into exhibited a strange combination of the the subject of the institution of poetsstout and somewhat obtuse dogged- laureatė, on account of the degrees in ness of the bandog, and the lordliness grammar, which included rhetoric and of the lion-d mixture of Saxon home- versification, anciently taken in our liness and Saracenic magnificence. universities, particularly at Oxford, The strength of thews and sinews, on which occasion a wreath of laurel and the prowess of mere animal cou was presented to the new graduate, rage (vulgar glories, for the most who was afterwards usually styled part, looked at with civilized eyes), Poeta Laureatus. These scholastic were an aspect of redeeming gene- laureations, however, seem to have



given rise to the appellation in ques. membering, too, that we have two good tion. With regard to the poet-laureate set-offs against Harry Hotspur's sneer of the Kings of England, he is un at “ metre ballad-mongers,"--one in doubtedly the same that is styled Sir Philip Sidney's declaration that the king's versifier in the thirteenth the ballad of the Percy hunt in Checentury. But when or how that title viotdale stirred his heart like the commenced, and whether this officer sound of a trumpet; and another, in was ever formally crowned with laurel the fact that one of the most illusat his first investiture, I will not trious of modern Percys, the Bishop pretend to determine, after the re of Dromore, owes his well-deserved searches of the learned Selden have popular reputation to nothing else than proved unsuccessful. It seems pro- his industry, talent, and good taste, in bable that at length those only were editing the Reliques of Ancient Engin general invited to this appointment lish Poetry and Old Heroic Ballads. who had received academical sanction, Robert Baston, from whom we and had merited a crown of laurel in have digressed, was not a balladthe universities for their abilities in monger, but a Latin versifier ex officio. Latin composition, particularly Latin Edward I., in his expedition to Scotversification. Thus the king's lau- land in 1304, took Baston with him, reate was nothing more than a gra- that he might be an eye-witness of duated rhetorician, employed in the his triumph over this country, and king's service.” Warton adds an celebrate it in Latin verse. Hollinopinion, which seems well founded, shed comments on this fact as " that it was not customary for the strong proof of Edward's presumption royal laureate to write in English and overweening confidence in himtill the Reformation had begun to self; but the censure is not strikingly diminish the veneration for the Latin pertinent, for at this period a poet tongue, or rather till the love of was a stated officer in the royal repovelty, and a better sense of things, tinue, when the monarch went to war. had banished the pedantry of monas- The haughty old king's discomfiture, tic erudition, and taught us to culti- after all his successes in this favourite vate our native language.” It is true, enterprise, was as mortifying, but not that neither before nor after the Con- so comical as the disastrous issue of quest was there any lack of rhymers the campaign to his poet. The jolly in the vulgar tongue, whether Saxon, prior had not done chanting one of his or Norman, or mixed ; and they would heroics in honour of Edward's siege of be the popular poets, but not exactly Stirling, when he was pounced on by the poets in fashion at court. At a foray of Scots, and carried away into all events, the fashion of writing durance; nor was this the worst of court poems in low Latin began the misadventure, for, with a shrewdly early and continued long; and we balancing humour, they obliged him to suspect that the Anglo-Saxon glee- pay his ransom in verse, and only men, whom the monkish historians released him when he had recorded call joculatores regis, were for the most the praises of his captors and their part mere merrymen, as their monkish

He does not appear to have sobriqu-t implies-jugglers, dancers, been much inspired by the subject; fiddlers, tumblers. Berdic, the king's for Hector Boece says that he made fool, is styled Joculator Regis in“ rusty verses” in praise of the Scots; Doomsday Book. Some of these re- and rusty enough they were, if they tainers, no doubt, could both compose all resembled the initial line as it is ballads and sing them, suiting the quotedaction to the word, and they might

" De planta cado metrum cum carmine nudo." occasionally amuse the court with their songs; but the authentic poet The poem must have stood in more for state occasions was the Latin awkward antagonism with “ De Striverse-maker. We say this with all vilniensi Obsidione,” which is extant due love and regard for our ballad- in Fordun, than Waller's panegyric singers, old and modern, from King on Cromwell does face to face with Alfred to Alfred Tennyson; and re- his eulogium on Charles II. We


doubt whether the monk had so witty doubt it, though the authority is far an apology for his double tongue as from conclusive. Chaucer, born about the courtier ; but he had a better 1328, the second year of Edward the excuse, for he said, “ Actus me inrito, Third's reign, died in 1400. It is cerfactus, non est meus actus.” There is tain that he was liberally patronized, both rhyme and reason in that. The and gratified with lucrative appointstubbornness of the Scots, which was ments by Edward. It is recorded, too, at last a choke-pear to Edward, seems that he was enıployed on foreign misto have stimulated the poet almost sions of trust; that on one occasion as much as it exasperated the king. he was an envoy to Genoa, and that For, besides the siege of Stirling, he then visited Petrarch at Padua; we find on the list of Baston's pro- and as the arguments for and against ductions one entitled " De Altero the probability of this interview are Scotorum Bello," and another “ De pretty nearly balanced, we are not Scotiæ guerris varijs.” Baston sur bound to deny ourselves the pleasure vived his master, the broken Malleus of believing it. Froissart, as well as Scotorum, only three years. It is Hollinshed and Barnes, bears testiuncertain whether he retained his mony to Chaucer's having been one of office after the accession of Edward a mission to the court of France, in the Second ; but if so, death had the last year of Edward's reign; but released him from duty before that it is not clear, nor even at all deduprince's invasion of this country in cible from the nature of the public 1314. Otherwise he would probably employments, and the character of have had to pay another visit to the Edward, that it was his poetical merit ominous neighbourhood of Stirling which promoted him to the royal conCastle; at a risk, if he escaped a fidence in matters of business. deadlier chance, of being captured by Gower, born, it is supposed, somethe Bruce himself, and of having a what earlier than Chaucer, died two caged poet's leisure to meditate a years later, in 1402, and had been threnodia for Bannockburn. Boece, blind for the last two or three years in Bellenden's version, asserts that of his life. Bale makes Gower this was actually the case,—that it equitem auratum et poetam laureatum: was “ Edward the Second, who, by but Winstanley says he was neither vain arrogance, as if the Scotch laureated nor hederated, but only had been sicker in his hands, rosated, having a chaplet of four roses brought with him ane Carmelite about his head on his monumental monk to put his victory in versis; stone in St. Mary Overy's Church, that the poet was taken in this field Southwark. His “ Confessio Amantis" of Bannockburn, and commandit by is said to have been prompted by the King Robert the Bruce to write as he command of Richard the Second, who, saw, in sithement of his ransom." chancing to meet him on the Thames, There is also among the political songs invited him into his gilded barge,published by the Camden Society, a wretched transcript (from the Cotton Youth at the prow, and pleasure at the helin,"

" While proudly riding o'er the azure realm, MSS.) of a wretched piece of raving on this very battle, also attributed to enjoined him to “ book something Baston,~(and, announced, we sup- new.” In the three next reigns of pose by an error of the press, as the line of Lancaster, Henry the written in the reign of Edward the Fourth, Henry the Fifth, and Ilenry Third.) But we are inclined to be- the Sixth, a period of sixty-two years, lieve that Baston died about four we hardly know what became of the years hefore that great day for Scot- court poets, or whether there were land. We do not, however, under any. Musicians were liberally privitake to settle the point. We have leged as palace servants by Henry the no certain accounts of Baston's suc- Fourth,but his reign was unfavourable cessor.

to the minstrel art. Henry the Fifth It is asserted by writers not incau- was partial to minstrelsý, and retious, that Gower and Chaucer were warded it generously; but we find no laureates; and we are unwilling to report of a laureat poet. In Henry


the Sixth's time, boys were pressed into has been shown that Bernard was the minstrel service of the court; but it alive in 1522, if not later. Skelton is not recorded that any one was made was laureated at Oxford about 1489, a poet by virtue of royal kidnapping. three years after the date of the reThey were instructed in music for the corded grant to the poet-laureate, solace of his majesty.

Andrew Bernard. We more than To Edward the Fourth, the first king half suspect that Skelton, though a of the line of York, John Kay, as “ his graduated university laureate, was Majesty's humble Laureate,” dedicated never poet-laureate io either king at a History of Rhodes.

all, except as a sort of volunteer, The wars of the Roses seem almost licensed by his own saucy consent. to bave silenced the nightingales. Puttenbam expressly says, that “ SkelBut no sooner was contention termi- ton usurped the name of poet-laureate, nated by the union of Henry of Lan- being indeed but a rude railing rimer, caster with the heiress of York, than and all his doings ridiculous.” It is a rivalry sprang up for the office of staled that Skelton, having, a few king's poet

. In the year 1486, the years subsequent to his laureation at next after the coronation of Henry Oxford, been permitted to wear his the Seventh, and shortly after his laurel publicly at Cambridge also, was marriage, that king, by an instru- further privileged by Henry the Seventh ment Pro Poeta Laureato, of which a to wear some particular dress, or adcopy is preserved in Rymer's Federa, ditional ornament to his dress. Henry granted to Andrew Bernard, poel. the Seventh was not much given to laureate, a salary of fifteen marks, jesting, or we should infer that it until he should obtain some equi- was a badge appropriate to the king's valent appointment. This was no fool; for Skelton, though an able very munificent grani. But Henry man, was, like Leo the Tenth's archthe Seventh not addicted to poet Querno, who was crowned lauliberality out of bis own exchequer. reate for the joke's sake, ambitious of He afterwards found means to re- the fool's honours. He was a buffoon ward him with ecclesiastical prefer- even in the pulpit. ments; and his prodigal, but still Skelton directed his ribaldry espemore selfish successor, gratified him cially against the mendicant friars in the same way: Bernard, who was and the formidable Wolsey. We can a native of Toulouse, and an Augus. easily imagine how these audacities tine monk, obtained many preferments were not intolerable to the “ Defender in England; and was besides not only of the Faith,” even in the plenitude poet-laureate, but historiographer to of the cardinal's power; and how he the king, and preceptor in grammar might have tolerated his assumption to Prince Arthur. The preceptorship, of the character of court-poet, so long however honourable, was perhaps not as the spurious laureate's sallies did worth much on the score of emolu. not trench on the sovereign's personal ment. All the pieces now to be found dignity. Skelion, like his quondam in his character of laureate are in Latin. royal pupil, was already a reformer Among these are, “An Address to in his way; and not long before his Henry the Eighth, for the most Auspi. death, which occurred June 21, 1529, cious Beginning of the Tenth Year of just before the downfall of Wolsey, he his Reign;" "A New-Year's Offering used a strange argument against the for the Year 1515;” and “ Verses wish celibacy of the priesthood; be excused ing Prosperity to his Majesty's This. himself for having openly lived with teenth Year, 1522.” He left many a concubine, because he considered prose pieces, written in his quality of her as his wife! Erasmus, the caushistoriographer to both monarchs, par- tic censor of the vices of the clergy, ticularly a Chronicle of the Life and praised Skelton's learning and wit, Achievements of Henry the Seventh to probably from sympathy with his apthe taking of Perkin Warbeck. And plication of them, bolder, though far here occurs a little difficulty in the re. less dignified thau his own, to the concilement of dates, when we are told same objects of satire; but “ the glory that Skelton also was poet-laureate to of the priesthood and the shame,” Henry the Seventh and his son; for it could hardly have admitted ihe valid.



« AnteriorContinuar »