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TIE ELIZABETHAN LITERATURE.
Of what is commonly called our Elizabethan literature, the greater portion appertains to the reign, not of Elizabeth, but of James—to the seventeenth, not to the sixteenth century. The common name, nevertheless, is the fair and proper one. It sprung up in the age of Elizabeth, and was mainly the produce of influences which belonged to that age, although their effect extended into another. It was born of and ripened by that sunny morning of a new day,—“great Eliza's golden time,”. when a general sense of security had given men ease of mind and disposed them to freedom of thought, while the economical advancement of the country put life and spirit into every thing, and its growing power and renown filled and elevated the national heart. But such periods of quiet and prosperity seem only to be intellectually productive when they have been preceded and ushered in by a time of uncertainty and struggle which has tried men's spirits: the contrast seems to be wanted to make the favourable influences be felt and tell ; or the faculty required must come in part out of the strife and contention. The literature of our Elizabethan age, more emphatically, may be said to have had this double pa
rentage : if that brilliant day was its mother, the previous
THE MIRROR FOR MAGISTRATES.
Our classical Elizabethan poetry and other literature dates only from about the middle of the reign ; whatever was produced in the earlier half of it, constrained, harsh, and immature, still bears upon it the impress of the preceding barbarism. Nearly coincident with its commencement is the first appearance of a singular work, “The Mirror for Magistrates.' It is a collection of narratives of the lives of various remarkable English historical personages, taken, in general, with little more embellishment than their reduction to a metrical form, from the common popular chronicles ; and the idea of it appears to have been borrowed from a Latin work of Boccaccio's, which had been translated and versified many years before by Lydgate, under the title of • The Fall of Princes.' It was planned and begun (it is supposed about the year 1557) by Thomas Sackville, then a very young man, and probably a student of law, afterwards distinguished as a statesman, and ennobled by the titles of Lord Buckhurst and Earl of Dorsct. But Sackville soon found himself obliged to relinquish the execution of his extensive design, which contemplated a survey of the whole range of English history from William the Conqueror to the end of the wars of the Roses, to other hands. The two writers to whom he recommended the carrying on of the work were Richard Baldwynne, who was in orders, and had already published a metrical version of the Song of Solomon, and George Ferrers, who was a person of some rank, having sat in
parliament in the time of Henry VIII., but who had latterly been chiefly known as a composer of occasional interludes for the diversion of the Court. It is a trait of the times that, although a member of Lincoln's Inn, and known both as a legal and an historical author, Ferrers was in 1552-3 appointed by Edward VI. to preside over the Christmas revels at the royal palace of Greenwich, in the office of Lord of Misrule : Stow tells us that upon this occasion he “so pleasantly and wisely behaved himself, that the king had great delight in his pastimes.""* Baldwynne and Ferrers called other writers to their assistance, among whom were Thomas Churchyard, Phair, the translator of Virgil, &c.; and the book, in its first form and extent, was published in a quarto volume in 1559. “ The work,” says Baldwynne, in his Dedication “ To the Nobility” of a subsequent and enlarged edition of it in 1563, was begun and part of it printed in Queen Mary's time, but hindered by the Lord
*“On Monday the 4th of January," the Chronicler adds, " the said Lord of Merry Disports came by water to London, and landed at the Tower-wharf, entered the Tower, and then rode through Tower-street, where he was received by Sergeant Vawce, Lord of Misrule to John Mainard, one of the sherifs of London, and so conducted through the city, with a great company of young lords and gentlemen, to the house of Sir George Barne, Lord Mayor, where he, with the chief of his company, dined, and after had a great banquet, and at his departure the Lord Mayor gave him a standing cup with a cover of silver and gilt, of the value of ten pound, fo: a reward, and also set a hogshead of wine and a barrel of beer at bis gate for his train that followed bin. The residue of his gentlemen and servants dined at other aldermen's houses and with the sherifs, and so departed to the Tower-wharf again, and to the Court by water, to the great commendation of the mayor and aldermen, and highly accepted of the king and council.”
Chancellor that then was ;* nevertheless, through the means of my lord Stafford, † the first part was licensed, and imprinted the first year of the reign of this our most noble and virtuous Queen, and dedicated then to your honours with this preface. Since which time, although I have been called to another trade of life, yet my good Lord Stafford hath not ceased to call upon me to publish so much as I had gotten at other men's hands; so that, through his lordship’s earnest means, I have now set furth another part, containing as little of mine own as the first part doth of other men's.” The Mirror for Magistrates immediately acquired and for a considerable time retained great popularity ; a third edition of it was published in 1571; a fourth, with the addition of a series of new lives from the fabulous history of the early Britons, by John Higgins, in 1574; a fifth, in 1587; a sixth, with further additions in 1610, by Richard Nichols, assisted by Thomas Blenerhasset (whose contributions, however, had been separately printed in 1578). I The copiousness of the plan, into which any narrative might be inserted belonging to either the historical or legendary part of the national annals, and that without any trouble in the way of connexion or adaptation, had made the work a receptacle for the contributions of all the ready versifiers of the day--a common, or parish green, as it were, on which a fair was held to which any one who chose might bring his wares—or rather a sort of continually growing
* He is supposed to mean Dr. Heath, Archbishop of York. Her Small
† Henry Lord Stafford, son and heir of Edward, last Duke of Buckinghamn.
| A reprint of the Mirror for Magistrates, in 2 (sometimes divided into 3) vols. 4to., was brought out by the late Mr. Hazlewood in 1815.