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Surrey, in a dedication to the latter, prefixed to his TRETISE OF NoBILITIE, printed at London in 1543, has mentioned, with the highest commendations, many translations done by Surrey, from the Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish languages. But these it is probable were nothing more than juvenile exercises.
Surrey, for his justness of thought, correctness of style, and purity of expression, may justly be pronounced the first English classical poet. He unquestionably is the first polite writer of love-verses in our language. It must, however, be allowed, that there is a striking native beauty in some of our love-verses written much earlier than Surrey's. But in the most savage ages and countries, rude nature has taught elegance to the lover.
Sir Thomas Wyat Inferior to Surrey as a writer of Sonnets. His
Life. His Genius characterised. Excels in Moral Poetry. With Surrey's Poems, Tottel has joined, in his editions of 1557 and 1565, the Songes and SONNETTES of sir Thomas Wyat the elder, and of Uncertain Auctours.
Wyat was of Allington-castle in Kent, which he magnificently repaired, and educated in both our universities. But his chief and most splendid accomplishments were derived from his travels into various parts of Europe, which he frequently visited in the quality of an envoy. He was endeared to king Henry the Eighth, who did not always act from caprice, for his fidelity and success in the execution of public business, his skill in arms, literature, familiarity with languages, and lively conversation. Wood, who degrades every thing by poverty of style and improper representation, says, that “the king was in a high manner delighted with his witty jestsb." It is not perhaps improbable, that Henry was as much pleased with his repartees as his politics. He is reported to have occasioned the reformation by a joke, and to have planned the fall of cardinal Wolsey by a seasonable story. But he had almost lost his popularity, either from an intimacy with queen Anne
Boleyn, which was called a connection, or the gloomy cabals of bishop Bonner, who could not bear his political superiority. Yet his prudence and integrity, no less than the powers of his oratory, justified his inno
He laments his severe and unjust imprisonment on that trying occasion, in a sonnet addressed to sir Francis Bryan; insinuating his solicitude, that although the wound would be healed, the scar would remain, and that to be acquitted of the accusation would avail but little, while the thoughts of having been accused were still fresh in remembranced. It is a common mistake, that he died abroad of the plague in an embassy to Charles the Fifth. Being sent to conduct that emperor's embassador from Falmouth to London, from too eager and a needless desire of executing his commission with dispatch and punctuality, he caught a fever by riding in a hot day, and in his return died on the road at Shirburn, where he was buried in the great conventual church, in the year 1541. The next year, Leland published a book of Latin verses on his death, with a wooden print of his head prefixed, probably done by Holbein. It will be superfluous to transcribe the panegyrics of his cotemporaries, after the encomium of lord Surrey, in which his amiable character owes more to truth than to the graces of poetry, or to the flattery of friendship*.
We must agree with a critic above quoted, that Wyat cooperated with Surrey, in having corrected the roughness of our poetic style. But Wyat, although sufficiently distinguished from the common versifiers of his age, is confessedly inferior to Surrey in harmony of numbers, perspicuity of expression, and facility of phraseology t. Nor is he equal to Surrey in elegance of sentiment, in nature and sensibility. His feelings are disguised by affectation, and obscured by conceit. His declarations of passion are embarrassed by wit and fancy; and his style is not intelligible, in proportion as it is careless and unadorned. His compliments, like the modes of behaviour in that age, are ceremonious and strained. He has too much art as a lover, and too little as a poet. His gallantries are laboured, and his versification negligent. The truth is, his genius was of the moral and didactic species: and his poems abound more in good sense, satire, and observations on life, than in pathos or imagination. Yet there is a degree of lyric sweetness in the following lines to his luteţ, in which, The lover complaineth the unkindness of his love.
My Lute awake, performe the last Labour, that thou and I shall wast; And end that I have now begonne : And when this
As to be heard where care is none,
The rockes do not so cruelly
Proude of the spoile that thou has gotte
Vengeance shall fall on thy disdaine, That makest but game on earnest paine : Thinke not alone under the sunne Unquit8 to cause thy lovers plaine : Although my lute and I have done.
May chaunce theeb lie withered and olde In winter nightes that are so colde, Plaining in vaine unto the monei: Thy wishes then dare not be tolde : Care then who list, for I have done.
And then may chaunce thee to repent The time that thou hast lost and spent, To cause thy lovers sigh and swowne; Then shalt thou know beautie but lent, And wish and want as I have done.
Now cease my lute, this is the last Labour, that thou and I shall wast; And ended is that that we begonne. Now is this song both sung and past, My lute be still, for I have done.k
count of whom, see the following section.
Our author has more imitations, and even translations, from the Italian poets than Surrey; and he seems to have been more fond of their conceits *. Petrarch has described the perplexities of a lover's mind, and his struggles betwixt hope and despair, a subject most fertile of sentimental complaint, by a combination of contrarieties, a species of wit highly relished by the Italians. I am, says he, neither at peace nor war.
I burn, and I freeze. I soar to heaven, and yet grovel on the earth. I can hold nothing, and yet grasp every thing. My prison is neither shut, nor is it opened. I see without eyes, and I complain without a voice. I laugh, and I weep. I live, and am dead. Laura, to what a condition am I reduced, by your cruelty !
Pace non trovo, e non ho da far guerra ;
E temo, e spero, ed ardo, e'son en un ghiaccio: ,
E nulla stringo, e tutto 'l mondo abraiccio.
Nè per suo mi rittien, ne scioglie il laccio ;
Nì mi vuol vivo, nì mi trae d' impaccio.
E bramo di perir, e cheggio aita ;
Ed ho in odio me stesso, ed amo altrui :
Egualmente mi spiace morte, e vita :
* [These conceits found a later imitator in Cowley.--Ashby.]
1 This passage is taken from Messen Jordi, a Provencial poet of Valencia.
[Mossen, not Messen, Jorge de Sant Jorde (not a Provencial but a Limosin poet, whether of Valencia or Catalonia does not appear), was posterior to Petrarch by almost a couple of centuries. See Sarmiento, § 365. 503. Ritson. MS. note. I am pretty well satisfied, he adds, that no such person as Messen Jordi ever existed, Obs. p. 30. By the late masterly poet and elegant scholar, Thomas Russell, fellow of New Coll. Oxon. the self-satisfaction here expressed by Ritson was left on a shallow basis.
That Mossen (Anglicè m ?) Jordi had more than a poetical existence, is fully ascertained by Velasquez in his “Origines de la Poesia Castellana," 1754: the German translator of which work, in 1769, tells us, that “Jordi signifies George, his family name not being known:" but Gaspar Escolano, in Historia de Valencia, identifies him by saying, “that he composed sonnets, &c. in the Valencian Lemosine language with great applause, and that Petrarch had taken much from
him.” Mr. Russell further observed, that Beuter in his Chronicle was the first who asserted that Jordi lived as early as the year 1250, and that he was imitated by Petrarch in the passage cited in the text : while the marquis de Santillana, who died in 1458, countenanced a different hypothesis, by making Jorden contemporary with himself, according to Sarmiento in his “Memorias para la Poesia :" and if this authority be allowed, Jordi must have imitated Petrarch instead of being copied by him. But in either case the existence of Mossen Jordi is equally proved ; as also the resemblance of the passages, whichever of the two we suppose to have been the original. Camoens also took the hint of a similar epigrammatic sonnet, which is appended to Mr. Russell's able vindication of our poetical historian in the Gent. Mag. for Dec. 1782.—PARK.]
m Sonn. ciii. There is a Sonnet in imitation of this, among those of the Uncertain Auctours at the end of Surrey's Poems, fol. 107. And in Davison's Poems, B. ii. Canzon. viii. p. 108. 4th edit. Lond. 1621. 12mo.
Wyat has thus copied this sonnet of epigrams.
I finde no peace, and all my warre is done:
And my delight is causer of this strife. It was from the capricious and over-strained invention of the Italian poets, that Wyat was taught to torture the passion of love by prolix and intricate comparisons, and unnatural allusions. At one time his love is a galley steered by cruelty through stormy seas and dangerous rocks; the sails torn by the blast of tempestuous sighs, and the cordage consumed by incessant showers of tears: a cloud of grief envelops the stars, reason is drowned, and the haven is at a distance P. At another, it is a spring trickling from the summit of the Alps, which gathering force in its fall, at length overflows all the plain beneath". Sometimes it is a gun, which being overcharged, expands the flame within itself, and bursts in pieces. Sometimes it is like a prodigious mountain, which is perpetually weeping in copious fountains, and sending forth sighs from its forests; which bears more leaves than fruits; which breeds wildbeasts, the proper emblems of rage, and harbours birds that are always singing. In another of his sonnets, he says, that all nature sympa
I joy not peace, where yet no war is found,
I want both eyes and tongue, yet ere I cry,
will; Twixt death and life small difference I
goe. Love will not let me live, nor let me dye, Nor locks me fast, nor suffers me to scape,
4 Fol. 25.
• Fol. 29. * Fol. 36.