Part 5 out of 13
name being made of Greek words meaning Cunning Babbler. nearly
all the names of the towns, river, and people of whom Hythlodaye
tells were also made from Greek words and have some meaning. For
instance, Achoriens means people-who-have-no-place-on-earth,
Amaurote a-phantom-city, and so on.
More takes a great deal of trouble to keep up the mystery of this
strange land. It was not wonderful that he should, for under the
pretense of a story he said hard things about the laws and ill-
government of England, things which it was treason to whisper.
In those days treason was a terrible word covering a great deal,
and death and torture were like to be the fate of any one who
spoke his mind too freely.
But More knew that it would be a hard matter to make things
better in England. As he makes Hythlodaye say, it is no use
trying to improve things in a blundering fashion. It is of no
use trying by fear to drive into people's heads things they have
no mind to learn. Neither must you "forsake the ship in a
tempest, because you cannot rule and keep down the winds." But
"you must with a crafty wile and subtile train, study and
endeavour yourself, as much as in you lieth, to handle the matter
wittily and handsomely for the purpose. And that which you
cannot turn to good, so to order it that it be not very bad. For
it is not possible for all things to be well, unless all men were
good: which I think will not be yet in these good many years."
The Utopia is divided into two books. The first and shorter
gives us what we might call the machinery of the tale. It tells
of the meeting with Hythlodaye and More's first talk with him.
It is not until the beginning of the second book that we really
hear about Utopia. And I think if you read the book soon, I
would advise you to begin with the second part, which More wrote
first. In the second book we have most of the story, but the
first book helps us to understand More's own times and explains
what he was trying to do in writing his tale.
At the beginning of this book I told you that we should have to
talk of many books which for the present, at least, you could not
hope to like, but which you must be content to be told are good
and worth reading. I may be wrong, but I think Utopia is one of
these. Yet as Cresacre More, More's great-grandson, speaking of
his great-grandfather's writing, says, he "seasoned always the
troublesomeness of the matter with some merry jests or pleasant
tales, as it were sugar, whereby we drink up the more willingly
these wholesome drugs . . . which kind of writing he hath used in
all his works, so that none can ever by weary to read them,
though they be never so long."
And even if you like the book now, you will both like and
understand it much better when you know a little about politics.
You will then see, too, how difficult it is to know when More is
in earnest and when he is merely poking fun, for More loved to
jest. Yet as his grandson, who wrote a life of him, tells us,
"Whatsoever jest he brought forth, he never laughed at any
himself, but spoke always so sadly, that few could see by his
look whether he spoke in earnest or in jest."
It would take too long to tell all about the wonderful island of
Utopia and its people, but I must tell you a little of it and how
they regarded money. All men in this land were equal. No man
was idle, neither was any man over-burdened with labor, for every
one had to work six hours a day. No man was rich, no man was
poor, for "though no man have anything, yet every man is rich,"
for the State gave him everything that he needed. So money was
hardly of any use, and gold and silver and precious jewels were
"In the meantime gold and silver, whereof money is made, they do
so use, as none of them doth more esteem it, than the very nature
of the thing deserveth. And then who doth not plainly see how
far it is under iron? As without the which men can no better
live than without fire and water; whereas to gold and silver
nature hath given no use that we may not well lack, if that the
folly of men had not set it in higher estimation for the rareness
sake. But, of the contrary part, Nature, as a most tender and
loving mother, hath placed the best and most necessary things
open abroad; as the air, the water, and the earth itself; and
hath removed and hid farthest from us vain and unprofitable
Yet as other countries still prized money, gold and silver was
sometimes needed by the Utopians. But, thought the wise King and
his counselors, if we lock it up in towers and take great care of
it, the people may begin to think that gold is of value for
itself, they will begin to think that we are keeping something
precious from them. So to set this right they fell upon a plan.
It was this. "For whereas they eat and drink in earthen and
glass vessels, which indeed be curiously and properly made, and
yet be of very small value; of gold and silver they make other
vessels that serve for most vile uses, not only in their common
halls, but in every man's private house. Furthermore of the same
metals they make great chains and fetters and gyves, wherein they
tie their bondmen. Finally, whosoever for any offense be
infamed, by their ears hang rings of gold, upon their fingers
they wear rings of gold, and about their necks chains of gold;
and in conclusion their heads be tied about with gold.
"Thus, by all means that may be, they procure to have gold and
silver among them in reproach and infamy. And therefore these
metals, which other nations do as grievously and sorrowfully
forego, as in a manner from their own lives, if they should
altogether at once be taken from the Utopians, no man there would
think that he had lost the worth of a farthing.
"They gather also pearls by the seaside, and diamonds and
carbuncles upon certain rocks. Yet they seek not for them, but
by chance finding them they cut and polish them. And therewith
they deck their young infants. Which, like as in the first years
of their childhood they make much and be fond and proud of such
ornaments, so when they be a little more grown in years and
discretion, perceiving that none but children do wear such toys
and trifles, they lay them away even of their own shamefastness,
without any bidding of their parents, even as our children when
they wax big, do caste away nuts, brooches and dolls. Therefore
these laws and customs, which be so far different from all other
nations, how divers fancies also and minds they do cause, did I
never so plainly perceive, as in the Ambassadors of the
"These Ambassadors came to Amaurote whiles I was there. And
because they came to entreat of great and weighty matters, three
citizens a piece out of every city (of Utopia) were come thither
before them. But all the Ambassadors of the next countries,
which had been there before, and knew the fashions and manners of
the Utopians, among whom they perceived no honour given to
sumptuous and costly apparel, silks to be contemned, gold also to
be infamed and reproachful, were wont to come thither in very
homely and simple apparel. But the Anemolians, because they
dwell far thence, and had very little acquaintance with them,
hearing that they were all apparelled alike, and that very rudely
and homely, thinking them not to have the things which they did
not wear, being therefore more proud than wise, determined in the
gorgeousness of their apparel to represent very gods, and with
the bright shining and glistening of their gay clothing to dazzle
the eyes of the silly poor Utopians.
"So there came in three Ambassadors with a hundred servants all
apparelled in changeable colours; the most of them in silks; the
Ambassadors themselves (for at home in their own country they
were noble men) in cloth of gold, with great chains of gold, with
gold hanging at their ears, with gold rings upon their fingers,
with brooches and aglettes* of gold upon their caps, which
glistered full of pearls and precious stones; to be short,
trimmed and adorned with all those things, which among the
Utopians were either the punishment of bondmen, or the reproach
of infamed persons, or else trifles for young children to play
"Therefore it would have done a man good at his heart to have
seen how proudly they displayed their peacocks' feathers; how
much they made of their painted sheathes; and how loftily they
set forth and advanced themselves, when they compared their
gallant apparel with the poor raiment of the Utopians. For all
the people were swarmed forth into the streets.
"And on the other side it was no less pleasure to consider how
much they were deceived, and how far they missed their purpose;
being contrary ways taken than they thought they should have
been. For to the eyes of all the Utopians, except very few,
which had been in other countries for some reasonable cause, all
that gorgeousness of apparel seemed shameful and reproachful; in
so much that they most reverently saluted the vilest and most
abject of them for lords; passing over the Ambassadors themselves
without any honour; judging them by their wearing of golden
chains to be bondmen.
"Yea, you should have seen children also that had cast away their
pearls and precious stones, when they saw the like sticking upon
the Ambassadors' caps, dig and push their mothers under the
sides, saying thus to them: 'Look, mother, how great a lubber
doth yet wear pearls and precious stones, as though he were a
little child still.'
"But the mother, yea, and that also in good earnest: 'Peace,
son,' saith she, 'I think he be some of the Ambassadors' fools.'
"Some found fault with their golden chains, as to no use nor
purpose; being so small and weak, that a bondman might easily
break them; and again so wide and large that, when it pleased
him, he might cast them off, and run away at liberty whither he
"But when the Ambassadors had been there a day or two, and saw so
great abundance of gold so lightly esteemed, yea, in no less
reproach than it was with them in honour; and, besides that, more
gold in the chains and gyves of one fugitive bondman, than all
the costly ornaments of their three was worth; then began a-bate
their courage, and for very shame laid away all that gorgeous
array whereof they were so proud; and especially when they had
talked familiarly with the Utopians, and had learned all their
fashions and opinions. For they marvel that any man be so
foolish as to have delight and pleasure in the glistering of a
little trifling stone, which may behold any of the stars, or else
the sun itself; or that any man is so mad as to count himself the
nobler for the smaller or finer thread of wool, which self-same
wool (be it now in never so fine a spun thread) did once a sheep
wear, and yet was she all that time no other thing than a sheep."
Chapter XXXVIII THE DEATH OF SIR THOMAS MORE
THERE is much that is quaint, much that is deeply wise, in More's
Utopia, still no one is likely to agree with all he says, or to
think that we could all be happy in a world such as he describes.
For one thing, to those of us who love color it would seem a dull
world indeed were we all forced to dress in coarse-spun, undyed
sheep's wool, and if jewels and gold with all their lovely lights
and gleamings were but the signs of degradation. Each one who
reads it may find something in the Utopia that he would rather
have otherwise. But each one, too, will find something to make
More was not the first to write about a happy land where every
one lived in peace and where only justice reigned. And if he got
some of his ideas of the island from the discoveries of the New
World, he got many more from the New Learning. For long before,
Plato, a Greek writer, had told of a land very like Utopia in his
book called the Republic. And the New Learning had made that
book known to the people of England.
We think of the Utopia as English Literature, yet we must
remember that More wrote it in Latin, and it was not translated
into English until several years after his death. The first
English translation was made by Ralph Robinson, and although
since then there have been other translation which in some ways
are more correct, there has never been one with more charm. For
Robinson's quaint English keeps for us something of the spirit of
More's time and of More's self in a way no modern and more
perfect translation can.
The Utopia was not written for one time or for one people. Even
before it was translated into English it had been translated into
Dutch, Italian, German, and French and was largely read all over
the Continent. It is still read to-day by all who are interested
in the life of the people, by all who think that in "this best of
all possible worlds" things might still be made better.
More wrote many other books both in English and in Latin and
besides being a busy author he led a busy life. For blustering,
burly, selfish King Henry loved the gentle witty lawyer, and
again and again made use of his wits. "And so from time to time
was he by the King advanced, continuing in his singular favour
and trusty service twenty years and above."*
It was not only for his business cleverness that King Henry loved
Sir Thomas. It was for his merry, witty talk. When business was
done and supper-time came, the King and Queen would call for him
"to be merry with them." Thus it came about that Sir Thomas
could hardly ever get home to his wife and children, where he
most longed to be. Then he began to pretend to be less clever
than he was, so that the King might not want so much of his
company. But Henry would sometimes follow More to his home at
Chelsea, where he had built a beautiful house. Sometimes he came
quite unexpectedly to dinner. Once he came, "and after dinner,
in a fair garden of his, walked with him by the space of an hour,
holding his arm about his neck." As soon as the King was gone,
More's son-in-law said to him that he should be happy seeing the
King was so friendly with him, for with no other man was he so
familiar, not even with Wolsey.
"I thank our Lord," answered More, "I find in his Grace a very
good lord indeed, and I believe he doth as singularly favour me
as any subject within the realm. Howbeit, son Roper, I may tell
thee, I have no cause to be proud thereof, for if my head would
win him a castle in France it should not fail to go."
And Sir Thomas was not wrong. Meanwhile, however, the King
heaped favor upon him. He became Treasurer of the Exchequer,
Speaker of the House of Commons, Chancellor of the Duchy of
Lancaster, and last of all Lord Chancellor of England. This was
a very great honor. And as More was a layman the honor was for
him greater than usual. For he was the first layman to be made
Chancellor. Until then the Chancellor had always been some
More was not eager for these honors. He would much rather have
lived a simple family life, but bluff King Hal was no easy master
to serve. If he chose to honor a man and set him high, that man
could but submit. So, as Erasmus says, More was dragged into
public life and honor, and being thus dragged in troubles were
not slow to follow.
Henry grew tired of his wife, Queen Catherine, but the Pope would
not allow him to divorce her so that he might marry another.
Then Henry quarreled with the Pope. The Pope, he said, should no
longer have power in England. He should no longer be head of the
Church, but the people must henceforth look to the King as such.
This More could not do. He tried to keep out of the quarrel. He
was true to his King as king, but he felt that he must be true to
his religion too. To him the Pope was the representative of
Christ on earth, and he could look to no other as head of the
Church. When first More had come into the King's service, Henry
bade him "first look unto God, and after God unto him." Of this
his Chancellor now reminded him, and laying down his seal of
office he went home, hoping to live the rest of his days in
But that was not to be. "It is perilous striving with princes,"
said a friend. " I would wish you somewhat to incline to the
King's pleasure. The anger of princes is death."
"Is that all?" replied More calmly; "then in good faith the
difference between you and me is but this, that I shall die to-
day and you to-morrow."
So it fell out. There came a day when messengers came to More's
happy home, and the beloved father was led away to imprisonment
For fifteen months he was kept in the Tower. During all that
time his cheerful steadfastness did not waver. He wrote long
letters to his children, and chiefly to Meg, his best-loved
daughter. When pen and ink were taken away from him, he still
wrote with coal. In these months he became an old man, bent and
crippled with disease. But though his body was feeble his mind
was clear, his spirit bright as ever. No threats or promises
could shake his purpose. He could not and would not own Henry as
head of the Church.
At last the end came. In Westminster Hall More was tried for
treason and found guilty. From Westminster through the thronging
streets he was led back again to the Tower. In front of the
prisoner an ax was carried, the edge being turned towards him.
That was the sign to all who saw that he was to die.
As the sad procession reached the Tower Wharf there was a pause.
A young and beautiful woman darted from the crowd, and caring not
for the soldiers who surrounded him, unafraid of their swords and
halberds, she reached the old man's side, and threw herself
sobbing on his breast. In was Margaret, More's beloved daughter,
who, fearing that never again she might see her father, thus came
in the open street to say farewell. She clung to him and kissed
him in sight of all again and again, but no word could she say
save, "Oh, my father! oh, my father!"
Then Sir Thomas, holding her tenderly, comforted and blessed her,
and at last she took her arms from about his neck and he passed
on. But Margaret could not yet leave him. Scarcely had she gone
ten steps than suddenly she turned back. Once more breaking
through the guard she threw her arms about him. Not a word did
Sir Thomas say, but as he held her there the tears fell fast from
his eyes, while from the crowd around broke the sound of weeping.
Even the guards wept for pity. But at last, with full and heavy
hearts, father and daughter parted.
"Dear Meg," Sir Thomas wrote for the last time, "I never liked
your manner better towards me than when you kissed me last. For
I like when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to
look to worldly courtesy."
Next day he died cheerfully as he had lived. To the last he
jested in his quaint fashion. The scaffold was so badly built
that it was ready to fall, so Sir Thomas, jesting, turned to the
lieutenant. "I pray you, Master Lieutenant," he said, "see me
safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself." He
desired the people to pray for him, and having kissed the
executioner in token of forgiveness, he laid his head upon the
block. "So passed Sir Thomas More out of the world to God." His
death was mourned by many far and near. "Had we been master of
such a servant," said the Emperor Charles when he heard of it,
"we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions than
have lost such a worthy counselor."
More died for his faith, that of the Catholic Church. He, as
others, saw with grief that there was much within the Church that
needed to be made better, but he trusted it would be made better.
To break away from the Church, to doubt the headship of the Pope,
seemed to him such wickedness that he hated the Reformers and
wrote against them. And although in Utopia he allowed his happy
people to have full freedom in matters of religion, in real life
he treated sternly and even cruelly those Protestants with whom
he had to deal.
Yet the Reformation was stirring all the world, and while Sir
Thomas More cheerfully and steadfastly died for the Catholic
faith, there were others in England who as cheerfully lived,
worked, and died for the Protestant faith. We have little to do
with these Reformers in this book, except in so far as they touch
our literature, and it is to them that we owe our present Bible.
First William Tyndale, amid difficulties and trials, translated
afresh the New and part of the Old Testament, and died the death
of a martyr in 1536.
Miles Coverdale followed him with a complete translation in
happier times. For Henry VIII, for his own purposes, wished to
spread a knowledge of the Bible, and commanded that a copy of
Coverdale's Bible should be placed in every parish church. And
although Coverdale was not so great a scholar as Tyndale, his
language was fine and stately, with a musical ring about the
words, and to this day we still keep his version of the Psalms in
the Prayer Book.
Other versions of the Bible followed these, until in 1611, in the
reign of James I and VI, the translation which we use to-day was
at length published. That has stood and still stands the test of
time. And, had we no other reason to treasure it, we would still
for its simple musical language look upon it as one of the fine
things in our literature.
BOOKS TO READ
Life of Sir Thomas More (King's Classics, modern English), by W.
Roper (his son-in-law). Utopia (King's Classics, modern
English), translated by R. Robinson. Utopia (old English),
edited by Churton Collins.
Chapter XXXIX HOW THE SONNET CAME TO ENGLAND
UPON a January day in 1527 two gaily decked barges met upon the
Thames. In the one sat a man of forty. His fair hair and beard
were already touched with gray. His face was grave and
thoughtful, and his eyes gave to it a curious expression, for the
right was dull and sightless, while with the left he looked about
him sharply. This was Sir John Russell, gentleman of the Privy
Chamber, soldier, ambassador, and favorite of King Henry VIII.
Fighting in the King's French wars he had lost the sight of his
right eye. Since then he had led a busy life in court and camp,
passing through many perilous adventures in the service of his
master, and now once again by the King's commands he was about to
set forth for Italy.
As the other barge drew near Russell saw that in it there sat
Thomas Wyatt, a young poet and courtier of twenty-three. He was
tall and handsome, and his thick dark hair framed a pale, clever
face which now looked listless. But as his dreamy poet's eyes
met those of Sir John they lighted up. The two men greeted each
other familiarly. "Whither away," cried Wyatt, for he saw that
Russell was prepared for a journey.
"To Italy, sent by the King."
To Italy, the land of Poetry! The idea fired the poet's soul.
"And I," at once he answered, "will, if you please, ask leave,
get money, and go with you."
"No man more welcome," answered the ambassador, and so it was
settled between them. The money and the leave were both
forthcoming, and Thomas Wyatt passed to Italy. This chance
meeting and this visit to Italy are of importance to our
literature, because they led to a new kind of poem being written
in English. This was the Sonnet.
The Sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines, and is perhaps the most
difficult kind of poem to write. It is divided into two parts.
The first part has eight lines and ought only to have two rimes.
That is, supposing we take words riming with love and king for
our rimes, four lines must rime with love and four with king.
The rimes, too, must come in a certain order. The first, fourth,
fifth and eighth lines must rime, and the second, third, sixth,
and seventh. This first part is called the octave, from the
Latin word octo, eight. The second part contains six lines, and
is therefore called the sextet, from the Latin word sex, meaning
six. The sextet may have either two or three rimes, and these
may be arranged in almost any order. But a correct sonnet ought
not to end with a couplet, that is two riming lines. However,
very many good writers in English do so end their sonnets.
As the sonnet is so bound about with rules, it often makes the
thought which it expresses sound a little unreal. And for that
very reason it suited the times in which Wyatt lived. In those
far-off days every knight had a lady whom he vowed to serve and
love. He took her side in every quarrel, and if he were a poet,
or even if he were not, he wrote verses in her honor, and sighed
and died for her. The lady was not supposed to do anything in
return; she might at most smile upon her knight or drop her
glove, that he might be made happy by picking it up. In fact,
the more disdainful the lady might be the better it was, for then
the poet could write the more passionate verses. For all this
love and service was make-believe. It was merely a fashion and
not meant to be taken seriously. A man might have a wife whom he
loved dearly, and yet write poems in honor of another lady
without thought of wrong. The sonnet, having something very
artificial in it, just suited this make-believe love.
Petrarch, the great Italian poet, from whom you remember Chaucer
had learned much, and whom perhaps he had once met, made use of
this kind of poem. In his sonnets he told his love of a fair
lady, Laura, and made her famous for all time.
Of course, when Wyatt came to Italy Petrarch had long been dead.
But his poems were as living as in the days of Chaucer, and it
was from Petrarch's works that Wyatt learned this new kind of
poem, and it was he who first made use of it in English. He,
too, like Petrarch, addressed his sonnets to a lady, and the lady
he took for his love was Queen Anne Boleyn. As he is the first,
he is perhaps one of the roughest of our sonnet writers, but into
his sonnets he wrought something of manly strength. He does not
sigh so much as other poets of the age. He says, in fact, "If I
serve my lady faithfully I deserve reward." Here is one of his
sonnets, which he calls "The lover compareth his state to a ship
in perilous storm tossed by the sea."
"My galléy charged with forgetfulness,
Through sharpe seas in winter's night doth pass,
'Tween rock and rock; and eke my foe (alas)
That is my lord, steereth with cruelness:
And every oar a thought in readiness,
As though that death were light in such a case.
An endless wind doth tear the sail apace,
Of forcéd sighs and trusty fearfulness;
A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain,
Have done the wearied cords great hinderance:
Wreathéd with error and with ignorance;
The stars be his, that lead me to this pain;
Drownéd is reason that should me comfort,
And I remain, despairing of the port."
It is not perfect, it is not even Wyatt's best sonnet, but it is
one of the most simple. To make it run smoothly we must sound
the ed in those words ending in ed as a separate syllable, and we
must put a final e to sharp in the second line and sound that.
Then you see the rimes are not very good. To begin with, the
first eight all have sounds of s. Then "alas" and "pass" do not
rime with "case" and "apace," nor do "comfort" and "port." I
point these things out, so that later on you may see for
yourselves how much more polished and elegant a thing the sonnet
Although Wyatt was our first sonnet writer, some of his poems
which are not sonnets are much more musical, especially some he
wrote for music. Perhaps best of all you will like his satire Of
the mean and sure estate. A satire is a poem which holds up to
scorn and ridicule wickedness, folly, or stupidity. It is the
sword of literature, and often its edge was keen, its point
"My mother's maids when they do sew and spin,
They sing a song made of the fieldish mouse;
That for because her livelod* was but thin
Would needs go see her townish sister's house.
. . . . . . .
'My sister,' quoth she, 'hath a living good,
And hence from me she dwelleth not a mile,
In cold and storm she lieth warm and dry
In bed of down. The dirt doth not defile
Her tender foot; she labours not as I.
Richly she feeds, and at the rich man's cost;
And for her meat she need not crave nor cry.
By sea, by land, of delicates* the most,
Her caterer seeks, and spareth for no peril.
She feeds on boil meat, bake meat and roast,
And hath, therefore, no whit of charge or travail.'
. . . . . . .
So forth she goes, trusting of all this wealth
With her sister her part so for to shape,
That if she might there keep herself in health,
To live a Lady, while her life do last.
And to the door now is she come by stealth,
And with her foot anon she scrapes full fast.
Th' other for fear durst not well scarce appear,
Of every noise so was the wretch aghast.
At last she askéd softly who was there;
And in her language as well as she could,
'Peep,' quoth the other, 'sister, I am here.'
'Peace,' quoth the town mouse, 'why speaketh thou so loud?'
But by the hand she took her fair and well.
'Welcome,' quoth she, 'my sister by the Rood.'
She feasted her that joy it was to tell
The fare they had, they drank the wine so clear;
And as to purpose now and then it fell,
So cheered her with, 'How, sister, what cheer.'
Amid this joy befell a sorry chance,
That welladay, the stranger bought full dear
The fare she had. For as she looked ascance,
Under a stool she spied two flaming eyes,
In a round head, with sharp ears. In France
Was never mouse so feared, for the unwise
Had not ere seen such beast before.
Yet had nature taught her after her guise
To know her foe, and dread him evermore.
The town mouse fled, she knew whither to go;
The other had no shift, but wonders sore,
Fear'd of her life! At home she wished her tho';
And to the door, alas! as she did skip
(The heaven it would, lo, and eke her chance was so)
At the threshold her sill foot did trip;
And ere she might recover it again,
The traitor Cat had caught her by the hip
And made her there against her will remain,
That had forgot her poor surety and rest,
For seeming wealth, wherein she thought to reign."
That is not the end of the poem. Wyatt points the moral.
"Alas," he says, "how men do seek the best and find the worst."
"Although thy head were hooped with gold," thou canst not rid
thyself of care. Content thyself, then, with what is allotted
thee and use it well.
This satire Wyatt wrote while living quietly in the country,
having barely escaped with his life from the King's wrath. But
although he escaped the scaffold, he died soon after in his
King's service. Riding on the King's business in the autumn of
1542 he became overheated, fell into a fever, and died. He was
buried at Sherborne. No stone marks his resting-place, but his
friend and fellow-poet, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, wrote a
"A hea, where Wisdom mysteries did frame;
Whose hammers beat still, in that lively brain,
As on a stithy* where that some work of fame
Was daily wrought, to turn to Britain's gain.
. . . . . . .
A hand, that taught what might be said in rhyme,
That Chaucer reft the glory of his wit.
A mark, the which (unperfected for time)
Some may approach; but never none shall hit!"
BOOKS TO READ
Early Sixteenth-Century Lyrics (Belle Lettres Series), edited by
F. M. Padelford (original spelling).
Chapter XL THE BEGINNING OF BLANK VERSE
THE poet with whose verses the last chapter ended was named Henry
Howard, Earl of Surrey. The son of a noble and ancient house,
Surrey lived a gay life in court and camp. Proud, hot-headed,
quick-tempered, he was often in trouble, more than once in
prison. In youth he was called "the most foolish proud boy in
England," and at the age of thirty, still young and gay and full
of life, he died upon the scaffold. Accused of treason, yet
innocent, he fell a victim to "the wrath of princes," the wrath
of that hot-headed King Henry VIII. Surrey lived at the same
time as Wyatt and, although he was fourteen years younger, was
his friend. Together they are the forerunners of our modern
poetry. They are nearly always spoken of together--Wyatt and
Surrey--Surrey and Wyatt. Like Wyatt, Surrey followed the
Italian poets. Like Wyatt he wrote sonnets; but whereas Wyatt's
are rough, Surrey's are smooth and musical, although he does not
keep the rules about rime endings. One who wrote not long after
the time of Wyatt and Surrey says of them, "Sir Thomas Wyatt, the
elder, and Henry, Earl of Surrey, were the two chieftains, who,
having travelled in Italy, and there tasted the sweet and stately
measures and style of the Italian poesie . . . greatly polished
our rude and homely manner of vulgar poesie from that it had been
before, and for that cause may justly be said the first reformers
of our English metre and syle. . . . I repute them for the two
chief lanterns of light to all others that have since employed
their pens on English poesie."*
*G. Puttenham, Art of English Poesie.
A later writer* has called Surrey the "first refiner" of our
language. And just as there comes a time in our own lives when we
begin to care not only for the story, but for the words in which
a story is told and for the way in which those words are used,
so, too, there comes such a time in the life of a nation, and
this time for England we may perhaps date from Wyatt and Surrey.
Before then there were men who tried to use the best words in the
best way, but they did it unknowingly, as birds might sing. The
language, too, in which they wrote was still a growing thing.
When Surrey wrote it had nearly reached its finished state, and
he helped to finish and polish it.
*W. J. Courthope.
As the fashion was, Surrey chose a lady to whom to address his
verses. She was the little Lady Elizabeth Fitz-Gerald, whose
father had died a broken-hearted prisoner in the Tower. She was
only ten when Surrey made her famous in song, under the name of
Geraldine. Here is a sonnet in which he, seeing the joy of all
nature at the coming of Spring, mourns that his lady is still
"The sweet season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill, and eke the vale,
The nightingale with feathers new she sings:
The turtle to her mate hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale,
The buck in haste his winter coat he flings;
The fishes float with new repaired scale,
The adder all her slough away she lings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flies small;
The busy-bee her honey now she mings;*
Winter is worn that was the flowers' bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs."
Besides following Wyatt in making the sonnet known to English
readers, Surrey was the first to write in blank verse, that is in
long ten-syllabled lines which do not rime. This is a kind of
poetry in which some of the grandest poems in our language are
written, and we should remember Surrey as the first maker of it.
For with very little change the rules which Surrey laid down have
been followed by our best poets ever since, so from the sixteenth
century till now there has been far less change in our poetry
than in the five centuries before. You can see this for yourself
if you compare Surrey's poetry with Layamon's or Langland's, and
then with some of the blank verse near the end of this book.
It was in translating part of Virgil's Aeneid that Surrey used
blank verse. Virgil was an ancient Roman poet, born 70 B. C.,
who in his book called the Aeneid told of the wanderings and
adventures of Aeneas, and part of this poem Surrey translated into
This is how he tells of the way in which Aeneas saved his old
father by carrying him on his shoulders out of the burning town
of Troy when "The crackling flame was heard throughout the walls,
and more and more the burning heat drew near."
"My shoulders broad,
And layéd neck with garments 'gan I spread,
And thereon cast a yellow lion's skin;
And thereupon my burden I receive.
Young Iulus clasped in my right hand,
Followeth me fast, with unequal pace,
And at my back my wife. Thus did we pass
By places shadowed most with the night,
And me, whom late the dart which enemies threw,
Nor press of Argive routs could make amaz'd,
Each whisp'ring wind hath power now to fray,
And every sound to move my doubtful mind.
So much I dread my burden and my fere.*
And now we 'gan draw near unto the gate,
Right well escap'd the danger, as me thought,
When that at hand a sound of feet we heard.
My father then, gazing throughout the dark,
Cried on me, 'Flee, son! they are at hand.'
With that, bright shields, and shene** armours I saw
But then, I know not what unfriendly god
My troubled with from me bereft for fear.
For while I ran by the most secret streets,
Eschewing still the common haunted track,
From me, catif, alas! bereavéd was
Creusa then, my spouse; I wot not how,
Whether by fate, or missing of the way,
Or that she was by weariness retain'd;
But never sith these eyes might her behold.
Nor did I yet perceive that she was lost,
Nor never backward turnéd I my mind;
Till we came to the hill whereon there stood
The old temple dedicated to Ceres.
And when that we were there assembled all,
She was only away deceiving us,
Her spouse, her son, and all her company.
What god or man did I not then accuse,
Near wode *** for ire? or what more cruel chance
Did hap to me in all Troy's overthrow?"
Chapter XLI SPENSER--THE "SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR"
WHEN Henry signed Surrey's death-warrant he himself was near
death, and not many weeks later the proud and violent king met
his end. Then followed for England changeful times. After
Protestant Edward came for a tragic few days Lady Jane. Then
followed the short, sad reign of Catholic Mary, who, dying, left
the throne free for her brilliant sister Elizabeth. Those years,
from the death of King Henry VIII to the end of the first twenty
years of Elizabeth's reign, were years of action rather than of
production. They were years of struggle, during which England
was swayed to and fro in the fight of religions. They were years
during which the fury of the storm of the Reformation worked
itself out. But although they were such unquiet years they were
also years of growth, and at the end of that time there blossomed
forth one of the fairest seasons of our literature.
We call the whole group of authors who sprang up at this time the
Elizabethans, after the name of the Queen in whose reign they
lived and wrote. And to those of us who know even a very little
of the time, the word calls up a brilliant vision. Great names
come crowding to our minds, names of poets, dramatists,
historians, philosophers, divines. It would be impossible to
tell of all in this book, so we must choose the greatest from the
noble array. And foremost among them comes Edmund Spenser, for
"the glory of the new literature broke in England with Edmund
*J. R. Green, History of English People.
If we could stand aside, as it were, and take a wide view of all
our early literature, it would seem as if the names of Chaucer
and Spenser stood out above all others like great mountains. The
others are valleys between. They are pleasant fields in which to
wander, in which to gather flowers, not landmarks for all the
world like Chaucer and Spenser. And although it is easier and
safer for children to wander in the meadows and gather meadow
flowers, they still may look up to the mountains and hope to
climb them some day.
Edmund Spenser was born in London in 1552, and was the son of a
poor clothworker or tailor. He went to school at the Merchant
Taylors' School, which had then been newly founded. That his
father was very poor we know, for Edmund Spenser's name appears
among "certain poor scholars of the schools about London" who
received money and clothes from a fund left by a rich man to help
poor children at school.
When he was about seventeen Edmund went to Cambridge, receiving
for his journey a sum of ten shillings from the fund from which
he had already received help at school. He entered college as a
sizar, that is, in return for doing the work of a servant he
received free board and lodging in his college. A sizar's life
was not always a happy one, for many of the other scholars or
gentlemen commoners looked down upon them because of their
poverty. And this poverty they could not hide, for the sizars
were obliged to wear a different cap and gown from that of the
But of how Spenser fared at college we know nothing, except that
he was often ill and that he made two lifelong friends. That he
loved his university, however, we learn from his poems, when he
tenderly speaks of "my mother Cambridge."* When he left college
Spenser was twenty-three. He was poor and, it would seem, ill,
so he did not return to London, but went to live with relatives
in the country in Lancashire. And there about "the wasteful
woods and forest wide"** he wandered, gathering new life and
strength, taking all a poet's joy in the beauty and the freedom
of a country life, "for ylike to me was liberty and life,"** he
says. And here among the pleasant woods he met a fair lady named
Rosalind, "the widow's daughter of the glen."***
*Faery Queen, book IV canto xi.
**Shepherd's Calendar, December
***The same, April.
Who Rosalind really was no one knows. She would never have been
heard of had not Spenser taken her for his lady and made songs to
her. Spenser's love for Rosalind was, however, more real than
the fashionable poet's passion. He truly loved Rosalind, but she
did not love him, and she soon married some one else. Then all
his joy in the summer and the sunshine was made dark.
"Thus is my summer worn away and wasted,
Thus is my harvest hastened all too rathe;*
The ear that budded fair is burnt and blasted,
And all my hopéd gain it turned to scathe:
Of all the seed, that in my youth was sown,
Was naught but brakes and brambles to be mown."**
**Shepherd's Calendar, December.
At twenty-four life seemed ended, for "Love is a cureless
*Shepherd's Calendar, August.
"Winter is come, that blows the baleful breath,
And after Winter cometh timely death."*
*Shepherd's Calendar, December.
And now, when he was feeling miserable, lonely, desolate an old
college friend wrote to him begging him to come to London.
Spenser went, and through his friend he came to know Sir Philip
Sidney, a true gentleman and a poet like himself, who in turn
made him known to the great Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth's
Spenser thought his heart had been broken and that his life was
done. But hearts do not break easily. Life is not done at
twenty-four. After a time Spenser found that there was still
much to live for. The great Earl became the poet's friend and
patron, and gave him a post as secretary in his house. For in
those days no man could live by writing alone. Poetry was still
a graceful toy for the rich. If a poor man wished to toy with
it, he must either starve or find a rich friend to be his patron,
to give him work to do that would leave him time to write also.
Such a friend Spenser found in Leicester. In the Earl's house
the poor tailor's son met many of the greatest men of the court
of Queen Elizabeth. On the Earl's business he went to Ireland
and to the Continent, seeing new sights, meeting the men and
women of the great world, so that a new and brilliant life seemed
opening for him.
Yet when, a few years later, Spenser published his first great
poem, it did not tell of courts or courtiers, but of simple
country sights and sounds. This book is called the Shepherd's
Calendar, as it contains twelve poems, one for every month of the
In it Spenser sings of his fair lost lady Rosalind, and he
himself appears under the name of Colin Clout. The name is
taken, as you will remember, from John Skelton's poem.
Spenser called his poems Aeclogues, from a Greek word meaning
Goatherds' Tales, "Though indeed few goatherds have to do
herein." He dedicated them to Sir Philip Sidney as "the
president of noblesse and of chivalrie."
"Go, little book: Thy self present,
As child whose parent is unkent,
To him that is the president
Of Noblesse and of Chivalrie;
And if that Envy bark at thee,
As sure it will, for succour flee
Under the shadow of his wing;
And, asked who thee forth did bring;
A shepherd's swain, say, did thee sing,
All as his straying flock he fed;
And when his honour hath thee read
Crave pardon for my hardyhood.
But, if that any ask thy name,
Say, 'thou wert basebegot with blame.'
For thy thereof thou takest shame,
And, when thou art past jeopardy,
Come tell me what was said of mee,
And I will send more after thee."
The Shepherd's Calendar made the new poet famous. Spenser was
advanced at court, and soon after went to Ireland in the train of
the Lord-Deputy as Secretary of State. At that time Ireland was
filled with storm and anger, with revolt against English rule,
with strife among the Irish nobles themselves. Spain also was
eagerly looking to Ireland as a point from which to strike at
England. War, misery, poverty were abroad in all the land. Yet
amid the horrid sights and sounds of battle Spenser found time to
After eight years spent in the north of Ireland, Spenser was
given a post which took him south. His new home was the old
castle of Kilcolman in Cork. It was surrounded by fair wooded
country, but to Spenser it seemed a desert. He had gone to
Ireland as to exile, hoping that it was merely a stepping-stone
to some great appointment in England, whither he longed to
return. Now after eight years he found himself still in exile.
He had no love for Ireland, and felt himself lonely and forsaken
there. But soon there came another great Elizabethan to share
his loneliness. This was Sir Walter Raleigh, who, being out of
favor with his Queen, took refuge in his Irish estates until her
anger should pass.
The two great men, thus alone among the wild Irish, made friends,
and they had many a talk together. There within the gray stone
walls of the old ivy-covered castle Spenser read the first part
of his book, the Faery Queen, to Raleigh. Spenser had long been
at work upon this great poem. It was divided into parts, and
each part was called a book. Three books were now finished, and
Raleigh, loud in his praises of them, persuaded the poet to bring
them over to England to have them published.
In a poem called Colin Clout's come home again, which Spenser
wrote a few years later, he tells in his own poetic way of these
meetings and talks, and of how Raleigh persuaded him to go to
England, there to publish his poem. In Colin Clout Spenser calls
both himself and Raleigh shepherds. For just as at one time it
was the fashion to write poems in the form of a dream, so in
Spenser's day it was the fashion to write poems called pastorals,
in which the authors made believe that all their characters were
shepherds and shepherdesses.
"One day, quoth he, I sat (as was my trade)
Under the foot of Mole, that mountain hoare,
Keeping my sheep amongst the cooly shade,
Of the green alders by the Mulla's* shore:
There a strange shepherd chanst to find me out,
Whether alluréd by my pipe's delight,
Whose pleasing sound y-shrilléd far about,
Or thither led by chance, I know not right:
Whom when I askéd from what place he came,
And how he hight, himself he did y-clep,
The Shepherd of the Ocean by name,
And said he came far from the main sea deep.
He sitting me beside in that same shade,
Provokéd me to play some pleasant fit;**
And, when he heard the music that I made,
He found himself full greatly pleased at it."
Spenser tells then how the "other shepherd" sang:--
"His song was all a lamentable lay,
Of great unkindness, and of usage hard,
Of Cynthia, the Lady of the Sea,
That from her presence faultless him debarred.
. . . . . . .
When thus our pipes we both had wearied well,
And each an end of singing made,
He gan to cast great liking to my lore,
And great disliking to my luckless lot,
That banished had myself, like wight forlore,
Into that waste, where I was quite forgot:
The which to leave henceforth he counselled me,
Unmeet for man in whom was ought regardful,
And wend with him his Cynthia to see,
Whose grace was great, and bounty most rewardful.
. . . . . . .
So what with hope of good, and hate of ill
He me persuaded forth with him to fare."
Queen Elizabeth received Spenser kindly, and was so delighted
with the Faery Queen that she ordered Lord Burleigh to pay the
poet 100 pounds a year.
"What!" grumbled the Lord Treasurer, "it is not in reason. So
much for a mere song!"
"Then give him," said the Queen, "what is reason," to which he
But, says an old writer, "he was so busied, belike about matters
of higher concernment, that Spenser received no reward."* In the
long-run, however, he did receive 50 pounds a year, as much as
400 pounds would be now. But it did not seem to Spenser to be
enough to allow him to give up his post in Ireland and live in
England. So back to Ireland he went once more, with a grudge
in his heart against Lord Burleigh.
Chapter XLII SPENSER--THE "FAERY QUEEN"
SPENSER'S plan for the Faery Queen was a very great one. He
meant to write a poem in twelve books, each book containing the
adventures of a knight who was to show forth one virtue. And if
these were well received he purposed to write twelve more. Only
the first three books were as yet published, but they made him
far more famous than the Shepherd's Calendar had done. For never
since Chaucer had such poetry been written. In the Faery Queen
Spenser has, as he says, changed his "oaten reed" for "trumpets
stern," and sings no longer now of shepherds and their loves, but
of "knights and ladies gentle deeds" of "fierce wars and faithful
The first three books tell the adventures of the Red Cross Knight
St. George, or Holiness; of Sir Guyon, or Temperance; and of the
Lady Britomartis, or Chastity. The whole poem is an allegory.
Everywhere we are meant to see a hidden meaning. But sometimes
the allegory is very confused and hard to follow. So at first,
in any case, it is best to enjoy the story and the beautiful
poetry, and not trouble about the second meaning. Spenser
plunges us at once into the very middle of the story. He begins:
"A gentle Knight was pricking on the plain,
Yelad in mighty arms and silver shield,
Wherein old dints of deep wounds did remain,
The cruel marks of many a bloody field;
Yet arms till that time did he never wield.
His angry steed did chide his foaming bit,
As much disdaining to the curb to yield:
Full jolly knight he seem'd, and fair did sit,
As one for knightly jousts and fierce encounters fit.
But on his breast a bloody cross he bore,
The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweet sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as living ever him ador'd;
Upon his shield the like was also scor'd."
And by the side of this Knight rode a lovely Lady upon a snow-
white ass. Her dress, too, was snow-white, but over it she wore
a black cloak, "as one that inly mourned," and it "seemed in her
heart some hidden care she had."
So the story begins; but why these two, the grave and gallant
Knight and the sad and lovely Lady, are riding forth together we
should not know until the middle of the seventh canto, were it
not for a letter which Spenser wrote to Raleigh and printed in
the beginning of his book. In it he tells us not only who these
two are, but also his whole great design. He writes this letter,
he says, "knowing how doubtfully all allegories may be
construed," and this book of his "being a continued allegory, or
dark conceit," he thought it good to explain. Having told how he
means to write of twenty-four knights who shall represent twenty-
four virtues, he goes on to tell us that the Faery Queen kept her
yearly feast twelve days, upon which twelve days the occasions of
the first twelve adventures happened, which, being undertaken by
twelve knights, are told of in these twelve books.
The first was this. At the beginning of the feast a tall,
clownish young man knelt before the Queen of the Fairies asking
as a boon that to him might be given the first adventure that
might befall. "That being granted he rested him on the floor,
unfit through his rusticity for a better place.
"Soon after entered a fair Lady in mourning weeds, riding on a
white ass with a Dwarf behind her leading a warlike steed, that
bore the arms of a knight, and his spear in the Dwarf's hand.
"She, falling before the Queen of Fairies, complained that her
Father and Mother, an ancient King and Queen had been by a huge
Dragon many years shut up in a brasen Castle, who thence suffered
them not to issue." And therefore she prayed the Fairy Queen to
give her a knight who would slay the Dragon.
Then the "clownish person" started up and demanded the adventure.
The Queen was astonished, the maid unwilling, yet he begged so
hard that the Queen consented. The Lady, however, told him that
unless the armor she had brought would serve him he could not
succeed. But when he put the armor on "he seemed the goodliest
man in all that company, and was well liked of that Lady. And
eftsoons taking on him knighthood, and mounting on that strange
courser, he went forth with her on that adventure, where
beginneth the first book, viz.:
"'A gentle Knight was pricking on the plain,' etc."
The story goes on to tell how the Knight, who is the Red Cross
Knight St. George, and the Lady, who is called Una, rode on
followed by the Dwarf. At length in the wide forest they lost
their way and came upon the lair of a terrible She-Dragon. "Fly,
fly," quoth then the fearful Dwarf, "this is no place for living
"But full of fire and greedy hardiment,
The youthful Knight could not for ought be stayed;
But forth unto the darksome hole he went,
And lookéd in: his glistering armour made
A little glooming light, much like a shade,
By which he saw the ugly monster plain,
Half like a serpent horribly displayed,
But th'other half did woman's shape retain,
Most loathsome, filthy, foul, and full of vile disdain."
There was a fearful fight between the Knight and the Dragon,
whose name is Error, but at length the Knight conquered. The
terrible beast lay dead "reft of her baleful head," and the
Knight, mounting upon his charger, once more rode onwards with
"At length they chanced to meet upon the way
An aged sire, in long black weeds yelad,
His feet all bare, his beard all hoary grey,
And by his belt his book he hanging had,
Sober he seemed, and very sagely sad,
And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent,
Simple in show, and void of malice bad,
And all the way he prayéd, as he went,
And often knocked his breast, as one that did repent."
The Knight and this aged man greeted each other fair and
courteously, and as evening was now fallen the godly father bade
the travelers come to his Hermitage for the night. This the
Knight and Lady gladly did, and soon were peacefully sleeping
beneath the humble roof.
But the seeming godly father was a wicked magician. While his
guests slept he wove evil spells about them, and calling a wicked
dream he bade it sit at the Knight's head and whisper lies to
him. This the wicked dream did till that it made the Knight
believe his Lady to be bad and false. Then early in the morning
the Red Cross Knight rose and, believing his Lady to be unworthy,
he rode sadly away, leaving her alone.
Soon, as he rode along, he met a Saracen whose name was Sansfoy,
or without faith, "full large of limb and every joint he was, and
cared not for God or man a point."
"He had a fair companion of his way,
A goodly Lady clad in scarlet red,
Purfled with gold and pearl of rich assay,
And like a Persian mitre on her head
She wore, with crowns and riches garnishéd,
The which her lavish lovers to her gave;
Her wanton palfrey all was overspread
With tinsell trappings, woven like a wave,
Whose bridle rang with golden bells and bosses brave."
The Red Cross Knight fought and conquered Sansfoy. Then he rode
onward with the dead giant's companion, the lady Duessa, whom he
believed to be good because he was "too simple and too true" to
know her wicked.
Meanwhile Una, forsaken and woeful, wandered far and wide seeking
her lost Knight. But nowhere could she hear tidings of him. At
length one day, weary of her quest, she got off her ass and lay
down to rest in the thick wood, where "her angel's face made a
sunshine in the shady place."
Then out of the thickest of the wood a ramping lion rushed
"It fortuned out of the thickest wood
A ramping Lion rushed suddenly,
Hunting full greedy after savage blood.
Soon as the royal virgin he did spy,
With gaping mouth at her ran greedily
To have at once devoured her tender corse."
But as he came near the sleeping Lady the Lion's rage suddenly
melted. Instead of killing Una, he licked her weary feet and
white hands with fawning tongue. From being her enemy he became
her guardian. And so for many a day the Lion stayed with Una,
guarding her from all harm. But in her wanderings she at length
met with Sansloy, the brother of Sansfoy, who killed the Lion and
carried Una off into the darksome wood.
But here in her direst need Una found new friends in a troupe of
fauns and satyrs who were playing in the forest.
"Whom when the raging Saracen espied,
A rude, misshapen, monstrous rabblement,
Whose like he never saw, he durst not bide,
But got his ready steed, and fast away gan ride."
Then the fauns and satyrs gathered round the Lady, wondering at
her beauty, pitying her "fair blubbered face."
But Una shook with fear. These terrible shapes, half goat, half
human, struck her dumb with horror: "Ne word to peak, ne joint
to move she had."
"The savage nation feel her secret smart
And read her sorrow in her count'nance sad;
Their frowning foreheads with rough horns yelad,
And rustic horror all aside do lay,
And gently grinning shew a semblance glad
To comfort her, and feat to put away."
They kneel upon the ground, they kiss her feet, and at last, sure
that they mean her no harm, Una rises and goes with them.
Rejoicing, singing songs, honoring her as their Queen, waving
branches, scattering flowers beneath her feet, they lead her to
their chief Sylvanus. He, too, receives her kindly, and in the
wood she lives with these wild creatures until there she finds a
new knight named Satyrane, with whom she once more sets forth to
seek the Red Cross Knight.
Meanwhile Duessa had led the Red Cross Knight to the house of
"A stately Palace built of squaréd brick,
Which cunningly was without mortar laid,
Whose walls were high, but nothing strong, nor thick,
And golden foil all over them displayed,
That purest sky with brightness they dismayed.
High lifted up were many lofty towers
And goodly galleries far overlaid,
Full of fair windows, and delightful bowers,
And on the top a dial told the timely hours.
It was a goodly heap for to behold,
And spake the praises of the workman's wit,
But full great pity, that so fair a mould
Did on so weak foundation ever sit;
For on a sandy hill, that still did flit,
And fall away, it mounted was full high,
And every breath of heaven shakéd it;
And all the hinder parts, that few could spy,
Were ruinous and old, but painted cunningly."
Here the Knight met Sansjoy, the third of the Saracen brothers,
and another fearful fight took place.
"The Saracen was stout, and wondrous strong,
And heapéd blows like iron hammers great:
For after blood and vengeance he did long.
The Knight was fierce, and full of youthly heat,
And doubled strokes like dreaded thunder's threat,
For all for praise and honour he did fight.
Both striken strike, and beaten both do beat
That from their shields forth flyeth fiery light,
And helmets hewen deep, show marks of either's might."
At last a charmed cloud hid the Saracen from the Knight's sight.
So the fight ended, and the Knight, sorely wounded, was "laid in
sumptuous bed, where many skilful leeches him abide."
But as he lay there weak and ill the Dwarf came to warn him, for
he had spied
"Where, in a dungeon deep, huge numbers lay
Of caitiff wretched thralls, that wailéd night and day,
. . . . . . .
Whose case when as the careful Dwarf had told,
And made ensample of their mournful sight
Unto his master, he no longer would
There dwell in peril of like painful plight,
But early rose, and ere that dawning light
Discovered had the world to heaven wide,
He by a privy postern took his flight,
That of no envious eyes he might be spied,
For doubtless death ensued, if any him descried."
When the false Duessa discovered that the Red Cross Knight had
fled, she followed him and found him resting beside a fountain.
Not knowing that the water was enchanted, he drank of it, and at
once all his manly strength ebbed away, and he became faint and
feeble. Then, when he was too weak to hold a sword or spear, he
saw a fearful sight:--
"With sturdy steps came stalking in his sight,
An hideous Giant horrible and high,
That with his tallness seemed to threat the sky,
The ground eke groanéd under him for dread;
His living like saw never living eye,
Nor durst behold; his stature did exceed
The height of three the tallest sons of mortal seed."
Towards the Knight, so weak that he could scarcely hold his
sword, this Giant came stalking. Weak as he was, the Knight made
ready to fight. But
"The Giant strake so mainly merciless,
That could have overthrown a stony tower;
And were not heavenly grace that did him bless,
He had been powdered all as thin as flour."
As the Giant struck at him, the Knight leapt aside and the blow
fell harmless. But so mighty was it that the wind of it threw
him to the ground, where he lay senseless. And ere he woke out
of his swoon the Giant took him up, and
"Him to his castle brought with hasty force
And in a dungeon deep him threw without remorse."
Duessa then became the Giant's lady. "He gave her gold and
purple pall to wear," and set a triple crown upon her head. For
steed he gave her a fearsome dragon with fiery eyes and seven
heads, so that all who saw her went in dread and awe.
The Dwarf, seeing his master thus overthrown and made prisoner,
gathered his armor and set forth to tell his evil tidings and
find help. He had not gone far before he met the Lady Una. To
her he told his sad news, and she with grief in her heart turned
with him to find the dark dungeon in which her Knight lay. On
her way she met another knight. This was Prince Arthur. And he,
learning of her sorrow, went with her promising aid. Guided by
the Dwarf they reached the castle of the Giant, and here a
fearful fight took place in which Prince Arthur conquered
Duessa's Dragon and killed the Giant. Then he entered the
"Where living creature none he did espy.
Then gan he loudly through the house to call;
But no man cared to answer to his cry;
There reigned a solemn silence over all,
Nor voice was heard, nor wight was seen in bower or hall.
At last, with creeping crooked pace forth came
An old, old man with beard as white as snow;
That on a staff his feeble steps did frame,
And guide his weary gate both to and fro,
For his eyesight him failéd long ago;
And on his arm a bunch of keys he bore,
The which unuséd rust did overgrow;
Those were the keys of every inner door,
But he could not them use, but kept them still in store."
And what was strange and terrible about this old man was that his
head was twisted upon his shoulders, so that although he walked
towards the knight his face looked backward.
Seeing his gray hairs and venerable look Prince Arthur asked him
gently where all the folk of the castle were.
"I cannot tell," answered the old man. And to every question he
replied, "I cannot tell," until the knight, impatient of delay,
seized the keys from his arm. Door after door the Prince Arthur
opened, seeing many strange, sad sights. But nowhere could he
find the captive Knight.
"At last he came unto an iron door,
That fast was locked, but key found not at all,
Amongst that bunch to open it withal."
But there was a little grating in the door through which Prince
Arthur called. A hollow, dreary, murmuring voice replied. It
was the voice of the Red Cross Knight, which, when the champion
heard, "with furious force and indignation fell" he rent that
iron door and entered in.
Once more the Red Cross Knight was free and reunited to his Lady,
while the false Duessa was unmasked and shown to be a bad old
witch, who fled away "to the wasteful wilderness apace."
But the Red Cross Knight was still so weak and feeble that
Despair almost persuaded him to kill himself. Seeing this, Una
led him to the house of Holiness, where he stayed until once more
he was strong and well. Here he learned that he was St. George.
"Thou," he is told,
"Shalt be a saint, and thine own nation's friend
And patron. Thou St. George shalt calléd be,
St. George of merry England, the sign of victory."
Once more strong of arm, full of new courage, the Knight set
forth with Una, and soon they reached her home, where the
dreadful Dragon raged.
Here the most fierce fight of all takes place. Three days it is
renewed, and on the third day the Dragon is conquered.
"So down he fell, and forth his life did breathe
That vanished into smoke and clouds swift;
So down he fell, that th' earth him underneath
Did groan, as feeble so great load to lift;
So down he fell, as an huge rocky clift
Whose false foundation waves have washed away,
With dreadful poise is from the mainland rift
And rolling down, great Neptune doth dismay,
So down he fell, and like an heapéd mountain lay."
Thus all ends happily. The aged King and Queen are rescued from
the brazen tower in which the Dragon had imprisoned them, and Una
and the Knight are married.
That is the story of the first book of the Faery Queen. In it
Spenser has made great use of the legend of St. George and the
Dragon. The Red Cross of his Knight, "the dear remembrance of
his dying Lord," was in those days the flag of England, and is
still the Red Cross of our Union Jack. And besides the allegory
the poem has something of history in it. The great people of
Spenser's day play their parts there. Thus Duessa, sad to say,
is meant to be the fair, unhappy Queen of Scots, the wicked
magician is the Pope, and so on. But we need scarcely trouble
about all that. I repeat that meantime it is enough for you to
enjoy the story and the poetry.
Chapter XLIII SPENSER--HIS LAST DAYS
THERE are so many books now published which tell the stories of
the Faery Queen, and tell them well, that you may think I hardly
need have told one here. But few of these books give the poet's
own words, and I have told the story here giving quotations from
the poem in the hope that you will read them and learn from them
to love Spenser's own words. I hope that long after you have
forgotten my words you will remember Spenser's, that they will
remain in your mind as glowing word-pictures, and make you
anxious to read more of the poem from which they are taken.
Spenser has been called the poet's poet,* he might also be called
the painter's poet, for on every page almost we find a word-
picture, rich in color, rich in detail. Each person as he comes
upon the scene is described for us so that we may see him with
our mind's eye. The whole poem blazes with color, it glows and
gleams with the glamor of fairyland. Spenser more than any other
poet has the old Celtic love of beauty, yet so far as we know
there was in him no drop of Celtic blood. He loved neither the
Irishman nor Ireland. To him his life there was an exile, yet
perhaps even in spite of himself he breathed in the land of
fairies and of "little people" something of their magic: his
fingers, unwittingly perhaps, touched the golden and ivory gate
so that he entered in and saw.
That it is a fairyland and no real world which Spenser opens to
us is the great difference between Chaucer and him. Chaucer
gives us real men and women who love and hate, who sin and
sorrow. He is humorous, he is coarse, and he is real. Spenser
has humor too, but we seldom see him smile. There are, we may be
glad, few coarse lines in Spenser, but he is artificial. He took
the tone of his time--the tone of pretense. It was the fashion
to make-believe, yet, underneath all the make-believe, men were
still men, not wholly good nor wholly bad. But underneath the
brilliant trappings of Spenser's knights and ladies, shepherds
and shepherdesses, there seldom beats a human heart. He takes us
to dreamland, and when we lay down the book we wake up to real
life. Beauty first and last is what holds us in Spenser's poems-
-beauty of description, beauty of thought, beauty of sound. As
it has been said, "'A thing of beauty is a joy forever,' and that
is the secret of the enduring life of the Faery Queen."*
*Courthorpe, History of English Poetry.
Spenser invented for himself a new stanza of nine lines and made
it famous, so that we call it after him, the Spenserian Stanza.
It was like Chaucer's stanza of seven lines, called the Rhyme
Royal, with two lines more added.
Spenser admired Chaucer above all poets. He called him "The Well
of English undefiled,"* and after many hundred years we still
feel the truth of the description. He uses many of Chaucer's
words, which even then had grown old-fashioned and were little
used. So much is this so that a glossary written by a friend of
Spenser, in which old words were explained, was published with
the Shepherd's Calendar. But whether old or new, Spenser's power
of using words and of weaving them together was wonderful.
*Faery Queen, book VI, canto ii.
He weaves his wonderful words in such wonderful fashion that they
sound like what he describes. Is there anything more drowsy than
his description of the abode of sleep:
"And more, to lull him in his slumber soft,
A trickling stream from high rock tumbling down,
And ever drizzling rain upon the loft
Mix'd with a murmuring wind, much like the sound
Of swarming bees, did cast him in a swound,*
No other noise nor peoples' troublous cries,
As still are wont t' annoy the walled town,
Might there be heard; but careless quiet lies
Wrapt in eternal silence, far from enemies."
So all through the poem we are enchanted or lulled by the glamor
The Faery Queen made Spenser as a poet famous, but, as we know,
it did not bring him enough to live on in England. It did not
bring him the fame he sought nor make him great among the
statesmen of the land. Among the courtiers of Queen Elizabeth he
counted for little. So he returned to Ireland a disappointed
man. It was now he wrote Colin Clout's come home again, from
which I have already given you some quotations. He published
also another book of poems and then he fell in love. He forgot
his beautiful Rosalind, who had been so hard-hearted, and gave
his love to another lady who in her turn loved him, and to whom
he was happily married. This lady, too, he made famous in his
verse. As the fashion was, he wrote to her a series of sonnets,
in one of which we learn that her name was Elizabeth. He writes
to the three Elizabeths, his mother, his Queen, and
"The third, my love, my life's last ornament,
By whom my spirit out of dust was raised."
But more famous still than the sonnets is the Epithalamion or
wedding hymn which he wrote in his lady's honor, and which ever
since has been looked on as the most glorious love-song in the
English language, so full is it of exultant, worshipful
It was now, too, that Spenser wrote Astrophel, a sadly beautiful
dirge for the death of his friend and fellow-poet, Sir Philip
Sidney. He gave his verses as "fittest flowers to deck his
Just before his marriage Spenser finished three more books of the
Faery Queen, and the following year he took them to London to
publish them. The three books were on Friendship, on Justice,
and on Courtesy. They were received as joyfully as the first
three. The poet remained for nearly a year in London still
writing busily. Then he returned to Ireland. There he passed a
few more years, and then came the end.
Ireland, which had always been unquiet, always restless, under
the oppressive hand of England, now broke out into wild
rebellion. The maddened Irish had no love or respect for the
English poet. Kilcolman Castle was sacked and burned, and
Spenser fled with his wife and children to Cork, homeless and
wellnigh ruined. A little later Spenser himself went on to
London, hoping perhaps to better his fortunes, and there in a
Westminster inn, disappointed, ill, shattered in hopes and
health, he lay down to die.
As men count years, he was still young, for he was only forty-
seven. He had dreamed that he had still time before him to make
life a success. For as men counted success in those days,
Spenser was a failure. He had failed to make a name among the
statesmen of the age. He failed to make a fortune, he lived poor
and he died poor. As a poet he was a sublime success. He
dedicated the Faery Queen to Elizabeth "to live with the eternity
of her fame," and it is not too much to believe that even should
the deeds of Elizabeth be forgotten the fame of Spenser will
endure. And the poets of Spenser's own day knew that in him they
had lost a master, and they mourned for him as such. They buried
him in Westminster not far from Chaucer. His bier was carried by
poets, who, as they stood beside his grave, threw into it poems
in which they told of his glory and their own grief. And so they
left "The Prince of Poets in his tyme, whose divine spirit needs
no other witnesse than the workes which he left behind him."*
*The first epitaph engraved on Spenser's tomb.
BOOKS TO READ
Tales from Spenser (Told to Children Series). Una and the Red
Cross Knight, by N. G. Royde Smith (has many quotations). Tales
from the Faerie Queene, by C. L. Thomson (prose). The Faerie
Queene (verse, sixteenth century spelling). Faerie Queene, book
I, by Professor W. H. Hudson. Complete Works (Globe Edition),
edited by R. Morris. Britomart, edited by May E. Litchfield, is
the story of Britomart taken from scattered portions in books
III, IV, and V in original poetry, spelling modernized.
Chapter XLIV ABOUT THE FIRST THEATERS
IN the beginnings of our literature there were two men who, we
might say, were the fountain-heads. These were the gay minstrel
abroad in the world singing in hall and market-place, and the
patient monk at work in cell or cloister. And as year by year
our literature grew, strengthened and broadened, we might say it
flowed on in two streams. It flowed in two streams which were
ever joining, mingling, separating again, for the monk and the
minstrel spoke to man each in his own way. The monk made his
appeal to the eye as with patient care he copied, painted and
made his manuscript beautiful with gold and colors. The minstrel
made his appeal to the ear with music and with song. Then after
a time the streams seemed to join, and the monk when he played
the miracle-plays seemed to be taking the minstrel's part. Here
was an appeal to both the eye and ear. Instead of illuminating
the silent parchment he made living pictures illustrate spoken
words. Then followed a time when the streams once more divided
and church and stage parted. The strolling players and the trade
guilds took the place both of the minstrel and of the monkish
actors, the monk went back once more to his quiet cell, and the
minstrel gradually disappeared.
So year after year went on. By slow degrees times changed, and
our literature changed with the times. But looking backward we
can see that the poet is the development of the minstrel, the
prose writer the development of the monkish chronicler and
copyist. Prose at first was only used for grave matters, for
history, for religious works, for dry treatises which were hardly
literature, which were not meant for enjoyment but only for use
and for teaching. But by degrees people began to use prose for
story-telling, for enjoyment. More and more prose began to be
written for amusement until at last it has quite taken the place
of poetry. Nowadays many people are not at all fond of poetry.
They are rather apt to think that a poetry book is but dull
reading, and they much prefer plain prose. It may amuse those
who feel like that to remember that hundreds of years ago it was
just the other way round. Then it was prose that was considered
dull--hence we have the word prosy.
All poetry was at first written to be sung, sung too perhaps with
some gesture, so that the hearers might the better understand the
story. Then by degrees poets got further and further away from
that, until poets like Spenser wrote with no such idea. But
while poets like Spenser wrote their stories to be read, another
class of poets was growing up who intended their poems to be
spoken and acted. These were the dramatists.
So you see that the minstrel stream divided into two. There was
now the poet who wrote his poems to be read in quiet and the poet
who wrote his, if not to be sung, at least to be spoken aloud.
But there had been, as we have seen, a time when the minstrel and
the monkish stream had touched, a time when the monk, using the
minstrel's art, had taught the people through ear and eye
together. For the idea of the Miracle and Morality plays was,
you remember, to teach. So, long after the monks had ceased to
act, those who wrote poems to be acted felt that they must teach
something. Thus after the Miracle plays came the Moralities,
which sometimes were very long and dull. They were followed by
Interludes which were much the same as Moralities but were
shorter, and as their name shows were meant to come in the middle
of something else, for the word comes from two Latin words,
"inter" between and "ludus" a play. An Interlude may have been
first used, perhaps, as a kind of break in a long feast.
The Miracle plays had only been acted once a year, first by the
monks and later by the trade guilds. But the taste for plays
grew, and soon bands of players strolled about the country acting
in towns and villages. These strolling players often made a good
deal of money. But though the people crowded willingly to see
and hear, the magistrates did not love these players, and they
were looked upon as little better than rogues and vagabonds.
Then it became the fashion for great lords to have their own
company of players, and they, when their masters did not need
them, also traveled about to the surrounding villages acting
wherever they went. This taste for acting grew strong in the
people of England. And if in the life of the Middle Ages there
was always room for story-telling, in the life of Tudor England
there was always room for acting and shows.
These shows were called by various names, Pageants, Masques,
Interludes, Mummings or Disguisings, and on every great or little
occasion there was sure to be something of the sort. If the King
or Queen went on a journey he or she was entertained by pageants
on the way. If a royal visitor came to the court of England
there were pageants in his honor. A birthday, a christening, a
wedding or a victory would all be celebrated by pageants, and in
these plays people of all classes took part. School-children
acted, University students acted, the learned lawyers or Inns of
Court acted, great lords and ladies acted, and even at times the
King and Queen themselves took part. And although many of these
shows, especially the pageants, were merely shows, without any
words, many, on the other hand, had words. Thus with so much
acting and love of acting it was not wonderful that a crowd of
dramatists sprang up.
Then, too, plays began to be divided into tragedies and comedies.
A tragedy is a play which shows the sad side of life and which
has a mournful ending. The word really means a goat-song, and
comes from two Greek words, "tragos" a goat and "ode" a song. It
was so called either because the oldest tragedies were acted
while a goat was sacrificed, or because the actors themselves
wore clothes made of goat-skins. A comedy is a play which shows
the merry side of life and has a happy ending. This word too
comes from two Greek words, "komos," a revel, and "ode," a song.
The Greek word for village is also "komo," so a comedy may at
first have meant a village revel or a merry-making. "Tragedy,"
it has been said, "is poetry in its deepest earnest; comedy is
poetry in unlimited jest."* But the old Moralities were neither
the one nor the other, neither tragedy nor comedy. They did not
touch life keenly enough to awaken horror or pain. They were
often sad, but not with that sadness which we have come to call
tragic, they were often indeed merely dull, and although there
was always a funny character to make laughter, it was by no means
unlimited jest. The Interludes came next, after the Moralities,
with a little more human interest and a little more fun, and from
them it was easy to pass to real comedies.
A play named Ralph Roister Doister is generally looked upon as
the first real English comedy. It was written by Nicholas Udall,
headmaster first of Eton and then of Westminster, for the boys of
one or other school. It was probably for those of Westminster
that it was written, and may have been acted about 1552.
The hero, if one may call him so, who gives his name to the play,
is a vain, silly swaggerer. He thinks every woman who sees him
is in love with him. So he makes up his mind to marry a rich and
beautiful widow named Christian Custance.
Not being a very good scholar, Ralph gets some one else to write
a love-letter for him, but when he copies it he puts all the
stops in the wrong places, which makes the sense quite different
from what he had intended, and instead of being full of pretty
things the letter is full of insults.
Dame Custance will have nothing to say to such a stupid lover, "I
will not be served with a fool in no wise. When I choose a
husband I hope to take a man," she says. In revenge for her
scorn Ralph Roister Doister threatens to burn the dame's house
down, and sets off to attack it with his servants. The widow,
however, meets him with her handmaidens. There is a free fight
(which, no doubt, the schoolboy actors enjoyed), but the widow
gets the best of it, and Ralph is driven off.
Our first real tragedy was not written until ten years after our
first comedy. This first tragedy was written by Thomas Norton
and Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset. It was acted by the
gentlemen of the Inner Temple "before the Queen's most excellent
Majestie in her highness' Court of Whitehall the 18th day of
Chaucer tells us that a tragedy is a story
"Of him that stood in great prosperitie,
And is yfallen out of high degree
Into miserie, and endeth wretchedly."*
*Prologue to the "Monk's Tale," Canterbury Tales.
So our early tragedies were all taken from sad stories in the old
Chronicle histories. And this first tragedy, written by Norton
and Sackville, is called Gorboduc, and is founded upon the legend
of Gorboduc, King of Britain. The story is told, though not
quite in the same way, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, our old friend,
by Matthew of Westminster, and by others of the old chroniclers.
For in writing a poem or play it is not necessary to keep
strictly to history. As Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser's friend,
says: "Do they not know that a tragedy is tied to the laws of
Poesie and not of History, not bound to follow the story, but,
having liberty, either to fain a quite new matter, or to frame
the history to the most tragical convenience?"*
*Sidney, Apologie for Poetrie.
The story goes that Gorboduc, King of Britain, divided his realm
during his lifetime between his sons Ferrex and Porrex. But the
brothers quarreled, and the younger killed the elder. The
mother, who loved her eldest son most, then killed the younger in
revenge. Next the people, angry at such cruelty, rose in
rebellion and killed both father and mother. The nobles then
gathered and defeated the rebels. And lastly, for want of an
heir to the throne, "they fell to civil war," and the land for a
long time was desolate and miserable.
In the play none of these fearful murders happen on the stage.
They are only reported by messengers. There is also a chorus of
old sage men of Britain who, at the end of each act, chant of
what has happened. When you come to read Greek plays you will
see that this is more like Greek than English tragedy, and it
thus shows the influence of the New Learning upon our literature.
But, on the other hand, in a Greek drama there was never more
than one scene, and all the action was supposed to take place on
one day. This was called preserving the unities of time and
place, and no Greek drama which did not observe them would have
been thought good. In Gorboduc there are several scenes, and the
action, although we are not told how long, must last over several
months at least. So that although Gorboduc owed something to the
New Learning, which had made men study Greek, it owed as much to
the old English Miracle plays. Later on when you come to read
more about the history of our drama you will learn a great deal
about what we owe to the Greeks, but here I will not trouble you
You remember that in the Morality plays there was no scenery.
And still, although in the new plays which were now being written
the scene was supposed to change from place to place, there was
no attempt to make the stage look like these places. The stage
was merely a plain platform, and when the scene changed a board
was hung up with "This is a Palace" or "This is a Street" and the
imagination of the audience had to do the rest.
That some people felt the absurdity of this we learn from a book
by Sir Philip Sidney. In it he says, "You shall have Asia of the
one side, and Affrick of the other, and so many other under
kingdoms, that the Player, when he cometh in, must ever begin
with telling where he is, or else the tale will not be conceived.
Now you shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then
we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by, we hear
news of shipwreck in the same place, and then we are to blame if
we accept it not for a Rock. Upon the back of that, comes out a
hideous Monster, with fire and smoke, and then the miserable
beholders are bound to take it for a cave. While in the meantime
two Armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and
then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field!"*
*An Apologie for Poetrie, published 1595.
If the actors of the Elizabethan time had no scenery they made up
for the lack of it by splendid and gorgeous dressing. But it was
the dressing of the day. The play might be supposed to take
place in Greece or Rome or Ancient Britain, it mattered not. The
actors dressed after the fashion of their own day. And neither
actors nor audience saw anything funny in it. To them it was not
funny that an ancient British king should wear doublet and hose,
nor that his soldiers should discharge firearms in a scene
supposed to take place hundreds of years before gunpowder had
been invented. But we must remember that in those days dress
meant much more than it does now. Dress helped to tell the
story. Men then might not dress according to their likes and
dislikes, they were obliged to dress according to their rank.
Therefore it helped the Elizabethan onlooker to understand the
play when he saw a king, a courtier, or a butcher come on to the
stage dressed as he knew a king, a courtier, or a butcher
dressed. Had he seen a man of the sixth century dressed as a man
of the sixth century he would not have known to what class he
belonged and would not have understood the play nearly so well.
But besides having no scenery, the people of England had at first
no theaters. Plays were acted in halls, in the dining-halls of
the great or in the guild halls belonging to the various trades.
It was not until 1575 that the first theater was built in London.
This first theater was so successful that soon another was built
and still another, until in or near London there were no fewer
than twelve. But these theaters were very unlike the theaters we
know now. They were really more like the places where people
went to see cock-fights and bear-baiting. They were round, and
except over the stage there was no roof. The rich onlookers who
could afford to pay well sat in "boxes" on the stage itself, and
the other onlookers sat or stood in the uncovered parts. Part of
a theater is still called the pit, which helps to remind us that
the first theaters may have served as "cock-pits" or "bear-pits"
too as well as theaters. For a long time, too, the theater was a
man's amusement just as bear-baiting or cock-fighting had been.
There were no actresses, the women's parts were taken by boys,
and at first ladies when they came to look on wore masks so that
they might not be known, as they were rather ashamed of being
seen at a theater.
And now that the love of plays and shows had grown so great that
it had been found worth while to build special places in which to
act, you may be sure that there was no lack of play-writers.
There were indeed many of whom I should like to tell you, but in
this book there is no room to tell of all. To show you how many
dramatists arose in this great acting age I will give you a list
of the greatest, all of whom were born between 1552 and 1585.
After Nicholas Udall and Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, the
writers of our first comedy and first tragedy, there came:--
George Peel. Francis Beaumont.
John Lyly. John Fletcher.
Thomas Kyd. John Webster.
Robert Greene. Philip Massinger.
Christopher Marlowe. John Ford.
William Shakespeare. Thomas Heywood.
It would be impossible to tell you of all these, so I shall
choose only two, and first I shall tell you of the greatest of
them--Shakespeare. He shines out from among the others like a
bright star in a clear sky. He is, however, not a lonely star,
for all around him cluster others. They are bright, too, and if
he were not there we might think some of them even very bright,
yet he outshines them all. He forces our eyes to turn to him,
and not only our eyes but the eyes of the whole world. For all
over the world, wherever poetry is read and plays are played, the
name of William Shakespeare is known and reverenced.
Chapter XLV SHAKESPEARE--THE BOY
ONE April morning nearly three hundred and fifty years ago there
was a stir and bustle in a goodly house in the little country
town of Stratford-on-Avon. The neighbors went in and out with
nods and smiles and mysterious whisperings. Then there was a
sound of clinking of glasses and of laughter, for it became known
that to John and Mary Shakespeare a son had been born, and
presently there was brought to be shown to the company "The
infant mewling and puking in the nurse's arms." It was a great
event for the father and mother, something of an event for
Stratford-on-Avon, for John Shakespeare was a man of importance.
He was a well-to-do merchant, an alderman of the little town. He
seems to have done business in several ways, for we are told that
he was a glover, a butcher, and a corn and wool dealer. No doubt
he grew his own corn, and reared and killed his own sheep, making
gloves from the skins, and selling the wool and flesh. His wife,
too, came of a good yeoman family who farmed their own land, and
no doubt John Shakespeare did business with his kinsfolk in both
corn and sheep. And although he could perhaps not read, and
could not write even his own name, he was a lucky business man
and prosperous. So he was well considered by his neighbors and
had a comfortable house in Henley Street, built of rough
plastered stone and dark strong wood work.
And now this April morning John Shakespeare's heart was glad.
Already he had had two children, two little girls, but they had
both died. Now he had a son who would surely live to grow strong
and great, to be a comfort in his old age and carry on his
business when he could no longer work. It was a great day for
John Shakespeare. How little he knew that it was a great day for
all the world and for all time.
Three days after he was born the tiny baby was christened. And
the name his father and mother gave him was William. After this
three months passed happily. Then one of the fearful plagues
which used to sweep over the land, when people lived in dark and
dirty houses in dark and dirty streets, attacked Stratford-on-
Avon. Jolly John Shakespeare and Mary, his wife, must have been
anxious of heart, fearful lest the plague should visit their
home. John did what he could to stay it. He helped the stricken
people with money and goods, and presently the plague passed
away, and the life of the dearly loved little son was safe.
Years passed on, and the house in Henley Street grew ever more
noisy with chattering tongues and pattering feet, until little
Will had two sisters and two brothers to keep him company.
Then, although his father and mother could neither of them write
themselves, they decided that their children should be taught, so
William was sent to the Grammar School. He was, I think, fonder
of the blue sky and the slow-flowing river and the deep dark
woods that grew about his home that of the low-roofed schoolroom.
He went perhaps
"A whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school."
But we do not know. And whether he liked school or not, at least
we know that later, when he came to write plays, he made fun of
schoolmasters. He knew "little Latin and less Greek,"* said a
friend in after life, but then that friend was very learned and
might think "little" that which we might take for "a good deal."
Indeed, another old writer says "he understood Latin pretty
We know little either of Shakespeare's school hours or play
hours, but once or twice at least he may have seen a play or
pageant. His father went on prospering and was made chief
bailiff of the town, and while in that office he entertained