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mons before the university of Oxfordm. I will mention one instance of the extreme ignorance of our inferiour clergy about the middle of the sixteenth century. In the year 1570, Horne, bishop of Winchester, enjoined the minor canons of his cathedral to get by memory, every week, one chapter of saint Paul's epistles in Latin : and this formidable task, almost beneath the abilities of an ordinary school-boy, was actually repeated by some of them, before the bishop, dean, and prebendaries, at a public episcopal visitation of that church". It is well known that a set of homilies was published to supply their incapacity in composing sermons: but it should be remembered, that one reason for prescribing this authorised system of doctrine, was to prevent preachers from disturbing the peace of the church by disseminating their own novel and indigested opinions.
The taste for Latin composition in the reign of Elizabeth, notwithstanding it was fashionable both to write and speak in that language, was much worse than in the reign of Henry the Eighth, when juster models were studied, and when the novelty of classical literature excited a general emulation to imitate the Roman authors. The Latinity of Ascham's prose has little elegance. The versification and phraseology of Buchanan's Latin poetry are splendid and sonorous, but not marked with the chaste graces and simple ornaments of the Augustan age. One is surprised to find the learned archbishop Grindal, in the statutes of a school which he founded, and amply endowed, recommending such barbarous and degenerate classics as Palingenius, Sedulius, and Prudentius, to be taught in his new foundation. These, indeed, were the classics of a reforming bishop: but the well-meaning prelate would have contributed much more to the success of his intended reformation, by directing books of better taste and less piety. That classical literature, and the public instruction of youth, were now in the lowest state, we may collect from a provision in archbishop
m Wood, ut supr. i. 285.
Strype's Grindal. B. ij. ch. xvii. Registr. Horne, Episc. Winton. fol. p. 312. This was in 1589. 80. b.
Parker's foundation of three scholarships at Cambridge, in the year 1567. He orders that the scholars, who are appointed to be elected from three the most considerable schools in Kent and Norfolk, shall be “the best and aptest schollers, well instructed in the grammar, and, if it may be, such as can make a verse P.” It became fashionable in this reign to study Greek at court. The maids of honour indulged their ideas of sentimental affection in the sublime contemplation of Plato's Phaedo: and the queen, who understood Greek better than the canons of Windsor, and was certainly a much greater pedant than her successor James the First, translated Isocrates %. But this passion for the Greek language soon ended where it began: nor do we find that it improved the national taste, or influenced the writings, of the age of Elizabeth. .
All changes of rooted establishments, especially of a national religion, are attended with shocks and convulsions, unpropitious to the repose of science and study. But these unavoidable inconveniencies last not long. When the liberal genius of protestantism had perfected its work, and the first fanatacisms of well-meaning but misguided zealots had subsided, every species of useful and elegant knowledge recovered its strength, and arose with new vigour. Acquisitions, whether in theology or humanity, were no longer exclusively confined to the clergy: the laity eagerly embraced those pursuits from which they had long been unjustly restrained: and, soon after the reign of Elizabeth, men attained that state of general improvement, and those situations with respect to literature and life, in which they have ever since persevered.
But it remains to bring home, and to apply, this change in the sentiments of mankind, to our main subject. The customs, institutions, traditions, and religion, of the middle ages, were favorable to poetry. Their pageaunts, processions, spectacles, and ceremonies, were friendly to imagery, to personification and allegory. Ignorance and superstition, so opposite to the
p Blomefield's NORFOLK, i. 224. edit. 1589. And Eristol. lib. i. p. 19. 9 Ascham's SCHOLEMASTER,
real interests of human society, are the parents of imagination. The very devotion of the Gothic times was romantic. The catholic worship, besides that its numerous exteriour appendages were of a picturesque and even of a poetical nature, disposed the mind to a state of deception, and encouraged, or rather authorised, every
species of credulity: its visions, miracles, and legends, propagated a general propensity to the Marvellous, and strengthened the belief of spectres, demons, witches, and incantations. These illusions were heightened by churches of a wonderful mechanism, and constructed on such principles of inexplicable architecture as had a tendency to impress the soul with every false sensation of religious fear, The savage pomp and the capricious heroism of the baronial manners, were replete with incident, adventure, and enterprise: and the intractable genius of the feudal policy, held forth those irregularities of conduct, discordancies of interest, and dissimilarities of situation, that framed rich materials for the minstrel-muse. The tacit compact of fashion, which promotes civility by diffusing habits of uniformity, and therefore destroys peculiarities of character and situation, had not yet operated upon life: nor had domestic convenience abolished unwieldy magnificence. Literature, and a better sense of things, not only banished these barbarities, but superseded the mode of composition which was formed upon them. Romantic poetry gave way to the force of reason and inquiry; as its own inchanted palaces and gardens instantaneously vanished, when the christian champion displayed the shield of truth, and baffled the charm of the necromancer. The study of the classics, together with a colder magic and a tamer mythology, introduced method into composition: and the universal ambition of rivalling those new patterns of excellence, the faultless models of Greece and Rome, produced that bane of invention, IMITATION. Erudition was made to act upon genius. Fancy was weakened by reflection and philosophy. The fashion of treating every thing scientifically, applied speculation and theory to the arts of writing Judgment was advanced above imagination, and rules of
criticism were established. The brave eccentricities of original genius, and the daring hardiness of native thought, were intimidated by metaphysical sentiments of perfection and refinement. Setting aside the consideration of the more solid advantages, which are obvious, and are not the distinct object of our
contemplation at present, the lover of true poetry will ask, what have we gained by this revolution ? It may be answered,
much good sense, good taste, and good criticism. But, in the mean time, we have lost a set of manners, and a system of machinery, more suitable to the purposes of poetry, than those which have been adopted in their place, We have parted with extravagancies that are above propriety, with incredibilities that are more acceptable than truth, and with fictions that are more valuable than reality,
SE C TI O N XXXVII.
OUR communications and intercourse with Italy, which began to prevail about the beginning of the sixteenth century, not only introduced the studies of classical literature into England, but gave a new turn to our vernacular poetry. At this period, Petrarch still continued the most favorite poet of the Italians; and had established a manner, which was universally adopted and imitated by his ingenious countrymen. In the mean time, the courts both of France and England were distinguished for their elegance. Francis the first had changed the state of letters in France, by mixing gallantry with learning, and by admitting the ladies to his court in company with the ecclesiasticsa. His carousals were celebrated with a brilliancy and a festivity unknown to the ceremonious shews of former princes. Henry the Eighth vied with Francis in these gaieties. His ambition, which could not bear a rival even in diversions, was seconded by liberality of disposition and a love of ostentation. For Henry, with many boisterous qualities, was magnificent and affable. Had he never murthered his wives, his politeness
to the fair sex would remain unimpeached. His martial sports were unincumbered by the barbaric pomp of the antient chivalry, and softened by the growing habits of more rational manners. He was attached to those spectacles and public amuscments, in which beauty assumed a principal share; and his frequent masques and tournaments encouraged a high spirit of romantic courtesy. Poetry was the natural accompaniment of these refinements. Henry himself was a leader and a chief character in these pageantries, and at the same time a reader and a writer of verses. The language and the manners of Italy
See supra, p. 239.