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appeared before. He was a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Bury in Suffolk, and an uncommon ornament of his profession. Yet his genius was so lively, and his accomplishments so numerous, that I suspect the holy father saint Benedict would hardly have acknowledged him for a genuine disciple. After a short education at Oxford, he travelled into France and Italy"; and returned a complete master of the language and the literature of both countries. He chiefly studied the Italian and French poets, particularly Dante, Boccacio, and Alain Chartier; and became so diftinguished a proficient in polite learning, that he opened a school in his monastery, for teaching the sons of the nobility the arts of versification, and the elegancies of composition. Yet although philology was his object, he was not unfamiliar with the fashionable philosophy: he was not only a poet and a rhetorician, but a geometrician, an astronomer, a theologist, and a disputant. On the whole I am of opinion, that Lydgate made considerable additions to those amplifications of our language, in which Chaucer, Gower, and Occleve led the way: and that he is the first of our writers whose style is cloathed with that perspicuity, in which the English phraseology appears at this day to an English reader.
To enumerate Lydgate's pieces, would be to write the catalogue of a little library. No poet seems to have possessed a greater versatility of talents. He moves with equal ease in
every mode of composition. His hymns, and his ballads, have the same degree of merit: and whether his subject be the life of a hermit or a hero, of saint Austin or Guy earl of Warwick, ludicrous or legendary, religious or romantic, a
history or an allegory, he writes with facility. His tranfitions' were rapid from works of the most serious and laborious kind to fallies of levity and pieces of popular entertainment. His muse was of universal access; and he was not only the poet of his monastery, but of the world in general. If a disguising was intended by the company of goldsmiths, a mask before his majesty at Eltham, a maygame for the sheriffs and aldermen of London, a mumming before the lord mayor, a procession of pageants from the creation for the festival of Corpus Christi, or a carol for the coronation, Lydgate was consulted and gave the poetry *. About the year 1430,
Whethamstede the learned and liberal abbot of faint Albans, being desirous of familiarising the history of his patron saint to the monks of his convent, employed Lydgate, as it should seem, then a monk of Bury, to translate the Latin legend of his life in English rhymes. The chronicler who records a part of this anecdote seems to consider Lydgate's translation, as a matter of mere manual mechanism; for he adds, that Whethamstede paid for the translation, the writing, and illuminations, one hundred shillings. It was placed before the altar of the saint, which Whethamstede afterwards adorned with much
magnificence, in the abbey church'.
Our author's stanzas, called the DANCE OF Death, which he translated from the French, at the request of the chapter of faint Paul's, to be inscribed under the representation of Death leading all ranks of men about the cloister of their
* See a variety of his pieces of this kind, MSS. Alhmol. 59. ii. Stowe says, that at the reception of Margaret queen of Henry sixth, several pageaunts, the verses by Lydgate, were shewn at Paul's gate, in 1445. Hift. p. 385. See also MSS. Harl. 2251. 118. fol. 250. b. The Coventry Play for Corpus Chrifti day, in the Cotton library, was very probably written by our author. VespaS. D. viii, fol.
y Gest. Joh. Whethamst. ut fupr. p.
cxvi. cxxvii. cxxiv. It is added, that Whethamstede expended on the binding, and other exterior ornaments of the manuscript, upwards of three pounds. Bale and Pitts say, that Whethamstede himself made the translation. p. 584. 630. It is in Trinity college at Oxford, MSS. 10. And in Lincoln cathedral, MSS. I. 57. Among Lydgate's works is recited, Vita S. Albani Martyris ad Joh. FRUMENTARIUM [Whethamftede abbatem.
church in a curious series of paintings, are well known. But their history has not, I believe, yet appeared. These verses, founded on a sort of spiritual mafquerade, anciently celebrated in churches, were originally written by one Macaber in German rhymes, and were translated into Latin about the year 1460, by one who calls himself Petrus Defrey Orator. This Latin translation was published by Goldastus, at the end of the SPECULUM OMNIUM STATUUM TOTIUS ORBIS TERRARUM compiled by Rodericus Zamorenfis, and printed at Hanau in the year 1613°. But a French translation was made much earlier than the Latin, and written about the walls of saint Innocents cloister at Paris; from which Lydgate formed his English version or
In the British Museum is a most splendid and elegant manuscript on vellum, undoubtedly a present to king Henry the sixth. It contains a set of Lydgate's poems, in honour of saint Edmund the patron of his monastery at Bury. Be-sides the decoration of illuminated initials, and one hundred and twenty pictures of various sizes, representing the incidents related in the poetry, executed with the most delicate pencil, and exhibiting the habits, weapons, architecture,
? See supr. vol. i. p. 210. Notes, .
A Dance of Death seems to be al.
b In 4to.
< See the Daunce of MACABRE, MSS. Harl. 116. 9. fol. 129. And OBSERVATIONS on the FAIRY QUEEN, vol. ii.
P 116. feq. The DANCE OF DEATH, fallly supposed to have been invented by Holbein, is different from this, though founded in the same idea. It was painted by Holbein in the Augustine monastery at Bafil, 1543. But it appeared much earlier. In the chronicle of Hartmannus Schede. lius, Norimb. 1493. fol. In the Quotidian Offices of the church, Paris, 1515. 8vo. And, in public buildings, at Minden, in
Westphalia, so early as 1383. At Lubec,
utensils, and many other curious particulars, belonging to the
age of the ingenious illuminator, there are two exquisite portraits of the king, one of William Curteis abbot of Bury, and one of the poet Lydgate kneeling at faint Edmund's shrineo. In one of the king's pictures, he is represented on his throne, crowned, and receiving this volume from the abbot kneeling: in another he appears as a child prostrate on a carpet at faint Edmund's shrine, which is richly delineated, yet without
any idea of perspective or proportion. The figures of a great number of monks, and attendants, are introduced. Among the rest, two noblemen, perhaps the king's uncles, with bonnets, or caps, of an uncommon shape. It appears that our pious monarch kept his Christmas at this magnificent monastery, and that he remained here, in a state of seclusion from the world, and of an exemption from public cares, till the following Easter : and that at his departure he was created a brother of the chapter'. It is highly probable, that this sumptuous book, the poetry of which was undertaken by Lydgate at the command of abbot Curteis, was previously prepared, and presented to his majesty during the royal visit, or very soon afterwards. The substance of the whole work is the life or hiftory of faint Edmund, whom the poet calls the “ precious charboncle of martirs alle h.” In fome of the prefatory pictures, there is a
There is an antient drawing, probably his alliance in compiling bis LIFE, fol. 9. coeval, of Lydgate presenting his poem The history begins thus, fol. 10. b. called the Pilgrim to the.carl of Salisbury, In Saxonie whilom ther was a kyng MSS. Harl. 4826. 1. It was written 1426. Callid Alkmond of excellent nobleffe. Another of these drawings will be men
It seems to be taken from John of Tintioned below.
mouth's SanCTILOGIUM, who flourished f Fol. 6. ¿ Curteis was abbot of Bary between the
about the year 1360. At the end, con
nected with faint Edmund's legend, and a years 1429, and 1445. It appears that Lydgate was also commanded,
part of the work, is the life of saint Fre
mund. fol. 69. b. But Lydgate has made charchyd in myn oold days,” to make an English metrical translation of De Profun
many additions. It begins thus, dis, &c. To be hung against the walls of
Who han remembre the myracles merueilous the abbey church. MSS. Harl. 2255. 11.
Which Crift Jhesu lift for his feyntes fhewe. fol. 40. See the last stanza.
Compare MSS. Harl. 372. 1. 2. fol. 1. "The poet's Prayer to faint Edmund for
25. 43. b.
description and a delineation of two banners, pretended to belong to faint Edmund'. One of these is most brilliantly displayed, and charged with Adam and Eve, the serpent with a human shape to the middle, the tree of life, the holy lamb, and a variety of symbolical ornaments. This banner our bard feigns to have been borne by his faini, who was a king of the east Angles, against the Danes : and he prophesies, that king Henry, with this ensign, would always return victorious". The other banner, given also to saint Edmund, appears to be painted with the arms of our poet's monastery, and its blazoning is thus described.
The other standard, ffeld sable, off colour ynde',
To these annexyd feyth, hope, and charyte,
A sort of office, or service to faint Edmund, consisting of an antiphone, versicle, response, and collect, is introduced with these verses.