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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 gcnius 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 distinguished 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 phrascology 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
lord Warwick, who died in 1446. MSS.
con, 1393. (ssctflnd priest, 1397. Registr. Gul. Cratsield, abbatis de Bury, MSS Lott. Traen. B. ix. fol. r. 35. 52. Edward came to the crown, 1461. Pitts says, that our author died, 1482. Lydgate, in his PHILOMELA, mentions the death of Henry
history-or an allegory, he writes with facility. His transitions were rapid from works of the most serious and laborious kind to sallies 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 proceffion of pageants from the creation for the festival of Corpus Christi, or a carol for the coronation, Lydgate was consulted and gave the poetry '2
About the year 1430, Whethamstede the learned and liberal abbot of saint 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 saint Paul's, to be inscribed under the representation of DEATH leading all ranks of men about the cloister of their
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 masquerade, anciently celebrated in churches 2, were originally written by one Macaber in German rhymes, and were translated into Latin about the year 1460, by one who calls himself Petrus Desrey Orator. This Latin translation was published by Goldastus, at the end of the SPECULUM OMNIUM STATUUM TOTIUS onnrs TERRARUM compiled by Rodericus Zamorensis, and printed at Hanau in the year 1613 ". But a French translation was made fnuch earlier than the Latin, and written about the walls of saint Innocents cloister at Paris; from which Lydgate formed his English version ".
In the British Museum is a most splendid and elegant: manuscript on vellum, uudoubtedly a present to king Henry the sixth d. It contains a set of Lydgate's poems, in honour of saint Edmund the patron of his monastery at Bury. Besides 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,
1 See supr. vol. i. p. 210. Notes, i'. Westphalia, so early as 1383. At Lubec,
A DANCE or DEATH seems to be alluded to so early as in Pieree Plowman's Vrsrous, written about 1350.
DEATH came driving after and al to dust pashed
Þ In 4to.
= See the DAUNCB or MACABRE, MSS. Harl. 116. 9. fol. 129. And OBSERVATIONS on the FAIRY QQEEN, vol. ii. . 116. seq. The DANCE or DEATH, fal y supposed to have been invented b Holbein, is different from this, thoug founded in the same idea. It was painted by Holbein in the Augustine monastery at Basil, 1543. But it appeared much earlier. In the chronicle of Hartmannus Schedelius, Norimb. 1493. fol. In the ngtidian Offices of the church, Paris, 1515. 8vo. And, in public buildings, at Mmden, in
in the portico of saint Mary's church, 1463.
utenfils, 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 saint Edmund's shrine'. 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 saint 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', I-t is highly probable, that this sumptuous book, the poetry of which was undertaken by Lydgate at the command of abbot Curteis 5, 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 history of saint Edqnund, whom the poet calls the " precious charboncle' of martirs alleh." In some of the prefatory pictures, there is a description and a delineation of two banners, pretended to belong to saint Edmundi. 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 saint, who was a king of the east Angles, against the Danes : and he prophesies, that king Henry, with this ensign, would always return Victorious k. 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.
þi: affistanu in comffliling bi: LIFE, fol. 9.
= There is an ancient drawing, probably
coeval, of Lydgate presenting his poem
called the Pi LG a r m to thecarl of Salisbury, MSS. Harl. 4826. l. lt was written 1426. Another of these drawings will be mentioned below.
s Fol. 6.
t Curteis was abbot of Bury between the years 1429, and 1445. It appears that Lydgate was also commanded, " Late rcharchyd in myn oold days," to make an English metrical translation of De Profundir, &c. To be hung against the walls of the abbey church. MSS. Harl. 2255. 11. fol. 40. See the last stanza.
" The poet's Prayer to saint Edwandflr
in Saxonie whilom ther was a kyng Callid Alkmond of excellent noblesse. It seems to be taken from John of Tinmouth's SANCTlLOGlUM, who flourished about the year 1360. At the end, con
nected with saint Edmund's legend, and a
part os the work, is the lise>of saint Fre-