Page images

thology, but they rashly endeavoured to mould the very structure of the English language, in conformity to that of Greece and Rome. The consequence of this absurd attempt was a very frequent use of the most violent inversions, totally foreign to our idiom, and which imparted to composition an air of barbarous and pedantic stiff


These defects, the natural consequence, perhaps, of a peculiar state of literature, must for ever preclude the authors of Elizabeth's reign from being deemed models of style. To their efforts, however, much good may be attributed; the public mind was awakened to a sense of the copiousness, the energy, and strength of its native tongue; the very faults to which we have alluded exhibited these qualities in a remarkable degree; and a wish to polish and refine, to cut off superfluities, and to render diction perspicuous, was soon after displayed, and produced a more accurate attention to selection of words and harmony of arrangement.

We shall begin our series of instances from the middle of Elizabeth's reign, dividing it into three periods; the first extending from 1580 to the restoration in 1660; the second from the restoration to the accession of Queen Anne, in 1702; and the third from this last era to the year 1714,

when ADDISON had published his best productions.

On this plan, the first author of consequence who presents himself, is the heroic SIR PHILIP SIDNEY. Having in 1580 quarrelled with Edward Vere Earl of Oxford, who, from his union with the daughter of Lord Treasurer Cecil, had great influence with the Queen, he retired from court, and during this recess employed his leisure in the composition of a romance, which, under the appellation of Arcadia, was published in 1590, about four years after his decease,

Sir Philip was the most elegant and accomplished character of his day; as a soldier and a scholar he was deemed unrivalled; and the style in which his works are written was considered by his contemporaries as singularly polished and perfect. The following are favourable specimens of the composition of his once celebrated Arcadia, which has undergone fourteen editions, and has prefixed to it not less than forty encomia, all, except one, in Latin verse, from the principal literary characters of the period:

"But within som dayes after, the marriage betweene Argalus and the fair Parthenia being to bee celebrated, Daiphantus and Palladius selling som of their jewels, furnished themselves of very fair apparel, meaning to do honor to their loving host;

who as much for their sakes, as for their marriage, set forth each thing in most gorgeous manner, But all the cost bestowed did not so much enrich, nor all the fine decking so much beautifie, nor all the daintie devices so much delight, as the fairness of Parthenia, the pearl of all the maids of Mantinea: who as shee went to the temple, wherein love and beautie were married; her lips, though they were kept close with modest silence, yet with a pretty kinde of natural swelling, they seemed to invite the guests that look't on them; her cheeks blushing, and withal, when shee was spoken unto, a little smiling, were like roses, when their leaves are with a little breath stirred *."

The imagery in the lines marked by Italics is peculiarly beautiful, nor is the preceding part by any means so quaint and uncouth as the general style of the Arcadia. An ampler extract, however, will be necessary to enable the reader to ascertain the merits and defects of the composition. For this purpose I have selected a description of a stag-chase:

"Then went they together abroad, the good Kalander entertaining them with pleasant discoursing, how well hee loved the sport of hunting when hee was a young man, how much, in the comparison thereof, hee disdained all cham

* Arcadia, tenth edition, 1655, p. 30.

ber delights, that the sun, how great a journey soever hee had to make, could never prevent him with earliness, nor the moon, with her sober countenance, dissuade him from watching till midnight for the deer's feeding! O, said hee, you will never live to my age, without you keep yourselves in breath with exercise, and in heart with joifulness too much thinking doth consume the spirits; and oft it falls out, that while one thinks too much of his doing, hee leavs to do the effect of his thinking. Then spared hee not to remember, how much Arcadia was changed since his youth: activitie and good fellowship beeing nothing in the price it was then held in; but, according to the nature of the old-growing world, still wors and wors. Then would hee tell them stories of such gallants as hee had known: and so with pleasant companie beguiled the time's haste, and shortned the waie's length, till they came to the side of the wood, where the hounds were in couples staying their coming, but with a whining accent craving libertie; many of them in color and marks so resembling, that it shewed they were of one kinde. The huntsmen handsomely attired in their green liveries, as though they were children of summer, with staves in their hands, to beat the guiltless earth, when the hounds were at a fault, and with

horns about their necks, to sound an alarum upon a silly fugitive: the hounds were straight uncoupled; and ere long the stag thought it better to trust to the nimbleness of his feet, then to the slender fortification of his lodging: but even his feet betraied him; for howsoever they went, they themselvs uttered themselvs to the sent of their enemies; who, one taking it of another, and somtimes believing the winde's advertisement, sometimes the view of (their faithful counsellors) the huntsmen, with open mouths then denounced war, when the war was already begun; their crie being composed of so well-sorted mouths, that any man would perceive therein som kinde of proportion, but the skilful woodmen did finde a musicke. Then delight and varietie of opinion drew the horsemen sundry waies, yet cheering their hounds with voice and horn, kept still (as it were) together. The wood seemed to conspire with them against his own citizens, dispersing their nois through all his quarters, and even the nymph Echo left to bewail the loss of Narcissus, and became a hunter. But the stag was in the end so hotly pursued, that (leaving his flight) hee was driven to make courage of despair; and so turning his head, made the houndes with change of speech to testifie that hee was at a bay: as if from hot pur

« PreviousContinue »