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volume of Songes and Sonnettes, dear to the heart of Master Slender.1
Two very marked and contrary features distinguished Wyatt's poetry-the individual energy of his thought, and his persistent imitation of foreign models. The former is what separates him sharply from the poets of the Middle Ages. Hitherto, with the exception of The Canterbury Tales, almost every English poem of importance had been didactic in intention, thereby denoting its clerical source, and symbolical in form, thus revealing the influence of the allegorical method of interpreting Nature and Scripture encouraged in the Church schools. Wyatt, on the other hand, looked at Nature through his own eyes, and sought to express directly the feelings of his own heart. He was a man of many moods and ideas; his compositions include love verses, epigrams, devotional meditations, satires, and in all of these the force and ardour of his thought is sensibly felt. But equally in all of them the poet shows himself to be aware of the imperfection of his native language as an instrument of expression, and submits himself with humility to the superiority of the foreign masters whose manner he seeks to reproduce.
As a metrical innovator Wyatt is specially to be remembered for his attempt to Anglicise the Italian sonnet. The sonnet form was probably originally cultivated in Provence, but as a vehicle of poetical expression it was perfected and its form arbitrarily fixed by Petrarch, who stands for the sonnet in European literature much as Milton stands for
1 Of the various editions of Wyatt's works appearing since that day, by far the most important is the one edited by Dr. G. F. Nott (Surrey and Wyatt, in 2 vols., 1815-16). The text given here differs materially from that found in the Miscellany, for it is based upon Wyatt manuscripts discovered by Nott, and the number of poems is also considerably augmented. The Aldine edition of 1866, with a memoir by T. W[right], has a good reproduction of Holbein's portrait.
blank verse and La Fontaine for fables. Ordinarily Petrarch wrote two kinds of sonnets; they closely resemble each other, and may be called normal types. The Petrarchan sonnet consists of fourteen decasyllabic lines, and is divided into two parts:
(1) The octave of two quatrains, often called the bases of the sonnet. This octave must only have two rhymes, but these two rhymes must be well varied; the eight lines of the octave should also end upon a full-stop or point.
(2) The sextet of six lines, which may have two or three rhymes variously arranged, but always in such a manner as to avoid the formation of a rhyming couplet in the last two lines.
As regards theme, the sonnet must be self-contained and homogeneous. Ordinarily speaking, the first eight lines give a broad exposition of the motive, and the last six a special application of it. In the first eight lines the thought ascends to a climax; in the last six the idea descends to a conclusion.
Nevertheless, by inborn faculty, Wyatt excelled rather in worth of poetic matter than in elegance of form or diction. His best poems are not imitations, but lyrics written for the accompaniment of the lute in simple metrical forms. His best innovation was not the introduction of Italian measures, but the revival of that lyrical mood which had produced some charming snatches of English verse in the thirteenth century, and had then almost entirely died away, Chaucer himself having but a faint touch of it.
The Earl of Surrey was to some extent a disciple of Wyatt, though his poems have none of the vehement individuality and character which distinguish the style of his predecessor. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, was greatgrandson of that Duke of Norfolk ("Dickson of Norfolk ") who fell in the cause of Richard III. at Bosworth
Field. Neither the place nor the exact date of his birth can be settled with precision; but Kenning Hall, in Norfolk, is suggested by his indefatigable biographer, Dr. Nott, as the most probable birthplace, and the year 1516 as the date for his birth best coinciding with the known facts of his career. Surrey was carefully educated, studying classical and modern (Italian) literature, and trying his hand at verse from boyish years. The antiquary Leland was his brother's tutor, and may also have instructed him. He was placed in the Court at the early age of nine as cup-bearer to Henry VIII., and from the age of fifteen he was about that monarch's person. The spirit of poetry was not long in manifesting itself in him, and he associated it, as is familiar to many who have never read a line of his poems, with the lady of the illustrious House of FitzGerald, Earls of Kildare, and since Dukes of Leinster. Dr. Nott pointed out, as detracting somewhat from the romance, that the "fair Geraldine was but a child of six years when the youthful and chivalrous poet adopted her as his "ladie," and celebrated her beauty and virtue in one of the loveliest of our early sonnets.
In April, 1545, Surrey was recalled from his command. in France through the intrigues of the Earl of Hertford (afterwards Protector Somerset). The exposure of Katherine Howard and the ignominy which attached to that connection no doubt rendered Henry exceptionally ready to listen to anything to the discredit of her relatives, and many stories of Surrey's rashness and impulsive nature were current. Both Surrey and his father were on bad terms with Hertford, whom they disliked and despised as the representative of the new nobility, and whom they sought to supplant in the confidence of the King. In August, 1546, Hertford and his friends trumped up a charge against Surrey of quartering the royal arms upon his shield, and of aspiring to the succession upon Henry's
death. Henry was genuinely afraid that Surrey's headstrong nature might lead him to dispute the succession of a boy of ten, and attempt to smash the windows, not of London citizens, but of the Tudor dynasty. Surrey was found guilty on January 15th, 1547, and a week later was brought to the block on Tower Hill. His remains, after interment at Barking All Saints', were eventually deposited at Framlingham.1
As far as regards the subject-matter of his poetry, Surrey must be regarded as the follower of Wyatt. Almost all his poems deal with the subject of love, the fair Geraldine taking the place of the dark-eyed Anna of his predecessor. Ninety-six of his love poems to forty of Wyatt's were included in Tottel's Miscellany of June, 1557. Some of these are irregular sonnets (a great improvement upon those of Wyatt in form of construction, though not based upon the Petrarchan model); others, canzoni composed either in terza rima or in long verses of twelve and fourteen syllables; others, again, in the form of short lyrics.
Perhaps the most important of Surrey's achievements as poetical inventor (and he did much to form the prosody and reform the diction of his day) was the distinction of having been the first to make use in English of decasyllabic blank verse. This he did with daring originality in his translation of two favourite books in Virgil's Eneid-the second with the account of the downfall of Troy, and the fourth containing the Dido episode. In his phraseology and diction Surrey was indebted to Gavin Douglas, and in regard to the innovation of blank verse there is little doubt
1 In addition to Dr. Nott and the authorities cited for Wyatt, the reader must refer to Ed. Bapst's Deur Gentils-hommes Poètes (1891), and to Schipper and J. B. Mayor on Surrey's metres. Certain Bokes of Virgiles Enais, turned into English meter by the right honourable lorde, Henry Earle of Surrey, were printed in black-letter by Richard Tottel, Fleet Street, June, 1557.
that the novelty was suggested by the translation of these same two books of the Æneid by Francesco Maria Molza, published at Venice in 1541. Surrey's Eneid was published after his death in 1557. The selection of heroic verse for the translation was only a natural one, but in making it Surrey was the first Englishman to take the successful venture of employing the verses in simple succession without any connecting rhymes. His Italian predecessor had set him an example in this, and even if Surrey knew not Molza he could not have been unaware of other Italian endeavours of a similar kind, whether in the form of drama or in elegies. He certainly applied the new principle with skill, and showed considerable power over the new instrument by varying the place assigned to the rhythmical pause. It was not, however, until many years later, in the hands of Christopher Marlowe, that the potentialities of this new species of verse could be thoroughly appreciated.