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THE early years of the reign of Charles I are made illustrious by a great outburst of song, which is very varied in character, and which suffered no diminution in volume or melody until the sound of the lute was drowned by that of the drum, and love-lyrics to Celia or Anthea gave place to the scurrilous abuse of the RumpSongs. The true home of this lyric, as of the French Pléiade song of the preceding generation, was the court, where the pastoral fancies and gallant inventions of cavalier poets were promptly set to music by composers in the royal service, and sung before the monarch at Whitehall. But, in the case of the greatest of these Caroline lyrists, the inspiration spread from court to country, and the most memorable of the Hesperides songs are those which sing of hock-carts, country wakes and Devon maidens going a-maying.
The Caroline lyric, again, is a portion of the great renascence lyric which begins with Surrey and Wyatt, includes the great masters of Elizabethan song and, as Swinburne has finely said, 'grows fuller if not brighter through a whole chain of constellations till it culminates in the crowning star of Herrick.' Yet, if the unity of English song from Tottel's Miscellany to Hesperides is undeniable, it must be acknowledged that, as we pass from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, a certain change of form and temper is apparent. Many of the old melodies pass away, and are replaced by something new and different in character. The Petrarchian influence, which made itself felt, not only in the sonnet sequences, but, also, in the songbooks and miscellany lyrics, of the Elizabethan age, loses much of its potency after the year 1600; its chivalrous and dreamy idealism ceases to charm, and there is a return to the greater directness and less ethereal temper of the classical lyric of Anacreon, Catullus and Horace.
E. L. VII. CH. I.
The swift decline of the sonnet after the close of the sixteenth century is one of the most remarkable events in the history of the English lyric. The decline was due, in part, to exhaustion; in part, too, to the opposition which the sonnet encountered at the hands of two poets-Jonson and Donne-the impress of whose genius is felt in English poetry far into the seventeenth century. Donne's war upon Petrarchianism, and his creation of a love-lyric which, in its individuality and plangent realism, as well as in the 'metaphysical' qualities of its style, was directly opposed to the visionary romanticism and Italian grace of the sonnet, has been the theme of a preceding chapter'; but the influence of Donne upon the secular lyric of the Caroline age, though apparent enough in Suckling, was less penetrating than that of his contemporary, Jonson, who, if he joined with Donne in cursing Petrarch 'for redacting verses to sonnets,' would fain have sent the author of Songs and Sonets to Tyburn 'for not keeping of accent.' And, whereas Donne, in the audacity of heady youthfulness, was a law unto himself, in all that pertained to lyric art, Jonson, in poetry as in drama, deliberately set about imitating the best models of the classical muse. In the field of drama, his endeavours met with but partial success; but, in poetry, he was more fortunate, and won for himself, as a reformer of the English lyric, an influence which may even be compared with that of Malherbe in the poetry of seventeenth century France.
The classical lyric, as represented, in particular, by the odes of Anacreon and the songs of Catullus and Horace, had been regarded with due respect already in the early days of the renascence. The Anacreontic temper is seen in such a song as Greene's 'Cupid abroad was lated in the night' from Orpharion (licensed 1589) and in Lodge's Barginet of Antimachus from England's Helicon, while translations or imitations of Anacreon find a place in Canzonets to foure voyces, set to music and published by Giles Farnaby in 1598. Spenser introduces into his gorgeous painting of the Bower of Bliss the theme of Ausonius's famous lyric, Collige, virgo, rosas; and, among many English renderings of Catullus's famous song to Lesbia, Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus, none comes so near to the spirit of the original as Campion's 'My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love.' The influence of Catullus is seen, too, in most of the Elizabethan wedding-odes, while renderings of the famous Integer vitae ode of Horace are frequently met with before 1600. But, until the coming of Ben 1 Vol. IV, chap. XI.
Jonson, the influence of the classical lyric on English poetry was fitful and uncertain. Its supporters, only too often, had followed wandering fires; and, led astray by metrical heresies, their classicism had found expression in the attempt to reproduce in rimeless quantitative verse the sapphic or anacreontic measures of antiquity.
Jonson's attitude towards the classical lyric differed widely from that of his predecessors. Caring nothing at all for quantitative measures, he was conscious, in spite of his Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme, of the value of rime in English lyric verse; what he admired most of all in the lyric of Rome or Greece was its sense of proportion and structural beauty, its restraint, lucidity and concision of style and its freedom from extravagance and mannerism. It is well known that several of his most famous songs are faithful transcripts of classical models; elsewhere-as, for instance, in the songs from The Masque of Augures or from Mercury Vindicated-he reproduces much of the atmosphere of the ancient world. And, even where there is neither direct imitation nor the reproduction of a classic atmosphere, his lyrics, in virtue of their style, show a certain classic feeling, which was immediately recognised by his contemporaries and successors, one of whom, contributing his meed of praise to the dead laureate in Jonsonus Virbius, speaks of his lyrics as
Tuned to the highest key of ancient Rome,
Jonson was the first, and, in some ways, the greatest of English literary dictators, and his influence, during the declining years of his life, upon the circle of poets, dramatists and others who gathered about him in the Apollo chamber of the Devil tavern, at Temple Bar, was of the strongest. It is apparent in the lyrics of the dramas and masques of the Jacobean age. In Elizabethan days, the dramatic lyric, thanks to the 'wood-notes wild' of Shakespearean song, had, in the main, resisted the influence of the Italian art lyric and remained true to the principles of the old folk-song. But, after the withdrawal of Shakespeare from the stage, the classical lyric, as attuned by Ben Jonson, becomes supreme in drama. The later dramatic songs of Heywood and Fletcher, and those of Ford and Shirley, almost without exception, have a classical ring in them, which brings them very near to the manner of Jonson, and removes them far away from the lyrics of Amiens, Feste, or Ariel. And, when we turn from the lyrics in the dramas to those which were sung in the banqueting