The Sonnet-Series (Cont.)

In 1598 appeared Robert Tofte's Alba,1 a series of love songs, in form like Watson's Hekatompathia, but with four quatrains instead of three. The year before, the same poet published a similar series entitled Laura.

1Occasional Issues, iv. p. 12.

2Occasional Issues, xii.

So slight is the merit of both performances, that Alba is considered more important on account of a reference to Love's Labour's Lost.1

In the same year a set of fifteen elegiac sonnets was published by Thomas Rogers on the death of Lady Frances, Countess of Hertford.2 They show the influence of the sonnet-publishing fashion on conventional subject-matter; ten years before it would have taken the form of epitaphs such as are found in the miscellanies.

Perhaps in this record of the sonnet-sequences should be included Sir John Davies' Astroea, 1599. This is a series of twenty-six acrostics in honor of the Queen. The initial letters of each song form the motto "Elisabetha Regina." In this artificial form the poet attains great freedom and grace, and the subjects are fresher, more English, and more song-like than in most of the sonnet-series. Perhaps because of the dainty stanza and the lightly turned compliment, these lyrics often have the quality of society verse. A good example is the sixth, To the Nightingale:--

" Every night from even till morn,

Love's chorister amid the thorn,

Is now so sweete a singer!

So sweet, as for her song, I scorn

Apollo's voice and finger.

But, Nightingale! sith you delight

Ever to watch the starry night,

Tell all the stars of heaven

Heaven never had a star so bright

As now to earth is given!

Royal Astraea makes our day

Eternal, with her beams! nor may

Gross darkness overcome her!

I now perceive why some do write,

'No country hath so short a night

As England hath in summer.'"3

1Ibid., p. 105.

2Included in the Lamport Garland, Chas. Edmonds, The Roxburghe Club, 1881.

3Arber's English Garner, v. p. 566.

The sonnet vogue, however, was nearing its end. The last two sequences were not published until the beginning of the next century, although they were probably written in this decade. Sir William Alexander's Aurora,1 a series of a hundred and six sonnets, not to mention madrigals, so called, sestinas, elegies, and songs, was published in 1604. The sonnets, which followed the Petrarchan model, were devoted to strictly conventional subjects. In the other lyrics, however, the author recalls Barnes by his continual experiments in external verse-form. In all the elegies which are merely love-plaints, the "poulter's measure" is revived--possibly because the poet thought it resembled the classical elegiac meter. The madrigals are irregular lyrics, not at all resembling the Italian form of that name. In the fourth song all the stanzas, which are seven lines long, rime together on the same words.2 This is a variation of the sestina, without the progressive change in the order of the rimes. A still more interesting experiment is the fifth song,3 in which all the rimes are perfect; that is, they have the same form and sound, with a different meaning. The first stanza will be sufficient for illustration:--

"Alongst the borders of a pleasant plaine,

The sad Alexis did his garments teare,

And though alone, yet fearing to be plaine,

Did maime his words with many a sigh and teare:

For whilst he leaned him downe upon a grene,

His wounds began againe for to grow grene."

1Poetical Works, 3 vols., Glasgow, 1870.

2Ibid., i. p. 42.

3Ibid., i. p. 54.