By William Minto


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VI.--MICHAEL DRAYTON (1563-1631).

In Spenser's "Colin Clout's Come Home Again," published in 1595, occur four lines that are commonly supposed to refer to Shakespeare--

And there though last not least is Aetion
A gentler shepherd may nowhere be found:
Whose muse, full of high thought's invention,
Doth like himself heroically sound.

A much stronger probability may be made out for Drayton. Drayton made his début as a pastoral poet in 1593, with his "Idea: Shepherd's Garland, fashioned in Nine Eclogues;" and followed this up in 1594 with a body of sonnets--"Idea's Mirror, Amours in Quatorzains"--and the mythological tale of "Endymion and Phoebe." It has been considered conclusive against the probability of his being referred to by Spenser that "he had published nothing in an heroical strain even in 1595;" and that "it would be difficult to assign any meaning to the assertion that his name did, like himself, heroically sound." But Drayton's first publication, "Harmony of the Church," 1591, versified the highest poetry of the Old Testament, and loftily disclaimed all intention of "feeding any vain humour"; while the poetical name that he assumed was Rowland or Roland, the most heroic name in chivalry. Spenser, full as he was of Ariosto, was much more likely to be struck with the heroic sound of Roland than of Shakespeare. Further, the aspiring character of Drayton's muse would seem to have struck other minds than Spenser's. Prefixed to "Endymion and Phoebe" is a commendatory poem containing the following lines:--
Rowland, when first I read thy stately rhymes
In shepherd's weeds when yet thou livedst unknown,

. . . . . . . . . . . .

I then beheld thy chaste Idea's fame
Put on the wings of thy immortal style.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Thy fiery spirit mounts up to the sky,
And what thou writest lives to Eternity.

Drayton did more afterwards to show the loftiness or heroism of his thoughts. His chief productions were--"Mortimeriados" (a poem on the civil wars in the reign of Edward II., recast and published in 1603 under the title of the "Barons' Wars"), 1596; "England's Heroical Epistles" (imaginary letters after the manner of Ovid between lovers celebrated in English history), 1598; "Polyolbion" (a metrical description of England, county by county), eighteen books in 1612, thirty complete in 1622; "The Battle of Agincourt," 1627.

Not much is known of his personal history. He was born at Hartshill, Atherston, Warwickshire, near the river Anker. In one of his poems he speaks of himself as having been a "proper goodly page." His relations with patrons and patronesses are known only from his dedications, which are addressed to various honourable and noble personages. In the course of his numerous publications, he fell out lamentably with the booksellers: in a letter to Drummond, he calls them "a company of base knaves, whom I both scorn and kick at." In person, he was a swart little man, full of energy and an enthusiastic sense of his own powers; erudite, laborious, versatile; noted for the respectability of his life, and distinguished by the ardour of his orthodox and patriotic sentiments. I doubt whether he had any special call to poetry beyond the contagion of circumstances; ambition made his verses. No person with literary gifts could have lived in such an atmosphere without catching something of the poetic frenzy: one could hardly have helped learning how to express the fiery touch of love, and the sweet influences of nature. Drayton has a suspicious pride in the exercise of his gift: originality and versatility are the two qualities that he boasts of, as if he had overmastered the muse by intellectual force rather than won her by natural affinity. Yet he has written some interesting poetry: his "Nymphidia" is a pretty burlesque of love, jealousy, combat, and reconciliation at the Court of Faeryland; his "Polyolbion," a miracle of industry and sustained enthusiasm, contains some fine descriptions; one, at least, of his sonnets (that quoted in Mr Palgrave's "Golden Treasury") is exceedingly happy and ingenious; and his poem on the Battle of Agincourt is vivid, stirring, and filled throughout with the most glowing patriotism. His ode on the Battle of Agincourt is, perhaps, his masterpiece: Mr Swinburne ranks it with Campbell's "Battle of the Baltic," of which it seems to have been the model.

Fair stood the wind for France,
When we our sails advance,
Nor now to prove our chance
Longer not tarry,
But put into the main:
At Kaux the mouth of Seine
With all his warlike train
Landed King Harry.

And taking many a fort
Furnish'd in warlike sort
Coming toward Agincourt
In happy hour;
Skirmishing day by day
With those oppose his way
Whereas the general lay
With all his power.

And ready to be gone,
Armour on armour shone,
Drum unto drum did groan,
To hear was wonder;
That with the cries they make
The very earth did shake;
Trumpet to trumpet spake,
Thunder to thunder.

Well it thine age became,
O noble Erpingham!
That didst the signal frame
Unto the forces;
When from a meadow by,
Like a storm suddenly,
The English archery
Stuck the French horses.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

When down their bows they threw,
And forth their bilboes drew,
And on the French they flew,
No man was tardy.
Arms from the shoulder sent;
Scalps to the teeth were rent;
Down the French peasants went
These were men hardy.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

On happy Crispin day
Fought was the noble fray,
Which Fame did not delay
To England to carry.
O when shall Englishmen
With such acts fill a pen,
Or England breed again
Such a King Harry!

There is something of the same fire in his poem on the same glorious battle, though it is weighted and obscured by the laborious circumstantiality, the industrious particularisation, which is so conspicuous also in his "Polyolbion." He names the various ships, and describes the colours and ensigns of the various companies, with Homeric minuteness and more than Homeric ardour: and realises such scenes as the two camps on the night before the battle with great variety of vivid details. His circumstantiality sometimes has the powerful effect so often remarked in the descriptions of Defoe: for example, the following incidents in the siege of Harfleur:--

Now upon one side you should hear a cry
And all that quarter clouded with a smother;
The like from that against it by and by,
As though the one were echo to the other,
The king and Clarence so their turns can ply;
And valiant Glo'ster shows himself their brother,
Whose mines to the besieged more mischief do,
Than with the assaults above, the other two.

An old man sitting by the fireside
Decrepit with extremity of age,
Stilling his little grandchild when it cried,
Almost distracted with the batteries' rage;
Sometimes doth speak it fair, sometimes doth chide
As thus he seeks its mourning to assuage,
By chance a bullet doth the chimney hit,
Which falling in doth kill both him and it.

Whilst the sad weeping mother sits her down,
To give her little new-born babe the pap,
A luckless quarry, levelled at the town,
Kills the sweet baby sleeping in her lap,
That with the fright she falls into a swoon
From which awaked, and mad with the mishap,
As up a rampier shrieking she doth climb,
Comes a great shot, and strikes her limb from limb.

Whilst a sort run confusedly to quench
Some palace burning, or some fired street,
Called from where they were fighting in the trench,
They in their way with balls of wildfire meet,
So plagued are the miserable French,
Not above head but also under feet;
For the fierce English vow the town to take,
Or of it soon a heap of stones to make.

Hot is the siege, the English coming on
As men so long to be kept out that scorn,
Careless of wounds, as they were made of stone,
As with their teeth the walls they would have torn:
Into a breach who quickly is not gone,
Is by the next behind him overborne;
So that they found a place that gave them way,
They never cared what danger therein lay.

If his sonnets have no great intrinsic interest, they derive a certain adventitious interest from their illustrative bearing on the sonnets of Shakespeare. The following, with its curious points of resemblance to Shakespeare's 144th sonnet--"Two loves I have of comfort and despair"--raises a doubt whether that perplexing sonnet is not more figurative than is commonly supposed. If I am right in my recollection that it did not appear before the edition of 1602, it may have been imitated from Shakespeare's, which appeared in 1599; and at any rate, taken in connection with the last lines of Shakespeare's sonnet, it raises the question whether Shakespeare's worser spirit was so serious an evil as the first part of the sonnet represents.

An evil spirit your beauty haunts me still,
Wherewith, alas! I have been long possesst,
Which ceaseth not to tempt me to each ill,
Nor gives me once but one poor minute's rest:
In me it speaks whether I sleep or wake,
And when by means to drive it out I try,
With greater torments then it me doth take,
And tortures me in most extremity:
Before my face it lays down my despairs
And hastes me on unto a sudden death;
Now tempting me to drown myself in tears
And then in sighing to give up my breath:
Thus am I still provoked to every evil
By this good wicked spirit, sweet angel devil.

In Drayton's sonnets we find several of the conceits that appear in Shakespeare's, such as the warfare between heart and eyes and the play upon the identity of the lover and his beloved; but it may perhaps be more serviceable to quote his version of another commonplace, the promise of immortality to his mistress, to help to correct a vulgar notion that Shakespeare stood alone in the lofty confidence of eternal memory.

How many paltry, foolish, painted things,
That now in coaches trouble every street,
Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!
Where I to thee eternity shall give,
When nothing else remaineth of these days
And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise;
Virgins and matrons reading these my rhymes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story,
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times
To have seen thee, their sex's only glory:
So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng
Still to survive in my immortal song.

Stay, speedy Time, behold before thou pass,
From ago to age, what thou hast sought to see,
One in whom all the excellencies be;
In whom Heaven looks itself as in a glass:
Time, look thou too in this tralucent glass
And thy youth past in this pure mirror see,
As the world's beauty in his infancy,
What it was then, and thou before it was;
Pass on, and to posterity tell this;
Yet see thou tell but truly what hath been:
Say to our nephews, that thou once hast seen
In perfect human shape, all heavenly bliss:
And bid them mourn, nay more, despair with thee
When she is gone, her like again to see.

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