THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.
After the birth of a Chaucer, a Shakspere, or a Milton, it is long before
the genial force of a nation can again culminate in such a triumph: time
is required for the growth of the conditions. Between the birth of
Chaucer and the birth of Shakspere, his sole equal, a period of more than
two centuries had to elapse. It is but small compensation for this, that
the more original, that is simple, natural, and true to his own nature a
man is, the more certain is he to have a crowd of imitators. I do not say
that such are of no use in the world. They do not indeed advance art, but
they widen the sphere of its operation; for many will talk with the man
who know nothing of the master. Too often intending but their own glory,
they point the way to the source of it, and are straightway themselves
Very little of the poetry of the fifteenth century is worthy of a
different fate from that which has befallen it. Possibly the Wars of the
Roses may in some measure account for the barrenness of the time; but I
do not think they will explain it. In the midst of the commotions of the
seventeenth century we find Milton, the only English poet of whom we are
yet sure as worthy of being named with Chaucer and Shakspere.
It is in quality, however, and not in quantity that the period is
deficient. It had a good many writers of poetry, some of them prolific.
John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, a great imitator of Chaucer, was the
principal of these, and wrote an enormous quantity of verse. We shall
find for our use enough as it were to keep us alive in passing through
this desert to the Paradise of the sixteenth century--a land indeed
flowing with milk and honey. For even in the desert of the fifteenth are
spots luxuriant with the rich grass of language, although they greet the
eye with few flowers of individual thought or graphic speech.
Rather than give portions of several of Lydgate's poems, I will give one
entire--the best I know. It is entitled, Thonke God of alle.