But I am like the beaten fowl
That from the net escaped,
And thou art like the ravening owl
That all the night hath waked.
And yet at the very time these men were writing there were simple ballad-writers who could have set them an example of simplicity, force, and grandeur.
Compare the futile efforts of these poetasters to kindle themselves by a painted flame, and to be pathetic over the lay figure of a mistress, with the wild vigor and almost fierce sincerity of the ‘Twa Corbies’:—
As I was walking all alone
I heard twa corbies making a moan,
The one unto the other did say,
Where shall we gang dine to-day?
In beyond that old turf dyke
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk and his hound and his lady fair.
His hound is to the hunting gone,
His hawk to fetch the wild fowl home,
His lady has ta'en another mate,
So we may make our dinner sweet.
O'er his white bones as they lie bare
The wind shall blow forevermair.
There was a lesson in rhetoric for our worthy friends, could they have understood it. But they were as much afraid of an attack of nature as of the plague.
Such was the poetical inheritance of style and diction into which Spenser
was born, and which he did more than any one else to redeem from the leaden gripe of vulgar and pedantic conceit.
Sir Philip Sidney
, born the year after him, with a keener critical instinct, and a taste earlier emancipated than his own, would have been, had he lived longer, perhaps even more directly influential in educating the taste and refining the vocabulary of his contemporaries and immediate successors.
The better of his pastoral poems in the ‘Arcadia