John Skelton: The Critical Heritage

By Anthony S. G.Edwards | Go to book overview
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39.

HENRY HALLAM ON SKELTON: ‘CERTAINLY NOT A POET’

1837

From Henry Hallam’s ‘Introduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’ (1837), I, p. 313.

Hallam (1777-1859) was chiefly notable as an historian. His footnotes have been deleted from this selection.

The strange writer, whom we have just mentioned, seems to fall well enough within this decad; though his poetical life was long, if it be true that he received the laureate crown at Oxford in 1483, and was also the author of a libel on Sir Thomas More, ascribed to him by Ellis, which alluding to the Nun of Kent, could hardly be written before 1533. ( 1) But though this piece is somewhat in Skelton’s manner, we find it said that he died in 1529, and it is probably the work of an imitator. Skelton is certainly not a poet, unless some degree of comic humour, and a torrent-like volubility of words in doggrel rhyme, can make one; but this uncommon fertility, in a language so little copious as ours was at that time, bespeaks a mind of some original vigour. Few English writers come nearer in this respect to Rabelais, whom Skelton preceded. His attempts in serious poetry are utterly contemptible, but the satirical lines on Cardinal Wolsey were probably not ineffective. It is impossible to determine whether they were written before 1520. Though these are better known than any poem of Skelton’s, his dirge on Philip Sparrow is the most comic and imaginative.


Note
1
See George Ellis, ‘Specimens of the Early English Poets’ (1790), II; the poem there credited to Skelton is not by him.

-92-

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