John Skelton: The Critical Heritage

By Anthony S. G.Edwards | Go to book overview
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Skelton’s ‘Against the Scottes’ (printed in Dyce, I, pp. 182-8).

43.

THE ‘QUARTERLY REVIEW’ on DYCE’S EDITION OF SKELTON

1844

This review of Dyce’s edition of Skelton appeared in the ‘Quarterly Review’, LXXIII (March 1844), pp. 510-36. The review is unsigned and its authorship cannot be determined. All the original footnotes have been deleted, as well as small portions of the text.

We opened these volumes with the fear of Pope’s well-known couplet before our eyes—


Chaucer’s worst ribaldry is learned by rote,
And beastly Skelton Heads of Houses quote.

But on such subjects our much-loved Pope was not always just, and sometimes extremely rash. His own purity is not unexceptionable. The worst passages in Chaucer’s bold impersonation of the manners of his time are decent in comparison with a certain shameless imitation of his style; and modest under-graduates might be as much perplexed by some lines of Pope, from the lips of those models of dignified propriety, the Heads of Houses, as by the worst parts of Skelton. Skelton, especially in his gay and frolicsome mood, is no doubt occasionally indelicate, but with none of that deep-seated licentiousness which taints some periods of our literature: and the Laureate of those days may fairly be allowed some indulgence for the manners of his time, when, to judge from the letters of Henry VIII, to Anne Boleyn, there was no very fine sense of propriety even among the highest of the land. Skelton is frequently coarse, as satirists usually are, who, in assailing the coarse vices of a corrupt court and a corrupt clergy, take the privilege of plain-speaking; his invective, especially against his personal enemies, is utterly unscrupulous; he discharges at their unfortunate heads any weapon which may come to hand. When he gets among ale-wives and their crew, his language

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