John Skelton: The Critical Heritage

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

47.

JOHN CHURTON COLLINS ON SKELTON

1880

From ‘The English Poets’, edited by Thomas H. Ward (1880), I, pp. 184-5.

The scholar and critic John Churton Collins (1848-1908) contributed these introductory notes to a selection of Skelton’s works.

Skelton’s claims to notice lie not so much in the intrinsic excellence of his work as in the complete originality of his style, in the variety of his powers, in the peculiar character of his satire, and in the ductility of his expression when ductility of expression was unique. His writings, which are somewhat voluminous, may be divided into two great classes—those which are written in his own peculiar measure, and which are all more or less of the same character, and those which are written in other measures and in a different tone. To this latter class belong his serious poems, and his serious poems are now deservedly forgotten. Two of them, however, ‘The Bowge of Court’, a sort of allegorical satire on the court of Henry VIII, and the morality of ‘Magnificence’, which gives him a creditable place among the fathers of our drama, contain some vigorous and picturesque passages which have not been thrown away on his successors. As a lyrical poet Skelton also deserves mention. His ballads are easy and natural, and though pitched as a rule in the lowest key, evince touches of real poetical feeling. When in the other poems his capricious muse breaks out into lyrical singing, as she sometimes does, the note is clear, the music wild and airy. ‘The Garlande of Laurell’ for example contains amid all its absurdities some really exquisite fragments. But it is as the author of ‘The Boke of Colin Cloute’, ‘Why come ye nat to Court’, ‘Ware the Hawke’, ‘The Boke of Philipp Sparowe’, and ‘The Tunnyng of Elinore Rummyng’, that Skelton is chiefly interesting. These poems are all written in that headlong voluble breathless doggrel which, rattling and clashing on through quick-recurring rhymes, through centos of French and Latin, and through every extravagant caprice of expression, has taken from the name of its author the title of Skeltonical verse. The three first poems are satires. ‘Colin Clout’ is a general attack on the ignorance and

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