Originally published as An Incomplete Complete Skelton in ‘Adelphi’, III (1931-2), pp. 146-58. This article is a review of Philip Henderson’s 1931 edition of Skelton.
Graves (1896-) is former Oxford Professor of Poetry and a distinguished poet, scholar and critic.
Mr. Philip Henderson, in the introduction to his edition to ‘The Complete Poems of John Skelton,’ tells that it is only in the last ten years that Skelton has begun to be rediscovered popularly as a poet. The first and the most enthusiastic modern rediscoverer was, let me say at once, myself; and if I had not done so much to create a demand for a Complete Skelton this book would not be here for me to review. So I have no hesitation in complaining on Skelton’s behalf and on my own that Mr. Henderson has bungled his job. I only wish he had bungled it much worse: I have read several reviews of the book and none of the reviewers seem to have realised what is being put over on them. They are just blankly grateful that at last they have a Complete Skelton to fill that blank on their shelves. And so the book will sell and nobody will think of asking for a better one. Except myself.
But first about Skelton. He was born about 1460 and died in 1529. Henry VII made him tutor to Henry, Duke of York, afterwards Henry VIII, for whom he wrote a handbook of princely behaviour called ‘Speculum Principis,’ and who appears to have had great personal fondness for him, making him his Poet Laureate when he succeeded to the throne. Skelton was a famous scholar and a friend of Erasmus. But without pedantry. He was opposed to the Greek cult in the universities because it was too academic:
[Quotes ‘Speak Parrot’, lines 150-2.]
He was Laureate of Oxford, Cambridge and Louvain, an aggressive enemy of Church abuses, rector of Diss in Norfolk, and the only man in England who had the courage to stand up against Cardinal Wolsey when he was at the height of his power and tell him what he really thought of him. For instance, that he was a cur, a butcher’s dog,