John Skelton: The Critical Heritage

By Anthony S. G.Edwards | Go to book overview
1931 edition of his works, p. 19.
2
Lambert Simnel, a pretender to the throne of Henry VII, was permitted to survive as Henry’s kitchen boy.

55.

C.S.LEWIS ON SKELTON, ‘THE REALLY GIFTED AMATEUR’

1954

From C.S. Lewis, ‘English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama’ (Oxford, 1954), pp. 133-43.

Lewis (1898-1963) was a distinguished novelist, theological writer and literary critic. The following extract is from his volume contributed to the Oxford History of English Literature. Occasional footnotes have been deleted.

But when all’s said John Skelton (1464?-1529) is the only poet of that age who is still read for pleasure. Skelton was a translator, a laureate of more than one university, tutor to Henry VIII, the satirist and later the client of Wolsey, and a jest-book hero in Elizabethan tradition. Pope’s epithet of ‘beastly’ is warranted by nothing that ought either to attract or repel an adult; Skelton is neither more nor less coarse than dozens of our older comic writers. His humanism is a little more important than his supposed beastliness, but it did not amount to much. It led him to translate ‘Tully’s Familiars’ and (from Poggio’s Latin version) Diodorus Siculus, at some date before 1490. These translations, which still remain in manuscript, are said to abound in neologisms, often successful, and it is plain from such scraps of Skelton’s prose as are accessible in print that he was a lover of ink-horn terms. But his humanism extended only to Latin and he was one of those who opposed the study of Greek at the university and called themselves ‘Trojans’. One of his objections to Greek learning is of great historical interest. He complains that those who learn Greek cannot use it in conversation, cannot say in Greek

How hosteler fetche my hors a botell of hay.

(‘Speeke Parot’, 152.)

-207-

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