Skelton: The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet

Skelton: The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet

Skelton: The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet

Skelton: The Life and Times of an Early Tudor Poet

Excerpt

The dissolving warrior in his iron hat. LAWRENCE DURRELL: Five Soliloquies.

§ 1. SKELTON'S ENGLAND

Most Modern historians begin with the state of of affairs when Skelton died, in 1529. Newness is its keynote. A New World, fabulously rich, unrolling before the astonished eyes of Europe; a New Europe of rival nations, no longer bound by a common loyalty; a New Religion, in which the individual took the place of the group; a New Morality, which accepted a dual standard for public and private life; and a New Learning, spread by the new art of printing, which found a sanction for all these changes in the authors of Greece and Rome. It is easy to pick holes in this jigsaw of impossible novelties; it is even fashionable, to-day, to do so; all the same, it appears to me in its main essentials a just picture. But we are not nearly so well acquainted with the age, in England, that heralded all this newness -- the age in which Skelton spent his days. And to Skelton above all, who cut his poems straight from the living rock, it is impossible to render justice without knowing something of the climate and countryside he worked in.

The date of his birth, as we might expect, is uncertain. There are reasons for putting it about 1460. The year of grace fourteen hundred and sixty. It was just seven years since the Turks had stormed Constantinople, suddenly increasing the drift of Greek scholars to the hungry West. In Italy Botticelli was thirteen, Leonardo a boy of eight; Machiavelli was not to be born for nine years. The German Luther had to wait another twenty-three; the Dutch Erasmus at least six or seven. Our earth was still the centre of the universe, and Rome of Christendom -- western Christendom, that is. The first book had only just been set up in print. America and the Cape were still wrapped in their local mists, unknown to Europe. Western civilisation remained small, compact, stable, and sure of its facts. Slowly, very slowly, France was recovering from the devastation of the Hundred Years' War.

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