by the number and final deadness of his imitators. Shakespeare stands without Shirley. Skelton will always remain an example for poets caught up in the coils of a tradition, a decent way of writing, which they feel to be constricting their lives. It is better, always, to be a buffoon than a bore.
From E.M. Forster’s ‘Two Cheers for Democracy’, first published in 1951. I have followed the text of the Abinger Edition (London, 1972), pp. 133-49.
Forster (1879-1970) was one of the most distinguished novelists of the twentieth century. His novels include ‘The Longest Journey’ (1907), ‘Howards End’ (1920) and ‘A Passage to India’ (1924). In addition he wrote volumes of biography and criticism. The lecture printed below was first given at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1950.
John Skelton was an East Anglian; he was a poet, also a clergyman, and he was extremely strange. Partly strange because the age in which he flourished—that of the early Tudors—is remote from us, and difficult to interpret. But he was also a strange creature, personally, and whatever you think of him when we’ve finished—and you will possibly think badly of him—you will agree that we have been in contact with someone unusual.
Let us begin with solidity—with the church where he was rector. That still stands; that can be seen and touched, though its incumbent left it over four hundred years ago. He was rector of Diss, a market town which