A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
THE SCHOOL OF SPENSER AND THE TRIBE OF BEN

THE reign of James I. is not, in mere poetry, quite such a, brilliant period as it is in drama. The full influence of Donne and of Jonson, which combined to produce the exquisite if not extraordinarily strong school of Caroline poets, did not work in it. Of its own bards the best, such as Jonson himself and Drayton, were survivals of the Elizabethan school, and have accordingly been anticipated here. Nevertheless, there were not a few verse-writers of mark who may be most conveniently assigned to this time, though, as was the case with so many of their contemporaries, they had sometimes produced work of note before theaccession of the British Solomon, and sometimes continued to produce it until far into the reign of his son. Especially there are some of much mark who fall to be noticed here, because their work is not, strictly speaking, of the schools that flourished under Elizabeth, or of the schools that flourished under Charles. We shall not find anything of the first interest in them; yet in one way or in another there were few of them who were unworthy to be contemporaries of Shakespere.

Joshua Sylvester is one of those men of letters whom accident rather than property seems to have made absurd. He has existed in English literature chiefly as an Englisher of the Frenchman Du. Bartas, whom an even greater ignorance has chosen to regard as something grotesque. Du Bartas is one of the grandest, if also one

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