Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Cavalier Lyrists > The Caroline lyric
   Decline of the sonnet  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

I. Cavalier Lyrists.

§ 1. The Caroline lyric.

THE early years of the reign of Charles I are made illustrious by a great outburst of song, which is very varied in character, and which suffered no diminution in volume or melody until the sound of the lute was drowned by that of the drum, and love-lyrics to Celia or Anthea gave place to the scurrilous abuse of the Rump-Songs. The true home of this lyric, as of the French Pléiade song of the preceding generation, was the court, where the pastoral fancies and gallant inventions of cavalier poets were promptly set to music by composers in the royal service, and sung before the monarch at Whitehall. But, in the cast of the greatest of these Caroline lyrists, the inspiration spread from court to country, and the most memorable of the Hesperides songs are those which sing of hock-carts, country wakes and Devon maidens going a-maying.   1
  The Caroline lyric, again, is a portion of the great renascence lyric which begins with Surrey and Wyatt, includes the great masters of Elizabethan song and, as Swinburne has finely said, “grows fuller if not brighter through a whole chain of constellations till it culminates in the crowning star of Herrick.” Yet, if the unity of English song from Tottel’s Miscellany to Hesperides is undeniable, it must be acknowledged that, as we pass from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, a certain change of form and temper is apparent. Many of the old melodies pass away, and are replaced by something new and different in character. The Petrarchian influence, which made itself felt, not only in the sonnet sequences, but, also, in the song-books and miscellany lyrics, of the Elizabethan age, loses much of its potency after the year 1600; its chivalrous and dreamy idealism ceases to charm, and there is a return to the greater directness and less ethereal temper of the classical lyric of Anacreon, Catullus and Horace.   2

   Decline of the sonnet  

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