Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Critical Introduction by Mary Augusta Ward
Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (15541628)
[Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke was the school-fellow and friend of Sidney. He held two important offices under Elizabeths government, that of Secretary to the Principality of Wales (1583), and that of Treasurer of Marine Causes (1597). He seems to have spent the early years of James reign in retirement, returning to Court about 1614, in which year he was made Chancellor of the Exchequer and Privy Councillor. In 1620 he was created Baron Brooke of Beauchamps Court, and died in 1628 from the effects of a wound given him by a servant. The only works published in his lifetime were an elegiac poem on Sidney in Phnix Nest (1593), a poem in Bodenhams Belvedere (1600), three poems in Englands Helicon, and the Tragedy of Mustapha in 1609. An edition of his works, excluding the Poems of Monarchy and Religion (published 1670) appeared in 1633. In 1870 his complete works, prose and verse, were edited in the Fuller Worthies Library by the Rev. A. B. Grosart.]
THE POEMS of Lord Brooke, written for the most part in his youth and familiar exercise with Sir Philip Sidney, according to the title page of the 1633 editions, have a real and permanent value, though they can never hope to appeal to any other than a limited and so to speak professional audience. They are the work of a man of great thinking power, and of singular nobility and uprightness of character. The sheer power of mind shewn in these strange plays and treatises and so-called sonnets is undeniable. Every now and then it leads their author to a genuine success, to a fine chorus, a speech of weird and concentrated passion as impressive as a speech of Fords, though even less human, a shorter poem of real and fanciful beauty. But generally we find this inborn power struggling with a medium of expression so cumbrous and intricate and stumbling, that neither thought nor fancy can find their way through it. Words are taxed beyond what they can bear; all thoughts, whether great or trivial, are tortured into the same over-laboured dress; there is no ease, no flow, no joy. More than this; not only is the manner far removed from the true manner of poetry, but in large tracts of it the matter handled has nothing to do with poetry, The Declination of Monarchy, Of Weak-minded Tyrants, Of Laws, Of Nobility, Of Commerce, Of Crown Revenue,these are not the subjects of the poet. In the seventeenth century they were the subjects of the pamphleteer, and no one could have treated them in prose with greater ability and a more Miltonic swing and pregnancy of phrase than Lord Brooke. Buried in pages of wearisome verse, his discussions of these and such-like topics, in spite of acuteness, in spite of a wide and modern political view, are intolerable as poetry and unreadable as political and philosophical argument. His theoryas it was the theory of so many of his later contemporaries, of Sir John Davies, of Christopher Brooke, and Sir William Alexanderseems to have been that all subjects of serious human interest were equally within the sphere of poetry, or could be turned into poetry by a sort of coup de main. On the other hand, he not only attempted to treat scientific matter poetically, but also to treat genuinely poetical matter, such as natural beauty or human passion, or religious emotion, scientifically, making analysis and comparison play the part of feeling, and preserving the same stiffness and pedantry of movement in the most passionate or graceful situations. Yet at bottom Lord Brooke had many of the poets gifts. His worst things contain a scant measure of fine lines and passages, such as perhaps few other Elizabethan writers below the first circle could have written, expressed with admirable resonance and terseness. At his best he rises very high, as we hope to show in the following extracts. But of the exquisite Elizabethan fluency and archness, the transparent sweetness of Spenser, the spontaneity and brilliancy of Sidney, Lord Brooke had little or nothing. His poetry bears witness in an extraordinary degree to the mental energy and acuteness of the time; it is wholly lacking in the Elizabethan charm. Sir William Davenant is reported to have said of him, that he had written good poetry in his youth and had then spoilt it by keeping it by him till old age. Lord Brookes own explanation of the peculiar quality of his work however goes deeper than this. In the so-called Life of Sidney, after making a half apology for the romance and fancifulness of Sidneys Arcadia, and justifying the book as after all not lacking in images and examples (as directing threads) to guide every man through the confused Labyrinth of his own desires and life, he continues: For my own part I found my creeping genius more fixed upon the images of life than the images of wit, and therefore chose not to write to them on whose foot the black ox had not already trod, as the proverb is, but to those only that are weatherbeaten in the sea of this world, such as having lost the sight of their gardens and groves, study to sail on a right course among rocks and quicksands. Thus beside the young unpruned imagination of his friend, quenched before time had stolen from it a particle of its joyousness and luxuriance, he places his own elder and way-worn musethe poetry of Life beside the poetry of Wit. Such a distinction breathes the spirit of a new world; and in parting Lord Brooke from the writer of Astrophel and Stella places him mentally beside Milton and Bacon.
The folio edition of his works, of 1633, the materials for which had been revised and collected for publication by the author, contains three treatises, on Human Learning, on Wars, and An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour, the tragedies of Alaham and Mustapha, and the hundred and ten sonnets of Caelica. The Poems of Monarchy and Religion were published later in 1670. Mustapha had also appeared earlier in 1609. To these Mr. Grosart, in a recent complete edition has added a few miscellaneous poems, the lament for Sidney, published in The Phoenix Nest of 1593, two or three poems from Englands Helicon, and a doubtful one from The Paradise of Dainty Devices. Of these we are not now concerned with the treatises. They were originally meant to serve as choruses between the acts of Alaham and Mustaphaa whimsical instance of the impracticability of Lord Brookes geniusand, as we have already said, they are not without lines and passages of poetry. But in the main they are either matter for the biographer, or for the student of seventeenth-century speculation. The collection of shorter poems under the name of Caelica contains a number of love-poems, some perhaps genuine, others mocking and cynical, which, as in Habingtons Castara, lead up to a concluding group of religious and philosophical pieces. With sonnets, properly so called, they have nothing more in common than the name. Some of them are undoubtedly echoes of Astrophel and Stella, harsh fantastic echoes which but rarely recall the music of the earlier strain. Sonnet 46, Patience, weak-fortund and weak-minded wit, is an exercise on the same theme as Sonnet 56 of Astrophel and Stella. The end of Sonnet 45 is a reminiscence of the tenth song in the same collection, and two better illustrations of poetical failure on the one hand, and such poetical success as the kind of theme admits of on the other, could scarcely be brought together than the thirteenth sonnet of Caelica, Cupid his boys play many times forbidden, as compared with the well-known His mother dear Cupid offended late of Astrophel and Stella. This list might be largely extended with ever-increasing profit to Sidneys reputation. Still, when all deductions are made, Caelica brings its own peculiar reward to the reader. There are veins of poetry in it of a remote and fanciful kind, and what is not poetry will often affect us with the old-world charm, which is the true explanation of Cultismo wherever it appears in literary history, the charm of ingenuity as such, of mind-play pure and simple. To which may be added that among the religious poems of Caelica there is perhaps simpler and sincerer work than Lord Brooke produced anywhere else.
With regard to the poem-plays of Alaham and Mustapha, which may be compared with the much inferior Monarchical tragedies of Sir William Alexander, nothing can be added to the well-known criticism of Charles Lamb, which describes them as political treatises, not plays, in which all is made frozen and rigid with intellect, or to Lord Brookes own account of them as intended to illustrate the high ways of ambitious governours, and the public and private ruin to which such ways tend. In spite of tragical situations, in spite of the injured youth of Mustapha, and the maiden heroism of Caelica, they are not tragical, and for all their high intellectual interest they are very seldom poetical. In those rare instances however, where the poet succeeds in mastering and transforming the philosopher, there we have a very noble and perfect effect, such an effect as is reached in The Chorus of Tartars quoted below, where the plea of the world against the claims and promises of religion is put with a passion and directness which lifts it far above its surroundings.
The outer facts of Lord Brookes prolonged literary career bring the world of Spenser and the world of Milton together in a striking way. He, with Spenser, Dyer, and Sidney, was a member of Harveys Areopagus, and there is other evidence of intercourse between him and Spenser. His friendship with Sidney is one of the classical stories in the history of English letters. On the other hand Davenant, the founder of the Restoration theatre, was the protégé of his old age, and he died the year before the composition of the Ode on the Morning of Christs Nativity.