Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Johnson > The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages > Chatterton and his indebtedness to Spenser
  Their direct influence upon Modern Poetry The Rowley Imposture  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

X. The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages.

§ 16. Chatterton and his indebtedness to Spenser.

The real master of Chatterton is Spenser. Chatterton had a perfect command of the heroic line as it was then commonly used in couplets; he preferred the stanza, however, and almost always a stanza with an alexandrine at the end. He had learned much from The Castle of Indolence, but he does not remain content with the eighteenth century Spenserians; he goes back to the original. A technical variation of Chatterton’s is proof of this: whereas the eighteenth century imitators of The Faerie Queene cut their alexandrines at the sixth syllable regularly, Chatterton is not afraid to turn over:
Tell him I scorne to kenne hem from afar.
Botte leave the vyrgyn brydall bedde for bedde of warre.
(Ælla, l. 347.)
And cries a guerre and slughornes shake the vaulted heaven.
(Hastings 2, l. 190.)
And like to them æternal alwaie stryve to be.
(Ibid. l. 380.)
  In following Spenser, he sometimes agrees with Milton: thus, Elinoure and Juga and the Excelente Balade of Charitie are in Milton’s seven line stanza (rime royal, with the seventh line an alexandrine), thus:
Juga: Systers in sorrowe, on thys daise-ey’d banke,
Where melancholych broods, we wyll lamente;
Be wette wythe mornynge dewe and evene darke;
Lyche levynde okes in eche the odher bente,
Or lyche forlettenn halles of merriemente
Whose gastlie mitches holde the traine of fryghte
Where lethale ravens bark, and owlets wake the nyghte.
Elinoure: No moe the miskynette shall wake the morne
The minstrelle daunce, good cheere, and morryce plaie;
No moe the amblynge palfrie and the horne
Shall from the lessel rouze the foxe awaie;
I’ll seke the foreste all the lyve-longe daie;
All nete amonge the gravde chyrche glebe wyll goe,
And to the passante Spryghtes lecture mie tale of woe.
In the Songe to Ælla, again there are measures from Milton’s Ode:
Orr whare thou kennst fromm farre
The dysmall crye of warre,
Orr seest some mountayne made of corse of sleyne.

  Their direct influence upon Modern Poetry The Rowley Imposture  

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