1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Joseph Hall

Nathan Drake, in Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 304-05.



JOSEPH HALL, Bishop of Exeter and Norwich, was born on the first of July, 1574, at Brestow Park, Leicestershire. He was admitted of Emanuel College, Cambridge, at the age of fifteen, and when twenty-three years old, published his satires, under the title of Virgidemiarum, Sixe Bookes. First Three Bookes of Tooth-less Satyrs: 1. Poetical; 2. Academicall; 3. Moral; printed by T. Creede for R. Dexter, 1597. The Three last Bookes of Byting Satyrs, by R. Bradock for Dexter, 1598. Both parts were reprinted together in 1599, and have conferred upon their author a just claim to the appellation of one of our earliest and best satiric poets. Of the legitimate satire, indeed, he appears to have given us the first example, an honour upon which he justly prides himself, for, in the opening of his prologue, he tells us

I first adventure, with fool-hardy might,
To tread the steps of perilous despight:
I first adventure, follow me who list,
And be the second English satirist.

On the republication of the Virgidemiarum at Oxford, in 1752, Gray, in a letter to Dr. Wharton, speaking of these satires, says, "they are full of spirit and poetry, as much of the first as Dr. Donne, and far more of the latter;" and Warton, at the commencement of an elaborate and extended critique on Hall's poetic genius, in the Fragment of his fourth volume of the History of English Poetry, gives the following very discriminative character of these satires. They "are marked," he observes, "with a classical precision, to which English poetry had yet rarely attained. They are replete with animation of style and sentiment. The animation of the satirist is always tho result of good sense. Nor are the thorns of severe invective unmixed with the flowers of pure poetry. The characters are delineated in strong and lively colouring, and their discriminations are touched with the masterly traces of genuine humour. The versification is equally energetic and elegant, and the fabric of the couplets approaches to the modern standard. It is no inconsiderable proof of a genius predominating over the general taste of an age when every preacher was a punster, to have written verses, where laughter was to be raised, and the reader to be entertained with sallies of pleasantry, without quibbles and conceits. His chief fault is obscurity, arising from a remote phraseology, constrained combinations, unfamiliar allusions, elliptical apostrophes, and abruptness of expression. Perhaps some will think that his manner betrays too much of the laborious exactness and pedantic anxiety of the scholar and the student. Ariosto in Italian, and Regnier in French, were now almost the only writers of satire; and I believe there had been an English translation of Ariosto's Satires. But Hall's acknowledged patterns are Juvenal and Persius, not without some touches of the urbanity of Horace. His parodies of these poets, or rather his adaptations of ancient to modern manners, a mode of imitation not unhappily practiced by Oldham, Rochester, and Pope, discover great facility and dexterity of invention. The moral gravity and the censorial declamation of Juvenal he frequently enlivens with a train of more refined reflection, or adorns with a novelty and variety of images."

The Satires of Hall exhibit a very minute and curious picture of the literature and manners, the follies and vices of his times, and numerous quotations in the course of our work will amply prove the wit, the sagacity, and the elegance of his Muse. Poetry was the occupation merely of his youth, the vigour and decline of his days being employed in the composition of professional works, calculated, by their piety, eloquence, and originality, to promote in the most powerful manner the best interests of morality and religion. This great and good man died, after a series of persecution from the republican party, at his little estate at Heigham, near Norwich, on the 8th of September, 1656, and in the eighty-second year of his age.