1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Heywood

Robert Aris Willmott, in Lives of Sacred Poets (1834) 196.



THOMAS HEYWOOD was one of the most prolific dramatists of an age abounding in the works of that description. He says, in the preface to the English Traveller, that he had "an entire hand, or at least a finger," in two hundred and twenty plays. His copiousness was not the result of weakness. Charles Lamb has commended, in fitting terms, that tearful pathos which cuts to the heart. But his name is only admitted into these pages in the more honourable character of a Sacred Poet. The Hierachie of the Blessed Angels was published in 1635, and dedicated to Charles the First. It was the produce of his old age, and he cautions the reader in the preface "not to expect any new conceits from old heads," or to look for "green fruit from withered branches." The melody and grace of his dramas will be sought for in vain; unlike Sir Philip Sidney's poet, he does not present the reader at the entrance of the vineyard with a bunch of grapes, so that "full of delicious flavour he may long to pass in further:" his manner, on the contrary, is somewhat harsh and unpolished, and he leads them through difficult and abrupt places; but the rugged path frequently ends in a garden. The poem is divided into nine books, to each of which is appended a commentary, evincing the writer's intimate acquaintance with the abstruser studies of theology. Modern students will hardly be persuaded to turn to this ponderous volume, yet it would well repay the perusal. Some of the Meditations possess a stern and solemn severity; and the Search after God rises into sublimity.