This poet was the intimate friend of Spenser, a generous man, a scholar, and, to complete the encomium, a man of strict moral character. He was the author of a pastoral history, entitled, Thelama and Clearchus but "he died," relates Mrs. Cooper, "before he could perfect even the Fable of his poem, and, by many passages in it, I half believe, he had not given the last hand to what he has left behind him. However, to do both him and his editor justice, if my opinion can be of any weight, 'tis great pity so beautiful a relique should be lost; and the quotations I have extracted from it will sufficiently evidence a fine vein of imagination, a taste far from being indelicate, and both language and numbers uncommonly harmonious and polite."
The editor alluded to by Mrs. Cooper was the amiable Izaac Walton, who published this elegant fragment in 8vo, in 1683, when he was ninety years old, and who has likewise inserted two songs by Chalkhill in his Complete Angler.
The pastoral strains of Chalkhill merit the eulogium of their female critic; the versification, more especially, demands our notice, and may be described, in many instances, as possessing the spirit, variety, and harmony of Dryden. To verify this assertion, let us listen to the following passages; describing the Golden age, he informs us
Their sheep found cloathing, earth provided food
And Labour drest it as their wills thought good:
On unbought delicates their hunger fed
And for their drink the swelling clusters bled
The vallies rang with their delicious strains,
And Pleasure revell'd on those happy plains.
How beautifully versified is the opening of his picture of the Temple of Diana!
Within a little silent grove hard by,
Upon a small ascent, he might espy
A stately chapel, richly gilt without,
Beset with shady sycamores about:
And, ever and anon, he might well hear
A sound of music steal in at his ear
As the wind gave it Being: so sweet an air
Would strike a Syren mute and ravish her.
Pourtraying the cell of an Enchantress, he says
About the walls lascivious pictures hung,
Such as whereof loose Ovid sometimes sung.
On either side a crew of dwarfish Elves,
Held waxen tapers taller than themselves:
Yet so well shap'd unto their little stature,
So angel-like in face, so sweet in feature;
Their rich attire so diff'ring, yet so well
Becoming her that wore it, none could tell
Which was the fairest—.
Muses Library, p. 317, 319, 327.
Mr. Beloe, in the first volume of his Anecdotes, p. 70, has given us a Latin epitaph on a John Chalkhill, copied from Warton's History of Winchester. This inscription tells us, that the person whom it commemorates died a Fellow of Winchester College, on the 20th of May, 1679, aged eighty; and yet Mr. Beloe, merely from similarity of name and character, contends that this personage must have been the Chalkhill of Izaac Walton; a supposition which a slight retrospection as to dates would have proved impossible. Walton, in the title page of Thealma and Clearchus, describes Chalkhill as an acquaintance and friend of Edmund Spenser; now as Spenser died in January, 1598, and the subject of this epitaph, aged 80, in 1679, the latter must consequently have been born in 1599, the year after Spenser's death! The coincidence of character and name is certainly remarkable, but by no means improbable or unexampled.