1905 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Shakerley Marmion

George Saintsbury, "Introduction to Shakerley Marmion" in Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (1905-21) 2:3-5.



SHAKERLEY MARMION — the form, of which sufficiently obvious variants exist in "Shakerly," "Shackerley," "Schackerley"; "Marmyon," "Mermion," &c., is that not merely of Singer, but of Anthony Wood, and seems to me the best — is not quite so inaccessible as the constituents of our first volume. For though the original editions are rare and costly enough, his plays were reprinted thirty years ago in Maidment and Logan's Dramatists of the Restoration, and Singer's Cupid and Psyche is by no means so dear in proportion as the companion Pharonnida. But the volume was originally printed in small numbers; and the editor, who had given Chamberlayne without any of the bowdlerization which Pharonnida in one or two places (and Love's Victory in more) might have seemed to invite, fell into asterisks here in a rather foolish manner.

Now Marmion is too interesting a writer to be left difficult of attainment, and mangled when attained. Besides Cupid and Psyche, and in two cases at least before its publication, he had written three comedies, not so much "imitated" (as has sometimes been said) from Ben Jonson, one of whose "sons" he was, as belonging to the general class of unromantic comedy of which we have so many examples from Middleton to Brome. These comedies — Holland's Leaguer, A Fine Companion, and the better-known Antiquary — are at least up to the average in general; and contain many individual things on which it would be interesting to comment if these Introductions were full essays on our authors. But what concerns us here in them is that while a large — perhaps the larger — part of them is in prose, the blank verse of the remainder, if not consummate, is both firm and flexible, and scarcely ever falls into the welter in which, for instance, even such a poet as Marmion's friend Suckling dramatically wallows. His practice here, like Dryden's similar practice a generation later, does not fail to tell upon his couplet in Cupid and Psyche. It is still very much overlapped, and undulates rather than marches. But it scarcely ever coils itself into the labyrinthine intricacy, or melts into the deliquescent solution, of Pharonnida, or of that mysterious Thealma and Clearchus which I hope also to give.

Moreover, though it has not Chamberlayne's numberless poetic moments, and is inferior in a certain nameless grace to the work of Chalkhill (or somebody else), it still has much of this latter. And Marmion has over both these poets and others the advantage which critics of his own day would have thought final — that of a story, not indeed new, but everlastingly attractive to the reader, and seldom failing to inspire every writer who has touched it, from Apuleius himself to Mr. Bridges. His weakest point is in the rhymes; which are made much more noticeable than, for instance, in Chamberlayne, by the greater emphasis which Marmion lays on his couplets as such. But they do not avail to spoil the general charm of his piece, which is also by no means longwinded. That charm lies sometimes in single phrases, as in that admirable one of the "inevitable eyes" of Venus — sometimes in lines and couplets — not seldom in sustained passages of more or less considerable length — the first picture of Psyche's beauty, her transportation by Zephyrus, her waking, the whole (or nearly so) of the central passage of the lamp, the two lyrical advertisements, the trials of Psyche, and especially her Visit to Proserpine. But I must repeat that it is not part of my plan to expatiate on authors here given: but rather to give them. I wish not to show my own ingenuity as a critic, or fertility as a rhetorician, or erudition as a commentator, but to be a "promus" of their elegancies. I have myself read Marmion at different times in my life, and never without pleasure; if I can give the opportunity of that pleasure to some who would else not have had it, that is enough for me.