1866 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Chalkhill

John Payne Collier, "Thealma and Clearchus" in Bibliographical and Critical Account of the Rarest Books (1866) 1:144-46.



This poem, in couplets, was edited by Izaac Walton, and his brief preface is dated May 7, 1678, but the work did not come from the press until five years afterwards. It is a circumstance not noticed by Sir John Hawkins in his Life of Walton, nor in other authorities, that Spenser's Christian name is sometimes mistakenly given on the title-page, Edward instead of Edmund: such is the case with the copy before us. The volume is preceded by lines from the pen of Thomas Flatman, dated June 5, 1683, about six months before Walton's death, on the 15th of December, 1683, in his ninety-first year. The second Earl of Bridgewater seems to have been an attentive and an admiring reader of Chalkhill's poem, and has corrected errors of the press in various parts of it.

There is some reason for assigning to Chalkhill a collection of small poems under the title of Alcilia, Philoparthens loving Folly, which was first printed in 4to, 1613, in a volume with Marston's "Pygmalion's Image," and "The Love of Amos and Laura." The last of these is dedicated to Iz. Wa., or Izaac Walton, which connects him with the publication; and at the end of the first piece are the initials I. C., which perhaps were those of John Chalkhill. There were subsequent editions of Alcilia in 8vo, 1619, and 4to, 1628, and it certainly deserved considerable popularity for the "smooth and easy verse" in which it is written, — a quality imputed by Walton to Chalkhill's poetry. The author of Alcilia gives himself Philoparthen as his poetical name, and to him an epistle preceding the poems is addressed, headed, "A Letter written by a Gentleman to the Author his Friend," signed Philaretes: this may possibly have been Walton, who, nearly sixty years afterwards, edited Thealma and Clearchus. The principal part of Alcilia consists of what I. C. is pleased to call "Sonnets," or short pieces in six-line stanzas, often unconnected excepting in the general subject. A specimen or two may be not improperly subjoined:—

What thing is Love? A Tyrant of the minde,
Begot by hate of youth, brought forth by sloth,
Nurst with vain thoughts and changing as the wind;
A deepe dissembler void of faith and troth:
Fraught with fond errors, doubts, despite, disdain,
And all the plagues that earth and hell contains.

What thing is Beauty? Natures dearest minion,
The snare of youth; like the inconstant Moone
Waxing and wayning; error of opinion,
A mornings flowre that withereth ere noone:
A swelling fruit, no sooner ripe than rotten,
Which sicknesse makes forlorne, and time forgotten.

Not a very inconsiderable portion of Alcilia is in couplets, and the style, in more than one respect, reminds us of the versification of Thealma and Clearchus. The following lines are from a division of the work called "Love's accusation at the Judgment-seat of Reason": it forms part of "the Author's evidence against Love":—

It's now two yeares (as I remember well)
Since first this wretch, sent from the neather hell
To plague the world with new-found cruelties,
Under the shadow of two christall eyes
Betraid my sense; and as I slumbring lay
Felloniously convay'd my heart away,
Which most unjustly he detain'd from mee,
And exercis'd thereon strange tyranny.
Sometime his manner was to sport and game,
With bry'rs and thorns to raise and pricke the same;
Sometime with nettles of desire to sting it;
Sometime with pinsons of despaire to wring it:
Sometime againe he would anoynt the sore
And heals the place that he had hurt before;
But hurtfull helps and ministred in vaine,
Which served only to renew my paine:
For, after that, more wounds he added still,
Which pierced deepe, but had no power to kill.
Unhappy med'cine, which, in stead of cure,
Gives strength to make the patient more indure!

Although, perhaps, no particular resemblance can be pointed out, yet in Thealma and Clearchus we observe the same flow of the verse, and so great a similarity of pause and rhythm, as, combined with other circumstances, to make it probable that both that work and Alcilia were from one pen.