1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Chapman

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 18-19.



Chapman (1557-1634) wrote translations, plays, and poems. His translation of Homer, in fourteen-syllable rhymed measure, is a remarkable production. From Lord Houghton's edition of the Poetical Works of John Keats, we learn that the fine folio edition of Chapman's translation of Homer had been lent to Mr. Charles Cowden Clarke, and he and Keats sat up till daylight over their new acquisition; Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination. At ten o'clock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found this sonnet by Keats on his breakfast-table.

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western Islands have I been,
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold;
But of one wide expanse had I been told,
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet could I never judge what men could mean,
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,
When a new planet swims into his ken.
Or like a stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, — and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

In his youth Chapman had for contemporaries and fellow-workers Spenser, Sidney, Shakspeare, Daniel, and Marlowe. He regarded poesy as a "divine discipline," rather than as a pastime, and in his most elevated mood he appears dignified, self-reliant, reflective, and, above all, conspicuously honest.