1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Chalkhill

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 2:154-55.



This author was of the age of Spenser, and is said to have been an acquaintance and friend of that poet. It was not, however, till 1683 that good old Izaak Walton published Thealma and Clearchus, a pastoral romance, which, he stated, had been written long since by John Chalkhill, Esq. He says of the author, "that he was in his time a man generally known, and as well beloved; for he was humble and obliging in his behaviour — a gentleman, a scholar, very innocent and prudent, and indeed his whole life was useful, quiet, and virtuous." Some have suspected that this production proceeded from the pen of Walton himself. This, however, is rendered extremely unlikely — first, by the fact that Walton, when he printed Thealma, was ninety years of age; and, secondly, by the difference in style and purpose between that poem and Walton's avowed productions. The mind of Walton was quietly ingenious; that of the author of' Thealma is adventurous and fantastic. Walton loved "the green pastures and the still waters" of the Present; the other, the golden groves and ideal wildernesses of the Golden Age in the Past.

Thealma and Clearchus may be called an "Arcadia" in rhyme. It resembles that work of Sir Philip Sidney, not only in subject, but in execution. Its plot is dark and puzzling, its descriptions are rich to luxuriance, its narrative is tedious, and its characters are mere shadows. But although a dream, it is a dream of genius, and brings beautifully before our imagination that early period in the world's history, in which poets and painters have taught us to believe, when the heavens were nearer, the skies clearer, the fat of the earth richer, the foam of the sea brighter, than in our degenerate days; — when shepherds, reposing under broad, umbrageous oaks, saw, or thought they saw, in the groves the shadow of angels, and on the mountain-summits the descending footsteps of God. Chalkhill resembles, of all our modern poets, perhaps Shelley most, in the ideality of his conception, the enthusiasm of his spirit, and the unmitigated gorgeousness of his imagination.