1618 ca.
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[On the English Poets, in Hypercritica.]

Nicolai Triveti Annalium continuatio; ut et Adami Murimuthensis Chronicon, cum eiusdem continuatione: quibus accedunt Joannis Bostoni Speculum coenobitarum, et Edmundi Boltoni Hypercritica. Omnia nunc primum editit... Antonius Halluis, S.T.P.

Edmund Bolton


The third section of the fourth "Addresse" of Edmund Bolton's Hypercritica; or a Rule of Judgement for writing, or reading of our History, presents a brief survey of English poets. Belatedly published in 1722, Edmund Bolton's essay was very highly regarded in the eighteenth century. Bolton argues that the use of Spenser's "old outworn words" is not acceptable in writing history. He adds somewhat disingenuously (for he was published in Englands Helicon) "My judgment is nothing at all in Poems or Poesie." Despite this distaste for archaisms in polite writing, Bolton's list of English poets is backwards-looking and mostly Tudor — the poetry he would have read in his youth. Albion's England is by William Warner; Robert Southwell is the Catholic martyr (1561-95).

Thomas Warton: "That sensible old English critic Edmund Bolton, in a general criticism on the style of our most noted poets before the year 1600, places the MIRROUR FOR MAGISTRATES in a high rank. It is under that head of his HYPERCRITICA, entitled 'Prime Gardens for gathering English according to the true gage or standard of the tongue about fifteen or sixteen years ago.' The extract is a curious piece of criticism, as written by a judicious cotemporary. Having mentioned our prose writers, the chief of which are More, Sidney, queen Elizabeth, Hooker, Saville, cardinal Alan, Bacon, and Raleigh, he proceeds thus: 'In verse there are Edmund Spenser's HYMNES. I cannot advise the allowance of other his poems as for practick English, no more than I can Jeffrey Chaucer, Lydgate, Pierce Plowman, or LAUREATE Skelton . . .'" History of English Poetry (1774-81; 1840) 3:229.

William Beloe: "Of this very curious tract, or rather collection of tracts, I know of no detached edition. It is printed at the end of Trivet's Annalium Continuatio, edited by Hearne in 1722" Anecdotes of Literature 1 (1807) 235.

Nathan Drake: "The principal writers in prose and poetry, anterior to 1600, are noticed in this fourth division of the Hypercritica, and the judgment passed upon them is, in general correct and satisfactory, and does credit to the 'sensible old English critic,' as Warton emphatically terms him.... Bolton, whom Ritson calls 'a profound scholar and eminent critic,' was certainly a man of considerable learning, and occupied no small space in the public eye as an historican, philologer, and antiquary" Shakespeare and his Times (1817; 1838) 229.

Thomas Campbell quotes the Spenser passage to challenge Edmond Malone's assertion that Spenser wrote the Faerie Queene in the language of his times, Specimens of the British Poets (1819).

Herbert E. Cory: "Edmund Bolton, although his contribution to Spenserian criticism is slight, should not be forgotten, because he has considerable significance in the history of English criticism. He reacted against the irresponsible sentences and parti-coloured diction of Elizabethan novelists and pamphleteers. In feeling the need of conscious ideals in prose style he was of the new age. His Hypercritica, Or A Rule of Judgment For Writing Or Reading Our Histories (completed c. 1618 but first published in 1722) treated not only the problem of sources but the kind of prose that was suitable for good historical writing. For this purpose Bolton considered the manner of both English poetry and prose. He seems to have had a wide knowledge and a fair appreciation of English literature. For prose suitable to the writing of histories he preferred, sensibly enough, the poetry of Jonson and the prose of Bacon as supreme models. But he found Spenser's Hymns valuable for the same purpose. 'In verse there are Ed. Spencer's Hymns. I cannot advise the allowance of other of his Poems, as for practick English, no more than I can do Jeff Chaucer, Lydgate, Pierce Ploughman, or Laureate Skelton.' For the use of 'old outworn words' in history was, in Bolton's opinion, to be condemned" "Critics of Edmund Spenser" UCPMP (1911) 99-100.




Sect. III.

In verse there are Ed. Spencer's Hymns. I cannot advise the allowance of his other Poems, as for practick English, no more than I can do Jeff. Chaucer, Lydgate, Peirce Ploughman, or Laureat Skelton. It was laid as a fault to the charge of Salust, that he used some old outworn Words, stoln out of Cato his Books de Originibus. And for an Historian in our Tongue to affect the like out of those our Poets would be accounted a foul Oversight. That therefore must not be, unless perhaps we cite the Words of some old Monument, as Livy cites Carmen Martium, or as other Latins might alledge Pacuvius, Androvicus, or Laws of the Twelve Tables, or what else soever of the ancients. My judgment is nothing at all in Poems, or Poesie, and therefore I dare not go far, but will simply deliver my Mind concerning those Authours among us, whose English hath in my Conceit most propriety, and is nearest to the Phrase of Court, and to the Speech used among the noble, and among the better sort in London; the two sovereign Seats, and as it were Parliament tribunals to try the question in. Brave language are Chapman's Iliads, those I mean which are translated into Tessara decasyllabons, or lines of fourteen Syllables. The Works of Sam. Daniel contain'd somewhat aflat, but yet withal a very pure, and copious English, and words as warrantable as any Mans, and fitter perhaps for Prose than Measure. Michael Draiton's Heroical Epistles are well worth the reading also, for the Purpose of our Subject; which is; to furnish an English Historian with Choice and Copy of Tongue. Q. Elizabeth's verses, those which I have seen and read, some extant in the elegant, witty and artificial Book of the Art of English Poetry, the Work (as the Fame is) of one of her Gentlemen Pensioners, Puttenham, are Princely, as her Prose.

Never must be forgotten St. Peter's Complaint, and those other serious Poems said to be father Southwell's; the English whereof as it is most proper, so the sharpness, and Light of Wit is very rare in them.

Noble Henry Constable was a great Master in English Tongue, nor had any Gentleman of our Nation a more quick, or higher Delivery of Conceit; witness among all other, that Sonnet of his before his Majesty's Lepanto. I have not seen much of Sir Edward Dyers Poetry. Among the lesser late Poets, George Gascoign's Works may be endur'd. But the best of those Times (if Albion's England be not preferr'd) for our business, is, The Mirrour of Magistrates, and in that Mirrour, Sackvil's Induction, the work of Thomas, afterward Earl of Dorset, and Lord Treasurer of England, whose also the famous Tragedy of Gorboduc was, the best of that time, even in Sir Phil. Sidney's Judgment; and all skilful English men cannot but ascribe as much thereto, for his Phrase, and Eloquence therein. But before in Age, if not also in Noble, Courtly, and Lustrous English, is that of the Songs and Sonnets of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (Son of that victorious Prince, the Duke of Norfolk, and Father of that learned Howard his most lively image, Henry Earl of Northampton) written chiefly by him, and by Sir Tho. Wiat, not the dangerous Commotioner but his worthy Father. Nevertheless they who most commend those Poems, and exercises of honourable Wit, if they have seen that incomparable Earl of Surrey his English Translation of Virgil's Aeneids, which for a book, or two, he admirably rendreth, almost Line for Line, will bear me witness that those other were Foils and Sportives.

The English Poems of Sir Walter Raleigh, of John Donn, of Hugh Holland, but especially of Sir Foulk Grevile in his matchless Mustapha, are not easily to be mended. I dare not presume to speak of his Majesty's Exercises in this Heroick Kind. Because I see them all left out in that Edition which Montague Lord Bishop of Winchester hath given us of his royal Writings. But if I should declare mine own Rudeness rudely, I should then confess, that I never tasted English more to my liking, nor more smart, and put to the height of Use in Poetry, then in that vital judicious, and most practicable Language of Benjamin Jonson's Poems.


[pp. 235-37]