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Algernon Charles Swinburne

The first great English poet was the father of English tragedy and the creator of English blank verse. Chaucer and Spenser were great writers and great men: they shared between them every gift which goes to the making of a poet except the one which alone can make a poet, in the proper sense of the word, great. Neither pathos nor humor nor fancy nor invention will suffice for that: no poet is great as a poet whom no one could ever pretend to recognize as sublime.

There were many poets in the age of Shakespeare who make us think, as we read them, that the characters in their plays could not have spoken more beautifully, more powerfully, more effectively, under the circumstances imagined for the occasion of their utterance: there are only two who make us feel that the words assigned to the creatures of their genius are the very words they must have said, the only words they could have said, the actual words they assuredly did say.

Of all English poets, if not of all poets on, record, Dekker is perhaps the most difficult to classify. The grace and delicacy, the sweetness and spontaneity of his genius are not more obvious and undeniable than the many defects which impair and the crowning deficiency which degrades it.

If justice has never been done, either in his own day or in any after age, to a poet of real genius and original powers, it will generally be presumed, with more or less fairness or unfairness, that this is in great part his own fault. Some perversity or obliquity will be suspected, even if no positive infirmity or deformity can be detected, in his intelligence or in his temperament: some taint or some flaw will be assumed to affect and to vitiate his creative instinct or his spiritual reason.

If it be true, as we are told on high authority, that the greatest glory of England is her literature and the greatest glory of English literature is its poetry, it is not less true that the greatest glory of English poetry lies rather in its dramatic than its epic or its lyric triumphs. The name of Shakespeare is above the names even of Milton and Coleridge and Shelley: and the names of his comrades in art and their immediate successors are above all but the highest names in any other province of our song.

Of all the poets and humorists who lit up the London stage for half a century of unequalled glory, William Rowley was the most thoroughly loyal Londoner: the most evidently and proudly mindful that he was a citizen of no mean city. I have always thought that this must have been the conscious or unconscious source of the strong and profound interest which his very remarkable and original genius had the good-fortune to evoke from the sympathies of Charles Lamb.

If it is difficult to write at all on any subject once ennobled by the notice of Charles Lamb without some apprehensive sense of intrusion and presumption, least of all may we venture without fear of trespass upon ground so consecrated by his peculiar devotion as the spacious if homely province or demesne of the dramatist whose highest honor it is to have earned from the finest of all critics the crowning tribute of a sympathy which would have induced him to advise an intending editor or publisher of the dramatists of the Shakespearean age to begin by a reissue of the works of Heywood.

George Chapman, translator of Homer, dramatist, and gnomic poet, was born in 1559, and died in 1634. At fifteen, according to Anthony Wood, “he, being well grounded in school learning, was sent to the university” of Oxford; at thirty-five he published his first poem: “The Shadow of Night.” Between these dates, though no fact has been unearthed concerning his career, it is not improbable that he may have travelled in Germany.

“They, shut up under their roofs, the prisoners of darkness, and fettered with the bonds of a long night, lay exiled, fugitives from the eternal providence. For while they supposed to lie hid in their secret sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly astonished, and troubled with sights.... Sad visions appeared unto them with heavy countenances. No power of the fire might give them light: neither could the bright flames of the stars endure to lighten that horrible night.

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