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energetic, his simplicity is of nature; his path, of truth.”
From the death of Chaucer, no really great poet appeared until the time of Spenser, with the exception of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was a writer of a much higher class than his predecessors. Those who are desirous of studying a more comprehensive account of Chaucer, and reading the opinions of the best commentators on his works, should refer to "Godwin's life” of the poet, Tyrwhitt's excellent edition of the “Canterbury Tales,« Warton's History of English Poetry," "Campbell's Specimens of the British Poets,” “Gorton's Biographical Dictionary," "Hazlitt's Lectures on the English Poets,” and two delightful volumes, entitled “Wit and Humour, from the pen of Leigh Hunt, one of the most eminent and pleasing of our modern critics. Ample justice has also been done to the merits of Chaucer by an able contributor to “The Retrospective Review," journal rich in interesting articles on our early poetical literature. Of the critics we have enumerated, the greatest benefactor to the fame of Chaucer was Tyrwhitt. The reader will find, in that learned and interesting work a large amount of information on the origin and progress of the English language, and the peculiar structure and harmony of Chaucer's versification.
HENRY HOWARD, EARL OF SURREY,
BORN, 1516; BEHEADED, 1547. AMONGST the English poets of the sixteenth century the name of the Earl of Surrey occupies a conspicuous place. In a biographical work of this description, which professes to give an account, however brief and imperfect, of the most celebrated poetical writers from the time of Chaucer, some notice of this eminent individual, who figured so prominently in the history and literature of his country, will naturally be expected. He was a nobleman of varied accomplishments, a soldier of acknowledged bravery, and a poet whose compositions,
though few in number, and limited in the subjects of which they treat, exercised a marked influence on the intellectual character of the age. A deep interest attaches to his life, notwithstanding the many
fabulous statements with which it has been associated. There is a diversity of opinion, among his biographers, as to the date and place of his birth. In the most authentic records of his life, it is stated that he was born in or about the year 1516, at Kenninghall, one of the principal country seats occupied by his grandfather. He was descended from the illustrious Howards, one of the noblest families in England. His father was Thomas, Earl of Surrey, afterwards third Duke of Norfolk; and his mother was Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of Edward, Duke of Buckingham.
The early history and education of the noble poet are involved in uncertainty. Dr. Nott, the most learned and diligent of his biographers, asserts that he was educated at Cambridge, and that he was afterwards elected High Steward of that University. Another writer, Wood, states that he was for a time a student at Cardinal College, Oxford. It has been also alleged that he received the principal part of his education in Windsor Castle, with Henry Fitzroy, Earl of Richmond, a natural son of King Henry VIII. There can be nó doubt, however, that Lord Surrey's education was completed at the age of sixteen, and that at this early period of his life, he contracted a marriage with Lady Frances Vere, daughter of John Earl of Oxford. This union, therefore, must have taken place in 1532, though according to the custom of the times, he did not live with his wife for some time afterwards. It was the fashion in those days for the aristocracy to receive an accomplished education; and to combine, with the lighter branches of instruction, physical exercises, calculated to promote bodily health. In a criticism in the “Edinburgh Review” upon Nott's edition of the works of Surrey and Wyatt, the writer remarks, that young persons who were educated in that age
were not, almost at the same time that they lived on their
mother's milk, let into the mechanical principles of motion, nor otherwise over-lectured and over-informed, during childhood, nor afterwards imprisoned in the mathematics, and taught most what they would have learned to practise. According to a curious old passage, extracted by Dr. Nott from Hardinge's Chronicle, they began very early with languages and manners ; from ten to twelve they were taught dancing and music ; then they scoured the fields as sportsmen; at sixteen they were practised in mock battles, jousting, and breaking and riding the race-horse ; and at seventeen or eighteen, they were reckoned fit to enter the world, and be entrusted with the duties of men." There was no branch of the aristocratical families in England more finished in this species of education than the Howards; and no young poet and cavalier, belonging to that illustrious connexion, was more accomplished than the Earl of Surrey. He had acquired in his youth a knowledge of the ancient and modern languages; his tastes were refined; and he distinguished himself at several brilliant tournaments, given on various occasions by the orders of the King.
In the same year he visited France, accompanied by his friend Richmond, and afterwards travelled into Germany. According to the traditionary accounts of the age, he proceeded to Florence, where he fell in love with a lady, celebrated in his poetry by the name of Geraldine, to whom he addressed the most beautiful of his poetical effusions. She was, it has been said, a daughter of one of the Earls of Kildare, who was supposed to be descended from the Geraldi of Florence. Of Surrey's attachment to this lady, and of her personal history, many contradictory accounts have been published. Some writers have contended, that no such person as Geraldine ever existed, and that she was merely the creature of the poet's imagination; whilst others, including Surrey's biographer, Dr. Nott, trace her connexion with an ancient Irish family, to whom we have referred, and affirm that the noble poet, “like a true knight in the days of chivalry, published a challenge to all comers, whether Saracens or Jews, Christians or Turks, in defence of the beauty of the fair object of his affections, and proved victorious in the tournament instituted by the grand duke on the occasion.”
This doubtful incident in the life of Surrey has been particularly adverted to by Campbell in his “Specimens of the British Poets." He observes, “there is no proof that the Earl was ever in Italy. At the period of his imagined errantry, his repeated appearances at the Court of England can be ascertained; and Geraldine, if she was daughter of the Earl of Kildare, was then only a child of seven years of age. That Surrey entertained romantic sentiments for the fair Geraldine, seems, however, to admit of little doubt; and that, too, at a period of her youth which makes his homage rather surprising. Of the nature of Surrey's attachment, we may conjecture what we please, but can have no certain test even in his verses, which might convey either much more or much less than he felt; and how shall we search in the graves of men for the shades and limits of passions that elude our living observation ?" The only fact that seems to have been satisfactorily established, is the existence of a lady whom Surrey distinguished by the name of Geraldine, and for whom it has been alleged (for it has not been proved) that he entertained the warmest affection. The controversy respecting her is, however, a matter of minor importance, compared with the important scenes in public affairs, in which it was the fate of this distinguished and unfortunate nobleman to perform so chivalrous a part in the subsequent period of his career.
In Southey's “Select works of the British Poets, from Chaucer to Jonson,” a work compiled with laborious care and great judgment, the Editor has given an interesting summary of the leading events in Surrey's public career, from which we transcribe the following extracts :“In the year of his marriage, he was one of the nobles who accompanied Henry VIII. to his interview with the French King at Boulogne; and at the coronation of Anne Boleyn, he carried the fourth sword, with the scabbard, upright, before the King, as representative of his father-in-law, the Lord High Chamber
lain. He lived in the closest intimacy with Henry's natural son, the Duke of Richmond, who was at that time betrothed to his only sister, the Lady Mary Howard, and some of his happiest days were passed with this friend at Windsor.
“That was an age in which a dear price was paid for pre-eminence in rank. Anne Boleyn was his kinswoman and his friend ; yet Surrey was compelled to appear at her iniquitous trial, as representing his father in the character of Earl Marshal ; the Duke in his own person presiding as Lord High Steward. He was one of the chief mourners at the funeral of Queen Jane, and one of the defendants in the jousts upon the marriage of Queen Anne of Cleves. Soon afterwards he was made Knight of the Garter. This was the season of his highest favour. It was followed by disgrace and imprisonment for having challenged John à Leigh, of Stockwell, upon a private quarrel. On his release he accompanied his father to the war in Scotland, and was present when Kelsal was burnt.
He had then to answer before the Privy Council upon two charges: the one was for eating meat in Lent; the other for breaking windows in the streets of London with a cross-bow in the dead of night. For the first he pleaded a licence, but confessed that he had made use of it too publicly; for the second he made the strange excuse, that being shocked at the licentiousness of the citizens, he thought that by thus alarming them he might put them in mind of the suddenness of God's judgments, and so awaken them to repentance. Wyatt was one of his companions in this freak of fanaticism, and they were both committed to the Fleet for it.
“Surrey is next found distinguishing himself at the siege of Landrecy. At that siege Bonner, who was afterwards so eminently infamous, invited Hadrian Junius to England. When that distinguished scholar arrived, Bonner wanted either the means, or, more probably, the heart, to assist him; but Surrey took him into his family in the capacity of physician, and gave him a pension of fifty angels. About the same time he received Churchyard into his house ; who was then a