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[The date of Skelton's birth is not known; it probably took place somewhere about 1460. He began his career as a sober scholar; he ended it as a ribald priest. In his first capacity he was tutor to Prince Henry (afterwards Henry VIII), the Laureate of three Universities, and the friend of Caxton and Erasmus, who has described him as litterarum Anglicarum lumen et decus. In his second capacity he was rector of Diss in Norfolk and a hanger-on about the Court of Henry VIII. He died at Westminster, where he had taken sanctuary to escape the wrath of Wolsey, in 1529. Some of his poems are said to have been printed in London in 1512; a completer collection of them appeared in 1568, but it was not until Dyce's admirable collection in 1843 that they were published in their integrity.]
Skelton's claims to notice lie not so much in the intrinsic excellence of his work as in the complete originality of his style, in the variety of his powers, in the peculiar character of his satire, and in the ductility of his expression when ductility of expression was unique. His writings, which are somewhat voluminous, may be divided into two great classes — those which are written in his own peculiar measure, and which are all more or less of the same character, and those which are written in other measures and in a different tone. To this latter class belong his serious poems, and his serious poems are now deservedly forgotten. Two of them, however, The Bowge of Court, a sort of allegorical satire on the court of Henry VIII, and the morality of Magnificence, which gives him a creditable place among the fathers of our drama, contain some vigorous and picturesque passages which have not been thrown away on his successors. As a lyrical poet Skelton also deserves mention. His ballads are easy and natural, and though pitched as a rule in the lowest key, evince touches of real poetical feeling. When in the other poems his capricious muse breaks out into lyrical singing, as she sometimes does, the note is clear, the music wild and airy. The Garlande of Laurell for example contains amid all its absurdities some really exquisite fragments. But it is as the author of The Boke of Colin Clout, Why come ye nat to Court, Ware the Hawke, The Boke of Philipp Sparowe, and The Tunnyng of Elinore Rummyng, that Skelton is chiefly interesting. These poems are all written in that headlong voluble breathless doggrel which, rattling and clashing on through quickrecurring rhymes, through centos of French and Latin, and through every extravagant caprice of expression, has taken from the name of its author the title of Skeltonical verse. The three first poems are satires. Colin Clout is a general attack on the ignorance and sensuality of the clergy. The second is a fierce invective against Cardinal Wolsey, and the third is directed against a brother clergyman who was, it appears, in the habit of flying his hawks in Skelton's church. These three poems are all in the same strain, as in the same measure-grotesque, rough, intemperate, but though gibbering and scurrilous, often caustic and pithy, and sometimes rising to a moral earnestness which contrasts strangely with their uncouth and ludicrous apparel.
• Though my rime be ragged,
Tatter'd and jagged,
It hath in it some pith.' And the attentive student of Skelton will soon discover this. Indeed he reminds us more of Rabelais than any author in our anguage. In The Boke of Philipp Sparowe he pours out a long ament for the death of a favourite sparrow which belonged to a air lay nun. This poem was probably suggested by Catullus'. Dirge on a similar occasion. In Skelton, however, the whole tone s burlesque and extravagant, though the poem is now and then elieved by pretty fancies and by graceful touches of a sort of umorous pathos. In The Tunnyng of Elinore Rummynge his owers of pure description and his skill in the lower walks of omedy are seen in their highest perfection. In this sordid and isgusting delineation of humble life he may fairly challenge the ipremacy of Swift and Hogarth. But Skelton is, with all his cults, one of the most versatile and one of the most essentially riginal of all our poets. He touches Swist on one side, and he vuches Sackville on the other.
J. CHURTON COLLINS.
With Lullay, lullay, lyke a chylde
Thou slepyst to long, thou art begylde.
Let me, quod he, ly in your lap.
Ly styll hardely, and take a nap.
Hys hed was hevy, such was his hap,
With Hey, lullay, &c.
She cheryshed hym both cheke and chyn,
He had forgotten all dedely: syn.
He wantyd wyt her love to wyn,
Wyth Hey, lullay, &c.
She sparyd not to wete her fete ;
That halsyds her hartely, and kyst her swete.
Thus after her cold she cought a hete.
Wyth Hey, lullay, &c.
Thy lust" and lykyng is from thé gone :
Behold thou lyeste, luggard, alone!
I wys, powle hachet, she bleryd thyne I?. 1 Or pay (?) ?rough. : embraced. snoreth. 5 pleasure. 6 drunkard.
PICTURE OF Riot.
[From The Bowge of Courte-.]
A rusty gallande, to-ragged and to-rente :
Quater treye dews he clatered as he wente :
Now have at all, by Sainte Thomas of Kente !
His hede was hevy for watchynge over nyghte,
His gowne so shorte that it ne cover myghte
His rumpe, he wente so all for somer lyghte,
Of Kyrkeby Kendall was his shorte demye 5,
His elbowe bare, he ware his gere so nye® :
His nose a droppynge, his lyppes were full drye, . And by his syde his whynarde? and his pouche The devyll myghte daunce therein for ony crowche :.
TO MAYSTRESS MARGARET HUSSEY.
[From The Garlande of Laurell.]
'i.e. The Rewards of a Court. Bowge is properly allowance of meat and nk' (Fr. bouche). ? cast. 3 hair. trimmed. 5 waistit, or jacket. so short (?). ? dagger. 8 without meeting th any cross, i. e. piece of money so marked.
With solace and gladnes,
FROM COLYN CLOUTE.
I Colyn Clout