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And as her lute doth live and die,
(In praise of Two.) Faustina hath the fairest face, And Phillida the better grace;
Both have mine eye enriched :
Both have mine ear bewitched.
My Love in her attire doth show her wit,
[BORN, probably, at Hitchin (1557? 1559 ?). Was sent (1574?) to the University, but whether first to this of Oxon or to that of Cambridge is to me unknown' (Antony Wood). Published The Shadow of Night (1594), Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595), De Guiana, Carmen Epicum (1596), Hero and Leander (1598), Seven Books of Homer's Iliad (1598), Achilles' Shield (1598), Euthymiae Raptus, or The Tears of Peace, with Interlocutions (1609), Homer's Tenth Book of his Iliads (1609), Epicedium, or a Funeral Song, in memory of Henry, Prince of Wales (1612), Homer's Iliads in English (1611, 1612), First Twelve Books of the Odyssey (1614), Twenty-four Books of Homer's Odisses (1614, 1615), The Whole Works of Homer (1616), The Crowne of all Homer's Workes, Batrachomyomachia, &c. (1624?). Chapman was also author of many plays. Died May 12, 1634.]
In spite of the force and originality of English dramatic poetry in the age of Shakespeare, the poetical character of the time had much in common with the Alexandrian epoch in Greek literary history. At Alexandria, when the creative genius of Greece was almost spent, literature became pedantic and obscure. Poets desired to show their learning, their knowledge of the details of mythology, their acquaintance with the more fantastic theories of contemporary science. The same faults mark the poetry of the Elizabethan age, and few writers were more culpably Alexandrian than George Chapman. The spirit of Callimachus or of Lycophron seems at times to have come upon him, as the lutin was supposed to whisper ideas extraordinarily good or evil, to Corneille. When under the influence of this possession, Chapman displayed the very qualities and unconsciously translated the language of Callimachus. He vowed that he detested popularity, and all that can please 'the commune reader.' He inveighed against the 'invidious detractor' who became a spectre that dogged him in every enterprise. He hid his meaning in a mist of verbiage, within a labyrinth
of conceits, and himself said, only too truly, about the sweet Leander' of Marlowe,
'I in floods of ink
Must drown thy graces.' It is scarcely necessary to justify these remarks by illustrations from Chapman's works. Every reader of the poems and the prefaces finds barbarism, churlish temper, and pedantry in profusion. In spite of unpopularity, Chapman 'rested as resolute as Seneca, satisfying himself if but a few, if one, or if none like' his verses.
Why then is Chapman, as it were in his own despite, a poet still worthy of the regard of lovers of poetry? The answer is partly to be found in his courageous and ardent spirit, a spirit bitterly at odds with life, but still true to its own nobility, still capable, in happier moments, of divining life's real significance, and of asserting lofty truths in pregnant words. In his poems we find him moving from an exaggerated pessimism, a pessimism worthy of a Romanticist of 1830, to more dignified acquiescence in human destiny. The Shadow of Night, his earliest work, expresses, not without affectation and exaggeration, his blackest mood. Chaos seems better to him than creation, the undivided rest of the void is a happier thing than the crowded distractions of life. Night, which confuses all in shadow and rest, is his Goddess,
• That eagle-like doth with her starry wings,
Proclaiming silence, study, ease, and sleep.'
• In hell thus let her sit, and never rise,
Till morns leave blushing at her cruelties.' In a work published almost immediately after The Shadow of Night, in Ovid's Banquet of Sense, Chapman 'consecrates his strange poems to those searching spirits whom learning hath made noble.' Nothing can well be more pedantic than the conception of the Banquet of Sense. Ovid watches Julia at her bath, and his gratification is described in a singular combination of poetical and psychological conceits. Yet in this poem, the redeeming qualities of Chapman and the soothing influence of that anodyne which most availed him in his contest with life, are already evident. Learning is already beginning to soothe his spirit with its spell. To Learning, as we shall see, he ascribed all the excellences which a modern critic assigns to culture. Learning, in a wide and non-natural sense, is his stay, support, and comfort. In the Banquet of Sense, too, he shows that patriotic pride in England, that enjoyment of her beauty, which dignify the Carmen Epicum, de Guiana, and appear strangely enough in the sequel of Hero and Leander. There are exquisite lines in the Banquet of Sense, like these, for example, which suggest one of Giorgione's glowing figures :
• She lay at length like an immortal soul,
At endless rest in blest Elysium.'
• Betwixt mine eye and object, certain lines
The base within my sacred object is;'
Chapman could not well have done a rasher thing than 'suppose himself executor to the unhappily deceased author of' Hero and Leander. A poet naturally didactic, Chapman dwelt on the impropriety of Leander's conduct, and confronted him with the indignant goddess of Ceremony. In a passage which ought to interest modern investigators of Ceremonial Government, the poet makes 'all the hearts of deities' hurry to Ceremony's feet :
“She led Religion, all her body was
All which her sight made live, her absence die.'
His most kind sister all his secrets knew,
And to her, singing like a shower, he flew. This too, of Hero, might have been written by the master of verse :
• Her fresh heat blood cast figures in her eyes,
And she supposed she saw in Neptune's skies
It is in The Tears of Peace (1609), an allegory addressed to Chapman's patron, the short-lived Henry, Prince of Wales, that the poet does his best to set forth his theory of life and morality. He ‘sat to it,' he says, to his criticism of life,' and he was guided in his thoughts by his good genius, Homer. Inspired by Homer, he rises above himself, his peevishness, his controversies, his angry contempt of popular opinion, and he beholds the beauty of renunciation, and acquiesces in a lofty stoicism :
*Free suffering for the truth makes sorrow sing,
He comforts himself with the belief that Learning, rightly underderstood, is the remedy against discontent and restlessness :
'For Learning's truth makes all life's vain war cease.'
It is Learning that
. •Turns blood to soul, and makes both one calm man.' By Learning man reaches a deep knowledge of himself, and of his relations to the world, and 'Learning the art is of good life':
'Let all men judge, who is it can deny
That the rich crown of old Humanity
These noble words still answer the feverish debates of the day, for, whatever our descent,
Still, at the worst, we are the sons of men !' In this persuasion, Chapman can consecrate his life to his work, can cast behind him fear and doubt,
• This glass of air, broken with less than breath,
This slave bound face to face to death till death.' VOL. I.