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HISTORY OF DRAMATIC POETRY.
ON JOHN LYLY AND HIS WORKS.
JOHN LYLY was an ingenious scholar, with some fancy; but if poetry be the heightened expression of natural sentiments and impressions, he has little title to the rank of a poet. His thoughts and his language are usually equally artificial, the results of labour and study; and in scarcely a single instance does he seem to have yielded to the impulses of genuine feeling
He is therefore so far to be placed in a rank inferior to most of his contemporaries ; but it is not to be forgotten that, strictly speaking, some writers with whom he may have been compared, were not his contemporaries: he began to write a little before them, and he was the inventor of a style which, however factitious, had the recommendations of refinement and novelty. Lyly became so fashionable, that better pens, as in the case of Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge, followed his example, and
1 It was called Euphuism, from his work Eupheus, the Anatomy of Wit, which was entered on the books of the Stationers' Company in 1578, and was no doubt published early in 1579. Malone (see Shakespeare by Boswell, ii, 188) had a copy dated 1579, which he supposed to be the second edition, the first being without the insertion of the year on the title-page. VOL. II.
became his imitators. The chief characteristic of his style, besides its smoothness, is the employment of a species of fabulous or unnatural natural philosophy, in which the existence of certain animals, vegetables, and minerals, with peculiar properties, is assumed, in order to afford similes and illustrations. Malone contends that Lyly's plays, compared with his pamphlets, are free from these affected allusions, and that three of them are quite of a different character; but he seems to have been only superficially read in Lyly's works, and among the proofs of his want of an exact acquaintance with them, may be noticed his statement that Galathea was one of the comedies he produced in 1584, when, in fact, the 'annus mirabilis' of 1588 is twice mentioned in it. In the employment of this invented natural history nearly all Lyly's dramatic productions may be placed upon an equality; and if such frequent resort be not had to it in his plays as in his tracts, it seems only because allusions of the kind could not be so conveniently made in dialogues between the persons concerned. It is astonishing how Malone could have brought himself to the conclusion, that Lyly'unquestionably makes a nearer approach to a just delineation of character and life' than any dramatist who preceded Shakespeare : seven of his plays are merely mythological or pastoral, and were never meant for representations of character and life'; and although the scene of Mother Boinbie is laid near Rochester, the names of nearly all the persons are classical, and no attempt is made to depict in them the manners of the time. Alexander and Campaspe is Lyly's only piece which has any pretension to the delineation of character, and there chiefly in the part of Diogenes, whom the author has drawn sufficiently cynical.
Lyly was born in Kent in 1554, and was matriculated at Oxford in 1571, when it was recorded in the entry, that he
1 Malone's Shakespeare by Boswell, ii, 192.
was seventeen years old. It is a circumstance connected with his early life, mentioned in the Annals of the Stage, that on the 16th May 1574, he wrote to Lord Burghley (whom he terms patronus colendissimus) a Latin letter, in a good style, and a beautiful specimen of penmanship, which was thus indorsed, probably by his lordship's secretary ; 'John Lilie, a Scholar of Oxford, an Epistle for the Queen's letters to Magdalen College to admit him a fellow'. The Lord Treasurer is addressed in a strain of extravagant hyperbole, and the epistle is directed— Viro illustrissimo, et insignissimo Heroi, domino Burgleo. We are without evidence as to the result of this application, but Lyly having been made Bachelor of Arts in 1573, proceeded Master of Arts in 1575-6. He produced his Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit, early in 1579, and from the prefatory matter to it we learn that he had previously been rusticated from Oxford, for what he calls 'glancing at some abuses’: perhaps he supplied his necessities, even at this date, by writing for the stage, although his earliest printed dramatic works, Sapho and Phao, and Alexander and Campaspe did not appear until four or five years afterwards. One of his first patrons was the Earl of Oxford, himself a writer of verses ; but, in July 1582, Lyly seems to have lost the favour of that nobleman : this circumstance is stated in the letter which Lyly wrote upon the occasion to Lord Burghley, in which he protests his innocence of all just imputation. In what capacity he served Lord Oxford is not mentioned, but it may be gathered from the terms of the letter, that he had occupied a place of pecuniary trust, which he was supposed to have abused.
Lyly had certainly produced six dramatic pieces prior to 1589, including Galathea, which, for a reason already stated, may perhaps be given to that year. In Midas, printed in 1592, and in Mother Bombie, printed in 1594, he seems to allude to
It is among the Lansdowne MSS., No. xix, Art: 16.