Page images
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small]

whether the practice of literature would be tolerated during the new reign, his fears might well have been founded on the apprehension that the monarch was too much rather than too little interested in the art of letters. In King JAMES VI. and I. the London poets came forward to welcome one who was so far from "hating boetry "-like one of his successors-that he had laboured with zeal to become a poet himself. Nor was verse the only medium in which James VI. of Scotland had exercised his abilities. He was no less ambitious to shine in prose, as theologian, as critic, as sociologist, as publicist. No writer in the glorious galaxy of his English subjects, not even Bacon and Raleigh, sought to excel in so many fields of literature as the King; certainly none was so confident, in his sanguine moments, that he had succeeded in all. No one, in the presence of Apollo, affected more ecstasy, or assumed a greater claim to poetic immortality.

I shall your names eternal ever sing;

I shall tread down the grass on Parnass hill;
By making with your names the world to ring,
I shall your names from all oblivion bring;
I lofty Virgil shall to life restore,—


sang King James VI. very lustily in his Invocations to the Goddis, and his were none of those elegant and trivial efforts at genteel penmanship which royal personages in all ages have conceived to be a graceful amateur pastime. There was nothing of the amateur about James. He aimed at no less glory than is given by "the perfection of Poesy, whereunto few or none can attain." Moreover, he was in this also, so far as he went, a genuine man of letters, that he saw, and poignantly and repeatedly deplored, his own deficiencies. Criticism, which could otherwise hardly treat the grotesque works of James I. with patience, is disarmed by his candour. Alas!" he says, "God by nature hath refused me the like lofty and quick genius"-which he is applauding in the French poet Du Bartas-" and my dull muse, age and fortune have refused me the like skill and learning." Later on in life, when the King still hankered after literary glory, still stretched on tiptoe to pluck a leaf from the golden laurel which, after all, he found to hang too high for him, his judgment was better than his practice. He could not pretend even to his subjects. that he was satisfied with his own prose or verse, and there is something really pathetic in the way in which he alternates sentences of royal truculence with apologies for imperfections due to burdens of office so great and so continual, and to a spirit that never has leave to be "free and unvexed." Evidence seems to prove that the King's modest estimate of his own genius was more than acknowledged in England, and literary aspirants had to be very poor or in great personal danger before they brought themselves down to flattering the monarch as a writer. But, in an age so abundantly autocratical, there must have been something extremely gratifying to the mind of authors in knowing that any one of them could hope to do better than the despot what the despot of all things most desired to do.

James VI. of Scotland and I. of England (1566-1625) was the son of Mary, Queen of Scotland, and Lord Darnley. His mother's abdication, the year after

[graphic][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »