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NEXT to the Newspaper, the Novel supplies for most people, in these busy days, the reading they want. It is a sign of wider culture, or of larger leisure, when “the last new book," of whatever kind, is in request, and so a poem, a biography, a book of travels, a istory, or even a speculative treatise, has its turn with the novel of highest recent repute. Amid such variety a reader may find plenty of excellent literary stimulus and entertainment without going beyond the present. It is to be hoped, however, that readings in our older English classics have not yet gone wholly out of fashion. Especially it is to be hoped that there are still lovers of that older English poesy of which Keats wrote in his ecstasy,
“ Has she not shown us all,
Huge as a planet ?”
to discern a poor creature in whatever century ne lived , and not only were there some very poor creatures among the early English poets, but many of the best of them wrote a great deal of very sorry stuff, and were far from being uniformly miraculous. Yet, all in all, and even apart from such supreme chiefs as Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton, the body of English poetry that has come down to us from before the middle of the seventeenth century is as rich and interesting a possession of its kind as any modern language can exhibit. It belongs to all who can read, and ought by no means to be abandoned to the scholar only, or the literary antiquarian. After the newspaper, the novel, the last new book of whatever kind, and our classics in prose or in verse back to Dryden, have all had their due, there remains in our older English poetry, for as many as choose, an abundance of the exact kind of enjoyment most suitable for summer holidays or long winter evenings.
One test of what is really good in literature is that it shall leave a strong mark in the memory. Our greatest writers might be appraised, relatively to each other, by the numbers of memorable phrases, lines, and passages, from their texts, that have passed into common speech. Shakespeare and Milton, among the older poets, have contributed such in far the largest proportion, Chaucer and Spenser having yielded a good deal, though considerably less. But what a wealth of lines and phrases of keen and happy thought, fine and mystic guggestion, or sweet and musical form, lies bedded still in the less known parts of Chaucer and Spenser themselves, and in the poetry of their minor contemporaries and intermediates ! One may cull a few examples :“O ring of which the ruby is out-fall!”
Chaucer. “I saw where there came singing lustily
“The smiler with the knife under the cloak."
" When maistrie comth, the god of love anon
“ It is not all good to the ghost that the gut asketh.”
" I learnt never read on book, Ani I ken no French, in faith, but of the farthest end of Norfolk."
Langland. “ For the best been some rich, and some beggars and poor ;
For all are we Christ's creatures, and of his coffers rich,
James I. of Scotland.
“ The sugared mouths with minds therefrae,
The figured speech with faces tway,
• The wind made wave the red weed on the dike."
- Victorious William Meldrum was his name."
Upon the golden skies :
“ And there that Shepherd of the Ocean is.”
“ For of the soul the body form doth take; For soul is form, and doth the body make.”
Spenser. “ Let Gryll be Gryll, and have his hoggish mind.
Spenser. " Then came October, full of merry glee; For yet his nowl was totty with the must.”
Spenser. “ Therefore I mourn with deep heart's sorrowing, Because I nothing noble have to sing."
Spenser. “ Fear is more pain than is the pain it fears."
Sidney: “ Her eyes are sapphires set in snow, Refining heaven with every wink.”
Death, that sits
66 The bird that loveth humans best, That hath the bugle eyes and rosy breast, And is the yellow Autumn's nightingale."
Chapman. “ When all that ever hotter spirits expressed Comes bettered by the patience of the North.”
Daniel. “ They now to fight are gone :
Armour on armour shone;
To hear was wonder,