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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

VIII. The New English Poetry

§ 1. Tottel’s Miscellany

THE REIGN of Henry VIII was not, as students of history know, a period of unbroken internal peace. Nevertheless, when the wars of the Roses were over and a feeling of security had been induced by the establishment of a strong dynasty, a social and intellectual life became possible in England which the troubles of the reigns of Henry VIII and his two successors were sufficient to check but not to destroy. More important still, England, having more or less settled her internal troubles by a judicious application of the balancing system, became a power to be reckoned with in European politics. This brought her into touch with the kingdoms of the continent, and so, for the first time in a more than incidental way, submitted her intellectual life to the influences of the renascence. The inspiration of the new poetry, we shall find, was almost entirely foreign. It was upon French, and, especially, upon Italian, models that the courtiers of Henry VIII founded the poems which now began to be written in large numbers. The extent to which the practice of versifying prevailed cannot now be gauged; but modern investigation shows it to have been very wide. To make poems was one of the recognised accomplishments of the knight as conceived in the last phase of chivalry, the days with which we are, for the moment, concerned; and it is not, perhaps, too much to say that every educated man made poems, which, if approved, were copied out by his friends and circulated in manuscript, or included in song-books. It was not, however, till 1557 that some few were, for the first time, put into print by Richard Tottel, in the volume, Songes and Sonettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other, commonly known as Tottel’s Miscellany.