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

IV. Barclay and Skelton

§ 13. Characteristics of Skelton

Skelton has often been judged too severely for the coarseness of some of his poems. Pope was particularly hard on him. On the other hand, such men as Southey and the elder Disraeli liked his “ragged” rime and found some pith in it. His poetic production shows an extraordinary variety. He moves with ease, sometimes even with mastership, in all the traditional forms of poetry. In his longer poems he is very original, particularly where he uses his characteristic style, the short “breathless rimes,” not unknown before him, but never used so largely and effectively as by him. Sometimes they literally chase along, and the reader is carried away by them. A good specimen of Skeltonic verse is the beginning of Colyn Clout:

  • What can it avayle
  • To dryve forth a snayle,
  • Or to make a sayle
  • Of an herynges tayle,
  • To ryme or to rayle,
  • To wryte or to indyte,
  • Eyther for delyte
  • Or elles for despyte;
  • Or bokes to compyle
  • Of dyvers maner style,
  • Vyce to revyle
  • And synne to exyle;
  • To teche or to preche,
  • As reason wyll reche?
  • Lack of constructive power often spoils the impression of Skelton’s poems; but this deficiency is made up for in many cases by an immense vivacity and by the originality of the ideas. His satires against the clergy in general, and, particularly, those against Wolsey, are remarkable for their boldness. Of all the poetical successors of Chaucer in England Skelton is by far the most original.