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

XII. The Elizabethan Sonnet

§ 16. Sir William Alexander; Drummond of Hawthornden

But, as the queen’s reign closed, there were signs that the literary standard of the sonnet-sequence of love was rising above such sordid levels as these. The old paths of imitation were not forsaken, but the spirit of adaptation showed to higher advantage in the work of a few writers who, for the time, withheld their efforts from the press. Chief among these was the courtly Scottish poet, Sir William Alexander, afterwards earl of Stirling, who deferred the publication of his sonneteering experiment—“the first fancies of his youth”—till 1604. Then he issued, under the title Aurora, one hundred and six sonnets, interspersed, on the Italian and French pattern, with a few songs and elegies. Alexander is not a poet of deep feeling. But he has gifts of style which raise him above the Elizabethan hacks. Another Scottish poet, whose muse developed in the next generation, William Drummond of Hawthornden, began his literary career as a sonneteer on the Elizabethan pattern just before queen Elizabeth died. In early youth, he made himself familiar with the most recent literary effort of Italy, and reproduced with great energy numerous Italian sonnets of comparatively recent date. But he impregnated his adaptations with a native fire which places him in an altogether different category from that of the juvenile scribblers of Elizabethan London. With these two Scotsmen, Alexander and Drummond, may be classed Sidney’s friend, Fulke Greville, afterwards lord Brooke, who wrote (but did not publish) at the end of the sixteenth century a miscellaneous collection of poems called Caelica. The collection consisted of one hundred and nine short poems, on each of which the author bestowed the title of sonnet. Only thirty-seven, however, are quatorzains. The remaining seventy-two so-called “sonnets” are lyrics of all lengths and in all metres. There is little internal connection among Brooke’s poems, and they deserve to be treated as a series of independent lyrics. Nor is there any sign of real passion. Lord Brooke’s poetic mistresses, Caelica and Myra, are poetic figments of his brain, and he varies his addresses to them with invocation of queen Elizabeth under the poetic title of Cynthia, and with reflective musings on metaphysical themes. The style is less complicated than is habitual to Brooke’s other literary work, and the medley sounds a melodious note. Greville emulated the example of Sir Philip Sidney; but the imagery often associates itself, more closely than was suffered by Sidney’s aims, with the anacreontic vein of the Greek anthologists and of the French sonneteers. The series was published for the first time as late as 1633, in a collection of lord Brooke’s poetical writings. It may be reckoned the latest example of the Elizabethan sonnet-sequence.