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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

§ 6. John Skelton

John Skelton, born about 1460, probably at Diss in Norfolk, enjoyed a classical education like his younger rival. He studied at Cambridge, where the name Skelton is a Peterhouse name, and, perhaps, in Oxford. There, in 1489, he obtained the academical degree of poeta laureatus; this was also conferred on him in 1493 by the university of Louvain, and by his alma mater Cantabrigiensis. Somewhat late in life, he took holy orders. In 1498, when almost forty years old, he was ordained successively sub-deacon, deacon and priest, perhaps because he was to be tutor of young prince Henry, an appointment showing clearly that he was much thought of as a scholar. Even so early as 1490, Caxton mentions him in the introduction to his Eneydos as the translator of Cicero’s Epistolae familiares, and of Diodorus Siculus, and appeals to him as an authority in that line. Later, in 1500, Erasmus, in an ode De Laudibus Britanniae, calls him unum Britannicarum literarum lumen ac decus, and congratulates the prince on having so splendid a teacher. On the other hand, Lily, the grammarian, with whom Skelton had a literary feud, did not think highly of him and said of him: Doctrinam nec habes, nec es poeta. Perhaps he did not like the poet’s lost New Gramer in Englysshe compylyd, mentioned in the Garlande of Laurell, l. 1182. Skelton’s Latin poems are rather bombastic, but smooth and polished. His Speculum principis (G. of L. 1226 ff.) is lost. He was well acquainted with French, and, in his Garlande of Laurell, he speaks of having translated Of Mannes Lyfe the Peregrynacioun in prose, out of the French, probably for Margaret, countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of Henry VII, on whose death, 29 June, 1509, he wrote a Latin elegy. His knowledge of classical, particularly Latin, literature must have been very extensive. In his Garlande of Laurell, he mentions almost all the more important Latin and Greek authors, and, on the whole, shows a fair judgment of them. His knowledge of Greek was, perhaps, not deep. Some passages in Speke, Parrot even indicate that he did not much approve of the study of Greek, then being energetically pursued at Oxford. He there complains, also, of the decay of scholastic education and ridicules ignorant and pedantic philologists. He was particularly fond of the old satirists, and Juvenal seems to have been his special favourite. His poetry, however, does not betray any classical influences. With the Italian poets of the renascence he was, apparently, less familiar. He speaks of “Johun Bochas with his volumys grete” (G. of L. 364), and mentions Petrarch and old Plutarch together as “two famous clarkis” (ibid. 379).