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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

X. The Literary Influence of the Middle Ages

§ 16. Chatterton and his indebtedness to Spenser

The real master of Chatterton is Spenser. Chatterton had a perfect command of the heroic line as it was then commonly used in couplets; he preferred the stanza, however, and almost always a stanza with an alexandrine at the end. He had learned much from The Castle of Indolence, but he does not remain content with the eighteenth century Spenserians; he goes back to the original. A technical variation of Chatterton’s is proof of this: whereas the eighteenth century imitators of The Faerie Queene cut their alexandrines at the sixth syllable regularly, Chatterton is not afraid to turn over:

  • Tell him I scorne to kenne hem from afar.
  • Botte leave the vyrgyn brydall bedde for bedde of warre.
  • (Ælla, l. 347.)
  • And cries a guerre and slughornes shake the vaulted heaven.
  • (Hastings 2, l. 190.)
  • And like to them æternal alwaie stryve to be.
  • (Ibid. l. 380.)

    In following Spenser, he sometimes agrees with Milton: thus, Elinoure and Juga and the Excelente Balade of Charitie are in Milton’s seven line stanza (rime royal, with the seventh line an alexandrine), thus:

  • Juga: Systers in sorrowe, on thys daise-ey’d banke,
  • Where melancholych broods, we wyll lamente;
  • Be wette wythe mornynge dewe and evene darke;
  • Lyche levynde okes in eche the odher bente,
  • Or lyche forlettenn halles of merriemente
  • Whose gastlie mitches holde the traine of fryghte
  • Where lethale ravens bark, and owlets wake the nyghte.
  • Elinoure: No moe the miskynette shall wake the morne
  • The minstrelle daunce, good cheere, and morryce plaie;
  • No moe the amblynge palfrie and the horne
  • Shall from the lessel rouze the foxe awaie;
  • I’ll seke the foreste all the lyve-longe daie;
  • All nete amonge the gravde chyrche glebe wyll goe,
  • And to the passante Spryghtes lecture mie tale of woe.
  • In the Songe to Ælla, again there are measures from Milton’s Ode:
  • Orr whare thou kennst fromm farre
  • The dysmall crye of warre,
  • Orr seest some mountayne made of corse of sleyne.