Lydgate, John

, an ancient English poet, is recorded as one of the immediate successors of Chaucer. The few dates that have been recovered of his history are, that he was ordained a sub-deacon in 1339; a deacon in 1393, and a priest in 1397; from these it has been surmised that he was born about 1375, that is, twenty-five years before the death of Chaucer. There is a note of Wanley’s in the Harleian Catalogue (2251. 3.) which insinuates as if Lydgate did not die till 1482. This Dr. Percy thinks too long a date; he was, however, living in 1446, since in his “Philomela” he mentions the death of Henry duke of Warwick, who died that year. Some authorities place his death in 1461, and this date Mr. Ellis thinks is not improbable.

He was, says Warton, who of all our modern critics has considered him with most attention, a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Bury in Suffolk. After a short education at Oxford, he travelled into France and Italy; and returned a complete master of the language and the literature of both countries. He chiefly studied the Italian and French poets, particularly Dante, Boccaccio, and Alain Chartier; and became so distinguished a proficient in polite learning, that he opened a school in his monastery, for teaching the sons of the nobility the arts of versification, and the elegancies of composition. Yet, although philology was his object, he was not unfamiliar with the fashionable philosophy: he was not only a poet and a rhetorician, but a geometrician, an astronomer, a theologist, and a disputant. Mr. Warton is of opinion that he made considerable additions to those amplifications of our language, in which Chaucer, Gower, and Hoccleve, led the way; and that be is the first of our writers whose style is clothed wjth that | perspicuity in which the English phraseology appears at this day to an English reader.

Lydgate’s pieces are very numerous. Ritson has given a list of two hundred and fifty-one, some of which he admits may not be Lydgate’s, but he supposes, on the other hand, that he may be the author of many others that are anonymous. His most esteemed works are his “Story of Thebes,” his “Fall of Princes,” and his “History, Siege, and Destruction of Troy.” The first is printed by Speght in his edition of Ghaucer; the second, the “Fall of Princes,” or “Boke of Johan Bochas,” (first printed by Pinson in 1494, and several times since,) is a translation from Boccaccio, or rather from a French paraphrase of his work “De casibus Virorum et Feminarum illustrium.” The “History, &c. of Troy” was first printed by Pinson in 1513, but more correctly by Marshe in 1555. This was once the most popular of his works, and the inquisitive reader will find much curious information in it, although he may not be able to discover such poetical beauties as can justify its original popularity. That popularity was, indeed, says Mr. Ellis, excessive and unbounded; and it continued without much diminution during, at least, two centuries. To this the praises of succeeding writers bear ample testimony: but it is confirmed by a most direct and singular evidence. An anonymous writer has taken the pains to modernize the entire poem, consisting of about 28,000 verses, to change the ancient context, and almost every rhyme, and to throw the whole into six-line stanzas; and after all he published it with the name of Lydgate, tinder the title of “The Life and Death of Hector,1614, folio, printed by Thomas Purfoot. Of the general merits of Lydgate, Warton has spoken very favourably; Percy, Ritson, and Pinkerton, with contempt; and Mr. Ellis with the caution of a man of correct taste and judgment. 1


Warton’s History of Poetry. Ellis’s Specimens. Ritson’s Bibliographia. ms note in Percy’s copy of Winstanley. Philips’s Thealrum, by sk E, Brydges. Censura Literaria, vol. VII.