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Shelf of Fiction
Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton
Robert Burton, John Barclay and John Owen
Medieval and Modern Latin Verse
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.
Robert Burton, John Barclay and John Owen
is a far more mature work than
its authors intention is clearer, it has a carefully constructed plot, and, in style too, a distinct advance is perceptible. The work was written at Rome where Barclay had settled in 1617, and Rome is recalled by some of the details in description. Light is thrown on the composition of
by Barclays own letters and by those of Peiresc and others. They show us quite plainly that
must not be regarded as a purely artistic work of imagination, but, at least in part, as inspired by political motives. In a letter to de Puysieu, dated Rome, 12 July, 1620, Barclay writes:
Le suiet du liure ou je pretends faire entrer au bon escient Monseigneur le Chancellier et vous aussy, est une inuention assés gaye comprise en cinq liures ou se traitte de la pluspart des affaires de nostre temps. Jy adjousteray cette preface de laquelle je vous ay parlé si le Roy accepte mon service et tourneray aisement le stile de tous les cinq liures à lhonneur de la France.
In a letter which Barclay sent to Louis XIII with a copy of
a few days before his death, he says of his book:
son principal but est de traicter des guerres et des amours dun jeune et chaste Prince qui semblent estre tirees sur le modelle de vostre courage et genie.
This time, Barclay was anxious to avoid giving offence, and specimens of what he had written were submitted to the judgment of others. In his dedication to Louis XIII, he speaks of his work as a new kind of writing and, in the course of the book, expounds its principles in the person of Nicopompus. The poet describes how he proposes to write a story in the style of a history. The fictitious element, the exciting and unexpected incidents, are to attract readers: the pictures of virtues and vices with their appropriate rewards are to compel men to self-criticism and self-condemnation. He is careful to add that no persons will be portrayed to the exact life, but that disguise will be secured by fictitious details; consequently, to take offence will be a confession of the readers own guilt. It will be an equal error to assume that everything or that nothing corresponds to real fact. As, in
the satirical element was dominant, in the later fiction it is the didactic.
There is no need to repeat the details of the story. Argenis, daughter and heir presumptive of Meleander, king of Sicily, has four aspirants to her hand: Lycogenes, the rebel whose attempt to carry her off is frustrated by Poliarchus, disguised as a girl; Radirobanes, king of Sardinia, her fathers ally against the rebels, who fails in an attempt to seize Argenis and is afterwards slain in single combat by Poliarchus; Archombrotus, a prince who arrives in Sicily incognito, but proves to be Meleanders son by a secret marriage; and the hero Poliarchus, a Gallic king, whose union with Argenis is celebrated at the conclusion.
According to one view,
is simply a political treatise cast in the form of a novel. According to another, it is a perpetual historical allegory; while a third would make it, in all that is essential, a romance. That there is really a fusion of romantic, political and historical motives is proved, if proof be needed, by the authors own words.
Like his father, Barclay was a strong but not unreasoning supporter of the power of the crown. The abuses of monarchy are debated, but he is careful not to let the Whig dogs have the best of the argument. His was evidently that acute and cautious type of mind that sides with authority and shows resourcefulness in opposing the advocates of less arbitrary rule. In the remedies suggested for strengthening the crown against two powerful nobles, there is a curious anticipation of Richelieus measures.
The political questions are those of the day, but how far are the principal characters and situations historical? The detail and order of the action is imaginary and a precise allegory is out of the question, but it would certainly seem that, in describing the condition and relation of various countries, Barclay had in mind the recent history of Europe. The troubles of Sicily, it is reasonable to suppose, were at least suggested by those of France during the wars of the League. To give an exact picture was no part of Barclays intention; but Sardinia, under the ambitious and encroaching Radirobanes, recalls Spain, while Mauretania, which repels Radirobaness attack and is governed by a queen unable to take her subjects money without their consent, has its analogue in England. The chief characters are no portraits. Lycogenes may correspond to the duke of guise, but Henri III would be flattered in Meleander. Argenis, in a sense, typifies the succession to the crown, and Barclay may have thought of Marguerite of Valois, the subject of his touching verses in
Poliarchus has usually been taken to represent Henry of Navarre; that Archombrotus is his understudy illustrates the danger of demanding an exact resemblance. Barclays claim that his hero is meant for Louis XIII is not inconsistent, as he elsewhere attributes the fathers merits to the son. Certain minor characters are easily recognisedIbburranes and Dunalbius are the cardinals Barberini and Ubaldini; Hieroleander is Hieronymus Aleander; Antenorius, Antonio Querenghi. Nicopompus, ever ready with occasional verse, is Barelays self. One of Barclays letters gives his intention of introducing Sillery, who may be Cleobulus. There are undisputed references to historical incidentsthe story of Concini, of Somerset and lady Essex; the dispute between the emperor Ferdinand and the Pfalzgraf Friedrich. The narrative, though never lost sight of, is relieved by poems, by discussions, in which the parts maintained are in skilful keeping with the characters, by descriptions of scenery, works of art and pageants, in which, perhaps, we may see recollections of the masques at Jamess court. There are lighter passages and some attempts at mirth, but the prevailing tone is elevated and serious, at times approaching the epic. Consistency is maintained in the characters, with little development. Of Barclays reading, there is continual evidence. We are reminded of the Greek novelists with whom the pirate is often the
diabolus ex machina;
of Polybius, to whom the description of Epeircte is due; of Xenophons
(the name Gobrias, however, may be taken from Theodorus Prodromus, the Vatican MS. of which writer Barclay examined for Gaulmins edition
). But a list of authors who colour his poetry and prose would be endless.
Barclays Latin style has been lauded without limit by Grotius and Coleridge, and severely dealt with by Scaliger, the author of
Scioppius and others. If we judge by a classical standard, it is easy to smell false Latin. The vocabulary is not pure. There are lapses in usage. Among his merits can scarcely be counted a witty and dexterous use of the subjunctive mood. But, as an example of the application of Latin to modern use, Barclays language deserves high praise. While no Ciceronian, he has not affiliated Lipsius his hopping style. His own is ready, flexible and expressive, and has the inestimable merit of conveying the authors meaning.
To whatever degree the belief in a
may have contributed to the success of
its literary merits are beyond question. Sorel criticised it with some animosity in his
Remarques sur le Berger extravagant,
but its popularity is proved by translations into ten languages and more than one continuation.
While there is little direct imitation of
it was among the influences that passed into the heroic novel, and separate signs of it are frequent in the literature of the seventeenth century. We may trace them in other Latin works of fiction, in Erythraeuss
The story yielded material for dramas, in French, Spanish, Italian and German. Fénelons indebtedness has been doubted. Burton quotes from
as well as from
Crashaw translated verses from
There are touches of it in Boyles
Katherine Philips addresses a friend as Poliarchus.
Barclays works were even employed for purposes of instruction. A selection was made of his political aphorisms. In Earles
a college tutor sets his pupil an extract from
and the suitability of Barclay as a Latin author for boys reading was discussed in a school programme of Schulpforte (1729). It has been often repeated that
appealed to Richelieu and Leibniz: we know that Rousseau read it. Cowpers praise and Coleridges are familiar.
Before the close of the seventeenth century, the Latin text of
was reprinted between forty and fifty times. The demand during the next hundred years was satisfied with half-a-dozen editions, all proceeding from Nürnberg, since the last of which no publisher has thought it worth his while to issue it. Recently, several monographs dealing with Barclays life, bibliography and chief works have appeared in France and Germany. But published statements in the bibliographies still require some corrections; there are important particulars in his life which have not been exhaustively investigated; and the full influence of his works on subsequent literature still requires to be traced in detail.
N. and Q
. See the bibliography.
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
Medieval and Modern Latin Verse
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