Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Critical Introduction by Richard William Church
Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset (15361608)
[Thomas Sackville was born in 1536 at Buckhurst in Sussex, where his family had been settled since the Conquest. After some time spent at Oxford and Cambridge, he entered parliament (155758), and in the beginning of Elizabeths reign he became known as a poetical writer. Between 1557 and 1563 he took part in The Tragedy of Gorboduc, and also planned a work called The Mirror of Magistrates, a series of poetical examples, showing with how grievous plagues vices are punished in Great Princes and Magistrates, and how frail and unstable worldly prosperity is found, where fortune seemeth most highly to favour. He wrote the Induction, a preface, and the Story of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. But he soon threw himself into the risks of public life. On the whole he was successful. In 1567 he was created Lord Buckhurst. He experienced the fitful temper of the Queen in various public employments. He sat on several of the great state trials of the timethose of the Duke of Norfolk, Mary Queen of Scots, the Earl of Essex. In 1599 he was made Lord High Treasurer. James I created him Earl of Dorset in 1604. In 1608 he died, while sitting at the council table at Whitehall.]
THE SCANTY remains of Sackvilles poetry are chiefly interesting because they show a strong sense of the defects of the existing poetical standard, and a craving after something better. They show an effort after a larger and bolder creation of imagery; as where the poet, copying Dante, imagines himself guided by the Genius of Sorrow through the regions of the great Dead, there to hear from their own mouths the sad vicissitudes of their various stories. There is a greater restraint and severity than had yet been seen in the choice of language and ornament, though stiffness and awkwardness of phrase, and the still imperfect sense of poetical fitness and grace, show that the writer could not yet reach in execution what he aimed at in idea. And there is visible both in the structure of the seven-line stanzas, and in the flow of the verses themselves, a feeling for rhythmic stateliness and majesty corresponding to his solemn theme. In their cadences, as well as in the allegorical figures and pathetic moralising of Sackvilles verses, we see a faint anticipation of Spenser, who inscribed one of the prefatory Sonnets of the Faery Queene to one who may have been one of his masters in his art.