Holland's Influence on English Language and Literature


auteur: Tiemen de Vries


bron: Tiemen de Vries, Holland's Influence on English Language and Literature. C. Grentzebach, Chicago 1916  


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Chapter XXV George Gascoigne - His Abode in the Netherlands and His Works - His ‘Glasse of Government’ and the Latin School-dramas in Holland - Macropedius - Gnaphaeus.

It was during the winter of the years 1573-1574 that a tall English gentleman, whom his English friends called ‘long George,’ lived in the little Dutch city of Delft. The citizens of Delft called him ‘de groene hopman’ (the green captain), and for this reason, in later time he alluded to himself as ‘the green knight.’1 Prince William the Silent, at that time had his residence at Delft, and the green captain came especially thither to see the Prince, who received him very kindly, although the citizens of Delft did not trust the adventurous and strange Englishman, who had received a letter from the camp of the enemy at the Hague, written by a lady, with whom he apparently stood in pretty intimate connection. But the captain explained the matter to the satisfaction of the Prince, and everything was all right.

That ‘green captain’ was George Gascoigne, the poet-soldier, a pioneer of Elizabethan literature, an immediate precursor of Philip Sydney, Edmund Spenser and Shakespeare, the later author of the first famous English satire, ‘The Steelglass,’ of the beautiful elegie, ‘The Complaint of Philomele’ and of all those

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wonderful stories and love songs nowadays connected with his name.

The reason why we find him at Delft as ‘the green captain’ is to be found partly in his unlucky education, in his independent character, in his geniality, with such an amount of self-reliance as seduced him to imprudence and dissipation, with the consequence that his life seemed to be destined to become a failure, and his great capacities likely not to be recognized, and partly in the fame of the wealthy Netherlands with their attractiveness for foreign Protestants who desired to assist in the struggle for toleration and freedom of thought.

‘He was born - probably about 1535 - of a good Bedfordshire family and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge’; he left the University without a degree, entered Gray's Inn - one of the well-known Law Schools at London - in 1555, and represented the county of Bedford in Parliament, 1557-1559. ‘His youthful extravagances led to debt, disgrace and disinheritance by his father, Sir John Gascoigne.’1 ‘In the midst of his youth, he tells us, he determined to abandone all vaine delightes and to return unto Greye's Inne, there to undertake againe the studdie of the common Lawe.’ And after having paid his fines and performed what was asked from him he was accepted. ‘He took a further step towards reform by marrying a rich widow, whose children by her first marriage brought a suit in 1568 for the protection of their interests. The action seems to have been amicably settled, and he remained on good terms with his stepson, Nicholas Breton, who was himself a poet of some note. But it is to be feared that as a man of middle age Gascoigne returned to the evil course of his youth, if we are to

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accept the evidence of his autobiographical poem, Dan Barthelemew of Bathe.’1 In 1572 he was prevented from taking his seat in Parliament in consequence of a petition in which he was charged with all kinds of crooked things. The obvious intention of the petition was to prevent Gascoigne from pleading privilege against his creditors, and securing immunity from arrest.’2 About that time, at least in the same year, 1572, Gascoigne made up his mind to leave his fatherland. In trouble, disappointed, not recognized; like Lord Byron two centuries later, he resolved to go abroad, and, like a Childe Harolde of the sixteenth century, he became enamored of two ideals, viz., of love and of liberty. As Byron poured out his soul in songs of love, and fought for the liberty of Greece, so Gascoigne describes himself as ‘professing armes in the defence of God's truth’ in the Netherlands, and there at the same time a stream of glowing love-songs flowed from his pen, which alone were sufficient to assure immortality to his name.

Before he went to the Netherlands, he had written only his translations, ‘Supposes’ and ‘Jocasta’ and perhaps - because at that time he seemed to live in the literature of the dramas - his ‘Glasse of Government,’ of which the source lay before him in the Acolastus of Gnapheus, accessible in an English translation dating from the year 1540. But during his abode in the Netherlands and after that during the few last years of his life - he died on the 7th of October, 1577 - the multitude of poems on different subjects flowed from his pen, which now lie before us in his complete works.

From the very first day of his departure, the 19th

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of March, 1573, from Gravesend to Den Briel, his impressions were deep and interesting, as he describes them in his ‘Voyage into Hollande.’ For a poet, and a genius, who had lived all his life in the highest circles in England, with the people of the Court, and with those of the best literary circles of his time, and who was not at all acquainted with the terrible condition of the poor, desperate Protestant people in those days of the Duke of Alva, it was indeed a doubtful experiment to go to the Netherlands in order to join the desperate sea-beggars, robbed of everything, maddened by the cruelties of the Spaniards, accustomed to the roughness of their deadly warfare, and we are not at all surprised to find that from the first day on which he endured the dangers of the sea, till the last day on which he, in September, 1574, came back after having been for the last four months a prisoner of the Spaniards, this warfare and the life among those warriors was a disappointment to Gascoigne.

On the other hand, when he came into personal contact with the Prince of Orange and his friends, he found a kindness, an idealism, a life of devotion and sacrifice to the best ideals, which gave satisfaction and consolation to the deepest longings of his soul, and we are not surprised to find in the midst of his often bitter ‘Fruits of war’ a poem which he began at Delft with lines like these:

 
‘Where good Guyllam of Nassau badde me be
 
There needed I none other guyde but he.’1

Or in another place:

 
‘O noble Prince, there are too fewe like thee!
 
If virtue wake, she watcheth in thy will,
 
If justice live, then surely thou art hee,
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If grace do growe, it groweth with thee still.
 
O worthy Prince, would God I had the skill
 
To write thy worth that men thereby might see
 
How much they erre that speake amisse of thee.
 
 
 
‘The simple Sottes do coumpt thee simple, too,
 
Whose like for witte our age hath seldome bredde,
 
The rayling roges mistrust thou darest not do,
 
As Hector did for whom the Grecians fledde,
 
Although thou yet werte never seene to dredde.
 
The slandrous tongues do say thou drinkest to much
 
When God he knowes thy custome is not such.
 
 
 
‘But why do I in worthlesse verse devise
 
To write his prayse that doth excell so far?
 
He heard our greeves himself in gracious wise’ etc.
 
 
 
‘I could not leave that Prince in such distresse
 
Which cared for me, and yet the cause much less.’1

These lines increase our knowledge both of the Prince and of Gascoigne. Such were the impressions that Gascoigne took with him to the court of Queen Elizabeth, about the Prince who was the leader of struggling Protestantism in Europe. From the time Gascoigne arrived at Den Briel in March, 1573, till the next winter, when we find him at Delft, he had served as a captain of the Sea-Beggars under Admiral Boisot. According to his own narrative in ‘The Fruits of War’2 he fought against the Spaniards in Zealand, defending Aardenburgh, ‘in the trench before Tergoes,’3 at the conquest of Fort Rammekens,4 then ‘our camp removed to Streine’ (Strÿen) and at last at the siege of Middelburg, the capital of Zealand, which surrendered Feb. 19, 1574. But during the siege of

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Middelburg, which lasted for nearly two years, Gascoigne went to Delft,1 with the intention of going back to England, after having visited the Prince. But William of Orange made such an impression on Gascoigne, treated him so kindly, and gave him such new inspiration to fight for the cause of liberty and of Protestantism, that, after having ‘dwelt in Delft a winter's tyde,’2 Gascoigne returned to Zealand to fight on the side of the Sea-Beggars. The Prince himself came at that time to Zealand ‘to hunger Middelburg or make it yield,’ and Gascoigne once for three days fought along with the Sea-Beggars before Flushing, while every day the Prince from the pier looked at the fight. And when Mondragon, the Spanish commander, at Middelburg, at last (on February 19, 1574) surrendered, Gascoigne was in the city before Mondragon left:

 
‘And when Mountdragon might no more endure
 
He came to talk and rendred all at last,
 
With whom I was within the Citie sure,
 
Before he went, and on his promisse past,
 
So trust I had to thinke his fayth was fast.
 
I dinde, and supt, and laye within the towne
 
A daye before he was from thence ybowne.’3

The Prince of Orange gave to Gascoigne ‘three hundred guilders good above my pay,’ and ‘bad me bide till his abilitie might better gwerdon my fidelitie.’ Gascoigne needed very badly those three hundred guilders, and was much pleased, ‘much the more because they came uncraved, though not unneeded’ and ‘thereby my credite still was saved.’4 The Prince of Orange, himself from his youth accustomed to high

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expenses and luxury of life, understood perfectly the condition of Gascoigne, and had seen soon enough that Gascoigne was not a common soldier, but a highly civilized, social, courteous and literary man of attractive geniality. And when at last ‘a English newe relief came over sea,’ of which Edward Chester was the chief, then the Prince, with the consent of Chester, made Gascoigne ‘to take a band in charge,’ and soon afterwards, when the Spaniards for a second time started to besiege Leyden - this was the famous siege - we find Gascoigne with his band near Leyden in the ‘new begun fort Valkenburg.’1 But the Spaniards pressed upon them so badly that they fled towards the walls of Leyden, where Gascoigne with his band arrived in the evening. The citizens of Leyden, however, afraid of treason on the part of the English troops, did not open their gates and so the English were forced to surrender to the Spaniards. Wagenaar tells us, what Gascoigne himself does not mention, that thirty of those English troops refused to surrender and that those thirty were allowed to enter the city of Leyden.2 Anyhow, Gascoigne was made prisoner and after having been for four months as prisoner with the Spaniards, was sent back to England in September, 1574.

So his endeavor to make a success as a soldier became a failure from start to finish, and we read his disappointment in his ‘Voyage into Holland’ as well as in his ‘Fruits of War.’ The only brilliant point in this whole affair is Gascoigne's attractiveness as a gentleman, his amiable sociability and courtesie, his noble character, which attracted not only the Prince of Orange but the Spanish officers as well. In Middelburg with Mondragon, and during the four months

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he was a prisoner, the Spanish officers treated him very kindly. And during his abode at Delft, when he got a letter from the Hague, at that time the residence of the Spanish general Valdez, this Spanish general was as courteous to him as was the Prince of Orange. Gascoigne had a lady friend living at the Hague, who wrote him a letter to Delft, for the bearer of which Valdez readily gave a passport. And in return the Prince gave him a passport to visit that lady at the Hague. Who that lady friend was we do not know. We know that Valdez himself also had a lady friend at the Hague by the name of Magdalena Moons,1 who was nothing more than his mistress. But whether she knew the lady friend of Gascoigne, or whether this had any connection with the courtesy of Valdez towards Gascoigne, we do not know. Whether that lady friend at the Hague was the subject of his hundredfold outpouring of love and devotion, in so many of his beautiful songs, we cannot decide.

Once more, after his return to England, we find Gascoigne in the Netherlands, viz., in the year 1576, at Antwerp. On the 8th of October he left Paris, and arrived at Antwerp on the 22nd of that month. There he stayed for two weeks, and then returned to England. But in those two weeks one of the most dreadful events in the history of that city happened - an event known as the ‘Spoil of Antwerp’ by the Spaniards. And to Gascoigne we owe the narrative of that dreadful event, as from an eye witness.2 If we knew nothing about the author of ‘The Spoil of Antwerp’ except what he tells about his discussions

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with the Spanish officers, we should immediately recognize Gascoigne as he appeared at Middelburg, at Delft, and as a prisoner in the Spanish camp.1

That all his misfortunes, his experiences, his adventures in the Netherlands made a deep impression on Gascoigne is easily understood, and may be felt through all the poems that were written after his first arrival at Den Briel.

In the Netherlands also he learned the French language, as he tells us himself in his address to Queen Elizabeth before his ‘Tale of Hemetes,’ using the expression, ‘such frenche as I borrowed in Holland.’

From Erasmus he borrowed the device of his Fruits of War, which is: Bellum dulce inexpertis.

But there is one work of Gascoigne which brings us still more directly into contact not only with Holland but immediately with Dutch literature, viz., his ‘Glasse of Government.’ A short explanation may make this clear, and is interesting enough, since Gascoigne deserves a special attention for his place in English Literature, as far as the development of the English drama is concerned. He was ‘the first to present in English dress a characteristic Italian comedy of intrigue’ in his ‘Supposes’ and in the ‘Bugbears,’ and he is the first who used the vernacular prose throughout a ‘prodigal son drama’ in his ‘Glasse of Government.’2

At that time there was a twofold movement - one, that of the Renaissance, more aristocratic, prevailing among the higher classes, favored by the Roman Catholic clergy, and bringing about a revival of Roman

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and Greek literature; and another one, that of the Reformation, more democratic, moving the masses of the rising democracy, religious in its character, bringing learning and education to the people with a decided tendency towards moral and religious reform.

The artistocratic humanists of the Renaissance despised the vernacular, and used as much as possible the Latin language. The religious democrats of the awakened masses preferred the vernacular, as the only language fit for the education of the people. This twofold movement produced a twofold literature - one in Latin, and the other in the vernacular. Both showed a prevailing preference for dramatic poetry: the Renaissance producing a great number of Latin dramas, written for the most part by the heads of the Latin schools for the use of their students; the Democracy, with its numerous guilds or chambers of Rhetoric, producing an innumerable number of morality plays, destined to be shown in the streets, and on the market places of the cities, especially in the ‘land-jewels,’ the great festivities for the masses during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Now, there was no country where both the Renaissance and the Reformation became as strong as in the Netherlands. The community of the Brethren of Common Life, founded by Gerard Grote at Deventer, produced not only men like Wessel Gansfort, Rudolphus Agricola and Erasmus, as so many leaders of the Renaissance, but as well a Thomas a Kempis, who, with his Imitation of Christ, laid the mystic foundation of the Reformation in the awakening of personal religious devotion. In this beautiful community, with its pupils soon spread all over the Netherlands, we see both the movements of Renaissance and Reformation still united in perfect harmony, and we

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hardly know which to admire more in these broad minded and plainly living men, their classic learning or their religious devotion. But the rapid development of democracy on one hand, and the conservatism of the Roman Catholic church on the other, brought about an antithesis between aristocracy and democracy, and made it soon impossible to keep those two movements of Renaissance and Reformation together. The poets of the Latin school dramas were quite different from the authors of the popular morality-plays, although both were more numerous in the Low Countries than anywhere else. In every city were found the Guilds of Rhetoric, producing their morality-plays in the Dutch vernacular; as well as Latin schools, where the Latin plays of Terentius, Seneca and Plautus soon proved to be too few in number as well as too heathen and immoral in their tendency. Consequently, new Latin dramas, in their literary form as polite as Terentius and Seneca, but in their subjects and tendency more Christian, were asked for. Biblical themes, as that of the Prodigal son, so often treated in the popular plays, were now taken up by the principals of the Latin schools for their new Latin dramas, and the tendency arose to give to the students a Christianized Terentius. Very numerous are the poets of those Latin school dramas in the Netherlands.1 Two of the most prominent among them were Guilielmus Gnapheus and Georgius Macropedius, and these two men bring us into immediate contact with Gascoigne as the author of ‘The Glasse of Government.’

Georgius Macropedius, whose Dutch name was Georg van Langveldt, was born in the year 1475 in

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the neighborhood of the castle Langveldt, at the little village of Gemert, near Bois le duc. He got his education among the Brethren of Common Life, and his portrait shows him in their plain dress of the monasteries of that time. Probably he studied at the University of Louvain, and after that he became the principal of the school of the Brethren of Common Life at Bois le duc. Later we find him as rector or principal of the Latin school at Utrecht, where he stayed from 1535 till 1554. At last he returned to Bois le duc for his health, and there he died in July, 1558. He left us twelve Latin dramas, published during his lifetime, in 1553, in one volume, viz., Asotus, Lazarus, Joseph, Jesus Scholasticus, Adamus, Hypomene, Hecastus, Rebelles, Aluta, Petriscus, Andrisca and Bassarus.1 In the ‘Rebelles’ he especially treats the theme of the Prodigal Son, in the same way that later Gascoigne did in his Glasse of Government.

Guilielmus Gnapheus, whose Dutch name was Willem de Volder, was born in the year 1493, at the Hague, and was therefore sometimes called Hagiensis. Later he translated his name into Greek and into Latin, and called himself Gnapheus, or sometimes Fullonius. Probably educated by the Brethren of Common Life, he got his B.A. at the University of Cologne, and after that he settled as a teacher at the Hague. But pretty soon he came under the suspicion of being a Lutheran, and was put into the prison of the Inquisition at Delft immediately after the Inquisition was introduced in the Netherlands. He was, however, set free by the influence of the States of Holland. After having been imprisoned again in 1525 as being the author of a pamphlet

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against monastic life, he fled in 1528 from persecution, at first to Elbing in Germany, where, in 1535, he became rector of the Latin school. In 1541 we find him at Konigsberg as counsel of the Duke Albrecht, and as rector of the newly founded University. The Lutherans, however, accused him of being a Calvinist, and therefore he went to Embden in East Friesland, in the year 1547, where he, on the recommendation of the Reformer Johannes a Lasco, became the secretary of the Countess Anna, and the tutor of her children. He died on the 29th of September, 1568, at Norden in East Friesland. He wrote several Latin plays, as Triumphus Eloquentiae, Morosophus, and Hypocrisis. But the most important one by far is his Acolastus, written for the students of the Latin school at the Hague, in which he treated the same subject, and in the same way as later Gascoigne in his Glasse of Government.1

The Acolastus of Gnapheus is considered as the source of Gascoigne's Glasse of Government. Probably the Rebelles of Macropedius may have been a second source. And then there is still a third Latin drama on the same theme, written by a man called Stymmelius, a play which Gascoigne might have known, and which is entitled ‘Studentes,’ but this is ‘a direct imitation of the Acolastus’2 of Gnapheus, and is much inferior not only to Acolastus but to Rebelles.3

The Acolastus of Grapheus won a European fame. Bolte mentions forty-eight editions, which appeared in the centers of learning in Europe before the year

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1587, the first edition being that at Antwerp in the year 1529. It was translated into French, German and English. The English edition is from the year 1540 by a school teacher at London called Johannes Palsgrave, and is dedicated to King Henry VIII, so that it is nearly impossible that Gascoigne should not have known the work, even if he never had been in the Netherlands. The question whether Gascoigne wrote his Glasse of Government in 1565, before he came to the Netherlands, or in 1575, after he returned to England, is therefore of very little importance.

Herford, in his Studies, makes an elaborate comparison between Gascoigne's Glasse of Government and the Acolastus of Gnapheus, with Macropedius' Rebelles and the Studentes of Stymmelius, showing that in all the main points, the subject is treated in the same way, so that every thought of their being independent of each other is excluded1 ‘Distinct copy,’ says Herford, ‘is Gascoigne's Glasse of Government not; it is written throughout with a different bias; it is the work of a Calvinist, not of a Catholic or of a Lutheran; it is in the vernacular, not in Latin; in prose, not in verse. For all that, however, it assuredly belongs to the same dramatic cycle; it is the attempt, that is, to connect Terentian situations with a Christian moral in a picture of school life.’2

The interesting part about Gascoigne is that in his broadminded conception the two lines of Renaissance and Reformation seem to meet each other, and to unite as in the works of the great Reformers, avoiding the one sidedness of the Humanists in their exclusive admiration of classical form, as well as that

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of the Protestant people, where they, in their zeal for religious reform, neglected too much the value of literary beauty.

Besides the works of Gascoigne we find the influence of the Latin dramas in different works of English literature. ‘A reminiscence of the Acolastus of Gnapheus,’ says Herford, ‘is doubtless also to be found in S. Nicholson's Acolastus, His After-wit, where Eubulus, the ancient friend and good counsellor, corresponds to the Prodigal's father of the same name in Gnapheus; while Acolastus himself is distinctly assimilated to the Prodigal.’1

Finally, Johannes Bolte, in his edition of Macropedius' Rebelles and Aluta, mentions one of the ballads of the Scottish priest, Alexander Geldes (1737-1802), to be found in R. Chambers, The Scottish Songs, II, 316, and in A. Whitelaw, The Book of Scottish Songs, p. 76, as showing the most close connection with the Aluta of Macropedius.2