Sir Thomas Wyatt Criticism

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Richard Tottel (essay date 1557)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Tottel, Richard. “The Printer to the Reader.” 1557. Reprinted in Wyatt: The Critical Heritage, edited by Patricia Thomson, p. 32. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

[In the following excerpt, which was originally published in Tottel's Songs and Sonettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other, the printer credits Wyatt with helping improve the beauty and power of the English language.]

That to haue wel written in verse, yea & in small parcelles, deserueth great praise, the workes of diuers Latines, Italians, and other, doe proue sufficiently. That our tong is able in that kynde to do as praiseworthely as the rest, the honorable stile of the noble earle of Surrey, and the weightinesse of the depewitted sir Thomas Wyat the elders verse, with seuerall graces in sondry good Englishe writers, doe show abundantly. It resteth nowe (gentle reder) that thou thinke it not euill doon, to publish, to the honor of the Englishe tong, and for profit of the studious of Englishe eloquence, those workes which the vngentle horders vp of such treasure haue hereto enuied thee. And for this point (good reder) thine own profit and pleasure, in these presently, and in moe hereafter, shal answere for my defence. If parhappes some mislike the statelinesse of stile remoued from the rude skill of common eares: I aske help of the learned to defend their learned frendes, the authors of this work: And I exhort the vnlearned, by reding to learne to be more skilful, and to purge that swinelike grossenesse, that maketh the swete maierome not to smell to their delight.

George Frederick Nott (essay date 1816)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Nott, George Frederick. “An Essay on Wyatt's Poems.” 1816. Reprinted in Wyatt: The Critical Heritage, edited by Patricia Thomson, pp. 47-89. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

[In the essay below, originally published in the second volume of Nott's 1815-16 edition of The Works of Henry Howard Earl of Surrey and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, the critic charges that Wyatt lacked originality and skill with language. In the endnotes following this essay, Nott's original notes appear within parentheses; all others are Thomson's.]

What has been already observed concerning the Earl of Surrey, that though he was eminent for his virtues and personal accomplishments, yet his claim to celebrity rested principally upon his writings, applies equally to Sir Thomas Wyatt. It remains for us to inquire therefore what share of praise he likewise is entitled to in the same respect.

Of Sir Thomas Wyatt as a poet, Warton has drawn a character which is, like every thing that falls from that writer's pen, both lovely and elegant; it is just and satisfactory also, as far as it goes; but it is much too general. We shall readily admit from Warton's observations that good composition began to dawn with Wyatt; but we do not collect from any thing he has said, what particular improvements were made by him in our language or style of writing; neither are we informed what the sources were from which he drew; or upon what authors he formed himself. These deficiencies I will endeavour to supply.

Wyatt, as a poet, can lay little claim to originality. It is true that his writings are diversified; far more so in fact than might have been expected at that early period of our literature. He wrote Sonnets, Rondeaus, Amatory Odes, both grave and gay, Epigrams, Poems of a moral and religious cast, and Satires upon common life. He employed also great diversity of measure, and supplies examples of almost every form of stanza that has since been used; still he was not an original writer. He seems to have begun in every instance by translating from some other author; and as he was a good scholar, and a man of extensive reading, he took his models equally from the Greek,1 the Latin, the French, the Italian, and the Spanish2 writers. Having caught an author's style, he proceeded to write in his manner. His imitations are always good indeed; but still they are imitations; and are fewer in...

(The entire section is 217,639 words.)