chapter  10
6 Pages

BE L L on Wyatt, 1854

As a poet, Wyatt's claims have never been adequately recognized. While he has obtained the credit of having co-operated with Surrey in 'correcting the ruggedness' of English poetry, his share in the reform has not received the acknowledgment to which it appears to be en­ titled. Surrey, being the better poet, has carried off all the honours. Dr Nott says that at a late period Wyatt adopted the iambic form of verse which Surrey had at that time introduced.1 Setting aside the doubtful hypothesis that Surrey was the first to introduce the iambic, the imme­ diate question that arises out of this assertion is, At what time did he introduce it, and at what time was it adopted by Wyatt? The priority

i s simply a matter of dates ; and, a s Dr Nott i s specific and absolute in his statement, we have a right to expect that he is prepared to support it by the requisite proofs. But no such proofs are in existence. The dates when the poems were written are unknown. Wyatt's and Surrey's poems were published for the first time in Totters Miscellanies in 1 5 57, ten years after the execution of Surrey, and fifteen years after the death of Wyatt. If we could even suppose, which for obvious reasons we cannot, that Tottel's editor had arranged the productions of each author in the order of their composition, it would afford us no assistance towards the deter­ mination of their relative dates. Here and there particular allusions may suggest a speculation as to the period when certain pieces were written ; but that kind of evidence is not always to be relied upon, nor does it furnish sufficiently extensive data to warrant a general inference. In the absence, therefore, of more direct testimony, we must turn to such collateral circumstances as bear upon the inquiry ; and here all parti­ culars concur in proving that Wyatt was several years antecedent to Surrey. The confusion into which Dr Nott's tendency to substitute speculation for fact has thrown the circumstantial evidence is not a little remarkable.