Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 34.djvu/312

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New Testament,’ 1840; new edit. 1854; another edit. 1885.

[Gent. Mag. April 1857, pp. 491–2.]

G. C. B.

LYDE, WILLIAM (1623–1706), dramatic poet. [See Joyner.]

LYDGATE, JOHN (1370?–1451?), poet, was born, as he himself tells us, at Lydgate, near Newmarket, ‘where Bacchus licour doth ful scarsly flete’ (Falls of Princes, 176 d, cf. 217 d; Æsop, Prol. 32) Bale and Pits describe him as sixty years old in 1440, making 1380 his date of birth. Other facts prove, however, that he was born at least ten years earlier; in the ‘Falls of Princes’ (bk. viii. Prol.), which he began about 1430, he speaks of his ‘threescore of yearys.’ His later connection with the Benedictine monastery of Bury St. Edmunds makes it possible that he went to the school kept by the monks there (cf. Babees Book, Early English Text Soc., xlv–vi). According to his own account he was an unruly boy. He was fond of ‘jangling’ and ‘japing’ with his schoolfellows; he stole fruit and preferred ‘telling’ cherry-stones to going to church (cf. ‘Testament’ in Halliwell, Minor Poems, pp. 255–257). When fifteen he was admitted into the abbey of Bury, and at the end of a year he had grown serious enough to make his profession (ib.)

In his latest work, ‘Secreta Secretorum,’ he speaks in very sympathetic terms of the high place that a university ought to hold in a civilised state, and it is very probable that he enjoyed the advantages of academic training. But details are wanting. Gloucester Hall at Oxford was a house of education for Benedictine monks, and Lydgate may have spent some time there. Bale asserted that he studied at both the English universities. An early manuscript note describes a rendering of one of Æsop's fables as ‘made in Oxenford’ (Ashmol. MS. 59), and some verses on the foundation of the town and university of Cambridge are assigned to him (cf. Baker MS. in Cambr. Univ. Libr.; Retrospective Review, 2nd ser. i. 498). Bale's further statement that he completed his studies in France and Italy rests on very shadowy evidence. Padadopoli, an historian of the university of Padua, vaguely conjectures that he studied in that university (Historia Gymnasi Patavini, ii. 165). A fourteenth-century Joannes Anglus seems to be known to some Paduan writers, but there is nothing to identify him with the poet (cf. Schick, p. xc). It seems very doubtful if Lydgate at any time visited Italy. He was undoubtedly well acquainted with France, but his foreign tours seem to have been undertaken in the spirit of an adventurous sightseer rather than in the pursuit of academic learning:—

I haue been offte in dyvers londys
And in many dyvers Regiouns. …
In Citees, Castellys, and in touns;
Among folk of sundry naciouns. …
I askyd no mannere of protecciouns;
God was myn helpe ageyn al drede’
     (Harl. MS. 2255, ff. 148–50).

Meanwhile, on 13 March 1388–9, ‘fr[ater] Joh[annes] Lidgate, monachus de Bury,’ was admitted in the church of Hadham to the four minor ecclesiastical orders (Tanner, 489). According to the register of William Cratfield, abbot of Bury St. Edmunds, he received letters dimissory for the office of subdeacon on 17 Nov. or Dec. 1389 (Cotton, Tib. B. ix. fol. 35 b), and for that of deacon on 28 May 1393 (ib. fol. 69 b). He was ordained priest by John Fordham, bishop of Ely, on 7 April 1397, in the chapel of the manor of Dounham (cf. ib. fol. 85 b, and Schick, p. lxxxvii).

Bale states that as soon as Lydgate had completed his foreign tour, he opened a school for the sons of noblemen. Warton and later writers locate the school in the Bury monastery. In 1415 the poet was present at the election of William of Exeter as abbot of the monastery.

Lydgate wrote verse from an early age. He seems to have been fired by the example of Chaucer, and he made after 1390 the personal acquaintance, not only of the poet, who died in 1400, but also of Thomas Chaucer [q. v.], the poet's son. Through the reign of Henry IV (1399–1413) he spent much time in London, apparently seeking from men of rank recognition for his poetic efforts. He knew London life and London topography well. In his popular poem ‘London Lackpenny’ he humorously portrays the disadvantages of an empty purse in the metropolis. The corporation of the city acknowledged his merit, and invited him to celebrate civic ceremonies in verse. He wrote a ‘Ballade to the Sheriffs and Aldermen of London on a May day at a Dinner at Bishop Wood’ (Ashmol. MS. 59, No. 31, printed in Chron. of London, ed. Nicolas, p. 257), and he devised pageants for both the Mercers' and the Goldsmiths' Companies in honour of William Estfield, who was mayor in 1429 and 1437 (Addit. MS. 29729, ff. 132 sq.) The chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral also commissioned him to write verses to be inscribed beneath a pictorial representation in the cloisters of the ‘Dance Macabre’ or ‘Dance of Death’ [No. 7 below].