By William Minto


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III.--HENRY CONSTABLE (1555?--1610?).

Constable was of Roman Catholic family, and was educated at St John's, Cambridge, where he took the degree of B.A. in 1579. He was obliged to leave England in 1595, from suspicion of treasonable practices. Venturing back in 1601 or 1602, he was committed to the Tower, from which he was not released till towards the close of 1604. He is mentioned as if he were still alive in the "Return from Parnassus" (1606), and in Bolton's "Hypercritica" (1616) as if he were then dead. The first edition of his sonnets to "Diana" appeared in 1592, and contained 23; a second was issued in 1594, containing 27. Sixty-three sonnets by Constable, methodically arranged in sevens, are printed in the Harleian Miscellany from a MS. known as Todd's MS.: this collection comprises all that appear in the printed collections. Constable wrote also certain "Spiritual Sonnets," and a version of the tale of Venus and Adonis, which was not published till 1600, but is believed to have been written earlier.

Like Daniel, Constable does not attempt the delineation of stormy passions, yet his deepest vein is quite different from Daniel's. He has a more ardent soul than Daniel: his imagination is more warmly and richly coloured: he has more of flame and less of moisture in him. Daniel's words flow most abundantly and with happiest impulse when his eye is dim with tears; Constable's when his whole being is aglow with the rapture of beauty. Tears fall from the poet's eyes in the following sonnet, but they fall like rain in sunshine. The occasion is his lady's walking in a garden:--

My lady's presence makes the roses red
Because to see her lips they blush for shame:
The lily's leaves for envy pale became,
And her white hands in them this envy bred.
The marigold abroad its leaves did spread
Because the sun's and her power is the same
The violet of purple colour came,
Dyed with the blood she made my heart to shed.
In brief, all flowers from her their virtue take;
From her sweet breath their sweet smells do proceed;
The living heat which her eyebeams do make
Warmeth the ground, and quickeneth the seed.
The rain wherewith she watereth these flowers
Falls from mine eyes which she dissolves in showers.

The following is more characteristic of his soaring ardour--"rapture all air and fire;" though the structure is somewhat artificial:--

Blame not my heart for flying up so high,
Sith thou art cause that it this flight begun,
For earthly vapours, drawn up by the sun,
Comets become, and night-suns in the sky.
My humble heart so with thy heavenly eye
Drawn up aloft, all low desires doth shun:
Raise thou me up, as thou my heart has done,
O during night, in heaven remain may I.
Blame not, I say again, my high desire,
Sith of us both the cause thereof depends
In thee doth shine, in me doth burn a fire;
Fire draweth up others, and itself ascends.
Thine eye a fire, and so draws up my love;
My love a fire, and so ascends above.

The most exquisite of his sonnets for sweet colour and winning fancy is that where he compares his love to a beggar at the door of beauty--

Pity refusing my poor Love to feed,
A beggar starved for want of help he lies,
And at your mouth, the door of beauty, cries
That thence some alms of sweet grants may proceed.
But as he waiteth for some almes-deed,
A cherry tree before the door he spies--
O dear, quoth he, two cherries may suffice,
Two only life may save in this my need.
But beggars can they nought but cherries eat?
Pardon my Love, he is a goddess' son,
And never feedeth but of dainty meat,
Else need he not to pine as he hath done.
For only the sweet fruit of this sweet tree
Can give food to my love, and life to me.

In one of his sonnets he makes the same glorious claim for his lady that Shakespeare makes for the fair youth of his adoration--

Miracle of the world! I never will deny
That former poets praise the beauty of their days;
But all those beauties were but figures of thy praise,
And all those poets did of thee but prophesy.

His amorous sonnets and other light poems were the effusions of his youth, and like Spenser he turned in his older years to the contemplation of heavenly beauty. He concludes his love-sonnets by saying--

For if none ever loved like me, then why
Still blameth he the things he doth not know?
And he that hath so loved will favour show,
For he hath been a fool as well as I.

And adds in prose--"When I had ended this last sonnet, and found that such vain poems as I had by idle hours writ, did amount just to the climacterical number 63; methought it was high time for my folly to die, and to employ the remnant of wit to other calmer thoughts less sweet and less bitter." There can be little doubt that the beautiful "spiritual sonnets" ascribed to him by Mr Park, and printed in vol. ii. of the "Heliconia," are his composition. Those addressed to "our Blessed Lady" are particularly fine.

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