The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

VIII. The English Chaucerians

§ 3. Burgh

The task of continuing one of Lydgate’s last and most prosaic works was taken up by a younger writer, Benet or Benedict Burgh, from whom we have some other things. Burgh is said to have had his education at Oxford, and, probably, had his extraction from Essex, where he was, in 1440, made rector of Sandon. He was also tutor in the Bourchier family, and successively rector of Sible Hedingham, archdeacon of Colchester, prebendary (1477) of St. Paul’, canon of St. Stephen’s at Westminster, which latter benefice he held at his death in 1483. Besides his completion of The Secrets of the Philosophers, which seems to have been done to order, we have a poem of Burgh’s in praise of, and addressed to, Lydgate himself, A Christmas Game, Aristotle’s A B C and a version of the famous distichs attributed to Cato, which was printed by Caxton separately, before he attempted his own translation. The last piece has been spoken of as showing versification superior to that of Burgh’s other work, but this is only partially true. His favourite metre is rime royal, which he manages with all the staggering irregularity common to English poets of the fifteenth century, and not fully explicable by the semi-animate condition of the final -e and some other things of the kind. Burgh’s earlier equivalents for the so-called decasyllable vary numerically from seven syllables to fourteen: no principle of metrical equivalence and substitution being for the most part able to effect even a tolerable correspondence between their rhythm, which is constantly of the following kind:

  • When from the high hille, I mean the mount Canice.
  • Poem to Lydgate, I, 45.
  • Secunde of the persone the magnificence royale.
  • Secrets, I, 1558.
  • The opening verses (which probably gave rise to the opinion above recorded) of Cato are more regular, the author having had by this time about thirty years’s practice and having attained a certain Occlevian power of counting on his fingers. But he relapses later and we have lines like these:

  • Mannes soule resembleth a newe plain table
  • In whiche yet apperith to sight no picture
  • The philosophre saith withouten fable
  • Right so is mannes soule but a dedly figure
  • Unto the tyme she be reclaimed with the lure
  • Of doctrine and so gete hir a good habit
  • To be expert in cunnyng science and prouffit.
  • Bk. I, st. 2.
  • Even here may be noticed that strong tendency towards the alexandrine which is notable in all the disorderly verse of this time, and which attempted to establish and regularise itself in the poetry of the earlier Elizabethans, making its last and greatest effort in Polyolbion.