The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

X. Michael Drayton

§ 15. His Achievement

Drayton’s long and busy life closed at the end of 1631, and his body was buried in Westminster Abbey, under the north wall of the nave, and not in Poet’s Corner where his bust may be seen. His right to the honour will possibly be more fully conceded by present and future ages than it has been at any other time since his own day. We see in him now, not, indeed, a poet of supreme imagination, nor one who worked a revolution or founded a school, but a poet with a remarkably varied claim on our attention and respect. Drayton was not a leader. For the most part he was a follower, quick to catch, and industrious to reproduce, the feeling and mode of the moment. So great, however, was his vitality and so fully was he a master of his craft that, living from the reign of Elizabeth into that of Charles I, he was able to keep abreast of his swiftly moving times, and, by reason of his very powers of labour, to bring something out of the themes and measures he employed which his predecessors and contemporaries failed to secure, but which after years owed to his efforts. This is especially the case, as we have seen, with his management of the rimed couplet and the shortlined lyric. Sluggish, perhaps, of temper, and very variably sensitive to inspiration, he lacked the touchstone of perfect poetical taste, and, like Wordsworth, lacked also the finer virtues of omission. Yet everything that he wrote has its loftier moments; he is often “golden-mouthed,” indeed, in his felicity of diction, whether in the brave style of his youth or in the daintier manner of his age; and just as, in his attitude to life, “out of the strong came forth sweetness,” so, in his poetry, out of his dogged labour came forth sweetness of many kinds. In the long period which his work covered, the many subjects and styles it embraced, the beauty of its results and its value as a kind of epitome of an important era, there are few more interesting figures in English literature than Michael Drayton.