Home  »  Volume IV: English PROSE AND POETRY SIR THOMAS NORTH TO MICHAEL DRAYTON  »  § 3. Fisher’s Sense of Style

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

XII. The English Pulpit from Fisher to Donne

§ 3. Fisher’s Sense of Style

Fisher’s literary skill is visible in his many comparisons and imageries. At times, they are homely and almost humorous, as when he recommends that men should become as familiar with death as with “these grete mastyves that be tyed in chaynes,” which “unto suche as often vysyte theym be more gentyll and easy.” At times, the comparisons are far fetched and over elaborated, as when he compares the Crucified to a parchment which is stretched and set up to dry; the scourging has left ruled lines across and the five wounds are illuminated capitals. The actual technique of sentence construction still causes him some difficulty. Long sentences do not always come out straight. The paragraph is neglected and, owing to defective punctuation, sentences are sometimes wrongly divided and the connection in thought between one sentence and another is obscured. Again, he cannot be acquitted of over-working the words “so” and “such” till they give a feminine tenderness to his writings. Defects of this rudimentary type are least frequent in the two funeral sermons upon Henry VII and his mother. Here, Fisher is at his best, and displays a noble and sonorous rhetoric with all the charms of rhythm and cadence. It is impossible to doubt that, even better than Malory, he knew what he was doing and delighted in it. Perhaps to him first among English prose-writers it was given to have a conscious pleasure in style. Here is something more than the naïve charm of the old-world story-teller; here is the practised hand of the artist. It is no chance that arranged the order of words in the inventory of the dead king’s treasures;

  • al his goodly horses so rychely dekte and appareyled, his walles and galaryes of grete pleasure, his gradyns large and wyde with knottes curyously wrought, his orcheyards set with vines and trees moost delicate.
  • And in his description of the weeping of the countess of Richmond’s household at her death, Fisher makes as varied and skilful use of inversion, as any writer has ever made. Her most loyal admirer could wish the lady Margaret no fitter commemoration than the sculpture of Torrigiano, the prose of Fisher and the founts of Wynkyn de Worde.