SOME EIGHTEENTH CENTURY SONG BOOKS: WILLIAM MAAS BY MONG the supreme glories of English literature are its songs. In the Elizabethan age the sun of song stood at the meridian irradiating all the land and bathing it in splendour. Song writing in this marvellous era achieved a height it had never before reached, and it has only once been challenged since by the genius of Blake, Burns and Shelley. In the latter half of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century the song gemmed the gown of poetry, whether for the court, the playhouse or the ruder countryside. Shakespeare's lyrical jewels were early torn from their dramatic setting to array the hearts and pleasure the ears of ballad makers and lutists. With other dramatists it was the same. Their songs were detached by lyrists, who found their dramas something alien to the prevailing English spirit awakened by Surrey and Wyatt. For it was a very June night of song, when England rang with the melody of " a thousand blended notes " from such singers as Campion, Byrd, Dowland, Wither and Davies. This outburst of lyrical sunshine has been well praised from generation to generation, and no singer has escaped the wise or foolish eulogies of the myriad anthologists stooping to deck a whim or constrained to dabble their fingers in Prome- thean fire. But it is worth while going a step further than most have done and tracing the passage of the sun across the heavens to its setting; to linger for a moment in the delicate roseate afterglow that tells sadly of " the tender grace of a day that is dead." With the gradual withdrawal " to shades of under ground " of the great Elizabethan singers, the volume of melody dwindles. The sun is dipping towards the horizon, but here and there Hashes of song escape from some veiling cloud of an encroaching company that gather like sullen skyey wolves about a space from which the Ere of their master had driven them. Herrick, Carew, Suckling, Crashaw, Lovelace, Vaughan and Waller caught up the flaming mantles as they fell and carried the glory of song to the end of the century. Then " with one stride came the dark." And in the adum- bration we descry the philosophic Pope attended by laughing Prior and Garth and horse-riding Young. While as glow-worms making the darkness more intense shine forth with paley lustre, the boyishness of Gay and the careless irresponsibility of Henry Carey, who was more anxious to claim the authorship of " God Save the King " than content to have written " Sally in Our Alley "-which was enough for one man in Queen Anne's reign. And it was in some sense of the gloom that had bespread the land 327 D