et Boccasium de viris illustribus; cum multis aliis.’ A later epitaph is quoted by Fuller:—
Mortuus soclo superis superstes,
Hic jacet Lydgat tumulatus urna;
Qui fuit quondam celebris Britannæ
Lydgate repeatedly describes himself as Chaucer's disciple. He addresses him as his master, and while Chaucer was alive seems to have submitted to him his poems in manuscript, so as ‘with his supporte’ to ‘amende and correcte the wronge traces of’ his ‘rude penne’ (Life of our Lady). To his ‘master with humble affeccioun’ he dedicates his ‘Chorl and Bird.’ In his ‘Troy Booke’ he laments that death has deprived him of Chaucer's literary counsel, and that no survivor was worthy to hold Chaucer's ink-horn. His ‘Story of Thebes’ was designed as a direct imitation and continuation of the ‘Canterbury Tales,’ and was printed with them by Stowe (1561). Lydgate pretends that he told the story on the pilgrims' return journey from Canterbury to Southwark. In the prologue to the ‘Falls of Princes,’ Lydgate, while commending his ‘master,’ enumerates Chaucer's minor works in a passage of classic value to the student of the older poet. John Shirley (1366–1456), who zealously collected and copied out Chaucer's works, did little less extensive service for Lydgate; and the confusing proximity of the two writers' shorter poems in Shirley's manuscripts has occasioned much difficulty in determining the authorship of many minor pieces. Nor was Lydgate unacquainted with the English writings of ‘moral’ Gower, the philosopher Strode, Richard of Hampole (cf. Falls of Princes, viii. 24, f. 192 b, ix. 38, f. 217 c), or Layamon, and he probably read William Langland.
Lydgate mentions familiarly all the great writers of classical and mediæval antiquity. Of Greek authors he claims some acquaintance with ‘grete’ Homer, Euripides, Demosthenes, Plato, Aristotle, and Josephus. Among Latin writers he refers constantly to Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, and his commentator Servius, Livy, Juvenal, and ‘noble’ Persius; to ‘moral’ Seneca, Lucan, Statius, Aulus Gellius, Valerius Maximus, Prudentius, Lactantius, Prosper the ‘dogmatic’ epigrammatist, Vegetius, Boethius, Fulgentius, Alanus ab Insulis, and Guido di Colonna. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are repeatedly commended by him among Italian writers, and he was clearly acquainted with the ‘Roman de la Rose,’ with French fabliaux, romances, and chronicles. Alain Chartier he only seems to mention once (Halliwell, p. 47).
But Lydgate's linguistic attainments may easily be exaggerated. His classical learning was to a large extent obtained at second hand. He had practically no knowledge of Greek (cf. Koeppel, Laurent, pp. 46–8; Falls of Princes, iii. 7, fol. 78). He only knew Homer's ‘Iliad’ from the mediæval Isidore Hispalensis's ‘Origines;’ of the ‘Odyssey’ he seems wholly ignorant, while Guido di Colonna or Dares Phrygius doubtless supplied him with material for his ‘History of Troy.’ It may be questioned whether the Latin classics were more directly at his command. He mentions that Cicero wrote orations and ‘morall ditties,’ but refers to Vincent of Beauvais's ‘Speculum Historiale’ as the source of his information. He undoubtedly read Seneca and Boethius, and much mediæval literature in Latin and French; but when he converted Boccaccio's ‘De Casibus Virorum Illustrium’ into English verse he depended on the French translation of Laurent de Premier fait. His knowledge of the Arthurian legends he mainly derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth, and he freely utilised the ‘Gesta Romanorum.’ In his ‘Court of Sapience’ and elsewhere he treats of science and mathematics, but he disclaims knowledge of Euclid (Troy Book F, a), and has little title to be reckoned a mathematician. He possessed a library, but the sole volume belonging to it now known to be extant (Bodl. Libr. MS. Laud. 233) significantly contains two works of Isidore Hispalensis along with a few sermons of Hildebert of Le Mans and some brief quotations from Virgil and Horace. Lydgate's autograph figures in this volume.
For two centuries after his death Lydgate was assigned by critics of English poetry a place beside Gower and only a little below Chaucer. In his own lifetime he found an ardent disciple in Benedict Burgh [q. v.], who eulogised him unstintedly both in a metrical panegyric (Secreta, ed. Steele, xxix. sq.), and in a continuation of Lydgate's ‘Secreta Secretorum,’ stanzas 214–27. Another contemporary, Bishop Alcock, speaks of his many ‘noble histories’ and ‘vertuous ballettes,’ which led to the ‘encrease of vertue and the oppression of vice’ (Sermo on Luke viij, Wynkyn de Worde, 1496?). Bradshaw in his ‘Life of St. Werburge’ (ii. 20–3), Bokenam in his ‘Legends’ (i. 177, ii. 4, 612, vi. 24, xiii. 1078), and Ashby in his ‘Active Policy of a Prince,’ write of Lydgate with scarcely less warmth. Feylde, in his ‘Lover and a Jaye’ (prol. 19–21), terms his works ‘fruytefull and sentencyous,’ and their author ‘a famous rethorycyne.’ In the early sixteenth century Stephen Hawes, in his ‘Pas-