Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

printer; but of what momentous consequences was he the initial agent! Unconsciously, he came to form a new intellectual era, to scatter the messengers of reform, to render Bibies and other books the common property of the great and the mean, to create a democracy and make a grave for tyrants; to subordinate oral and scenic to written instruction, and thus to deprive the pulpit of that supremacy which was founded on the condition of a nonreading public; to make possible a direct communication between the government and the governed, without priestly mediation, which was the first step in the separation of Church and State. Patriarch of the English press! stranger to the powers that slumber in thy craft, insensible to those elevated conceptions that guide the world's helm, yet thy honest toil for the day and honest hope for the morrow shall accrue to the advantage of mankind continually, for ever. Lad — apprentice — mercer retainer - hoary learner -- venerable printer—thou, simple man, by the accident of time and the grace of fortune, shalt live in immortal memory!

FIRST CREATIVE PERIOD.

CHAPTER VI.

FEATURES.

Under whatever point of view we consider this era, we find its political, ecclesiastical, and literary events more numerous, varicd, and important than in any of the preceding ages.--Guizot,

To observe the connection between the successive stages of a progressive movement of the human spirit, and to recognize that the forces at work are still active, is the true philosophy of history.--Symonds.

Politics. The sombre and sinister wisdom of Italian policy -a policy of refined stratagem-of ruthless but secret violenceachieved in this age the tranquillity of a settled state and the establishment of a civilized but imperious despotism. The title of Henry VIII was undisputed—the first such in a hundred years -his temper hot, his spirit high, and his will supreme. Every public officer was his crouching menial. Wolsey, his minister, devoted his learning and abilities to the personal pleasure of the master who might destroy him by a breath. Under the administration of Cromwell, an organized reign of terror held the nation panie-stricken at Henry's feet. Judges and juries were coerced. Parliament was degraded into the mere engine of absolutism. His faithful Commons, hesitating to pass the bill for the dissolution of the monasteries, were summoned into his presence. “I hear,' said the magnificent despot, that my bill will not pass; but I will have it pass, or I will have some of your heads. It passed! The imagination of his subjects--to whom his reign, on the whole, was decidedly beneficial-was overawed. To them he was something high above the laws which govern ordinary men. In the midst of his barbarous cruelties he appeared the avenging minister of heaven, who, in renouncing the papacy, had burst asunder the prison-gates of Rome.

The counsellors of Edward VI, with less of the sanguinary

spirit of his father, were as unscrupulous in bending the rules of law and justice to their purpose in cases of treason. They were a designing oligarchy, from whom no measure conducive to liberty and justice could be expected to spring. They had not, however, the sinews to wield the iron sceptre of Henry, and the increased weight of the Commons appears in the repeal of former statutes that had terrified and exasperated the people; in the rejection of bills sent down from the Upper House; in the anxiety of the court, by the creation of new boroughs,' to obtain favorable elections.

The reign of Mary is memorable as a period of bloody persecution. Popery was restored, Protestants were imprisoned and burned for no other crime than their religion; stretches of prerogative in matters temporal were more violent and alarming; torture was more frequent than in all former ages combined, and a commission issued in 1557 has the appearance of a preliminary step to the Inquisition. A proclamation, after denouncing the importation of books filled with heresy and treason, declared that whoever should be found to have such books in his possession, should be considered a rebel and executed according to martial law. Yet not even she could preserve the absolute dominion of her father Henry. While in his reign the Lower House only once rejected a measure recommended by the Crown, in hers the first two Parliaments were dissolved on this account, and the third, refusing to pass several of her favorite bills, was far from obsequious. Still less was the English spirit, which had controlled princes in the fulness of their pride, broken. The reproach of servility under usurped powers belongs less to the people than to their natural leaders--the compliant nobility. The reign of each of the Tudors was disturbed by formidable discontents. Each had the discretion never to carry oppression to a fatal point.

The tone and temper of Elizabeth's administration were displayed in a vigilant execution of severe statutes, especially upon the Romanists, and in occasional stretches of power beyond the law, while the superior wisdom of her counsellors led them generally to shun the more violent measures of the late reigns. To high assumptions of prerogative, the resistance of Parliament

1 Twenty-two were created or restored in this short reign.

became insensibly more vigorous. If, in the House of Commons, many were creatures of the Royal Council, grasping at preferment, others with inflexible aim recurred in every session to an important guarantee of civil liberty,-- the right to inquire into public grievances and obtain redress. Now it was, perhaps for the first time, that the Commons asserted the privilege of determining contested elections. The finger of this sovereign was ever on the public pulse, and she knew exactly when she could resist and when she must retreat.

The same jealousy of the aristocracy turned the genius of the maiden queen to a new source of influence, unknown to her ancestors, – the people, a people divided by creeds and dogmas, but made compliant and coherent by the firmness and the in. dulgence of the wisest policy. While she ruled them with a potent hand, she courted their eyes and hearts. She it was who, studying their wants and wishes, first gave the people a theatre 'for the recreation of our loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure.' She subdued by yielding Her sex and graciousness inspired a reign of love, and her energies contributed to make it one of enterprise and emulation a new era of adventure and glory. Elizabeth, living in the hearts of her people, survived in their memories. Her birthday was long observed as a festival day. Every sign of the growing prosperity told in her favor, and her worst acts failed to dim the lustre of the national ideal.

Society. The monarchy established peace, and with peace came the useful arts and domestic comfort. The development of manufactures was gradually absorbing the unemployed. Under Elizabeth commerce began that rapid career which has made Englishmen the carriers of the world. The burst of national vigor found new outlets in the marts of the Mediterranean and Baltic. In 1553 was founded a company to trade with Russia. In 1578 Drake circumnavigated the globe. In 1600 the East India Company was founded. Henry VIII at the beginning of his reign had but one ship of war.

Elizabeth sent out one hundred and fifty against the Armada. Agriculture was so improved that the produce of an acre was doubled. Dwellings of brick and stone were superseding the straw-thatched cottages, plastered with coarsest clay and often on fire. With open admiration,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Harrison notes, 1580, three important changes in the farm-houses of his time:

One is the multitude of chimnies lately erected, whereas in their yoong daies were not above two or three, if so manie, in most uplandishe townes of the realme. ... The second is the great amendment of lodging, although not generall, for our fathers, (yea and we ourselves also) have lien full oft upon straw pallets, on rough mats covered onlie with a sheet, under coverlets made of dogswain, or hopharlots, and a good round log under their heads, instead of a bolster or pillow. If it were so that the good man of the house had within seven years after his marriage purchased a matteres or flockebed, and thereto a sacke of chaffe to rest his head upon, he thought himselfe to be as well lodged as the lord of the towne. . . . Pillowes (said they) were thought meet onelie for women in childbed. ... The third thing is the exchange of vessell, as of treene platters into pewter, and wodden spoons into silver or tin; for so common was all sorts of treene stuff in olden time, that a man should hardlie find four peeces of pewter (of which one was peradventure a salt) in a good farmers house.'

Looking-glasses imported from France began to displace the small mirrors of polished steel. Carpets were used rather for covering tables than floors, which latter were generally strewn with rushes. Forks were as yet unheard of, but knives — first made in England in 1563 — and spoons were ornamented with some care. Gloomy walls and serried battlements disappeared from the palaces of the noblesse, half Gothic, half Italian, covered with picturesque gables, retted fronts, gilded turrets, and adorned with terraces and vast staircases, with gardens, fountains, vases, and statues. The prodigal use of glass was a marked feature - one whose sanitary value can hardly be overestimated. * You shall have,' grumbles one, ‘your houses so full of glass that we can not tell where to come to be out of the sun or the cold.' The master no longer rode at the head of his servants, but sat apart in his 'coach. The first carriage, 1564, caused much astonishment; some calling it ‘a great sea-shell from China,' others ‘a temple in which cannibals worshipped the devil. Gentlemen placed their glory less in the conquests of the battle-axe and sword than in the elegance and singularity of their dress. “Do not,' says a bitter Puritan, 'both men and women, for the most part, every one, in general, go attired in silks, velvets, damasks, satins, and what not, which are attire only for the nobility and gentry, and not for the others at any hand?' They wore hats 'perking up like the spear or shaft of a temple,' or hats 'flat and broad on the crown like the battlements of a house'; hats of silk, velvet, and of 'fine hair, which they call beaver, fetched from beyond the seas, from whence a great sort of other vanities do come besides'; cloaks of sable, ornamented shirts; coats

« AnteriorContinuar »