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Before this, English literature had owed very much to imitation of foreign models. This imitation was not now at an end; but our literature was no longer limited to it. Men began to create for themselves. With the Elizabethan age England began distinctly to add to the treasure of genius which belongs to all the world.
1. First came the poetical outburst in Edmund Edmund Spenser. He took for his model, in style and language, 1552-1599. Chaucer; but added to him all the grace of his own time. His great poem, the 'Faerie Queene,' is an Faerie allegory which shadows forth the events of his own time, but throws them into a shape so fanciful and picturesque that it makes us wonder how any one could be so thoroughly a poet as to see the events of the day, which to most men are so clouded in details and vulgarities, in so purely poetical a light. Spenser's imagination is so fine, indeed, and his allegory is so subtle, that he has never found very many readers, and has been called rather "the poet's poet;" but how exquisite and refined his poetry is may be seen even from the short specimens of it in this book.
2. The same rich fancy and grace we find in the verse of Sir Philip Sidney, who forms the pattern courtier of Sir Philip his time; brave, tender, chivalrous, and accomplished; 1554-1586, so that his life is itself like that of some hero in a poem. In his prose romance, called the 'Arcadia,' that fancy is carried even to extravagance. It was a fancy
John Lyly. 1553-1601.
so exuberant that it was certain to be exaggerated ;
and so, in the end, it was.
3. Literature then turned the more strongly into a channel which it was already wearing out for itself. Allegory and fanciful conceits were discarded for the more real representation of action and emotion.
it was thus that it reached the heart of the people. In the rough theatres, with the rude scenery of the day, to a turbulent audience, the drama began to open the new interest of human action. Dramatic representation in England, as in other countries, may be traced back to the mystery plays acted by the monks in church, upon a Scriptural topic, or illustrating the life of some saint for the religious edification of the audience; but the drama of the Elizabethan age was very different from its original, and its power was owing entirely to the vigour and force with which it represented human passions to a passionate and vigorous age. It began with the minor dramatists, such as Greene, Nash, and their superior, Marlowe, men whose lives reflected their work, impetuous, brawling, fierce; Marlowe died in a tavern riot, and was pursued by the rancour of enemies as an atheist. The rules which classic times had set up
for the conduct of a drama (rules which a later age revived), were set at nought by these vigorous, but lawless writers. Their dramas were bold; the representation of fierce passion was carried to an excess of extravagance.
4. Then there came to rule the rough and lawless powers of this drama, without limiting their range, he whose name stands first in all our literature, William Shakespeare. To him alone was it given to Shakespeare. reign supreme over such fierce elements. No dramatic rules of time and place fettered him; only the breadth and universal range of his vision saved him from being carried away by the fierceness of one absorbing passion. He throws himself into all his characters, and yet he does so without introducing the least sameness into them; not even the least important fails to show some trait that is all its own. His language is often involved and difficult, but it is with the intricacy of rapid and impetuous utterance that strives to anticipate a thought, and not with the intricacy of artificiality and euphuism (as the strained language of the day was nicknamed, after Lyly's book). In him the creative age of English literature reached its crowning point.
After him the drama drooped. New feelings were arising, out of which grew a literature of altogether a different character. These new feelings began to tell on the drama itself. Ben Jonson was Ben Jonson. Shakespeare's younger and surviving contemporary. He has plenty of strength and vigour, but his fancy is
as nothing compared with that of Shakespeare. He is thoughtful and intricate. His dramas are not easy or natural, but constructed carefully according to rules. His characters are each intended to illustrate some "humour" (foible) or trait. Sometimes he prefaces a play by describing minutely what each personage in the play is intended to represent. No wonder that his audience wearied of dissections of character in place of dramatic force, and often displeased him by receiving his plays with no favour. In our day, as in his own, his dramas are for the attentive reader, not for the general audience. He was himself affected by the more reasoning, thoughtful spirit which was coming in place of the creative impulse of the age just gone.
VI. The Age of Thoughtfulness.
FROM 1600 TO 1660.
1. Before the sixteenth century was ended symptoms of a spirit that had little sympathy with the natural outburst of vigorous, passionate life shown in the drama of the day had been apparent. They were most evident in the course taken by the religious parties towards the latter part of Elizabeth's reign. The growth of Puritanism, with its strong English independence on the one hand, and the development of a calmer and more contemplative spirit in the church, opposed equally to the extravagances of Puritanism and to the tyranny of Catholicism, on the other, are proofs of it. The early translators of the Bible were its forerunners: it came
to a high standard before the end of the century in Richard Hooker-he who, in Hallam's words, came Richard into the arena of religious controversy " with weapons 1553-1600. of a finer temper" than those the rougher combatants employed. In his hands the language became a fit instrument of argumentative exposition; it acquired new logical force and precision./
2. This thoughtful and reasoning spirit deepened in intensity as the century advanced. Hooker had his followers in Usher and Selden. But as he represents the religious side of this thoughtful age, another and a far greater name represents its philosophical tendency. This was Francis Bacon, who, more than any one Francis man perhaps in modern times changed the habits 1561-1626. according to which men thought. Hitherto men had followed the ancient philosophers, and had accepted their authority implicitly, differing only as to how they ought to interpret them. But now Bacon set on foot in England a method of investigating truth which was to be founded on the observation and experiment which each man could make for himself. He himself hoped, or professed to hope, for much greater results from his system, in reaching the secrets of nature, than it could give; all men, dull and clever, would now, he says, be on an equal footing, and equally able to help forward science and invention; but, though this was only a fashion of talking, yet the change his system produced on the habit of mind which influenced men was very great, greater perhaps than he could himself have foreseen. More and more men got to use their