H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

Social England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) online

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first, the dramatic style of these experimental plays, and,
secondly, the metrical mediums which they adopt. In the
former respect, it is especially necessary to remember the
models and examples which their authors had before them.
The Middle Ages and the earliest Renaissance produced no
tragedy proper, though the miracles and mysteries approached

li5v otrjccs bsmuMHto ruinttt to bis cmD-
15 ut luoe to bun trjat fearing not to offtnt),
Etott) ferae bis lntt,ano totll not fce tbc cnc

Order and fignification of the dumbe
fiewe before the f ft jfctc.

jFuft the Drummcs and Flukes began to foundc , dvring
which there came foorthvppon the Stage a companie of
Harquebufliers and or armed men all in order of battaile,
Thefe after their pccces difcharged, and that the armed
men had three times marched about the Stage, departed,
andthenthe Drummes and Fluitesdid ceafe. Hecreby
was fignifiedTumuItes, Rebellions, Armes, and ciuill
warres to followe, as fell in the Realme of great Bntayne,
which by the fpace of fiftie yeares and more continued
in ciuill wane betweene the Nobilitie after the death
of King Gorboduc , and of his Iflues, for want of cer-
taine limitation in the fuccefsion of the Crowne, till
the time of Duntyallo Molmutms , who reduced the Land
to Monarchic-

quintus* Scenaprim.%
Chtyn. Mandnd, GwemtrJ, Fergus. Eubitlas.

D3B cucr age b^ing fcoztb futrj tpjants rjart0.
3C^e bjotljer l)atb bereft tlje b;othcrs life,
Kty motljcr Qje tjatl) optic t)cr cruellbattDs


the character of sacred tragedies ; and the " profane mysteries,"
as they are called, which were written in France to some
extent during the fifteenth century, were a kind of
ancestor to the chronicle play. Even the revived attention
to Greek did not concentrate itself very specially on the
Greek tragedians ; while of Latin tragedy they had, even
as we have, nothing at all save the singular group attributed
to L. Annseus Seneca. On this, in the absence of other
models, the attention of those who wished in the ordinary


Renaissance way to enrich the vernacular by attempts in



every classical style was therefore necessarily concentrated ;
and imitations of the Senecan tragedy were very early
written in Italian and French. The first English imitation
was the above-named (inrlxtduc. Here we have the regular
division, the arrangement as far as the author can of plot
and action according to the Horatian canons, the chorus, the
.stately blank verse, and so forth. Nothing of all this w r as
to stand in the English tragedy of the future except the blank
verse, though a few attempts continued to be made from time
to time in the regular form; though it has been contended
-with some exaggeration, but also perhaps with some truth-
that the predilection of Seneca for grisly incidents and ghostly
personages, for language inflated to the bombastic and gloomed
to the dismal, influenced the Elizabethan playwrights to a far
greater extent than the formal accidents of his scheme.
Comedy. Comedy has at all times and among all peoples been a

much freer kind than tragedy : first, because it is a more
natural and universal form of diversion ; secondly, because the
laughing faculty absolutely declines to answer except to real
tickling, while pity, admiration, and terror on the stage are
very much matters of convention and education. Moreover,
the models here were much more numerous. Though lerence,
was certainly not without his influence (which is apparent
even in Ralph Roister Doister itself), he did not reign
alone like Seneca. Farces, drolls, moralities, interludes, and
the almost invariable comic episodes of the mysteries them-
selves had for a long, though a not very definitely measurable,
time already engaged the attention of the people, and must
now necessarily divide that of the playAvright. Long after
our present time, in the early work of Shakespeare, we find
two striking instances of the two streams of influence, in the
mainly classical study of the Com <</,/ of Error* and the purely
romantic material and manner of Loves Labour'* I,<>1. And
this latter preserves what is perhaps the only example at all
familiar to the average English reader of the various metres
some of them things for which metre is too dignified a name
-which were on the stage, till the decasyllabic, with the oc-
casional aid of prose, drove all of them off. The earliest comic
medium in our period was the singular swinging doggerel-
showing very considerable remnants of the old alliteration,



(National Portrait Gallery.)

Tn fuce. p. 467.



cut into lines of different lengths and formed on a basis of
more or less anapaestic rhythm which meets us in both the
two early comedies cited, which appears in most of their
successors, and which lasted, as has been said, well into the
Shakesperian age. The " fourteener " or what used to be
inexactly called the " major Alexandrine " a seven-foot verse
which breaks up at pleasure into eights and sixes was also
tried ; it was indeed the favourite verse-of-all-work for the first
twenty or five-and-twenty years of Elizabeth's reign. And
there was an equal independence of experiment in rhyming
or leaving rhyme alone. In fact, the single word " experi-
ment " practically sums up the performance, the character,
and the value of the dramatic work of this time. Veiy fre-
quently it was more or less learned work, produced almost as
part of academic exercise, and certainly as part of academic
and scholastic recreation ; for Renaissance teachers, according
to an idea long cherished by the Jesuits, held dramatic
performances to be no mean instrument of education. Some-
times it was intended as part of the pageants and festivities
given by the great men of the time, whose habit of maintain-
ing troupes of players was one of the chief fosterers of our early
theatre. Sometimes it was neither more nor less than a bread-
winning industry, aiming at the supply of a demand made by
people at large. But it was always experimental, and it never
once in this period got much beyond experiment.

HARDLY the most careless observer, if he takes account of the GEORGE
dates and names of Elizabethan literature, can fail to note,
as has been noted already, the extreme difference of the pro- Elizabethan
ductionof the first and the last half, respectively, of her long and ietry '
glorious reign. It would be a rash, as Avell as an inadequate
antithesis, to say that the one is all promise and the other
all performance ; for to the first half, with certainly notable
exceptions, chiefly at its extreme end, it would hardly be too
churlish to deny any great promise, except of the most am-
biguous kind. Of the poets who wrote before 1579 it is vain
to attempt to rank one, with the single exception of Sackville,
among those poets who, without counting in historical attrac-
tions, attain anything like the first or a high second rank.



(H{ in-: n.

An Inter-
and its


It is quite true that, looking hack <>n what actually followed,
we see that in this long period of twenty or thirty ye.-ux
the ground was being Avorked and prepared, the manure
spread, e\"en to a certain extent, the seed sown, which was
to produce a magnificent crop of the later time. 15ut few
students of literature, whose studies have taken a pretty wide
range, will deny that all this care and pains, all these (as the
retrospective fancy or fallacy allows or induces us to con-
sider them) favourable circumstances, all this seed-sowing,
and manuring and digging, might have resulted in little or
nothing. Fortunately for us, the results here were great and
wonderful ; and, while guarding ourselves as much as possible
from the said retrospective fallacy, it is easy to discover,
while it should not be too difficult to avoid laying undue
stress on, the circumstances and processes which, if they did
not actually cause, accompanied, and if they did not directly
stimulate, certainly did not injure the new growth.

It may seem a little strange that the poetic spirit which
at once discovered itself and indicated the forms and mediums
proper to it in " Tottel's Miscellany," representing a period
of composition much older than its date, should have taken
a full generation before finding, except in the solitary and
rather abnormal instance just referred to, anything like full
and free expression. Wyatt died nearly forty, Surrey more
than thirty, years before Spenser and Sidney and Watson
appeared. Perhaps not the worst school of criticism (though
it is a school which seems at once cynical and jejune to
ardent believers in the possibility of finding out everything)
would say that no further explanation of this can be given,
and that no further explanation of it need be required, ex-
cept the bare fact that no poet of the first class happened
to be born at such a time as to come in during these years.
AVc can, however, soften the harshness and adorn the barrenness
of this severe literary agnosticism by indicating eertainsecoud;iry
causes which may have helped in producing the actual result.
The political and religious troubles of the Liter part of Henry
VIII.'s reign and the whole of his son's and his elder daughter's,
were not of that kind which stimulates literary composition.
The ferment of mind Avhich starts a revolutionary era is, in-
deed, very favourable to literature, but not the actual time of




revolutionary action. A man who is divided between very
genuine trouble about his soul, and still more genuine un-
certainty about his neck, may sometimes produce stirring prose
and verse, but will hardly have time or taste for the working-
out of elaborate literary problems, or for the production of

ELIZABETH (MS. Koy. IS A. xlviii.).

that pure literature Avhich always keeps more or less aloof
from storm and stress. In the second place, the interesting-
spirit of inquisitive exercise which the new learning had in-
stilled or helped to develop in men's minds was, however
promising for the future and helpful to after-comers, not
exactly the spirit to produce masterpieces. It is no mean
feat, indeed, to rank in history as George Gascoigne ranks, with



Gascoigne. j' a ir documentary evidence to prove his title, as the actual
first practitioner in English of comedy in prose, satire in
regular verse, short prose tales, translated tragedy and literary
animadversion. But the above-mentioned student of literature
as a whole, or as nearly as may be in its wholeness, would be
rather surprised if he found a clever, enterprising, industrious
innovator of this kind rising at once to mastery in his inno-
vations. The most brilliant pioneers and leaders of cavalry
raids are not generally the generals who win epoch-
making battles, or hold down the country they have
scoured. And in this particular Gascoigne, who is, perhaps,
the most notable and characteristic figure of our earlier period,
of which his manhood covers the greater part, is no exception.
A diligfent and scholarly American student of Elizabethan
literature, Professor Felix Schelling of Philadelphia, some years
ago made a valiant attempt to vindicate for Gascoigne a higher
place than historians have generally given him : but it will
not do.' He is, indeed, a most typical figure, and, from the
point of view of this present book, almost more useful for our
purpose than if he had been a master. Few men - perhaps
none, with the exception of his greater and younger friend
Raleigh so well realised that ideal of varied adventurous life,
now in the study, now in affairs of camp and court, which we
rather freely attribute by generalisation to Elizabeth's men.
He was a gentleman of good family. He was educated at
Cambridge certainly, and, not impossibly, like so many other
men of the time, at Oxford also. He was a member of one
Inn of Court, perhaps of two. He sat in at least two Parlia-
ments for Bedfordshire ; he was at least charged with being a
roisterer and loose liver ; he was certainly a courtier. He is
accused (and is thought by the sleuth-hounds of somewhat
fantastic name-analogies to have boasted) of liaison* with
great ladies. He was a soldier, and saw no little service in
the Low Countries. He danced and spoke as a " Salvage
man" at Kenihvorth before the (^iieen. He may have re-
turned to the Netherlands and been present at the sack of
Antwerp. And then he died, having during these twenty
years of busy life produced a great deal of prose and of verse,
Tin-hiding the experiments above mentioned, and much else.
His work is never exactly despicable; as a critic of the day




immediately succeeding his own said, with, perhaps, a trifle
less of sarcastic intention than if the words had been used
now, but still certainly with some, it " may be endured." In
some respects, too, it would be unfair to leave it with this
very faint praise. The blank verse, of which Gascoigne was
but the fourth or fifth practitioner in English, is not without
merit ; his prose is spirited and vigorous, if not elegant ; and
in his lyrics there is not seldom a touch of that unforced
and childlike pathos which is the best point of these earlier
Elizabethans, and which in the later and greater school, is
rather hushed by higher notes, except in the case of some
of the lesser men, such as Gascoigne's step-son, Nicholas
Breton. On the other hand, his metres are still alternately
limp and wooden . his style is still stiffened with the old
clumsy alliteration ; there is no fire or splendour in his
poetry , his prose has neither continuity nor gorgeousness
He is merely a clever man living an active life in times
of both material and mental activity, but with nothing very
particular to say and no very exquisite manner of saying it.

Noting, as a point to be taken up presently, that the weak His
spot in Gascoigne is not least evident in the fact that three of contem-
his so-called original experiments were translations, we may P r aries.
glance at the minor poets, among whom he, for want of a better,
was major. They were all tarred with much the same brush.
There was Thomas Churchyard, a sort of " moon " of Gascoigne,
who resembled him in life and character of work, but was of a
more regular temper, and perhaps for that reason, after having
contributed to " Tottel," lived into James I.'s reign, while
Gascoigne died in early middle age. There were George
Turberville and Barnaby Googe, who are generally mentioned
together, having been friends, contemporaries, and writers
of not very dissimilar work. Turberville was particularly
notable for the plaintive, cushat-like note above referred to.
There were Edwards, Roydon, Hunnis, and many others,
besides the translators pure and simple, many of whom
gravitated towards the poetical miscellanies which, after the
example of " Tottel," became specially fashionable towards the
close of our present period, and in some cases (such as the
:> Paradise of Dainty Devices," and the " Gorgeous Gallery of
Gallant Inventions ") considerably anticipated that close ; but



the character of all this work is either immature or pedantic
generally both at once.

sackvme. Among them towers at no mean height, even when com-

pared with, greater poets, and a very Atlas among his own
contemporaries - - the solitary, and in more than number,
singular figure of Thomas Sackville, afterwards Lord Buckhurst

O o

and Earl of ])orset, author of Gorboduc, the 'Induction" to
the "Mirror for Magistrates," and the "Complaint of Buck-
ingham " in the same work. G<>rliduc is spoken of elsewhere,
and except as a literary point de repere is not of much interest.
Very different are the two contributions to the " Mirror for
Magistrates " a great poetical miscellany or cyclopaedia in
verse, describing for the most part the misfortunes of princes
and statesmen, which first appeared in 1563, and which was
frequently republished with additions. Sackville himself was
born in 1536, at the place from which he took his rirst title
in Sussex, belonged to both Universities and to the Inner


Temple, saw the Continent of Europe, and during all his later
life occupied a position in the State such as befitted a man of
the most ancient family, of ample means, of unblemished
character, and of very unusual ability. His literature was the
work of his youth, and the contributions to the "Mirror" were
written Avhen he was but three-and-twenty, full twenty years
before Spenser startled the great age with the " Shepherd's
Calendar." They were not bulky, the two containing not much
more than a thousand lines in the old seven-lined stanza
tiliiihlx-i- and the subject, even to a certain extent the
treatment, exhibit far less striving after novelty than was
customary with Sackville's contemporaries. A careless reader
merely looking at the cast of the stanzas might see no great
difference from the half allegoric style of the fifteenth century
as practised from Chaucer to Hawes. But if any one of these
stanzas caught his attention enough to make him cease to be
careless, and if he had some knowledge and some love of
poetry, he would very soon discover that here was such power
as no one had shown since Chaucer himself, together with a
marked alteration of tone. For although Chaucer can deal
with doleful subjects, and deal with them as satisfactorily as
genius always does deal with everything, it is notorious that
he is in the main a thoroughly cheerful poet. Sackville is



penetrated with that deep melancholy of tho Renaissance,
which haunted and doited all its grandiose schemes, its
intellectual alertness, its confidence in learning and in action.
The singular gloom, not dull but intense, which hangs over
the " Induction " especially, with its famous prosopopoeia of
sorrow, is no young man's fancy of sitting 011 a stool and


(r.mlh'idn Library, Oxford).

being melancholy of malice prepense, no caprice of literature,
no trick of the time, no mere craftsman's adaptation of style
to subject. It is a darkness that is felt by the reader, because
the writer felt it. And it has reflected itself in the metre and
style after a fashion only paralleled in literature by men AV!IO
are usually ranked far higher than Sackville is. A few of the
characteristics are, no doubt, old and borrowed, especially the
alliteration, the use of which is still excessive at times. But
this is as nothing compared to the rich stream of melancholy




From the


music never hoard in English before, and not to be heard
again till Spenser (it may almost be said) echoed it which
poms through the piece, silvering the "brown air" of its
Inferno with strange light, as well as filling it with unwonted

No fear of meeting anything strange in the same sense
(though otherwise there is not a little strangeness in them)
need be felt in regard of the group of translators more than
once referred to. Yet they did a good work. The insatiable
curiosity of the Renaissance, together with what may be called
the most distinct and characteristic of its many ruling ideas
the notion that it was the duty of every good citizen of
a modern country to acclimatise as much as possible the
achievements not merely of the ancients but of other modern
countries for the benefit of his own countrymen worked in
England almost more strongly than anywhere else, as, indeed,
it was certain to do in the case of the most isolated of European
states. The great translators of the Elizabethan age, indeed,
North, Florio, Philemon Holland, belong not to this time ; but
a crowd of inferior yet well-deserving persons adorn or, at least,
fill it. The most influential of the whole band upon poets and
poetry were Arthur Golding, who turned Ovid's " Meta-
morphoses" into English, and Thomas Phaer, who did the
same service to Yirgil, using the tremendous measure of
fourteen syllables, which was on the whole the favourite measure
of the time. The tragedies of Seneca, the immense influence of
which, both direct and indirect, is referred to elsewhere, were
Englished by Jasper Hey wood and others within the present
period ; and a large number of other classics both in verse
and prose underwent the same process at different hands.
Nor were the classics by any means exclusively favoured.
Googe, the poet mentioned above, was a diligent translator, and
the extent and variety of his exercises in this kind may serve
as a sample of the accomplishment of a large number of his
contemporaries. He is said to have turned Aristotle's Cate-
gories (whether from the original or a Latin version) into
English; and it is positively known that he did the same fr
the anti-Popish satires of two moderns, Palingenius (probably
Manzolli) and Naogeorgus (certainly Kirchmayer). He also
translated the Latin "Five Books of Husbandry" of Conrad



Heresbach, and the "Spanish Proverbs" of Mendoza, Marquis
of Santillana. Most of these books went through several an <i
editions in his lifetime, showing the remarkable demand there Frencb -
was for such things. Less attention was paid to German (which,
indeed, was only beginning to possess a vernacular literature,
though the Elizabethan translators gave their full share of
attention to German Neo-Latinists), and, which is rather
surprising, very little to French. It ought, however, to be
remembered that the literary movement of the French Re-
naissance, though a little was not much anterior to that part
of Elizabethan literature which we are now discussing, that
Joachim du Bellay, whom some think the greatest of the
Pleiade, early attracted the attention of Spenser, and that the
remarks of E. K. on the " Shepherd's Calendar " as to Marot,
the references to Rabelais in Nash, and other things show no
lack of consciousness of what French had to give.

As for Italian, the number of actual translations from it, From
though that is not inconsiderable, gives no idea of the over-
powering influence Avhich the language and literature of Italy
held on the wits, the intellect, the fashions of the day. It
was vain for Ascham and others after him to thunder against
" Italianate " Englishmen ; the charm was too great. By the
greatest of Italian writers, indeed, it was exercised but little ;
this was not Dante's day. But Petrarch, Ariosto, and, when
he wrote, Tasso, with innumerable underlings, rode sovereign ;
and Italian measures, Italian thought, tags of Italian phrase
were in all men's memories and mouths.

This busy research and exercise had been going on for at The
least twenty years, and Elizabeth had been for more than
that space of time on the throne before the real and un- 1579-1532.
mistakable first-fruits of a new literature appeared. It has
always been noted that wits jump together on these occasions
in a very strange fashion, and at least a quartet of such wits,
dissimilar in magnitude but all eminently of their time,
appeared in the years 1579-1582. These four were John
Lyly, Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, and Thomas Watson.

With Lyly w r e are not immediately busied, for his main
achievement at this period was in prose, and has been already
handled. But it is not immaterial that he contributed an
introductory epistle to the " Hecatompathia," Thomas Watson's



main \vrk. Indeed, the reproach of "mutual admiration,"
which is rife at all times, and is generally brought by those
who tail of admiration, mutual or other, applies nowhere more
than to Elizabeth's men, who were for the Miost part either
each other's dear friends or each other's deadly enemies.
Lyly and Watson were both Oxford men, as indeed was
Sidney. But the latter whether from the fact of his
bosom friend and schoolmate at Shrewsbury, Fulke Grcville,
havino- crone to Cambridge or not seems to have drawn his

O o O

chief literary associates from the University which was not
his own ; and the ' : Areopagus," as the Sidneian clique was
called, consisted chiefly of Cambridge men, with the famous
Gabriel Harvey a prig and a pedant, but not exactly a fool
at their head, and with the addition of distinguished foreigners,

Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillSocial England; a record of the progress of the people in religion, laws, learning, arts, industry, commerce, science, literature and manners, from the earliest times to the present day (Volume 3) → online text (page 41 of 68)