G.H. Mair.

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which came in their train. It runs right through the literature of
Elizabeth's age and after it, affecting, each in their special way, all
the dramatists, authors who were also adventurers like Raleigh, scholars
like Milton, and philosophers like Hobbes and Locke. It reappears in the
Romantic revival with Coleridge, whose "Ancient Mariner" owes much to
reminiscences of his favourite reading - _Purchas, his Pilgrimes_, and
other old books of voyages. The matter of this too-little noticed strain
in English literature would suffice to fill a whole book; only a few of
the main lines of its influence can be noted here.

For the English Renaissance - for Elizabeth's England, action and
imagination went hand in hand; the dramatists and poets held up the
mirror to the voyagers. In a sense, the cult of the sea is the oldest
note in English literature. There is not a poem in Anglo-Saxon but
breathes the saltness and the bitterness of the sea-air. To the old
English the sea was something inexpressibly melancholy and desolate,
mist-shrouded, and lonely, terrible in its grey and shivering spaces;
and their tone about it is always elegiac and plaintive, as a place of
dreary spiritless wandering and unmarked graves. When the English
settled they lost the sense of the sea; they became a little parochial
people, tilling fields and tending cattle, wool-gathering and
wool-bartering, their shipping confined to cross-Channel merchandise,
and coastwise sailing from port to port. Chaucer's shipman, almost the
sole representative of the sea in mediaeval English literature, plied a
coastwise trade. But with the Cabots and their followers, Frobisher and
Gilbert and Drake and Hawkins, all this was changed; once more the ocean
became the highway of our national progress and adventure, and by virtue
of our shipping we became competitors for the dominion of the earth. The
rising tide of national enthusiasm and exaltation that this occasioned
flooded popular literature. The voyagers themselves wrote down the
stories of their adventures; and collections of these - Hakluyt's and
Purchas's - were among the most popular books of the age. To them,
indeed, we must look for the first beginnings of our modern English
prose, and some of its noblest passages. The writers, as often as not,
were otherwise utterly unknown - ship's pursers, super-cargoes, and the
like - men without much literary craft or training, whose style is great
because of the greatness of their subject, because they had no literary
artifices to stand between them and the plain and direct telling of a
stirring tale. But the ferment worked outside the actual doings of the
voyagers themselves, and it can be traced beyond definite allusions to
them. Allusions, indeed, are surprisingly few; Drake is scarcely as much
as mentioned among the greater writers of the age. None the less there
is not one of them that is not deeply touched by his spirit and that of
the movement which he led. New lands had been discovered, new
territories opened up, wonders exposed which were perhaps only the first
fruits of greater wonders to come. Spenser makes the voyagers his
warrant for his excursion into fairyland. Some, he says, have condemned
his fairy world as an idle fiction,

"But let that man with better sense advise;
That of the world least part to us is red;
And daily how through hardy enterprise
Many great regions are discovered,
Which to late age were never mentioned.
Who ever heard of the 'Indian Peru'?
Or who in venturous vessel measured
The Amazon, huge river, now found true?
Or fruitfullest Virginia who did ever view?

"Yet all these were, when no man did them know,
Yet have from wiser ages hidden been;
And later times things more unknown shall show."

It is in the drama that this spirit of adventure caught from the
voyagers gets its full play. "Without the voyagers," says Professor
Walter Raleigh,[1] "Marlowe is inconceivable." His imagination in every
one of his plays is preoccupied with the lust of adventure, and the
wealth and power adventure brings. Tamburlaine, Eastern conqueror though
he is, is at heart an Englishman of the school of Hawkins and Drake.
Indeed the comparison must have occurred to his own age, for a historian
of the day, the antiquary Stow, declares Drake to have been "as famous
in Europe and America as Tamburlaine was in Asia and Africa." The
high-sounding names and quests which seem to us to give the play an air
of unreality and romance were to the Elizabethans real and actual;
things as strange and foreign were to be heard any day amongst the
motley crowd in the Bankside outside the theatre door. Tamburlaine's
last speech, when he calls for a map and points the way to unrealised
conquests, is the very epitome of the age of discovery.

"Lo, here my sons, are all the golden mines,
Inestimable wares and precious stones,
More worth than Asia and all the world beside;
And from the Antarctic Pole eastward behold
As much more land, which never was descried.
Wherein are rocks of pearl that shine as bright
As all the lamps that beautify the sky."


[Footnote 1: To whose terminal essay in "Hakluyt's Voyages" (Maclehose)
I am indebted for much of the matter in this section.]

It is the same in his other plays. Dr. Faustus assigns to his
serviceable spirits tasks that might have been studied from the books of
Hakluyt

"I'll have them fly to India for gold,
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl,
And search all corners of the new round world
For pleasant fruits and princely delicates."

When there is no actual expression of the spirit of adventure, the air
of the sea which it carried with it still blows. Shakespeare, save for
his scenes in _The Tempest_ and in _Pericles_, which seize in all its
dramatic poignancy the terror of storm and shipwreck, has nothing
dealing directly with the sea or with travel; but it comes out, none the
less, in figure and metaphor, and plays like the _Merchant of Venice_
and _Othello_ testify to his accessibility to its spirit. Milton, a
scholar whose mind was occupied by other and more ultimate matters, is
full of allusions to it. Satan's journey through Chaos in _Paradise
Lost_ is the occasion for a whole series of metaphors drawn from
seafaring. In _Samson Agonistes_ Dalila comes in,

"Like a stately ship ...
With all her bravery on and tackle trim
Sails frilled and streamers waving
Courted by all the winds that hold them play."

and Samson speaks of himself as one who,

"Like a foolish pilot have shipwracked
My vessel trusted to me from above
Gloriously rigged."

The influence of the voyages of discovery persisted long after the first
bloom of the Renaissance had flowered and withered. On the reports
brought home by the voyagers were founded in part those conceptions of
the condition of the "natural" man which form such a large part of the
philosophic discussions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,
Hobbes's description of the life of nature as "nasty, solitary, brutish,
and short," Locke's theories of civil government, and eighteenth century
speculators like Monboddo all took as the basis of their theory the
observations of the men of travel. Abroad this connection of travellers
and philosophers was no less intimate. Both Montesquieu and Rousseau
owed much to the tales of the Iroquois, the North American Indian allies
of France. Locke himself is the best example of the closeness of this
alliance. He was a diligent student of the texts of the voyagers, and
himself edited out of Hakluyt and Purchas the best collection of them
current in his day. The purely literary influence of the age of
discovery persisted down to _Robinson Crusoe_; in that book by a
refinement of satire a return to travel itself (it must be remembered
Defoe posed not as a novelist but as an actual traveller) is used to
make play with the deductions founded on it. Crusoe's conversation with
the man Friday will be found to be a satire of Locke's famous
controversy with the Bishop of Worcester. With _Robinson Crusoe_ the
influence of the age of discovery finally perishes. An inspiration
hardens into the mere subject matter of books of adventure. We need not
follow it further.




CHAPTER II


ELIZABETHAN POETRY AND PROSE

(1)

To understand Elizabethan literature it is necessary to remember that
the social status it enjoyed was far different from that of literature
in our own day. The splendours of the Medicis in Italy had set up an
ideal of courtliness, in which letters formed an integral and
indispensable part. For the Renaissance, the man of letters was only one
aspect of the gentleman, and the true gentleman, as books so early and
late respectively as Castiglione's _Courtier_ and Peacham's _Complete
Gentleman_ show, numbered poetry as a necessary part of his
accomplishments. In England special circumstances intensified this
tendency of the time. The queen was unmarried: she was the first single
woman to wear the English crown, and her vanity made her value the
devotion of the men about her as something more intimate than mere
loyalty or patriotism. She loved personal homage, particularly the
homage of half-amatory eulogy in prose and verse. It followed that the
ambition of every courtier was to be an author, and of every author to
be a courtier; in fact, outside the drama, which was almost the only
popular writing at the time, every author was in a greater or less
degree attached to the court. If they were not enjoying its favours they
were pleading for them, mingling high and fantastic compliment with
bitter reproaches and a tale of misery. And consequently both the poetry
and the prose of the time are restricted in their scope and temper to
the artificial and romantic, to high-flown eloquence, to the celebration
of love and devotion, or to the inculcation of those courtly virtues and
accomplishments which composed the perfect pattern of a gentleman. Not
that there was not both poetry and prose written outside this charmed
circle. The pamphleteers and chroniclers, Dekker and Nash, Holinshed and
Harrison and Stow, were setting down their histories and descriptions,
and penning those detailed and realistic indictments of the follies and
extravagances of fashion, which together with the comedies have enabled
us to picture accurately the England and especially the London of
Elizabeth's reign. There was fine poetry written by Marlowe and Chapman
as well as by Sidney and Spenser, but the court was still the main
centre of literary endeavour, and the main incitement to literary fame
and success.

But whether an author was a courtier or a Londoner living by his wits,
writing was never the main business of his life: all the writers of the
time were in one way or another men of action and affairs. As late as
Milton it is probably true to say that writing was in the case even of
the greatest an avocation, something indulged in at leisure outside a
man's main business. All the Elizabethan authors had crowded and various
careers. Of Sir Philip Sidney his earliest biographer says, "The truth
is his end was not writing, even while he wrote, but both his wit and
understanding bent upon his heart to make himself and others not in
words or opinion but in life and action good and great." Ben Jonson was
in turn a soldier, a poet, a bricklayer, an actor, and ultimately the
first poet laureate. Lodge, after leaving Oxford, passed through the
various professions of soldiering, medicine, playwriting, and fiction,
and he wrote his novel _Rosalind_, on which Shakespeare based _As You
Like It_ while he was sailing on a piratical venture on the Spanish
Main. This connection between life and action affected as we have seen
the tone and quality of Elizabethan writing. "All the distinguished
writers of the period," says Thoreau, "possess a greater vigour and
naturalness than the more modern ... you have constantly the warrant of
life and experience in what you read. The little that is said is eked
out by implication of the much that was done." In another passage the
same writer explains the strength and fineness of the writings of Sir
Walter Raleigh by this very test of action, "The word which is best said
came nearest to not being spoken at all, for it is cousin to a deed
which the speaker could have better done. Nay almost it must have taken
the place of a deed by some urgent necessity, even by some misfortune,
so that the truest writer will be some captive knight after all." This
bond between literature and action explains more than the writings of
the voyagers or the pamphlets of men who lived in London by what they
could make of their fellows. Literature has always a two-fold relation
to life as it is lived. It is both a mirror and an escape: in our own
day the stirring romances of Stevenson, the full-blooded and vigorous
life which beats through the pages of Mr. Kipling, the conscious
brutalism of such writers as Mr. Conrad and Mr. Hewlett, the plays of
J.M. Synge, occupied with the vigorous and coarse-grained life of
tinkers and peasants, are all in their separate ways a reaction against
an age in which the overwhelming majority of men and women have
sedentary pursuits. Just in the same way the Elizabethan who passed his
commonly short and crowded life in an atmosphere of throat-cutting and
powder and shot, and in a time when affairs of state were more momentous
for the future of the nation than they have ever been since, needed his
escape from the things which pressed in upon him every day. So grew the
vogue and popularity of pastoral poetry and of pastoral romance.



(2)

It is with two courtiers that modern English poetry begins. The lives of
Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey both ended early and unhappily,
and it was not until ten years after the death of the second of them
that their poems appeared in print. The book that contained them,
Tottel's _Miscellany of Songs and Sonnets_, is one of the landmarks of
English literature. It begins lyrical love poetry in our language. It
begins, too, the imitation and adaptation of foreign and chiefly Italian
metrical forms, many of which have since become characteristic forms of
English verse: so characteristic, that we scarcely think of them as
other than native in origin. To Wyatt belongs the honour of introducing
the sonnet, and to Surrey the more momentous credit of writing, for the
first time in English, blank verse. Wyatt fills the most important place
in the _Miscellany_, and his work, experimental in tone and quality,
formed the example which Surrey and minor writers in the same volume and
all the later poets of the age copied. He tries his hand at
everything - songs, madrigals, elegies, complaints, and sonnets - and he
takes his models from both ancient Rome and modern Italy. Indeed there
is scarcely anything in the volume for which with some trouble and
research one might not find an original in Petrarch, or in the poets of
Italy who followed him. But imitation, universal though it is in his
work, does not altogether crowd out originality of feeling and poetic
temper. At times, he sounds a personal note, his joy on leaving Spain
for England, his feelings in the Tower, his life at the Court amongst
his books, and as a country gentleman enjoying hunting and other outdoor
sports.

"This maketh me at home to hunt and hawk,
And in foul weather at my book to sit,
In frost and snow, then with my bow to stalk,
No man does mark whereas I ride or go:
In lusty leas at liberty I walk."

It is easy to see that poetry as a melodious and enriched expression of
a man's own feelings is in its infancy here. The new poets had to find
their own language, to enrich with borrowings from other tongues the
stock of words suitable for poetry which the dropping of inflection had
left to English. Wyatt was at the beginning of the process, and apart
from a gracious and courtly temper, his work has, it must be confessed,
hardly more than an antiquarian interest. Surrey, it is possible to say
on reading his work, went one step further. He allows himself oftener
the luxury of a reference to personal feelings, and his poetry contains
from place to place a fairly full record of the vicissitudes of his
life. A prisoner at Windsor, he recalls his childhood there

"The large green courts where we were wont to hove,
The palme-play, where, despoiled for the game.
With dazzled eyes oft we by gleams of love
Have missed the ball, and got sight of our dame."

Like Wyatt's, his verses are poor stuff, but a sympathetic ear can catch
in them something of the accent that distinguishes the verse of Sidney
and Spenser. He is greater than Wyatt, not so much for greater skill as
for more boldness in experiment. Wyatt in his sonnets had used the
Petrarchan or Italian form, the form used later in England by Milton and
in the nineteenth century by Rossetti. He built up each poem, that is,
in two parts, the octave, a two-rhymed section of eight lines at the
beginning, followed by the sestet, a six line close with three rhymes.
The form fits itself very well to the double mood which commonly
inspires a poet using the sonnet form; the second section as it were
both echoing and answering the first, following doubt with hope, or
sadness with resignation, or resolving a problem set itself by the
heart. Surrey tried another manner, the manner which by its use in
Shakespeare's sonnets has come to be regarded as the English form of
this kind of lyric. His sonnets are virtually three-stanza poems with a
couplet for close, and he allows himself as many rhymes as he chooses.
The structure is obviously easier, and it gives a better chance to an
inferior workman, but in the hands of a master its harmonies are no less
delicate, and its capacity to represent changing modes of thought no
less complete than those of the true form of Petrarch. Blank verse,
which was Surrey's other gift to English poetry, was in a way a
compromise between the two sources from which the English Renaissance
drew its inspiration. Latin and Greek verse is quantitative and
rhymeless; Italian verse, built up on the metres of the troubadours and
the degeneration of Latin which gave the world the Romance languages,
used many elaborate forms of rhyme. Blank verse took from Latin its
rhymelessness, but it retained accent instead of quantity as the basis
of its line. The line Surrey used is the five-foot or ten-syllable line
of what is called "heroic verse" - the line used by Chaucer in his
Prologue and most of his tales. Like Milton he deplored rhyme as the
invention of a barbarous age, and no doubt he would have rejoiced to go
further and banish accent as well as rhymed endings. That, however, was
not to be, though in the best blank verse of later time accent and
quantity both have their share in the effect. The instrument he forged
passed into the hands of the dramatists: Marlowe perfected its rhythm,
Shakespeare broke its monotony and varied its cadences by altering the
spacing of the accents, and occasionally by adding an extra unaccented
syllable. It came back from the drama to poetry with Milton. His
blindness and the necessity under which it laid him of keeping in his
head long stretches of verse at one time, because he could not look back
to see what he had written, probably helped his naturally quick and
delicate sense of cadence to vary the pauses, so that a variety of
accent and interval might replace the valuable aid to memory which he
put aside in putting aside rhyme. Perhaps it is to two accidents, the
accident by which blank verse as the medium of the actor had to be
retained easily in the memory, and the accident of Milton's blindness,
that must be laid the credit of more than a little of the richness of
rhythm of this, the chief and greatest instrument of English verse.

The imitation of Italian and French forms which Wyatt and Surrey began,
was continued by a host of younger amateurs of poetry. Laborious
research has indeed found a Continental original for almost every great
poem of the time, and for very many forgotten ones as well. It is easy
for the student engaged in this kind of literary exploration to
exaggerate the importance of what he finds, and of late years criticism,
written mainly by these explorers, has tended to assume that since it
can be found that Sidney, and Daniel, and Watson, and all the other
writers of mythological poetry and sonnet sequences took their ideas and
their phrases from foreign poetry, their work is therefore to be classed
merely as imitative literary exercise, that it is frigid, that it
contains or conveys no real feeling, and that except in the secondary
and derived sense, it is not really lyrical at all. Petrarch, they will
tell you, may have felt deeply and sincerely about Laura, but when
Sidney uses Petrarch's imagery and even translates his words in order to
express his feelings for Stella, he is only a plagiarist and not a
lover, and the passion for Lady Rich which is supposed to have inspired
his sonnets, nothing more than a not too seriously intended trick to add
the excitement of a transcript of real emotion to what was really an
academic exercise. If that were indeed so, then Elizabethan poetry is a
very much lesser and meaner thing than later ages have thought it. But
is it so? Let us look into the matter a little more closely. The unit of
all ordinary kinds of writing is the word, and one is not commonly
quarrelled with for using words that have belonged to other people. But
the unit of the lyric, like the unit of spoken conversation, is not the
word but the phrase. Now in daily human intercourse the use, which is
universal and habitual, of set forms and phrases of talk is not commonly
supposed to detract from, or destroy sincerity. In the crises indeed of
emotion it must be most people's experience that the natural speech that
rises unbidden and easiest to the lips is something quite familiar and
commonplace, some form which the accumulated experience of many
generations of separate people has found best for such circumstances or
such an occasion. The lyric is just in the position of conversation, at
such a heightened and emotional moment. It is the speech of deep
feeling, that must be articulate or choke, and it falls naturally and
inevitably into some form which accumulated passionate moments have
created and fixed. The course of emotional experiences differs very
little from age to age, and from individual to individual, and so the
same phrases may be used quite sincerely and naturally as the direct
expression of feeling at its highest point by men apart in country,
circumstances, or time. This is not to say that there is no such thing
as originality; a poet is a poet first and most of all because he
discovers truths that have been known for ages, as things that are fresh
and new and vital for himself. He must speak of them in language that
has been used by other men just because they are known truths, but he
will use that language in a new way, and with a new significance, and
it is just in proportion to the freshness, and the air of personal
conviction and sincerity which he imparts to it, that he is great.

The point at issue bears very directly on the work of Sir Philip Sidney.
In the course of the history of English letters certain authors
disengage themselves who have more than a merely literary position: they
are symbolic of the whole age in which they live, its life and action,
its thoughts and ideals, as well as its mere modes of writing. There are
not many of them and they could be easily numbered; Addison, perhaps,
certainly Dr. Johnson, certainly Byron, and in the later age probably
Tennyson. But the greatest of them all is Sir Philip Sidney: his
symbolical relation to the time in which he lived was realized by his
contemporaries, and it has been a commonplace of history and criticism
ever since. Elizabeth called him one of the jewels of her crown, and at
the age of twenty-three, so fast did genius ripen in that summer time of
the Renaissance, William the Silent could speak of him as "one of the
ripest statesmen of the age." He travelled widely in Europe, knew many
languages, and dreamed of adventure in America and on the high seas. In
a court of brilliant figures, his was the most dazzling, and his death
at Zutphen only served to intensify the halo of romance which had
gathered round his name. His literary exercises were various: in prose
he wrote the _Arcadia_ and the _Apology for Poetry_, the one the
beginning of a new kind of imaginative writing, and the other the first
of the series of those rare and precious commentaries on their own art


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