1902 Encyclopedia > English Literature > The Old Civilization in Conflict with Puritanism (1579-1660): Sidney, Spencer, Shakespeare, Jonson

English Literature
(Part 6)




VI. THE OLD CIVILIZATION IN CONFLICT WITH PURITANISM (1579-1660)

Sidney, Spencer, Shakespeare, Jonson...

Regarding see in the Christian church as a "separable accident," the acceptance or rejection of which made no essential difference, the literacy men of the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, while rejecting, chiefly on political grounds, the authority of that see, had no quarrel in other respects with the religion which had come down to them from their forefathers, nor with the forms of civilization and efforts towards a higher culture which that religion had encouraged. Both in Spencer and Shakespeare we notice a decided repugnance towards Rome, and a disposition to deny her claim to obedience (compare the description of Duessa in the Faerie Queene, and the denunciation of papal power put by Shakespeare in the mouth of King John); but with this exception they belong tio the old school; they might have been Englishmen of fifty years before, instead of twenty or thirty years after, the reformation. This has been pointed out in detail by Mr Thornbury and others in the case of Shakespeare; they have shown how alien the notions of Puritanism were to his heart and mind, excepy in the one point of opposition to Rome. Spencer’s description of the house of Coela, and his invective against the Blatant Beast, not to refer to many other passages, show that the same thing held good of him. But it is not our object to dwell on this; the point to which we would call attention is, that the poets and dramatists of this period, as well as a large body of the clergy, clave heartily to the civilization and culture which they had inherited from the past. To this form of civilization the Puritan or ultra-reforming party, which began to show its strength under the lax rule of Archbishop Grindal, was radically opposed. The culture which had gathered treasures from every side, and welcomed all that was good and beautiful in paganism, was tainted and abominable in their eyes. To them it seemed that a Christian society should be exclusively formed and built up on models furnished by the Old and New Testaments. To come to the particular tendencies of Puritanism with which we have note to do.- it locked with our sour displeasure of the English poetry and drama of the day, and according as it possessed power, suppressed them. What meant these loose and profane sonneteers by writing about their mistress in language that was little short of idolatrous, and celebrating Bacchus, Venus, and Apollo in terms which could hardly be acquitted of blasphemy? Why, if they must rhyme, could they not compose comfortable hymns of Zion, and if they must have music, sing the Plasms of David? Expression was given to these sentiments in a pamphlet breathing a spirit of comparative moderation, - the Schoo o Abuse of Stephen Gosson 1579. Sir Philip Sidney in his reply, the Defence of Poesy, vindicated the legitimacy of the taste for literature and art which Englishmen, had inherited from their forefathers. Again, innumerable allusions in the works of the dramatists of this and the next reign, including Shakespeare, prove the animosity which subsisted between them and the Puritans, whom they rightly as the implacable enemies of their art. On the outbreak of civil war the Puritans, gaining the upper hand in London, immediately shut up the theatres. Is it not, therefore, without, reason that we have characterized the epoch which we are considering as that of the "conflict between Puritanism and the old civilization.

Poetry, which not, like the drama in its more developed stages, require any local establishment in order to produce its effects, pursued its flight in defiance of Puritan censure. It was not, however, unaffected by it. The disapproval of him and his works, entertained by a large section among the most virtuous of his countrymen, irritated the poet by its exaggeration, and often made him out of recklessness import an additional degree of licence into his language. Yet morality was in the end the gainer. For in spite of narrowness, and exaggeration, and occasional hypocrispy, there was real earnestness and virtuous intention in the great body of the Puritans; and to these qualities society eventually did homage by refusing to tolerate, in poetry at least, what was openly and scandalously immoral. In spite of one or two leap over the line, poetry in the 18th century, and still more in the 19th, has not permitted her votaries to write as they please, but has prescribed to them measure and seemliness. This may indeed be attributed to the increasing refinement of European life, but that refinement, so far as it is moral, is to a large extent the work of the Puritan spirit.

Without further preface let us turn to the consideration of that amazing phenomenon, the literature of the Elizabeth age. Many circumstances, many slowly elaborated changes, had prepared the vary. The cautious peace – policy of Elizabeth, her wise love of economy, and her care to surround herself with able counselors, produced their natural fruits in a state of general prosperity never experienced before. Every adventurous and inquiring mind was stimulated by the reports continually arriving of the discovery of "islands far away", of riches and beauty which the earth had hitherto veiled from her children revealed to wondering eyes in American and the East, of inventions which enlarged the power, and discoveries which widened the knowledge, of man. Again, the greatly augmented use of the language as a literacy instrument, consequent upon the religious dissensions now temporarily silenced, had, as already explained, made it a much fitter organ for thought than it had been in the reign of Henry VIII. Lastly, the powerful influences now pressing in from abroad must be duly weighed. The genius of Ariosto had clothed medieval romance in a splendid garb, which, for the first time since the 13th century, made the subject attractive to cultivated minds. Tasso’s epic, with its sustained grace and sweetness, had shown how the shades and half-shades of sentiment in which refined spirits delight can be expressed by corresponding nuances of language. Certain eminent writers in France, especially Du Bellay and Ronsard, had consecrated considerable powers and incessant activity to the work of reforming the language and literature of their own country the concentrated study fearless imitation of ancient models. Considering all these various elements, we shall, be better able to understand,, how, given a gorgeous imagination like that of Spencer, and a mind of universal range like that of Shakespeare, these writers were able to place that enormous difference between themselves and their predecessors which separates the Faerie Queens from the Pastime of Pleasure, and the comedies of Shakespeare from those of Still and Udall.

Without stopping to criticize, and reserving the drama for separate consideration, we must endeavor by a brief description to convey some notion of the poetical exuberance of the Elizabeth era. Spencer’s Faerie Queene, a colossal fragment of a still more colossal design, relates ostensibly the romantic adventures of brave knights and fair ladies; but every incident has an allegorical meaning, and the propagation of the several moral virtues is the professed object of the entire work. The well – known stanza which he invented, consisting of nine lines, the last an alexandrine, with three rhymes, is so skillfully constructed and so well adopted to our language, that it has been frequently employed since, with marked success, by eminent poets. Burns used it for the Cotter’s Saturday Night, and Byron for Childe Harold. The rhymes in it are better arranged than in the standard metre of Italy, the ottava rima, because the distribution is such as to bind the whole structure better together, and to avoid that palpable break between the first six lines and the concluding couplet which is noticeable in the stanza of Tasso and Ariosto. Again, the extra syllables in the ninth line seem exactly to counterbalance the risk of monotomy which the additional line would otherwise entail. The sonnets of Shakespeare, if we accept the acute interpretation of Mr. Simpson, indicate the influence of some aristocractic friend of the poet, who having traveled much in Italy and formed the acquaintance of members of the learned "academes" for which Italian cities were then famous, had learned from them those Platonizing speculations about love and its kinds – the vulgar, the civil, the chivalrous, and the ideal love – which are partially reproduced in the sonnets. Among Shakespeare’s other poems the Venus and Adonis and the Rape of Lecreece, pieces remarkable for their luscious melody and ornate elegance. The classica and mythological themes attest at once the receptivity of the intellect of Shakespeare, a country –bred youth, who had studied at neither university, and the strength of the Renaissance movement, from which no mind, even the most powerful, could then hold itself sloof. Of the same class is Marlowe’s beautiful poem of Hero and Leander translated from the Greek of the pseudo-Museues. Goerge Chapman produced, about 1601, a complete translation of the Hiad in long fourteen syllable lines. It was the first time that this feat and had been accomplished in any modern language, and the fact well typifies the intensity of forces with which the English intellect was now working in every direction. Robert Southwell, the Jesuit, put to death by the Government in 1696, left behind him a few religious poems of great beauty. He is by some considered the first of the metaphysical school or poets; but the credit (or discredit) of that leadership rather belongs to Donne. Marston, Hall and Gascoigne (the author of the Steel Glass) Sir Philip Sidney, the ornament of Elizabeth’s court, wrote sonnets and song, which, though imitated from Italian and Spanish models, were freighted by his powerful mind with a burden of thought and passion not to be found in the originals. The attempts of Daniel and Drayton in the epic style (Wars of the Roses, Barron’s Wars), were failures; but wherever we meet with many ventures, it cannot be but that some will fail. Of such poems as Warner’s Albion’s England, or Drayton’s Poly –Olbion, or Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, it is unnecessary to speak.

The class of poets to whom Johnson attached the name "metaphysical," while Milton calls them "fantastics," includes Donne their founder, Cowley, Crashaw, Cleveland, and several others. In date they belong rather to the reigns of James I. and Charles I. than to that of Elizabeth. They are distinguished by their fondness for "conceits," or intellectual tours de force, the general aim of which was to gain credit for ingenuity, and a deep insight into the nature of things, by tracing resemblances or analogies between objects apparently remote and diverse. This poetry of conceit, which nearly corresponded to the estilo cullo of Spain, is usually said to have been invented by the Neapolitan poet Marini, author of the Sospetto di Erode, and by him propagated in France, whence it came to England. It was merely another development of that tendency to the mystical in thought and the far – fetched in language, characteristics of the Gothic ages, which we have seen more fully exemplified in the countless allegories and moral plays of previous periods. In Donne the style is insufferable; "conceits" are strewn about his pages like puns about the conversation of a punster, and they are not half so amusing. Cowley, on the other hand, was a true poet; the daring flights of his fancy, the tenderness of his feelings, and the grace and profoundness of his musings, still rescue much that he wrote from oblivion. Composing, in imitation of Pindar (though he did not really understand the Pindaric metres), irregular passages of song which he called "Pindariques," he gave the first example of a class of poems which comprises performances so memorable as the Alexander’s Feast of Dyren and the Bard of Gray. Crashaw, the translator of the Sospetto di Erode, is in the highest degree a worshipper of the far-fetched. He is the author of the celebrated line, describing the miracle of Cana in Galilee, -

Lympha pudica Deum vidit, et erubit.
The conscious water saw her God, and blushed.

Edmund Waller, though his earliest writing betray an
affinity to the fantastic school, mixed too much in the world, and had too much good taste and good sense, to go very far with them. He is the English song-writer par excellence; his is the only name which we can think of, when Burns is cited for Scotland and Beranger for France. His manner was so good and his style so clear that Dryden calls him the" father of English numbers," and declares that but for him" none of us could write." Pope allows to 'Waller smoothness, but ascribes much more to the influence of Dryden himself :

"Waller was smooth, but Dryden taught to join The varying verse, the full resounding line, "
The long Majestic March, and energy divine.

In the last section we noticed the rise of true comedy and tragedy, and gave the date of the building of the first regular theatre at the Blackfriars, Returning to the subject, we propose to examine the commencements of the Elizabethan drama in somewhat more detail, treating (1) of the actors, (2) of the plays which they performed, (3) of the stages which they hack at their disposal, including under this head their resources of scenery and Stage effect.





1. From an early period of the reign we find frequent mention of companies of players travelling from town to town, and performing in the town-balls, under the sanction of, and with remuneration from, the respective corporations, such of the plays which they bad brought as might seem suitable to the audience expected. It is noteworthy that every such company announced itself as "the servants" of my lord this, or the earl of that, and indeed were really such; Lad they given themselves out for an independent body of players, the stern laws against vagabondage then pertaining would have made them at once amenable to the sharp jurisdiction of the local magistrates. Thus we read of the servants of the Lord Strange, those of the earls of Leicester, Warwick, Derby, &c. These noblemen enrolled the bands of players among their retainers, and probably maintained and gave them wages for a part of the year, but allowed them at other times, under the patronage of their high limes and with licenses under their hands, to make a living by entertaining the public. It was the servants of the earl of Leicester who in 1574 obtained from the queen a writ under the privy seal, authorizing them to perform" comedies, tragedies, interludes, stage-plays, and such other like as they have already used and studied, or hereafter shall use and study, as well in the city of London as throughout the realm of England." But- when the players prepared to avail themselves of their privilege, a conflict of authorities became apparent. The mayor aim corporation of London asserted their right of control over all dramatic performances within the limits of the city, and issued orders providing, amongst other things, that the players whom they might license should contribute half their receipts to charitable purposes. Probably a portion of the corporation was, even at this early period, actuated by Puritan sentiments. The poor players, who under such regulations would have soon found their occupation gone, or at any rate unremunerative, turned their. eye to the vacant space between St Paul's and the river, where stood the ruins of the great convent and church of the Black Friars (Dominicans). On this is be, which was outside the jurisdiction of the city, they established the first theatre by converting to their purpose Some of the dilapidated buildings. Years passed; the number of the players increased; and in 1589, as we learn from a curious memorial which they addressed in that year to the privy council, they were six been in number, " all of them sharers in the Blackfriars play-house." The twelfth name subscribed to this list was that of William Shakespeare; the ninth that of the dramatist George Peele. These facts show that that "separation of powers," which, in the drama as in politics, is the fruit of an advanced experience, did not then exist.

The offices of lessee, stage-manager, actor, and play-writer were all combined in these early players. They owned the theatre in which they acted, furnished their own stage, chose their own plays, and, to a greater or less extent, wrote them. After having received the royal license in 1574, this company ceased to bear the name of the earl of Leicester, but described themselves as " Her Majesty's poor players." The trace of this early connection with the court still remains in the appellation" Theatre Royal," assumed by several of the older London theatres.

2. With regard to the nature of the dramatic performances, these included, besides those specified in the license to the Blackfriars Company, moral plays and histories. Under the general description of moral play we lay include those that were written with a controversial purpose, either for or against the Reformation, such as the plays by Bishop Bale, Lusty Juventus, Every man, &c. Quite a number of such pieces were put on the stage by the Catholics after the accession of Elizabeth, with the view of turning the new state services into ridicule; these drew down a special prohibition from the Government. Many dramas, called sometimes tragedies, sometimes histories, were on classical subjects, such as Catiline's Conspiracies (by Stephen Gosson, who afterwards wrote vehemently against the stage), Cupid and Psyche, Ptolemy, and plays on the lives of Pompey and Cesar. The audience being limited, the companies of players numerous, and the expense of scenery and dresses trifling, novelty in the pieces represented became the predominant source of attraction; hence the extraordinary variety of plays produced at this early period. Scriptural subjects were popular; thus among the earliest printed plays are Nash's Christ's Tears over Jerusalem, and Peele's David and Betltsabe. " Histories" dealt often with personages and events of the ancient world. But they also presented in dramatic forms passages from the story of England, many of which, by tradition and continual discussion, still lived in the memory, and vividly stirred the feelings of the people; and it was natural that dramas of this class, as they came to be planned with more art and composed with greater power, should transcend in interest the dramas with classical plots, and appropriate the name of "histories" to themselves. One of the earliest of these, The Famous Victories of Henry V:, was acted about 1580 ; Shakespeare founded on it one of his historical plays. The history of Edward II. by Marlowe, Greene's James IV., and Peele's Edward I. all date somewhere about 1590; the older play of King John appeared in 1591; and the original plays which, refashioned or retouched by the hand of Shakespeare, come before us as the three parts of Henry VI., seem to have been produced between 1590 and 1595.

Before the time when Shakespeare began to write for the stage, it may be said that several respectable or even remarkable tragedies had appeared, that some good and flowing historical dramas had been written, and that a great variety of interludes, approaching in character to our farces, and not deficient in wit and drollery, bad been produced. To prove the above assertion as to tragedy, it would be enough to adduct Marlowe's powerful plays, Dr Faustus and Tamburlaine the Great,-the first strong to move thl3 tragic passions, the second dazzling and astonishing us by its soaring rants and gorgeous rhetoric. The clever interludes of .John Heywood would alone sustain what we have stated as to pieces of that description. In comedy, on the other hand, very little had been achieved, Of those that were in prose, like Gascoigne's Supposes and N ash's Pierce Penniless, the rough uncouth language was unrelieved by any wit that could pass muster in a later age. No comedies in verse superior to those of Greene can perhaps be named; and these are disfigured by every kind of literary fault.

3. With regard to the stage Itself, the bulldog of the first theatre in London bas been already described. But for many years previously temporary theatres had been made out of the court-yards, with their surrounding galleries of London inns, e.g., the Belle Savage in Ludgate Hill the Red Bull in Bishops gate Street, and the Cross Keys in Gracechurch Street. It is to the second of these that Gosson alludes in his School of Abuse (1579), when he speaks of "the Jew shown at the Bull," and goes on to describe it so as to make it clear that this was an old play with a plot resembling that of the Merchant of Venice. If anyone desires it, he may still help his imagination to picture the scene, by going into the court-yard of one of the few old city inns still left, the "Four Swans" in Bishops gate Street for instance, and imagining a stage erected at one end, the galleries crowded with aristocratic spectators, seated or standing, and the open space below filled with play-goers of the common sort, admitted at the charge of one penny, and with the canopy of heaven above their heads. Five of these theatrical inns were turned into play-houses between 1570 and 1630. The company that owned the Black friars Theatre erected a new one called the Globe in 1594 on the Bank-side, a position corresponding to one on the present Thames embankment; this, being for summer use, was not roofed in. A play-house called " The Theatre" was built at Shoreditch, outside the city liberties, little, if at all, after the time at which the Black friars house Wells opened; near it stood the" Curtain." Other theatres, the Swan, the Hope, the Rose, &c., rapidly sprang up ; and it is estimated that not fewer than 200 licensed play-bouses existed in different parts of London at the end of the reign of Elizabeth. All this time the players continued to designate themselves, and to be, the servants either of the queen or of some nobleman; without such protection they could not have exercised their function either safely or profitably. . In these primitive theaters no scenery was used; that was first introduced by Davenant after the Restoration. A curtain then, as now, met the spectator's eye on entering; it was slowly drawn up, and he saw a stage strewn with rushes, the side walls hung with arras; a large board with a name painted on it, " Westminster," "Corinth," "Messina," &c., informed him where the scene of the play to be performed was laid; imagination did all the rest. When a battle was to be fought, "two armies fly in represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field .

Amidst such rude surroundings, and with such imperfect appliances, the mighty genius of Shakespeare was fain to live and act. It has been observed that English comedy was less advanced at the time of his coming up to London (about 1586) than the other dramatic forms; and it is III comedy accordingly that his early triumphs were won, and his extraordinary superiority to all his predecessors most signally demonstrated. Love's Labour's Lost and The Comedy of Errors were probably his first essays; they were followed by Midsummer Night's Dream, Two Gentlemen of Verona, &c. The versification of dramatic dialogue had he en thoroughly reformed by Marlowe, whose sense of rhythm was exquisite; English blank verse had been wrought into a fine and fitting material, ready to receive whatever impression a gifted dramatist might stamp upon It. But Marlowe was no meditative observer of human life, no accurate discerner of human motives. The language therefore, that he puts in the mouth of his different personages does not greatly vary; they are all apt to take to ranting on the least provocation. Shakespeare added to Marlowe's skill of composition a power of characterization which no dramatist, ancient or modern, ever surpassed. To this power, as its fitting accompaniment, was joined a gift of modulation, by which the language assigned to each character was made suitable to it and to no other, and this with a truth and naturalness which the readers and spectators of every fol1owing age have recognized. Again, turning, like Chaucer, with eager longing to the refining inherences which came from the south. he adjusted and polished his dialogue with the utmost care,' till to the swiftness and evenness of movement which he might have learnt from Marlowe he united much of the easy grace of Ariosto and of the sweetness of Tasso. He probably read an immense number of Italian novels, either in the original or in translations; many of his comedies are founded upon such tales. Thus prepared, he could with safety, as in Merry Wives of Windsor, deal with home scenes, and a plot of his own invention, without running any risk of falling into the coarseness and vulgarity of Gammer Gowton, George-a-Greene, and hundreds of other pieces, written by men in whom the Teutonic affinity of the race predominated unchecked. To these qualifications Shakespeare added a sound dramatic judgment, which, a" was natural, improved with years and experience, teaching him what to seek and what to shun, so as to secure that popularity which is the test of dramatic excellence. As an acting play, The Tempest, written near the end of his career, is far superior to Love's Labour:s Lost. But to the last he did not attain to supreme excellence in this direction; the unity of action, necessarily sacrificed in the histories, is not always preserved in dramas where its retention would have been easy; nor is that subordination of inferior parts to the central action, which dramatists of less power have often successfully managed, always duly attended to by Shakespeare.





Of neither the comedies nor the tragedies of Shakespeare can it be said that they are in a special sense" dramas of character." The boasting soldier; the lying traveler, the religious hypocrite, the scheming matron, the ambitious tyrant, and many other clearly marked types, are not portrayed for us in the plays of Shakespeare with that sharpness of outline which they present in the works of Plautus, Moliere, and Alfieri. The cause may perhaps be sought in the absence from Shakespeare's mind of all exaggeration, and in the fact that without some slight exaggeration these striking dramatic types which take hold on the memory and the imagination cannot be produced.Shakespeare saw men as they are, and so described them; and the consequence is that, although neither Macbeth nor Richard III. exhibits the stock character of the "ambitious tyrant," each displays a special form of ambition, modified, as always happens in real life, by many concomitant qualities and aims, to trace the lineaments of which will reward in a high degree the pains of the literary analyst. It is this quality of essential truth of presentation which has gathered round our Shakespeare's dramas the instructive and beautiful criticism of a Gervinus, the interpretations of a Goethe, and the historic faculty of a Guizot or a Villemain.

In the exhibition of tragic passions, and in the rouge of the appeal which they make to the moral sentiments of an audience, Shakespeare's tragedies have never been surpassed.
Considered as acting plays they are of varying excellence.

In Othello and Romeo and Juliet, both founded on Italian novels, the incidents move on in a swift and well-combined seque, which, from this point of view, leaves nothing to be desired. Hamlet, though from tradition and habit it always attracts large audiences, is better suited for the closet than the stage; the drag of the third and fourth acts is undeniable. In none of the tragedies is there any attempt to preserve the unity of time except in Romeo and Juliet " here the action is powerfully and successfully concentrated. The Roman plays, based on Plutarch's Lives, though they abound in passages of great power and beauty, are not so constructed as to produce the highest dramatic effect.

When we turn to the other dramatists, Shakespeare's contemporaries and successors, the one point about them all that most strikes us is, their amazing exuberance. The English genius, as M. Taine in substance remarks, is naturally abundant and full of force; if left to itself, it attends more to quantity than to quality; it is daring and enterprising, and knows not when it is over-matched, as English soldiers ate said not to know when they are beaten. Of this national vigour a large proportion was in the Elizabethan times directed to literature, and particularly to the stage.

The development of the drama had 'now gone on without any notable check for many generations. All the artistic faculty of the country which before the Reformation had applied itself to other arts, such as decorative architecture, painting, and sculpture, now, when the scope for the exercise of these was suddenly reduced to the narrowest limits, tended to seek and find a refuge in the Thespian art. Space does not permit of our noticing these dramatists in any but the briefest manner. Ben Jonson, proud of his learning and his university education, invented most of his own plots, and plumed himself on his strict observance of the unities. In the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher the influence of the Spanish drama, the glory of which had been carried to a great height by Calderon and Lope de Vega, is noticeable. The intensity of Massinger and the pathos of Ford, amid much that is grotesque or repulsive, preserve their dramas from entire oblivion. Other names are those of 'Webster, Chapman, Heywood, Dekker, Marston, Middleton, and Rowley. The plays of Shirley were at the height of their popularity when, after the breaking out of the civil war, the theatres were closed by order of the parliament. This order is the overt act of Puritanism, by which, after having first complained of, then protested against, then furiously denounced, the abuses of the stage, it proceeds, now that it has got the handling of the civil sword, to remove both use and abuse by force. The violent language of Prone in the book (1633) to which he gave the title of Histriomastix (a barbarous compound signifying "the player's scourge "), though at the time cruelly punished by the Star Chamber, told of a great and increasing force of public opinion behind him, of which he was but the mouth-piece. Puritanism, by the order of suppression, at once avenged the insults and ridicule with which the dramatists had assailed it, and cut down a vigorous scion which had grown up out of the root of the ancient civilization. The drama was restored before twenty years were over; but it was a new creation, and never won the people's love as the old Elizabethan drama had done. It was an affair of courts and coteries, and was almost shaken down by the blunt reproaches of one honest, plain-spoken man, Jeremy Collier. Puritanism possessing itself more and more of the popular conscience, the revival of a national drama became impossible. Our theatres are supported by the miscellaneous urban population which is always to be found in great cities; but as a nation we have had no drama since the civil war.

In the department of Fiction we have to note a new transformation of the romance, by which it assumes the form of pastoral novel. The tale of chivalry, modified so as to recommend a religious ideal by Walter Map and his fellow workers, then passing into the love-story with allegorical embellishments in the hands of Lorris, was further changed by Sannazzaro, Montemayor, and other Spanish and Italian writers, into the love-story with pastoral and mythological establishments. Here of course we trace the influence of the classical revival; allegory is dropped as too cumbrous j and a florid phraseology, culled from the idylls of Theocrats, the miscellaneous works of Lucian, and other classical or quasi-classical sources, takes its place. The Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney was suggested by San nazzaro's pastoral romance of the same name, but can be read with more interest, because we see that it has been made the vehicle by means of which a powerful mind makes known its thoughts on many intricate and important questions, in metaphysics, political science, art, and social ethics. But the prolixity of the work, together with its confused arrangement, would always prevent it from attaining to anything like the popularity which it enjoyed when, and for some time after, it appeared. The Euphues of Lily, a kind of philosophical novel, written in an affected and pedantic style, has, since the ascription to its influence by Sir Walter Scott of the magniloquent bombast which he puts in the mouth of Sir Piercie Shafton in the Monastery, and considers to be characteristic of the conversation of I courtiers at that period, given rise to the, term "euphuism." Yet it must be allowed that Sir Piercie Shafton's talk is quite a caricature of the language in Euphues; of the two, it more resembles the high-flown language that we meet with in Sidney's Arcadia. The Mundus Alter et Idem of Hall (afterwards bishop of Norwich) is a satirical romance, written from the dericodespotic point of view, in the aim of exhibiting the basement which the principle of democracy, if carried out consistently and over a long period, would, according to the author's theory, bring upon both social and individual man.

One of the last and most pernicious delusions of the infatuated community described in the book consists in establishing "a perpetual parliament." Such were the advisers, obeying whose fatal suggestions Charles. Reigned eleven years without a parliament, and brought things to a pass whence civil are the only issue.

In the Ecclesiastical Polity of Richard Hooker, published near the close of the 16th century, a solid intellectual basis, illustrated by great learning and the attractions of a grave and majestic style, was for the first time given to the conception of the via media, in which Anglican churchmen believed they saw a secure shelter for moderate minds, midway between Rome and the extreme forms of Protestantism. The work is naturally directed rather against the Puritans, who were numerous both in church and state, and might eventually, as in fact they did, gain the upper band, than against the Catholics, whom the laws already silenced and disarmed. The restiveness of the Puritans under the. existing laws and church ordinances, which, as they thought, left religion insufficiently reformed, suggested to Hooker an inquiry into the nature of laws, and the grounds of their binding force; this is the subject of the celebrated disquisition in the first book. The Puritans were not convinced, and the struggle between them and the Anglicans went on increasing in violence, until, after the outbreak of war, the ascendancy of the Puritan element ill the Lower House, and the secession of most of the peers to Oxford, enabled its enemies temporarily to suppress the established church. During the suppression, a work of great ability, entitled A Discourse on the Liberty of Prophesying (1647), appeared from the pen of Jeremy Taylor. Fifty years have made a great difference j the champion of Anglicanism no longer insists on obedience, but. Pleads for toleration' if only the Church of England could. be established again in certain districts, he would be willing to see the worship of many different sects, provided that they all agreed to accept the Apostles' Creed as a common standard, carried on in other parts of the country. The lapse of a few years restored to the church its former status without any damaging concessions, and the question of toleration was laid by till the Revolution.

The scholastic philosophy fell, as we have seen, at the change of religion; and for some time nothing took its place. When philosophical studies were revived, they took a new direction, and were pursued in a new spirit. The old philosophy, summing up the wisdom of Greece and that of the Christian schools, said to the student, "Know God, know thyself; from this twofold knowledge learn what is duty; that done, investigate at discretion either nature or the world of ideas." In practice, however, a dry logic and metaphysic, encumbered with technicalities, formed the sole intellectual pabulum provided for most students of philosophy. The new doctrine, introduced by Bacon, said, "Know Nature, and for that purpose study thy own mind, and discover the criteria by which nature's ways may be tested; the knowledge so gained will be power, which, well used, will enrich and adorn human life." Mr. Hallam, representing the general English opinion, calls Bacon "the father of modern science;" but his claim to the title is disputed both by the French and by the Italians. However this may be, it is certain that he very early conceived the idea of working out a new and complete system of philosophy; and to a juvenile work unfolding his project in outline, which seems to have been written about 1584, he gave the title Temporis Partus faximus, the greatest birth of Time. The phrase sounds arrogant, but was not really so; all that Bacon meant to say was, that the new doctrine was the inevitable outcome of a time now ripe for its reception,-the growth of the Zeitgeist, to use a modern phrase, -and that it was impossible to overstate its importance and potency. But his life was too much taken up with active labours at the bar, on the bench, and in the council chamber, to permit of his carrying his vast plans into execution. All that we possess of his _philosophy is contained in the Advancement of Learning (1605), the Instauratio Magna (1620), and the De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623)_ The Instauratio is a colossal programme of his philosophy in six divisions, of which only the second, the " Novum Organum," is worked out, and that not completely. The " Novum Organum" was designed to be the new logic of induction, which Bacon regarded as the mind's proper instrument in utilizing the fruits of experience. " Experience and observation are the guides through the Baconian philosophy, which is the hand-maid and interpreter of nature." Nevertheless the particular instrument which he invented the method of instances, is too cumbrous for practical use and in fact never has been employed in physical inquiries " If we have not tried it," says Mr. Ellis, in one of his exceedingly able introductions to the works of Bacon, " it is because we feel confident that it would not answer. W, regard it as a curious piece of machinery, very subtle elaborate, and ingenious, but not worth constructing because all the work it could do may be done more easily another way." It is not in virtue of his method, which will not work, nor on account of special contributions to any branch of physical science, for none such exist, that s, high a place among philosophers is assigned to Bacon b: his countrymen. It is rather on account of the loft: enthusiasm which animates his writings, and makes him appear in them as the hierophant of Nature, eloquent. pleading against the neglect of her worship.

The edifice of Christian philosophy lay in ruins, as w have seen, from the time of the Renaissance; -Bacon offered a partial solitude, designed to endow man with power over 'so nature; it was left for Hobbes, his assistant and disciple to make an attempt to occupy the whole of the ancient field of thought. He desired to instruct mankind as to the origin, nature, and value of their conceptions respecting God and themselves, to investigate the moral nature of man, and to define the forms of guidance and of conduct best suited for a being so constituted in mind and heart. His principal work was published in 1651 under the title of Leviathan. The fundamental principle from which he starts is, that every thought which can arise in the mind of man is a "representation or appearance of some quality of a body without us, which is commonly called an object." "There is no conception," he proceeds, "in a man's mind which hath not at first, totally, or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of sense. The rest are derived from that original." The doctrine of innate ideas, and every suggestion that it is possible for man to obtain real knowledge otherwise than through the reports of the senses, are by this preliminary tenet rejected. He proceeds, with the utmost acuteness, and a power of close and sustained observation which is truly admirable, to analyse the more important conceptions concerning God, time, infinity, substance, &c., which find a harbour within the mind. His explanations and definitions on all these heads bear, as might be expected from his primary tenet, a strong materialistic impress. He is also a nominalist; all objects, according to him, exist singly and separately; the only universal is the name given to a number of objects which agree in certain given respects; the belief in the existence of universals as ideas he rejects, not as erroneous but as absurd; nothing exists for him between, or besides, the object, and the human faculties perceiving and naming it.

Of the belief in a God he says that "by the visible things of this world and their admirable order a man may conceive there is a cause of them, which men call God, and yet not have an idea or image of Him in his mind." "As God is incomprehensible, it follows that we can have no conception image of the Deity; and consequently at His attributes signify our inability or defect of power to conceive anything concerning his nature, and not any conception of the same, excepting only this, that there is a God." In spite of statements of this kind, which are obviously capable of being taken in a good sense, it has been customary to regard Hobbes as an atheist. The cause is found in the complete I inadequacy of his system of morals to make bood what might be wanting in his speculative tenets. It is not the omissions and one-sidedness of his metaphysics alone, but it is these, coupled with the perversions in his moral philosophy, which have affixed to his name a reputation for atheism. The doctrine of the existence of God, even attenuated to the form which we have seen above, might have been sufficiently integrated by a sound doctrine respecting the human conscience, the best witness for God, according to the general belief, that it is in man's power to appeal to. But when we examine Hobbes's teaching on moral matters, we find it full of paradox and absurdity.

Every passion and feeling which can move the human heart is, according to him, the more or less disguised offspring of self-Jove. He scoffs at the very notion of free-will. The warnings of conscience are merely the fear of something disagreeable happening to ourselves, if we proceed in a particular line of conduct towards our neighbors. Justice and virtue are chimeras; that is just which is commanded by the laws, or which a man has covenanted to do; that is virtuous which tends to the general well-being of the community in which we move.

Hobbes's views on civil society and government were first given to the world in his De Cive (1647); but this was afterwards incorporated in the Leviathan, The state of nature, he holds, is a state of war; each man has, until he is restrained, a natural right to take everything around him for his own use; every other man has an equal right; war is therefore inevitable. But men find that in the long-run peace conduces to their enjoyment more than war, they are willing, therefore, and that the natural right which each possesses should be abridged, and with this end in view they enter into a covenant under which a government is set up over them, charged with maintaining peace, and attending to their welfare in other ways. After this has been done, the subjects cannot change their government without its consent. There are three possible forms of government,- monarchy, aristocracy, democracy,- in each of which the sovereign power cannot be limited or divided. He appears to have thought the limited monarchy of England a vicious form, which events had shown to be practically untenable, the division of power between sovereign and democratic assembly having led to civil war. Of the three forms he much prefers monarchy, that is, absolute monarchy. He thinks it even more important that the sovereign should not be hampered by any opposition on the part of the priesthood, than that he should not be disturbed by the democracy. Accordingly he insists that the state and the church should be the same body under different aspects, the sovereign of the one being also the supreme head and ruler of the other. The sovereign, if he be a Christian, is to determine what religious dogmas shall be taught by the clergy, and to be the judge in the last resort on questions affecting tose dogmas. "this," as Mr Hallan observes, "is not very far removed from the doctrine of Hooker, and still less from the practice of Henry VIII."

There is ample evidence that the philosophy of Hobbes exercised a baneful influence on the morality of a large number of educated men in the last half of the 17th century. But for his love of paradox, this influence would doubtless have been still grater. In an eloquent peroration, Mr Hallan thus sums up his examination of the political and ethical writings of the philosopher of Mamesbury:- "The political system of Hobbes, like his moral system, of which, in fact, it is only a portion, sears up the heart. It takes away the sense of wrong, that has consoled the wise and good in their dangers, the proud appeal of innocence under oppression, like that of Prometheus to the elements, uttered to the witnessing world, to the coming ages, to the just ear of heaven. It confounds the principles of moral approbation, the notions of good and ill desert, in a servile idolatry of the monstrous leviathan it creates, and after sacrificing all right at the altar of the power, denies to the Omnipotent the prerogative of dictating the laws of His own worship."


Read the rest of this article:
English Literature - Table of Contents




Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries