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A History of English Literature by Robert Huntington Fletcher

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details as the employment of impudent boy-pages as a source of amusement.

PEELE, GREENE, AND KYD. Of the most important early contemporaries of
Shakspere we have already mentioned two as noteworthy in other fields of
literature. George Peele's masque-like 'Arraignment of Paris' helps to show
him as more a lyric poet than a dramatist. Robert Greene's plays,
especially 'Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay,' reveal, like his novels, some
real, though not very elaborate, power of characterization. They are
especially important in developing the theme of romantic love with real
fineness of feeling and thus helping to prepare the way for Shakspere in a
very important particular. In marked contrast to these men is Thomas Kyd,
who about the year 1590 attained a meteoric reputation with crude
'tragedies of blood,' specialized descendants of Senecan tragedy, one of
which may have been the early play on Hamlet which Shakspere used as the
groundwork for his masterpiece.

CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE, 1564-1593. Peele and Greene were University men who
wrote partly for Court or academic audiences, partly for the popular stage.
The distinction between the two sorts of drama was still further broken
down in the work of Christopher Marlowe, a poet of real genius, decidedly
the chief dramatist among Shakspere's early contemporaries, and the one
from whom Shakspere learned the most.

Marlowe was born in 1564 (the same year as Shakspere), the son of a
shoemaker at Canterbury. Taking his master's degree after seven years at
Cambridge, in 1587, he followed the other 'university wits' to London.
There, probably the same year and the next, he astonished the public with
the two parts of 'Tamburlaine the Great,' a dramatization of the stupendous
career of the bloodthirsty Mongol fourteenth-century conqueror. These
plays, in spite of faults now conspicuous enough, are splendidly
imaginative and poetic, and were by far the most powerful that had yet been
written in England. Marlowe followed them with 'The Tragical History of Dr.
Faustus,' a treatment of the medieval story which two hundred years later
was to serve Goethe for his masterpiece; with 'The Jew of Malta,' which was
to give Shakspere suggestions for 'The Merchant of Venice'; and with
'Edward the Second,' the first really artistic Chronicle History play.
Among the literary adventurers of the age who led wild lives in the London
taverns Marlowe is said to have attained a conspicuous reputation for
violence and irreligion. He was killed in 1593 in a reckless and foolish
brawl, before he had reached the age of thirty.

If Marlowe's life was unworthy, the fault must be laid rather at the door
of circumstances than of his own genuine nature. His plays show him to have
been an ardent idealist and a representative of many of the qualities that
made the greatness of the Renaissance. The Renaissance learning, the
apparently boundless vistas which it had opened to the human spirit, and
the consciousness of his own power, evidently intoxicated Marlowe with a
vast ambition to achieve results which in his youthful inexperience he
could scarcely even picture to himself. His spirit, cramped and outraged by
the impassable limitations of human life and by the conventions of society,
beat recklessly against them with an impatience fruitless but partly grand.
This is the underlying spirit of almost all his plays, struggling in them
for expression. The Prolog to 'Tamburlaine' makes pretentious announcement
that the author will discard the usual buffoonery of the popular stage and
will set a new standard of tragic majesty:

From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits,
And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
We'll lead you to the stately tent of war,
Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine
Threatening the world with high astounding terms,
And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.

Tamburlaine himself as Marlowe presents him is a titanic, almost
superhuman, figure who by sheer courage and pitiless unbending will raises
himself from shepherd to general and then emperor of countless peoples, and
sweeps like a whirlwind over the stage of the world, carrying everywhere
overwhelming slaughter and desolation. His speeches are outbursts of
incredible arrogance, equally powerful and bombastic. Indeed his
blasphemous boasts of superiority to the gods seem almost justified by his
apparently irresistible success. But at the end he learns that the laws of
life are inexorable even for him; all his indignant rage cannot redeem his
son from cowardice, or save his wife from death, or delay his own end. As
has been said, [Footnote: Professor Barrett Wendell, 'William Shakspere,'
p. 36.] 'Tamburlaine' expresses with 'a profound, lasting, noble sense and
in grandly symbolic terms, the eternal tragedy inherent in the conflict
between human aspiration and human power.'

For several other reasons 'Tamburlaine' is of high importance. It gives
repeated and splendid expression to the passionate haunting Renaissance
zest for the beautiful. It is rich with extravagant sensuous descriptions,
notable among those which abound gorgeously in all Elizabethan poetry. But
finest of all is the description of beauty by its effects which Marlowe
puts into the mouth of Faustus at the sight of Helen of Troy:

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?

Much of Marlowe's strength, again, lies in his powerful and beautiful use
of blank verse. First among the dramatists of the popular stage he
discarded rime, and taking and vitalizing the stiff pentameter line of
'Gorboduc,' gave it an immediate and lasting vogue for tragedy and high
comedy. Marlowe, virtually a beginner, could not be expected to carry blank
verse to that perfection which his success made possible for Shakspere; he
did not altogether escape monotony and commonplaceness; but he gained a
high degree of flexibility and beauty by avoiding a regularly end-stopped
arrangement, by taking pains to secure variety of pause and accent, and by
giving his language poetic condensation and suggestiveness. His workmanship
thoroughly justifies the characterization 'Marlowe's mighty line,' which
Ben Jonson in his tribute to Shakspere bestowed on it long after Marlowe's
death.

The greatest significance of 'Tamburlaine,' lastly, lies in the fact that
it definitely established tragedy as a distinct form on the English popular
stage, and invested it with proper dignity.

These are Marlowe's great achievements both in 'Tamburlaine' and in his
later more restrained plays. His limitations must also be suggested. Like
other Elizabethans he did not fully understand the distinction between
drama and other literary forms; 'Tamburlaine' is not so much a regularly
constructed tragedy, with a struggle between nearly equal persons and
forces, artistically complicated and resolved, as an epic poem, a
succession of adventures in war (and love). Again, in spite of the prolog
in 'Tamburlaine,' Marlowe, in almost all his plays, and following the
Elizabethan custom, does attempt scenes of humor, but he attains only to
the coarse and brutal horse-play at which the English audiences had laughed
for centuries in the Mystery plays and the Interludes. Elizabethan also
(and before that medieval) is the lack of historical perspective which
gives to Mongol shepherds the manners and speech of Greek classical
antiquity as Marlowe had learned to know it at the university. More serious
is the lack of mature skill in characterization. Tamburlaine the man is an
exaggerated type; most of the men about him are his faint shadows, and
those who are intended to be comic are preposterous. The women, though they
have some differentiating touches, are certainly not more dramatically and
vitally imagined. In his later plays Marlowe makes gains in this respect,
but he never arrives at full easy mastery and trenchantly convincing
lifelikeness either in characterization, in presentation of action, or in
fine poetic finish. It has often been remarked that at the age when Marlowe
died Shakspere had produced not one of the great plays on which his
reputation rests; but Shakspere's genius came to maturity more surely, as
well as more slowly, and there is no basis for the inference sometimes
drawn that if Marlowe had lived he would ever have equalled or even
approached Shakespere's supreme achievement.

THEATRICAL CONDITIONS AND THE THEATER BUILDINGS. Before we pass to
Shakspere we must briefly consider those external facts which conditioned
the form of the Elizabethan plays and explain many of those things in them
which at the present time appear perplexing.

[Illustration: TIMON OF ATHENS, v, 4. OUTER SCENE.

_Trumpets sound. Enter Alcibiades with his
Powers before Athens._

"_Alc_. Sound to this Coward, and lascivious
Towne, Our terrible approach."

_Sounds a parly. The Senators appears upon
the Wals._

Reproduced from _The Shakespearean Stage_, by V. E. Albright, through
the courtesy of the publishers, the Columbia University Press.

AN ELIZABETHAN STAGE]

The medieval religious drama had been written and acted in many towns
throughout the country, and was a far less important feature in the life of
London than of many other places. But as the capital became more and more
the center of national life, the drama, with other forms of literature, was
more largely appropriated by it; the Elizabethan drama of the great period
was altogether written in London and belonged distinctly to it. Until well
into the seventeenth century, to be sure, the London companies made
frequent tours through the country, but that was chiefly when the
prevalence of the plague had necessitated the closing of the London
theaters or when for other reasons acting there had become temporarily
unprofitable. The companies themselves had now assumed a regular
organization. They retained a trace of their origin (above, page 90) in
that each was under the protection of some influential noble and was
called, for example, 'Lord Leicester's Servants,' or 'The Lord Admiral's
Servants.' But this connection was for the most part nominal--the companies
were virtually very much like the stock-companies of the nineteenth
century. By the beginning of the great period the membership of each troupe
was made up of at least three classes of persons. At the bottom of the
scale were the boy-apprentices who were employed, as Shakspere is said to
have been at first, in miscellaneous menial capacities. Next came the paid
actors; and lastly the shareholders, generally also actors, some or all of
whom were the general managers. The writers of plays were sometimes members
of the companies, as in Shakspere's case; sometimes, however, they were
independent.

Until near the middle of Elizabeth's reign there were no special theater
buildings, but the players, in London or elsewhere, acted wherever they
could find an available place--in open squares, large halls, or,
especially, in the quadrangular open inner yards of inns. As the profession
became better organized and as the plays gained in quality, such makeshift
accommodations became more and more unsatisfactory; but there were special
difficulties in the way of securing better ones in London. For the
population and magistrates of London were prevailingly Puritan, and the
great body of the Puritans, then as always, were strongly opposed to the
theater as a frivolous and irreligious thing--an attitude for which the
lives of the players and the character of many plays afforded, then as
almost always, only too much reason. The city was very jealous of its
prerogatives; so that in spite of Queen Elizabeth's strong patronage of the
drama, throughout her whole reign no public theater buildings were allowed
within the limits of the city corporation. But these limits were narrow,
and in 1576 James Burbage inaugurated a new era by erecting 'The Theater'
just to the north of the 'city,' only a few minutes' walk from the center
of population. His example was soon followed by other managers, though the
favorite place for the theaters soon came to be the 'Bankside,' the region
in Southwark just across the Thames from the 'city' where Chaucer's Tabard
Inn had stood and where pits for bear-baiting and cock-fighting had long
flourished.

The structure of the Elizabethan theater was naturally imitated from its
chief predecessor, the inn-yard. There, under the open sky, opposite the
street entrance, the players had been accustomed to set up their stage.
About it, on three sides, the ordinary part of the audience had stood
during the performance, while the inn-guests and persons able to pay a
fixed price had sat in the open galleries which lined the building and ran
all around the yard. In the theaters, therefore, at first generally
square-built or octagonal, the stage projected from the rear wall well
toward the center of an unroofed pit (the present-day 'orchestra'), where,
still on three sides of the stage, the common people, admitted for sixpence
or less, stood and jostled each other, either going home when it rained or
staying and getting wet as the degree of their interest in the play might
determine. The enveloping building proper was occupied with tiers of
galleries, generally two or three in number, provided with seats; and here,
of course, sat the people of means, the women avoiding embarrassment and
annoyance only by being always masked. Behind the unprotected front part of
the stage the middle part was covered by a lean-to roof sloping down from
the rear wall of the building and supported by two pillars standing on the
stage. This roof concealed a loft, from which gods and goddesses or any
appropriate properties could be let down by mechanical devices. Still
farther back, under the galleries, was the 'rear-stage,' which could be
used to represent inner rooms; and that part of the lower gallery
immediately above it was generally appropriated as a part of the stage,
representing such places as city walls or the second stories of houses. The
musicians' place was also just beside in the gallery.

The stage, therefore, was a 'platform stage,' seen by the audience from
almost all sides, not, as in our own time, a 'picture-stage,' with its
scenes viewed through a single large frame. This arrangement made
impossible any front curtain, though a curtain was generally hung before
the rear stage, from the floor of the gallery. Hence the changes between
scenes must generally be made in full view of the audience, and instead of
ending the scenes with striking situations the dramatists must arrange for
a withdrawal of the actors, only avoiding if possible the effect of a mere
anti-climax. Dead bodies must either get up and walk away in plain sight or
be carried off, either by stage hands, or, as part of the action, by other
characters in the play. This latter device was sometimes adopted at
considerable violence to probability, as when Shakspere makes Falstaff bear
away Hotspur, and Hamlet, Polonius. Likewise, while the medieval habit of
elaborate costuming was continued, there was every reason for adhering to
the medieval simplicity of scenery. A single potted tree might symbolize a
forest, and houses and caverns, with a great deal else, might be left to
the imagination of the audience. In no respect, indeed, was realism of
setting an important concern of either dramatist or audience; in many
cases, evidently, neither of them cared to think of a scene as located in
any precise spot; hence the anxious effort of Shakspere's editors on this
point is beside the mark. This nonchalance made for easy transition from
one place to another, and the whole simplicity of staging had the important
advantage of allowing the audience to center their attention on the play
rather than on the accompaniments. On the rear-stage, however, behind the
curtain, more elaborate scenery might be placed, and Elizabethan plays,
like those of our own day, seem sometimes to have 'alternation scenes,'
intended to be acted in front, while the next background was being prepared
behind the balcony curtain. The lack of elaborate settings also facilitated
rapidity of action, and the plays, beginning at three in the afternoon,
were ordinarily over by the dinner-hour of five. Less satisfactory was the
entire absence of women-actors, who did not appear on the public stage
until after the Restoration of 1660. The inadequacy of the boys who took
the part of the women-characters is alluded to by Shakspere and must have
been a source of frequent irritation to any dramatist who was attempting to
present a subtle or complex heroine.

Lastly may be mentioned the picturesque but very objectionable custom of
the young dandies who insisted on carrying their chairs onto the sides of
the stage itself, where they not only made themselves conspicuous objects
of attention but seriously crowded the actors and rudely abused them if the
play was not to their liking. It should be added that from the latter part
of Elizabeth's reign there existed within the city itself certain 'private'
theaters, used by the boys' companies and others, whose structure was more
like that of the theaters of our own time and where plays were given by
artificial light.

SHAKESPEARE, 1564-1616. William Shakspere, by universal consent the
greatest author of England, if not of the world, occupies chronologically a
central position in the Elizabethan drama. He was born in 1564 in the
good-sized village of Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, near the middle of
England, where the level but beautiful country furnished full external
stimulus for a poet's eye and heart. His father, John Shakspere, who was a
general dealer in agricultural products and other commodities, was one of
the chief citizens of the village, and during his son's childhood was
chosen an alderman and shortly after mayor, as we should call it. But by
1577 his prosperity declined, apparently through his own shiftlessness, and
for many years he was harassed with legal difficulties. In the village
'grammar' school William Shakspere had acquired the rudiments of
book-knowledge, consisting largely of Latin, but his chief education was
from Nature and experience. As his father's troubles thickened he was very
likely removed from school, but at the age of eighteen, under circumstances
not altogether creditable to himself, he married Anne Hathaway, a woman
eight years his senior, who lived in the neighboring village of Shottery.
The suggestion that the marriage proved positively unhappy is supported by
no real evidence, but what little is known of Shakspere's later life
implies that it was not exceptionally congenial. Two girls and a boy were
born from it.

In his early manhood, apparently between 1586 and 1588, Shakspere left
Stratford to seek his fortune in London. As to the circumstances, there is
reasonable plausibility in the later tradition that he had joined in
poaching raids on the deer-park of Sir Thomas Lucy, a neighboring country
gentleman, and found it desirable to get beyond the bounds of that
gentleman's authority. It is also likely enough that Shakspere had been
fascinated by the performances of traveling dramatic companies at Stratford
and by the Earl of Leicester's costly entertainment of Queen Elizabeth in
1575 at the castle of Kenilworth, not many miles away. At any rate, in
London he evidently soon secured mechanical employment in a theatrical
company, presumably the one then known as Lord Leicester's company, with
which, in that case, he was always thereafter connected. His energy and
interest must soon have won him the opportunity to show his skill as actor
and also reviser and collaborator in play-writing, then as independent
author; and after the first few years of slow progress his rise was rapid.
He became one of the leading members, later one of the chief shareholders,
of the company, and evidently enjoyed a substantial reputation as a
playwright and a good, though not a great, actor. This was both at Court
(where, however, actors had no social standing) and in the London dramatic
circle. Of his personal life only the most fragmentary record has been
preserved, through occasional mentions in miscellaneous documents, but it
is evident that his rich nature was partly appreciated and thoroughly loved
by his associates. His business talent was marked and before the end of his
dramatic career he seems to have been receiving as manager, shareholder,
playwright and actor, a yearly income equivalent to $25,000 in money of the
present time. He early began to devote attention to paying the debts of his
father, who lived until 1601, and restoring the fortunes of his family in
Stratford. The death of his only son, Hamnet, in 1596, must have been a
severe blow to him, but he obtained from the Heralds' College the grant of
a family coat of arms, which secured the position of the family as
gentlefolks; in 1597 he purchased New Place, the largest house in
Stratford; and later on he acquired other large property rights there. How
often he may have visited Stratford in the twenty-five years of his career
in London we have no information; but however enjoyable London life and the
society of the writers at the 'Mermaid' Tavern may have been to him, he
probably always looked forward to ending his life as the chief country
gentleman of his native village. Thither he retired about 1610 or 1612, and
there he died prematurely in 1616, just as he was completing his
fifty-second year.

Shakspere's dramatic career falls naturally into four successive divisions
of increasing maturity. To be sure, no definite record of the order of his
plays has come down to us, and it can scarcely be said that we certainly
know the exact date of a single one of them; but the evidence of the
title-page dates of such of them as were hastily published during his
lifetime, of allusions to them in other writings of the time, and other
scattering facts of one sort or another, joined with the more important
internal evidence of comparative maturity of mind and art which shows
'Macbeth' and 'The Winter's Tale,' for example, vastly superior to 'Love's
Labour's Lost'--all this evidence together enables us to arrange the plays
in a chronological order which is certainly approximately correct. The
first of the four periods thus disclosed is that of experiment and
preparation, from about 1588 to about 1593, when Shakspere tried his hand
at virtually every current kind of dramatic work. Its most important
product is 'Richard III,' a melodramatic chronicle-history play, largely
imitative of Marlowe and yet showing striking power. At the end of this
period Shakspere issued two rather long narrative poems on classical
subjects, 'Venus and Adonis,' and 'The Rape of Lucrece,' dedicating them
both to the young Earl of Southampton, who thus appears as his patron. Both
display great fluency in the most luxuriant and sensuous Renaissance
manner, and though they appeal little to the taste of the present day
'Venus and Adonis,' in particular, seems to have become at once the most
popular poem of its own time. Shakspere himself regarded them very
seriously, publishing them with care, though he, like most Elizabethan
dramatists, never thought it worth while to put his plays into print except
to safeguard the property rights of his company in them. Probably at about
the end of his first period, also, he began the composition of his sonnets,
of which we have already spoken (page 119).

The second period of Shakspere's work, extending from about 1594 to about
1601, is occupied chiefly with chronicle-history plays and happy comedies.
The chronicle-history plays begin (probably) with the subtile and
fascinating, though not yet absolutely masterful study of contrasting
characters in 'Richard II'; continue through the two parts of 'Henry IV,'
where the realistic comedy action of Falstaff and his group makes history
familiarly vivid; and end with the epic glorification of a typical English
hero-king in 'Henry V.' The comedies include the charmingly fantastic
'Midsummer Night's Dream'; 'The Merchant of Venice,' where a story of
tragic sternness is strikingly contrasted with the most poetical idealizing
romance and yet is harmoniously blended into it; 'Much Ado About Nothing,'
a magnificent example of high comedy of character and wit; 'As You Like
It,' the supreme delightful achievement of Elizabethan and all English
pastoral romance; and 'Twelfth Night,' where again charming romantic
sentiment is made believable by combination with a story of comic realism.
Even in the one, unique, tragedy of the period, 'Romeo and Juliet,' the
main impression is not that of the predestined tragedy, but that of ideal
youthful love, too gloriously radiant to be viewed with sorrow even in its
fatal outcome.

The third period, extending from about 1601 to about 1609, includes
Shakspere's great tragedies and certain cynical plays, which formal
classification mis-names comedies. In these plays as a group Shakspere sets
himself to grapple with the deepest and darkest problems of human character
and life; but it is only very uncertain inference that he was himself
passing at this time through a period of bitterness and disillusion.
'Julius Casar' presents the material failure of an unpractical idealist
(Brutus); 'Hamlet' the struggle of a perplexed and divided soul; 'Othello'
the ruin of a noble life by an evil one through the terrible power of
jealousy; 'King Lear' unnatural ingratitude working its hateful will and
yet thwarted at the end by its own excess and by faithful love; and
'Macbeth' the destruction of a large nature by material ambition. Without
doubt this is the greatest continuous group of plays ever wrought out by a
human mind, and they are followed by 'Antony and Cleopatra,' which
magnificently portrays the emptiness of a sensual passion against the
background of a decaying civilization.

Shakspere did not solve the insoluble problems of life, but having
presented them as powerfully, perhaps, as is possible for human
intelligence, he turned in his last period, of only two or three years, to
the expression of the serene philosophy of life in which he himself must
have now taken refuge. The noble and beautiful romance-comedies,
'Cymbeline,' 'The Winter's Tale,' and 'The Tempest,' suggest that men do
best to forget what is painful and center their attention on the pleasing
and encouraging things in a world where there is at least an inexhaustible
store of beauty and goodness and delight.

Shakspere may now well have felt, as his retirement to Stratford suggests,
that in his nearly forty plays he had fully expressed himself and had
earned the right to a long and peaceful old age. The latter, as we have
seen, was denied him; but seven years after his death two of his
fellow-managers assured the preservation of the plays whose unique
importance he himself did not suspect by collecting them in the first folio
edition of his complete dramatic works.

Shakspere's greatness rests on supreme achievement--the result of the
highest genius matured by experience and by careful experiment and
labor--in all phases of the work of a poetic dramatist. The surpassing
charm of his rendering of the romantic beauty and joy of life and the
profundity of his presentation of its tragic side we have already
suggested. Equally sure and comprehensive is his portrayal of characters.
With the certainty of absolute mastery he causes men and women to live for
us, a vast representative group, in all the actual variety of age and
station, perfectly realized in all the subtile diversities and
inconsistencies of protean human nature. Not less notable than his strong
men are his delightful young heroines, romantic Elizabethan heroines, to be
sure, with an unconventionality, many of them, which does not belong to
such women in the more restricted world of reality, but pure embodiments of
the finest womanly delicacy, keenness, and vivacity. Shakspere, it is true,
was a practical dramatist. His background characters are often present in
the plays not in order to be entirely real but in order to furnish
amusement; and even in the case of the chief ones, just as in the treatment
of incidents, he is always perfectly ready to sacrifice literal truth to
dramatic effect. But these things are only the corollaries of all
successful playwriting and of all art.

To Shakspere's mastery of poetic expression similarly strong superlatives
must be applied. For his form he perfected Marlowe's blank verse,
developing it to the farthest possible limits of fluency, variety, and
melody; though he retained the riming couplet for occasional use (partly
for the sake of variety) and frequently made use also of prose, both for
the same reason and in realistic or commonplace scenes. As regards the
spirit of poetry, it scarcely need be said that nowhere else in literature
is there a like storehouse of the most delightful and the greatest ideas
phrased with the utmost power of condensed expression and figurative
beauty. In dramatic structure his greatness is on the whole less
conspicuous. Writing for success on the Elizabethan stage, he seldom
attempted to reduce its romantic licenses to the perfection of an absolute
standard. 'Romeo and Juliet, 'Hamlet,' and indeed most of his plays,
contain unnecessary scenes, interesting to the Elizabethans, which
Sophocles as well as Racine would have pruned away. Yet when Shakspere
chooses, as in 'Othello,' to develop a play with the sternest and most
rapid directness, he proves essentially the equal even of the most rigid
technician.

Shakspere, indeed, although as Ben Jonson said, 'he was not for an age but
for all time,' was in every respect a thorough Elizabethan also, and does
not escape the superficial Elizabethan faults. Chief of these, perhaps, is
his fondness for 'conceits,' with which he makes his plays, especially some
of the earlier ones, sparkle, brilliantly, but often inappropriately. In
his prose style, again, except in the talk of commonplace persons, he never
outgrew, or wished to outgrow, a large measure of Elizabethan
self-conscious elegance. Scarcely a fault is his other Elizabethan habit of
seldom, perhaps never, inventing the whole of his stories, but drawing the
outlines of them from previous works--English chronicles, poems, or plays,
Italian 'novels,' or the biographies of Plutarch. But in the majority of
cases these sources provided him only with bare or even crude sketches, and
perhaps nothing furnishes clearer proof of his genius than the way in which
he has seen the human significance in stories baldly and wretchedly told,
where the figures are merely wooden types, and by the power of imagination
has transformed them into the greatest literary masterpieces, profound
revelations of the underlying forces of life.

Shakspere, like every other great man, has been the object of much
unintelligent, and misdirected adulation, but his greatness, so far from
suffering diminution, grows more apparent with the passage of time and the
increase of study.

[Note: The theory persistently advocated during the last half century that
Shakspere's works were really written not by himself but by Francis Bacon
or some other person can never gain credence with any competent judge. Our
knowledge of Shakspere's life, slight as it is, is really at least as great
as that which has been preserved of almost any dramatist of the period; for
dramatists were not then looked on as persons of permanent importance.
There is really much direct contemporary documentary evidence, as we have
already indicated, of Shakspere's authorship of the plays and poems. No
theory, further, could be more preposterous, to any one really acquainted
with literature, than the idea that the imaginative poetry of Shakspere was
produced by the essentially scientific and prosaic mind of Francis Bacon.
As to the cipher systems supposed to reveal hidden messages in the plays:
First, no poet bending his energies to the composition of such masterpieces
as Shakspere's could possibly concern himself at the same time with weaving
into them a complicated and trifling cryptogram. Second, the cipher systems
are absolutely arbitrary and unscientific, applied to any writings whatever
can be made to 'prove' anything that one likes, and indeed have been
discredited in the hands of their own inventors by being made to 'prove'
far too much. Third, it has been demonstrated more than once that the
verbal coincidences on which the cipher systems rest are no more numerous
than the law of mathematical probabilities requires. Aside from actually
vicious pursuits, there can be no more melancholy waste of time than the
effort to demonstrate that Shakspere is not the real author of his reputed
works.]

NATIONAL LIFE FROM 1603 TO 1660. We have already observed that, as
Shakspere's career suggests, there was no abrupt change in either life or
literature at the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603; and in fact the
Elizabethan period of literature is often made to include the reign of
James I, 1603-1625 (the Jacobean period [Footnote: 'Jaco'bus' is the Latin
form of 'James.']), or even, especially in the case of the drama, that of
Charles I, 1625-1649 (the Carolean period). Certainly the drama of all
three reigns forms a continuously developing whole, and should be discussed
as such. None the less the spirit of the first half of the seventeenth
century came gradually to be widely different from that of the preceding
fifty years, and before going on to Shakspere's successors we must stop to
indicate briefly wherein the difference consists and for this purpose to
speak of the determining events of the period. Before the end of
Elizabeth's reign, indeed, there had been a perceptible change; as the
queen grew old and morose the national life seemed also to lose its youth
and freshness. Her successor and distant cousin, James of Scotland (James I
of England), was a bigoted pedant, and under his rule the perennial Court
corruption, striking in, became foul and noisome. The national Church,
instead of protesting, steadily identified itself more closely with the
Court party, and its ruling officials, on the whole, grew more and more
worldly and intolerant. Little by little the nation found itself divided
into two great factions; on the one hand the Cavaliers, the party of the
Court, the nobles, and the Church, who continued to be largely dominated by
the Renaissance zest for beauty and, especially, pleasure; and on the other
hand the Puritans, comprising the bulk of the middle classes, controlled by
the religious principles of the Reformation, often, in their opposition to
Cavalier frivolity, stern and narrow, and more and more inclined to
separate themselves from the English Church in denominations of their own.
The breach steadily widened until in 1642, under the arbitrary rule of
Charles I, the Civil War broke out. In three years the Puritan Parliament
was victorious, and in 1649 the extreme minority of the Puritans, supported
by the army, took the unprecedented step of putting King Charles to death,
and declared England a Commonwealth. But in four years more the
Parliamentary government, bigoted and inefficient, made itself impossible,
and then for five years, until his death, Oliver Cromwell strongly ruled
England as Protector. Another year and a half of chaos confirmed the nation
in a natural reaction, and in 1660 the unworthy Stuart race was restored in
the person of the base and frivolous Charles II. The general influence of
the forces which produced these events shows clearly in the changing tone
of the drama, the work of those dramatists who were Shakspere's later
contemporaries and successors.

BEN JONSON. The second place among the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists
is universally assigned, on the whole justly, to Ben Jonson, [Footnote:
This name is spelled without the _h_.] who both in temperament and in
artistic theories and practice presents a complete contrast to Shakspere.
Jonson, the posthumous son of an impoverished gentleman-clergyman, was born
in London in 1573. At Westminster School he received a permanent bent
toward classical studies from the headmaster, William Camden, who was one
of the greatest scholars of the time. Forced into the uncongenial trade of
his stepfather, a master-bricklayer, he soon deserted it to enlist among
the English soldiers who were helping the Dutch to fight their Spanish
oppressors. Here he exhibited some of his dominating traits by challenging
a champion from the other army and killing him in classical fashion in
single combat between the lines. By about the age of twenty he was back in
London and married to a wife whom he later described as being 'virtuous but
a shrew,' and who at one time found it more agreeable to live apart from
him. He became an actor (at which profession he failed) and a writer of
plays. About 1598 he displayed his distinguishing realistic style in the
comedy 'Every Man in His Humour,' which was acted by Shakspere's company,
it is said through Shakspere's friendly influence. At about the same time
the burly Jonson killed another actor in a duel and escaped capital
punishment only through 'benefit of clergy' (the exemption still allowed to
educated men).

The plays which Jonson produced during the following years were chiefly
satirical attacks on other dramatists, especially Marston and Dekker, who
retorted in kind. Thus there developed a fierce actors' quarrel, referred
to in Shakspere's 'Hamlet,' in which the 'children's' companies had some
active but now uncertain part. Before it was over most of the dramatists
had taken sides against Jonson, whose arrogant and violent
self-assertiveness put him at odds, sooner or later, with nearly every one
with whom he had much to do. In 1603 he made peace, only to become involved
in other, still more, serious difficulties. Shortly after the accession of
King James, Jonson, Chapman, and Marston brought out a comedy, 'Eastward
Hoe,' in which they offended the king by satirical flings at the needy
Scotsmen to whom James was freely awarding Court positions. They were
imprisoned and for a while, according to the barbarous procedure of the
time, were in danger of losing their ears and noses. At a banquet
celebrating their release, Jonson reports, his 'old mother' produced a
paper of poison which, if necessary, she had intended to administer to him
to save him from this disgrace, and of which, she said, to show that she
was 'no churl,' she would herself first have drunk.

Just before this incident, in 1603, Jonson had turned to tragedy and
written 'Sejanus,' which marks the beginning of his most important decade.
He followed up 'Sejanus' after several years with the less excellent
'Catiline,' but his most significant dramatic works, on the whole, are his
four great satirical comedies. 'Volpone, or the Fox,' assails gross vice;
'Epicoene, the Silent Woman,' ridicules various sorts of absurd persons;
'The Alchemist' castigates quackery and its foolish encouragers; and
'Bartholomew Fair' is a coarse but overwhelming broadside at Puritan
hypocrisy. Strange as it seems in the author of these masterpieces of frank
realism, Jonson at the same time was showing himself the most gifted writer
of the Court masks, which now, arrived at the last period of their
evolution, were reaching the extreme of spectacular elaborateness. Early in
James' reign, therefore, Jonson was made Court Poet, and during the next
thirty years he produced about forty masks, devoting to them much attention
and care, and quarreling violently with Inigo Jones, the Court architect,
who contrived the stage settings. During this period Jonson was under the
patronage of various nobles, and he also reigned as dictator at the club of
literary men which Sir Walter Raleigh had founded at the Mermaid Tavern (so
called, like other inns, from its sign). A well-known poetical letter of
the dramatist Francis Beaumont to Jonson celebrates the club meetings; and
equally well known is a description given in the next generation from
hearsay and inference by the antiquary Thomas Fuller: 'Many were the
wit-combats betwixt Shakspere and Ben Jonson, which two I behold like a
Spanish great galleon and an English man-of-war: Master Jonson, like the
former, was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his
performances; Shakespere, with the English man-of-war, lesser in bulk, but
lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take
advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.'

The last dozen years of Jonson's life were unhappy. Though he had a pension
from the Court, he was sometimes in financial straits; and for a time he
lost his position as Court Poet. He resumed the writing of regular plays,
but his style no longer pleased the public; and he often suffered much from
sickness. Nevertheless at the Devil Tavern he collected about him a circle
of younger admirers, some of them among the oncoming poets, who were proud
to be known as 'Sons of Ben,' and who largely accepted as authoritative his
opinions on literary matters. Thus his life, which ended in 1637, did not
altogether go out in gloom. On the plain stone which alone, for a long
time, marked his grave in Westminster Abbey an unknown admirer inscribed
the famous epitaph, 'O rare Ben Jonson.'

As a man Jonson, pugnacious, capricious, ill-mannered, sometimes surly,
intemperate in drink and in other respects, is an object for only very
qualified admiration; and as a writer he cannot properly be said to possess
that indefinable thing, genius, which is essential to the truest greatness.
But both as man and as writer he manifested great force; and in both drama
and poetry he stands for several distinct literary principles and
attainments highly important both in themselves and for their subsequent
influence.

1. Most conspicuous in his dramas is his realism, often, as we have said,
extremely coarse, and a direct reflection of his intellect, which was as
strongly masculine as his body and altogether lacking, where the regular
drama was concerned, in fineness of sentiment or poetic feeling. He early
assumed an attitude of pronounced opposition to the Elizabethan romantic
plays, which seemed to him not only lawless in artistic structure but
unreal and trifling in atmosphere and substance. (That he was not, however,
as has sometimes been said, personally hostile to Shakspere is clear, among
other things, from his poetic tributes in the folio edition of Shakspere
and from his direct statement elsewhere that he loved Shakspere almost to
idolatry.) Jonson's purpose was to present life as he believed it to be; he
was thoroughly acquainted with its worser side; and he refused to conceal
anything that appeared to him significant. His plays, therefore, have very
much that is flatly offensive to the taste which seeks in literature,
prevailingly, for idealism and beauty; but they are, nevertheless,
generally speaking, powerful portrayals of actual life.

2. Jonson's purpose, however, was never unworthy; rather, it was distinctly
to uphold morality. His frankest plays, as we have indicated, are attacks
on vice and folly, and sometimes, it is said, had important reformatory
influence on contemporary manners. He held, indeed, that in the drama, even
in comedy, the function of teaching was as important as that of giving
pleasure. His attitude toward his audiences was that of a learned
schoolmaster, whose ideas they should accept with deferential respect; and
when they did not approve his plays he was outspoken in indignant contempt.

3. Jonson's self-satisfaction and his critical sense of intellectual
superiority to the generality of mankind produce also a marked and
disagreeable lack of sympathy in his portrayal of both life and character.
The world of his dramas is mostly made up of knaves, scoundrels,
hypocrites, fools, and dupes; and it includes among its really important
characters very few excellent men and not a single really good woman.
Jonson viewed his fellow-men, in the mass, with complete scorn, which it
was one of his moral and artistic principles not to disguise. His
characteristic comedies all belong, further, to the particular type which
he himself originated, namely, the 'Comedy of Humors.' [Footnote: The
meaning of this, term can be understood only by some explanation of the
history of the word 'Humor.' In the first place this was the Latin name for
'liquid.' According to medieval physiology there were four chief liquids in
the human body, namely blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile, and an excess
of any of them produced an undue predominance of the corresponding quality;
thus, an excess of phlegm made a person phlegmatic, or dull; or an excess
of black bile, melancholy. In the Elizabethan idiom, therefore, 'humor'
came to mean a mood, and then any exaggerated quality or marked peculiarity
in a person.]

Aiming in these plays to flail the follies of his time, he makes his chief
characters, in spite of his realistic purpose, extreme and distorted
'humors,' each, in spite of individual traits, the embodiment of some one
abstract vice--cowardice, sensualism, hypocrisy, or what not. Too often,
also, the unreality is increased because Jonson takes the characters from
the stock figures of Latin comedy rather than from genuine English life.

4. In opposition to the free Elizabethan romantic structure, Jonson stood
for and deliberately intended to revive the classical style; though with
characteristic good sense he declared that not all the classical practices
were applicable to English plays. He generally observed unity not only of
action but also of time (a single day) and place, sometimes with serious
resultant loss of probability. In his tragedies, 'Sejanus' and 'Catiline,'
he excluded comic material; for the most part he kept scenes of death and
violence off the stage; and he very carefully and slowly constructed plays
which have nothing, indeed, of the poetic greatness of Sophocles or
Euripides (rather a Jonsonese broad solidity) but which move steadily to
their climaxes and then on to the catastrophes in the compact classical
manner. He carried his scholarship, however, to the point of pedantry, not
only in the illustrative extracts from Latin authors with which in the
printed edition he filled the lower half of his pages, but in the plays
themselves in the scrupulous exactitude of his rendering of the details of
Roman life. The plays reconstruct the ancient world with much more minute
accuracy than do Shakspere's; the student should consider for himself
whether they succeed better in reproducing its human reality, making it a
living part of the reader's mental and spiritual possessions.

5. Jonson's style in his plays, especially the blank verse of his
tragedies, exhibits the same general characteristics. It is strong,
compact, and sometimes powerful, but it entirely lacks imaginative poetic
beauty--it is really only rhythmical prose, though sometimes suffused with
passion.

6. The surprising skill which Jonson, author of such plays, showed in
devising the court masks, daintily unsubstantial creations of moral
allegory, classical myth, and Teutonic folklore, is rendered less
surprising, perhaps, by the lack in the masks of any very great lyric
quality. There is no lyric quality at all in the greater part of his
non-dramatic verse, though there is an occasional delightful exception, as
in the famous 'Drink to me only with thine eyes.' But of his non-dramatic
verse we shall speak in the next chapter.

7. Last, and not least: Jonson's revolt from romanticism to classicism
initiated, chiefly in non-dramatic verse, the movement for restraint and
regularity, which, making slow headway during the next half century, was to
issue in the triumphant pseudo-classicism of the generations of Dryden and
Pope. Thus, notable in himself, he was significant also as one of the
moving forces of a great literary revolution.

THE OTHER DRAMATISTS. From the many other dramatists of this highly
dramatic period, some of whom in their own day enjoyed a reputation fully
equal to that of Shakspere and Jonson, we may merely select a few for brief
mention. For not only does their light now pale hopelessly in the presence
of Shakspere, but in many cases their violations of taste and moral
restraint pass the limits of present-day tolerance. Most of them, like
Shakspere, produced both comedies and tragedies, prevailingly romantic but
with elements of realism; most of them wrote more often in collaboration
than did Shakspere; they all shared the Elizabethan vigorously creative
interest in life; but none of them attained either Shakspere's wisdom, his
power, or his mastery of poetic beauty. One of the most learned of the
group was George Chapman, whose verse has a Jonsonian solidity not
unaccompanied with Jonsonian ponderousness. He won fame also in
non-dramatic poetry, especially by vigorous but rather clumsy verse
translations of the 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey,' Another highly individual figure
is that of Thomas Dekker, who seems to have been one of the completest
embodiments of irrepressible Elizabethan cheerfulness, though this was
joined in him with an irresponsibility which kept him commonly floundering
in debt or confined in debtor's prison. His 'Shoemaker's Holiday' (1600),
still occasionally chosen by amateur companies for reproduction, gives a
rough-and-ready but (apart from its coarseness) charming romanticized
picture of the life of London apprentices and whole-hearted citizens.
Thomas Heywood, a sort of journalist before the days of newspapers,
produced an enormous amount of work in various literary forms; in the drama
he claimed to have had 'an entire hand, or at least a maine finger' in no
less than two hundred and twenty plays. Inevitably, therefore, he is
careless and slipshod, but some of his portrayals of sturdy English men and
women and of romantic adventure (as in 'The Fair Maid of the West') are of
refreshing naturalness and breeziness. Thomas Middleton, also a very
prolific writer, often deals, like Jonson and Heywood, with sordid
material. John Marston, as well, has too little delicacy or reserve; he
also wrote catch-as-catch-can non-dramatic satires.

The sanity of Shakspere's plays, continuing and indeed increasing toward
the end of his career, disguises for modern students the tendency to
decline in the drama which set in at about the time of King James'
accession. Not later than the end of the first decade of the century the
dramatists as a class exhibit not only a decrease of originality in plot
and characterization, but also a lowering of moral tone, which results
largely from the closer identification of the drama with the Court party.
There is a lack of seriousness of purpose, an increasing tendency to
return, in more morbid spirit, to the sensationalism of the 1580's, and an
anxious straining to attract and please the audiences by almost any means.
These tendencies appear in the plays of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher,
whose reputations are indissolubly linked together in one of the most
famous literary partnerships of all time. Beaumont, however, was
short-lived, and much the greater part of the fifty and more plays
ultimately published under their joint names really belong to Fletcher
alone or to Fletcher and other collaborators. The scholarship of our day
agrees with the opinion of their contemporaries in assigning to Beaumont
the greater share of judgment and intellectual power and to Fletcher the
greater share of spontaneity and fancy. Fletcher's style is very
individual. It is peculiarly sweet; but its unmistakable mark is his
constant tendency to break down the blank verse line by the use of extra
syllables, both within the line and at the end. The lyrics which he
scatters through his plays are beautifully smooth and musical. The plays of
Beaumont and Fletcher, as a group, are sentimentally romantic, often in an
extravagant degree, though their charm often conceals the extravagance as
well as the lack of true characterization. They are notable often for their
portrayal of the loyal devotion of both men and women to king, lover, or
friend. One of the best of them is 'Philaster, or Love Lies Bleeding,'
while Fletcher's 'Faithful Shepherdess' is the most pleasing example in
English of the artificial pastoral drama in the Italian and Spanish style.

The Elizabethan tendency to sensational horror finds its greatest artistic
expression in two plays of John Webster, 'The White Devil, or Vittoria
Corombona,' and 'The Duchess of Malfi.' Here the corrupt and brutal life of
the Italian nobility of the Renaissance is presented with terrible
frankness, but with an overwhelming sense for passion, tragedy, and pathos.
The most moving pathos permeates some of the plays of John Ford (of the
time of Charles I), for example, 'The Broken Heart'; but they are abnormal
and unhealthy. Philip Massinger, a pupil and collaborator of Fletcher, was
of thoughtful spirit, and apparently a sincere moralist at heart, in spite
of much concession in his plays to the contrary demands of the time. His
famous comedy, 'A New Way to Pay Old Debts,' a satire on greed and cruelty,
is one of the few plays of the period, aside from Shakspere's, which are
still occasionally acted. The last dramatist of the whole great line was
James Shirley, who survived the Commonwealth and the Restoration and died
of exposure at the Fire of London in 1666. In his romantic comedies and
comedies of manners Shirley vividly reflects the thoughtless life of the
Court of Charles I and of the well-to-do contemporary London citizens and
shows how surprisingly far that life had progressed toward the reckless
frivolity and abandonment which after the interval of Puritan rule were to
run riot in the Restoration period.

The great Elizabethan dramatic impulse had thus become deeply degenerate,
and nothing could be more fitting than that it should be brought to a
definite end. When the war broke out in 1642 one of the first acts of
Parliament, now at last free to work its will on the enemies of Puritanism,
was to decree that 'whereas public sports do not well agree with public
calamities, nor public stage-plays with the seasons of humiliation,' all
dramatic performances should cease. This law, fatal, of course, to the
writing as well as the acting of plays, was enforced with only slightly
relaxing rigor until very shortly before the Restoration of Charles II in
1660. Doubtless to the Puritans it seemed that their long fight against the
theater had ended in permanent triumph; but this was only one of many
respects in which the Puritans were to learn that human nature cannot be
forced into permanent conformity with any rigidly over-severe standard, on
however high ideals it may be based.

SUMMARY. The chief dramatists of the whole sixty years of the great period
may be conveniently grouped as follows: I. Shakspere's early
contemporaries, about 1580 to about 1593: Lyly, Peele, Greene, Kyd,
Marlowe. II. Shakspere. III. Shakspere's later contemporaries, under
Elizabeth and James I: Jonson, Chapman, Dekker, Heywood, Middleton,
Marston, Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster. IV. The last group, under James I
and Charles I, to 1642: Ford, Massinger, and Shirley.

CHAPTER VII

PERIOD V. THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY, 1603-1660. PROSE AND POETRY

(_For political and social facts and conditions, see above, page 141._
[Footnote: One of the best works of fiction dealing with the period is J.
H. Shorthouse's 'John Inglesant.'])

The first half of the seventeenth century as a whole, compared with the
Elizabethan age, was a period of relaxing vigor. The Renaissance enthusiasm
had spent itself, and in place of the danger and glory which had long
united the nation there followed increasing dissension in religion and
politics and uncertainty as to the future of England and, indeed, as to the
whole purpose of life. Through increased experience men were certainly
wiser and more sophisticated than before, but they were also more
self-conscious and sadder or more pensive. The output of literature did not
diminish, but it spread itself over wider fields, in general fields of
somewhat recondite scholarship rather than of creation. Nevertheless this
period includes in prose one writer greater than any prose writer of the
previous century, namely Francis Bacon, and, further, the book which
unquestionably occupies the highest place in English literature, that is
the King James version of the Bible; and in poetry it includes one of the
very greatest figures, John Milton, together with a varied and highly
interesting assemblage of lesser lyrists.

FRANCIS BACON, VISCOUNT ST. ALBANS, 1561-1626. [Footnote: Macaulay's
well-known essay on Bacon is marred by Macaulay's besetting faults of
superficiality and dogmatism and is best left unread.] Francis Bacon,
intellectually one of the most eminent Englishmen of all times, and chief
formulator of the methods of modern science, was born in 1561 (three years
before Shakspere), the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great
Seal under Queen Elizabeth and one of her most trusted earlier advisers.
The boy's precocity led the queen to call him her 'little Lord Keeper.' At
the age of twelve he, like Wyatt, was sent to Cambridge, where his chief
impression was of disgust at the unfruitful scholastic application of
Aristotle's ideas, still supreme in spite of a century of Renaissance
enlightenment. A very much more satisfactory three years' residence in
France in the household of the English ambassador was terminated in 1579
(the year of Spenser's 'Shepherd's Calendar') by the death of Sir Nicholas.
Bacon was now ready to enter on the great career for which his talents
fitted him, but his uncle by marriage, Lord Burghley, though all-powerful
with the queen, systematically thwarted his progress, from jealous
consciousness of his superiority to his own son. Bacon therefore studied
law, and was soon chosen a member of Parliament, where he quickly became a
leader. He continued, however, throughout his life to devote much of his
time to study and scholarly scientific writing.

On the interpretation of Bacon's public actions depends the answer to the
complex and much-debated question of his character. The most reasonable
conclusions seem to be: that Bacon was sincerely devoted to the public good
and in his earlier life was sometimes ready to risk his own interests in
its behalf; that he had a perfectly clear theoretical insight into the
principles of moral conduct; that he lacked the moral force of character to
live on the level of his convictions, so that after the first, at least,
his personal ambition was often stronger than his conscience; that he
believed that public success could be gained only by conformity to the low
standards of the age; that he fell into the fatal error of supposing that
his own preeminent endowments and the services which they might enable him
to render justified him in the use of unworthy means; that his sense of
real as distinguished from apparent personal dignity was distressingly
inadequate; and that, in general, like many men of great intellect, he was
deficient in greatness of character, emotion, fine feeling, sympathy, and
even in comprehension of the highest spiritual principles. He certainly
shared to the full in the usual courtier's ambition for great place and
wealth, and in the worldling's inclination to ostentatious display.

Having offended Queen Elizabeth by his boldness in successfully opposing an
encroachment on the rights of the House of Commons, Bacon connected himself
with the Earl of Essex and received from him many favors; but when Essex
attempted a treasonable insurrection in 1601, Bacon, as one of the Queen's
lawyers, displayed against him a subservient zeal which on theoretical
grounds of patriotism might appear praiseworthy, but which in view of his
personal obligations was grossly indecent. For the worldly prosperity which
he sought, however, Bacon was obliged to wait until the accession of King
James, after which his rise was rapid. The King appreciated his ability and
often consulted him, and he frequently gave the wisest advice, whose
acceptance might perhaps have averted the worst national disasters of the
next fifty years. The advice was above the courage of both the King and the
age; but Bacon was advanced through various legal offices, until in 1613 he
was made Attorney-General and in 1618 (two years after Shakspere's death)
Lord High Chancellor of England, at the same time being raised to the
peerage as Baron Verulam. During all this period, in spite of his better
knowledge, he truckled with sorry servility to the King and his unworthy
favorites and lent himself as an agent in their most arbitrary acts.
Retribution overtook him in 1621, within a few days after his elevation to
the dignity of Viscount St. Albans. The House of Commons, balked in an
attack on the King and the Duke of Buckingham, suddenly turned on Bacon and
impeached him for having received bribes in connection with his legal
decisions as Lord Chancellor. Bacon admitted the taking of presents
(against which in one of his essays he had directly cautioned judges), and
threw himself on the mercy of the House of Lords, with whom the sentence
lay. He appears to have been sincere in protesting later that the presents
had not influenced his decisions and that he was the justest judge whom
England had had for fifty years; it seems that the giving of presents by
the parties to a suit was a customary abuse. But he had technically laid
himself open to the malice of his enemies and was condemned to very heavy
penalties, of which two were enforced, namely, perpetual incapacitation
from holding public office, and banishment from Court. Even after this he
continued, with an astonishing lack of good taste, to live extravagantly
and beyond his means (again in disregard of his own precepts), so that
Prince Charles observed that he 'scorned to go out in a snuff.' He died in
1626 from a cold caught in the prosecution of his scientific researches,
namely in an experiment on the power of snow to preserve meat.

Bacon's splendid mind and unique intellectual vision produced, perhaps
inevitably, considering his public activity, only fragmentary concrete
achievements. The only one of his books still commonly read is the series
of 'Essays,' which consist of brief and comparatively informal jottings on
various subjects. In their earliest form, in 1597, the essays were ten in
number, but by additions from time to time they had increased at last in
1625 to fifty-eight. They deal with a great variety of topics, whatever
Bacon happened to be interested in, from friendship to the arrangement of a
house, and in their condensation they are more like bare synopses than
complete discussions. But their comprehensiveness of view, sureness of
ideas and phrasing, suggestiveness, and apt illustrations reveal the
pregnancy and practical force of Bacon's thought (though, on the other
hand, he is not altogether free from the superstitions of his time and
after the lapse of three hundred years sometimes seems commonplace). The
whole general tone of the essays, also, shows the man, keen and worldly,
not at all a poet or idealist. How to succeed and make the most of
prosperity might be called the pervading theme of the essays, and subjects
which in themselves suggest spiritual treatment are actually considered in
accordance with a coldly intellectual calculation of worldly advantage.

The essays are scarcely less notable for style than for ideas. With
characteristic intellectual independence Bacon strikes out for himself an
extremely terse and clear manner of expression, doubtless influenced by
such Latin authors as Tacitus, which stands in marked contrast to the
formless diffuseness or artificial elaborateness of most Elizabethan and
Jacobean prose. His unit of structure is always a short clause. The
sentences are sometimes short, sometimes consist of a number of connected
clauses; but they are always essentially loose rather than periodic; so
that the thought is perfectly simple and its movement clear and systematic.
The very numerous allusions to classical history and life are not the
result of affectation, but merely indicate the natural furnishing of the
mind of the educated Renaissance gentleman. The essays, it should be added,
were evidently suggested and more or less influenced by those of the great
French thinker, Montaigne, an earlier contemporary of Bacon. The hold of
medieval scholarly tradition, it is further interesting to note, was still
so strong that in order to insure their permanent preservation Bacon
translated them into Latin--he took for granted that the English in which
he first composed them and in which they will always be known was only a
temporary vulgar tongue.

But Bacon's most important work, as we have already implied, was not in the
field of pure literature but in the general advancement of knowledge,
particularly knowledge of natural science; and of this great service we
must speak briefly. His avowal to Burghley, made as early as 1592, is
famous: 'I have taken all knowledge to be my province.' Briefly stated, his
purposes, constituting an absorbing and noble ambition, were to survey all
the learning of his time, in all lines of thought, natural science, morals,
politics, and the rest, to overthrow the current method of _a priori_
deduction, deduction resting, moreover, on very insufficient and
long-antiquated bases of observation, and to substitute for it as the
method of the future, unlimited fresh observation and experiment and
inductive reasoning. This enormous task was to be mapped out and its
results summarized in a Latin work called 'Magna Instauratio Scientiarum'
(The Great Renewal of Knowledge); but parts of this survey were necessarily
to be left for posterity to formulate, and of the rest Bacon actually
composed only a fraction. What may be called the first part appeared
originally in English in 1605 and is known by the abbreviated title, 'The
Advancement of Learning'; the expanded Latin form has the title, 'De
Augmentis Scientiarum.' Its exhaustive enumeration of the branches of
thought and knowledge, what has been accomplished in each and what may be
hoped for it in the future, is thoroughly fascinating, though even here
Bacon was not capable of passionate enthusiasm. However, the second part of
the work, 'Novum Organum' (The New Method), written in Latin and published
in 1620, is the most important. Most interesting here, perhaps, is the
classification (contrasting with Plato's doctrine of divinely perfect
controlling ideas) of the 'idols' (phantoms) which mislead the human mind.
Of these Bacon finds four sorts: idols of the tribe, which are inherent in
human nature; idols of the cave, the errors of the individual; idols of the
market-place, due to mistaken reliance on words; and idols of the theater
(that is, of the schools), resulting from false reasoning.

In the details of all his scholarly work Bacon's knowledge and point of
view were inevitably imperfect. Even in natural science he was not
altogether abreast of his time--he refused to accept Harvey's discovery of
the manner of the circulation of the blood and the Copernican system of
astronomy. Neither was he, as is sometimes supposed, the _inventor_ of
the inductive method of observation and reasoning, which in some degree is
fundamental in all study. But he did, much more fully and clearly than any
one before him, demonstrate the importance and possibilities of that
method; modern experimental science and thought have proceeded directly in
the path which he pointed out; and he is fully entitled to the great honor
of being called their father, which certainly places him high among the
great figures in the history of human thought.

THE KING JAMES BIBLE, 1611. It was during the reign of James I that the
long series of sixteenth century translations of the Bible reached its
culmination in what we have already called the greatest of all English
books (or rather, collections of books), the King James ('Authorized')
version. In 1604 an ecclesiastical conference accepted a suggestion,
approved by the king, that a new and more accurate rendering of the Bible
should be made. The work was entrusted to a body of about fifty scholars,
who divided themselves into six groups, among which the various books of
the Bible were apportioned. The resulting translation, proceeding with the
inevitable slowness, was completed in 1611, and then rather rapidly
superseded all other English versions for both public and private use. This
King James Bible is universally accepted as the chief masterpiece of
English prose style. The translators followed previous versions so far as
possible, checking them by comparison with the original Hebrew and Greek,
so that while attaining the greater correctness at which they aimed they
preserved the accumulated stylistic excellences of three generations of
their predecessors; and their language, properly varying according to the
nature of the different books, possesses an imaginative grandeur and rhythm
not unworthy--and no higher praise could be awarded--of the themes which it
expresses. The still more accurate scholarship of a later century demanded
the Revised Version of 1881, but the superior literary quality of the King
James version remains undisputed. Its style, by the nature of the case, was
somewhat archaic from the outset, and of course has become much more so
with the passage of time. This entails the practical disadvantage of making
the Bible--events, characters, and ideas--seem less real and living; but on
the other hand it helps inestimably to create the finer imaginative
atmosphere which is so essential for the genuine religious spirit.

MINOR PROSE WRITERS. Among the prose authors of the period who hold an
assured secondary position in the history of English literature three or
four may be mentioned: Robert Burton, Oxford scholar, minister, and
recluse, whose 'Anatomy of Melancholy' (1621), a vast and quaint compendium
of information both scientific and literary, has largely influenced
numerous later writers; Jeremy Taylor, royalist clergyman and bishop, one
of the most eloquent and spiritual of English preachers, author of 'Holy
Living' (1650) and 'Holy Dying' (1651); Izaak Walton, London tradesman and
student, best known for his 'Compleat Angler' (1653), but author also of
charming brief lives of Donne, George Herbert, and others of his
contemporaries; and Sir Thomas Browne, a scholarly physician of Norwich,
who elaborated a fastidiously poetic Latinized prose style for his
pensively delightful 'Religio Medici' (A Physician's Religion--1643) and
other works.

LYRIC POETRY. Apart from the drama and the King James Bible, the most
enduring literary achievement of the period was in poetry.
Milton--distinctly, after Shakspere, the greatest writer of the
century--must receive separate consideration; the more purely lyric poets
may be grouped together.

The absence of any sharp line of separation between the literature of the
reign of Elizabeth and of those of James I and Charles I is no less marked
in the case of the lyric poetry than of the drama. Some of the poets whom
we have already discussed in Chapter V continued writing until the second
decade of the seventeenth century, or later, and some of those whom we
shall here name had commenced their career well before 1600. Just as in the
drama, therefore, something of the Elizabethan spirit remains in the lyric
poetry; yet here also before many years there is a perceptible change; the
Elizabethan spontaneous joyousness largely vanishes and is replaced by more
self-conscious artistry or thought.

The Elizabethan note is perhaps most unmodified in certain anonymous songs
and other poems of the early years of James I, such as the exquisite 'Weep
you no more, sad fountains.' It is clear also in the charming songs of
Thomas Campion, a physician who composed both words and music for several
song-books, and in Michael Drayton, a voluminous poet and dramatist who is
known to most readers only for his finely rugged patriotic ballad on the
battle of Agincourt. Sir Henry Wotton, [Footnote: The first _o_ is
pronounced as in _note_.] statesman and Provost (head) of Eton School,
displays the Elizabethan idealism in 'The Character of a Happy Life' and in
his stanzas in praise of Elizabeth, daughter of King James, wife of the
ill-starred Elector-Palatine and King of Bohemia, and ancestress of the
present English royal family. The Elizabethan spirit is present but mingled
with seventeenth century melancholy in the sonnets and other poems of the
Scotch gentleman William Drummond of Hawthornden (the name of his estate
near Edinburgh), who in quiet life-long retirement lamented the untimely
death of the lady to whom he had been betrothed or meditated on heavenly
things.

In Drummond appears the influence of Spenser, which was strong on many
poets of the period, especially on some, like William Browne, who continued
the pastoral form. Another of the main forces, in lyric poetry as in the
drama, was the beginning of the revival of the classical spirit, and in
lyric poetry also this was largely due to Ben Jonson. As we have already
said, the greater part of Jonson's non-dramatic poetry, like his dramas,
expresses chiefly the downright strength of his mind and character. It is
terse and unadorned, dealing often with commonplace things in the manner of
the Epistles and Satires of Horace, and it generally has more of the
quality of intellectual prose than of real emotional poetry. A very
favorable representative of it is the admirable, eulogy on Shakspere
included in the first folio edition of Shakspere's works. In a few
instances, however, Jonson strikes the true lyric note delightfully. Every
one knows and sings his two stanzas 'To Celia'--'Drink to me only with
thine eyes,' which would still be famous without the exquisitely
appropriate music that has come down to us from Jonson's own time, and
which are no less beautiful because they consist largely of ideas culled
from the Greek philosopher Theophrastus. In all his poems, however, Jonson
aims consistently at the classical virtues of clearness, brevity,
proportion, finish, and elimination of all excess.

These latter qualities appear also in the lyrics which abound in the plays
of John Fletcher, and yet it cannot be said that Fletcher's sweet melody is
more classical than Elizabethan. His other distinctive quality is the tone
of somewhat artificial courtliness which was soon to mark the lyrics of the
other poets of the Cavalier party. An avowed disciple of Jonson and his
classicism and a greater poet than Fletcher is Robert Herrick, who, indeed,
after Shakspere and Milton, is the finest lyric poet of these two
centuries.

Herrick, the nephew of a wealthy goldsmith, seems, after a late graduation
from Cambridge, to have spent some years about the Court and in the band of
Jonson's 'sons.' Entering the Church when he was nearly forty, he received
the small country parish of Dean Prior in the southwest (Devonshire), which
he held for nearly twenty years, until 1647, when he was dispossessed by
the victorious Puritans. After the Restoration he was reinstated, and he
continued to hold the place until his death in old age in 1674. He
published his poems (all lyrics) in 1648 in a collection which he called
'Hesperides and Noble Numbers.' The 'Hesperides' (named from the golden
apples of the classical Garden of the Daughters of the Sun) are twelve
hundred little secular pieces, the 'Noble Numbers' a much less extensive
series of religious lyrics. Both sorts are written in a great variety of
stanza forms, all equally skilful and musical. Few of the poems extend
beyond fifteen or twenty lines in length, and many are mere epigrams of
four lines or even two. The chief secular subjects are: Herrick's devotion
to various ladies, Julia, Anthea, Perilla, and sundry more, all presumably
more or less imaginary; the joy and uncertainty of life; the charming
beauty of Nature; country life, folk lore, and festivals; and similar light
or familiar themes. Herrick's characteristic quality, so far as it can be
described, is a blend of Elizabethan joyousness with classical perfection
of finish. The finish, however, really the result of painstaking labor,
such as Herrick had observed in his uncle's shop and as Jonson had
enjoined, is perfectly unobtrusive; so apparently natural are the poems
that they seem the irrepressible unmeditated outpourings of happy and idle
moments. In care-free lyric charm Herrick can certainly never be surpassed;
he is certainly one of the most captivating of all the poets of the world.
Some of the 'Noble Numbers' are almost as pleasing as the 'Hesperides,' but
not because of real religious significance. For of anything that can be
called spiritual religion Herrick was absolutely incapable; his nature was
far too deficient in depth. He himself and his philosophy of life were
purely Epicurean, Hedonistic, or pagan, in the sense in which we use those
terms to-day. His forever controlling sentiment is that to which he gives
perfect expression in his best-known song, 'Gather ye rosebuds,' namely the
Horatian 'Carpe diem'--'Snatch all possible pleasure from the
rapidly-fleeting hours and from this gloriously delightful world.' He is
said to have performed his religious duties with regularity; though
sometimes in an outburst of disgust at the stupidity of his rustic
parishioners he would throw his sermon in their faces and rush out of the
church. Put his religion is altogether conventional. He thanks God for
material blessings, prays for their continuance, and as the conclusion of
everything, in compensation for a formally orthodox life, or rather creed,
expects when he dies to be admitted to Heaven. The simple naivete with
which he expresses this skin-deep and primitive faith is, indeed, one of
the chief sources of charm in the 'Noble Numbers.'

Herrick belongs in part to a group of poets who, being attached to the
Court, and devoting some, at least, of their verses to conventional
love-making, are called the Cavalier Poets. Among the others Thomas Carew
follows the classical principles of Jonson in lyrics which are facile,
smooth, and sometimes a little frigid. Sir John Suckling, a handsome and
capricious representative of all the extravagances of the Court set, with
whom he was enormously popular, tossed off with affected carelessness a
mass of slovenly lyrics of which a few audaciously impudent ones are worthy
to survive. From the equally chaotic product of Colonel Richard Lovelace
stand out the two well-known bits of noble idealism, 'To Lucasta, Going to
the Wars,' and 'To Althea, from Prison.' George Wither (1588-1667), a much
older man than Suckling and Lovelace, may be mentioned with them as the
writer in his youth of light-hearted love-poems. But in the Civil War he
took the side of Parliament and under Cromwell he rose to the rank of
major-general. In his later life he wrote a great quantity of Puritan
religious verse, largely prosy in spite of his fluency.

The last important group among these lyrists is that of the more distinctly
religious poets. The chief of these, George Herbert (1593-1633), the
subject of one of the most delightful of the short biographies of Izaak
Walton, belonged to a distinguished family of the Welsh Border, one branch
of which held the earldom of Pembroke, so that the poet was related to the
young noble who may have been Shakspere's patron. He was also younger
brother of Lord Edward Herbert of Cherbury, an inveterate duellist and the
father of English Deism. [Footnote: See below, p. 212.] Destined by his
mother to peaceful pursuits, he wavered from the outset between two forces,
religious devotion and a passion for worldly comfort and distinction. For a
long period the latter had the upper hand, and his life has been described
by his best editor, Professor George Herbert Palmer, as twenty-seven years
of vacillation and three of consecrated service. Appointed Public Orator,
or showman, of his university, Cambridge, he spent some years in enjoying
the somewhat trifling elegancies of life and in truckling to the great.
Then, on the death of his patrons, he passed through a period of intense
crisis from which he emerged wholly spiritualized. The three remaining
years of his life he spent in the little country parish of Bemerton, just
outside of Salisbury, as a fervent High Church minister, or as he preferred
to name himself, priest, in the strictest devotion to his professional
duties and to the practices of an ascetic piety which to the usual American
mind must seem about equally admirable and conventional. His religious
poems, published after his death in a volume called 'The Temple,' show
mainly two things, first his intense and beautiful consecration to his
personal God and Saviour, which, in its earnest sincerity, renders him
distinctly the most representative poet of the Church of England, and
second the influence of Donne, who was a close friend of his mother. The
titles of most of the poems, often consisting of a single word, are
commonly fantastic and symbolical--for example, 'The Collar,' meaning the
yoke of submission to God; and his use of conceits, though not so pervasive
as with Donne, is equally contorted. To a present-day reader the apparent
affectations may seem at first to throw doubt on Herbert's genuineness; but
in reality he was aiming to dedicate to religious purposes what appeared to
him the highest style of poetry. Without question he is, in a true if
special sense, a really great poet.

The second of these religious poets, Richard Crashaw, [Footnote: The first
vowel is pronounced as in the noun _crash_.] whose life (1612-1649)
was not quite so short as Herbert's, combined an ascetic devotion with a
glowingly sensuous esthetic nature that seems rather Spanish than English.
Born into an extreme Protestant family, but outraged by the wanton
iconoclasm of the triumphant Puritans, and deprived by them of his
fellowship, at Cambridge, he became a Catholic and died a canon in the
church of the miracle-working Lady (Virgin Mary) of Loretto in Italy. His
most characteristic poetry is marked by extravagant conceits and by
ecstatic outbursts of emotion that have been called more ardent than
anything else in English; though he sometimes writes also in a vein of calm
and limpid beauty. He was a poetic disciple of Herbert, as he avowed by
humbly entitling his volume 'Steps to the Temple.'

The life of Henry Vaughan [Footnote: The second _a_ is not now
sounded.] (1621-1695) stands in contrast to those of Herbert and Crashaw
both by its length and by its quietness. Vaughan himself emphasized his
Welsh race by designating himself 'The Silurist' (native of South Wales).
After an incomplete university course at Jesus College (the Welsh college),
Oxford, and some apparently idle years in London among Jonson's disciples,
perhaps also after serving the king in the war, he settled down in his
native mountains to the self-denying life of a country physician. His
important poems were mostly published at this time, in 1650 and 1655, in
the collection which he named 'Silex Scintillans' (The Flaming Flint), a
title explained by the frontispiece, which represents a flinty heart
glowing under the lightning stroke of God's call. Vaughan's chief traits
are a very fine and calm philosophic-religious spirit and a carefully
observant love of external Nature, in which he sees mystic revelations of
God. In both respects he is closely akin to the later and greater
Wordsworth, and his 'Retreat' has the same theme as Wordsworth's famous
'Ode on Intimations of Immortality,' the idea namely that children have a
greater spiritual sensitiveness than older persons, because they have come
to earth directly from a former life in Heaven.

The contrast between the chief Anglican and Catholic religious poets of
this period has been thus expressed by a discerning critic: 'Herrick's
religious emotions are only as ripples on a shallow lake when compared to
the crested waves of Crashaw, the storm-tides of Herbert, and the deep-sea
stirrings of Vaughan.'

We may give a further word of mention to the voluminous Francis Quarles,
who in his own day and long after enjoyed enormous popularity, especially
among members of the Church of England and especially for his 'Emblems,' a
book of a sort common in Europe for a century before his time, in which
fantastic woodcuts, like Vaughan's 'Silex Scintillans,' were illustrated
with short poems of religious emotion, chiefly dominated by fear. But
Quarles survives only as an interesting curiosity.

Three other poets whose lives belong to the middle of the century may be
said to complete this entire lyric group. Andrew Marvell, a very moderate
Puritan, joined with Milton in his office of Latin Secretary under
Cromwell, wrote much poetry of various sorts, some of it in the Elizabethan
octosyllabic couplet. He voices a genuine love of Nature, like Wither often
in the pastoral form; but his best-known poem is the 'Horatian Ode upon
Cromwell's Return from Ireland,' containing the famous eulogy of King
Charles' bearing at his execution. Abraham Cowley, a youthful prodigy and
always conspicuous for intellectual power, was secretary to Queen Henrietta
Maria after her flight to France and later was a royalist spy in England.
His most conspicuous poems are his so-called 'Pindaric Odes,' in which he
supposed that he was imitating the structure of the Greek Pindar but really
originated the pseudo-Pindaric Ode, a poem in irregular, non-correspondent
stanzas. He is the last important representative of the 'Metaphysical'
style. In his own day he was acclaimed as the greatest poet of all time,
but as is usual in such cases his reputation very rapidly waned. Edmund
Waller (1606-1687), a very wealthy gentleman in public life who played a
flatly discreditable part in the Civil War, is most important for his share
in shaping the riming pentameter couplet into the smooth pseudo-classical
form rendered famous by Dryden and Pope; but his only notable single poems
are two Cavalier love-lyrics in stanzas, 'On a Girdle' and 'Go, Lovely
Rose.'

JOHN MILTON, 1608-1674. Conspicuous above all his contemporaries as the
representative poet of Puritanism, and, by almost equally general consent,
distinctly the greatest of English poets except Shakspere, stands John
Milton. His life falls naturally into three periods: 1. Youth and
preparation, 1608-1639, when he wrote his shorter poems. 2. Public life,
1639-1660, when he wrote, or at least published, in poetry, only a few
sonnets. 3. Later years, 1660-1674, of outer defeat, but of chief poetic
achievement, the period of 'Paradise Lost,' 'Paradise Regained,' and
'Samson Agonistes.'

Milton was born in London in December, 1608. His father was a prosperous
scrivener, or lawyer of the humbler sort, and a Puritan, but broad-minded,
and his children were brought up in the love of music, beauty, and
learning. At the age of twelve the future poet was sent to St. Paul's
School, and he tells us that from this time on his devotion to study seldom
allowed him to leave his books earlier than midnight. At sixteen, in 1625,
he entered Cambridge, where he remained during the seven years required for
the M. A. degree, and where he was known as 'the lady of Christ's'
[College], perhaps for his beauty, of which all his life he continued
proud, perhaps for his moral scrupulousness. Milton was never, however, a
conventional prig, and a quarrel with a self-important tutor led at one
time to his informal suspension from the University. His nature, indeed,
had many elements quite inconsistent with the usual vague popular
conception of him. He was always not only inflexible in his devotion to
principle, but--partly, no doubt, from consciousness of his intellectual
superiority--haughty as well as reserved, self-confident, and little
respectful of opinions and feelings that clashed with his own. Nevertheless
in his youth he had plenty of animal spirits and always for his friends
warm human sympathies.

To his college years belong two important poems. His Christmas hymn, the
'Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity,' shows the influence of his early
poetical master, Spenser, and of contemporary pastoral poets, though it
also contains some conceits--truly poetic conceits, however, not exercises
in intellectual cleverness like many of those of Donne and his followers.
With whatever qualifications, it is certainly one of the great English
lyrics, and its union of Renaissance sensuousness with grandeur of
conception and sureness of expression foretell clearly enough at twenty the
poet of 'Paradise Lost.' The sonnet on his twenty-third birthday, further,
is known to almost every reader of poetry as the best short expression in
literature of the dedication of one's life and powers to God.

Milton had planned to enter the ministry, but the growing predominance of
the High-Church party made this impossible for him, and on leaving the
University in 1632 he retired to the country estate which his parents now
occupied at Horton, twenty miles west of London. Here, for nearly six
years, amid surroundings which nourished his poet's love for Nature, he
devoted his time chiefly to further mastery of the whole range of approved
literature, Greek, Latin, French, Italian, and English. His poems of these
years also are few, but they too are of the very highest quality.
'L'Allegro' and 'Il Penseroso' are idealized visions, in the tripping
Elizabethan octosyllabic couplet, of the pleasures of suburban life viewed
in moods respectively of light-hearted happiness and of reflection.
'Comus,' the last of the Elizabethan and Jacobean masks, combines an
exquisite poetic beauty and a real dramatic action more substantial than
that of any other mask with a serious moral theme (the security of Virtue)
in a fashion that renders it unique. 'Lycidas' is one of the supreme
English elegies; though the grief which helps to create its power sprang
more from the recent death of the poet's mother than from that of the
nominal subject, his college acquaintance, Edward King, and though in the
hands of a lesser artist the solemn denunciation of the false leaders of
the English Church might not have been wrought into so fine a harmony with
the pastoral form.

Milton's first period ends with an experience designed to complete his
preparation for his career, a fifteen months' tour in France and Italy,
where the highest literary circles received him cordially. From this trip
he returned in 1639, sooner than he had planned, because, he said, the
public troubles at home, foreshadowing the approaching war, seemed to him a
call to service; though in fact some time intervened before his entrance on
public life.

The twenty years which follow, the second period of Milton's career,
developed and modified his nature and ideas in an unusual degree and
fashion. Outwardly the occupations which they brought him appear chiefly as
an unfortunate waste of his great poetic powers. The sixteen sonnets which
belong here show how nobly this form could be adapted to the varied
expression of the most serious thought, but otherwise Milton abandoned
poetry, at least the publication of it, for prose, and for prose which was
mostly ephemeral. Taking up his residence in London, for some time he
carried on a small private school in his own house, where he much
overworked his boys in the mistaken effort to raise their intellectual
ambitions to the level of his own. Naturally unwilling to confine himself
to a private sphere, he soon engaged in a prose controversy supporting the
Puritan view against the Episcopal form of church government, that is
against the office of bishops. There shortly followed the most regrettable
incident in his whole career, which pathetically illustrates also the lack
of a sense of humor which was perhaps his greatest defect. At the age of
thirty-four, and apparently at first sight, he suddenly married Mary
Powell, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a royalist country gentleman
with whom his family had long maintained some business and social
relations. Evidently this daughter of the Cavaliers met a rude
disillusionment in Milton's Puritan household and in his Old Testament
theory of woman's inferiority and of a wife's duty of strict subjection to
her husband; a few weeks after the marriage she fled to her family and
refused to return. Thereupon, with characteristic egoism, Milton put forth
a series of pamphlets on divorce, arguing, contrary to English law, and
with great scandal to the public, that mere incompatibility of temper was
adequate ground for separation. He even proceeded so far as to make
proposals of marriage to another woman. But after two years and the ruin of
the royalist cause his wife made unconditional submission, which Milton
accepted, and he also received and supported her whole family in his house.
Meanwhile his divorce pamphlets had led to the best of his prose writings.
He had published the pamphlets without the license of Parliament, then
required for all books, and a suit was begun against him. He replied with
'Areopagitica,' an, eloquent and noble argument against the licensing
system and in favor of freedom of publication within the widest possible
limits. (The name is an allusion to the condemnation of the works of
Protagoras by the Athenian Areopagus.) In the stress of public affairs the
attack on him was dropped, but the book remains, a deathless plea for
individual liberty.

Now at last Milton was drawn into active public life. The execution of the
King by the extreme Puritan minority excited an outburst of indignation not
only in England but throughout Europe. Milton, rising to the occasion,
defended the act in a pamphlet, thereby beginning a paper controversy,
chiefly with the Dutch scholar Salmasius, which lasted for several years.
By 1652 it had resulted in the loss of Milton's eyesight, previously
over-strained by his studies--a sacrifice in which he gloried but which
lovers of poetry must always regret, especially since the controversy
largely consisted, according to the custom of the time, in a disgusting
exchange of personal scurrilities. Milton's championship of the existing
government, however, together with his scholarship, had at once secured for
him the position of Latin secretary, or conductor of the diplomatic
correspondence of the State with foreign countries. He held this office,
after the loss of his eyesight, with Marvell as a colleague, under both
Parliament and Cromwell, but it is an error to suppose that he exerted any
influence in the management of affairs or that he was on familiar terms
with the Protector. At the Restoration he necessarily lost both the
position and a considerable part of his property, and for a while he went
into hiding; but through the efforts of Marvell and others he was finally
included in the general amnesty.

In the remaining fourteen years which make the third period of his life
Milton stands out for subsequent ages as a noble figure. His very obstinacy
and egoism now enabled him, blind, comparatively poor, and the
representative of a lost cause, to maintain his proud and patient dignity
in the midst of the triumph of all that was most hateful to him, and, as he
believed, to God. His isolation, indeed, was in many respects extreme,
though now as always he found the few sympathetic friends on whom his
nature was quite dependent. His religious beliefs had become what would at
present be called Unitarian, and he did not associate with any of the
existing denominations; in private theory he had even come to believe in
polygamy. At home he is said to have suffered from the coldness or more
active antipathy of his three daughters, which is no great cause for wonder
if we must credit the report that he compelled them to read aloud to him in
foreign languages of which he had taught them the pronunciation but not the
meaning. Their mother had died some years before, and he had soon lost the
second wife who is the subject of one of his finest sonnets. In 1663, at
the age of fifty-four, he was united in a third marriage to Elizabeth
Minshull, a woman of twenty-four, who was to survive him for more than
fifty years.

The important fact of this last period, however, is that Milton now had the
leisure to write, or to complete, 'Paradise Lost.' For a quarter of a
century he had avowedly cherished the ambition to produce 'such a work as
the world would not willingly let die' and had had in mind, among others,
the story of Man's Fall. Outlines for a treatment of it not in epic but in
dramatic form are preserved in a list of a hundred possible subjects for a
great work which he drew up as early as 1640, and during the Commonwealth
period he seems not only to have been slowly maturing the plan but to have
composed parts of the existing poem; nevertheless the actual work of
composition belongs chiefly to the years following 1660. The story as told
in Genesis had received much elaboration in Christian tradition from a very
early period and Milton drew largely from this general tradition and no
doubt to some extent from various previous treatments of the Bible
narrative in several languages which he might naturally have read and kept
in mind. But beyond the simple outline the poem, like every great work, is
essentially the product of his own genius. He aimed, specifically, to
produce a Christian epic which should rank with the great epics of
antiquity and with those of the Italian Renaissance.

In this purpose he was entirely successful. As a whole, by the consent of
all competent judges, 'Paradise Lost' is worthy of its theme, perhaps the
greatest that the mind of man can conceive, namely 'to justify the ways of
God.' Of course there are defects. The seventeenth century theology, like
every successive theological, philosophical, and scientific system, has
lost its hold on later generations, and it becomes dull indeed in the long
expository passages of the poem. The attempt to express spiritual ideas
through the medium of the secular epic, with its battles and councils and
all the forms of physical life, is of course rationally paradoxical. It was
early pointed out that in spite of himself Milton has in some sense made
Satan the hero of the poem--a reader can scarcely fail to sympathize with
the fallen archangel in his unconquerable Puritan-like resistance to the
arbitrary decrees of Milton's despotic Deity. Further, Milton's personal,
English, and Puritan prejudices sometimes intrude in various ways. But all
these things are on the surface. In sustained imaginative grandeur of
conception, expression, and imagery 'Paradise Lost' yields to no human
work, and the majestic and varied movement of the blank verse, here first
employed in a really great non-dramatic English poem, is as magnificent as
anything else in literature. It cannot be said that the later books always
sustain the greatness of the first two; but the profusely scattered
passages of sensuous description, at least, such as those of the Garden of
Eden and of the beauty of Eve, are in their own way equally fine. Stately
and more familiar passages alike show that however much his experience had
done to harden Milton's Puritanism, his youthful Renaissance love of beauty
for beauty's sake had lost none of its strength, though of course it could
no longer be expressed with youthful lightness of fancy and melody. The
poem is a magnificent example of classical art, in the best Greek spirit,
united with glowing romantic feeling. Lastly, the value of Milton's
scholarship should by no means be overlooked. All his poetry, from the
'Nativity Ode' onward, is like a rich mosaic of gems borrowed from a great
range of classical and modern authors, and in 'Paradise Lost' the allusions
to literature and history give half of the romantic charm and very much of
the dignity. The poem could have been written only by one who combined in a
very high degree intellectual power, poetic feeling, religious idealism,
profound scholarship and knowledge of literature, and also experienced
knowledge of the actual world of men.

'Paradise Lost' was published in 1677. It was followed in 1671 by 'Paradise
Regained,' only one-third as long and much less important; and by 'Samson
Agonistes' (Samson in his Death Struggle). In the latter Milton puts the
story of the fallen hero's last days into the majestic form of a Greek
drama, imparting to it the passionate but lofty feeling evoked by the close
similarity of Samson's situation to his own. This was his last work, and he
died in 1674. Whatever his faults, the moral, intellectual and poetic
greatness of his nature sets him apart as in a sense the grandest figure in
English literature.

JOHN BUNYAN. Seventeenth century Puritanism was to find a supreme spokesman
in prose fiction as well as in poetry; John Milton and John Bunyan,
standing at widely different angles of experience, make one of the most
interesting complementary pairs in all literature. By the mere chronology
of his works, Bunyan belongs in our next period, but in his case mere
chronology must be disregarded.

Bunyan was born in 1628 at the village of Elstow, just outside of Bedford,
in central England. After very slight schooling and some practice at his
father's trade of tinker, he was in 1644 drafted for two years and a half
into garrison service in the Parliamentary army. Released from this
occupation, he married a poor but excellent wife and worked at his trade;
but the important experiences of his life were the religious ones. Endowed
by nature with great moral sensitiveness, he was nevertheless a person of
violent impulses and had early fallen into profanity and laxity of conduct,
which he later described with great exaggeration as a condition of
abandoned wickedness. But from childhood his abnormally active dramatic
imagination had tormented him with dreams and fears of devils and
hell-fire, and now he entered on a long and agonizing struggle between his
religious instinct and his obstinate self-will. He has told the whole story
in his spiritual autobiography, 'Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,'
which is one of the notable religious books of the world. A reader of it
must be filled about equally with admiration for the force of will and
perseverance that enabled Bunyan at last to win his battle, and pity for
the fantastic morbidness that created out of next to nothing most of his
well-nigh intolerable tortures. One Sunday, for example, fresh from a
sermon on Sabbath observance, he was engaged in a game of 'cat,' when he
suddenly heard within himself the question, 'Wilt thou leave thy sins and
go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?' Stupefied, he looked up to
the sky and seemed there to see the Lord Jesus gazing at him 'hotly
displeased' and threatening punishment. Again, one of his favorite
diversions was to watch bellmen ringing the chimes in the church steeples,
and though his Puritan conscience insisted that the pleasure was 'vain,'
still he would not forego it. Suddenly one day as he was indulging in it
the thought occurred to him that God might cause one of the bells to fall
and kill him, and he hastened to shield himself by standing under a beam.
But, he reflected, the bell might easily rebound from the wall and strike
him; so he shifted his position to the steeple-door. Then 'it came into his
head, "How if the steeple itself should fall?"' and with that he fled alike
from the controversy and the danger.

Relief came when at the age of twenty-four he joined a non-sectarian church
in Bedford (his own point of view being Baptist). A man of so energetic
spirit could not long remain inactive, and within two years he was
preaching in the surrounding villages. A dispute with the Friends had
already led to the beginning of his controversial writing when in 1660 the
Restoration rendered preaching by persons outside the communion of the
Church of England illegal, and he was arrested and imprisoned in Bedford
jail. Consistently refusing to give the promise of submission and
abstention from preaching which at any time would have secured his release,
he continued in prison for twelve years, not suffering particular
discomfort and working for the support of his family by fastening the ends
onto shoestrings. During this time he wrote and published several of the
most important of his sixty books and pamphlets. At last, in 1672, the
authorities abandoned the ineffective requirement of conformity, and he was
released and became pastor of his church. Three years later he was again
imprisoned for six months, and it was at that time that he composed the
first part of 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' which was published in 1678. During
the remaining ten years of his life his reputation and authority among the
Dissenters almost equalled his earnest devotion and kindness, and won for
him from his opponents the good-naturedly jocose title of 'the Baptist
bishop.' He died in 1688.

Several of Bunyan's books are strong, but none of the others is to be named
together with 'The Pilgrim's Progress.' This has been translated into
nearly or quite a hundred languages and dialects--a record never approached
by any other book of English authorship. The sources of its power are
obvious. It is the intensely sincere presentation by a man of tremendous
moral energy of what he believed to be the one subject of eternal and
incalculable importance to every human being, the subject namely of
personal salvation. Its language and style, further, are founded on the
noble and simple model of the English Bible, which was almost the only book
that Bunyan knew, and with which his whole being was saturated. His
triumphant and loving joy in his religion enables him often to attain the
poetic beauty and eloquence of his original; but both by instinct and of
set purpose he rendered his own style even more simple and direct, partly
by the use of homely vernacular expressions. What he had said in 'Grace
Abounding' is equally true here: 'I could have stepped into a style much
higher ... but I dare not. God did not play in convincing of me ...
wherefore I may not play in my relating of these experiences.' 'Pilgrim's
Progress' is perfectly intelligible to any child, and further, it is highly
dramatic and picturesque. It is, to be sure, an allegory, but one of those
allegories which seem inherent in the human mind and hence more natural
than the most direct narrative. For all men life is indeed a journey, and
the Slough of Despond, Doubting Castle, Vanity Fair, and the Valley of
Humiliation are places where in one sense or another every human soul has
often struggled and suffered; so that every reader goes hand in hand with
Christian and his friends, fears for them in their dangers and rejoices in
their escapes. The incidents, however, have all the further fascination of
supernatural romance; and the union of this element with the homely
sincerity of the style accounts for much of the peculiar quality of the
book. Universal in its appeal, absolutely direct and vivid in manner--such
a work might well become, as it speedily did, one of the most famous of
world classics. It is interesting to learn, therefore, that Bunyan had
expected its circulation to be confined to the common people; the early
editions are as cheap as possible in paper, printing, and illustrations.

Criticism, no doubt, easily discovers in 'Pilgrim's Progress' technical
faults. The story often lacks the full development and balance of incidents
and narration which a trained literary artist would have given it; the
allegory is inconsistent in a hundred ways and places; the characters are
only types; and Bunyan, always more preacher than artist, is distinctly
unfair to the bad ones among them. But these things are unimportant. Every
allegory is inconsistent, and Bunyan repeatedly takes pains to emphasize
that this is a dream; while the simplicity of character-treatment increases
the directness of the main effect. When all is said, the book remains the
greatest example in literature of what absolute earnestness may make
possible for a plain and untrained man. Nothing, of course, can alter the
fundamental distinctions. 'Paradise Lost' is certainly greater than
'Pilgrim's Progress,' because it is the work of a poet and a scholar as
well as a religious enthusiast. But 'Pilgrim's Progress,' let it be said
frankly, will always find a dozen readers where Milton has one by choice,
and no man can afford to think otherwise than respectfully of achievements
which speak powerfully and nobly to the underlying instincts and needs of
all mankind.

The naturalness of the allegory, it may be added, renders the resemblance
of 'Pilgrim's Progress' to many previous treatments of the same theme and
to less closely parallel works like 'The Faerie Queene' probably
accidental; in any significant sense Bunyan probably had no other source
than the Bible and his own imagination.

CHAPTER VIII

PERIOD VI. THE RESTORATION, 1660-1700.

(_For the political events leading up to the Restoration see above, pages
141-142._) [Footnote: This is the period of Scott's 'Old Mortality' and
'Legend of Montrose.']

GENERAL CONDITIONS AND CHARACTERISTICS. The repudiation of the Puritan rule
by the English people and the Restoration of the Stuart kings in the person
of Charles II, in 1660, mark one of the most decisive changes in English
life and literature. The preceding half century had really been
transitional, and during its course, as we have seen, the Elizabethan
adventurous energy and half-naif greatness of spirit had more and more
disappeared. With the coming of Charles II the various tendencies which had
been replacing these forces seemed to crystallize into their almost
complete opposites. This was true to a large extent throughout the country;
but it was especially true of London and the Court party, to which
literature of most sorts was now to be perhaps more nearly limited than
ever before.

The revolt of the nation was directed partly against the irresponsible
injustice of the Puritan military government but largely also against the
excessive moral severity of the whole Puritan regime. Accordingly a large
part of the nation, but particularly the Court, now plunged into an orgy of
self-indulgence in which moral restraints almost ceased to be regarded. The
new king and his nobles had not only been led by years of proscription and
exile to hate on principle everything that bore the name of Puritan, but
had spent their exile at the French Court, where utterly cynical and
selfish pursuit of pleasure and licentiousness of conduct were merely
masked by conventionally polished manners. The upshot was that the quarter
century of the renewed Stuart rule was in almost all respects the most
disgraceful period of English history and life. In everything, so far as
possible, the restored Cavaliers turned their backs on their immediate
predecessors. The Puritans, in particular, had inherited the enthusiasm
which had largely made the greatness of the Elizabethan period but had in
great measure shifted it into the channel of their religion. Hence to the
Restoration courtiers enthusiasm and outspoken emotion seemed marks of
hypocrisy and barbarism. In opposition to such tendencies they aimed to
realize the ideal of the man of the world, sophisticated, skeptical,
subjecting everything to the scrutiny of the reason, and above all,
well-bred. Well-bred, that is, according to the artificial social standards
of a selfish aristocratic class; for the actual manners of the courtiers,
as of such persons at all times, were in many respects disgustingly crude.
In religion most of them professed adherence to the English Church (some to
the Catholic), but it was a conventional adherence to an institution of the
State and a badge of party allegiance, not a matter of spiritual conviction
or of any really deep feeling. The Puritans, since they refused to return
to the English (Established) Church, now became known as Dissenters.

The men of the Restoration, then, deliberately repudiated some of the chief
forces which seem to a romantic age to make life significant. As a natural
corollary they concentrated their interest on the sphere of the practical
and the actual. In science, particularly, they continued with marked
success the work of Bacon and his followers. Very shortly after the
Restoration the Royal Society was founded for the promotion of research and
scientific knowledge, and it was during this period that Sir Isaac Newton
(a man in every respect admirable) made his vastly important discoveries in
physics, mathematics, and astronomy.

In literature, both prose and verse, the rationalistic and practical spirit
showed itself in the enthroning above everything else of the principles of
utility and common sense in substance and straightforward directness in
style. The imaginative treatment of the spiritual life, as in 'Paradise
Lost' or 'The Faerie Queene,' or the impassioned exaltation of imaginative
beauty, as in much Elizabethan poetry, seemed to the typical men of the
Restoration unsubstantial and meaningless, and they had no ambition to
attempt flights in those realms. In anything beyond the tangible affairs of
visible life, indeed, they had little real belief, and they preferred that
literature should restrain itself within the safe limits of the known and
the demonstrable. Hence the characteristic Restoration verse is satire of a
prosaic sort which scarcely belongs to poetry at all. More fortunate
results of the prevailing spirit were the gradual abandonment of the
conceits and irregularities of the 'metaphysical' poets, and, most
important, the perfecting of the highly regular rimed pentameter couplet,
the one great formal achievement of the time in verse. In prose style the
same tendencies resulted in a distinct advance. Thitherto English prose had
seldom attained to thorough conciseness and order; it had generally been
more or less formless or involved in sentence structure or pretentious in
general manner; but the Restoration writers substantially formed the more
logical and clear-cut manner which, generally speaking, has prevailed ever
since.

Quite consistent with this commonsense spirit, as the facts were then
interpreted, was the allegiance which Restoration writers rendered to the
literature of classical antiquity, an allegiance which has gained for this
period and the following half-century, where the same attitude was still
more strongly emphasized, the name 'pseudo-classical.' We have before noted
that the enthusiasm for Greek and Latin literature which so largely
underlay the Renaissance took in Ben Jonson and his followers, in part, the
form of a careful imitation of the external technique of the classical
writers. In France and Italy at the same time this tendency was still
stronger and much more general. The seventeenth century was the great
period of French tragedy (Corneille and Racine), which attempted to base
itself altogether on classical tragedy. Still more representative, however,
were the numerous Italian and French critics, who elaborated a complex
system of rules, among them, for tragedy, those of the 'three unities,'
which they believed to dominate classic literature. Many of these rules
were trivial and absurd, and the insistence of the critics upon them showed
an unfortunate inability to grasp the real spirit of the classic,
especially of Greek, literature. In all this, English writers and critics
of the Restoration period and the next half-century very commonly followed
the French and Italians deferentially. Hence it is that the literature of
the time is pseudo-classical (false classical) rather than true classical.
But this reduction of art to strict order and decorum, it should be clear,
was quite in accord with the whole spirit of the time.

One particular social institution of the period should be mentioned for its
connection with literature, namely the coffee houses, which, introduced
about the middle of the century, soon became very popular and influential.
They were, in our own idiom, cafes, where men met to sip coffee or
chocolate and discuss current topics. Later, in the next century, they
often developed into clubs.

MINOR WRITERS. The contempt which fell upon the Puritans as a deposed and
unpopular party found stinging literary expression in one of the most
famous of English satires, Samuel Butler's 'Hudibras.' Butler, a reserved
and saturnine man, spent much of his uneventful life in the employ
(sometimes as steward) of gentlemen and nobles, one of whom, a Puritan
officer, Sir Samuel Luke, was to serve as the central lay-figure for his
lampoon. 'Hudibras,' which appeared in three parts during a period of
fifteen years, is written, like previous English satires, in
rough-and-ready doggerel verse, in this case verse of octosyllabic couplets
and in the form of a mock-epic. It ridicules the intolerance and
sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Puritans as the Cavaliers insisted on seeing
them in the person of the absurd Sir Hudibras and his squire Ralph (partly
suggested by Cervantes' Don Quixote and Sancho). These sorry figures are
made to pass very unheroically through a series of burlesque adventures.
The chief power of the production lies in its fire of witty epigrams, many
of which have become familiar quotations, for example:

He could distinguish, and divide,
A hair 'twixt south and south-west side.
Compound for sins they are inclined to
By damning those they have no mind to.

Though the king and Court took unlimited delight in 'Hudibras' they
displayed toward Butler their usual ingratitude and allowed him to pass his
latter years in obscure poverty.

Some of the other central characteristics of the age appear in a unique
book, the voluminous 'Diary' which Samuel Pepys (pronounced Peps), a
typical representative of the thrifty and unimaginative citizen class, kept
in shorthand for ten years beginning in 1660. Pepys, who ultimately became
Secretary to the Admiralty, and was a hard-working and very able naval
official, was also astonishingly naif and vain. In his 'Diary' he records
in the greatest detail, without the least reserve (and with no idea of
publication) all his daily doings, public and private, and a large part of
his thoughts. The absurdities and weaknesses, together with the better
traits, of a man spiritually shallow and yet very human are here revealed
with a frankness unparalleled and almost incredible. Fascinating as a
psychological study, the book also affords the fullest possible information
about all the life of the period, especially the familiar life, not on
dress-parade. In rather sharp contrast stands the 'Diary' of John Evelyn,
which in much shorter space and virtually only in a series of glimpses
covers seventy years of time. Evelyn was a real gentleman and scholar who
occupied an honorable position in national life; his 'Diary,' also,
furnishes a record, but a dignified record, of his public and private
experience.

THE RESTORATION DRAMA. The moral anarchy of the period is most strikingly
exhibited in its drama, particularly in its comedy and 'comedy of manners.'
These plays, dealing mostly with love-actions in the setting of the Court
or of fashionable London life, and carrying still further the general
spirit of those of Fletcher and Shirley a generation or two earlier,
deliberately ridicule moral principles and institutions, especially
marriage, and are always in one degree or another grossly indecent.
Technically they are often clever; according to that definition of
literature which includes a moral standard, they are not literature at all.
To them, however, we shall briefly return at the end of the chapter.

JOHN DRYDEN, 1631-1700. No other English literary period is so thoroughly
represented and summed up in the works of a single man as is the
Restoration period in John Dryden, a writer in some respects akin to Ben
Jonson, of prolific and vigorous talent without the crowning quality of
genius.

Dryden, the son of a family of Northamptonshire country gentry, was born in
1631. From Westminster School and Cambridge he went, at about the age of
twenty-six and possessed by inheritance of a minimum living income, to
London, where he perhaps hoped to get political preferment through his
relatives in the Puritan party. His serious entrance into literature was
made comparatively late, in 1659, with a eulogizing poem on Cromwell on the
occasion of the latter's death. When, the next year, Charles II was
restored, Dryden shifted to the Royalist side and wrote some poems in honor
of the king. Dryden's character should not be judged from this incident and
similar ones in his later life too hastily nor without regard to the spirit
of the times. Aside from the fact that Dryden had never professed,
probably, to be a radical Puritan, he certainly was not, like Milton and
Bunyan, a heroic person, nor endowed with deep and dynamic convictions; on
the other hand, he was very far from being base or dishonorable--no one can
read his works attentively without being impressed by their spirit of
straightforward manliness. Controlled, like his age, by cool common sense
and practical judgment, he kept his mind constantly open to new
impressions, and was more concerned to avoid the appearance of bigotry and
unreason than to maintain that of consistency. In regard to politics and
even religion he evidently shared the opinion, bred in many of his
contemporaries by the wasteful strife of the previous generations, that
beyond a few fundamental matters the good citizen should make no close
scrutiny of details but rather render loyal support to the established
institutions of the State, by which peace is preserved and anarchy
restrained. Since the nation had recalled Charles II, overthrown
Puritanism, and reestablished the Anglican Church, it probably appeared to
Dryden an act of patriotism as well as of expediency to accept its
decision.

Dryden's marriage with the daughter of an earl, two or three years after
the Restoration, secured his social position, and for more than fifteen
years thereafter his life was outwardly successful. He first turned to the
drama. In spite of the prohibitory Puritan law (above, p. 150), a facile
writer, Sir William Davenant, had begun, cautiously, a few years before the
Restoration, to produce operas and other works of dramatic nature; and the
returning Court had brought from Paris a passion for the stage, which
therefore offered the best and indeed the only field for remunerative
literary effort. Accordingly, although Dryden himself frankly admitted that
his talents were not especially adapted to writing plays, he proceeded to
do so energetically, and continued at it, with diminishing productivity,
nearly down to the end of his life, thirty-five years later. But his
activity always found varied outlets. He secured a lucrative share in the
profits of the King's Playhouse, one of the two theaters of the time which
alone were allowed to present regular plays, and he held the mainly
honorary positions of poet laureate and historiographer-royal. Later, like
Chaucer, he was for a time collector of the customs of the port of London.
He was not much disturbed by 'The Rehearsal,' a burlesque play brought out
by the Duke of Buckingham and other wits to ridicule current dramas and
dramatists, in which he figured as chief butt under the name 'Bayes' (poet
laureate); and he took more than full revenge ten years later when in
'Absalom and Achitophel' he drew the portrait of Buckingham as Zimri. But
in 1680 an outrage of which he was the victim, a brutal and unprovoked
beating inflicted by ruffians in the employ of the Earl of Rochester, seems
to mark a permanent change for the worse in his fortunes, a change not
indeed to disaster but to a permanent condition of doubtful prosperity.

The next year he became engaged in political controversy, which resulted in
the production of his most famous work. Charles II was without a legitimate
child, and the heir to the throne was his brother, the Duke of York, who a
few years later actually became king as James II. But while Charles was
outwardly, for political reasons, a member of the Church of England (at
heart he was a Catholic), the Duke of York was a professed and devoted
Catholic, and the powerful Whig party, strongly Protestant, was violently
opposed to him. The monstrous fiction of a 'Popish Plot,' brought forward
by Titus Oates, and the murderous frenzy which it produced, were
demonstrations of the strength of the Protestant feeling, and the leader of
the Whigs, the Earl of Shaftesbury, proposed that the Duke of York should
be excluded by law from the succession to the throne in favor of the Duke
of Monmouth, one of the king's illegitimate sons. At last, in 1681, the
nation became afraid of another civil war, and the king was enabled to have
Shaftesbury arrested on the charge of treason. Hereupon Dryden, at the
suggestion, it is said, of the king, and with the purpose of securing
Shaftesbury's conviction, put forth the First Part of 'Absalom and
Achitophel,' a masterly satire of Shaftesbury, Monmouth, and their
associates in the allegorical disguise of the (somewhat altered) Biblical
story of David and Absalom. [Footnote: The subsequent history of the affair
was as follows: Shaftesbury was acquitted by the jury, and his enthusiastic
friends struck a medal in his honor, which drew from Dryden a short and
less important satire, 'The Medal.' To this in turn a minor poet named
Shadwell replied, and Dryden retorted with 'Mac Flecknoe.' The name means
'Son of Flecknoe,' and Dryden represented Shadwell as having inherited the
stupidity of an obscure Irish rimester named Flecknoe, recently deceased.
The piece is interesting chiefly because it suggested Pope's 'Dunciad.'
Now, in 1682, the political tide again turned against Shaftesbury, and he
fled from England. His death followed shortly, but meanwhile appeared the
Second Part of 'Absalom and Achitophel,' chiefly a commonplace production
written by Nahum Tate (joint author of Tate and Brady's paraphrase of the
Psalms into English hymn-form), but with some passages by Dryden.]

In 1685 Charles died and James succeeded him. At about the same time Dryden
became a Catholic, a change which laid him open to the suspicion of
truckling for royal favor, though in fact he had nothing to gain by it and
its chief effect was to identify him with a highly unpopular minority. He
had already, in 1682, written a didactic poem, 'Religio Laici' (A Layman's
Religion), in which he set forth his reasons for adhering to the English
Church. Now, in 1687, he published the much longer allegorical 'Hind and
the Panther,' a defense of the Catholic Church and an attack on the English
Church and the Dissenters. The next year, King James was driven from the
throne, his daughter Mary and her husband, William, Prince of Orange,
succeeded him, and the supremacy of the Church of England was again
assured. Dryden remained constant to Catholicism and his refusal to take
the oath of allegiance to the new rulers cost him all his public offices
and reduced him for the rest of his life to comparative poverty. He had the
further mortification of seeing the very Shadwell whom he had so
unsparingly ridiculed replace him as poet laureate. These reverses,
however, he met with his characteristic manly fortitude, and of his
position as the acknowledged head of English letters he could not be
deprived; his chair at 'Will's' coffee-house was the throne of an
unquestioned monarch. His industry, also, stimulated by necessity, was
unabated to the end. Among other work he continued, in accordance with the
taste of the age, to make verse translations from the chief Latin poets,
and in 1697 he brought out a version of all the poems of Vergil. He died in
1700, and his death may conveniently be taken, with substantial accuracy,
as marking the end of the Restoration period.

Variety, fluency, and not ungraceful strength are perhaps the chief
qualities of Dryden's work, displayed alike in his verse and in his prose.
Since he was primarily a poet it is natural to speak first of his verse;
and we must begin with a glance at the history of the rimed pentameter
couplet, which he carried to the highest point of effectiveness thus far
attained. This form had been introduced into English, probably from French,
by Chaucer, who used it in many thousand lines of the 'Canterbury Tales.'
It was employed to some extent by the Elizabethans, especially in scattered
passages of their dramas, and in some poems of the early seventeenth
century. Up to that time it generally had a free form, with frequent
'running-on' of the sense from one line to the next and marked irregularity
of pauses. The process of developing it into the representative
pseudo-classical measure of Dryden and Pope consisted in making the lines,
or at least the couplets, generally end-stopt, and in securing a general
regular movement, mainly by eliminating pronounced pauses within the line,
except for the frequent organic cesura in the middle. This process, like
other pseudo-classical tendencies, was furthered by Ben Jonson, who used
the couplet in more than half of his non-dramatic verse; but it was
especially carried on by the wealthy politician and minor poet Edmund
Waller (above, page 164), who for sixty years, from 1623 on, wrote most of
his verse (no very great quantity) in the couplet. Dryden and all his
contemporaries gave to Waller, rather too unreservedly, the credit of
having first perfected the form, that is of first making it (to their
taste) pleasingly smooth and regular. The great danger of the couplet thus
treated is that of over-great conventionality, as was partly illustrated by
Dryden's successor, Pope, who carried Waller's method to the farthest
possible limit. Dryden's vigorous instincts largely saved him from this
fault; by skilful variations in accents and pauses and by terse
forcefulness of expression he gave the couplet firmness as well as
smoothness. He employed, also, two other more questionable means of
variety, namely, the insertion (not original with him) of occasional
Alexandrine lines and of frequent triplets, three lines instead of two
riming together. A present-day reader may like the pentameter couplet or
may find it frigid and tedious; at any rate Dryden employed it in the
larger part of his verse and stamped it unmistakably with the strength of
his strong personality.

In satiric and didactic verse Dryden is accepted as the chief English
master, and here 'Absalom and Achitophel' is his greatest achievement. It
is formally a narrative poem, but in fact almost nothing happens in it; it
is really expository and descriptive--a very clever partisan analysis of a
situation, enlivened by a series of the most skilful character sketches
with very decided partisan coloring. The sketches, therefore, offer an
interesting contrast with the sympathetic and humorous portraits of

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