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Outlines of English and American Literature by William J. Long

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MARLOWE. The best of these early playwrights, each of whom contributed some
element of value, was Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), who is sometimes
called the father of the Elizabethan drama. He appeared in London sometime
before 1587, when his first drama _Tamburlaine_ took the city by
storm. The prologue of this drama is at once a criticism and a promise:

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.

The "jigging" refers to the doggerel verse of the earlier drama, and
"clownage" to the crude horseplay intended to amuse the crowd. For the
doggerel is substituted blank verse, "Marlowe's mighty line" as it has ever
since been called, since he was the first to use it with power; and for the
"clownage" he promises a play of human interest revolving around a man
whose sole ambition is for world power,--such ambition as stirred the
English nation when it called halt to the encroachments of Spain, and
announced that henceforth it must be reckoned with in the councils of the
Continent. Though _Tamburlaine_ is largely rant and bombast, there is
something in it which fascinates us like the sight of a wild bull on a
rampage; for such was Timur, the hero of the first play to which we
confidently give the name Elizabethan. In the latter part of the play the
action grows more intense; there is a sense of tragedy, of impending doom,
in the vain attempt of the hero to oppose fate. He can conquer a world but
not his own griefs; he ends his triumphant career with a pathetic admission
of failure: "And Tamburlaine, the Scourge of God, must die."


The succeeding plays of Marlowe are all built on the same model; that is,
they are one-man plays, and the man is dominated by a passion for power.
_Doctor Faustus_, the most poetical of Marlowe's works, is a play
representing a scholar who hungers for more knowledge, especially the
knowledge of magic. In order to obtain it he makes a bargain with the
devil, selling his soul for twenty-four years of unlimited power and
pleasure. [Footnote: The story is the same as that of Goethe's
_Faust_. It was a favorite story, or rather collection of stories, of
the Middle Ages, and was first printed as the _History of Johann
Faust_ in Frankfort, in 1587. Marlowe's play was written, probably, in
the same year.] _The Jew of Malta_ deals with the lust for such power
as wealth gives, and the hero is the money-lender Barabas, a monster of
avarice and hate, who probably suggested to Shakespeare the character of
Shylock in _The Merchant of Venice_. The last play written by Marlowe
was _Edward II_, which dealt with a man who might have been powerful,
since he was a king, but who furnished a terrible example of weakness and
petty tyranny that ended miserably in a dungeon.

After writing these four plays with their extraordinary promise, Marlowe,
who led a wretched life, was stabbed in a tavern brawl. The splendid work
which he only began (for he died under thirty years of age) was immediately
taken up by the greatest of all dramatists, Shakespeare.

* * * * *


"The name of Shakespeare is the greatest in all literature. No man
ever came near to him in the creative power of the mind; no man
ever had such strength and such variety of imagination." (Hallam)

"Shakespeare's mind is the horizon beyond which, at present, we do
not see." (Emerson)

"I do not believe that any book or person or event in my life ever
made so great an impression on me as the plays of Shakespeare. They
appear to be the work of some heavenly genius." (Goethe)

Shakespeare's name has become a signal for enthusiasm. The tributes quoted
above are doubtless extravagant, but they were written by men of mark in
three different countries, and they serve to indicate the tremendous
impression which Shakespeare has left upon the world. He wrote in his day
some thirty-seven plays and a few poems; since then as many hundred volumes
have been written in praise of his accomplishment. He died three centuries
ago, without caring enough for his own work to print it. At the present
time unnumbered critics, historians, scholars, are still explaining the
mind and the art displayed in that same neglected work. Most of these
eulogists begin or end their volumes with the remark that Shakespeare is so
great as to be above praise or criticism. As Taine writes, before plunging
into his own analysis, "Lofty words, eulogies are all used in vain;
Shakespeare needs not praise but comprehension merely."

LIFE. It is probably because so very little is known about
Shakespeare that so many bulky biographies have been written of
him. Not a solitary letter of his is known to exist; not a play
comes down to us as he wrote it. A few documents written by other
men, and sometimes ending in a sprawling signature by Shakespeare,
which looks as if made by a hand accustomed to almost any labor
except that of the pen,--these are all we have to build upon. One
record, in dribbling Latin, relates to the christening of
"Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere"; a second, unreliable as a
village gossip, tells an anecdote of the same person's boyhood; a
third refers to Shakespeare as "one of his Majesty's poor players";
a fourth records the burial of the poet's son Hamnet; a fifth
speaks of "Willi. Shakspere, gentleman"; a sixth is a bit of
wretched doggerel inscribed on the poet's tombstone; a seventh
tells us that in 1622, only six years after the poet's death, the
public had so little regard for his art that the council of his
native Stratford bribed his old company of players to go away from
the town without giving a performance.

It is from such dry and doubtful records that we must construct a
biography, supplementing the meager facts by liberal use of our

[Sidenote: EARLY DAYS]

In the beautiful Warwickshire village of Stratford our poet was
born, probably in the month of April, in 1564. His mother, Mary
Arden, was a farmer's daughter; his father was a butcher and small
tradesman, who at one time held the office of high bailiff of the
village. There was a small grammar school in Stratford, and
Shakespeare may have attended it for a few years. When he was about
fourteen years old his father, who was often in lawsuits, was
imprisoned for debt, and the boy probably left school and went to
work. At eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, a peasant's daughter
eight years older than himself; at twenty-three, with his father
still in debt and his own family of three children to provide for,
Shakespeare took the footpath that led to the world beyond his
native village. [Footnote: Such is the prevalent opinion of
Shakespeare's early days; but we are dealing here with surmises,
not with established facts. There are scholars who allege that
Shakespeare's poverty is a myth; that his father was prosperous to
the end of his days; that he probably took the full course in Latin
and Greek at the Stratford school. Almost everything connected with
the poet's youth is still a matter of dispute.]

[Sidenote: IN LONDON]

From Stratford he went to London, from solitude to crowds, from
beautiful rural scenes to dirty streets, from natural country
people to seekers after the bubble of fame or fortune. Why he went
is largely a matter of speculation. That he was looking for work;
that he followed a company of actors, as a boy follows a circus;
that he was driven out of Stratford after poaching on the game
preserves of Sir Thomas Lucy, whom he ridiculed in the plays of
_Henry VI_ and _Merry Wives_,--these and other theories
are still debated. The most probable explanation of his departure
is that the stage lured him away, as the printing press called the
young Franklin from whatever else he undertook; for he seems to
have headed straight for the theater, and to have found his place
not by chance or calculation but by unerring instinct. England was
then, as we have noted, in danger of going stage mad, and
Shakespeare appeared to put method into the madness.


Beginning, undoubtedly, as an actor of small parts, he soon learned
the tricks of the stage and the humors of his audience. His first
dramatic work was to revise old plays, giving them some new twist
or setting to please the fickle public. Then he worked with other
playwrights, with Lyly and Peele perhaps, and the horrors of his
_Titus Andronicus_ are sufficient evidence of his
collaboration with Marlowe. Finally he walked alone, having learned
his steps, and _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Midsummer Nights
Dream_ announced that a great poet and dramatist had suddenly
appeared in England.



This experimental period of Shakespeare's life in London was
apparently a time of health, of joyousness, of enthusiasm which
comes with the successful use of one's powers. It was followed by a
period of gloom and sorrow, to which something of bitterness was
added. What occasioned the change is again a matter of speculation.
The first conjecture is that Shakespeare was a man to whom the low
ideals of the Elizabethan stage were intolerable, and this opinion
is strengthened after reading certain of Shakespeare's sonnets,
which reflect a loathing for the theaters and the mannerless crowds
that filled them. Another conjectural cause of his gloom was the
fate of certain noblemen with whom he was apparently on terms of
friendship, to whom he dedicated his poems, and from whom he
received substantial gifts of money. Of these powerful friends, the
Earl of Essex was beheaded for treason, Pembroke was banished, and
Southampton had gone to that grave of so many high hopes, the Tower
of London. Shakespeare may have shared the sorrow of these men, as
once he had shared their joy, and there are critics who assume that
he was personally implicated in the crazy attempt of Essex at

Whatever the cause of his grief, Shakespeare shows in his works
that he no longer looks on the world with the clear eyes of youth.
The great tragedies of this period, _Lear_, _Macbeth_,
_Hamlet_, _Othello_ and _Casar_, all portray man not
as a being of purpose and high destiny, but as the sport of chance,
the helpless victim who cries out, as in _Henry IV_, for a
sight of the Book of Fate, wherein is shown

how chances mock,
And changes fill the cup of alteration
With divers liquors! O, if this were seen,
The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,
What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
Would shut the book, and sit him down and die.


For such a terrible mood London offered no remedy. For a time
Shakespeare seems to have gloried in the city; then he wearied of
it, grew disgusted with the stage, and finally, after some
twenty-four years (_cir_. 1587-1611), sold his interest in the
theaters, shook the dust of London from his feet, and followed his
heart back to Stratford. There he adopted the ways of a country
gentleman, and there peace and serenity returned to him. He wrote
comparatively little after his retirement; but the few plays of
this last period, such as _Cymbeline_, _Winter's Tale_
and _The Tempest_, are the mellowest of all his works.


After a brief period of leisure, Shakespeare died at his prime in
1616, and was buried in the parish church of Stratford. Of his
great works, now the admiration of the world, he thought so little
that he never collected or printed them. From these works many
attempts are made to determine the poet's character, beliefs,
philosophy,--a difficult matter, since the works portray many types
of character and philosophy equally well. The testimony of a few
contemporaries is more to the point, and from these we hear that
our poet was "very good company," "of such civil demeanor," "of
such happy industry," "of such excellent fancy and brave notions,"
that he won in a somewhat brutal age the characteristic title of
"the gentle Shakespeare."

THE DRAMAS OF SHAKESPEARE. In Shakespeare's day playwrights were producing
various types of drama: the chronicle play, representing the glories of
English history; the domestic drama, portraying homely scenes and common
people; the court comedy (called also Lylian comedy, after the dramatist
who developed it), abounding in wit and repartee for the delight of the
upper classes; the melodrama, made up of sensational elements thrown
together without much plot; the tragedy of blood, centering in one
character who struggles amidst woes and horrors; romantic comedy and
romantic tragedy, in which men and women were more or less idealized, and
in which the elements of love, poetry, romance, youthful imagination and
enthusiasm predominated.


It is interesting to note that Shakespeare essayed all these types--the
chronicle play in _Henry IV_, the domestic drama in _Merry
Wives_, the court comedy in _Loves Labor's Lost_, the melodrama in
_Richard III_, the tragedy of blood in _King Lear_, romantic
tragedy in _Romeo and Juliet_, romantic comedy in _As You Like
It_--and that in each he showed such a mastery as to raise him far above
all his contemporaries.

[Sidenote: EARLY DRAMAS]

In his experimental period of work (_cir_. 1590-1595) Shakespeare
began by revising old plays in conjunction with other actors. _Henry
VI_ is supposed to be an example of such tinkering work. The first part
of this play (performed by Shakespeare's company in 1592) was in all
probability an older work made over by Shakespeare and some unknown
dramatist. From the fact that Joan of Arc appears in the play in two
entirely different characters, and is even made to do battle at Rouen
several years after her death, it is almost certain that _Henry VI_ in
its present form was composed at different times and by different authors.


_Love's Labor's Lost_ is an example of the poet's first independent
work. In this play such characters as Holofernes the schoolmaster, Costard
the clown and Adriano the fantastic Spaniard are all plainly of the "stock"
variety; various rimes and meters are used experimentally; blank verse is
not mastered; and some of the songs, such as "On a Day," are more or less
artificial. Other plays of this early experimental period are _Two
Gentlemen of Verona_ and _Richard III_, the latter of which shows
the influence and, possibly, the collaboration of Marlowe.


In the second period (_cir_. 1595-1600) Shakespeare constructed his
plots with better skill, showed a greater mastery of blank verse, created
some original characters, and especially did he give free rein to his
romantic imagination. All doubt and experiment vanished in the confident
enthusiasm of this period, as if Shakespeare felt within himself the coming
of the sunrise in _Romeo and Juliet_:

Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Though some of his later plays are more carefully finished, in none of them
are we so completely under the sway of poetry and romance as in these early
works, written when Shakespeare first felt the thrill of mastery in his

In _Midsummer Nights Dream_, for example, the practical affairs of
life seem to smother its poetic dreams; but note how the dream abides with
us after the play is over. The spell of the enchanted forest is broken when
the crowd invades its solitude; the witchery of moonlight fades into the
light of common day; and then comes Theseus with his dogs to drive not the
foxes but the fairies out of the landscape. As Chesterton points out, this
masterful man, who has seen no fairies, proceeds to arrange matters in a
practical way, with a wedding, a feast and a pantomime, as if these were
the chief things of life. So, he thinks, the drama is ended; but after he
and his noisy followers have departed to slumber, lo! enter once more Puck,
Oberon, Titania and the whole train of fairies, to repeople the ancient
world and dance to the music of Mendelssohn:

Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
While we sing, and bless this place.

So in _The Merchant of Venice_ with its tragic figure of Shylock, who
is hurried off the stage to make place for a final scene of love, moonlight
and music; so in every other play of this period, the poetic dream of life
triumphs over its practical realities.

[Sidenote: THIRD PERIOD]

During the third period, of maturity of power (_cir._ 1600-1610),
Shakespeare was overshadowed by some personal grief or disappointment. He
wrote his "farewell to mirth" in _Twelfth Night_, and seems to have
reflected his own perturbed state in the lines which he attributes to
Achilles in _Troilus and Cressida_:

My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirr'd,
And I myself see not the bottom of it.

His great tragedies belong to this period, tragedies which reveal increased
dramatic power in Shakespeare, but also his loss of hope, his horrible
conviction that man is not a free being but a puppet blown about by every
wind of fate or circumstance. In _Hamlet_ great purposes wait upon a
feeble will, and the strongest purpose may be either wrecked or consummated
by a trifle. The whole conception of humanity in this play suggests a
clock, of which, if but one small wheel is touched, all the rest are thrown
into confusion. In _Macbeth_ a man of courage and vaulting ambition
turns coward or traitor at the appearance of a ghost, at the gibber of
witches, at the whisper of conscience, at the taunts of his wife. In
_King Lear_ a monarch of high disposition drags himself and others
down to destruction, not at the stern command of fate, but at the mere
suggestion of foolishness. In _Othello_ love, faith, duty, the
fidelity of a brave man, the loyalty of a pure woman,--all are blasted,
wrecked, dishonored by a mere breath of suspicion blown by a villain.

[Sidenote: LAST DRAMAS]

In his final period, of leisurely experiment (_cir._ 1610-1616),
Shakespeare seems to have recovered in Stratford the cheerfulness that he
had lost in London. He did little work during this period, but that little
is of rare charm and sweetness. He no longer portrayed human life as a
comedy of errors or a tragedy of weakness but as a glowing romance, as if
the mellow autumn of his own life had tinged all the world with its own
golden hues. With the exception of _As You Like It_ (written in the
second period), in which brotherhood is pictured as the end of life, and
love as its unfailing guide, it is doubtful if any of the earlier plays
leaves such a wholesome impression as _The Winter's Tale_ or _The
Tempest_, which were probably the last of the poet's works.

Following is a list of Shakespeare's thirty-four plays (or thirty-seven,
counting the different parts of _Henry IV_ and _Henry VI_)
arranged according to the periods in which they were probably written. The
dates are approximate, not exact, and the chronological order is open to

FIRST PERIOD, EARLY EXPERIMENT (1590-1595). _Titus Andronicus_,
_Henry VI_, _Love's Labor's Lost_, _Comedy of Errors_,
_Two Gentlemen of Verona_, _Richard III_, _Richard II_,
_King John._

SECOND PERIOD, DEVELOPMENT (1595-1600). _Romeo and Juliet_,
_Midsummer Night's Dream_, _Merchant of Venice_, _Henry IV_,
_Henry V_, _Merry Wives of Windsor_, _Much Ado About
Nothing_, _As You Like It._

THIRD PERIOD, MATURITY AND TROUBLE (1600-1610). _Twelfth Night_,
_Taming of the Shrew_, _Julius Caesar_, _Hamlet_, _Troilus
and Cressida_, _All's Well that Ends Well_, _Measure for
Measure_, _Othello_, _King Lear_, _Macbeth_, _Antony
and Cleopatra_, _Timon of Athens._

FOURTH PERIOD, LATER EXPERIMENT (1610-1616). _Coriolanus_,
_Pericles_, _Cymbeline_, _The Winter's Tale_, _The
Tempest_, _Henry VIII_ (left unfinished, completed probably by


The most convenient arrangement of these plays appears in the First Folio
(1623) [Footnote: This was the first edition of Shakespeare's plays. It was
prepared seven years after the poet's death by two of his fellow actors,
Heminge and Condell. It contained all the plays now attributed to
Shakespeare with the exception of _Pericles_.] where they are grouped
in three classes called tragedies, comedies and historical plays. The
tragedy is a drama in which the characters are the victims of unhappy
passions, or are involved in desperate circumstances. The style is grave
and dignified, the movement stately; the ending is disastrous to
individuals, but illustrates the triumph of a moral principle. These rules
of true tragedy are repeatedly set aside by Shakespeare, who introduces
elements of buffoonery, and who contrives an ending that may stand for the
triumph of a principle but that is quite likely to be the result of
accident or madness. His best tragedies are _Macbeth_, _Romeo and
Juliet_, _Hamlet_, _King Lear_ and _Othello_.

Comedy is a type of drama in which the elements of fun and humor
predominate. The style is gay; the action abounds in unexpected incidents;
the ending brings ridicule or punishment to the villains in the plot, and
satisfaction to all worthy characters. Among the best of Shakespeare's
comedies, in which he is apt to introduce serious or tragic elements, are
_As You Like It_, _Merchant of Venice_, _Midsummer Night's
Dream_, _The Winter's Tale_, and _The Tempest_.


Strictly speaking there are only two dramatic types, all others, such as
farce, melodrama, tragi-comedy, lyric drama, or opera, and chronicle play,
being modifications of comedy or tragedy. The historical play, to which
Elizabethans were devoted, aimed to present great scenes or characters from
a past age, and were generally made up of both tragic and comic elements.
The best of Shakespeare's historical plays are _Julius Casar_,
_Henry IV_, _Henry V_, _Richard III_ and _Coriolanus_.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

There is no better way to feel the power of Shakespeare than to read in
succession three different types of plays, such as the comedy of _As You
Like It_, the tragedy of _Macbeth_ and the historical play of
_Julius Casar_. Another excellent trio is _The Merchant of
Venice_, _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Henry IV_; and the reading of
these typical plays might well be concluded with _The Tempest_, which
was probably Shakespeare's last word to his Elizabethan audience.

THE QUALITY OF SHAKESPEARE. As the thousand details of a Gothic cathedral
receive character and meaning from its towering spire, so all the works of
Shakespeare are dominated by his imagination. That imagination of his was
both sympathetic and creative. It was sympathetic in that it understood
without conscious effort all kinds of men, from clowns to kings, and all
human emotions that lie between the extremes of joy and sorrow; it was
creative in that, from any given emotion or motive, it could form a human
character who should be completely governed by that motive. Ambition in
Macbeth, pride in Coriolanus, wit in Mercutio, broad humor in Falstaff,
indecision in Hamlet, pure fancy in Ariel, brutality in Richard, a
passionate love in Juliet, a merry love in Rosalind, an ideal love in
Perdita,--such characters reveal Shakespeare's power to create living men
and women from a single motive or emotion.

Or take a single play, _Othello_, and disregarding all minor
characters, fix attention on the pure devotion of Desdemona, the jealousy
of Othello, the villainy of Iago. The genius that in a single hour can make
us understand these contrasting characters as if we had met them in the
flesh, and make our hearts ache as we enter into their joy, their anguish,
their dishonor, is beyond all ordinary standards of measurement. And
_Othello_ must be multiplied many times before we reach the limit of
Shakespeare's creative imagination. He is like the genii of the _Arabian
Nights_, who produce new marvels while we wonder at the old.

Such an overpowering imagination must have created wildly, fancifully, had
it not been guided by other qualities: by an observation almost as keen as
that of Chaucer, and by the saving grace of humor. We need only mention the
latter qualities, for if the reader will examine any great play of
Shakespeare, he will surely find them in evidence: the observation keeping
the characters of the poet's imagination true to the world of men and
women, and the humor preventing some scene of terror or despair from
overwhelming us by its terrible reality.

[Sidenote: HIS FAULTS]

In view of these and other qualities it has become almost a fashion to
speak of the "perfection" of Shakespeare's art; but in truth no word could
be more out of place in such a connection. As Ben Jonson wrote in his

"I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to
Shakespeare that in his writing, whatever he penned, he never
blotted out a line. My answer hath been, 'Would he had blotted a

Even in his best work Shakespeare has more faults than any other poet of
England. He is in turn careless, extravagant, profuse, tedious,
sensational; his wit grows stale or coarse; his patriotism turns to
bombast; he mars even such pathetic scenes as the burial of Ophelia by
buffoonery and brawling; and all to please a public that was given to

These certainly are imperfections; yet the astonishing thing is that they
pass almost unnoticed in Shakespeare. He reflected his age, the evil and
the good of it, just as it appeared to him; and the splendor of his
representation is such that even his faults have their proper place, like
shadows in a sunlit landscape.

[Sidenote: HIS VIEW OF LIFE]

Of Shakespeare's philosophy we may say that it reflected equally well the
views of his hearers and of the hundred characters whom he created for
their pleasure. Of his personal views it is impossible to say more than
this, with truth: that he seems to have been in full sympathy with the
older writers whose stories he used as the sources of his drama. [Footnote:
The chief sources of Shakespeare's plays are: (1) Older plays, from which
he made half of his dramas, such as _Richard III_, _Hamlet_,
_King John_. (2) Holinshed's _Chronicles_, from which he obtained
material for his English historical plays. (3) Plutarch's _Lives_,
translated by North, which furnished him material for _Caesar_,
_Coriolanus_, _Antony and Cleopatra_. (4) French, Italian and
Spanish romances, in translations, from which he obtained the stories of
_The Merchant of Venice_, _Othello_, _Twelfth Night_ and
_As You Like It_.] Now these stories commonly reflected three things
besides the main narrative: a problem, its solution, and the consequent
moral or lesson. The problem was a form of evil; its solution depended on
goodness in some form; the moral was that goodness triumphs finally and
inevitably over evil.

Many such stories were cherished by the Elizabethans, the old tale of
"Gammelyn" for example (from which came _As You Like It_); and just as
in our own day popular novels are dramatized, so three centuries ago
audiences demanded to see familiar stories in vigorous action. That is why
Shakespeare held to the old tales, and pleased his audience, instead of
inventing new plots. But however much he changed the characters or the
action of the story, he remained always true to the old moral:

That goodness is the rule of life,
And its glory and its triumph.

Shakespeare's women are his finest characters, and he often portrays the
love of a noble woman as triumphing over the sin or weakness of men. He has
little regard for abnormal or degenerate types, such as appear in the later
Elizabethan drama; he prefers vigorous men and pure women, precisely as the
old story-tellers did; and if Richard or some other villain overruns his
stage for an hour, such men are finally overwhelmed by the very evil which
they had planned for others. If they drag the innocent down to a common
destruction, these pure characters never seem to us to perish; they live
forever in our thought as the true emblems of humanity.


It was Charles Lamb who referred to a copy of Shakespeare's plays as "this
manly book." The expression is a good one, and epitomizes the judgment of a
world which has found that, though Shakespeare introduces evil or vulgar
elements into his plays, his emphasis is always upon the right man and the
right action. This may seem a trite thing to say in praise of a great
genius; but when you reflect that Shakespeare is read throughout the
civilized world, the simple fact that the splendor of his poetry is
balanced by the rightness of his message becomes significant and
impressive. It speaks not only for Shakespeare but for the moral quality of
the multitudes who acknowledge his mastery. Wherever his plays are read, on
land or sea, in the crowded cities of men or the far silent places of the
earth, there the solitary man finds himself face to face with the
unchanging ideals of his race, with honor, duty, courtesy, and the moral

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

* * * * *


The drama began to decline during Shakespeare's lifetime. Even before his
retirement to Stratford other popular dramatists appeared who catered to a
vulgar taste by introducing more sensational elements into the stage
spectacle. In consequence the drama degenerated so rapidly that in 1642,
only twenty-six years after the master dramatist had passed away,
Parliament closed the theaters as evil and degrading places. This closing
is charged to the zeal of the Puritans, who were rapidly rising into power,
and the charge is probably well founded. So also was the Puritan zeal. One
who was compelled to read the plays of the period, to say nothing of
witnessing them, must thank these stern old Roundheads for their insistence
on public decency and morality. In the drama of all ages there seems to be
a terrible fatality which turns the stage first to levity, then to
wickedness, and which sooner or later calls for reformation.

[Illustration: FRANCIS BEAUMONT]

Among those who played their parts in the rise and fall of the drama, the
chief names are Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, Webster, Heywood,
Dekker, Massinger, Ford and Shirley. Concerning the work of these
dramatists there is wide diversity of opinion. Lamb regards them, Beaumont
and Fletcher especially, as "an inferior sort of Sidneys and Shakespeares."
Landor writes of them poetically:

They stood around
The throne of Shakespeare, sturdy but unclean.

Lowell finds some small things to praise in a large collection of their
plays. Hazlitt regards them as "a race of giants, a common and noble brood,
of whom Shakespeare was simply the tallest." Dyce, who had an extraordinary
knowledge of all these dramatists, regards such praise as absurd, saying
that "Shakespeare is not only immeasurably superior to the dramatists of
his time, but is utterly unlike them in almost every respect."

[Illustration: JOHN FLETCHER
From the engraving by Philip Oudinet published 1811]

We shall not attempt to decide where such doctors disagree. It may not be
amiss, however, to record this personal opinion: that these playwrights
added little to the drama and still less to literature, and that it is
hardly worth while to search out their good passages amid a welter of
repulsive details. If they are to be read at all, the student will find
enough of their work for comparison with the Shakespearean drama in a book
of selections, such as Lamb's _Specimens of English Dramatic Poetry_
or Thayer's _The Best Elizabethan Plays_.

BEN JONSON (1573?-1637). The greatest figure among these dramatists was
Jonson,--"O rare Ben Jonson" as his epitaph describes him, "O rough Ben
Jonson" as he was known to the playwrights with whom he waged literary
warfare. His first notable play, _Every Man in His Humour_, satirizing
the fads or humors of London, was acted by Shakespeare's company, and
Shakespeare played one of the parts. Then Jonson fell out with his fellow
actors, and wrote _The Poetaster_ (acted by a rival company) to
ridicule them and their work. Shakespeare was silent, but the cudgels were
taken up by Marston and Dekker, the latter of whom wrote, among other and
better plays, _Satiromastix_, which was played by Shakespeare's
company as a counter attack on Jonson.

[Illustration: BEN JONSON]

The value of Jonson's plays is that they give us vivid pictures of
Elizabethan society, its speech, fashions, amusements, such as no other
dramatist has drawn. Shakespeare pictures men and women as they might be in
any age; but Jonson is content to picture the men and women of London as
they appeared superficially in the year 1600. His chief comedies, which
satirize the shams of his age, are: _Volpone, or the Fox_, a merciless
exposure of greed and avarice; _The Alchemist_, a study of quackery as
it was practiced in Elizabethan days; _Bartholomew Fair_, a riot of
folly; and _Epicoene, or the Silent Woman_, which would now be called
a roaring farce. His chief tragedies are _Sejanus_ and

In later life Jonson was appointed poet laureate, and wrote many masques,
such as the _Masque of Beauty_ and the unfinished _Sad Shepherd_.
These and a few lyrics, such as the "Triumph of Charis" and the song
beginning, "Drink to me only with thine eyes," are the pleasantest of
Jonson's works. At the end he abandoned the drama, as Shakespeare had done,
and lashed it as severely as any Puritan in the ode beginning, "Come leave
the loathed stage."

* * * * *


Unless one have antiquarian tastes, there is little in Elizabethan prose to
reward the reader. Strange to say, the most tedious part of it was written
by literary men in what was supposed to be a very fine style; while the
small part that still attracts us (such as Bacon's _Essays_ or
Hakluyt's _Voyages_) was mostly written by practical men with no
thought for literary effect.

This curious result came about in the following way. In the sixteenth
century poetry was old, but English prose was new; for in the two centuries
that had elapsed since Mandeville wrote his _Travels_, Malory's
_Morte d' Arthur_ (1475) and Ascham's _Scholemaster_ (1563) are
about the only two books that can be said to have a prose style. Then, just
as the Elizabethans were turning to literature, John Lyly appeared with his
_Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit_ (1578), an alleged novel made up of
rambling conversations upon love, education, fashion,--everything that came
into the author's head. The style was involved, artificial, tortured; it
was loaded with conceits, antitheses and decorations:

"I perceive, Camilla, that be your cloth never so bad it will take
some colour, and your cause never so false it will bear some show
of probability; wherein you manifest the right nature of a woman,
who, having no way to win, thinketh to overcome with words.... Take
heed, Camilla, that seeking all the wood for a straight stick you
choose not at the last a crooked staff, or prescribing a good
counsel to others thou thyself follow the worst much like to Chius,
who selling the best wine to others drank himself of the lees."


This "high fantastical" style, ever since called euphuistic, created a
sensation. The age was given over to extravagance and the artificial
elegance of _Euphues_ seemed to match the other fashions. Just as
Elizabethan men and women began to wear grotesque ruffs about their necks
as soon as they learned the art of starching from the Dutch, so now they
began to decorate their writing with the conceits of Lyly. [Footnote: Lyly
did not invent the fashion; he carried to an extreme a tendency towards
artificial writing which was prevalent in England and on the Continent. As
is often the case, it was the extreme of fashion that became fashionable.]
Only a year after _Euphues_ appeared, Spenser published _The
Shepherd's Calendar_, and his prose notes show how quickly the style,
like a bad habit, had taken possession of the literary world. Shakespeare
ridicules the fashion in the character of Holofernes, in _Love's Labor's
Lost_, yet he follows it as slavishly as the rest. He could write good
prose when he would, as is shown by a part of Hamlet's speech; but as a
rule he makes his characters speak as if the art of prose were like walking
a tight rope, which must be done with a balancing pole and some
contortions. The scholars who produced the translation of the Scriptures
known as the Authorized Version could certainly write well; yet if you
examine their Dedication, in which, uninfluenced by the noble sincerity of
the Bible's style, they were free to follow the fashion, you may find there
the two faults of Elizabethan prose; namely, the habit of servile flattery
and the sham of euphuism.

Among prose writers of the period the name that appears most frequently is
that of Philip Sidney (1554-1586). He wrote one of our first critical
essays, _An Apologie for Poetrie_ (cir. 1581), the spirit of which may
be judged from the following:

"Nowe therein of all sciences ... is our poet the monarch. For he
dooth not only show the way but giveth so sweete a prospect into
the way as will intice any man to enter into it. Nay, he dooth, as
if your journey should be through a faire vineyard, at the first
give you a cluster of grapes, that, full of that taste, you may
long to passe further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions,
which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the
memory with doubtfulnesse; but hee cometh to you with words set in
delightfull proportion, either accompanied with or prepared for the
well enchaunting skill of musicke; and with a tale, forsooth, he
cometh unto you,--with a tale which holdeth children from play and
old men from the chimney corner."

[Illustration: SIR PHILIP SIDNEY]

Sidney wrote also the pastoral romance _Arcadia_ which was famous in
its day, and in which the curious reader may find an occasional good
passage, such as the prayer to a heathen god, "O All-seeing Light,"--a
prayer that became historic and deeply pathetic when King Charles repeated
it, facing death on the scaffold. That was in 1649, more than half a
century after _Arcadia_ was written:

"O all-seeing Light, and eternal Life of all things, to whom
nothing is either so great that it may resist or so small that it
is contemned, look upon my miserie with thine eye of mercie, and
let thine infinite power vouchsafe to limite out some proportion of
deliverance unto me, as to thee shall seem most convenient. Let not
injurie, O Lord, triumphe over me, and let my faults by thy hands
be corrected, and make not mine unjuste enemie the minister of thy
justice. But yet, my God, if in thy wisdome this be the aptest
chastisement for my inexcusable follie; if this low bondage be
fittest for my over-hie desires; if the pride of my not-inough
humble hearte be thus to be broken, O Lord, I yeeld unto thy will,
and joyfully embrace what sorrow thou wilt have me suffer."


The finest example of the prose of the period is the King James or
Authorized Version of the Bible, which appeared in 1611. This translation
was so much influenced by the earlier work of Wyclif, Tyndale, and many
others, that its style cannot properly be called Elizabethan or Jacobean;
it is rather an epitome of English at its best in the two centuries between
Chaucer and Shakespeare. The forty-seven scholars who prepared this
translation aimed at a faithful rendering of the Book which, aside from its
spiritual teaching, contains some of the noblest examples of style in the
whole range of human literature: the elemental simplicity of the Books of
Moses, the glowing poetry of Job and the Psalms, the sublime imagery of
Isaiah, the exquisite tenderness of the Parables, the forged and tempered
argument of the Epistles, the gorgeous coloring of the Apocalypse. All
these elements entered in some degree into the translation of 1611, and the
result was a work of such beauty, strength and simplicity that it remained
a standard of English prose for more than three centuries. It has not only
been a model for our best writers; it has pervaded all the minor literature
of the nation, and profoundly influenced the thought and the expression of
the whole English-speaking world.

* * * * *

FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626)

"My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to mine own country
_after some time is passed over_," said Bacon in his will. That
reference to the future meant, not that England might learn to forget and
forgive (for Bacon was not greatly troubled by his disgrace), but that she
might learn to appreciate his _Instauratio Magna_. In the same
document the philosopher left magnificent bequests for various purposes,
but when these were claimed by the beneficiaries it was learned that the
debts of the estate were three times the assets. This high-sounding will is
an epitome of Bacon's life and work.

LIFE. Bacon belongs with Sidney and Raleigh in that group of
Elizabethans who aimed to be men of affairs, politicians,
reformers, explorers, rather than writers of prose or poetry. He
was of noble birth, and from an early age was attached to
Elizabeth's court. There he expected rapid advancement, but the
queen and his uncle (Lord Burghley) were both a little suspicious
of the young man who, as he said, had "taken all knowledge for his

Failing to advance by favor, Bacon studied law and entered
Parliament, where he rose rapidly to leadership. Ben Jonson writes
of him, in that not very reliable collection of opinions called

"There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full
of gravity in his speaking.... No man ever spake more
neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less
emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered.... The fear
of every man that heard him was lest he should make an

[Illustration: FRANCIS BACON]

[Sidenote: HIS TRIUMPH]

When Elizabeth died, Bacon saw his way open. He offered his
services to the royal favorite, Buckingham, and was soon in the
good graces of King James. He was made Baron Verulam and Viscount
St. Albans; he married a rich wife; he rose rapidly from one
political honor to another, until at sixty he was Lord High
Chancellor of England. So his threefold ambition for position,
wealth and power was realized. It was while he held the highest
state office that he published his _Novum Organum_, which
established his reputation as "the first philosopher in Europe."
That was in 1620, the year when a handful of Pilgrims sailed away
unnoticed on one of the world's momentous voyages.

[Sidenote: HIS DISGRACE]

After four years of power Bacon, who had been engaged with
Buckingham in selling monopolies, and in other schemes to be rich
at the public expense, was brought to task by Parliament. He was
accused of receiving bribes, confessed his guilt (it is said to
shield the king and Buckingham, who had shared the booty), was
fined, imprisoned, banished from court, and forbidden to hold
public office again. All these punishments except the last were
remitted by King James, to whom Bacon had been a useful tool. His
last few years were spent in scientific study at Gorhambury, where
he lived proudly, keeping up the appearance of his former grandeur,
until his death in 1626.

Such a sketch seems a cold thing, but there is little of divine
fire or human warmth in Bacon to kindle one's enthusiasm. His
obituary might well be the final word of his essay "Of Wisdom for a
Man's Self":

"Whereas they have all their time sacrificed to themselves,
they become in the end sacrifices to the inconstancy of
fortune, whose wings they thought by their self-wisdom to
have pinioned."

Ben Jonson had a different and, possibly, a more just opinion. In
the work from which we have quoted he says:

"My conceit of his person was never increased towards him
by his place or honours; but I have and do reverence him
for his greatness that was only proper to himself, in that
he seemed to me ever by his work one of the greatest men,
and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages.
In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him
strength; for greatness he could not want."

WORKS OF BACON. The _Essays_ of Bacon are so highly esteemed that the
critic Hallam declares it would be "derogatory to a man of the slightest
claim to polite letters" to be unacquainted with them. His first venture
was a tiny volume called _Essays, Religious Meditations, Places of
Persuasion and Dissuasion_ (1597). This was modeled upon a French work
by Montaigne (_Essais_, 1580) and was considered of small consequence
by the author. As time went on, and his ambitious works were overlooked in
favor of his sketches, he paid more attention to the latter, revising and
enlarging his work until the final edition of fifty-eight essays appeared
in 1625. Then it was that Bacon wrote, "I do now publish my Essays, which
of all my works have been most current; for that, as it seems, they come
home to men's business and bosoms."


The spirit of these works may be judged by the essay "Of Friendship." This
promises well, for near the beginning we read, "A crowd is not company, and
faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talking is but a tinkling cymbal
where there is no love." Excellent! As we read on, however, we find nothing
of the love that beareth all things for a friend's sake. We are not even
encouraged to be friendly, but rather to cultivate the friendship of other
men for the following advantages: that a friend is useful in saving us from
solitude; that he may increase our joy or diminish our trouble; that he
gives us good counsel; that he can finish our work or take care of our
children, if need be; and finally, that he can spare our modesty while
trumpeting our virtues:

"How many things are there which a man cannot, with any face or
comeliness, say or do himself! A man can scarce allege his own
merits with modesty, much less extol them; a man cannot sometimes
brook to supplicate or beg; and a number of the like. But all these
things are graceful in a friend's mouth, which are blushing in a
man's own."

In old Arabic manuscripts one frequently finds a record having the
appearance of truth; but at the very end, in parenthesis, one reads, "This
is all a lie," or "This was my thought when I was sick," or some other
enlightening climax. Bacon's essay "Of Friendship" might be more in accord
with the verities if it had a final note to the effect that the man who
cultivates friendship in the Baconian way will never have or deserve a
friend in the world.

So with many other Baconian essays: with "Love" for example, in which we
are told that it is impossible for a man to love and be wise; or with
"Negotiations," which informs us that, unless a man intends to use his
letter to justify himself (lo! the politician), it is better to deal by
speech than by writing; for a man can "disavow or expound" his speech, but
his written word may be used against him.


To some men, to most men, life offers a problem to be solved by standards
that are eternally right; to others life is a game, the object is to win,
and the rules may be manipulated to one's own advantage. Bacon's moral
philosophy was that of the gamester; his leading motive was self-interest;
so when he wrote of love or friendship or any other noble sentiment he was
dealing with matters of which he had no knowledge. The best he could offer
was a "counsel of prudence," and many will sympathize with John Wesley, who
declared that worldly prudence is a quality from which an honest man should
pray God to be delivered.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

It is only when Bacon deals with practical matters, leaving the high places
of life, where he is a stranger, to write of "Discourse" or "Gardens" or
"Seeming Wise" that his essays begin to strike home by their vigor and
vitality. Though seldom profound or sympathetic, they are notable for their
keen observation and shrewd judgment of the ambitious world in which the
author himself lived. Among those that are best worth reading are
"Studies," "Wisdom for a Man's Self," "Riches," "Great Place," "Atheism,"
and "Travel."

The style of these essays is in refreshing contrast to most Elizabethan
prose, to the sonorous periods of Hooker, to the ramblings of Sidney, to
the conceits of Lyly and Shakespeare. The sentences are mostly short,
clear, simple; and so much meaning is crystallized in them that they
overshadow even the "Poor Richard" maxims of Franklin, the man who had a
genius for packing worldly wisdom into a convenient nutshell.


Other works of Bacon are seldom read, and may be passed over lightly. We
mention only, as indicative of his wide range, his _History of Henry
VII_, his Utopian romance _The New Atlantis_, his Advancement of
Learning and his _Novum Organum_. The last two works, one in English,
the other in Latin, were parts of the _Instauratio Magna_, or _The
Great Institution of True Philosophy_, a colossal work which Bacon did
not finish, which he never even outlined very clearly.

The aim of the _Instauratio_ was, first, to sweep away ancient
philosophy and the classic education of the universities; and second, to
substitute a scheme of scientific study to the end of discovering and
utilizing the powers of nature. It gave Bacon his reputation (in Germany
especially) of a great philosopher and scientist, and it is true that his
vision of vast discoveries has influenced the thought of the world; but to
read any part of his great work is to meet a mind that seems ingenious
rather than philosophical, and fanciful rather than scientific. He had what
his learned contemporary Peter Heylyn termed "a chymical brain," a brain
that was forever busy with new theories; and the leading theory was that
some lucky man would discover a key or philosopher's stone or magic
_sesame_ that must straightway unlock all the secrets of nature.

Meanwhile the real scientists of his age were discovering secrets in the
only sure way, of hard, self-denying work. Gilbert was studying magnetism,
Harvey discovering the circulation of the blood, Kepler determining the
laws that govern the planets' motions, Napier inventing logarithms, and
Galileo standing in ecstasy beneath the first telescope ever pointed at the
stars of heaven.

[Sidenote: HIS VAST PLANS]

Of the work of these scientific heroes Bacon had little knowledge, and for
their plodding methods he had no sympathy. He was Viscount, Lord
Chancellor, "high-browed Verulam," and his heaven-scaling
_Instauratio_ which, as he said, was "for the glory of the Creator and
for the relief of man's estate" must have something stupendous,
Elizabethan, about it, like the victory over the Armada. In his plans there
was always an impression of vastness; his miscellaneous works were like the
strange maps that geographers made when the wonders of a new world opened
upon their vision. Though he never made an important discovery, his
conviction that knowledge is power and that there are no metes or bounds to
knowledge, his belief that the mighty forces of nature are waiting to do
man's bidding, his thought of ships that navigate the air as easily as the
sea,--all this Baconian dream of mental empire inspired the scientific
world for three centuries. It was as thoroughly Elizabethan in its way as
the voyage of Drake or the plays of Shakespeare.

* * * * *

SUMMARY. The most remarkable feature of the Elizabethan age was its
patriotic enthusiasm. This enthusiasm found its best expression on
the stage, in the portrayal of life in vigorous action; and dramas
were produced in such number and of such quality that the whole
period is sometimes called the age of the play. It was a time of
poetry rather than of prose, and nearly all of the poetry is
characterized by its emotional quality, by youthful freshness of
feeling, by quickened imagination, and by an extravagance of
language which overflows, even in Shakespeare, in a kind of
glorious bombast.

Our study of the literature of the age includes: (1) The outburst
of lyric poetry. (2) The life and works of Spenser, second in time
of the great English poets. (3) A review of the long history of the
drama, from the earliest church spectacle, through miracle,
morality, interlude, pageant and masque to the Elizabethan drama.
(4) The immediate forerunners of Shakespeare, of whom the most
notable was Marlowe. (5) The life and work of Shakespeare. (6) Ben
Jonson, the successors of Shakespeare, and the rapid decline of the
drama. (7) Elizabethan prose; the appearance of euphuism; Sidney's
_Apologie for Poetrie_; the Authorized Version of the
Scriptures; and the life and work of Francis Bacon.

SELECTIONS FOR READING. Selected lyrics in Manly, English Poetry;
Newcomer, Twelve Centuries of English Poetry and Prose; Palgrave,
Golden Treasury; Schilling, Elizabethan Lyrics; Ward, English

_Spenser_. Selected poems in Temple Classics, Cambridge Poets
Series. Selections from The Faery Queen in Standard English
Classics and other school editions. (See Texts, in General

_Early Drama_. A miracle play, such as Noah, may be read in
Manly, Specimens of Pre-Shakespearean Drama (Ginn and Company).
Marlowe's plays in Everyman's Library; his Edward II in Holt's
English Readings; his Faustus in Temple Dramatists, and in Mermaid

_Shakespeare_. Several editions of Shakespeare's plays, such
as the revised Hudson (Ginn and Company) and the Neilson (Scott)
are available. Single plays, such as Julius Caesar, Merchant of
Venice, Macbeth, As You Like It, are edited for class use in
Standard English Classics, Lake Classics, and various other school
series. The Sonnets in Athenaum Press Series.

_Ben Jonson_. The Alchemist in Cambridge Poets Series; also in
Thayer, Best Elizabethan Plays (Ginn and Company), which includes
in one volume plays by Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, Beaumont and

_Prose Writers_. Selections from Bacon's Essays in Riverside
Literature, or Maynard's English Classkcs. The Essays complete in
Everyman's Library. Selections from Hooker, Sidney and Lyly in
Manly, English Prose, or Craik, English Prose. Ampler selections in
Garnett, English Prose from Elizabeth to Victoria (Ginn and
Company), which contains in one volume typical works of 33 prose
writers from Lyly to Carlyle. Hakluyt's Voyages in Everyman's


_HISTORY_. Creighton, The Age of Elizabeth; Winter,
Shakespeare's England; Goadby, The England of Shakespeare;
Harrison, Elizabethan England; Spedding, Francis Bacon and his
Times; Lee, Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century; Payne,
Voyages of Elizabethan Seamen.

_LITERATURE_. Saintsbury, Short History of Elizabethan
Literature; Seccombe and Allen, The Age of Shakespeare; Whipple,
Literature of the Age of Elizabeth; Schilling, Elizabethan Lyrics;
Lee, Elizabethan Sonnets; Sheavyn, Literary Profession in the
Elizabethan Age.

_Spenser_. Life, by Church (English Men of Letters Series).
Carpenter, Outline Guide to the Study of Spenser; Craik, Spenser
and his Times. Essays, by Lowell, in Among My Books; by Dowden, in
Transcripts and Studies; by Hazlitt, in Lectures on the English
Poets; by Leigh Hunt, in Imagination and Fancy.

_The Drama_. Gayley, Plays of Our Forefathers (a study of the
early drama); Evans, English Masques; Bates, The English Religious
Drama; Schilling, The Elizabethan Drama; Symonds, Shakespeare's
Predecessors in the English Drama; Boas, Shakespeare and his
Predecessors; Collier, History of English Dramatic Poetry; Ward,
English Dramatic Literature; Chambers, The Medieval Stage; Pollard,
English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes.

_Shakespeare_. Life, by Raleigh (E. M. of L.), by Lee, by
Halliwell-Phillipps, by Brandes. Dowden, A Shakespeare Primer;
Dowden, Shakespeare: a Critical Study of his Mind and Art; Baker,
Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist.

_Other Dramatists_. Lowell, Old English Dramatists; Lamb,
Specimens of English Dramatic Poets; Fleay, Biographical Chronicle
of the English Drama; Ingram, Christopher Marlowe.

_Prose Writers_. Church, Life of Bacon (E. M. of L.); Nicol,
Bacon's Life and Philosophy; Macaulay, Essay on Bacon. Symonds,
Life of Sidney (E. M. of L.); Bourne, Life of Sidney (Heroes of the
Nations Series). Stebbing, Life of Raleigh.

_FICTION AND POETRY_. Kingsley, Westward Ho; Black, Judith
Shakespeare; Scott, Kenilworth; Schiller, Maria Stuart; Alfred
Noyes, Drake; Bates and Coman, English History Told by English



Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour.
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters; altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

Wordsworth, "Sonnet on Milton"

HISTORICAL OUTLINE. The period from the accession of Charles I in
1625 to the Revolution of 1688 was filled with a mighty struggle
over the question whether king or Commons should be supreme in
England. On this question the English people were divided into two
main parties. On one side were the Royalists, or Cavaliers, who
upheld the monarch with his theory of the divine right of kings; on
the other were the Puritans, or Independents, who stood for the
rights of the individual man and for the liberties of Parliament
and people. The latter party was at first very small; it had
appeared in the days of Langland and Wyclif, and had been
persecuted by Elizabeth; but persecution served only to increase
its numbers and determination. Though the Puritans were never a
majority in England, they soon ruled the land with a firmness it
had not known since the days of William the Conqueror. They were
primarily men of conscience, and no institution can stand before
strong men whose conscience says the institution is wrong. That is
why the degenerate theaters were not reformed but abolished; that
is why the theory of the divine right of kings was shattered as by
a thunderbolt when King Charles was sent to the block for treason
against his country.

The struggle reached a climax in the Civil War of 1642, which ended
in a Puritan victory. As a result of that war, England was for a
brief period a commonwealth, disciplined at home and respected
abroad, through the genius and vigor and tyranny of Oliver
Cromwell. When Cromwell died (1658) there was no man in England
strong enough to take his place, and two years later "Prince
Charlie," who had long been an exile, was recalled to the throne as
Charles II of England. He had learned nothing from his father's
fate or his own experience, and proceeded by all evil ways to
warrant this "Epitaph," which his favorite, Wilmot, Earl of
Rochester, pinned on the door of his bedchamber:

Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King,
Whose word no man relies on,
Who never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.

The next twenty years are of such disgrace and national weakness
that the historian hesitates to write about them. It was called the
period of the Restoration, which meant, in effect, the restoration
of all that was objectionable in monarchy. Another crisis came in
the Revolution of 1688, when the country, aroused by the attempt of
James II to establish another despotism in Church and state,
invited Prince William of Orange (husband of the king's daughter
Mary) to the English throne. That revolution meant three things:
the supremacy of Parliament, the beginning of modern England, and
the final triumph of the principle of political liberty for which
the Puritan had fought and suffered hardship for a hundred years.

TYPICAL WRITERS. Among the writers of the period three men stand out
prominently, and such was the confusion of the times that in the whole
range of our literature it would be difficult to find three others who
differ more widely in spirit or method. Milton represents the scholarship,
the culture of the Renaissance, combined with the moral earnestness of the
Puritan. Bunyan, a poor tinker and lay preacher, reflects the tremendous
spiritual ferment among the common people. And Dryden, the cool,
calculating author who made a business of writing, regards the Renaissance
and Puritanism as both things of the past. He lives in the present, aims to
give readers what they like, follows the French critics of the period who
advocate writing by rule, and popularizes that cold, formal, precise style
which, under the assumed name of classicism, is to dominate English poetry
during the following century.

* * * * *

JOHN MILTON (1608-1674)

Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key
That opes the palace of eternity:
To such my errand is.

In these words of the Attendant Spirit in _Comus_ we seem to hear
Milton speaking to his readers. To such as regard poetry as the means of an
hour's pleasant recreation he brings no message; his "errand" is to those
who, like Sidney, regard poetry as the handmaiden of virtue, or, like
Aristotle, as the highest form of human history.

LIFE. Milton was born in London (1608) at a time when Shakespeare
and his fellow dramatists were in their glory. He grew up in a home
where the delights of poetry and music were added to the moral
discipline of the Puritan. Before he was twelve years old he had
formed the habit of studying far into the night; and his field
included not only Greek, Latin, Hebrew and modern European
literatures, but mathematics also, and science and theology and
music. His parents had devoted him in infancy to noble ends, and he
joyously accepted their dedication, saying, "He who would not be
frustrate of his hope to write well ... ought himself to be a true
poem, that is, a composition and pattern of the best and
honorablest things."


From St. Paul's school Milton went to Christ's College, Cambridge,
took his master's degree, wrote a few poems in Latin, Italian and
English, and formed a plan for a great epic, "a poem that England
would not willingly let die." Then he retired to his father's
country-place at Horton, and for six years gave himself up to
music, to untutored study, and to that formal pleasure in nature
which is reflected in his work. Five short poems were the only
literary result of this retirement, but these were the most perfect
of their kind that England had thus far produced.

Milton's next step, intended like all others to cultivate his
talent, took him to the Continent. For fifteen months he traveled
through France and Italy, and was about to visit Greece when,
hearing of the struggle between king and Parliament, he set his
face towards England again. "For I thought it base," he said, "to
be traveling at my ease for culture when my countrymen at home were
fighting for liberty."

[Sidenote: HOME LIFE]

To find himself, or to find the service to which he could devote
his great learning, seems to have been Milton's object after his
return to London (1639). While he waited he began to educate his
nephews, and enlarged this work until he had a small private
school, in which he tested some of the theories that appeared later
in his _Tractate on Education_. Also he married, in haste it
seems, and with deplorable consequences. His wife, Mary Powell, the
daughter of a Cavalier, was a pleasure-loving young woman, and
after a brief experience of Puritan discipline she wearied of it
and went home. She has been amply criticized for her desertion, but
Milton's house must have been rather chilly for any ordinary human
being to find comfort in. To him woman seemed to have been made for
obedience, and man for rebellion; his toplofty doctrine of
masculine superiority found expression in a line regarding Adam and
Eve, "He for God only, she for God in him,"--an old delusion, which
had been seriously disturbed by the first woman.

[Illustration: JOHN MILTON]


For a period of near twenty years Milton wrote but little poetry,
his time being occupied with controversies that were then waged
even more fiercely in the press than in the field. It was after the
execution of King Charles (1649), when England was stunned and all
Europe aghast at the Puritans' daring, that he published his
_Tenure of Kings and Magistrates_, the argument of which was,
that magistrates and people are equally subject to the law, and
that the divine right of kings to rule is as nothing beside the
divine right of the people to defend their liberties. That argument
established Milton's position as the literary champion of
democracy. He was chosen Secretary of the Commonwealth, his duties
being to prepare the Latin correspondence with foreign countries,
and to confound all arguments of the Royalists. During the next
decade Milton's pen and Cromwell's sword were the two outward
bulwarks of Puritanism, and one was quite as ready and almost as
potent as the other.


It was while Milton was thus occupied that he lost his eyesight,
"his last sacrifice on the altar of English liberty." His famous
"Sonnet on his Blindness" is a lament not for his lost sight but
for his lost talent; for while serving the Commonwealth he must
abandon the dream of a great poem that he had cherished all his

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent, which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask; but Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

With the Restoration (1660) came disaster to the blind Puritan
poet, who had written too harshly against Charles I to be forgiven
by Charles II. He was forced to hide; his property was confiscated;
his works were burned in public by the hangman; had not his fame as
a writer raised up powerful friends, he would have gone to the
scaffold when Cromwell's bones were taken from the grave and hanged
in impotent revenge. He was finally allowed to settle in a modest
house, and to be in peace so long as he remained in obscurity. So
the pen was silenced that had long been a scourge to the enemies of


His home life for the remainder of his years impresses us by its
loneliness and grandeur. He who had delighted as a poet in the
English country, and more delighted as a Puritan in the fierce
struggle for liberty, was now confined to a small house, going from
study to porch, and finding both in equal darkness. He who had
roamed as a master through the wide fields of literature was now
dependent on a chance reader. His soul also was afflicted by the
apparent loss of all that Puritanism had so hardly won, by the
degradation of his country, by family troubles; for his daughters
often rebelled at the task of taking his dictation, and left him
helpless. Saddest of all, there was no love in the house, for with
all his genius Milton could not inspire affection in his own
people; nor does he ever reach the heart of his readers.


In the midst of such scenes, denied the pleasure of hope, Milton
seems to have lived largely in his memories. He took up his early
dream of an immortal epic, lived with it seven years in seclusion,
and the result was _Paradise Lost_. This epic is generally
considered the finest fruit of Milton's genius, but there are two
other poems that have a more personal and human significance. In
the morning of his life he had written _Comus_, and the poem
is a reflection of a noble youth whose way lies open and smiling
before him. Almost forty years later, or just before his death in
1674, he wrote _Samson Agonistes_, and in this tragedy of a
blind giant, bound, captive, but unconquerable, we have a picture
of the agony and moral grandeur of the poet who takes leave of

I feel my genial spirits droop, ...
My race of glory run, and race of shame;
And I shall shortly be with them that rest. [1]

[Footnote [1]: From Milton's _Samson_. For the comparison we
are indebted to Henry Reed, _Lectures on English Literature_
(1863), p. 223.]

Where Milton lived during the Plague, and where _Paradise Lost_ was

THE EARLY POEMS. Milton's first notable poem, written in college days, was
the "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," a chant of victory and
praise such as Pindar might have written had he known the meaning of
Christmas. In this boyish work one may find the dominant characteristic of
all Milton's poetry; namely, a blending of learning with piety, a devotion
of all the treasures of classic culture to the service of religion.

Among the earliest of the Horton poems (so-called because they were written
in the country-place of that name) are "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," two
of the most widely quoted works in our literature. They should be read in
order to understand what people have admired for nearly three hundred
years, if not for their own beauty. "L'Allegro" (from the Italian, meaning
"the cheerful man") is the poetic expression of a happy state of mind, and
"Il Penseroso" [Footnote: The name is generally translated into
"melancholy," but the latter term is now commonly associated with sorrow or
disease. To Milton "melancholy" meant "pensiveness." In writing "Il
Penseroso" he was probably influenced by a famous book, Burton's _Anatomy
of Melancholy_, which appeared in 1621 and was very widely read.] of a
quiet, thoughtful mood that verges upon sadness, like the mood that follows
good music. Both poems are largely inspired by nature, and seem to have
been composed out of doors, one in the morning and the other in the evening


_Comus_ (1634), another of the Horton poems, is to many readers the
most interesting of Milton's works. In form it is a masque, that is, a
dramatic poem intended to be staged to the accompaniment of music; in
execution it is the most perfect of all such poems inspired by the
Elizabethan love of pageants. We may regard it, therefore, as a late echo
of the Elizabethan drama, which, like many another echo, is sweeter though
fainter than the original. It was performed at Ludlow Castle, before the
Earl of Bridgewater, and was suggested by an accident to the Earl's
children, a simple accident, in which Milton saw the possibility of
"turning the common dust of opportunity to gold."

The story is that of a girl who becomes separated from her brothers
in a wood, and is soon lost. The magician Comus [Footnote: In
mythology Comus, the god of revelry, was represented as the son of
Dionysus (Bacchus, god of wine), and the witch Circe. In Greek
poetry Comus is the leader of any gay band of satyrs or dancers.
Milton's masque of _Comus_ was influenced by a similar story
in Peele's _Old Wives' Tale_, by Spenser's "Palace of
Pleasure" in _The Faery Queen_ (see above "Sir Guyon" in
Chapter IV), and by Homer's story of the witch Circe in the
_Odyssey_.] appears with his band of revelers, and tries to
bewitch the girl, to make her like one of his own brutish
followers. She is protected by her own purity, is watched over by
the Attendant Spirit, and finally rescued by her brothers. The
story is somewhat like that of the old ballad of "The Children in
the Wood," but it is here transformed into a kind of morality play.


In this masque may everywhere be seen the influence of Milton's
predecessors and the stamp of his own independence; his Puritan spirit
also, which must add a moral to the old pagan tales. Thus, Miranda
wandering about the enchanted isle (in Shakespeare's _The Tempest_)
hears strange, harmonious echoes, to which Caliban gives expression:

The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

The bewildered girl in _Comus_ also hears mysterious voices, and has
glimpses of a world not her own; but, like Sir Guyon of _The Faery
Queen_, she is on moral guard against all such deceptions:

A thousand phantasies
Begin to throng into my memory,
Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names
On sands and shores and desert wildernesses.
These thoughts may startle well but not astound
The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
By a strong-siding champion, Conscience.

Again, in _The Tempest_ we meet "the frisky spirit" Ariel, who sings
of his coming freedom from Prospero's service:

Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On a bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily:
Merrily, merrily shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

[Illustration: LUDLOW CASTLE]

The Attendant Spirit in _Comus_ has something of Ariel's gayety, but
his joy is deeper-seated; he serves not the magician Prospero but the
Almighty, and comes gladly to earth in fulfilment of the divine promise,
"He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways."
When his work is done he vanishes, like Ariel, but with a song which shows
the difference between the Elizabethan, or Renaissance, conception of
sensuous beauty (that is, beauty which appeals to the physical senses) and
the Puritan's idea of moral beauty, which appeals to the soul:

Now my task is smoothly done,
I can fly or I can run
Quickly to the green earth's end,
Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend,
And from thence can soar as soon
To the corners of the moon.
Mortals, that would follow me,
Love Virtue; she alone is free:
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the sphery chime;
Or if Virtue feeble were,
Heaven itself would stoop to her.

[Sidenote: LYCIDAS]

_Lycidas_ (1637), last of the Horton poems, is an elegy occasioned by
the death of one who had been Milton's fellow student at Cambridge. It was
an old college custom to celebrate important events by publishing a
collection of Latin or English poems, and _Lycidas_ may be regarded as
Milton's wreath, which he offered to the memory of his classmate and to his
university. The poem is beautifully fashioned, and is greatly admired for
its classic form; but it is cold as any monument, without a touch of human
grief or sympathy. Probably few modern readers will care for it as they
care for Tennyson's _In Memoriam_, a less perfect elegy, but one into
which love enters as well as art. Other notable English elegies are the
_Thyrsis_ of Matthew Arnold and the _Adonais_ of Shelley.

MILTON'S LEFT HAND. This expression was used by Milton to designate certain
prose works written in the middle period of his life, at a time of turmoil
and danger. These works have magnificent passages which show the power and
the harmony of our English speech, but they are marred by other passages of
bitter raillery and invective. The most famous of all these works is the
noble plea called _Areopagitica:_ [Footnote: From the Areopagus or
forum of Athens, the place of public appeal. This was the "Mars Hill" from
which St. Paul addressed the Athenians, as recorded in the Book of Acts.]
_a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing_ (1644).

There was a law in Milton's day forbidding the printing of any work until
it had been approved by the official Licenser of Books. Such a law may have
been beneficial at times, but during the seventeenth century it was another
instrument of tyranny, since no Licenser would allow anything to be printed
against his particular church or government. When _Areopagitica_ was
written the Puritans of the Long Parliament were virtually rulers of
England, and Milton pleaded with his own party for the free expression of
every honest opinion, for liberty in all wholesome pleasures, and for
tolerance in religious matters. His stern confidence in truth, that she
will not be weakened but strengthened by attack, is summarized in the
famous sentence, "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue."

Two interesting matters concerning _Areopagitica_ are: first, that
this eloquent plea for the freedom of printing had to be issued in defiance
of law, without a license; and second, that Milton was himself, a few years
later, under Cromwell's iron government, a censor of the press.

[Sidenote: THE SONNETS]

Milton's rare sonnets seem to belong to this middle period of strife,
though some of them were written earlier. Since Wyatt and Surrey had
brought the Italian sonnet to England this form of verse had been employed
to sing of love; but with Milton it became a heroic utterance, a trumpet
Wordsworth calls it, summoning men to virtue, to patriotism, to stern
action. The most personal of these sonnets are "On Having Arrived at the
Age of Twenty-three," "On his Blindness" and "To Cyriack Skinner"; the most
romantic is "To the Nightingale"; others that are especially noteworthy are
"On the Late Massacre," "On his Deceased Wife" [Footnote: This beautiful
sonnet was written to his second wife, not to Mary Powell.] and "To
Cromwell." The spirit of these sonnets, in contrast with those of
Elizabethan times, is finely expressed by Landor in the lines:

Few his words, but strong,
And sounding through all ages and all climes;
He caught the sonnet from the dainty hand
Of Love, who cried to lose it, and he gave the notes
To Glory.

MILTON'S LATER POETRY. [Footnote: The three poems of Milton's later life
are _Paradise Lost_, _Paradise Regained_ and _Samson
Agonistes_. The last-named has been referred to above under "His
Masterpiece". _Paradise Regained_ contains some noble passages, but is
inferior to _Paradise Lost_, on which the poet's fame chiefly rests.]
It was in 1658, the year of Cromwell's death, when the political power of
Puritanism was tottering, that Milton in his blindness began to write
_Paradise Lost_. After stating his theme he begins his epic, as Virgil
began the _Aneid_, in the midst of the action; so that in reading his
first book it is well to have in mind an outline of the whole story, which
is as follows:


The scene opens in Heaven, and the time is before the creation of
the world. The archangel Lucifer rebels against the Almighty, and
gathers to his banner an immense company of the heavenly hosts, of
angels and flaming cherubim. A stupendous three days' battle
follows between rebel and loyal legions, the issue being in doubt
until the Son goes forth in his chariot of victory. Lucifer and his
rebels are defeated, and are hurled over the ramparts of Heaven.
Down, down through Chaos they fall "nine times the space that
measures day and night," until they reach the hollow vaults of

In the second act (for _Paradise Lost_ has some dramatic as
well as epic construction) we follow the creation of the earth in
the midst of the universe; and herein we have an echo of the old
belief that the earth was the center of the solar system. Adam and
Eve are formed to take in the Almighty's affection the place of the
fallen angels. They live happily in Paradise, watched over by
celestial guardians. Meanwhile Lucifer and his followers are
plotting revenge in Hell. They first boast valiantly, and talk of
mighty war; but the revenge finally degenerates into a base plan to
tempt Adam and Eve and win them over to the fallen hosts.

The third act shows Lucifer, now called Satan or the Adversary,
with his infernal peers in Pandemonium, plotting the ruin of the
world. He makes an astounding journey through Chaos, disguises
himself in various forms of bird or beast in order to watch Adam
and Eve, is detected by Ithuriel and the guardian angels, and is
driven away. Thereupon he haunts vast space, hiding in the shadow
of the earth until his chance comes, when he creeps back into Eden
by means of an underground river. Disguising himself as a serpent,
he meets Eve and tempts her with the fruit of a certain "tree of
knowledge," which she has been forbidden to touch. She eats the
fruit and shares it with Adam; then the pair are discovered in
their disobedience, and are banished from Paradise. [Footnote: In
the above outline we have arranged the events in the order in which
they are supposed to have occurred. Milton tells the story in a
somewhat confused way. The order of the twelve books of _Paradise
Lost_ is not the natural or dramatic order of the story.]


It is evident from this outline that Milton uses material from two
different sources, one an ancient legend which Cadmon employed in his
Paraphrase, the other the Bible narrative of Creation. Though the latter is
but a small part of the epic, it is as a fixed center about which all other
interests are supposed to revolve. In reading _Paradise Lost_,
therefore, with its vast scenes and colossal figures, one should keep in
mind that every detail was planned by Milton to be closely related to his
central theme, which is the fall of man.

In using such diverse materials Milton met with difficulties, some of which
(the character of Lucifer, for example) were too great for his limited
dramatic powers. In Books I and II Lucifer is a magnificent figure, the
proudest in all literature, a rebel with something of celestial grandeur
about him:

"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,"
Said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat
That we must change for Heaven? this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best,
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor, one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence;
Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

In other books of _Paradise Lost_ the same character appears not as
the heroic rebel but as the sneaking "father of lies," all his grandeur
gone, creeping as a snake into Paradise or sitting in the form of an ugly
toad "squat at Eve's ear," whispering petty deceits to a woman while she
sleeps. It is probable that Milton meant to show here the moral results of
rebellion, but there is little in his poem to explain the sudden degeneracy
from Lucifer to Satan.


The reader will note, also, the strong contrast between Milton's matter and
his manner. His matter is largely mythical, and the myth is not beautiful
or even interesting, but childish for the most part and frequently
grotesque, as when cannon are used in the battle of the angels, or when the
Almighty makes plans,

Lest unawares we lose
This our high place, our sanctuary, our hill.

Indeed, all Milton's celestial figures, with the exception of the original
Lucifer, are as banal as those of the old miracle plays; and his Adam and
Eve are dull, wooden figures that serve merely to voice the poet's theology
or moral sentiments.

In contrast with this unattractive matter, Milton's manner is always and
unmistakably "the grand manner." His imagination is lofty, his diction
noble, and the epic of _Paradise Lost_ is so filled with memorable
lines, with gorgeous descriptions, with passages of unexampled majesty or
harmony or eloquence, that the crude material which he injects into the
Bible narrative is lost sight of in our wonder at his superb style.

THE QUALITY OF MILTON. If it be asked, What is Milton's adjective? the word
"sublime" rises to the lips as the best expression of his style. This word
(from the Latin _sublimis_, meaning "exalted above the ordinary") is
hard to define, but may be illustrated from one's familiar experience.

You stand on a hilltop overlooking a mighty landscape on which the
new snow has just fallen: the forest bending beneath its soft
burden, the fields all white and still, the air scintillating with
light and color, the whole world so clean and pure that it seems as
if God had blotted out its imperfections and adorned it for his own
pleasure. That is a sublime spectacle, and the soul of man is
exalted as he looks upon it. Or here in your own village you see a
woman who enters a room where a child is stricken with a deadly and
contagious disease. She immolates herself for the suffering one,
cares for him and saves him, then lays down her own life. That is a
sublime act. Or you hear of a young patriot captured and hanged by
the enemy, and as they lead him forth to death he says, "I regret
that I have but one life to give to my country." That is a sublime
expression, and the feeling in your heart as you hear it is one of
moral sublimity.

[Sidenote: SUBLIMITY]

The writer who lifts our thought and feeling above their ordinary level,
who gives us an impression of outward grandeur or of moral exaltation, is a
sublime writer, has a sublime style; and Milton more than any other poet
deserves the adjective. His scenes are immeasurable; mountain, sea and
forest are but his playthings; his imagination hesitates not to paint
Chaos, Heaven, Hell, the widespread Universe in which our world hangs like
a pendant star and across which stretches the Milky Way:

A broad and ample road, whose dust is gold,
And pavement stars.

No other poet could find suitable words for such vast themes, but Milton
never falters. Read the assembly of the fallen hosts before Lucifer in Book
I of _Paradise Lost_, or the opening of Hellgates in Book II, or the
invocation to light in Book III, or Satan's invocation to the sun in Book
IV, or the morning hymn of Adam and Eve in Book V; or open _Paradise
Lost_ anywhere, and you shall soon find some passage which, by the
grandeur of its scene or by the exalted feeling of the poet as he describes
it, awakens in you the feeling of sublimity.

[Sidenote: HARMONY]

The harmony of Milton's verse is its second notable quality. Many of our
poets use blank verse, as many other people walk, as if they had no sense
of rhythm within them; but Milton, by reason of his long study and practice
of music, seems to be always writing to melody. In consequence it is easy
to read his most prolix passages, as it is easy to walk over almost any
kind of ground if one but keeps step to outward or inward music. Not only
is Milton's verse stately and melodious, but he is a perfect master of
words, choosing them for their sound as well as for their sense, as a
musician chooses different instruments to express different emotions. Note
these contrasting descriptions of so simple a matter as the opening of

Heaven opened wide
Her ever-during gates, harmonious sound,
On golden hinges moving. On a sudden open fly
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound
Th' infernal doors, and on their hinges grate
Harsh thunder.

In dealing with a poet of such magnificent qualities one should be wary of
criticism. That Milton's poetry has little human interest, no humor, and
plenty of faults, may be granted. His _Paradise Lost_ especially is
overcrowded with mere learning or pedantry in one place and with pompous
commonplaces in another. But such faults appear trivial, unworthy of
mention in the presence of a poem that is as a storehouse from which the
authors and statesmen of three hundred years have drawn their choicest
images and expressions. It stands forever as our supreme example of
sublimity and harmony,--that sublimity which reflects the human spirit
standing awed and reverent before the grandeur of the universe; that
harmony of expression at which every great poet aims and which Milton
attained in such measure that he is called the organ-voice of England.

* * * * *

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688)

There is a striking contrast between the poet and the prose writer of the
Puritan age. Milton the poet is a man of culture, familiar with the best
literature of all ages; Bunyan the prose writer is a poor, self-taught
laborer who reads his Bible with difficulty, stumbling over the hard
passages. Milton writes for the cultivated classes, in harmonious verse
adorned with classic figures; Bunyan speaks for common men in sinewy prose,
and makes his meaning clear by homely illustrations drawn from daily life.
Milton is a solitary and austere figure, admirable but not lovable; Bunyan
is like a familiar acquaintance, ruddy-faced, clear-eyed, who wins us by
his sympathy, his friendliness, his good sense and good humor. He is known
as the author of one book, _The Pilgrim's Progress_, but that book has
probably had more readers than any other that England has ever produced.

LIFE. During Bunyan's lifetime England was in a state of religious
ferment or revival, and his experience of it is vividly portrayed
in a remarkable autobiography called _Grace Abounding to the
Chief of inners_. In reading this book we find that his life is
naturally separated into two periods. His youth was a time of
struggle with doubts and temptations; his later years were
characterized by inward peace and tireless labor. His peace meant
that he was saved, his labor that he must save others. Here, in a
word, is the secret of all his works.

[Illustration: JOHN BUNYAN]

He was born (1628) in the village of Elstow, Bedfordshire, and was
the son of a poor tinker. He was sent to school long enough to
learn elementary reading and writing; then he followed the tinker's
trade; but at the age of sixteen, being offended at his father's
second marriage, he ran away and joined the army.

As a boy Bunyan had a vivid but morbid imagination, which led him
to terrible doubts, fears, fits of despondency, hallucinations. On
such a nature the emotional religious revivals of the age made a
tremendous impression. He followed them for years, living in a
state of torment, until he felt himself converted; whereupon he
turned preacher and began to call other sinners to repentance. Such
were his native power and rude eloquence that, wherever he went,
the common people thronged to hear him.


After the Restoration all this was changed. Public meetings were
forbidden unless authorized by bishops of the Established Church,
and Bunyan was one of the first to be called to account. When
ordered to hold no more meetings he refused to obey, saying that
when the Lord called him to preach salvation he would listen only
to the Lord's voice. Then he was thrown into Bedford jail. During
his imprisonment he supported his family by making shoe laces, and
wrote _Grace Abounding_ and _The Pilgrim's Progress_.

After his release Bunyan became the most popular writer and
preacher in England. He wrote a large number of works, and went
cheerfully up and down the land, preaching the gospel to the poor,
helping the afflicted, doing an immense amount of good. He died
(1688) as the result of exposure while on an errand of mercy. His
works were then known only to humble readers, and not until long
years had passed did critics awaken to the fact that one of
England's most powerful and original writers had passed away with
the poor tinker of Elstow.

WORKS OF BUNYAN. From the pen of this uneducated preacher came nearly sixty
works, great and small, the most notable of which are: _Grace
Abounding_ (1666), a kind of spiritual autobiography; _The Holy
War_ (1665), a prose allegory with a theme similar to that of Milton's
epic; and _The Life and Death of Mr. Badman_ (1682), a character study
which was a forerunner of the English novel. These works are seldom read,
and Bunyan is known to most readers as the author of _The Pilgrim's
Progress_ (1678). This is the famous allegory [Footnote: Allegory is
figurative writing, in which some outward object or event is described in
such a way that we apply the description to humanity, to our mental or
spiritual experiences. The object of allegory, as a rule, is to teach moral
lessons, and in this it is like a drawn-out fable and like a parable. The
two greatest allegories in our literature are Spenser's _Faery Queen_
and Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_.] in which, under guise of telling
the story of a pilgrim in search of a city, Bunyan portrays the experiences
of humanity in its journey from this world to the next. Here is an outline
of the story:


In the City of Destruction lives a poor sinner called Christian.
When he learns that the city is doomed, he is terrified and flees
out of it, carrying a great burden on his back. He is followed by
the jeers of his neighbors, who have no fear. He seeks a safe and
abiding city to dwell in, but is ignorant how to find it until
Evangelist shows him the road.

As he goes on his journey Mr. Worldly Wiseman meets him and urges
him to return; but he hastens on, only to plunge into the Slough of
Despond. His companion Pliable is here discouraged and turns back.
Christian struggles on through the mud and reaches the Wicket Gate,
where Interpreter shows him the way to the Celestial City. As he
passes a cross beside the path, the heavy burden which he carries
(his load of sins) falls off of itself. Then with many adventures
he climbs the steep hill Difficulty, where his eyes behold the
Castle Beautiful. To reach this he must pass some fearful lions in
the way, but he adventures on, finds that the lions are chained, is
welcomed by the porter Watchful, and is entertained in the castle

Dangers thicken and difficulties multiply as he resumes his
journey. His road is barred by the demon Apollyon, whom he fights
to the death. The way now dips downward into the awful Valley of
the Shadow. Passing through this, he enters the town of Vanity,
goes to Vanity Fair, where he is abused and beaten, and where his
companion Faithful is condemned to death. As he escapes from
Vanity, the giant Despair seizes him and hurls him into the gloomy
dungeon of Doubt. Again he escapes, struggles onward, and reaches
the Delectable Mountains. There for the first time he sees the
Celestial City, but between him and his refuge is a river, deep and
terrible, without bridge or ford. He crosses it, and the journey
ends as angels come singing down the streets to welcome Christian
into the city. [Footnote: This is the story of the first part of
_Pilgrim's Progress_, which was written in Bedford jail, but
not published till some years later. In 1684 Bunyan published the
second part of his story, describing the adventures of Christiana
and her children on their journey to the Celestial City. This
sequel, like most others, is of minor importance.]


Such an outline gives but a faint idea of Bunyan's great work, of its
realistic figures, its living and speaking characters, its knowledge of
humanity, its portrayal of the temptations and doubts that beset the
ordinary man, its picturesque style, which of itself would make the book
stand out above ten thousand ordinary stories. _Pilgrim's Progress_ is
still one of our best examples of clear, forceful, idiomatic English; and
our wonder increases when we remember that it was written by a man ignorant
of literary models. But he had read his Bible daily until its style and
imagery had taken possession of him; also he had a vivid imagination, a
sincere purpose to help his fellows, and his simple rule of rhetoric was to
forget himself and deliver his message. In one of his poems he gives us his
rule of expression, which is an excellent one for writers and speakers:

Thine only way,
Before them all, is to say out thy say
In thine own native language.

* * * * *

JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700)

For fifty years Dryden lived in the city of Milton, in the country of John
Bunyan; but his works might indicate that he inhabited a different planet.
Unlike his two great contemporaries, his first object was to win favor; he
sold his talent to the highest bidder, won the leading place among
second-rate Restoration writers, and was content to reflect a generation
which had neither the hearty enthusiasm of Elizabethan times nor the moral
earnestness of Puritanism.

LIFE. Knowledge of Dryden's life is rather meager, and as his
motives are open to question we shall state here only a few facts.
He was born of a Puritan and aristocratic family, at Aldwinkle, in
1631. After an excellent education, which included seven years at
Trinity College, Cambridge, he turned to literature as a means of
earning a livelihood, taking a worldly view of his profession and
holding his pen ready to serve the winning side. Thus, he wrote his
"Heroic Stanzas," which have a hearty Puritan ring, on the death of
Cromwell; but he turned Royalist and wrote the more flattering
"Astraa Redux" to welcome Charles II back to power.


In literature Dryden proved himself a man of remarkable
versatility. Because plays were in demand, he produced many that
catered to the evil tastes of the Restoration stage,--plays that he
afterwards condemned unsparingly. He was equally ready to write
prose or verse, songs, criticisms, political satires. In 1670 he
was made poet laureate under Charles II; his affairs prospered; he
became a literary dictator in London, holding forth nightly in
Will's Coffeehouse to an admiring circle of listeners. After the
Revolution of 1688 he lost his offices, and with them most of his

[Illustration: JOHN DRYDEN
From a picture by Hudson in the Hall of Trinity College, Cambridge]

In his old age, being reduced to hackwork, he wrote obituaries,
epitaphs, paraphrases of the tales of Chaucer, translations of
Latin poets,--anything to earn an honest living. He died in 1700,
and was buried beside Chaucer in Westminster Abbey.

Such facts are not interesting; nor do they give us a true idea of
the man Dryden. To understand him we should have to read his works
(no easy or pleasant task) and compare his prose prefaces, in which
he is at his best, with the comedies in which he is abominable.
When not engaged with the degenerate stage, or with political or
literary or religious controversies, he appears sane,
well-balanced, good-tempered, manly; but the impression is not a
lasting one. He seems to have catered to the vicious element of his
own age, to have regretted the misuse of his talent, and to have
recorded his own judgment in two lines from his ode "To the Memory
of Mrs. Killigrew":

O gracious God, how far have we
Profaned thy heavenly grace of poesy!

WORKS OF DRYDEN. The occasional poems written by Dryden may be left in the
obscurity into which they fell after they had been applauded. The same may
be said of his typical poem "Annus Mirabilis," which describes the
wonderful events of the year 1666, a year which witnessed the taking of New
Amsterdam from the Dutch and the great fire of London. Both events were
celebrated in a way to contribute to the glory of King Charles and to
Dryden's political fortune. Of all his poetical works, only the odes
written in honor of St. Cecilia are now remembered. The second ode,
"Alexander's Feast," is one of our best poems on the power of music.

[Sidenote: HIS PLAYS]

Dryden's numerous plays show considerable dramatic power, and every one of
them contains some memorable line or passage; but they are spoiled by the
author's insincerity in trying to satisfy the depraved taste of the
Restoration stage. He wrote one play, _All for Love_, to please
himself, he said, and it is noticeable that this play is written in blank
verse and shows the influence of Shakespeare, who was then out of fashion.
If any of the plays are to be read, _All for Love_ should be selected,
though it is exceptional, not typical, and gives but a faint idea of
Dryden's ordinary dramatic methods.

[Sidenote: SATIRES]

In the field of political satire Dryden was a master, and his work here is
interesting as showing that unfortunate alliance between literature and
politics which led many of the best English writers of the next century to
sell their services to the Whigs or Tories. Dryden sided with the later
party and, in a kind of allegory of the Bible story of Absalom's revolt
against David, wrote "Absalom and Achitophel" to glorify the Tories and to
castigate the Whigs. This powerful political satire was followed by others
in the same vein, and by "MacFlecknoe," which satirized certain poets with
whom Dryden was at loggerheads. As a rule, such works are for a day, having
no enduring interest because they have no human kindness, but occasionally
Dryden portrays a man of his own time so well that his picture applies to
the vulgar politician of all ages, as in this characterization of Burnet:

Prompt to assail and careless of defence,
Invulnerable in his impudence,
He dares the world, and eager of a name
He thrusts about and justles into fame;
So fond of loud report that, not to miss.
Of being known (his last and utmost bliss),
He rather would be known for what he is.

These satires of Dryden were largely influential in establishing the heroic
couplet, [Footnote: The heroic couplet consists of two iambic pentameter
lines that rime. By "pentameter" is meant that the line has five feet or
measures; by "iambic," that each foot contains two syllables, the first
short or unaccented, the second long or accented.] which dominated the
fashion of English poetry for the next century. The couplet had been used
by earlier poets, Chaucer for example; but in his hands it was musical and
unobtrusive, a minor part of a complete work. With Dryden, and with his
contemporary Waller, the making of couplets was the main thing; in their
hands the couplet became "closed," that is, it often contained a complete
thought, a criticism, a nugget of common sense, a poem in itself, as in
this aphorism from "MacFlecknoe":

All human things are subject to decay,
And when Fate summons, monarchs must obey.

[Sidenote: PROSE WORKS]

In his prose works Dryden proved himself the ablest critic of his time, and
the inventor of a neat, serviceable style which, with flattery to
ourselves, we are wont to call modern. Among his numerous critical works we
note especially "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," "Of Heroic Plays," "Discourse
on Satire," and the Preface to his _Fables_. These have not the vigor
or picturesqueness of Bunyan's prose, but they are written clearly, in
short sentences, with the chief aim of being understood. If we compare them
with the sonorous periods of Milton, or with the pretty involutions of
Sidney, we shall see why Dryden is called "the father of modern prose." His
sensible style appears in this criticism of Chaucer:

"He must have been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature,
because, as it has been truly observed of him, he has taken into
the compass of his _Canterbury Tales_ the various manners and
humours (as we now call them) of the whole English nation in his
age. Not a single character has escaped him.... We have our fathers
and great-grand-dames all before us as they were in Chaucer's days:
their general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even
in England, though they are called by other names than those of
monks and friars and canons and lady abbesses and nuns; for mankind
is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature though everything
is altered."

* * * * *


PURITAN AND CAVALIER VERSE. The numerous minor poets of this period are
often arranged in groups, but any true classification is impossible since
there was no unity among them. Each was a law unto himself, and the result
was to emphasize personal oddity or eccentricity. It would seem that in
writing of love, the common theme of poets, Puritan and Cavalier must alike
speak the common language of the heart; but that is precisely what they did
not do. With them love was no longer a passion, or even a fashion, but any

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