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THE PLAYS OF SHAKSPERE
BY DELIA BACON.
AUTHOR OF ‘THE SCARLET LETTER,’ ETC
Aphorisms representing A KNOWLEDGE _broken_ do invite men to inquire further LORD BACON
You find not the apostophes, and so miss the accent. LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST
Untie the spell.–PROSPERO
GROOMBRIDGE AND SONS
DEC 6, 1972
Reprinted from a copy in the collection of the Harvard College Library
Reprinted from the edition of 1857, London First AMS EDITION published 1970
Manufactured in the United States of America
International Standard Book Number: 0-404-00443-1
Library of Congress Card Catalog Number: 73-113547
AMS PRESS, INC.
NEW YORK, N.Y. 10003
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
I. The Proposition
II. The Age of Elizabeth, and the Elizabethan Men of Letters
III. Extracts from the Life of Raleigh.–Raleigh’s School
IV. Raleigh’s School, continued.–The New Academy
* * * * *
[The HISTORICAL KEY to the ELIZABETHAN ART of TRADITION, which formed the FIRST BOOK of this Work as it was originally prepared for the Press, is reserved for separate publication.]
THE ELIZABETHAN ART OF DELIVERY AND TRADITION.
MICHAEL DE MONTAIGNE’S ‘PRIVATE AND RETIRED ARTS.’
I. Ascent from Particulars to the ‘Highest Parts of Sciences,’ by the Enigmatic Method illustrated
II. Further Illustration of ‘Particular Methods of Tradition.’–Embarrassments of Literary Statesmen
III. The Possibility of great anonymous Works,–or Works published under an _assumed name_,–conveying under rhetorical Disguises the Principal Sciences,–re-suggested and illustrated
THE BACONIAN RHETORIC, OR THE METHOD OF PROGRESSION.
I. THE ‘BEGINNERS.’–[‘Particular Methods of Tradition.’– The Double Method of ‘Illustration’ and ‘Concealment’]
II. INDEX to the ‘Illustrated’ and ‘Concealed Tradition’ of the Principal and Supreme Sciences.–THE SCIENCE OF POLICY
III. THE SCIENCE OF MORALITY. Section I. The Exemplar of Good
IV. THE SCIENCE OF MORALITY. Section II. The Husbandry thereunto, or the Cure and Culture of the Mind.–APPLICATION
V. THE SCIENCE OF MORALITY.–ALTERATION
VI. Method of Convoying the Wisdom of the Moderns
* * * * *
ELIZABETHAN ‘SECRETS OF MORALITY AND POLICY’; OR, THE FABLES OF THE NEW LEARNING.
I. The Design
II. The Missing Books of the Great Instauration or ‘Philosophy itself’
[OR, THE LAW OF THE ‘SPECIAL AND RESPECTIVE DUTIES,’ DEFINED AND ‘ILLUSTRATED’ IN TABLES OF ‘PRESENCE’ AND ‘ABSENCE.’]
I. Philosophy in the Palace
II. Unaccommodated Man
III. The King and the Beggar
IV. The Use of Eyes
V. The Statesman’s Note-Book–and the Play
JULIUS CAESAR AND CORIOLANUS.
THE SCIENTIFIC CURE OF THE COMMON-WEAL;
‘THE COMMON DUTY OF EVERY MAN AS A MAN, OR MEMBER OF A STATE,’ DEFINED AND ILLUSTRATED IN ‘NEGATIVE INSTANCES’ AND ‘INSTANCES OF PRESENCE.’
OR, THE EMPIRICAL TREATMENT IN DISEASES OF THE COMMON-WEAL EXAMINED.
I. The Death of Tyranny; or, the Question of the Prerogative II. Caesar’s Spirit
THE QUESTION OF THE CONSULSHIP; OR, THE SCIENTIFIC CURE OF THE COMMON-WEAL PROPOUNDED.
I. The Elizabethan Heroism
II. Criticism of the Martial Government III. ‘Insurrections Arguing’
IV. Political Retrospect
V. The Popular Election
VI. The Scientific Method in Politics VII. Volumnia and her Boy
VIII. Metaphysical Aid
IX. The Cure.–Plan of Innovation.–New Definitions. X. The Cure.–Plan of Innovation.–New Constructions. XI. The Cure.–Plan of Innovation.–‘The Initiative’ XII. The Ignorant Election revoked.–A ‘Wrestling Instance’. XIII. Conclusion
This Volume contains the argument, drawn from the Plays usually attributed to Shakspere, in support of a theory which the author of it has demonstrated by historical evidences in another work. Having never read this historical demonstration (which remains still in manuscript, with the exception of a preliminary chapter, published long ago in an American periodical), I deem it necessary to cite the author’s own account of it:–
‘The Historical Part of this work (which was originally the principal part, and designed to furnish the historical key to the great Elizabethan writings), though now for a long time completed and ready for the press, and though repeated reference is made to it in this volume, is, for the most part, omitted here. It contains a true and before unwritten history, and it will yet, perhaps, be published as it stands; but the vivid and accumulating historic detail, with which more recent research tends to enrich the earlier statement, and disclosures which no invention could anticipate, are waiting now to be subjoined to it.
‘The INTERNAL EVIDENCE of the assumptions made at the outset is that which is chiefly relied on in the work now first presented on this subject to the public. The demonstration will be found complete on that ground; and on that ground alone the author is willing, and deliberately prefers, for the present, to rest it.
‘External evidence, of course, will not be wanting; there will be enough and to spare, if the demonstration here be correct. But the author of the discovery was not willing to rob the world of this great question; but wished rather to share with it the benefit which the true solution of the Problem offers–the solution prescribed by those who propounded it to the future. It seemed better to save to the world the power and beauty of this demonstration, its intellectual stimulus, its demand on the judgment. It seemed better, that the world should acquire it also in the form of criticism, instead of being stupified and overpowered with the mere force of an irresistible, external, historical proof. Persons incapable of appreciating any other kind of proof,–those who are capable of nothing that does not ‘directly fall under and strike _the senses_’ as Lord Bacon expresses it,–will have their time also; but it was proposed to present the subject first to minds of another order.’
In the present volume, accordingly, the author applies herself to the demonstration and development of a system of philosophy, which has presented itself to her as underlying the superficial and ostensible text of Shakspere’s plays. Traces of the same philosophy, too, she conceives herself to have found in the acknowledged works of Lord Bacon, and in those of other writers contemporary with him. All agree in one system; all these traces indicate a common understanding and unity of purpose in men among whom no brotherhood has hitherto been suspected, except as representatives of a grand and brilliant age, when the human intellect made a marked step in advance.
The author did not (as her own consciousness assures her) either construct or originally seek this new philosophy. In many respects, if I have rightly understood her, it was at variance with her pre-conceived opinions, whether ethical, religious, or political. She had been for years a student of Shakspere, looking for nothing in his plays beyond what the world has agreed to find in them, when she began to see, under the surface, the gleam of this hidden treasure. It was carefully hidden, indeed, yet not less carefully indicated, as with a pointed finger, by such marks and references as could not ultimately escape the notice of a subsequent age, which should be capable of profiting by the rich inheritance. So, too, in regard to Lord Bacon. The author of this volume had not sought to put any but the ordinary and obvious interpretation upon his works, nor to take any other view of his character than what accorded with the unanimous judgment upon it of all the generations since his epoch. But, as she penetrated more and more deeply into the plays, and became aware of those inner readings, she found herself compelled to turn back to the ‘Advancement of Learning’ for information as to their plan and purport; and Lord Bacon’s Treatise failed not to give her what she sought; thus adding to the immortal dramas, in her idea, a far higher value than their warmest admirers had heretofore claimed for them. They filled out the scientific scheme which Bacon had planned, and which needed only these profound and vivid illustrations of human life and character to make it perfect. Finally, the author’s researches led her to a point where she found the plays claimed for Lord Bacon and his associates,–not in a way that was meant to be intelligible in their own perilous times,–but in characters that only became legible, and illuminated, as it were, in the light of a subsequent period.
The reader will soon perceive that the new philosophy, as here demonstrated, was of a kind that no professor could have ventured openly to teach in the days of Elizabeth and James. The concluding chapter of the present work makes a powerful statement of the position which a man, conscious of great and noble aims, would then have occupied; and shows, too, how familiar the age was with all methods of secret communication, and of hiding thought beneath a masque of conceit or folly. Applicably to this subject, I quote a paragraph from a manuscript of the author’s, not intended for present publication:–
‘It was a time when authors, who treated of a scientific politics and of a scientific ethics internally connected with it, naturally preferred this more philosophic, symbolic method of indicating their connection with their writings, which would limit the indication to those who could pierce within the veil of a philosophic symbolism. It was the time when the cipher, in which one could write ‘_omnia per omnia_,’ was in such request, and when ‘wheel ciphers’ and ‘doubles’ were thought not unworthy of philosophic notice. It was a time, too, when the phonographic art was cultivated, and put to other uses than at present, and when a ‘_nom de plume_’ was required for other purposes than to serve as the refuge of an author’s modesty, or vanity, or caprice. It was a time when puns, and charades, and enigmas, and anagrams, and monograms, and ciphers, and puzzles, were not good for sport and child’s play merely; when they had need to be close; when they had need to be solvable, at least, only to those who _should_ solve them. It was a time when all the latent capacities of the English language were put in requisition, and it was flashing and crackling, through all its lengths and breadths, with puns and quips, and conceits, and jokes, and satires, and inlined with philosophic secrets that opened down “into the bottom of a tomb”–that opened into the Tower–that opened on the scaffold and the block.’
I quote, likewise, another passage, because I think the reader will see in it the noble earnestness of the author’s character, and may partly imagine the sacrifices which this research has cost her:–
‘The great secret of the Elizabethan age did not lie where any superficial research could ever have discovered it. It was not left within the range of any accidental disclosure. It did not lie on the surface of any Elizabethan document. The most diligent explorers of these documents, in two centuries and a quarter, had not found it. No faintest suspicion of it had ever crossed the mind of the most recent, and clear-sighted, and able investigator of the Baconian remains. It was buried in the lowest depths of the lowest deeps of the deep Elizabethan Art; that Art which no plummet, till now, has ever sounded. It was locked with its utmost reach of traditionary cunning. It was buried in the inmost recesses of the esoteric Elizabethan learning. It was tied with a knot that had passed the scrutiny and baffled the sword of an old, suspicious, dying, military government–a knot that none could cut–a knot that must be untied.
‘The great secret of the Elizabethan Age was inextricably reserved by the founders of a new learning, the prophetic and more nobly gifted minds of a new and nobler race of men, for a research that should test the mind of the discoverer, and frame and subordinate it to that so sleepless and indomitable purpose of the prophetic aspiration. It was “the device” by which they undertook to live again in the ages in which their achievements and triumphs were forecast, and to come forth and rule again, not in one mind, not in the few, not in the many, but in all. “For there is no throne like that throne in the thoughts of men,” which the ambition of these men climbed and compassed.
‘The principal works of the Elizabethan Philosophy, those in which the new method of learning was practically applied to the noblest subjects, were presented to the world in the form of AN ENIGMA. It was a form well fitted to divert inquiry, and baffle even the research of the scholar for a time; but one calculated to provoke the philosophic curiosity, and one which would inevitably command a research that could end only with the true solution. That solution was reserved for one who would recognise, at last, in the disguise of the great impersonal teacher, the disguise of a new learning. It waited for the reader who would observe, at last, those thick-strewn scientific clues, those thick-crowding enigmas, those perpetual beckonings from the “theatre” into the judicial palace of the mind. It was reserved for the student who would recognise, at last, the mind that was seeking so perseveringly to whisper its tale of outrage, and “the secrets it was forbid.” It waited for one who would answer, at last, that philosophic challenge, and say, “Go on, I’ll follow thee!” It was reserved for one who would count years as days, for the love of the truth it hid; who would never turn back on the long road of initiation, though all “THE IDOLS” must be left behind in its stages; who would never stop until it stopped in that new cave of Apollo, where the handwriting on the wall spells anew the old Delphic motto, and publishes the word that “_unties_ the spell.”
On this object, which she conceives so loftily, the author has bestowed the solitary and self-sustained toil of many years. The volume now before the reader, together with the historical demonstration which it pre-supposes, is the product of a most faithful and conscientious labour, and a truly heroic devotion of intellect and heart. No man or woman has ever thought or written more sincerely than the author of this book. She has given nothing less than her life to the work. And, as if for the greater trial of her constancy, her theory was divulged, some time ago, in so partial and unsatisfactory a manner–with so exceedingly imperfect a statement of its claims–as to put her at great disadvantage before the world. A single article from her pen, purporting to be the first of a series, appeared in an American Magazine; but unexpected obstacles prevented the further publication in that form, after enough had been done to assail the prejudices of the public, but far too little to gain its sympathy. Another evil followed. An English writer (in a ‘Letter to the Earl of Ellesmere,’ published within a few months past) has thought it not inconsistent with the fair-play, on which his country prides itself, to take to himself this lady’s theory, and favour the public with it as his own original conception, without allusion to the author’s prior claim. In reference to this pamphlet, she generously says:–
‘This has not been a selfish enterprise. It is not a personal concern. It is a discovery which belongs not to an individual, and not to a people. Its fields are wide enough and rich enough for us all; and he that has no work, and whoso will, let him come and labour in them. The field is the world’s; and the world’s work henceforth is in it. So that it be known in its real comprehension, in its true relations to the weal of the world, what matters it? So that the truth, which is dearer than all the rest–which abides with us when all others leave us, dearest then–so that the truth, which is neither yours nor mine, but yours _and_ mine, be known, loved, honoured, emancipated, mitred, crowned, adored–_who_ loses anything, that does not find it.’ ‘And what matters it,’ says the philosophic wisdom, speaking in the abstract, ‘what name it is proclaimed in, and what letters of the alphabet we know it by?–what matter is it, so that they _spell_ the name that is _good_ for ALL, and _good_ for _each_,’–for that is the REAL name here?
Speaking on the author’s behalf, however, I am not entitled to imitate her magnanimity; and, therefore, hope that the writer of the pamphlet will disclaim any purpose of assuming to himself, on the ground of a slight and superficial performance, the result which she has attained at the cost of many toils and sacrifices.
And now, at length, after many delays and discouragements, the work comes forth. It had been the author’s original purpose to publish it in America; for she wished her own country to have the glory of solving the enigma of those mighty dramas, and thus adding a new and higher value to the loftiest productions of the English mind. It seemed to her most fit and desirable, that America–having received so much from England, and returned so little–should do what remained to be done towards rendering this great legacy available, as its authors meant it to be, to all future time. This purpose was frustrated; and it will be seen in what spirit she acquiesces.
‘The author was forced to bring it back, and contribute it to the literature of the country from which it was derived, and to which it essentially and inseparably belongs. It was written, every word of it, on English ground, in the midst of the old familiar scenes and household names, that even in our nursery songs revive the dear ancestral memories; those “royal pursuivants” with which our mother-land still follows and retakes her own. It was written in the land of our old kings and queens, and in the land of _our own_ PHILOSOPHERS and POETS also. It was written on the spot where the works it unlocks were written, and in the perpetual presence of the English mind; the mind that spoke before in the cultured few, and that speaks to-day in the cultured many. And it is now at last, after so long a time–after all, as it should be–the English press that prints it. It is the scientific English press, with those old gags (wherewith our kings and queens sought to stop it, ere they knew what it was) champed asunder, ground to powder, and with its last Elizabethan shackle shaken off, that restores, “in a better hour,” the torn and garbled science committed to it, and gives back “the bread cast on its sure waters.”‘
There remains little more for me to say. I am not the editor of this work; nor can I consider myself fairly entitled to the honor (which, if I deserved it, I should feel to be a very high as well as a perilous one) of seeing my name associated with the author’s on the title-page. My object has been merely to speak a few words, which might, perhaps, serve the purpose of placing my countrywoman upon a ground of amicable understanding with the public. She has a vast preliminary difficulty to encounter. The first feeling of every reader must be one of absolute repugnance towards a person who seeks to tear out of the Anglo-Saxon heart the name which for ages it has held dearest, and to substitute another name, or names, to which the settled belief of the world has long assigned a very different position. What I claim for this work is, that the ability employed in its composition has been worthy of its great subject, and well employed for our intellectual interests, whatever judgment the public may pass upon the questions discussed. And, after listening to the author’s interpretation of the Plays, and seeing how wide a scope she assigns to them, how high a purpose, and what richness of inner meaning, the thoughtful reader will hardly return again–not wholly, at all events–to the common view of them and of their author. It is for the public to say whether my countrywoman has proved her theory. In the worst event, if she has failed, her failure will be more honorable than most people’s triumphs; since it must fling upon the old tombstone, at Stratford-on-Avon, the noblest tributary wreath that has ever lain there.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE PLAYS OF SHAKSPERE.
* * * * *
‘One time will owe another.’–_Coriolanus_.
This work is designed to propose to the consideration, not of the learned world only, but of all ingenuous and practical minds, a new development of that system of practical philosophy from which THE SCIENTIFIC ARTS of the Modern Ages proceed, and which has already become, just to the extent to which it has been hitherto opened, the wisdom,–the universally approved, and practically adopted, Wisdom of the _Moderns_.
It is a development of this philosophy, which was deliberately postponed by the great Scientific Discoverers and Reformers, in whose Scientific Discoveries and Reformations our organised advancements in speculation and practice have their origin;–Reformers, whose scientific acquaintance with historic laws forbade the idea of any immediate and sudden cures of the political and social evils which their science searches to the root, and which it was designed to eradicate.
The proposition to be demonstrated in the ensuing pages is this: That the new philosophy which strikes out from the Court–from _the Court_ of that despotism that names and gives form to the Modern Learning,–which comes to us from the Court of the last of the Tudors and the first of the Stuarts,–that new philosophy which we have received, and accepted, and adopted as a practical philosophy, not merely in that grave department of learning in which it comes to us professionally _as_ philosophy, but in that not less important department of learning in which it comes to us in the disguise of amusement,–in the form of fable and allegory and parable,–the proposition is, that this Elizabethan philosophy is, in these two forms of it,–not two philosophies,–not two Elizabethan philosophies, not two new and wondrous philosophies of nature and practice, not two new Inductive philosophies, but one,–one and the same: that it is philosophy in both these forms, with its veil of allegory and parable, and without it; that it is philosophy applied to much more important subjects in the disguise of the parable, than it is in the open statement; that it is philosophy in both these cases, and not philosophy in one of them, and a brutish, low-lived, illiterate, unconscious spontaneity in the other.
The proposition is that it proceeds, in both cases, from a reflective deliberative, eminently deliberative, eminently conscious, _designing_ mind; and that the coincidence which is manifest not in the design only, and in the structure, but in the detail to the minutest points of execution, is _not_ accidental.
It is a proposition which is demonstrated in this volume by means of evidence derived principally from the books of this philosophy–books in which the safe delivery and tradition of it to the future was artistically contrived and triumphantly achieved:–the books of a new ‘school’ in philosophy; books in which the connection with the school is not always openly asserted; books in which the true names of the authors are not always found on the title-page;–the books of a school, too, which was compelled to have recourse to translations in some cases, for the safe delivery and tradition of its new learning.
The facts which lie on the surface of this question, which are involved in the bare statement of it, are sufficient of themselves to justify and command this inquiry.
The fact that these two great branches of the philosophy of observation and practice, both already _virtually_ recognised as that,–the one openly, subordinating the physical forces of nature to the wants of man, changing the face of the earth under our eyes, leaving behind it, with its new magic, the miracles of Oriental dreams and fables;–the other, under its veil of wildness and spontaneity, under its thick-woven veil of mirth and beauty, with its inducted precepts and dispersed directions, insinuating itself into all our practice, winding itself into every department of human affairs; speaking from the legislator’s lips, at the bar, from the pulpit,–putting in its word every where, always at hand, always sufficient, constituting itself, in virtue of its own irresistible claims and in the face of what we are told of it, the oracle, the great practical, mysterious, but universally acknowledged, oracle of our modern life; the fact that these two great branches of the modern philosophy make their appearance in history at the same moment, that they make their appearance in the same company of men–in that same little courtly company of Elizabethan Wits and Men of Letters that the revival of the ancient learning brought out here–this is the fact that strikes the eye at the first glance at this inquiry.
But that this is none other than that same little clique of disappointed and defeated politicians who undertook to head and organize a popular opposition against the government, and were compelled to retreat from that enterprise, the best of of them effecting their retreat with some difficulty, others failing entirely to accomplish it, is the next notable fact which the surface of the inquiry exhibits. That these two so illustrious branches of the modern learning were produced for the ostensible purpose of illustrating and adorning the tyrannies which the men, under whose countenance and protection they are produced, were vainly attempting, or had vainly attempted to set bounds to or overthrow, is a fact which might seem of itself to suggest inquiry. When insurrections are suppressed, when ‘the monstrous enterprises of rebellious subjects are overthrown, then FAME, who is _the posthumous sister of the giants_,–the sister of _defeated_ giants springs up’; so a man who had made some political experiments himself that were not very successful, tells us.
The fact that the men under whose patronage and in whose service ‘Will the Jester’ first showed himself, were men who were secretly endeavouring to make political capital of that new and immense motive power, that not yet available, and not very easily organised political power which was already beginning to move the masses here then, and already threatening, to the observant eye, with its portentous movement, the foundations of tyranny, the fact, too, that these men were understood to have made use of the stage unsuccessfully as a means of immediate political effect, are facts which lie on the surface of the history of these works, and unimportant as it may seem to the superficial enquirer, it will be found to be anything but irrelevant as this inquiry proceeds. The man who is said to have contributed a thousand pounds towards the purchase of the theatre and wardrobe and machinery, in which these philosophical plays were first exhibited, was obliged to stay away from the first appearance of Hamlet, in the perfected excellence of the poetic philosophic design, in consequence of being immured in the Tower at that time for an attempt to overthrow the government. This was the ostensible patron and friend of the Poet; the partner of his treason was the ostensible friend and patron of the Philosopher. So nearly did these philosophic minds, that were ‘not for an age but for all time,’ approach each other in _this_ point. But the _protege_ and friend and well-nigh adoring admirer of the _Poet_, was also the _protege_ and friend and well-nigh adoring admirer of the Philosopher. The fact that these two philosophies, in this so close juxta-position, always in contact, playing always into each other’s hands, never once heard of each other, know nothing of each other, is a fact which would seem at the first blush to point to the secret of these ‘Know-Nothings,’ who are men of science in an age of popular ignorance, and therefore have a ‘secret’; who are men of science in an age in which the questions of science are ‘forbidden questions,’ and are therefore of necessity ‘Know-Nothings.’
As to Ben Jonson, and the evidence of his avowed admiration for the author of these plays, from the point of view here taken, it is sufficient to say in passing, that this man, whose natural abilities sufficed to raise him from a position hardly less mean and obscure than that of his great rival, was so fortunate as to attract the attention of some of the most illustrious personages of that time; men whose observation of natures was quickened by their necessities; men who were compelled to employ ‘living instruments’ in the accomplishment of their designs; who were skilful in detecting the qualities they had need of, and skilful in adapting means to ends. This dramatist’s connection with the stage of course belongs to this history. His connection with the author of these Plays, and with the player himself, are points not to be overlooked. But the literary history of this age is not yet fully developed. It is enough to say here, that he chanced to be honored with the patronage of _three_ of the most illustrious personages of the age in which he lived. He had _three_ patrons. One was Sir Walter Raleigh, in whose service he was; one was the Lord Bacon, whose well nigh idolatrous admirer he appears also to have been; the other was _Shakspere_, to whose favor he appears to have owed so much. With his passionate admiration of these last two, stopping only ‘this side of idolatry’ in his admiration for them both, and being under such deep personal obligations to them both, why could he not have mentioned some day to the author of the Advancement of Learning, the author of Hamlet–Hamlet who also ‘lacked advancement?’ What more natural than to suppose that these two philosophers, these men of a learning so exactly equal, might have some sympathy with each other, might like to meet each other. Till he has answered that question, any evidence which he may have to produce in apparent opposition to the conclusions here stated will not be of the least value.
These are questions which any one might properly ask, who had only glanced at the most superficial or easily accessible facts in this case, and without any evidence from any other source to stimulate the inquiry. These are facts which lie on the surface of this history, which obtrude themselves on our notice, and demand inquiry.
That which lies immediately below this surface, accessible to any research worthy of the name is, that these two so new extraordinary developments of the modern philosophy which come to us without any _superficially_ avowed connexion, which come to us as _branches_ of learning merely, do in fact meet and unite in one stem, ‘which has a quality of entireness and continuance throughout,’ even to the most delicate fibre of them both, even to the ‘roots’ of their trunk, ‘and the strings of those roots,’ which trunk lies below the surface of that age, buried, carefully buried, for reasons assigned; and that it is the sap of this concealed trunk, this new trunk of sciences, which makes both these branches so vigorous, which makes the flowers and the fruit both so fine, and so unlike anything that we have had from any other source in the way of literature or art.
The question of the authorship of the great philosophic poems which are the legacy of the Elizabethan Age to us, is an incidental question in this inquiry, and is incidentally treated here. The discovery of the authorship of these works was the necessary incident to that more thorough inquiry into their nature and design, of which the views contained in this volume are the result. At a certain stage of this inquiry,–in the later stages of it,–that discovery became inevitable. The primary question here is one of universal immediate practical concern and interest. The solution of this literary problem, happens to be involved in it. It was the necessary prescribed, pre-ordered incident of the reproduction and reintegration of the Inductive Philosophy in its application to its ‘principal’ and ‘noblest subjects,’ its ‘more chosen subjects.’
The HISTORICAL KEY to the Elizabethan Art of Tradition, which formed the first book of this work as it was originally prepared for the press, is not included in the present publication. It was the part of the work first written, and the results of more recent research require to be incorporated in it, in order that it should represent adequately, in that particular aspect of it, the historical discovery which it is the object of this work to produce. Moreover, the demonstration which is contained in this volume appeared to constitute properly a volume of itself.
Those who examine the subject from this ground, will find the external collateral evidence, the ample historical confirmation which is at hand, not necessary for the support of the propositions advanced here, though it will, of course, be inquired for, when once this ground is made.
The embarrassing circumstances under which this great system of scientific practice makes its appearance in history, have not yet been taken into the account in our interpretation of it. We have already the documents which contain the theory and rule of the modern civilisation, which is the civilisation of science in our hands. We have in our hands also, newly lit, newly trimmed, lustrous with the genius of our own time, that very lamp with which we are instructed to make this inquiry, that very light which we are told we must bring to bear upon the obscurities of these documents, that very light in which we are told, we must unroll them; for they come to us, as the interpreter takes pains to tell us, with an ‘infolded’ science in them. That light of ‘_times_,’ that knowledge of the conditions under which these works were published, which is essential to the true interpretation of them, thanks to our contemporary historians, is already in our hands. What we need now is to explore the secrets of this philosophy with it,–necessarily secrets at the time it was issued–what we need now is to open these books of a new learning in it, and read them by it.
In that part of the work above referred to, from which some extracts are subjoined for the purpose of introducing intelligibly the demonstration contained in this volume, it was the position of the Elizabethan Men of Letters that was exhibited, and the conditions which prescribed to the founders of a new school in philosophy, which was none other than the philosophy of practice, the form of their works and the concealment of their connection with them–conditions which made the secret of an Association of ‘Naturalists’ applying science in that age to the noblest subjects of speculative inquiry, and to the highest departments of practice, a life and death secret. The _physical_ impossibility of publishing at that time, anything openly relating to the questions in which the weal of men is most concerned, and which are the primary questions of the science of man’s relief, the opposition which stood at that time prepared to crush any enterprise proposing openly for its end, the common interests of man as man, is the point which it was the object of that part of the work to exhibit. It was presented, not in the form of general statement merely, but in those memorable particulars which the falsified, suppressed, garbled history of the great founder of this school betrays to us; not as it is exhibited in contemporary documents merely, but as it is carefully collected from these, and from the _traditions_ of ‘the next ages.’
That the suppressed Elizabethan Reformers and Innovators were men so far in advance of their time, that they were compelled to have recourse to literature for the purpose of instituting a gradual encroachment on popular opinions, a gradual encroachment on the prejudices, the ignorance, the stupidity of the oppressed and suffering masses of the human kind, and for the purpose of making over the practical development of the higher parts of their science, to ages in which the advancements they instituted had brought the common mind within hearing of these higher truths; that these were men whose aims were so opposed to the power that was still predominant then,–though the ‘wrestling’ that would shake that predominance, was already on foot,–that it became necessary for them to conceal their lives as well as their works,–to veil the true worth and nobility of them, to suffer those ends which they sought as means, means which they subordinated to the noblest uses, to be regarded in their own age as their _ends_; that they were compelled to play this great game in secret, in their own time, referring themselves to posthumous effects for the explanation of their designs; postponing their honour to ages able to discover their worth; this is the proposition which is derived here from the works in which the tradition of this learning is conveyed to us.
But in the part of this work referred to, from which the ensuing extracts are made, it was the life, and not merely the writings of the founders of this school which was produced in evidence of this claim. It was the life in which these disguised ulterior aims show themselves from the first on the historic surface, in the form of great contemporaneous events, events which have determined and shaped the course of the world’s history since then; it was the life in which these intents show themselves too boldly on the surface, in which they penetrate the artistic disguise, and betray themselves to the antagonisms which were waiting to crush them; it was the life which combined these antagonisms for its suppression; it was the life and death of the projector and founder of the liberties of the New World, and the obnoxious historian and critic of the tyrannies of the Old, it was the life and death of Sir Walter Raleigh that was produced as the Historical Key to the Elizabethan Art of Tradition. It was the Man of the Globe Theatre, it was the Man in the Tower with his two Hemispheres, it was the modern ‘Hercules and his load too,’ that made in the original design of it, the Frontispiece of this volume.
‘But stay I see thee in the hemisphere Advanced and made a _constellation_ there. Shine forth, thou Star of Poets, and with _rage Or influence_, chide or cheer the drooping stage, Which since thy flight from hence hath mourned like night, And despairs day, but for thy Volume’s light.
[‘To draw no envy _Shake-spear_ on thy name, Am I _thus ample_ to thy book and fame.’–BEN JONSON.]
The machinery that was necessarily put in operation for the purpose of conducting successfully, under those conditions, any honourable or decent enterprise, presupposes a forethought and skill, a faculty for dramatic arrangement and successful plotting in historic materials, happily so remote from anything which the exigencies of our time have ever suggested to us, that we are not in a position to read at a glance the history of such an age; the history which lies on the surface of such an age when such men–men who are men–are at work in it. These are the _Elizabethan_ men that we have to interpret here, because, though they rest from their labours, their works do follow them–the Elizabethan _Men_ of _Letters_; and we must know what that title means before we can read them or their works, before we can ‘_untie_ their _spell_.’
THE AGE OF ELIZABETH, AND THE ELIZABETHAN MEN OF LETTERS.
‘The times, in many cases, give great light to _true_ interpretations.’
_Advancement of Learning_.
‘On fair ground
I could beat forty of them.’
‘I could myself
Take up a brace of the best of them, yea _the two tribunes_.’
‘But now ’tis odds beyond arithmetic, And _manhood_ is called _foolery_ when it stands Against a falling fabric.’–_Coriolanus_.
The fact that the immemorial liberties of the English PEOPLE, and that idea of human government and society which they brought with them to this island, had been a second time violently overborne and suppressed by a military chieftainship,–one for which the unorganised popular resistance was no match,–that the English People had been a second time ‘conquered’–for that is the word which the Elizabethan historian suggests–less than a hundred years before the beginning of the Elizabethan Age, is a fact in history which the great Elizabethan philosopher has contrived to send down to us, along with his philosophical works, as the key to the reading of them. It is a fact with which we are all now more or less familiar, but it is one which the Elizabethan Poet and Philosopher became acquainted with under circumstances calculated to make a much more vivid impression on the sensibilities than the most accurate and vivacious narratives and expositions of it which our time can furnish us.
That this second conquest was unspeakably more degrading than the first had been, inasmuch as it was the conquest of a chartered, constitutional liberty, recovered and established in acts that had made the English history, recovered on battle-fields that were fresh, not in oral tradition only; inasmuch as it was effected in violation of that which made the name of Englishmen, that which made the universally recognised principle of the national life; inasmuch, too, as it was an _undivided_ conquest, the conquest of _the single will_–the will of the ‘one only man’–not unchecked of commons only, unchecked by barons, unchecked by the church, unchecked by _council_ of any kind, the pure arbitrary absolute will, the pure idiosyncrasy, the crowned demon of the _lawless_, irrational will, unchained and armed with the sword of the common might, and clothed with the divinity of the common right; that _this_ was a conquest unspeakably more debasing than the conquest ‘commonly so called,’–this, which left no nobility,–which clasped its collar in open day on the proudest Norman neck, and not on the Saxon only, which left only one nation of slaves and bondmen–that _this_ was a _subjugation_–that this was a government which the English nation had not before been familiar with, the men whose great life-acts were performed under it did not lack the sensibility and the judgment to perceive.
A more _hopeless_ conquest than the Norman conquest had been, it might also have seemed, regarded in some of the aspects which it presented to the eye of the statesman then; for it was in the division of the former that the element of freedom stole in, it was in the parliaments of that division that the limitation of the feudal monarchy had begun.
But still more fatal was the aspect of it which its effects on the national character were continually obtruding then on the observant eye,–that debasing, deteriorating, demoralising effect which such a government must needs exert on _such_ a nation, a nation of Englishmen, a nation with such memories. The Poet who writes under this government, with an appreciation of the subject quite as lively as that of any more recent historian, speaks of ‘the face of men’ as a ‘motive’–a _motive_ power, a revolutionary force, which ought to be sufficient of itself to raise, if need be, an armed opposition to such a government, and sustain it, too, without the compulsion of an oath to reinforce it; at least, this is one of the three motives which he produces in his conspiracy as motives that ought to suffice to supply the power wanting to effect a change in such a government.
‘If not _the face_ of _men_,
The sufferance of our _souls, the time’s abuse_,– _If these be motives weak, break of betimes._’
There is no use in attempting a change where such motives are weak.
‘Break off _betimes_,
And every man hence to his idle bed.’
That this political degradation, and its deteriorating and corrupting influence on the national character, was that which presented itself to the politician’s eye at that time as the most fatal aspect of the question, or as the thing most to be deprecated in the continuance of such a state of things, no one who studies carefully the best writings of that time can doubt.
And it must be confessed, that this is an influence which shows itself very palpably, not in the degrading hourly detail only of which the noble mind is, in such circumstances, the suffering witness, and the secretly protesting suffering participator, but in those large events which make the historic record. The England of the Plantagenets, that sturdy England which Henry the Seventh had to conquer, and not its pertinacious choice of colours only, not its fixed determination to have the choosing of the colour of its own ‘Roses’ merely, but its inveterate idea of the sanctity of ‘_law_’ permeating all the masses–that was a very different England from the England which Henry the Seventh willed to his children; it was a very different England, at least, from the England which Henry the Eighth willed to _his_.
That some sparks of the old fire were not wanting, however,–that the nation which had kept alive in the common mind through so many generations, without the aid of books, the memory of that ‘ancestor’ that ‘made its laws,’ was not after all, perhaps, without a future–began to be evident about the time that the history of ‘that last king of England who was the ancestor’ of the English Stuart, was dedicated by the author of the Novum Organum to the Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles I., not without a glance at these portents.
Circumstances tending to throw doubt upon the durability of this institution–circumstances which seemed to portend that this monstrous innovation was destined on the whole to be a much shorter-lived one than the usurpation it had displaced–had not been wanting, indeed, from the first, in spite of those discouraging aspects of the question which were more immediately urged upon the contemporary observer.
It was in the eleventh century; it was in the middle of the Dark Ages, that the Norman and his followers effected their successful landing and lodgement here; it was in the later years of the fifteenth century,–it was when the bell that tolled through Europe for a century and a half the closing hour of the Middle Ages, had already begun its peals, that the Tudor ‘came in by battle.’
That magnificent chain of events which begins in the middle of the fifteenth century to rear the dividing line between the Middle Ages and the Modern, had been slow in reaching England with its convulsions: it had originated on the continent. The great work of the restoration of the learning of antiquity had been accomplished there: Italy, Germany, and France had taken the lead in it by turns; Spain had contributed to it. The scientific discoveries which the genius of Modern Europe had already effected under that stimulus, without waiting for the New Organum, had all originated on the continent. The criticism on the institutions which the decaying Roman Empire had given to its Northern conquerors,–that criticism which necessarily accompanied the revival of _learning_ began there. Not yet recovered from the disastrous wars of the fifteenth century, suffering from the diabolical tyranny that had overtaken her at that fatal crisis, England could make but a feeble response as yet to these movements. They had been going on for a century before the influence of them began to be visible here. But they were at work here, notwithstanding: they were germinating and taking root here, in that frozen winter of a nation’s discontent; and when they did begin to show themselves on the historic surface,–here in this ancient soil of freedom,–in this natural retreat of it, from the extending, absorbing, consolidating feudal tyrannies,–here in this ‘little world by itself’–this nursery of the genius of the North–with its chief races, with its union of races, its ‘happy breed of men,’ as our Poet has it, who notes all these points, and defines its position, regarding it, not with a narrow English partiality, but looking at it on his Map of the World, which he always carries with him,–looking at it from his ‘Globe,’ which has the Old World and the New on it, and the Past and the Future,–‘a precious stone set in the silver sea,’ he calls it, ‘in a great pool, a _swan’s nest_’:–when that seed of all ages did at last show itself above the ground here, here in this nursery of hope for man, it would be with quite another kind of fruit on its boughs, from any that the continent had been able to mature from it.
It was in the later years of the sixteenth century, in the latter half of the reign of Elizabeth, that the Printing press, and the revived Learning of Antiquity, and the Reformation, and the discovery of America, the new revival of the genius of the North in art and literature, and the Scientific Discoveries which accompanied this movement on the continent, began to combine their effects here; and it was about that time that the political horizon began to exhibit to the statesman’s eye, those portents which both the poet and the philosopher of that time, have described with so much iteration and amplitude. These new social elements did not appear to promise in their combination here, stability to the institutions which Henry the Seventh, and Henry the Eighth had established in this island.
The genius of Elizabeth conspired with the anomaly of her position to make her the steadfast patron and promoter of these movements,–worthy grand-daughter of Henry the seventh as she was, and opposed on principle, as she was, to the ultimatum to which they were visibly and stedfastly tending; but, at the same time, her sagacity and prudence enabled her to ward off the immediate result. She secured her throne,–she was able to maintain, in the rocking of those movements, her own political and spiritual supremacy,–she made gain and capital for absolutism out of them,–the inevitable reformation she herself assumed, and set bounds to: whatever new freedom there was, was still the freedom of her will; she could even secure the throne of her successor: it was mischief for Charles I. that she was nursing. The consequence of _all_ this was–_the Age of Elisabeth_.
That was what this Queen meant it should be literally, and that was what it was apparently. But it so happened, that her will and humours on some great questions jumped with the time, and her dire necessities compelled her to lead the nation on its own track; or else it would have been too late, perhaps, for that exhibition of the monarchical institution,–that revival of the heroic, and _ante_-heroic ages, which her reign exhibits, to come off here as it did at that time.
It is this that makes the point in this literary history. This is the key that unlocks the secret of the Elizabethan Art of Delivery and Tradition. Without any material resources to sustain it–strong in the national sentiments,–strong in the moral forces with which the past controls the present,–strong in that natural abhorrence of change with which nature protects her larger growths,–that principle which tyranny can test so long with impunity–which it can test with impunity, till it forgets that this also has in nature its limits,–strong in the absence of any combination of opposition, to the young awakening England of that age, that now hollow image of the past, that phantom of the military force that had been, which seemed to be waiting only the first breath of the popular will to dissolve it, was as yet an armed and terrific reality; its iron was on every neck, its fetter was on every step, and all the new forces, and world-grasping aims and aspirations which that age was generating were held down and cramped, and tortured in its chains, dashing their eagle wings in vain against its iron limits.
As yet all England cowered and crouched, in blind servility, at the foot of that terrible, but unrecognised embodiment of its own power, armed out of its own armoury, with the weapons that were turned against it. So long as any yet extant national sentiment, or prejudice, was not yet directly assailed–so long as that arbitrary power was yet wise, or fortunate enough to withhold the blow which should make the individual sense of outrage, or the feeling of a class the common one–so long as those peaceful, social elements, yet waited the spark that was wanting to unite them–so long ‘the laws of England’ might be, indeed, at a Falstaff’s or a Nym’s or a Bardolph’s ‘commandment,’ for the Poet has but put into ‘honest Jack’s’ mouth, a boast that worse men than he, made good in his time–so long, the faith, the lives, the liberties, the dearest earthly hopes, of England’s proudest subjects, her noblest, her bravest, her best, her most learned, her most accomplished, her most inspired, might be at the mercy of a woman’s caprices, or the sport of a fool’s sheer will and obstinacy, or conditioned on some low-lived ‘favorites’ whims. _So long_: And how long was that?–who does not know how long it was?–that was long enough for the whole Elizabethan Age to happen in. In the reign of Elizabeth, and in the reign of her successor, and longer still, that was the condition of it–till its last act was finished–till its last word was spoken and penned–till its last mute sign was made–till all its celestial inspiration had returned to the God who gave it–till all its Promethean clay was cold again.
This was the combination of conditions of which the Elizabethan Literature was the result. The Elizabethan Men of Letters, the organisers and chiefs of the modern civilization were the result of it.
These were men in whom the genius of the North in its happiest union of developments, under its choicest and most favourable conditions of culture, in its yet fresh, untamed, unbroken, northern vigour, was at last subjected to the stimulus and provocation which the ancient learning brings with it to the northern mind–to the now unimaginable stimulus which, the revival of the ancient art and learning brought with it to the mind of Europe in that age,–already secure, in its own indigenous development, already advancing to its own great maturity under the scholastic culture–the meagre Scholastic, and the rich Romantic culture–of the Mediaeval Era. The Elizabethan Men of Letters are men who found in those new and dazzling stores of art and literature which the movements of their age brought in all their freshly restored perfection to them, only the summons to their own slumbering intellectual activities,–fed with fires that old Eastern and Southern civilizations never knew, nurtured in the depths of a nature whose depths the northern antiquity had made; they were men who found in the learning of the South and the East–in the art and speculation that had satisfied the classic antiquity–only the definition of their own nobler want.
The first result of the revival of the ancient learning in this island was, a report of its ‘defects.’ The first result of that revival here was a map–a universal map of the learning and the arts which the conditions of man’s life require–a new map or globe of learning on which lands and worlds, undreamed of by the ancients, are traced. ‘A map or globe’ on which ‘the principal and supreme sciences,’ the sciences that are _essential_ to the human kind, are put down among ‘the parts that lie fresh and waste, and not converted by the industry of man.’ The first result of the revival of learning here was ‘a plot’ for the supply of these deficiencies.
The Elizabethan Men of Letters were men, in whom the revival of ‘the Wisdom of the Ancients,’ which in its last results, in its most select and boasted conservations had combined in vain to save antiquity, found the genius of a happier race, able to point out at a glance the defect in it; men who saw with a glance at those old books what was the matter with them; men prepared already to overlook from the new height of criticism which this sturdy insular development of the practical genius of the North created, the remains of that lost civilization–the splendours rescued from the wreck of empires,–the wisdom which had failed so fatally in practice that it must needs cross from a lost world of learning to the barbarian’s new one, to find pupils–that it must needs cross the gulf of a thousand years in learning–such work had it made of it–ere it could revive,–the wisdom rescued from the wreck it had piloted to ruin, _not_ to enslave, and ensnare, and doom new ages, and better races, with its futilities, but to be hung up with its immortal beacon-light, to shew the track of a new learning, to shew to the contrivers of the chart of new ages, the breakers of that old ignorance, that old arrogant wordy barren speculation. For these men were men who would not fish up the chart of a drowned world for the purpose of seeing how nearly they could conduct another under different conditions of time and races to the same conclusion. And they were men of a different turn of mind entirely from those who lay themselves out on enterprises having that tendency. The result of this English survey of learning was the sanctioned and organised determination of the modern speculation to those new fields which it has already occupied, and its organised, but secret determination, to that end of a true learning which the need of man, in its whole comprehension in _this_ theory of it, constitutes.
But the men with whom this proceeding originates, the Elizabethan Men of Letters, were, in their own time, ‘the Few.’ They were the chosen men, not of an age only, but of a race, ‘the noblest that ever lived in the tide of times;’ men enriched with the choicest culture of their age, when that culture involved not the acquisition of the learning of the ancients only, but the most intimate acquaintance with all those recent and contemporaneous developments with which its restoration on the Continent had been attended. Was it strange that these men should find themselves without sympathy in an age like that?–an age in which the masses were still unlettered, callous with wrongs, manacled with blind traditions, or swaying hither and thither, with the breath of a common prejudice or passion, or swayed hither and thither by the changeful humours and passions, or the conflicting dogmas and conceits of their rulers. That is the reason why the development of that age comes to us as a _Literature_. That is why it is on the surface of it _Elizabethan_. That is the reason why the leadership of the modern ages, when it was already here in the persons of its chief interpreters and prophets, could get as yet no recognition of its right to teach and rule–could get as yet nothing but _paper_ to print itself on, nothing but a _pen_ to hew its way with, nor that, without death and danger dogging it at the heels, and threatening it, at every turn, so that it could only wave, in mute gesticulation, its signals to the future. It had to affect, in that time, bookishness and wiry scholasticism. It had to put on sedulously the harmless old monkish gown, or the jester’s cap and bells, or any kind of a tatterdemalion robe that would hide, from head to heel, the waving of its purple. ‘_Motley’s_ the only wear,’ whispers the philosopher, peering through his privileged garb for a moment. King Charles II. had not more to do in reserving _himself_ in an evil time, and getting safely over to the year of his dominion.
Letters were the only ships that could pass those seas. But it makes a new style in literature, when such men as these, excluded from their natural sphere of activity, get driven into books, cornered into paragraphs, and compelled to unpack their hearts in letters. There is a new tone to the words spoken under such compression. It is a tone that the school and the cloister never rang with,–it is one that the fancy dealers in letters are not able to deal in. They are such words as Caesar speaks, when he puts his legions in battle array,–they are such words as were heard at Salamis one morning, when the breeze began to stiffen in the bay; and though they be many, never so many, and though they be musical, as is Apollo’s lute, that Lacedemonian ring is in each one of them. There is great business to be done in them, and their haste looks through their eyes. In the sighing of the lover, in the jest of the fool, in the raving of the madman, and not in Horatio’s philosophy only, you hear it.
The founders of the new science of nature and practice were men unspeakably too far above and beyond their time, to take its bone and muscle with them. There was no language in which their doctrines could have been openly conveyed to an English public at that time without fatal misconception. The truth, which was to them arrayed with the force of a universal obligation,–the truth, which was to them religion, would have been, of course, in an age in which a single, narrow-minded, prejudiced Englishwoman’s opinions were accepted as the ultimate rule of faith and practice, ‘flat atheism.’ What was with them loyalty to the supremacy of reason and conscience, would have been in their time madness and rebellion, and the majority would have started at it in amazement; and all men would have joined hands, in the name of truth and justice, to suppress it. The only thing that could be done in such circumstances was, to _translate_ their doctrine into the language of their time. They must take the current terms–the vague popular terms–as they found them, and restrict and enlarge them, and inform them with their new meanings, with a hint to ‘men of understanding’ as to the sense in which they use them. That is the key to the language in which their books for the future were written.
But who supposes that these men were so wholly super-human, so devoid of mortal affections and passions, so made up of ‘dry light,’ that they could retreat, with all those regal faculties, from the natural sphere of _their_ activity to the scholar’s cell, to make themselves over in books to a future in which their mortal natures could have no share,–a future which could not begin till all the breathers of their world were dead? Who supposes that the ‘staff’ of Prospero was the first choice of these chiefs?–these ‘heads of the State,’ appointed of nature to the Cure of the Common-Weal.
The leading minds of that age are not minds which owed their intellectual superiority to a disproportionate development of certain intellectual tendencies, or to a dwarfed or inferior endowment of those natural affections and personal qualifications which tend to limit men to the sphere of their particular sensuous existence. The mind of this school is the representative mind, and all men recognise it as that, because, in its products, that nature which is in all men, which philosophy had, till then, scorned to recognise, which the abstractionists had missed in their abstractions,–that nature of will, and sense, and passion, and inanity, is brought out in its true historical proportions, not as it exists in books, not as it exists in speech, but as it exists in the actual human life. It is the mind in which this historical principle, this motivity which is not reason, is brought in contact with the opposing and controlling element as it had not been before. In all its earth-born Titanic strength and fulness, it _is_ dragged up from its secret lurking-places, and confronted with its celestial antagonist. In all its self-contradiction and cowering unreason, it is set face to face with its celestial umpire, and subjected to her unrelenting criticism. There are depths in this microcosm which _this_ torch only has entered, silences which this speaker only has broken, cries which he only knows how to articulate.
‘The soundest disclosing and expounding of men is by their _natures_ and _ends_,’ so the one who is best qualified to give us information on this question tells us,–by their natures _and_ ends; ‘the weaker sort by their natures, and the _wisest_ by their ends’; and ‘_the distance_’ of this wisest sort ‘from the _ends_ to which they aspire,’ is that ‘from which one may take measure and scale of the rest of their actions and desires.’
The first end which these Elizabethan Men of Letters grasped at, the thing which they pursued with all the intensity and concentration of a master passion, was–_power_, political power. They wanted to rule their own time, and not the future only. ‘You are hurt, because you do not reign,’ is the inuendo which they permit us to apply to them as the key to their proceedings. ‘Such men as this are never at heart’s ease,’ Caesar remarks in confidence to a friend, ‘whiles they behold a greater than themselves.’ ‘Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf,’ he adds, ‘and tell me truly what thou think’st of him.’ These are the kind of men that seek instinctively ‘predominance,’ not in a clique or neighbourhood only,–they are not content with a domestic reflection of their image, they seek to stamp it on the state and on the world. These Elizabethan Men of Letters were men who sought from the first, with inveterate determination, to rule their own time, and they never gave up that point entirely. In one way or another, directly or indirectly, they were determined to make their influence felt in that age, in spite of the want of encouragement which the conditions of that time offered to such an enterprise. But they sought that end not instinctively only, but with the stedfastness of a rational, scientifically enlightened purpose. It was an enterprise in which the intense motivity of that new and so ‘conspicuous’ development of the particular and private nature, which lies at the root of such a genius, was sustained by the determination of that not less superior development of the nobler nature in man, by the motivity of the intellect, by the sentiment which waits on _that_, by the motive of ‘the larger whole,’ which is, in this science of it, ‘the worthier.’
We do not need to apply the key of times to those indirectly historical remains in which the real history, the life and soul of a time, is always best found, and in which the history of such a time, if written at all, must necessarily be inclosed; we do not need to unlock these works to perceive the indications of suppressed movements in that age, in which the most illustrious men of the age were primarily concerned, the history of which has not yet fully transpired. We do not need to find the key to the cipher in which the history of that time is written, to perceive that there was to have been a change in the government here at one time, very different from the one which afterwards occurred, if the original plans of these men had succeeded. It is not the Plays only that are full of that frustrated enterprise.
These were the kind of men who are not easily baffled. They changed their tactics, but not their ends; and the enterprises which were conducted with so much secresy under the surveillance of the Tudor, began already to crown themselves as certainties, and compare their ‘olives of endless age’ with the spent tombs of brass’ and ‘tyrant’s crests,’ at that sure prospect which, a change of dynasties at that moment seemed to open,–at least, to men who were in a position then to estimate its consequences.
That _this_, at all events, was a state of things that was not going to endure, became palpable about that time to the philosophic mind. The transition from the rule of a sovereign who was mistress of ‘the situation,’ who understood that it was a popular power which she was wielding–the transition from the rule of a Queen instructed in the policy of a tyranny, inducted by nature into its arts, to the policy of that monarch who had succeeded to her throne, and whose ‘CREST’ began to be reared here then in the face of the insulted reviving English nationality,–this transition appeared upon the whole, upon calmer reflection, at least to the more patient minds of that age, all that could reasonably at that time be asked for. No better instrument for stimulating and strengthening the growing popular sentiment, and rousing the latent spirit of the nation, could have been desired by the Elizabethan politicians at that crisis, ‘for the great labour was with the people’–that uninstructed power, which makes the sure basis of tyrannies–that power which Mark Antony takes with him so easily–the ignorant, tyrannical, humour-led masses–the masses that still roar their Elizabethan stupidities from the immortal groups of Coriolanus and Julius Caesar. We ourselves have not yet overtaken the chief minds of this age; and the gulf that separated them from those overpowering numbers in their own time, to whose edicts they were compelled to pay an external submission, was broad indeed. The difficulty of establishing an understanding with this power was the difficulty. They wanted that ‘pulpit’ from which Brutus and Mark Antony swayed it by turns so easily–that pulpit from which Mark Antony showed it Caesar’s mantle. They wanted some organ of communication with these so potent and resistless rulers–some ‘chair’ from which they could repeat to them in their own tongue the story of their lost institutions, and revive in them the memory of ‘_the kings_ their ancestors’–some school in which they could collect them and instruct them in the scientific doctrine of the _commons_, the doctrine of the common-_weal_ and its divine supremacy. They wanted a school in which they could tell them stories–stories of various kinds–such stories as they loved best to hear–Midsummer stories, or Winter’s tales, and stories of their own battle-fields–they wanted a school in which they could teach the common people _History_ (and not English history only), with illustrations, large as life, and a magic lantern to aid them,–‘visible history.’
But to wait till these slow methods had taken effect, would be, perhaps, to wait, not merely till their estate in the earth was done, but till the mischief they wished to avert was accomplished. And thus it was, that the proposal ‘to go the beaten track of getting arms into their hands under colour of Caesar’s designs, and _because the people understood them not_,’ came to be considered. To permit the new dynasty to come in without making any terms with it, without insisting upon a definition of that indefinite power which the Tudors had wielded with impunity, and without challenge, would be to make needless work for the future, and to ignore criminally the responsibilities of their own position, so at least some English statesmen of that time, fatally for their favour with the new monarch, were known to have thought. ‘To proceed by process,’ to check by gradual constitutional measures that overgrown and monstrous power in the state, was the project which these statesmen had most at heart. But that was a movement which required a firm and enlightened popular support. Charters and statutes were dead letters till that could be had. It was fatal to attempt it till that was secured. Failing in that popular support, if the statesman who had attempted that movement, if the illustrious chief, and chief man of his time, who headed it, did secretly meditate other means for accomplishing the same end–which was to limit the prerogative–such means as the time offered, and if the evidence which was wanting on his trial _had been_ produced in proof of it, who that knows what that crisis was would undertake to convict him on it now? He was arrested on suspicion. He was a man who had undertaken to set bounds to the absolute will of the monarch, and therefore he was a dangerous man. [He (Sir Walter Raleigh), together with the Lord Chobham, Sir J. Fortescue, and _others_, would have obliged the king to _articles_ before he was admitted to the throne, and thought the number of his countrymen should be limited.–_Osborne’s Memorials of King James_.] The charges that were made against him on that shameless trial were indignantly repelled. ‘Do you mix, me up with these spiders?’ (alluding, perhaps, more particularly to the Jesuit associated with him in this charge). ‘Do you think I am a Jack Cade or a Robin Hood?’ he said. But though the evidence on this trial is not only in itself illegal, and by confession perjured, but the _report_ of it comes to us with a falsehood on the face of it, and is therefore not to be taken without criticism; that there was a movement of some kind meditated about that time, by persons occupying chief places of trust and responsibility in the nation–a movement not favourable to the continuance of ‘the standing departments’ in the precise form in which they then stood–that the project of an administrative reform had not, at least, been wholly laid aside–that there was something which did not fully come out on that trial, any one who looks at this report of it will be apt to infer.
It was a project which had not yet proceeded to any overt act; there was no legal evidence of its existence produced on the trial; but suppose there were here, then, already, men ‘who loved the _fundamental part of state_,’ more than in such a crisis ‘they _doubted_ the change of it’–men ‘who preferred a noble life before a long’–men, too, ‘_who were more discreet_’ than they were ‘_fearful_,’ who thought it good practice to ‘jump a body with a dangerous medicine _that was sure of death_ without it;’ suppose there _was_ a movement of that kind arrested here then, and the evidence of it were produced, what Englishman, or who that boasts the English lineage to-day, can have a word to say about it? Who had a better right than those men themselves, those statesmen, those heroes, who had waked and watched for their country’s weal so long, who had fought her battles on land and sea, and planned them too, not in the tented field and on the rocking deck only, but in the more ‘deadly breach’ of civil office, whose _scaling_-ladders had entered even the tyrant’s council chamber,–who had a better right than those men themselves to say whether they would be governed by a government of laws, or by the will of the most despicable ‘one-only-man power,’ armed with sword and lash, that ever a nation of Oriental slaves in their political imbecility cowered under? Who were better qualified than those men themselves, instructed in detail in all the peril of that crisis,–men who had comprehended and weighed with a judgment which has left no successor to its seat, all the conflicting considerations and claims which that crisis brought with it,–who better qualified than these to decide on the measures by which the hideous nuisances of that time should be abated; by which that axe, that sword, that rack, that stake, and all those burglar’s tools, and highwayman’s weapons, should be taken out of the hands of the mad licentious crew with which an evil time had armed them against the common-weal–those weapons of lawless power, which the people had vainly, for want of leaders, refused before-hand to put into their hands. Who better qualified than these natural chiefs and elected leaders of the nation, to decide on the dangerous measures for suppressing the innovation, which the Tudor and his descendants had accomplished in that ancient sovereignty of laws, which was the sovereignty of this people, which even the Norman and the Plantagenet had been taught to acknowledge? Who better qualified than they to call to an account–‘the thief,’ the ‘cut-purse of the empire and the rule,’ who ‘found the precious diadem _on a shelf_, and stole and put it in his pocket’?
[‘Shall the blessed _Sun_ of _Heaven_ prove a micher, and _eat blackberries_’? A question _not_ to be asked! Shall the blessed ‘Son of England’ prove a thief, and take purses? A question _to be asked_. ‘The _poor_ abuses of the time want _countenance_.’
_Lear_. Take that from me, my friend, who have the power to _seal the accuser’s_ lips.]
Who better qualified could be found to head the dangerous enterprise for the deliverance of England from that shame, than the chief in whom her Alfred arose again to break from her neck a baser than the Danish yoke, to restore her kingdom and found her new empire, to give her domains, that the sun never sets on,–her Poet, her Philosopher, her Soldier, her Legislator, the builder of her Empire of the Sea, her founder of new ‘States.’
But then, of course, it is only by the rarest conjunction of circumstances, that the movements and plans which such a state of things gives rise to, can get any other than the most opprobrious name and place in history. Success is their only certificate of legitimacy. To attempt to overthrow a government still so strongly planted in the endurance and passivity of the people, might seem, perhaps, to some minds in these circumstances, a hopeless, and, _therefore_, a criminal undertaking.
‘That _opportunity_ which then they had to take from us, to resume, we have again,’ might well have seemed a sufficient plea, so it could have been made good. But it is not strange that some few, even then, should find it difficult to believe that the national ruin was yet so entire, that the ashes of the ancient nobility and commons of England were yet so cold, as that a system of despotism like that which was exercised here then, could be permanently and securely fastened over them. It is not strange that it should seem to these impossible that there should not be enough of that old English spirit which, only a hundred years before, had ranged the people in armed thousands, in defence of LAW, against absolutism, enough of it, at least, to welcome and sustain the overthrow of tyranny, when once it should present itself as a fact accomplished, instead of appealing beforehand to a courage, which so many instances of vain and disastrous resistance had at last subdued, and to a spirit which seemed reduced at last, to the mere quality of the master’s will.
That was a narrow dominion apparently to which King James consigned his great rival in the arts of government, but that rival of his contrived to rear a ‘crest’ there which will outlast ‘the tyrants,’ and ‘look fresh still’ when tombs that artists were at work on then ‘are spent.’ ‘And when a soldier was his theme, my name–my _name_ [namme de plume] was nor far off.’ King James forgot how many weapons this man carried. He took one sword from him, he did not know that that pen, that harmless goose-quill, carried in its sheath another. He did not know what strategical operations the scholar, who was ‘an old soldier’ and a politician also, was capable of conducting under such conditions. Those were narrow quarters for ‘the Shepherd of the Ocean,’ for the hero of the two hemispheres, to occupy so long; but it proved no bad retreat for the chief of this movement, as he managed it. It was in that school of Elizabethan statesmanship which had its centre in the Tower, that many a scholarly English gentleman came forth prepared to play his part in the political movements that succeeded. It was out of that school of statesmanship that John Hampden came, accomplished for his part in them.
The papers that the chief of the Protestant cause prepared in that literary retreat to which the Monarch had consigned him, by means of those secret channels of communication among the better minds which he had established in the reign of Elizabeth, became the secret manual of the revolutionary chiefs; they made the first blast of the trumpet that summoned at last the nation to its feet. ‘The famous Mr. Hamden’ (says an author, who writes in those ‘next ages’ in which so many traditions of this time are still rife) ‘_a little before_ the civil wars was at the charge of transcribing three thousand four hundred and fifty-two sheets of Sir Walter Raleigh’s MSS., as the amanuensis himself _told me_, who had his _close chamber_, his fire and _candle_, with an _attendant to deliver him the originals_ and _take his copies as fast as he could write them_.’ That of itself is a pretty little glimpse of the kind of machinery which the Elizabethan literature required for its ‘delivery and tradition’ at the time, or near the times, in which it was produced. That is a view of ‘an Interior’ ‘before the civil wars.’ It was John Milton who concluded, on looking over, a long time afterwards, one of the unpublished papers of this statesman, that it was his duty to give it to the public. ‘Having had,’ he says, ‘the MS. of this treatise [“The Cabinet Council”] written by Sir Walter Raleigh, many years in my hands, and finding it lately by chance among other books and papers, upon reading thereof, I thought it _a kind of injury to withhold longer_ the work of so eminent an author from the public; it being both answerable in style to other works of his already extant, as far as _the subject_ would permit, and given me for a true copy by a learned man at his death, who had collected several such pieces.’
‘_A kind of injury_.’–That is the thought which would naturally take possession of any mind, charged with the responsibility of keeping back for years this man’s writings, especially his choicest ones–papers that could not be published then on account of the subject, or that came out with the leaves uncut, labouring with the restrictions which the press opposed then to the issues of such a mind.
That great result which the chief minds of the Modern Ages, under the influence of the new culture, in that secret association of them were able to achieve, that new and all comprehending science of life and practice which they made it their business to perfect and transmit, could not, indeed, as yet be communicated directly to the many. The scientific doctrines of the new time were necessarily limited in that age to the few. But another movement corresponding to that, simultaneous in its origin, related to it in its source, was also in progress here then, proceeding hand in hand with this, playing its game for it, opening the way to its future triumph. This was that movement of the new time,–this was that consequence, not of the revival of learning only, but of the growth of the northern mind which touched everywhere and directly the springs of government, and made ‘bold power look pale,’ for this was the movement in ‘the many.’
This was the movement which had already convulsed the continent; this was the movement of which Raleigh was from the first the soldier; this was ‘the cause’ of which he became the chief. It was as a youth of seventeen, bursting from those old fastnesses of the Middle Ages that could not hold him any longer, shaking off the films of Aristotle and his commentators, that he girded on his sword for the great world-battle that was raging already in Europe then. It was into the thickest of it, that his first step plunged him. For he was one of that company of a hundred English gentlemen who were waiting but for the first word of permission from Elizabeth to go as volunteers to the aid of the Huguenots. This was the movement which had at last reached England. And like these other continental events which were so slow in taking effect in England when it did begin to unfold here at last; there was a taste of ‘the island’ in it, in this also.
It was not on the continent only, that Raleigh and other English statesmen were disposed to sustain this movement. It was not possible as yet to bring the common mind openly to the heights of those great doctrines of life and practice which the Wisdom of the Moderns also embodies, but the new teachers of that age knew how to appreciate, as the man of science only can fully appreciate, the worth of those motives that were then beginning to agitate so portentously so large a portion of the English people. The Elizabethan politicians nourished and patronised in secret that growing faction. The scientific politician hailed with secret delight, hailed as the partner of his own enterprise, that new element of political power which the changing time began to reveal here then, that power which was already beginning to unclasp on the necks of the masses, the collar of the absolute will–that was already proclaiming, in the stifled undertones of ‘that greater part which carries it,’ another supremacy. They gave in secret the right hand of a joyful fellowship to it. At home and abroad the great soldier and statesman, who was the first founder of the Modern Science, headed that faction. He fought its battles by land and sea; he opened the New World to it, and sent it there to work out its problem.
It was the first stage of an advancement that would not rest till it found its true consummation. That infinity which was speaking in its confused tones, as with the voice of many waters, was resolved into music and triumphal marches in the ear of the Interpreter. It gave token that the nobler nature had not died out under the rod of tyranny; it gave token of the earnestness that would not be appeased until the ends that were declared in it were found.
But at the same time, this was a power which the wise men of that age were far from being willing to let loose upon society then in that stage of its development; very far were they from being willing to put the reins into its hands. To balance the dangers that were threatening the world at that crisis was always the problem. It was a very narrow line that the policy which was to save the state had to keep to then. There were evils on both sides. But to the scientific mind there appeared to be a choice in them. The measure on one side had been taken, and it was in all men’s hearts, but the abysses on the other no man had sounded. ‘The danger of stirring things,’–the dangers, too, of that unscanned swiftness that too late _ties leaden pounds to his heels_ were the dangers that were always threatening the Elizabethan movement, and defining and curbing it. The wisest men of that time leaned towards the monarchy, the monarchy that was, rather than the anarchy that was threatening them. The _will_ of the one rather than the _wills_ of the many, the head of the one rather than ‘the many-headed.’ To effect the change which the time required without ‘wrenching all’–without undoing the work of ages–without setting at large from the restraints of reverence and custom the chained tiger of an unenlightened popular will, this was the problem. The wisest statesmen, the most judicious that the world has ever known were here, with their new science, weighing in exactest scales those issues. We must not quarrel with their concessions to tyranny on the one hand, nor with their determination to effect changes on the other, until we are able to command entirely the position they occupied, and the opposing dangers they had always to consider. We must not judge them till they have had their hearing. What freedom and what hope there is of it upon the earth to-day, is the legacy of their perseverance and endurance.
They experienced many defeats. The hopes of youth, the hopes of manhood in turn grew cold. That the ‘glorious day’ which ‘flattered the mountain tops’ of their immortal morning with its sovereign eye would never shine on them; that their own, with all its unimagined splendours obscured so long, would go down hid in those same ‘base clouds,’ that for them the consummation was to ‘peep about to find themselves dishonourable graves’ was the conviction under which their later tasks were achieved. It did not abate their ardour. They did not strain one nerve the less for that.
Driven from one field, they showed themselves in another. Driven from the open field, they fought in secret. ‘I will bandy with thee in faction, I will o’errun thee with policy, I will kill thee a hundred and fifty ways,’ the Jester who brought their challenge said. The Elizabethan England rejected the Elizabethan Man. She would have none of his meddling with her affairs. She sent him to the Tower, and to the block, if ever she caught him meddling with them. She buried him alive in the heart of his time. She took the seals of office, she took the sword, from his hands and put a pen in it. She would have of him a Man of Letters. And a Man of Letters he became. A Man of Runes. He invented new letters in his need, letters that would go farther than the sword, that carried more execution in them than the great seal. Banished from the state in that isle to which he was banished, he found not the base-born Caliban only, to _instruct_, and train, and subdue to his ends, but an Ariel, an imprisoned Ariel, waiting to be released, able to conduct his masques, able to put his girdles round the earth, and to ‘perform and point’ to his Tempest.
‘Go bring the RABBLE, o’er whom I give thee _power_, here to this place,’ was the New Magician’s word.
[Here is another version of it.
‘When Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper, lived, every room in Gorhambury was served with a pipe of water from the pond distant about a mile off. In the lifetime of Mr. Anthony Bacon the water ceased, and his lordship coming to the inheritance could not recover the water without infinite charge. When he was Lord Chancellor, he built Verulam House _close by the pond yard, for a place of privacy_ when he was called upon to dispatch any urgent business. And being asked why he built there, his lordship answered that, seeing _he could not carry the water to_ his House, he _would carry his House_ to the water.]
This is not the place for the particulars of this history or for the barest outline of them. They make a volume of themselves. But this glimpse of the circumstances under which the works were composed which it is the object of this volume to open, appeared at the last moment to be required, in the absence of the Historical Key which the proper development of them makes, to that Art of Delivery and Tradition by means of which the secrets of the Elizabethan Age have been conveyed to us.
EXTRACTS FROM THE LIFE OF RALEIGH.–RALEIGH’S SCHOOL
‘Our court shall be a little Academe, Still and contemplative in _living_ Art.’ ‘What is the _end_ of study? let me know.’
_Love’s Labour’s Lost_.
But it was not on the New World wholly, that this man of many toils could afford to lavish the revenues which the Queen’s favour brought him. It was not to that enterprise alone that he was willing to dedicate the _eclat_ and influence of his rising name. There was work at home which concerned him more nearly, not less deeply, to which that new influence was made at once subservient; and in that there were enemies to be encountered more formidable than the Spaniard on his own deck, or on his own coast, with all his war-weapons and defences. It was an enemy which required a strategy more subtle than any which the exigencies of camp and field had called for.
The fact that this hero throughout all his great public career–so full of all kinds of excitement and action–enough, one would say, to absorb the energies of a mind of any ordinary human capacity–that this soldier whose name had become, on the Spanish coasts, what the name of ‘_Coeur de Lion_’ was in the Saracen nursery, that this foreign adventurer who had a fleet of twenty-three ships sailing at one time on his errands–this legislator, for he sat in Parliament as representative of his native shire–this magnificent courtier, who had raised himself, without any vantage-ground at all, from a position wholly obscure, by his personal achievements and merits, to a place in the social ranks so exalted; to a place in the state so _near_ that–which was chief and absolute–the fact that this many-sided man of deeds, was all the time a literary man, not a scholar merely, but himself an Originator, a Teacher, the Founder of a School–this is the explanatory point in this history–this is the point in it which throws light on all the rest of it, and imparts to it its true dignity.
For he was not a mere blind historical agent, driven by fierce instincts, intending only their own narrow ends, without any faculty of comprehensive survey and choice of intentions; impelled by thirst of adventure, or thirst of power, or thirst of gold, to the execution of his part in the great human struggle for conservation and advancement; working like other useful agencies in the Providential Scheme–like ‘the stormy wind fulfilling his pleasure.’
There is, indeed, no lack of the instinctive element in this heroic ‘composition;’ there is no stronger and more various and complete development of it. That ‘_lumen siccum_’ which his great contemporary is so fond of referring to in his philosophy, that _dry light_ which is so apt, he tells us, in most men’s minds, to get ‘drenched’ a little sometimes, in ‘the humours and affections,’ and distorted and refracted in their mediums, did not always, perhaps, in its practical determinations, escape from that accident even in the philosopher’s own; but in this stormy, world-hero, there was a latent volcano of will and passion; there was, in his constitution, ‘a complexion’ which might even seem to the bystanders to threaten at times, by its ‘o’ergrowth,’ the ‘very pales and forts of reason’; but the intellect was, notwithstanding, in its due proportion in him; and it was the majestic intellect that triumphed in the end. It was the large and manly comprehension, ‘the large discourse looking before and after,’ it was the overseeing and active principle of ‘the larger whole,’ that predominated and had the steering of his course. It is the common human form which shines out in him and makes that manly demonstration, which commands our common respect, in spite of those particular defects and o’ergrowths which are apt to mar its outline in the best historical types and patterns of it, we have been able to get as yet. It was the intellect, and the sense which belongs to _that_ in its integrity–it was the truth and the feeling of its obligation, which was sovereign with him. For this is a man who appears to have been occupied with the care of the common-weal more than with anything else; and that, too, under great disadvantages and impediments, and when there was no honour in caring for it truly, but that kind of honour which he had so much of; for this was the time precisely which the poet speaks of in that play in which he tells us that the end of playing is ‘to give to the very age and body of the time _its form and pressure_.’ This was the time when ‘virtue of vice _must pardon beg_, and curb and beck for leave to do it good.’ It was the relief of man’s estate, or the Creator’s glory, that he busied himself about; that was the end of his ends; or if not, then was he, indeed, no hero at all. For it was the doctrine of his own school, and ‘the first human principle’ taught in it, that men who act without reference to that distinctly _human_ aim, without that _manly_ consideration and _kind_-liness of purpose, can lay no claim either to divine or human honours; that they are not, in fact, men, but failures; specimens of an unsuccessful attempt in nature, at an advancement; or, as his great contemporary states it more clearly, ‘only a nobler kind of vermin.’
During all the vicissitudes of his long and eventful public life, Raleigh was still persistently a scholar. He carried his books–his ‘trunk of books’ with him in all his adventurous voyages; and they were his ‘companions’ in the toil and excitement of his campaigns on land. He studied them in the ocean-storm; he studied them in his tent, as Brutus studied in his. He studied them year after year, in the dim light which pierced the deep embrasure of those walls with which tyranny had thought to shut in at last his world-grasping energies.
He had had some chance to study ‘men and manners’ in that strange and various life of his, and he did not lack the skill to make the most of it; but he was not content with that narrow, one-sided aspect of life and human nature, to which his own individual personal experience, however varied, must necessarily limit him. He would see it under greater varieties, under all varieties of conditions. He would know the history of it; he would ‘delve it to the root.’ He would know how that particular form of it, which he found on the surface in his time, had come to be the thing he found it. He would know what it had been in other times, in the beginning, or in that stage of its development in which the historic light first finds it. He was a man who wished even to know what it had been in _the Assyrian_, in _the Phenician_, in _the Hebrew_, in _the Egyptian_; he would see what it had been in _the Greek_, and in _the Roman_. He was, indeed, one of that clique of Elizabethan Naturalists, who thought that there was no more curious thing in nature; and instead of taking a Jack Cade view of the subject, and inferring that an adequate knowledge of it comes by nature, as reading and writing do in that worthy’s theory of education, it was the private opinion of this school, that there was no department of learning which a scholar could turn his attention to, that required a more severe and thorough study and experiment, and none that a man of a truly _scientific_ turn of mind would find better worth his leisure. And the study of antiquity had not yet come to be then what it is now; at least, with men of this stamp. Such men did not study it to discipline their minds, or to get a classic finish to their style. The books that such a man as this could take the trouble to carry about with him on such errands as those that he travelled on, were books that had in them, for the eager eyes that then o’er-ran them, the world’s ‘news’–the world’s story. They were full of the fresh living data of his conclusions. They were notes that the master minds of all the ages had made for him; invaluable aid and sympathy they had contrived to send to him. The man who had been arrested in his career, more ignominiously than the magnificent Tully had been in _his_,–in a career, too, a thousand times more noble,–by a Caesar, indeed, but _such_ a Caesar;–the man who had sat for years with the executioner’s block in his yard, waiting only for a scratch of the royal pen, to bring down upon him that same edge which the poor Cicero, with all his truckling, must feel at last,–such a one would look over the old philosopher’s papers with an apprehension of their meaning, somewhat more lively than that of the boy who reads them for a prize, or to get, perhaps, some classic elegancies transfused into his mind.
During the ten years which intervene between the date of Raleigh’s first departure for the Continent and that of his beginning favour at home, already he had found means for ekeing out and perfecting that liberal education which Oxford had only begun for him, so that it was as a man of rarest literary accomplishments that he made his brilliant _debut_ at the English Court, where the new Elizabethan Age of Letters was just then beginning.
He became at once the centre of that little circle of highborn wits and poets, the elder wits and poets of the Elizabethan age, that were then in their meridian there. Sir Philip Sidney, Thomas Lord Buckhurst, Henry Lord Paget, Edward Earl of Oxford, and some others, are included in the contemporary list of this courtly company, whose doings are somewhat mysteriously adverted to by a critic, who refers to the condition of ‘the Art of Poesy’ at that time. ‘_The gentleman who wrote the late Shepherds’ Calendar_’ was beginning then to attract considerable attention in this literary aristocracy.
The brave, bold genius of Raleigh flashed new life into that little nucleus of the Elizabethan development. The new ‘_Round Table_,’ which that newly-beginning age of chivalry, with its new weapons and devices, and its new and more heroic adventure had created, was not yet ‘full’ till he came in. The Round Table grew rounder with this knight’s presence. Over those dainty stores of the classic ages, over those quaint memorials of the elder chivalry, that were spread out on it, over the dead letter of the past, the brave Atlantic breeze came in, the breath of the great future blew, when the turn came for this knight’s adventure; whether opened in the prose of its statistics, or set to its native music in the mystic melodies of the bard who was there to sing it. The Round Table grew spheral, as he sat talking by it; the Round Table dissolved, as he brought forth his lore, and unrolled his maps upon it; and instead of it,–with all its fresh yet living interests, tracked out by land and sea, with the great battle-ground of the future outlined on it,–revolved the round world. ‘_Universality_’ was still the motto of these Paladins; but ‘THE GLOBE’–the Globe, with its TWO hemispheres, became henceforth their device.
The promotion of Raleigh at Court was all that was needed to make him the centre and organiser of that new intellectual movement which was then just beginning there. He addressed himself to the task as if he had been a man of literary tastes and occupations merely, or as if that particular crisis had been a time of literary leisure with him, and there were nothing else to be thought of just then. The relation of those illustrious literary partners of his, whom he found already in the field when he first came to it, to that grand development of the English genius in art and philosophy which follows, ought not indeed to be overlooked or slightly treated in any thorough history of it. For it has its first beginning here in this brilliant assemblage of courtiers, and soldiers, and scholars,–this company of Poets, and Patrons and Encouragers of Art and Learning. Least of all should the relation which the illustrious founder of this order sustains to the later development be omitted in any such history,–‘the prince and mirror of all chivalry,’ the patron of the young English Muse, whose untimely fate keeps its date for ever green, and fills the air of this new ‘Helicon’ with immortal lamentations. The shining foundations of that so splendid monument of the later Elizabethan genius, which has paralyzed and confounded all our criticism, were laid here. The extraordinary facilities which certain departments of literature appeared to offer, for evading the restrictions which this new poetic and philosophic development had to encounter from the first, already began to attract the attention of men acquainted with the uses to which it had been put in antiquity, and who knew what gravity of aim, what height of execution, that then rude and childish English Play had been made to exhibit under other conditions;–men fresh from the study of those living and perpetual monuments of learning, which the genius of antiquity has left in this department. But the first essays of the new English scholarship in this untried field,–the first attempts at original composition here, derive, it must be confessed, their chief interest and value from that memorable association in which we find them. It was the first essay, which had to be made before those finished monuments of art, which command our admiration on their own account wholly, could begin to appear. It was ‘the tuning of the instruments, that those who came afterwards might play the better.’ We see, of course, the stiff, cramped hand of the beginner here, instead of the grand touch of the master, who never comes till his art has been prepared to his hands,–till the details of its execution have been mastered for him by others. In some arts there must be generations of essays before he can get his tools in a condition for use. Ages of prophetic genius, generations of artists, who dimly saw afar off, and struggled after his perfections, must patiently chip and daub their lives away, before ever the star of his nativity can begin to shine.
Considering what a barbaric age it was that the English mind was emerging from then; and the difficulties attending the first attempt to create in the English literature, anything which should bear any proportion to those finished models of skill which were then dazzling the imagination of the English scholar in the unworn gloss of their fresh revival here, and discouraging, rather than stimulating, the rude poetic experiment;–considering what weary lengths of essay there are always to be encountered, where the standard of excellence is so far beyond the power of execution; we have no occasion to despise the first bold attempts to overcome these difficulties which the good taste of this company has preserved to us. They are just such works as we might expect under those circumstances;–yet full of the pedantries of the new acquisition, overflowing on the surface with the learning of the school, sparkling with classic allusions, seizing boldly on the classic original sometimes, and working their new fancies into it; but, full already of the riant vigour and originality of the Elizabethan inspiration; and never servilely copying a foreign original. The English genius is already triumphant in them. Their very crudeness is not without its historic charm, when once their true place in the structure we find them in, is recognised. In the later works, this crust of scholarship has disappeared, and gone below the surface. It is all dissolved, and gone into the clear intelligence;– it has all gone to feed the majestic current of that new, all-subduing, all-grasping originality. It is in these earlier performances that the stumbling-blocks of our present criticism are strewn so thickly. Nobody can write any kind of criticism of the ‘Comedy of Errors,’ for instance, without recognizing the Poet’s acquaintance with the classic model, [See a recent criticism in ‘The Times.’]–without recognizing the classic treatment. ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost,’ ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ the condemned parts of ‘Henry the VI.,’ and generally the Poems which are put down in our criticism as doubtful, or as the earlier Poems, are just those Poems in which the Poet’s studies are so flatly betrayed on the surface. Among these are plays which were anonymously produced by the company performing at the Rose Theatre, and other companies which English noblemen found occasion to employ in their service then. These were not so much as produced at the theatre which has had the honor of giving its name to other productions, bound up with them. We shall find nothing to object to in that somewhat heterogeneous collection of styles, which even a single Play sometimes exhibits, when once the history of this phenomenon accompanies it. The Cathedrals that were built, or re-built throughout, just at the moment in which the Cathedral Architecture had attained its ultimate perfection, are more beautiful to the eye, perhaps, than those in which the story of its growth is told from the rude, massive Anglo-Saxon of the crypt or the chancel, to the last refinement of the mullion, and groin, and tracery. But the antiquary, at least, does not regret the preservation. And these crude beginnings here have only to be put in their place, to command from the critic, at least, a similar respect. For here, too, the history reports itself to the eye, and not less palpably.
It may seem surprising, and even incredible, to the modern critic, that men in this position should find any occasion to conceal their relation to those quite respectable contributions to the literature of the time, which they found themselves impelled to make. The fact that they did so, is one that we must accept, however, on uncontradicted cotemporary testimony, and account for it as we can. The critic who published his criticisms when ‘the gentleman who wrote the late Shepherd’s Calendar’ was just coming into notice, however inferior to our modern critics in other respects, had certainly a better opportunity of informing himself on this point, than they can have at present. ‘They have writ excellently well,’ _he_ says of this company of Poets,–this ‘courtly company,’ as he calls them,–‘ they have writ excellently well, _if their doings could be found out and made public with the rest_.’ _Sir Philip Sidney, Raleigh,_ and the gentleman who wrote the late Shepherd’s Calendar, are included in the list of Poets to whom this remark is applied. It is Raleigh’s verse which is distinguished, however, in this commendation as the most ‘lofty, insolent, and passionate;’ a description which applies to the anonymous poems alluded to, but is not particularly applicable to those artificial and tame performances which he was willing to acknowledge. And this so commanding Poet, who was at the same time an aspiring courtier and meddler in affairs of state, and who chose, for some mysterious reason or other, to forego the honours which those who were in the secret of his literary abilities and successes,–the very best judges of poetry in that time, too, were disposed to accord him,–and we are not without references to cases in antiquity corresponding very nearly to this; and which seemed to furnish, at least, a sufficient precedent for this proceeding;–this so successful poet, and courtier, and great man of his time, was already in a position to succeed at once to that chair of literary patronage which the death of Sir Philip Sidney had left vacant. Instinctively generous, he was ready to serve the literary friends whom he attracted to him, not less lavishly than he had served the proud Queen herself, when he threw his gay cloak in her obstructed path,–at least, he was not afraid of risking those sudden splendours which her favour was then showering upon him, by wearying her with petitions on their behalf. He would have risked his new favour, at least with his ‘Cynthia,’–that twin sister of Phoebus Apollo,–to make her the patron, if not the inspirer of the Elizabethan genius. ‘When will you cease to be a beggar, Raleigh?’ she said to him one day, on one of these not infrequent occasions. ‘When your Majesty ceases to be a most gracious mistress,’ was this courtier’s reply. It is recorded of her, that ‘she loved to hear his reasons to her demands.’
But though, with all his wit and eloquence, he could not contrive to make of the grand-daughter of Henry the Seventh, a Pericles, or an Alexander, or a Ptolemy, or an Augustus, or an encourager of anything that did not appear to be directly connected with her own particular ends, he did succeed in making her indirectly a patron of the literary and scientific development which was then beginning to add to her reign its new lustre,–which was then suing for leave to lay at her feet its new crowns and garlands. Indirectly, he did convert her into a patron,–a second-hand patron of those deeper and more subtle movements of the new spirit of the time, whose bolder demonstrations she herself had been forced openly to head. Seated on the throne of Henry the Seventh, she was already the armed advocate of European freedom;–Raleigh had contrived to make her the legal sponsor for the New World’s liberties; it only needed that her patronage should be systematically extended to that new enterprise for the emancipation of the human life from the bondage of ignorance, from the tyranny of unlearning,–that enterprise which the gay, insidious Elizabethan literature was already beginning to flower over and cover with its devices,–it only needed _that_, to complete the anomaly of her position. And that through Raleigh’s means was accomplished.
He became himself the head of a little _Alexandrian_ establishment. His house was a home for men of learning. He employed men in literary and scientific researches on his account, whose business it was to report to him their results. He had salaried scholars at his table, to impart to him their acquisitions, Antiquities, History, Poetry, Chemistry, Mathematics, scientific research of all kinds, came under his active and persevering patronage. Returning from one of his visits to Ireland, whither he had gone on this occasion to inspect a _seignorie_ which his ‘sovereign goddess’ had then lately conferred upon him, he makes his re-appearance at court with that so obscure personage, the poet of the ‘Faery Queene,’ under his wing;–that same gentleman, as the court is informed, whose bucolics had already attracted so much attention in that brilliant circle. By a happy coincidence, Raleigh, it seems, had discovered this Author in the obscurity of his clerkship in Ireland, and had determined to make use of his own influence at court to push his brother poet’s fortunes there; but his efforts to benefit this poor bard _personally_, do not appear to have been attended at any time with much success. The mysterious literary partnership between these two, however, which dates apparently from an earlier period, continues to bring forth fruit of the most successful kind; and the ‘Faery Queene’ is not the only product of it.
All kinds of books began now to be dedicated to this new and so munificent patron of arts and letters. His biographers collect his public history, not from political records only, but from the eulogies