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From Chaucer to Tennyson by Henry A. Beers

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has covered them. The most noteworthy of them were Nash's _Piers
Penniless's Supplication to the Devil_, Lyly's _Pap with a Hatchet_, and
Greene's _Groat's Worth of Wit_. Of books which were not so much
literature as the material of literature, mention may be made of the
_Chronicle of England_, published by Ralph Holinshed in 1580. This was
Shakspere's English history, and its strong Lancastrian bias influenced
Shakspere in his representation of Richard III. and other characters in
his historical plays. In his Roman tragedies Shakspere followed closely
Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, made in 1579 from
the French version of Jacques Amyot.

Of books belonging to other departments than pure literature, the most
important was Richard Hooker's _Ecclesiastical Polity_, the first four
books of which appeared in 1594. This was a work on the philosophy of
law, and a defense, as against the Presbyterians, of the government of
the English Church by bishops. No work of equal dignity and scope had
yet been published in English prose. It was written in sonorous,
stately, and somewhat involved periods, in a Latin rather than an
English idiom, and it influenced strongly the diction of later writers,
such as Milton and Sir Thomas Browne. Had the _Ecclesiastical Polity_
been written one hundred, or perhaps even fifty, years earlier, it would
doubtless have been written in Latin.

The life of Francis Bacon, "the father of inductive philosophy," as he
has been called--better, the founder of inductive logic--belongs to
English history, and the bulk of his writings, in Latin and English, to
the history of English philosophy. But his volume of _Essays_ was a
contribution to general literature. In their completed form they belong
to the year 1625, but the first edition was printed in 1597 and
contained only ten short essays, each of them rather a string of
pregnant maxims--the text for an essay--than that developed treatment of
a subject which we now understand by the word essay. They were, said
their author, "as grains of salt, that will rather give you an appetite
than offend you with satiety." They were the first essays, so called, in
the language. "The word," said Bacon, "is late, but the thing is
ancient." The word he took from the French _essais_ of Montaigne, the
first two books of which had been published in 1592. Bacon testified
that his essays were the most popular of his writings because they "came
home to men's business and bosoms." Their alternate title explains their
character: _Counsels Civil and Moral_, that is, pieces of advice
touching the conduct of life, "of a nature whereof men shall find much
in experience, little in books." The essays contain the quintessence of
Bacon's practical wisdom, his wide knowledge of the world of men. The
truth and depth of his sayings, and the extent of ground which they
cover, as well as the weighty compactness of his style, have given many
of them the currency of proverbs. "Revenge is a kind of wild justice."
"He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune." "There
is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the
proportion." Bacon's reason was illuminated by a powerful imagination,
and his noble English rises now and then, as in his essay _On Death_,
into eloquence--the eloquence of pure thought, touched gravely and afar
off by emotion. In general, the atmosphere of his intellect is that
_lumen siccum_ which he loved to commend, "not drenched or bloodied by
the affections." Dr. Johnson said that the wine of Bacon's writings was
a dry wine.

A popular class of books in the 17th century were "characters" or "witty
descriptions of the properties of sundry persons," such as the Good
Schoolmaster, the Clown, the Country Magistrate; much as in some modern
_Heads of the People_, where Douglas Jerrold or Leigh Hunt sketches the
Medical Student, the Monthly Nurse, etc. A still more modern instance of
the kind is George Eliot's _Impressions of Theophrastus Such_, which
derives its title from the Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, whose
character-sketches were the original models of this kind of literature.
The most popular character-book in Europe in the 17th century was La
Bruyere's _Caracteres_. But this was not published till 1688. In England
the fashion had been set in 1614, by the _Characters_ of Sir Thomas
Overbury, who died by poison the year before his book was printed. One
of Overbury's sketches--the _Fair and Happy Milkmaid_--is justly
celebrated for its old-world sweetness and quaintness. "Her breath is
her own, which scents all the year long of June, like a new-made
hay-cock. She makes her hand hard with labor, and her heart soft with
pity; and when winter evenings fall early, sitting at her merry wheel,
she sings defiance to the giddy wheel of fortune. She bestows her year's
wages at next fair, and, in choosing her garments, counts no bravery in
the world like decency. The garden and bee-hive are all her physic and
surgery, and she lives the longer for it. She dares go alone and unfold
sheep in the night, and fears no manner of ill, because she means none;
yet to say truth, she is never alone, but is still accompanied with old
songs, honest thoughts and prayers, but short ones. Thus lives she, and
all her care is she may die in the spring-time, to have store of flowers
stuck upon her winding-sheet."

England was still merry England in the times of good Queen Bess, and
rang with old songs, such as kept this milkmaid company; songs, said
Bishop Joseph Hall, which were "sung to the wheel and sung unto the
pail." Shakspere loved their simple minstrelsy; he put some of them into
the mouth of Ophelia, and scattered snatches of them through his plays,
and wrote others like them himself:

Now, good Cesario, but that piece of song.
That old and antique song we heard last night.
Methinks it did relieve my passion much,
More than light airs and recollected terms
Of these most brisk and giddy-paced times.
Mark it, Cesario, it is old and plain.
The knitters and the spinners in the sun
And the free maids that weave their threads with bones
Do use to chant it; it is silly sooth[20]
And dallies with the innocence of love
Like the old age.

[Footnote 20: Simple truth.]

Many of these songs, so natural, fresh, and spontaneous, together with
sonnets and other more elaborate forms of lyrical verse, were printed in
miscellanies, such as the _Passionate Pilgrim, England's Helicon_, and
Davison's _Poetical Rhapsody_. Some were anonymous, or were by poets of
whom little more is known than their names. Others were by well-known
writers, and others, again, were strewn through the plays of Lyly,
Shakspere, Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, and other dramatists. Series of
love sonnets, like Spenser's _Amoretti_ and Sidney's _Astrophel and
Stella_, were written by Shakspere, Daniel, Drayton, Drummond,
Constable, Watson, and others, all dedicated to some mistress real or
imaginary. Pastorals, too, were written in great number, such as
William Browne's _Britannia's Pastorals_ and _Shepherd's Pipe_
(1613-1616) and Marlowe's charmingly rococo little idyl, _The Passionate
Shepherd to his Love_, which Shakspere quoted in the _Merry Wives of
Windsor_, and to which Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a reply. There were love
stories in verse, like Arthur Brooke's _Romeo and Juliet_ (the source of
Shakspere's tragedy), Marlowe's fragment, _Hero and Leander_, and
Shakspere's _Venus and Adonis_, and _Rape of Lucrece_, the first of
these on an Italian and the other three on classical subjects, though
handled in any thing but a classical manner. Wordsworth said finely of
Shakspere, that he "could not have written an epic: he would have died
of a plethora of thought." Shakspere's two narrative poems, indeed, are
by no means models of their kind. The current of the story is choked at
every turn, though it be with golden sand. It is significant of his
dramatic habit of mind that dialogue and soliloquy usurp the place of
narration, and that, in the _Rape of Lucrece_ especially, the poet
lingers over the analysis of motives and feelings, instead of hastening
on with the action, as Chaucer, or any born story-teller, would have

In Marlowe's poem there is the same spendthrift fancy, although not the
same subtlety. In the first two divisions of the poem the story does, in
some sort, get forward; but in the continuation, by George Chapman (who
wrote the last four "sestiads"),[21] the path is utterly lost, "with
woodbine and the gadding vine o'ergrown." One is reminded that modern
poetry, if it has lost in richness, has gained in directness, when one
compares any passage in Marlowe and Chapman's _Hero and Leander_ with
Byron's ringing lines:

The wind is high on Helle's wave,
As on that night of stormy water,
When love, who sent, forgot to save
The young, the beautiful, the brave,
The lonely hope of Sestos' daughter.

[Footnote 21: From Sestos on the Hellespont, where Hero dwelt.]

Marlowe's continuator, Chapman, wrote a number of plays, but he is best
remembered by his royal translation of Homer, issued in parts from
1598-1615. This was not so much a literal translation of the Greek, as a
great Elizabethan poem, inspired by Homer. It has Homer's fire, but not
his simplicity; the energy of Chapman's fancy kindling him to run beyond
his text into all manner of figures and conceits. It was written, as has
been said, as Homer would have written if he had been an Englishman of
Chapman's time. Keats's fine ode, _On First Looking into Chapman's
Homer_, is well known. In his translation of the _Odyssey_, Chapman
employed the ten-syllabled heroic line chosen by most of the standard
translators; but for the _Iliad_ he used the long "fourteener."
Certainly all later versions--Pope's and Cowper's and Lord Derby's and
Bryant's--seem pale against the glowing exuberance of Chapman's English,
which degenerates easily into sing-song in the hands of a feeble
metrist. In Chapman it is often harsh, but seldom tame, and in many
passages it reproduces wonderfully the ocean-like roll of Homer's

From his bright helm and shield did burn a most unwearied fire,
Like rich Antumnus' golden lamp, whose brightness men admire
Past all the other host of stars when, with his cheerful face
Fresh washed in lofty ocean waves, he doth the sky enchase.

The national pride in the achievements of Englishmen, by land and sea,
found expression, not only in prose chronicles and in books, like Stow's
_Survey of London_, and Harrison's _Description of England_ (prefixed to
Holinshed's _Chronicle_), but in long historical and descriptive poems,
like William Warner's _Albion's England_, 1586; Samuel Daniel's _History
of the Civil Wars_, 1595-1602; Michael Drayton's _Barons' Wars,_ 1596,
_England's Heroical Epistles_, 1598, and _Polyolbion,_ 1613. The very
plan of these works was fatal to their success. It is not easy to digest
history and geography into poetry. Drayton was the most considerable
poet of the three, but his _Polyolbion_ was nothing more than a
"gazeteer in rime," a topographical survey of England and Wales, with
tedious personifications of rivers, mountains, and valleys, in thirty
books and nearly one hundred thousand lines. It was Drayton who said of
Marlowe, that he "had in him those brave translunary things that the
first poets had;" and there are brave things in Drayton, but they are
only occasional passages, oases among dreary wastes of sand. His
_Agincourt_ is a spirited war-song, and his _Nymphidia; or, Court of
Faery_, is not unworthy of comparison with Drake's _Culprit Fay_, and is
interesting as bringing in Oberon and Robin Goodfellow, and the popular
fairy lore of Shakspere's _Midsummer Night's Dream_.

The "well-languaged Daniel," of whom Ben Jonson said that he was "a good
honest man, but no poet," wrote, however, one fine meditative piece, his
_Epistle to the Countess of Cumberland,_ a sermon apparently on the text
of the Roman poet Lucretius's famous passage in praise of philosophy,

Suave, mari magno, turbantibus aequora ventis,
E terra magnum alterius spectare laborem.

But the Elizabethan genius found its fullest and truest expression in
the drama. It is a common phenomenon in the history of literature that
some old literary form or mold will run along for centuries without
having any thing poured into it worth keeping, until the moment comes
when the genius of the time seizes it and makes it the vehicle of
immortal thought and passion. Such was in England the fortune of the
stage play. At a time when Chaucer was writing character-sketches that
were really dramatic, the formal drama consisted of rude miracle plays
that had no literary quality whatever. These were taken from the Bible,
and acted at first by the priests as illustrations of Scripture history
and additions to the church service on feasts and saints' days.
Afterward the town guilds, or incorporated trades, took hold of them,
and produced them annually on scaffolds in the open air. In some English
cities, as Coventry and Chester, they continued to be performed almost
to the close of the 16th century. And in the celebrated Passion Play at
Oberammergau, in Bavaria, we have an instance of a miracle play that has
survived to our own day. These were followed by the moral plays, in
which allegorical characters, such as Clergy, Lusty Juventus, Riches,
Folly, and Good Demeanaunce were the persons of the drama. The comic
character in the miracle plays had been the Devil, and he was retained
in some of the moralities side by side with the abstract vice, who
became the clown or fool of Shaksperian comedy. The "formal Vice,
Iniquity," as Shakspere calls him, had it for his business to belabor
the roaring Devil with his wooden sword:

...with his dagger of lath
In his rage and his wrath
Cries 'Aha!' to the Devil,
'Pare your nails, Goodman Evil!'

He survives also in the harlequin of the pantomimes, and in Mr. Punch,
of the puppet shows, who kills the Devil and carries him off on his
back, when the latter is sent to fetch him to hell for his crimes.

Masques and interludes--the latter a species of short farce--were
popular at the court of Henry VIII. Elizabeth was often entertained at
the universities or at the inns of court with Latin plays, or with
translations from Seneca, Euripides, and Ariosto. Original comedies and
tragedies began to be written, modeled upon Terence and Seneca, and
chronicle histories founded on the annals of English kings. There was a
master of the revels at court, whose duty it was to select plays to be
performed before the queen, and these were acted by the children of the
Royal Chapel, or by the choir boys of St. Paul's Cathedral. These early
plays are of interest to students of the history of the drama, and
throw much light upon the construction of later plays, like Shakspere's;
but they are rude and inartistic, and without any literary value.

There were also private companies of actors maintained by wealthy
noblemen, like the Earl of Leicester, and bands of strolling players,
who acted in inn-yards and bear-gardens. It was not until stationary
theaters were built and stock companies of actors regularly licensed and
established, that any plays were produced which deserve the name of
literature. In 1576 the first London play-houses, known as the Theater
and the Curtain, were erected in the suburb of Shoreditch, outside the
city walls. Later the Rose, the Hope, the Globe, and the Swan were built
on the Bankside, across the Thames, and play-goers resorting to them
were accustomed to "take boat." These locations were chosen in order to
get outside the jurisdiction of the mayor and corporation, who were
Puritans, and determined in their opposition to the stage. For the same
reason the Blackfriars, belonging to the company that owned the
Globe--the company in which Shakspere was a stockholder--was built,
about 1596, within the "liberties" of the dissolved monastery of the

These early theaters were of the rudest construction. The six-penny
spectators, or "groundlings," stood in the yard or pit, which had
neither floor nor roof. The shilling spectators sat on the stage, where
they were accommodated with stools and tobacco pipes, and whence they
chaffed the actors or the "opposed rascality" in the yard. There was no
scenery, and the female parts were taken by boys. Plays were acted in
the afternoon. A placard, with the letters "Venice," or "Rome," or
whatever, indicated the place of the action. With such rude appliances
must Shakspere bring before his audience the midnight battlements of
Elsinore and the moonlit garden of the Capulets. The dramatists had to
throw themselves upon the imagination of their public, and it says much
for the imaginative temper of the public of that day, that it responded
to the appeal. It suffered the poet to transport it over wide intervals
of space and time, and "with aid of some few foot and half-foot words,
fight over York and Lancaster's long jars." Pedantry undertook, even at
the very beginnings of the Elizabethan drama, to shackle it with the
so-called rules of Aristotle, or classical unities of time and place, to
make it keep violent action off the stage and comedy distinct from
tragedy. But the playwrights appealed from the critics to the truer
sympathies of the audience, and they decided for feedom and action,
rather than restraint and recitation. Hence our national drama is of
Shakspere and not of Racine. By 1603 there were twelve play-houses in
London in full blast, although the city then numbered only one hundred
and fifty thousand inhabitants.

Fresh plays were produced every year. The theater was more to the
Englishmen of that time than it has ever been before or since. It was
his club, his novel, his newspaper, all in one. No great drama has ever
flourished apart from a living stage, and it was fortunate that the
Elizabethan dramatists were, almost all of them, actors, and familiar
with stage effect. Even the few exceptions, like Beaumont and Fletcher,
who were young men of good birth and fortune, and not dependent on their
pens, were probably intimate with the actors, lived in a theatrical
atmosphere, and knew practically how plays should be put on.

It had now become possible to earn a livelihood as an actor and
playwright. Richard Burbage and Edward Alleyn, the leading actors of
their generation, made large fortunes. Shakspere himself made enough
from his share in the profits of the Globe to retire with a competence,
some seven years before his death, and purchase a handsome property in
his native Stratford. Accordingly, shortly after 1580, a number of men
of real talent began to write for the stage as a career. These were
young graduates of the universities, Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Kyd, Lyly,
Lodge, and others, who came up to town and led a bohemian life as actors
and playwrights. Most of them were wild and dissipated and ended in
wretchedness. Peele died of a disease brought on by his evil courses;
Greene, in extreme destitution, from a surfeit of Rhenish wine and
pickled herring, and Marlowe was stabbed in a tavern brawl.

The Euphuist Lyly produced eight plays between 1584 and 1601. They were
written for court entertainments, mostly in prose and on mythological
subjects. They have little dramatic power, but the dialogue is brisk and
vivacious, and there are several pretty songs in them. All the
characters talk Ephuism. The best of these was _Alexander and Campaspe_,
the plot of which is briefly as follows. Alexander has fallen in love
with his beautiful captive, Campaspe, and employs the artist Apelles to
paint her portrait. During the sittings Apelles becomes enamored of his
subject and declares his passion, which is returned. Alexander discovers
their secret, but magnanimously forgives the treason and joins the
lovers' hands. The situation is a good one, and capable of strong
treatment in the hands of a real dramatist. But Lyly slips smoothly over
the crisis of the action and, in place of passionate scenes, gives us
clever discourses and soliloquies, or, at best, a light interchange of
question and answer, full of conceits, repartees, and double meanings.
For example:

"_Apel_. Whom do you love best in the world?"

"_Camp_. He that made me last in the world."

"_Apel_. That was God."

"_Camp_. I had thought it had been a man," etc.

Lyly's service to the drama consisted in his introduction of an easy and
sparkling prose as the language of high comedy, and Shakspere's
indebtedness to the fashion thus set is seen in such passages as the wit
combats between Benedict and Beatrice in _Much Ado about Nothing_,
greatly superior as they are to any thing of the kind in Lyly.

The most important of the dramatists who were Shakspere's forerunners,
or early contemporaries, was Christopher or--as he was familiarly
called--Kit Marlowe. Born in the same year with Shakspere (1564), he
died in 1593, at which date his great successor is thought to have
written no original plays, except the _Comedy of Errors_ and _Love's
Labour's Lost_. Marlowe first popularized blank verse as the language of
tragedy in his _Tamburlaine_, written before 1587, and in subsequent
plays he brought it to a degree of strength and flexibility which left
little for Shakspere to do but to take it as he found it. _Tamburlaine_
was a crude, violent piece, full of exaggeration and bombast, but with
passages here and there of splendid declamation, justifying Ben Jonson's
phrase, "Marlowe's mighty line." Jonson, however, ridiculed, in his
_Discoveries_, the "scenical strutting and furious vociferation" of
Marlowe's hero; and Shakspere put a quotation from _Tamburlaine_ into
the mouth of his ranting Pistol. Marlowe's _Edward II_. was the most
regularly constructed and evenly written of his plays. It was the best
historical drama on the stage before Shakspere, and not undeserving of
the comparison which it has provoked with the latter's _Richard II._ But
the most interesting of Marlowe's plays, to a modern reader, is the
_Tragical History of Doctor Faustus_. The subject is the same as in
Goethe's _Faust_, and Goethe, who knew the English play, spoke of it as
greatly planned. The opening of Marlowe's _Faustus_ is very similar to
Goethe's. His hero, wearied with unprofitable studies, and filled with a
mighty lust for knowledge and the enjoyment of life, sells his soul to
the Devil in return for a few years of supernatural power. The tragic
irony of the story might seem to lie in the frivolous use which Faustus
makes of his dearly bought power, wasting it in practical jokes and
feats of legerdermain; but of this Marlowe was probably unconscious. The
love story of Margaret, which is the central point of Goethe's drama, is
entirely wanting in Marlowe's, and so is the subtle conception of
Goethe's Mephistophiles. Marlowe's handling of the supernatural is
materialistic and downright, as befitted an age which believed in
witchcraft. The greatest part of the English _Faustus_ is the last
scene, in which the agony and terror of suspense with which the magician
awaits the stroke of the clock that signals his doom are powerfully

O, _lente, lente currite, noctis equi_!
The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike....
O soul, be changed into little water-drops,
And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found!

Marlowe's genius was passionate and irregular. He had no humor, and the
comic portions of _Faustus_ are scenes of low buffoonery.

George Peele's masterpiece, _David and Bethsabe_, was also, in many
respects, a fine play, though its beauties were poetic rather than
dramatic, consisting not in the characterization--which is feeble--but
in the Eastern luxuriance of the imagery. There is one noble chorus--

O proud revolt of a presumptuous man,

which reminds one of passages in Milton's _Samson Agonistes_, and
occasionally Peele rises to such high AEschylean audacities as this:

At him the thunder shall discharge his bolt,
And his fair spouse, with bright and fiery wings,
Sit ever burning on his hateful bones.

Robert Greene was a very unequal writer. His plays are slovenly and
careless in construction, and he puts classical allusions into the
mouths of milkmaids and serving boys, with the grotesque pedantry and
want of keeping common among the playwrights of the early stage. He has,
notwithstanding, in his comedy parts, more natural lightness and grace
than either Marlowe or Peele. In his _Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay_,
there is a fresh breath, as of the green English country, in such
passages as the description of Oxford, the scene at Harleston Fair, and
the picture of the dairy in the keeper's lodge at merry Fressingfield.

In all these ante-Shaksperian dramatists there was a defect of art
proper to the first comers in a new literary departure. As compared not
only with Shakspere, but with later writers, who had the inestimable
advantage of his example, their work was full of imperfection,
hesitation, experiment. Marlowe was probably, in native genius, the
equal at least of Fletcher or Webster, but his plays, as a whole, are
certainly not equal to theirs. They wrote in a more developed state of
the art. But the work of this early school settled the shape which the
English drama was to take. It fixed the practice and traditions of the
national theater. It decided that the drama was to deal with the whole
of life, the real and the ideal, tragedy and comedy, prose and verse, in
the same play, without limitations of time, place, and action. It
decided that the English play was to be an action, and not a dialogue,
bringing boldly upon the mimic scene feasts, dances, processions,
hangings, riots, plays within plays, drunken revels, beatings, battle,
murder, and sudden death. It established blank verse, with occasional
riming couplets at the close of a scene or of a long speech, as the
language of the tragedy and high comedy parts, and prose as the language
of the low comedy and "business" parts. And it introduced songs, a
feature of which Shakspere made exquisite use. Shakspere, indeed, like
all great poets, invented no new form of literature, but touched old
forms to finer purposes, refining every thing, discarding nothing. Even
the old chorus and dumb show he employed, though sparingly, as also the
old jig, or comic song, which the clown used to give between the acts.

Of the life of William Shakspere, the greatest dramatic poet of the
world, so little is known that it has been possible for ingenious
persons to construct a theory--and support it with some show of
reason--that the plays which pass under his name were really written by
Bacon or some one else. There is no danger of this paradox ever making
serious headway, for the historical evidence that Shakspere wrote
Shakspere's plays, though not overwhelming, is sufficient. But it is
startling to think that the greatest creative genius of his day, or
perhaps of all time, was suffered to slip out of life so quietly that
his title to his own works could even be questioned only two hundred and
fifty years after the event. That the single authorship of the Homeric
poems should be doubted is not so strange, for Homer is almost
prehistoric. But Shakspere was a modern Englishman, and at the time of
his death the first English colony in America was already nine years
old. The important known facts of his life can be told almost in a
sentence. He was born at Stratford-on-Avon in 1564, married when he was
eighteen, went to London probably in 1587, and became an actor, play
writer, and stockholder in the company which owned the Blackfriars and
the Globe theaters. He seemingly prospered, and retired about 1609 to
Stratford, where he lived in the house that he had bought some years
before, and where he died in 1616. His _Venus and Adonis_ was printed in
1593, his _Rape of Lucrece_ in 1594, and his _Sonnets_ in 1609. So far
as is known, only eighteen of the thirty-seven plays generally
attributed to Shakspere were printed during his life-time. These were
printed singly, in quarto shape, and were little more than stage books,
or librettos. The first collected edition of his works was the so-called
"First Folio" of 1623, published by his fellow-actors, Heming and
Condell. No contemporary of Shakspere thought it worth while to write a
life of the stage-player. There is a number of references to him in the
literature of the time; some generous, as in Ben Jonson's well-known
verses; others singularly unappreciative, like Webster's mention of "the
right happy and copious industry of Master Shakspere." But all these
together do not begin to amount to the sum of what was said about
Spenser, or Sidney, or Raleigh, or Ben Jonson. There is, indeed, nothing
to show that his contemporaries understood what a man they had among
them in the person of "Our English Terence, Mr. Will Shakespeare." The
age, for the rest, was not a self-conscious one, nor greatly given to
review writing and literary biography. Nor is there enough of
self-revelation in Shakspere's plays to aid the reader in forming a
notion of the man. He lost his identity completely in the characters of
his plays, as it is the duty of a dramatic writer to do. His sonnets
have been examined carefully in search of internal evidence as to his
character and life, but the speculations founded upon them have been
more ingenious than convincing.

Shakspere probably began by touching up old plays. _Henry VI_. and the
bloody tragedy of _Titus Andronicus_, if Shakspere's at all, are
doubtless only his revision of pieces already on the stage. The _Taming
of the Shrew_ seems to be an old play worked over by Shakspere and some
other dramatist, and traces of another hand are thought to be visible in
parts of _Henry VIII., Pericles_, and _Timon of Athens_. Such
partnerships were common among the Elizabethan dramatists, the most
illustrious example being the long association of Beaumont and Fletcher.
The plays in the First Folio were divided into histories, comedies, and
tragedies, and it will be convenient to notice them briefly in that

It was a stirring time when the young adventurer came to London to try
his fortune. Elizabeth had finally thrown down the gage of battle to
Catholic Europe, by the execution of Mary Stuart, in 1587. The following
year saw the destruction of the colossal Armada, which Spain had sent to
revenge Mary's death; and hard upon these events followed the gallant
exploits of Grenville, Essex, and Raleigh.

That Shakspere shared the exultant patriotism of the times, and the
sense of their aloofness from the continent of Europe, which was now
born in the breasts of Englishmen, is evident from many a passage in his

This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,
England, bound in with the triumphant sea!

His English histories are ten in number. Of these _King John_ and _Henry
VIII._ are isolated plays. The others form a consecutive series, in the
following order: _Richard II._ the two parts of _Henry IV., Henry V.,_
the three parts of _Henry VI.,_ and _Richard III._ This series may be
divided into two, each forming a tetralogy, or group of four plays. In
the first the subject is the rise of the house of Lancaster. But the
power of the Red Rose was founded in usurpation. In the second group,
accordingly, comes the Nemesis, in the civil wars of the Roses, reaching
their catastrophe in the downfall of both Lancaster and York, and the
tyranny of Gloucester. The happy conclusion is finally reached in the
last play of the series, when this new usurper is overthrown in turn,
and Henry VII., the first Tudor sovereign, ascends the throne and
restores the Lancastrian inheritance, purified, by bloody atonement,
from the stain of Richard II.'s murder. These eight plays are, as it
were, the eight acts of one great drama; and, if such a thing were
possible, they should be represented on successive nights, like the
parts of a Greek trilogy. In order of composition the second group came
first. _Henry VI_. is strikingly inferior to the others. _Richard III_.
is a good acting play, and its popularity has been sustained by a series
of great tragedians, who have taken the part of the king. But, in a
literary sense, it is unequal to _Richard II.,_ or the two parts of
_Henry IV_. The latter is unquestionably Shakspere's greatest historical
tragedy, and it contains his master-creation in the region of low
comedy, the immortal Falstaff.

The constructive art with which Shakspere shaped history into drama is
well seen in comparing his _King John_ with the two plays on that
subject which were already on the stage. These, like all the other old
"Chronicle histories," such as _Thomas Lord Cromwell_ and the _Famous
Victories of Henry V._, follow a merely chronological, or biographical,
order, giving events loosely, as they occurred, without any unity of
effect, or any reference to their bearing on the catastrophe.
Shakspere's order was logical. He compressed and selected, disregarding
the fact of history oftentimes, in favor of the higher truth of fiction;
bringing together a crime and its punishment as cause and effect, even
though they had no such relation in the chronicle, and were separated,
perhaps, by many years.

Shakspere's first two comedies were experiments. _Love's Labour's Lost_
was a play of manners, with hardly any plot. It brought together a
number of _humors_, that is, oddities and affectations of various sorts,
and played them off on one another, as Ben Jonson afterward did in his
comedies of humor. Shakspere never returned to this type of play,
unless, perhaps, in the _Taming of the Shrew_. There the story turned on
a single "humor," Katharine's bad temper, just as the story in Jonson's
_Silent Woman_ turned on Morose's hatred of noise. The _Taming of the
Shrew_ is, therefore, one of the least Shaksperian of Shakspere's plays;
a _bourgeois_ domestic comedy, with a very narrow interest. It belongs
to the school of French comedy, like Moliere's _Malade Imaginaire_, not
to the romantic comedy of Shakspere and Fletcher.

The _Comedy of Errors_ was an experiment of an exactly opposite kind. It
was a play purely of incident; a farce, in which the main improbability
being granted, namely, that the twin Antipholi and twin Dromios are so
alike that they cannot be distinguished, all the amusing complications
follow naturally enough. There is little character-drawing in the play.
Any two pairs of twins, in the same predicament, would be equally droll.
The fun lies in the situation. This was a comedy of the Latin school,
and resembled the _Mennaechmi_ of Plautus. Shakspere never returned to
this type of play, though there is an element of "errors" in _Midsummer
Night's Dream_. In the _Two Gentlemen of Verona_ he finally hit upon
that species of romantic comedy which he may be said to have invented or
created out of the scattered materials at hand in the works of his
predecessors. In this play, as in the _Merchant of Venice, Midsummer
Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night,
Winter's Tale, All's Well that Ends Well, Measure for Measure_, and the
_Tempest_, the plan of construction is as follows. There is one main
intrigue carried out by the high comedy characters, and a secondary
intrigue, or underplot, by the low comedy characters. The former is by
no means purely comic, but admits the presentation of the noblest
motives, the strongest passions, and the most delicate graces of
romantic poetry. In some of the plays it has a prevailing lightness and
gayety, as in _As You Like It_ and _Twelfth Night_. In others, like
_Measure for Measure_, it is barely saved from becoming tragedy by the
happy close. Shylock certainly remains a tragic figure, even to the end,
and a play like _Winter's Tale_, in which the painful situation is
prolonged for years, is only technically a comedy. Such dramas, indeed,
were called, on many of the title-pages of the time, "tragi-comedies."
The low comedy interlude, on the other hand, was broadly comic. It was
cunningly interwoven with the texture of the play, sometimes loosely,
and by way of variety or relief, as in the episode of Touchstone and
Audrey, in _As You Like It_; sometimes closely, as in the case of
Dogberry and Verges, in _Much Ado about Nothing_, where the blundering
of the watch is made to bring about the denouement of the main action.
The _Merry Wives of Windsor_ is an exception to this plan of
construction. It is Shakspere's only play of contemporary, middle-class
English life, and, is written almost throughout in prose. It is his only
pure comedy, except the _Taming of the Shrew_.

Shakspere did not abandon comedy when writing tragedy, though he turned
it to a new account. The two species graded into one another. Thus
_Cymbeline_ is, in its fortunate ending, really as much of a comedy as
_Winter's Tale_--to which its plot bears a resemblance--and is only
technically a tragedy because it contains a violent death. In some of
the tragedies, as in _Macbeth_ and _Julius Caesar_, the comedy element is
reduced to a minimum. But in others, as _Romeo and Juliet_, and
_Hamlet_, it heightens the tragic feeling by the irony of contrast. Akin
to this is the use to which Shakspere put the old Vice, or Clown, of the
moralities. The Fool in Lear, Touchstone in _As You Like It_, and
Thersites in _Troilus and Cressida_, are a sort of parody of the
function of the Greek chorus, commenting the action of the drama with
scraps of bitter, or half-crazy, philosophy, and wonderful gleams of
insight into the depths of man's nature.

The earliest of Shakspere's tragedies, unless _Titus Andronicus_ be his,
was, doubtless, _Romeo and Juliet_, which is full of the passion and
poetry of youth and of first love. It contains a large proportion of
riming lines, which is usually a sign in Shakspere of early work. He
dropped rime more and more in his later plays, and his blank verse grew
freer and more varied in its pauses and the number of its feet. _Romeo
and Juliet_ is also unique, among his tragedies, in this respect, that
the catastrophe is brought about by a fatality, as in the Greek drama.
It was Shakspere's habit to work out his tragic conclusions from within,
through character, rather than through external chances. This is true of
all the great tragedies of his middle life, _Hamlet, Othello, Lear,
Macbeth_, in every one of which the catastrophe is involved in the
character and actions of the hero. This is so, in a special sense, in
_Hamlet_, the subtlest of all Shakspere's plays, and, if not his
masterpiece, at any rate the one which has most attracted and puzzled
the greatest minds. It is observable that in Shakspere's comedies there
is no one central figure, but that, in passing into tragedy, he
intensified and concentrated the attention upon a single character. This
difference is seen even in the naming of the plays; the tragedies always
take their titles from their heroes, the comedies never.

Somewhat later, probably, than the tragedies already mentioned were the
three Roman plays, _Julius Caesar, Coriolanus,_ and _Anthony and
Cleopatra_. It is characteristic of Shakspere that he invented the plot
of none of his plays, but took material that he found at hand. In these
Roman tragedies he followed Plutarch closely, and yet, even in so doing,
gave, if possible, a greater evidence of real creative power than when
he borrowed a mere outline of a story from some Italian novelist. It is
most instructive to compare _Julius Caesar_ with Ben Jonson's _Catiline_
and _Sejanus_. Jonson was careful not to go beyond his text. In
_Catiline_ he translates almost literally the whole of Cicero's first
oration against Catiline. _Sejanus_ is a mosaic of passages from Tacitus
and Suetonius. There is none of this dead learning in Shakspere's play.
Having grasped the conceptions of the characters of Brutus, Cassius, and
Mark Anthony, as Plutarch gave them, he pushed them out into their
consequences in every word and act, so independently of his original,
and yet so harmoniously with it, that the reader knows that he is
reading history, and needs no further warrant for it than Shakspere's
own. _Timon of Athens_ is the least agreeable and most monotonous of
Shakspere's undoubted tragedies, and _Troilus and Cressida_, said
Coleridge, is the hardest to characterize. The figures of the old
Homeric world fare but hardly under the glaring light of modern
standards of morality which Shakspere turns upon them. Ajax becomes a
stupid bully, Ulysses a crafty politician, and swift-footed Achilles a
vain and sulky chief of faction. In losing their ideal remoteness the
heroes of the _Iliad_ lose their poetic quality, and the lover of Homer
experiences an unpleasant disenchantment.

It was customary in the 18th century to speak of Shakspere as a rude
though prodigious genius. Even Milton could describe him as "warbling
his native wood-notes wild." But a truer criticism, beginning in England
with Coleridge, has shown that he was also a profound artist. It is true
that he wrote for his audiences, and that his art is not every-where and
at all points perfect. But a great artist will contrive, as Shakspere
did, to reconcile practical exigencies, like those of the public stage,
with the finer requirements of his art. Strained interpretations have
been put upon this or that item in Shakspere's plays; and yet it is
generally true that some deeper reason can be assigned for his method in
a given case than that "the audience liked puns," or, "the audience
liked ghosts." Compare, for example, his delicate management of the
supernatural with Marlowe's procedure in _Faustus_. Shakspere's age
believed in witches, elves, and apparitions; and yet there is always
something shadowy or allegorical in his use of such machinery. The ghost
in _Hamlet_ is merely an embodied suspicion. Banquo's wraith, which is
invisible to all but Macbeth, is the haunting of an evil conscience. The
witches in the same play are but the promptings of ambition, thrown into
a human shape, so as to become actors in the drama. In the same way, the
fairies in _Midsummer Night's Dream_ are the personified caprices of the
lovers, and they are unseen by the human characters, whose likes and
dislikes they control, save in the instance where Bottom is "translated"
(that is, becomes mad) and has sight of the invisible world. So in the
_Tempest_, Ariel is the spirit of the air and Caliban of the earth,
ministering, with more or less of unwillingness, to man's necessities.

Shakspere is the most universal of writers. He touches more men at more
points than Homer, or Dante, or Goethe. The deepest wisdom, the sweetest
poetry, the widest range of character, are combined in his plays. He
made the English language an organ of expression unexcelled in the
history of literature. Yet he is not an English poet simply, but a
world-poet. Germany has made him her own, and the Latin races, though at
first hindered in a true appreciation of him by the canons of classical
taste, have at length learned to know him. An ever-growing mass of
Shakespearian literature, in the way of comment and interpretation,
critical, textual, historical, or illustrative, testifies to the
durability and growth of his fame. Above all, his plays still keep, and
probably always will keep, the stage. It is common to speak of
Shakespeare and the other Elizabethan dramatists as if they stood, in
some sense, on a level. But in truth there is an almost measureless
distance between him and all his contemporaries. The rest shared with
him in the mighty influences of the age. Their plays are touched here
and there with the power and splendor of which they were all joint
heirs. But, as a whole, they are obsolete. They live in books, but not
in the hearts and on the tongues, of men.

The most remarkable of the dramatists contemporary with Shakespeare was
Ben Jonson, whose robust figure is in striking contrast with the other's
gracious impersonality. Jonson was nine years younger than Shakespeare.
He was educated at Westminster School, served as a soldier in the low
countries, became an actor in Henslowe's company, and was twice
imprisoned--once for killing a fellow-actor in a duel, and once for his
part in the comedy of _Eastward Hoe_, which gave offense to King James.
He lived down to the time of Charles I (1635), and became the
acknowledged arbiter of English letters and the center of convivial wit
combats at the Mermaid, the Devil, and other famous London taverns.

What things have we seen
Done at the Mermaid; heard words that have been
So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
As if that every one from whom they came
Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
And had resolved to live a fool the rest
Of his dull life.[22]

The inscription on his tomb in Westminster Abbey is simply

O rare Ben Jonson!

[Footnote 22: Francis Beaumont. _Letter to Ben Jonson_.]

Jonson's comedies were modeled upon the _vetus comaedia_ of Aristophanes,
which was satirical in purpose, and they belonged to an entirely
different school from Shakspere's. They were classical and not romantic,
and were pure comedies, admitting no admixture of tragic motives. There
is hardly one lovely or beautiful character in the entire range of his
dramatic creations. They were comedies not of character, in the high
sense of the word, but of manners or humors. His design was to lash the
follies and vices of the day, and his _dramatis personae_ consisted for
the most part of gulls, impostors, fops, cowards, swaggering braggarts,
and "Pauls men." In his first play, _Every Man in his Humor_ (acted in
1598), in _Every Man Out of his Humor, Bartholomew Fair_, and, indeed,
in all of his comedies, his subject was the fashionable affectations,
the whims, oddities, and eccentric developments of London life. His
procedure was to bring together a number of these fantastic humorists,
and "squeeze out the humor of such spongy souls," by playing them off
upon each other, involving them in all manner of comical misadventures,
and rendering them utterly ridiculous and contemptible. There was thus a
perishable element in his art, for manners change; and, however
effective this exposure of contemporary affectations may have been
before an audience of Jonson's day, it is as hard for a modern reader to
detect his points as it will be for a reader two hundred years hence to
understand the satire upon the aesthetic craze in such pieces of the
present day as _Patience_, or the _Colonel_. Nevertheless, a patient
reader, with the help of copious footnotes, can gradually put together
for himself an image of that world of obsolete humors in which Jonson's
comedy dwells, and can admire the dramatist's solid good sense, his
great learning, his skill in construction, and the astonishing fertility
of his invention. His characters are not revealed from within, like
Shakspere's, but built up painfully from outside by a succession of
minute, laborious particulars. The difference will be plainly manifest
if such a character as Slender, in the _Merry Wives of Windsor_, be
compared with any one of the inexhaustible variety of idiots in Jonson's
plays; with Master Stephen, for example, in _Every Man in his Humor_;
or, if Falstaff be put side by side with Captain Bobadil, in the same
comedy, perhaps Jonson's masterpiece in the way of comic caricature.
_Cynthia's Revels_ was a satire on the courtiers and the _Poetaster_ on
Jonson's literary enemies. The _Alchemist_ was an exposure of quackery,
and is one of his best comedies, but somewhat overweighted with
learning. _Volpone_ is the most powerful of all his dramas, but is a
harsh and disagreeable piece; and the state of society which it depicts
is too revolting for comedy. The _Silent Woman_ is, perhaps, the easiest
of all Jonson's plays for a modern reader to follow and appreciate.
There is a distinct plot to it, the situation is extremely ludicrous,
and the emphasis is laid upon a single humor or eccentricity, as in some
of Moliere's lighter comedies, like _Le Malade Imaginaire_, or _Le
Medecin malgre lui_.

In spite of his heaviness in drama, Jonson had a light enough touch in
lyric poetry. His songs have not the careless sweetness of Shakspere's,
but they have a grace of their own. Such pieces as his _Love's Triumph,
Hymn to Diana_, the adaptation from Philostratus,

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

and many others entitle their author to rank among the first of English
lyrists. Some of these occur in his two collections of miscellaneous
verse, the _Forest_ and _Underwoods_; others in the numerous masques
which he composed. These were a species of entertainment, very popular
at the court of James I., combining dialogue with music, intricate
dances, and costly scenery. Jonson left an unfinished pastoral drama,
the _Sad Shepherd_, which contains passages of great beauty; one,
especially, descriptive of the shepherdess

Who had her very being and her name
With the first buds and breathings of the spring,
Born with the primrose and the violet
And earliest roses blown.

1. A History of Elizabethan Literature. George Saintsbury.
London: Macmillan & Co., 1877.

2. Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics. London:
Macmillan & Co., 1877.

3. The Courtly Poets from Raleigh to Montrose. Edited
by J. Hannah. London: Bell & Daldy, 1870.

4. The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. London: Sampson
Low, Son & Marston, 1867.

5. Bacon's Essays. Edited by W. Aldis Wright. Macmillan
& Co. (Golden Treasury Series.)

6. The Cambridge Shakspere. (Clark & Wright.)

7. Charles Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets.

8. Ben Jonson's Volpone and Silent Woman. Cunningham's
Edition. London: J.C. Hotten, (3 vols.)




The Elizabethan age proper closed with the death of the queen, and the
accession of James I., in 1603, but the literature of the fifty years
following was quite as rich as that of the half-century that had passed
since she came to the throne, in 1557. The same qualities of thought and
style which had marked the writers of her reign prolonged themselves in
their successors, through the reigns of the first two Stuart kings and
the Commonwealth. Yet there was a change in spirit. Literature is only
one of the many forms in which the national mind expresses itself. In
periods of political revolution, literature, leaving the serene air of
fine art, partakes the violent agitation of the times. There were seeds
of civil and religious discord in Elizabethan England. As between the
two parties in the Church there was a compromise and a truce rather than
a final settlement. The Anglican doctrine was partly Calvinistic and
partly Arminian. The form of government was Episcopal, but there was a
large body of Presbyterians in the Church who desired a change. In the
ritual and ceremonies many "rags of popery" had been retained, which the
extreme reformers wished to tear away. But Elizabeth was a
worldly-minded woman, impatient of theological disputes. Though
circumstances had made her the champion of Protestantism in Europe she
kept many Catholic notions; disapproved, for example, of the marriage of
priests, and hated sermons. She was jealous of her prerogative in the
State, and in the Church she enforced uniformity. The authors of the
_Martin Marprelate_ pamphlets against the bishops were punished by
death or imprisonment. While the queen lived things were kept well
together and England was at one in face of the common foe. Admiral
Howard, who commanded the English naval forces against the Armada, was a

But during the reign of James I. (1603-1625) and Charles I. (1625-1649)
Puritanism grew stronger through repression. "England," says the
historian Green, "became the people of a book, and that book the Bible."
The power of the king was used to impose the power of the bishops upon
the English and Scotch Churches until religious discontent became also
political discontent, and finally overthrew the throne. The writers of
this period divided more and more into two hostile camps. On the side of
Church and king was the bulk of the learning and genius of the time. But
on the side of free religion and the Parliament were the stern
conviction, the fiery zeal, the exalted imagination of English
Puritanism. The spokesman of this movement was Milton, whose great
figure dominates the literary history of his generation, as Shakspere
does of the generation preceding.

The drama went on in the course marked out for it by Shakspere's example
until the theaters were closed by Parliament, in 1642. Of the Stuart
dramatists the most important were Beaumont and Fletcher, all of whose
plays were produced during the reign of James I. These were fifty-three
in number, but only thirteen of them were joint productions. Francis
Beaumont was twenty years younger than Shakspere, and died a few years
before him. He was the son of a judge of the Common Pleas. His
collaborator, John Fletcher, a son of the bishop of London, was five
years older than Beaumont, and survived him nine years. He was much the
more prolific of the two and wrote alone some forty plays. Although the
life of one of these partners was conterminous with Shakspere's, their
works exhibit a later phase of the dramatic art. The Stuart dramatists
followed the lead of Shakspere rather than of Ben Jonson. Their plays,
like the former's, belong to the romantic drama. They present a poetic
and idealized version of life, deal with the highest passions and the
wildest buffoonery, and introduce a great variety of those daring
situations and incidents which we agree to call romantic. But, while
Shakspere seldom or never overstepped the modesty of nature, his
successors ran into every license. They sought to stimulate the jaded
appetite of their audience by exhibiting monstrosities of character,
unnatural lusts, subtleties of crime, virtues and vices both in excess.

Beaumont and Fletcher's plays are much easier and more agreeable reading
than Ben Jonson's. Though often loose in their plots and without that
consistency in the development of their characters which distinguished
Jonson's more conscientious workmanship, they are full of graceful
dialogue and beautiful poetry. Dryden said that after the Restoration
two of their plays were acted for one of Shakspere's or Jonson's
throughout the year, and he added that they "understood and imitated the
conversation of gentlemen much better, whose wild debaucheries and
quickness of wit in repartees no poet can ever paint as they have done."
Wild debauchery was certainly not the mark of a gentleman in Shakspere,
nor was it altogether so in Beaumont and Fletcher. Their gentlemen are
gallant and passionate lovers, gay cavaliers, generous, courageous,
courteous--according to the fashion of their times--and sensitive on the
point of honor. They are far superior to the cold-blooded rakes of
Dryden and the Restoration comedy. Still the manners and language in
Beaumont and Fletcher's plays are extremely licentious, and it is not
hard to sympathize with the objections to the theater expressed by the
Puritan writer, William Prynne, who, after denouncing the long hair of
the cavaliers in his tract, _The Unloveliness of Lovelocks_, attacked
the stage, in 1633, with _Histrio-mastix: the Player's Scourge_; an
offense for which he was fined, imprisoned, pilloried, and had his ears
cropped. Coleridge said that Shakspere was coarse, but never gross. He
had the healthy coarseness of nature herself. But Beaumont and
Fletcher's pages are corrupt. Even their chaste women are immodest in
language and thought. They use not merely that frankness of speech which
was a fashion of the times, but a profusion of obscene imagery which
could not proceed from a pure mind. Chastity with them is rather a
bodily accident than a virtue of the heart, says Coleridge.

Among the best of their light comedies are _The Chances, The Scornful
Lady, The Spanish Curate_, and _Rule a Wife and Have a Wife_. But far
superior to these are their tragedies and tragi-comedies, _The Maid's
Tragedy, Philaster, A King and No King_--all written jointly--and
_Valentinian_ and _Thierry and Theodoret_, written by Fletcher alone,
but perhaps, in part, sketched out by Beaumont. The tragic masterpiece
of Beaumont and Fletcher is _The Maid's Tragedy_, a powerful but
repulsive play, which sheds a singular light not only upon its authors'
dramatic methods, but also upon the attitude toward royalty favored by
the doctrine of the divine right of kings, which grew up under the
Stuarts. The heroine, Evadne, has been in secret a mistress of the king,
who marries her to Amintor, a gentleman of his court, because, as she
explains to her bridegroom, on the wedding night,

I must have one
To father children, and to bear the name
Of husband to me, that my sin may be
More honorable.

This scene is, perhaps, the most affecting and impressive in the whole
range of Beaumont and Fletcher's drama. Yet when Evadne names the king
as her paramour, Amintor exclaims:

O thou hast named a word that wipes away
All thoughts revengeful. In that sacred name
"The king" there lies a terror. What frail man
Dares lift his hand against it? Let the gods
Speak to him when they please; till when, let us
Suffer and wait.

And the play ends with the words

On lustful kings,
Unlooked-for sudden deaths from heaven are sent,
But cursed is he that is their instrument.

Aspatia, in this tragedy, is a good instance of Beaumont and Fletcher's
pathetic characters. She is troth-plight wife to Amintor, and after he,
by the king's command, has forsaken her for Evadne, she disguises
herself as a man, provokes her unfaithful lover to a duel, and dies
under his sword, blessing the hand that killed her. This is a common
type in Beaumont and Fletcher, and was drawn originally from Shakspere's
Ophelia. All their good women have the instinctive fidelity of a dog,
and a superhuman patience and devotion, a "gentle forlornness" under
wrongs, which is painted with an almost feminine tenderness. In
_Philaster, or Love Lies Bleeding_, Euphrasia, conceiving a hopeless
passion for Philaster--who is in love with Arethusa--puts on the dress
of a page and enters his service. He employs her to carry messages to
his lady-love, just as Viola, in _Twelfth Night_, is sent by the duke to
Olivia. Philaster is persuaded by slanderers that his page and his lady
have been unfaithful to him, and in his jealous fury he wounds Euphrasia
with his sword. Afterward, convinced of the boy's fidelity, he asks
forgiveness, whereto Euphrasia replies,

Alas, my lord, my life is not a thing
Worthy your noble thoughts. 'Tis not a life,
'Tis but a piece of childhood thrown away.

Beaumont and Fletcher's love-lorn maids wear the willow very sweetly,
but in all their piteous passages there is nothing equal to the natural
pathos--the pathos which arises from the deep springs of character--of
that one brief question and answer in _King Lear_.

_Lear_. So young and so untender?

_Cordelia_. So young, my lord, and true.

The disguise of a woman in man's apparel is a common incident in the
romantic drama; and the fact that on the Elizabethan stage the female
parts were taken by boys made the deception easier. Viola's situation in
_Twelfth Night_ is precisely similiar to Euphrasia's, but there is a
difference in the handling of the device which is characteristic of a
distinction between Shakspere's art and that of his contemporaries. The
audience in _Twelfth Night_ is taken into confidence and made aware of
Viola's real nature from the start, while Euphrasia's _incognito_ is
preserved till the fifth act, and then disclosed by an accident. This
kind of mystification and surprise was a trick below Shakspere. In this
instance, moreover, it involved a departure from dramatic probability.
Euphrasia could, at any moment, by revealing her identity, have averted
the greatest sufferings and dangers from Philaster, Arethusa, and
herself, and the only motive for her keeping silence is represented to
have been a feeling of maidenly shame at her position. Such strained and
fantastic motives are too often made the pivot of the action in Beaumont
and Fletcher's tragi-comedies. Their characters have not the depth and
truth of Shakspere's, nor are they drawn so sharply. One reads their
plays with pleasure, and remembers here and there a passage of fine
poetry, or a noble or lovely trait, but their characters, as wholes,
leave a fading impression. Who, even after a single reading or
representation, ever forgets Falstaff, or Shylock, or King Lear?

The moral inferiority of Beaumont and Fletcher is well seen in such a
play as _A King and No King_. Here Arbaces falls in love with his
sister, and, after a furious conflict in his own mind, finally succumbs
to his guilty passion. He is rescued from the consequences of his
weakness by the discovery that Panthea is not, in fact, his sister. But
this is to cut the knot and not to untie it. It leaves the denouement to
chance, and not to those moral forces through which Shakspere always
wrought his conclusions. Arbaces has failed, and the piece of luck which
keeps his failure innocent is rejected by every right-feeling spectator.
In one of John Ford's tragedies the situation which in _A King and No
King_ is only apparent becomes real, and incest is boldly made the
subject of the play. Ford pushed the morbid and unnatural in character
and passion into even wilder extremes than Beaumont and Fletcher. His
best play, the _Broken Heart_, is a prolonged and unrelieved torture of
the feelings.

Fletcher's _Faithful Shepherdess_ is the best English pastoral drama
with the exception of Jonson's fragment, the _Sad Shepherd_. Its choral
songs are richly and sweetly modulated, and the influence of the whole
poem upon Milton is very apparent in his _Comus_. The _Knight of the
Burning Pestle,_ written by Beaumont and Fletcher jointly, was the first
burlesque comedy in the language, and is excellent fooling. Beaumont and
Fletcher's blank verse is musical, but less masculine than Marlowe's or
Shakspere's, by reason of their excessive use of extra syllables and
feminine endings.

In John Webster the fondness for abnormal and sensational themes, which
beset the Stuart stage, showed itself in the exaggeration of the
terrible into the horrible. Fear, in Shakspere--as in the great murder
scene in _Macbeth_--is a pure passion; but in Webster it is mingled with
something physically repulsive. Thus his _Duchess of Malfi_ is presented
in the dark with a dead man's hand, and is told that it is the hand of
her murdered husband. She is shown a dance of mad-men and, "behind a
traverse, the artificial figures of her children, appearing as if
dead." Treated in this elaborate fashion, that "terror," which Aristotle
said it was one of the objects of tragedy to move, loses half its
dignity. Webster's images have the smell of the charnel house about

She would not after the report keep fresh
As long as flowers on graves.

We are only like dead walls or vaulted graves,
That, ruined, yield no echo.
O this gloomy world I
In what a shadow or deep pit of darkness
Doth womanish and fearful mankind live!

Webster had an intense and somber genius. In diction he was the most
Shaksperian of the Elizabethan dramatists, and there are sudden gleams
of beauty among his dark horrors which light up a whole scene with some
abrupt touch of feeling.

Cover her face: mine eyes dazzle: she died young,

says the brother of the Duchess, when he has procured her murder and
stands before the corpse. _Vittoria Corombona_ is described in the old
editions as "a night-piece," and it should, indeed, be acted by the
shuddering light of torches, and with the cry of the screech-owl to
punctuate the speeches. The scene of Webster's two best tragedies was
laid, like many of Ford's, Cyril Tourneur's, and Beaumont and
Fletcher's, in Italy--the wicked and splendid Italy of the Renaissance,
which had such a fascination for the Elizabethan imagination. It was to
them the land of the Borgias and the Cenci; of families of proud nobles,
luxurious, cultivated, but full of revenge and ferocious cunning; subtle
poisoners, who killed with a perfumed glove or fan; parricides,
atheists, committers of unnamable crimes, and inventors of strange and
delicate varieties of sin.

But a very few have here been mentioned of the great host of dramatists
who kept the theaters busy through the reigns of Elizabeth, James I.,
and Charles I. The last of the race was James Shirley, who died in 1666,
and whose thirty-eight plays were written during the reign of Charles I.
and the Commonwealth.

In the miscellaneous prose and poetry of this period there is lacking
the free, exulting, creative impulse of the elder generation, but there
are a soberer feeling and a certain scholarly choiceness which commend
themselves to readers of bookish tastes. Even that quaintness of thought
which is a mark of the Commonwealth writers is not without its
attraction for a nice literary palate. Prose became now of greater
relative importance than ever before. Almost every distinguished writer
lent his pen to one or the other party in the great theological and
political controversy of the time. There were famous theologians, like
Hales, Chillingworth, and Baxter; historians and antiquaries, like
Selden, Knolles, and Cotton; philosophers, such as Hobbes, Lord Herbert
of Cherbury, and More, the Platonist; and writers in natural
science--which now entered upon its modern, experimental phase, under
the stimulus of Bacon's writings--among whom may be mentioned Wallis,
the mathematician; Boyle, the chemist; and Harvey, the discoverer of the
circulation of the blood. These are outside of our subject, but in the
strictly literary prose of the time, the same spirit of roused inquiry
is manifest, and the same disposition to a thorough and exhaustive
treatment of a subject, which is proper to the scientific attitude of
mind. The line between true and false science, however, had not yet been
drawn. The age was pedantic, and appealed too much to the authority of
antiquity. Hence we have such monuments of perverse and curious
erudition as Robert Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_, 1621; and Sir
Thomas Browne's _Pseudodoxia Epidemica_, or _Inquiries into Vulgar and
Common Errors_, 1646. The former of these was the work of an Oxford
scholar, an astrologer, who cast his own horoscope, and a victim
himself of the atrabilious humor, from which he sought relief in
listening to the ribaldry of bargemen, and in compiling this _Anatomy_,
in which the causes, symptoms, prognostics, and cures of melancholy are
considered in numerous partitions, sections, members, and subsections.
The work is a mosaic of quotations. All literature is ransacked for
anecdotes and instances, and the book has thus become a mine of
out-of-the-way learning in which later writers have dug. Lawrence Sterne
helped himself freely to Burton's treasures, and Dr. Johnson said that
the _Anatomy_ was the only book that ever took him out of bed two hours
sooner than he wished to rise.

The vulgar and common errors which Sir Thomas Browne set himself to
refute were such as these: That dolphins are crooked, that Jews stink,
that a man hath one rib less than a woman, that Xerxes's army drank up
rivers, that cicades are bred out of cuckoo-spittle, that Hannibal split
Alps with vinegar, together with many similar fallacies touching Pope
Joan, the Wandering Jew, the decuman or tenth wave, the blackness of
negroes, Friar Bacon's brazen head, etc. Another book in which great
learning and ingenuity were applied to trifling ends was the same
author's _Garden of Cyrus; or, the Quincuncial Lozenge or Network
Plantations of the Ancients_, in which a mystical meaning is sought in
the occurrence throughout nature and art of the figure of the quincunx
or lozenge. Browne was a physician of Norwich, where his library,
museum, aviary, and botanic garden were thought worthy of a special
visit by the Royal Society. He was an antiquary and a naturalist, and
deeply read in the school-men and the Christian Fathers. He was a
mystic, and a writer of a rich and peculiar imagination, whose thoughts
have impressed themselves upon many kindred minds, like Coleridge, De
Quincey, and Emerson. Two of his books belong to literature, _Religio
Medici_, published in 1642, and _Hydriotaphia; or, Urn Burial_, 1658, a
discourse upon rites of burial and incremation, suggested by some Roman
funeral urns dug up in Norfolk. Browne's style, though too highly
latinized, is a good example of Commonwealth prose; that stately,
cumbrous, brocaded prose which had something of the flow and measure of
verse, rather than the quicker, colloquial movement of modern writing.
Browne stood aloof from the disputes of his time, and in his very
subjects there is a calm and meditative remoteness from the daily
interests of men. His _Religio Medici_ is full of a wise tolerance and a
singular elevation of feeling. "At the sight of a cross, or crucifix, I
can dispense with my hat, but scarce with the thought or memory of my
Saviour." "They only had the advantage of a bold and noble faith who
lived before his coming." "They go the fairest way to heaven that would
serve God without a hell." "All things are artificial, for nature is the
art of God." The last chapter of the _Urn Burial_ is an almost
rhythmical descant on mortality and oblivion. The style kindles slowly
into a somber eloquence. It is the most impressive and extraordinary
passage in the prose literature of the time. Browne, like Hamlet, loved
to "consider too curiously." His subtlety led him to "pose his
apprehension with those involved enigmas and riddles of the
Trinity--with incarnation and resurrection;" and to start odd inquiries:
"what song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid
himself among women;" or whether, after Lazarus was raised from the
dead, "his heir might lawfully detain his inheritance." The quaintness
of his phrase appears at every turn. "Charles the Fifth can never hope
to live within two Methuselahs of Hector." "Generations pass while some
trees stand, and old families survive not three oaks." "Mummy is become
merchandise; Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams."

One of the pleasantest of old English humorists is Thomas Fuller, who
was a chaplain in the royal army during the civil war, and wrote, among
other things, a _Church History of Britain;_ a book of religious
meditations, _Good Thoughts in Bad Times_; and a "character" book, _The
Holy and Profane State._ His most important work, the _Worthies of
England,_ was published in 1662, the year after his death. This was a
description of every English county; its natural commodities,
manufactures, wonders, proverbs, etc., with brief biographies of its
memorable persons. Fuller had a well-stored memory, sound piety, and
excellent common sense. Wit was his leading intellectual trait, and the
quaintness which he shared with his contemporaries appears in his
writings in a fondness for puns, droll turns of expression and bits of
eccentric suggestion. His prose, unlike Browne's, Milton's, and Jeremy
Taylor's, is brief, simple, and pithy. His dry vein of humor was
imitated by the American Cotton Mather, in his _Magnolia_, and by many
of the English and New England divines of the 17th century.

Jeremy Taylor was also a chaplain in the king's army, was several times
imprisoned for his opinions, and was afterward made, by Charles II.,
bishop of Down and Connor. He is a devotional rather than a theological
writer, and his _Holy Living_ and _Holy Dying_ are religious classics.
Taylor, like Sidney was a "warbler of poetic prose." He has been called
the prose Spenser, and his English has the opulence, the gentle
elaboration, the "linked sweetness long drawn out" of the poet of the
_Faerie Queene_. In fullness and resonance Taylor's diction resembles
that of the great orators, though it lacks their nervous energy. His
pathos is exquisitely tender, and his numerous similes have Spenser's
pictorial amplitude. Some of them have become commonplaces for
admiration, notably his description of the flight of the skylark, and
the sentence in which he compares the gradual awakening of the human
faculties to the sunrise, which "first opens a little eye of heaven, and
sends away the spirits of darkness, and gives light to a cock, and calls
up the lark to matins, and by and by gilds the fringes of a cloud, and
peeps over the eastern hills." Perhaps the most impressive single
passage of Taylor's is the opening chapter in _Holy Dying_. From the
midst of the sickening paraphernalia of death which he there accumulates
rises that delicate image of the fading rose, one of the most perfect
things in its wording in all our prose literature. "But so have I seen a
rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was as
fair as the morning, and full with the dew of heaven as a lamb's fleece;
but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and
dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on
darkness and to decline to softness and the symptoms of a sickly age; it
bowed the head and broke its stock; and at night, having lost some of
its leaves and all its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and
outworn faces."

With the progress of knowledge and discussion many kinds of prose
literature, which were not absolutely new, now began to receive wider
extension. Of this sort are the _Letters from Italy_, and other
miscellanies included in the _Reliquiae Wottonianae_, or remains of Sir
Henry Wotton, English embassador at Venice in the reign of James I., and
subsequently Provost of Eton College. Also the _Table Talk_--full of
incisive remarks--left by John Selden, whom Milton pronounced the first
scholar of his age, and who was a distinguished authority in legal
antiquities and international law, furnished notes to Drayton's
_Polyolbion_, and wrote upon Eastern religions, and upon the Arundel
marbles. Literary biography was represented by the charming little
_Lives_ of good old Izaak Walton, the first edition of whose _Compleat
Angler_ was printed in 1653. The lives were five in number; of Hooker,
Wotton, Donne, Herbert, and Sanderson. Several of these were personal
friends of the author, and Sir Henry Wotton was a brother of the angle.
The _Compleat Angler_, though not the first piece of sporting literature
in English, is unquestionably the most popular, and still remains a
favorite with "all that are lovers of virtue, and dare trust in
Providence, and be quiet, and go a-angling." As in Ascham's
_Toxophilus_, the instruction is conveyed in dialogue form, but the
technical part of the book is relieved by many delightful digressions.
Piscator and his friend Venator pursue their talk under a honeysuckle
hedge or a sycamore-tree during a passing shower. They repair, after the
day's fishing, to some honest ale-house, with lavender in the window and
a score of ballads stuck about the wall, where they sing
catches--"old-fashioned poetry but choicely good"--composed by the
author or his friends, drink barley wine, and eat their trout or chub.
They encounter milkmaids, who sing to them and give them a draft of the
red cow's milk and they never cease their praises of the angler's life,
of rural contentment among the cowslip meadows, and the quiet streams of
Thames, or Lea, or Shawford Brook.

The decay of a great literary school is usually signalized by the
exaggeration of its characteristic traits. The manner of the Elizabethan
poets was pushed into mannerism by their successors. That manner, at its
best, was hardly a simple one, but in the Stuart and Commonwealth
writers it became mere extravagance. Thus Phineas Fletcher--a cousin
of the dramatist--composed a long Spenserian allegory, the _Purple
Island_, descriptive of the human body. George Herbert and others made
anagrams, and verses shaped like an altar, a cross, or a pair of Easter
wings. This group of poets was named, by Dr. Johnson, in his life of
Cowley, the metaphysical school. Other critics have preferred to call
them the fantastic or conceited school, the later Euphuists or the
English Marinists and Gongorists, after the poets Marino and Gongora,
who brought this fashion to its extreme in Italy and in Spain. The
English _conceptistas_ were mainly clergymen of the established church:
Donne, Herbert, Vaughan, Quarles, and Herrick. But Crashaw was a Roman
Catholic, and Cowley--the latest of them--a layman.

The one who set the fashion was Dr. John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's, whom
Dryden pronounced a great wit, but not a great poet, and whom Ben Jonson
esteemed the best poet in the world for some things, but likely to be
forgotten for want of being understood. Besides satires and epistles in
verse, he composed amatory poems in his youth, and divine poems in his
age, both kinds distinguished by such subtle obscurity, and far-fetched
ingenuities, that they read like a series of puzzles. When this poet has
occasion to write a valediction to his mistress upon going into France,
he compares their temporary separation to that of a pair of compasses:

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like the other foot obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

If he would persuade her to marriage he calls her attention to a flea--

Me it sucked first and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.

He says that the flea is their marriage-temple, and bids her forbear to
kill it lest she thereby commit murder, suicide and sacrilege all in
one. Donne's figures are scholastic and smell of the lamp. He ransacked
cosmography, astrology, alchemy, optics, the canon law, and the divinity
of the school-men for ink-horn terms and similes. He was in verse what
Browne was in prose. He loved to play with distinctions, hyperboles,
parodoxes, the very casuistry and dialectics of love or devotion.

Thou canst not every day give me my heart:
If thou canst give it then thou never gav'st it:
Love's riddles are that though thy heart depart
It stays at home, and thou with losing sav'st it.

Donne's verse is usually as uncouth as his thought. But there is a real
passion slumbering under these ashy heaps of conceit, and occasionally a
pure flame darts up, as in the justly admired lines:

Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheek, and so divinely wrought
That one might almost say her body thought.

This description of Donne is true, with modifications, of all the
metaphysical poets. They had the same forced and unnatural style. The
ordinary laws of the association of ideas were reversed with them. It
was not the nearest, but the remotest, association that was called up.
"Their attempts," said Johnson, "were always analytic: they broke every
image into fragments." The finest spirit among them was "holy George
Herbert," whose _Temple_ was published in 1633. The titles in this
volume were such as the following: Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Holy
Baptism, The Cross, The Church Porch, Church Music, The Holy Scriptures,
Redemption, Faith, Doomsday. Never since, except, perhaps, in Keble's
_Christian Year_, have the ecclesiastic ideals of the Anglican
Church--the "beauty of holiness"--found such sweet expression in
poetry. The verses entitled _Virtue_--

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,

are known to most readers, as well as the line,

Who sweeps a room as for thy laws makes that and the action fine.

The quaintly named pieces, the _Elixir_, the _Collar_, and the _Pulley_,
are full of deep thought and spiritual feeling. But Herbert's poetry is
constantly disfigured by bad taste. Take this passage from _Whitsunday_,

Listen, sweet dove, unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings on me,
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing and fly away with thee,

which is almost as ludicrous as the epitaph written by his
contemporary, Carew, on the daughter of Sir Thomas Wentworth, whose soul

...grew so fast within
It broke the outward shell of sin,
And so was hatched a cherubin.

Another of these church poets was Henry Vaughan, "the Silurist," or
Welshman, whose fine piece, the _Retreat_, has been often compared with
Wordsworth's _Ode on the Intimations of Immortality_. Frances Quarles's
_Divine Emblems_ long remained a favorite book with religious readers
both in old and New England. Emblem books, in which engravings of a
figurative design were accompanied with explanatory letterpress in
verse, were a popular class of literature in the 17th century. The most
famous of them all were Jacob Catt's Dutch emblems.

One of the most delightful of the English lyric poets is Robert Herrick,
whose _Hesperides_, 1648, has lately received such sympathetic
illustration from the pencil of an American artist, Mr. E.A. Abbey.
Herrick was a clergyman of the English Church and was expelled by the
Puritans from his living, the vicarage of Dean Prior, in Devonshire. The
most quoted of his religious poems is, _How to Keep a True Lent._ But it
may be doubted whether his tastes were prevailingly clerical; his poetry
certainly was not. He was a disciple of Ben Jonson, and his boon
companion at

...those lyric feasts
Made at the Sun,
The Dog, the Triple Tun;
Where we such clusters had
As made us nobly wild, not mad.
And yet each verse of thine,
Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine.

Herrick's _Noble Numbers_ seldom rises above the expression of a
cheerful gratitude and contentment. He had not the subtlety and
elevation of Herbert, but he surpassed him in the grace, melody,
sensuous beauty, and fresh lyrical impulse of his verse. The conceits of
the metaphysical school appear in Herrick only in the form of an
occasional pretty quaintness. He is the poet of English parish festivals
and of English flowers, the primrose, the whitethorn, the daffodil. He
sang the praises of the country life, love songs to "Julia," and hymns
of thanksgiving for simple blessings. He has been called the English
Catullus, but he strikes rather the Horatian note of _Carpe diem_ and
regret at the shortness of life and youth in many of his best-known
poems, such as _Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may_, and _To Corinna, To
Go a Maying._

Richard Crashaw was a Cambridge scholar who was turned out of his
fellowship at Peterhouse by the Puritans in 1644, for refusing to
subscribe the Solemn League and Covenant; became a Roman Catholic, and
died in 1650 as a canon of the Virgin's Chapel at Loretto. He is best
known to the general reader by his _Wishes for his Unknown Mistress_,

That not impossible she

which is included in most of the anthologies. His religious poetry
expresses a rapt and mystical piety, fed on the ecstatic visions of St.
Theresa, "undaunted daughter of desires," who is the subject of a
splendid apostrophe in his poem, _The Flaming Heart_. Crashaw is, in
fact, a poet of passages and of single lines, his work being exceedingly
uneven and disfigured by tasteless conceits. In one of his Latin
epigrams occurs the celebrated line upon the miracle at Cana:

Vidit et erubuit nympha pudica Deum:

as englished by Dryden,

The conscious water saw its Lord and blushed.

Abraham Cowley is now less remembered for his poetry than for his
pleasant volume of essays, published after the Restoration; but he was
thought in his own time a better poet than Milton. His collection of
love songs--the _Mistress_--is a mass of cold conceits, in the
metaphysical manner; but his elegies on Crashaw and Harvey have much
dignity and natural feeling. He introduced the Pindaric ode into
English, and wrote an epic poem on a biblical subject--the
_Davideis_--now quite unreadable. Cowley was a royalist, and followed
the exiled court to France.

Side by side with the church poets were the cavaliers--Carew, Waller,
Lovelace, Suckling, L'Estrange, and others--gallant courtiers and
officers in the royal army, who mingled love and loyalty in their
strains. Colonel Richard Lovelace, who lost every thing in the king's
service, and was several times imprisoned, wrote two famous songs--_To
Lucasta on going to the Wars_--in which occur the lines,

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honor more--

and to _Althaea from Prison_, in which he sings "the sweetness, mercy,
majesty, and glories" of his king, and declares that "stone-walls do not
a prison make, nor iron bars a cage." Another of the cavaliers was Sir
John Suckling, who formed a plot to rescue the Earl of Strafford, raised
a troop of horse for Charles I., was impeached by the Parliament and
fled to France. He was a man of wit and pleasure, who penned a number of
gay trifles, but has been saved from oblivion chiefly by his exquisite
_Ballad upon a Wedding_. Thomas Carew and Edmund Waller were poets of
the same stamp--graceful and easy, but shallow in feeling. Carew,
however, showed a nicer sense of form than most of the fantastic school.
Some of his love songs are written with delicate art. There are noble
lines in his elegy on Donne and in one passage of his masque _Coelum
Britannicum_. In his poem entitled _The Rapture_ great splendor of
language and imagery is devoted to the service of an unbridled
sensuality. Waller, who followed the court to Paris, was the author of
two songs, which are still favorites, _Go, Lovely Rose_, and _On a
Girdle_, and he first introduced the smooth, correct manner of writing
in couplets, which Dryden and Pope carried to perfection. Gallantly
rather than love was the inspiration of these courtly singers. In such
verses as Carew's _Encouragements to a Lover_, and George Wither's _The
Manly Heart_,

If she be not so to me,
What care I how fair she be?--

we see the revolt against the high, passionate, Sidneian love of the
Elizabethan sonneteers, and the note of _persiflage_ that was to mark
the lyrical verse of the Restoration. But the poetry of the cavaliers
reached its high-water mark in one fiery-hearted song by the noble and
unfortunate James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, who invaded Scotland in
the interest of Charles II., and was taken prisoner and put to death at
Edinburgh in 1650.

My dear and only love, I pray
That little world of thee
Be governed by no other sway
Than purest monarchy.

In language borrowed from the politics of the time, he cautions his
mistress against _synods_ or _committees_ in her heart; swears to make
her glorious by his pen and famous by his sword; and, with that fine
recklessness which distinguished the dashing troopers of Prince Rupert,
he adds, in words that have been often quoted,

He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
That dares not put it to the touch
To gain or lose it all.

John Milton, the greatest English poet except Shakspere, was born in
London in 1608. His father was a scrivener, an educated man, and a
musical composer of some merit. At his home Milton was surrounded with
all the inflences of a refined and well-ordered Puritan household of
the better class. He inherited his father's musical tastes, and during
the latter part of his life he spent a part of every afternoon in
playing the organ. No poet has written more beautifully of music than
Milton. One of his sonnets was addressed to Henry Lawes, the composer,
who wrote the airs to the songs in _Comus_. Milton's education was most
careful and thorough. He spent seven years at Cambridge, where, from his
personal beauty and fastidious habits, he was called "The lady of
Christ's." At Horton, in Buckinghamshire, where his father had a country
seat, he passed five years more, perfecting himself in his studies, and
then traveled for fifteen months, mainly in Italy, visiting Naples and
Rome, but residing at Florence. Here he saw Galileo, a prisoner of the
Inquisition "for thinking otherwise in astronomy than his Dominican and
Franciscan licensers thought." Milton was the most scholarly and the
most truly classical of English poets. His Latin verse, for elegance and
correctness, ranks with Addison's; and his Italian poems were the
admiration of the Tuscan scholars. But his learning appears in his
poetry only in the form of a fine and chastened result, and not in
laborious allusion and pedantic citation, as too often in Ben Jonson,
for instance. "My father," he wrote, "destined me, while yet a little
child, for the study of humane letters." He was also destined for the
ministry, but, "coming to some maturity of years and perceiving what
tyrany had invaded the Church,...I thought it better to prefer a
blameless silence, before the sacred office of speaking, bought and
begun with servitude and forswearing." Other hands than a bishop's were
laid upon his head. "He who would not be frustrate of his hope to write
well hereafter," he says, "ought himself to be a true poem." And he adds
that his "natural haughtiness" saved him from all impurity of living.
Milton had a sublime self-respect. The dignity and earnestness of the
Puritan gentleman blended in his training with the culture of the
Renaissance. Born into an age of spiritual conflict, he dedicated his
gift to the service of Heaven, and he became, like Heine, a valiant
soldier in the war for liberation. He was the poet of a cause, and his
song was keyed to

the Dorian mood
Of flutes and soft recorders such as raised
To height of noblest temper, heroes old
Arming to battle.

On comparing Milton with Shakspere, with his universal sympathies and
receptive imagination, one perceives a loss in breadth, but a gain in
intense personal conviction. He introduced a new note into English
poetry: the passion for truth and the feeling of religious sublimity.
Milton's was an heroic age, and its song must be lyric rather than
dramatic; its singer must be in the fight and of it.

Of the verses which he wrote at Cambridge the most important was his
splendid ode _On the Morning of Christ's Nativity_. At Horton he wrote,
among other things, the companion pieces, _L'Allegro_ and _Il
Penseroso_, of a kind quite new in English, giving to the landscape an
expression in harmony with the two contrasted moods. _Comus_, which
belongs to the same period, was the perfection of the Elizabethan court
masque, and was presented at Ludlow Castle in 1634, on the occasion of
the installation of the Earl of Bridgewater as Lord President of Wales.
Under the guise of a skillful addition to the Homeric allegory of Circe,
with her cup of enchantment, it was a Puritan song in praise of chastity
and temperance. _Lycidas_, in like manner, was the perfection of the
Elizabethan pastoral elegy. It was contributed to a volume of memorial
verses on the death of Edward King, a Cambridge friend of Milton's, who
was drowned in the Irish Channel in 1637. In one stern strain, which is
put into the mouth of St. Peter, the author "foretells the ruin of our
corrupted clergy, then at their height."

But that two-handed engine at the door
Stands ready to smite once and smite no more.

This was Milton's last utterance in English verse before the outbreak
of the civil war, and it sounds the alarm of the impending struggle. In
technical quality _Lycidas_ is the most wonderful of all Milton's poems.
The cunningly intricate harmony of the verse, the pressed and packed
language, with its fullness of meaning and allusion, make it worthy of
the minutest study. In these early poems, Milton, merely as a poet, is
at his best. Something of the Elizabethan style still clings to them;
but their grave sweetness, their choice wording, their originality in
epithet, name, and phrase, were novelties of Milton's own. His English
masters were Spenser, Fletcher, and Sylvester, the translator of Du
Bartas's _La Semaine_, but nothing of Spenser's prolixity, or Fletcher's
effeminacy, or Sylvester's quaintness is found in Milton's pure,
energetic diction. He inherited their beauties, but his taste had been
tempered to a finer edge by his studies in Greek and Hebrew poetry. He
was the last of the Elizabethans, and his style was at once the crown of
the old and a departure into the new. In masque, elegy, and sonnet he
set the seal to the Elizabethan poetry, said the last word, and closed
one great literary era.

In 1639 the breach between Charles I. and his Parliament brought Milton
back from Italy. "I thought it base to be traveling at my ease for
amusement, while my fellow-countrymen at home were fighting for
liberty." For the next twenty years he threw himself into the contest,
and poured forth a succession of tracts, in English and Latin, upon the
various public questions at issue. As a political thinker, Milton had
what Bacon calls "the humor of a scholar." In a country of endowed
grammar schools and universities hardly emerged from a mediaeval
discipline and curriculum, he wanted to set up Greek gymnasia and
philosophical schools, after the fashion of the Porch and the Academy.
He would have imposed an Athenian democracy upon a people trained in the
traditions of monarchy and episcopacy. At the very moment when England
had grown tired of the Protectorate and was preparing to welcome back
the Stuarts, he was writing _An Easy and Ready Way to Establish a Free
Commonwealth_. Milton acknowledged that in prose he had the use of his
left hand only. There are passages of fervid eloquence, where the style
swells into a kind of lofty chant, with a rhythmical rise and fall to
it, as in parts of the English Book of Common Prayer. But in general his
sentences are long and involved, full of inversions and latinized
constructions. Controversy at that day was conducted on scholastic
lines. Each disputant, instead of appealing at once to the arguments of
expediency and common sense, began with a formidable display of
learning, ransacking Greek and Latin authors and the Fathers of the
Church for opinions in support of his own position. These authorities he
deployed at tedious length, and followed them up with heavy scurrilities
and "excusations," by way of attack and defense. The dispute between
Milton and Salmasius over the execution of Charles I. was like a duel
between two knights in full armor striking at each other with ponderous
maces. The very titles of these pamphlets are enough to frighten off a
modern reader: _A Confutation of the Animadversions upon a Defense of a
Humble Remonstrance against a Treatise, entitled Of Reformation_. The
most interesting of Milton's prose tracts is his _Areopagitica: A Speech
for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing_, 1644. The arguments in this are
of permanent force; but if the reader will compare it, or Jeremy
Taylor's _Liberty of Prophesying_, with Locke's _Letters on Toleration_,
he will see how much clearer and more convincing is the modern method of
discussion, introduced by writers like Hobbes and Locke and Dryden.
Under the Protectorate Milton was appointed Latin Secretary to the
Council of State. In the diplomatic correspondence which was his
official duty, and in the composition of his tract, _Defensio pro
Popululo Anglicano_, he overtaxed his eyes, and in 1654 became totally
blind. The only poetry of Milton's belonging to the years 1640-1660 are
a few sonnets of the pure Italian form, mainly called forth by public
occasions. By the Elizabethans the sonnets had been used mainly in love
poetry. In Milton's hands, said Wordsworth, "the thing became a
trumpet." Some of his were addressed to political leaders, like Fairfax,
Cromwell, and Sir Henry Vane; and of these the best is, perhaps, the
sonnet written on the massacre of the Vaudois Protestants--"a collect in
verse," it has been called--which has the fire of a Hebrew prophet
invoking the divine wrath upon the oppressors of Israel. Two were on his
own blindness, and in these there is not one selfish repining, but only
a regret that the value of his service is impaired--

Will God exact day labor, light denied?

After the restoration of the Stuarts, in 1660, Milton was for a while in
peril, by reason of the part that he had taken against the king. But

On evil days though fallen, and evil tongues,
In darkness and with dangers compassed round
And solitude,

he bated no jot of heart or hope. Henceforth he becomes the most heroic
and affecting figure in English literary history. Years before he had
planned an epic poem on the subject of King Arthur, and again a sacred
tragedy on man's fall and redemption. These experiments finally took
shape in _Paradise Lost_, which was given to the world in 1667. This is
the epic of English Puritanism and of Protestant Christianity. It was
Milton's purpose to

assert eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to men,

or, in other words, to embody his theological system in verse. This
gives a doctrinal rigidity and even dryness to parts of the _Paradise
Lost_, which injure its effect as a poem. His "God the father turns a
school divine:" his Christ, as has been wittily said, is "God's good
boy:" the discourses of Raphael to Adam are scholastic lectures: Adam
himself is too sophisticated for the state of innocence, and Eve is
somewhat insipid. The real protagonist of the poem is Satan, upon whose
mighty figure Milton unconsciously bestowed something of his own nature,
and whose words of defiance might almost have come from some Republican
leader when the Good Old Cause went down.

What though the field be lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield.

But when all has been said that can be said in disparagement or
qualification, _Paradise Lost_ remains the foremost of English poems and
the sublimest of all epics. Even in those parts where theology
encroaches most upon poetry, the diction, though often heavy, is never
languid. Milton's blank verse in itself is enough to bear up the most
prosaic theme, and so is his epic English, a style more massive and
splendid than Shakspere's, and comparable, like Tertullian's Latin, to a
river of molten gold. Of the countless single beauties that sow his page

Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
In Valombrosa,

there is no room to speak, nor of the astonishing fullness of substance
and multitude of thoughts which have caused the _Paradise Lost_ to be
called the book of universal knowledge. "The heat of Milton's mind,"
said Dr. Johnson, "might be said to sublimate his learning and throw off
into his work the spirit of science, unmingled with its grosser parts."
The truth of this remark is clearly seen upon a comparison of Milton's
description of the creation, for example, with corresponding passages in
Sylvester's _Divine Weeks and Works_ (translated from the Huguenot
poet, Du Bartas), which was, in some sense, his original. But the most
heroic thing in Milton's heroic poem is Milton. There are no strains in
_Paradise Lost_ so absorbing as those in which the poet breaks the
strict epic bounds and speaks directly of himself, as in the majestic
lament over his own blindness, and in the invocation to Urania, which
open the third and seventh books. Every-where, too, one reads between
the lines. We think of the dissolute cavaliers, as Milton himself
undoubtedly was thinking of them, when we read of "the sons of Belial
flown with insolence and wine," or when the Puritan turns among the
sweet landscapes of Eden, to denounce

court amours
Mixed dance, or wanton mask, or midnight ball,
Or serenade which the starved lover sings
To his proud fair, best quitted with disdain.

And we think of Milton among the triumphant royalists when we read of
the Seraph Abdiel "faithful found among the faithless."

Nor number nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth or change his constant mind,
Though single. From amidst them forth he passed,
Long way through hostile scorn, which he sustained
Superior, nor of violence feared aught:
And with retorted scorn his back he turned
On those proud towers to swift destruction doomed.

_Paradise Regained_ and _Samson Agonistes_ were published in 1671. The
first of these treated in four books Christ's temptation in the
wilderness, a subject that had already been handled in the Spenserian
allegorical manner by Giles Fletcher, a brother of the Purple Islander,
in his _Christ's Victory and Triumph_, 1610. The superiority of
_Paradise Lost_ to its sequel is not without significance. The Puritans
were Old Testament men. Their God was the Hebrew Jehovah, whose single
divinity the Catholic mythology had overlaid with the figures of the
Son, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. They identified themselves in
thought with his chosen people, with the militant theocracy of the Jews.
Their sword was the sword of the Lord and of Gideon. "To your tents, O
Israel," was the cry of the London mob when the bishops were committed
to the Tower. And when the fog lifted, on the morning of the battle of
Dunbar, Cromwell exclaimed, "Let God arise and let his enemies be
scattered: like as the sun riseth, so shalt thou drive them away."

_Samson Agonistes_, though Hebrew in theme and spirit, was in form a
Greek tragedy. It has chorus and semi-chorus, and preserved the
so-called dramatic unities; that is, the scene was unchanged, and there
were no intervals of time between the acts. In accordance with the rules
of the Greek theater, but two speakers appeared upon the stage at once,
and there was no violent action. The death of Samson is related by a
messenger. Milton's reason for the choice of this subject is obvious. He
himself was Samson, shorn of his strength, blind, and alone among
enemies; given over

to the unjust tribunals, under change of times,
And condemnation of the ungrateful multitude.

As Milton grew older he discarded more and more the graces of poetry,
and relied purely upon the structure and the thought. In _Paradise
Lost_, although there is little resemblance to Elizabethan work--such as
one notices in _Comus_ and the Christmas hymn--yet the style is rich,
especially in the earlier books. But in _Paradise Regained_ it is severe
to bareness, and in _Samson_, even to ruggedness. Like Michelangelo,
with whose genius he had much in common, Milton became impatient of
finish or of mere beauty. He blocked out his work in masses, left rough
places and surfaces not filled in, and inclined to express his meaning
by a symbol, rather than work it out in detail. It was a part of his
austerity, his increasing preference for structural over decorative
methods, to give up rime for blank verse. His latest poem, _Samson
Agonistes_, is a metrical study of the highest interest.

Milton was not quite alone among the poets of his time in espousing the
popular cause. Andrew Marvell, who was his assistant in the Latin
secretaryship and sat in Parliament for Hull, after the Restoration, was
a good Republican, and wrote a fine _Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return
from Ireland_. There is also a rare imaginative quality in his _Song of
the Exiles in Bermuda_, _Thoughts in a Garden_, and _The Girl Describes
her Fawn_. George Wither, who was imprisoned for his satires, also took
the side of the Parliament, but there is little that is distinctively
Puritan in his poetry.

* * * * *

1. Milton's Poetical Works. Edited by David Masson.
London: Macmillan & Co., 1882. 3 vols.

2. Selections from Milton's Prose. Edited by F.D. Myers.
New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1883. (Parchment Series.)

3. England's Antiphon. By George Macdonald. London:
Macmillan & Co., 1868.

4. Robert Herrick's Hesperides. London: George Routledge
& Sons, 1885. (Morley's Universal Library).

5. Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Hydriotaphia.
Edited by Willis Bund. Sampson Low & Co., 1873.

6. Thomas Fuller's Good Thoughts in Bad Times. Boston:
Ticknor & Fields, 1863.

7. Walton's Complete Angler. Edited by Sir Harris
Nicolas. London: Chatto & Windus, 1875.




The Stuart Restoration was a period of descent from poetry to prose,
from passion and imagination to wit and the understanding. The serious,
exalted mood of the civil war and Commonwealth had spent itself and
issued in disillusion. There followed a generation of wits, logical,
skeptical, and prosaic, without earnestness, as without principle. The
characteristic literature of such a time is criticism, satire, and
burlesque, and such, indeed, continued to be the course of English
literary history for a century after the return of the Stuarts. The age
was not a stupid one, but one of active inquiry. The Royal Society, for
the cultivation of the natural sciences, was founded in 1662. There were
able divines in the pulpit and at the universities--Barrow, Tillotson,
Stillingfleet, South, and others: scholars, like Bentley; historians,
like Clarendon and Burnet; scientists, like Boyle and Newton;
philosophers, like Hobbes and Locke. But of poetry, in any high sense of
the word, there was little between the time of Milton and the time of
Goldsmith and Gray.

The English writers of this period were strongly influenced by the
contemporary literature of France, by the comedies of Moliere, the
tragedies of Corneille and Racine, and the satires, epistles, and
versified essays of Boileau. Many of the Restoration writers--Waller,
Cowley, Davenant, Wycherley, Villiers, and others--had been in France
during the exile, and brought back with them French tastes. John Dryden
(1631-1700), who is the great literary figure of his generation, has
been called the first of the moderns. From the reign of Charles II.,
indeed, we may date the beginnings of modern English life. What we call
"society" was forming, the town, the London world. "Coffee, which makes
the politician wise," had just been introduced, and the ordinaries of
Ben Jonson's time gave way to coffee-houses, like Will's and Button's,
which became the head-quarters of literary and political gossip. The two
great English parties, as we know them to-day, were organized: the words
Whig and Tory date from this reign. French etiquette and fashions came
in, and French phrases of convenience--such as _coup de grace_, _bel
esprit_, etc.--began to appear in English prose. Literature became
intensely urban and partisan. It reflected city life, the disputes of
faction, and the personal quarrels of authors. The politics of the great
rebellion had been of heroic proportions, and found fitting expression
in song. But in the Revolution of 1688 the issues were constitutional
and to be settled by the arguments of lawyers. Measures were in question
rather than principles, and there was little inspiration to the poet in
Exclusion Bills and Acts of Settlement.

Court and society, in the reign of Charles II. and James II., were
shockingly dissolute, and in literature, as in life, the reaction
against Puritanism went to great extremes. The social life of the time
is faithfully reflected in the diary of Samuel Pepys. He was a
simple-minded man, the son of a London tailor, and became, himself,
secretary to the admiralty. His diary was kept in cipher, and published
only in 1825. Being written for his own eye, it is singularly outspoken;
and its _naive_, gossipy, confidential tone makes it a most diverting
book, as it is, historically, a most valuable one.

Perhaps the most popular book of its time was Samuel Butler's _Hudibras_
(1663-1664), a burlesque romance in ridicule of the Puritans. The king
carried a copy of it in his pocket, and Pepys testifies that it was
quoted and praised on all sides. Ridicule of the Puritans was nothing
new. Zeal-of-the-land Busy, in Ben Jonson's _Bartholomew Fair_, is an
early instance of the kind. There was nothing laughable about the
earnestness of men like Cromwell, Milton, Algernon Sidney, and Sir Henry
Vane. But even the French Revolution had its humors; and as the English
Puritan Revolution gathered head and the extremer sectaries pressed to
the front--Quakers, New Lights, Fifth Monarchy Men, Ranters, etc.,--its
grotesque sides came uppermost. Butler's hero is a Presbyterian justice
of the peace who sallies forth with his secretary, Ralpho--an
Independent and Anabaptist-like Don Quixote with Sancho Panza, to
suppress May games and bear-baitings. (Macaulay, it will be remembered,
said that the Puritans disapproved of bear-baiting, not because it gave
pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.) The
humor of _Hudibras_ is not of the finest. The knight and the squire are
discomfited in broadly comic adventures, hardly removed from the rough
physical drolleries of a pantomime or circus. The deep heart-laughter of
Cervantes, the pathos on which his humor rests, is, of course, not to be
looked for in Butler. But he had wit of a sharp, logical kind, and his
style surprises with all manner of verbal antics. He is almost as great
a phrase-master as Pope, though in a coarser kind. His verse is a smart
doggerel, and his poem has furnished many stock sayings, as for example,

'Tis strange what difference there can be
'Twixt tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee.

_Hudibras_ has had many imitators, not the least successful of whom was
the American John Trumbull, in his revolutionary satire, _M'Fingal_,
some couplets of which are generally quoted as Butler's, as, for

No man e'er felt the halter draw
With good opinion of the law.

The rebound against Puritanism is seen no less plainly in the drama of
the Restoration, and the stage now took vengeance for its enforced
silence under the Protectorate. Two theaters were opened under the
patronage, respectively, of the king and of his brother, the Duke of
York. The manager of the latter, Sir William Davenant--who had fought on
the king's side, been knighted for his services, escaped to France, and
was afterward captured and imprisoned in England for two years--had
managed to evade the law against stage plays as early as 1656, by
presenting his _Siege of Rhodes_ as an "opera," with instrumental music
and dialogue in recitative, after a fashion newly sprung up in Italy.
This he brought out again in 1661, with the dialogue recast into riming
couplets in the French fashion. Movable painted scenery was now
introduced from France, and actresses took the female parts formerly
played by boys. This last innovation was said to be at the request of
the king, one of whose mistresses, the famous Nell Gwynne, was the
favorite actress at the King's Theater.

Upon the stage, thus reconstructed, the so-called "classical" rules of
the French theater were followed, at least in theory. The Louis XIV.
writers were not purely creative, like Shakspere or his contemporaries
in England, but critical and self-conscious. The Academy had been formed
in 1636 for the preservation of the purity of the French language, and
discussion abounded on the principles and methods of literary art.
Corneille not only wrote tragedies, but essays on tragedy, and one in
particular on the _Three Unities_. Dryden followed his example in his
_Essay of Dramatic Poesie_ (1667), in which he treated of the unities,
and argued for the use of rime in tragedy in preference to blank verse.
His own practice varied. Most of his tragedies were written in rime, but
in the best of them, _All for Love_, founded on Shakspere's _Antony and
Cleopatra_, he returned to blank verse. One of the principles of the
classical school was to keep comedy and tragedy distinct. The tragic
dramatists of the Restoration, Dryden, Howard, Settle, Crowne, Lee, and
others, composed what they called "heroic plays," such as the _Indian
Emperor_, the _Conquest of Granada_, the _Duke of Lerma_, the _Empress
of Morocco_, the _Destruction of Jerusalem_, _Nero_, and the _Rival
Queens_. The titles of these pieces indicate their character. Their
heroes were great historic personages. Subject and treatment were alike
remote from nature and real life. The diction was stilted and
artificial, and pompous declamation took the place of action and genuine
passion. The tragedies of Racine seem chill to an Englishman brought up
on Shakspere, but to see how great an artist Racine was, in his own
somewhat narrow way, one has but to compare his _Phedre_, or
_Iphigenie_, with Dryden's ranting tragedy of _Tyrannic Love_. These
bombastic heroic plays were made the subject of a capital burlesque, the
_Rehearsal_, by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, acted in 1671 at
the King's Theater. The indebtedness of the English stage to the French
did not stop with a general adoption of its dramatic methods, but
extended to direct imitation and translation. Dryden's comedy, _An
Evening's Love_, was adapted from Thomas Corneille's _Le Feint
Astrologue_, and his _Sir Martin Mar-all_, from Moliere's _L'Etourdi_.
Shadwell borrowed his _Miser_ from Moliere, and Otway made versions of
Racine's _Berenice_ and Moliere's _Fourberies de Scapin_. Wycherley's
_Country Wife_ and _Plain Dealer_ although not translations, were based,
in a sense, upon Moliere's _Ecole des Femmes_ and _Le Misanthrope_. The
only one of the tragic dramatists of the Restoration who prolonged the
traditions of the Elizabethan stage was Otway, whose _Venice Preserved_,
written in blank verse, still keeps the boards. There are fine passages
in Dryden's heroic plays, passages weighty in thought and nobly sonorous
in language. There is one great scene (between Antony and Ventidius) in
his _All for Love_. And one, at least, of his comedies, the _Spanish_
_Friar_, is skillfully constructed. But his nature was not pliable
enough for the drama, and he acknowledged that, in writing for the
stage, he "forced his genius."

In sharp contrast with these heroic plays was the comic drama of the
Restoration, the plays of Wycherley, Killigrew, Etherege, Farquhar, Van
Brugh, Congreve, and others; plays like the _Country Wife_, the
_Parson's Wedding, She Would if She Could_, the _Beaux' Stratagem,_ the
_Relapse_, and the _Way of the World_. These were in prose, and
represented the gay world and the surface of fashionable life. Amorous
intrigue was their constantly recurring theme. Some of them were written
expressly in ridicule of the Puritans. Such was the _Committee_ of
Dryden's brother-in-law, Sir Robert Howard, the hero of which is a
distressed gentleman, and the villain a London cit, and president of the
committee appointed by Parliament to sit upon the sequestration of the
estates of royalists. Such were also the _Roundheads_ and the _Banished
Cavaliers_ of Mrs. Aphra Behn, who was a female spy in the service of
Charles II., at Antwerp, and one of the coarsest of the Restoration
comedians. The profession of piety had become so disagreeable that a
shameless cynicism was now considered the mark of a gentleman. The ideal
hero of Wycherley or Etherege was the witty young profligate, who had
seen life, and learned to disbelieve in virtue. His highest qualities
were a contempt for cant, physical courage, a sort of spendthrift
generosity, and a good-natured readiness to back up a friend in a
quarrel, or an amour. Virtue was _bourgeois_----reserved for London
trades-people. A man must be either a rake or a hypocrite. The gentlemen
were rakes, the city people were hypocrites. Their wives, however, were
all in love with the gentlemen, and it was the proper thing to seduce
them, and to borrow their husbands' money. For the first and last time,
perhaps, in the history of the English drama, the sympathy of the
audience was deliberately sought for the seducer and the rogue, and the
laugh turned against the dishonored husband and the honest man.
(Contrast this with Shakspere's _Merry Wives of Windsor_.) The women
were represented as worse than the men--scheming, ignorant, and corrupt.
The dialogue in the best of these plays was easy, lively, and witty the
situations in some of them audacious almost beyond belief. Under a thin
varnish of good breeding, the sentiments and manners were really brutal.
The loosest gallants of Beaumont and Fletcher's theater retain a
fineness of feeling and that _politesse de caeur_ which marks the
gentleman. They are poetic creatures, and own a capacity for romantic
passion. But the Manlys and Horners of the Restoration comedy have a
prosaic, cold-blooded profligacy that disgusts.

Charles Lamb, in his ingenious essay on "The Artificial Comedy of the
Last Century," apologized for the Restoration stage, on the ground that
it represented a world of whim and unreality in which the ordinary laws
of morality had no application. But Macaulay answered truly, that at no
time has the stage been closer in its imitation of real life. The
theater of Wycherley and Etherege was but the counterpart of that social
condition which we read of in Pepys's _Diary_, and in the _Memoirs_ of
the Chevalier de Grammont. This prose comedy of manners was not, indeed,

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