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Full text of "The English Renaissance"

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OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 
Call Nn. Q *** i A Precession No. 

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HOGARTH LECTURES ON LITERATURE 

THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE: 
Fact or Fiction ? 



HOGARTH LECTURES ON LITERATURE 
Editors: GEORGE RYLANDS, LEONARD WOOLF 

No. i. Introductory Volume: A LECTURE ON LECTURES 

By Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch ("Q"). 
No. 2. TRAGEDY Sixth Impression. 

% By F. L. Lucas. 

No. 3. STUDIES IN SHAKESPEARE Second Impression. 

By Allardyce Nicoll. 
No. 4. THE DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH BIOGRAPHY 

Third Impression. 

By Harold Nicolson. 

No. 5. LYRICAL POETRY FROM BLAKE TO HARDY 

By Sir Herbert Grierson. 
No. 6. THE STRUCTURE OF THE NOVEL Fifth Impression. 

By Edwin Muir. 
No. 7. PHASES OF ENGLISH POETRY 

By Herbert Read. 
No. 8. THE WHIRLIGIG OF TASTE 

By E. E. Kellctt. 
No. 9. NATURE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE Second Impression. 

By Edmund Blunden. 
No. 10. NOTES ON ENGLISH VERSE SATIRE 

By Humbert Wolfe. 
No. ii. POLITICS AND LITERATURE 

By G. D. H. Cole. 
No. 12. THE COURSE OF ENGLISH CLASSICISM 

By Sherard Vines. 
No. 13. GERMAN LYRIC POETRY 

By Norman Macleod. 

No. 14. SOME RELIGIOUS ELEMENTS IN ENGLISH 
LITERATURE 
By Rose Macaulay. 

No. 15. POETRY IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND 

By Jean Stewart. 
No. 16. JOHN WEBSTER 

By Clifford Leech. 



THE ENGLISH 
RENAISSANCE: 

Fact or Fiction? 

by 

E.M.W.TILLYARD 

Litt.D. 
Master of Jesus College, Cambridge 




1952 

THE HOGARTH PRESS 

LONDON 



PUBLISHED BY 

The Hogarth Press 
London 



Clarke, Irwin & Co. Ltd. 
TORONTO 



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN 
BY J. W. ARROWSMITH LTD., BRISTOL 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 



PREFACE 

THE text of this book was written in answer to an invitation 
to give the Percy Graeme Turnbull Memorial Lectures for 
the year 1951 at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. 
The invitation included the condition that the lectures should 
be published. There are two ways of fulfilling the double 
obligation of the spoken and the written word. You can 
write a book and then (usually by the Procrustean method) 
parcel it out into lectures, sacrificing lectures to book. Or you 
can write lectures for face-to-face delivery to an audience 
and hope that they will show up not too ill in print. I have 
chosen the second way. Having so chosen, you are free to 
doctor your stuff and try to make it look more like a book 
and less like lectures ; but the result is usually poor. It is better 
to be bold and print the stuff as delivered. And this is what I 
have done. And in telling the reader so I am warning him of 
some of the things to expect. 

In considering the English medieval lyric I have been 
helped by Sir Edmund Chambers's essay Some Aspects of 
Mediaeval Lyric, originally prefixed to the anthology Early 
English Lyrics, and republished in Sir Thomas Wyatt and some 
Collected Sfadies (London, 1933). 

E.M.W.T. 



CONTENTS 

1. GENERAL 9 

2. THE LYRIC 35 

3. CRITICISM 63 

4. THE EPIC 8l 

5. EPILOGUE 97 
INDEX IOO 



I. GENERAL 

"'"T"iHE English Renaissance: Fact or Fiction?" thjt is 
JL the emphatic and apparently ambitious title I have 
chosen for this course of lectures. But titles should be 
emphatic, and as a title the one I have chosen is better 
than, for instance, "Some Notes on the Transition from 
Medieval to Renaissance Ways of Thought as Exemplified 
in Certain Classes of English Literature". But though 
rightly emphatic my title may well have aroused expecta- 
tions which my lectures will not in fact fulfil; and before 
I enter my theme I had better warn you of one thing you 
are not to expect. My subject has little to do with the 
history of ideas ; and I am sure you will agree that only 
an exceptionally well equipped man would be wise to 
open his lips on that topic in the home town of the Johns 
Hopkins University. For if you are brave enough to 
carry coals to Newcastle, or, as the Italians say, wine to 
Samos, you should be certain that your coals or your 
wine are of the highest quality. Any ideas I discuss are 
simple and generally allowed to have existed in the period 
of time under review; and anything new I have to say 
will belong to the region of literary criticism not to that 
of the history of ideas. 

Nevertheless, though I am little concerned with the 
detailed evolution of man's ideas in past epochs, what I 
have to say concerning certain pieces of literature in the 
Middle Ages &id the Renaissance in England is coloured 
and perhaps held together by a distinct notion. In my 
earlier writing, though trying to be fair, I have had fore- 
most in my mind the possible continuity between the 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

two epochs: now, to adjust the balance, I have foremost 
in my mind, though still trying to be fair, the differences 
between them. 

My scheme is to begin by setting forth in a very general 
way% certain large differences between medieval and 
Renaissance habits of thought in England; and to go on 
thence to test and illustrate these differences in three 
widely separated areas of literature : the lyric, the epic, 
and literary criticism. I have aimed at a rather difficult 
target, a mean between the popular and the academic; 
and perhaps I have not achieved perfect consistency. My 
sections on the epic and literary criticism are probably a 
little more on the academic side than the rest. 

If one could have questioned a typical Victorian of the 
later nineteenth century on the Renaissance, the result 
would have been somewhat as follows. The Renaissance 
was a manifestation of new life, an outburst of virtuous 
floridity after the cramping restraints and withering 
asceticisms of the Middle Ages. In this Victorian's mind 
the movement would be connected generally and princi- 
pally with Italy and would carry with it specific, if little 
formulated, associations with Florence and Amalfi, 
carnivals and poisonings, orange-trees and red wines, the 
Brownings, honeymoons by Lake Como, and churches 
and galleries full of highly coloured paintings. Yes, 
pictures above everything. To a Victorian the word 
Renaissance itself was intoxicating; but when, to vary 
the metaphor, the mud it had stirred up in the mind had 
begun to settle, what grew clear was that tfie Renaissance 
was a great effusion of art. From its faint and primitive 
beginnings in Cimabue and Giotto painting progressed 
through Fra Angelico, Botticelli, and Perugino to its 

10 



GENERAL 

unquestioned climax in Leonardo da Vinci, Michel- 
angelo, and Raphael, with Titian and the other Venetians 
as a magnificent and only slightly inferior side-show. 
Of the three Raphael was the age's darling; and the 
Dresden Madonna was the greatest picture in the wryrld. 

Then of course there were the classics. The Middle 
Ages had been barbarous enough to forget Greek; and 
when it was recovered, people grew very excited, and of 
course quite rightly. Our Victorian might be vague on 
what precise form the excitement took; only he believed 
it arose very quickly and he was certain that it was a very 
good thing. 

Alongside this orthodoxy there were the advanced ideas 
connected with Rossetti and his circle. Some more 
daring folk put the climax a little earlier. Great as 
Leonardo and Raphael and Michelangelo were, there 
was something more esoteric about Botticelli. One of 
such folk was Gilbert's young man in Bunthorne's song 
in Patience: 

A Japanese young man, 

A blue and white young man, 

A Francesca di Rimini 

Miminy Piminy 

Jc ne sais quoi young man. 

But these amateurs of the slightly archaic never ques- 
tioned the virtue of the Renaissance; they merely shifted 
the flowering a little farther back. Or rather they bad a 
different taste in stages of flowering. The rose was all 
right in itselfV only some people (the more refined and 
sensitive) preferred the still-opening bud to the full- 
flaunting flower. 

Such, crudely indicated, was the popular opinion in 

ii 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

the later nineteenth century and it was continued well 
into the twentieth. Take, for instance, the sentences which 
begin Miss Sichel's book on the Renaissance in the Home 
University Library : 

Michael Angelo's great painting of the newly created Adam 
on the ceiling of the Sistinc Chapel might be taken as a symbol 
of the Renaissance, of the time when man was, as it were, 
re-created more glorious than before, with a body naked 
and unashamed, and a strong arm, unimpaired by fasting, 
outstretched towards life and light. Definitions arc generally 
misleading, and it is easier to represent the Renaissance by a 
symbol than to define it. It was a movement, a revival of 
man's powers, a reawakening of the consciousness of himself 
and of the universe. 

There is no mistaking the tone of this passage. The 
authoress is comfortably assured of an audience pre- 
judiced in favour of this "revival of man's powers' 1 and 
against that suppression of them it assumed to have been 
the rule in the Middle Ages. 

Please remember that I have been speaking of popular, 
not of academic or specialist opinion about the Middle 
Ages and Renaissance, and about English not American 
opinion. It may be that Henry Adams's Mont-Saint- 
Michel and Chartres, so little known in England compared 
with his Education of Henry Adams, with its wonderful 
sense of flowering life in the thirteenth century, had its 
counterpart in American popular opinion. But this book 
was not printed (and then only privately) till 1904; and I 
expect that, in the nineteenth century at jeast, popular 
opinion in America was similar to the English. 

Now when a gross popular error exists, it is bound to 
be corrected with a violence which in revulsion breaks 
through the central core of truth and ends nearly as far 

12 



GENERAL 

from it as before, only on the other side. In the last thirty 
years people have grown far more interested in the 
Middle Ages; and some of them have been unable to 
dissociate that interest from a hostility to the age that 
followed. The interest has been artistic, philosophical, 
economic; and I will give two instances of the engen- 
dered hostility. 

In 1914 Clive Bell published a book called Art, a slick 
and confident piece of iconoclasm attacking the whole 
validity of Renaissance art. With a number of others Bell 
had come to admire the rigours and abstractions of 
Byzantine art, of such great works as the later mosaics 
at Ravenna and the apse at Daphni, and, taking as a 
norm something little realistic and representational, 
proceeded to destroy the old hierarchies and to erect a 
new set, in what for some people was a spirit quite 
intoxicatingly daring. On the old scheme there had been 
two supreme ages: that of Phidias and the Parthenon and 
that of the already mentioned Big Three of the early 
sixteenth century in Italy. According to Clive Bell there 
was an apex in the eighth century B.C. and an even greater 
one in the sixth century A.D. lasting for six centuries and 
spanning the so-called Dark Ages. Giotto was the last 
(and by no means the highest) peak in this ridge, and 
after him an awful decadence set in till the sudden surge- 
up of the French Impressionists in the second half of the 
nineteenth century. 

More serious were the attacks on the Renaissance as 
lacking spirituality, as being grossly sensual and human. 
As a man once influential in my own university of Cam- 
bridge I choose for example T. E. Hulme, translator of 
Sorel and powerful critical force in the group of Imagist 
poets. Hulme included the Renaissance and the Romantic 

13 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Revival in one great and vicious mental trend: the trend 
of ignoring original sin and arrogating to the human 
spirit more than its due, of grabbing impiously for Man 
those things that essentially belong to God. Hulme sees 
in :n earlier age an opinion of man quite hostile to this 
one; and of the two opinions he wrote as follows, as 
recorded in his collected notes published posthumously 
by Herbert Read under the title of Speculations: 

The thoroughness with which these two conceptions of 
man penetrate the life of their respective periods can be illus- 
trated by the difference between their arts. . . . Renaissance 
art we may call a "vital" art in that it depends on pleasure in 
the reproduction of human and natural forms. Byzantine art is 
the exact contrary of this. There is nothing vital in it; the 
emotion you get from it is not a pleasure in the reproduction 
of natural or human life. The disgust with the trivial and 
accidental characteristics of living shapes, the searching after 
an austerity, a perfection and rigidity which vital things can 
never have, lead here to the use of forms which can almost 
be called geometrical. Man is subordinate to certain absolute 
values; there is no delight in the human form, leading to its 
natural reproduction; it is always distorted to fit into the 
more abstract forms which convey an intense religious emo- 
tion. These two arts thus correspond exactly to the thought 
of their respective periods. Byzantine art to the ideology 
which looks on man and all existing things as imperfect and 
sinful in comparison with certain abstract values and per- 
fections. The other art corresponds to the humanist ideology, 
which looks on man and life as good, and which is thus in a 
relation of harmony with existence. 

It is interesting that just before this passage was a reference 
to Max Weber and the other economists who connect 
the rise of usury and of capitalism with the decline of the 

H 



GENERAL 

religious spirit: yet another reason in some quarters for 
condemning the Renaissance as a whole. 

Luckily, we do not have to choose between these two 
crude extremes I have been presenting. We are free to 
compromise: to agree with Miss Sichel about the magni- 
ficence of Michelangelo's Adam and yet to refuse to pit 
him so starkly against medieval asceticism; to admire 
Byzantine mosaics with Hulme and yet to think his scorn 
of Renaissance art to be a false and bigoted simplifica- 
tion. For when you come to think of it coolly, Hulme's 
simplification is indeed ridiculous. He writes as if the 
whole point of Renaissance art was its joy in living forms, 
as if the abstract and formal side did not exist for it. 
If anything is obvious about Renaissance art it is that it 
used principles of composition at once different from the 
medieval and yet having nothing to do with any joy or 
lack of joy in living forms. Further, the amount of this 
joy will vary enormously from one artist to another. 
But even when it is very great, as in Michelangelo or 
Titian, it can co-exist with an equally great if not greater 
delight in the abstractions of pure form. In some pictures, 
for example the large allegories of Paul Veronese, joy 
in the human body hardly exists compared with the 
preponderant interest in the sheer composition: the 
spectator has to force himself into any curiosity about the 
subject treated or the human attributes of the figures 
represented. But this is a digression and I return to my 
point that we are free to compromise; and for such a 
compromise there is now very strong authority. One of 
the finest achievements of modern scholarship (and 
American scholars have been prominent in it) has been 
to link up the medieval and Elizabethan backgrounds, to 
follow up the trends of thought from the periods of 

15 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and to see what became 
of them in the epoch of the new learning and the re- 
formed religion. And the result has been twofold: first 
to find that the beginnings of the Renaissance spirit go 
b->ok right into the authentic Middle Ages and secondly 
that the Middle Ages did not end with either a bang or 
a whimper in the fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries, 
but that they continued well into the seventeenth century 
side by side with the rise of the scientific spirit. Let me 
illustrate. 

As far back as 1872 Walter Pater in an essay which 
became the second one in The Renaissance described and 
confirmed the notion, already formulated by French 
scholars, of a kind of pre-renaissance in France at the end 
of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries. 
It flowered above all in the sculpture of Chartres and the 
windows of Le Mans, works which look forward "thus 
healing that rupture between the middle age and the 
Renaissance which has so often been exaggerated". But 
it had other flowerings too, and I quote from Pater's 
account of them : 

Here and there, under rare and happy conditions, in pointed 
architecture, in the doctrines of romantic love, in the poetry 
of Provence, the rude strength of the middle ages turns to 
sweetness; and the taste for sweetness generated there be- 
comes the seed of the classical revival in it, prompting it 
constantly to seek after the springs of perfect sweetness in the 
Hellenic world. And coming after a long period in which 
this instinct had been crushed, that true "dark age", in which 
so many sources of intellectual and imaginative enjoyment 
had actually disappeared, this outbreak is rightly called a 
Renaissance, a revival. 

Pater of course does to this medieval outbreak wha* the 

16 



GENERAL 

nineteenth-century critics did to eighteenth-century 
poetry, namely detach from that age whatever they found 
congenial and, robbing that age of all credit, praise the 
works for being precursors of a better time. Thus Thom- 
son's Castle of Indolence was separated from its true con- 
text of the elegant Spenserian burlesque, so typically 
Augustan, and made, on account of certain highly 
musical and picturesque stanzas, to foretell the coming 
of a greater poet, Keats. But that is better than condemn- 
ing the whole age. W. P. Ker went much farther than 
Pater and postulated a different break altogether. This 
was in the twelfth century, when the round Romanesque 
arch was replaced by the pointed Gothic, and the stark- 
ness of the Teutonic epic tradition gave way to the 
sophistication of the romance and the complexities of 
medieval philosophy. The true dawn of humanism was 
in the twelfth century. Here is Ker's statement, published 
as far back as 1896 in Epic and Romance, one of the most 
prophetic made by an academic critic: 

The change of fashion in the twelfth century is as momen- 
tous and far-reaching in its consequences as that to which 
the name "Renaissance" is generally appropriated. The later 
Renaissance, indeed, in what concerns imaginative literature, 
makes no such abrupt and sudden change of fashion as was 
made in the twelfth century. The poetry and romance of die 
Renaissance follow naturally upon the literature of the 
Middle Ages; for the very good reason that it was the 
Middle Ages which began, even in their dark beginnings, 
the modern study of the humanities, and in the twelfth 
century made a ^remarkable and determined effort to secure 
the inheritance of ancient poetry for the advantage of the 
new tongues and their new forms of verse. There is no such 
line of division between Ariosto and Chrestien of Troyes as 
there is between Chrestien and the primitive epic. 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

I am not concerned with the many detailed connections 
or instances of gradual transitions between the two 
epochs that have been perceived since Ker published 
Epic and Romance in 1896, but I will give in passing a 
syigle instance of the kind of thing that has been happen- 
ing, to the great enlightenment of our understanding. It 
comes from a part of ecclesiastical activity, the sermon. 

If you had asked our hypothetical Victorian what 
constituted the main characteristics of medieval and 
reformed religious practice respectively, he would have 
given ritual to the first and the sermon to the second. 
What has happened since? Owst has shown us the 
strength and extent of medieval preaching. Haller has 
seen that this tradition was taken over by the Puritan 
preachers in the reign of Elizabeth, so that there is no break 
between the Middle Ages and the pulpit's great age in the 
seventeenth century. Christopher Dawson has remarked 
of Langland, who uses sermon material freely, "that his 
spiritual successors are to be found not in the Catholic 
Church, nctf even in the Church of England, but among 
the Puritans and /he rebels, with Fox and Bunyan and 
Whitfield and Blake' '.'Not that we should be surprised. 
Had we nt>t4on6wn with our intellects that Bunyan's 
Pilgrims Progress was in the pure tradition of the medieval 
allegory of the Pelerinage de Yame humaine* and should 
not our imaginations have assured us that this could be no 
isolated phenomenon? 

To this conviction that there was no break between the 
medieval and Renaissance worlds I made a minor contri- 
bution in my Elizabethan World Picture "In that book I 
chose to dwell on the similarities between the epochs; 
and there is always the danger of making too much of 
them. It is partly on account of this danger that in these 

18 



GENERAL 

lectures I shall dwell more on the differences. Or let me 
put it in this way. Granted there is no abrupt rift between 
hxodieval and Renaissance, it is yet true that in the later 
period certain trend;, going back if you will to the twelfth 
century, were greatly speeded up and developed so as to 
present an impression of novelty. 

My plan is in the rest of this section to examine in a 
general way three types of opinion or feeling traditionally 
attached to the Renaissance and then in subsequent 
sections to apply my findings to the three types of litera- 
ture already mentioned: the lyric, literary criticism, and 
the epic. 

Laurie Magnus, whose general sketch of European 
literature in the age of romance was published in 1918, 
illustrated the supposed humanist, anti-ascetic doctrine of 
the Renaissance, which Miss Sichel found in Michel- 
angelo's Adam, from a passage in Hamlet. He thought 
that the whole philosophy of the Renaissance was con- 
tained in Hamlet's perception: 

What a piece of work is a man ! How noble in reason, 
how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express 
and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension 
how like a god ! the beauty of the world, the paragon of 
animals! 

Others before him had thought the same; and it had been 
common to quote Sophocles's famous chorus on man in 
the Antigone (and in this lecture I have sought my illus- 
trations from well-known places) to show that Shake- 
speare was a true sfcn of the Renaissance in reproducing a 
classical statement. Sophocles wrote: 

Wonders are many and none is more wonderful than man; 
the power that crosses the white sea, driven by the stormy 

19 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

south-wind, making a path under surges that threaten to 
engulf him; and Earth, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, 
the unwearied, doth he wear, turning the soil with /!rc 
offspring of horses, as the ploughs go to and fro from year 
to year. . . . And speech and wind-swift thought, and all the 
moods that mould a state, hath he taught himself; and how 
to flee the arrows of frost, when it is hard lodging under the 
clear sky, and the arrows of the rushing rain; yea, he hath 
resource for all. 

To Magnus's opinion it can be retorted that Hamlet is far 
from asserting the unmixed dignity of man against the 
asceticisms of medieval misanthropy. Actually he is being 
very medieval and is simply quoting the orthodox 
encomia of what man, because created in God's image, 
ideally was. Nor do you need to go to Sophocles for a 
comparison. The theologians had been talking like that 
for centuries. Here is an example from as far back as the 
fourth century A.D.: 

No eloquence may worthily publish forth the manifold 
pre-eminences and advantages which are bestowed on man. 
He passes over the vast seas; he ranges about the wide heavens 
by his contemplation and conceives the motions and magni- 
tudes of the stars. . . . He is learned in every science and skilful 
in artificial workings. He talks with angels, yea with God 
himself. He has all creatures within his dominion. 

Further, Hamlet has a very lively picture of another 
conception of man which in traditional thought balanced 
the picture just given: that of man depraved by sin. 

I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences 
at my back than I have thought to put them in, imagination 
to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such 
fellows as I do crawling between earth and heaven? We arc 
arrant knaves, all. 



GENERAL 

That Hamlet is mixing much irony with his self-con- 
demnation does not make his words any less in the 
ividition of medieval orthodoxy. 

And yet it would not be right to leave the matter 
there. Let me take a second and equally famous passage 
of Shakespeare and seek a comparison with the 
Middle Ages. At the end of Julius Caesar Antony says 
of Brutus: 

This was the noblest Roman of them all. 

All the conspirators save only he 

Did that they did in envy of great Caesar: 

He only, in a general honest thought 

And common good of all, made one of them. 

His life was gentle, and the elements 

So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up 

And say to all the world "This was a man". 

There is far less sense here of human depravity than in 
Hamlet: and it makes little difference to say, as can be 
said, that you would not expect it in the context of a 
Roman play. The point is that Shakespeare can be at 
ease in such a context in a new way. He can attribute more 
sheer merit to Brutus simply for being a fine specimen 
of a man than was possible in the Middle Ages. Let me 
take an extreme contrast, three verses from the Dies Irae, 
one of the grandest medieval hymns, dating probably 
from the thirteenth century: 

Dies irae, dies ilia 
Solvet saeclum*in favilla 
Teste David cum Sibylla. 

('Day of wrath, that day when the world shall fall into 
ashes, witness David and the Sibyl") 

21 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Quantus tremor cstfuturus, 

Quando judex est ventures, 

Cuncta stricte discussurus! 

( t{ 'How great a trembling will there be, when the judge shall 

come, to examine closely all our deeds.") 

Quid sum miser tune dicturus, 

Quern patronum rogaturus, 

Cum vix Justus sit securus? 

("What shall I, wretch, say then, what protector shall I 

invoke, when even a good man shall scarcely be safe?") 

You see the negation of humanism, of any human virtue 
in man's own right, especially in the last line. Mankind 
is lost and wicked; and even a good man (like Brutus) is in 
a precarious position. Or take Malory's Launcelot and 
his behaviour at the healing of Sir Urry. It had been 
brought about by enchantment that Sir Urry "should 
never be whole until the best knight of the world had 
searched his wounds". Many knights try. Launcelot in 
his modesty is terribly reluctant to try where others have 
failed. But Arthur commanded him. 

And then Sir Launcelot prayed Sir Urry to let him see his 
head; and then, devoutly kneeling, he ransacked the three 
wounds that they bled a little; and forthwith all the wounds 
fair healed and seemed as they had been whole a seven year. 
And in like wise he searched his body of other three wounds 
and they healed in like wise. And then the last of all he 
searched his hand and anon it fair healed. Then King Arthur 
and all the kings and knights kneeled down and gave thankings 
and loving unto God and unto his blessed Mother. And ever 
Sir Launcelot wept, as he had been a child that had been beaten. 

To see in these tears as Vinavcr does (and let nothing I 
say lessen my sense of admiration for his great edition 

22 



GENERAL 

of Malory) a foreboding of a tragic reversal of fortune 
is surely to misinterpret grossly. Launcelot's tears are 
for the wretched pettiness of human glory in the shadow 
of God's changeless world. Such tears have little place in 
the world of Shakespeare's Brutus. 

Once again we must be wary and not suppose that 
everybody would have approved of Shakespeare's 
arrogating so much to his Brutus. The Calvinists would 
certainly not have done but would have felt themselves 
in closer sympathy with the Dies Irae. This is Calvin on 
the nature of man: 

The mind of man is so entirely alienated from the right- 
eousness of God that he cannot conceive, desire, or design 
anything but what is wicked, distorted, impure, and iniquit- 
ous; that his heart is so thoroughly envenomed by sin, that 
it can breathe out nothing but corruption and rottenness; 
that if some men occasionally make a show of goodness, their 
mind is ever interwoven with hypocrisy and deceit, their 
soul inwardly bound with the fetters of wickedness. 

But I am speaking of England not Scotland; and in 
England the Calvinists were a small, though vigorous, 
minority. 

It is, then, on a balance no fiction that the conception 
of man's position changed from the Middle Ages to the 
Renaissance. The Elizabethan conception was neither 
that of the Dies Irae nor of another hymn: the one 
shouted by Swinburne into the shocked ears of the Vic- 
torian middle classes : 

Glory to Mat} in the highest ! For Man is the master of things / 

It was aware of both these incompatibles and to its glory 
succeeded in combining a measure of each. 

A second commonplace concerning the Renaissance is 

23 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

that there arose a new freedom of speculation. I do not 
use the word in its financial sense, though it is widely 
held that what we associate with the City of London and. 
Wall Street was rooted in the Renaissance. Speculation 
he*e refers to ideas on the nature of man and of the 
universe. Now whether the commonplace is true de- 
pends on what you mean by it. If you mean that there was 
little speculation in the Middle Ages and then there came 
a sudden change and there was a great deal in the Renais- 
sance, you would be fantastically wrong. There was a 
very great deal of speculation in the Middle Ages but it 
was mainly within certain defined areas. The historians 
of science tell us of the amount of speculative ingenuity 
employed by the medieval astronomers in seeking to 
reconcile the two authoritative but in many ways 
differing systems of Aristotle and Ptolemy. Dante had a 
highly speculative mind, and yet one is very conscious 
of the limits in which he worked. It is also possible to 
exaggerate that daring spirit of speculation attributed to 
certain Elizabethans. The author usually pointed to is 
Marlowe; and among illustrations from him the lines 
from Tamburlaine Part i about infinite knowledge: 
Nature, that f ram 9 d us of four elements, 
Warring nnthin our breasts for regiment, 
Doth teach us all to have aspiring minds. 
Our souls, whose faculties can comprehend 
The wondrous architecture of the world 
And measure every wand" ring planet's course, 
Still climbing after knowledge infinite 
And always moving as the restless spfares, 
Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest, 
Until we reach the ripest fruit of all, 
That perfect bliss and sole felicity, 
The sweet fruition of an earthly crown. 

24 



GENERAL 

This passage and Faustus's search for experience are 
taken to indicate a spirit of exultation that the fruit of 
the tree of knowledge is no longer forbidden or, if it is 
forbidden, so much the more exciting 

For lust of knowing what should not be known 
We make the Golden Journey to Samarcand. 

But there is still much medievalism in Marlowe. The 
theme of dangerous or forbidden knowledge is just as 
much the property of the Middle Ages as of James Elroy 
Flecker. And the defiant spirit of Tamburlaine is as closely 
allied to the ordinary manifestations of the first of the 
Seven Deadly Sins as to a new spirit of free speculation. 
So we must beware here, as elsewhere, of separating 
Middle Ages and Renaissance too sharply. 

Yet, if you take not so much this or that manifestation 
but the prevailing climate, there was a true change. And 
it amounted to this : that by the Elizabethan age men had 
options of free and novel speculations denied to the Middle 
Ages. Fewer people may have used these options than 
has been often imagined, but their existence meant a 
great deal. Montaigne had dared to question the rigidity 
of the boundaries separating the different orders of 
creation; in his Apology for Raimond Sebond he wrote: 

With this same vanity of imagination man makes himself 
the equal of God, assumes to himself divine qualities, selects 
and separates himself from among the multitude of other 
creatures, carves out their shares to each of his fellows and 
comrades, the Animals, and allots to them their portion of 
faculties and powers according as it seems good to him. How 
can he know, by the force of his understanding, the secret 
internal motions of the animals? By what comparison be- 
tween them and himself does he suppose them to be as stupid 

25 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

as he thinks ? When I play with my cat, who knows but she 
regards me more as a plaything than I do her? We amuse 
each other with our respective monkey-tricks; if I have my 
moments for beginning and refusing, so she has hers. 

Nbw to put men and animals on such an equality as this 
was to confound the laws of the Vast Chain of Being, and 
to cast doubts on the absolute dominion over animals 
which God had granted Adam at the time of creation. 

Well, such speculative subversiveness did not prevent 
Montaigne's essays being translated into English and 
widely read. And even if England had to wait until well 
after Bacon for the spirit of speculation to become 
dominant, it had become possible before he himself had 
reached maturity. 

I now turn to my third type of feeling associated with 
the Renaissance. As one of the most popular and in- 
fluential books of that age was Castiglioni's Courtier, so 
Spenser made Courtesy one of the ethical virtues forming 
subjects of the books of the Faerie Queene. Now the 
typically Elizabethan virtue of Courtesy is plainly in- 
herited from the medieval ideal of Chivalry. Does the 
one extend and modify the other, or has a new principle 
entered in? That is an unfair form of question, because 
to both alternatives the answer should be yes. Both 
principles are alike in being grounded on religion and in 
postulating certain high standards; and yet an element, 
important in the history of civilization, has entered into 
the Elizabethan virtue. Now the medieval code was 
founded on an abstract ideal. A well-bred man was 
expected to behave in a certain way to a well-bred 
woman, whether she were Margaret or Mary or Elizabeth, 
and whether or not Margaret or Mary or Elizabeth liked 
it. You may retort that to posit such abstraction is to go 

26 



GENERAL 

against the most famous of all English descriptions of 
knighthood, those of the Knight and Squire in the 
Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. Surely the Knight 
with his tunic spotted by his coat-of-mail, and the Squire 
with his locks curled "as they were leyd in prcsse" anihis 
modest demeanour when he carved before his father, 
are realistic figures, remote from abstraction. I think 
not: for however vividly the two are circumstantiated 
and Chaucer here writes at the height of his powers 
the figures themselves are ideal. Look carefully at their 
parts and their achievements, and you will see that they 
are free from the accidents of real life. In his "mortal 
battles" the Knight never failed to kill his foe; "He nevere 
yet no vileyne ne sayde/ In al his lyf unto no maner 
wight." Surely no human being has ever really achieved 
that degree of self-restraint. And the Squire, as lover, 
succeeded in cutting out all sleep (like the nightingale), 
not because mortal lovers can really succeed but because 
as an ideal they should be imagined to do so. And so, 
when Chaucer calls his Knight's bearing "as meeke as is a 
mayde" he is picturing him as conforming to an ideal of 
chivalry; and the question whether the folk on whom 
he practised his meekness liked or disliked it simply does 
not arise. 

This mention of Chaucer prompts me to interrupt my 
present argument to deal with a general principle. The 
principle is this : the imperative need, in any comparative 
discussion of epochs, first to decide what the norm of 
an epoch is and then not to vary the grounds of your 
decision from epoch to epoch. If in one epoch you 
choose for your norm the pioneer spirits and the advance 
guard of thought, and in another the natural conser- 
vatism of the majority, you will achieve the most 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

fantastic results, even if your separate assessments are 
perfectly correct. Scholars do not usually go on quite 
like that, but if they have an idea they are very 
anxious to prove true they may unconsciously commit 
suck a distortion. Anyhow it is essential that writers on 
movements of thought should make it clear where they 
fix their norm; and for myself I favour a middle position, 
one that is shared neither by the pioneers nor by the die- 
hards. You want to discover the commonplaces, the 
unargued presuppositions, that animate the middle type 
of thinking men at any one time. If you anthologize the 
most startling thoughts of the most advanced thinkers, 
you will find yourself very far from that position. 

I have just cited Chaucer's Knight and Squire as 
typically medieval figures, but I did not mean to suggest 
that you can always use Chaucer in that way. It is of 
course the fashion now to see Chaucer thus. C. S. Lewis 
has written excellently to prove how medieval are the 
things Chaucer takes for granted in Troylus and Criseyde\ 
and such demonstrations are often taken to have deflated 
for good the claims for Chaucer's going beyond his age 
made, for instance, by Lounsbury and Mackail. I do not 
believe they have done anything of the sort. Even if in 
Troylus and Criseyde Chaucer started from medieval 
assumptions he did end, among other things, in creating 
the first psychological novel in English. Or take another 
poem of Chaucer, the House of Fame, and you will find 
in it a passage that, for all its medieval apparatus, ends by 
whisking you right away from any medieval setting. 
The passage occurs in the third book, and it describes the 
different companies of folk who come to the House of 
Fame to inquire about, cr agitate for, their reputation. 
First comes a company of virtuous people who would 

28 



GENERAL 

like their proper recompense; and Fame sends them 
packing with the statement that they will acquire no 
fame, either good or bad. Then she sends for Aeolus to 
come with his two trumpets: the golden one to blow 
praise abroad, the black one slander. A second company 
of the same sort as the first arrives; and though they have 
done well in life, Fame condemns them to be slandered. 
With the third company of the same sort she does the 
opposite and grants them more reputation than they 
merit. Then, in abrupt contrast, comes a fourth company, 
and a very small one. They too have done well in life, 
but fame does not interest them: they did as they did 
"for bounty". They are in fact the small company of the 
disinterested, who do good for good's sake and not for 
any reward. And Fame is quite content that they should 
pass unknown. Next come a second company of those 
who do not want fame : they are those who did good for 
the love of God and contemplation. And though pre- 
sumably they have their eye on fame in another life, 
Fame capriciously insists on their having it in this. The 
next two companies are of those who want fame though 
they have done nothing to deserve it; and Fame grants 
the request of one and refuses that of the other. Finally 
she refuses fame to the ordinary criminals, but grants it 
to the psychological perverts who do bad deeds for the 
sole reason of calling attention to themselves. It is an 
astonishing survey of human types (the inclusion of the 
small company of the disinterested being the most 
astonishing single item) and of the vagaries of chance in 
this world: and, as we read it, the Middle Ages, or any 
age, become irrelevant; we are in a timeless realm of 
basic human nature. Let me add one other example, from 
outside English literature. In the passage praising country 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

life at the end of the second book of the Georgics Virgil 
gives certain reasons why a man may be glad not to live 
in a great city. One of these is that he is not racked with 
fruitless pity for the sufferings of the poor. Now this is a 
mot surprising sentiment, for the Romans were not 
greatly given to pity. But our comment should be 
not that Virgil here showed himself to be humanitarian 
in a "modern" way but that he was an exceptional man, 
a man of universal sympathies, who through them raised 
himself above the norm of his age and joined the choice 
company of those who in other ages succeeded in doing 
the same. How mistaken, too, to take these passages in 
Chaucer and Virgil or analogous passages in any author 
of the first rank as evidence of ways of thinking in the 
periods where these passages belong. And what an 
ironic message such passages convey to the research 
student with his set theme and his card-index, eager for 
grist to his mill, for the extracts which, conveniently 
removed from their context, will help him to complete 
the piece of work that authority, before which the 
humble individual is powerless, ordains him to under- 
take if he is to earn a living as a university teacher. 

These remarks on Chaucer should serve to demonstrate 
that if a scholar intends to use an author to illustrate the 
current opinions of his age he should, before committing 
himself, decide whether that author is in fact representative. 
Further, if an author, found on the whole to be thus 
representative, is a great and original spirit, the scholar 
may have to decide whether any portions of his work go 
beyond his age in such a way as to cease to be representa- 
tive. Take the period of the Romantic Revival. Words- 
worth, Shelley, and Keats are too great innovators to be 
the most centrally representative. Cowper, greatly read, 

30 



GENERAL 

is a little too old-fashioned. Crabbe for the earlier portion, 
Scott and Byron for the later, are better representatives 
than any of these. And here are two small pieces of 
evidence. It was from Crabbe that "Monk" Lewis took 
his title-quotation in 1808 for his Romantic Tales. In th> 
Spirit of the Age (1825) Hazlitt wrote that Scott and Byron 
would get the most votes for the place of chief geniuses 
of their age. But Scott and Byron were in some ways 
highly original writers, and we should not accept all they 
have to say as necessarily voicing the thoughts and 
feelings of their fellows. To revert to the Middle Ages it 
is probable that Gower makes a safer representative of 
his period than, as a whole, Chaucer does. And with 
this remark I may get back to the topic of Courtesy. 
Now into the idea of Courtesy there entered the 
element of human consideration that was lacking in the 
medieval ideal of the knight, and as the years went on, it 
grew in importance at the expense of the rigid scheme in 
which it first germinated. Not that the element was 
absent from medieval literature, only it is felt to be subor- 
dinate. Henryson was a poet naturally gifted with a 
very sensitive human sympathy; and that sympathy 
takes exquisite form in the pity which he bestows on his 
Cresseid in the Testament ofCresseid. But such pity is felt 
within the great prevailing setting of orthodox theology. 
Cresseid acts according to the classic scheme of orthodox 
fall and salvation. 1 She falls into two of the deadly sins : 
Lechery and Pride. She undergoes a dreadful punishment, 
but to her own good. For a time her pride holds, but 
finally the spectacle of Troilus's fidelity and generosity 
melts it and she takes all blame for her misfortunes on 

l Sec my Five Poems: 14701870 for a development of this 
contention. 

31 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

herself. And she dies a repentant sinner. Nevertheless, as 
is only to be expected, there are hints in medieval writers 
of a new disposition. For instance, into some of Lydgate's 
expostulations with Guido delle Colonne, his original in 
ite Troy Book, on Guide's bitter condemnation of women, 
the element of human consideration has entered. It was 
in the early Tudor age that the element came into suffi- 
cient prominence to be able to change the chivalric into 
the courtly ideal. And the men who chiefly promoted 
it were Erasmus and More. R. W. Chambers has 
exploded the fiction that Utopia was a pure work of 
the Renaissance and a violent break with the Middle 
Ages. Its doctrine turns out to be well rooted in the 
immediate past. But this does not prevent the tone of the 
book being new. In spite of his personal asceticisms 
More showed a new faculty of sympathy, of entering 
imaginatively the other person's place. It is a faculty he 
showed also in his treatment of the unfortunate Jane 
Shore, mistress of Edward IV, in his History of Richard HI. 
As a contrast to the implications of Chaucer's Knight 
and Squire I will take those of a famous place in literature : 
Fulke Greville's description of the death of Philip Sidney, 
the man who was Spenser's model of Courtesy for the 
sixth book of the Faerie Queene. It is a long description 
containing much more than the episode in it that has 
made it famous. I will quote that episode and one other 
passage. Referring to an unexpected stand by the enemy 
before the walls of Zutphen Greville wrote as follows : 

Howsoever, by this stand, an unfortunate hand out of 
those forespoken trenches brake the bone of Sir Philip's thigh 
with a musket-shot. The horse he rode upon was rather 
furiously choleric than bravely proud and so forced him to 
forsake the field, but not his back as the noblest and fittest 

32 



GENERAL 

bier to carry a martial commander to his grave. In which sad 
progress, passing along by the rest of the army, where his 
uncle the General was, and being thirsty with excess of 
breeding, he called for drink, which was presently brought 
him. But as he was putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a 
poor soldier carried along, who had eaten his last at the same 
feast, ghastly casting up his eyes at the bottle. Which Sir 
Philip perceiving, took it from his head before he drank and 
delivered it to the poor man with these words: "Thy necessity 
is yet greater than mine." And when he had pledged this poor 
soldier he was presently carried to Arnheim. 

Such fine acts arc performed by fine people in all ages 
but they get differently explained. In the Middle Ages 
the act would have been one of saintliness, the giving of a 
scriptural cup of cold water, and saintly with little or no 
regard to the degree in which the common soldier 
wanted the drink. The act's essential reference would 
have been to an abstract ideal of conduct. But with 
Sidney the personal consideration entered; and it was 
because the soldier's thirst was so great that he got the 
drink. Sidney acted thus through putting himself in the 
other man's place. When Sidney found himself in the 
hands of the surgeons, he told them to let no pain he 
suffered hinder them in the exercise of their art. And part 
of his motive was a care for their own medical practice 
and reputation I quote Greville's words: 

When they began to dress his wound, he both by way of 
charge and advice told them that while his strength was yet 
entire, his body free from fever, and his mind able to endure, 
they might freely use their art: cut and search to the bottom. 
For besides his hope of health, he would make this farther 
profit of the pains which he must suffer that they should bear 
witness they had indeed a sensible natured man under their 

c 33 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

hands, yet one to whom a stronger Spirit had given power 
above himself, either to do or suffer. But if they should now 
neglect their art and renew torments in the declination of 
nature, their ignorance or over-tenderness would prove JL 
kind of tyranny to their friend and consequently a blemish 
to their reverend science. 

Such a consideration of others may even appear exagger- 
ated; but at least it is sharply contrasted with the ways of 
thought governing medieval literature. 

I have described three general ways in which the 
English sixteenth century, the age of the English Renais- 
sance, differed from the English Middle Ages; and the 
trend of each way was to give an enlarged scope to the 
human spirit as such. In some ways at least the old 
commonplace about human emancipation turns out not 
to lack all support. In my subsequent sections I inquire 
into a similar development in three literary forms. 



34 



2. THE LYRIC 

WALTER PATER in the essay mentioned in my first 
lecture chose the poetry of Provence as one of the 
constituents of that "Renaissance within the limits of 
the middle age itself". He was right to speak of that 
poetry in terms of a new birth, but wrong to suggest 
that this early Renaissance was islanded, a separate 
anticipatory outburst rather than the beginning of the 
whole evolution; for the Provencal lyric travelling north- 
wards to the heart of Gothic France, helped to establish 
a lyric tradition in England whose expiring notes were 
those cavalier songs of the age of Charles II which carry 
on so plainly the tradition from before the Common- 
wealth. It is just because of this continuity that the lyric 
offers so convenient a means of answering our question 
whether there is an English Renaissance. 

In the whole of the great English lyrical tradition from 
the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries there is a blend 
of folk and of courtly elements; that is one of its main 
charms; but it must not be supposed that this folk ele- 
ment continued unaltered from an earlier age. On the 
contrary, within it there occurred a fundamental change, 
corresponding perhaps to the great changes already men- 
tioned from primitive epic to romance and from round 
to pointed arch. However much of folk-rhythm may have 
penetrated into the mass of the English lyric, the old 
folk-themes of the love lyric underwent a fundamental 
change. In the folk-tradition it is the woman who makes 
the advances; in the new lyric tradition it is the man, 
according to the new courtly convention imported from 

35 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

the Troubadours. Here are verses from an English folk- 
song which, in spite of the mention of guns, must in its 
original form go back far before their invention : 

If all these young men were as hares on the mountain, 
Then all those pretty maidens will get guns, go a-huntin*. 

If all these young men were as rushes a-growin, 

Then all those pretty maidens will get scythes, go a-mowin 

If all these young men were as ducks in the water, 
Then all those pretty maidens will soon follow ater. 

It is remarkable that the polite tradition was dominant 
till the Russian novelists and Man and Superman, though 
Jane Austen shows herself perfectly unprejudiced in the 
matter. Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, though 
a young woman of high propriety, does in fact though 
not in appearance take the initiative. Anyhow, the 
polite tradition was established so early and so thoroughly 
that, when later the fashion for Petrarch arose with his 
eternal themes of the adoring lover and flinty-hearted 
mistress, it implied no innovation but merely that an 
earlier convention was intensified and stylized. I shall 
not seek in Petrarch for the signs of a true Renaissance in 
the English lyric. 

Nor can one profitably seek them in any technical 
improvement. It is useless to argue that the English 
medieval lyric was crude and primitive while Renaissance 
English lyric was elegant and professional or that the 
cadences of the medieval lyric were remote from music 
compared with the wonderful wedding of words and 
tune to be found in Campion or other artists of the 
Elizabethan song-books. On the contrary, enough 
secular lyrics have survived from the thirteenth century 
in England (and Carleton Brown thinks that far more 

36 



THE LYRIC 

would have survived, if the copyists had not been monks 
and hence prejudiced against them) to show that the art 
was at its height in that age. Many of the best come from 
aSingle manuscript, sometimes known as Harlcy 2253 
and sometimes the Leo minster manuscript from ifi 
origin in a priory there. They are widely known, several 
of them, as some of the first lyrics in the Oxford Book of 
English Verse. I mean, among others, the songs beginning 
"Betwene Mersh and Averil", "Lenten is come with love 
to tounc", "When the nyhtegale singes", and "Nou 
shrinketh rose ant lylie flour". These lyrics are com- 
pletely competent and sure of themselves: there is 
nothing in the least amateurish about them. Also, they 
suggest by a certain yieldingncss of movement the need 
of a musical setting; and this, combined with their 
elegance and refinement, presents that union of folk and 
courtly elements that has been the glory of this great 
lyric movement. Just so, the themes of the developed 
English Renaissance lyric may be dominated by the 
Petrarchan fashion, but the music of "Forget not yet 
the tried intent" (Wyatt), "Fear no more the heat 
of the sun" (Shakespeare), "Follow your saint, follow 
with accents sweet" (Campion), is native and goes 
back to the medieval tradition with its reinforcing 
infusion of the folk element. But it is time to illustrate. 
For sheer poetic competence take the first verse of 
"Winter wakeneth". I give it with forms a little 
modernized. 

Winter wakeneth all my care, 

Now these leaves waxeth bare; 

OJt I sike and mourne sare 

When it comelh in my thought 

OJ this world's joy i how it go'th all to nought. 

37 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Technically, the way sound echoes sense here is perfect, 
while the last line with its reluctant rhythm and its eight 
monosyllables is triumphant. The author has nothing to 
learn. For the suggestion of the musical beat and a 
brilliant change of rhythm playing into the hand of 
the musical composer take the last verse of the Alison 
poem. I quote the second and last verses. Since they 
are not readily followed in the original, I give first a 
translation : 

"Her hair is very beautiful in colour, her brow dark and her eye 
black. She smiled at rne with a delightful expression. She has a 
small and elegant waist. If she refuses to take me for her partner, I 
shall soon quit living and be fated to fall down as dead. Refrain: 
/ have got hold of a lucky lot; I think it has been sent me from 
heaven. My love is diverted from all women and lights on Alison. 

"/ am kept from sleeping through my wooing, weary as water 
in a weir. I have worried grievously lest anyone should deprive me 
of my mate. It is better to endure hard things for a while than to 
mourn for ever. Gainliest in your dress, listen to my song." 
Refrain as before. 

On hen hire her is fayr ynoh t 
Hire browe broune, hire eye blake. 
With lossum chere he on me loh; 
With middel smal and wel y-make. 
Bote he me wille to hire take 
For to buen hire owen make, 
Longe to Ivven ichulle forsake 
Ant feye fallen adoun. 

An hendy hap ichabbe yhent; 

Ichotfrom hevene it is me sent. 

From alle wyrnmen mi love is lent 

And lyht on Alysoun. 

38 



THE LYRIC 

Icham for wowing allforwake, 
Wery so water in wore. 
Lest eny reve me my make 
Ichabbe y-yerned yore. 
Betere is tholien whyle sore, 
Then mournen evermore. 
Geynest under gore 
Herkne to my roun. 

An hendy hap ichahbe yhent; 

Ichotfrom hevene it is me sent. 

From alle wymmen mi love is lent 

Ant lyht on Alysoun. 

The sudden change to the joyful and emphatic beat of 
"Geynest under gore" from the drawn-out melancholy 
of "Betere is tholien whyle sore, Then mournen ever- 
more" is typical of what the Elizabethan song- writers 
could do three centuries later. 

Or take the mysterious little lyric about the maid who 
lay out seven nights on the moor, with the primrose and 
the violet for her food, with cold water from the spring 
for her drink, and the red rose and the lily for her bed. 
It is scribbled with eleven other pieces and fragments 
(two of them in French) on the leaf of a manuscript in the 
Bodleian Library. W. Heuser first published them in the 
thirtieth volume ofAnglia, and Kenneth Sisam made the 
Maid of the Moor known by including it in his anthology 
of fourteenth-century verse and prose. Miss Sitwell, with 
her wonderfully fine ear for poetic melody, has com- 
mented on it in her Poet's Notebook. In substance the 
lyric is of the most fragile, but in accomplishment 
call it technical accomplishment it is perfection. 
Here it is, with the slight but certain restorations made 
by Sisam. 

39 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Maiden in the mor lay, 

In the mor lay, 

Sevenystfulle, sevennistfulle, 
Maiden in the mor lay, 

In the mor lay, 
Sevenistes fulle ant a day. 

Welle was hire mete: 

Wat was hire mete? 

The primer ole ant the 

The primer ole ant the 
Welle iv as hire mete; 
Wat was hire mete? 

The primer ole ant the violet. 

Welle was hire dryng: 

Wat was hire dryng? 
The chelde water of the welle-spritig. 

Welle was hire hour: 

Wat was hire hour? 
The rede rose an te lilie flour. 

If I may stray a little from my immediate subject, I should 
like to express my lively curiosity about who the maiden 
on the moor was. Can she be identified, or is the poem a 
piece of airy fantasy, hovering like Mahomet's coffin 
between heaven and earth? I have consulted two medi- 
evalists without result; neither editor considers annotation 
necessary. The only help I have met is in the fifteenth 
passus of Piers Plowman (B-text), where the ascetic lives 
of various saints are recounted: Anthony, Egidius, Paul 
the Hermit, and St. Peter. And then come the lines : 

And also Marie Magdeleyne by mores lyved and dewes 
Ac moste thorw devocionn and mynde of God Almighty. 

If Mary Magdalene lived "by moors and dews", may 

40 



THE LYRIC 

not the maiden who lay in the moor be another saint of 
similar habits? It is true that all the other poems on the 
sheet of the manuscript are secular, but the same minstrel 
cocdd have sung both secular and sacred songs. 

Carleton Brown notes that in the thirteenth century 
much more than in the fourteenth lyrics were composed 
to be sung : the later century was more the age of the 
literary as against the musical lyric. The difference 
between these types is more easily felt than described. 
If we compared the Alison song with Dr. Johnson's 
"Long expected one-and-twenty", or Felicia Hemans's 
u The boy stood on the burning deck", that difference 
would be very apparent. But it is worth mentioning two 
ways in which a lyric can prove itself a song, something 
requiring music. The first way is for the words as it were 
to demand music, to cry aloud for it, to insist. It is the way 
of 

Adam lay ibounden 

Boundcn in a bond 
or 

Follow your saint, follow with accents sweet. 

The second way is the coy one, not that of insisting on or 
pursuing the music. It works through weakness, through 
incompleteness, through winning the support of music, 
because music knows that a collapse is threatened. Some 
of the most beautiful lyrics work that way : 

/ saw a fair maiden 

Sitten and sing, 
She lulled a litel child 

A sweet lording, 

That eche lord is that 
That made alle thing; 

41 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Ofalle lories he is lord 
Ofalle hinges king. 

There is hardly any substance here, and yet there is/the 
sense of an exquisite completeness when music has made 
up the deficiencies. 

Well, "Adam lay ibounden", and "I saw a fair 
maiden" belong to the fifteenth century and show that the 
musical lyric, less prominent in the fourteenth, blossomed 
again in the later carols. There was no break in the 
tradition. Other fifteenth-century lyrics show something 
else : the influence of the religious drama. I will quote 
some stanzas in illustration, and partly because, though 
dramatic, they are so in a way very different from 
Wyatt (my next topic), whose sense of drama is some- 
thing new and un-medieval. They come from a dramatic 
monologue of Christ speaking from the cross, and it is 
just possible that Skelton is the author: 

Woefully arrayed, 
My blood, man, 
For thee ran: 
It may not be nayed; 

My body blue and wan, 
Woefully arrayed. 

Behold me, I pray thee, with all thy whole reason, 
And be not so hard-hearted, and for this encheason, 
Sith I for thy soul's sake was slain in good season, 
Beguiled and betrayed by Judas 9 false treason; 
Unkindly entreated, 
With sharp cord sore fretted, 
The Jewes me threated; 
They mowed, they grinned, they scorned me, 
Condemned to death, as thou mayest see; 
Woefully arrayed. 

42 



THE LYRIC 

Thus naked am I nailed, O man, for they sake! 
I love thee, then love me; why sleepest thou? awake! 
Remember my tender heart-root for thee brake; 
With paines my veines constrained to crake; 

Thus tugged to and fro, 

Thus wrapped all in wo, 

Whereas ne'er man was so 
Entreated thus in most cruel wise; 
Was like a lamb offered for sacrifice, 

Woefully arrayed. 

This is a powerful piece of writing, overwhelmingly full 
of detail, sharply opposed to the refinement and fragility 
of the carols. In its accumulation of violent physical 
details it recalls contemporary Teutonic paintings of the 
Crucifixion. And if the comparison I shall draw between 
this type of lyric and Wyatt is to be made vivid, I ask you 
to remember the Teutonic and Italian strains in the 
religious pictures of the Netherlands, and especially of 
Flanders, in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth cen- 
turies. 

In the sixteenth century the secular lyric predominates; 
music and song have become the fashionable accomplish- 
ments of the courtier. Here is one lyric, dating from very 
early in the century, to establish a second point of con- 
trast with Wyatt. 

By a bank as I lay, 

Musing myself alone, hey ho! 

A birdes voice 

Did me rejoice, 

Singing before ihe day; 

And me thought in her lay 

She said, winter was past, hey ho! 
Then dyry come dawn, dyry come dyry, come dyry! 
Come dyry, come dyry, come dawn, hey ho! 

43 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

The master of music, 

The lusty nightingale, hey ho! 

Full merrily 

And secretly 

She singeth in the thick; 

And under her breast a prick, 

To keep her fro sleep, hey ho! 

Awake, therefore, young men, 

All ye that lovers be, hey ho! 

This Month oj May, 

So fresh, so gay, 

So fair be fields on Jen; 

Hathjlourish ilk again. 

Great joy it is to see, hey ho! 

This is a lovely song, worthy of the great tradition of 
the Leominster Manuscript; but for all its late date it 
shows no hint of any development from the medieval 
tradition. There is no sense of the intimately human, of 
the here-and-no w : the speaker is any man, speaking of 
any nightingale, on any May morning. To illustrate a 
new sense of humanity, contrasting both with the 
violent Teutonic drama of "Woefully arrayed" and the 
lovely lyrical abstraction of "By a bank as I lay", I quote 
a famous lyric of Wyatt. 

And will thou leave me thus? 

Say nay, say nay, for shame, 

To save theefrom the blame 

Of all my grief and grame, 
And wilt thou leave me thus? 

Say nay, say nay! 

And wilt thou leave me thus, 
That hath loved thee so long 
In wealth and woe among? 

44 



THE LYRIC 

And is thy heart so strong 
As for to leave me thus? 
Say nay, say nay! 

And wilt thou leave me thus, 

That hath given thee my heart 

Never for to depart 

Neither for pain nor smart: 
And wilt thou leave me thus? 

Say nay, say nay! 

And wilt thou leave me thus 

And have no more pity 

Of him that loveth thee? 

Helas thy cruelty! 
And wilt thou leave me thus? 

Say nay, say nay! 

Slight as it is, this poem is rich in its implications. In its 
economy, its elegance, its sophistication, it contrasts with 
the clotted strength of " Woefully arrayed". In its 
dramatic sense, in its creating the dramatic illusion of a 
real lover pleading with a real woman and of doing so 
even now, it contrasts with the abstraction of "By a 
bank as I lay". It does imply some changed sense of human 
values. I shall spend most of the rest of this section in 
commenting on this change in Wyatt and other Tudor 
poets. 

But before speaking of the different lyric poets I must 
make a general observation. Up to Wyatt it had been 
a case not of lyric poets but of lyric poetry; from Wyatt 
onwards it is the reverse. Of the names of the men who 
wrote the best medieval lyrics we know nothing, still 
less of their lives. With the age of Henry VIII we know 
not only the names but much about the careers of the 
men who wrote most of the best lyrics. In my section on 

45 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

criticism I shall assert that the characteristic medieval 
justification of literature was the recreational one and 
that at the end of the fifteenth century the characteristic 
justification became more solemn and moral. T^ an 
activity taken so lightly as the medieval song anonymity 
was appropriate; but to the heavier morality of Renais- 
sance critical theory the responsibility of admitted 
authorship became more appropriate. Further, it is quite 
impossible to disengage the lyrics of some of the poets I 
am about to mention from their characters as seen in 
action, from their careers. It is partly that we know so 
much of their lives, from outside sources, partly that 
their lives leave their palpable and inescapable impression 
on their poems. We cannot escape our awareness of 
Wyatt's powerful personality and the clear and interesting 
circumstances of his life. We feel his inherited loyalty to 
the house of Tudor; we know of his unhappy marriage, 
his visit to Italy and the literary contacts he must have 
made there, his skill and conscientiousness as a diplomat, 
his relief when dismissed to retirement to his estate in 
Kent, where he could live the life of a cultured country 
gentleman, his distress of mind when imprisoned on a 
false charge. All these things force themselves on us if 
we read his works. And, most vivid of all, Holbein 
included him among those men and women whose 
portraits have done so much to make the court life of 
Henry VIII come alive for us. The same is true of the 
Earl of Surrey. We cannot help knowing the kind of 
man he was and the kind of life he led: a man higher in 
the social scale and thereby more deeply committed to 
the perils of political intrigue and ambition than Wyatt; 
proud to arrogance of his royal descent through his 
mother and retentive of the forms of medieval chivalry, 

46 



THE LYRIC 

now growing antiquated; happy in his association with 
Henry VIII's illegitimate son, the Duke of Richmond, 
whose chosen companion he was in the chivalrous 
education appropriate to their station at Windsor Castle 
and later at the French court; the zealous and skilful 
commander of an army at Calais; and finally the victim 
of the groundless suspicions of his royal master through 
the intrigues of the opposing court party. In the age of 
Elizabeth it is simply impossible to forget the tragic 
career of Southwell the Jesuit, while to seek to forget the 
life of Sidney in reading his works would be a ludicrous 
waste of energy. For good or ill the lyric has left one 
area of life and firmly settled itself in another. I am not 
forgetting the many anonymous Elizabethan lyrics; but, 
though many, they are not the rule; and those of the first 
quality are few compared with such poems by Iqiown 
authors. 

Having said thus much in general, I can return to the 
separate authors and to Wyatt in the first place. I opened 
my remarks on him by quoting a lyric, with deliberate 
intention: partly to show how original he is, and partly 
how traditional; for it is in the union of both these 
qualities that his charm principally lies. As commanding an 
exquisite sense of the songlike element in the lyric and as 
writing in a variety of lyric measures, he is the heir of the 
Leominster songs and the fifteenth-century carols; and as 
a lyrical dramatist with a sense of the present human 
situation, he lets the new Renaissance spirit into English 
poetry. Another reason for beginning with Wyatt's 
lyrics is that through them one can best counter the per- 
sistent heresy that he was no more than a fumbling, if 
talented, experimenter. So recently as 1947, Mr. G. M. 
Young, who ought to know better, pronounced to a 

47 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

British Academy audience, who I hope were properly 
shocked, that "the metrical fumblings of Wyatt and his 
contemporaries show that the key to the old music had 
been lost and the key to the new music not yet fotjnd". 
Mr. Young's remarks could apply to a few of Wyatt's 
sonnets; applied to the lyrics they are the precise con- 
trary to the truth. In the lyric tradition there was no 
break; the key to the old music was never lost; and 
Wyatt's lyrics are a very noble example of a lovely 
metrical tradition maintained, but adapted to a new 
ethical and social sensibility. Let me quote a second lyric, 
airy and slight in substance, but illustrating the perfect 
technical finish and the new dramatic sense. It is a lover's 
soliloquy, but the dramatic situation is precisely implied. 
The lover soliloquizes after his cheeky mistress has 
snubbed and left him; and he speaks in an "I ask you" or 
"What would you do about it?" tone. 

With serving still 

This have I won, 
For my goodwill 

To be undone. 

And for redress 

Of all my pain, 
Disdainfulness 

I have again; 

And for reward 

Of all my smart, 
Lo, thus unheard 

I must depart! 

Wherefore all ye 

That after shall 
By fortune be, 

As I am, thrall, 

48 



THE LYRIC 

Example lake 

Wnat I have won 
Thus for her sake 

To be undone! 

Nothing could be better than the dramatic emphasis of 
"This have I won" and "Thus for her sake", or than the 
skill with which "Disdainfulness" is made to occupy a 
whole line, suggesting a choking mouthful of very dry 
biscuit instead of the refreshing drink the lover had 
hoped for. Moreover the speaker is half acting. He puts 
on just a little more indignation than he really feels in 
order to make his advice to the audience to take example 
by him the more effective. In fact the humour and the 
elegant conversational tone are not only new, but look 
right forward to the witty sophistication of the court 
lyric of a century later, to a poem like 

Why so pale and wan, fond lover, 

Prithee, why so pale? 
Will, when looking well cant move her, 

Looking ill prevail? 

Prithee, why so pale? 

Why so dull and mute, young sinner, 

Prithee, why so mute? 
Will, when speaking well cant win her, 

Saying nothing do 't? 

Prithee, why so mute? 

Quit, quit, for shame; this will not move, 

This cannot take her; 
If of herself she will not love, 

Nothing can make her: 

The devil take her! 

D 49 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

One of the marks of later Renaissance humanism was 
the turning of the speculative faculty on to the human 
mind itself; and we are told that Montaigne was the first 
writer to show it in any eminent degree. Now Wyatt, as 
well as being dramatic, could be introspective; ancH will 
give one of his less known lyrics in substantiation. It 
begins "Spite hath no power to make me sad", and it 
exhibits a toughness of thought not found in the authen- 
tic lyric till the age of Sidney and then not very often. 
It is more formal and less purely songlike than the poems 
so far read, but there is a strong undercurrent of feeling. 
Wyatt imagines himself rejected by someone whose 
love he once possessed and counters rejection by rejection. 
If, he says, his love had never prospered, he might now 
be bitter. But he once had what he wished, and, anticipa- 
ting Browning's doctrine of the eternal moment, that, 
he says, is as good as having it now. Moreover the lady, 
through having changed, no longer exists. Her wronging 
him has wiped out her name. 

Spite hath no power to make me sad, 

Nor scornfulness to make me plain. 

It doth suffice that once I had, 

And so to leave, it is no pain. 

Let them frown on that least doth gain; 

Who did rejoice must needs be glad: 

And though with words thou weenest to reign, 

It doth suffice that once I had. 

Since that in cheeks thus overthwart 
And coyly looks thou dost delight, 
It doth suffice that mine thou wert, 
Though change hath put thy faith to flight. 
Alas, it is a peevish spite 

50 



THE LYRIC 

To yield thyselj and then to part; 
But since thou seest thy faith so light, 
It doth suffice that mine thou wert. 

And since thy love doth thus decline, 
And in thy heart such hate doth grow, 
It doth suffice that thou wert mine, 
And with good will I quite it so. 
Sometime my friend, farewell my foe, 
Since thou change I am not thine; 
But for relief of all my woe 
It doth suffice that thou wert mine. 

Praying you all that hears this song 
To judge no ivight, nor none to blame: 
It doth suffice she doth me wrong, 
And that herself doth know the same. 
And though she change it is no shame; 
Their kind it is and hath been long. 
Yet I protest she hath no name; 
It doth suffice she doth me wrong. 

Many of Wyatt's poems arc founded on Italian or French 
originals; but I have not read that this poem has been 
traced to any source. It has indeed the mark of independ- 
ent psychological experience. 

It may be a matter of surprise that in seeking the new 
elements in Wyatt I have gone to poems most in the 
tradition of the medieval lyric and least in that of the 
new learning of Italy; for Wyatt's innovation, according 
to most of the histories, was that he imported the Petrar- 
chan sonnet. Now Wyatt travelled in Italy; he was in 
touch with the principal source of the new learning; and 
he did translate some of those sonnets of Petrarch which 
were so adored and imitated at that time. That he was 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

touched by the luminous and critical spirit of contem- 
porary Italian literature is certain, and yet he showed that 
spirit more successfully in his medievalizing lyrics than 
in his would-be Italianate sonnets. The sonnets ar un- 
couth and uninspired works of duty; it was only in the 
freedom of his native tradition that the lessons he learnt 
in Italy could be applied. Moreover, there was nothing 
particularly new about the Petrarchan themes. Petrarch's 
lover who is hot and cold at the same time, who is so 
near death from love that any further attack his mistress 
makes on him can only be to torture not to kill, who is 
like a moth singed in the burning brightness of his lady's 
eye, is a mere variant of a long established type going 
back to the Troubadour poets. Petrarch's innovation 
was stylistic, and that style Wyatt failed to recapture. 

I have spoken of Wyatt before Surrey not only because 
he was the older man but because he is the greater inno- 
vator. Wyatt, so close to the Middle Ages in the lyrical 
forms he used and prophetic of Donne in the dramatic 
and introspective substance of his lyrics, extends indeed 
beyond his age. Surrey, with less originality, is centrally 
of it. He reminds me of the still prevailing architecture 
of the age: the late Gothic or Perpendicular varied 
exceptionally with a little Renaissance ornament. Now 
characteristic of the Perpendicular style was a liking for 
balance and repetition. This liking may have been 
partly economic it was cheaper to repeat but it 
probably grew also from a new desire for balance and 
harmony, for classical qualities. Surrey's innovation is 
mainly of such a kind. There is little of the new human- 
ism in him, little of the speculative spirit, but something 
of the new civilization that characterized the virtue of 
courtesy. Surrey's sonnets are far more chastened and 



THE LYRIC 

ordered than Wyatt's; and he is at home in translating 
Martial's quietist, stoical epigram Ad Seipsum into the 
evenly flowing verses of 

Martial, the things for to attain 
The happy life be these, I find. 

The poem that offers the closest analogy with Perpen- 
dicular architecture and which I think Surrey's best, is a 
conventional love lyric in which he compares the delays 
of his own courtship to the delays experienced by the 
Greeks in recapturing Helen from the Trojans. The 
substance is medieval. Troy in the poem is not Homer's 
but Lydgate's. The war was "all to win a lady fair", and 
we picture her as in an illuminated manuscript; and it is 
not leaders or chieftains but knights that wage the war. 
In contrast there are many reminiscences of Petrarch 
suggesting, if you will, the addition of a few Renaissance 
ornaments. But the virtue of the poem lies in its beautiful 
balance and disposition. The comparison is faultlessly 
worked out, and the poem ends logically with a kind of 
Q.E.D. air. This comparison is between the troubles of 
the Greeks the contrary winds, the sacrifice of Iphigenia, 
the prolongation of the war before they won back 
Helen, and the lover's troubles in winning his mistress. 
The lover is in despair but he is reminded of a greater 
set of troubles about a lady, the Trojan War about Helen. 
But these greater troubles were about someone less fair 
than his mistress. So he has far less reason to complain 
than the Greeks. Yet the Greeks persisted. So much the 
more, then, should he. And he ends with the resolve to 
go on hoping. The poem consists of only two sentences: 
one immensely long comprising four stanzas, and the 
other comprising the fifth and last. 

53 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

When raging love with extreme pain 
Most cruelly distrains my heart, 
When that my tears, as floods of rain, 
Bear witness of my woful smart, 
When sighs have wasted so my breath 
That I lie at the point of death; 

I call to mind the navy great 
That the Greeks brought to Troye town 
And how the boisterous winds did beat 
Their ships and rent their sails adown, 
Till Agamemnon s daughter's blood 
Appeased the gods that them withstood; 

And how that in those ten years' war 
Full many a bloody deed was done, 
And many a lord, that came full far, 
There caught his bane, alas, too soon, 
And many a good knight overrun, 
Before the Greeks had Helen won; 

Then think I thus: sith such repair, 
So long time war of valiant men, 
Was all to win a lady fair, 
Shall I not learn to suffer then 
And think my life well spent to be 
Serving a worthier wight than she? 

Therefore I never will repent, 

But pains, contented, still endure; 

For like as when, rough winter spent, 

The pleasant spring straight draweth in ure, 

So after raging storms of care 

Joyful at length may be my fare. 

There is no drama, no sense of the here-and-now in this 
poem, but it is a highly reasonable, civilized affair, the 

54 



THE LYRIC 

kind of thing that would have earned the approval of an 
Augustan poet. 

That then is what Surrey is mainly good for, but it 
wouJil be unfair to him not to mention first an exception 
to his lack of drama, and second a very remarkable 
innovation of his in a single department. 

One of Surrey's best poems, rightly honoured by most 
anthologists, is that beginning "O happy dames". It is a 
soliloquy of a wife whose husband is absent, comparing 
her lot with that of happier women whose husbands are 
at home. It contains a highly dramatic picture of the 
anxious wife standing at the window watching the 
weather. 

When other lovers, in arms across, 

Rejoice their chief delight, 

Drowned in tears, to mourn my loss 

I stand the bitter night 

In my window, ivhere I may see 

Before the winds how the clouds flee. 

Lo, what a mariner love hath made me! 

And in green waves when the salt flood 

Doth rise by rage of wind, 

A thousand fancies in that mood 

Assail my restless mind. 

Alas! now drencheth my sweet foe, 

That with the spoil of my heart did go, 

And left me; but, alas, why did he so? 

And when the seas wax calm again 

To chase from me annoy, 

My doubtful hope doth cause me plain; 

So dread cuts off my joy. 

Thus is my wealth mingled with woe, 

And of each thought a doubt doth grow: 

Now he comes; will he come? alas, no, no! 

55 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Surrey's innovation has to do with nature. It is a general 
truth that until the eighteenth century English poets were 
unable to objectify nature, to see it in detachment. 
Usually they treated nature in an emblematic jvay, 
making it illustrate a moral or at least subserve something 
else appropriately. Henryson at the beginning of his 
Testament of Cresseid says that a doleful season should be 
made to fit a doleful ditty; and he proceeds to describe 
the frosty evening on which he read the unhappy story 
of Cresseid' s punishment. And, we learn later, the 
weather was frosty not only because frost is generally 
unpleasant and hence appropriate to the unhappy tale, 
but because Saturn was a frosty planet and it was Saturn 
who smote Cresseid with leprosy. So, convincingly 
though Henryson describes the cold evening, his descrip- 
tion is anything but detached. This medieval habit ex- 
tended right beyond Surrey. Here, for instance, is a 
natural description in Sackville's Induction to his Tragedy 
of Buckingham in the Mirror for Magistrates, where its 
moral application is plainly specified: 

And sorrowing I to see the summer flowers, 
The lively green, the lusty leas forlorn, 
The sturdy trees so shattered with the showers, 
The fields so fade that flourished so beforn, 
It taught me well, all earthly things be born 
To die the death, for nought may long time last; 
The summer's beauty yields to winter's blast. 

And looking upward to the heaven s learns 
With nightes stars thick powder' d everywhere, 
Which erst so glisten d with the golden streams 
That cheerful Phoebus spread down from his sphere, 
Beholding dark oppressing day so near, 

56 



THE LYRIC 

The sudden sight reduced to my mind 
The sundry changes that on earth we find. 

But in a few passages in Surrey we find nature described 
in a totally new way. Here is the best example of all: the 
beginning of one of the sonnets he translated from 
Petrarch: 

Alas! so all things now do hold their peace: 
Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing, 
The beasts, the air; the birds their song do cease, 
The nightes car the stars about doth bring; 
Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less. 

It is true that this description is subordinated to the whole 
sonnet, which exploits the contrast between the calm of 
nature and the unrest of the lover's mind. And in Pet- 
rarch's poem this subordination is complete. But Surrey 
alters Petrarch with startling effect. First, he expands 
Petrarch's nature description by one line, and second 
he alters Petrarch's simple statement that the sea lies in 
its bed, waveless, to "calm is the sea, the waves work less 
and less". Now the last phrase is a wonderful rendering 
of a piece of sheer, detached, natural observation. Nothing 
could give better the impression of a sea sinking into calm 
than the phrase, "the waves work less and less". Such a 
sea does present itself to us as tired and worked out and 
sinking into quietude through exhaustion. And the touch 
is gratuitous; it does not correspond to any statement 
that, on the contrary, the passions in the lover's heart are 
beginning to increase in violence. 

If you want to see the qualities of Wyatt and Surrey 
and the shares they have in promoting the Renaissance 
in England I would advise you to consider a contemporary 

57 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

analogy. Wyatt, though his lyrics may be small even 
fragile affairs, resembles Thomas More; Surrey re- 
sembles Elyot, author of the Governor. More is at once 
rooted in the Middle Ages and highly prophetic pf an 
enlargement of human sympathies that was only to take 
place much later. He also shows a very keen sense of 
drama, of the here-and-now, in his introduction to 
Utopia and in his History of Richard HI. Elyot is a man of 
his age, civilized but rather static, anecdotal and homiletic 
rather than dramatic, influenced by the matter of the new 
learning but at heart far more of a conservative than 
More. 

In the age that followed, the age of the translators 
and of the Mirror for Magistrates, the lyric tradition 
of Wyatt declined, to be resumed with increased energy 
in the great Elizabethan age. In that age the bulk of the 
lyric is not noticeably humanistic or dramatic: it unites 
the great songlike tradition with the subject-matter of 
Petrarch and of the pastoral. Such a masterpiece of lyric 
beauty as the following just does not come within the 
scope of the Renaissance movements I have been out- 
lining, or only in ways too subtle for exposition : 

Love! they wrong thee much 
That say thy sweet is bitter, 
When thy rich fruit is such 
As nothing can be sweeter. 
Fair house of joy and bliss, 
Where truest pleasure is, 

I do adore thee: 

1 know thee what thou art, 
I serve thee with my heart, 

And fall before thee. 

No, it is not the song-books generally that carry on the 

58 



THE LYRIC 

intellectualizing and dramatic sides of Wyatt, but one or 
two of the court-poets: Raleigh, Dyer, Greville, and 
above all Sidney. 

Tl\ere are also the recusant poets, the circumstances of 
whose lives forced them away from the airier modes of 
Petrarch and the pastoral and towards the more sober and 
realistic portion of Wyatt's verse. It is also quite natural 
that these poets, when not resorting to continental sources, 
should prolong an earlier, not adopt the fashionable 
contemporary, lyric tradition. The fine poem by South- 
well, the aristocratic Englishman who was also a Jesuit 
priest and an emissary from his order to his own country, 
on the thoughts aroused by contemplating a skull is very 
much in the Wyatt tradition with its realism and artfully 
varied refrain. 

Before my face the picture hangs 

That daily should put me in mind 
Of those cold names and bitter pangs 

That shortly I am like to find: 
But yet, alas, full little I 
Do think hereon that I must die. 

Continually at my bed's head 
An hearse doth hang, which doth me tell 

That I ere morning may be dead, 
Though now I feel myself full well: 

But yet, alas, for all this I 

Have little mind that I must die. 

The gown which I do use to wear, 
The knife wherewith I cut my meat, 

And eke that old and ancient chair 
Which is my only usual seat, 

All these do tell me I must die, 

And yet my life amend not I. 

59 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

The sense of present life, of the here-and-now of these 
lines, worthily continues the pattern set by Wyatt. 

I turn finally to Sidney, greatest of the court poets. 

Like Wyatt, Sidney was a great experimenter anclwas 
familiar with Italian. He could be academic and fantastic 
and formal at times, just as in his Arcadia he could be 
outrageously ingenious and improbable. On the other 
hand, as Arcadia has a very real contemporary political 
application, and as its conventional sentiments can give 
way to poignant drama, for example when Pamela and 
Philoclea suffer imprisonment and persecution, so in the 
lyric Sidney can assure us of his closeness to actual life, 
of his dramatic sense. I will end this section by describing 
a lyric of Sidney which is both songlike and dramatic, 
and which, through its union of medievalism and 
novelty, illustrates my recurrent theme in these lectures : 
namely the eleventh song in Astrophel and Stella beginning 
"Who is it that this dark night?" It is a serenade in the 
form of the lover (or Astrophel) pleading outside the 
mistress's (or Stella's) window at night; but it is also a 
formal dialogue between the two, the lady speaking the 
first two lines and the lover the last three of each stanza. 
This form of argument or debate is thoroughly medieval; 
yet the five-line stanza is, I believe, original and a wonder- 
fully effective invention. The rhyme-scheme is ababa and 
the last line, echoing lines one and three and not closed 
by a third b rhyme, gives a melancholy effect. The b 
rhymes are all double (as the a rhymes are all single) and 
fuller in sound; the absence of the third b rhyme is hence 
all the more felt. There is great dramatic power. The 
trochaic rhythm expresses hurry and excitement; and the 
manipulation of the words suggests a whispered con- 
versation. 

60 



THE LYRIC 

k ' Who is it that this dark night 
Underneath my window plaineth?" 
It is one who from thy sight 
Being, ah, exil'd, disdaineth 
Every other vulgar light. 

" Why, alas, and are you he? 
Be not yet those fancies changed?" 
Dear, when you find change in me, 
Though from me you be estranged* 
Let my change to ruin he. 

"Well, in absence this will die; 
Leave to see and leave to wonder." 
Absence sure will help, if I 
Can learn how myself to sunder 
From what in my heart doth lie. 

"But time will these thoughts remove; 
Time doth work what no man knoweth. 
Time doth as the subject prove; 
With time still the affection growetli 
In the faithful turtle-dove. 

"What ij we new beauties see, 
Will not they stir new affection?" 
I will think they pictures be 
([mage-like, of saints' perfection) 
Poorly counterfeiting thee. 

"But your reason s purest light 
Bids you leave such minds to nourish" 
Dear, do reason no such spite; 
Never doth thy beauty flourish 
More than in my reason s sight. 

"But the wrongs Love bears will make 
Love at length leave undertaking." 

61 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

No, the more fools it doth shake, 
In a ground of so firm making 
Deeper still they drive the stake. 

"Peace, I think that some give ear. 
Come no more, lest I get anger' 9 
Bliss, I will my bliss forbear; 
Fearing, sweet, you to endanger; 
But my soul shall harbour there. 

" Well, be gone; be gone I say, 
Lest that Argus eyes perceive you!' 
Oh unjust is Fortune s sway, 
Which can make me thus to leave you, 
And from louts to run away. 



62 



3. CRITICISM 

Iuste the word criticism in a restricted sense. For instance, 
I am not dealing with applied criticism, that is the 
criticism of texts, of which indeed there was little, and 
of that very little good, in the periods under review; 
nor am I dealing with theories of language whether 
you should use Latin or your own vernacular nor with 
theories of rhetoric. Instead I am thinking of how the 
ordinary thoughtful man would justify literature, of 
what answer he would give to the Philistine or the 
Puritan who asked him what good it was. I say "thought- 
ful man", because even in so religious a century as the 
thirteenth or in so severely moral a century as the 
sixteenth there were plenty of the profane who 
wanted to write recreational or amatory or scurrilous or 
satirical verse or to listen to it, and were not to be put off 
by all the clerics in Christendom. And for these it mat- 
tered little whether their more staid contemporaries 
justified poetry or not, or on what grounds they did so. 
Like Catullus with his Lesbia, they were in love with 
their profane Muse, and valued all the murmurings of 
the strait-laced old men at exactly one penny. But such 
folk, the rebels, the literary Falstaffs of the world, are a 
constant; and though, to keep our sense of proportion, 
we should not forget their unbroken existence, their 
very constancy robs them of historical interest. So let us 
return to the ordinary thoughtful man and see whether 
his thoughts about how you can justify literature changed 
through the ages under review. 
Beginning with the noon of the Middle Ages we find, 

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THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

along with a wonderful output of creative work, the 
most astonishing confusions and contradictions of theory. 
It was a contradiction of long standing. St. Jerome had 
both quoted Virgil and denounced the pagan writers. 
Ovid's Art of Love and Martial's Epigrams were tound 
with the Bible and the Fathers in monastic libraries. As 
Comparctti said, "While the ancients are steadily hated 
and maligned as pagans, their works are assiduously read 
and studied, and they are looked up to by the most en- 
lightened Christians as men of learning and genius". 
There is the same contradiction in Chaucer. He gave 
the best part of himself to poetry and at the end of 
the Canterbury Tales in his "retraction" he called his 
poems his "guilts" and asked God to pardon him for 
them. But in spite of this confusion, and if you are 
content to follow, not the handbooks on rhetoric but 
the hints dropped in various places, you can gather a 
few rough truths about how literature was regarded in 
the Middle Ages. 

First, there was the pervasive influence of the medieval 
church. As soon as men began reflecting at all about the 
justification of literature they automatically took the 
church into account. The church on its own side looked 
on literature somewhat as it looked on the sexual instincts : 
wholly bad if indulged in without regulation, good if 
indulged in under proper rules, though less good than 
abstention. C. S. Lewis in his Allegory of Love has written 
interestingly of the medieval church's jealousy of mar- 
riage. It feared excessive marital affection as likely to 
interfere with the devotion man owed to his church and 
his maker: a fear faithfully inherited by Milton in 
Paradise Lost when he makes God blame Adam's yielding 
to Eve in the words : 

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CRITICISM 

Was shee thy God, that her thou didst obey 
Before his voice? 

Just so the church was jealous of any very high claims 
madeTor the virtue of literature and was correspondingly 
more favourable to justifying poetry for marginal or 
superficial reasons. The old notion of the poet as the 
prophet or inspired teacher was not dead in the Middle 
Ages, but it was frowned on and incurred violent opposi- 
tion. On the other hand the church did not object to 
literature being a humble and subordinate ally; and it is 
truly symbolical of this state of affairs that a good deal of 
medieval literature was the work of men in minor orders. 
Cursor Mundi is a long narrative poem dealing with 
scriptural history, the material of the Miracle Play 
cycles. At the beginning the author says he is writing 
for ignorant Englishmen in the hope of amending their 
lives and keeping them from vanities. The church 
would have approved of the poem as a legitimate if 
inferior means of doing what the preachers did in their 
sermons : something parallel to the representation of the 
same episodes on the stage, or in paint on the church 
walls, or in glass in the church windows. 

Another legitimate use of literature was to commemor- 
ate the acts of great men and women, whether saints or 
figures in secular history. Here was a useful recording 
work which did not come into competition with ecclesi- 
astical preserves. But the most characteristic of all 
medieval justifications of literature was what they would 
have called "honest mirth". Aquinas himself had set his 
confirmation on the truth that you cannot keep the soul 
always at a stretch and that play is necessary for human 
nature. Here is a justification the remotest possible from 

E 65 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

the ideas of the poet-prophet and of poetry as a high 
exercise of the soul, and one which need cause the church 
not the least uneasiness. It was perfectly apt that Chaucer, 
if he chose to put his most didactic tale into the mouth 
of one cleric, the Parson, put one of his most amusing 
(if innocently amusing) tales into the mouth of another 
cleric, the Nuns' Priest. This tale could indeed stand as a 
classic instance of that honest mirth approved of by medi- 
eval orthodoxy; it gives perfectly the Aquinian relaxa- 
tion. 

A famous passage in Langland's Piers Plowman is most 
instructive. It is at the beginning of the splendid passus 
where the allegorical figure called Imaginative (meaning 
memory and reflection) reproves the poet for spending 
time over his verses : 

And thou meddlest thee with makings, and mightest go say thy 

psalter 

And bid for them thatgiveth thee bread; for there are books enough 
To tell men what Do-well is. 

To which the poet retorts with the proverb of Cato, 
interpone tuis inter 'dum gaudia curis\ from time to time 
punctuate your serious affairs with pleasure. Thus Lang- 
land's defence of his poem is that it is a piece of legitimate 
relaxation amid more serious affairs. And he was the man 
about whom a modern Catholic historian, Christopher 
Dawson, wrote: 

Here is the Catholic Englishman par excellence, at once the 
most English of Catholic poets and the most Catholic of 
English poets: a man in whom Catholic faith and national 
feeling are fused in a single flame. He saw Christ walking in 
English fields in the dress of an English labourer, and to 

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CRITICISM 

understand his work is to know English religion in its most 
autochthonous and yet most Catholic form. 

So what a contrast with this is Langland's own self- 
justification of his poem to contemporary Catholic 
orthodoxy. Not a word about his poem being an attempt 
at a great religious work; not a hint that it can even begin 
to do the work represented by his saying his psalter: 
only the humble plea that his trivial verses may be 
excused as legitimate relaxation for the writer. 

This posture of humility before the church was, I 
believe, truly characteristic of medieval literature, and 
it makes medieval critical ideas genuinely different from 
those of the Renaissance. Langland and Sidney belonged 
to different critical worlds. 

How did the change begin? Less perhaps through the 
more widely accepted notion of classical influence than 
through the transference of some authority from ecclesi- 
astical to secular things. One of the legitimate concerns of 
literature had been the record and celebration of the 
doings of great men. Such a concern was continued 
through poetry and history during the centuries that 
followed Chaucer and Langland, but with a different 
emphasis. In the Middle Ages the emphasis was on fact, 
and on record, and on pleasure. As the years went on, 
as nationalism encroached on the idea of an undivided 
western Christendom, as kings became less amenable to 
papal discipline, the emphasis changed. Some of the 
seriousness that had forsaken clerical affairs was trans- 
ferred to secular; the accounts of great men became more 
solemn, less recreational, and more didactic. You can 
see the change in Petrarch and Boccaccio in Italy, and 
with the natural time-lag, in Lydgate's adaptations of 

6? 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

Boccaccio in English. History and poems about great 
men became less a factual or diverting chronicle and more 
a series of object-lessons, either of what to imitate or of 
what to avoid. In the fifteenth century men felt ^hem- 
selves terribly dependent on the character that their 
ruler happened to possess, and they believed that the 
ruler's character might really be influenced by the ex- 
amples of virtue and vice he met in literature. One of the 
best places to observe this change of temper is in the 
prefaces Caxton attached to the popular works he 
printed for the first time in his printing-press. One of 
these works was the history of Godfrey of Boulogne, 
one of the leaders of the First Crusade. The age for which 
this romance was written considered it chiefly as a matter 
of recreation; but Caxton states that this book was 

reduced out of French into English to the end that every 
Christian man may be the better encouraged to enterprise 
war for the defence of Christendom and to recover the city 
of Jerusalem. 

Another book Caxton printed was Reynard the Fox and 
again he omits any recreational notion and says solemnly 
that the object of the volume is to put men on their 
guard against the many deceits that are practised in the 
world. A third book is Higden's universal history, 
Polycronicon, and in his long and earnest preface Caxton 
makes it clear that this is no mere record but a work of 
great didactic importance showing the reader "what 
thing is to be desired and what is to be eschewed". 

This stern didactic spirit, now reinforced by Protestant 
zeal, comes out in the next century in Roger Ascham 
and his denunciation of medieval romances. What had 
once satisfied religious vigilance on grounds of pleasure 

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CRITICISM 

and recreation fails to satisfy the sterner morality and 
more didactic temper of a rather less religious age. I 
quote you, not Ascham's more famous attack on Morte 
d 1 Arthur in the Schoolmaster but his less known words to 
the same effect in his preface to Toxophilus, addressed 
"to all the gentlemen and yoemen of England"; 

In our fathers' time nothing was read but books of feigned 
chivalry, wherein a man by reading should be led to no other 
end but only to manslaughter and bawdry. If any man 
suppose they were good enough to pass the time withal he is 
deceived, for surely vain words do work no small thing in 
vain ignorant and young minds, specially if they be given 
anything thereunto of their own nature. These books, as I 
have heard say, were made the most part in abbeys and 
monasteries, a very likely and fit fruit of such an idle and 
blind kind of living. 

It is to about the same period that those two typical 
pieces of Renaissance didacticism in England belong: 
the Mirror for Magistrates and Gorboduc. The first is a vast 
series of tales about princes and statesmen who came to a 
bad end, and the account of their deaths had the same 
object as that attributed to the court of justice that caused 
Admiral Byng to be executed: to inspire the rest with 
courage. The second, narrating the internecine war of 
Ferrex and Porrex, whom King Gorboduc unwisely made 
joint heirs of his kingdom, was aimed directly at Queen 
Elizabeth; being a dreadful object lesson of what happens 
to a country when the succession is not sure, and an incite- 
ment to her to avoid such disasters by marrying and thus 
securing the succession. 

These two pieces of literature show not only a critical 
emphasis different from the medieval but a different 

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THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

critical state of affairs. In the Middle Ages, the rules of 
rhetoric apart, literature was made first; and criticism, 
if any, had to make the best of what was already there. 
By the middle of the sixteenth century critical t;heory 
began to influence literary production. Anyhow, the 
Mirror for Magistrates and Gorboduc are exceptionally con- 
scious of the kind of thing the literary theory of the time 
required. Somewhat paradoxically the medieval method 
was more human, in the sense of answering to the casual 
and opportunist side of human nature which is one of 
the things that stops man being a machine, while the 
early Elizabethan method showed an advance in human- 
ism because it illustrated a wider assertion of human 
rights, albeit rather rigidly applied. 

I come now to English Renaissance criticism proper, 
and I shall confine myself largely to the two great figures, 
Puttenham and Sidney. Campion and Daniel conducted 
a charming, well-bred, and illuminating controversy but 
it is a limited affair compared with the Art of English 
Poesy and the Defence of Poetry. 

One of the most interesting recent discoveries about 
English literature is that published in 1936 about Putten- 
ham's Art of English Poesy. In the preface to their edition 
of this work Miss Willcock and Miss Walker prove that 
the bulk of it belongs to the 15605 and not to the 1580$ 
as previously thought and that it is the critical counter- 
part not ofEuphues and the Faerie Queene but of Tottell's 
Miscellany, the Mirror for Magistrates and the early trans- 
lations. Seen thus it evades comparison with Sidney's 
better known work and is found to be a fine example of 
pre-Euphuistic prose and nearer akin, as prose, to 
Cavendish's Life of Wolsey than to Sidney's Arcadia. It is 
a far more original piece of writing than Lodge's Defence 

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CRITICISM 

of Poetry and Webbe's Discourse of English Poetry, with 
which it was apt to be associated. 

For anyone who has carried to excess the idea that the 
Renaissance is no more than the natural sequence of the 
Middle Ages I recommend first the effort to gather the 
sense of what the Middle Ages thought about literature 
and then a reading or re-reading of the first book of 
Puttenham and of Sidney's Defence. One of the common 
ways to prove such a sequence is to point out how much 
of classical literature was known to the Middle Ages and 
to be scornful of those picturesque accounts, once so 
popular, of the ferment of excitement in the western 
world, and Italy in particular, when a forgotten Greek or 
Roman author was brought to light; thereby insinuating 
that what of classical literature was added to the existing 
medieval store was not of paramount importance. But 
when you try to apply the procedure to literary criticism, 
it simply will not work. In Renaissance criticism the 
difference of feeling is startling, and the classical influence, 
scanty in the Middle Ages, is now conspicuous. I shall 
quote Puttenham in support of this statement, but before 
I do so I must warn you that he is exceptional among 
Elizabethan critics. First, in belonging to the age just 
before the outbursts of Puritan hostility to the stage, he 
can take for granted a more solid predisposition towards 
literature and be less on the defensive. Secondly, he is 
closer to Aristotle than any Elizabethan critic; and con- 
spicuously in these two ways. First, he insists on showing 
and, in doing so, on approving the sheer fact that poetry- 
is a considerable ingredient in human life; and secondly 
he is prone to think of poetry largely in terms of the 
human mind and not as something conveying from this 
or that authority certain lessons that have to be imposed 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

on mankind for their good. In his exordium Puttenham 
repeats what was indeed by now a commonplace in 
Europe that 

the profession and use of poesy is most ancient froln the 
beginning and not, as many erroneously suppose, after but 
before any civil society was among men. For it is written 
that poesy was the original cause and occasion of their first 
assemblies when before the people remained in the woods 
and mountains, vagrant and dispersed like the wild beasts, 
lawless and naked or very ill clad, and of all good and neces- 
sary provision for harbour or sustenance utterly unfurnished, 
so as they little differed from the very brutes of the field. 
Whereupon it is feigned that Amphion and Orpheus, two 
poets of the first ages, one of them, to wit Amphion, builded 
up cities and reared walls with the stones that came in heaps to 
the sound of his harp, figuring thereby the mollifying of hard 
and stony hearts by his sweet and eloquent persuasion. And 
Orpheus assembled the wild beasts to come in herds to 
hearken to his music and by this means made them tame, 
implying thereby how by his discreet and wholesome lessons 
uttered in harmony and with melodious instruments he 
brought the rude and savage people to a more civil and 
orderly life. 

And Puttenham goes on to say that poets were the 
first astronomers, inventors of religious ceremonies, and 
ministers of the holy mysteries. They were even the 
first devisers of laws. Now all this is much more than 
Aristotle said, and Puttenham did not invent the senti- 
ments. But by the luminous and assured way he speaks 
Puttenham produces the equivalent of Aristotle's serene 
assurance, his absolute taking for granted, that poetry is 
one of other concerns ethics, rhetoric, and politics for 
instance with which all men are concerned, and have 

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CRITICISM 

to be concerned if they are to be whole human beings 
and are not to stunt their natures. Puttenham makes this 
claim more explicitly in his remarkable section on the 
imagination. The imagination, he says, is a faculty which 
can run riot and distort reality, but it is also a faculty 
without which the mind is unable to create at all. When 
the imagination is "well affected" it is 

not only nothing disorderly or confused with any monstruous 
imaginations or conceits but very formal [i.e. orderly] and in 
his much multiformity uniform and so passing clear that by 
it, as by a glass or mirror, are represented unto the soul all 
manner of beautiful visions, whereby the inventive part of 
the mind is so much holpen as without it no man could 
devise any new or rare thing; and where it is not excellent 
in his kind there could be no politic captain nor any witty 
enginer or cunning artificer, nor yet any lawmaker or counsel- 
lor of deep discourse. 

By making the imagination an essential means to all 
creative work, poetic and practical alike, Puttenham 
clearly reinforces the Aristotelian assumptions. But this 
same passage illustrates also Puttenham' s other Aristotel- 
ian quality of putting poetry in terms of the mind. Later 
he justifies certain types of poetry not for any specific 
lesson they convey but for the general benefit they bring 
to the mind's health. The poetry of public rejoicing, 
whether for triumphs, installations, birthdays or weddings, 
gets its justification from serving a great principle of the 
human mind. 

Pleasure is the chief part of man's felicity in this world and 
also (as our theologians say) in the world to come. Therefore, 
while we may (yea always if it could be), to rejoice and take 
our pleasures in virtuous and honest sort it is not only 

73 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

allowable but also necessary and very natural to man. And 
many be the joys and consolations of the heart, but none 
greater than such as he may utter and discover by some 
convenient means; even as to suppress and hide a man's mirth 
and not to have therein a partaker, or at least a witness, is no 
little grief and infelicity. 

And after enlarging on rejoicings and their poetical 
celebration, he goes on to their opposite and says: 

Lamenting is altogether contrary to rejoicing; every man 
says so, and yet it is a piece of joy to be able to lament with 
ease and freely to pour forth a man's inward sorrows and the 
griefs wherewith his mind is surcharged. 

Thus to rejoice and to lament through poetical celebration 
has nothing to do with a moral but has a cathartic effect 
similar to that which Aristotle attributes to tragedy. 

Here we are far removed from the permissive, often 
grudgingly permissive, recreational theories of the 
Middle Ages. Then, poetry of a subordinate kind could 
be admitted to help the soul in the short periods when 
theological authority allowed it to relax: now, poetry is a 
great means of health to the soul in its normal activities. 
Classical antiquity has indeed re-asserted itself. 

This joyful assertion by Puttenham of the rights of 
poetry re-appears in an unlikely place, close in date to the 
Art of English Poesy. In general the Mirror for Magistrates 
reflects not any new classicizing tendency but the ten- 
dency, found first in Lydgate, to transfer some of the 
awe that pervaded theology to the severe moral lessons 
that the ruling class could derive from the unfortunate 
ends of those of its predecessors who acted ill. But among 
the stories added to the edition of 1563 and hence dating 

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CRITICISM 

between then and the original edition of 1559 is one on 
the poet Collingbourne, who got into trouble through 
the couplet he wrote about the political set-up of England 

under Richard III. 



The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel our Dog 
Do rule all England under a Hog, 

the Hog being Richard, whose emblem was a boar's 
head. In telling his own sad story Collingbourne not 
only remarks how careful poets should be to be tactful 
in their attempts to amend abuses, to "sauce" their 
poems "so that few need be offended", but inserts under 
the allegory of the winged Pegasus an eloquent declara- 
tion of the poet's full and true scope. It is close in spirit 
and even expression to Puttenham's first chapter and at 
once so beautiful and so interesting that I am surprised 
it does not figure in any of the best known anthologies 
of English verse or Gregory Smith's Elizabethan Critical 
Essays. Pegasus, the winged horse, was the offspring of 
the Ocean-god, Poseidon, and of Medusa; and we must 
remember that Medusa was a beautiful young woman 
till she bore Pegasus. It was only after this event that she 
acquired snaky locks and a petrifying face. The chastity 
attributed to her by the poet could only be comparative, 
because she failed in the end to resist the advances of 
Poseidon. Pegasus used his wings to mount to the heaven- 
ly abodes of the gods, which he made, his home. But on 
earth he was associated with the Muses. He was present 
at the contest between them and the nine daughters of 
Pierus on Mount Helicon, and it was then that the spring 
of poetic inspiration, Hippocrene, arose from the dint 
of his hoof. 

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THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

The Greeks do paint a poet's office whole 
In Pegasus, their feigned horse with wings, 
Whom, shaped so, Medusa s blood did foal, 
Who with his feet strake out the Muses springs 
Fro flinty rocks to Helicon that clings; 
And then flew up unto the starry sky, 
And there abides among the heavens high. 

For he that shall a perfect poet be 
Must first be bred out of Medusa 9 s blood; 
He must be chaste and virtuous as was she, 
Who to her power the Ocean-god withstood; 
To th'end also his doom be just and good, 
He must, as she had, have one only eye, 
Regard of truth, that nought may lead awry. 

In courage eke he must be like a horse; 

He may not fear to register the right: 

And, that no power or fancy do him force, 

No bit nor rein his tender jaws may twite. 

He must be armd with strength of wit and sprite 

To dash the rocks, dark causes and obscure, 

Till he attain the springs of truth most pure. 

His hooves must also pliant be and strong 
To rive the rocks of lust and errors blind 
In brainless heads, that always wander wrong; 
These must he brise with reasons plain and kind, 
Till springs of grace do gush out of the mind. 
For, till affections from the fond be driven, 
In vain is truth told or good counsel given. 

Like Pegasus a poet must have wings 
To fly to heaven, thereto to feed and rest: 
He must have knowledge of eternal things; 
Almighty love must harbour in his breast. 

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CRITICISM 

With worldly cares he may not be oppressed; 

The wings of skill and hope must heave him higher 

Than all the joys which worldly wits desire. 

He must be also nimble, free, and swift 
To travel far to view the trades of men; 
Great knoivledge oft is gotten by the shift: 
Things notable he must be quick to pen, 
Reproving vices sharply now and then. 
He must be swift when touched tyrants chafe, 
To gallop thence, to keep his carcass safe. 

The author of this section of the Mirror for Magistrates 
is unknown. But he must have heeded Plato's Ion (with 
its reference to the poet as etherial and winged) and the 
doctrine of Plotinus concerning the true poet's intuitive 
knowledge of eternal things. 

I come finally to Sidney as I did in both of my other 
two sections; and here we have a criticism richer and 
more complicated. In Puttenham it was easier to find 
simple and striking contrasts with the medieval temper; 
he is a more purely Renaissance figure. Sidney, great 
man as he is, gives to his criticism the same range that 
Milton gave to his epic. Milton was in the advance- 
guard of his age through casting his epic in the strict 
neo-classic form; he was daringly individual in flouting 
the traditional association of the epic with rhyme; but 
he was medieval in going behind the Renaissance vogue 
of the heroic story to that of world history and the 
pilgrimage of the human soul. Just so Sidney is entirely 
up to date, indeed in the very advance-guard of critical 
opinion, but at the same time he casts over his Defence, for 
all its brilliance and charm, an air of piety that makes 
us feel that he is after all the heir of the Middle Ages. 

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THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

The man who wrote the Defence is the man who trans- 
lated Philippe de Mornay's work concerning the True- 
ness of the Christian Religion and who took as his start- 
ing-point those arguments against poetry which Gosson, 
however much of a Protestant, derived ultimately from 
Catholic and not from reformed Puritanism. And it is 
this piety that, co-existing with all the other diverse 
virtues of the Defence the assimilation of Aristotle, the 
tempering of Plato by Plotinus, the breadth of mind 
that can enjoy at once the simplicity of the Ballad and 
the mature didacticism of Plutarch unites poetry not 
only with virtuous action but with the doctrinal require- 
ments of an age that had inherited some measure of 
medieval otherworldliness. 

That Sidney really meant us to link critical theory 
with religious dogma is evident not through any heavy 
stress or obtrusive iteration. Sidney writes as a courtier, 
and the courtier's sprezzatura, or nonchalance, would 
forbid anything in the least reminiscent of a theological 
treatise. But in two passages at least there are the pro- 
foundest implications. One of these concerns the goal of 
all learning, poetry being a very eminent branch of 
learning. 

This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory, enabling 
of judgement, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly 
we call learning, under what name soever it come forth, or 
to what immediate end soever it be directed, the final end is 
to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate 
souls, made worse by their clayey lodgings, can be capable of. 

I have no doubt that by degenerate Sidney meant not just 
fallen into evil habits but incriminated by the sin of Adam, 
and that perfection refers simultaneously to the prelapsarian 

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CRITICISM 

state in Paradise and to the Platonic Good. But it is the 
second passage that causes me to have no doubts. Sidney 
is here pleading that the poet goes beyond nature and in 

so doing has something godlike about him. 



Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance 
the highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of Nature, but 
rather give right honour to the heavenly Maker of that maker, 
who, having made man to His own likeness, set him beyond 
and over all the works of that second nature : which in nothing 
he sheweth so much as in poetry, when with the force of a 
divine breath he bringeth things forth far surpassing her 
doings; with no small argument to the incredulous of that 
first accursed fall of Adam, sith our erected wit maketh us 
know what perfection is and yet our infected will keepeth us 
from reaching unto it. But these arguments will by few be 
understood and by fewer granted. 

If Sidney thought few of his readers would understand 
his argument, it behoves a lecturer to say how he at least 
takes it. Sidney asserts that it is not impudent to compare 
the highest reach of man's mind with the creative power 
of Nature (natura naturans). On the contrary it is fitting to 
praise God for setting him over the natural creation 
(natura naturata). And this superiority comes out in poetry 
above all, for in poetry man creates things better than 
can be found in nature more lovely scenery and people 
nearer perfection. This creative power confirms the 
theological doctrine of a perfect state from which man 
fell, for there must be a connection between the only two 
perfect states that have been apprehended by man: his 
perfection in Adam and Eve before they fell and the 
perfection to which his understanding can reach in the 
imaginings of poetry. Poetry can glimpse this prelapsar- 
ian perfection (which is also the Good of the Platonists) 

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THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

even if man's will is too tainted to force him to live up to 
his vision. The argument is completed by the first passage 
I quoted. Through learning, of which poetry is a most 
eminent part, man's will does actually propel his soul 
some way towards the perfection his understanding has 
succeeded in glimpsing. 

I said that from such critical hints as exist in the Middle 
Ages we could infer that poetry could be justified on 
grounds of inspiration, morality, record, and recreation. 
In including all these grounds in his Defence Sidney is 
the heir of the Middle Ages ; in grading and blending 
them in an original and undreamt-of manner he does 
indeed indicate that there was such a thing as an English 
Renaissance. 



80 



i 



4. THE EPIC 

N dealing with the epic I at once incur a difficulty that 
was absent from my other sections. No one doubts that 
the Middle Ages produced much lyric writing and at 
least some scraps of criticism. But it might reasonably be 
held that they produced no epic whatever, their greatest 
narrative writing being allegory and not epic at all, and 
even their best heroic romances not being of that serious- 
ness to touch the true epic elevation. And remember that 
I am treating of the developed Middle Ages, of the epoch 
to which the origins of humanism go back, and not of 
the prolongation of the old Germanic world. The Song 
of Roland and the Norse Sagas do not fall within my scope. 
Now if the critic who denies to the developed Middle 
Ages any epic creation does so on the premiss that the 
epic and the heroic poem are synonymous, then I have 
no quarrel with his conclusions, On the other hand I do 
find his premiss, though perfectly workable, narrow and 
unphilosophical. And I believe we shall think more 
wisely on literary matters, if we define the epic not by a 
type of subject-matter, the heroic event, but by an inner 
spirit that may find other embodiments than the heroic 
poem. I shall have to spend a large part of this section in 
justifying my position. Only then can I speak of the 
transition from the English epic in the Middle Ages to 
the English epic in the Renaissance. 

It is easy to see why epic and heroic poem were equated. 
It so happens that the Iliad and the Odyssey are both, and 
that Virgil, who was quite capable of writing a very 
great narrative on a subject not strictly heroic, chose to 

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imitate Homer in this respect. Very naturally people 
assumed that what might in fact turn out to be only an 
adjunct, the heroic subject, was an organic part of the 
epic effect. Further, in the nineteenth century men 
thought more of Homer and less of Virgil and added the 
notion that a poem had a better chance of being epic as it 
was more primitive: an idea fostered by the mistaken 
assumption that Homer himself (or rather what the 
nineteenth century pictured as the Homeric Committee) 
was very close to the heroic age he described. The result 
was that people took it for granted that a heroic episode 
like the Old English Battle ofMaldon was epic in a way in 
which the Faerie Qucene could not begin to be. Even so 
large-minded a writer as W. P. Ker in so fine a book as 
Epic and Romance betrays the influence of such a prejudice. 
He first talks of an epic age, by which he means one of 
social primitiveness, and then goes on to postulate for 
the epic poem things which have nothing to do with the 
primitive: namely the sense of dignity and the energy 
belonging to a great age of history, and the power of 
dealing simply and directly with the great human 
passions and of creating great characters. Surely this is to 
pursue incompatible methods of procedure, when the 
only rational method is to choose between them. Either, 
if you will, equate epic with heroic and relegate the epic 
to those pieces of narrative literature that succeed in deal- 
ing with a heroic age; or separate the heroic age from the 
epic altogether and base epic on requirements that have 
no exclusive connection with any such age. Since I choose 
the second alternative, it is plainly my business now to 
say what I think these requirements to be. 

Literary definitions, if they are to be anything but 
academic and hypothetical, must be drawn from actual 

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THE EPIC 

works of literature. I draw my notion of the epic from a 
wider field than the heroic poem. I derive it also from 
certain great verse narratives other than the heroic, and 
from certain prose narratives both fictional and historical. 
Thus'certain novels are in their essence closer to certain 
verse narratives than they are to some of their fellow 
novels. The novel indeed appropriated during the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries large literary areas 
that had been the property of comic and tragic drama 
and of the narrative in verse. The case of epic is very much 
that of classical and romantic. As first used by the Germans 
near the beginning of the nineteenth century, classical 
meant Greek and Latin, romantic the Gothic stuff* that came 
after. Now, in Middleton Murry's words, classical and 
romantic are "perennial modes of the human spirit". 
Epic, too, is a "perennial mode", finding embodiment 
in a variety of forms. It is a complicated mode, which 
cannot be simply defined in a few words. I go on to a list 
of what I think the epic requirements. 

The first epic requirement is the simple one of sheer 
quality. It is just conceivable, though superlatively im- 
probable, that the other conditions required to give the 
epic effect could be fulfilled by mediocre means. Hence 
the need to insist that the parts of a work, the language, 
the structure, and so on, should be excellent in themselves, 
if the epic effect is to be reached. To insist on quality 
excludes from the epic category, as now being distin- 
guished, the King Arthurs and the Leonidases and all the 
other inferiorities cast in the traditional form of the 
heroic poem. 

The second requirement of the epic emerges when we 
consider the difference we feel between tragedy and epic, 
a difference simple and fundamental, resting as it does on 

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the original physical conditions governing the two forms. 
A tragedy is limited in length by the physical comfort of 
a normal audience. Being serious it will aim at the weight- 
iest effect and it will gain that effect not by crowding 
everything into a narrow space that would daze and 
weary but by omitting and simplifying. For whatever 
reason and the reason is here irrelevant tragic writers 
have simplified the local and the transient things and 
have mainly regarded the most general human passions 
and the individual's concern with the permanent features 
of his environment, natural, social, or divine; and by 
presenting universal experience through the concentra- 
ting eyes of the individual have been able to turn the 
limitation of length to the best account. And through 
that ability acted tragedy has become as it were the home 
country of certain types of feeling, a home country from 
which colonies have settled in countries where other 
types of feeling may be characteristic. Thus there is 
tragic feeling in Madame Bovary, but that feeling is not 
any feeling peculiar to the novel form: it is colonial 
rather than autochthonous. The peculiar properties of the 
epic rested, in their turn, on the practical conditions of its 
performance. Whether a chieftain and his followers in 
his hall or a band of pilgrims or holidaymakers gathered 
for some days at a religious festival formed the audience, 
they wanted or at least tolerated a longer unit than did 
an audience crowded into the confined space of a theatre. 
On the side of production mere recitation was less exact- 
ing than the complication of dramatic circumstance, and, 
granted relays of reciters, admitted of great length. And 
the right response to the challenge of length is not 
repetition but variety. 
One of the essentials, therefore, of the epic is abundance 

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THE EPIC 

and amplitude: great variety of matter, including the 
widest span of human feelings, ranging if possible from 
the simple sensualities to a susceptibility to the numin- 
ous. 

Butf mere exuberance or range is not enough in itself; 
and there is a third requirement of the epic: a control 
commensurate with the amount included. It is this 
requirement, so crucial to the epic, that can account 
in recent years for a decline in the status of the long poem 
as such: a decline which is connected with popular 
theories of the necessity of the spontaneous element in 
literature. 

It is obvious that in writing a long poem or a long 
highly organized work in prose, the composition of 
which is perforce extended over years, an author cannot 
sustain a spontaneous vein of creation. At intervals he 
will be tempted to break the unity of the original con- 
ception and stray after new emotional interests. Spon- 
taneity will not suffice to meet the temptation, and the 
author will have to summon his will to help him abide 
by the plans he has resolved on. Probably the writing of 
any poem (except one dictated in dream or trance) needs 
some effort of the will to control and shape it. But the 
effort is different in a lyric, a short story, and a play, 
while only in the most intensely written long works is 
the will taxed to the utmost. Such sustained writing 
corresponds to certain phases of the active life. Just as 
the will may force a man's conduct at a particular time 
(for instance on an expedition of exploration) to conform 
to a previously adopted set of resolves, against his present 
inclinations, so a poet may use his will to suppress new 
interests and preserve a unity previously resolved on. 
And the will must have the powerful backing of the 

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reason. The reason has worked on a series of data ac- 
quired over a length of time and has been convinced that 
such-and-such is the right course; and in the crisis the 
will forces this conviction to override temporary im- 
pulses that demand something different. 

But in the making of a long poem the will is more than 
an external driving force; the fact of it and the belief in it 
become a highly important part of the total experience. 
Milton speaks of how the Dorian mood of flutes and soft 
recorders raised 

To highth of noblest temper Hero's old 
Arming to Battel, and in stead of rage 
Deliberate valour breath' d. 

But if Milton had never used the phrase "deliberate 
valour", his belief in the quality of considered courage, 
aware of issues, which implies the application of the 
will, would be apparent from the whole trend of his 
rhetoric. Moreover in Paradise Lost, as in other genuine 
epics, the very passages which the will has forced into 
harmony with the more spontaneously composed pas- 
sages are significant as declaring the fact and the value 
of the quality to which they owe a large part of their 
being. 

This exercise of the will and the belief in it, which are 
a corollary of our third epic requirement, help to associate 
epic poetry with the largest human movements and 
solidest human institutions. In creating what we call 
civilization the sheer human will has had a major part. 
Or think of the institution of marriage. However much 
spontaneity may enter into it, however truly passion 
may initiate it, it owes a major part of its existence to the 
reason; and it could be described not unfairly as a 

86 



THE EPIC 

love-affair made permanent by the sustained application 
of the conscious will. And it is marriage the epic re- 
sembles, not a passing fancy, or a fierce passion that 
burns itself out. 

The* fourth requirement can be called choric. The epic 
writer must express the feelings of a large group of people 
living in or near his own time. The notion that the epic 
is primarily patriotic is an unduly narrowed version of 
this requirement. Should a country command at some 
time an exceptionally clear ethical temper, that temper 
may serve an author well enough. Spenser, for instance, 
does express the Elizabethan temper successfully in the 
Faerie Queene. But the group-feeling need not be national. 
Dante is medieval rather than Italian. Indeed in its sim- 
plest and most essential form this requirement may mean 
that an epic must communicate the feeling of what it 
was like to be alive at that time. The point is that behind 
the epic author must be a big multitude of men, of whose 
most serious convictions and dear habits he is the mouth- 
piece. 

It is in this matter that epic most differs from tragedy. 
Tragedy cannot lack some imprint of its age, but its 
nature is to be timeless. It deals with the recurrent human 
passions and it presents them (having no space to do 
more) in their bare elements with the least local circum- 
stantiation. It teaches not what it is like to be alive at a 
certain time but what it is like to be a human being. But 
though the choric element is necessary to epic and at 
best adventitious in tragedy, it does not exclude from 
epic the presentation of those timeless feelings which it 
is tragedy's privilege to isolate and clarify. Indeed the 
greatness of epic will partly depend on the inclusion of 
such feelings. It is when the tragic intensity coexists with 

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the group-consciousness of an age, when the narrowly 
timeless is combined in a unity with the variegatedly 
temporal, that epic attains its full growth. 

I do not intend to insist on the tragic element in epic 
to the exclusion of others or to assert that it miist be 
the dominant element. The comic element, the way of 
the world, the subordination of individual caprice to the 
demands of society, should be there too; and it may 
greatly preponderate over the tragic without upsetting 
the epic effect. Other elements, such as romance, satire, 
fantasy, and the grotesque, can, if not too powerful, 
contribute to the epic effect and not spoil it; and they 
can compensate for any lack in the tragic and the comic. 

From these four main epic requirements I have tried 
to describe one simple fact will follow : that the true epic 
will assume a form that answers the most serious con- 
cerns of any age. When an age has certain opinions about 
the nature of man, the heroic story may answer the 
needs. But other forms may suit other ages. The Middle 
Ages used allegory more seriously than the heroic story, 
and their most truly epic writings are allegorical. In the 
nineteenth century the most serious form was prose 
fiction, and not necessarily with any character so domin- 
ant as the hero in the traditional verse epic. 

Having explained the suppositions I make in dealing 
with the epic, I can now proceed to any possible epic 
writing in the English Middle Ages. In the Homeric 
age the principal concerns had been the individual at 
his highest or most intense or most assertive; and they 
had been presented, quite naturally, through heroic 
action. The chief successor of Homer as the epic writer of 
classical antiquity, Virgil, is a transition figure. He cannot 
inherit Homer's singleness of mind; he cannot live so 

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THE EPIC 

intensely and so unquestioningly in the present. But he 
believes in the civilizing mission of Rome, and so believ- 
ing can borrow Homer's heroic form in which to express 
it. But medieval adoration of Virgil was not altogether 
inept. *On the face of it medieval readers did indeed 
distort him very seriously, for they made the Aeneid an 
allegory of the human soul from birth, symbolized by 
the shipwreck in the first book, to its final triumph over 
the vices with the death of Turnus at the end. But it is 
true that in the course of the poem Aeneas does change 
from a preponderatingly human figure with rather 
serious failings into a vast allegorical figure, now almost 
immune from human weakness and standing for an 
abstract idea of self-restraint and organized energy. 
Further, Virgil throughout his poem conveys an other- 
worldliness that quite separates him from Homer and 
makes him perfectly appropriate as a chief figure in 
Dante's Divine Comedy. He does therefore mark a transi- 
tion from the setting of Homer with its this-worldliness, 
its concern with the dominant individual and what has 
happily been described as its intense "vertical" light to 
the medieval setting with its preponderant other- 
worldliness and its concern with an ideal of holiness to 
which this or that individual was subordinated. In the 
medieval setting the heroic poem, though it continued in 
an unbroken tradition from the end of classical antiquity 
to its resuscitation in the Renaissance, could not be the 
dominant form, and its place was taken by the poem 
which in some form or another described the human 
soul on its earthly pilgrimage to heavenly salvation. The 
great European example of this form is Dante's Divine 
Comedy. Is there any English example? 
Since I have extended the epic category to include 

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prose, you may ask whether Malory's Morte D 1 Arthur 
may not fall within it. I believe not, and especially in 
view of Vinaver's important conclusions drawn from 
the recently discovered manuscript at Winchester on 
which he has based his edition. It now appears that what 
we believed was one long work is the collected works of 
Thomas Malory. This discovery both exonerates Malory 
from the charge of faulty composition, often and quite 
rightly brought against the work as originally conceived 
o and removes him from the small and select class of 
authors who have staked most of their reputation on a 
single great work. And when we consider his best work, 
the sections on Guinevere, the breach between Arthur 
and Launcelot, and the final battle the sections that 
follow the quest of the Grail we see that the temper is 
tragic in its concentration and intensity and makes no 
effort to achieve the epic breadth. These last two sections, 
the least derivative and the fruit of a long apprenticeship, 
are very great literature, but they are not relevant to 
my present theme. Another work that has some outward 
claim to epic status is Lydgate's version of the French 
poem of Deguileville on the pilgrimage of human life. 
There you have the essential subject of medieval epic, 
but the talented and industrious monk who adapted it 
to English had neither the ferocity nor the range of 
mind to begin to approach an epic standard. There is 
indeed only one work in medieval English that has 
serious epic pretentions: Langland's Piers Plowman. And 
for this poem I do, quite unequivocally, demand the 
status of epic; not indeed of relatively flawless epic, but 
of epic nevertheless. 

It is idle to deny Langland's faults of construction. He 
was obsessed with the sufferings of the poor and with the 

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THE EPIC 

sins of the rich; and he voices his obsessions in and out 
of season. There is a major structural tautology in that the 
opening section, the Vision, which deals with contem- 
porary England in the main, concerns the same active 
realm &f life as the second section, on Do-Bet, does. 
H. W. Wells seeks to prove that these sections concern 
different portions of the active life and that hence there is 
no tautology. Technically he may be right in the main; 
but, in our reading, this technical rightness makes very 
little difference, and we do not feel a sufficient progres- 
sion of subject to enable us to grasp these two sections 
as part of a growing whole. Yet we never quite give up 
the effort, and even in the most confused sequences we 
never really doubt that Langland has a clearly formulated 
end in view. He has ultimately, however much he abuses 
it, that control of his multifarious material that is essential 
to the true epic effect. He reminds me of his own parable 
of the man in the boat. The man may stagger dangerously 
through the boat's motion, but these staggerings do not 
interfere with the boat's direction to its goal unless they 
are such as to force him to neglect the rudder altogether. 
In the allegory the staggerings are the venial sins, the 
neglect of the rudder mortal sin. Well, Langland is 
extremely prone to venial sins of construction; at one 
point he is near the mortal sin of letting go the rudder 
altogether : but in the end he steers a straight and magni- 
ficent course. I am thinking above all of the masterly 
evolution leading to the climax. Out of the theme of 
various trinities emerges the Pauline trinity of Faith, Hope, 
and Charity. Faith is represented in the person of Abra- 
ham, Hope in that of Moses, Charity in that, not of any 
Old Testament character, but of the Good Samaritan, 
whose deed of mercy is described. It is then that the 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

progress of the dreamer's mental pilgrimage, one of the 
main themes of the poem, reaches a definitive point. 
The dreamer wishes to be enrolled as one of the Good 
Samaritan's, or Charity's, servants, and his wish is 
granted. But the Good Samaritan turns out to be ahother 
pilgrim, a knight who is on his way to joust in Jerusalem: 
in other words Jesus on his way to his final battle with 
death on the cross. And the old idea of Jesus as the warrior 
knight is caught up and amplified, when, as Christ the 
Conqueror of death, he enters Hell and hales out Adam 
and Eve : the first deed of salvation under the new dis- 
pensation. This sequence of changes from the abstract 
idea of Charity to Christ the Conqueror, the harrower 
of Hell, is a sublime display of architectonic power, 
capable of redeeming a multitude of subordinate lapses. 
I have spent most of what space I have available for 
Langland on this matter of structure, because here he is 
least sound and most liable to be censured. As for his 
versification, it is vain to argue. I can only record my im- 
pression that Langland' s alliterative line is a very flexible 
medium, able not only to achieve the sententious effect 
to which alliteration is particularly apt but to cope with 
sustained thought and exalted feeling. Langland, as in his 
description of the Four Daughters of God dancing to 
celebrate the harrowing of Hell all night till the dawning 
of Easter, can rise to a rapture of which very few English 
poets are capable. In the matters of variety and of speaking 
for a large body of men most would agree that he fulfils 
these epic requirements. He spans the whole social scale 
from king to "submerged tenth", and is at home in both 
tavern and recluse's cell. And he sees his world with the 
eyes of his age. It may be that he was not personally a 
sociable man; but that did not prevent him speaking 

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THE EPIC 

with the voice that thousands recognized as their voice. 
He may have been very much more pious than most of 
his readers; but that piety of which he may have had 
more was their piety. He had the keenest eye for the 
things 'around him; but the things he saw were what his 
fellows saw, however much more clearly focused. 

I have not the space to speak of the transition from 
medieval to Renaissance epic, a process in which Lydgate 
is an important figure. But having briefly mentioned 
Lydgate in my last section and in terms relevant to the 
development of the epic, I may omit him here. Further, 
there was no writing in the age of Wyatt and Surrey that 
had epic pretentions. The Mirror for Magistrates in the next 
epoch is not good enough poetically, and too narrow in 
scope, to be taken into account. Nor can any of the trans- 
lations reach the pitch of autonomous excellence which 
brings Pope's Homer within the epic category. To find 
anything to compare with Piers Plowman as achieved 
epic we have to move to the later Elizabethan age, where 
out of several works of epic preientions Spenser's Faerie 
Queene and Sidney's Arcadia emerge as at least partial 
successes. 

To compare these three works would be a salutary 
discipline to those who want to minimize the changes 
between the two epochs. Of course there is a great deal 
of medievalism in both the Elizabethan works, the Faerie 
Queene especially. Whether or not you can still find in 
Spenser the four concurrent types of meaning affected 
by some medieval writers and, according to Nevill 
Coghill, fundamental to the very skeleton of Piers 
Plowman, I need not try to say. What is certain is that the 
ebb and flow of the allegory is a medieval inheritance. 
One of the difficulties and fascinations of the medieval 

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THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

allegory is the problem of how far to push it, how much 
meaning to see in it. To expect a norm in any one poem is 
hopeless, because the amount of meaning may shift from 
place to place in the same poem. And this is exactly the 
case with Spenser. But this very absence of an allegorical 
norm is a part of the meaning of the Faerie Queene. For 
the point largely is that we should be kept on the stretch, 
constantly guessing; that we should make an inter- 
pretative effort that will neutralize the narcotic effect of 
the powerful Spenserian music. And then, further, in 
the Faerie Queene there is the great medieval subject of the 
pilgrimage. It is found in books one and two and to a 
lesser extent five; and it is at once a personal pilgrimage 
to salvation and an evolution much like that found in 
the different states of Do-wel, Do-bet, and Do-best in 
Piers Plowman. As Do-best combines the ideals of active 
and contemplative life, so the Red Cross Knight after 
his ascetic discipline and his vision of New Jerusalem 
returns to active life to kill the dragon. Yet for all this 
medievalism there has been a profound change in the 
Faerie Queene from the Middle Ages; and nothing less 
than a shift of centre. In Langland Holiness is something 
vast and pervasive, to which the homunculus aspires; it is 
something that dwarfs him. In Spenser holiness is of the 
first importance, but it is so as an essential attribute, 
along with other essential attributes, of a good man, who 
tends to be not Everyman but one of the ruling class. 
Spenser was not talking at random when he said that his 
poem aimed at fashioning a gentleman. 

In Sidney's Arcadia the contrast is even more striking. 
First, the medievalism is entirely episodic. Sidney does 
indeed derive a great deal of the substance of his episodes 
from the medieval romance; but there is nothing to 

94 



THE EPIC 

correspond to the allegorical form and pilgrimage subject 
found in the Faerie Queene. The form of the revised 
Arcadia, that is the Arcadia universally known till the 
first version was printed from manuscript in 1926, is 
purely* classical, being derived from a Greek romance 
constructed on the scheme used by Homer and Virgil. 
And the substance of Arcadia, however much religion 
there is in it, is essentially the fashioning of gentlemen 
and gentlewomen by the conspicuous example of what 
to perform and what to avoid. Politics are no longer as 
with Langland an area which should be animated by the 
great circumambient divine principles but a central 
activity, of much greater relative size, however strictly 
to be regulated by religion. Once again the matter is one 
of position. These pleas should not be taken to represent 
a final and fixed opinion. If I set out to find more medi- 
evalism in Arcadia I should succeed. I mainly want to 
warn you against exaggerating the continuity between 
Middle Ages and Renaissance. 

In one matter I have pushed ahead too far. I defended 
Langland's structure in order to forestall objections to his 
primary right to the epic status. But I have omitted to do 
the same for the style of Arcadia, which many readers, 
in fact most readers who have tried Sidney in bulk, 
have found more tedious than they could bear. Now 
I have to admit that this style has not quite the range 
to raise Arcadia to one of the undoubted epics. Its virtues 
are amplitude and brilliance and an unflagging vitality. 
It is the real index of the bravery and gallantry and 
unsleeping wit of the man. Like the prose of Scott it 
needs taking fast, but not many readers are sufficiently 
at home with the periodic structure of most Elizabethan 
prose to go fast with it and miss nothing. Once you get 

95 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

to know it and can take it at the right speed you will find 
that it is flexible as well as vital, capable of far more 
effects than you ever dreamt, even if it cannot strike the 
notes of tragedy or prophecy. There cannot be the 
remotest question of dullness or tedium. It is In fact 
sufficiently distinguished to allow Sidney to qualify as 
an epic writer of the second order. 

But this matter of Sidney's style in Arcadia is only by 
the way and it does not affect my main plea; which is 
that both Spenser's verse epic and Sidney's prose epic 
present at least one major difference from the medieval 
epic : a great shift of the position of the writer in the 
realms of the human and the divine. Just as Wyatt had 
made the lyric more centrally human by introducing 
drama into it and animating the characters concerned in 
it, so Spenser and Sidney took up their main position in 
humanity, however fervently they acknowledged the 
controlling providence of God. Langland could indeed 
tell of the life he saw but he could shift his position to 
realms of abstract holiness in a way impossible to his 
English successors in the epic. And no amount of tracing 
connections or spotting survivals can alter the magnitude 
of the change from the one age to the other. 



5. EPILOGUE 

IENDD each of my sections with a reference to Sidney, 
and for a special reason. Of all the great writers of the 
age Sidney seems to me the most centrally Elizabethan, 
the one through whom we may most truly interpret the 
temper of the age. He is at once an inheritor of the past 
and an innovator. I mentioned first the circumstances of 
his death; and these showed him the inheritor of the 
medieval ideal of chivalry and an innovator through his 
manifesting a new and unmedieval consideration for the 
individual. I then mentioned a lyric medieval in its ques- 
tion-and-answer form, modern in its dramatic quality, 
in its sense of the here-and-now, of the speakers being 
actual, differentiated human beings. I then mentioned 
the Defence of Poetry, and this combines an inherited 
religious solemnity with the latest critical news from 
Italy. My remarks on Arcadia do not need recapitulating. 
It is through a representative figure like Sidney that we 
can be put on the right way to answer the question that 
is the subject of these lectures: was there an English 
Renaissance? Now since I set out to answer this question, 
you have a right to demand at this stage some not too 
ambiguous answer. But my words on Sidney suggest 
that my answer is: there was and there wasn't. And I 
do not think you should be put off with that. So let me 
try to state my conclusions, if not more definitely, at 
least more circumstantially and at slightly greater length 
than three or four words. 

First of all we are viewing a very large area from which 
the most seemingly contradictory results can be obtained. 

G 97 



THE ENGLISH RENAISSANCE 

If you suddenly, as I have done, confront Piers Plowman 
with Arcadia you will be struck by the difference : but if 
you study the Faerie Queene through the medieval allegory 
you will be struck by the likenesses. The best one can 
do is to try to arrive at a prevailing truth, even if it does 
not prevail over other truths by a very big margin. With 
these reservations I conclude that there were certain 
changes in England that could be called by the name of 
Renaissance, but that for the most part they came about 
gradually, with advances and relapses and without the 
sudden violences of enthusiasm that marked the same 
movement in Italy. In no art more than in architecture 
is this contrast apparent. Nothing is more surprising to 
the observant amateur visiting Italy for the first time 
than the early date and the definitive character of some 
of the classicizing buildings. The break with the Gothic 
was sudden and complete. In England classicizing orna- 
ment appears hesitatingly in some of the buildings of 
the age of Henry VII, like Bishop West's chapel in Ely 
Cathedral, and spreads to the funerary monuments. But 
what a time before Inigo Jones appears ! and even he is 
almost an anomaly in his age. 

The sun's rim dips; the stars rush out: 
At one stride comes the dark 

wrote Coleridge of the tropics; and perhaps it is the in- 
fluence of our mild and muddled climate with its pro- 
longed transitions that induced similar prolongations in 
the transitions of thought. 

We cannot change our climate; so perhaps we cannot 
avoid our inconsistencies and blurred transitions. At their 
worst, these things may be genuinely annoying and 
partake of caprice: at their best they may attain a valuable 

9* 



EPILOGUE 

and peculiar balance, not out of keeping with the Renais- 
sance ideal of the evenly developed man. Though the 
public architecture of the English Renaissance was 
muddled, its domestic architecture (if you include the 
setting) could attain a wonderful harmony. I will seek 
illustration from yet another passage of Sidney, this time 
from the Arcadia, which expresses the genius of English 
domestic architecture and of English domestic life at 
that time: 

The house itself was built of fair and strong stone, not 
affecting so much any kind of fineness as an honorable 
representing of a firm stateliness. The lights doors and stairs 
rather directed to the use of the guest than to the eye of the 
artificer: and yet as the one chiefly heeded, so the other not 
neglected; each place handsome without curiosity and 
homely without loathesomeness ; not so dainty as not to be 
trod on, nor yet slubbered up with good fellowship; all more 
lasting than beautiful but that the consideration of the exceed- 
ing lastingness made the eye believe it was exceeding beautiful. 
The servants not so many in number as cleanly in apparel and 
serviceable in behaviour, testifying even in their countenances 
that their master took as well care to be served as of them that 
did serve. 

There you have indeed compromise instead of violent 
and hard contrast; but it is harmonious, not muddled, and 
it shows what the Renaissance, in its peculiar English 
form, was able to accomplish. 



99 



INDEX 



Adams, Henry: 

Education of Henry Adams, 12 

Mont-Saint-Michel and Char- 

tres, 12 

Alison poem, 38-39, 41 
Amalfi, 10 
Ariosto, 17 
Aristotle, 24, 71-74, 78 
Ascham, Roger, 68 

The Schoolmaster, 69 

Toxophilus, 69 
Austen, Jane: 

Nor thanger Abbey, 36 

Bacon, Francis, 26 
Battle ofMaldon, 82 
Bell, Clive: 

Art, 13 

Blake, William, 18 
Boccaccio, 67-68 
Botticelli, 10, ii 
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 10 
Browning, Robert, 10, 50 
Bun yan, John, 18 

Pilgrim 's Progress, 18 
Byron, George Gordon, Lord, 31 
Byzantine Art, 13, 15 

Calvin, John, 23 

Campion, Thomas, 36, 37, 70 

Carleton Brown, 36, 41 

Castiglioni: 

The Courtier, 26 
Cato, 66 
Catullus, 63 
Caxton,William, 68 



Cavendish, George: 
Life of Wolsey, 70 

Chambers, R. W. Chambers, 32 

Charles II, age of, 35 

Chartres, 16 

Chaucer, Geoffrey, 27-28, 30-32, 

64, 66, 67 

Canterbury Tales, 27, 64 
House of Fame , 28 
Troy I us, and Criseyde, 28 

Chrestien of Troyes, 17 

Cimabue, 10 

Coghill, Nevill, 93 

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 98 

Collingbourne, 75 

Co mo, Lake, 10 

Comparetti, 61 

Co wper, William, 30 

Crabbe, George, 31 

Cursor Mundi, 65 

Daniel, Samuel, 70 
Dante, 24, 87 

Divine Comedy, 89 
Daphni, 13 
Dark Ages, 13 
Dawson, Christopher, 18, 66 
Donne, John, 52 
Dyer, Sir Edward, 59 

Elizabeth, age of, 15, 18, 47 
Elizabethan song-writers, 36, 39 
Elyot, Sir Thomas: 
The Governor, 58 
Erasmus, 32 
Euphues, 70 



100 



INDEX 



Flaubert, Gustave : 

Madame Bovary, 84 
Flecker, James Elroy, 25 
Florence, 10 
Fox, George, 18 
Fra Arfgelico, 10 
French Impressionists, 13 

Gilbert, W. S.: 

Patience, u 
Giotto, TO, 13 
Godfrey of Boulogne, History 

of, 68 

Gorboduc, 69-70 
Gosson, Stephen, 78 
Gower, John, 31 
Greville, Fulke, Lord Brooke, 

32, 33, 59 

Haller, W., 18 
Hazlitt, William: 

Spirit of the Age, 31 
Henry VII, age of 98 
Henry VIII, age of, 45-46 
Henry son, Robert: 

Testament of Cresseid, 31, 56 
Hemans, Felicia, 41 
Hcuser,W.: 

Anglia, 39 
Higden, Ranulf: 

Polycronicon, 68 
Holbein, 46 
Homer, 53, 82, 88-89, 95 

Illiad, 8 1 

Odyssey, 81 
Hulme, T. E., 13-15 

Italy, 10, 13 

Johnson, Samuel, 41 
Jones, Inigo, 98 



Keats, John, 17, 30 
Ker, W. P.: 

Epic and Romance, 17, 18, 82 

Langlatid, William, 18, 67, 90- 

96 
Piers Plowman, 40, 66, 90, 93- 

94 

Le Mans, 16 
Leominstcr manuscript, Harley 

2253,37,44,47 
Leonardo da Vinci, n 
Lewis, C. S. Lewis, 28 

Allegory of Love, 64 
Lewis, Monk: 

Romantic Tales, 31 
Lodge, Thomas: 

Defence of Poetry, 70-71 
Lounsbury, 28 
Lydgate, John, 32, 53, 67, 74, 90, 

93 
The Troy Book, 32 

Mackail, Denis, 28 
Magnus, Laurie, 19, 20 
Maid of the Moor, 39-41 
Malory, Sir Thomas, 22, 23, 90 

Morte d > Arthur, 90 
Marlowe, Christopher, 24-25 

Faust us, 25 

Tamhurlainc, 24, 25 
Martial : 

Ad Scipsutn, 53 

Epigrams, 64 

Michelangelo, n, 12, 15, 19 
Middle Ages, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 
16-18, 21, 23-25, 31, 33, 34, 
52, 58, 64-65 
Middleton Murry, John, 83 



101 



INDEX 



Milton, John, 77, 86 
Paradise Lost, 64-65, 86 

Mirror for Magistrates, 56, 58, 
69-70, 74/93 

Montaigne, 25-26, 50 
Apology for Raimond Sebond, 

25 
More, Sir Thomas: 

History of Richard III, 32, 58 
Utopia, 32, 58 
Mornay, Philippe de, 78 

Norse Sagas, 81 

Ovid: 

Art of Love, 64 
Owst, G. R., 18 
Oxford Book of English Verse, 

37 

Parthenon, 13 
Pater, Walter, 16, 35 

The Renaissance, 16 
Ptlerinage de I' Ante Hutnaine, 18 
Perugino, 10 

Petrarch, 37, 51-53, 57, 59, 67 
Phidias, 13 
Plato: 

Ion, 77-79 
Plotinus, 77-78 
Pope's Homer, 93 
Ptolemy, 24 
Plutarch, 78 
Puttenham, Richard, 70-75, 77 

Art of English Poesy, 70, 74 

Raleigh, Sir Walter, 59 
Raphael, n 

Dresden Madonna, n 
Ravenna, 13 



Read, Herbert: 

Speculations, 14 
Reynard the Fox, 68 
Richmond, Duke of, 47 

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, n 


Sackville, Thomas, 56 

St. Jerome, 64 

St. Thomas Aquinas, 65 

Scott, Sir Walter, 31 

Shakespeare, William, 19, 21, 23, 

37 

Hamlet, 19, 20 

Julius Caesar, 21 
Shaw, George Bernard: 

Man and Superman, 36 
Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 30 
Sichel, Edith, 12, 15, 19 
Sidney, Sir Philip, 32-33, 47, 50, 
59, 60, 67, 70, 77-80, 97, 99 

Arcadia, 60, 70, 93-96, 97-99 

Astrophel and Stella, 60 

Defence of Poetry, 70-71, 77-78, 

80, 97 

Sisam, Kenneth, 39 
Sistine Chapel, 12 
Sitwcll, Edith: 

Poet's Notebook, 39 
Skelton, John, 42 
Smith, Gregory: 

Elizabethan Critical Essays, 75 
Song of Roland, 81 
Sophocles, 19, 20 

Antigone, 19 
Sorel, 13 

Southwell, Robert, 47, 59 
Spenser, Edmund, 26, 32, 93-94, 
96 

The Fairy Queen, 26, 32, 70, 
82, 87, 93-95 



102 



INDEX 

Surrey, Earl of, 46, 52-53, 55-58, Virgil, 30, 64, 81-82, 88-89, 95 

93 Aeneid, 89 

Swinburne, Algernon, 23 Georgics, 30 



Thomson, James: 

Castle of Indolence t 17 

Tillyard, E. M. W.: 
Elizabethan World Picture, 18 
Five Poems: 1470-1870, 31 n. 

Titian, n, 15 

Tottell's Miscellany, 70 

Troubadours, 36, 52 

Veronese, Paul, 15 
Vinaver, Eugene, 22, 90 



Walker, Alice, 70 
Webbe, William 

Discourse of English Pottry, 71 
Weber, Max, 14 
Wells, H.W., 91 
Whitfield, George, 18 
Willcock, Gladys Doidge, 70 
Wordsworth, William, 30 
Wyatt, Sir Thomas, 37, 42-48, 
5-5357-oo, 93 > 9<5 

Young, G. M., 47-48 



103