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Full text of "Modern English literature, from Chaucer to the present day"

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(Home University Library) 








This book is an expansion of the volume on 
" Modern English Literature " which I wrote two 
years ago for the Home University Library. A 
considerable number of additions and corrections 
have been made, and authors have been dealt with 
whom it was impossible to include in the smaller 
book. Particularly the study of modern English 
literature has been taken back to Chaucer, with 
whom it may be said strictly to begin, so that the 
book now covers more or less the whole range of 
those English authors whose work can be read 
without the intervention of the philologist or the 
professor of dead dialects. Its plan, however, 
remains the same, that is to say, it aims at 
maintaining an individual point of view, at laying 
stress on ideas and tendencies rather than at 
recording facts and events, and it does not hesitate 
to draw generously on standard works of criticism 
and biography with which students are familiar. 
I believe most of my debts are acknowledged ; for 
any which are not I crave pardon. The portraits 
which accompany the text have been carefully 
chosen and are believed to be the most character- 
istic in each case of the authors whom they 


G. H. M. 







3. THE DRAMA . . • • 











John Milton . 

Edmund Spenser . 

William Shakespeare 

Benjamin Jonson 

John Donne . 

Alexander Pope 

Jonathan Swift 

Dr Samuel Johnson 

William Wordsworth 

Percy Bysshe Shelley 

Charles Lamb 

Alfred Lord Tennyson . 

Algernon Charles Swinburne 

Thomas Carlyle 

Henry Fielding 

George Meredith . 

. Frontispiece 

To face 

page 54 
































It used to be the habit of historians of English 
hterature and, still more, of English poetry, to 
describe Geoffrey Chaucer as the father of Enghsh 
verse. The title has fallen out of repute since 
scholarship carried the history of Enghsh literature 
backwards, through his predecessors in what is 
called middle English, to the authors of the old 
English epic and elegiac poems, but in its essence 
the title and the idea which lay behind it were 
both sound. His successors owe more to Chaucer 
than he owed to the Englishmen at any rate, who 
went before him. The great outburst of poetic 
genius which took place when the Renaissance 
reached England and afterwards, owed more to 
him than to any foreign originator. The work 
of such poets as Surrey and Wyatt and Spenser 
derived most of its distinctive qualities from what 
it had learned out of his work. He gave words 
and phrases to them, plots to Shakespeare, inspira- 


tion to Milton, and material for the modernising 
activities of Dryden and Pope and Wordsworth. 
For the scholars our literature may begin earlier ; 
for the poets it began with him, and if we go 
no further back, though we may miss something 
which is interesting in itself, we shall certainly lose 
nothing which affects what is to come afterwards. 

Old English poetry, for all its gravity and 
beauty and its atmosphere charged with the life 
of the sea-roving tribes who colonised our islands, 
is written in a language as distinct from that of 
modern English as German is at the present day. 
Middle English poetry, that is to say the poetry 
of the two hundred years preceding Chaucer, 
has little literary merit, is always rude, some- 
times unrhythmical, and never more than baldly 
narrative. Moreover, though it approaches in- 
finitely more nearly to modern speech than poetry 
written before the Conquest, it is not possible to 
read it without the help of a dictionary ; and 
though a complete study of English literature 
could not fail to take it into account, it is not 
modern in the sense in which the word is used in 
this book, because it bears no direct relation to 
what comes after it. Chaucer owed little to it. 
When he drew from his predecessors — which he 
did largely, being, like all great authors, not afraid 
of plagiarism, — he went to Italy and France. He 
brought, therefore, into English literature that 
factor which has constantly operated since his 


day, namely the close relation, sometimes acting 
one way, sometimes another, between writing in 
our country and writing in the Continent. And 
for all the obsolete words which his poems con- 
tain, he wrote in modern English and he sang 
in modern metres. There is a wider difference 
between Tlie Canterbury Tales and the Vision of 
Piers Plowman, which is nearly contemporary 
with them, than there is between the I'ales and 
the Faerie Queen. Langland is the end of an 
old order, Chaucer the beginning of the new. 

It would be almost impossible to exaggerate 
the extent of the innovation which Chaucer made 
in the use of the English language for literary 
purposes. He is the creator of English poetry, 
or at least of English poetic forms. All his 
metres except one — the eight-syllable verse, which 
was already in use, and has persisted as one of 
the modes of English poetry — he had to make 
for himself. Under the influence of French and 
afterwards Italian poetry, he produced the ten- 
syllable verse, which has been the chosen metre 
of English poetry since his day : either rhymed, 
as in the heroic couplet, or in stanzas, as used 
by Spenser and by the romantic poets of a later 
day, or unrhymed, as in blank verse, which was 
devised by the earlier poets of the English 
Renaissance on the basis of his metre. He intro- 
duced the seven-line stanza, which has been largely 
used for narrative poetry ever since. He was the 


first Englishman to experiment in the sonnet, and 
he used quite naturally the forms of the ballade and 
the rondeau, which, in spite of what he wrote in 
them, did not become completely naturalised in 
English poetry till fifty years ago. 

But his greatest achievement, that which had 
most moment for the future, was that he set 
English on its feet as the literary language of 
this country, and particularly that dialect of 
English spoken in London and the counties to 
the north of it, roughly between London and 
Birmingham, the dialect with which he and every- 
one moving round the Court was most familiar. 
Chaucer's English, which was "the King's English" 
(the phrase still persists), became, from the language 
of English writers, gradually the spoken language 
of the whole country. Even in his day, when the 
law-courts were beginning to use it, the fortunes 
of literary English were still uncertain. His con- 
temporary, Gower, typified this uncertainty by 
writing three poems, of which one was in French, 
one in Latin, and one in English. In Scotland, 
where the knowledge of Latin was more general, 
it was used habitually by educated people, and 
was even more familiar to them than the verna- 
cular ; so that Chaucer, in using English, was adopt- 
ing an attitude the novelty of which it is hardly 
possible to appreciate properly at the present day. 
He deliberately chose the common tongue because 
it was really living, and because it had spread up 


to the higher classes of the people ; but he resolved 
at the same time to endow it with all the grace 
and refinement which instinct and knowledge 
enabled him to appreciate in French poetry ; and 
if we grant him in this a clearer vision of his aims 
than he really had, we cannot overrate the conse- 
quences of his choice. By throwing the weight 
of his genius into the balance against French, 
he decided the future ; by importing all the 
excellences and graces of French verse into 
poems written in the particular English of his 
district, he severed himself from the literary past 
of English writing and founded the modern 
literary language of the nation ; and because he 
did so, he is the real father of English poetry. 

It is not necessary to linger over the chronology 
of Chaucer's work. His earliest things seem to 
have been the product solely of French influence, 
and he seems to have begun with lyric poetry, 
making known to England the new forms — ballade, 
rondeau, and so on— which had just been made 
popular in France. At the beginning, indeed, his 
mind seems to have been French in its outlook, 
and, if style alone be considered, no trace of the 
Anglo-Saxon literary past of the country persists 
in its verse. The light touch which pervades it is 
precisely the same as that of the best of its French 
contemporaries. There is in it a sense of the mere 
joyousness of living, which comes out in his fond- 
ness for sunlight and springtime and the flowers 


and birds of May, and everything that he tells, he 
tells in an even voice, pitched so that he can relate 
without fatigue or failing a long and leisurely 
moving story — the voice of the poets of con- 
temporary France. He has, too, the charm of 
that easy French simplicity which comes from a 
perfect correspondence of words which are neither 
difficult nor difficultly used, with thought that is 
always equable and never deep. 

" A thousand tymes have I herd men telle, 
That ther is joye in heven and peyne in helle ; 
And I accorde wel that hit is so ; 
But natheles, yit wot I wel also, 
That ther nis noon dwelling in this contree, 
That either hath in heven or helle y-be, 
Ne may of hit non other weyes witen 
But as he hath herd seyd, or founde it writen."" 

It was his training in the precise and difficult 
forms of French artificial verse which gave him 
his ease and mastery in his later narrative poetry. 
Many of his early ballades are no doubt lost to us, 
but the fruit of them remains in the direct and 
brilliant compression with which in one or two 
stanzas of a poem like Troilus or The Prioress's 
Tale he can set a situation of a picture before the 
mind of his readers. His earlier narrative poems 
were written while he was still subjecting himself 
to this training, and they show the effect of it 
very little, being done on the model which was so 
popular in his day, that of the Romance of the 
Rose, and showing little sign of the originality in 


handling his material which he was afterwards to 
achieve. Such work is to be found in 21ie Death 
of Blanche the JDuchesa, The House of Fame, The 
Parliavient of Fowls, and The Legend of Good 
Women. All these are allegorical, and they are 
overweighted with learning of the mediiEval kind ; 
for though Chaucer was contemporary with and 
had probably met Petrarch, he still looked at Rome 
through the eyes of a troubadour and not of a 
humanist. One of them, The House of Fame, 
contains almost as much autobiography as is to be 
found in the Ca7Uerbu7'}i Tales, passages in which 
he gives us a kind of picture of his daily life, of the 
books he read, and of the character and turn of 
his mind. 

"... thou hast no tydinges 

Of Loves folk, if they be glade, 

Ne of noght elles that god made ; 

And noght only fro fer contree 

That ther no tyding comth to thee, 

But of thy verray neyghebores, 

That dwellen almost at thy dores, 

Thou herest neither that ne this ; 

For whan thy labour doon al is, 

And hast y-maad thy rekeninges, 

In stede of reste and newe thinges, 

Thou gost hoom to thy hous anoon ; 

And, also domb as any stoon. 

Thou sittest at another boke, 

Til fully daswed is thy loke, 

And livest thus as an hermyte 

Although thyn abstinence is lyte." 

Had Chaucer died at the age of forty, he would 


have had a reputation somethmg similar to that of 
his contemporary Gower ; that is to say, we would 
have had to look upon him as a man with a light 
and easy turn for versifying, a remarkable faculty 
for transferring the smoothness and gracefulness 
of French into his own tongue, but not a great 
artist, although of course one who would have 
been historically important. That he is so much 
more than this is due to a fresh source of inspira- 
tion which came to him at that age, opened up to 
him a new literature and new ways of thinking, 
and stimulated the development of his mind in a 
new and original direction. Some time shortly 
after he was thirty he visited Italy, and in the 
ten years which followed he must have made him- 
self familiar with Italian letters. We know that 
he had read Dante, and that he understood the 
greatness of Petrarch, though, judging from their 
works, one would say that there was little intel- 
lectually in common between the two men. 
Boccaccio he must have heard about, and it is one 
of the unsolved puzzles of Chaucerian scholarship 
that there should be no mention of him in 
Chaucer's works. Where we know that Boccaccio 
must be referred to we find the mysterious name 
" Lollius," which has not been found anywhere 
else ; and though Troilus and Cressida is based 
on a poem of the Italian, Chaucer oddly enough 
does not seem to have known of the Decameron, 
an even more amazing circumstance when it is 


considered that the scheme of the Canterbury 
Tales is in a way related to that of Boccaccio's 
great book. At any rate, he got two great things 
from him. One was Troilus and Cressida, and 
the other was The KnigJifs Tale, the former of 
them certainly the greatest narrative poem in 
modern English even as it is the earliest. To 
read it is to realise afresh that at its highest 
moments there is no such thing as "progress" 
in literature ; perfection reached as surely by a 
master in the fourteenth century as in the seven- 
teenth or the nineteenth, or as it was five hundred 
years before the first. 

In spite of the greatness of the Troilus, however, 
it is not by it mainly that he has been remembered 
by those who have come after him. What the 
impulse was which set Chaucer about compiling 
the Canterbury Tales we do not know, and we 
can hardly safely guess. It is unlikely that he had 
read the Decameron, and at any rate the scheme 
of the Canterbury pilgrimage bears none but the 
most superficial resemblance to the precise and 
artificial form of Boccaccio. All the speakers in 
his book belong to the same rank of society, and 
there is no reason why one should be distinguished 
from another ; they all possess the same even 
elegance of speech, whether the tale be comic or 
tragic, shocking or romantic. The variety of the 
subject-matter in his stories is almost as great as 
their number, but there is no variety in the manner 


of telling them, and probably not the closest or 
most familiar student of the book could name the 
narrator of even the best known of them. In 
the Cantei'bury Tales, on the other hand, the 
scheme of a number of stories related by different 
persons is approached from the other end. Boc- 
caccio cared much for his stories and little for the 
lords and ladies of Florence who tell them. 
Chaucer's first and last interest was with his 
pilgrims and not with his tales. When his interest 
flasfffed or became indolent, he had no hesitation in 
simply using up whatever material he had ready 
to his hand and putting it as a story into the 
mouth of one of his characters. Many of the 
tales are certainly older than the scheme into 
which they are put, and indeed it would be possible 
to argue that the author devised that scheme as a 
means for giving interest and a certain continuity 
to things which he had already written but which 
were not in circulation. 

Whatever the impulse or reason may have been, 
he turned suddenly aside at the age of fifty from 
the path of poetry which up to then he had been 
following and founded a new type of writing, 
that concerned with the observation and deline- 
ation of character which in one form or another, 
whether as the drama or the novel, has been the 
chief and peculiar characteristic of English litera- 
ture since. 

A study of a book so large and various is outside 


the scope of an essay of this kind, but it is worth 
while observing before we leave it, how closely the 
scheme of the Canterbury Tales approaches that 
of the later novel of adventure. Had Chaucer's 
deahngs with his characters stopped with the pro- 
logue, he would have given us a masterly piece of 
observation of contemporary social types which 
has no parallel in any other country, and which 
includes, except royalty and nobles on the one 
hand and the lowest vagrants on the other, practi- 
cally the whole English nation ; but he would have 
been a long way behind the novel, because he 
would have given us little about the relations 
between the people whom he painted so well. 
But Chaucer's handhng of his characters was not 
Hmited to these truthful and delicate descriptions. 
He does not pass abruptly from the portrait to the 
tale. " In the course of their ride he makes the 
pilgrims converse among themselves ; he shows 
them calling out to each other, approving what 
one has said and more often still rating each other. 
They give their opinions on the stories that have 
been told, and these comments reveal their domi- 
nant thought, their feelings, and the objects of 
their interest. A sort of comedy is being enacted 
through the poem which binds together the various 
parts. It is only just outlined, it is true, but it 
suffices to show the intentions and comic powers 
of the author. The gentle knight soothes the 
angry ones with grave and courteous words. 


Some pilgrims, whose natures or occupations place 
them at enmity, exchange high words and nearly- 
come to blows. The sturdy Miller and the slender 
Reve rail at each other ; the Friar quarrels with the 
Somnour. First the Miller and then the Cook get 
drunk. The Pardoner and the Wife of Bath each 
deliver interminable discourses before coming to 
their stories. The prologues and epilogues con- 
stantly bring back the attention from the tales to 
the pilgrims, who narrate them or listen to them. 
In this way the characters who were first described 
by the poet reveal themselves yet again by their 
words and actions." ^ The Canterbury Tales, that is 
to say, are on the way towards a novel of the type 
of the Pickwick Papers, the kind of novel in which 
a series of sharply defined characters pass through 
amusing or exciting adventures, commonly strung 
on a journey as the connecting thread. In the 
nineteenth-century book some of the characters 
tell stories even as they do in the Cantei'bury Tales, 
but the stories have ceased to be the main thing. 
Chaucer, on the other hand, though he went far, 
hardly went so far as involving the pilgrims in a 
plot of their own. But for all that, the resem- 
blances between the two are greater than the 
differences, and across nearly five centuries Chaucer 
and Dickens join hands. 

^ Chauce?; by Professor Legouis, a book to wliich I am indebted 
for many of the opinions expressed in this chapter. 


Of Chaucer's contemporaries and immediate 
successors in England little need be said. The 
greater of his two contemporaries, William Lang- 
land, author of the Vision of Piers Plowman, was a 
solitary genius, writing in an old-fashioned metre, 
the last of the old English, having no relation to 
what came after him. With the other of them, 
John Gower, the case is different. For all the 
mediasvalism of his subjects and the sources from 
which he drew them, he remains an essentially 
modern writer — always metrical and smooth and 
graceful, but lacking in definiteness and strength, 
and, above all, wanting in compression and in the 
dramatic gift of telling a story with terseness and 
point. His work belongs to that type of Hterature 
of which examples are to be found in minor Eliza- 
bethan sonnet-writing and, later, pre-eminently, 
in the work of the lesser eighteenth-century poets, 
in which the qualities of ease and fluency and 
grace are caught from greater work near it, but in 
which nothing is achieved beyond urbanity and 
smoothness, which gives nothing to the intellect 
of the reader and asks no service of it in return. 
Gower was a man of literary capacity without 
genius; Langland had genius without much 
literary capacity ; Chaucer had both, and there- 
fore what he did lives at the expense of the other 
two. Yet it would be a mistake to undervalue 


Gower too much, particularly since Lydgate and 
Occleve, his and Chaucer's immediate successors in 
England, utterly failed to come up to his achieve- 
ment. " If there had been no Chaucer, Gower 
would have had a respectable place in history as 
the one ' correct ' poet of the Middle Ages, as 
the English culmination of that courtly mediaeval 
poetry which had its rise in France and Provence 
two or three hundred years before. The prize for 
style would have been awarded to Gower ; as it is, 
he deserves rather more consideration than he has 
generally received in modern times. It is easy to 
pass him over and to say that his correctness is 
flat, his poetical art monotonous. But at the very 
lowest valuation, he did what no one else except 
Chaucer was able to do : he wrote a large amount 
of verse in perfect accordance with his critical 
principles, in such a way as to stand minute ex- 
amination ; and in this he thoroughly expressed the 
good manners of his time. He proved that English 
might compete with the languages which had most 
distinguished them in poetry. Chaucer did as 
much ; and in his earlier work he did no more 
than Gower." ^ That from his best critic is the 
most that can be said for him ; it may be 
recorded in support of it that from the day of his 
death in 1408 till Sackville and perhaps Spenser, 
no one attained the same perfection of method in 
English verse. 

1 Prof. W. P. Ker. 


Chaucer's English successors, Lydgate and 
Occleve, Skelton and Hawes, have a certain 
historical interest in that they did indubitably, 
during the course of the fifteenth century (a period 
too troubled politically in England to have much 
energy for literature), write certain works which 
keep the chain of the production of verse unbroken 
from the Canterbury Tales to the publication of 
the Induction to the Mhi'or for Magistrates and 
Tottel's Miscellany. But Chaucer's influence in 
his own country did not come to its own till the 
publication of the last-mentioned book. Surrey 
and Wyatt, and those who worked with them, are 
his true English inheritors, using his ideas, his 
phrases, his conventions, and very often his actual 
words, and handing on the best part of his bequests 
to them as gifts to Spenser, who himself went 
back and drew further from the riches of the 
original estate. The earliest and greatest school 
of Chaucerians flourished not in England but 
in Scotland, and to them for a moment we 
must turn. 

Whether the first of the four great Scottish 
poets was or was not James I. of Scotland has 
been a question recently much debated by literary 
historians. What is certain is, that the first great 
Scottish poem is the Kings Quair {i.e. " King's 
Book "), and that the title, the earliest manuscript, 
the word of historians in the century following its 
composition, and the universal witness of tradition, 


agree in crediting him with the authorship. Who- 
ever wrote it (and we should give our vote for 
the King himself) was under the first freshness of 
the Chaucerian influence. Unlike Gavin Douglas 
and Dunbar, and in a lesser degree Henryson, who 
followed him, James writes not in the peculiar 
literary Scots (never completely a spoken language), 
but in the dialect which Chaucer himself wrote. 
He uses the Chaucerian conventions — the things 
learned by him from the Romance of the Rose — the 
garden, the sleep, the dream, the vision, and so on. 
The poem has the dreamy elegance of Chaucer's 
early verse ; the grace which he caught from the 
Romance is a sort of fancy work, musical and senti- 
mental, with a mythology of personified abstract 
qualities ; a little thin and impalpable, but always 
graceful and always full of the freshness of spring- 
time which seems to cling about this light and glad 
dawn of modern English verse. 

His successor in poetry, Kobert Henryson, 
though not the greatest poet of the period (that 
title belongs to Dunbar), is unquestionably the 
most accomplished and poetical of the Chaucerian 
school. Unlike James I., to whom can certainly be 
ascribed only the one poem, Henryson left a large 
body of authenticated poetry. He completed the 
story of Chaucer's Troilus and Cressida in his 
powerful romantic poem. The Testament ofCressyd ; 
he versified in a light and critical manner ^sop's 
Fables ; did another romantic poem, Orpheus and 


Eurydice\ and, best known of all, wrote, in the 
manner of the old French pastourelle, a shepherd's 
wooing ballad, Robm and Makene, which, from 
its inclusion in Percy's Reliques, has remained 
popular to our own day. The best of his works is 
the Testament, a thing worthy (and there could be 
no higher praise) to be set beside Chaucer's master- 
piece itself. To Saturn and the Moon is referred by 
the gods the punishment which Cressyd's faithless- 
ness shall receive, and they decree leprosy. Struck 
with the terrible disease, she goes out with a clapper 
and a dish to beg for food. As she stands waiting 
at the roadside, a gallant company rides out from 
Troy, Troilus among them. Their eyes meet, but 
her dim vision cannot see her old lover, and it is 
impossible for him to see Cressyd in the ghastly 
creature beside his horse. She receives his alms, 
is told by one of his companions who he is, utters 
a last complaint, and, having sent her ring to him 
for remembrance, dies. These two passages— that 
m which Saturn pronounces judgment and that 
describing the lovers' meeting— are as near per- 
fection as they could be; Chaucer himself did 
nothing better at his best. They touch the highest 
point, after him, in the tragic and pathetic qualities 
of his narrative style. 

The greatest of this group, William Dunbar, is 
unquestionably the greatest Scottish poet before 
Burns, and perhaps the greatest of them all. No 
one of his time, except Villon, has the same vigour 


of expression, and the same hard and pungent 
quaUty of irony in his outlook ; no one else can 
show the same range of power and the same diversity 
of work. Like the rest, he is a follower of Chaucer ; 
but it is Chaucer in the mood of the JFife of Bath's 
prologue that he prefers to follow, or, if it is the 
Chaucer of the Death of Blanche the Duchess, then 
it is with a satirical independence of his own, so that, 
writing, for instance, in the latitude of Edinburgh, 
he will have nothing to do with May mornings and 
" Fresh flowers green," but embraces the east wind 
straight away without convention or pretence. The 
Thistle and the Rose, his most Chaucerian poem, 
written to welcome Queen Margaret, daughter of 
Henry VII., to Scotland, is written gracefully and 
with spirit and good sense. The Two Married 
Women and the Widow (one is conscious of a loss 
in modernising the spelling of Dunbar's titles) has 
enormous vigour and high spirits and a complete 
accomplishment of form that beats all his con- 
temporaries. Like his Dance of the Seven Deadly 
Sins, which has a lurid strength unattainable by 
Lydgate and Occleve, his English contemporaries, 
the Two Married Wome?i has its unpleasant side. 
The Wife of Bath was at least good - natured. 
" Dunbar's wives and widow combine sensuality 
with ill-nature in a way not to be paralleled in 
English literature till we come to the relics of 
the Restoration." Their ugliness is swallowed in 
the mastery with which their portraiture is accom- 


plished. Not till some of Shakespeare's or Ben 
Jonson's pieces of low life is there anything in 
English writing half so good. 

But though Chaucer's followers help to bridge 
the gap between him and the Elizabethans, the 
main stream of English poetry passed into other 
and obscurer channels. The origin and composition 
of English ballad literature has always been, and no 
doubt will always be, a matter of fierce critical con- 
troversy, but it is agreed by those who have most 
carefully studied them, that it was in the fifteenth 
century that the popular and romantic ballads as 
we know them first took their shape. The oldest 
of them, The Hunting of the Cheviot, was probably 
composed as early as 1400, the year of Chaucer's 
death ; and whatever previous shapes they may have 
worn, the great poems in this kind in their present 
form are subsequent to that date. This theory 
corresponds to what we can glean from external 
evidence, but, indeed, the ballads bear marks them- 
selves which support it. They belong to a period 
when modern English as we know it was, roughly 
speaking, formed ; the absence of inflexion gives a 
backward date, and that date cannot be further back 
than the fifteenth century. They belong, no less 
certainly, to a period when oral transmission was 
still a normal way of preserving poetry, and that 
cannot be later than early in the sixteenth century. 


With the coming of the printed broadsheet, as 
we shall see, the romantic ballad died, and the 
occasional ballad was born. A form of poetry 
which had till then been valued because it was old, 
became despised unless it was new, and the ballad 
form, degraded till it did no more than serve more 
or less metrically the uses of sensational journalism, 
had to wait till the end of the eighteenth century 
before it was used again for literary purposes. 
When it was taken up again it was consciously 
" literary " and no longer " popular," but the men 
of letters who used it could find no better model 
than that left them by the anonymous and co- 
operative authors whose work has survived. 

It is necessary to use the word " co-operative," 
because it is plain that no ballad as it has come 
down to us is the unaltered and final work of one 
man ; but it must not be taken to imply adherence 
to the curious theory of communal composition 
advanced by some anthropologists, and fortified by 
them with examples from the practices and rituals 
of savage tribes, ancient and modern, in both 
hemispheres. Poetry does not write itself, and the 
fancied picture of a community sitting round a 
village or camp fire and evolving, verse about, a 
ballad of the kind we know, remains a picture of the 
fancy only. What in the first instance a minstrel, 
bard, or troubadour devised and sang, popular fancy, 
taking hold of, moulded and altered, consciously 
and unconsciously, each man who memorised it 


adding his share of romance or fancy, and all the 
time that great instrument and artifice of literature, 
the human memory, transmuting it unconsciously 
— taking a verse from one poem and adding it to 
another, so that scores of ballads have recurring 
parts in common — lightening its own burden by 
the use of set and conventional phrases, planing 
away roughnesses of metre and diction till the 
whole thing came easily along the channels of the 
brain and sped flowingly from the tongue. Who 
the original authors were must remain for ever 
unknown, though some of the ballads are no 
doubt popular forms, wrought by the process 
indicated, from written metrical romances of the 
type of King Horn, which got into the hands of 
wandering singers, and from them to the people at 
large. It must have been the process of popular 
transmission which gave their work the character 
which we know. If one asks oneself what it is 
that gives the ballads their unique attractiveness, 
what it is that still makes them stir us as they did 
Sir Philip Sidney, as the sound of a trumpet, the 
answer is plain ; it is not the things wherein they 
differ, like their plots, but the things which they 
have in common. It may be lines like this : — 

" Then he pulled forth his bright brown sword 
And dried it on his sleeve " ; 

or this : — 

" He hadna ridden a mile, a mile, 
A mile or barely three " ; 


or this : — 

" Lord William was buried in St Mary's kirk, 
I-,ady Margaret in Mary's quire, 
Out o' the lady's grave grew a bonny red rose 
And out o' the knight's a briar " ; 

all of which occur in more than one ballad, and 
all but the first two lines of the last in several. 
Or it may be things which, if they cannot be 
matched word for word from one ballad to another, 
still breathe a common spirit. They are the things 
which, as it were, express " idea " (in the Platonic 
sense) of a ballad — things like 

" Is there ony room at your head, Saunders ? 
Is there ony room at your feet ? 
Or ony room at your side, Saunders, 
Where fain, fain, I wad sleep ? " 

or like 

" Half-oure, half-oure to Aberdour, 
'Tis fifty fathoms deep ; 
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens, 
Wi' the Scots lords at his feet " ; 

or this, with its quintessential fragrance of 
romance : — 

" May Margaret sits in her bower door 
Sewing her silken seam ; 
She heard a note in Elmond's wood, 
And wish'd she there had been. 

" She loot the seam fa' frae her side, 
The needle to her tae. 
And she is on to Elmond's wood 
As fast as she could gae." 


These things, and the ballads which enshrine them, 
have only to be compared with a typical late metrical 
romance for the reader to see at once the superi- 
ority in romantic glamour, in narrative skill, in 
metrical lilt and felicity, of the popular poem, 
the fashioning of which was co-operative, over the 
product, written immediately and therefore fixed 
in form once and for all, of a single (and average) 
mind. For the authorship of a ballad, if only it 
were left to oral transmission, never ceased. No 
new possessor of it but, in getting it by heart, 
might add, all unsuspecting, some new fineness or 
wipe away some flaw. 

The metrical romance was written ; it could 
not be easily or quickly spread or duplicated save 
by word of mouth, and oral transmission, as we 
have seen, served it well. The invention of print- 
ing meant the cheap and unlimited multiplication 
of popular poetry (story-telling, that is, without a 
consciously artistic end), in the form in which it 
was first written, and printing killed the ballad 
almost as soon as it came. Where the broadside 
went there was no more need for singing or 
reciting ; ballads could be read more quickly than 
they could be heard or learned. The appetite for 
them increased and the supply kept pace with 
the increase ; thousands of broadside ballads 
poured from the press. Unlike the older oral 
ballads, which were concerned with romance or 
tradition, the printed ballads sought news. They 


were, or pretended to be, matters of fact, carrying 
as often as not the date of the occurrence they 
commemorated on their face. Glasgcrion, Clerk 
Saunders, Chevy Chase, and The Demon Lover 
sHpped quietly down into the underworld of the 
antiquaries, not to be fished out again for two 
hundred years. In their place came ballads of 
hangings, highwaymen, religious conversions, 
monstrous births, and all the stock-in-trade of 
Autolycus and his kind. So the ballad passed 
out of literature. 


Chaucer and his followers and the ballad-makers 
between them are the fount from which modern 
English poetry springs ; it is not till a hundred 
years or so after Chaucer's death that we come 
upon the beginnings of English prose. Chaucer's 
own exercises in prose are poor ; they spring not 
from his love of literature, but from his love of 
learning — are either sermons like the Parsons Tale, 
or translations of popular philosophy like his Boece, 
or treatises on popular science like that on the 
Astrolabe, done for "little Lewis, my son." He 
was not interested, one feels, in prose style (though 
curiously the tale he tells himself in the Canterbury 
pilgrimage is in this medium), and this lack of 
interest probably arose from the fact that he had 
before him no models as he had in poetry on which 
to form what he wrote. Good prose began to b^ 


written in England a century after him as the result 
of three influences, one of a fresh subject-matter 
and the other two opposite literary impulses, which 
ultimately turned side by side and combined with 
each other. There was the impulse to copy the 
newly found masterpieces of classical literature in 
an English dress, and there was the impulse which 
feared that as a result of this the Anglo-Saxon 
purity of the national tongue was being put in 
danger, and strove to avert the evil by putting 
native English, as distinct from latinised English, 
on its own legs. 

The Renaissance reached England late. By the 
time its triumph was at its height in the work of 
Spenser and Shakespeare, it had died out in Italy, 
and in France, to which in turn Italy had passed 
the torch, it was already a warning fire. When it 
came to England, it came in a special form shaped 
by political and social conditions. Hardly had the 
forces of secular culture been mobilised by the 
leaders in the van — men like Grocyn and Linacre 
and Colet — when at their heels came the heralds 
of religious revolt. Linacre and Colet were school- 
masters who wanted to do no more than plant 
the new classical learning in England. They 
cared for the graces of latinity, for the study 
of rhetoric, wished that their pupils might write 
Latin like Cicero, and English like him too. 
But the newly found books set men not only 
trying to write like them, but, what was more 


dangerous, think like them. Erasmus carried the 
solvent of his learning across the Channel to this 
country. Men began to think for themselves on 
the dogmas they had accepted unquestioningly, and 
the Reformation, on the side of thought (not of 
ecclesiastical politics), got its first impetus. To 
Erasmus and his teaching we must put down the 
work of men like Sir John Cheke, Sir Thomas 
Wilson, and Roger Ascham. To the earlier group, 
interested mainly in literary things, or, if in religious 
and philosophical, not anxious to break with ortho- 
doxy, we can fairly attach the work of Sir Thomas 

His Utopia, based as it is on Plato's Republic^ 
is the earliest fruit of the most lasting impulse in 
the Renaissance study of the subject-matter of 
Latin and Greek literature — the impulse given by 
the political speculation of the ancients, which re- 
appears in late books like Harrington's Oceana and 
Bacon's New Atlantis, and, in a different form, in 
the translations from Plutarch, in essays like 
Montaigne's and Bacon's, and in the constant 
political allusions and theorisings which are to be 
found in plays. In one way or another, the redis- 
covery of Plato proved the most valuable part of 
the Renaissance's gift fi'om Greece. The doctrines 
of the Symposium coloured in Italy the writings of 
Castiglione and Mirandula. In England they gave 
us Spenser's Hymn of Heavenly Beauty, and they 
affected, each in his own way, Sir Philip Sidney and 


others of the circle of court writers of his time. 
More's book was written in Latin, though there is 
an EngUsh translation almost contemporary. He 
combines in himself a strain drawn from the active 
side of the Renaissance as well as from the studious, 
for besides its origin in Plato, Utopia owes not a 
little to the influence of the voyages of discovery. 
In 1507 there was published a little book called An 
Introduction to Cosmography, which gave an account 
of the four voyages of Amerigo. In the story of the 
fourth voyage it is narrated that twenty-four men 
were left in a fort near Cape Bahia. More used 
this detail as a starting-point, and one of the men 
whom Amerigo left tells the story of this " No- 
where," a republic mostly resembling the ideal 
world of Plato, but largely studied from and con- 
trasted with contemporary England. It is the same 
in all books of this kind, because no man can escape 
from the influence of his own time whatever road 
he takes, whether the road of imagination or any 
other. His imagination can only build out of the 
materials afforded him by his own experience ; he 
can alter, he can rearrange, but he cannot in the 
strictest sense of the word create, and every city of 
dreams is only the scheme of things as they are re- 
moulded nearer to the desire of a man's heart. In 
a way, More has less invention than some of his 
subtler followers, but, like them, he excels best where 
he is most satirical. Utopias are interesting most 
to us when they give us new eyes to see things as 


they are. This — the first of many in England — is 
no exception to the rule. 

The followers of Erasmus link themselves more 
closely with the great age of English prose which 
followed, and the lives of many of them go on well 
into Elizabeth's reign. Sir Thomas Wilson, who 
translated Demosthenes and wrote a famous text- 
book of rhetoric, was one of her secretaries of state. 
Roger Ascham wrote his Toxoi^liilus — a dialogue 
on the use of the bow, done on a classical model 
— while Henry VIII. was still on the throne, and 
did not finish his Schoolmaster till ten years after 
Elizabeth's accession. But literature as it de- 
veloped in the reign of Elizabeth ran the other 
way from their desires and hopes. The men of 
the earlier Renaissance, in the reign of Edward VL 
and Mary, belonged to a graver school than their 
successors. They were no splendid courtiers, nor 
daring and hardy adventurers, still less swash- 
bucklers, exquisites, or literary dandies. Their 
names — Sir John Cheke, Roger Ascham, Nicholas 
Udall, Thomas Wilson, Walter Haddon — belong 
rather to the universities and to the coteries of 
learning than to the court. To the nobility, from 
whose essays in belles lettres Elizabethan poetry 
was to develop, they stood in the relation of tutors 
rather than of companions, suspecting the extra- 
vagances of their pupils rather than sympathising 
with their ideals. They were a band of serious 
and dignified scholars, men preoccupied with 


morality and good citizenship, and holding these 
to be worth more than the lighter interests of 
learning and style. It is perhaps characteristic of 
the English temper that the revival of the classical 
tongues, which in Italy made for paganism and 
the pursuit of pleasure in life and art, in England 
brought with it a new seriousness and gravity in 
life and art, and in religion the Reformation. But 
in a way, the scholars fought against tendencies in 
their age which were both too fast and too strong 
for them. At a time when young men were 
writing poetry modelled on the delicate and ex- 
travagant verse of Italy, were reading Italian 
novels, and affecting Italian fashions in speech and 
dress, they were fighting for sound education, for 
good classical scholarship, for the purity of native 
English, and, behind all these, for the native strength 
and worth of the English character, which they 
felt to be endangered by orgies of reckless assimila- 
tion from abroad. The revival of the classics at 
Oxford and Cambridge could not produce an 
Erasmus or a Scaliger ; we have no fine critical 
scholarship of this age to put beside that of Holland 
or France. Sir John Cheke and his followers felt 
they had a public and national duty to perform, 
and their knowledge of the classics only served 
them for examples of high living and morality, on 
which education, in its sense of the formation of 
character, could be based. 

In the work of these men, as we have said, two 


impulses fought with each other. The reading of 
Cicero intoxicated men with a new full-mouthed 
and decorative language unknown to English at 
that date. Latinism, like every new craze, became 
a passion, and ran through the less intelligent 
kinds of writing in a wild excess. Not much of 
the literature of this time remains in common 
knowledge, and for examples of these affectations 
one must turn over the pages of forgotten books. 
There high-sounding and familiar words are handled 
and bandied about with delight, and you can see 
in volume after volume these minor and forgotten 
authors gloating over the new-found treasure 
which placed them in their time in the van of 
literary success. That they are obsolete now, and 
indeed were obsolete before they were dead, is a 
warning to authors who intend similar extra- 
vagances. Strangeness and exoticism are not 
lasting wares. By the time of Love's Labour s 
Lost they had become nothing more than matter 
for laughter, and it is only through their reflection 
and distortion in Shakespeare's pages that we 
know them now. 

Had not a restraining influence, anxiously and 
even acrimoniously urged, broken in on their 
endeavours, the English language to-day might 
have been almost as completely latinised as Spanish 
or Italian. That the essential Saxon purity of our 
tongue has been preserved is to the credit not of 
sensible unlettered people eschewing new fashions 


they could not comprehend, but to the scholars 
themselves. The chief service that Cheke and 
Ascham and their fellows rendered to English 
literature was their crusade against the exaggerated 
latinity that they had themselves helped to make 
possible, the crusade against what they called 
" inkhorn terms." " I am of this opinion," said 
Cheke in a prefatory letter to a book translated by 
a friend of his, " that our own tongue should be 
written clean and pure, unmixed and unmangled 
with the borrowing of other tongues, wherein if 
we take not heed by time, ever borrowing and 
never paying, she shall be fain to keep her house 
as bankrupt." Writings in the Saxon vernacular, 
like the sermons of Latimer, who was careful to 
use nothing not familiar to the common people, 
did much to help the scholars to save our prose 
from the extravagances which they dreaded. Their 
attack was directed no less against the revival of 
really obsolete words. It is a paradox worth noting 
for its strangeness that the first revival of medi- 
aevalism in modern English literature was in the 
Renaissance itself. Talking in studious archaism 
seems to have been a fashionable practice in society 
and court circles. " The fine courtier," says Thomas 
Wilson in his Art of Rhetoric, "will talk nothing 
but Chaucer." The scholars of the English Re- 
naissance fought not only against the ignorant 
adoption of their importations, but against their 
renewal of forgotten habits of speech. 


Their efforts failed, and their ideals had to wait 
for their acceptance till the age of Dryden, when 
Shakespeare and Spenser and Milton, all of them 
authors who consistently violated the standards of 
Cheke, had done their work. The fine courtier 
who would talk nothing but Chaucer was in Eliza- 
beth's reign the saving of English verse. The 
beauty and richness of Spenser is based directly on 
words he got from Troilus and Cressida and the 
Canterbury Tales. Some of the most sonorous 
and beautiful lines in Shakespeare break every 
canon laid down by the humanists. 

" The extravagant and erring spirit hies 
To his confine *" 

is a sentence, three of the chief words of which are 
Latin importations that come unfamiliarly, bearing 
their original interpretation with them. In attack- 
ing latinisms and the language borrowed from 
older poets, Cheke and his associates were attacking 
the two chief sources of the Elizabethans' poetic 
vocabulary. All the sonorousness, beauty, and 
dignity of the poetry and the drama which followed 
them would have been lost had they succeeded in 
their object, and their verse would have been con- 
strained into the warped and ugly forms of Stern- 
hold and Hopkins and those with them who com- 
posed the first and worst metrical version of the 
psalms. When their ideal reappeared, phantasy and 
imagery had temporarily worn themselves out, and 
a richer language made simplicity possible in poetry. 


Chaucer went to Italy for the plots of his 
greatest stories ; the English scholars travelled 
there to imbibe the new learning at its spring. 
There resulted a circumstance which had a marked 
and continuous influence on the literary age that 
followed. On the heels of the men of learning 
went the men of fashion, eager to learn and copy 
the new manners of a society whose moral teacher 
was Machiavelli, and whose patterns of splendour 
were the courts of Florence and Ferrara, and to 
learn the trick of verse that in the hands of 
Petrarch and his followers had fashioned the sonnet 
and other new lyric forms. This could not be 
without its influence on the manners of the nation, 
and the scholars who had been the first to show 
the way were the first to deplore the pell-mell 
assimilation of Italian manners and vices, which 
was the unintended result of the inroad on in- 
sularity which had already begun. They saw the 
danger ahead, and they laboured to meet it as it 
came. Ascham in his Schoolmaster railed against 
the translation of Italian books, and the corrupt 
manner of living and false ideas which they 
seemed to him to breed. The Italianate English- 
man became the chief part of the stock-in-trade 
of the satirists and moralists of the day. Stubbs, 
a Puritan chronicler, whose book The Anatoviy 
of Abuses is a valuable aid to the study of 
Tudor social history, and Harrison, whose descrip- 
tion of England prefaces Holinshed's Chronicles, 


both deal in detail with the Italian menace, 
and condemn in good set terms the costliness 
in dress and the looseness in morals which 
they laid to its charge. Indeed, the effect on 
England was profound, and it lasted for more 
than two generations. The romantic traveller, 
Coryat, writing well within the seventeenth century 
in praise of the luxuries of Italy (among which he 
numbers forks for table use), is as enthusiastic as 
the authors who began the imitation of Italian 
metres in Tottel's Miscellany, and Donne and Hall 
in their satires written under James wield the rod 
of censure as sternly as had Ascham a good half- 
century before. No doubt there was something in 
the danger they dreaded, but the evil was not un- 
mixed with good, for insularity will always be an 
enemy of good literature. The Elizabethans learned 
much more than their plots from Italian models, 
and the worst effects dreaded by the patriots 
never reached our shores. Italian vice stopped 
short of real life ; poisoning and hired ruffianism 
flourished only on the stage. 




To understand Elizabethan literature it is necessary 
to remember that the social status it enjoyed was 
far different from that of literature in our own day. 
The splendours of the Medicis in Italy had set up 
an ideal of courtliness, in which letters formed an 
integral and indispensable part. For the Renais- 
sance, the man of letters was only one aspect of 
the gentleman, and the true gentleman, as books 
so early and late respectively as Castiglione's 
Courtier and Peacham's Complete Gentleman show, 
numbered poetry as a necessary part of his ac- 
complishments. In England special circumstances 
intensified this tendency of the time. The queen 
was unmarried : she was the first single woman to 
wear the English crown, and her vanity made her 
value the devotion of the men about her as some- 
thing more intimate than mere loyalty or patriotism. 
She loved personal homage, particularly the hom- 
age of half-amatory eulogy in prose and verse. It 
followed that the ambition of every courtier was to 
be an author, like Lord Buckhurst and Sir Philip 
Sidney, and of every author to be a courtier, like 



Edmund Spenser and John Lyly ; in fact, outside 
the drama, which was almost the only popular 
writing at the time, every author was in a greater 
or less degree attached to the court. If they were 
not enjoying its favours they were pleading for 
them, mingling high and fantastic compliment 
with bitter reproaches and a tale of misery. And 
consequently both the poetry and the prose of the 
time are restricted in their scope and temper to 
the artificial and romantic, to high-flown eloquence, 
to the celebration of love and devotion, or to the 
inculcation of those courtly virtues and accom- 
plishments which composed the perfect pattern of 
a gentleman. Not that there was not both poetry 
and prose written outside this charmed circle. 
The pamphleteers and chroniclers, Dekker and 
Nash, Holinshed and Harrison and Stow, were 
setting down their histories and descriptions, and 
penning those detailed and realistic indictments 
of the follies and extravagances of fashion, which 
together with the comedies have enabled us to 
picture accurately the England and especially the 
London of Elizabeth's reign. There was fine 
poetry written by Marlowe and Chapman as well 
as by Sidney and Spenser, but the court was still 
the main centre of literary endeavour, and the 
main incitement to literary fame and success. 

But whether an author was a courtier or a 
Londoner living by his wits, writing was never the 
main business of iiis life : all the writers of the 


time were in one way or another men of action 
and affairs. As late as Milton it is probably true 
to say that writing was in the case even of the 
greatest an avocation, something indulged in at 
leisure outside a man's main business. All the 
Elizabethan authors had crowded and various 
careers. Of Sir Philip Sidney his earliest bio- 
grapher, Lord Greville, says, " The truth is, his end 
was not writing, even while he wrote, but both his 
wit and understanding bent upon his heart to 
make himself and others not in words or opinion 
but in life and action good and great." Ben 
Jonson was in turn a soldier, a poet, a bricklayer, 
an actor, and ultimately the first poet laureate. 
Lodge, after leaving Oxford, passed through the 
various professions of soldiering, medicine, play- 
writing, and fiction, and he wrote his novel 
Rosalind, on which Shakespeare based As You 
Like It, while he was sailing on a piratical venture 
on the Spanish Main. This connection between 
life and action affected as we have seen the tone 
and quality of Elizabethan writing. "All the 
distinguished writers of the period," says Thoreau, 
" possess a greater vigour and naturalness than the 
more modern . . . you have constantly the warrant 
of life and experience in what you read. The little 
that is said is eked out by implication of the much 
that was done." In another passage the same 
writer explains the strength and fineness of the 
writings of Sir Walter Raleigh by this very test 


of action, " The word which is best said came 
nearest to not being spoken at all, for it is cousin 
to a deed which the speaker could have better 
done. Nay almost it must have taken the place 
of a deed by some urgent necessity, even by some 
misfortune, so that the truest writer will be some 
captive knight after all." This bond between 
literature and action explains more than the writ- 
ings of the voyagers or the pamphlets of men who 
lived in London by what they could make off 
their fellows. Literature has always a twofold 
relation to life as it is lived. It is both a mirror 
and an escape: in our own day the stirring romances 
of Stevenson, the full-blooded and vigorous life 
which beats through the pages of Mr Kipling, the 
conscious brutalism of such writers as Mr Conrad 
and Mr Hewlett, the plays of J. M. Synge, occupied 
with the vigorous and coarse-grained life of tinkers 
and peasants, are all in their separate ways a re- 
action against an age in which the overwhelming 
majority of men and women have sedentary pur- 
suits. In the same way the Elizabethan who 
passed his commonly short and crowded life in an 
atmosphere of throat-cutting and powder and shot, 
and in a time when affairs of state were more 
momentous for the future of the nation than they 
have ever been since, needed perhaps his escape 
from the things which pressed in upon him every 
day. So grew the vogue and popularity of pastoral 
poetry and the pastoral romance. 


It is with a group of courtiers that our fifteenth- 
century poetry begins. In the latter end of King 
Henry VIII. 's reign, says Puttenham in his Art 
of Poesie (1589), there " sprang up a new company 
of courtly makers of whom Sir Thomas Wyatt and 
the Earl of Surrey were the two chieftains, who, 
having travelled into Italy and there tasted the 
sweet and stately measures and style of Italian 
poesie . . . they greatly polished our rude and 
homely manner of vulgar poesie from what it had 
been before, and for that cause may justly be said 
the first reformers of our English metres and style." 
They were busy men ; they had no patrons to 
please, and they belonged to a class in which 
manuscript rather than print was still the normal 
way of putting words on paper. It was not until 
ten years after the death of the second of them 
that their poems appeared in print. The book 
that contained them, Tottel's Miscellaiiy of Songs 
and Sonnets (it was published first in 1557 and went 
through six other editions) is one of the landmarks 
of English literature. It begins lyrical love poetry 
in our language. It begins, too, as Puttenham 
observes, the imitation and adaptation of foreign 
and chiefly Italian metrical forms, many of which 
have since become characteristic forms of English 
verse : so characteristic, that we scarcely think of 
them as other than native in origin. And it begins 


that study of Chaucer as a master which was to 
produce Spenser. To Wyatt belongs the honour 
of introducing the sonnet, and to Surrey the more 
momentous credit of writing, for the first time in 
English, blank verse. Wyatt fills the most im- 
portant place in the Miscellany, and his work, 
experimental in tone and quality, formed the 
example which Surrey and minor writers in the 
same volume and all the later poets of the age 
copied. He tries his hand at everything — songs, 
madrigals, elegies, complaints, and sonnets — and he 
takes his models from both ancient Rome and 
modern Italy. Indeed, there is scarcely anything 
in the volume for which with some trouble and 
research one might not find an original in Petrarch, 
or in the poets of Italy who followed him. But 
imitation, frequent though it is in his work, does 
not crowd out originality of feeling and poetic 
temper. At times, he sounds a personal note : his 
joy on leaving Spain for England, his feelings in 
the Tower, his life at the Court amongst his books, 
and as a country gentleman enjoying hunting and 
other outdoor sports : 

" This maketh me at home to hunt and hawk, 
And in foul weather at my book to sit, 
In frost and snow, then with my bow to stalk, 
No man does mark whereas I ride or go : 
In lusty leas at liberty I walk."" 

It is easy to see that poetry as a melodious and 
enriched expression of a man's own feelings is in its 


infancy here. But it is hardly fair to judge Wyatt 
by this side of his work. He was happier in re- 
creating and putting new hfe into that lyrical mood 
which had appeared fitfully in the thirteenth century 
in the work of unnamed singers, but which in time 
to come was to be one of the chiefest glories of 
English verse. Such verses as 

" Forget not yet the kind intent 
Of such a truth as I have meant ; 
My great travail so gladly spent 
Forget not yet ! " 

and those which follow it, or such lines as 

" And wilt thou leave me thus 
That hath loved thee so long 
In wealth and woe among ? 
And is thy heart so strong 
As for to leave me thus .'* 
Say nay ! Say nay ! " 

are a worthy prelude to the Elizabethan lyric. 
The new poets had to find their own language, 
to enrich with borrowings from other tongues the 
stock of words suitable for poetry which the drop- 
ping of inflection had left to English. Wyatt was 
at the beginning of the process, but his gracious 
and courtly temper and his fine sincerity of feeling 
give his work an interest greater than the mere 
pleasure of experimenting could afford. 

Surrey, so it seems in comparing his work, went a 
step further. He allows himself oftener the luxury 
of a reference to personal feelings, and his poetry 
contains from place to place a fairly full record of 


the vicissitudes of his life. A prisoner at Windsor, 
he recalls his childhood there : 

" The large green courts where we were wont to hove,^ 
The palme-])lay, where, despoiled for the game, 
With dazzled eyes oft we by gleams of love 
Have missed the ball, and got sight of our dame." 

Like Wyatt's, his verses are rough in places, but 
a sympathetic ear can catch in them something of 
the accent that distinguishes the verse of Sidney 
and Spenser. He is greater than Wyatt, not so 
much for greater skill as for more boldness in 
experiment. Wyatt in his sonnets had used the 
Petrarchan or Italian form, the form used later in 
England by Milton and in the nineteenth century 
by Rossetti. He built up each poem, that is, in 
two parts, the octave, a two-rhymed section of 
eight lines at the beginning, followed by the sestet, 
a six-line close with three rhymes. The form fits 
itself very well to the double mood which com- 
monly inspires a poet using the sonnet form ; the 
second section as it were both echoing and answer- 
ing the first, following doubt with hope, or sadness 
with resignation, or resolving a problem set itself 
by the heart. Surrey tried another manner, the 
manner which by its use in Shakespeare's sonnets 
has come to be regarded as the English form of 
this kind of lyric. His sonnets are virtually three- 
stanza poems with a couplet for close, and he 
allows himself as many rhymes as he chooses. 

^ I.e.. hover. 


The structure is obviously easier, and it gives a 
better chance to an inferior workman, but in the 
hands of a master its harmonies are no less delicate, 
and its capacity to represent changing modes of 
thought no less complete than those of the true 
form of Petrarch. Blank verse, which was Surrey's 
other gift to English poetry (through his transla- 
tion of the JEneid^ published after his death in 
the same year as the Songs and Sonnets and the 
first verse translation ^ into English of any classical 
poet), was in a way a compromise between the 
two sources from which the English Renaissance 
drew its inspiration. Latin and Greek verse is 
quantitative and rhymeless ; Italian verse, built up 
on the metres of the troubadours and the degenera- 
tion of Latin which gave the world the Romance 
languages, used many elaborate forms of rhyme. 
Blank verse took from Latin its rhymelessness, but 
it retained the mediaeval accent instead of quantity 
as the basis of its line. Here is a favourable sample 
of Surrey's use of it : — 

" With this the young men"'s courage did increase, 
And through the dark, like to the ravening wolves 
Whom raging fury of their empty maws 
Drives to their den, leaving with hungry throats 
Their whelps behind, among our foes we ran 
Upon their swords, into apparent death. 
Holding alway the chief street of the town, 
Covered with the close shadows of the night." 

^ Strictly, the first into a British vernacular is that of the 
Scottish poet, Gavin Douglas, also of the JEneid, 1513. 


The line is the five-foot or ten-sylLable line of what 
is called " heroic verse " — the line used by Chaucer 
in his Prologue and most of his tales. Like 
Milton, Surrey deplored rhyme as the invention of 
a barbarous age, and no doubt he would have 
rejoiced to go further and banish accent as well as 
rhymed endings. That, however, was not to be, 
though in the best blank verse of a later time accent 
and quantity both have their share in the effect. 
The instrument he forged passed into the hands 
of the dramatists : Marlowe perfected its rhythm, 
Shakespeare broke its monotony and varied its 
cadences by altering the spacing of the accents, 
and occasionally by adding an extra unaccented 
syllable. It came back from the drama to poetry 
with Milton. His blindness and the necessity 
under which it laid him of keeping in his head 
long stretches of verse at one time, because he 
could not look back to see what he had written, 
probably helped his naturally quick and delicate 
sense of cadence to vary the pauses, so that a 
variety of accent and interval might replace the 
valuable aid to memory which he put aside in 
putting aside rhyme. Perhaps it is to two acci- 
dents, the accident by which blank verse as the 
medium of the actor had to be retained easily in 
the memory, and the accident of Milton's blindness, 
that must be laid the credit of more than a little 
of the richness of rhythm of this, the chief and 
greatest instrument of English verse. 


The imitation of Chaucerian Italian and French 
forms which Wyatt and Surrey began, was con- 
tinued by a host of younger amateurs of poetry. 
The first and best of them was Thomas Sackville 
(Lord Buckhurst), who towards the end of his hfe 
(he outhv^ed the Queen) was to become Lord High 
Treasurer. His Uterary work was done before he 
entered pubhc Hfe, and though it is small in 
compass and consists indeed of no more than two 
poems, one narrative and the other dramatic, in 
its way it helped to make an epoch. Gofboduc, 
the first blank verse tragedy in our language, we 
shall see later when we come to deal with the 
drama. Sackville's other poem is the Induction 
to the Mirroi- for Magistrates, a composite poem 
modelled on Lydgate's Fall of Princes and 
ultimately on Boccaccio, which was designed to be 
for rulers and statesmen both a warning and a 
glass in which they should see themselves. Sackville 
designed the work, but after he had done the intro- 
ductory portion and one of the tales, he left the 
completion of it to inferior hands, and strangely, 
the book was first published without his part of it ; 
it was not till four years after, in 1563, that the 
Induction appeared. The scheme of the book, 
based on Vergil and Dante, was that the poet 
should descend into hell and interview the person- 
ages, who would tell their own story ; Sackville's 
portion of it describes the descent. Since Chaucer, 
two hundred years back, nothing comparable had 


been produced in English verse, nor can it be truly 
said that it is in strength and power in any way 
inferior to Spenser himself. The following stanza 
will give the reader a taste of its quality : — 

" Crookbacked he was, tooth-shaken and blear-eyed ; 
Went on three feet, and sometimes crept on four ; 
With old lame bones, that rattled by his side ; 
His scalp all piled, and he with eld forelore. 
His withered fist still knocking at death's door ; 
Fumbling and drivelling as he draws his breath : 
For brief, the shape and messenger of death." 

The Induction runs to eighty stanzas, and it 
maintains to the end the level at which it began. 
When it ended Sackville put down his pen, and, so 
far as we know, throughout his long life never, save 
to sign a state paper, took it up again. 

Sackville followed Chaucer ; his contemporaries 
busied themselves with Petrarch and his school. 
Laborious research has found a Continental original 
for almost every great poem of the time, and for 
very many forgotten ones as well. It is easy for 
the student engaged in this kind of literary explora- 
tion to exaggerate the importance of what he finds, 
and of late years criticism, written mainly by these 
explorers, has tended to assume that since it can 
be found that Sidney, and Daniel, and Watson, 
and all the other writers of mythological poetry 
and sonnet sequences took their ideas and their 
phrases from foreign poetry, their work is therefore 
to be classed merely as imitative literary exercise, 
that it is frigid, that it contains or conveys no real 


feeling, and that except in the secondary and 
derived sense, it is not really lyrical at all. Petrarch, 
they will tell you, may have felt deeply and sincerely 
about Laura, but when Sidney uses Petrarch's 
imagery and even translates his words in order to 
express his feelings for Stella, he is only a plagiarist 
and not a lover, and the passion for Lady Rich 
which is supposed to have inspired his sonnets, 
nothing more than a not too seriously intended 
trick to add the excitement of a transcript of real 
emotion to what was really an academic exercise. 
If that were indeed so, then Elizabethan poetry is 
a very much lesser and meaner thing than later 
ages have thought it. But is it so ? Let us look 
into the matter a little more closely. The unit of 
all ordinary kinds of writing is the word, and one 
is not commonly quarrelled with for using words 
that have belonged to other people. But the unit 
of the lyric, like the unit of spoken conversation, is 
not the word but the phrase. Now in daily human 
intercourse the use, which is universal and habitual, 
of set forms and phrases of talk is not commonly 
supposed to detract from or destroy sincerity. In 
the crises indeed of emotion it must be most 
people's experience that the natural speech that 
rises unbidden and easiest to the lips is something 
quite familiar and commonplace, some form which 
the accumulated experience of many generations 
of separate people has found best for such circum- 
stances or such an occasion. The lyric is in the 


position of conversation at such a heightened and 
emotional moment. It is the speech of deep 
feehng, that must be articuhite or choke, and it 
falls naturally and inevitably into some form which 
accumulated passionate moments have created and 
fixed. The course of emotional experiences differs 
very little from age to age and from individual to 
individual, and so the same phrases may be used 
quite sincerely and naturally as the direct expression 
of feeling at its highest point by men apart in 
country, circumstances, or time. This is not to 
say that there is no such thing as originality ; a 
poet is a poet first and most of all because he 
discovers truths that have been known for ages, as 
things that are fresh and new and vital for himself. 
He must speak of them in language that has been 
used by other men just because they are known 
truths, but he will use that language in a new 
way, and with a new significance, and it is just in 
proportion to the freshness, and the air of personal 
conviction and sincerity which he imparts to it, 
that he is great. 

The point at issue bears very directly on the 
work of Sir Philip Sidney. In the course of the 
history of English letters certain authors disengage 
themselves who have more than a merely literary 
position : they are symbolic of the whole age in 
which they live, its life and action, its thoughts and 
ideals, as well as its mere modes of writing. There 
are not many of them, and they could be easily 


numbered : Addison, perhaps, certainly Dr Johnson, 
certainly Byron, and in the later age probably 
Tennyson. But the greatest of them all is Sir 
Philip Sidney : his symbolical relation to the time 
in which he lived was realized by his contemporaries, 
and it has been a commonplace of history and 
criticism ever since. Elizabeth called him one of 
the jewels of her crown, and at the age of twenty- 
three, so fast did genius ripen in that summer-time 
of the Renaissance, William the Silent could speak 
of him as " one of the ripest statesmen of the age." 
He travelled widely in Europe, knew many 
languages, and dreamed of adventure in America 
and on the high seas. In a court of brilliant figures, 
his was the most dazzling, and his death at Zutphen 
only served to intensify the halo of romance which 
had gathered round his name. So far as we can 
guess, all his literary work was done in four short 
years, 1578-1582 ; but its bulk is such that even a 
man of his burning vitality cannot have been long 
idle from it. In prose he wrote the Arcadia and 
the Apology for Poetry, the one the beginning of 
a new kind of imaginative writing, and the other 
the first of the series of those rare and precious 
commentaries on their own art which some of our 
English poets have left us. To it and the Arcadia 
we shall have to return later in this chapter. It is 
his other great work, the sequence of sonnets en- 
titled Astrophel and Stella, which concerns us here. 
They celebrate the history of his love for Penelope 


Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, a love brought 
to disaster by the intervention of Queen Elizabeth 
with whom he had quarrelled. As poetry, they 
mark an epoch. They are the first direct expression 
of an intimate and personal experience in English 
literature, struck off in the white heat of passion, 
and though they are coloured at times with that 
over-fantastic imagery which is at once a character- 
istic fault and excellence of the writing of the time, 
they never lose the one merit above all others of 
lyric poetry, the merit of sincerity. The note is 
struck with certainty and power in the first sonnet 
of the series : — 

" Loving in ti'uth, and fain in verse my love to show, 
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my 

pain, — 
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her 

know, — 
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain, — 
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe, 
Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain : 
Oft turning others'" leaves to see if thence would flow 
Some fresh and fruitful flower upon my sunburned brain. 
But words came halting forth . . . 
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite. 
' Fool,' said my muse to me, ' look in thy heart and write.' " 

And though he turned others' leaves, it was quite 
truly looking in his heart that he wrote. He 
analyses the sequence of his feelings with a vivid- 
ness and minuteness which assure us of their truth. 
All that he tells is the fruit of experience, dearly 
bought : 


" Desire ! desire ! I have too dearly bought 
With price of mangled mind thy worthless ware. 
Too long, too long ! asleep thou hast me brought, 
Who shouldst my mind to higher things prepare " ; 

and earlier in the sequence — 

" I now have learned love right, and learned even so 
As those that being poisoned poison know." 

In the last two sonnets, with crowning truth and 
pathos he renounces earthly love, which reaches but 
to dust, and Avhich because it fades brings but 
fading pleasure : 

" Then farewell, world ! Thy uttermost I see. 
Eternal love, maintain thy life in me." 

The sonnets were published after Sidney's death, 
and it is certain that like Shakespeare's they were 
never intended for publication at all. The point 
is important because it helps to vindicate Sidney's 
sincerity, but were any vindication needed another 
more certain might be found. The Arcadia is 
strewn with love songs and sonnets, the exercises 
solely of the literary imagination. Let anyone who 
wishes to gauge the sincerity of the impulse of the 
Stella sequence compare any of the poems in it 
with those in the romance. One thing they plainly 
show : had Sidney lived he would have done things 
which must have set him on a plane not inferior to 
that of Spenser himself, and he would have had 
his hand, one knows not to what great purpose, in 
the shaping of English poetry. When Zutphen cut 
short his career, nothing of Spenser had appeared 
save the Shepherd's Calendar ; Shakespeare was 



known only as the author of Vemts and Adonis 
the drama had not shouldered itself to the forefront 
of letters. Would Sidney have turned his hand to 
writing in an art which his class only patronized ? 

With Sidney literature was an avocation, con- 
stantly indulged in, but outside the main business 
of his life ; with Edmund Spenser public life and 
affairs were subservient to an overmastering poetic 
impulse. He did his best to carve out a career for 
himself like other young men of his time, followed 
the fortunes of the Earl of Leicester, sought 
desperately and unavailingly the favour of the 
Queen, and ultimately accepted a place in her 
service in Ireland, which meant banishment as 
virtually as a place in India would to-day. Hence- 
forward his visits to London and the Court were 
few ; sometimes a lover of travel would visit him 
in his house in Ireland as Raleigh did, but for the 
most he was left alone. It was in this atmosphere 
of loneliness and separation, hostile tribes pinning 
him in on every side, murder lurking in the woods 
and marshes round him, that he composed his 
greatest work. In it at last he died, on the heels 
of a sudden rising in which his house was burnt 
and his lands overrun by the wild Irish whom the 
tyranny of the English planters had driven to 
vengeance. Spenser was not without interest in 
liis public duties ; his f^iew of the State of Ireland 
shows that. But it shows, too, that he brought to 
them singularly little sympathy or imagination. 


Throughout his tone is that of an unimaginative 
kind of Enghsh officialdom ; rigid subjection and 
in the last resort massacre are the remedies he would 
apply to Irish discontent. He would be a fine 
text — which might perhaps be enforced by modern 
examples — for a discourse on the evil effects of 
immersion in the government of a subject race 
upon men of letters. No man of action perhaps 
can be so consistently and cynically an advocate of 
tyranny as your man of letters. Spenser, of course, 
had his excuses ; the problem of Ireland was new 
and it was something remote and difficult ; in all 
but the mere distance for travel, Dublin was as far 
from London as Bombay is to-day. But to him 
and his like we must lay down partly the fact that 
to-day we have still an Irish problem. 

But though fate and the necessity of a livelihood 
drove him to Ireland and the life of a colonist, 
poetry was his main business. He had been the 
centre of a brilliant set at Cambridge, one of those 
coteries whose fame, if they are brilliant and 
vivacious enough and have enough self-confidence, 
penetrates to the outer world before they leave 
the University. The thing happens in our own 
day, as the case of Oscar Wilde is witness ; it 
happened in the case of Spenser ; and when he and 
his friends Gabriel Harvey and Edward Kirke 
came " down " it was to immediate fame amongst 
amateurs of the arts. They corresponded with 
each other about literary matters, and Harvey 


published his part of the correspondence ; they 
played, like Du Bellay in France, with the idea of 
writing English verse in the quantitative measures 
of classical poetry ; Spenser had a love affair in 
Yorkshire and wrote poetry about it, letting just 
enough be known to stimulate the imagination of 
the public. They tried their hands at everything, 
imitated everything, and in all were brilliant, 
sparkling, and decorative ; they got a kind of 
entrance to the circle of the Court. Then Spenser 
published his Shepherd's Calendar, a series of 
pastoral eclogues for every month of the year, 
after a manner taken from French and Italian 
pastoral writers, but coming ultimately from 
Vergil, and Edward Kirke furnished it with an 
elaborate prose commentary. Spenser took the 
same liberties with the pastoral form as did Vergil 
himself; that is to say, he used it as a vehicle for 
satire and allegory, made it carry political and 
social allusions, and planted in it references to his 
friends. By its publication Spenser became the 
first poet of the day. It was followed by some of 
his finest and most beautiful things — by the 
Platonic hymns, by the Avioretti, a series of 
sonnets inspired by his love for his wife; by the 
Epithalamiuvi, on the occasion of his marriage to 
her ; by Mother Hubbard's Tale, a satire written 
when despair at the coldness of the Queen and the 
enmity of Burleigh was beginning to take hold on 
the poet, and endowed with a plainness and vigour 


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i Hi) »t t|U l iH>'""«mf *rt wHi > «tmniiinmiUiifu*tJm'!m|ijutM] ' iT 

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foreign to most of his other work ; and then by 
The Faerie Queen. 

The poets of the Renaissance were not afraid of 
big things ; every one of them had in his mind as 
the goal of poetic endeavour the idea of the heroic 
poem, aimed at doing for his own country what 
Vergil had intended to do for Rome in the jEneid, 
to celebrate it — its origin, its prowess, its greatness, 
and the causes of it — in epic verse. Milton, three- 
quarters of a century later, turned over in his mind 
the plan of an English epic on the wars of Arthur, 
and when he left it, it was only to forsake the sing- 
ing of English origins for the more ultimate theme 
of the origins of mankind. Spenser designed to 
celebrate the character, the qualities, and the 
training of the English gentleman. And because 
poetry, unlike philosophy, cannot deal with abstrac- 
tions but must be vivid and concrete, he was forced 
to embody his virtues and foes to virtue and to 
use the way of allegory. His outward plan, with 
its knights and dragons and desperate adventures, 
he procured from Ariosto. As for the use of 
allegory, it was one of the discoveries of the Middle 
Ages which the Renaissance condescended to 
retain. Spenser elaborated it beyond the wildest 
dreams of those students of Holy Writ who had 
first conceived it. His stories were to be interesting 
in themselves as tales of adventure, but within 
them they were to conceal an intricate treatment 
of the conflict of truth and falsehood in morals 


and religion. A character might typify at once 
Protestantism and England and Elizabeth and 
chastity and half the cardinal virtues, and it would 
have all the while the objective interest attaching 
to it as part of a story of adventure. All this must 
have made the poem difficult enough. Spenser's 
manner of writing it made it worse still. One is 
familiar with the type of novel which only explains 
itself when the last chapter is reached — Stevenson's 
Wreckei^ is an example. The Faerie Queen was 
designed on somewhat the same plan. The last 
section was to relate and explain the unrelated and 
unexplained books which made up the poem, and 
at the court to which the separate knights of the 
separate books — the Red Cross Knight and the 
rest — were to bring the fruit of their adventures, 
everything was to be made clear. Spenser did not 
live to finish his work ; llie Faerie Queen, like the 
jFneid, is an uncompleted poem, and it is only 
from a prefatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh issued 
with the second published section that we know 
what the poem was intended to be. Had Spenser 
not published this explanation, it is impossible that 
anybody, even the acutest-minded German pro- 
fessor, could have guessed. 

The poem, as we have seen, was composed in 
Ireland, in the solitude of a colonist's plantation, 
and the author was shut off from his fellows while 
he wrote. The influence of his surroundings is 
visible in the writing. The elaboration of the 


theme would have been impossible, or at least 
very unlikely, if its author had not been thrown in 
on himself during its composition. Its intricacy 
and involution is the product of an over-concentra- 
tion born of empty surroundings. It lacks vigour 
and rapidity ; it winds itself into itself. The 
influence of Ireland, too, is visible in its landscapes, 
in its description of bogs and desolation, of dark 
forests in which lurk savages ready to spring out 
on those who are rash enough to wander within 
their confines. All the scenery in it which is not 
imaginary is Irish and not English scenery. But 
the imaginary scenery comes straight out of the 
land of pure poetry. 

Its reception in England and at the Court was 
enthusiastic. Men and women read it eagerly and 
longed for the next section as our grandfathers 
longed for the next section of Pickwick. They 
really liked it, really loved the intricacy and luxuri- 
ousness of it, the heavy exotic language, the thickly 
painted descriptions, the languorous melody of the 
verse. Mainly, perhaps, that was so because they 
were all either in wish or in deed poets themselves. 
Spenser has always been " the poet's poet." Some 
of them stole from him and were never caught in 
the stealing. One remembers what came from the 
following stanza in the second book of The Faerie 
Queen : — 

" So passeth, in the passing of a day 
Of mortal life, the leaf, the bud, the flower ; 


No more doth flourish after first decay, 

That erst was sought to deck both bed and bower 

Of many a lady, and many a paramour. 

Gather, therefore, the Rose whilst yet is prime. 

For soon comes age that will her pride deflower ; 

Gather the Rose of love whilst yet is time. 

Whilst loving thou mayst loved be with equal crime." 

Milton loved him ; so did Dryden, who said that 
Milton confessed to him that Spenser was "his 
original," a statement which has been pronounced 
incredible, but is, in truth, perfectly comprehensible, 
and most likely true. Pope admired him, and was 
scornful when Addison hinted dispraise. Keats 
learned from him the best part of his music. You 
can trace echoes of him in Mr Yeats. What is it 
that gives him this hold on his peers ? Well, in 
the first place his defects do not detract from his 
purely poetic qualities. The story is impossibly 
told, but that will only worry those who are 
looking for a story. The allegory is hopelessly 
difficult ; but as Hazlitt said, " the allegory will 
not bite you " ; you can let it alone. The crude- 
ness and bigotry of Spenser's dealings with 
Catholicism, which are ridiculous when he pictures 
the monster Error vomiting books and pamphlets, 
and disgusting when he draws Mary Queen of 
Scots, do not hinder the pleasure of those who 
read him for his language and his art. He is great 
for other reasons than these. First because of the 
extraordinary smoothness and melody of his verse 
and the richness of his language — a golden diction 


that he drew from every source — new words, old 
words, obsolete words — such a mixture that the 
purist Ben Jonson remarked acidly that he wrote 
no language at all. Secondly because of the pro- 
fusion of his imagery, and the extraordinarily keen 
sense for beauty and sweetness that went to its 
making. In an age of golden language and gallant 
imagery his was the most golden and the most 
gallant. And the language of poetry in England 
is richer and more varied than that in any other 
country in Europe to-day, because of what he did. 

Elizabethan prose brings us face to face with a 
difficulty which has to be met by every student of 
literature. Does the word "literature" cover every 
kind of writing ? Ought we to include in it writ- 
ing that aims merely at instruction or is merely 
journey-work, as well as writing that has an artistic 
intention, or writing that, whether its author knew 
it or no, is artistic in its result ? Of course such a 
question causes us no sort of difficulty when it 
concerns itself only with what is being published 
to-day. We know very well that some things are 
literature and some merely journalism ; that of 
novels, for instance, some deliberately intend to be 
works of art and others only to meet a passing 
desire for amusement or mental occupation. We 
know that most books serve or attempt to serve 
only a useful and not a literary purpose. But in 


reading the books of three centuries ago, uncon- 
sciously one's point of view shifts. Antiquity- 
gilds journey-work ; remoteness and quaintness of 
phrasing lend a kind of distinction to what are 
simply pamphlets or text-books that have been 
preserved by accident from the ephemeralness 
which was the common lot of hundreds of their 
fellows. One comes to regard as literature things 
that had no kind of literary value for their first 
audiences ; to apply the same seriousness of judg- 
ment and the same tests to the pamphlets of Nash 
and Dekker as to the prose of Sidney and Bacon. 
One loses, in fact, that power to distinguish the 
important from the trivial which is one of the 
functions of a sound literary taste. Now, a study 
of the minor writing of the past is, of course, 
well worth a reader's pains. Pamphlets, chronicle 
histories, text-books and the like have an historical 
importance ; they give us glimpses of the manners 
and habits and modes of thought of the day. They 
tell us more about the outward show of life than 
do the greater books. If you are interested in 
social history, they are the very thing. But the 
student of literature ought to beware of them, nor 
ought he to touch them till he is familiar with the 
big and lasting things. A man does not possess 
English literature if he knows what Dekker tells of 
The Seven Deadly Sins ofLondoii and does not know 
The Faei'ie Queen. Though the wide and curious 
interest of the Romantic critics of the nineteenth 


century found and illumined the byways of Eliza- 
bethan writing, the safest method of approach is 
the method of their predecessors — to keep hold on 
common sense, to look at literature, not historically 
as through the wrong end of a telescope, but closely 
and without a sense of intervening time, to know 
the best — the " classic " — and study it before the 
minor things. 

In Elizabeth's reign, prose became for the first 
time, with cheapened printing, the common vehicle 
of amusement and information, and the books that 
remain to us cover many departments of writing. 
There are the pamphleteers, of whom Nash is the 
ablest, the most productive and the most brilliant. 
There are the historians who set down for us for 
the first time what they knew of the earlier history 
of England, Holinshed, Hall and the rest. There 
are the writers, like Harrison and Stubbs, who 
described the England of their own day. There 
are the novelists who translated stories mainly from 
Italian sources, like Painter and Fenton and Lodge. 
Finally, there are the narratives of those voyages 
which gave the age its essential romantic back- 
ground and the air from which infuses its whole 
literature, set forth by the voyagers themselves. 
The two great collections of these, Hakluyt's and 
Purchas's, were among the most popular books of 
the time. To them indeed we must look for the 
first beginnings of our modern English prose and 
some of its finest passages. The writers, as often 


as not, were otherwise utterly unknown : ships' 
pursers, supercargoes, and the like ; men without 
any special literary craft or training, whose style 
is great largely because of the greatness of their 
subject and because they had no rhetorical artifices 
to stand between them and the plain and direct 
telling of a stirring tale. The influence of their 
writing not only helped English prose towards the 
gravity and simplicity which it attained in the 
seventeenth century ; it gave a basis for a large 
part of the philosophical literature which is so char- 
acteristic a product of Jacobean England. On the 
reports brought home by these voyagers and printed 
in their narratives were founded in part those 
conceptions of the conditions of the " natural man " 
which took such a prominent place in the work of 
Hobbes and Locke. Hobbes' description of the 
life of nature as " nasty, solitary, brutish and short," 
and Locke's theories of civil government, and 
abroad, the work of Montesquieu and Rousseau, 
all took as the basis of their theories the observa- 
tions of the men of travel. Locke himself is the 
best example of the closeness of this alliance. He 
was a diligent student of the text of the voyagers, 
and himself edited out of Purchas the best collec- 
tion of them current in his day. 

All these people wrote without knowing that 
they wrote well. Of authors as conscious of a 
literary intention as the poets were, there are only 
two, Sidney and Lyly ; and of authors who, though 


their first aim was hardly an artistic one, achieved 
an artistic result, only Bacon, Hooker, and the 
translators of the Bible. The Authorized Version 
of the Bible, and most of the work of Bacon, belong 
strictly not to the reign of Elizabeth but to that of 
James, and we shall have to look at it when we 
come to discuss the seventeenth century. Hooker, 
in his book on Ecclesiastical Polity (an endeavour 
to set forth the grounds of orthodox Anglicanism), 
employed a fine moderation which has permanently 
influenced the study of the subject, and a generous, 
flowing, melodious style which has attracted many 
writers since and is familiar to us to-day in the 
effect of it on Ruskin in his earlier works. Lyly 
and Sidney are worth looking at more closely. 

The age was intoxicated with language. It went 
mad of a mere delight in words. Its writers were 
using a new tongue, for English was enriched 
beyond all recognition with borrowings from the 
ancient authors ; and like all artists who become 
possessed of a new medium, they used it to excess. 
Rhetoric was the main subject of instruction in the 
schools. It was the habit of the rhetoricians to 
choose some subject for declamation and to encour- 
age their pupils to set round it embellishments and 
decorations, which cared rather less for enforcing 
an argument than for the mere delight of language 
for language' sake. The early Ehzabethans' use of 
the new prose was very like the use that educated 
Indians make of English to-day. It is not that 


these write it incorrectly, but only that they write 
too richly. And just as fuller use and knowledge 
teaches them spareness and economy and gives 
their writing simplicity and vigour, so seventeenth- 
century practice taught Englishmen to write a 
more direct and undecorated style and gave us the 
smooth, simple, and vigorous writing of Dryden — 
the first really modern English prose. But the 
Elizabethans loved gaudier methods ; they liked 
highly decorative modes of expression, in prose no 
less than in verse. The first author to give them 
these things was John Lyly, whose book Euphues 
(1579-80) was for the ten or so years following its 
publication a fashionable craze that infected all 
society and gave its name to a peculiar and highly 
artificial style of writing that coloured the work 
of hosts of obscure and forgotten followers. Lyly 
wrote other things ; his comedies may have taught 
Shakespeare the trick of Loves Labours Lost ; he 
attempted a sequel of his most famous work with 
better success than commonly attends sequels ; but 
for us and for his own generation he is the author 
of one book. Everybody read it, everybody copied 
it. The maxims and sentences of advice for 
gentlemen which it contained were quoted and 
admired in the Court, where the author, though he 
never attained the lucrative position he hoped for, 
did what flattery could do to make a name for 
himself. The name " Euphuism " became a current 
description of an artificial way of using words that 


overflowed out of writing into speech and was in 
the mouths, while the vogue lasted, of everybody 
who was anybody in the circle that fluttered round 
the Queen. 

The style of Eiiphues was parodied by Shake- 
speare, and many attempts have been made to 
imitate it since. Most of them are inaccurate — 
Sir Walter Scott's wild attempt the most inaccurate 
of all. They fail because their authors have 
imagined that " Euphuism " is simply a highly 
artificial and " flowery " way of talking. As a 
matter of fact it is directly based on the precepts 
of the handbooks on rhetoric current in the schools ; 
Lyly only elaborated and made more precise tricks 
of phrase and writing which had been the exercises 
of his youth. Its fantastic delight in exuberance 
of figure and sound owes its inspiration in its form 
ultimately to Cicero, and in the decorations with 
which it is embellished to the elder Pliny and later 
writers of his kind. As is proper in what sprang 
from an educational exercise, it is made up of a very 
exact and definite series of parts. The writing is 
done on a plan which has three main characteristics, 
as follows. First, the structure of the sentence is 
based on antithesis and alliteration ; that is to say, 
it falls into equal parts similar in sound but with a 
different sense ; for example, Euphues is described 
as a young gallant " of more wit than wealth, yet 
of more wealth than wisdom." All the characters 

in the book, which is roughly in the form of a 



novel, speak in this way, sometimes in sentences 
long drawn out which are oppressively mono- 
tonous and tedious, and sometimes shortly with 
a certain approach to epigram. The second char- 
acteristic of the style is the reference of every 
stated fact to some classical authority ; that is to 
say, the author cannot mention friendship without 
quoting David and Jonathan, nor can lovers in 
his book accuse each other of faithlessness without 
quoting the instance of Cressida or iEneas. This 
appeal to classical authority and wealth of classical 
allusion is used to decorate pages which deal with 
matters of everyday experience. Seneca, for in- 
stance, is quoted as reporting "that too much 
bending breaketh the bow," a fact which might 
reasonably have been supposed to be known to 
the author himself. This particular form of 
writing perhaps influenced those who copied Lyly 
more than anything else in his book. It is a fashion 
of the more artificial kind of Elizabethan writing 
in all schools to employ a wealth of classical 
allusion. Even the simple narratives in Hakluyfs 
Voyages are not free from it, and one may hardly 
hope to read an account of a voyage to the Indies 
without stumbling on a prehminary reference 
to the opinions of Aristotle and Plato. Lastly, 
Euphues is characterized by an extraordinary 
wealth of allusion to natural history, mostly of a 
fabulous kind. " I have read that the bull being 
tied to the fig tree loseth his tail ; that the whole 


herd of deer stand at gaze if they smell a sweet 
apple ; that the dolphm after the sound of music 
is brought to the shore," and so on. His book is 
full of these things, and the style weakens and 
loses its force because of them. 

Of course there is much more in his book than 
this outward decoration. He wrote with the 
avowed purpose of instructing courtiers and gentle- 
men how to live. Euphues is full of grave reflec- 
tions and weighty morals, and is indeed a collection 
of essays on education, on friendship, on rehgion 
and philosophy, and on the favourite occupation 
and curriculum of Elizabethan youth — foreign 
travel. The fashions and customs of his country- 
men which he condemns in the course of his teaching 
are the same as those inveighed against by Stubbs 
and other contemporaries. He disliked manners 
and fashions copied from Italy ; particularly he 
disliked the extravagant fashions of women. One 
woman only escapes his censure, and she, of course, 
is the Queen, whom Euphues and his companion 
in the book come to England to see. In the main, 
the teaching of Euphues inculcates a humane and 
liberal, if not very profound creed, and the book 
shares with The Faerie Queen the honour of the 
earlier Puritanism — the Puritanism that besides the 
New Testament had the Republic. 

But Euphues, though he was in his time the 
popular idol, was not long in finding a successful 
rival. Seven years before his death Sir Philip 


Sidney, in a period of retirement from the Court, 

wrote The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia ; it 

was published ten years after it had been composed, 

and when it came it ousted its rival at a blow. 

Euphuism was killed ; it was the common praise 

of Sidney that he had assisted at its death, and 

Drayton compliments him as the author who 

" Did first reduce 
Our tongue from Lyly''s writing, then in use ; 
Talking of stones, stars, plants, of fishes, flies, 
Playing with words and idle similies. 
As the English apes and very zanies be 
Of everything that they do hear and see." 

The Arcadia is the first English example of the 
prose pastoral romance, as the Shepherd's Calendar 
is of our pastoral verse. Imitative essays in its style 
kept appearing for two hundred years after it, till 
Wordsworth and other poets who knew the country 
drove its unrealities out of literature. The aim of 
it and of the school to which it belonged abroad 
was to find a setting for a story which should leave 
the author perfectly free to plant in it any improba- 
bility he liked, and to do what he liked with the 
relations of his characters. In the shade of beech 
trees, the coils of elaborated and intricate love- 
making wind and unravel themselves through an 
endless afternoon. In that art nothing is too far- 
fetched, nothing too sentimental, no sorrow too 
unreal. The pastoral romance was used, too, to 
cover other things besides a sentimental and 
decorative treatment of love. Authors wrapped 


up as shepherds their political friends and enemies, 
and the pastoral eclogues in verse which Spenser 
and others composed are full of personal and 
political allusion. Sidney's story carries no politics, 
and he depends for its interest solely on the wealth 
of differing episodes and the stories and arguments 
of love which it contains. The story would furnish 
plot enough for twenty ordinary novels, but prob- 
ably those who read it when it was published were 
attracted by other things than the march of its 
incidents. Certainly no one could read it for the 
plot now. Its attraction is mainly one of style. 
It goes, you feel, one degree beyond Euphues in 
the direction of freedom and poetry. And just 
because of this greater freedom, its characteristics 
are much less easy to fix than those of EupJmes. 
Perhaps its chief quality is best described as that 
of exhaustiveness. Sidney will take a word and 
toss it to and fro in a page till its meaning is sucked 
dry and more than sucked dry. On page after 
page the same trick is employed, often in some 
new and charming way, but with the inevitable 
effect of wearying the reader, who tries to do the 
unwisest of all things with a book of this kind — to 
read on. This trick of bandying words is, of course, 
common in Shakespeare. Other marks of Sidney's 
style belong similarly to poetry rather than to 
prose. Chief of them is what Ruskin christened the 
" pathetic fallacy " — the assumption (not common 
in his day) which connects the appearance of nature 


with the moods of the artist who looks at it, or 

demands such a connection. In its day, as we have 

seen, the Arcadia was hailed as a reformation by 

men nauseated by the rhythmical pattens of Lyly. 

A modern reader finds himself confronting it in 

something of the spirit that he would confront the 

prose romances, say, of William Morris, finding it 

charming as a poet's essay in prose, but no more : 

not to be ranked with the highest. 

Yet Sidney when he liked could write clear and 

nervous prose, direct and definite as a soldier's 

despatches. His Apology for Poet7^y is full of 

noble things ; he never, he said, " heard the old song 

of Percy and Douglas but he found his heart 

stirred as with the sound of a trumpet." He is the 

author of those splendid concentrations of moral 

wisdom—" then will be the time to die nobly when 

you cannot live nobly," and " there is nothing more 

terrible to a guilty heart than the eye of a respected 

friend." Finally, read his letter to his father's 

secretary, one of the most forthright documents in 

English prose : — 

" Mr Molyneux. Few words are best. My letters to my 
father have come to the eyes of some. Neither can I condemn 
any but you for it. If it be so, you have played the very 
knave with me ; and so I will make you know if I have good 
proof of it. But that for so much as is past. For that is to 
come, I assure you before God, that if ever I know you do 
so much as read any letter I write to my father without his 
commandment, or my consent, I will thrust my dagger into 
you. And trust to it, for I speak it in earnest. In the 
meantime, farewell.'" 




Men of science say that the family of mixed 
ancestry — the product of more than one nationahty 
— is more fertile than one descended from a single 
ancestral stock ; perhaps the analogy is not too 
fanciful as the starting - point of a study of 
Elizabethan drama, which owed its strength and 
vitality, more than to anything else, to the variety 
of the discordant and contradictory elements of 
which it was made up. The drama was the form 
into which were moulded the thoughts and desires 
of the best spirits of the time. It was the flower 
of the age. To appreciate its many-sided signifi- 
cances and achievements it is necessary carefully to 
disentangle its roots, in religion, in the revival of 
the classics, in popular entertainments, in imports 
from abroad, in the air of enterprise and adventure 
which belonged to the time. 

As in Greece, drama in England was in its 
beginning a religious thing. Its oldest continuous 
tradition was from the mediaeval Church. Early 
in the Middle Ages the clergy and their parishioners 
began the habit, at Christmas, Easter, and other 



holy days, of playing some part of the story of 
Christ's life suitable to the festival of the day. 
These plays were liturgical, and originally, no 
doubt, overshadowed by a choral element. But 
gradually the inherent human capacity for mimicry 
and drama took the upper hand ; from ceremonies 
they developed into performances ; they passed 
from the stage in the church porch to the stage in 
the street. A waggon, the natural human plat- 
form for mimicry or oratory, became in England, 
as it was in Greece, the cradle of the drama. This 
momentous change in the history of the miracle 
play, which made it in all but its occasion and its 
subject a secular thing, took place about the end 
of the twelfth century. The rise of the town 
guilds gave the plays a new character ; the friendly 
rivalry of leagued craftsmen elaborated their pro- 
duction ; and at length elaborate cycles were 
founded which were performed at Whitsuntide, 
beginning at sunrise and lasting all through the 
day right on to dusk. Each town had its own 
cycle, and of these the cycles of York, Wakefield, 
Chester, and Coventry still remain. So, too, does 
an eye-witness's account of a Chester performance, 
where the plays took place yearly on three days, 
beginning with W^hit Monday. " The manner of 
these plays were, every company had his pageant 
or part, a high scaffold with two rooms, a higher 
and a lower, upon four wheels. In the lower they 
apparelled themselves and in the higher room they 


played, being all open on the top that all beholders 

might hear and see them. They began first at the 

abbey gates, and when the first pageant was played, 

it was wheeled to the high cross before the mayor 

and so to every street. So every street had a 

pageant playing upon it at one time, till all the 

pageants for the day appointed were played." 

The " companies " were the town guilds, and the 

several " pageants " different scenes in Old or New 

Testament story. As far as was possible, each 

company took for its pageant some Bible story 

fitting to its trade ; in York the goldsmiths played 

the three Kings of the East bringing precious gifts, 

the fishmongers the flood, and the shipwrights the 

building of Noah's ark. The tone of these plays 

was not reverent ; reverence after all may imply 

near at hand its opposite in unbelief. But they 

were realistic and they contained within them the 

seeds of later drama in the aptitude with which 

they grafted into the sacred story pastoral and city 

manners taken straight from life. The shepherds 

who watched by night at Bethlehem were real 

English shepherds furnished with boisterous and 

realistic comic relief Noah was a real shipwright. 

" It shall be clinched each ilk and deal. 
With nails that are both noble and new 
Thus shall I fix it to the keel, 
Take here a rivet and there a screw, 
With there bow there now, work I well, 
This work, I warrant, both good and true."" 

Cain and Abel were English farmers just as 


truly as Bottom and his fellows were English 
craftsmen. But then Julius Caesar has a doublet, 
and in Dutch pictures the apostles wear broad- 
brimmed hats. Squeamishness about historical 
accuracy is of a later date, and when it came we 
gained in correctness less than we lost in art. 

The miracle plays, then, are the oldest antecedent 
of Elizabethan drama, but it must not be sup- 
posed they were over and done with before the 
great age began. The description of the Chester 
performances, part of which has been quoted, was 
written in 1594. Shakespeare must, one would 
think, have seen the Coventry cycle ; at any rate 
he was familiar, as everyone of the time must 
have been, with the performances ; " Out-heroding 
Herod " bears witness to that. One must conceive 
the development of the Elizabethan age as some- 
thing so rapid in its accessibility to new impressions 
and new manners and learning and modes of 
thought, that for years the old and new subsisted 
side by side. Think of modern Japan, a welter of 
old faiths and crafts and ideals and inrushing 
Western civilization all mixed up and side by side 
in the strangest contrasts, and you will understand 
what it was. The miracle plays stayed on beside 
Marlowe and Shakespeare till Puritanism frowned 
upon them. But when the end came it came 
quickly. The last recorded performance took 
place in London when King James entertained 
Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador. And perhaps 


we should regard that as a " command " perform- 
ance, reviving, as command performances commonly 
do, something dead for a generation — in this case, 
perhaps out of compliment to the faith and inclina- 
tion of a distinguished guest. 

Next in order of development after the miracle 
or mystery plays, though contemporary in their 
popularity, came what were called " moralities " or 
" moral interludes " — pieces designed to enforce a 
religious or ethical lesson and perhaps to get back 
into drama something of the edification which 
realism had ousted from the miracles. They dealt 
in allegorical and figurative personages, expounded 
wise saws and moral lessons, and squared rather 
with the careful self-concern of the newly estab- 
lished Protestantism than with the frank and joyous 
zest in life which was more characteristic of the 
time. Everyman^ the oftenest revived and best 
known of them, if not the best, is very typical of 
the class. They had their influences, less profound 
than that of the miracles, on the real drama. It 
is said the " Vice " — unregeneracy commonly de- 
generated into comic relief— is the ancestor of the 
fool in Shakespeare, but more likely both are 
successive creations of a dynasty of actors who 
practised the unchanging and immemorial art of 
the clown. The general structure of Everyman 
and some of its fellows, heightened and made more 
dramatic, gave us Marlowe's Faustus. There per- 
haps the influence ends. 


The rise of a professional class of actors brought 
one step nearer the full growth of drama. Com- 
panies of strolling players formed themselves and 
passed from town to town, seeking, like the in- 
dustrious amateurs of the guilds, civic patronage, 
and performing in town-halls, market-place booths, 
or inn-yards, whichever served them best. The 
structure of the Elizabethan inn-yard (you may see 
some survivals still) was very favourable for their 
purpose. The galleries round it made seats like our 
boxes and circle for the more privileged spectators ; 
in the centre on the floor of the yard stood the 
crowd, or sat, if they had stools with them. The 
stage was a platform set on this floor space with its 
back against one side of the yard, where perhaps 
one of the inn-rooms served as a dressing-room. 
So suitable was this " fit-up," as actors call it, that 
when theatres came to be built in London they 
were built on the inn-yard pattern. All the play- 
houses of the Bankside, from the " Curtain " to the 
" Globe," were square or circular places with 
galleries rising above one another three parts 
round, a floor space of beaten earth open to the 
sky in the middle, and jutting out on to it a 
platform stage with a tiring room capped by a 
gallery behind it. 

The entertainment given by these companies of 
players (who usually got the patronage and took 
the title of some lord) was various. They played 
moralities and interludes, they played formless 


chronicle history plays like the Troublesome Reign 
of King John, on which Shakespeare worked for 
his King John ; but above and before all they were 
each a company of specialists, every one of whom 
had his own talent and performance for which he 
was admired. The Elizabethan stage was the 
ancestor of our music-hall, and to the modern 
music-hall rather than to the theatre it bears its 
affinity. If you wish to realize the aspect of the 
Globe or the Blackfriars, it is to a lower class 
music-hall you must go. The quality of the 
audience is a point of agreement. The Globe was 
frequented by young " bloods " and by the more 
disreputable portions of the community, racing 
men (or their equivalents of that day), " coney 
catchers " and the like ; commonly the only women 
present were women of the town. The similarity 
extends from the auditorium to the stage. The 
Elizabethan playgoer delighted in virtuosity ; in 
exhibitions of strength or skill from his actors ; the 
broadsword combat in Macbeth, and the wrestling 
in As You Like It, were real trials of skill. The 
bear in the Winter s Tale was no doubt a real bear 
got from a bear-pit, near by in the Bankside. The 
comic actors especially were the very grandfathers 
of our music-hall stars ; Tarleton and Kemp and 
Cowley, the chief of them, were as much popular 
favourites and esteemed as separate from the plays 
they played in as any of the artists who play in 
music-hall or pantomime in our own day. Their 


songs and tunes were printed and sold in hundreds 
as broadsheets, just as pirated music-hall songs are 
sold to-day. This is to be noted, because it explains 
a great deal in the subsequent evolution of the 
drama. It explains the delight of having every- 
thing represented actually on the stage, all murders, 
battles, duels. It explains the magnificent largesse 
given by Shakespeare to the professional fool. 
Work had to be found for him, and Shakespeare, 
whose difficulties were stepping-stones to his 
triumphs, gave him Touchstone and Feste, the 
Porter in Macbeth and the Fool in Lear. Others 
put lines and songs in for him without caring 
whether they were incongruous with the action. A 
play like John Hey wood's Rape of Lucrece, in 
which low comedy dialogue and catches are inter- 
mingled with the tragic action, and further songs 
too completely at variance with it printed by the 
author, when he published his play, in an appendix, 
is astonishing to the modern reader who takes 
his notion of Elizabethan Roman tragedy from 
Julius Ccesa?^ or Sejaiius. Others met the problem 
in an attitude of frank despair. Not all great 
tragic writers can easily or gracefully wield the 
pen of comedy, and JNIarlowe in Dr Faustus took 
the course of leaving the low comedy which the 
audience loved and a high-salaried actor demanded, 
to an inferior collaborator. 

Alongside this drama of street platforms and 
inn-yards and public theatres, there grew another 


which, blending with it, produced the Elizabethan 

drama which we know. The public theatres were 

not the only places at which plays were produced. 

At the University, at the Inns of Court (which 

then more than now were besides centres of study 

rather exclusive and expensive clubs), and at the 

Court they were an important part of almost every 

festival. At these places were produced academic 

compositions, either allegorical like the masques, 

copies of which we find in Shakespeare and by 

Ben Jonson, or comedies modelled on Plautus or 

Terence, or tragedies modelled on Seneca. The 

last were incomparably the most important. The 

Elizabethan age, which always thought of literature 

as a guide or handmaid to life, was naturally 

attracted to a poet who dealt in maxims and 

" sentences " ; his rhetoric appealed to men for 

whom words and great passages of verse were an 

intoxication that only a few to-day can understand 

or sympathize with ; his bloodthirstiness and gloom 

to an age so full-blooded as not to shrink from 

horrors. Tragedies early began to be written on 

the strictly Senecan model, and generally, like 

Seneca's, with some ulterior intention. Sackville's 

Gorboduc, the first tragedy in English, produced 

at a great festival at the Inner Temple, aimed at 

inducing Elizabeth to marry and save the miseries 

of a disputed succession. To be put to such a use 

argues the importance and dignity of this classical 

tragedy of the learned societies and the Court. 


None of the pieces composed in this style were 
written for the popular theatre, and indeed they 
could not have been a success on it. The Eliza- 
bethan audience, as we have seen, loved action, 
and in these Senecan tragedies the action took place 
" off." But they had a strong and abiding influence 
on the popular stage ; they gave it its ghosts, its 
supernatural warnings, its conception of nemesis 
and revenge, they gave it its love of introspection 
and the long passages in which introspection, de- 
scription or reflection, either in soliloquy or dialogue, 
holds up the action ; contradictorily enough they 
gave it something at least of its melodrama. 
Perhaps they helped to enforce the lesson of the 
miracle plays that a dramatist's proper business was 
elaboration rather than invention. None of the 
Elizabethan dramatists except Ben Jonson habitu- 
ally constructed their own plots. Their method 
was to take something ready at their hands and 
overlay it with realism or poetry or romance. The 
stories of their plays, like that of Hamlet's Mouse- 
trap, were " extant and writ in choice Italian," and 
very often their methods of preparation were very 
like his. 

It is time now to turn to the dramatists them- 


Of Marlowe, Kyd, Greene, and Peele, the 
" University Wits " who fused the academic and 
the popular drama, and, by giving the latter a sense 


of literature and learning to mould it to finer issues, 
gave us Shakespeare, only Marlowe is of consider- 
able literary importance. Greene and Peele, the 
former by his comedies, the latter by his historical 
plays, and Kyd by his tragedies, have their places 
in the text-books, but they belong to a secondary 
order of dramatic talent. Greene's plays, indeed, 
of which only five remain to us, are by no means 
his best work. He is most charming in his novels 
and in the songs and love lyrics interspersed in 
them. One of these — Pandosto, the Triumph of 
Time — seems to have given Shakespeare the plot of 
the Winter s Tale. Of his plays all but one are 
comedies, but they give no hint of the profligacy 
of life which he has himself so fully unfolded to us 
in his autobiographical pamphlets, and which made 
him a byword even in the full-blooded age in which 
he lived. Their chief merit, perhaps, lies in the 
beauty of language and imagery which they dis- 
close from time to time in their uneven pages — a 
beauty drawn directly from a study of the classical 
poets, chiefly Ovid, whom Greene's university 
training enabled him, no doubt, to read in the 
original. Of Peele's six plays, the two chronicle 
histories were the most popular, and they had the 
deepest influence on the drama of the succeeding 
generation. As was natural in a writer working 
for the new popular theatre and depending on 
popular success, hatred of Spain and " no Popery " 

are the mainsprings of their plots. Elinor, the 



wife of Edward I., is a Spanish princess and a 
monster of lust and pride, and Stukely, the hero 
of the Battle of Alcazai-, is a renegade Enghshman 
commissioned by the Pope to raise a rebeUion in 
Ireland. With Kyd we come to more serious 
matter. We have seen how the drama modelled 
on Seneca had attained in the Inns of Court and at 
the Universities an academic and literary eminence ; 
in the popular theatres, on the other hand, though 
there was, by the time of Greene and Peele, a 
vigorous comic tradition, there was as yet no tragic 
school. By transferring the Senecan drama to the 
London stage, by seizing hold of its essential faculty 
which was the gift of arousing and sustaining horror 
and excitement, and by altering its method so that 
the action, instead of being reported by spectators 
and messengers, was directly represented, and the 
plot, instead of being concerned with classic myth 
or tradition, took love or political intrigue for its 
theme, Kyd gave English tragedy the impulse 
which has given us not only Titus Andronicus, but 
Hamlet, the Duchess of Malfi, The Ccnci, and for 
the matter of that every popular melodrama since. 
The Spanish Ty^agedy, which was the play by which 
these things were accomplished, has little character- 
interest ; individuality does not assert itself; it is, 
as it were, Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. 
But if it has none of the psychological study 
which makes Shakespeare's tragedies supreme, and 
in a less complete and subtle way gives interest to 


those of Middleton and Webster, it has the merit 
of continuous sensational interest — the interest of 
incident and action — which is the mark of melo- 
drama as a form of stage-craft. It has, too, a 
narrower technical interest. It established for the 
first time the device of the subordinate plot which 
Shakespeare worked with such effect in Hamlet and 
King Lear, and it is the origin of some of the most 
permanent pieces of stage " business " of Eliza- 
bethan tragedy — the use of dumb show (as in the 
fourth act of Macbeth at his last encounter with the 
witches), the device of a play within a play (as in 
Hamlet), the employment of madness and feigning 
madness, as in Hamlet and King Lear and many 
others. It is no wonder that the play passed into 
the minds not only of Kyd's fellow-authors, but of 
his audiences, and that a quotation from it or a 
line in parody was the surest and most successful 
appeal that the stage could make for years after- 
wards to the stalls. 

But Kyd, though his historical position makes 
him important, must take, on the general ground 
of literary merit, an inferior place. IVIarlowe ranks 
amongst the greatest. It is not merely that his- 
torically he is the head and fount of the whole 
movement, that he changed blank verse, which had 
been a lumbering instrument before him, into some- 
thing rich and ringing and rapid and made it the 
vehicle for the greatest English poetry after him. 
Historical relations apart, he is great in himself. 


More than any other EngUsh writer of any age, 
except Byron, he symboKzes the youth of his time : 
its hot-bloodedness, its lust after knowledge and 
power and life, inspire all his pages. The teaching 
of Machiavelli, misunderstood for their own purposes 
by would-be imitators, furnished the reign of 
Elizabeth with the only political ideals it possessed. 
The simple brutalism of the creed, with means 
justified by ends and the unbridled self-regarding 
pursuit of power, attracted men for whom the 
Spanish monarchy and the struggle to overthrow 
it were the main factors in politics. Marlowe 
took it and turned it to his own uses. There is in 
his writings a lust of power, " a hunger and thirst 
after unrighteousness," a glow of the imagination un- 
hallowed by anything but its own energy, which is 
in the spirit of the time. In Tamhurlaine it is the 
power of conquest, stirred by and reflecting the great 
deeds of his day. In Dr Faustus it is the pride 
of will and eagerness of curiosity. Both have their 
basis in the voyagers. " Without the voyagers," 
says Professor Walter Raleigh, " Marlowe is in- 
conceivable." His imagination in every one of his 
plays is preoccupied with the lust of adventure and 
the wealth and power adventure brings. Tamhur- 
laine, Eastern conqueror though he is, is at heart 
an Englishman of the school of Hawkins and 
Drake. Indeed, the comparison must have occurred 
to his own age, for an historian of the day, the 
antiquary Stow, declares Drake to have been " as 


famous in Europe and America as Tamburlaine 
was in Asia and Africa." The high-sounding 
names and quests which seem to us to give the 
play an air of unreaKty and romance were to the 
EUzabethans real and actual ; things as strange and 
foreign were to be heard any day amongst the 
motley crowd in the Bankside outside the theatre 
door. Tamburlaine's last speech when he calls 
for a map and points the way to unrealized con- 
quests is the very epitome of the age of discovery. 

" Lo here, my sons, are all the golden mines, 
Inestimable wares and precious stones, 
More worth than Asia and all the world beside ; 
And fi'om the Antarctic Pole eastward behold 
As much more land, which never was descried. 
Wherein are rocks of pearl that shine as bright 
As all the lamps that beautify the sky." 

It is the same in his other plays. Dr Faustus 
assigns to his serviceable spirits tasks that might 
have been studied from the books of Hakluyt. 

" 111 have them fly to India for gold, 
Ransack the ocean for orient pearl, 
And search all corners of the new round world 
For pleasant fruits and princely delicates." 

Faustus is devoured by a tormenting desire to 
enlarge his knowledge to the utmost bounds of 
nature and art and to extend his power with his 
knowledge. His is the spirit of Renaissance 
scholarship heightened to a passionate excess. 
The play gleams with the pride of learning and 
a knowledge which learning brings, and with the 


nemesis that comes after it. " Oh ! gentlemen ! 
hear me with patience and tremble not at my 
speeches. Though my heart pant and quiver to 
remember that I have been a student here these 
thirty years ; oh ! I would I had never seen 
Wittemberg, never read book ! " And after the 
agonizing struggle in which Faustus's soul is torn 
from him to hell, learning comes in at the quiet 


" Yet, for he was a scholar once admired, 
For wondrous knowledge in our German Schools, 

We'll give his mangled limbs due burial ; 
And all the students, clothed in mourning black 

Shall wait upon his heavy funeral." 

Some one character is a centre of overmastering 
pride and ambition in every play. In the Jew of 
Malta it is the hero Barabbas. In Edward II. it 
is Piers Gaveston. In Edivard II., indeed, two 
elements are mixed — the element of Machiavelli 
and Tamburlaine in Gaveston, and the purely tragic 
element, which evolves from within itself the style 
in which it shall be treated, in the King. " The 
reluctant pangs of abdicating Royalty," wrote 
Charles Lamb in a famous passage, "furnished 
hints which Shakespeare scarcely improved in his 
Richai'd II. ; and the death-scene of Marlowe's 
King moves pity and terror beyond any scene, 
ancient or modern, with which 1 am acquainted." 
Perhaps the play gives the hint of what Marlowe 
might have become had not the dagger of a groom 
in a tavern cut short at thirty his burning career. 


Even in that time of romance and daring specula- 
tion he went further than his fellows. He was 
said to have been tainted with atheism, to have 
denied God and the Trinity ; had he lived he might 
have had trouble with the Star Chamber. The 
free-voyaging intellect of the age found this one 
way of outlet ; but if literary evidences are to be 
trusted, sixteenth and seventeenth century atheism 
was a very crude business. The Atheist's Tragedy 
of Tourneur (a dramatist who need not otherwise 
detain us) gives some measure of its intelligence 
and depth. Says the villain to the heroine, 

" No ? Then invoke 
Your great supposed Protector. I will do't." 

to which she : 

" Supposed Protector ! Are you an atheist ?— then 
I know my fears and prayers are spent in vain." 

Marlowe's very faults and extravagances, and 
they are many, are only the obverse of his great- 
ness. Magnitude and splendour of language, when 
the thought is too shrunken to fill it out, becomes 
mere inflation. He was a butt of the parodists of 
the day. And Shakespeare, though he honoured 
him "on this side idolatry," did his share of ridicule. 
Ancient Pistol is fed and stuffed with relics and 
rags of Marlowesque affectation. 

" Holla ! ye pampered jades of Asia, 
Can ye not draw but twenty miles a day ? " 

is a quotation taken straight from Tamburlaine. 



Shakespeare refuses to be crushed within the 
limits of a general essay, and a detailed study of 
him cannot be attempted here. 

He was two months younger than Marlowe, 
and he survived him by more than twenty years. 
In the course of his life he raised the drama to a 
point of perfection unimagined by those who had 
gone before him, and made himself, not only the 
greatest poet and dramatist of the age, but the 
acknowledged master of written literature in any 
time or tongue. Unlike most of his contemporaries 
and successors, who were nearly all Londoners, 
and most of them men of university education, 
Shakespeare was a countryman born and had no 
more than a countryman's schooling. It is the 
fashion of those who would like to prove that his 
works were written by someone else to assert that 
we know little of his life, and that the little which 
we do know makes it incredible that the son 
of a butcher and wool merchant in Stratford- 
on-Avon should have written these plays. It is, 
on the contrary, the fact that we know more about 
his career than we do about that of any of his 
contemporary playwrights, that scarcely a year 
passes but that we add something to our know- 
ledge, and that what from the evidence of con- 
temporary authors and others of the century 
following, from records and documents, legal and 


otherwise, which have been preserved, and from the 
internal evidence which a laborious detective skill 
has gathered from the plays themselves, we have 
now a reasonably certain record of the course of his 
life, and can place in their proper order the things 
that he wrote. Of course, many points are still 
dark to us. We know of his parentage, his 
marriage, and his education, and the financial 
troubles of his father, which supply an adequate 
reason for his going to London to seek his fortune, 
but we do not know exactly how or when he went, 
and what he did when he first went there. What 
is certain is that in 1586 he was already a member 
of the company of players under the patronage of 
the Earl of Leicester, and that he continued with 
it until 1609, when he left for Stratford, by which 
time it was under the patronage of the king him- 
self. As an actor he does not seem to have been 
particularly remarkable, and the few parts that 
tradition or record has assigned to him are none 
of them leading ones. 

It is difficult to fix exactly the time at which his 
dramatic work began. Probably it was at or about 
the year 1590. At any rate, for twenty years after 
that date he produced an average of two plays a 
year, most of them entirely written by himself, 
but some of the earlier and later probably colla- 
borations with other men or adaptations from their 
work. Only sixteen of them were published in his 
Ufetime, and then clearly not at the dates at which 


they were written or produced. The others were 
not put in print until seven years after his death, in 
the foUo which is the main canon of his works, and 
they are there arranged, not according to chrono- 
logical order, but according to subject-matter. 
Laborious research has, however, made the order 
of them fairly certain, and the criterion by which the 
order has been decided is mainly that of the quality 
of the blank verse. We have seen earlier how this 
metre after its introduction developed in variety 
and freedom, and grew from a simple and rather 
monotonous series of uniformly accented lines into 
the most effective and various medium of poetic 
expression that our language possesses. Now the 
blank verse of Shakespeare, when the plays are set 
in their proper order, is, as it were, an epitome of 
the development of the metre from Surrey, who 
used it first, through Marlowe to Milton, who a 
quarter of a century after Shakespeare's death took 
it up again for high poetic uses. If we find, then, 
in the folio edition some plays in which blank verse 
is used in the way of Surrey and Marlowe, that is 
to say regularly following formal rules of accent 
and pause, and clearly marking off one line from 
another, and if we find in others that a varied 
pause and stress continually run the sense on from 
one line to another, and that even extra syllables 
are added which the strictest rules of prosody 
would not seem to admit, we are justified in assum- 
ing that the more formal and imitative style came 


first, and that the poet, when he increased his com- 
mand over his medium, began to use it in his own 
way, to find in it the possibihty of fresh dramatic 
expressiveness, and gradually to absolve himself 
from the formality of rule. Other signs of the 
same kind enforce the theory of chronology which 
was originally based on blank verse. Rhyme, which 
is frequent in the plays which are written with 
regularly built lines, is absent in the plays where 
the verse is used more freely, and we are justified 
in assuming that its disappearance is due to advanc- 
ing mastery of an art. Finally, when we find some 
plays that use continually fantastic images or puns 
and plays upon words, and others which are entirely 
free from these artifices, we feel justified in assum- 
ing that freedom means maturity and that the 
most fantastic are also the earliest works. All this 
internal evidence is, of course, eked out by ex- 
ternal help — contemporary references to plays, 
quotations from them, records of performances, 
and so forth, — and the result is the order of plays, 
lighter comedies, and chronicle histories first, graver 
comedies and an ascending scale of tragedies later, 
and then grave and peaceful romances at the close, 
which is familiar now to every reader and hardly 
disputed by any. 

Shakespeare, as all this implies, is superior to his 
contemporaries in his command over the medium 
of verse ; but that alone would not have sufficed to 
give him the pre-eminence which they and his 


successors have united in according him. The 
drama always comes very near the novel, and the 
Elizabethan drama is closer than any to the methods 
which novelists use. It is in fact a narrative art, 
and it is in this power of telling the story that 
Shakespeare excels the other playwrights of his 
time. A study of the plots of either the comedies 
or the tragedies will convince the reader that the 
orderly faculty of marshalling events has never 
been so completely shown in the work of any other 
writer. Let such a play be taken as The Merchant 
of Venice. It will be noted how easily the action 
moves from Venice itself to Belmont, from the 
fortunes of Antonio to those of Bassanio, and from 
both to those of Portia on the one hand and Shy- 
lock on the other. A dramatist of a stricter school 
could not have got so many figures onto his can- 
vas ; no novelist whose works we know could have 
sketched his plot at once so fully and sparingly, 
introduced so many figures and kept each one so 
justly and perfectly in its place. If such a play be 
compared (and the comparison would be even more 
striking in the case of the tragedies) with the work 
of Shakespeare's contemporaries and successors, it 
will be seen that apart from the superiority of his 
genius in the two domains of poetry and the de- 
lineation of character, he was incomparably the best 
story-teller of his time. 

It is not, however, by his incomparable gift for 
story-telling that the world has judged him to be 


the best dramatist of his own or any age. Shake- 
speare is pre-eminent not because he was a teller 
of tales — for indeed most of his stories had been 
told beforehand, though less well than by him, — 
but because of the incomparable insight which he 
possessed into character, into the motives and the 
springs of men's actions, and into the inevitable 
processes by which events follow from the strength 
or the weaknesses of the actors who take part in 
them. As a successful business playwright, he had 
to appeal to the audiences on whom his livelihood 
depended with stories full of incident and cast in 
a mould of melodrama, but he contrived to satisfy 
his artistic conscience at the same time as he 
satisfied the longings of his audience. Not only 
did he do the melodrama better than Kyd or 
Marston, but he added to it an interest M^iich was 
absent in their work and that of other men. 
Hamlet is a melodrama of the same school as the 
Spanish Tragedy and the works of Marston and 
Webster, but it has added to the interest of 
incident which it shares with these the rarer and 
more subtle interest of character. There is a 
popular saying which compares anything which 
has been robbed utterly of its significance to the 
play of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, 
and the comparison gives the measure of Shake- 
speare's peculiar genius. Hamlet without the 
Prince of Denmark would still be the best melo- 
drama of its time, but it would lack everything 


that has made it the greatest tragedy since the 
fall of Greece, the greatest which the modern 
world will ever know. The supreme and pre- 
eminent interest in Hamlet is not the plot but the 
character of the hero, the indecision which is born 
in him as the result of a terrible train of events 
and a great responsibility, his struggle with it and 
his final triumph over it, with the tragedy which 
follows on the immersion of a man too fine and 
sensitive to bear the rude shock of the world into 
the midst of events which were too much for him. 
It is the same in Othello, in King Lear, and in 
Macbeth, in all of which the story as a story is 
better told than it has been by anyone else, but 
in all of which the circumstance by which they 
are remembered is the interest not of plot but of 

We must take up the story of the drama with 
the reign of James and with the contemporaries of 
Shakespeare's later period, though, of course, a treat- 
ment which is conditioned by the order of develop- 
ment is not strictly chronological, and some of the 
plays we shall have to refer to belong to the close 
of the sixteenth century. We are apt to forget 
that alongside Shakespeare and at his heels other 
dramatists were supplying material for the theatre. 
The influence of Marlowe, and particularly of Kyd, 
whose Spanish Tragedy with its crude mechanism 
of ghosts and madness and revenge caught the 
popular taste, worked itself out in a score of 


journeymen dramatists, mere hack writers, who 
turned their hand to plays as the hacks of to-day 
turn their hand to novels, and with no more 
literary merit than that caught as an echo from 
better men than themselves. One of the worst of 
these — he is also one of the most typical — was 
John Marston, a purveyor of tragic gloom and 
sardonic satire, and an impostor in both, whose 
tragedy Antonio and Mellida was published in the 
same year as Shakespeare's Hamlet. Both plays 
owed their style and plot to the same tradition — 
the tradition created by Kyd's Spanish Tragedy — 
in which ghostly promptings to revenge, terrible 
crime, and a feigned madman waiting his oppor- 
tunity are the elements of tragedy. Nothing 
could be more eloquent as evidence of tlie rela- 
tions of Shakespeare to his age than a comparison 
of the two. The style of Antonio and Mellida 
is the style of The Murder of Gonzago. There 
is no subtlety nor introspection, the pale cast of 
thought falls with no shadow over its scenes. And 
it is typical of a score of plays of the kind we 
have and, beyond doubt, of hundreds that have 
perished. Shakespeare stands alone. 

Beside this journey-work tragedy of revenge 
and murder which had its root through Kyd and 
Marlowe in Seneca and in Italian romance, there 
was a journey-work comedy of low life made up of 
loosely constructed strings of incidents, buffoonery, 
and romance, that had its roots in a joyous and 


fantastic study of the common people. These 
plays are happy and high-spirited and, compared 
with the ordinary run of the tragedies, of better 
workmanship. They deal in the familiar situations 
of low comedy — the clown, the thrifty citizen and 
his frivolous wife, the gallant, the bawd, the good 
apprentice and the bad, portrayed vigorously and 
tersely and with a careless kindly gaiety that still 
charms in the reading. The best writers in this 
kind were Middleton and Dekker, and the best 
play to read as a sample of it Eastwai^d Ho I in 
which Marston put off his affectation of sardonical 
melancholy and joined with Jonson and Dekker and 
perhaps Chapman to produce what is the masterpiece 
of the non-Shakespearean comedy of the time. 

For all our habit of grouping their works to- 
gether, it is a far cry in spirit and temperament 
from the dramatists whose heyday was under 
Elizabeth to those who reached their prime under 
her successor. Quickly though insensibly the 
temper of the nation suffered eclipse. The high 
hopes and the ardency of the reign of Elizabeth 
saddened into a profound pessimism and gloom in 
that of James. This apparition of unsought 
melancholy has been widely noted and generally 
assumed to be inexplicable. In broad outline 
its causes are clear enough. " To travel hopefully 
is a better thing than to arrive." The Elizabethans 
were, if ever any were, hopeful travellers. The 
winds blew them to the four quarters of the world ; 


they navigated all seas ; they sacked rich cities. 
They beat off the great Armada, and harried the 
very coasts of Spain. They pushed discovery to 
the ends of the world and amassed great wealth. 
Under James all these things were over. Peace 
was made with Spain : national pride was wounded 
by the solicitous anxiety of the King for a Spanish 
marriage for the heir to the throne. Sir Walter 
Raleigh, a romantic adventurer lingering beyond 
his time, was beheaded out of hand by the un- 
generous timidity of the monarch to whom had 
been transferred devotion and loyalty he was 
unfitted to receive. The Court which had been 
a centre of flashing and gleaming brilliance de- 
generated into a knot of sycophants humouring 
the pragmatic and self-important folly of a king 
in whom had implanted themselves all the vices 
of the Scots and none of their virtues. Nothing 
seemed left remarkable beneath the visiting moon. 
The bright day was done and they were for the 
dark. The uprising of Puritanism and the shadow 
of impending religious strife darkened the temper 
of the time. 

The change affected all literature, and particularly 
the drama, which, because it appeals to what all 
men have in common, commonly reflects soonest 
a change in the outlook or spirits of a people. The 
onslaughts of the dramatists on the Puritans, 
always implacable enemies of the theatre, became 

more virulent and envenomed. What a difference 



between the sunny satire of Sir Andrew Aguecheek 
and the dark animosity of The Atheists' Tragedy 
with its Languebeau SnufFe ready to carry out any 
villainy proposed to him ! " I speak, sir," says a 
lady in the same play to a courtier who played 
with her in an attempt to carry on a quick-witted, 
*' conceited " love passage in the vein of Much Ado, 
"I speak, sir, as the fashion now is, in earnest." 
The quick-witted, light-hearted age was gone. It 
is natural that tragedy reflected this melancholy 
in its deepest form. Gloom deepened and had no 
light to relieve it, men supped full of horrors — 
there was no slackening of the tension, no con- 
cession to overwrought nerves, no resting-place 
for the overwrought soul. It is in the dramatist 
John Webster that this new spirit has its most 
powerful exponent. 

The influence of Machiavelli, which had given 
Marlowe tragic figures that were bright and 
splendid and burning, smouldered in Webster into 
a duskier and intenser heat. His fame rests on 
two tragedies. The White Devil and The Duchess 
of Ma/fi. Both are stories of lust and crime, full 
of hate and hideous vengeances, and through each 
runs a vein of bitter and ironical comment on men 
and women. In them chance plays the part of 
fate. " Blind accident and blundering mishap — 
' such a mistake,' says one of the criminals, ' as I 
have often seen in a play ' — are the steersmen of 
their fortunes and the doomsmen of their deeds." 

Chaiidos portrait from the National Portrait Gallery 


His characters are gloomy ; meditative and philo- 
sophic murderers, cynical informers, sad and loving 
women, and they are all themselves in every phrase 
that they utter. But they are studied in earnest- 
ness and sincerity. Unquestionably he is the 
greatest of Shakespeare's successors in the romantic 
drama, perhaps his only direct imitator. He has 
single lines worthy to set beside those in Othello 
or King Ltcar. His dirge in the Duchess of Malfi 
Charles Lamb thought worthy to be set beside the 
ditty in The Tempest which reminds Ferdinand of 
his drowned father. " As that is of the water, 
watery, so this is of the earth, earthy." He has 
earned his place among the greatest of our 
dramatists by his two plays, the theme of which 
matched his sombre genius and the sombreness of 
the season in which it flowered. 

But the drama could not survive long the altered 
times, and the voluminous plays of Beaumont and 
Fletcher mark the beginning of the end. They are 
the decadence of Elizabethan drama. Decadence 
is a term often used loosely and therefore hard to 
define, but we may say broadly that an art is 
decadent when any particular one of the elements 
which go to its making occurs in excess and 
disturbs the balance of forces which keeps the 
work a coherent and intact whole. Poetry is 
decadent when the sound is allowed to outrun the 
sense, or when the suggestions, say, of colour which 
it contains are allowed to crowd out its deeper 


implications. Thus we can call such a poem as 
this one, well known, of O'Shaughnessy's, 

" We are the music-makers, 
We are the dreamers of dreams," 

decadent because it conveys nothing but the mere 
delight in an obvious rhythm of words, or such a 
poem as Morris's " Two red roses across the moon," 
because a meaningless refrain, merely pleasing in 
its word texture, breaks in at intervals on the 
reader. The drama of Beaumont and Fletcher is 
decadent in two ways. In the first place, those 
variations and licences with which Shakespeare in 
his later plays diversified the blank verse handed 
on to him by Marlowe, they use without any 
restraint or measure. *' Weak " endings and 
*' double " endings — i.e. lines which end either on a 
conjunction or preposition or some other unstressed 
word, or lines in which there is a syllable too many 
— abound in their plays. They destroyed blank 
verse as a musical and resonant poetic instru- 
ment by letting this element of variety outrun the 
sparing and skilful use which alone could justify it. 
But they were decadent in other and deeper ways 
than that. Sentiment in their plays usurps the 
place of character. Eloquent and moving speeches 
and fine figures are no longer subservient to the 
presentation of character in action, but are set 
down for their own sake. " What strange self- 
trumpeters and tongue-bullies all the brave soldiers 
of Beaumont and Fletcher are I " said Coleridge. 


When they die they die to the music of their own 
virtue. When dreadful deeds are done they are 
described not with that authentic and lurid vivid- 
ness which throws light on the working of the 
human heart in Shakespeare or Webster, but in 
tedious rhetoric. Resignation, not fortitude, is the 
authors' forte, and they play upon it amazingly. 
The sterner tones of their predecessors melt into 
the long-drawn, broken accents of pathos and woe. 
This delight not in action or in emotion arising 
from action, but in passivity of suffering, is only 
one aspect of a certain mental flaccidity in grain. 
Shakespeare may be free and even coarse. Beau- 
mont and Fletcher cultivate indecency. They made 
their subject not their master but their plaything, 
or an occasion for the convenient exercise of their 
own powers of figure and rhetoric. 

Of their followers, Massinger, Ford, and Shirley, 
no more need be said than they carried one step 
further the faults of their masters. Emotion and 
tragic passion give way to wiredrawn sentiment. 
Tragedy takes on the air of a masquerade. With 
them romantic drama died a natural death, and the 
Puritans' closing of the theatre only gave it a coup 
de grace. In England it has had no second birth. 


Outside the direct romantic succession there 
worked another author whose lack of sympathy 
with it, as well as his close connection with the age 


which followed, justifies his separate treatment. 
Ben Jonson shows a marked contrast to Shake- 
speare in his character, his accomplishments, and 
his attitude to letters, while his career was more 
varied than Shakespeare's own. The first " classic " 
in English writing, he was a " romantic " in action. 
In his adventurous youth he was by turns scholar, 
soldier, bricklayer, actor. He trailed a pike with 
Leicester in the Low Countries ; on his return to 
England fought a duel and killed his man, only 
escaping hanging by benefit of clergy ; at the end 
of his life he was poet laureate. Such a career is 
sufficiently diversified, and it forms a striking con- 
trast to the plainness and severity of his work. But 
it must not lead us to forget or underestimate his 
learning and knowledge. Not Gray nor Tennyson 
nor Swinburne — perhaps not even Milton — was a 
better scholar. He is one of the earliest of English 
writers to hold and express different theories about 
literature. He consciously appointed himself a 
teacher ; was a missionary of literature with a 
definite creed. 

But though in a general way his dramatic 
principles are opposed to the romantic tendencies 
of his age, he is by no means blindly classical. He 
never consented to be bound by the " Unities " — 
that conception of dramatic construction evolved 
out of Aristotle and Horace and elaborated in the 
Renaissance till, in its strictest form, it laid down 
that the whole scene of a play should be in one 


place, its whole action deal with one single series 
of events, and the time it represented as elapsing 
be no greater than the time it took in playing. He 
was always pre-eminently an Englishman of his own 
day with a scholar's rather than a poet's temper, 
hating extravagance, hating bombast and cant, and 
only limited because in ruling out these things he 
ruled out much else that was essential to the spirit 
of the time. As a craftsman he was uncompromis- 
ing ; he never bowed to the tastes of the public and 
never veiled his scorn of those — Shakespeare among 
them — whom he conceived to do so ; but he knew 
and valued his own work, as his famous last word 
to an audience who might be unsympathetic stands 
to witness : 

" By God, "'tis good, and if you like it you may." 

Compare the temper it reveals with the titles of 
the two contemporary comedies of his gentler and 
greater brother, the one As You Like It, the other 
HHiat You Will. Of the two attitudes towards 
the public, and they might stand as typical of two 
kinds of artists, neither perhaps can claim complete 
sincerity. A truculent and noisy disclaimer of 
their favours is not a bad tone to assume towards 
an audience ; in the end, it is apt to succeed as 
well as the sub-ironical compliance which is its 

Jonson's theory of comedy and the consciousness 
with which he set it against the practice of his con- 


temporaries, and particularly of Shakespeare, receive 
explicit statement in the prologue to Every Ma?i 
Out of His Humour — one of his earlier plays. " I 
travail with another objection, Signor, which I fear 
will be enforced against the author ere I can be 
delivered of it," says Mitis. " What's that, sir ? " 
replies Cordatus. Mitis : " That the argument 
of his comedy might have been of some other 
nature, as of a duke to be in love with a countess, 
and that countess to be in love with the duke's son, 
and the son to love the lady's waiting-maid ; some 
such cross-wooing, better than to be thus near and 
familiarly allied to the times." Cordatus : " You 
say well, but I would fain hear one of these autumn- 
judgments define Quin sit covioedia ? If he cannot, 
let him concern himself with Cicero's definition, till 
he have strength to propose to himself a better, who 
would have a comedy to be iniitatio vitce, speculum 
consuetudinis, imago veritatis ; a thing throughout 
pleasant and ridiculous and accommodated to the 
correction of manners." That was what he meant 
his comedy to be, and so he conceived the popular 
comedy of the day, Twelfth Night and Much Ado. 
Shakespeare might play with dukes and countesses, 
serving- women and pages, clowns and disguises ; 
he would come down more near and ally himself 
familiarly with the times. So comedy was to be 
medicinal, to purge contemporary London of its 
follies and its sins ; and it was to be constructed 
with regularity and elaboration, respectful to the 


Unities if not ruled by them, and built up of 
characters each the embodiment of some " humour " 
or eccentricity, and each, when his eccentricity is 
displaying itself at its fullest, outwitted and ex- 
posed. This conception of " humours," based on a 
physiology which was already obsolescent, takes 
heavily from the realism of Jonson's methods, nor 
does his use of a careful vocabulary of contemporary 
colloquialism and slang save him from a certain 
dryness and tediousness to modern readers. The 
truth is he was less a satirist of contemporary 
manners than a satirist in the abstract who followed 
the models of classical writers in this style, and he 
found the vices and follies of his own day hardly 
adequate to the intricacy and elaborateness of the 
plots which he constructed for their exposure. At 
the first glance his people are contemporary types, 
at the second they betray themselves for what they 
are really — cock-shies set up by the new comedy of 
Greece that every " classical " satirist in Rome or 
France or England has had his shot at since. One 
wonders whether Ben Jonson, for all his satirical 
intention, had as much observation — as much of an 
eye for contemporary types — as Shakespeare's rustics 
and roysterers prove him to have had. It follows 
that all but one or two of his plays, when they are 
put on the stage to-day, are apt to come to one with 
a sense of remoteness and other-worldliness which 
we hardly feel with Shakespeare or Moliere. His 
muse moves along the highroad of comedy which 


is the Roman road, and she carries in her train 
types that have done service to many since the 
ancients fashioned them years ago. Jealous 
husbands, foohsh pragmatic fathers, a dissolute 
son, a boastful soldier, a cunning slave — they all 
are merely counters by which the game of comedy 
used to be played. In England, since Shakespeare 
took his hold on the stage, that road has been 
stopped for us, that game has ceased to amuse. 

Ben Jonson, then, in a certain degree failed in 
his intention. Had he kept closer to contemporary 
life, instead of merely grafting on to it types he had 
learned from books, he might have made himself an 
English Moliere — without Moliere's breadth and 
clarity, but with a corresponding vigour and 
strength which would have kept his work sweet. 
And he might have founded a school of comedy 
that would have got its roots deeper into our 
national life than the trivial and licentious Restora- 
tion comedy ever succeeded in doing. As it is, 
his importance is mostly historical. One must 
credit him with being the first of the English 
" classics " — the forerunner of the age which gave 
us Dryden and Swift and Pope. Perhaps that 
is enough in his praise. 




With the seventeenth century the great school of 
imaginative writers that made glorious the last 
years of Elizabeth's reign had passed away. 
Spenser was dead before 1600, Sir Philip Sidney a 
dozen years earlier ; and though Shakespeare and 
Drayton and many other men whom we class 
roughly as Elizabethan lived on to work under 
James, their temper and their ideals belong to 
the earlier day. The seventeenth century, not in 
England only but in Europe, brought a new way 
of thinking with it, and gave a new direction to 
human interest and to human affairs. It is not 
perhaps easy to define, nor is it visible in the greater 
writers of the time. Milton, for instance, and even 
Sir Thomas Browne are both of them too big, and 
in their genius too far separated from their fellows, 
to give us much clue to altered conditions. It is 
commonly in the work of lesser and forgotten 
writers that the spirit of an age has it fullest ex- 
pression. Genius is a law to itself; it moves in 
another dimension ; it is out of time. To define 



this seventeenth-century spirit, then, one must look 
at the literature of the age as a whole. What is 
there that one finds in it which marks a change in 
temperament and outlook from the Renaissance, 
and from the time which immediately followed it ? 
Putting it very broadly, one may say that litera- 
ture in the seventeenth century becomes for the 
first time essentially modern in spirit. We begin 
calling literature " modern " at the Renaissance 
because the discovery of the New World, and the 
widening of human experience and knowledge 
which that and the revival of classical learning im- 
plied, mark a definite break from a way of thought 
which had been continuous since the break-up of 
the Roman Empire. The men of the Renaissance 
felt themselves to be modern. They started afresh, 
owing nothing to their immediate forebears except 
Chaucer, and even when they talked of him they did 
so in very much the same accent as we do to-day. 
He was mediaeval and remote ; the interest which he 
possessed was a purely literary interest ; his readers 
did not meet him easily on the same plane of 
thought, or forget the lapse of time which separated 
him from them. And in another way, too, the 
Renaissance began modern writing. Inflections 
had been dropped. The revival of the classics had 
enriched our vocabulary, and the English language, 
after a gradual impoverishment which followed the 
obsolescence one after another of the local dialects, 
attained a fairly fixed form. There is more differ- 


ence between the language of the English writings 
of Sir Thomas More and that of the prose of 
Chaucer than there is between that of ^lore and of 
Ruskin. But it is not till the seventeenth century 
that the modern spirit, in the fullest sense of the 
word, comes into being. Defined, it means a spirit 
of observation, of preoccupation with detail, of 
stress laid on matter of fact, of analysis of feelings 
and mental processes, of free argument upon insti- 
tutions and government. In relation to knowledge, 
it is the spirit of science ; and the study of science, 
which is the essential intellectual fact in modern 
history, dates from just this time, from Bacon and 
Newton and Descartes. In relation to literature, 
it is the spirit of criticism ; and criticism in England 
is the creation of the seventeenth century. The 
positive temper, the attitude of realism, is every- 
where in the ascendant. The sixteenth century 
made voyages of discovery ; the seventeenth sat 
down to take stock of the riches it had gathered. 
For the first time in English literature writing be- 
comes a vehicle for storing and conveying facts. 

It would be easy to give instances : one is 
sufficient here. Biography, which is one of the 
most characteristic kinds of English writing, was 
unknown to the moderns as late as the sixteenth 
century. Partly the awakened interest in the 
careers of the ancient statesmen and soldiers which 
the study of Plutarch had excited, and partly the 
general interest in and craving for facts, set men 


writing down the lives of their fellows. The earliest 
English biographies date from this time. In the 
beginning they were concerned, like the Lives of 
Plutarch, with men of action ; and when Sir Fulke 
Greville wrote a brief account of his friend Sir 
Philip Sidney, it was the courtier and the soldier, 
and not the author, that he designed to celebrate. 
But soon men of letters came within their scope ; 
and though the interest in the lives of authors came 
too late to give us the contemporary life of Shake- 
speare we so much long for, it was early enough 
to make possible those masterpieces of condensed 
biography in which Isaak Walton celebrates 
Herbert and Donne. Fuller and Aubrey, to name 
only two authors, spent lives of laborious industry 
in hunting down and chronicling the smallest 
facts about the worthies of their day and the time 
immediately before them. Autobiography followed 
where biography led. Lord Herbert of Cherbury 
and Margaret Duchess of Newcastle, as well as less 
reputable persons, followed the new mode. By 
the time of the Restoration Pepys and Evelyn 
were keeping their diaries, and Fox his journal — 
Evelyn perhaps consciously for the sake of pos- 
terity, Pepys and Fox for themselves. Just as 
in poetry the lyric, that is the expression of personal 
feeling, became more widely practised, more subtle 
and more sincere, in prose the letter, the journal, 
and the autobiography formed themselves to meet 
the new and growing demand for analysis of the 


feelings and the intimate thoughts and sensations of 
real men and women. A minor form of literature 
which had a brief but popular vogue ministered 
less directly to the same need. The " Character," 
a brief descriptive essay on a contemporary type — 
a tobacco-seller, an old college butler, or the like — 
was popular because in its own way it matched the 
newly awakened taste for realism and fact. The 
drama, which in the hands of Ben Jonson had 
attacked folly and wickedness proper to no place 
or time, descended to the drawing-rooms of the 
day, and Congreve occupied himself with the por- 
trayal of the social frauds and foolishnesses per- 
petrated by actual living men and women of 
fashion in contemporary London. Satire ceased 
to be a mere expression of a vague discontent, and 
became a weapon against opposing men and 
policies. Readers of the new generation were 
nothing if not critical. They were for testing 
directly institutions, whether they were literary, 
social, or political. They wanted facts, and they 
wanted to take a side. 

In the distinct and separate realm of poetry a 
revolution no less remarkable took place. Spenser 
had been both a poet and a Puritan : he had de- 
signed to show by his great poem the training and 
fashioning of a Puritan English gentleman. But 
the alliance between poetry and Puritanism which 
he typified failed to survive his death. The essen- 
tially pagan spirit of the Renaissance which caused 


him no doubts nor difficulties proved too strong 
for his readers and his followers, and the eman- 
cipated artistic enthusiasm in which it worked 
alienated from secular poetry men with deep and 
strong religious convictions. Religion and morality 
and poetry, which in Sidney and Spenser had gone 
hand in hand, separated from each other. Poems 
like Venus and Adonis or like Shakespeare's sonnets 
could hardly be squared with the sterner temper 
which persecution began to breed. Even within 
orthodox Anglicanism poetry and religion began 
to be deemed no fit company for each other. 
When George Herbert left off courtier and took 
orders he burnt his earlier love poetry, and only 
the persuasion of his friends prevented Donne 
from following the same course. Pure poetry 
became more and more an exotic. All Milton's 
belongs to his earlier youth ; his middle age was 
occupied with controversy and propaganda in 
prose ; when he returned to poetry in blindness 
and old age it was "to justify the ways of God to 
man" — to use poetry, that is, for a spiritual and 
moral rather than an artistic end. 

Though the age was curious and inquiring, 
though poetry and prose tended more and more 
to be enlisted in the service of non-artistic en- 
thusiasms and to be made the vehicle of deeper 
emotions and interests than perhaps a northern 
people could ever find in art, pure and simple, it 
was not, like the time that followed it, a "prosaic" 


age. Enthusiasm burned fierce and clear, display- 
ing itself in the passionate polemic of Milton, in 
the fanaticism of Bunyan and Fox, hardly more 
than in the gentle, steadfast search for knowledge 
of Burton and the wide and vigilant curiosity of 
Bacon. Its eager experimentalism tried the im- 
possible ; wrote poems and then gave them a 
weight of meaning they could not carry, as when 
Fletcher in The Purple Island designed to allegorize 
all that the physiology of his day knew of the 
human body, or Donne sought to convey abstruse 
scientific fact in a lyric. It gave men a passion for 
pure learning, set Jonson to turn himself from a 
bricklayer into the best equipped scholar of his 
day, and Fuller and Camden grubbing among 
English records and gathering for the first time 
materials of scientific value for English history. 
Enthusiasm gave us poetry that was at once full 
of learning and of imagination, poetry that was 
harsh and brutal in its roughness and at the same 
time impassioned. And it set up a school of prose 
that combined colloquial readiness and fluency, 
pregnancy and high sentiment with a cumbrous 
pedantry of learning which was the fruit of its own 

The form in which enthusiasm manifested itself 
most fiercely was, as we have seen, not favourable 
to literature. Puritanism drove itself like a wedge 
into the art of the time, broadening as it went. 

Had there been no more in it than the moral 



earnestness and religiousness of Sidney and Spenser, 
Cavalier would not have differed from Roundhead, 
and there might have been no civil war ; each 
party was endowed deeply with the religious sense 
and Charles I. was a sincerely pious man. But 
while Spenser and Sidney held that although life 
as a preparation for eternity must be ordered and 
strenuous and devout, and care for the hereafter was 
not incompatible with a frank and full enjoyment of 
life as it is lived, Puritanism as it developed in the 
middle classes became a sterner and darker creed. 
The doctrine of original sin, face to face with the 
fact that art, like other pleasures, was naturally 
and readily entered into and enjoyed, forced them 
to the plain conclusion that art was an evil thing. 
As early as Shakespeare's youth they had been 
strong enough to keep the theatres outside London 
walls ; at the time of the Civil War they closed 
them altogether, and the feud which had lasted for 
over a generation between them and the dramatists 
ended in the destruction of the literary drama. In 
the brief years of their ascendancy they produced 
no literature, for Milton is much too large to be 
tied down to their negative creed, and, indeed, in 
many of his qualities, his love of music and his 
sensuousness in description, for instance, he is 
antagonistic to the temper of his day. With the 
Restoration their earnest and strenuous spirit fled 
to America. It is noteworthy that it had no 
literary manifestation there till two centuries after 


the time of its passage. Hawthorne's novels are 
the fruit — the one ripe fruit in art — of the Puritan 


If the reader adopts the seventeenth-century 
habit himself and takes stock of v^hat the Eliza- 
bethans accomplished in poetry, he will recognize 
speedily that their work reached various stages of 
completeness. They perfected the poetic drama 
and its instrument, blank verse; they perfected, 
though not in the severer Italian form, the sonnet ; 
they wrote with extraordinary delicacy and finish 
short lyrics in which a simple and freer manner 
drawn from the classics took the place of the 
mediaeval intricacies of the ballad and the rondeau. 
And in the forms which they failed to bring 
to perfection they did beautiful and noble work. 
The splendour of The Faerie Queen is in separate 
passages ; as a whole it is over-tortuous and slow ; 
its affectations, its sensuousness, the mere difficulty 
of reading it, makes us feel it a collection of great 
passages, strung it is true on a large conception, 
rather than a great work. The Elizabethans, that 
is, had not discovered the secret of the long poem ; 
the abstract idea of the " heroic " epic which was 
in all their minds had to wait for embodiment till 
Paradise Lost. In a way their treatment of the 
pastoral or eclogue form was imperfect too. They 
used it well, but not so well as their models, Vergil 


and Theocritus ; they had not quite mastered the 
convention on which it is built. 

The seventeenth century, taking stock in some 
such fashion of its artistic possessions, found some 
things it were vain to try to do. It could add 
nothing to the accomplishment of the English 
sonnet, so it hardly tried : with the exception of 
a few sonnets in the Italian form of Milton, the 
century can show us nothing in this mode of verse. 
The literary drama was brought to perfection in 
the early years of it by the surviving Elizabethans; 
later decades could add nothing to it but licence, 
and as we saw, the licences they added hastened 
its destruction. But in other forms the poets of 
the new time experimented eagerly, and in the 
stress of experiment, poetry which under Elizabeth 
had been integral and coherent split into different 
schools. As the period of the Renaissance was 
also that of the Reformation, it was only natural a 
determined effort should sooner or later be made 
to use poetry for religious purposes. The earliest 
English hymn-writing, our first devotional verse 
in the vernacular, belongs to this time, and a 
Catholic and religious school of lyricism grew 
and flourished beside the pagan neo-classical 
writers. From the tumult of experiment three 
schools disengage themselves, the school of 
Spenser, the school of Jonson, and the school of 

At the outset of the century Spenser's influence 


was triumphant and predominant ; his was the 
main stream with which the other poetic influences 
of the time merely mingled. His popularity is 
referable to qualities other than those which be- 
longed peculiarly to his talent as a poet. Puritans 
loved his religious ardour, and in those Puritan 
households where the stricter conception of the 
diabolical nature of all poetry had not penetrated, 
his works were read — standing on a shelf, may be, 
between the new translation of the Bible and 
Sylvester's translation of the French poet Du 
Bartas' work on the creation, which had a large 
popularity at that time as " family reading." Pro- 
bably the Puritans were as blind to the sensuous- 
ness of Spenser's language and imagery as they 
were (and are) to the same qualities in the Bible 
itself. The Faerie Queen would easily achieve 
innocuousness amongst those who can find nothing 
but an allegory of the Church in the " Song of 
Songs." His followers made their allegory a great 
deal plainer than he had done his. In his poem 
called The Purple Island, Phineas Fletcher, a 
Puritan imitator of Spenser in Cambridge, essayed 
to set forth the struggle of the soul at grip with 
evil, a battle in which the body — the " Purple 
Island " — is the field. To a modern reader it is a 
desolating and at times a mildly amusing book, in 
which everything from the liver to the seven deadly 
sins is personified ; in which after four books of 
allegorized contemporary anatomy and physiology, 


the will (Voletta) engages in a struggle with Satan 
and conquers by the help of Christ and King 
James ! The allegory is clever — too clever — and 
the author can paint a pleasant picture, but on the 
whole he was happier in his pastoral work. His 
brother Giles made a better attempt at the Spen- 
serian manner. His long poem, Christ's Victory 
and Death, shows for all its carefully Protestant 
tone high qualities of mysticism ; across it Spenser 
and Milton join hands. 

It was, however, in pastoral poetry that Spenser's 
influence found its pleasantest outlet. One might 
hesitate to advise a reader to embark on either of 
the Fletchers. There is no reason why any modern 
should not read and enjoy Browne or Wither, in 
whose softly flo^ving verse the sweetness and con- 
tentment of the countryside, that " merry England " 
which was the background of all sectarian and 
intellectual strife and labour, finds as in a placid 
stream a calm reflection and picture of itself. 
The seventeenth century gave birth to many things 
that only came to maturity in the nineteenth ; if 
you care for that kind of literary study which 
searches out origins and digs for hints and models 
of accepted styles, you will find in Browne that 
which influenced more than any other single thing 
the early work of Keats. Browne has another 
claim to immortality ; if it be true, as is now 
thought, that he was the author of the epitaph on 
the Countess of Pembroke ; 


" Underneath this sable hearse 
Lies the subject of all verse, 
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother. 
Death, ere thou hast slain another 
Fair and learned and good as she, 
Time shall throw a dart at thee " — 

then he achieved the miracle of a quintessential 
statement of the spirit of the English Renaissance. 
For the breath of it stirs in these slow quiet 
moving lines, and its few and simple words im- 
plicate the soul of a period. 

By the end of the first quarter of the century 
the influence of Spenser and the school which 
worked under it had died out. Its place was 
taken by the twin schools of Jonson and Donne. 
Jonson's poetic method is something like his 
dramatic ; he formed himself as exactly as possible 
on classical models. Horace had written satires 
and elegies, and epistles and complimentary verses, 
and Jonson quite consciously and deliberately 
followed where Horace led. He wrote elegies on 
the great, letters and courtly compliments and 
love-lyrics to his friends, satires with an air of 
general censure. But though he was classical, his 
style was never latinized. In all of them he strove 
to pour into an ancient form language that was as 
intense and vigorous and as purely English as the 
earliest trumpeters of the Renaissance in England 
could have wished. The result is not entirely 
successful. He seldom fails to reproduce classic 
dignity and good sense ; on the other hand, he 


seldom succeeds in achieving classic grace and 
ease. Occasionally, as in his best-known lyric 
" Drink to me only with thine eyes," he is perfect 
and achieves an air of spontaneity little short of 
marvellous, when we know that his images and 
even his words in the song are all plagiarized 
from other men. His expression is always clear 
and vigorous and his sense good and noble. The 
native earnestness and sincerity of the man shines 
through as it does in his dramas and his prose. In 
an age of fantastic and meaningless eulogy — eulogy 
so amazing in its unexpectedness and abstruseness 
that the wonder is not so much that it should have 
been written as that it could have been thought of 
— Jonson maintains his personal dignity and his 
good sense. You feel his compliments are such as 
the best should be, not necessarily understood and 
properly valued by the public, but of a discrim- 
inating sort that by their very comprehending 
sincerity would be most warmly appreciated by 
the people to whom they were addressed. His 
verses to Shakespeare, and his prose commentaries 
on him too, are models of what self-respecting 
admiration should be, generous in its praise of 
excellence, candid in its statement of defects. They 
are the kind of compliments that Shakespeare him- 
self, if he had grace enough, must have loved to 

Very different from his direct and dignified 
manner is the closely packed style of Donne, who, 

From the portrait after G. Honthorst in the National Portrait Gallery. 


Milton apart, is the greatest English writer of the 
century, though his obscurity has kept him out of 
general reading. No poetry in English, not even 
Browning's, is more difficult to understand. The 
obscurity of Donne and Browning proceed from 
such similar causes that they are worth examining 
together. In both, as in the obscure passages in 
Shakespeare's later plays, obscurity arises not 
because the poet says too little but because he 
attempts to say too much. He huddles a new 
thought on the one before it, before the first has 
had time to express itself ; he sees things or analyses 
emotions so swiftly and subtly himself that he 
forgets the slower comprehensions of his readers ; 
he is for analysing things far deeper than the 
ordinary mind commonly can. His wide and 
curious knowledge finds terms and likenesses to 
express his meaning unknown to us ; he sees things 
from a dozen points of view at once and tumbles a 
hint of each separate vision in a heap out on to the 
page; his restless intellect finds new and subtler 
shades of emotion and thought invisible to other 
pairs of eyes, and cannot, because speech is modelled 
on the average of our intelligences, find words to 
express them ; he is always trembling on the brink 
of the inarticulate. All this applies to both Donne 
and Browning, and the comparison could be pushed 
further still. Both draw the knowledge which is 
the main cause of their obscurity from the same 
source, the bypaths of medisevalism. Browning's 


Sordello is obscure because he knows too much 
about medieeval Italian history ; Donne's Anniver- 
sary because he is too deeply read in mediaeval 
scholasticism and speculation. Both make them- 
selves more difficult to the reader who is familiar 
with the poetry of their contemporaries by the 
disconcerting freshness of their point of view. 
Seventeenth-century love poetry was idyllic and 
idealist ; Donne's is passionate and realistic to the 
point of cynicism. To read him after reading 
Browne and Jonson is to have the same shock as 
reading Browning after Tennyson. Both poets are 
salutary in the strong and biting antidote they 
bring to sentimentalism in thought and melodious 
facility in writing. They are the corrective of lazy 
thinking and lazy composition. 

Elizabethan love poetry was written on a con- 
vention which, though it was used with manliness 
and entire sincerity by Sidney, did not escape the 
fate of its kind. Dante's love for Beatrice, 
Petrarch's for Laura, the gallant and passionate 
adoration of Sidney for his Stella, became the 
models for a dismal succession of imaginary woes. 
They were all figments of the mind, perhaps hardly 
that ; they all use the same terms and write in 
fixed strains, epicurean and sensuous like Ronsard, 
ideal and intellectualized like Dante, sentimental 
and adoring like Petrarch. Into this enclosed 
garden of sentiment and illusion Donne burst 
passionately and rudely, pulling up the gay- 

From a painting in the Dycc G}' Foster collection. 


coloured tangled weeds that choked thoughts, 
planting, as one of his followers said, the seeds of 
fresh invention. Where his forerunners had been 
idealist, epicurean, or adoring, he was brutal, 
cynical, and immitigably realist. He could begin 
a poem, "For God's sake hold your tongue and 
let me love " ; he could be as resolutely free from 
illusion as Shakespeare when he addressed his 
Dark Lady — 

" Hope not for mind in women ; at their best, 
Sweetness and wit they're but mummy possest." 

And where the sonneteers pretended to a sincerity 
which was none of theirs, he was, like Browning, 
unaffectedly a dramatic lyrist. " I did best," he 
said, "when I had least truth for my subject." 

His love poetry was written in his turbulent and 
brilliant youth, and the poetic talent which made 
it turned in his later years to express itself in 
hymns and religious poetry. But there is no 
essential distinction between the two halves of his 
work. It is all of a piece. The same swift and 
subtle spirit which analyses experiences of passion, 
analyses, in his later poetry, those of religion. 
His devotional poems, though they probe and 
question, are none the less never sermons, but 
rather confessions or prayers. His intense indivi- 
duality, eager always, as his best critic has said,^ 

^ Prof. H. J. C, Grierson in the Cambridge History of English 
Literature. His criticism there and his recent edition of Donne's 
poetical works have added immeasurably to our knowledge of 
the poet. 


" to find a North- West passage of his own," pressed 
its curious and sceptical questioning into every 
corner of love and life and religion, explored un- 
suspected depths, exploited new discovered para- 
doxes, and turned its discoveries always into 
poetry of the closely-packed artificial style which 
was all its own. Simplicity indeed would have 
been for him an affectation ; his elaborateness is 
not like that of his followers, constructed painfully 
in a vicious desire to compass the unexpected, but 
the natural overflow of an amazingly fertile and 
ingenious mind. The curiosity, the desire for 
truth, the search after minute and detailed know- 
ledge of his age, is all in his verse. He bears the 
spirit of his time not less markedly than Bacon 
does, or Newton, or Descartes. 

The work of the followers of Donne and Jonson 
leads straight to the new school, Jonson's by 
giving that school a model on which to work, 
Donne's by producing an era of extravagance and 
absurdity which made a literary revolution impera- 
tive. The school of Donne — the " fantastics " as 
they have been called (Dr Johnson called them the 
metaphysical poets) — produced in Herbert and 
Vaughan, our two noblest writers of religious verse, 
the flower of a mode of writing which ended in the 
somewhat exotic religiousness of Crashaw. In the 
hands of Cowley the use of far-sought and intricate 
imagery became a trick, and the fantastic school, 
the soul of sincerity gone out of it, died when he 


died. To the followers of Jonson we owe that 
delightful and simple lyric poetry which fills our 
anthologies, their courtly lyricism receiving a new 
impulse in the intenser loyalty of troubled times. 
The most finished of them is perhaps Carew ; the 
best, because of the freshness and variety of his 
subject-matter and his easy grace, Herrick. At 
the end of them came Waller and gave to the five- 
accented rhymed verse (the heroic couplet) that 
trick of regularity and balance which gave us the 
classical school. 

The prose literature of the seventeenth century 
is extraordinarily rich and varied, and a study of it 
would cover a wide field of human knowledge. 
The new and unsuspected harmonies discovered by 
the Elizabethans were applied indeed to all the 
tasks of which prose is capable, from telling stories 
to setting down the results of the speculation which 
was revolutionizing science and philosophy. For 
the first time the vernacular and not Latin became 
the language of scientific research, and though 
Bacon in his Novum Organum adhered to the older 
mode, its disappearance was rapid. English was 
proving itself too flexible an instrument for convey- 
ing ideas to be longer neglected. It was applied 
too to preaching of a more formal and grandiose 
kind than the plain and homely Latimer ever 
dreamed of. The preachers, though their golden- 


mouthed oratory, which blended in its combination 
of vigour and cadence the euphuistic and colloquial 
styles of the Elizabethans, is in itself a glory of 
English literature, belong by their matter too ex- 
clusively to the province of Church history to be 
dealt with here. The men of science and philosophy, 
Newton, Hobbes, and Locke, are in a like way 
outside our province. For the purpose of the 
literary student the achievement of the seventeenth 
century can be judged in four separate men or 
books — in the Bible, in Francis Bacon, and in 
Burton and Browne. 

In a way the Bible, like the preachers, lies outside 
the domain of literary study in the narrow sense ; 
but its sheer literary magnitude, the abiding 
significance of it in our subsequent history, social, 
political, and artistic as well as religious, compel us 
to turn aside to examine the causes that have pro- 
duced such great results. The Authorized Version 
is not, of course, a purely seventeenth-century 
work. Though the scholars ^ who wrote and com- 
piled it had before them all the previous vernacular 
texts and chose the best readings where they 
found them or devised new ones in accordance 
with the original, the basis is undoubtedly the 
Tudor version of Tindall. It has, none the less, 
the qualities of the time of its publication. It 
could hardly have been done earlier ; had it been 

' There is a graphic Uttle pen-picture of their method in 
Selden's Table Talk. 


so, it would not have been done half so well. In 
it English has lost both its roughness and its 
affectation and retained its strength ; the Bible is 
the supreme example of early English prose style. 
The reason is not far to seek. Of all recipes for 
good or noble writing that which enjoins the writer 
to be careful about the matter and never mind 
the manner, is the most sure. The translators 
had the handling of matter of the gravest dignity 
and momentousness, and their sense of reverence 
kept them right in their treatment of it. They 
cared passionately for the truth ; they were virtually 
anonymous and not ambitious of originality or 
literary fame ; they had no desire to stand between 
the book and its readers. It followed that they 
cultivated that naked plainness and spareness 
which makes their work supreme. The Authorized 
Version is the last and greatest of those English 
translations which were the fruit of Renaissance 
scholarship and pioneering. It is the first and 
greatest piece of English prose. 

Its influence is one of those things on which it 
is profitless to comment or enlarge simply because 
they are an understood part of every man's ex- 
perience. In its own time it helped to weld 
England, for where before one Bible was read at 
home and another in churches, all now read the 
new version. Its supremacy was instantaneous 
and unchallenged, and it quickly coloured speech 
and literature ; it could produce a Bunyan in the 


century of its birth. To it belongs the native 
dignity and eloquence of peasant speech. It runs 
like a golden thread through all our writing sub- 
sequent to its coming ; men so diverse as Huxley 
and Carlyle have paid their tribute to its power ; 
Ruskin counted it the one essential part of his 
education. It will be a bad day for the mere 
quality of our language when it ceases to be read. 

At the time the translators were sitting, Francis 
Bacon was at the height of his fame. By pro- 
fession a lawyer — time-serving and over-compliant 
to wealth and influence — he gives singularly little 
evidence of it in the style of his books. Lawyers, 
from the necessity they are under of exerting per- 
suasion, of planting an unfamiliar argument in 
the minds of hearers of whose favour they are 
doubtful, but whose sympathy they must gain, 
are usually of purpose diffuse. They cultivate the 
gift, possessed by Edmund Burke above all other 
English authors, of putting the same thing freshly 
and in different forms a great many times in suc- 
cession. They value copiousness and fertility of 
illustration. Nothing could be more unlike this 
normal legal manner than the style of Bacon. 
*' No man," says Ben Jonson, speaking in one of 
those vivid little notes of his, of his oratorical 
method, " no man ever coughed or turned aside 
from him without loss." He is a master of the 
aphoristic style. He compresses his wisdom into 
the quintessential form of an epigram ; so complete 


and concentrated is his form of statement, so 
shortly is everything put, that the mere transition 
from one thought to another gives his prose a 
curious air of disjointedness as if he flitted arbi- 
trarily from one thing to another, and jotted 
down anything that came into his head. His 
writing has clarity and lucidity, it abounds in 
terseness of expression and in exact and discrimi- 
nating phraseology, and in the minor arts of 
composition — in the use of quotations, for instance 
— it can be extraordinarily felicitous. But it lacks 
spaciousness and ease and rhythm ; it makes too 
inexorable a demand on the attention, and the 
harassed reader soon finds himself longing for 
those breathing spaces which consideration or 
perhaps looseness of thought has implanted in 
the prose of other writers. 

His Essays, the work by which he is best known, 
were in their origin merely jottings gradually 
cohered and enlarged into the series we know. 
In them he had the advantage of a subject which 
he had studied closely through life. He counted 
himself a master in the art of managing men, 
and " Human Nature and how to manage it " 
would be a good title for his book. Men are 
studied in the spirit of Machiavelli, whose philo- 
sophy of government appealed so powerfully to 
the Elizabethan mind. Taken together, the essays 
which deal with public matters are in effect a 

kind of manual for statesmen and princes, in- 



structing them how to acquire power and how to 
keep it, deliberating how far they may go safely 
in the direction of self-interest, and to what 
degree the principle of self-interest must be sub- 
ordinated to the wider interests of the people 
who are ruled. Democracy, which in England 
was to make its splendid beginnings in the seven- 
teenth century, finds little to foretell it in the 
works of Bacon. Though he never advocates 
cruelty or oppression and is wise enough to see 
that no statesman can entirely set aside moral 
considerations, his ethical tone is hardly elevating ; 
the moral obliquity of his public life is to a certain 
extent explained, in all but its grosser elements, 
by his published writings. The essays, of course, 
contain much more than this ; the spirit of curious 
and restless enquiry which animated Bacon finds 
expression in those on " Health," or " Gardens," 
and " Plantations," and others of the kind ; and 
a deeper vein of earnestness runs through some 
of them — those for instance on " Friendship," or 
"Truth," and on " Death." 

The Essays sum up in a condensed form the 
intellectual interests which find larger treatment 
in his other works. His Henry VII., the first 
piece of scientific history in the English language 
(indeed in the modern world) is concerned with a 
king whose practice was the outcome of a political 
theory identical with Bacon's own. The Advaiice- 
vient of Learning is a brilliant popular exposition 


of the cause of scientific enquiry and of the in- 
ductive or investigatory method of research. The 
New Atlantis is the picture of an ideal community 
whose common purpose is scientific investigation. 
Bacon's name is not upon the roll of those who 
have enlarged by brilliant conjectures or discoveries 
the store of human knowledge ; his own investiga- 
tions so far as they are recorded are all of a trivial 
nature. The truth about him is that he was a 
brilliantly clever populariser of the cause of science, 
a kind of seventeenth-century Huxley, concerned 
rather to lay down large general principles for the 
guidance of the work of others, than to be a worker 
in research himself. The superstition of later 
times, acting on and refracting his amazing intel- 
lectual gifts, has raised him to a godlike eminence 
which is by right none of his ; it has even credited 
him with the authorship of Shakespeare's plays, 
and in its wilder moments with the composition of 
all that is of supreme worth in Elizabethan litera- 
ture. It is not necessary to take these delusions 
seriously. The ignorance of mediasvalism was in 
the habit of crediting Vergil with the construction 
of the Roman aqueducts and temples whose ruins 
are scattered over Europe. The modern Baconians 
reach much the same intellectual level. 

A similar enthusiasm for knowledge and at any 
rate a pretence to science belong to the author of 
the Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton. His 
one book is surely the most amazing in English 


prose. His professed object was simple and com- 
prehensive ; it was to analyse human melancholy, 
to describe its effects, and prescribe for its removal. 
But as his task grew, melancholy came to mean to 
Burton all the ills that flesh is heir to. He tracked 
it in obscure and unsuspected forms ; drew illus- 
trations from a range of authors so much wider 
than the compass of the reading of even the most 
learned since, that he has until lately been 
commonly credited with the invention of a large 
part of his quotations. Ancients and moderns, 
poets and prose writers, schoolmen and dramatists 
are all drawn upon for the copious store of his 
examples; they are always cited with an air of 
quietly humorous shrewdness in the comments 
and enclosed in a prose that is straightforward, 
simple and vigorous, and can on occasion command 
both rhythm and beauty of phrase. It is a mistake 
to regard Burton from the point of view (taught us 
first by Charles Lamb) of tolerant or loving delight 
in quaintness for quaintness' sake. His book is 
anything but scientific in form, but it is far from 
being the work of a recluse or a fool. Behind his 
lack of system, he takes a broad and psychologically 
an essentially just view of human ills, and modern 
medicine has gone far in its admiration of what is 
at bottom a most comprehensive and subtle treatise 
in diagnosis. 

A writer of a very different quality is Sir Thomas 
Browne. Of all the men of his time, he is the only 


one of whom one can say for certain that he held 
the manner of saying a thing more important than 
the thing said. He is our first dehberate and 
conscious styHst, the forerunner of Charles Lamb, 
of Stevenson (whose J'^irginibus Piterisque is 
modelled on his method of treatment) and of the 
stylistic school of our own day. His eloquence is 
too studied to rise to the greatest heights, and his 
speculation, though curious and discursive, never 
really results in deep thinking. He is content to 
embroider his pattern out of the stray fancies of an 
imaginative nature. His best known work, the 
Religio Medici, is a random confession of belief and 
thoughts, full of the inconsequent speculations of 
a man with some knowledge of science but not 
deeply or earnestly interested about it, content 
rather to follow the wayward imaginations of a 
mind naturally gifted with a certain poetic quality, 
than to engage in serious intellectual exercise. 
Such work could never maintain its hold on taste 
if it were not carefully finished and constructed 
with elaborate care. Browne, if he was not a great 
writer, was a literary artist of a high quality. He 
exploits a quaint and lovable egoism with extra- 
ordinary skill ; and though his delicately figured 
and latinized sentences commonly sound platitudin- 
ous and trivial when they are translated into rough 
Saxon prose, as they stand they are rich and melo- 
dious enough. Bunyan belongs rather to the 
special history of the novel, and it will be con- 


venient to postpone dealing with him till we 

reach it. 


In a century of surpassing richness in prose and 
poetry, one author stands by himself. John Milton 
refuses to be classed with any of the schools. 
Though Dryden tells us Milton confessed to him 
that Spenser was his " original," he has no connec- 
tion — other than a general similarity of purpose, 
moral and religious — with Spenser's followers. To 
the " fantastics " he paid in his youth the doubtful 
compliment of one or two half- contemptuous 
imitations and never touched them again. He had 
no turn for the love lyrics or the courtliness of the 
school of Jonson. In everything he did he was 
himself and his own master ; he devised his own 
subjects and wrote his own style. He stands alone 
and must be judged alone. 

No author, however, can ever escape from the 
influences of his time, and, just as much as his 
lesser contemporaries, Milton has his place in 
literary history and derives from the great original 
impulse which set in motion all the enterprises of 
the century. He is the last and greatest figure in 
the English Renaissance. The new passion for art 
and letters which in its earnest fumbling beginnings 
gave us the prose of Cheke and Ascham and the 
poetry of Surrey and Sackville, comes to a full and 
splendid and perfect end in his work. In it the 
Renaissance and the Reformation, imperfectly fused 


by Sidney and Spenser, blend in their just propor- 
tions. The transplantation into English of classical 
forms, which had been the aim of Sidney and the 
endeavour of Jonson, he finally accomplished ; in 
his work the dream of all the poets of the Renais- 
sance — the " heroic " poem — finds its fulfilment. 
There was no poet of the time but wanted to do 
for his country what Vergil had planned to do for 
Rome, to sing its origins, and to celebrate its 
morality and its citizenship in the epic form. 
Spenser had tried it in The Faerie Queen and failed 
splendidly. Where he failed, Milton succeeded, 
though his poem is not on the origins of England 
but on the ultimate subject of the origins of man- 
kind. We know from his notebooks that he turned 
over in his mind a national subject and that the 
Arthurian legend for a while appealed to him. 
But to Milton's earnest temper nothing that was 
not true was a fit subject for poetry. It was 
inevitable he should lay it aside. The Arthurian 
story he knew to be a myth, and a myth was a lie ; 
the story of the Fall, on the other hand, he accepted 
in common with his time for literal fact. It is to 
be noted as characteristic of his confident and 
assured egotism that he accepted no less sincerely 
and literally the imaginative structure which he 
himself reared on it. However that may be, the 
solid fact about him is that in this " adventurous 
song " with its pursuit of 

" Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme," 


he succeeded in his attempt, that alone among 
the moderns he contrived to write an epic which 
stands on the same eminence as the ancient 
writings of the kind, and that he found time, in a 
Hfe which hardly extended to old age as we know 
it, to write, besides noble lyrics and a series of 
fiercely argumentative prose treatises, two other 
masterpieces in the grand style, a tragedy modelled 
on the Greeks and a second epic on the " compact " 
style of the book of Job. No English poet can 
compare with him in majesty or completeness. 

An adequate study of his achievement is im- 
possible within the limits of the few pages that are 
all a book like this can spare to a single author. 
Readers who desire it will find it in the work of his 
two best critics, Mark Pattison and Prof. Walter 
Raleigh.^ All that can be done here is to call 
attention to some of his most striking qualities. 
Foremost, of course, is the temper of the man. 
From the beginning he was sure of himself and 
sure of his mission ; he had his purpose plain and 
clear. There is no mental development, hardly, 
visible in his work, only training, undertaken 
anxiously and prayerfully and with a clearly con- 
ceived end. He designed to write a masterpiece 
and he would not start till he was ready. The 
first twenty years of his life were spent in assiduous 
reading ; for twenty more he was immersed in the 
dust and toil of political conflict, using his pen 

1 "Milton" (E.M.L.), and "Milton" (Edward Arnold). 


and his extraordinary equipment of learning and 
eloquence to defend the cause of liberty, civil and 
religious, and to attack its enemies ; not till he 
was past middle age had he reached the leisure and 
the preparedness necessary to accomplish his self- 
imposed work. But all the time, as we know, he 
had it in his mind, and he used every form of self- 
discipline, physical and intellectual, to fit himself for 
its accomplishment. " Long it was not," he could 
write, " when I was confirmed in this opinion, that 
he who would not be frustrate of his hope to write 
well hereafter in laudable things, ought himself to 
be a true poem ; that is a composition and pattern 
of the best and honourablest things ; not presuming 
to sing high praises of heroic men, or famous cities, 
unless he have in himself the experience and 
practice of all that which is praiseworthy." In 
Lycidas, written in his Cambridge days, he 
apologizes to his readers for plucking the fruit of 
his poetry before it is ripe. In passage after 
passage in his prose works he begs for his reader's 
patience for a little while longer till his preparation 
be complete. When the time came at last for 
beginning he was in no doubt ; in his very opening 
lines he intends, he says, to soar no "middle 
flight." This self-assured unrelenting certainty of 
his, carried into his prose essays in argument, pro- 
duces sometimes strange results. One is peculiarly 
interesting to us now in view of current contro- 
versy. He was unhappily married, and because he 


was unhappy the law of divorce must be changed. 
A modern — George EHot for instance — would have 
pleaded the artistic temperament and been content 
to remain outside the law. Milton always argued 
from himself to mankind at large. His wife would 
not talk to him, and so, an incorrigible " muteness " 
and a desertion such as hers was to be a general 
ground of divorce. 

In everything he did, he put forth all his strength. 
Each of his poems, long or short, is by itself a 
perfect whole, wrought complete. The reader 
always must feel that the planning of each is the 
work of conscious, deliberate, and selecting art. 
Milton never digresses ; he never violates the 
harmony of sound or sense ; his poems have all 
their regular movement, from quiet beginning 
through a rising and breaking wave of passion 
and splendour to quiet close. His art is nowhere 
better seen than in his endings. 

Is it Lycidas ? After the thunder of approaching 
vengeance on the hireling shepherds of the Church, 
comes sunset and quiet : 

" And now the sun had stretch'd out all the hills, 
And now was dropt into the western bay ; 
At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue : 
To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new."" 

Is it Paradise Lost ? After the agonies of ex- 
pulsion and the flaming sword — 

" Some natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon ; 
The world was all before them where to choose 


Their place of rest, and Providence their guide ; 
They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, 
Through Eden took their solitary way." 

Is it, finally, Samson Agonistes ? 

" His servants he with new acquist, 
Of true experience from this great event, 
With peace and consolation hath dismist, 
And calm of mind, all passion spent." 

" Calm of mind, all passion spent," it is the 
essence of Milton's art. 

Yet Milton would not have assented to any 
criticism which sought to regard him merely as an 
artist. His prose works are avowedly polemical 
in character; so in a certain sense is Samson 
Agonistes ; Pai^adise Lost starts with an avowed 
dogmatic aim : openly intending to 

" Assert eternal providence, 
And justify the ways of God to man." 

It intends, that is, to deal with the dark and 
difficult problem of human destiny ; to explain 
man's disobedience and the fruit of it, to make 
clear heaven's purposes and man's failure to come 
up to them, and to give us such a conception of 
things divine and human as we can sincerely 
accept, trust, and believe in. To what extent does 
Milton succeed in this aim ? A modern reader 
finds the question difficult to answer without 
offence. To the vaguer and less certain way of 
thinking which the nineteenth century taught us, 
his scheme of the universe appears inconceivably 


artificial, and it is difficult to understand how he 
could have believed in the reality of something so 
obviously the result of his own ingenuity as his 
" geography " (if an extension of the word be per- 
mitted) of heaven and hell. In some ways his life 
incapacitated him from approaching his subject 
from our modern point of view. A scholar by up- 
bringing and profession, and solitary in his old age, 
his business in his prime fixed his attention on great 
affairs, and if he was not an actor in revolution he 
was at least a servant and confidant of the actors. 
He had watched with eager sympathy arduous 
political debate, of a kind more momentous than 
anything of the kind could be to us now, and he 
knew how surely, when something bigger and more 
instant than the mere clash of party is afoot, what 
is said will mirror the mind of the speaker. It is 
this vivid experience shining through it which gives 
reality and force to the second book of his great 
poem, when Satan and his followers hold their 
council in Hell. Without it, this part of the poem 
could not possibly have been so magnificent and 
awe-inspiring ; but without it the poem as a whole 
might have been more easily accepted by posterity 
in its contents, as well as in its style. The truth is, 
Milton made the Fall of the Angels a political 
transaction, and though the exigencies of his subject 
forced him for once to be on the side of absolute 
monarchy, his latent enthusiasm for revolt made 
him make the rebellious element — Satan and his 


crew — more interesting, and so disturbed the balance 
of his poem. " Satan may have been wrong, but 
on Milton's theory he had an arguable case at least. 
There was something arbitrary jn the promotion ; 
there were Uttle symptoms of a job ; in Paradise 
Lost it is always clear that the devils are the 
weaker, but it is never clear that the angels are the 
better. Milton's sympathy and his imagination 
slip back to the Puritan rebels whom he loved, and 
desert the courtly angels whom he could not love 
although he praised."^ 

Dr Johnson said that, after all, Paradise Lost 
was one of the books which no one wished larger ; 
probably he was right. But " after all," too, what 
book in the whole range of modern literature is 
really greater ? What other poet has devised a 
style so full and dignified, so firm and continuous 
in its music, so fitted to keep out the intrusion of 
mean associations which might imperil the serious- 
ness of its theme, so impregnated with a moral 
and artistic tenacity, so compact of sublimity and 
strength ? 

1 Walter Bagehot : Essay on Milton. 




The student of literature, when he passes in his 
reading from the age of Shakespeare and Milton 
to that of Dryden and Pope, will be conscious of 
certain sharply defined differences between the 
temper and styles of the writers of the two periods. 
If besides being a student of literature he is also 
a student of literary criticism, he will find that 
these differences have led to the affixing of certain 
labels — that the school to which writers of the 
former period belong is called "Romantic" and 
that of the latter " Classic," this " Classic " school 
being again overthrown towards the end of the 
eighteenth century by a set of writers who, unlike 
the Elizabethans, gave the name " Romantic " to 
themselves. What is he to understand by these 
two labels ? what are the characteristics of 
" Classicism," and how far is it opposite to and 
conflicting with " Romanticism " ? The question 
is difficult because the names are used vaguely and 
they do not adequately cover everything that is 
commonly put under them. It would be difficult, 



for instance, to find anything in Ben Jonson which 
proclaims him as belonging to a different school from 
Dryden, and perhaps the same could be said in the 
second and self-styled period of Romanticism of the 
work of Crabbe. But in the main the differences 
are real and easily visible, even though they hardly 
convince us that the names chosen are the happiest 
that could be found by way of description. 

This period of Dryden and Pope on which 
we are now entering sometimes styled itself the 
Augustan Age of English poetry. It grounded 
its claim to Classicism on a fancied resemblance 
to the Roman poets of the golden age of Latin 
poetry, the reign of the Emperor Augustus. Its 
authors saw themselves each as a second Vergil, a 
second Ovid, most of all a second Horace, and they 
believed that their relation to the big world, their 
assured position in society, heightened the re- 
semblances. They endeavoured to form their 
poetry on the lines laid down in the critical writing 
of the original Augustan age as elaborated and 
interpreted in Renaissance criticism. It was tacitly 
assumed — some of them openly asserted it — that 
the kinds, modes of treatment and all the minor 
details of literature, figures of speech, use of epithets 
and the rest, had been settled by the ancients once 
and for all. What the Greeks began the critics 
and authors of the time of Augustus had settled in 
its completed form, and the scholars of the Re- 
naissance had only interpreted their findings for 


modern use. There was the tragedy, which had 
certain proper parts and a certain fixed order of 
treatment laid down for it ; there was the heroic 
poem, which had a story or " fable," which must be 
treated in a certain fixed manner, and so on. The 
authors of the " Classic " period so christened them- 
selves because they observed these rules. And 
they fancied that they had the temper of the 
Augustan time — -the temper displayed in the 
works of Horace more than in those of anyone 
else — its urbanity (English literature in their 
hands became for the first time an affair of the 
towns), its love of good sense and moderation, its 
instinctive distrust of emotion, and its invincible 
good breeding. If you had asked them to state 
as simply and broadly as possible their purpose, 
they would have said it was to follow nature ; and 
if you had enquired what they meant by nature, 
it would turn out that they thought of it mainly 
as the opposite of art and the negation of what 
was fantastic, tortured, or far-sought in thinking 
or writing. The later " Romantic " Revival, when 
it called itself a return to nature, was only claim- 
ing the intention which the classical school itself 
had proclaimed as its main endeavour. The ex- 
planation of that paradox we shall see presently ; 
in the meantime it is worth looking at some of the 
characteristics of Classicism as they appear in the 
work of the " Classic " authors. 

In the first place the " Classic " writers aimed at 


simplicity of style, at a normal standard of writing. 
They were intolerant of individual eccentricities ; 
they endeavoured, and with success, to infuse into 
English letters something of the academic spirit 
that was already controlling their fellow-craftsmen 
in France. For this end amongst others they and 
the men of science founded the Royal Society, 
an academic committee which has been restricted 
since to the physical and natural sciences and been 
supplemented by similar bodies representing litera- 
ture and learning only in our own day. Clearness, 
plainness, conversational ease and directness were 
the aims the society set before its members where 
their writing was concerned. " The Royal Society," 
wrote the Bishop of Rochester, its first historian, 
" have exacted from all their members a close, 
naked, natural way of speaking ; positive expres- 
sions, clear sense, a native easiness, bringing all 
things as near the mathematical plainness as they 
can ; and preferring the language of artisans, 
countrymen, and merchants before that of wits 
and scholars." Artisans, countrymen, and mer- 
chants — the ideal had been already accepted in 
France, Malesherbes striving to use no word that 
was not in the vocabulary of the day labourers of 
Paris, Moliere making his washerwoman first critic 
of his comedies. It meant for England the disuse 
of the turgiditie^ and involutions which had marked 
the prose of the preachers and moralists of the 

times of James and Charles 1. ; scholars and men 



of letters were arising who would have taken John 
Bunyan, the unlettered tinker of Bedford, for their 
model rather than the learned physician, Sir Thomas 

But genius like Bunyan's apart, there is nothing 
in the world more difficult than to write with the 
easy and forthright simplicity of talk, as anyone 
may see who tries for himself, or even compares 
the letter-writing with the conversation of his 
friends. So that this desire for simplicity, for 
clarity, for lucidity led at once to a more deliberate 
art. Dryden and Swift and Addison were assiduous 
in their labour with the file ; they excel all their 
predecessors in polish as much as the writers of 
the first Augustan age excelled theirs in the same 
quality. Not that it was all the result of deliberate 
art; in a way it was in the air, and quite unlearned 
people — journalists and pamphleteers and the like 
who wrote unpremeditatedly and hurriedly to buy 
their supper — partook of it as well as leisured 
people and conscious artists. Defoe is as plain 
and easy and polished as Swift, yet it is certain 
his amazing activity and productiveness never 
permitted him to look back over a sentence he 
had written. Something had happened, that is, 
to the English language. The assimilation of 
latinisms and the revival of obsolete terms of 
speech had ceased ; it had become finally a more 
or less fixed form, shedding so much of its imports 
as it had failed to make part of itself and acquiring 

From the portrait by IV. Hoare in the National Portrait Gallery. 


a grammatical and syntactical fixity which it had 
not possessed in Elizabethan times. When Shakes- 
peare wrote 

" What cares these roarers for the name of king," 

he was using, as students of his language never 
tire of pointing out to us, a perfectly correct local 
grammatical form. Fifty years after that line was 
written, at the Restoration, local forms had dropped 
out of written English. We had acquired a normal 
standard of language, and either genius or labour 
was polishing it for literary uses. 

What they did for prose these " Classic " writers 
did even more exactly — and less happily — for 
verse. Fashions often become exaggerated before 
their disappearance, and the decadence of Eliza- 
bethan romanticism had produced poetry the 
wildness and extravagance of whose images was 
well-nigh unbounded. The passion for intricate 
and far-sought metaphor which had possessed 
Donne was accompanied in his work, and even 
more in that of his followers, with a passion for 
what was elusive and recondite in thought and 
emotion and with an increasing habit of rudeness 
and wilful difficultness in language and versifica- 
tion. Against these ultimate licences of a great 
artistic period, the classical writers invoked the 
qualities of smoothness and lucidity, in the same 
way, so they fancied, as Vergil might have invoked 
them against Lucretius. In the treatment of 


thought and feeling they wanted clearness, they 
wanted ideas which the mass of men would readily 
apprehend and assent to, and they wanted not 
hints or half-spoken suggestions but complete 
statement. When they spoke of following nature 
this was what they meant. In the place of the 
logical subtleties which Donne and his school had 
sought in the scholastic writers of the Middle 
Ages, they brought back the typically Renaissance 
study of rhetoric ; the characteristic of all the 
poetry of the period is that it has a rhetorical 
quality. It is never intimate and never profound, 
but it has point and wit, and it appeals with con- 
fidence to the balanced judgment which men who 
distrust emotion and have no patience with subtleties 
intellectual, emotional, or merely verbal, have in 
common. Alongside of this lucidity, this air of 
complete statement in substance, they strove for 
and achieved smoothness in form. To the poet 
Waller, the immediate predecessor of Dryden, the 
classical writers themselves ascribed the honour of 
the innovation. In fact Waller was only carrying 
out the ideals counselled and followed by Ben 
Jonson. It was in the school of Waller and 
Dryden and not in that of the minor writers who 
called themselves his followers that he came to 
his own. 

What then are the main differences between 
Classicism of the best period — the Classicism whose 
characteristics we have been describing — and the 


Romanticism which came before and after? In 
the first place we must put the quahty we have 
described as that of complete statement. Classical 
poetry is, so to speak, "all there." Its meaning is 
all of it on the surface; it conveys nothing but 
what it says, and what it says, it says completely. 
It is always vigorous and direct, often pointed and 
aphoristic, never merely suggestive, never given to 
half statement, and never obscure. You feel that 
as an instrument of expression it is sharp and 
polished and shining ; it is always bright and 
defined in detail. The great Romantics go to 
work in other ways. Their poetry is a thing of 
half lights and half-spoken suggestions, of hints 
that imagination will piece together, of words that 
are charged with an added meaning of sound over 
sense, a thing that stirs the vague and impalpable 
restlessness of memory or terror or desire that lies 
down beneath in the minds of men. It rouses 
what a philosopher has called the " transcendental 
feeling," the solemn sense of the immediate presence 
of " that which was and is and ever shall be," to 
induce which is the property of the highest poetry. 
You will find nothing in classical poetry so poignant 
or highly wrought as Webster's 

" Cover her face ; mine eyes dazzle ; she died young," 

and the answer, 

" I think not so : her infelicity 
Seemed to have years too many,"" 


or so subtle in its suggestion, the sense of what is 
said echoing back to primeval terrors and despairs, 
as this from Macbeth : 

" Stones have been known to move and trees to speak ; 
Augurs and understood relations have 
By magot-pies, and choughs, and rooks brought forth 
The secret'st man of blood " ; 

or so intoxicating to the imagination and the senses 
as an ode of Keats or a sonnet by Rossetti. But 
you will find eloquent and pointed statements of 
thoughts and feelings that are common to most of 
us — the expression of ordinary human nature — 

" What oft was thought but ne'er so well exprest." 

" Wit and fine writing " consisting, as Addison 
put it in a review of Pope's first published poem, 
not so much " in advancing things that are new, 
as in giving things that are known an agree- 
able turn." 

Though in this largest sense the " Classic " writers 
eschewed the vagueness of Romanticism, in another 
and more restricted way they cultivated it. They 
were not realists as all good Romanticists have to 
be. They had no love for oddities or idiosyncrasies 
or exceptions. They loved uniformity, they had 
no use for truth in detail. They liked the broad, 
generalized, descriptive style of Milton, for instance, 
better than the closely packed style of Shakespeare, 
which gets its effects from a series of minute 
observations huddled one after the other and giving 


the reader, so to speak, the materials for his own 
impression, rather than rendering, as Milton does, 
the expression itself. 

Every literary discovery hardens ultimately into 
a convention ; it has its day and then its work is 
done, and it has to be destroyed so that the ascend- 
ing spirit of humanity can find a better means of 
self-expression. Out of the writing which aimed 
at simplicity and truth to nature grew "poetic 
diction," a special treasury of words and phrases 
deemed suitable for poetry, providing poets with a 
common stock of imagery, removing from them 
the necessity of seeing life and nature each one for 
himself The poetry which Dryden and Pope 
wrought out of their mental vigour, their followers 
wrote to pattern. Poetry became reduced, as it 
had hardly been before and has never been since, 
to a formula. The Elizabethan sonneteers, as we 
saw, used a vocabulary and phraseology in common 
with their fellows in Italy and France, and none 
the less produced fine poetry. But they used it to 
express things they really felt. The truth is it is not 
the fact of a poetic diction which matters so much 
as its quality — whether it squares with sincerity, 
whether it is capable of expressing powerfully and 
directly one's deepest feelings. The history of 
literature can show poetic dictions — special vocabu- 
laries and forms for poetry — that have these 
qualities ; the diction, for instance, of the Greek 
choruses, or of the ballad-makers, or of the Scottish 


poets who followed Chaucer, or of the troubadours. 
That of the classic writers of an Augustan age was 
not of such a kind. Words clothe thought ; poetic 
diction had the artifice of the crinoline : it would 
stand by itself The Romantics in their return to 
nature had necessarily to abolish it. 

But when all is said in criticism, the poetry of 
the earlier half of the eighteenth century excels 
all other English poetry in two respects. Two 
qualities belong to it by virtue of the metre in 
which it is most of it written — rapidity and anti- 
thesis. Its antithesis made it an incomparable 
vehicle for satire, its rapidity for narrative. Outside 
its limits we have hardly any even passable satirical 
verse ; within them there are half a dozen works 
of the highest excellence in this kind. And if we 
except Chaucer, there is no one else in the whole 
range of English poetry who has the narrative gift 
so completely as the classic poets. Bentleys will 
always exist who will assure us with civility that 
Pope's Homer, though " very pretty," bears little 
relation to the Greek, and that Dryden's Vergil, 
though vigorous and virile, is a poor representation 
of its original. The truth remains that for a reader 
who knows no ancient languages either of those 
translations will probably give a better idea of its 
original than any other rendering in English that 
we possess. The foundation of their method has 
been vindicated in the best modern translations 
from the Greek, 


The term " eighteenth century " in the vocabulary 
of the literary historian is commonly as vaguely 
used as the term Elizabethan. It borrows as much 
as forty years from the seventeenth and gives away 
ten to the nineteenth. The whole of the work of 
Dryden, whom we must count as the first of the 
'* Classic " school, was accomplished before chrono- 
logically it had begun. As a man and as an author 
he was very intimately related to his changing 
times ; he adapted himself to them with a versa- 
tility as remarkable as that of the Vicar of Bray, 
and hardly less simple-minded. He mourned in 
verse the death of Cromwell and the death of his 
successor, successively defended the theological 
positions of the Church of England and the Church 
of Rome, changed his religion and became Poet 
Laureate to James II., and acquiesced with per- 
fect equanimity in the Revolution which brought 
in his successor. This instability of conviction, 
though it gave a handle to his opponents in con- 
troversy, does not appear to have caused any 
serious scandal or disgust among his contempor- 
aries, and it has certainly had little effect on the 
judgment of later times. It has raised none of 
the reproaches which have been cast at the sus- 
pected apostasy of Wordsworth. Dryden had 
little interest in political or religious questions ; 
his instinct, one must conceive, was to conform 


to the prevailing mode and to trouble himself no 
further about the matter. Defoe told the truth 
about him when he wrote that " Dryden might 
have been told his fate that, having his extraor- 
dinary genius slung and pitched upon a swivel, 
it would certainly turn round as fast as the times, 
and instruct him how to write elegies to Oliver 
Cromwell and King Charles the Second with all 
the coherence imaginable ; how to write Religio 
Laid and the Hind and the Panther and yet be 
the same man, every day to change his principle, 
change his religion, change his coat, change his 
master, and yet never change his nature." He 
never changed his nature, he was as free from 
cynicism as a barrister who represents successively 
opposing parties in suits or politics ; and when he 
wrote polemics in prose or verse he lent his 
talents as a barrister lends his for a fee. His one 
intellectual interest was in his art, and it is in his 
comments on his art — the essays and prefaces in 
the composition of which he amused the leisure 
left in the busy life of a dramatist and a poet of 
officialdom — that his most charming and delicate 
work is to be found. In a way they begin modern 
English prose ; earlier writing furnishes no equal 
to their colloquial ease and the grace of their 
expression. And they contain some of the most 
acute criticism in our language — " Classical " in its 
tone {i.e. with a preference for conformity) but 
with its respect for order and tradition always 


tempered by good sense and wit, and informed 
and guided throughout by a taste whose catholicity 
and sureness was unmatched in the England of 
his time. The preface to his Fables contains 
some excellent notes on Chaucer. They may be 
read as a sample of the breadth and perspicuity 
of his critical perceptions. 

His chief poetical works were most of them 
occasional — designed either to celebrate some 
remarkable event or to take a side and interpret 
a policy in the conflict, political or religious, of 
the time. Absalom and Achitophel and The 
Medal were levelled at the Shaftesbury-Monmouth 
intrigues in the closing years of Charles II. 
Religio Laid celebrated the excellence of the 
Church of England in its character of via media 
between the opposite extravagances of Papacy and 
Presbyterianism. The Hind and the Panther 
found this perfection spotted. The Church of 
England has become the Panther, whose coat is a 
varied pattern of heresy and truth beside the spot- 
less purity of the Hind, the Church of Rome. 
Astrea Redduoc welcomed the returning Charles ; 
Annus Mirabilis commemorated a year of fire and 
victories. Besides these he wrote many dramas 
in verse, a number of translations, and some 
shorter poems, of which the odes are the most 

His qualities as a poet fitted very exactly the 
work he set himself to do. His work is always 


pLain and easily understood ; he had a fine faculty 
for narration, and the vigorous rapidity and point 
of his style enabled him to sketch a character or 
sum up a dialectical position very surely and 
effectively. His writing has a kind of spare and 
masculine force about it. It is this vigour and the 
impression which he gives of intellectual strength 
and of a logical grasp of his subject, that beyond 
question has kept alive work which, if ever poetry 
was, was ephemeral in its origin. The careers of 
the unscrupulous Caroline peers would have been 
closed for us were they not visible in the reflected 
light of his denunciation of them. Though Buck- 
ingham is forgotten and Shaftesbury's name 
swallowed up in that of his more philanthropic 
descendant, we can read of Achitophel and Zimri 
still, and feel something of the strength and heat 
which he caught from a fiercely fought conflict 
and transmitted with his own gravity and purpose- 
fulness into verse. The Thirty-nine Articles are 
not a proper subject for poetry, but the sustained 
and serious allegory which Dryden weaves round 
theological discussion preserves his treatment of 
them from the fate of the controversialists who 
opposed him. His work has wit and vitality 
enough to keep it sweet. 

Strength and wit enter in different proportions 
into the work of his successor, Alexander Pope — 
a poet whom admirers in his own age held to be 
the greatest in our language. No one would think 


of making such a claim now, but the detraction 
which he suffered at the hands of Wordsworth and 
the Romantics ought not to make us forget that 
Pope, though not our greatest, not even perhaps a 
great poet is incomparably our most brilliant 
versifier. Dryden's strength turns in his work into 
something more fragile and delicate, polished with 
infinite care like lacquer, and wrought like filigree 
work to the last point of conscious and perfected 
art. He was not a great thinker ; the thoughts 
which he embodies in his philosophical poems — 
the Essay on Man and the rest — are almost ludi- 
crously out of proportion to the solemnity of the 
titles which introduce them, nor does he except 
very rarely get beyond the conceptions common to 
the average man when he attempts introspection 
or meditates on his own destiny. The reader in 
search of philosophy will find little to stimulate 
him, and in the facile Deism of the time probably 
something to smile at. Pope has no message to 
us now. But he will find views current in his 
time or borrowed from other authors put with 
perfect felicity and wit, and he will recognize the 
justice of Addison's comment that Pope's wit and 
fine writing consist " not so much in advancing 
things that are new, as in giving things that are 
known an agreeable turn." Nor will he fall into 
the error of dubbing the author a minor poet 
because he is neither subtle nor imaginative nor 
profound. A great poet would not have written 


like Pope — one must grant it ; but a minor poet 
could not. 

It is characteristic of Pope's type of mind and 
kind of art that there is no development visible in 
his work. Other poets — Shakespeare, for instance, 
and Keats — have written work of the highest quality 
when they were young, but they have had crude- 
nesses to shed, things to get rid of as their strength 
and perceptions grew. But Pope, like Minerva, 
was full grown and full armed from the beginning. 
If we did not know that his Essay on Ciiticism 
was his first poem it would be impossible to place it 
in the canon of his work ; it might come in anywhere 
and so might everything else that he wrote. From 
the beginning his craftsmanship was perfect ; from 
the beginning he took his subject-matter from 
others as he found it and worked it up into 
aphorism and epigram till each line shone like a 
cut jewel and the essential commonplaceness and 
poverty of his material was obscured by the glitter 
the craftsmanship lent to it. He was quite sure 
of his medium from the beginning, and when the 
opportunity came he used it to most brilliant 
purpose. The Rape of the Lock and the satirical 
poems come later in his career. 

As a satirist Pope, though he did not hit so hard 
as Dryden, struck more deftly and probed deeper. 
He wielded a rapier where the other used a broad- 
sword, and though both used their weapons with 
the highest skill and the metaphor must not be 


imagined to impute clumsiness to Dryden, the 
rapier made the cleaner cut. Both employed a 
method in satire which their successors (a poor set) 
in England have not been intelligent enough to 
use. They allow every possible good point to the 
object of their attack. They appear to deal him 
an even and regretful justice. His good points, 
they put it in effect, being so many, how much 
blacker and more deplorable his meannesses and 
faults ! They do not do this out of charity ; there 
was very little of the milk of human kindness in 
Pope. Deformity in his case, as in so many in 
fiction, seemed to carry with it a certain malevo- 
lence and meanness of disposition. The method is 
employed simply because it gives the maximum 
satirical effect. That is why Pope's epistle to 
Arbuthnot, with its characterization of Addison, 
is the most damning piece of invective in our 

The Rape of the Lock is an exquisite piece of 
workmanship, breathing the very spirit of the time. 
You can fancy it like some clock made by one of 
the Louis XIV. craftsmen, encrusted with a heap 
of ormulu mock-heroics and impertinences and set 
perfectly to the time of day. From no other poem 
could you gather so fully and perfectly the temper 
of the society in which our " classic " poetry was 
brought to perfection, its elegant assiduity in 
trifles, its briUiant artifice, its paint and powder 
and patches and high-heeled shoes, its measured 


strutting walk in life as well as in verse. The 
Rape of the Lock is a mock-heroic poem ; that is 
to say it applies the form and treatment which the 
" classic " critics of the seventeenth century had 
laid down as belonging to the " heroic " or " epic " 
style to a trifling circumstance — the loss by a 
young lady of fashion of a lock of hair. And it is 
the one instance in which this "recipe" for a 
heroic poem which the French critics handed on 
to Dryden, and Dryden left to his descendants, 
has been used well enough to keep the work done 
with it in memory. In a way it condemns the 
poetical theory of the time ; when forms are fixed, 
new writing is less likely to be creative and more 
likely to exhaust itself in the ingenious but trifling 
exercises of parody and burlesque. The Rape of 
the Lock is brilliant, but it is only play. 

The accepted theory which assumed that the 
forms of poetry had been settled in the past and 
existed to be applied, though it concerned itself 
mainly with the ancient writers, included also two 
moderns in its scope. You were orthodox if you 
wrote tragedy and epic as Horace told you and 
satire as he had shown you ; you were also orthodox 
if you wrote in the styles of Spenser or Milton. 
Spenser, though his predecessors were counted 
barbaric and his followers tortured and obscure, 
never fell out of admiration ; indeed in every age 
of English poetry after him the greatest poet in it 
is always to be found copying him or expressing 


their love for him — Milton declaring to Dryden 
that Spenser was his " original," Pope reading and 
praising him, Keats writing his earliest work in 
close imitation. His characteristic style and stanza 
were recognized by the classic school as a distinct 
" kind " of poetry which might be used where the 
theme fitted instead of the heroic manner, and 
Spenserian imitations abound. Sometimes they 
are serious ; sometimes, like Shenstone's School- 
mistress, they are mocking and another illustration 
of the dangerous ease with which a conscious and 
sustained effort to write in a fixed and acquired 
style runs to seed in burlesque. Milton's fame 
never passed through the period of obscurity that 
sometimes has been imagined for him. He had 
the discerning admiration of Dryden and others 
before his death. But to Addison belongs the 
credit of introducing him to the writers of this 
time ; his papers in the Spectator on Paradise 
Lost, with their eulogy of its author's sublimity, 
spurred the interest of the poets among his readers. 
From Milton the eighteenth century got the chief 
and most ponderous part of its poetic diction, high- 
sounding periphrases and borrowings from Latin 
used without the gravity and sincerity and fullness 
of thought of the master who brought them in. 
When they wrote blank verse, the classic poets 
wrote it in the Milton manner. 

The use of these two styles may be studied in 

the writings of one man, James Thomson. For 



besides acquiring a kind of anonymous immortality 
with patriots as the author of " Rule, Britannia," 
Thomson wrote two poems respectively in the 
Spenserian and the Miltonic manner, the former 
The Castle of Indolence, the latter Tlie Seasons. 
The Spenserian manner is caught very effectively, 
but the adoption of the style of Paradise Lost, 
with its allusiveness, circumlocution and weight, 
removes any freshness the Seasons might have had, 
had the circumstances in them been put down as 
they were observed. As it is, hardly anything is 
directly named ; birds are always the " feathered 
tribe" and everything else has a similar polite 
generality for its title. Thomson was a simple- 
minded man, with a faculty for watching and 
enjoying nature which belonged to few in his 
sophisticated age ; it is unfortunate he should have 
spent his working hours in rendering the fruit of 
country rambles freshly observed into a cold and 
stilted diction. It suited the eighteenth-century 
reader well, for not understanding nature herself, 
he was naturally obliged to read her in translations. 

The chief merits of " Classic " poetry — its clear- 
ness, its vigour, its direct statement — are such as 
belong theoretically rather to prose than to poetry. 
In fact, it was in prose that the most vigorous 
intellect of the time found itself. We have seen 
how Dryden, reversing the habit of other poets, 


succeeded in expressing his personality not in 
poetry, which was his vocation, but in prose, which 
was the amusement of his leisure hours. Spenser 
had put his politics into prose and his ideals into 
v^erse ; Dryden wrote his politics — to order — in 
verse, and in prose set down the thoughts and 
fancies which were the deepest part of him because 
they were about his art. The metaphor of parent- 
age, though honoured by use, does not always fit 
literary history well ; none the less, the tradition 
which describes him as the father of modern English 
prose is very near the truth. He puts into practice 
for the first time the ideals, described in the first 
chapter of this book, which were set up by the 
scholars who let into English the light of the 
Renaissance. With the exception of the dialogue 
on Dramatic Poesy, his work is almost all of it 
occasional, the fruit of the mood of a moment, and 
written rather in the form of a causerie, a kind of 
informal talk, than of a considered essay. And it 
is all couched in clear, flowing, rather loosely 
jointed English, carefully avoiding rhetoric and 
eloquence and striving always to reproduce the 
ease and flow of cultured conversation, rather than 
the tighter, more closely knit style of consciously 
" literary " prose. His methods were the methods 
of the four great prose-writers who followed him — 
Defoe, Addison, Steele, and Swift. 

Of these, Defoe was the eldest and in some ways 
the most remarkable. He has been called the 


earliest professional author in our language, and 
if that is not strictly true, he is at any rate the 
earliest literary journalist. His output of work 
was enormous ; he wrote on any and every subject; 
there was no event, whether in politics or letters or 
discovery, but he was ready with something pat 
on it before the public interest faded. It followed 
that a time when imprisonment, mutilation, and 
the pillory took the place of our modern libel 
actions he had an adventurous career. In politics 
he followed the Whig cause and served the Govern- 
ment with his pen, notably by his writings in 
support of the union with Scotland, in which he 
won over the Scots by his description of the com- 
mercial advantage which would follow the abolition 
of the border. This line of argument, taken at a 
time when the governing of political tendencies by 
commercial interests was by no means the accepted 
commonplace it is now, proves him a man of an 
active and original mind. His originality, indeed, 
sometimes overreached the comprehension both 
of the public and his superiors ; he was imprisoned 
for an attack on the Hanoverian succession which 
was intended ironically ; apparently he was ignorant 
of what every journalist ought to know, that 
irony is at once the most dangerous and the least 
effectual weapon in the whole armoury of the 
press. The fertility and ingenuity of his intellect 
may be best gauged by the number of modern 
enterprises and contrivances that are foreshadowed 


in his work. Here are a few, all utterly unknown 
in his own day, collected by a student of his works : 
a Board of Trade register for seamen ; factories 
for goods ; agricultural credit banks ; a commis- 
sion of enquiry into bankruptcy ; and a system 
of national poor relief. They show him to have 
been an independent and courageous thinker where 
social questions were concerned. 

He was nearly sixty before he had published his 
first novel, Robinson Crusoe, the book by which 
he is universally known, and on which with the 
seven other novels which followed it the best part 
of his literary fame rests. But his earlier works — 
they are reputed to number over two hundred — 
possess no less remarkable literary qualities. It is 
not too much to say that all the gifts which are 
habitually recommended for cultivation by those 
who aspire to journalistic success are to be found 
in his prose. He has in the first place the gift of 
perfect lucidity no matter how complicated the 
subject he is expounding ; such a book as his 
Complete English Tradesman is full of passages in 
which a complex and difficult subject-matter is set 
forth so plainly and clearly that the least literate 
of his readers could have no doubt of his under- 
standing it. He has also an amazingly exact 
acquaintance with the technicalities of all kinds of 
trades and professions ; none of our writers, not 
even Shakespeare, shows half such a knowledge of 
the circumstances of life among different ranks and 


conditions of men ; none of them has reahzed with 
such fideHty how so many different persons hved 
and moved. His gift of narrative and description is 
masterly, as readers of his novels know (we shall 
have to come back to it in discussing the growth 
of the English novel) ; several of his works show 
him to have been endowed with a fine faculty 
of psychological observation. Without the least 
consciousness of the value of what he was writing, 
nor indeed with any deliberate artistic intention, 
he made himself one of the masters of English 

Defoe had been the champion of the Whigs ; on 
the Tory side the ablest pen was that of Jonathan 
Swift. His works proclaim him to have had an 
intellect less wide in its range than that of his 
antagonist, but more vigorous and powerful. He 
wrote, too, more carefully. In his youth he had 
been private secretary to Sir William Temple, a 
writer now as good as forgotten because of the 
triviality of his matter, but in his day esteemed 
because of the easy urbanity and polish of his 
prose. From him Swift learned the labour of the 
file, and he declared in later life that it was 
" generally believed that this author has advanced 
our English tongue to as great a perfection as it 
can well bear." In fact, he added to the ease and 
cadences he had learned from Temple qualities of 
vigour and directness of his own which put his 
work far above his master's. And he dealt with 

Fratn a painting by C. Jervas in the National Portrait Gallery. 


more important subject-matter than the academic 
exercises on which Temple exercised his fastidious 
and meticulous powers of revision. 

In temperament he is opposed to all the writers 
of his time. There is no doubt but there was 
some radical disorder in his system ; brain disease 
clouded his intellect in his old age, and his last 
years were death in life ; right through his life he 
was a savagely irritable, sardonic, dark and violent 
man, impatient of the slightest contradiction or 
thwarting, and given to explosive and instantaneous 
rage. He delighted in flouting convention, gloried 
in outraging decency. The rage, which, as he said 
himself, tore his heart out, carried him to strange 
excesses. There is something ironical (he would 
himself have appreciated it) in the popularity of 
Gullivers Travels as a children's book — " that 
ascending wave of savagery and satire which over- 
whelms policy and learning to break against the 
ultimate citadel of humanity itself" In none of 
his contemporaries (except perhaps in the senti- 
mentalities of Steele) can one detect the traces of 
emotion ; to read Swift is to be conscious of intense 
feeling on almost every page. The surface of his 
style may be smooth and equable, but the central 
fires of passion are never far beneath, and through 
cracks and fissures come intermittent bursts of 
flame. Defoe's irony is so measured and studiously 
commonplace that perhaps those who imprisoned 
him because they believed him to be serious are 


hardly to be blamed ; Swift's quivers and reddens 
with anger in every line. 

But his pen seldom slips from the strong grasp 
of his controlling art. The extraordinary skill and 
closeness of his allegorical writings — unmatched in 
their kind — is witness to the care and sustained 
labour which went to their making. He is content 
with no general correspondences ; his allegory does 
not fade away into a story in which only the main 
characters have a secondary significance ; the 
minutest circumstances have a bearing in the satire 
and the moral. In The Tale of a Tub and in 
Gullivei^'s Travels — particularly in the former — 
the multitude as well as the aptness of the parallels 
between the imaginary narrative and the facts it is 
meant to represent is unrivalled in works of the 
kind. Only the highest mental powers, working 
with intense fervour and concentration, could have 
achieved the sustained brilliancy of the result. 
" What a genius I had when I wrote that book ! " 
Swift is said to have exclaimed in his old age when 
he re-read The Tale of a Tub, and certainly the 
book is a marvel of constructive skill, all the more 
striking because it makes allegory out of history 
and consequently is denied that freedom of narrative 
so brilliantly employed in the Travels. 

Informing all his writings too, besides intense 
feeling and an omnipresent and controlling art, 
is strong common sense. His aphorisms, both 
those collected under the heading of Thoughts on 


Farious Subjects, and countless others scattered up 
and down his pages, are a treasury of sound, if a 
little sardonic, practical wisdom. His most insistent 
prejudices foreshadow in their essential sanity and 
justness those of that great master of life, Dr 
Johnson. He could not endure over-politeness, a 
vice which must have been very oppressive in 
society of his day. He savagely resented and con- 
demned a display of affection — particularly marital 
affection — in public. In an age when it was the 
normal social system of settling quarrels, he con- 
demned duelling; and he said some very wise things 
— things that might still be said — on the problem of 
education. In economics he was as right-hearted 
as Ruskin and as wrong-headed. Carlyle, who was 
in so many respects an echo of him, found in a 
passage in his works a " dim anticipation " of his 
philosophy of clothes. 

The leading literary invention of the period — 
after that of the heroic couplet for verse — was the 
prose periodical essay. Defoe, it is hardly necessary 
to say, began it ; it was his nature to be first with 
any new thing : but its establishment as a prevailing 
literary mode is due to two authors, Joseph Addison 
and Richard Steele. Of the two famous series — 
the Tatler and the Spectator — for which they were 
both responsible, Steele must take the first credit ; 
he began them, and though Addison came in and 
by the deftness and lightness of his writing took the 
lion's share of their popularity, both the plan and 


the characters round whom the hulk of the essays 
in the Spectator came to revolve was the creation 
of his collaborator. Steele we know very intimately 
from his own writings and from Thackeray's 
portrait of him. He was an emotional, full-blooded 
kind of man, reckless and dissipated but funda- 
mentally honest and good-hearted — a type very 
common in his day as the novels show, but not 
otherwise to be found in the ranks of its writers. 
What there is of pathos and sentiment, and most 
of what there is of humour in the Tatler and the 
Spectator, are his. And he created the dramatis 
personoe out of whose adventures the slender thread 
of continuity which binds the essays together is 
woven. Addison, though less open to the on- 
slaughts of the conventional moralist, was a less 
lovable personality. Constitutionally endowed 
with little vitality, he suffered mentally as well as 
bodily from languor and lassitude. His lack of 
enthusiasm, his cold-blooded formalism, caused 
comment even in an age which prided itself in self- 
command and decorum. 

His occasional malevolence (if the word be not 
too strong) proceeded from a flaccidity which 
seemed to envy the activities and enthusiasms of 
other men. As a writer he was superficial ; he had 
not the energy necessary for forming a clear or 
profound judgment on any question of difficulty ; 
Johnson's comment, " He thinks justly but he 
thinks faintly," sums up the truth about him. His 


good qualities were of a slighter kind than Swift's ; 
he was a quiet and accurate observer of manners 
and fashions in life and conversation, and he had 
the gift of a style — what Johnson calls "The 
Middle Style " — very exactly suited to the kind of 
work on which he was habitually engaged, " always 
equable, always easy, without glowing words or 
pointed sentences," but polished, lucid, and urbane. 
Steele and Addison were conscious moralists as 
well as literary men. They desired to purge society 
of the Restoration licence ; to their efforts we must 
credit the alteration in morality which The School 
for Scandal shows over The Way of the World. 
Their professed object, as they stated themselves, 
was "to banish vice and ignorance out of the 
territories of Great Britain " (nothing less!) "and to 
bring philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools 
and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at 
tea-tables and coffee-houses." In fact, their satires 
were politically nearer home, and the chief objects 
of their aversion were the Tory squires whom it 
was their business as Whigs to deride. On the 
Coverley papers in the Spectator rests the chief part 
of their literary fame ; these belong rather to the 
special history of the novel than to that of the 
periodical essay. 



By 1730 the authors whose work made the *' classic " 
school in England were dead or had ceased writing ; 
by the same date Samuel Johnson had begun his 
career as a man of letters. The difference between 
the period of his maturity and the period we have 
been examining is not perhaps easy to define ; but 
it exists and it can be felt unmistakably in reading. 
For one thing, "Classicism " had become completely 
naturalized ; it had ceased to regard the French 
as arbiters of elegance and literary taste ; indeed 
Johnson himself nev^er spoke of them without 
disdain, and hated them as much as he hated 
Scotsmen. Writing, like dress and the common 
way of life, became plainer and graver and thought 
stronger and deeper. In manners and speech 
something of the brutalism which was at the root 
of the English character at the time began to 
colour the refinement of the preceding age. Dilet- 
tantism gave way to learning and speculation ; in 
the place of Bolingbroke came Adam Smith; in 
the place of Addison, Johnson. In a way, it is the 
solidest and sanest time in English letters. Yet in 



the midst of its urbanity and order forces were 
gathering for its destruction. The ballad-mongers 
were busy ; Johnson was scarcely dead before 
Blake was drawing and rhyming and Burns was 
giving songs and lays to his country-side. In the 
distance — Johnson could not hear them — sounded, 
like the horns of elf-land faintly blowing, the 
trumpet-calls of romance. 

If the whole story of Dr Johnson's life were the 
story of his published books it would be very 
difficult to understand his pre-eminent and symbolic 
position in literary history. His best-known work 
— it still remains so — was his dictionary, and 
dictionaries, for all the licence they give and 
Johnson took for the expression of a personality, 
are the business of purely mechanical talents. A 
lesser man than he might have cheated us of such 
delights as the definitions of " oats," or " net," or 
" pension," but his book would certainly have been 
no worse as a book. Yet the dictionary has an 
importance of its own in the history of our litera- 
ture, for it was the first systematic attempt to do 
for the English tongue what the labours of the 
academy did for French, and it is the foundation 
on which succeeding edifices of research have been 
built. Johnson's other works were miscellaneous 
in character. He tried as many forms of writing as 
a modern dilettante, though nothing was more alien 
to his character than mere dilettantism. Poetry, 
plays, journalism, the novel, biography, travel, 


letters, all gained something from his hand, though 
nothing remarkable. In his early years he wrote 
two satires in verse in imitation of Juvenal ; they 
were followed later by two series of periodical 
essays on the model of the Spectator ; neither of 
them — the Rambler nor the Idler — were at all 
successful. Rasselas, a tale with a purpose, is 
melancholy reading ; the Journey to the JVeste?^ 
Hebrides has been utterly eclipsed by Boswell's 
livelier and more human chronicle of the same 
events. The Lives of the Poets, his greatest work, 
was composed with pain and difficulty when he 
was seventy years old ; even it is but a quarry 
from which a reader may dig the ore of a sound 
critical judgment summing up a life's reflection, 
out of the grit and dust of perfunctory biographical 
compilations. There was hardly one of the literary 
coterie over which he presided that was not doing 
better and more lasting work. Nothing that 
Johnson wrote is to be compared, for excellence in 
its own manner, with Tom Jones or the Vicar of 
Wakefield or the Citizen of the World. He pro- 
duced nothing in writing approaching the magni- 
tude of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman 
Empire, or the profundity of Burke's philosophy of 
politics. Even Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose main 
business was painting and not the pen, was almost 
as good an author as he ; his Discourses have little 
to fear when they are set beside Johnson's essays. 
Yet all these men recognized him as their guide 


and leader ; the spontaneous selection of such a 
democratic assembly as men of genius in a tavern 
fixed upon him as chairman, and we in these later 
days, who are safe from the overpowering force of 
personality and presence — or at least can only 
know of it reflected in books — instinctively recog- 
nize him as the greatest man of his age. What 
is the reason ? 

Johnson's pre-eminence is the pre-eminence of 
character. He was a great moralist ; he summed 
up in himself the tendencies of thought and litera- 
ture of his time and excelled all others in his grasp 
of them ; and he was perhaps more completely 
than anyone else in the whole history of English 
literature, the typical Englishman. He was one 
of those to whom is applicable the commonplace 
that he was greater than his books. It is the 
fashion nowadays among some critics to speak of 
his biographer Boswell as if he were a novelist or a 
playwright and to classify the Johnson we know 
with Hamlet and Don Quixote as the product of 
creative or imaginative art, working on a "lost 
original." No exercise of critical ingenuity could 
be more futile or impertinent. The impression of 
the solidity and magnitude of Johnson's character 
which is to be gathered from Boswell is enforced 
from other sources; from his essays and his prayers 
and meditations, from the half-dozen or so lives 
and reminiscences which were published in the 
years following his death (their very number 


establishing the reverence with which he M'^as 
regarded), from the homage of other men whose 
genius their books leave indisputable. Indeed, the 
Johnson we know from Boswell, though it is the 
broadest and most masterly portrait in the whole 
range of biography, gives less than the whole 
magnitude of the man. When Boswell first met 
him at the age of twenty-two, Johnson was fifty- 
four. His long period of poverty and struggle was 
past. His Dictionary and all his works except 
the Lives of the Poets were behind him ; a pension 
from the Crown had established him in security 
for his remaining years ; his position was univer- 
sally acknowledged. So that though the portrait 
in the Life is a full-length study of Johnson the 
conversationalist and literary dictator, the propor- 
tion it preserves is faulty, and its study of the early 
years — the years of poverty, of the Vanity of 
Human Wishes and London, of Rasselas, which he 
wrote to pay the expenses of his mother's funeral — 
is slight. 

It was, however, out of the bitterness and 
struggle of these early years that the strength and 
sincerity of character which carried Johnson surely 
and tranquilly through the time of his triumph 
were derived. From the beginning he made no 
compromise with the world and no concession to 
fashion. The world had to take him at his own 
valuation or not at all. He never deviated one 
hair's- breadth from the way he had chosen. 

From a painting by John Opie in the National Portrait Gallery. 


Judged by the standards of journalistic success, 
the Rambler could not well be worse than he made 
it. Compared with the lightness and gaiety and 
the mere lip-service to morality of Addison, its 
edification is ponderous. Both authors state the 
commonplaces of conduct, but Addison achieves 
lightness in the doing of it, and his manner, by 
means of which platitudes are stated lightly and 
pointedly and with an air of novelty, is the classic 
manner of journalism. Johnson goes heavily and 
directly to the point, handling well-worn moral 
themes in general and dogmatic language without 
any attempt to enliven them with an air of dis- 
covery or surprise. Yet they were, in a sense, 
discoveries to him ; not one of them but was deeply 
and sincerely felt ; not one but is not a direct and 
to us a pathetically dispassionate statement of the 
reflection of thirty years of grinding poverty and a 
soul's anguish. Viewed in the light of his life, the 
Ramble?^ is one of the most moving of books. If 
its literary value is slight, it is a document in 

So that when he came to his own, when gradually 
the public whom he despised and neglected raised 
him into a pontifical position matched by none 
before him in England and none since save Carlyle, 
he was sure of himself ; success did not spoil him. 
His judgment was unwarped by flattery. The 
almost passionate tenderness and humanity which 

lay beneath his grufFness was undimmed. His per- 



sonality triumphed in all the fullness and richness 
which had carried it in integrity through his years 
of struggle. For over twenty years from his chair 
in taverns in the Strand and Fleet Street he ruled 
literary London, imposed his critical principles on 
the great body of English letters, and by his talk 
and his friendships became the embodiment of the 
literary temperament of his age. 

His talk as it is set down by Boswell is his best 
monument. It was the happiest possible fate that 
threw those two men together, for Boswell, besides 
being an admirer and reporter sedulously chroni- 
cling all his master said and did, fortunately in- 
fluenced both the saying and the doing. Most of 
us have someone in whose company we best shine, 
who puts our wits on their mettle and spurs us to 
our greatest readiness and vivacity. Boswell, for 
all his assumed humility and for all Johnson's 
affected disdain, was just such a companion for 
Johnson. Johnson was at his best when Boswell 
was present. Boswell not only drew Johnson out 
on subjects in which his robust common sense and 
readiness of judgment were fitted to shine, but 
he was at pains to lure him into situations in which 
he might display himself to advantage. It was the 
biographer who suggested and conducted that tour 
in Scotland which gave Johnson an opportunity for 
displaying himself at his best. The recorded talk 
is extraordinarily varied and entertaining. It is a 
mistake to conceive Johnson as a monster of bear- 


like rudeness, shouting down opposition, hectoring 
his companions, and habitually a blustering verbal 
bully. We are too easily hypnotized by Macaulay's 
impression, and that is too near caricature. He 
could be merciless in argument and often wrong- 
headed, and he was always acute, uncomfortably 
acute, in his perception of a fallacy, and a little 
disconcerting in his unmasking of pretence. But 
he could be gay and tender too, and in his heart he 
was a shrinking and sensitive man. 

As a critic (his criticism is the only side of his 
literary work that need be considered), Johnson 
must be allowed a high place. His natural indo- 
lence in production had prevented him from ex- 
hausting his faculties in the more exacting labours 
of creative work, and it had left him time for 
omnivorous if desultory reading, the fruits of 
which he stored in a wonderfully retentive memory 
against an occasion for their use. To a very fully 
equipped mind he brought the service of a robust 
and acute judgment. Moreover, when he applied 
his mind to a subject he had a faculty of intense, 
if fitful concentration ; he could seize with great 
force on the heart of a matter ; he had the power 
in a wonderfully short time of extracting the kernel 
and leaving the husk. His judgments in writing 
are like those recorded by Boswell from his con- 
versation ; that is to say, he does not, as a critic 
whose medium was normally the pen rather than 
the tongue would tend to do, search for fine shades 


of distinction, subdivide subtleties, or be careful 
to admit caveats or exceptions ; he passes, on the 
contrary, rapid and forcible verdicts, not seldom in 
their assertions untenably sweeping, and always 
decided and dogmatic. He never affects diffidence 
or defers to the judgments of others. His power 
of concentration, of seizing on essentials, has given 
us his best critical work — nothing could be better, 
for instance, than his characterization of the poets 
whom he calls the metaphysical school (Donne, 
Crashaw, and the rest), which is the most valuable 
part of his life of Cowley. Even where he is most 
prejudiced — for instance in his attack on Milton's 
Lycidas — there is usually something to be said for 
his point of view. And after this concentration, 
his excellence depends on his basic common sense. 
His classicism is always tempered, like Dryden's, 
by a humane and sensible dislike of pedantry ; he 
sets no store by the unities ; in his preface to 
Shakespeare he allows more than a " classic " could 
have been expected to admit, writing in it, in 
truth, some of the manliest and wisest things in 
Shakespearean literature. Of course, he had his 
failings — the greatest of them what Lamb called 
imperfect sympathy. He could see no good in 
republicans or agnostics, and none in Scotland or 
France. Not that the phrase " imperfect sym- 
pathy," which expresses by implication the romantic 
critic's point of view, would have appealed to him. 
When Dr Johnson did not like people, the fault 


was in them, not in him ; a ruthless objectivity 
is part of the classic equipment. He failed, too, 
because he could neither understand nor appreciate 
poetry which concerned itself with the sensations 
that come from external nature. Nature was to 
him a closed book, very likely for a purely physical 
reason. He was short-sighted to the point of 
myopia, and a landscape meant nothing to him ; 
when he tried to describe one, as he did in the 
chapter on the " happy valley " in Rasselas, he 
failed. What he did not see he could not appre- 
ciate ; perhaps it is too much to ask of his self- 
contained and unbending intellect that he should 
appreciate the report of it by other men. 

As we have seen, Johnson was not only great 
in himself, he was great in his friends. Round 
him, meeting him as an equal, gathered the greatest 
and most prolific writers of the time. There is 
no better way to study the central and accepted 
men of letters of the period than to take some 
full evening at the club from Boswell, read a 
page or two, watch what the talkers said, and 
then trace each back to his own works for a com- 
plete picture of his personality. The lie of the 
literary landscape in this wonderful time will 
become apparent to you as you read. You will 
find Johnson enthroned, Boswell at his ear, round 
him men like Reynolds and Burke, Richardson 


and Fielding and Goldsmith, Robertson and Gib- 
bon, and occasionally drawn to the circle minnows 
like Beattie and a genius like Adam Smith. Gray, 
studious in his college at Cambridge, is exercising 
his fastidious talent ; Collins' sequestered, carefully 
nurtured muse is silent ; a host of minor poets are 
riding Pope's poetic diction and heroic couplet 
to death. Outside scattered about is the van of 
Romance — Percy collecting his ballads ; Burns 
omnivorously reading the " bards " of his country- 
side ; the " mad " people. Smart and Chatterton, 
obscurely beginning the work that was to come 
full-blown in Blake and finish in Wordsworth and 
Coleridge and Keats. 

Of Johnson's set the most remarkable figure 
was Edmund Burke — " the supreme writer," as 
De Quincey called him, " of his century." His 
writings belong more to the history of politics 
than to that of literature, and a close examination 
of them would be out of place here. His political 
theory strikes a middle course which offends — 
and in his own day offended — both parties in the 
common strife of political thinking. He believed 
the best government to consist in a patriotic 
aristocracy, ruling for the good of the people. By 
birth an Irishman, he had the innate practicality 
which commonly lies beneath the flash and colour 
of Irish forcefulness and rhetoric. That, and his 
historical training, which influenced him in the 
direction of conceiving every institution as the 


culmination of an evolutionary development, sent 
him directly counter to the newest and most 
enthusiastically urged political philosophy of his 
day — the philosophy stated by Rousseau, and put 
in action by the French Revolution. He disliked 
and distrusted " metaphysical theories," when they 
left the field of speculation for that of practice, 
had no patience with " natural rights " (which as 
an Irishman he conceived as the product of senti- 
mentalism), and applied what would nowadays be 
called a "pragmatic" test to political affairs. 
Practice was the touch- stone ; a theory was useless 
unless you could prove that it had worked. It 
followed that he was not a democrat, opposed 
parliamentary reform, and held that the true 
remedy for corruption and venality was not to 
increase the size of the electorate, but to reduce 
it so as to obtain electors of greater weight and 
independence. For him a member of Parliament 
was a representative and not a delegate, and must 
act not on his elector's wishes but on his own 
judgment. These opinions are little in fashion 
in our own day, but it is well to remember that 
in Burke's case they were the outcome not of 
prejudice but of thought, and that even democracy 
may admit they present a case that must be met 
and answered. 

Burke's reputation as a thinker has suffered some- 
what unjustly as a result of his refusal to square his 
tenets either with democracy or with its opposite. 


It has been said that ideas were only of use to him 
so far as they were of polemical service, that the 
amazing fertility and acuteness of his mind worked 
only in a not too scrupulous determination to over- 
whelm his antagonists in the several arguments — 
on India, or America, on Ireland, or on France — 
which made up his political career. He was, said 
Carlyle, " vehement rather than earnest ; a resplen- 
dent far-sighted rhetorician, rather than a deep and 
earnest thinker." The words as they stand would 
be a good description of a certain type of politician ; 
they would fit, for instance, very well on Mr 
Gladstone ; but they do Burke less than justice. 
He was an innovator in modern political thought, 
and his application of the historical method to the 
study of institutions is in its way a not less epoch- 
making achievement than Bacon's application of 
the inductive method to science. At a time when 
current political thought, led by Rousseau, was 
drawing its theories from the abstract conception 
of "natural rights," Burke was laying down that 
sounder and deeper notion of politics which has 
governed thinking in that department of knowledge 
since. Besides this, he had face to face with the 
affairs of his own day a far-sightedness and saga- 
city which kept him right where other men went 
wrong. In a nation of the blind he saw the truth 
about the American colonies ; he predicted with 
exactitude the culmination of the revolution in 
Napoleon. Mere rhetorical vehemence cannot 


explain the earnestness with which in a day of 
diplomatic cynicism he preached the doctrine of an 
international morality as strict and as binding as 
the morality which exists between man and man. 
Surest of all, we have the testimony, uninfluenced 
by the magic of language, of the men he met. 
You could not, said Dr Johnson, shelter with him 
in a shed for a few moments from the rain without 
saying, " This is an extraordinary man." 

His literary position depends chiefly on his amaz- 
ing gift of expression, on a command of language 
unapproached by any writer of his time. His 
eloquence (in writing, not in speaking ; he is said to 
have had a monotonous delivery) was no doubt at 
bottom a matter of race, but to his Irish readiness 
and fire and colour he added the strength of a full 
mind, fortified by a wonderful store of reading 
which a retentive and exact memory enabled him 
to bring instantly to bear on the subject in hand. 
No writer before him, except Defoe, had such a 
wide knowledge of the technicalities of different 
men's occupations, and of all sorts of the processes 
of daily business, nor could enlighten an abstract 
matter with such a wealth of luminous analogy. 
It is this characteristic of his style which has led to 
the common comparison of his writing with Shake- 
speare's ; both seem to be preternaturally endowed 
with more information, to have a wider sweep of 
interest than ordinary men. Both were not only, 
^s Matthew Arnold said of Burke, " saturated with 


ideas," but saturated too in the details of the busi- 
ness and desire of ordinary men's lives ; nothing 
human was alien to them. Burke's language is, 
therefore, always interesting and always appropriate 
to his thought ; it is also on occasion very beautiful- 
He had a wonderful command of clear and ringing 
utterance and could appeal when he liked very 
powerfully to the sensibilities of his readers. 
Rhetoricians are seldom free from occasional ex- 
travagance, and Burke fell under the common 
danger of his kind. He had his moments of falsity, 
could heap coarse and outrageous abuse on Warren 
Hastings, illustrate the horrors of the Revolution 
by casting a dagger on the floor of the House of 
Commons, and nourish hatred beyond the bounds 
of justice or measure. But these things do not 
affect his position, nor take from the solid great- 
ness of his work. 

Edward Gibbon — after Burke the greatest prose 
writer of the century — was Johnson's junior by 
over quarter of a century, and, living and working 
much abroad, he made only fitful excursions into 
the Fleet Street set. A word about his education 
and upbringing is necessary because of their 
remarkable bearing on his great book. In his 
childhood he was sickly; he was therefore never 
sent to school, and what knowledge he acquired he 
got from a faculty for omnivorous and desultory 
reading to which temporary masters and a sister 
of his mother's gave occasional direction. At 


fifteen he was entered at Magdalen College, Oxford, 
but left it after little more than a year's residence — 
during which he had been converted to the Church 
of Rome— for Lausanne, to live under a Swiss 
Protestant pastor to whom his father entrusted 
him, in order to effect his re-conversion to the 
Protestant faith. The immediate purpose was 
successful, but the five years which he spent in 
Lausanne were perhaps more important because 
it was during them that he began to carry out 
conscientiously, and indeed joyously, that course of 
reading and study which was to be the foundation 
of the great work of his life. At the age of twenty- 
four he returned to England and became a captain 
in the Hampshire Militia, in which he served for 
nearly three years. As he himself has pointed out 
in a famous passage, this military service, no less 
than his reading in Switzerland, contributed to 
preparing him for the great work of his life. " The 
discipline and conditions of a modern battalion 
gave me a clear notion of the phalanx and the 
legion ; and the captain of the Hampshire grenadiers 
(the reader may smile) has not been useless to the 
historian of the Roman Empire." In 1763, at the 
conclusion of peace after the Seven Years' War, 
the militia was disbanded, and Gibbon revisited 
the continent and made his first journey in Italy. 
Here he hit upon the idea which gave him his 
great book. " It was at Rome," as he says himself, 
*' on the 15th October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst 


the ruins of the eapitol while the barefooted friars 
were singing vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that 
the idea of writing the decHne and fall of the city 
first entered into my mind." Twelve years later 
the first volume — one-sixth of the whole — appeared, 
and made its author famous. A century and a 
half of laborious historical research since has left 
his fame undimmed ; the Decline and Fall of the 
Roman Empire is still the standard book on its 
subject, and it would be hard to think of a com- 
petitor, whether ancient or modern, entitled to 
dispute with it the first place in the whole of 
historical literature. 

The qualities which have given the book its 
permanence and pre-eminence are not difficult to 
divine, though only one side of them concerns our 
purpose here. It is agreed by those competent to 
judge that he performed the astonishing feat of 
mastering all the vast materials which were available 
to him, that he kept them in an ordered proportion 
in his mind, that he showed wonderful acumen and 
judgment in his critical use of them, and that on 
points which they left obscure, and which subse- 
quent discussions have elucidated, his inferences 
were generally — almost invariably — correct. But 
this fullness and correctness, though it would have 
preserved him from obsolescence as a text-book and 
maintained his fame in the universities, would not 
have made him the great literary figure that he is. 
He owes that partly to the mere magnitude of the 


task which he accomplished, partly to the temper 
in which he approached it, and partly to the style 
in which he carried it through. " A great point in 
favour of Gibbon," says one of his best critics with 
some humour, " is the existence of his history," 
and indeed in this matter he stands alone 
amongst modern historians. Think of Macaulay 
struggling with masses of material, overwhelmed 
with the weight of newspapers, pamphlets, state- 
papers, and despatches, and leaving his great work 
a mere fragment of what he intended to do. 
Modern historical research has given the attempt 
up in frank despair ; it finds so much to read that 
it has no time to write; a single monograph on such 
a thing as Gibbon would have compressed into one 
balanced sentence exhausts the energies of its pro- 
fessors, and when it attempts universal history it 
does so on a co-operative basis. Gibbon conceived 
a plan as voluminous as any of those devised by 
the learned syndicates of to-day, embracing the 
greatest transition in history, the foundation of 
modern civilization and the growth and establish- 
ment of the world's two chief religions, and he 
carried it through to the end, preserving absolutely 
the proportion with which he began. Parts of his 
book, taken out of it by themselves, might have 
given him an eminence almost as great as did the 
whole. " It is melancholy to say it," wrote Cardinal 
Newman, " but the chief, perhaps the only English 
writer who has any claim to be considered an 


ecclesiastical historian, is Gibbon." This of his two 
chapters on Christianity and his later sections on 
the heresies and the crusades, but a similar tribute 
might be paid to his picture of the barbarian 
invasions which destroyed the Empire of the West, 
or to the complete history of the rise and decline 
of that of the East with which his book ends. 
He excels, as no historian had before him and none 
since, in magnitude and completeness. 

It was the bent of his mind, the temper in which 
he approached men and institutions, as much as 
his industry, that enabled him to attain this excel- 
lence. He had what may be called a masculine 
tone ; a firm, strong, perspicuous narration of matter 
of fact, a capacity for plain argument, a contempt 
for everything which plain and definite people could 
not thoroughly comprehend. He had, too, what 
was characteristic of his age, a certain classical 
moderation of judgment which saved him from the 
idiosyncrasies of likes and dislikes which have 
damaged the work of other historians, like, for 
instance, Mommsen or Froude. " The cautious 
scepticism of his cold intellect, which disinclined 
him to every extreme, depreciates great virtues and 
extenuates great vices." He does not engage 
himself on a side ; the irony which critics of his 
chapters on Christianity found oflTensive is in all 
the other chapters as well and lends them just that 
detachment, that command over the circumstances 
he is describing, that keeps the reader's interest alive 


where mere bald narration would soon leave it cold. 
He feels that you are entitled to some definite 
judgment, some finding on the facts, and he sees to 
it that this finding is balanced and judicial, allowing 
due weight to all points of view. It is, of course, 
this temper and bent of mind which created more 
than anything else the peculiar style which we know 
so well. Space and time pressed upon him; judg- 
ments had therefore to be conveyed by an epithet 
rather than a sentence, by a sentence rather than 
by a paragraph. The history had to keep marching 
along, and it is perhaps the greatest merit of its 
style that it gives you just this sense of consistent 
steady pace, "like a Roman legion marching 
through troubled country — a type of order and an 
emblem of civilisation." Certainly no instrument 
could have been better fitted to the purpose. No 
one has improved on it since. 

Boswell we have seen ; after Burke and Boswell, 
Goldsmith was the most brilliant member of the 
regular Johnson circle. If part of Burke's genius 
is referable to his nationality, Goldsmith's is wholly 
so. The beginning and the end of him was Irish ; 
every quality he possessed as a man and as a writer 
belongs to his race. He had the Irish carelessness, 
the Irish generosity, the Irish quick temper, the 
Irish humour. This latter gift, displayed constantly 
in a company which had little knowledge of the 
peculiar quality of Irish wit and no faculty of 
sympathy or imagination, is at the bottom of the 


constant depreciation of him on the part of Boswell 
and others of his set. His mock self-importance 
they thought ill-breeding ; his humorous self- 
depreciation and keen sense of his own ridiculous- 
ness, mere lack of dignity and folly. It is curious 
to read Boswell and watch how often Goldsmith, 
without Boswell's knowing it, got the best of the 
joke. In writing he had what we can now recognize 
as peculiarly Irish gifts. All our modern writers 
of light half- farcical comedy are Irish. Goldsmith's 
She Stoops to Conquer is only the first of a series 
which includes The School for Scandal, The Import- 
ance of being Earnest^ and You Never can TelL 
And his essays — particularly those of the Citizen 
of the World with its Chinese vision of England 
and English life — are the first fruit of that Irish 
detachment, that ability to see " normally " English 
habits and institutions and foibles which in our 
own day has given us the prefaces of Mr Shaw. 
As a writer Goldsmith has a lightness and delicate 
ease which belong rather to the school of the 
earlier eighteenth century than to his own day ; 
the enthusiasm of Addison for P'rench literature 
which he retained gave him a more graceful model 
than the " Johnsonian " school, to which he pro- 
fessed himself to belong, could afford. 

The eighteenth-century novel demands separate 
treatment, and the other prose authors belong to 


historical or philosophical rather than to literary- 
studies. It is time to turn to poetry. 

There orthodox classicism still held sway : the 
manner and metre of Pope or Thomson ruled the 
roost of singing fowl. In the main it had done its 
work, and the bulk of fresh things conceived in it 
were dull and imitative, even though occasionally, 
as in the poems of Johnson himself and of Gold- 
smith, an author arose who was able to infuse 
sincerity and emotion into a fast-dying convention. 
The classic manner — now more that of Thomson 
than of Pope — persisted till it overlapped roman- 
ticism ; Cowper and Crabbe each owe a doubtful 
allegiance, leaning by their formal metre and level 
monotony of thought to the one and by their 
realism to the other. In the meantime its popu- 
larity and its assured position were beginning to be 
assailed in the coteries by the work of two new 

The output of Thomas Gray and William Collins 
was small ; you might almost read the complete 
poetical works of either in an evening. But for 
all that they mark a period ; they are the first 
definite break with the classic convention which 
had been triumphant for upwards of seventy 
years when their prime came. It is a break, how- 
ever, in style rather than in essentials, and a reader 
who seeks in them the inspiriting freshness which 
came later with Wordsworth and Coleridge will 

be disappointed. Their carefully drawn still wine 



tastes insipidly after the " beaded bubbles winking 
at the brim " of romance. They are fastidious 
and academic ; they lack the authentic fire ; their 
poetry is " made " poetry like Tennyson's and 
Matthew Arnold's. On their comparative merits 
a deal of critical ink has been spilt. Arnold's 
characterization of Gray is well known — " he never 
spoke out." Sterility fell upon him because he 
lived in an age of prose just as it fell upon Arnold 
himself because he lived too much immersed in 
business and routine. But in what he wrote he 
had the genuine poetic gift — the gift of insight and 
feeling. Against this, Swinburne with character- 
istic vehemence raised the standard of Collins, the 
latchet of whose shoe Gray, as a lyric poet, was 
not worthy to unloose. " The muse gave birth to 
Collins, she did but give suck to Gray." It is 
more to our point to observe that neither, though 
their work abounds in felicities and in touches of a 
genuine poetic sense, was fitted to raise the standard 
of revolt. Revolution is for another and braver 
kind of genius than theirs. Romanticism had to 
wait for Burns and Blake. 

In every country at any one time there are in 
all probability not one but several literatures 
flourishing. The main stream flowing through the 
publishers and booksellers, conned by critics and 
coteries, recognized as the national literature, is 
commonly only the largest of several channels of 
thought. There are besides the national literature 


local literatures — books, that is, are published 
which enjoy popularity and critical esteem in their 
own county or parish and are utterly unknown 
outside ; there may even be (indeed, there are in 
several parts of the country) distinct local schools 
of writing and dynasties of local authors. These 
localized literatures rarely become known to the 
outside world ; the national literature takes little 
account of them, though their existence and prob- 
ably some special knowledge of one or other of 
them is within the experience of most of us. But 
every now and again some one of their authors 
transcends his local importance, gives evidence of 
a genius which is not to be denied even by those 
who normally have not the knowledge to appreciate 
the particular flavour of locality which his writings 
impart, and becomes a national figure. While he 
lives and works the national and his local stream 
write and flow together. 

This was the case of Robert Burns. All his life 
long he was the singer of a parish — the last of a 
long line of forebears who had used the Scottish 
lowland vernacular to rhyme in about their neigh- 
bours and their scandals, their loves and their 
church. Himself at the confluence of the two 
streams, the national and the local, he pays his 
tribute to two sets of originals, talks with equal 
reverence of names known to us like Pope and 
Gray and Shenstone and names unknown which 
belonged to local " bards," as he would have called 


them, who wrote their poems for an Ayrshire public. 
If he came upon England as an innovator, it was 
simply because he brought with him the highly 
individualized style of Scottish local vernacular 
verse ; to his own people he was no innovator but 
a fulfilment ; as his best critic ^ says, he brought 
nothing to the literature he became a part of but 
himself. His daring and splendid genius made the 
local universal, raised out of rough and cynical 
satirizing a style as rich and humorous and 
astringent as that of Rabelais, lent inevitableness 
and pathos and romance to lyric and song. But 
he was content to better the work of other men. 
He made hardly anything new. 

Stevenson in his essay on Burns remarks his 
readiness to use up the work of others or take a 
large hint from it "as if he had some difficulty in 
commencing." He omits to observe that the very 
same trait applies to other great artists. There 
seem to be two orders of creative writers. On the 
one hand are the innovators, the new men like 
Blake, Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley, and later 
Browning. These men owe little to their pre- 
decessors ; they work on their own devices and 
construct their medium afresh for themselves. 
Commonly their fame and acceptance is slow, for 
they speak in an unfamiliar tongue and they have 
to educate a generation to understand their work. 
The other order of artists has to be shown the 

1 W, E. Henley, Essay on Burns. Works, David Nutt. 


way. They have Uttle fertihty in construction or 
invention. You have to say to them, " Here is 
something that you could do too ; go and do it 
better " ; or " Here is a story to work on, or a refrain 
of a song ; take it and give it your subtlety, your 
music." The villainy you teach them they will 
use, and it will go hard with them if they do not 
better the invention ; but they do not invent for 
themselves. To this order of artists Burns, like 
Shakespeare, and among the lesser men Tennyson, 
belongs. In all his plays Shakespeare is known to 
have invented only one plot ; in many he is using 
not only the structure but in many places the 
words devised by an older author ; his mode of 
treatment depends on the conventions common in 
his day, on the tragedy of blood and madness and 
revenge, on the comedy of intrigue and disguises, 
on the romance with its strange happenings and 
its reuniting of long-parted friends. Burns goes 
the same way to work ; scarcely a page of his but 
shows traces of some original in the Scottish 
vernacular school. The elegy, the verse epistle, 
the satirical form of Holy Willies Prayer, the song 
and recitative of The Jolly Beggars, are all to be 
found in his predecessors, in Fergusson, Ramsay, 
and the local poets of the south-west of Scotland. 
In the songs often whole verses, nearly always the 
refrains, are from older folk poetry. What he did 
was to pour into these forms the incomparable 
richness of a personality whose fire and brilliance 


and humour transcended all locality and all tradi- 
tion, a personality which strode like a colossus over 
the formalism and correctness of his time. His 
use of familiar forms explains, more than anything 
else, his immediate fame. His countrymen were 
ready for him ; they could hail him on the instant 
(just as an Elizabethan audience could hail Shake- 
speare) as something familiar and at the same time 
more splendid than anything they knew. He 
spoke in a tongue they could understand. 

It is impossible to judge Burns from his purely 
English verse ; though he did it as well as any of 
the minor followers of the school of Pope, he did it 
no better. Only the weakest side of his character 
— his sentimentalism — finds expression in it ; he 
had not the sense of tradition nor the intimate 
knowledge necessary to use English to the highest 
poetic effect ; it was indeed a foreign tongue to 
him. In the vernacular he wrote the language he 
spoke, a language whose natural force and colour 
had become enriched by three centuries of literary 
use, which was capable, too, of effects of humour 
and realism impossible in any tongue spoken out of 
reach of the soil. It held within it an unmatched 
faculty for pathos, a capacity for expressing a 
lambent and kindly humour, a power of pungency 
in satire and a descriptive vividness that English 
could not give. How express in the language of 
Pope or even of Wordsworth an effect like 
this ?— 


" They reel'd, they set, they crossed, they cleekit. 
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit, 
And coost her duddies to the wark, 
And liuket at it in her sark."" 

or this : — 

" Yestreen, when to the trembling string 

The dance gaed thro' the lighted ha"*, 
To thee my fancy took its wing — 

I sat, but neither heard nor saw : 
Tho' this was fair, and that was braw, 

And yon the toast of a' the town, 
I sigh'd, and said, amang them a\ 

' Ye are na Mary Morison." " 

It may be objected that in all this there is only 
one word, and but two or three forms of words, 
that are not English. But the accent, the rhythm, 
the air of it are all Scots, and it was a Burns 
thinking in his native tongue who wrote it, not the 
Burns of 

" Anticipation forward points the view " ; 


" Pleasures are like poppies spread, 
You grasp the flower, the bloom is shed," 

or any other of the exercises in the school of 
Thomson and Pope. 

It is easy to see that though Burns admired un- 
affectedly the " Classic " writers, his native realism 
and his melody made him a potent agent in the 
cause of naturalism and romance. In his ideas, 
even more than in his style, he belongs to the on- 
coming school. The French Revolution, which 
broke upon Europe when he was at the height of 


his career, found him already converted to its 
principles. As a peasant, particularly a Scotch 
peasant, he believed passionately in the native 
worth of man as man and gave ringing expression 
to it in his verse. In his youth his liberal-minded- 
ness made him a Jacobite out of mere antagonism 
to the existing regime ; the Revolution only dis- 
covered for him the more logical republican creed. 
As the leader of a loose-living, hard-drinking set, 
such as was to be found in every parish, he was a 
determined and free-spoken enemy of the kirk, 
whose tyranny he several times encountered. In 
his writing he is as vehement an anti-clerical as 
Shelley, and much more practical. The political 
side of Romanticism, in fact, which in England had 
to wait for Byron and Shelley, is already full-grown 
in his work. He anticipates and gives complete 
expression to one half of the Romantic movement. 
What Burns did for the idea of liberty, Blake 
did for that and every other idea current among 
Wordsworth and his successors. There is nothing 
stranger in the history of English literature than 
the miracle by which this poet and artist, working 
in obscurity, utterly unknown to the literary world 
that existed outside him, summed up in himself all 
the thoughts and tendencies which were the fruit 
of anxious discussion and propaganda on the part 
of the authors — Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb — 
who believed themselves to be the discoverers of 
fresh truth unknown to their generation. The con- 


temporary and independent discovery by Wallace 
and Darwin of the principle of natural selection 
furnishes, perhaps, a rough parallel, but the fact 
serves to show how impalpable and universal is 
the spread of ideas, how impossible it is to settle 
literary indebtedness or construct literary genealogy 
with any hope of accuracy. Blake, by himself, 
held and expressed quite calmly that condemnation 
of the " Classic " school that Wordsworth and 
Coleridge proclaimed against the opposition of a 
deriding world. As was his habit, he compressed 
it into a rude epigram : 

" Great things are done when men and mountains meet ; 
This is not done by jostling in the street." 

The case for nature against urbanity could not 
be more tersely stated than that. The German 
metaphysical doctrine, which was the deepest part 
of the teaching of Wordsworth and Coleridge and 
their main discovery, he expresses as curtly and 
ofF-handedly : 

" The sun''s light when he unfolds it, 
Depends on the organ that beholds it." 

In the realm of childhood and innocence, which 
Wordsworth entered fearfully and pathetically as 
an alien traveller, he moves with the simple and 
assured ease of one native. He knows the mystical 
wonder and horror that Coleridge set forth in The 
Ancient Mariner, As for the beliefs of Shelley, 
they are already fully developed in his poems. 


" The king and the priest are types of the oppressor ; 
humanity is crippled by ' mind-forg'd manacles ' ; 
love is enslaved to the moral law, which is broken 
by the Saviour of mankind ; and, even more subtly 
than by Shelley, life is pictured by Blake as a deceit 
and a disguise veiling from us the beams of the 

In truth, Blake, despite the imputation of in- 
sanity which was his contemporaries' and has later 
been his commentators' refuge from assenting to 
his conclusions, is a thinker at once bold and 
entirely consistent. An absolute unity of belief 
inspires all his utterances, cryptic and plain. That 
he never succeeded in founding a school nor 
gathering followers must be put down in the first 
place to the form in which his work was issued 
(it never reached the public of his own day) and to 
the dark and mysterious mythology in which the 
prophetic books, which are the full and extended 
statement of his philosophy, are couched, and in 
the second place to the inherent difficulty of the 
philosophy itself. As he himself says, where we 
read black, he reads white. For the common 
distinction between good and evil, Blake substitutes 
the distinction between imagination and reason ; 
and reason, the rationalizing, measuring, comparing 
faculty by which we come to impute praise or 
blame, is the only evil in his eyes. "There is 
nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it 

1 Prof. Raleigh. 


so " ; to rid the world of thinking, to substitute for 
reason, imagination, and for thought, vision, was 
the object of all that he wrote or drew. The 
implications of this philosophy carry far, and Blake 
was not afraid to follow where they led him. 
Fortunately for those who hesitate to embark on 
that dark and adventurous journey, his work con- 
tains delightful and simpler things. He wrote 
lyrics of extraordinary freshness and delicacy and 
spontaneity ; he could speak in a child's voice of 
innocent joys and sorrows and the simple elemental 
things. His odes to "Spring" and "Autumn" 
are the harbingers of Keats. Not since Shake- 
speare and Campion died could English show songs 

like his 

" My silks and fine array," 

and the others which carry the Elizabethan accent. 
He could write these things as well as the Eliza- 
bethans. In others he was unique. 

" Tiger ! Tiger ! burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry ? " 

In all the English lyric there is no voice so clear, 
so separate or distinctive as his. 




There are two ways of approaching the periods 
of change and new birth in literature. The 
commonest and, for all the study which it entails, 
the easiest, is that summed up in the phrase, 
literature begets literature. Following it, you 
discover and weigh literary influences, the in- 
fluence of poet on poet, and book on book. You 
find one man harking back to earlier models in his 
own tongue, which an intervening age misunder- 
stood or despised ; another, turning to the con- 
temporary literatures of neighbouring countries ; 
another, perhaps, to the splendour and exoticism 
of the East. In the matter of form and style, 
such a study carries you far. You can trace types 
of poetry and metres back to curious and unsus- 
pected originals, find the well-known verse of 
Burns' epistles turning up in Provencal; Tennyson's 
In Memoriavi stanza in use by Ben Jonson ; the 
metre of Christabel in minor Elizabethan poetry ; 
the peculiar form of FitzGerald's translation of 
Omar Khayyam followed by so many imitators 



since, itself to be the actual reflection of the rough 
metrical scheme of his Persian original. But such 
a study, though it is profitable and interesting, can 
never lead to the whole truth. As we saw in the 
beginning of this book, in the matter of the 
Renaissance, every age of discovery and re-birth 
has its double aspect. It is a revolution in style 
and language, an age of literary experiment and 
achievement, but its experiments are dictated by 
the excitement of a new subject-matter, and that 
subject-matter is so much in the air, so impalpable 
and universal, that it eludes analysis. Only you 
can be sure that it is this weltering contagion of 
new ideas, and new thought — the *' Zeitgeist," the 
spirit of the age, or whatever you may call it — 
that is the essential and controlling force. Literary 
loans and imports give the forms into which it can 
be moulded, but without them it would still exist, 
and they are only the means by which a spirit 
which is in life itself, and which expresses itself 
in action, and in concrete human achievement, 
gets itself into the written word. The romantic 
revival numbers Napoleon amongst its leaders as 
well as Byron, Wellington, Pitt and Wilberforce, 
as well as Keats and Wordsworth. Only the 
literary manifestations of the time concern us here, 
but it is important to remember that the passion 
for simplification and for a return to nature as a 
refuge from the artificial complexities of society, 
which inspired the Lyrical Ballads, inspired no 


less the course of the Revolution in France, and 
later, the destruction by Napoleon of the smaller 
feudal states of Germany, which made possible 
German nationality and a national spirit. 

In this romantic revival, however, the revolu- 
tion in form and style matters more than in most. 
The Classicism of the previous age had been so 
fixed and immutable ; it had been enthroned in 
high places, enjoyed the esteem of society, arro- 
gated to itself the acceptance which good breeding 
and good manners demanded. Dryden had been 
a Court poet, careful to change his allegiance 
with the changing monarchy. Pope had been the 
equal and intimate of the great people of his day, 
and his followers, if they did not enjoy the equality, 
enjoyed at any rate the patronage of many noble 
lords. The effect of this was to give the prestige 
of social usage to the verse in which they wrote 
and the language they used. " There was," said 
Dr Johnson, "before the time of Dryden no 
poetical diction, no system of words at once re- 
fined from the grossness of domestic use, and 
free from the harshness of terms appropriated to 
particular arts. Words too familiar or too remote 
to defeat the purpose of a poet." This poetic dic- 
tion, refined from the grossness of domestic use, 
was the standard poetic speech of the eighteenth 
century. The heroic couplet in which it was 
cast was the standard metre. So that the first 
object of the revolt of the Romantics was the 


purely literary object of getting rid of the vice 
of an unreal and artificial manner of writing. 
They desired simplicity of style. 

AVhen the Lyi'ical Ballads of Wordsworth and 
Coleridge were published in 1798, the preface 
which Wordsworth wrote as their manifesto hardly 
touched at all on the poetic imagination or the 
attitude of the poet to life and nature. The only 
question is that of diction. " The majority of the 
following poems," he writes, " are to be considered 
as experiments. They were written chiefly with 
a view to ascertain how far the language of con- 
versation in the middle and lower classes of society 
is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure." 
And in the longer preface to the second edition, 
in which the theories of the new school on the 
nature and methods of the poetic imagination are 
set forth at length, he returns to the same point. 
" The language, too, of these men (that is those 
in humble and rustic life) has been adopted . . . 
because such men hourly communicate with the 
best objects from which the best part of language 
is originally derived, and because from their rank 
in society, and the sameness and narrow circle of 
their intercourse, being less under the influence 
of social vanity, they convey their feelings and 
notions in simple unelaborated expressions." Social 
vanity — the armour which we wear to conceal 
our deepest thoughts and feelings — that was 
what Wordsworth wished to be rid of, and he 


chose the language of the common people, not 
because it fitted, as an earlier school of poets who 
used the common speech had asserted, the utter- 
ance of habitual feeling and common sense, but 
because it is the most sincere expression of the 
deepest and rarest passion. His object was the 
object attained by Shakespeare in some of his 
supremest moments; the bare intolerable force of 
the speeches after the murder in Macbeth^ or of 
King Lear's 

" Do not laugh at me. 
For as I am a man, I think this lady 
To be my child Cordelia." 

Here, then, was one avenue of revolt from the 
tyranny of artificiality, the getting back of common 
speech into poetry. But there was another, earlier 
and more potent in its effect. The eighteenth 
century, weary of its own good sense and sanity, 
turned to the Middle Ages for picturesqueness and 
relief. Romance, of course, had not been dead in 
all these years, when Pope and Addison made wit 
and good sense the fashionable temper for writing. 
There was a strong romantic tradition in the 
eighteenth century, though it does not give its 
character to the writing of the time. Dr Johnson 
was fond of old romances. When he was in Skye 
he amused himself by thinking of his Scottish tour 
as the journey of a knight-errant. " These fictions 
of the Gothic romances," he said, " are not so 
remote from credibility as is commonly supposed." 


It is a mistake to suppose that the passion for 
mediagvalism began with either Coleridge or Scott. 
Horace Walpole was as enthusiastic as either of 
them ; good eighteenth-century prelates like Hurd 
and Percy found in what they called the Gothic 
an inexhaustible source of delight. As was natural, 
what attracted them in the Middle Ages was not 
their resemblances to the time they lived in, but 
the points in which the two differed. None of 
them had knowledge enough, or insight enough, 
to conceive or sympathize with the humanity of 
the thirteenth century, to shudder at its cruelties 
and hardnesses and persecutions, or to comprehend 
the spiritual elevation and insight of its rarest 
minds. " It was art," said William Morris, " art 
in which all men shared, that made life romantic 
as people called it in those days. That and not 
robber barons, and inaccessible kings, with their 
hierarchy of serving nobles, and other rubbish." 
Morris belonged to a time which knew its Middle 
Ages better. To the eighteenth century the robber 
barons and the " other rubbish " were the essence 
of romance. For Percy and his followers, medi- 
aevalism was a collection of what actors call 
" properties " — gargoyles, and odds and ends of 
armour and castle keeps with secret passages, 
banners and gay colours, and gay shimmering 
obsolete words. Mistaking what was on its 
surface at any rate a subtle and complex civiliza- 
tion, for rudeness and quaintness, they seemed to 



themselves to pass back into a freer air, where any 
extravagance was possible, and good breeding and 
mere circumspection and restraint vanished hke 
the wind. 

A similar longing to be rid of the precision and 
order of everyday life drove them to the mountains, 
and to the literature of Wales and the Highlands, 
to Celtic, or pseudo-Celtic romance. To the fashion 
of the time mountains were still frowning and 
horrid steeps ; in Gray's Journal of his tour in the 
Lakes, a new understanding and appreciation of 
nature is only struggling through ; and when 
mountains became fashionable, it was at first, and 
remained, in part at least, till the time of Byron, 
for those very theatrical qualities which had hither- 
to put them in abhorrence. Wordsworth in his 
Lines ivritten above Tintern Abbey, in which he 
sets forth the succeeding stages of his mental 
development, refers to this love of the mountains 
for their spectacular qualities as the first step in 
the progress of his mind to poetic maturity : 

" The sounding cataract 
Haunted me like a passion ; the tall rock, 
The mountain and the deep and gloomy wood, 
Their colours and their forms were then to me 
An appetite." 

This same passion for the " sounding cataract " 
and the " tall rock," this appetite for the deep and 
gloomy wood, gave its vogue in Wordsworth's 
boyhood to Macpherson's Ossian, a book which, 


whether it be completely fraudulent or not, was of 
capital importance in the beginnings of the Romantic 

The love of mediaeval quaintness and obsolete 
words, however, led to a more important literary 
event — the publication of Bishop Percy's edition of 
the ballads in the Percy folio — the Reliques of 
Ancient Poetry. Percy to his own mind knew the 
Middle Ages better than they knew themselves, 
and he took care to dress to advantage the rude- 
ness and plainness of his originals. Perhaps we 
should not blame him. Sir Walter Scott did the 
same with better tact and skill in his Border 
minstrelsy, and how many distinguished editors 
are there who have tamed and smoothed down the 
natural wildness and irregularity of Blake ? But 
it is more important to observe that when Percy's 
reliques came to have their influence on writing 
his additions were imitated as much as the poems 
on which he grafted them. Chatterton's Rowley 
Poems, which in many places seem almost incon- 
ceivably banal and artificial to us to-day, caught 
their accent from the episcopal editor as much as 
from the ballads themselves. None the less, what- 
ever its fault, Percy's collection gave its impetus 
to one half of the Romantic movement ; it was 
eagerly read in Germany, and when it came to 
influence Scott and Coleridge it did so not only 
directly but through Burger's imitation of it ; it 
began the modern study and love of the ballad 


which has given us Sister Helen, the White Ship, 
and the Lady of Shalott. 

But the Romantic revival goes deeper than any 
change, however momentous, of fashion or style. 
It meant certain fundamental changes in human 
outlook. In the first place, one notices in the 
authors of the time an extraordinary development 
of imaginative sensibility ; the mind at its countless 
points of contact with the sensuous world and the 
world of thought seems to become more alive and 
alert. It is more sensitive to fine impressions, to 
finely graded shades of difference. Outward objects 
and philosophical ideas seem to increase in their 
content and their meaning, and acquire a new 
power to enrich the intensest life of the human 
spirit. Mountains and lakes, the dignity of the 
peasant, the terror of the supernatural, scenes of 
history, mediaeval architecture and armour, and 
mediaeval thought and poetry, the arts and mytho- 
logy of Greece — all became springs of poetic in- 
spiration and poetic joy. The impressions of all 
these things were unfamiliar and ministered to a 
sense of wonder, and by that very fact they were 
classed as Romantic, as modes of escape from a 
settled way of life. But they were also in a sense 
familiar too. The mountains made their appeal to 
a deep implanted feeling in man, to his native sense 
of his own worth and dignity and splendour as a 
part of nature, and his recognition of natural scenery 
as necessary, and in its fullest meaning as sufficient, 


for his spiritual needs. They called him back from 
the artificiality and complexity of the cities he had 
built for himself, and the society he had weaved 
round him, to the natural world in which Providence 
had planted him of old, and which was full of signi- 
ficance for his soul. The greatest poets of the 
Romantic revival strove to capture and convey the 
influence of nature on the mind and of the mind 
on nature, interpenetrating one another. They 
were none the less artists because they approached 
nature in a state of passive receptivity. They 
beheved in the autocracy of the individual imagina- 
tion none the less because their mission was to 
divine nature and to understand her, rather than to 
correct her profusions in the name of art. 

In the second place the Romantic revival meant 
a development of the historical sense. Thinkers 
like Burke and Montesquieu helped students of 
politics to acquire perspective ; to conceive modern 
institutions not as things separate, and separately 
created, but as conditioned by, and evolved from, 
the institutions of an earlier day. Even the revolu- 
tionary spirit of the time looked both before and 
after, and took history as well as the human 
perfectibility imagined by philosophers into its 
purview. In France the reformers appealed in the 
first instance for a States General — a mediaeval 
institution — as the corrective of their wrongs, and 
later when they could not, like their neighbours in 
Belgium, demand reform by way of the restoration 


of their historical rights, they were driven to go a 
step further back still beyond history, to what they 
conceived to be primitive society, and demand the 
rights of man. This development of the historical 
sense, which had such a widespread influence on 
politics, got itself into literature in the creation of 
the historical novel. Scott and Chateaubriand 
revived the old romance in which, by a peculiar 
ingenuity of form, the adventures of a typical hero 
of fiction are cast in a historical setting and set 
about with portraits of real personages. The 
historical sense affected, too, novels dealing with 
contemporary life. Scott's best work, his novels 
of Scottish character, catch more than half their 
excellence from the richness of colour and pro- 
portion which the portraiture of the living people 
acquires when it is aided by historical knowledge 
and imagination. 

Lastly, besides this awakened historical sense, 
and this quickening of imaginative sensibility to 
the message of nature, the Romantic revival 
brought to literature a revival of the sense of 
the connection between the visible world and 
another world which is unseen. The supernatural 
which in all but the crudest of mechanisms had 
been out of English literature since Macbeth, 
took hold on the imaginations of authors, and 
brought with it a new subtlety and a new and 
nameless horror and fascination. There is nothing 
in earlier English literature to set beside the strange 


and terrible indefiniteness of the Ancient Mariner, 
and though much in this kind has been written 
since, we hav^e not got far beyond the skill and 
imagination with which Coleridge and Scott worked 
on the instinctive fears that lie buried in the human 

Of all these aspects of the revival, however, the 
new sensitiveness and accessibility to the influences 
of external nature was the most pervasive and the 
most important. Wordsworth speaks for the love 
that is in homes where poor men lie, the daily 
teaching that is in 

" Woods and rills ; 
The silence that is in the starry sky, 
The peace that is among the lonely hills." 

Shelley for the wildness of the west wind, and the 
ubiquitous spiritual emotion which speaks equally 
in the song of a skylark or in a political revolution. 
Byron for the swing and roar of the sea and the 
grandeur of savage landscape. Keats for verdurous 
glooms and winding mossy ways. Scott and 
Coleridge, though like Byron they are less with 
nature than with romance, share the same com- 

This imaginative sensibility of the Romantics not 
only deepened their communion with nature, it 
brought them into a truer relation with what had 
before been created in literature and art. The 
Romantic revival is the Golden Age of English 
criticism ; all the poets were critics of one sort or 


another — either formally in essays and prefaces, or 
in passing and desultory flashes of illumination in 
their correspondence. Wordsworth, in his prefaces, 
in his letter to a friend of Burns which contains 
such a breadth and clarity of wisdom on things 
that seem alien to his sympathies, even in some of 
his poems ; Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, 
in his notes on Shakespeare, in those rhapsodies at 
Highgate which were the basis for his recorded 
table talk ; Keats in his letters ; Shelley in his 
Defence of Poetry ; Byron in his satires and 
journals ; Scott in those lives of the novelists which 
contain so much truth and insight into the works 
of fellow craftsmen — they are all to be found turn- 
ing the new acuteness of impression which was in 
the air they breathed, to the study of literature, as 
well as to the study of nature. Alongside of them 
were two authors. Lamb and Hazlitt, whose bent 
v^^as rather critical than creative, and the best part 
of whose intelligence and sympathy was spent on 
the sensitive and loving divination of our earlier 
literature. With these two men began the criticism 
of acting and of pictorial art that have developed 
since into two of the main kinds of modern critical 

Romantic criticism, both in its end and its 
method, differs widely from that of Dr Johnson 
and his school. Wordsworth and Coleridge were 
concerned with deep-seated qualities and tempera- 
mental differences. Their critical work revolved 


round their conception of the fancy and the 
imagination, the one dealing with nature on the 
surface and decorating it with imagery, the other 
penetrating to its deeper significances. Hazlitt 
and Lamb apphed their analogous conception of 
wit as a lower quality than humour, in the same 
fashion. Dr Johnson looked on the other hand 
for correctness of form, for the subordination of 
the parts to the whole, for the self-restraint and 
common sense which good manners would demand 
in society, and for wisdom in practical life. His 
school cared more for large general outlines than for 
truth in detail. They would not permit the idio- 
syncrasy of a personal or individual point of view : 
hence they were incapable of understanding lyricism, 
and they preferred those forms of writing which 
set themselves to express the ideas and feelings that 
most men may be supposed to have in common. 
Dr Johnson thought a bombastic and rhetorical 
passage in Congreve's Mourning Bride better than 
the famous description of Dover cliff in King hear. 
" The crows, sir," he said of the latter, " impede 
your fall." Their town breeding, and possibly, as 
we saw in the case of Dr Johnson, an actual 
physical disability, made them distrust any clear 
and sympathetic rendering of the sense impressions 
which nature creates. One cannot imagine Dr 
Johnson caring much for the minute observations 
of Tennyson's nature poems, or delighting in the 
verdurous and mossy alleys of Keats. His test in 


such a case would be simple ; he would not have 
liked to have been in such places, nor, reluctantly 
compelled to go there, would he in all likelihood 
have had much to say about them beyond that they 
were damp. For the poetry — such as Shelley's — 
which worked by means of impalpable and indefinite 
suggestion, he would, one may conceive, have cared 
even less. The famous " This will never do " of 
Jeffrey's writing on Wordsworth's Excursion in 
the Edinburgh Review was the last word of the 
Johnsonian school. New modes of poetry asked of 
critics new sympathies and a new way of approach. 
But it is time to turn to the authors themselves. 


The case of Wordsworth is peculiar. In his own 
day he was vilified and misunderstood ; poets like 
Byron, whom most of us would now regard simply 
as depending from the school he created, sneered 
at him. Shelley and Keats failed to understand 
him or his motives ; he was suspected of apostasy, 
and when he became poet laureate he was written 
off as a turncoat who had played false to the 
ideals of his youth. Now common opinion regards 
him as a poet above all the others of his age, and 
amongst all the English poets standing beside 
Milton, but a step below Shakespeare himself— and 
we know more about him, more about the processes 
by which his soul moved from doubts to certainties, 


from troubles to triumph, than we do about 
any other author in our tongue. This knowledge 
we have from the poem called the Prelude, which 
was published after his death. It was designed to 
be only the opening and explanatory section of a 
philosophical poem, which was never completed. 
Had it been published earlier it would have saved 
Wordsworth from the coldness and neglect he 
suffered at the hands of younger men like Shelley ; 
it might even have made their work different from 
what it is. It has made Wordsworth very clear 
to us now. 

Wordsworth is that rarest thing amongst poets, 
a complete innovator. He looked at things in a 
new way. He found his subjects in new places ; 
and he put them into a new poetic form. At the 
turning point of his life, in his early manhood, he 
made one great discovery, had one great vision. 
By the light of that vision and to communicate 
that discovery he wrote his greatest work. By and 
by the vision faded, the world fell back into the 
light of common day, his philosophy passed from 
discovery to acceptance, and all unknown to him 
his pen fell into a common way of writing. The 
faculty of reading which has added fuel to the fire 
of so many waning inspirations was denied him. 
He was much too self-centred to lose himself in 
the works of others. Only the shock of a change 
of environment — a tour in Scotland, or abroad — 
shook him into his old thrill of imagination, so that 


a few fine things fitfully illumine the enormous 
and dreary bulk of his later work. If we lost all 
but the Lyj'ical Ballads, the poems of 1804, and 
the Prelude, and the Excursion, Wordsworth's 
position as a poet would be no lower than it is 
now, and he would be more readily accepted by 
those who still find themselves uncertain about 

The determining factor in his career was the 
French Revolution — that great movement which, 
besides remaking France and Europe, made our 
very modes of thinking anew. While an under- 
graduate in Cambridge, Wordsworth made several 
vacation visits to France. The first peaceful phase 
of the Revolution was at its height ; France and 
the assembly were dominated by the little group 
of revolutionary orators who took their name from 
the south-western province from which most of 
them came, and with this group — the Girondists 
— Wordsworth threw in his lot. Had he remained 
he would probably have gone with them to the 
guillotine. As it was, the commands of his 
guardian brought him back to England, and he 
was forced to contemplate from a distance the 
struggle in which he burned to take an active part. 
One is accustomed to think of Wordsworth as a 
mild old man, but such a picture, if it is thrown 
back as a presentment of the Wordsworth of the 
'nineties, is a far way from the truth. This darkly 
passionate man tortured himself with his longings 

Reproduced by tlie permission oj the Master and Feliows of Si Johns College., Cainl>ridge. 


and his horror. War came, and the prayers for 
victory in churches found him in his heart praying 
for defeat ; then came the execution of the king ; 
then the plot which slew the Gironde. Before all 
this Wordsworth trembled as Hamlet did when he 
learned the ghost's story. His faith in the world 
was shaken. First his own country had taken up 
arms against what he believed to be the cause of 
liberty. Then faction had destroyed his friends 
whom he believed to be its standard-bearers. 
What was in the world, in religion, in morality, 
that such things could be ? In the face of this 
tremendous problem, Wordsworth, unlike Hamlet, 
was resolute and determined. It was, perhaps, 
characteristic of him that in his desire to get his 
feet on firm rock again he fled for a time to the 
exactest of sciences — to mathematics. But though 
he got certainties there, they must have been, 
one judges, certainties too arid for his thirsting 
mind. Then he made his great discovery — helped 
to it, perhaps, by his sister Dorothy and his 
friend Coleridge — he found nature, and in nature, 

Not a very wonderful discovery, you will say ; 
but though the cleansing and healing force of 
natural surroundings on the mind is a familiar 
enough idea in our own day, that is only because 
Wordsworth found it. When he gave his message 
to the world it was a new message. It is worth 
while remembering that it is still an unaccepted 


one. Most of his critics still consider it only 
Wordsworth's fun when he wrote : 

" One impulse from the vernal wood 
Can teach us more of man, 
Of moral evil and of good, 
Than all the sages can." 

Yet Wordsworth really believed that moral 
lessons and ideas were to be gathered from trees 
and stones. It was the main part of his teaching. 
He believed that his own morality had been so 
furnished him, and he wrote his poetry to convince 
other people that what had been true for him could 
be true for them too. 

For him life was a series of impressions, and the 
poet's duty was to recapture those impressions, to 
isolate them and brood over them, till gradually as 
a result of his contemplation emotion stirred again 
— an emotion akin to the authentic thrill that had 
excited him when the impression was first born in 
experience. Then poetry is made ; this emotion 
"recollected," as Wordsworth said (we may add, 
recreated), " in tranquillity," passes into enduring 
verse. He treasured numberless experiences of 
this kind in his own life. Some of them are set 
forth in the Prelude — that for instance on which 
the poem. The Thorn^ in the Lyrical Ballads is 
based ; they were one or other of them the occasion 
of most of his poems ; the best of them produced 
his finest work — such a poem, for instance, as 
Resolution and Independence or Gipsies, where 


some chance sight met with in one of the poet's 
walks is brooded over till it becomes charged with 
a tremendous significance for him and for all the 
world. If we ask how he differentiated the ex- 
periences which had most value for him, we shall 
find something deficient. That is to say, things 
which were unique and precious to him do not 
always appear so to his readers. He counted as 
gold much that we regard as dross. But though 
we may differ from his judgments, the test which 
he applied to his recollected impressions is clear. 
He attached most value to those which brought 
with them the sense of an indwelling spirit, trans- 
fusing and interpenetrating all nature, transfiguring 
with its radiance rocks and fields and trees and 
the men and women who lived close enough to 
them to partake of their strength — the sense, as 
he calls it in his Lines above Tintern Abbey, of 
something " more deeply interfused " by which all 
nature is made one. Sometimes, as in the hymn to 
Duty, it is conceived as law. Duty, before whom 
the flowers laugh, is the daughter of the voice of 
God, through whom the most ancient heavens are 
fresh and strong. But in most of his poems its 
ends do not trouble ; it is omnipresent ; it pene- 
trates everything and transfigures everything ; it 
is God. It was Wordsworth's belief that the 
perception of this indwelling spirit weakened as 
age grew. For a few precious and glorious years 
he had the vision 


" When meadow, grove, and stream. 
The earth, and every common sight 

To me did seem 
Apparelled in celestial light, 

The glory and the freshness of a dream."" 

Then as childhood, when " these intimations of 
immortality," this perception of the infinite, are 
most strong, passed further and further away, the 
vision faded and he was left gazing in the light 
of common day. He had his memories and that 
was all. 

There is, of course, more in the matter than 
this, and Wordsworth's beliefs were inextricably 
entangled with the conception which Coleridge 
borrowed from German philosophy. 

" We receive but what we give," 

wrote Coleridge to his friend, 

" And in our life alone doth Nature live." 

And Wordsworth came to know that the light 
he had imagined to be bestowed, was a light 
reflected from his own mind. It is easy to pass 
from criticism to metaphysics where Coleridge 
leads, and wise not to follow. 

If Wordsworth represents that side of the 
Romantic revival which is best described as the 
return to nature, Coleridge has justification for 
the phrase " Renascence of Wonder." He revived 
the supernatural as a literary force, emancipated it 
from the crude mechanism which had been applied 


to it by dilettantes like Horace Walpole and Mrs 
Kadcliife, and invested it instead with that air 
of suggestion and indefiniteness which gives the 
highest potency to it in its effect on the imagina- 
tion. But Coleridge is more noteworthy for what 
he suggested to others than for what he did in 
himself. His poetry is, even more than Words- 
worth's, unequal ; he is capable of large tracts of 
dreariness and flatness ; he seldom finished what 
he began. The Ancient Marine?^ indeed, which 
was the fruit of his close companionship with 
Wordsworth, is the only completed thing of the 
highest quality in the whole of his work. Christabel 
is a splendid fragment ; for years the first part lay 
uncompleted, and when the odd accident of an 
evening's intoxication led him to commence the 
second, the inspiration had fled. For the second 
part, by giving to the fairy atmosphere of the first 
a local habitation and a name, robbed it of its most 
precious quality ; what it gave in exchange was 
something the public could get better from Scott. 
Kubla Khan went unfinished because the call of a 
friend broke the thread of the reverie in which it 
was composed. In the end came opium and 
oceans of talk at Highgate and fouled the springs 
of poetry. Coleridge never fulfilled the promise 
of his early days with Wordsworth. " He never 
spoke out." But it is on the lines laid down by 
his share in the pioneer work rather than on the 

lines of Wordsworth's that the second generation 



of Romantic poets — that of Shelley and Keats — 

The work of Wordsworth was conditioned by 
the French Revolution but it hardly embodied the 
revolutionary spirit. What he conceived to be its 
excesses revolted him, and though he sought and 
sang freedom, he found it rather in the later revolt 
of the nationalities against the Revolution as 
manifested in Napoleon himself. The spirit of the 
Revolution, as it was understood in France and in 
Europe, had to wait for Shelley for its complete 
expression. Freedom is the breath of his work — 
freedom not only from the tyranny of earthly 
powers, but from the tyranny of religion, expressing 
itself in republicanism, in atheism, and in complete 
emancipation from the current moral code both in 
conduct and in writing. The reaction which had 
followed the overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo 
sent a wave of absolutism and repression all over 
Europe. Italy returned under the heel of Austria; 
the Bourbons were restored in France; in England 
came the days of Castlereagh and Peterloo. The 
poetry of Shelley is the expression of what the 
children of the Revolution — men and women who 
were brought up in and believed the revolutionary 
gospel — thought about these things. 

But it is more than that. Of no poet in English, 
nor perhaps in any other tongue, could it be said 
with more surety that the pursuit of the spirit of 
beauty dominates all his work. For Shelley it 


interfused all nature, and to possess it was the goal 
of all endeavour. The visible world and the world 
of thought mingle themselves inextricably in his 
contemplation of it. For him there is no boundary- 
line between the two, the one is as real and actual 
as the other. In his hands that old -trick of the 
poets, the simile, takes on a new and surprising 
form. He does not enforce the creations of his 
imagination by the analogy of natural appearances ; 
his instinct is just the opposite — to describe and 
illumine nature by a reference to the creatures 
of thought. Other poets, Keats for instance, or 
Tennyson, or the older poets like Dante and Homer, 
might compare ghosts flying from an enchanter 
to leaves flying before the wind. They might 
describe a poet wrapped up in his dreams as being 
like a bird singing invisible in the brightness of the 
sky. But Shelley can write of the west wind as 

" Before whose unseen presence the leaves, dead, 

Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing," 

and he can describe a skylark in the heavens as 

" Like a poet hidden 

In the light of thought." 

Of all English poets he is the most completely 
lyrical. Nothing that he wrote but is wrought out 
of the anguish or joy of his own heart. 

" Most wretched souls," 
he writes 

" Are cradled into poetry by wrong. 
They learn in suffering what they teach in song." 


Perhaps his work is too impalpable and moves in 
an air too rarefied. It sometimes lacks strength. 
It fails to take grip enough of life. Had he lived 
he might have given it these things ; there are signs 
in his last poems that he would have given it. 
But he could hardly have bettered the sheer and 
triumphant lyricism of The Skylark, of some of his 
choruses, and of the Ode in Dejection, and of the 
Lines written on the Eugencenn Hills. 

If the Romantic sense of the one-ness of nature 
found its highest exponent in Shelley, the Romantic 
sensibility to outward impressions reached its 
climax in Keats. For him life is a series of sensa- 
tions, felt with almost febrile acuteness. Records 
of sight and touch and smell crowd every line of 
his work ; the scenery of a garden in Hampstead 
becomes like a landscape in the tropics, so extra- 
ordinary vivid and detailed is his apprehension 
and enjoyment of what it has to give him. The 
luxuriance of his sensations is matched by the 
luxuriance of his powers of expression. Adjectives, 
heavily charged with messages for the senses, crowd 
every line of his work, and in his earlier poems 
overlay so heavily the thought they are meant to 
convey that all sense of sequence and structure is 
apt to be smothered under their weight. Not that 
consecutive thought claims a place in his conception 
of his poetry. His ideal was passive contemplation 
rather than active mental exertion. " O for a life 
of sensations rather than of thoughts," he exclaims 

From a painting by A. Curran in the National Portrait Gallery. 


in one of his letters ; and in another, " It is more 
noble to sit like Jove than to fly like Mercury." 
His work has one message and one only, the 
lastingness of beauty and its supreme truth. It is 
stated in Endymion in lines that are worn bare with 
quotation. It is stated again, at the height of his 
work, in his greatest ode : 

" Beauty is truth, truth beauty : that is all 
We know on earth and all we need to know." 

His work has its defects ; he died at twenty-six, so 
it would be a miracle if it were not so. He lacks 
taste and measure ; he offends by an over-luxurious- 
ness and sensuousness ; he fails when he is con- 
cerned with flesh and blood ; he is apt, as Mr 
Robert Bridges has said, '* to class women with 
roses and sweetmeats." But in his short life he 
attained with surprising rapidity and completeness 
to poetic maturity, and perhaps from no other poet 
could we find things to match his greatest — 
Hyperion, Isabella, the Eve of St Agnes, and the 

There remains a poet over whom opinion is more 
sharply divided than it is about any other writer 
in English. In his day Lord Byron was the idol, 
not only of his countrymen, but of Europe. Of 
all the poets of the time he was, if we except Scott, 
whose vogue he eclipsed, the only one whose work 
was universally known and popular. Everybody 
read him ; he was admired not only by the multi- 
tude and by his equals, but by at least one who 


was his superior, the German poet Goethe, who 
did not hesitate to say of him that he was the 
greatest talent of the century. Though this exalted 
opinion still persists on the Continent, hardly any- 
one could be found in England to subscribe to it 
now. Without insularity, we may claim to be 
better judges of authors in our own tongue than 
foreign critics, however distinguished and compre- 
hending. How then shall be explained Lord 
Byron's instant popularity and the position he won? 
What were the qualities which gave him the power 
he enjoyed ? 

In the first place, he appealed by virtue of his 
subject-matter — the desultory wanderings of Childe 
Harold traversed ground every mile of which was 
memorable to men who had watched the struggle 
which had been going on in Europe with scarcely 
a pause for twenty years. Descriptive journalism 
was then and for nearly half a century afterwards 
unknown, and the poem by its descriptiveness, by 
its appeal to the curiosity of its readers, made the 
same kind of success that vividly written special 
correspondence would to-day, the charm of metre 
superadded. Lord Byron gave his readers some- 
thing more, too, than mere description. He added 
to it the charm of a personality, and when that 
personality was enforced by a title, when it pro- 
claimed its sorrows as the age's sorrows, endowed 
itself with an air of symbolism and set itself up as 
a kind of scapegoat for the nation's sins, its triumph 


was complete. Most men have from time to time 
to resist the temptation to pose to themselves ; 
many do not even resist it. For all those who 
chose to believe themselves blighted by pessimism, 
and for all the others who would have loved to 
believe it, Byron and his poetry came as an echo 
of themselves. Shallow called to shallow. Men 
found in him, as their sons found more reputably 
in Tennyson, a picture of what they conceived to 
be the state of their own minds. 

But he was not altogether a man of pretence. 
He really and passionately loved freedom ; no one 
can question his sincerity in that. He could be a 
fine and scathing satirist ; and though he was care- 
less, he had great poetic gifts. 


The age of the Romantic revival was one of 
poetry rather than of prose ; it was in poetry that 
the best minds of the time found their means of 
expression. But it produced prose of rare quality 
too, and there is delightful reading in the works of 
its essayists and occasional writers. In its form the 
periodical essay had changed little since it was first 
made popular by Addison and Steele. It remained, 
primarily, a vehicle for the expression of a person- 
ality, and it continued to seek the interests of its 
readers by creating or suggesting an individuality 
strong enough to carry off any desultory adventure 
by the mere force of its own attractiveness. Yet 


there is all the difference in the world between 
Hazlitt and Addison, or Lamb and Steele. The 
Tatler and the Spectator leave you with a sense of 
artifice ; Hazlitt and Lamb leave you with a grip 
of a real personality — in the one case very vigorous 
and combative, in the other set about with a rare 
plaintiveness and gentleness, but in both absolutely 
sincere. Addison is gay and witty and delightful, 
but he only plays at being human ; Lamb's essays 
— the translation into print of a heap of idiosyn- 
crasies and oddities, and likes and dislikes, and 
strange humours — come straight and lovably from 
a human soul. 

The prose writers of the Romantic movement 
brought back two things into writing which had 
been out of it since the seventeenth century. They 
brought back egotism and they brought back en- 
thusiasm. They had the confidence that their own 
tastes and experiences were enough to interest their 
readers ; they mastered the gift of putting them- 
selves on paper. But there is one wide difference 
between them and their predecessors. Robert 
Burton was an egotist but he was an unconscious 
one ; the same is perhaps true, though much less 
certainly, of Sir Thomas Browne. In Lamb and 
Hazlitt and De Quincey egotism was deliberate, 
consciously assumed, the result of a compelling and 
shaping art. If one reads Lamb's earlier essays 
and prose pieces, one can see the process at work — 
watch him consciously imitating Fuller, or Burton, 


or Browne, mirroring their idiosyncrasies, making 
their quaintnesses and graces his own. By the 
time he came to write the Essays of Elia, he had 
mastered the personal style so completely that his 
essays seem simply the overflow of talk. They are 
so desultory ; they move from one subject to 
another so waywardly — such an essay as a Chapter 
on Ears, for instance, passing with the easy incon- 
sequence of conversation from anatomy through 
organ music to beer ; when they quote, as they do 
constantly, it is incorrectly, as in the random 
reminiscences of talk. Here one would say is the 
cream risen to the surface of a full mind and 
skimmed at one taking. How far all this is from 
the truth we know — know, too, how for months he 
polished and rewrote these magazine articles, rub- 
bing away roughnesses and corners, taking off the 
traces of logical sequences and argument, till in the 
finished work of art he mimicked inconsequence so 
perfectly that his friends might have been deceived. 
And the personality he put on paper was partly an 
artistic creation, too. In life Lamb was a nervous, 
easily excitable and emotional man ; his years were 
worn with the memory of a great tragedy and the 
constantly impending fear of a repetition of it. 
One must assume him in his way to have been a 
good man of business — he was a clerk in the India 
House, then a throbbing centre of trade, and the 
largest commercial concern in England, and when 
he retired his employers gave him a very handsome 


pension. In the early portrait by Hazlitt there is 
a dark and gleaming look of fire and decision. But 
you would never guess it from his books. There 
he is the gentle recluse, dreaming over old books, 
old furniture, old prints, old plays and playbills ; 
living always in the past, loving in the town secluded 
byways like the Temple, or the libraries of Oxford 
Colleges, and in the country quiet and shaded lanes, 
none of the age's enthusiasm for mountains in his 
soul. When he turned critic it was not to discern 
and praise the power and beauty in the works of 
his contemporaries, but to rediscover and interpret 
the Elizabethan and Jacobean romantic plays. 

This quality of egotism Lamb shares with other 
writers of the time, with De Quincey, for instance, 
who left buried in work which is extensive and 
unequal much that lives by virtue of the singular 
elaborateness and loftiness of the style which he 
could on occasion command. For the revival of 
enthusiasm one must turn to Hazlitt, who brought 
his passionate and combative disposition to the 
service of criticism, and produced a series of studies 
remarkable for their earnestness and their vigour, 
and for the essential justness which they display 
despite the prejudice on which each of them was 
confessedly based. 

From a /tainting by Henry Meyer in the British Museum. 




Had it not been that with two exceptions all the 
poets of the Romantic revival died early, it might 
be more difficult to draw a line between their 
school and that of their successors than it is. As 
it happened, the only poet who survived and wrote 
was Wordsworth, the oldest of them all. For 
long before his death he did nothing that had one 
touch of the fire and beauty of his earlier work. 
The respect he began, after a lifetime of neglect, 
to receive in the years immediately before his 
death, was paid not to the conservative laureate of 
1848, but to the revolutionary in art and politics 
of fifty years before. He had lived on, long after 
his work was done, 

" To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost 
That blamed the living man."" 

All the others, Keats, Shelley, Byron, were dead 
before 1830, and the problem which might have 
confronted us had they lived, of adult work running 
counter to the tendencies and ideals of youth, does 



not exist for us. Keats or Shelley might have 
lived as long as Carlyle, with whom they were 
almost exactly contemporary ; had they done so, 
the age of the Romantic revival and the Victorian 
age would have been united in the lives of authors 
who were working in both. We should conceive, 
that is, the whole period as one, just as we conceive 
of the Renaissance in England, from Surrey to 
Shirley, as one. As it is, we have accustomed 
ourselves to a strongly marked line of division. A 
man must be on either one side or the other ; 
Wordsworth, though he wrote on till 1850, is on 
the further side ; Carlyle, though he was born in 
the same year as Keats, on the hither side. Still 
the accident of length of days must not blind us 
to the fact that the Victorian period, though in 
many respects its ideals and modes of thinking 
differed from those of the period which preceded 
it, is essentially an extension of the Romantic 
revival and not a fresh start. The coherent in- 
spiration of Romanticism disintegrated into separate 
lines of development, just as in the seventeenth 
century the single inspiration of the Renaissance 
broke into different schools. Along these separate 
lines represented by such men as Browning, the 
Pre-Raphaelites, Arnold, and Meredith, literature 
enriched and elaborated itself into fresh forms. 
None the less, every author in each of these lines 
of literary activity invites his readers to understand 
his direct relations to the Romantic movement. 


Rossetti touches it through his original, Keats ; 
Arnold through Goethe and Byron ; Browning 
first through Shelley and then in item after item 
of his varied subject-matter. 

In one direction the Victorian age achieved a 
salient and momentous advance. The Romantic 
revival had been interested in nature, in the past, 
and in a lesser degree in art, but it had not been 
interested in men and women. To Wordsworth 
the dalesmen of the Lakes were part of the scenery 
they moved in ; he saw men as trees walking, and 
when he writes about them as in such great poems 
as Resolution and Independence, the brothers, 
or Michael, it is as natural objects he treats them, 
invested with the lonely remoteness that separates 
them from the complexities and passions of life as 
it is lived. They are there, you feel, to teach the 
same lesson as the landscape teaches in which they 
are set. The passing of the old Cumberland 
beggar through villages and past farmsteads brings 
to those who see him the same kind of consolation 
as the impulses from a vernal wood that Words- 
worth celebrated in his purely nature poetry. 
Compare with Wordsworth, Browning, and note 
the fundamental change in the attitude of the 
poet that his work reveals. Pippa Passes is a 
poem on exactly the same scheme as the Old 
Cumberland Beggar, but in treatment no two 
things could be further apart. The intervention 
of Pippa is dramatic, and though her song is in 


the same key as the wordless message of Words- 
worth's beggar she is a world apart from him, 
because she is something not out of natural history, 
but out of life. The Victorian age extended the 
imaginative sensibility which its predecessor had 
brought to bear on nature and history, to the 
complexities of human life. It searched for indi- 
viduality in character, studied it with a loving 
minuteness, and built up out of its discoveries 
amongst men and women a body of literature 
which in its very mode of conception was more 
closely related to life, and thus the object of greater 
interest and excitement to its readers, than any- 
thing which had been written in the previous 
ages. It is the direct result of this extension of 
Romanticism that the novel became the char- 
acteristic means of literary expression of the time, 
and that Browning, the poet who more than all 
others represents the essential spirit of his age, 
should have been, as it were, a novelist in verse. 
Only one other literary form, indeed, could have 
ministered adequately to this awakened interest, 
but by some luck not easy to understand the 
drama, which might have done with greater 
economy and directness the work the novel had 
to do, remained outside the main stream of 
literary activity. To the drama at last it would 
seem that we are returning, and it may be that 
in the future the direct representation of the 
clash of human life, which is still mainly in the 


hands of our novelists, may come back to its 
own domain. 

The Victorian age, then, added humanity to 
nature and art as the subject-matter of Hterature. 
But it went further than that. For the first time 
since the Renaissance came an era which was 
conscious of itself as an epoch in the history of 
mankind, and confident of its mission. The 
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries revolutionized 
cosmography, and altered the face of the physical 
world. The nineteenth century, by the discoveries 
of its men of science, and by the remarkable and 
rapid succession of inventions which revolutionized 
the outward face of life, made hardly less alteration 
in accepted ways of thinking. The evolutionary 
theory, which had been in the air since Goethe, and 
to which Darwin was able to give an apparently 
incontrovertible basis of scientific fact, profoundly 
influenced man's attitude to nature and to religion. 
Physical as apart from natural science made 
scarcely less advance, and instead of a world created 
at some fixed moment of time, on which had been 
placed by some outward agency all the forms and 
shapes of nature that we know, came the concep- 
tion of a planet congealing out of a nebula, and of 
some lower, simpler, and primeval form of fife 
multiplying and diversifying itself through succeed- 
ing stages of development to form both the animal 
and the vegetable world. This conception not 
only enormously excited and stimulated thought. 


but it gave thinkers a strange sense of confidence 

and certainty not possessed by the age before. 

Everything seemed plain to them ; they w^ere heirs 

of all the ages. Their doubts were as certain as 

their faith. 

" There lives more faith in honest doubt, 
Believe me, than in half the creeds."" 

said Tennyson ; " honest doubt," hugged with all 
the certainty of a revelation, is the creed of most 
of his philosophical poetry, and, what is more to the 
point, was the creed of the masses that were begin- 
ning to think for themselves, to whose awakening 
interest his work so strongly appealed. There 
were, no doubt, literary side-currents. Disraeli 
survived to show that there were still young men 
who thought Byronically. Rossetti and his school 
held themselves proudly aloof from the rationalistic 
and scientific tendencies of the time, and found in 
the Middle Ages, better understood than they had 
been either by Coleridge or Scott, a refuge from a 
time of factories and fact. The Oxford movement 
ministered to the same tendencies in religion and 
philosophy ; but it is the scientific spirit, and all 
that the scientific spirit implied, its certain doubt, 
its care for minuteness and truth of observation, 
its growing interest in social processes, and the 
conditions under which life is lived, that is the 
central fact in Victorian literature. 

Tennyson represents more fully than any other 
poet this essential spirit of the age. If it be true, 


as has been often asserted, that the spirit of an age 
is to be found best in the work of lesser men, his 
complete identity with the thought of his time is 
in itself evidence of his inferiority to his con- 
temporary, Browning. Comparisons between the 
two men seem inevitable ; they were made by 
readers when In Memoriam and Men a7id Women 
came hot from the press, and they have been made 
ever since.^ There could, of course, scarcely be 
two men more dissimilar ; Tennyson elaborating 
and decorating what is at bottom something simple 
and plain — using what has been called the " ornate " 
style and founding what is in a way a new poetic 
diction which has lasted to our own day ; Brown- 
ing delving into the esoteric and the obscure, and 
bringing up strange and unfamiliar finds ; Tennyson 
in faultless verse registering current newly accepted 
ways of thought ; Browning in advance thinking 
afresh for himself, occupied ceaselessly in the ardu- 
ous labour of creating an audience fit to judge him. 
The age justified the accuracy with which Tenny- 
son mirrored it, by accepting him and rejecting 
Browning. It is this very accuracy that almost 
forces us at this time to minimize and perhaps 
dispraise Tennyson's work. We have passed from 
Victorian certainties, and so he is apt, when he 

^ See, for instance, Bagehot's remarkable and ingenious essay 
on " Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning, or the Pure, Ornate, 
and Grotesque Styles in Poetry," for which Enoch Arden and 
Dramatis Personce were the text. No writer of criticism better 
repays the close attention of students of literature than Bagehot. 



writes in the mood of Locksley Hall and the rest, 
to appear to us a little shallow, a little empty, and 
a little pretentious. 

His earlier poetry, before he took upon himself 
the burden of the age, is his best work, and it bears 
strongly marked upon it the influence of Keats. 
Such a poem, for instance, as CEnone shows an 
extraordinarily fine sense of language and melody, 
and the capacity caught from Keats of conveying a 
rich and highly coloured pictorial effect. No other 
poet, save Keats, has had a sense of colour so 
highly developed as Tennyson's. From his boy- 
hood he was an exceedingly close and sympathetic 
observer of the outward forms of nature, and he 
makes a splendid use of what his eyes had taught 
him in these earlier poems. liater his interest in 
insects and birds and flowers outran the legitimate 
opportunity he possessed of using it in poetry. It 
was his habit, his son tells us, to keep notebooks 
of things he had observed in his garden or in his 
walks, and to work them up afterwards into similes 
for the Princess and the Idylls of the King. Read 
in the books written by admirers, in which they 
have been studied and collected (there are several 
of them), these similes are pleasing enough ; in the 
text where they stand they are apt to have the air 
of impertinences, beautiful and extravagant im- 
pertinences no doubt, but alien to their setting. 
In one of the Idylls of the King the fall of a 
drunken knight from his horse is compared to the 

From a painting by G. F. IVatis, R.A. 


fall of a jutting edge of cliff and with it a lance-like 
fir-tree, which Tennyson had observed near his 
home, and one cannot resist the feeling that the 
comparison is a thought too great for the thing it 
was meant to illustrate. So, too, in the Princess 
when he describes a handwriting, 

" In such a hand as when a field of corn 
Bows all its ears before the roaring East,'"* 

he is using up a sight noted in his walks and 
transmuted into poetry on a trivial and frivolous 
occasion. You do not feel, in fact, that the hand- 
writing visualized spontaneously called up the 
comparison ; you are as good as certain that the 
simile existed waiting for use before the hand- 
writing was thought of. 

The accuracy of his observation of nature, his 
love of birds and larvae, is matched by the careful- 
ness with which he embodied, as soon as ever they 
were made, the discoveries of natural and physical 
science. Nowadays, possibly because these things 
have become commonplace to us, we may find him 
a little school-boy-like in his pride of knowledge. 
He knows that 

" This world was once a fluid haze of light, 
Till toward the centre set the starry tides 
And eddying wild suns that wheeling cast 
The planets," 

just as he knows what the catkins on the willows 
are like, or the names of the butterflies : but he is 
capable, on occasion, of " dragging it in," as in 


" The nebulous star we call the sun, 
If that hypothesis of theirs be sound," 

from the mere pride in his familiarity with the last 
new thing. His dealings with science, that is, no 
more than his dealings with nature, have that 
inevitableness, that spontaneous appropriateness 
that we feel we have a right to ask from great 

Had Edgar Allan Poe wanted an example for 
his theory of the impossibility of writing, in modern 
times, a long poem, he might have found it in 
Tennyson. His strength is in his shorter pieces ; 
even where as in In 3Iemoriam he has conceived 
and written something at once extended and 
beautiful, the beauty lies rather in the separate 
parts ; the thing is more in the nature of a sonnet 
sequence than a continuous poem. Of his other 
larger works, the Princess, a scarcely happy blend 
between burlesque in the manner of the Rape of 
the Lock, and a serious apostleship of the liberation 
of women, is redeemed by the lyrics which it 
contains. Tennyson's innate conservatism hardly 
squared with the liberalizing tendencies he caught 
from the more advanced thought of his age, in 
writing it. Something of the same kind is true of 
Maud, which is a novel told in dramatically 
varied verse. The hero is morbid, his social satire 
peevish, and a story which could have been com- 
pletely redeemed by the ending (the death of the 
hero) which artistic fitness demands, is of value 


for us now through its three amazing songs, in 
which the lyric genius of Tennyson reached its 
finest flower. It cannot be denied, either, that he 
failed — though magnificently — in the Idylls of the 
King. The odds were heavily against him in the 
choice of a subject. Arthur is at once too legend- 
ary and too shadowy for an epic hero, and nothing 
but the treatment that Milton gave to Satan {i.e. 
flat substitution of the legendary person by a newly 
created character) could fit him for the place. 
Even if Arthur had been more promising than 
he is, Tennyson's sympathies were fundamentally 
alien from the moral and religious atmosphere of 
Arthurian romance. His robust Protestantism 
left no room for mysticism ; he could neither 
appreciate nor render the mystical fervour and 
exaltation which is in the old history of the Holy 
Grail. Nor could he comprehend the morality of a 
society where courage, sympathy for the oppressed, 
loyalty and courtesy were the only essential 
virtues, and love took the way of freedom and the 
heart rather than the way of law. In his heart 
Tennyson's attitude to the ideals of chivalry and 
the old stories in which they are embodied difflered 
probably very little from that of Roger Ascham, 
or of any other Protestant Englishman ; when he 
endeavoured to make an epic of them and to fasten 
to it an allegory in which Arthur should typify 
the war of soul against sense, what happened was 
only what might have been expected. The heroic 


enterprise failed, and left us with a series of mid- 
Victorian novels in verse in which the knights 
figure as heroes of the common mid- Victorian 

But if he failed in his larger poems, he had a 
genius little short of perfect in his handling of 
shorter forms. The Arthurian story which pro- 
duced only middling moralizing in the Idylls, gave 
us as well the supremely written Homeric episode 
of the Morte (TArthm^ and the sharp and defined 
beauty of Sir Galahad and the Lady of Shallott. 
Tennyson had a touch of the pre-Raphaelite faculty 
of minute painting in words, and the writing of 
these poems is as clear and naive as in the best 
things of Rossetti. He had also what neither 
Rossetti nor any of his contemporaries in verse, 
except Browning, had, a fine gift of understanding 
humanity. The peasants of his English idylls are 
conceived with as much breadth of sympathy and 
richness of humour, as purely and as surely, as the 
peasants of Chaucer or Burns. A note of passion- 
ate humanity is indeed in all his work. It makes 
vivid and intense his scholarly handling of Greek 
myth ; always the unchanging human aspect of it 
attracts him most, in (Enone's grief, in the in- 
domitableness of Ulysses, in the weariness and dis- 
illusionment in Tithonus. It has been the cause 
of the comfort he has brought to sorrow ; none 
of his generation takes such a human attitude 
to death. Shelley could yearn for the infinite, 


Browning treat it as the last and greatest ad- 
venture, Arnold meet it clear-eyed and resigned. 
To Wordsworth it is the mere return of man the 
transient to Nature the eternal. 

" No motion has she now ; no force, 
She neither hears nor sees, 
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course 
With rocks, and stones, and trees." 

To Tennyson it brings the fundamental human 
home-sickness for familiar things. 

" Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns 
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds 
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes 
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square."" 

It is an accent which wakes an echo in a thousand 

While Tennyson, in his own special way and, so 
to speak, in collaboration with the spirit of the age, 
was carrying on the work of Romanticism on its 
normal lines, Browning was finding a new style 
and a new subject-matter. In his youth he had 
begun as an imitator of Shelley, and Pauline and 
Paracelsus remain to show what the influence of 
the " sun-treader " was on his poetry. But as early 
as his second publication, Belb and Pomegranates, 
he had begun to speak for himself, and with Men 
and Women, a series of poems of amazing variety 
and brilliance, he placed himself unassailably in the 
first rank. Like Tennyson's, his genius continued 


high and undimmed while Hfe was left him. Men 
and Women was followed by an extraordinary 
narrative poem, The Ring and the Book, and it 
by several volumes of scarcely less brilliance, the 
last of which appeared on the very day of his 

Of the two classes into which, as we saw when 
we were studying Burns, creative artists can be 
divided. Browning belongs to that one which makes 
everything new for itself, and has in consequence 
to educate the readers by whom its work can alone 
be judged. He was an innovator in nearly every- 
thing he did ; he thought for himself ; he wrote for 
himself, and in his own way. And because he 
refused to follow ordinary modes of writing, he 
was and is still widely credited with being tortured 
and obscure.^ The charge of obscurity is unfor- 
tunate because it tends to shut off from him a large 
class of readers for whom he has a sane and special 
and splendid message. 

His most important innovation in form was his 
device of the dramatic lyric. What interested him 

^ The deeper causes of Browning's obscurity have been detailed 
in Chapter IV. of this book. It may be added for the benefit of 
the reader who fights shy on the report of it, that in nine cases 
out of ten it arises simply from his colloquial method ; we go to 
him expecting the smoothness and completeness of Tennyson ; 
we find in him the irregularities, the suppressions, the quick 
changes of talk— the clipped, clever talk of much-idea'd people 
who hurry breathlessly from one aspect to another of a subject 
— an obscurity similar to that of Shakespeare in his later plays, 
particularly The Tempest and the Winter's Tale. 


in life was men and women, and in them, not their 
actions, but the motives which governed their 
actions. To lay bare fully the working of motive 
in a narrative form with himself as narrator was 
obviously impossible ; the strict dramatic form, 
though he attained some success in it, does not seem 
to have attracted him, probably because in it the 
ultimate stress must be on the thing done rather 
than the thing thought ; there remained, therefore, 
of the ancient forms of poetry, the lyric. The 
lyric had of course been used before to express 
emotions imagined and not real to the poet himself ; 
the Elizabethans and their successors, Donne and 
his school, in the seventeenth century had so used 
it ; Browning was the first to project it to express 
imagined emotions of men and women, whether 
typical or individual, whom he himself had created. 
Alongside this perversion of the lyric, he created a 
looser and freer form, the dramatic monologue, in 
which most of his most famous poems, Cleon, 
Sludge the Medium, Bishop Blougrams Apology ^ 
etc., are cast. In the convention which Browning 
established, all kinds of people are endowed with 
a miraculous articulation, a new gift of tongues ; 
they explain themselves, their motives, the springs 
of those motives (for in Browning's view every 
thought and act of a man's life is part of an inter- 
dependent whole), and their author's peculiar and 
robust philosophy of life. Out of the dramatic 
monologues he devised the scheme of The Ring 


and the Book, a narrative poem in which the 
episodes, and not the plot, are the basis of the 
structure, and the story of a trifling and sordid 
crime is set forth as it appeared to the minds of 
the chief actors in succession/ To these new 
forms he added the originality of an extraordinary 
realism in style. Few poets have the power by 
a word, a phrase, a flash of observation in detail 
to make you see the event as Browning makes 
you see it. 

Many books have been written on the philosophy 
of Browning's poetry. Stated briefly, its message 
is that of an optimism which depends on a recogni- 
tion of the strenuousness of life. The base of his 
creed, as of Carlyle's, is the gospel of labour ; he 
believes in the supreme moral worth of effort. 
Life is a " training school " for a future existence, 
and our place in it depends on the courage and 
strenuousness with which we have laboured here. 
Evil is in the world only as an instrument in the 
process of development ; by conquering it we 
exercise our spiritual faculties the more. Only 
torpor is the supreme sin, even as in The Statue 
and the Bust, where effort would have been to a 
criminal end. 

1 This way of telling a story, which is implicit in the method 
of Richardson, who used the epistolary form to make his readers 
see a situation separately from the respective points of view of 
all the persons concerned in it, has been revived in a new form 
in our own day by Mr Arnold Bennett, whose novels Clayhanger 
and Hilda Lessrvay make a new departure in English fiction. 


" The counter our lovers staked was lost 
As surely as if it were lawful coin : 
And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost 
Was, the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin, 
Though the end in sight was a crime, I say." 

All the other main ideas of his poetry fit with 
perfect consistency on to his scheme. Love, the 
manifestation of a man's or a woman's nature in 
the highest and most intimate relationship possible, 
is an opportunity — the highest opportunity — for 
spiritual growth. It can reach this end though an 
actual and earthly union is impossible. 

" She has lost me, I have gained her ; 
Her soul's mine and thus grown perfect, 
I shall pass my life's remainder. 
Life will just hold out the proving 
Both our powers, alone and blended : 
And then come the next life quickly ! 
This world's use will have been ended." 

It follows that the reward of effort is the promise 
of immortality, and that for each man, just because 
his thoughts and motives taken together count, and 
not one alone, there is infinite hope. 

The contemporaries of Tennyson and Browning 
in poetry divide themselves into three separate 
schools. Nearest to them in temper is the school of 
Matthew Arnold and Clough ; they have the same 
quick sensitiveness to the intellectual tendencies 
of the age, but their foothold in a time of shifting 
and dissolving creeds is a stoical resignation very 
different from the buoyant optimism of Browning, 


or Tennyson's mixture of science and doubt and 
faith. Very remote from them, on the other hand, 
is the backward-gazing medisevalism of Rossetti 
and his circle, who revived (Rossetti from ItaUan 
sources, Morris from Norman) a Middle Age which 
neither Scott nor Coleridge had more than partially 
and brokenly understood. The last school, that 
to which Swinburne and Meredith with all their 
differences unite in belonging, gave up Christianity 
with scarcely so much as a regret — 

" We have said to the dream that caress'd and the dread 
that smote us, 
Good-night and good-bye " — 

and turned with a new hope and exultation to the 
worship of our immemorial mother the earth. In 
both of them, the note of enthusiasm for political 
liberty which had been lost in Wordsworth after 
1815, and was too early extinguished with Shelley, 
was revived by the Italian Revolution in splendour 
and fire. 

As one gets nearer one's own time, a certain 
change comes insensibly over one's literary studies. 
Literature comes more and more to mean imagin- 
ative literature or writing about imaginative litera- 
ture. The mass of writing comes to be taken not 
as literature, but as argument or information ; we 
consider it purely from the point of view of its 
subject-matter. A comparison will make this at 
once clear. When a man reads Bacon, he com- 

From a paintings by G. F. Watts, R.A. 


monly regards himself as engaged in the study of 
English literature ; when he reads Darwin, he is 
occupied in the study of natural science. A 
reader of Bacon's time would have looked on him 
as we look on Darwin now. 

The distinction is obviously illogical, but a 
writer on English literature within brief limits is 
forced to bow to it if he wishes his book to avoid 
the dreariness of a summary, and he can plead in 
extenuation the increased literary output of the 
later age, and the incompleteness with which time 
so far has done its work in sifting the memorable 
from the forgettable, the ephemeral from what is 
going to last. The main body of imaginative 
prose literature — the novel — is treated of in the 
next chapter, and here no attempt will be made to 
deal with any but the admittedly greatest names of 
those whose object in writing was a literary object. 
Nothing can be said, for instance, of the writings, 
admirable in their literary qualities of purity and 
terseness, of Darwin or Huxley ; or of the polemics 
of Newman (whose literary qualities have been 
perhaps overrated) ; or of Kingsley or Maurice. 
These authors, one and all, interpose no barrier, so 
to speak, between their subject-matter and their 
readers ; you are not when you read them conscious 
of a literary intention, but of some utilitarian one ; 
and as an essay on English literature is by no 
means a handbook to serious reading, they will be 
no more mentioned here. 


But in the case of more than one nineteenth- 
century writer in prose, this method of exclusion 
cannot apply. Carlyle and Ruskin, Macaulay and 
Matthew Arnold were all professional men of 
letters ; each in the voluminous compass of his 
works touched on a large variety of subjects ; all 
wrote highly individual and peculiar styles ; and 
all, without being exactly professional philosophers 
or professional preachers, were, as every good man 
of letters, whether he denies it or not, is and must 
be, lay moralists and prophets. Of the two first 
Ruskin is plain and easily read, and he derives his 
message; Carlyle, his original, is apt to be tortured 
and obscure, and probably some guidance to him 
may be of service to those who embark on his 

As we saw, he was the oldest of the Victorians ; 
he was over forty when the Queen came to the 
throne. Already his years of preparation in Scot- 
land, town and country, were over, and he had 
settled in that famous little house in Chelsea which 
for nearly half a century to come was to be one of 
the central hearths of literary London. More than 
that, he had already fully formed his mode of 
thought and his peculiar style. Sartor Resartus 
was written and published serially before the Queen 
came to the throne ; the French Revolution came 
in the year of her accession at the very time that 
Carlyle's lectures were making him a fashionable 
sensation ; most of his miscellaneous essays had 


already appeared in the reviews. But with the 
strict Victorian era, as if to justify the usually 
arbitrary division of literary history by dynastic 
periods, there came a new spirit into his work. 
For the first time he applied his peculiar system of 
ideas to contemporary politics. Chartism appeared 
in 1839; Past and Present, which does the same 
thing as Chartism in an artistic form, three years 
later. They were followed by one other book — 
Latter-Day Pamphlets — addressed particularly to 
contemporary conditions, and by two remarkable 
and voluminous historical works. Then came the 
death of his wife, and for the last fifteen years of 
his life silence, broken only briefly and at rare 

The reader who comes to Carlyle with precon- 
ceived notions based on what he has heard of the 
subject-matter of his books is certain to be surprised 
by what he finds. There are histories in the canon 
of his works and pamphlets on contemporary 
problems, but they are composed on a plan that 
no other historian and no other social reformer 
would own. A reader will find in them no argu- 
ment, next to no reasoning, and little practical 
judgment. Carlyle was not a great " thinker " in 
the strictest sense of that term. He was under 
the control, not of his reason, but of his emotions ; 
deep feeling, a volcanic intensity of temperament 
flaming into the light and heat of prophecy, in- 
vective, derision, or a simple splendour of eloquence, 


is the characteristic of his work. Against cold- 
blooded argument his passionate nature rose in 
fierce rebellion ; he had no patience with the 
formalist or the doctrinaire. Nor had he the 
faculty of analysis ; his historical works are a 
series of pictures, splendidly and vividly con- 
ceived, and with enormous colour and a fine 
illusion of reality, but one-sided as regards the 
truth. In his essays on hero-worship he contents 
himself with a noisy reiteration of the general 
predicate of heroism; there is very little except 
their names and the titles to differentiate one sort 
of hero from another. His picture of contemporary 
conditions is not so much a reasoned indictment 
as a wild and fantastic orgy of epithets : " dark 
simmering pit of Tophet," " bottomless universal 
hypocrisies," and all the rest. In it all he left no 
practical scheme. His works are fundamentally 
not about politics or history or literature, but 
about himself. They are the exposition of a 
splendid egotism, fiercely enthusiastic about one 
or two deeply held convictions ; their strength 
does not lie in their matter of fact. 

This is, perhaps, a condemnation of him in the 
minds of those people who ask of a social reformer 
an actuarially accurate scheme for the abolition of 
poverty, or from a prophet a correct forecast of the 
result of the next general election. Carlyle has 
little help for these and no message save the dis- 
concerting one of their own futility. His message 


is at once larger and simpler, for though his form 
was prose, his soul was a poet's soul, and what he 
has to say is a poet's word. In a way, it is partly 
Wordsworth's own. The chief end of life, his 
message is, is the performance of duty, chiefly the 
duty of work. "Do thy little stroke of work; 
this is Nature's voice, and the sum of all the 
commandments, to each man." All true work is 
religion, all true work is worship ; to labour is to 
pray. And after work, obedience the best dis- 
cipline, so he says in Past and Present, for govern- 
ing, and " our universal duty and destiny ; wherein 
whoso will not bend must break." Carlyle asked 
of every man action and obedience and to bow 
to duty ; he also required of him sincerity and 
veracity, the duty of being a real and not a sham, 
a strenuous warfare against cant. The historical 
facts with which he had to deal he grouped under 
these embracing categories, and in the French 
Revolution, which is as much a treasure-house of 
his philosophy as a history, there is hardly a page 
on which they do not appear. "Quack-ridden," 
he says, " in that one word lies all misery whatso- 

These bare elemental precepts he clothes in a 
garment of amazing and bizarre richness. There 
is nothing else in English faintly resembling the 
astonishing eccentricity and individuality of his 
style. Gifted with an extraordinarily excitable 

and vivid imagination ; seeing things with sudden 



and tremendous vividness, as in a searchlight or a 
Hghtning flash, he contrived to convey to his 
readers his impressions full charged with the 
original emotion that produced them, and thus 
with the highest poetic eff'ect. There is nothing 
in all descriptive writing to match the vividness of 
some of the scenes in the French Revolution or 
in the narrative part of CromwelVs Letters and 
Speeches^ or, more than perhaps in any of his books, 
because in it he was setting down deep-seated 
impressions of his boyhood rather than those got 
from brooding over documents, in Sartor Resartus. 
Alongside this unmatched pictorial vividness and 
a quite amazing richness and rhythm of language, 
more surprising and original than anything out 
of Shakespeare, there are of course striking defects 
— a wearisome reiteration of emphasis, a clumsiness 
of construction, a saddening fondness for solecisms 
and hybrid inventions of his own. The reader 
who is interested in these (and everyone who reads 
him is forced to become so) will find them faith- 
fully dealt with in John Sterling's remarkable 
letter (quoted in Carlyle's Life of Sterling) on 
Sai'tor Resa7^tus. But gross as they are, and 
frequently as they provide matter for serious 
offence, these eccentricities of language link them- 
selves up in a strange indissoluble way with 
Carlyle's individuality and his power as an artist. 
They are not to be imitated, but he would be much 
less than he is without them, and they act by their 


very strength and pungency as a preservative of 
his work. That of all the political pamphlets 
which the new era of reform occasioned, his, which 
were the least in sympathy with it and are the 
furthest off the main stream of our political thinking 
now, alone continue to be read, must be laid down 
not only to the prophetic fervour and fire of their 
inspiration but to the dark and violent magic of 
their style. 




The faculty for telling stories is the oldest artistic 
faculty in the world, and the deepest implanted in 
the heart of man. Before the rudest cave-pictures 
were scratched on the stone, the story-teller, it is 
not unreasonable to suppose, was plying his trade. 
All early poetry is simply story-telling in verse. 
Stories are the first literary interest of the awaken- 
ing mind of a child. As that is so, it is strange 
that the novel, which of all literary ways of story- 
telling seems closest to the unstudied tale-spinning 
of talk, should be the late discovery that it is. Of 
all the main forms into which the literary impulse 
moulds the stuff of imagination, the novel is the 
last to be devised. The drama dates from pre- 
historic times, so does the epic, the ballad and the 
lyric. The novel as we know it dates, practically 
speaking, from 1740. What is the reason it is so 
late in appearing ? 

The answer is, partly at any rate, that there 
seems no room for good drama and good fiction at 
the same time in literature ; drama and novels do 


From the f>ortrait by James M'Neitl Whistle}-. 


not easily exist side by side, and the novel had to 
wait for the decadence of the drama before it could 
appear and triumph. If one were to make a table 
of succession for the various kinds of literature as 
they have been used naturally and spontaneously 
(not academically), the order would be the epic, 
the drama, the novel ; and it would be obvious at 
once that the order stood for something more than 
chronological succession, and that literature in its 
function as a representation and criticism of life 
passed from form to form in the search of greater 
freedom, greater subtlety, and greater power. At 
present we seem to be at the climax of the third 
stage in this development ; there are signs that the 
fourth is on the way, and that it will be a return to 
drama — not to the old, formal, ordered kind, but 
something new and freer, ready to gather up and 
interpret what there is of newness and freedom in 
the spirit of man and the society in which he lives 
and to suit its methods to the new material which 
comes to its hand. 

The novel, then, had to wait for the drama's 
decline, but there was literary story-telling long be- 
fore that. There were mediaeval romances in prose 
and verse ; Renaissance pastoral tales, and stories 
of adventure ; collections, plenty of them, of short 
stories modelled on Boccaccio, like those in Painter's 
Palace of Pleasure. But none of these, not even 
romances which deal in moral and sententious advice 
like Euphues, approach the essence of the novel as 


we know it. They are all (except Euphues, which 
is simply a framework of travel for a book of 
aphorisms) simple and objective ; they set forth 
incidents or series of incidents ; long or short, they 
are anecdotes only — they take little account of 
character. It was impossible we should have the 
novel as distinct from the tale, till stories acquired 
a subjective interest for us ; till we began to think 
about character and to look at actions not only 
outwardly, but within at their springs. 

As has been stated earlier in this book, it was 
in the seventeenth century that this interest in 
character was first wakened. Shakespeare had 
brought to the drama, which before him was con- 
cerned with actions viewed outwardly, a psycho- 
logical interest ; he had taught that " character is 
destiny," and that men's actions and fates spring 
not from outward agencies, but from within in their 
own souls. The age began to take a deep and 
curious interest in men's lives ; biography was 
written for the first time and autobiography ; it is 
the great period of memoir- writing both in England 
and France ; authors like Robert Burton came, 
whose delight was to dig down into human nature 
in search for oddities and individualities of disposi- 
tion ; humanity as the great subject of enquiry 
for all men came to its own. All this has a direct 
bearing on the birth of the novel. One transient 
form of literature in the seventeenth century — the 
Character — is an ancestor in the direct line. The 


collections of them — Earle's Microcosmogra^phy is 
the best — are not very exciting reading, and they 
never perhaps quite succeeded in naturalizing a 
form borrowed from the later age of Greece, but 
their importance in the history of the novel to come 
is clear. Take them and add them to the story of 
adventure — i.e. introduce each fresh person in your 
plot with a description in the character form, and 
the step you have made towards the novel is a long 
one ; you have given to plot which was already 
there the added interest of character. 

That, however, was not quite how the thing 
worked in actual fact. At the heels of the 
" Character " came the periodical essay of Addison 
and Steele. Their interest in contemporary types 
was of the same quality as Earle's or Hall's, but 
they went a different way to work. Where these 
compressed and cultivated a style which was stac- 
cato and epigrammatic, huddling all the traits 
of their subject in short sharp sentences that follow 
each other with all the brevity and curtness of 
items in a prescription, Addison and Steele 
observed a more artistic plan. They made, as it 
were, the prescription up, adding one ingredient 
after another slowly as the mixture dissolved. You 
are introduced to Sir Roger de Coverley, and to a 
number of other typical people, and then, in a series 
of essays which if they were disengaged from their 
setting would be to all intents a novel and a fine 
one, you are made aware one by one of different 


traits in the squire's character and those of his 
friends, each trait generally enshrined in an incident 
which illustrates it ; you get to know them, that 
is, gradually, as you would in real life, and not all 
in a breath, in a series of compressed statements, 
as is the way of the character writers. With the 
Coverley essays in the Spectator, the novel in one 
of its forms— that in which an invisible and all- 
knowing narrator tells a story in which someone 
else whose character he lays bare for us is the hero 
— is as good as achieved. 

Another manner of fiction — the autobiographical 
— had already been invented. It grew directly out 
of the public interest in autobiography, and particu- 
larly in the tales of their voyages which the dis- 
coverers wrote and published on their return from 
their adventures. Its establishment in literature 
was the work of two authors, Bunyan and Defoe. 
The books of Bunyan, whether they are told in the 
first person or no, are and were meant to be auto- 
biographical ; their interest is a subjective interest. 
Here is a man who endeavours to interest you, not 
in the character of some other person he has 
imagined or observed, but in himself. His treat- 
ment of it is characteristic of the awakening talent 
for fiction of his time. The Pilgrims Progress is 
begun as an allegory, and so continues for a little 
space till the story takes hold of the author. When 
it does, whether he knew it or not, allegory goes to 
the winds. But the autobiographical form of fiction 


in its highest art is the creation of Defoe. He told 
stories of adventure, incidents modelled on real life, 
as many tellers of tales had done before him, but 
to the form as he found it he added a psychological 
interest — the interest of the character of the 
narrator. He contrived to observe in his writing 
a scrupulous and realistic fidelity and appropriate- 
ness to the conditions in which the story was to be 
told. We learn about Crusoe's island, for instance, 
gradually just as Crusoe learns of it himself, though 
the author is careful, by taking his narrator up to a 
high point of vantage the day after his arrival, that 
we shall learn the essentials of it, so long as veri- 
similitude is not sacrificed, as soon as possible. It 
is the paradox of the English novel that these our 
earliest efforts in fiction were meant, unlike the 
romances which preceded them, to pass for truth. 
Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year was widely 
taken as literal fact, and it is still quoted as such 
occasionally by rash though reputable historians. 
So that in England the novel began with realism, 
as it has culminated, and across two centuries 
Defoe and the " naturalists " meet each other. 
Defoe, it is proper also in this place to notice, fixed 
the peculiar form of the historical novel. In his 
Memoirs of a Cavalier, the narrative of an imaginary 
person's adventures in a historical setting is inter- 
spersed with the entrance of actual historical per- 
sonages, exactly the method of historical romancing 
which was brought to perfection by Sir A'\^alter Scott. 


In the eighteenth century came the decline of 
the drama for which the novel had been waiting. 
By 1660 the romantic drama of Elizabeth's time 
was dead ; the comedy of the Restoration which 
followed, witty and brilliant though it was, reflected 
a society too licentious and artificial to secure it 
permanence ; by the time of Addison play-writing 
had fallen to journey-work, and the theatre to 
openly expressed contempt. When Richardson 
and Fielding published their novels there was 
nothing to compete with fiction in the popular 
taste. And besides, a new class of readers had 
arrived for whom some new kind of literature was 
needed. The growth of business and prosperity 
had increased the number of persons of leisure. 
Town society and social life as we know it to-day 
dates from precisely this period, and society must 
needs have something, humanly interesting and 
not too exacting, to read. Addison and Steele 
ministered to this new taste, but in too brief a 
manner to satisfy it ; it needed something more. 
It would seem as though the novel had been 
waiting for this favourable circumstance. In a 
sudden burst of prolific inventiveness, which can 
be paralleled in all letters only by the period 
of Marlowe and Shakespeare, masterpiece after 
masterpiece poured from the press. Within two 
generations, besides Richardson and Fielding came 


Sterne and Goldsmith and Smollett and Fanny 
Burney in naturalism, and Horace Walpole and 
Mrs RadclifFe in the new way of romance. Novels 
by minor authors were published in thousands as 
well. The novel, in fact, besides being the occasion 
of literature of the highest class, attracted by its 
lucrativeness that undercurrent of journey-work 
authorship which had hitherto busied itself in 
poetry or plays. Fiction has been its chief occupa- 
tion ever since. 

Anything like a detailed criticism or even a bare 
narrative of this voluminous literature is plainly 
impossible within the limits of a single chapter. 
Readers must go for it to books on the subject. 
It is possible here merely to draw attention to 
those authors to whom the English novel as a 
more or less fixed form is indebted for its peculiar 
characteristics. Foremost among these are Rich- 
ardson and Fielding; after them there is Walter 
Scott. After him, in the nineteenth century, 
Dickens and Meredith and Mr Hardy ; last of all 
the French realists and the new school of romance. 
To one or other of these originals all the great 
authors in the long list of English novelists owe 
their method and their choice of subject-matter. 

With Defoe fiction gained verisimilitude, it 
ceased to deal with the incredible ; it aimed at 
exhibiting, though in strange and memorable cir- 
cumstances, the workings of the ordinary mind. 
It is Richardson's main claim to fame that he 


contrived a form of novel which exhibited an 
ordinary mind working in normal circumstances, 
and that he did this with a minuteness which till 
then had never been thought of and has not since 
been surpassed. His talent is very exactly a 
microscopical talent ; under it the common stuff 
of life, separated from its surroundings and 
magnified beyond previous knowledge, yields 
strange and new and deeply interesting sights. 
He carried into the study of character, which 
had begun in Addison with an eye to externals 
and eccentricities, a minute faculty of inspection 
which watched and recorded unconscious mental 
and emotional processes. 

To do this he employed a method which was, in 
effect, a compromise between that of the autobio- 
graphy and that of the tale told by an invisible 
narrator. The weakness of the autobiography is 
that it can write only of events within the know- 
ledge of the supposed speaker, and that conse- 
quently the presentation of all but one of the 
characters of the book is an external presentation. 
We know, that is, of Man Friday only what 
Crusoe could, according to realistic appropriateness, 
tell us about him. We do not know what he 
thought or felt within himself On the other hand, 
the method of invisible narration had not at this 
time acquired the faculty which it possesses now of 
doing Friday's thinking aloud or exposing fully the 
workings of his mind. So that Richardson, whose 


interests were psychological, whose strength and 
talent lay in the presentation of the states of mind 
appropriate to situations of passion or intrigue, had 
to look about him for a new form, and that form 
he found in the novel of letters. In a way, if the 
end of a novel be the presentation not of action, 
but of the springs of action ; if the external event 
is in it always of less importance than the emotions 
which conditioned it, and the emotions which it 
set working, the novel of letters is the supreme 
manner for fiction. Consider the possibilities of 
it. There is a series of events in which A, B, and C 
are concerned. Not only can the outward events 
be narrated as they appeared to all three separately 
by means of letters from each to another, or to 
a fourth party, but the motives of each, and the 
emotions which each experiences as a result of the 
actions of the others or them all, can be laid bare. 
No other method can wind itself so completely 
into the psychological intricacies and recesses 
which lie behind every event. It is a mistake to 
suppose that Richardson adopted it haphazard or 
merely because he was a "model letter- writer " 
in his youth. He had a consciously worked-out 
theory and a deliberate artistic purpose. A mere 
chronicle of events, he says himself in Sir Charles 
Grandison, would be shorter, but would it be 
equally interesting ? Yet the form, as everybody 
knows, has not been popular ; even an expert 
novel-reader could hardly name offhand more 


than two or three examples of it since Richardson's 
day. Why is this ? Well, chiefly it is because 
the mass of novelists have not had Richardson's 
knowledge of, or interest in, the psychological 
under-side of life, and those who have, as, amongst 
the moderns, Henry James, have devised out of 
the convention of the invisible narrator a method 
by which they can with greater economy attain in 
practice fairly good results. For the mere narra- 
tion of action in which the study of character plays 
a subsidiary part, it was, of course, from the begin- 
ning impossible. Scott turned aside at the height 
of his power to try it in Redgauntlet ; he never 
made a second attempt. 

For Richardson's purpose, it answered admirably, 
and he used it with supreme effect. Particularly 
he excelled in that side of the novelist's craft which 
has ever since (whether because he started it or 
not) proved the subtlest and most attractive, the 
presentation of women. Richardson was one of 
those men who are not at their ease in other men's 
society, and whom other men, to put it plainly, are 
apt to regard as coxcombs and fools. But he had 
a genius for the friendship and confidence of 
women. In his youth he wrote love-letters for 
them. His first novel grew out of a plan to 
exhibit in a series of letters the quality of feminine 
virtue, and in its essence (though with a ludicrous 
and so to speak " kitchen-maidish " misunderstand- 
ing of his own sex) adheres to the plan. His 


second novel, Sir Charles Grandison, which designs 
to set up a model man against the monster of 
iniquity in Pamela, is successful only so far as it 
exhibits the thoughts and feelings of the heroine 
whom Grandison ultimately marries. His last, 
Claiissa Haj'lowe, is a masterpiece of sympathetic 
divination into the feminine mind. Clarissa is, as 
has been well said, the " Eve of fiction, the proto- 
type of the modern heroine " ; feminine psychology, 
as good as unknown before (Shakespeare's women 
being the " Fridays " of a highly intelligent Crusoe), 
has hardly been brought further since. But 
Clarissa is more than mere psychology ; whether 
she represents a contemporary tendency or whether 
Richardson made her so, she starts a new epoch. 
" This," says Henley, " is perhaps her finest virtue 
as it is certainly her greatest charm : that until she 
set the example, woman in literature as a self- 
suffering individuality, as an existence endowed 
with equal rights to independence — of choice, 
volition, action — with man had not begun to be." 
She had not begun to be it in life either. 

What Richardson did for the subtlest part of a 
novelist's business, his dealings with psychology, 
Fielding did for the most necessary part of it, the 
telling of the story. Before him hardly any story 
had been told well ; even if it had been plain and 
clear as in Bunyan and Defoe it had lacked the 
emphasis, the light and shade, of skilful grouping. 
On the " picaresque " (so the autobiographical form 


was called abroad) convention of a journey he 
grafted a structure based in its outline on the form 
of the ancient epic. It proved extraordinarily 
suitable for his purpose. Not only did it make 
it easy for him to lighten his narrative with excur- 
sions in a heightened style, burlesquing his origins, 
but it gave him at once the right attitude to his 
material. He told his story as one who knew 
everything ; could tell conversations and incidents 
as he conceived them happening, with no violation 
of credibility, nor any strain on his reader's imagina- 
tion ; and without any impropriety could interpose 
in his own person, recalling things to the reader 
which might have escaped his attention, pointing 
at parallels he might have missed, laying bare the 
irony or humour beneath a situation. He allowed 
himself digressions and episodes, told separate tales 
in the middle of the action, introduced, as in 
Partridge's visit to the theatre, the added piquancy 
of topical allusion ; in fact he did anything he 
chose. And he laid down that free form of the 
novel which is characteristically English, and from 
which, in its essence, no one till the modern Realists 
has made a serious departure. 

In the matter of his novels, he excels by reason 
of a Shakespearean sense of character and by the 
richness and rightness of his faculty of humour. 
He had a quick eye for contemporary types, and 
an amazing power of building out of them men 
and women whose individuality is full and rounded. 


You do not feel, as you do with Richardson, that 
his fabric is spun silk-worm- wise out of himself; on 
the contrary, you know it to be the fruit of a gentle 
and observant nature, and of a stock of funda- 
mental human sympathy. His gallery of portraits, 
Joseph Andrews, Parson Adams, Parson Trulliber, 
Jones, Bhfil, Partridge, Sophia and her father, and 
all the rest, are each of them minute studies of 
separate people ; they live and move according to 
their proper natures ; they are conceived not from 
without but from within. Both Richardson and 
Fielding were conscious of a moral intention ; but 
where Richardson is sentimental, vulgar, and 
moral only so far as it is moral (as in Pamela) to 
inculcate selling at the highest price or (as in 
G-randison) to avoid temptations which never 
come in your way, Fielding's morality is fresh and 
healthy, and (though not quite free from the senti- 
mentality of scoundrelism) at bottom sane and true. 
His knowledge of the world kept him right. His 
acquaintance with life is wide, and his insight is 
keen and deep. His taste is almost as catholic as 
Shakespeare's own, and the life he knew, and which 
other men knew, he handles for the first time with 
the freedom and imagination of an artist. 

Each of the two — Fielding and Richardson — 
had his host of followers. Abroad Richardson 
won immediate recognition ; in France Diderot 
went so far as to compare him with Homer and 

Moses! He gave the first impulse to modern 



French fiction. At home, less happily, he set 
going the sentimental school, and it was only when 
that had passed away that — in the delicate and 
subtle character-study of Miss Austen — his in- 
fluence came to its own. 

To begin with, the imitators or rivals of Fielding 
had it all their own way in England. The most 
charming of them was perhaps Goldsmith, whose 
single essay in novel-writing, The Vicai^ of Wake- 
field, went straight to the hearts of his readers the 
moment it was published and has been a classic 
ever since. Of the others, Sterne won the greater 
reputation, but Smollett gave and continues to 
give the most entertainment. With a fine stock 
of experience to draw upon — for he had been at sea 
in the rough-and-tumble life of the eighteenth- 
century navy, — Smollett turned his hand to the 
novel of adventure of a type freer and more full 
of incident than Fielding's, which had been founded 
in France by Lesage. He took, however, nothing 
but his plan from this French original, and the 
scene in which his novels are laid, as well as his 
characters and their and his prejudices, are entirely 
British. " His novels," said Thackeray, " are recol- 
lections of his own adventures, his characters 
drawn, as I should think, from personages with 
whom he had become acquainted in his own career 
of life." No part of that career yielded him better 
material than his time at sea, and the sea scenes in 
Roderick Random are the best things of their kind 

Front the poytrait hy Hogarth in the British Museum. 


in English writing. They gave the impulse to 
Captain Marryat, and, what with that and the 
closeness with which Dickens in some of his 
novels followed Smollett's plan of writing, he may 
be credited with having as deep an influence on 
the future as Fielding himself He was coarser 
than Fielding, not morally but in the eighteenth- 
century way of brutality, and he had less art. But 
his novels cover a wider range of experience, their 
humours are broader, they give a greater impres- 
sion of fecundity of invention than anything else 
of their time. 

No other writings exemplify so well the complete 
freedom of construction which is the characteristic 
of the English novel than those of Laurence Sterne. 
His greatest book, Tristram Shandy, purports to be 
a record of the life and opinions of its hero. In 
fact, there is very little about his life and nothing 
about his opinions. A large part of the book is 
taken up with the troublesome business of getting 
him born : the rest of it mainly with the eccentri- 
cities of his father, a humorist and philosopher of 
a type which seems to be very characteristic of its 
time, and was looked upon by other countries as 
peculiarly EngHsh ; with his mother, his Uncle 
Toby, who has really made the book immortal, 
and that uncle's servant, Corporal Trim. Round 
about these figures, with no sustained narrative or 
plot, and with indeed every stress, down to the 
typographical, laid upon the desultoriness of the 


novel, Sterne weaves the curious irregular and 
intermittent web of his imagination, helping him- 
self, without acknowledgment, to large borrowings 
from older authors as he goes. At its best, when 
he is purely pathetic, or when his humour plays 
upon the subject without becoming sniggering or 
vulgar, Sterne is a fine writer. At his worst, when 
his pathos passes, as it constantly does, into the 
singular aberration of taste called sensibility, he is 
unendurable. But it is worth remembering that 
the things in him which we dislike were what gave 
him his reputation with his contemporaries both in 
England and France. To have acquired a reputa- 
tion by bad work, and to retain it by virtue of 
qualities less well esteemed when the work was done, 
is not a bad basis for permanency in literary fame. 
Miss Austen, as we have seen, belongs rather to 
the school of Richardson than to that of Fielding, 
and though her work belongs to a later date, it is 
convenient to treat her here. Her work represents 
the domestic novel in its purest form. Like 
Richardson, she drew her subjects from ordinary 
people, and her desire was to give a truthful and 
minute picture of ordinary life and emotions ; but 
unlike Richardson, whose temperament inclined 
him to write about a people a grade above him in 
the social scale, Miss Austen held resolutely to the 
actual society in which she moved. She was con- 
vinced that a really veracious picture of ordinary 
life could be as interesting as any romance. The 


people and incidents that she works upon seem, or 
must have seemed to the readers of her day, to 
promise httle that was interesting, and, as we 
know from some modern writing of the kind, in 
hands less skilful they would not be very attractive. 
It is the triumph of her genius that she can make 
a tea-party in Bath or at a country rectory as 
interesting, and in the literary sense of the word 
exciting, to the reader as is a description of an 
adventurous night at an inn by Fielding, or of a 
battlefield by Sir Walter Scott. On the other 
hand, though she excels by her quiet observation 
and record of detail, she does not, like the realists 
later, bore us with detail for detail's sake. All that 
she writes helps to develop the dramatic truth and 
effect with which her characters are displayed, and, 
without using the means of self-expression with 
which Richardson endowed his, she contrives to 
give to her people a not less vivid impression of 
reality. If we miss great emotions, that is simply 
because in the society which she set herself to 
depict great emotions very seldom intrude. Per- 
haps her temperament with its subtle quality of 
irony and detachment would not have allowed her 
to admit their existence. 

The main road of the English novel — the road 
from Fielding to « Dickens and Meredith — was 
widened two ways by Sir Walter Scott. The 
historical novel, which had been before his day 
either an essay in anachronism with nothing histori- 


cal in it but the date, or a laborious and uninspired 
compilation of antiquarian research, took form and 
life under his hands. His wide reading, stored as 
it was in a marvellously retentive memory, gave 
him all the background he needed to achieve a 
historical setting, and allowed him to concentrate 
his attention on the actual telling of his story ; to 
which his genial and sympathetic humanity and 
his quick eye for character gave a humorous depth 
and richness that was all his own. It is not sur- 
prising that he made the historical novel a literary 
vogue all over Europe. In the second place, he 
began in his novels of Scottish character a sympa- 
thetic study of nationality. He is not, perhaps, a 
fair guide to contemporary conditions ; his interests 
were too romantic and too much in the past to 
catch the rattle of the looms that caught the ear 
of Gait, and if we want a picture of the great fact 
of modern Scotland, its industrialization, it is to 
Gait we must go. But in his comprehension of 
the essential character of the people he has no 
rival ; in it his historical sense seconded his obser- 
vation, and the two mingling gave us the pictures 
whose depth of colour and truth make his Scottish 
novels. Old Mortality, The Antiquary, Redgauntlet, 
the greatest things of their kind in literature. 

The peculiarly national style of fiction founded 
by Fielding and carried on by his followers reached 


its culminating point in Vanity Fair. In it the 
reader does not seem to be simply present at the 
unfolding of a plot the end of which is constantly- 
present to the mind of the author and to which 
he is always consciously working, every incident 
having a bearing on the course of the action ; 
rather he feels himself to be the spectator of a 
piece of life which is too large and complex to be 
under the control of a creator, which moves to its 
close not under the impulsion of a directing hand, 
but independently impelled by causes evolved in 
the course of its happening. With this added 
complexity goes a more frequent interposition of 
the author in his own person — one of the con- 
ventions, as we have seen, of this national style. 
Thackeray is present to his readers, indeed, not as 
the manager who pulls the strings and sets the 
puppets in motion, but as an interpreter who 
directs the reader's attention to the events on which 
he lays stress, and makes them a starting-point for 
his own moralizing. This persistent moralizing — 
sham cynical, real sentimental — this thumping of 
death-bed pillows, as in the dreadful case of Miss 
Crawley, makes Thackeray's use of the personal 
interposition almost less effective than that of any 
other novelist. Already while he was doing it, 
Dickens had conquered the public ; and the English 
novel was making its second fresh start. 

He is an innovator in more ways than one. In 
the first place, he is the earliest novelist to practise 


a conscious artistry of plot. The Mystery of 
Edwin Drood remains mysterious, but those who 
essay to conjecture the end of that unfinished story 
have at least the surety that its end, full worked out 
in all its details, had been in its author's mind 
before he set pen to paper. His imagination was 
as diligent and as disciplined as his pen. Dickens's 
practice in this matter could not be better put than 
in his own words, when he describes himself as " in 
the first stage of a new book, which consists in 
going round and round the idea, as you see a bird 
in its cage go about and about his sugar before he 
touches it." That his plots are always highly 
elaborated is the fruit of this preliminary disciplined 
exercise of thought. The method is familiar to 
many novelists now ; Dickens was the first to put 
it into practice. In the second place, he made a 
new departure by his frankly admitted didacticism 
and by the skill with which in all but two or three 
of his books — Bleak House, perhaps, and Little 
Dorrit — he squared his purpose with his art. 
Lastly, he made the discovery which has made him 
immortal. In him for the first time the English 
novel produced an author who dug down into the 
masses of the people for his subjects ; apprehended 
them in all their inexhaustible character and humour 
and pathos, and reproduced them with a lively and 
loving artistic skill. 

Dickens has, of course, serious faults. In par- 
ticular, readers emancipated by lapse of time frgm 


the enslavement of the first enthusiasm have 
quarrelled with the mawkishness and sentimentality 
of his pathos, and with the exaggeration of his 
studies of character. It has been said of him, as 
it has of Thackeray, that he could not draw a 
" good woman," and that Agnes Copperfield, like 
Amelia Sedley, is a very doll-like type of person. 
To critics of this kind it may be retorted that 
though " good " and " bad " are categories relevant 
to melodrama, they apply very ill to serious fiction, 
and that indeed to the characters of any of the 
novelists — the Brontes, Mrs Gaskell, or the like — 
who lay bare character with fullness and intimacy, 
they could not well be applied at all. The faulti- 
ness of them in Dickens is less than in Thackeray, 
for in Dickens they are only incident to the scheme, 
which lies in the hero (his heroes are excellent) and 
in the grotesque characters, whereas in his rival 
they are in the theme itself For his pathos, not 
even his warmest admirer could perhaps offer a 
satisfactory case. The charge of exaggeration, 
however, is another matter. To the person who 
complains that he has never met Dick Swiveller 
or Micawber or Mrs Gamp the answer is simply 
Turner's to the sceptical critic of his sunset, " Don't 
you wish you could ? " To the other, who objects 
more plausibly to Dickens's habit of attaching to 
each of his characters some label which is either so 
much flaunted all through that you cannot see the 
character at all, or else mysteriously and unaccount- 


ably disappears when the story begins to grip the 
author, Dickens has himself offered an amusing 
and convincing defence. In the preface to Pick- 
wick he answers those who criticized the novel on 
the ground that Pickwick began by being purely 
ludicrous and developed into a serious and sympa- 
thetic individuality, by pointing to the analogous 
process which commonly takes place in actual 
human relationships. You begin a new acquaint- 
anceship with perhaps not very charitable pre- 
possessions ; these, later, a deeper and better know- 
ledge removes, and where you have before seen an 
idiosyncrasy you come to love a character. It is 
ingenious, and it helps to explain Mrs Nickleby, 
the Pecksniff daughters, and many another. 
Whether it is true or not (and it does not explain 
the poorness of such pictures as Carker and his 
kind), there can be no doubt that this trick in 
Dickens of beginning with a salient impression 
and working outward to a fuller conception of 
character is part at least of the reason of his 
enormous hold upon his readers. No man leads 
you into the mazes of his invention so easily and 
with such a persuasive hand. 

The great novelists who were writing con- 
temporarily with him — the Brontes, Mrs Gaskell, 
George Eliot — it is impossible to deal with here, 
except to say that the last seems, because of her 
occasional inability to fuse completely art and 
ethics, inferior to Mrs Gaskell or to either of the 


Bronte sisters. Nor of the later Victorians who 
added fresh variety to the national style can the 
greatest, Meredith, be more than mentioned for 
the exquisiteness of his comic spirit and the brave 
gallery of English men and women he has given us 
in what is, perhaps, fundamentally the most English 
thing in fiction since Fielding wrote. For our 
purpose Mr Hardy, though he is a less brilliant 
artist, is more to the point. His novels brought 
into England the contemporary pessimism of 
Schopenhauer and the Russians, and found a home 
for it among the English peasantry. Convinced 
that in the upper classes character could be studied 
and portrayed only subjectively because of the 
artificiality of a society which prevented its outlet 
in action, he turned to the peasantry, because with 
them conduct is the direct expression of the inner 
life. Character could be shown working, therefore, 
not subjectively but in the act, if you chose a 
peasant subject. His philosophy, expressed in this 
medium, is sombre. In his novels you can trace a 
gradual realization of the defects of natural laws 
and the quandary men are put to by their opera- 
tion. Chance, an irritating and trifling series of 
coincidences, plays the part of fate. Nature seems 
to enter with the hopelessness of man's mood. 
Finally, the novelist turns against life itself. 
" Birth," he says, speaking of Tess, " seemed to 
her an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion 
whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed 


to justify and at best could only palliate." It is 
strange to find pessimism in a romantic setting ; 
strange, too, to find a paganism which is so little 
capable of light or joy. 


The characteristic form of English fiction — that 
in which the requisite illusion of the complexity 
and variety of life is rendered by discursiveness, by 
an author's licence to digress, to double back on 
himself, to start, maybe, in the middle of a story 
and work subsequently to the beginning and the 
end ; in short, by his power to do whatever is most 
expressive of his individuality — found a rival in the 
last twenty years of the nineteenth century in the 
French Naturalistic or Realist school, in which the 
illusion of life is got by a studied and sober veracity 
of statement, and by the minute accumulation of 
detail. To the French Naturalists a novel ap- 
proached in importance the work of a man of 
science, and they believed it ought to be based 
on documentary evidence, as a scientific work 
would be. Above all, it ought not to allow itself 
to be coloured by the least gloss of imagination or 
idealism ; it ought never to shrink from a confronta- 
tion of the naked fact. On the contrary, it was its 
business to carry it to the dissecting table and there 
minutely examine everything that lay beneath its 

The school first became an English possession 


Front the portrait by Frank Hollyer. 


in the early translations of the work of Zola ; its 
methods were transplanted into English fiction 
by Mr George Moore. From his novels, both in 
passages of direct statement and in the light of 
his practice, it is possible to gather together the 
materials of a manifesto of the English NaturaHstic 
school. The Naturalists complained that English 
fiction lacked construction in the strictest sense; 
they found in the English novel a remarkable 
absence of organic wholeness ; it did not fulfil 
their first and broadest canon of subject-matter 
— by which a novel has to deal, in the first place, 
with a single and rhythmical series of events ; it 
was too discursive. They made this charge against 
English fiction ; they also retorted the charge 
brought by native writers and their readers against 
the French of foulness, sordidness, and pessimism in 
their view of life. *' We do not," says a novelist in 
one of Mr Moore's books, " we do not always choose 
what you call unpleasant subjects, but we do try to 
get to the roots of things ; and the basis of life being 
material and not spiritual, the analyst sooner or later 
finds himself invariably handling what this senti- 
mental age calls coarse." " The novel," says the 
same character, " if it be anything, is contemporary 
history, an exact and complete reproduction of the 
social surroundings of the age we live in." That 
succinctly is the Naturalistic theory of the novel as 
a work of science — that as the history of a nation 
lies hidden often in social wrongs and in domestic 


grief as much as in the movements of parties or 
dynasties, the novehst must do for the former what 
the historian does for the latter. It is his business 
in the scheme of knowledge of his time. 

But the Naturalists believed quite as profoundly 
in the novel as a work of art. They claimed for 
their careful pictures of the grey and sad and sordid 
an artistic worth, varying in proportion to the 
intensity of the emotion in which the picture was 
composed and according to the picture's truth, but 
in its essence just as real and permanent as the 
artistic worth of romance. " Seen from afar," 
writes Mr Moore, " all things in nature are of equal 
worth ; and the meanest things, when viewed with 
the eyes of God, are raised to heights of tragic 
awe which conventionality would limit to the deaths 
of kings and patriots." On such a lofty theory 
they built their treatment and their style. It is a 
mistake to suppose that the Realist school deliber- 
ately cultivates the sordid or shocking. Examine 
in this connection Mr Moore's Mummer s Wife, 
one of our great English Realist novels, and, for the 
matter of that, one of the fine things in English 
fiction, and you will see that the scrupulous fidelity 
of the author's method, though it denies him those 
concessions to a sentimentalist or romantic view of 
life which are the common implements of fiction, 
denies him no less the extremities of horror or 
loathsomeness. The heroine sinks into the miser- 
able squalor of a dipsomaniac and dies from a 


drunkard's disease, but her end is shown as the 
ineluctable consequence of her life — its early grey- 
ness and monotony, the sudden shock of a new and 
strange environment, and the resultant weakness of 
will which a morbid excitability inevitably brought 
about. The novel, that is to say, deals with a 
" rhythmical series of events and follows them to 
their conclusion " ; it gets at the roots of things ; 
it tells us of something which we know to be 
true in life whether we care to read it in fiction or 
not. There is nothing in it of sordidness for sordid- 
ness' sake, nor have the Realists any philosophy 
of an unhappy ending. In this case the ending is 
unhappy because the sequence of events admitted 
of no other solution ; in others the ending is happy 
or merely neutral as the preceding story decides. 
If what one may call neutral endings predominate, 
it is because they also — notoriously — predominate 
in life. But the question of unhappiness or its 
opposite has nothing whatever to do with the 
larger matter of beauty ; it is the triumph of the 
Realists that at their best they discovered a new 
beauty in things, the loveliness that lies in obscure 
places, the splendour of sordidness, humility, and 
pain. They have taught us that beauty, like the 
Spirit, blows where it lists, and we know from them 
that the antithesis between realism and idealism is 
only on their lower levels ; at their summits they 
unite and are one. No true Realist but is an 
idealist too. 


Most of what is best in English fiction since has 
been directly occasioned by their work ; Gissing 
and Mr Arnold Bennett may be mentioned as two 
authors who are fundamentally Realist in their con- 
ception of the art of the novel, and the Realist ideal 
partakes in a greater or less degree in the work 
of nearly all our eminent novelists to-day. But 
realism is not and cannot be interesting to the great 
public ; it portrays people as they are, not as they 
would like to be, and where they are, not where 
they would like to be. It gives no background 
for day-dreaming. Now, literature (to repeat what 
has been more than once stated earlier in this 
book) is a way of escape from life as well as an 
echo or mirror of it, and the novel, as the form of 
literature which more than any other men read 
for pleasure, is the main avenue for this escape. 
So that alongside this invasion of Realism it is not 
strange that there grew a revival in romance. 

The main agent of it, Robert Louis Stevenson, 
had the romantic strain in him intensified by the 
conditions under which he worked ; a weak and 
an£emic man, he loved bloodshed as a cripple 
loves athletics — passionately and with the intimate 
enthusiasm of make-believe which an imaginative 
man can bring to bear on the contemplation of 
what can never be his. His natural attraction 
for " redness and juice " in life was seconded by a 
delightful and fantastic sense of the boundless 
possibilities of romance in everyday things. To 


a Realist a hansom-cab driver is a man who makes 
twenty-five shiUings a week, Kves in a back street 
in PimHco, has a wife who drinks and children 
who grow up with an alcoholic taint ; the Realist 
will compare his lot with other cab-drivers, and 
find what part of his life is the product of the cab- 
driving environment, and on that basis he will 
write his book. To Stevenson and to the Roman- 
ticist generally, a hansom-cab driver is a mystery 
behind whose apparent commonplaceness lie magic 
possibilities beyond all telling ; not one but may 
be the agent of the Prince of Bohemia, ready 
to drive you off to some mad and magic adven- 
ture in a street which is just as commonplace to 
the outward eye as the cab-driver himself, but 
which implicates by its very deceitful commonness 
whole volumes of romance. The novel-reader to 
whom Demos was the repetition of what he had 
seen and known and what had planted sickness 
in his soul, found the New Ai'abian Nights a 
refreshing miracle. Stevenson had discovered 
that modern London had its possibilities of 
romance. To these two elements of his romantic 
equipment must be added a third — travel. Defoe 
never left England, and other early Romanticists 
less gifted with invention than he wrote from the 
mind's eye and from books. To Stevenson, and 
to his successor Mr Kipling, whose " discovery " 
of India is one of the salient facts of modern 

English letters, and to Mr Conrad belongs the 



credit of teaching novelists to draw on experience 
for the scenes they seek to present. A fourth 
element in the equipment of modern Romanticism 
— that which draws its effects from the " miracles " 
of modern science — has been added by Mr Wells, 
in whose work the Realist and Romantic schools 
seem finally to have united. 

It was not till towards the end of the nineteenth 
century that one of the oldest and most popular 
forms of fiction, that of the short story, came to 
its own in our literature. Most of the novels 
of the Renaissance were short stories in the literal 
sense of the word, but into their brief compass 
they compressed a narrative which might well 
have served to eke out a long book, and when 
the short story was revived in the nineteenth 
century it made no attempt to follow this older 
plan. Commonly it sought simply to describe an 
incident or sketch a character, or perhaps even 
only to suggest some single emotional or pictorial 
efFect. "I found," says Mr Wells, "that taking 
almost anything as a starting-point and letting my 
thoughts play about it, there would presently come 
out of the darkness in a manner quite inexplicable 
some absurd or vivid little incident more or less 
relevant to that initial nucleus. Little men in 
canoes upon sunlit oceans would come floating 
out of nothingness, incubating the eggs of pre- 
historic monsters unawares ; violent conflicts 
would break out amidst the flower-beds of 


suburban gardens ; I would discover I was peer- 
ing into remote and mysterious worlds, ruled by 
an order logical indeed, but other than our common 
sanity." That is the explanation of the making of 
one kind of short story — simply the art of making 
something very bright and moving, having this 
in common with the short stories of an earlier day, 
that it should not be longer than can conveniently 
in a short space of time be read aloud, but making 
no attempt as they did to state whole histories in 
the fraction of an hour. This new mode of short 
story, learnt perhaps from France, caught the 
imagination of English writers, and in no form of 
fiction is English literature in these later days 
more rich. 



How can we who are contemporaries tell whether 
an author's work is permanent or no ? It is easy 
to find excuses for making a survey of English 
literature stop short of writers who are still work- 
ing. The easiest and quickest stated is that one 
is anticipating the verdict of posterity. Of course, 
in a sense, the point of view expressed by the 
question is true enough. It is always idle to 
anticipate the verdict of posterity. Remember 
Matthew Arnold's prophecy that at the end of the 
nineteenth century Wordsworth and Byron would 
be the two great names in romantic poetry. We 
are fourteen years past that date now, and so 
far as Byron is concerned, at any rate, there is 
no sign that Arnold's prediction has come true. 
But the obvious fact that we cannot do our grand- 
children's thinking for them, is no reason why we 
should refuse to think for ourselves. No notion 
is so destructive to the formation of a sound literary 
taste as the notion that books become literature 
only when their authors are dead. Round us men 
and women are putting into plays and poetry and 



novels the best that they can or know. They are 
writing not for a dim and uncertain future, but 
for us, and on our recognition and welcome they 
depend, sometimes for their livelihood, always for 
the courage which carries them on to fresh 
endeavour. Literature is an ever-living and con- 
tinuous thing, and we do it less than its due service 
if we are so occupied reading Shakespeare and 
Milton and Scott that we have no time to read 
Mr Yeats, Mr Masefield, Mr Shaw, or Mr Wells. 
Students of literature must remember that classics 
are being manufactured daily under their eyes, and 
that on their sympathy and comprehension depends 
whether an author receives the success he merits 
when he is alive to enjoy it. 

The purpose of this chapter, then, is to indicate 
some characteristics of the general trend or drift 
of literary effort as a whole, and to give a rough 
picture of some of the lines or schools of con- 
temporary art. The most remarkable literary 
feature of the age is without doubt its comparative 
inattention to poetry. Tennyson was a popular 
author ; his books sold in thousands ; his lines 
passed into that common conversational currency 
of unconscious quotation which is the surest 
testimony to the permeation of a poet's influence. 
Even Browning, though his popularity came late, 
found himself carried into all the nooks and corners 
of the reading public. His robust and masculine 
morality, understood at last, or expounded by 


a semi-priestly class of interpreters, made him 
popular with those readers — and they are the 
majority — who love their reading to convey a 
moral lesson, just as Tennyson's reflection of his 
time's distraction between science and religion 
endeared them to those who found in him an 
answer, or at least an echo, to their own perplexities. 
A work widely different from either of these, Fitz- 
Gerald's Rubdiydt of 0?nar Khayyam, shared and 
has probably exceeded their popularity for similar 
reasons. Its easy pessimism and cult of pleasure, 
its delightful freedom from any demand for con- 
tinuous thought from its readers, its appeal to the 
indolence and moral flaccidity which is implicit 
in all men, all contributed to its immense vogue ; 
and among people who perhaps did not fully 
understand it, but were merely lulled by its son 
orousness, a knowledge of it has passed for the 
insignia of a love of literature and the possession 
of literary taste. But after FitzGerald — who ? 
What poet has commanded the ear of the reading 
public or even a fraction of it ? Not Swinburne 
certainly, partly because of his undoubted difficulty, 
partly because of a suspicion held of his moral and 
religious tenets, largely from material reasons quite 
unconnected with the quality of his work ; not 
Morris, nor his followers ; none as yet, unless it 
be Mr Masefield, of the younger school. Probably 
the only writer of verse who is at the same time a 
poet and has acquired a large popularity and public 


influence is Mr Kipling. His work as a novelist 
we mentioned in the last chapter. It remains to 
say something of his achievements in verse. 

Let us grant at once his faults. He can be 
violent, and over-rhetorical ; he belabours you with 
sense impressions, and with the polysyllabic rhetoric 
he learned from Swinburne — and he is sometimes 
deficient, though rarely, in the finer shades of taste. 
But these things do not affect the main greatness 
of his work. He is great because he discovered not 
only a new method but a new subject-matter, and 
because of the white-heat of imagination which in his 
best things he brought to bear on it and by which 
he transfused it into poetry. It is Mr Kipling's 
special distinction that the apparatus of modern 
civilization — steam engines, and steamships, and 
telegraph lines, and the art of flight — take on in 
his hands a poetic quality as authentic and inspiring 
as any that ever was cast over the implements of 
other and what the mass of men believe to have 
been more picturesque days. Romance is in the 
present, so he teaches us, as well as in the past, and 
we do it wrong to leave it only the territory we 
have ourselves discarded in the advance of the 
race. That and the great discovery of India — an 
India coloured by his own prejudices, no doubt, 
but still the first presentment of an essential fact 
in our modern history as a people — give him the 
hold that he has, and rightly, over the minds of 
his readers. 


But though from the death of Tennyson until 
no more than a year or two ago the Enghsh- 
speaking peoples have been inattentive to poetry, 
English poetry has gone on, a steady and unabated 
stream. Most of it, perhaps, has been heard of 
rather than heard, and it is not until the narrative 
poems of Mr Masefield, so recently published that 
they belong rather to the reviewer than to the 
literary historian, that any poetry of the best 
quality in thought and writing can be said to have 
caught the general ear. When Tennyson died he 
left two followers, neither closely imitative, but 
each, whatever his differences of outlook upon his 
art and the world, imbued with what may be called 
the Tennysonian spirit. Mr William Watson, 
making himself the laureate of the Liberal spirit, 
and so taking up a work which Swinburne laid 
down, has invested with unfailing gravity and 
dignity his verses on political themes, and, return- 
ing to an eighteenth-century habit, he has used 
poetry to criticise poetry with both finish and 
sureness of touch. The other follower of Tenny- 
son, Mr Bridges, with not less learning and certainly 
more learned curiosity in metrical experiment, has 
perhaps more spontaneity, more of the stuff of 
poetry, and a fuller measure of the English spirit 
in his verse. 

It is not with these, however — still less with Mr 
Kipling — that the main stream of English romantic 
poetry flows. The younger poets of the nineties 


belonged, more or less, all to one school — the school 
which had its origin in England in the work of 
William Blake, but more, perhaps, in contemporary 
France in the writings of Baudelaire and Verlaine. 
Much of their work was imitative and none of it 
perhaps very profound, but each of them — Ernest 
Dow^son and Lionel Johnson, who are both now dead, 
and others who are still living — produced enough 
to show that they had at their command a vein of 
poetry that might have deepened and proved richer 
had they gone on working it. One of them, Mr 
W. B. Yeats, by his birth and his reading in Irish 
legend and folklore, which was being collected 
during his youth by a few devoted students, became 
possessed of a subject-matter denied to his fellows, 
and it is from the combination of the mood of the 
decadents with the dreaminess and mystery of 
Celtic tradition and romance — a combination which 
came to pass in his poetry — that the Celtic school 
has sprung. In a sense, it has added to the terri- 
tory explored by Coleridge and Scott and Morris 
a new province. Only, nothing could be further 
from the objectivity of these men than the way in 
which the Celtic school approaches its material. 
Its stories are clear to itself, it may be, but not to 
its readers. Deirdre and Conchubar, and Angus 
and Maeve and Dectora, and all the shadowy 
figures in them, scarcely become embodied. Their 
lives and deaths and loves and hates are only a 
scheme on which they weave a delicate and dim 


embroidery of pure poetry — of love and death and 
old age and the passing of beauty and all the 
sorrows that have been since the world began and 
will be till the world ends. If Mr Kipling is of 
the earth earthy, if the clangour and rush of the 
world is in everything he writes, Mr Yeats and his 
school live consciously sequestered and withdrawn, 
and the world never breaks in on their ghostly 
troubles or their peace. Poetry never fails to 
relate itself to its age ; if it is not with it, it is 
against it ; it is never merely indifferent. The 
poetry of these men is the denial, passionately 
made, of everything the world prizes. When such 
a denial is sincere, as in the best of them, then the 
verses they make are true and fine. When it is 
assumed, as in some of their imitators, then the 
work they did is not true poetry. But it would be 
no (or only a little) more than the truth to say 
that at no period in the past was English poetry 
more full of promise than it is at the present 

But the literary characteristic of the present age 
— the one which is most likely to differentiate it 
from its predecessor — is the revival of the drama. 
When we left it before the Commonwealth the 
great English literary school of playwriting — the 
romantic drama — was already dead. It has had 
since no second birth. There followed after it the 
heroic tragedy of Dryden and Shadwell, a turgid, 
declamatory form of art without importance ; and 


two brilliant comic periods — the earlier and greater 
that of Congreve and Wycherley : the later, more 
sentimental, with less art and vivacity, that of 
Goldsmith and Sheridan. With Sheridan the 
drama as a literary force died a second time. It 
has been born again only in our own day. It is, 
of course, unnecessary to point out that the writing 
of plays did not cease in the interval ; it never does 
cease. The production of dramatic journey-work 
has been continuous since the reopening of the 
theatres in 1660, and it is carried on as plentifully 
as ever at this present time. Only, side by side 
with it there has grown up a new literary drama, 
and gradually the main stream of artistic endeavour, 
which for nearly a century has preoccupied itself 
with the novel almost to the exclusion of other 
forms of art, has turned back to the stage as its 
channel to articulation and an audience. An in- 
fluence from abroad set it in motion. The plays 
of Ibsen — produced, the best of them, in the 
eighties of last century — came to England in the 
nineties. In a way, perhaps, they were misunder- 
stood by their worshippers hardly less than by their 
enemies ; but all excrescences of enthusiasm apart, 
they taught men a new and freer approach to 
moral questions, and a new and freer dramatic 
technique. Where plays had been constructed on 
a journeyman plan evolved by Labiche and Sardou 
— mid-nineteenth-century writers in France — a 
plan delighting in symmetry, close-jointedness, 


false correspondences, an impossible use of coinci- 
dence, and a quite unreal complexity and elabora- 
tion, they become bolder and less artificial, more 
close to the likelihoods of real life. The gravity of 
the problems with which they set themselves to 
deal heightened their influence. In England men 
began to ask themselves whether the theatre here 
too could not be made an avenue towards the dis- 
cussion of living difficulties ; and then arose the 
new school of dramatists — of whom the first and 
most remarkable is Mr George Bernard Shaw. 
In his earlier plays he set himself boldly to attack 
established conventions, and to ask his audiences 
to think for themselves. Ai^ms and the Man dealt 
a blow at the cheap romanticism with which a 
peace-living public invests the profession of arms ; 
The Devils Disciple was a shrewd criticism of the 
preposterous self-sacrifice on which melodrama, 
which is the most popular non-literary form of 
play-writing, is commonly based ; Mrs Warrens 
Profession made a brave and plain-spoken attempt 
to drag the public face to face with the nauseous 
realities of prostitution ; Widowers' Houses laid 
bare the sordidness of a society which bases itself 
on the exploitation of the poor for the luxuries of 
the rich. It took Mr Shaw close on ten years to 
persuade even the moderate number of men and 
women who make up a theatre audience that his 
plays were worth listening to. But before his final 
success came he had attained a substantial popu- 


larity with the pubHc which reads. Possibly his 
early failure on the stage — mainly due to the 
obstinacy of playgoers immersed in a stock tradi- 
tion — was partly due also to his failure in con- 
structive power. He is an adept at tying knots 
and impatient of unravelling them ; his third acts 
are apt either to evaporate in talk or to find some 
unreal and unsatisfactory solution for the com- 
plexity he has created. But constructive weakness 
apart, his amazing brilliance and fecundity of 
dialogue ought to have given him an immediate 
and lasting grip of the stage. There has probably 
never been a dramatist who could invest conversa- 
tion with the same vivacity and point, the same 
combination of surprise and inevitableness, that 
distinguishes his best work. 

Alongside of Mr Shaw, more immediately success- 
ful, and not traceable to any obvious influence, 
English or foreign, came the comedies of Oscar 
Wilde. For a parallel to their pure delight and 
high spirits, and to the exquisite wit and artifice 
with which they were constructed, one would have 
to go back to the dramatists of the Restoration. 
To Congreve and his school, indeed, Wilde belongs 
rather than to any later period. With his own age 
he had little in common ; he was without interest 
in its social and moral problems ; when he approved 
of socialism it was because in a socialist state the 
artist might be absolved from the necessity of earn- 
ing a living, and be free to follow his art undisturbed 


He loved to think of himself as symbolic, but all 
he symbolized was a fantasy of his own creating ; 
his attitude to his age was decorative and with- ^. 
drawn rather than representative. He was the 
licensed jester to society, and in that capacity he 
gave us his plays. Mr Shaw may be said to have 
founded a school ; at any rate he gave the start 
to Mr Galsworthy and some lesser dramatists, and 
taught novelists to try their luck on the stage. 
Wilde founded nothing, and his works remain as 
complete and separate as those of the earlier artificial 
dramatists of two centuries before. 

Another school of drama, homogeneous and quite 
apart from the rest, remains. We have seen how 
the " Celtic Revival," as the Irish literary move- 
ment has been called by its admirers, gave us a new 
kind of romantic poetry. As an offshoot from it 
there came into being some ten years ago an Irish 
school of drama, drawing its inspiration from two 
sources— the body of the old Irish legends and the 
highly individualized and richly coloured life of the 
Irish peasants in the mountains of Wicklow and of 
the West, a life, so the dramatists believed, still un- 
spoiled by the cheapening influences of a false system 
of education and the wear and tear of a civilization 
whose values are commercial and not spiritual or 
artistic. The school founded its own theatre, trained 
its own actors, fashioned its own modes of speech 
(the chief of which was a frank restoration of 
rhythm in the speaking of verse and of cadence 


in prose), and, having all these things, it produced a 
series of plays all directed to its special ends, and 
all composed and written with a special fidelity to 
country life as it has been preserved, or to what it 
conceived to be the spirit of Irish folk-legend. It 
reached its zenith quickly, and, as far as the pro- 
duction of plays is concerned, it would seem to be 
already in its decline. That is to say, what in the 
beginning was a fresh and vivid inspiration caught 
direct from life, has become a pattern whose colours 
and shape can be repeated or varied by lesser 
writers who take their teaching from the original 
discoverers. But in the course of its brief and 
striking course it produced one great dramatist — 
a writer whom already, not three years after his 
death, men instinctively class with the masters of 
his art. 

J. M. Synge, in the earlier years of his manhood, 
lived entirely abroad, leading the life of a wander- 
ing scholar from city to city and country to country 
till he was persuaded to give up the Continent and 
the criticism and imitation of French literature, to 
return to England, and to go and live on the Aran 
Islands. From that time till his death — some ten 
years — he spent a large part of each year amongst 
the peasantry of the desolate Atlantic coast and 
wrote the plays by which his name is known. His 
literary output was not large, but he supplied the 
Irish dramatic movement with exactly what it 
needed— a vivid contact with the realities of life. 


Not that he was a mere student or transcriber of 
manners. His wandering life among many peoples 
and his study of classical French and German 
literature had equipped him as perhaps no other 
modern dramatist has been equipped with an 
imaginative insight and a reach of perception 
which enabled him to give universality and depth 
to his portrayal of the peasant types around him. 
He got down to the great elemental forces which 
throb and pulse beneath the common crises of 
everyday life, and laid them bare, not as ugly and 
horrible, but with a sense of their terror, their 
beauty, and their strength. His earliest play, The 
Well of the Saints, treats of a sorrow that is as old 
as Helen, of the vanishing of beauty and the irony 
of fulfilled desire. The great realities of death 
pass through the Ridei^s to the Sea, till the language 
takes on a kind of simplicity as of written words 
shrivelling up in a flame. The Playboy of the 
Western World is a study of character, terrible 
in its clarity, but never losing the savour of 
imagination and of the astringency and saltness 
that was characteristic of his temper. He had at 
his command an instrument of incomparable fine- 
ness and range in the language which he fashioned 
out the speech of the common people amongst 
whom he lived. In his dramatic writings this 
language took on a kind of rhythm which had 
the effect of producing a certain remoteness of 
the highest possible artistic value. 'J'he people 


of his imagination appear a little disembodied. 
They talk with that straightforward and simple 
kind of innocency which makes strange and im- 
pressive the dialogue of Maeterlinck's earlier plays. 
Through it, as Mr Yeats has said, he saw the 
subject-matter of his art " with wise, clear-seeing, 
unreflecting eyes — and he preserved the innocence 
of good art in an age of reasons and purposes." 
He had no theory except of his art ; no " ideas " 
and no " problems " ; he did not wish to change 
anything or to reform anything ; but he saw all 
his people pass by as before a window, and he 
heard their words. This resolute refusal to be 
interested in or to take account of current modes 
of thought has been considered by some to detract 
from his eminence. Certainly, if by " ideas " we 
mean current views on society or morality, he is 
deficient in them ; only, his very deficiency brings 
him nearer to the great masters of drama — to Ben 
Jonson, to Cervantes, to Moliere, even to Shake- 
speare himself. Probably in no single case amongst 
our contemporaries could a high and permanent 
place in literature be prophesied with more con- 
fidence than in his. 

In the past it has seemed impossible for fiction 
and the drama, i.e. serious drama of high literary 
quality, to flourish side by side. It seems as 
though the best creative minds in any age could 
find strength for any one of these two great out- 
lets for the activity of the creative imagination. 



In the reign of Elizabeth the drama outshone 
fiction ; in the reign of Victoria the novel crowded 
out the drama. There are signs that a literary era 
is beginning in which the drama will regain to 
the full its position as a literature. More and more 
the bigger creative artists will turn to a form which 
b}^ its economy of means to ends, and the chance 
it gives not merely of observing but of creating 
and displaying character in action, has a more 
vigorous principle of life in it than its rival. 


Absalom and Achitophel, 155. 
Addison, Joseph, 146, 161, 170, 

Advancement of Learning, 130. 
Anatomy of Abuses, 33. 
Anatomy of Melancholy, 131-2. 
Annus Mirabilis, 155. 
Antonio and Mellida, 95. 
Apology or Poetry, 49, 70. 
Arcadia, 49, 51, 68, 70. 
Arms and the Man, 300. 
Arnold, Matthew, 251, 254. 
Art criticism, 216. 
Ascham, Roger, 28, 31, 33. 
Astrea Reddux, 155. 
Astrophel and Stella, 49-51. 
Atheists Tragedy, 87, 98. 
Aubrey, John, 1 10. 
Augustan Age, the, 143. 
Austen, Miss, 276-7. 
Autobiography, no, 262, 264. 
Autobiographical novel, 264, 268. 

Bacon, Francis, 125, 128-131. 

Bacon's Essays, 129. 

Bagehot, Walter, 241. 

Ballad literature, 19-24. 

Beaumont, Francis, 99, 100. 

Bennett, Arnold, 288. 

Bible, the, 126-8. 

Biography, no, 262. 

Blake, William, 200-3. 

Blank verse, 43, 44, 90, 115. 

Boccaccio, 8, 9, 10. 

Boswell, James, 175, 178, 191, 

Bridges, Robert, 296. 
Brontes, the, 282. 
Browne, Sir Thomas, 118, 132, 

Browning, Robert, 121, 241, 247. 
Buckhurst, Lord, 45. 
Bunyan, John, 264. 

Burke, Edmund, 128, 182-6. 
Burns, Robert, 195-200. 
Burton, Robert, 131. 
Byron, Lord, 215, 216, 229, 230. 

Carew, Thomas, 125. 
Carlyle, Thomas, 254-9. 
Castle of Indolence, 162. 
Celtic Revival, 302. 
Character-writing, 111,262. 
Chatterton, Thomas, 211. 
Chaucer, Geoffrey, 1-15, 17, 19, 

contemporaries of, 13. 
Cheke, Sir John, 28, 29, 31. 
Childe Harold, 230. 
Christabel, 225. 

Christ s Victory and Death, 118. 
Citizen of the World, 192. 
" Classic " poetry, 162. 
Classic writers, 145-8. 
Classical allusion, 66. 
Classicism, 142, 144, 149, 150, 

172, 193, 206. 
Clough, Thomas, 251. 
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 215, 

216, 226, 227, 
Colet, Dean, 25. 
Collins, William, 193. 
Complete English Tradesman, 

Congreve, W., iii. 
Conrad, Joseph, 289. 
Coryat, Thomas, 34. 
Cosmography, 239. 
Cowley, Abraham, 124. 
Crashaw, Richard, 124. 
Criticism, 109. 
art, 216. 
dramatic, 216. 
CromwelVs Letters and Speeches, 

Cumberland Beggar, 237-8. 




Death of Blanche the Duchess, 

7, i8. 
Decline and Fall of Roman 

Empire, 1 88-191. 
Defoe, Daniel, 146, 163-6, 264, 

265, 267. 
Dekker, Thomas, 96. 
De Quincey, Thomas, 234. 
Devils Disciple, The, 300. 
Dickens, Charles, 279-280. 
Donne, John, 1 19-124, 147, 148. 
Dowson, Ernest, 297. 
Drama, the, 71-106, 116. 
decline of, 99, 266. 
revival of, 298. 
Dramatic criticism, 216. 
Dramatic lyric, the, 249. 
Dryden, John, 64, 146, 153-6, 

162-3, 206. 
Duchess of Malfi, 98. 
Dunbar, William, 17. 

Earle, John, 263. 
Eastward Ho ! 96. 
Edward II., 86. 
Eliot, George, 282. 
Elizabethan dramatists, 80. 
Elizabethan prose, 59-70. 
Elizabethan poetry, 35-59. 
English prose beginnings, 24-5. 
Erasmus, 26. 
Essay on Criticism, 158. 
Essay on Man, 157. 
Essays of Elia, 233. 
Euphues, 64-7, 261-2. 
Evelyn, John, no. 
Everyman, 75. 

Faerie Queen, 55-7, 115, 117, 135. 
" Fantastics," the, 124. 
Fielding, Henry, 271-3. 
Fitzgerald, Edward, 294. 
Fletcher, Giles, 118. 
Fletcher, Phineas, 99, 100, 113, 

Ford, John, loi. 
Fox, George, 1 10. 
French Naturalist school, 284-5. 
French Revolution, 254, 257-8. 
Fuller, Thomas, no. 

Gaskell, Mrs, 282. 
Gibbon, Edward, 186-191. 

Gissing, George, 288. 
Goldsmith, Oliver, 191-2, 274. 
Gorboduc, 79. 
Gower, John, 4, 8, 13, 14. 
Gray, Thomas, 193. 
Greene, Robert, 81. 
Gulliver's Travels, 167-8. 

Haddon, Walter, 28. 
Hakluyt, Richard, 61. 
Hamlet, 83, 93, 94, 95. 
Hardy, Thomas, 283. 
Harrison, Roger, 33, 61. 
Harvey, Gabriel, 53. 
Hawes, Stephen, 15. 
Hazlitt, William, 217, 234. 
Hetiry VII., The Reign of, 130. 
Henryson, Robert, 16. 
Herbert, George, n2, 124. 
Herrick, Robert, 125. 
Heywood, John, 78. 
Hind and the Panther, The, 155. 
Historical novel, 2yy-S. 
Historical sense, 213-4. 
Hobbes, Thomas, 62. 
Holinshed, Thomas, 61. 
Homer {Fope's), 152. 
Hooker, Richard, 63. 
House of Fame, The, 7. 
Hymn-writing, 116. 

Ibsen, Henrik, 299. 

Idylls of the King, 242, 245. 

Induction to the Mirror for 

Magistrates, 45, 46. 
In Metnoriam, 244, 
Irish drama, 302. 
Italy, influence of, 33-4. 

James the First of Scotland, 15, 16. 

Johnson, Lionel, 297. 

Johnson, Samuel, 172-181, 208, 

fohnson, Boswell's Life of, 1 76. 
fohnsotis Dictionary, 173. 
Jonson, Ben, 37, 101-6, ng, 120, 

fournal of the Plague Year, 265. 
Journey to the Western Hebrides, 


Keats, John, 58, 215, 216, 228-9. 
King Lear, 83, 94. 



King's Quair, 15, 
Kipling, Rudyard, 289, 295. 
Kirke, Edward, 53, 54. 
Kubla Khan, 225. 
Kyd, Thomas, 81, 82, 94. 

Labiche, 299. 

Lamb, Charles, 217, 232-4. 

Langland, William, 3, 13. 

Latinism, 30-2. 

Latter Day Pamphlets, 255. 

Legend of Good Women, 7. 

Linacre, Thomas, 25. 

Lines above Tintern Abbey, 210, 

Lives of the Novelists, 216. 
IJves of the Poets, 1 74. 
Locke, John, 62. 
Lodge, Thomas, yj, 61. 
Lycidas, 137. 
Lydgate, John, 15. 
Lyly, John, 64-7. 
Lyric, the, 47-8, 115. 
Lyric poetry, 125. 
Lyrical Ballads, 207, 220-2. 

Macaulay, Lord, 254. 
Macbeth, 83, 94. 
Macpherson, William, 210. 
Marlowe, Christopher, 81, 83, 86, 

87, 94- 
Marston, John, 95. 
Masefield, John, 296. 
Massinger, Philip, loi. 
Maud, 244. 

Memoirs of a Cavalier, 265. 
Men and Women, 247. 
Merchant of Venice, 92. 
Meredith, George, 252, 283. 
Metaphysical poets, 124. 
Microcosmograf>hy, 263. 
Middleton, 96. ' 
Milton, John, 32, 55, 58, 112, 134, 

Moore, George, 285. 
Morality plays, 75. 
More, Sir Thomas, 26, 27. 
Mrs Warretis Profession, 300. 
Mmnmet^s Wife, 286. 
Mystery of Edwin Drood, 280. 

Nash, Thomas, 61. 

New Arabian Nights, 289. 

New Atlantis, 26, 131. 
Novel, the, 260-291. 

Occleve, Thomas, 15. 

Othello, 94. 

Oxford Movement, 240. 

Palace of Pleasure, 261. 
Pandosto, the Triumph of Time. 

Paradise Lost, 115, 140, 141. 
Parliament of Fowls, The, 7. 
Past and Present, 255. 
Pastoral romance, 68, 69, 
Peele, George, 81. 
Pepys, Samuel, no. 
Percy, Bishop, 211. 
Periodical essay, the, 169, 263. 
Pickwick Papers, 12, 282. 
Pilgrim's Progress, 264. 
Pippa Passes, 237, 238. 
Platonism, 26. 
Playboy of the Western World, 

Pope, Alexander, 156-160, 206. 
Prelude, The, 219, 220, 222. 
Princess, The, 242-4. 
Prose writers, 163. 
Purchas, 61. 

Puritanism, 97, iii, 113. 
Purple Island, The, 113, 117. 

Raleigh, Sir Walter, 37, 38. 

Rambler, the, 177. 

Rape of Lucrece, 78. 

Rape of the Lock, 158, 159, 160. 

Rasselas, 174. 

Realist school, 284, 285. 

Religio Laid, 155. 

Religio Medici, 133. 

Religious drama, 71-4. 

Reliques of Ancient Poetry, 211. 

Renaissance, the, 25, 134. 

poets, 55. 

writers, 108. 
Resolution and Independence,222. 
Reynolds, Sir Joshua, 174. 
Rhetoric, 148. 
Rhyme, 91. 

Richardson, 267-271, 273, 276. 
Riders to the Sea, 304. 
Ring and the Book, 248, 250. 



Robinson Crusoe^ 165. 
Roderick Random, 275. 
Romance of the Rose, 6, 16. 
Romantic criticism, 216. 

poetry, 204-231. 

prose, 231-234. 

revival, 204-234. 
Romanticism, 142-4, 149, 193, 

200, 236, 238. 
Rossetti, D. G., 240, 252. 
Rowley Poems, 211. 
Royal Society, 145. 
Rubdiydi of Omar Khayyam, 294. 
Ruskin, John, 254. 

Sartor Resartus, 254, 258. 
Sackville, Thomas, 45, 46. 
Sardou, Victorien, 299. 
Satirists, the, 159. 
Schoolmaster, 28, 33. 
Scientific spirit, 240. 
Scott, Sir Walter, 211, 214, 215, 

Scottish poets, 15-19. 
Seasons, The, 162. 
Shakespeare, 32, 88-101, 151. 
Shaw, G. B., 300, 301. 
Shelley, 215, 216, 226-8. 
Shepherd's Calendar, 54. 
Sheridan, Mark, 299. 
Shirley, loi. 
" Short story," the, 290. 
Sidney, Sir Philip, 37, 48, 49, 

68-70, 107, 114, 122, 135. 
Sir Charles Grandison, 271. 
Skelton, 15. 
Smollett, 274. 
Sonnet, the, 115, 116. 
Sonneteers, the, 123, 151. 
Sordello, 122. 

Spanish Tragedy, The, 82, 94, 95. 
Spectator, i\ie, 169, 170, 171. 
Spenser, Edmund, 3, 1 5, 32, 52-9, 

107, III, 114, ii7> 118, 119, 

160, 161. 
Steele, Richard, 169-171, 263. 
Sterne, Laurence, 288, 275, 276. 
Stevenson, R. L., 
Strolling players, 76. 
Supernatural, the, 214, 224. 
Surrey, Earl of, 15,39,41-4. 

Swift, Jonathan, 146, 166-9. 
Swinburne, 252, 294. 
Synge, J. M., 303-5. 

Tale oj a Tub, 168. 
Tambicrlaine, 84, 85. 
Tatler, the, 169, 170. 
Tennyson, Alfred Lord, 240-7. 
Testament of Cressyd, The, 16, 17. 
Thackeray, W. M., 279, 281. 
Theatre, Elizabethan, 'j'j. 
Thistle and the Rose, 18. 
Thomson, James, 161, 162. 
Thoiightson Various Subjects, 169. 
Tottel's Miscellany, 39, 40. 
lyistram Shandy, 275. 
Troilus and Cressida, 16, 32. 
Two Married Women and the 
Widow, 18. 

Udall, Nicholas, 28. 
Unities, the, 102. 
Utopia, 26, 27. 

Vanity Fair, 279. 
Vaughan, Richard, 124. 
Venus and Adonis, 112. 
F^r^//(Dryden's), 152. 
Vicar of Wakefield, 274. 
Victorian Age, the, 235-259. 
View of the State of Ireland, 52. 

Waller, Edmund, 125. 
Walpole, Horace, 209. 
Watson, William, 296. 
Webster, John, 98. 
Well of the Saints, The, 304. 
Wells, H. G.,290. 
White Devil, The, 98. 
Widowers' Houses, 300. 
Wife of Bath, 18. 
Wilde, Oscar, 53, 301. 
Wilson, Sir Thomas, 28, 31. 
Winter's Tale, Si. 
Wither, George, 118. 
Wordsworth, William, 208, 210, 

215, 216, 218-224, 226. 
Wyatt, Sir Thomas, 15, 39, 40, 

41, 42. 

Yeats, W. B., 58, 297. 







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Introduction to Biblical Hebrew. Rev. J. 

Kennedy, 17. 
Introduction to the Greek New Testament. Prof. 

E. Nestle, 23. 
Introduction to the Old Testament. Prof. Carl 

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Isaiah, Hebrew Te.\t, 13. 

Jacobite Liturgy, Connolly and Codrington, 44. 

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Jesus of Nazara. Keira, 17. 

Jesus or Christ ? The Hibbert Journal Supplement 

for 1909, 14. 
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Johnson, Dr., and His Circle. John Bailey, 2. 
Journal of the Federated Malay States, 46. 
Journal of the Linnean Society. Botany and 

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Journal of the Quekett Microscopical Club, 16. 
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Kantian Ethics. J. G. Schurman, 28. 

Kea, The. George R. Marriner, 21. 

Kiepert's New Atlas Antiquus, 18. 

Kiepert's Wall-Maps of the Ancient World, 17. 

King, The, to His People, 18. 

Kingdom, The Mineral. Dr. Reinhard Brauns, 3. 

Knowledge and Life. Eucken, 8. 

Laboratory Experiments. Noyes and Mulliken, 23. 
Lakes of Northern Italy, Guide to, 11. 
Landmarks in French Literature. G. L. Strachey, 

Latter Day Saints, The. Ruth and R. W. Kauff- 

man, 16. 
Law, English, Elements of. W. M. Geldart, 10. 
Lays of Ancient Rome. Macaulay, 20. 
Leaves, All about. F. G. Heath, 13. 
Le Coup de Pistolet. Merim^e, 22. 
Lepeophtheirus and Lernea. Vide L.M.B.C. 

Memoirs, 42. 
Letter to the "Preussische Jahrbiicher." Adolf 

Harnack, 12. 
Les Mis^rables. Victor Hugo, 15. 
Liberal Christianity. Jean R^ville, 26. 
Liberalism. Prof. L. T. Hobhouse, 14. 
Life and Matter. Sir O. Lodge, 19. 
Life of the Spirit, The. Rudolf Eucken, 8. 
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Lineus. Vide L.M.B.C. Memoirs, 42. 
Linnean Society of London, Journal of, 16. 
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Literature of the Old Testament. Kautzsch, 15 ; 

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ton, 5. 

I Liverpool Marine Biology Cotmnittee Memoirs, 
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London. Sir. L. Gomme, 10. 

London Library, Catalogue of, 20. 

London Library .Subject Index, 20. 

Luke the Physician. Adolf Harnack, 12. 

Mad Shepherds, and other Studies. Prof. L. P. 

Jacks, 15. 
Mahabharata, Index to. S. Sorensen, 30. 
Making a Newspaper. John L. Given, 10. 
Making of the Earth. Prof. J. W. Gregory, 10. 
Making ofthe New Testament. Prof. B.W. Bacon, i. 
Man and the Bible. J. A. Picton, 25. 
Man versus the State. Herbert Spencer, 31. 
Man's Origin, Destiny, and Duty. Hugh M'CoII, 

Maori, Lessons in. Right Rev. W. L. Williams, 34. 
Maori, New and Complete Manual of. Williams, 

Marine Zoology of Okhamandal. Hornell, 15. 
Marxism versus Socialism. Simkhovitch, 29. 
Massoretic Text. Rev. Dr. J. Taylor, 32. 
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Mathematics, Introduction to. A.N. Whitehead, 34. 
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Mediaeval Europe. H. W. C. Davis, 6. 
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hauser, 24. 
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Metaphysica Nova et Vetusta. Prof. Simon 

Laurie, ig. 
Midrash, Christianity in. Travers Herford, 13. 
Milandapanho, The. Edited by V. Trenckner, 22. 
Mineral Kingdom, The. Dr. R. Brauns, 3. 
Mineralogy of Arizona. Guild, ir. 
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New Hebrew School of Poets. Edited by H. 

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New Testament, Making of. Prof. B. W. Bacon, i. 
New Zealand Language, Dictionary of. Rt. Rev. 

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Philo Judaeus. Dr. Drummond, 7. 
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Political Economy, Elements of. Prof. S. J. 
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Studies in Seeds and Fruits. H. B. Guppy, 11. 

Study of the Atom. Venable, 33, 

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Synoptic Gospels, The Date of the. Adolf Har- 
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Synthetic Philosophy, Epitome of. F. H. Collins, 5 . 

Syriac Grammar. Theodor Noldeke, 23. [30. 

System of Synthetic Philosophy. Herljert Spencer, 

Talmud and Midrash, Christianity in. R. Travers 

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