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CHAPTER VIII

THE DECLINE OF THE TUDOR SYSTEM

I

T is characteristic of our history, that each period of spiritual energy and conspicuous national activity has been followed by a corresponding reaction, during which men's eyes have been turned principally to home affairs, and our power and prestige abroad have suffered eclipse. This was the case after the patriotic revival of the fourteenth century, it was so after the Seven Years' War, and after Waterloo. The cause of this rhythm of energy and decline is not far to seek. The life of any people is a record of creative activity. A nation can no more stand still than a bicycle, it is its very movement which keeps it from falling. Here is the fallacy of all Utopias. Their authors seem to imagine that, given an ideal set of laws or distribution of property, the Utopians can go on being happy and prosperous for ever and ever. But no laws can keep white and glowing the fire of creative human energy, and once this is allowed to cool, all is lost.

Let us consider the glorious instance of Elizabethan England. We know how long it had taken to awaken the fiery energy of the Queen's last years, how many and momentous were the circumstances that called it forth. The fervour of the Reformation, the fearful experience of Mary's reign, the dangers through which we had passed, as if by a miracle, unscathed, the crowning triumph over the Armada, were the fuel by which it was sustained.

When this was burnt away, it was not likely that the supply would be continuously renewed in such profusion. Already the mighty actors had begun to pass from the stage, and lesser men came in their stead. And now the weak spots in the Tudor armour began to be manifest. For during one of the poetic periods of a nation's history, so abounding is the life of the community as to cloak in a glowing raiment almost any weakness. Such criminal madness as Grenville's becomes more glorious than victory, when it is expiated by such a fight as that of the Revenge. Such unscrupulousness as Raleigh's is forgotten in his heroism.

But when the fire is no longer nourished by danger, when men have ceased to loom large upon the stage of history, every weakness becomes apparent, because there is no longer the energy to succeed in spite of it. Then comes one of two things; either the nation makes the hopeless attempt to live upon its past and goes spiritually bankrupt, like Spain; or, like England, it sets about overhauling the old system, and develops new virtues to meet new conditions. To succeed in so doing without swerving from the line of development, and by maintaining the spirit of institutions through every change of form, is what constitutes the strength of nations. For the creative energy does not work by violent breaks, nor by fits and starts, but preserves, through darkness and turmoil, the constant direction of its way. We are true to the past, not by the imitation of its forms, but by the resurrection of its spirit.

We have hitherto had little enough to say about the weak points in the Elizabethan regime, but a keen eye will not have failed to divine some of the tares, that grew unweeded among that splendid crop. Let us take the most conspicuous case of all, the one which we criticize at the greatest peril, and ask what element of weakness lay hidden beneath the genius of Shakespeare.

In his soul was stored what was probably the greatest amount of creative energy, "fine frenzy" as he himself put it, that has ever informed one human personality. Whatever he put his hand to was so transformed and illumined by his genius, that we no more think of its limitations than we care to fix our gaze on a sunspot in the full blaze of the tropic noon. We know that it is miraculously good, and are thankful.

We shall perhaps approach the problem best by asking whether there was any field of human activity with which Shakespeare does not concern himself. The mere framing of such a question is sufficient tribute to the greatness of its subject. Comparison of his work with that of Dante, or Eschylus, or the first Isaiah, will suggest at least one department in which he fell short of their supremacy. To their deeper manifestations of religious feeling he was a stranger. His kingdom was of this world, and though nothing human was strange to him, he concerned himself little with the divine. The Beatrice of the "Paradiso," the chained Titan of the Caucasus, were figures he could never have limned. He could depict the love of a Juliet, but not that of a Theresa ; he understood the doubts of Hamlet, but not the certainty of St. Francis. Even the Devil of Milton was hardly within his scope, nor the cosmic brevity of "Doth Job serve God for naught? "'

It is remarkable to what an extent his drama concerns itself primarily with the actions, and not the souls of the characters. He never traces out the development of a soul, like that of Faust, or the Prometheus, of whose ultimate reconciliation with Zeus we are left, alas, with but fragmentary hints. Nor does he give us Richard Feverels or Nora Helmers, though his sonnets contain the subtlest account of the unfolding of his own spirit. Where we do trace development in his works, it is generally in men of action like Henry V and Richard III-but

observe the contrast with a modern seer of characterRichard Feverel comes through his ordeal with a purged soul, Henry V with the crown of France on his brows; Sir Willoughby Patterne's egotism is unmasked before the reader, Angelo has his crime found out by the Duke. The subtlest piece of mental analysis put into the mouth of any of Shakespeare's characters ends with the practical conclusion, "Such men are dangerous." Perhaps the two most obvious exceptions are those of Hamlet and Lear, but the old King's ordeal, though it develops a terrible insight under the influence of madness, ends in breaking his soul rather than purging it, while the main interest of Hamlet lies in his unfitness for a definite task. His soul is torn asunder, but it is not reconciled-the rest is silence. A very stupid schoolboy displayed more wisdom than he knew when he wrote, in answer to a question, that "the plot of Hamlet was to kill the King."

Again, we are never far, in Shakespeare, from that indiscipline which marked, in the field of action, the careers of the greatest Elizabethans. Voltaire was no doubt monstrously unfair when he spoke of Shakespeare as a drunken barbarian, but he was right in his perception of a clean-cut unity of action about the drama of Racine, which was not present in any play of Shakespeare's, with the possible exception of “ Julius Cæsar.” In the greater plays, his genius is such as to make the very hint of discipline seem an impertinence, and so no doubt it is, if it is suggested by way of disparagement, for we would not rob the mountain of its ruggedness. But while we wonder at the cataract of imagery, we sometimes half tremble to think how the slightest cooling of the inspiration would suffice to turn this miracle to rant and bombast. It is like watching the operations of an army, the troops of which are such born fighting-men as to supersede the necessity for drill or training. Such a

method might succeed in the hands of a Shakespeare, but to the rest of mankind, who lacked his vital energy, it was very perilous.

The limitations over which Shakespeare triumphed were those of his age, though for a few years the genius of the age triumphed over them hardly less gloriously than he. It was inevitable that such defects should exist, for the training which England had received under the Tudors had its own limitations. By firm government and often by ruthless severity, it had welded the nation together, but it had no power over the sources of religious enthusiasm, even as a sergeant may drill a regiment of desperadoes into first-class fighting material, but has neither the will nor the ability to control their native ruffianism. Elizabeth had inherited the system of her father, and was in her own eyes, and by the law of the land, not only the Queen, but the spiritual mother of her people. With all her merits, there was little of the enthusiast in her disposition, and she aimed not at fostering the spirit of the Reformation, but at maintaining an orderly and manageable clergy entirely under her own control. Her ideal of episcopal virtue was found in respectable Archbishop Parker, and she ruined his successor because he tried to put some life into the service of the Church.

We have no wave of religious enthusiasm corresponding to that which buoyed up the mystics of Spain or Italy. The greatest of all the Elizabethan divines based his system of Church Polity not primarily upon the foundation of love, but upon that of law. Manifestations of a deeper feeling, though certainly not lacking, were isolated and sporadic among the governing class. There was the devout, sailor-like piety of Drake, and the luxurious Puritanism of Essex, but the atmosphere of the Court was not favourable to the mystic or the enthusiast, and the Leicesters and the Burleighs were able to preserve

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