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the kind in what follows:—" Truly it is a rare thing with us now to hear of a courtier which hath but his own language. And to say how many gentlewomen and ladies there are that, beside sound knowledge of the Greek and Latin tongues, are thereto no less skilful in S]>anish, Italian, and French, or in some one of them, it resleth not in me; sith I am persuaded that, as the noblemen and gentlemen do surmount in this behalf, so these come very little or nothing at all behind them for their parts; which industry God continue, and accomplish that which otherwise is wanting." Yet he winds up his description with a very laudatory flourish. "Beside these things," he proceeds, "I could in like sort set down the ways and means, whereby our ancient ladies of the court do shun and avoid idleness, some of them exercising their fingers with the needle, other in caulwork, divers in spinning of silk, some in continual reading either of the Holy Scriptures, or histories of our own or foreign nations about us, and divers in writing volumes of their own, or translating of other men's into our English and Latin tongue, whilst the youngest sort in the mean time apply their lutes, citterns, pricksong, and all kind of music, which they use only for recreation sake, when they have leisure, and are free from attendance upon the queen's majesty, or such as they belong unto." Many of the eldest sort he goes on to celebrate as "also skilful in surgery and distillation of waters, besides sundry other artificial practices pertaining to the ornature and commendations of their bodies ;" and "there are none of them," he adds, "but when they be at home can help to supply the ordinary want of the kitchen with a number of delicate dishes of their own
devising." At last, coming directly to the morals of the court, he declares that, whereas some great princes' courts beyond the seas have been likened unto hell on account of the dissipation and debauchery prevailing in them, all such "enormities are either utterly expelled out of the court of England, or else so qualified by the diligent endeavour of the chief officers of her grace's household, that seldom are any of these things apparently seen there without due reprehension, and such severe correction as belongeth to those trespasses." "Finally," he concludes, "to avoid idleness, and prevent sundry transgressions otherwise likely to be committed and done, such order is taken that every office hath either a Bible, or the Book of the Acts and Monuments of the Church of England, or both, besides some histories and chronicles, lying therein, for the exercise of such as come into the same; whereby the stranger that entereth into the court of England upon the sudden shall rather imagine himself to come into some public school of the universities, where many give ear to one that readeth, than into a prince's palace, if you confer the same with those of other nations." *
This flattering description of the English court is very different from that given by Ascham, in his Schoolmaster, who tells us that, although it did indeed contain many fair examples for youth to follow, yet they were "like fair marks in the field out of a man's reach, too far off to shoot at well;" while the generality of persons to be found there were the worst of characters. Some private letters of the time of Elizabeth, also, which have been printed, describe the court as a place where there * Description of England, b. ii. c. 15.
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was "little godliness and exercise of religion," and where "all enormities reigned in the highest degree." But what it is more important for our present purpose to observe is, that the learning which existed in this age, however remarkably it may have shone forth in particular instances, was by no means generally diffused even among the higher classes, while the generality of the lower and many even of the middle classes remained to the end of the period almost wholly uneducated and illiterate. It is a question whether the father of Shakspeare, an alderman of Stratford, could write his name; and probably, throughout the community, for one man that was scholar enough to subscribe his signature there were a dozen who could only make their marks. With all the advancement the country had made in many respects, it may be doubted if popular education was farther extended at the close of the reign of Elizabeth than it was at the commencement of that of her father or her grandfather. Even the length of time that printing had now been at work, and the multiplication of books that must have taken place, had probably but very little, if at all, extended the knowledge and the habit of reading among the mass of the people. The generation that grew up immediately after the discovery of the art of printing, and that first welcomed the Reformation and the translated Bible, perhaps read more than their grandehildren.
PROSE WRITERS.—MORE J ELYOT J TYKDAL; CRANMER; LATIMER.
The fact most deserving of remark in the progress of English literature, for the first half of the sixteenth century, is the cultivation that now came to be bestowed upon the language in the form of prose composition,—a form always in the order of time subsequent to that of verse in the natural development of a national language and literature. Long before this date, indeed, Chaucer, in addition to what he did in his proper field, had given proof of how far his genius preceded his age by several examples of composition in prose, in which may be discerned the presence of something of the same high art with which he first elevated our poetry; but, besides that his genius drew him with greatest force to poetry, and that the foreign models upon which he seems chiefly to have formed himself led him in the same direction, the state of the English language at that day perhaps fitted it better for verse than for prose, or rather, it had not yet arrived at the point at which it could be so advantageously employed in prose as in verse. At all events Chaucer had no worthy successor as a writer of prose, any more than as a writer of poetry, till more than a century after his death. Meanwhile, however, the language, though not receiving much artificial cultivation, was still undergoing a good deal of what, in a certain sense, might be called application to literary purposes, by its employment both in public proceedings and documents, and also in many popular writings, principally on the subject of the new opinions in religion, both after and previous to the invention of printing. In this more extended use and exercise, by persons of some scholarship at least, if not bringing much artistic feeling and skill to the task of composition, it must, as a mere language, or system of vocables and grammatical forms, have not only sustained many changes and modifications, but, it is probable acquired on the whole considerable en
largementof its elements and powers, and been generally carried forward towards maturity under the impulse of a vigorous principle of growth and expansion. But it is not till some time after the commencement of the sixteenth century that we can properly date the rise of the classical prose literature of England. Perhaps the earliest compositions that are entitled to be included under that name are some of those of Sir Thomas More, especially his 'Life and Reign of King Edward V.,' which was written about the year 1513. Most of More's other English writings are of a controversial character, and are occupied about subjects both of very temporary importance, and that called up so much of the eagerness and bitterness of the author's party zeal as considerably to disturb and mar both his naturally gentle and benignant temper and the oily eloquence of his style; but this historic piece is characterised throughout by an easy narrative flow which rivals the sweetness of Herodotus. It is certainly the first English historic composition that can be said to aspire to be more than a mere chronicle.
The following is an extract from Sir Thomas More's 'Dialogue concerning Heresies' (chap. 14), written in 1528 :—
Some priest, to bring up a pilgrimage in his parishe, may devise some false felowe fayning himselfe to come seke a saint in hys chyrch, and there sodeinly say, that he hath gotten hys syght. Than shall ye have the belles rong for a miracle. And the fonde folke of the countrcy soon made foles. Than women commynge thither with theyr candels. And the Person byenge of some lame begger iii. or iiii. payre of theyr olde crutches, with xii. pennes spent in men and women of wex, thrust thorowe flivers places, some with arrowes, and some wyth rusty