In our study of this great age we have noted (1) the Non-dramatic Poets, that is, poets who did not write for the stage. The center of this group is Edmund Spenser, whose Shepherd's Calendar (1579) marked the appearance of the first national poet since Chaucer's death in 1400. His most famous work is The Faery Queen. Associated with Spenser are the minor poets, Thomas Sackville, Michael Drayton, George Chapman, and Philip Sidney. Chapman is noted for his completion of Marlowe's poem, Hero and Leander, and for his translation of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Sidney, besides his poetry, wrote his prose romance Arcadia, and The Defense of Poesie, one of our earliest critical essays.
(2) The Rise of the Drama in England; the Miracle plays, Moralities, and Interludes; our first play, "Ralph Royster Doyster"; the first true English comedy, "Gammer Gurton's Needle," and the first tragedy, "Gorboduc"; the conflict between classic and native ideals in the English drama.
(3) Shakespeare's Predecessors, Lyly, Kyd, Nash, Peele, Greene, Marlowe; the types of drama with which they experimented,—the Marlowesque, one-man type, or tragedy of passion, the popular Chronicle plays, the Domestic drama, the Court or Lylian comedy, Romantic comedy and tragedy, Classical plays, and the Melodrama. Marlowe is the greatest of Shakespeare's predecessors. His four plays are "Tamburlaine," "Faustus," "The Jew of Malta," and "Edward II."
(4) Shakespeare, his life, work, and influence.
(5) Shakespeare's Successors, Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Webster, Middleton, Heywood, Dekker; and the rapid decline of the drama. Ben Jonson is the greatest of this group. His chief comedies are "Every Man in His Humour," "The Silent Woman," and "The Alchemist"; his two extant tragedies are "Sejanus" and "Catiline."
(6) The Prose Writers, of whom Bacon is the most notable. His chief philosophical work is the Instauratio Magna (incomplete), which includes "The Advancement of Learning" and the "Novum Organum"; but he is known to literary readers by his famous Essays. Minor prose writers are Richard Hooker, John Foxe, the historians Camden and Knox, the editors Hakluyt and Purchas, who gave us the stirring records of exploration, and Thomas North, the translator of Plutarch's Lives.
SELECTIONS FOR READING. Spenser. Faery Queen, selections in Standard English Classics; Bk. I, in Riverside Literature Series, etc.; Shepherd's Calendar, in Cassell's National Library; Selected Poems, in Canterbury Poets Series; Minor Poems, in Temple Classics; Selections in Manly's English Poetry, or Ward's English Poets.
Minor Poets. Drayton, Sackville, Sidney, Chapman, Selections in Manly or Ward; Elizabethan songs, in Schelling's Elizabethan Lyrics, and in Palgrave's Golden Treasury; Chapman's Homer, in Temple Classics.
The Early Drama. Play of Noah's Flood, in Manly's Specimens of the Pre-Shaksperean Drama, or in Pollard's English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes, or in Belles Lettres Series, sec. 2; L.T. Smith's The York Miracle Plays.
Lyly. Endymion, in Holt's English Readings.
Marlowe. Faustus, in Temple Dramatists, or Mermaid Series, or Morley's Universal Library, or Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets; Selections in Manly's English Poetry, or Ward's English Poets; Edward II, in Temple Dramatists, and in Holt's English Readings.
Shakespeare. Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, etc., in Standard English Classics (edited, with notes, with special reference to college- entrance requirements). Good editions of single plays are numerous and cheap. Hudson's and Rolfe's and the Arden Shakespeare are suggested as satisfactory. The Sonnets, edited by Beeching, in Athenaeum Press Series.
Ben Jonson. The Alchemist, in Canterbury Poets Series, or Morley's Universal Library; Selections in Manly's English Poetry, or Ward's English Poets, or Canterbury Poets Series; Selections from Jonson's Masques, in Evans's English Masques; Timber, edited by Schelling, in Athenaeum Press Series.
Bacon. Essays, school edition (Ginn and Company); Northup's edition, in Riverside Literature Series (various other inexpensive editions, in the Pitt Press, Golden Treasury Series, etc.); Advancement of Learning, Bk. I, edited by Cook (Ginn and Company). Compare selections from Bacon, Hooker, Lyly, and Sidney, in Manly's English Prose.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. HISTORY. Text-book, Montgomery, pp. 208-238; Cheyney, pp. 330-410; Green, ch. 7; Traill, Macaulay, Froude.
Special works. Creighton's The Age of Elizabeth; Hall's Society in the Elizabethan Age; Winter's Shakespeare's England; Goadby's The England of Shakespeare; Lee's Stratford on Avon; Harrison's Elizabethan England.
LITERATURE. Saintsbury's History of Elizabethan Literature; Whipple's Literature of the Age of Elizabeth; S. Lee's Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century; Schilling's Elizabethan Lyrics, in Athenaeum Press Series; Vernon Lee's Euphorion.
Spenser. Texts, Cambridge, Globe, and Aldine editions; Noel's Selected Poems of Spenser, in Canterbury Poets; Minor Poems, in Temple Classics; Arber's Spenser Anthology; Church's Life of Spenser, in English Men of Letters Series; Lowell's Essay, in Among My Books, or in Literary Essays, vol. 4; Hazlitt's Chaucer and Spenser, in Lectures on the English Poets; Dowden's Essay, in Transcripts and Studies.
The Drama. Texts, Manly's Specimens of the Pre-Shakesperean Drama, 2 vols., in Athenaeum Press Series; Pollard's English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes; the Temple Dramatists; Morley's Universal Library; Arber's English Reprints; Mermaid Series, etc.; Thayer's The Best Elizabethan Plays.
Gayley's Plays of Our Forefathers (Miracles, Moralities, etc.); Bates's The English Religious Drama; Schelling's The English Chronicle Play; Lowell's Old English Dramatists; Boas's Shakespeare and his Predecessors; Symonds's Shakespeare's Predecessors in the English Drama; Schelling's Elizabethan Drama; Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets; Introduction to Hudson's Shakespeare: His Life, Art, and Characters; Ward's History of English Dramatic Literature; Dekker's The Gull's Hornbook, in King's Classics.
Marlowe. Works, edited by Bullen; chief plays in Temple Dramatists, Mermaid Series of English Dramatists, Morley's Universal Library, etc.; Lowell's Old English Dramatists; Symonds's introduction, in Mermaid Series; Dowden's Essay, in Transcripts and Studies.
Shakespeare. Good texts are numerous. Furness's Variorum edition is at present most useful for advanced work. Hudson's revised edition, each play in a single volume, with notes and introductions, will, when complete, be one of the very best for students' use.
Raleigh's Shakespeare, in English Men of Letters Series; Lee's Life of Shakespeare; Hudson's Shakespeare: his Life, Art, and Characters; Halliwell-Phillipps's Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare; Fleay's Chronicle History of the Life and Work of Shakespeare; Dowden's Shakespeare, a Critical Study of his Mind and Art; Shakespeare Primer (same author); Baker's The Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist; Lounsbury's Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist; The Text of Shakespeare (same author); Wendell's William Shakespeare; Bradley's Shakesperian Tragedy; Hazlitt's Shakespeare and Milton, in Lectures on the English Poets; Emerson's Essay, Shakespeare or the Poet; Lowell's Essay, in Among My Books; Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare; Mrs. Jameson's Shakespeare's Female Characters (called also Characteristics of Women); Rolfe's Shakespeare the Boy; Brandes's William Shakespeare; Moulton's Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist; Mabie's William Shakespeare, Poet, Dramatist, and Man; The Shakespeare Apocrypha, edited by C. F. T. Brooke; Shakespeare's Holinshed, edited by Stone; Shakespeare Lexicon, by Schmidt; Concordance, by Bartlett; Grammar, by Abbott, or by Franz.
Ben Jonson. Texts in Mermaid Series, Temple Dramatists, Morley's Universal Library, etc.; Masques and Entertainments of Ben Jonson, edited by Morley, in Carisbrooke Library; Timber, edited by Schelling, in Athenaeum Press Series.
Beaumont, Fletcher, etc. Plays in Mermaid Series, Temple Dramatists, etc.; Schelling's Elizabethan Drama; Lowell's Old English Dramatists; Lamb's Specimens of English Dramatic Poets; Fleay's Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama; Swinburne's Essays, in Essays in Prose and Poetry, and in Essays and Studies.
Bacon. Texts, Essays in Everyman's Library, etc.; Advancement of Learning in Clarendon Press Series, Library of English Classics, etc.; Church's Life of Bacon, in English Men of Letters Series; Nichol's Bacon's Life and Philosophy; Francis Bacon, translated from the German of K. Fischer (excellent, but rare); Macaulay's Essay on Bacon.
Minor Prose Writers. Sidney's Arcadia, edited by Somers; Defense of Poesy, edited by Cook, in Athenaeum Press Series; Arber's Reprints, etc.; Selections from Sidney's prose and poetry in the Elizabethan Library; Symonds's Life of Sidney, in English Men of Letters; Bourne's Life of Sidney, in Heroes of the Nations; Lamb's Essay on Sidney's Sonnets, in Essays of Elia.
Raleigh's works, published by the Oxford Press; Selections by Grosart, in Elizabethan Library; Raleigh's Last Fight of the Revenge, in Arber's Reprints; Life of Raleigh, by Edwards and by Gosse. Richard Hooker's works, edited by Keble, Oxford Press; Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, in Everyman's Library, and in Morley's Universal Library; Life, in Walton's Lives, in Morley's Universal Library; Dowden's Essay, in Puritan and Anglican.
Lyly's Euphues, in Arber's Reprints; Endymion, edited by Baker; Campaspe, in Manly's Pre-Shaksperean Drama.
North's Plutarch's Lives, edited by Wyndham, in Tudor Library; school edition, by Ginn and Company. Hakluyt's Voyages, in Everyman's Library; Jones's introduction to Hakluyt's Diverse Voyages; Payne's Voyages of Elizabethan Seamen; Froude's Essay, in Short Studies on Great Subjects.
SUGGESTIVE QUESTIONS. 1. What historical conditions help to account for the great literature of the Elizabethan age? What are the general characteristics of Elizabethan literature? What type of literature prevailed, and why? What work seems to you to express most perfectly the Elizabethan spirit?
2. Tell briefly the story of Spenser's life. What is the story or argument of the Faery Queen? What is meant by the Spenserian stanza? Read and comment upon Spenser's "Epithalamion." Why does the "Shepherd's Calendar" mark a literary epoch? What are the main qualities of Spenser's poetry? Can you quote or refer to any passages which illustrate these qualities? Why is he called the poets' poet?
3. For what is Sackville noted? What is the most significant thing about his "Gorboduc"? Name other minor poets and tell what they wrote.
4. Give an outline of the origin and rise of the drama in England. What is meant by Miracle and Mystery plays? What purposes did they serve among the common people? How did they help the drama? What is meant by cycles of Miracle plays? How did the Moralities differ from the Miracles? What was the chief purpose of the Interludes? What type of drama did they develop? Read a typical play, like "Noah's Flood" or "Everyman," and write a brief analysis of it.
5. What were our first plays in the modern sense? What influence did the classics exert on the English drama? What is meant by the dramatic unities? In what important respect did the English differ from the classic drama?
6. Name some of Shakespeare's predecessors in the drama? What types of drama did they develop? Name some plays of each type. Are any of these plays still presented on the stage?
7. What are Marlowe's chief plays? What is the central motive in each? Why are they called one-man plays? What is meant by Marlowe's "mighty line"? What is the story of "Faustus"? Compare "Faustus" and Goethe's "Faust," having in mind the story, the dramatic interest, and the literary value of each play.
8. Tell briefly the story of Shakespeare's life. What fact in his life most impressed you? How does Shakespeare sum up the work of all his predecessors? What are the four periods of his work, and the chief plays of each? Where did he find his plots? What are his romantic plays? his chronicle or historical plays? What is the difference between a tragedy and a comedy? Name some of Shakespeare's best tragedies, comedies, and historical plays. Which play of Shakespeare's seems to you to give the best picture of human life? Why is he called the myriad-minded Shakespeare? For what reasons is he considered the greatest of writers? Can you explain why Shakespeare's plays are still acted, while other plays of his age are rarely seen? If you have seen any of Shakespeare's plays on the stage, how do they compare in interest with a modern play?
9. What are Ben Jonson's chief plays? In what important respects did they differ from those of Shakespeare? Tell the story of "The Alchemist" or "The Silent Woman." Name other contemporaries and successors of Shakespeare. Give some reasons for the preeminence of the Elizabethan drama. What causes led to its decline?
10. Tell briefly the story of Bacon's life. What is his chief literary work? his chief educational work? Why is he called a pioneer of modern science? Can you explain what is meant by the inductive method of learning? What subjects are considered in Bacon's Essays? What is the central idea of the essay you like best? What are the literary qualities of these essays? Do they appeal to the intellect or the emotions? What is meant by the word "essay," and how does Bacon illustrate the definition? Make a comparison between Bacon's essays and those of some more recent writer, such as Addison, Lamb, Carlyle, Emerson, or Stevenson, having in mind the subjects, style, and interest of both essayists.
11. Who are the minor prose writers of the Elizabethan Age? What did they write? Comment upon any work of theirs which you have read. What is the literary value of North's Plutarch? What is the chief defect in Elizabethan prose as a whole? What is meant by euphuism? Explain why Elizabethan poetry is superior to the prose.
CHRONOLOGY Last Half of the Sixteenth and First Half of the Seventeenth Centuries ============================================================================ HISTORY LITERATURE 1558. Elizabeth (d. 1603) 1559. John Knox in Edinburgh 1562(?). Gammer Gurton's Needle. Gorboduc 1564. Birth of Shakespeare 1571. Rise of English Puritans 1576. First Theater 1577. Drake's Voyage around the 1579. Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar. World Lyly's Euphues. North's Plutarch. 1587. Shakespeare in London. Marlowe's Tamburlaine 1588. Defeat of the Armada 1590. Spenser's Faery Queen. Sidney's Arcadia 1590-1595. Shakespeare's Early Plays 1597-1625. Bacon's Essays 1598-1614. Chapman's Homer 1598. Ben Jonson's Every Man in His Humour 1600-1607. Shakespeare's Tragedies 1603. James I (d. 1625) 1604. Divine Right of Kings 1605. Bacon's Advancement of Learning proclaimed 1607. Settlement at Jamestown, 1608. Birth of Milton Virginia 1611. Translation (King James Version) of Bible 1614. Raleigh's History 1616. Death of Shakespeare 1620. Pilgrim Fathers at 1620-1642. Shakespeare's successors. Plymouth End of drama 1620. Bacon's Novum Organum 1622. First regular newspaper, The Weekly News 1625. Charles I 1626. Death of Bacon ============================================================================
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THE PURITAN AGE (1620-1660)
I. HISTORICAL SUMMARY
THE PURITAN MOVEMENT. In its broadest sense the Puritan movement may be regarded as a second and greater Renaissance, a rebirth of the moral nature of man following the intellectual awakening of Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In Italy, whose influence had been uppermost in Elizabethan literature, the Renaissance had been essentially pagan and sensuous. It had hardly touched the moral nature of man, and it brought little relief from the despotism of rulers. One can hardly read the horrible records of the Medici or the Borgias, or the political observations of Machiavelli, without marveling at the moral and political degradation of a cultured nation. In the North, especially among the German and English peoples, the Renaissance was accompanied by a moral awakening, and it is precisely that awakening in England, "that greatest moral and political reform which ever swept over a nation in the short space of half a century," which is meant by the Puritan movement. We shall understand it better if we remember that it had two chief objects: the first was personal righteousness; the second was civil and religious liberty. In other words, it aimed to make men honest and to make them free.
Such a movement should be cleared of all the misconceptions which have clung to it since the Restoration, when the very name of Puritan was made ridiculous by the jeers of the gay courtiers of Charles II. Though the spirit of the movement was profoundly religious, the Puritans were not a religious sect; neither was the Puritan a narrow-minded and gloomy dogmatist, as he is still pictured even in the histories. Pym and Hampden and Eliot and Milton were Puritans; and in the long struggle for human liberty there are few names more honored by freemen everywhere. Cromwell and Thomas Hooker were Puritans; yet Cromwell stood like a rock for religious tolerance; and Thomas Hooker, in Connecticut, gave to the world the first written constitution, in which freemen, before electing their officers, laid down the strict limits of the offices to which they were elected. That is a Puritan document, and it marks one of the greatest achievements in the history of government.
From a religious view point Puritanism included all shades of belief. The name was first given to those who advocated certain changes in the form of worship of the reformed English Church under Elizabeth; but as the ideal of liberty rose in men's minds, and opposed to it were the king and his evil counselors and the band of intolerant churchmen of whom Laud is the great example, then Puritanism became a great national movement. It included English churchmen as well as extreme Separatists, Calvinists, Covenanters, Catholic noblemen,—all bound together in resistance to despotism in Church and State, and with a passion for liberty and righteousness such as the world has never since seen. Naturally such a movement had its extremes and excesses, and it is from a few zealots and fanatics that most of our misconceptions about the Puritans arise. Life was stern in those days, too stern perhaps, and the intensity of the struggle against despotism made men narrow and hard. In the triumph of Puritanism under Cromwell severe laws were passed, many simple pleasures were forbidden, and an austere standard of living was forced upon an unwilling people. So the criticism is made that the wild outbreak of immorality which followed the restoration of Charles was partly due to the unnatural restrictions of the Puritan era. The criticism is just; but we must not forget the whole spirit of the movement. That the Puritan prohibited Maypole dancing and horse racing is of small consequence beside the fact that he fought for liberty and justice, that he overthrew despotism and made a man's life and property safe from the tyranny of rulers. A great river is not judged by the foam on its surface, and certain austere laws and doctrines which we have ridiculed are but froth on the surface of the mighty Puritan current that has flowed steadily, like a river of life, through English and American history since the Age of Elizabeth.
CHANGING IDEALS. The political upheaval of the period is summed up in the terrible struggle between the king and Parliament, which resulted in the death of Charles at the block and the establishment of the Commonwealth under Cromwell. For centuries the English people had been wonderfully loyal to their sovereigns; but deeper than their loyalty to kings was the old Saxon love for personal liberty. At times, as in the days of Alfred and Elizabeth, the two ideals went hand in hand; but more often they were in open strife, and a final struggle for supremacy was inevitable. The crisis came when James I, who had received the right of royalty from an act of Parliament, began, by the assumption of "divine right," to ignore the Parliament which had created him. Of the civil war which followed in the reign of Charles I, and of the triumph of English freedom, it is unnecessary to write here. The blasphemy of a man's divine right to rule his fellow-men was ended. Modern England began with the charge of Cromwell's brigade of Puritans at Naseby.
Religiously the age was one of even greater ferment than that which marked the beginning of the Reformation. A great ideal, the ideal of a national church, was pounding to pieces, like a ship in the breakers, and in the confusion of such an hour the action of the various sects was like that of frantic passengers, each striving to save his possessions from the wreck. The Catholic church, as its name implies, has always held true to the ideal of a united church, a church which, like the great Roman government of the early centuries, can bring the splendor and authority of Rome to bear upon the humblest village church to the farthest ends of the earth. For a time that mighty ideal dazzled the German and English reformers; but the possibility of a united Protestant church perished with Elizabeth. Then, instead of the world-wide church which was the ideal of Catholicism, came the ideal of a purely national Protestantism. This was the ideal of Laud and the reactionary bishops, no less than of the scholarly Richard Hooker, of the rugged Scotch Covenanters, and of the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. It is intensely interesting to note that Charles called Irish rebels and Scotch Highlanders to his aid by promising to restore their national religions; and that the English Puritans, turning to Scotland for help, entered into the solemn Covenant of 1643, establishing a national Presbyterianism, whose object was:
To bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to uniformity in religion and government, to preserve the rights of Parliament and the liberties of the Kingdom; ... that we and our posterity may as brethren live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to live in the midst of us.
In this famous Covenant we see the national, the ecclesiastical, and the personal dream of Puritanism, side by side, in all their grandeur and simplicity.
Years passed, years of bitter struggle and heartache, before the impossibility of uniting the various Protestant sects was generally recognized. The ideal of a national church died hard, and to its death is due all the religious unrest of the period. Only as we remember the national ideal, and the struggle which it caused, can we understand the amazing life and work of Bunyan, or appreciate the heroic spirit of the American colonists who left home for a wilderness in order to give the new ideal of a free church in a free state its practical demonstration.
LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS. In literature also the Puritan Age was one of confusion, due to the breaking up of old ideals. Mediaeval standards of chivalry, the impossible loves and romances of which Spenser furnished the types, perished no less surely than the ideal of a national church; and in the absence of any fixed standard of literary criticism there was nothing to prevent the exaggeration of the "metaphysical" poets, who are the literary parallels to religious sects like the Anabaptists. Poetry took new and startling forms in Donne and Herbert, and prose became as somber as Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. The spiritual gloom which sooner or later fastens upon all the writers of this age, and which is unjustly attributed to Puritan influence, is due to the breaking up of accepted standards in government and religion. No people, from the Greeks to those of our own day, have suffered the loss of old ideals without causing its writers to cry, "Ichabod! the glory has departed." That is the unconscious tendency of literary men in all times, who look backward for their golden age; and it need not concern the student of literature, who, even in the break-up of cherished institutions, looks for some foregleams of a better light which is to break upon the world. This so-called gloomy age produced some minor poems of exquisite workmanship, and one great master of verse whose work would glorify any age or people,—John Milton, in whom the indomitable Puritan spirit finds its noblest expression.
There are three main characteristics in which Puritan literature differs from that of the preceding age: (1) Elizabethan literature, with all its diversity, had a marked unity in spirit, resulting from the patriotism of all classes and their devotion to a queen who, with all her faults, sought first the nation's welfare. Under the Stuarts all this was changed. The kings were the open enemies of the people; the country was divided by the struggle for political and religious liberty; and the literature was as divided in spirit as were the struggling parties. (2) Elizabethan literature is generally inspiring; it throbs with youth and hope and vitality. That which follows speaks of age and sadness; even its brightest hours are followed by gloom, and by the pessimism inseparable from the passing of old standards. (3) Elizabethan literature is intensely romantic; the romance springs from the heart of youth, and believes all things, even the impossible. The great schoolman's credo, "I believe because it is impossible," is a better expression of Elizabethan literature than of mediaeval theology. In the literature of the Puritan period one looks in vain for romantic ardor. Even in the lyrics and love poems a critical, intellectual spirit takes its place, and whatever romance asserts itself is in form rather than in feeling, a fantastic and artificial adornment of speech rather than the natural utterance of a heart in which sentiment is so strong and true that poetry is its only expression.
II. LITERATURE OF THE PURITAN PERIOD
THE TRANSITION POETS. When one attempts to classify the literature of the first half of the seventeenth century, from the death of Elizabeth (1603) to the Restoration (1660), he realizes the impossibility of grouping poets by any accurate standard. The classifications attempted here have small dependence upon dates or sovereigns, and are suggestive rather than accurate. Thus Shakespeare and Bacon wrote largely in the reign of James I, but their work is Elizabethan in spirit; and Bunyan is no less a Puritan because he happened to write after the Restoration. The name Metaphysical poets, given by Dr. Johnson, is somewhat suggestive but not descriptive of the followers of Donne; the name Caroline or Cavalier poets brings to mind the careless temper of the Royalists who followed King Charles with a devotion of which he was unworthy; and the name Spenserian poets recalls the little band of dreamers who clung to Spenser's ideal, even while his romantic mediaeval castle was battered down by Science at the one gate and Puritanism at the other. At the beginning of this bewildering confusion of ideals expressed in literature, we note a few writers who are generally known as Jacobean poets, but whom we have called the Transition poets because, with the later dramatists, they show clearly the changing standards of the age.
SAMUEL DANIEL (1562-1619). Daniel, who is often classed with the first Metaphysical poets, is interesting to us for two reasons,—for his use of the artificial sonnet, and for his literary desertion of Spenser as a model for poets. His Delia, a cycle of sonnets modeled, perhaps, after Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, helped to fix the custom of celebrating love or friendship by a series of sonnets, to which some pastoral pseudonym was affixed. In his sonnets, many of which rank with Shakespeare's, and in his later poetry, especially the beautiful "Complaint of Rosamond" and his "Civil Wars," he aimed solely at grace of expression, and became influential in giving to English poetry a greater individuality and independence than it had ever known. In matter he set himself squarely against the mediaeval tendency:
Let others sing of kings and paladines In aged accents and untimely words, Paint shadows in imaginary lines.
This fling at Spenser and his followers marks the beginning of the modern and realistic school, which sees in life as it is enough poetic material, without the invention of allegories and impossible heroines. Daniel's poetry, which was forgotten soon after his death, has received probably more homage than it deserves in the praises of Wordsworth, Southey, Lamb, and Coleridge. The latter says: "Read Daniel, the admirable Daniel. The style and language are just such as any pure and manly writer of the present day would use. It seems quite modern in comparison with the style of Shakespeare."
THE SONG WRITERS. In strong contrast with the above are two distinct groups, the Song Writers and the Spenserian poets. The close of the reign of Elizabeth was marked by an outburst of English songs, as remarkable in its sudden development as the rise of the drama. Two causes contributed to this result,—the increasing influence of French instead of Italian verse, and the rapid development of music as an art at the close of the sixteenth century. The two song writers best worth studying are Thomas Campion (1567?-1619) and Nicholas Breton (1545?-1626?). Like all the lyric poets of the age, they are a curious mixture of the Elizabethan and the Puritan standards. They sing of sacred and profane love with the same zest, and a careless love song is often found on the same page with a plea for divine grace.
THE SPENSERIAN POETS. Of the Spenserian poets Giles Fletcher and Wither are best worth studying. Giles Fletcher (1588?-1623) has at times a strong suggestion of Milton (who was also a follower of Spenser in his early years) in the noble simplicity and majesty of his lines. His best known work, "Christ's Victory and Triumph" (1610), was the greatest religious poem that had appeared in England since "Piers Plowman," and is not an unworthy predecessor of Paradise Lost.
The life of George Wither (1588-1667) covers the whole period of English history from Elizabeth to the Restoration, and the enormous volume of his work covers every phase of the literature of two great ages. His life was a varied one; now as a Royalist leader against the Covenanters, and again announcing his Puritan convictions, and suffering in prison for his faith. At his best Wither is a lyric poet of great originality, rising at times to positive genius; but the bulk of his poetry is intolerably dull. Students of this period find him interesting as an epitome of the whole age in which he lived; but the average reader is more inclined to note with interest that he published in 1623 Hymns and Songs of the Church, the first hymn book that ever appeared in the English language.
THE METAPHYSICAL POETS. This name—which was given by Dr. Johnson in derision, because of the fantastic form of Donne's poetry—is often applied to all minor poets of the Puritan Age. We use the term here in a narrower sense, excluding the followers of Daniel and that later group known as the Cavalier poets. It includes Donne, Herbert, Waller, Denham, Cowley, Vaughan, Davenant, Marvell, and Crashaw. The advanced student finds them all worthy of study, not only for their occasional excellent poetry, but because of their influence on later literature. Thus Richard Crashaw (1613?-1649), the Catholic mystic, is interesting because his troubled life is singularly like Donne's, and his poetry is at times like Herbert's set on fire. Abraham Cowley (1618-1667), who blossomed young and who, at twenty-five, was proclaimed the greatest poet in England, is now scarcely known even by name, but his "Pindaric Odes" set an example which influenced English poetry throughout the eighteenth century. Henry Vaughan (1622-1695) is worthy of study because he is in some respects the forerunner of Wordsworth; and Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), because of his loyal friendship with Milton, and because his poetry shows the conflict between the two schools of Spenser and Donne. Edmund Waller (1606-1687) stands between the Puritan Age and the Restoration. He was the first to use consistently the "closed" couplet which dominated our poetry for the next century. By this, and especially by his influence over Dryden, the greatest figure of the Restoration, he occupies a larger place in our literature than a reading of his rather tiresome poetry would seem to warrant.
Of all these poets, each of whom has his special claim, we can consider here only Donne and Herbert, who in different ways are the types of revolt against earlier forms and standards of poetry. In feeling and imagery both are poets of a high order, but in style and expression they are the leaders of the fantastic school whose influence largely dominated poetry during the half century of the Puritan period.
JOHN DONNE (1573-1631)
LIFE. The briefest outline of Donne's life shows its intense human interest. He was born in London, the son of a rich iron merchant, at the time when the merchants of England were creating a new and higher kind of princes. On his father's side he came from an old Welsh family, and on his mother's side from the Heywoods and Sir Thomas More's family. Both families were Catholic, and in his early life persecution was brought near; for his brother died in prison for harboring a proscribed priest, and his own education could not be continued in Oxford and Cambridge because of his religion. Such an experience generally sets a man's religious standards for life; but presently Donne, as he studied law at Lincoln's Inn, was investigating the philosophic grounds of all faith. Gradually he left the church in which he was born, renounced all denominations, and called himself simply Christian. Meanwhile he wrote poetry and shared his wealth with needy Catholic relatives. He joined the expedition of Essex for Cadiz in 1596, and for the Azores in 1597, and on sea and in camp found time to write poetry. Two of his best poems, "The Storm" and "The Calm," belong to this period. Next he traveled in Europe for three years, but occupied himself with study and poetry. Returning home, he became secretary to Lord Egerton, fell in love with the latter's young niece, Anne More, and married her; for which cause Donne was cast into prison. Strangely enough his poetical work at this time is not a song of youthful romance, but "The Progress of the Soul," a study of transmigration. Years of wandering and poverty followed, until Sir George More forgave the young lovers and made an allowance to his daughter. Instead of enjoying his new comforts, Donne grew more ascetic and intellectual in his tastes. He refused also the nattering offer of entering the Church of England and of receiving a comfortable "living." By his "Pseudo Martyr" he attracted the favor of James I, who persuaded him to be ordained, yet left him without any place or employment. When his wife died her allowance ceased, and Donne was left with seven children in extreme poverty. Then he became a preacher, rose rapidly by sheer intellectual force and genius, and in four years was the greatest of English preachers and Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. There he "carried some to heaven in holy raptures and led others to amend their lives," and as he leans over the pulpit with intense earnestness is likened by Izaak Walton to "an angel leaning from a cloud."
Here is variety enough to epitomize his age, and yet in all his life, stronger than any impression of outward weal or woe, is the sense of mystery that surrounds Donne. In all his work one finds a mystery, a hiding of some deep thing which the world would gladly know and share, and which is suggested in his haunting little poem, "The Undertaking":
I have done one braver thing Than all the worthies did; And yet a braver thence doth spring, Which is, to keep that hid.
DONNE'S POETRY. Donne's poetry is so uneven, at times so startling and fantastic, that few critics would care to recommend it to others. Only a few will read his works, and they must be left to their own browsing, to find what pleases them, like deer which, in the midst of plenty, take a bite here and there and wander on, tasting twenty varieties of food in an hour's feeding. One who reads much will probably bewail Donne's lack of any consistent style or literary standard. For instance, Chaucer and Milton are as different as two poets could well be; yet the work of each is marked by a distinct and consistent style, and it is the style as much as the matter which makes the Tales or the Paradise Lost a work for all time. Donne threw style and all literary standards to the winds; and precisely for this reason he is forgotten, though his great intellect and his genius had marked him as one of those who should do things "worthy to be remembered." While the tendency of literature is to exalt style at the expense of thought, the world has many men and women who exalt feeling and thought above expression; and to these Donne is good reading. Browning is of the same school, and compels attention. While Donne played havoc with Elizabethan style, he nevertheless influenced our literature in the way of boldness and originality; and the present tendency is to give him a larger place, nearer to the few great poets, than he has occupied since Ben Jonson declared that he was "the first poet of the world in some things," but likely to perish "for not being understood." For to much of his poetry we must apply his own satiric verses on another's crudities:
Infinite work! which doth so far extend That none can study it to any end.
GEORGE HERBERT (1593-1633)
"O day most calm, most bright," sang George Herbert, and we may safely take that single line as expressive of the whole spirit of his writings. Professor Palmer, whose scholarly edition of this poet's works is a model for critics and editors, calls Herbert the first in English poetry who spoke face to face with God. That may be true; but it is interesting to note that not a poet of the first half of the seventeenth century, not even the gayest of the Cavaliers, but has written some noble verse of prayer or aspiration, which expresses the underlying Puritan spirit of his age. Herbert is the greatest, the most consistent of them all. In all the others the Puritan struggles against the Cavalier, or the Cavalier breaks loose from the restraining Puritan; but in Herbert the struggle is past and peace has come. That his life was not all calm, that the Puritan in him had struggled desperately before it subdued the pride and idleness of the Cavalier, is evident to one who reads between his lines:
I struck the board and cry'd, No more! I will abroad. What? Shall I ever sigh and pine? My lines and life are free, free as the road, Loose as the wind.
There speaks the Cavalier of the university and the court; and as one reads to the end of the little poem, which he calls by the suggestive name of "The Collar," he may know that he is reading condensed biography.
Those who seek for faults, for strained imagery and fantastic verse forms in Herbert's poetry, will find them in abundance; but it will better repay the reader to look for the deep thought and fine feeling that are hidden in these wonderful religious lyrics, even in those that appear most artificial. The fact that Herbert's reputation was greater, at times, than Milton's, and that his poems when published after his death had a large sale and influence, shows certainly that he appealed to the men of his age; and his poems will probably be read and appreciated, if only by the few, just so long as men are strong enough to understand the Puritan's spiritual convictions.
LIFE. Herbert's life is so quiet and uneventful that to relate a few biographical facts can be of little advantage. Only as one reads the whole story by Izaak Walton can he share the gentle spirit of Herbert's poetry. He was born at Montgomery Castle, Wales, 1593, of a noble Welsh family. His university course was brilliant, and after graduation he waited long years in the vain hope of preferment at court. All his life he had to battle against disease, and this is undoubtedly the cause of the long delay before each new step in his course. Not till he was thirty-seven was he ordained and placed over the little church of Bemerton. How he lived here among plain people, in "this happy corner of the Lord's field, hoping all things and blessing all people, asking his own way to Sion and showing others the way," should be read in Walton. It is a brief life, less than three years of work before being cut off by consumption, but remarkable for the single great purpose and the glorious spiritual strength that shine through physical weakness. Just before his death he gave some manuscripts to a friend, and his message is worthy of John Bunyan:
Deliver this little book to my dear brother Ferrar, and tell him he shall find in it a picture of the many spiritual conflicts that have passed betwixt God and my soul before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my master, in whose service I have now found perfect freedom. Desire him to read it; and then, if he can think it may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul, let it be made public; if not, let him burn it, for I and it are less than the least of God's mercies.
HERBERT'S POEMS. Herbert's chief work, The Temple, consists of over one hundred and fifty short poems suggested by the Church, her holidays and ceremonials, and the experiences of the Christian life. The first poem, "The Church Porch," is the longest and, though polished with a care that foreshadows the classic school, the least poetical. It is a wonderful collection of condensed sermons, wise precepts, and moral lessons, suggesting Chaucer's "Good Counsel," Pope's "Essay on Man," and Polonius's advice to Laertes, in Hamlet; only it is more packed with thought than any of these. Of truth-speaking he says:
Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie; A fault which needs it most grows two thereby.
and of calmness in argument:
Calmness is great advantage: he that lets Another chafe may warm him at his fire.
Among the remaining poems of The Temple one of the most suggestive is "The Pilgrimage." Here in six short stanzas, every line close-packed with thought, we have the whole of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The poem was written probably before Bunyan was born, but remembering the wide influence of Herbert's poetry, it is an interesting question whether Bunyan received the idea of his immortal work from this "Pilgrimage." Probably the best known of all his poems is the one called "The Pulley," which generally appears, however under the name "Rest," or "The Gifts of God."
When God at first made man, Having a glass of blessings standing by, Let us, said he, pour on him all we can: Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie, Contract into a span. So strength first made a way; Then beauty flowed; then wisdom, honor, pleasure. When almost all was out, God made a stay, Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure, Rest in the bottom lay. For, if I should, said he, Bestow this jewel also on my creature, He would adore my gifts instead of me, And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature: So both should losers be. Yet let him keep the rest, But keep them with repining restlessness: Let him be rich and weary, that at least, If goodness lead him not, yet weariness May toss him to my breast.
Among the poems which may be read as curiosities of versification, and which arouse the wrath of the critics against the whole metaphysical school, are those like "Easter Wings" and "The Altar," which suggest in the printed form of the poem the thing of which the poet sings. More ingenious is the poem in which rime is made by cutting off the first letter of a preceding word, as in the five stanzas of "Paradise ":
I bless thee, Lord, because I grow Among thy trees, which in a row To thee both fruit and order ow.
And more ingenious still are odd conceits like the poem "Heaven," in which Echo, by repeating the last syllable of each line, gives an answer to the poet's questions.
THE CAVALIER POETS. In the literature of any age there are generally found two distinct tendencies. The first expresses the dominant spirit of the times; the second, a secret or an open rebellion. So in this age, side by side with the serious and rational Puritan, lives the gallant and trivial Cavalier. The Puritan finds expression in the best poetry of the period, from Donne to Milton, and in the prose of Baxter and Bunyan; the Cavalier in a small group of poets,—Herrick, Lovelace, Suckling, and Carew,—who write songs generally in lighter vein, gay, trivial, often licentious, but who cannot altogether escape the tremendous seriousness of Puritanism.
THOMAS CAREW (1598?-1639?). Carew may be called the inventor of Cavalier love poetry, and to him, more than to any other, is due the peculiar combination of the sensual and the religious which marked most of the minor poets of the seventeenth century. His poetry is the Spenserian pastoral stripped of its refinement of feeling and made direct, coarse, vigorous. His poems, published in 1640, are generally, like his life, trivial or sensual; but here and there is found one, like the following, which indicates that with the Metaphysical and Cavalier poets a new and stimulating force had entered English literature:
Ask me no more where Jove bestows, When June is past, the fading rose, For in your beauty's orient deep These flowers, as in their causes, sleep. Ask me no more where those stars light That downwards fall in dead of night, For in your eyes they sit, and there Fixed become as in their sphere. Ask me no more if east or west The phoenix builds her spicy nest, For unto you at last she flies, And in your fragrant bosom dies.
ROBERT HERRICK (1591-1674). Herrick is the true Cavalier, gay, devil-may- care in disposition, but by some freak of fate a clergyman of Dean Prior, in South Devon, a county made famous by him and Blackmore. Here, in a country parish, he lived discontentedly, longing for the joys of London and the Mermaid Tavern, his bachelor establishment consisting of an old housekeeper, a cat, a dog, a goose, a tame lamb, one hen,—for which he thanked God in poetry because she laid an egg every day,—and a pet pig that drank beer with Herrick out of a tankard. With admirable good nature, Herrick made the best of these uncongenial surroundings. He watched with sympathy the country life about him and caught its spirit in many lyrics, a few of which, like "Corinna's Maying," "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may," and "To Daffodils," are among the best known in our language. His poems cover a wide range, from trivial love songs, pagan in spirit, to hymns of deep religious feeling. Only the best of his poems should be read; and these are remarkable for their exquisite sentiment and their graceful, melodious expression. The rest, since they reflect something of the coarseness of his audience, may be passed over in silence.
Late in life Herrick published his one book, Hesperides and Noble Numbers (1648). The latter half contains his religious poems, and one has only to read there the remarkable "Litany" to see how the religious terror that finds expression in Bunyan's Grace Abounding could master even the most careless of Cavalier singers.
SUCKLING AND LOVELACE. Sir John Suckling (1609-1642) was one of the most brilliant wits of the court of Charles I, who wrote poetry as he exercised a horse or fought a duel, because it was considered a gentleman's accomplishment in those days. His poems, "struck from his wild life like sparks from his rapier," are utterly trivial, and, even in his best known "Ballad Upon a Wedding," rarely rise above mere doggerel. It is only the romance of his life—his rich, brilliant, careless youth, and his poverty and suicide in Paris, whither he fled because of his devotion to the Stuarts—that keeps his name alive in our literature.
In his life and poetry Sir Richard Lovelace (1618-1658) offers a remarkable parallel to Suckling, and the two are often classed together as perfect representatives of the followers of King Charles. Lovelace's Lucasta, a volume of love lyrics, is generally on a higher plane than Suckling's work; and a few of the poems like "To Lucasta," and "To Althea, from Prison," deserve the secure place they have won. In the latter occur the oft-quoted lines:
Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an hermitage. If I have freedom in my love, And in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above Enjoy such liberty.
JOHN MILTON (1608-1674)
Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart; Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea— Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free; So didst thou travel on life's common way In cheerful godliness: and yet thy heart The lowliest duties on herself did lay. (From Wordsworth's "Sonnet on Milton")
Shakespeare and Milton are the two figures that tower conspicuously above the goodly fellowship of men who have made our literature famous. Each is representative of the age that produced him, and together they form a suggestive commentary upon the two forces that rule our humanity,—the force of impulse and the force of a fixed purpose. Shakespeare is the poet of impulse, of the loves, hates, fears, jealousies, and ambitions that swayed the men of his age. Milton is the poet of steadfast will and purpose, who moves like a god amid the fears and hopes and changing impulses of the world, regarding them as trivial and momentary things that can never swerve a great soul from its course.
It is well to have some such comparison in mind while studying the literature of the Elizabethan and the Puritan Age. While Shakespeare and Ben Jonson and their unequaled company of wits make merry at the Mermaid Tavern, there is already growing up on the same London street a poet who shall bring a new force into literature, who shall add to the Renaissance culture and love of beauty the tremendous moral earnestness of the Puritan. Such a poet must begin, as the Puritan always began, with his own soul, to discipline and enlighten it, before expressing its beauty in literature. "He that would hope to write well hereafter in laudable things," says Milton, "ought himself to be a true poem; that is, a composition and pattern of the best and most honorable things." Here is a new proposition in art which suggests the lofty ideal of Fra Angelico, that before one can write literature, which is the expression of the ideal, he must first develop in himself the ideal man. Because Milton is human he must know the best in humanity; therefore he studies, giving his days to music, art, and literature, his nights to profound research and meditation. But because he knows that man is more than mortal he also prays, depending, as he tells us, on "devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge." Such a poet is already in spirit far beyond the Renaissance, though he lives in the autumn of its glory and associates with its literary masters. "There is a spirit in man," says the old Hebrew poet, "and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding." Here, in a word, is the secret of Milton's life and writing. Hence his long silences, years passing without a word; and when he speaks it is like the voice of a prophet who begins with the sublime announcement, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." Hence his style, producing an impression of sublimity, which has been marked for wonder by every historian of our literature. His style was unconsciously sublime because he lived and thought consciously in a sublime atmosphere.
LIFE OF MILTON. Milton is like an ideal in the soul, like a lofty mountain on the horizon. We never attain the ideal; we never climb the mountain; but life would be inexpressibly poorer were either to be taken away.
From childhood Milton's parents set him apart for the attainment of noble ends, and so left nothing to chance in the matter of training. His father, John Milton, is said to have turned Puritan while a student at Oxford and to have been disinherited by his family; whereupon he settled in London and prospered greatly as a scrivener, that is, a kind of notary. In character the elder Milton was a rare combination of scholar and business man, a radical Puritan in politics and religion, yet a musician, whose hymn tunes are still sung, and a lover of art and literature. The poet's mother was a woman of refinement and social grace, with a deep interest in religion and in local charities. So the boy grew up in a home which combined the culture of the Renaissance with the piety and moral strength of early Puritanism. He begins, therefore, as the heir of one great age and the prophet of another.
Apparently the elder Milton shared Bacon's dislike for the educational methods of the time and so took charge of his son's training, encouraging his natural tastes, teaching him music, and seeking out a tutor who helped the boy to what he sought most eagerly, not the grammar and mechanism of Greek and Latin but rather the stories, the ideals, the poetry that hide in their incomparable literatures. At twelve years we find the boy already a scholar in spirit, unable to rest till after midnight because of the joy with which his study was rewarded. From boyhood two great principles seem to govern Milton's career: one, the love of beauty, of music, art, literature, and indeed of every form of human culture; the other, a steadfast devotion to duty as the highest object in human life.
A brief course at the famous St. Paul's school in London was the prelude to Milton's entrance to Christ's College, Cambridge. Here again he followed his natural bent and, like Bacon, found himself often in opposition to the authorities. Aside from some Latin poems, the most noteworthy song of this period of Milton's life is his splendid ode, '"On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," which was begun on Christmas day, 1629. Milton, while deep in the classics, had yet a greater love for his native literature. Spenser was for years his master; in his verse we find every evidence of his "loving study" of Shakespeare, and his last great poems show clearly how he had been influenced by Fletcher's Christ's Victory and Triumph. But it is significant that this first ode rises higher than anything of the kind produced in the famous Age of Elizabeth.
While at Cambridge it was the desire of his parents that Milton should take orders in the Church of England; but the intense love of mental liberty which stamped the Puritan was too strong within him, and he refused to consider the "oath of servitude," as he called it, which would mark his ordination. Throughout his life Milton, though profoundly religious, held aloof from the strife of sects. In belief, he belonged to the extreme Puritans, called Separatists, Independents, Congregationalists, of which our Pilgrim Fathers are the great examples; but he refused to be bound by any creed or church discipline:
As ever in my great Task-Master's eye.
In this last line of one of his sonnets is found Milton's rejection of every form of outward religious authority in face of the supreme Puritan principle, the liberty of the individual soul before God.
A long period of retirement followed Milton's withdrawal from the university in 1632. At his father's country home in Horton he gave himself up for six years to solitary reading and study, roaming over the wide fields of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Italian, and English literatures, and studying hard at mathematics, science, theology, and music,—a curious combination. To his love of music we owe the melody of all his poetry, and we note it in the rhythm and balance which make even his mighty prose arguments harmonious. In "Lycidas," "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," "Arcades," "Comus," and a few "Sonnets," we have the poetic results of this retirement at Horton,—few, indeed, but the most perfect of their kind that our literature has recorded.
Out of solitude, where his talent was perfected, Milton entered the busy world where his character was to be proved to the utmost. From Horton he traveled abroad, through France, Switzerland, and Italy, everywhere received with admiration for his learning and courtesy, winning the friendship of the exiled Dutch scholar Grotius, in Paris, and of Galileo in his sad imprisonment in Florence. He was on his way to Greece when news reached him of the break between king and parliament. With the practical insight which never deserted him Milton saw clearly the meaning of the news. His cordial reception in Italy, so chary of praise to anything not Italian, had reawakened in Milton the old desire to write an epic which England would "not willingly let die"; but at thought of the conflict for human freedom all his dreams were flung to the winds. He gave up his travels and literary ambitions and hurried to England. "For I thought it base," he says, "to be traveling at my ease for intellectual culture while my fellow-countrymen at home were fighting for liberty."
Then for nearly twenty years the poet of great achievement and still greater promise disappears. We hear no more songs, but only the prose denunciations and arguments which are as remarkable as his poetry. In all our literature there is nothing more worthy of the Puritan spirit than this laying aside of personal ambitions in order to join in the struggle for human liberty. In his best known sonnet, "On His Blindness," which reflects his grief, not at darkness, but at his abandoned dreams, we catch the sublime spirit of this renunciation.
Milton's opportunity to serve came in the crisis of 1649. The king had been sent to the scaffold, paying the penalty of his own treachery, and England sat shivering at its own deed, like a child or a Russian peasant who in sudden passion resists unbearable brutality and then is afraid of the consequences. Two weeks of anxiety, of terror and silence followed; then appeared Milton's Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. To England it was like the coming of a strong man, not only to protect the child, but to justify his blow for liberty. Kings no less than people are subject to the eternal principle of law; the divine right of a people to defend and protect themselves,—that was the mighty argument which calmed a people's dread and proclaimed that a new man and a new principle had arisen in England. Milton was called to be Secretary for Foreign Tongues in the new government; and for the next few years, until the end of the Commonwealth, there were two leaders in England, Cromwell the man of action, Milton the man of thought. It is doubtful to which of the two humanity owes most for its emancipation from the tyranny of kings and prelates.
Two things of personal interest deserve mention in this period of Milton's life, his marriage and his blindness. In 1643 he married Mary Powell, a shallow, pleasure-loving girl, the daughter of a Royalist; and that was the beginning of sorrows. After a month, tiring of the austere life of a Puritan household, she abandoned her husband, who, with the same radical reasoning with which he dealt with affairs of state, promptly repudiated the marriage. His Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce and his Tetrachordon are the arguments to justify his position; but they aroused a storm of protest in England, and they suggest to a modern reader that Milton was perhaps as much to blame as his wife, and that he had scant understanding of a woman's nature. When his wife, fearing for her position, appeared before him in tears, all his ponderous arguments were swept aside by a generous impulse; and though the marriage was never a happy one, Milton never again mentioned his wife's desertion. The scene in Paradise Lost, where Eve comes weeping to Adam, seeking peace and pardon, is probably a reflection of a scene in Milton's own household. His wife died in 1653, and a few years later he married another, whom we remember for the sonnet, "Methought I saw my late espoused saint," in which she is celebrated. She died after fifteen months, and in 1663 he married a third wife, who helped the blind old man to manage his poor household.
From boyhood the strain on the poet's eyes had grown more and more severe; but even when his sight was threatened he held steadily to his purpose of using his pen in the service of his country. During the king's imprisonment a book appeared called Eikon Basilike (Royal Image), giving a rosy picture of the king's piety, and condemning the Puritans. The book speedily became famous and was the source of all Royalist arguments against the Commonwealth. In 1649 appeared Milton's Eikonoklastes (Image Breaker), which demolished the flimsy arguments of the Eikon Basilike as a charge of Cromwell's Ironsides had overwhelmed the king's followers. After the execution of the king appeared another famous attack upon the Puritans, Defensio Regia pro Carlo I, instigated by Charles II, who was then living in exile. It was written in Latin by Salmasius, a Dutch professor at Leyden, and was hailed by the Royalists as an invincible argument. By order of the Council of State Milton prepared a reply. His eyesight had sadly failed, and he was warned that any further strain would be disastrous. His reply was characteristic of the man and the Puritan. As he had once sacrificed his poetry, so he was now ready, he said, to sacrifice his eyes also on the altar of English liberty. His magnificent Defensio pro Populo Anglicano is one of the most masterly controversial works in literature. The power of the press was already strongly felt in England, and the new Commonwealth owed its standing partly to Milton's prose, and partly to Cromwell's policy. The Defensio was the last work that Milton saw. Blindness fell upon him ere it was finished, and from 1652 until his death he labored in total darkness.
The last part of Milton's life is a picture of solitary grandeur unequaled in literary history. With the Restoration all his labors and sacrifices for humanity were apparently wasted. From his retirement he could hear the bells and the shouts that welcomed back a vicious monarch, whose first act was to set his foot upon his people's neck. Milton was immediately marked for persecution; he remained for months in hiding; he was reduced to poverty, and his books were burned by the public hangman. His daughters, upon whom he depended in his blindness, rebelled at the task of reading to him and recording his thoughts. In the midst of all these sorrows we understand, in Samson, the cry of the blind champion of Israel:
Now blind, disheartened, shamed, dishonored, quelled, To what can I be useful? wherein serve My nation, and the work from Heaven imposed? But to sit idle on the household hearth, A burdenous drone; to visitants a gaze, Or pitied object.
Milton's answer is worthy of his own great life. Without envy or bitterness he goes back to the early dream of an immortal poem and begins with superb consciousness of power to dictate his great epic.
Paradise Lost was finished in 1665, after seven years' labor in darkness. With great difficulty he found a publisher, and for the great work, now the most honored poem in our literature, he received less than certain verse makers of our day receive for a little song in one of our popular magazines. Its success was immediate, though, like all his work, it met with venomous criticism. Dryden summed up the impression made on thoughtful minds of his time when he said, "This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too." Thereafter a bit of sunshine came into his darkened home, for the work stamped him as one of the world's great writers, and from England and the Continent pilgrims came in increasing numbers to speak their gratitude.
The next year Milton began his Paradise Regained. In 1671 appeared his last important work, Samson Agonistes, the most powerful dramatic poem on the Greek model which our language possesses. The picture of Israel's mighty champion, blind, alone, afflicted by thoughtless enemies but preserving a noble ideal to the end, is a fitting close to the life work of the poet himself. For years he was silent, dreaming who shall say what dreams in his darkness, and saying cheerfully to his friends, "Still guides the heavenly vision." He died peacefully in 1674, the most sublime and the most lonely figure in our literature.
MILTON'S EARLY POETRY. In his early work Milton appears as the inheritor of all that was best in Elizabethan literature, and his first work, the ode "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity," approaches the high-water mark of lyric poetry in England. In the next six years, from 1631 to 1637, he wrote but little, scarcely more than two thousand lines, but these are among the most exquisite and the most perfectly finished in our language.
"L'Allegro" and "II Penseroso" are twin poems, containing many lines and short descriptive passages which linger in the mind like strains of music, and which are known and loved wherever English is spoken. "L'Allegro" (the joyous or happy man) is like an excursion into the English fields at sunrise. The air is sweet; birds are singing; a multitude of sights, sounds, fragrances, fill all the senses; and to this appeal of nature the soul of man responds by being happy, seeing in every flower and hearing in every harmony some exquisite symbol of human life. "Il Penseroso" takes us over the same ground at twilight and at moonrise. The air is still fresh and fragrant; the symbolism is, if possible, more tenderly beautiful than before; but the gay mood is gone, though its memory lingers in the afterglow of the sunset. A quiet thoughtfulness takes the place of the pure, joyous sensation of the morning, a thoughtfulness which is not sad, though like all quiet moods it is akin to sadness, and which sounds the deeps of human emotion in the presence of nature. To quote scattered lines of either poem is to do injustice to both. They should be read in their entirety the same day, one at morning, the other at eventide, if one is to appreciate their beauty and suggestiveness.
The "Masque of Comus" is in many respects the most perfect of Milton's poems. It was written in 1634 to be performed at Ludlow Castle before the earl of Bridgewater and his friends. There is a tradition that the earl's three children had been lost in the woods, and, whether true or not, Milton takes the simple theme of a person lost, calls in an Attendant Spirit to protect the wanderer, and out of this, with its natural action and melodious songs, makes the most exquisite pastoral drama that we possess. In form it is a masque, like those gorgeous products of the Elizabethan age of which Ben Jonson was the master. England had borrowed the idea of the masque from Italy and had used it as the chief entertainment at all festivals, until it had become to the nobles of England what the miracle play had been to the common people of a previous generation. Milton, with his strong Puritan spirit, could not be content with the mere entertainment of an idle hour. "Comus" has the gorgeous scenic effects, the music and dancing of other masques; but its moral purpose and its ideal teachings are unmistakable. "The Triumph of Virtue" would be a better name for this perfect little masque, for its theme is that virtue and innocence can walk through any peril of this world without permanent harm. This eternal triumph of good over evil is proclaimed by the Attendant Spirit who has protected the innocent in this life and who now disappears from mortal sight to resume its life of joy:
Mortals, that would follow me, Love Virtue; she alone is free. She can teach ye how to climb Higher than the sphery chime; Or if Virtue feeble were, Heaven itself would stoop to her.
While there are undoubted traces of Jonson and John Fletcher in Milton's "Comus," the poem far surpasses its predecessors in the airy beauty and melody of its verses.
In the next poem, "Lycidas," a pastoral elegy written in 1637, and the last of his Horton poems, Milton is no longer the inheritor of the old age, but the prophet of a new. A college friend, Edward King, had been drowned in the Irish Sea, and Milton follows the poetic custom of his age by representing both his friend and himself in the guise of shepherds leading the pastoral life. Milton also uses all the symbolism of his predecessors, introducing fauns, satyrs, and sea nymphs; but again the Puritan is not content with heathen symbolism, and so introduces a new symbol of the Christian shepherd responsible for the souls of men, whom he likens to hungry sheep that look up and are not fed. The Puritans and Royalists at this time were drifting rapidly apart, and Milton uses his new symbolism to denounce the abuses that had crept into the Church. In any other poet this moral teaching would hinder the free use of the imagination; but Milton seems equal to the task of combining high moral purpose with the noblest poetry. In its exquisite finish and exhaustless imagery "Lycidas" surpasses most of the poetry of what is often called the pagan Renaissance.
Besides these well-known poems, Milton wrote in this early period a fragmentary masque called "Arcades"; several Latin poems which, like his English, are exquisitely finished; and his famous "Sonnets," which brought this Italian form of verse nearly to the point of perfection. In them he seldom wrote of love, the usual subject with his predecessors, but of patriotism, duty, music, and subjects of political interest suggested by the struggle into which England was drifting. Among these sonnets each reader must find his own favorites. Those best known and most frequently quoted are "On His Deceased Wife," "To the Nightingale," "On Reaching the Age of Twenty-three," "The Massacre in Piedmont," and the two "On His Blindness."
MILTON'S PROSE. Of Milton's prose works there are many divergent opinions, ranging from Macaulay's unbounded praise to the condemnation of some of our modern critics. From a literary view point Milton's prose would be stronger if less violent, and a modern writer would hardly be excused for using his language or his methods; but we must remember the times and the methods of his opponents. In his fiery zeal against injustice the poet is suddenly dominated by the soldier's spirit. He first musters his facts in battalions, and charges upon the enemy to crush and overpower without mercy. For Milton hates injustice and, because it is an enemy of his people, he cannot and will not spare it. When the victory is won, he exults in a paean of victory as soul-stirring as the Song of Deborah. He is the poet again, spite of himself, and his mind fills with magnificent images. Even with a subject so dull, so barren of the bare possibilities of poetry, as his "Animadversions upon the Remonstrants' Defense," he breaks out into an invocation, "Oh, Thou that sittest in light and glory unapproachable, parent of angels and men," which is like a chapter from the Apocalypse. In such passages Milton's prose is, as Taine suggests, "an outpouring of splendors," which suggests the noblest poetry.
On account of their controversial character these prose works are seldom read, and it is probable that Milton never thought of them as worthy of a place in literature. Of them all Areopagitica has perhaps the most permanent interest and is best worth reading. In Milton's time there was a law forbidding the publication of books until they were indorsed by the official censor. Needless to say, the censor, holding his office and salary by favor, was naturally more concerned with the divine right of kings and bishops than with the delights of literature, and many books were suppressed for no better reason than that they were displeasing to the authorities. Milton protested against this, as against every other form of tyranny, and his Areopagitica—so called from the Areopagus or Forum of Athens, the place of public appeal, and the Mars Hill of St. Paul's address—is the most famous plea in English for the freedom of the press.
MILTON'S LATER POETRY. Undoubtedly the noblest of Milton's works, written when he was blind and suffering, are Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. The first is the greatest, indeed the only generally acknowledged epic in our literature since Beowulf; the last is the most perfect specimen of a drama after the Greek method in our language.
Of the history of the great epic we have some interesting glimpses. In Cambridge there is preserved a notebook of Milton's containing a list of nearly one hundred subjects for a great poem, selected while he was a boy at the university. King Arthur attracted him at first; but his choice finally settled upon the Fall of Man, and we have four separate outlines showing Milton's proposed treatment of the subject. These outlines indicate that he contemplated a mighty drama or miracle play; but whether because of Puritan antipathy to plays and players, or because of the wretched dramatic treatment of religious subjects which Milton had witnessed in Italy, he abandoned the idea of a play and settled on the form of an epic poem; most fortunately, it must be conceded, for Milton had not the knowledge of men necessary for a drama. As a study of character Paradise Lost would be a grievous failure. Adam, the central character, is something of a prig; while Satan looms up a magnificent figure, entirely different from the devil of the miracle plays and completely overshadowing the hero both in interest and in manliness. The other characters, the Almighty, the Son, Raphael, Michael, the angels and fallen spirits, are merely mouthpieces for Milton's declamations, without any personal or human interest. Regarded as a drama, therefore, Paradise Lost could never have been a success; but as poetry, with its sublime imagery, its harmonious verse, its titanic background of heaven, hell, and the illimitable void that lies between, it is unsurpassed in any literature.
In 1658 Milton in his darkness sat down to dictate the work which he had planned thirty years before. In order to understand the mighty sweep of the poem it is necessary to sum up the argument of the twelve books, as follows:
Book I opens with a statement of the subject, the Fall of Man, and a noble invocation for light and divine guidance. Then begins the account of Satan and the rebel angels, their banishment from heaven, and their plot to oppose the design of the Almighty by dragging down his children, our first parents, from their state of innocence. The book closes with a description of the land of fire and endless pain where the fallen spirits abide, and the erection of Pandemonium, the palace of Satan. Book II is a description of the council of evil spirits, of Satan's consent to undertake the temptation of Adam and Eve, and his journey to the gates of hell, which are guarded by Sin and Death. Book III transports us to heaven again. God, foreseeing the fall, sends Raphael to warn Adam and Eve, so that their disobedience shall be upon their own heads. Then the Son offers himself a sacrifice, to take away the sin of the coming disobedience of man. At the end of this book Satan appears in a different scene, meets Uriel, the Angel of the Sun, inquires from him the way to earth, and takes his journey thither disguised as an angel of light. Book IV shows us Paradise and the innocent state of man. An angel guard is set over Eden, and Satan is arrested while tempting Eve in a dream, but is curiously allowed to go free again. Book V shows us Eve relating her dream to Adam, and then the morning prayer and the daily employment of our first parents. Raphael visits them, is entertained by a banquet (which Eve proposes in order to show him that all God's gifts are not kept in heaven), and tells them of the revolt of the fallen spirits. His story is continued in Book VI. In Book VII we read the story of the creation of the world as Raphael tells it to Adam and Eve. In Book VIII Adam tells Raphael the story of his own life and of his meeting with Eve. Book IX is the story of the temptation by Satan, following the account in Genesis. Book X records the divine judgment upon Adam and Eve; shows the construction by Sin and Death of a highway through chaos to the earth, and Satan's return to Pandemonium. Adam and Eve repent of their disobedience and Satan and his angels are turned into serpents. In Book XI the Almighty accepts Adam's repentance, but condemns him to be banished from Paradise, and the archangel Michael is sent to execute the sentence. At the end of the book, after Eve's feminine grief at the loss of Paradise, Michael begins a prophetic vision of the destiny of man. Book XII continues Michael's vision. Adam and Eve are comforted by hearing of the future redemption of their race. The poem ends as they wander forth out of Paradise and the door closes behind them.
It will be seen that this is a colossal epic, not of a man or a hero, but of the whole race of men; and that Milton's characters are such as no human hand could adequately portray. But the scenes, the splendors of heaven, the horrors of hell, the serene beauty of Paradise, the sun and planets suspended between celestial light and gross darkness, are pictured with an imagination that is almost superhuman. The abiding interest of the poem is in these colossal pictures, and in the lofty thought and the marvelous melody with which they are impressed on our minds. The poem is in blank verse, and not until Milton used it did we learn the infinite variety and harmony of which it is capable. He played with it, changing its melody and movement on every page, "as an organist out of a single theme develops an unending variety of harmony."
Lamartine has described Paradise Lost as the dream of a Puritan fallen asleep over his Bible, and this suggestive description leads us to the curious fact that it is the dream, not the theology or the descriptions of Bible scenes, that chiefly interests us. Thus Milton describes the separation of earth and water, and there is little or nothing added to the simplicity and strength of Genesis; but the sunset which follows is Milton's own dream, and instantly we are transported to a land of beauty and poetry:
Now came still Evening on, and Twilight gray Had in her sober livery all things clad; Silence accompanied; for beast and bird, They to their grassy couch, these to their nests Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale. She all night long her amorous descant sung: Silence was pleased. Now glowed the firmament With living sapphires; Hesperus, that led The starry host, rode brightest, till the Moon, Rising in clouded majesty, at length Apparent queen, unveiled her peerless light, And o'er the dark her silver mantle threw.
So also Milton's Almighty, considered purely as a literary character, is unfortunately tinged with the narrow and literal theology of the time. He is a being enormously egotistic, the despot rather than the servant of the universe, seated upon a throne with a chorus of angels about him eternally singing his praises and ministering to a kind of divine vanity. It is not necessary to search heaven for such a character; the type is too common upon earth. But in Satan Milton breaks away from crude mediaeval conceptions; he follows the dream again, and gives us a character to admire and understand:
"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime," Said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat That we must change for Heaven?—this mournful gloom For that celestial light? Be it so, since He Who now is sovran can dispose and bid What shall be right: farthest from Him is best, Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields, Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail, Infernal World! and thou, profoundest Hell, Receive thy new possessor—one who brings A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. What matter where, if I be still the same, And what I should be, all but less than he Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice, To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
In this magnificent heroism Milton has unconsciously immortalized the Puritan spirit, the same unconquerable spirit that set men to writing poems and allegories when in prison for the faith, and that sent them over the stormy sea in a cockleshell to found a free commonwealth in the wilds of America.
For a modern reader the understanding of Paradise Lost presupposes two things,—a knowledge of the first chapters of the Scriptures, and of the general principles of Calvinistic theology; but it is a pity to use the poem, as has so often been done, to teach a literal acceptance of one or the other. Of the theology of Paradise Lost the least said the better; but to the splendor of the Puritan dream and the glorious melody of its expression no words can do justice. Even a slight acquaintance will make the reader understand why it ranks with the Divina Commedia of Dante, and why it is generally accepted by critics as the greatest single poem in our literature.
Soon after the completion of Paradise Lost, Thomas Ellwood, a friend of Milton, asked one day after reading the Paradise manuscript, "But what hast thou to say of Paradise Found?" It was in response to this suggestion that Milton wrote the second part of the great epic, known to us as Paradise Regained. The first tells how mankind, in the person of Adam, fell at the first temptation by Satan and became an outcast from Paradise and from divine grace; the second shows how mankind, in the person of Christ, withstands the tempter and is established once more in the divine favor. Christ's temptation in the wilderness is the theme, and Milton follows the account in the fourth chapter of Matthew's gospel. Though Paradise Regained was Milton's favorite, and though it has many passages of noble thought and splendid imagery equal to the best of Paradise Lost, the poem as a whole falls below the level of the first, and is less interesting to read.
In Samson Agonistes Milton turns to a more vital and personal theme, and his genius transfigures the story of Samson, the mighty champion of Israel, now blind and scorned, working as a slave among the Philistines. The poet's aim was to present in English a pure tragedy, with all the passion and restraint which marked the old Greek dramas. That he succeeded where others failed is due to two causes: first, Milton himself suggests the hero of one of the Greek tragedies,—his sorrow and affliction give to his noble nature that touch of melancholy and calm dignity which is in perfect keeping with his subject. Second, Milton is telling his own story. Like Samson he had struggled mightily against the enemies of his race; he had taken a wife from the Philistines and had paid the penalty; he was blind, alone, scorned by his vain and thoughtless masters. To the essential action of the tragedy Milton could add, therefore, that touch of intense yet restrained personal feeling which carries more conviction than any argument. Samson is in many respects the most convincing of his works. Entirely apart from the interest of its subject and treatment, one may obtain from it a better idea of what great tragedy was among the Greeks than from any other work in our language.
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt, Dispraise or blame,—nothing but well and fair, And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
III. PROSE WRITERS OF THE PURITAN PERIOD
JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688)
As there is but one poet great enough to express the Puritan spirit, so there is but one commanding prose writer, John Bunyan. Milton was the child of the Renaissance, inheritor of all its culture, and the most profoundly educated man of his age. Bunyan was a poor, uneducated tinker. From the Renaissance he inherited nothing; but from the Reformation he received an excess of that spiritual independence which had caused the Puritan struggle for liberty. These two men, representing the extremes of English life in the seventeenth century, wrote the two works that stand to-day for the mighty Puritan spirit. One gave us the only epic since Beowulf; the other gave us our only great allegory, which has been read more than any other book in our language save the Bible.
LIFE OF BUNYAN. Bunyan is an extraordinary figure; we must study him, as well as his books. Fortunately we have his life story in his own words, written with the same lovable modesty and sincerity that marked all his work. Reading that story now, in Grace Abounding, we see two great influences at work in his life. One, from within, was his own vivid imagination, which saw visions, allegories, parables, revelations, in every common event. The other, from without, was the spiritual ferment of the age, the multiplication of strange sects,—Quakers, Free-Willers, Ranters, Anabaptists, Millenarians,—and the untempered zeal of all classes, like an engine without a balance wheel, when men were breaking away from authority and setting up their own religious standards. Bunyan's life is an epitome of that astonishing religious individualism which marked the close of the English Reformation.
He was born in the little village of Elstow, near Bedford, in 1628, the son of a poor tinker. For a little while the boy was sent to school, where he learned to read and write after a fashion; but he was soon busy in his father's shop, where, amid the glowing pots and the fire and smoke of his little forge, he saw vivid pictures of hell and the devils which haunted him all his life. When he was sixteen years old his father married the second time, whereupon Bunyan ran away and became a soldier in the Parliamentary army.
The religious ferment of the age made a tremendous impression on Bunyan's sensitive imagination. He went to church occasionally, only to find himself wrapped in terrors and torments by some fiery itinerant preacher; and he would rush violently away from church to forget his fears by joining in Sunday sports on the village green. As night came on the sports were forgotten, but the terrors returned, multiplied like the evil spirits of the parable. Visions of hell and the demons swarmed in his brain. He would groan aloud in his remorse, and even years afterwards he bemoans the sins of his early life. When we look for them fearfully, expecting some shocking crimes and misdemeanors, we find that they consisted of playing ball on Sunday and swearing. The latter sin, sad to say, was begun by listening to his father cursing some obstinate kettle which refused to be tinkered, and it was perfected in the Parliamentary army. One day his terrible swearing scared a woman, "a very loose and ungodly wretch," as he tells us, who reprimanded him for his profanity. The reproach of the poor woman went straight home, like the voice of a prophet. All his profanity left him; he hung down his head with shame. "I wished with all my heart," he says, "that I might be a little child again, that my father might learn me to speak without this wicked way of swearing." With characteristic vehemence Bunyan hurls himself upon a promise of Scripture, and instantly the reformation begins to work in his soul. He casts out the habit, root and branch, and finds to his astonishment that he can speak more freely and vigorously than before. Nothing is more characteristic of the man than this sudden seizing upon a text, which he had doubtless heard many times before, and being suddenly raised up or cast down by its influence.
With Bunyan's marriage to a good woman the real reformation in his life began. While still in his teens he married a girl as poor as himself. "We came together," he says, "as poor as might be, having not so much household stuff as a dish or spoon between us both." The only dowry which the girl brought to her new home was two old, threadbare books, The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, and The Practice of Piety Bunyan read these books, which instantly gave fire to his imagination. He saw new visions and dreamed terrible new dreams of lost souls; his attendance at church grew exemplary; he began slowly and painfully to read the Bible for himself, but because of his own ignorance and the contradictory interpretations of Scripture which he heard on every side, he was tossed about like a feather by all the winds of doctrine.