John Lyly
by John Dover Wilson
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English prose at the beginning of the 16th century, that is before the new learning had become a power in the land, though it had not yet been employed for artistic purposes, was already an important part of our literature, and possessed a quality which no national prose had exhibited since the days of Greece, the quality of popularity[76]. This popularity, which arose from the fact that French and Latin had for so long been the language of the ruling section of the community, is still the distinction which marks off our prose from that of other nations. In Italy, for example, the language of literature is practically incomprehensible to the dwellers on the soil. But what English prose has gained in breadth and comprehension by representing the tongue of the people, it has lost in subtlety. French prose, which developed from the speech of the Court, is a delicate instrument, capable of expressing the finest shades of meaning, while the styles of George Meredith and of Henry James show how difficult it is for a subtle intellect to move freely within the limitations of English prose. Indeed, "it is a remarkable fact," as Sainte Beuve noticed, "and an inversion of what is true of other languages that, in French, prose has always had the precedence over poetry." Repeated attempts, however, have been made to capture our language, and to transport it into aristocratic atmospheres; and of these attempts the first is associated with the name of Lyly.

[76] Cf. Earle, pp. 422, 423.

We have seen that English euphuism was at first a flower of unconscious growth sprung from the soil of humanism. But ultimately, in the hands of Pettie, Gosson, Lyly, and Watson, it became the instrument of an Oxford coterie deliberately and consciously employed for the purpose of altering the form of English prose. These men did not despise their native tongue; they used the purest English, carefully avoiding the favourite "ink-horn terms" of their contemporaries: they admired it, as one admires a wild bird of the fields, which one wishes to capture in order to make it hop and sing in a golden cage. The humanists were already developing a learned style within the native language; Lyly and his friends utilized this learned style for the creation of an aristocratic type. Euphuism was no "transient phase of madness[77]," as Mr Earle contemptuously calls it, but a brave attempt, and withal a first attempt, to assert that prose writing is an art no less than the writing of poetry; and this alone should give it a claim upon students of English literature.

[77] Earle, p. 436.

The first point we must notice, therefore, about English euphuism is that it represents a tendency to confine literature within the limits of the Court—in accordance, one might almost say, with the general centralization of politics and religion under the Tudors—and that, as a necessary result of this, conscious prose style appears for the first time in our language. I say English euphuism, because that is our chief concern, and because though euphuism on the Continent was, as we have seen, the expression in literature of the new ideal of the courtier, yet it was by no means so great an innovation as it was in England, inasmuch as the Romance literatures had always represented the aristocracy. The form which this style assumed was dependent upon the circumstances which gave it birth, and upon the general conditions of the age. Owing to the former it became erudite, polished, precise, meet indeed for the "parleyings" of courtiers and maids-in-waiting; but it was to the latter that it owed its essentials. Hitherto we have contented ourselves with indicating the rhetorical aspect of euphuism. We have seen that the Latin orators and the writers of our English homilies exercised a considerable influence over the new stylists. It was natural that rhetoricians should attract those who were desirous of writing ornamental and artistic prose, and one feels inclined to believe that it was not entirely for spiritual reasons that Lyly frequently attended Dr Andrews' sermons[78]. But the euphuistic manner has a wider significance than this, for it marks the transition from poetry to prose.

[78] Bond, I. p. 60.

"The age of Elizabeth is pre-eminently an age of poetry, of which prose may be regarded as merely the overflow[79]." It was at once the end of the mediaeval, and the beginning of the modern, world, and consequently, it displays the qualities of both. But the future lay with the small men rather than with the great. Shakespeare and Milton were no innovators. With their names the epoch of primitive literature, which finds expression in the drama and the epic, ends, while it reaches its highest flights. The dawn of the modern epoch, the age of prose and of the novel, is, on the other hand, connected with the names of Lyly, Sidney, and Nash. Thus, as in the 18th century poetry was subservient, and so became assimilated, to prose, so the prose of the 16th century exhibited many of the characteristics of verse. And of this general literary feature euphuism is the most conspicuous example; for in its employment of alliteration and antithesis, in addition to the excessive use of illustration and simile which characterizes arcadianism and its successors, the style of Lyly is transitional in structure as well as in ornament. Moreover the alliteration, which is peculiar to English euphuism, gives it a musical element which its continental parallels lacked. The dividing line between alliteration and rhyme, and between antithesis and rhythm, is not a broad one[80]. Indeed Pettie found it so narrow that he occasionally lapsed into metrical rhythm. And so, though we cannot say that euphuism is verse, we can say that it partakes of the nature of verse. In this endeavour to provide an adequate structure for the support of the mass of imagery that the taste of the age demanded, it showed itself superior to the rival prose fashions. Euphues is a model of form beside the tedious prolixity of the Arcadia, or the chaotic effusions of Nash. The weariness, which the modern reader feels for the romance of Lyly, is due rather to the excessive quantity of its metaphor, which was the fault of the age, than to its pedantic style.

[79] Raleigh, p. 45.

[80] This touches upon the famous dispute between Dr Schwan and Dr Goodlet which is excellently dealt with by Mr Child, p. 77.

I write loosely of "style," but strictly speaking the euphuists paid especial attention to diction. And here again the poetical and aristocratic tendencies of euphuism show themselves. For diction, which is the art of selection, the selection of apt words, is of course one of the first essentials of poetic art, and is also more prominent in the prose of Court literature than elsewhere. The precision, the finesse, the subtlety, of French prose has only been attained by centuries of attention to diction. English prose, on the other hand, is singularly lacking in this quality; and for this cause it would never have produced a Flaubert, despite its splendid achievements in style. Had euphuism been more successful, it might have altered the whole aspect of later English prose, by giving us in the 16th century that quality of diction which did not become prominent in our prose until the days of Pater and the purists.

And yet, though it failed in this particular, the influence of the general qualities of its style upon later prose must have been incalculable. The vogue of euphuism as a craze was brief; but Euphues received fresh publication about once every three years down to 1636, and long after its social popularity had become a thing of the past, it probably attracted the careful study of those who wished to write artistic prose. The only model of prose form which the age possessed could scarcely sink into oblivion, or become out of date, until its principal lessons had been so well learnt as to pass into common-places. The exaggerations, which first gave it fame, were probably discounted by the more sincere appreciation of later critics, to whom its more sterling qualities would appeal. For some reason, the musical properties of euphuism do not appear to have found favour among those critics, and this was probably a loss to our literature. "Alliteration," as Professor Raleigh remarks, "is often condemned as a flaw in rhymed verse, and it may well be open to question whether Lyly did not give it its true position in attempting to invent a place for it in what is called prose[81]." Possibly its failure in this respect was due to the growth of that intellectual asceticism, and that reaction against the domination of poetry, which are, I think, intimately bound up with the fortunes of Puritanism. The beginning of this reaction is visible as early as 1589 in the words of Warner's preface to Albion's England, which display the very affectation they protest against: "onely this error may be thought hatching in our English, that to runne on the letter we often runne from the matter: and being over prodigall in similes we become lesse profitable in sentences and more prolixious to sense." But, however this may be, it was the formal rather than the musical qualities which gave Euphues its dynamical importance in the history of English prose. Subsequent writers had much to learn from a book in which the principle of design is for the first time visible. With euphuism, antithesis and the use of balanced sentences came to stay. We may see them in the style of Johnson and Gibbon, while alliterative antithesis reappears to-day in the shape of the epigram. Doubtless Lyly abused the antithetical device; but his successors had only to discover a means of skilfully concealing the structure, an improvement which the early euphuists, with all the enthusiasm of inventors, could not have appreciated.

[81] Raleigh, p. 47.

Moreover, in aiming at elegance and precision, Lyly attained a lucidity almost unequalled among his contemporaries. His attention to form saved him from the besetting sin of Elizabethan prose,—incoherence by reason of an overwhelming display of ornament. His very illustrations were subject to the restraint which his style demanded, being sown, to use his own metaphor, "here and there lyke Strawberries, not in heapes, lyke Hoppes[82]." Arcadianism came as a reaction against euphuism, attempting to replace its artificiality by simplicity. But how infinitely more preferable is the novel of Lyly, with its artificial precision and lucidity, to the conscious artlessness of Sidney's Arcadia, with its interminable sentences and confused syntax. As a modern euphuist has taught us, of all poses the natural pose is the most irritating. In accordance with his desire for precision, Lyly made frequent use of the short sentence. In this we have another indication of his modernity: for the short sentence, which is so characteristic of English prose style to-day, occurs more often in his work than in the writings of any of his predecessors. And, in reference to the same question of lucidity, we may notice that he was the first writer who gave special attention to the separation of his prose into paragraphs,—a matter apparently trivial, but really of no small importance. Finally, it is a remarkable fact that the number of words to be found in Euphues which have since become obsolete is a very small one—"at most but a small fraction of one per cent.[83]" And this is in itself sufficient to indicate the influence which Lyly's novel has exerted upon English prose. As he reads it, no one can avoid being struck by the modernity of its language, an impression not to be obtained from a perusal of the plays. The explanation is simple enough. The plays were not read or absorbed by their author's contemporaries and successors; Euphues was. In the domain of style, Euphues was dynamical; the plays were not.

[82] Euphues, p. 220.

[83] Child, p. 41.

But the true value of Lyly's prose lies not so much in what it achieved as in what it attempted; for the qualities, which euphuism, by its insistence upon design and elegance, really aimed at, were strength, brilliancy, and refinement. For the first time in the history of our literature, men are found to write prose with the purpose of fascinating and enticing the reader, not merely by what is said, but also by the manner of saying it. "Lyly" (and, we may add, his associates), writes his latest editor, "grasped the fact that in prose no less than in poetry, the reader demanded to be led onward by a succession of half imperceptible shocks of pleasure in the beauty and vigour of diction, or in the ingenuity of phrasing, in sentence after sentence—pleasure inseparable from that caused by a perception of the nice adaptation of words to thought, pleasure quite other than that derivable from the acquisition of fresh knowledge[84]." The direct influence of the man who first taught us this lesson, who showed us that a writer, to be successful, should seek not merely to express himself, but also to study the mind of his reader, must have been something quite beyond computation. And that his direct influence was not more lasting was due, in the first place, to the fact that he had not grasped the full significance of this psychological aspect of style, if we may so call it, which he and his friends had been the first to discover. As with most first attempts, euphuism, while bestowing immense benefits upon those who came after, was itself a failure. The euphuists perceived the problem of style, but successfully attacked only one half of it. More acute than their contemporaries, they realised the principle of economy, but, as with one who makes an entirely new mechanical invention, they were themselves unable to appreciate what their discovery would lead to. They were right in addressing themselves to the task of attracting, and stimulating, the reader by means of precision, pointed antithesis, and such like attempts to induce pleasurable mental sensations, but they forgot that anyone must eventually grow weary under the influence of continuous excitation without variation. The soft drops of rain pierce the hard marble, many strokes overthrow the tallest oak, and much monotony will tire the readiest reader. Or, to use the phraseology of a somewhat more recent scientist, they "considered only those causes of force in language which depend upon economy of the mental energies," they paid no attention to "those which depend upon the economy of the mental sensibilities[85]." This is one explanation of the weariness with which Euphues fills the modern reader, and of the speed with which, in spite of its priceless pioneer work, that book was superseded and forgotten in its own days. It is our duty to give it its full meed of recognition, but we can understand and forgive the ungratefulness of its contemporaries.

[84] Bond, I. p. 146.

[85] H. Spencer, Essays, II. Phil. of Style.

Another cause of the oblivion which so soon overtook the famous Elizabethan novel, has already been suggested. Euphuism was too antagonistic to the general current of English prose to be successful. Lyly and his Oxford clique were attempting a revolution similar to that undertaken, at the same period, by Ronsard and his Pleiad. Lyly failed in prose, where Ronsard succeeded in poetry, because he endeavoured to go back upon tradition, while the Frenchman worked strictly within its limits. The attempt to throw Court dress over the plain homespun of our English prose might have been attended with success, had our literature been younger and more easily led astray. As it was, prose in this country, when euphuism invaded it, could already show seven centuries of development, and, moreover, development along the broad and national lines of common or vulgar speech. Euphuism was after all only part of the general tendency of the age to focus everything that was good in politics, religion, and art, on the person and immediate surroundings of the sovereign; and the history of the eighteenth century, which saw the last issue of the series of Euphues reprints, is the history of the collapse of this centralization all along the line, ending in the complete vindication of the democratic basis of English life and literature.

With these general remarks we must leave the subject of euphuism. No history of its origin and its influence can be completely satisfactory: such questions must of necessity receive a speculative and tentative solution, for it is impossible to give them an exact answer which admits of no dispute. The age of Lyly was far more complex than ours, with all our artistic sects and schisms; the currents of literary influence were multitudinous and extremely involved. As Symonds wrote, "The romantic art of the modern world did not spring like that of Greece from an ungarnered field of flowers. Troubled by reminiscences from the past and by reciprocal influences from one another, the literatures of modern Europe came into existence with composite dialects and obeyed confused canons of taste, exhibited their adolescent vigour with affected graces and showed themselves senile in their cradles." In the field of literature to-day the standards are more numerous, but more distinctive, than those of the Elizabethans. Our ideals are classified with almost scientific exactness, and we wear the labels proudly. But the very splendour of the Renaissance was due to the fact that in the same group, in the same artist, were to be found the most diverse ideals and the most opposite methods. They worshipped they knew not what, we know what we worship. Yet this difference does not prevent us from seeing curious points of similarity between our own and those times. The 16th, like the 19th century, was a period of revolt from the past: and at such moments men feel a supreme contempt for the common-place in literature. The cry of art for art's sake is raised, and the result is extravagance, euphuism. A wave of intellectual dandyism seems to sweep over the face of literature, aristocratic in its aims and sympathies. Then are the battle lines drawn up, and the spectators watch, with admiration or contempt, the eternally recurrent strife between David and the Philistines; and whether the young hero be clad in the knee-breeches of aestheticism, or the slashed doublet of the courtier; whether he be armed with epigram and sunflower, or with euphuism and camomile; variation of costume cannot conceal the identity of his personality—the personality of the fop of culture.



Despite the disproportionate attention given to euphuism by so many of Lyly's critics, Euphues is no less important as a novel than as a piece of prose. We can, however, dismiss this second branch of our subject in fewer words, because the problem of Euphues is much simpler and more straightforward than the problem of euphuism. It can scarcely be said that Lyly has yet been thoroughly appreciated as a novelist; indeed, the whole subject of the Elizabethan novel is very far from having received a satisfactory treatment at present. This is not surprising when we consider that the last word remains to be said upon the Elizabethan drama. The birth of modern literature was so sudden, its life, even in the cradle, was so complex that it baffles criticism. Like the peal of an organ with a thousand stops, the English Renaissance seemed to break the stillness of the great mediaeval church, shaking its beautiful sombre walls and filling it from floor to roof with wild, pagan music. Indeed, the more we study those 50 or 60 years which embrace the so-called Elizabethan period, the more are we struck by the fact that, ever since, we have been simply making variations upon the themes, which the men of those times gave us. Modern science, modern poetry, modern drama, sat like pages at the feet of the Great Queen. Among these the novel cut but an insignificant figure, although it was the novel which had perhaps the longest future before it. We need not wonder therefore that our first English novelist has been treated by many with neglect. None I think have done more to make amends in this direction than Professor Raleigh and M. Jusserand; the former in his graceful, humorous, and penetrating little book, The English Novel; and the latter in his well-known work on The English Novel in the time of Shakespeare, which gives one, while reading it, the feeling of being present at a fancy-dress ball, so skilfully does he detect the forms and faces of present-day fiction behind euphuistic mask and beneath arcadian costume. To these two books the present writer owes a debt which all must feel who have stood bewildered upon the threshold of Elizabeth's Court with its glittering throng of genius and wit.

Sudden, however, as was this crop of warriors wielding pen, it must not be forgotten that the dragon's teeth had first been sown in mediaeval soil. With Lyly the English novel came into being, but that child of his genius was not without ancestry or relations. And so, before discussing the character and fortunes of the infant, let us devote a few introductory remarks to pedigree. Roughly speaking, the prose narrative in England, before Euphues, falls into three divisions, the romance of chivalry, the novella, and the moral Court treatise,—and all three are of foreign extraction, that is to say, they are represented in England by translations only. Chaucer indeed is a mine of material suitable for the novel, but the father of English literature elected to write in verse, and his Canterbury Tales have no appreciable influence upon the later prose story. For some reason, the mediaeval prose narrative seems to have been confined to the so-called Celtic races. Certainly, both the romance of chivalry and the novella are to be traced back to French sources. The novella, which, at our period, had become thoroughly naturalized in Italy, under the auspices of Boccaccio, had originally sprung from the fabliaux of 13th century France. Nor was the fabliau the only article of French production which found a new and more stimulative home across the Alps; for just as it is possible to trace the German Reformation back, through Huss, to its birth in Wycliff's England, so French critics have delighted to point out that the Italian Renaissance itself was but an expansion of an earlier Renaissance in France, which, for all the strength and maturity it gained under its new conditions, lost much of that indescribable flavour of direct simplicity and gracious sweetness which breathes from the pages of Aucassin and Nicolette and its companion Amis and Amile. Under Charles VIII. and his successors this Renaissance was carried home, as it were, to die—so subtle is the ebb and flow of intellectual influences between country and country. In England the novella, of which Chaucer had made ample use, first appeared in prose dress from the printing-press of Caxton's successor, Wynkyn de Worde. The Dutch printer had also published Lord Berners' translation of Huon of Bordeaux, the best romance of chivalry belonging to the Charlemagne cycle. But, before the dawn of the 16th century Malory had already given us Morte D'Arthur, from the Arthurian cycle, printed, as everyone knows, by the industrious Caxton himself. Thus, if we neglect, as I think we may, translations from the Gesta Romanorum, we may say that the prose narrative appeared in England simultaneously with the printing-press, a fact which is more than coincidence; since the multiplication of books, which Caxton began, decreased the necessity for remembering tales; and therefore it was now possible to dispense with the aid of verse; in fact Caxton deprived the minstrel of his occupation.

Of the third form of prose narrative—the moral Court treatise—we have already said something. It had appeared in Italy and in Spain, and our connexion with it came from the latter country, through Berners' translation of the Golden Boke of Guevara. So slight was the thread of narrative running through this book, that one would imagine at first sight that it could have little to do with the history of our novel. And yet in comparison with its importance in this respect the novella and the romance of chivalry are quite insignificant. The two latter never indeed lost their popularity during the Elizabethan age, but they had ceased to be considered respectable—a very different thing—before that age began. The first cause of their fall in the social scale was the disapprobation of the humanists. Ascham, echoing Plato's condemnation of Homer, attacks the romance of chivalry from the moral point of view, at the same time cunningly associating it with "Papistrie." But he holds the novella even in greater abhorrence, for, after declaring that the whole pleasure of the Morte D'Arthur "standeth in two speciall poyntes, in open mans slaughter, and bold bawdrye," he goes on to say: "and yet ten Morte Arthurs do not a tenth part so much harm as one of those bookes, made in Italy and translated in England[86]."

[86] Schoolmaster, p. 80.

But there were social as well as moral reasons for the depreciation of Malory and Boccaccio. The taste of the age began to find these foreign dishes, if not unpalatable, at least not sufficiently delicate. England was fortunate in receiving the Reformation and the Renaissance at the same time; and the men of those "spacious times" set before their eyes that ideal of the courtier, so exquisitely embodied by Sir Philip Sidney, in which godliness was not thought incompatible with refinement of culture and graciousness of bearing. For the first time our country became civilized in the full meaning of that word, and the knight, shedding the armour of barbarism, became the gentleman, clothed in velvet and silk. The romance of chivalry, therefore, became old-fashioned; and it seemed for a time doomed to destruction until it received a new lease of life, purged of mediaevalism and modernised by the hands of Sidney himself, under the guise of arcadianism. While, however, Arcadia remained an undiscovered country, the needs of the age were supplied by the "moral Court treatise." It was perhaps not so much that the old stories found little response in the new form of society, as that they did not reflect that society. We may well believe that the taste for mirrors, which now became so fashionable, found its psychological parallel in the desire of the Elizabethans to discover their own fashions, their own affectations, themselves, in the stories they read; and if this indeed be what is meant by realism in literature that quality in the novel dates from those days. In this sense if in no other, in the sense that he held, for the first time, a polished mirror before contemporary life and manners, Lyly must be called the first of English novelists.

The Anatomy of Wit, which it is most important to distinguish from its sequel, was the descendant in the direct line from the "moral Court treatise." Something perhaps of the atmosphere of the novella clung about its pages, but that was only to be expected: Lyly added incident to the bare scheme of discourses, and for that he had no other models but the Italians. But Guevara was his real source. Dr Landmann's verdict, that "Euphuism is not only adapted from Guevara's alto estilo, but Euphues itself, as to its contents, is a mere imitation of Guevara's enlarged biography of Marcus Aurelius," has certainly been shown by Mr Bond to be a gross overstatement; yet there can be no doubt that the Diall of Princes was Lyly's model on the side of matter, as was Pettie's Pallace on the side of style. Our author's debt to the Spaniard is seen in a correspondence between many parts of his book and the Aureo Libro, in certain of the concluding letters and discourses, and in many other ways which Mr Bond has patiently noted[87]. Guevara, however, was but one among many previous writers to whom Lyly owed obligations. Euphues was justly styled by its author "compiled," being in fact a mosaic, pieced together from the classics, and especially Plutarch, Pliny, and Ovid, and from previous English writers such as Harrison, Heywood, Fortescue, and Gascoigne; names that indicate the course of literary "browsing" that Lyly substituted for the ordinary curriculum at Oxford. To mention all the authors from whom he borrowed, and to point out the portions of his novel which are due to their several influences, would only be to repeat a task already accomplished by Mr Bond[88].

[87] Bond, I. pp. 154-156.

[88] Bond, I. pp. 156-159.

Allowing for all its author's "picking and stealing," The Anatomy of Wit was in the highest sense an original book; for, though it is the old moral treatise, its form is new, and it is enlivened by a thin thread of narrative. The hero Euphues is a young man lately come from Athens, which is unmistakeably Oxford, to Naples, which is just as unmistakeably London. Here he soon becomes the centre of a convivial circle, where he is wise enough to distinguish between friend and parasite, to discern the difference between the "faith of Laelius and the flattery of Aristippus." The story thus opens bravely, but the words of the title-page, "most necessary to remember," are ever present in the author's mind, and before we have reached the fourth page the sermon is upon us. For "conscience" attired as an old man, Eubulus, now enters the stage of this Court morality and proceeds to deliver a long harangue upon the folly of youth, concluding with much excellent though obvious counsel. We should be in sympathy with the rude answer of Euphues, were it but curt at the same time, but, alas, it covers six pages. Having thus imprudently crushed the "wisdom of eld" by the weight of his utterance, our hero shows his natural preference for the companionship and counsel of youth, by forming an ardent friendship with Philautus, of so close a nature, that "they used not only one boorde but one bed, one booke (if so be that they thought it not one too many)." This alliance, however, is not concluded until Euphues has given us his own views, together with those of half antiquity, upon the subject of friendship, or before he has formally professed his affection in a pompous address, beginning "Gentleman and friend," and has been as formally accepted. By Philautus he is introduced to Lucilla, the chief female character of the book, a lady, if we are to believe the description of her "Lilly cheeks dyed with a Vermilion red," of startling if somewhat factitious beauty. To say that the plot now thickens would be to use too coarse a word; it becomes slightly tinged with incident, inasmuch as Euphues falls in love with Lucilla, the destined bride of Philautus. She reciprocates his passion, and the double fickleness of mistress and friend forms an excellent opportunity, which Lyly does not fail to seize, for infinite moralizings in euphuistic strains. Philautus is naturally indignant at the turn affairs have taken, and the former friends exchange letters of recrimination, in which, however, their embittered feelings are concealed beneath a vast display of classical learning. But Nemesis, swift and sudden, awaits the faithless Euphues. Lucilla, it turns out, is subject to a mild form of erotomania and is constitutionally fickle, so that before her new lover has begun to realise his bliss she has already contracted a passion for some other young gentleman. Thus, struck down in the hour of his pride and passion, Euphues becomes "a changed man," and bethinks himself of his soul, which he has so long neglected. This is the turning-point of the book, the turning-point of half the English novels written since Lyly's day. The remainder of the Anatomy of Wit is taken up with what may be described as the private papers of Euphues, consisting of letters, essays, and dialogues, including A Cooling Carde for all Fond Lovers, a treatise on education, and a refutation of atheism, and so amid the thunders of the artillery of platitude the first part of Euphues closes.

Professor Raleigh's explanation of this tedious moralizing is that Lyly, wit and euphuist, possessed the Nonconformist conscience: "Beneath the courtier's slashed doublet, under his ornate brocade and frills, there stood the Puritan." This I believe to be a mistaken view of the case. As we shall later see reason to suppose, Lyly never became, as did his acquaintance Gosson, a very seriously-minded person. Certainly Euphues does not prove that Puritanism was latent in him. The moral atmosphere which pervades it was not of Lyly's invention; he inherited it from his predecessors Guevara and Castiglione, and he employed it because he knew that it was expected of him. That he moralized not so much from conviction as from convention (to use a euphuism), is, I think, sufficiently proved by the fact that in the second part of his novel, where he is addressing a new public, the pulpit strain is much less frequent, while in his plays it entirely disappears. The Anatomy of Wit is essentially the work of an inexperienced writer, feeling his way towards a public, and without sufficient skill or courage to dispense with the conventions which he has inherited from previous writers. One feels, while reading the book, that Lyly was himself conscious that his hero was an insufferable coxcomb, and that he only created him because he wished to comply with the public taste. It may be, as M. Jusserand asserts, that Lyly anticipated Richardson, but, if the light-hearted Oxford madcap had any qualities in common with the sedate bookseller, artistic sincerity was not one of them.

What has just been said is not entirely applicable to the treatise on education which passed under the title of Euphues and his Ephoebus. Although simply an adaptation of the De Educatione of Plutarch, it was not entirely devoid of originality. Here we find the famous attack upon Oxford, which was, we fear, prompted by a desire to spite the University authorities rather than by any earnest feeling of moral condemnation. But in addition to this there are contributions of Lyly's own invention to the theory of teaching which are not without merit. He was, as we have seen, interested in education. It seems even possible that he had actually practised as a master before the Euphues saw light[89]; and, therefore, we have every reason to suppose that this little treatise was a labour of love. Possibly Ascham's Schoolmaster inspired him with the idea of writing it. Certainly, when we have allowed everything for Plutarch's work, enough remains over to justify Mr Quick's inclusion of John Lyly, side by side with Roger Ascham, in his Educational Reformers.

[89] Bond, I. p. 10.

But such excellent work has but little to do with the business of novel-writing, and, when we turn to this aspect of the Anatomy of Wit, there is little to be said for it from the aesthetic point of view. Indeed, it cannot strictly be called a novel at all. It is the bridge between the moral Court treatise and the novel, and, as such, all its aesthetic defects matter little in comparison with its dynamical value. It was a great step to hang the chestnuts of discourse upon a string of incident. The story is feeble, the plot puerile, but it was something to have a story and a plot which dealt with contemporary life. And lastly, though characterization is not even attempted, yet now and again these euphuistic puppets, distinguishable only by their labels, are inspired with something that is almost life by a phrase or a chance word.

I have said that it is very important to distinguish between the two parts of Euphues. Two years only elapsed between their respective publications, but in these two years Lyly, and with him our novel, had made great strides. In 1578 he was not yet a novelist, though the conception of the novel and the capacity for its creation were, as we have just shown, already forming in his brain. In 1580, however, the English novel had ceased to be merely potential; for it had come into being with the appearance of Euphues and his England. Here in the same writer, in the same book, and within the space of two years, we may observe one of the most momentous changes of modern literature in actual process. The Anatomy of Wit is still the moral Court treatise, coloured by the influence of the Italian novella; Euphues and his England is the first English novel. Lyly unconsciously symbolizes the change he initiated by laying the scene of his first part in Italy, while in the second he brings his hero to England. That sea voyage, which provoked the stomach of Philautus sore, was an important one for us, since the freight of the vessel was nothing less than our English novel.

The difference between the two parts is remarkable in more ways than one, and in none more so than in the change of dedication. The Anatomy of Wit, as was only fitting in a moral Court treatise, was inscribed to the gentleman readers; Euphues and his England, on the other hand, made an appeal to a very different class of readers, and a class which had hitherto been neglected by authors—"the ladies and gentlewomen of England." With the instinct, almost, of a religious reformer, Lyly saw that to succeed he must enlist the ladies on his side. And the experiment was so successful that I am inclined to attribute the pre-eminence of Lyly among other euphuists to this fact alone. "Hatch the egges his friendes had laid" he certainly did, but he fed the chicks upon a patent food of his own invention. Mr Bond suggests that the general attention which the Anatomy secured by its attacks upon women gave Lyly the idea for the second part. But, though this was probably the immediate cause of his change of front, something like Euphues and his England must have come sooner or later, because all the conditions were ripe for its production. Side by side with the ideal of the courtier had arisen the ideal of the cultured lady. Ascham, visiting Lady Jane Grey, "founde her in her chamber reading Phaedon Platonis in Greeke and that with as much delite, as some gentlemen would read a merie tale in Bocase[90]"; and, when a Queen came to the throne who could talk Greek at Cambridge, the fashion of learning for ladies must have received an immense impetus. With a "blue stocking" showing on the royal footstool, all the ladies of the Court would at least lay claim to a certain amount of learning. Dr Landmann has attributed the vogue of euphuism, at least in part, to feminine influences, but in so far as England shared that affectation with the other Courts of Europe, where the fair sex had not yet acquired such freedom as in England, we must not press the point too much in this direction. The importance in English literature of that "monstrous regiment of women," against which John Knox blew his rude trumpet so shamelessly, is seen not so much in the style of Euphues as in its contents; indeed, in the second part of that work euphuism is much less prominent than in the first. The romance of chivalry and the Italian tale would be still more distasteful to the new woman than they were to the new courtier. Doubtless Boccaccio may have found a place in many a lady's secret bookshelf as Zola and Guy de Maupassant do perchance to-day, but he was scarcely suitable for the boudoir table or for polite literary discussion. Something was needed which would appeal at once to the feminine taste for learning and to the desire for delicacy and refinement. This want was only partially supplied by the moral Court treatise, which was ostensibly written for the courtier and not the maid-in-waiting. What was required was a book expressly provided for the eye of ladies—such a book, in fact, as Euphues and his England. Lyly's discovery of this new literary public and its requirements was of great importance, for have not the ladies ever since his day been the patrons and purchasers of the novel? What would happen to the literary market to-day were our mothers, wives, and sisters to deny themselves the pleasure of fiction? The very question would send the blood from Mr Mudie's lips. The two thousand and odd novels which are published annually in this country show the existence of a large leisured class in our community, and this class is undoubtedly the feminine one. The novel, therefore, owes not only its birth, but its continued existence down to our own day, to the "ladies and gentlewomen of England"; and this dedication may be taken as a general one for all novels since Lyly's time. "Euphues," he writes, "had rather lye shut in a Ladye's casket than open in a scholar's studie," and he continues, "after dinner you may overlooke him to keepe you from sleepe, or if you be heavie, to bring you to sleepe ... it were better to hold Euphues in your hands though you let him fall, when you be willing to winke, then to sowe in a clout, and pricke your fingers when you begin to nod[91]." "With Euphues," remarks M. Jusserand, "commences in England the literature of the drawing-room[92]"; and the literature of the drawing-room is to all intents and purposes the novel.

[90] Schoolmaster, p. 47.

[91] Euphues, p. 220.

[92] Jusserand, p. 5.

All the faults of its predecessor are present in Euphues and his England, but they are not so conspicuous. The euphuistic garb and the mantle of the prophet Guevara sit more lightly upon our author. In every way his movements are freer and bolder; having gained confidence by his first success, he now dares to be original. The story becomes at times quite interesting, even for a modern reader. At its opening Euphues and Philautus, who have come to terms on a basis of common condemnation of Lucilla, are discovered on their way to England. By way of enlivening the weary hours, our hero, ever ready to play the preacher now that he has ceased to be the warning, delivers himself of a lengthy, but highly edifying tale, which evokes the impatient exclamation of Philautus already quoted; we may however notice as a sign of progress that Euphues has substituted a moral narrative for his usual discourse. The relations between the two friends have become distinctly amusing, and might, in abler hands, have resulted in comic situation. Euphues, having learnt the lesson of the burnt child, is now a very grave person, proud of his own experience and of its fruits in himself. Extremes met,

"Where pinched ascetic and red sensualist Alternately recurrent freeze and burn,"

and it is interesting to note that Euphues embodies many of the characteristics of the Byronic hero—his sententiousness, his misogyny, his cynicism born of disillusionment, and his rhetorical flatulency; but he is no rebel like Manfred because he finds consolation in his own pre-eminence in a world of platitude. Conscious of his dearly bought wisdom, he makes it his continuous duty, if not pleasure, to rebuke the over-amorous Philautus, who was at least human, and to enlarge upon the infidelity of the opposite sex. Lyly failed to realise the possibilities of this antagonism of character, because he always appears to be in sympathy with his hero, and so misses an opportunity which would have delighted the heart of Thackeray. I say "appears," because I consider that this sympathy was nothing but a pose which he considered necessary for the popularity of his book. It is important however to observe that the idea of one character as a foil to another, though undeveloped, is here present for the first time in our national prose story.

The tale ended and the voyage over, our friends arrive in England, where after stopping at Dover "3 or 4 days, until they had digested ye seas, and recovered their healths," they proceeded to Canterbury, at which place they fell in with an old man named Fidus, who gave them entertainment for body and mind. To those who have conscientiously read the whole history of Euphues up to this point, the incident of Fidus will appear immensely refreshing. It seems to me, in fact, to mark the highest point of Lyly's skill as a novelist, doubtless because he is here drawing upon his memory[93] and not his imagination. The old gentleman, very different from his prototype Eubulus, moves quite humanly among his bees and flowers, and tells the graceful story of his love with a charm that is almost natural. And, although he checks the action of the story for thirty-three pages, we are sorry to take leave of this "fatherlye and friendlye sire"; for he lays for a time the ghost of homily, which reappears directly his guests begin to "forme their steppes towards London." Having reached the Court, in due time Philautus, in accordance with the prophecies of Euphues though much to his disgust, falls in love. The lady of his choice, however, has unfortunately given her heart to another, by name Surius. The despondent lover, after applying in vain to an Italian magician for a love-philtre, at length determines to adopt the bolder line of writing to his scornful lady. The letter is conveyed in a pomegranate, and the incident of its presentation is prettily conceived and displays a certain amount of dramatic power. The upshot is that Philautus eventually finds a maiden who is unattached and who is ready to return love for love. Her he marries, and remains behind with "his Violet" in England, while Euphues, less happy than self-satisfied, returns to Athens. The interest of the latter half of the book centres round the house of Lady Flavia, where the principal characters of both sexes meet together and discuss the philosophy of love and the psychology of ladies. Such intellectual gatherings were a recognised institution at Florence at this time, being an imitation of Plato's symposium, and Lyly had already attempted, not so successfully as here, to describe one in the house of Lucilla of the Anatomy of Wit.

[93] Mr Bond thinks it a picture of Lyly's father.

In every way Euphues and his England is an improvement upon its predecessor. The story and plot are still weak, but the situations are often well thought out and treated with dramatic effect. The action indeed is slow, but it moves; and in the story of Fidus it moves comparatively quickly. Such motion of course can scarcely ruffle the mental waters of those accustomed to the breathless whirlwinds which form the heart of George Meredith's novels; but these whirlwinds are as directly traceable to the gentle but fitful agitation of Euphues, as was the storm that overtook Ahab's chariot to the little cloud undiscerned by the prophet's eye. The figures, again, that move in Lyly's second novel are no longer clothes filled with moral sawdust. The character of Philautus is especially well drawn, though at times blurred and indistinct. Lyly had not yet passed the stage of creating types, that is of portraying one aspect and an obvious one of such a complex thing as human nature. But a criticism which would be applicable to Dickens is no condemnation of an Elizabethan pioneer. It was much to have attempted characterization, and in the case of Philautus, Iffida, Camilla, and perhaps "the Violet" the attempt was nearly if not quite successful. It is noticeable that for one who was afterwards to become a writer of comedy, Lyly shows a remarkable absence of humour in these novels. Now and again we seem trembling on the brink of humour, when the young wiseacre is brought into contact with his weak-hearted friend, but the line is seldom actually crossed. Wit, as Lyly here understood it, had nothing of the risible in it; for it meant to him little more than a graceful handling of obvious themes.

But the importance of Euphues was in its influence, not in its actual achievement. And here again we must reassert the significance of Lyly's appeal to women. "That noble faculty," as Macaulay expresses it, "whereby man is able to live in the past and in the future in the distant and in the unreal," is rarely found in the opposite sex. They delight in novelty, their minds are of a practical cast, and their interests almost invariably lie in the present. The names of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Mrs Humphry Ward are sufficient to show how entirely successful a woman may be in delineating the life around her. If there is any truth in this generalization, it was no mere coincidence that the first English romance dealing with contemporary life was written expressly for the ladies of Elizabeth's Court. The alteration in the face of social life, brought about by the recognition of the feminine claim and hastened no doubt by the fact that England, Scotland, and France were at this period under the rule of three ladies of strong character, was inevitably attended with great changes in literature. This change is first expressed by Lyly in his second novel and later in his dramas. The mediaeval conception of women, a masculine conception, now underwent feminine correction; and what is perhaps of more importance still, the conception of man undergoes transformation also. The result is that the centre of gravity of the story is now shifted. Of old it had treated of deeds and glorious prowess for the sake of honour, or more often for the sake of some anaemic damsel; now it deals with the passion itself and not its knightly manifestations,—with the very feelings and hearts of the lovers. In other words under the auspices of Elizabeth and her maids of honour, the English story becomes subjective, feminine, its scene is shifted from the battlefield and the lists to the lady's boudoir; it becomes a novel. "We change lance and war-horse, for walking-sword and pumps and silk stockings. We forget the filletted brows and wind-blown hair, the zone, the flowing robe, the sandalled or buskined feet, and feel the dawning empire of the fan, the glove, the high-heeled shoe, the bonnet, the petticoat, and the parasol[94]": in fact we enter into the modern world. At the first expression of this change in literature Euphues and his England is of the very greatest interest. Characters in fiction now for the first time move before a background of everyday life and discuss matters of everyday importance. And, as if Lyly wished to leave no doubt as to his aims and methods, he gives at the conclusion of his book that interesting description of Elizabethan England entitled A glasse for Europe.

[94] Bond, I. p. 161.

It is however in Lyly's treatment of the subject of love that the change is most conspicuous. The subtleties of passion are now realised for the first time. We are shown the private emotions, the secret alternations of hope and despair which agitate the breasts of man and maid, and, more important still, we find these emotions at work under the restraint of social conditions; the violent torrent of passion checked and confined by the demands of etiquette and the conventions of aristocratic life. The relation between these unwritten laws of our social constitution and the impetuous ardour of the lover, has formed the main theme of our modern love stories in the novel and on the stage. In the days of chivalry, when love ran wild in the woods, woman was the passive object either of hunt or of rescue; but the scene of battle being shifted to the boudoir she can demand her own conditions with the result that the game becomes infinitely more refined and intricate. Persons of both sexes, outwardly at peace but inwardly armed to the teeth, meet together in some lady's house to discuss the subject so dangerous to both, and conversation conditioned by this fact inevitably becomes subtle, allusive, intense; for it derives its light and shade from the flicker of that fire which the company finds such a perilous fascination in playing with. Lyly's work does not exhibit quite such modernity as this, but we may truthfully say that his Euphues and his England is the psychological novel in germ.

Its latent possibilities were however not perceived by the writers of the 16th century. The style which had in part won popularity for it so speedily was the cause also of its equally speedy decline. Like a fossil in the stratum of euphuism it was soon covered up by the artificial layer of arcadianism. The novel of Sidney, though its loose and meandering style marked a reaction against euphuism, carried on the Lylian tradition in its appeal to ladies. The Arcadia, in no way so modern as the Euphues, lies for that very reason more directly in the line of development[95]; for, while the former is linked by the heroical romance of the seventeenth century to the romance of this day, the latter's influence is not visible until the eighteenth century, if we except its immediate Elizabethan imitators. And yet, as we remarked of Lyly's prose, a book which received so many editions cannot have been entirely without effect upon the minds of its readers and upon the literature of the age. This influence, however, could have been little more than suggestive and indirect, and it is quite impossible to determine its value. Its importance for us lies in the fact that we can realise how it anticipated the novel of the 18th and 19th centuries. Not until the days of Richardson is it possible to detect a Lylian flavour in English fiction; and even here it would be risky to insist too pointedly on any inference that might be drawn from the coincidence of an abridged form of Euphues being republished (after almost a century's oblivion) twenty years before the appearance of Pamela. A direct literary connexion between Lyly and Richardson seems out of the question: and the utmost we can say with certainty is that the novel of the latter, in providing moral food for its own generation, relieved the 18th century reader of the necessity of going back to the Elizabethan writer for the entertainment he desired. As a novelist, therefore, Lyly was only of secondary dynamical importance, by which I mean that, although we can rest assured that he exercised a considerable influence upon later writers, we cannot actually trace this influence at work; we cannot in fact point to Lyly as the first of a definite series. The novel like its style coloured, but did not deflect, the stream of English literature. And indeed we may say this not only of Euphues but of Elizabethan fiction as a whole. The public to which a 16th century novel would appeal was a small one. Few people in those days could read, and of these the majority preferred to read poetry; and though, as we have seen, Euphues passed through, for the age, a considerable number of editions, the circle of those who appreciated Lyly, Sidney, and Nash must have been for the most part confined to the Court. And this accounts for the brevity of their popularity and for its intensity while it lasted; a phenomenon which is not seen in the drama, and which is due to the susceptibility of Court life to sudden changes of fashion. Drama was the natural form of literature in an age when most people were illiterate and yet when all were eager for literary entertainment. Drama was therefore the main current of artistic production, the prose novel being quite a minor, almost an insignificant, tributary. Realising then the inevitable limitations which surrounded our English fiction at its birth we can understand its infantile imperfections and the subsequent arrest of its development.

[95] It was Sidney and Nash who set the fashion for the 17th century.

"The novel held in Elizabeth's time very much the same place as was held by the drama at the Restoration; it was an essentially aristocratic entertainment, and the same pitfall waylaid both, the pitfall of artificiality. Dryden's audiences and the readers of Euphues both sought for better bread than is made of wheat; both were supplied with what satisfied them in an elaborate confection of husks[96]."

[96] Raleigh, p. 57. He writes Arcadia for Euphues but the substitution is legitimate.



So far we have been dealing with those of Lyly's writings, which, though they are his most famous, form quite a small section of his work, and exerted an influence upon later writers which may have been considerable but was certainly indirect. His plays on the other hand, in the production of which he spent the better part of his life, greatly outweigh his novel both in aesthetic and historical importance. To attempt to estimate Lyly's position as a novelist and as a prose writer is to chase the will-o'-the-wisp of theory over the morass of uncertainty; the task of investigating his comedies is altogether simpler and more straightforward. After groping our way through the undergrowth of minor literature, we come out upon the great highway of Elizabethan art—the drama. Let us first see how Lyly himself came to tread this same pathway.

There is a difference of opinion between Mr Bond and Mr Baker, our chief authorities, as to the order in which Lyly wrote his plays[97]. But though Mr Baker claims priority for Endymion, and Mr Bond for Campaspe, both are convinced that our author was already in 1580 beginning to look to the stage as a larger arena for his artistic genius than the novel. And from what I have said of his life at Oxford and his connexion with de Vere, we need not be surprised that this was so. It would be well however at this juncture to recapitulate, and in part to expand those remarks, in order to show more clearly how Lyly's dramatic bent was formed. Seats of learning, as we shall see presently, had long before the days of Lyly favoured the comic muse, and Oxford was no exception to this rule. Anthony a Wood tells us how Richard Edwardes in 1566 produced at that University his play Palamon and Arcite, and how her Majesty "laughed heartily thereat and gave the author great thanks for his pains"; a scene which would still be fresh in men's minds five years after, when Lyly entered Magdalen College. But it is scarcely necessary to stretch a point here since we know from the Anatomy of Wit that Lyly was a student of Edwardes' comedies[98]. Again, William Gager, Pettie's "dear friend" and Lyly's fellow-student, was a dramatist, while Gosson himself tells us of comedies which he had written before 1577.

[97] Baker, p. lxxxviii, places Endymion as early as Sept. 1579. Bond, vol. III. p. 10, attempts to disprove Baker's contention, and in vol. II. p. 309, he maintains chiefly on grounds of style that Campaspe was the earliest of Lyly's plays, being produced at the Christmas of 1580.

[98] Bond, II. p. 238.

Probably however it was not until he had left Oxford for London that Lyly conceived the idea of writing comedy, for we must attribute its original suggestion to his friend and employer the Earl of Oxford. Edward de Vere, Burleigh's son-in-law, had visited Italy, and affected the vices and artificialities of that country, returning home, we are told, laden with silks and oriental stuffs for the adornment of his chamber and his person. He was frequently in debt and still more frequently in disgrace with the Queen and with his father-in-law. Dilettante, aesthete, and euphuist, he would naturally attract the Oxford fop, and that Lyly attached himself to his clique disposes, in my mind at least, of all theories of his puritanical tendencies. Certainly a Nonconformist conscience could not have flourished in de Vere's household. One bond between the Earl and his secretary was their love of music—an art which played an important part in the beginning of our comedy.

In relieving the action of his plays by those songs of woodland beauty unmatched in literature Shakespeare was only following a custom set by his predecessors, Udall, Edwardes, and Lyly, who being schoolmasters (and the two latter being musicians and holding positions in choir schools), embroidered their comedies with lyrics to be sung by the fresh young voices of their pupils. De Vere, though unconnected with a school, probably followed the same tradition. For the interesting thing about him is that he also wrote comedy. Like many members of the nobility in those days he maintained his own company of players; and we find them in 1581 giving performances at Cambridge and Ipswich. His comedies, moreover, though now lost were placed in the same rank as those of Edwardes by the Elizabethan critic Puttenham[99]. Now as secretary of such a man, and therefore in close intimacy with him, it would be the most natural thing in the world for Lyly to try his hand at play-writing, and, if his patron approved of his efforts, an introduction to Court could be procured, since Oxford was Lord High Chamberlain, and the play would be acted. It was to Oxford's patronage, therefore, and not to his subsequent connexion with the "children of Powles," that Lyly owed his first dramatic impulse, and probably also his first dramatic success, for Campaspe and Sapho were produced at Court in 1582[100]. His appointment at the choir school of course confirmed his resolutions and thus he became the first great Elizabethan dramatist.

[99] Dict. Of Nat. Biog., Edward de Vere.

[100] Bond, II. p. 230 (chronological table).

But a purely circumstantial explanation of an important departure in a man's life will only appear satisfactory to fatalists who worship the blind god Environment. And without indulging in any abstruse psychological discussion, but rather looking at the question from a general point of view, we can understand how an intellect of Lyly's type, as revealed by the Euphues, found its ultimate expression in comedy. Comedy, as Meredith tells us, is only possible in a civilized society, "where ideas are current and the perceptions quick." We have already touched upon this point and later we must return to it again; but for the moment let us notice that this idea of comedy, though he would have been quite unable to formulate it in words, was in reality at the back of Lyly's mind, or rather we should perhaps say that he quite unconsciously embodied it. He was par excellence the product of a "social" atmosphere; he moved more freely within the Court than without; his whole mind was absorbed by the subtleties of language; a brilliant conversation, an apt repartee, a well-turned phrase were the very breath of his nostrils; his ideal was the intellectual beau. Add to this compound the ingredient of literary ambition and the result is a comic dramatist. Lyly, Congreve, Sheridan, were all men of fashion first and writers of comedy after. In the author of Lady Windermere's Fan we have lately seen another example—the example of one whose ambition was to be "the first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought." Poems, novels, fairy stories, he gave us, but it was on the stage of comedy that he eventually found his true metier. "With Euphues," writes Mr Bond, "we enter the path which leads to the Restoration dramatists ... and in Lucilla and Camilla we are prescient of Millamant and Belinda[101]." This is very true, but the statement has a nearer application which Mr Bond misses. Camilla is the lady who moves under varied names through all Lyly's plays. The second part of Euphues and the first of Lyly's comedies are as closely connected psychologically and aesthetically, as they were in point of time.

[101] Bond, I. p. 161.

SECTION I. English Comedy before 1580.

But when Lyly's creations began to walk the boards, the English stage was already some centuries old and therefore, in order to appreciate our author's position, a few words are necessary upon the development of our drama and especially of comedy previous to his time.

Though the miracle play of our forefathers frequently contained a species of coarse humour usually put into the mouth of the Devil, who appears to have been for the middle ages very much what the "comic muse" is for us moderns, it is to the morality not to the miracle that one should look for the real beginnings of comedy as distinct from mere buffoonery.

The morality was not so much an offshoot as a complement of the miracle. They stood to each other, as sermon does to service. To say therefore that the morality secularized the drama is to go too far; as well might we say that Luther secularized Christianity. What it did, however, was important enough; it severed the connexion between drama and ritual. The miracle, treating of the history of mankind from the Creation to the days of Christ, unfolded before the eyes of its audience the grand scheme of human salvation; the morality on the other hand was not concerned with historical so much as practical Christianity. Its object was to point a moral: and it did this in two ways; either as an affirmative, constructive inculcator of what life should be,—as the portrayer of the ideal; or as a negative, critical describer of the types of life actually existing,—as the portrayer of the real. It approached more nearly to comedy in its latter function, but in both aspects it really prepared the way for the comic muse. The natural prey of comedy, as our greatest comic writer has taught us, is folly, "known to it in all her transformations, in every disguise; and it is with the springing delight of hawk over heron, hound after fox, that it gives her chase, never fretting, never tiring, sure of having her, allowing her no rest." Thus it is that characters in comedy, symbolizing as they often do some social folly, tend to be rather types than personalities. The morality, therefore, in substituting typical figures, however crude, for the mechanical religious characters of the miracle, makes an immense advance towards comedy. Moreover, the very selection of types requires an appreciation, if not an analysis, of the differences of human character, an appreciation for which there was no need in the miracle. In the morality again the action is no longer determined by tradition, and it becomes incumbent on the playwright to provide motives for the movements of his puppets. It follows naturally from this that situations must be devised to show up the particular quality which each type symbolizes. We need not enter the vexed question of the origin of plot construction; but we may notice in this connexion that the morality certainly gave us that peculiar form of plot-movement which is most suitable to comedy. To quote Mr Gayley's words: "In tragedy, the movement must be economic of its ups and downs; once headed downwards it must plunge, with but one or two vain recovers, to the abyss. In comedy, on the other hand, though the movement is ultimately upward, the crises are more numerous; the oftener the individual stumbles without breaking his neck, and the more varied his discomfitures, so long as they are temporary, the better does he enjoy his ease in the cool of the day.... Now the novelty of the plot in the moral play, lay in the fact that the movement was of this oscillating, upward kind—a kind unknown as a rule to the miracle, whose conditions were less fluid, and to the farce, which was too shallow and superficial[102]."

[102] Gayley, p. lxiv.

If all these claims be justifiable there can be no doubt that the morality was of the utmost importance in the history not only of comedy but of English drama as a whole. Though it was the cousin, not the child of the miracle, though it cannot be said to have secularized our drama, it is the link between the ritual play and the play of pure amusement; it connects the rood gallery with the London theatre. When Symonds writes that the morality "can hardly be said to lie in the direct line of evolution between the miracle and the legitimate drama" we may in part agree with him; but he is quite wrong when he goes on to describe it as "an abortive side-effect, which was destined to bear barren fruit[103]."

[103] Symonds, p. 199.

The real secularization of the drama was in the first place probably due to classical influences—or, to be more precise, I should perhaps say, scholastic influences—and it is not until the 16th century that these influences become prominent. I say "become prominent," because Terence and Plautus were known from the earliest times, and Dr Ward is inclined to think that Latin comedy affected the earlier drama of England to a considerable extent[104], although good examples of Terentian comedy are not found until the 16th century. Humanism again comes forward as an important literary formative element. The part which the student class took in the development of European drama as a whole has as yet scarcely been appreciated. It is to scholars that the birth of the secular Drama must be attributed. Lyly, as we said, made use of his mastership for the production of his plays, but Lyly was by no means the first schoolmaster-dramatist. Schools and universities had long before his day been productive of drama; our very earliest existing saints' play or marvel was produced by a certain Geoffrey at Dunstable, "de consuetudine magistrorum et scholarum[105]." And this was only natural, seeing that at such places any number of actors is available and all are supposed to be interested in literature. It is a remarkable fact, however, and illustrative of the connexion between comedy and music, that of all places of education choir schools seem to have usurped the lion's share of drama. John Heywood, the first to break away from the tradition of the morality, was a choir boy of the Chapel Royal, and afterwards in all probability held a post there as master[106]. Heywood's brilliant, but farcical interludes are too slight to merit the title of comedy, yet he is of great importance because of his rejection of allegories and of his use of "personal types" instead of "personified abstractions[107]." It was not until 1540, a few years after Heywood's interlude The Play of the Wether, that pure English comedy appears, and we must turn to Eton to discover its cradle, for Nicholas Udall's Roister Doister has every claim to rank as the first completely constructed comedy in our language—the first comedy of flesh and blood. Roister smacks of the "miles gloriosus"; Merygreeke combines the vice with the Terentian rogue; and yet, when all is said, Udall's play remains a remarkably original production, realistic and English.

[104] Ward, I. p. 7.

[105] Gayley, p. xiv.

[106] I put this interpretation upon the account of Heywood's receiving 40 shillings from Queen Mary "for pleying an interlude with his children."

[107] Ward, Dict. of Nat. Biog., Heywood.

Next, in point of time and importance, comes Stevenson's Gammer Gurton's Needle, still more thoroughly English than the last, though quite inferior as a comedy, and indeed scarcely rising above the level of farce. Inasmuch, however, as it is a drama of English rustic life, it is directly antecedent to Mother Bombie, and perhaps also to the picaresque novel. Secular dramas now began to multiply apace. But keeping our eye upon comedy, and upon Lyly in particular as we near the date of his advent, it will be sufficient I think to mention two more names to complete the chain of development. From Cambridge, the nurse of Stevenson, we must now turn to Oxford; and, as we do so, we seem to be drawing very close to the end of our journey. Thus far we have had nothing like the romantic comedy—the comedy of sentiment, of love, the comedy which is at once serious and witty, and which contains the elements of tragedy. This appears, or is at least foreshadowed for the first time, about four years after Stevenson's "first-rate screaming farce," as Symonds has dubbed it, in the Damon and Pithias of Richard Edwardes, a writer with whom, as we have seen, Lyly was thoroughly familiar. Indeed, the play in question anticipates our author in many ways, for example in the introduction of pages, in the use of English proverbs and Latin quotations, and in the insertion of songs[108]. With reference to the last point, we may remark that Edwardes like Lyly was interested in music, and like him also held a post in a choir school, being one of the "gentlemen of the Chapel Royal." In the Damon and Pithias the old morality is once and for all discarded. The play is entirely free from all allegorical elements, and is only faintly tinged with didacticism. But we cannot express the aim of Edwardes better than in his own words:

"In comedies the greatest skyll is this, lightly to touch All thynges to the quick; and eke to frame each person so That by his common talke, you may his nature rightly know."

To touch lightly and yet with penetration, to reveal character by dialogue, this is indeed to write modern drama, modern comedy.

[108] Bond, II. p. 238.

It would seem that between Edwardes and Lyly there was no room for another link, so closely does the one follow the other; and yet one more play must be mentioned to complete the series. This time we are no longer brought into touch with the classics or with the scholastic influences, for the play in question is a translation from the Italian, being in fact Ariosto's Suppositi, englished by George Gascoigne[109]. Though a translation it was more than a transcript; it was englished in the true sense of that word, in sentiment as well as in phrase. Its chief importance lies in the fact that it is written in prose, and is therefore the first prose comedy in our language. But Mr Gayley would go further than this, for he describes it as "the first English comedy in every way worthy of the name." It was written entirely for amusement, and for the amusement of adults, not of children; and if it were the only product of Gascoigne's pen it would justify the remark of an early 17th century critic, who says of this writer that he "brake the ice for our quainter poets who now write, that they may more safely swim through the main ocean of sweet poesy"; for, to quote a modern writer, "with the blood of the New comedy, the Latin comedy, the Renaissance in its veins, it is far ahead of its English contemporaries, if not of its time[110]." The play was well known and popular among the Elizabethans, being revived at Oxford in 1582[111]. Shakespeare used it for the construction of his Taming of the Shrew: and altogether it is difficult to say how much Elizabethan drama probably owed to this one comedy, which though Italian in origin was carefully adapted to English taste by its translator. There can be no doubt that Lyly studied this among other of Gascoigne's works, and that he must have learnt many lessons from it, though the fact does not appear to have been sufficiently appreciated by Lylian students; for even Mr Bond fails, I think, to realise its importance.

[109] 1566.

[110] Gayley, p. lxxxv.

[111] Dict. of Nat. Biog., Gascoigne, George.

This, in brief outline, is the history of our comedy down to the time when Lyly took it in hand; or should we not rather say "an introduction to the history of our comedy"? For true English comedy is not to be found in any of the plays we have mentioned. Heywood, Udall, Stevenson, Edwardes, are the names that convey "broken lights" of comedy, hints of the dawn, nothing more; and Gascoigne was a translator. The supreme importance of a writer, who at this juncture produced eight comedies of sustained merit, and of varying types, is something which is quite beyond computation. But if we are to attempt to realise the greatness of our debt to Lyly, let us estimate exactly how much these previous efforts had done in the way of pioneer work, and how far also they fell short of comedy in the strict sense of that word.

The fifty years which lie between Heywood and Lyly saw considerable progress, but progress of a negative rather than a constructive nature, and moreover progress which came in fits and starts, and not continuously. It was in fact a period of transition and of individual and disconnected experiments. Each of the writers above mentioned contributed something towards the common development, but not one of them, except Ariosto's translator, gave us comedy which may be considered complete in every way. They all display a very elementary knowledge of plot construction. Udall is perhaps the most successful in this respect; his plot is trivial but, well versed as he is in Terence, he manages to give it an ordered and natural development. But the other pre-Lylian dramatists quite failed to realise the vital importance of plot, which is indeed the very essence of comedy; and, in expending energies upon the development of an argument, as in Jacke Jugeler, which was a parody of transubstantiation, or upon the construction of disconnected humorous situations, as in Gammer Gurton's Needle, they missed the whole point of comedy. Again, though there is a clear idea of distinction and interplay of characters, there is little perception of the necessity of developing character as the plot moves forward. Merygreeke, it may be objected, is an example of such development, but the alteration in Merygreeke's nature is due to inconsistency, not to evolution. Moreover, stage conventions had not yet become a matter of fixed tradition. "We have a perpetual conflict between what spectators actually see and what they are supposed to see, between the time actually passed and that supposed to have elapsed; an outrageous demand on the imagination in one place, a refusal to exercise or allow us to exercise it in another[112]." Further, English comedy before 1580 was marked, on the one hand, by its poetic literary form and, on the other, by its almost complete absence of poetic ideas. Lyly, with the instinct of a born conversationalist, realised that prose was the only possible dress for comedy that should seek to represent contemporary life. But even in their use of verse his predecessors were unsuccessful. Udall seemed to have thought that his unequal dogtail lines would wag if he struck a rhyme at the end, and even Edwardes was little better. The use of blank verse had yet to be discovered, and Lyly was to have a hand in this matter also[113]. As for poetical treatment of comedy, Edwardes is the only one who even approaches it. He does so, because he sees that the comic muse only ceases to be a mask when sentiment is allowed to play over her features. And even he only half perceives it; for the sentiment of friendship is not strong enough for complete animation, the muse's eyes may twinkle, but passion alone will give them depth and let the soul shine through. But, in order that passion should fill comedy with the breath of life, it was necessary that both sexes should walk the stage on an equal footing. That which comedy before 1580 lacked, that which alone could round it off into a poetic whole, was the female element. "Comedy," writes George Meredith, "lifts women to a station offering them free play for their wit, as they usually show it, when they have it, on the side of sound sense. The higher the comedy, the more prominent the part they enjoy in it." But the dramatist cannot lift them far; the civilized plane must lie only just beneath the comic plane; the stage cannot be lighted by woman's wit if the audience have not yet realised that brain forms a part of the feminine organism. In the days of Elizabeth this realisation began to dawn in men's minds; but it was Lyly who first expressed it in literature, in his novel and then in his dramas. Those who preceded him were only dimly conscious of it, and therefore they failed to seize upon it as material for art. It was at Court, the Court of a great virgin Queen, that the equality of social privileges for women was first established; it was a courtier who introduced heroines into our drama.

[112] Bond, II. p. 237.

[113] George Gascoigne, whose importance does not seem to have been realised by Elizabethan students, also produced a drama in blank verse.

SECTION II. The Eight Plays.

Concerning the order of Lyly's plays there is, as we have seen, some difference of opinion. The discussion between Mr Bond and Mr Baker in reality turns upon the interpretation of the allegory of Endymion, and it is therefore one of those questions of literary probability which can never hope to receive a satisfactory answer. Both critics, however, are in agreement as to the proper method of classification. They divide the dramas into four categories: historical, of which Campaspe is the sole example; allegorical, which includes Sapho and Phao, Endymion, and Midas; pastoral, which includes Gallathea, The Woman in the Moon, and Love's Metamorphosis; and lastly realistic, of which again there is only one example, Mother Bombie. The fault which may be found with this classification is that the so-called pastoral plays have much of the allegorical about them, and it is perhaps better, therefore, to consider them rather as a subdivision of class two than as a distinct species.

For the moment putting on one side all questions of the allegory of Endymion, there are two reasons which seem to go a long way towards justifying Mr Bond for placing Campaspe as the earliest of Lyly's plays. In the first place the atmosphere of Euphues, which becomes weaker in the other plays, is so unmistakeable in this historical drama as to force the conclusion upon us that they belong to the same period. The painter Apelles, whose name seemed almost to obsess Lyly in his novel, is one of the chief characters of Campaspe, and the dialogue is more decidedly euphuistic than any other play. The second point we may notice is one which can leave very little doubt as to the correctness of Mr Bond's chronology. Campaspe and Sapho were published before 1585, that is, before Lyly accepted the mastership at the St Paul's choir school, whereas none of his other plays came into the printer's hands until after the inhibition of the boys' acting rights in 1591; the obvious inference being that Lyly printed his plays only when he had no interest in preserving the acting rights.

But whatever date we assign to Campaspe, there can be little doubt that it was one of the first dramas in our language with an historical background. Indeed, Kynge Johan is the only play before 1580 which can claim to rival it in this respect. But Kynge Johan was written solely for the purpose of religious satire, being an attack upon the priesthood and Church abuses. It must, therefore, be classed among those political moralities, of which so many examples appeared during the early part of the 16th century. Campaspe, on the other hand, is entirely devoid of any ethical or satirical motive. Allegory, which Lyly was able to put to his own peculiar uses, is here quite absent. The sole aim of its author was to provide amusement, and in this respect it must have been entirely successful. The play is interesting, and at times amusing, even to a modern reader; but to those who witnessed its performance at Blackfriars, and, two years later, at the Court, it would appear as a marvel of wit and dramatic power after the crude material which had hitherto been offered to them. In the choice of his subject Lyly shows at once that he is an artist with a feeling for beauty, even if he seldom rises to its sublimities. The story of the play, taken from Pliny, is that of Alexander's love for his Theban captive Campaspe, and of his subsequent self-sacrifice in giving her up to her lover Apelles. The social change, which I have sought to indicate in the preceding pages, is at once evident in this play. "We calling Alexander from his grave," says its Prologue[114], "seeke only who was his love"; and the remark is a sweep of the hat to the ladies of the Court, whose importance, as an integral part of the audience, is now for the first time openly acknowledged. "Alexander, the great conqueror of the world," says Lyly with his hand upon his heart, "only interests me as a lover." The whole motive of the play, which would have been meaningless to a mediaeval audience, is a compliment to the ladies. It is as if our author nets Mars with Venus, and presents the shamefaced god as an offering of flattery to the Queen and her Court. Campaspe is, in fact, the first romantic drama, not only the forerunner of Shakespeare, but a remote ancestor of Hernani and the 19th century French theatre. "The play's defect," says Mr Bond, "is one of passion"—a criticism which is applicable to all Lyly's dramas; and yet we must not forget that Lyly was the earliest to deal with passion dramatically. The love of Alexander is certainly unemotional, not to say callous; but possibly the great monarch's equanimity was a veiled tribute to the supposed indifference of the virgin Queen to all matters of Cupid's trade. Between Campaspe and Apelles, however, we have scenes which are imbued, if not vitalized, by passion. Lyly was a beginner, and his fault lay in attempting too much. Caring more for brilliancy of dialogue than for anything else, he was no more likely to be successful here, in portraying passion through conversation weighted by euphuism, than he had been in his novel. Yet his endeavour to depict the conflict of masculine passion with feminine wit, impatient sallies neatly parried, deliberate lunges quietly turned aside, was in every way praiseworthy. "A witte apt to conceive and quickest to answer" is attributed by Alexander to Campaspe, and, though she exhibits few signs of it, yet in his very idea of endowing women with wit Lyly leads us on to the high-road of comedy leading to Congreve.

[114] From Prologue at the Court.

In addition to the romantic elements above described, we have here also that page-prattle which is so characteristic of all Lyly's plays. These urchins, full of mischief and delighting in quips, were probably borrowed from Edwardes, but Lyly made them all his own; and one can understand how naturally their parts would be played by his boy-actors. Their repartee, when it is not pulling to pieces some Latin quotation familiar to them at school, or ridiculing a point of logic, is often really witty. One of them, overhearing the hungry Manes at strife with Diogenes over the matter of an overdue dinner, exclaims to his friend, "This is their use, nowe do they dine one upon another." Diogenes again, in whom we may see the prototype of Shakespeare's Timon, is amusing enough at times with his "dogged" snarlings and sallies which frequently however miss their mark. He and the pages form an underplot of farce, upon which Lyly improved in his later plays, bringing it also more into connexion with the main plot. In passing, we may notice that few of Shakespeare's plays are without this farcical substratum.

Leaving the question of dramatic construction and characterization for a more general treatment later, we now pass on to the consideration of Lyly's allegorical plays. The absence of all allegory from Campaspe shows that Lyly had broken with the morality: and we seem therefore to be going back, when two years later we have an allegorical play from his pen. But in reality there is no retrogression; for with Lyly allegory is not an ethical instrument. I have mentioned examples of plays before his day which employed the machinery of the morality, for the purposes of political and religious satire. The old form of drama seems to have developed a keen sensibility to double entendre among theatre-goers. Nothing indeed is so remarkable about the Elizabethan stage as the secret understanding which almost invariably existed between the dramatist and his audience. We have already had occasion to notice it in connexion with Field's parody of Kyd. The spectators were always on the alert to detect some veiled reference to prominent political figures or to current affairs. Often in fact, as was natural, they would discover hints where nothing was implied; and for one Mrs Gallup in modern America there must have been a dozen in every auditorium of Elizabethan England. Such over-clever busybodies would readily twist an innocent remark into treason or sacrilege, and therefore, long before Lyly's time, it was customary for a playwright to defend himself in the prologue against such treatment, by denying any ambiguity in his dialogue. In an audience thus susceptible to innuendo Lyly saw his opportunity. He was a courtier writing for the Court, he was also, let us add, anxious to obtain a certain coveted post at the Revels' Office. He was an artist not entirely without ideals, yet ever ready to curry favour and to aim at material advantages by his literary facility. The idea therefore of writing dramas which should be, from beginning to end, nothing but an ingenious compliment to his royal mistress would not be in the least distasteful to him. But we must not attribute too much to motives of personal ambition. Spenser's Faery Queen was not published until 1590; but Lyly had known Spenser before the latter's departure for Ireland, and, even if the scheme of that poet's masterpiece had not been confided to him, the ideas which it contained were in the air. The cult of Elizabeth, which was far from being a piece of insincere adulation, had for some time past been growing into a kind of literary religion. Even to us, there is something magical about the great Queen, and we can hardly be surprised that the pagans of those days hailed her as half divine. When Lyly commenced his career, she had been on the throne for twenty years, in itself a wonderful fact to those who could remember the gloom which had surrounded her accession. Through a period of infinite danger both at home and abroad she had guided England with intrepidity and success; and furthermore she had done all this single-handed, refusing to share her throne with a partner even for the sake of protection, and yet improving upon the Habsburg policy[115] by making coquetry the pivot of her diplomacy. It was no wonder therefore that,

"As the imperial votaress passed on In maiden meditation fancy free,"

the courtiers she fondled, and the artists she patronized, should half in fancy, half in earnest, think of her as something more than human, and search the fables of their newly discovered classics for examples of enthroned chastity and unconquerable virgin queens.

[115] "Alii bella gerunt, tu felix Austria nube."

All Lyly's plays except Campaspe and Mother Bombie are written in this vein; each, as Symonds beautifully puts it, is "a censer of exquisitely chased silver, full of incense to be tossed before Elizabeth upon her throne." In the three plays Sapho and Phao, Endymion, and Midas this element of flattery is more prominent than in the others, inasmuch as they are not only full of compliments unmistakeably directed towards the Queen, but they actually seek to depict incidents from her reign under the guise of classical mythology. It is for this reason that they have been classified under the label of allegory. It is quite possible, however, to read and enjoy these plays without a suspicion of any inner meaning; nor does the absence of such suspicion render the action of the play in any way unintelligible, so skilfully does Lyly manipulate his story. With a view, therefore, to his position in the history of Elizabethan drama, and to the lessons which he taught those who came after him, the superficial interpretation of each play is all that need engage our attention, and we shall content ourselves with briefly indicating the actual incident which it symbolizes.

The story of Sapho and Phao is, very shortly, as follows. Phao, a poor ferryman, is endowed by Venus with the gift of beauty. Sapho, who in Lyly's hands is stripped of all poetical attributes and becomes simply a great Queen of Sicily, sees him and instantly falls in love with him. To conceal her passion, she pretends to her ladies that she has a fever, at the same time sending for Phao, who is rumoured to have herbs for such complaints. Meanwhile Venus herself falls a victim to the charms she has bestowed upon the ferryman. Cupid is therefore called in to remedy matters on her behalf. The boy, who plays a part which no one can fail to compare with that of Puck in the Midsummer Night's Dream, succeeds in curing Sapho's passion, but, much to his mother's disgust, won over by the Queen's attractions, refuses to go further, and even inspires Phao with a loathing for the goddess. The play ends with Phao's departure from Sicily in despair, and Cupid's definite rebellion from the rule of Venus, resulting in his remaining with Sapho. In this story, which is practically a creation of Lyly's brain, though of course it is founded upon the classical tale of Sapho's love for Phao, our playwright presents under the form of allegory the history of Alencon's courtship of Elizabeth. Sapho, Queen of Sicily, is of course Elizabeth, Queen of England. The difficulty of Alencon's (that is Phao's) ugliness is overcome by the device of making it love's task to confer beauty upon him. Phao like Alencon quits the island and its Queen in despair; while the play is rounded off by the pretty compliment of representing love as a willing captive in Elizabeth's Court.

As a play Sapho and Phao shows a distinct advance upon Campaspe. The dialogue is less euphuistic, and therefore much more effective. The conversation between Sapho and Phao, in the scene where the latter comes with his herbs to cure the Queen, is very charming, and well expresses the passion which the one is too humble and the other too proud to show.

PHAO. I know no hearb to make lovers sleepe but Heartesease, which because it groweth so high, I cannot reach: for—

SAPHO. For whom?

PHAO. For such as love.

SAPHO. It groweth very low, and I can never stoop to it, that—

PHAO. That what?

SAPHO. That I may gather it: but why doe you sigh so, Phao?

PHAO. It is mine use Madame.

SAPHO. It will doe you harme and mee too: for I never heare one sighe, but I must sigh't also.

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