The Interdependence of Literature
by Georgina Pell Curtis
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In tragedy the French stand pre-eminent; but it is matter for regret that their subjects are never taken from their own nation—they rarely represent French heroes; and it is a weakness of their literature that they make no direct appeal to the national feeling. There is a close connection between the classical dramas of Racine and Corneille, and such works as Pope's Iliad, Addison's Cato and Dryden's Alexander's Feast, showing the general interest in Greek and Roman subjects during their time.

The older poetry of the chivalric period was entirely discarded, though it would have been possible to unite the old chivalric spirit, the freedom and romance of mediaeval times, with the later renaissance, as was done by other nations. The French literature is more closely formed on the model of the earlier refined nations of antiquity, as the Roman was on the Greek.

The later French poetry of the seventeenth century came into opposition with the teaching of Rousseau, this gave birth to a taste for English poetry and the classic poetry of France was a copy of the descriptive poetry of England. In the eighteenth century prose writings superseded verse. At this time the English had taken the lead in literature, and modern French philosophy was built on that of Bacon and Locke. It was no part of the plan of the English philosophers, however, to inculcate such ideas as the French philosophers drew from their writings. Bacon, who was profoundly Christian, believed that man alone was the type of God, and nature the work of God's hands; but the French leaders in philosophy went beyond this, they deified nature, and threw aside as mysticism whatever could not be proved by sense. Voltaire made use of all the wonderful greatness of science, as revealed by Bacon and Newton, not to exalt the Creator; but to lower man to the level of the brute. Like the old Greek sophists, who defended first one side of a question, and then the one diametrically opposed to it, Voltaire would write one book in favor of God, and another to deny Him; but it is not difficult to see which is his real belief. This perverted philosophy of Voltaire in turn reacted on the English mind, and particularly on history. We see its workings in both Gibbon and Hume. The "little philosophy" which "inclineth a man's mind to atheism," led the eighteenth century philosophers to fancy that Newton's discoveries meant that everything could be attained without religion, and that the only true and wide vision could be reached by the senses alone. They taught a pure materialism, to their own undoing; for it is not possible to thus lightly throw aside our great links with the past, in which both Christian and heathen, knowingly and unknowingly, in mediaeval poetry, in heroic ballad, and in Egyptian prose, testified to the existence of God.

The nineteenth century in France has been rich in dramatists, novelists, historians and poets, as well as in science and learning of all kinds; but it has had no especial power, or aim, and its opinions are constantly changing. The early novelists were strongly directed by the writings of Sir Walter Scott, while later ones have sought to imitate Victor Hugo and George Sand. The literature of this period has had no effect outside of France. Poetry has not risen any higher than Alfred de Musset; and any further greatness in French poetry must come from a revival of their own ancient poems and legends.

Poetry that deals only with the present becomes local, and in the end is influenced by the constant caprice and change of fashion instead of by the deep, heart-stirring beliefs of a strong and united people.


The first general language of Italy was the Latin, and so strongly was the Italian mind dominated by the influence of ancient Rome that her earliest writers sought to keep alive the Roman tradition. This spirit of freedom led to the establishment of the Italian Republics, and after the Lombard cities threw off the yoke of Frederick Barbarossa they turned their chief attention to education and literature. The spirit of chivalry and chivalric poetry never took such root in Italy as it did in other European countries. Nevertheless, Italy was not uninfluenced by the Crusades, and the Arabs, establishing a celebrated school of medicine at Salerno, gave a new impetus to the study of the classics. In Bologna was opened a school of jurisprudence, where Roman law was studied, and these schools, or universities soon appeared in other parts of Italy.

The Italians devoted more time to the study of law and history, and to making translations from the Greek philosophers, than to the cultivation of chivalric poetry, although many of the Italian poets wrote in Provencal and French; and Italian Troubadours made journeys to the European Courts.

It has been said that the only poetry that has any real power over a people is that which is written or composed in their own language. This is especially true of Italy. Following this early Latin period came Dante, the most glorious, and inventive of the Italian poets, and indeed one of the greatest masters of verse in the world. He perfected the Tuscan, or Florentine dialect, which was gradually becoming the literary language of Italy. Petrarch, who succeeded Dante, is greatest in his Italian poems, and it is by these that he is best known, while his Latin works, which he hoped would bring him fame, have been almost forgotten.

In the fifteenth century the use of the national language in literature entirely died out, through the rise of the Humanists, and the craze for Greek and Latin classics; but toward the end of the fifteenth century, under Lorenzo de'Medici and Leo X, interest in their own literature among the Italians began to revive again. Ariosto and Tasso wrote their magnificent epics; and once more Italian poetry was read and appreciated, and reached the height of its renown. Again in the seventeenth century it declined under the influence of the Marini school; whose bad taste and labored and bombastic style, was unfortunately imitated in both France and Spain. In the eighteenth century, under the patronage of Benedict XIV, the Arcadian poets of the Marini school were banished from literature, and other and more brilliant writers arose, possessed of the true national feeling. Under Pope Pius VI, by whom he was liberally patronized, Quirico Visconti undertook his "Pio Clementine Museum," and his "Greek and Roman Iconography," said to be the two greatest archaeological works of all ages.

With the rise of Napoleon, Italy was flooded with French writings, and French translations, not always of the best, and even the French language was used instead of the Italian. The Italian literature again suffered a decline, and it was not until after the treaty of Vienna in 1815 that the foreign influence was again shaken off. It will thus be seen that it was when Italian poets wrote in their own language that their greatest and most lasting success was attained. During the periods when a craze for imitating foreign works existed, the national languages deteriorated. In Germany, under the Emperor Maximilian, a crown was publicly bestowed on any poet who achieved success in Latin verse, while no reward or emolument was given to those who wrote in German. The religion of Humanism in Italy went to such lengths that many seemed to lose not only their belief but also their good sense, as they considered it vulgar to talk of the Deity in the language of the Bible. God was spoken of in the plural—gods. The Father was Jupiter, the Son, Apollo; and the Devil, Pluto; but these various errors had no lasting or far-reaching influence. The Divine Comedy, the most powerful and lifelike exponent of the thoughts and feelings of the age in which Dante lived—an allegory, written in the form of a vision, at a time when men believed that the things that are unseen are eternal—is the most perfect and magnificent monument of earthly love, refined and spiritualized, that has ever been written. It stands alone; for no man of any country, coming after Dante, has been able to write from the same motive, and in the same spirit, that he did. Petrarch, the next greatest after Dante, is chiefly celebrated for his lyrical poems, which were used as models by all the most celebrated poets of the South of Europe. They are written in two forms, the canzone taken from the Provencals, and the sonnet, taken from the Sicilians. Petrarch kept up a wide correspondence with the literary men of Europe; and through his influence a sort of literary republic arose which joined together the literati of many different countries. Boccaccio, next in rank to Petrarch, evolved a poetry consisting of Norman wit and Provencal love, joined to an elaborate setting of his own. He took Livy and Cicero for his models, and tried to combine ancient mythology with Christian history, the result being that his writings were not so fine as they would have been had they displayed a greater freedom a of style. His most celebrated work is the Decameron, the idea of which is taken from an old Hindu romance which was translated into Latin in the twelfth century. Most of these tales have also been found in the ancient French fabliaux, and while Boccaccio cannot be said to have really invented them, he did clothe them anew, and his tales in their turn have been translated into all the European languages.

It is due to Cosmo and Lorenzo de' Medici, and to Pope Leo X, that there was such a glorious development of the fine arts in the fifteenth century, an era whose benefits have been felt among the cultivated nations for over three hundred years.

At the same time Poliziano created the pastoral tragedy, which served to revive the study of Virgil. Other poets seizing on the old romance of the Trouveres, added to them an element of mockery, in place of the old religious belief. This new spirit was adopted by Ariosto. From the East he borrowed the magic and sorcery interwoven in the adventures of his knights and ladies, giants and magicians. It remained for Torquato Tasso to revive the heroic epic in his Jerusalem Delivered, in which he depicts the struggle between the Christians and Saracens. Neither the Siege of Trod, nor the Adventures of Aeneas could compare with the splendid dramatic element in Tasso's immortal poem, which has been said to combine the classic and the romantic style in a new and unusual degree.

In the sixteenth century Strapparola, an Italian novelist, wrote a number of fairy tales, which have been a treasure house for later writers, and to which we are indebted for Puss in Boots, Fortunio, and other stories which have now become familiar in the nursery lore of most modern nations. Bandello, in the same century, was a novelist from whom Shakespeare and other English dramatists have borrowed much material.

One thing which is peculiar to Italy, and which has found its way into nearly the whole civilized world, is Italian Opera or melodrama. It was an outcome of the Pastoral drama, and first took shape in 1594 under Rinuccini, a Florentine. But the true father of Italian opera is Metastasio, who flourished in the eighteenth century. He regarded opera as the national drama of Italy, and raised it to a plane that it has ever since retained; though of late years it has become more the fashion to cultivate German opera.


Erasmus said of Ghent at the end of the fifteenth century that there was no city in Europe that could compare with it in greatness, power, and the cultivation of its people. The lays of the minstrels and the chivalric romances of other nations were translated into Dutch. In the middle of the thirteenth century Reynard the Fox was rendered into the same language, while this era also saw a translation of the Bible made into Flemish rhyme.

The close of the fourteenth century saw the rise of some wandering poets called Sprekers, who visited the courts of Kings and Princes and became so popular that in the fifteenth century they were federated into different societies that became known as "Chambers of Rhetoric," somewhat similar to the German Guilds of the Meistersingers. These societies spread rapidly through the country, and from rhyme the members passed to the mystery plays, and to the beginnings of the drama.

The Court of Burgundy in the fifteenth century brought a strong French element into the literature of the Dutch nation, and the poets and chroniclers of that age are chiefly Flemish.

The taste for Greek and Latin was introduced into Holland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Erasmus and Grotius, the two most learned men among the Dutch literati of their age.

Hooft in the seventeenth century made an extensive study of Italian poetry, and succeeded in imparting to his tragic and lyric verse a certain quality of sweetness and volume which it has since retained. His style, which also embraces tragedy, has been extensively imitated by his own countrymen.

Nearly the whole of the eighteenth century passed without any advancement in Dutch literature. The country experienced the French influence, in common with the rest of Europe; and French works and translations abounded. Toward the close of this century German taste began to predominate, and a young Dutchman, Van Effen, founded a magazine in French, called the "Spectator," which was in imitation of, and on the same lines as the English magazine of the same name. Many native writers arose at this time and gained distinction in poetry, prose and the drama; but the overthrow of the Dutch Republic, and the confusion attending it, for a time extinguished the national literature, and the beginning of the nineteenth century saw the country flooded with poor translations of foreign books, and all the noble national literature was forgotten. This evil was partly remedied in the latter part of the nineteenth century; but as a whole, the Dutch literature, while it has been influenced by foreign taste, has had little or no weight outside of its own nation, and has not in any way shaped the literature of other peoples.


Germany, like the other Northern nations, had primitive war songs sung by the bards. Her mythology is akin to the Scandinavian, and like the latter she assigns a high place to women. Tacitus says: "It is believed that there is something holy and prophetic about them, and therefore the warriors neither despise their counsels nor disregard their responses."

This German paganism was eminently fanciful—it peopled the earth, air and sea with supernatural beings—the rivers had their Undines, the caverns their Gnomes, the woods their Sprites, and the ocean its Nixes. Besides these, there were a host of mythological figures—the Walkyres or bridal maidens, the river maids; and the white women, Hertha and Frigga. These legends have formed a rich treasure house from which later German authors have freely drawn for song or story. Before the Christian age Germany had no literature and the first national work that can be dignified by the name is a translation of the Bible into Moeso-Gothic by Ulphilas, a bishop of the Goths, in the fourth century A.D. This is a Catholic work that antedated Luther by a thousand years.

Bishop Ulphilas invented an alphabet of Runic, Greek and Roman letters, and this translation of the Bible remained the only literary monument of the Germans for four hundred years. The minstrel lays of this period were later collected by Charlemagne, of which two specimens have come down to us. Like the Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, old English, and old Saxon, they are in a measure called alliteration, that is, a repetition of the sound without the regular rhyme at the end of lines, or such as we call rhyme. This circumstance made Klopstock, at a later period, try to banish rhyme as not being correct according to ancient usage. One of these poems, the Hildebrand-lied, belongs to the time of Theodoric the Great. The songs collected by Charlemagne, were later remodelled and have come down to us as the Heldenbuch and the Nibelungen-lied. The intellectual light in Germany went out with the death of Charlemagne, except in the cloisters.

The Normans on the West and the Hungarians in the East menaced the country, and the only important literary work of the time is a poem written by a monk at the close of the ninth century. It is called "Ludwig's Lied;" and celebrates the triumph of Louis over the Normans. Roswitha, a nun in the tenth century, wrote some Christian dramas in Latin that are remarkable as coming from the pen of a woman in the Middle Ages.

The invasions of the Hungarians and Slavs in the eleventh century effectually prevented the blossoming of any literary effort, except for some poems known as the Lombard Cycle, in which the rude pagan legends of antiquity were blended with the dawnings of Christianity. But in 1138, when Conrad III became Emperor of Germany, his accession was followed by the Crusades, which spread a flame of enthusiasm and chivalry among the Germans.

In 1149 Conrad and Louis VII of France joined forces to lead a Crusade to the Holy Land, and thus the German and French nobility became intimately acquainted, and Provencal poetry soon began to have an effect on German literature.

Emperors and nobles held court and received their foreign guests with splendid display and hospitality. Poets and singers were welcomed, and the chivalric literature was soon taken up by the Suabian minstrels who became known as the Minnesingers.

From 1150 to 1300 was the golden age of Suabian literature and German chivalry. During this period numerous romances of chivalry were translated into German.

They have been divided into different classes, or cycles.

The first, and most ancient, have to do with Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Their origin is Anglo-Norman, and they were probably taken from old Welsh chronicles in an early age, and were known in Britain and Brittany before the poets began to put them in rhyme.

The most popular of these romances was the San Graal, or Holy Grail, a subject that has engaged some of the best poets of all countries. In this legend the Cup, which was supposed to have been used at the Last Supper, in some way is brought to Golgotha during the Crucifixion, and is used to preserve some of the blood that flows from Christ's side, when it is opened by the soldier's spear. Joseph of Arimathea is thought to have brought this precious Cup to Europe, and to have given it into the keeping of Sir Parsifal. Knowledge of its whereabouts was then lost, so that knights and heroes make it the object of long and fruitless quests.

The second cycle of romance has to do with Charlemagne, and is mostly in the form of translations from French literature.

The third, or classic cycle, relates to the great ones of ancient times, presented in the role of chivalry. These embrace stories of Alexander the Great, the Aeneid, and the Trojan war. During this period there were two classes of songs in Germany; the minstrelsy, most in favor with the nobility; and the old ballads, which were most popular with the people. The latter were gradually collected by different poets of the time, especially by Wolfram of Eschenbach and put into epic verse, in which form they have come down to us as the Heldenbuch (or book of heroes), and the Nibelungen-lied.

The Heldenbuch relates the deeds of Theodoric and Attila and the outpouring of the Goths into the Roman Empire. In the Nibelungen-lied the hero is Siegfried, the Achilles of the North, the embodiment of beauty, courage and virtue. The same personages are met with in these German legends, as in the Scandinavian mythology, only in the latter they take on a more godlike form. The German Brunhild, in the Scandinavian story becomes a Valkyriur.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed the decline of the romanticists, the loss of most of the Southern culture, and all the literature of this time is at a low ebb, partly owing to the wars of the Germans against the Huns.

The fourteenth century was productive of one class of literature that was common to all Europe; namely, simple and humorous fables and satires. "Reynard the Fox" was one of the earliest of these fables, and remained a great favorite with the Germans, being finally immortalized by Goethe. The same author has made us familiar with a personage who figures in an interesting legend of the fifteenth century. Doctor Faust, or Faustus, is a magician who by unlawful arts gains a mastery over nature. This legend became the foundation of a number of stories and dramas, and was put into verse by Christopher Marlowe, the English dramatist.

The end of the sixteenth century saw a craze for Latin in Germany. The national tongue was neglected and national poetry was translated into Latin verse. German poets wrote in the same classic language, and the university lectures were all delivered in the same tongue. The seventeenth century saw the Thirty Years' War, during which all literary activity was completely paralyzed, and in the course of these thirty years a whole generation, especially among the lower classes, had grown up unable either to read or write. But after the Treaty of Westphalia matters began to improve, and a desire to cultivate the native language awoke. In 1688 German superseded Latin in the universities. Novels were published; and about this time appeared a German translation of Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" that became very popular. Poets wrote plays in the style of Terence, or copied English models; and even in the present day the Germans recall with pride the fact that the Shakespearean plays were appreciated by them during and after the Elizabethan age much more than they were by the English Nation.

Science under Leibnitz also began to take shape in this century, while Opitz wrote operas in imitation of the Italian style; and translations from the Italian Marini came into vogue. In the eighteenth century arose the Saxonic and Swiss schools of literature, neither of which was devoted to national works. Gottsched, the founder and imitator of French standards in art and poetry, is known as the leader in the Saxonic school at Leipsic, and an advocate of classical poetry.

Bodmer cultivated the English style, and retired to Switzerland with his friends, where they founded the Swiss school. The English lyric and elegiac poets had a wonderful influence in Germany. The followers of this school who were, or pretended to be, poets, began to write "Seasons" in imitation of Thomson; and the novels of the time were full of shepherds and shepherdesses. The craze spread to France, where the French Court took up the fad of living in rustic lodges, and Marie Antoinette posed as a shepherdess tending sheep. Each of these poets had numerous followers, of whom Rambler is known as the German Horace.

Frederick the Great preferred French works, and no one seems to have thought of starting a German school except Klopstock, who stands almost alone in the literature of his time and country. A man of lofty ideals, he believed that Christianity on the one hand and Gothic mythology on the other, should be the chief elements in all new European poetry and inspiration. Had he been encouraged by the German Court he would have been as powerful for good in German literature during the eighteenth century, as Voltaire was powerful for evil in France. Wielland, a friend of Klopstock, and a romantic poet, might have been the German Ariosto had he not abandoned poetry for prose. He tried to copy the Greek, in which he failed to excel. During this conflict in Germany between the French and English school, German literature was much influenced by Macpherson's Ossian, and Scotch names are found in a great many German works of this period. The literature of Germany attained its highest beauty and finish in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and its people may well be proud of the splendid names that adorn that period. The Gottingen School, which embraced Goethe and Schiller, includes love, philosophy and the classics for its theme, with a touch of the bucolic, modelled after Virgil, as in the "Louise" of Voss. But it remained for the Romantic School, founded by Novalis, the two Schlegels and Tieck, to oppose the study of the classic antique on the ground that it killed all native originality and power. They turned to the Middle Ages, and drew from its rich stores all that was noblest and best. The lays of the Minnesingers were revived—the true German spirit was cultivated, and the romantic German imagination responded readily, so that during the dark period of the French invasion, the national feeling was preserved pure and untouched by means of these stirring and patriotic songs of the past.

About the same time as the advent of the Romanticists in Germany appeared Walpole's "Castle of Otranto" in England, which is supposed to belong to the same school of literature and to have been influenced by the German. Scott was also numbered in this class; and it is from these old German legends of the Minnesingers that Richard Wagner has drawn the material for Lohengrin, Parsifal, and others of his magnificent operas. In one department German scholars have attained a high standard, and that is as historians of ancient classical literature.

Their researches into the language, religion, philosophy, social economy, arts and sciences of ancient nations, has brought to light much for which the student of literature will always be their debtor.


It has been said that the literati of the Middle Ages—the monks and schoolmen—sought to keep the people in ignorance by writing in Latin. Those who so think can ill have studied the trend of events in Europe for several hundred years before the Reformation, or its bearing on literature.

After the fall of the Roman Empire vast hordes of barbarians invaded Europe. In every country the language was in a state of transition. One nation often spoke two or three different dialects according to locality. In England the Gaelic, Anglo-Saxon, the Cymric (or Welsh) and the Norman-French all had their day. Under these circumstances it was impossible to have a literature in the language of the people until, in the course of time, the national languages were formed, and during this period of transition the Latin was the language of literature, the one medium of communication between the literati of different countries; and had it not been for the preservation of learning in the cloisters during these ages, all knowledge, and literature, and even Christianity itself, would have been lost. The monks, therefore, deserve more credit than is usually meted out to them by hasty or superficial critics.

In the earliest ages Ireland was the seat of the greatest learning in Europe. While England was still plunged in barbarism, and France and Germany could boast of no cultivation, Ireland was full of monasteries where learned men disseminated knowledge. The Latin language thus became a means for preserving the records of history, and it has also been a treasure house of stories, furnishing material for much of the poetry of Europe. One of these legends gave Scott the story of the combat between Marmion and the Spectre Knight.

It has been said that the Ancients did not know how to hold converse with nature, and that little or no sign of it can be found in their writings. Matthew Arnold has traced to a Celtic source the sympathy with, and deep communing with nature that first appeared among European poets. Under the patronage of Charlemagne the cloisters and brotherhoods became even more learned and cultivated than they had been before. Whatever the people knew of tilling the soil, of the arts of civilization, and of the truths of religion, they learned from the monks. By their influence States were rendered more secure, and it is to the monks alone that Western Europe is indebted for the superiority she attained over the Byzantines on the one hand (who were possessed of far more hereditary knowledge than she), and over the Arabs on the other, who had the advantage of eternal power. The cloisters were either the abode, or the educators, of such men as the Venerable Bede, Lanfranc and Anselm, Duns Scotius, William of Malmesbury, Geoffrey of Monmouth (who preserved the legends of Arthur, of King Lear, and Cymbeline), of Geraldus Cambrensis, of St. Thomas a Kempis, of Matthew Paris, a Benedictine monk, and of Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, who came very near guessing several important truths which have since been made known to the world by later scholars.

The Bible was protected and cherished from age to age in these cloisters, where it was, in fact, preserved solely by the labors of the monks, who translated it by hand, with illuminated border and text. When a new religious house was opened, it would obtain from some older monastery a copy of one of these priceless copies of the Sacred Scriptures; and then this new house in its turn, would set to work to multiply the number of Bibles, through the labor of its monks and brothers.

The German translation of the Bible was made in classic High Dutch, and many later writers have fashioned their style from it, although modern scholars, Catholic and Protestant, have found many faults in it, especially whole passages, wherein Luther has erred. This craze for High Dutch caused the historians of both Denmark and Sweden to utter a vigorous protest against the influx of High Dutch literature into their respective countries in the sixteenth century. They averred it was ruining the native language and literature; but, in spite of this, Lutheranism got a firm foothold in both these nations.

In the sixteenth century the poetry of all Southern Europe was affected by the upheaval caused by Luther and his teachings, while in the Northern countries it was even worse; for, as a great German author (von Schlegel), has said:

"The old creed could not be driven into contempt without carrying along with it a variety of images, allusions, poetic traditions and legends, and modes of composition, all more or less connected with the old faith."

The struggle that we can trace (in all the works Luther has left) of his own internal conflict between light and darkness, faith and passion, God and himself, is a type and indication of what took place in literature during the Reformation, when the old was in opposition to the new.


Eighteenth century philosophy in France, Germany and England was a very different thing from the philosophy of the Ancients. The latter, says a profound German writer, "recognized in time and space an endless theatre for the display of the eternal, and of the living pulsation of eternal love. By the contemplation of such things, however imperfect, the natural, even the merely sensible man, was affected by a stupendous feeling of admiration, well calculated to prepare the way for religious thoughts. It extended and ennobled his soul to thus regard the past, present, and future."

French philosophy took its rise in the seventeenth century, but the philosophers of that age—Descartes, Bayle and others—assumed the soul of man to be the starting point in all investigations of physical science. The eighteenth century philosophers went a step further and rejected all idea of God and the soul. Voltaire, De Montesquieu, D'Holbach, D'Alembert, Diderot, Helvetius and the Abbe Raynal, are the chief minds who shaped the thought of France in the eighteenth century, and by their cynicism, sensuality, and contempt for law and order, helped to pave the war for the horrors of the French Revolution. What they offered to the world the lower classes could only grasp in its most material sense, and they wrested it indeed to their own, and to others, destruction.

Voltaire, Diderot, D'Holbach and their school in France, with Hume, Bolingbroke and Gibbon in England, formed a coterie whose desire it was to edit a vast encyclopaedia, giving the latest discoveries, in philosophy and science in particular, and in literature in general. These men became known as the Encyclopaedists, and their history is fully set forth by Condillac. They rejected all divine revelation and taught that all religious belief was the working of a disordered mind, and that physical sensibility is the origin of all our thoughts. Alternately gross or flippant, or else both, the French philosophers offered nothing pure or elevating in philosophic thought. Their teaching spread to England, where the philosophy of the eighteenth century, less gross than the French, is chiefly distinguished for being cold and indifferent, rather than actively opposed, to religion. Hume is a type of the class of thinkers whom we find uncertain and unworthy of confidence. The histories of Hume, Robertson and Gibbon are the offspring of this degraded material philosophy of the eighteenth century. They surpassed the histories of other nations in comprehensiveness and power, and became standard works in France and Germany, but in all of them we can trace a lack of true philosophy, due to the blighting influence of the eighteenth century skepticism; for, as the greatest minds, in which Christianity and science are blended, have agreed—"without some reasonable and due idea of the destiny and end of man, it is impossible to form just and consistent opinions on the progress of events, and the development and fortunes of nations. History stripped of philosophy becomes simply a lifeless heap of useless materials, without either inward unity, right purpose, or worthy result; while philosophy severed from history results in a disturbed existence of different sects, allied to formality."

The originator of English philosophy was John Locke, whose teachings were closely allied to the sensual philosophy of the French. It remained for the Scottish school under Thomas Reid to combat both the sensualistic philosophy of Voltaire and Locke, and the skepticism of Hume. Reid was a sincere lover of truth, a man of lofty character, and his philosophy, such as it is, is the purest that can be found, more akin to the profound reasoning of Plato.

In Italy, during the eighteenth century, the theory that experience is the only ground of knowledge, as taught by Locke and Condillac, gained some followers; but none of them were men of any great influence. Gallupi in the beginning of the nineteenth century endeavored to reform this philosophy; others took up his work, and the result was a change of thought similar to that brought about by Reid in England and Scotland.

The earlier German philosophers were influenced by the grosser forms of the science, as found in Locke and Helvetius. Leibnitz and Wolf taught pure Idealism, as did Bishop Berkeley in England. It remained for Kant to create a new era in modern philosophy. His system vas what has become known as the Rationalistic, or what we can know by pure reason. Kant was followed by Lessing, Herder, Hegel, Fichte, and a host of others.

These German philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have had a powerful influence in shaping literature in England, France, Denmark, Sweden and America. The mystic and profound German mind has often been led astray; but its intellectual strength cannot be questioned. Schelling was the author of theories in philosophy that have been adopted and imitated by both Coleridge and Wordsworth, while Van Hartmann teaches that there is but one last principle of philosophy, known by Spinoza as substance, by Fichte as the absolute I., by Plato and Hegel as the absolute Idea, by Schopenhauer as Will, and by himself as a blind, impersonal, unconscious, all-pervading Will and Idea, independent of brain, and in its essence purely spiritual, and he taught that there could be no peace for man's heart or intellect until religion, philosophy and science were recognized as one root, stem and leaves all of the same living tree.

It is curious to trace how these various philosophies, recognized by Van Hartmann under different names to be one, can be merged into the sublime Christian philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that religion, philosophy and science were indeed one—root, stem and leaves of the one life-giving tree, which is God.

All that is deepest and most profound is to be found in this modern German philosophy, which is diametrically opposed to the flippant and sensual philosophy of the Voltarian school. However far the German philosophers are from true philosophy as seen in the light of Christian truth, they command a respect as earnest thinkers and workers, which it is impossible to accord the eighteenth century French school.


No country in the beginning owed so much to the language and literature of other nations as the English.

Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Norman-French, Cymric and Gaelic have all been moulded into its literature.

Three periods stand out in its history—the first beginning with the end of the Roman occupation, to the Norman conquest—this includes the literature of the Celtic, Latin and Anglo-Saxon tongues. The second from the Norman conquest to the time of Henry VIII, embracing the literature of the Norman-French, the Latin and Anglo-Saxon; the gradual evolution of the Anglo-Saxon into English; and the literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The third period includes the Reformation, and the golden age of Elizabethan literature; followed by the Restoration, Revolution, and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Another division is called the Old English, Early English, and Middle English. The latter was used by Chaucer, and with a little care in reading can readily be understood by any educated person at the present day, though it contains many words nationalized from the French. It is a curious fact that the Anglo-Saxons, who in the present day, through their descendants, the English, have the strongest national life and literature, cannot boast of such a treasure house of ancient literature as is possessed by the Irish and Welsh.

Ireland has its bardic songs and historical legends older than the ninth century, at which time appeared the "Psalter of Cashel," which has come down to the present day.

There are also prose chronicles, said to be the outcome of others of a still earlier period, and which give a contemporary history of the country in the Gaelic language of the fifth century. There is no other modern nation in Europe that can point to such a literary past. The Scotch Celts had early metrical verse, of which the Ossian, wherein is related the heroic deeds of Fingal, was supposed to have been sung by all the ancient Celtic bards. In the eighteenth century, Macpherson, a Scotchman, found some of these poems sung in the Highlands of Scotland; and, making a careful study of them, he translated all he could find from the Gaelic into English, and gave them to the world. At the time of publication, in 1762, their authenticity was questioned, and even at the present day scholars are divided in their opinion as to their genuineness. The literature of the Cymric Celts, the early inhabitants of Britain, has given us the glorious legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. All the bardic songs refer to this mighty prince, who resisted the Saxon invaders, and whose deeds were sung by all the Welsh Britons. Some of these people took refuge in France, and gradually the fame of their legends spread all over Europe, and were eagerly seized upon and rendered into song, by the chivalric poets of all countries. From these tales Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century compiled a Latin historical work of Britain, while in later times Tennyson in England, and Richard Wagner in Germany, have made the deeds of Arthur and his Knights the theme of some of their most magnificent creations.

Other ancient Welsh writings are still extant, among them the Triads, which is a work that has come down from primitive times. It comprises a collection of historical and mythological maxims, traditions, theological doctrines, and rules for constructing verse.

The Mabinogi, or "Tales of Youth," are old Welsh romances similar to the Norse Sagas, which are supposed by critics to date from a very rude and early age.

The Anglo-Saxon is very different from these ancient literatures. It has no legends or romances, no national themes, and its early prose and verse were written more in the style of religious narrative, and to give practical information, than to amuse.

The poems of Beowulf, a thorough Norse Saga, embodies the doings of the Anglo-Saxons before they emigrated to England, and must have been written long before they set foot on English soil. Older than Beowulf is the lyric poem of Widsith, which has some historical interest as depicting the doings of kings, princes and warriors. It contains traces of the epic, which in Beowulf, whose English poem is next in point of time, is more markedly developed.

During the fifth and sixth centuries the Germanic tribes who emigrated to Britain brought with them a heathen literature. The oldest fragment now extant are the Hexenspruche and the Charms. They have elements of Christian teaching in them, which would seem to imply that the Church tried to give them a Christian setting. In some respects they resemble the old Sanskrit, and are supposed to be among the earliest examples of lyric poetry in England.

Alfred the Great improved the Anglo-Saxon prose and soon after his time a translation of the Bible in that language was made, forming the second known copy in a national language, the first being the Moeso-Gothic of Bishop Ulphilus. The Saxon Chronicles, dating from the time of Alfred to 1154 were copies of the Latin Chronicles kept in the monasteries.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the age of the Crusades, which added a new impulse to learning through the co-mingling of different races. French poetry was translated into English, which, in the thirteenth century, in its evolution from the Anglo-Saxon became a fixed language. Classical learning in this age was generally diffused through the schoolmen, of whom Lanfranc, Anselm, John of Salisbury, Duns Scotius, William of Malmesbury, and other great names of this period, mentioned elsewhere, are instances.

In the thirteenth century appeared also the Gesta Romanorum, a collection of fables, traditions, and various pictures of society, changing with the different countries that the stories dealt with. The romance of Apollonius in this collection gave Chaucer the plots for two or three of his tales, and furnished Cowers with the theme for most of his celebrated poem, the Confessio Amantis. This poem, in its turn, suggested to Shakespeare the outlines for his characters of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and the Merchant of Venice. Other and less celebrated works are also taken from the Gesta Romanorum.

After the accession of the Norman kings of England, the chief literary works in England for two centuries are those of the Norman poets. Wace in the twelfth century wrote in French his "Brut d'Angleterre." Brutus was the mythical son of Aeneas, and the founder of Britain. The Britons were settled in Cornwall, Wales and Bretagne, and were distinguished for traditionary legends, which had been collected by Godfrey of Monmouth in 1138. They formed the groundwork for Wace's poem, which was written in 1160, and from that time proved to be an inexhaustible treasury from which romantic writers of fiction drew their materials.

From this source Shakespeare obtained King Lear; Sackville found his Ferrex and Porrex; and Milton and other poets are also indebted to these legends. They furnished, also, the romances of chivalry for the English Court, and have had an effect on English poetry that can be seen even in the present day. The six romances of the British cycle, celebrating Arthur, his Knights, and the Round Table, were written in the last part of the twelfth century, at the instigation of Henry II. They were the work of Englishmen; but were composed in French, and from them the poets of France fashioned a number of metrical romances.

Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century borrowed freely from French, Latin and Italian works. The comic Fabliaux and the allegorical poetry of the Trouveres and Troubadours furnished him with many of his incidents and characters. The Romance of the Rose was taken from a French poem of the thirteenth century.

Troilus and Cressida is regarded as a translation from Boccaccio, and Chaucer's Legend of Good Women is founded on Ovid's Epistles. John Lydgate, a Benedictine monk in the fifteenth century, wrote poetry in imitation of Chaucer, taking his ideas from the Gesta Romanorum, while Thomas Mallory, a priest in the time of Edward IV, has given us one of the best specimens of old English in the romantic prose fiction of Morte d'Arthur, in which the author has told in one tale the whole history of the Round Table.

The "Bruce" of the Scotch John Barbour in the same century, gives the adventures of King Robert, from which Sir Walter Scott has drawn largely for his "Lord of the Isles."

The close of the fifteenth century saw a passion develop for Scotch poetry, which speedily became the fashion. Henry the Minstrel, or Blind Harry, wrote his "Wallace," which is full of picturesque incident and passionate fervor.

Robert Henryson wrote his Robin and Makyne, a charming pastoral, which has come down to us in Percy's Reliques.

Gavin Douglas, Scotch Bishop of Dunkeld in the beginning of the sixteenth century, translated the Aeneid into English. This is the earliest known attempt in the British Isles to render classical poetry into the national language.

In the sixteenth century Erasmus gave a new impulse in England to the study of Latin and Greek, and Sir Thomas More in his "Utopia" (wherein he imagines an ideal commonwealth with community of property), unconsciously gave birth to a word (utopia), which has ever since been used to designate the ideally impossible.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, in the same century made a translation of the Aeneid and wrote sonnets and lyrical poems. The sonnet he borrowed from Petrarch, giving it the amatory tone common to the Italians. He also took from the Italian poets the blank verse of his Aeneid, a style in which the best poetry of England has since been written.

The genius of John Milton has been greatly hampered by the self-inflicted laws under which he labored, conditions which did not affect Dante and Tasso, who were his models; for Milton denied in a great measure the use of history, tradition and symbolism. Of this defect he was sensible, so he tried to make amends for it by borrowing fables and allegories out of the Koran and Talmud. English poetry has inclined more to the style of Milton than to that of Spenser, who was thoroughly embued with the romantic spirit of the Teutons and the Troubadours, though, like Milton, he was influenced by Tasso; and unlike him, by Ariosto. His Faerie Queene, Gloriana, is supposed to be the beloved of the courtly Arthur of the British legends.

The English poets of the Elizabethan age were under deep obligations to the Italian poets, especially Tasso; and this is particularly true of Spenser, many critics think his eighty-first sonnet is almost a literal translation of Tasso. Be that as it may, the obligations of many English poets of the age to the Italians, is unmistakable.

After the Puritan period the English language and literature was strongly influenced by the French, and in both Pope and Addison there is a marked leaning toward French poetry. Pope's translation of Homer while it lacks the simple majesty and naturalness of the original (a trait which Bryant in the nineteenth century happily caught), nevertheless gave to the English world the opportunity to become somewhat acquainted with the incomparable poet of antiquity.

Thomson's descriptive poetry of nature found many imitators in Germany and France, and a taste for outdoor life and simplicity became the rage, so that some years after the author of the "Castle of Indolence" had passed away, Marie Antoinette in her rustic bower, "Little Trianon," pretended to like to keep sheep and pose as a shepherdess, as has been said elsewhere.

Percy's Reliques of ancient English poetry, in 1765 opened a storehouse of the fine old English ballads, which speedily became popular through the patronage of Scott, who made them his textbook for a variety of subjects. These poems, with Macpherson's "Fingal" introduced a new school of poetry into England. The originals of Scott were these romances of chivalry, and even Byron has not disdained to follow the same trend in the pilgrimage of his "Childe Harold." The nineteenth century poets and novelists do not seem to have borrowed especially from any foreign element; but in history Niebuhr's researches in Germany have greatly influenced Arnold in his "Roman History." The close of the nineteenth century and opening of the twentieth is chiefly remarkable for the interdependence of literature through the magazines and reviews. Translations of any striking or brilliant articles are immediately made, and appear in the magazines of different countries almost as soon as the originals, so that the literature of the future bids fair to become more cosmopolitan, and perhaps less strongly directed by racial and social influence than in the past.

And yet—in studying the literature of ancient and modern times—we are struck by the unity in diversity of its history, just as a world-wide traveller comes to see the similarity of nature everywhere. In literature strange analogies occur in ages and races remote from each other, as, when the mother in the old North country Scotch ballad sings to her child, and says:

"The wild wind is ravin,' thy minnies heart's sair, The wild wind is ravin,' but ye dinna care."

And we find nearly the same verse in the song of Danae to the infant Perseus:

"The salt spume that is blown o'er thy locks, Thou heedst not, nor the roar of the gale; Sleep babe, sleep the sea, And sleep my sea of trouble."

There is also the story of the Greek child who in ancient times sang nearly the same invocation for fair weather that we used in our nursery days, when, with noses flattened against the window pane, we uttered our sing-song:

"Rain, rain, go to Spain."

And in blindman's buff, perhaps the most ancient of games, we have words that have come down from remote times. The blindfolded one says:

"I go a-hunting a brassy fly."

To which the others answer:

"A-hunting thou goest; but shalt not come nigh."

And there are the marvellous stories of the Giant Killer, and the wonders of Puss in Boots and Cinderella, which have descended to us from that vast cloud-country of bygone ages; that dreamland of fairy imagery, which is as real to the little maid in the twentieth century as it was to her young sisters in the shadow of the Pyramids, on the banks of the Tiber and the Ganges, in the neighborhood of solemn Druid Temples, or among the fjords and floes of the far-off Icelandic country, in centuries long since gone by.


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