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Lecture the Sruenth.
THE AGE OF ELIZABETH-JOHN HARRINGTON-THOMAS SACKVILLE-SIR PHILIP SID
NEY-SIR WALTER RALEIGH-NICHOLAS BRETON-HENRY CONSTABLE-JOSHUA
SYLVESTER-RICHARD BARNFIELD-EDMUND SPENSER.
E have thus brought the history of English literature down to the
period at which its infancy may be said to cease, and its manhood to commence. In the early part of the sixteenth century, it was sensibly effected by a variety of influences, which, for one or two ages before, had operated powerfully in extending the intellect of all the different nations of Europe. The study of classical literature, the invention of the art of printing, and the freedom of religious discussion, had everywhere given activity and strength to the minds of men. The immediate effect of these circumstances upon English literature, were, the enriching of the language by a great variety of words from the classic tongues, the establishing of better models of thought and style, and the allowing of greater freedom to the fancy and powers of observation in the exercise of literary efforts. Not only the Greek and Roman writers, but those also of modern Italy and France, where letters had experienced an earlier revival, were now freely translated into English, and being, through the press, extensively diffused, served to excite a taste for elegant reading in the lower order of society, where the genial influence of literature had never before been felt. The dissemination of the Scriptures in the vernacular tongue, while it greatly affected the language and ideas of the people, was also of no small advantage in giving a new direction to the thoughts of literary men, to whom these antique Oriental compositions presented numberless incidents, images, and sentiments, unknown before, and of the richest and most interesting kind.
Among other circumstances favorable to the literature of this period, must be named the encouragement given to it by queen Elizabeth, who was, herself, a very accomplished scholar, addicted to poetical composition, and had the art of filling her court with men qualified to shine in almost any department of intellectual exertion. Her successors, James and Charles, resembled her in some of these respects, and during their reigns, the impulse
which she had given to literature was rather increased than retarded. There was, indeed, something in the policy, as well as in the personal character of all these sovereigns, which proved favorable to literature. The study of the Belles Lettres was, in some measure, identified with the courtly and arbitrary principles of the time; not, perhaps, so much from any enlightened spirit in those who supported such principles, as from a desire to oppose the Puritans, and other malcontents, whose religious doctrines taught them to despise some departments of elegant literature, and utterly to condemn others. The drama, for instance, doubtless owed the encouragement which it received under Elizabeth and her successors, chiefly, if not entirely, to a spirit of hostility to the ‘Puritans,' who justly repudiated it for its immo rality. We must, at the same time, allow much to the influence which such a court as that of England during these three reigns, was calculated to have upon men of literary tendencies. Almost all the poets, and many of the prose writers, were either courtiers themselves, or were under the immediate protection of courtiers, and were constantly experiencing the smiles, and occasionally the solid benefactions of royalty. Whatever was refined, or gay, or sentimental, at that time in England, came with its full influence
The works brought forth under such circumstances have been very aptly compared, by a recent writer in the Edinburgh Review, to the productions of a soil for the first time broken up, where all indigenous plants spring up at once with a rank and irrepressible fertility, and display whatever is peculiar and excellent in their nature on a scale the most conspicuous and magnificent.' The ability to write having been, as it were, suddenly created, the whole world of character, imagery, and sentiment, as well as of information and philosophy, lay ready for the use of those who possessed the gift, and was appropriated accordingly. As might be expected, where there was less rule of art than opulence of materials, the productions of these writers are often deficient in taste, and contain much that is totally irrelevant to their
pursue the simile just quoted, the crops are not so clean as if they had been reared under systematic cultivation. On this account, the refined taste of the eighteenth century condemned most of the productions of the sixteenth and seventeenth to oblivion, and it is only lately that they have once more obtained their deserved reputation.
After every proper deduction has been made, enough remains to fix the era as by far the mightiest in the history of English literature, or indeed of human intellect and capacity." There never was any thing elsewhere like the sixty or seventy years that elapsed from the middle of Elizabeth's reign to the period of the Restoration. In point of real force and originality of genius, 'neither the age of Pericles, nor that of Augustus, nor the age of Leo the Tenth, nor that of Louis the Fourteenth, can at all compare with it. In that short period, we find the names of most of the great men that England has ever produced—the names of Shakspeare, and Spen
1 Henry Neale.
ser, and Bacon, and Sidney, and Hooker, and Taylor, and Barrow, and Raleigh, and Napier, and a host of others--men, all of them not merely of great talents and accomplishments, but of vast compass and reach of understanding, and of minds truly creative and original; not perfecting art by the delicacy of their taste, or digesting knowledge by the justness of their reasonings, but making vast and substantial additions to the materials upon which taste and reason must, hereafter be employed, and enlarging, to an incredible and unparalleled extent, both the stores and the resources of the human faculties. This important period of English literature commences about 1575, and closes with the death of Charles the First, in 1649; and in our examination of the authors which it produced, we shall first notice the miscellaneous poets, then the dramatic, and afterward the writers in prose. Queen Elizabeth herself first demands our attention.
ELIZABETH was the daughter of Henry the Eighth and of Anne Boleyn, his second wife. She was born the seventeenth of September, 1533, and was committed by her mother, just before that unfortunate princess was executed, to the care of Doctor Parker, a strenuous friend of the Reformation, and subsequently archbishop of Canterbury. Doctor Parker having the exclusive supervision of Elizabeth's education for a number of years, was careful to have her instructed in the principles of the Protestant faith, and by this means he thoroughly prepared her for the important and decisive stand which she took in favor of Protestantism, as soon as she became queen. At the time of her father's death, she had just attained the fourteenth
year of her age, and her letters at that early period of life, both in English and Italian, were the subject of universal admiration. During the entire reign of Edward the Sixth, and the early part of the reign of Mary, she devoted her exclusive attention to study; and such was the wonderful facility with which she acquired knowledge, that before she reached her seventeenth year she had become familiarly acquainted with the Latin, the Greek, the French, and the Italian languages, and was not unacquainted with other European tongues. Nor did she confine herself merely to the knowledge of languages, but cultivated philosophy, rhetoric, history, divinity, music and poetry also, and, indeed, every thing that would have a tendency to improve and adorn her mind. Her studies were, however, for a short time interrupted; for being suspected by Mary of favoring the pretensions of Lady Jane Grey to the crown, she was apprehended on the eleventh of March, 1554, and committed to the Tower. After a tedious confinement, she was eventually, through the direct agency of king Philip, Mary's consort, released ; and the rest of her time was passed in the retirement of a private personage until the death of Mary, when she succeeded to an undisputed crown, on the sixteenth of November, 1558. Her reign was one of unparalleled brilliancy, and terminated on the twenty-fourth of March, 1603, in the seventieth year The poetry of Elizabeth, though not of a high order of merit, is such as
of her age.
to entitle it to a passing notice. It consists chiefly of brief and unpremeditated effusions, of which the following stanzas afford a fair sample :
VERSES ON HER OWN FEELINGS.
I grieve, and dare not show my discontent,
I am, and not, I freeze, and yet am burn'd,
Since from myself my other self I turn'd.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be suppressed.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die, and so forget what love e'er meant. John Harrington, the first English poet after queen Elizabeth, was born in 1534, but at what place is unknown. Few incidents of the history of his life have been preserved, farther than that he was imprisoned in the Tower by queen Mary for holding correspondence with Elizabeth, and that the latter, on her accession to the throne, rewarded him with many favors. He died in 1582, in his forty-ninth year. The following brief specimen of Harrington's poetry sufficiently shows that he must have been a man of taste and refined feelings :
SONNET ON ISABELLA MARKHAM.
Among the English miscellaneous poets of the age of Elizabeth, who preceded Spenser, Sackville unquestionably holds the first rank.
Thomas SACKVILLE was of a very ancient family, and was born at Buckhurst, Sussex, in 1536. Having prepared for college at Eton school, he entered the university of Oxford, but sometime after removed to Cambridge, where he remained until he took the degree of master of arts. From Cambridge he passed to the Inner Temple, London, and proceeded so far in the study of the law as to be called to the bar; not, however, with the view of practicing the legal profession, but merely to prepare himself the more effectually to serve his country in parliament, into which he entered toward the close of the reign of Mary.
Sackville had acquired, while at the university, the reputation of a good poet; and in 1557, he formed the design of writing a series of poems
under the title of The Mirror for Magistrates, the object of which was to exhibit the career of eminently bad men who had come to an unhappy end. Of this poem he executed little more than the Induction, or introduction, which was immediately published, and received with unbounded applause. In 1561, he aided Thomas Norton in the composition of Gorboduc, the first regular tragedy produced in the English language. This performance we shall, however, have occasion more particularly to notice under the department of dramatic literature.
Having, in this way, succeeded in establishing the reputation of being the best poet of the age, Sackville suddenly abandoned the muses, made the tour of France and Italy, and on his return to England assumed the character of a statesman. He soon became a great favorite with queen Elizabeth, to whom he was distantly related, and by whom he was raised to the peerage under the title of Lord Buckhurst. In 1591, he was, by the queen's special interposition, made chancellor of Oxford, and in 1598, on the death of Lord Burleigh, he succeeded to the treasury, and thus became the queen's recognized prime minister. After the death of Elizabeth he retained the office of lord high treasurer under king James, and was created, by that monarch, on the thirteenth of March, 1604, earl of Dorset. In the height of his
power and influence, Sackville was still unremitting in his attention to business, and at his death, which occurred on the nineteenth of April, 1608, he left a universal regret for his departure.
In 'The Mirror for Magistrates,' Sackville, like Dante, and several other poets, lays the scene of his poem in the infernal regions, whither he is conducted under the guide of an allegorical personage named Sorrow. It was his object to make all the great persons of English history, from the Conquest downwards, pass here in review, and each tell his own story as a warning to existing statesmen; but other duties compelled the poet, after he had written the Induction,' and a legend on the life of the Duke of Buckingham, to leave the completion of the work to the inferior hands of Baldwyne and Ferrers. The part of this poem executed by Sackville fre