« 上一頁繼續 »
one is apt to forget that it includes noble work of other than poetic sort; yet no reader of English can long forget that to this same school belongs the scientific work and the final aphorisms of Bacon. It was during the first fifteen years of the seventeenth century, too, that Walter Ralegh, in the Tower, wrote his “ History of the World ;” and we have only to glance back at Ryland's summaries of publication to see what masterly translations accompanied the gradual growth of that final masterpiece of translation, the English Bible of 1611. There were minor phases of literature meanwhile which posterity has been apt to forget ; but the name of Hakluyt, the collector of so many records of explorations, is still familiar; and so perhaps is that of Richard Hooker, whose “Ecclesiastic Polity” remains the chief literary monument of religious controversy during the reign of Elizabeth. Poetry was first, then, and supreme; but there was fine, noble, thoughtful prose in philosophy and history alike; and not less characteristic of the time, though far less excellent as literature, was much matter of contemporary chronicle, like Hakluyt's “ Voyages,” and much religious controversy.
Throughout this literature there is one trait which the lapse of three centuries, with their slow, inevitable changes of language, has tended to obscure. Yet whoever grows familiar even with the work of Shakspere by himself, and still more with that of his contemporaries as well, must grow to feel it. This is a sort of pristine alertness of mind, evident in innumerable details of Elizabethan style. One may best detect it, perhaps, by committing to memory random passages of Elizabethan literature. If the trait occurred only in the work of Shakspere, one might deem it a mere fresh miracle of his genius; but you will find it everywhere. In the thinner plays, for example, of Beaumont and Fletcher, the words, the sentences, the lines, the cadences, are full of refinements of phrase, subtleties of alliteration, swift glancing varieties of allusion, Aashes alike of sentiment and of wit,
somehow beyond the instant perception of any English-born modern mind. Yet it is no mere juggling with words to say that the works of Beaumont and Fletcher, of Shakspere, and of all the dramatists, are truly plays; and plays are meant not for such serious study as the excellence of these has compelled from posterity, but rather to give such instant emotional pleasure as theatres afford us to-day, and as we have got best during the nineteenth century in Paris. Such literature as the Elizabethan world has left us, in short, bespeaks a public whose spontaneous alertness of mind, whose instant perception of every subtle variety of phrase and allusion, was more akin to that of our contemporary French than to anything which we are now accustomed to consider native to insular England. Elizabethan literature bears witness throughout to the spontaneous, enthusiastic versatility which the English temperament possessed in the spacious Elizabethan days.
By the middle of the century, after the convulsions of the Civil Wars, this trait had begun to fade out of English letters. Our brief list of mid-century publications revealed Milton, not as the chief of a school, but rather as the one great figure who subsisted amid a group of excellently deliberate minor poets and elaborate makers of overwrought rhetorical prose, often splendid, but never simple. Fuller, Taylor, and Walton fairly typify seventeenth-century prose; to complete our impression of it we might glance back at Burton, whose “ Anatomy of Melancholy” appeared in 1621, and at Sir Thomas Browne, whose “Religio Medici” was in 1650 less than ten years old. In Milton's time, except for Milton himself, the creative impulse which had made Elizabethan literature so vital had subsided. The English imagination seemed checked by a variously developed sense of the inexorable limits of fact and of language. One term by which we may characterise this mid-century English literature, to distinguish it from the elder, is the term “deliberate.” Mysteriously but certainly the old spontaneity and versatility of the Elizabethan mind had disappeared.
Deliberate, indeed, is an epithet which may help us to define the impression made by Milton himself. Throughout his poetry, even of that earlier period when in so many aspects he was still almost Elizabethan, one may often feel him tending toward his later poetic contemporaries in the conscious carefulness of his art ; and surely in the great epic work of his later years, when solitary and alone he strove to give artistic expression to the dominant ideals of a Puritanism whose earthly hopes were as lost as ever Paradise was to our erring fathers, one feels amid his all but unequalled power a colossal deliberation. In the prose work which intervened between these two periods of his poetic production, there is incisive swiftness of thought and phrase, but on the whole its effect is hardly more marked by grimly passionate asperity of temper than by an almost conscious ponderousness of phrase. The literature of Cromwell's England was as different from that of Elizabeth's as Cromwell was from Walter Raiegh. The names of Shakspere and Milton tell the story.
The name of Dryden is as different from that of Milton as Milton's is from Shakspere's. Though Dryden's “ Astræa Redux ” was published seven years before “ Paradise Lost,” Dryden died in 1700 amid a literature whose poetry had cooled into something like the rational form which deadened it throughout the century to come, and whose drama had for forty years been revealing fresh phases of decadent lifelessness. For though at least the comedies of the Restoration and of the years which follow seemed to contemporaries full of wit and vitality, few bodies of literature in the world have proved more evanescent, and more corrupt, artistically as well as morally. But if poetry and the drama were for the moment sleeping, — the latter seemingly for ever, the former for wellnigh a century to come, – there were other phases of English
a thought, if not of English feeling, which were full of life.
Boyle had done his work in chemistry ; Newton had created a whole range of physical science; Locke had produced his epoch-making Essay on Human Understanding; and, to go no further, the works of Sir William Temple and the critical essays of Dryden himself had given English prose its most masterly, almost its final form.
In literature, just as in history, then, we find that the seventeenth century reveals in England three distinct epochs, each different from the others and all together involving such changes in the national temperament as to make the England of Dryden almost as foreign to that of Shakspere as the temper of King William III. was to Queen Elizabeth's. Like Elizabethan England, Elizabethan literature seems different from anything which we can now know in the Aesh. One can hardly imagine feeling quite at home in the Mermaid Tavern with Beaumont and Ben Jonson and the rest ; but in modern London, or at least in the London of thirty years ago, one might sometimes feel that a few steps around a grimy corner should still lead to some coffee-house, where glorious John Dryden could be found sitting in robust, old-fashioned dictatorship over the laws of the language in which we ourselves think and speak and feel. For Dryden's England is not yet quite dead and gone. But dead and gone, or at least vanished from this earth, in Dryden's time almost as surely as in ours, was the elder England, whose spontaneity, whose enthusiasm, and whose versatility made Elizabethan literature the most lastingly vital record which our language shall ever phrase.
History and literature alike, then, have shown us an England of the seventeenth century wherein the great central convulsion of dominant Puritanism fatally destroyed a youthful world, and gave us at last in its place a more deliberate, permanently different new one.
AMERICAN HISTORY FROM 1600 to 1700
It was in the first quarter of this seventeenth century that the American colonies were finally established. The first lasting settlement of Virginia was made in the spring of 1607; the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth towards the end of 1620; Boston was founded less than ten years later; and from 1636 dates the oldest of native American corporations, that of Harvard College. At the latest of these dates the tragic reign of Charles I. had not half finished its course ; at the earliest Queen Elizabeth had lain less than five years in Westminster Abbey; and these dates are less than a full generation apart.
From these familiar facts may instantly be inferred another which has been comparatively neglected. To speak only of New England, — for in literary history New England is far more important than the other colonies, - we may say that every leading man among the first settlers both of Plymouth and of Massachusetts Bay was born under Queen Elizabeth herself. William Bradford of Plymouth, for example, was born in 1590, the year when Spenser published the first books of the si Faerie Queene;” and Edward Winslow was born in 1595, when Shakspere had published only “ Venus and Adonis and “ Lucrece." Thomas Dudley is said to have been born in 1576, some ten years before the execution of Mary Stuart. John Winthrop was born in 1588, the year of the Invincible Armada. John Cotton was born in 1585, the year before Sir Philip Sidney was killed, when for aught we know Shakspere had not yet emerged from Stratford, and when surely John Foxe, the martyrologist, was still alive. Thomas Hooker