CHAPTER III. THE AGE OF ELIZABETH: LYLY, GREENE, LODGE, SIDNEY.
In the rapidity and scope of intellectual and material progress, the age of Elizabeth is unequaled in English history. The nation seemed to pass from the darkness of night into a sunshine which would never end. Freed from the trammels which had hitherto impeded their way, all classes put on a new vigor, a new enterprise, and a new intelligence, which brought advancement into every walk of life. The spread of the Copernican doctrine of the revolutions of the earth, and the relations of our planet to the solar system gradually drove before it the old anthropocentric ideas. Men looked into the heavens and saw a new universe. In the grand scheme of creation there unfolded before them, they read in spite of themselves the comparative insignificance of their own world, and an overwhelming blow was dealt at the narrowness and superstition which had hitherto characterized their thoughts. A new world, too, was fast becoming known. The circumnavigation of the earth by Drake, the visits of other Englishmen to the shores of Africa and America, even to the Arctic seas, awakened a deep and healthful curiosity. There arose a passion for travelling, for seeing and studying foreign lands. Those who were forced to remain at home devoured with eagerness the books of those who wandered abroad. The effects of this widening of the mental and physical horizon are observable in the new occupations which absorbed the energies of men, and in the new social life which all classes were beginning to lead. Improvements in husbandry doubled the productiveness of the soil, and greatly enhanced its value. The development of manufactures made English woolens in demand throughout Europe. In commerce the new spirit of enterprise was strikingly apparent. Tradesmen and nobles, ministers of state, Elizabeth herself—all who could, ventured something in the ships which sailed for America or Africa in the hope of golden cargoes. The Russia company brought home furs and flax, steel, iron, ropes, and masts. The Turkey merchants imported the productions of the Levant, silks and satins, carpets, velvets, and cloth of gold. By the side of these were laid in London markets, the rice, cotton, spices, and precious stones of India, and the sugar, rare woods, gold, silver, and pearls of the New World.
Under the influence of this new enterprise and prosperity, the picture of social life becomes more pleasing. The English noble succeeded to the feudal baron, the manor to the fortress. With the coat of mail and huge two-handed sword passed away the portcullis and the moat. The new homes of the nobility, erected during Elizabeth's reign, were marked by a beauty and luxury in keeping with the new ideas of their owners. The eye still rests with admiration on the numberless gables, the quaint chimneys, the oriel windows, the fretted parapets of the Tudor building. Within, the magnificent staircases, the great carved chimney-pieces, the massive oaken furniture, the costly cabinets, and elaborate tapestries all attested the new wealth and the new taste of the occupants. A large chamber of Hardwicke Hall was decorated with a frieze representing a stag hunt, and beneath that the story of Ulysses wrought in tapestry. Harrington rejoiced in the number of “goodly chambers, large gardens and sweet walks” of Elizabeth's palaces. The “goodly chambers” were filled with cloths of gold and silver, with satin-covered furniture, and silk coverlids lined with ermine. In the houses of knights and gentlemen were to be seen a great profusion of “Turkic worke, pewter, brasse, fine linen, and thereto costlie cupbords of plate worth five or six hundred or a thousand pounds.” The lord of the manor no longer took his meals with all his retainers in the great hall, throwing the bones and scraps from his wooden trencher to his dogs. He withdrew into a separate apartment, and dined with a new refinement. A hitherto unknown variety of food covered the table, served on pewter, china, or silver, instead of the primitive trencher.
The bands of retainers who had hung round the castle, living at the expense of its lord, and ready to follow him in his career of violence, were gradually being absorbed in useful and industrial pursuits. Among the yeomanry the general progress was exceedingly noticeable. The character and worth of this important class were commented upon by Holinshed. “This sort of people * * * commonlie live wealthilie, keepe good houses, and travell to get riches. They are also for the most part farmers to gentlemen, or at the leastwise artificers, and with grazing, frequenting of markets, and keeping of servants (not idle servants as the gentlemen doo, but suche as get bothe their owne and part of their master's living), do come to great welth, in so much that manie of them are able and doo buie the lands of unthriftie gentlemen, and often setting their sonnes to the schooles, to the universities, and to the Ins of the Court, or otherwise leaving them sufficient lands whereupon they may live without labour, do make them by those meanes to become gentlemen: these were they that in times past made all France afraid, and albeit they be not called Master, as gentlemen are, or Sir, as to knights apperteineth, but only John, and Thomas, etc., yet have they beene found to have doone verie good service; and the kings of England in foughten battels, were woont to remain among them (who were their footmen), as the French kings did among their horsemen; the prince thereby showing where his chief strength did consist.” This middle class were enjoying a luxury and comfort undreamt of by their fathers, or indeed by the nobility of feudal times. Thatched cottages smeared with mud were fast being succeeded by brick or stone houses, finely plastered, with glass windows, chairs in place of stools, and tables in place of rough boards lying loosely on tressles. “Farmers learned also to garnish their cupboards with plate, their joined beds with tapestrie and silken hangings, and their tables with carpets and fine naperie, whereby the wealth of our countrie * * * doth infinitelie appeare.” The new comforts, enumerated by Harrison, presented a striking contrast to the condition the “old men” had been satisfied with in their “yoong daies,” “Our fathers (yea, and we ourselves also) have lien full oft upon straw pallets, on rough mats * * * and a good round log under their heads instead of a bolster or pillow. If it were so that our fathers, or the good man of the house, had within eleven years after his marriage purchased a matteras or flockebed, and thereto a sacke of chaffe to rest his head upon, he thought himself to be as well lodged as the lord of the towne.” The new comforts were the result, not of extravagance, but of prosperity. Notwithstanding the rigid economy of the old times, men “were scearce able to live and paie their rents at their daies without selling of a cow, or an horse or more, although they paid but four pounds at the uttermost by the yeare, * * * whereas in my time,” says Harrison, “although peradventure foure pounds of old rent be improved to fourtie, fiftie, or an hundred poundes, yet will the farmer as another palme or date tree, thinke his gaines verie small toward the end of his terme, if he had not six or seven yeares rent lieing by him, therewith to purchase a new lease, beside a faire garnish of pewter on his cupboard, with so much in od vessell going aboute the house, three or four feather beds, so manie coverlids and carpets of tapestrie, a silver salt, a bowle for wine * * * and a dozzen of spoones to furnish up the sute.” The country gentleman sitting in his hall, hawk on hand, with his hounds about him, made a profuse hospitality his chief pride, and out-door sports the resource of his leisure and conversation. Greek and Latin were gradually making their way into his store of knowledge, hitherto limited to the romances and chronicles. But as Ascham complained, there was little sweetness to flavor his cup of learning. “Masters for the most part so behave themselves,” said Peacham, “that their very name is hatefull to the scholler, who trembleth at their coming in, rejoyceth at their absence, and looketh his master (returned) in the face, as his deadly enemy.”
The amusements of the rural population partook of the character of material prosperity and material enjoyment which were so prominent in Elizabeth's reign. There is no sign of the prevailing improvement in the condition of men more suggestive than the effervescence of spirits which broke loose on every holiday and at every festival. On the first day of May “the juvenile part of both sexes are wont to rise a little after midnight, and walk to some neighboring wood, accompany'd with music and the blowing of horns, where they break down branches from the trees and adorn them with nosegays and crowns of flowers. When this done, they return with their booty homewards about the rising of the sun, and make their doors and windows to triumph in the flowery spoil.” “But their cheefest jewell they bring from thence is their Maie poole whiche they bringe home with great veneration, as thus: They have twentie or fourtie yoke of oxen, every oxe havyng a sweete nosegaie of flowers, tyed on the tippe of his hornes, and these oxen drawe home this Maie poole.” Games, dances, rude dramatic performances succeeded each other for hours, interspersed with feasting and drinking. An extravagant fancy sought expression in the excitement, of grotesque actions and brilliant costumes. The Morris dancers executed their curious movements, clad in “gilt leather and silver paper, and sometimes in coats of white spangled fustian,” or in “greene, yellow, or some other light wanton collour,” bedecked with “scarfs, ribbons and laces hanged all over with golde ringes, precious stones and other jewells,” and “aboute either legge twentie or fourtie belles.” Robin Hood's Day, Christmas, Twelfth Night, Harvest Home, Sheepshearing, were all celebrated in turn with a liveliness of spirit, a vigor of imagination, and a noisy enjoyment of the good things of life which showed that Merry England had at last succeeded to the gloom of the Middle Ages.
The prevailing prosperity and activity were naturally even more apparent in London than in the rural districts. The city was growing rapidly, filling up with warehouses and shops, with palaces and dwellings. The people in general were attracted to it by the growing trade and industry, and by the theatres, taverns, bear-gardens, and other places of amusement, the number of which was constantly increasing. The nobility and gentry sought the splendor of Elizabeth's court to spend their leisure and their wealth. The middle or commercial classes of the city, like the corresponding agricultural classes in the country, were enjoying the fruits of their industry and attaining a respectable position of their own. The houses and furniture belonging to them struck a foreigner with astonishment and pleasure; “The neate cleanlinesse, the exquisite finenesse, the plesaunte and delightfull furniture in every point for household wonderfully rejoyced mee; their chambers and parlours, strawed over with sweet herbes, refreshed mee; their nosegayes finelye intermingled wyth sondry sortes of fragraunte floures in their bed-chambers and privie roomes, with comfortable smell cheered me up and entierlye delighted all my senses.” The profusion of expenditure, and the love of show resulting from the sudden increase of wealth, affected even the apprentices of the city. The Lord Mayor and Common Council, in 1582, found it necessary to direct apprentices; “to wear no hat with any silk in or about the same. To wear no ruffles, cuffs, loose collar, nor other thing than a ruff at the collar, and that only a yard and a half long. To wear no doublets * * * enriched with any manner of silver or silke. * * * To wear no sword, dagger, nor other weapon but a knife; nor a ring, jewel of gold, nor silver, nor silke in any part of his apparel.”
It was, however, at Elizabeth's court, and among the nobility, that the tendencies of the time were most marked. The literature of this era—never surpassed in brilliancy and power—was the work of poets and dramatists. It was the outcome of a poetical and dramatic life. Even the fiction which belongs to the period was colored by the same fondness for dramatic incident and poetic treatment. The enthusiasm which had animated the nobility in their martial life went with them to the court of Elizabeth. There it showed itself in gallantry, in love of show, and in a devotion to amusement and to self-cultivation which internal peace had at length made possible. Men of whom any age might be proud crowded the scene. Cecil and Walsingham among statesmen, Drake among discoverers, Bacon and Hooker among thinkers, Raleigh and Sidney at once among courtiers, soldiers, and scholars. The prevailing extravagance and variety of dress was simply the outward sign of a love of whatever was brilliant and new. The fashions of France, of Spain, of Turkey, even of the Moors contributed to the wardrobe of the English gallant. “And, as these fashions are diverse, so likewise it is a world to see the costlinesse and the curiositie: the excesse and the vanitie: the pomp and the braverie; the change and the varietie: and finallie the ficklenesse and the follie that is in all degrees: insomuch that nothing is more constant in England than inconstancie of attire.” Each one aimed at making the best appearance. The long seams of men's hose were set by a plumb line, and beards were cut to suit the face, “If a man have a leane and streight face, a Marquess Ottons cut will make it broad and large; if it be platter-like, a long, slender beard will make it seeme the narrower.” “Some lustie courtiers also, and gentlemen of courage doo weare either rings of golde, stones, or pearle in their eares, whereby they imagine the workmanship of God not to be a little amended.” All are familiar with the brilliant female dress of the time. The enormous starched ruffs of various colors, the long stomachers stiffened with wire and studded with jewels, the costly stuffs enriched with gold and silver, made up a costume which has never been surpassed in extravagance and fanciful exaggeration.
The queen herself set the example of brilliancy of costume, and took care to be outshone by none. Sir John Harrington relates that “Ladie M. Howarde was possessede of a rich border, powdered wyth golde and pearle and a velvet suite belonginge thereto, which moved manie to envye; nor did it please the queene, who thought it exceeded her owne. One daye the queene did sende privately, and got the ladie's rich vesture, which she put on herself, and came forthe the chamber amonge the ladies; the kirtle and border was far too shorte for her majestie's heigth; and she asked everyone, 'How they likede her new fancied suit?' At length she askede the owner herself, 'If it was not made too shorte and ill becoming?'—which the poor ladie did presentlie consente to. 'Why, then, if it become not me, as being too shorte, I am minded it shall never become thee, as being too fine; so it fitteth neither well.' This sharp rebuke abashed the ladie, and she never adorned her herewith any more.”
It was the fashion to walk in the aisles of St. Paul's Church, which became a general rendezvous for business or pleasure. A facetious writer of the time, instructing a young gallant how to procure his clothes, and to show them off to the best advantage, gives an amusing picture of the prevailing vanity and foppery. “Bend your course directly in the middle line, that the whole body of the church may appear to be yours; where, in view of all you may publish your suit in what manner you affect most * * * and then you must, as 'twere in anger, suddenly snatch at the middle of the inside, if it be taffeta at the least; and so, by that means, your costly lining is betrayed. * * * But one note, by the way, do I especially woo you to, the neglect of which makes many of our gallants cheap and ordinary, that by no means you be seen above four times; but in the fifth make yourself away, either in some of the semsters' shops, the new tobacco office, or among the booksellers, where, if you cannot read, exercise your smoke, and enquire who has writ against this divine weed. * * * After dinner you may appear again, having translated yourself out of you English cloth into a light Turkey grogram, if you have that happiness of shifting; and then be seen for a turn or two to correct your teeth with some quill or silver instrument, and to cleanse your gums with a wrought handkerchief; it skills not whether you dined or no; that is best known to your stomach; or in what place you dined; though it were with cheese of your own mother's making, in your chamber or study. * * * If, by chance, you either encounter, or aloof off throw your inquisitive eye upon any knight or squire, being your familiar, salute him, not by his name, Sir such a one, or so; but call him Ned, or Jack, etc. This will set off your estimation with great men; and if, though there be a dozen companies between you, 'tis the better, he call aloud to you, for that is most genteel, to know where he shall find you at two o'clock; tell him at such an ordinary, or such; and be sure to name those that are dearest, and whither none but your gallants resort.”
With all the luxury of furniture and dress, with all the new elegance and ceremony of court life, there naturally remained much disorder, violence, and coarseness throughout the social system. Although the laws concerning the maintenance of order in the streets were strict, forbidding any one even to “blowe any horne in the night, or whistle after the hour of nyne of the clock in the night,” yet they were not effectively enforced. A member of the House of Commons described a Justice of the Peace as an animal, who for half a dozen of chickens would dispense with a dozen penal laws; and Gilbert Talbot spoke of two serious street affrays, which he described in a letter to the Earl of Shrewsbury as “trifling matters.” The gallows were kept busy in town and country. The habits of violence, and the old fondness of the nobility for fighting out their own quarrels, lingered in the prevalent custom of duelling. Ladies, and even the queen herself, chastised their servants with their own hands. On one occasion Elizabeth showed her dislike of a courtier's coat by spitting upon it, and her habit of administering physical correction to those who displeased her called forth the witty remark of Sir John Harrington: “I will not adventure her Highnesse choller, leste she should collar me also.” The first coach appeared in the streets of London in Elizabeth's time and the sight of it “put both horse and man into amazement; some said it was a great crab-shell brought out of China; and some imagined it to be one of the Pagan temples, in which the Cannibals adored the divell.” The extravagance and luxury of the feasts which were given on great occasions by the nobility were not attended by a corresponding advance in the refinement of manners at table. In a banquet given by Lord Hertford to Elizabeth in the garden of his castle, there were a thousand dishes carried out by two hundred gentlemen lighted by a hundred torch-bearers and every dish was of china or silver. But forks had not yet come into general use, and their place was supplied by fingers. Elizabeth had two or three forks, very small, and studded with jewels, but they were intended only for ornament. A divine inveighed against the impiety of those who objected to touching their meat with their fingers, and it was only in the seventeenth century that the custom of eating with forks obtained general acceptance, and ceased to be considered a mark of foppery.
The co-existence of coarseness and brilliant luxury, so characteristic of the time, is curiously apparent in the amusements of the city and the court. The whole people, from Elizabeth to the country boor, delighted in the savage sports of bull and bear-baiting. In the gratification received by these exhibitions, appear the remains of the old bloodthirstiness which had once been only satisfied with the sight of human suffering. The contrast is striking when we turn to the masques, the triumphs, and the pageants which were exhibited on great occasions by the court or by the citizens of London. The awakening of learning and the new interest in life were expressed in the dramatic entertainments which mingled the romantic elements of chivalry with the mythology of ancient Greece, in the rejoicings of men over present prosperity and welfare. The accounts of the festivities during the progresses of Elizabeth, so ably collected by Nichol, read like a tale of fairyland. When the queen visited Kenelworth she was met outside the gates by sybils reciting a poem of welcome. At the gates the giant porter feigned anger at the intrusion, but, overcome by the sight of Elizabeth, laid his club and his keys humbly at her feet. On posts along the route were placed the offerings of Sylvanus, of Pomona, of Ceres, of Bacchus, of Neptune, of Mars, and of Phoebus. From Arthur's court tame the Lady of the Lake, begging the queen to deliver her from the Knight without Pity. Fawns, satyrs, and nymphs brought their greetings, while an Echo replied to the addresses of welcome. Amusements of every variety occupied the succeeding days. Hunting, bear baiting, fireworks, tilting, Morris dances, a rustic marriage, a fight between Danes and English, curious aquatic sports,—all succeeded each other, interspersed with brilliant feasts. Poems founded on the legends of Arthur, or drawn from the inexhaustible sources of mythology, were recited in the pauses of festivity, or sung beneath the windows of the queen. The same readiness of invention and luxuriance of fancy characterized all the celebrations of the time. The love of the dramatic which applauded Pyramus and Thisbe in the rural districts, made actors of the courtiers. When the French commissioners came to negotiate the marriage of Elizabeth with the Duke of Anjou, they were entertained with a triumph, in which the Earl of Arundel, Lord Windsor, Master Philip Sidney, and Master Fulk Grevil, impersonating the four “foster children of Desire,” carried by force of arms the “Fortress of Beauty,” which represented Elizabeth herself.
The age of Elizabeth, although it had worked itself free from the intellectual sloth of the Middle Ages, although it was familiarizing itself with an almost unknown world abroad, and creating a new world at home, yet had inherited with little qualification the violence, the cruelty, and the unbridled passions of the centuries which had gone before. All this variety of life was expressed in the drama, which, as a reflection of contemporary thought and manners, was to Elizabeth's time what the novel is to our own. Before the end of this reign there were eighteen theatres in London, all crowded with audiences which embraced every class of the people,—from the noble and court gallant who played cards on the stage, to the workmen and apprentices who fought and bandied coarse jests in the pit. The names of Marlowe, of Shakespeare, of Johnson, are sufficient to remind us of the grandeur to which the Elizabethan drama attained, under the influence of prosperity at home, victory abroad, and the quickening of the national intelligence which followed the revival of learning. But while the stage reflected all that was most noble, it reflected also all that was most base in human nature. Ecclesiastical discipline had been laid aside, and the unrestrained passions of men, which in actual life found vent in violence and debauchery, were gratified by the dramatic representation of the worst crimes and most vitiated tastes. The Puritans brought about reformation and self-restraint, by enforcing a new code of morals all the more rigid from the looseness which on every side they found to combat. In closing the theatres, they were actuated, in Mr. Green's words, by the hatred “of God-fearing men against the foulest depravity presented in a poetic and attractive form.”
While the drama reflected alike the good and the bad, all the finer aspirations of the time found expression in poetry. Spenser, Sackville, Drayton, Donne, Hall, the two Fletchers, are but leaders in a band of more than two hundred, who made this period unrivalled in the annals of English poetry. It was a time of unexampled prosperity, of an enlarged freedom, of an active intelligence, when men were eagerly seeking for whatever was novel and brilliant; when translations without number of the classical writers and contemporary foreign works were welcomed alike with the “costly attire of the new cut, the Dutch hat, the French hose, the Spanish rapier, the Italian hilt.” “It is a world to see how Englishmen desire to hear finer speech than the language will allow, to eat finer bread than is made of wheat, or wear finer cloth than is made of wool.” Such are the words in which John Lyly, the Euphuist, characterized his own time, and they were the words of one who expressed in his own writings the tendency to fanciful exaggeration, which was so strong among the men about him.
[Footnote 37: Froude's “History of England,” vol. 8, p. 429.]
[Footnote 38: Stone, “Chronicles of Fashion.”]
[Footnote 39: Holinshed, vol. I, p. 315; Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times", vol. 1, p. 72.]
[Footnote 40: Holinshed, vol. I, p. 275; Drake's “Shakespeare", vol. 1, p. 99.]
[Footnote 41: Harrison's “Description”; Drake's “Shakespeare,” vol. 1, p. 101.]
[Footnote 42: Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times,” vol. 1, p. 101.]
[Footnote 43: Henry Peacham, “Compleat Gentleman,” 1624.]
[Footnote 44: Bourne; Drake's “Shakespeare,” vol. 1, p. 153.]
[Footnote 45: Stubbes, “Anatomie of Abuses,” p. 168.]
[Footnote 46: Douce, “Illustrations of Shakespeare.”]
[Footnote 47: Stubbes; Drake's “Shakespeare,” vol. 1, ch. vi.]
[Footnote 48: Laevinius Lemnius; Drake, vol. 2, p. 113.]
[Footnote 49: Nichol's “Progresses of Elizabeth,” vol. 2, p. 391.]
[Footnote 50: Harrison: Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times,” vol. 2, p. 87.]
[Footnote 51: Harrison's “Description of England”; Holinshed, vol. I, pp. 289-90; Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times” vol. 2, pp. 88, 89.]
[Footnote 52: “Nugae Antique", Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times,” vol. 2, p. 90.]
[Footnote 53: “The Gull's Horn Book”; Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times", vol. 2, p. 184.]
[Footnote 54: Lodge's “Illustrations.”]
[Footnote 55: Idem.]
[Footnote 56: Green, “Short History of the English People,” p. 429.]
It is to the drama that we must look for the most complete literary expression of the social condition of the period. The student of history must regret, indeed, that the realistic novel, with its study of human thoughts and motives, with its illustration of manners and customs, so valuable in a reconstruction of the past, should have been delayed till the end of the seventeenth century. But though there be regret, there cannot be surprise. The reigns of Elizabeth and the Stuarts cover the period of court life; when men lived in public, and sought their intellectual entertainment in crowds at a theatre, as now, in a time of citizen-life, they seek it in private, by the study-lamp. In a dramatic age the creations of the imagination will be placed behind the footlights, and in a period of quiet and reflection they will be placed between the covers of a book. In the age of Elizabeth the writers of fiction neither studied the characters and manners of the men about them, nor aimed at any reflection of actual life. But their tales and romances were the natural fruit of their intellectual condition, and form an interesting if not a valuable portion of English fiction. In them are reflected the happiness, the poetry, the love of novelty, and the ideality of the time. The stirring incidents of chivalric romance were no longer in vogue, and the subject became an idealized love. But the most striking feature of Elizabethan fiction is the great importance attached to style. The writer cared more to excite admiration by the turn of his phrases and the ornaments of his language, than to interest his reader by plot or incident.
In 1579 John Lyly published his curious romance, “Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit,” a work which attained a great popularity, and made the word Euphuism an abstract term in the language to express the ornate and antithetical style of which this book is the most marked example. In Lyly's own day it was said by Edward Blount that the nation was “in his debt for a new English which hee taught them.” Since then, the verdict of posterity has been that Lyly corrupted the public taste, and introduced an affected and overloaded manner of writing which had a mischievous influence upon literature. A careful examination of Lyly's work, and of the condition of the English language in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, will not sustain either of these views. The Euphuistic style was not of Lyly's invention. He acquired it from the men about him, and merely gave it, through his writings, a distinct character and individuality. In a letter of Elizabeth to her brother Edward VI, long-before “Euphues” was written, occurs the following passage: “Like as a shipman in stormy wether plukes down the sails tarrying for bettar winde, so did I, most noble kinge, in my unfortunate chanche a Thursday pluk downe the hie sailes of my joy and comforte, and do trust one day that as troublesome waves have repulsed me backwarde, so a gentil winde will bringe me forwarde to my haven.” This is a moderate specimen of the ornate and exaggerated language which was following the new acquisitions of learning and intelligence, just as extravagance in dress and food was following the new prosperity and wealth. Men wished to crowd their learning and cultivation into every thing they said or wrote. As the language was not yet settled by good prose writers, the more affected a style, the more numerous its similes, and far-fetched its allusions, the more ingenious and admirable it was considered to be. There resulted a sacrifice of clearness and simplicity to a strained elegance. Still, in the Euphuistic style, tedious and grotesque as it often is, appear the first serious efforts, among English prose writers, to attain a better mode of expression. The results which followed the absence of a standard written language at home were strengthened by the general acquaintance with foreign literature. Italy in the sixteenth century was the leading intellectual nation, and the example of the refined and over-polished manner of writing there prevalent had much to do with the growth in England of a fondness for affected mannerisms and fancied ornaments of language. The new ideas in regard to poetry and versification which Wyat and Surrey had brought from Italy, were but the beginning of an extensive Italian influence. It was not without reason that Ascham inveighed against “the enchantments of Circe brought out of Italy to mar men's manners in England.” Italian works were translated and circulated in great numbers in England, and among these the most popular were the gay and amorous productions of the story tellers.
Born in Kent in 1554, John Lyly studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, and received the degree of Master of Arts. Not a very diligent scholar, he disliked the “crabbed studies” of logic and philosophy, “his genie being naturally bent to the pleasant paths of poetry,” but he was reputed at the University as afterward at Elizabeth's court, “a rare poet, witty, comical, and facetious.” During his life in London he produced a number of plays and poems which have given his name a not inconsiderable place in the list of Elizabethan poets and dramatists. He is now best known, where known at all, by his prose work “Euphues,” which was so much admired at Elizabeth's court, that all the ladies knew his phrases by heart, and to “parley Euphuism” was a sign of breeding. For many years Lyly lingered about the court waiting for a promised position to reward his labors and support his declining years. But in vain. “A thousand hopes,” he complained, “but all nothing; a hundred promises, but yet nothing.” Lyly died in 1606, leaving, as he said, but three legacies; “Patience to my creditors, Melancholie without measure to my friends, and Beggarie without shame to my family.”
The deeper meaning of Lyly's work, which lies beneath the surface of his similes and antitheses, has escaped almost all his critics. It is suggested by the title, “Euphues, The Anatomy of Wit.” In the “Schoolmaster,” Ascham explained how Socrates had described the anatomy of wit in a child, and the first essential quality mentioned by Socrates, and that most fully discussed by Ascham was Euphues which may be translated of good natural parts, as well of the body as the mind. Euphues, then, as well in the story in which he figures, as afterward in the essays or which he is the supposed author, is the model of a young man at once attractive in appearance, and possessing the mental qualities most calculated to please. While the story is meant to attract readers, the essays and digressions introduced into the work are intended to inculcate the methods of education which Lyly taught in common with Ascham. It was, however, the manner rather than the matter which gave to “Euphues” its prominence and popularity. The story is but a slender thread. Euphues and Philautus are two young gentlemen of Naples, bound together by the closest ties of friendship. Philautus is deeply enamored of a lady named Lucilla, to whom in an unfortunate moment he presents Euphues. The meeting is at supper, and the conversation turns on the question “often disputed, but never determined, whether the qualities of the minde, or the composition of the man, cause women most to lyke, or whether beautie or wit move men most to love.” Euphues shows so much ingenuity in the discussion of this interesting subject that Lucilla transfers her affections to him. Upon this the two friends quarrel and exchange letters of mutual recrimination couched in the most elaborate language. Philautus writes:
Although hereto Euphues, I have shrined thee in my heart for
a trustie friende, I will shunne thee hereafter as a trothless
foe. * * * Dost thou not know yat a perfect friend should be lyke
the Glazeworme, which shineth most bright in the darke? or lyke the
pure Frankencense which smelleth most sweet when it is in the fire?
or at the leaste not unlike to the damaske Rose which is sweeter in
the still than on the stalke? But thou, Euphues, dost rather
resemble the Swallow, which in the summer creepeth under the eues
of euery house, and in the winter leaveth nothing but durt behinde
hir; or the humble Bee, which hauing sucked hunny out of the fayre
flower, doth leaue it and loath it; or the Spider which in the
finest web doth hang the fayrest Fly.
To these bitter reproaches Euphues replies that “Love knoweth no Lawes,” and in support of the proposition cites as many cases from mythology as he can remember. The faithless Lucilla, however, soon treats Euphues as she had before treated Philautus, and marries a third lover whom they both despise. The friends are then once more united, and lament in each other's arms the folly of Lucilla. A second part of the work appeared in the following year, in which Euphues and Philautus are represented on a visit to England. Philautus marries, and Euphues, after eulogizing the English government, Elizabeth, and all her court, retires forever “to the bottom of the mountain Silexedra.”
The educational essays dispersed throughout the book display a good sense which even Lyly's style cannot conceal. Ascham and Lyly were alone in deprecating the excessive use of the rod, and in so doing were far in advance of the age. Cruelty seems to have been a common characteristic of the school-teacher. “I knew one,” said Peacham, “who in winter would ordinarily in a cold morning whip his boyes over for no other purpose than to get himself a heat; another beat them for swearing, and all the time he swears himself with horrible oathes that he would forgive any fault save that. * * * Yet these are they that oftentimes have our hopefull gentry under their charge and tuition, to bring them (up) in science and civility.”
The style which proved so attractive to Elizabeth's courtiers had three principal characteristics, which the reader will perceive in the extracts hereafter to be given—a pedantic exhibition of learning, an excess of similes drawn from natural history, usually untrue to nature, and a habit of antithesis, which, by constant repetition becomes exceedingly wearisome. Euphues, wishing to convince his listeners of the inferiority of outward to inward perfection, pursues the following argument:
The foule Toade hath a fayre stone in his head, the fine golde is
found in the filthy earth; the sweet kernell lyeth in the hard
shell; vertue is harboured in the heart of him that most men
esteeme misshappen. Contrarywise, if we respect more the outward
shape, then the inward habit, good God, into how many mischiefs do
wee fall? into what blindnesse are we ledde? Due we not commonly
see that in painted pottes is hidden the deadlyest poyson? that in
the greenest grasse is ye greatest serpent? in the cleerest water
the vgliest Toade? Doth not experience teach vs, that in the most
curious sepulcher are enclosed rotten bones? That the Cypresse tree
beareth a faire leafe, but no fruite? That the Estridge carrieth
faire feathers, but ranke flesh? How frantick are those louers
which are carried away with the gaye glistering of the fine face?
“In the coldest flint,” says Lucilla, “there is hot fire, the Bee
that hath hunny in hir mouth, hath a sting in hir tayle; the tree
that beareth the sweetest fruite, hath a sower sap; yea, the wordes
of men though they seeme smooth as oyle: yet their heartes are as
crooked as the stalke of luie.”
Lyly's antithetical style is well illustrated by the following passage, in which he means to be particularly serious and impressive:
If I should talke in words of those things which I haue to conferre
with thee in writings, certes thou would blush for shame, and I
weepe for sorrowe: neither could my tongue vtter yat with patience,
which my hand can scarse write with modesty, neither could thy ears
heare that without glowing, which thine eyes can hardly vewe
without griefe. Ah, Alcius, I cannot tell whether I should most
lament in thee thy want of learning, or thy wanton lyvinge, in the
on thou art inferiour to all men, in the other superiour to al
beasts. Insomuch as who seeth thy dul wit, and marketh thy froward
will, may well say that he neuer saw smacke of learning in thy
dooings, nor sparke of relygion in thy life. Thou onely vauntest of
thy gentry: truely thou wast made a gentleman before thou knewest
what honesty meant, and no more hast thou to boast of thy stocke,
than he, who being left rich by his father, dyeth a beggar by his
folly. Nobilitie began in thine auncestors and endeth in thee, and
the generositie that they gayned by vertue, thou hast blotted with
The popularity of “Euphues” excited much imitation, and its influence is strongly marked in the works of Robert Greene. Born in Norfolk in 1560, Greene studied at Cambridge and received the degree of Master of Arts. After wasting his property in Italy and Spain, he returned to London to earn his bread by the pen. As a pamphleteer, as a poet, and especially as a dramatist, Greene achieved a considerable reputation. But his improvident habits and a life of constant debauchery brought his career to a close, amidst poverty and remorse, at the early age of thirty-two. He died in a drunken brawl, leaving in his works the evidence of talents and qualities which the degradation of his life had failed to destroy.
Greene's “Arcadia” was published in 1587, and bears in its fanciful title of “Camilla's Alarum to Slumber Euphues,” the evidence of its inspiration. Even among pastorals the improbability of this story is surpassing. Damocles, king of Arcadia, banished his daughter with her husband and son. Sephestia, the daughter, arrived in a part of Arcadia entirely inhabited by shepherds. There she becomes a shepherdess under the name of Samela, and meets her husband, Maximus, who is already tending sheep in the same neighborhood with the name of Melicertus. Strange to say, Sephestia fails to recognize her husband, and receives his addresses as a favored lover. Soon after, Pleusidippus, Sephestia's son, is stolen by pirates, and adopted by the king of Thessaly, in whose court he grows up. The fame of Sephestia's beauty reaches her father and her son, who, ignorant of the relationship in consequence of Sephestia's change of name, both set out to woo the celebrated shepherdess. The repulsive scene of the same woman being the object at once of the passion of her father and her son is ended by Damocles carrying off Sephestia to his own court, where he proposes to execute Maximus as his successful rival, and Sephestia for her obstinate refusal of his addresses. The Delphian oracle, however, interposes in time by declaring the identity of Sephestia, and the story terminates as usual in weddings and reconciliations.
The conventional shepherd's life is well described in the “Arcadia,” and the pastoral tone is skilfully maintained. The language, however, is confessedly euphuistic, as may be seen by the author's comment on a speech of Samela:
Samela made this reply, because she had heard him so superfine, as
if Ephebus had learned him to refine his mother's tongue; wherefore
though he had done it of an ink horn desire to be eloquent, and
Melicertus thinking Samela had learned with Lucilla in Athens to
anatomize wit, and speak none but similes, imagined she smoothed
her talk to be thought like Sappho, Phaon's paramour.
The following passage could hardly be distinguished from the writings of Lyly:
I had thought, Menaphon, that he which weareth the bay leaf had
been free from lightning, and the eagle's pen a preservative
against thunder; that labour had been enemy to love, and the
eschewing of idleness an antidote against fancy; but I see by
proof, there is no adamant so hard, but the blood of a goat will
make soft, no fort so well defended, but strong battery will entry,
nor any heart so pliant to restless labours, but enchantments of
love will overcome.
Melicertus addresses Samela, whom he finds feeding her flocks, in the following terms:
Mistress of all eyes that glance but at the excellence of your
perfection, sovereign of all such as Venus hath allowed for lovers,
Oenone's over-match, Arcadia's comet, Beauty's second comfort,
all hail! Seeing you sit like Juno when she first watched her white
heifer on the Lincen downs, as bright as silver Phoebe mounted on
the high top of the ruddy element, I was, by a strange attractive
force, drawn, as the adamant draws this iron, or the jet the straw,
to visit your sweet self in the shade, and afford you such company
as a poor swain may yield without offense; which, if you shall
vouch to deign of, I shall be as glad of such accepted service, as
Paris was first of his best beloved paramour.
Another of Samela's lovers, despairing of success, “became sick for anger, and spent whole ecologues in anguish.”
Greene's story of “Pandosto,” of “Dorastus and Fawnia,” which attained a great popularity, and went through at least fourteen editions, is well known as the foundation of Shakespeare's “Winter's Tale.” Shakespeare has followed Greene in the material points of the story, even so far as to make Bohemia a maritime country. But the genius of the dramatist is manifest in the miraculous and happy ending which he substitutes for the unlawful love and inconsistent suicide of Pandosto in the work of Greene. Shakespeare borrowed from the text, as well as from the plot of the novelist. The lines,
The gods themselves,
Humbling their deities to love, have taken
The shapes of beasts upon them: Jupiter
Became a bull, and bellowed: the green Neptune
A ram, and bleated; and the fire robed god,
Golden Apollo, a poor humble swain,
As I seem now,
are evidently a reproduction of the soliloquy of Dorastus:
And yet Dorastus, shame not at thy shepheard's weede: The heavenly
Godes have sometime earthly thoughts: Neptune became a ram, Jupiter
a bull, Apollo a shepheard; they Gods, and yet in love; and thou a
man appointed to love.
The story of “Philomela,” “penned to approve women's chastity,” is the best of Greene's tales, and approaches more closely the modern novel than any work of the time. It is related with much less than the usual prolixity, and contains two characters of distinct individuality. The scene is placed in Venice, partly in consequence of the Italian origin of the story, and partly, it would seem, because writers of fiction imagined that the further distant they could represent their incidents to have occurred, the more interest and probability would attach to them. Philippo Medici possessed a wife Philomela, renowned, “not for her beauty, though Italy afforded none so fair—not for her dowry, though she were the only daughter of the Duke of Milan—but for the admirable honours of her mind, which were so many and matchless, that virtue seemed to have planted there the paradise of her perfection.” Philippo was so prone to jealousy, that he suspected even this paragon, and worked himself into a belief in her infidelity by such euphuisms as these: “The greener the Alisander leaves be, the more bitter is the sap, and the salamander is the most warm when he lieth furthest from the fire,” therefore “women are most heart-hollow, when they are most lip-holy.” Inflamed by this reasoning, he induced a friend, one Lutesio, to attempt his wife's virtue, enjoining him to bring immediate information in case of any evidence of success. Lutesio, after some misgivings, undertook the task, and under the influence of Philomela's beauty, found it a very agreeable one. His most elaborate discourses on love in the abstract were met by Philomela with replies fully as long and fully as lofty, but when he made the conversation personal, and declared his attitude to be that of a lover, he was met with a virtuous indignation which fully bore out the reputation of Philomela. Even this conclusive test did not satisfy the jealous mind of the wretched Philippo. Having hired two slaves to swear in court to his wife's infidelity, he procured her banishment to Palermo. By the efforts of the Duke of Milan, this infamous proceeding was finally exposed, and Philippo, overcome by remorse, set out in search of Philomela. At Palermo, he accused himself, in a fit of despair, of a murder which had been committed in that city. But while the trial was in progress, Philomela, in order to shield her husband, appeared in court and proclaimed herself guilty of the crime. The innocence of both was discovered. Philippo, as he deserved, died immediately in an “ecstacy,” and Philomela “returned home to Venice, and there lived the desolate widow of Philippo Medici all her life; which constant chastity made her so famous, that in her life she was honoured as the paragon of virtue, and after her death, solemnly, and with wonderful honour, entombed in St. Mark's Church, and her fame holden canonized until this day in Venice.”
The character of Philomela possesses strong traits of feminine virtue and wifely fidelity. Philippo has little distinctiveness except in his extreme susceptibility to jealousy—a fault which was exaggerated by the author to set off the opposite qualities of Philomela. The story has no little merit in regard to the construction and sequence of the narrative, and holds up to admiration a high moral excellence. But its interest is seriously impaired by the same defect which marks all the fiction of the time. Philomela is almost the only tale which makes any pretence to being a description of actual life, or which deals with possible incidents. Yet the language, although it has some elegance, is so affectedly formal, that all sense of reality is destroyed. When Philippo's treachery to his wife is discovered, and he himself is plunged in remorse, it is in such words as these that he speaks of his exposure: “There is nothing so secret but the date of days will reveal; that as oil, though it moist, quencheth not fire, so time, though ever so long, is no sure covert for sin; but as a spark raked up in cinders will at last begin to glow and manifest a flame, so treachery hidden in silence will burst forth and cry for revenge.”
A prose idyl is the term which best describes the courtly and pastoral character of Lodge's “Rosalynde,” the last work of fiction of any importance which distinctly bears the impress of euphuism. Published in 1590, the ten editions through which it passed during the next fifty years are sufficient evidence of its popularity. It is probably the only work of fiction of Elizabeth's time which could be read through at the present day without impatience, and its story and personages are well known to all through their reproduction in Shakespeare's “As You Like it.” The author of “Rosalynde” was a man of very varied talents and experience. The son, it is believed, of a Lord Mayor of London, he graduated at Trinity College, Oxford, and followed successively the professions of an actor, soldier, lawyer, and physician. In the intervals of these occupations, he found time to join in two privateering expeditions to the Pacific, and to publish a number of literary productions, of which the most successful were dramas and poems. He is thought to have died of the plague in 1625.
“ROSALYNDE. EUPHUES' GOLDEN LEGACIE: Found after his death in his cell at Silexedra, Bequeathed to Philantus' sonnes nursed up with their Father in England. Fetched from the Canaries by T.L., Gent.” Such is the fanciful title of the story which Shakespeare transformed into “As You Like it.” In the comedy, the characters of Touchstone, Audrey, and Jacques are added, but otherwise the dramatist has followed his original quite closely. He made use, not infrequently, of the language as well as the incidents of Lodge, which in itself is sufficient praise. “Rosalynde,” is, indeed, a charming tale, containing agreeable and well drawn characters, dramatic incidents, and written in an elevated strain of dignity and purity. Occasionally, the influence of “Euphues” is manifest:—“Unhappy Saladyne, whom folly hath led to these misfortunes, and wanton desires wrapt within the laborinth of these calamities. Are not the heavens doomers of men's deedes? And holdes not God a ballance in his fist, to reward with favour and revenge with justice? Oh, Saladyne, the faults of thy youth, as they were fond, so were they foule; and not onely discovering little nourture, but blemishing the excellence of nature.”
A more natural and attractive passage is the discussion between Rosalynde and Alinda, regarding their escape from court.
Rosalynde began to comfort her, and after shee had wept a fewe kind
teares in the bosome of her Alinda, she gave her heartie thankes,
and then they sat them downe to consult how they should travel.
Alinda grieved at nothing but they might have no man in their
company; saying it would be their greatest prejudice in that two
women went wandering without either guide or attendant. “Tush
(quoth Rosalynde), art thou a woman and hast not a sodeine shift to
prevent a misfortune? I, thou seest, am of a tall stature, and
would very wel become the person and apparel of a Page: thou shalt
bee my mistresse, and I wil play the man so properly, that (trust
me) in what company so ever I come I will not be discovered: I wil
buy me a suite, and have my Rapier very handsomely at my side, and
if any knave offer wrong, your Page wil shew him the poynt of his
Shakespeare has followed this scene very closely in “As You Like It.”
Ros. Alas, what danger will it be to us,
Maids as we are, to travel forth so far!
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.
Cel. I'll put myself in poor and mean attire,
And with a kind of umber smirch my face;
The like do you; so shall we pass along
And never stir assailants
Ros. Were it not better,
Because that I am more than common tall,
That I did suit me all points like a man?
A gallant curtle-axe upon my thigh.
A boar spear in my hand; and in my heart,
Lie there what hidden woman's fear there will,—
We'll have a swashing and a martial outside.
As many other mannish cowards have
That do outface it with their semblances.
The most brilliant and characteristic work of fiction belonging to the Elizabethan era composed by a man who was himself regarded by his contemporaries as the embodiment of all the qualities they most loved and admired. During the three hundred years which have elapsed since the death of Sir Philip Sidney, the same enthusiastic praise has accompanied the mention of his name. Sir William Temple, writing in a critical time, and when the effect of Sidney's personal character need no longer have biassed a literary judgment, pronounced Sir Philip to be “the greatest poet and the noblest genius of any that have left writings behind them.” Such were the words of a man of genius, who was acquainted with the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Spenser. While all admirers of Sidney must regret a praise of his literary abilities so exaggerated and mistaken, the eulogies which have been lavished upon his personal character have never been thought to surpass the worth of their object. Sir Philip Sidney, in the short life allotted to him, had added to his personal beauty and amiable disposition all that was most fitted to win the admiration of his time. His rare accomplishments, his chivalrous manners and unusual powers of conversation made him so great a favorite at court, that it was the pride of Elizabeth to call him “her Philip.” A considerable knowledge of military affairs, and a fearless gallantry in battle, combined, with Sidney's genial disposition, to win for him the universal affection of the army. The violence of the Middle Ages lingers in Sir Philip's angry words to his father's secretary: “Mr. Molyneux, if ever I know you to do so much as read any letter I write to my father, without his commandment or my consent, I will thrust my dagger into you. And trust to it, for I speak it in earnest.” But the spirit of generosity and self-sacrifice, which we are also accustomed to associate with mediaeval knighthood, was realized in the famous scene on the battle-field before Zutphen. With good natural talents and an untiring industry, Sir Philip acquired a knowledge of science, of languages, and of literature, which gave him a reputation abroad as well as at home. The learned Languet relinquished his regular duties without prospect of pecuniary reward “to be a nurse of knowledge to this hopeful young gentleman.” The regrets of the universities at Sidney's death filled three volumes with academic eulogies. But a better testimony than these volumes to the general admiration for Sidney's talents, and to his position as a patron of literature, is to be found in the beautiful lines in which Spenser lamented his benefactor, and in two sentences by poor Tom Nash, who knew but too well the value of what he and his fellow-laborers had lost: “Gentle Sir Philip Sidney, thou knewest what belonged to a scholar; thou knewest what pains, what toil, what travel conduct to perfection; well could'st thou give every virtue his encouragement, every art his due, every writer his desert, cause none more virtuous, witty, or learned than thyself. But thou art dead in thy grave, and has left too few successors of thy glory, too few to cherish the sons of the Muses, or water those budding hopes with their plenty, which thy bounty erst planted.” The public manifestations of grief at Sidney's death, and the rivalry of two nations for the possession of his remains, seem to have proceeded rather from the fame of his personal virtues than from the accomplishment of great achievements. It was recorded on the tomb of the learned Dr. Thornton that he had been “the tutor of Sir Philip Sidney,” and Lord Brooke caused the inscription to be placed over his own grave: “Fulke Greville, servant to Queen Elizabeth, counsellor to King James, and friend to Sir Philip Sidney.”
The work of a man who belonged so thoroughly to his own time, and who united in himself talents and virtues so remarkable could hardly fail to be of historical interest. Such is the value now belonging to the “Arcadia”—a work unrivalled in its own day, and deserving the admiration of the present, but which has been left behind in the great advance of English prose fiction. In the courtly pages of the “Arcadia" are brilliantly reflected the lofty strain of sentiment characteristic of Elizabeth's time, and the chivalry, the refinement, and the impetuosity of if its noble author. “Heere have you now,” wrote Sir Philip to his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, “most deare, and most worthy to be most deare Ladie, this idle worke of mine. * * * Youre deare self can best witnesse the manner, being done in loose sheetes of paper, most of it in your presence, the rest by sheetes sent unto you, as fast as they were done.” It would be tedious to the reader to receive a detailed description of the story which extends through the four hundred and eighty pages of Sidney's folio. The plot turns on the fulfilment of a Delphian prophecy, in fear of which Basilius, king of Arcadia, retires to a forest with his wife and two daughters. One daughter, Philoclea, lives with her father Basilius, and the other, Pamela, is confided to the care of Dametas, a country fellow, in the service of Basilius, who lives close by with his wife. Pyrocles, prince of Macedon, and Musidorus, prince of Thessaly, are wrecked on the coast of Arcadia, where they soon become enamored of the two daughters of Basilius. To the better attainment of their ends, Pyrocles obtains admittance to the house of Basilius in the disguise of an Amazon, and Musidorus enters the service of Dametas in the character of a shepherd. The story which is unrolled in the remainder of the work relates the extraordinary occurrences which are necessary to the fulfilment of the Delphian prophecy, together with the intrigues and adventures of the young lovers. Shipwrecks, attacks by pirates, rescues, journeys through Arcadia among poetic shepherds, a war with the Helots, through forests and carving sonnets on trees,—such are the scenes which succeed each other with unending variety. On the arrival of Pyrocles and Musidorus in Arcadia, the reader is introduced to that ideal land, never more happily described than by Sidney's pen:
The third day after, in the time that the Morning did strow roses
and violets in the heavenly floore against the comming of the
sunne, the Nightingales, (striving one with the other which could
in most daintie varietie recount their wrong caused sorrow,) made
them put off their sleepe, and rising from under a tree, (which
that night had bin their pavillion,) they went on their journey,
which by and by welcomed Musidorus eies (wearied with the wasted
soile of Laconia) with delightfull prospects. There were hills
which garnished their proud heights with stately trees: humble
vallies, whose base estate seemed comforted with the refreshing of
silver rivers: medowes, enameled with all sorts of eie pleasing
flowers; thickets, which being lined with most pleasant shade, were
witnessed so too, by the cheerfull disposition of manie well tuned
birds: each pasture stored with sheep feeding with sober securitie,
while the prettie lambes with bleating oratorie craved the dammes
comfort: here a shepheards boy piping, as though he should never be
old: there a young shepheardesse knitting, and withall singing, and
it seemed that her voice comforted her hands to worke, and her
hands kept time to her voice's musick. As for the houses of the
country, (for manie houses came under their eye,) they were all
scattered, no two being one by th' other, and yet not so farre off
as that it barred mutuall succour: a shew, as it were, of an
accompanable solitarinesse, and of a civill wildeness.
Amid such scenes dwell Basilius and his wife, whose two daughters are described by Sidney in language unsurpassed for delicacy and charm.
Of these two are brought to the world two daughters, so beyond
measure excellent in all the gifts allotted to reasonable
creatures, that we may thinke they were borne to shew, that nature
is no stepmother to that sexe, how much so ever some men (sharp
witted onely in evill speaking) have sought to disgrace them. The
elder is named Pamela, by many men not deemed inferiour to her
sister: for my part, when I marked them both, me thought there was,
(if at least such perfections may receive the word of more,) more
sweetness in Philoclea, but more majestie in Pamela: mee thought
love plaied in Philoclea's eies, &threatened in Pamela's; me
thought Philoclea's beautie only perswaded, but so perswaded that
all hearts must yield; Pamela's beautie used violence, and such
violence as no heart could resist. And it seems that such
proportion is betweene their mindes; Philoclea so bashfull, as
though her excellencies had stolne into her before she was aware,
so humble, that she will put all pride out of countenance; in
summe, such proceeding as will stirre hope, but teach hope good
maners. Pamela of high thoughts, who avoids not pride with not
knowing her excellencies, but by my making that one of her
excellencies to be void of pride: her mother's wisdome, greatnesse,
nobilitie, but (if I can guesse aright) knit with a more constant
The description of an envious man in the second book, which suggested to Sir Richard Steele his essay in the nineteenth number of the Spectator, is another good example of Sidney's ability in delineating character. The passage in which Musidorus is represented showing off the paces of his horse, a subject especially adapted to excite the best effort of the author, is a very remarkable effort of descriptive power, for the insertion of which, unfortunately, space is wanting here. Sidney might have quoted his description of Pamela sewing, to justify his belief that “It is not rhyming and versing that maketh poesy”:
Pamela, who that day having wearied her selfe with reading, * * * was
working upon a purse certaine roses and lillies. * * * The flowers
shee had wrought caried such life in them, that the cunningest
painter might have learned of her needle: which, with so pretty a
manner, made his careers to &fro through the cloth, as if the needle
it selfe would haue been loth to haue gone fromward such a mistresse,
but that it hoped to returne thitherward very quickly againe; the
cloth looking with many eyes vpon her, and louingly embracing the
wounds she gaue it: the sheares also were at hand to behead the silke
that was growne too short. And if at any time shee put her mouth to
bite it off, it seemed, that where she had beene long in making of
a rose with her hands, she would in an instant make roses with her
lips; as the lillies seemed to haue their whitenesse rather of the
hand that made them, than of the matter whereof they were made;
&that they grew there by the suns of her eyes, and were refreshed
by the most * * * comfortable ayre, which an unawares sigh might
bestow upon them.
Charles I. passed many hours of his prison life in reading the “Arcadia,” and Milton accused him of stealing a prayer of Pamela to insert in the “Eikon Basilike”: “And that in no serious book, but the vain amatorious poem of Sir Philip Sidney's 'Arcadia'; a book in that kind, full of worth and wit, but among religious thoughts and duties not worthy to be named: nor to be read at any time without good caution, much less in time of trouble and affliction to be a Christian's prayerbook.” This prayer is in itself so beautiful, coming from the lips of Pamela, and the greater part of it suits so perfectly the unhappy circumstances of King Charles, that at the risk of unduly multiplying our extracts from the “Arcadia,” it will be inserted here:—
And therewith kneeling downe, euen where shee stood, she thus said:
O All-seeing Light, and eternall Life of all things, to whom
nothing is either so great, that it may resist; or so small, that
it is condemned: looke vpon my misery with thine eye of mercie, and
let thine infinite power vouchsafe to limite out some proportion of
deliuerance vnto me, as to thee shall seeme most conuenient. Let
not injurie, O Lord, triumph ouer me, and let my faults by thy hand
bee corrected, and make not mine vnjust enemy the minister of thy
justice. But yet, my God, if in thy wisdome this be the aptest
chastisement for my vnexcusable folly: if this low bondage be
fittest to my ouerhigh desires: if the pride of my not inough
humble heart be thus to be broken, O Lord I yeeld vnto thy will,
and joyfully embrace what sorrow thou will haue mee suffer. Onely
thus much let me craue of thee, (let my crauing, O Lord, be
accepted of thee, since euen that proceeds from thee,) let me
craue, euen by the noblest title, which in my greatest affliction I
may give myself, that I am thy creature, and by thy goodness (which
is thyselfe) that thou wilt suffer some beame of thy Majestie so to
shine into my minde, that it may still depend confidently on thee.
Let calamitie be the exercise, but not the ouerthrow or my vertue;
let their power preuaile, but preuaile not to destruction; let my
greatnesse be their pray; let my paine bee the sweetnesse of there
reuenge: let them, (if so it seeme good vnto thee) vexe me with
more and more punishment. But, O Lord, let neuer their wickednesse
haue such a hand, but that I may cary a pure minde in a pure body.
(And pausing a while.) And O most gracious Lord, (said she) what
euer become of me, preserve the vertuous Musidorus.
The “Arcadia” combines the elements of both the chivalric and the pastoral romance. Sidney's familiarity with the legends of Arthur, together with his own gallantry and love of adventure, peculiarly adapted him to describe martial scenes. But the chivalry of Sir Philip is not more apparent where he describes the shock of arms than where, with such exquisite delicacy, he writes of women. The student of English fiction would fain linger long over the pages which describe the loves of Pamela and Philoclea. For when these pages are laid aside, it is long before he may again meet with the poetry, the manly and womanly sentiment, and the pure yet stirring passion which adorn the romance of Elizabeth's Philip. Three centuries have passed away since the “Arcadia” was written, and we who live at the end of this period not unjustly congratulate ourselves on our superior civilization and refinement. And yet in all this time we have arrived of no higher conception of feminine virtue or chivalrous manhood than is to be found in this sixteenth-century romance, and during one half of these three hundred years there was to be seen so little trace of such a conception, whether in life or in literature, that the word love seemed to have lost its nobler meaning and to stand for no more than animal desire. There is not in English fiction a more charming picture of feminine modesty than that of Pamela hiding her love for Musidorus.
How delightfull soeuer it was, my delight might well bee in my
soule, but it neuer wente to looke out of the window to doe him any
comforte. But how much more I found reason to like him, the more I
set all the strength of my minde to conceale it. * * * Full often
hath my breast swollen with keeping my sighes imprisoned: full
often have the teares I draue back from mine eyes turned back to
drowne my heart. But, alas, what did that helpe poore Dorus?
Hardly less beautiful is the gradual yielding, through pity, of Pamela's maidenly heart.
This last dayes danger having made Pamela's loue discerne what a
losse it should haue suffered if Dorus had beene destroyed, bred
such tendernesse of kindnesse in her toward him, that she could no
longer keepe loue from looking out through her eyes, and going
forth in her words; whom before as a close prisoner, shee had to
her heart onely committed: so as finding not onely by his speeches
and letters, but by the pitifull oration of a languishing behaviour,
and the easily deciphered character of a sorrowfull face, that
despaire began now to threaten him destruction, she grew content
both to pitie him, and let him see shee pitied him. * * * by making
her owne beautifull beames to thaw away the former ycinesse of her
That portion of the “Arcadia” which relates to pastoral life owes its origin to Spanish and Portuguese works. But there were not wanting to Sidney's experience actual examples of that peaceful existence to which, in troubled times, men have so often turned as a pleasing contrast to their own cares, and dangers. The shepherds of the Sussex Downs, pursuing through centuries their simple vocation, unheeded by the world, untouched by revolution or civil war, tended their sheep with little thought or knowledge of the world beyond the downs, and presented to the poet a picture of calm content, in pleasing contrast to the active or terrible incidents which more frequently made up the sum both of romance and of actual life. The shepherds of the “Arcadia" make even less pretence to reality than the martial heroes. They are usually poets and musicians; speaking in courtly phrases, and occupied with amorous adventures, they serve sometimes to relieve, and sometimes to heighten, the more stirring scenes.
A third element in the “Arcadia” is the comic, and with this, as might be expected from the rather crude ideas of humor prevalent in the sixteenth century, Sidney met with indifferent success. The wit depends on the ugliness, the perversity, and the clownish character of Dametas, his wife, and their daughter Mopsa. It partakes of the nature of the practical joke, and though it no doubt amused the courtiers of Elizabeth, is too clumsy for a more cultivated taste. But although Sidney's comic scenes may no longer amuse, it must be said that they are free from the low coarseness and ribaldry which have furnished merriment to times which pretended to a much higher standard of wit and education than his own. An interesting contrast may be made between a comic passage of the “Arcadia,” representing a fight between two cowards, and perhaps the only scene in the “Morte d'Arthur” of humorous intent,—that in which King Mark is ignominiously put to flight by Arthur's court fool disguised in the armor of a knight.
In the history of English literature, Sir Philip Sidney's romance will always have a prominent place as the first specimen of a fine prose style. The affectations and mannerisms which are its chief defect were due to the unsettled condition of the language, and to the influence of foreign works, which the general love of learning had made familiar to cultivated Englishmen. The position of the “Arcadia” in fiction is established by the exquisite descriptions of nature and the life-like sketches of character which will often reward the patient reader. That prolixity, which more than any other cause has made the work obsolete, and, as a whole, unreadable, was a recommendation rather than an objection at the time of publication. The “Arcadia,” standing almost alone in the department of fiction, and far superior to its few competitors, took the place of a small circulating library. A spirit of lofty ideality pervades the work of Sir Philip Sidney, which is expressive of the aspirations of his time. In the fictions of that age is to be seen a constant attempt, not always successful, to dignify life, to exalt the beautiful, and to conceal or condemn the base. Everyday life was not tempting to the writer, because it contained too much that was repulsive. The story teller and the poet painted amid unreal scenes that happiness and virtue which they thought more easily to be conceived in an ideal land of knights and shepherds, than amidst the cares and dangers of their own existence.
[Footnote 57: Paine's “History of English Literature,” book iii, ch. 1.]
[Footnote 58: Nichol's “Progresses,” vol. I, p. 3.]
[Footnote 59: The Italian tales were issued in various collections, such as Painter's “Palace of Pleasure,” Whetstone's “Heptameron,” the “Histories” of Goulard and Grimstone. One of the best of these collections is “Westward for Smelts,” by Kinde Kit of Kingstone, circa 1603, reprinted by the Percy Society. It is on the same plan as Boccaccio's “Decamerone,” except that the story-tellers are fish-wives going up the Thames in a boat. Imitations of the Italian tales may be found in Hazlitt's “Shakespeare's Library,” notably “Romeo and Julietta.” Most of these are modernized versions of old tales. I may here add, as undeserving further mention, such stories as “Jacke of Dover's Quest of Inquirie,” 1601, Percy Soc.; “A Search for Money,” by William Rowley, dramatist, 1609, Percy Soc.; and “The Man in the Moone, or the English Fortune-Teller,” 1609, Percy Soc.]
[Footnote 60: The most comprehensive remarks on Lyly and “Euphues" are to be found in the London Quarterly Review for April, 1801, and are due to Mr. Henry Morley.]
[Footnote 61: Henry Peacham, “Compleat Gentleman.” See Drake's “Shakespeare and his Times.”]
[Footnote 62: Shakespeare ridiculed the affectations of contemporary language in “Love's Labour Lost.” Among the characters of Ben Jonson are some good Euphuists. In “Every Man out of his Humour,” Fallace says (act v, sc. x), “O, Master Brisk, as 'tis said in Euphues, Hard is the choice, when one is compelled, either by silence to die with grief, or by speaking to live with shame.” In “The Monastery,” a novel which the author himself considered a failure, Sir Walter Scott represented a Euphuist. But the language of Sir Piercie Shafton is entirely devoid of the characteristics of Euphuism, and gives a very false impression concerning it. (See introduction to “The Monastery.”) Compare passages quoted in the text with one in chap. xiv (“Monastery") beginning: “Ah, that I had with me my Anatomy of Wit.” Alsopassim.]
[Footnote 63: The lines quoted from the “Winter's Tale” are in act iv, sc. 3. For Greene's words see “Dorastus and Fawnia,” in Hazlitt's “Shakespeare's Library,” part I, vol. 4, p. 62. The resemblance between the two passages is pointed out by Dunlop (“History of Fiction,” p. 404). Collier in his introduction to “Dorastus and Fawnia” denied this obligation of Shakespeare to Greene. But he was evidently led into this error by liking the following passage, instead of the one quoted in the text, for the foundation of Shakespeare's lines: “The gods above disdaine not to love women beneathe. Phoebus liked Sibilla: Jupiter Io; and why not I, then Fawnia?”]
[Footnote 64: Another of Greene's tales, possessing much the same merits and the same defects as those already mentioned is “Never too Late.”]
[Footnote 65: Shakespeare's Celia.]
[Footnote 66: Act I, sc. 3.]
[Footnote 67: “Miscellanea,” part ii, essay iv.]
[Footnote 68: Gray's “Life of Sidney,” p. 8.]
[Footnote 69: “Pierce Penniless.”]
[Footnote 70: Folio, 1622. p. 6.]
[Footnote 71: Folio, 1622, p. 10.]
[Footnote 72: Folio, p. 130.]
[Footnote 73: Folio, p. 115.]
[Footnote 74: Folio, p. 260.]
[Footnote 75: See an “Answer in 'Eikon Basilike,'“ Milton's Works, Symmons' ed., v. 2, p. 408.]
[Footnote 76: Folio, p. 248.]
[Footnote 77: Folio, p. 116.]
[Footnote 78: Folio, p. 231.]
[Footnote 79: Book iii.]
[Footnote 80: “Morte d'Arthur,” book x, chap. 12.]
[Footnote 81: A Scotchman named Barclay published a partly political and partly heroic volume called “Argenis” in 1621. It was much commended by Cowper the poet, but being written in Latin, is hardly to be included in English fiction. See Dunlop, chap. x. Francis Godwin wrote a curious story about 1602, called “The Man in the Moon,” in which is described the journey of one Domingo Gonzales to that planet. Dunlop (“Hist. of Fiction") thought Domingo to be the real author. See chapter xiii. This romance is chiefly remarkable for its scientific speculations, and the adoption by the author of the Copernican theory. It was translated into French, and imitated by Cyrano de Bergerac, who in his turn was imitated by Swift in Brobdignag. See Hallam, “Lit. of Europe,” vol 3, p. 393.]