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The literature of the Elizabethan age was the flowering through art of a new faith and a new joy-a faith in the spiritual truths recovered by the Reformation movement, a joy in the world of nature and of human life as presented in the magic mirror of the Renaissance. Within a decade of years having for its center the year of Queen Elizabeth's accession, were born Sidney, Spenser, Raleigh, Chapman, Daniel, Drayton, Marlowe, Hooker, Bacon, Shakespeare. Never before or since in England were such prizes drawn in the lottery of babies. Never before or since had the good fairies who bring gifts to cradles so busy a time. But it was not until Eliza beth's reign had run more than half its course, and these boys were grown to man's estate, that the great summer of literature showed its flowers and fruit. The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the six books of the Faerie Queene, the Essays of Bacon, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like it, and Henry V. belong to the last period of Elizabeth's reign, that which opens with the defeat of the Armada; and many writings which we commonly class under the head of Elizabethan literature - King Lear and The Tempest, The Advancement of Learning, The History of the World, The Alchemist and The Silent Woman — are named Elizabethan only because they continue the same literary movement and carry it on through the period which had hardly culminated before her death.
The literature of the reign of Queen Anne was the expression of the better mind of England when it
had recovered itself through good sense and moderation of temper from the Puritan excess and from the Cavalier excess. Enthusiasm was discredited, and faith had no wings to soar; but it was something to have escaped the spiritual orgies of the saints and the sensual riot of the king's new courtiers; it was something to have attained to a sober way of regarding human life, and to the provisional resting-place of a philosophical and theological compromise. Addison's humane smile, Pope's ethics of good sense, and the exquisite felicity of manner in each writer, represent and justify the epoch.
Our own age has been named the sæculum realisticum; men of science have claimed it as their own, and countless peans have been chanted in honor of our material and mechanical advancement. Yet it is hardly less distinguished by its ardors of hope and aspiration, by its eager and anxious search for spiritual truth, by its restlessness in presence of spiritual anarchy, by its desire for some spiritual order. It has been pre-eminently an age of intellectual and moral trial, difficulty and danger; of bitter farewells to things of the past, of ardent welcomes to things as yet but dimly discerned in the coming years; of Cissatisfaction with the actual and of immense desire; an age of seekers for light, each having trouble too plainly written upon his forehead.
If a precise date must be chosen separating the present period of literature from that which immediately precedes it, we shall do well to fix on the year 1832. In that year the Bill for the representation of the people placed the future destiny of
on the last page of his History of the Peninsular War; surely at last those "subsecive hours" were hand in which he might bring to a fruitful outcome the great labor of two-and-thirty years, his never-to-bewritten "History of Portugal." It was in 1832 that Wordsworth, conscious of the loss of the glory and the freshness of his earlier manhood, and conscious also that he had never forfeited a poet's prerogative, wrote those lines prefixed to his complete works, in which he exhorts the fore-heaven-inspired singer to fidelity and contentment, whether he shine as a great star in the zenith or burn like. an untended watch-fire on the ridge of some dark mountain:"If thou, indeed, derive thy light from
England in the hands of the middle classes, and a series of social and political forms speedily followed. In that year died a great imaginative restorer of the past, and also a great intellectual pioneer of the future. Amid his nineteenth-century feudalisms, within sound of the old Border river, Scott passed away, murmuring to himself, as he lay in his bed, some fragment of the Litany or verse from the venerable hymns of the Romish ritual. On an autumn evening his body was laid in the resting-place of his fathers amid the monastic ruins of Dryburgh. It was in London, just at the close of a fierce political struggle, that Jeremy Bentham died. To the last he had been "codifying like any dragon;" when he heard the verdict of his physician, that death was inevitable, the cheerful utilitarian thought first of a practical application of his own doctrine. "Very well," he said serenely, "be it so; then minimize pain," and so departed, leaving his viscera to be dissected for the benefit of mankind, and his skeleton when duly arrayed to do the honors at University College.
By the year 1832 the flood-tide of English poetry had withdrawn from the shores which had lightened and sung with the splendor and music of the earlier days of the century. It was eleven years since Keats had found rest in the flowery cemetery at Rome; ten years since Shelley, in a whirl of sea-mist, had solved the great mystery that had haunted him since boyhood. Byron's memory was still a power, but a power that constantly waned. Southey had forsaken poetry, and was just now rejoicing over the words, Laus Deo, written
Then, to the measure of that heaven-born light,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content."
Few of Wordsworth's poems of later date than 1832 can be said to dart their beams with planetary influence from the zenith. Yet there is no fond self-pity in his lines, as there are in those which Coleridge, compassed about with infirmity, printed in that same year, 1832, in Blackwood's Magazine, under the title "The Old Man's Sigh:". "Where no hope is, life's a warning That only serves to make us grieve In our old age,
Whose bruised wings quarrel with the bars of the still narrowing cage."
Coleridge, indeed, had but a brief waiting before release from the cage was granted him. "Saw Coleridge in bed," writes Crabb-Robinson (April 12, 1832). "He looked beautifully his eye remarkably brilliant-and he talked as eloquently as ever." The voyager through
strange seas of thought still held men with his glittering eye and told his tale of wonder, but his voyaging and his work were indeed over. This year, 1832, which we have taken as the line of division between Victorian literature and that of the first literary period of the nineteenth century, was also the year of the death of an illustrious poet whose earlier verses had delighted Burke and won the approval of Johnson, and whose later writings were celebrated by Byron and had been the solace of Scott's dying days. Crabbe, whose life and poetry thus served to link together two widely different epochs of literature, touched the boundary of a third era, but his foot was not permitted to pass "beyond the limit.
A student of the poetry of the age of Elizabeth who happens to be also a reader of the poetry of our own time, can hardly fail to be impressed by one important point of contrast between these two bodies of literature. The poets of the Elizabethan age-excepting, perhaps, Spenser seem to have got on very happily and succesfully without theories of human life or doctrines respecting human society; but our nineteenthcentury poets are almost all sorely puzzled about certain problems of existence, and, having labored at their solution, come forward with some lightening of the burden of the mystery, with some hope or some solace; or else they deliberately and studiously turn away from this spiritual travail, not without an underlying consciousness that such turning away is treasonable, to seek for beauty or pleasure or repose. In In those strenuous days of the English Renaissance, so full of resolution
and energy and achievement, when a broad, healthy, mundane activity replaced the intensity and wistfulness and passion of mediaval religion and the exaltations of chivalry; when the world grew spacious and substantial, when mirth was open and unashamed, and when the tragedy of life consisted in positive wrestling of man with man and of nation with nation-in those days there was an absorbing interest in action and the tug of human passions; the vital relation of man with man in mutual love or conflict was that which the imagination of the period delighted to present to itself; it was the age of the drama, and men did not pause in the career of living to devise systems or theories or doctrines of life. But the unity of national thought and feeling ceased when Puritan stood over against Anglican and Roundhead against Cavalier. It became necessary to pause and consider and decide. A youth of fine moral temper coming to manhood when Milton wrote his Comus, had a choice to make-a choice between two doctrines in religion, two parties in the state, two principles of human conduct. Instead of that free abandonment to the action and passion of the world, characteristic of the Elizabethan period, there was now a self-conscious pursuit of certain ideals-an ideal of loyalty to Church and Crown, with grace and gallantry and wit, or else the stern Puritan ideals-the vigorous liberty of a republic; the Church, a congregation of saints; and a severity and grave majesty of personal character. Milton is deeply interested in providing himself and others with a moral rule of life, and with some doctrine
which shall explain the mysteries of | dangerously eager to turn into actual experiment the immature ideas of the thinkers. What we want before all else is a true thought, or body of organic thoughts, large and reasonable, which shall include all the conditions of our case.
existence. He must needs get some answer to the why and wherefore, the whence and whither of the world. Shakespeare had cared to see what things are, all of pity and terror, all of beauty and mirth, that human life contains-Lear in the storm, and Falstaff in the tavern, and Perdita among her flowers. He had said, "These things are," and had refused to put the question, "How can these things be?" Milton, on the contrary, in the forefront of his epic, announces with the confidence of a great dogmatist that, aided by Divine illumination, he aspires to justify the ways of God to man.
Our own age is and has been, in a far profounder sense than the term can be applied to the age of Milton,
Then again it is evident that a prolonged testing of religious ideas has been going forward. Theology, once the science of sciences, is said to be superseded, and in its place we have got a "science of religions. God, to whom once all highest hopes and fears tended and were referred, the living God whom man, His creature, might love and adore and obey, has been superannuated, and we are requested to cultivate henceforth enthusiasm on behalf of "a stream of tendency" which "makes for righteousness. Or perhaps it is more in harmony with the principles of a scientific age to direct our devout emotions to the great ensemble of humanity: "O ensemble of humanity, thou art my ensemble; early will I seek thee; my soul thirsteth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is." Or yet again may it not be that we can dispense with this awkward ensemble-a leviathan of pettinesses-and recognizing the existence of an unknowable, may possess in that recognition the essence of all religions: "Sing unto the unknowable, O ye saints of its, and give thanks at the remembrance of its unknowable
an age of revolution. Society,
It takes a little time and some tuning of the ear before we can feel that the new psalmody is quite as happy in its phrasing as the old. The revolution or threatened revolution in the religious order seems to us no less real and no less important
The stress of the spiritual and social revolution has been widely felt during the second half of the last fifty years; the twenty-five years which preceded these were a period of comparative tranquility, a period during which the vast additions made to the means and appliances of living somewhat hid out of view the dangers and difficulties of life itself from eyes that did not possess the true seer's vision. The ten-pound householder had his vote; slavery was abolished in the colonies; the evils of pauperism were met by a Poor Law; the bread-tax was abolished; the people were advancing in education; useful knowledge was made accessible in cheap publications; a man could travel forty miles in the time in which his father could have traveled ten; more iron, more coal, was dug out of the earth; more wheels were whirling, more shuttles flew, more looms rattled, more cotton was spun, more cloth was sold. The statistics of progress were surely enough to intoxicate with joy a lover of his species.
than that in the political and social | with tyrannous power, the thought order. In truth, not a conception that we in our turn are shaping the of any kind respecting the world and destinies of future generations beman and the life of man remains comes a moral motive of almost what it was a century since. Sci- irresistible force, compelling us to ence sapping in upon every side of high resolve and dutiful action. human thought and feelings, effecting in our views of the individual and of the race a modification as startling as that effected in cosmical conceptions by the discovery of Copernicus that this earth is not the center of the universe, but one orb among its brother orbs in a system too vast and glorious for imagination to comprehend. The past of humanity has expanded from the six thousand years of the old biblical chronologists to measureless aeons of time; the sense of the myriad, intimate relations between the present and all this past has grown strong within us, perhaps tyrannously strong; while, at the same time, it is impossible to restrain the imagination from a forward gaze into futurity, which seems to open a vista as remote and unfathomable as the past. We were once apes or ascidians, therefore we shall some day be the angels of this earth. Since Cordorcet speculated and since Shelley sang, there have been wild hopes of human perfectability in the prophetic soul of the world dreaming of things to come; and in soberness and truth there has grown up a general confidence in a progress of mankind toward good, which seems to be justified by the most careful scrutiny of the past history of humanity from primitive barbarism to the present imperfect forms of civilization. If, moreover, the conviction that we and all that surrounds us have been so largely determined by the past sometimes weighs on us
The sanguine temper of the period and its somewhat shallow, material conception of human welfare, are well represented in the writings. of Macaulay. Prosperous himself through all his years, which marched with the years of the century, never troubled by inward doubt and perplexity or falterings of heart, never borne away by eager aspirations toward some unattainable spiritual perfection, Macaulay loved his age