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Such eccentricities, however discordant with modern taste, must be judged with a recollection of the time in which they appeared ; and their prevalence is a feature not to be overlooked, in the eloquence of a man who was admittedly one of the most impressive public speakers of his day. His sermons deserve commendation more unqualified, for their general simplicity of plan. They have little or nothing of the scholastic complication and multiplicity of subdivisions, which made their appearance in the theological compositions of the next age, and which characterize almost all efforts of the kind made in our language till we have proceeded beyond the middle of the seventeenth century.
Before we quit those who acted and suffered in the Reformation, we must remember John Fox, their zealous but honest memorialist. His “ History of the Acts and Monuments of the Church,” better known as “The Book of Martyrs,” was first printed in his exile, towards the close of our period.
selves, that it is not for my weak team to plough them. And I fear me this land is not yet ripe to be ploughed: for, as the saying is, it lacketh weathering; this gear lacketh weathering; at least way it is not for me to plough. For what shall I look for among thorns, but pricking and scratching? What among stones, but stumbling? What (I had almost said) among serpents, but stinging? But this much I dare say, that since lording and loitering hath come up, preaching hath come down, contrary to the Apostles' times : for they preached and lorded not, and now they lord and preach not.
And thus, if the ploughmen of the country were as negligent in their office as prelates be, we should not live for lack of sustenance. And as it is necessary for to have this sustentation of the body, so must we have also the other for the satisfaction of the soul; or else we cannot live long ghostly. For, as the body wasteth and consumeth away for lack of bodily meat, so doth the soul pine away for default of ghostly meat.
THE AGE OF THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION
A. D. 1509—A. D. 1558.
SECTION SECOND: MISCELLANEOUS LITERATURE IN ENGLAND; AND LITERATURE ECCLESIASTICAL AND MISCELLANEOUS
MISCELLANEOUS PROSE IN ENGLAND. 1. Secondary Importance of the Works—Sir
Thomas More-His Style-His Historical Writings-His Tracts and Letters. — 2. Roger Ascham-His Style-His Toxophilus-His Schoolmaster-Prosody-Female Education-Wilson's Logic and Rhetoric.-English POETRY 3. Poetical Aspect and Relations of the Age-Its Earliest Poetry-Satires-Barklay-Skelton's Works. -4. Lord Surrey-His Literary Influence-Its Causes— His Italian Studies-- His Sonnets-Introduction of Blank Verse-His Supposed Influence on English Versification. --5. Wyatt-Translations of the Psalms—The Mirror of Magistrates, Its Influence -Its Plan and Authors—Sackville's Induction and Complaint of Buckingham.-INFANCY OF THE ENGLISH DRAMA. 6. Retrospect- The English Drama in the Middle Ages-Its Religious Cast—The Miracle-Plays—The Moral-Plays.—7. The Drama in the Sixteenth Century-Its Beginnings--Skelton-Bishop Bale's Moral Plays—Heywood's Interludes.-8. Appearance of Tragedy and Comedy-Udall's Comedy of Roister Doister - The Tragedy of Gorboduc, by Sackville and Norton. LITERATURE IN Scotland. 9. Literary Character of the Period-Obstacles-State of the Language.-10. Scottish Poetry—Sir David Lindsay-- His Satirical Play-Its Design and Effects-His other Poems.-11. First Appearance of Original Scottish Prose-Translations - The Complaint of Scotland-Pitscottie-State of LearningBoece-John Major.–12. John Knox-George Buchanan's Latin Works-Other Latinists--Melville-Scottish Universities--Schools.
MISCELLANEOUS PROSE LITERATURE IN ENGLAND.
1. Pausing in our survey of ecclesiastical literature in England, at the moment when Protestantism rejoiced in the accession of Elizabeth, we quit the choister, from which the monks have been cast out, and the church, in which the mass is no longer chanted; and we are content perforce, with the little we have had time to learn in regard to ti most abstruse of the studies out of which emerged the light of the Reformation. We now look abroad on those literary pursuits of the same period, whose aim was neither religious nor ecclesiastical, and whose natural and appropriate organ was the living tongue of the nation.
New actors will appear on the scene : yet some of those whom we have encountered as combatants in the fiery struggle of creeds,
6. 1480. d. 1535.
will again be seen in the quieter walks along which our eye is next to be guided. Nor are the few names, which only can here be set down, sufficient to show, at all distinctly, how close was the connexion, in that fervent age, not only between the ecclesiastical changes and the progress of literature, but between the men who led the former and those who most efficiently promoted the latter.
While the theological writings which have just been noticed are, admittedly, valuable chiefly for their matter, the miscellaneous writings of the age in English prose attract us most as specimens of the language in its earliest stage of maturity. None of them exhibit either such eloquence or such vigour of thought, as should entitle them to a high rank among the monuments of our literature; and, with few exceptions, the very names of the writers have been allowed to sink into complete oblivion.
Sir Thomas More was commemorated when we
studied the progress of the language, as having been called the earliest writer whose English prose was good. This eminent man wrote purely, naturally, and perspicuously. His style, indeed, has very great excellence; and it, with that of the other writer who will here be cited, should be studied as characteristically showing, when we compare it with the manner of the prose which was written in the next period, a simplicity, both of construction and of diction, which may be accounted for in more ways than one. Certainly less cumbrous, as well as less exotic, the style of More and Ascham may have been so, either because classical studies had not yet become familiar enough to produce a great effect on the manner of expression, or because the writers were compelled to be the less ambitious in proportion to their want of mastery over the resources of their native tongue.
More's works, Latin and English, are but the recreations in which a highly accomplished man, placed in the midst of a learned age, spent the little leisure allowed by a life of professional and public business. His Historical Writings are among the
very earliest that belong to our period; and they have received very warm commendation, not only for their style, but for the ease and spirit of the narrative. There is not any work of the fifteenth century, that has merit enough to forbid our considering him as the earliest writer of the English language, who rose to the dignity and skill of proper history. His Controversial Tracts are perhaps equally good in language; but, occupied with the ecclesiastical questions of his day, they fall beyond our sphere. His “ Dialogue concerning Heresies” led him into a hot contest with Tyndale. When we are thus reminded that More adhered to
the old faith, we must remember also that this was the losing side, and that the great and good man proved his sincerity by dying for what he held to be the truth. He was as really a martyr as Cranmer; and he was much braver and more upright in conduct. Nowhere do we meet him on ground where his cheerful kindliness and excellent judgment have freer room to work, than in his private letters, especially those which he addressed to the members of his family; and from none of his writings could we cull examples better illustrating the character of his style.*
* SIR THOMAS MORE.
A Letter to his Children ; written about 1525. Thomas More, to his best beloved children, and to Margaret, whom he numbereth among his own, sendeth greeting.
The merchant of Bristow brought unto me your letters, the next day after he had received them of you; with the which I was exceedingly delighted. For there can come nothing, yea though it were never so rude, never so meanly polished, from this your shop, but it procureth me more delight than any others' works, be they never so eloquent: your writing doth so stir up my affection towards you. But, excluding this, your letters may also very well please me for their own worth, being full of fine wit and of a pure Latin phrase: therefore none of them all but joyed me exceedingly. Yet, to tell you ingenuously what I think, my son John's letter pleased me best; both because it was longer than the other, as also for that he seemeth to have taken more pains than the rest. For he not only painteth out the matter decently, and speaketh elegantly; but he playeth also pleasantly with me, and returneth my jests upon me again, very wittily: and this he doth not only pleasantly, but temperately withal; showing that he is mindful with whom he jesteth, to wit, his father, whom he endeavoureth so to delight that he is also afeared to offend.
Hereafter I expect every day letters from every one of you: neither will I accept of such excuses as you complain of; that you have no leisure, or that the carrier went away suddenly, or that you have no matter to write : John is not wont to allege any such thing. Nothing can hinder you from writing; but many things may exhort you thereto. Why should you lay any fault upon the carrier, seeing you may prevent his coming, and have třem ready made up and sealed two days before any offer themselves to carry them? And how can you want matter of writing unto me, who am delighted to hear either of your studies or of your play; whom you may even then please exceedingly, when, having nothing to write of, you write as largely as you can of that nothing, than which nothing is more easy for you to do.
But this I admonish you to do; that, whether you write of serious matters or of trifles, you write with diligence and consideration, premeditating of it before. Neither will it be amiss, if you first indite it in English ; for then it may more easily be translated into Latin, whilst the mind, free from inventing, is attentive to find apt and eloquent words. And, although I put this to your choice, whether you will do so or no, yet I enjoin you, by all means, that you diligently examine what you have
V. 1515. d. 1568.
2. The writings of the learned and judicious Ascham
possess, both in style and in matter, a value which must not be measured by their inconsiderable bulk. Their language is pure, idiomatic, vigorous English ; they exhibit great variety of knowledge, remarkable sagacity, and sound common-sense.
Of his three large treatises, the earliest was a “ Report on the State of Germany," being a digested account of his observations on the political affairs of the continent; a discourse highly creditable to the writer's shrewdness, but now uninteresting, unless to the exact students of the history of the times.
Next came the “ Toxophilus: the School or Partitions of Shooting.” It is a treatise on Archery; an art which, now a mere pastime, and even then beginning to be superseded in warfare, had not yet lost all the importance it possessed when the English bowmen thinned the French ranks at Agincourt. The work is a dialogue in two books, sustained with much liveliness of tone, as well as discrimination of character, between Philologus, a student, and Toxophilus, a lover of archery. The form is thus adopted from classical models; and it is a point illustrative of the tastes of the day, that the author, in his preface, thinks it necessary to justify himself for writing in English rather than in Latin. The second of the two books is a manual of the rules of the art; the first is a curious dissertation on its value. It is recommended for general adoption on the ground of its military importance, which is shown by a variety of instances spiritedly related. It is recommended especially to persons of studious habits; being, it is alleged, the best of all those amusements which, as the writer maintains with great force of reasoning, are absolutely required by reading men, for the sake both of health and of mental relaxation. Gaming, and other censurable diversions, are energetically denounced. The common athletic games are maintained, more ingeniously than soundly, to be in several ways objectionable; and music itself, admitted to be an essential part in the education of a scholar and a gentleman, is yet as
written before you write it over fair again ; first considering attentively the whole sentence, and after examine every part thereof; by which means you may easily find out if any solecisms have escaped you; which being put out, and your letter written fair, yet then let it not also trouble you to examine it over again; for sometimes the same faults creep in at the second writing, which you before had blotted out. By this your diligence you will procure, that those your trifles will seem serious matters. For, as nothing is so pleasing but may be made unsavoury by prating garrulity, so nothing is by nature so unpleasant, that by industry may not be made full of grace and pleasantness.
Farewell, my sweetest children. From the Court, this 3d of September,