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From The North British Review.
REVOLUTIONS IN THE QUEEN'S ENGLISH.
abethan age was the era of its fullest spon-
The first of these periods, that of the Reformation, commencing with the earlier half of the sixteenth century, culminating in the Elizabethan age, and lasting in its characteristic influences till the middle of the seventeenth century, is justly regarded as the great creative period of English literature. It is the period in which the latent genius of the nation was manifested for the first say on Criticism the sagest maxims of accutime in all its freshness, strength, and ex-mulated literary wisdom, mingled with the
uberant vitality. But the next considerable epoch, that of the Revolution, which reached some of its most expressive forms during the reign of Queen Anne, has a character of its own, equally marked, though perhaps not so fully recognized. If the era of the Reformation was the creative, the productive epoch of our literature, that of the Revolution, extending over the greater part of the eighteenth century, is characterized by the predominant activity of the regulative, co-ordinating, or legislative faculty. It is pre-eminently a critical age the age in which criticism appeared for the first time as a modifying power in our national life and literature. The Revolution Settlement itself was a criticism of the Constitution, a resolute and successful effort to reduce to precise terms, fix in definite propositions, and establish on a legal basis the political rights and liberties which had gradually asserted themselves amidst the vigorous but irregular growth of the nation's corporate life. In almost every department of national activity the working of the same critical impulse may be clearly traced. There is manifestly, on all hands, a strong desire and persistent effort to measure in some way the achievements of the prolific past; to take stock, as it were, of the intellectual wealth the nation had so rapidly accumulated, and estimate according to some rule or
Very naturally, however, the working of this critical movement is especially seen in the literature of the time, and the contrast between the two periods in this respect is well illustrated in the early productions of their typical poets. This kind of index is peculiarly significant, because men of genius instinctively reflect, if they do not even anticipate, the foremost intellectual tendencies of their own time. In his early youth, Shakespeare, the representative of the first period, was exercising his fervid poètical imagination, his tender and passionate sensibilities, in the glowing imagery and musical verse of Venus and Adonis. Pope, the typical poet of the second period, while still in his teens, was reading Boileau, and condensing into the smooth couplets of his Es
and poured into the national exchequer of words through a multitude of obscure and unnoticed channels. The powerful influence which thus developed for the first time the resources of the mother tongue was that
shrewd observations of his own keenly precocious mind. Great original works of imaginative genius were no longer produced. In place of these, critical editions of the great poets were for the first time undertaken, and critical dissertations on their special merits, of awakened nationality, of which the Refas well as critical theories of poetry and lit-ormation itself, in its early stages, may be erature in general, attempted. No doubt regarded as the concentrated and energetic these theories were superficial and one-sided, expression. The working of this national the critical judgments often shallow, and the spirit, and its effect both on the language rule employed for the measurement of the in- and the literature, is indeed clearly traceatellectual giants of the previous age some-ble as early as the fourteenth century. By times ludicrously inadequate for the purpose. the middle of that century the brilliant forBut the important fact remains, that in every eign wars and successful reign of Edward sphere of intellectual activity rules and III. had very much effaced the bitter antipaprinciples of judgment were honestly sought thies of rank and race produced by the Confor. Amidst the hard things that are often quest, impressed on the national mind an exsaid against the eighteenth century, it must ulting sense of unity and power, and diffused be remembered that its leading minds, if amongst all classes the proud glow of gencomparatively cold and unimaginative, were uine patriotism. The effect of this awakconsciously animated by the desire of find- ened spirit on the language is seen in its ing in every department of inquiry a critical immediate recall to the courts of justice, or rational basis, and that in some depart- and other positions of dignity and honour, ments, such as those of history, philosophy, from which for three centuries it had been and political science, this effort produced banished, while its intellectual reflex may results of permanent value. be traced in the noble early literature of which Chaucer, Gower, and Wycliffe are the foremost representatives. In the fifteenth century the gallant but disastrous
What is true of the literature during these two periods is equally true of the language. The epoch of the Reformation was the great period of the language as well as of the lit-wars of Henry v. dissipated the vain dream
the age in which its latent stores of phrase and diction were for the first time brought out, and rendered available for the higher purposes of literature by current use. Then, too, the various tributary streams, Celtic and Scandinavian, Romance and Classical, that at different times have enriched our native tongue, may be said to have flowed together, and poured their currents into the broad and deepening river of our recognized and central English. But these secondary elements of copious and expressive diction, left as a heritage by races that had helped to give dignity and grace to the robust English character, were by no means the most important contributions made during this era to the standard national vocabulary. The scattered wealth of neglected words belonging to the root-elements of the language, the forcible and idiomatic Angle and Saxon terms, hitherto almost restricted to local use, were now, under the working of an irresistible influence, collected from their provincial sources,
of extended foreign empire which had so long dazzled the imagination of the nation, and helped to fix its attention on domestic interests, while the Wars of the Roses indirectly advanced the cause of the people by destroying the most offensive incidents of the feudal system, and relieving the nation at large from the incubus of a turbulent and ambitious feudal aristocracy. During the long, prudent, and successful reign of Henry VII., the growing elements of national unity and power consolidated themselves; and under favourable conditions of peace and public security the country steadily advanced in social comfort, political strength, and material prosperity. When Henry VIII. ascended the throne, he had to lead a highspirited and self-reliant people, proud of a European position gained by past achievement in arms, confident of its future progress, and resolved, if need were, to secure the conditions of that progress at the point of the sword. The very subserviency the early Parliaments showed on home affairs
arose indeed, in part, from the strong feeling in favour of an energetic foreign policy, and the resolve of the nation to maintain at all hazards its position in Europe. The Reformation was just the movement to stim-gressive power of Rome and Spain, beating ulate that resolve, as it appealed directly them back to their continental seats, flushed with an exulting sense of victory the nation, that almost single-handed had ventured on such an unequal conflict, and crowned with European fame
on its political side to the independent spirit of the people. In its early stages, indeed, as far as the people at large, or rather the town populations - the mercantile, trading and professional classes, who alone took an active interest in public affairs, were concerned, the English Reformation was a national and political, much more than a religious or ecclesiastical movement. It was a national revolt against the authority of a foreign potentate, whose arrogant pretensions, haughty bearing, and arbitrary exactions of tribute had come to be regarded as alike insulting and oppressive. As the area of the conflict enlarged and its issues expanded, the great interest at stake stirred the heart of the nation to its very depths, and roused all its nobler ele- This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear ments of character to a pitch of intense and sustained enthusiasm. This enthusiasm Dear for her reputation through the world.” reached its highest point in the tremendous struggle with Spain as the armed champion of Roman domination in Europe, the ruthless military representative of the despotic principle both in Church and State.
to, triumphed; and it is almost impossible even at this distance of time, to estimate the magnitude of the result. The destruction of the Armada at once broke the ag
"This scepter'd isle,
On the eve of that gallant struggle against such overwhelming odds, Queen Elizabeth, with the sure instinct of political genius, struck the key-note of the excited national mind in her stirring address to the army: "Let tyrants fear! I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my own recreation and disport, but having resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all to lay down, for God and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma, or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm." The national spirit, thus appealed The direct connection of the whole Ref
Shakespeare had come to London two years before the destruction of the Armada, and the intense feeling of national exultation it produced beats with a full pulse not only in this passage, but throughout the whole of his historical plays. Britain, as champion of the Reformation, had, however, not only defeated Catholic Europe, and reached a position of peerless renown in the Old World. She had become mistress of the seas, and thus commanded the oceanpaths to the New World, the El Dorado in the far golden West, which successful maritime adventure had revealed, and whose untold treasures daring English navigators were beginning to explore. This acted as a powerful stimulus to the intellect and imagination of the nation. It enlarged men's minds, widened their moral horizon, and inspired them with the confident hope of destroying established forms of error, and discovering new continents of truth. The strong and sustained intellectual reaction of the whole movement produced, in the short space of a quarter of a century, those unrivalled masterpieces of literature which constitute the glorious Elizabethan age.