English Literature: Modern

English Literature: Modern

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The Project Gutenberg EBook of English Literature: Modern, by G. H. Mair This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: English Literature: Modern Home University Library Of Modern Knowledge Author: G. H. Mair Release Date: February 27, 2004 [EBook #11327] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ENGLISH LITERATURE: MODERN *** Produced by Cera Kruger and PG Distributed Proofreaders HOME UNIVERSITY LIBRARY OF MODERN KNOWLEDGE ENGLISH LITERATURE: MODERN BY G. H. MAIR, M.A. SOMETIME SCHOLAR OF CHRIST CHURCH First Printed, October, 1911 Revised & Printed February, 1914 PREFACE The intention of this book is to lay stress on ideas and tendencies that have to be understood and appreciated, rather than on facts that have to be learned by heart. Many authors are not mentioned and others receive scanty treatment, because of the necessities of this method of approach. The book aims at dealing with the matter of authors more than with their lives; consequently it contains few dates. All that the reader need require to help him have been included in a short chronological table at the end. To have attempted a severely ordered and analytic treatment of the subject would have been, for the author at least, impossible within the limits imposed, and, in any case, would have been foreign to the purpose indicated by the editors of the Home University Library. The book pretends no more than to be a general introduction to a very great subject, and it will have fulfilled all that is intended for it if it stimulates those who read it to set about reading for themselves the books of which it treats. Its debts are many, its chief creditors two teachers, Professor Grierson at Aberdeen University and Sir Walter Raleigh at Oxford, to the stimulation of whose books and teaching my pleasure in English literature and any understanding I have of it are due. To them and to the other writers (chief of them Professor Herford) whose ideas I have wittingly or unwittingly incorporated in it, as well as to the kindness and patience of Professor Gilbert Murray, I wish here to express my indebtedness. G.H.M. MANCHESTER, August, 1911. CONTENTS PREFACE CHAPTER I CHAPTER II CHAPTER III CHAPTER IV CHAPTER V CHAPTER VI CHAPTER VII CHAPTER VIII CHAPTER IX CHAPTER X BIBLIOGRAPHY LIST OF THE CHIEF WORKS AND AUTHORS MENTIONED INDEX ENGLISH LITERATURE: MODERN CHAPTER I THE RENAISSANCE (1) There are times in every man's experience when some sudden widening of the boundaries of his knowledge, some vision of hitherto untried and unrealized possibilities, has come and seemed to bring with it new life and the inspiration of fresh and splendid endeavour. It may be some great book read for the first time not as a book, but as a revelation; it may be the first realization of the extent and moment of what physical science has to teach us; it may be, like Carlyle's "Everlasting Yea," an ethical illumination, or spiritual like Augustine's or John Wesley's. But whatever it is, it brings with it new eyes, new powers of comprehension, and seems to reveal a treasury of latent and unsuspected talents in the mind and heart. The history of mankind has its parallels to these moments of illumination in the life of the individual. There are times when the boundaries of human experience, always narrow, and fluctuating but little between age and age, suddenly widen themselves, and the spirit of man leaps forward to possess and explore its new domain. These are the great ages of the world. They could be counted, perhaps, on one hand. The age of Pericles in Athens; the less defined age, when Europe passed, spiritually and artistically, from what we call the Dark, to what we call the Middle Ages; the Renaissance; the period of the French Revolution. Two of them, so far as English literature is concerned, fall within the compass of this book, and it is with one of them—the Renaissance—that it begins. It is as difficult to find a comprehensive formula for what the Renaissance meant as to tie it down to a date. The year 1453 A.D., when the Eastern Empire—the last relic of the continuous spirit of Rome—fell before the Turks, used to be given as the date, and perhaps the word "Renaissance" itself—"a new birth"—is as much as can be accomplished shortly by way of definition. Michelet's resonant "discovery by mankind of himself and of the world" rather expresses what a man of the Renaissance himself must have thought it, than what we in this age can declare it to be. But both endeavours to date and to define are alike impossible. One cannot fix a term to day or night, and the theory of the Renaissance as a kind of tropical dawn—a sudden passage to light from darkness—is not to be considered. The Renaissance was, and was the result of, a numerous and various series of events which followed and accompanied one another from the fourteenth to the beginning of the sixteenth centuries. First and most immediate in its influence on art and literature and thought, was the rediscovery of the ancient literatures. In the Middle Ages knowledge of Greek and Latin literatures had withdrawn itself into monasteries, and there narrowed till of secular Latin writing scarcely any knowledge remained save of Vergil (because of his supposed Messianic prophecy) and Statius, and of Greek, except Aristotle, none at all. What had been lost in the Western Empire, however, subsisted in the East, and the continual advance of the Turk on the territories of the Emperors of Constantinople drove westward to the shelter of Italy and the Church, and to the patronage of the Medicis, a crowd of scholars who brought with them their manuscripts of Homer and the dramatists, of Thucydides and Herodotus, and most momentous perhaps for the age to come, of Plato and Demosthenes and of the New Testament in its original Greek. The quick and vivid intellect of Italy, which had been torpid in the decadence of mediaevalism and its mysticism and piety, seized with avidity the revelation of the classical world which the scholars and their manuscripts brought. Human life, which the mediaeval Church had taught them to regard but as a threshold and stepping-stone to eternity, acquired suddenly a new momentousness and value; the promises of the Church paled like its lamps at sunrise; and a new paganism, which had Plato for its high priest,