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Title: Outlines of English and American Literature
 - An Introduction to the Chief Writers of England and America, to the Books They Wrote, and to the Times in Which They Lived
Author: Long, William J. (William Joseph)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Outlines of English and American Literature
 - An Introduction to the Chief Writers of England and America, to the Books They Wrote, and to the Times in Which They Lived" ***

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This is the wey to al good aventure.--CHAUCER



After the Chandos Portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London, which
is attributed to Richard Burbage or John Taylor. In the catalogue of the
National Portrait Gallery the following description is given:

      "The Chandos Shakespeare was the property of John Taylor,
      the player, by whom or by Richard Burbage it was painted.
      The picture was left by the former in his will to Sir
      William Davenant. After his death it was bought by
      Betterton, the actor, upon whose decease Mr. Keck of the
      Temple purchased it for 40 guineas, from whom it was
      inherited by Mr. Nicoll of Michenden House, Southgate,
      Middlesex, whose only daughter married James, Marquess of
      Caernarvon, afterwards Duke of Chandos, father to Ann
      Eliza, Duchess of Buckingham."

    The above is written on paper attached to the back of the canvas.
    Its authenticity, however, has been doubted in some quarters.

    Purchased at the Stowe Sale, September 1848, by the Earl of
    Ellesmere, and presented by him to the nation, March 1856.

    Dimensions: 22 in. by 16-3/4 in.

This reproduction of the portrait was made from a miniature copy on ivory
by Caroline King Phillips.]


The last thing we find in making a book is to know what to put

When an author has finished his history, after months or years of happy
work, there comes a dismal hour when he must explain its purpose and
apologize for its shortcomings.

The explanation in this case is very simple and goes back to a personal
experience. When the author first studied the history of our literature
there was put into his hands as a textbook a most dreary catalogue of dead
authors, dead masterpieces, dead criticisms, dead ages; and a boy who knew
chiefly that he was alive was supposed to become interested in this
literary sepulchre or else have it said that there was something hopeless
about him. Later he learned that the great writers of England and America
were concerned with life alone, as the most familiar, the most mysterious,
the most fascinating thing in the world, and that the only valuable or
interesting feature of any work of literature is its vitality.

To introduce these writers not as dead worthies but as companionable men
and women, and to present their living subject as a living thing, winsome
as a smile on a human face,--such was the author's purpose in writing this

The apology is harder to frame, as anyone knows who has attempted to gather
the writers of a thousand years into a single volume that shall have the
three virtues of brevity, readableness and accuracy. That this record is
brief in view of the immensity of the subject is plainly apparent. That it
may prove pleasantly readable is a hope inspired chiefly by the fact that
it was a pleasure to write it, and that pleasure is contagious. As for
accuracy, every historian who fears God or regards man strives hard enough
for that virtue; but after all his striving, remembering the difficulty of
criticism and the perversity of names and dates that tend to error as the
sparks fly upward, he must still trust heaven and send forth his work with
something of Chaucer's feeling when he wrote:

  O littel bookë, thou art so unconning,
  How darst thou put thy-self in prees for drede?

Which _may_ mean, to one who appreciates Chaucer's wisdom and humor,
that having written a little book in what seemed to him an unskilled or
"unconning" way, he hesitated to give it to the world for dread of the
"prees" or crowd of critics who, even in that early day, were wont to look
upon each new book as a camel that must be put through the needle's eye of
their tender mercies.

In the selection and arrangement of his material the author has aimed to
make a usable book that may appeal to pupils and teachers alike. Because
history and literature are closely related (one being the record of man's
deed, the other of his thought and feeling) there is a brief historical
introduction to every literary period. There is also a review of the
general literary tendencies of each age, of the fashions, humors and ideals
that influenced writers in forming their style or selecting their subject.
Then there is a biography of every important author, written not to offer
another subject for hero-worship but to present the man exactly as he was;
a review of his chief works, which is intended chiefly as a guide to the
best reading; and a critical estimate or appreciation of his writings based
partly upon first-hand impressions, partly upon the assumption that an
author must deal honestly with life as he finds it and that the business of
criticism is, as Emerson said, "not to legislate but to raise the dead."
This detailed study of the greater writers of a period is followed by an
examination of some of the minor writers and their memorable works.
Finally, each chapter concludes with a concise summary of the period under
consideration, a list of selections for reading and a bibliography of works
that will be found most useful in acquiring a larger knowledge of the

In its general plan this little volume is modeled on the author's more
advanced _English Literature_ and _American Literature_; but the
material, the viewpoint, the presentation of individual writers,--all the
details of the work are entirely new. Such a book is like a second journey
through ample and beautiful regions filled with historic associations, a
journey that one undertakes with new companions, with renewed pleasure and,
it is to be hoped, with increased wisdom. It is hardly necessary to add
that our subject has still its unvoiced charms, that it cannot be exhausted
or even adequately presented in any number of histories. For literature
deals with life; and life, with its endlessly surprising variety in unity,
has happily some suggestion of infinity.






What is Literature? The Tree and the Book. Books of Knowledge and Books of
Power. The Art of Literature. A Definition and Some Objections.


Tributaries of Early Literature. The Anglo-Saxon or Old-English Period.
Specimens of the Language. The Epic of Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon Songs. Types of
Earliest Poetry. Christian Literature of the Anglo-Saxon Period. The
Northumbrian School. Bede. Cædmon. Cynewulf. The West-Saxon School. Alfred
the Great. _The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle._

The Anglo-Norman or Early Middle-English Period. Specimens of the Language.
The Norman Conquest. Typical Norman Literature. Geoffrey of Monmouth. First
Appearance of the Legends of Arthur. Types of Middle-English Literature.
Metrical Romances. Some Old Songs. Summary of the Period. Selections for
Reading. Bibliography.


Specimens of the Language. History of the Period. Geoffrey Chaucer.
Contemporaries and Successors of Chaucer. Langland and his _Piers
Plowman_. Malory and his _Morte d' Arthur_. Caxton and the First
Printing Press. The King's English as the Language of England. Popular
Ballads. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.


Historical Background. Literary Characteristics of the Period. Foreign
Influence. Outburst of Lyric Poetry. Lyrics of Love. Music and Poetry.
Edmund Spenser. The Rise of the Drama. The Religious Drama. Miracle Plays,
Moralities and Interludes. The Secular Drama. Pageants and Masques. Popular
Comedies. Classical and English Drama. Predecessors of Shakespeare.
Marlowe. Shakespeare. Elizabethan Dramatists after Shakespeare. Ben Jonson.
The Prose Writers. The Fashion of Euphuism. The Authorized Version of the
Scriptures. Francis Bacon. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading.


Historical Outline. Three Typical Writers. Milton. Bunyan. Dryden. Puritan
and Cavalier Poets. George Herbert. Butler's _Hudibras_. The Prose
Writers. Thomas Browne. Isaac Walton. Summary of the Period. Selections for
Reading. Bibliography.


History of the Period. Eighteenth-Century Classicism. The Meaning of
Classicism in Literature. Alexander Pope. Swift. Addison. Steele. Johnson.
Boswell. Burke. Historical Writing in the Eighteenth Century. Gibbon.

The Revival of Romantic Poetry. Collins and Gray. Goldsmith. Burns. Minor
Poets of Romanticism. Cowper. Macpherson and the Ossian Poems. Chatterton.
Percy's _Reliques of Ancient English Poetry_. William Blake.

The Early English Novel. The Old Romance and the New Novel. Defoe.
Richardson. Fielding. Influence of the Early Novelists. Summary of the
Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.


Historical Outline. The French Revolution and English Literature.
Wordsworth. Coleridge. Southey. The Revolutionary Poets. Byron and Shelley.
Keats. The Minor Poets. Campbell, Moore, Keble, Hood, Felicia Hemans, Leigh
Hunt and Thomas Beddoes. The Fiction Writers. Walter Scott. Jane Austen.
The Critics and Essayists. Charles Lamb. De Quincey. Summary of the Period.
Selections for Reading. Bibliography.


Historical Outline. The Victorian Poets. Tennyson. Browning. Elizabeth
Barrett Browning. Matthew Arnold. The Pre-Raphaelites. Rossetti. Morris.
Swinburne. Minor Poets and Songs in Many Keys.

The Greater Victorian Novelists. Dickens. Thackeray. George Eliot. Other
Writers of Notable Novels. The Brontë Sisters. Mrs. Gaskell. Charles Reade.
Anthony Trollope. Blackmore. Kingsley. Later Victorian Novelists. Meredith.
Hardy. Stevenson.

Victorian Essayists and Historians. Typical Writers. Macaulay. Carlyle.
Ruskin. Variety of Victorian Literature. Summary of the Period. Selections
for Reading. Bibliography.




Unique Quality of Early American Literature. Two Views of the Pioneers. The
Colonial Period. Annalists and Historians. Bradford and Byrd. Puritan and
Cavalier Influences. Colonial Poetry. Wiggles-worth. Anne Bradstreet.
Godfrey. Nature and Human Nature in Colonial Records. The Indian in
Literature. Religious Writers. Cotton Mather and Edwards.

The Revolutionary Period. Party Literature. Benjamin Franklin.
Revolutionary Poetry. The Hartford Wits. Trumbull's _M'Fingal_.
Freneau. Orators and Statesmen of the Revolution. Citizen Literature. James
Otis and Patrick Henry. Hamilton and Jefferson. Miscellaneous Writers.
Thomas Paine. Crèvecoeur. Woolman. Beginning of American Fiction. Charles
Brockden Brown. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading.


Historical Background. Literary Environment. The National Spirit in Prose
and Verse. The Knickerbocker School. Halleck, Drake, Willis and Paulding.
Southern Writers. Simms, Kennedy, Wilde and Wirt. Various New England
Writers. First Literature of the West. Major Writers of the Period. Irving.
Bryant. Cooper. Poe. Summary of the Period. Selections for Reading.


Political History. Social and Intellectual Changes. Brook Farm and Other
Reform Societies. The Transcendental Movement. Literary Characteristics of
the Period. The Elder Poets. Longfellow. Whittier. Lowell. Holmes, Lanier.
Whitman. The Greater Prose Writers. Emerson. Hawthorne. Some Minor Poets.
Timrod, Hayne, Ryan, Stoddard and Bayard Taylor. Secondary Writers of
Fiction. Mrs. Stowe, Dana, Herman Melville, Cooke, Eggleston and Winthrop.
Juvenile Literature. Louisa M. Alcott. Trowbridge. Miscellaneous Prose.
Thoreau. The Historians. Motley, Prescott and Parkman. Summary of the
Period. Selections for Reading. Bibliography.


The New Spirit of Nationality. Contemporary History. The Short Story and
its Development. Bret Harte. The Local-Color Story and Some Typical
Writers. The Novel since 1876. Realism in Recent Fiction. Howells. Mark
Twain. Various Types of Realism. Dialect Stories. Joel Chandler Harris.
Recent Romances. Historical Novels. Poetry since 1876. Stedman and Aldrich.
The New Spirit in Poetry. Joaquin Miller. Dialect Poems. The Poetry of
Common Life. Carleton and Riley. Other Typical Poets. Miscellaneous Prose.
The Nature Writers. History and Biography. John Fiske. Literary History and
Reminiscence. Bibliography.



William Shakespeare

Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain

Cædmon Cross at Whitby Abbey

Domesday Book

The Norman Stair, Canterbury Cathedral


Pilgrims setting out from the "Tabard"

A Street in Caerleon on Usk

The Almonry, Westminster

Michael Drayton

Edmund Spenser

Raleigh's Birthplace, Budleigh Salterton

The Library, Stratford Grammar School, attended by Shakespeare

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

The Main Room, Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Cawdor Castle, Scotland, associated with Macbeth

Francis Beaumont

John Fletcher

Ben Jonson

Sir Philip Sidney

Francis Bacon

John Milton

Cottage at Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire

Ludlow Castle

John Bunyan

Bunyan Meetinghouse, Southwark

John Dryden

George Herbert

Sir Thomas Browne

Isaac Walton

Old Fishing House, on River Dove, used by Walton

Alexander Pope

Twickenham Parish Church, where Pope was buried

Jonathan Swift

Trinity College, Dublin

Joseph Addison

Magdalen College, Oxford

Sir Richard Steele

Dr. Samuel Johnson

Dr. Johnson's House (Bolt Court, Fleet St.)

James Boswell

Edmund Burke

Edward Gibbon

Thomas Gray

Stoke Poges Churchyard, showing Part of the Church and Gray's Tomb

Oliver Goldsmith

"The Cheshire Cheese," London, showing Dr. Johnson's Favorite Seat

Canonbury Tower (London)

Robert Burns

"Ellisland," the Burns Farm, Dumfries

The Village of Tarbolton, near which Burns Lived

Auld Alloway Kirk

Burns's Mausoleum

William Cowper

Daniel Defoe

Cupola House

William Wordsworth

Wordsworth's Desk in Hawkshead School

St. Oswald's Church, Grasmere

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Coleridge Cottage, Nether Stowey, Somersetshire

Robert Southey

Greta Hall, in the Lake Region

Lord Byron

Newstead Abbey and Byron Oak

The Castle of Chillon

Percy Bysshe Shelley

John Keats

Leigh Hunt

Walter Scott


The Great Window, Melrose Abbey

Scott's Tomb in Dryburgh Abbey

Mrs. Hannah More

Charles Lamb

East India House, London

Mary Lamb

The Lamb Building, Inner Temple, London

Thomas De Quincey

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Tennyson's Birthplace, Somersby Rectory, Lincolnshire

Alfred Tennyson

Summerhouse at Farringford

Robert Browning

Mrs. Browning's Tomb, at Florence

The Palazzo Rezzonico, Browning's Home in Venice

Piazza of San Lorenzo, Florence

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Matthew Arnold

The Manor House of William Morris

William Morris

Charles Dickens

Gadshill Place, near Rochester

Dickens's Birthplace, Landport, Portsea

Yard of Reindeer Inn, Danbury

The Gatehouse at Rochester, near Dickens's Home

William Makepeace Thackeray

Charterhouse School

George Eliot

Griff House, George Eliot's Early Home in Warwickshire

Charlotte Brontë

Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell

Richard Doddridge Blackmore

Robert Louis Stevenson

Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thomas Carlyle

Carlyle's House, Cheyne Row, Chelsea, London

Arch Home, Ecclefechan

John Ruskin

Entrance to "Westover," Home of William Byrd

Plymouth in 1662. Bradford's House on Right

William Byrd

New Amsterdam (New York) in 1663

Cotton Mather

Jonathan Edwards

Benjamin Franklin

Franklin's Shop

Philip Freneau

Thomas Jefferson

Alexander Hamilton

Monticello, the Home of Jefferson in Virginia

Charles Brockden Brown

William Gilmore Simms

John Pendleton Kennedy

Washington Irving

"Sunnyside," Home of Irving

Rip Van Winkle

Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow

William Cullen Bryant

Bryant's Home, at Cummington

James Fenimore Cooper

Otsego Hall, Home of Cooper

Cooper's Cave

Edgar Allan Poe

West Range, University of Virginia

The Building of the _Southern Literary Messenger_

"The Man" (Abraham Lincoln)

Birthplace of Longfellow at Falmouth (now Portland) Maine

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Taproom, Wayside Inn, Sudbury

Longfellow's Library in Craigie House, Cambridge

John Greenleaf Whittier

Oak Knoll, Whittier's Home, Danvers, Massachusetts

Street in Old Marblehead

James Russell Lowell

Lowell's House, Cambridge, in Winter

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Old Colonial Doorway

Sidney Lanier

The Village of McGaheysville, Virginia

Whitman's Birthplace, West Hills, Long Island

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson's Home, Concord

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Old Customhouse, Boston

"The House of the Seven Gables," Salem (built in 1669)

Hawthorne's Birthplace, Salem, Massachusetts

Henry Timrod

Paul Hamilton Hayne

Harriet Beecher Stowe

John Esten Cooke

Louisa M Alcott

Henry D Thoreau

Francis Parkman

Bret Harte

George W. Cable

Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman

William Dean Howells

Mark Twain

Joel Chandler Harris

Edmund Clarence Stedman

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Joaquin Miller

John Fiske

Edward Everett Hale




  (_Not a Lesson, but an Invitation_)

  I sleep, yet I love to be wakened, and love to see
  The fresh young faces bending over me;
  And the faces of them that are old, I love them too,
  For these, as well, in the days of their youth I knew.

                                        "Song of the Well"

WHAT IS LITERATURE? In an old English book, written before Columbus dreamed
of a westward journey to find the East, is the story of a traveler who set
out to search the world for wisdom. Through Palestine and India he passed,
traveling by sea or land through many seasons, till he came to a wonderful
island where he saw a man plowing in the fields. And the wonder was, that
the man was calling familiar words to his oxen, "such wordes as men speken
to bestes in his owne lond." Startled by the sound of his mother tongue he
turned back on his course "in gret mervayle, for he knewe not how it myghte
be." But if he had passed on a little, says the old record, "he would have
founden his contree and his owne knouleche."

Facing a new study of literature our impulse is to search in strange places
for a definition; but though we compass a world of books, we must return at
last, like the worthy man of _Mandeville's Travels_, to our own
knowledge. Since childhood we have been familiar with this noble subject of
literature. We have entered into the heritage of the ancient Greeks, who
thought that Homer was a good teacher for the nursery; we have made
acquaintance with Psalm and Prophecy and Parable, with the knightly tales
of Malory, with the fairy stories of Grimm or Andersen, with the poetry of
Shakespeare, with the novels of Scott or Dickens,--in short, with some of
the best books that the world has ever produced. We know, therefore, what
literature is, and that it is an excellent thing which ministers to the joy
of living; but when we are asked to define the subject, we are in the
position of St. Augustine, who said of time, "If you ask me what time is, I
know not; but if you ask me not, then I know." For literature is like
happiness, or love, or life itself, in that it can be understood or
appreciated but can never be exactly described. It has certain describable
qualities, however, and the best place to discover these is our own


Here on a shelf are a Dictionary, a History of America, a text on
Chemistry, which we read or study for information; on a higher shelf are
_As You Like It_, _Hiawatha_, _Lorna Doone_, _The Oregon
Trail_, and other works to which we go for pleasure when the day's work
is done. In one sense all these and all other books are literature; for the
root meaning of the word is "letters," and a letter means a character
inscribed or rubbed upon a prepared surface. A series of letters
intelligently arranged forms a book, and for the root meaning of "book" you
must go to a tree; because the Latin word for book, _liber_, means the
inner layer of bark that covers a tree bole, and "book" or "boc" is the old
English name for the beech, on whose silvery surface our ancestors carved
their first runic letters.

So also when we turn the "leaves" of a book, our mind goes back over a long
trail: through rattling printing-shop, and peaceful monk's cell, and gloomy
cave with walls covered with picture writing, till the trail ends beside a
shadowy forest, where primitive man takes a smooth leaf and inscribes his
thought upon it by means of a pointed stick. A tree is the Adam of all
books, and everything that the hand of man has written upon the tree or its
products or its substitutes is literature. But that is too broad a
definition; we must limit it by excluding what does not here concern us.


Our first exclusion is of that immense class of writings--books of science,
history, philosophy, and the rest--to which we go for information. These
aim to preserve or to systematize the discoveries of men; they appeal
chiefly to the intellect and they are known as the literature of knowledge.
There remains another large class of writings, sometimes called the
literature of power, consisting of poems, plays, essays, stories of every
kind, to which we go treasure-hunting for happiness or counsel, for noble
thoughts or fine feelings, for rest of body or exercise of spirit,--for
almost everything, in fine, except information. As Chaucer said, long ago,
such writings are:

  For pleasaunce high, and for noon other end.

They aim to give us pleasure; they appeal chiefly to our imagination and
our emotions; they awaken in us a feeling of sympathy or admiration for
whatever is beautiful in nature or society or the soul of man.


The author who would attempt books of such high purpose must be careful of
both the matter and the manner of his writing, must give one thought to
what he shall say and another thought to how he shall say it. He selects
the best or most melodious words, the finest figures, and aims to make his
story or poem beautiful in itself, as a painter strives to reflect a face
or a landscape in a beautiful way. Any photographer can in a few minutes
reproduce a human face, but only an artist can by care and labor bring
forth a beautiful portrait. So any historian can write the facts of the
Battle of Gettysburg; but only a Lincoln can in noble words reveal the
beauty and immortal meaning of that mighty conflict.

To all such written works, which quicken our sense of the beautiful, and
which are as a Jacob's ladder on which we mount for higher views of nature
or humanity, we confidently give the name "literature," meaning the art of
literature in distinction from the mere craft of writing.


Such a definition, though it cuts out the greater part of human records, is
still too broad for our purpose, and again we must limit it by a process of
exclusion. For to study almost any period of English letters is to discover
that it produced hundreds of books which served the purpose of literature,
if only for a season, by affording pleasure to readers. No sooner were they
written than Time began to winnow them over and over, giving them to all
the winds of opinion, one generation after another, till the hosts of
ephemeral works were swept aside, and only a remnant was left in the hands
of the winnower. To this remnant, books of abiding interest, on which the
years have no effect save to mellow or flavor them, we give the name of
great or enduring literature; and with these chiefly we deal in our present


To the inevitable question, What are the marks of great literature? no
positive answer can be returned. As a tree is judged by its fruits, so is
literature judged not by theory but by the effect which it produces on
human life; and the judgment is first personal, then general. If a book has
power to awaken in you a lively sense of pleasure or a profound emotion of
sympathy; if it quickens your love of beauty or truth or goodness; if it
moves you to generous thought or noble action, then that book is, for you
and for the time, a great book. If after ten or fifty years it still has
power to quicken you, then for you at least it is a great book forever. And
if it affects many other men and women as it affects you, and if it lives
with power from one generation to another, gladdening the children as it
gladdened the fathers, then surely it is great literature, without further
qualification or need of definition. From this viewpoint the greatest poem
in the world--greatest in that it abides in most human hearts as a loved
and honored guest--is not a mighty _Iliad_ or _Paradise Lost_ or
_Divine Comedy_; it is a familiar little poem of a dozen lines,
beginning "The Lord is my Shepherd."

It is obvious that great literature, which appeals to all classes of men
and to all times, cannot go far afield for rare subjects, or follow new
inventions, or concern itself with fashions that are here to-day and gone
to-morrow. Its only subjects are nature and human nature; it deals with
common experiences of joy or sorrow, pain or pleasure, that all men
understand; it cherishes the unchanging ideals of love, faith, duty,
freedom, reverence, courtesy, which were old to the men who kept their
flocks on the plains of Shinar, and which will be young as the morning to
our children's children.

Such ideals tend to ennoble a writer, and therefore are great books
characterized by lofty thought, by fine feeling and, as a rule, by a
beautiful simplicity of expression. They have another quality, hard to
define but easy to understand, a quality which leaves upon us the
impression of eternal youth, as if they had been dipped in the fountain
which Ponce de Leon sought for in vain through the New World. If a great
book could speak, it would use the words of the Cobzar (poet) in his "Last

  The merry Spring, he is my brother,
    And when he comes this way
  Each year again, he always asks me:
    "Art thou not yet grown gray?"
  But I. I keep my youth forever,
    Even as the Spring his May.

A DEFINITION. Literature, then, if one must formulate a definition, is the
written record of man's best thought and feeling, and English literature is
the part of that record which belongs to the English people. In its
broadest sense literature includes all writing, but as we commonly define
the term it excludes works which aim at instruction, and includes only the
works which aim to give pleasure, and which are artistic in that they
reflect nature or human life in a way to arouse our sense of beauty. In a
still narrower sense, when we study the history of literature we deal
chiefly with the great, the enduring books, which may have been written in
an elder or a latter day, but which have in them the magic of all time.

One may easily challenge such a definition, which, like most others, is far
from faultless. It is difficult, for example, to draw the line sharply
between instructive and pleasure-giving works; for many an instructive book
of history gives us pleasure, and there may be more instruction on
important matters in a pleasurable poem than in a treatise on ethics.
Again, there are historians who allege that English literature must include
not simply the works of Britain but everything written in the English
language. There are other objections; but to straighten them all out is to
be long in starting, and there is a pleasant journey ahead of us. Chaucer
had literature in mind when he wrote:

  Through me men goon into that blisful place
       Of hertës hele and dedly woundës cure;
  Through me men goon unto the wells of grace,
       Ther grene and lusty May shal ever endure:
       This is the wey to al good aventure.



  Then the warrior, battle-tried, touched the sounding glee-wood:
  Straight awoke the harp's sweet note; straight a song uprose,
  Sooth and sad its music. Then from hero's lips there fell
  A wonder-tale, well told.

                    _Beowulf_, line 2017 (a free rendering)

In its beginnings English literature is like a river, which proceeds not
from a single wellhead but from many springs, each sending forth its
rivulet of sweet or bitter water. As there is a place where the river
assumes a character of its own, distinct from all its tributaries, so in
English literature there is a time when it becomes national rather than
tribal, and English rather than Saxon or Celtic or Norman. That time was in
the fifteenth century, when the poems of Chaucer and the printing press of
Caxton exalted the Midland above all other dialects and established it as
the literary language of England.


Before that time, if you study the records of Britain, you meet several
different tribes and races of men: the native Celt, the law-giving Roman,
the colonizing Saxon, the sea-roving Dane, the feudal baron of Normandy,
each with his own language and literature reflecting the traditions of his
own people. Here in these old records is a strange medley of folk heroes,
Arthur and Beowulf, Cnut and Brutus, Finn and Cuchulain, Roland and Robin
Hood. Older than the tales of such folk-heroes are ancient riddles, charms,
invocations to earth and sky:

  Hal wes thu, Folde, fira moder!
  Hail to thee, Earth, thou mother of men!

With these pagan spells are found the historical writings of the Venerable
Bede, the devout hymns of Cædmon, Welsh legends, Irish and Scottish fairy
stories, Scandinavian myths, Hebrew and Christian traditions, romances from
distant Italy which had traveled far before the Italians welcomed them. All
these and more, whether originating on British soil or brought in by
missionaries or invaders, held each to its own course for a time, then met
and mingled in the swelling stream which became English literature.

Probably the ruins of a temple of the native Britons]

To trace all these tributaries to their obscure and lonely sources would
require the labor of a lifetime. We shall here examine only the two main
branches of our early literature, to the end that we may better appreciate
the vigor and variety of modern English. The first is the Anglo-Saxon,
which came into England in the middle of the fifth century with the
colonizing Angles, Jutes and Saxons from the shores of the North Sea and
the Baltic; the second is the Norman-French, which arrived six centuries
later at the time of the Norman invasion. Except in their emphasis on
personal courage, there is a marked contrast between these two branches,
the former being stern and somber, the latter gay and fanciful. In
Anglo-Saxon poetry we meet a strong man who cherishes his own ideals of
honor, in Norman-French poetry a youth eagerly interested in romantic tales
gathered from all the world. One represents life as a profound mystery, the
other as a happy adventure.

       *       *        *       *        *


SPECIMENS OF THE LANGUAGE. Our English speech has changed so much in the
course of centuries that it is now impossible to read our earliest records
without special study; but that Anglo-Saxon is our own and not a foreign
tongue may appear from the following examples. The first is a stanza from
"Widsith," the chant of a wandering gleeman or minstrel; and for comparison
we place beside it Andrew Lang's modern version. Nobody knows how old
"Widsith" is; it may have been sung to the accompaniment of a harp that was
broken fourteen hundred years ago. The second, much easier to read, is from
the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was prepared by King Alfred from an older
record in the ninth century:

  Swa scrithende
      gesceapum hweorfath,
  Gleomen gumena
      geond grunda fela;
  Thearfe secgath,
      thonc-word sprecath,
  Simle, suth oththe north
      sumne gemetath,
  Gydda gleawne
      geofam unhneawne.

  So wandering on
      the world about,
  Gleemen do roam
      through many lands;
  They say their needs,
      they speak their thanks,
  Sure, south or north
      someone to meet,
  Of songs to judge
      and gifts not grudge.

    Her Hengest and Aesc, his sunu, gefuhton wid Bryttas on thaere
    stowe the is gecweden Creccanford, and thaer ofslogon feower
    thusenda wera. And tha Bryttas tha forleton Cent-lond, and mid
    myclum ege flugon to Lundenbyrig.

    At this time Hengist and Esk, his son, fought with the Britons at
    the place that is called Crayford, and there slew four thousand
    men. And the Britons then forsook Kentland, and with much fear fled
    to London town.

BEOWULF. The old epic poem, called after its hero Beowulf, is more than
myth or legend, more even than history; it is a picture of a life and a
world that once had real existence. Of that vanished life, that world of
ancient Englishmen, only a few material fragments remain: a bit of linked
armor, a rusted sword with runic inscriptions, the oaken ribs of a war
galley buried with the Viking who had sailed it on stormy seas, and who was
entombed in it because he loved it. All these are silent witnesses; they
have no speech or language. But this old poem is a living voice, speaking
with truth and sincerity of the daily habit of the fathers of modern
England, of their adventures by sea or land, their stern courage and grave
courtesy, their ideals of manly honor, their thoughts of life and death.

Let us hear, then, the story of _Beowulf_, picturing in our
imagination the story-teller and his audience. The scene opens in a great
hall, where a fire blazes on the hearth and flashes upon polished shields
against the timbered walls. Down the long room stretches a table where men
are feasting or passing a beaker from hand to hand, and anon crying _Hal!
hal!_ in answer to song or in greeting to a guest. At the head of the
hall sits the chief with his chosen ealdormen. At a sign from the chief a
gleeman rises and strikes a single clear note from his harp. Silence falls
on the benches; the story begins:

  Hail! we of the Spear Danes in days of old
  Have heard the glory of warriors sung;
  Have cheered the deeds that our chieftains wrought,
  And the brave Scyld's triumph o'er his foes.

    Then because there are Scyldings present, and because brave men
    revere their ancestors, the gleeman tells a beautiful legend of how
    King Scyld came and went: how he arrived as a little child, in a
    war-galley that no man sailed, asleep amid jewels and weapons; and
    how, when his life ended at the call of Wyrd or Fate, they placed
    him against the mast of a ship, with treasures heaped around him
    and a golden banner above his head, gave ship and cargo to the
    winds, and sent their chief nobly back to the deep whence he came.

    So with picturesque words the gleeman thrills his hearers with a
    vivid picture of a Viking's sea-burial. It thrills us now, when the
    Vikings are no more, and when no other picture can be drawn by an
    eyewitness of that splendid pagan rite.

    [Sidenote: THE STORY OF HEOROT]

    One of Scyld's descendants was King Hrothgar (Roger) who built the
    hall Heorot, where the king and his men used to gather nightly to
    feast, and to listen to the songs of scop or gleeman. [Footnote:
    Like Agamemnon and the Greek chieftains, every Saxon leader had his
    gleeman or minstrel, and had also his own poet, his scop or
    "shaper," whose duty it was to shape a glorious deed into more
    glorious verse. So did our pagan ancestors build their monuments
    out of songs that should live in the hearts of men when granite or
    earth mound had crumbled away.] "There was joy of heroes," but in
    one night the joy was changed to mourning. Out on the lonely fens
    dwelt the jotun (giant or monster) Grendel, who heard the sound of
    men's mirth and quickly made an end of it. One night, as the thanes
    slept in the hall, he burst in the door and carried off thirty
    warriors to devour them in his lair under the sea. Another and
    another horrible raid followed, till Heorot was deserted and the
    fear of Grendel reigned among the Spear Danes. There were brave men
    among them, but of what use was courage when their weapons were
    powerless against the monster? "Their swords would not bite on his

    For twelve years this terror continued; then the rumor of Grendel
    reached the land of the Geats, where Beowulf lived at the court of
    his uncle, King Hygelac. No sooner did Beowulf hear of a dragon to
    be slain, of a friendly king "in need of a man," than he selected
    fourteen companions and launched his war-galley in search of


    At this point the old epic becomes a remarkable portrayal of daily
    life. In its picturesque lines we see the galley set sail, foam
    flying from her prow; we catch the first sight of the southern
    headlands, approach land, hear the challenge of the "warder of the
    cliffs" and Beowulf's courteous answer. We follow the march to
    Heorot in war-gear, spears flashing, swords and byrnies clanking,
    and witness the exchange of greetings between Hrothgar and the
    young hero. Again is the feast spread in Heorot; once more is heard
    the song of gleemen, the joyous sound of warriors in comradeship.
    There is also a significant picture of Hrothgar's wife, "mindful of
    courtesies," honoring her guests by passing the mead-cup with her
    own hands. She is received by these stern men with profound

    When the feast draws to an end the fear of Grendel returns.
    Hrothgar warns his guests that no weapon can harm the monster, that
    it is death to sleep in the hall; then the Spear Danes retire,
    leaving Beowulf and his companions to keep watch and ward. With the
    careless confidence of brave men, forthwith they all fall asleep:

      Forth from the fens, from the misty moorlands,
      Grendel came gliding--God's wrath he bore--
      Came under clouds until he saw clearly,
      Glittering with gold plates, the mead-hall of men.
      Down fell the door, though hardened with fire-bands,
      Open it sprang at the stroke of his paw.
      Swollen with rage burst in the bale-bringer,
      Flamed in his eyes a fierce light, likest fire.


    Throwing himself upon the nearest sleeper Grendel crushes and
    swallows him; then he stretches out a paw towards Beowulf, only to
    find it "seized in such a grip as the fiend had never felt before."
    A desperate conflict begins, and a mighty uproar,--crashing of
    benches, shoutings of men, the "war-song" of Grendel, who is trying
    to break the grip of his foe. As the monster struggles toward the
    door, dragging the hero with him, a wide wound opens on his
    shoulder; the sinews snap, and with a mighty wrench Beowulf tears
    off the whole limb. While Grendel rushes howling across the fens,
    Beowulf hangs the grisly arm with its iron claws, "the whole
    grapple of Grendel," over the door where all may see it.

    Once more there is joy in Heorot, songs, speeches, the liberal
    giving of gifts. Thinking all danger past, the Danes sleep in the
    hall; but at midnight comes the mother of Grendel, raging to avenge
    her son. Seizing the king's bravest companion she carries him away,
    and he is never seen again.

    Here is another adventure for Beowulf. To old Hrothgar, lamenting
    his lost earl, the hero says simply:

      Wise chief, sorrow not. For a man it is meet
      His friend to avenge, not to mourn for his loss;
      For death comes to all, but honor endures:
      Let him win it who will, ere Wyrd to him calls,
      And fame be the fee of a warrior dead!

    Following the trail of the _Brimwylf_ or _Merewif_
    (sea-wolf or sea-woman) Beowulf and his companions pass through
    desolate regions to a wild cliff on the shore. There a friend
    offers his good sword Hrunting for the combat, and Beowulf accepts
    the weapon, saying:

                   ic me mid Hruntinge
      Dom gewyrce, oththe mec death nimeth.
                         I with Hrunting
      Honor will win, or death shall me take.

    [Sidenote: THE DRAGON'S CAVE]

    Then he plunges into the black water, is attacked on all sides by
    the _Grundwrygen_ or bottom monsters, and as he stops to fight
    them is seized by the _Merewif_ and dragged into a cave, a
    mighty "sea-hall" free from water and filled with a strange light.
    On its floor are vast treasures; its walls are adorned with
    weapons; in a corner huddles the wounded Grendel. All this Beowulf
    sees in a glance as he turns to fight his new foe.

    Follows then another terrific combat, in which the brand Hrunting
    proves useless. Though it rings out its "clanging war-song" on the
    monster's scales, it will not "bite" on the charmed body. Beowulf
    is down, and at the point of death, when his eye lights on a huge
    sword forged by the jotuns of old. Struggling to his feet he seizes
    the weapon, whirls it around his head for a mighty blow, and the
    fight is won. Another blow cuts off the head of Grendel, but at the
    touch of the poisonous blood the steel blade melts like ice before
    the fire.

    Leaving all the treasures, Beowulf takes only the golden hilt of
    the magic sword and the head of Grendel, reënters the sea and
    mounts up to his companions. They welcome him as one returned from
    the dead. They relieve him of helmet and byrnie, and swing away in
    a triumphal procession to Heorot. The hero towers among them, a
    conspicuous figure, and next to him comes the enormous head of
    Grendel carried on a spear-shaft by four of the stoutest thanes.

    [Sidenote: THE FIREDRAKE]

    More feasting, gifts, noble speeches follow before the hero returns
    to his own land, laden with treasures. So ends the first part of
    the epic. In the second part Beowulf succeeds Hygelac as chief of
    the Geats, and rules them well for fifty years. Then a "firedrake,"
    guarding an immense hoard of treasure (as in most of the old dragon
    stories), begins to ravage the land. Once more the aged Beowulf
    goes forth to champion his people; but he feels that "Wyrd is close
    to hand," and the fatalism which pervades all the poem is finely
    expressed in his speech to his companions. In his last fight he
    kills the dragon, winning the dragon's treasure for his people; but
    as he battles amid flame and smoke the fire enters his lungs, and
    he dies "as dies a man," paying for victory with his life. Among
    his last words is a command which reminds us again of the old
    Greeks, and of the word of Elpenor to Odysseus:

        "Bid my brave men raise a barrow for me on the headland,
        broad, high, to be seen far out at sea: that hereafter
        sea-farers, driving their foamy keels through ocean's mist,
        may behold and say, ''Tis Beowulf's mound!'"

    The hero's last words and the closing scenes of the epic, including
    the funeral pyre, the "bale-fire" and another Viking burial to the
    chant of armed men riding their war steeds, are among the noblest
    that have come down to us from beyond the dawn of history.

Such, in brief outline, is the story of _Beowulf_. It is recorded on a
fire-marked manuscript, preserved as by a miracle from the torch of the
Danes, which is now one of the priceless treasures of the British Museum.
The handwriting indicates that the manuscript was copied about the year
1100, but the language points to the eighth or ninth century, when the poem
in its present form was probably composed on English soil. [Footnote:
Materials used in _Beowulf_ are very old, and may have been brought to
England during the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Parts of the material, such as the
dragon-fights, are purely mythical. They relate to Beowa, a superman, of
whom many legends were told by Scandinavian minstrels. The Grendel legend,
for example, appears in the Icelandic saga of Gretti, who slays the dragon
Glam. Other parts of _Beowulf_ are old battle songs; and still others,
relating to King Hygelac and his nephew, have some historical foundation.
So little is known about the epic that one cannot safely make any positive
statement as to its origin. It was written in crude, uneven lines; but a
rhythmic, martial effect, as of marching men, was produced by strong accent
and alliteration, and the effect was strengthened by the harp with which
the gleeman always accompanied his recital.]

ANGLO-SAXON SONGS. Beside the epic of _Beowulf_ a few mutilated poems
have been preserved, and these are as fragments of a plate or film upon
which the life of long ago left its impression. One of the oldest of these
poems is "Widsith," the "wide-goer," which describes the wanderings and
rewards of the ancient gleeman. It begins:

  Widsith spake, his word-hoard unlocked,
  He who farthest had fared among earth-folk and tribe-folk.

Then follows a recital of the places he had visited, and the gifts he had
received for his singing. Some of the personages named are real, others
mythical; and as the list covers half a world and several centuries of
time, it is certain that Widsith's recital cannot be taken literally.


Two explanations offer themselves: the first, that the poem contains the
work of many scops, each of whom added his travels to those of his
predecessor; the second, that Widsith, like other gleemen, was both
historian and poet, a keeper of tribal legends as well as a shaper of
songs, and that he was ever ready to entertain his audience with things new
or old. Thus, he mentioned Hrothgar as one whom he had visited; and if a
hearer called for a tale at this point, the scop would recite that part of
_Beowulf_ which tells of the monster Grendel. Again, he named Sigard
the Volsung (the Siegfrid of the _Niebelungenlied_ and of Wagner's
opera), and this would recall the slaying of the dragon Fafnir, or some
other  story of the old Norse saga. So every name or place which Widsith
mentioned was an invitation. When he came to a hall and "unlocked his
word-hoard," he offered his hearers a variety of poems and legends from
which they made their own selection. Looked at in this way, the old poem
becomes an epitome of Anglo-Saxon literature.


Other fragments of the period are valuable as indicating that the
Anglo-Saxons were familiar with various types of poetry. "Deor's Lament,"
describing the sorrows of a scop who had lost his place beside his chief,
is a true lyric; that is, a poem which reflects the author's feeling rather
than the deed of another man. In his grief the scop comforts himself by
recalling the afflictions of various heroes, and he ends each stanza with
the refrain:

  That sorrow he endured; this also may I.

Among the best of the early poems are: "The Ruined City," reflecting the
feeling of one who looks on crumbling walls that were once the abode of
human ambition; "The Seafarer," a chantey of the deep, which ends with an
allegory comparing life to a sea voyage; "The Wanderer," which is the
plaint of one who has lost home, patron, ambition, and as the easiest way
out of his difficulty turns _eardstappa_, an "earth-hitter" or tramp;
"The Husband's Message," which is the oldest love song in our literature;
and a few ballads and battle songs, such as "The Battle of Brunanburh"
(familiar to us in Tennyson's translation) and "The Fight at Finnsburgh,"
which was mentioned by the gleemen in _Beowulf_, and which was then
probably as well known as "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is to modern

Another early war song, "The Battle of Maldon" or "Byrhtnoth's Death," has
seldom been rivaled in savage vigor or in the expression of deathless
loyalty to a chosen leader. The climax of the poem is reached when the few
survivors of an uneven battle make a ring of spears about their fallen
chief, shake their weapons in the face of an overwhelming horde of Danes,
while Byrhtwold, "the old comrade," chants their defiance:

  The sterner shall thought be, the bolder our hearts,
  The greater the mood as lessens our might.

We know not when or by whom this stirring battle cry was written. It was
copied under date of 991 in the _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_, and is
commonly called the swan song of Anglo-Saxon poetry. The lion song would be
a better name for it.

LATER PROSE AND POETRY. The works we have just considered were wholly pagan
in spirit, but all reference to Thor or other gods was excluded by the
monks who first wrote down the scop's poetry.

With the coming of these monks a reform swept over pagan England, and
literature reflected the change in a variety of ways. For example, early
Anglo-Saxon poetry was mostly warlike, for the reason that the various
earldoms were in constant strife; but now the peace of good will was
preached, and moral courage, the triumph of self-control, was exalted above
mere physical hardihood. In the new literature the adventures of Columb or
Aidan or Brendan were quite as thrilling as any legends of Beowulf or
Sigard, but the climax of the adventure was spiritual, and the emphasis was
always on moral heroism.

Another result of the changed condition was that the unlettered scop, who
carried his whole stock of poetry in his head, was replaced by the literary
monk, who had behind him the immense culture of the Latin language, and who
was interested in world history or Christian doctrine rather than in tribal
fights or pagan mythology. These monks were capable men; they understood
the appeal of pagan poetry, and their motto was, "Let nothing good be
wasted." So they made careful copy of the scop's best songs (else had not a
shred of early poetry survived), and so the pagan's respect for womanhood,
his courage, his loyalty to a chief,--all his virtues were recognized and
turned to religious account in the new literature. Even the beautiful pagan
scrolls, or "dragon knots," once etched on a warrior's sword, were
reproduced in glowing colors in the initial letters of the monk's
illuminated Gospel.

A third result of the peaceful conquest of the missionaries was that many
monasteries were established in Britain, each a center of learning and of
writing. So arose the famous Northumbrian School of literature, to which we
owe the writings of Bede, Cædmon, Cynewulf and others associated with
certain old monasteries, such as Peterborough, Jarrow, York and Whitby, all
north of the river Humber.

BEDE. The good work of the monks is finely exemplified in the life of the
Venerable Bede, or Bæda (_cir_. 673-735), who is well called the
father of English learning. As a boy he entered the Benedictine monastery
at Jarrow; the temper of his manhood may be judged from a single sentence
of his own record:

    "While attentive to the discipline of mine order and the daily care
    of singing in the church, my constant delight was in learning or
    teaching or writing."

It is hardly too much to say that this gentle scholar was for half a
century the teacher of Europe. He collected a large library of manuscripts;
he was the author of some forty works, covering the whole field of human
knowledge in his day; and to his school at Jarrow came hundreds of pupils
from all parts of the British Isles, and hundreds more from the Continent.
Of all his works the most notable is the so-called "Ecclesiastical History"
(_Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum_) which should be named the
"History of the Race of Angles." This book marks the beginning of our
literature of knowledge, and to it we are largely indebted for what we know
of English history from the time of Cæsar's invasion to the early part of
the eighth century.

All the extant works of Bede are in Latin, but we are told by his pupil
Cuthbert that he was "skilled in our English songs," that he made poems and
translated the Gospel of John into English. These works, which would now be
of priceless value, were all destroyed by the plundering Danes.

As an example of Bede's style, we translate a typical passage from his
History. The scene is the Saxon _Witenagemôt_, or council of wise men,
called by King Edward (625) to consider the doctrine of Paulinus, who had
been sent from Rome by Pope Gregory. The first speaker is Coifi, a priest
of the old religion:

    "Consider well, O king, this new doctrine which is preached to us;
    for I now declare, what I have learned for certain, that the old
    religion has no virtue in it. For none of your people has been more
    diligent than I in the worship of our gods; yet many receive more
    favors from you, and are preferred above me, and are more
    prosperous in their affairs. If the old gods had any discernment,
    they would surely favor me, since I have been most diligent in
    their service. It is expedient, therefore, if this new faith that
    is preached is any more profitable than the old, that we accept it
    without delay."

Whereupon Coifi, who as a priest has hitherto been obliged to ride upon an
ass with wagging ears, calls loudly for a horse, a prancing horse, a
stallion, and cavorts off, a crowd running at his heels, to hurl a spear
into the shrine where he lately worshiped. He is a good type of the
political demagogue, who clamors for progress when he wants an office, and
whose spear is more likely to be hurled at the back of a friend than at the
breast of an enemy.

Then a pagan chief rises to speak, and we bow to a nobler motive. His
allegory of the mystery of life is like a strain of Anglo-Saxon poetry; it
moves us deeply, as it moved his hearers ten centuries ago:

    "This present life of man, O king, in comparison with the time that
    is hidden from us, is as the flight of a sparrow through the room
    where you sit at supper, with companions around you and a good fire
    on the hearth. Outside are the storms of wintry rain and snow. The
    sparrow flies in at one opening, and instantly out at another:
    whilst he is within he is sheltered from the winter storms, but
    after a moment of pleasant weather he speeds from winter back to
    winter again, and vanishes from your sight into the darkness whence
    he came. Even so the life of man appears for a little time; but of
    what went before and of what comes after we are wholly ignorant. If
    this new religion can teach us anything of greater certainty, it
    surely deserves to be followed." [Footnote: Bede, _Historia_,
    Book II, chap xiii, a free translation]

CÆDMON (SEVENTH CENTURY). In a beautiful chapter of Bede's History we may
read how Cædmon (d. 680) discovered his gift of poetry. He was, says the
record, a poor unlettered servant of the Abbess Hilda, in her monastery at
Whitby. At that time (and here is an interesting commentary on monastic
culture) singing and poetry were so familiar that, whenever a feast was
given, a harp would be brought in, and each monk or guest would in turn
entertain the company with a song or poem to his own musical accompaniment.
But Cædmon could not sing, and when he saw the harp coming down the table
he would slip away ashamed, to perform his humble duties in the monastery:

    "Now it happened once that he did this thing at a certain
    festivity, and went out to the stable to care for the horses, this
    duty being assigned him for that night. As he slept at the usual
    time one stood by him, saying, 'Cædmon, sing me something.' He
    answered, 'I cannot sing, and that is why I came hither from the
    feast.' But he who spake unto him said again, 'Cædmon, sing to me.'
    And he said, 'What shall I sing?' And that one said, 'Sing the
    beginning of created things.' Thereupon Cædmon began to sing verses
    that he had never heard before, of this import:

      Nu scylun hergan hefaenriches ward ...
      Now shall we hallow the warden of heaven,
      He the Creator, he the Allfather,
      Deeds of his might and thoughts of his mind...."


In the morning he remembered the words, and came humbly to the monks to
recite the first recorded Christian hymn in our language. And a very noble
hymn it is. The monks heard him in wonder, and took him to the Abbess
Hilda, who gave order that Cædmon should receive instruction and enter the
monastery as one of the brethren. Then the monks expounded to him the
Scriptures. He in turn, reflecting on what he had heard, echoed it back to
the monks "in such melodious words that his teachers became his pupils."
So, says the record, the whole course of Bible history was turned into
excellent poetry.

About a thousand years later, in the days of Milton, an Anglo-Saxon
manuscript was discovered containing a metrical paraphrase of the books of
Genesis, Exodus and Daniel, and these were supposed to be some of the poems
mentioned in Bede's narrative. A study of the poems (now known as the
Cædmonian Cycle) leads to the conclusion that they were probably the work
of two or three writers, and it has not been determined what part Cædmon
had in their composition. The nobility of style in the Genesis poem and the
picturesque account of the fallen angels (which reappears in _Paradise
Lost_) have won for Cædmon his designation as the Milton of the
Anglo-Saxon period. [Footnote: A friend of Milton, calling himself
Franciscus Junius, first printed the Cædmon poems in Antwerp (_cir_.
1655) during Milton's lifetime. The Puritan poet was blind at the time, and
it is not certain that he ever saw or heard the poems; yet there are many
parallelisms in the earlier and later works which warrant the conclusion
that Milton was influenced by Cædmon's work.]

CYNEWULF (EIGHTH CENTURY). There is a variety of poems belonging to the
Cynewulf Cycle, and of some of these Cynewulf (born _cir_. 750) was
certainly the author, since he wove his name into the verses in the manner
of an acrostic. Of Cynewulf's life we know nothing with certainty; but from
various poems which are attributed to him, and which undoubtedly reflect
some personal experience, scholars have constructed the following
biography,--which may or may not be true.

In his early life Cynewulf was probably a wandering scop of the old pagan
kind, delighting in wild nature, in adventure, in the clamor of fighting
men. To this period belong his "Riddles" [Footnote: These riddles are
ancient conundrums, in which some familiar object, such as a bow, a ship, a
storm lashing the shore, the moon riding the clouds like a Viking's boat,
is described in poetic language, and the last line usually calls on the
hearer to name the object described. See Cook and Tinker, _Translations
from Old English Poetry_.] and his vigorous descriptions of the sea and
of battle, which show hardly a trace of Christian influence. Then came
trouble to Cynewulf, perhaps in the ravages of the Danes, and some deep
spiritual experience of which he writes in a way to remind us of the
Puritan age:

    "In the prison of the night I pondered with myself. I was stained
    with my own deeds, bound fast in my sins, hard smitten with
    sorrows, walled in by miseries."

A wondrous vision of the cross, "brightest of beacons," shone suddenly
through his darkness, and led him forth into light and joy. Then he wrote
his "Vision of the Rood" and probably also _Juliana_ and _The
Christ_. In the last period of his life, a time of great serenity, he
wrote _Andreas_, a story of St. Andrew combining religious instruction
with extraordinary adventure; _Elene_, which describes the search for
the cross on which Christ died, and which is a prototype of the search for
the Holy Grail; and other poems of the same general kind. [Footnote: There
is little agreement among scholars as to who wrote most of these poems. The
only works to which Cynewulf signs his name are _The Christ_,
_Elene_, _Juliana_ and _Fates of the Apostles_. All others
are doubtful, and our biography of Cynewulf is largely a matter of pleasant
speculation.] Aside from the value of these works as a reflection of
Anglo-Saxon ideals, they are our best picture of Christianity as it
appeared in England during the eighth and ninth centuries.

ALFRED THE GREAT (848-901). We shall understand the importance of Alfred's
work if we remember how his country fared when he became king of the West
Saxons, in 871. At that time England lay at the mercy of the Danish
sea-rovers. Soon after Bede's death they fell upon Northumbria, hewed out
with their swords a place of settlement, and were soon lords of the whole
north country. Being pagans ("Thor's men" they called themselves) they
sacked the monasteries, burned the libraries, made a lurid end of the
civilization which men like Columb and Bede had built up in
North-Humberland. Then they pushed southward, and were in process of
paganizing all England when they were turned back by the heroism of Alfred.
How he accomplished his task, and how from his capital at Winchester he
established law and order in England, is recorded in the histories. We are
dealing here with literature, and in this field Alfred is distinguished in
two ways: first, by his preservation of early English poetry; and second,
by his own writing, which earned for him the title of father of English
prose. Finding that some fragments of poetry had escaped the fire of the
Danes, he caused search to be made for old manuscripts, and had copies made
of all that were legible. [Footnote: These copies were made in Alfred's
dialect (West Saxon) not in the Northumbrian dialect in which they were
first written.] But what gave Alfred deepest concern was that in all his
kingdom there were few priests and no laymen who could read or write their
own language. As he wrote sadly:

    "King Alfred sends greeting to Bishop Werfrith in words of love and
    friendship. Let it be known to thee that it often comes to my mind
    what wise men and what happy times were formerly in England, ... I
    remember what I saw before England had been ravaged and burned, how
    churches throughout the whole land were filled with treasures of
    books. And there was also a multitude of God's servants, but these
    had no knowledge of the books: they could not understand them
    because they were not written in their own language. It was as if
    the books said, 'Our fathers who once occupied these places loved
    wisdom, and through it they obtained wealth and left it to us. We
    see here their footprints, but we cannot follow them, and therefore
    have we lost both their wealth and their wisdom, because we would
    not incline our hearts to their example.' When I remember this, I
    marvel that good and wise men who were formerly in England, and who
    had learned these books, did not translate them into their own
    language. Then I answered myself and said, 'They never thought that
    their children would be so careless, or that learning would so
    decay.'" [Footnote: A free version of part of Alfred's preface to
    his translation of Pope Gregory's _Cura Pastoralis_, which
    appeared in English as the Hirdeboc or Shepherd's Book.]

To remedy the evil, Alfred ordered that every freeborn Englishman should
learn to read and write his own language; but before he announced the order
he followed it himself. Rather late in his boyhood he had learned to spell
out an English book; now with immense difficulty he took up Latin, and
translated the best works for the benefit of his people. His last notable
work was the famous _Anglo-Saxon Chronicle_.


At that time it was customary in monasteries to keep a record of events
which seemed to the monks of special importance, such as the coming of a
bishop, the death of a king, an eclipse of the moon, a battle with the
Danes. Alfred found such a record at Winchester, rewrote it (or else caused
it to be rewritten) with numerous additions from Bede's History and other
sources, and so made a fairly complete chronicle of England. This was sent
to other monasteries, where it was copied and enlarged, so that several
different versions have come down to us. The work thus begun was continued
after Alfred's death, until 1154, and is the oldest contemporary history
possessed by any modern nation in its own language.

       *       *       *       *       *


SPECIMENS OF THE LANGUAGE. A glance at the following selections will show
how Anglo-Saxon was slowly approaching our English speech of to-day. The
first is from a religious book called _Ancren Riwle_ (Rule of the
Anchoresses, _cir_. 1225). The second, written about a century later,
is from the riming chronicle, or verse history, of Robert Manning or Robert
of Brunne. In it we note the appearance of rime, a new thing in English
poetry, borrowed from the French, and also a few words, such as "solace,"
which are of foreign origin:

    "Hwoso hevide iseid to Eve, theo heo werp hire eien therone, 'A!
    wend te awei; thu worpest eien o thi death!' hwat heved heo
    ionswered? 'Me leove sire, ther havest wouh. Hwarof kalenges tu me?
    The eppel that ich loke on is forbode me to etene, and nout forto

    "Whoso had said (or, if anyone had said) to Eve when she cast her
    eye theron (i.e. on the apple) 'Ah! turn thou away; thou castest
    eyes on thy death!' what would she have answered? 'My dear sir,
    thou art wrong. Of what blamest thou me? The apple which I look
    upon is forbidden me to eat, not to behold.'"

  Lordynges that be now here,
  If ye wille listene and lere [1]
  All the story of Inglande,
  Als Robert Mannyng wryten it fand,
  And on Inglysch has it schewed,
  Not for the lered [2] but for the lewed, [3]
  For tho that on this land wonn [4]
  That ne Latin ne Frankys conn, [5]
  For to hauf solace and gamen
  In felauschip when they sitt samen; [6]
  And it is wisdom for to wytten [7]
  The state of the land, and haf it wryten.

  [Footnote 1: learn]
  [Footnote 2: learned]
  [Footnote 3: simple or ignorant]
  [Footnote 4: those that dwell]
  [Footnote 5: That neither Latin nor French know]
  [Footnote 6: together]
  [Footnote 7: know]

THE NORMAN CONQUEST. For a century after the Norman conquest native poetry
disappeared from England, as a river may sink into the earth to reappear
elsewhere with added volume and new characteristics. During all this time
French was the language not only of literature but of society and business;
and if anyone had declared at the beginning of the twelfth century, when
Norman institutions were firmly established in England, that the time was
approaching when the conquerors would forget their fatherland and their
mother tongue, he would surely have been called dreamer or madman. Yet the
unexpected was precisely what happened, and the Norman conquest is
remarkable alike for what it did and for what it failed to do.

[Illustration: DOMESDAY BOOK
From a facsimile edition published in 1862.
The volumes, two in number, were kept in the chest here shown]

It accomplished, first, the nationalization of England, uniting the petty
Saxon earldoms into one powerful kingdom; and second, it brought into
English life, grown sad and stern, like a man without hope, the spirit of
youth, of enthusiasm, of eager adventure after the unknown,--in a word, the
spirit of romance, which is but another name for that quest of some Holy
Grail in which youth is forever engaged.

NORMAN LITERATURE. One who reads the literature that the conquerors brought
to England must be struck by the contrast between the Anglo-Saxon and the
Norman-French spirit. For example, here is the death of a national hero as
portrayed in _The Song of Roland_, an old French epic, which the
Normans first put into polished verse:

  Li quens Rollans se jut desuz un pin,
  Envers Espaigne en ad turnet son vis,
  De plusurs choscs a remembrer le prist....

    "Then Roland placed himself beneath a pine tree. Towards Spain he
    turned his face. Of many things took he remembrance: of various
    lands where he had made conquests; of sweet France and his kindred;
    of Charlemagne, his feudal lord, who had nurtured him. He could not
    refrain from sighs and tears; neither could he forget himself in
    need. He confessed his sins and besought the Lord's mercy. He
    raised his right glove and offered it to God; Saint Gabriel from
    his hand received the offering. Then upon his breast he bowed his
    head; he joined his hands and went to his end. God sent down his
    cherubim, and Saint Michael who delivers from peril. Together with
    Saint Gabriel they departed, bearing the Count's soul to Paradise."

We have not put Roland's ceremonious exit into rime and meter; neither do
we offer any criticism of a scene in which the death of a national hero
stirs no interest or emotion, not even with the help of Gabriel and the
cherubim. One is reminded by contrast of Scyld, who fares forth alone in
his Viking ship to meet the mystery of death; or of that last scene of
human grief and grandeur in _Beowulf_ where a few thanes bury their
dead chief on a headland by the gray sea, riding their war steeds around
the memorial mound with a chant of sorrow and victory.

The contrast is even more marked in the mass of Norman literature: in
romances of the maidens that sink underground in autumn, to reappear as
flowers in spring; of Alexander's journey to the bottom of the sea in a
crystal barrel, to view the mermaids and monsters; of Guy of Warwick, who
slew the giant Colbrant and overthrew all the knights of Europe, just to
win a smile from his Felice; of that other hero who had offended his lady
by forgetting one of the commandments of love, and who vowed to fill a
barrel with his tears, and did it. The Saxons were as serious in speech as
in action, and their poetry is a true reflection of their daily life; but
the Normans, brave and resourceful as they were in war and statesmanship,
turned to literature for amusement, and indulged their lively fancy in
fables, satires, garrulous romances, like children reveling in the lore of
elves and fairies. As the prattle of a child was the power that awakened
Silas Marner from his stupor of despair, so this Norman element of gayety,
of exuberant romanticism, was precisely what was needed to rouse the
sterner Saxon mind from its gloom and lethargy.


THE NEW NATION. So much, then, the Normans accomplished: they brought
nationality into English life, and romance into English literature. Without
essentially changing the Saxon spirit they enlarged its thought, aroused
its hope, gave it wider horizons. They bound England with their laws,
covered it with their feudal institutions, filled it with their ideas and
their language; then, as an anticlimax, they disappeared from English
history, and their institutions were modified to suit the Saxon
temperament. The race conquered in war became in peace the conquerors. The
Normans speedily forgot France, and even warred against it. They began to
speak English, dropping its cumbersome Teutonic inflections, and adding to
it the wealth of their own fine language. They ended by adopting England as
their country, and glorifying it above all others. "There is no land in the
world," writes a poet of the thirteenth century, "where so many good kings
and saints have lived as in the isle of the English. Some were holy martyrs
who died cheerfully for God; others had strength or courage like to that of
Arthur, Edmund and Cnut."

This poet, who was a Norman monk at Westminster Abbey, wrote about the
glories of England in the French language, and celebrated as the national
heroes a Celt, a Saxon and a Dane. [Footnote: The significance of this old
poem was pointed out by Jusserand, _Literary History of the English
People_, Vol. I, p. 112.]

So in the space of two centuries a new nation had arisen, combining the
best elements of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French people, with a
considerable mixture of Celtic and Danish elements. Out of the union of
these races and tongues came modern English life and letters.

GEOFFREY AND THE LEGENDS OF ARTHUR. Geoffrey of Monmouth was a Welshman,
familiar from his youth with Celtic legends; also he was a monk who knew
how to write Latin; and the combination was a fortunate one, as we shall

Long before Geoffrey produced his celebrated History (_cir._ 1150),
many stories of the Welsh hero Arthur [Footnote: Who Arthur was has never
been determined. There was probably a chieftain of that name who was active
in opposing the Anglo-Saxon invaders of Britain, about the year 500; but
Gildas, who wrote a Chronicle of Britain only half a century later, does
not mention him; neither does Bede, who made study of all available records
before writing his History. William of Malmesbury, a chronicler of the
twelfth century, refers to "the warlike Arthur of whom the Britons tell so
many extravagant fables, a man to be celebrated not in idle tales but in
true history." He adds that there were two Arthurs, one a Welsh war-chief
(not a king), and the other a myth or fairy creation. This, then, may be
the truth of the matter, that a real Arthur, who made a deep impression on
the Celtic imagination, was soon hidden in a mass of spurious legends. That
Bede had heard these legends is almost certain; that he did not mention
them is probably due to the fact that he considered Arthur to be wholly
mythical.] were current in Britain and on the Continent; but they were
never written because of a custom of the Middle Ages which required that,
before a legend could be recorded, it must have the authority of some Latin
manuscript. Geoffrey undertook to supply such authority in his _Historia
regum britanniae_, or History of the Kings of Britain, in which he
proved Arthur's descent from Roman ancestors. [Footnote: After the landing
of the Romans in Britain a curious mingling of traditions took place, and
in Geoffrey's time native Britons considered themselves as children of
Brutus of Rome, and therefore as grandchildren of Æneas of Troy.] He quoted
liberally from an ancient manuscript which, he alleged, established
Arthur's lineage, but which he did not show to others. A storm instantly
arose among the writers of that day, most of whom denounced Geoffrey's
Latin manuscript as a myth, and his History as a shameless invention. But
he had shrewdly anticipated such criticism, and issued this warning to the
historians, which is solemn or humorous according to your point of view:

    "I forbid William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon to speak of
    the kings of Britain, since they have not seen the book which
    Walter Archdeacon of Oxford [who was dead, of course] brought out
    of Brittany."

It is commonly believed that Geoffrey was an impostor, but in such matters
one should be wary of passing judgment. Many records of men, cities,
empires, have suddenly arisen from the tombs to put to shame the scientists
who had denied their existence; and it is possible that Geoffrey had seen
one of the legion of lost manuscripts. The one thing certain is, that if he
had any authority for his History he embellished the same freely from
popular legends or from his own imagination, as was customary at that time.


His work made a sensation. A score of French poets seized upon his
Arthurian legends and wove them into romances, each adding freely to
Geoffrey's narrative. The poet Wace added the tale of the Round Table, and
another poet (Walter Map, perhaps) began a cycle of stories concerning
Galahad and the quest of the Holy Grail. [Footnote: The Holy Grail, or San
Graal, or Sancgreal, was represented as the cup from which Christ drank
with his disciples at the Last Supper. Legend said that the sacred cup had
been brought to England, and Arthur's knights undertook, as the most
compelling of all duties, to search until they found it.]

The origin of these Arthurian romances, which reappear so often in English
poetry, is forever shrouded in mystery. The point to remember is, that we
owe them all to the genius of the native Celts; that it was Geoffrey of
Monmouth who first wrote them in Latin prose, and so preserved a treasure
which else had been lost; and that it was the French _trouvères,_ or
poets, who completed the various cycles of romances which were later
collected in Malory's _Morte d' Arthur._

TYPES OF MIDDLE-ENGLISH LITERATURE. It has long been customary to begin the
study of English literature with Chaucer; but that does not mean that he
invented any new form of poetry or prose. To examine any collection of our
early literature, such as Cook's _Middle-English Reader_, is to
discover that many literary types were flourishing in Chaucer's day, and
that some of these had grown old-fashioned before he began to use them.


In the thirteenth century, for example, the favorite type of literature in
England was the metrical romance, which was introduced by the French poets,
and written at first in the French language. The typical romance was a
rambling story dealing with the three subjects of love, chivalry and
religion; it was filled with adventures among giants, dragons, enchanted
castles; and in that day romance was not romance unless liberally supplied
with magic and miracle. There were hundreds of such wonder-stories,
arranged loosely in three main groups: the so-called "matter of Rome" dealt
with the fall of Troy in one part, and with the marvelous adventures of
Alexander in the other; the "matter of France" celebrated the heroism of
Charlemagne and his Paladins; and the "matter of Britain" wove the magic
web of romance around Arthur and his knights of the Round Table.

One of the best of the metrical romances is "Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight," which may be read as a measure of all the rest. If, as is commonly
believed, the unknown author of "Sir Gawain" wrote also "The Pearl" (a
beautiful old elegy, or poem of grief, which immortalizes a father's love
for his little girl), he was the greatest poet of the early Middle-English
period. Unfortunately for us, he wrote not in the king's English or speech
of London (which became modern English) but in a different dialect, and his
poems should be read in a present-day version; else will the beauty of his
work be lost in our effort to understand his language.

Other types of early literature are the riming chronicles or verse
histories (such as Layamon's _Brut_, a famous poem, in which the
Arthurian legends appear as part of English history), stories of travel,
translations, religious poems, books of devotion, miracle plays, fables,
satires, ballads, hymns, lullabies, lyrics of love and nature,--an
astonishing collection for so ancient a time, indicative at once of our
changing standards of poetry and of our unchanging human nature. For the
feelings which inspired or gave welcome to these poems, some five or six
hundred years ago, are precisely the same feelings which warm the heart of
a poet and his readers to-day. There is nothing ancient but the spelling in
this exquisite Lullaby, for instance, which was sung on Christmas eve:

  He cam also stylle
    Ther his moder was
  As dew in Aprylle
    That fallyt on the gras;
  He cam also stylle
    To his moderes bowr
  As dew in Aprylle
    That fallyt on the flour;
  He cam also stylle
    Ther his moder lay
  As dew in Aprylle
    That fallyt on the spray.

[Footnote: In reading this beautiful old lullaby the _e_ in "stylle"
and "Aprylle" should be lightly sounded, like _a_ in "China."]

Or witness this other fragment from an old love song, which reflects the
feeling of one who "would fain make some mirth" but who finds his heart sad
within him:

  Now wold I fayne som myrthis make
  All oneli for my ladys sake,
    When I hir se;
  But now I am so ferre from hir
    Hit will nat be.

  Thogh I be long out of hir sight,
  I am hir man both day and night,
    And so will be;
  Wherfor, wold God as I love hir
    That she lovd me!

  When she is mery, then I am glad;
  When she is sory, then am I sad,
    And causë whi:
  For he livith nat that lovith hir
    So well as I.

  She sayth that she hath seen hit wreten
  That 'seldyn seen is soon foryeten.'
    Hit is nat so;
  For in good feith, save oneli hir,
    I love no moo.

  Wherfor I pray, both night and day,
  That she may cast al care away,
    And leve in rest
  That evermo, where'er she be,
    I love hir best;

  And I to hir for to be trew,
  And never chaunge her for noon new
    Unto myne ende;
  And that I may in hir servise
    For evyr amend.

[Footnote: The two poems quoted above hardly belong to the Norman-French
period proper, but rather to a time when the Anglo-Saxon had assimilated
the French element, with its language and verse forms. They were written,
probably, in the age of Chaucer, or in what is now called the Late
Middle-English period.]

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY OF BEGINNINGS. The two main branches of our literature are
    the Anglo-Saxon and the Norman-French, both of which received some
    additions from Celtic, Danish and Roman sources. The Anglo-Saxon
    literature came to England with the invasion of Teutonic tribes,
    the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (_cir._ 449). The Norman-French
    literature appeared after the Norman conquest of England, which
    began with the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

    The Anglo-Saxon literature is classified under two heads, pagan and
    Christian. The extant fragments of pagan literature include one
    epic or heroic poem, _Beowulf_, and several lyrics and battle
    songs, such as "Widsith," "Deor's Lament," "The Seafarer," "The
    Battle of Brunanburh" and "The Battle of Maldon." All these were
    written at an unknown date, and by unknown poets.

    The best Christian literature of the period was written in the
    Northumbrian and the West-Saxon schools. The greatest names of the
    Northumbrian school are Bede, Cædmon and Cynewulf. The most famous
    of the Wessex writers is Alfred the Great, who is called "the
    father of English prose."

    The Normans were originally Northmen, or sea rovers from
    Scandinavia, who settled in northern France and adopted the
    Franco-Latin language and civilization. With their conquest of
    England, in the eleventh century, they brought nationality into
    English life, and the spirit of romance into English literature.
    Their stories in prose or verse were extremely fanciful, in marked
    contrast with the stern, somber poetry of the Anglo-Saxons.

    The most notable works of the Norman-French period are: Geoffrey's
    _History of the Kings of Britain_, which preserved in Latin
    prose the native legends of King Arthur; Layamon's _Brut_, a
    riming chronicle or verse history in the native tongue; many
    metrical romances, or stories of love, chivalry, magic and
    religion; and various popular songs and ballads. The greatest poet
    of the period is the unknown author of "Sir Gawain and the Green
    Knight" (a metrical romance) and probably also of "The Pearl," a
    beautiful elegy, which is our earliest _In Memoriam_.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Without special study of Old English it is
    impossible to read our earliest literature. The beginner may,
    however, enter into the spirit of that literature by means of
    various modern versions, such as the following:

    _Beowulf_. Garnett's Beowulf (Ginn and Company), a literal
    translation, is useful to those who study Anglo-Saxon, but is not
    very readable. The same may be said of Gummere's The Oldest English
    Epic, which follows the verse form of the original. Two of the best
    versions for the beginner are Child's Beowulf, in Riverside
    Literature Series (Houghton), and Earle's The Deeds of Beowulf
    (Clarendon Press).

    _Anglo-Saxon Poetry_. The Seafarer, The Wanderer, The
    Husband's Message (or Love Letter), Deor's Lament, Riddles, Battle
    of Brunanburh, selections from The Christ, Andreas, Elene, Vision
    of the Rood, and The Phoenix,--all these are found in an excellent
    little volume, Cook and Tinker, Translations from Old English
    Poetry (Ginn and Company).

    _Anglo-Saxon Prose_. Good selections in Cook and Tinker,
    Translations from Old English Prose (Ginn and Company). Bede's
    History, translated in Everyman's Library (Dutton) and in the Bohn
    Library (Macmillan). In the same volume of the Bohn Library is a
    translation of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Alfred's Orosius (with
    stories of early exploration) translated in Pauli's Life of Alfred.

    _Norman-French Period_. Selections in Manly, English Poetry,
    and English Prose (Ginn and Company); also in Morris and Skeat,
    Specimens of Early English (Clarendon Press). The Song of Roland in
    Riverside Literature Series, and in King's Classics. Selected
    metrical romances in Ellis, Specimens of Early English Metrical
    Romances (Bohn Library); also in Morley, Early English Prose
    Romances, and in Carisbrooke Library Series. Sir Gawain and the
    Green Knight, modernized by Weston, in Arthurian Romances Series.
    Andrew Lang, Aucassin and Nicolette (Crowell). The Pearl,
    translated by Jewett (Crowell), and by Weir Mitchell (Century).
    Selections from Layamon's Brut in Morley, English Writers, Vol.
    III. Geoffrey's History in Everyman's Library, and in King's
    Classics. The Arthurian legends in The Mabinogion (Everyman's
    Library); also in Sidney Lanier's The Boy's King Arthur and The
    Boy's Mabinogion (Scribner). A good single volume containing the
    best of Middle-English literature, with notes, is Cook, A Literary
    Middle-English Reader (Ginn and Company).

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. For extended works covering the entire field of
    English history and literature, and for a list of the best
    anthologies, school texts, etc., see the General Bibliography. The
    following works are of special interest in studying early English

    _HISTORY_. Allen, Anglo-Saxon Britain; Turner, History of the
    Anglo-Saxons; Ramsay, The Foundations of England; Freeman, Old
    English History; Cook, Life of Alfred; Freeman, Short History of
    the Norman Conquest; Jewett, Story of the Normans, in Stories of
    the Nations.

    _LITERATURE_. Brooke, History of Early English Literature;
    Jusserand, Literary History of the English People, Vol. I; Ten
    Brink, English Literature, Vol. I; Lewis, Beginnings of English
    Literature; Schofield, English Literature from the Norman Conquest
    to Chaucer; Brother Azarias, Development of Old-English Thought;
    Mitchell, From Celt to Tudor; Newell, King Arthur and the Round
    Table. A more advanced work on Arthur is Rhys, Studies in the
    Arthurian Legends.

    _FICTION AND POETRY_. Kingsley, Hereward the Wake; Lytton,
    Harold Last of the Saxon Kings; Scott, Ivanhoe; Kipling, Puck of
    Pook's Hill; Jane Porter, Scottish Chiefs; Shakespeare, King John;
    Tennyson, Becket, and The Idylls of the King; Gray, The Bard; Bates
    and Coman, English History Told by English Poets.



  For out of oldë feldës, as men seith,
    Cometh al this newë corn fro yeer te yere;
  And out of oldë bokës, in good feith,
    Cometh all this newë science that men lere.

                Chaucer, "Parliament of Foules"

SPECIMENS OF THE LANGUAGE. Our first selection, from _Piers Plowman_
(_cir._ 1362), is the satire of Belling the Cat. The language is that
of the common people, and the verse is in the old Saxon manner, with accent
and alliteration. The scene is a council of rats and mice (common people)
called to consider how best to deal with the cat (court), and it satirizes
the popular agitators who declaim against the government. The speaker is a
rat, "a raton of renon, most renable of tonge":

  "I have y-seen segges," quod he,
    "in the cite of London
  Beren beighes ful brighte
    abouten here nekkes....
  Were there a belle on here beighe,
    certes, as me thynketh,
  Men myghte wite where thei went,
    and awei renne!
  And right so," quod this raton,
    "reson me sheweth
  To bugge a belle of brasse
    or of brighte sylver,
  And knitten on a colere
    for owre comune profit,
  And hangen it upon the cattes hals;
    than hear we mowen
  Where he ritt or rest
    or renneth to playe." ...
  Alle this route of ratones
    to this reson thei assented;
  Ac tho the belle was y-bought
    and on the beighe hanged,
  Ther ne was ratoun in alle the route,
    for alle the rewme of Fraunce,
  That dorst have y-bounden the belle
    aboute the cattis nekke.

  "I have seen creatures" (dogs), quoth he,
    "in the city of London
  Bearing collars full bright
    around their necks....
  Were there a bell on those collars,
    assuredly, in my opinion,
  One might know where the dogs go,
    and run away from them!
  And right so," quoth this rat,
    "reason suggests to me
  To buy a bell of brass
    or of bright silver,
  And tie it on a collar
    for our common profit,
  And hang it on the cat's neck;
    in order that we may hear
  Where he rides or rests
    or runneth to play." ...
  All this rout (crowd) of rats
    to this reasoning assented;
  But when the bell was bought
    and hanged on the collar,
  There was not a rat in the crowd
    that, for all the realm of France
  Would have dared to bind the bell
    about the cat's neck.

The second selection is from Chaucer's "Wife of Bath's Tale" (_cir_.
1375). It was written "in the French manner" with rime and meter, for the
upper classes, and shows the difference between literary English and the
speech of the common people:

  In th' olde dayës of the Kyng Arthour,
  Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
  Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
  The elf-queene with hir joly companye
  Dauncëd ful ofte in many a grene mede;
  This was the olde opinion, as I rede.
  I speke of manye hundred yeres ago;
  But now kan no man see none elves mo.

The next two selections (written _cir_. 1450) show how rapidly the
language was approaching modern English. The prose, from Malory's _Morte
d' Arthur_, is the selection that Tennyson closely followed in his
"Passing of Arthur." The poetry, from the ballad of "Robin Hood and the
Monk," is probably a fifteenth-century version of a much older English

    "'Therefore,' sayd Arthur unto Syr Bedwere, 'take thou Excalybur my
    good swerde, and goo with it, to yonder water syde, and whan thou
    comest there I charge the throwe my swerde in that water, and come
    ageyn and telle me what thou there seest.'

    "'My lord,' sayd Bedwere, 'your commaundement shal be doon, and
    lyghtly brynge you worde ageyn.'

    "So Syr Bedwere departed; and by the waye he behelde that noble
    swerde, that the pomel and the hafte was al of precyous stones; and
    thenne he sayd to hym self, 'Yf I throwe this ryche swerde in the
    water, thereof shal never come good, but harme and losse.' And
    thenne Syr Bedwere hydde Excalybur under a tree."

  In somer, when the shawes be sheyne,
    And leves be large and long,
  Hit is full mery in feyr foreste
    To here the foulys song:

  To se the dere draw to the dale,
    And leve the hillës hee,
  And shadow hem in the levës grene,
    Under the grene-wode tre.

    HISTORICAL OUTLINE. The history of England during this period is
    largely a record of strife and confusion. The struggle of the House
    of Commons against the despotism of kings; the Hundred Years War
    with France, in which those whose fathers had been Celts, Danes,
    Saxons, Normans, were now fighting shoulder to shoulder as
    Englishmen all; the suffering of the common people, resulting in
    the Peasant Rebellion; the barbarity of the nobles, who were
    destroying one another in the Wars of the Roses; the beginning of
    commerce and manufacturing, following the lead of Holland, and the
    rise of a powerful middle class; the belated appearance of the
    Renaissance, welcomed by a few scholars but unnoticed by the masses
    of people, who remained in dense ignorance,--even such a brief
    catalogue suggests that many books must be read before we can enter
    into the spirit of fourteenth-century England. We shall note here
    only two circumstances, which may help us to understand Chaucer and
    the age in which he lived.

    [Sidenote: MODERN PROBLEMS]

    The first is that the age of Chaucer, if examined carefully, shows
    many striking resemblances to our own. It was, for example, an age
    of warfare; and, as in our own age of hideous inventions, military
    methods were all upset by the discovery that the foot soldier with
    his blunderbuss was more potent than the panoplied knight on
    horseback. While war raged abroad, there was no end of labor
    troubles at home, strikes, "lockouts," assaults on imported workmen
    (the Flemish weavers brought in by Edward III), and no end of
    experimental laws to remedy the evil. The Turk came into Europe,
    introducing the Eastern and the Balkan questions, which have ever
    since troubled us. Imperialism was rampant, in Edward's claim to
    France, for example, or in John of Gaunt's attempt to annex
    Castile. Even "feminism" was in the air, and its merits were
    shrewdly debated by Chaucer's Wife of Bath and his Clerk of
    Oxenford. A dozen other "modern" examples might be given, but the
    sum of the matter is this: that there is hardly a social or
    political or economic problem of the past fifty years that was not
    violently agitated in the latter half of the fourteenth century.
    [Footnote: See Kittredge, _Chaucer and his Poetry_ (1915), pp.

    [Sidenote: REALISTIC POETRY]

    A second interesting circumstance is that this medieval age
    produced two poets, Langland and Chaucer, who were more realistic
    even than present-day writers in their portrayal of life, and who
    together gave us such a picture of English society as no other
    poets have ever equaled. Langland wrote his _Piers Plowman_ in
    the familiar Anglo-Saxon style for the common people, and pictured
    their life to the letter; while Chaucer wrote his _Canterbury
    Tales_, a poem shaped after Italian and French models,
    portraying the holiday side of the middle and upper classes.
    Langland drew a terrible picture of a degraded land, desperately in
    need of justice, of education, of reform in church and state;
    Chaucer showed a gay company of pilgrims riding through a
    prosperous country which he called his "Merrie England." Perhaps
    the one thing in common with these two poets, the early types of
    Puritan and Cavalier, was their attitude towards democracy.
    Langland preached the gospel of labor, far more powerfully than
    Carlyle ever preached it, and exalted honest work as the patent of
    nobility. Chaucer, writing for the court, mingled his characters in
    the most democratic kind of fellowship and, though a knight rode at
    the head of his procession, put into the mouth of the Wife of Bath
    his definition of a gentleman:

      Loke who that is most vertuous alway,
      Privee and apert, [1] and most entendeth aye
      To do the gentle dedes that he can,
      And take him for the grettest gentilman.

    [Footnote [1]: Secretly and openly.]

       *       *       *       *       *

GEOFFREY CHAUCER (_cir_. 1340-1400)

  "Of Chaucer truly I know not whether to marvel more, either that he in
  that misty time could see so clearly, or that we in this clear age walk
  so stumblingly after him."
                                    (Philip Sidney, _cir_. 1581)

It was the habit of Old-English chieftains to take their scops with them
into battle, to the end that the scop's poem might be true to the outer
world of fact as well as to the inner world of ideals. The search for
"local color" is, therefore, not the newest thing in fiction but the oldest
thing in poetry. Chaucer, the first in time of our great English poets, was
true to this old tradition. He was page, squire, soldier, statesman,
diplomat, traveler; and then he was a poet, who portrayed in verse the
many-colored life which he knew intimately at first hand.

[Illustration: CHAUCER]

For example, Chaucer had to describe a tournament, in the Knight's Tale;
but instead of using his imagination, as other romancers had always done,
he drew a vivid picture of one of those gorgeous pageants of decaying
chivalry with which London diverted the French king, who had been brought
prisoner to the city after the victory of the Black Prince at Poitiers. So
with his Tabard Inn, which is a real English inn, and with his Pilgrims,
who are real pilgrims; and so with every other scene or character he
described. His specialty was human nature, his strong point observation,
his method essentially modern. And by "modern" we mean that he portrayed
the men and women of his own day so well, with such sympathy and humor and
wisdom, that we recognize and welcome them as friends or neighbors, who are
the same in all ages. From this viewpoint Chaucer is more modern than
Tennyson or Longfellow.

    LIFE. Chaucer's boyhood was spent in London, near Westminster,
    where the brilliant court of Edward was visible to the favored
    ones; and near the Thames, where the world's commerce, then
    beginning to ebb and flow with the tides, might be seen of every
    man. His father was a vintner, or wine merchant, who had enough
    influence at court to obtain for his son a place in the house of
    the Princess Elizabeth. Behold then our future poet beginning his
    knightly training as page to a highborn lady. Presently he
    accompanied the Black Prince to the French wars, was taken prisoner
    and ransomed, and on his return entered the second stage of
    knighthood as esquire or personal attendant to the king. He married
    a maid of honor related to John of Gaunt, the famous Duke of
    Lancaster, and at thirty had passed from the rank of merchant into
    official and aristocratic circles.

    [Sidenote: PERIODS OF WORK]

    The literary work of Chaucer is conveniently, but not accurately,
    arranged in three different periods. While attached to the court,
    one of his duties was to entertain the king and his visitors in
    their leisure. French poems of love and chivalry were then in
    demand, and of these Chaucer had great store; but English had
    recently replaced French even at court, and King Edward and Queen
    Philippa, both patrons of art and letters, encouraged Chaucer to
    write in his native language. So he made translations of favorite
    poems into English, and wrote others in imitation of French models.
    These early works, the least interesting of all, belong to what is
    called the period of French influence.

    Then Chaucer, who had learned the art of silence as well as of
    speech, was sent abroad on a series of diplomatic missions. In
    Italy he probably met the poet Petrarch (as we infer from the
    Prologue to the Clerk's Tale) and became familiar with the works of
    Dante and Boccaccio. His subsequent poetry shows a decided advance
    in range and originality, partly because of his own growth, no
    doubt, and partly because of his better models. This second period,
    of about fifteen years, is called the time of Italian influence.

    In the third or English period Chaucer returned to London and was a
    busy man of affairs; for at the English court, unlike those of
    France and Italy, a poet was expected to earn his pension by some
    useful work, literature being regarded as a recreation. He was in
    turn comptroller of customs and superintendent of public works;
    also he was at times well supplied with money, and again, as the
    political fortunes of his patron John of Gaunt waned, in sore need
    of the comforts of life. Witness his "Complaint to His Empty
    Purse," the humor of which evidently touched the king and brought
    Chaucer another pension.

    Two poems of this period are supposed to contain autobiographical
    material. In the _Legend of Good Women_ he says:

      And as for me, though that my wit be lytë,
      On bokës for to rede I me delytë.

    Again, in _The House of Fame_ he speaks of finding his real
    life in books after his daily work in the customhouse is ended.
    Some of the "rekeninges" (itemized accounts of goods and duties) to
    which he refers are still preserved in Chaucer's handwriting:

      For whan thy labour doon al is,
      And hast y-maad thy rekeninges,
      In stede of reste and newë thinges
      Thou gost hoom to thy hous anoon,
      And, also domb as any stoon,
      Thou sittest at another boke
      Til fully dawsëd is thy loke,
      And livest thus as an hermytë,
      Although thine abstinence is lytë.

    Such are the scanty facts concerning England's first great poet,
    the more elaborate biographies being made up chiefly of guesses or
    doubtful inferences. He died in the year 1400, and was buried in
    St. Benet's chapel in Westminster Abbey, a place now revered by all
    lovers of literature as the Poets' Corner.

    ON READING CHAUCER. Said Caxton, who was the first to print
    Chaucer's poetry, "He writeth no void words, but all his matter is
    full of high and quick sentence." Caxton was right, and the modern
    reader's first aim should be to get the sense of Chaucer rather
    than his pronunciation. To understand him is not so difficult as
    appears at first sight, for most of the words that look strange
    because of their spelling will reveal their meaning to the ear if
    spoken aloud. Thus the word "leefful" becomes "leveful" or
    "leaveful" or "permissible."

    Next, the reader should remember that Chaucer was a master of
    versification, and that every stanza of his is musical. At the
    beginning of a poem, therefore, read a few lines aloud, emphasizing
    the accented syllables until the rhythm is fixed; then make every
    line conform to it, and every word keep step to the music. To do
    this it is necessary to slur certain words and run others together;
    also, since the mistakes of Chaucer's copyists are repeated in
    modern editions, it is often necessary to add a helpful word or
    syllable to a line, or to omit others that are plainly superfluous.

    This way of reading Chaucer musically, as one would read any other
    poet, has three advantages: it is easy, it is pleasant, and it is
    far more effective than the learning of a hundred specifications
    laid down by the grammarians.

    [Sidenote: RULES FOR READING]

    As for Chaucer's pronunciation, you will not get that accurately
    without much study, which were better spent on more important
    matters; so be content with a few rules, which aim simply to help
    you enjoy the reading. As a general principle, the root vowel of a
    word was broadly sounded, and the rest slurred over. The
    characteristic sound of _a_ was as in "far"; _e_ was
    sounded like _a_, _i_ like _e_, and all diphthongs
    as broadly as possible,--in "floures" (flowers), for example, which
    should be pronounced "floorës."

    Another rule relates to final syllables, and these will appear more
    interesting if we remember that they represent the dying
    inflections of nouns and adjectives, which were then declined as in
    modern German. Final _ed_ and _es_ are variable, but the
    rhythm will always tell us whether they should be given an extra
    syllable or not. So also with final _e_, which is often
    sounded, but not if the following word begins with a vowel or with
    _h_. In the latter case the two words may be run together, as
    in reading Virgil. If a final _e_ occurs at the end of a line,
    it may be lightly pronounced, like _a_ in "China," to give
    added melody to the verse.

    Applying these rules, and using our liberty as freely as Chaucer
    used his, [Footnote: The language was changing rapidly in Chaucer's
    day, and there were no printed books to fix a standard. Sometimes
    Chaucer's grammar and spelling are according to rule, and again as
    heaven pleases.] the opening lines of _The Canterbury Tales_
    would read something like this:

      Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
        _Whan that Apreelë with 'is shoorës sohtë_

      The droghte of Marche hath perced to the rote,
        _The drooth of March hath paarcëd to the rohtë_

      And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
        _And bahthëd ev'ree vyne in swech lecoor,_

      Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
        _Of whech varetu engendred is the floor;_

      Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
        _Whan Zephirus aik with 'is swaite braith_

      Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
        _Inspeerëd hath in ev'ree holt and haith_

      The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
        _The tendre croopës, and th' yoongë sonnë_

      Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
        _Hath in the Ram 'is hawfë coors ironnë,_

      And smale fowles maken melodye,
        _And smawlë foolës mahken malyodieë,_

      That slepen al the night with open ye
        _That slaipen awl the nicht with open eë_

      (So priketh hem nature in hir corages)
        _(So priketh 'eem nahtur in hir coorahgës)_

      Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
        _Than longen folk to goon on peelgrimahgës._

EARLY WORKS OF CHAUCER. In his first period, which was dominated by French
influence, Chaucer probably translated parts of the _Roman de la
Rose_, a dreary allegorical poem in which love is represented as a
queen-rose in a garden, surrounded by her court and ministers. In
endeavoring to pluck this rose the lover learns the "commandments" and
"sacraments" of love, and meets with various adventures at the hands of
Virtue, Constancy, and other shadowy personages of less repute. Such
allegories were the delight of the Middle Ages; now they are as dust and
ashes. Other and better works of this period are _The Book of the
Duchess_, an elegy written on the death of Blanche, wife of Chaucer's
patron, and various minor poems, such as "Compleynte unto Pitee," the
dainty love song "To Rosemunde," and "Truth" or the "Ballad of Good

Characteristic works of the second or Italian period are _The House of
Fame_, _The Legend of Good Women_, and especially _Troilus and
Criseyde_. The last-named, though little known to modern readers, is one
of the most remarkable narrative poems in our literature. It began as a
retelling of a familiar romance; it ended in an original poem, which might
easily be made into a drama or a "modern" novel.


    The scene opens in Troy, during the siege of the city by the
    Greeks. The hero Troilus is a son of Priam, and is second only to
    the mighty Hector in warlike deeds. Devoted as he is to glory, he
    scoffs at lovers until the moment when his eye lights on Cressida.
    She is a beautiful young widow, and is free to do as she pleases
    for the moment, her father Calchas having gone over to the Greeks
    to escape the doom which he sees impending on Troy. Troilus falls
    desperately in love with Cressida, but she does not know or care,
    and he is ashamed to speak his mind after scoffing so long at love.
    Then appears Pandarus, friend of Troilus and uncle to Cressida, who
    soon learns the secret and brings the young people together. After
    a long courtship with interminable speeches (as in the old
    romances) Troilus wins the lady, and all goes happily until Calchas
    arranges to have his daughter brought to him in exchange for a
    captured Trojan warrior. The lovers are separated with many tears,
    but Cressida comforts the despairing Troilus by promising to
    hoodwink her doting father and return in a few days. Calchas,
    however, loves his daughter too well to trust her in a city that
    must soon be given over to plunder, and keeps her safe in the Greek
    camp. There the handsome young Diomede wins her, and presently
    Troilus is killed in battle by Achilles.

Such is the old romance of feminine fickleness, which had been written a
hundred times before Chaucer took it bodily from Boccaccio. Moreover he
humored the old romantic delusion which required that a lover should fall
sick in the absence of his mistress, and turn pale or swoon at the sight of
her; but he added to the tale many elements not found in the old romances,
such as real men and women, humor, pathos, analysis of human motives, and a
sense of impending tragedy which comes not from the loss of wealth or
happiness but of character. Cressida's final thought of her first lover is
intensely pathetic, and a whole chapter of psychology is summed up in the
line in which she promises herself to be true to Diomede at the very moment
when she is false to Troilus:

  "Allas! of me unto the worldës ende
  Shal neyther ben ywríten nor y-songë
  No good word; for these bookës wol me shende.
  O, rollëd shal I ben on many a tongë!
  Thurghout the world my bellë shal be rongë,
  And wommen moste wol haten me of allë.
  Allas, that swich a cas me sholdë fallë!
  They wol seyn, in-as-much as in me is,
  I have hem doon dishonour, weylawey!
  Al be I not the firste that dide amis,
  What helpeth that to doon my blame awey?
  But since I see ther is no betre wey,
  And that too late is now for me to rewé,
  To Diomede, algate, I wol be trewé."

THE CANTERBURY TALES. The plan of gathering a company of people and letting
each tell his favorite story has been used by so many poets, ancient and
modern, that it is idle to seek the origin of it. Like Topsy, it wasn't
born; it just grew up. Chaucer's plan, however, is more comprehensive than
any other in that it includes all classes of society; it is also more
original in that it does not invent heroic characters but takes such men
and women as one might meet in any assembly, and shows how typical they are
of humanity in all ages. As Lowell says, Chaucer made use in his
_Canterbury Tales_ of two things that are everywhere regarded as
symbols of human life; namely, the short journey and the inn. We might add,
as an indication of Chaucer's philosophy, that his inn is a comfortable
one, and that the journey is made in pleasant company and in fair weather.

    An outline of Chaucer's great work is as follows. On an evening in
    springtime the poet comes to Tabard Inn, in Southwark, and finds it
    filled with a merry company of men and women bent on a pilgrimage
    to the shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury.

    After supper appears the jovial host, Harry Bailey, who finds the
    company so attractive that he must join it on its pilgrimage. He
    proposes that, as they shall be long on the way, they shall furnish
    their own entertainment by telling stories, the best tale to be
    rewarded by the best of suppers when the pilgrims return from
    Canterbury. They assent joyfully, and on the morrow begin their
    journey, cheered by the Knight's Tale as they ride forth under the
    sunrise. The light of morning and of springtime is upon this work,
    which is commonly placed at the beginning of modern English

As the journey proceeds we note two distinct parts to Chaucer's record. One
part, made up of prologues and interludes, portrays the characters and
action of the present comedy; the other part, consisting of stories,
reflects the comedies and tragedies of long ago. The one shows the
perishable side of the men and women of Chaucer's day, their habits, dress,
conversation; the other reveals an imperishable world of thought, feeling,
ideals, in which these same men and women discover their kinship to
humanity. It is possible, since some of the stories are related to each
other, that Chaucer meant to arrange the _Canterbury Tales_ in
dramatic unity, so as to make a huge comedy of human society; but the work
as it comes down to us is fragmentary, and no one has discovered the order
in which the fragments should be fitted together.


[Sidenote: THE PROLOGUE]

The Prologue is perhaps the best single fragment of the _Canterbury
Tales_. In it Chaucer introduces us to the characters of his drama: to
the grave Knight and the gay Squire, the one a model of Chivalry at its
best, "a verray parfit gentil knight," the other a young man so full of
life and love that "he slept namore than dooth a nightingale"; to the
modest Prioress, also, with her pretty clothes, her exquisite manners, her
boarding-school accomplishments:

  And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
  After the scole of Stratford attë Bowë,
  For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowë.

In contrast to this dainty figure is the coarse Wife of Bath, as garrulous
as the nurse in _Romeo and Juliet_. So one character stands to another
as shade to light, as they appear in a typical novel of Dickens. The
Church, the greatest factor in medieval life, is misrepresented by the
hunting Monk and the begging Friar, and is well represented by the Parson,
who practiced true religion before he preached it:

  But Christës lore and his apostles twelvë
  He taughte, and first he folwëd it himselvë.

Trade is represented by the Merchant, scholarship by the poor Clerk of
Oxenford, the professions by the Doctor and the Man-of-law, common folk by
the Yeoman, Frankelyn (farmer), Miller and many others of low degree.
Prominent among the latter was the Shipman:

  Hardy he was, and wys to undertakë;
  With many a tempest hadde his berd been shakë.

From this character, whom Stevenson might have borrowed for his _Treasure
Island_, we infer the barbarity that prevailed when commerce was new,
when the English sailor was by turns smuggler or pirate, equally ready to
sail or scuttle a ship, and to silence any tongue that might tell tales by
making its wretched owner "walk the plank." Chaucer's description of the
latter process is a masterpiece of piratical humor:

  If that he faught and hadde the hyer hond,
  By water he sente hem hoom to every lond.


Some thirty pilgrims appear in the famous Prologue, and as each was to tell
two stories on the way to Canterbury, and two more on the return, it is
probable that Chaucer contemplated a work of more than a hundred tales.
Only four-and-twenty were completed, but these are enough to cover the
field of light literature in that day, from the romance of love to the
humorous animal fable. Between these are wonder-stories of giants and
fairies, satires on the monks, parodies on literature, and some examples of
coarse horseplay for which Chaucer offers an apology, saying that he must
let each pilgrim tell his tale in his own way.

A round dozen of these tales may still be read with pleasure; but, as a
suggestion of Chaucer's variety, we name only three: the Knight's romance
of "Palamon and Arcite," the Nun's Priest's fable of "Chanticleer," and the
Clerk's old ballad of "Patient Griselda." The last-named will be more
interesting if we remember that the subject of woman's rights had been
hurled at the heads of the pilgrims by the Wife of Bath, and that the Clerk
told his story to illustrate his different ideal of womanhood.

THE CHARM OF CHAUCER. The first of Chaucer's qualities is that he is an
excellent story-teller; which means that he has a tale to tell, a good
method of telling it, and a philosophy of life which gives us something to
think about aside from the narrative. He had a profound insight of human
nature, and in telling the simplest story was sure to slip in some nugget
of wisdom or humor: "What wol nat be mote need be left," "For three may
keep counsel if twain be away," "The lyf so short, the craft so long to
lerne," "Ful wys is he that can himselven knowe,"

  The firste vertue, sone, if thou wilt lere,
  Is to restreine and kepen wel thy tonge.

There are literally hundreds of such "good things" which make Chaucer a
constant delight to those who, by a very little practice, can understand
him almost as easily as Shakespeare. Moreover he was a careful artist; he
knew the principles of poetry and of story-telling, and before he wrote a
song or a tale he considered both his subject and his audience, repeating
to himself his own rule:

  Ther nis no werkman, whatsoever he be,
  That may bothe werkë wel and hastily:
  This wol be doon at leysur, parfitly.

A second quality of Chaucer is his power of observation, a power so
extraordinary that, unlike other poets, he did not need to invent scenes or
characters but only to describe what he had seen and heard in this
wonderful world. As he makes one of his characters say:

  For certeynly, he that me made
  To comen hider seydë me:
  I shouldë bothë hear et see
  In this place wonder thingës.

In the _Canterbury Tales_ alone he employs more than a score of
characters, and hardly a romantic hero among them; rather does he delight
in plain men and women, who reveal their quality not so much in their
action as in their dress, manner, or tricks of speech. For Chaucer has the
glance of an Indian, which passes over all obvious matters to light upon
one significant detail; and that detail furnishes the name or the adjective
of the object. Sometimes his descriptions of men or nature are microscopic
in their accuracy, and again in a single line he awakens the reader's
imagination,--as when Pandarus (in _Troilus_), in order to make
himself unobtrusive in a room where he is not wanted, picks up a manuscript
and "makes a face," that is, he pretends to be absorbed in a story,

            and fand his countenance
  As for to loke upon an old romance.

A dozen striking examples might be given, but we shall note only one. In
the _Book of the Duchess_ the poet is in a forest, when a chase sweeps
by with whoop of huntsman and clamor of hounds. After the hunt, when the
woods are all still, comes a little lost dog:

  Hit com and creep to me as lowë
  Right as hit haddë me y-knowë,
  Hild down his heed and jiyned his eres,
  And leyde al smouthë doun his heres.
  I wolde han caught hit, and anoon
  Hit fleddë and was fro me goon.


Next to his power of description, Chaucer's best quality is his humor, a
humor which is hard to phrase, since it runs from the keenest wit to the
broadest farce, yet is always kindly and human. A mendicant friar comes in
out of the cold, glances about the snug kitchen for the best seat:

  And fro the bench he droof awey the cat.

Sometimes his humor is delicate, as in touching up the foibles of the
Doctor or the Man-of-law, or in the Priest's translation of Chanticleer's
evil remark about women:

                  _In principio_
  _Mulier est hominis confusio._
  Madame, the sentence of this Latin is:
  Woman is mannes joye and al his blis.

The humor broadens in the Wife of Bath, who tells how she managed several
husbands by making their lives miserable; and occasionally it grows a
little grim, as when the Maunciple tells the difference between a big and a
little rascal. The former does evil on a large scale, and,

  Lo! therfor is he cleped a Capitain;
  But for the outlawe hath but small meynee,
  And may not doon so gret an harm as he,
  Ne bring a countree to so gret mischeef,
  Men clepen him an outlawe or a theef.


A fourth quality of Chaucer is his broad tolerance, his absolute
disinterestedness. He leaves reforms to Wyclif and Langland, and can laugh
with the Shipman who turns smuggler, or with the worldly Monk whose
"jingling" bridle keeps others as well as himself from hearing the chapel
bell. He will not even criticize the fickle Cressida for deserting Troilus,
saying that men tell tales about her, which is punishment enough for any
woman. In fine, Chaucer is content to picture a world in which the rain
falleth alike upon the just and the unjust, and in which the latter seem to
have a liberal share of the umbrellas. He enjoys it all, and describes its
inhabitants as they are, not as he thinks they ought to be. The reader may
think that this or that character deserves to come to a bad end; but not so
Chaucer, who regards them all as kindly, as impersonally as Nature herself.

So the Canterbury pilgrims are not simply fourteenth-century Englishmen;
they are human types whom Chaucer met at the Tabard Inn, and whom later
English writers discover on all of earth's highways. One appears unchanged
in Shakespeare's drama, another in a novel of Jane Austen, a third lives
over the way or down the street. From century to century they change not,
save in name or dress. The poet who described or created such enduring
characters stands among the few who are called universal writers.

       *       *       *       *       *


Someone has compared a literary period to a wood in which a few giant oaks
lift head and shoulders above many other trees, all nourished by the same
soil and air. If we follow this figure, Langland and Wyclif are the only
growths that tower beside Chaucer, and Wyclif was a reformer who belongs to
English history rather than to literature.

LANGLAND. William Langland (_cir_. 1332--1400) is a great figure in
obscurity. We are not certain even of his name, and we must search his work
to discover that he was, probably, a poor lay-priest whose life was
governed by two motives: a passion for the poor, which led him to plead
their cause in poetry, and a longing for all knowledge:

  All the sciences under sonnë, and all the sotyle craftës,
  I wolde I knew and couthë, kyndely in mynë hertë.

His chief poem, _Piers Plowman_ (_cir_. 1362), is a series of
visions in which are portrayed the shams and impostures of the age and the
misery of the common people. The poem is, therefore, as the heavy shadow
which throws into relief the bright picture of the _Canterbury Tales_.

For example, while Chaucer portrays the Tabard Inn with its good cheer and
merry company, Langland goes to another inn on the next street; there he
looks with pure eyes upon sad or evil-faced men and women, drinking,
gaming, quarreling, and pictures a scene of physical and moral degradation.
One must look on both pictures to know what an English inn was like in the
fourteenth century.

Because of its crude form and dialect _Piers Plowman_ is hard to
follow; but to the few who have read it and entered into Langland's
vision--shared his passion for the poor, his hatred of shams, his belief in
the gospel of honest work, his humor and satire and philosophy--it is one
of the most powerful and original poems in English literature. [Footnote:
The working classes were beginning to assert themselves in this age, and to
proclaim "the rights of man." Witness the followers of John Ball, and his
influence over the crowd when he chanted the lines:

  When Adam delved and Eve span,
  Who was then the gentleman?

Langland's poem, written in the midst of the labor agitation, was the first
glorification of labor to appear in English literature. Those who read it
may make an interesting comparison between "Piers Plowman" and a modern
labor poem, such as Hood's "Song of the Shirt" or Markham's "The Man with
the Hoe."]

MALORY. Judged by its influence, the greatest prose work of the fifteenth
century was the _Morte d'Arthur_ of Thomas Malory (d. 1471). Of the
English knight who compiled this work very little is known beyond this,
that he sought to preserve in literature the spirit of medieval knighthood
and religion. He tells us nothing of this purpose; but Caxton, who received
the only known copy of Malory's manuscript and published it in 1485, seems
to have reflected the author's spirit in these words:

    "I according to my copy have set it in imprint, to the intent that
    noble men may see and learn the noble acts of chivalry, the gentle
    and virtuous deeds that some knyghts used in those days, by which
    they came to honour, and how they that were vicious were punished
    and put oft to shame and rebuke.... For herein may be seen noble
    chivalry, courtesy, humanity, hardness, love, friendship,
    cowardice, murder, hate, virtue and sin. Do after the good, and
    leave the evil, and it shall bring you to good fame and renommee."

The traditional home of King Arthur]

Malory's spirit is further indicated by the fact that he passed over all
extravagant tales of foreign heroes and used only the best of the Arthurian
romances. [Footnote: For the origin of the Arthurian stories see above,
"Geoffrey and the Legends of Arthur" in Chapter II. An example of the way
these stories were enlarged is given by Lewis, _Beginnings of English
Literature_, pp 73-76, who records the story of Arthur's death as told,
first, by Geoffrey, then by Layamon, and finally by Malory, who copied the
tale from French sources. If we add Tennyson's "Passing of Arthur," we
shall have the story as told from the twelfth to the nineteenth century.]
These had been left in a chaotic state by poets, and Malory brought order
out of the chaos by omitting tedious fables and arranging his material in
something like dramatic unity under three heads: the Coming of Arthur with
its glorious promise, the Round Table, and the Search for the Holy Grail:

    "And thenne the kynge and al estates wente home unto Camelot, and
    soo wente to evensonge to the grete mynster, and soo after upon
    that to souper; and every knyght sette in his owne place as they
    were to forehand. Thenne anone they herd crakynge and cryenge of
    thonder, that hem thought the place shold alle to dryve. In the
    myddes of this blast entred a sonne beaume more clerer by seven
    tymes than ever they sawe daye, and al they were alyghted of the
    grace of the Holy Ghoost. Then beganne every knyghte to behold
    other, and eyther sawe other by theire semynge fayrer than ever
    they sawe afore. Not for thenne there was no knyght myghte speke
    one word a grete whyle, and soo they loked every man on other, as
    they had ben domb. Thenne ther entred into the halle the Holy
    Graile, covered with whyte samyte, but ther was none myghte see
    hit, nor who bare hit. And there was al the halle fulfylled with
    good odoures, and every knyght had suche metes and drynkes as he
    best loved in this world. And when the Holy Grayle had be borne
    thurgh the halle, thenne the holy vessel departed sodenly, that
    they wyste not where hit becam....

    "'Now,' said Sir Gawayne, 'we have ben served this daye of what
    metes and drynkes we thoughte on, but one thynge begyled us; we
    myght not see the Holy Grayle, it was soo precyously coverd.
    Therfor I wil mak here avowe, that to morne, withoute lenger
    abydyng, I shall laboure in the quest of the Sancgreal; that I
    shalle hold me oute a twelve moneth and a day, or more yf nede be,
    and never shalle I retorne ageyne unto the courte tyl I have sene
    hit more openly than hit hath ben sene here.'... Whan they of the
    Table Round herde Syr Gawayne saye so, they arose up the most party
    and maade suche avowes as Sire Gawayne had made."

Into this holy quest sin enters like a serpent; then in quick succession
tragedy, rebellion, the passing of Arthur, the penitence of guilty
Launcelot and Guinevere. The figures fade away at last, as Shelley says of
the figures of the Iliad, "in tenderness and inexpiable sorrow."

As the best of Malory's work is now easily accessible, we forbear further
quotation. These old Arthurian legends, the common inheritance of all
English-speaking people, should be known to every reader. As they appear in
_Morte d'Arthur_ they are notable as an example of fine old English
prose, as a reflection of the enduring ideals of chivalry, and finally as a
storehouse in which Spenser, Tennyson and many others have found material
for some of their noblest poems.

CAXTON. William Caxton (d. 1491) is famous for having brought the printing
press to England, but he has other claims to literary renown. He was editor
as well as printer; he translated more than a score of the books which came
from his press; and, finally, it was he who did more than any other man to
fix a standard of English speech.

In Caxton's day several dialects were in use, and, as we infer from one of
his prefaces, he was doubtful which was most suitable for literature or
most likely to become the common speech of England. His doubt was dissolved
by the time he had printed the _Canterbury Tales_ and the _Morte
d'Arthur_. Many other works followed in the same "King's English"; his
successor at the printing press, Wynkyn de Worde, continued in the same
line; and when, less than sixty years after the first English book was
printed, Tyndale's translation of the New Testament had found its way to
every shire in England, there was no longer room for doubt that the
East-Midland dialect had become the standard of the English nation. We have
been speaking and writing that dialect ever since.

Caxton's printing office From an old print]


The story of how printing came to England, not as a literary but as a
business venture, is a very interesting one. Caxton was an English merchant
who had established himself at Bruges, then one of the trading centers of
Europe. There his business prospered, and he became governor of the
_Domus Angliae_, or House of the English Guild of Merchant
Adventurers. There is romance in the very name. With moderate wealth came
leisure to Caxton, and he indulged his literary taste by writing his own
version of some popular romances concerning the siege of Troy, being
encouraged by the English princess Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, into
whose service he had entered.

Copies of his work being in demand, Caxton consulted the professional
copyists, whose beautiful work we read about in a remarkable novel called
_The Cloister and the Hearth_. Then suddenly came to Bruges the rumor
of Gutenberg's discovery of printing from movable types, and Caxton
hastened to Germany to investigate the matter, led by the desire to get
copies of his own work as cheaply as possible. The discovery fascinated
him; instead of a few copies of his manuscript he brought back to Bruges a
press, from which he issued his _Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy_
(1474), which was probably the first book to appear in English print. Quick
to see the commercial advantages of the new invention, Caxton moved his
printing press to London, near Westminster Abbey, where he brought out in
1477 his _Dictes and Sayinges of the Philosophers_, the first book
ever printed on English soil. [Footnote: Another book of Caxton's, _The
Game and Playe of the Chesse_ (1475) was long accorded this honor, but
it is fairly certain that the book on chess-playing was printed in Bruges.]


From the very outset Caxton's venture was successful, and he was soon busy
in supplying books that were most in demand. He has been criticized for not
printing the classics and other books of the New Learning; but he evidently
knew his business and his audience, and aimed to give people what they
wanted, not what he thought they ought to have. Chaucer's _Canterbury
Tales_, Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, Mandeville's _Travels_,
Æsop's _Fables_, parts of the _Æneid_, translations of French
romances, lives of the saints (The Golden Legend), cookbooks, prayer books,
books of etiquette,--the list of Caxton's eighty-odd publications becomes
significant when we remember that he printed only popular books, and that
the titles indicate the taste of the age which first looked upon the marvel
of printing.

POPULAR BALLADS. If it be asked, "What is a ballad?" any positive answer
will lead to disputation. Originally the ballad was probably a chant to
accompany a dance, and so it represents the earliest form of poetry. In
theory, as various definitions indicate, it is a short poem telling a story
of some exploit, usually of a valorous kind. In common practice, from
Chaucer to Tennyson, the ballad is almost any kind of short poem treating
of any event, grave or gay, in any descriptive or dramatic way that appeals
to the poet.

For the origin of the ballad one must search far back among the social
customs of primitive times. That the Anglo-Saxons were familiar with it
appears from the record of Tacitus, who speaks of their _carmina_ or
narrative songs; but, with the exception of "The Fight at Finnsburgh" and a
few other fragments, all these have disappeared.

During the Middle Ages ballads were constantly appearing among the common
people, [Footnote: Thus, when Sidney says, "I never heard the old song of
Percy and Douglass that I found not my heart moved more than with a
trumpet," and when Shakespeare shows Autolycus at a country fair offering
"songs for men and women of all sizes," both poets are referring to popular
ballads. Even later, as late as the American Revolution, history was first
written for the people in the form of ballads.] but they were seldom
written, and found no standing in polite literature. In the eighteenth
century, however, certain men who had grown weary of the formal poetry of
Pope and his school turned for relief to the old vigorous ballads of the
people, and rescued them from oblivion. The one book to which, more than
any other, we owe the revival of interest in balladry is _Percy's
Reliques of Ancient English Poetry_ (1765).


The best of our ballads date in their present form from the fifteenth or
sixteenth century; but the originals were much older, and had been
transmitted orally for years before they were recorded on manuscript. As we
study them we note, as their first characteristic, that they spring from
the unlettered common people, that they are by unknown authors, and that
they appear in different versions because they were changed by each
minstrel to suit his own taste or that of his audience.

A second characteristic is the objective quality of the ballad, which deals
not with a poet's thought or feeling (such subjective emotions give rise to
the lyric) but with a man or a deed. See in the ballad of "Sir Patrick
Spence" (or Spens) how the unknown author goes straight to his story:

  The king sits in Dumferling towne,
    Drinking the blude-red wine:
  "O whar will I get guid sailor
    To sail this schip of mine?"

  Up and spak an eldern knicht,
    Sat at the king's richt kne:
  "Sir Patrick Spence is the best sailor
    That sails upon the se."

There is a brief pause to tell us of Sir Patrick's dismay when word comes
that the king expects him to take out a ship at a time when she should be
riding to anchor, then on goes the narrative:

  "Mak hast, mak haste, my mirry men all,
    Our guid schip sails the morne."
  "O say na sae, my master deir,
    For I feir a deadlie storme:

  "Late, late yestreen I saw the new moone
    Wi the auld moone in hir arme,
  And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
    That we will cum to harme."

At the end there is no wailing, no moral, no display of the poet's feeling,
but just a picture:

  O lang, lang may the ladies stand,
    Wi thair gold kems in their hair,
  Waiting for thair ain deir lords,
    For they'll se thame na mair.

  Haf owre, haf owre to Aberdour,
    It's fiftie fadom deip,
  And thair lies guid Sir Patrick Spence,
    Wi the Scots lords at his feit.

Directness, vigor, dramatic action, an ending that appeals to the
imagination,--most of the good qualities of story-telling are found in this
old Scottish ballad. If we compare it with Longfellow's "Wreck of the
Hesperus," we may discover that the two poets, though far apart in time and
space, have followed almost identical methods.

Other good ballads, which take us out under the open sky among vigorous
men, are certain parts of "The Gest of Robin Hood," "Mary Hamilton," "The
Wife of Usher's Well," "The Wee Wee Man," "Fair Helen," "Hind Horn,"
"Bonnie George Campbell," "Johnnie O'Cockley's Well," "Catharine Jaffray"
(from which Scott borrowed his "Lochinvar"), and especially "The Nutbrown
Mayde," sweetest and most artistic of all the ballads, which gives a
popular and happy version of the tale that Chaucer told in his "Patient

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The period included in the Age of Chaucer and the Revival
    of Learning covers two centuries, from 1350 to 1550. The chief
    literary figure of the period, and one of the greatest of English
    poets, is Geoffrey Chaucer, who died in the year 1400. He was
    greatly influenced by French and Italian models; he wrote for the
    middle and upper classes; his greatest work was _The Canterbury

    Langland, another poet contemporary with Chaucer, is famous for his
    _Piers Plowman_, a powerful poem aiming at social reform, and
    vividly portraying the life of the common people. It is written in
    the old Saxon manner, with accent and alliteration, and is
    difficult to read in its original form.

    After the death of Chaucer a century and a half passed before
    another great writer appeared in England. The time was one of
    general decline in literature, and the most obvious causes were:
    the Wars of the Roses, which destroyed many of the patrons of
    literature; the Reformation, which occupied the nation with
    religious controversy; and the Renaissance or Revival of Learning,
    which turned scholars to the literature of Greece and Rome rather
    than to English works.

    In our study of the latter part of the period we reviewed: (1) the
    rise of the popular ballad, which was almost the only type of
    literature known to the common people. (2) The work of Malory, who
    arranged the best of the Arthurian legends in his _Morte
    d'Arthur._ (3) The work of Caxton, who brought the first
    printing press to London, and who was instrumental in establishing
    the East-Midland dialect as the literary language of England.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections from all authors of the
    period are given in Manly, English Poetry, and English Prose;
    Newcomer and Andrews, Twelve Centuries of English Poetry and Prose;
    Ward, English Poets; Morris and Skeat, Specimens of Early English.

    Chaucer's Prologue, Knight's Tale, and other selections in
    Riverside Literature, King's Classics, and several other school
    series. A good single-volume edition of Chaucer's poetry is Skeat,
    The Student's Chaucer (Clarendon Press). A good, but expensive,
    modernized version is Tatlock and MacKaye, Modern Reader's Chaucer

    Metrical version of Piers Plowman, by Skeat, in King's Classics;
    modernized prose version by Kate Warren, in Treasury of English
    Literature (Dodge).

    Selections from Malory's Morte d'Arthur in Athenæum Press Series
    (Ginn and Company); also in Camelot Series. An elaborate edition of
    Malory with introduction by Sommer and an essay by Andrew Lang (3
    vols., London, 1889); another with modernized text, introduction by
    Rhys, illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley (London, 1893).

    The best of the old ballads are published in Pocket Classics, and
    in Maynard's English Classics; a volume of ancient and modern
    English ballads in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children;
    Percy's Reliques, in Everyman's Library. Allingham, The Ballad
    Book; Hazlitt, Popular Poetry of England; Gummere, Old English
    Ballads; Gayley and Flaherty, Poetry of the People; Child, English
    and Scottish Popular Poetry (5 vols.); the last-named work, edited
    and abridged by Kittredge, in one volume.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. The following works have been sifted from a much
    larger number dealing with the age of Chaucer and the Revival of
    Learning. More extended works, covering the entire field of English
    history and literature, are listed in the General Bibliography.

    _HISTORY_. Snell, the Age of Chaucer; Jusserand, Wayfaring
    Life in the Fourteenth Century; Jenks, In the Days of Chaucer;
    Trevelyan, In the Age of Wyclif; Coulton, Chaucer and His England;
    Denton, England in the Fifteenth Century; Green, Town Life in the
    Fifteenth Century; Einstein, The Italian Renaissance in England;
    Froissart, Chronicles; Lanier, The Boy's Froissart.

    _LITERATURE_. Ward, Life of Chaucer (English Men of Letters
    Series); Kittredge, Chaucer and His Poetry (Harvard University
    Press); Pollard, Chaucer Primer; Lounsbury, Studies in Chaucer;
    Lowell's essay in My Study Windows; essay by Hazlitt, in Lectures
    on the English Poets; Jusserand, Piers Plowman; Roper, Life of Sir
    Thomas More.

    _FICTION AND POETRY_. Lytton, Last of the Barons; Yonge,
    Lances of Lynwood; Scott, Marmion; Shakespeare, Richard II, Henry
    IV, Richard III; Bates and Coman, English History Told by English



  This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
  This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
  This other Eden, demi-paradise,
  This fortress built by Nature for herself
  Against infection and the hand of war,
  This happy breed of men, this little world,
  This precious stone set in the silver sea, ...
  This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England!

                        Shakespeare, _King Richard II_

    HISTORICAL BACKGROUND. In such triumphant lines, falling from the
    lips of that old imperialist John of Gaunt, did Shakespeare
    reflect, not the rebellious spirit of the age of Richard II, but
    the boundless enthusiasm of his own times, when the defeat of
    Spain's mighty Armada had left England "in splendid isolation,"
    unchallenged mistress of her own realm and of the encircling sea.
    For it was in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign that England
    found herself as a nation, and became conscious of her destiny as a
    world empire.

    There is another and darker side to the political shield, but the
    student of literature is not concerned with it. We are to remember
    the patriotic enthusiasm of the age, overlooking the frequent
    despotism of "good Queen Bess" and entering into the spirit of
    national pride and power that thrilled all classes of Englishmen
    during her reign, if we are to understand the outburst of
    Elizabethan literature. Nearly two centuries of trouble and danger
    had passed since Chaucer died, and no national poet had appeared in
    England. The Renaissance came, and the Reformation, but they
    brought no great writers with them. During the first thirty years
    of Elizabeth's reign not a single important literary work was
    produced; then suddenly appeared the poetry of Spenser and Chapman,
    the prose of Hooker, Sidney and Bacon, the dramas of Marlowe,
    Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and a score of others,--all voicing the
    national feeling after the defeat of the Armada, and growing silent
    as soon as the enthusiasm began to wane.

LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS. Next to the patriotic spirit of Elizabethan
literature, its most notable qualities are its youthful freshness and
vigor, its romantic spirit, its absorption in the theme of love, its
extravagance of speech, its lively sense of the wonder of heaven and earth.
The ideal beauty of Spenser's poetry, the bombast of Marlowe, the boundless
zest of Shakespeare's historical plays, the romantic love celebrated in
unnumbered lyrics,--all these speak of youth, of springtime, of the joy and
the heroic adventure of human living.

This romantic enthusiasm of Elizabethan poetry and prose may be explained
by the fact that, besides the national impulse, three other inspiring
influences were at work. The first in point of time was the rediscovery of
the classics of Greece and Rome,--beautiful old poems, which were as new to
the Elizabethans as to Keats when he wrote his immortal sonnet, beginning:

  Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold.

The second awakening factor was the widespread interest in nature and the
physical sciences, which spurred many another Elizabethan besides Bacon to
"take all knowledge for his province." This new interest was generally
romantic rather than scientific, was more concerned with marvels, like the
philosopher's stone that would transmute all things to gold, than with the
simple facts of nature. Bacon's chemical changes, which follow the
"instincts" of metals, are almost on a par with those other changes
described in Shakespeare's song of Ariel:

  Full fathom five thy father lies;
       Of his bones are coral made;
  Those are pearls that were his eyes:
       Nothing of him that doth fade
  But doth suffer a sea-change
  Into something rich and strange.

The third factor which stimulated the Elizabethan imagination was the
discovery of the world beyond the Atlantic, a world of wealth, of beauty,
of unmeasured opportunity for brave spirits, in regions long supposed to be
possessed of demons, monsters, Othello's impossible

          cannibals that each other eat,
  The anthropophagi, and men whose heads
  Do grow beneath their shoulders.

[Sidenote: THE NEW WORLD]

When Drake returned from his voyage around the world he brought to England
two things: a tale of vast regions just over the world's rim that awaited
English explorers, and a ship loaded to the hatches with gold and jewels.
That the latter treasure was little better than a pirate's booty; that it
was stolen from the Spaniards, who had taken it from poor savages at the
price of blood and torture,--all this was not mentioned. The queen and her
favorites shared the treasure with Drake's buccaneers, and the New World
seemed to them a place of barbaric splendor, where the savage's wattled hut
was roofed with silver, his garments beaded with all precious jewels. As a
popular play of the period declares:

    "Why, man, all their dripping pans are pure gold! The prisoners
    they take are fettered in gold; and as for rubies and diamonds,
    they goe forth on holydayes and gather 'hem by the seashore to hang
    on their children's coates."

Before the American settlements opened England's eyes to the stern reality
of things, it was the romance of the New World that appealed most
powerfully to the imagination, and that influenced Elizabethan literature
to an extent which we have not yet begun to measure.

FOREIGN INFLUENCE. We shall understand the imitative quality of early
Elizabethan poetry if we read it in the light of these facts: that in the
sixteenth century England was far behind other European nations in culture;
that the Renaissance had influenced Italy and Holland for a century before
it crossed the Channel; that, at a time when every Dutch peasant read his
Bible, the masses of English people remained in dense ignorance, and the
majority of the official classes were like Shakespeare's father and
daughter in that they could neither read nor write. So, when the new
national spirit began to express itself in literature, Englishmen turned to
the more cultured nations and began to imitate them in poetry, as in dress
and manners. Shakespeare gives us a hint of the matter when he makes Portia
ridicule the apishness of the English. In _The Merchant of Venice_
(Act I, scene 2) the maid Nerissa is speaking of various princely suitors
for Portia's hand. She names them over, Frenchman, Italian, Scotsman,
German; but Portia makes fun of them all. The maid tries again:

  _Nerissa_. What say you, then, to Falconbridge, the young baron of

  _Portia_.  You know I say nothing to him, for he understands not me,
        nor I him: he hath neither Latin, French, nor Italian; and you will
        come into the court and swear that I have a poor pennyworth in the
        English. He is a proper man's picture, but, alas, who can converse
        with a dumb show? How oddly he is suited! I think he bought his
        doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany
        and his behaviour every where.

When Wyatt and Surrey brought the sonnet to England, they brought also the
habit of imitating the Italian poets; and this habit influenced Spenser and
other Elizabethans even more than Chaucer had been influenced by Dante and
Petrarch. It was the fashion at that time for Italian gentlemen to write
poetry; they practiced the art as they practiced riding or fencing; and
presently scores of Englishmen followed Sidney's example in taking up this
phase of foreign education. It was also an Italian custom to publish the
works of amateur poets in the form of anthologies, and soon there appeared
in England _The Paradise of Dainty Devices, A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant
Inventions_ and other such collections, the best of which was
_England's Helicon_ (1600). Still another foreign fashion was that of
writing a series of sonnets to some real or imaginary mistress; and that
the fashion was followed in England is evident from Spenser's
_Amoretti_, Sidney's _Astrophel and Stella_, Shakespeare's
_Sonnets_, and other less-famous effusions.

       *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: MICHAEL DRAYTON]

LYRICS OF LOVE. Love was the subject of a very large part of the minor
poems of the period, the monotony being relieved by an occasional ballad,
such as Drayton's "Battle of Agincourt" and his "Ode to the Virginian
Voyage," the latter being one of the first poems inspired by the New World.
Since love was still subject to literary rules, as in the metrical
romances, it is not strange that most Elizabethan lyrics seem to the modern
reader artificial. They deal largely with goddesses and airy shepherd folk;
they contain many references to classic characters and scenes, to Venus,
Olympus and the rest; they are nearly all characterized by extravagance of
language. A single selection, "Apelles' Song" by Lyly, may serve as typical
of the more fantastic love lyrics:

  Cupid and my Campaspe played
  At cards for kisses; Cupid paid.
  He stakes his quiver, bow and arrows,
  His mother's doves and team of sparrows:
  Loses them too; then down he throws
  The coral of his lip, the rose
  Growing on's cheek (but none knows how);
  With these the crystal of his brow,
  And then the dimple of his chin.
  All these did my Campaspe win.
  At last he set her both his eyes;
  She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
  O Love, has she done this to thee?
  What shall, alas! become of me?

MUSIC AND POETRY. Another reason for the outburst of lyric poetry in
Elizabethan times was that choral music began to be studied, and there was
great demand for new songs. Then appeared a theory of the close relation
between poetry and music, which was followed by the American poet Lanier
more than two centuries later. [Footnote: Much of Lanier's verse seems more
like a musical improvisation than like an ordinary poem. His theory that
music and poetry are subject to the same laws is developed in his
_Science of English Verse._ It is interesting to note that Lanier's
ancestors were musical directors at the courts of Elizabeth and of James
I.] This interesting theory is foreshadowed in several minor works of the
period; for example, in Barnfield's sonnet "To R. L.," beginning:

  If music and sweet poetry agree,
  As they must needs, the sister and the brother,
  Then must the love be great 'twixt thee and me,
  Because thou lov'st the one, and I the other.

The stage caught up the new fashion, and hundreds of lyrics appeared in the
Elizabethan drama, such as Dekker's "Content" (from the play of _Patient
Grissell), which almost sets itself to music as we read it:

  Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers?
         O sweet content!
  Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed?
         O punishment!
  Dost laugh to see how fools are vexed
  To add to golden numbers golden numbers?
    O sweet content, O sweet, O sweet content!

  _Work apace, apace, apace, apace!
  Honest labour bears a lovely face.
  Then hey noney, noney; hey noney, noney!_

  Canst drink the waters of the crisped spring?
         O sweet content!
  Swim'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears?
         O punishment!
  Then he that patiently want's burden bears
  No burden bears, but is a king, a king.
    O sweet content, O sweet, O sweet content!

So many lyric poets appeared during this period that we cannot here
classify them; and it would be idle to list their names. The best place to
make acquaintance with theo is not in a dry history of literature, but in
such a pleasant little book as Palgrave's _Golden Treasury_, where
their best work is accessible to every reader.

       *       *       *       *       *

EDMUND SPENSER (1552-1599)

Spenser was the second of the great English poets, and it is but natural to
compare him with Chaucer, who was the first. In respect of time nearly two
centuries separate these elder poets; in all other respects, in aims,
ideals, methods, they are as far apart as two men of the same race can well

    LIFE. Very little is known of Spenser; he appears in the light,
    then vanishes into the shadow, like his Arthur of _The Faery
    Queen_. We see him for a moment in the midst of rebellion in
    Ireland, or engaged in the scramble for preferment among the
    queen's favorites; he disappears, and from his obscurity comes a
    poem that is like the distant ringing of a chapel bell, faintly
    heard in the clatter of the city streets. We shall try here to
    understand this poet by dissolving some of the mystery that
    envelops him.

    He was born in London, and spent his youth amid the political and
    religious dissensions of the times of Mary and Elizabeth. For all
    this turmoil Spenser had no stomach; he was a man of peace, of
    books, of romantic dreams. He was of noble family, but poor; his
    only talent was to write poetry, and as poetry would not buy much
    bread in those days, his pride of birth was humbled in seeking the
    patronage of nobles:

      Full little knowest thou, that hast not tried,
      What hell it is in suing long to bide: ...
      To fawn, to crouch, to wait, to ride, to run,
      To spend, to give, to want, to be undone.

    To the liberality of a patron he owed his education at Cambridge.
    It was then the heyday of Renaissance studies, and Spenser steeped
    himself in Greek, Latin and Italian literatures. Everything that
    was antique was then in favor at the universities; there was a
    revival of interest in Old-English poetry, which accounts largely
    for Spenser's use of obsolete words and his imitation of Chaucer's

    After graduation he spent some time in the north of England,
    probably as a tutor, and had an unhappy love affair, which he
    celebrated in his poems to Rosalind. Then he returned to London,
    lived by favor in the houses of Sidney and Leicester, and through
    these powerful patrons was appointed secretary to Lord Grey de
    Wilton, the queen's deputy in Ireland.

    [Illustration: EDMUND SPENSER]

    [Sidenote: SPENSER'S EXILE]

    From this time on our poet is represented as a melancholy Spenser's
    "exile," but that is a poetic fiction. At that time Ireland, having
    refused to follow the Reformation, was engaged in a desperate
    struggle for civil and religious liberty. Every English army that
    sailed to crush this rebellion was accompanied by a swarm of
    parasites, each inspired by the hope of getting one of the rich
    estates that were confiscated from Irish owners. Spenser seems to
    have been one of these expectant adventurers who accompanied Lord
    Grey in his campaign of brutality. To the horrors of that campaign
    the poet was blind; [Footnote: The barbarism of Spenser's view, a
    common one at that time, is reflected in his _View of the Present
    State of Ireland._ Honorable warfare on land or sea was unknown
    in Elizabeth's day. Scores of pirate ships of all nations were then
    openly preying on commerce. Drake, Frobisher and many other
    Elizabethan "heroes" were at times mere buccaneers who shared their
    plunder with the queen. In putting down the Irish rebellion Lords
    Grey and Essex used some of the same horrible methods employed by
    the notorious Duke of Alva in the Netherlands.] his sympathies were
    all for his patron Grey, who appears in The Faery Queen as Sir
    Artegall, "the model of true justice."

    For his services Spenser was awarded the castle of Kilcolman and
    3000 acres of land, which had been taken from the Earl of Desmond.
    In the same way Raleigh became an Irish landlord, with 40,000 acres
    to his credit; and so these two famous Elizabethans were thrown
    together in exile, as they termed it. Both longed to return to
    England, to enjoy London society and the revenues of Irish land at
    the same time, but unfortunately one condition of their immense
    grants was that they should occupy the land and keep the rightful
    owners from possessing it.

    [Sidenote: WORK IN IRELAND]

    In Ireland Spenser began to write his masterpiece _The Faery
    Queen_. Raleigh, to whom the first three books were read, was so
    impressed by the beauty of the work that he hurried the poet off to
    London, and gained for him the royal favor. In the poem "Colin
    Clout's Come Home Again" we may read Spenser's account of how the
    court impressed him after his sojourn in Ireland.

      Hayes, Devonshire]

    The publication of the first parts of _The Faery Queen_ (1590)
    raised Spenser to the foremost place in English letters. He was
    made poet-laureate, and used every influence of patrons and of
    literary success to the end that he be allowed to remain in London,
    but the queen was flint-hearted, insisting that he must give up his
    estate or occupy it. So he returned sorrowfully to "exile," and
    wrote three more books of _The Faery Queen_. To his other
    offices was added that of sheriff of County Cork, an adventurous
    office for any man even in times of peace, and for a poet, in a
    time of turmoil, an invitation to disaster. Presently another
    rebellion broke out, Kilcolman castle was burned, and the poet's
    family barely escaped with their lives. It was said by Ben Jonson
    that one of Spenser's children and some parts of _The Faery
    Queen_ perished in the fire, but the truth of the saying has not
    been established.

    Soon after this experience, which crushed the poet's spirit, he was
    ordered on official business to London, and died on the journey in
    1599. As he was buried beside Chaucer, in Westminster Abbey, poets
    were seen casting memorial verses and the pens that had written
    them into his tomb.

    [Sidenote: CHARACTER]

    In character Spenser was unfitted either for the intrigues among
    Elizabeth's favorites or for the more desperate scenes amid which
    his Lot was cast. Unlike his friend Raleigh, who was a man of
    action, Spenser was essentially a dreamer, and except in Cambridge
    he seems never to have felt at home. His criticism of the age as
    barren and hopeless, and the melancholy of the greater part of his
    work, indicate that for him, at least, the great Elizabethan times
    were "out of joint." The world, which thinks of Spenser as a great
    poet, has forgotten that he thought of himself as a disappointed

WORKS OF SPENSER. The poems of Spenser may be conveniently grouped in three
classes. In the first are the pastorals of _The Shepherd's Calendar_,
in which he reflects some of the poetical fashions of his age. In the
second are the allegories of _The Faery Queen_, in which he pictures
the state of England as a struggle between good and evil. In the third
class are his occasional poems of friendship and love, such as the
_Amoretti_. All his works are alike musical, and all remote from
ordinary life, like the eerie music of a wind harp.


_The Shepherd's Calendar_ (1579) is famous as the poem which announced
that a successor to Chaucer had at last appeared in England. It is an
amateurish work in which Spenser tried various meters; and to analyze it is
to discover two discordant elements, which we may call fashionable poetry
and puritanic preaching. Let us understand these elements clearly, for
apart from them the _Calendar_ is a meaningless work.

It was a fashion among Italian poets to make eclogues or pastoral poems
about shepherds, their dancing, piping, love-making,--everything except a
shepherd's proper business. Spenser followed this artificial fashion in his
_Calendar_ by making twelve pastorals, one for each month of the year.
These all take the form of conversations, accompanied by music and dancing,
and the personages are Cuddie, Diggon, Hobbinoll, and other fantastic
shepherds. According to poetic custom these should sing only of love; but
in Spenser's day religious controversy was rampant, and flattery might not
be overlooked by a poet who aspired to royal favor. So while the January
pastoral tells of the unhappy love of Colin Clout (Spenser) for Rosalind,
the springtime of April calls for a song in praise of Elizabeth:

  Lo, how finely the Graces can it foot
    To the instrument!
  They dancen deffly and singen soote,
    In their merriment.
  Wants not a fourth Grace to make the dance even?
  Let that room to my Lady be yeven.
    She shall be a Grace,
    To fill the fourth place,
  And reign with the rest in heaven.

In May the shepherds are rival pastors of the Reformation, who end their
sermons with an animal fable; in summer they discourse of Puritan theology;
October brings them to contemplate the trials and disappointments of a
poet, and the series ends with a parable comparing life to the four seasons
of the year.

The moralizing of _The Shepherd's Calendar_ and the uncouth spelling
which Spenser affected detract from the interest of the poem; but one who
has patience to read it finds on almost every page some fine poetic line,
and occasionally a good song, like the following (from the August pastoral)
in which two shepherds alternately supply the lines of a roundelay:

  Sitting upon a hill so high,
      Hey, ho, the high hill!
  The while my flock did feed thereby,
      The while the shepherd's self did spill,
  I saw the bouncing Bellibone,
      Hey, ho, Bonnibell!
  Tripping over the dale alone;
      She can trip it very well.
  Well deckéd in a frock of gray,
      Hey, ho, gray is greet!
  And in a kirtle of green say;
      The green is for maidens meet.
  A chaplet on her head she wore,
      Hey, ho, chapelet!
  Of sweet violets therein was store,
      She sweeter than the violet.

THE FAERY QUEEN. Let us hear one of the stories of this celebrated poem,
and after the tale is told we may discover Spenser's purpose in writing all
the others.

    [Sidenote: SIR GUYON]

    From the court of Gloriana, Queen of Faery, the gallant Sir Guyon
    sets out on adventure bent, and with him is a holy Palmer, or
    pilgrim, to protect him from the evil that lurks by every wayside.
    Hardly have the two entered the first wood when they fall into the
    hands of the wicked Archimago, who spends his time in devising
    spells or enchantments for the purpose of leading honest folk

      For all he did was to deceive good knights,
      And draw them from pursuit of praise and fame.

    Escaping from the snare, Guyon hears a lamentation, and turns aside
    to find a beautiful woman dying beside a dead knight. Her story is,
    that her man has been led astray by the Lady Acrasia, who leads
    many knights to her Bower of Bliss, and there makes them forget
    honor and knightly duty. Guyon vows to right this wrong, and
    proceeds on the adventure.

    With the Palmer and a boatman he embarks in a skiff and crosses the
    Gulf of Greediness, deadly whirlpools on one side, and on the other
    the Magnet Mountain with wrecks of ships strewed about its foot.
    Sighting the fair Wandering Isles, he attempts to land, attracted
    here by a beautiful damsel, there by a woman in distress; but the
    Palmer tells him that these seeming women are evil shadows placed
    there to lead men astray. Next he meets the monsters of the deep,
    "sea-shouldering whales," "scolopendras," "grisly wassermans,"
    "mighty monoceroses with unmeasured tails." Escaping these, he
    meets a greater peril in the mermaids, who sing to him alluringly:

      This is port of rest from troublous toil,
      The world's sweet inn from pain and wearisome turmoil.

    Many other sea-dangers are passed before Guyon comes to land, where
    he is immediately charged by a bellowing herd of savage beasts.
    Only the power of the Palmer's holy staff saves the knight from

    This is the last physical danger which Guyon encounters. As he goes
    forward the country becomes an earthly paradise, where pleasures
    call to him from every side. It is his soul, not his body, which is
    now in peril. Here is the Palace of Pleasure, its wondrous gates
    carved with images representing Jason's search for the Golden
    Fleece. Beyond it are parks, gardens, fountains, and the beautiful
    Lady Excess, who squeezes grapes into a golden cup and offers it to
    Guyon as an invitation to linger. The scene grows ever more
    entrancing as he rejects the cup of Excess and pushes onward:

      Eftsoones they heard a most melodious sound
      Of all that mote delight a dainty ear,
      Such as at once might not on living ground,
      Save in this paradise, be heard elsewhere:
      Right hard it was for wight which did it hear
      To read what manner music that mote be;
      For all that pleasing is to living ear
      Was there consorted in one harmony;
      Birds, voices, instruments, winds, waters, all agree.

    Amid such allurements Guyon comes at last to where beautiful
    Acrasia lives, with knights who forget their knighthood. From the
    open portal comes a melody, the voice of an unseen singer lifting
    up the old song of Epicurus and of Omar:

      Gather the rose of love whilst yet is time.

    The following scenes in the Bower of Bliss were plainly suggested
    by the Palace of Circe, in the _Odyssey_; but where Homer is
    direct, simple, forceful, Spenser revels in luxuriant details. He
    charms all Guyon's senses with color, perfume, beauty, harmony;
    then he remembers that he is writing a moral poem, and suddenly his
    delighted knight turns reformer. He catches Acrasia in a net woven
    by the Palmer, and proceeds to smash her exquisite abode with
    puritanic thoroughness:

      But all those pleasaunt bowers and palace brave
      Guyon brake down with rigour pitilesse.

    As they fare forth after the destruction, the herd of horrible
    beasts is again encountered, and lo! all these creatures are men
    whom Acrasia has transformed into brutal shapes. The Palmer
    "strooks" them all with his holy staff, and they resume their human
    semblance. Some are glad, others wroth at the change; and one named
    Grylle, who had been a hog, reviles his rescuers for disturbing
    him; which gives the Palmer a final chance to moralize:

      Let Grylle be Grylle and have his hoggish mind;
      But let us hence depart while weather serves and wind.


Such is Spenser's story of Sir Guyon, or Temperance. It is a long story,
drifting through eighty-seven stanzas, but it is only a final chapter or
canto of the second book of _The Faery Queen_. Preceding it are eleven
other cantos which serve as an introduction. So leisurely is Spenser in
telling a tale! One canto deals with the wiles of Archimago and of the
"false witch" Duessa; in another the varlet Braggadocchio steals Guyon's
horse and impersonates a knight, until he is put to shame by the fair
huntress Belphoebe, who is Queen Elizabeth in disguise. Now Elizabeth had a
hawk face which was far from comely, but behold how it appeared to a poet:

  Her face so fair, as flesh it seemëd not,
  But heavenly portrait of bright angel's hue,
  Clear as the sky, withouten blame or blot,
  Through goodly mixture of complexions due;
  And in her cheek the vermeil red did shew
  Like roses in a bed of lilies shed,
  The which ambrosial odours from them threw
  And gazers' sense with double pleasure fed,
  Able to heal the sick and to revive the dead.

There are a dozen more stanzas devoted to her voice, her eyes, her hair,
her more than mortal beauty. Other cantos of the same book are devoted to
Guyon's temptations; to his victories over Furor and Mammon; to his rescue
of the Lady Alma, besieged by a horde of villains in her fair Castle of
Temperance. In this castle was an aged man, blind but forever doting over
old records; and this gives Spenser the inspiration for another long canto
devoted to the ancient kings of Britain. So all is fish that comes to this
poet's net; but as one who is angling for trout is vexed by the nibbling of
chubs, the reader grows weary of Spenser's story before his story really

[Sidenote: THE FIRST BOOK]

Other books of _The Faery Queen_ are so similar in character to the
one just described that a canto from any one of them may be placed without
change in any other. In the first book, for example, the Redcross Knight
(Holiness) fares forth accompanied by the Lady Una (Religion). Straightway
they meet the enchanter Archimago, who separates them by fraud and magic.
The Redcross Knight, led to believe that his Una is false, comes, after
many adventures, to Queen Lucifera in the House of Pride; meanwhile Una
wanders alone amidst perils, and by her beauty subdues the lion and the
satyrs of the wood. The rest of the book recounts their adventures with
paynims, giants and monsters, with Error, Avarice, Falsehood and other
allegorical figures.

It is impossible to outline such a poem, for the simple reason that it has
no outlines. It is a phantasmagoria of beautiful and grotesque shapes, of
romance, morality and magic. Reading it is like watching cloud masses,
aloft and remote, in which the imagination pictures men, monsters,
landscapes, which change as we view them without cause or consequence.
Though _The Faery Queen_ is overfilled with adventure, it has no
action, as we ordinarily understand the term. Its continual motion is
without force or direction, like the vague motions of a dream.


What, then, was Spenser's object in writing _The Faery Queen_? His
professed object was to use poetry in the service of morality by portraying
the political and religious affairs of England as emblematic of a worldwide
conflict between good and evil. According to his philosophy (which, he
tells us, he borrowed from Aristotle) there were twelve chief virtues, and
he planned twelve books to celebrate them. [Footnote: Only six of these
books are extant, treating of the Redcross Knight or Holiness, Sir Guyon or
Temperance, Britomartis or Chastity, Cambel and Triamond or Friendship, Sir
Artegall or Justice, and Sir Calidore or Courtesy. The rest of the
allegory, if written, may have been destroyed in the fire of Kilcolman.] In
each book a knight or a lady representing a single virtue goes forth into
the world to conquer evil. In all the books Arthur, or Magnificence (the
sum of all virtue), is apt to appear in any crisis; Lady Una represents
religion; Archimago is another name for heresy, and Duessa for falsehood;
and in order to give point to Spenser's allegory the courtiers and
statesmen of the age are all flattered as glorious virtues or condemned as
ugly vices.

[Sidenote: THE ALLEGORY]

Those who are fond of puzzles may delight in giving names and dates to
these allegorical personages, in recognizing Elizabeth in Belphoebe or
Britomart or Marcella, Sidney in the Redcross Knight, Leicester in Arthur,
Raleigh in Timias, Mary Stuart in Duessa, and so on through the list of
characters good or evil. The beginner will wisely ignore all such
interpretation, and for two reasons: first, because Spenser's allegories
are too shadowy to be taken seriously; and second, because as a chronicler
of the times he is outrageously partisan and untrustworthy. In short, to
search for any reality in _The Faery Queen_ is to spoil the poem as a
work of the imagination. "If you do not meddle with the allegory," said
Hazlitt, "the allegory will not meddle with you."

MINOR POEMS. The minor poems of Spenser are more interesting, because more
human, than the famous work which we have just considered. Prominent among
these poems are the _Amoretti_, a collection of sonnets written in
honor of the Irish girl Elizabeth, who became the poet's wife. They are
artificial, to be sure, but no more so than other love poems of the period.
In connection with a few of these sonnets may be read Spenser's four
"Hymns" (in honor of Love, Beauty, Heavenly Love and Heavenly Beauty) and
especially his "Epithalamium," a marriage hymn which Brooke calls, with
pardonable enthusiasm, "the most glorious love song in the English

A CRITICISM OF SPENSER. In reading _The Faery Queen_ one must note the
contrast between Spenser's matter and his manner. His matter is: religion,
chivalry, mythology, Italian romance, Arthurian legends, the struggles of
Spain and England on the Continent, the Reformation, the turmoil of
political parties, the appeal of the New World,--a summary of all stirring
matters that interested his own tumultuous age. His manner is the reverse
of what one might expect under the circumstances. He writes no stirring
epic of victory or defeat, and never a downright word of a downright man,
but a dreamy, shadowy narrative as soothing as the abode of Morpheus:

  And, more to lulle him in his slumber soft,
  A trickling stream from high rock tumbling downe,
  And ever-drizzling rain upon the loft,
  Mixt with a murmuring winde, much like the sowne
  Of swarming bees, did cast him in a swowne.
  No other noyse, nor people's troublous cryes,
  As still are wont t' annoy the wallëd towne,
  Might there be heard; but careless Quiet lyes
  Wrapt in eternal silence far from enemyes.

Such stanzas (and they abound in every book of _The Faery Queen_) are
poems in themselves; but unfortunately they distract attention from the
story, which soon loses all progression and becomes as the rocking of an
idle boat on the swell of a placid sea. The invention of this melodious
stanza, ever since called "Spenserian," was in itself a notable achievement
which influenced all subsequent English poetry. [Footnote: The Spenserian
was an improvement on the _ottava-rima_, or eight-line stanza, of the
Italians. It has been used by Burns in "The Cotter's Saturday Night," by
Shelley in "The Revolt of Islam," by Byron in "Childe Harold," by Keats in
"The Eve of St. Agnes," and by many other poets.]


As Spenser's faults cannot be ignored, let us be rid of them as quickly as
possible. We record, then: the unreality of his great work; its lack of
human interest, which causes most of us to drop the poem after a single
canto; its affected antique spelling; its use of _fone_ (foes),
_dan_ (master), _teene_ (trouble), _swink_ (labor), and of
many more obsolete words; its frequent torturing of the king's English to
make a rime; its utter lack of humor, appearing in such absurd lines as,

  Astond he stood, and up his hair did hove.

[Sidenote: MORAL IDEAL]

Such defects are more than offset by Spenser's poetic virtues. We note,
first, the moral purpose which allies him with the medieval poets in aim,
but not in method. By most medieval romancers virtue was regarded as a
means to an end, as in the _Morte d' Arthur_, where a knight made a
vow of purity in order to obtain a sight of the Holy Grail. With Spenser
virtue is not a means but an end, beautiful and desirable for its own sake;
while sin is so pictured that men avoid it because of its intrinsic
ugliness. This is the moral secret of _The Faery Queen_, in which
virtues are personified as noble knights or winsome women, while the vices
appear in the repulsive guise of hags, monsters and "loathy beasts."


Spenser's sense of ideal beauty or, as Lanier expressed it, "the beauty of
holiness and the holiness of beauty," is perhaps his greatest poetic
quality. He is the poet-painter of the Renaissance; he fills his pages with
descriptions of airy loveliness, as Italian artists covered the high
ceilings of Venice with the reflected splendor of earth and heaven.
Moreover, his sense of beauty found expression in such harmonious lines
that one critic describes him as having set beautiful figures moving to
exquisite music.

In consequence of this beauty and melody, Spenser has been the inspiration
of nearly all later English singers. Milton was one of the first to call
him master, and then in a long succession such diverse poets as Dryden,
Burns, Wordsworth, Scott, Shelley, Keats, Byron, Tennyson and Swinburne.
The poet of "Faery" has influenced all these and more so deeply that he has
won the distinctive title of "the poets' poet."

       *       *       *       *       *


"Few events in our literary history are so startling as this sudden rise of
the Elizabethan drama," says Green in his _History of the English
People_, and his judgment is echoed by other writers who speak of the
"marvelous efflorescence" of the English drama as a matter beyond
explanation. Startling it may be, with its frank expression of a nation's
life, the glory and the shame of it; but there is nothing sudden or
inexplicable about it, as we may see by reviewing the history of
playwriting in England.

THE RELIGIOUS DRAMA. In its simplicity the drama is a familiar story retold
to the eye by actors who "make believe" that they are the heroes of the
action. In this elemental form the play is almost as old as humanity.
Indeed, it seems to be a natural impulse of children to act a story which
has given them pleasure; of primitive men also, who from time immemorial
have kept alive the memory of tribal heroes by representing their deeds in
play or pantomime. Thus, certain parts of _Hiawatha_ are survivals of
dramatic myths that were once acted at the spring assembly of the Algonquin
Indians. An interesting fact concerning these primitive dramas, whether in
India or Greece or Persia, is that they were invariably associated with
some religious belief or festival.


A later example of this is found in the Church, which at an early age began
to make its holy-day services more impressive by means of Miracle plays and
Mysteries. [Footnote: In France any play representing the life of a saint
was called _miracle_, and a play dealing with the life of Christ was
called _mystère_. In England no such distinction was made, the name
"Miracle" being given to any drama dealing with Bible history or with the
lives of the saints.] At Christmas time, for example, the beautiful story
of Bethlehem would be made more vivid by placing in a corner of the parish
church an image of a babe in a manger, with shepherds and the Magi at hand,
and the choir in white garments chanting the _Gloria in excelsis_.
Other festivals were celebrated in a similar way until a cycle of simple
dramas had been prepared, clustering around four cardinal points of
Christian teaching; namely, Creation, the Fall, Redemption, and Doomsday or
the Last Judgment.


At first such plays were given in the church, and were deeply religious in
spirit. They made a profound impression in England especially, where people
flocked in such numbers to see them that presently they overflowed to the
churchyard, and from there to the city squares or the town common. Once
outside the church, they were taken up by the guilds or trades-unions, in
whose hands they lost much of their religious character. Actors were
trained for the stage rather than for the church, and to please the crowds
elements of comedy and buffoonery were introduced, [Footnote: In the
"Shepherd's Play" or "Play of the Nativity," for example, the adoration of
the Magi is interrupted by Mak, who steals a sheep and carries it to his
wife. She hides the carcass in a cradle, and sings a lullaby to it while
the indignant shepherds are searching the house.] until the sacred drama
degenerated into a farce. Here and there, however, a true Miracle survived
and kept its character unspotted even to our own day, as in the famous
Passion Play at Oberammergau.


When and how these plays came to England is unknown. By the year 1300 they
were extremely popular, and continued so until they were replaced by the
Elizabethan drama. Most of the important towns of England had each its own
cycle of plays [Footnote: At present only four good cycles of Miracles are
known to exist; namely, the Chester, York, Townley (or Wakefield) and
Coventry plays. The number of plays varies, from twenty-five in the Chester
to forty-eight in the York cycle.] which were given once a year, the
performance lasting from three to eight days in a prolonged festival. Every
guild responsible for a play had its own stage, which was set on wheels and
drawn about the town to appointed open places, where a crowd was waiting
for it. When it passed on, to repeat the play to a different audience,
another stage took its place. The play of "Creation" would be succeeded by
the "Temptation of Adam and Eve," and so on until the whole cycle of
Miracles from "Creation" to "Doomsday" had been performed. It was the play
not the audience that moved, and in this trundling about of the stage van
we are reminded of Thespis, the alleged founder of Greek tragedy, who went
about with his cart and his play from one festival to another.

[Sidenote: MORALITIES]

Two other dramatic types, the Morality and the Interlude, probably grew out
of the religious drama. In one of the old Miracles we find two characters
named Truth and Righteousness, who are severe in their denunciation of
Adam, while Mercy and Peace plead for his life. Other virtues appear in
other Miracles, then Death and the Seven Deadly Sins, until we have a play
in which all the characters are personified virtues or vices. Such a play
was called a Morality, and it aimed to teach right conduct, as the Miracles
had at first aimed to teach right doctrine.

[Sidenote: INTERLUDES]

The Interlude was at first a crude sketch, a kind of ancient side show,
introduced into the Miracle plays after the latter had been taken up by the
guilds. A boy with a trained pig, a quarrel between husband and wife,--any
farce was welcome so long as it amused the crowd or enlivened the Miracle.
In time, however, the writing of Interludes became a profession; they
improved rapidly in character, were separated from the Miracles, and were
performed at entertainments or "revels" by trade guilds, by choir boys and
by companies of strolling actors or "minstrels." At the close of such
entertainments the minstrels would add a prayer for the king (an
inheritance from the religious drama), and this impressive English custom
still survives in the singing of "God Save the King" at the end of a public

THE SECULAR DRAMA. When the Normans came to England they brought with them
a love of pageants, or spectacles, that was destined to have an important
influence on the drama. These pageants, representing scenes from history or
mythology (such as the bout between Richard and Saladin, or the combat
between St. George and the Dragon), were staged to celebrate feasts, royal
weddings, treaties or any other event that seemed of special importance.
From Norman times they increased steadily in favor until Elizabeth began
her "progresses" through England, when every castle or town must prepare a
play or pageant to entertain the royal visitor.

[Sidenote: THE MASQUE]

From simple pantomime the pageant developed into a masque; that is, a
dramatic entertainment accompanied by poetry and music. Hundreds of such
masques were written and acted before Shakespeare's day; the taste for them
survived long after the Elizabethan drama had decayed; and a few of them,
such as _The Sad Shepherd_ of Ben Jonson and the _Comus_ of
Milton, may still be read with pleasure.


While the nobles were thus occupied with pageants and masques, the common
people were developing a crude drama in which comedy predominated. Such
were the Christmas plays or "mummings," introducing the characters of Merry
Andrew and Old King Cole, which began in England before the Conquest, and
which survived in country places down to our own times. [Footnote: In
Hardy's novel _The Return of the Native_ may be found a description of
these mummings (from "mum," a mask) in the nineteenth century. In Scott's
novel _The Abbot_ we have a glimpse of other mummings, such as were
given to celebrate feast days of the Church.] More widespread than the
mummings were crude spectacles prepared in celebration of secular
holidays,--the May Day plays, for example, which represented the adventures
of Robin Hood and his merry men. To these popular comedies the Church
contributed liberally, though unwillingly; its holy days became holidays to
the crowd, and its solemn fasts were given over to merriment, to the
_festa fatuorum_, or play of fools, in which such characters as Boy
Bishop, Lord of Misrule and various clowns or jesters made a scandalous
caricature of things ecclesiastical. Such plays, prepared largely by clerks
and choir boys, were repeatedly denounced by priest or bishop, but they
increased rapidly from the twelfth to the sixteenth century.


By the latter date England seemed in danger of going spectacle-mad; and we
may understand the symptoms if we remember that the play was then almost
the only form of popular amusement; that it took the place of the modern
newspaper, novel, political election and ball game, all combined. The trade
guilds, having trained actors for the springtime Miracles, continued to
give other plays throughout the year. The servants of a nobleman, having
given a pageant to welcome the queen, went out through the country in
search of money or adventure, and presented the same spectacle wherever
they could find an audience. When the Renaissance came, reviving interest
in the classics, Latin plays were taken up eagerly and presented in
modified form by every important school or university in England. In this
way our first regular comedy, _Ralph Royster Doyster_ (written by
Nicholas Udall, Master of Eton, and acted by his schoolboys _cir_.
1552), was adapted from an old Latin comedy, the _Miles Gloriosus_ of

[Sidenote: BOY ACTORS]

The awakened interest in music had also its influences on the English
drama. The choir boys of a church were frequently called upon to furnish
music at a play, and from this it was but a step to furnish both the play
and the music. So great was the demand to hear these boys that certain
choir masters (those of St. Paul's and the Chapel Royal) obtained the right
to take any poor boy with a good voice and train him, ostensibly for the
service of the Church, but in reality to make a profitable actor out of
him. This dangerous practice was stimulated by the fact that the feminine
parts in all plays had to be taken by boys, the stage being then deemed an
unfit place for a woman. And it certainly was. If a boy "took to his
lines," his services were sold from one company to another, much as the
popular ball player is now sold, but with this difference, that the poor
boy had no voice or profit in the transaction. Some of these lads were
cruelly treated; all were in danger of moral degradation. The abuse was
finally suppressed by Parliament, but not until the choir-boy players were
rivals of the regular companies, in which Shakespeare and Ben Jonson played
their parts.

CLASSICAL AND ENGLISH DRAMA. At the time of Shakespeare's birth two types
of plays were represented in England. The classic drama, modeled upon Greek
or Roman plays, was constructed according to the dramatic "unities," which
Aristotle foreshadowed in his _Treatise on Poetry_. According to this
authority, every play must be concerned with a "single, important and
complete event"; in other words, it must have "unity of action." A second
rule, relating to "unity of time," required that the events represented in
a play must all occur within a single day. A third provided that the action
should take place in the same locality, and this was known as the "unity of
place." [Footnote: The Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca (d. 65 A.D.)
is supposed to have established this rule. The influence of Aristotle on
the "unities" is a matter of dispute.] Other rules of classic drama
required that tragedy and comedy should not occur in the same play, and
that battles, murders and all such violent affairs should never be
represented on the stage but be announced at the proper time by a


The native plays ignored these classic unities. The public demanded
chronicle plays, for example, in which the action must cover years of time,
and jump from court to battlefield in following the hero. Tragedy and
comedy, instead of being separated, were represented as meeting at every
crossroad or entering the church door side by side. So the most solemn
Miracles were scandalized by humorous Interludes, and into the most tragic
of Shakespeare's scenes entered the fool and the jester. A Greek playwright
might object to brutalizing scenes before a cultured audience, but the
crowds who came to an Elizabethan play were of a temper to enjoy a Mohawk
scalp dance. They were accustomed to violent scenes and sensations; they
had witnessed the rack and gibbet in constant operation; they were familiar
with the sight of human heads decorating the posts of London Bridge or
carried about on the pikes of soldiers. After witnessing such horrors free
of cost, they would follow their queen and pay their money to see a chained
bear torn to pieces by ferocious bulldogs. Then they would go to a play,
and throw stones or dead cats at the actors if their tastes were not

To please such crowds no stage action could possibly be too rough; hence
the riotousness of the early theaters, which for safety were placed outside
the city limits; hence also the blood and thunder of Shakespeare's
_Adronicus_ and the atrocities represented in the plays of Kyd and


Following such different ideals, two schools of playwrights appeared in
England. One school, the University Wits, to whom we owe our first real
tragedy, _Gorboduc_, [Footnote: This play, called also _Ferrex and
Porrex_, was written by Sackville and Norton, and played in 1562, only
two years before Shakespeare's birth. It related how Gorboduc divided his
British kingdom between his two sons, who quarreled and threw the whole
country into rebellion--a story much like that used by Shakespeare in
_King Lear_. The violent parts of this first tragedy were not
represented on the stage but were announced by a messenger. At the end of
each act a "chorus" summed up the situation, as in classic tragedy.
_Gorboduc_ differed from all earlier plays in that it was divided into
acts and scenes, and was written in blank verse. It is generally regarded
as the first in time of the Elizabethan dramas. A few comedies divided into
acts and scenes were written before _Gorboduc_, but not in the blank
verse with which we associate an Elizabethan play.] aimed to make the
English drama like that of Greece and Rome. The other, or native, school
aimed at a play which should represent life, or please the crowd, without
regard to any rules ancient or modern. The best Elizabethan drama was a
combination of classic and native elements, with the latter predominating.

SHAKESPEARE'S PREDECESSORS. In a general way, all unknown men who for three
centuries had been producing miracle plays, moralities, interludes, masques
and pageants were Shakespeare's predecessors; but we refer here to a small
group of playwrights who rapidly developed what is now called the
Elizabethan drama. The time was the last quarter of the sixteenth century.

By that time England was as excited over the stage as a modern community
over the "movies." Plays were given on every important occasion by choir
boys, by noblemen's servants, by court players governed by the Master of
Revels, by grammar schools and universities, by trade guilds in every shire
of England. Actors were everywhere in training, and audiences gathered as
to a bull-baiting whenever a new spectacle was presented. Then came the
awakening of the national consciousness, the sense of English pride and
power after the defeat of the Armada, and this new national spirit found
expression in hundreds of chronicle plays representing the past glories of
Britain. [Footnote: Over two hundred chronicle plays, representing almost
every important character in English history, appeared within a few years.
Shakespeare wrote thirteen plays founded on English history, and three on
the history of other countries.]

It was at this "psychological moment," when English patriotism was aroused
and London was as the heart of England, that a group of young
actors--Greene, Lyly, Peele, Dekker, Nash, Kyd, Marlowe, and others of less
degree--seized upon the crude popular drama, enlarged it to meet the needs
of the time, and within a single generation made it such a brilliant
reflection of national thought and feeling as no other age has thus far

MARLOWE. The best of these early playwrights, each of whom contributed some
element of value, was Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), who is sometimes
called the father of the Elizabethan drama. He appeared in London sometime
before 1587, when his first drama _Tamburlaine_ took the city by
storm. The prologue of this drama is at once a criticism and a promise:

  From jigging veins of rhyming mother-wits,
  And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay,
  We'll lead you to the stately tent of war,
  Where you shall hear the Scythian Tamburlaine
  Threatening the world with high-astounding terms,
  And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.

The "jigging" refers to the doggerel verse of the earlier drama, and
"clownage" to the crude horseplay intended to amuse the crowd. For the
doggerel is substituted blank verse, "Marlowe's mighty line" as it has ever
since been called, since he was the first to use it with power; and for the
"clownage" he promises a play of human interest revolving around a man
whose sole ambition is for world power,--such ambition as stirred the
English nation when it called halt to the encroachments of Spain, and
announced that henceforth it must be reckoned with in the councils of the
Continent. Though _Tamburlaine_ is largely rant and bombast, there is
something in it which fascinates us like the sight of a wild bull on a
rampage; for such was Timur, the hero of the first play to which we
confidently give the name Elizabethan. In the latter part of the play the
action grows more intense; there is a sense of tragedy, of impending doom,
in the vain attempt of the hero to oppose fate. He can conquer a world but
not his own griefs; he ends his triumphant career with a pathetic admission
of failure: "And Tamburlaine, the Scourge of God, must die."


The succeeding plays of Marlowe are all built on the same model; that is,
they are one-man plays, and the man is dominated by a passion for power.
_Doctor Faustus_, the most poetical of Marlowe's works, is a play
representing a scholar who hungers for more knowledge, especially the
knowledge of magic. In order to obtain it he makes a bargain with the
devil, selling his soul for twenty-four years of unlimited power and
pleasure. [Footnote: The story is the same as that of Goethe's
_Faust_. It was a favorite story, or rather collection of stories, of
the Middle Ages, and was first printed as the _History of Johann
Faust_ in Frankfort, in 1587. Marlowe's play was written, probably, in
the same year.] _The Jew of Malta_ deals with the lust for such power
as wealth gives, and the hero is the money-lender Barabas, a monster of
avarice and hate, who probably suggested to Shakespeare the character of
Shylock in _The Merchant of Venice_. The last play written by Marlowe
was _Edward II_, which dealt with a man who might have been powerful,
since he was a king, but who furnished a terrible example of weakness and
petty tyranny that ended miserably in a dungeon.

After writing these four plays with their extraordinary promise, Marlowe,
who led a wretched life, was stabbed in a tavern brawl. The splendid work
which he only began (for he died under thirty years of age) was immediately
taken up by the greatest of all dramatists, Shakespeare.

       *       *       *       *       *


    "The name of Shakespeare is the greatest in all literature. No man
    ever came near to him in the creative power of the mind; no man
    ever had such strength and such variety of imagination." (Hallam)

    "Shakespeare's mind is the horizon beyond which, at present, we do
    not see." (Emerson)

    "I do not believe that any book or person or event in my life ever
    made so great an impression on me as the plays of Shakespeare. They
    appear to be the work of some heavenly genius." (Goethe)

Shakespeare's name has become a signal for enthusiasm. The tributes quoted
above are doubtless extravagant, but they were written by men of mark in
three different countries, and they serve to indicate the tremendous
impression which Shakespeare has left upon the world. He wrote in his day
some thirty-seven plays and a few poems; since then as many hundred volumes
have been written in praise of his accomplishment. He died three centuries
ago, without caring enough for his own work to print it. At the present
time unnumbered critics, historians, scholars, are still explaining the
mind and the art displayed in that same neglected work. Most of these
eulogists begin or end their volumes with the remark that Shakespeare is so
great as to be above praise or criticism. As Taine writes, before plunging
into his own analysis, "Lofty words, eulogies are all used in vain;
Shakespeare needs not praise but comprehension merely."

    LIFE. It is probably because so very little is known about
    Shakespeare that so many bulky biographies have been written of
    him. Not a solitary letter of his is known to exist; not a play
    comes down to us as he wrote it. A few documents written by other
    men, and sometimes ending in a sprawling signature by Shakespeare,
    which looks as if made by a hand accustomed to almost any labor
    except that of the pen,--these are all we have to build upon. One
    record, in dribbling Latin, relates to the christening of
    "Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere"; a second, unreliable as a
    village gossip, tells an anecdote of the same person's boyhood; a
    third refers to Shakespeare as "one of his Majesty's poor players";
    a fourth records the burial of the poet's son Hamnet; a fifth
    speaks of "Willi. Shakspere, gentleman"; a sixth is a bit of
    wretched doggerel inscribed on the poet's tombstone; a seventh
    tells us that in 1622, only six years after the poet's death, the
    public had so little regard for his art that the council of his
    native Stratford bribed his old company of players to go away from
    the town without giving a performance.

    It is from such dry and doubtful records that we must construct a
    biography, supplementing the meager facts by liberal use of our

    [Sidenote: EARLY DAYS]

    In the beautiful Warwickshire village of Stratford our poet was
    born, probably in the month of April, in 1564. His mother, Mary
    Arden, was a farmer's daughter; his father was a butcher and small
    tradesman, who at one time held the office of high bailiff of the
    village. There was a small grammar school in Stratford, and
    Shakespeare may have attended it for a few years. When he was about
    fourteen years old his father, who was often in lawsuits, was
    imprisoned for debt, and the boy probably left school and went to
    work. At eighteen he married Anne Hathaway, a peasant's daughter
    eight years older than himself; at twenty-three, with his father
    still in debt and his own family of three children to provide for,
    Shakespeare took the footpath that led to the world beyond his
    native village. [Footnote: Such is the prevalent opinion of
    Shakespeare's early days; but we are dealing here with surmises,
    not with established facts. There are scholars who allege that
    Shakespeare's poverty is a myth; that his father was prosperous to
    the end of his days; that he probably took the full course in Latin
    and Greek at the Stratford school. Almost everything connected with
    the poet's youth is still a matter of dispute.]

    [Sidenote: IN LONDON]

    From Stratford he went to London, from solitude to crowds, from
    beautiful rural scenes to dirty streets, from natural country
    people to seekers after the bubble of fame or fortune. Why he went
    is largely a matter of speculation. That he was looking for work;
    that he followed a company of actors, as a boy follows a circus;
    that he was driven out of Stratford after poaching on the game
    preserves of Sir Thomas Lucy, whom he ridiculed in the plays of
    _Henry VI_ and _Merry Wives_,--these and other theories
    are still debated. The most probable explanation of his departure
    is that the stage lured him away, as the printing press called the
    young Franklin from whatever else he undertook; for he seems to
    have headed straight for the theater, and to have found his place
    not by chance or calculation but by unerring instinct. England was
    then, as we have noted, in danger of going stage mad, and
    Shakespeare appeared to put method into the madness.


    Beginning, undoubtedly, as an actor of small parts, he soon learned
    the tricks of the stage and the humors of his audience. His first
    dramatic work was to revise old plays, giving them some new twist
    or setting to please the fickle public. Then he worked with other
    playwrights, with Lyly and Peele perhaps, and the horrors of his
    _Titus Andronicus_ are sufficient evidence of his
    collaboration with Marlowe. Finally he walked alone, having learned
    his steps, and _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Midsummer Nights
    Dream_ announced that a great poet and dramatist had suddenly
    appeared in England.


    [Sidenote: PERIOD OF GLOOM]

    This experimental period of Shakespeare's life in London was
    apparently a time of health, of joyousness, of enthusiasm which
    comes with the successful use of one's powers. It was followed by a
    period of gloom and sorrow, to which something of bitterness was
    added. What occasioned the change is again a matter of speculation.
    The first conjecture is that Shakespeare was a man to whom the low
    ideals of the Elizabethan stage were intolerable, and this opinion
    is strengthened after reading certain of Shakespeare's sonnets,
    which reflect a loathing for the theaters and the mannerless crowds
    that filled them. Another conjectural cause of his gloom was the
    fate of certain noblemen with whom he was apparently on terms of
    friendship, to whom he dedicated his poems, and from whom he
    received substantial gifts of money. Of these powerful friends, the
    Earl of Essex was beheaded for treason, Pembroke was banished, and
    Southampton had gone to that grave of so many high hopes, the Tower
    of London. Shakespeare may have shared the sorrow of these men, as
    once he had shared their joy, and there are critics who assume that
    he was personally implicated in the crazy attempt of Essex at

    Whatever the cause of his grief, Shakespeare shows in his works
    that he no longer looks on the world with the clear eyes of youth.
    The great tragedies of this period, _Lear_, _Macbeth_,
    _Hamlet_, _Othello_ and _Cæsar_, all portray man not
    as a being of purpose and high destiny, but as the sport of chance,
    the helpless victim who cries out, as in _Henry IV_, for a
    sight of the Book of Fate, wherein is shown

                           how chances mock,
      And changes fill the cup of alteration
      With divers liquors! O, if this were seen,
      The happiest youth, viewing his progress through,
      What perils past, what crosses to ensue,
      Would shut the book, and sit him down and die.


    For such a terrible mood London offered no remedy. For a time
    Shakespeare seems to have gloried in the city; then he wearied of
    it, grew disgusted with the stage, and finally, after some
    twenty-four years (_cir_. 1587-1611), sold his interest in the
    theaters, shook the dust of London from his feet, and followed his
    heart back to Stratford. There he adopted the ways of a country
    gentleman, and there peace and serenity returned to him. He wrote
    comparatively little after his retirement; but the few plays of
    this last period, such as _Cymbeline_, _Winter's Tale_
    and _The Tempest_, are the mellowest of all his works.


    After a brief period of leisure, Shakespeare died at his prime in
    1616, and was buried in the parish church of Stratford. Of his
    great works, now the admiration of the world, he thought so little
    that he never collected or printed them. From these works many
    attempts are made to determine the poet's character, beliefs,
    philosophy,--a difficult matter, since the works portray many types
    of character and philosophy equally well. The testimony of a few
    contemporaries is more to the point, and from these we hear that
    our poet was "very good company," "of such civil demeanor," "of
    such happy industry," "of such excellent fancy and brave notions,"
    that he won in a somewhat brutal age the characteristic title of
    "the gentle Shakespeare."

THE DRAMAS OF SHAKESPEARE. In Shakespeare's day playwrights were producing
various types of drama: the chronicle play, representing the glories of
English history; the domestic drama, portraying homely scenes and common
people; the court comedy (called also Lylian comedy, after the dramatist
who developed it), abounding in wit and repartee for the delight of the
upper classes; the melodrama, made up of sensational elements thrown
together without much plot; the tragedy of blood, centering in one
character who struggles amidst woes and horrors; romantic comedy and
romantic tragedy, in which men and women were more or less idealized, and
in which the elements of love, poetry, romance, youthful imagination and
enthusiasm predominated.


It is interesting to note that Shakespeare essayed all these types--the
chronicle play in _Henry IV_, the domestic drama in _Merry
Wives_, the court comedy in _Loves Labor's Lost_, the melodrama in
_Richard III_, the tragedy of blood in _King Lear_, romantic
tragedy in _Romeo and Juliet_, romantic comedy in _As You Like
It_--and that in each he showed such a mastery as to raise him far above
all his contemporaries.

[Sidenote: EARLY DRAMAS]

In his experimental period of work (_cir_. 1590-1595) Shakespeare
began by revising old plays in conjunction with other actors. _Henry
VI_ is supposed to be an example of such tinkering work. The first part
of this play (performed by Shakespeare's company in 1592) was in all
probability an older work made over by Shakespeare and some unknown
dramatist. From the fact that Joan of Arc appears in the play in two
entirely different characters, and is even made to do battle at Rouen
several years after her death, it is almost certain that _Henry VI_ in
its present form was composed at different times and by different authors.


_Love's Labor's Lost_ is an example of the poet's first independent
work. In this play such characters as Holofernes the schoolmaster, Costard
the clown and Adriano the fantastic Spaniard are all plainly of the "stock"
variety; various rimes and meters are used experimentally; blank verse is
not mastered; and some of the songs, such as "On a Day," are more or less
artificial. Other plays of this early experimental period are _Two
Gentlemen of Verona_ and _Richard III_, the latter of which shows
the influence and, possibly, the collaboration of Marlowe.


In the second period (_cir_. 1595-1600) Shakespeare constructed his
plots with better skill, showed a greater mastery of blank verse, created
some original characters, and especially did he give free rein to his
romantic imagination. All doubt and experiment vanished in the confident
enthusiasm of this period, as if Shakespeare felt within himself the coming
of the sunrise in _Romeo and Juliet_:

  Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
  Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

Though some of his later plays are more carefully finished, in none of them
are we so completely under the sway of poetry and romance as in these early
works, written when Shakespeare first felt the thrill of mastery in his

In _Midsummer Nights Dream_, for example, the practical affairs of
life seem to smother its poetic dreams; but note how the dream abides with
us after the play is over. The spell of the enchanted forest is broken when
the crowd invades its solitude; the witchery of moonlight fades into the
light of common day; and then comes Theseus with his dogs to drive not the
foxes but the fairies out of the landscape. As Chesterton points out, this
masterful man, who has seen no fairies, proceeds to arrange matters in a
practical way, with a wedding, a feast and a pantomime, as if these were
the chief things of life. So, he thinks, the drama is ended; but after he
and his noisy followers have departed to slumber, lo! enter once more Puck,
Oberon, Titania and the whole train of fairies, to repeople the ancient
world and dance to the music of Mendelssohn:

  Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
  While we sing, and bless this place.

So in _The Merchant of Venice_ with its tragic figure of Shylock, who
is hurried off the stage to make place for a final scene of love, moonlight
and music; so in every other play of this period, the poetic dream of life
triumphs over its practical realities.

[Sidenote: THIRD PERIOD]

During the third period, of maturity of power (_cir._ 1600-1610),
Shakespeare was overshadowed by some personal grief or disappointment. He
wrote his "farewell to mirth" in _Twelfth Night_, and seems to have
reflected his own perturbed state in the lines which he attributes to
Achilles in _Troilus and Cressida_:

  My mind is troubled, like a fountain stirr'd,
  And I myself see not the bottom of it.

His great tragedies belong to this period, tragedies which reveal increased
dramatic power in Shakespeare, but also his loss of hope, his horrible
conviction that man is not a free being but a puppet blown about by every
wind of fate or circumstance. In _Hamlet_ great purposes wait upon a
feeble will, and the strongest purpose may be either wrecked or consummated
by a trifle. The whole conception of humanity in this play suggests a
clock, of which, if but one small wheel is touched, all the rest are thrown
into confusion. In _Macbeth_ a man of courage and vaulting ambition
turns coward or traitor at the appearance of a ghost, at the gibber of
witches, at the whisper of conscience, at the taunts of his wife. In
_King Lear_ a monarch of high disposition drags himself and others
down to destruction, not at the stern command of fate, but at the mere
suggestion of foolishness. In _Othello_ love, faith, duty, the
fidelity of a brave man, the loyalty of a pure woman,--all are blasted,
wrecked, dishonored by a mere breath of suspicion blown by a villain.

[Sidenote: LAST DRAMAS]

In his final period, of leisurely experiment (_cir._ 1610-1616),
Shakespeare seems to have recovered in Stratford the cheerfulness that he
had lost in London. He did little work during this period, but that little
is of rare charm and sweetness. He no longer portrayed human life as a
comedy of errors or a tragedy of weakness but as a glowing romance, as if
the mellow autumn of his own life had tinged all the world with its own
golden hues. With the exception of _As You Like It_ (written in the
second period), in which brotherhood is pictured as the end of life, and
love as its unfailing guide, it is doubtful if any of the earlier plays
leaves such a wholesome impression as _The Winter's Tale_ or _The
Tempest_, which were probably the last of the poet's works.

Following is a list of Shakespeare's thirty-four plays (or thirty-seven,
counting the different parts of _Henry IV_ and _Henry VI_)
arranged according to the periods in which they were probably written. The
dates are approximate, not exact, and the chronological order is open to

FIRST PERIOD, EARLY EXPERIMENT (1590-1595). _Titus Andronicus_,
_Henry VI_, _Love's Labor's Lost_, _Comedy of Errors_,
_Two Gentlemen of Verona_, _Richard III_, _Richard II_,
_King John._

SECOND PERIOD, DEVELOPMENT (1595-1600). _Romeo and Juliet_,
_Midsummer Night's Dream_, _Merchant of Venice_, _Henry IV_,
_Henry V_, _Merry Wives of Windsor_, _Much Ado About
Nothing_, _As You Like It._

THIRD PERIOD, MATURITY AND TROUBLE (1600-1610). _Twelfth Night_,
_Taming of the Shrew_, _Julius Caesar_, _Hamlet_, _Troilus
and Cressida_, _All's Well that Ends Well_, _Measure for
Measure_, _Othello_, _King Lear_, _Macbeth_, _Antony
and Cleopatra_, _Timon of Athens._

FOURTH PERIOD, LATER EXPERIMENT (1610-1616). _Coriolanus_,
_Pericles_, _Cymbeline_, _The Winter's Tale_, _The
Tempest_, _Henry VIII_ (left unfinished, completed probably by


The most convenient arrangement of these plays appears in the First Folio
(1623) [Footnote: This was the first edition of Shakespeare's plays. It was
prepared seven years after the poet's death by two of his fellow actors,
Heminge and Condell. It contained all the plays now attributed to
Shakespeare with the exception of _Pericles_.] where they are grouped
in three classes called tragedies, comedies and historical plays. The
tragedy is a drama in which the characters are the victims of unhappy
passions, or are involved in desperate circumstances. The style is grave
and dignified, the movement stately; the ending is disastrous to
individuals, but illustrates the triumph of a moral principle. These rules
of true tragedy are repeatedly set aside by Shakespeare, who introduces
elements of buffoonery, and who contrives an ending that may stand for the
triumph of a principle but that is quite likely to be the result of
accident or madness. His best tragedies are _Macbeth_, _Romeo and
Juliet_, _Hamlet_, _King Lear_ and _Othello_.

Comedy is a type of drama in which the elements of fun and humor
predominate. The style is gay; the action abounds in unexpected incidents;
the ending brings ridicule or punishment to the villains in the plot, and
satisfaction to all worthy characters. Among the best of Shakespeare's
comedies, in which he is apt to introduce serious or tragic elements, are
_As You Like It_, _Merchant of Venice_, _Midsummer Night's
Dream_, _The Winter's Tale_, and _The Tempest_.


Strictly speaking there are only two dramatic types, all others, such as
farce, melodrama, tragi-comedy, lyric drama, or opera, and chronicle play,
being modifications of comedy or tragedy. The historical play, to which
Elizabethans were devoted, aimed to present great scenes or characters from
a past age, and were generally made up of both tragic and comic elements.
The best of Shakespeare's historical plays are _Julius Cæsar_,
_Henry IV_, _Henry V_, _Richard III_ and _Coriolanus_.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

There is no better way to feel the power of Shakespeare than to read in
succession three different types of plays, such as the comedy of _As You
Like It_, the tragedy of _Macbeth_ and the historical play of
_Julius Cæsar_. Another excellent trio is _The Merchant of
Venice_, _Romeo and Juliet_ and _Henry IV_; and the reading of
these typical plays might well be concluded with _The Tempest_, which
was probably Shakespeare's last word to his Elizabethan audience.

THE QUALITY OF SHAKESPEARE. As the thousand details of a Gothic cathedral
receive character and meaning from its towering spire, so all the works of
Shakespeare are dominated by his imagination. That imagination of his was
both sympathetic and creative. It was sympathetic in that it understood
without conscious effort all kinds of men, from clowns to kings, and all
human emotions that lie between the extremes of joy and sorrow; it was
creative in that, from any given emotion or motive, it could form a human
character who should be completely governed by that motive. Ambition in
Macbeth, pride in Coriolanus, wit in Mercutio, broad humor in Falstaff,
indecision in Hamlet, pure fancy in Ariel, brutality in Richard, a
passionate love in Juliet, a merry love in Rosalind, an ideal love in
Perdita,--such characters reveal Shakespeare's power to create living men
and women from a single motive or emotion.

Or take a single play, _Othello_, and disregarding all minor
characters, fix attention on the pure devotion of Desdemona, the jealousy
of Othello, the villainy of Iago. The genius that in a single hour can make
us understand these contrasting characters as if we had met them in the
flesh, and make our hearts ache as we enter into their joy, their anguish,
their dishonor, is beyond all ordinary standards of measurement. And
_Othello_ must be multiplied many times before we reach the limit of
Shakespeare's creative imagination. He is like the genii of the _Arabian
Nights_, who produce new marvels while we wonder at the old.

Such an overpowering imagination must have created wildly, fancifully, had
it not been guided by other qualities: by an observation almost as keen as
that of Chaucer, and by the saving grace of humor. We need only mention the
latter qualities, for if the reader will examine any great play of
Shakespeare, he will surely find them in evidence: the observation keeping
the characters of the poet's imagination true to the world of men and
women, and the humor preventing some scene of terror or despair from
overwhelming us by its terrible reality.

[Sidenote: HIS FAULTS]

In view of these and other qualities it has become almost a fashion to
speak of the "perfection" of Shakespeare's art; but in truth no word could
be more out of place in such a connection. As Ben Jonson wrote in his

    "I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to
    Shakespeare that in his writing, whatever he penned, he never
    blotted out a line. My answer hath been, 'Would he had blotted a

Even in his best work Shakespeare has more faults than any other poet of
England. He is in turn careless, extravagant, profuse, tedious,
sensational; his wit grows stale or coarse; his patriotism turns to
bombast; he mars even such pathetic scenes as the burial of Ophelia by
buffoonery and brawling; and all to please a public that was given to

These certainly are imperfections; yet the astonishing thing is that they
pass almost unnoticed in Shakespeare. He reflected his age, the evil and
the good of it, just as it appeared to him; and the splendor of his
representation is such that even his faults have their proper place, like
shadows in a sunlit landscape.

[Sidenote: HIS VIEW OF LIFE]

Of Shakespeare's philosophy we may say that it reflected equally well the
views of his hearers and of the hundred characters whom he created for
their pleasure. Of his personal views it is impossible to say more than
this, with truth: that he seems to have been in full sympathy with the
older writers whose stories he used as the sources of his drama. [Footnote:
The chief sources of Shakespeare's plays are: (1) Older plays, from which
he made half of his dramas, such as _Richard III_, _Hamlet_,
_King John_. (2) Holinshed's _Chronicles_, from which he obtained
material for his English historical plays. (3) Plutarch's _Lives_,
translated by North, which furnished him material for _Caesar_,
_Coriolanus_, _Antony and Cleopatra_. (4) French, Italian and
Spanish romances, in translations, from which he obtained the stories of
_The Merchant of Venice_, _Othello_, _Twelfth Night_ and
_As You Like It_.] Now these stories commonly reflected three things
besides the main narrative: a problem, its solution, and the consequent
moral or lesson. The problem was a form of evil; its solution depended on
goodness in some form; the moral was that goodness triumphs finally and
inevitably over evil.

Many such stories were cherished by the Elizabethans, the old tale of
"Gammelyn" for example (from which came _As You Like It_); and just as
in our own day popular novels are dramatized, so three centuries ago
audiences demanded to see familiar stories in vigorous action. That is why
Shakespeare held to the old tales, and pleased his audience, instead of
inventing new plots. But however much he changed the characters or the
action of the story, he remained always true to the old moral:

  That goodness is the rule of life,
  And its glory and its triumph.

Shakespeare's women are his finest characters, and he often portrays the
love of a noble woman as triumphing over the sin or weakness of men. He has
little regard for abnormal or degenerate types, such as appear in the later
Elizabethan drama; he prefers vigorous men and pure women, precisely as the
old story-tellers did; and if Richard or some other villain overruns his
stage for an hour, such men are finally overwhelmed by the very evil which
they had planned for others. If they drag the innocent down to a common
destruction, these pure characters never seem to us to perish; they live
forever in our thought as the true emblems of humanity.


It was Charles Lamb who referred to a copy of Shakespeare's plays as "this
manly book." The expression is a good one, and epitomizes the judgment of a
world which has found that, though Shakespeare introduces evil or vulgar
elements into his plays, his emphasis is always upon the right man and the
right action. This may seem a trite thing to say in praise of a great
genius; but when you reflect that Shakespeare is read throughout the
civilized world, the simple fact that the splendor of his poetry is
balanced by the rightness of his message becomes significant and
impressive. It speaks not only for Shakespeare but for the moral quality of
the multitudes who acknowledge his mastery. Wherever his plays are read, on
land or sea, in the crowded cities of men or the far silent places of the
earth, there the solitary man finds himself face to face with the
unchanging ideals of his race, with honor, duty, courtesy, and the moral

  This above all: to thine own self be true,
  And it must follow, as the night the day,
  Thou canst not then be false to any man.

       *       *       *       *       *


The drama began to decline during Shakespeare's lifetime. Even before his
retirement to Stratford other popular dramatists appeared who catered to a
vulgar taste by introducing more sensational elements into the stage
spectacle. In consequence the drama degenerated so rapidly that in 1642,
only twenty-six years after the master dramatist had passed away,
Parliament closed the theaters as evil and degrading places. This closing
is charged to the zeal of the Puritans, who were rapidly rising into power,
and the charge is probably well founded. So also was the Puritan zeal. One
who was compelled to read the plays of the period, to say nothing of
witnessing them, must thank these stern old Roundheads for their insistence
on public decency and morality. In the drama of all ages there seems to be
a terrible fatality which turns the stage first to levity, then to
wickedness, and which sooner or later calls for reformation.

[Illustration: FRANCIS BEAUMONT]

Among those who played their parts in the rise and fall of the drama, the
chief names are Jonson, Beaumont, Fletcher, Middleton, Webster, Heywood,
Dekker, Massinger, Ford and Shirley. Concerning the work of these
dramatists there is wide diversity of opinion. Lamb regards them, Beaumont
and Fletcher especially, as "an inferior sort of Sidneys and Shakespeares."
Landor writes of them poetically:

                              They stood around
  The throne of Shakespeare, sturdy but unclean.

Lowell finds some small things to praise in a large collection of their
plays. Hazlitt regards them as "a race of giants, a common and noble brood,
of whom Shakespeare was simply the tallest." Dyce, who had an extraordinary
knowledge of all these dramatists, regards such praise as absurd, saying
that "Shakespeare is not only immeasurably superior to the dramatists of
his time, but is utterly unlike them in almost every respect."

[Illustration: JOHN FLETCHER
From the engraving by Philip Oudinet published 1811]

We shall not attempt to decide where such doctors disagree. It may not be
amiss, however, to record this personal opinion: that these playwrights
added little to the drama and still less to literature, and that it is
hardly worth while to search out their good passages amid a welter of
repulsive details. If they are to be read at all, the student will find
enough of their work for comparison with the Shakespearean drama in a book
of selections, such as Lamb's _Specimens of English Dramatic Poetry_
or Thayer's _The Best Elizabethan Plays_.

BEN JONSON (1573?-1637). The greatest figure among these dramatists was
Jonson,--"O rare Ben Jonson" as his epitaph describes him, "O rough Ben
Jonson" as he was known to the playwrights with whom he waged literary
warfare. His first notable play, _Every Man in His Humour_, satirizing
the fads or humors of London, was acted by Shakespeare's company, and
Shakespeare played one of the parts. Then Jonson fell out with his fellow
actors, and wrote _The Poetaster_ (acted by a rival company) to
ridicule them and their work. Shakespeare was silent, but the cudgels were
taken up by Marston and Dekker, the latter of whom wrote, among other and
better plays, _Satiromastix_, which was played by Shakespeare's
company as a counter attack on Jonson.

[Illustration: BEN JONSON]

The value of Jonson's plays is that they give us vivid pictures of
Elizabethan society, its speech, fashions, amusements, such as no other
dramatist has drawn. Shakespeare pictures men and women as they might be in
any age; but Jonson is content to picture the men and women of London as
they appeared superficially in the year 1600. His chief comedies, which
satirize the shams of his age, are: _Volpone, or the Fox_, a merciless
exposure of greed and avarice; _The Alchemist_, a study of quackery as
it was practiced in Elizabethan days; _Bartholomew Fair_, a riot of
folly; and _Epicoene, or the Silent Woman_, which would now be called
a roaring farce. His chief tragedies are _Sejanus_ and

In later life Jonson was appointed poet laureate, and wrote many masques,
such as the _Masque of Beauty_ and the unfinished _Sad Shepherd_.
These and a few lyrics, such as the "Triumph of Charis" and the song
beginning, "Drink to me only with thine eyes," are the pleasantest of
Jonson's works. At the end he abandoned the drama, as Shakespeare had done,
and lashed it as severely as any Puritan in the ode beginning, "Come leave
the loathëd stage."

       *       *       *       *       *


Unless one have antiquarian tastes, there is little in Elizabethan prose to
reward the reader. Strange to say, the most tedious part of it was written
by literary men in what was supposed to be a very fine style; while the
small part that still attracts us (such as Bacon's _Essays_ or
Hakluyt's _Voyages_) was mostly written by practical men with no
thought for literary effect.

This curious result came about in the following way. In the sixteenth
century poetry was old, but English prose was new; for in the two centuries
that had elapsed since Mandeville wrote his _Travels_, Malory's
_Morte d' Arthur_ (1475) and Ascham's _Scholemaster_ (1563) are
about the only two books that can be said to have a prose style. Then, just
as the Elizabethans were turning to literature, John Lyly appeared with his
_Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit_ (1578), an alleged novel made up of
rambling conversations upon love, education, fashion,--everything that came
into the author's head. The style was involved, artificial, tortured; it
was loaded with conceits, antitheses and decorations:

    "I perceive, Camilla, that be your cloth never so bad it will take
    some colour, and your cause never so false it will bear some show
    of probability; wherein you manifest the right nature of a woman,
    who, having no way to win, thinketh to overcome with words.... Take
    heed, Camilla, that seeking all the wood for a straight stick you
    choose not at the last a crooked staff, or prescribing a good
    counsel to others thou thyself follow the worst much like to Chius,
    who selling the best wine to others drank himself of the lees."


This "high fantastical" style, ever since called euphuistic, created a
sensation. The age was given over to extravagance and the artificial
elegance of _Euphues_ seemed to match the other fashions. Just as
Elizabethan men and women began to wear grotesque ruffs about their necks
as soon as they learned the art of starching from the Dutch, so now they
began to decorate their writing with the conceits of Lyly. [Footnote: Lyly
did not invent the fashion; he carried to an extreme a tendency towards
artificial writing which was prevalent in England and on the Continent. As
is often the case, it was the extreme of fashion that became fashionable.]
Only a year after _Euphues_ appeared, Spenser published _The
Shepherd's Calendar_, and his prose notes show how quickly the style,
like a bad habit, had taken possession of the literary world. Shakespeare
ridicules the fashion in the character of Holofernes, in _Love's Labor's
Lost_, yet he follows it as slavishly as the rest. He could write good
prose when he would, as is shown by a part of Hamlet's speech; but as a
rule he makes his characters speak as if the art of prose were like walking
a tight rope, which must be done with a balancing pole and some
contortions. The scholars who produced the translation of the Scriptures
known as the Authorized Version could certainly write well; yet if you
examine their Dedication, in which, uninfluenced by the noble sincerity of
the Bible's style, they were free to follow the fashion, you may find there
the two faults of Elizabethan prose; namely, the habit of servile flattery
and the sham of euphuism.

Among prose writers of the period the name that appears most frequently is
that of Philip Sidney (1554-1586). He wrote one of our first critical
essays, _An Apologie for Poetrie_ (cir. 1581), the spirit of which may
be judged from the following:

    "Nowe therein of all sciences ... is our poet the monarch. For he
    dooth not only show the way but giveth so sweete a prospect into
    the way as will intice any man to enter into it. Nay, he dooth, as
    if your journey should be through a faire vineyard, at the first
    give you a  cluster of grapes, that, full of that taste, you may
    long to passe further. He beginneth not with obscure definitions,
    which must blur the margent with interpretations, and load the
    memory with doubtfulnesse; but hee cometh to you with words set in
    delightfull proportion, either accompanied with or prepared for the
    well enchaunting skill of musicke; and with a tale, forsooth, he
    cometh unto you,--with a tale which holdeth children from play and
    old men from the chimney corner."

[Illustration: SIR PHILIP SIDNEY]

Sidney wrote also the pastoral romance _Arcadia_ which was famous in
its day, and in which the curious reader may find an occasional good
passage, such as the prayer to a heathen god, "O All-seeing Light,"--a
prayer that became historic and deeply pathetic when King Charles repeated
it, facing death on the scaffold. That was in 1649, more than half a
century after _Arcadia_ was written:

    "O all-seeing Light, and eternal Life of all things, to whom
    nothing is either so great that it may resist or so small that it
    is contemned, look upon my miserie with thine eye of mercie, and
    let thine infinite power vouchsafe to limite out some proportion of
    deliverance unto me, as to thee shall seem most convenient. Let not
    injurie, O Lord, triumphe over me, and let my faults by thy hands
    be corrected, and make not mine unjuste enemie the minister of thy
    justice. But yet, my God, if in thy wisdome this be the aptest
    chastisement for my inexcusable follie; if this low bondage be
    fittest for my over-hie desires; if the pride of my not-inough
    humble hearte be thus to be broken, O Lord, I yeeld unto thy will,
    and joyfully embrace what sorrow thou wilt have me suffer."


The finest example of the prose of the period is the King James or
Authorized Version of the Bible, which appeared in 1611. This translation
was so much influenced by the earlier work of Wyclif, Tyndale, and many
others, that its style cannot properly be called Elizabethan or Jacobean;
it is rather an epitome of English at its best in the two centuries between
Chaucer and Shakespeare. The forty-seven scholars who prepared this
translation aimed at a faithful rendering of the Book which, aside from its
spiritual teaching, contains some of the noblest examples of style in the
whole range of human literature: the elemental simplicity of the Books of
Moses, the glowing poetry of Job and the Psalms, the sublime imagery of
Isaiah, the exquisite tenderness of the Parables, the forged and tempered
argument of the Epistles, the gorgeous coloring of the Apocalypse. All
these elements entered in some degree into the translation of 1611, and the
result was a work of such beauty, strength and simplicity that it remained
a standard of English prose for more than three centuries. It has not only
been a model for our best writers; it has pervaded all the minor literature
of the nation, and profoundly influenced the thought and the expression of
the whole English-speaking world.

       *       *       *       *       *

FRANCIS BACON (1561-1626)

"My name and memory I leave to foreign nations, and to mine own country
_after some time is passed over_," said Bacon in his will. That
reference to the future meant, not that England might learn to forget and
forgive (for Bacon was not greatly troubled by his disgrace), but that she
might learn to appreciate his _Instauratio Magna_. In the same
document the philosopher left magnificent bequests for various purposes,
but when these were claimed by the beneficiaries it was learned that the
debts of the estate were three times the assets. This high-sounding will is
an epitome of Bacon's life and work.

    LIFE. Bacon belongs with Sidney and Raleigh in that group of
    Elizabethans who aimed to be men of affairs, politicians,
    reformers, explorers, rather than writers of prose or poetry. He
    was of noble birth, and from an early age was attached to
    Elizabeth's court. There he expected rapid advancement, but the
    queen and his uncle (Lord Burghley) were both a little suspicious
    of the young man who, as he said, had "taken all knowledge for his

    Failing to advance by favor, Bacon studied law and entered
    Parliament, where he rose rapidly to leadership. Ben Jonson writes
    of him, in that not very reliable collection of opinions called

        "There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full
        of gravity in his speaking.... No man ever spake more
        neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less
        emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered.... The fear
        of every man that heard him was lest he should make an

    [Illustration: FRANCIS BACON]

    [Sidenote: HIS TRIUMPH]

    When Elizabeth died, Bacon saw his way open. He offered his
    services to the royal favorite, Buckingham, and was soon in the
    good graces of King James. He was made Baron Verulam and Viscount
    St. Albans; he married a rich wife; he rose rapidly from one
    political honor to another, until at sixty he was Lord High
    Chancellor of England. So his threefold ambition for position,
    wealth and power was realized. It was while he held the highest
    state office that he published his _Novum Organum_, which
    established his reputation as "the first philosopher in Europe."
    That was in 1620, the year when a handful of Pilgrims sailed away
    unnoticed on one of the world's momentous voyages.

    [Sidenote: HIS DISGRACE]

    After four years of power Bacon, who had been engaged with
    Buckingham in selling monopolies, and in other schemes to be rich
    at the public expense, was brought to task by Parliament. He was
    accused of receiving bribes, confessed his guilt (it is said to
    shield the king and Buckingham, who had shared the booty), was
    fined, imprisoned, banished from court, and forbidden to hold
    public office again. All these punishments except the last were
    remitted by King James, to whom Bacon had been a useful tool. His
    last few years were spent in scientific study at Gorhambury, where
    he lived proudly, keeping up the appearance of his former grandeur,
    until his death in 1626.

    Such a sketch seems a cold thing, but there is little of divine
    fire or human warmth in Bacon to kindle one's enthusiasm. His
    obituary might well be the final word of his essay "Of Wisdom for a
    Man's Self":

        "Whereas they have all their time sacrificed to themselves,
        they become in the end sacrifices to the inconstancy of
        fortune, whose wings they thought by their self-wisdom to
        have pinioned."

    Ben Jonson had a different and, possibly, a more just opinion. In
    the work from which we have quoted he says:

        "My conceit of his person was never increased towards him
        by his place or honours; but I have and do reverence him
        for his greatness that was only proper to himself, in that
        he seemed to me ever by his work one of the greatest men,
        and most worthy of admiration, that had been in many ages.
        In his adversity I ever prayed that God would give him
        strength; for greatness he could not want."

WORKS OF BACON. The _Essays_ of Bacon are so highly esteemed that the
critic Hallam declares it would be "derogatory to a man of the slightest
claim to polite letters" to be unacquainted with them. His first venture
was a tiny volume called _Essays, Religious Meditations, Places of
Persuasion and Dissuasion_ (1597). This was modeled upon a French work
by Montaigne (_Essais_, 1580) and was considered of small consequence
by the author. As time went on, and his ambitious works were overlooked in
favor of his sketches, he paid more attention to the latter, revising and
enlarging his work until the final edition of fifty-eight essays appeared
in 1625. Then it was that Bacon wrote, "I do now publish my Essays, which
of all my works have been most current; for that, as it seems, they come
home to men's business and bosoms."


The spirit of these works may be judged by the essay "Of Friendship." This
promises well, for near the beginning we read, "A crowd is not company, and
faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talking is but a tinkling cymbal
where there is no love." Excellent! As we read on, however, we find nothing
of the love that beareth all things for a friend's sake. We are not even
encouraged to be friendly, but rather to cultivate the friendship of other
men for the following advantages: that a friend is useful in saving us from
solitude; that he may increase our joy or diminish our trouble; that he
gives us good counsel; that he can finish our work or take care of our
children, if need be; and finally, that he can spare our modesty while
trumpeting our virtues:

    "How many things are there which a man cannot, with any face or
    comeliness, say or do himself! A man can scarce allege his own
    merits with modesty, much less extol them; a man cannot sometimes
    brook to supplicate or beg; and a number of the like. But all these
    things are graceful in a friend's mouth, which are blushing in a
    man's own."

In old Arabic manuscripts one frequently finds a record having the
appearance of truth; but at the very end, in parenthesis, one reads, "This
is all a lie," or "This was my thought when I was sick," or some other
enlightening climax. Bacon's essay "Of Friendship" might be more in accord
with the verities if it had a final note to the effect that the man who
cultivates friendship in the Baconian way will never have or deserve a
friend in the world.

So with many other Baconian essays: with "Love" for example, in which we
are told that it is impossible for a man to love and be wise; or with
"Negotiations," which informs us that, unless a man intends to use his
letter to justify himself (lo! the politician), it is better to deal by
speech than by writing; for a man can "disavow or expound" his speech, but
his written word may be used against him.


To some men, to most men, life offers a problem to be solved by standards
that are eternally right; to others life is a game, the object is to win,
and the rules may be manipulated to one's own advantage. Bacon's moral
philosophy was that of the gamester; his leading motive was self-interest;
so when he wrote of love or friendship or any other noble sentiment he was
dealing with matters of which he had no knowledge. The best he could offer
was a "counsel of prudence," and many will sympathize with John Wesley, who
declared that worldly prudence is a quality from which an honest man should
pray God to be delivered.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

It is only when Bacon deals with practical matters, leaving the high places
of life, where he is a stranger, to write of "Discourse" or "Gardens" or
"Seeming Wise" that his essays begin to strike home by their vigor and
vitality. Though seldom profound or sympathetic, they are notable for their
keen observation and shrewd judgment of the ambitious world in which the
author himself lived. Among those that are best worth reading are
"Studies," "Wisdom for a Man's Self," "Riches," "Great Place," "Atheism,"
and "Travel."

The style of these essays is in refreshing contrast to most Elizabethan
prose, to the sonorous periods of Hooker, to the ramblings of Sidney, to
the conceits of Lyly and Shakespeare. The sentences are mostly short,
clear, simple; and so much meaning is crystallized in them that they
overshadow even the "Poor Richard" maxims of Franklin, the man who had a
genius for packing worldly wisdom into a convenient nutshell.


Other works of Bacon are seldom read, and may be passed over lightly. We
mention only, as indicative of his wide range, his _History of Henry
VII_, his Utopian romance _The New Atlantis_, his Advancement of
Learning and his _Novum Organum_. The last two works, one in English,
the other in Latin, were parts of the _Instauratio Magna_, or _The
Great Institution of True Philosophy_, a colossal work which Bacon did
not finish, which he never even outlined very clearly.

The aim of the _Instauratio_ was, first, to sweep away ancient
philosophy and the classic education of the universities; and second, to
substitute a scheme of scientific study to the end of discovering and
utilizing the powers of nature. It gave Bacon his reputation (in Germany
especially) of a great philosopher and scientist, and it is true that his
vision of vast discoveries has influenced the thought of the world; but to
read any part of his great work is to meet a mind that seems ingenious
rather than philosophical, and fanciful rather than scientific. He had what
his learned contemporary Peter Heylyn termed "a chymical brain," a brain
that was forever busy with new theories; and the leading theory was that
some lucky man would discover a key or philosopher's stone or magic
_sesame_ that must straightway unlock all the secrets of nature.

Meanwhile the real scientists of his age were discovering secrets in the
only sure way, of hard, self-denying work. Gilbert was studying magnetism,
Harvey discovering the circulation of the blood, Kepler determining the
laws that govern the planets' motions, Napier inventing logarithms, and
Galileo standing in ecstasy beneath the first telescope ever pointed at the
stars of heaven.

[Sidenote: HIS VAST PLANS]

Of the work of these scientific heroes Bacon had little knowledge, and for
their plodding methods he had no sympathy. He was Viscount, Lord
Chancellor, "high-browed Verulam," and his heaven-scaling
_Instauratio_ which, as he said, was "for the glory of the Creator and
for the relief of man's estate" must have something stupendous,
Elizabethan, about it, like the victory over the Armada. In his plans there
was always an impression of vastness; his miscellaneous works were like the
strange maps that geographers made when the wonders of a new world opened
upon their vision. Though he never made an important discovery, his
conviction that knowledge is power and that there are no metes or bounds to
knowledge, his belief that the mighty forces of nature are waiting to do
man's bidding, his thought of ships that navigate the air as easily as the
sea,--all this Baconian dream of mental empire inspired the scientific
world for three centuries. It was as thoroughly Elizabethan in its way as
the voyage of Drake or the plays of Shakespeare.

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The most remarkable feature of the Elizabethan age was its
    patriotic enthusiasm. This enthusiasm found its best expression on
    the stage, in the portrayal of life in vigorous action; and dramas
    were produced in such number and of such quality that the whole
    period is sometimes called the age of the play. It was a time of
    poetry rather than of prose, and nearly all of the poetry is
    characterized by its emotional quality, by youthful freshness of
    feeling, by quickened imagination, and by an extravagance of
    language which overflows, even in Shakespeare, in a kind of
    glorious bombast.

    Our study of the literature of the age includes: (1) The outburst
    of lyric poetry. (2) The life and works of Spenser, second in time
    of the great English poets. (3) A review of the long history of the
    drama, from the earliest church spectacle, through miracle,
    morality, interlude, pageant and masque to the Elizabethan drama.
    (4) The immediate forerunners of Shakespeare, of whom the most
    notable was Marlowe. (5) The life and work of Shakespeare. (6) Ben
    Jonson, the successors of Shakespeare, and the rapid decline of the
    drama. (7) Elizabethan prose; the appearance of euphuism; Sidney's
    _Apologie for Poetrie_; the Authorized Version of the
    Scriptures; and the life and work of Francis Bacon.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Selected lyrics in Manly, English Poetry;
    Newcomer, Twelve Centuries of English Poetry and Prose; Palgrave,
    Golden Treasury; Schilling, Elizabethan Lyrics; Ward, English

    _Spenser_. Selected poems in Temple Classics, Cambridge Poets
    Series. Selections from The Faery Queen in Standard English
    Classics and other school editions. (See Texts, in General

    _Early Drama_. A miracle play, such as Noah, may be read in
    Manly, Specimens of Pre-Shakespearean Drama (Ginn and Company).
    Marlowe's plays in Everyman's Library; his Edward II in Holt's
    English Readings; his Faustus in Temple Dramatists, and in Mermaid

    _Shakespeare_. Several editions of Shakespeare's plays, such
    as the revised Hudson (Ginn and Company) and the Neilson (Scott)
    are available. Single plays, such as Julius Caesar, Merchant of
    Venice, Macbeth, As You Like It, are edited for class use in
    Standard English Classics, Lake Classics, and various other school
    series. The Sonnets in Athenæum Press Series.

    _Ben Jonson_. The Alchemist in Cambridge Poets Series; also in
    Thayer, Best Elizabethan Plays (Ginn and Company), which includes
    in one volume plays by Marlowe, Jonson, Webster, Beaumont and

    _Prose Writers_. Selections from Bacon's Essays in Riverside
    Literature, or Maynard's English Classkcs. The Essays complete in
    Everyman's Library. Selections from Hooker, Sidney and Lyly in
    Manly, English Prose, or Craik, English Prose. Ampler selections in
    Garnett, English Prose from Elizabeth to Victoria (Ginn and
    Company), which contains in one volume typical works of 33 prose
    writers from Lyly to Carlyle. Hakluyt's Voyages in Everyman's


    _HISTORY_. Creighton, The Age of Elizabeth; Winter,
    Shakespeare's England; Goadby, The England of Shakespeare;
    Harrison, Elizabethan England; Spedding, Francis Bacon and his
    Times; Lee, Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century; Payne,
    Voyages of Elizabethan Seamen.

    _LITERATURE_. Saintsbury, Short History of Elizabethan
    Literature; Seccombe and Allen, The Age of Shakespeare; Whipple,
    Literature of the Age of Elizabeth; Schilling, Elizabethan Lyrics;
    Lee, Elizabethan Sonnets; Sheavyn, Literary Profession in the
    Elizabethan Age.

    _Spenser_. Life, by Church (English Men of Letters Series).
    Carpenter, Outline Guide to the Study of Spenser; Craik, Spenser
    and his Times. Essays, by Lowell, in Among My Books; by Dowden, in
    Transcripts and Studies; by Hazlitt, in Lectures on the English
    Poets; by Leigh Hunt, in Imagination and Fancy.

    _The Drama_. Gayley, Plays of Our Forefathers (a study of the
    early drama); Evans, English Masques; Bates, The English Religious
    Drama; Schilling, The Elizabethan Drama; Symonds, Shakespeare's
    Predecessors in the English Drama; Boas, Shakespeare and his
    Predecessors; Collier, History of English Dramatic Poetry; Ward,
    English Dramatic Literature; Chambers, The Medieval Stage; Pollard,
    English Miracle Plays, Moralities and Interludes.

    _Shakespeare_. Life, by Raleigh (E. M. of L.), by Lee, by
    Halliwell-Phillipps, by Brandes. Dowden, A Shakespeare Primer;
    Dowden, Shakespeare: a Critical Study of his Mind and Art; Baker,
    Development of Shakespeare as a Dramatist.

    _Other Dramatists_. Lowell, Old English Dramatists; Lamb,
    Specimens of English Dramatic Poets; Fleay, Biographical Chronicle
    of the English Drama; Ingram, Christopher Marlowe.

    _Prose Writers_. Church, Life of Bacon (E. M. of L.); Nicol,
    Bacon's Life and Philosophy; Macaulay, Essay on Bacon. Symonds,
    Life of Sidney (E. M. of L.); Bourne, Life of Sidney (Heroes of the
    Nations Series). Stebbing, Life of Raleigh.

    _FICTION AND POETRY_. Kingsley, Westward Ho; Black, Judith
    Shakespeare; Scott, Kenilworth; Schiller, Maria Stuart; Alfred
    Noyes, Drake; Bates and Coman, English History Told by English



  Milton, thou shouldst be living at this hour.
     England hath need of thee: she is a fen
     Of stagnant waters; altar, sword, and pen,
  Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
  Have forfeited their ancient English dower
    Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
    Oh! raise us up, return to us again,
  And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.

                   Wordsworth, "Sonnet on Milton"

    HISTORICAL OUTLINE. The period from the accession of Charles I in
    1625 to the Revolution of 1688 was filled with a mighty struggle
    over the question whether king or Commons should be supreme in
    England. On this question the English people were divided into two
    main parties. On one side were the Royalists, or Cavaliers, who
    upheld the monarch with his theory of the divine right of kings; on
    the other were the Puritans, or Independents, who stood for the
    rights of the individual man and for the liberties of Parliament
    and people. The latter party was at first very small; it had
    appeared in the days of Langland and Wyclif, and had been
    persecuted by Elizabeth; but persecution served only to increase
    its numbers and determination. Though the Puritans were never a
    majority in England, they soon ruled the land with a firmness it
    had not known since the days of William the Conqueror. They were
    primarily men of conscience, and no institution can stand before
    strong men whose conscience says the institution is wrong. That is
    why the degenerate theaters were not reformed but abolished; that
    is why the theory of the divine right of kings was shattered as by
    a thunderbolt when King Charles was sent to the block for treason
    against his country.

    The struggle reached a climax in the Civil War of 1642, which ended
    in a Puritan victory. As a result of that war, England was for a
    brief period a commonwealth, disciplined at home and respected
    abroad, through the genius and vigor and tyranny of Oliver
    Cromwell. When Cromwell died (1658) there was no man in England
    strong enough to take his place, and two years later "Prince
    Charlie," who had long been an exile, was recalled to the throne as
    Charles II of England. He had learned nothing from his father's
    fate or his own experience, and proceeded by all evil ways to
    warrant this "Epitaph," which his favorite, Wilmot, Earl of
    Rochester, pinned on the door of his bedchamber:

      Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King,
        Whose word no man relies on,
      Who never said a foolish thing,
        Nor ever did a wise one.

    The next twenty years are of such disgrace and national weakness
    that the historian hesitates to write about them. It was called the
    period of the Restoration, which meant, in effect, the restoration
    of all that was objectionable in monarchy. Another crisis came in
    the Revolution of 1688, when the country, aroused by the attempt of
    James II to establish another despotism in Church and state,
    invited Prince William of Orange (husband of the king's daughter
    Mary) to the English throne. That revolution meant three things:
    the supremacy of Parliament, the beginning of modern England, and
    the final triumph of the principle of political liberty for which
    the Puritan had fought and suffered hardship for a hundred years.

TYPICAL WRITERS. Among the writers of the period three men stand out
prominently, and such was the confusion of the times that in the whole
range of our literature it would be difficult to find three others who
differ more widely in spirit or method. Milton represents the scholarship,
the culture of the Renaissance, combined with the moral earnestness of the
Puritan. Bunyan, a poor tinker and lay preacher, reflects the tremendous
spiritual ferment among the common people. And Dryden, the cool,
calculating author who made a business of writing, regards the Renaissance
and Puritanism as both things of the past. He lives in the present, aims to
give readers what they like, follows the French critics of the period who
advocate writing by rule, and popularizes that cold, formal, precise style
which, under the assumed name of classicism, is to dominate English poetry
during the following century.

       *       *       *       *       *

JOHN MILTON (1608-1674)

  Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
  To lay their just hands on that golden key
  That opes the palace of eternity:
  To such my errand is.

In these words of the Attendant Spirit in _Comus_ we seem to hear
Milton speaking to his readers. To such as regard poetry as the means of an
hour's pleasant recreation he brings no message; his "errand" is to those
who, like Sidney, regard poetry as the handmaiden of virtue, or, like
Aristotle, as the highest form of human history.

    LIFE. Milton was born in London (1608) at a time when Shakespeare
    and his fellow dramatists were in their glory. He grew up in a home
    where the delights of poetry and music were added to the moral
    discipline of the Puritan. Before he was twelve years old he had
    formed the habit of studying far into the night; and his field
    included not only Greek, Latin, Hebrew and modern European
    literatures, but mathematics also, and science and theology and
    music. His parents had devoted him in infancy to noble ends, and he
    joyously accepted their dedication, saying, "He who would not be
    frustrate of his hope to write well ... ought himself to be a true
    poem, that is, a composition and pattern of the best and
    honorablest things."

    [Sidenote: MILTON AT HORTON]

    From St. Paul's school Milton went to Christ's College, Cambridge,
    took his master's degree, wrote a few poems in Latin, Italian and
    English, and formed a plan for a great epic, "a poem that England
    would not willingly let die." Then he retired to his father's
    country-place at Horton, and for six years gave himself up to
    music, to untutored study, and to that formal pleasure in nature
    which is reflected in his work. Five short poems were the only
    literary result of this retirement, but these were the most perfect
    of their kind that England had thus far produced.

    Milton's next step, intended like all others to cultivate his
    talent, took him to the Continent. For fifteen months he traveled
    through France and Italy, and was about to visit Greece when,
    hearing of the struggle between king and Parliament, he set his
    face towards England again. "For I thought it base," he said, "to
    be traveling at my ease for culture when my countrymen at home were
    fighting for liberty."

    [Sidenote: HOME LIFE]

    To find himself, or to find the service to which he could devote
    his great learning, seems to have been Milton's object after his
    return to London (1639). While he waited he began to educate his
    nephews, and enlarged this work until he had a small private
    school, in which he tested some of the theories that appeared later
    in his _Tractate on Education_. Also he married, in haste it
    seems, and with deplorable consequences. His wife, Mary Powell, the
    daughter of a Cavalier, was a pleasure-loving young woman, and
    after a brief experience of Puritan discipline she wearied of it
    and went home. She has been amply criticized for her desertion, but
    Milton's house must have been rather chilly for any ordinary human
    being to find comfort in. To him woman seemed to have been made for
    obedience, and man for rebellion; his toplofty doctrine of
    masculine superiority found expression in a line regarding Adam and
    Eve, "He for God only, she for God in him,"--an old delusion, which
    had been seriously disturbed by the first woman.

    [Illustration: JOHN MILTON]


    For a period of near twenty years Milton wrote but little poetry,
    his time being occupied with controversies that were then waged
    even more fiercely in the press than in the field. It was after the
    execution of King Charles (1649), when England was stunned and all
    Europe aghast at the Puritans' daring, that he published his
    _Tenure of Kings and Magistrates_, the argument of which was,
    that magistrates and people are equally subject to the law, and
    that the divine right of kings to rule is as nothing beside the
    divine right of the people to defend their liberties. That argument
    established Milton's position as the literary champion of
    democracy. He was chosen Secretary of the Commonwealth, his duties
    being to prepare the Latin correspondence with foreign countries,
    and to confound all arguments of the Royalists. During the next
    decade Milton's pen and Cromwell's sword were the two outward
    bulwarks of Puritanism, and one was quite as ready and almost as
    potent as the other.

    [Sidenote: HIS BLINDNESS]

    It was while Milton was thus occupied that he lost his eyesight,
    "his last sacrifice on the altar of English liberty." His famous
    "Sonnet on his Blindness" is a lament not for his lost sight but
    for his lost talent; for while serving the Commonwealth he must
    abandon the dream of a great poem that he had cherished all his

      When I consider how my light is spent
      Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
      And that one talent, which is death to hide,
      Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
      To serve therewith my Maker, and present
      My true account, lest he returning chide;
      "Doth God exact day labour, light denied?"
      I fondly ask; but Patience, to prevent
      That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
      Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
      Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
      Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
      And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
      They also serve who only stand and wait."

    With the Restoration (1660) came disaster to the blind Puritan
    poet, who had written too harshly against Charles I to be forgiven
    by Charles II. He was forced to hide; his property was confiscated;
    his works were burned in public by the hangman; had not his fame as
    a writer raised up powerful friends, he would have gone to the
    scaffold when Cromwell's bones were taken from the grave and hanged
    in impotent revenge. He was finally allowed to settle in a modest
    house, and to be in peace so long as he remained in obscurity. So
    the pen was silenced that had long been a scourge to the enemies of

    [Sidenote: HIS LONELINESS]

    His home life for the remainder of his years impresses us by its
    loneliness and grandeur. He who had delighted as a poet in the
    English country, and more delighted as a Puritan in the fierce
    struggle for liberty, was now confined to a small house, going from
    study to porch, and finding both in equal darkness. He who had
    roamed as a master through the wide fields of literature was now
    dependent on a chance reader. His soul also was afflicted by the
    apparent loss of all that Puritanism had so hardly won, by the
    degradation of his country, by family troubles; for his daughters
    often rebelled at the task of taking his dictation, and left him
    helpless. Saddest of all, there was no love in the house, for with
    all his genius Milton could not inspire affection in his own
    people; nor does he ever reach the heart of his readers.

    [Sidenote: HIS MASTERPIECE]

    In the midst of such scenes, denied the pleasure of hope, Milton
    seems to have lived largely in his memories. He took up his early
    dream of an immortal epic, lived with it seven years in seclusion,
    and the result was _Paradise Lost_. This epic is generally
    considered the finest fruit of Milton's genius, but there are two
    other poems that have a more personal and human significance. In
    the morning of his life he had written _Comus_, and the poem
    is a reflection of a noble youth whose way lies open and smiling
    before him. Almost forty years later, or just before his death in
    1674, he wrote _Samson Agonistes_, and in this tragedy of a
    blind giant, bound, captive, but unconquerable, we have a picture
    of the agony and moral grandeur of the poet who takes leave of

      I feel my genial spirits droop, ...
      My race of glory run, and race of shame;
      And I shall shortly be with them that rest. [1]

    [Footnote [1]: From Milton's _Samson_. For the comparison we
    are indebted to Henry Reed, _Lectures on English Literature_
    (1863), p. 223.]

      Where Milton lived during the Plague, and where _Paradise Lost_ was

THE EARLY POEMS. Milton's first notable poem, written in college days, was
the "Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity," a chant of victory and
praise such as Pindar might have written had he known the meaning of
Christmas. In this boyish work one may find the dominant characteristic of
all Milton's poetry; namely, a blending of learning with piety, a devotion
of all the treasures of classic culture to the service of religion.

Among the earliest of the Horton poems (so-called because they were written
in the country-place of that name) are "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," two
of the most widely quoted works in our literature. They should be read in
order to understand what people have admired for nearly three hundred
years, if not for their own beauty. "L'Allegro" (from the Italian, meaning
"the cheerful man") is the poetic expression of a happy state of mind, and
"Il Penseroso" [Footnote: The name is generally translated into
"melancholy," but the latter term is now commonly associated with sorrow or
disease. To Milton "melancholy" meant "pensiveness." In writing "Il
Penseroso" he was probably influenced by a famous book, Burton's _Anatomy
of Melancholy_, which appeared in 1621 and was very widely read.] of a
quiet, thoughtful mood that verges upon sadness, like the mood that follows
good music. Both poems are largely inspired by nature, and seem to have
been composed out of doors, one in the morning and the other in the evening


_Comus_ (1634), another of the Horton poems, is to many readers the
most interesting of Milton's works. In form it is a masque, that is, a
dramatic poem intended to be staged to the accompaniment of music; in
execution it is the most perfect of all such poems inspired by the
Elizabethan love of pageants. We may regard it, therefore, as a late echo
of the Elizabethan drama, which, like many another echo, is sweeter though
fainter than the original. It was performed at Ludlow Castle, before the
Earl of Bridgewater, and was suggested by an accident to the Earl's
children, a simple accident, in which Milton saw the possibility of
"turning the common dust of opportunity to gold."

    The story is that of a girl who becomes separated from her brothers
    in a wood, and is soon lost. The magician Comus [Footnote: In
    mythology Comus, the god of revelry, was represented as the son of
    Dionysus (Bacchus, god of wine), and the witch Circe. In Greek
    poetry Comus is the leader of any gay band of satyrs or dancers.
    Milton's masque of _Comus_ was influenced by a similar story
    in Peele's _Old Wives' Tale_, by Spenser's "Palace of
    Pleasure" in _The Faery Queen_ (see above "Sir Guyon" in
    Chapter IV), and by Homer's story of the witch Circe in the
    _Odyssey_.] appears with his band of revelers, and tries to
    bewitch the girl, to make her like one of his own brutish
    followers. She is protected by her own purity, is watched over by
    the Attendant Spirit, and finally rescued by her brothers. The
    story is somewhat like that of the old ballad of "The Children in
    the Wood," but it is here transformed into a kind of morality play.


In this masque may everywhere be seen the influence of Milton's
predecessors and the stamp of his own independence; his Puritan spirit
also, which must add a moral to the old pagan tales. Thus, Miranda
wandering about the enchanted isle (in Shakespeare's _The Tempest_)
hears strange, harmonious echoes, to which Caliban gives expression:

                             The isle is full of noises,
  Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
  Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
  Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices,
  That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
  Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
  The clouds methought would open and show riches
  Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
  I cried to dream again.

The bewildered girl in _Comus_ also hears mysterious voices, and has
glimpses of a world not her own; but, like Sir Guyon of _The Faery
Queen_, she is on moral guard against all such deceptions:

            A thousand phantasies
  Begin to throng into my memory,
  Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire,
  And airy tongues that syllable men's names
  On sands and shores and desert wildernesses.
  These thoughts may startle well but not astound
  The virtuous mind, that ever walks attended
  By a strong-siding champion, Conscience.

Again, in _The Tempest_ we meet "the frisky spirit" Ariel, who sings
of his coming freedom from Prospero's service:

  Where the bee sucks, there suck I;
  In a cowslip's bell I lie;
  There I couch when owls do cry.
  On a bat's back I do fly
  After summer merrily:
  Merrily, merrily shall I live now
  Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.

[Illustration: LUDLOW CASTLE]

The Attendant Spirit in _Comus_ has something of Ariel's gayety, but
his joy is deeper-seated; he serves not the magician Prospero but the
Almighty, and comes gladly to earth in fulfilment of the divine promise,
"He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways."
When his work is done he vanishes, like Ariel, but with a song which shows
the difference between the Elizabethan, or Renaissance, conception of
sensuous beauty (that is, beauty which appeals to the physical senses) and
the Puritan's idea of moral beauty, which appeals to the soul:

  Now my task is smoothly done,
  I can fly or I can run
  Quickly to the green earth's end,
  Where the bowed welkin slow doth bend,
  And from thence can soar as soon
  To the corners of the moon.
  Mortals, that would follow me,
  Love Virtue; she alone is free:
  She can teach ye how to climb
  Higher than the sphery chime;
  Or if Virtue feeble were,
  Heaven itself would stoop to her.

[Sidenote: LYCIDAS]

_Lycidas_ (1637), last of the Horton poems, is an elegy occasioned by
the death of one who had been Milton's fellow student at Cambridge. It was
an old college custom to celebrate important events by publishing a
collection of Latin or English poems, and _Lycidas_ may be regarded as
Milton's wreath, which he offered to the memory of his classmate and to his
university. The poem is beautifully fashioned, and is greatly admired for
its classic form; but it is cold as any monument, without a touch of human
grief or sympathy. Probably few modern readers will care for it as they
care for Tennyson's _In Memoriam_, a less perfect elegy, but one into
which love enters as well as art. Other notable English elegies are the
_Thyrsis_ of Matthew Arnold and the _Adonais_ of Shelley.

MILTON'S LEFT HAND. This expression was used by Milton to designate certain
prose works written in the middle period of his life, at a time of turmoil
and danger. These works have magnificent passages which show the power and
the harmony of our English speech, but they are marred by other passages of
bitter raillery and invective. The most famous of all these works is the
noble plea called _Areopagitica:_ [Footnote: From the Areopagus or
forum of Athens, the place of public appeal. This was the "Mars Hill" from
which St. Paul addressed the Athenians, as recorded in the Book of Acts.]
_a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing_ (1644).

There was a law in Milton's day forbidding the printing of any work until
it had been approved by the official Licenser of Books. Such a law may have
been beneficial at times, but during the seventeenth century it was another
instrument of tyranny, since no Licenser would allow anything to be printed
against his particular church or government. When _Areopagitica_ was
written the Puritans of the Long Parliament were virtually rulers of
England, and Milton pleaded with his own party for the free expression of
every honest opinion, for liberty in all wholesome pleasures, and for
tolerance in religious matters. His stern confidence in truth, that she
will not be weakened but strengthened by attack, is summarized in the
famous sentence, "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue."

Two interesting matters concerning _Areopagitica_ are: first, that
this eloquent plea for the freedom of printing had to be issued in defiance
of law, without a license; and second, that Milton was himself, a few years
later, under Cromwell's iron government, a censor of the press.

[Sidenote: THE SONNETS]

Milton's rare sonnets seem to belong to this middle period of strife,
though some of them were written earlier. Since Wyatt and Surrey had
brought the Italian sonnet to England this form of verse had been employed
to sing of love; but with Milton it became a heroic utterance, a trumpet
Wordsworth calls it, summoning men to virtue, to patriotism, to stern
action. The most personal of these sonnets are "On Having Arrived at the
Age of Twenty-three," "On his Blindness" and "To Cyriack Skinner"; the most
romantic is "To the Nightingale"; others that are especially noteworthy are
"On the Late Massacre," "On his Deceased Wife" [Footnote: This beautiful
sonnet was written to his second wife, not to Mary Powell.] and "To
Cromwell." The spirit of these sonnets, in contrast with those of
Elizabethan times, is finely expressed by Landor in the lines:

  Few his words, but strong,
  And sounding through all ages and all climes;
  He caught the sonnet from the dainty hand
  Of Love, who cried to lose it, and he gave the notes
  To Glory.

MILTON'S LATER POETRY. [Footnote: The three poems of Milton's later life
are _Paradise Lost_, _Paradise Regained_ and _Samson
Agonistes_. The last-named has been referred to above under "His
Masterpiece". _Paradise Regained_ contains some noble passages, but is
inferior to _Paradise Lost_, on which the poet's fame chiefly rests.]
It was in 1658, the year of Cromwell's death, when the political power of
Puritanism was tottering, that Milton in his blindness began to write
_Paradise Lost_. After stating his theme he begins his epic, as Virgil
began the _Æneid_, in the midst of the action; so that in reading his
first book it is well to have in mind an outline of the whole story, which
is as follows:


    The scene opens in Heaven, and the time is before the creation of
    the world. The archangel Lucifer rebels against the Almighty, and
    gathers to his banner an immense company of the heavenly hosts, of
    angels and flaming cherubim. A stupendous three days' battle
    follows between rebel and loyal legions, the issue being in doubt
    until the Son goes forth in his chariot of victory. Lucifer and his
    rebels are defeated, and are hurled over the ramparts of Heaven.
    Down, down through Chaos they fall "nine times the space that
    measures day and night," until they reach the hollow vaults of

    In the second act (for _Paradise Lost_ has some dramatic as
    well as epic construction) we follow the creation of the earth in
    the midst of the universe; and herein we have an echo of the old
    belief that the earth was the center of the solar system. Adam and
    Eve are formed to take in the Almighty's affection the place of the
    fallen angels. They live happily in Paradise, watched over by
    celestial guardians. Meanwhile Lucifer and his followers are
    plotting revenge in Hell. They first boast valiantly, and talk of
    mighty war; but the revenge finally degenerates into a base plan to
    tempt Adam and Eve and win them over to the fallen hosts.

    The third act shows Lucifer, now called Satan or the Adversary,
    with his infernal peers in Pandemonium, plotting the ruin of the
    world. He makes an astounding journey through Chaos, disguises
    himself in various forms of bird or beast in order to watch Adam
    and Eve, is detected by Ithuriel and the guardian angels, and is
    driven away. Thereupon he haunts vast space, hiding in the shadow
    of the earth until his chance comes, when he creeps back into Eden
    by means of an underground river. Disguising himself as a serpent,
    he meets Eve and tempts her with the fruit of a certain "tree of
    knowledge," which she has been forbidden to touch. She eats the
    fruit and shares it with Adam; then the pair are discovered in
    their disobedience, and are banished from Paradise. [Footnote: In
    the above outline we have arranged the events in the order in which
    they are supposed to have occurred. Milton tells the story in a
    somewhat confused way. The order of the twelve books of _Paradise
    Lost_ is not the natural or dramatic order of the story.]


It is evident from this outline that Milton uses material from two
different sources, one an ancient legend which Cædmon employed in his
Paraphrase, the other the Bible narrative of Creation. Though the latter is
but a small part of the epic, it is as a fixed center about which all other
interests are supposed to revolve. In reading _Paradise Lost_,
therefore, with its vast scenes and colossal figures, one should keep in
mind that every detail was planned by Milton to be closely related to his
central theme, which is the fall of man.

In using such diverse materials Milton met with difficulties, some of which
(the character of Lucifer, for example) were too great for his limited
dramatic powers. In Books I and II Lucifer is a magnificent figure, the
proudest in all literature, a rebel with something of celestial grandeur
about him:

  "Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,"
  Said then the lost Archangel, "this the seat
  That we must change for Heaven? this mournful gloom
  For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
  Who now is sovran can dispose and bid
  What shall be right: farthest from him is best,
  Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
  Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
  Where joy forever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
  Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
  Receive thy new possessor, one who brings
  A mind not to be changed by place or time.
  The mind is its own place, and in itself
  Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
  What matter where, if I be still the same,
  And what I should be, all but less than he
  Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least
  We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
  Here for his envy, will not drive us hence;
  Here we may reign secure; and in my choice
  To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:
  Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."

In other books of _Paradise Lost_ the same character appears not as
the heroic rebel but as the sneaking "father of lies," all his grandeur
gone, creeping as a snake into Paradise or sitting in the form of an ugly
toad "squat at Eve's ear," whispering petty deceits to a woman while she
sleeps. It is probable that Milton meant to show here the moral results of
rebellion, but there is little in his poem to explain the sudden degeneracy
from Lucifer to Satan.


The reader will note, also, the strong contrast between Milton's matter and
his manner. His matter is largely mythical, and the myth is not beautiful
or even interesting, but childish for the most part and frequently
grotesque, as when cannon are used in the battle of the angels, or when the
Almighty makes plans,

                         Lest unawares we lose
  This our high place, our sanctuary, our hill.

Indeed, all Milton's celestial figures, with the exception of the original
Lucifer, are as banal as those of the old miracle plays; and his Adam and
Eve are dull, wooden figures that serve merely to voice the poet's theology
or moral sentiments.

In contrast with this unattractive matter, Milton's manner is always and
unmistakably "the grand manner." His imagination is lofty, his diction
noble, and the epic of _Paradise Lost_ is so filled with memorable
lines, with gorgeous descriptions, with passages of unexampled majesty or
harmony or eloquence, that the crude material which he injects into the
Bible narrative is lost sight of in our wonder at his superb style.

THE QUALITY OF MILTON. If it be asked, What is Milton's adjective? the word
"sublime" rises to the lips as the best expression of his style. This word
(from the Latin _sublimis_, meaning "exalted above the ordinary") is
hard to define, but may be illustrated from one's familiar experience.

    You stand on a hilltop overlooking a mighty landscape on which the
    new snow has just fallen: the forest bending beneath its soft
    burden, the fields all white and still, the air scintillating with
    light and color, the whole world so clean and pure that it seems as
    if God had blotted out its imperfections and adorned it for his own
    pleasure. That is a sublime spectacle, and the soul of man is
    exalted as he looks upon it. Or here in your own village you see a
    woman who enters a room where a child is stricken with a deadly and
    contagious disease. She immolates herself for the suffering one,
    cares for him and saves him, then lays down her own life. That is a
    sublime act. Or you hear of a young patriot captured and hanged by
    the enemy, and as they lead him forth to death he says, "I regret
    that I have but one life to give to my country." That is a sublime
    expression, and the feeling in your heart as you hear it is one of
    moral sublimity.

[Sidenote: SUBLIMITY]

The writer who lifts our thought and feeling above their ordinary level,
who gives us an impression of outward grandeur or of moral exaltation, is a
sublime writer, has a sublime style; and Milton more than any other poet
deserves the adjective. His scenes are immeasurable; mountain, sea and
forest are but his playthings; his imagination hesitates not to paint
Chaos, Heaven, Hell, the widespread Universe in which our world hangs like
a pendant star and across which stretches the Milky Way:

  A broad and ample road, whose dust is gold,
  And pavement stars.

No other poet could find suitable words for such vast themes, but Milton
never falters. Read the assembly of the fallen hosts before Lucifer in Book
I of _Paradise Lost_, or the opening of Hellgates in Book II, or the
invocation to light in Book III, or Satan's invocation to the sun in Book
IV, or the morning hymn of Adam and Eve in Book V; or open _Paradise
Lost_ anywhere, and you shall soon find some passage which, by the
grandeur of its scene or by the exalted feeling of the poet as he describes
it, awakens in you the feeling of sublimity.

[Sidenote: HARMONY]

The harmony of Milton's verse is its second notable quality. Many of our
poets use blank verse, as many other people walk, as if they had no sense
of rhythm within them; but Milton, by reason of his long study and practice
of music, seems to be always writing to melody. In consequence it is easy
to read his most prolix passages, as it is easy to walk over almost any
kind of ground if one but keeps step to outward or inward music. Not only
is Milton's verse stately and melodious, but he is a perfect master of
words, choosing them for their sound as well as for their sense, as a
musician chooses different instruments to express different emotions. Note
these contrasting descriptions of so simple a matter as the opening of

                       Heaven opened wide
  Her ever-during gates, harmonious sound,
  On golden hinges moving. On a sudden open fly
  With impetuous recoil and jarring sound
  Th' infernal doors, and on their hinges grate
  Harsh thunder.

In dealing with a poet of such magnificent qualities one should be wary of
criticism. That Milton's poetry has little human interest, no humor, and
plenty of faults, may be granted. His _Paradise Lost_ especially is
overcrowded with mere learning or pedantry in one place and with pompous
commonplaces in another. But such faults appear trivial, unworthy of
mention in the presence of a poem that is as a storehouse from which the
authors and statesmen of three hundred years have drawn their choicest
images and expressions. It stands forever as our supreme example of
sublimity and harmony,--that sublimity which reflects the human spirit
standing awed and reverent before the grandeur of the universe; that
harmony of expression at which every great poet aims and which Milton
attained in such measure that he is called the organ-voice of England.

       *        *        *       *       *

JOHN BUNYAN (1628-1688)

There is a striking contrast between the poet and the prose writer of the
Puritan age. Milton the poet is a man of culture, familiar with the best
literature of all ages; Bunyan the prose writer is a poor, self-taught
laborer who reads his Bible with difficulty, stumbling over the hard
passages. Milton writes for the cultivated classes, in harmonious verse
adorned with classic figures; Bunyan speaks for common men in sinewy prose,
and makes his meaning clear by homely illustrations drawn from daily life.
Milton is a solitary and austere figure, admirable but not lovable; Bunyan
is like a familiar acquaintance, ruddy-faced, clear-eyed, who wins us by
his sympathy, his friendliness, his good sense and good humor. He is known
as the author of one book, _The Pilgrim's Progress_, but that book has
probably had more readers than any other that England has ever produced.

    LIFE. During Bunyan's lifetime England was in a state of religious
    ferment or revival, and his experience of it is vividly portrayed
    in a remarkable autobiography called _Grace Abounding to the
    Chief of inners_. In reading this book we find that his life is
    naturally separated into two periods. His youth was a time of
    struggle with doubts and temptations; his later years were
    characterized by inward peace and tireless labor. His peace meant
    that he was saved, his labor that he must save others. Here, in a
    word, is the secret of all his works.

    [Illustration: JOHN BUNYAN]

    He was born (1628) in the village of Elstow, Bedfordshire, and was
    the son of a poor tinker. He was sent to school long enough to
    learn elementary reading and writing; then he followed the tinker's
    trade; but at the age of sixteen, being offended at his father's
    second marriage, he ran away and joined the army.

    As a boy Bunyan had a vivid but morbid imagination, which led him
    to terrible doubts, fears, fits of despondency, hallucinations. On
    such a nature the emotional religious revivals of the age made a
    tremendous impression. He followed them for years, living in a
    state of torment, until he felt himself converted; whereupon he
    turned preacher and began to call other sinners to repentance. Such
    were his native power and rude eloquence that, wherever he went,
    the common people thronged to hear him.

    [Sidenote: IN BEDFORD JAIL]

    After the Restoration all this was changed. Public meetings were
    forbidden unless authorized by bishops of the Established Church,
    and Bunyan was one of the first to be called to account. When
    ordered to hold no more meetings he refused to obey, saying that
    when the Lord called him to preach salvation he would listen only
    to the Lord's voice. Then he was thrown into Bedford jail. During
    his imprisonment he supported his family by making shoe laces, and
    wrote _Grace Abounding_ and _The Pilgrim's Progress_.

    After his release Bunyan became the most popular writer and
    preacher in England. He wrote a large number of works, and went
    cheerfully up and down the land, preaching the gospel to the poor,
    helping the afflicted, doing an immense amount of good. He died
    (1688) as the result of exposure while on an errand of mercy. His
    works were then known only to humble readers, and not until long
    years had passed did critics awaken to the fact that one of
    England's most powerful and original writers had passed away with
    the poor tinker of Elstow.

WORKS OF BUNYAN. From the pen of this uneducated preacher came nearly sixty
works, great and small, the most notable of which are: _Grace
Abounding_ (1666), a kind of spiritual autobiography; _The Holy
War_ (1665), a prose allegory with a theme similar to that of Milton's
epic; and _The Life and Death of Mr. Badman_ (1682), a character study
which was a forerunner of the English novel. These works are seldom read,
and Bunyan is known to most readers as the author of _The Pilgrim's
Progress_ (1678). This is the famous allegory [Footnote: Allegory is
figurative writing, in which some outward object or event is described in
such a way that we apply the description to humanity, to our mental or
spiritual experiences. The object of allegory, as a rule, is to teach moral
lessons, and in this it is like a drawn-out fable and like a parable. The
two greatest allegories in our literature are Spenser's _Faery Queen_
and Bunyan's _Pilgrim's Progress_.] in which, under guise of telling
the story of a pilgrim in search of a city, Bunyan portrays the experiences
of humanity in its journey from this world to the next. Here is an outline
of the story:


    In the City of Destruction lives a poor sinner called Christian.
    When he learns that the city is doomed, he is terrified and flees
    out of it, carrying a great burden on his back. He is followed by
    the jeers of his neighbors, who have no fear. He seeks a safe and
    abiding city to dwell in, but is ignorant how to find it until
    Evangelist shows him the road.

    As he goes on his journey Mr. Worldly Wiseman meets him and urges
    him to return; but he hastens on, only to plunge into the Slough of
    Despond. His companion Pliable is here discouraged and turns back.
    Christian struggles on through the mud and reaches the Wicket Gate,
    where Interpreter shows him the way to the Celestial City. As he
    passes a cross beside the path, the heavy burden which he carries
    (his load of sins) falls off of itself. Then with many adventures
    he climbs the steep hill Difficulty, where his eyes behold the
    Castle Beautiful. To reach this he must pass some fearful lions in
    the way, but he adventures on, finds that the lions are chained, is
    welcomed by the porter Watchful, and is entertained in the castle

    Dangers thicken and difficulties multiply as he resumes his
    journey. His road is barred by the demon Apollyon, whom he fights
    to the death. The way now dips downward into the awful Valley of
    the Shadow. Passing through this, he enters the town of Vanity,
    goes to Vanity Fair, where he is abused and beaten, and where his
    companion Faithful is condemned to death. As he escapes from
    Vanity, the giant Despair seizes him and hurls him into the gloomy
    dungeon of Doubt. Again he escapes, struggles onward, and reaches
    the Delectable Mountains. There for the first time he sees the
    Celestial City, but between him and his refuge is a river, deep and
    terrible, without bridge or ford. He crosses it, and the journey
    ends as angels come singing down the streets to welcome Christian
    into the city. [Footnote: This is the story of the first part of
    _Pilgrim's Progress_, which was written in Bedford jail, but
    not published till some years later. In 1684 Bunyan published the
    second part of his story, describing the adventures of Christiana
    and her children on their journey to the Celestial City. This
    sequel, like most others, is of minor importance.]


Such an outline gives but a faint idea of Bunyan's great work, of its
realistic figures, its living and speaking characters, its knowledge of
humanity, its portrayal of the temptations and doubts that beset the
ordinary man, its picturesque style, which of itself would make the book
stand out above ten thousand ordinary stories. _Pilgrim's Progress_ is
still one of our best examples of clear, forceful, idiomatic English; and
our wonder increases when we remember that it was written by a man ignorant
of literary models. But he had read his Bible daily until its style and
imagery had taken possession of him; also he had a vivid imagination, a
sincere purpose to help his fellows, and his simple rule of rhetoric was to
forget himself and deliver his message. In one of his poems he gives us his
rule of expression, which is an excellent one for writers and speakers:

                         Thine only way,
  Before them all, is to say out thy say
  In thine own native language.

       *       *       *      *       *

JOHN DRYDEN (1631-1700)

For fifty years Dryden lived in the city of Milton, in the country of John
Bunyan; but his works might indicate that he inhabited a different planet.
Unlike his two great contemporaries, his first object was to win favor; he
sold his talent to the highest bidder, won the leading place among
second-rate Restoration writers, and was content to reflect a generation
which had neither the hearty enthusiasm of Elizabethan times nor the moral
earnestness of Puritanism.

    LIFE. Knowledge of Dryden's life is rather meager, and as his
    motives are open to question we shall state here only a few facts.
    He was born of a Puritan and aristocratic family, at Aldwinkle, in
    1631. After an excellent education, which included seven years at
    Trinity College, Cambridge, he turned to literature as a means of
    earning a livelihood, taking a worldly view of his profession and
    holding his pen ready to serve the winning side. Thus, he wrote his
    "Heroic Stanzas," which have a hearty Puritan ring, on the death of
    Cromwell; but he turned Royalist and wrote the more flattering
    "Astræa Redux" to welcome Charles II back to power.

    [Sidenote: HIS VERSATILITY]

    In literature Dryden proved himself a man of remarkable
    versatility. Because plays were in demand, he produced many that
    catered to the evil tastes of the Restoration stage,--plays that he
    afterwards condemned unsparingly. He was equally ready to write
    prose or verse, songs, criticisms, political satires. In 1670 he
    was made poet laureate under Charles II; his affairs prospered; he
    became a literary dictator in London, holding forth nightly in
    Will's Coffeehouse to an admiring circle of listeners. After the
    Revolution of 1688 he lost his offices, and with them most of his

    [Illustration: JOHN DRYDEN
    From a picture by Hudson in the Hall of Trinity College, Cambridge]

    In his old age, being reduced to hackwork, he wrote obituaries,
    epitaphs, paraphrases of the tales of Chaucer, translations of
    Latin poets,--anything to earn an honest living. He died in 1700,
    and was buried beside Chaucer in Westminster Abbey.

    Such facts are not interesting; nor do they give us a true idea of
    the man Dryden. To understand him we should have to read his works
    (no easy or pleasant task) and compare his prose prefaces, in which
    he is at his best, with the comedies in which he is abominable.
    When not engaged with the degenerate stage, or with political or
    literary or religious controversies, he appears sane,
    well-balanced, good-tempered, manly; but the impression is not a
    lasting one. He seems to have catered to the vicious element of his
    own age, to have regretted the misuse of his talent, and to have
    recorded his own judgment in two lines from his ode "To the Memory
    of Mrs. Killigrew":

      O gracious God, how far have we
      Profaned thy heavenly grace of poesy!

WORKS OF DRYDEN. The occasional poems written by Dryden may be left in the
obscurity into which they fell after they had been applauded. The same may
be said of his typical poem "Annus Mirabilis," which describes the
wonderful events of the year 1666, a year which witnessed the taking of New
Amsterdam from the Dutch and the great fire of London. Both events were
celebrated in a way to contribute to the glory of King Charles and to
Dryden's political fortune. Of all his poetical works, only the odes
written in honor of St. Cecilia are now remembered. The second ode,
"Alexander's Feast," is one of our best poems on the power of music.

[Sidenote: HIS PLAYS]

Dryden's numerous plays show considerable dramatic power, and every one of
them contains some memorable line or passage; but they are spoiled by the
author's insincerity in trying to satisfy the depraved taste of the
Restoration stage. He wrote one play, _All for Love_, to please
himself, he said, and it is noticeable that this play is written in blank
verse and shows the influence of Shakespeare, who was then out of fashion.
If any of the plays are to be read, _All for Love_ should be selected,
though it is exceptional, not typical, and gives but a faint idea of
Dryden's ordinary dramatic methods.

[Sidenote: SATIRES]

In the field of political satire Dryden was a master, and his work here is
interesting as showing that unfortunate alliance between literature and
politics which led many of the best English writers of the next century to
sell their services to the Whigs or Tories. Dryden sided with the later
party and, in a kind of allegory of the Bible story of Absalom's revolt
against David, wrote "Absalom and Achitophel" to glorify the Tories and to
castigate the Whigs. This powerful political satire was followed by others
in the same vein, and by "MacFlecknoe," which satirized certain poets with
whom Dryden was at loggerheads. As a rule, such works are for a day, having
no enduring interest because they have no human kindness, but occasionally
Dryden portrays a man of his own time so well that his picture applies to
the vulgar politician of all ages, as in this characterization of Burnet:

  Prompt to assail and careless of defence,
  Invulnerable in his impudence,
  He dares the world, and eager of a name
  He thrusts about and justles into fame;
  So fond of loud report that, not to miss.
  Of being known (his last and utmost bliss),
  He rather would be known for what he is.

These satires of Dryden were largely influential in establishing the heroic
couplet, [Footnote: The heroic couplet consists of two iambic pentameter
lines that rime. By "pentameter" is meant that the line has five feet or
measures; by "iambic," that each foot contains two syllables, the first
short or unaccented, the second long or accented.] which dominated the
fashion of English poetry for the next century. The couplet had been used
by earlier poets, Chaucer for example; but in his hands it was musical and
unobtrusive, a minor part of a complete work. With Dryden, and with his
contemporary Waller, the making of couplets was the main thing; in their
hands the couplet became "closed," that is, it often contained a complete
thought, a criticism, a nugget of common sense, a poem in itself, as in
this aphorism from "MacFlecknoe":

  All human things are subject to decay,
  And when Fate summons, monarchs must obey.

[Sidenote: PROSE WORKS]

In his prose works Dryden proved himself the ablest critic of his time, and
the inventor of a neat, serviceable style which, with flattery to
ourselves, we are wont to call modern. Among his numerous critical works we
note especially "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy," "Of Heroic Plays," "Discourse
on Satire," and the Preface to his _Fables_. These have not the vigor
or picturesqueness of Bunyan's prose, but they are written clearly, in
short sentences, with the chief aim of being understood. If we compare them
with the sonorous periods of Milton, or with the pretty involutions of
Sidney, we shall see why Dryden is called "the father of modern prose." His
sensible style appears in this criticism of Chaucer:

    "He must have been a man of a most wonderful comprehensive nature,
    because, as it has been truly observed of him, he has taken into
    the compass of his _Canterbury Tales_ the various manners and
    humours (as we now call them) of the whole English nation in his
    age. Not a single character has escaped him.... We have our fathers
    and great-grand-dames all before us as they were in Chaucer's days:
    their general characters are still remaining in mankind, and even
    in England, though they are called by other names than those of
    monks and friars and canons and lady abbesses and nuns; for mankind
    is ever the same, and nothing lost out of nature though everything
    is altered."

       *       *       *       *       *


PURITAN AND CAVALIER VERSE. The numerous minor poets of this period are
often arranged in groups, but any true classification is impossible since
there was no unity among them. Each was a law unto himself, and the result
was to emphasize personal oddity or eccentricity. It would seem that in
writing of love, the common theme of poets, Puritan and Cavalier must alike
speak the common language of the heart; but that is precisely what they did
not do. With them love was no longer a passion, or even a fashion, but any
fantastic conceit that might decorate a rime. Thus, Suckling habitually
made love a joke:

  Why so pale and wan, fond lover,
    Prithee why so pale?
  Will, when looking well wont move her,
    Looking ill prevail?
    Prithee why so pale?

Crashaw turned from his religious poems to sing of love in a way to appeal
to the Transcendentalists, of a later age:

  Whoe'er she be,
  That not impossible she
  That shall command my heart and me.

And Donne must search out some odd notion from natural (or unnatural)
history, making love a spider that turns the wine of life into poison; or
from mechanics, comparing lovers to a pair of dividers:

  If they be two, they are two so
    As stiff twin compasses are two:
  Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth if the other do.

[Illustration: GEORGE HERBERT
From a rare print by White, prefixed to his poems]

Several of these poets, commonly grouped in a class which includes Donne,
Herbert, Cowley, Crashaw, and others famous in their day, received the name
of metaphysical poets, not because of their profound thought, but because
of their eccentric style and queer figures of speech. Of all this group
George Herbert (1593-1633) is the sanest and the sweetest. His chief work,
_The Temple_, is a collection of poems celebrating the beauty of
holiness, the sacraments, the Church, the experiences of the Christian
life. Some of these poems are ingenious conceits, and deserve the derisive
name of "metaphysical" which Dr. Johnson flung at them; but others, such as
"Virtue," "The Pulley," "Love" and "The Collar," are the expression of a
beautiful and saintly soul, speaking of the deep things of God; and
speaking so quietly withal that one is apt to miss the intensity that lurks
even in his calmest verses. Note in these opening and closing stanzas of
"Virtue" the restraint of the one, the hidden glow of the other:

  Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
    The bridal of the earth and sky!
  The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
    For thou must die.

  Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
    Like seasoned timber, never gives;
  But, though the whole world turn to coal,
    Then chiefly lives.


In contrast with the disciplined Puritan spirit of Herbert is the gayety of
another group, called the Cavalier poets, among whom are Carew, Suckling
and Lovelace. They reflect clearly the spirit of the Royalists who followed
King Charles with a devotion worthy of a better master. Robert Herrick
(1591-1674) is the best known of this group, and his only book,
_Hesperides and Noble Numbers_ (1648), reflects the two elements found
in most of the minor poetry of the age; namely, Cavalier gayety and Puritan
seriousness. In the first part of the book are some graceful verses
celebrating the light loves of the Cavaliers and the fleeting joys of
country life:

  I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds and bowers,
  Of April, May, of June and July flowers;
  I sing of Maypoles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,
  Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes.

In _Noble Numbers_ such poems as "Thanksgiving," "A True Lent,"
"Litany," and the child's "Ode on the Birth of Our Saviour" reflect the
better side of the Cavalier, who can be serious without pulling a long
face, who goes to his devotions cheerfully, and who retains even in his
religion what Andrew Lang calls a spirit of unregenerate happiness.


Samuel Butler (1612-1680) may also be classed with the Cavalier poets,
though in truth he stands alone in this age, a master of doggerel rime and
of ferocious satire. His chief work, _Hudibras_, a grotesque
caricature of Puritanism, appeared in 1663, when the restored king and his
favorites were shamelessly plundering the government. The poem (probably
suggested by _Don Quixote_) relates a rambling story of the adventures
of Sir Hudibras, a sniveling Puritan knight, and his squire Ralpho. Its
doggerel style may be inferred from the following:

  Besides, 'tis known he could speak Greek
  As naturally as pigs squeak;
  That Latin was no more difficle
  Than to a blackbird 'tis to whistle:
  Being rich in both, he never scanted
  His bounty unto such as wanted.

Such was the stuff that the Royalists quoted to each other as wit; and the
wit was so dear to king and courtiers that they carried copies of
_Hudibras_ around in their pockets. The poem was enormously popular in
its day, and some of its best lines are still quoted; but the selections we
now meet give but a faint idea of the general scurrility of a work which
amused England in the days when the Puritan's fanaticism was keenly
remembered, his struggle for liberty quite forgotten.

PROSE WRITERS. Of the hundreds of prose works that appeared in Puritan
times very few are now known even by name. Their controversial fires are
sunk to ashes; even the causes that produced or fanned them are forgotten.
Meanwhile we cherish a few books that speak not of strife but of peace and

[Illustration: SIR THOMAS BROWNE]

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was a physician, vastly learned in a day when he
and other doctors gravely prescribed herbs or bloodsuckers for witchcraft;
but he was less interested in his profession than in what was then called
modern science. His most famous work is _Religio Medici_ (Religion of
a Physician, 1642), a beautiful book, cherished by those who know it as one
of the greatest prose works in the language. His _Urn Burial_ is even
more remarkable for its subtle thought and condensed expression; but its
charm, like that of the Silent Places, is for the few who can discover and
appreciate it.

[Illustration: ISAAC WALTON]

Isaac Walton (1593-1683), or Isaak, as he always wrote it, was a modest
linen merchant who, in the midst of troublous times, kept his serenity of
spirit by attending strictly to his own affairs, by reading good books, and
by going fishing. His taste for literature is reflected with rare
simplicity in his _Lives of Donne, Wotton, Hooker, George Herbert and
Bishop Sanderson_, a series of biographies which are among the earliest
and sweetest in our language. Their charm lies partly in their refined
style, but more largely in their revelation of character; for Walton chose
men of gentle spirit for his subjects, men who were like himself in
cherishing the still depths of life rather than its noisy shallows, and
wrote of them with the understanding of perfect sympathy. Wordsworth
expressed his appreciation of the work in a noble sonnet beginning:

  There are no colours in the fairest sky
  So fair as these. The feather whence the pen
  Was shaped that traced the lives of these good men
  Dropped from an angel's wing.

Walton's love of fishing, and of all the lore of trout brooks and spring
meadows that fishing implies, found expression in _The Compleat Angler,
or Contemplative Man's Recreation_ (1653). This is a series of
conversations in which an angler convinces his friends that fishing is not
merely the sport of catching fish, but an art that men are born to, like
the art of poetry. Even such a hard-hearted matter as impaling a minnow for
bait becomes poetical, for this is the fashion of it: "Put your hook in at
his mouth, and out at his gills, and do it as if you loved him." It is
enough to say of this old work, the classic of its kind, that it deserves
all the honor which the tribe of anglers have given it, and that you could
hardly find a better book to fall asleep over after a day's fishing.


No such gentle, human, lovable books were produced in Restoration times.
The most famous prose works of the period are the diaries of John Evelyn
and Samuel Pepys. The former was a gentleman, and his _Diary_ is an
interesting chronicle of matters large and small from 1641 to 1697. Pepys,
though he became Secretary of the Admiralty and President of the Royal
Society, was a gossip, a chatterbox, with an eye that loved to peek into
closets and a tongue that ran to slander. His _Diary_, covering the
period from 1660 to 1669, is a keen but malicious exposition of private and
public life during the Restoration.

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The literary period just studied covers the last three
    quarters of the seventeenth century. Its limits are very
    indefinite, merging into Elizabethan romance on the one side, and
    into eighteenth century formalism on the other. Historically, the
    period was one of bitter conflict between two main political and
    religious parties, the Royalists, or Cavaliers, and the Puritans.
    The literature of the age is extremely diverse in character, and is
    sadly lacking in the unity, the joyousness, the splendid enthusiasm
    of Elizabethan prose and poetry.

    The greatest writer of the period was John Milton. He is famous in
    literature for his early or Horton poems, which are Elizabethan in
    spirit; for his controversial prose works, which reflect the strife
    of the age; for his epic of _Paradise Lost_, and for his
    tragedy of _Samson_.

    Another notable Puritan, or rather Independent, writer was John
    Bunyan, whose works reflect the religious ferment of the
    seventeenth century. His chief works are _Grace Abounding_, a
    kind of spiritual biography, and _The Pilgrim's Progress_, an
    allegory of the Christian life which has been more widely read than
    any other English book.

    The chief writer of the Restoration period was John Dryden, a
    professional author, who often catered to the coarser tastes of the
    age. There is no single work by which he is gratefully remembered.
    He is noted for his political satires, for his vigorous use of the
    heroic couplet, for his modern prose style, and for his literary

    Among the numerous minor poets of the period, Robert Herrick and
    George Herbert are especially noteworthy. A few miscellaneous prose
    works are the _Religio Medici_ of Thomas Browne, _The
    Compleat Angler_ of Isaac Walton, and the diaries of Pepys and

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Minor poems of Milton, and parts of
    Paradise Lost, in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature,
    and other school series (see Texts, in General Bibliography).
    Selections from Cavalier and Puritan poets in Maynard's English
    Classics, Golden Treasury Series, Manly's English Poetry, Century
    Readings, Ward's English Poets. Prose selections in Manly's English
    Prose, Craik's English Prose Selections, Garnett's English Prose
    from Elizabeth to Victoria. Pilgrim's Progress and Grace Abounding
    in Standard English Classics, Pocket Classics, Student's Classics.
    Religio Medici and Complete Angler in Temple Classics and
    Everyman's Library. Selections from Dryden in Manly's English Prose
    and Manly's English Poetry. Dryden's version of Palamon and Arcite
    (the Knight's Tale of Chaucer) in Standard English Classics,
    Riverside Literature, Lake Classics.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. For texts and manuals dealing with the whole field of
    English history and literature see the General Bibliography. The
    following works deal chiefly with the Puritan and Restoration

    _HISTORY_. Wakeling, King and Parliament (Oxford Manuals of
    English History); Gardiner, The First Two Stuarts and the Puritan
    Revolution (Great Epochs Series); Tulloch, English Puritanism;
    Harrison, Oliver Cromwell; Hale, The Fall of the Stuarts; Airy, The
    English Restoration and Louis XIV.

    _LITERATURE_. Masterman, The Age of Milton; Dowden, Puritan
    and Anglican; Wendell, Temper of the Seventeenth Century in
    Literature; Gosse, Seventeenth-Century Studies; Schilling,
    Seventeenth-Century Lyrics (Athenæum Press Series); Isaac Walton,
    Lives of Donne, Wotton, Hooker, Herbert and Sanderson.

    _Milton_. Life, by Garnett (Great Writers Series); by Pattison
    (English Men of Letters). Corson, Introduction to Milton; Raleigh,
    Milton; Stopford Brooke, Milton. Essays, by Macaulay; by Lowell, in
    Among My Books; by M. Arnold, in Essays in Criticism.

    _Bunyan_. Life, by Venables (Great Writers); by Froude (E. M.
    of L.). Brown, John Bunyan; Woodberry's essay, in Makers of

    _Dryden_. Life by Saintsbury (E. M. of L.). Gosse, From
    Shakespeare to Pope.

    _Thomas Browne_. Life, by Gosse (E. M. of L.). Essays, by L.
    Stephen, in Hours in a Library; by Pater, in Appreciations.

    _FICTION AND POETRY_. Shorthouse, John Inglesant; Scott, Old
    Mortality, Peveril of the Peak, Woodstock; Blackmore, Lorna Doone.
    Milton, Sonnet on Cromwell; Scott, Rokeby; Bates and Coman, English
    History Told by English Poets.



  In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold:
  Alike fantastic if too new or old.
  Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
  Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

                  Pope, "An Essay on Criticism"

    HISTORY OF THE PERIOD. The most striking political feature of the
    times was the rise of constitutional and party government. The
    Revolution of 1688, which banished the Stuarts, had settled the
    king question by making Parliament supreme in England, but not all
    Englishmen were content with the settlement. No sooner were the
    people in control of the government than they divided into hostile
    parties: the liberal Whigs, who were determined to safeguard
    popular liberty, and the conservative Tories, with tender memories
    of kingcraft, who would leave as much authority as possible in the
    royal hands. On the extreme of Toryism was a third party of
    zealots, called the Jacobites, who aimed to bring the Stuarts back
    to the throne, and who for fifty years filled Britain with plots
    and rebellion. The literature of the age was at times dominated by
    the interests of these contending factions.

    The two main parties were so well balanced that power shifted
    easily from one to the other. To overturn a Tory or a Whig cabinet
    only a few votes were necessary, and to influence such votes London
    was flooded with pamphlets. Even before the great newspapers
    appeared, the press had become a mighty power in England, and any
    writer with a talent for argument or satire was almost certain to
    be hired by party leaders. Addison, Steele, Defoe, Swift,--most of
    the great writers of the age were, on occasion, the willing
    servants of the Whigs or Tories. So the new politician replaced the
    old nobleman as a patron of letters.

    [Sidenote: SOCIAL LIFE]

    Another feature of the age was the rapid development of social
    life. In earlier ages the typical Englishman had lived much by
    himself; his home was his castle, and in it he developed his
    intense individualism;  but in the first half of the eighteenth
    century some three thousand public coffeehouses and a large number
    of private clubs appeared in London alone; and the sociability of
    which these clubs were an expression was typical of all English
    cities. Meanwhile country life was in sore need of refinement.

    The influence of this social life on literature was inevitable.
    Nearly all writers frequented the coffeehouses, and matters
    discussed there became subjects of literature; hence the enormous
    amount of eighteenth-century writing devoted to transient affairs,
    to politics, fashions, gossip. Moreover, as the club leaders set
    the fashion in manners or dress, in the correct way of taking snuff
    or of wearing wigs and ruffles, so the literary leaders emphasized
    formality or correctness of style, and to write prose like Addison,
    or verse like Pope, became the ambition of aspiring young authors.

    There are certain books of the period (seldom studied amongst its
    masterpieces) which are the best possible expression of its thought
    and manners. The Letters of Lord Chesterfield, for example,
    especially those written to his son, are more significant, and more
    readable, than anything produced by Johnson. Even better are the
    Memoirs of Horace Walpole, and his gossipy Letters, of which
    Thackeray wrote:

        "Fiddles sing all through them; wax lights, fine dresses,
        fine jokes, fine plate, fine equipages glitter and sparkle;
        never was such a brilliant, smirking Vanity Fair as that
        through which he leads us."

    [Sidenote: SPREAD OF EMPIRE]

    Two other significant features of the age were the large part
    played by England in Continental wars, and the rapid expansion of
    the British empire. These Continental wars, which have ever since
    influenced British policy, seem to have originated (aside from the
    important matter of self-interest) in a double motive: to prevent
    any one nation from gaining overwhelming superiority by force of
    arms, and to save the smaller "buffer" states from being absorbed
    by their powerful neighbors. Thus the War of the Spanish Succession
    (1711) prevented the union of the French and Spanish monarchies,
    and preserved the smaller states of Holland and Germany. As Addison
    then wrote, at least half truthfully:

      'T is Britain's care to watch o'er Europe's fate,
      And hold in balance each contending state:
      To threaten bold, presumptuous kings with war,
      And answer her afflicted neighbors' prayer. [1]

    [Footnote [1]: From Addison's Address to Liberty, in his poetical
    "Letter to Lord Halifax."]

    The expansion of the empire, on the whole the most marvelous
    feature of English history, received a tremendous impetus in this
    age when India, Australia and the greater part of North America
    were added to the British dominions, and when Captain Cook opened
    the way for a belt of colonies around the whole world.

    The influence of the last-named movement hardly appears in the
    books which we ordinarily read as typical of the age. There are
    other books, however, which one may well read for his own
    unhampered enjoyment: such expansive books as Hawkesworth's
    _Voyages_ (1773), corresponding to Hakluyt's famous record of
    Elizabethan exploration, and especially the _Voyages of Captain
    Cook_, [Footnote: The first of Cook's fateful voyages appears in
    Hawkesworth's collection. The second was recorded by Cook himself
    (1777), and the third by Cook and Captain King (1784). See Synge,
    _Captain Cook's Voyages Around the World_ (London, 1897).]
    which take us from the drawing-room chatter of politics or fashion
    or criticism into a world of adventure and great achievement. In
    such works, which make no profession of literary style, we feel the
    lure of the sea and of lands beyond the horizon, which is as the
    mighty background of English literature from Anglo-Saxon times to
    the present day.

It is difficult to summarize the literature of this age, or to group such
antagonistic writers as Swift and Addison, Pope and Burns, Defoe and
Johnson, Goldsmith and Fielding, with any fine discrimination. It is simply
for convenience, therefore, that we study eighteenth-century writings in
three main divisions: the reign of so-called classicism, the revival of
romantic poetry, and the beginnings of the modern novel. As a whole, it is
an age of prose rather than of poetry, and in this respect it differs from
all preceding ages of English literature.

       *       *       *       *      *


The above title is an unfortunate one, but since it is widely used we must
try to understand it as best we can. Yet when one begins to define
"classicism" one is reminded of that old bore Polonius, who tells how
Hamlet is affected:

                      Your noble son is mad:
  Mad, call I it; for to define true madness,
  What is't but to be nothing else but mad?

In our literature the word "classic" was probably first used in connection
with the writers of Greece and Rome, and any English work which showed the
influence of such writers was said to have a classic style. If we seek to
the root of the word, we shall find that it refers to the _classici_,
that is, to the highest of the classes into which the census divided the
Roman people; hence the proper use of "classic" to designate the writings
that have won first rank in any nation. As Goethe said, "Everything that is
good in literature is classical."


Gradually, however, the word "classic" came to have a different meaning, a
meaning now expressed by the word "formal." In the Elizabethan age, as we
have seen, critics insisted that English plays should conform to the rules
or "unities" of the Greek drama, and plays written according to such rules
were called classic. Again, in the eighteenth century, English poets took
to studying ancient authors, especially Horace, to find out how poetry
should be written. Having discovered, as they thought, the rules of
composition, they insisted on following such rules rather than individual
genius or inspiration. It is largely because of this adherence to rules,
this slavery to a fashion of the time, that so much of eighteenth-century
verse seems cold and artificial, a thing made to order rather than the
natural expression of human feeling. The writers themselves were well
satisfied with their formality, however, and called their own the Classic
or Augustan age of English letters. [Footnote: Though the eighteenth
century was dominated by this formal spirit, it had, like every other age,
its classic and romantic movements. The work of Gray, Burns and other
romantic poets will be considered later.]

       *       *       *       *       *

ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

It was in 1819 that a controversy arose over the question, Was Pope a poet?
To have asked that in 1719 would have indicated that the questioner was
ignorant; to have asked it  a half century later might have raised a doubt
as to his sanity, for by that time Pope was acclaimed as a master by the
great majority of poets in England and America. We judge now, looking at
him in perspective and comparing him with Chaucer or Burns, that he was not
a great poet but simply the kind of poet that the age demanded. He belongs
to eighteenth-century London exclusively, and herein he differs from the
master poets who are at home in all places and expressive of all time.

[Illustration: ALEXANDER POPE]

    LIFE. Pope is an interesting but not a lovable figure. Against the
    petty details of his life we should place, as a background, these
    amazing achievements: that this poor cripple, weak of body and
    spiteful of mind, was the supreme literary figure of his age; that
    he demonstrated how an English poet could live by his pen, instead
    of depending on patrons; that he won greater fame and fortune than
    Shakespeare or Milton received from their contemporaries; that he
    dominated the fashion of English poetry during his lifetime, and
    for many years after his death.

    [Sidenote: THE WRITER]

    Such are the important facts of Pope's career. For the rest: he was
    born in London, in the year of the Revolution (1688). Soon after
    that date his father, having gained a modest fortune in the linen
    business, retired to Binfield, on the fringe of Windsor Forest.
    There Pope passed his boyhood, studying a little under private
    tutors, forming a pleasurable acquaintance with Latin and Greek
    poets. From fourteen to twenty, he tells us, he read for amusement;
    but from twenty to twenty-seven he read for "improvement and
    instruction." The most significant traits of these early years were
    his determination to be a poet and his talent for imitating any
    writer who pleased him. Dryden was his first master, from whom he
    inherited the couplet, then he imitated the French critic Boileau
    and the Roman poet Horace. By the time he was twenty four the
    publication of his _Essay on Criticism_ and _The Rape of the
    Lock_ had made him the foremost poet of England. By his
    translation of Homer he made a fortune, with which he bought a
    villa at Twickenham. There he lived in the pale sunshine of
    literary success, and there he quarreled with every writer who
    failed to appreciate his verses, his jealousy overflowing at last
    in _The Dunciad_ (Iliad of Dunces), a witty but venomous
    lampoon, in which he took revenge on all who had angered him.

    Pope lived at Twickenham for nearly thirty years]

    [Sidenote: THE MAN]

    Next to his desire for glory and revenge, Pope loved to be
    considered a man of high character, a teacher of moral philosophy.
    His ethical teaching appears in his _Moral Epistles_, his
    desire for a good reputation is written large in his Letters, which
    he secretly printed, and then alleged that they had been made
    public against his wish. These Letters might impress us as the
    utterances of a man of noble ideals, magnanimous with his friends,
    patient with his enemies, until we reflect that they were published
    by the author for the purpose of giving precisely that impression.

    Another side of Pope's nature is revealed in this: that to some of
    his friends, to Swift and Bolingbroke for example, he showed
    gratitude, and that to his parents he was ever a dutiful son. He
    came perhaps as near as he could to a real rather than an
    artificial sentiment when he wrote of his old mother:

      Me let the tender office long engage,
      To rock the cradle of reposing age.

WORKS OF POPE. Pope's first important work, _An Essay on Criticism_
(1711), is an echo of the rules which Horace had formulated in his _Ars
Poetica_, more than seventeen centuries before Pope was born. The French
critic Boileau made an alleged improvement of Horace in his _L'Art
Poétique_, and Pope imitated both writers with his rimed _Essay_,
in which he attempted to sum up the rules by which poetry should be judged.
And he did it, while still under the age of twenty-five, so brilliantly
that his characterization of the critic is unmatched in our literature. A
few selections will serve to show the character of the work:

  First follow nature, and your judgment frame
  By her just standard, which is still the same:
  Unerring nature, still divinely bright,
  One clear, unchanged and universal light,
  Life, force and beauty must to all impart,
  At once the source and end and test of Art.

  Poets, like painters, thus unskilled to trace
  The naked nature and the living grace,
  With gold and jewels cover every part,
  And hide with ornaments their want of art.
  True wit is nature to advantage dressed,
  What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed.

  Expression is the dress of thought, and still
  Appears more decent, as more suitable.

[Sidenote: RAPE OF THE LOCK]

Pope's next important poem, _The Rape of the Lock_ (1712), is his most
original and readable work. The occasion of the poem was that a fop stole a
lock of hair from a young lady, and the theft plunged two families into a
quarrel which was taken up by the fashionable set of London. Pope made a
mock-heroic poem on the subject, in which he satirized the fads and
fashions of Queen Anne's age. Ordinarily Pope's fancy is of small range,
and proceeds jerkily, like the flight of a woodpecker, from couplet to
couplet; but here he attempts to soar like the eagle. He introduces dainty
aerial creatures, gnomes, sprites, sylphs, to combat for the belles and
fops in their trivial concerns; and herein we see a clever burlesque of the
old epic poems, in which gods or goddesses entered into the serious affairs
of mortals. The craftsmanship of the poem is above praise; it is not only a
neatly pointed satire on eighteenth-century fashions but is one of the most
graceful works in English verse.

[Sidenote: ESSAY OF MAN]

An excellent supplement to _The Rape of the Lock_, which pictures the
superficial elegance of the age, is _An Essay on Man_, which reflects
its philosophy. That philosophy under the general name of Deism, had
fancied to abolish the Church and all revealed religion, and had set up a
new-old standard of natural faith and morals. Of this philosophy Pope had
small knowledge; but he was well acquainted with the discredited
Bolingbroke, his "guide, philosopher and friend," who was a fluent exponent
of the new doctrine, and from Bolingbroke came the general scheme of the
_Essay on Man_.

The poem appears in the form of four epistles, dealing with man's place in
the universe, with his moral nature, with social and political ethics, and
with the problem of happiness. These were discussed from a common-sense
viewpoint, and with feet always on solid earth. As Pope declares:

  Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
  The proper study of mankind is man....
  Created half to rise, and half to fall;
  Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
  Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled;
  The glory, jest and riddle of the world.

Throughout the poem these two doctrines of Deism are kept in sight: that
there is a God, a Mystery, who dwells apart from the world; and that man
ought to be contented, even happy, in his ignorance of matters beyond his

  All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
  All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
  All discord, harmony not understood;
  All partial evil, universal good;
  And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
  One truth is clear: whatever is, is right.

The result is rubbish, so far as philosophy is concerned, but in the heap
of incongruous statements which Pope brings together are a large number of
quotable lines, such as:

  Honor and shame from no condition rise;
  Act well your part, there all the honor lies.

It is because of such lines, the care with which the whole poem is
polished, and the occasional appearance of real beauty (such as the passage
beginning, "Lo, the poor Indian") that the _Essay on Man_ occupies
such a high place in eighteenth-century literature.


It is hardly necessary to examine other works of Pope, since the poems
already named give us the full measure of his strength and weakness. His
talent is to formulate rules of poetry, to satirize fashionable society, to
make brilliant epigrams in faultless couplets. His failure to move or even
to interest us greatly is due to his second-hand philosophy, his inability
to feel or express emotion, his artificial life apart from nature and
humanity. When we read Chaucer or Shakespeare, we have the impression that
they would have been at home in any age or place, since they deal with
human interests that are the same yesterday, to-day and forever; but we can
hardly imagine Pope feeling at ease anywhere save in his own set and in his
own generation. He is the poet of one period, which set great store by
formality, and in that period alone he is supreme.

       *       *       *       *       *

JONATHAN SWIFT (1667-1745)

In the history of literature Swift occupies a large place as the most
powerful of English satirists; that is, writers who search out the faults
of society in order to hold them up to ridicule. To most readers, however,
he is known as the author of _Gulliver's Travels_, a book which young
people still read with pleasure, as they read _Robinson Crusoe_ or any
other story of adventure. In the fate of that book, which was intended to
scourge humanity but which has become a source of innocent entertainment,
is a commentary on the colossal failure of Swift's ambition.

[Illustration: JONATHAN SWIFT]

    LIFE. Little need be recorded of Swift's life beyond the few facts
    which help us to understand his satires. He was born in Dublin, of
    English parents, and was so "bantered by fortune" that he was
    compelled to spend the greater part of his life in Ireland, a
    country which he detested. He was very poor, very proud; and even
    in youth he railed at a mocking fate which compelled him to accept
    aid from others. For his education he was dependent on a relative,
    who helped him grudgingly. After leaving Trinity College, Dublin,
    the only employment he could find was with another relative, Sir
    William Temple, a retired statesman, who hired Swift as a secretary
    and treated him as a servant. Galled by his position and by his
    feeling of superiority (for he was a man of physical and mental
    power, who longed to be a master of great affairs) he took orders
    in the Anglican Church; but the only appointment he could obtain
    was in a village buried, as he said, in a forsaken district of
    Ireland. There his bitterness overflowed in _A Tale of a Tub_
    and a few pamphlets of such satiric power that certain political
    leaders recognized Swift's value and summoned him to their

    [Illustration: TRINITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN]

    [Sidenote: SWIFT IN LONDON]

    To understand his success in London one must remember the times.
    Politics were rampant; the city was the battleground of Whigs and
    Tories, whose best weapon was the printed pamphlet that justified
    one party by heaping abuse or ridicule on the other. Swift was a
    master of satire, and he was soon the most feared author in
    England. He seems to have had no fixed principles, for he was ready
    to join the Tories when that party came into power and to turn his
    literary cannon on the Whigs, whom he had recently supported. In
    truth, he despised both parties; his chief object was to win for
    himself the masterful position in Church or state for which, he
    believed, his talents had fitted him.

    For several years Swift was the literary champion of the victorious
    Tories; then, when his keen eye detected signs of tottering in the
    party, he asked for his reward. He obtained, not the great
    bishopric which he expected, but an appointment as Dean of St.
    Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. Small and bitter fruit this seemed
    to Swift, after his years of service, but even so, it was given
    grudgingly. [Footnote: Swift's pride and arrogance with his
    official superiors worked against him. Also he had published _A
    Tale of a Tub_, a coarse satire against the churches, which
    scandalized the queen and her ministers, who could have given him
    preferment. Thackeray says, "I think the Bishops who advised Queen
    Anne not to appoint the author of the _Tale of a Tub_ to a
    Bishopric gave perfectly good advice."]

    [Sidenote: LIFE IN IRELAND]

    When the Tories went out of power Swift's political occupation was
    gone. The last thirty years of his life were spent largely in
    Dublin. There in a living grave, as he regarded it, the scorn which
    he had hitherto felt for individuals or institutions widened until
    it included humanity. Such is the meaning of his _Gulliver's
    Travels_. His only pleasure during these years was to expose the
    gullibility of men, and a hundred good stories are current of his
    practical jokes,--such as his getting rid of a crowd which had
    gathered to watch an eclipse by sending a solemn messenger to
    announce that, by the Dean's orders, the eclipse was postponed till
    the next day. A brain disease fastened upon him gradually, and his
    last years were passed in a state of alternate stupor or madness
    from which death was a blessed deliverance.

WORKS OF SWIFT. The poems of Swift, though they show undoubted power (every
smallest thing he wrote bears that stamp), may be passed over with the
comment of his relative Dryden, who wrote: "Cousin Swift, you will never be
a poet." The criticism was right, but thereafter Swift jeered at Dryden's
poetry. We may pass over also the _Battle of the Books_, the
_Drapier's Letters_ and a score more of satires and lampoons. Of all
these minor works the _Bickerstaff Papers_, which record Swift's
practical joke on the astrologers, are most amusing. [Footnote: Almanacs
were at that time published by pretender astrologers, who read fortunes or
made predictions from the stars. Against the most famous of these quacks,
Partridge by name, Swift leveled his "Predictions for the year 1708, by
Isaac Bickerstaff." Among the predictions of coming events was this trifle:
that Partridge was doomed to die on March 29 following, about eleven
o'clock at night, of a raging fever. On March 30 appeared, in the
newspapers, a letter giving the details of Partridge's death, and then a
pamphlet called "An Elegy of Mr. Partridge." Presently Partridge, who could
not see the joke, made London laugh by his frantic attempts to prove that
he was alive. Then appeared an elaborate "Vindication of Isaac
Bickerstaff," which proved by the infallible stars that Partridge was dead,
and that the astrologer now in his place was an impostor. This joke was
copied twenty-five years later by Franklin in his _Poor Richard's


Swift's fame now rests largely upon his _Gulliver's Travels_, which
appeared in 1726 under the title, "Travels into Several Remote Nations of
the World, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a Surgeon and then a Captain of
Several Ships." In the first voyage we are taken to Lilliput, a country
inhabited by human beings about six inches tall, with minds in proportion.
The capers of these midgets are a satire on human society, as seen through
Swift's scornful eyes. In the second voyage we go to Brobdingnag, where the
people are of gigantic stature, and by contrast we are reminded of the
petty "human insects" whom Gulliver represents. The third voyage, to the
Island of Laputa, is a burlesque of the scientists and philosophers of
Swift's day. The fourth leads to the land of the Houyhnhnms, where
intelligent horses are the ruling creatures, and humanity is represented by
the Yahoos, a horribly degraded race, having the forms of men and the
bestial habits of monkeys.

Such is the ferocious satire on the elegant society of Queen Anne's day.
Fortunately for our peace of mind we can read the book for its grim humor
and adventurous action, as we read any other good story. Indeed, it
surprises most readers of _Gulliver_ to be told that the work was
intended to wreck our faith in humanity.


In all his satires Swift's power lies in his prose style--a convincing
style, clear, graphic, straightforward--and in his marvelous ability to
make every scene, however distant or grotesque, as natural as life itself.
As Emerson said, he describes his characters as if for the police. His
weakness is twofold: he has a fondness for coarse or malodorous references,
and he is so beclouded in his own soul that he cannot see his fellows in a
true light. In one of his early works he announced the purpose of all his

  My hate, whose lash just Heaven has long decreed,
  Shall on a day make Sin and Folly bleed.

That was written at twenty-six, before he took orders in the Church. As a
theological student it was certainly impressed upon the young man that
Heaven keeps its own prerogatives, and that sin and folly have never been
effectually reformed by lashing. But Swift had a scorn of all judgment
except his own. As the eyes of fishes are so arranged that they see only
their prey and their enemies, so Swift had eyes only for the vices of men
and for the lash that scourges them. When he wrote, therefore, he was not
an observer, or even a judge; he was a criminal lawyer prosecuting humanity
on the charge of being a sham. A tendency to insanity may possibly account
both for his spleen against others and for the self-tortures which made
him, as Archbishop King said, "the most unhappy man on earth."


There is one oasis in the bitter desert of Swift's writings, namely, his
_Journal to Stella_. While in the employ of Temple he was the daily
companion of a young girl, Esther Johnson, who was an inmate of the same
household. Her love for Swift was pure and constant; wherever he went she
followed and lived near him, bringing a ray of sunshine into his life, in a
spirit which reminds us of the sublime expression of another woman: "For
whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy
people shall be my people, and thy God my God." She was probably married to
Swift, but his pride kept him from openly acknowledging the union. While he
was at London he wrote a private journal for Esther (Stella) in which he
recorded his impressions of the men and women he met, and of the political
battles in which he took part. That journal, filled with strange
abbreviations to which only he and Stella had the key, can hardly be called
literature, but it is of profound interest. It gives us glimpses of a woman
who chose to live in the shadow; it shows the better side of Swift's
nature, in contrast with his arrogance toward men and his brutal treatment
of women; and finally, it often takes us behind the scenes of a stage on
which was played a mixed comedy of politics and society.

       *       *       *       *       *

JOSEPH ADDISON (1672-1719)

In Addison we have a pleasant reflection of the new social life of England.
Select almost any feature of that life, and you shall find some account of
it in the papers of Addison: its party politics in his _Whig
Examiner_; its "grand tour," as part of a gentleman's education, in his
_Remarks on Italy_; its adventure on foreign soil in such poems as
"The Campaign"; its new drama of decency in his _Cato_; its classic
delusions in his _Account of the Greatest English Poets_; its frills,
fashions and similar matters in his _Spectator_ essays. He tried
almost every type of literature, from hymns to librettos, and in each he
succeeded well enough to be loudly applauded. In his own day he was
accounted a master poet, but now he is remembered as a writer of prose

[Illustration: JOSEPH ADDISON]

    LIFE. Addison's career offers an interesting contrast to that of
    Swift, who lived in the same age. He was the son of an English
    clergyman, settled in the deanery of Lichfield, and his early
    training left upon him the stamp of good taste and good breeding.
    In school he was always the model boy; in Oxford he wrote Latin
    verses on safe subjects, in the approved fashion; in politics he
    was content to "oil the machine" as he found it; in society he was
    shy and silent (though naturally a brilliant talker) because he
    feared to make some slip which might mar his prospects or the
    dignity of his position.

    A very discreet man was Addison, and the only failure he made of
    discretion was when he married the Dowager Countess of Warwick,
    went to live in her elegant Holland House, and lived unhappily ever
    afterwards. The last is a mere formal expression. Addison had not
    depth enough to be really unhappy. From the cold comfort of the
    Dowager's palace he would slip off to his club or to Will's Coffee
    house. There, with a pipe and a bottle, he would loosen his
    eloquent tongue and proceed to "make discreetly merry with a few
    old friends."


    His characteristic quality appears in the literary work which
    followed his Latin verses. He began with a flattering "Address to
    Dryden," which pleased the old poet and brought Addison to the
    attention of literary celebrities. His next effort was "The Peace
    of Ryswick," which flattered King William's statesmen and brought
    the author a chance to serve the Whig party. Also it brought a
    pension, with a suggestion that Addison should travel abroad and
    learn French and diplomacy, which he did, to his great content, for
    the space of three years.

    The death of the king brought Addison back to England. His pension
    stopped, and for a time he lived poorly "in a garret," as one may
    read in Thackeray's _Henry Esmond_. Then came news of an
    English victory on the Continent (Marlborough's victory at
    Blenheim), and the Whigs wanted to make political capital out of
    the event. Addison was hunted up and engaged to write a poem. He
    responded with "The Campaign," which made him famous. Patriots and
    politicians ascribed to the poem undying glory, and their judgment
    was accepted by fashionable folk of London. To read it now is to
    meet a formal, uninspired production, containing a few stock
    quotations and, incidentally, a sad commentary on the union of
    Whiggery and poetry.

    [Sidenote: HIS PATH OF ROSES]

    From that moment Addison's success was assured. He was given
    various offices of increasing importance; he entered Parliament; he
    wrote a classic tragedy, _Cato_, which took London by storm
    (his friend Steele had carefully "packed the house" for the first
    performance); his essays in _The Spectator_ were discussed in
    every fashionable club or drawing-room; he married a rich countess;
    he was appointed Secretary of State. The path of politics, which
    others find so narrow and slippery, was for Addison a broad road
    through pleasant gardens. Meanwhile Swift, who could not follow the
    Addisonian way of kindness and courtesy, was eating bitter bread
    and railing at humanity.

    After a brief experience as Secretary of State, finding that he
    could not make the speeches expected of him, Addison retired on a
    pension. His unwavering allegiance to good form in all matters
    appears even in his last remark, "See how a Christian can die."
    That was in 1719. He had sought the easiest, pleasantest way
    through life, and had found it. Thackeray, who was in sympathy with
    such a career, summed it up in a glowing panegyric:

        "A life prosperous and beautiful, a calm death; an immense
        fame and affection afterwards for his happy and spotless

WORKS OF ADDISON. Addison's great reputation was won chiefly by his poetry;
but with the exception of a few hymns, simple and devout, his poetical
works no longer appeal to us. He was not a poet but a verse-maker. His
classic tragedy _Cato_, for example (which met with such amazing
success in London that it was taken over to the Continent, where it was
acclaimed "a masterpiece of regularity and elegance"), has some good
passages, but one who reads the context is apt to find the elegant lines
running together somewhat drowsily. Nor need that reflect on our taste or
intelligence. Even the cultured Greeks, as if in anticipation of classic
poems, built two adjoining temples, one dedicated to the Muses and the
other to Sleep.

[Sidenote: THE ESSAYS]

The _Essays_ of Addison give us the full measure of his literary
talent. In his verse, as in his political works, he seems to be speaking to
strangers; he is on guard over his dignity as a poet, as Secretary of
State, as husband of a countess; but in his _Essays_ we meet the man
at his ease, fluent, witty, light-hearted but not frivolous,--just as he
talked to his friends in Will's Coffeehouse. The conversational quality of
these _Essays_ has influenced all subsequent works of the same
type,--a type hard to define, but which leaves the impression of pleasant
talk about a subject, as distinct from any learned discussion.

The _Essays_ cover a wide range: fashions, dress, manners, character
sketches, letters of travel, ghost stories, satires on common vices,
week-end sermons on moral subjects. They are never profound, but they are
always pleasant, and their graceful style made such a lasting impression
that, half a century later, Dr. Johnson summed up a general judgment when
he said:

    "Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not
    coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and
    nights to the volumes of Addison."

ADDISON AND STEELE. Of these two associates Richard Steele (1672-1729) had
the more original mind, and his writings reveal a warm, human sympathy that
is lacking in the work of his more famous contemporary. But while Addison
cultivated his one talent of writing, Steele was like Defoe in that he
always had some new project in his head, and some old debt urging him to
put the project into immediate execution. He was in turn poet, political
pamphleteer, soldier, dramatist, member of Parliament, publisher, manager
of a theater, following each occupation eagerly for a brief season, then
abandoning it cheerfully for another,--much like a boy picking blueberries
in a good place, who moves on and on to find a better bush, eats his
berries on the way, and comes home at last with an empty pail.

From the engraving by Freeman after original by J. Richardson]


While holding the political office of "gazetteer" (one who had a monopoly
of official news) the idea came to Steele of publishing a literary
magazine. The inventive Defoe had already issued _The Review_ (1704),
but that had a political origin. With the first number of _The Tatler_
(1709) the modern magazine made its bow to the public. This little sheet,
published thrice a week and sold at a penny a copy, contained more or less
politics, to be sure, but the fact that it reflected the gossip of
coffeehouses made it instantly popular. After less than two years of
triumph Steele lost his official position, and _The Tatler_ was
discontinued. The idea remained, however, and a few months later appeared
_The Spectator_ (1711), a daily magazine which eschewed politics and
devoted itself to essays, reviews, letters, criticisms,--in short, to
"polite" literature. Addison, who had been a contributor to _The
Tatler_ entered heartily into the new venture, which had a brief but
glorious career. He became known as "Mr. Spectator," and the famous
Spectator Essays are still commonly attributed to him, though in truth
Steele furnished a large part of them. [Footnote: Of the _Tatler_
essays Addison contributed 42, Steele about 180, and some 36 were the work
of the two authors in collaboration. Of the _Spectator_ essays Addison
furnished 274, Steele 236, and about 45 were the work of other writers. In
some of the best essays ("Sir Roger de Coverley," for example) the two men
worked together. Steele is supposed to have furnished the original ideas,
the humor and overflowing kindness of such essays, while the work of
polishing and perfecting the style fell to the more skillful Addison.]


Because of their cultivated prose style, Steele and Addison were long
regarded as models, and we are still influenced by them in the direction of
clearness and grace of expression. How wide their influence extended may be
seen in American literature. Hardly had _The Spectator_ appeared when
it crossed the Atlantic and began to dominate our English style on both
sides of the ocean. Franklin, in Boston, studied it by night in order to
imitate it in the essay which he slipped under the printing-house door next
morning; and Boyd, in Virginia, reflects its influence in his charming
Journal of exploration. Half a century later, the Hartford Wits were
writing clever sketches that seemed like the work of a new "Spectator";
another half century, and Irving, the greatest master of English prose in
his day, was still writing in the Addisonian manner, and regretting as he
wrote that the leisurely style showed signs, in a bustling age, "of
becoming a little old-fashioned."

       *       *       *       *       *


Since Caxton established the king's English as a literary language our
prose style has often followed the changing fashion of London. Thus, Lyly
made it fantastic, Dryden simplified it, Addison gave it grace; and each
leader set a fashion which was followed by a host of young writers. Hardly
had the Addisonian style crossed the Atlantic, to be the model for American
writers for a century, when London acclaimed a new prose fashion--a
ponderous, grandiloquent fashion, characterized by mouth-filling words,
antithetical sentences, rounded periods, sonorous commonplaces--which was
eagerly adopted by orators and historians especially. The man who did more
than any other to set this new oratorical fashion in motion was the same
Dr. Samuel Johnson who advised young writers to study Addison as a model.
And that was only one of his amusing inconsistencies.

Johnson was a man of power, who won a commanding place in English letters
by his hard work and his downright sincerity. He won his name of "the great
lexicographer" by his _Dictionary_, which we no longer consult, but
which we remember as the first attempt at a complete English lexicon. If
one asks what else he wrote, with the idea of going to the library and
getting a book for pleasure, the answer must be that Johnson's voluminous
works are now as dead as his dictionary. One student of literature may be
interested in such a melancholy poem as "The Vanity of Human Wishes";
another will be entertained by the anecdotes or blunt criticisms of the
_Lives of the Poets_; a third may be uplifted by the _Rambler
Essays_, which are well called "majestically moral productions"; but we
shall content ourselves here by recording Johnson's own refreshing
criticism of certain ancient authors, that "it is idle to criticize what
nobody reads." Perhaps the best thing he wrote was a minor work, which he
did not know would ever be published. This was his manly Letter to Lord
Chesterfield, a nobleman who had treated Johnson with discourtesy when the
poor author was making a heroic struggle, but who offered his patronage
when the Dictionary was announced as an epoch-making work. In his noble
refusal of all extraneous help Johnson unconsciously voiced Literature's
declaration of independence: that henceforth a book must stand or fall on
its own merits, and that the day of the literary patron was gone forever.

[Illustration: DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON
From the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds]

    LIFE. The story of Johnson's life (1709-1784) has been so well told
    that one is loath to attempt a summary of it. We note, therefore, a
    few plain facts: that he was the son of a poor bookseller; that
    despite poverty and disease he obtained his classic education; that
    at twenty-six he came to London, and, after an experience with
    patrons, rebelled against them; that he did every kind of hackwork
    to earn his bread honestly, living in the very cellar of Grub
    Street, where he was often cold and more often hungry; that after
    nearly thirty years of labor his services to literature were
    rewarded by a pension, which he shared with the poor; that he then
    formed the Literary Club (including Reynolds, Pitt, Gibbon,
    Goldsmith, Burke, and almost every other prominent man in London)
    and indulged nightly in his famous "conversations," which were
    either monologues or knockdown arguments; and that in his old age
    he was regarded as the king of letters, the oracle of literary
    taste in England.

      [Illustration: DR. JOHNSON'S HOUSE (BOLT COURT, FLEET ST.)
      From the print by Charles J. Smith]

    Such is the bare outline of Johnson's career. To his character, his
    rough exterior and his kind heart, his vast learning and his Tory
    prejudices, his piety, his melancholy, his virtues, his frailty,
    his "mass of genuine manhood," only a volume could do justice.
    Happily that volume is at hand. It is Boswell's _Life of
    Johnson_, a famous book that deserves its fame.

BOSWELL'S JOHNSON. Boswell was an inquisitive barrister who came from
Edinburgh to London and thrust himself into the company of great men. To
Johnson, then at the summit of his fame, "Bozzy" was devotion itself,
following his master about by day or night, refusing to be rebuffed,
jotting down notes of what he saw and heard. After Johnson's death he
gathered these notes together and, after seven years of labor, produced his
incomparable _Life of Johnson_ (1791).

The greatness of Boswell's work may be traced to two causes. First, he had
a great subject. The story of any human life is interesting, if truthfully
told, and Johnson's heroic life of labor and pain and reward was passed in
a capital city, among famous men, at a time which witnessed the rapid
expansion of a mighty empire. Second, Boswell was as faithful as a man
could be to his subject, for whom he had such admiration that even the
dictator's frailties seemed more impressive than the virtues of ordinary
humanity. So Boswell concealed nothing, and felt no necessity to distribute
either praise or blame. He portrayed a man just as that man was, recorded
the word just as the word was spoken; and facing the man we may see his
enraptured audience,--at a distance, indeed, but marvelously clear, as when
we look through the larger end of a field glass at a landscape dominated by
a mountain. One who reads this matchless biography will know Johnson better
than he knows his own neighbor; he will gain, moreover, a better
understanding of humanity, to reflect which clearly and truthfully is the
prime object of all good literature.

[Illustration: James Boswell]

EDMUND BURKE (1729-1797). This brilliant Irishman came up to London as a
young man of twenty-one. Within a few years--such was his character, his
education, his genius--he had won a reputation among old statesmen as a
political philosopher. Then he entered Parliament, where for twenty years
the House listened with growing amazement to his rhythmic periods, and he
was acclaimed the most eloquent of orators.

Among Burke's numerous works those on America, India and France are
deservedly the most famous. Of his orations on American subjects a student
of literature or history may profitably read "On Taxation" (1774) and "On
Conciliation" (1775), in which Burke presents the Whig argument in favor of
a liberal colonial policy. The Tory view of the same question was bluntly
presented by Johnson in his essay "Taxation No Tyranny"; while like a
reverberation from America, powerful enough to carry across the Atlantic,
came Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," which was a ringing plea for colonial

[Illustration: EDMUND BURKE
From the print by John Jones, after Romney]

Of Burke's works pertaining to India "The Nabob of Arcot's Debts" (1785)
and the "Impeachment of Warren Hastings" (1786) are interesting to those who
can enjoy a long flight of sustained eloquence. Here again Burke presents
the liberal, the humane view of what was then largely a political question;
but in his _Reflections on the French Revolution_ (1790) he goes over
to the Tories, thunders against the revolutionists or their English
sympathizers, and exalts the undying glories of the British constitution.
The _Reflections_ is the most brilliant of all Burke's works, and is
admired for its superb rhetorical style.

[Sidenote: BURKE'S METHOD]

To examine any of these works is to discover the author's characteristic
method: first, his framework or argument is carefully constructed so as to
appeal to reason; then this framework is buried out of sight and memory by
a mass of description, digression, emotional appeal, allusions,
illustrative matter from the author's wide reading or from his prolific
imagination. Note this passage from the _French Revolution_:

    "It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of
    France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never
    lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more
    delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and
    cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in,
    glittering like the morning star, full of life and splendor and
    joy. Oh, what a revolution! And what a heart must I have to
    contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little
    did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of
    distant, enthusiastic, respectful love, that she should ever be
    obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in
    that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such
    disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation
    of men of honour and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords
    must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that
    threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That
    of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the
    glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more shall
    we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud
    submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the
    heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an
    exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of
    nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is
    gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of
    honour, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage
    whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched,
    and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its

That is finely expressed, but it has no bearing on the political matter in
question; namely, whether the sympathy of England should be extended to the
French revolutionists in their struggle for liberty. This irrelevancy of
Burke suggests our first criticism: that he is always eloquent, and usually
right; but he is seldom convincing, and his eloquence is a hindrance rather
than a help to his main purpose. So we are not surprised to hear that his
eloquent speech on Conciliation emptied the benches; or that after his
supreme effort in the impeachment of Hastings--an effort so tremendously
dramatic that spectators sobbed, screamed, were carried out in fits--the
object of all this invective was acquitted by his judges. Reading the works
now, they seem to us praiseworthy not for their sustained eloquence, which
is wearisome, but for the brilliancy of certain detached passages which
catch the eye like sparkling raindrops after a drenching shower. It was the
splendor of such passages, their vivid imagery and harmonious rhythm, which
led Matthew Arnold to assert that Burke was the greatest master of prose
style in our literature. Anybody can make such an assertion; nobody can
prove or disprove it.

THE HISTORIANS. Perhaps it was the rapid expansion of the empire in the
latter, part of the eighteenth century which aroused such interest in
historical subjects that works of history were then more eagerly welcomed
than poetry or fiction. Gibbon says in his _Memoirs_ that in his day
"history was the most popular species of composition." It was also the best
rewarded; for while Johnson, the most renowned author of his time, wrote a
romance (_Rasselas_) hoping to sell it for enough to pay for his
mother's funeral, Robertson easily disposed of his _History of the
Emperor Charles V_ for £4500; and there were others who were even better
paid for popular histories, the very titles of which are now forgotten.

[Sidenote: GIBBON]

Of all the historical works of the age, and their name was legion, only one
survives with something of its original vitality, standing the double test
of time and scholarship. This is _The Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire_ (1776), a work which remained famous for a century, and which
still has its admiring readers. It was written by Edward Gibbon
(1737-1794), who belonged to the Literary Club that gathered about Johnson,
and who cultivated his style, he tells us, first by adopting the dictator's
rounded periods, and then practicing them "till they moved to flutes and

The scope of Gibbon's work is enormous. It begins with the Emperor Trajan
(A.D. 98) and carries us through the convulsions of a dying civilization,
the descent of the Barbarians on Rome, the spread of Christianity, the
Crusades, the rise of Mohammedanism,--through all the confused history of
thirteen centuries, ending with the capture of Constantinople by the Turks,
in 1453. The mind that could grasp such vast and chaotic materials, arrange
them in orderly sequence and resent them as in a gorgeous panorama, moves
us to wonder. To be sure, there are many things to criticize in Gibbon's
masterpiece,--the author's love of mere pageants; his materialism; his
inability to understand religious movements, or even religious motives; his
lifeless figures, which move as if by mechanical springs,--but one who
reads the _Decline and Fall_ may be too much impressed by the
evidences of scholarship, of vast labor, of genius even, to linger over
faults. It is a "monumental" work, most interesting to those who admire
monuments; and its style is the perfection of that oratorical, Johnsonese
style which was popular in England in 1776, and which, half a century
later, found its best American mouthpiece in Daniel Webster. The influence
of Gibbon may still be seen in the orators and historians who, lacking the
charm of simplicity, clothe even their platitudes in high-sounding phrases.

[Illustration: EDWARD GIBBON
From an enamel by H Bone, R.A.; after Sir Joshua Reynolds]

       *       *       *       *       *


Every age has had its romantic poets--that is, poets who sing the dreams
and ideals of life, and whose songs seem to be written naturally,
spontaneously, as from a full heart [Footnote: For specific examples of
formal and romantic poetry see the comparison between Addison and
Wordsworth below, under "Natural vs Formal Poetry", Chapter VII]--but in
the eighteenth century they were completely overshadowed by formal
versifiers who made poetry by rule. At that time the imaginative verse
which had delighted an earlier age was regarded much as we now regard an
old beaver hat; Shakespeare and Milton were neglected, Spenser was but a
name, Chaucer was clean forgotten. If a poet aspired to fame, he imitated
the couplets of Dryden or Pope, who, as Cowper said,

  Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
  And every warbler has his tune by heart.

[Illustration: THOMAS GRAY
from a portrait by Benjamin Wilson, in the possession of John Murray]

Among those who made vigorous protest against the precise and dreary
formalism of the age were Collins and Gray, whose names are commonly
associated in poetry, as are the names of Addison and Steele in prose. They
had the same tastes, the same gentle melancholy, the same freedom from the
bondage of literary fashion. Of the two, William Collins (1721-1759) was
perhaps the more gifted poet. His exquisite "Ode to Evening" is without a
rival in its own field, and his brief elegy beginning, "How sleep the
brave," is a worthy commemoration of a soldier's death and a nation's
gratitude. It has, says Andrew Lang, the magic of an elder day and of all

Thomas Gray (1716-1771) is more widely known than his fellow poet, largely
because of one fortunate poem which "returned to men's bosoms" as if sure
of its place and welcome. This is the "Elegy Written in a Country
Churchyard" (1750), which has been translated into all civilized tongues,
and which is known, loved, quoted wherever English is spoken.


[Sidenote: GRAY'S ELEGY]

To criticize this favorite of a million readers seems almost ruthless, as
if one were pulling a flower to pieces for the sake of giving it a
botanical name. A pleasanter task is to explain, if one can, the immense
popularity of the "Elegy." The theme is of profound interest to every man
who reveres the last resting place of his parents, to the nation which
cherishes every monument of its founders, and even to primitive peoples,
like the Indians, who refuse to leave the place where their fathers are
buried, and who make the grave a symbol of patriotism. With this great
theme our poet is in perfect sympathy. His attitude is simple and reverent;
he treads softly, as if on holy ground. The natural setting or atmosphere
of his poem, the peace of evening falling on the old churchyard at Stoke
Poges, the curfew bell, the cessation of daily toil, the hush which falls
upon the twilight landscape like a summons to prayer,--all this is exactly
as it should be. Finally, Gray's craftsmanship, his choice of words, his
simple figures, his careful fitting of every line to its place and context,
is as near perfection as human skill could make it.

Other poems of Gray, which make his little book precious, are the four
odes: "To Spring," "On a Distant Prospect of Eton College," "The Progress
of Poesy" and "The Bard," the last named being a description of the
dramatic end of an old Welsh minstrel, who chants a wild prophecy as he
goes to his death. These romantic odes, together with certain translations
which Gray made from Norse mythology, mark the end of "classic" domination
in English poetry.

       *       *       *       *       *


Most versatile of eighteenth-century writers was "poor Noll," a most
improvident kind of man in all worldly ways, but so skillful with his pen
that Johnson wrote a sincere epitaph to the effect that Goldsmith attempted
every form of literature, and adorned everything which he attempted. The
form of his verse suggests the formal school, and his polished couplets
rival those of Pope; but there the resemblance ceases. In his tenderness
and humor, in his homely subjects and the warm human sympathy with which he
describes them, Goldsmith belongs to the new romantic school of poetry.

    LIFE. The life of Goldsmith has inspired many pens; but the
    subject, far from being exhausted, is still awaiting the right
    biographer. The poet's youthful escapades in the Irish country, his
    classical education at Trinity College, Dublin, and his vagabond
    studies among gypsies and peddlers, his childish attempts at
    various professions, his wanderings over Europe, his shifts and
    makeshifts to earn a living in London, his tilts with Johnson at
    the Literary Club, his love of gorgeous raiment, his indiscriminate
    charity, his poverty, his simplicity, his success in the art of
    writing and his total failure in the art of living,--such
    kaleidoscopic elements make a brief biography impossible. The
    character of the man appears in a single incident.

    Landing one day on the Continent with a flute, a spare shirt and a
    guinea as his sole outward possessions, the guinea went for a feast
    and a game of cards at the nearest inn, and the shirt to the first
    beggar that asked for it. There remained only the flute, and with
    that Goldsmith fared forth confidently, like the gleeman of old
    with his harp, delighted at seeing the world, utterly forgetful of
    the fact that he had crossed the Channel in search of a medical

    That aimless, happy-go-lucky journey was typical of Goldsmith's
    whole life of forty-odd years. Those who knew him loved but
    despaired of him. When he passed away (1774) Johnson summed up the
    feeling of the English literary world in the sentence, "He was a
    very great man, let not his frailties be remembered."

After the portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds]

GOLDSMITH'S PROSE AND VERSE. Among the forgotten works of Goldsmith we note
with interest several that he wrote for children: a fanciful _History of
England_, an entertaining but most unreliable _Animated Nature_,
and probably also the tale of "Little Goody Twoshoes." These were written
(as were all his other works) to satisfy the demands of his landlady, or to
pay an old debt, or to buy a new cloak,--a plum-colored velvet cloak,
wherewith to appear at the opera or to dazzle the Literary Club. From among
his works we select four, as illustrative of Goldsmith's versatility.

_The Citizen of the World_, a series of letters from an alleged
Chinese visitor, invites comparison with the essays of Addison or Steele.
All three writers are satirical, all have a high moral purpose, all are
masters of a graceful style, but where the "Spectator" touches the surface
of life, Goldsmith often goes deeper and probes the very spirit of the
eighteenth century. Here is a paragraph from the first letter, in which the
alleged visitor, who has heard much of the wealth and culture of London,
sets down his first impressions:

    "From these circumstances in their buildings, and from the dismal
    looks of the inhabitants, I am induced to conclude that the nation
    is actually poor, and that, like the Persians, they make a splendid
    figure everywhere but at home. The proverb of Xixofou is, that a
    man's riches may be seen in his eyes if we judge of the English by
    this rule, there is not a poorer nation under the sun."

SEAT The tavern, which still stands, was the favorite haunt of both Johnson
and Goldsmith]


_The Deserted Village_ (1770) is the best remembered of Goldsmith's
poems, or perhaps one should say "verses" in deference to critics like
Matthew Arnold who classify the work with Pope's _Essay on Man_, as a
rimed dissertation rather than a true poem.

To compare the two works just mentioned is to discover how far Goldsmith is
from his formal model. In Pope's "Essay" we find common sense, moral maxims
and some alleged philosophy, but no emotion, no romance, no men or women.
The "Village," on the other hand, is romantic even in desolation; it
awakens our interest, our sympathy; and it gives us two characters, the
Parson and the Schoolmaster, who live in our memories with the best of
Chaucer's creations. Moreover, it makes the commonplace life of man ideal
and beautiful, and so appeals to readers of widely different tastes or
nationalities. Of the many ambitious poems written in the eighteenth
century, the two most widely read (aside from the songs of Burns) are
Goldsmith's "Village," which portrays the life of simple country people,
and Gray's "Elegy," which laments their death.

Goldsmith lived here when he wrote the "Vicar of Wakefield"]


Goldsmith's one novel, _The Vicar of Wakefield_ (1766), has been well
called "the Prince Charming" of our early works of fiction. This work has a
threefold distinction: its style alone is enough to make it pleasant
reading; as a story it retains much of its original charm, after a century
and a half of proving; by its moral purity it offered the best kind of
rebuke to the vulgar tendency of the early English novel, and influenced
subsequent fiction in the direction of cleanness and decency.

The story is that of a certain vicar, or clergyman, Dr. Primrose and his
family, who pass through heavy trials and misfortunes. These might crush or
embitter an ordinary man, but they only serve to make the Vicar's love for
his children, his trust in God, his tenderness for humanity, shine out more
clearly, like star's after a tempest. Mingled with these affecting trials
are many droll situations which probably reflect something of the author's
personal escapades; for Goldsmith was the son of a clergyman, and brought
himself and his father into his tale. As a novel, that is, a reflection of
human life in the form of a story, it contains many weaknesses; but despite
its faults of moralizing and sentimentality, the impression which the story
leaves is one of "sweetness and light." Swinburne says that, of all novels
he had seen rise and fall in three generations, _The Vicar of
Wakefield_ alone had retained the same high level in the opinion of its


Another notable work is Goldsmith's comedy _She Stoops to Conquer_. The
date of that comedy (1773) recalls the fact that, though it has been played
for nearly a century and a half, during which a thousand popular plays have
been forgotten, it is still a prime favorite on the amateur stage. Perhaps
the only other comedies of which the same can be said with approximate
truth are _The Rivals_ (1775) and _The School for Scandal_ (1777)
of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

The plot of _She Stoops to Conquer_ is said to have been suggested by
one of Goldsmith's queer adventures. He arrived one day at a village,
riding a borrowed nag, and with the air of a lordly traveler asked a
stranger to direct him "to the best house in the place." The stranger
misunderstood, or else was a rare wag, for he showed the way to the abode
of a wealthy gentleman. There Goldsmith made himself at home, ordered the
servants about, invited his host to share a bottle of wine,--in short, made
a great fool of himself. Evidently the host was also a wag, for he let the
joke run on till the victim was ready to ride away. [Footnote: There is
some doubt as to the source of Goldsmith's plot. It may have been suggested
by an earlier French comedy by Marivaux.]

From some such crazy escapade Goldsmith made his comedy of manners, a
lively, rollicking comedy of topsy-turvy scenes, all hinging upon the
incident of mistaking a private house for a public inn. We have called
_She Stoops to Conquer_ a comedy of eighteenth-century manners, but
our continued interest in its absurdities would seem to indicate that it is
a comedy of human nature in all ages.

       *       *       *       *       *

ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796)

Burns is everywhere acclaimed the poet of Scotland, and for two good
reasons: because he reflects better than any other the emotions of the
Scottish people, and because his book is a summary of the best verse of his
native land. Practically all his songs, such as "Bonnie Boon" and "Auld
Lang Syne," are late echoes of much older verses; his more ambitious poems
borrow their ideas, their satire or sentiment, their form even, from
Ferguson, Allan Ramsay and other poets, all of whom aimed (as Scott aimed
in "Lochinvar") to preserve the work of unnamed minstrels whose lines had
been repeated in Highlands or Lowlands for two centuries. Burns may be
regarded, therefore, as a treasury of all that is best in Scottish song.
His genius was to take this old material, dear to the heart of the native,
and give it final expression.

[Illustration: ROBERT BURNS
After Alexander Nasmyth]

    LIFE. The life of Burns is one to discourage a biographer who does
    not relish the alternative of either concealing the facts or
    apologizing for his subject. We shall record here only a few
    personal matters which may help us to understand Burns's poetry.

    Perhaps the most potent influence in his life was that which came
    from his labor in the field. He was born in a clay biggin, or
    cottage, in the parish of Alloway, near the little town of Ayr.

      Auld Ayr, wham neer a town surpasses
      For honest men and bonnie lasses.

    His father was a poor crofter, a hard working, God fearing man of
    the Covenanter type, who labored unceasingly to earn a living from
    the soil of a rented farm. The children went barefoot in all
    seasons, almost from the time they could walk they were expected to
    labor and at thirteen Bobbie was doing a man's work at the plow or
    the reaping. The toil was severe, the reward, at best, was to
    escape dire poverty or disgraceful debt, but there was yet a
    nobility in the life which is finely reflected in "The Cotter's
    Saturday Night," a poem which ranks with Whittier's "Snow Bound"
    among the best that labor has ever inspired.

    [Illustration: "ELLISLAND"
    The hundred acre farm near Dumfries where Burns worked as a farmer.
    The happiest days of his life were spent here, 1787-1791]


    As a farmer's boy Burns worked in the open, in close contact with
    nature, and the result is evident in all his verse. Sunshine or
    storm, bird song or winter wind, the flowers, the stars, the dew of
    the morning,--open Burns where you will, and you are face to face
    with these elemental realities. Sometimes his reflection of nature
    is exquisitely tender, as in "To a Mouse" or "To a Mountain Daisy";
    but for the most part he regards nature not sentimentally, like
    Gray, or religiously, like Wordsworth and Bryant, but in a breezy,
    companionable way which suggests the song of "Under the Greenwood
    Tree" in _As You Like It_.

    [Sidenote: HIS EDUCATION]

    Another influence in Burns's life came from his elementary
    education. There were no ancient classics studied in the school
    which he attended,--fortunately, perhaps, for his best work is free
    from the outworn classical allusions which decorate the bulk of
    eighteenth-century verse. In the evening he listened to tales from
    Scottish history, which stirred him deeply and made him live in a
    present world rather than in the misty region of Greek mythology.
    One result of this education was the downright honesty of Burns's
    poems. Here is no echo from a vanished world of gods and goddesses,
    but the voice of a man, living, working, feeling joy or sorrow in
    the presence of everyday nature and humanity.

    For another formative influence Burns was indebted to Betty
    Davidson, a relative and an inmate of the household, who carried
    such a stock of old wives' tales as would scare any child into fits
    on a dark night. Hear Burns speak of her:

        "She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the country
        of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies,
        brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies,
        elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantrips,
        giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery. This
        cultivated the latent seeds of poetry, but had so strong an
        effect upon my imagination that to this hour, in my
        nocturnal rambles, I sometimes keep a sharp look-out in
        suspicious places."

    Reflections of these grotesque superstitions appear in such poems
    as the "Address to the Deil" and "Tam o' Shanter." The latter is
    commonly named as one of the few original works of Burns, but it is
    probably a retelling of some old witch-tale of Betty Davidson.

    [Sidenote: EVIL ELEMENTS]

    The evil influence in Burns's life may be only suggested. It leads
    first to the tavern, to roistering and dissipation, to
    entanglements in vulgar love affairs; then swiftly to the loss of a
    splendid poetic gift, to hopeless debts, to degrading poverty, to
    an untimely death. Burns had his chance, if ever poet had it, after
    the publication of his first book (the famous Kilmarnock edition of
    1786) when he was called in triumph to Edinburgh. There he sold
    another edition of his poems for a sum that seemed fabulous to a
    poor crofter; whereupon he bought a farm and married his Jean
    Armour. He was acclaimed throughout the length and breadth of his
    native land, his poems were read by the wise and by the ignorant,
    he was the poet of Scotland, and the nation, proud of its gifted
    son, stood ready to honor and follow him. But the old habits were
    too strong, and Burns took the downhill road. To this element of
    dissipation we owe his occasional bitterness, railing and
    coarseness, which make an expurgated edition of his poems essential
    to one who would enjoy the reading.


    There is another element, often emphasized for its alleged
    influence on Burns's poetry. During his lifetime the political
    world was shaken by the American and French revolutions, democracy
    was in the air, and the watchwords "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity"
    inspired many a song besides the _Marseillaise_ and many a
    document besides the Declaration of Independence. That Burns was
    aware of this political commotion is true, but he was not much
    influenced by it. He was at home only in his own Scottish field,
    and even there his interests were limited,--not to be compared with
    those of Walter Scott, for example. When the Bastille was stormed,
    and the world stood aghast, Burns was too much engrossed in
    personal matters to be greatly moved by distant affairs in France.
    Not to the Revolution, therefore, but to his Scottish blood do we
    owe the thrilling "Scots Wha Hae," one of the world's best battle
    songs, not to the new spirit of democracy abroad but to the old
    Covenanter spirit at home do we owe "A Man's a Man for a' That"
    with its assertion of elemental manhood.

THE SONGS OF BURNS. From such an analysis of Burns's life one may forecast
his subject and his method. Living intensely in a small field, he must
discover that there are just two poetic subjects of abiding interest. These
are Nature and Humanity, and of these Burns must write from first-hand
knowledge, simply, straightforwardly, and with sincerity. Moreover, as
Burns lives in an intense way, reading himself rather than books, he must
discover that the ordinary man is more swayed by strong feeling than by
logical reasons. He will write, therefore, of the common emotions that lie
between the extremes of laughter and tears, and his appeal will be to the
heart rather than to the head of his reader.

[Illustration: AULD ALLOWAY KIRK
Made famous by the poem of "Tam o'Shanter"]

This emotional power of Burns, his masterful touch upon human heartstrings,
is the first of his poetic qualities; and he has others which fairly force
themselves upon the attention. For example, many of his lyrics ("Auld Lang
Syne," "Banks o' Doon," "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton," "O Wert Thou in the
Cauld Blast") have been repeatedly set to music; and the reason is that
they were written to music, that in such poems Burns was refashioning some
old material to the tune of a Scottish song. There is a singing quality in
his poetry which not only makes it pleasant reading but which is apt to set
the words tripping to melody. For a specific example take this stanza from
"Of a' the Airts," a lyric which one can hardly read without making a tune
to match it:

  I see her in the dewy flow'rs,
    I see her sweet and fair;
  I hear her in the tunefu' birds,
    I hear her charm the air:
  There's not a bonie flow'r that springs
    By fountain, shaw or green,
  There's not a bonie bird that sings,
    But minds me o' my Jean.

Sympathy is another marked characteristic of Burns, a wide, all-embracing
sympathy that knows no limit save for hypocrites, at whom he pointed his
keenest satire. His feeling for nature is reflected in "To a Mouse" and "To
a Daisy"; his comradeship with noble men appears in "The Cotter's Saturday
Night," with riotous and bibulous men in "The Jolly Beggars," with
smugglers and their ilk in "The Deil's Awa' with the Exciseman," [Footnote:
Burns was himself an exciseman; that is, a collector of taxes on alcoholic
liquors. He wrote this song while watching a smuggler's craft, and waiting
in the storm for officers to come and make an arrest.] with patriots in
"Bannockburn," with men who mourn in "To Mary in Heaven," and with all
lovers in a score of famous lyrics. Side by side with Burns's sympathy (for
Smiles live next door to Tears) appears his keen sense of humor, a humor
that is sometimes rollicking, as in "Contented wi' Little," and again too
broad for decency. For the most part, however, Burns contents himself with
dry, quiet sarcasm delivered with an air of great seriousness:

  Ah, gentle dames, it gars me greet
  To think how mony counsels sweet,
  How mony lengthened sage advices
  The husband frae the wife despises!

WHY BURNS IS READ. Such qualities, appearing on almost every page of
Burns's little book of poetry, show how widely he differs from the formal
school of Pope and Dryden. They labor to compose poetry, while Burns gives
the impression of singing, as naturally as a child sings from a full heart.
Again, most eighteenth-century poets wrote for the favored few, but Burns
wrote for all his neighbors. His first book was bought farmers, plowboys,
milkmaids,--by every Lowlander who could scrape together three shillings to
buy a treasure. Then scholars got hold of it, taking it from humble hands,
and Burns was called to Edinburgh to prepare a larger edition of his songs.
For a half century Scotland kept him to herself, [Footnote: Up to 1850
Burns was rarely mentioned in treatises on English literature. One reason
for his late recognition was that the Lowland vocabulary employed in most
of his poems was only half intelligible to the ordinary English reader]
then his work went wide in the world, to be read again by plain men and
women, by sailors on the sea, by soldiers round the campfire, by farmers,
mechanics, tradesmen, who in their new homes in Australia or America warmed
themselves at the divine fire which was kindled, long ago, in the little
clay biggin at Alloway.

[Illustration: BURNS'S MAUSOLEUM]


If one should ask, Why this world wide welcome to Burns, the while Pope
remains a mark for literary criticism? the answer is that Burns has a most
extraordinary power of touching the hearts of common men. He is one of the
most democratic of poets, he takes for his subject a simple experience--a
family gathering at eventide, a fair, a merrymaking, a joy, a grief, the
finding of a flower, the love of a lad for a lass--and with rare simplicity
reflects the emotion that such an experience awakens. Seen through the
poet's eyes, this simple emotion becomes radiant and lovely, a thing not of
earth but of heaven. That is the genius of Burns, to ennoble human feeling,
to reveal some hidden beauty in a commonplace experience. The luminous
world of fine thought and fine emotion which we associate with the name of
poetry he opened not to scholars alone but to all humble folk who toil and
endure. As a shoemaker critic once said, "Burns confirms my former
suspicion that the world was made for me as well as for Cæsar."

       *       *       *       *       *


There were other poets who aided in the romantic revival, and among them
William Cowper (1731-1800) is one of the most notable. His most ambitious
works, such as _The Task_ and the translation of Homer into blank
verse, have fallen into neglect, and he is known to modern readers chiefly
by a few familiar hymns and by the ballad of "John Gilpin."

[Illustration: WILLIAM COWPER
From the rare engraving by W Blake (1802) After the painting by T
Lawrence, R A (1793)]

Less gifted but more popular than Cowper was James Macpherson (1736-1796),
who made a sensation that spread rapidly over Europe and America with his
_Fingal_ (1762) and other works of the same kind,--wildly heroic poems
which, he alleged, were translations from Celtic manuscripts written by an
ancient bard named Ossian. Another and better literary forgery appeared in
a series of ballads called _The Rowley Papers_, dealing with medieval
themes. These were written by "the marvelous boy" Thomas Chatterton
(1752-1770), who professed to have found the poems in a chest of old
manuscripts. The success of these forgeries, especially of the "Ossian"
poems, is an indication of the awakened interest in medieval poetry and
legend which characterized the whole romantic movement.

In this connection, Thomas Percy (1729-1811) did a notable work when he
published, after years of research, his _Reliques of Ancient English
Poetry_ (1765). This was a collection of old ballads, which profoundly
influenced Walter Scott, and which established a foundation for all later
works of balladry.

Another interesting figure in the romantic revival is William Blake
(1757-1827), a strange, mystic child, a veritable John o' Dreams, whom some
call madman because of his huge, chaotic, unintelligible poems, but whom
others regard as the supreme poetical genius of the eighteenth century. His
only readable works are the boyish _Poetical Sketches_ (1783) and two
later volumes called _Songs of Innocence_ and _Songs of
Experience_ (1794). Even these contain much to make us question Blake's
sanity; but they contain also a few lyrics that might have been written by
an elf rather than a man,--beautiful, elusive lyrics that haunt us like a
strain of gypsy music, a memory of childhood, a bird song in the night:

  Can the eagle see what is in the pit,
    Or wilt thou go ask the mole?
  Can wisdom be put in a silver rod,
    Or love in a golden bowl?

In the witchery of these lyrics eighteenth-century poetry appears
commonplace; but they attracted no attention, even "Holy Thursday," the
sweetest song of poor children ever written, passing unnoticed. That did
not trouble Blake, however, who cared nothing for rewards. He was a
childlike soul, well content

  To see the world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower;
  Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
    And eternity in an hour.

       *       *       *       *       *


An important literary event of the eighteenth century was the appearance of
the modern novel. This invention, generally credited to the English,
differs radically from the old romance, which was known to all civilized
peoples. Walter Scott made the following distinction between the two types
of fiction: the romance is a story in which our interest centers in
marvelous incidents, brought to pass by extraordinary or superhuman
characters; the novel is a story which is more natural, more in harmony
with our experience of life. Such a definition, though faulty, is valuable
in that it points to the element of imagination as the distinguishing mark
between the romance and the true novel.

[Sidenote: THE ROMANCE]

Take, for example, the romances of Arthur or Sindbad or the Green Knight.
Here are heroes of more than human endurance, ladies of surpassing
loveliness, giants, dragons, enchanters, marvelous adventures in the land
of imagination. Such fanciful stories, valuable as a reflection of the
ideals of different races, reached their highest point in the Middle Ages,
when they were used to convey the ideals of chivalry and knightly duty.
They grew more fantastic as they ran to seed, till in the Elizabethan age
they had degenerated into picaresque stories (from _picaro_, "a
rogue") which recounted the adventures not of a noble knight but of some
scoundrel or outcast. They were finally laughed out of literature in
numerous burlesques, of which the most famous is _Don Quixote_ (1605).
In the humor of this story, in the hero's fighting windmills and meeting so
many adventures that he had no time to breathe, we have an excellent
criticism not of chivalry, as is sometimes alleged, but of extravagant
popular romances on the subject. [Footnote: _Don Quixote_ is commonly
named as a type of extravagant humor, but from another viewpoint it is a
sad book, intensely sad. For it recounts the experience of a man who had a
knightly heart and who believed the world to be governed by knightly
ideals, but who went forth to find a world filled with vulgarity and

[Sidenote: THE NOVEL]

Compare now these old romances with _Ivanhoe_ or _Robinson
Crusoe_ or _Lorna Doone_ or _A Tale of Two Cities_. In each of
the last-named novels one may find three elements: a story, a study, and an
exercise of the creative imagination. A modern work of fiction must still
have a good story, if anybody is to read it; must contain also a study or
observation of humanity, not of superhuman heroes but of men and women who
work or play or worship in close relationship to their fellows. Finally,
the story and the study must be fused by the imagination, which selects or
creates various scenes, characters, incidents, and which orders or arranges
its materials so as to make a harmonious work that appeals to our sense of
truth and beauty; in other words, a work of art.

Such is the real novel, a well-told story in tune with human experience,
holding true to life, exercising fancy but keeping it under control,
arousing thought as well as feeling, and appealing to our intellect as well
as to our imagination. [Footnote: This convenient division of prose fiction
into romances and novels is open to challenge. Some critics use the name
"novel" for any work of prose fiction. They divide novels into two classes,
stories (or short stories) and romances. The story relates simple or
detached incidents; the romance deals with life in complex relations,
dominated by strong emotions, especially by the emotion of love.

Other critics arrange prose fiction in the following classes: novels of
adventure (Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans), historical novels
(Ivanhoe, The Spy), romantic novels (Lorna Doone, The Heart of Midlothian),
novels of manners (Cranford, Pride and Prejudice), novels of personality
(Silas Marner, The Scarlet Letter), novels of purpose (Oliver Twist, Uncle
Tom's Cabin).

Still another classification arranges fiction under two heads, romance and
realism. In the romance, which portrays unusual incidents or characters, we
see the ideal, the poetic side of humanity; in the realistic novel, dealing
with ordinary men and women, the prosaic element of life is emphasized.]

DEFOE (1661-1731). Among the forerunners of the modern novel is Daniel Foe,
author of _Robinson Crusoe_, who began to call himself "Defoe" after
he attained fame. He produced an amazing variety of wares: newspapers,
magazines, ghost stories, biographies, journals, memoirs, satires,
picaresque romances, essays on religion, reform, trade, projects,--in all
more than two hundred works. These were written in a picturesque style and
with such a wealth of detail that, though barefaced inventions for the most
part, they passed for veracious chronicles. One critic, thinking of the
vividly realistic _Journal of the Plague Year_ and _Memoirs of a
Cavalier_, says that "Defoe wrote history, but invented the facts";
another declares that "the one little art of which Defoe was past master
was the art of forging a story and imposing it on the world as truth." The
long list of his works ends with a _History of the Devil_, in 1726.

[Illustration: DANIEL DEFOE]

    Foe's career was an extraordinary one. By nature and training he
    seems to have preferred devious ways to straight, and to have
    concealed his chief motive whether he appeared as reformer or
    politician, tradesman or writer, police-spy or friend of outcasts.
    His education, which he picked up from men and circumstance, was
    more varied than any university could have given him. Perhaps the
    chief factor in this practical education was his ability to turn
    every experience to profitable account. As a journalist he invented
    the modern magazine (his _Review_ appeared in 1704, five years
    before Steele's _Tatler_); also he projected the interview,
    the editorial, the "scoop," and other features which still figure
    in our newspapers. As a hired pamphleteer, writing satires against
    Whigs or Tories, he learned so many political secrets that when one
    party fell he was the best possible man to be employed by the
    other. While sitting in the stocks (in punishment for writing a
    satirical pamphlet that set Tories and Churchmen by the ears) he
    made such a hit with his doggerel verses against the authorities
    that crowds came to the pillory to cheer him and to buy his poem.
    While in durance vile, in the old Newgate Prison, he mingled freely
    with all sorts of criminals (there were no separate cells in those
    days), won their secrets, and used them to advantage in his
    picaresque romances. He learned also so much of the shady side of
    London life that no sooner was he released than he was employed as
    a secret service agent, or spy, by the government which had jailed

    [Illustration: CUPOLA HOUSE Defoe's residence at Bury]

    It is as difficult to find the real Foe amidst such devious trails
    as to determine where a caribou is from the maze of footprints
    which he leaves behind him. He seems to have been untiring in his
    effort to secure better treatment of outcast folk, he speaks of
    himself with apparent sincerity, as having received his message
    from the Divine Spirit, but the impression which he made upon the
    upper classes was reflected by Swift, who called him "a grave,
    dogmatical rogue". For many years he was a popular hero, trusted
    not only by the poor but by the criminal classes (ordinarily keen
    judges of honesty in other men), until his secret connection with
    the government became known. Then suspicion fell upon him, his
    popularity was destroyed and he fled from London. The last few
    years of his life were spent in hiding from real or imaginary


Defoe was approaching his sixtieth year when he wrote _Robinson
Crusoe_ (1719), a story which has been read through out the civilized
world, and which, after two centuries of life, is still young and vigorous.
The first charm of the book is in its moving adventures, which are
surprising enough to carry us through the moralizing passages. These also
have their value; for who ever read them without asking, What would I have
done or thought or felt under such circumstances? The work of society is
now so comfortably divided that one seldom dreams of being his own
mechanic, farmer, hunter, herdsman, cook and tailor, as Crusoe was.
Thinking of his experience we are brought face to face with our dependence
on others, with our debt to the countless, unnamed men whose labor made
civilization possible. We understand also the pioneers, who in the far,
lonely places of the earth have won a home and country from the wilderness.

When the adventures are duly appreciated we discover another charm of
_Robinson Crusoe_, namely, its intense reality. Defoe had that
experience of many projects, and that vivid imagination, which enabled him
to put himself in the place of his hero, [Footnote: The basis of
_Robinson Crusoe_ was the experience of an English sailor, Alexander
Selkirk, or Selcraig, who was marooned on the lonely island of Juan
Fernandez, off the coast of Chile. There he lived in solitude for the space
of five years before he was rescued. When Selkirk returned to England
(1709) an account of his adventures appeared in the public press.] to
anticipate his needs, his feelings, his labors and triumph. That Crusoe was
heroic none will deny; yet his heroism was of a different kind from that
which we meet in the old romances. Here was no knight "without fear and
without reproach," but a plain man with his strength and weakness. He
despaired like other men; but instead of giving way to despair he drew up a
list of his blessings and afflictions, "like debtor and creditor," found a
reasonable balance in his favor, and straightway conquered himself,--which
is the first task of all real heroes. Again, he had horrible fears; he beat
his breast, cried out as one in mortal terror; then "I thought that would
do little good, so I began to make a raft." So he overcame his fears, as he
overcame the difficulties of the place, by setting himself to do alone what
a whole race of men had done before him. _Robinson Crusoe_ is
therefore history as well as fiction; its subject is not Alexander Selkirk
but Homo Sapiens; its lesson is the everlasting triumph of will and work.

RICHARDSON. One morning in 1740 the readers of London found a new work for
sale in the bookshops. It was made up of alleged letters from a girl to her
parents, a sentimental girl who opened her heart freely, explaining its
hopes, fears, griefs, temptations, and especially its moral sensibilities.
Such a work of fiction was unique at that time. Delighted readers waited
for another and yet another volume of the same story, till more than a year
had passed and _Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded_ reached its happy ending.


The book made a sensation in England; it was speedily translated, and
repeated its triumph on the other side of the Channel. Comparatively few
people could read it now without being bored, but it is famous in the
history of literature as the first English novel; that is, a story of a
human life under stress of emotion, told by one who understood the tastes
of his own age, and who strove to keep his work true to human nature in all

The author of _Pamela_, Samuel Richardson (1689--1761), was a very
proper person, well satisfied with himself, who conducted a modest business
as printer and bookseller. For years he had practiced writing, and had
often been employed by sentimental young women who came to him for model
love letters. Hence the extraordinary knowledge of feminine feelings which
Richardson displayed; hence also the epistolary form in which his novels
were written. His aim in all his work was to teach morality and correct
deportment. His strength was in his power to analyze and portray emotions.
His weakness lay in his vanity, which led him to shun masculine society and
to foregather at tea tables with women who flattered him.

Led by the success of _Pamela_, which portrayed the feelings of a
servant girl, the author began another series of letters which ended in the
eight-volume novel _Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady_ (1748).
The story appeared in installments, which were awaited with feverish
impatience till the agony drew to an end, and the heroine died amid the
sobs of ten thousand readers. Yet the story had power, and the central
figure of Clarissa was impressive in its pathos and tragedy. The novel
would still be readable if it were stripped of the stilted conversations
and sentimental gush in which Richardson delighted; but that would leave
precious little of the story.

FIELDING. In vigorous contrast with the prim and priggish Richardson is
Henry Fielding (1707-1754), a big, jovial, reckless man, full of animal
spirits, who was ready to mitigate any man's troubles or forget his own by
means of a punch bowl or a venison potpie. He was noble born, but seems to
have been thrown on the world to shift for himself. After an excellent
education he studied law, and was for some years a police magistrate, in
which position he increased his large knowledge of the seamy side of life.
He had a pen for vigorous writing, and after squandering two modest
fortunes (his own and his wife's) he proceeded to earn his living by
writing buffooneries for the stage. Then appeared Richardson's _Pamela,
or Virtue Rewarded_, and in ridiculing its sentimental heroine Fielding
found his vocation as a novelist.


He began _Joseph Andrews_ (1742) as a joke, by taking for his hero an
alleged brother of Pamela, who was also virtuous but whose reward was to be
kicked out of doors. Then the story took to the open road, among the inns
and highways of an age when traveling in rural England was almost as
adventurous as campaigning in Flanders. In the joy of his story Fielding
soon forgot his burlesque of Richardson, and attempted what he called a
realistic novel; that is, a story of real life. The morality and decorum
which Richardson exalted appeared to Fielding as hypocrisy; so he devoted
himself to a portrayal of men and manners as he found them.

Undoubtedly there were plenty of good men and manners at that time, but
Fielding had a vagabond taste that delighted in rough scenes, and of these
also eighteenth-century England could furnish an abundance. Hence his
_Joseph_ Andrews is a picture not of English society, as is often
alleged, but only of the least significant part of society. The same is
true of _Tom Jones_ (1749), which is the author's most vigorous work,
and of _Amelia_ (1751), in which, though he portrays one good woman,
he repeats many of the questionable incidents of his earlier works.

There is power in all these novels, the power of keen observation, of rough
humor, of downright sincerity; but unhappily the power often runs to waste
in long speeches to the reader, in descriptions of brutal or degrading
scenes, and in a wholly unnecessary coarseness of expression.

INFLUENCE OF THE EARLY NOVELS. The idea of the modern novel seems to have
been developed by several English authors, each of whom, like pioneers in a
new country, left his stamp on subsequent works in the same field.
Richardson's governing motive may be summed up in the word "sensibility,"
which means "delicacy of feeling," and which was a fashion, almost a
fetish, in eighteenth-century society. Because it was deemed essential to
display proper or decorous feeling on all occasions, Richardson's heroines
were always analyzing their emotions; they talked like a book of etiquette;
they indulged in tears, fainting, transports of joy, paroxysms of grief,
apparently striving to make themselves as unlike a real woman as possible.
It is astonishing how far and wide this fad of sensibility spread through
the literary world, and how many gushing heroines of English and American
fiction during the next seventy-five years were modeled on Pamela or

In view of this artificial fashion, the influence of Fielding was like the
rush of crisp air into a hot house. His aim was realistic, that is, to
portray real people in their accustomed ways. Unfortunately his aim was
spoiled by the idea that to be realistic one must go to the gutter for
material. And then appeared Goldsmith, too much influenced by the fad of
sensibility, but aiming to depict human life as governed by high ideals,
and helping to cleanse the English novel from brutality and indecency.


There were other early novelists, a host of them, but in Richardson,
Fielding and Goldsmith we have enough. Richardson emphasized the analysis
of human feeling or motive, and that of itself was excellent; but his
exaggerated sentimentality set a bad fashion which our novelists were
almost a century in overcoming. Fielding laid stress on realism, and that
his influence was effective is shown in the work of his disciple Thackeray,
who could be realistic without being coarse. And Goldsmith made all
subsequent novelists his debtors by exalting that purity of domestic life
to which every home worthy of the name forever strives or aspires.

If it be asked, What novels of the early type ought one to read? the answer
is simple. Unless you want to curdle your blood by a tale of mystery and
horror (in which case Mrs. Radcliffe's _Mysteries of Udolpho_ will
serve the purpose) there are only two that young readers will find
satisfactory: the realistic _Robinson Crusoe_ by Defoe, and the
romantic _Vicar of Wakefield_ by Goldsmith.

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. What we call eighteenth-century literature appeared
    between two great political upheavals, the English Revolution of
    1688 and the French Revolution of 1789. Some of the chief
    characteristics of that literature--such as the emphasis on form,
    the union of poetry with politics, the prevalence of satire, the
    interest in historical subjects--have been accounted for, in part
    at least, in our summary of the history of the period.

    The writings of the century are here arranged in three main
    divisions: the reign of formalism (miscalled classicism), the
    revival of romantic poetry, and the development of the modern
    novel. Our study of the so-called classic period includes: (1) The
    meaning of classicism in literature. (2) The life and works of
    Pope, the leading poet of the age; of Swift, a master of satire; of
    Addison and Steele, the graceful essayists who originated the
    modern literary magazine. (3) The work of Dr. Johnson and his
    school; in which we have included, for convenience, Edmund Burke,
    most eloquent of English orators, and Gibbon the historian, famous
    for his _Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_.

    Our review of the romantic writers of the age covers: (1) The work
    of Collins and Gray, whose imaginative poems are in refreshing
    contrast to the formalism of Pope and his school. (2) The life and
    works of Goldsmith, poet, playwright, novelist; and of Burns, the
    greatest of Scottish song writers. (3) A glance at other poets,
    such as Cowper and Blake, who aided in the romantic revival. (4)
    The renewed interest in ballads and legends, which showed itself in
    Percy's _Reliques of Ancient English Poetry_, and in two
    famous forgeries, the _Ossian_ poems of Macpherson and _The
    Rowley Papers_ of the boy Chatterton.

    Our study of the novel includes: (1) The meaning of the modern
    novel, as distinct from the ancient romance. (2) A study of Defoe,
    author of _Robinson Crusoe_, who was a forerunner of the
    modern realistic novelist. (3) The works of Richardson and of
    Fielding, contrasting types of eighteenth-century story-tellers.
    (4) The influence of Richardson's sentimentality, of Fielding's
    realism, and of Goldsmith's moral purity on subsequent English

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections are given in Manly,
    English Poetry and English Prose, Century Readings, and other
    miscellaneous collections. Important works of major writers are
    published in inexpensive editions for school use, a few of which
    are named below.

    Pope's poems, selected, in Standard English Classics, Pocket
    Classics, Riverside Literature, and other series. (See Texts, in
    General Bibliography.)

    Selections from Swift's works, in Athenæum Press, Holt's English
    Readings, Clarendon Press. Gulliver's Travels, in Standard English
    Classics, in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children, in
    Carisbrooke Library, in Temple Classics.

    Selections from Addison and Steele, in Athenæum Press, Golden
    Treasury, Maynard's English Classics. Sir Roger de Coverley Papers,
    in Standard English Classics, Riverside Literature, Academy

    Chesterfield's Letters to his son, selected, in Ginn and Company's
    Classics for Children, and in Maynard's English Classics.

    Boswell's Life of Johnson, in Clarendon Press, Temple Classics,
    Everyman's Library.

    Burke's Speeches, selected, in Standard English Classics, Pocket
    Classics, English Readings.

    Selections from Gray, in Athenæum Press, Canterbury Poets,
    Riverside Literature.

    Goldsmith's Deserted Village and Vicar of Wakefield, in Standard
    English Classics, King's Classics; She Stoops to Conquer, in Pocket
    Classics, Belles Lettres Series, Cassell's National Library.

    Sheridan's The Rivals, in Athenæum Press, Camelot Series, Riverside
    Literature, Everyman's Library.

    Poems of Burns, selected, in Standard English Classics, Riverside
    Literature, Silver Classics.

    Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, school edition by Ginn and Company; the
    same in Everyman's Library, Pocket Classics.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. For extensive manuals and texts see the General
    Bibliography. The following works deal chiefly with the eighteenth

    _HISTORY_. Morris, Age of Queen Anne and the Early Hanoverians
    (Epochs of Modern History Series); Sydney, England and the English
    in the Eighteenth Century; Susan Hale, Men and Manners in the
    Eighteenth Century; Ashton, Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne;
    Thackeray, The Four Georges.

    _LITERATURE_. L. Stephen, English Literature in the Eighteenth
    Century; Perry, English Literature in the Eighteenth Century;
    Seccombe, The Age of Johnson; Dennis, The Age of Pope; Gosse,
    History of English Literature in the Eighteenth Century; Whitwell,
    Some Eighteenth-Century Men of Letters; Phelps, Beginnings of the
    English Romantic Movement; Beers, English Romanticism in the
    Eighteenth Century; Thackeray, English Humorists.

    _Pope_. Life, by Courthope; by L. Stephen (English Men of
    Letters Series). Essays, by Thackeray, in English Humorists; by L.
    Stephen, in Hours in a Library; by Lowell, in My Study Windows.

    _Swift_. Life, by Forster; by L. Stephen (E. M. of L.).
    Essays, by Thackeray, in English Humorists; by Dobson, in
    Eighteenth Century Vignettes.

    _Addison and Steele_. Life of Addison, by Courthope (E. M. of
    L.). Life of Steele, by Dobson. Essays by Macaulay, by Thackeray,
    by Dobson.

    _Johnson_. Life, by Boswell (for personal details); by L.
    Stephen (E. M. of L.). Hill, Dr. Johnson: his Friends and his
    Critics. Essays by Macaulay, by Thackeray, by L. Stephen.

    _Burke_. Life, by Morley (E. M. of L.), by Prior. Macknight,
    Life and Times of Burke.

    _Gibbon_. Life, by Morrison (E. M. of L.). Essays, by Birrell,
    in Collected Essays; by L. Stephen, in Studies of a Biographer; by
    Harrison, in Ruskin and Other Literary Estimates; by Sainte-Beuve,
    in English Portraits.

    _Gray_. Life, by Gosse. Essays by Lowell, M. Arnold, L.
    Stephen, Dobson.

    _Goldsmith_. Life, by Washington Irving, by Dobson (Great
    Writers Series), by Black (E. M. of L.), by Forster. Essays, by
    Macaulay; by Thackeray, in English Humorists; by Dobson, in

    _Burns_. Life, by Shairp (E. M. of L.), by Blackie (Great
    Writers). Carlyle's Essay on Burns, in Standard English Classics
    and other school editions. Essays, by Stevenson, in Familiar
    Studies of Men and Books; by Hazlitt, in Lectures on the English
    Poets; by Henley, in Introduction to the Cambridge Edition of

    _The Novel. Raleigh, The English Novel; Cross, Development of the
    English Novel; Perry, A Study of Prose Fiction; Symonds,
    Introduction to the Study of English Fiction; Dawson, Makers of
    English Fiction.

    _Defoe_. Life, by Minto (E. M. of L.), by William Lee. Essay
    by L. Stephen, in Hours in a Library.

    _Richardson_. Life, by Thomson, by Dobson. Essays, by L.
    Stephen, in Hours in a Library; by Dobson, in Eighteenth Century

    _Fielding_. Life, by Dobson (E. M. of L.). Lawrence, Life and
    Times of Fielding. Essays by Lowell, L. Stephen, Dobson; Thackeray,
    in English Humorists; G. B. Smith, in Poets and Novelists.

    _FICTION_. Thackeray, Henry Esmond, and The Virginians; Scott,
    Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, Heart of Midlothian, Redgauntlet; Reade,
    Peg Woffington.



  Two voices are there; one is of the sea,
  One of the mountains; each a mighty voice:
  In both from age to age thou didst rejoice,
  They were thy chosen music, Liberty!

             Wordsworth, "Sonnet to Switzerland"

The many changes recorded in the political and literary history of
nineteenth-century England may be grouped under two heads: the progress of
democracy in government, and the triumph of romanticism in literature. By
democracy we mean the assumption by common men of the responsibilities of
government, with a consequent enlargement of human liberty. Romanticism, as
we use the term here, means simply that literature, like politics, has
become liberalized; that it is concerned with the common life of men, and
that the delights of literature, like the powers of government, are no
longer the possession of the few but of the many.

    HISTORICAL OUTLINE. To study either democracy or romanticism, the
    Whig party or the poetry of Wordsworth, is to discover how greatly
    England was influenced by matters that appeared beyond her borders.
    The famous Reform Bill (1832) which established manhood suffrage,
    the emancipation of the slaves in all British colonies, the
    hard-won freedom of the press, the plan of popular
    education,--these and numberless other reforms of the age may be
    regarded as part of a general movement, as the attempt to fulfill
    in England a promise made to the world by two events which occurred
    earlier and on foreign soil. These two events, which profoundly
    influenced English politics and literature, were the Declaration of
    Independence and the French Revolution.

    [Sidenote: TWO REVOLUTIONS]

    In the Declaration we read, "We hold these truths to be
    self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed
    by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these
    are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Glorious words!
    But they were not new; they were old and familiar when Jefferson
    wrote them. The American Revolution, which led up to the
    Declaration, is especially significant in this: that it began as a
    struggle not for new privileges but for old rights. So the
    constructive character of that Revolution, which ended with a
    democracy and a noble constitution, was due largely to the fact
    that brave men stood ready to defend the old freedom, the old
    manhood, the old charters, "the good old cause" for which other
    brave men had lived or died through a thousand years.

    A little later, and influenced by the American triumph, came
    another uprising of a different kind. In France the unalienable
    rights of man had been forgotten during ages of tyranny and class
    privilege; so the French Revolution, shouting its watchwords of
    Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, had no conception of that liberty
    and equality which were as ancient as the hills. Leaders and
    followers of the Revolution were clamoring for new privileges, new
    rights, new morals, new creeds. They acclaimed an "Age of Reason"
    as a modern and marvelous discovery; they dreamed not simply of a
    new society, but of a new man. A multitude of clubs or parties,
    some political, some literary or educational, some with a pretense
    of philosophy, sprang up as if by magic, all believing that they
    must soon enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but nearly all forgetful of
    the fact that to enter the Kingdom one must accept the old
    conditions, and pay the same old price. Partly because of this
    strange conception of liberty, as a new thing to be established by
    fiat, the terrible struggle in France ended in the ignoble military
    despotism of Napoleon.


    These two revolutions, one establishing and the other clamoring for
    the dignity of manhood, created a mighty stir throughout the
    civilized world. Following the French Revolution, most European
    nations were thrown into political ferment, and the object of all
    their agitation, rebellion, upheaval, was to obtain a greater
    measure of democracy by overturning every form of class or caste
    government. Thrones seemed to be tottering, and in terror of their
    houses Continental sovereigns entered into their Holy Alliance
    (1815) with the unholy object of joining forces to crush democracy
    wherever it appeared.

THE REVOLUTION AND LITERATURE. The young writers of liberty-loving England
felt the stir, the _sursum_ of the age. Wordsworth, most sedate of
men, saw in the French Revolution a glorious prophecy, and wrote with
unwonted enthusiasm:

  Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
  But to be young was very Heaven.

Coleridge and Southey formed their grand scheme of a Pantisocracy, a
government of perfect equality, on the banks of the Susquehanna. Scott
(always a Tory, and therefore distrustful of change) reflected the
democratic enthusiasm in a score of romances, the chief point of which was
this: that almost every character was at heart a king, and spake right
kingly fashion. Byron won his popularity largely because he was an
uncompromising rebel, and appealed to young rebels who were proclaiming the
necessity of a new human society. And Shelley, after himself rebelling at
almost every social law of his day, wrote his _Prometheus Unbound_,
which is a vague but beautiful vision of humanity redeemed in some magical
way from all oppression and sorrow.

All these and other writers of the age give the impression, as we read them
now, that they were gloriously expectant of a new day of liberty that was
about to dawn on the world. Their romantic enthusiasm, so different from
the cold formality of the age preceding, is a reflection, like a rosy
sunset glow, of the stirring scenes of revolution through which the world
had just passed.

       *       *       *       *       *


There is but one way to know Wordsworth, and that way leads to his nature
poems. Though he lived in a revolutionary age, his life was singularly
uneventful. His letters are terribly prosaic; and his _Excursion_, in
which he attempted an autobiography, has so many dull lines that few have
patience to read it. Though he asserted, finely, that there is but one
great society on earth, "the noble living and the noble dead," he held no
communion with the great minds of the past or of the present. He lived in
his own solitary world, and his only real companion was nature. To know
nature at first hand, and to reflect human thought or feeling in nature's
pure presence,--this was his chief object. His field, therefore, is a small
one, but in that field he is the greatest master that England has thus far


    LIFE. Wordsworth is as inseparably connected with the English Lake
    District as Burns with the Lowlands or Scott with the Border. A
    large part of the formative period of his life was spent out of
    doors amid beautiful scenery, where he felt the abounding life of
    nature streaming upon him in the sunshine, or booming in his ears
    with the steady roar of the March winds. He felt also (what
    sensitive spirits still feel) a living presence that met him in the
    loneliest wood, or spoke to him in the flowers, or preceded him
    over the wind-swept hills. He was one of those favored mortals who
    are surest of the Unseen. From school he would hurry away to his
    skating or bird-nesting or aimless roaming, and every new day
    afield was to him "One of those heavenly days that cannot die."


    From the Lake Region he went to Cambridge, but found little in
    college life to attract or hold him. Then, stirred by the promise
    of the Revolution, he went to France, where his help was eagerly
    sought by rival parties; for in that day every traveler from
    America or England, whether an astute Jefferson or a lamblike
    Wordsworth, was supposed to be, by virtue of his country, a master
    politician Wordsworth threw himself rather blindly into the
    Revolution, joined the Girondists (the ruling faction in 1792) and
    might have gone to the guillotine with the leaders of that party
    had not his friends brought him home by the simple expedient of
    cutting off his supply of money. Thus ended ingloriously the only
    adventure that ever quickened his placid life.

    For a time Wordsworth mourned over the failure of his plans, but
    his grief turned to bitterness when the Revolution passed over into
    the Reign of Terror and ended in the despotism of Napoleon. His
    country was now at war with France, and he followed his country,
    giving mild support to Burke and the Tory party. After a few
    uncertain years, during which he debated his calling in life, he
    resolved on two things: to be a poet, and to bring back to English
    poetry the romantic spirit and the naturalness of expression which
    had been displaced by the formal elegance of the age of Pope and


    For that resolution we are indebted partly to Coleridge, who had
    been attracted by some of Wordsworth's early poems, and who
    encouraged him to write more. From the association of these two men
    came the famous _Lyrical Ballads_ (1798), a book which marks
    the beginning of a new era in English poetry.

    To Wordsworth's sister Dorothy we are even more indebted. It was
    she who soothed Wordsworth's disappointment, reminded him of the
    world of nature in which alone he was at home, and quietly showed
    him where his power lay. As he says, in _The Prelude_

      She whispered still that brightness would return,
      She, in the midst of all preserved me still
      A poet, made me seek beneath that name,
      And that alone, my office upon earth

    [Sidenote: PERSONAL TRAITS]

    The latter half of Wordsworth's life was passed in the Lake Region,
    at Grasmere and Rydal Mount for the most part, the continuity being
    broken by walking trips in Britain or on the Continent. A very
    quiet, uneventful life it was, but it revealed two qualities which
    are of interest to Wordsworth's readers. The first was his devotion
    to his art; the second was his granite steadfastness. His work was
    at first neglected, while the poems of Scott, Byron and Tennyson in
    succession attained immense popularity. The critics were nearly all
    against him; misunderstanding his best work and ridiculing the
    rest. The ground of their opposition was, that his theory of the
    utmost simplicity in poetry was wrong; their ridicule was made
    easier by the fact that Wordsworth produced as much bad work as
    good. Moreover, he took himself very seriously, had no humor, and,
    as visitors like Emerson found to their disappointment, was
    interested chiefly in himself and his own work. For was he not
    engaged in the greatest of all projects, an immense poem (_The
    Recluse_) which should reflect the universe in the life of one
    man, and that man William Wordsworth? Such self-satisfaction
    invited attack; even Lamb, the gentlest of critics, could hardly
    refrain from poking fun at it:

        "Wordsworth, the great poet, is coming to town; he is to
        have apartments in the Mansion House. He says he does not
        see much difficulty in writing like Shakespeare, if he had
        a mind to try it. It is clear that nothing is wanting but
        the mind."

    [Sidenote: HIS TRIUMPH]

    Slowly but surely Wordsworth won recognition, not simply in being
    made Laureate, but in having his ideal of poetry vindicated. Poets
    in England and America began to follow him; the critics were
    silenced, if not convinced. While the popularity of Scott and Byron
    waned, the readers of Wordsworth increased steadily, finding him a
    poet not of the hour but of all time. "If a single man plant
    himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide," says
    Emerson, "the huge world will come around to him." If the reading
    world has not yet come around to Wordsworth, that is perhaps not
    the poet's fault.

WORDSWORTH: HIS THEME AND THEORY. The theory which Wordsworth and Coleridge
formulated was simply this: that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of
powerful human feeling. Its only subjects are nature and human nature; its
only object is to reflect the emotions awakened by our contemplation of the
world or of humanity; its language must be as direct and simple as
possible, such language as rises unbidden to the lips whenever the heart is
touched. Though some of the world's best poets have taken a different view,
Wordsworth maintained steadily that poetry must deal with common subjects
in the plainest language; that it must not attempt to describe, in elegant
phrases, what a poet is supposed to feel about art or some other subject
selected for its poetic possibilities.


In the last contention Wordsworth was aiming at the formal school of
poetry, and we may better understand him by a comparison. Read, for
example, his exquisite "Early Spring" ("I heard a thousand blended notes").
Here in twenty-four lines are more naturalness, more real feeling finely
expressed, than you can find in the poems of Dryden, Johnson and Addison
combined. Or take the best part of "The Campaign," which made Addison's
fortune, and which was acclaimed the finest thing ever written:

  So when an angel by divine command
  With rising tempests shakes a guilty land,
  (Such as of late o'er pale Britannia past)
  Calm and serene he drives the furious blast;
  And, pleased th' Almighty's orders to perform,
  Rides in the whirlwind and directs the storm.

To know how artificial that famous simile is, read a few lines from
Wordsworth's "On the Sea-Shore," which lingers in our mind like a strain of
Handel's music:

  It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
    The holy time is quiet as a Nun
    Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
  Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
  The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea:
    Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
    And doth with his eternal motion make
  A sound like thunder--everlastingly.

If such comparisons interest the student, let him read Addison's "Letter to
Lord Halifax," with its Apostrophe to Liberty, which was considered sublime
in its day:

  O Liberty, thou goddess heavenly bright,
  Profuse of bliss, and pregnant with delight!
  Eternal pleasures in thy presence reign,
  And smiling Plenty leads thy wanton train;
  Eased of her load, Subjection grows more light,
  And Poverty looks cheerful in thy sight;
  Thou mak'st the gloomy face of nature gay,
  Giv'st beauty to the sun, and pleasure to the day.

Place beside that the first four lines of Wordsworth's sonnet "To
Switzerland" (quoted at the head of this chapter), or a stanza from his
"Ode to Duty":

  Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
    The Godhead's most benignant grace;
  Nor know we anything so fair
    As is the smile upon thy face:
  Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
  And fragrance in thy footing treads;
    Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong,
    And the most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.

To follow such a comparison is to understand Wordsworth by sympathy; it is
to understand also the difference between poetry and formal verse.

THE POEMS OF WORDSWORTH. As the reading of literature is the main thing,
the only word of criticism which remains is to direct the beginner; and
direction is especially necessary in dealing with Wordsworth, who wrote
voluminously, and who lacked both the critical judgment and the sense of
humor to tell him what parts of his work were inferior or ridiculous:

  There's something in a flying horse,
  There's something in a huge balloon!

To be sure; springs in the one, gas in the other; but if there were
anything more poetic in horse or balloon, Wordsworth did not discover it.
There is something also in a cuckoo clock, or even in

  A household tub, one such as those
  Which women use to wash their clothes.

Such banalities are to be found in the work of a poet who could produce the
exquisite sonnet "On Westminster Bridge," the finely simple "I Wandered
Lonely as a Cloud," the stirring "Ode to Duty," the tenderly reflective
"Tintern Abbey," and the magnificent "Intimations of Immortality," which
Emerson (who was not a very safe judge) called "the high water mark of
poetry in the nineteenth century." These five poems may serve as the first
measure of Wordsworth's genius.


A few of Wordsworth's best nature poems are: "Early Spring," "Three Years
She Grew," "The Fountain," "My Heart Leaps Up," "The Tables Turned," "To a
Cuckoo," "To a Skylark" (the second poem, beginning, "Ethereal minstrel")
and "Yarrow Revisited." The spirit of all his nature poems is reflected in
"Tintern Abbey," which gives us two complementary views of nature,
corresponding to Wordsworth's earlier and later experience. The first is
that of the boy, roaming foot-loose over the face of nature, finding, as
Coleridge said, "Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere." The second
is that of the man who returns to the scenes of his boyhood, finds them as
beautiful as ever, but pervaded now by a spiritual quality,--"something
which defies analysis, undefined and ineffable, which must be felt and
perceived by the soul."

It was this spiritual view of nature, as a reflection of the Divine, which
profoundly influenced Bryant, Emerson and other American writers. The
essence of Wordsworth's teaching, in his nature poems, appears in the last
two lines of his "Skylark," a bird that soars the more gladly to heaven
because he must soon return with joy to his own nest:

  Type of the wise, who soar but never roam:
  True to the kindred points of heaven and home.


Of the poems more closely associated with human life, a few the best are:
"Michael," "The Highland Reaper," "The Leech Gatherers," "Margaret" (in
_The Excursion_), "Brougham Castle," "The Happy Warrior," "Peel Castle
in a Storm," "Three Years She Grew," "She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways"
and "She was a Phantom of Delight." In such poems we note two significant
characteristics: that Wordsworth does not seek extraordinary characters,
but is content to show the hidden beauty in the lives of plain men and
women; and that his heroes and heroines dwell, as he said, where "labor
still preserves his rosy face." They are natural men and women, and are
therefore simple and strong; the quiet light in their faces is reflected
from the face of the fields. In his emphasis on natural simplicity, virtue,
beauty, Wordsworth has again been, as he desired, a teacher of multitudes.
His moral teaching may be summed up in three lines from _The

  The primal duties shine aloft like stars;
  The charities that soothe and heal and bless
  Are scattered at the feet of man like flowers.

[Sidenote: THE SONNETS]

In the number and fine quality of his sonnets Wordsworth has no superior in
English poetry. Simplicity, strength, deep thought, fine feeling, careful
workmanship,--these qualities are present in measure more abundant than can
be found elsewhere in the poet's work:

        Bees that soar for bloom,
  High as the highest peak of Furness-fells,
  Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells.

In these three lines from "On the Sonnet" (which should be read entire) is
the explanation why Wordsworth, who was often diffuse, found joy in
compressing his whole poem into fourteen lines. A few other sonnets which
can be heartily recommended are: "Westminster Bridge," "The Seashore," "The
World," "Venetian Republic," "To Sleep," "Toussaint L'Ouverture,"
"Afterthoughts," "To Milton" (sometimes called "London, 1802") and the
farewell to Scott when he sailed in search of health, beginning, "A trouble
not of clouds or weeping rain."

Not until one has learned to appreciate Wordsworth at his best will it be
safe to attempt _The Prelude, or the Growth of a Poet's Mind_. Most
people grow weary of this poem, which is too long; but a few read it with
pleasure for its portrayal of Wordsworth's education at the hand of Nature,
or for occasional good lines which lure us on like miners in search of
gold. _The Prelude_, though written at thirty-five, was not published
till after Wordsworth's death, and for this reason: he had planned an
immense poem, dealing with Nature, Man and Society, which he called _The
Recluse_, and which he likened to a Gothic cathedral. His _Prelude_
was the "ante-chapel" of this work; his miscellaneous odes, sonnets and
narrative poems were to be as so many "cells and oratories"; other parts of
the structure were _The Home at Grasmere_ and _The Excursion_,
which he may have intended as transepts, or as chapels.

Wordsworth's body was buried in the churchyard See _The Excursion_, Book V]

This great work was left unfinished, and one may say of it, as of Spenser's
_Faery Queen_, that it is better so. Like other poets of venerable
years Wordsworth wrote many verses that were better left in the inkpot; and
it is a pity, in dealing with so beautiful and necessary a thing as poetry,
that one should ever reach the point of saying, sadly but truthfully,
"Enough is too much."

       *       *       *       *       *


The story of these two men is a commentary on the uncertainties of literary
fortune. Both won greater reward and reputation than fell to the lot of
Wordsworth; but while the fame of the latter poet mounts steadily with the
years, the former have become, as it were, footnotes to the great
contemporary with whom they were associated, under the name of "Lake
Poets," for half a glorious century.


SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772-1834). The tragedy _Remorse_, which
Coleridge wrote, is as nothing compared with the tragedy of his own life.
He was a man of superb natural gifts, of vast literary culture, to whose
genius the writers of that age--Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Lamb, De Quincey,
Shelley, Landor, Southey--nearly all bear witness. He might well have been
a great poet, or critic, or philosopher, or teacher; but he lacked the will
power to direct his gifts to any definite end. His irresolution became
pitiful weakness when he began to indulge in the drug habit, which soon
made a slave of him. Thereafter he impressed all who met him with a sense
of loss and inexpressible sorrow.

    [Sidenote: LIFE OF COLERIDGE]

    Coleridge began to read at three years of age; at five he had gone
    through the Bible and the Arabian Nights; at thirty he was perhaps
    the most widely read man of his generation in the fields of
    literature and philosophy. He was a student in a famous charity
    school in London when he met Charles Lamb, who records his memories
    of the boy and the place in his charming essay of "Christ's
    Hospital." At college he was one of a band of enthusiasts inspired
    by the French Revolution, and with Southey he formed a plan to
    establish in America a world-reforming Pantisocracy, or communistic
    settlement, where all should be brothers and equals, and where a
    little manual work was to be tempered by much play, poetry and
    culture. Europeans had queer ideas of America in those days. This
    beautiful plan failed, because the reformers did not have money
    enough to cross the ocean and stake out their Paradise.


    The next important association of Coleridge was with Wordsworth and
    his sister Dorothy, in Somerset, where the three friends planned
    and published the _Lyrical Ballads_ of 1798. In this work
    Wordsworth attempted to portray the charm of common things, and
    Coleridge to give reality to a world of dreams and fantasies.
    Witness the two most original poems in the book, "Tintern Abbey"
    and "The Ancient Mariner."

    During the latter part of his life Coleridge won fame by his
    lectures on English poetry and German philosophy, and still greater
    fame by his conversations,--brilliant, heaven-scaling monologues,
    which brought together a company of young enthusiasts. And
    presently these disciples of Coleridge were spreading abroad a new
    idealistic philosophy, which crossed the ocean, was welcomed by
    Emerson and a host of young writers or reformers, and appeared in
    American literature as Transcendentalism.

        [Sidenote: STORIES OF COLERIDGE]

        Others who heard the conversations were impressed in a
        somewhat different way. Keats met Coleridge on the road,
        one day, and listened dumbfounded to an ecstatic discourse
        on poetry, nightingales, the origin of sensation, dreams
        (four kinds), consciousness, creeds, ghost stories,--"he
        broached a thousand matters" while the poets were walking a
        space of two miles.

        Walter Scott, meeting Coleridge at a dinner, listened with
        his head in a whirl to a monologue on fairies, the
        classics, ancient mysteries, visions, ecstasies, the
        psychology of poetry, the poetry of metaphysics. "Zounds!"
        says Scott, "I was never so bethumped with words."

        Charles Lamb, hurrying to his work, encountered Coleridge
        and was drawn aside to a quiet garden. There the poet took
        Lamb by a button of his coat, closed his eyes, and began to
        discourse, his right hand waving to the rhythm of the
        flowing words. No sooner was Coleridge well started than
        Lamb slyly took out his penknife, cut off the button, and
        escaped unobserved. Some hours later, as he passed the
        garden on his return, Lamb heard a voice speaking most
        musically; he turned aside in wonder, and there stood
        Coleridge, his eyes closed, his left hand holding the
        button, his right hand waving, "still talking like an

    Such are the stories, true or apocryphal, of Coleridge's
    conversations. Their bewildering quality appears, somewhat dimmed,
    in his prose works, which have been finely compared with the flight
    of an eagle on set wings, sweeping in wide circles, balancing,
    soaring, mounting on the winds. But we must note this difference:
    that the eagle keeps his keen eye on the distant earth, and always
    knows just where he is; while Coleridge sees only the wonders of
    Cloudland, and appears to be hopelessly lost.


The chief prose works of Coleridge are his _Biographia Literaria_ (a
brilliant patchwork of poetry and metaphysics), _Aids to Reflection_,
_Letters and Table Talk_ (the most readable of his works), and
_Lectures and Notes on Shakespeare_. These all contain fine gold, but
the treasure is for those doughty miners the critics rather than for
readers who go to literature for recreation. Among the best of his
miscellaneous poems (and Coleridge at his best has few superiors) are
"Youth and Age," "Love Poems," "Hymn before Sunrise," "Ode to the Departing
Year," and the pathetic "Ode to Dejection," which is a reflection of the
poet's saddened but ever hopeful life.

Two other poems, highly recommended by most critics, are the fragments
"Kubla Khan" and "Christabel"; but in dealing with these the reader may do
well to form his own judgment. Both fragments contain beautiful lines, but
as a whole they are wandering, disjointed, inconsequent,--mere sketches,
they seem, of some weird dream of mystery or terror which Coleridge is
trying in vain to remember.


The most popular of Coleridge's works is his imperishable "Rime of the
Ancient Mariner," a wildly improbable poem of icebound or tropic seas, of
thirst-killed sailors, of a phantom ship sailed by a crew of ghosts,--all
portrayed in the vivid, picturesque style of the old ballad. When the
"Mariner" first appeared it was dismissed as a cock-and-bull story; yet
somehow readers went back to it, again and again, as if fascinated. It was
passed on to the next generation; and still we read it, and pass it on. For
this grotesque tale differs from all others of its kind in that its lines
have been quoted for over a hundred years as a reflection of some profound
human experience. That is the genius of the work: it takes the most
fantastic illusions and makes them appear as real as any sober journey
recorded in a sailor's log book. [Footnote: In connection with the "Ancient
Mariner" one should read the legends of "The Flying Dutchman" and "The
Wandering Jew." Poe's story "A Manuscript Found in a Bottle" is based on
these legends and on Coleridge's poem.]

At the present time our enjoyment of the "Mariner" is somewhat hampered by
the critical commentaries which have fastened upon the poem, like barnacles
on an old ship. It has been studied as a type of the romantic ballad, as a
moral lesson, as a tract against cruelty to animals, as a model of college
English. But that is no way to abuse a poet's fancy! To appreciate the
"Mariner" as the author intended, one should carry it off to the hammock or
orchard; there to have freedom of soul to enjoy a well-spun yarn, a
gorgeous flight of imagination, a poem which illustrates Coleridge's
definition of poetry as "the bloom and the fragrance of all human
knowledge, thoughts, emotions, language." It broadens one's sympathy, as
well as one's horizon, to accompany this ancient sailor through scenes of
terror and desolation:

  O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
  Alone on a wide, wide sea:
  So lonely 't was, that God himself
  Scarce seemed there to be.

In the midst of such scenes come blessed memories of a real world, of the
beauty of unappreciated things, such as the "sweet jargoning" of birds:

  And now 'twas like all instruments,
  Now like a lonely flute;
  And now it is an angel's song,
  That makes the heavens be mute.

  It ceased; yet still the sails made on
  A pleasant noise till noon,
  A noise like of a hidden brook
  In the leafy month of June,
  That to the sleeping woods all night
  Singeth a quiet tune.

Whoever is not satisfied with that for its own sake, without moral or
analysis, has missed the chief interest of all good poetry.

ROBERT SOUTHEY. In contrast with the irresolution of Coleridge is the
steadfastness of Southey (1774-1843), a man of strong character, of
enormous industry. For fifty years he worked steadily, day and half the
night, turning out lyrics, ballads, epics, histories, biographies,
translations, reviews,--an immense amount of stuff, filling endless
volumes. Kind nature made up for Southey's small talent by giving him a
great opinion of it, and he believed firmly that his work was as immortal
as the _Iliad_.

[Illustration: ROBERT SOUTHEY]

With the exception of a few short poems, such as the "Battle of Blenheim,"
"Lodore," "The Inchcape Rock" and "Father William" (parodied in the
nonsense of _Alice in Wonderland_), the mass of Southey's work is
already forgotten. Deserving of mention, however, are his _Peninsular
War_ and his _Life of Nelson_, both written in a straightforward
style, portraying patriotism without the usual sham, and a first-class
fighting man without brag or bluster. Curious readers may also be attracted
by the epics of Southey (such as _Madoc_, the story of a Welsh prince
who anticipated Columbus), which contain plenty of the marvelous adventures
that give interest to the romances of Jules Verne and the yarns of Rider

It as Southey's habit to work by the clock, turning out chapters as another
man might dig potatoes. One day, as he plodded along, a fairy must have
whispered in his car; for he suddenly produced a little story, a gem, a
treasure of a story, and hid it away in a jungle of chapters in a book
called _The Doctor_. Somebody soon discovered the treasure; indeed,
one might as well try to conceal a lighted candle as to hide a good story;
and now it is the most famous work to be found in Southey's hundred volumes
of prose and verse. Few professors could give you any information
concerning _The Doctor_, but almost any child will tell you all about
"The Three Bears." The happy fate of this little nursery tale might
indicate that the final judges of literature are not always or often the
learned critics.

       *       *       *       *       *


The above title is often applied to Byron and Shelley, and for two reasons,
because they were themselves rebellious of heart, and because they voiced
the rebellion of numerous other young enthusiasts who, disappointed by the
failure of the French Revolution to bring in the promised age of happiness,
were ready to cry out against the existing humdrum order of society. Both
poets were sadly lacking in mental or moral balance, and finding no chance
in England to wage heroic Warfare against political tyranny, as the French
had done, they proceeded in rather head long fashion to an attack on well
established customs in society, and especially did they strike out wildly
against "the monster Public Opinion." Because the "monster" was stronger
than they were, and more nearly right, their rebellion ended in tragedy.

Where Southey lived, 1803-1839]

    LIFE OF BYRON. In the life of George Gordon, Lord Byron
    (1788-1824), is so much that call for apology or silence that one
    is glad to review his career in briefest outline.

    Of his family, noble in name but in nothing else, the least said
    the better. He was born in London, but spent his childhood in
    Aberdeen, under the alternate care or negligence of his erratic
    mother. At ten he fell heir to a title, to the family seat of
    Newstead Abbey, and to estates yielding an income of some £1400 per
    year,--a large income for a poet, but as nothing to a lord
    accustomed to make ducks and drakes of his money. In school and
    college his conduct was rather wild, and his taste fantastic For
    example, he kept a bulldog and a bear in his rooms, and read
    romances instead of books recommended by the faculty. He tells us
    that he detested poetry; yet he wrote numerous poems which show
    plainly that he not only read but copied some of the poets.
    [Footnote: These poems (revised and published as _Hours of
    Idleness_) were savagely criticized in the _Edinburgh
    Review_. Byron answered with his satiric _English Bards and
    Scotch Reviewers_, which ridiculed not only his Scottish critics
    but also Wordsworth, Scott,--in fact, most of the English poets,
    with the exception of Pope, whom he praised as the only poet
    ancient or modern who was not a barbarian.]

    [Sidenote: A LITERARY LION]

    At twenty-one Byron entered the House of Lords, and almost
    immediately thereafter set sail for Lisbon and the Levant. On his
    return he published the first two cantos of _Childe Harold's
    Pilgrimage_, which made him famous. Though he affected to
    despise his triumph, he followed it up shrewdly by publishing
    _The Giaour_, _The Corsair_ and _Lara_, in which the
    same mysterious hero of his first work reappears, under different
    disguises, amid romantic surroundings. The vigor of these poems
    attracted many readers, and when it was whispered about that the
    author was recounting his own adventures, Byron became the center
    of literary interest. At home he was a social lion; abroad he was
    acclaimed the greatest of British poets. But his life tended more
    and more to shock the English sense of decency; and when his wife
    (whom he had married for her money) abruptly left him, public
    opinion made its power felt. Byron's popularity waned; his vanity
    was wounded; he left his country, vowing never to return. Also he
    railed against what he called British hypocrisy.

    [Illustration: LORD BYRON After the portrait by T. Phillips]

    In Geneva he first met Shelley, admired him, was greatly helped by
    him, and then grossly abused his hospitality. After a scandalous
    career in Italy he went to help the Greeks in their fight for
    independence, but died of fever before he reached the battle line.

THE POETRY OF BYRON. There is one little song of Byron which serves well as
the measure of his poetic talent. It is found in _Don Juan_, and it
begins as follows:

  'T is sweet to hear
    At midnight on the blue and moonlit deep
  The song and oar of Adria's gondolier,
    By distance mellow'd, o'er the waters sweep;
  'T is sweet to see the evening star appear;
    'T is sweet to listen, as the night-winds creep
  From leaf to leaf; 't is sweet to view on high
  The rainbow, based on ocean, span the sky.

  'T is sweet to hear the watch-dog's honest bark
    Bay deep-mouthed welcome as we draw near home;
  'T is sweet to know there is an eye will mark
    Our coming, and look brighter when we come;
  'T is sweet to be awaken'd by the lark,
    Or lulled by falling waters; sweet the hum
  Of bees, the voice of girls, the song of birds,
  The lisp of children, and their earliest words.

That is not great poetry, and may not be compared with a sonnet of
Wordsworth; but it is good, honest sentiment expressed in such a melodious
way that we like to read it, and feel better after the reading. In the next
stanza, however, Byron grows commonplace and ends with:

  Sweet is revenge, especially to women,
  Pillage to soldiers, prize-money to seamen.

And that is bad sentiment and worse rime, without any resemblance to
poetry. The remaining stanzas are mere drivel, unworthy of the poet's
talent or of the reader's patience.

It is so with a large part of Byron's work; it often begins well, and
usually has some vivid description of nature, or some gallant passage in
swinging verse, which stirs us like martial music; then the poem falls to
earth like a stone, and presently appears some wretched pun or jest or
scurrility. Our present remedy lies in a book of selections, in which we
can enjoy the poetry without being unpleasantly reminded of the author's
besetting sins of flippancy and bad taste.

[Sidenote: MANFRED]

Of the longer poems of Byron, which took all Europe by storm, only three or
four are memorable. _Manfred_ (1817) is a dramatic poem, in which the
author's pride, his theatric posing, his talent for rhythmic expression,
are all seen at their worst or best. The mysterious hero of the poem lives
in a gloomy castle under the high Alps, but he is seldom found under roof.
Instead he wanders amidst storms and glaciers, holding communion with
powers of darkness, forever voicing his rebellion, his boundless pride, his
bottomless remorse. Nobody knows what the rebellion and the remorse are all
about. Some readers may tire of the shadowy hero's egoism, but few will
fail to be impressed by the vigor of the verse, or by the splendid
reflection of picturesque scenes. And here and there is a lyric that seems
to set itself to music.

  Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains,
    They crowned him long ago
  On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
    With a diadem of snow


_Cain_ (1821) is another dramatic poem, reflecting the rebellion of
another hero, or rather the same hero, who appears this time as the elder
son of Adam. After murdering his brother, the hero takes guidance of
Lucifer and explores hell; where, instead of repentance, he finds occasion
to hate almost everything that is dear to God or man. The drama is a kind
of gloomy parody of Milton's _Paradise Lost_, as _Manfred_ is a
parody of Goethe's _Faust_. Both dramas are interesting, aside from
their poetic passages, as examples of the so-called Titan literature, to
which we shall presently refer in our study of Shelley's _Prometheus_.


The most readable work of Byron is _Childe Harold's Pilgrimage_, a
brilliant narrative poem, which reflects the impressions of another
misanthropic hero in presence of the romantic scenery of the Continent. It
was the publication of the first two cantos of this poem in 1812, that made
Byron the leading figure in English poetry, and these cantos are still
widely read as a kind of poetic guidebook. To many readers, however, the
third and fourth cantos are more sincere and more pleasurable. The most
memorable parts of _Childe Harold_ are the "Farewell" in the first
canto, "Waterloo" in the third, and "Lake Leman," "Venice," "Rome," "The
Coliseum", "The Dying Gladiator" and "The Ocean" in the fourth. When one
has read these magnificent passages he has the best of which Byron was
capable. We have called _Childe Harold_ the most readable of Byron's
works, but those who like a story will probably be more interested in
_Mazeppa_ and _The Prisoner of Chillon_.



One significant quality of these long poems is that they are intensely
personal, voicing one man's remorse or rebellion, and perpetually repeating
his "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" They are concerned with the same
hero (who is Byron under various disguises) and they picture him as a
proud, mysterious stranger, carelessly generous, fiendishly wicked,
profoundly melancholy, irresistibly fascinating to women. Byron is credited
with the invention of this hero, ever since called Byronic; but in truth
the melodramatic outcast was a popular character in fiction long before
Byron adopted him, gave him a new dress and called him Manfred or Don Juan.
A score of romances (such as Mrs. Radcliffe's _The Italian_ in
England, and Charles Brockden Brown's _Wieland_ in America) had used
the same hero to add horror to a grotesque tale; Scott modified him
somewhat, as the Templar in _Ivanhoe_, for example; and Byron made him
more real by giving him the revolutionary spirit, by employing him to voice
the rebellion against social customs which many young enthusiasts felt so
strongly in the early part of the nineteenth century.


The vigor of this stage hero, his rebellious spirit, his picturesque
adventures, the gaudy tinsel (mistaken for gold) in which he was
dressed,--all this made a tremendous impression in that romantic age.
Goethe called Byron "the prince of modern poetry, the most talented and
impressive figure which the literary world has ever produced"; and this
unbalanced judgment was shared by other critics on the Continent, where
Byron is still regarded as one of the greatest of English poets.

Swinburne, on the other hand, can hardly find words strong enough to
express his contempt for the "blare and brassiness" of Byron; but that also
is an exaggeration. Though Byron is no longer a popular hero, and though
his work is more rhetorical than poetical, we may still gladly acknowledge
the swinging rhythm, the martial dash and vigor of his best verse. Also,
remembering the Revolution, we may understand the dazzling impression which
he made upon the poets of his day. When the news came from Greece that his
meteoric career was ended, the young Tennyson wept passionately and went
out to carve on a stone, "Byron is dead," as if poetry had perished with
him. Even the coldly critical Matthew Arnold was deeply moved to write:

  When Byron's eyes were closed in death
     We bowed our head, and held our breath.
  He taught us little, but our soul
     Had _felt_ him like the thunder roll.

    LIFE OF SHELLEY. The career of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is,
    in comparison with that of Byron, as a will-o'-the-wisp to a
    meteor. Byron was of the earth earthy; he fed upon coarse food,
    shady adventures, scandal, the limelight; but Shelley

      Seemed nourished upon starbeams, and the stuff
      Of rainbows and the tempest and the foam.

    He was a delicate child, shy, sensitive, elflike, who wandered
    through the woods near his home, in Sussex, on the lookout for
    sprites and hobgoblins. His reading was of the wildest kind; and
    when he began the study of chemistry he was forever putting
    together things that made horrible smells or explosions, in
    expectation that the genii of the _Arabian Nights_ would rise
    from the smoke of his test tube.

    [Sidenote: A YOUNG REBEL]

    At Eton the boy promptly rebelled against the brutal fagging
    system, then tolerated in all English schools. He was presently in
    hot water, and the name "Mad Shelley," which the boys gave him,
    followed him through life. He had been in the university (Oxford)
    hardly two years when his head was turned by some book of shallow
    philosophy, and he printed a rattle-brained tract called "The
    Necessity of Atheism." This got him into such trouble with the Dons
    that he was expelled for insubordination.


    Forthwith Shelley published more tracts of a more rebellious kind.
    His sister Helen put them into the hands of her girl friend,
    Harriet Westbrook, who showed her belief in revolutionary theories
    by running away from school and parental discipline and coming to
    Shelley for "protection." These two social rebels, both in the
    green-apple stage (their combined age was thirty-five), were
    presently married; not that either of them believed in marriage,
    but because they were compelled by "Anarch Custom."

    After some two years of a wandering, will-o'-the-wisp life, Shelley
    and his wife were estranged and separated. The young poet then met
    a certain William Godwin, known at that time as a novelist and
    evolutionary philosopher, and showed his appreciation of Godwin's
    radical teaching by running away with his daughter Mary, aged
    seventeen. The first wife, tired of liberalism, drowned herself,
    and Shelley was plunged into remorse at the tragedy. The right to
    care for his children was denied him, as an improper person, and he
    was practically driven out of England by force of that public
    opinion which he had so frequently outraged or defied.

    [Illustration: PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY]

    Life is a good teacher, though stern in its reckoning, and in Italy
    life taught Shelley that the rights and beliefs of other men were
    no less sacred than his own. He was a strange combination of hot
    head and kind heart, the one filled with wild social theories, the
    other with compassion for humanity. He was immensely generous with
    his friends, and tender to the point of tears at the thought of
    suffering men,--not real men, such as he met in the streets (even
    the beggars in Italy are cheerful), but idealized men, with
    mysterious sorrows, whom he met in the clouds. While in England his
    weak head had its foolish way, and his early poems, such as
    _Queen Mab_, are violent declamations. In Italy his heart had
    its day, and his later poems, such as _Adonais_ and
    _Prometheus Unbound_, are rhapsodies ennobled by Shelley's
    love of beauty and by his unquenchable hope that a bright day of
    justice must soon dawn upon the world. He was drowned (1822) while
    sailing his boat off the Italian coast, before he had reached the
    age of thirty years.

THE POETRY OF SHELLEY. In the longer poems of Shelley there are two
prominent elements, and two others less conspicuous but more important. The
first element is revolt. The poet was violently opposed to the existing
order of society, and lost no opportunity to express his hatred of Tyranny,
which was Shelley's name for what sober men called law and order. Feeding
his spirit of revolution were numerous anarchistic theories, called the new
philosophy, which had this curious quality: that they hotly denied the old
faith, law, morality, as other men formulated such matters, and fervently
believed any quack who appeared with a new nostrum warranted to cure all
social disorders.

The second obvious element in Shelley's poetry is his love of beauty, not
the common beauty of nature or humanity which Wordsworth celebrated, but a
strange "supernal" beauty with no "earthly" quality or reality. His best
lines leave a vague impression of something beautiful and lovely, but we
know not what it is.

Less conspicuous in Shelley's poems are the sense of personal loss or grief
which pervades them, and the exquisite melody of certain words which he
used for their emotional effect rather than to convey any definite meaning.
Like Byron he sang chiefly of his own feelings, his rage or despair, his
sorrow or loneliness. He reflected his idea of the origin and motive of
lyric poesy in the lines:

                 Most wretched men
  Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
  They learn in suffering what they teach in song,--

an idea which Poe adopted in its entirety, and which Heine expressed in a
sentimental lyric, telling how from his great grief he made his little

  Aus meinen groszen Schmerzen
  Mach' ich die kleinen Lieder.

Hardly another English poet uses words so musically as Shelley (witness
"The Cloud" and "The Skylark"), and here again his idea of verbal melody
was carried to an extreme by Poe, in whose poetry words are used not so
much to express ideas as to awaken vague emotions.

[Sidenote: ALASTOR]

All the above-named qualities appear in _Alastor_ (the Spirit of
Solitude), which is less interesting as a poem than as a study of Shelley.
In this poem we may skip the revolt, which is of no consequence, and follow
the poet in his search for a supernally lovely maiden who shall satisfy his
love for ideal beauty. To find her he goes, not among human habitations,
but to gloomy forests, dizzy cliffs, raging torrents, tempest-blown
seashore,--to every place where a maiden in her senses would not be. Such
places, terrible or picturesque, are but symbols of the poet's soul in its
suffering and loneliness. He does not find his maiden (and herein we read
the poet's first confession that he has failed in life, that the world is
too strong for him); but he sees the setting moon, and somehow that pale
comforter brings him peace with death.

[Sidenote: PROMETHEUS]

In _Prometheus Unbound_ Shelley uses the old myth of the Titan who
rebelled against the tyranny of the gods, and who was punished by being
chained to a rock. [Footnote: The original tragedy of _Prometheus
Bound_ was written by Æschylus, a famous old Greek dramatist. The same
poet wrote also _Prometheus Unbound_, but the latter drama has been
lost. Shelley borrowed the idea of his poem from this lost drama.] In this
poem Prometheus (man) is represented as being tortured by Jove (law or
custom) until he is released by Demogorgon (progress or necessity);
whereupon he marries Asia (love or goodness), and stars and moon break out
into a happy song of redemption.

Obviously there is no reality or human interest in such a fantasy. The only
pleasurable parts of the poem are its detached passages of great melody or
beauty; and the chief value of the work is as a modern example of Titan
literature. Many poets have at various times represented mankind in the
person of a Titan, that is, a man written large, colossal in his courage or
power or suffering: Æschylus in _Prometheus_, Marlowe in
_Tamburlaine_, Milton in Lucifer, of _Paradise Lost_, Goethe in
_Faust_, Byron in _Manfred_, Shelley in _Prometheus
Unbound_. The Greek Titan is resigned, uncomplaining, knowing himself to
be a victim of Fate, which may not be opposed; Marlowe's Titan is bombastic
and violent; Milton's is ambitious, proud, revengeful; Goethe's is cultured
and philosophical; Byron's is gloomy, rebellious, theatrical. So all these
poets portray each his own bent of mind, and something also of the temper
of the age, in the character of his Titan. The significance of Shelley's
poem is in this: that his Titan is patient and hopeful, trusting in the
spirit of Love to redeem mankind from all evil. Herein Shelley is far
removed from the caviling temper of his fellow rebel Byron. He celebrates a
golden age not of the past but of the future, when the dream of justice
inspired by the French Revolution shall have become a glorious reality.

[Sidenote: HIS BEST POEMS]

These longer poems of Shelley are read by the few; they are too vague, with
too little meaning or message, for ordinary readers who like to understand
as well as to enjoy poetry. To such readers the only interesting works of
Shelley are a few shorter poems: "The Cloud," "To a Skylark," "Ode to the
West Wind," "Indian Serenade," "A Lament," "When the Lamp is Lighted" and
some parts of _Adonais_ (a beautiful elegy in memory of Keats), such
as the passage beginning, "Go thou to Rome." For splendor of imagination
and for melody of expression these poems have few peers and no superiors in
English literature. To read them is to discover that Shelley was at times
so sensitive, so responsive to every harmony of nature, that he seemed like
the poet of Alastor,

  A fragile lute, on whose harmonious strings
  The breath of Heaven did wander.

The breath of heaven is constant, but lutes and strings are variable
matters of human arrangement. When Shelley's lute was tuned to nature it
brought forth aerial melody; when he strained its strings to voice some
social rebellion or anarchistic theory it produced wild discord.

       *       *       *       *       *

JOHN KEATS (1795-1821)

  A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
  Its loveliness increases; it will never
  Pass into nothingness, but still will keep
  A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
  Full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing.

The above lines, from _Endymion_, reflect the ideal of the young
singer whom we rank with the best poets of the nineteenth century. Unlike
other romanticists of that day, he seems to have lived for poetry alone and
to have loved it for its own sake, as we love the first spring flowers. His
work was shamefully treated by reviewers; it was neglected by the public;
but still he wrote, trying to make each line perfect, in the spirit of
those medieval workmen who put their hearts into a carving that would rest
on some lofty spire far above the eyes of men. To reverence beauty wherever
he found it, and then in gratitude to produce a new work of beauty which
should live forever,--that was Keats's only aim. It is the more wonderful
in view of his humble origin, his painful experience, his tragic end.

    LIFE. Only twenty-five years of life, which included seven years of
    uncongenial tasks, and three of writing, and three of wandering in
    search of health,--that sums up the story of Keats. He was born in
    London; he was the son of a hostler; his home was over the stable;
    his playground was the dirty street. The family prospered, moved to
    a better locality, and the children were sent to a good school.
    Then the parents died, and at fifteen Keats was bound out to a
    surgeon and apothecary. For four years he worked as an apprentice,
    and for three years more in a hospital; then, for his heart was
    never in the work, he laid aside his surgeon's kit, resolving never
    to touch it again.

    [Sidenote: TWO POETIC IDEALS]

    Since childhood he had been a reader, a dreamer, but not till a
    volume of Spenser's _Faery Queen_ was put into his hands did
    he turn with intense eagerness to poetry. The influence of that
    volume is seen in the somewhat monotonous sweetness of his early
    work. Next he explored the classics (he had read Virgil in the
    original, but he knew no Greek), and the joy he found in Chapman's
    translation of Homer is reflected in a noble sonnet. From that time
    on he was influenced by two ideals which he found in Greek and
    medieval literature, the one with its emphasis on form, the other
    with its rich and varied coloring.

    [Illustration: JOHN KEATS]

    During the next three years Keats published three small volumes,
    his entire life's work. These were brutally criticized by literary
    magazines; they met with ridicule at the hands of Byron, with
    indifference on the part of Scott and Wordsworth. The pathetic
    legend that the poet's life was shortened by this abuse is still
    repeated, but there is little truth in it. Keats held manfully to
    his course, having more weighty things than criticism to think
    about. He was conscious that his time was short; he was in love
    with his Fannie Brawne, but separated from her by illness and
    poverty; and, like the American poet Lanier, he faced death across
    the table as he wrote. To throw off the consumption which had
    fastened upon him he tried to live in the open, making walking
    trips in the Lake Region; but he met with rough fare and returned
    from each trip weaker than before. He turned at last to Italy,
    dreading the voyage and what lay beyond. Night fell as the ship put
    to sea; the evening star shone clear through the storm clouds, and
    Keats sent his farewell to life and love and poetry in the sonnet

      Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art.

    He died soon after his arrival in Rome, in 1821. Shelley, who had
    hailed Keats as a genius, and who had sent a generous invitation to
    come and share his home, commemorated the poet's death and the
    world's loss in _Adonais_, which ranks with Milton's
    _Lycidas_, Tennyson's _In Memoriam_ and Emerson's
    _Threnody_ among the great elegiac poems of our literature.

THE WORK OF KEATS. The first small volume of Keats (_Poems_, 1817)
seems now like an experiment. The part of that experiment which we cherish
above all others is the sonnet "On Chapman's Homer," which should be read
entire for its note of joy and for its fine expression of the influence of
classic poetry. The second volume, _Endymion_, may be regarded as a
promise. There is little reality in the rambling poem which gives title to
the volume (the story of a shepherd beloved of a moon-goddess), but the
bold imagery of the work, its Spenserian melody, its passages of rare
beauty,--all these speak of a true poet who has not yet quite found himself
or his subject. A third volume, _Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes
and Other Poems_ (1820), is in every sense a fulfillment, for it
contains a large proportion of excellent poetry, fresh, vital, melodious,
which improves with years, and which carries on its face the stamp of

[Sidenote: HIS BEST POEMS]

The contents of this little volume may be arranged, not very accurately, in
three classes, In the first are certain poems that by their perfection of
form show the Greek or classic spirit. Best known of these poems are the
fragment "Hyperion," with its Milton-like nobility of style, and "Lamia,"
which is the story of an enchantress whom love transforms into a beautiful
woman, but who quickly vanishes because of her lover's too great
curiosity,--a parable, perhaps, of the futility of science and philosophy,
as Keats regarded them.

Of the poems of the second class, which reflect old medieval legends, "The
Pot of Basil," "The Eve of St. Agnes" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci" are
praised by poets and critics alike. "St. Agnes," which reflects a vague
longing rather than a story, is the best known; but "La Belle Dame" may
appeal to some readers as the most moving of Keats's poems. The essence of
all old metrical romances is preserved in a few lines, which have an added
personal interest from the fact that they may reveal something of the
poet's sad love story.

In the third class are a few sonnets and miscellaneous poems, all permeated
by the sense of beauty, showing in every line the genius of Keats and his
exquisite workmanship. The sonnets "On the Sea," "When I have Fears," "On
the Grasshopper and Cricket" and "To Sleep"; the fragment beginning "In a
drear-nighted December"; the marvelous odes "On a Grecian Urn," "To a
Nightingale" and "To Autumn," in which he combines the simplicity of the
old classics with the romance and magic of medieval writers,--there are no
works in English of a similar kind that make stronger appeal to our ideal
of poetry and of verbal melody. Into the three stanzas of "Autumn," for
example, Keats has compressed the vague feelings of beauty, of melancholy,
of immortal aspiration, which come to sensitive souls in the "season of
mists and mellow fruitfulness." It may be compared, or rather contrasted,
with another poem on the same subject which voices the despair in the heart
of the French poet Verlaine, who hears "the sobbing of the violins of

  Les sanglots longs
  Des violons
      De l'automne
  Blessent mon coeur
  D'une langueur

KEATS: AN ESSAY OF CRITICISM. Beyond recommending a few of his poems for
their beauty, there is really so little to be said of Keats that critics
are at their wit's end to express their appreciation. So we read of Keats's
"pure aestheticism," his "copious perfection," his "idyllic visualization,"
his "haunting poignancy of feeling," his "subtle felicities of diction,"
his "tone color," and more to the same effect. Such criticisms are
doubtless well meant, but they are harder to follow than Keats's
"Endymion"; and that is no short or easy road of poesy. Perhaps by trying
more familiar ways we may better understand Keats, why he appeals so
strongly to poets, and why he is so seldom read by other people.


The first characteristic of the man was his love for every beautiful thing
he saw or heard. Sometimes the object which fascinated him was the
widespread sea or a solitary star; sometimes it was the work of man, the
product of his heart and brain attuned, such as a passage from Homer, a
legend of the Middle Ages, a vase of pure lines amid the rubbish of a
museum, like a bird call or the scent of violets in a city street. Whatever
the object that aroused his sense of beauty, he turned aside to stay with
it a while, as on the byways of Europe you will sometimes see a man lay
down his burden and bare his head before a shrine that beckons him to pray.
With this reverence for beauty Keats had other and rarer qualities: the
power to express what he felt, the imagination which gave him beautiful
figures, and the taste which enabled him to choose the finest words, the
most melodious phrases, wherewith to reflect his thought or mood or

Such was the power of Keats, to be simple and reverent in the presence of
beauty, and to give his feeling poetic or imaginative expression. In
respect of such power he probably had no peer in English literature. His
limitations were twofold: he looked too exclusively on the physical side of
beauty, and he lived too far removed from the common, wholesome life of

[Sidenote: SENSE AND SOUL]

To illustrate our criticism: that man whom we saw by the wayside shrine
acknowledged the presence of some spiritual beauty and truth, the beauty of
holiness, the ineffable loveliness of God. So the man who trains a child,
or gives thanks for a friend, or remembers his mother, is always at heart a
lover of beauty,--the moral beauty of character, of comradeship, of
self-sacrifice. But the poetry of Keats deals largely with outward matters,
with form, color, melody, odors, with what is called "sensuous" beauty
because it delights our human senses. Such beauty is good, but it is not
supreme. Moreover, the artist who would appeal widely to men must by
sympathy understand their whole life, their mirth as well as their sorrow,
their days of labor, their hours of play, their moments of worship. But
Keats, living apart with his ideal of beauty, like a hermit in his cell,
was able to understand and to voice only one of the profound interests of
humanity. For this reason, and because of the deep note of sadness which
sounds through all his work like the monotone of the sea, his exquisite
poems have never had any general appreciation. Like Spenser, who was his
first master, he is a poet's poet.

       *       *       *       *       *


In the early nineteenth century the Literary Annuals appeared, took root
and flourished mightily in England and America. These annuals (such a
vigorous crop should have been called hardy annuals) were collections of
contemporary prose or verse that appeared once a year under such
sentimental names as "Friendship's Offering," "The Token" and "The
Garland." That they were sold in large numbers on both sides of the
Atlantic speaks of the growing popular interest in literature. Moreover,
they served an excellent purpose at a time when books and libraries were
less accessible than they are now. They satisfied the need of ordinary
readers for poetry and romance; they often made known to the world a
talented author, who found in public approval that sweet encouragement
which critics denied him; they made it unlikely that henceforth "some mute,
inglorious Milton" should remain either mute or inglorious; and they not
only preserved the best work of minor poets but, what is much better, they
gave it a wide reading.

Thanks to such collections, from which every newspaper filled its Poet's
Corner, good poems which else might have hid their little light under a
bushel--Campbell's "Hohenlinden," Mrs. Hemans' "Landing of the Pilgrim
Fathers," Hunt's "Abou ben Adhem," Hood's "The Song of the Shirt," and many
others--are now as widely known as are the best works of Wordsworth or

[Illustration: LEIGH HUNT]

We can name only a few poets of the age, leaving the reader to form
acquaintance with their songs in an anthology. Especially worthy of
remembrance are: Thomas Campbell, who greatly influenced the American poets
Halleck and Drake; Thomas Moore, whose _Irish Melodies_ have an
attractive singing quality; James Hogg (The Ettrick Shepherd); John Keble,
author of _The Christian Year_; Thomas Hood; Felicia Hemans; and Leigh
Hunt, whose encouragement of Keats is as memorable as his "Abou ben Adhem"
or "The Glove and the Lions." There are other poets of equal rank with
those we have ventured to name, and their melodious quality is such that a
modern critic has spoken of them, in terms commonly applied to the
Elizabethans, as "a nest of singing birds"; which would be an excellent
figure if we could forget the fact that birds in a nest never sing. Their
work is perhaps less imaginative (and certainly less fantastic) than that
of Elizabethan singers, but it comes nearer to present life and reality.

One of the least known of these minor poets, Thomas Beddoes, was gifted in
a way to remind us of the strange genius of Blake. He wrote not much, his
life being too broken and disappointed; but running through his scanty
verse is a thread of the pure gold of poetry. In a single stanza of his
"Dream Pedlary" he has reflected the spirit of the whole romantic movement:

  If there were dreams to sell,
       What would you buy?
  Some cost a passing bell,
       Some a light sigh
  That shakes from Life's fresh crown
  Only a rose leaf down.
  If there were dreams to sell,
  Merry and sad to tell,
  And the crier rang the bell,
      What would you buy?

       *       *       *       *       *


To read Scott is to read Scotland. Of no other modern author can it so
freely be said that he gave to literature a whole country, its scenery, its
people, its history and traditions, its ideals of faith and courage and

That is a large achievement, but that is not all. It was Scott, more than
any other author, who brought poetry and romance home to ordinary readers;
and with romance came pleasure, wholesome and refreshing as a drink from a
living spring. When he began to write, the novel was in a sad
state,--sentimental, sensational, fantastic, devoted to what Charles Lamb
described as wildly improbable events and to characters that belong neither
to this world nor to any other conceivable one. When his work was done, the
novel had been raised to its present position as the most powerful literary
influence that bears upon the human mind. Among novelists, therefore, Scott
deserves his title of "the first of the modern race of giants."

    LIFE. To his family, descendants of the old Borderers, Scott owed
    that intensely patriotic quality which glows in all his work. He is
    said to have borne strong resemblance to his grandfather, "Old
    Bardie Scott," an unbending clansman who vowed never to cut his
    beard till a Stuart prince came back to the throne. The clansmen
    were now citizens of the Empire, but their loyalty to hereditary
    chiefs is reflected in Scott's reverence for everything pertaining
    to rank or royalty.


    He was born (1771) in Edinburgh, but his early associations were
    all of the open country. Some illness had left him lame of foot,
    and with the hope of a cure he was sent to relatives at Sandy
    Knowe. There in the heart of the Border he spent his days on the
    hills with the shepherds, listening to Scottish legends. At bedtime
    his grandmother told him tales of the clans; and when he could read
    for himself he learned by heart Percy's _Reliques of Ancient
    Poetry_. So the scenes which he loved because of their wild
    beauty became sacred because of their historical association. Even
    in that early day his heart had framed the sentiment which found
    expression in his _Lay of the Last Minstrel_:

      Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
      Who never to himself hath said:
            This is my own, my native land?

    [Sidenote: WORK AND PLAY]

    At school, and at college at Edinburgh, the boy's heart was never
    in his books, unless perchance they contained something of the
    tradition of Scotland. After college he worked in his father's law
    office, became an advocate, and for twenty years followed the law.
    His vacations were spent "making raids," as he said, into the
    Highlands, adding to his enormous store of old tales and ballads. A
    companion on one of these trips gives us a picture of the man:

        "Eh me, sic an endless fund o' humour and drollery as he
        had wi' him! Never ten yards but we were either laughing or
        roaring and singing. Whenever we stopped, how brawlie he
        suited himsel' to everybody! He aye did as the lave did;
        never made himsel' the great man, or took ony airs in the

    This boyish delight in roaming, in new scenes, in new people met
    frankly under the open sky, is characteristic of Scott's poems and
    novels, which never move freely until they are out of doors. The
    vigor of these works may be partially accounted for by the fact
    that Scott was a hard worker and a hearty player,--a capital

    [Sidenote: HIS POEMS]

    He was past thirty when he began to write. [Footnote: This refers
    to original composition. In 1796 Scott published some translations
    of German romantic ballads, and in 1802 his _Minstrelsy of the
    Scottish Border_. The latter was a collection of old ballads, to
    some of which Scott gave a more modern form.] By that time he had
    been appointed Clerk of Sessions, and also Sheriff of Selkirkshire
    (he took that hangman's job, and kept it even after he had won
    fame, just for the money there was in it); and these offices,
    together with his wife's dowry, provided a comfortable income. When
    his first poem, _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_ (1805), met
    with immense success he gladly gave up the law, and wrote
    _Marmion_ (1808) and _The Lady of the Lake_ (1810). These
    increased his good fortune; but his later poems were of inferior
    quality, and met with a cool reception. Meanwhile Byron had
    appeared to dazzle the reading public. Scott recognized the greater
    poetic genius of the author of _Childe Harold_, and sought
    another field where he was safe from all rivals.

    [Illustration: WALTER SCOTT]

    [Sidenote: FIRST ROMANCES]

    Rummaging in a cabinet one day after some fishing tackle, he found
    a manuscript long neglected and forgotten. Instead of going fishing
    Scott read his manuscript, was fascinated by it, and presently
    began to write in headlong fashion. In three weeks he added
    sixty-five chapters to his old romance, and published it as
    _Waverley_ (1814) without signing his name. Then he went away
    on another "raid" to the Highlands. When he returned, at the end of
    the summer, he learned that his book had made a tremendous
    sensation, and that Fame, hat in hand, had been waiting at his door
    for some weeks.

    In the next ten years Scott won his name of "the Wizard of the
    North," for it seemed that only magic could produce stories of such
    quality in such numbers: _Guy Mannering_, _Rob Roy_,
    _Old Mortality_, _Redgauntlet_, _Heart of
    Midlothian_, portraying the deathless romance of Scotland; and
    _Ivanhoe_, _Kenilworth_, _The Talisman_ and other
    novels which changed dull history to a drama of fascinating
    characters. Not only England but the Continent hailed this
    magnificent work with delight. Money and fame poured in upon the
    author. Fortune appeared for once "with both hands full." Then the
    crash came.

    To understand the calamity one must remember that Scott regarded
    literature not as an art but as a profitable business; that he
    aimed to be not a great writer but a lord of high degree. He had
    been made a baronet, and was childishly proud of the title; his
    work and his vast earnings were devoted to the dream of a feudal
    house which should endure through the centuries and look back to
    Sir Walter as its noble founder. While living modestly on his
    income at Ashestiel he had used the earnings of his poems to buy a
    rough farm at Clarty Hole, on the Tweed, and had changed its
    unromantic name to Abbotsford. More land was rapidly added and
    "improved" to make a lordly estate; then came the building of a
    castle, where Scott entertained lavishly, as lavishly as any laird
    or chieftain of the olden time, offering to all visitors "the
    honors of Scotland."

    [Illustration: ABBOTSFORD]

    Enormous sums were spent on this bubble, and still more money was
    needed. To increase his income Scott went into secret partnership
    with his publishers, indulged in speculative ventures, ran the firm
    upon the shoals, drew large sums in advance of his earnings.
    Suddenly came a business panic; the publishing firm failed
    miserably, and at fifty five Scott, having too much honest pride to
    take advantage of the bankruptcy laws, found himself facing a debt
    of more than a hundred thousand pounds.

    [Sidenote: HIS LAST YEARS]

    His last years were spent in an heroic struggle to retrieve his
    lost fortunes. He wrote more novels, but without much zest or
    inspiration; he undertook other works, such as the voluminous
    _Life of Napoleon_, for which he was hardly fitted, but which
    brought him money in large measure. In four years he had repaid the
    greater part of his debt, but mind and body were breaking under the
    strain. When the end came, in 1832, he had literally worked himself
    to death. The murmur of the Tweed over its shallows, music that he
    had loved since childhood, was the last earthly sound of which he
    was conscious. The house of Abbotsford, for which he had planned
    and toiled, went into strange hands, and the noble family which he
    had hoped to found died out within a few years. Only his work
    remains, and that endures the wear of time and the tooth of

THE POEMS OF SCOTT. Three good poems of Scott are _Marmion_, _The
Lay of the Last Minstrel_ and _The Lady of the Lake_; three others,
not so good, are _Rokeby_, _Vision of Don Roderick_ and _Lord
of the Isles_. Among these _The Lady of the Lake_ is such a
favorite that, if one were to question the tourists who annually visit the
Trossachs, a surprisingly large number of them would probably confess that
they were led not so much by love of natural beauty as by desire to visit
"Fair Ellen's Isle" and other scenes which Scott has immortalized in verse.

We may as well admit frankly that even the best of these poems is not
first-class; that it shows careless workmanship, and is lacking in the
finer elements of beauty and imagination. But Scott did not aim to create a
work of beauty; his purpose was to tell a good story, and in that he
succeeded. His _Lady of the Lake_, for example, has at least two
virtues: it holds the reader's attention; and it fulfills the first law of
poetry, which is to give pleasure.


Another charm of the poems, for young readers especially, is that they are
simple, vigorous, easily understood. Their rapid action and flying verse
show hardly a trace of conscious effort. Reading them is like sweeping
downstream with a good current, no labor required save for steering, and
attention free for what awaits us around the next bend. When the bend is
passed, Scott has always something new and interesting: charming scenery,
heroic adventure, picturesque incidents (such as the flight of the Fiery
Cross to summon the clans), interesting fragments of folklore, and
occasionally a ballad like "Lochinvar," or a song like "Bonnie Dundee,"
which stays with us as a happy memory long after the poem is forgotten.

A secondary reason for the success of these poems was that they satisfied a
fashion, very popular in Scott's day, which we have not yet outgrown. That
fashion was to attribute chivalrous virtues to outlaws and other merry men,
who in their own day and generation were imprisoned or hanged, and who
deserved their fate. Robin Hood's gang, for example, or the Raiders of the
Border, were in fact a tough lot of thieves and cutthroats; but when they
appeared in romantic literature they must of course appeal to ladies; so
Scott made them fine, dashing, manly fellows, sacrificing to the fashion of
the hour the truth of history and humanity. As Andrew Lang says:

    "In their own days the Border Riders were regarded as public
    nuisances by statesmen, who attempted to educate them by means of
    the gibbet. But now they were the delight of fine ladies,
    contending who should be most extravagant in encomium. A blessing
    on such fine ladies, who know what is good when they see it!"
    [Footnote: Quoted in Nicoll and Seccombe, _A History of English
    Literature_, Vol. Ill, p. 957.]

SCOTT'S NOVELS. To appreciate the value of Scott's work one should read
some of the novels that were fashionable in his day,--silly, sentimental
novels, portraying the "sensibilities" of imaginary ladies. [Footnote: In
America, Cooper's first romance, _Precaution_ (1820), was of this
artificial type. After Scott's outdoor romances appeared, Cooper discovered
his talent, and wrote _The Spy_ and the Leather-Stocking tales. Maria
Edgeworth and Jane Austen began to improve or naturalize the English novel
before Scott attempted it.] That Scott was influenced by this inane fashion
appears plainly in some of his characters, his fine ladies especially, who
pose and sentimentalize till we are mortally weary of them; but this
influence passed when he discovered his real power, which was to portray
men and women in vigorous action. _Waverley_, _Rob Roy_,
_Ivanhoe_, _Redgauntlet_,--such stories of brave adventure were
like the winds of the North, bringing to novel-readers the tang of the sea
and the earth and the heather. They braced their readers for life, made
them feel their kinship with nature and humanity. Incidentally, they
announced that two new types of fiction, the outdoor romance and the
historical novel, had appeared with power to influence the work of Cooper,
Thackeray, Dickens and a host of minor novelists.


    [Sidenote: GROUPS OF STORIES]

    The most convenient way of dealing with Scott's works is to arrange
    them in three groups. In the first are the novels of Scotland:
    _Waverley_, dealing with the loyalty of the clans to the
    Pretender; _Old Mortality_, with the faith and struggles of
    the Covenanters; _Redgauntlet_, with the plots of the
    Jacobites; _The Abbot_ and _The Monastery_, with the
    traditions concerning Mary Queen of Scots; _Guy Mannering, The
    Antiquary_ and _The Heart of Midlothian_, with private life
    and humble Scottish characters.

    In the second group are the novels which reveal the romance of
    English history: _Ivanhoe_, dealing with Saxon and Norman in
    the stormy days when Richard Lionheart returned to his kingdom;
    _Kenilworth_, with the intrigues of Elizabeth's Court; _The
    Fortunes of Nigel_, with London life in the days of Charles
    First; _Woodstock_, with Cromwell's iron age; _Peveril of
    the Peak_, with the conflict between Puritan and Cavalier during
    the Restoration period.

    In the third group are the novels which take us to foreign lands:
    _Quentin Durward_, showing us the French court as dominated by
    the cunning of Louis Eleventh, and _The Talisman_, dealing
    with the Third Crusade.

    In the above list we have named not all but only the best of
    Scott's novels. They differ superficially, in scenes or incidents;
    they are all alike in motive, which is to tell a tale of adventure
    that shall be true to human nature, no matter what liberties it may
    take with the facts of history.


In all these novels the faults are almost as numerous as the virtues; but
while the faults appear small, having little influence on the final result,
the virtues are big, manly, wholesome,--such virtues as only the greatest
writers of fiction possess. Probably all Scott's faults spring from one
fundamental weakness: he never had a high ideal of his own art. He wrote to
make money, and was inclined to regard his day's labor as "so much
scribbling." Hence his style is frequently slovenly, lacking vigor and
concentration; his characters talk too much, apparently to fill space; he
caters to the romantic fashion (and at the same time indulges his Tory
prejudice) by enlarging on the somewhat imaginary virtues of knights,
nobles, feudal or royal institutions, and so presents a one-sided view of

On the other hand, Scott strove to be true to the great movements of
history, and to the moral forces which, in the end, prevail in all human
activity. His sympathies were broad; he mingled in comradeship with all
classes of society, saw the best in each; and from his observation and
sympathy came an enormous number of characters, high or low, good or bad,
grave or ridiculous, but nearly all natural and human, because drawn from
life and experience.


Another of Scott's literary virtues is his love of wild nature, which led
him to depict many grand or gloomy scenes, partly for their own sake, but
largely because they formed a fitting background for human action. Thus,
_The Talisman_ opens with a pen picture of a solitary Crusader moving
across a sun-scorched desert towards a distant island of green. Every line
in that description points to action, to the rush of a horseman from the
oasis, to the fierce trial of arms before the enemies speak truce and drink
together from the same spring. Many another of Scott's descriptions of wild
nature is followed by some gallant adventure, which we enjoy the more
because we imagine that adventures ought to occur (though they seldom do)
amid romantic surroundings.


WHAT TO READ. At least one novel in each group should be read; but if it be
asked, Which one? the answer is as much a matter of taste as of judgment.
Of the novels dealing with Scottish life, _Waverley_, which was
Scott's first attempt, is still an excellent measure of his story-telling
genius; but there is more adventurous interest in _Old Mortality_ or
_Rob Roy_; and in _The Heart of Midlothian_ (regarded by many as
the finest of Scott's works) one feels closer to nature and human nature,
and especially to the heart of Scotland. _Ivanhoe_ is perhaps the best
of the romances of English history; and of stories dealing with adventure
in strange lands, _The Talisman_ will probably appeal strongest to
young readers, and _Quentin Durward_ to their elders. To these may be
added _The Antiquary_, which is a good story, and which has an element
of personal interest in that it gives us glimpses of Scott himself,
surrounded by old armor, old legends, old costumes,--mute testimonies to
the dreams and deeds of yesterday's men and women.

Such novels should be read once for the story, as Scott intended; and then,
if one should grow weary of modern-problem novels, they may be read again
for their wholesome, bracing atmosphere, for their tenderness and wisdom,
for their wide horizons, for their joy of climbing to heights where we look
out upon a glorious Present, and a yet more glorious Past that is not dead
but living.

       *       *       *       *       *


Of the work of Walter Scott we have already spoken. When such a genius
appears, dominating his age, we think of him as a great inventor, and so he
was; but like most other inventors his trail had been blazed, his way
prepared by others who had gone before him. His first romance,
_Waverley_, shows the influence of earlier historical romances, such
as Jane Porter's _Thaddeus of Warsaw_ and _Scottish Chiefs_; in
his later work he acknowledged his indebtedness to Maria Edgeworth, whose
_Castle Rackrent_ had aroused enthusiasm at the beginning of the
nineteenth century. In brief, the romantic movement greatly encouraged
fiction writing, and Scott did excellently what many others were doing

Two things are noticeable as we review the fiction of this period: the
first, that nearly all the successful writers were women; [Footnote: The
list includes: Fanny Burney, Ann Radcliffe, Jane Porter, Maria Edgeworth,
Susan Ferrier, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Mary Brunton, Hannah More,
Mary Russell Mitford,--all of whom were famous in their day, and each of
whom produced at least one "best seller"] the second, that of these writers
only one, the most neglected by her own generation, holds a secure place in
the hearts of present-day readers. If it be asked why Jane Austen's works
endure while others are forgotten, the answer is that almost any trained
writer can produce a modern romance, but it takes a genius to write a
novel. [Footnote: The difference between the modern romance and the novel
is evident in the works of Scott and Miss Austen. Scott takes an unusual
subject, he calls up kings, nobles, chieftains, clansmen, robber barons,--a
host of picturesque characters; he uses his imagination freely, and makes a
story for the story's sake. Miss Austen takes an ordinary country village,
observes its people as through a microscope, and portrays them to the life.
She is not interested in making a thrilling story, but in showing us men
and women as they are; and our interest is held by the verity of her
portrayal. (For a different distinction between romance and novel, see "THE
EARLY ENGLISH NOVEL" above, Chapter VI.)]

[Illustration: MRS. HANNAH MORE]

JANE AUSTEN. The rare genius of Miss Austen (1775-1817) was as a forest
flower during her lifetime. While Fanny Burney, Jane Porter and Maria
Edgeworth were widely acclaimed, this little woman remained almost unknown,
following no school of fiction, writing for her own pleasure, and
destroying whatever did not satisfy her own sense of fitness. If she had
any theory of fiction, it was simply this: to use no incident but such as
had occurred before her eyes, to describe no scene that was not familiar,
and to portray only such characters as she knew intimately, their speech,
dress, manner, and the motives that governed their action. If unconsciously
she followed any rule of expression, it was that of Cowper, who said that
to touch and retouch is the secret of almost all good writing. To her
theory and rule she added personal charm, intelligence, wit, genius of a
high order. Neglected by her own generation, she has now an ever-widening
circle of readers, and is ranked by critics among the five or six greatest
writers of English fiction.

    [Sidenote: HER LIFE]

    Jane Austen's life was short and extremely placid. She was born
    (1775) in a little Hampshire village; she spent her entire life in
    one country parish or another, varying the scene by an occasional
    summer at the watering-place of Bath, which was not very exciting.
    Her father was an easy-going clergyman who read Pope, avoided
    politics, and left preaching to his curate. She was one of a large
    family of children, who were brought up to regard elegance of
    manner as a cardinal virtue, and vulgarity of any kind as the
    epitome of the seven deadly sins. Her two brothers entered the
    navy; hence the flutter in her books whenever a naval officer comes
    on a furlough to his native village. She spent her life in homely,
    pleasant duties, and did her writing while the chatter of family
    life went on around her. Her only characters were visitors who came
    to the rectory, or who gathered around the tea-table in a
    neighbor's house. They were absolutely unconscious of the keen
    scrutiny to which they were subjected; no one whispered to them, "A
    chiel's amang ye, takin' notes"; and so they had no suspicion that
    they were being transferred into books.

    The first three of Miss Austen's novels were written at Steventon,
    among her innocent subjects, but her precious manuscripts went
    begging in vain for a publisher. [Footnote: _Northanger
    Abbey_, _Pride and Prejudice_ and _Sense and
    Sensibility_ were written between 1796 and 1799, when Jane
    Austen had just passed her twenty-first year. Her first novel was
    bought by a publisher who neglected to print it. The second could
    not be sold till after the third was published, in 1811.] The last
    three, reflecting as in a glass the manners of another parish, were
    written at Chawton, near Winchester. Then the good work suddenly
    began to flag. The same disease that, a little later, was to call
    halt to Keats's poetry of beauty now made an end of Miss Austen's
    portrayal of everyday life. When she died (1817) she was only
    forty-two years old, and her heart was still that of a young girl.
    A stained-glass window in beautiful old Winchester Cathedral speaks
    eloquently of her life and work.


If we must recommend one of Miss Austen's novels, perhaps _Pride and
Prejudice_ is the most typical; but there is very little to justify this
choice when the alternative is _Northanger Abbey_, or _Emma_, or
_Sense and Sensibility_, or _Persuasion_, or _Mansfield
Park_. All are good; the most definite stricture that one can safely
make is that _Mansfield Park_ is not so good as the others. Four of
the novels are confined to country parishes; but in _Northanger Abbey_
and _Persuasion_ the horizon is broadened to include a watering place,
whither genteel folk went "to take the air."

The characters of all these novels are: first, the members of five or six
families, with their relatives, who try to escape individual boredom by
gregariousness; and second, more of the same kind assembled at a local fair
or sociable. Here you meet a dull country squire or two, a feeble-minded
baronet, a curate laboriously upholding the burden of his dignity, a doctor
trying to hide his emptiness of mind by looking occupied, an uncomfortable
male person in tow of his wife, maiden aunts, fond mammas with their
awkward daughters, chatterboxes, poor relations, spoiled children,--a
characteristic gathering. All these, except the spoiled children, talk with
perfect propriety about the weather. If in the course of a long day
anything witty is said, it is an accident, a phenomenon; conversation
halts, and everybody looks at the speaker as if he must have had "a rush of
brains to the head."


Such is Jane Austen's little field, an eddy of life revolving endlessly
around small parish interests. Her subjects are not even the whole parish,
but only "the quality," whom the favored ones may meet at Mrs. B's
afternoon at home. They read proper novels, knit wristlets, discuss fevers
and their remedies, raise their eyebrows at gossip, connive at matrimony,
and take tea. The workers of the world enter not here; neither do men of
ideas, nor social rebels, nor the wicked, nor the happily unworthy poor;
and the parish is blessed in having no reformers.

In this barren field, hopeless to romancers like Scott, there never was
such another explorer as Jane Austen. Her demure observation is marvelously
keen; sometimes it is mischievous, or even a bit malicious, but always
sparkling with wit or running over with good humor. Almost alone in that
romantic age she had no story to tell, and needed none. She had never met
any heroes or heroines. Plots, adventures, villains, persecuted innocence,
skeletons in closets,--all the ordinary machinery of fiction seemed to her
absurd and unnecessary. She was content to portray the life that she knew
best, and found it so interesting that, a century later, we share her
enthusiasm. And that is the genius of Miss Austen, to interest us not by a
romantic story but by the truth of her observation and by the fidelity of
her portrayal of human nature, especially of feminine nature.


There is one more thing to note in connection with Miss Austen's work;
namely, her wholesome influence on the English novel. In _Northanger
Abbey_ and in _Sense and Sensibility_ she satirizes the popular
romances of the period, with their Byronic heroes, melodramatic horrors and
perpetual harping on some pale heroine's sensibilities. Her satire is
perhaps the best that has been written on the subject, so delicate, so
flashing, so keen, that a critic compares it to the exploit of Saladin (in
_The Talisman_) who could not with his sword hack through an iron
mace, as Richard did, but who accomplished the more difficult feat of
slicing a gossamer veil as it floated in the air.

Such satire was not lost; yet it was Miss Austen's example rather than her
precept which put to shame the sentimental romances of her day, and which
influenced subsequent English fiction in the direction of truth and
naturalness. Young people still prefer romance and adventure as portrayed
by Scott and his followers, and that is as it should be; but an
increasingly large number of mature readers (especially those who are
interested in human nature) find a greater charm in the novel of characters
and manners, as exemplified by Jane Austen.

       *       *       *       *       *


From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century (or from Shakespeare to
Wordsworth) England was preparing a great literature; and then appeared
writers whose business or pleasure it was to appreciate that literature, to
point out its virtues or its defects, to explain by what principle this or
that work was permanent, and to share their enjoyment of good prose and
poetry with others,--in a word, the critics.

In the list of such writers, who give us literature at second hand, the
names of Leigh Hunt, William Hazlitt, Walter Savage Landor, Charles Lamb
and Thomas De Quincey are written large. The two last-named are selected
for special study, not because of their superior critical ability (for
Hazlitt was probably a better critic than either), but because of a few
essays in which these men left us an appreciation of life, as they saw it
for themselves at first hand.

CHARLES LAMB (1775-1834). There is a little book called _Essays of
Elia_ which stands out from all other prose works of the age. If we
examine this book to discover the source of its charm, we find it pervaded
by a winsome "human" quality which makes us want to know the man who wrote
it. In this respect Charles Lamb differs from certain of his
contemporaries. Wordsworth was too solitary, Coleridge and De Quincey too
unbalanced, Shelley too visionary and Keats too aloof to awaken a feeling
of personal allegiance; but the essays of Lamb reveal two qualities which,
like fine gold, are current among readers of all ages. These are sympathy
and humor. By the one we enter understandingly into life, while the other
keeps us from taking life too tragically.

[Illustration: CHARLES LAMB.
From the engraving by S. Aslent Edwards]

    [Sidenote: HIS LIFE]

    Lamb was born (1775) in the midst of London, and never felt at home
    anywhere else. London is a world in itself, and of all its corners
    there were only three that Lamb found comfortable. The first was
    the modest little home where he lived with his gifted sister Mary,
    reading with her through the long evenings, or tenderly caring for
    her during a period of insanity; the second was the commercial
    house where he toiled as a clerk; the third was the busy street
    which lay between home and work,--a street forever ebbing and
    flowing with a great tide of human life that affected Lamb
    profoundly, mysteriously, as Wordsworth was affected by the hills
    or the sea.

    The boy's education began at Christ's Hospital, where he met
    Coleridge and entered with him into a lifelong friendship. At
    fifteen he left school to help support his family; and for the next
    thirty-three years he was a clerk, first in the South Sea House,
    then in the East India Company. Rather late in life he began to
    write, his prime object being to earn a little extra money, which
    he sadly needed. Then the Company, influenced partly by his
    faithful service and partly by his growing reputation, retired him
    on a pension. Most eagerly, like a boy out of school, he welcomed
    his release, intending to do great things with his pen; but
    curiously enough he wrote less, and less excellently, than before.
    His decline began with his hour of liberty. For a time, in order
    that his invalid sister might have quiet, he lived outside the
    city, at Islington and Enfield; but he missed the work, the street,
    the crowd, and especially did he miss his old habits. He had no
    feeling for nature, nor for any art except that which he found in
    old books. "I hate the country," he wrote; and the cause of his
    dislike was that, not knowing what to do with himself, he grew
    weary of a day that was "all day long."

Where Charles Lamb worked for many years. From an engraving by
M. Tombleson, after a drawing made by Thomas H Shepherd in 1829]

The earlier works of Lamb (some poems, a romance and a drama) are of little
interest except to critics. The first book that brought him any
considerable recognition was the _Tales from Shakespeare_. This was a
summary of the stories used by Shakespeare in his plays, and was largely
the work of Mary Lamb, who had a talent for writing children's books. The
charm of the _Tales_ lies in the fact that the Lambs were so familiar
with old literature that they reproduced the stories in a style which might
have done credit to a writer in the days of Elizabeth. The book is still
widely read, and is as good as any other if one wants that kind of book.
But the chief thing in _Macbeth_ or _The Tempest_ is the poetry,
not the tale or the plot; and even if one wants only the story, why not get
it from Shakespeare himself? Another and better book by Lamb of the same
general kind is _Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Contemporary with
Shakespeare_. In this book he saves us a deal of unprofitable reading by
gathering together the best of the Elizabethan dramas, to which he adds
some admirable notes of criticism or interpretation.

[Illustration: MARY LAMB
After the portrait by F. S. Cary]

[Sidenote: ESSAYS OF ELIA]

Most memorable of Lamb's works are the essays which he contributed for many
years to the London magazines, and which he collected under the titles
_Essays of Elia_ (1823) and _Last Essays of Elia_ (1830).
[Footnote: The name "Elia" (pronounced ee'-li-ä) was a pseudonym, taken
from an old Italian clerk (Ellia) in the South Sea House. When "Elia"
appears in the _Essays_ he is Charles Lamb himself; "Cousin Bridget"
is sister Mary, and "John Elia" is a brother. The last-named was a selfish
kind of person, who seems to have lived for himself, letting Charles take
all the care of the family.] To the question, Which of these essays should
be read? the answer given must depend largely upon personal taste. They are
all good; they all contain both a reflection and a criticism of life, as
Lamb viewed it by light of his personal experience. A good way to read the
essays, therefore, is to consider them as somewhat autobiographical, and to
use them for making acquaintance with the author at various periods of his

For example, "My Relations" and "Mackery End" acquaint us with Lamb's
family and descent; "Old Benchers of the Inner Temple" with his early
surroundings; "Witches and Other Night-fears" with his sensitive childhood;
"Recollections of Christ's Hospital" and "Christ's Hospital Five-and-thirty
Years Ago" with his school days and comradeship with Coleridge; "The South
Sea House" with his daily work; "Old China" with his home life; "The
Superannuated Man" with his feelings when he was retired on a pension; and
finally, "Character of the Late Elia," in which Lamb whimsically writes his
own obituary.

If these call for too much reading at first, then one may select three or
four typical essays: "Dream Children," notable for its exquisite pathos;
"Dissertation on Roast Pig," famous for its peculiar humor; and "Praise of
Chimney Sweepers," of which it is enough to say that it is just like
Charles Lamb. To these one other should be added, "Imperfect Sympathies,"
or "A Chapter on Ears," or "Mrs. Battle's Opinions on Whist," in order to
appreciate how pleasantly Lamb could write on small matters of no
consequence. Still another good way of reading (which need not be
emphasized, since everybody favors it) is to open the _Essays_ here or
there till we find something that interests us,--a method which allows
every reader the explorer's joy of discovery.

To read such essays is to understand the spell they have cast on successive
generations of readers. They are, first of all, very personal; they begin,
as a rule, with some pleasant trifle that interests the author; then,
almost before we are aware, they broaden into an essay of life itself, an
essay illuminated by the steady light of Lamb's sympathy or by the flashes
of his whimsical humor. Next, we note in the _Essays_ their air of
literary culture, which is due to Lamb's wide reading, and to the excellent
taste with which he selected his old authors,--Sidney, Brown, Burton,
Fuller, Walton and Jeremy Taylor. Often it was the quaintness of these
authors, their conceits or oddities, that charmed him. These oddities
reappear in his own style to such an extent that even when he speaks a
large truth, as he often does, he is apt to give the impression of being a
little harebrained. Yet if you examine his queer idea or his merry jest,
you may find that it contains more cardinal virtue than many a sober moral


On the whole _Elia_ is the quintessence of modern essay-writing from
Addison to Stevenson. There are probably no better works of the same kind
in our literature. Some critics aver that there are none others so good.

THOMAS DE QUINCEY (1785-1859). It used to be said in a college classroom
that what De Quincey wrote was seldom important and always doubtful, but
that we ought to read him for his style; which means, as you might say,
that caviar is a stomach-upsetting food, but we ought to eat a little of it
because it comes in a pretty box.

To this criticism, which reflects a prevalent opinion, we may take some
exceptions. For example, what De Quincey has to say of Style, though it
were written in style-defying German, is of value to everyone who would
teach that impossible subject. What he says or implies in "Levana" (the
goddess who performed "the earliest office of ennobling kindness" for a
newborn child, lifting him from the ground, where he was first laid, and
presenting his forehead to the stars of heaven) has potency to awaken two
of the great faculties of humanity, the power to think and the power to
imagine. Again, many people are fascinated by dreams, those mysterious
fantasies which carry us away on swift wings to meet strange experiences;
and what De Quincey has to say of dreams, though doubtful as a dream
itself, has never been rivaled. To a few mature minds, therefore, De
Quincey is interesting entirely apart from his dazzling style and
inimitable rhetoric.

[Illustration: THOMAS DE QUINCEY From an engraving by C. H. Jeens]

    To do justice to De Quincey's erratic, storm-tossed life; to record
    his precocious youth, his marvelous achievements in school or
    college, his wanderings amid lonely mountains or more lonely city
    streets, his drug habits with their gorgeous dreams and terrible
    depressions, his timidity, his courtesy, his soul-solitude, his
    uncanny genius,--all that is impossible in a brief summary. Let it
    suffice, then, to record: that he resembled his friend Coleridge,
    both in his character and in his vast learning; that he studied in
    profound seclusion for twenty years; then for forty years more,
    during which time his brain was more or less beclouded by opium, he
    poured out a flood of magazine articles, which he collected later
    in fourteen chaotic volumes. These deal with an astonishing variety
    of subjects, and cover almost every phase of mental activity from
    portraying a nightmare to building a philosophical system. If he
    had any dominating interest in his strange life, it was the study
    of literature.


The historian can but name a few characteristic works of De Quincey,
without recommending any of them to readers. To those interested in De
Quincey's personality his _Confessions of an English Opium-Eater_ will
be illuminating. This book astonished Londoners in 1821, and may well
astonish a Bushman in the year 2000. It records his wandering life, and the
alternate transport or suffering which resulted from his drug habits. This
may be followed by his _Suspiria de Profundis_ (Sighs from the
Depths), which describes, as well as such a thing could be done, the
phantoms born of opium dreams. There are too many of the latter, and the
reader may well be satisfied with the wonderful "Dream Fugue" in _The
English Mail Coach_.

Here both Wordsworth and De Quincey resided]

As an illustration of De Quincey's review of history, one should try
_Joan of Arc_ or _The Revolt of the Tartars_, which are not
historical studies but romantic dreams inspired by reading history. In the
critical field, "The Knocking at the Gate in _Macbeth_," "Wordsworth's
Poetry" and the "Essay on Style" are immensely suggestive. As an example of
ingenious humor "Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts" is often
recommended; but it has this serious fault, that it is not humorous. For a
concrete example of De Quincey's matter and manner there is nothing better
than "Levana or Our Ladies of Sorrow" (from the _Suspiria_), with its
_mater lachrymarum_ Our Lady of Tears, _mater suspiriorum_ Our
Lady of Sighs, and that strange phantom, forbidding and terrible, _mater
tenebrarum_ Our Lady of Darkness.


The style of all these works is indescribable. One may exhaust the whole
list of adjectives--chanting, rhythmic, cadenced, harmonious,
impassioned--that have been applied to it, and yet leave much to say.
Therefore we note only these prosaic elements: that the style reflects De
Quincey's powers of logical analysis and of brilliant imagination; that it
is pervaded by a tremendous mental excitement, though one does not know
what the stir is all about; and that the impression produced by this
nervous, impassioned style is usually spoiled by digressions, by
hairsplitting, and by something elusive, intangible, to which we can give
no name, but which blurs the author's vision as a drifting fog obscures a
familiar landscape.

Notwithstanding such strictures, De Quincey's style is still, as when it
first appeared, a thing to marvel at, revealing as it does the grace, the
harmony, the wide range and the minute precision of our English speech.

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The early nineteenth century is notable for the rapid
    progress of democracy in English government, and for the triumph of
    romanticism in English literature. The most influential factor of
    the age was the French Revolution, with its watchwords of Liberty,
    Equality, Fraternity. English writers felt the stir of the times,
    and were inspired by the dream of a new human society ruled by
    justice and love. In their writing they revolted from the formal
    standards of the age of Pope, followed their own genius rather than
    set rules, and wrote with feeling and imagination of the two great
    subjects of nature and humanity. Such was the contrast in politics
    and literature with the preceding century that the whole period is
    sometimes called the age of revolution.

    Our study of the literature of the period includes: (1) The poets
    Wordsworth and Coleridge, who did not so much originate as give
    direction to the romantic revival. (2) Byron and Shelley, often
    called revolutionary poets. (3) The poet Keats, whose works are
    famous for their sense of beauty and for their almost perfect
    workmanship. (4) A review of the minor poets of romanticism,
    Campbell, Moore, Hood, Beddoes, Hunt, and Felicia Hemans. (5) The
    life and works of Walter Scott, romantic poet and novelist. (6) A
    glance at the fiction writers of the period, and a study of the
    works of Jane Austen. (7) The critics and essayists, of whom we
    selected these two as the most typical: Charles Lamb, famous for
    his _Essays of Elia_; and De Quincey, notable for his
    brilliant style, his analysis of dreams, and his endeavor to make a
    science of literary criticism.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. For general reference such anthologies as
    Manly's English Poetry and English Prose are useful. The works of
    major authors are available in various school editions, prepared
    especially for class use. A few of these handy editions are named
    below; others are listed in the General Bibliography.

    Best poems of Wordsworth and of Coleridge in Athenæum Press Series.
    Briefer selections from Wordsworth in Golden Treasury, Cassell's
    National Library, Maynard's English Classics. Coleridge's Ancient
    Mariner in Standard English Classics, Pocket Classics. Selections
    from Coleridge and Campbell in one volume of Riverside Literature.

    Scott's Lady of the Lake and Ivanhoe in Standard English Classics;
    Marmion and The Talisman in Pocket Classics; Lay of the Last
    Minstrel and Quentin Durward in Lake English Classics; the same and
    other works of Scott in various other school editions.

    Selected poems of Byron in Standard English Classics, English
    Readings. Best poems of Shelley in Athenæum Press; briefer
    selections in Belles Lettres, Golden Treasury, English Classics.

    Selections from Keats in Athenæum Press, Muses Library, Riverside

    Lamb's Essays of Elia in Lake English Classics; selected essays in
    Standard English Classics, Temple Classics, Camelot Series. Tales
    from Shakespeare in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children.

    Selections from De Quincey, a representative collection, in
    Athenæum Press; English Mail Coach and Joan of Arc in Standard
    English Classics, English Readings; Confessions of an Opium Eater
    in Temple Classics, Everyman's Library; Revolt of the Tartars in
    Lake Classics, Silver Classics.

    Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in Pocket Classics; the same and
    other novels in Everyman's Library.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. Extended works in English history and literature are
    listed in the General Bibliography. The following works are
    valuable in a study of the early nineteenth century and the
    romantic movement.

    _HISTORY_. Morris, Age of Queen Anne and the Early
    Hanoverians; McCarthy, The Epoch of Reform (Epochs of Modern
    History Series); Cheyne, Industrial and Social History of England;
    Hassall, Making of the British Empire; Trevelyan, Early Life of
    Charles James Fox.

    _LITERATURE_. Saintsbury, History of Nineteenth Century
    Literature, Beers, English Romanticism in the Nineteenth Century;
    Symons, The Romantic Movement in English Poetry; Dowden, French
    Revolution and English Literature; Hancock, French Revolution and
    The English Poets; Masson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats and Other
    Essays; De Quincey, Literary Reminiscences.

    _Wordsworth_. Life, by Myers (English Men of Letters Series),
    by Raleigh. Herford, The Age of Wordsworth; Rannie, Wordsworth and
    his Circle; Sneath, Wordsworth, Poet of Nature and Poet of Man.
    Essays, by Lowell, in Among My Books; by M. Arnold, in Essays in
    Criticism; by Pater, in Appreciations; by L. Stephen, in Hours in a
    Library; by Hutton, in Literary Essays; by Bagehot, in Literary

    _Coleridge_. Life, by Traill (E. M. of L.), by Hall Caine
    (Great Writers Series). Brandl, Coleridge and the English Romantic
    Movement. Essays, by Woodberry, in Makers of Literature; by Shairp,
    in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy; by Forster, in Great Teachers;
    by Dowden, in New Studies.

    _Scott_. Life, by Hutton (E. M. of L.), by Lockhart (5 vols.),
    by Yonge (Great Writers), by Saintsbury, by Hudson, by Andrew Lang.
    Jack, Essay on the Novel as Illustrated by Scott and Miss Austen.
    Essays, by Stevenson, in Memories and Portraits; by Swinburne, in
    Studies in Prose and Poetry; by Hazlitt, in The Spirit of the Age;
    by Saintsbury, in Essays in English Literature.

    _Byron_. Life, by Noel (Great Writers), by Nicol (E. M. of
    L.). Hunt, Lord Byron and his Contemporaries. Essays by Macaulay,
    M. Arnold, Hazlitt, Swinburne.

    _Shelley_. Life, by Symonds (E. M. of L.), by Shairp, by
    Dowden, by W. M. Rossetti. Salt, A Shelley Primer. Essays by
    Dowden, Woodberry, M. Arnold, Bagehot, Forster, Hutton, L. Stephen.

    _Keats_. Life, by Colvin (E. M. of L.), by Rossetti, by
    Hancock. H. C. Shelley, Keats and his Circle; Masson, Wordsworth
    and Other Essays. Essays by De Quincey, Lowell, M. Arnold,

    _Charles Lamb_. Life, by Ainger (E. M. of L.), by Lucas.
    Fitzgerald, Charles Lamb; Talfourd, Memoirs of Charles Lamb. Essays
    by Woodberry, Pater, De Quincey.

    _De Quincey_. Life, by Masson (E. M. of L.), by Page. Hogg, De
    Quincey and his Friends; Findlay, Personal Recollections of De
    Quincey. Essays by Saintsbury, Masson, L. Stephen.

    _Jane Austen_. Life, by Malden, by Goldwin Smith, by Adams.
    Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen; Mitton, Jane Austen and her
    Times; Hill, Jane Austen, her Home and her Friends; Jack, Essay on
    the Novel as Illustrated by Scott and Miss Austen. Essay by
    Howells, in Heroines of Fiction.



  The current sweeps the Old World,
  The current sweeps the New;
  The wind will blow, the dawn will glow,
  Ere thou hast sailed them through.

                       Kingsley, "A Myth"

    HISTORICAL OUTLINE. Amid the many changes which make the reign of
    Victoria the most progressive in English history, one may discover
    three tendencies which have profoundly affected our present life
    and literature. The first is political and democratic: it may be
    said to have begun with the Reform Bill of 1832; it is still in
    progress, and its evident end is to deliver the government of
    England into the hands of the common people. In earlier ages we
    witnessed a government which laid stress on royalty and class
    privilege, the spirit of which was clarioned by Shakespeare in the

      Not all the water in the rough rude sea
      Can wash the balm from an anointed king.

    In the Victorian or modern age the divine right of kings is as
    obsolete as a suit of armor; the privileges of royalty and nobility
    are either curbed or abolished, and ordinary men by their
    representatives in the House of Commons are the real rulers of

    With a change in government comes a corresponding change in
    literature. In former ages literature was almost as exclusive as
    politics; it was largely in the hands of the few; it was supported
    by princely patrons; it reflected the taste of the upper classes.
    Now the masses of men begin to be educated, begin to think for
    themselves, and a host of periodicals appear in answer to their
    demand for reading matter. Poets, novelists, essayists,
    historians,--all serious writers feel the inspiration of a great
    audience, and their works have a thousand readers where formerly
    they had but one. In a word, English government, society and
    literature have all become more democratic. This is the most
    significant feature of modern history.


    The second tendency may be summed up in the word "scientific." At
    the basis of this tendency is man's desire to know the truth, if
    possible the whole truth of life; and it sets no limits to the
    exploring spirit, whether in the heavens above or the earth beneath
    or the waters under the earth. From star-dust in infinite space
    (which we hope to measure) to fossils on the bed of an ocean which
    is no longer unfathomed, nothing is too great or too small to
    attract man, to fascinate him, to influence his thought, his life,
    his literature. Darwin's _Origin of Species_ (1859), which
    laid the foundation for a general theory of evolution, is one of
    the most famous books of the age, and of the world. Associated with
    Darwin were Wallace, Lyell, Huxley, Tyndall and many others, whose
    essays are, in their own way, quite as significant as the poems of
    Tennyson or the novels of Dickens.

    It would be quite as erroneous to allege that modern science began
    with these men as to assume that it began with the Chinese or with
    Roger Bacon; the most that can be said truthfully is, that the
    scientific spirit which they reflected began to dominate our
    thought, to influence even our poetry and fiction, even as the
    voyages of Drake and Magellan furnished a mighty and mysterious
    background for the play of human life on the Elizabethan stage. The
    Elizabethans looked upon an enlarging visible world, and the wonder
    of it is reflected in their prose and poetry; the Victorians
    overran that world almost from pole to pole, then turned their
    attention to an unexplored world of invisible forces, and their
    best literature thrills again with the grandeur of the universe in
    which men live.

    [Sidenote: IMPERIALISM]

    A third tendency of the Victorian age in England is expressed by
    the word "imperialism." In earlier ages the work of planting
    English colonies had been well done; in the Victorian age the
    scattered colonies increased mightily in wealth and power, and were
    closely federated into a world-wide Empire of people speaking the
    same noble speech, following the same high ideals of justice and

    The literature of the period reflects the wide horizons of the
    Empire. Among historical writers, Parkman the American was one of
    the first and best to reflect the imperial spirit. In such works as
    _A Half-Century of Conflict_ and _Montcalm and Wolfe_ he
    portrayed the conflict not of one nation against another but rather
    of two antagonistic types of civilization: the military and feudal
    system of France against the democratic institutions of the
    Anglo-Saxons. Among the explorers, Mungo Park had anticipated the
    Victorians in his _Travels in the Interior of Africa_ (1799),
    a wonderful book which set England to dreaming great dreams; but
    not until the heroic Livingstone's _Missionary Travels and
    Research in South Africa, The Zambesi and its Tributaries_ and
    _Last Journals_ [Footnote: In connection with Livingstone's
    works, Stanley's _How I Found Livingstone_ (1872) should also
    be read. Livingstone died in Africa in 1873, and his
    _Journals_ were edited by another hand. For a summary of his
    work and its continuation see _Livingstone and the Exploration of
    Central Africa_ (London, 1897).] appeared was the veil lifted
    from the Dark Continent. Beside such works should be placed
    numerous stirring journals of exploration in Canada, in India, in
    Australia, in tropical or frozen seas,--wherever in the round world
    the colonizing genius of England saw opportunity to extend the
    boundaries and institutions of the Empire. Macaulay's _Warren
    Hastings_, Edwin Arnold's _Indian Idylls_, Kipling's
    _Soldiers Three_,--a few such works must be read if we are to
    appreciate the imperial spirit of modern English history and

       *       *       *       *       *



Though the Victorian age is notable for the quality and variety of its
prose works, its dominant figure for years was the poet Tennyson. He alone,
of all that brilliant group of Victorian writers, seemed to speak not for
himself but for his age and nation; and the nation, grown weary of Byronic
rebellion, and finding its joy or sorrow expressed with almost faultless
taste by one whose life was noble, gave to Tennyson a whole-souled
allegiance such as few poets have ever won. In 1850 he was made Laureate to
succeed Wordsworth, receiving, as he said,

  This laurel, greener from the brow
  Of him that uttered nothing base;

and from that time on he steadily adhered to his purpose, which was to know
his people and to be their spokesman. Of all the poets who have been called
to the Laureateship, he is probably the only one of whom it can truthfully
be said that he understood his high office and was worthy of it.

    LIFE. When we attempt a biography of a person we assume
    unconsciously that he was a public man; but that is precisely what
    Tennyson refused to be. He lived a retired life of thoughtfulness,
    of communion with nature, of friendships too sacred for the world's
    gaze, a life blameless in conduct, unswerving in its loyalty to
    noble ideals. From boyhood to old age he wrote poetry, and in that
    poetry alone, not in biography or letters or essays of criticism,
    do we ever touch the real man.


    Tennyson was the son of a cultured clergyman, and was born in the
    rectory of Somersby, Lincolnshire, in 1809, the same year that saw
    the birth of Lincoln and Darwin. Like Milton he devoted himself to
    poetry at an early age; in his resolve he was strengthened by his
    mother; and from it he never departed. The influences of his early
    life, the quiet beauty of the English landscape, the surge and
    mystery of the surrounding sea, the emphasis on domestic virtues,
    the pride and love of an Englishman for his country and his
    country's history,--these are everywhere reflected in the poet's

    His education was largely a matter of reading under his father's
    direction. He had a short experience of the grammar school at
    Louth, which he hated forever after. He entered Cambridge, and
    formed a circle of rare friends ("apostles" they called themselves)
    who afterwards became famous; but he left college without taking a
    degree, probably because he was too poor to continue his course.
    Not till 1850 did he earn enough by his work to establish a home of
    his own. Then he leased a house at Farringford, Isle of Wight,
    which we have ever since associated with Tennyson's name. But his
    real place is the Heart of England.

    [Sidenote: A POET AND HIS CRITICS]

    His first book (a boyish piece of work, undertaken with his brother
    Charles) appeared under the title _Poems by Two Brothers_
    (1827). In 1830, and again in 1832, he published a small volume
    containing such poems as "The Palace of Art," "The Lotos-Eaters,"
    "The Lady of Shalott" and "The Miller's Daughter"; but the critics
    of the age, overlooking the poet's youth and its promise, treated
    the volumes unmercifully. Tennyson, always sensitive to criticism,
    was sensible enough to see that the critics had ground for their
    opinions, if not for their harshness; and for ten long years, while
    he labored to perfect his art, his name did not again appear in

    There was another reason for his silence. In 1833 his dearest
    friend, Arthur Hallam, died suddenly in Vienna, and it was years
    before Tennyson began to recover from the blow. His first
    expression of grief is seen in the lyric beginning, "Break, break,
    break," which contains the memorable stanza:

      And the stately ships go on
        To their haven under the hill;
      But O for the touch of a vanished hand,
       And the sound of a voice that is still!

    Then he began that series of elegies for his friend which appeared,
    seventeen years later, as _In Memoriam_.


    Influenced by his friends, Tennyson broke his long silence with a
    volume containing "Morte d'Arthur," "Locksley Hall," "Sir Galahad,"
    "Lady Clare" and a few more poems which have never lost their power
    over readers; but it must have commanded attention had it contained
    only "Ulysses," that magnificent appeal to manhood, reflecting the
    indomitable spirit of all those restless explorers who dared
    unknown lands or seas to make wide the foundations of imperial
    England. It was a wonderful volume, and almost its first effect was
    to raise the hidden Tennyson to the foremost place in English

    Whatever he wrote thereafter was sure of a wide reading. Critics,
    workingmen, scientists, reformers, theologians,--all recognized the
    power of the poet to give melodious expression to their thought or
    feeling. Yet he remained averse to everything that savored of
    popularity, devoting himself as in earlier days to poetry alone. As
    a critic writes, "Tennyson never forgot that the poet's work was to
    convince the world of love and beauty; that he was born to do that
    work, and do it worthily."

    There are two poems which are especially significant in view of
    this steadfast purpose. The first is "Merlin and the Gleam," which
    reflects Tennyson's lifelong devotion to his art; the other is
    "Crossing the Bar," which was his farewell and hail to life when
    the end came in 1892.

WORKS OF TENNYSON. There is a wide variety in Tennyson's work: legend,
romance, battle song, nature, classic and medieval heroes, problems of
society, questions of science, the answer of faith,--almost everything that
could interest an alert Victorian mind found some expression in his poetry.
It ranges in subject from a thrush song to a religious philosophy, in form
from the simplest love lyric to the labored historical drama.


Of the shorter poems of Tennyson there are a few which should be known to
every student: first, because they are typical of the man who stands for
modern English poetry; and second, because one is constantly meeting
references to these poems in books or magazines or even newspapers. Among
such representative poems are: "The Lotos-Eaters," a dream picture
characterized by a beauty and verbal melody that recall Spenser's work;
"Locksley Hall" and "Locksley Hall Sixty Years After," the one a romance
throbbing with youth and hope, the other representing the same hero grown
old, despondent and a little carping, but still holding fast to his ideals;
"Sir Galahad," a medieval romance of purity; "Ulysses," an epitome of
exploration in all ages; "The Revenge," a stirring war song; "Rizpah," a
dramatic portrayal of a mother's grief for a wayward son; "Romney's
Remorse," a character study of Tennyson's later years; and a few shorter
poems, such as "The Higher Pantheism," "Flower in the Crannied Wall,"
"Wages" and "The Making of Man," which reflect the poet's mood before the
problems of science and of faith.

[Illustration: ALFRED TENNYSON]

To these should be added a few typical patriotic pieces, which show
Tennyson speaking as Poet Laureate for his country: "Ode on the Death of
Wellington," "Charge of the Light Brigade," "Defense of Lucknow," "Hands
all Round," and the imperial appeal of "Britons, Hold Your Own" or, as it
is tamely called, "Opening of the Indian and Colonial Exposition." The
beginner may also be reminded of certain famous little melodies, such as
the "Bugle Song," "Sweet and Low," "Tears," "The Brook," "Far, Far, Away"
and "Crossing the Bar," which are among the most perfect that England has
produced. And, as showing Tennyson's extraordinary power of youthful
feeling, at least one lyric of his old age should be read, such as "The
Throstle" (a song that will appeal especially to all bird lovers),

  "Summer is coming, summer is coming,
     I know it, I know it, I know it;
  Light again, leaf again, life again, love again"--
     Yes, my wild little poet!

Here Tennyson is so merged in his subject as to produce the impression that
the lyric must have been written not by an aged poet but by the bird
himself. Reading the poem one seems to hear the brown thrasher on a twig of
the wild-apple tree, pouring his heart out over the thicket which his mate
has just chosen for a nesting place.


Of the longer works of Tennyson the most notable is the _Idylls of the
King_, a series of twelve poems retelling part of the story of Arthur
and his knights. Tennyson seems to have worked at this poem in haphazard
fashion, writing the end first, then a fragment here or there, at intervals
during half a century. Finally he welded his material into its present
form, making it a kind of allegory of human life, in which man's animal
nature fights with his spiritual aspirations. As Tennyson wrote, in his
"Finale" to Queen Victoria:

        Accept this old, imperfect tale,
  New-old, and shadowing Sense at war with Soul.

The beginner will do well to forget the allegory and read the poem for its
sustained beauty of expression and for its reflection of the modern ideal
of honor. For, though Malory and Tennyson tell the same story, there is
this significant difference between the _Morte d' Arthur_ and the
_Idylls of the King_: one is thoroughly medieval, and the other almost
as thoroughly modern. Malory in simple prose makes his story the expression
of chivalry in the Middle Ages; his heroes are true to their own time and
place. Tennyson in melodious blank verse changes his material freely so as
to make it a reflection of a nineteenth-century gentleman disguised in a
suit of armor and some old knightly raiment.

One may add that some readers cleave to Tennyson, while others greatly
prefer Malory. There is little or no comparison between the two, and
selections from both should be read, if only to understand how this old
romance of Arthur has appealed to writers of different times. In making a
selection from the _Idylls_ (the length of the poem is rather
forbidding) it is well to begin with the twelfth book, "The Passing of
Arthur," which was first to be written, and which reflects the noble spirit
of the entire work.

In _The Princess: a Medley_ the poet attempts the difficult task of
combining an old romantic story with a modern social problem; and he does
not succeed very well in harmonizing his incongruous materials.

    [Sidenote: THE PRINCESS]

    The story is, briefly, of a princess who in youth is betrothed to a
    prince. When she reaches what is called the age of discretion
    (doubtless because that age is so frequently marked by
    indiscretions) she rebels against the idea of marriage, and founds
    a college, herself the principal, devoted to the higher education
    of women. The prince, a gallant blade, and a few of his followers
    disguise themselves as girls and enter the school. When an unruly
    masculine tongue betrays him he is cast out with maledictions on
    his head. His father comes with an army, and makes war against the
    father of the princess. The prince joins blithely in the fight, is
    sore wounded, and is carried to the woman's college as to a
    hospital. The princess nurses him, listens to his love tale, and
    the story ends in the good old-fashioned way.

There are many beautiful passages in _The Princess_, and had Tennyson
been content to tell the romantic story his work would have had some
pleasant suggestion of Shakespeare's _As You Like It_; but the social
problem spoils the work, as a moralizing intruder spoils a bit of innocent
fun. Tennyson is either too serious or not serious enough; he does not know
the answer to his own problem, and is not quite sincere in dealing with it
or in coming to his lame and impotent conclusion. Few readers now attempt
the three thousand lines of _The Princess_, but content themselves
with a few lyrics, such as "Ask Me No More," "O Swallow Flying South,"
"Tears," "Bugle Song" and "Sweet and Low," which are familiar songs in many
households that remember not whence they came. [Footnote: The above
criticism of _The Princess_ applies, in some measure, to Tennyson's
_Maud: a Monodrama_, a story of passionate love and loss and sorrow.
Tennyson wrote also several dramatic works, such as _Harold_,
_Becket_ and _Queen Mary_, in which he attempted to fill some of
the gaps in Shakespeare's list of chronicle plays.]


More consistent than _The Princess_ is a group of poems reflecting the
life and ideals of simple people, to which Tennyson gave the general name
of _English Idyls_. The longest and in some respects the best of these
is "Enoch Arden," a romance which was once very popular, but which is now
in danger of being shelved because the modern reader prefers his romance in
prose form. Certain of the famous poems which we have already named are
classed among these English idyls; but more typical of Tennyson's purpose
in writing them are "Dora," "The Gardener's Daughter" and "Aylmer's Field,"
in which he turns from ancient heroes to sing the romance of present-day

Here Tennyson wrote "Enoch Arden"]

Among mature readers, who have met the sorrows of life or pondered its
problems, the most admired of Tennyson's work is _In Memoriam_ (1850),
an elegy inspired by the death of Arthur Hallam. As a memorial poem it
invites comparison with others, with Milton's "Lycidas," or Shelley's
"Adonais," or Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." Without going deeply
into the comparison we may note this difference: that Tennyson's work is
more personal and sympathetic than any of the others. Milton had only a
slight acquaintance with his human subject (Edward King) and wrote his poem
as a memorial for the college rather than for the man; Shelley had never
met Keats, whose early death he commemorates; Gray voiced an impersonal
melancholy in the presence of the unknown dead; but Tennyson had lost his
dearest friend, and wrote to solace his own grief and to keep alive a
beautiful memory. Then, as he wrote, came the thought of other men and
women mourning their dead; his view broadened with his sympathy, and he
wrote other lyrics in the same strain to reflect the doubt or fear of
humanity and its deathless faith even in the shadow of death.

It is this combination of personal and universal elements which makes _In
Memoriam_ remarkable. The only other elegy to which we may liken it is
Emerson's "Threnody," written after the death of his little boy. But where
Tennyson offers an elaborate wreath and a polished monument, Emerson is
content with a rugged block of granite and a spray of nature's evergreen.

    [Sidenote: PLAN OF THE POEM]

    _In Memoriam_ occupied Tennyson at intervals for many years,
    and though he attempted to give it unity before its publication in
    1850, it is still rather fragmentary. Moreover, it is too long; for
    the poet never lived who could write a hundred and thirty-one
    lyrics upon the same subject, in the same manner, without growing

    There are three more or less distinct parts of the work, [Footnote:
    Tennyson divided _In Memoriam_ into nine sections. Various
    attempts have recently been made to organize the poem and to make a
    philosophy of it, but these are ingenious rather than convincing.]
    corresponding to three successive Christmas seasons. The first part
    (extending to poem 30) is concerned with grief and doubt; the
    second (to poem 78) exhibits a calm, serious questioning of the
    problem of faith; the third introduces a great hope amid tender
    memories or regrets, and ends (poem 106) with that splendid outlook
    on a new year and a new life, "Ring Out Wild Bells." This was
    followed by a few more lyrics of mounting faith, inspired by the
    thought that divine love rules the world and that our human love is
    immortal and cannot die. The work ends, rather incongruously, with
    a marriage hymn for Tennyson's sister.

    The spirit of _In Memoriam_ is well reflected in the "Proem"
    or introductory hymn, "Strong Son of God, Immortal Love"; its
    message is epitomized in the last three lines:

        One God, one law, one element,
        And one far-off divine event
      To which the whole creation moves.

THE QUALITY OF TENNYSON. The charm of Tennyson is twofold. As the voice of
the Victorian Age, reflecting its thought or feeling or culture, its
intellectual quest, its moral endeavor, its passion for social justice, he
represents to us the spirit of modern poetry; that is, poetry which comes
close to our own life, to the aims, hopes, endeavors of the men and women
of to-day. With this modern quality Tennyson has the secret of all old
poetry, which is to be eternally young. He looked out upon a world from
which the first wonder of creation had not vanished, where the sunrise was
still "a glorious birth," and where love, truth, beauty, all inspiring
realities, were still waiting with divine patience to reveal themselves to
human eyes.

There are other charms in Tennyson: his romantic spirit, his love of
nature, his sense of verbal melody, his almost perfect workmanship; but
these the reader must find and appreciate for himself. The sum of our
criticism is that Tennyson is a poet to have handy on the table for the
pleasure of an idle hour. He is also (and this is a better test) an
excellent poet to put in your pocket when you go on a journey. So shall you
be sure of traveling in good company.

       *       *       *       *       *


In their lifelong devotion to a single purpose the two chief poets of the
Victorian Age are much alike; in most other respects they are men of
contrasts. Tennyson looked like a poet, Browning like a business man.
Tennyson was a solitary singer, never in better company than when alone;
Browning was a city man, who must have the excitement of society.
Tennyson's field was the nation, its traditions, heroes, problems, ideals;
but Browning seldom went beyond the individual man, and his purpose was to
play Columbus to some obscure human soul. Tennyson was at times rather
narrowly British; Browning was a cosmopolitan who dealt broadly with
humanity. Tennyson was the poet of youth, and will always be read by the
young in heart; Browning was the philosopher, the psychologist, the poet of
mature years and of a few cultivated readers.

    LIFE. Browning portrays so many different human types as to make us
    marvel, but we may partly understand his wide range of
    character-studies by remembering he was an Englishman with some
    Celtic and German ancestors, and with a trace of Creole
    (Spanish-Negro) blood. He was born and grew up at Camberwell, a
    suburb of London, and the early home of Ruskin. His father was a
    Bank-of-England clerk, a prosperous man and fond of books, who
    encouraged his boy to read and to let education follow the lead of
    fancy. Before Browning was twenty years old, father and son had a
    serious talk which ended in a kind of bargain: the boy was to live
    a life of culture, and the father was to take care of all financial
    matters,--an arrangement which suited them both very well.

    [Illustration: ROBERT BROWNING]

    Since boyhood Browning had been writing romantic verses, influenced
    first by Byron, then by Shelley, then by Keats. His first published
    works, _Pauline_ and _Paracelsus_, were what he called
    soul-studies, the one of a visionary, "a star-treader" (its hero
    was Shelley), the other of a medieval astrologer somewhat like
    Faust. These two works, if one had the patience of a puzzle-worker
    to read them, would be found typical of all the longer poems that
    Browning produced in his sixty years of writing.

    These early works were not read, were not even criticized; and it
    was not till 1846 that Browning became famous, not because of his
    books but because he eloped with Elizabeth Barrett, who was then
    the most popular poet in England. [Footnote: The fame of Miss
    Barrett in mid century was above that of Tennyson or Browning. She
    had been for a long time an invalid. Her father, a tyrannical kind
    of person, insisted on her keeping her room, and expected her to
    die properly there. He had no personal objection to Browning, but
    flouted the idea of his famous daughter marrying with anybody.] The
    two went to Florence, discovered that they were "made for each
    other," and in mutual helpfulness did their best work. They lived
    at "Casa Guidi," a house made famous by the fact that Browning's
    _Men and Women_ and Mrs. Browning's _Sonnets from the
    Portuguese_ were written there.


    [Sidenote: THE BROWNING CULT]

    This happy period of work was broken by Mrs. Browning's death in
    1861. Browning returned to England with his son, and to forget his
    loss he labored with unusual care on _The Ring and the Book_
    (1868), his bulkiest work. The rest of his life was spent largely
    in London and in Venice. Fame came to him tardily, and with some
    unfortunate results. He became known as a poet to be likened unto
    Shakespeare, but more analytical, calling for a superior
    intelligence on the part of his readers, and presently a multitude
    of Browning clubs sprang up in England and America. Delighted with
    his popularity among the elect, Browning seems to have cultivated
    his talent for obscurity, or it may be that his natural
    eccentricity of style increased with age, as did Wordsworth's
    prosiness. Whatever the cause, his work grew steadily worse until a
    succession of grammar defying volumes threatened to separate all
    but a few devotees from their love of Browning. He died in Venice
    in 1889. On the day of his death appeared in London his last book,
    _Asolando_. The "Epilogue" to that volume is a splendid finale
    to a robust life.

      One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
      Never doubted clouds would break,
      Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,
      Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,
      Sleep to wake

    Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar" is a beautiful swan song; but
    Browning's last poem is a bugle call, and it sounds not "taps" but
    the "reveille."

BROWNING'S DRAMATIC QUALITY. Nearly all the works of Browning are dramatic
in spirit, and are commonly dramatic also in form. Sometimes he writes a
drama for the stage, such as _A Blot in the 'Scutcheon_, _Colombe's
Birthday_ and _In a Balcony_,--dramas without much action, but
packed with thought in a way that would have delighted the Schoolmen. More
often his work takes the form of a dramatic monologue, such as "My Last
Duchess" and "The Bishop Orders his Tomb," in which one person speaks and,
like Peter, his speech bewrayeth him; for he reveals very plainly the kind
of man he is. Occasionally Browning tries to sing like another poet, but
even here his dramatic instinct is strong. He takes some crisis, some
unexpected meeting or parting of the ways of life, and proceeds to show the
hero's character by the way he faces the situation, or talks about it. So
when he attempts even a love song, such as "The Last Ride Together," or a
ballad, such as "The Pied Piper," he regards his subject from an unusual
viewpoint and produces what he calls a dramatic lyric.


There are at least two ways in which Browning's work differs from that of
other dramatists. When a trained playwright produces a drama his rule is,
"Action, more action, and still more action." Moreover, he stands aside in
order to permit his characters to reveal their quality by their own speech
or action. For example, Shakespeare's plays are filled with movement, and
he never tells you what he thinks of Portia or Rosalind or Macbeth, or what
ought to become of them. He does not need to tell. But Browning often halts
his story to inform you how this or that situation should be met, or what
must come out of it. His theory is that it is not action but thought which
determines human character; for a man may be doing what appears to be a
brave or generous deed, yet be craven or selfish at heart; or he may be
engaged in some apparently sinful proceeding in obedience to a motive that
we would acclaim as noble if the whole truth were known "It is the soul and
its thoughts that make the man," says Browning, "little else is worthy of
study." So he calls most of his works soul studies. If we label them now
dramas, or dramatic monologues, or dramatic lyrics (the three
classifications of his works), we are to remember that Browning is the one
dramatist who deals with thoughts or motives rather than with action.


WHAT TO READ. One should begin with the simplest of Browning's works, and
preferably with those in which he shows some regard for verbal melody. As
romantic love is his favorite theme, it is perhaps well to begin with a few
of the love lyrics "My Star," "By the Fireside," "Evelyn Hope," and
especially "The Last Ride Together". To these may be added some of the
songs that brighten the obscurity of his longer pieces, such as "I Send my
Heart," "Oh Love--No Love" and "There's a Woman Like a Dewdrop". Next in
order are the ballads, "The Pied Piper," "Hervé Riel" and "How they Brought
the Good News"; and then a few miscellaneous short poems, such as "Home
Thoughts from Abroad," "Prospice," "The Boy and the Angel" and "Up at a
Villa--Down in the City."


The above poems are named not because they are particularly fine examples
of their kind, but by way of introduction to a poet who is rather hard to
read. When these are known, and are found not so obscure as we feared, then
will be the time to attempt some of Browning's dramatic monologues. Of
these there is a large variety, portraying many different types of
character, but we shall name only a few. "Andrea del Sarto" is a study of
the great Italian painter, "the perfect painter," whose love for a pretty
but shallow woman was as a millstone about his neck. "My Last Duchess" is a
powerfully drawn outline of a vain and selfish nobleman. "Abt Vogler" is a
study of the soul of a musician. "Rabbi ben Ezra," one of the most typical
of Browning's works, is the word of an old man who faces death, as he had
faced life, with magnificent courage. "An Epistle" relates the strange
experience of Karshish, an Arab physician, as recorded in a letter to his
master Abib. Karshish meets Lazarus (him who was raised from the dead) and,
regarding him as a patient, describes his symptoms,--such symptoms as a man
might have who must live on earth after having looked on heaven. The
physician's half-scoffing words show how his habitual skepticism is shaken
by a glimpse of the unseen world. He concludes, but his doubt is stronger
than his conclusion, that Lazarus must be a madman:

  "And thou must love me who have died for thee."
  The madman saith He said so: it is strange!

[Sidenote: SAUL]

Another poem belonging to the same group (published under the general title
of _Men and Women_) is "Saul," which finely illustrates the method
that makes Browning different from other poets. He would select some
familiar event, the brief record of which is preserved in history, and say,
"Here we see merely the deed, the outward act or circumstance of life: now
let us get acquainted with these men or women by showing that they thought
and felt precisely as we do under similar conditions." In "Saul" he
reproduces the scene recorded in the sixteenth chapter of the first Book of
Samuel, where the king is "troubled by an evil spirit" and the young David
comes to play the harp before him. Saul is represented as the
disillusioned, the despairing man who has lost all interest in life, and
David as the embodiment of youthful enthusiasm. The poem is a remarkable
portrayal of the ancient scene and characters; but it is something greater
than that; it is a splendid song of the fullness and joy of a brave,
forward-looking life inspired by noble ideals. It is also one of the best
answers ever given to the question, Is life worth living? The length of the
poem, however, and its many difficult or digressive passages are apt to
repel the beginner unless he have the advantage of an abridged version.

[Sidenote: PIPPA PASSES]

Of the longer works of Browning, only _Pippa Passes_ can be
recommended with any confidence that it will give pleasure to the reader.
Other works, such as _The Ring and the Book_, [Footnote: _The Ring
and the Book_ is remarkable for other things than its inordinate length.
In it Browning tells how he found an old book containing the record of a
murder trial in Rome,--a horrible story of a certain Count Guido, who in a
jealous rage killed his beautiful young wife. That is the only story
element of the poem, and it is told, with many irritating digressions, at
the beginning. The rest of the work is devoted to "soul studies," the
subjects being nine different characters who rehearse the same story, each
for his own justification. Thus, Guido gives his view of the matter, and
Pompilia the wife gives hers. "Half Rome," siding with Guido, is
personified to tell one tale, and then "The Other Half" has its say. Final
judgment rests with the Pope, an impressive figure, who upholds the
decision of the civil judges. Altogether it is a remarkable piece of work;
but it would have been more remarkable, better in every way, if fifteen
thousand of its twenty thousand lines had been left in the inkpot.] are
doubtless more famous; but reading them is like solving a puzzle: a few
enjoy the matter, and therefore count it pleasure, but to the majority it
is a task to be undertaken as mental discipline.

    _Pippa_ is the story of a working girl, a silk weaver of
    Asolo, who has a precious holiday and goes forth to enjoy it,
    wishing she could share her happiness with others, especially with
    the great people of her town. But the great live in another world,
    she thinks, a world far removed from that of the poor little
    working girl; so she puts the wish out of her head, and goes on her
    way singing:

      The year's at the spring,
      And day's at the morn;
      Morning's at seven;
      The hillside's dew-pearled;
      The lark's on the wing;
      The snail's on the thorn:
      God's in his heaven--
      All's right with the world!

    It happens that her songs come, in succession, to the ears of the
    four greatest people in Asolo at moments when they are facing a
    terrible crisis, when a straw may turn them one way or the other,
    to do evil or to do good. In each case the song and the pure heart
    of the singer turn the scale in the right direction; but Pippa
    knows nothing of her influence. She enjoys her holiday and goes to
    bed still happy, still singing, quite ignorant of the wonder she
    has accomplished.

Where Browning bought the book in which he found the story of
"The Ring and the Book"]

A mere story-teller would have brought Pippa and the rescued ones together,
making an affecting scene with rewards, in the romantic manner; but
Browning is content to depict a bit of ordinary human life, which is daily
filled with deeds worthy to be written in a book of gold, but of which only
the Recording Angel takes any notice.

A CRITICISM OF BROWNING. Comparatively few people appreciate the force, the
daring, the vitality of Browning, and those who know him best are least
inclined to formulate a favorable criticism. They know too well the faults
of their hero, his whims, crotchets, digressions, garrulity; his disjointed
ideas, like rich plums in a poor pudding; his ejaculatory style, as of a
man of second thoughts; his wing-bound fancy, which hops around his subject
like a grasshopper instead of soaring steadily over it like an eagle. Many
of his lines are rather gritty:

  Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

and half his blank verse is neither prose nor poetry:

  What, you, Sir, come too? (Just the man I'd meet.)
  Be ruled by me and have a care o' the crowd:
  This way, while fresh folk go and get their gaze:
  I'll tell you like a book and save your shins.
  Fie, what a roaring day we've had! Whose fault?
  Lorenzo in Lucina,--here's a church!

Instead of criticism, therefore, his admirers offer this word of advice:
Try to like Browning; in other words, try to understand him. He is not
"easy"; he is not to be read for relaxation after dinner, but in the
morning and in a straight-backed chair, with eyes clear and intellect at
attention. If you so read him, you must soon discover that he has something
of courage and cheer which no other poet can give you in such full measure.
If you read nothing else, try at least "Rabbi ben Ezra," and after the
reading reflect that the optimism of this poem colors everything that the
author wrote. For Browning differs from all other poets in this: that they
have their moods of doubt or despondency, but he has no weary days or
melancholy hours. They sing at times in the twilight, but Browning is the
herald of the sunrise. Always and everywhere he represents "the will to
live," to live bravely, confidently here; then forward still with cheerful
hearts to immortality:

  Grow old along with me!
  The best is yet to be,
  The last of life, for which the first was made:
  Our times are in his hand
  Who saith, "A whole I planned,
  Youth shows but half: trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"

       *       *       *       *       *


ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING (1806-1861). Among the lesser poets of the age
the most famous was Elizabeth Barrett, who eloped in romantic fashion with
Browning in 1846. Her early volumes, written while she was an invalid, seem
now a little feverish, but a few of her poems of childhood, such as
"Hector" and "Little Ellie," have still their admirers. Later she became
interested in social problems, and reflected the passion of the age for
reform in such poems as "The Cry of the Children," a protest against child
labor which once vied in interest with Hood's famous "Song of the Shirt."
Also she wrote _Aurora Leigh_, a popular novel in verse, having for
its subject a hero who was a social reformer. Then Miss Barrett married
Robert Browning after a rather emotional and sentimental courtship, as
reflected in certain extravagant pages of the Browning _Letters_.


[Sidenote: SONNETS]

In her new-found happiness she produced her most enduring work, the
_Sonnets from the Portuguese_ (1850). This is a collection of love
songs, so personal and intimate that the author thought perhaps to disguise
them by calling them "From the Portuguese." In reality their source was no
further distant than her own heart, and their hero was seen across the
breakfast table every morning. They reflect Mrs. Browning's love for her
husband, and those who read them should read also Browning's answer in "One
Word More." Some of the sonnets ("I Thought How Once" and "How Do I Love
Thee," for example) are very fine, and deserve their high place among love
poems; but others, being too intimate, raise a question of taste in showing
one's heart throbs to the public. Some readers may question whether many of
the _Sonnets_ and most of the _Letters_ had not better been left
exclusively to those for whom they were intended.

MATTHEW ARNOLD (1822-1888). The work of this poet (a son of Dr. Arnold of
Rugby, made famous by _Tom Brown's Schooldays_) is in strong contrast
to that of the Brownings, to the robust optimism of the one and to the
emotionalism of the other. He was a man of two distinct moods: in his
poetry he reflected the doubt or despair of those whose faith had been
shaken by the alleged discoveries of science; in prose he became almost
light-hearted as he bantered middle-class Englishmen for their old-fogy
prejudices, or tried to awaken them to the joys of culture. In both moods
he was coldly intellectual, appealing to the head rather than to the heart
of his readers; and it is still a question whether his poetry or his
criticism will be longest remembered.


Arnold is called the poet of Oxford, as Holmes is of Harvard, and those who
know the beautiful old college town will best appreciate certain verses in
which he reflects the quiet loveliness of a scene that has impressed so
many students, century after century. To general readers one may safely
recommend Arnold's elegies written in memory of the poet Clough, such as
"Thyrsis" and "The Scholar Gypsy"; certain poems reflecting the religious
doubts of the age, such as "Dover Beach," "Morality" and "The Future"; the
love lyrics entitled "Switzerland"; and a few miscellaneous poems, such as
"Resignation," "The Forsaken Merman," "The Last Word," and "Geist's Grave."

To these some critics would add the long narrative poem "Sohrab and
Rustum," which is one of the models set before students of "college
English." The reasons for the choice are not quite obvious; for the story,
which is taken from the Persian _Shah Namah_, or Book of Kings, is
rather coldly told, and the blank verse is far from melodious.

In reading these poems of Arnold his own motives should be borne in mind.
He tried to write on classic lines, repressing the emotions, holding to a
severe, unimpassioned style; and he proceeded on the assumption that poetry
is "a criticism of life." It is not quite clear what he meant by his
definition, but he was certainly on the wrong trail. Poetry is the natural
language of man in moments of strong or deep feeling; it is the expression
of life, of life at high tide or low tide; when it turns to criticism it
loses its chief charm, as a flower loses its beauty and fragrance in the
hands of a botanist. Some poets, however (Lucretius among the ancients,
Pope among the moderns, for example), have taken a different view of the

[Illustration: MATTHEW ARNOLD]


Arnold's chief prose works were written, curiously enough, after he was
appointed professor of poetry at Oxford. There he proceeded, in a sincere
but somewhat toplofty way to enlighten the British public on the subject of
culture. For years he was a kind of dictator of literary taste, and he is
still known as a master of criticism; but to examine his prose is to
discover that it is notable for its even style and occasional good
expressions, such as "sweetness and light," rather than for its
illuminating ideas.

For example, in _Literature and Dogma_ and other books in which Arnold
attempted to solve the problems of the age, he was apt to make large
theories from a small knowledge of his subject. So in his _Study of
Celtic Literature_ (an interesting book, by the way) he wrote with
surprising confidence for one who had no first-hand acquaintance with his
material, and led his readers pleasantly astray in the flowery fields of
Celtic poetry. Moreover, he had one favorite method of criticism, which was
to take the bad lines of one poet and compare them with the good lines of
another,--a method which would make Shakespeare a sorry figure if he
happened to be on the wrong side of the comparison.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

In brief, Arnold is always a stimulating and at times a provoking critic;
he stirs our thought, disturbs our pet prejudices, challenges our
opposition; but he is not a very reliable guide in any field. What one
should read of his prose depends largely on one's personal taste. The essay
_On Translating Homer_ is perhaps his most famous work, but few
readers are really interested in the question of hexameters. _Culture and
Anarchy_ is his best plea for a combination of the moral and
intellectual or, as he calls them, the Hebrew and Greek elements in our
human education. Among the best of the shorter works are "Emerson" in
_Discourses in America_, and "Wordsworth," "Byron" and "The Study of
Poetry" in _Essays in Criticism_.

THE PRE-RAPHAELITES. In the middle of the nineteenth century, or in 1848 to
be specific, a number of English poets and painters banded themselves
together as a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. [Footnote: The name was used
earlier by some German artists, who worked together in Rome with the
purpose of restoring art to the medieval simplicity and purity which, as
was alleged, it possessed before the time of the Italian painter Raphael.
The most famous artists of the English brotherhood were John Everett
Millais and William Holman Hunt.] They aimed to make all art more simple,
sincere, religious, and to restore "the sense of wonder, reverence and awe"
which, they believed, had been lost since medieval times. Their sincerity
was unquestioned; their influence, though small, was almost wholly good;
but unfortunately they were, as Morris said, like men born out of due
season. They lived too much apart from their own age and from the great
stream of common life out of which superior art proceeds. For there was
never a great book or a great picture that was not in the best sense
representative, that did not draw its greatness from the common ideals of
the age in which it was produced.


[Sidenote: ROSSETTI]

The first poet among the Pre-Raphaelites was Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828-1882), the son of an exiled Italian writer. Like others of the group
he was both painter and poet, and seemed to be always trying to put into
his verse the rich coloring which belonged on canvas. Perhaps the most
romantic episode of his life was, that upon the death of his wife (the
beautiful model, Lizzie Siddal, who appears in Millais' picture "Ophelia")
he buried his poetry with her. After some years his friends persuaded him
that his poems belonged to the living, and he exhumed and published them
(_Poems_, 1870). His most notable volume, _Ballads and Sonnets_,
appeared eleven years later. The ballads are nearly all weird, uncanny, but
with something in them of the witchery of Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner."
The sonnets under the general title of "The House of Life" are devoted to
the poet's lost love, and rank with Mrs. Browning's _From the

[Illustration: WILLIAM MORRIS
From a photograph by Walker and Cockerell]

William Morris (1834-1896) has been called by his admirers the most Homeric
of English poets. The phrase was probably applied to him because of his
_Sigurd the Volsung_, in which he uses the material of an old
Icelandic saga. There is a captivating vigor and swing in this poem, but it
lacks the poetic imagination of an earlier work, _The Defence of
Guenevere,_ in which Morris retells in a new way some of the fading
medieval romances. His best-known work in poetry [Footnote: Some readers
will be more interested in Morris's prose romances, _The House of the
Wolfings_, _The Roots of the Mountains_ and _The Story of the
Glittering Plain_] is _The Earthly Paradise_, a collection of
twenty-four stories strung together on a plan somewhat resembling that of
the _Canterbury Tales_. A band of mariners are cast away on an island
inhabited by a superior race of men, and to while away the time the seamen
and their hosts exchange stories. Some of these are from classic sources,
others from Norse legends or hero tales. The stories are gracefully told,
in very good verse; but in reading them one has the impression that
something essential is lacking, some touch, it may be, of present life and
reality. For the island is but another Cloudland, and the characters are
shadowy creatures having souls but no bodies; or else, as some may find,
having the appearance of bodies and no souls whatever. Indeed, in reading
the greater part of Pre-Raphaelite literature, one is reminded of Morris's
estimate of himself, in the Prelude to _The Earthly Paradise_:

  Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
  Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
  Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
  Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
  Telling a tale not too importunate
  To those who in the sleepy region stay,
  Lulled by the singer of an empty day.

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837-1909). This voluminous writer, born in the
year of Victoria's accession, is yet so close to our own day that it is
difficult to think of him as part of an age that is gone. As a poet he was
a master of verbal melody, and had such a command of verse forms that he
won his title of "inventor of harmonies." As a critic he showed a wide
knowledge of English and French literature, a discriminating taste, and an
enthusiasm which bubbled over in eulogy of those whom he liked, and which
emptied vials of wrath upon Byron, Carlyle and others who fell under his
displeasure. His criticisms are written in an extravagant, almost a
torrential, style; at times his prose falls into a chanting rhythm so
attractive in itself as to make us overlook the fact that the praise and
censure which he dispenses with prodigal liberality are too personal to be
quite trustworthy.

[Sidenote: HIS POETRY]

We are still too near Swinburne to judge him accurately, and his place in
the long history of English poetry is yet to be determined. We note here
only two characteristics which may or may not be evident to other readers.
In the first place, with his marvelous command of meter and melody,
Swinburne has a fatal fluency of speech which tends to bury his thought in
a mass of jingling verbiage. As we read we seem to hear the question, "What
readest thou, Hamlet?" and again the Dane makes answer, "Words, words,
words." Again, like the Pre-Raphaelites with whom he was at one time
associated, Swinburne lived too much apart from the tide of common life. He
wrote for the chosen few, and in the mass of his verse one must search long
for a passage of which one may say, This goes home to the hearts of men,
and abides there in the treasure-house of all good poetry.

Among the longer works of Swinburne his masterpiece is the lyrical drama
_Atalanta in Calydon_. If one would merely sample the flavor of the
poet, such minor works as "Itylus" and the fine sea pieces, "Off Shore,"
"By the North Sea" and "A Forsaken Garden" may be recommended. Nor should
we overlook what, to many, is Swinburne's best quality; namely, his love of
children, as reflected in such poems as "The Salt of the Earth" and "A
Child's Laughter." Among the best of his prose works are his _William
Blake_, _Essays and Studies_, _Miscellanies_ and _Studies in
Prose and Verse_.

SONGS IN MANY KEYS. In calling attention to the above-named poets, we have
merely indicated a few who seem to be chief; but the judgment is a personal
one, and subject to challenge. The American critic Stedman, in his
_Victorian Anthology_, recognizes two hundred and fifty singers; of
these eighty are represented by five or more poems; and of the eighty a few
are given higher places than those we have selected as typical. There are
many readers who prefer the _Goblin Market_ of Christina Rossetti to
anything produced by her gifted brother, who place Jean Ingelow above
Elizabeth Barrett, who find more pleasure in Edwin Arnold's _Light of
Asia_ than in all the poems of Matthew Arnold, and who cannot be
interested in even the best of Pre-Raphaelite verse because of its
unreality. Many men, many minds! Time has not yet recorded its verdict on
the Victorians, and until there is some settled criticism which shall
express the judgment of several generations of men, the best plan for the
beginner is to make acquaintance with all the minor poets in an anthology
or book of selections. It may even be a mistake to call any of these poets
minor; for he who has written one song that lives in the hearts of men has
produced a work more enduring than the pyramids.

       *       *       *       *       *



[Illustration: CHARLES DICKENS]

Among the Victorian novelists were two men who were frequent rivals in the
race for fame and fortune. Thackeray, well born and well bred, with
artistic tastes and literary culture, looked doubtfully at the bustling
life around him, found his inspiration in a past age, and tried to uphold
the best traditions of English literature. Dickens, with little education
and less interest in literary culture, looked with joy upon the struggle
for democracy, and with an observation that was almost microscopic saw all
its picturesque details of speech and character and incident. He was the
eye of the mighty Victorian age, as Tennyson was its ear, and Browning its
psychologist, and Carlyle its chronic grumbler.

    LIFE. In the childhood of Dickens one may see a forecast of his
    entire career. His father, a good-natured but shiftless man
    (caricatured as Mr. Micawber in _David Copperfield_), was a
    clerk in the Navy Pay Office, at Portsmouth. There Dickens was born
    in 1812. The father's salary was £80 per year, enough at that time
    to warrant living in middle-class comfort rather than in the
    poverty of the lower classes, with whom Dickens is commonly
    associated. The mother was a sentimental woman, whom Dickens, with
    questionable taste, has caricatured as Mrs. Micawber and again as
    Mrs. Nickleby. Both parents were somewhat neglectful of their
    children, and uncommonly fond of creature comforts, especially of
    good dinners and a bowl of punch. Though there is nothing in such a
    family to explain Dickens's character, there is much to throw light
    on the characters that appear in his novels.

    [Sidenote: THE STAGE]

    The boy himself was far from robust. Having no taste for sports, he
    amused himself by reading romances or by listening to his nurse's
    tales,--beautiful tales, he thought, which "almost scared him into
    fits." His elfish fancy in childhood is probably reflected in Pip,
    of _Great Expectations_. He had a strong dramatic instinct to
    act a story, or sing a song, or imitate a neighbor's speech, and
    the father used to amuse his friends by putting little Charles on a
    chair and encouraging him to mimicry,--a dangerous proceeding,
    though it happened to turn out well in the case of Dickens.

    This stagey tendency increased as the boy grew older. He had a
    passion for private theatricals, and when he wrote a good story was
    not satisfied till he had read it in public. When _Pickwick_
    appeared (1837) the young man, till then an unknown reporter, was
    brought before an immense audience which included a large part of
    England and America. Thereafter he was never satisfied unless he
    was in the public eye; his career was a succession of theatrical
    incidents, of big successes, big lecture tours, big
    audiences,--always the footlights, till he lay at last between the
    pale wax tapers. But we are far ahead of our story.

    [Sidenote: THE LONDON STREETS]

    When Dickens was nine years old his family moved to London. There
    the father fell into debt, and by the brutal laws of the period was
    thrown into prison. The boy went to work in the cellar of a
    blacking factory, and there began that intimate acquaintance with
    lowly characters which he used later to such advantage. He has
    described his bitter experience so often (in _David
    Copperfield_ for instance) that the biographer may well pass
    over it. We note only this significant fact: that wherever Dickens
    went he had an instinct for exploration like that of a farm dog,
    which will not rest in a place till he has first examined all the
    neighborhood, putting his nose into every likely or unlikely spot
    that may shelter friend or enemy. So Dickens used his spare hours
    in roaming the byways of London by night, so he gained his
    marvelous knowledge of that foreign land called The Street, with
    its flitting life of gamins and nondescripts, through which we pass
    daily as through an unknown country.


    A small inheritance brought the father from prison, the family was
    again united, and for two years the boy attended the academy which
    he has held up to the laughter and scorn of two continents. There
    the genius of Dickens seemed suddenly to awaken. He studied little,
    being given to pranks and theatricals, but he discovered within him
    an immense ambition, an imperious will to win a place and a name in
    the great world, and a hopeful temper that must carry him over or
    under all obstacles.

    The last residence of Dickens]

    No sooner was his discovery made than he left school and entered a
    law office, where he picked up enough knowledge to make court
    practices forever ridiculous, in _Bleak House_ and other
    stories. He studied shorthand and quickly mastered it; then
    undertook to report parliamentary speeches (a good training in
    oratory) and presently began a prosperous career as a reporter.
    This had two advantages; it developed his natural taste for odd
    people and picturesque incidents, and it brought him close to the
    great reading public. To please that public, to humor its whims and
    prejudices, its love for fun and tears and sentimentality, was
    thereafter the ruling motive in Dickens's life.


    His first literary success came with some short stories contributed
    to the magazines, which appeared in book form as _Sketches by
    Boz_ (1835). A publisher marked these sketches, engaged Dickens
    to write the text or letterpress for some comic pictures, and the
    result was _Pickwick_, which took England and America by
    storm. Then followed _Oliver Twist_, _Nicholas Nickleby_,
    _Old Curiosity Shop_,--a flood of works that made readers rub
    their eyes, wondering if such a fountain of laughter and tears were

    There is little else to record except this: that from the time of
    his first triumph Dickens held his place as the most popular writer
    in English. With his novels he was not satisfied, but wrote a
    history of England, and edited various popular magazines, such as
    _Household Words_. Also he gave public readings, reveling in
    the applause, the lionizing, which greeted him wherever he went. He
    earned much money; he bought the place "Gadshill," near Rochester,
    which he had coveted since childhood; but he was a free spender,
    and his great income was less than his fancied need. To increase
    his revenue he "toured" the States in a series of readings from his
    own works, and capitalized his experience in _American Notes_
    and parts of _Martin Chuzzlewit_.

    A question of taste must arise even now in connection with these
    works. Dickens had gone to a foreign country for just two things,
    money and applause; he received both in full measure; then he bit
    the friendly hand which had given him what he wanted. [Footnote:
    The chief source of Dickens's irritation was the money loss
    resulting from the "pirating" of his stories. There was no
    international copyright in those days; the works of any popular
    writer were freely appropriated by foreign publishers. This custom
    was wrong, undoubtedly, but it had been in use for centuries.
    Scott's novels had been pirated the same way; and until Cooper got
    to windward of the pirates (by arranging for foreign copyrights)
    his work was stolen freely in England and on the Continent. But
    Dickens saw only his own grievance, and even at public dinners was
    apt to make his hosts uncomfortable by proclaiming his rights or
    denouncing their moral standards. Moreover, he had a vast conceit
    of himself, and, like most visitors of a week, thought he knew
    America like a book. It was as if he looked once at the welter cast
    ashore by mighty Lake Superior in a storm, and said, "What a dirty
    sea!"] Thackeray, who followed him to America, had a finer sense of
    the laws of hospitality and good breeding.


    In 1844 Dickens resolved to make both ends meet, and carried out
    his resolve with promptness and precision. To decrease expenses he
    went to the Continent, and lived there, hungry for the footlights,
    till a series of stories ending with _Dombey and Son_ put his
    finances on a secure basis. Then he returned to London, wrote more
    novels, and saved a fortune for his descendants, who promptly spent
    it. Evidently it was a family trait. More and more he lived on his
    nerves, grew imperious, exacting, till he separated from his wife
    and made wreck of domestic happiness. The self-esteem of which he
    made comedy in his novels was for him a tragedy. Also he resumed
    the public readings, with their false glory and nervous wear and
    tear, which finally brought him to the grave.


    He died, worn out by his own exertions, in 1870. He had steadily
    refused titles and decorations, but a grateful nation laid his body
    to rest in the Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey. It is doubtful
    whether he would have accepted this honor, which was forced upon
    him, for he had declared proudly that by his works alone he would
    live in the memory of his countrymen.

WORKS OF DICKENS. In the early stories of Dickens is a promise of all the
rest. His first work was called _Sketches by Boz_, and "Boz" was
invented by some little girl (was it in _The Vicar of Wakefield?_) who
could not say "Moses"; also it was a pet name for a small brother of
Dickens. There was, therefore, something childlike in this first title, and
childhood was to enter very largely into the novelist's work. He could
hardly finish a story without bringing a child into it; not an ordinary
child, to make us smile,  but a wistful or pathetic child whose sorrows,
since we cannot help them, are apt to make our hearts ache.


Dickens is charged with exaggerating the woes of his children, and the
charge is true; but he had a very human reason for his method. In the first
place, the pathetic quality of his children is due to this simple fact,
that they bear the burden and the care of age. And burdens which men or
women accept for themselves without complaint seem all wrong, and are
wrong, when laid upon a child's innocent shoulders. Again, Dickens sought
to show us our error in thinking, as most grown-ups do, that childish
troubles are of small account. So they are, to us; but to the child they
are desperately real. Later in life we learn that troubles are not
permanent, and so give them their proper place; but in childhood a trouble
is the whole world; and a very hopeless world it is while it lasts. Dickens
knew and loved children, as he knew the public whom he made to cry with his
Little Nell and Tiny Tim; and he had discovered that tears are the key to
many a heart at which reason knocks in vain.


The second work, _Pickwick,_ written in a harum-scarum way, is even
more typical of Dickens in its spirit of fun and laughter. He had been
engaged, as we have noted, to furnish a text for some comic drawings, thus
reversing the usual order of illustration. The pictures were intended to
poke fun at a club of sportsmen; and Dickens, who knew nothing of sport,
bravely set out with Mr. Winkle on his rook-shooting. Then, while the story
was appearing in monthly numbers, the illustrator committed suicide;
Dickens was left with Mr. Pickwick on his hands, and that innocent old
gentleman promptly ran away with the author. Not being in the least
adventurous, Mr. Pickwick was precisely the person for whom adventures were
lying in wait; but with his chivalrous heart within him, and Sam Weller on
guard outside, he was not to be trifled with by cabman or constable. So
these two took to the open road, and to the inns where punch, good cheer
and the unexpected were awaiting them. Never was such another book! It is
not a novel; it is a medley of fun and drollery resulting from high animal


In his next novel, _Oliver Twist_, the author makes a new departure by
using the motive of horror. One of his heroes is an unfortunate child, but
when our sympathies for the little fellow are stretched to the point of
tears, Dickens turns over a page and relieves us by Pickwickian laughter.
Also he has his usual medley of picturesque characters and incidents, but
the shadow of Fagin is over them all. One cannot go into any house in the
book, and lock the door and draw the shades, without feeling that somewhere
in the outer darkness this horrible creature is prowling. The horror which
Fagin inspires is never morbid; for Dickens with his healthy spirit could
not err in this direction. It is a boyish, melodramatic horror, such as
immature minds seek in "movies," dime novels, secret societies, detective
stories and "thrillers" at the circus.

In the fourth work, _Nicholas Nickleby_, Dickens shows that he is
nearing the limit of his invention so far as plot is concerned. In this
novel he seems to rest a bit by writing an old-fashioned romance, with its
hero and villain and moral ending. But if you study this or any subsequent
work of Dickens, you are apt to find the four elements already noted;
namely, an unfortunate child, humorous interludes, a grotesque or horrible
creature who serves as a foil to virtue or innocence, and a medley of
characters good or bad that might be transferred without change to any
other story. The most interesting thing about Dickens's men and women is
that they are human enough to make themselves at home anywhere.

WHAT TO READ. Whether one wants to study the method of Dickens or to enjoy
his works, there is hardly a better plan for the beginner than to read in
succession _Pickwick_, _Oliver Twist_ and _Nicholas
Nickleby_, which are as the seed plot out of which grow all his stories.
For the rest, the reader must follow his own fancy. If one must choose a
single work, perhaps _Copperfield_ is the most typical. "Of all my
books," said Dickens, "I like this the best; like many parents I have my
favorite child, and his name is David Copperfield." Some of the heroines of
this book are rather stagey, but the Peggotys, Betsy Trotwood, Mrs.
Gummidge, the Micawbers,--all these are unrivaled. "There is no writing
against such power," said Thackeray, who was himself writing
_Pendennis_ while Dickens was at work on his masterpiece.

The scene of the races, in _Old Curiosity Shop_]


Opinion is divided on the matter of _A Tale of Two Cities_. Some
critics regard it as the finest of Dickens's work, revealing as it does his
powers of description and of character-drawing without his usual
exaggeration. Other critics, who regard the exaggeration of Dickens as his
most characteristic quality, see in _Two Cities_ only an evidence of
his weakening power. It has perhaps this advantage over other works of the
author, that of them we remember only the extraordinary scenes or
characters, while the entire story of _Two Cities_ remains with us as
a finished and impressive thing. But there is also this disadvantage, that
the story ends and is done with, while _Pickwick_ goes on forever. We
may lose sight of the heroes, but we have the conviction, as Chesterton
says, that they are still on the road of adventure, that Mr. Pickwick is
somewhere drinking punch or making a speech, and that Sam Weller may step
out from behind the next stable and ask with a droll wink what we are up to

It is hardly necessary to add that our reading of Dickens must not end
until we are familiar with some of his Yuletide stories, in which he gladly
followed the lead of Washington Irving. The best of all his short stories
is _A Christmas Carol_, which one must read but not criticize. At best
it is a farce, but a glorious, care-lifting, heart-warming farce. Would
there were more of the same kind!

A CRITICISM OF DICKENS. The first quality of Dickens is his extravagant
humor. This was due to the fact that he was alive, so thoroughly,
consciously alive that his vitality overflowed like a spring. Here, in a
word, is the secret of that bubbling spirit of prodigality which occasions
the criticism that Dickens produced not characters but caricatures.


The criticism is true; but it proclaims the strength of the novelist rather
than his weakness. Indeed, it is in the very exaggeration of Dickens that
his astonishing creative power is most clearly manifest. There is something
primal, stupendous, in his grotesque characters which reminds us of the
uncouth monsters that nature created in her sportive moods. Some readers,
meeting with Bunsby, are reminded of a walrus; and who ever saw a walrus
without thinking of the creature as nature's Bunsby? So with Quilp, Toots,
Squeers, Pumblechook; so with giraffes, baboons, dodoes, dromedaries,--all
are freaks from the æsthetic viewpoint, but think of the overflowing energy
implied in creating them!

The same sense of prodigality characterized Dickens even in his sober
moods, when he portrayed hundreds of human characters, and not a dead or
dull person among them. To be sure they are all exaggerated; they weep too
copiously, eat or drink too intemperately, laugh too uproariously for
normal men; but to criticize their superabundant vitality is to criticize
Beowulf or Ulysses or Hiawatha; nay, it is to criticize life itself, which
at high tide is wont to overflow in heroics or absurdity. The exuberance of
Pickwick, Micawber, Pecksniff, Sairey Gamp, Sam Weller and a host of others
is perhaps the most normal thing about them; it is as the rattling of a
safety valve, which speaks not of stagnant water but of a full head of
steam. For Dickens deals with life, and you can exaggerate life as much as
you please, since there is no end to either its wisdom or foolishness.
Nothing but a question can be added to the silent simplicity of death.



Aside from his purpose of portraying life as he saw it, in all its strange
complexity, Dickens had a twofold object in writing. He was a radical
democrat, and he aimed to show the immense hopefulness and compassion of
Democracy on its upward way to liberty. He was also a reformer, with a
profound respect for the poor, but no respect whatever for ancient laws or
institutions that stood in the way of justice. The influence of his novels
in establishing better schools, prisons, workhouses, is beyond measure; but
we are not so much interested in his reforms as in his method, which was
unique. He aimed to make men understand the oppressed, and to make a
laughing stock of the oppressors; and he succeeded as no other had ever
done in making literature a power in the land. Thus, the man or the law
that stands defiantly against public opinion is beaten the moment you make
that man or that law look like a joke; and Dickens made a huge joke of the
parish beadle (as Mr. Bumble) and of many another meddlesome British
institution. Moreover, he was master of this paradox: that to cure misery
you must meet it with a merry heart,--this is on the principle that what
the poor need is not charity but comradeship. By showing that humble folk
might be as poor as the Cratchits and yet have the medicine of mirth, the
divine gift of laughter, he made men rejoice with the poor even while they
relieved the poverty.

[Sidenote: HIS FAULTS]

As for the shortcomings of Dickens, they are so apparent that he who runs
may read. We may say of him, as of Shakespeare, that his taste is
questionable, that he is too fond of a mere show, that his style is often
melodramatic, that there is hardly a fault in the whole critical category
of which he is not habitually guilty. But we may say of him also that he is
never petty or mean or morbid or unclean; and he could not be dull if he
tried. His faults, if you analyze them, spring from precisely the same
source as his virtues; that is, from his abundant vitality, from his excess
of life and animal spirits. So we pardon, nay, we rejoice over him as over
a boy who must throw a handspring or raise a _whillilew_ when he
breaks loose from school. For Dickens, when he started his triumphal
progress with _Pickwick_, had a glorious sense of taking his cue from
life and of breaking loose from literary traditions. In comparison with
Ruskin or Thackeray he is not a good writer, but something more--a
splendidly great writer. If you would limit or define his greatness, try
first to marshal his array of characters, characters so vital and human
that we can hardly think of them as fictitious or imaginary creatures; then
remember the millions of men and women to whom he has given pure and
lasting pleasure.

       *       *       *       *       *


From a drawing by Samuel Laurence]

In fiction Thackeray stands to Dickens as Hamilton to Jefferson in the
field of politics. The radical difference between the novelists is
exemplified in their attitude toward the public. Thackeray, who lived among
the privileged classes, spoke of "this great stupid public," and thought
that the only way to get a hearing from the common people was to "take them
by the ears." He was a true Hamiltonian. Dickens had an immense sympathy
for the common people, a profound respect for their elemental virtues; and
in writing for them he was, as it were, the Jefferson, the triumphant
democrat of English letters. Thackeray was intellectual; he looked at men
with critical eyes, and was a realist and a pessimist. Dickens was
emotional; he looked at men with kindled imagination, judged them by the
dreams they cherished in their hearts, and was a romanticist and an
optimist. Both men were humorists; but where Thackeray was delicately
satirical, causing us a momentary smile, Dickens was broadly comic or
farcical, winning us by hearty laughter.

    LIFE. To one who has been trained, like Dickens, in the school of
    hardship it seems the most natural thing in the world to pass over
    into a state of affluence. It is another matter to fare sumptuously
    every day till luxurious habits are formed, and then be cast
    suddenly on one's own resources, face to face with the unexpected
    monster of bread and butter. This was Thackeray's experience, and
    it colored all his work.

    A second important matter is that Thackeray had a great tenderness
    for children, a longing for home and homely comforts; but as a
    child he was sent far from his home in India, and was thrown among
    young barbarians in various schools, one of which, the
    "Charterhouse," was called the "Slaughterhouse" in the boy's
    letters to his mother. "There are three hundred and seventy boys in
    this school," wrote; "I wish there were only three hundred and
    sixty-nine!" He married for love, and with great joy began
    housekeeping; then a terrible accident happened, his wife was taken
    to an insane asylum, and for the rest of his life Thackeray was a
    wanderer amid the empty splendors of clubs and hotels.

    These two experiences did not break Thackeray, but they bowed him.
    They help to explain the languor, the melancholy, the gentle
    pessimism, as if life had no more sunrises, of which we are vaguely
    conscious in reading _The Virginians_ or _The Newcomes_.

    [Sidenote: EARLY YEARS]

    Thackeray was born (1811) in Calcutta, of a family of English
    "nabobs" who had accumulated wealth and influence as factors or
    civil officers. At the death of his father, who was a judge in
    Bengal, the child was sent to England to be educated. Here is a
    significant incident of the journey:

        "Our ship touched at an island, where my black servant took
        me a walk over rocks and hills till we passed a garden,
        where we saw a man walking. 'That is Bonaparte,' said the
        black; 'he eats three sheep every day, and all the children
        he can lay hands on.'"

    Napoleon was then safely imprisoned at St. Helena; but his shadow,
    as of a terrible ogre, was still dark over Europe.

    Thackeray's education, at the Charterhouse School and at Cambridge,
    was neither a happy nor a profitable experience, as we judge from
    his unflattering picture of English school life in
    _Pendennis_. He had a strongly artistic bent, and after
    leaving college studied art in Germany and France. Presently he
    lost his fortune by gambling and bad investments, and was
    confronted by the necessity of earning his living. He tried the
    law, but gave it up because, as he said, it had no soul. He tried
    illustrating, having a small talent for comic drawings, and sought
    various civil appointments in vain. As a last resource he turned to
    the magazines, wrote satires, sketches of travel, burlesques of
    popular novelists, and, fighting all the time against his habit of
    idleness, slowly but surely won his way.

    [Sidenote: LITERARY LABOR]

    His first notable work, _Vanity Fair_ (1847), won a few
    readers' and the critics' judgment that it was "a book written by a
    gentleman for gentlemen" was the foundation of Thackeray's
    reputation as a writer for the upper classes. Other notable novels
    followed, _Henry Esmond_, _Pendennis_, _The
    Newcomes_, _The Virginians_, and two series of literary and
    historical essays called _English Humorists_ and _The Four
    Georges_. The latter were delivered as lectures in a successful
    tour of England and America. Needless to say, Thackeray hated
    lecturing and publicity; he was driven to his "dollar-hunting" by

    In 1860 his fame was firmly established, and he won his first
    financial success by taking charge of the _Cornhill Magazine_,
    which prospered greatly in his hands. He did not long enjoy his
    new-found comfort, for he died in 1863. His early sketches had been
    satirical in spirit, his first novels largely so; but his last
    novels and his Cornhill essays were written in a different
    spirit,--not kinder, for Thackeray's heart was always right, but
    broader, wiser, more patient of human nature, and more hopeful.

    In view of these later works some critics declare that Thackeray's
    best novel was never written. His stories were produced not
    joyously but laboriously, to earn his living; and when leisure came
    at last, then came death also, and the work was over.

WORKS OF THACKERAY. It would be flying in the face of all the critics to
suggest that the beginner might do well to postpone the famous novels of
Thackeray, and to meet the author at his best, or cheerfulest, in such
forgotten works as the _Book of Ballads_ and _The Rose and the
Ring_. The latter is a kind of fairy story, with a poor little good
princess, a rich little bad princess, a witch of a godmother, and such
villainous characters as Hedzoff and Gruffanuff. It was written for some
children whom Thackeray loved, and is almost the only book of his which
leaves the impression that the author found any real pleasure in writing

[Sidenote: HENRY ESMOND]

If one must begin with a novel, then _Henry Esmond_ (1852) is the
book. This is an historical novel; the scene is laid in the eighteenth
century, during the reign of Queen Anne; and it differs from most other
historical novels in this important respect: the author knows his ground
thoroughly, is familiar not only with political events but with the
thoughts, ideals, books, even the literary style of the age which he
describes. The hero of the novel, Colonel Esmond, is represented as telling
his own story; he speaks as a gentleman spoke in those days, telling us
about the politicians, soldiers, ladies and literary men of his time, with
frank exposure of their manners or morals. As a realistic portrayal of an
age gone by, not only of its thoughts but of the very language in which
those thoughts were expressed, _Esmond_ is the most remarkable novel
of its kind in our language. It is a prodigy of realism, and it is written
in a charming prose style.

One must add frankly that _Esmond_ is not an inspiring work, that the
atmosphere is gloomy, and the plot a disappointment. The hero, after ten
years of devotion to a woman, ends his romance by happily marrying with her
mother. Any reader could have told him that this is what he ought to have
done, or tried to do, in the beginning; but Thackeray's heroes will never
take the reader's good advice. In this respect they are quite human.

[Sidenote: VANITY FAIR]

The two social satires of Thackeray are _Vanity Fair_ (1847) and
_The History of Arthur Pendennis_ (1849). The former takes its title
from that fair described in _Pilgrim's Progress_, where all sorts of
cheats are exposed for sale; and Thackeray makes his novel a moralizing
exposition of the shams of society. The slight action of the story revolves
about two unlovely heroines, the unprincipled Becky Sharp and the spineless
Amelia. We call them both unlovely, though Thackeray tries hard to make us
admire his tearful Amelia and to detest his more interesting Becky. Meeting
these two contrasting characters is a variety of fools and snobs, mostly
well-drawn, all carefully analyzed to show the weakness or villainy that is
in them.

One interesting but unnoticed thing about these minor characters is that
they all have their life-size prototypes in the novels of Dickens.
Thackeray's characters, as he explains in his preface, are "mere puppets,"
who must move when he pulls the strings. Dickens does not have to explain
that his characters are men and women who do very much as they please. That
is, perhaps, the chief difference between the two novelists.

[Sidenote: PENDENNIS]

_Pendennis_ is a more readable novel than _Vanity Fair_ in this
respect, that its interest centers in one character rather than in a
variety of knaves or fools. Thackeray takes a youthful hero, follows him
through school and later life, and shows the steady degeneration of a man
who is governed not by vicious but by selfish impulses. From beginning to
end _Pendennis_ is a penetrating ethical study (like George Eliot's
_Romola_), and the story is often interrupted while we listen to the
author's moralizing. To some readers this is an offense; to others it is a
pleasure, since it makes them better acquainted with the mind and heart of
Thackeray, the gentlest of Victorian moralists.


The last notable works of Thackeray are like afterthoughts. _The
Virginians_ continues the story of Colonel Esmond, and _The
Newcomes_ recounts the later fortunes of Arthur Pendennis. _The
Virginians_ has two or three splendid scenes, and some critics regard
_The Newcomes_ as the finest expression of the author's genius; but
both works, which appeared in the leisurely form of monthly instalments,
are too languid in action for sustained interest. We grow acquainted with
certain characters, and are heartily glad when they make their exit;
perhaps someone else will come, some adventurer from the road or the inn,
to relieve the dullness. The door opens, and in comes the bore again to
take another leave. That is realism, undoubtedly; and Laura Pendennis is as
realistic as the mumps, which one may catch a second time. The atmosphere
of both novels--indeed, of all Thackeray's greater works, with the
exception of _English Humorists_ and _The Four Georges_--is
rather depressing. One gets the impression that life among "the quality" is
a dreary experience, hardly worth the effort of living.

  After a rare engraving by J. Rogers from the drawing made by Thomas H.
  Shepherd at the time Thackeray was a student there]

THACKERAY: A CRITICISM. It is significant that Thackeray's first work
appeared in a college leaflet called "The Snob," and that it showed a
talent for satire. In his earlier stories he plainly followed his natural
bent, for his _Vanity Fair_, _Barry Lyndon_ (a story of a
scoundrelly adventurer) and several minor works are all satires on the
general snobbery of society. This tendency of the author reached a climax
in 1848, when he wrote _The Book of Snobs._ It is still an
entertaining book, witty, and with a kind of merciless fairness about its
cruel passages; yet some readers will remember what the author himself said
later, that he was something of a snob himself to write such a book. The
chief trouble with the half of his work is that he was so obsessed with the
idea of snobbery that he did injustice to humanity, or rather to his
countrymen; for Thackeray was very English, and interest in his characters
depends largely on familiarity with the life he describes. His pictures of
English servants, for instance, are wonderfully deft, though one might wish
that he had drawn them with a more sympathetic pencil.


In the later part of his life the essential kindness of the man came to the
surface, but still was he hampered by his experience and his philosophy.
His experience was that life is too big to be grasped, too mysterious to be
understood; therefore he faced life doubtfully, with a mixture of timidity
and respect, as in _Henry Esmond_. His philosophy was that every
person is at heart an egoist, is selfish in spite of himself; therefore is
every man or woman unhappy, because selfishness is the eternal enemy of
happiness. This is the lesson written large in _Pendennis_. He lived
in the small world of his own class, while the great world of Dickens--the
world of the common people, with their sympathy, their eternal hopefulness,
their enjoyment of whatever good they find in life--passed unnoticed
outside his club windows. He conceived it to be the business of a novelist
to view the world with his own eyes, to describe it as he saw it; and it
was not his fault that his world was a small one. Fate was answerable for
that. So far as he went, Thackeray did his work admirably, portraying the
few virtues and the many shams of his set with candor and sincerity. Though
he used satire freely (and satire is a two-edged weapon), his object was
never malicious or vindictive but corrective; he aimed to win or drive men
to virtue by exposing the native ugliness of vice.

The result of his effort may be summed up as follows: Thackeray is a
novelist for the few who can enjoy his accurate but petty views of society,
and his cultivated prose style. He is not very cheerful; he does not seek
the blue flower that grows in every field, or the gold that is at every
rainbow's end, or the romance that hides in every human heart whether of
rich or poor. Therefore are the young not conspicuous among his followers.

       *       *      *       *        *


More than other Victorian story-tellers George Eliot regarded her work with
great seriousness as a means of public instruction. Her purpose was to show
that human life is effective only as it follows its sense of duty, and that
society is as much in need of the moral law as of daily bread. Other
novelists moralized more or less, Thackeray especially; but George Eliot
made the teaching of morality her chief business.

    LIFE. In the work as in the face of George Eliot there is a certain
    masculine quality which is apt to mislead one who reads _Adam
    Bede_ or studies a portrait of the author. Even those who knew
    her well, and who tried to express the charm of her personality,
    seem to have overlooked the fact that they were describing a woman.
    For example, a friend wrote:

        "Everything in her aspect and presence was in keeping with
        the bent of her soul. The deeply lined face, the too marked
        and massive features, were united with an air of delicate
        refinement, which in one way was the more impressive,
        because it seemed to proceed so entirely from within. Nay,
        the inward beauty would sometimes quite transform the
        outward harshness; there would be moments when the thin
        hands that entwined themselves in their eagerness, the
        earnest figure that bowed forward to speak and hear, the
        deep gaze moving from one face to another with a grave
        appeal,--all these seemed the transparent symbols that
        showed the presence of a wise, benignant soul."

    [Sidenote: A CLINGING VINE]

    That is very good, but somehow it is not feminine. So the
    impression has gone forth that George Eliot was a "strong-minded"
    woman; but that is far from the truth. One might emphasize her
    affectionate nature, her timidity, her lack of confidence in her
    own judgment; but the essence of the matter is this, that so
    dependent was she on masculine support that she was always
    idealizing some man, and looking up to him as a superior being. In
    short, she was one of "the clinging kind." Though some may regard
    this as traditional nonsense, it was nevertheless the most
    characteristic quality of the woman with whom we are dealing.

    [Sidenote: HER GIRLHOOD]

    Mary Ann Evans, or Marian as she was called, was born (1819) and
    spent her childhood in Shakespeare's county of Warwickshire. Her
    father (whose portrait she has faintly drawn in the characters of
    Adam Bede and Caleb Garth) was a strong, quiet man, a farmer and
    land agent, who made a companion of his daughter rather than of his
    son, the two being described more or less faithfully in the
    characters of Maggie and Tom Tulliver in _The Mill on the
    Floss_. At twelve years of age she was sent to a boarding
    school; at fifteen her mother died, and she was brought home to
    manage her father's house. The rest of her education--which
    included music and a reading knowledge of German, Italian and
    Greek--was obtained by solitary study at intervals of rest from
    domestic work. That the intervals were neither long nor frequent
    may be inferred from the fact that her work included not only her
    father's accounts and the thousand duties of housekeeping but also
    the managing of a poultry yard, the making of butter, and other
    farm or dairy matters which at that time were left wholly to women.

    [Illustration: GEORGE ELIOT
    From a portrait painted in Rome by M. d'Albert Durade, and now in

    The first marked change in her life came at the age of twenty-two,
    when the household removed to Coventry, and Miss Evans was there
    brought in contact with the family of a wealthy ribbon-maker named
    Bray. He was a man of some culture, and the atmosphere of his
    house, with its numerous guests, was decidedly skeptical. To Miss
    Evans, brought up in a home ruled by early Methodist ideals of
    piety, the change was a little startling. Soon she was listening to
    glib evolutionary theories that settled everything from an
    earthworm to a cosmos; next she was eagerly reading such unbaked
    works as Bray's _Philosophy of Necessity_ and the essays of
    certain young scientists who, without knowledge of either
    philosophy or religion, were cocksure of their ability to provide
    "modern" substitutes for both at an hour's notice.

    Miss Evans went over rather impulsively to the crude skepticism of
    her friends; then, finding no soul or comfort in their theories,
    she invented for herself a creed of duty and morality, without
    however tracing either to its origin. She was naturally a religious
    woman, and there is no evidence that she found her new creed very
    satisfactory. Indeed, her melancholy and the gloom of her novels
    are both traceable to the loss of her early religious ideals.

    [Sidenote: HER UNION WITH LEWES]

    A trip abroad (1849) was followed by some editorial work on _The
    Westminster Review_, then the organ of the freethinkers. This in
    turn led to her association with Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill
    and other liberals, and to her union with George Henry Lewes in
    1854. Of that union little need be said except this: though it
    lacked the law and the sacrament, it seems to have been in other
    respects a fair covenant which was honestly kept by both parties.
    [Footnote: Lewes was separated from his first wife, from whom he
    was unable to obtain a legal divorce. This was the only obstacle to
    a regular marriage, and after facing the obstacle for a time the
    couple decided to ignore it. The moral element in George Eliot's
    works is due largely, no doubt, to her own moral sense; but it was
    greatly influenced by the fact that, in her union with Lewes, she
    had placed herself in a false position and was morally on the
    defensive against society.]

    Encouraged by Lewes she began to write fiction. Her first attempt,
    "Amos Barton," was an excellent short story, and in 1859 she
    produced her first novel, _Adam Bede_, being then about forty
    years old. The great success of this work had the unusual effect of
    discouraging the author. She despaired of her ability, and began to
    agonize, as she said, over her work; but her material was not yet
    exhausted, and in _The Mill on the Floss_ and _Silas
    Marner_ she repeated her triumph.

    [Sidenote: ON A PEDESTAL]

    The rest of her life seems a matter of growth or of atrophy,
    according to your point of view. She grew more scientific, as she
    fancied, but she lost the freshness and inspiration of her earlier
    novels. The reason seems to be that her head was turned by her fame
    as a moralist and exponent of culture; so she forgot that she "was
    born to please," and attempted something else for which she had no
    particular ability: an historical novel in _Romola_, a drama
    in _The Spanish Gypsy_, a theory of social reform in _Felix
    Holt_, a study of the Hebrew race in _Daniel Deronda_, a
    book of elephantine gambols in _The Opinions of Theophrastus
    Such_. More and more she "agonized" over these works, and though
    each of them contained some scene or passage of rare power, it was
    evident even to her admirers that the pleasing novelist of the
    earlier days had been sacrificed to the moral philosopher.

    [Sidenote: SHE RENEWS HER YOUTH]

    The death of Lewes (1878) made an end, as she believed, of all
    earthly happiness. For twenty-four years he had been husband,
    friend and literary adviser, encouraging her talent, shielding her
    from every hostile criticism. Left suddenly alone in the world, she
    felt like an abandoned child; her writing stopped, and her letters
    echoed the old gleeman's song, "All is gone, both life and light."
    Then she surprised everybody by marrying an American banker, many
    years her junior, who had been an intimate friend of the Lewes
    household. Once more she found the world "intensely interesting,"
    for at sixty she was the same clinging vine, the same
    hero-worshiper, as at sixteen. The marriage occurred in 1880, and
    her death the same year. An elaborate biography, interesting but
    too fulsome, was written by her husband, John Walter Cross.

WORKS. George Eliot's first works in fiction were the magazine stories
which she published later as _Scenes of Clerical Life_ (1858). These
were produced comparatively late in life, and they indicate both
originality and maturity, as if the author had a message of her own, and
had pondered it well before writing it. That message, as reflected in "Amos
Barton" and "Janet's Repentance," may be summarized in four cardinal
principles: that duty is the supreme law of life; that the humblest life is
as interesting as the most exalted, since both are subject to the same law;
that our daily choices have deep moral significance, since they all react
on character and their total result is either happiness or misery; and that
there is no possible escape from the reward or punishment that is due to
one's individual action.

Such is the message of the author's first work. In its stern insistence on
the moral quality of life and of every human action, it distinguishes
George Eliot from all other fiction writers of the period.


In her first three novels she repeats the same message with more detail,
and with a gleam of humor here and there to light up the gloomy places.
_Adam Bede_ (1859) has been called a story of early Methodism, but in
reality it is a story of moral principles which work their inevitable ends
among simple country people. The same may be said of _The Mill on the
Floss_ (1860) and of _Silas Marner_ (1861). The former is as
interesting to readers of George Eliot as _Copperfield_ is to readers
of Dickens, because much of it is a reflection of a personal experience;
but the latter work, having more unity, more story interest and more
cheerfulness, is a better novel with which to begin our acquaintance with
the author.


The scene of all these novels is laid in the country; the characters are
true to life, and move naturally in an almost perfect setting. One secret
of their success is that they deal with people whom the author knew well,
and with scenes in which she was as much at home as Dickens was in the
London streets. Each of the novels, notwithstanding its faulty or
melancholy conclusion, leaves an impression so powerful that we gladly, and
perhaps uncritically, place it among the great literary works of the
Victorian era.

[Sidenote: LATER WORKS]

Of the later novels one cannot speak so confidently. They move some critics
to enthusiasm, and put others to sleep. Thus, _Daniel Deronda_ has
some excellent passages, and Gwendolen is perhaps the best-drawn of all
George Eliot's characters; but for many readers the novel is spoiled by
scientific jargon, by essay writing on the Jews and other matters of which
the author knew little or nothing at first hand. In _Middlemarch_ she
returned to the scenes with which she was familiar and produced a novel
which some critics rank very high, while others point to its superfluous
essays and its proneness to moralizing instead of telling a story.

[Sidenote: ROMOLA]

_Romola_ is another labored novel, a study of Italy during the
Renaissance, and a profound ethical lesson. If you can read this work
without criticizing its Italian views, you may find in the characters of
Tito and Romola, one selfish and the other generous, the best example of
George Eliot's moral method, which is to show the cumulative effect on
character of everyday choices or actions. You will find also a good story,
one of the best that the author told. But if you read _Romola_ as an
historical novel, with some knowledge of Italy and the Renaissance, you may
decide that George Eliot--though she slaved at this novel until, as she
said, it made an old woman of her--did not understand the people or the
country which she tried to describe. She portrayed life not as she had seen
and known and loved it, but as she found it reflected at second hand in the
works of other writers.

THE QUALITY OF GEORGE ELIOT. Of the moral quality of George Eliot we have
already said enough. To our summary of her method this should be added,
that she tried to make each of her characters not individual but typical.
In other words, if Tito came finally to grief, and Adam arrived at a state
of gloomy satisfaction (there is no real happiness in George Eliot's
world), it was not because Tito and Adam lived in different times or
circumstances, but because both were subject to the same eternal laws. Each
must have gone to his own place whether he lived in wealth or poverty, in
Florence or England, in the fifteenth or the nineteenth century. The moral
law is universal and unchanging; it has no favorites, and makes no
exceptions. It is more like the old Greek conception of Nemesis, or the
Anglo-Saxon conception of Wyrd, or Fate, than anything else you will find
in modern fiction.


In this last respect George Eliot again differs radically from her
contemporaries. In her gloomy view of life as an unanswerable puzzle she is
like Thackeray; but where Thackeray offers a cultured resignation, a
gentlemanly making the best of a bad case, George Eliot advocates
self-sacrifice for the good of others. In her portrayal of weak or sinful
characters she is quite as compassionate as Dickens, and more thoughtfully
charitable; for where Dickens sometimes makes light of misery, and relieves
it by the easy expedient of good dinners and all-around comfort for saints
and sinners, George Eliot remembers the broken moral law and the suffering
of the innocent for the guilty. Behind every one of her characters that
does wrong follows an avenging fate, waiting the moment to exact the full
penalty; and before every character that does right hovers a vision of
sacrifice and redemption.

Her real philosophy, therefore, was quite different from that which her
scientific friends formulated for her, and was not modern but ancient as
the hills. On the one hand, she never quite freed herself from the old
pagan conception of Nemesis, or Fate; on the other, her early Methodist
training entered deep into her soul and made her mindful of the Cross that
forever towers above humanity.

       *       *       *       *       *


We have followed literary custom rather than individual judgment in
studying Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot as the typical Victorian
novelists. On Dickens, as the most original genius of the age, most people
are agreed; but the rank of the other two is open to question. There are
critics besides Swinburne who regard Charlotte Brontë as a greater genius
than George Eliot; and many uncritical readers find more pleasure or profit
in the Barchester novels of Anthony Trollope than in anything written by
Thackeray. It may even be that the three or four leading novels of the age
were none of them written by the novelists in question; but it is still
essential to know their works if only for these reasons: that they greatly
influenced other story-tellers of the period, and that they furnish us a
standard by which to judge all modern fiction.

To treat the many Victorian novelists adequately would in itself require a
volume. We shall note here only a few leading figures, naming in each case
a novel or two which may serve as an invitation to a better acquaintance
with their authors.

[Illustration: CHARLOTTE BRONTË]

The Brontë sisters, Charlotte and Emily, made a tremendous sensation in
England when, from their retirement, they sent out certain works of such
passionate intensity that readers who had long been familiar with novels
were startled into renewed attention. Reading these works now we recognize
the genius of the writers, but we recognize also a morbid, unwholesome
quality, which is a reflection not of English life but of the personal and
unhappy temperament of two girls who looked on life first as a gorgeous
romance and then as a gloomy tragedy.

Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) was perhaps the more gifted of the two
sisters, and her best-known works are _Jane Eyre_ and _Villette_.
The date of the latter novel (1853) was made noteworthy by the masterpiece
of another woman novelist, Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), who was the
exact opposite of the Brontë sisters,--serene, well-balanced, and with a
fund of delicious humor. All these qualities and more appeared in
_Cranford_ (1853), a series of sketches of country life (first
contributed to Dickens's _Household Words_) which together form one of
the most charming stories produced during the Victorian era. The same
author wrote a few other novels and an admirable _Life of Charlotte


Charles Reade (1814-1884) was a follower of Dickens in his earlier novels,
such as _Peg Woffington_; but he made one notable departure when he
wrote _The Cloister and the Hearth_ (1861). This is a story of student
life and vagabond life in Europe, in the stirring times that followed the
invention of printing. The action moves rapidly; many different characters
appear; the scene shifts from Holland across Europe to Italy, and back
again; adventures of a startling kind meet the hero at every stage of his
foot journey. It is a stirring tale, remarkably well told; so much will
every uncritical reader gladly acknowledge. Moreover, there are critics
who, after studying _The Cloister and the Hearth_, rank it with the
best historical novels in all literature.

From the portrait by George Richmond, R.A.]

[Sidenote: TROLLOPE]

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) began as a follower of Thackeray, but in the
immense range of his characters and incidents he soon outstripped his
master. Perhaps his best work is _Barchester Towers_ (1857), one of a
series of novels which picture with marvelous fidelity the life of a
cathedral town in England.

Another novelist who followed Thackeray, and then changed his allegiance to
Dickens, was Bulwer Lytton (1803-1873). He was essentially an imitator, a
follower of the market, and before Thackeray and Dickens were famous he had
followed almost every important English novelist from Mrs. Radcliffe to
Walter Scott. Two of his historical novels, _Rienzi_ and _The Last
Days of Pompeii_, may be mildly recommended. The rest are of the popular
and somewhat trashy kind; critics jeer at them, and the public buys them in
large numbers.

One of the most charming books of the Victorian age was produced by Richard
Blackmore (1825-1900). He wrote several novels, some of them of excellent
quality, but they were all overshadowed by his beautiful old romance of
_Lorna Doone_ (1869). It is hard to overpraise such a story, wholesome
and sweet as a breath from the moors, and the critic's praise will be
unnecessary if the reader only opens the book. It should be read, with
_Cranford_, if one reads nothing else of Victorian fiction.


Two other notable romances of a vanished age came from the hand of Charles
Kingsley (1819-1875). He produced many works in poetry and prose, but his
fame now rests upon _Hypatia_, _Westward Ho!_ and a few stories
for children. _Hypatia_ (1853) is an interesting novel dealing with
the conflict of pagan and Christian ideals in the early centuries.
_Westward Ho!_ (1855) is a stirring narrative of seafaring and
adventure in the days of Elizabeth. It has been described as a "stunning"
boys' book, and it would prove an absorbing story for any reader who likes
adventure were it not marred by one serious fault. The author's personal
beliefs and his desire to glorify certain Elizabethan adventurers lead him
to pronounce judgment of a somewhat wholesale kind. He treats one religious
party of the period to a golden halo, and the other to a lash of scorpions;
and this is apt to alienate many readers who else would gladly follow Sir
Amyas Leigh on his gallant ventures in the New World or on the Spanish
Main. Kingsley had a rare talent for writing for children (his heart never
grew old), and his _Heroes_ and _Water Babies_ are still widely
read as bedtime stories.

Of the later Victorian novelists, chief among them being Meredith, Hardy
and Stevenson, little may be said here, as they are much too near us to
judge of their true place in the long perspective of English literature.
Meredith, with the analytical temper and the disconnected style of
Browning, is for mature readers, not for young people. Hardy has decided
power, but is too hopelessly pessimistic for anybody's comfort,--except in
his earlier works, which have a romantic charm that brightens the obscurity
of his later philosophy.

From a photograph]

[Sidenote: STEVENSON]

In Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) we have the spirit of romance
personified. His novels, such as _Kidnapped_ and _David Balfour_,
are stories of adventure written in a very attractive style; but he is more
widely known, among young people at least, by his charming _Child's
Garden of Verses_ and his _Treasure Island_ (1883). This last is a
kind of dime-novel of pirates and buried treasure. If one is to read
stories of that kind, there is no better place to begin than with this
masterpiece of Stevenson. Other works by the same versatile author are the
novels, _Master of Ballantrae_, _Weir of Hermiston_ and _Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_; various collections of essays, such as
_Virginibus Puerisque_ and _Familiar Studies of Men and Books_;
and some rather thin sketches of journeying called _An Inland Voyage_
and _Travels with a Donkey_.

The cheery spirit of Stevenson, who bravely fought a losing battle with
disease, is evident in everything he wrote; and it was the author's spirit,
quite as much as his romantic tales or fine prose style, that won for him a
large and enthusiastic following. Of all the later Victorians he seems, at
the present time, to have the widest circle of cultivated readers and to
exercise the strongest influence on our writers of fiction.

       *       *       *       *       *


There is rich reading in Victorian essays, which reflect not only the
practical affairs of the age but also the ideals that inspire every great
movement whether in history or literature. For example, the intense
religious interests of the period, the growth of the Nonconformists or
Independents, the Oxford movement, which aimed to define the historic
position of the English Church, the chill of doubt and the glow of renewed
faith in face of the apparent conflict between the old religion and the new
science,--all these were brilliantly reflected by excellent writers, among
whom Martineau, Newman and Maurice stand out prominently. The deep thought,
the serene spirit and the fine style of these men are unsurpassed in
Victorian prose.

Somewhat apart from their age stood a remarkable group of
historians--Hallam, Freeman, Green, Gardiner, Symonds and others no less
praiseworthy--who changed the whole conception of history from a record of
political or military events to a profound study of human society in all
its activities. In another typical group were the critics, Pater, Bagehot,
Hutton, Leslie Stephen, who have given deeper meaning and enlarged pleasure
to the study of literature. In a fourth group were the scientists--Darwin,
Wallace, Lyell, Mivart, Tyndall, Mill, Spencer, Huxley, and their
followers--some of whom aimed not simply to increase our knowledge but to
use the essay, as others used the novel, to portray some new scene in the
old comedy of human life. Darwin was a great and, therefore, a modest man;
but some of his disciples were sadly lacking in humor. Spencer and Mill
especially wrote with colossal self-confidence, as if the world no longer
wore its veil of mystery. They remind us, curiously, that while poetry
endures forever, nothing on earth is more subject to change and error than
so-called scientific truth.


It is impossible in a small volume to do justice to so many writers,
reflecting nature or humanity from various angles, and sometimes insisting
that a particular angle was the only one from which a true view could be
obtained. Some rigorous selection is necessary; and we name here for
special study Macaulay, Carlyle, Ruskin, who are commonly regarded as the
typical Victorian essayists. This selection does not mean, however, that
some other group might not be quite as representative of their age and
nation. Our chosen authors stand not for Victorian thought but only for
certain interesting phases thereof. Macaulay, the busy man of affairs,
voiced the pride of his generation in British traditions. Carlyle lived
aloof, grumbling at democracy, denouncing its shams, calling it to
repentance. Ruskin, a child of fortune, was absorbed in art till the burden
of the world oppressed him; whereupon he gave his money to the cause of
social reform and went himself among the poor to share with them whatever
wealth of spirit he possessed. These three men, utterly unlike in
character, were as one in their endeavor to make modern literature a power
wherewith to uplift humanity. They illustrate, better even than poets or
novelists, the characteristic moral earnestness of the Victorian era.

       *       *       *       *       *


To many readers the life of Macaulay is more interesting than any of his
books. For the details of that brilliantly successful life, which fairly
won and richly deserved its success, the student is referred to Trevelyan's
fine biography. We record here only such personal matters as may help to
explain the exuberant spirit of Macaulay's literary work.


    LIFE. One notes first of all the man's inheritance. The Norse
    element predominated in him, for the name Macaulay (son of Aulay)
    is a late form of the Scandinavian _Olafson_. His mother was a
    brilliant woman of Quaker descent; his father, at one time governor
    of the Sierra Leone Colony in Africa, was a business man who gained
    a fortune in trade, and who spent the whole of it in helping to
    free the slaves. In consequence, when Macaulay left college he
    faced the immediate problem of supporting himself and his family, a
    hard matter, which he handled not only with his customary success
    but also with characteristic enthusiasm.

    Next we note Macaulay's personal endowment, his gift of rapid
    reading, his marvelous memory which suggests Coleridge and Cotton
    Mather. He read everything from Plato to the trashiest novel, and
    after reading a book could recall practically the whole of it after
    a lapse of twenty years. To this photographic memory we are
    indebted for the wealth of quotation, allusion and anecdote which
    brightens almost every page of his writings.


    After a brilliant career at college Macaulay began the study of
    law. At twenty-five he jumped into prominence by a magazine essay
    on Milton, and after that his progress was uninterrupted. He was
    repeatedly elected to Parliament; he was appointed legal adviser to
    the Supreme Council of India, in which position he acquired the
    knowledge that appears in his essays on Clive and Hastings; he
    became Secretary for War, and was elevated to the peerage as Baron
    Macaulay of Rothley. It was said of him at that time that he was
    "the only man whom England ever made a lord for the power of his

    [Sidenote: HIS RECREATION]

    The last thing we note, because it was to Macaulay of least moment,
    is his literary work. With the exception of the _History of
    England_ his writing was done at spare moments, as a relaxation
    from what he considered more important labors. In this respect, of
    writing for pleasure in the midst of practical affairs, he
    resembles the Elizabethan rather than the Victorian authors.

    While at work on his masterpiece Macaulay suddenly faltered, worn
    out by too much work. He died on Christmas Day (1859) and was
    buried in the place which he liked best to visit, the Poets' Corner
    of Westminster Abbey. From the day on which he attracted notice by
    his Milton essay he had never once lost his hold on the attention
    of England. Gladstone summed up the matter in oratorical fashion
    when he said, "Full-orbed Macaulay was seen above the horizon; and
    full-orbed, after thirty-five years of constantly emitted splendor,
    he sank below it." But Macaulay's final comment, "Well, I have had
    a happy life," is more suggestive of the man and his work.

WORKS OF MACAULAY. Macaulay's poems, which he regarded as of no
consequence, are practically all in the ballad style. Among them are
various narratives from French or English history, such as "The Battle of
Ivry" and "The Armada," and a few others which made a popular little book
when they were published as _Lays of Ancient Rome_ (1842). The prime
favorite not only of the _Lays_ but of all Macaulay's works is
"Horatius Cocles," or "Horatius at the Bridge." Those who read its stirring
lines should know that Macaulay intended it not as a modern ballad but as
an example of ancient methods of teaching history. According to Niebuhr the
early history of Rome was written in the form of popular ballads; and
Macaulay attempted to reproduce a few of these historical documents in the
heroic style that roused a Roman audience of long ago to pride and love of

[Sidenote: THE ESSAYS]

The essays of Macaulay appeared in the magazines of that day; but though
official England acclaimed their brilliancy and flooded their author with
invitations to dine, nobody seemed to think of them as food for ordinary
readers till a Philadelphia publisher collected a few of them into a book,
which sold in America like a good novel. That was in 1841, and not till two
years had passed did a London publisher gain courage to issue the
_Critical and Historical Essays_, a book which vindicated the taste of
readers of that day by becoming immensely popular.

The charm of such a book is evident in the very first essay, on Milton.
Here is no critic, airing his rules or making his dry talk palatable by a
few quotations; here is a live man pleading for another man whom he
considers one of the greatest figures in history. Macaulay may be mistaken,
possibly, but he is going to make you doff your hat to a hero before he is
done; so he speaks eloquently not only of Milton but of the classics on
which Milton fed, of the ideals and struggles of his age, of the
Commonwealth and the Restoration,--of everything which may catch your
attention and then focus it on one Titanic figure battling like Samson
among the Philistines. It may be that your sympathies are with the
Philistines rather than with Samson; but presently you stop objecting and
are carried along by the author's eloquence as by a torrent. His style is
the combined style of novelist and public speaker, the one striving to make
his characters real, the other bound to make his subject interesting.

That is Macaulay's way in all his essays. They are seldom wholly right in
their judgments; they are so often one-sided that the author declared in
later life he would burn them all if he could; but they are all splendid,
all worth reading, not simply for their matter but for their style and for
the wealth of allusion with which Macaulay makes his subject vital and
interesting. Among the best of the literary essays are those on Bunyan,
Addison, Bacon, Johnson, Goldsmith and Byron; among the historical essays
one may sample Macaulay's variety in Lord Clive, Frederick the Great,
Machiavelli and Mirabeau.

Careful readers may note a difference between these literary and historical
essays. Those on Bunyan, Johnson and Goldsmith, for example (written
originally for the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_), are more finished and
more careful of statement than others in which the author talks freely,
sharing without measure or restraint "the heaped-up treasures of his


Macaulay began to write his _History of England_ with the declaration
that he would cover the century and a half following the accession of James
II (1685), and that he would make his story as interesting as any novel.
Only the latter promise was fulfilled. His five volumes, the labor of more
than a decade, cover only sixteen years of English history; but these are
pictured with such minuteness and such splendor that we can hardly imagine
anyone brave enough to attempt to finish the record in a single lifetime.

Of this masterpiece of Macaulay we may confidently say three things: that
for many years it was the most popular historical work in our language;
that by its brilliant style and absorbing interest it deserved its
popularity, as literature if not as history; and that, though it contains
its share of error and more than its share of Whig partisanship, it has
probably as few serious faults as any other history which attempts to cover
the immense field of the political, social and intellectual life of a
nation. Read, for example, one of the introductory chapters (the third is
excellent) which draws such a picture of England in the days of the Stuarts
as no other historian has ever attempted. When you have finished that
chapter, with its wealth of picturesque detail, you may be content to read
Macaulay simply for the pleasure he gives you, and go to some other
historian for accurate information.

       *       *       *       *       *

THOMAS CARLYLE (1795-1881)

There is little harmony of opinion concerning Carlyle, criticism of the man
being divided between praise and disparagement. If you are to read only one
of his works, it is perhaps advisable to avoid all biographies at first and
to let the _Essay on Burns_ or _Heroes and Hero Worship_ make its
own impression. But if you intend to read more widely, some knowledge of
Carlyle's personal history is essential in order to furnish the grain of
salt with which most of his opinions must be taken.

[Illustration: THOMAS CARLYLE
From engraving by Sartain from a daguerrotype]

    LIFE. In the village of Ecclefechan Carlyle was born in 1795, the
    year before Burns's death. His father was a stone-mason, an honest
    man of caustic tongue; his mother, judged by her son's account, was
    one of nature's noblewomen. The love of his mother and a proud
    respect for his father were the two sentiments in Carlyle that went
    with him unchanged through a troubled and oft-complaining life.

    [Sidenote: HIS WRESTLINGS]

    Of his tearful school days in Annandale and of his wretched years
    at Edinburgh University we have glimpses in _Sartor Resartus_.
    In the chapters of the same book entitled "The Everlasting Nay" and
    "The Everlasting Yea" is a picture of the conflict between doubt
    and faith in the stormy years when Carlyle was finding himself. He
    taught school, and hated it; he abandoned the ministry, for which
    his parents had intended him; he resolved on a literary life, and
    did hack work to earn his bread. All the while he wrestled with his
    gloomy temper or with the petty demons of dyspepsia, which he was
    wont to magnify into giant doubts and despairs.


    In 1826 he married Jane Welsh, and went to live in a house she had
    inherited at Craigenputtock, or Hill of the Hawks. There on a
    lonely moorland farm he spent six or seven years, writing books
    which few cared to read; and there Emerson appeared one day ("He
    came and went like an angel," said the Carlyles) with the
    heartening news that the neglected writings were winning a great
    audience in America. The letters of Carlyle and Emerson, as edited
    by Charles Eliot Norton, are among the pleasantest results of
    Carlyle's whole career.

    [Sidenote: MRS. CARLYLE]

    Carlyle's wife was a brilliant but nervous woman with literary
    gifts of her own. She had always received attention; she expected
    and probably deserved admiration; but so did Carlyle, who expected
    also to be made the center of all solicitude when he called heaven
    and earth to witness against democracy, crowing roosters, weak tea
    and other grievous afflictions. After her death (in London, 1866)
    he was plunged into deepest grief. In his _Reminiscences_ and
    _Letters_ he fairly deifies his wife, calling her his queen,
    his star, his light and joy of life, and portrays a companionship
    as of two mortals in a Paradise without a serpent. All that is
    doubtless as it should be, in a romance; but the unfortunate
    publication of Mrs. Carlyle's letters and journals introduced a
    jarring note of reality. A jungle of controversial writings has
    since grown up around the domestic relations of the
    Carlyles,--impertinent, deplorable writings, which serve no purpose
    but to make us cry, "Enough, let them rest in peace!" Both had
    sharp tongues, and probably both were often sorry.

    [Sidenote: WORK IN LONDON]

    From the moors the Carlyles went to London and settled for the
    remainder of their lives in a house in Cheyne Row, in the suburb of
    Chelsea. There Carlyle slowly won recognition, his success being
    founded on his _French Revolution_. Invitations began to pour
    in upon him; great men visited and praised him, and his fame spread
    as "the sage of Chelsea." Then followed his _Cromwell_ and
    _Frederick the Great_, the latter completed after years of
    complaining labor which made wreck of home happiness. And then came
    a period of unusual irritation, to which we owe, in part at least,
    Carlyle's railings against progress and his deplorable criticism of
    England's great men and women,--poor little Browning, animalcular
    De Quincey, rabbit-brained Newman, sawdustish Mill, chattering
    George Eliot, ghastly-shrieky Shelley, once-enough Lamb,
    stinted-scanty Wordsworth, poor thin fool Darwin and his book
    (_The Origin of Species_, of which Carlyle confessed he never
    read a page) which was wonderful as an example of the stupidity of

    Such criticisms were reserved for Carlyle's private memoirs. The
    world knew him only by his books, and revered him as a great and
    good man. He died in 1881, and of the thousand notices which
    appeared in English or American periodicals of that year there is
    hardly one that does not overflow with praise.


    In the home at Chelsea were numerous letters and journals which
    Carlyle committed to his friend Froude the historian. The
    publication of these private papers raised a storm of protest.
    Admirers of Carlyle, shocked at the revelation of another side to
    their hero, denounced Froude for his disloyalty and malice;
    whereupon the literary world divided into two camps, the Jane
    Carlyleists and the Thomas Carlyleists, as they are still called.
    That Froude showed poor taste is evident; but we must acquit him of
    all malice. Private papers had been given him with the charge to
    publish them if he saw fit; and from them he attempted to draw not
    a flattering but a truthful portrait of Carlyle, who had always
    preached the doctrine that a man must speak truth as he sees it.
    Nor will Carlyle suffer in the long run from being deprived of a
    halo which he never deserved. Already the crustiness of the man
    begins to grow dim in the distance; it is his rugged earnestness
    that will be longest remembered.

WORKS OF CARLYLE. The beginner will do well to make acquaintance with
Carlyle in some of the minor essays, which are less original but more
pleasing than his labored works. Among the best essays are those on Goethe
(who was Carlyle's first master), Signs of the Times, Novalis, and
especially Scott and Burns. With Scott he was not in sympathy, and though
he tried as a Scotsman to be "loyal to kith and clan," a strong touch of
prejudice mars his work. With Burns he succeeded better, and his picture of
the plowboy genius in misfortune is one of the best we have on the subject.
This _Essay on Burns_ is also notable as the best example of Carlyle's
early style, before he compounded the strange mixture which appeared in his
later books.


The most readable of Carlyle's longer works is _Heroes and Hero
Worship_ (1840), which deals with certain leaders in the fields of
religion, poetry, war and politics. It is an interesting study to compare
this work with the _Representative Men_ of Emerson. The latter looks
upon the world as governed by ideals, which belong not to individuals but
to humanity. When some man appears in whom the common ideal is written
large, other men follow him because they see in him a truth which they
revere in their own souls. So the leader is always in the highest sense a
representative of his race. But Carlyle will have nothing of such
democracy; to him common men are stupid or helpless and must be governed
from without. Occasionally, when humanity is in the Slough of Despond,
appears a hero, a superman, and proceeds by his own force to drag or drive
his subjects to a higher level. When the hero dies, humanity must halt and
pray heaven to send another master.

It is evident before one has read much of _Heroes_ that Carlyle is at
heart a force-worshiper. To him history means the biography of a few
heroes, and heroism is a matter of power, not of physical or moral courage.
The hero may have the rugged courage of a Cromwell, or he may be an
easy-living poet like Shakespeare, or a ruthless despot like Napoleon, or
an epitome of all meanness like Rousseau; but if he shows superior force of
any kind, that is the hallmark of his heroism, and before such an one
humanity should bow down. Of real history, therefore, you will learn
nothing from _Heroes_; neither will you get any trustworthy
information concerning Odin, Mahomet and the rest of Carlyle's oddly
consorted characters. One does not read the book for facts but for a new
view of old matters. With hero-worshipers especially it ranks very high
among the thought-provoking books of the past century.


Of the historical works [Footnote: These include _Oliver Cromwell's
Letters and Speeches_ (1850) and _History of Frederick the Great_
(1858).] of Carlyle the most famous is _The French Revolution_ (1837).
On this work Carlyle spent much heart-breaking labor, and the story of the
first volume shows that the author, who made himself miserable over petty
matters, could be patient in face of a real misfortune. [Footnote: The
manuscript of the first volume was submitted to Carlyle's friend Mill (him
of the "sawdustish" mind) for criticism. Mill lent it to a lady, who lost
it. When he appeared "white as a ghost" to confess his carelessness, the
Carlyles did their best to make light of it. Yet it was a terrible blow to
them; for aside from the wearisome labor of doing the work over again, they
were counting on the sale of the book to pay for their daily bread.]
Moreover, it furnishes a striking example of Carlyle's method, which was
not historical in the modern sense, but essentially pictorial or dramatic.
He selected a few dramatic scenes, such as the storming of the Bastille,
and painted them in flaming colors. Also he was strong in drawing
portraits, and his portrayal of Robespierre, Danton and other actors in the
terrible drama is astonishingly vigorous, though seldom accurate. His chief
purpose in drawing all these pictures and portraits was to prove that order
can never come out of chaos save by the iron grip of a governing hand.
Hence, if you want to learn the real history of the French Revolution, you
must seek elsewhere; but if you want an impression of it, an impression
that burns its way into the mind, you will hardly find the equal of
Carlyle's book in any language.

Of Carlyle's miscellaneous works one must speak with some hesitation. As an
expression of what some call his prophetic mood, and others his ranting,
one who has patience might try _Shooting Niagara_ or the _Latter Day
Pamphlets_. A reflection of his doctrine of honest work as the cure for
social ills is found in _Past and Present_; and for a summary of his
philosophy there is nothing quite so good as his early _Sartor
Resartus_ (1834).


The last-named work is called philosophy only by courtesy. The title means
"the tailor retailored," or "the patcher repatched," and the book professed
to be "a complete Resartus philosophy of clothes." Since everything wears
clothes of some kind (the soul wears a body, and the body garments; earth
puts forth grass, and the firmament stars; ideas clothe themselves in
words; society puts on fashions and habits), it can be seen that Carlyle
felt free to bring in any subject he pleased; and so he did. Moreover, in
order to have liberty of style, he represented himself to be the editor not
the author of _Sartor_. The alleged author was a German professor,
Diogenes Teufelsdroeckh, an odd stick, half genius, half madman, whose
chaotic notes Carlyle professed to arrange with a running commentary of his

In consequence of this overlabored plan _Sartor_ has no plan at all.
It is a jumble of thoughts, notions, attacks on shams, scraps of German
philosophy,--everything that Carlyle wrote about during his seven-years
sojourn on his moorland farm. The only valuable things in _Sartor_ are
a few autobiographical chapters, such as "The Everlasting Yea," and certain
passages dealing with night, the stars, the yearnings of humanity, the
splendors of earth and heaven. Note this picture of Teufelsdroeckh standing
alone at the North Cape, "looking like a little belfry":

    "Silence as of death, for Midnight, even in the Arctic latitudes,
    has its character: nothing but the granite cliffs ruddy-tinged, the
    peaceable gurgle of that slow-heaving Polar Ocean, over which in
    the utmost North the great Sun hangs low and lazy, as if he too
    were slumbering. Yet is his cloud-couch wrought of crimson and
    cloth-of-gold; yet does his light stream over the mirror of waters,
    like a tremulous fire-pillar shooting downwards to the abyss, and
    hide itself under my feet. In such moments Solitude also is
    invaluable; for who would speak, or be looked on, when behind him
    lies all Europe and Africa, fast asleep, except the watchmen; and
    before him the silent Immensity and Palace of the Eternal, whereof
    our Sun is but a porch-lamp?"

The book has several such passages, written in a psalmodic style, appealing
to elemental feeling, to our sense of wonder or reverence before the
mystery of life and death. It is a pity that we have no edition of
_Sartor_ which does justice to its golden nuggets by the simple
expedient of sifting out the mass of rubbish in which the gold is hidden.
The central doctrines of the book are the suppression of self, or
selfishness, and the value of honest work in contrast with the evil of

A CRITICISM OF CARLYLE. Except in his literary essays Carlyle's
"rumfustianish growlery of style," as he called it, is so uneven that no
description will apply to it. In moments of emotion he uses a chanting
prose that is like primitive poetry. Sometimes he forgets Thomas Carlyle,
keeps his eye on his subject, and describes it in vivid, picturesque words;
then, when he has nothing to say, he thinks of himself and tries to hold
you by his manner, by his ranting or dogmatism. In one mood he is a poet,
in another a painter, in a third a stump speaker. In all moods he must have
your ear, but he succeeds better in getting than in holding it. It has been
said that his prose is on a level with Browning's verse, but a better
comparison may be drawn between Carlyle and Walt Whitman. Of each of these
writers the best that can be said is that his style was his own, that it
served his purpose, and that it is not to be imitated.

[Sidenote: HIS TWO SIDES]

In formulating any summary of Carlyle the critic must remember that he is
dealing with a man of two sides, one prejudiced, dogmatic, jealous of
rivals, the other roughly sincere. On either side Carlyle is a man of
contradictions. For an odious dead despot like Frederick, who happens to
please him, he turns criticism into eulogy; and for a living poet like
Wordsworth he tempers praise by spiteful criticism. [Footnote: Carlyle's
praise of Wordsworth's "fine, wholesome rusticity" is often quoted, but
only in part. If you read the whole passage (in _Reminiscences_) you
will find the effect of Carlyle's praise wholly spoiled by a heartless
dissection of a poet, with whom, as Carlyle confessed, he had very slight
acquaintance.] He writes a score of letters to show that his grief is too
deep for words. He is voluble on "the infinite virtue of silence." He
proclaims to-day that he "will write no word on any subject till he has
studied it to the bottom," and to-morrow will pronounce judgment on America
or science or some other matter of which he knows nothing. In all this
Carlyle sees no inconsistency; he is sincere in either role, of prophet or
stump speaker, and even thinks that humor is one of his prime qualities.

The birthplace of Carlyle]

Another matter to remember is Carlyle's constant motive rather than his
constant mistakes. He had the gloomy conviction that he was ordained to cry
out against the shams of society; and as most modern things appeared to him
as shams, he had to be very busy. Moreover, he had an eye like a hawk for
the small failings of men, especially of living men, but was almost blind
to their large virtues. This hawklike vision, which ignores all large
matters in a swoop on some petty object, accounts for two things: for the
marvelous detail of Carlyle's portraits, and for his merciless criticism of
the faults of society in general, and of the Victorian age in particular.

Such a writer invites both applause and opposition, and in Carlyle's case
the one is as hearty as the other. The only point on which critics are
fairly well agreed is that his rugged independence of mind and his
picturesque style appealed powerfully to a small circle of readers in
England and to a large circle in America. It is doubtful whether any other
essayist, with the possible exception of the serene and hopeful Emerson,
had a more stimulating influence on the thought of the latter half of the
nineteenth century.

       *       *       *       *       *

JOHN RUSKIN (1819-1900)

The prose of Ruskin is a treasure house. Nature portrayed as everyman's
Holy Land; descriptions of mountain or landscape, and more beautiful
descriptions of leaf or lichen or the glint of light on a breaking wave;
appreciations of literature, and finer appreciations of life itself;
startling views of art, and more revolutionary views of that frightful
waste of human life and labor which we call political economy,--all these
and many more impressions of nature, art and human society are eloquently
recorded in the ten thousand pages which are the work of Ruskin's hand.

If you would know the secret that binds all his work together, it may be
expressed in two words, sensitiveness and sincerity. From childhood Ruskin
was extremely sensitive to both beauty and ugliness. The beauty of the
world and of all noble things that ever were accomplished in the world
affected him like music; but he shrank, as if from a blow, from all
sordidness and evil, from the mammon-worship of trade, from the cloud of
smoke that hung over a factory district as if trying to shield from the eye
of heaven so much needless poverty and aimless toil below. So Ruskin was a
man halting between two opinions: the artist in him was forever troubled by
the reformer seeking to make the crooked places of life straight and its
rough places plain. He made as many mistakes as another man; in his pages
you may light upon error or vagary; but you will find nothing to make you
doubt his entire sincerity, his desire to speak truth, his passion for
helping his fellow men.

    LIFE. The early training of Ruskin may explain both the strength
    and the weakness of his work. His father was a wealthy wine
    merchant, his mother a devout woman with puritanic ideas of duty.
    Both parents were of Scottish and, as Ruskin boasted, of plebeian
    descent. They had but one child, and in training him they used a
    strange mixture of severity and coddling, of wisdom and nonsense.

    The young Ruskin was kept apart from other boys and from the sports
    which breed a modesty of one's own opinion; his time, work and
    lonely play were minutely regulated; the slightest infringement of
    rules brought the stern discipline of rod or reproof. On the other
    hand he was given the best pictures and the best books; he was
    taken on luxurious journeys through England and the Continent; he
    was furnished with tutors for any study to which he turned his
    mind. When he went up to Oxford, at seventeen, he knew many things
    which are Greek to the ordinary boy, but was ignorant of almost
    everything that a boy knows, and that a man finds useful in dealing
    with the world.

    [Illustration: JOHN RUSKIN
    From a photograph by Elliott and Fry]


    There were several results of this early discipline. One was
    Ruskin's devotion to art, which came from his familiarity with
    pictures and galleries; another was his minute study of natural
    objects, which were to him in place of toys; a third was his habit
    of "speaking his mind" on every subject; a fourth was his rhythmic
    prose style, which came largely from his daily habit of memorizing
    the Bible. Still another result of his lonely magnificence, in
    which he was deprived of boys' society, was that his affection went
    out on a flood tide of romance to the first attractive girl he met.
    So he loved, and was laughed at, and was desperately unhappy. Then
    he married, not the woman of his choice, but one whom his parents
    picked out for him. The tastes of the couple were hopelessly
    different; the end was estrangement, with humiliation and sorrow
    for Ruskin.

    [Sidenote: TWENTY YEARS OF ART]

    At twenty-four he produced his first important work, _Modern
    Painters_ (1843), which he began as a defense of the neglected
    artist Turner. This controversial book led Ruskin to a deeper study
    of his subject, which resulted in four more volumes on modern
    painting. Before these were completed he had "fairly created a new
    literature of art" by his _Seven Lamps of Architecture_ and
    _Stones of Venice_. He was appointed professor of fine arts at
    Oxford; he gave several series of lectures which appeared later as
    _Lectures on Architecture and Painting_, _Michael Angelo and
    Tintoret_, _Val d'Arno_ and _The Art of England_.

    By this time he was renowned as an art critic; but his theories
    were strongly opposed and he was continually in hot water. In his
    zeal to defend Turner or Millais or Burne-Jones he was rather
    slashing in his criticism of other artists. The libel suit brought
    against him by Whistler, whom he described as a coxcomb who flung a
    pot of paint in the face of the public, is still talked about in
    England. The jury (fancy a jury wrestling with a question of art!)
    found Ruskin guilty, and decided that he should pay for the
    artist's damaged reputation the sum of one farthing. Whistler ever
    afterwards wore the coin on his watch chain.


    It was about the year 1860 that Ruskin came under the influence of
    Carlyle, and then began the effort at social reform which made
    wreck of fame and hope and peace of mind. Carlyle had merely
    preached of manual work; but Ruskin, wholehearted in whatever he
    did, went out to mend roads and do other useful tasks to show his
    belief in the doctrine. Carlyle railed against the industrial
    system of England; but Ruskin devoted his fortune to remedying its
    evils. He established model tenements; he founded libraries and
    centers of recreation for workingmen; he took women and children
    out of factories and set them to spinning or weaving in their own
    homes; he founded St. George's Guild, a well-housed community which
    combined work with education, and which shared profits fairly among
    the workers.

    England at first rubbed its eyes at these reforms, then shrugged
    its shoulders as at a harmless kind of madman. But Ruskin had the
    temper of a crusader; his sword was out against what was even then
    called "vested interests," and presently his theories aroused a
    tempest of opposition. Thackeray, who as editor of the _Cornhill
    Magazine_ had gladly published Ruskin's first economic essays,
    was forced by the clamor of readers to discontinue the series.
    [Footnote: While these essays were appearing, there was published
    (1864) a textbook of English literature. It spoke well of Ruskin's
    books of art, but added, "Of late he has lost his way and has
    written things--papers in the _Cornhill_ chiefly--which are
    not likely to add to his fame as a writer or to his character as a
    man of common sense" (Collier, _History of English
    Literature_, p. 512).] To this reform period belong _Unto This
    Last_ and other books dealing with political economy, and also
    _Sesame and Lilies_, _Crown of Wild Olive_ and _Ethics
    of the Dust_, which were written chiefly for young people.

    [Sidenote: END OF THE CRUSADE]

    For twenty years this crusade continued; then, worn out and
    misunderstood by both capitalists and workingmen, Ruskin retired
    (1879) to a small estate called "Brantwood" in the Lake District,
    His fortune had been spent in his attempt to improve labor
    conditions, and he lived now upon the modest income from his books.
    Before he died, in 1900, his friend Charles Eliot Norton persuaded
    him to write the story of his early life in _Præterita_. The
    title is strange, but the book itself is, with one exception, the
    most interesting of Ruskin's works.

WORKS OF RUSKIN. The works of Ruskin fall naturally into three classes,
which are called criticisms of art, industry and life, but which are, in
fact, profound studies of the origin and meaning of art on the one hand,
and of the infinite value of human life on the other.

The most popular of his art criticisms are _St. Mark's Rest_ and
_Mornings in Florence_, which are widely used as guidebooks, and which
may be postponed until the happy time when, in Venice or Florence, one may
read them to best advantage. Meanwhile, in _Seven Lamps of
Architecture_ or _Stones of Venice_ or the first two volumes of
_Modern Painters_, one may grow acquainted with Ruskin's theory of


His fundamental principle was summarized by Pope in the line, "All nature
is but art unknown to thee." That nature is the artist's source of
inspiration, that art at its best can but copy some natural beauty, and
that the copy should be preceded by careful and loving study of the
original,--this was the sum of his early teaching. Next, Ruskin looked
within the soul of the artist and announced that true art has a spiritual
motive, that it springs from the noblest ideals of life, that the moral
value of any people may be read in the pictures or buildings which they
produced. A third principle was that the best works of art, reflecting as
they do the ideals of a community, should belong to the people, not to a
few collectors; and a fourth exalted the usefulness of art in increasing
not only the pleasure but the power of life. So Ruskin urged that art be
taught in all schools and workshops, and that every man be encouraged to
put the stamp of beauty as well as of utility upon the work of his hands;
so also he formulated a plan to abolish factories, and by a system of hand
labor to give every worker the chance and the joy of self-expression.


In his theory of economics Ruskin was even more revolutionary. He wrote
several works on the subject, but the sum of his teaching may be found in
_Unto This Last_; and the sum is that political economy is merely
commercial economy; that it aims to increase trade and wealth at the
expense of men and morals. "There is no wealth but life," announced Ruskin,
"life including all its power of love, of joy and of admiration." And with
minute exactness he outlined a plan for making the nation wealthy, not by
more factories and ships, but by increasing the health and happiness of
human beings.

Three quarters of a century earlier Thomas Jefferson, in America, had
pleaded for the same ideal of national wealth, and had characterized the
race of the nations for commercial supremacy as a contagion of insanity.
Jefferson was called a demagogue, Ruskin a madman; but both men were
profoundly right in estimating the wealth of a nation by its store of
happiness for home consumption rather than by its store of goods for
export. They were misunderstood because they were too far in advance of
their age to speak its trade language. They belong not to the past or
present, but to the future.


If but one work of Ruskin is to be read, let it be _Sesame and Lilies_
(1865), which is one of the books that no intelligent reader can afford to
neglect. The first chapter, "Of Kings' Treasuries," is a noble essay on the
subject of reading. The second, "Of Queens' Gardens," is a study of woman's
life and education, a study which may appear old-fashioned now, but which
has so much of truth and beauty that it must again, like Colonial
furniture, become our best fashion. These two essays [Footnote: A third
essay, "The Mystery of Life," was added to _Sesame and Lilies_. It is
a sad, despairing monologue, and the book might be better off without it.]
contain Ruskin's best thought on books and womanly character, and also an
outline of his teaching on nature, art and society. If we read _Sesame
and Lilies_ in connection with two other little books, _Crown of Wild
Olive_, which treats of work, trade and war, and _Ethics of the
Dust_, which deals with housekeeping, we shall have the best that Ruskin
produced for his younger disciples.

THE QUALITY OF RUSKIN. To the sensitiveness and sincerity of Ruskin we have
already called attention. There is a third quality which appears
frequently, and which we call pedagogical insistence, because the author
seems to labor under the impression that he must drive something into one's

This insistent note is apt to offend readers until they learn of Ruskin's
motive and experience. He lived in a commercial age, an age that seemed to
him blind to the beauty of the world; and the purpose of his whole life
was, as he said, to help those who, having eyes, see not. His aim was high,
his effort heroic; but for all his pains he was called a visionary, a man
with a dream book. Yet he was always exact and specific. He would say, "Go
to a certain spot at a certain hour, look in a certain direction, and such
and such beauties shall ye see." And people would go, and wag their heads,
and declare that no such prospect as Ruskin described was visible to mortal
eyes. [Footnote: For example, Ruskin gave in _Fors Clavigera_ a
description of a beautiful view from a bridge over the Ettrick, in
Scotland. Some people have sought that view in vain, and a recent critic
insists that it is invisible (Andrew Lang, _History of English
Literature_, p. 592). In Venice or Florence you may still meet travelers
with one of Ruskin's books in hand, peering about for the beauty which he
says is apparent from such and such a spot and which every traveler ought
to see.]

Naturally Ruskin, with his dogmatic temper, grew impatient of such
blindness; hence the increasing note of insistence, of scolding even, to
which critics have called attention. But we can forgive much in a writer
who, with marvelously clear vision, sought only to point out the beauty of
nature and the moral dignity of humanity.

[Sidenote: Ruskin's Style]

The beauty of Ruskin's style, its musical rhythm or cadence, its wealth of
figure and allusion, its brilliant coloring, like a landscape of his
favorite artist Turner,--all this is a source of pleasure to the reader,
entirely aside from the subject matter. Read, for example, the description
of St. Mark's Cathedral in _Stones of Venice_, or the reflected
glories of nature in _Præterita_, or the contrast between Salisbury
towers and Giotto's campanile in _Seven Lamps of Architecture_, and
see there descriptive eloquence at its best. That this superb eloquence was
devoted not to personal or party ends, but to winning men to the love of
beauty and truth and right living, is the secret of Ruskin's high place in
English letters and of his enduring influence on English life.

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The age of Victoria (1837-1901) approaches our own so
    closely that it is still difficult to form an accurate judgment of
    its history or literature. In a review of the history of the age we
    noted three factors, democracy, science, imperialism, which have
    profoundly influenced English letters from 1850 to the present

    Our study of Victorian literature includes (1) The life and works
    of the two greater poets of the age, Tennyson and Browning. (2) The
    work of Elizabeth Barrett, Matthew Arnold, Rossetti, Morris and
    Swinburne, who were selected from the two hundred representive
    poets of the period. (3) The life and the chief works of the major
    novelists, Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot. (4) A review of
    some other novelists of the age, the Brontë Sisters, Mrs. Gaskell,
    Anthony Trollope, Blackmore, Kingsley, Meredith, Hardy and
    Stevenson. (5) The typical essayists and historians, Macaulay,
    Carlyle, Ruskin, with a review of other typical groups of writers
    in the fields of religion, history and science.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections from all authors named
    in the text are found in Manly, English Poetry, English Prose;
    Pancoast, Standard English Poems, Standard English Prose; and
    several other collections, which are especially useful in a study
    of the minor writers. The works of the major authors may be read to
    much better advantage in various inexpensive editions prepared for
    school use. Only a few such editions are named below for each
    author, but a fairly complete list is given under Texts in the
    General Bibliography.

    Tennyson's selected minor poems, Idylls of the King, The Princess
    and In Memoriam, in Standard English Classics, Riverside
    Literature, Pocket Classics, Silver Classics. A good volume
    containing the best of Tennyson's poems in Athenæum Press Series.

    Browning and Mrs. Browning, selected poems in Standard English
    Classics, Lake Classics, English Readings, Belles Lettres Series.

    Matthew Arnold, selected poems in Golden Treasury Series, Maynard's
    English Classics; Sohrab and Rustum in Standard English Classics;
    prose selections in English Readings, Academy Classics.

    Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, Christmas Carol in
    Standard English Classics, Lake Classics; other novels in
    Everyman's Library.

    Thackeray, Henry Esmond in Standard English Classics, Pocket
    Classics; English Humorists in Lake Classics, English Readings;
    other works in Everyman's Library.

    George Eliot, Silas Marner, in Standard English Classics, Riverside
    Literature; Mill on the Floss and other novels in Everyman's

    Blackmore's Lorna Doone and Mrs. Gaskell's Cranford in Standard
    English Classics. Reade's Cloister and the Hearth, Kingsley's
    Westward Ho and Hypatia in Everyman's Library.

    Macaulay, selected essays in Standard English Classics, Riverside
    Literature, Lake Classics.

    Carlyle, Essay on Burns in Standard English Classics, Academy
    Classics; Heroes and Hero Worship in Athenæum Press, Pocket
    Classics; French Revolution in Everyman's Library.

    Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies and selected essays and letters in
    Standard English Classics; selections from Ruskin's art books in
    Riverside Literature; other works in Everyman's Library.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. The works named below are selected from a large list
    dealing with the Victorian age chiefly. For more extended works see
    the General Bibliography.

    _HISTORY_. McCarthy, History of Our Own Times and The Epoch of
    Reform. Oman, England in the Nineteenth Century; Lee, Queen
    Victoria; Bryce, Studies in Contemporary Biography.

    _LITERATURE_. Saintsbury, History of Nineteenth Century
    Literature; Harrison, Studies in Early Victorian Literature; Mrs.
    Oliphant, Literary History of England in the Nineteenth Century;
    Walker, The Age of Tennyson; Morley, Literature of the Age of
    Victoria; Stedman, Victorian Poets; Brownell, Victorian Prose

    _Tennyson_. Life, by Lyall (English Men of Letters Series), by
    Horton; Alfred Lord Tennyson, a Memoir by his Son. Napier, Homes
    and Haunts of Tennyson; Andrew Lang, Alfred Tennyson; Dixon, A
    Tennyson Primer; Sneath, The Mind of Tennyson; Van Dyke, The Poetry
    of Tennyson. Essays by Harrison, in Tennyson, Ruskin, Mill and
    Other Literary Estimates; by Stedman, in Victorian Poets; by
    Hutton, in Literary Essays; by Dowden, in Studies in Literature; by
    Forster, in Great Teachers; by Gates, in Studies and Appreciations.

    _Browning_. Life, by Sharp (Great Writers Series), by
    Chesterton (E. M. of L.). Alexander, Introduction to Browning (Ginn
    and Company); Corson, Introduction to the Study of Browning;
    Phelps, Browning: How to Know Him; Symonds, Introduction to the
    Study of Browning; Brooke, Poetry of Robert Browning; Harrington,
    Browning Studies. Essays by Stedman, Dowden, Hutton, Forster.

    _Dickens_. Life, by Forster, by Ward (E. M. of L.), by
    Marzials. Gissing, Charles Dickens; Chesterton, Charles Dickens;
    Kitton, Novels of Dickens. Essays by Harrison, Bagehot; A. Lang, in
    Gadshill edition of Dickens's works.

    _Thackeray_. Life, by Merivale and Marzials, by Trollope (E.
    M. of L.). Crowe, Homes and Haunts of Thackeray. Essays, by
    Brownell, in English Prose Masters; by Lilly, in Four English
    Humorists; by Harrison, in Studies in Early Victorian Literature;
    by Scudder, in Social Ideals in English Letters.

    _George Eliot_. Life, by L. Stephen (E. M. of L.), by O.
    Browning, by Cross. Cooke, George Eliot: a Critical Study of her
    Life and Writings. Essays by Brownell, Harrison, Dowden, Hutton.

    _Macaulay_. Life, by Trevelyan, by Morrison (E. M. of L.).
    Essays by L. Stephen, Bagehot, Saintsbury, Harrison, M. Arnold.

    _Carlyle_. Life, by Garnett, by Nichol (E. M. of L.), by
    Froude. Carlyle's Letters and Reminiscences, edited by Norton.
    Craig, The Making of Carlyle. Essays by Lowell, Brownell, Hutton,

    _Ruskin_. Life, by Harrison (E. M. of L.), by Collingwood.
    Ruskin's Præterita (autobiography). Mather, Ruskin, his Life and
    Teaching; Cooke, Studies in Ruskin; Waldstein, The Work of John
    Ruskin; W. M. Rossetti, Ruskin, Rossetti and Pre-Raphaelitism.
    Essays by Brownell, Saintsbury, Forster, Harrison.

       *       *       *       *       *


    Books dealing with individual authors and with special periods of
    English literature are listed in the various chapter endings of
    this history. Following are some of the best works for general
    reference, for extended study and for supplementary reading.

    _HISTORY_. A brief, trustworthy textbook of history, such as
    Cheyney's Short History of England (Ginn and Company) or Gardiner's
    Student's History (Longmans), should always be at hand in studying
    English literature. More detailed works are Traill, Social England,
    6 vols. (Putnam); Bright, History of England, 5 vols. (Longmans);
    Green, History of the English People, 4 vols. (Harper); Green,
    Short History of the English People, revised edition, 1 vol.
    (American Book Co.); latest revision of Green's Short History, with
    appendix of recent events to 1900, in Everyman's Library (Putnam);
    Kendall, Source Book of English History (Macmillan); Colby,
    Selections from the Sources of English History (Longmans); Lingard,
    History of England, to 1688, 10 vols. (a standard Catholic
    history). Mitchell, English Lands, Letters and Kings, 5 vols.
    (Scribner), a series of pleasant essays of history and literature.

    _LITERARY HISTORY_. Cambridge History of English Literature,
    to be completed in 14 vols. (Putnam), by different authors, not
    always in harmony; Channels of English Literature (Button) treats
    of epic, drama, history, essay, novel and other types, each in a
    separate volume; Jusserand, Literary History of the English People,
    to 1650, 2 vols. (Putnam), a fascinating record; Ten Brink, English
    Literature, to 1550, 3 vols. (Holt), good material, clumsy style;
    Taine, English Literature, 2 vols. (Holt), brilliant but not
    trustworthy; Handbooks of English Literature, 9 vols. (Macmillan);
    Garnett and Gosse, Illustrated History of English Literature, 4
    bulky volumes (Macmillan), good for pictures; Nicoll and Seccombe,
    History of English Literature, from Chaucer to end of Victorian
    era, 3 vols. (Dodd); Morley, English Writers, to 1650, 11 vols.
    (Cassell); Chambers, Cyclopedia of English Literature, 3 vols.

    _BIOGRAPHY_. Dictionary of National Biography, 63 vols.
    (Macmillan). English Men of Letters, a volume to each author
    (Macmillan); briefer series of the same kind are Great Writers
    (Scribner), Beacon Biographies (Houghton), Westminster Biographies
    (Small). Allibone, Dictionary of Authors, 5 vols. (Lippincott).
    Hinchman and Gummere, Lives of Great English Writers (Houghton),
    offers thirty-eight biographies in a single volume.

    _LITERARY TYPES_. Courthope, History of English Poetry, 4
    vols. (Macmillan); Gummere, Handbook of Poetics (Ginn and Company);
    Stedman, Nature and Elements of Poetry (Houghton); Saintsbury,
    History of English Prosody (Macmillan); Alden, Specimens of English
    Verse (Holt).

    Steenstrup, The Mediæval Popular Ballad, translated from the Danish
    by Edward Cox (Ginn and Company); Gummere, The Popular Ballad
    (Houghton). Ward, History of Dramatic Literature, to 1714, 3 vols.
    (Macmillan); Caffin, Appreciation of the Drama (Baker).

    Raleigh, The English Novel (Scribner); Hamilton, Materials and
    Methods of Fiction (Baker); Cross, Development of the English Novel
    (Macmillan); Perry, Study of Prose Fiction (Houghton).

    Saintsbury, History of Criticism, 3 vols. (Dodd); Gayley and Scott,
    Introduction to Methods and Materials of Literary Criticism (Ginn
    and Company); Winchester, Principles of Criticism (Macmillan);
    Worsfold, Principles of Criticism (Longmans); Moulton, Library of
    Literary Criticism, 8 vols. (Malkan).

    _ESSAYS OF LITERATURE_. Bagehot, Literary Studies; Hazlitt,
    Lectures on the English poets; Lowell, Literary Essays; Mackail,
    Springs of Helicon (English poets from Chaucer to Milton); Minto,
    Characteristics of English Poets (Chaucer to Elizabethan
    dramatists); Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism; Leslie Stephen,
    Hours in a Library; Stevenson, Familiar Studies of Men and Books;
    Birrell, Obiter Dicta; Hales, Folia Litteraria; Walter Pater,
    Appreciations; Woodberry, Makers of Literature; Dowden, Studies in
    Literature and Transcripts and Studies; Gates, Studies in
    Appreciation; Harrison, The Choice of Books; Bates, Talks on the
    Study of Literature.

    _COLLECTIONS OF POETRY AND PROSE_. Manly, English Poetry,
    English Prose, 2 vols., containing selections from all important
    English authors (Ginn and Company); Newcomer and Andrews, Twelve
    Centuries of English Poetry and Prose (Scott); Century Readings in
    English Literature (Century Co.); Pancoast, Standard English
    Poetry, Standard English Prose, 2 vols. (Holt); Leading English
    Poets from Chaucer to Browning (Houghton); Oxford Book of English
    Verse. Oxford Treasury of English Literature, 3 vols. (Clarendon
    Press); Ward, English Poets, 4 vols., and Craik, English Prose
    Selections, 5 vols. (Macmillan); Morley, Library of English
    Literature, 5 vols. (Cassell).

    _LANGUAGE_. Lounsbury, History of the English Language (Holt);
    Emerson, Brief History of the English Language (Macmillan); Welsh,
    Development of English Language and Literature (Scott); Bradley,
    Making of English (Macmillan); Greenough and Kittredge, Words and
    their Ways in English Speech (Macmillan); Anderson, Study of
    English Words (American Book Co.).

    _MISCELLANEOUS_. Classic Myths in English Literature (Ginn and
    Company); Ryland, Chronological Outlines of English Literature,
    names and dates only (Macmillan); Raleigh, Style (Longmans);
    Brewer, Reader's Handbook (Lippincott); Hutton, Literary Landmarks
    of London (Harper); Boynton, London in English Literature
    (University of Chicago Press); Dalbiac, Dictionary of English
    Quotations (Macmillan); Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (Little);
    Walsh, International Encyclopedia of Quotations (Winston).

    _SCHOOL TEXTS_. [Footnote: The chief works of English and
    American literature are now widely published in inexpensive
    editions prepared especially for classroom use. Descriptive
    catalogues of these handy little editions are issued by the various
    educational publishers.] Standard English Classics and Athenæum
    Press Series (Ginn and Company); Riverside Literature (Houghton);
    Pocket Classics, Golden Treasury Series (Macmillan); Lake Classics
    (Scott); Silver Classics (Silver); Longmans' English Classics
    (Longmans); English Readings (Holt); Maynard's English Classics
    (Merrill); Caxton Classics (Scribner); Belles Lettres Series
    (Heath); King's Classics (Luce); Canterbury Classics (Rand);
    Academy Classics (Allyn); Cambridge Literature (Sanborn); Student's
    Series (Sibley); Camelot Series (Simmons); Carisbrooke Library
    (Routledge); World's Classics (Clarendon Press); Lakeside Classics
    (Ainsworth); Standard Literature (University Publishing Company);
    Eclectic English Classics (American Book Co.); Cassell's National
    Library (Cassell); Everyman's Library (Button); Morley's Universal
    Library (Routledge); Bohn Library (Macmillan); Little Masterpieces
    (Doubleday); Handy Volume Classics (Crowell); Arthurian Romances
    (Nutt); New Mediæval Library (Duffield); Arber's English Reprints
    (Macmillan); Mermaid Dramatists (Scribner); Temple Dramatists
    (Macmillan); Home and School Library, a series of texts prepared
    for young readers (Ginn and Company).

       *        *       *       *       *




  'Twas glory once to be a Roman:
  She makes it glory now to be a man.

             Bayard Taylor, "America"

We have this double interest in early American literature, that it is our
own and unlike any other. The literatures of Europe began with wonder tales
of a golden age, with stories of fairy ships, of kings akin to gods, of
heroes who ventured into enchanted regions and there waged battle with
dragons or the powers of darkness. American literature began with
historical records, with letters of love and friendship, with diaries or
journals of exploration, with elegiac poems lamenting the death of beloved
leaders or hearth companions,--in a word, with the chronicles of human
experience. In this respect, of recording the facts and the truth of life
as men and women fronted life bravely in the New World, our early
literature differs radically from that of any other great nation: it brings
us face to face not with myths or shadows but with our ancestors.

TWO VIEWS OF THE PIONEERS. It has become almost a habit among historians to
disparage early American literature, and nearly all our textbooks apologize
for it on the ground that the forefathers had no artistic feeling, their
souls being oppressed by the gloom and rigor of Puritanism.

Even as we read this apology our eyes rest contentedly upon a beautiful old
piece of Colonial furniture, fashioned most artistically by the very men
who are pitied for their want of art. We remember also that the Puritans
furnished only one of several strong elements in early American life, and
that wherever the Puritan influence was strongest there books and literary
culture did most abound: their private libraries, for example, make our own
appear rather small and trashy by comparison. [Footnote: When Plymouth
consisted of a score of cabins and a meetinghouse it had at least two
excellent libraries. Bradford had over three hundred books, and Brewster
four hundred, consisting of works of poetry, philosophy, science, devotion,
and miscellanies covering the entire field of human knowledge. In view of
the scarcity of books in 1620, one of these collections, which were common
in all the New England settlements, was equivalent to a modern library of
thirty or forty thousand volumes.] Cotton Mather, disciplined in the
strictest of Puritan homes, wrote his poems in Greek, conducted a large
foreign correspondence in Latin, read enormously, published four hundred
works, and in thousands of citations proved himself intimate with the
world's books of poetry and history, science and religion. That the leaders
of the colonies, south and north, were masters of an excellent prose style
is evident from their own records; that their style was influenced by their
familiarity with the best literature appears in many ways,--in the immense
collection of books in Byrd's mansion in Virginia, for instance, or in the
abundant quotations that are found in nearly all Colonial writings. Before
entering college (and there was never another land with so few people and
so many colleges as Colonial America) boys of fourteen passed a classical
examination which few graduates would now care to face; and the men of our
early legislatures produced state papers which for force of reasoning and
lucidity of expression have never been surpassed.


Again, our whole conception of American art may be modified by these
considerations: that it requires more genius to build a free state than to
make a sonnet, and the Colonists were mighty state-builders; that a ship is
a beautiful object, and American ships with their graceful lines and
towering clouds of canvas were once famous the world over; that
architecture is a noble art, and Colonial architecture still charms us by
its beauty and utility after three hundred years of experimental building.
"Art" is a great word, and we use it too narrowly when we apply it to an
ode of Shelley or a mutilated statue of Praxiteles, but are silent before a
Colonial church or a free commonwealth or the Constitution of the United


Instead of an apology for our early literature, therefore, we offer this
possible explanation: that our forefathers, who set their faces to one of
the most heroic tasks ever undertaken by man, were too busy with great
deeds inspired by the ideal of liberty to find leisure for the epic or
drama in which the deeds and the ideal should be worthily reflected. They
left that work of commemoration to others, and they are still waiting
patiently for their poet. Meanwhile we read the straightforward record
which they left as their only literary memorial, not as we read the
imaginative story of Beowulf or Ulysses, but for the clear light of truth
which it sheds upon the fathers and mothers of a great nation.

       *       *       *       *       *


The Colonial period extends from the first English settlement at Jamestown
to the Stamp Act and other measures of "taxation without representation"
which tended to unite the colonies and arouse the sleeping spirit of
nationality. During this century and a half the Elizabethan dramatists
produced their best work; Milton, Bunyan, Dryden and a score of lesser
writers were adding to the wealth of English literature; but not a single
noteworthy volume crossed the Atlantic to reflect in Europe the lyric of
the wilderness, the drama of the commonwealth, the epic of democracy. Such
books as were written here dealt largely with matters of religion,
government and exploration; and we shall hardly read these books with
sympathy, and therefore with understanding, unless we remember two facts:
that the Colonists, grown weary of ancient tyranny, were determined to
write a new page in the world's history; and that they reverently believed
God had called them to make that new page record the triumph of freedom and
manhood. Hence the historical impulse and the moral or religious bent of
nearly all our early writers.


ANNALISTS AND HISTORIANS. Of the fifty or more annalists of the period we
select two as typical of the rest. The first is William Bradford
(_cir_. 1590-1657), a noble and learned man, at one time governor of
the Plymouth Colony. In collaboration with Winslow he wrote a Journal of
the _Mayflower's_ voyage (long known as _Mourt's Relation_), and
he continued this work independently by writing _Of Plimouth
Plantation_, a ruggedly sincere history of the trials and triumph of the
Pilgrim Fathers. The second annalist is William Byrd (1674-1744), who, a
century after Bradford, wrote his _History of the Dividing Line_ and
two other breezy Journals that depict with equal ease and gayety the
southern society of the early days and the march or campfire scenes of an
exploring party in the wilderness.

[Illustration: WILLIAM BYRD]

These two writers unconsciously reflected two distinct influences in
Colonial literature, which are epitomized in the words "Puritan" and
"Cavalier." Bradford, though a Pilgrim (not a Puritan), was profoundly
influenced by the puritanic spirit of his age, with its militant
independence, its zeal for liberty and righteousness, its confidence in the
divine guidance of human affairs. When he wrote his history, therefore, he
was in the mood of one to whom the Lord had said, as to Abraham, "Get thee
out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house; and
I will make of thee a great nation." Byrd, though born and bred in
democratic Virginia, had in him something of the aristocrat. He reminds us
of the gay Cavaliers who left England to escape the stern discipline of
Cromwell and the triumphant Puritans. When he looked forth upon his goodly
plantation, or upon the wilderness with its teeming game, he saw them not
with the eyes of prophet or evangelist, but as one who remembered that it
was written, "And God saw everything that he had made; and behold it was
very good." So he wrote his Journal in an entertaining way, making the best
of misfortune, cracking a joke at difficulty or danger, and was well
content to reflect this pleasant world without taking it upon his
conscience to criticize or reform it.

The same two types of Cavalier and Puritan appear constantly in our own and
other literatures as representative of two world-views, two philosophies.
Chaucer and Langland were early examples in English poetry, the one with
his _Canterbury Tales_, the other with his _Piers Plowman_; and
ever since then the same two classes of writers have been reflecting the
same life from two different angles. They are not English or American but
human types; they appear in every age and in every free nation.

COLONIAL POETRY. There were several recognized poets in Colonial days, and
even the annalists and theologians had a rhyming fancy which often broke
loose from the bounds of prose. The quantity of Colonial verse is therefore
respectable, but the quality of it suffered from two causes: first, the
writers overlooked the feeling of their own hearts (the true source of
lyric poetry) and wrote of Indian wars, theology and other unpoetic
matters; second, they wrote poetry not for its own sake but to teach moral
or religious lessons. [Footnote: The above criticism applies only to poetry
written in English for ordinary readers. At that time many college men
wrote poetry in Greek and Latin, and the quality of it compares favorably
with similar poetry written in England during the same period. Several
specimens of this "scholars' poetry" are preserved in Mather's
_Magnalia_; and there is one remarkable poem, in Greek, which was
written in Harvard College by an Indian (one of Eliot's "boys") who a few
years earlier had been a whooping savage.] Thus, the most widely read poem
of the period was _The Day of Doom_, which aimed frankly to recall
sinners from their evil ways by holding before their eyes the terrors of
the last judgment. It was written by Michael Wigglesworth in 1662. This
man, who lived a heroic but melancholy life, had a vein of true poetry in
him, as when he wrote his "Dear New England, Dearest Land to Me," and from
his bed of suffering sent out the call to his people:

  Cheer on, brave souls, my heart is with you all.

But he was too much absorbed in stern theological dogmas to find the beauty
of life or the gold of poesie; and his masterpiece, once prized by an
immense circle of readers, seems now a grotesque affair, which might appear
even horrible were it not rendered harmless by its jigging, Yankee-Doodle

The most extravagantly praised versifier of the age, and the first to win a
reputation in England as well as in America, was Anne Bradstreet
(1612-1672), who wrote a book of poems that a London publisher proudly
issued under the title of _The Tenth Muse_ (1650). The best of
Colonial poets was Thomas Godfrey of Philadelphia (1736-1763), whose
_Juvenile Poems, with the Prince of Parthia, a Tragedy_ contained a
few lyrics, odes and pastorals that were different in form and spirit from
anything hitherto attempted on this side of the Atlantic. This slender
volume was published in 1765, soon after Godfrey's untimely death. With its
evident love of beauty and its carefulness of poetic form, it marks the
beginning here of artistic literature; that is, literature which was
written to please readers rather than to teach history or moral lessons.

NATURE AND HUMAN NATURE. In the literature of the world the two subjects of
abiding poetic interest are nature and human nature; but as these subjects
appear in Colonial records they are uniformly prosaic, and the reason is
very simple. Before nature can be the theme of poets she must assume her
winsome mood, must "soothe and heal and bless" the human heart after the
clamor of politics, the weariness of trade, the cruel strife of society. To
read Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" or Bryant's "To a Waterfowl" is to
understand the above criticism. But the nature which the Colonists first
looked upon seemed wild and strange and often terrible. Their somber
forests were vast, mysterious, forbidding; and they knew not what perils
lurked in them or beyond them. The new climate might give them sunshine or
healing rain, but was quite as likely to strike their houses with
thunderbolts or harrow their harvests with a cyclone. Meanwhile marauding
crows pulled up their precious corn; fierce owls with tufted heads preyed
upon their poultry; bears and eagles harried their flocks; the winter wail
of the wolf pack or the scream of a hungry panther, sounding through icy,
echoless woods, made them shiver in their cabins and draw nearer the
blazing fire of pine knots on the hearth.

[Illustration: NEW AMSTERDAM (NEW YORK) IN 1663]

We can understand, therefore, why there was little poetry of nature in
Colonial literature, and why, instead of sonnets to moonbeams or
nightingales, we meet quaint and fascinating studies of natural or
unnatural history. Such are Josselyn's _New England's Rarities
Discovered_ and the first part of William Wood's _New England's
Prospect_; and such are many chapters of Byrd's _Dividing Line_ and
other annals that deal with plant or animal life,--books that we now read
with pleasure, since the nature that was once wild and strange has become
in our eyes familiar and dear.

As for the second subject of poetic interest, human nature, the Colonists
had as much of that as any other people; but human nature as it revealed
itself in religious controversy, or became a burden in the immigrants that
were unloaded on our shores for the relief of Europe or the enrichment of
the early transportation companies, as Bradford and Beverley both tell
us,--this furnished a vital subject not for poetry but for prose and

[Sidenote: THE INDIANS]

The Indians especially, "the wild men" as they were called, slipping out of
the shadows or vanishing into mysterious distances, were a source of
anxiety and endless speculation to the early settlers. European writers
like Rousseau, who had never seen an Indian or heard a war-whoop, had been
industrious in idealizing the savages, attributing to them all manner of
noble virtues; and the sentimental attitude of these foreign writers was
reflected here, after the eastern Indians had well-nigh vanished, in such
stories as Mrs. Morton's _Quabi, or The Virtues of Nature_, a romance
in verse which was published in 1790. In the same romantic strain are
Cooper's _Last of the Mohicans_, Helen Hunt's _Ramona_ and some
of the early poems of Freneau and Whittier.

The Colonists, on the other hand, had no poetic illusions about the
savages. Their enjoyment of this phase of human nature was hardly possible
so long as they had to proceed warily on a forest trail, their eyes keen
for the first glimpse of a hideously painted face, their ears alert for the
twang of a bowstring or the hiss of a feathered arrow. Their deep but
practical interest in the Indians found expression in scores of books,
which fall roughly into three groups. In the first are the scholarly works
of the heroic John Eliot, "the apostle to the Indians"; of Daniel Gookin
also, and of a few others who made careful studies of the language and
customs of the various Indian tribes. In the second group are the startling
experiences of men and women who were carried away by the savages, leaving
slaughtered children and burning homes behind them. Such are Mary
Rowlandson's _The Sovereignty and Goodness of God_ and John Williams's
_The Redeemed Captive_, both famous in their day, and still of lively
interest. In the third group are the fighting stories, such as John Mason's
_History of the Pequot War_. The adventures and hairbreadth escapes
recorded as sober facts in these narratives were an excellent substitute
for fiction during the Colonial period. Moreover, they furnished a motive
and method for the Indian tales and Wild West stories which have since
appeared as the sands of the sea for multitude.

RELIGIOUS WRITERS. A very large part of our early writings is devoted to
religious subjects, and for an excellent reason; namely, that large numbers
of the Colonists came to America to escape religious strife or persecution
at home. In the New World they sought religious peace as well as freedom of
worship, and were determined to secure it not only for themselves but for
their children's children. Hence in nearly all their writings the religious
motive was uppermost. Hardly were they settled here, however, when they
were rudely disturbed by agitators who fomented discord by preaching each
his own pet doctrine or heresy. Presently arose a score of controversial
writers; and then Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams and the early Quakers
were disciplined or banished, not because of their faith (for the fact is
that all the colonies contained men of widely different beliefs who lived
peaceably together), but because these unbalanced reformers were
obstinately bent upon stirring up strife in a community which had crossed
three thousand miles of ocean in search of peace.

Of the theological writers we again select two, not because they were
typical,--for it is hard to determine who, among the hundred writers that
fronted the burning question of religious tolerance, were representative of
their age,--but simply because they towered head and shoulders above their
contemporaries. These are Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards; the one the
most busy man of his age in politics, religion, education and all
philanthropic endeavor; the other a profound thinker, who was in the world
but not of it, and who devoted the great powers of his mind to such
problems as the freedom of the human will and the origin of the religious
impulse in humanity.

[Illustration: COTTON MATHER]


Cotton Mather (1663-1728) is commonly known by his _Wonders of the
Invisible World_, which dealt with the matter of demons and witchcraft;
but that is one of the least of his four hundred works, and it has given a
wrong impression of the author and of the age in which he lived. His chief
work is the _Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of
New England_ (1702), which is a strange jumble of patriotism and
pedantry, of wisdom and foolishness, written in the fantastic style of
Robert Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_. The most interesting and
valuable parts of this chaotic work are the second and third books, which
give us the life stories of Bradford, Winthrop, Eliot, Phipps and many
other heroic worthies who helped mightily in laying the foundation of the
American republic.

[Illustration: JONATHAN EDWARDS]

The most famous works of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) are the so-called
_Freedom of the Will_ and the _Treatise Concerning the Religious
Affections_; but these are hard reading, not to be lightly undertaken.
It is from the author's minor and neglected works that one receives the
impression that he was a very great and noble man, shackled by a terrible
theology. By his scholarship, his rare sincerity, his love of truth, his
original mind and his transparent style of writing he exercised probably a
greater influence at home and abroad than any other writer of the colonial
era. In Whittier's poem "The Preacher" there is a tribute to the tender
humanity of Edwards, following this picture of his stern thinking:

  In the church of the wilderness Edwards wrought,
  Shaping his creed at the forge of thought;
  And with Thor's own hammer welded and bent
  The iron links of his argument,
  Which strove to grasp in its mighty span
  The purpose of God and the fate of man.

       *       *       *       *       *


The literary period included in the above term is, in general, the latter
half of the eighteenth century; more particularly it extends from the Stamp
Act (1765), which united the colonies in opposition to Britain's policy of
taxation, to the adoption of the Constitution (1787) and the inauguration
of Washington as first president of the new nation.


The writings of this stormy period reflect the temper of two very different
classes who were engaged in constant literary Party warfare. In the tense
years which preceded the Literature Revolution the American people
separated into two hostile parties: the Tories, or Loyalists, who supported
the mother country; and the Whigs, or Patriots, who insisted on the right
of the colonies to manage their own affairs, and who furnished the armies
that followed Washington in the War of Independence. Then, when America had
won a place among the free nations of the world, her people were again
divided on the question of the Constitution. On the one side were the
Federalists, who aimed at union in the strictest sense; that is, at a
strongly centralized government with immense powers over all its parts. On
the other side were the Anti-Federalists, or Antis, who distrusted the
monarchical tendency of every centralized government since time began, and
who aimed to safeguard democracy by leaving the governing power as largely
as possible in the hands of the several states. It is necessary to have
these distinctions clearly in mind in reading Revolutionary literature, for
a very large part of its prose and poetry reflects the antagonistic aims or
ideals of two parties which stood in constant and most bitter opposition.

In general, the literature of the Revolution is dominated by political and
practical interests; it deals frankly with this present world, aims to find
the best way through its difficulties, and so appears in marked contrast
with the theological bent and pervasive "other worldliness" of Colonial

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. Standing between the two eras, and marking the
transition from spiritual to practical interests, is Benjamin Franklin
(1706-1790), a "self-made" man, who seems well content with his handiwork.
During the latter part of his life and for a century after his death he was
held up to young Americans as a striking example of practical wisdom and
worldly success.


The narrative of Franklin's patriotic service belongs to political rather
than to literary history; for though his pen was busy for almost seventy
years, during which time he produced an immense amount of writing, his end
was always very practical rather than aesthetic; that is, he aimed to
instruct rather than to please his readers. Only one of his works is now
widely known, the incomplete _Autobiography_, which is in the form of
a letter telling a straightforward story of Franklin's early life, of the
disadvantages under which he labored and the industry by which he overcame
them. For some reason the book has become a "classic" in our literature,
and young Americans are urged to read it; though they often show an
independent taste by regarding it askance. As an example of what may be
accomplished by perseverance, and as a stimulus to industry in the prosaic
matter of getting a living, it doubtless has its value; but one will learn
nothing of love or courtesy or reverence or loyalty to high ideals by
reading it; neither will one find in its self-satisfied pages any
conception of the moral dignity of humanity or of the infinite value of the
human soul. The chief trouble with the _Autobiography_ and most other
works of Franklin is that in them mind and matter, character and
reputation, virtue and prosperity, are for the most part hopelessly

On the other hand, there is a sincerity, a plain directness of style in the
writings of Franklin which makes them pleasantly readable. Unlike some
other apostles of "common sense" he is always courteous and of a friendly
spirit; he seems to respect the reader as well as himself and, even in his
argumentative or humorous passages, is almost invariably dignified in

[Illustration: FRANKLIN'S SHOP]

Other works of Franklin which were once popular are the maxims of his
_Poor Richard's Almanac_, which appeared annually from 1732 to 1757.
These maxims--such as "Light purse, heavy heart," "Diligence is the mother
of good luck," "He who waits upon Fortune is never sure of a dinner," "God
helps them who help themselves," "Honesty is the best policy," and many
others in a similar vein--were widely copied in Colonial and European
publications; and to this day they give to Americans abroad a reputation
for "Yankee" shrewdness. The best of them were finally strung together in
the form of a discourse (the alleged speech of an old man at an auction,
where people were complaining of the taxes), which under various titles,
such as "The Way to Wealth" and "Father Abraham's Speech," has been
translated into every civilized language. Following is a brief selection
from which one may judge the spirit of the entire address:

    "It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people
    one tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but
    idleness taxes many of us much more; sloth, by bringing on
    diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes
    faster than labor wears, while 'The used key is always bright,' as
    Poor Richard says. 'But dost thou love life? Then do not squander
    time, for that is the stuff life is made of,' as Poor Richard says.
    How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep, forgetting
    that the sleeping fox catches no poultry, and that there will be
    sleeping enough in the grave, as Poor Richard says. If time be of
    all things the most precious, wasting time must be, as Poor Richard
    says, the greatest prodigality; since, as he elsewhere tells us,
    'Lost time is never found again,' and what we call time enough
    always proves little enough. Let us, then, be up and be doing, and
    doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more with less
    perplexity. 'Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry, all
    easy'; and, 'He that riseth late must trot all day and shall scarce
    overtake his business at night'; while 'Laziness travels so slowly
    that Poverty soon overtakes him.' 'Drive thy business, let not that
    drive thee'; and, 'Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man
    healthy, wealthy and wise,' as Poor Richard says."

REVOLUTIONARY POETRY. The poetry of the Revolution, an abundant but weedy
crop, was badly influenced by two factors: by the political strife between
Patriots and Loyalists, and by the slavish imitation of Pope and other
formalists who were then the models for nearly all versifiers on both sides
of the Atlantic. The former influence appears in numerous ballads or
narrative poems, which were as popular in the days of Washington as ever
they were in the time of Robin Hood. Every important event of the
Revolution was promptly celebrated in verse; but as the country was then
sharply divided, almost every ballad had a Whig or a Tory twist to it. In
consequence we must read two different collections, such as Moore's
_Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution_ and Sargent's
_Loyalist Poetry of the Revolution_, for supplementary views of the
same great struggle.


The influence of Pope and his school is especially noticeable in the work
of a group of men called the Hartford Wits, who at the beginning of our
national life had the worthy ambition to create a national literature.
Prominent among these so-called wits were Joel Barlow (1754-1812) and
Timothy Dwight (1752-1817). In such ponderous works as Barlow's
_Columbiad_ and Dwight's _Conquest of Canaan_, both written in
mechanical rhymed couplets, we have a reflection not of the glories of
American history, as the authors intended, but of two aspiring men who,
without genius or humor, hoped by industry to produce poems that in size at
least should be worthy of a country that stretched between two oceans.

More gifted than either of his fellow "wits" was John Trumbull (1750-1831),
who had the instinct of a poet but who was led aside by the strife of Whigs
and Tories into the barren field of political satire. His best-known work
is _M'Fingal_ (1775), a burlesque poem in the doggerel style of
Butler's _Hudibras_, which ridiculed a Tory squire and described his
barbarous punishment at the hands of a riotous mob of Whigs. It was the
most widely quoted poem of the entire Revolutionary period, and is still
interesting as an example of rough humor and as a reflection of the
militant age in which it was produced.

[Sidenote: FRENEAU]

By far the best poet of the Revolution was Philip Freneau (1752-1832). In
his early years he took Milton instead of Pope for his poetic master; then,
as his independence increased, he sought the ancient source of all poetry
in the feeling of the human heart in presence of nature or human nature. In
such poems as "The House of Night," "Indian Burying Ground," "Wild
Honeysuckle," "Eutaw Springs," "Ruins of a Country Inn" and a few others in
which he speaks from his own heart, he anticipated the work of Wordsworth,
Coleridge and other leaders of what is now commonly known as the romantic
revival in English poetry.

When the Revolution drew on apace Freneau abandoned his poetic dream and
exercised a ferocious talent for satiric verse in lashing English generals,
native Tories, royal proclamations and other matters far removed from
poetry. In later years he wrote much prose also, and being a radical and
outspoken democrat he became a thorn in the side of Washington and the
Federal party. The bulk of his work, both prose and verse, is a red-peppery
kind of commentary on the political history of the age in which he lived.

[Illustration: PHILIP FRENEAU]

ORATORS AND STATESMEN. For a full century, or from the Stamp Act to the
Civil War, oratory was a potent influence in molding our national life; and
unlike other influences, which grow by slow degrees, it sprang into
vigorous life in the period of intense agitation that preceded the
Revolution. Never before or since has the power of the spoken word been
more manifest than during the years when questions of state were debated,
not by kings or counselors behind closed doors, but by representative men
in open assembly, by farmers and artisans in town halls fronting a village
green, by scholarly ministers in the pulpits of churches whose white
steeples with their golden vanes spoke silently, ceaselessly, of God and
Freedom as the two motives which had inspired the fathers to brave the
perils of a savage wilderness.

Among the most famous addresses of the age were the speech of James Otis in
the town hall at Boston (1761) and the "Liberty or Death" speech of Patrick
Henry to the Virginia burgesses assembled in St. John's church in Richmond
(1775). To compare these stirring appeals to patriotism with the
parliamentary addresses of a brilliant contemporary, Edmund Burke, is to
note a striking difference between English and American oratory of the
period, the one charming the ear by its eloquence, the other rousing the
will to action like a bugle call.

[Illustration: THOMAS JEFFERSON]

The statesmen of the Revolution, that glorious band whom Washington led,
were also voluminous writers and masters of a clear, forceful style; but it
would probably surprise them now to find themselves included in a history
of literature. In truth, they hardly belong there; for they wrote not with
any artistic impulse to create a work of beauty that should please their
readers; their practical aim was to inculcate sound political principles or
to move their readers to the right action. If we contrast them with certain
of their British contemporaries, with Goldsmith and Burns for example, the
truth of the above criticism will be evident. Nevertheless, these statesmen
produced a body of so-called citizen literature, devoted to the principles
and duties of free government, which has never been rivaled in its own
field and which is quite as remarkable in its own way as the nature poetry
of Bryant or the romances of Cooper or any other purely literary work
produced in America.


HAMILTON AND JEFFERSON. These two statesmen, who became bitter antagonists
during the struggle over the Constitution, may be selected as typical of
all the rest. The story of their splendid services in the cause of liberty
cannot be told here; such men belong to history rather than to literature;
but we may at least note that they deserve more careful and unprejudiced
study than rival political parties have thus far given them. Their work has
a broad human interest which extends far beyond the borders of America,
since they stand for two radically different conceptions of life, one
aristocratic, the other democratic, which appear in every age and explain
the political and social divisions among free peoples. Hamilton (the
Federalist) denied the right and the ability of common men to govern
themselves; he was the champion of aristocracy, of class privilege, of
centralized power in the hands of the few whom he deemed worthy by birth or
talent to govern a nation. The most significant trait of Jefferson (the
Anti-Federalist) was his lifelong devotion to democracy. He believed in
common men, in their ability to choose the right and their purpose to
follow it, and he mightily opposed every tendency to aristocracy or class
privilege in America. In the struggle over the Constitution he was fearful
that the United States government would become monarchical if given too
much authority, and aimed to safeguard democracy by leaving the governing
power as largely as possible in the hands of the several states. To readers
who are not politicians the most interesting thing concerning these two
leaders is that Hamilton, the champion of aristocracy, was obscurely born
and appeared here as a stranger to make his own way by his own efforts;
while Jefferson, the uncompromising democrat, came from an excellent
Virginia family and was familiar from his youth with aristocratic society.

The westward front]


The best-known work of Hamilton (to which Madison and Jay contributed
liberally) is _The Federalist_ (1787). This is a remarkable series of
essays supporting the Constitution and illuminating the principles of union
and federation. The one work of Jefferson which will make his name
remembered to all ages is the _Declaration of Independence_. Besides
this document, which is less a state paper than a prose chant of freedom,
he wrote a multitude of works, a part of which are now collected in ten
large volumes. These are known only to historians; but the casual reader
will find many things of interest in Jefferson's _Letters_, in his
_Autobiography_ and in his _Summary View of the Rights of
America_ (1774). The last-named work gave Burke some information and
inspiration for his famous oration "On Conciliation with America" and was a
potent influence in uniting the colonies in their struggle for

MISCELLANEOUS WORKS. In the miscellaneous works of the period may be found
more pleasurable reading than in the portly volumes that contain the epics
of the Hartford Wits or the arguments of Revolutionary statesmen. As a type
of the forceful political pamphlet, a weapon widely used in England and
America in the eighteenth century, there is nothing equal to Thomas Paine's
_Common Sense_ (1776) and _The Crisis_ (1776-1783). The former
hastened on the Declaration of Independence; the latter cheered the young
Patriots in their struggle to make that Declaration valid in the sight of
all nations. Jonathan Carver's _Travels through the Interior Parts of
North America_ (1778) is an excellent outdoor book dealing with
picturesque incidents of exploration in unknown wilds. The letters of
Abigail Adams, Eliza Wilkinson and Dolly Madison portray quiet scenes of
domestic life and something of the brave, helpful spirit of the mothers of
the Revolution. Crèvecoeur's _Letters from an American Farmer_ (1782)
draws charming, almost idyllic, pictures of American life during the
Revolutionary period, and incidentally calls attention to the "melting
pot," in which people of various races are here fused into a common stock.
This mongrel, melting-pot idea (a crazy notion) is supposed to be modern,
and has lately occasioned some flighty dramas and novels; but that it is as
old as unrestricted immigration appears plainly in one of Crèvecoeur's
fanciful sketches:

    "What then is the American, this new man? He is either a European
    or a descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood,
    which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a
    family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch,
    whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have
    now four wives of different nations. _He_ is an American who,
    leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives
    new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new
    government he obeys, the new rank he holds. He becomes an American
    by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater.

    "Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men
    whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the
    world. Americans are the western pilgrims, who are carrying along
    with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour and industry
    which began long since in the East; they will finish the great
    circle. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here
    they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population
    which has ever appeared, and which hereafter will become distinct
    by the power of the different climate they inhabit. The American is
    a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore
    entertain new ideas and form new opinions. From involuntary
    idleness, servile dependence, penury and useless labour he has
    passed to toils of a very different nature, rewarded by ample
    subsistence. This is an American."

Finally, there is the _Journal of John Woolman_ (1774), written by a
gentle member of the society of Friends, which records a spiritual rather
than a worldly experience, and which in contrast with the general tumult of
Revolutionary literature is as a thrush song in the woods at twilight. It
is a book for those who can appreciate its charm of simplicity and
sincerity; but the few who know it are inclined to prize it far above the
similar work of Franklin, and to unite with Channing in calling it "the
sweetest and purest autobiography in the English language."

BEGINNING OF AMERICAN FICTION. Those who imagine that American fiction
began with Irving or Cooper or Poe, as is sometimes alleged, will be
interested to learn of Susanna Rowson (daughter of an English father and an
American mother), whose later stories, at least, belong to our literature.
In 1790 she published _Charlotte Temple_, a romance that was immensely
popular in its own day and that has proved far more enduring than any
modern "best seller." During the next century the book ran through more
than one hundred editions, the last appearing in 1905; and from first to
last it has had probably more readers than any novel of Scott or Cooper or
Dickens. The reception of this work indicates the widespread interest in
fiction here in the late eighteenth century. Moreover, as there were then
two types of fiction in England, the sentimentalism of Richardson and the
realism of Fielding, so in America the gushing romances of Mrs. Rowson were
opposed by the _Female Quixotism_ and other alleged realistic stories
of Tabitha Tenney. Both schools of fiction had here their authors and their
multitudinous readers while Irving and Cooper were learning their alphabet
and Poe was yet unborn.


Into the crude but hopeful beginnings of American fiction we shall not
enter, for the simple reason that our earliest romances are hardly worth
the time or patience of any but historical students. At the close of the
Revolutionary period, however, appeared a writer whom we may call with some
justice the first American novelist. This was Charles Brockden Brown
(1771-1810), who is worthy to be remembered on three counts: he was the
first in this country to follow literature as a profession; he chose
American rather than foreign heroes, and pictured them against an American
background; and finally, his use of horrible or grotesque incidents was
copied by Poe, his Indian adventures suggested a fruitful theme to Cooper,
and his minute analysis of motives and emotions was carried out in a more
artistic way by Hawthorne. Hence we may find in Brown's neglected works
something of the material and the method of our three greatest writers of


The six romances of Brown are all dominated by the motive of horror, and
are modeled on the so-called Gothic novel with its sentimental heroine, its
diabolical villain, its ghastly mystery, its passages of prolonged agony.
If we ask why an American writer should choose this bizarre type, the
answer is that agonizing stories were precisely what readers then wanted,
and Brown depended upon his stories for his daily bread. At the present
time a different kind of fiction is momentarily popular; yet if we begin
one of Brown's bloodcurdling romances, the chances are that we shall finish
it, since it appeals to that strange interest in morbid themes which leads
so many to read Poe or some other purveyor of horrors and mysteries.
_Wieland_ (1798) is commonly regarded as the best of Brown's works,
but is too grotesque and horrible to be recommended. _Edgar Huntley_
(1801), with its Indian adventures depicted against a background of wild
nature, is a little more wholesome, and may serve very well as a type of
the romances that interested readers a century or more ago.

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The Colonial period covers the century and a half from the
    settlement of Jamestown, in 1607, to the Stamp Act of 1765. The
    literature of this early age shows two general characteristics, one
    historical, the other theological. The Colonists believed that they
    were chosen by God to establish a new nation of freemen; hence
    their tendency to write annals and to preserve every document that
    might be of use to the future republic. Moreover, they were for the
    most part religious men and women; they aimed to give their
    children sound education and godly character; hence their
    insistence on schools and universities (seven colleges were quickly
    founded in the wilderness) for the training of leaders of the
    people; hence also the religious note which sounds through nearly
    all their writing.

    In our review of the Colonial period we noted four classes of
    writers: (i) The annalists and historians, of whom Bradford and
    Byrd were selected as typical of two classes of writers who appear
    constantly in our own and other literatures. (2) The poets, of whom
    Wigglesworth, Anne Bradstreet and Godfrey are the most notable. (3)
    A few characteristic books dealing with nature and the Indians,
    which served readers of those days in the place of fiction. (4)
    Theological writers, among whom Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards
    are the most conspicuous.

    The Revolutionary period extends from 1765 to the close of the
    century. A large part of the literature of this period deals, in
    the early years, with the strife of Loyalists and Patriots or, in
    the later years, with the word wars of Federalists and
    Anti-Federalists. These are the political parties into which
    America was divided by the Revolution and by the question of the
    Constitution. In general, Revolutionary writing has a practical
    bent in marked contrast with the theological spirit of Colonial

    Our study of Revolutionary literature includes: (1) Benjamin
    Franklin who marks the transition from Colonial to Revolutionary
    times, from spiritual to worldly interests. (2) Revolutionary
    poetry, with its numerous ballads and political satires; the effort
    of the Hartford Wits to establish a national literature; and the
    work of Philip Freneau, who was a romantic poet at heart, but who
    was led aside by the strife of the age into political and satiric
    writing. (3) Orators and statesmen, of whom Otis and Henry,
    Hamilton and Jefferson were selected as typical. (4) Miscellaneous
    writers such as Paine, Crevecoeur, Carver, Abigail Adams and John
    Woolman who reflected the life of the times from various angles.
    (5) Charles Brockden Brown, and the beginning of American fiction.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections in Cairns, Selections
    from Early American Writers; Trent and Wells, Colonial Prose and
    Poetry; Stedman and Hutchinson, Library of American Literature, and
    other anthologies (see "Selections" in the General Bibliography). A
    convenient volume containing a few selections from every important
    American author is Calhoun and MacAlarney, Readings from American
    Literature (Ginn and Company).

    Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation and John Smith's Settlement of
    Virginia, in Maynard's Historical Readings. Chronicles of the
    Pilgrims, in Everyman's Library. Various records of early American
    history and literature, in Old South Leaflets (Old South Meeting
    House, Boston). Franklin's Autobiography, in Standard English
    Classics, Holt's English Readings and several other school editions
    (see "Texts" in General Bibliography). Poor Richard's Almanac, in
    Riverside Literature. The Federalist and Letters from an American
    Farmer, in Everyman's Library. Woolman's Journal, in Macmillan's
    Pocket Classics.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. For reference works covering the entire field of
    American history and literature see the General Bibliography. The
    following works deal with the Colonial and Revolutionary periods.

    _HISTORY_. Fisher, The Colonial Era; Thwaite, The Colonies;
    Fiske, Old Virginia and her Neighbors, Beginnings of New England,
    Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America.

    Winsor, Handbook of the Revolution; Sloane, French War and the
    Revolution; Fisher, Struggle for American Independence; Fiske, A
    Critical Period of American History; Hart, Formation of the Union.

    Studies of social life in Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days;
    Fisher, Men, Women and Manners of Colonial Times; Crawford,
    Romantic Days in the Early Republic.

    _LITERATURE_. Tyler, History of American Literature,
    1607-1765, and Literary History of the Revolution; Sears, American
    Literature of the Colonial and National Periods; Marble, Heralds of
    American Literature (a few Revolutionary authors); Patterson,
    Spirit of the American Revolution as Revealed in the Poetry of the
    Period; Loshe, The Early American Novel (includes a study of
    Charles Brockden Brown).

    Life of Franklin, by Bigelow, 3 vols., by Parton, 2 vols., by
    McMaster, by Morse, etc. Lives of other Colonial and Revolutionary
    worthies in American Statesmen, Makers of America, Cyclopedia of
    American Biography, etc. (see "Biography" in General Bibliography).

    _FICTION_. A few historical novels dealing with Colonial times
    are: Cooper, Satanstoe, The Red Rover; Kennedy, Rob of the Bowl;
    Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter; Motley, Merry Mount; Cooke, The
    Virginia Comedians; Carruthers, Cavaliers of Virginia; Austin,
    Standish of Standish; Barr, The Black Shilling; Mary Johnston, To
    Have and to Hold.

    Novels with a Revolutionary setting are: Cooper, The Spy, The
    Pilot; Simms, The Partisan, Katherine Walton; Kennedy, Horseshoe
    Robinson; Winthrop, Edwin Brothertoft; Eggleston, A Carolina
    Cavalier; Maurice Thompson, Alice of Old Vincennes; Mitchell, Hugh
    Wynne; Churchill, Richard Carvel; Gertrude Atherton, The Conqueror.



  Behind him lay the gray Azores,
    Behind, the gates of Hercules;
  Before him not the ghost of shores,
    Before him only shoreless seas.
  The good mate said, "Now must we pray,
    For lo! the very stars are gone:
  Brave Admiral, speak; what shall I say?"
    "Why say, 'Sail on! sail on! and on!'"

                        Joaquin Miller, "Columbus"

    HISTORICAL BACKGROUND. It was in the early part of the nineteenth
    century that America began to be counted among the great nations of
    the world, and it was precisely at that time that she produced her
    first national literature, a literature so broadly human that it
    appealed not only to the whole country but to readers beyond the
    sea. Irving, Cooper and Bryant are commonly regarded as the first
    notable New World writers; and we may better understand them and
    their enthusiastic young contemporaries if we remember that they
    "grew up with the country"; that they reflected life at a time when
    America, having won her independence and emerged from a long period
    of doubt and struggle, was taking her first confident steps in the
    sun and becoming splendidly conscious of her destiny as a leader
    among the world's free people.


    Indeed, there was good reason for confidence in those early days;
    for never had a young nation looked forth upon a more heartening
    prospect. The primitive hamlets of Colonial days had been replaced
    by a multitude of substantial towns, the somber wilderness by a
    prosperous farming country. The power of a thousand rivers was
    turning the wheels of as many mills or factories, and to the
    natural wealth of America was added the increase of a mighty
    commerce with other nations. By the Louisiana Purchase and the
    acquisition of Florida her territory was vastly increased, and
    still her sturdy pioneers were pressing eagerly into more spacious
    lands beyond the Mississippi. Best of all, this enlarging nation,
    once a number of scattered colonies holding each to its own course,
    was now the Union; her people were as one in their patriotism,
    their loyalty, their intense conviction that the brave New World
    experiment in free government, once scoffed at as an idle dream,
    was destined to a glorious future. American democracy was not
    merely a success; it was an amazing triumph. Moreover, this
    democracy, supposed to be the weakest form of government, had
    already proved its power; it had sent its navy abroad to humble the
    insolent Barbary States, and had measured the temper of its soul
    and the strength of its arm in the second war with Great Britain.

    In fine, the New World had brought forth a hopeful young giant of a
    nation; and its hopefulness was reflected, with more of zeal than
    of art, in the prose and poetry of its literary men. Just as the
    enthusiastic Elizabethan spirit reflected itself in lyric or drama
    after the defeat of the Armada, so the American spirit seemed to
    exult in the romances of Cooper and Simms; in the verse of
    Pinckney, Halleck, Drake and Percival; in a multitude of national
    songs, such as "The American Flag," Warren's Address, "Home Sweet
    Home" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." We would not venture to liken
    one set of writings to the other, for we should be on the weak side
    of an Elizabethan comparison; we simply note that a great national
    enthusiasm was largely responsible for the sudden appearance of a
    new literature in the one land as in the other.

LITERARY ENVIRONMENT. In the works of four writers, Irving, Cooper, Bryant
and Poe, we have the best that the early national period produced; but we
shall not appreciate these writers until we see them, like pines in a wood,
lifting their heads over numerous companions, all drawing their nourishment
from the same soil and air. The growth of towns and cities in America had
led to a rapid increase of newspapers, magazines and annuals (collections
of contemporary prose and verse), which called with increasing emphasis for
poems, stories, essays, light or "polite" literature. The rapid growth of
the nation set men to singing the old psalm of _Sursum Corda_, and
every man and woman who felt the impulse added his story or his verse to
the national chorus. When the first attempt at a summary of American
literature was made in 1837, the author, Royal Robbins, found more than two
thousand living writers demanding his attention.


It was due, one must think, to geography rather than to any spirit of
sectionalism, to difficulty of travel between the larger towns rather than
to any difference of aim or motive, that the writers of this period
associated themselves in a number of so-called schools or literary centers.
New York, which now offered a better field for literary work than Boston or
Philadelphia, had its important group of writers called the Knickerbocker
School, which included Fitz-Greene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, both
poets and cheerful satirists of New World society; the versatile Nathaniel
Parker Willis, writer of twenty volumes of poems, essays, stories and
sketches of travel; and James Kirke Paulding, also a voluminous writer, who
worked with Irving in the _Salmagundi_ essays and whose historical
novels, such as _The Dutchman's Fireside_ (1831), are still mildly
interesting. [Footnote: Irving, Cooper and Bryant are sometimes classed
among the Knickerbockers; but the work of these major writers is national
rather than local or sectional, and will be studied later in detail.]


In the South was another group of young writers, quite as able and
enthusiastic as their northern contemporaries. Among these we note
especially William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), whose _Yemassee_,
_Border Beagles_, _Katherine Walton_ and many other historical
romances of Colonial and Revolutionary days were of more than passing
interest. He was a high-minded and most industrious writer, who produced
over forty volumes of poems, essays, biographies, histories and tales; but
he is now remembered chiefly by his novels, which won him the title of "the
Cooper of the South." At least one of his historical romances should be
read, partly for its own sake and partly for a comparison with Cooper's
work in the same field. Thus _The Yemassee_ (1835), dealing with
frontier life and Indian warfare, may be read in connection with Cooper's
_The Deerslayer_ (1841), which has the same general theme; or _The
Partisan_ (1835), dealing with the bitter struggle of southern Whigs and
Tories during the Revolution, may well be compared with Cooper's _The
Spy_ (1821), which depicts the same struggle in a northern environment.


Other notable writers of the South during this period were Richard Henry
Wilde the poet, now remembered by the song (from an unfinished opera)
beginning, "My life is like the summer rose"; William Wirt, the essayist
and biographer; and John Pendleton Kennedy, writer of essays and stories
which contain many charming pictures of social life in Virginia and
Maryland in the days "before the war."


In New England was still another group, who fortunately avoided the name of
any school. Sparks, Prescott, Ticknor, Story, Dana,--the very names
indicate how true was Boston to her old scholarly traditions. Meanwhile
Connecticut had its popular poet in James Gates Percival; Maine had its
versatile John Neal; and all the northern states were reading the "goody
goody" books of Peter Parley (Samuel Goodrich), the somewhat Byronic
_Zophiel_ and other emotional poems of Maria Gowen Brooks (whom
Southey called "Maria del Occidente"), and the historical romances of
Catherine Sedgwick and Sarah Morton.


The West also (everything beyond the Alleghenies was then the West) made
its voice heard in the new literature. Timothy Flint wrote a very
interesting _Journal_ from his missionary experiences, and a highly
colored romance from his expansive imagination; and James Hall drew some
vigorous and sympathetic pictures of frontier life in _Letters from the
West_, _Tales of the Border_ and _Wilderness and Warpath_.

There are many other writers who won recognition before 1840, but those we
have named are more than enough; for each name is an invitation, and
invitations when numerous are simply bothersome. For example, the name of
Catherine Sedgwick invites us to read _Hope Leslie_ and _The
Linwoods_, both excellent in their day, and still interesting as
examples of the novels that won fame less than a century ago; or the name
of Kennedy leads us to _Swallow Barn_ (alluring title!) with its
bright pictures of Virginia life, and to _Horseshoe Robinson_, a crude
but stirring tale of Revolutionary heroism. The point in naming these minor
writers, once as popular as any present-day favorite, is simply this: that
the major authors, whom we ordinarily study as typical of the age, were not
isolated figures but part of a great romantic movement in literature; that
they were influenced on the one hand by European letters, and on the other
by a host of native writers who were all intent on reflecting the expanding
life of America in the early part of the nineteenth century.

       *       *       *       *       *


A very pleasant writer is Irving, a man of romantic and somewhat
sentimental disposition, but sound of motive, careful of workmanship,
invincibly cheerful of spirit. The genial quality of his work may be due to
the fact that from joyous boyhood to serene old age he did very much as he
pleased, that he lived in what seemed to him an excellent world and wrote
with no other purpose than to make it happy. In summarizing his career an
admirer of Irving is reminded of what the Book of Proverbs says of wisdom:
"Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."


The historian sees another side of Irving's work. Should it be asked, "What
did he do that had not been as well or better done before him?" the first
answer is that the importance of any man's work must be measured by the age
in which he did it. A schoolboy now knows more about electricity than ever
Franklin learned; but that does not detract from our wonder at Franklin's
kite. So the work of Irving seems impressive when viewed against the gray
literary dawn of a century ago. At that time America had done a mighty work
for the world politically, but had added little of value to the world's
literature. She read and treasured the best books; but she made no
contribution to their number, and her literary impotence galled her
sensitive spirit. As if to make up for her failure, the writers of the
Knickerbocker, Charleston and other "schools" praised each other's work
extravagantly; but no responsive echo came from overseas, where England's
terse criticism of our literary effort was expressed in the scornful
question, "Who reads an American book?"

Irving answered that question effectively when his _Sketch Book_,
_Bracebridge Hall_ and _Tales of a Traveller_ found a multitude
of delighted readers on both sides of the Atlantic. His graceful style was
hardly rivaled by any other writer of the period; and England, at a time
when Scott and Byron were playing heroic parts, welcomed him heartily to a
place on the literary stage. Thus he united the English and the American
reader in a common interest and, as it were, charmed away the sneer from
one face, the resentment from the other. He has been called "father of our
American letters" for two reasons: because he was the first to win a
lasting literary reputation at home and abroad, and because of the
formative influence which his graceful style and artistic purpose have ever
since exerted upon our prose writers.


    LIFE. Two personal characteristics appear constantly in Irving's
    work: the first, that he was always a dreamer, a romance seeker;
    the second, that he was inclined to close his eyes to the heroic
    present and open them wide to the glories, real or imaginary, of
    the remote past. Though he lived in an American city in a day of
    mighty changes and discoveries, he was far less interested in the
    modern New York than in the ancient New Amsterdam; and though he
    was in Europe at the time of the Napoleonic wars, he apparently saw
    nothing of them, being then wholly absorbed in the battles of the
    long-vanished Moors. Only once, in his books of western
    exploration, did he seriously touch the vigorous life of his own
    times; and critics regard these books as the least important of all
    his works.

    [Sidenote: BOYHOOD]

    He was born in New York (1783) when the present colossal city was a
    provincial town that retained many of its quaint Dutch
    characteristics. Over all the straggling town, from the sunny
    Battery with its white-winged ships to the Harlem woods where was
    good squirrel shooting, Irving rambled at ease on many a day when
    the neighbors said he ought to have been at his books. He was the
    youngest of the family; his constitution was not rugged, and his
    gentle mother was indulgent. She would smile when he told of
    reading a smuggled copy of the _Arabian Nights_ in school,
    instead of his geography; she was silent when he slipped away from
    family prayers to climb out of his bedroom window and go to the
    theater, while his sterner father thought of him as sound asleep in
    his bed.

    Little harm came from these escapades, for Irving was a merry lad
    with no meanness in him; but his schooling was sadly neglected. His
    brothers had graduated from Columbia; but on the plea of delicate
    health he abandoned the idea of college, with a sigh in which there
    was perhaps as much satisfaction as regret. At sixteen he entered a
    law office, where he gave less time to studying Blackstone than to
    reading novels and writing skits for the newspapers.

    [Sidenote: FINDING HIMSELF]

    This happy indifference to work and learning, this disposition to
    linger on the sunny side of the street, went with Irving through
    life. Experimentally he joined his brothers, who were in the
    hardware trade; but when he seemed to be in danger of consumption
    they sent him to Europe, where he enjoyed himself greatly, and
    whence he returned perfectly well. Next he was sent on business to
    England; and there, when the Irving Brothers failed, their business
    having been ruined by the War of 1812, Irving manfully resolved to
    be no longer a burden on others and turned to literature for his
    support. With characteristic love of doing what he liked he refused
    a good editorial position (which Walter Scott obtained for him) and
    busied himself with his _Sketch Book_ (1820). This met with a
    generous welcome in England and America, and it was followed by the
    equally popular _Bracebridge Hall_ and _Tales of a
    Traveller_. By these three works Irving was assured not only of
    literary fame but, what was to him of more consequence, of his
    ability to earn his living.

    [Sidenote: LIFE ABROAD]

    Next we find him in Spain, whither he went with the purpose of
    translating Navarrete's _Voyages of Columbus_, a Spanish book,
    in which he saw a chance of profit from his countrymen's interest
    in the man who discovered America. Instead of translating another
    man's work, however, he wrote his own _Life and Times of
    Columbus_ (1828). The financial success of this book (which is
    still our most popular biography of the great explorer) enabled
    Irving to live comfortably in Spain, where he read diligently and
    accumulated the material for his later works on Spanish history.

    [Illustration: "SUNNYSIDE," HOME OF IRVING]

    By this time Irving's growing literary fame had attracted the
    notice of American politicians, who rewarded him with an
    appointment as secretary of the legation at London. This pleasant
    office he held for two years, but was less interested in it than in
    the reception which English men of letters generously offered him.
    Then he apparently grew homesick, after an absence of seventeen
    years, and returned to his native land, where he was received with
    the honor due to a man who had silenced the galling question, "Who
    reads an American book?"

    [Sidenote: HIS MELLOW AUTUMN]

    The rest of Irving's long life was a continued triumph. Amazed at
    first, and then a little stunned by the growth, the hurry, the
    onward surge of his country, he settled back into the restful past,
    and was heard with the more pleasure by his countrymen because he
    seemed to speak to them from a vanished age. Once, inspired by the
    tide of life weeping into the West, he journeyed beyond the
    Mississippi and found material for his pioneering books; but an
    active life was far from his taste, and presently he built his
    house "Sunnyside" (appropriate name) at Tarrytown on the Hudson.
    There he spent the remainder of his days, with the exception of
    four years in which he served the nation as ambassador to Spain.
    This honor, urged upon him by Webster and President Tyler, was
    accepted with characteristic modesty not as a personal reward but
    as a tribute which America had been wont to offer to the profession
    of letters.

CHIEF WORKS OF IRVING. A good way to form a general impression of Irving's
works is to arrange them chronologically in five main groups. The first,
consisting of the _Salmagundi_ essays, the _Knickerbocker
History_ and a few other trifles, we may call the Oldstyle group, after
the pseudonym assumed by the author. [Footnote: Ever since Revolutionary
days it had been the fashion for young American writers to use an assumed
name. Irving appeared at different times as "Jonathan Oldstyle," "Diedrich
Knickerbocker" and "Geoffrey Crayon, Gent."] The second or Sketch-Book
group includes the _Sketch Book_, _Bracebridge Hall_ and _Tales
of a Traveller_. The third or Alhambra group, devoted to Spanish and
Moorish themes, includes _The Conquest of Granada_, _Spanish Voyages
of Discovery_, _The Alhambra_ and certain similar works of a later
period, such as _Moorish Chronicles_ and _Legends of the Conquest of
Spain_. The fourth or Western group contains _A Tour on the
Prairies_, _Astoria_ and _Adventures of Captain Bonneville_.
The fifth or Sunnyside group is made up chiefly of biographies, _Oliver
Goldsmith_, _Mahomet and his Successors_ and _The Life of
Washington_. Besides these are some essays and stories assembled under
the titles of _Spanish Papers_ and _Wolfert's Roost_.

The _Salmagundi_ papers and others of the Oldstyle group would have
been forgotten long ago if anybody else had written them. In other words,
our interest in them is due not to their intrinsic value (for they are all
"small potatoes") but to the fact that their author became a famous
literary man. Most candid readers would probably apply this criticism also
to the _Knickerbocker History_, had not that grotesque joke won an
undeserved reputation as a work of humor.


The story of the Knickerbocker fabrication illustrates the happy-go-lucky
method of all Irving's earlier work. He had tired of his _Salmagundi_
fooling and was looking for variety when his eyes lighted on Dr. Mitchill's
_Picture of New York_, a grandiloquent work written by a prominent
member of the Historical Society. In a light-headed moment Irving and his
brother Peter resolved to burlesque this history and, in the approved
fashion of that day, to begin with the foundation of the world. Then Peter
went to Europe on more important business, and Irving went on with his joke
alone. He professed to have discovered the notes of a learned Dutch
antiquarian who had recently disappeared, leaving a mass of manuscript and
an unpaid board-bill behind him. After advertising in the newspapers for
the missing man, Irving served notice on the public that the profound value
of Knickerbocker's papers justified their publication, and that the
proceeds of the book would be devoted to paying the board-bill. Then
appeared, in time to satisfy the aroused curiosity of the Historical
Society, to whom the book was solemnly dedicated, the _History of New
York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by
Diedrich Knickerbocker_ (1809).

This literary hoax made an instant sensation; it was denounced for its
scandalous irreverence by the members of the Historical Society, especially
by those who had Dutch ancestors, but was received with roars of laughter
by the rest of the population. Those who read it now (from curiosity, for
its merriment has long since departed, leaving it dull as any
thrice-repeated joke) are advised to skip the first two books, which are
very tedious fooling, and to be content with an abridged version of the
stories of Wouter van Twiller, William the Testy and Peter the Headstrong.
These are the names of real Dutch governors of New Amsterdam, and the dates
given are exact dates; but there history ends and burlesque begins. The
combination of fact and nonsense and the strain of gravity in which
absurdities are related have led some critics to place the _Knickerbocker
History_ first in time of the notable works of so-called American humor.
That is doubtless a fair classification; but other critics assert that real
humor is as purely human as a smile or a tear, and has therefore no
national or racial limitations.

[Sidenote: SKETCH BOOK]

The _Sketch Book_, chief of the second group of writings, is perhaps
the best single work that Irving produced. We shall read it with better
understanding if we remember that it was the work of a young man who,
having always done as he pleased, proceeds now to write of whatever
pleasant matter is close at hand. Being in England at the time, he
naturally finds most of his material there; and being youthful, romantic
and sentimental, he colors everything with the hue of his own disposition.
He begins by chatting of the journey and of the wide sea that separates him
from home. He records his impressions of the beautiful English country,
tells what he saw or felt during his visit to Stratford on Avon, and what
he dreamed in Westminster Abbey, a place hallowed by centuries of worship
and humanized by the presence of the great dead. He sheds a ready tear over
a rural funeral, and tries to make us cry over the sorrows of a poor widow;
then to relieve our feelings he pokes a bit of fun at John Bull. Something
calls his attention to Isaac Walton, and he writes a Waltonian kind of
sketch about a fisherman. In one chapter he comments on contemporary
literature; then, as if not quite satisfied with what authors are doing, he
lays aside his record of present impressions, goes back in thought to his
home by the Hudson, and produces two stories of such humor, charm and
originality that they make the rest of the book appear almost commonplace,
as the careless sketches of a painter are forgotten in presence of his
inspired masterpiece.

These two stories, the most pleasing that Irving ever wrote, are "Rip van
Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." They should be read if one reads
nothing else of the author's twenty volumes.

[Illustration: RIP VAN WINKLE]


The works on Spanish themes appeal in different ways to different readers.
One who knows his history will complain (and justly) that Irving is
superficial, that he is concerned with picturesque rather than with
important incidents; but one who likes the romance of history, and who
reflects that romance plays an important part in the life of any people,
will find the legends and chronicles of this Spanish group as interesting
as fiction. We should remember, moreover, that in Irving's day the romance
of old Spain, familiar enough to European readers, was to most Americans
still fresh and wondrous. In emphasizing the romantic or picturesque side
of his subject he not only pleased his readers but broadened their horizon;
he also influenced a whole generation of historians who, in contrast with
the scientific or prosaic historians of to-day, did not hesitate to add the
element of human interest to their narratives.

[Sidenote: THE ALHAMBRA]

The most widely read of all the works of the Spanish group is _The
Alhambra_ (1832). This is, on the surface, a collection of
semihistorical essays and tales clustering around the ancient palace, in
Granada, which was the last stronghold of the Moors in Europe; in reality
it is a record of the impressions and dreams of a man who, finding himself
on historic ground, gives free rein to his imagination. At times, indeed,
he seems to have his eye on his American readers, who were then in a
romantic mood, rather than on the place or people he was describing. The
book delighted its first critics, who called it "the Spanish Sketch Book";
but though pleasant enough as a romantic dream of history, it hardly
compares in originality with its famous predecessor.


Except to those who like a brave tale of exploration, and who happily have
no academic interest in style, Irving's western books are of little
consequence. In fact, they are often omitted from the list of his important
works, though they have more adventurous interest than all the others
combined. _A Tour on the Prairies_, which records a journey beyond the
Mississippi in the days when buffalo were the explorers' mainstay, is the
best written of the pioneer books; but the _Adventures of Captain
Bonneville_, a story of wandering up and down the great West with plenty
of adventures among Indians and "free trappers," furnishes the most
excitement. Unfortunately this journal, which vies in interest with
Parkman's _Oregon Trail_, cannot be credited to Irving, though it
bears his name on the title-page. [Footnote: The _Adventures_ is
chiefly the work of a Frenchman, a daring free-rover, who probably tried in
vain to get his work published. Irving bought the work for a thousand
dollars, revised it slightly, gave it his name and sold it for seven or
eight times what he paid for it. In _Astoria_, the third book of the
western group, he sold his services to write up the records of the fur
house established by John Jacob Astor, and made a poor job of it.]

Mentioned by Irving in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"]


Of the three biographies _Oliver Goldsmith_ (1849) is the best,
probably because Irving had more sympathy and affinity with the author of
"The Deserted Village" than with Mahomet or Washington. The _Life of
Washington_ (1855-1859) was plainly too large an undertaking for
Irving's limited powers; but here again we must judge the work by the
standards of its own age and admit that it is vastly better than the
popular but fictitious biographies of Washington written by Weems and other
romancers. Even in Irving's day Washington was still regarded as a demigod;
his name was always printed in capitals; and the rash novelist who dared to
bring him into a story (as Cooper did in _The Spy_) was denounced for
his lack of reverence. In consequence of this false attitude practically
all Washington's biographers (with the exception of the judicious Marshall)
depicted him as a ponderously dignified creature, stilted, unlovely,
unhuman, who must always appear with a halo around his head. Irving was too
much influenced by this absurd fashion and by his lack of scholarship to
make a trustworthy book; but he gave at least a touch of naturalness and
humanity to our first president, and set a new biographical standard by
attempting to write as an honest historian rather than as a mere

AN APPRECIATION OF IRVING. The three volumes of the Sketch-Book group and
the romantic _Alhambra_ furnish an excellent measure of Irving's
literary talent. At first glance these books appear rather superficial,
dealing with pleasant matters of no consequence; but on second thought
pleasant matters are always of consequence, and Irving invariably displays
two qualities, humor and sentiment, in which humanity is forever
interested. His humor, at first crude and sometimes in doubtful taste (as
in his _Knickerbocker History_) grew more refined, more winning in his
later works, until a thoughtful critic might welcome it, with its kindness,
its culture, its smile in which is no cynicism and no bitterness, as a true
example of "American" humor,--if indeed such a specialized product ever
existed. His sentiment was for the most part tender, sincere and manly.
Though it now seems somewhat exaggerated and at times dangerously near to
sentimentality, that may not be altogether a fault; for the same criticism
applies to Longfellow, Dickens and, indeed, to most other writers who have
won an immense audience by frankly emphasizing, or even exaggerating, the
honest sentiments that plain men and women have always cherished both in
life and in literature.


The style of Irving, with its suggestion of Goldsmith and Addison (who were
his first masters), is deserving of more unstinted praise. A "charming"
style we call it; and the word, though indefinite, is expressive of the
satisfaction which Irving's manner affords his readers. One who seeks the
source of his charm may find it in this, that he cherished a high opinion
of humanity, and that the friendliness, the sense of comradeship, which he
felt for his fellow men was reflected in his writing; unconsciously at
first, perhaps, and then deliberately, by practice and cultivation. In
consequence, we do not read Irving critically but sympathetically; for
readers are like children, or animals, in that they are instinctively drawn
to an author who trusts and understands them.

Thackeray, who gave cordial welcome to Irving, and who called him "the
first ambassador whom the New World of letters sent to the Old," was deeply
impressed by the fact not that the young American had an excellent prose
style but that "his gate was forever swinging to visitors." That is an
illuminating criticism; for we can understand the feeling of the men and
women of a century ago who, having read the _Sketch Book_, were eager
to meet the man who had given them pleasure by writing it. In brief, though
Irving wrote nothing of great import, though he entered not into the stress
of life or scaled its heights or sounded its deeps, we still read him for
the sufficient but uncritical reason that we like him.

In this respect, of winning our personal allegiance, Irving stands in
marked contrast to his greatest American contemporary, Cooper. We read the
one because we are attracted to the man, the other for the tale he has to

       *       *       *       *       *


Bryant has been called "the father of American song," and the year 1821,
when his first volume appeared, is recorded as the natal year of American
poetry. Many earlier singers had won local reputations, but he was the
first who was honored in all the states and who attained by his poetry
alone a dominating place in American letters.

That was long ago; and times have changed, and poets with them. In any
collection of recent American verse one may find poems more imaginative or
more finely wrought than any that Bryant produced; but these later singers
stand in a company and contribute to an already large collection, while
Bryant stood alone and made a brave beginning of poetry that we may
honestly call native and national. Before he won recognition by his
independent work the best that our American singers thought they could do
was to copy some English original; but after 1821 they dared to be
themselves in poetry, as they had ever been in politics. They had the
successful Bryant for a model, and the young Longfellow was one of his
pupils. Moreover, he stands the hard test of time, and seems to have no
successor. He is still our Puritan poet,--a little severe, perhaps, but
American to the core,--who reflects better than any other the rugged spirit
of that puritanism which had so profoundly influenced our country during
the early, formative days of the republic.


    LIFE. In the boyhood of Bryant we shall find the inspiration for
    all his enduring work. He was of Pilgrim stock, and was born (1794)
    in the little village of Cummington, in western Massachusetts.
    There, with the Berkshire Hills and the ancient forest forever in
    sight, he grew to man's stature, working on the farm or attending
    the district school by day, and reading before the open fire at
    night. His father was a physician, a scholarly man who directed his
    son's reading. His mother was a Puritan, one of those quiet,
    inspiring women who do their work cheerfully, as by God's grace,
    and who invariably add some sign or patent of nobility to their
    sons and daughters. There was also in the home a Puritan
    grandfather who led the family devotions every evening, and whose
    prayers with their rich phraseology of psalm or prophecy were
    "poems from beginning to end." So said Bryant, who attributed to
    these prayers his earliest impulse to write poetry.

    Between these two influences, nature without and puritanism within,
    the poet grew up; in their shadow he lived and died; little else of
    consequence is reflected in the poems that are his best memorial.

    [Sidenote: THE CITIZEN]

    The visible life of Bryant lies almost entirely outside the realm
    of poesie. He as fitted for Williams by country ministers, as was
    customary in that day; but poverty compelled him to leave college
    after two brief terms. Then he studied law, and for nine or ten
    years practiced his profession doggedly, unwillingly, with many a
    protest at the chicanery he was forced to witness even in the
    sacred courts of justice. Grown weary of it at last, he went to New
    York, found work in a newspaper office, and after a few years'
    apprenticeship became editor of _The Evening Post_, a position
    which he held for more than half a century. His worldly affairs
    prospered; he became a "leading citizen" of New York, prominent in
    the social and literary affairs of a great city; he varied the
    routine of editorship by trips abroad, by literary or patriotic
    addresses, by cultivating a country estate at Long Island. In his
    later years, as a literary celebrity, he loaned his name rather too
    freely to popular histories, anthologies and gift books, which
    better serve their catchpenny purpose if some famous man can be
    induced to add "tone" to the rubbish.

    [Sidenote: THE POET]

    And Bryant's poetry? Ah, that was a thing forever apart from his
    daily life, an almost sacred thing, to be cherished in moments
    when, his day's work done, he was free to follow his spirit and
    give outlet to the feelings which, as a strong man and a Puritan,
    he was wont to restrain. He had begun to write poetry in childhood,
    when his father had taught him the value of brevity or compression
    and "the difference between poetic enthusiasm and fustian."
    Therefore he wrote slowly, carefully, and allowed ample time for
    change of thought or diction. So his early "Thanatopsis" was hidden
    away for years till his father found and published it, and made
    Bryant famous in a day. All this at a time when English critics
    were exalting "sudden inspiration," "sustained effort" and poems
    "done at one sitting."

    Once Bryant had found himself (and the blank verse and simple
    four-line stanza which suited his talent) he seldom changed, and he
    never improved. His first little volume, _Poems_ (1821),
    contains some of his best work. In the next fifty years he added to
    the size but not to the quality of that volume; and there is little
    to indicate in such poems as "Thanatopsis" and "The Flood of Years"
    that the one was written by a boy of seventeen and the other by a
    sage of eighty. His love of poetry as a thing apart from life is
    indicated by the fact that in old age, to forget the grief
    occasioned by the death of his wife, he gave the greater part of
    six years to a metrical translation of the Greek poet Homer. That
    he never became a great poet or even fulfilled his early promise is
    due partly to his natural limitations, no doubt, but more largely
    to the fact that he gave his time and strength to other things. And
    a poet is like other men in that he cannot well serve two masters.

THE POETRY OF BRYANT. Besides the translation of the _Iliad_ and the
_Odyssey_ there are several volumes of prose to Bryant's credit, but
his fame now rests wholly on a single book of original poems. The best of
these (the result of fifty years of writing, which could easily be printed
on fifty pages) may be grouped in two main classes, poems of death and
poems of nature; outside of which are a few miscellaneous pieces, such as
"The Antiquity of Freedom," "Planting of the Apple Tree" and "The Poet," in
which he departs a little from his favorite themes.

[Sidenote: POEMS OF DEATH]

Bryant's poems on death reflect something of his Puritan training and of
his personal experience while threatened with consumption; they are also
indicative of the poetic fashion of his age, which was abnormally given to
funereal subjects and greatly influenced by such melancholy poems as Gray's
"Elegy" and Young's "Night Thoughts." He began his career with
"Thanatopsis" (or "View of Death"), a boyhood piece which astonished
America when it was published in 1817, and which has ever since been a
favorite with readers. The idea of the poem, that the earth is a vast
sepulcher of human life, was borrowed from other poets; but the stately
blank verse and the noble appreciation of nature are Bryant's own. They
mark, moreover, a new era in American poetry, an original era to replace
the long imitative period which had endured since Colonial times. Other and
perhaps better poems in the same group are "The Death of the Flowers," "The
Return of Youth" and "Tree Burial," in which Bryant goes beyond the pagan
view of death presented in his first work.

That death had a strange fascination for Bryant is evident from his
returning again and again to a subject which most young poets avoid. Its
somber shadow and unanswered question intrude upon nearly all of his nature
pieces; so much so that even his "June" portrays that blithe, inspiring
month of sunshine and bird song as an excellent time to die. It is from
such poems that one gets the curious idea that Bryant never was a boy, that
he was a graybeard at sixteen and never grew any younger.


It is in his poems of nature that Bryant is at his best. Even here he is
never youthful, never the happy singer whose heart overflows to the call of
the winds; he is rather the priest of nature, who offers a prayer or hymn
of praise at her altar. And it may be that his noble "Forest Hymn" is
nearer to a true expression of human feeling, certainly of primitive or
elemental feeling, than Shelley's "Skylark" or Burns's "Mountain Daisy."
Thoreau in one of his critical epigrams declared it was not important that
a poet should say any particular thing, but that he should speak in harmony
with nature; that "the tone of his voice is the main thing." If that be
true, Bryant is one of our best poets. He is always in harmony with nature
in her prevailing quiet mood; his voice is invariably gentle, subdued,
merging into the murmur of trees or the flow of water,--much like Indian
voices, but as unlike as possible to the voices of those who go to nature
for a picnic or a camping excursion.

Among the best of his nature poems are "To a Waterfowl" (his most perfect
single work), "Forest Hymn," "Hymn to the Sea," "Summer Wind," "Night
Journey of a River," "Autumn Woods," "To a Fringed Gentian," "Among the
Trees," "The Fountain" and "A Rain Dream." To read such poems is to
understand the fact, mentioned in our biography, that Bryant's poetry was a
thing apart from his daily life. His friends all speak of him as a
companionable man, receptive, responsive, abounding in cheerful anecdote,
and with a certain "overflowing of strength" in mirth or kindly humor; but
one finds absolutely nothing of this genial temper in his verse. There he
seems to regard all such bubblings and overflowings as unseemly levity (lo!
the Puritan), which he must lay aside in poetry as on entering a church. He
is, as we have said, the priest of nature, in whom reverence is uppermost;
and he who reads aloud the "Forest Hymn," with its solemn organ tone, has
an impression that it must be followed by the sublime invitation, "O come,
let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker."



Though Bryant is always serious, it is worthy of note that he is never
gloomy, that he entirely escapes the pessimism or despair which seizes upon
most poets in times of trouble. Moreover, he has a lighter mood, not gay
but serenely happy, which finds expression in such poems as "Evening Wind,"
"Gladness of Nature" and especially "Robert of Lincoln." The exuberance of
the last-named, so unlike anything else in Bryant's book of verse, may be
explained on the assumption that not even a Puritan could pull a long face
in presence of a bobolink. The intense Americanism of the poet appears in
nearly all his verse; and occasionally his patriotism rises to a prophetic
strain, as in "The Prairie," for example, written when he first saw what
was then called "the great American desert." It is said that the honeybee
crossed the Mississippi with the first settlers, and Bryant looks with
kindled imagination on this little pioneer who

  Fills the savannas with his murmurings,
  And hides his sweets, as in the golden age,
  Within the hollow oak. I listen long
  To his domestic hum, and think I hear
  The sound of that advancing multitude
  Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground
  Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
  Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
  Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
  Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
  Over the dark brown furrows. All at once
  A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream,
  And I am in the wilderness alone.

OUR PIONEER POET. From one point of view our first national poet is a
summary of all preceding American verse and a prophecy of better things to
come. To be specific, practically all our early poetry shows the
inclination to moralize, to sing a song and then add a lesson to it. This
is commonly attributed to Puritan influence; but in truth it is a universal
poetic impulse, a tribute to the early office of the bard, who was the
tribal historian and teacher as well as singer. This ancient didactic or
moralizing tendency is very strong in Bryant. To his first notable poem,
"Thanatopsis," he must add a final "So live"; and to his "Waterfowl" must
be appended a verse which tells what steadfast lesson may be learned from
the mutable phenomena of nature.

Again, most of our Colonial and Revolutionary poetry was strongly (or
weakly) imitative, and Bryant shows the habit of his American predecessors.
The spiritual conception of nature revealed in some of his early poems is a
New World echo of Wordsworth; his somber poems of death indicate that he
was familiar with Gray and Young; his "Evening Wind" has some suggestion of
Shelley; we suspect the influence of Scott's narrative poems in the
neglected "Stella" and "Little People of the Snow." But though influenced
by English writers, the author of "Thanatopsis" was too independent to
imitate them; and in his independence, with the hearty welcome which it
received from the American public, we have a prophecy of the new poetry.


The originality and sturdy independence of Bryant are clearly shown in his
choice of subjects. In his early days poetry was formal and artificial,
after the manner of the eighteenth century; the romantic movement had
hardly gained recognition in England; Burns was known only to his own
countrymen; Wordsworth was ridiculed or barely tolerated by the critics;
and poets on both sides of the Atlantic were still writing of larks and
nightingales, of moonlight in the vale, of love in a rose-covered cottage,
of ivy-mantled towers, weeping willows, neglected graves,--a medley of
tears and sentimentality. You will find all these and little else in _The
Garland_, _The Token_ and many other popular collections of the
period; but you will find none of them in Bryant's first or last volume.
From the beginning he wrote of Death and Nature; somewhat coldly, to be
sure, but with manly sincerity. Then he wrote of Freedom, the watchword of
America, not as other singers had written of it but as a Puritan who had
learned in bitter conflict the price of his heritage:

  O Freedom! thou art not, as poets dream,
  A fair young girl, with light and delicate limbs,
  And wavy tresses gushing from the cap
  With which the Roman master crowned his slave
  When he took off the gyves. A bearded man,
  Armed to the teeth, art thou; one mailéd hand
  Grasps the broad shield, and one the sword; thy brow,
  Glorious in beauty though it be, is scarred
  With tokens of old wars; thy massive limbs
  Are strong with struggling.

He wrote without affectation of the Past, of Winter, of the North Star, of
the Crowded Street, of the Yellow Violet and the Fringed Gentian. If the
last-named poems now appear too simple for our poetic taste, remember that
simplicity is the hardest to acquire of all literary virtues, and that it
was the dominant quality of Bryant. Remember also that these modest flowers
of which he wrote so modestly had for two hundred years brightened our
spring woods and autumn meadows, waiting patiently for the poet who should
speak our appreciation of their beauty. Another century has gone, and no
other American poet has spoken so simply or so well of other neglected
treasures: of the twin flower, for example, most fragrant of all blooms; or
of that other welcome-nodding blossom, beloved of bumblebees, which some
call "wild columbine" and others "whippoorwill's shoes."

In a word, Bryant was and is our pioneer poet in the realm of native
American poetry. As Emerson said, he was our first original poet, and was
original because he dared to be sincere.

       *       *       *       *       *


In point of time Cooper is the first notable American novelist. Judging by
the booksellers, no other has yet approached him in the sustained interest
of his work or the number of his readers.

[Sidenote: THE MAN]

On first analysis we shall find little in Cooper to account for his abiding
popularity. The man himself was not exactly lovable; indeed, he had almost
a genius for stirring up antagonism. As a writer he began without study or
literary training, and was stilted or slovenly in most of his work. He was
prone to moralize in the midst of an exciting narrative; he filled
countless pages with "wooden" dialogue; he could not portray a child or a
woman or a gentleman, though he was confident that he had often done so to
perfection. He did not even know Indians or woodcraft, though Indians and
woodcraft account for a large part of our interest in his forest romances.


One may enjoy a good story, however, without knowing or caring for its
author's peculiarities, and the vast majority of readers are happily not
critical but receptive. Hence if we separate the man from the author, and
if we read _The Red Rover_ or _The Last of the Mohicans_ "just
for the story," we shall discover the source of Cooper's power as a writer.
First of all, he has a tale to tell, an epic tale of heroism and manly
virtue. Then he appeals strongly to the pioneer spirit, which survives in
all great nations, and he is a master at portraying wild nature as the
background of human life. The vigor of elemental manhood, the call of
adventure, the lure of primeval forests, the surge and mystery of the
sea,--these are written large in Cooper's best books. They make us forget
his faults of temper or of style, and they account in large measure for his
popularity with young readers of all nations; for he is one of the few
American writers who belong not to any country but to humanity. At present
he is read chiefly by boys; but half a century or more ago he had more
readers of all classes and climes than any other writer in the world.

    LIFE. The youthful experiences of Cooper furnished him with the
    material for his best romances. He was born (1789) in New Jersey;
    but while he was yet a child the family removed to central New
    York, where his father had acquired an immense tract of wild land,
    on which he founded the village that is still called Cooperstown.
    There on the frontier of civilization, where stood the primeval
    forest that had witnessed many a wild Indian raid, the novelist
    passed his boyhood amid the picturesque scenes which he was to
    immortalize in _The Pioneers_ and _The Deerslayer_.

    [Sidenote: HIS TRAINING]

    Cooper picked up a little "book learning" in a backwoods school and
    a little more in a minister's study at Albany. At thirteen he
    entered Yale; but he was a self-willed lad and was presently
    dismissed from college. A little later, after receiving some scant
    nautical training on a merchantman, he entered the navy as
    midshipman; but after a brief experience in the service he married
    and resigned his commission. That was in 1811, and the date is
    significant. It was just before the second war with Great Britain.
    The author who wrote so much and so vividly of battles, Indian
    raids and naval engagements never was within sight of such affairs,
    though the opportunity was present. In his romances we have the
    product of a vigorous imagination rather than of observation or

    [Illustration: JAMES FENIMORE COOPER]

    His literary work seems now like the result of whim or accident.
    One day he flung down a novel that he was reading, declaring to his
    wife that he could write a better story himself. "Try it,"
    challenged his wife. "I will," said Cooper; and the result was
    _Precaution_, a romance of English society. He was then a
    farmer in the Hudson valley, and his knowledge of foreign society
    was picked up, one must think, from silly novels on the subject.

    Strange to say, the story was so well received that the gratified
    author wrote another. This was _The Spy_ (1821), dealing with
    a Revolutionary hero who had once followed his dangerous calling in
    the very region in which Cooper was now living. The immense success
    of this book fairly drove its author into a career. He moved to New
    York City, and there quickly produced two more successful romances.
    Thus in four years an unknown man without literary training had
    become a famous writer, and had moreover produced four different
    types of fiction: the novel of society in _Precaution_, the
    historical romance in _The Spy_, and the adventurous romance
    of forest and of ocean in _The Pioneers_ and _The Pilot_.

    [Sidenote: YEARS OF STRIFE]

    Cooper now went abroad, as most famous authors do. His books,
    already translated into several European languages, had made him
    known, and he was welcomed in literary circles; but almost
    immediately he was drawn into squabbles, being naturally inclined
    that way. He began to write political tirades; and even his
    romances of the period (_The Bravo_, _The Heidenmauer_,
    _The Headsman_) were devoted to proclaiming the glories of
    democracy. Then he returned home and proceeded to set his
    countrymen by the ears (in such books as _Home as Found_) by
    writing too frankly of their crudity in contrast with the culture
    of Europe. Then followed long years of controversy and lawsuits,
    during which our newspapers used Cooper scandalously, and Cooper
    prosecuted and fined the newspapers. It is a sorry spectacle, of no
    interest except to those who would understand the bulk of Cooper's
    neglected works. He was an honest man, vigorous, straightforward,
    absolutely sincere; but he was prone to waste his strength and
    embitter his temper by trying to force his opinion on those who
    were well satisfied with their own. He had no humor, and had never
    pondered the wisdom of "Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat."

    [Illustration: OTSEGO HALL, HOME OF COOPER]

    The last years of his life were spent mostly at the old home at
    Cooperstown, no longer a frontier settlement but a thriving
    village, from which Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook had long since
    departed. Before his death (1851) the fires of controversy had sunk
    to ashes; but Cooper never got over his resentment at the public,
    and with the idea of keeping forever aloof he commanded that none
    of his private papers be given to biographers. It is for lack of
    such personal letters and documents that no adequate life of Cooper
    has yet been written.

COOPER'S WORKS. There are over sixty volumes of Cooper, but to read them
all would savor of penance rather than of pleasure. Of his miscellaneous
writings only the _History of the Navy_ and _Lives of Distinguished
Naval Officers_ are worthy of remembrance. Of his thirty-two romances
the half, at least, may be ignored; though critics may differ as to whether
certain books (_The Bravo_ and _Lionel Lincoln_, for example)
should be placed in one half or the other. There remain as the measure of
Cooper's genius some sixteen works of fiction, which fall naturally into
three groups: the historical novels, the tales of pioneer life, and the
romances of the sea.

[Sidenote: THE SPY]

_The Spy_ was the first and probably the best of Cooper's historical
romances. Even his admirers must confess that it is crudely written, and
that our patriotic interest inclines us to overestimate a story which
throws the glamor of romance over the Revolution. Yet this faulty tale
attempts to do what very few histories have ever done fairly, namely, to
present both sides or parties of the fateful conflict; and its unusual
success in this difficult field may be explained by a bit of family
history. Cooper was by birth and training a stanch Whig, or Patriot; but
his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, was the daughter of an
unbending Tory, or Loyalist; and his divided allegiance is plainly apparent
in his work. Ordinarily his personal antagonisms, his hatred of "Yankees,"
Puritans and all politicians of the other party, are dragged into his
stories and spoil some of them; but in _The Spy_ he puts his
prejudices under restraint, tells his tale in an impersonal way, dealing
honestly with both Whigs and Tories, and so produces a work having the
double interest of a good adventure story and a fair picture of one of the
heroic ages of American history.

Aside from its peculiar American interest, _The Spy_ has some original
and broadly human elements which have caused it, notwithstanding its
dreary, artificial style, to be highly appreciated in other countries, in
South American countries especially. The secret of its appeal lies largely
in this, that in Harvey Birch, a brave man who serves his country without
hope or possibility of reward, Cooper has strongly portrayed a type of the
highest, the most unselfish patriotism.

The other historical novels differ greatly in value. Prominent among them
are _Mercedes of Castile_, dealing with Columbus and the discovery of
America; _Satanstoe_ and _The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish_, depicting
Colonial life in New York and New England respectively; and _Lionel
Lincoln_, which is another story of the Revolution, more labored than
_The Spy_ and of less sustained interest.


Cooper's first sea story, _The Pilot_ (1823), was haphazard enough in
both motive and method, [Footnote: The Waverley novels by "the great
unknown" were appearing at this time. Scott was supposed to be the author
of them, but there was much debate on the subject. One day in New York a
member of Cooper's club argued that Scott could not possibly have written
_The Pirate_ (which had just appeared), because the nautical skill
displayed in the book was such as only a sailor could possess. Cooper
maintained, on the contrary, that _The Pirate_ was the work of a
landsman; and to prove it he declared that he would write a sea story as it
should be written; that is, with understanding as well as with imagination.
_The Pilot_ was the result.] but it gave pleasure to a multitude of
readers, and it amazed critics by showing that the lonely sea could be a
place of romantic human interest. Cooper was thus the first modern novelist
of the ocean; and to his influence we are partly indebted for the stirring
tales of such writers as Herman Melville and Clark Russell. A part of the
action of _The Pilot_ takes place on land (the style and the
characters of this part are wretchedly stilted), but the chief interest of
the story lies in the adventures of an American privateer commanded by a
disguised hero, who turns out to be John Paul Jones. Cooper could not
portray such a character, and his effort to make the dashing young captain
heroic by surrounding him with a fog of mystery is like his labored attempt
to portray the character of Washington in _The Spy_. On the other
hand, he was thoroughly at home on a ship or among common sailors; his sea
pictures of gallant craft driven before the gale are magnificent; and Long
Tom Coffin is perhaps the most realistic and interesting of all his
characters, not excepting even Leatherstocking.

Another and better romance of the sea is _The Red Rover_ (1828). In
this story the action takes place almost wholly on the deep, and its vivid
word pictures of an ocean smiling under the sunrise or lashed to fury by
midnight gales are unrivaled in any literature. Other notable books of the
same group are _The Water Witch_, _Afloat and Ashore_ and _Wing
and Wing_. Some readers will prize these for their stories; but to
others they may appear tame in comparison with the superb descriptive
passages of _The Red Rover_.


When Cooper published _The Pioneers_ (1823) he probably had no
intention of writing a series of novels recounting the adventures of Natty
Bumppo, or Leatherstocking, and his Indian friend Chingachgook; otherwise
he would hardly have painted so shabby a picture of these two old heroes,
neglected and despised in a land through which they had once moved as
masters. Readers were quick to see, however, that these old men had an
adventurous past, and when they demanded the rest of the story Cooper wrote
four other romances, which are as so many acts in the stirring drama of
pioneer life. When these romances are read, therefore, they should be taken
in logical sequence, beginning with _The Deerslayer_, which portrays
the two heroes as young men on their first war trail, and following in
order with _The Last of the Mohicans_, _The Pathfinder_, _The
Pioneers_ and _The Prairie_. If one is to be omitted, let it be
_The Pathfinder_, which is comparatively weak and dull; and if only
one is to be read, _The Last of the Mohicans_ is an excellent choice.

After nearly a century of novel writing, these five books remain our most
popular romances of pioneer days, and Leatherstocking is still a wingéd
name, a name to conjure with, in most civilized countries. Meanwhile a
thousand similar works have come and gone and been forgotten. To examine
these later books, which attempt to satisfy the juvenile love of Indian
stories, is to discover that they are modeled more or less closely on the
original work of the first American novelist.

COOPER'S SCENES AND CHARACTERS. Even in his outdoor romances Cooper was
forever attempting to depict human society, especially polite society; but
that was the one subject he did not and could not understand. The sea in
its grandeur and loneliness; the wild lakes, stretching away to misty,
unknown shores or nestling like jewels in their evergreen setting; the
forest with its dim trails, its subdued light, its rustlings, whisperings,
hints of mystery or peril,--these are his proper scenes, and in them he
moves as if at ease in his environment.

[Illustration: COOPER'S CAVE
Scene of Indian fight in _The Last of the Mohicans_]

In his characters we soon discover the same contrast. If he paints a hero
of history, he must put him on stilts to increase his stature. If he
portrays a woman, he calls her a "female," makes her a model of decorum,
and bores us by her sentimental gabbing. If he describes a social
gathering, he instantly betrays his unfamiliarity with real society by
talking like a book of etiquette. But with rough men or manly men on land
or sea, with half-mutinous crews of privateers or disciplined man-of-war's
men, with woodsmen, trappers, Indians, adventurous characters of the border
or the frontier,--with all these Cooper is at home, and in writing of them
he rises almost to the height of genius.


If we seek the secret of this contrast, we shall find it partly in the
author himself, partly in a popular, half-baked philosophy of the period.
That philosophy was summed up in the words "the return to nature," and it
alleged that all human virtues flow from solitude and all vices from
civilization. Such a philosophy appealed strongly to Cooper, who was
continually at odds with his fellows, who had been expelled from Yale, who
had engaged in many a bitter controversy, who had suffered abuse from
newspapers, and who in every case was inclined to consider his opponents as
blockheads. No matter in what society he found himself, in imagination he
was always back in the free but lawless atmosphere of the frontier village
in which his youth was spent. Hence he was well fitted to take the point of
view of Natty Bumppo (in _The Pioneers_), who looked with hostile eyes
upon the greed and waste of civilization; hence he portrayed his uneducated
backwoods hero as a brave and chivalrous gentleman, without guile or fear
or selfishness, who owed everything to nature and nothing to society.
Europe at that time was ready to welcome such a type with enthusiasm. The
world will always make way for him, whether he appears as a hero of fiction
or as a man among men.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. The faults of Cooper--his stilted style and
slipshod English, his tedious moralizing, his artificial dialogue, his
stuffed gentlemen and inane "females," his blunders in woodcraft--all these
are so easily discovered by a casual reader that the historian need not
linger over them. His virtues are more interesting, and the first of these
is that he has a story to tell. Ever since Anglo-Saxon days the
"tale-bringer" has been a welcome guest, and that Cooper is a good
tale-bringer is evident from his continued popularity at home and abroad.
He may not know much about the art of literature, or about psychology, or
about the rule that motives must be commensurate with actions; but he knows
a good story, and that, after all, is the main thing in a novel.

Again, there is a love of manly action in Cooper and a robustness of
imagination which compel attention. He is rather slow in starting his tale;
but he always sees a long trail ahead, and knows that every turn of the
trail will bring its surprise or adventure. It is only when we analyze and
compare his plots that we discover what a prodigal creative power he had.
He wrote, let us say, seven or eight good stories; but he spoiled ten times
that number by hasty or careless workmanship. In the neglected _Wept of
Wish-Ton-Wish_, for example, there is enough wasted material to furnish
a modern romancer or dramatist for half a lifetime.


Another fine quality of Cooper is his descriptive power, his astonishing
vigor in depicting forest, sea, prairie,--all the grandeur of wild nature
as a background of human heroism. His descriptions are seldom accurate, for
he was a careless observer and habitually made blunders; but he painted
nature as on a vast canvas whereon details might be ignored, and he
reproduced the total impression of nature in a way that few novelists have
ever rivaled. It is this sustained power of creating a vast natural stage
and peopling it with elemental men, the pioneers of a strong nation, that
largely accounts for Cooper's secure place among the world's fiction


Finally, the moral quality of Cooper, his belief in manhood and womanhood,
his cleanness of heart and of tongue, are all reflected in his heroes and
heroines. Very often he depicts rough men in savage or brutal situations;
but, unlike some modern realists, there is nothing brutal in his morals,
and it is precisely where we might expect savagery or meanness that his
simple heroes appear as chivalrous gentlemen "without fear and without
reproach." That he was here splendidly true to nature and humanity is
evident to one who has met his typical men (woodsmen, plainsmen, lumbermen,
lonely trappers or timber-cruisers) in their own environment and
experienced their rare courtesy and hospitality. In a word, Cooper knew
what virtue is, virtue of white man, virtue of Indian, and he makes us know
and respect it. Of a hundred strong scenes which he has vividly pictured
there is hardly one that does not leave a final impression as pure and
wholesome as the breath of the woods or the sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849)

It is a pleasant task to estimate Irving or Bryant, but Poe offers a hard
nut for criticism to crack. The historian is baffled by an author who
secretes himself in the shadow, or perplexed by conflicting biographies, or
put on the defensive by the fact that any positive judgment or opinion of
Poe will almost certainly be challenged.

At the outset, therefore, we are to assume that Poe is one of the most
debatable figures in our literature. His life may be summed up as a pitiful
struggle for a little fame and a little bread. When he died few missed him,
and his works were neglected. Following his recognition in Europe came a
revival of interest here, during which Poe was absurdly overpraised and the
American people berated for their neglect of a genius. Then arose a
literary controversy which showed chiefly that our critics were poles apart
in their points of view. Though the controversy has long endured, it has
settled nothing of importance; for one reader regards Poe as a literary
_poseur_, a writer of melodious nonsense in verse and of grotesque
horrors in prose; while another exalts him as a double master of poetry and
fiction, an artist without a peer in American letters.

Somewhere between these extremes hides the truth; but we shall not here
attempt to decide whether it is nearer one side or the other. We note
merely that Poe is a writer for such mature readers as can appreciate his
uncanny talent. What he wrote of abiding interest or value to young people
might be printed in a very small book.

    BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. Notwithstanding all that has been written
    about Poe, we do not and cannot know him as we know most other
    American authors, whose lives are as an open book. He was always a
    secretive person, "a lover of mystery and retreats," and such
    accounts of his life as he gave out are not trustworthy. He came
    from a good Maryland family, but apparently from one of those
    offshoots that are not true to type. His father left the study of
    law to become a strolling actor, and presently married an English
    actress. It was while the father and mother were playing their
    parts in Boston that Edgar was born, in 1809.

    [Illustration: EDGAR ALLAN POE]

    Actors led a miserable life in those days, and the Poes were no
    exception. They died comfortless in Richmond; their three children
    were separated; and Edgar was adopted by John Allan, a wealthy
    tobacco merchant. It was in the luxurious Allan home that the boy
    began the drinking habits which were his bane ever afterwards.

    [Sidenote: POE'S SCHOOL DAYS]

    The Allans were abroad on business from 1815 to 1820, and during
    these years Edgar was at a private school in the suburbs of London.
    It was the master of that school who described the boy as a clever
    lad spoiled by too much pocket money. The prose tale "William
    Wilson" has some reflection of these school years, and, so far as
    known, it is the only work in which Poe introduced any of his
    familiar experiences.

    Soon after his return to Richmond the boy was sent to the
    University of Virginia, where his brilliant record as a student was
    marred by his tendency to dissipation. After the first year Mr.
    Allan, finding that the boy had run up a big gambling debt, took
    him from college and put him to work in the tobacco house.
    Whereupon Edgar, always resentful of criticism, quarreled with his
    foster father and drifted out into the world. He was then at
    eighteen, a young man of fine bearing, having the taste and manners
    of a gentleman, but he had no friend in the world, no heritage of
    hard work, no means of earning a living.


    [Sidenote: HIS WANDERINGS]

    Next we hear vaguely of Poe in Boston where he published a tiny
    volume, _Tamerlane and Other Poems, by a Bostonian_ (1827).
    Failing to win either fame or money by his poetry he enlisted in
    the army under an assumed name and served for about two years. Of
    his army life we know nothing, nor do we hear of him again until
    his foster father secured for him an appointment to the military
    academy at West Point. There Poe made an excellent beginning, but
    he soon neglected his work, was dismissed, and became an Ishmael
    again. After trying in vain to secure a political office he went to
    Baltimore, where he earned a bare living by writing for the
    newspapers. The popular but mythical account of his life (for which
    he himself is partly responsible) portrays him at this period in a
    Byronic rôle, fighting with the Greeks for their liberty.

    [Sidenote: FIRST SUCCESS]

    His literary career began in 1833 when his "Manuscript Found in a
    Bottle" won for him a prize offered by a weekly newspaper. The same
    "Manuscript" brought him to the attention of John Pendleton
    Kennedy, who secured for him a position on the staff of the
    _Southern Literary Messenger_. He then settled in Richmond,
    and in his grasp was every thing that the heart of a young author
    might desire. He had married his cousin, Virginia Clem, a beautiful
    young girl whom he idolized; he had a comfortable home and an
    assured position; Kennedy and other southern writers were his loyal
    friends; the _Messenger_ published his work and gave him a
    reputation in the literary world of America. Fortune stood smiling
    beside him, when he quarreled with his friends, left the Messenger
    and began once more his struggle with poverty and despair.

    [Sidenote: A LIFE OF FRAGMENTS]

    It would require a volume to describe the next few years, and we
    must pass hurriedly over them. His pen was now his only hope, and
    he used it diligently in an effort to win recognition and a living.
    He tried his fortune in different cities; he joined the staffs of
    various periodicals; he projected magazines of his own. In every
    project success was apparently within his reach when by some
    weakness or misfortune he let his chance slip away. He was living
    in Fordham (a suburb of New York, now called the Bronx) when he did
    his best work; but there his wife died, in need of the common
    comforts of life; and so destitute was the home that an appeal was
    made in the newspapers for charity. One has but to remember Poe's
    pride to understand how bitter was the cup from which he drank.

    After his wife's death came two frenzied years in which not even
    the memory of a great love kept him from unmanly wooing of other
    women; but Poe was then unbalanced and not wholly responsible for
    his action. At forty he became engaged to a widow in Richmond, who
    could offer him at least a home. Generous friends raised a fund to
    start him in life afresh; but a little later he was found
    unconscious amid sordid surroundings in Baltimore. He died there,
    in a hospital, before he was able to give any lucid account of his
    last wanderings. It was a pitiful end; but one who studies Poe at
    any part of his career has an impression of a perverse fate that
    dogs the man and that insists on an ending in accord with the rest
    of the story.

THE POETRY OF POE. Most people read Poe's poetry for the melody that is in
it. To read it in any other way, to analyze or explain its message, is to
dissect a butterfly that changes in a moment from a delicate, living
creature to a pinch of dust, bright colored but meaningless. It is not for
analysis, therefore, but simply for making Poe more intelligible that we
record certain facts or principles concerning his verse.


Perhaps the first thing to note is that Poe is not the poet of smiles and
tears, of joy and sorrow, as the great poets are, but the poet of a single
mood,--a dull, despairing mood without hope of comfort. Next, he had a
theory (a strange theory in view of his mood) that the only object of
poetry is to give pleasure, and that the pleasure of a poem depends largely
on melody, on sound rather than on sense. Finally, he believed that poetry
should deal with beauty alone, that poetic beauty is of a supernal or
unearthly kind, and that such beauty is forever associated with melancholy.
To Poe the most beautiful imaginable object was a beautiful woman; but
since her beauty must perish, the poet must assume a tragic or despairing
attitude in face of it. Hence his succession of shadowy Helens, and hence
his wail of grief that he has lost or must soon lose them.

[Sidenote: THE RAVEN]

All these poetic theories, or delusions, appear in Poe's most widely known
work, "The Raven," which has given pleasure to a multitude of readers. It
is a unique poem, and its popularity is due partly to the fact that nobody
can tell what it means. To analyze it is to discover that it is extremely
melodious; that it reflects a gloomy mood; that at the root of its sorrow
is the mysterious "lost Lenore"; and that, as in most of Poe's works, a
fantastic element is introduced, an "ungainly fowl" addressed with
grotesque dignity as "Sir, or Madame," to divert attention from the fact
that the poet's grief is not simple or human enough for tears:

  And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, _still_ is sitting
  On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
  And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
  And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
  And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
      Shall be lifted--nevermore!

Equally characteristic of the author are "To One in Paradise," "The
Sleeper" and "Annabel Lee,"--all melodious, all in hopeless mood, all
expressive of the same abnormal idea of poetry. Other and perhaps better
poems are "The Coliseum," "Israfel," and especially the second "To Helen,"
beginning, "Helen, thy beauty is to me."

Young readers may well be content with a few such lyrics, leaving the bulk
of Poe's poems to such as may find meaning in their vaporous images. As an
example, study these two stanzas from "Ulalume," a work which some may find
very poetic and others somewhat lunatic:

  The skies they were ashen and sober;
    The leaves they were crispéd and sere--
    The leaves they were withering and sere;
  It was night in the lonesome October
    Of my most immemorial year;
  It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
    In the misty mid region of Weir--
  It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
    In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

  Here once, through an alley Titanic
    Of cypress, I roamed with my soul--
    Of cypress, with Psyche, my soul.
  These were days when my heart was volcanic
    As the scoriac rivers that roll--
    As the lavas that restlessly roll
  Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek,
    In the ultimate climes of the pole--
  That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek,
    In the realms of the boreal pole.

This is melodious, to be sure, but otherwise it is mere word juggling, a
stringing together of names and rimes with a total effect of lugubrious
nonsense. It is not to be denied that some critics find pleasure in
"Ulalume"; but uncritical readers need not doubt their taste or
intelligence if they prefer counting-out rimes, "The Jabberwock," or other
nonsense verses that are more frankly and joyously nonsensical.

POE'S FICTION. Should it be asked why Poe's tales are nearly all of the
bloodcurdling variety, the answer is that they are a triple reflection of
himself, of the fantastic romanticism of his age, and of the taste of
readers who were then abnormally fond of ghastly effects in fiction. Let us
understand these elements clearly; for otherwise Poe's horrible stories
will give us nothing beyond the mere impression of horror.


To begin with the personal element, Poe was naturally inclined to
morbidness. He had a childish fear of darkness and hobgoblins; he worked
largely "on his nerves"; he had an abnormal interest in graves, ghouls and
the terrors which preternatural subjects inspire in superstitious minds. As
a writer he had to earn his bread; and the fiction most in demand at that
time was of the "gothic" or _Mysteries of Udolpho_ kind, with its
diabolical villain, its pallid heroine in a haunted room, its medley of
mystery and horror. [Footnote: As Richardson suggests, the popular novels
of Poe's day are nearly all alike in that they remind us of the fat boy in
_Pickwick_, who "just wanted to make your flesh creep." Jane Austen
(and later, Scott and Cooper) had written against this morbid tendency, but
still the "gothic" novel had its thousands of shuddering readers on both
sides of the Atlantic.] At the beginning of the century Charles Brockden
Brown had made a success of the "American gothic" (a story of horror
modified to suit American readers), and Poe carried on the work of Brown
with precisely the same end in view, namely, to please his audience. He
used the motive of horror partly because of his own taste and training, no
doubt, but more largely because he shrewdly "followed the market" in
fiction. Then as now there were many readers who enjoyed, as Stevenson
says, being "frightened out of their boots," and to such readers he
appealed. His individuality and, perhaps, his chief excellence as a
story-writer lay in his use of strictly logical methods, in his ability to
make the most impossible yarn seem real by his reasonable way of telling
it. Moreover, he was a discoverer, an innovator, a maker of new types,
since he was the first to introduce in his stories the blend of calm,
logical science and wild fancy of a terrifying order; so he served as an
inspiration as well as a point of departure for Jules Verne and other
writers of the same pseudo-scientific school.


Poe's numerous tales may be grouped in three or four classes. Standing by
itself is "William Wilson," a story of double personality (one good and one
evil genius in the same person), to which Stevenson was indebted in his
_Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_. Next are the tales of
pseudo-science and adventure, such as "Hans Pfaall" and the "Descent into
the Maelstrom," which represent a type of popular fiction developed by
Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and many others, all of whom were more or less
influenced by Poe. A third group may be called the ingenious-mystery
stories. One of the most typical of these is "The Gold Bug," a tale of
cipher-writing and buried treasure, which contains the germ, at least, of
Stevenson's _Treasure Island_. To the same group belong "The Murders
in the Rue Morgue" and other stories dealing with the wondrous acumen of a
certain Dupin, who is the father of "Old Sleuth," "Sherlock Holmes" and
other amateur detectives who do such marvelous things in fiction,--to
atone, no doubt, for their extraordinary dullness in real life.

Still another group consists of phantom stories,--ghastly yarns that serve
no purpose but to make the reader's spine creep. The mildest of these
horrors is "The Fall of the House of Usher," which some critics place at
the head of Poe's fiction. It is a "story of atmosphere"; that is, a story
in which the scene, the air, the vague "feeling" of a place arouse an
expectation of some startling or unusual incident. Many have read this
story and found pleasure therein; but others ask frankly, "Why bother to
write or to read such palpable nonsense?" With all Poe's efforts to make it
real, Usher's house is not a home or even a building in which dwells a man;
it is a vacuum inhabited by a chimera. Of necessity, therefore, it tumbles
into melodramatic nothingness the moment the author takes leave of it.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

If it be asked, "What shall one read of Poe's fiction?" the answer must
depend largely upon individual taste. "The Gold Bug" is a good story,
having the adventurous interest of finding a pirate's hidden gold; at
least, that is how most readers regard it, though Poe meant us to be
interested not in the gold but in his ingenious cryptogram or secret
writing. The allegory of "William Wilson" is perhaps the most original of
Poe's works; and for a thriller "The House of Usher" may be recommended as
the least repulsive of the tales of horror. To the historian the chief
interest of all these tales lies in the influence which they have exerted
on a host of short-story writers at home and abroad.


AN ESTIMATE OF POE. Any summary of such a difficult subject is
unsatisfactory and subject to challenge. We shall try here simply to
outline Poe's aim and method, leaving the student to supply from his own
reading most of the details and all the exceptions.

Poe's chief purpose was not to tell a tale for its own sake or to portray a
human character; he aimed to produce an effect or impression in the
reader's mind, an impression of unearthly beauty in his poems and of
unearthly horror in his prose. Some writers (Hawthorne, for example) go
through life as in a dream; but if one were to judge Poe by his work, one
might think that he had suffered a long nightmare. Of this familiar
experience, his youth, his army training, his meeting with other men, his
impressions of nature or humanity, there is hardly a trace in his work; of
despair, terror and hallucinations there is a plethora.

[Sidenote: HIS METHOD]

His method was at once haphazard and carefully elaborated,--a paradox, it
seems, till we examine his work or read his records thereof. In his poetry
words appealed to him, as they appeal to some children, not so much for
their meaning as for their sound. Thus the word "nevermore," a gloomy,
terrible word, comes into his mind, and he proceeds to brood over it. The
shadow of a great loss is in the word, and loss meant to Poe the loss of
beauty in the form of a woman; therefore he invents "the lost Lenore" to
rime with his "nevermore." Some outward figure of despair is now needed,
something that will appeal to the imagination; and for that Poe selects the
sable bird that poets have used since Anglo-Saxon times as a symbol of
gloom or mystery. Then carefully, line by line, he hammers out "The Raven,"
a poem which from beginning to end is built around the word "nevermore"
with its suggestion of pitiless memories.

Or again, Poe is sitting at the bedside of his dead wife when another word
suddenly appeals to him. It is Shakespeare's

                    Duncan is in his grave;
  After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.

And from that word is born "For Annie," with an ending to the first stanza
which is an epitome of the poem, and which Longfellow suggested as a
fitting epitaph for Poe's tomb:

  And the fever called "Living"
    Is conquered at last.

He reads Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and his "Manuscript
Found in a Bottle" is the elaborated result of his chance inspiration. He
sees Cooper make a success of a sea tale, and Irving of a journal of
exploration; and, though he knows naught of the sea or the prairie, he
produces his hair-raising _Arthur Gordon Pym_ and his _Journal of
Julius Rodman_. Some sailor's yarn of a maelstrom in the North Sea comes
to his ears, and he fabricates a story of a man who went into the
whirlpool. He sees a newspaper account of a premature burial, and his
"House of Usher" and several other stories reflect the imagined horror of
such an experience. The same criticism applies to his miscellaneous
thrillers, in which with rare cunning he uses phantoms, curtains, shadows,
cats, the moldy odor of the grave,--and all to make a gruesome tale
inspired by some wild whim or nightmare.

In fine, no other American writer ever had so slight a human basis for his
work; no other ever labored more patiently or more carefully. The unending
controversy over Poe commonly reduces itself to this deadlock: one reader
asks, "What did he do that was worth a man's effort in the doing?" and
another answers, "What did he do that was not cleverly, skillfully done?"

       *       *       *       *       *

    SUMMARY. The early part of the nineteenth century (sometimes called
    the First National period of American letters) was a time of
    unusual enthusiasm. The country had recently won its independence
    and taken its place among the free nations of the world; it had
    emerged triumphant from a period of doubt and struggle over the
    Constitution and the Union; it was increasing with amazing rapidity
    in territory, in population and in the wealth which followed a
    successful commerce; its people were united as never before by
    noble pride in the past and by a great hope for the future. It is
    not surprising, therefore, that our first really national
    literature (that is, a literature which was read by practically the
    whole country, and which represented America to foreign nations)
    should appear in this expansive age as an expression of the
    national enthusiasm.

    [Sidenote: CHIEF WRITERS]

    The four chief writers of the period are: Irving, the pleasant
    essayist, story-teller and historian; Bryant, the poet of primeval
    nature; Cooper, the novelist, who was the first American author to
    win world-wide fame; and Poe, the most cunning craftsman among our
    early writers, who wrote a few melodious poems and many tales of
    mystery or horror. Some critics would include also among the major
    writers William Gilmore Simms (sometimes called "the Cooper of the
    South"), author of many adventurous romances dealing with pioneer
    life and with Colonial and Revolutionary history.

    The numerous minor writers of the age are commonly grouped in local
    schools. The Knickerbocker school, of New York, includes the poets
    Halleck and Drake, the novelist Paulding, and one writer of
    miscellaneous prose and verse, Nathaniel P. Willis, who was for a
    time more popular than any other American writer save Cooper. In
    the southern school (led by Poe and Simms) were Wilde, Kennedy and
    William Wirt. The West was represented by Timothy Flint and James
    Hall. In New England were the poets Percival and Maria Brooks, the
    novelists Sarah Morton and Catherine Sedgwick, and the historians
    Sparks and Bancroft. The writers we have named are merely typical;
    there were literally hundreds of others who were more or less
    widely known in the middle of the last century.


    The first common characteristic of these writers was their
    patriotic enthusiasm; the second was their romantic spirit. The
    romantic movement in English poetry was well under way at this
    time, and practically all our writers were involved in it. They
    were strongly influenced, moreover, by English writers of the
    period or by settled English literary traditions. Thus, Irving
    modeled his style closely on that of Addison; the early poetry of
    Bryant shows the influence of Wordsworth; the weird tales of Poe
    and his critical essays were both alike influenced by Coleridge;
    and the quickening influence of Scott appears plainly in the
    romances of Cooper. The minor writers were even more subject to
    foreign influences, especially to German and English romanticism.
    There was, however, a sturdy independence in the work of most of
    these writers which stamps it as original and unmistakably
    American. The nature poetry of Bryant with its rugged strength and
    simplicity, the old Dutch legends and stories of Irving, the
    pioneer romances of Cooper and Simms, the effective short stories
    of Poe,--these have hardly a counterpart in foreign writings of the
    period. They are the first striking expressions of the new American
    spirit in literature.

    SELECTIONS FOR READING. Irving's Sketch Book, in Standard English
    Classics and various other school editions (see "Texts" in General
    Bibliography); The Alhambra, in Ginn and Company's Classics for
    Children; parts of Bracebridge Hall, in Riverside Literature;
    Conquest of Granada and other works, in Everyman's Library.

    Selections from Bryant, in Riverside Literature and Pocket

    Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, in Standard English Classics and
    other school editions; the five Leatherstocking tales, in
    Everyman's Library; The Spy, in Riverside Literature.

    Selections from Poe, prose and verse, in Standard English Classics,
    Silver Classics, Johnson's English Classics, Lake English Classics.

    Simms's The Yemassee, in Johnson's English Classics. Typical
    selections from minor authors of the period, in Readings from
    American Literature and other anthologies (see "Selections" in
    General Bibliography).

    BIBLIOGRAPHY. For works covering the whole field of American
    history and literature see the General Bibliography. The following
    are recommended for a special study of the early part of the
    nineteenth century.

    _HISTORY_. Adams, History of the United States, 1801-1817, 9
    vols.; Von Holst, Constitutional and Political History, 1787-1861,
    8 vols.; Sparks, Expansion of the American People; Low, The
    American People; Expedition of Lewis and Clarke, in Original
    Narratives Series (Scribner); Page, The Old South; Drake, The
    Making of the West.

    _LITERATURE_. There is no good literary history devoted to
    this period. Critical studies of the authors named in the text may
    be found in Richardson's American Literature and other general
    histories. For the lives of minor authors see Adams, Dictionary of
    American Authors, or Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography.

    _Irving_. Life and Letters, by P. M. Irving, 4 vols., in
    Crayon edition of Irving's works. Life by Warner, in American Men
    of Letters; by Hill, in American Authors; by Boynton (brief), in
    Riverside Biographies.

    Essays by Brownell, in American Prose Masters; by Payne, in Leading
    American Essayists; by Perry, in A Study of Prose Fiction; by
    Curtis, in Literary and Social Addresses.

    _Bryant_. Life, by Godwin, 2 vols.; by Bigelow, in American
    Men of Letters; by Curtis. Wilson, Bryant and his Friends.

    Essays, by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Curtis, in Orations and
    Addresses; by Whipple, in Literature and Life; by Burton, in
    Literary Leaders.

    _Cooper_. Life, by Lounsbury, in American Men of Letters; by
    Clymer (brief), in Beacon Biographies.

    Essays, by Erskine, in Leading American Novelists; by Brownell, in
    American Prose Masters; by Matthews, in Gateways to Literature.

    _Poe_. Life, by Woodberry, in American Men of Letters; by
    Trent, in English Men of Letters; Life and Letters, 2 vols., by

    Essays, by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Brownell, in American
    Prose Masters; by Burton, in Literary Leaders; by Higginson, in
    Short Studies of American Authors; by Andrew Lang, in Letters to
    Dead Authors; by Gates, in Studies and Appreciations; by Gosse, in
    Questions at Issue.

    _Simms_. Life, by Trent, in American Men of Letters. Critical
    studies by Moses, in Literature of the South; by Link, in Pioneers
    of Southern Literature; by Wauchope, in Writers of South Carolina.

    _FICTION_. A few novels dealing with the period are: Brown,
    Arthur Merwyn; Kennedy, Swallow Barn; Paulding, Westward Ho; Mrs.
    Stowe, The Minister's Wooing; Cooke, Leather Stocking and Silk;
    Eggleston, The Circuit Rider, The Hoosier Schoolmaster; Winthrop,
    John Brent.



  The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
    The soldier's last tattoo;
  No more on Life's parade shall meet
    That brave and fallen few.
  On Fame's eternal camping-ground
    Their silent tents are spread,
  And Glory guards, with solemn round,
    The bivouac of the dead.

           O'Hara, "The Bivouac of the Dead"

    POLITICAL HISTORY. To study the history of America after 1840 is to
    have our attention drawn as by a powerful lodestone to the Civil
    War. It looms there in the middle of the nineteenth century, a
    stupendous thing, dominating and dwarfing all others. To it
    converge many ways that then seemed aimless or wandering, the
    unanswered questions of the Constitution, the compromises of
    statesmen, the intrigues of politicians, the clamor of impatient
    reformers, the silent degradation of the slave. And from it, all
    its passion and suffering forgotten, its heroism remembered,
    proceed the unexpected blessings of a finer love of country, a
    broader sense of union, a surer faith in democracy, a better
    understanding of the spirit of America, more gratitude for her
    glorious past, more hope for her future. So every thought or
    mention of the mighty conflict draws us onward, as the first sight
    of the Rockies, massive and snow crowned, lures the feet of the
    wanderer on the plains.

    We shall not attempt here to summarize the war between the South
    and the North or even to list its causes and consequences. The
    theme is too vast. We note only that the main issues of the
    conflict, state rights and slavery, had been debated for the better
    part of a century, and might still have found peaceful solution had
    they not been complicated by the minor issues of such an age of
    agitation as America never saw before and, as we devoutly hope, may
    never see again.

    [Illustration: "The Man" (Abraham Lincoln)]

    [Sidenote: THE AGE OF AGITATION]

    Such agitation was perhaps inevitable in a country that had grown
    too rapidly for its government to assimilate the new possessions.
    By the Oregon treaty, the war with Mexico and the annexation of
    Texas vast territories had suddenly been added to the Union, each
    with its problem that called for patient and wise deliberation, but
    that a passionate and half-informed Congress was expected to settle
    overnight. With the expansion of territory in the West came a
    marvelous increase of trade and wealth in the North, and a
    corresponding growth in the value of cotton and slave labor in the
    South. Then arose an economic strife; the agricultural interests of
    one part of the country clashed with the manufacturing interests of
    another (in such matters as the tariff, for example), and in the
    tumult of party politics it was impossible to reach any harmonious
    adjustment. Finally, the violent agitation of the slave question
    forced it to the front not simply as a moral or human but as a
    political issue; for the old "balance of power" between the states
    was upset when the North began to outstrip the South in population,
    and every state was then fiercely jealous of its individual rights
    and obligations in a way that we can now hardly comprehend.

    As a result of these conflicting interests and the local or
    sectional passions which they aroused, there was seldom a year
    after 1840 when the country did not face a situation of extreme
    difficulty or danger. Indeed, even while Webster was meditating his
    prophetic oration with its superb climax of "Liberty and Union, now
    and forever, one and inseparable," many of the most thoughtful
    minds, south and north, believed that Congress faced a problem
    beyond its power to solve; that no single government was wise
    enough or strong enough to meet the situation, especially a
    government divided against itself.


    In the midst of the political tumult, which was increased by the
    clamor of agitators and reformers, came suddenly the secession of a
    state from the Union, an act long threatened, long feared, but
    which arrived at last with the paralyzing effect of a thunderbolt.
    Then the clamor ceased; minor questions were swept aside as by a
    tempest, and the main issues were settled not by constitutional
    rights, not by orderly process of law or the ballot, but by the
    fearful arbitrament of the sword. And even as the thunderbolt fell
    and the Union trembled, came also unheralded one gaunt, heroic,
    heaven-sent man to lead the nation in its hour of peril:

      Oh, slow to smite and swift to spare,
        Gentle and merciful and just!
      Who in the fear of God didst bear
        The sword of power, a nation's trust!

    Such is an outline of the period of conflict, an outline to which
    the political measures or compromises of the time, its sectional
    antagonism, its score of political parties, its agitators,
    reformers, and all other matters of which we read confusedly in the
    histories, are but so many illuminating details.

    SOCIAL AND INTELLECTUAL CHANGES. The mental ferment of the period
    was almost as intense as its political agitation. Thus, the
    antislavery movement, which aimed to rescue the negro from his
    servitude, was accompanied by a widespread communistic attempt to
    save the white man from the manifold evils of our competitive
    system of industry. Brook Farm [Footnote: This was a Massachusetts
    society, founded in 1841 by George Ripley. It included Hawthorne,
    Dana and Curtis in its large membership, and it had the support of
    Emerson, Greeley, Channing, Margaret Fuller and a host of other
    prominent men and women] was the most famous of these communities;
    but there were more than thirty others scattered over the country,
    all holding property in common, working on a basis of mutual
    helpfulness, aiming at a nobler life and a better system of labor
    than that which now separates the capitalist and the workingman.


    This brave attempt at human brotherhood, of which Brook Farm was
    the visible symbol, showed itself in many other ways: in the
    projection of a hundred social reforms; in the establishment of
    lyceums throughout the country, where every man with a message
    might find a hearing. In education our whole school system was
    changed by applying the methods of Pestalozzi, a Swiss reformer;
    for the world had suddenly become small, thanks to steam and
    electricity, and what was spoken in a corner the newspapers
    immediately proclaimed from the housetops. In religious circles the
    Unitarian movement, under Channing's leadership, gained rapidly in
    members and in influence; in literature the American horizon was
    broadened by numerous translations from the classic books of
    foreign countries; in the realm of philosophy the western mind was
    stimulated by the teaching of the idealistic system known as


    Emerson was the greatest exponent of this new philosophy, which
    made its appearance here in 1836. It exalted the value of the
    individual man above society or institutions; and in dealing with
    the individual it emphasized his freedom rather than his subjection
    to authority, his soul rather than his body, his inner wealth of
    character rather than his outward possessions. It taught that
    nature was an open book of the Lord in which he who runs may read a
    divine message; and in contrast with eighteenth-century philosophy
    (which had described man as a creature of the senses, born with a
    blank mind, and learning only by experience), it emphasized the
    divinity of man's nature, his inborn ideas of right and wrong, his
    instinct of God, his passion for immortality,--in a word, his
    higher knowledge which transcends the knowledge gained from the
    senses, and which is summarized in the word "Transcendentalism."

    We have described this in the conventional way as a new philosophy,
    though in truth it is almost as old as humanity. Most of the great
    thinkers of the world, in all ages and in all countries, have been
    transcendentalists; but in the original way in which the doctrine
    was presented by Emerson it seemed like a new revelation, as all
    fine old things do when they are called to our attention, and it
    exercised a profound influence on our American life and literature.

LITERATURE OF THE PERIOD. The violent political agitation and the profound
social unrest of the period found expression in multitudinous works of
prose or verse; but the curious fact is that these are all minor works, and
could without much loss be omitted from our literary records. They are
mostly sectional in spirit, and only what is national or human can long

[Sidenote: MINOR WORKS]

To illustrate our criticism, the terrible war that dominates the period
never had any worthy literary expression; there are thousands of writings
but not a single great poem or story or essay or drama on the subject. The
antislavery movement likewise brought forth its poets, novelists, orators
and essayists; some of the greater writers were drawn into its whirlpool of
agitation, and Whittier voiced the conviction that the age called for a man
rather than a poet in a cry which was half defiance and half regret:

  Better than self-indulgent years
    The outflung heart of youth,
  Than pleasant songs in idle ears
    The tumult of the truth!

That was the feeling in the heart of many a promising young southern or
northern poet in midcentury, just as it was in 1776, when our best writers
neglected literature for political satires against Whigs or Tories. Yet of
the thousand works which the antislavery agitation inspired we can think of
only one, Mrs. Stowe's _Uncle Tom's Cabin_, which lives with power to
our own day; and there is something of universal human nature in that
famous book, written not from knowledge or experience but from the
imagination, which appeals broadly to our human sympathy, and which makes
it welcome in countries where slavery as a political or a moral issue has
long since been forgotten.


Though the ferment of the age produced no great books, it certainly
influenced our literature, making it a very different product from that of
the early national period. For example, nearly every political issue soon
became a moral issue; and there is a deep ethical earnestness in the essays
of Emerson, the poems of Longfellow and the novels of Hawthorne which sets
them apart, as of a different spirit, from the works of Irving, Poe and

Again, the mental unrest of the period showed itself in a passion for new
ideas, new philosophy, new prose and poetry. We have already spoken of the
transcendental philosophy, but even more significant was the sudden
broadening of literary interest. American readers had long been familiar
with the best English poets; now they desired to know how our common life
had been reflected by poets of other nations. In answer to that desire
came, first, the establishment of professorships of _belles-lettres_
in our American colleges; and then a flood of translations from European
and oriental literatures. As we shall presently see, every prominent writer
from Emerson to Whitman was influenced by new views of life as reflected in
the world's poetry. Longfellow is a conspicuous example; with his songs
inspired by Spanish or German or Scandinavian originals he is at times more
like an echo of Europe than a voice from the New World.


[Sidenote: AN AGE OF POETRY]

Finally, this period of conflict was governed more largely than usual by
ideals, by sentiment, by intense feeling. Witness the war, with the heroic
sentiments which it summoned up south and north. As the deepest human
feeling cannot be voiced in prose, we confront the strange phenomenon of an
American age of poetry. This would be remarkable Poetry enough to one who
remembers that the genius of America had hitherto appeared practical and
prosaic, given to action rather than speech, more concerned to "get on" in
life than to tell what life means; but it is even more remarkable in view
of the war, which covers the age with its frightful shadow. As Lincoln, sad
and overburdened, found the relief of tears in the beautiful ending of
Longfellow's "Building of the Ship," so, it seems, the heart of America,
torn by the sight of her sons in conflict, found blessed relief in songs of
love, of peace, of home, of beauty,--of all the lovely and immortal ideals
to which every war offers violent but impotent contradiction. And this may
be the simple explanation of the fact that the most cherished poems
produced by any period of war are almost invariably its songs of peace.

       *       *       *       *       *



When Longfellow sent forth his _Voices of the Night_, in 1839, that
modest little volume met with a doubly warm reception. Critics led by Poe
pounced on the work to condemn its sentimentality or moralizing, while a
multitude of readers who needed no leader raised a great shout of welcome.

Now as then there are diverse critical opinions of Longfellow, and
unfortunately these opinions sometimes obscure the more interesting facts:
that Longfellow is still the favorite of the American home, the most
honored of all our elder poets; that in foreign schools his works are
commonly used as an introduction to English verse, and that he has probably
led more young people to appreciate poetry than any other poet who ever
wrote our language. That strange literary genius Lafcadio Hearn advised his
Japanese students to begin the study of poetry with Longfellow, saying that
they might learn to like other poets better in later years, but that
Longfellow was most certain to charm them at the beginning.

The reason for this advice, given to the antipodes, was probably this, that
young hearts and pure hearts are the same the world over, and Longfellow is
the poet of the young and pure in heart.

    LIFE. The impression of serenity in Longfellow's work may be
    explained by the gifts which Fortune offered him in the way of
    endowment, training and opportunity. By nature he was a gentleman;
    his home training was of the best; to his college education four
    years of foreign study were added, a very unusual thing at that
    time; and no sooner was he ready for his work than the way opened
    as if the magic _Sesame_ were on his lips. His own college
    gave him a chair of modern languages and literature, which was the
    very thing he wanted; then Harvard offered what seemed to him a
    wider field, and finally his country called him from the
    professor's chair to teach the love of poetry to the whole nation.
    Before his long and beautiful life ended he had enjoyed for half a
    century the two rewards that all poets desire, and the most of them
    in vain; namely, fame and love. The first may be fairly won; the
    second is a free gift.


    Longfellow was born (1807) in the town of Falmouth, Maine, which
    has since been transformed into the city of Portland. Like Bryant
    he was descended from Pilgrim stock; but where the older poet's
    training had been strictly puritanic, Longfellow's was more liberal
    and broadly cultured. Bryant received the impulse to poetry from
    his grandfather's prayers, but Longfellow seems to have heard his
    first call in the sea wind. Some of his best lyrics sing of the
    ocean; his early book of essays was called _Driftwood_, his
    last volume of poetry _In the Harbor_; and in these lyrics and
    titles we have a reflection of his boyhood impressions in looking
    forth from the beautiful Falmouth headland, then a wild,
    wood-fringed pasture but now a formal park:

      I remember the black wharves and the slips,
        And the sea tides tossing free,
      And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
      And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
        And the magic of the sea.

    [Sidenote: THE CALL OF BOOKS]

    This first call was presently neglected for the more insistent
    summons of literature; and thereafter Longfellow's inspiration was
    at second hand, from books rather than from nature or humanity.
    Soon after his graduation from Bowdoin (1825) he was offered a
    professorship in modern languages on condition that he prepare
    himself for the work by foreign study. With a glad heart he
    abandoned the law, which he had begun to study in his father's
    office, and spent three happy years in France, Spain and Italy.
    There he steeped himself in European poetry, and picked up a
    reading knowledge of several languages. Strangely enough, the
    romantic influence of Europe was reflected by this poet in a book
    of prose essays, _Outre Mer_, modeled on Irving's _Sketch

    [Sidenote: YEARS OF TEACHING]

    For five years Longfellow taught the modern languages at Bowdoin,
    and his subject was so new in America that he had to prepare his
    own textbooks. Then, after another period of foreign study (this
    time in Denmark and Germany), he went to Harvard, where he taught
    modern languages and literature for eighteen years. In 1854 he
    resigned his chair, and for the remainder of his life devoted
    himself whole-heartedly to poetry.

    His literary work began with newspaper verses, the best of which
    appear in the "Earlier Poems" of his collected works. Next he
    attempted prose in his _Outre Mer_, _Driftwood Essays_
    and the romances _Hyperion_ and _Kavanagh_. In 1839
    appeared his first volume of poetry, _Voices of the Night_,
    after which few years went by without some notable poem or volume
    from Longfellow's pen. His last book, _In the Harbor_,
    appeared with the news of his death, in 1882.

    [Sidenote: HIS SERENITY]

    Aside from these "milestones" there is little to record in a career
    so placid that we remember by analogy "The Old Clock on the
    Stairs." For the better part of his life he lived in Cambridge,
    where he was surrounded by a rare circle of friends, and whither
    increasing numbers came from near or far to pay the tribute of
    gratitude to one who had made life more beautiful by his singing.
    Once only the serenity was broken by a tragedy, the death of the
    poet's wife, who was fatally burned before his eyes,--a tragedy
    which occasioned his translation of Dante's _Divina Commedia_
    (by which work he strove to keep his sorrow from overwhelming him)
    and the exquisite "Cross of Snow." The latter seemed too sacred for
    publication; it was found, after the poet's death, among his
    private papers.


    Reading Longfellow's poems one would never suspect that they were
    produced in an age of turmoil. To be sure, one finds a few poems on
    slavery (sentimental effusions, written on shipboard to relieve the
    monotony of a voyage), but these were better unwritten since they
    added nothing to the poet's song and took nothing from the slave's
    burden. Longfellow has been criticized for his inaction in the
    midst of tumult, but possibly he had his reasons. When everybody's
    shouting is an excellent time to hold your tongue. He had his own
    work to do, a work for which he was admirably fitted; that he did
    not turn aside from it is to his credit and our profit. One demand
    of his age was, as we have noted elsewhere, to enter into the
    wealth of European poetry; and he gave thirty years of his life to
    satisfying that demand. Our own poetry was then sentimental, a kind
    of "sugared angel-cake"; and Longfellow, who was sentimental enough
    but whose sentiment was balanced by scholarship, made poetry that
    was like wholesome bread to common men. Lowell was a more brilliant
    writer, and Whittier a more inspired singer; but neither did a work
    for American letters that is comparable to that of Longfellow, who
    was essentially an educator, a teacher of new ideas, new values,
    new beauty. His influence in broadening our literary culture, in
    deepening our sympathy for the poets of other lands, and in making
    our own poetry a true expression of American feeling is beyond

MINOR POEMS. It was by his first simple poems that Longfellow won the
hearts of his people, and by them he is still most widely and gratefully
remembered. To name these old favorites ("The Day is Done," "Resignation,"
"Ladder of St. Augustine," "Rainy Day," "Footsteps of Angels," "Light of
Stars," "Reaper and the Flowers," "Hymn to the Night," "Midnight Mass,"
"Excelsior," "Village Blacksmith," "Psalm of Life") is to list many of the
poems that are remembered and quoted wherever in the round world the
English language is spoken.

[Sidenote: VESPER SONGS]

Ordinarily such poems are accepted at their face value as a true expression
of human sentiment; but if we examine them critically, remembering the
people for whom they were written, we may discover the secret of their
popularity. The Anglo-Saxons are first a busy and then a religious folk;
when their day's work is done their thoughts turn naturally to higher
matters; and any examination of Longfellow's minor works shows that a large
proportion of them deal with the thoughts or feelings of men at the close
of day. Such poems would be called _Abendlieder_ in German; a good
Old-English title for them would be "Evensong"; and both titles suggest the
element of faith or worship. In writing these poems Longfellow had,
unconsciously perhaps, the same impulse that leads one man to sing a hymn
and another to say his prayers when the day is done. Because he expresses
this almost universal feeling simply and reverently, his work is dear to
men and women who would not have the habit of work interfere with the
divine instinct of worship.

Further examination of these minor poems shows them to be filled with
sentiment that often slips over the verge of sentimentality. The sentiments
expressed are not of the exalted, imaginative kind; they are the sentiments
of plain people who feel deeply but who can seldom express their feeling.
Now, most people are sentimental (though we commonly try to hide the fact,
more's the pity), and we are at heart grateful to the poet who says for us
in simple, musical language what we are unable or ashamed to say for
ourselves. In a word, the popularity of Longfellow's poems rests firmly on
the humanity of the poet.


Besides these vesper songs are a hundred other short poems, among which the
reader must make his own selection. The ballads should not be neglected,
for Longfellow knew how to tell a story in verse. If he were too prone to
add a moral to his tale (a moral that does not speak for itself were better
omitted), we can overlook the fault, since his moral was a good one and his
readers liked it. The "occasional" poems, also, written to celebrate
persons or events (such as "Building of the Ship," "Hanging of the Crane,"
"Morituri Salutamus," "Bells of Lynn," "Robert Burns," "Chamber over the
Gate") well deserved the welcome which the American people gave them. And
the sonnets (such as "Three Friends," "Victor and Vanquished," "My Books,"
"Nature," "Milton," "President Garfield," "Giotto's Tower") are not only
the most artistic of Longfellow's works but rank very near to the best
sonnets in the English language.

AMERICAN IDYLS. In the same spirit in which Tennyson wrote his _English
Idyls_ the American poet sent forth certain works reflecting the beauty
of common life on this side of the ocean; and though he never collected or
gave them a name, we think of them as his "American Idyls." Many of his
minor poems belong to this class, but we are thinking especially of
_Evangeline_, _Miles Standish_ and _Hiawatha_. The
last-named, with its myths and legends clustering around one heroic
personage, is commonly called an epic; but its songs of Chibiabos,
Minnehaha, Nokomis and the little Hiawatha are more like idyllic pictures
of the original Americans.

[Sidenote: EVANGELINE]

_Evangeline: a Tale of Acadie_ (1847) met the fate of Longfellow's
earlier poems in that it was promptly attacked by a few critics while a
multitude of people read it with delight. Its success may be explained on
four counts. First, it is a charming story, not a "modern" or realistic but
a tender, pathetic story such as we read in old romances, and such as young
people will cherish so long as they remain young people. Second, it had a
New World setting, one that was welcomed in Europe because it offered
readers a new stage, more vast, shadowy, mysterious, than that to which
they were accustomed; and doubly welcomed here because it threw the glamor
of romance over familiar scenes which deserved but had never before found
their poet. Third, this old romance in a new setting was true to universal
human nature; its sentiments of love, faith and deathless loyalty were such
as make the heart beat faster wherever true hearts are found. Finally, it
was written in an unusual verse form, the unrimed hexameter, which
Longfellow handled as well, let us say, as most other English poets who
have tried to use that alluring but difficult measure. For hexameters are
like the Italian language, which is very easy to "pick up," but which few
foreigners ever learn to speak with the rhythm and melody of a child of

Longfellow began his hexameters fairly well, as witness the opening lines
of _Evangeline_:

  This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
  Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
  Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
  Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
  Loud from its rocky caverns the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
  Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

Occasionally also he produced a very good but not quite perfect line or

  And as the voice of the priest repeated the service of sorrow,
  So with a mournful sound, like the voice of a vast congregation,
  Solemnly answered the sea, and mingled its roar with the dirges.

One must confess, however, that such passages are exceptional, and that one
must change the proper stress of a word too frequently to be enthusiastic
over Longfellow's hexameters. Some of his lines halt or hobble, refusing to
move to the chosen measure, and others lose all their charm when spoken

  When she had passed it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music.

That line has been praised by critics, but one must believe that they never
pronounced it. To voice its sibilant hissing is to understand the symbol
for a white man in the Indian sign language; that is, two fingers of a hand
extended before the face, like the fork of a serpent's tongue. [Footnote:
This curious symbol, a snake's tongue to represent an Englishman, was
invented by some Indian whose ears were pained by a language in which the
_s_ sounds occur too frequently. Our plurals are nearly all made that
way, unfortunately; but Longfellow was able to make a hissing line without
the use of a single plural.] On the whole, Longfellow's verse should be
judged not by itself but as a part of the tale he was telling. Holmes
summed up the first impression of many readers by saying that he found
these "brimming lines" an excellent medium for a charming story.

That is more than one can truthfully say of the next important idyl, _The
Courtship of Miles Standish_ (1858). The story is a good one and, more
than all the histories, has awakened a romantic interest in the Pilgrims;
but its unhappy hexameters go jolting along, continually upsetting the
musical rhythm, until we wish that the tale had been told in either prose
or poetry.


_The Song of Hiawatha_ (1855) was Longfellow's greatest work, and by
it he will probably be longest remembered as a world poet. The materials
for this poem, its musical names, its primitive traditions, its fascinating
folklore, were all taken from Schoolcraft's books about the Ojibway
Indians; its peculiar verse form, with its easy rhythm and endless
repetition, was copied from the _Kalevala_, the national epic of
Finland. Material and method, the tale and the verse form, were finely
adapted to each other; and though Longfellow showed no originality in
_Hiawatha_, his poetic talent or genius appears in this: that these
tales of childhood are told in a childlike spirit; that these forest
legends have the fragrance of hemlock in them; and that as we read them,
even now, we seem to see the wigwam with its curling smoke, and beyond the
wigwam the dewy earth, the shining river, and the blue sky with its pillars
of tree trunks and its cloud of rustling leaves. The simplicity and
naturalness of primitive folklore is in this work of Longfellow, who of a
hundred writers at home and abroad was the first to reveal the poetry in
the soul of an Indian.

As the poem is well known we forbear quotation; as it is too long, perhaps,
we express a personal preference in naming "Hiawatha's Childhood," his
"Friends," his "Fishing" and his "Wooing" as the parts most likely to
please the beginner. The best that can be said of _Hiawatha_ is that
it adds a new tale to the world's storybook. That book of the centuries has
only a few stories, each of which portrays a man from birth to death,
fronting the problems of this life, meeting its joy or sorrow in man
fashion, and then setting his face bravely to "Ponemah," the Land of the
Hereafter. That Longfellow added a chapter to the volume which preserves
the stories of Ulysses, Beowulf, Arthur and Roland is undoubtedly his best
or most enduring achievement.


HIS EXPERIMENTAL WORKS. Unless the student wants to encourage a sentimental
mood by reading _Hyperion_, Longfellow's prose works need not detain
us. Much more valuable and readable are his translations from various
European languages, and of these his metrical version of _The Divine
Comedy_ of Dante is most notable. He attempted also several dramatic
works, among which _The Spanish Student_ (1843) is still readable,
though not very convincing. In _Christus: a Mystery_ he attempted a
miracle play of three acts, dealing with Christianity in the apostolic,
medieval and modern eras; but not even his admirers were satisfied with the
result. "The Golden Legend" (one version of which Caxton printed on the
first English press, and which a score of different poets have paraphrased)
is the only part of _Christus_ that may interest young readers by its
romantic portrayal of the Middle Ages. To name such works is to suggest
Longfellow's varied interests and his habit of experimenting with any
subject or verse form that attracted him in foreign literatures.

The _Tales of a Wayside Inn_ (1863-1873) is the most popular of
Longfellow's miscellaneous works. Here are a score of stories from ancient
or modern sources, as told by a circle of the poet's friends in the Red
Horse Inn, at Sudbury. The title suggests at once the _Canterbury
Tales_ of Chaucer; but it would be unwise to make any comparison between
the two works or the two poets. The ballad of "Paul Revere's Ride" is the
best known of the _Wayside Inn_ poems; the Viking tales of "The Saga
of King Olaf" are the most vigorous; the mellow coloring of the Middle Ages
appears in such stories as "The Legend Beautiful" and "The Bell of Atri."

CHARACTERISTICS OF LONGFELLOW. The broad sympathy of Longfellow, which made
him at home in the literatures of a dozen nations, was one of his finest
qualities. He lived in Cambridge; he wrote in English; he is called the
poet of the American home; but had he lived in Finland and written in a
Scandinavian tongue, his poems must still appeal to us. Indeed, so simply
did he reflect the sentiments of the human heart that Finland or any other
nation might gladly class him among its poets.


For example, many Englishmen have written about their Wellington, but, as
Hearn says, not even Tennyson's poem on the subject is quite equal to
Longfellow's "Warden of the Cinque Ports." The spirit of the Spanish
missions, with their self-sacrificing monks and their soldiers "with hearts
of fire and steel," is finely reflected in "The Bells of San Blas." The
half-superstitious loyalty of the Russian peasant for his hereditary ruler
has never been better reflected than in "The White Czar." The story of
Belisarius has been told in scores of histories and books of poetry; but
you will feel a deeper sympathy for the neglected old Roman soldier in
Longfellow's poem than in anything else you may find on the same theme. And
there are many other foreign heroes or brave deeds that find beautiful
expression in the verse of our American poet. Of late it has become almost
a critical habit to disparage Longfellow; but no critic has pointed out
another poet who has reflected with sympathy and understanding the feelings
of so many widely different peoples.


Naturally such a poet had his limitations. In comparison with Chaucer, for
example, we perceive instantly that Longfellow knew only one side of life,
the better side. Unhappy or rebellious or turbulent souls were beyond his
ken. He wrote only for those who work by day and sometimes go to evensong
at night, who hopefully train their children or reverently bury their dead,
and who cleave to a writer that speaks for them the fitting word of faith
or cheer or consolation on every proper occasion. As humanity is largely
made of such men and women, Longfellow will always be a popular poet. For
him, with his serene outlook, there were not nine Muses but only three, and
their names were Faith, Hope and Charity.


Concerning his faults, perhaps the most illuminating thing that can be said
is that critics emphasize and ordinary readers ignore them. The reason for
this is that every poem has two elements, form and content: a critic looks
chiefly at the one, an ordinary reader at the other. Because the form of
Longfellow's verse is often faulty it is easy to criticize him, to show
that he copies the work of others, that he lacks originality, that his
figures are often forced or questionable; but the reader, the young reader
especially, may be too much interested in the charm of the poet's story or
the truth of his sentiment to dissect his poetic figures. Thus, in the
best-known of his earlier poems, "A Psalm of Life," he uses the famous
metaphor of "footprints on the sands of time." That is so bad a figure that
to analyze is to reject it; yet it never bothers young people, who would
understand the poet and like him just as well even had he written
"signboards" instead of "footprints." The point is that Longfellow is so
obviously a true and pleasant poet that his faults easily escape attention
unless we look for them. There is perhaps no better summary of our poet's
qualities than to record again the simple fact that he is the poet of young
people, to whom sentiment is the very breath of life. Should you ask the
reason for his supremacy in this respect, the answer is a paradox.
Longfellow was not an originator; he had no new song to sing, no new tale
to tell. He was the poet of old heroes, old legends, old sentiments and
ideals. Therefore he is the poet of youth.

       *       *       *       *       *


The strange mixture of warrior and peace lover in Whittier has led to a
strange misjudgment of his work. From the obscurity of a New England farm
he emerged as the champion of the Abolitionist party, and for thirty
tumultuous years his poems were as war cries. By such work was he judged as
"the trumpeter of a cause," and the judgment stood between him and his
audience when he sang not of a cause but of a country. Even at the present
time most critics speak of Whittier as "the antislavery poet." Stedman, for
example, focuses our attention on certain lyrics of reform which he calls
"words wrung from the nation's heart"; but the plain fact is that only a
small part of the nation approved these lyrics or took any interest in the
poet who wrote them.

Such was Whittier on one side, a militant poet of reform, sending forth
verses that had the brattle of trumpets and the waving of banners in them:

  Lift again the stately emblem on the Bay State's rusted shield,
  Give to Northern winds the Pine Tree on our banner's tattered field.
  Sons of men who sat in council with their Bibles round the board,
  Answering England's royal missive with a firm, "Thus saith the Lord!"
  Rise again for home and freedom! set the battle in array!
  What the fathers did of old time we their sons must do to-day.

On the other side he was a Friend, or Quaker, and the peaceful spirit of
his people found expression in lyrics of faith that have no equal in our
poetry. He was also a patriot to the core. He loved America with a profound
love; her ideals, her traditions, her epic history were in his blood, and
he glorified them in ballads and idyls that reflect the very spirit of
brave Colonial days. To judge Whittier as a trumpeter, therefore, is to
neglect all that is important in his work; for his reform poems merely
awaken the dying echoes of party clamor, while his ballads and idyls belong
to the whole American people, and his hymns of faith to the wider audience
of humanity.

    LIFE. The span of Whittier's life was almost the span of the
    nineteenth century. He was born (1807) in the homestead of his
    ancestors at Haverhill, Massachusetts, and spent his formative
    years working in the fields by day, reading beside the open fire at
    night, and spending a few terms in a "deestrict" school presided
    over by teachers who came or went with the spring. His schooling
    was, therefore, of the scantiest kind; his real education came from
    a noble home, from his country's history, from his toil and outdoor
    life with its daily contact with nature. The love of home and of
    homely virtues, the glorification of manhood and womanhood, the
    pride of noble traditions, and always a background of meadow or
    woodland or sounding sea,--these were the subjects of Whittier's
    best verse, because these were the things he knew most intimately.

    [Sidenote: FIRST VERSES]

    It was a song of Burns that first turned Whittier to poetry; but
    hardly had he begun to write songs of his own when Garrison, the
    antislavery agitator, turned his thought from the peaceful farm to
    the clamoring world beyond. Attracted by certain verses (Whittier's
    sister Elizabeth had sent them secretly to Garrison's paper) the
    editor came over to see his contributor and found to his surprise a
    country lad who was in evident need of education. Instead of asking
    for more poetry, therefore, Garrison awakened the boy's ambition.
    For two terms he attended the Haverhill Academy, supporting himself
    meanwhile by making shoes. Then his labor was needed at home; but
    finding his health too delicate for farm work he chose other
    occupations and contributed manfully to the support of his family.


    For several years thereafter Whittier was like a man trying to find
    himself. He did factory work; he edited newspapers; he showed a
    talent for political leadership; he made poems which he sold at a
    price to remind him of what he had once received for making shoes.
    While poetry and politics both called to him alluringly a crisis
    arose; Garrison summoned him; and with a sad heart, knowing that he
    left all hope of political or literary success behind, he went over
    to the Abolitionist party. That was in 1833, when Whittier was
    twenty-six years old. At that time the Abolitionists were detested
    in the North as well as in the South, and to join them was to
    become an outcast.

    [Sidenote: STORM AND STRESS]

    Then came the militant period of Whittier's life. He became editor
    of antislavery journals; he lectured in the cause; he was stoned
    for his utterances; his printing shop was burned by a mob.
    Meanwhile his poems were sounding abroad like trumpet blasts,
    making friends, making enemies. It was a passionate age, when
    political enemies were hated like Hessians, but Whittier was always
    chivalrous with his opponents. Read his "Randolph of Roanoke" for a
    specific example. His "Laus Deo" (1865), a chant of exultation
    written when he heard the bells ringing the news of the
    constitutional amendment prohibiting slavery, was the last poem of
    this period of storm and stress.


    In the following year Whittier produced _Snow-Bound_, his
    masterpiece. Though he had been writing for half a century, he had
    never won either fame or money by his verse; but the publication of
    this beautiful idyl placed him in the front rank of American poets.
    Thereafter he was a national figure, and the magazines which once
    scorned his verses were now most eager to print them. So he made an
    end of the poverty which had been his portion since childhood.

    [Sidenote: PEACEFUL YEARS]

    For the remainder of his life he lived serenely at Amesbury, for
    the most part, in a modest house presided over by a relative. He
    wrote poetry now more carefully, for a wider audience, and every
    few years saw another little volume added to his store: _Ballads
    of New England_, _Miriam and Other Poems_, _Hazel
    Blossoms_, _Poems of Nature_, _St. Gregory's Quest_,
    _At Sundown_. When he died (1892) he was honored not so widely
    perhaps as Longfellow, but more deeply, as we honor those whose
    peace has been won through manful strife. Holmes, the ready poet of
    all occasions, expressed a formal but sincere judgment in the

      Best loved and saintliest of our singing train,
        Earth's noblest tributes to thy name belong:
      A lifelong record closed without a stain,
        A blameless memory shrined in deathless song.

EARLIER WORKS. [Footnote: Though we are concerned here with Whittier's
poetry, we should at least mention certain of his prose works, such as
_Legends of New England_, _Leaves from Margaret Smith's Journal_
and _Old Portraits and Modern Sketches_. The chief value of these is
in their pictures of Colonial life.] In Whittier's poetry we note three
distinct stages, and note also that he was on the wrong trail until he
followed his own spirit. His earliest work was inspired by Burns, but this
was of no consequence. Next he fell under the spell of Scott and wrote
"Mogg Megone" and "The Bridal of Pennacook." These Indian romances in verse
are too much influenced by Scott's border poems and also by sentimental
novels of savage life, such as Mrs. Child's _Hobomok_; they do not
ring true, and in this respect are like almost everything else in
literature on the subject of the Indians.

[Sidenote: REFORM POEMS]

In _Voices of Freedom_ (1849) and other poems inspired by the
antislavery campaign Whittier for the first time came close to his own age.
He was no longer an echo but a voice, a man's voice, shouting above a
tumult. He spoke not for the nation but for a party; and it was inevitable
that his reform lyrics should fall into neglect with the occasions that
called them forth. They are interesting now not as poems but as sidelights
on a critical period of our history. Their intensely passionate quality
appears in "Faneuil Hall," "Song of the Free," "The Pine Tree," "Randolph
of Roanoke" and "The Farewell of an Indian Slave Mother."

There is a fine swinging rhythm in these poems, in "Massachusetts to
Virginia" especially, which recalls Macaulay's "Armada"; and two of them at
least show astonishing power and vitality. One is "Laus Deo," to which we
have referred in our story of the poet's life. The other is "Ichabod"
(1850), written after the "Seventh of March Speech" of Webster, when that
statesman seemed to have betrayed the men who elected and trusted him.
Surprise, anger, scorn, indignation, sorrow,--all these emotions were
loosed in a flood after Webster's speech; but Whittier waited till he had
fused them into one emotion, and when his slow words fell at last they fell
with the weight of judgment and the scorching of fire upon their victim. If
words could kill a man, these surely are the words. "Ichabod" is the most
powerful poem of its kind in our language; but it is fearfully unjust to
Webster. Those who read it should read also "The Lost Occasion," written
thirty years later, which Whittier placed next to "Ichabod" in the final
edition of his poems. So he tried to right a wrong (unfortunately after the
victim was dead) by offering generous tribute to the statesman he had once

BALLADS AND AMERICAN IDYLS. Whittier's manly heart and his talent for
flowing verse made him an excellent ballad writer; but his work in this
field is so different from that of his predecessors that he came near to
inventing a new type of poetry. Thus, many of the old ballads celebrate the
bravery that mounts with fighting; but Whittier always lays emphasis on the
higher quality that we call moral courage. "Barclay of Ury" will illustrate
our criticism: the verse has a martial swing; the hero is a veteran who has
known the lust of battle; but his courage now appears in self-mastery, in
the ability to bear in silence the jeers of a mob. Again, the old ballad
aims to tell a story, nothing else, and drives straight to its mark; but
Whittier portrays the whole landscape and background of the action. He
deals largely with Colonial life in New England, and his descriptions of
place and people are unrivaled in our poetry. Read one of his typical
ballads, "The Wreck of Rivermouth" or "The Witch's Daughter" or "The
Garrison of Cape Ann" or "Skipper Ireson's Ride," and see how closely he
identifies himself with the place and time of his story.

Skipper Ireson's home on extreme right]


There is one quality, however, in which our Quaker poet resembles the old
ballad makers, namely, his intense patriotism, and this recalls the fact
that ballads were the first histories, the first expression not only of
brave deeds but of the national pride which the deeds symbolized. Though
Whittier keeps himself modestly in the background, as a story teller ought
to do, he can never quite repress the love of his native land or the
quickened heartbeats that set his verse marching as if to the drums. This
patriotism, though intense, was never intolerant but rather sympathetic
with men of other lands, as appears in "The Pipes at Lucknow", a ballad
dealing with a dramatic incident of the Sepoy Rebellion. The Scotsman who
could read that ballad unmoved, without a kindling of the eye or a stirring
of the heart, would be unworthy of his clan or country.

Even better than Whittier's ballads are certain narrative poems reflecting
the life of simple people, to which we give the name of idyls. "Telling the
Bees," "In School Days," "My Playmate," "Maud Muller," "The Barefoot
Boy,"--there are no other American poems quite like these, none so tender,
none written with such perfect sympathy. Some of them are like photographs;
and the lens that gathered them was not a glass but a human heart. Others
sing the emotion of love as only Whittier, the Galahad of poets, could have
sung it,--as in this stanza from "A Sea Dream":

  Draw near, more near, forever dear!
    Where'er I rest or roam,
  Or in the city's crowded streets,
    Or by the blown sea foam,
    The thought of thee is home!

SNOW-BOUND. The best of Whittier's idyls is _Snow-Bound_ (1866), into
which he gathered a boy's tenderest memories. In naming this as the best
poem in the language on the subject of home we do not offer a criticism but
an invitation. Because all that is best in human life centers in the ideal
of home, and because Whittier reflected that ideal in a beautiful way,
_Snow-Bound_ should be read if we read nothing else of American
poetry. There is perhaps only one thing to prevent this idyl from becoming
a universal poem: its natural setting can be appreciated only by those who
live within the snow line, who have seen the white flakes gather and drift,
confining every family to the circle of its own hearth fire in what Emerson
calls "the tumultuous privacy of storm."

The plan of the poem is simplicity itself. It opens with a description of a
snowstorm that thickens with the December night. The inmates of an old
farmhouse gather about the open fire, and Whittier describes them one by
one, how they looked to the boy (for _Snow-Bound_ is a recollection of
boyhood), and what stories they told to reveal their interests. The rest of
the poem is a reverie, as of one no longer a boy, who looks into his fire
and sees not the fire-pictures but those other scenes or portraits that are
graved deep in every human heart.


To praise such a work is superfluous, and to criticize its artless
sincerity is beyond our ability. Many good writers have explained the poem;
yet still its deepest charm escapes analysis, perhaps because it has no
name. The best criticism that the present writer ever heard on the subject
came from a Habitant farmer in the Province of Quebec, a simple, unlettered
man, who was a poet at heart but who would have been amazed had anyone told
him so. His children, who were learning English literature through the
happy medium of _Evangeline_ and _Snow-Bound_, brought the latter
poem home from school, and the old man would sit smoking his pipe and
listening to the story. When they read of the winter scenes, of the fire
roaring its defiance up the chimney-throat at the storm without,

  What matter how the night behaved?
  What matter how the north-wind raved?
  Blow high, blow low, not all its snow
  Could quench our hearth-fire's ruddy glow,--

then he would stir in his chair, make his pipe glow fiercely, and blow a
cloud of smoke about his head. But in the following scene, with its
memories of the dead and its immortal hope, he would sit very still, as if
listening to exquisite music. When asked why he liked the poem his face
lighted: "W'y I lak heem, M'sieu Whittier? I lak heem 'cause he speak de
true. He know de storm, and de leetle _cabane_, and heart of de boy
an' hees moder. _Oui, oui_, he know de man also."

Nature, home, the heart of a boy and a man and a mother,--the poet who can
reflect such elemental matters so that the simple of earth understand and
love their beauty deserves the critic's best tribute of silence.

POEMS OF FAITH AND NATURE. Aside from the reform poems it is hard to group
Whittier's works, which are all alike in that they portray familiar scenes
against a natural background. In his _Tent on the Beach_ (1867) he
attempted a collection of tales in the manner of Longfellow's _Wayside
Inn_, but of these only one or two ballads, such as "Abraham Davenport"
and "The Wreck of Rivermouth," are now treasured. The best part of the book
is the "Prelude," which pictures the poet among his friends and records his
impressions of sky and sea and shore.


The outdoor poems of Whittier are interesting, aside from their own beauty,
as suggesting two poetic conceptions of nature which have little in common.
The earlier regards nature as a mistress to be loved or a divinity to be
worshiped for her own sake; she has her own laws or mercies, and man is but
one of her creatures. The Anglo-Saxon scops viewed nature in this way; so
did Bryant, in whose "Forest Hymn" is the feeling of primitive ages. Many
modern poets (and novelists also, like Scott and Cooper) have outgrown this
conception; they regard nature as a kind of stage for the drama of human
life, which is all-important.

Whittier belongs to this later school; he portrays nature magnificently,
but always as the background for some human incident, sad or tender or
heroic, which appears to us more real because viewed in its natural
setting. Note in "The Wreck of Rivermouth," for example, how the merry
party in their sailboat, the mowers on the salt marshes, the "witch"
mumbling her warning, the challenge of a careless girl, the skipper's fear,
the river, the breeze, the laughing sea,--everything is exactly as it
should be. It is this humanized view of the natural world which makes
Whittier's ballads unique and which gives deeper meaning to his "Hampton
Beach," "Among the Hills," "Trailing Arbutus," "The Vanishers" and other of
his best nature poems.


Our reading of Whittier should not end until we are familiar with "The
Eternal Goodness," "Trust," "My Soul and I," "The Prayer of Agassiz" and a
few more of his hymns of faith. Our appreciation of such hymns will be more
sympathetic if we remember, first, that Whittier came of ancestors whose
souls approved the opening proposition of the Declaration of Independence;
and second, that he belonged to the Society of Friends, who believed that
God revealed himself directly to every human soul (the "inner light" they
called it), and that a man's primal responsibility was to God and his own
conscience. The creed of Whittier may therefore be summarized in two
articles: "I believe in the Divine love and in the equality of men." The
latter article appears in all his poems; the former is crystallized in "The
Eternal Goodness," a hymn so trustful and reverent that it might well be
the evensong of humanity.

CHARACTERISTICS OF WHITTIER. One may summarize Whittier in the statement
that he is the poet of the home and the hills, and of that freedom without
which the home loses its chief joy and the hill its inspiration. In writing
of such themes Whittier failed to win the highest honors of a poet; and the
failure was due not to his lack of culture, as is sometimes alleged (for
there is no other culture equal to right living), but rather to the stern
conditions of his life, to his devotion to duty, to his struggle for
liberty, to his lifelong purpose of helping men by his singing. Great poems
are usually the result of seclusion, of aloofness, but Whittier was always
a worker in the world.


His naturalness is perhaps his best poetic virtue. There is in his verse a
spontaneous "singing" quality which leaves the impression that poetry was
his native language. It is easy to understand why Burns first attracted
him, for both poets were natural singers who remind us of what Bede wrote
of Cædmon: "He learned not the art of poetry from men." Next to his
spontaneity is his rare simplicity, his gift of speaking straight from a
heart that never grew old. Sometimes his simplicity is as artless as that
of a child, as in "Maud Muller"; generally it is noble, as in his modest
"Proem" to _Voices of Freedom_; occasionally it is passionate, as in
the exultant cry of "Laus Deo"; and at times it rises to the simplicity of
pure art, as in "Telling the Bees." The last-named poem portrays an old
Colonial custom which provided that when death came to a farmhouse the bees
must be told and their hives draped in mourning. It portrays also, as a
perfect, natural background, the path to Whittier's home and his sister's
old-fashioned flower garden, in which the daffodils still bloom where she
planted them long ago.


That Whittier was not a great poet, as the critics assure us, may be
frankly admitted. That he had elements of greatness is also without
question; and precisely for this reason, because his power is so often
manifest in noble or exquisite passages, there is disappointment in reading
him when we stumble upon bad rimes, careless workmanship, mishandling of
his native speech. Our experience here is probably like that of Whittier's
friend Garrison. The latter had read certain poems that attracted him; he
came quickly to see the poet; and out from under the barn, his clothes
sprinkled with hayseed, crawled a shy country lad who explained bashfully
that he had been hunting hens' nests. Anything could be forgiven after
that; interest in the boy would surely temper criticism of the poet.

Even so our present criticism of Whittier's verse must include certain
considerations of the man who wrote it: that he smacked of his native soil;
that his education was scanty and hardly earned; that he used words as his
father and mother used them, and was not ashamed of their rural accent. His
own experience, moreover, had weathered him until he seemed part of a
rugged landscape. He knew life, and he loved it. He had endured poverty,
and glorified it. He had been farm hand, shoemaker, self-supporting
student, editor of country newspapers, local politician, champion of
slaves, worker for reform, defender of a hopeless cause that by the awful
judgment of war became a winning cause. And always and everywhere he had
been a man, one who did his duty as he saw it, spake truth as he believed
it, and kept his conscience clean, his heart pure, his faith unshaken. All
this was in his verse and ennobled even his faults, which were part of his
plain humanity. As Longfellow was by study of European literatures the poet
of books and culture, so Whittier was by experience the poet of life. The
homely quality of his verse, which endears it to common men, is explained
on the ground that he was nearer than any other American poet to the body
and soul of his countrymen.

       *       *       *       *       *


The work of Lowell is unusual and his rank or position hard to define.
Though never a great or even a popular writer, he was regarded for a
considerable part of his life as the most prominent man of letters in
America. At the present time his reputation is still large, but historians
find it somewhat easier to praise his works than to read them. As poet,
critic, satirist, editor and teacher he loomed as a giant among his
contemporaries, overtopping Whittier and Longfellow at one time; but he
left no work comparable to _Snow-Bound_ or _Hiawatha_, and one is
puzzled to name any of his poems or essays that are fairly certain to give
pleasure. To read his volumes is to meet a man of power and brilliant
promise, but the final impression is that the promise was not fulfilled,
that the masterpiece of which Lowell was capable was left unwritten.

    BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. Lowell came from a distinguished family that
    had "made history" in America. His father was a cultured clergyman;
    he grew up in a beautiful home, "Elmwood," in the college town of
    Cambridge; among his first companions were the noble books that
    filled the shelves of the family library. From the beginning,
    therefore, he was inclined to letters; and though he often turned
    aside for other matters, his first and last love was the love of

    At fifteen he entered Harvard, where he read almost everything, he
    said, except the books prescribed by the faculty. Then he studied
    law and opened an office in Boston, where he found few clients,
    being more interested in writing verses than in his profession.
    With his marriage in 1844 the first strong purpose seems to have
    entered his indolent life. His wife was zealous in good works, and
    presently Lowell, who had gayly satirized all reformers, joined in
    the antislavery campaign and proceeded to make as many enemies as
    friends by his reform poems.

    [Illustration: JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL]

    [Sidenote: VARIED TASKS]

    Followed then a period of hard, purposeful work, during which he
    supported himself by editing _The Pennsylvania Freeman_ and by
    writing for the magazines. In 1848, his banner year, he published
    his best volume of _Poems_, _Sir Launfal_, _A Fable for
    Critics_ and the first series of _The Biglow Papers_. It
    was not these volumes, however, but a series of brilliant lectures
    on the English poets that caused Lowell to be called to the chair
    in Harvard which Longfellow had resigned. He prepared for this work
    by studying abroad, and for some twenty years thereafter he gave
    courses in English, Italian, Spanish and German literatures. For a
    part of this time he was also editor in turn of _The Atlantic
    Monthly_ and _The North American Review_.

    [Sidenote: LIFE ABROAD]

    In the simpler days of the republic, when the first question asked
    of a diplomat was not whether he had money enough to entertain
    society in a proper style, the profession of letters was honored by
    sending literary men to represent America in foreign courts, and
    Lowell's prominence was recognized by his appointment as ambassador
    to Spain (1877) and to England (1880). It was in this patriotic
    service abroad that he won his greatest honors. In London
    especially he made his power felt as an American who loved his
    country, as a democrat who believed in democracy, and as a cultured
    gentleman who understood Anglo-Saxon life because of his
    familiarity with the poetry in which that life is most clearly
    reflected. Next to keeping silence about his proper business,
    perhaps the chief requirement of an ambassador is to make speeches
    about everything else, and no other foreign speaker was ever
    listened to with more pleasure than the witty and cultured Lowell.
    One who summed up his diplomatic triumph said tersely that he found
    the Englishmen strangers and left them all cousins.

    He was recalled from this service in 1885. The remainder of his
    life was spent teaching at Harvard, writing more poetry and editing
    his numerous works. His first volume of poems, _A Year's
    Life_, was published in 1841; his last volume, _Heartsease and
    Rue_, appeared almost half a century later, in 1888. That his
    death occurred in the same house in which he was born and in which
    he had spent the greater part of his life is an occurrence so rare
    in America that it deserves a poem of commemoration.

LOWELL'S POETRY. There are golden grains everywhere in Lowell's verse but
never a continuous vein of metal. In other words, even his best work is
notable for occasional lines rather than for sustained excellence. As a
specific example study the "Commemoration Ode," one of the finest poems
inspired by the Civil War. The occasion of this ode, to commemorate the
college students who had given their lives for their country, was all that
a poet might wish; the brilliant audience that gathered at Cambridge was
most inspiring; and beyond that local audience stood a nation in mourning,
a nation which had just lost a million of its sons in a mighty conflict. It
was such an occasion as Lowell loved, and one who reads the story of his
life knows how earnestly he strove to meet it. When the reading of his poem
was finished his audience called it "a noble effort," and that is precisely
the trouble with the famous ode; it is too plainly an effort. It does not
sing, does not overflow from a full heart, does not speak the inevitable,
satisfying word. In consequence (and perhaps this criticism applies to most
ambitious odes) we are rather glad when the "effort" is at an end. Yet
there are excellent passages in the poem, notably the sixth and the last
stanzas, one with its fine tribute to Lincoln, the other expressive of
deathless loyalty to one's native land.

[Sidenote: LYRICS]

The best of Lowell's lyrics may be grouped in two classes, the first
dealing with his personal joy or grief, the second with the feelings of the
nation. Typical of the former are "The First Snowfall" and a few other
lyrics reflecting the poet's sorrow for the loss of a little
daughter,--simple, human poems, in refreshing contrast with most others of
Lowell, which strive for brilliancy. The best of the national lyrics is
"The Present Crisis" (1844). This was at first a party poem, a ringing
appeal issued during the turmoil occasioned by the annexation of Texas; but
now, with the old party issues forgotten, we can all read it with pleasure
as a splendid expression of the American heart and will in every crisis of
our national history.

In the nature lyrics we have a double reflection, one of the external
world, the other of a poet who could not be single-minded, and who was
always confusing his own impressions of nature or humanity with those other
impressions which he found reflected in poetry. Read the charming "To a
Dandelion," for example, and note how Lowell cannot be content with his

  Dear common flower that grow'st beside the way,
  Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,

but must bring in Eldorado and twenty other poetic allusions to glorify a
flower which has no need of external glory. Then for comparison read
Bryant's "Fringed Gentian" and see how the elder poet, content with the
flower itself, tells you very simply how its beauty appeals to him. Or read
"An Indian-Summer Reverie" with its scattered lines of gold, and note how
Lowell cannot say what he feels in his own heart but must search everywhere
for poetic images; and then, because he cannot find exactly what he seeks
or, more likely, because he finds a dozen tempting allusions where one is
plenty, he goes on and on in a vain quest that ends by leaving himself and
his reader unsatisfied.

[Sidenote: SIR LAUNFAL]

The most popular of Lowell's works is _The Vision of Sir Launfal_
(1848), in which he invents an Arthurian kind of legend of the search for
the Holy Grail. Most of his long poems are labored, but this seems to have
been written in a moment of inspiration. The "Prelude" begins almost
spontaneously, and when it reaches the charming passage "And what is so
rare as a day in June?" the verse fairly begins to sing,--a rare occurrence
with Lowell. Critical readers may reasonably object to the poet's
moralizing, to his imperfect lines and to his setting of an Old World
legend of knights and castles in a New World landscape; but uncritical
readers rejoice in a moral feeling that is fine and true, and are content
with a good story and a good landscape without inquiring whether the two
belong together. Moreover, _Sir Launfal_ certainly serves the first
purpose of poetry in that it gives pleasure and so deserves its continued
popularity among young readers.

[Sidenote: SATIRES]

Two satiric poems that were highly prized when they were first published,
and that are still formally praised by historians who do not read them, are
_A Fable for Critics_ and _The Biglow Papers_. The former is a
series of doggerel verses filled with grotesque puns and quips aimed at
American authors who were prominent in 1848. The latter, written in a
tortured, "Yankee" dialect, is made up of political satires and conceits
occasioned by the Mexican and Civil wars. Both works contain occasional
fine lines and a few excellent criticisms of literature or politics, but
few young readers will have patience to sift out the good passages from the
mass of glittering rubbish in which they are hidden.

Much more worthy of the reader's attention are certain neglected works,
such as Lowell's sonnets, his "Prometheus," "Columbus," "Agassiz,"
"Portrait of Dante," "Washers of the Shroud," "Under the Old Elm" (with its
noble tribute to Washington) and "Stanzas on Freedom," It is a pity that
such poems, all of which contain memorable lines, should be kept from the
wide audience they deserve, and largely because of the author's
digressiveness. To examine them is to conclude that, like most of Lowell's
works, they are not simple enough in feeling to win ordinary readers, like
the poetry of Longfellow, and not perfect enough in form to excite the
admiration of critics, like the best of Poe's melodies.


LOWELL'S PROSE. In brilliancy at least Lowell has no peer among American
essayists, though others excel him in the better qualities of originality
or charm or vigor. The best of his prose works are the scintillating essays
collected in _My Study Window_ and _Among My Books_. In his
political essays he looked at humanity with his own eyes, but the titles of
the volumes just named indicate his chief interest as a prose writer, which
was to interpret the world's books rather than the world's throbbing life.
For younger readers the most pleasing of the prose works are the
comparatively simple sketches, "My Garden Acquaintance," "Cambridge Thirty
Years Ago" and "On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners." In these
sketches we meet the author at his best, alert, witty and so widely read
that he cannot help giving literary flavor to whatever he writes. Among the
best of his essays on literary subjects are those on Chaucer, Dante Keats,
Walton and Emerson.


One who reads a typical collection of Lowell's essays is apt to be divided
between open admiration and something akin to resentment. On the one hand
they are brilliant, stimulating, filled with "good things"; on the other
they are always digressive, sometimes fantastic and too often
self-conscious; that is, they call our attention to the author rather than
to his proper subject. When he writes of Dante he is concerned to reveal
the soul of the Italian master; but when he writes of Milton he seems
chiefly intent on showing how much more he knows than the English editor of
Milton's works. When he presents Emerson he tries to make us know and
admire the Concord sage; but when he falls foul of Emerson's friends,
Thoreau and Carlyle, his personal prejudices are more in evidence than his
impersonal judgment. In consequence, some of the literary essays are a
better reflection of Lowell himself than of the men he wrote about.

An author must be finally measured, however, by his finest work, by his
constant purpose rather than by his changing mood; and the finest work of
Lowell, his critical studies of the elder poets and dramatists, are perhaps
the most solid and the most penetrating that our country has to show. He
certainly kept "the great tradition" in criticism, a tradition which
enjoins us, in simple language, to seek only the best and to reverence it
when we find it. As he wrote:

  Great truths are portions of the soul of man;
  Great souls are portions of eternity;
  Each drop of blood that e'er through true heart ran
  With lofty message, ran for thee and me.

       *       *       *       *       *


It is a sad fate for a writer to be known as a humorist; nobody will take
him seriously ever afterward. Even a book suffers from such a reputation,
the famous _Don Quixote_ for example, which we read as a type of
extravagant humor but which is in reality a tragedy, since it portrays the
disillusionment of a man who believed the world to be like his own heart,
noble and chivalrous, and who found it filled with villainy. Because Holmes
(who was essentially a moralist and a preacher) could not repress the
bubbling wit that was part of his nature, our historians must set him down
as a humorist and name the "One-Hoss Shay" as his most typical work. Yet
his best poems are as pathetic as "The Last Leaf," as sentimental as "The
Voiceless," as patriotic as "Old Ironsides," as worshipful as the "Hymn of
Trust," as nobly didactic as "The Chambered Nautilus"; his novels are
studies of the obscure problems of heredity, and his most characteristic
prose work, _The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table_, is an original
commentary on almost everything under the sun.

Evidently we prize a laugh above any other product of literature, and
because there is a laugh or a smile hidden in many a work of Holmes he must
still keep the place assigned to him as an "American" humorist. Even so, he
is perhaps our most representative writer in this field; for he is as
thoroughly American as a man can be, and his rare culture and kindness are
in refreshing contrast to the crude horseplay or sensationalism that is
unfortunately trumpeted abroad as New World humor.

    A PLACID LIFE. Though Holmes never wrote a formal autobiography he
    left a very good reflection of himself in his works, and it is in
    these alone that we become acquainted with him,--a genial, witty,
    observant, kind-hearted and pure-hearted man whom it is good to

    He belonged to what he called "the Brahmin caste" of intellectual
    aristocrats (as described in his novel, _Elsie Venner_), for
    he came from an old New England family extending back to Anne
    Bradstreet and the governors of the Bay Colony. He was born in
    Cambridge; he was educated at Andover and Harvard; he spent his
    life in Boston, a city which satisfied him so completely that he
    called it "the hub of the solar system." Most ambitious writers
    like a large field with plenty of change or variety, but Holmes was
    content with a small and very select circle with himself at the
    center of it.

    For his profession he chose medicine and studied it four years, the
    latter half of the time in Paris. At that period his foreign
    training was as rare in medicine as was Longfellow's in poetry. He
    practiced his profession in Boston and managed to make a success of
    it, though patients were a little doubtful of a doctor who wrote
    poetry and who opened his office with the remark that "small
    fevers" would be "gratefully received." Also he was for thirty-five
    years professor of anatomy at the Harvard Medical School. What with
    healing or teaching or learning, this doctor might have been very
    busy; but he seems to have found plenty of leisure for writing, and
    the inclination was always present. "Whoso has once tasted type" he
    said, "must indulge the taste to the end of his life."

    [Illustration: OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES]

    [Sidenote: THE WRITER]

    His literary work began at twenty-one, when he wrote "Old
    Ironsides" in protest against the order to dismantle the frigate
    _Constitution_, which had made naval history in the War of
    1812. That first poem, which still rings triumphantly in our ears,
    accomplished two things: it saved the glorious old warship, and it
    gave Holmes a hold on public attention which he never afterward
    lost. During the next twenty-five years he wrote poetry, and was so
    much in demand to furnish verses for special occasions that he was
    a kind of poet-laureate of his college and city. He was almost
    fifty when the _Atlantic Monthly_ was projected and Lowell
    demanded, as a condition of his editorship, that Holmes be engaged
    as the first contributor. Feeling in the mood for talk, as he
    commonly did, Holmes responded with _The Autocrat_. Thereafter
    he wrote chiefly in prose, making his greatest effort in fiction
    but winning more readers by his table talk in the form of essays.
    His last volume, _Over the Teacups_, appeared when he was past
    eighty years old.

    [Sidenote: PET PREJUDICES]

    We have spoken of the genial quality of Holmes as revealed in his
    work, but we would hardly be just to him did we fail to note his
    pet prejudices, his suspicion of reformers, his scorn of
    homeopathic doctors, his violent antipathy to Calvinism. Though he
    had been brought up in the Calvinistic faith (his father was an
    old-style clergyman), he seemed to delight in clubbing or
    satirizing or slinging stones at it. The very mildest he could do
    was to refer to "yon whey-faced brother" to express his opinion of
    those who still clung to puritanic doctrines. Curiously enough, he
    still honored his father and was proud of his godly ancestors, who
    were all stanch Puritans. The explanation is, of course, that
    Holmes never understood theology, not for a moment; he only
    disliked it, and was consequently sure that it must be wrong and
    that somebody ought to put an end to it. In later years he mellowed
    somewhat. One cannot truthfully say that he overcame his prejudice,
    but he understood men better and was inclined to include even
    reformers and Calvinists in what he called "the larger humanity
    into which I was born so long ago."

WORKS OF HOLMES. In the field of "occasional" poetry, written to celebrate
births, dedications, feasts and festivals of every kind, Holmes has never
had a peer among his countrymen. He would have made a perfect
poet-laureate, for he seemed to rise to every occasion and have on his lips
the right word to express the feeling of the moment, whether of patriotism
or sympathy or sociability. In such happy poems as "The Boys," "Bill and
Jo," "All Here" and nearly forty others written for his class reunions he
reflects the spirit of college men who gather annually to live the "good
old days" over again. [Footnote: It may add a bit of interest to these
poems if we remember that among the members of the Class of '29 was Samuel
Smith, author of "America," a poem that now appeals to a larger audience
than the class poet ever dreamed of.] He wrote also some seventy other
poems for special occasions, the quality of which may be judged from "Old
Ironsides," "Under the Violets," "Grandmother's Story" and numerous
appreciations of Lowell, Burns, Bryant, Whittier and other well-known

Among poems of more general interest the best is "The Chambered Nautilus,"
which some read for its fine moral lesson and others for its beautiful
symbolism or almost perfect workmanship. Others that deserve to be
remembered are "The Last Leaf" (Lincoln's favorite), "Nearing the Snow
Line," "Meeting of the Alumni," "Questions and Answers" and "The
Voiceless,"--none great poems but all good and very well worth the reading.


"The Deacon's Masterpiece, or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay" is the most
popular of the humorous poems. Many readers enjoy this excellent skit
without thinking what the author meant by calling it "a logical story." It
is, in fact, the best pebble that he hurled from his sling against his
_bête noire_; for the old "shay" which went to pieces all at once was
a symbol of Calvinistic theology. That theology was called an iron chain of
logic, every link so perfectly forged that it could not be broken at any
point. Even so was the "shay" built, unbreakable in every single part; but
when the deacon finds himself sprawling and dumfounded in the road beside
the wrecked masterpiece the poet concludes:

  End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
  Logic is logic. That's all I say.

Other typical verses of the same kind are "The Height of the Ridiculous,"
"Daily Trials," "The Comet" and "Contentment." In the last-named poem
Holmes may have been poking fun at the Brook Farmers and other enthusiasts
who were preaching the simple life. Poets and preachers of this gospel in
every age are apt to insist that to find simplicity one must return to
nature or the farm, or else camp in the woods and eat huckleberries, as
Thoreau did; but Holmes remembered that some people must live in the city,
while others incomprehensibly prefer to do so, and wrote his "Contentment"
to express their idea of the simple life:

  Little I ask; my wants are few;
    I only wish a hut of stone
  (A _very plain_ brown stone will do)
    That I may call my own;
  And close at hand is such a one,
  In yonder street that fronts the sun.

  I care not much for gold or land;
    Give me a mortgage here and there,
  Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
    Or trifling railroad share.
  I only ask that Fortune send
  A _little_ more than I shall spend.

[Sidenote: THE AUTOCRAT]

The most readable of the prose works is _The Autocrat of the Breakfast
Table_ (1858), a series of monologues in which Holmes, who was called
the best talker of his age, transferred his talk in a very charming way to
paper. As the book professes to record the conversation at the table of a
certain Boston boarding-house, it has no particular subject; the author
rambles pleasantly from one topic to another, illuminating each by his
wisdom or humor or sympathy. Other books of the same series are _The
Professor at the Breakfast Table_, _The Poet at the Breakfast
Table_ and _Over the Teacups_. Most critics consider _The
Autocrat_ the best and _The Poet_ second best of the series; but
there is a tender vein of sentiment and reminiscence in the final volume
which is very attractive to older readers.

The slight story element in the breakfast-table books probably led Holmes
to fiction, and he straightway produced three novels, _Elsie Venner_,
_The Guardian Angel_ and _A Mortal Antipathy_. These are studies
of heredity, of the physical element in morals, of the influence of mind
over matter and other subjects more suitable for essays than for fiction;
but a few mature readers who care less for a story than for an observation
or theory of life will find _The Guardian Angel_ an interesting novel.
And some will surely prize _Elsie Venner_ for its pictures of New
England life, its description of boarding school or evening party or social
hierarchy, at a time when many a New England family had traditions to which
it held as firmly and almost as proudly as any European court.

Holmes's birthplace, at Cambridge]

THE QUALITY OF HOLMES. The intensely personal quality of the works just
mentioned is their most striking characteristic; for Holmes always looks at
a subject with his own eyes, and measures its effect on the reader by a
previous effect produced upon himself. "If I like this," he says in
substance, "why, you must like it too; if it strikes me as absurd, you
cannot take any other attitude; for are we not both human and therefore
just alike?" It never occurred to Holmes that anybody could differ with him
and still be normal; those who ventured to do so found the Doctor looking
keenly at them to discover their symptoms. In an ordinary egoist or
politician or theologian this would be insufferable; but strange to say it
is one of the charms of Holmes, who is so witty and pleasant-spoken that we
can enjoy his dogmatism without the bother of objecting to it. In one of
his books he hints that talking to certain persons is like trying to pet a
squirrel; if you are wise, you will not imitate that frisky little beast
but assume the purring-kitten attitude while listening to the Autocrat.


Another interesting quality of Holmes is what we may call his rationalism,
his habit of taking nothing for granted, of judging every matter by
observation rather than by tradition or sentiment or imagination; and
herein he is in marked contrast with Longfellow and other romantic writers
of the period. We shall enjoy him better if we remember his bent of mind.
As a boy he was fond of tools and machinery; as a man he was interested in
photography, safety razors, inventions of every kind; as a physician he
rebelled against drugs (then believed to have almost magical powers, and
imposed on suffering stomachs in horrible doses) and observed his patients
closely to discover what mentally ailed them; and as boy or man or
physician he cared very little for books but a great deal for his own
observation of life. Hence there is always a surprise in reading Holmes,
which comes partly from his flashes of wit but more largely from his
independent way of looking at things and recording his first-hand
impressions. His _Autocrat_ especially is a treasure and ranks with
Thoreau's _Walden_ among the most original books of American

       *       *       *       *       *

SIDNEY LANIER (1842-1881)

The name of Lanier is often associated with that of Timrod, and the two
southern poets were outwardly alike in that they struggled against physical
illness and mental depression; but where we see in Timrod the tragedy of a
poet broken by pain and neglect, the tragedy of Lanier's life is forgotten
in our wonder at his triumph. It is doubtful if any other poet ever raised
so pure a song of joy out of conditions that might well have occasioned a
wail of despair.

[Illustration: SIDNEY LANIER]

The joyous song of Lanier is appreciated only by the few. He is not popular
with either readers or critics, and the difficulty of assigning him a place
or rank may be judged from recent attempts. One history of American
literature barely mentions Lanier in a slighting reference to "a small cult
of poetry in parts of America"; [Footnote: Trent, _History of American
Literature_ (1913), p. 471.] another calls him the only southern poet
who had a national horizon, and accords his work ample criticism;
[Footnote: Moses, _Literature of the South_ (1910), pp 358-383] a
third describes him as "a true artist" having "a lyric power hardly to be
found in any other American," but the brief record ends with the cutting
criticism that his work is "hardly national." [Footnote: Wendell,
_Literary History of America_ (1911), pp 495-498.] And so with all
other histories, one dismisses him as the author of a vague rhapsody called
"The Marshes of Glynn," another exalts him as a poet who rivals Poe in
melody and far surpasses him in thought or feeling. Evidently there is no
settled criticism of Lanier, as of Bryant or Longfellow; he is not yet
secure in his position among the elder poets, and what we record here is
such a personal appreciation as any reader may formulate for himself.

    LIFE. America has had its Puritan and its Cavalier writers, but
    seldom one who combines the Puritan's stern devotion to duty with
    the Cavalier's joy in nature and romance and music. Lanier was such
    a poet, and he owed his rare quality to a mixed ancestry. He was
    descended on his mother's side from Scotch-Irish and Puritan
    forbears, and on his father's side from Huguenot (French) exiles
    who were musicians at the English court. One of his ancestors,
    Nicholas Lanier, is described as "a musician, painter and engraver"
    for Queen Elizabeth and King James, and as the composer of music
    for some of Ben Jonson's masques.

    [Sidenote: EARLY TRAITS]

    His boyhood was spent at Macon, Georgia, where he was born in 1842.
    A study of that boyhood reveals certain characteristics which
    reappear constantly in the poet's work. One was his rare purity of
    soul; another was his brave spirit; a third was his delight in
    nature; a fourth was his passion for music. At seven he made his
    first flute from a reed, and ever afterwards, though he learned to
    play many instruments, the flute was to him as a companion and a
    voice. With it he cheered many a weary march or hungry bivouac;
    through it he told all his heart to the woman he loved; by it he
    won a place when he had no other means of earning his bread. Hence
    in "The Symphony," a poem which fronts one of life's hard problems,
    it is the flute that utters the clearest and sweetest note.

    [Sidenote: IN WAR TIME]

    Lanier had finished his course in Oglethorpe University (a
    primitive little college in Midway, Georgia) and was tutoring there
    when the war came, and the college closed its doors because
    teachers and students were away at the first call to join the army.
    For four years he was a Confederate soldier, serving in the ranks
    with his brother and refusing the promotion offered him for gallant
    conduct in the field. There was a time during this period when he
    might have sung like the minstrels of old, for romance had come to
    him with the war. By day he was fighting or scouting with his life
    in his hand; but when camp fires were lighted he would take his
    flute and slip away to serenade the girl who "waited for him till
    the war was over."

    We mention these small incidents with a purpose. There is a
    delicacy of feeling in Lanier's verse which might lead a reader to
    assume that the poet was effeminate, when in truth he was as manly
    as any Norse scald or Saxon scop who ever stood beside his chief in
    battle. Of the war he never sang; but we find some reflection of
    the girl who waited in the poem "My Springs."

    [Sidenote: WAR'S AFTERMATH]

    Lanier was at sea, as signal officer on a blockade runner, when his
    ship was captured by a Federal cruiser and he was sent to the
    military prison at Point Lookout (1864). A hard and bitter
    experience it was, and his only comfort was the flute which he had
    hidden in his ragged sleeve. When released the following year he
    set out on foot for his home, five hundred miles away, and reached
    it more dead than alive; for consumption had laid a heavy hand upon
    him. For weeks he was desperately ill, and during the illness his
    mother died of the same wasting disease; then he rose and set out
    bravely to earn a living,--no easy matter in a place that had
    suffered as Georgia had during the war.

    [Sidenote: THE GLEAM]

    We shall not enter into his struggle for bread, or into his
    wanderings in search of a place where he could breathe without
    pain. He was a law clerk in his father's office at Macon when,
    knowing that he had but a slender lease of life, he made his
    resolve. To the remonstrances of his father he closed his ears,
    saying that music and poetry were calling him and he must follow
    the call. The superb climax of Tennyson's "Merlin and the Gleam"
    was in his soul:

      O young mariner,
      Down to the haven
      Call your companions,
      Launch your vessel
      And crowd your canvas,
      And, ere it vanishes
      Over the margin,
      After it, follow it,
      Follow the Gleam!

    Thus bravely he went northward to Baltimore, taking his flute with
    him. He was evidently a wonderful artist, playing not by the score
    but making his instrument his voice, so that his audience seemed to
    hear a soul speaking in melody. His was a magic flute. Soon he was
    supporting himself by playing in the Peabody Orchestra, living
    joyously meanwhile in an atmosphere of music and poetry and books;
    for he was always a student, determined to understand as well as to
    practice his art. He wrote poems, stories, anything to earn an
    honest dollar; he gave lectures on music and literature; he planned
    a score of books that he did not and could not write, for he was
    living in a fever of mind and body. Music and poetry were surging
    within him for expression; but his strength was failing, his time

    [Sidenote: THE STRUGGLE]

    In 1879 he was appointed lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, and
    for the first time he had an assured income, small, indeed, but
    very heartening since it was enough to support his family. He began
    teaching with immense enthusiasm; but presently he was speaking in
    a whisper from an invalid's chair. Under such circumstances were
    uttered some of our most cheering words on art and poetry. Two
    years later he died in a tent among the hills, near Asheville,
    North Carolina, whither he had gone in a vain search for health.

      Near here Lanier spent his summers during the last years of his life]

    There is in all Lanier's verse a fragmentariness, a sense of
    something left unsaid, which we may understand better if we
    remember that his heart was filled with the noblest emotions, but
    that when he strove to write them his pen failed for weariness.
    Read the daily miracle of dawn in "Sunrise," for example, and find
    there the waiting oaks, the stars, the tide, the marsh with its
    dreaming pools, light, color, fragrance, melody,--everything except
    that the hand which wrote the poem was too weak to guide the
    pencil. The rush of impressions and memories in "Sunrise," its
    tender beauty and vague incompleteness, as of something left
    unsaid, may be explained by the fact that it was Lanier's last

WORKS OF LANIER. Many readers have grown familiar with Lanier's name in
connection with _The Boy's Froissart_, _The Boy's King Arthur_,
_The Boy's Mabinogion_ and _The Boy's Percy_, four books in which
he retold in simple language some of the old tales that are forever young.
His chief prose works, _The English Novel_ and _The Science of
English Verse_, are of interest chiefly to critics; they need not detain
us here except to note that the latter volume is devoted to Lanier's pet
theory that music and poetry are governed by the same laws. Of more general
interest are his scattered "Notes," which contain suggestions for many a
poem that was never written, intermingled with condensed criticisms. Of the
poet Swinburne he says, "He invited me to eat; the service was silver and
gold, but no food therein except salt and pepper." One might say less than
that with more words, or read a whole book to arrive at this summary of
Whitman's style and bottomless philosophy: "Whitman is poetry's butcher;
huge raw collops slashed from the rump of poetry, and never mind the
gristle, is what he feeds our souls with.... His argument seems to be that
because the Mississippi is long, therefore every American is a god."

[Sidenote: HIS BEST POEMS]

Those who read Lanier's poems should begin with the simplest, with his love
songs, "My Springs" and "In Absence," or his "Ballad of Trees and the
Master," or his outdoor poems, such as "Tampa Robins," "Song of the
Chattahoochee," "Mocking Bird," and "Evening Song." In the last-named
lyrics he began the work (carried out more fully in his later poems) of
interpreting in words the harmony which his sensitive ear detected in the
manifold voices of nature.

Next in order are the poems in which is hidden a thought or an ideal not to
be detected at first glance; for to Lanier poetry was like certain oriental
idols which when opened are found to be filled with exquisite perfumes.
"The Stirrup Cup" is one of the simplest of these allegories. It was a
custom in olden days when a man was ready to journey, for one who loved him
to bring a glass of wine which he drank in the saddle; and this was called
the stirrup or parting cup. In the cup offered Lanier was a rare cordial,
filled with "sweet herbs from all antiquity," and the name of the cordial
was Death:

  Then, Time, let not a drop be spilt:
  Hand me the cup whene'er thou wilt;
  'T is thy rich stirrup cup to me;
  I'll drink it down right smilingly.

In four stanzas of "Night and Day" he compresses the tragedy of
_Othello_, not the tragedy that Shakespeare wrote but the tragedy that
was in the Moor's soul when Desdemona was gone. In "Life and Song" he
sought to express the ideal of a poet, and the closing lines might well be
the measure of his own heroic life:

  His song was only living aloud,
  His work a singing with his hand.

In "How Love Looked for Hell" the lesson is hidden deeper; for the profound
yet simple meaning of the poem is that, search high or low, Love can never
find hell because he takes heaven with him wherever he goes. Another poem
of the same class, but longer and more involved, is "The Symphony." Here
Lanier faces one of the greatest problems of the age, the problem of
industrialism with its false standards and waste of human happiness, and
his answer is the same that Tennyson gave in his later poems; namely, that
the familiar love in human hearts can settle every social question when
left to its own unselfish way:

  Vainly might Plato's brain revolve it,
  Plainly the heart of a child might solve it.


The longer poems of Lanier are of uneven merit and are all more or less
fragmentary. The chief impression from reading the "Psalm of the West," for
example, is that it is the prelude to some greater work that was left
unfinished. More finely wrought and more typical of Lanier's mood and
method is "The Marshes of Glynn," his best-known work. It is a marvelous
poem, one of the most haunting in our language; yet it is like certain
symphonies in that it says nothing, being all feeling,--vague,
inexpressible feeling. Some readers find no meaning or satisfaction in it;
others hail it as a perfect interpretation of their own mood or emotion
when they stand speechless before the sunrise or the afterglow or a
landscape upon which the very spirit of beauty and peace is brooding.

THE QUALITY OF LANIER. In order to sympathize with Lanier, and so to
understand him, it is necessary to keep in mind that he was a musician
rather than a poet in our ordinary understanding of the term. In his verse
he used words, exactly as he used the tones of his flute, not so much to
express ideas as to call up certain emotions that find no voice save in
music. As he said, "Music takes up the thread that language drops," which
explains that beautiful but puzzling line which closes "The Symphony":

  Music is Love in search of a word.


We have spoken of "The Symphony" as an answer to the problem of industrial
waste and sorrow, but it contains also Lanier's confession of faith;
namely, that social evils arise among men because of their lack of harmony;
and that spiritual harmony, the concord of souls which makes strife
impossible, may be attained through music. The same belief appears in
_Tiger Lilies_ (a novel written by Lanier in his early days), in which
a certain character makes these professions:

    "To make a _home_ out of a household, given the raw
    materials--to wit, wife, children, a friend or two and a house--two
    other things are necessary. These are a good fire and good music.
    And inasmuch as we can do without the fire for half the year, I may
    say music is the one essential."

    "Late explorers say they have found some nations that have no God;
    but I have not read of any that had no music." "Music means
    harmony, harmony means love, love means--God!"

One may therefore summarize Lanier by saying that he was poet who used
verbal rhythm, as a musician uses harmonious chords, to play upon our
better feelings. His poems of nature give us no definite picture of the
external world but are filled with murmurings, tremblings, undertones,--all
the vague impressions which one receives when alone in the solitudes, as if
the world were alive but inarticulate:

  Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-witholding and free
  Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!
  Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun,
  Ye spread and span like the catholic man that hath mightily won
  God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
  And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.

His poems of life have similar virtues and weaknesses: they are melodious;
they are nobly inspired; they appeal to our finest feelings; but they are
always vague in that they record no definite thought and speak no downright


The criticism may be more clear if we compare Lanier with Whittier, a man
equally noble, who speaks a language that all men understand. The poems of
the two supplement each other, one reflecting the reality of life, the
other its mysterious dreams. In Whittier's poetry we look upon a landscape
and a people, and we say, "I have seen that rugged landscape with my own
eyes; I have eaten bread with those people, and have understood and loved
them." Then we read Lanier's poetry and say, "Yes, I have had those
feelings at times; but I do not speak of them to others because I cannot
tell what they mean to me." Both poets are good, and both fail of greatness
in poetry, Whittier because he has no exalted imagination, Lanier because
he lacks primitive simplicity and strength. One poet sings a song to cheer
the day's labor, the other makes a melody to accompany our twilight

       *       *       *       *       *

"WALT" WHITMAN (1819-1892)

Since Whitman insisted upon being called "Walt" instead of Walter, so let
it be. The name accords with the free-and-easy style of his verse. If you
can find some abridged selections from that verse, read them by all means;
but if you must search the whole of it for the passages that are worth
reading, then pass it cheerfully by; for such another vain display of
egotism, vulgarity and rant never appeared under the name of poetry.
Whitman was so absurdly fond of his "chants" and so ignorant of poetry that
he preserved the whole of his work in a final edition, and his publishers
still insist upon printing it, rubbish and all. The result is that the few
rare verses which stamp him as a poet are apt to be overlooked in the
multitudinous gabblings which, of themselves, might mark him as a mere
freak or "sensation" in our modest literature.

[Illustration: WALT WHITMAN]

    BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. Ordinarily when we read poetry we desire to
    know something of the man who wrote it, of his youth, his training,
    the circumstance of his work and the personal ideals which made him
    view life steadily in one light rather than in another. In dealing
    with Whitman it is advisable to leave such natural curiosity
    unsatisfied, and for two reasons: first, the man was far from
    admirable or upright, and to meet him at certain stages is to lose
    all desire to read his poetry; and second, he was so extremely
    secretive about himself, while professing boundless good-fellowship
    with all men, that we can seldom trust his own record, much less
    that of his admirers. There are great blanks in the story of his
    life; his real biography has not yet been written; and in the
    jungle of controversial writings which has grown up around him one
    loses sight of Whitman in a maze of extravagant or contradictory
    opinions. [Footnote: Of the many biographies of Whitman perhaps the
    best for beginners is Perry's _Walt Whitman_ (1906), in
    American Men of Letters Series.]


    Let it suffice then to record, in catalogue fashion, that Whitman
    was born (1819) on Long Island, of stubborn farmer stock; that he
    spent his earliest years by the sea, which inspired his best verse;
    that he grew up in the streets of Brooklyn and was always
    fascinated by the restless tide of city life, as reflected in such
    poems as "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"; that his education was scanty
    and of the "picked up" variety; that to the end of his life, though
    ignorant of what literary men regard as the _a-b-c_ of
    knowledge, he was supremely well satisfied with himself; that till
    he was past forty he worked irregularly at odd jobs, but was by
    choice a loafer; that he was a man of superb physical health and
    gloried in his body, without much regard for moral standards; that
    his strength was broken by nursing wounded soldiers during the war,
    a beautiful and unselfish service; that he was then a government
    clerk in Washington until partly disabled by a paralytic stroke,
    and that the remainder of his life was spent at Camden, New Jersey.
    His _Leaves of Grass_ (published first in 1855, and
    republished with additions many times) brought him very little
    return in money, and his last years were spent in a state of
    semipoverty, relieved by the gifts of a small circle of admirers.

WHITMAN'S VERSE. In a single book, _Leaves of Grass_, Whitman has
collected all his verse. This book would be a chaos even had he left his
works in the order in which they were written; but that is precisely what
he did not do. Instead, he enlarged and rearranged the work ten different
times, mixing up his worst and his best verses, so that it is now very
difficult to trace his development as a poet. We may, however, tentatively
arrange his work in three divisions: his early shouting to attract
attention (as summarized in the line "I sound my barbaric yawp over the
roofs of the world"), his war poems, and his later verse written after he
had learned something of the discipline of life and poetry.

The quality of his early work may be judged from a few disjointed lines of
his characteristic "Song of Myself":

  Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
  I hasten to inform him or her that it is just as lucky to die, and I know

  I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe, and am
                not contain'd between my hat and boots,
  And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good,
  The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

  The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready,
  The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn wagon,
  The clear light plays on the brown, gray and green intertinged,
  The armfuls are pack'd to the sagging mow.
  I am there, I help, I came stretch'd atop of the load,
  I felt its soft jolts, one leg reclined on the other,
  I jump from the cross-beams and seize the clover and timothy,
  And roll head over heels and tangle my hair full of wisps.

  The boatmen and clam-diggers arose early and stopt for me,
  I tuck'd my trowser ends in my boots and went and had a good time;
  You should have been with us that day round the chowder-kettle.

Thus he rambles on, gabbing of every place or occupation or newspaper
report that comes into his head. When he ends this grotesque "Song of
Myself" after a thousand lines or more, he makes another just like it. We
read a few words here and there, amazed that any publisher should print
such rubbish; and then, when we are weary of Whitman's conceit or bad
taste, comes a flash of insight, of imagination, of poetry:

  Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
  Healthy, free, the world before me,
  The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
  These yearnings why are they? these thoughts in the darkness why are
  Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me the sunlight
                expands my blood?
  Why when they leave me do my pennants of joy sink flat and lank?
  Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts
                descend upon me?

There are, in short, hundreds of pages of such "chanting" with its grain of
wheat hid in a bushel of chaff. We refer to it here not because it is worth
reading but to record the curious fact that many European critics hail it
as typical American poetry, even while we wonder why anybody should regard
it as either American or poetic.


The explanation is simple. Europeans have not yet rid themselves of the
idea that America is the strange, wild land Cooper's _Pioneers_, and
that any poetry produced here must naturally be uncouth, misshapen, defiant
of all poetic laws or traditions. To such critics Whitman's crudity seems
typical of a country where one is in nightly danger of losing his scalp,
where arguments are settled by revolvers, and where a hungry man needs only
to shoot a buffalo or a bear from his back door. Meanwhile America, the
country that planted colleges and churches in a wilderness, that loves
liberty because she honors law, that never saw a knight in armor but that
has, even in her plainsmen and lumberjacks, a chivalry for woman that would
adorn a Bayard,--that real America ignores the bulk of Whitman's work
simply because she knows that, of all her poets, he is the least
representative of her culture, her ideals, her heroic and aspiring life.

[Sidenote: DRUM TAPS]

The second division of Whitman's work is made up chiefly of verses written
in war time, to some of which he gave the significant title, _Drum
Taps_. In such poems as as "Beat, Beat, Drums," "Cavalry Crossing a
Ford" and "By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame" he reflected the emotional
excitement of '61 and the stern days that followed. Note, for example, the
startling vigor of "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors," which depicts an old
negro woman by the roadside, looking with wonder on the free flag which she
sees for the first time aloft over marching men:

  Who are you, dusky woman, so ancient, hardly human,
  With your woolly-white and turban'd head and bare bony feet?
  Why, rising by the roadside here, do you the colors greet?

Another side of the war is reflected in such poems as "Come up from the
Fields, Father," an exquisite picture of an old mother and father receiving
the news of their son's death on the battlefield. In the same class belong
two fine tributes, "O Captain, My Captain" and "When Lilacs Last in the
Dooryard Bloomed," written in moments of noble emotion when the news came
that Lincoln was dead. The former tribute, with its rhythmic swing and
lyric refrain, indicates what Whitman might have done in poetry had he been
a more patient workman. So also does "Pioneers," a lyric that is wholly
American and Western and exultant:

       Have the elder races halted?
  Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas?
  We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson,
       Pioneers! O Pioneers!

[Sidenote: LATER POEMS]

In the third class of Whitman's works are the poems written late in life,
when he had learned to suppress his blatant egotism and to pay some little
attention to poetic form and melody. Though his lines are still crude and
irregular, many of them move to a powerful rhythm, such as the impressive
"With Husky-Haughty Lips, O Sea," which suggests the surge and beat of
breakers on the shore. In others he gives finely imaginative expression to
an ideal or a yearning, and his verse rises to high poetic levels. Note
this allegory of the spider, an insect that, when adrift or in a strange
place, sends out delicate filaments on the air currents until one thread
takes hold of some solid substance and is used as a bridge over the

  A noiseless patient spider,
  I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
  Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding
  It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament out of itself,
  Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

  And you, O my soul, where you stand,
  Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
  Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect
  Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
  Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul


Among the best of Whitman's works are his poems to death. "Joy, Shipmate,
Joy," "Death's Valley," "Darest Thou Now, O Soul," "Last Invocation,"
"Good-Bye, My Fancy,"--in such haunting lyrics he reflects the natural view
of death, not as a terrible or tragic or final event but as a confident
going forth to meet new experiences. Other notable poems that well repay
the reading are "The Mystic Trumpeter," "The Man-of-War Bird," "The Ox
Tamer," "Thanks in Old Age" and "Aboard at a Ship's Helm."

In naming the above works our purpose is simply to lure the reader away
from the insufferable Whitmanesque "chant" and to attract attention to a
few poems that sound a new note in literature, a note of freedom, of joy,
of superb confidence, which warms the heart when we hear it. When these
poems are known others will suggest themselves: "Rise, O Days, from Your
Fathomless Deeps," "I Hear America Singing," "There was a Boy Went Forth,"
"The Road Unknown," "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." There is magic
in such names; but unfortunately in most cases the reader will find only an
alluring title and a few scattered lines of poetry; the rest is Whitman.

[Sidenote: DEMOCRACY]

The author of the "Song of Myself" proclaimed himself the poet of democracy
and wrote many verses on his alleged subject; but those who read them will
soon tire of one whose idea of democracy was that any man is as good, as
wise, as godlike as any other. Perhaps his best work in this field is "Thou
Mother with Thy Equal Brood," a patriotic poem read at "Commencement" time
in Dartmouth College (1872). There is too much of vainglorious boasting in
the poem (for America should be modest, and can afford to be modest), but
it has enough of prophetic vision and exalted imagination to make us
overlook its unworthy spread-eagleism.


As a farewell to Whitman one should read what is perhaps his noblest single
work, "The Prayer of Columbus." The poem is supposed to reflect the thought
of Columbus when, as a worn-out voyager, an old man on his last expedition,
he looked out over his wrecked ships to the lonely sea beyond; but the
reader may see in it another picture, that of a broken old man in his
solitary house at Camden, writing with a trembling hand the lines which
reflect his unshaken confidence:

  My terminus near,
  The clouds already closing in upon me,
  The voyage balk'd, the course disputed, lost,
  I yield my ships to Thee
  My hands, my limbs grow nerveless,
  My brain feels rack'd, bewilder'd;
  Let the old timbers part, I will not part,
  I will cling fast to Thee, O God, though the waves buffet me,
  Thee, Thee at least I know.

  Is it the prophet's thought I speak, or am I raving?
  What do I know of life? what of myself?
  I know not even my own work past or present;
  Dim ever-shifting guesses of it spread before me,
  Of newer better worlds, their mighty parturition,
  Mocking, perplexing me.

  And these things I see suddenly, what mean they?
  As if some miracle, some hand divine, unseal'd my eyes,
  Shadowy vast shapes smile through the air and sky,
  And on the distant waves sail countless ships,
  And anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me.

       *       *       *       *       *



Emerson is the mountaineer of our literature; to read him is to have the
impression of being on the heights. It is solitary there, far removed from
ordinary affairs; but the air is keen, the outlook grand, the heavens near.
Our companions are the familiar earth by day or the mysterious stars by
night, and these are good if only to recall the silent splendor of God's
universe amid the pother of human inventions. There also the very spirit of
liberty, which seems to have its dwelling among the hills, enters into us
and makes us sympathize with Emerson's message of individual freedom.

It is still a question whether Emerson should be classed with the poets or
prose writers, and our only reason for placing him with the latter is that
his "Nature" seems more typical than his "Wood Notes," though in truth both
works convey precisely the same message. He was a great man who used prose
or verse as suited his mood at the moment; but he was never a great poet,
and only on rare occasions was he a great prose writer.

    LIFE. Emerson has been called "the wingéd Franklin," "the Yankee
    Shelley" and other contradictory names which strive to express the
    union of shrewd sense and lofty idealism that led him to write
    "Hitch your wagon to a star" and many another aphorism intended to
    bring heaven and earth close together. We shall indicate enough of
    his inheritance if we call him a Puritan of the Puritans, a
    moralist descended from seven generations of heroic ministers who
    had helped to make America a free nation, and who had practiced the
    love of God and man and country before preaching it to their

    [Illustration: RALPH WALDO EMERSON]

    The quality of these ancestors entered into Emerson and gave him
    the granite steadfastness that is one of his marked
    characteristics. Meeting him in his serene old age one would hardly
    suspect him of heroism; but to meet him in childhood is to
    understand the kind of man he was, and must be. If you would
    appreciate the quality of that childhood, picture to yourself a
    bare house with an open fire and plenty of books, but little else
    of comfort. There are a mother and six children in the house,
    desperately poor; for the father is dead and has left his family
    nothing and everything,--nothing that makes life rich, everything
    in the way of ideals and blessed memories to make life wealthy. The
    mother works as only a poor woman can from morning till night. The
    children go to school by day; but instead of playing after
    school-hours they run errands for the neighbors, drive cows from
    pasture, shovel snow, pick huckleberries, earn an honest penny. In
    the evening they read together before the open fire. When they are
    hungry, as they often are, a Puritan aunt who shares their poverty
    tells them stories of human endurance. The circle narrows when an
    older brother goes to college; the rest reduce their meals and
    spare their pennies in order to help him. After graduation he
    teaches school and devotes his earnings to giving the next brother
    his chance. All the while they speak courteously to each other,
    remember their father's teaching that they are children of God, and
    view their hard life steadily in the light of that sublime

    [Sidenote: THE COLLEGE BOY]

    The rest of the story is easily told. Emerson was born in Boston,
    then a straggling town, in 1803. When his turn came he went to
    Harvard, and largely supported himself there by such odd jobs as
    only a poor student knows how to find. Wasted time he called it;
    for he took little interest in college discipline or college fun
    and was given to haphazard reading, "sinfully strolling from book
    to book, from care to idleness," as he said. Later he declared that
    the only good thing he found in Harvard was a solitary chamber.

    [Sidenote: THE PREACHER]

    After leaving college he taught school and shared his earnings,
    according to family tradition. Then he began to study for the
    ministry; or perhaps we should say "read," for Emerson never really
    studied anything. At twenty-three he was licensed to preach, and
    three years later was chosen pastor of the Second Church in Boston.
    It was the famous Old North Church in which the Mathers had
    preached, and the Puritan divines must have turned in their graves
    when the young radical began to utter his heresies from the ancient
    pulpit. He was loved and trusted by his congregation, but presently
    he differed with them in the matter of the ritual and resigned his

    Next he traveled in Europe, where he found as little of value as he
    had previously found in college. The old institutions, which roused
    the romantic enthusiasm of Irving and Longfellow, were to him only
    relics of barbarism. He went to Europe, he said, to see two men,
    and he found them in Wordsworth and Carlyle. His friendship with
    the latter and the letters which passed between "the sage of
    Chelsea" and "the sage of Concord" (as collected and published by
    Charles Eliot Norton in his _Correspondence of Carlyle and
    Emerson_) are the most interesting result of his pilgrimage.

    [Sidenote: THE LECTURER]

    On his return he settled in the village of Concord, which was to be
    his home for the remainder of his long life. He began to lecture,
    and so well was the "Lyceum" established at that time that he was
    soon known throughout the country. For forty years this lecturing
    continued, and the strange thing about it is that in all that time
    he hardly met one audience that understood him or that carried away
    any definite idea of what he had talked about. Something noble in
    the man seemed to attract people; as Lowell said, they did not go
    to hear what Emerson said but to hear Emerson.

    [Sidenote: THE WRITER]

    Meanwhile he was writing prose and poetry. His literary work began
    in college and consisted largely in recording such thoughts or
    quotations as seemed worthy of preservation. In his private
    _Journal_ (now published in several volumes) may be found
    practically everything he put into the formal works which he sent
    forth from Concord. These had at first a very small circle of
    readers; but the circle widened steadily, and the phenomenon is
    more remarkable in view of the fact that the author avoided
    publicity and had no ambition for success. He lived contentedly in
    a country village; he cultivated his garden and his neighbors; he
    spent long hours alone with nature; he wrote the thoughts that came
    to him and sent them to make their own way in the world, while he
    himself remained, as he said, "far from fame behind the birch

    The last years of his life were as the twilight of a perfect day.
    His mental powers failed slowly; he seemed to drift out of the
    present world into another of pure memories; even his friends
    became spiritualized, lost the appearance of earth and assumed
    their eternal semblance. When he stood beside the coffin of
    Longfellow, looking intently into the poet's face, he was heard to
    murmur, "A sweet, a gracious personality, but I have forgotten his
    name." To the inevitable changes (the last came in 1882) he adapted
    himself with the same serenity which marked his whole life. He even
    smiled as he read the closing lines of his "Terminus":

      As the bird trims her to the gale,
      I trim myself to the storm of time,
      I man the rudder, reef the sail,
      Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
      "Lowly faithful, banish fear,
      Right onward drive unharmed;
      The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
      And every wave is charmed."

EMERSON'S POETRY. There is a ruggedness in Emerson's verse which attracts
some readers while it repels others by its unmelodious rhythm. It may help
us to measure that verse if we recall the author's criticism thereof. In
1839 he wrote:

    "I am naturally keenly susceptible to the pleasures of rhythm, and
    cannot believe but one day I shall attain to that splendid dialect,
    so ardent is my wish; and these wishes, I suppose, are ever only
    the buds of power; but up to this hour I have never had a true
    success in such attempts."

One must be lenient with a poet who confesses that he cannot attain the
"splendid dialect," especially so since we are inclined to agree with him.
In the following passage from "Each and All" we may discover the reason for
his lack of success:

  Little thinks, in the field, yon red-cloaked clown
  Of thee from the hill-top looking down;
  The heifer that lows in the upland farm,
  Far-heard, lows not thine ear to charm;
  The sexton, tolling his bell at noon,
  Deems not that great Napoleon
  Stops his horse, and lists with delight,
  Whilst his files sweep round yon Alpine height;
  Nor knowest thou what argument
  Thy life to thy neighbor's creed has lent.
  All are needed by each one;
  Nothing is fair or good alone.
  I thought the sparrow's note from heaven,
  Singing at dawn on the alder bough;
  I brought him home in his nest at even;
  He sings the song, but it cheers not now,
  For I did not bring home the river and sky:
  He sang to my ear; they sang to my eye.
  The delicate shells lay on the shore;
  The bubbles of the latest wave
  Fresh pearls to their enamel gave,
  And the bellowing of the savage sea
  Greeted their safe escape to me.
  I wiped away the weeds and foam,
  I fetched my sea-born treasures home;
  But the poor, unsightly, noisome things
  Had left their beauty on the shore
  With the sun and the sand and the wild uproar.

Our first criticism is that the poem contains both fine and faulty lines,
and that the total impression is an excellent one. Next, we note that the
verse is labored; for Emerson was not a natural singer, like Whittier, and
was hampered by his tendency to think too much instead of giving free
expression to his emotion. [Footnote: Most good poems are characterized by
both thought and feeling, and by a perfection of form that indicates
artistic workmanship. With Emerson the thought is the main thing; feeling
or emotion is subordinate or lacking, and he seldom has the patience to
work over his thought until it assumes beautiful or perfect expression.]
Finally, he is didactic; that is, he is teaching the lesson that you must
not judge a thing by itself, as if it had no history or connections, but
must consider it in its environment, as a part of its own world.

As in "Each and All" so in most of his verse Emerson is too much of a
teacher or moralist to be a poet. In "The Rhodora," one of his most perfect
poems, he proclaims that "Beauty is its own excuse for being"; but
straightway he forgets the word and devotes his verse not to beauty but to
some ethical lesson. Very rarely does he break away from this unpoetic
habit, as when he interrupts the moralizing of his "World Soul" to write a
lyric that we welcome for its own sake:

  Spring still makes spring in the mind
    When sixty years are told;
  Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
    And we are never old.
  Over the winter glaciers
    I see the summer glow,
  And through the wide-piled snowdrift
    The warm rosebuds below.


The most readable of Emerson's poems are those in which he reflects his
impressions of nature, such as "Seashore," "The Humble-Bee," "The
Snow-Storm," "Days," "Fable," "Forbearance," "The Titmouse" and
"Wood-Notes." In another class are his philosophical poems devoted to
transcendental doctrines. The beginner will do well to skip these, since
they are more of a puzzle than a source of pleasure. In a third class are
poems of more personal interest, such as the noble "Threnody," a poem of
grief written after the death of Emerson's little boy; "Good-Bye," in which
the poet bids farewell to fame as he hies him to the country; "To Ellen,"
which half reveals his love story; "Written in Rome," which speaks of the
society he found in solitude; and the "Concord Hymn," written at the
dedication of Battle Monument, with its striking opening lines:

  By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
    Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
  Here once the embattled farmers stood,
    And fired the shot heard round the world.

PROSE WORKS. Perhaps the most typical of Emerson's prose works is his first
book, to which he gave the name _Nature_ (1836). In this he records
not his impressions of bird or beast or flower, as his neighbor Thoreau was
doing in _Walden_, but rather his philosophy of the universe. "Nature
always wears the colors of the spirit"; "Every animal function, from the
sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and
wrong, and echo the ten commandments"; "The foundations of man are not in
matter but in spirit, and the element of spirit is eternity,"--scores of
such expressions indicate that Emerson deals with the soul of things, not
with their outward appearance. Does a flower appeal to him? Its scientific
name and classification are of no consequence; like Wordsworth, he would
understand what thought of God the flower speaks. To him nature is a mirror
in which the Almighty reflects his thought; again it is a parable, a little
story written in trees or hills or stars; frequently it is a living
presence, speaking melodiously in winds or waters; and always it is an
inspiration to learn wisdom at first hand:

    "Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers.
    It writes biographies, histories, criticisms. The foregoing
    generations beheld God and Nature face to face; we, through their
    eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the
    universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of
    insight, and not of tradition?"

The last quotation might well be an introduction to Emerson's second work,
_The American Scholar_ (1837), which was a plea for laying aside
European models and fronting life as free men in a new world. Holmes called
this work "our intellectual Declaration of Independence," and it was
followed by a succession of volumes--_Essays_, _Representative
Men_, _Conduct of Life_, _Society and Solitude_ and several
others--all devoted to the same two doctrines of idealism and


Among these prose works the reader must make his own selection. All are
worth reading; none is easy to read; even the best of them is better
appreciated in brief instalments, since few can follow Emerson long without
wearying. _English Traits_ is a keen but kindly criticism of "our
cousins" overseas, which an American can read with more pleasure than an
Englishman. _Representative Men_ is a series of essays on Plato,
Shakespeare, Napoleon and other world figures, which may well be read in
connection with Carlyle's _Heroes and Hero Worship_, since the two
books reflect the same subject from widely different angles. Carlyle was in
theory an aristocrat and a force-worshiper, Emerson a democrat and a
believer in ideals. One author would relate us to his heroes in the
attitude of slave to master, the other in the relation of brothers and

[Sidenote: THE ESSAYS]

Of the shorter prose works, collected in various volumes of _Essays_,
we shall name only a few in two main groups, which we may call the ideal
and the practical. In the first group are such typical works as "The
Over-Soul," "Compensation," "Spiritual Laws" and "History"; in the latter
are "Heroism," "Self-Reliance," "Literary Ethics" (an address to young
collegians), "Character" and "Manners."

It is difficult to criticize such writings, which have a daring originality
of thought and a springlike freshness of expression that set them apart
from all other essays ancient or modern. They are the most quotable, the
fittest to "point a moral or adorn a tale" that have ever appeared in our
literature; but they are also disjointed, oracular, hard to follow; and the
explanation is found in the manner of their production. When Emerson
projected a new lecture or essay he never thought his subject out or
ordered it from beginning to end. That would have been another man's way of
doing it. He collected from his notebooks such thoughts as seemed to bear
upon his subject, strung them together, and made an end when he had enough.
The connection or relation between his thoughts is always frail and often
invisible; some compare it with the thread which holds the pearls of a
necklace together; others quote with a smile the epigram of Goldwin Smith,
who said that he found an Emersonian essay about as coherent as a bag of
marbles. And that suggests a fair criticism of all Emerson's prose; namely,
that it is a series of expressions excellent in themselves but having so
little logical sequence that a paragraph from one essay may be placed at
the beginning, middle or end of any other, where it seems to be equally at

THE DOCTRINE OF EMERSON. Since we constantly hear of "idealism" in
connection with Emerson, let us understand the word if we can; or rather
the fact, for idealism is the most significant quality of humanity. The
term will be better understood if we place it beside "materialism," which
expresses an opposite view of life. The difference may be summarized in the
statement that the idealist is a man of spirit, or idea, in that he trusts
the evidence of the soul; while the materialist is a man of flesh, or
sense, in that he believes only what is evident to the senses. One judges
the world by himself; the other judges himself by the world.

To illustrate our meaning: the materialist, looking outward, sees that the
world is made up of force-driven matter, of gas, carbon and mineral; and he
says, "Even so am I made up." He studies an object, sees that it has its
appointed cycle of growth and decay, and concludes, "Even so do I appear
and vanish." To him the world is the only reality, and the world perishes,
and man is but a part of the world.

[Sidenote: THE IDEALIST]

The idealist, looking first within, perceives that self-consciousness is
the great fact of life, and that consciousness expresses itself in words or
deeds; then he looks outward, and is aware of another Consciousness that
expresses itself in the lowly grass or in the stars of heaven. Looking
inward he finds that he is governed by ideas of truth, beauty, goodness and
duty; looking outward he everywhere finds evidence of truth and beauty and
moral law in the world. He sees, moreover, that while his body changes
constantly his self remains the same yesterday, to-day and forever; and
again his discovery is a guide to the outer world, with its seedtime and
harvest, which is but the symbol or garment of a Divine Self that abides
without shadow of change in a constantly changing universe. To him the only
reality is spirit, and spirit cannot be harmed by fire or flood; neither
can it die or be buried, for it is immortal and imperishable.

Such, in simple words, was the idealism of Emerson, an idealism that was
born in him and that governed him long before he became involved in
transcendentalism, with its scraps of borrowed Hindu philosophy. It gave
message or meaning to his first work, _Nature_, and to all the
subsequent essays or poems in which he pictured the world as a symbol or
visible expression of a spiritual reality. In other words, nature was to
Emerson the Book of the Lord, and the chief thing of interest was not the
book but the idea that was written therein.


Having read the universe and determined its spiritual quality, Emerson
turned his eyes on humanity. Presently he announced that a man's chief
glory is his individuality; that he is a free being, different from every
other; that his business is to obey his individual genius; that he should,
therefore, ignore the Past with its traditions, and learn directly "from
the Divine Soul which inspires all men." Having announced that doctrine, he
spent the rest of his life in illustrating or enlarging it; and the sum of
his teaching was, "Do not follow me or any other master; follow your own
spirit. Never mind what history says, or philosophy or tradition or the
saints and sages. The same inspiration which led the prophets is yours for
the taking, and you have your work to do as they had theirs. Revere your
own soul; trust your intuition; and whatever you find in your heart to do,
do it without doubt or fear, though all the world thunder in your ears that
you must do otherwise. As for the voice of authority, 'Let not a man quit
his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the anointed and honorable of
the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom.'"


Such was Emerson's pet doctrine of individualism. It appeared with
startling vigor in _The American Scholar_ at a time when our writers
were prone to imitate English poetry, German sentimentality or some other
imported product. It came also with good grace from one whose life was
noble, but it had a weak or dangerous or grotesque side that Emerson
overlooked. Thus, every crank or fanatic or rainbow-chaser is also an
individualist, and most of them believe as strongly as Emerson in the
Over-Soul. The only difference is that they do not have his sense or
integrity or humor to balance their individualism. While Emerson exalted
individual liberty he seemed to forget that America is a country devoted to
"liberty under law," and that at every period of her history she has had
need to emphasize the law rather than the liberty. Moreover, individualism
is a quality that takes care of itself, being finest in one who is least
conscious of his own importance; and to study any strongly individual
character, a Washington or a Lincoln for example, is to discover that he
strove to be true to his race and traditions as well as to himself. Hence
Emerson's doctrine, to live in the Present and have entire confidence in
yourself, needs to be supplemented by another: to revere the Past with its
immortal heroes, who by their labor and triumph have established some
truths that no sane man will ever question.


There are other interesting qualities of Emerson, his splendid optimism,
for instance, which came partly from his spiritual view of the universe and
partly from his association with nature; for the writer who is in daily
contact with sunshine or rain and who trusts his soul's ideals of truth and
beauty has no place for pessimism or despair; even in moments of darkness
he looks upward and reads his lesson:

  Teach me your mood, O patient stars,
    Who climb each night the ancient sky,
  Leaving on space no shade, no scars,
    No trace of age, no fear to die!

Though he was and still is called a visionary, there is a practical quality
in his writing which is better than anything you will find in _Poor
Richard's Almanac_. Thus the burden of Franklin's teaching was the value
of time, a lesson which the sage of Concord illuminates as with celestial
light in his poem "Days," and to which he brings earth's candle in his
prose essay "Work and Days." [Footnote: The two works should be read in
connection as an interesting example of Emerson's use of prose and verse to
reflect the same idea. Holmes selects the same two works to illustrate the
essential difference between prose and poetry. See Holmes, _Ralph Waldo
Emerson_, p. 310.] Indeed, the more one reads Emerson the more is one
convinced that he is our typical New World writer, a rare genius who
combines the best qualities of Franklin and Edwards, having the practical
sense of the one and the spiritual insight of the other. [Footnote: In 1830
Channing published an essay, "National Literature," in which he said that
Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards were the only writers up to that
time who had worthily presented the American mind, with its practical and
ideal sides, to foreign readers.] With his idealism and individuality, his
imagination that soars to heaven but is equally at home on solid earth, his
sound judgment to balance his mysticism, his forceful style that runs from
epigram to sustained eloquence, his straight-fibered manhood in which
criticism finds nothing to pardon or regret,--with all these sterling
qualities he is one of the most representative writers that America has
ever produced.

       *       *       *       *       *


Some great writers belong to humanity, others to their own land or people.
Hawthorne is in the latter class apparently, for ever since Lowell rashly
characterized him as "the greatest imaginative genius since Shakespeare"
our critics commonly speak of him in superlatives. Meanwhile most European
critics (who acclaim such unequal writers as Cooper and Poe, Whitman and
Mark Twain) either leave Hawthorne unread or else wonder what Americans
find in him to stir their enthusiasm.

The explanation is that Hawthorne's field was so intensely local that only
those who are familiar with it can appreciate him. Almost any reader can
enjoy Cooper, since he deals with adventurous men whom everybody
understands; but Hawthorne deals with the New England Puritan of the
seventeenth century, a very peculiar hero, and to enjoy the novelist one
must have some personal or historic interest in his subject. Moreover, he
alienates many readers by presenting only the darker side of Puritanism. He
is a man who never laughs and seldom smiles in his work; he passes over a
hundred normal and therefore cheerful homes to pitch upon some gloomy
habitation of sin or remorse, and makes that the burden of his tale. In no
other romancer do we find genius of such high order at work in so barren a

    LIFE. There is an air of reserve about Hawthorne which no biography
    has ever penetrated. A schoolmate who met him daily once said, "I
    love Hawthorne; I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a
    mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits
    me to enter." That characterization applies as well to-day as when
    it was first spoken, almost a century ago. To his family and to a
    very few friends Hawthorne was evidently a genial man, [Footnote:
    Intimate but hardly trustworthy pictures of Hawthorne and his
    family are presented by his son, Julian Hawthorne, in _Nathaniel
    Hawthorne and his Wife_. A dozen other memoirs have appeared;
    but Hawthorne did not want his biography written, and there are
    many unanswered questions in the story of his life.] but from the
    world and its affairs he always held aloof, wrapped in his mantle
    of mystery.

    A study of his childhood may help us to understand the somber
    quality of all his work. He was descended from the Puritans who
    came to Boston with John Winthrop, and was born in the seaport of
    Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. He was only four years old when his
    father, a sea captain, died in a foreign port; whereupon the mother
    draped herself in weeds, retired from the sight of neighbors, and
    for the next forty years made life as funereal as possible. Besides
    the little boy there were two sisters in the family, and the elder
    took her meals in her own room, as did the mother. The others went
    about the darkened house on tiptoe, or peeped out at the world
    through closed shutters.

    [Illustration: NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE]

    The shadow of that unnatural home was upon Hawthorne to the end of
    his life; it accounts in part for his shyness, his fear of society,
    his lack of interest in his own age or nation.

    [Sidenote: SECLUSION AT SALEM]

    At seventeen Hawthorne went to Bowdoin College, where Longfellow
    was his classmate and Franklin Pierce (later President of the
    United States) one of his friends. His college life seems to have
    been happy, even gay at times; but when he graduated (1825) and his
    classmates scattered to find work in the world he returned to his
    Salem home and secluded himself as if he had no interest in
    humanity. It was doubtful, he said afterwards, whether a dozen
    people knew of his existence in as many years.

    All the while he was writing, gathering material for his romances
    or patiently cultivating his fine style. For days he would brood
    over a subject; then he would compose a story or parable for the
    magazines. The stamp of originality was on all these works, but
    they were seldom accepted. When they returned to him, having found
    no appreciative editor, he was apt to burn them and complain that
    he was neglected. Studying the man as he reveals himself at this
    time in his _Note-Books_ (published in a garbled edition by
    the Hawthorne family), one has the impression that he was a shy,
    sensitive genius, almost morbidly afraid of the world. From a
    distance he sent out his stories as "feelers", when these were
    ignored he shrank into himself more deeply than before.

    [Illustration: OLD CUSTOMHOUSE, BOSTON,
    Where Hawthorne worked.]

    Love brought him out of his retreat, as it has accomplished many
    another miracle. When he became engaged his immediate thought was
    to find work, and one of his friends secured a position for him in
    the Boston customhouse, where he weighed coal until he was replaced
    by a party spoilsman. [Footnote: Hawthorne profited three times by
    the spoils system. When his Boston experience was repeated at Salem
    he took his revenge in the opening chapter of _The Scarlet
    Letter_, which ridicules those who received political jobs from
    the other party.] There were no civil-service rules in those days.
    Hoping to secure a home, he invested his savings in Brook Farm,
    worked there for a time with the reformers, detested them, lost his
    money and gained the experience which he used later in his
    _Blithedale Romance_. Then he married, and lived in poverty
    and great happiness for four years in the "Old Manse" at Concord.
    Another friend obtained for him political appointment as surveyor
    of the Salem customhouse; again he was replaced by a spoilsman, and
    again he complained bitterly. The loss proved a blessing, however,
    since it gave him leisure to write _The Scarlet Letter_, a
    novel which immediately placed Hawthorne in the front rank of
    American writers.


    He was now before an appreciative world, and in the flush of fine
    feeling that followed his triumph he wrote _The House of the
    Seven Gables, A Wonder Book_ and _The Snow Image_.
    Literature was calling him most hopefully when, at the very prime
    of life, he turned his back on fortune. His friend Pierce had been
    nominated by the Democrats (1852), and he was asked to write the
    candidate's biography for campaign purposes. It was hardly a worthy
    task, but he accepted it and did it well. When Pierce was elected
    he "persuaded" Hawthorne to accept the office of consul at
    Liverpool. The emoluments, some seven thousand dollars a year,
    seemed enormous to one who had lived straitly, and in the four
    years of Pierce's administration our novelist saved a sum which,
    with the income from his books, placed him above the fear of want.
    Then he went for a long vacation to Italy, where he collected the
    material for his _Marble Faun_. But he wrote nothing more of


    The remainder of his life was passed in a pleasant kind of
    hermitage in Emerson's village of Concord. His habits of solitude
    and idleness ("cursed habits," he called them) were again upon him;
    though he began several romances--_Dr. Grimshawe's Secret_,
    _Septimius Felton_, _The Ancestral Footstep_ and _The
    Dolliver Romance_--he never made an end of them. In his work he
    was prone to use some symbol of human ambition, and the symbol of
    his own later years might well have been the unfinished manuscript
    which lay upon the coffin when his body was laid under the pines in
    the old Concord burying ground (1864). His friend Longfellow has
    described the scene in his beautiful poem "Hawthorne."

SHORT STORIES AND SKETCHES. Many young people become familiar with
Hawthorne as a teller of bedtime stories long before they meet him in the
role of famous novelist. In his earlier days he wrote _Grandfather's
Chair_ (modeled on a similar work by Scott), dealing with Colonial
legends, and broadened his field in _Biographical Stories for
Children_. Other and better works belonging to the same juvenile class
are _A Wonder Book_ (1851) and _Tanglewood Tales_ (1853), which
are modern versions of the classic myths and stories that Greek mothers
used to tell their children long ago.


The best of Hawthorne's original stories are collected in _Twice-Told
Tales_, _Mosses from an Old Manse_ and _The Snow Image and Other
Twice-Told Tales_. As the bulk of this work is rather depressing we
select a few typical tales, arranging them in three groups. In the first
are certain sketches, as Hawthorne called them, which aim not to tell a
story but to give an impression of the past. "The Old Manse" (in _Mosses
from an Old Manse_) is an excellent introduction to this group. Others
in which the author comes out from the gloom to give his humor a glimpse of
pale sunshine are "A Rill from the Town Pump," "Main Street," "Little
Annie's Ramble," "Sights from a Steeple" and, as suggestive of Hawthorne's
solitary outings, "Footprints on the Seashore."

[Sidenote: ALLEGORIES]

In the second group are numerous allegories and symbolical stories. To
understand Hawthorne's method of allegory [Footnote: An allegory is a
figure of speech (in rhetoric) or a story (in literature) in which an
external object is described in such a way that we apply the description to
our own inner experience. Many proverbs, such as "People who live in glass
houses should not throw stones," are condensed allegories. So also are
fables and parables, such as the fable of the fox and the grapes, or the
parable of the lost sheep. Bunyan's famous allegory, The Pilgrim's
Progress, describes a journey from one city to another, but in reading it
we are supposed to think of a Christian's experience in passing through
this world to the next.] read "The Snow Image," which is the story of a
snowy figure that became warm, living and companionable to some children
until it was spoiled by a hard-headed person, without imagination or real
sense, who forgot that he was ever a child himself or that there is such a
beautiful and precious thing as a child-view of the universe.

In his constant symbolism (that is, in his use of an outward sign or token
to represent an idea) Hawthorne reflected a trait that is common to
humanity in all ages. Thus, every nation has its concrete symbol, its flag
or eagle or lion; a great religion is represented by a cross or a crescent;
in art and poetry the sword stands for war and the dove for peace; an
individual has his horseshoe or rabbit's foot or "mascot" as the simple
expression of an idea that may be too complex for words. Among primitive
people such symbols were associated with charms, magic, baleful or
benignant influences; and Hawthorne accepted this superstitious idea in
many of his works, though he was apt to hint, as in "Lady Eleanor's
Mantle," that the magic of his symbol might have a practical explanation.
In this story the lady's gorgeous mantle is a symbol of pride; its
blighting influence _may_ be due to the fact that,--but to tell the
secret is to spoil the story, and that is not fair to Hawthorne or the

[Sidenote: THE BLACK VEIL]

Some of these symbolic tales are too vague or shadowy to be convincing; in
others the author makes artistic use of some simple object, such as a
flower or an ornament, to suggest the mystery that broods over every life.
In "The Minister's Black Veil," for example, a clergyman startles his
congregation by appearing with a dark veil over his face. The veil itself
is a familiar object; on a woman or a bonnet it would pass unnoticed; but
on the minister it becomes a portentous thing, at once fascinating and
repellent. Yesterday they knew the man as a familiar friend; to-day he is a
stranger, and they fear him with a vague, nameless fear. Forty years he
wears the mysterious thing, dies and is buried with it, and in all that
time they never have a glimpse of his face. Though there is a deal of
nonsense in the story, and a hocus-pocus instead of a mystery, we must
remember that veil as a striking symbol of the loneliness of life, of the
gulf that separates a human soul from every other.

Another and better symbolic tale is "The Great Stone Face," which appeals
strongly to younger readers, especially to those who have lived much out of
doors and who cherish the memory of some natural object, some noble tree or
mossy cliff or singing brook, that is forever associated with their
thoughts of childhood. To others the tale will have added interest in that
it is supposed to portray the character of Emerson as Hawthorne knew him.


In the third group are numerous stories dealing with Colonial history, and
of these "The Gray Champion" and "The Gentle Boy" are fairly typical.
Hawthorne has been highly praised in connection with these tales as "the
artist who created the Puritan in literature." Most readers will gladly
recognize the "artist," since every tale has its line or passage of beauty;
but some will murmur at the "creation." The trouble with Hawthorne was that
in creating his Puritan he took scant heed of the man whom the Almighty
created. He was not a scholar or even a reader; his custom was to brood
over an incident of the past (often a grotesque incident, such as he found
in Winthrop's old _Journal_), and from his brooding he produced an
imaginary character, some heartless fanatic or dismal wretch who had
nothing of the Puritan except the label. Of the real Puritan, who knew the
joy and courtesy as well as the stern discipline of life, our novelist had
only the haziest notion. In consequence his "Gentle Boy" and parts also of
his _Scarlet Letter_ leave an unwarranted stain on the memory of his
ancestors. [Footnote: Occasionally, as in "The Gray Champion" and "Endicott
and the Red Cross," Hawthorne paints the stern courage of the Puritan, but
never his gentle or humane qualities. His typical tale presents the Puritan
in the most unlovely guise. In "The Maypole of Merrymount," for example,
Morton and his men are represented as inoffensive, art-loving people who
were terrorized by the "dismal wretches" of a near-by colony of Puritans.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Morton's crew were a lawless set
and a scandal to New England; but they were tolerated until they put all
the settlements in danger by debauching the Indians and selling them rum,
muskets and gunpowder. The "dismal wretches" were the Pilgrims of
Plymouth,--gentle, heroic men, lovers of learning and liberty, who
profoundly influenced the whole subsequent history of America.]

THE FOUR ROMANCES. The romances of Hawthorne are all studies of the effects
of sin on human development. If but one of these romances is to be read,
let it be _The House of the Seven Gables_ (1851), which is a
pleasanter story than Hawthorne commonly tells, and which portrays one
character that he knew by experience rather than by imagination. Many of
Hawthorne's stories run to a text, and the text here is, "The fathers have
eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The
characters are represented as "under a curse"; [Foonote: This is a
reflection of a family tradition. An ancestor of Hawthorne was judge at the
Salem witch trials, in 1692. One of the poor creatures condemned to death
is said to have left a curse on the judge's family. In his _Note
Books_ Hawthorne makes mention of the traditional curse, and analyzes
its possible effect on his own character.] that is, they are bearing the
burden and sorrow of some old iniquity committed before they were born; but
the affliction is banished in a satisfactory way without leaving us in the
haze of mystery that envelops so much of Hawthorne's work. His humor is
also in evidence, his interest in life overcomes for a time his absorption
in shadowy symbols, and his whole story is brightened by his evident love
of Phoebe Pyncheon, the most natural and winsome of all his characters.


The other romances deal with the same general theme, the blighting effect
of sin, but vary greatly in their scenes and characters. The _Marble
Faun_ (published in England as _Transformation_, 1860) is the most
popular, possibly because its scene is laid in Rome, a city to which all
travelers go, or aspire to go, before they die; but though it moves in "an
atmosphere of art," among the studios of "the eternal city," it is the
least artistic of all the author's works. [Footnote: The _Marble Faun_
ends in a fog, as if the author did not know what to do with his
characters. It has the amateurish fault of halting the narrative to talk
with the reader; and it moralizes to such an extent that the heroine (who
is pictured as of almost angelic virtue) eventually becomes a prig and a
preacher,--two things that a woman must never be. Nevertheless, the romance
has a host of enthusiastic readers, and to criticize it adversely is to
bring a storm about one's ears.] In _The Blithedale Romance_ (1852)
Hawthorne deals with the present rather than the past and apparently makes
use of his observation, since his scenes and characters are strongly
suggestive of the Brook Farm community of reformers, among whom he spent
one critical and unhappy year. _The Scarlet Letter_ (1850) is not only
the most original and powerful of the romances but is commonly ranked by
our critics at the head of American fiction. The scene is laid in Boston,
in the old Puritan days; the main characters are vividly drawn, and the
plot moves to its gloomy but impressive climax as if Wyrd or Fate were at
the bottom of it.

CHARACTERISTICS OF HAWTHORNE. Almost the first thing we notice in Hawthorne
is his style, a smooth, leisurely, "classic" style which moves along, like
a meadow brook, without hurry or exertion. Gradually as we read we become
conscious of the novelist's characters, whom he introduces with a veil of
mystery around them. They are interesting, as dreams and other mysterious
things always are, but they are seldom real or natural or lifelike. At
times we seem to be watching a pantomime of shadows, rather than a drama of
living men and women.

[Sidenote: METHOD OF WORK]

The explanation of these shadowy characters is found in Hawthorne's method
of work, as revealed by the _Note-Books_ in which he stored his
material. Here is a typical record, which was occasioned, no doubt, by the
author's meeting with some old nurse, whom he straightway changed from her
real semblance to a walking allegory:

    "Change from a gay young girl to an old woman. Melancholy events,
    the effects of which have clustered around her character....
    Becomes a lover of sick chambers, taking pleasure in receiving
    dying breaths and laying out the dead. Having her mind full of
    funeral reminiscences, and possessing more acquaintances beneath
    the turf than above it."

This is enough of a story in itself; we need not read "Edward Fane's
Rosebud" to see how Hawthorne filled in the details. The strange thing is
that he never studied or questioned the poor woman to discover whether she
was anything like what he imagined her to be. On another page we read:

    "A snake taken into a man's stomach and nourished there from
    fifteen to thirty five years, tormenting him most horribly." [Then
    follows the inevitable moral.] "Type of envy or some other evil


There are many such story-records in the _Note-Books_, but among them
you will find no indication that the story-teller ever examined the facts
with a purpose to discover whether a snake could survive thirty-five years,
or minutes, in the acids of a human stomach, or how long a Puritan church
would tolerate a minister who went about with a veil on his face, or
whether any other of his symbols had any vital connection with human
experience. In a word, Hawthorne was prone to make life conform to his
imagination, instead of making his imagination conform to life. Living as
he did in the twilight, between the day and the night, he seems to have
missed the chief lesson of each, the urge of the one and the repose of the
other; and especially did he miss the great fact of cheerfulness. The
deathless courage of man, his invincible hope that springs to life under
the most adverse circumstances, like the cyclamen abloom under the snows of
winter,--this primal and blessed fact seems to have escaped his notice. At
times he hints at it, but he never gives it its true place at the
beginning, middle and end of human life.


Thus far our analysis has been largely negative, and Hawthorne was a very
positive character. He had the feeling of an artist for beauty; and he was
one of the few romancers who combine a strong sense of art with a puritanic
devotion to conscience and the moral law. Hence his stories all aim to be
both artistic and ethical, to satisfy our sense of beauty and our sense of
right. In his constant moralizing he was like George Eliot; or rather, to
give the figure its proper sequence, George Eliot was so exclusively a
moralist after the Hawthornesque manner that one suspects she must have
been familiar with his work when she began to write. Both novelists worked
on the assumption that the moral law is the basis of human life and that
every sin brings its inevitable retribution. The chief difference was that
Hawthorne started with a moral principle and invented characters to match
it, while George Eliot started with a human character in whose experience
she revealed the unfolding of a moral principle.


The individuality of Hawthorne becomes apparent when we attempt to classify
him,--a vain attempt, since there is no other like him in literature. In
dealing with almost any other novelist we can name his models, or at least
point out the story-tellers whose methods influenced his work; but
Hawthorne seems to have had no predecessor. Subject, style and method were
all his own, developed during his long seclusion at Salem, and from them he
never varied. From his _Twice-Told Tales_ to his unfinished
_Dolliver Romance_ he held steadily to the purpose of portraying the
moral law against a background of Puritan history.

Such a field would have seemed very narrow to other American writers, who
then, as now, were busy with things too many or things too new; but to
Hawthorne it was a world in itself, a world that lured him as the Indies
lured Columbus. In imagination he dwelt in that somber Puritan world,
eating at its long-vanished tables or warming himself at its burnt-out
fires, until the impulse came to reproduce it in literature. And he did
reproduce it, powerfully, single-heartedly, as only genius could have done
it. That his portrayal was inaccurate is perhaps a minor consideration; for
one writer must depict life as he meets it on the street or in books, while
another is confined to what Ezekiel calls "the chambers of imagery."
Hawthorne's liberties with the facts may be pardoned on the ground that he
was not an historian but an artist. The historian tells what life has
accomplished, the artist what life means.

       *       *       *       *       *


THE POETS. Among the fifty or more poets of the period of conflict Henry
Timrod, Paul Hamilton Hayne and Abram J. Ryan are notable for this reason,
that their fame, once local, seems to widen with the years. They are
commonly grouped as southern poets because of the war lyrics in which they
voiced the passionate devotion of the South to its leaders; but what makes
them now interesting to a larger circle of readers are their poems of an
entirely different kind,--poems that reflect in a tender and beautiful way
the common emotions of men in all places and in all ages. Two other
prominent singers of the southern school are Theodore O'Hara and James
Ryder Randall.

[Illustration: HENRY TIMROD]

In another group are such varied singers as Richard Henry Stoddard, George
H. Boker, Henry Howard Brownell, Thomas B. Read, John G. Saxe, J. G.
Holland and Bayard Taylor. These were all famous poets in their own day,
and some of them were prolific writers, Holland and Taylor especially. The
latter produced thirty volumes of poems, essays, novels and sketches of
travel; but, with the exception of his fine translation of Goethe's
_Faust_ and a few of his original lyrics, the works which he sent
forth so abundantly are now neglected. He is typical of a hundred writers
who answer the appeal of to-day and win its applause, and who are forgotten
when to-morrow comes with its new interests and its new favorites.


FICTION WRITERS. Comparatively few novels were written during this period,
perhaps because the terrible shadow of war was over the country and readers
were in no mood for fiction. The most popular romance of the age, and one
of the most widely read books that America has ever produced, was _Uncle
Tom's Cabin_ (1852), which has been translated and dramatized into so
many tongues that it is known all over the earth. The author, Harriet
Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), wrote several other stories, all characterized
by humor, kindness and intense moral earnestness. Some of these, such as
_Oldtown Folks_, _The Minister's Wooing_, _The Pearl of Orr's
Island_ and _Oldtown Fireside Stories_ have decidedly more literary
charm than her famous story of slavery.


[Sidenote: TALES OF THE SEA]

The mid-century produced some very good sea stories, and in these we see
the influence of Cooper, who was the first to use the ocean successfully as
a scene of romantic interest. Dana's _Two Years before the Mast_
(1840) was immensely popular when our fathers were boys. It contained,
moreover, such realistic pictures of sailor life that it was studied by
aspirants for the British and American navies in the days when the flag
rippled proudly over the beautiful old sailing ships. This excellent book
is largely a record of personal experience; but in the tales of Herman
Melville (1819-1891) we have the added elements of imagination and
adventure. _Typee_, _White Jacket_, _Moby Dick_,--these are
capital tales of the deep, the last-named especially.

_Typee_ (a story well known to Stevenson, evidently) is remarkable for
its graphic pictures of sailor life afloat and ashore in the Marquesas
Islands, a new field in those days. The narrative is continued in _White
Jacket_, which tells of the return from the South Pacific aboard a
man-of-war. In _Moby Dick_ we have the real experience of a sailorman
and whaler (Melville himself) and the fictitious wanderings of a stout
captain, a primeval kind of person, who is at times an interesting lunatic
and again a ranting philosopher. In the latter we have an echo of Carlyle,
who was making a stir in America in 1850, and who affected Melville so
strongly that the latter soon lost his bluff, hearty, sailor fashion of
writing, which everybody liked, and assumed a crotchety style that nobody
cared to read.


A few other novels of the period are interesting as showing the sudden
change from romance to realism, a change for which the war was partly
responsible, and which will be examined more closely in the following
chapter. John Esten Cooke (1830-1886) may serve as a concrete example of
the two types of fiction. In his earlier romances, notably in _Leather
Stocking and Silk_ and _The Virginia Comedians_ (1854), he aimed to
do for the Cavalier society of the South what Hawthorne was doing for the
old Puritan régime in New England; but his later stories, such as _Surrey
of Eagle's Nest_, are chiefly notable for their realistic pictures of
the great war.

[Illustration: JOHN ESTEN COOKE]

The change from romance to realism is more openly apparent in Theodore
Winthrop and Edward Eggleston, whose novels deal frankly with pioneers of
the Middle West; not such pioneers as Cooper had imagined in _The
Prairie_, but such plain men and women as one might meet anywhere beyond
the Alleghenies in 1850. Winthrop's _John Brent_ (1862) and
Eggleston's _The Hoosier Schoolmaster_ and _The Circuit Rider_
(1874) are so true to a real phase of American life that a thoughtful
reader must wonder why they are not better known. They are certainly
refreshing to one who tires of our present so-called realism with its
abnormal or degenerate characters.

More widely read than any of the novelists just mentioned are certain
others who appeared in answer to the increasing demand of young people for
a good story. It is doubtful if any American writer great or small has
given more pleasure to young readers than Louisa M. Alcott with her
_Little Women_ (1868) and other stories for gi