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Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 491 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

  Let Badman’s broken leg put check
  To Badman’s course of evil,
  Lest, next time, Badman breaks his neck,
  And so goes to the devil.

WOODCUT FROM THE FIRST EDITION OF MR. BADMAN]

Of all the words in the above selection, eighty per cent are monosyllables.  Few authors could have resisted the tendency to try to be impressive at such a climax.  One has more respect for this world, on learning that it has set the seal of its approval on such earnest simplicity and has neglected works that strive with every art to attract attention.

Bunyan furthermore has a rare combination of imagination and dramatic power.  His abstractions became living persons.  They have warmer blood coursing in their veins than many of the men and women in modern fiction.  Giant Despair is a living giant.  We can hear the clanking of the chains and the groans of the captives in his dungeon.  We are not surprised to learn that Bunyan imagined that he saw and conversed with these characters.  The Pilgrim’s Progress is a prose drama.  Note the vivid dramatic presentation of the tendency to evil, which we all have at some time felt threatening to wreck our nobler selves:—­

“Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the way, and said, ’I am void of fear in this matter; prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal den that thou shall go no further; here will I spill thy soul.’”

It would be difficult to find English prose more simple, earnest, strong, imaginative, and dramatic than this.  Bunyan’s style felt the shaping influence of the Bible more than of all other works combined.  He knew the Scriptures almost by heart.

THE POETRY OF THE PURITAN AGE

Lyrical Verse.—­The second quarter of the seventeenth century witnessed an outburst of song that owed its inspiration to Elizabethan lyrical verse.

Soon after 1600 a change in lyric poetry is noticeable.  The sonnet fell into disfavor with the majority of lyrists.  The two poets of greatest influence over this period, Ben Jonson and John Donne, opposed the sonnet.  Ben Jonson complained that it compels all ideas, irrespective of their worth, to fill a space of exactly fourteen lines, and that it therefore operates on the same principle as the bed of Procrustes.  The lyrics of this period, with the exception of those by Milton, were usually less idealistic, ethereal, and inspired than the corresponding work of the Elizabethans.  This age was far more imitative, but it chose to imitate Jonson and Donne in preference to Shakespeare.  The greatest lyrical poet of this time thus addresses Jonson as a patron saint:—­

  “Candles I’ll give to thee,
  And a new altar;
  And thou, Saint Ben, shall be
  Writ in my psalter."[2]

Cavalier Poets.—­Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Thomas Carew (1598?-1639?), Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), and Richard Lovelace (1618—­1658) were a contemporary group of lyrists who are often called Cavalier poets, because they sympathized with the Cavaliers or adherents of Charles I.

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