Halleck's New English Literature eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 629 pages of information about Halleck's New English Literature.

  “As ever in my great Taskmaster’s eye."[10]

Milton’s poetry is not universally popular.  He deliberately selected his audience.  These lines from Comus show to whom he wished to speak:—­

  “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.”

He kept his promise of writing something which speaks for liberty and for nobility of soul and which the world would not willingly let die.  His ideals react on us and raise us higher than we were.  To him we may say with Wordsworth:—­

  “Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
  Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea,
  Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free.” [11]


The Puritan age was one of conflict in religious and political ideals.  James I. and Charles I. trampled on the laws and persecuted the Puritans so rigorously that many of them fled to New England.  Civil war, in which the Puritans triumphed, was the result.

The Puritans, realizing that neither lands beyond the sea nor the New Learning could satisfy the aspirations of the soul, turned their attention to the life beyond.  Bunyan’s Pilgrim felt that the sole duty of life was to fight the forces of evil that would hold him captive in the City of Destruction and to travel in the straight and narrow path to the New Jerusalem.  Life became a ceaseless battle of the right against the wrong.  Hence, much of the literature in both poetry and prose is polemical.  Milton’s Paradise Lost is an epic of war between good and evil.  The book that had the most influence in molding the thought of the time was the King James (1611) version of the Bible.

The minor prose deals with a variety of subjects.  There are argumentative, philosophical, historical, biographical, and theological prose works; but only the fine presentation of nature and life in The Complete Angler interests the general reader of to-day, although the grandeur of Milton’s Areopagitica, the humor of Thomas Fuller, the stately rhythmical prose of Sir Thomas Browne, and the imagery and variety of Jeremy Taylor deserve more readers.

Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is the masterpiece of Puritan prose, written in the simple, direct language of the 1611 version of the Bible.  The book is a prose epic of the journey of the Puritan Christian from the City of Destruction to the New Jerusalem.

The Cavalier poets wrote much lyrical verse, mostly in lighter vein, but the religious poets strike a deeper note.  The work of these minor poets is often a reflection of the Elizabethan lyrics of Donne and Jonson.

John Milton, who has the creative power of the Elizabethans, is the only great poet of the period.  His greatest poems are L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, Lycidas, Comus, and Paradise Lost.  In sublimity of subject matter and cast of mind, in nobility of ideals, in expression of the conflict between good and evil, he is the fittest representative of the Puritan spirit in literature.

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Halleck's New English Literature from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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