English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

George Cavendish, died 1557:  wrote “The Negotiations of Woolsey, the Great Cardinal of England,” etc., which was republished as the “Life and Death of Thomas Woolsey.”  From this, it is said, Shakspeare drew in writing his “Henry VIII.”

Roger Ascham, 1515-1568:  specially famous as the successful instructor of Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey, whom he was able to imbue with a taste for classical learning.  He wrote a treatise on the use of the bow, called Toxophilus, and The Schoolmaster, which contains many excellent and judicious suggestions, worthy to be carried out in modern education.  It was highly praised by Dr. Johnson.  It was written for the use of the children of Sackville, Lord Buckhurst.

CHAPTER XI.

SPENSER AND THE ELIZABETHAN AGE.

   The Great Change.  Edward VI. and Mary.  Sidney.  The Arcadia.  Defence of
   Poesy.  Astrophel and Stella.  Gabriel Harvey.  Edmund Spenser—­Shepherd’s
   Calendar.  His Great Work.

THE GREAT CHANGE.

With what joy does the traveller in the desert, after a day of scorching glow and a night of breathless heat, descry the distant trees which mark the longed-for well-spring in the emerald oasis, which seems to beckon with its branching palms to the converging caravans, to come and slake their fever-thirst, and escape from the threatening sirocco!

The pilgrim arrives at the caravansery:  not the long, low stone house, unfurnished and bare, which former experience had led him to expect; but a splendid palace.  He dismounts; maidens purer and more beautiful than fabled houris, accompanied by slaves bearing rare dishes and goblets of crusted gold, offer him refreshments:  perfumed baths, couches of down, soft and soothing music are about him in delicious combination.  Surely he is dreaming; or if this be real, were not the burning sun and the sand of the desert, the panting camel and the dying horse of an hour ago but a dream?

Such is not an overwrought illustration of English literature in the long, barren reach from Chaucer to Spenser, as compared with the freshness, beauty, and grandeur of the geniuses which adorned Elizabeth’s court, and tended to make her reign as illustrious in history as the age of Pericles, of Augustus, or of Louis XIV.  Chief among these were Spenser and Shakspeare.  As the latter has been truly characterized as not for an age, but for all time, the former may be more justly considered as the highest exponent and representative of that period.  The Faerie Queene, considered only as a grand heroic poem, is unrivalled in its pictures of beautiful women, brave men, daring deeds, and Oriental splendor; but in its allegorical character, it is far more instructive, since it enumerates and illustrates the cardinal virtues which should make up the moral character of a gentleman: 

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