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liant compositions of Shakespeare and Massinger gave way to the puerile and revolting dialogues of third-rate versifiers. For a time, the home drama was thoroughly corrupt, and marked as well by a low order of mental power. It was what Macaulay would ironically term "the golden age of dramatic profligacy and imbecility"; defeating the original purpose of the drama itself and pandering to some of the lowest instincts of human nature. Whether the reformation of the modern English drama is possible or not, it is beyond question urgently desirable, while the question of its feasibility is one that should earnestly engage the attention of the educated and Christian world. The failure of all such attempts at stage reform hitherto, and the speedy return from the Shakespearean drama to subordinate forms, should not be sufficient to discourage all future effort in this worthy movement. Nor will such a result be brought about either rapidly or directly, but by gradual process and by agencies somewhat indirect. Such an end cannot be attained until, first of all, and as an essential preparative, there come radical changes in the general moral tone of English and American society; until modern English literature itself takes on a purer cast and addresses
itself more directly to the higher sentiments of the people; until, in fine, a distinctively Christian order of things asserts itself more emphatically, and purified public opinion openly calls for the repeal of patent moral abuses.
THE TRANSITION TO MODERN BRITISH POETRY
THE history of a nation's literature may be justly divided into periods of comparative permanence and periods of transition. As far as the history of English Literature is concerned, the first series of periods may be said to include the eras of Chaucer, Spenser, Pope, Burns, and Tennyson.
They are, in every true sense, established. As to their historical limits, the authors who adorn them, the forms of poetry which they respectively exhibit, and the causes of their permanence, they may be studied as periods complete in themselves. Whatever their relation to that which precedes and follows, they are so fixed in character and outline as to admit of careful investigation on the part of the literary student and yield invaluable results for scholarly reference. They have, therefore, been made the subject of critical study on the part of all who have taken in hand the explanation of our literary history, and may be said to be substantially understood. Not so, however, with
the periods of transition, which in many of their aspects are as full of interest and valuable suggestion as the more permanent ones. Why they are so numerous and, often, so protracted; why they so often occur simultaneously in different nations; why they are now from the worse to the better and now the reverse; why with all their want of regularity they seem to proceed somewhat by historical and logical methods; and why, though generally explainable, some of them defy all attempts at solution such are some of the many questions that arise as we study them. While from the very fact that they are transitional, they have been neglected, it is also because of this very fact that they have a peculiar attraction and import. Transitional as they are, they have a character, content, and history of their own, whose careful study will amply repay us. So important, moreover, are they in their historical and philosophical connections with the eras before and after them, that they often hold in possession the only key which wil open the full explanation of these eras. This is signally true in our own literature, and just here lies at present one of the most attractive lines of study for the English scholar. The judicious and critical Hallam, in referring to the general history
of the European mind, is speaking of these very transitions in literature when he says: "There is, in fact, no security, as far as the past history of mankind assures us, that any nation will be uniformly progressive in science, arts, and letters." These transitions are as natural as life itself, and must be taken, into account by all who hope to give a true interpretation of the human mind as expressed in literature. They serve to illustrate what Mr. Disraeli has called "Crises and Reactions"; and did they not occur, would seem to point to something abnormal in the growth of letters.
As to English Literature, and with special reference to our present purpose, these transitional epochs down to modern times may be thus stated: Chaucer to Spenser and Milton; Milton to Pope; Pope to Burns.
The first extends over two centuries, from the reign of Edward II. to that of Elizabeth and James I., and was a transition from the highest. form of descriptive verse, as given in "The Canterbury Tales," to the highest form of creative verse, as given in the dramas and epics of Shakespeare and Milton.
The second extends through the larger part of