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Wyatt and Surrey. If we seek for the causes of such a literary decline after Chaucer, one, at least, may be found in the French and English wars, and the later Wars of the Roses. Kingly ambition and mere civil advancement took the place of all high ideals in life and letters. The wealth and energies of the people were squandered and the basest passions of the heart developed. Petty and personal issues prevailed instead of great national interests, and the result was necessarily disastrous. Such an English victory as that at Agincourt was in some respects an injury to the nation, while in the domestic discords of the thirty years' war the red and the white colors were more prominent than was genuine patriotism or the cause of truth. It was this ignoble character of the conflicts that degraded the nation and the language. Apart from this, literature might have survived in some honorable form as it did in other instances, despite the evil effects of civil strife. Scotland met England on the field of Bannockburn, and Barbour arose as a national bard to sing the triumph. Gower produced his "Vox Clamantis" during the brave struggle of the English yeomanry for their rights, as Milton wrote his stirring poetry in the stormy days of the Commonwealth. Indeed, an honorable
struggle for high issues may tend to invigorate literature, though it may not refine it. No such struggle was waged, and had it not been for some counter tendencies English letters would have suffered a still more decided decadence.
1. The first of these significant influences was the invention of printing, in 1440, and its introduction into England in 1477. Caxton, the first English printer, but little knew of the treasure he brought with him from Holland, and how it was to enrich England and the world. Books and pamphlets in the native tongue now took the place of swords and camps, and the face of literature was at once changed. Monasteries were now dissolved, manuscripts were circulated, and problems long unsettled forced to issue. Henry the Eighth, whatever his motive, never did a better work than when he dissolved these monastic centers. Not only did he thus modify the extreme Romish power and quell discontent by the division of monastic spoils, but positively aided the cause of letters and of learning by the free diffusion of knowledge. A healthful mental activity at once took the place of a cloistered piety, and the subtle distinctions of the schoolmen gave way to the more practical issues of the Modern Era. Some historians have
seen fit to magnify the benefits of the monasteries, and to say, with Warton, that "their dissolution under Henry the Eighth gave a temporary check to letters in England." If so, the check was temporary only, and made the subsequent movement to higher things all the more vigorous and permanent. Monasteries, it may be said, are helpful or harmful according to era and environment. the Middle Ages, they were essential to the conservation of scholarship and letters. Even in the later eras of the foreign and domestic wars, the monks were busy in their retreats as scholars and guardians of learning. After printing came in, however, all was changed, verifying the prophecy of the Romish priests, "We must root out printing, or printing will root out us." Mr. Hallam is, therefore, just as consistent in decrying such an order at the opening of the sixteenth century as he is in defending it prior to that date.
2. A second influence toward better things is seen in a revolution in classical culture. No sooner were these monastic centers dissolved than the attention of the people was turned to the subject of classical training and general education. Erasmus wrote that Italy alone was now superior to England in classical learning. Grocyn, Linacre, Lati
mer, More, Lily, Lee, Gardiner, Wakefield, and Tyndale were all doing a scholarly work in their respective spheres, and classical studies at Oxford and Cambridge were placed on a stable basis through the efficient influence of Smith and Cheke. Edward the Sixth, Elizabeth, and Lady Jane Grey were apt classical scholars. Henry the Eighth was an author and patron of learning, so that Sir Thomas Elyot in his efforts to purify the language had the positive aid of the King. In fact, the schoolmaster was abroad. Classical scholars came in large numbers from the Continent.
3. Hence, a third factor in the upward movement is seen in that free discussion now obtained. Old questions were agitated in a better spirit, and new ones opened. The age of rational inquiry was at hand, the sure forerunner of the English Reformation and the Golden Age. The absorbing attention of scholars to merely partisan and profitless problems, especially in the area of theological dispute, now gave way to a broader outlook and a more wholesome method. The few printers of earlier days had now become over half a hundred. If the papal Mary retarded for the time the progress of Protestantism and popular rights, Edward the Sixth and Elizabeth secured their permanent
advance, and the Modern Age of English letters as of English thought and life was inaugurated under the best conditions.
Such, in brief, may be said to be the historical antecedents of the Age of Elizabeth, which largely made it what it proved to be in English history and literature. We are now in position to study with profit this Elizabethan Era, for which such preparation had been made.
The old distinction of the periods of history, political and social, is equally valid in literature. There are the golden and silver and iron ages in literature. The Causes and Occasions of a golden age are especially interesting, as is the question of its decadence and disappearance. The first thought relative to such eras is that there is in them a superhuman as well as a human element. There is a providence in history and in literary history and a human agency as well, to each of which elements due regard is to be given by the student of letters lest either be pushed to a dangerous extreme. Such ages differ materially in the causes of their beginnings, in their progress, and in the character and measure of their results, while here again double factors are at work. At one time, as among the Hebrews, the divine el