Imagini ale paginilor

give him a place in literature as well as in the history of printing.

At Cologne in 1471 he had his first sight of a press; and three or four years later, probably at Bruges, he turned out the first book printed in English - The Recuyell (Collection) of the Histories of Troy, the first of the translations just mentioned. In 1476 he set up a press in London, near Westminster Abbey; and the following year issued from this press the Dictes and Notable Wise Sayings of the Philosophers, the first book which we can certainly say was printed in England.

During the fourteen years between this event and his death Caxton printed nearly one hundred works, of which a number were translations made by himself. He recognized the unfortunate condition of the English language arising from lack of uniformity, and in the preface to a version of the Eneid set forth in entertaining fashion the differences of dialect and the difficulties arising therefrom.

Sir Thomas Malory. Among the works early printed by Caxton was Morte d'Arthur, 1485, the great work of Sir Thomas Malory already alluded to. Of Sir Thomas's life virtually nothing is known. Since the publication in 1897 of a paper by Professor Kittredge it has seemed reasonable to identify the author of the Morte with a Sir Thomas Malory who represented Warwickshire in Parliament in 1445, and who died in 1470.

66 Morte d'Arthur." Whatever the facts regarding the author's life, his book is of intense and lasting interest. In it we are informed that the matter came from "the French book," as if it had but one source. Scholars have, however,

1 "Who was Sir Thomas Malory?" in [Harvard] Studies and Notes, vol. V.

discovered a number of sources, and it is properly described as "a mosaic of adaptations," a fact which explains the gaps. in the narrative and other causes of confusion. For some

parts no sources have been found, and for others Malory did not select what a compiler would to-day consider the best source. An example of the latter proceeding is his drawing of Sir Gawain along the lines of the French prose romances, in which he is a far from admirable character. In the verse romances he is "brave, chivalrous, loyally faithful to his plighted word, scrupulously heedful of his own and others' honour" (J. L. Weston).

We are indebted, however, to the Morte for many Arthur stories and versions of stories not extant elsewhere. In the opinion of many critics also we have from Malory the first piece of modern English prose, the first work showing "the rhythmical flow and gracious music of which our language is so richly capable." Though lacking a sense of humor, Malory possesses real power in the field of pathos. As a whole the Morte must be called a rambling book, but it contains many effective passages in a rapid and direct style. It is a real achievement to have made so excellent a compilation of such varied, extensive, and at times inharmonious materials.


The coming of the printing press was the first clear evidence that a new movement called the Renaissance1 (i.e., "New Birth") had reached England. This movement, which may be said to have had its beginning in Italy about the fourteenth century, spread over the whole of Western Europe during the two centuries following. Its main factor was, in the words of

1 A French word, from the verb renaître, meaning "to be born again."


Sidney Lee, "a passion for extending the limits of human knowledge, and for employing man's capabilities to new and better advantage than of old." It manifested itself not only in literature, but in art (Michael Angelo, Raphael,


Albert Dürer), in religious thought (Luther), in science (Copernicus, Galileo), in exploration (Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Vespucci, Drake, Hawkins).

[ocr errors]

Versatility the Keynote. Although in these pages we are interested chiefly in its manifestation in literature, it should be remembered that few great men of the Renaissance confined their efforts to one line. Michael Angelo was architect, engineer, and poet, as well as painter. Versatility of interest and experience was the

Tower of St. John's College in the distance. accepted token of human excellence." Francis Bacon's words-"I have taken all knowledge for my province form an appropriate motto for numerous others.

1 Great Englishmen of the Sixteenth Century, page 3.

[ocr errors]

Beginnings. Nothing approaching an exact date for the beginning of the Renaissance can be given. Some say that the English Chaucer and Wiclif are as truly of the movement as are Luther and Spenser. Others are inclined to regard Dante (1265-1321) as the first to show the change in human thought and aspirations. Still others would find "forerunners" of the movement even in the twelfth century, as, for example, Abelard (1079-1142), and St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). From the point of view of influence on English literature of the sixteenth century we need not look further than fourteenthcentury Italy-to Petrarch, the sonnet-writer. The first English writers clearly to be called Renaissance figures are Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey.

[ocr errors]

Sir Thomas Wyatt (15031542). Wyatt was born in Kent in 1503. He attended St. John's College, Cambridge, from which he received a degree at the age of fifteen. He became a member of the household of Henry VIII, and was knighted. An extensive acquaintance with Europe came to him as a result of appointment on various embassies to France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Like most of Henry's followers he had periods of disfavor, was several times imprisoned, and quite possibly would have travelled


Henry's well-worn path from the prison to the block had not a natural death taken him off at the age of thirty-nine.


Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517?-1547). was born somewhat later than Wyatt - about 1517, and was of noble blood. He, like Wyatt, visited Europe on government business, not as diplomat, but as soldier. Shortly after a military reverse of his command he fell under the suspicion of the King, and was imprisoned and executed at the age of thirty.

Wyatt and Surrey in "Tottel's Miscellany." - Neither Wyatt's nor Surrey's poems were published by the writers. They were written for their " private friends," as were Shakspere's "sugared sonnets" somewhat later. They appeared first in Tottel's Miscellany, a collection of poems by various authors, published in 1557, the year before Elizabeth came to the throne. Though, as is evident from the dates of their lives, Surrey's and Wyatt's poems were written from ten to twenty-five years before publication of the Miscellany, this volume is generally regarded as marking the beginning of the great Elizabethan Age, and, indeed of modern English poetry.

Wyatt's Poetry. - Wyatt's distinguished position in English poetry is due to his introduction of the sonnet, a very restricted form of verse which had been highly developed by Petrarch. It consists of fourteen ten-syllable lines, falling into two parts of eight and six lines, and developing a single thought. Wyatt adopted the Italian's subject as well as his form. Nearly all his poems deal with love; and since they do so after a quite conventional fashion, one is led to the conclusion that behind them is no true or deep feeling.

« ÎnapoiContinuă »