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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

Spenser has assigned to allegory


or imitated. The Italians and

Spaniards, who had led the way in similar attempts, further awoke the emulation of the English. In Edmund Spenser, in whom the spirit of the age shows itself most vividly, we constantly meet with imitations of the Latin or Italian poets, which here and there aspire to be paraphrastic translations, and may be inferior to his originals, even to the modern ones, in delicacy of drawing, since he purposely selected their most successful passages: yet how thoroughly different a spirit do his works breathe in their total effect! What in the Italians is a play of fancy is in him a deep moral earnestness. The English nation has an inestimable possession in these works of a moral and religious grandeur, and a simple view of nature, which happily expressed in single stanzas stamp themselves on every man's memory. Spenser has assigned to allegory, as a style, a larger sphere than perhaps belongs to it, and one allegory is always interweaving itself with another; the heroes whom he takes from the old romances become to him representatives of the different virtues, but he possesses such an original power of vivid representation that even in this form he gains the reader's interest. But, if we ask what is the main thing which he celebrates, we find that it is precisely the course of the great war in which his nation is engaged against the Papacy and the Spaniards. The Faery Queen is his sovereign, whose figure under the manifold symbols of the qualities which she possessed, or which were ascribed
to her, is always coming forward afresh in his verse. With wonderful power Elizabeth united around her all the aspiring minds and energies of the nation.

Not a few of the productions of the time have so strong an infusion of reverence for the Queen that we cannot help smiling: but it is true nevertheless that at her court the language formed itself, and all great aspirations found their central point. Elizabeth's statesmen, who had to deal with a Parliament that could not be led by mere authority, studied the rules of eloquence in the models of antiquity, and made their doctrines their own. On their table Quintilian lay by the side of the Statutes.

The Queen, who loved the theatre and declared it a national institution by a proclamation, made it possible for Shakespeare to develop himself; his roots lie deep in this epoch, he represents its manners and mode of life: but he spreads far out beyond it. We shall return to him in a more suitable place than this, in which we are treating of the Queen's influence.

It would contradict the nature of human affairs were we to expect that the general point of view, which swayed the State as a whole, could have induced every one who took part in its administration to move on to their common aim in one way. Of the great nobles of the court many rather supported the Puritans, as indeed the father of the Puritan Cartwright owed his position at Warwick to Leicester's protection; others inclined to favour the Catholics. The severity which the bishops thought themselves bound to exercise met with opposition among the leading statesmen: and to these again the soldiers were opposed. It was a society full of life, and highly gifted, but for that very reason in continual ferment and internal conflict.


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