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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

And for a new view of the world


do not here enter upon a discussion of Shakspeare's art and characteristics, of their merits and defects: they were no doubt of a piece with the needs, habits, and mode of thought of his audience; for in what case could there be a stronger reciprocal action between an author and his public, than in that of a young stage depending upon voluntary support? The very absence of conventional rule made it easier to put on the stage a drama by which all that is grandest and mightiest is brought before the eyes as if actually present in that medley of great and small things which is characteristic of human life. Genius is an independent gift of God: whether it is allowed to expand or not depends on the receptivity and taste of its contemporaries.

It is certainly no unimportant circumstance that Shakspeare brought out King Lear soon after the accession of James I, who, like his predecessor, loved the theatre; and that Francis Bacon dedicated to the King his work on the Advancement of Learning in the same year 1605.

Of these two great minds the first bodied forth in imperishable forms the tradition, the poetry, and the view of the world that belonged to the past: the second banished from the domain of science the analogies which they offered, and made a new path for the activity displayed by succeeding centuries in the conquest of nature, and for a new view of the world.

Many others laboured

side by side with them. The investigation of nature had already entered on the path indicated by Bacon, and was welcomed with lively interest, especially among the upper classes. Together with Shakspeare the less distinguished poets of the time have always been remembered. In many other departments works of solid value were written which laid a foundation for subsequent studies. Their characteristic feature is the union of the knowledge of particulars, which are grasped in their individuality, with a scientific effort directed towards the universal.

These were the days of calm between the storms; halcyon days, as they have well been named, in which genius had sufficient freedom in determining its own direction to devote itself with all its strength to great creations.

As the German spirit at the epoch of the Reformation, so the English spirit at the beginning of the seventeenth century, took its place among the rival nationalities which stood apart from one another on the domain of Western Christendom, and on whose exertions the advance of the human race depends.


[379] In a letter to Casaubon he says 'vitam et res humanas et medias earum turbas per contemplationes sanas et veras instructiores esse volo.' (Works vi. 51).

[380] Sam. Cox in Nicolas' Memoirs of Hatton, App. XXX.



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