« ZurückWeiter »
HUMANISM IN ENGLAND.
and developed in detail by wandering professors, who attracted scholars from all countries to their lectures in the universities of Padua and Bologna, Florence and Siena, rapidly spread over Europe. Grocin (1442–1519) and Linacre (1460–1524) transplanted the study of Greek from Italy to Oxford, whence it spread to Cambridge. The royal family and the great nobles of England, vying with the aristocracy of Mantua and Milan, instituted humanistic tutors for their sons and daughters. The children of Henry VIII., the Prince Edward and the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, grew up accomplished in both ancient languages. Lady Jane Grey preferred the perusal of Plato's · Phædo' in her study to a hunting party in her father's park. Queen Elizabeth at Windsor turned from consultations with Cecil on the affairs of France and Spain to read Demosthenes with Ascham. Sir Thomas More at Westminster, Dean Colet at S. Paul's, Sir John Cheke at Cambridge, and the illustrious foreign friends of these men, among whom the first place must be given to Erasmus, formed as brilliant a group of classical scholars, at the opening of the sixteenth century, as could be matched in Europe. Meanwhile large sums were being spent on educational foundations ; by Wolsey at Christ Church, by Edward VI. in the establishment of grammar schools, by Colet in his endowment of S. Paul's, and by numerous benefactors to whom we owe our present system of high class public education. A race of excellent teachers sprang into notice, among whom it may suffice to mention Nicholas Udall, Roger Ascham, William Camden, Elmer the tutor of Lady Jane Grey, and Cheke the lecturer on Greek at Cambridge. English gentlemen, at this epoch, were scholars no less than soldiers, men of whom the type is brilliantly represented by Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney. English gentlewomen shared the studies of their brothers; and if a Lady Jane Grey was rare, a Countess of Pembroke and a Princess Mary may be taken as the leaders of a numerous class. 1
Of the humanistic culture which prevailed in England, we possess a vigorous and vivid picture in the 'Schoolmaster' of Ascham. imported from Italy, where it had flourished for at least a century before it struck its first roots in our soil, this culture retained a marked Italian character. But in the middle of the sixteenth century Italian scholarship had already begun to decay. Learning, exclaimed Paolo Giovio, is fled beyond the Alps. The more masculine branches of erudition were neglected for academical frivolities. The study of Greek languished. It seemed as though the Italians were satiated and exhausted with the efforts and enthusiasms of two centuries. In the North, curiosity was still keen. The speculative freedom of the Reformation movement kept the minds of men alert to studies which taxed intellectual energy. And though the methods of education, both in public schools and in private tuition, were borrowed from the practice of Italian professors, no class of professional rhetoricians corresponding to the Humanists corrupted English morals, no learned bodies like the academies of the South dictated laws to
1 See the note on female education by Nicholas Udall in his preface to Erasmus' Paraphrase of S. John, translated together with him by the Princess Mary and the Rev. F. Malet, D.D. It will be found in Prof. Arber's Introductions to Ralph Roister Doister, p. 4.
taste, or imposed puerilities on erudition. Society in general was far simpler ; the Court purer; manners less artificial ; religion more influential in controlling conduct. Sidney furnished a living illustration of Ascham's precepts; and no one who should compare the life of Sidney with that of a contemporary Italian of his class, would fail to appreciate the specifically English nature of this typical gentleman.
Still, though English culture was now independent, though English scholars held the keys of ancient learning and unlocked its treasures for themselves, though English thinkers drew their own philosophy from original sources, while the character of an accomplished Englishman differed from that of an Italian by superior manliness, simplicity, sincerity, and moral soundness; yet the example of Italy was felt in all departments of study, in every branch of intellectual activity. Three centuries ahead of us in mental training ; with Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ariosto, and Tasso already on their list of classics; boasting a multifarious literature of novels, essays, comedies, pastorals, tragedies, and lyrics; with their great histories of Guicciardini and Machiavelli; with their political philosophy and metaphysical speculations; the Italians—as it was inevitable—swayed English taste, and moved the poets of England to imitation. Surrey and Wyat introduced the sonnet and blank verse from Italy into England. Spenser wrote the 'Faery Queen’ under the influence of the Italian romantic epics. Raleigh could confer no higher praise on this great poem than to say that Petrarch's ghost, no less than Homer's, was moved thereby to weeping for his laurels. Sidney copied the
Italians in his lyrics, and followed Sannazzaro in the • Arcadia.' The bookstalls of London were flooded with translations of loose Italian novels, to such an extent that Ascham trembled for the morals of his countrymen. Harrington's Ariosto, Fairfax's Tasso, Hoby's Cortigiano, proved that the finer products of Italian literature were not neglected. This absorbing interest in the creations of Italian genius was kept alive and stimulated by the almost universal habit of sending youths of good condition on an Italian journey. It was thought that residence for some months in the chief Italian capitals was necessary to complete a young man's education ; and though jealous moralists might shake their heads, averring that English lads exchanged in Italy their learning for lewd living, their religious principles for atheism, their patriotism for Machiavellian subtleties, their simplicity for affectations in dress and manners, and their manliness for vices hitherto unknown in England, yet the custom continued to prevail, until at last, in the reign of the first Stuart, the English Court competed for the prize of immorality with the Courts of petty Southern princes.
Trained in classical studies, and addicted to Italian models, it was natural enough that those men of letters who sought to acclimatise the lyric poetry of the Italians, who translated their novels, and adopted the style of their romance, should not neglect the tragic drama.
This had long ago established itself as See Schoolmaster, ed. Mayor, pp. 81, 82.
a branch of the higher literature in Italy. Mussato in the first years of the fourteenth century, with his Latin tragedy on the history of Eccelino da Romano; Trissino in 1515, with his Italian 'Sofonisba ;' Rucellai at the same epoch, with Rosmunda ;' Speron Sperone, Cinthio Giraldi, Lodovico Dolce, Luigi Alamanni, Giannandrea dell'Anguillara, Lodovico Martelli, in the next two decades, with their ·Canace,' Orbecche,' ‘Giocasta,' 'Antigone,' 'Edippo,' 'Tullia ;' all these Italian poets wrote, printed, and performed tragedies with vast applause upon the private and the courtly theatres of Italy. That England should remain without such compositions, struck the 'courtly makers' as a paradox. The English had their own dramatic traditions, their companies of players, their interludes in the vernacular, their masques and morris-dances and pageants; in a word, all the apparatus necessary. It only remained for men of polite culture to engraft the roses of the classic and Italian styles upon this native briar. Reckoning after this fashion, but reckoning without their host, the public, as the sequel proved, courtiers and students at the Inns of Court began to pen tragedies. Under Italian guidance, they took the classics for their models. The authority of Italian playwrights, incompetent in such affairs, enslaved these well-intentioned persons to a classic of the silver age; to Seneca, instead of the great Attic authors. Every tragic scene which the Italians of the Renaissance set forth upon the boards of Rome or Florence or Ferrara, was a transcript from Seneca. Following this lead, our English scholars went to school with Seneca beneath the ferule of Italian ushers.