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And the peculiar position of Elizabeth compelled her, absolute as was her temper, to act in harmony with her people, and to allow individual enterprise its largest scope. Her revenue was altogether inadequate to carry on a war with Spain and a war with Ireland, to assist the Protestants of France and Holland, to inaugurate great schemes of American colonization, to fit out expeditions to harass the colonies and plunder the commerce of Spain, inadequate, in short, to make England a power of the first class. But the patriotism of her people, coinciding with their interests and love of adventure, urged them to undertake public objects as commercial speculations. They made war on her enemies for the spoils to be obtained from her enemies. Perhaps the most comprehensive type of the period, representing most vividly the stimulants it presented to ambition and avarice, to chivalrous sentiment and greed of gain, to action and to thought, was Sir Walter Raleigh. Poet, historian, courtier, statesman, military commander, naval commander, colonizer, filibuster, he had no talent and no accomplishment, no virtue and no vice, which the time did not tempt into exercise. He participated in the widely varying ambitions of Spenser and Jonson, of Essex and Leicester, of Burleigh, Walsingham, and Sir Nicholas Bacon, of Norris and Howard of Effingham, of Drake, Hawkins, and Cumberland; and in all these he was thoroughly human.
The next characteristic of the higher literature of the period is its breadth and preponderance of thought,a quality which seemed native to the time, and which was shared by the men of affairs. Indeed, no one could serve Elizabeth well whose loyalty of heart was unaccompanied by largeness of brain. She was so surrounded by foreign enemies and domestic factions, that the sagacity which makes the fewest mistakes was her only security against dethronement or assassination. Her statesmen, however fixed might be their convictions and energetic their wills, were, by the necessities of their position, compelled to be wary, vigilant, politic, crafty, comprehensive in their views, compromising in their measures. The time required minds that could observe, analyze, infer, combine, foresee, vigorous in the grasp of principles, exact in the scrutiny of facts. Such were the complications of political affairs, that the difficulty, with all but the most capacious intellects, was to decide at all; and even they sometimes found it wise to follow the drift of events which it was almost impossible to shape or to guide. It might be supposed, that if, in any person of the period, impetuosity of purpose or caprice of will would overbear all the restraints of prudence, that person was Elizabeth herself; but she really was as indecisive in conduct as she was furious in passion. Proud, fierce, vain, haughty, vindictive; a virago and a
coquette; ready enough to box the ears of one of her courtiers, and threaten with an oath to unfrock one of her bishops; despotic in her bearing towards all over whom she had complete control; cursed, indeed, with every internal impulse which leads to reckless action, she was still a thinker; and thought revealed insecurities in her position, in considering which even her imperious will was puzzled into irresolution, and shrank from the plain road of force to feel its way through the crooked paths of hypocrisy and craft.
This comprehensiveness of thought did not, in the men of letters, interfere with loftiness of thought; but it connected thought with life, gave it body and form, and made it fertile in those weighty maxims which, while they bear directly on practical conduct, and harmonize with the experience of men, are also characterized by that easy elevation of view and of tone which distinguishes philosophic wisdom from prudential moralizing. The Elizabethan thinkers instinctively recognized the truth that real thinking implies the action of the whole nature, and not of a single isolated faculty. They were men of large understandings; but their understandings rarely acted apart from observation and imagination,— from sentiment, passion, and character. They not only reasoned, but they had reason. They looked at things, and round things, and into things, and through things.
Though they were masters of the processes of logic, their eminent merit was their broad grasp of the premises of logic, and their ready anticipation of the results of logic. They could argue; but they preferred to flash the conclusions of argument rather than to recite its details, and their minds darted to results to which slower intelligences creep. From the fact that they had reason in abundance, they were somewhat chary of reasons. Their thinking, indeed, gives us the solid, nutritious, enriching substance of thought. While it comprehends the outward facts of life, it connects them with those great mental facts beheld by the inner eye of the mind. It thus combines massive good sense with a Platonic elevation of spiritual perception, and especially avoids the thinness and juicelessness which are apt to characterize the greatest efforts of the understanding, when understanding is divorced from character.
This equipoise and interpenetration of the faculties. of the mind and the feelings of the heart, which give to these writers their largeness, dignity, sweetness, and power, are to be referred in a great degree to the imaginative element of their natures. They lived, indeed, in an imaginative age, an age in which thought, feeling, aspiration, character, whether low or exalted, aimed to embody themselves in appropriate external forms, and be made visible to the eye. In the great poets and
philosophers this imagination existed both as ecstatic insight of spiritual facts and as shaping power, both the "vision and the faculty divine"; but all over the Elizabethan society, in dress, in manners, in speech, in the badges of professions, in amusements, in pageants and spectacles, character, class, and condition, in all their varieties, were directly imaged. Lamb calls all this a visible poetry; and much which we now read as poetry was simply the transference into language of the common facts of the time.
This imaginative tendency of the national mind appeared in a still higher form in that chivalrous cast of feeling and of thought which we observe in all the nobler men of the time. High-erected thoughts seated in a heart of courtesy," is Sir Philip Sidney's definition of the gentleman; and this was the standard to which many aspired, if few reached it. This chivalry was a poetic reflection of the feudal age, which was departing in its rougher and baser realities, but lingering in its beautiful ideas and ideals, especially in the knightly love of adventure and the knightly reverence for woman. It gave an air of romance to acts, enterprises, and amusements which sometimes had their vulgar side. Raleigh tilted in silver armor before the Queen, but the silver from which the armor was made had been stolen from Spanish merchantmen. Sidney was eager