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CHAPTER IX.

ELIZABETHAN LITERATURE-STORIES

(1558--1603).

Human life under every variety of circumstances must be always full of interest. If we hear the story of a life very like our own we are delighted to find that others have had to do and feel and bear just what we have, and we gain hope and courage from their example; and if the life should be one altogether apart from our own we then enjoy the new picture it gives us, and by the help of imagination we realise and enter into the new experience, and gain a wider power of sympathy. It is easy to see that the stories of real men and women would not be nearly enough to satisfy the keen interest we feel in our fellow-creatures, and imagination has to set to work, therefore, to invent stories in order to supply the constant demand. Thus the old stories of Charlemagne, Roland, and other actual heroes were eagerly read, and then the cry arose for more and more stories of the same kind, so imagination was set to work to invent chivalric romances. The age of chivalry had now passed away, and yet the love for stories was as strong as ever ;

but a taste had arisen for stories of other forms of life than the chivalric, and a new kind of story now began to be written describing the life of the later time.

These were called novels.

One of the most popular and famous novels of the Elizabethan time was “Euphues," written by a young man named John Lyly. The purpose of this story was to show

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the bad influence which the social life in Italy had upon the young Englishmen who travelled there. . We have seen how, at the time of the revival of learning, earnest scholars like Colet, Linacre, and Grocyn had gone to Italy to learn Greek; but after Greek was taught in the schools and universities in England, it was still the custom to send young men to Italy as a kind of finish to their education. They went with no fixed purpose of study beyond gaining acquaintance with the Italian literature of the day. They mixed in the society of the little courts in Italy, where literature was regarded as intended only for the pleasure of a small circle, and was written in courtly language and turned from its higher purposes into a frivolous amusement. Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth's tutor, had already pointed out in his “Schoolmaster” (a book on Education) the selfishness and corruption of Italian society, and the utter indifference of the Italians to religion; and he had shown the injury it was to a young Englishman to be thrown unguarded amongst those who lived only for their own pleasure, and scoffed at God and man.

Roger Ascham had used the word Euphues, taking it from Plato, to express a scholar who possessed a readiness to receive impressions through the perfect organisation and healthy condition of all his senses. Lyly took up Ascham's opinion in regard to the influence of Italian life on young Englishmen, and he made this the object of his story, while he chose Euphues for the name of his hero, The name was Greek, and for this reason, perhaps, he began his story by representing Euphues as a young gentleman of Athens. As soon as his education is ended at home, he is sent to visit Italy, according to the fashion of the day. He comes to Naples, "a place of more pleasure than profit, and yet of more profit than piety—a court more meet for an Atheist than one of Athens." In Naples Euphues meets with an old gentleman named Eubulus, who gives him

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several pages of good advice, ending with, "Serve God, love God, fear God, and God will so bless thee as either heart can wish or thy friends desire." All this good counsel was of course intended by Lyly for his readers as a warning. Euphues, however, does not profit by it, but goes into the idle pleasures of Italian life in company with a young friend named Philantus. His experience now serves to add weight to the warnings of Eubulus, and impresses the lesson still more strongly on the readers. Euphues, “a sadder and a wiser man,” returns to Athens; then follow letters written by Euphues to his friends full of earnest thought on various important matters of life, as the education and training of the young, the avoidance of foolish fashions, the study of the Bible, the spread of Italian infidelity. The aim of the letters is to show the way to an honourable and righteous life, complete in the healthful development of all the faculties of man's soul and mind and body, and consecrated to the service of God.

“Euphues" became one of the most popular books of the day; it was read and talked over by the ladies and gentlemen of Queen Elizabeth's Court, and was held as a kind of text-book of good counsel on a variety of subjects. But this ould not have happened if it had not been that the spirit of the book was so much in accordance with the age, and also that its outward form or style corresponded so completely with the prevailing taste. The use of the Italian style, as the outward dress of literature, has been already mentioned as one of the features of the Elizabethan literature. The constant intercourse with Italy, and the general study of Italian literature, had created a fancy for the fashion of playing upon words, and for alliteration, or choosing words beginning with the same letter. Other tricks of this style were the contrasting or balancing of one thing against another, and the comparison of every object with something else. Two or three sentences from one of

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the letters of Euphues will illustrate this. It is a letter supposed to be written to Eubulus on the death of his daughter ; "If I were as able to persuade thee to patience as thou wert desirous to exhort me to piety, or as wise to comfort thee in thine age, as thou to instruct me in my youth, thou shouldst now with less grief endure thy late loss, and with little care lead thy aged life. Thou weepest for the death of thy daughter, and I laugh at the folly of the father, for greater vanity is there in the mind of the mourner, than bitterness in the death of the deceased. She was young and might have lived, but she was mortal and must have died. Wise men have found that by learning which old men should know by experience, that in life there is nothing sweet, and in death nothing sour.

Not he that hath grayest hairs, but he that hath greatest goodness liveth longest. Thou shouldst not weep that she hath run fast, but that thou hast gone so slow.Deep sympathy could scarcely express itself with so much ingenuity; and the attempt in writing to pick out words for the sake of their sound, or initial letter, checked the natural expression of real feeling.

The great popularity of Euphues gave the name of Euphuism to this particular style of writing, and it is still known by this name in English literature.

It became fashionable at Court, and no one who wished to be thought a fine gentleman or lady could make the commonest remark in simple language. The suggestion had to be balanced by a contrasting thought, some far-fetched comparison must be sought for, and words chosen to accord with one another in sound or spelling. Although this introduced a great deal of artificial effort into conversation, yet it called forth a certain surface brightness, which Shakespeare has represented in some of his characters; he has also ridiculed the attempts to imitate Euphuism by dull or untutored persons.

The first part of “Euphues” was published in 1579 ;

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the next year Lyly added a second part, called “Euphues and his England.” This gave an account of a visit paid by Euphues and his friend Philantus to England. They land at Dover, and travel to Canterbury. Here they stay awhile at the house of a retired courtier, who gives them the benefit of his experience of life. They then pass on to London, and enter into the English life of the time. The second part of “Euphues” has the same earnest spirit in it, and the faults and follies of English society are pointed out, not for the sake of the satire, but for the purpose of reform.

There were other writers, who supplied the new demand for stories, besides Lyly; amongst these were the dramatists Lodge and Greene. The latter wrote many short stories or novels, taken from Italian tales. There was less earnestness of purpose in Greene's novels than in Lyly's, and his own life was sad and ill-governed. He desired at last to save others from making shipwreck of life as he had done, and wrote just before his death a story which he called A Groat's Worth of Wit Bought with a Million of Repentance.” He gave his own name, Robert, to the hero, and told some parts of his own life ; seeking to warn others of the evils into which he himself had fallen.

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