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II. THE RENAISSANCE IN ENGLAND
I. THE RENAISSANCE IN EUROPE
WHEN Chaucer died in 1400, Europe had already entered upon an era of change which produced a deep and lasting effect upon her civilization. Men were beginning to turn away from the life, the thought, and the ideals, that had satisfied them during the Middle Ages, and to look at life and the world about them in a different spirit. Men, and especially great men, were exhilarated by wonderful discoveries, and stirred to enthusiasm by contact with new ideas. Great things were being done, and Europe was full of excitement and anticipation. Italy and the other leading nations seemed renewed, or recreated, as by a fresh flood of life and inspiration, and hence this period is known as the Renaissance, that is the time when civilization seemed to be born again. This great movement began in Italy so early as the fourteenth century and spread from there throughout Europe. England was late in responding to the new impulse, and the fifteenth century was almost over before the Renaissance in England had fairly begun. Before we speak of the reasons for this, or sketch the course of literature in England during the period after Chaucer's death, we must glance at some of the great events which were transforming Europe at this time, and try to understand more definitely what the Renaissance really means.
The Revival of Learning. One great factor in this rebirth, or awakening, of Europe, was the enthusiastic study of Greek and Roman literature and art. Ever since the fall of the Roman Empire a thousand years before, Europe had known and cared little for the pagan civilization of classic times. During the Middle Ages, indeed, a few Latin authors were read by scholars, and some of the works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle were studied in translation. But, with a few exceptions, even the wisest men were ignorant of the Greek language, and all the beautiful world of the Greeks, with its masterpieces of art, poetry, and philosophy, was either altogether forgotten or at best but dimly seen and understood. A great stimulus was given to the intellectual and artistic life of Europe when the achievements of this old classic civilization, so long ignored, began once more to be studied and enjoyed. Then came, as some one has said, "the meeting of the ancient and the modern mind." Europe came suddenly into a great inheritance: she discovered and took possession of the priceless treasures of her splendid past. The thoughts, the art, the ideals of a world long dead and out of mind, sprang to life and became again a power in the world. This was the revival of learning.
Italy, which in former times had been the center of culture as well as the ruler of the civilized world, was the first to reclaim this forgotten knowledge. In the fourteenth century, Francis Petrarch (1304–1374), a finished poet and an enthusiastic scholar, led the way in the study of the classics. Petrarch, while he did much to promote the study of the Latin classics, knew little Greek, but he was alive with the new spirit, and he inspired others with his enthusiasm for antiquity. The knowledge of Greek, though lost to Europe, survived
in Constantinople, the old capital of the eastern division of the Roman Empire, and towards the end of the fourteenth century Greek was taught in Italy by a scholar who came from Constantinople. By the fifteenth century many Italians were studying Greek with eagerness. After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, many Greeks took refuge in Italy and helped to bring the old learning to men already waiting to receive it.
The Revival of Art. While literature and learning, helped forward by the discovery of the old culture, were thus advancing in Italy, architecture, painting, and sculpture were transformed as by a fresh inspiration. In the thirteenth century, Nicola of Pisa, or Nicola Pisano, and his son Giovanni, led the way to a great era in sculpture: while Cimabue (1240-1302) and his greater pupil Giotto (1276-1337) were the precursors of the greatest age of painting the world had yet seen. The fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries are glorious in the history of the world's art. This period includes Raphael (1485-1520), Michael Angelo (14741564), architect, poet, and painter, as well as the greatest sculptor of the modern world, and others hardly less famous. This astounding revival of art, this love of beauty, was not confined to Italy. For instance, the Netherlands, where the art of painting in oils had been discovered, produced Rubens (1577-1640) and Rembrandt (1607-1669); Germany was represented by Hans Holbein (d. 1543) and Albert Dürer (1471-1528); and Spain by Murillo (1617-1682) and Velasquez (1599-1660).
Voyages and Discoveries. While Italy was thus revealing new worlds of beauty and knowledge, the daring sailors of Portugal and Spain were giving Europe fresh fields for action and adventure. All through the
Middle Ages little or no curiosity had been shown about the regions which lay beyond the boundaries of the known world, and the educated Europeans of the fourteenth century knew little more about the distant parts of the earth than the educated Romans had known a thousand years before. But in the fifteenth century, while art and learning were rapidly advancing in Italy, Portugal began to explore those vast regions of the earth that had been so long neglected and unknown. These explorations were due to the energy and perseverance of one man, Prince Henry of Portugal (1394-1460), who won for himself the name of Prince Henry the Navigator. In the early part of the fifteenth century, expeditions sent out by Prince Henry made various discoveries, but in the latter part, through the impulse he had given to exploration, discoveries were made which changed the course of history. In 1486, Diaz, a Portuguese, discovered the Cape of Good Hope. A little later Spain began to take part in the work of exploration and conquest. She furnished Christopher Columbus, an Italian navigator, with ships and men, and in 1492 he showed Europe the way to a new world in the west. Five years later a Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and discovered a new road to India. The passion for exploration spread to England. In 1497, the year of the great voyage of Da Gama, Giovanni Cabotto, or John Cabot, as the English called him, a Venetian who had settled in England, discovered the mainland of North America. It is hard for us to imagine the excitement aroused throughout Europe by these and other discoveries. One marvel followed quickly after another, and in less than half a century man learned more about the world in which he dwelt than he had done in thousands of years before.
In the fifteenth century, while the Italians were widening the mind and refining the taste of Europe, and while the Portuguese were enlarging men's ideas and arousing their curiosity in regard to the hidden wonders of the earth, the art of printing was invented, perhaps in Holland, and perfected in Germany by Gutenberg. Thus while Europe was alive with new ideas, a means was supplied for their more general diffusion. The invention of printing dates from about the middle of the fifteenth century.
The Reformation. The Renaissance, using the word in its widest sense, was also an era of spiritual restlessness and religious change. Early in the sixteenth century Germany became the center of that protest against certain practices and doctrines in the Church, which is known as the Reformation. During the Middle Ages, when book-learning was almost entirely confined to the clergy, the mass of the people had accepted just what the Church taught them without doubt or question. But towards the close of the Middle Ages a new spirit gained ground. Men began to think and to investigate for themselves. They were moreover disturbed at the scandals and abuses which prevailed in the Church at that time. The invention of printing greatly contributed to the spread of these new ideas. The Bible was translated so that plain unlearned men and women could read it for themselves. Luther, the great German reformer, braved Pope and Cardinal with the words: "Here I stand, Martin Luther: I cannot do otherwise, God help me." Thus, the Renaissance became not merely an intellectual, but also a spiritual rebirth. In Italy it was mainly literary and artistic, in Germany it was largely religious; in Italy, men strove to create and enjoy beauty; in Germany, Holland,