Lapas attēli

England, and France they were absorbed in questions. of conscience and of belief.

The Copernican Theory of Astronomy. Meanwhile, in the midst of all the stir and excitement aroused by changing conditions and novel ideas, man's fundamental conceptions of the physical universe were disturbed or transformed by the astronomical theory of the Prussian astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543). By this theory, the earth, which men had been accustomed to think of as the center of creation, was shown to be but a satellite, revolving, like the other planets, around the central sun. Thus, less than half a century after the discovery of Columbus had forced men to adopt new views of the earth's surface, they were asked to see the whole system of creation with different eyes. The book in which Copernicus put forth his ideas was published in 1543, and while it was some time before his theory was generally accepted, the publication of so radical and daring a view marked the beginning of a new intellectual epoch in Europe.

Summary. All these and many other great events and discoveries worked together to rouse the nations of Europe to an extraordinary activity. But these events and discoveries, these splendid achievements in art and literature, important as was their influence on Europe, were not themselves the primary cause of the Renaissance. They were rather the result of a change in the spirit of Europe, a sign that the leaders in thought and action had outgrown the restrictions of the Middle Ages, and that they were feeling their way towards a new stage of intellectual development. The men of the Renaissance accomplished new things because they had new ambitions, because they had come to look at life and at the purpose of life in a new way. The Renais

sance had its darker as well as its brighter side, and it must be admitted that these new ideas about life brought many evils and abuses in their train. The holy men of the Middle Ages thought of this world as a place of trial and discipline, they looked upon pleasure and beauty as temptations, and they believed that we must suffer and deny ourselves in this life in order to fit ourselves for the life to come. But with the Renaissance there came a great reaction towards a purely pagan way of feeling. The typical men of the Renaissance, keenly alive to the joy and beauty of the world, believed, like the old Greeks, in getting all the pleasure they could out of this life on earth. In time, unbelief and the unchecked love of pleasure corrupted the splendid art of Italy. On the other hand, the fullness and intensity with which men entered into life, the violence of their emotions, their passionate love of the beautiful, and the variety of their interests, helped to make this one of the great eras in the world's history.


England was slow to respond to the spirit of the Renaissance. It is true that so early as the latter part of the fourteenth century Chaucer was inspired by the beauty and culture of Italy, while his contemporary, Wyclif, in his independence of thought and his daring attacks upon existing evils, was a pioneer of the Reformation. But Chaucer and Wyclif were exceptional men, and it took a long while for the new impulse to touch the whole nation. Chaucer had been in his grave for nearly a hundred years before the new learning really gained a foothold in England: and another hundred years had almost passed before the Renaissance found its fullest and highest expression in English literature.

The slow progress of the Renaissance in England was due to a variety of causes. Among them was the unquiet state of the people, and the preoccupation of many of the great nobles with war or intrigue. For eighty-five years after Chaucer's death, or until the accession of Henry VII in 1485, a large part of England's strength was spent in domestic strife or foreign war. Henry IV, who was on the throne when the fifteenth century opened, was a usurper, and he was threatened with secret plots and open rebellion. His successor, the heroic Henry V, renewed the war with France. This war, after a brilliant beginning, dragged on until nearly the middle of the century. About ten years after the close of the war with France a brutal struggle for the throne was begun between the rival families of York and Lancaster, and from this time to the reign of Henry VII the land had but little rest from plots and civil strife. These wars between two ambitious factions were called the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), and perhaps it is partly this romantic name which leads us to think of these bloody and selfish quarrels as more noble and heroic than they really were. The truth is that the rival Kings and their followers were fighting not for England, but for themselves. Never before had the English nobles so disgraced themselves by treachery and falsehood. Brother broke faith with brother, and leaders deserted to the enemy on the very eve of battle. A depraved aristocracy, absorbed in fighting and intrigue, had little time or inclination to become patrons of art and literature. Several of the great nobles, who did take an interest in scholarship in spite of the distractions of the time, and who were exerting their influence to bring in the Italian culture, came to untimely deaths in the midst of their labors.

Other things besides war helped to delay the advance of the English Renaissance. After Wyclif's death, the University of Oxford sank into a dullness and inactivity which lasted nearly a hundred years. The spirit of progress which Wyclif had aroused there was arbitrarily suppressed; the number of her students declined; she produced no great scholars; and did little to give fresh enthusiasm to learning until the century was nearly at an end.

Literature like learning was in need of a fresh inspiration. There were poets, among them THOMAS OCCLEVE (about 1370- about 1450), and JOHN LYDGATE (about 1370-1451), who took Chaucer for their master. But these poets fell far short of their great model. They lacked originality, and the imitation of a great master by a writer of inferior powers cannot, at best, be more than a moderate success. The ablest of these followers of Chaucer were in Scotland, where for a hundred years or more the Scotch poets surpassed their English rivals. Early in the fourteenth century the Scotch had regained their political independence under their heroic leader Robert Bruce. The north of Scotland, or the Highlands, was at this time, and for long after, a wild and turbulent region, inhabited by a number of different Celtic tribes, or clans; but the southern part, or the Lowlands, was more civilized. In the southeastern portion of the Lowlands, from Edinburgh to the English border, the people were largely of English descent. It was this more civilized district of Scotland that became the center of Scottish literature, and it is from this section that nearly all of the great writers of Scotland have come. While the Highlanders spoke their native Gaelic, the people in Edinburgh and in the beautiful region to the south of the capital spoke English as their

fathers had done before them, and of course the Lowland poets wrote in English likewise. This English differed somewhat from that of Chaucer, as it was derived from that form or dialect of English spoken in the north.

James I. The earliest notable follower of Chaucer in Scotland was her knightly and cultured ruler, KING JAMES I (1394-1437). This prince fell into the hands of the English King when he was a boy of twelve, and was held a prisoner for the next eighteen years. The young prince loved music and poetry, he read Chaucer and Gower, and he returned to his own Kingdom in 1424 with his tastes formed on these English models. His best known poem, The King's Quair (or Book), is supposed to tell the story of its royal author's love for Lady Jane Beaufort, his future bride.

Dunbar. The greatest of these Scotch poets was WILLIAM DUNBAR (1460?-1520). In his youth Dunbar was a traveling friar of the Order of St. Francis, but he afterwards drifted to the Scottish Court and became a pensioner of King James IV. He was a coarse but vigorous writer, a merciless satirist, and a master of the horrible and the grotesque. His Dance of the Seven Deadly Sins is full of a strange gloom and power. Yet there is a gentler side to his genius. He loved Nature, and some of his poems have a strain of melancholy and pathos.

[ocr errors]

Songs and Ballads. In studying this early literature, we must never forget that almost all the conditions of life in those days were very different from those in later times. Printing, as we shall see, was not introduced into England until late in the fifteenth century. There were no newspapers, no magazines. The medieval world was a world without books in our modern sense,

[ocr errors]
« iepriekšējāTurpināt »