Sunday, 8 June 2014

THE ENGLISHMAN OF THE RENAISSANCE.

Most of the great men of the English Renaissance exulted in the new knowledge and the enlargement of the world and the discovery of the treasures of the past; but they did not think, like the Italians, that all the conditions of life, were changed, its laws rescinded and its penalties abolished. Marlowe was the most like an Italian of all the Elizabethans. He glorified in magnificence and strength. M. Jusserand says of him that by his style and thought, as by his date, he stands between Chaucer and Byron. But Marlowe, with "his hunger and thirst after unrighteousness," shocked the ordinary English opinion of his day; and Kyd, being prosecuted for Atheistical opinions, disclaimed them and all association with Marlowe as eagerly, as Coleridge disclaimed Jacobinism when the England of his time had been shocked and revolted by the Reign of Terror. Puritanism, which was growing all through Elizabeth's reign, was first of all a reaction against a Renaissance, and against the kind of Italianate Englishman who became, according to the proverb, a devil incarnate. And yet the Renaissance made its mark for evil as well as for good upon the English mind. M. Jusserand points out, and probably he is the first writer to do so, how the Renaissance worship of powers and magnificence became in the England of Elizabeth a worship of wealth. Wealth stirred the imagination of the Elizabethans to a degree incomprehensible to us. Chapman could start a poem on Guiana with his invocation :—
 O Clio, Honor's Muse, sing to my voice. . . . .
Riches and conquest and renown I sing.
"Riches," says M. Jusserand, '"have in their eyes a sacred character. The same reproach of greed is aimed at them by men of every nationality and on every sea, at Venice, Constantinople, Cadiz, and Elsinore." So we see how the Renaissance affected the practical English mind. The Englishman was not going to waste his time or endanger his soul in the worship of new ideas; but the new ideas did show him how to make the most of the world, which by thought of the Middle Ages had ignored. Power to him was not a splendid abstraction, but something quite tangible; and wealth, he saw, in the new conditions was the best means of grasping it. Wealth itself was a new thing, and came from over unknown seas, and so it had for him the same glory and romance which the literature and the remains of Greece and Rome had for the Italians.— The Outlook
 The Daily News 1 December 1906,

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