PROSE WRITERS. ROBERT FABIAN and EDWARD HALL are the earliest writers of history in English prose. The former, a London alderman, who died in 1512, wrote a chronicle of English history, called the Concordance of Stories; in which fact and fiction are industriously heaped together with honest, well-meaning dullness. The latter, a lawyer, who died in 1547, gives us a more valuable book in his History of the Houses of York and Lancaster.

LORD BERNERS, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Governor of Calais under Henry VIII., translated into vigorous English prose Jean Froissart's brilliant pictures of Chivalry.

JOHN FISHER.—Let us not forget the English sermons of the Bishop of Rochester who bore this name. Leaving out of sight higher results, the good done to our language by its weekly growing hosts of sermons, has been incalculable. Fisher, born in 1459, lived a long life in steady adherence to the Church of Rome. In the bloody year 1535 he was tried and convicted on a charge of denying that Henry VIII. could be the head of the Church. As the poor old bishop lay in the Tower, the pope sent him a cardinal's hat. “Ha!” said the royal wild beast, “Paul may send him a hat, but I will leave him never a head to wear it!” The savage threat was executed on the 22d of June, fourteen days before his friend More met the same fate on the same charge.

SIR THOMAS Elyor, the friend of Leland and of More, was eminent as a medical man during the reign of Henry VIII. He wrote a work called The Castle of Health, which contains much good advice about food and such matters. Of more importance, however, was his educational work, The Governor, published in 1531, in which he recommends that children should be taught to speak Latin from their infancy, and that music, drawing, and carving (that is sculpture), should have place in a scheme of enlightened education.

John BELLENDEN, Archdeacon of Moray and a Lord of Session under Queen Mary, produced in 1536, by order of James V., a translation of Hector Boece's History of Scotland. This is con


sidered the earliest existing specimen of Scottish prose literature. An anonymous work, called The Complaynt of Scotland, published at St. Andrews in 1548, was the first original work in Scottish prose. Bellenden also translated the first Five Books of Livy, writing, besides, Poems, Epistles to James V., and a Sketch of Scottish Topography. John LELAND, the father of our archaeological literature, was born in London. Passing from St. Paul's school, he studied at Cambridge, Oxford, and Paris, and then became a chaplain to Henry VIII. His powers as a linguist were remarkable. His great work is the Itinerary, in which he gives the results of his many antiquarian tours. Insane during his last two years, he died in his native city in 1552. HUGH LATIMER, famous as a leader of the English Reformation, was born in Leicestershire about 1472, received his education at Cambridge, and became Bishop of Worcester in 1535. When the Act of the Six Articles was passed, he resigned in disgust, and spent the last six years of the reign of Henry VIII, in prison. Liberated by Edward VI, he devoted himself earnestly to the work of preaching. His style—many of his Sermons and Letters remain—is remarkable for its homeliness and its wealth of droll anecdotes and illustrations. He was too great a champion of the truth to escape the flames that Mary lit. Ridley and he burned together at Oxford in 1555. His were the glorious, ever-memorable words, spoken ere the lips of the aged prophet were shrivelled into ashes, “We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” MILES CovKRDALE, Bishop of Exeter, was born in Yorkshire in 1487. His changeful life extended far into the succeeding century (1568). His name is imperishably associated with the story of the English Bible; for in 1535 he published, with a dedication to the king, the first printed translation of the whole Bible. He was also much engaged in the preparation of the Great, or Cranmer's Bible (1540); and when exiled in the time of Mary, he took part in the Geneva translation, printed there in 1557 and 1560, He is supposed to have died in London in 1568.

[ocr errors]

100 Prose Weiters OF THE SECOND ERA.

John BALE, Bishop of Ossory in Ireland, was born in Suffolk in 1495. He is chiefly remarkable for a Latin work, Lives of Eminent Writers of Great Britain, the list beginning with Japheth! Many interludes and scriptural dramas were also written by him, besides a Chronicle of Lord Cobham's Trial and Death. He died at Canterbury in 1563.

John KNox, the great reformer of Scotland, cannot be forgotten here, although his literary works were few. A History of the Scottish Reformation was the chief of these. Born at or near Haddington in 1505, he received his education at St. Andrews, became the leader of the Scottish Reformation, and died at Edinburgh in 1572.

GEORGE CAVENDISH is remarkable as the writer of a very truthful and unaffected Life of Cardinal Wolsey, whose gentlemanusher he was, and whom he served to the last with devoted fidelity. This work, from which Shakspere has largely drawn in his play of Henry VIII., was not printed until 1641. Cavendish, who was also a member of the royal household, died in 1557.

SIR JoHN CHEKE, who was born in 1514, is more worthy of remembrance for his success in fostering the study of Greek at Cambridge, when the hated novelty was in danger of being trampled to death by an opposing party, than for his contributions to English literature. A pamphlet called The Hurt of Sedition is his only original English work. He left also some manuscript translations from the Greek. He died in 1557.

John Fox, born at Boston in 1517, is distinguished as the author of the Acts and Monuments of the Church, which is familiarly known as Fox's Book of Martyrs. His education was received at Oxford, whence he was expelled for heresy in 1545. At one time he was all but starving in London; at another he had to flee for his life to the Continent from the persecutions of Mary's reign. His great work occupied him for eleven years, and was published in 1563. Under Elizabeth he became a prebend of Salisbury, after declining many other offers of promotion in the Church. He died in 1587.








Miracle plays.
The Four Ps.
Comedy and Tragedy.

The old stage.
Early scenery.
Wall and Moonshine.
At the play.
Standing of the players.

The Miracle Play or Mystery, acted in churches and convents, either by the clergy themselves or under their immediate direction, was the earliest form of the English drama. The only knowledge of Bible history possessed by the rude and ignorant masses of the people, during the later centuries of the Middle Ages, was got from these plays. The subjects chosen were the most striking stories in the Book—such as the Creation, the Fall, the Deluge, Abraham's Trial, the Crucifixion; and these were dramatized with little regard to the sacred and awful nature of the themes. Profane and terrible, indeed, were these mistaken teachings. Three platforms rose, one above another, forming a triple stage. The topmost, representing the heaven of heavens, was occupied by a group of actors, who personated the Almighty and his angels. Below stood those who played the parts of the redeemed. Upon the lowest, which imitated the world, the deeds of men were represented; and not far from the side of this lowest stage there smoked a fiery gulf, which stood for hell. All this is bad enough, but worse remains behind. The comic element must not be forgotten; for the poor yokels, who gather to be taught and amused, would


yawn and sleep, if there were no broad jokes and boisterous fun to relieve the solemnities of the performance. And of all beings, whom should these priests of the Church choose to be their first comedian, but the Prince of Darkness! He it was who, equipped according to the vulgar notion with hoofs and horns and tail, created the fun by which the congregation was kept awake and in good temper. This trifling with awful subjects shows us how low the religion both of priests and people was in tone and feeling. It took a week to act some of these Mysteries; and there are instances in which the whole circle of religious doctrine and history was traversed in this barbarous fashion. All the countries of western and south-western Europe, as well as Britain, have some remains of the old Mystery literature.

Gradually these Miracle Plays changed into the Moralities, which formed the second stage in the development of the English drama. Here, instead of Scripture characters, we find abstract qualities personified and strutting in varied garments on the stage. Noah and Abraham have given place to Justice, Mercy, Gluttony, and Vice. The amount of morality, learned by the audiences who gathered round such actors, cannot have been great; but we must respect to some extent the intention of the authors who produced these plays, and meant them to do good. Students in the universities, boys at the public schools, town councillors, or brethren of the various trade guilds, acted these Moralities on certain great days and state occasions. An open scaffold knocked up in the market-place, or a platform of planks drawn upon wheels, served as a stage, on which such pieces as Hit the Nail on the Head, or, The Hog hath Lost his Pearl, were acted by these dramatic amateurs. The Devil of the Miracle Plays was still retained, to aid the Vice in doing the comic business of the Moralities. The fun, most relished by such audiences as Old England could then produce, consisted in calling bad names and hitting hard blows. Such contests of tongue and fist went on continually between the Devil and the Vice; but in many cases the former carried off his victim in triumph at the close of the per. formance.

« ElőzőTovább »