[blocks in formation]


The transformations wrought by material progress are here forci. bly illustrated by Macaulay. In Mr. J. Halliwell Phillipps's “Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare," there is an excellent description of Stratford-on-Avon, as it was in the days of Shakespeare, as contrasted with the Stratford-on-Avon of our own time, to which so many thousands annually make their pious pilgrimage. In Brewer's “Studies in English History and English Literature,” article on “ Ancient London,” will be found some instructive and suggestive

remarks on this subject. 1 Could the England of 1685 be, by some magical process, set before our eyes, we should not know one landscape in a hundred or one building in ten thousand. The country gentleman would not recognize his own fields. The inhabitant of the town would not recognize his own street. Everything has been changed but the great features of nature, and a few massive and durable works 2 of human art. We might find out Snowdon and Wind

mere, the Cheddar Cliffs and Beachy Head. We might find out here and there a Norman minster, or a castle which witnessed the Wars of the Roses; but, with such

rare exceptions, everything would be strange to us. 3 Many thousands of square miles, which are now rich corn-land and meadow, intersected by green hedge-rows, and dotted with villages and pleasant country seats, would

appear as moors overgrown with furze, or fens abandoned 4 to wild ducks. We should see straggling huts built of

wood and covered with thatch where we now see manufacturing towns and seaports renowned to the farthest ends of the world. The capital itself would shrink to

dimensions not much exceeding those of its present sub5 urb on the south of the Thames. Not less strange to us

would be the garb and manners of the people, the furniture and the equipages, the interior of the shops and dwellings. Such a change in the state of a nation seems to be at least as well entitled to the notice of an historian as any change of the dynasty or of the ministry.



[blocks in formation]

We have here a picture of the low state of female culture prevalent in England, even in fashionable circles, during the latter part of the seventeenth century. With this intellectual degeneracy of the sex, it is refreshing to contrast the glowing descriptions of Lady Jane Grey and Queen Elizabeth, their devotion to classical culture, which have come down to us from the preceding century, even admitting these descriptions to be somewhat overdrawn and embellished.

As to the lady of the manor and her daughters, their 1 literary stores generally consisted of a prayer-book and a receipt-book. But, in truth, they lost little by living in rural seclusion, for even in the highest ranks, and in those situations which afforded the greatest facilities for mental improvement, the English women of that generation were decidedly worse educated than they have been at any other time since the revival of learning. At an 2 earlier period they had studied the masterpieces of ancient genius. In the present day they seldom bestow much attention on the dead languages; but they are familiar with the tongue of Pascal and Molière, with the tongue of Dante and Tasso, with the tongue of Goethe

and Schiller; nor is there any purer or more graceful

English than that which accomplished women now speak 3 and write. But, during the latter part of the seventeenth

century, the culture of the female mind seems to have been almost entirely neglected. If a damsel had the least smattering of literature, she was regarded as a prodigy. Ladies highly born, highly bred, and naturally quick-witted, were unable to write a line in their mothertongue without solecisms and faults of spelling, such as a charity girl would now be ashamed to commit. The 4 explanation may easily be found. Extravagant licen

tiousness, the natural effect of extravagant austerity, was now the mode, and licentiousness had produced its ordinary effect—the moral and intellectual degradation of women. . . . In such circumstances, the standard of female attainments was necessarily low, and it was more dangerous to be above that standard than to be beneath 5 it. Extreme ignorance and frivolity were thought less unbecoming in a lady than the slightest tincture of pedantry. Of the too celebrated women whose faces we still admire on the walls of Hampton Court, few, indeed, were in the habit of reading anything more valuable than acrostics, lampoons, and translations of the “ Clelia” and the “ Grand Cyrus."



The period intervening between the Norman Conquest, A. D. 1066, and the recovery of the English people from its depressing effects, is here exhibited concisely, and yet with wonderful clear

ness and accuracy. It has been forty years since this portion of Macaulay's history was composed, but with all the additions to our knowledge of the early English periods, which critical research has been able to make in our own time, the substantial accuracy of Macaulay's narrative stands unimpaired. The era extending from the Conquest to the middle of the fourteenth century is rich in historic interest, and that of the most varied character-political, ecclesiastical, architectural, literary, linguistic. For the history of this era, the following works should be carefully studied: Freeman's “Norman Conquest,” Pearson's “England in the Early and Middle Ages," Freeman's “ Historical Essays,” Freeman's “Life and Reign of William Rufus," Stubbs's “ Constitutional History of England," Palgrave's “ History of Normandy and England," Oliphant's "Early and Middle English,” Lounsbury's“English Language,” Earle's “Philology of the English Tongue,” “Encyclopædia Britannica,” ninth edition, vol. viii, article on the “English Language,” Morley's “First Sketch of English Literature,” Ten Brink's “ Early English Literature," Arnold's “English Literature," Green's “ History of the English People.” The development of the language and the literature is, in the strictest sense, a part of the history of the people-though unfortunately this essential truth is ofttimes disregarded in actual instruction. The era embraced in Macaulay's review, here cited, is the great formative period in the history of the English speech. The loss of Normandy, the Magna Charta, mark important points in the development of the language, as well as in the political growth of the nation. Freeman's “Norman Conquest,” vol. v, chap. xxv, should be critically studied in this connection. Chaucer, Wickliffe, Langland, Robert of Brunne, Orm, Layamon, are as truly historic characters as the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Simon de Montfort, Stephen Langton, Thomas à Becket, or William the Conqueror. Literature and history elucidate and illustrate each other. No man living in the nineteenth century can form a vivid or accurate impression of the inner life of England in the fourteenth century, until he has "given his days and nights ” to the “Canterbury Tales” and “The Vision of Piers the Plowman."

DURING the century and a half which followed the 1 Norman Conquest (A. D. 1066), there is, to speak strictly, no English history. The French kings of England rose,

indeed, to an eminence which was the wonder and dread of all neighboring nations. They conquered Ireland. They received the homage of Scotland. By their valor, by their policy, by their fortunate matrimonial alliances, they became far more powerful on the continent than their liege lords, the kings of France. Asia, as well as Europe, was dazzled by their power and glory. Arabian chroniclers recorded with unwilling admiration the fall of Acre, the defense of Joppa, and the victorious march to Ascalon; and Arabian mothers long awed their infants to silence with the name of the lion-hearted Plantagenet. 2 At one time it seemed that the line of Hugh Capet was about to end as the Merovingian and Carlovingian lines had ended, and that a single great monarchy would spread from the Orkneys to the Pyrenees. So strong an association is established in most minds between the greatness of a sovereign and the greatness of a nation which he rules, that almost every historian of England has expatiated with a sentiment of exultation on the power and splendor of her foreign masters, and has lamented the decline of that power and splendor as a calamity to our country. This is, in truth, as absurd as it would be in a Haytian negro of our time to dwell with national pride on the greatness of Louis XIV, and to speak of Blenheim and Ramillies with patriotic regret and shame. 3 The conqueror and his descendants to the fourth generation were not Englishmen; most of them were born in France; their ordinary speech was French; almost every high office in their gift was filled by a Frenchman; every acquisition which they made on the continent estranged them more and more from the population of our island. One of the ablest among them, indeed, attempted to win the hearts of his English subjects by espousing an English princess; but, by many of his barons, this marriage

« ElőzőTovább »