The English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare
by J. J. Jusserand
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Transcriber's Note Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document. Text printed using the Greek alphabet in the original book is shown as follows: [Greek: logos]. Superscript text in the original book is shown as follows: w^ch


SHAKESPEARE IN FRANCE. Illustrated. Demy 8vo, cloth, 21s. Also 20 Copies on Japan paper, signed, L2 2s.

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A LITERARY HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH PEOPLE: From the Origins to the Renaissance. Demy 8vo, cloth, 12s. 6d. nett.













First Edition, May, 1890. Reprinted November, 1895. Reprinted March, 1899.

[All rights reserved.]

_The work here presented to English readers was published in French three years ago in an abbreviated form. Worthy of attention as are the older novelists of Great Britain, it was not to be expected that details about Chettle, Munday, Ford, or Crowne, would prove very acceptable south of the Channel, especially when it is remembered that the history of French fiction, not an insignificant one, from "Aucassin" to "Jehan de Saintre," to "Gargantua," and to "Astree," still remains to be written. A compressed account of the subject, amounting to scarcely more than a hundred pages of the present volume, was therefore deemed sufficient to satisfy such craving as there was for information concerning Nash, Greene, Lodge, and the more important among their peers. According to the publishers of the book this estimate was not fallacious, and there were no complaints of omission.

When the honour of a translation was proposed for the small volume, it appeared that a more thorough account of the distant forefathers of the novelists of to-day would perhaps be acceptable in England; for here the question was of countrymen and ancestors. The work was for this reason entirely remodelled and rewritten in order to furnish fuller particulars on our authors' lives and works, and to extract from their darksome place of retirement such forgotten heroes as Zelauto, Sorares, Parismus, who had, some of them, once upon a time, been known to fame, and had played their part in the toilsome task of bringing the modern English novel to shape.

In writing of Shakespeare's contemporaries, care has been taken to enable the reader to judge them on their own merits. With this view an effort has been made to illustrate their spirit by what was best in their books, and not necessarily what would recall the master-dramatist's works, and would expose them to the extreme danger of being dwarfed by him beyond desert, and of fading away in his light as moths in the sunshine. Considered from this standpoint, they will not, however, cease to offer some degree of interest to the Shakespearean student, for this process makes us aware not merely of what materials Shakespeare happened to use, but from what stores he chose them. On this account such works as Greene's tales of real life have been studied at some length, and a chapter has been devoted to Nash, who, high as he stands among the older novelists, has been allowed to pass unnoticed as a tale writer by all historians of fiction. If, therefore, a large use has been made of the publications of learned societies devoted to the study of Shakespeare, liberal recourse also has been had to the depositories of old original pamphlets, to the Bodleian library especially, where, surprising as it may be in this age of reprints, single copies of early novels, not to be met anywhere else, are even now to be found. Some other writings of the same kind, even less known, such as "Zelinda," a very witty parody of a romantic tale by Voiture, the "Adventures of Covent Garden," illustrative of the novel and the drama in the seventeenth century, were found in the primitive and only issue nearer at hand, in that matchless granary of knowledge, whose name no student can pronounce without a feeling of awe, because it is so noble, and of gratitude, because it is so generously administered, the British Museum.

Engravings have been added, for it seemed that scattered as the rare originals of our tales remain, it would be of assistance to gather together those curious characteristics. They give an idea of the kind of illustrations then in fashion, of the sort of appearance some of our authors wore; they show how in the course of centuries, Guy of Warwick was transformed from an armour-clad knight into a plain squire with a cane and a cocked hat; and they exemplify the way in which foreign artists were in several cases imitated with the burin, in the same books in which foreign literary models were imitated with the pen. Objection having been taken, in the very kindly criticisms passed upon this work, to the absence of the only known representation of Greene, this defect has been supplied in the present edition.

I need not say that the translator of the portions written originally in French took the trouble to overlook my additions, and to revise my revisions. I need say that my heartiest thanks are due also to the well-known Elizabethan scholar, Mr. A. H. Bullen, who, putting aside for a while much more important work, has shown me the great kindness of reading the proofs of this volume. J._









I. Remote origin of the novel—Old historical romances or epics—Beowulf.

The French conquest of England in the eleventh century—The mind and literature of the new-comers—Their romances, their short tales 31

II. Effects of the conquest on the minds of the English inhabitants—Slow awakening of the native writers—Awakening of the clerks, of the translators and imitators—The English inhabitants connected through a literary imposture with Troy and the classical nations of antiquity—Consequences of this imposture.

Chaucer—His lack of influence on later prose novelists—The short prose tales of the French never acclimatized in England before the Renaissance—More's Latin "Utopia" 37

III. Printing—Caxton's role—Part allotted to fiction in the list of his books—Morte Darthur.

Development of printing—Mediaeval romances set in type in the sixteenth century 52



I. The Renaissance and the awakening of a wider curiosity—Travelling in Italy—Ascham's censures 69

II. Italian invasion of England—Italian books translated, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso, &c.

English collections of short stories imitated from the French or Italian—Separate short stories—Lucrece of Sienna—A "travelling literature" 74

III. Learning—Erasmus' judgment and prophecies—The part played by women—They want books written for themselves—Queen Elizabeth, her talk, her tastes, her dress, her portraits—The "paper work" architecture of the time 87



I. "Euphues," a book for women 103

II. "Euphuism," its foreign origin—How embellished and perfected by Lyly—Fanciful natural history of the time—The mediaeval bestiaries—Topsell's scientific works 106

III. The plot of the novel—Moral tendencies of "Euphues"—Lyly's precepts concerning men, women and children 123

IV. Lyly's popularity—Courtly talk of the time—Translations and abbreviations of "Euphues" in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries 135



I. Lyly's influence—His principal heirs and successors, Riche, Dickenson, Melbancke, Munday, Warner, Greene, Lodge, &c. 145

II. Robert Greene's biography—His autobiographical tales—His life and repentance, characteristic of the times 150

III. His love stories and romantic tales—His extraordinary success—His tales of real life—His fame at home and abroad 167

IV. N. Breton, an imitator of Greene—Thomas Lodge, a legatee of Lyly—His life—His "Rosalynd" and other works—His relation to Shakespeare 192



Of shepherds.

I. Sidney's life—His travels and friendship with Languet—His court life and love—His death—The end of "Stella" 219

II. Sidney's works—Miscellaneous writings—The "Apologie"—Sidney's appreciation of the poetic and romantic novel.

The "Arcadia," why written—Sidney's various heroes: shepherds, knights, princesses, &c.—Eclogues and battles, fetes, masques and tournaments—Anglo-arcadian architecture, gardens, dresses and furniture.

Sidney's object according to Fulke Greville, and according to himself—His lovers—Youthful love, unlawful love, foolish love, innocent love—Pamela's prayer—The final imbroglio.

Sidney's style as a novel writer—His wit and brightness—His eloquence—His bad taste—His fanciful ornaments 228

III. Sidney's reputation in England—Continuators, imitators, and admirers among dramatists, poets and novelists—Shakespeare, Jonson, Day, Shirley, Quarles—Lady Mary Wroth and her novel—Sidney's reputation in the eighteenth century, Addison, Young, Walpole, Cowper—Chap-books.

In France—He is twice translated, and gives rise to a literary quarrel—Charles Sorel's judgment in the "Berger extravagant," and Du Bartas' praise—Mareschal's drama out of the "Arcadia"—Niceron and Florian 260



I. Merry books as a preservative of health—Sidney's contempt for the comic.

Studies in real life—The picaresque tale; its Spanish origin—Its success in Europe—-Lazarillo and Guzman 287

II. Thomas Nash—His birth, education and life—His writings, his temperament—His equal fondness for mirth and for lyrical poetry—His literary theories on art and style—His vocabulary, his style.

His picaresque novel, "Jack Wilton"—Scenes and characters—Observation of nature—Dramatic and melodramatic parts—Historical personages—Nash's troubles on account of "Jack Wilton."

His other works—Scenes of light comedy in them—Portraits of the upstart, of the sectary, &c. 295

III. Nash's successors—H. Chettle—Chettle's combined imitation of Nash, Greene and Sidney.

Dekker—His dramatic and poetical faculty—His prose works—His literary connection with Nash—His pictures of real life—His humour and gaiety—Grobianism—A gallant at the play-house in the time of Shakespeare—Defoe and Swift as distant heirs 327



I. Heroical romances—Their origin mainly French—The new heroism a panache on the stage, in epics, in the novel, in real life—The heroic ideal—The Hotel de Rambouillet 347

II. Heroes and heroism a panache migrate to England—Their welcome in spite of the Puritans—Translations of French romances—Use of French engravings—Imitation and appreciation of French manners—Orinda, the Duchess of Newcastle, Dorothy Osborne, Mrs. Pepys 362

III. Original English novels in the heroical style—Roger Boyle, J. Crowne—Heroism on the stage 383

IV. Reaction in France—Sorel, Scarron, Furetiere, &c.—Reaction in England—"Adventures of Covent Garden," "Zelinda," &c. 397

V. Conclusion—The end of the period—Ingelo, Harrington, Mrs. Behn; how she anticipates Rousseau.

Connection between the master-novelists of the eighteenth century and the prentice-novelists of the sixteenth 411



PAGE 1.—Queen Elizabeth in State costume, with the royal insignia, after the engraving by William Rogers (born in London, about 1545) Frontispiece

2 to 13.—The signs of the Zodiac, after Robert Greene's "Francesco's Fortunes," 1590. Towards the end of this novel a palmer is asked by his host to leave a remembrance of his visit in his entertainer's house; the palmer engraves on an ivory arch verses and drawings illustrating at the same time, and in the same way as the signs of the Zodiac, both the course of the year and the course of human life p. 9 et passim [tail-pieces to all the chapters]

14.—An Elizabethan Shepherdess, from a wood-block illustrating a ballad (the inscription added) 23

15.—Beginning of the unique MS. of "Beowulf," preserved in the British Museum 31

16.—Chaucer's pilgrims seated round the table of the "Tabard" at Southwark, a reproduction of Caxton's engraving in his second edition of the "Canterbury Tales," 1484 45

17.—Robert the devil on horseback (alias Romulus), being the frontispiece of several romances in verse published by Wynkyn de Worde, London, 1510 (?), 8vo. The history of Robert is illustrated throughout 57

18.—The knight of the swan, from the frontispiece of the metrical romance: "The Knight of the Swanne. Here beginneth the history of ye noble Helyas knyght of the swanne, newly translated out of frensshe," London, Copland, 1550 (?), 4to 61

19.—"Then went Guy to fayre Phelis." From the metrical romance "Guy of Warwick," London, 1550 (?), 4to, Sig. Cc. iij 65

20.—Drawing by Isaac Oliver (b. 1556) after an Italian model, from the original preserved in the British Museum; illustrative of the cultivation of Italian art by Englishmen in Tudor times 69

21.—Frontispiece to Harington's translation of Ariosto, London, 1591, fol. This engraving and the numerous copper-plates adorning this very fine book are usually said to be English. But these plates were in fact a product of Italian art, being the work of Girolamo Porro, of Padua; they are to be found in the Italian edition of Ariosto published at Venice in 1588, and in various other editions. The English engraver, Thomas Coxon (or Cockson), whose signature is to be seen at the bottom of the frontispiece, only drew the portrait of Harington in the space filled in the original by a figure of Peace. Coxon, according to the "Dictionary of National Biography" and other authorities, is supposed to have flourished from about 1609 to 1630 or 1636. The date on this plate (1st August, 1591), shows that he began to work nearly twenty years earlier.

It must be added that this portrait of Harington has an Italian softness and elegance, and differs greatly in its style from the other portraits signed by Coxon (portrait of Samuel Daniel on the title-page of his Works, 1609; of John Taylor, "Workes," 1630, etc.). It is possible that Harington's portrait was merely drawn by Coxon, and engraved by an Italian 77

22.—How the knight Eurialus got secretly into his lady-love's chamber. From the German version of the history of the Lady Lucrece of Sienna, 1477, fol. (a copy in the British Museum) 82

23.—Queen Cleopatra as represented on the English stage in the eighteenth century: Mrs. Hartley in "All for Love"; Page's engraving, dated 1776, for Bell's "Theatre" 97

24.—Sketches made by Inigo Jones in Italy, 1614; from his sketch-book reproduced in fac-simile by the care of the Duke of Devonshire, London, 1832 100

25.—Persians standing as caryatides, from a drawing by Inigo Jones for the circular court projected at Whitehall, and reproduced by W. Kent: "The Drawings of Inigo Jones," London, 1835, 2 vols., fol. 101

26.—A dragon according to Topsell, "The historie of Serpents," London, 1608, fol., p. 153 103

27.—The "AEgyptian or land crocodile," according to Topsell's "Historie of Serpents," London, 1608, fol., p. 140 109

28.—A Hippopotamus taking its food, according to Topsell's "Historie of foure footed beastes," London, 1607, fol., p. 328 113

29.—"The true picture of the Lamia," ibid., p. 453 117

30.—"The boas," from Topsell's "Serpents," 1608, frontispiece 121

31.—The Great Sea-serpent, ibid., p. 236 125

32.—Knightly pastimes; Hawking; illustrative of Gerismond's life in the forest of Arden as described in Lodge's "Rosalynd"; from Turberville's "Booke of Faulconerie," London, 1575, 4to, frontispiece 144

33.—Another dragon from Topsail's "Serpents," 1608, p. 153 145

33A.—Robert Greene in his shroud, from Dickenson's "Greene in conceipt," 1598 161

34.—Yet another dragon, from Topsell's "Serpents," p. 153 171

35.—Velvet breeches and cloth breeches, from Greene's "Quip," 1592, frontispiece 190

36.—Preparing for the Hunt, from Turberville's "Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting," London, 1575, 4to, frontispiece 205

37.—Penshurst, Sidney's birthplace, from a drawing by M. G. du Thuit.

"Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show Of touch or marble ... Thou hast thy walks for health as well as sport ... That taller tree which of a nut was set At his great birth, where all the Muses met."

(Ben Jonson, "The Forest") 217

38.—A shepherd of Arcady, as seen on the title-page of various editions of Sidney's "Arcadia," e.g., the third, 1598 242

39.—A Princess of Arcady, ibid. 243

40.—Argalus and Parthenia reading a book in their garden; from Quarles' poem of "Argalus and Parthenia," London, 1656, 4to, p. 135 265

41.—"The renowned Argalus and Parthenia":

"See the fond youth! he burns, he loves, he dies; He wishes as he pines and feeds his famish'd eyes."

From "The unfortunate Lovers, the History of Argalus and Parthenia, in four books," London, 12mo, a chap-book of the eighteenth century. Frontispiece 273

42.—"How the two princesses, Pamela and her sister Philoclea, went to bath themselves in the river Ladon, accompanied with Zelmane and Niso: And how Zelmane combated with Amphialus for the paper and glove of the princess Philoclea, and what after hapned." From "The famous history of heroick acts ... being an abstract of Pembroke's Arcadia," London, 1701, 12mo, p. 31. Not without truth does the publisher state that the book is illustrated with "curious cuts, the like as yet not extant" 275

43.—"How the two illustrious princesses, Philoclea and Pamela, being Basilius's only daughters, were married to the two invincible princes, Pyrocles of Macedon and Musidorus of Thessalia: and of the glorious entertainments that graced the happy nuptials," from the same chap-book, p. 139 277

44.—An interior view of the Swan Theatre in the time of Shakespeare, from a drawing by John de Witt, 1596, recently discovered in the Utrecht library by M. K. T. Gaedertz, of Berlin. Reproduced as illustrative of Dekker's "Horne-booke," 1609 (infra, ch. vi. Sec. 3). Spectators have not been represented. They must be supposed to fill the pit, "planities sive arena," where they remained standing in the open air, and the covered galleries. The more important people were seated on the stage. Actors, to perform their parts, came out of the two doors inscribed "mimorum aedes." The boxes above these doors, concerning which some doubts have been expressed, seem to be what was called "the Lords' room." "Let our gallant," says Dekker, "advance himself up to the throne of the stage. I meane not the Lords roome (which is now but stages suburbs): no, those boxes, by the iniquity of custome, conspiracy of waiting women and gentlemen ushers, that there sweat together, and the covetousness of sharers are contemptibly thrust into the reare, and much new satten is there dambd by being smothrd to death in darknesse. But on the very rushes, where the comedy is to daunce, yea and under the state of Cambises himselfe must our fethered Estridge be planted valiantly, because impudently, beating downe the mewes and hisses of opposed rascality" ("Works," ed. Grosart, vol. ii. p. 247) 286

45.—Elizabethan gaieties. The actor Kemp's dance to Norwich, from the frontispiece of "Kemps nine daies wonder performed in a from London to Norwich, containing the pleasure, paines and kind entertainment of William Kemp betweene London and that city ... written by himselfe to satisfie his friends," London, 1600, reprinted by Dyce, Camden Society, 1840, 4to 287

46.—Portrait of Nash, from "Tom Nash his ghost ... written by Thomas Nash his ghost" (no date). A copy in the British Museum 326

47.—Portrait of Dekker, from "Dekker his dreame," a poem by the same, London, 1620, frontispiece 333

48.—Heroical deeds in an heroical novel. "Pandion slayes Clausus," from "Pandion and Amphigenia," by J. Crowne, London, 1665, 8vo 347

49.—Sir Guy of Warwick addressing a skull, in a churchyard, from "The history of Guy, earl of Warwick," 1750? (a chap-book), p. 18 350

50.—Burial of Sir Guy of Warwick, from the same chap-book 351

51.—A map of the "tendre" country. The original map was inserted by Mdlle. de Scudery in her novel of "Clelie," Paris, 1654, et seq., 10 vols., 8vo, vol. i. p. 399. It was a map drawn by Clelia and sent by her to Herminius, and which "showed how to go from New Friendship to Tender." It was reproduced in the English translations of "Clelie"; the plate we give is taken from the edition of 1678 359

52.—Endymion plunged into the river in the presence of Diana, after an engraving by C. de Pas, in "L'Endimion de Gombauld," Paris, 1624, 8vo, p. 223. The French plates were sent to England and used for the English version of this novel: "Endimion, an excellent fancy ... interpreted by Richard Hurst," London, 1639, 8vo 367

53.—Frontispiece to Part IV. of the translation of La Calprenede's "Cleopatre," by Robert Loveday: "Hymen's praeludia or Loves master-piece," London, 1652, et seq., 12mo. This frontispiece was drawn according to the instructions of Loveday himself, "Loveday's Letters," Letter lxxxiii. 371

54.—A fashionable conversation, from the frontispiece of "La fausse Clelie," by P. de Subligny, Amsterdam, 1671, 12mo. An enlarged plate was made after this one, to serve as frontispiece to the English version of the same work: "The mock Clelia, being a comical history of French gallantries ... in imitation of Don Quixote," London, 1678, 8vo 375

55.—Conversations and telling of stories at the house of the Duchess of Newcastle, from a drawing by Abr. a Diepenbeck, engraved for her book: "Natures pictures drawn by Fancies pencil to the life," London, 1656, fol. 379

56.—Moorish heroes, from an engraving in Settle's drama: "The Empress of Morocco," London, 1673, 4to 393

57.—A poet's dream realized, from the English version of Sorel's "Berger Extravagant," "The extravagant Shepherd," London, 1653, fol., translated by John Davies. The usual description of the heroine of a novel has been taken to the letter by the engraver, who represents Love sitting on her forehead, and lilies and roses on her cheeks. Two suns have taken the place of her eyes, her teeth are actual pearls, &c. 401

The English Novel in the Time of Shakespeare.


The London publishers annually issue statistics of the works that have appeared in England during the year. Sometimes sermons and books on theology reach the highest figures; England is still the England of the Bible, the country that at the time of the Reformation produced three hundred and twenty-six editions of the Scriptures in less than a century, and whose religious literature is so abundant that to-day twenty-eight volumes of the British Museum catalogue treat of the single word Bible. When theology does not obtain the first rank, it holds the second. The only writings that can compete with it, in the country of Shakespeare, of Bacon and of Newton, are neither dramas, nor books of philosophy nor scientific treatises; they are novels. Theology had the supremacy in 1885; novels obtained it in 1887, 1888, and 1889. Omitting stories written for children, nine hundred and twenty-nine novels were published in England in 1888, and one thousand and forty in 1889. Thus the conscientious critic who wished to acquaint himself with all of them would have to read more than two novels and a half, often in three volumes, every day all the year round, without stopping even on Sundays.

This passion for the novel which does not exist in the same degree in any other nation, only acquired its full strength in England in the eighteenth century. At that time English novels produced in Europe the effect of a revelation; they were praised extravagantly, they were copied, they were imitated, and the popularity hitherto enjoyed by the "Princesse de Cleves," "Marianne," and "Gil Blas," was obscured for a while. "I say that Anglicism is gaining on us," wrote d'Argenson; "after 'Gulliver' and 'Pamela,' here comes 'Tom Jones,' and they are mad for him; who could have imagined eighty years ago that the English would write novels and better ones than ours? This nation pushes ahead by force of unrestricted freedom."[1]

Modern society had at length found the kind of literature which could be most suitably employed to depict it. Society had been presented on the English stage by the authors of domestic comedies; Steele and Addison had painted it in their essays. But in both forms the portrait was incomplete. The exigencies of the stage, the necessary brevity of the essay, made it impossible to give adequate expression to the infinite complexity of the subject. The novel created anew by Defoe, Fielding, and Richardson, made it an easy thing to introduce into the arena of literature those men and women of intelligence and feeling who, for long ages, had been pleased to see other people the chief subjects of books and inwardly desired that authors should at last deal more especially with themselves. The age of chivalry was gone; the time of the Arthurs and the Tristans had passed away; such a society as the new one could not so well be sung in verse; but it could extremely well be described in prose.

As Fielding remarked, the novel takes the place of the old epic. We think of the Harlowes when in the olden time we should have dreamed of the Atridae. While man's attachment to science and demonstrated truth is growing year by year, so, simultaneously, the art of the historian and the art of the novelist, both essentially empirical, become more highly valued and more widely cultivated. As for the lengthy tales devoted to Tristan and to "l'Empereur magne," we know that their day is done, and we think of them with all the pensive tenderness we cannot help feeling for the dead, for the dim past, for a race without posterity, for childhood's cherished and fast-fading dreams. Thus in the same age when Clarissa Harlowe and Tom Jones came to their kingdom, the poets Chatterton, Percy, Beattie, and others, turned back lovingly to the Middle Ages; and thus too the new taste for history, archaeology, and the painting of real life, all put together and combined, ended by producing a particular school of novel, the romantic school, at whose head stands Sir Walter Scott.

Perhaps, however, something besides poetry is to be sought for in these bygone epochs. Movements of human thought have seldom that suddenness with which they are sometimes credited; if those literary innovations, apparently so spasmodic, are carefully and closely studied, it will be nearly always found that the way had been imperceptibly prepared for them through the ages. We are in the habit of beginning the history of the English novel with Defoe or Richardson; but was there no work of the kind in England before their time? had they to invent it all, matter and method? It is not enough to say that the gift of observation and analysis was inborn in the race, as shown already, long before the eighteenth century, in the work of the dramatists, moralists and philosophers. Had not the same gift already manifested itself in the novel?

The truth is that the novel shed its first splendour during the age of Elizabeth; but the glory of Shakespeare has overshadowed the multitude of the lesser authors of his time, a multitude which included the early novelists. While they lived, however, they played no insignificant part; now they are so entirely forgotten that it will perhaps be heard with some surprise that they were prolific, numerous, and very popular. So great was the demand for this kind of literature that some succeeded in making an income out of their novels. Their books went through many editions for that age, many more than the majority of Shakespeare's plays. They were translated into French at a time when even the name of the great dramatist was entirely unknown to the French people. Lyly's "Euphues," for example, went through five editions in five years; in the same period "Hamlet" passed through only three, and "Romeo and Juliet" through two editions. Not a line of Shakespeare was put into French before the eighteenth century, while prose fictions by Nash, Greene, and Sidney were translated more than a century earlier.

As in our own day, some of these novelists busied themselves chiefly with the analysis of passion and refined emotion; others chiefly concerned themselves with minute observation of real life, and strove to place before the reader the outward features of their characters in a fashion impressive enough to enable him to realize what lay below the surface. Many of these pictures of manners and of society were considered by contemporaries good likenesses, not the less so because embellished. Thus, having served as models to the novelists, the men and women of the day in their turn took as example the copies that had been made from them. They had had their portraits painted and then tried hard to resemble their counterfeit presentments. Lyly and Sidney embellished, according to the taste of the age, the people around them, whom they chose as patterns for the heroes of their novels; and as soon as their books were spread over the country, fashionable ladies distinguished themselves from the common sort by being "Arcadian" or "Euphuizd."[2]

Thus through these very efforts, a literature, chiefly intended for women, was arising in England, and this is one characteristic more that links these authors to our modern novelists. So that, perhaps, bonds, closer than we imagine, unite those old writers lost in a far-off past with the novelists whose books reprinted a hundred times are to be found to-day on every reading-table and in everybody's hands.

We make no pretence of covering in the present volume this vast and little trodden field. To keep within reasonable bounds we shall have to leave altogether, or barely mention, the collections of tales translated by Paynter, Whetstone and others from the Italian or French, although they were well known to Shakespeare, and provided him with several of his plots. In spite of their charm, we shall in like manner pass by the simple popular prose tales, which were also very numerous, the stories of Robin Hood, of Tom-a-Lincoln, of Friar Bacon, however "merry and pleasant," they may be, "not altogether unprofitable, nor any way hurtfull, very fitte to passe away the tediousness of the long winters evenings."[3] We intend to deal here chiefly with those writers from whom our modern novelists are legitimately descended. These descendants, improving upon the early examples of their art left by the Elizabethan novelists, have won for themselves a lasting place in literature, and their works are among the undisputed pleasures of our lives. Our gratitude may rightly be extended from them to their progenitors. We must be permitted, therefore, to go far back in history, nearly as far as the Flood. The journey is long, but we shall travel rapidly. It was, moreover, the customary method of many novelists of long ago to begin with the beginning of created things. Let their example serve as our excuse.


[1] "Memoires et Journal inedit du Marquis d'Argenson," Paris, 1857, 5 vols.; vol. v., "Remarques en lisant."

[2] Dekker, "The Guls Horne-booke," 1609.

[3] "The Gentle Craft," 1598. "Early English Prose Romances," ed. W. J. Thoms, London, 2nd edition, 1858, 3 vols., 8vo, contents: "Robert the Devyll," "Thomas of Reading," by Thomas Deloney, "Fryer Bacon," "Frier Rush," "George a Green," "Tom-a-Lincoln," by Richard Johnson, "Doctor Faustus," &c. Nearly all the stories in this collection bear the date of Shakespeare's time.




Minute research has been made, in every country, into the origin of the drama. The origin of the novel has rarely tempted the literary archaeologist. For a long time the novel was regarded as literature of a lower order; down almost to our time, critics scrupled to speak of it. When M. Villemain in his course of lectures on the eighteenth century came to Richardson, he experienced some embarrassment, and it was not without oratorical qualifications and certain bashful doubts that he dared to announce lectures on "Clarissa Harlowe" and "Sir Charles Grandison." He sought to justify himself on the ground that it was necessary to track out a special influence derived from England, "the influence of imagination united to moral sentiment in eloquent prose." But this neglect can be explained still better. We can at need fix the exact period of the origin of the drama. It is not the same with the novel. We may go as far back as we please, yet we find the thin ramifications of the novel, and we may say literally that it is as old as the world itself. Like man himself, was not the world rocked in the cradle of its childhood to the accompaniment of stories and tales? Some were boldly marvellous; others have been called historical; but very often, in spite of the dignity of the name, the "histories" were nothing but collections of traditions, of legends, of fictions: a kind of novel. This noble antiquity might doubtless have been invoked as a further justification by M. Villemain and have confirmed the reasons drawn from the "moral sentiment and eloquence" of novels, reasons which were such as to rather curtail the scope of his lectures.

In England as much and even more than with any other modern nation, novelists can pride themselves upon a long line of ancestors. They can, without abusing the license permitted to genealogists, go back to the time when the English did not inhabit England, when London, like Paris, was peopled by latinised Celts, and when the ancestors of the puritans sacrificed to the god Thor. The novelists indeed can show that the beginning of their history is lost in the abysm of time. They can recall the fact that the Anglo-Saxons, when they came to dwell in the island of Britain, brought with them songs and legends, whence was evolved the strange poem of "Beowulf,"[4] the first epic, the most ancient history, and the oldest English romance. In it, truth is mingled with fiction; besides the wonders performed by the hero, a destroyer of monsters, we find a great battle mentioned by Gregory of Tours, where the Frenchmen, that were to be, cut to pieces the Englishmen that were to be; the first act of that bloody tragedy continued afterwards at Hastings, Crecy, Agincourt, Fontenoy, and Waterloo.

The battle of Hastings which made England subject to men from France resulted in a complete transformation of the literature of the Teutonic inhabitants of the island. Anglo-Saxon literature had had moments of brilliance at the time of Alfred, and afterwards at that of Saint Dunstan; then it had fallen into decay. By careful search, accents of joy, though of strange character, may be discovered in the texts which now represent that ancient literature. Taking it as a whole, however, this literature was sad; a cloud of melancholy enveloped it, like those penetrating mists, observed by Pytheas and the oldest travellers, which rose from the marshes of the island and concealed the outlines of its impenetrable forests. But the conquerors who came from Normandy, from Brittany, from Anjou, from all the provinces of France, were of a cheerful temperament; they were happy: everything went well with them. They brought with them the gaiety, the wit, the sunshine of the south, uniting the spirit of the Gascon with the tenacity of the Norman. Noisy and great talkers, when once they became masters of the country, they straightway put an end to the already dying literature of the conquered race and substituted their own. God forbid that they should listen to the lamentations of the Anglo-Saxon mariner or traveller! They had no concern with their miserable dirges. "Long live Christ who loves the French!"[5] Even in the laws and religion of the French there now and then appeared marks of their irrepressible entrain. Shall we not, then, find it in their stories?

The new-comers liked tales of two kinds. First, they delighted in stories of chivalry, where they found marvellous exploits differing little from their own. They had seen the son of Herleva, a tanner's daughter of Falaise, win a kingdom in a battle, in course of which the cares of a conqueror had not prevented him from making jokes. When, therefore, they wrote a romance, they might well attribute extraordinary adventures and rare courage to Roland, Arthur and Lancelot: in face of the behaviour of the bastard of Normandy, it would be difficult to tax the exploits attributed to those heroes with improbability. The numberless epic romances in which they delighted had no resemblance with the "Beowulf" of old. These stories were no longer filled with mere deeds of valour, but also with acts of courtesy; they were full of love and tenderness. Even in the more Germanic of their poems, in "Roland," the hero is shaken by his emotions, and is to be seen shedding tears. Far greater is the part allotted to the gentler feelings in the epics of a subsequent date, in those written for the English Queen Eleanor, by Benoit de Sainte More in the twelfth century, which tell for the first time of the loves of Troilus and Cressida; in those dedicated to Arthur and his knights, where the favour of the mortal deities of whom the heroes are enamoured, is responsible for more feats of chivalry than is the search after the mysterious Grail.

They can take Constantinople, or destroy the Roman armies; they can fight green giants and strange monsters, besiege castles of steel, put traitors to death, and escape even the evil practices of enchanters; but they cannot conquer their passions. All the enemies they have in common with Beowulf, be they men or armies, monsters or sorcerers, they can fight and subdue; but enemies unknown to the Gothic warrior oppose them now more effectually than giants, stormy seas, or armed battalions; enemies that are always present, that are not to be destroyed in battle nor left behind in flight: their own indomitable loves and desires. What would the conqueror of Grendel have thought of such descendants? One word in his story answers the question: "Better it is," says he, "for every man, that he avenge his friend than that he mourn much." This is the nearest approach to tenderness discoverable in the whole epic of "Beowulf."

In this contest between heroes differing so greatly in their notion of the duties and possibilities of life with whom do we side, we of to-day? With Beowulf or with Lancelot? Which of the two has survived? Which of them is nearest of kin to us? Under various names and under very different conditions, Lancelot still continues to live in our thoughts and to play his part in our stories. We shall find him in the pages of Walter Scott; he is present in the novels of George Eliot. For better or for worse, the literature begun in England by the conquerors at the battle of Hastings still reigns paramount.

Moreover, the new possessors of the English country were fond of tales and short stories, either moving or amusing, in which a word would make the reader laugh or make him thoughtful; but where there was no tirade, no declamation, no loud emphasis, no vague speculation, a style of writing quite unknown to the islanders and contrary to their genius. When they returned of an evening to their huge and impregnable castles, in perfect security and in good humour, they liked to hear recited stories in prose, some of which are still extant and will never be read without pleasure: the story of Floire and Blanchefleur, for instance, or perhaps, also that of Aucassin, who preferred "his gentle love" to paradise even more unconcernedly than the lover in the old song rejected the gift of "Paris la grand ville;" of Aucassin, in whose adventures the Almighty interposes, not in the manner of the Jehovah of the Bible, but as "God who loveth lovers;"[6] and where Nicolete is so very beautiful that the touch of her fair hands is enough to heal sick people. According to the author the same wonder is performed by the tale itself; it heals sorrow:

"Sweet the song, the story sweet, There is no man hearkens it, No man living 'neath the sun, So outwearied, so foredone, Sick and woful, worn and sad, But is healed, but is glad 'Tis so sweet."[7]

So speaks the author, and since his time the performance of the same miracle has been the aim of the many tale-writers of all countries; they have not all of them failed.

The fusion of these two sorts of stories, the epic-romance and the tale, produced long afterwards in every country of Europe the novel as we know it now. To the former, the novel owes more especially its width of subject, its wealth of incident, its occasionally dignified gait; to the second, its delicacy of observation, its skill in expression of detail, its naturalness, its realism. If we care to examine them closely, we shall find in the greater number of those familiar tragi-comedies, which are the novels of our own day, discernible traces of their twofold and far-off origin.


The first result of the diffusion in England, after the Conquest, of a new literature full of southern inventions and gaieties, and loves, and follies, was the silencing of the native singers. This silence lasted for a hundred years; the very language seemed doomed to disappear. What was the good of writing in English, when there was hardly any one who cared to read it, and even those few were learning French, and coming by degrees to enjoy the new literature? But it turned out that the native English writers had not been swept away for ever. Their race, though silenced, was not extinct; they were not dead, but only asleep.

The first to awake were the scholars, the men who had studied in Paris. It was quite natural that they should be less deeply impressed with nationalism than the rest of their compatriots; learning had made them cosmopolitan; they belonged less to England than to the Latin country, and the Latin country had not suffered from the Conquest. Numerous scholars of English origin shone forth as authors from the twelfth century onwards; among them Geoffrey of Monmouth, of Arthurian fame, Joseph of Exeter, John of Salisbury, Walter Map, Nigel Wireker, and many others of European reputation.

In the thirteenth century another awakening takes place in the palace which the Norman enchanter had doomed to a temporary sleep. Translators and imitators set to work; the English language is again employed; the storm has abated, and it has become evident that there still remain people of English blood and language for whom it is worth while to write. Innumerable books are composed for them, that they may learn, ignorant as they are of French or Latin, what is the thought of the day. Robert Manning de Brunne states, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, that he writes:

"Not for the lerid bot for the lewed, Ffor tho that in this land wone, That the Latyn no Frankys cone, Ffor to haf solace and gamen In felawschip when thay sitt samen."

They are to enjoy this new literature in common, be it religious, be it imaginative or historical; they will discuss it and it will improve their minds; it will teach them to pass judgments even on kings:

"And gude it is for many thynges For to here the dedis of kynges Whilk were foles and whilk were wyse."[8]

In their turn the English poets sang of Arthur; in all good faith they adopted his glory as that of an ancestor of their own. Among them a man like Layamon accepted the French poet Wace for his model, and in the beginning of the thirteenth century, devoted thirty-two thousand lines to the Celtic hero; nor was he ever disturbed by the thought that Arthur's British victories might have possibly been English defeats.[9] Then came innumerable poems, translated or imitated from French romances, on Charlemagne and Roland, Gawain and the Green Knight, Bovon of Hanstone, Percival, Havelock the Dane, King Horn, Guy of Warwick, Alexander, Octavian, and the Trojan War.[10] Hundreds of manuscripts, some of them splendidly illuminated, testify at the present day to the immense popularity of these imitations of French originals, and provide endless labour for the many learned societies that in our century have undertaken to print them.

Layamon's indifference to the price paid by his compatriots for Arthur's glory was not peculiar to himself. It is characteristic of a policy of amalgamation deliberately followed from the beginning by the Normans. As soon as they were settled in the country they desired to unify the traditions of the various races inhabiting the great island, in the belief that this was a first and necessary step towards uniting the races themselves. Rarely was literature used for political purposes with more cleverness and with more important results. The conquerors set the example themselves, and from the first adopted and treated all the heroic beings who had won glory in or for England, and whose fame lingered in ballads and popular songs, as if they had been personal ancestors of their own. At the same time they induced the conquered race to adopt the theory that mythic Trojans were their progenitors, a theory already discovered and applied by the French to their own early history, and about which fables were already current among the Welsh people: both races were thus connected together as lineal descendants, the one of Brutus, the other of Francus; and an indissoluble link united them to the classic nations of antiquity.[11] So it happened that in mediaeval England French singers were to be heard extolling the glory of Saxon kings, while English singers told the deeds of Arthur, the arch-enemy of their race. Nothing gives a better idea of this extraordinary amalgamation of races and traditions than a certain poem of the thirteenth century written in French by a Norman monk of Westminster, and dedicated to Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III., in which we read:

"In the world, I may confidently say, there never was country, kingdom or empire, where so many good kings, and holy too, were found, as in the English island.... Saints they were, martyrs and confessors, of whom several died for God; others most strong and hardy, as were Arthur, Edmund, and Knut."[12]

Rarely was the like seen in any literature; here is a poem dedicated to a Frenchwoman by a Norman of England, which begins with the praise of a Briton, a Saxon, and a Dane. The same phenomenon is to be noticed, after the Conquest in romances, chronicles and histories. Whoever the author may be, whether of French or English blood, the unity of origin of the two races receives almost invariably the fullest acknowledgment; the inhabitants of the great island cease to look towards Germany, Denmark and Scandinavia, for their ancestors or for the sources of their inspiration; they look rather, like their new French companions, to Rome, Greece and Troy. This policy produced not only momentous social results, but also very important literary consequences; the intellectual connection with the north being cut off, the Anglo-French allowed themselves to be drilled with the Latin discipline; the ancient models ceased to appear to them heterogeneous; they studied them in all good faith as the works of distant relations, with such result that they, unlike the Germanic and Scandinavian peoples, were ready, when the time of the Renaissance came, to benefit by the great intellectual movement set on foot by southern neo-classic nations; and while Italy produced Ariosto and Tasso, while Spain possessed Cervantes, and France Montaigne, Ronsard and Rabelais, they were ready to give birth to the unparalleled trio of Spenser, Bacon and Shakespeare.

From the fourteenth century this conclusion was easy to foresee; for, even at that period, England took part in a tentative Renaissance that preceded the great one of the sixteenth century. At the time when Italy produced Petrarca and Boccaccio, and France had Froissart, England produced Chaucer, the greatest of the four.

Famous as Chaucer was as a story-teller, it is strange that he was to have almost no influence on the development of the novel in England. When we read of Harry Bailly and the Wife of Bath, of the modest Oxford clerk and the good parson; when we turn the pages of the inimitable story of Troilus and the fickle, tender, charming Cressida, it seems as if nothing was lacking to the production of perfect novels. All the elements of the art are there complete: the delicate analysis of passions, the stirring plot, the natural play of various characters, the very human mixture of grossness and tenderness, of love songs and rough jokes, the portraits of actual beings belonging to real life and not to dreamland. It was only necessary to break the cadence of the verse and to write such stories in prose. No one did it; no one tried to do it.

The fact is the stranger if we remember that Chaucer's popularity never flagged. It was at its height in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; in the following period the kings of literature, Dryden and Pope, did homage to him. His works had been amongst the first to be printed. Caxton's original edition was quickly followed by a second.[13] The latter was adorned with illustrations, and this rapid publication of a second and amended text testifies to the great reverence in which the author was held. Nevertheless it is the fact that Chaucer stands alone; authors of prose novels who wrote nearly two centuries after his time, instead of trying to follow in his footsteps, sought their models either in the old epic literature or in French and Italian story-books. This is exactly what Chaucer had done himself; but they did it with very different success, and entirely missed the benefits of the great advance made by him. By another strange caprice of fate it was these sixteenth-century writers, and not Chaucer, who were to be the ancestors of the world-famous novelists of a later age, of the Richardsons and Fieldings of the eighteenth century.

In one thing, then, the French conquerors entirely failed; they never succeeded in acclimatizing during the Middle Ages those shorter prose stories which were so popular in their own country, in which they themselves delighted and of which charming and sometimes exquisite models have come to us from the twelfth century downwards. When this art so thoroughly French began, as we shall see, to be cultivated in England, it was the outcome of the Renaissance, not of the Conquest. Hundreds of volumes of mediaeval English manuscripts preserve plenty of sermons, theological treatises, epic-romances, poems of all sorts; but the student will not discover one single original prose story to set by the side of the many examples extant in French literature; nothing resembling the French stories of the thirteenth century, so delightful in their frank language, their brisk style and simple grace, in which we find a foretaste of the prose of Le Sage and Voltaire; nothing to be compared, even at a distance, in the following century, with the narratives of Froissart, who, it is true, applied to history his genius for pure romance; nothing like the anecdotes so well told by the Knight of La Tour Landry for the instruction of his daughters; nothing that at all approaches "Petit Jehan de Saintre" or the "Cent nouvelles" in the fifteenth century. To find English prose tales of the Middle Ages we should be forced to look through the religious manuscripts where they figure under the guise of examples for the reader's edification. A very troublesome search it is, but not always a vain one; some of these stories deserve to be included among the most memorable legends of the Middle Ages. To give an idea of them I will quote the story of a scholar of Paris, after Caesarius, but told in far better style by the holy hermit Rolle de Hampole, in the fourteenth century. It is short and little known:

"A scolere at Pares had done many full synnys the whylke he had schame to schryfe hym of. At the last gret sorowe of herte ouercome his schame, & when he was redy to schryfe till (to) the priore of the abbay of Saynte Victor, swa mekill contricione was in his herte, syghynge in his breste, sobbynge in his throtte, that he moghte noghte brynge a worde furthe. Thane the prioure said till hym: Gaa & wrytte thy synnes. He dyd swa, & come a-gayne to the prioure and gafe hym that he hade wretyn, ffor yitt he myghte noghte schryfe hym with mouthe. The prioure saghe the synnys swa grette that thurghe leve of the scolere he schewede theyme to the abbotte to hafe conceyle. The abbotte tuke that byll that ware wrettyn in & lukede thare one. He fande na thynge wretyn & sayd to the priour: What may here be redde thare noghte es wretyne? That saghe the priour & wondyrd gretly & saide: Wyet ye that his synns here warre wretyn & I redde thaym, bot now I see that God has sene hys contrycyone & forgyfes hym all his synnes. This the abbot & the prioure tolde the scolere, & he, with gret joy thanked God."[14]

But instances of this kind of story lack those features of gaiety and satirical observation of which French stories are full, and which are an important element of the novel. Some are mystical; others, in which the devil figures on whom the saints play rude tricks, are intended to raise a loud laugh; in both cases real life is equally distant. A keen faculty of observation however existed in the nation; foibles of human nature did not escape the English writer's eye any more than its higher aspirations. This is illustrated not only by Chaucer, who chose to write poetry, but by such men as Nigel Wireker[15] and Walter Map who chose to write Latin.[16] But not one English author before the Renaissance employed such gifts in writing prose studies of real life in his native tongue. Owing to the Conquest a certain discredit seemed to rest for generations on England's original language. Long after an English nation, rich in every sort of glory had come into being, writers are to be found hesitating to use the national idiom. This circumstance is chiefly noticeable in prose where the use of a foreign tongue offers less difficulties than in poetry. Prose was less cultivated in England even so late as the commencement of the sixteenth century than in France during the thirteenth. At the time of the Renaissance, Sir Thomas More, the wittiest Englishman of his day, whose English style was admirable and who moreover loved the language of his native land, wishing to publish a romance of social satire, the "Utopia,"[17] wrote it in Latin. It is one of the oldest examples in modern literature of that species of book which includes at a later date the story of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Bacon's "New Atlantis," Cyrano de Bergerac's "Etats et empires de la lune et du soleil," Fenelon's "Telemaque," "Gulliver's Travels," Voltaire's tales, &c. More's use of Latin is to be the more regretted since his romance exhibits infinite resources of spirit and animation; of all his writings it is the one that best justifies his great reputation for wit and enlightenment. His characters are living men and their conversation undoubtedly resembles that which delighted him in the society of his friend Erasmus.

The subject of the book is the quest for the best possible government. More and his companions meet at Antwerp one of the fellow voyagers of Amerigo Vespucci the famous godfather of America, and they question him concerning the civilizations he has seen. "He likewise very willingly tolde us of the same. But as for monsters, by cause they be no newes, of them we were nothyng inquisitive. For nothyng is more easye to bee founde, then bee barkynge Scyllaes, ravenyng Celenes, & Lestrigones devourers of people, & suche lyke great, & incredible monsters. But to find citisens ruled by good & holsome lawes, that is an exceding rare, & harde thyng."[18] By good luck Amerigo's companion had discovered an empire which presented this admirable quality: the island of Utopia, or the country of "Nowhere." This country became immediately famous all over Europe, so much so that Pantagruel would not look to any other place for immigrants to people his newly conquered kingdom of Dispodie. There he transported "Utopians to the number of 9,876,543,210 men," says Rabelais, with his usual care for exact numbers, "without speaking of women and little children." He did so to "refresh, people, and adorn the said country otherwise badly enough inhabited and desert in many places."[19] His acting in this manner was only natural, for, as is well known, connections existed between his family and the Utopians, his own mother Badebec, the wife of Gargantua, being "daughter to the king of the Amaurotes in Utopia."[20]

A hundred years later, something of this want of confidence in the future of English prose still lingered. Bacon, after having employed it in his essays and treatises, was seized with anxiety and kept in his pay secretaries with whose help he meant to translate all his works into Latin, in order to assure himself of their permanence.


Some years before Sir Thomas More wrote his "Utopia," an Englishman, who had long lived abroad and had there learnt a new industry, unknown in his own land, returned to England and settled in Westminster. He and his trade were destined to exercise a very important influence on the diffusion of literature, and especially on the development of romances. His art was printing, and his name was Caxton. We can judge of the amazement he produced among his countrymen by his new art, from his own wonder; one of his prefaces shows clearly enough how extraordinary his performance seemed to himself: "And for as moche, says he, as in the wrytyng of the same my penne is worn, myn hande wery & not stedfast, myn eyen dimed with overmoche lokyng on the whit paper & my corage not so prone & redy to laboure as hit hath ben & that age crepeth on me dayly & febleth all the bodye, & also be cause I have promysid to diverse gentilmen & to my frendes to addresse to hem as hastely as I myght this sayd book, therfore I have practysed & lerned at my grete charge & dispense to ordeyne this said book in prynte after the maner & forme as ye may here see, & is not wreton with penne & ynke as other bokes ben, to thende that every man may have them attones, ffor all the bookes of this storye named the recule of the historyes of troyes thus enpryntid as ye here see were begonne in oon day & also fynysshid in oon day."[21]

The list of his books shows that he was no less intent upon diverting his customers than upon improving their knowledge and morals. The part allotted to fiction was extremely large, not perhaps quite so extensive as that occupied by the novel proper in the publishers' lists of to-day; but regarding it as merely a beginning, it must be admitted to be very promising. Not only did he print the tales of Chaucer, the confessions of Gower, with their numerous stories, several poems of Lydgate, a number of mediaeval epic romances in verse, but he also issued from his press the prose story of "Reynard the Fox," which contains so much excellent dialogue and so many fine scenes of comedy; and, besides, the most remarkable prose romance that had yet been written in the English language, the famous "Morte d'Arthur" of Sir Thomas Malory. Its appearance marks an epoch in the history of English romance literature.

Why, among so many famous works, should this publication have obtained the preference and the attention of the printer? Caxton states his reasons very clearly: firstly, for him as for Layamon, Arthur is a national hero, and Englishmen should be proud of him: then again he is one of the nine worthies of the world. These nine dignitaries were, as is well known, three pagans, Hector, Alexander and Caesar; three Jews, Joshua, David and Judas Maccabaeus; three Christians, Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. And lastly, Caxton considered his undertaking justified by the great lessons that were to be drawn from Arthur's example: "And I accordyng to my copye have doon sette it in enprynte to the entente that noble men may see & lerne the noble actes chyvalrye the jentyl & vertuous dedes that somme knyghtes used in tho dayes by whyche they came to honour & how they that were vycious were punysshed & ofte put to shame & rebuke, humbly byseching al noble lordes & ladyes wyth al other estates of what estate or degree they been of, that shal see & rede in this sayd book & werke, that they take the good & honest actes in their remembraunce & to folowe the same. Wherein they shalle fynde many joyous & playsaunt hystoryes & noble & renomed actes of humanyte gentylnesse & chyualryes. For herein may be seen noble chyvalrye, curtosye, humanyte, frendlynesse, hardynesse, love, frendshyp, cowardyse, murdre, hate, vertue & synne. Doo after the good & leve the evyl & it shal brynge you to good fame & renommee."[22]

Everything, in fact, is to be found in Malory's book; everything, except those marks of character which transform traditional types into living personalities; everything except those analyses of feeling which are for us the primary raison d'etre of the modern novel and its chief attraction. The old knight's book is a vast compilation in which he has melted down and mixed together a large number of tales about Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, Percival, and all the Knights of the Round Table. An infinite number of short chapters, written in a clear and quiet style, possessing no other charm than its simplicity, tell of the loves and of the fights of these famous men; "of theyr marvaylous enquestes and adventures," as Caxton has it, "thachyevyng of the Sangraal, and in thende the dolorous deth and departyng out of thys world of them al." Malory never made the slightest effort to reach a grand style; he did not think that there could be any other method of writing than that of putting on paper, without preparation, what first came into his mind. Since he possessed neither a passionate temperament nor a wandering imagination, he tells, without any apparent emotion, the most important of his stories, even the last battle of his hero[23] and his final disappearance, when he is borne by fairies into the Vale of Avilion. It is for sensitive hearts to weep over these misfortunes, if they choose. As for him, he goes on his way, telling tale after tale, in the same clear and even voice; but very rarely giving us his confidence or opening to us his heart.

Once in the whole length of this immense work he does impart to us his personal opinion on a question of importance: in the twenty-fifth chapter of his eighteenth book, Malory confesses what he thinks of love, and lays aside his usual reserve: and thus furnishes the first attempt at analysis of feeling to be found in the English prose romance. Malory declares that every man should love God first and his mistress afterwards; and so long as a man does love his God first, the other love seems to him to be not only permissible but even commendable; it is a virtue. "Therfore, as may moneth floreth & floryssheth in many gardyns, soo in lyke wyse, lete every man of worship florysshe his herte in this world, fyrst unto God & next unto the joye of them that he promysed his feythe unto: for there was never worshypful man or worshipfull woman but they loved one better than another ... & suche love, I calle vertuous love." But now-a-days, continues the old knight, little suspecting that his grievance is one of all ages, men cannot love seven-night but they must have all their desires. The old love was not so. Men and women could love together seven years, and no wanton lusts were between them, and then was love truth and faithfulness. "And loo," Malory adds forgetting that his Lancelot and his Tristan waited much less than seven years, "in lyke wyse was used love in Kynge Arthurs dayes."[24]

Very strikingly does this view of love contrast with the southern irrepressible impetuosities of young Aucassin, who, considering, three centuries earlier, this same question of holy and profane love, of earth and paradise, in the above-mentioned exquisite prose tale which bears his name, simply alters the order of precedence afterwards adopted by good Sir Thomas: "Tell me," says he, "where is the place so high in all the world that Nicolete, my sweet lady and love, would not grace it well? If she were Empress of Constantinople or of Germany, or Queen of France or England, it were little enough for her.... In Paradise what have I to win? Therein I seek not to enter, but only to have Nicolete my sweet lady that I love so well.... For in Paradise go none but ... these same old priests, and halt old men and maimed, who all day and night cower continually before the altars, and in the crypts.... These be they that go into Paradise; with them have I naught to make. But into Hell would I fain go; for into Hell fare the goodly clerks and goodly knights that fall in tourneys and great wars.... And thither pass the sweet ladies.... Thither goes the gold and the silver and cloth of vair, and cloth of gris, and harpers and makers, and the prince of this world. With these I would gladly go, let me but have with me Nicolete my sweetest lady."[25]

No one perceived the coldness of Malory's stories. He wrote for a youthful and enthusiastic people; it was a period of new birth throughout Europe, the period of the spring-time of modern literature, the epoch of the Renaissance. There was no need to depict in realistic fashion the passions and stirrings of the heart in order to excite the emotion of the reader; a relation of events sufficed for him; his own imagination did the rest, and enlivened the dull-painted canvas with visions of every colour. The book had as much success as Caxton could have expected; it was constantly reprinted during the sixteenth century, and enchanted the contemporaries of Surrey, of Elizabeth, and of Shakespeare. It was in vain that the serious-minded Ascham condemned it; it survived his condemnation as the popularity of Robin Hood survived the sermons of Latimer. Vainly did Ascham denounce "Certaine bookes of Chevalrie.... as one for example, Morte Arthure: the whole pleasure of whiche booke standeth in two speciall poyntes, in open mans slaughter, & bold bawdrye. In which booke those be counted the noblest knightes, that do kill most men without any quarell, & commit fowlest aduoulteres by sutlest shiftes."[26]

When the people became more thoughtful or more exacting in the matter of analysis, they neglected the old book. After 1634, two hundred years passed without a reprint of it. In our time it has met with an aftermath of success, not only among the curious, but among a class of readers who are not more exacting than Caxton's clients, and who are far more interested in fact than in feeling. Children form this class of readers; in the present century Malory's book has been many times re-edited for them, and it is to Sir Thomas Malory, rather than to Tennyson, Swinburne or Morris, that many English men and women of to-day owe their earliest acquaintance with King Arthur and his Knights.

Caxton's example was followed by many; printing presses multiplied, and with most of them fiction kept its ground. A new life was infused into old legendary heroes, and they began again, impelled not by the genius of new writers, but simply by the printer's skill, their never ending journeys over the world. Their stories were published in England in small handy volumes, often of a very good appearance, and embellished with woodcuts. There were prose stories of "Robert the devyll," and there were verse stories of "Sir Guy of Warwick" and of "Syr Eglamoure of Artoys." Many of the cuts are extremely picturesque and excellently suited to the general tone of the story. On the title-page the hero of the tale usually sits on his horse, and indomitable he looks with his sword drawn, his plume full spread, his mien defiant. A faithful squire sometimes follows him, sometimes only his dog; between the feet of the horse fabulous plants spread their unlikely leaves, and give the sole and very doubtful clue to the country in which the knight is travelling, certainly a very desolate and unpleasant one. In this fashion does Duke Robert of Normandy travel, and so does Eglamoure, and Tryamoure, and Bevis, and Isumbras. In the same series too is to be seen "Y^e noble Helyas, Knyght of the Swanne," drawn by the said swan, a somewhat wooden bird, not very different from his successor of a later age whom we are accustomed to see swimming across the stage to the accompaniment of Wagner's famous music.[27]

The means by which English printers supplied themselves with these engravings, is a mystery that they have kept to themselves. Many of the blocks were, very probably, purchased in the Low Countries. A very few are almost certainly of English manufacture, and among them are Caxton's illustrations of the Canterbury Tales: on this account we have given a fac-simile of the most important of them, representing the pilgrims seated round the table at the "Tabard" prior to starting on their immortal journey. What is certain is that many of these wood-block portraits of knights, supplied to the printers by English or Dutch artists, underwent many successive christenings. The same knight, with the same squire, the same dog and the same fabulous little wooden plants between the legs of the horse was sometimes Romulus and sometimes Robert of Normandy. In one book a rather fine engraving of a lord and a lady in a garden, represents Guy of Warwick courting "fayre Phelis,"[28] but in another book the same engraving does duty for "La bel Pucell" and the knight "Graund Amoure."[29] It may be observed, in passing, that these romances might be soundly criticized without much study of their contents by simply inspecting their illustrations. Full as they are of extraordinary inventions and adventures, unrestricted as their authors were by considerations of what was possible or real, some dozen well-chosen engravings seem enough to illustrate any number of them. For, alas, there is nothing more stale and more subject to repetitions than these series of extraordinary adventures; all their heroes are the same hero, and whether he was following the philosophical turn of his mind, or merely the thrifty orders of his printer, the engraver was well justified in leaving as he did in most of his drawings an empty scroll over the head of his knights, for the publisher to label them at will, Robert the Devil or Romulus.

We are thus fairly advanced into the sixteenth century; the Renaissance has come; before long Spenser will sing of the Fairy Queen and Shakespeare will leave his native Stratford to present to a London audience the loves of Juliet and Romeo. Scarcely any sign of improvement appears yet in the art of novel-writing; nothing but mediaeval romances continue to issue from the press; it is even difficult to foresee an epoch in which something analogous to the actual novel might be produced in England. Contrary to what was taking place in France at the same time, that period seemed far off. In reality, however, it was near at hand; the great age of English literature, the age of Elizabeth and of Shakespeare, was about to furnish, at least in the rough draft, the first specimens of the true novel.


[4] "Beowulf, a heroic poem," ed. T. Arnold, London, 1876, 8vo. The unique MS. of this poem, discovered in the last century, is preserved at the British Museum; it has been reproduced in fac-simile by the Early English Text Society (Ed. J. Zupitza, 1882, 8vo). We give in fac-simile the first few lines of the MS.

[5] "Vivat qui Francos diligit Christus!" ("Prologue of the Salic Law," Pardessus, 1843, p. 345.)

[6] "Nouvelles Francaises en prose," ed. Moland and d'Hericault, Paris, 1856. Four English versions of the story of Floire and Blanchefleur are extant. The story of Amis and Amile was also very popular. "Amis and Amiloun," ed. Koelbing (Heilbronn, 1884). The cantefable of Aucassin is of the twelfth century (G. Paris, "Litterature francaise au moyen age," 1888, Sec. 51).

[7] Mr. Andrew Lang's translation, "Aucassin and Nicolete" (London, 1887, 16mo.).

[8] "The Story of England," A.D. 1338, ed. F. J. Furnivall, London, 1887, two vols. 8vo, vol. i. p. 1.

[9] "Layamon's Brut," ed. Madden, London, 1847, three vols. 8vo.

[10] See, among others, the publications of the Early English Text Society, the Camden Society, the Percy Society, the Roxburghe Club, the Bannatyne Club, the Altenglische Bibliothek of E. Koelbing (Heilbronn); the "Metrical Romances of the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries," of H. W. Weber (Edinburgh, 1810, three vols. 8vo); the "Catalogue of MS. Romances in the British Museum," by H. L. D. Ward (London, 1887); "Bishop Percy's Folio MS.; Ballads and Romances," ed. J. W. Hales and F. J. Furnivall, London, Ballad Society, 1867, &c.

The publications of the Early English Text Society include, among others, the romances of "Ferumbras," "Otuel," "Huon of Burdeux," "Charles the Grete," "Four Sons of Aymon," "Sir Bevis of Hanston," "King Horn," with fragments of "Floriz and Blauncheflur," "Havelok the Dane," "Guy of Warwick," "William of Palerne," "Generides," "Morte Arthure," Lonelich's "History of the Holy Grail," "Joseph of Arimathie," "Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight," &c. Others are in preparation.

[11] The adoption by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in the twelfth century, of Brutus the Trojan as father of the British race, as Nennius had done two centuries earlier, did much for the spreading of this belief; the popularity and authority of Geoffrey's fabulous history was so great that for several centuries the gravest English historians accepted his statements concerning Brutus without hesitation. Matthew Paris, the most accurate and trustworthy historian of the thirteenth century, gives an account of his coming to the island of Albion, "that was then inhabited by nobody but a few giants": "Erat tunc nomen insulae Albion, quae a nemine, exceptis paucis gigantibus habitabatur." Brutus proceeds to the banks of the Thames, and there founds his capital, which he calls the New Troy, Trojam novam, "quae postea, per corruptionem vocabuli Trinovantum dicta fuerit" ("Chronica Majora," Rolls Series, I. pp. 21-22). In the fourteenth century Ralph, in his famous "Polychronicon," gives exactly the same account of the deeds of the Trojan prince, and they continued in the time of Shakespeare to be history. Here is the learned account Holinshed gives of these events in his "Chronicles":

"Hitherto have we spoken of the inhabitants of this Ile before the coming of Brute, although some will needs have it that he was the first which inhabited the same with his people descended of the Troians, some few giants onelie excepted whom he utterlie destroied, and left not one of them alive through the whole ile. But as we shall not doubt of Brutes coming hither ..." &c.

"This Brutus or Brytus (for this letter Y hath of ancient times had the sounds both of V and I) ... was the sonne of Silvius, the sonne of Ascanius, the sonne of Aeneas the Trojan, begotten of his wife Creusa, and borne in Troie, before the citie was destroied" (book ii. chap. i.).


"En mund ne est (ben vus l'os dire) Pais, reaume, ne empire U tant unt este bons rois E seinz, cum en isle d'Englois ... Seinz, martirs e confessurs Ki pur Deu mururent plursurs; Li autre forz e hardiz mutz, Cum fu Arthurs, Aedmunz, e Knudz."

("Lives of Edward the Confessor," ed. H. R. Luard, London, Rolls, 1858, 8vo.)

[13] Both editions are undated; the first one seems to have been published in 1478, the second in 1484 (W. Blades, "Life and Typography of William Caxton," 1861, two vols. 4to).

[14] "English Prose Treatises of Richard Rolle de Hampole," ed. G. G. Perry, London, Early English Text Society, 1866, 8vo. p. 7. Rolle de Hampole died in 1349. Caesarius' tale (Caesarius Heisterbacensis, d. 1240) begins thus: "Erat ibi juvenis quidam in studio, qui, suggerente humani generis inimico, talia quaedam peccata commiserat, quae, obstante erubescentia, nulli hominum confiteri potuit: cogitans tamen quae malis praeparata sunt tormenta gehennae, & quae bonis abscondita sunt gaudia perennis vitae, timens etiam quotidie judicium Dei super se, intus torquebatur morsu conscientiae & foris tabescebat in copore...." ("Illustrium miraculorum ... libri xii.," bk. ii. ch. 10).

[15] "Speculum Stultorum," in "Anglo-Latin Satirical Poets ... of the Twelfth Century" ed. Th. Wright, London, 1872, 2 vols. 8vo.

[16] "Gualteri Mapes De nugis curialium distinctiones quinque," ed. Th. Wright, Camden Society, 1850, 4to. Part IV. of this work contains the celebrated "Disuasio Valerii ad Rufinum de ducenda uxore," long attributed to St. Jerome, and one of the principal text-books of the authors of satires against women during the Middle Ages. It was well known to the Wife of Bath, who held it in special abomination.

[17] The "Utopia" was composed in 1515-1516, and was published anonymously at Louvain, under the title: "Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus de optimo reipublicae statu ... cura P. AEgidii ... nunc primum ... editus." Louvain 1516, 4to. It was translated into English by Ralph Robinson in 1551, and this translation has been reprinted by Arber, London, 1869. Another famous novel of the same class was written in the following century also in Latin by another Englishman, or rather Scotchman, the celebrated "Argenis" of John Barclay (1582-1621). It was translated into English by Sir Robert Le Grys, 1629, 4to. Queen Elizabeth appears in it under the name of Hyanisbe.

[18] Ralph Robinson's translation (ut supra).

[19] "Pantagruel, apres avoir entierement conqueste le pays de Dispodie, en icelluy transporta une colonie des Utopiens, en nombre de 9,876,543,210 hommes, sans les femmes et petitz enfans, artisans de tous mestiers et professeurs de toutes sciences liberales, pour ledict pays refraischir, peupler et aorner, mal aultrement habite et desert en grande partie" ("Pantagruel," bk. iii. ch. 1).

[20] "Pantagruel," bk. ii. ch. 2.

[21] "Recueyll of the historyes of Troye," Bruges, 1474? Epilogue to Book iii.

[22] "Le Morte Darthur by Syr Thomas Malory," ed. O. Sommer and Andrew Lang, London, 1889, 2 vol. 8vo. Caxton's Preface, p. 3. The book was originally published at Westminster, in 1485, under the title: "The noble and ioyous book entytled Le Morte Darthur notwythstondyng it treateth of the byrth, lyf and actes of the sayd kyng Arthur of his noble knyghtes of the rounde table, theyr marvayllous enquestes and adventures, thachyevyng of the Sangraal, and in thende the dolorous deth and departyng out of thys world of them al, whiche book was reduced into englysshe by Syr Thomas Malory knyght."

It ends with the statement that it was printed and "fynysshed in thabbey of Westmestre the last day of Juyl the yere of our lord M cccc lxxxv. Caxton me fieri fecit."

[23] "And then kyng Arthur smote syr mordred under the shelde wyth a foyne of his spere thorughoute the body more than a fadom. And when syr mordred felte that he had hys dethes wounde, he thryst hymself wyth the myght that he had up to the bur of kyng Arthurs spere. And right so he smote his fader Arthur wyth his swerde holden in bothe his handes, on the syde of the heed, that the swerde persyd the helmet & the brayne panne, & therwythall syr Mordred fyl starke deed to the erthe, & the nobyl Arthur fyl in a swoune to the erthe & there swouned ofte times" (Ut supra, book xxi. ch. iv. p. 847).

[24] "Le Morte Darthur," ed. Sommer and Lang, London, 1889, 8vo., book xviii. ch. 25, p. 771.

[25] "Aucassin and Nicolete," done into English by Andrew Lang, London, 1887, pp. 6, 11, and 12.

[26] "The Scholemaster," London, 1570, 4to.

[27] "Robert the deuyll," London, Wynkyn de Worde, 1510? 8vo. "Syr Tryamoure," "Syr Beuys of Hampton," "Syr Isumbras," "Syr Degore," "The Knight of the Swanne," "Virgilius," and many others were published by W. Copland about 1550. "Guy of Warwick" was printed in the same style about 1560, "Syr Eglamoure of Artoys," about 1570. Many others were at this period printed in the same way with engravings from the same wood blocks.

[28] London, 1560? 4to.

[29] "The history of Graund Amoure and la bel Pucell, called the Pastime of pleasure," by Stephen Hawes, London, Tottell, 1555, 4to. The same engraving embellishes also "The Squyr of Lowe Degre," published by W. Copland, &c.




One of the most remarkable effects of the Renaissance was the awakening of a slumbering curiosity. The regime of the Middle Ages was just ended; its springs were exhausted, its mysteries unveiled, its terrors ridiculed. Armour was beginning to be thought troublesome; the towers of the strong castles, dark and too much confined for the pleasures of life; the reasonings of the schoolmen had grown old: blind faith was out of fashion; a world was ending, and all that was sinking with it appeared in the eyes of the young generation, out of season and "tedious as a twice-told tale." The rupture between the Middle Ages and modern times was complete in certain countries, partial in others, and consequently the Renaissance had very different results among the various peoples of Europe. But the same characteristic symptoms of an eager, newly awakened curiosity manifested itself in all. There was no longer question of continuing, but of comparing and of discovering. What did the ancient Greeks and the old Romans say? What do our neighbours think? What are their forms of style, their recent inventions? England competed with France in her youthful curiosity, and English poets and travellers following the example of their rivals beyond the seas, "plundered" (in the words of Joachim du Bellay's famous manifesto[30]), not only Athens and Rome, but Florence, Paris, Venice, and all the enlightened towns of France, Italy, and Spain.

This curiosity spurred on the English in the different paths of human knowledge and activity with an audacity worthy of the Scandinavian Vikings. After having destroyed the Armada, they were going to burn the Spanish fleet at Cadiz, to discover new lands in America and to give them the name of "Virginia" in honour of their queen, and to attempt the impossible task of discovering a way to China through the icy regions of the North Pole. The fine gentlemen and the fine wits, even the lack-dinner, lack-penny Bohemians of literature crossed the Channel, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, seeking, they too, for gold mines to work, gathering ideas, listening to stories, noting down recent discoveries, and often appropriating the elegant vices and the light morals of the southern nations. "An italianized Englishman is a devil incarnate" is a popular proverb which quiet home-keeping men were never tired of repeating.

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