Idle Hours in a Library
Idle Hours in a Library
|By the same Author|
|The Church and the Stage|
|Introduction to the Philosophy of Herbert Spencer|
|Studies in Interpretation|
The title of this little volume was chosen because itseems to indicate a characteristic possessed in commonby the otherwise unrelated essays here broughttogether. They may all be described in a general wayas holiday tasks—the results of many hours of quietbut rather aimless browsing among books, and notof special investigations, undertaken with a view todefinite scholastic ends. They are, moreover, as willreadily be seen, completely unacademic in style andintention. Three of the papers were originally putinto shape as popular lectures. The remaining one—thaton the Restoration novelists—was written for amagazine which appeals not to a special body of students,but to the more general reading public. Thetitle, hit upon after some little searching, will, I believe,therefore be accepted as fairly descriptive, and willnot, I hope, be condemned as overfanciful.
A word or two of more detailed explanation may,perhaps, be permitted. Of the essays on Pepys’sviiiDiary and the “Scenes of Bohemian Life,” I wouldsimply say that they may be taken to testify to theunfailing sources of unalloyed enjoyment I have foundin these delightful books; and I should be pleased tothink that, while they may renew for some readers thecharm of old associations, they may perhaps sendothers here and there for the first time to the worksthemselves—in which case I shall be sure of the gratitudeof some at least of those into whose hands thislittle volume may chance to fall. I can scarcely say asmuch as this for the study of Mrs. Behn and Mrs.Manley—for most readers will be quite as well off ifthey leave the lucubrations of these two ladies alone.But in these days we all read novels; and it hasseemed to me, therefore, that my brief account ofsome of the early experiments in English fiction maynot be altogether lacking in interest and suggestiveness.Thus, after some hesitation, I decided to find aplace for the authors of “Oroonoko” and “The NewAtalantis” in these pages. So far as the chapter onShakspere’s London is concerned, it is needless to domore than indicate the way in which it came to bewritten. A number of years ago, while engaged forother purposes in the study of Elizabethan popularliterature, and more especially of the drama of theperiod, I began, for my own satisfaction, to jot down,as I lighted upon them, the more striking referencesixand allusions to manners, customs, and the social lifeof the time. I presently found that I had thus gathereda good deal of miscellaneous material; and itthen occurred to me that, properly organized, mymemoranda might be made into an interesting popularlecture. The lecture was presently prepared, and wasfrequently delivered, both in England and in thiscountry. Naturally enough, the paper can lay no claimto exhaustiveness; it is scrappy, formless, and sometimessuperficial. But the reader of Shakspere mayfind it of some value, so far as it goes.
The essay on the Restoration novel is reproduced,greatly changed and somewhat amplified, from theEnglish magazine, “Time.” The remainder of thevolume has not before been in print.
In such a book as this, it would be pedantic tomake a display of authorities and references, though Ihope that any direct indebtedness has always beenduly recorded in the proper place. But I must domyself the pleasure of adding, that here, as elsewherein my work, I have gained more than I can say fromthe help and encouragement of my wife.
Stanford University, California, 1897
|London Life in Shakspere’s Time||1|
|Pepys and His Diary||65|
|Two Novelists of the English Restoration||125|
|A Glimpse of Bohemia||181|
London Life in Shakspere’s Time
It is the purpose of the present paper to givesome glimpses of every-day life in the Englishmetropolis in the latter part of the sixteenth andthe early part of the seventeenth centuries. Oursubject will take us from the main highways ofhistory into by-paths illuminated by the popularliterature of the time. It is not the grave historian,the statesman, or the philosopher, but ratherthe common playwright, the ballad-monger, thepamphleteer, whom we must take here as ourguides. Yet ere we intrust ourselves to their careit will not be amiss if, with the view of makingthe clearer what we shall presently have to say,we pause for a moment at the outset to considersome of the more general aspects of the periodwith which we are to deal.
Looking, then, first of all, at the political conditionsof the time, we may describe the historyof the reign of Elizabeth as the history of consolidationrather than of superficial change.2What strikes us most is not the addition of freshculture-elements, but the reorganization and expansionof elements already existing. The forcesof evolution had turned inward, acting moreupon the internal structure than upon the externalforms of society. The Wars of the Roseswere now things of recollection only, the fiercecontentions which the struggle between York andLancaster had produced having subsided withmost of the bitter feelings engendered by them.Save for the collision with Spain, which ended inthe defeat of the great Armada, England enjoyeda singular immunity from complications withforeign powers; and an opportunity, freely madeuse of, was thus offered for the development offoreign trade. The growth of a strong commercialsentiment, consequent on this, acted as apowerful solvent in the dissolution of feudalideas and the disintegration of feudal forms oflife. The conflict was now mainly between opinions—betweenrival forces of an intellectual andmoral character. The power of the upper classes—therepresentatives of the ancient régime ofchivalry—was on the wane; the power of themiddle classes—the representatives of the modernrégime of commerce—showed correspondinggrowth. The voice of the people, through3their delegates in Parliament, began to be acknowledgedby the caution exhibited on sundrycritical occasions by the crown; the country atlarge was growing richer and stronger; the senseof English unity was intensified by the verydangers which menaced the national life; and asmen came more and more to recognize theirindividualities, they demanded greater freedomof thought and speech. “England, alone ofEuropean nations,” as Mr. Symonds pointedout, “received the influences of both Renaissanceand Reformation simultaneously.” Themighty forces generated by these two movementsin combination—one emancipating the reason,the other the conscience, from the trammels ofthe Middle Ages—told in countless ways uponthe masses of society. But with all this,—partly,indeed, in consequence of all this,—there was adeep-seated restlessness at the very springs oflife. The contests of opposing parties were carriedon with a fierceness and acerbity of whichwe know little in these more moderate days; theminds of men were set at variance and throwninto confusion by a thousand distracting issues;and, unrealized as yet in all their significance andpower, those Titanic religious and political agencieswere beginning to take shape which were4by and by to rend English society to its verycore.
When we turn from the political character ofthe age to the moral character of the people, wefind it difficult to avoid having recourse to aseries of antitheses, after the familiar manner ofMacaulay, so violent and surprising are the contrasts,so diverse the component qualities whichanalysis everywhere brings to light. The agewas virile in its power, its restlessness, its amazingenergy and fertility; it was virile, too, in itsunrestraint, its fierceness, its licentiousness andbrutality. Men gloried in their newly conqueredfreedom, and in that wider knowledge of theworld which had been opened up to them by thestudy of the past, by the scientific researches ofCopernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, by the discoveriesof Amerigo Vespucci, Columbus, Jenkinson,Willoughby, Drake. National feeling wasstrong; the national pulse beat high. Yet, inspite of Protestantism and an open Bible, it wasessentially a pagan age; in spite of its Platonismand Euphuism, a coarse and sensual one. Youhad only to scratch the superficial polish to findthe old savagery beneath. Your smiling andgraceful courtier would discourse of Seneca andAristotle, but he would relish the obscenest jest5and act his part in the grossest intrigue. Youryoung gallant would turn an Italian sonnet, or“tune the music of an ever vain tongue,” butwithin an hour he might have been found in allthe blood and filth and turmoil of the cockpit orthe bear-ring. The unseemliest freedom prevailedthroughout society—amidst the nobleladies in immediate attendance upon the queen,and thence all down the social scale. Laws werehorribly brutal, habits revoltingly rude. All thepowerful instincts of a fresh, buoyant, self-reliant,ambitious, robust, sensuous manhood had burstloose, finding expression now in wild extravagance,indulgence, animalism, now in great efforton distant seas, now in the mighty utterancesof the drama; for these things were but differentfacets of the same national character. Still, withall its gigantic prodigality of energy, with all itsuntempered misuse of genius and power, theEnglish Renaissance kept itself free from manyof the worst features of the Spanish and Italianrevivals. It was all very well for BenvenutoCellini to call the English “wild beasts.” Deepdown beneath the casuistry and Euphuism, beneaththe artificiality and the glittering veneer,beneath the coarseness and the brutalism, therewas ever to be found that which was lacking in6the Southern character—a stern, hardy, tough-fibredmoral sense, which in that critical periodof disquietude and upheaval formed indeed thevery sheet-anchor of the nation’s hopes. It mustnever be forgotten that it was this age of new-foundfreedom, and of that license which wentwith it like its shadow, that produced such typesof magnificent manhood as Raleigh, strong “thefierce extremes of good and ill to brook”; asSpenser, sweetest and purest of poets and ofmen; as Sidney, whom that same Spenser mightwell describe as “the most noble and virtuousgentleman, most worthy of all titles, both oflearning and chivalry”; as