Table Of Content
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of abbreviations
- Part I: Jacobean, Caroline and Republican Poetry and Prose
- § 1. The Stuart century
- § 2. Literary genres up to the Restoration
- § 3. The Spenserians
- § 4. Wither
- § 5. William Browne
- § 6. Drummond of Hawthornden
- § 7. The Fletchers
- § 8. Suckling
- § 9. Lovelace
- § 10. Carew
- § 11. Herrick
- § 12. Herbert I: The quintessence of Anglican spirituality
- § 13. Herbert II: The Temple. The builder of temples
- § 14. Herbert III: A Priest to the Temple. A vicar’s prayer book
- § 15. Herbert of Cherbury
- § 16. Crashaw I: The English apotheosis of continental Baroque
- § 17. Crashaw II: Cupid desensualized
- § 18. Vaughan
- § 19. Traherne I: A foretaste of Paradise
- § 20. Traherne II: Centuries of Meditations
- § 21. Quarles
- § 22. King
- § 23. Cowley
- § 24. Cleveland
- § 25. Marvell I: Cromwell’s regime. Justification and nostalgia
- § 26. Marvell II: Return to Eden
- § 27. Waller
- § 28. Denham
- § 29. The homilists. Andrewes, Taylor
- § 30. The Authorized Version
- § 31. Milton I: The uncreated idiom
- § 32. Milton II: Early works
- § 33. Milton III: Comus
- § 34. Milton IV: The enslaved voice
- § 35. Milton V: ‘Paradise Lost’ I. Genesis, allegory and theology of the poem
- § 36. Milton VI: ‘Paradise Lost’ II. Satan’s dynamism and God’s response
- § 37. Milton VII: ‘Paradise Lost’ III. Man’s redemption
- § 38. Milton VIII: Paradise Regained. The new Adam
- § 39. Milton IX: Samson Agonistes
- § 40. Minor poets up to 1660
- § 41. Bacon
- § 42. Burton
- § 43. Thomas Browne
- § 44. Other prose writers
- Part II: The Restoration
- § 45. Restoration literature
- § 46. The re-opening of the theatres
- § 47. Dryden I: The re-consecration of Stuart civilization
- § 48. Dryden II: Early poetry. Elegiac, encomiastic, celebrative
- § 49. Dryden III: The comedies
- § 50. Dryden IV: Genesis, development and limits of Dryden’s heroic tragedy
- § 51. Dryden V: Satirical and theological poems
- § 52. Lee
- § 53. Otway
- § 54. Etherege
- § 55. Wycherley
- § 56. Congreve
- § 57. Shadwell I: Farces against foreign fads
- § 58. Shadwell II: The Libertine
- § 59. Vanbrugh
- § 60. Farquhar
- § 61. Rochester
- § 62. Samuel Butler
- § 63. Oldham
- § 64. Restoration historians. Clarendon, Burnet
- § 65. Pepys
- § 66. Evelyn
- § 67. Temple
- § 68. Hobbes, Locke
- § 69. Bunyan I: The Pilgrim’s Progress
- § 70. Bunyan II: Other works on the contest between God and the devil
- § 71. Early feminism
- Part III: The Augustan Age
- § 72. England from the Glorious Revolution to 1745
- § 73. The Enlightenment in England
- § 74. Pope I: A ‘re-maker’ of genius
- § 75. Pope II: Poetic experiments up to the Homeric translations
- § 76. Pope III: Hordes of disorder
- § 77. Prior
- § 78. Gay
- § 79. Dennis
- § 80. Arbuthnot
- § 81. Bolingbroke
- § 82. Defoe I: The growth of the novelist
- § 83. Defoe II: Robinson Crusoe. Ambition, initiative and divine approval of the entrepreneur
- § 84. Defoe III: Captain Singleton
- § 85. Defoe IV: Moll Flanders. Moral balancing acts in a monetized society
- § 86. Defoe V: A Journal of the Plague Year
- § 87. Defoe VI: Colonel Jack
- § 88. Defoe VII: Roxana. A more polished portrait
- § 89. Swift I: Anathema of the monster and pitfalls of Swiftian irony
- § 90. Swift II: Satires against ‘enthusiasm’
- § 91. Swift III: Paradigmatic pamphlets
- § 92. Swift IV: ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ I. Travel literature revisited
- § 93. Swift V: ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ II. The enigma of Part IV
- § 94. Swift VI: Journal to Stella
- § 95. Swift VII: Swift the poet
- § 96. Addison
- § 97. Steele I: Apostle to the gentiles
- § 98. Steele II: The newspaper man
- § 99. Shaftesbury
- § 100. Berkeley
- § 101. Joseph Butler
- § 102. Mandeville
- § 103. Law
- § 104. Other deists
- § 105. Lady Winchilsea
- § 106. Thomson I: The theophany of nature
- § 107. Thomson II: The Castle of Indolence. England aroused from sloth
- § 108. Dyer
- § 109. Young
- § 110. Minor anti-Popian poets
- Part IV: The Eighteenth Century Comes of Age
- § 111. Britain from 1745 to 1789
- § 112. The eighteenth century comes of age
- § 113. Goldsmith I: Patriarchal society: nostalgia and defence
- § 114. Goldsmith II: The Vicar of Wakefield
- § 115. Goldsmith III: The plays. Psycho-social mechanisms unmasked and exorcized
- § 116. Richardson I: Case histories and objectives of the seduction triptych
- § 117. Richardson II: ‘Pamela’ I. Letter-mad maidservant redeems rake
- § 118. Richardson III: ‘Pamela’ II. Degenerate nobility reformed from below
- § 119. Richardson IV: Clarissa
- § 120. Richardson V: Sir Charles Grandison
- § 121. Fielding I: Richardson parodied
- § 122. Fielding II: Jonathan Wild
- § 123. Fielding III: Tom Jones. A justified sinner
- § 124. Fielding IV: Amelia
- § 125. Smollett I: Transplant and growth of the English picaresque
- § 126. Smollett II: Humphry Clinker. Turning towards the extravaganza
- § 127. Sterne I: Tristram Shandy, or concerning relations
- § 128. Sterne II: A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
- § 129. Gray
- § 130. William Collins
- § 131. Churchill
- § 132. Johnson I: Rise and fall of the artist as creator
- § 133. Johnson II: The three monuments to knowledge
- § 134. Boswell
- § 135. Wilkes, Junius
- § 136. Letter-writers
- § 137. Hume
- § 138. Robertson
- § 139. Gibbon
- § 140. Mid-eighteenth-century drama
- § 141. Sheridan
- § 142. Walpole
- § 143. Radcliffe
- § 144. Beckford
- § 145. Other exponents of the novel of terror
- § 146. Burke
- § 147. Macpherson
- § 148. Percy and the Reliques of English Poetry
- § 149. Chatterton
- § 150. Cowper
- § 151. Smart
- § 152. Crabbe
- § 153. Wesley and Methodism
- § 154. The Scottish awakening
- § 155. Hogg
- § 156. Mackenzie
- Part V: Romanticism
- § 157. From the Napoleonic wars to the Age of Equipoise
- § 158. English Romanticism
- § 159. Burney
- § 160. Austen I: Janeites and Austenophobes
- § 161. Austen II: Gothic vaccination
- § 162. Austen III: Mansfield Park. A thoughtful diagnosis of modern youth
- § 163. Austen IV: Emma. The masochism of match-making
- § 164. Austen V: Persuasion
- § 165. Austen VI: Juvenilia and fragments
- § 166. Edgeworth
- § 167. Galt
- § 168. Other late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novelists
- § 169. Paine
- § 170. Godwin
- § 171. Mary Wollstonecraft
- § 172. Burns
- § 173. Blake I: The first English multi-media artist
- § 174. Blake II: Biography and intellectual growth
- § 175. Blake III: The contrary states of the human soul
- § 176. Blake IV: The Satanic verses
- § 177. Blake V: The Prophetic Books
- § 178. Wordsworth I: The dialogue of the soul with itself in the presence of nature
- § 179. Wordsworth II: The ‘loco-descriptive poems’
- § 180. Wordsworth III: Lyrical Ballads
- § 181. Wordsworth IV: The major phase
- § 182. Wordsworth V: The Prelude
- § 183. Coleridge I: From the epistemic context to symbolic recreation
- § 184. Coleridge II: Conversation pieces
- § 185. Coleridge III: ‘The demonic triptych’ I. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- § 186. Coleridge IV: ‘The demonic triptych’ II. Kubla Khan
- § 187. Coleridge V: ‘The demonic triptych’ III. Christabel
- § 188. Coleridge VI: Biographia Literaria and Shakespearean criticism
- § 189. Shelley I: Poetry to break the chains of the world
- § 190. Shelley II: Action and introspection in the early Shelley
- § 191. Shelley III: Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci
- § 192. Shelley IV: Other ‘Italian’ poems
- § 193. Shelley V: The Triumph of Life. A critical and phantasmagoric diagnosis of the Enlightenment
- § 194. Shelley VI: A Defence of Poetry
- § 195. Keats I: The uncertain plenitude of myth
- § 196. Keats II: Endymion and other oneiric rhapsodies
- § 197. Keats III: The two Hyperions
- § 198. Keats IV: Poems of death-bearing and life-bringing love
- § 199. Keats V: The great odes
- § 200. Byron I: Phases and forms of Byron’s self-fashioning
- § 201. Byron II: The anathema of Romanticism
- § 202. Byron III: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The grand tour of an eccentric Englishman
- § 203. Byron IV: Oriental tales
- § 204. Byron V: Disputes and dilemmas in the dramas
- § 205. Don Juan. Mimesis and estrangement of Donjuanism
- § 206. Scott I: Range and critical fortunes of Scott’s fiction
- § 207. Scott II: The poetry
- § 208. Scott III: ‘The Scottish historical novels’ I. The founding trilogy
- § 209. Scott IV: ‘The Scottish historical novels’ II. The last Jacobite
- § 210. Scott V: Ivanhoe
- § 211. Scott VI: The last phase
- § 212. Mary Shelley
- § 213. Polidori
- § 214. Southey
- § 215. Landor
- § 216. Campbell
- § 217. Rogers
- § 218. Moore
- § 219. Clare
- § 220. Beddoes, Darley
- § 221. Keble
- § 222. Hemans, L. E. L.
- § 223. Humorous poets
- § 224. Lamb
- § 225. De Quincey
- § 226. Hazlitt
- § 227. Smith
- § 228. Hunt
- § 229. Peacock
- § 230. Cobbett
- § 231. Romantic drama
- Index of names
- Thematic index
AEN W. Allen, The English Novel, Harmondsworth 1991 (1st edn London 1954).
ASH M. Ashley, England in the Seventeenth Century (1603–1714), Harmondsworth 1952.
BAUGH A Literary History of England, ed. A. C. Baugh, 4 vols, London 1967.
CHI The Cambridge History of English Literature, 14 vols, Cambridge 1907, repr. 1949.
CLA M. Praz, Cronache letterarie anglosassoni, 4 vols, Roma 1951 and 1966.
CRHE The Critical Heritage, anthologies of criticism on single authors, with editors, and date and place of publication as stated in the bibliographies.
DAI D. Daiches, A Critical History of English Literature, 2 vols, New York 1960.
DEA S. Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature, London 1986.
DEE B. Dobrée, The Early Eighteenth Century 1700–1740: Swift, Defoe, and Pope, vol. VII of The Oxford History of English Literature, ed. F. P. Wilson and B. Dobrée, Oxford 1990 (1st edn 1959).
ESE T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, London 1963 (1st edn 1932).
GGM S. M. Gilbert and S. Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, New Haven, CT and London 1984.
GSM H. J. C. Grierson and J. C. Smith, A Critical History of English Poetry, London 1956.
HWP B. Russell, History of Western Philosophy, London 1964 (1st edn 1946).
IDM F. Marucci, L’inchiostro del mago. Saggi di letteratura inglese dell’Ottocento, Pisa 2009.
JEL I. Jack, English Literature 1815–1832, vol. X of The Oxford History of English Literature, ed. F. P. Wilson and B. Dobrée, Oxford 1963.
JLI S. Johnson, Lives of the English Poets, ed. A. Waugh, 2 vols, London 1979.
LAM G. Tomasi di Lampedusa, Letteratura inglese, 2 vols, Milano 1990–1991.
MAR Storia della civiltà letteraria inglese, ed. F. Marenco, 4 vols, Torino 1996.
MIT L. Mittner, Storia della letteratura tedesca, 3 vols in 4 tomes, Torino 1964–1977.
MVO F. Marucci, ‘A Victorian Oxymoron: The “Mastering” and “Merciful God”’, in Hopkins: Tradition and Innovation, ed. P. Bottalla, G. Marra and F. Marucci, Ravenna 1991, 191–206.
OCE G. Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, ed. S. Orwell and I. Angus, 4 vols, Harmondsworth 1970.
PGU The Pelican Guide to English Literature, ed. B. Ford, 7 vols, Harmondsworth 1968.
PHE M. Praz, The Hero in Eclipse in Victorian Fiction, Eng. trans., London 1969 (1st Italian edn Firenze 1952).
PLE M. Pagnini, Letteratura e ermeneutica, Firenze 2002.
PLU J. H. Plumb, England in the Eighteenth Century, Harmondsworth 1950.
PMI M. Praz, Machiavelli in Inghilterra e altri saggi sui rapporti letterari anglo-italiani, Firenze 1962.
PMLA Publications of the Modern Language Association of America.
PRA M. Praz, The Romantic Agony, Eng. trans., London 1956 (1st Italian edn Firenze 1930).
PSL M. Praz, Storia della letteratura inglese, Firenze 1968.
REL W. L. Renwick, English Literature 1789–1815, vol. IX of The Oxford History of English Literature, ed. F. P. Wilson and B. Dobrée, Oxford 1976 (1st edn 1963).
SAI G. Saintsbury, A Short History of English Literature, London 1948 (1st edn 1898).
SEC J. Sambrook, The Eighteenth Century: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1700–1789, London 1986.
SEL J. Sutherland, English Literature of the Late Seventeenth Century, vol. VIII of The Oxford History of English Literature, ed. B. Dobrée and N. Davis, Oxford 1969.
SES J. L. Styan, The English Stage: A History of Drama and Performance, Cambridge 1996.
SSI M. Praz, Studi e svaghi inglesi, 2 vols, Milano 1983 (1st edn 1937).
TAI H. A. Taine, History of English Literature, Eng. trans., 4 vols, London 1920 (1st French edn 1864).
TCR V. Woolf, The Common Reader, First Series, Harmondsworth 1938 (1st edn London 1925), Second Series, London 1935 (1st edn London 1932).
TLS The Times Literary Supplement.
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WHM R. Wellek, A History of Modern Criticism 1750–1950, 8 vols, New Haven, CT 1955–1992.
Volumes of the present work will be cited as follows:
Volume 1 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 1, Oxford 2018.
Volume 2 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 2, Oxford 2018.
Volume 4 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 4, Oxford 2019.
Volume 5 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 5, Oxford 2019.
Volume 6 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 6, Oxford 2019.
Volume 7 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 7, Oxford 2019.
Volume 8 F. Marucci, History of English Literature, vol. 8, Oxford 2019.
Note. Except for the above abbreviations, full publication information of cited works will be found in the bibliography for each author.
The seventeenth century – in England and more in general in Europe – shows clearly, if indeed proof were needed, that political, civil, cultural, and, consequently, literary history, is inextricably tied up with religion, which in turn becomes a ‘political subject’.1 The key to understanding aright the events of the century is to be found in the clash of confessional positions, in differing versions of the Christian life, and even in the debate on the importance of ritual and the hierarchical structure of the Church; in other words, in the acceptance or refusal of religion as the foundation of the state. This is also the century in which England becomes a parliamentary monarchy, or rather, more parliamentary, and produces a judicial system and an evolutionary process of decentralization which inverts the arrogant absolutism of the continental courts. The seeds of two-party politics are sown, and the controversy over the divine right of kings fades into the distance.2 From this time on, the English political system will become an exportable model championed by her libertarian thinkers. In 1660 and in 1685, a return to the past was a tangible threat, but by then the reins of powers were firmly in the hands of Parliament, and the king was forced to bow to its commands.
2. During the century, as may be seen in a statistical table drawn up in 1688 by the citizen Gregory King, the population of England had reached five and a half million even taking into account the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London the following year (among the consequences of the Great Fire were innovative building norms, the elimination of straw, replaced by carpets as a covering for floors, and the extensive use of bricks for walls). Demographic increase was limited by emigration; throughout the century colonization acted as a safety valve against Dissenters. Patriotic ← 3/I | 4/I → historians played down the suffering of those who embarked upon the long journey to America: any who did not feel at their ease in the home country could always find fame and fortune in the colonies, and could pray whatever way they liked, protected by the English flag. Quite apart from the religious motivation – Puritan proselytism – the Dissenters sailed in the hope of finding affordable land and opportunities for employment. The colonists indeed quickly exported models of local self-government, thus developing a federal system with ever weaker ties with the mother country. In the course of the century the English seized colonies from Spain and the Low Countries, and trade with the Indies made it necessary to increase the size of the merchant fleet. Thanks to the abolition of monopolies, spices were imported, along with silk, porcelain, tea and coffee, which changed the way of living of the middle classes. Another favourite theme of the patriotic historian was social responsibility. A sort of direct chain of transmission connected the King’s Privy Council in London with local authorities, whose job it was to look after the poor and the unemployed. This constituted a kind of welfare state ante litteram, which pre-empted and eliminated the possible causes justifying a real revolution, so that when a Glorious Rebellion did come it was a watered down version of what was to take place in France a century later. A comparison is often made between the Wars of the Roses and the Civil War, but such a parallel is misleading: the latter was fought for reasons that were less self-serving and materialistic, and more idealistic.
3. James I (1601–1625), who for a good half of his life sat on the throne of Scotland, proved to be a scholar king second only to Alfred the Great. As a ruler he was precociously Machiavellian. The son of Mary Stuart and her second husband, Lord Darnley, he was tutored by the classicist Buchanan, and by the time he was twenty-two had written and published a treatise on poetry.3 In 1597 he published Demonologie and in 1604 A Counterblaste to Tobacco (anonymously). His conception of the divine right of kings was put forward in two books published before the end of the century. James, who at the age of twelve laid claim to the throne of Scotland, developed a ← 4/I | 5/I → strategy of not making enemies; he stood aloof, equidistant from Catholics (even when conspiracies were discovered, as in 1589) and from Presbyterians, opting, however, for the latter when Catholic power became a threat. It is strange, therefore, that a king so precociously skilled and experienced – though ruler only, at the time, of a ‘minor’ country like Scotland – should find himself not up to the task of ruling England.4 The tug of war between absolutism and democracy began when James ceased to convene Parliament and relied more and more on the adventurer George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.5 Denied funds by Parliament, he borrowed heavily, doubling the royal debt, and was compelled, in the end, with disastrous results, to resort to dubious stratagems, like the selling of monopolies. These same financial straits caused him to leave the German Puritans to their fate, thus arousing suspicions of harbouring Catholic sympathies. Again for reasons of expediency, he pandered to Spain by having Ralegh executed. Ralegh had fallen into a trap laid by the Spanish ambassador, Gondomar, in an affair that caused a stir and provided the raw material for a play by Middleton.6 James had managed to silence the Scottish assemblies, but was unable to place the English Parliament under similar restraint. This was partly because of his weakness for his favourites. His ecclesiastical policy was summed up in the motto: ‘No bishop, no king’. Towards the Puritans he assumed a position of defiance but never brought them to heel. He harried ← 5/I | 6/I → them into exile or simply had them eliminated. As to the Catholics, he fined and persecuted them from the very start of his reign. The so-called Gunpowder Plot, organized by the Jesuits, discovered and neutralized in 1605, was a result of this repressive anti-Catholic policy.
4. Charles I, second son of James I, was a late child, and anything but precocious in learning to walk. He became an excellent horseman, but was plagued by a stammer throughout his life. He loved Italian painting and was a patron of the arts. A devoted husband, he became the subject of John Gauden’s Eikon Basilike, a text which was said to be the king’s memorial in articulo mortis, and helped to create the reputation of Charles the martyr. Milton’s pamphlet, Eikonoklastes, is a violent riposte to Gauden’s moving portrait of the dead king.7 Charles’s wife outlived him, and his sons were to become Charles II and James II. His dynasty covers the whole of the seventeenth century, and beyond, if we consider that, after 1688 and for three more decades, the Old Pretender, James III, wandered through the courts of Europe. As I mentioned, according to his father’s plans, Charles was to marry the Infanta of Spain. Instead, he married the Catholic Henrietta Maria, daughter of the King of France, Louis XIII, with the understanding of a solemn promise that Charles would grant English Catholics freedom of worship. Friendly relations between France and England soon faltered because Charles refused to help the French subdue the Huguenot uprisings. As if this were not enough, England suffered a setback in the Thirty Years War because the Elector Frederick (who had married the king’s sister, Elizabeth) was unable to retake the Palatinate. The Cadiz expedition against Spain in 1625 also met with failure, making the final result three defeats out of three endeavours. After the murder of the King’s favourite, Buckingham, in 1628, Parliament was not recalled for another eleven years, during which the king ruled as an absolute monarch, levying ever increasing taxes on the wealthier of his subjects in order to maintain his fleet. This period is in fact referred to as ‘the eleven years of tyranny’. However, it is also true that 1628 saw the approval of a Petition of Rights which provided guarantees ← 6/I | 7/I → against arbitrary imprisonment and the raising of taxes without the consent of Parliament.
5. ‘The causes of the Civil War’ is the title and the subject of a book by Lawrence Stone,8 who challenges the theory that the spark that lit the fire was the economic rise of the gentry throughout the century. He sees the root cause, instead, in the appearance of a political subject – Puritanism – which sought and found representation in the House of Commons, and the tangible and irreversible result of which was religious tolerance. By the end of this process, Puritanism had been assimilated and metabolized, and could no longer be expunged. According to Stone, there are six historical models of revolution, empirically reconstructed, from which to choose in order to identify and classify the English Civil War: of these, the ‘conspiratorial coup d’état’ seems the closest match. In reality, all six types are included by the Solomonic scholar in what is a kind of mixed regime model. Stone adds that the Civil War was a revolution that looked back to golden ages or similar, as well as forward, to the future. For him, everything comes together, because there are, as in every revolution, ‘pre-conditions’ and ‘detonators’. The causes are to be sought in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth: absolutism and the draining of the Exchequer to finance the war against France – so that the reign of James may be seen as chaos skilfully kept under control (the distant pre-condition) –; the nearer prerequisite was Elizabeth’s wait and see policy, made worse by her successors on the throne. Concrete steps leading to the Civil War, the detonators, can be identified in the series of repressive measures taken by Charles against both Puritans and Presbyterians. In 1639 Scotland reacted against blatant attempts to depuritanize her and to impose the Laudian Prayer Book (Archbishop Laud’s intent was to ‘re-Catholicize’ the Anglican Church on a model preceding the errors of Rome) by issuing the Covenant, a national pact against the English king and in favour of religious freedom and the laws of Scotland. In the same year, the English border garrison had been harried. The king summoned the governor of Ireland, Wentworth – celebrated 200 years later in a play by Browning – to lead a punitive expedition against the ← 7/I | 8/I → Scots.9 But the financial requests made to the reconvened Parliament could not be met and the house was dissolved, becoming known as the ‘Short Parliament’. A second war against the Scots was inevitable and, owing to inadequate funding, was lost. The reconvened Parliament, traditionally known as the ‘Long Parliament’, had the upper hand, thanks to the guidance of the Puritan veteran, John Pym. By the summer of 1640 a silent revolution was under way and Parliament was largely victorious in bills discussed and approved, amongst which were: the obligation to summon Parliament every three years; the abolition of the Prerogative Courts; taxes to be levied only with the consent of Parliament. The Great Remonstrance of 1641, which formalized these successes, was passed in the House with a majority of only nine votes (among the nays was the poet, Waller, convinced that the reform was a step towards revolution, though Parliament included a number of moderate Episcopalians). The reaction of the king was a botched attempt to arrest five members of the house. The Queen saw the direction events were taking and left for Paris, where she subsequently was to take under her protective wing a number of Catholic or moderately Protestant poets. Furthermore, the Court was transferred to York (summer of 1642). The two parties which were to join combat in the war that was about to break out were called, from then on, ‘Cavaliers’ (royalists) and ‘Roundheads’ (Puritan parliamentarians); in other words, the nobility who were loyal to the king against the wealthy merchant class. This clear-cut opposition soon crumbled: sects appeared which were even more radical than the Puritans,10 overtaken in reforming zeal by Congregationalists and Independents, who demanded complete freedom from the Church of England and autonomy for local religious communities. On a national scale, an area comprising the North, West and Midlands, home of the landed gentry, was a royalist stronghold; the South, East and London were mercantile and parliamentarian. Generally speaking, the Puritan side had the support of those involved in trade and living in economically dynamic ← 8/I | 9/I → areas, as well as sea ports and manufacturing districts with a burgeoning network of connections between the smallholder and the merchant class. The countryside was largely royalist, as were market towns with no overseas connections.
6. Oliver Cromwell, a descendant of Henry VIII’s chief minister, was born in Huntington near Cambridge, into a family of the well-to-do gentry. He was a mediocre student of Latin, but excelled at sports from an early age. He inherited property and entered Parliament. Fiercely anti-Papist already in 1628, he stood up for his fellow citizens against abuses of power and petitioned in favour of the inhabitants of his native Fenlands. Around 1636, he went through a religious crisis and believed himself to be singled out as the secular arm of God’s design for England, which consisted principally in the ‘root and branch’ abolition of episcopacy. In January 1642 he organized a coup aimed at taking control of the army and key military infrastructures. Immediately afterwards, he formed a parliamentary army, choosing its commanders with great care and imposing iron discipline on the cadres. This was Cromwell’s reaction to the creation of an army by Charles, who in the meantime had repaired to Oxford. The name of ‘Ironsides’ was given to Cromwell’s soldiers by Prince Rupert, the royalist general whose troops were repeatedly routed in the field. At this point, enter at Cromwell’s side the famous General (or Lieutenant) Fairfax of Hull, or, more precisely, of Appleton House, the subject of several poems by Marvell.11 After the victorious battle of Marston Moor in 1644, during which Cromwell was wounded, the final blow to the king was delayed owing to the indecision of the Earl of Manchester, who in a famous speech pronounced that ‘the king was the king’. This defeatism was rejected by Cromwell, a maximalist and enemy to compromise, ready to criticize Parliament for withholding funds for the army, whose troops were underpaid (indeed, Parliament ordered the dissolution of the Army). With an act of insubordination, Cromwell proceeded to bring the Civil War to an end, defeating the royalist Scots and seizing the king, who was executed on 30 January 1649. By this time, however, Cromwell’s army had given birth to a number of fringe ← 9/I | 10/I → groups – such as the Levellers and the Independents – who were to have brief significant repercussions on the political scenario. In 1647 a People’s Agreement was put forward on the initiative of agitators inside the army demanding payment of back pay, indemnities and sundry guarantees, and above all, a republican constitution, universal suffrage, freedom of worship, equality before the law and abolition of monopolies. Faced by the refusal of Parliament, the army at first mutinied, then increased the stakes, making demands that fell just short of blackmail. In play was the redistribution of seats on the basis of the counties’ taxable income, and increased levels of taxation for those counties with the greatest number of parliamentary seats. So there threatened to be an alliance between the agitators of the army and the radical elements of London. Fairfax restored order and calmed the agitators with promises. On this occasion the moderate gentry was already moving towards the king, fearing a widespread uprising if the radicals and agitators were to prevail. Ordinary people, on their side, protested against the current crisis and invoked honest government. In fact, they and the gentry formed a common front in calling for a return to law and order and the status quo, whilst at the same time denouncing the repressiveness of the Puritan regime. Alongside the Puritans, Independents and Baptists could be heard the clamour of the Fifth Monarchists who believed human history had reached the fourth of the five ages predicted in the Book of Daniel, the age of the Antichrist of Roman Catholicism. In their different ways all these separatist and radical groups were advocates of a ‘government of saints and the righteous’. But the coalition between ordinary soldiers and the Levellers aimed at radicalizing the People’s Agreement into a democratic constitution could not last, in part because some groups were willing to make do with the partial victories they had achieved, unlike other more extreme movements.12
7. In 1647 Cromwell found himself confronted by two enemies: the king, who had escaped and taken refuge on the Isle of Wight, promised ← 10/I | 11/I → the Scots Presbyterianism for three years in exchange for their support. When the war resumed in 1648, the Scots were blocked on their way to London. A ‘purge’, which led to the expulsion from Parliament of those members who intended to come to terms with the king, was decided upon by the cadres of the army; the officer who proposed the purge happened to be called Pride. The king’s execution, while not decided by Cromwell, was approved in writing by him. Stories abounded of him wandering about in disguise at night, muttering, like some character out of Shakespeare, that ‘cursed necessity was the cause’. In reality, Cromwell, though at first intending to save the monarchy, soon became convinced that the king had to die. The birth of the Commonwealth entailed ipso facto the abolition of the House of Lords besides the monarchy itself, leaving a Parliament reduced to 90 members (irreverently referred to as the ‘Rump’), practically an oligarchy. With the end of the civil wars in 1652 came the need to restore the legal and ecclesiastical spheres. A Parliament subsequently named ‘Barebones’, instated in July 1653, lasted barely long enough to approve Cromwell’s election as Protector, an appointment welcomed by Milton but deplored by the Fifth Monarchists. Levellers and New Levellers, who set up forms of kolkhoz in Surrey, were wiped out; foreign courts sniffed suspiciously; Charles II was biding his time; royalist Ireland was rebelling, and Scotland was horrified by the treatment meted out to Presbyterians in an army dominated by Independents, and secretly considered the possibility of reaching an advantageous agreement with the king. After defeating the Irish in August 1649 (the massacre of Drogheda), Cromwell returned home to the praise of Marvell, whose protector, Fairfax, however, gave up his command of the troops when Cromwell marched against the Scots, who had indeed made a pact with the king to the effect that, if reinstated, he would allow the clauses of the Covenant. The Scots were defeated, and Charles forced to flee in September 1651. In the summer of the following year Cromwell declared war on the Dutch with a Navigation Act which imposed restrictions on the entry of Dutch goods into England. On the home front the army in disarray invoked either an oligarchic government of ‘saints’ or a reformed Parliament. In April 1653 an exasperated Cromwell dissolved the ‘Rump’ and became from then on sole dictator of republican England. Yet he was a dictator who regulated ecclesiastical appointments, ← 11/I | 12/I → levied taxes, formally kept Catholics under close scrutiny without persecuting them, and summoned and dissolved other parliaments. He also selected as regional commanders men of proven and boundless loyalty. Death took him (1658) when his star was beginning to fade. In 1654 he had survived an attack on his life, and refused the new Parliament’s offer of the royal crown; an expedition against the Spaniards in the Caribbean was largely unsuccessful. In a matter of a few years he had become a cynical and Machiavellian dictator; of the cheering crowd he would say, echoing Shakespeare, ‘these very persons would shout as much if you (General Lambert) and I were going to be hanged’.13 Overall, Cromwell was above all one of the greatest military leaders of all time, and, according to the English, second only to Marlborough or Wellington. His overriding aim was to promote the Protestant cause in Europe and to favour English colonists wherever they went. He may therefore be seen as the first conscious imperialist, and responsible for restoring England’s prestige among the European powers. His tolerant version of Puritanism, too, should be seen in a new light, though the English tend to overstate his much trumpeted freedom of conscience, from which only Catholics were excluded! He was a lodestar for Marvell and Milton and became an inspiration for future writers, not only English, in poetry, the novel and the theatre. Contemporary historians and those immediately following were divided in their judgement according to their religious and political beliefs. In the eighteenth century he was execrated by Whigs and Tories alike. Carlyle made him the model of his heroic, Romantic conception of history, which justified even massacre in the name of palingenetic ideals and aims. The repercussions of Cromwell’s rule on the cultural life of the nation are inescapable: not only did the Puritans call a complete halt to all theatrical performances, deemed ‘frivolous’, but at Oxford and Cambridge they presented the dons with an ultimatum: either they signed the Covenant which asserted the supreme authority of Parliament and limited the rights of the king, or they would be expelled. The objective was the puritanization of the nation’s culture (compare the ‘fascistizzazione’ of the state in Italy in 1925). Many teachers ← 12/I | 13/I → pre-empted the expected blow and escaped, first to royalist Oxford, then to France in the wake of the Queen, Henrietta Maria, who was already safely installed in Paris, where she extended her protection to those caught up in this temporary diaspora. From 1640 to 1660 literature became particularly militant, with writers becoming secretaries or government officials, either collaborating with the new regime, like Marvell and Milton, or choosing exile with the royalists. Cowley was the first to write a contemporary poem on the Civil War, and then to plan, begin but then abandon his Davideis, after taking from the Bible a ‘type’ of history then unfolding, the deadly quarrel between David and Saul, the latter representing Cromwell and inspired by the figure of Satan in the first diabolic council.
8. At the death of Cromwell, his son Richard proved to be incapable of taking on the role of Protector; the army was against him, and put forward their own candidate, an insignificant figure. Richard ended up by fleeing to France, where he lived under an alias (though he died in England in 1712). But why did Parliament, inexplicably, invite Charles II to return? Because it was feared that radicalism would rear its head again and haunt the country; because discord broke out between the two generals of the army, resulting in the victory of the one representing the moderate Presbyterian faction which favoured a monarchy that was willing to come to terms; and because the army’s political role was no longer predominant. In 1661, on the anniversary of the beheading of Charles I, the bodies of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw (his right hand men) were disinterred; their severed heads were displayed in front of Westminster Hall. Charles II was recalled, on the assurance (the Declaration of Breda) that he would pay salaries and arrears to the army, allow freedom of conscience, and regulate the selling and purchase of land14 – in order to restore not a personal monarchy but a parliamentary one. The King’s Council was made up of officials of the former Protectorate. The Scottish and Irish Parliaments were restored, many post-1642 laws were repealed, the bishops returned to their sees from abroad with greater powers than before, and the Laudian Book of ← 13/I | 14/I → Prayer was enforced, albeit with slight regional modifications. With a certain amount of discretion Charles chivvied local authorities to ensure their support for him, to control the farther-flung parts of the country and to influence the choice of members of Parliament. In other words, he broke the chain that Elizabeth had forged to link the Privy Council with local councils and justices of the peace. Persecuted Dissenters found a new institutional identity in the Whigs, while the Tories stood for the national status of the Anglican Church.15 The Whig party arose from a strange mixture of Puritanism and neo-rationalism. We shall see more clearly in the following section how the Royal Society gave rise to a huge amount of scientific research, and contributed to the separation of science from religion. On the cultural plane, for the first time in twenty years the theatres re-opened, but with significant functional changes.16 On a sociological level, consumers welcomed new goods on the English market, the production in series began of clothes and objects, local arts and crafts grew apace, the first regular coach service revolutionized travel within the kingdom. A town-based bourgeoisie, often called a ‘pseudo-nobility’, gained strength, creating relationships with the landed aristocracy, often becoming its partner: vicars, doctors, lawyers, administrators, as well as army and naval officers. The first weekly newspaper was published, the work of John Houghton and Roger L’Estrange, which advertised books, auctions, inventions and miscellaneous news.
9. Charles II, tall and dark-skinned, was an athlete, horseman, hunter, as well as an affable and incorrigible libertine, who appropriately fathered ← 14/I | 15/I → a number of illegitimate children but none within wedlock. Known as the ‘merry monarch’, he was indeed popular and well-loved by his subjects; the care-free pleasure-seeking atmosphere of his reign, which owed much to the court of Louis XIV, was only temporarily disturbed by two national disasters: the plague of 1665 (68,000 dead in London in one year) and the Great Fire of London a year later (eighty-four churches destroyed, amongst which St Paul’s, subsequently rebuilt by Wren). Religious controversy was far from dead, although Charles did his best to maintain the balance between opposing forces. He promised to pardon the Puritans as soon as he came to power in 1660, but in fact resumed the persecution of Dissenters; this was entirely logical, since the Parliament was royalist. In spite of his Catholic leanings, Charles ratified laws against religious freedom, and made it necessary to belong to the Anglican Church in order to obtain public office. The opportunity was missed to turn England into a religiously tolerant nation, which would have made her stronger, not weaker. The fault lay both with the Anglicans and the intransigent Puritans. His foreign policy, too, was confused and contradictory. His need of money led him to take sides with France; he declared war on the Low Countries in 1665–1667 and 1672–1674, the motivation being the usual trade disputes and the American colonies, without winning either time (also because, as Dryden remarked, the outcomes of war were dependent on the two national disasters already mentioned). In 1667 Dutch vessels had sailed up the Thames creating panic until peace was declared. After the fall of Clarendon, the despicable social-climber Buckingham formed a ministry together with four other noblemen, whose initials, together with his, spelled the word ‘Cabal’. The Cabal ministry was forced to resign in 1674 after the third Anglo-Dutch war. Charles then formed an alliance with Sweden and the Low Countries in order to hinder French activity in Holland, while, shortly after, signing an agreement with Louis XIV to reinstate Catholicism in England as state religion. By 1674 Charles’s Parliament flaunted pugnaciously republican tendencies while his court oozed Catholicism from every pore. Some small colonial gain had been made at the expense of the Low Countries, but this, together with the fruits of the alliance with France in terms of subsidies, was insufficient payback for the king’s adventurous policies. Further obstacles were raised by the new minister, Danby, and Parliament. A hugely important ← 15/I | 16/I → event was the marriage of Mary, daughter of the king’s brother, James, to William of Orange.17 Charles died a Catholic in 1680, proof of the victory of France, just after the discovery of yet another alleged Papist plot (Titus Oates), which sent a shiver through the nation, and led to purges and executions of Catholics, as well as to the rise of Shaftesbury and Buckingham, who presented to Parliament the Exclusion Bill (with special reference to the future James II), which is the central theme of Dryden’s famous satire.18 The last years of his reign were marked by bitter disputes between the two parties, for and against the king, by another far-fetched plot to assassinate him, and by new revolutionary, Cromwellian conspiracies.
10. James II, unlike his brother, was haughty, pedantic, attached to etiquette, and just as libertine though less discerning. Before his accession he had married the daughter of Clarendon. The second openly Catholic monarch of England (the first being ‘Bloody Mary’), he had a distinguished career as an officer in both the French and Spanish armies, and, after the Restoration, reformed and governed the navy in attacks against the Low Countries. He converted secretly to Catholicism in 1671, and persuaded his wife to do the same, but his two daughters, Mary and Anne, were raised as Protestants. On the death of his first wife, he married the Catholic Princess Maria of Modena. He personally summoned the priest who administered extreme unction to his dying brother. All this induced the Protestants to demand his exclusion from the throne. Once king, he bullied a weak Parliament into handing over the money they had denied his brother. He punished severely those who took part in two failed rebellions (one led by the illegitimate son of Charles II, Monmouth, who was executed). But he lost the favour of his people by showing quite clearly his intention to bring back Catholicism as the state religion: key roles in the army, navy ← 16/I | 17/I → and judiciary were already occupied by Catholics. Parliamentary activity, now reduced to a relationship between the king’s plenipotentiary and Parliament, gradually ground to a halt. Parliament’s deficiencies were made up for by the scrupulous work of local authorities. The point of no return was reached when James’s pro-Catholic policies were no longer tolerable, and it was clear that the king had lost the support of the country. The Anglicans reached out to William of Orange.19 In February 1689, the Whigs scored an important point: the office of the king was to be elective, not by divine right, which meant that the king could be deposed if he ruled badly. The Clarendon Code was abrogated, and measures were approved with guaranteed greater, if not yet total, religious freedom. This led to discontent in some quarters (seven bishops refused to swear allegiance to James).20 It is only slightly paradoxical that the Parliament’s decision to depose James and crown William was approved by the Pope, Innocent XI, since the choice of William meant that England would be removed from the French sphere of influence.
11. Considered objectively, the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689 is a bundle of inexplicable contradictions: the English people had accepted an openly Catholic king a few years after the end of a civil war against what might be called ‘creeping Catholicism’; a Catholic king married his Protestant daughter to a Protestant, and the daughter of this same king took up arms against her father and dethroned him. Yet no major playwright took ← 17/I | 18/I → up this eminently theatrical plot.21 James II aged rapidly, became overtly pious, and set up his court in exile. Any hopes he may have had of a return to power were shattered by the peace of Ryswick (1697), with which Louis XIV recognized the legitimacy of William as king of England. The Old Pretender, James III, survived many years, causing ever-decreasing ripples in the pool of early eighteenth-century English politics. Interest in the ‘romantic’ aspects of this figure was revived by writers such as Thackeray. The Old Pretender, and his son, ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, stirred nostalgia among the Scots (and particularly in Scott) until the middle of the century (see the Jacobite toast to the ‘king across the water’). With a number of laws, among which the Bill of Rights of 1689, William and Mary placed constraints on the powers of the Crown and sanctioned freedom of religion for all – except Catholics. Never a popular king, William suffered from asthma, tuberculosis, and limped to boot. He stipulated the Great Alliance against France. The course of history might have been changed had William been unsuccessful in his Irish campaign, but it was thanks to help from Louis XIV that James’s attempt to regain power was crushed in the great battle of the Boyne in 1690. After the defeat of the French, the Channel became English again after centuries of French control. In truth, William’s position was always somewhat precarious, and, almost inevitably, the country began to wish for the return of the deposed king, James II, if only he were not a Catholic! Plots, real or imaginary, abounded to get rid of William, who had lost his wife Mary in 1694. Jacobitism was on the rise, and even if James himself died in Calais, the Old Pretender was acknowledged as legitimate king by Louis XIV. The death of the son of the future queen, Anne, raised the prickly question of succession, while, at the death of William in March 1702, on the horizon appeared John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, head of the army in the war against France.
1 Puritanism began as a religious movement but soon took on party political identity: the congregations of Bible readings in chapels were led by leaders of the elite ‘like Communist Party cells in the twentieth century’ (138 of L. Stone’s book, quoted below in n. 8).
2 The last advocate of divine right after the Restoration was Sir Robert Filmer (1588–1653) in Patriarcha, published posthumously in 1680. It was rebutted by Algernon Sidney (1622–1683) and, above all, by Hobbes (§ 68.1 and ASH, 162–3).
3 Which deserves to be studied and placed alongside the various English treatises of aesthetics published at the end of the sixteenth century.
4 For his favouritism towards fellow Scots while he was king of England, see what happened to the playwright Marston (Volume 1, § 107.1 n. 12).
5 Buckingham replaced Robert Carr, Duke of Somerset, as favourite when the latter became embroiled in indiscreet marital affairs.
6 Volume 1, § 136. It was Gondomar who plotted for the king’s son, the future Charles II, to marry the Infanta of Spain. Parliament protested, but nonetheless Charles travelled to Madrid in 1623 to decide whether or not to contract the marriage. Nothing came of it. The ‘Overbury affair’ was a scandal with far-reaching consequences: Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, divorced from her husband, Robert Devereux, in order to marry Robert Carr, on the grounds that the marriage had not been consummated; a panel of ladies was formed to carry out a gynaecological examination (it is possible that some other woman took the place of the Countess). In 1616 Thomas Overbury, who had opposed the divorce, was murdered; the newlyweds were tried and found guilty, but subsequently pardoned by the king.
7 § 34.2.
8 L. Stone, The Causes of the English Revolution 1529–1642, London 1972.
9 Papers taken from Wentworth revealed plans and manoeuvres to land an Irish army to crush the Scottish rebels; with Laud, the Irish governor was imprisoned in the Tower, where both were executed in 1641 and 1645.
10 For a complete list see ASH, 28ff.
11 § 25.3.
12 Some writers (Lilburne, Walwyn, Overton, Winstanley) did in fact put forward ideas not far from communism (cf. ASH, 110–12), or, rather, ‘Christian socialism’, which was to come back into fashion among the Victorians. Many of the above became Quakers.
13 ASH, 93.
14 Not all royalist landowners were compensated for land bought by the Puritans at ridiculously low prices; these measures created new Whig landowners but made a lot of Tories unhappy.
15 The use of these ideological and political labels became stabilized when the Parliament of James II split in two, the ‘Abhorrers’ siding with James and the ‘Petitioners’ against him. Etymologically the name ‘tories’ may be traced back to ‘Irish bandits’ who supported the landed aristocracy and the royal prerogative and who were distinguished by non-resistance to the Crown. The term ‘whigs’, instead, goes back to ‘Scottish peasants’, who supported the progressive mercantile class, were against royal absolutism and favourable to religious tolerance. More precisely, ‘whig’ is a shortened form of ‘whiggamore’, supporters of the Presbyterian cause in Scotland, and averse to the handing over of the crown to James II.
16 § 46.1.
17 ASH, 138–9, opines that this was a slap in the face of France, as Charles II, after all, had gained a very small subsidy from Louis XIV compared to his considerable needs, and that he aspired to become Europe’s arbiter. On the contrary, European diplomatic transactions in 1677 caused a reduction of British prestige and spread in the nation, once again, the fear that a form of Catholic despotism might be introduced.
18 § 51.2. One of the better laws passed concerned legal guarantees, usually known as Habeas Corpus.
19 France was spoiling for war and threatened the Low Countries, which obviously feared the intervention of England. In January 1688, six English regiments were withdrawn from Holland, leaving her much weaker. The final straw was the unexpected birth of an heir to the throne. A letter urging the invasion of England was delivered to William by an admiral disguised as a deckhand. Hasty concessions made by the English king served no purpose, and on 5 November 1688, the Dutch fleet, joined by English and Scottish exiles, landed in Torbay, meeting no resistance. William was determined to return England to the Protestant fold and ensure the right of succession of his wife, Mary.
20 Non-jurors: bishops led by Sancroft, who refused to violate the oath of allegiance made to James II.
21 Possibly only the poet, Anne Finch, Lady Winchilsea (§ 105), made any reference to the ‘theft’ of the throne by his daughter and her foreign husband, appealing to all those who loved their country (cf. her elegy on the death of James II).
It goes without saying that English literature from 1601 to 1660 – excluding the theatre up to 1642, which is dealt with in Volume 1 of this History – does not include the novel, and that the principal genres are, in order of importance, poetry, religious and political tracts, polemical pamphlets, sermons and philosophical essays. In a very real sense, the most important literary work of the period is anonymous or collective, and a translation – that of the Bible, published in 1611, fruit of the labours of a team of scholars appointed by James I. All together, these genres present numerous epistemic and ideological motifs, ipso facto giving rise to a literary landscape enriched by the products of the conflicts underlying it. Broadly speaking, two schools of thought predominate in the seventeenth century and form the background to its literature: atheism (with its offshoots of materialistic hedonism and rationalism) and fideism. Materialism branches into science, experimentalism, naturalism and Ramism, the sworn enemy of Aristotelian philosophy. Fideism is Neo-Platonic, Anglican, Puritan, Catholic, not to mention numerous other denominations and sects. None of the above-mentioned can be fitted neatly into a particular poetic or prose genre. In general, scientific materialism lies in the province of the philosophical essay, where at times it is even reconciled with fideism; it may, however, appear in a purely poetic context. Hedonism ties up with erotic, or Cavalier, poetry. On the other hand, the presence of fideism can be found in various genres, mainly poetic, and Neo-Platonism is a pervasive element in every kind of seventeenth-century religious poetry. On a European level, the terms of reference are concettismo, Baroque and Mannerism. The gradual transition to the Augustan age is foreshadowed in Cowley, Denham and Waller. Poetic imagination measures up against science, and, weakened almost to extinction, will only be fully restored in the Romantic Age. Until Milton, short poetic compositions abound, but the ‘large, grand poem’ is absent, though there are plenty of long ones, mostly the work of the followers of Spenser.
2. It might be argued that poetry dominates the seventeenth-century literary scene mainly because of a lack of rival genres (leaving out Herbert, Marvell and Milton). There is a gap of nearly fifty years between, on the one hand, Spenser and Sidney, and the first significant Caroline poets on ← 19/I | 20/I → the other. Donne lived on until 1631, but only as a preacher. In political terms, ‘Cavalier’ refers to the supporters of Charles I and the monarchy in general; in literary terms it indicates the court poets, usually of noble family, whose verses are characterized by neoclassical clarity and elegance of style, and by moral laxity and, often, profanity, in the content. Behind the four main exponents – Carew, Suckling, Lovelace, plus Herrick with reservations – lies the refinement, concision and balance of Jonson’s poetry. Cavalier verse finds its opposite in Metaphysical poetry, which is, however, not content (or not only content) but a poetic style, so that it is possible to find, for example in Donne, erotic content couched in a Metaphysical style. Metaphysical poetry is usually said to begin with Donne, though elements of the style can be seen in Elizabethan poets. Initially the word ‘metaphysical’ was used in a derogatory sense – as a kind of nickname. A much-used synonym was the expression ‘strong lines’, indicating brevity, concentration, the use of ingenious but appropriate conceits. Both terms implied a vivid, real life experience behind the poetic composition. Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery by Rosemond Tuve,1 still today the most detailed study of imagery in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poetry, suggests that Renaissance writers already had an organic concept of poetic composition, according to which the meaning was not a nucleus in prose embellished by decorative elements, as stated in many contemporary aesthetic theories. Metaphysical poetry is grounded in logic, and indeed is often a ‘poetry of definition’. Ramist logic is the basis of Metaphysical poetry when the direction of the argument is ‘from the particular to the universal’, or when the poem hinges on a disjunctive syllogism. One chapter of Tuve’s book is dedicated to Henry King and his poetry based on definition, differentiation and discrimination, and corroboration or proof through similitude. Her last chapter deals with the didactic element in seventeenth-century poetry, where ‘didactic’ is not to be understood in a merely literal sense. As T. S. Eliot observed, everything in this poetry is theoretically fused together, so that it is impossible to separate ‘poetry’ from ‘reasoning’. The Metaphysical becomes ← 20/I | 21/I → Baroque in the mingling of sacred and profane love, in the fantasizing on death and in its eschatological fixation.2 Furthermore, Metaphysical poetry is conceptual while Baroque verse clearly shows strong affinities with the figurative arts.
3. The religious poetry of seventeenth-century England is tri-polar: Anglican, Puritan and Catholic; and in form and style, as well as perception, it may be Metaphysical, Baroque or indeed Cavalier, with reference to Jonsonian concision. The main stimulus for the seventeenth century’s collective imagination was the King James Bible, with the result that a good half of the books published between 1600 and 1640 were of a religious nature (rather like the situation in the Victorian age). Literacy levels had risen, and if there were as yet no newspapers in the modern sense of the word, there were plenty of preachers, some extemporary, in the streets and market squares, not just in the churches and chapels. The Quakers later maintained that one did not need to be ordained to preach according to one’s belief. Puritanism became synonymous both with holy living in the fear of the Lord and with rabid anti-Catholicism. The typical Puritan read the Bible every day, prayed, kept a spiritual diary, catechized. More and more merchants and shopkeepers tended to become Puritans for economic, rather than purely spiritual, reasons; that is, to compromise Spanish supremacy on the high seas, which was in fact tolerated, not to say encouraged by monopolies that the king had awarded to his favourites. Though politically speaking it lasted only twenty years, Puritanism left indelible marks on the country; ‘Puritan Sunday’ cast its gloomy shadow right up to the time of Dickens and Ruskin; deeper and more lasting was the effect on the American mentality. But only the most unsophisticated and extreme ← 21/I | 22/I → Puritans were hostile to the arts and to entertainment, and the Great Tew circle is witness to tolerance and mutual respect across ideological divisions.3 The flourishing of English poetry in the seventeenth century has no precedents and may be compared only with that of the thirteenth century; but explicitly Puritan verse is less frequent than Anglican or Catholic poetry; Marvell’s work is not only Puritan, Milton transcends all limitation, and Bunyan has become a household name as a preacher and story-teller.
4. L. L. Martz and Barbara Kiefer Lewalski are the authors of two well-known, conflicting interpretations of seventeenth-century religious poetry tout court. In The Poetry of Meditation4 Martz argues that there is a great deal of the Catholic and crypto-Catholic in the Anglicanism of the first third of the century, and that the meditative spirituality of the principal Anglican poets was influenced by Italian, French and Spanish spiritual treatises translated and published secretly in England. The Ignatian model of meditation not only does not exclude, but belongs together with the treatises on rhetoric and logic studied by Tuve, as the author himself admits. Before Donne, one writer who certainly was familiar with these texts was the now neglected poet William Alabaster (1567–1640), suspected of Catholicism and author of sonnets in manuscript which bring to mind the Donne of the Holy Sonnets. Indeed, Alabaster anticipates various aspects of Jesuit meditation, so that the expression ‘the school of Donne’ appears to be something of a misnomer, since the founder of the school is Alabaster. Thus Martz discovers a seventeenth-century Catholic England which is larger than was thought, and from which it is not at all true that the Counter-Reformation was absent. The first consequence of the use in poetry of the Catholic meditative technique is the visual method, in, for example, the ‘graphic’ opening lines of the poems by Donne or Herbert. So Martz defines Donne’s Holy Sonnets as ‘parts of an exercise […] transposed into an explicitly poetic form’. The structure of the Petrarchan sonnet, 4–4–6, may be taken as a model also for the analogy with Ignatian ← 22/I | 23/I → meditation. Loyola’s meditation was complex and demanding, and so a simplified contemplative technique, elaborated by St Francis of Sales and by his disciple Camus, gained popularity in England. Another text that had a great influence on poetry was St Bonaventure’s Meditations on the Life of Christ, which entailed the imaginary dramatization of every single detail of the life of Christ. The meditations focus on both the divine and the human in the nature of Jesus. The cult of the Virgin, too, was practised clandestinely and openly by Herbert and Vaughan. The practice of the Dominican rosary and the ‘little crown of the Virgin Mary’, launched by Southwell, was taken up by Donne. Martz sees all this as a split between Scholasticism and meditative, mystical trends; an amalgam, in short, of the emotional and the rational. But the essential point is that for Martz ‘self-examination’ is a Catholic rather than Puritan trait; indeed a Jesuit one, and included in the Spiritual Exercises. In the context of tract literature, Lorenzo Scupoli’s Combattimento spirituale is relevant on this score, establishing as it does ‘a kind of Catholic Puritanism’. Herbert is ‘Salesian’ in feeling no repugnance for death. The few Puritan spiritual tracts that Martz examines would have been quite extraneous to the Catholic genre, and this because of the Calvinist doctrine of grace. Particularly alien to the Puritans was the Ignatian technique of compositio loci. The Puritans revered Christ the Redeemer, the Catholics the infant Jesus and the Nativity (like Crashaw, and like Milton too). Martz points out that the Puritan Richard Baxter (The Saints Everlasting Rest, 1650) cautiously indicates and recommends meditative methods similar to those of the Counter-Reformation, above all the need for sensory assistance. Objections to Martz were raised particularly in Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric by Kiefer Lewalski.5 Everything is turned upside down: those elements that Martz associated with Catholicism (the paradigm of ‘sin and salvation’, the fluctuations in mood, the Deus absconditus) are re-interpreted in a Protestant light, and traced in Protestant tracts and Biblical compendiums that underlined the centrality of the Psalms as poetry. The Bible itself was a source of tropes that would be used in contemporary poetry: sin as sickness, ← 23/I | 24/I → darkness or slavery; the Christian life as a pilgrimage, or as a garden, with God as the gardener; the building of the Temple. But compared to the Catholics, the Protestants limit the proliferation of the ‘senses’ and condemn the abundance of allegories, favouring the bare, literal text. Concluding her counter-arguments, Lewalski goes so far as to find in Herbert ironic barbs against Ignatian meditation. On the other hand, ornament and wit were held to be an integral part of the Bible, the style of which was to be imitated as an insuperable model of eloquence and rhetoric. As a synthesis of these two antithetical books, let me repeat what I said at the beginning: different factors from different sources mingle and mix so completely that it becomes almost impossible to distinguish which is which. Emblems and emblem poetry served Catholics and Anglicans alike, and Puritans too, and its extraordinary, superior, primeval power of persuasion,6 based on the symbiosis of text and image, kept everyone happy. In the end the relationship between image and text was inverted, with the words becoming the fundamentals and the image an added extra.
5. It is equally indispensable to define English seventeenth-century poetry in its relation to the three or four aesthetic and epistemic sensibilities that permeate and mould the development of the arts on the Continent: the Renaissance, the late Renaissance, Mannerism, and the Baroque. These labels are notoriously difficult to pin down, and allude to some dominant components which are clear and others which are variable and less distinct, difficult to place chronologically (and, in the case of Mannerism and the Baroque, often allotted inverted time slots depending on points of view and the culture of individual countries). In A Social History of Art,7 Arnold Hauser proposed the most obvious genetic transition by observing that Renaissance classicism was brief and fragile, and Mannerism picked up the signs of crisis and disintegration, reacted to its formalism and for this reason remained anchored to the preceding style, instead of developing new ideas of reality. The manneristic ‘open’ text is revealed in clearer signs of ← 24/I | 25/I → conflict in its rhetoric, in the prevalence of antitheses and oxymora, in an unsettling sense of the infinite (Pascal’s frisson), and in the tension present in even calm and peaceful scenes. In a topological context, too, spatial unity is shattered, and centre and periphery are inverted. The identification of Mannerism with several anti-classical anomalies of form – such as the mixing of plot-lines, irrationality, eccentricity, digressiveness, lack of structural unity, discarded material – swells the bounds of the category and turns even Sterne into a mannerist ante litteram (147ff.). For Hauser, Shakespeare is a mannerist, perhaps even the main English representative of the category; and since Mannerism and the Baroque are like father and son, or brother and sister, he is also a baroque mannerist or vice versa, without there being any contradiction in terms. Page 178 of Hauser gives a list of contrasts – formal, structural, linguistic and stylistic – to support his diagnosis. As for chronology, Mannerism may be seen as preceding, contemporary with, or even later than the Baroque (103). In terms of the social history of art, Mannerism was a court phenomenon which spread throughout Europe, achieving an international status second only to the earlier Gothic fashion; the Baroque is rooted in the people and is largely an emotional and theatrical phenomenon. Baroque brought painters into the ecclesiastical fold and made religion more attractive and persuasive. Court Mannerism undoubtedly is an expression of the Counter-Reformation, but this is even more true of Baroque that aimed to revive the faith of the ordinary people. As an example of the chronological precedence of Italian Mannerism – which is complex, intellectual and cold, and is followed by a sensual Baroque, hot and passionate, addressed to the masses rather than to the intellectual elite – Hauser cites the Carraccis, great simplifiers, and the whole Roman Baroque culture with its reference points of Pietro da Cortona, Rubens and Bernini. Mannerism is, in any case, homogeneous, while the Baroque takes on various forms according to where it is practised.
6. In the wider but more disorderly panorama presented by G. R. Hocke8 we find a repetition of the general thesis that Mannerism is tension and torsion, above all ideological, psychic and stylistic. Hocke too ← 25/I | 26/I → tends to see Baroque as proceeding from and developing into Mannerism rather than the other way round. Baroque was attenuated Mannerism, but a Mannerism which in turn was destined to decline and become a patched-up version of itself. Compared with other studies of mannerist culture, that of Hocke must be credited with linking artistic phenomena with the manuals by Tesauro or Gracián, which theorized and recommended composition in code, verbal labyrinths, cryptography, and, above all, any creative method in which the acoustic, verbal or puzzle effects overshadow the content. Another merit of this book is to include Greek and Asian culture – seen as opposite poles – as possible distant cradles of Mannerism.9 A third merit is to have identified connections with Hermetism, absent in Baroque. The principal exponent of Mannerism is Giambattista Marino, who owes much to the Florentine Neo-Platonists, who in turn are versed in cabalistic alchemy and the arcana of the Hebrew alphabet (it may be remembered that the Runic alphabet was endowed with similar metaphysical, occult value). From the time of the ancient Egyptians and the Old Testament Hebrews, the letters of the alphabet were considered to be of divine origin. mannerist semantics, esoteric and secret, expresses itself in the permutation and reassembling of letters; Hocke cites the famous Shakespearean tongue-twister from Love’s Labour’s Lost, ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus’, as containing a mysterious coded message. The premise of mannerist cryptography is that the letters of the alphabet are secret divine messages that can be read if combined in the correct way. However, the real question for the student of seventeenth-century English poetry is how much attention it receives from students of seventeenth-century European literature, what results emerge from analyses carried out using Hocke’s litmus tests, and what kind of prospective affiliations appear possible. Judging from Hocke’s study, it might seem at first that there is, in fact, not much in the way of English Mannerism to be found, and in particular that, in the great period of European Mannerism – the second half of the seventeenth century – there is no English benchmark figure. Hocke ← 26/I | 27/I → mentions Donne and Shakespeare only by the way, and completely omits any reference to Herbert,10 the closest there is to a mannerist. So, he takes a great leap forward to Hopkins, who, he says, must have known Gracián in depth. ‘In Hopkins echoic lines abound. His poetry is a treasure chest of formal mannerisms’, he says. In reality, Hocke later postulates the existence of a group of genuine mannerists – Shakespeare, Crashaw, Hopkins and, above all, Joyce. The last two are, of course, not seventeenth-century writers. The witticisms or euphuisms of Romeo and Juliet are re-branded Mannerism, and he finds traces of ‘alchemic-Hermetic elements’ everywhere in Shakespeare. He goes on to say that Shakespeare presents an evolution from an early mannerist period to later Baroque. John Dee (1527–1608) is one of the few known practitioners of Hermetic Alexandrianism, and, according to Hocke, was revered by the English Metaphysicals. Hocke’s book, incidentally, is not without flaws, of which the most serious is the widening of the term ‘mannerist’ so that it no longer refers to a specific, circumscribed artistic phenomenon of the mid-seventeenth century, but is freed of all constraints of time and place and comes to mean ‘dazzling verbal acrobatics’, especially with a touch of the occult thrown in. Hocke is clearly an admirer of Mario Praz, indeed a learned acolyte whose main achievement seems to be the piling up of examples or mere aphorisms – often left unglossed – by writers who, by this very inclusion, automatically become mannerists, without any reasoned justification being given. Some of his short chapters on Mannerism in music are interesting, the essence of which would appear to be what comes between the musical form of the ricercare (without a central point, and ‘alogical’ in so far as it expresses freedom from fixed norms) and the Baroque fugue with its strict structural rules. It is, however, surprising, to say the least, that a follower in the footsteps of Praz should fail to examine the phenomenon of Mannerism in the visual arts.
7. The so-called ‘Cambridge Platonists’ were in search of an alliance between philosophy and religion.11 One of them, Herbert of Cherbury, examined the concept of ‘universal consensus’, which is inborn and given ← 27/I | 28/I → to us by God as the basis of truth. This was tantamount to studying the elements common to all religions, starting with the fact that religion itself is common to all peoples and in all ages. John Smith, much admired by Matthew Arnold, maintained that God is a form of transcendental consciousness deriving from sensations: other Platonists like Cudworth and More, going against Hobbes, proclaimed the real existence of God and the soul. Joseph Glanville, on whom Arnold based his ‘scholar gipsy’, was a natural theologian who paved the way for Thomas Browne. Although Milton had met Galileo in Florence, nonetheless, for impelling poetic needs, the universe he presents in Paradise Lost is largely Ptolemaic; this points to a situation of angst and instability similar to Donne’s many years before. Thomas Browne himself is capable of extremely modern intuitions along with disconcerting, childish leftovers from the Middle Ages. Renaissance individualism is counterbalanced by a sense of human limitations. The poetics of the time made a clear distinction between the mythological poets of antiquity, who dressed truth up in fine fables, and modern poets who denounced their demise. The threat of a possible obsolescence of poetic imagination, and the decline of poetry itself, was to haunt the early Victorians after being discounted by the Romantics. Macaulay’s famous aphorism comes to mind, in which he states that poetry declines as civilization progresses. God and the soul were not included in the agenda of the Royal Society, and poetry became philosophy tout court. Fancy was demoted by Hobbes, and ‘judgement’ took its place.12
1 Chicago 1947.
2 In her fine essay, ‘The European Background to Baroque Sensibility’ (PGU, vol. 3, 89–97), the author, Odette De Mourgues, creates the identikit of a certain kind of English Baroque poet who wrote, she says, as if suffering from mental contortions and from paroxysms of sensuality, subject to Montaignesque mood swings, and pervaded by symptoms of crisis in contrast with Renaissance harmony. The author admits that England did have some well-balanced minds, but deems that these were outnumbered by this species of mad poet, delirious, visionary and with no sense of proportion.
3 In this Oxfordshire mansion, owned by Lord Falkland, churchmen and writers of various confessions retreated in the 1630s to meditate and debate in a spirit of harmony.
4 New Haven, CT 1954.
5 Princeton, NJ 1979.
6 Studied, for example, in its expressive and semiotic mechanisms, in L. Innocenti, Vis Eloquentiae, Palermo 1983.
History of English Literature is a comprehensive, eight-volume survey of English literature from the Middle Ages to the early twenty-first century. This reference work provides insightful and often revisionary readings of core texts in the English literary canon. Richly informative analyses are framed by the biographical, historical and intellectual context for each author.
Volume 3 begins with Jacobean poetry and prose, explores Milton’s great biblical epic and moves on to the licentious court poetry of the Restoration period. The early and mid-eighteenth century came then to be dominated by the Neo-Classical and the Augustan style. A few decades later, the novel debuted with Defoe and underwent a rapid development with a range of proposals of astonishing difference and divergence, such as those of Swift, Fielding and Sterne. At the end of the century the Romantic poets gave rise to the densest period of great figures and great works in English literature since the Elizabethan age.