« PreviousContinue »
I. It is of the utmost importance that we understand clearly how few were the readers in the latter half of the sixteenth century, how small was the public to which authors could address themselves. The Bible and Bunyan were doubtless widely read; probably Milton's "Paradise Lost" was read by the same people, but this new literature was far removed from the populace. There was but little literary interest. Books could not be printed without a license, and then only by one of the legal printers, and of these there were but twenty-master-printers, that is; and in 1666 there were only 140 working-printers. Moreover, the great fire in London, in that year, destroyed a large number of books. Again, there are statistics to illustrate this between 1666 and (after the fire) June 12, 1680, there were published 3550 books. Of these, 947 treated of theology, the larger number probably being sermons and pamphlets; 420 of law, and 153 of medicine, two fifths thus being special, technical books; 397 were educational books, 253 on geography and navigation, including maps. The number of books of all kinds would then average about 250 a year; but, deducting reprints, pamphlets, tracts, sermons, maps, etc., we may estimate the number, according to Charles Knight,* as less than a hundred a year, and only a few of these belonged to what we
*Quoted by Beljame, "Le Public et les Hommes de Lettres."
may call literature. As Dr. Johnson said in his "Life of Milton," ""the call for books was not in Milton's age what it is at present. To read was not then a general amusement; neither traders, nor often gentlemen, thought themselves disgraced by ignorance. The women had not then aspired to literature, nor was every house supplied with a closet of knowledge. Those, indeed, who professed learning were not less learned than at any other time; but of that middle race of students who read for pleasure or accomplishment, and who buy the numerous products of modern typography, the number was then comparatively small.”
And it was small, probably, in comparison with the numbers of those who were busy readers in the beginning of the century and in the latter half of the previous one. Then every man began to translate from the classic authors, or to rewrite classic stories. Shakspere's "Venus and Adonis" (1593) was but one instance of this. There were Chapman's "Homer" ("Iliad," 1611; "Odyssey," 1615); Marston's "Pygmalion's Image" (1597); Marlowe's "Hero and Leander" (1598), and his "Elegies of Ovid" (1597); Golding's "Metamorphoses" (1565), and Sandys's version of the same (1626). In 1565, Horace's first two Satires were translated by Thomas Colwell; in the next year, two books of the Satires were "Engly shed" by Thomas Drant. A few of the "Odes" in 1621, by John Ashman, and the whole in 1625 by Sir Thomas Hawkins. There was Gavin Douglas's translation of "Vergil," finished in 1513; Surrey's (2d and 4th books), published in 1553;* Phaer's and Twyne's (1558-73); Stanihurst's (1583); Fleming's "Georgies and Bucolies" (1589), in blank verse; and then Dryden's (1697). The list is a long
*The first English blank verse, doubtless written in imitation of that of the Italians, Felice Felignei, and Trissino, whose "Italia Liberata" (vide infra) appeared in 1548.
one, but the whole number of books published then on all subjects was considerable, and at that time the proportion of poems and books about literature was great. As I have said, this enthusiasm for the classics had a great share in inspiring the writers for the stage, and the drama was something of popular interest. But the great bulk of the English people drew inspiration from the Bible. The classics became the property of the learned alone, while Puritanism grew narrower. We may see its course illustrated by what we know of Milton's life. He was brought up amid all the riches of literature; he studied foreign languages and foreign literatures. His father composed music, and Milton was interested in the art; and he brought to the service of Puritanism the flower of the cultivation which was produced by the Renaissance, and published his greatest works after Puritanism had lost its power. He was a sort of living anachronism. He belonged to one age, which he survived; and he had been trained in an earlier one. His education was unpuritan, and his poem was built on the inspiration of the ancients, yet it appeared in the beginning of what we take to be modern times. Not only had the indirect influence of Puritanism been unfavorable to literature; the Civil Wars and Cromwell's rule had really produced a sort of interregnum of about eighteen years, during which poetry and the drama were neglected and nothing flourished but polemical writing, so that Milton stands out in especial prominence as the sole transmitter of earlier traditions.
Various facts have been collected to prove the general lack of education. Milton's eldest daughter did not know how to write; at least, she put a cross where her signature should be. The spelling of Dryden's wife-a lady of noble family-is a sort of unconscious prophecy of the spelling reform. Booksellers, naturally, did not flourish
at this time. In the "Life of the Honourable and Reverend Dr. John North "* (p. 241 et seq.), we find a comparison between the condition of booksellers in 1666 and 1683. At the earlier time, "the shops were spacious and the learned gladly resorted to them, where they seldom failed to meet with agreeable conversation. And the booksellers themselves were knowing and conversible men, with whom, for the sake of bookish knowledge, the greatest Wits were pleased to converse. . . . But now this Emporium is vanished and the Trade contracted into the Hands of two or three Persons, who to make good their Monopoly, ransack, not only the Neighbours of the Trade that are scattered about Town, but all over England, aye, and beyond Sea too, and send abroad their Circulators, and in that Manner get into their hands all that is valuable. The rest of the Trade are content to take their Refuse. . . . And it is wretched to consider what pickpocket work, with Help of the Press, these Demi-booksellers make. They crack their brains to find out selling subjects, and keep hirelings in garrets, on hard meat, to write and correct by the grate; so puff up an octavo to a sufficient thickness," etc., etc. In these distressing circumstances, editions were small, and the prices paid authors low. There were not more than 1500 copies in each edition of Milton, and 1300 copies were sold in two years, the author receiving £5 down, and five more when 1300 were sold (vide Johnson's "Life of Milton"). Doubtless this was a large sale for the time, for, although the poem did not please the court, it evidently found readers elsewhere. And pleasing the court was far from meaning that the writer was rewarded. Butler's "Hudibras " was entirely in the interest of the king and his party, and when the first three cantos ap
* Quoted by Beljame.
peared, at the end of 1662, Lord Buckhurst made it known to the court, and every one was laughing over the story of the Presbyterian justice who endeavored to put down superstition and correct current abuses: the curious mixture of a knight-errant and a pedantic magistrate-a Presbyterian Don Quixote. The king read it, and it became the fashion of the day. Pepys (Dec. 26, 1662) says: "Hither came Mr. Battersby; and we falling into discourse of a new book of drollery in use, called 'Hudibras,' I would needs go find it out, and met with it at the Temple cost me 2s. 6d. : But when I come to read it, it is so silly an abuse of the Presbyter Knight going to the warrs, that I am ashamed of it; and by and by meeting at Mr. Townsend's at dinner, I sold it to him for 18d." On the 6th of February, however, he bought it again: "it being certainly some ill-humour to be so against that which all the world cries up to be the example of wit; for which I am resolved once more to read him and see whether I can find it or no." Another entry, December 10 of the same year, 1663, mentions a visit to a bookseller's, when, by the way, he "could not tell whether to lay out my money for books of pleasure, as plays, which my nature was most earnest in ; but at last" (and this list is certainly curious), "after seeing Chaucer, Dugdale's 'History of Paul's,' Stow's 'London,' Gesner, 'History of Trent,' besides Shakespeare, Jonson and Beaumont's plays, I at last chose Dr. Fuller's Worthies,' the 'Cabbala, or Collection of Letters of State, etc., etc.,' and 'Hudibras,' both parts, the book now in greatest fashion for drollery, though I cannot, I confess, see enough where the wit lies." In general, as Pepys shows, the contrary opinion was held. Every one looked on Butler's fortune as made. As Dr. Johnson puts it, "Every eye watched for the golden shower which was to fall upon the author, who certainly