Edmund Spenser And The English Reformation -- By: Theodore W. Hunt

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 057:225 (Jan 1900)
Article: Edmund Spenser And The English Reformation
Author: Theodore W. Hunt

Edmund Spenser And The English Reformation

Professor Theodore W. Hunt

A topic of this character is a striking example of the relation of literature to history, civil and ecclesiastical. In fact, so closely connected are these different provinces in the sixteenth century, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to separate them so as to state just where either of them begins or ends, or just where civil history as distinct from ecclesiastical affects the developing literature. We speak of the historical plays of Shakespeare, and yet they are distinctively literary, just as his literary tragedies, such as Hamlet and King Lear, have a decided historical element. Bacon wrote a “History of Henry the Seventh” as a literary author, as did Raleigh, “A History of the World.” So did Hooker, in his “Ecclesiastical Polity,” evince the close relations of the history of the English Church to Elizabethan letters; while Spenser and his school illustrated in all their verse the same affinity between the authorship of the time and the public life of the nation. The application of this historico-literary principle as it relates to Spenser and the Reformation is full of interest, alike to the student of letters and of Christian doctrine and polity. The broader question would be, the Relation of Elizabethan Literature as a whole to the English Reformation. The narrower and yet sufficiently comprehensive question, as we have stated it, will enable us to see the religious character and beliefs of Spenser, and also to see those generic and basal principles that controlled

the Reformation, and which have given it a permanent place in English literary history.

It need scarcely be stated, by way of preface, that, personally, Spenser was a Christian man and author. This is seen in all his writings, in their text and spirit, and may be said to form the controlling undertone of them all. From his “Shepherd’s Calendar” to “The Faerie Queene” we find him intent on doing good, in his verse and prose. The expressed purpose of his longest poem, “to form a noble and virtuous gentleman,” is the implied purpose of every other longer or shorter poem. It is thus that Lowell writes of “The Faerie Queene”: “No man can read it and be anything but the better for it. Through that rude age, when maids of honor drank beer before breakfast, and Hamlet could say a gross thing to Ophelia, he passes serenely abstracted and high, the Don Quixote of poets.” In speaking of his character, Lowell further writes, “that with a purity like that of thrice-bolted snow, he had none of its coldness, and that, often ‘sensuous,’ as Milton would say, he was never sensual.” It is noticeable, that, in so far as he had access to Frenc...

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