The Romantic Element In Elizabethan Letters -- By: Theodore W. Hunt

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 067:265 (Jan 1910)
Article: The Romantic Element In Elizabethan Letters
Author: Theodore W. Hunt


The Romantic Element In Elizabethan Letters

Professor Theodore W. Hunt

It is curious,” writes an English author, “to trace the gradual transformation of historical literature. Its earliest type is invariably mythical or legendary and the form in which it then appears is universally poetical.” This semi-historical, or romantic feature, as we shall call it, forms an important one at the very origin of English poetry as national in the days of Chaucer and is visible in marked expression in the Golden Age of English Prose and Verse, and even later still as the history develops. If we look for the explanation of its presence in Elizabethan days, it is not far to find. This opening era of our literature came so early in our national history as modern, and came, in some respects, so suddenly, and in such pronounced fullness of literary product, that there was scarcely time for the gradual transition from the Pre-Elizabethan and somewhat unsettled type to later and more settled forms. Though the age in its mental and literary excellence expressed in one sense the maximum of maturity, the well-developed manhood of the nation, in another sense the English people were as yet but in the freshness and buoyancy of youth, and thus in fullest sympathy with that spirit of romance so germane to the earlier years of national life and letters. No student can rightly read the literature of the sixteenth century

save as he bears this, cardinal fact in mind, that he is dealing with a period that expresses, in one and the same literary product, the marks of maturity and immaturity, of fact and fancy, of history and poetry, of legend and myth, as also of science, philosophy, and didactic verse. Indeed, it is just here that we find one of the peculiar charms of this particular period, not found, to any such extent, in any later era, as the Augustan or Georgian, in each of which more stable and practical social conditions tend to make the literature more and more realistic. The Elizabethan Age is the Golden Age of Romance as well as of Reality, and of these in organic and national union, so that we are saved from both extremes — that of the merely prosaic and the merely poetic. Despite all the substantial literary productions of the century, such as Bacon’s “Advancement of Learning,” Hooker’s “Ecclesiastical Polity,” or Shakespeare’s Historical Plays, — productions, indeed, on which the later superstructure of our literature mainly rests, — we cannot escape the conviction that we are here in a kind of fairy-land, where our imagination may have fullest play, and, yet, without danger of passing out beyond the credible and sensible.

A study of the special Evidences and Effects of t...

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