THE AGE OF PROSE AND REASON
So far, no one had dared, or at all events cared, to follow Spenser in the great freedom with which he had treated Arthurian stories. Now conditions were more favorable than at any other time to a freedom of treatment equal to his, though unfortunately not accompanied by his poetical inspiration. There came about in the seventeenth century the most extraordinary change in English artistic taste in the whole history of our literature; one even more extraordinary than the counter change of the next century, for that was a return from gods in many ways false to gods indisputably true.
The change in the seventeenth century was a natural result of the Renaissance. As the years passed, classical antiquity, accurate knowledge of which, we have seen, was comparatively new, took on exaggerated importance; and with this went a blindness to all the poetic beauty of the Middle Ages. Meanwhile the transition was going on from mediæval social life to modern social life. Tourneys and pageants had had their day, theatres and ballrooms were growing in favor; feudal castles ceased more and more to be social centres; town society was becoming of ever greater importance; man in relation to his fellow men was a topic of ever-increasing consideration. Mediæval conditions of government, too, were either passing, as in