The Great Tudors
The Great Tudors
This book has no unity in the accepted sense, for it was imagined by one person, planned by another, and executed by forty-one more, each in his individual mood. Yet it has the unity in variety of any large and loose design whose effect depends upon the massing and interrelation of several entities. An impression of shadowy and patchwork grandeur emerges from the collection of forty essays dealing with a critical period of English history; but the rhythm is sustained just as in a folk-dance where the dancers, sometimes as many as forty, step through a series of figures until gradually, apparently almost by accident, they act out the complete sequence of the music. But here every man danced as it seemed to him fit. The only connecting links were the length of the article, and the links of time, nationality, and interconnection between the different subjects. Various characters appear again and again in more than one essay, and they do not, as they would not in life, always appear in the same light. In some cases, these reappearing figures also have an essay to themselves, Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Marlowe; in others, "little Bilney," Bishop Bonner, they are treated only incidentally for their influence on others. From the whole some idea of the Tudor dispensation emerges.
"Is it to be a learned or a popular book?" someone asked rather pretentiously, clinging to a commonly used but radically false division between historical sheep and goats: as if a book must necessarily be either wantonly scholarly or grimly popular! This one is neither, but a blend of both--just as a good work of art is both classical and romantic. It was designed for a general public in whom some scholars are included; and it was written by a band mainly composed of professional scholars into whose august company some lively or illuminating general writers have, by invitation, intruded. A miserly hugging of expert knowledge will make that knowledge as useless as a diamond blinded in a safe--or as a light hidden under a bushel. Scholars who are sincere in their ends must feel pleasure in addressing themselves comprehensibly to the general reader. Research is essential, but so, as a historical reviewer lately remarked, is interpretation.