Early Tudor Poetry, 1485-1547

By John M. Berdan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
HUMANISM

At the same time that some men of the Renaissance were trying to create a new literature by reviving and modifying old medieval forms of verse, others turned to foreign literatures in search of models. This is what was to be expected. In literature there is no protection for the native product; that must compete with foreign importation and is often driven out. Such a catastrophe had fallen upon the alliterative verse forms of Early English poetry; in the fourteenth century they had succumbed before continental verse-forms, which, in turn, had become naturalized, and become English just as the Norman conquerors had become English, and the assimilation was complete. The contest between the established poetry and the foreign, although continuous, is rarely so apparent as in the reign of Henry VII and that of his son. Owing to the break in literary continuity, due to the wars of the fifteenth century, not only were the traditional poetic forms obsolete, but even the very language in which they were written, had changed. When the country was again in a sufficiently peaceful condition to permit of much writing, the question was put to each author what forms to use. Some revived the medieval tradition;1 others experimented in adapting those from the Medieval Latin;2 still others turned to classical Latin for their models. And as the classical Latin writers were pagan, rather than Christian, and dealt with mundane affairs rather than with "divine" theology, their imitators and followers were called humanists.

Humanism may be defined as a revival of interest in classical life and in classical literature. Such an interest may manifest itself in various ways. Some humanists advocated the substitution of Latin for the vernacular as a literary medium. Others felt that English written according to classical principles would be the ideal condition. Still others were satisfied with assimilating the classical attitude toward life. And there were some writers whose human-

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