THE TUDOR RENAISSANCE
THOUGH the fifteenth century was so barren in England, great things were being done elsewhere--the invention of printing, the invention of gunpowder, the discovery of America, and (what concerns us more immediately)the rediscovery of Ancient Greece. Petrarch was the first of the moderns to discern in Classical Antiquity the outlines of a real living civilisation. He himself discerned these things dimly, not having Greek enough to read the original texts. But from about 1400 Greek teachers began to be invited to Italy from Constantinople, and Greek studies made great progress in the peninsula, progress which was accelerated when the fall of Constantinople in 1453 drove many Greek scholars to seek refuge in Italy, bringing their manuscripts with them. A passion for Greek, and with it a new interest in classical as opposed to monkish Latin, fired the rival academies of Naples, Rome, and Florence, and led to that literary and artistic revival which we call the Italian Renaissance. The early Humanists were good Catholics, who saw in Classical Antiquity a preparation for, not a rival to, Christianity; later they became less orthodox.
England, as usual, lagged behind the Continent, but by 1500 Greek was being taught at Oxford. Later Erasmus taught it at Cambridge, where it was fostered by Smith and Cheke, the Sir John Cheke who, as Milton reminds us,
taught Cambridge and King Edward Greek.
Still the study remained academic; it scarcely influenced vernacular literature directly till the days of Spenser and Sidney. But long before that a breath of the Renaissance spring had begun to blow northward from Italy and to thaw the ice of scholasticism, asceticism, pessimism, and formalised emotion which encrusted the dying Middle Ages. We shall call this the First, or Tudor, Renaissance.
Henry VII was too busy establishing his dynasty to do much for let-