A History of Elizabethan Literature

By George Saintsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
EARLY ELIZABETHAN PROSE

THE history of the earlier Elizabethan prose, if we except the name of Hooker, in whom it culminates, is to a great extent the history of curiosities of literature--of tentative and imperfect efforts, scarcely resulting in any real vernacular style at all. It is, however, emphatically the Period of Origins of modern English prose, and as such cannot but be interesting. We shall therefore, rapidly survey its chief developments, noting first what bad been done before Elizabeth came to the throne, then taking Ascham (who stands, though part of his work was written earlier, very much as the first Elizabethan prosaist), noticing the schools of historians, translators, controversialists, and especially critics who illustrated the middle period of the reign, and singling out the noteworthy personality of Sidney. We shall also say something of Lyly (as far as Euphues is concerned) and his singular attempts in prose style, and shall finish with Hooker, the one really great name of the period. Its curious pamphlet literature, though much of it, especially the Martin Marprelate controversy, might come chronologically within the limit of this chapter, will be better reserved for a notice in Chapter VI. of the whole pamphlet literature of the reigns of Elizabeth and James--an interesting subject, the relation of which to the modern periodical has been somewhat overlooked, and which indeed has, until Dr. Grosart's recent labours, been not very easy to study. Gabriel Harvey alone, as

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