THE SHORT STORY OF THE RENAISSANCE
ENGLISH literature was at low ebb in the early sixteenth century, and the tide carried the short narrative lowest of all. From Chaucer in the fourteenth to Henryson in the fifteenth century, it had absorbed more than a common share of the genius of the age, but, among the few eminent writers in the succeeding hundred years, none use it. The drift to prose had given the language great models of narrative style in Berners' Froissart and Malory's Morte D'Atrthur, so that the medieval romance gained a respite from oblivion, but the short narrative either remained in verse and became vulgar, or was condensed into rough prose for inclusion in the new jestbooks. In truth, the fabliaux, the exempla, and the fables were stale, flat, and unprofitable for transformation into literature of high quality.
Fresh vigor, indeed, was to be found in only one form of narrative in this dusty period between the first and the second English renaissance. The popular ballad begins to come into the light of history at about this time, and reveals springs of story as refreshing as the degenerate literary tales are flat. But this popular wealth contributed very little to the fiction of the renaissance. Its chief value is lyrical and is better estimated elsewhere.