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26 June, 2013
Outlines of English and American Literature|
The Prose Writers
by Long, William J.
|Unless one have antiquarian tastes, there is little in Elizabethan prose to
reward the reader. Strange to say, the most tedious part of it was written
by literary men in what was supposed to be a very fine style; while the
small part that still attracts us (such as Bacon's Essays or
Hakluyt's Voyages) was mostly written by practical men with no
thought for literary effect.
This curious result came about in the following way. In the sixteenth
century poetry was old, but English prose was new; for in the two centuries
that had elapsed since Mandeville wrote his Travels, Malory's
Morte d' Arthur (1475) and Ascham's Scholemaster (1563) are
about the only two books that can be said to have a prose style. Then, just
as the Elizabethans were turning to literature, John Lyly appeared with his
Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit (1578), an alleged novel made up of
rambling conversations upon love, education, fashion,--everything that came
into the author's head. The style was involved, artificial, tortured; it
was loaded with conceits, antitheses and decorations:
"I perceive, Camilla, that be your cloth never so bad it will take
some colour, and your cause never so false it will bear some show
of probability; wherein you manifest the right nature of a woman,
who, having no way to win, thinketh to overcome with words.... Take
heed, Camilla, that seeking all the wood for a straight stick you
choose not at the last a crooked staff, or prescribing a good
counsel to others thou thyself follow the worst much like to Chius,
who selling the best wine to others drank himself of the lees."