Зображення сторінки



curious diseases with which a literature was afflicted.

The next important step is to be found in a highly curious book written by George Pettie, and called The Petite Pallace of Pettie His Pleasure (1576), now very

But it is more than a literary curiosity, for it shows what was to be English originality in this form of fiction. The Petite Pallace is another story collection. Pettie took his plots at random, with a preference for classic stories, but, as was the custom in Italy, worked them out with every emphasis upon intrigues in love. His chief interest, however, was in ideas, and in every kind of argument for which his story could give an excuse.

He takes the old tale of Admetus and Alcest, retelling it with a maze of love-letters in which the plot is lost. He takes the favorite medieval legend of Alexius, and makes it a vehicle for a discussion as to which is better, study and meditation, or a wife. He writes of Germanicus and Agrippina as an excuse for urging virginity. Furthermore, all this is in a highflown style, employing every rhetorical device that prose allows, and some, such as rhyme and regular rhythm, which even Elizabethan prose did not permit. Pettie was, indeed, Euphuistic; and his more popular and more famous successor, John Lyly, was but little more so in the book which gave our language the word.

It was in Lyly's Euphues (1579-1580) that this strange development reached its culmination. Euphues consists of two parts, through which float innumerable letters, arguments, similes, and allusions upon a scarcely moving stream of narrative. Subtract the plot, and there would still be a great mass of material, such as we might put into conversational essays like those which Lamb liked to write. But the comparison is misleading, for no age since the Elizabethan could have conceived such rhetorical elabora


tion of every topic popular in the Renaissance as makes up Lyly's book. I give an example, chosen from what Lyly seems to have meant to be concise and rapid dialogue. The lover speaks: “ Lady, to make a long preamble to a short sute, wold seeme superfluous, and to beginne abruptly in a matter of so great waight, might be thought absurde: so as I am brought into a doubt whether I should offend you with too many wordes, or hinder my selfe with too fewe. She not staying for a longer treatise brake me offe thus roundly. Gentle-man a short sute is soone made, but great matters not easily graunted, if

your request be reasonable a word wil serve, if not, a thousand will not suffice. Therefore if ther be any thing that I may do you pleasure in, see it be honest, and use not tedious discourses or colours of Rhethoricke, which though they be thought courtly, yet are they not esteemed necessary: for the purest Emerauld shineth brightest when it hath no oyle, and trueth delighteth best, when it is apparayled worst. Alas, "discourses " and colours of Rhethoricke " are the rule, not the exception, in this remarkable volume!

Clearly the story element is on the way to extinction in Euphues; and, indeed, with Lyly, and his chief follower, Robert Greene, the Elizabethan imitation of the Italian novella came to an end. The plots, overweighted with all the learning, the curiosity, and the gossip of the Renaissance, gave way, and this dropsical short story was succeeded by essays, by collections of letters, and by those studies of typical "characters " which made Overbury and Earle famous. Nor is it possible to assign the origin of these popular forms of seventeenth century literature without considering that to some extent they crystallized out of the over-saturated novella; that they were a successful attempt to do with a free hand what the Euphuists were always trying at pauses in their stories.

Thus, to resume, the promising novella, having yielded up its plots to the dramatists, was delivered into the hands of the rhetoricians, who were writers for a society just coming to consciousness. Packed with the spoils of Renaissance learning, elaborated into preciosity, made to serve for everything but the telling of a story, it reached a limit of expansion, and then broke down, like an overcomplex molecule, into constituent elements which formed new and more stable products. Its greatest achievement was Euphues; a book full of wit and sound sense which have to be sought for through the most artificial style ever invented, and a story almost utterly devoid of narrative interest.

In fiction, the romance, as we know it in Lodge's Rosalind, succeeded the short story. The real world of Italy or of England, which had grown dim in Euphues, gave place to an imagined scene in the Orient, the Antarctic, or the coast of Bohemia; and, in freeing themselves from the comparative reality of the Italian novella, the writers also freed themselves from the short story. In the stories of Robert Greene one can watch the transformation from compact Italian novella to loosely plotted Elizabethan romance.


The Euphuized novella went out of fashion at about the end of the sixteenth century, in those years when Shakespeare was satirizing Euphuism in Henry IV, Part I. The short romance of Ford, Breton, Greene, and Lodge, which, in a sense, sprang from it, lasted much longer, was popular, indeed, well on towards the end of the seventeenth century. The so-called “character-books " reached their highest development in the early years of this century. But the “character," though short, is not a short story. Important as were their influence upon the work of the eighteenth-century essayists, and, indirectly, upon the eighteenth-century novelists, these carefully studied analyses by Overbury and Earle of flatterers, pedants, hypocrites, “ roaring boys,” or “a meere fellow of an house," had no plot, no progression, were, in truth, expositions, not stories at all. Yet they are indicative of the change which in the next creative age of fiction was to come over short and long stories alike.

But before we enter upon that eighteenth century, when creativeness began again to have full play, we must not omit to note one strange and interesting manifestation of the vitality of the Renaissance short story. In the years between the death of Charles I and the Restoration of 1660, the vast heroic romances of the French writers of fiction began to be popular in England. With them, as another sign of the substitution of French influence for Italian and Spanish, came also a shorter story, more probable than the extravagant romances, much more unified. Novels ” these stories seem most frequently to have been called. After 1660, translations of them became abundant; imitations followed; and, finally, in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688), a truly original and really excellent example came from an English pen. These novels averaged, perhaps, a hundred pages in length, and in these pages the story got itself finished, an achievement the heroic romance could hardly boast of. The ruffled gallants who exchange compliments with their ladies and sword thrusts with their rivals, the tolerant morality, the elegance, the affectation, the decadent chivalry, are all of the age to which this literature belongs. But in form these stories seem to have been a true development of the Italian novella. They preserve its unified plot—sometimes specific plots; its use of historic background; and its assertion of reality. They are more elaborate in incident; indeed, they are no more short stories in any strict interpretation of the term. Oroonoko, for example, is neither a novel in its scope, nor a short story in its subject. It is such a tale as Bandello or Boccaccio would have told with the brevity and compression of the short story, such a tale as the French, perhaps, would call a nouvelle The history of this "novel " of the seventeenth cen

” tury; the part played by it in conveying French ideals of gallantry to England; its approach to a masterpiece in Mrs. Behn's story of a negro prince enslaved in the new world of South America; its unworthy career in the hands of profligate women in early eighteenth-century England, who wrote with the indecency, but without the wit, of the contemporary drama; most of all its gift to the true novel of Richardson and Fielding of the idea of a unified plot: all this deserves more space than can here be given. For our purpose, it is sufficient to note that with the passing in the mid-eighteenth century of this fashion of writing came the end of the Renaissance short story.



[ocr errors]

Long before the brief "novel " of intrigue had ceased to be popular, a new kind of short narrative had sprung up in England, and this new variety was a true short story. In its fundamental characteristic it was not new; it was

« НазадПродовжити »