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COURT INFLUENCE UPON LITERATURE
his father's old favorite, the poet of the “Canterbury Tales." The ladies of this royal house connected their memories with all that was best in the literature of the time. Lady Jane Beaufort, granddaughter of John of Gaunt, inspired the author of the “King's Quhair." ” Her niece, the Countess of Pembroke, mother of Henry VII., was the principal promoter of learning in her generation. Margaret, the sister of Edward IV., who married the Duke of Burgundy, encouraged Caxton in the literary enterprise which led to the introduction of printing into England. Another Margaret, daughter of Henry VII., by her marriage with James IV. of Scotland gave a new tone to the poetry of the Scottish Court. I need not give examples of the
' influence of the Court in literature during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The circle of education began to widen very rapidly after the introduction of the printing-press, and the creative faculty was brought within the reach of many and diverse incitements to produce; capitalists pressed forward eager to divine and satisfy the new demands ; but among the diverse influences on literary production one was always conspicuous, the influence of the Court. Even when, as in the case of the great Shakespearian dramatic literature, writers did not receive their first impulse from the Court, the Court hastened to put the seal of its approbation on the new product. It was an entirely novel and unprecedented situation when the throne was filled by a king who could hardly speak a word of English, and who was entirely destitute of interest in English or any other literature, and it cannot but be interesting to examine what effect, if any, this circumstance bad on literary production. At an earlier stage of literary history, in an earlier state of civilization, the withdrawal of royal patronage would have been like the withdrawal of the sun from the solar system. Did it produce any perceptible effect on the literature of
the eighteenth century? It did not; the centre of
The mere fact that the personal tastes of the king and
COURT INFLUENCE UPON LITERATURE
into two great parties of Whig and Tory, the one eager to keep out, the other to bring back, the exiled family of Stewarts. Cart-loads of pamphlets were written
. to work on the public mind for the one purpose or the other. It is difficult for us in these days to understand the intense, absorbing, passionate character of the political struggles that went on while the succession lay in dispute and uncertainty. A few years ago there was not a little excitement in this country over the Eastern Question. There were public meetings and speeches and articles without end ; sides were taken with considerable earnestness and warmth. But the heat of a struggle is always in proportion to the importance for the combatants of the issue at stake ; and no issue raised then could come home to the electors with one-tenth of the force of the momentous question, who should be the king of the country. The power of the Crown was great in those days; and the leaders in the dispute about the succession fought with the fierce earnestness of men whose whole fortunes are bound up with the issue. Their properties, and even their lives, were at stake as well as their political power. If they took an active part on one side or the other, degradation, impoverishment, exile, even death, might follow upon failure. Triumph meant honors, wealth, and power; defeat might mean forfeiture of their estates and banishment. Such were the high stakes for which the leaders were playing ; and for the common people also the political struggle was intensely exciting. It was in great part a religious question with them; encouragement, toleration, persecution, awaited their doctrines and forms of worship according as a Protestant or a Papist filled the throne ; and their feelings were thus profoundly interested. No such issues hang upon political struggles now, and the passion of the conflict, however earnest and determined, can never reach the same pitch of absorbing intensity.
This, then, being the state of things, the leading combatants deeply in earnest, the public mind quick and susceptible, every incident closely watched and sharply taken advantage of, and pamphlets the recognized means of working on public opinion, what was the effect on literature? The political situation had a direct and immediate effect on the position of men of letters. The man who could write pamphlets, whether in prose or in verse, at once became a person of importance. Men of letters were sought after, caressed, rewarded,,we must not say bribed, as they had never been before by ambitious politicians and grasping Ministers. Versifiers were in especial demand, and, of course, the patrons were met half-way. Young gentlemen at the Universities, with an elegant knack of versification, celebrated birthdays and battles, and even party triumphs in Parliament, and sent their effusions to the powerful, in the hope of being rewarded by solid appointments in the public service, of course irrespective of special fitness. The splendid successes of a few helped to crowd this avenue to fame and fortune. You all know the story of Addison and his poem on the battle of Blenheim ; how the Lord Treasurer Godolphin complained to Lord Halifax of the poor quality of the poems generally written on such occasions, how Halifax said that he knew of a young poet who could do better, how a nobleman was sent to Addison's garret in the Haymarket to solicit his services, and how munificently the poet was recompensed with public appointments. This story is familiar, but it is only the most striking one of scores of a similar kind in Johnson's Lives of the Poets of that time. Addison himself, earlier in his career, when he was fresh from the University, was rewarded with a pension of three hundred pounds for a poem on the Peace of Ryswick. Lord Halifax, the patron who helped him to the favor of the Crown, himself owed his first advancement to literature. When plain Charles Montagu, he had co
LITERATURE LIBERALLY REWARDED
operated with Prior in writing the political satire of “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” He was afterward introduced to King William with the words : “Sir, I have brought a mouse to wait on your Majesty.” “ You do well to put me in the way of making a man of him," the king is said to have replied, and forth with ordered him a pension of five hundred pounds. Montagu's collaborator, Prior, was made secretary to an embassy. The political hits in his tragedy of“ Tamerlane" obtained for Rowe an under-secretaryship in the Treasury; Hughes obtained a place in the office of Ordnance for an ode on the Peace of Ryswick; Dr. Blackmore's indirect compliments to the king in his “Prince Arthur” procured him a knighthood and the post of royal physician. And so on
and so on throughout the reigns of William and Anne. Places of all kinds in the gift of the Ministers of the Crown were freely distributed among men of letters, without the slightest regard to any qualification except their power of making men and measures popular by direct and indirect panegyric.
The effect of this extensive patronage on the character of Queen Anne poetry, on the poetry as poetry, we shall try to trace afterward; meantime, I wish to make clear the position of men of letters before the accession of George I., and how completely this position was changed by the settlement of the disputed succession. Observe that the patronage of literature was not disinterested. The great office of the best literature is to elevate, strengthen, gladden, and purify human life, to expand the soul, to quicken the fancy, to enlarge the understanding, to lift the mind out of the narrow round of personal concerns and enable it to command a wider horizon. It was not to enable men of letters to fulfil this mission that the Ministers of King William and of Queen Anne lavished places and pensions on them. It was purely as party writers that they were patronized, as brilliant political pamphleteers, useful rhetorical