Imatges de pàgina
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CHAP.
VI.

§ 20. Elizabeth and

the

National
Spirit.

to the expression which it gave to the higher and better ideas of either side. There the worshipful spirit of older days was blended together harmoniously with the individuality fostered by the new religious teaching. There the reverent spirit of Catholicism learned to test the traditional belief by the touchstone of history and of reason, whilst the fervour of the self-contained Protestant learned to soften down its asperities by the necessity of co-operating with men of other temperaments. The problem before Elizabeth was, whether she would be able to bring her subjects to accept those forms through which a spirit of united worship and united doctrine might develop itself more fully in time. It was indeed impossible that she should in this succeed completely. Some there would surely be to whom the old papal forms would be all in all, and some to whom the new Calvinistic forms would be all in all. The only wonder is that she succeeded as far as she did with unwilling instruments, at a time when the rising of the European conflict favoured the development of extreme doctrines.

If, indeed, Elizabeth had had nothing but church parties to look to, she would undoubtedly have failed. But even in those days of strong religious partizanship other more mundane interests had weight in the minds of men. Above all, Englishmen cared for the nationality of England. Of all the various church-parties, the Catholics stood alone in looking for direction to a head beyond the seas, and when, in course of time, some of them came to look for temporal aid to the king of Spain, all who did not share their belief turned against them, and many who did share their belief grew lukewarm in its defence. The Puritans who disliked Elizabeth's ecclesiastical proceedings were yet ready to shed their blood in her quarrel against Rome and Spain, like that Stubbs, who, when his hand had been cut off for an attack upon the queer's

government, raised his hat with the other hand, crying, 'God save Queen Elizabeth.' Some men might not like to see the ministers of religion wearing caps and surplices. Other men might not like to see the Communion Service substituted for the Mass. But as soon as the bulk of the nation clearly perceived that each of the various parties insisted on having its own way at the expense of the dissolution of national unity, it rallied round the queen. Gradually, in opposition to the common enemy, the religious forms which, in the beginning of the reign, had hardly any partizans at all, were adopted by the moderate men of all parties, though there were still left many who wished them to be modified.

CHAP.

VI.

§ 21.

Elizabeth and

sance.

Nor was it only from the moderate men of the various church-parties that Elizabeth obtained support. The spirit of the Renaissance was actively at work amongst the Renais her subjects, blunting the edge of religious controversy, and sending men in search of earthly beauty and enjoyment, instead of spiritual growth. The Elizabethan literature was but the expression of a deep-rooted feeling. Holding out its hand, as in Spenser, to Protestantism, it was in the main, as in Shakspere and the dramatists, neither Catholic nor Protestant. It kept steadily in view the human side of life as opposed to the religious. It appealed to human motives, to the love of wealth and prosperity, to the human sense of justice, and power, and beauty, and virtue, not to the asceticism of the monk, or the religious self-restraint of the Puritan. It rested on the growth of commercial manufactures and of the general national well-being. The wooden trencher was replaced by the platter of pewter, the smoky hut by the chimneyed house, the rush-covered floor by the soft carpet, and men knew the reason why. They knew that these things had come to England because she had held fast to her national unity, and they decided that whatever

CHAP.
VI.

§ 22. England's Position in Europe.

religious doctrine might be true, it was not worth the while of half the nation to be cutting the throats of the other half to enforce its universal acceptance.

In this way England came to be morally and intellectually the centre of European civilisation. Whatever tendencies directed the stream of progress in various parts of the Continent were to be found in England. She had originated nothing of her own. Satirists held that Englishmen fetched their dress and external accomplishments from foreign nations. 'I think,' says Portia in the Merchant of Venice' of her English lover, 'he bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, and his behaviour everywhere.' The words were true in a larger sense. The dominant idea of the Reformers was derived from Germany. The dominant idea of the Puritans was derived from Geneva. The dominant idea of the Catholics was derived from Rome and Spain. Literature looked for its models to Italy. But though here and there factions held to extreme views, the bulk of the nation blended together theories and practices till it had assimilated them in spite of their various origin. In the Church, in the State, in literature, in the habits of daily life, there arose something which was indisputably English, and which nevertheless allowed free scope to the vigorous individualism of life. As year by year passed by, the national unity established itself more firmly, because here there was less repression than anywhere else, less inquisition into opinion, freer permission to unrestrained development. Such a people obtained the preeminence because it deserved it. England was not torn in pieces by internal dissensions like France, nor split into petty states like Germany or Italy, nor given up to intellectual deadness like Spain. Its mariners ransacked the seas for booty, and overwhelmed with disaster the

proudest navy which had ever sailed on the sea. Its statesmen more than held their own against the craftiest heads of France and Spain. Its poets rose to an unequalled eminence, to culminate in the great dramatist whose knowledge of the human heart knows no equal or rival. Before the death of Elizabeth, England possessed in Hooker the most judicious and large-minded of ecclesiastical writers, and in Bacon, the thinker, who, without being himself capable of anticipating the foundation of modern experimental and political science, was endowed beyond all other men with the spirit of the future change which was to renew the world.

CHAP.
VI.

Elizabeth

Of all this varied life Elizabeth made herself the $23. organ. She had sympathies with it all, and if the very and Parvariety of those sympathies made her conduct shifting liament. and uncertain, it also gave her an abiding place in the hearts of every section of her subjects. She was, in fact, a much better representative of the nation than the House of Commons, especially in the early portion of her reign, could possibly be. We are so accustomed to regard an elective house as constituting the true re* presentation of a people, that it is well to be reminded under what limitations it does so. When a question arises for decision, a representative house decides one way or the other, often by a narrow majority. Very probably, though this is not always the case, the narrow majority in the house corresponds to a more or less narrow majority in the nation itself. Its decision is, therefore, not the decision of the whole nation any more than it is the decision of the whole house. Its weight, therefore, rests on the tacit understanding that it is better and safer to yield to the weight of a few votes than to resist by an appeal to civil war. This constitutional morality will always be widely spread in proportion to the general agreement amongst the population.

CHAP.
VI.

If the changes proposed are very slight in comparison with the things left unchanged, all of them put together will seem very endurable even to those who object most strongly to every one of them. There will exist, too, a fellow-feeling between parties, an assurance that whilst they differ on much, they agree on more, which renders compromise and concession easy. In the early part of Elizabeth's reign all these conditions were reversed. Religions as opposite as Catholicism and Calvinism. stood face to face, and the best chosen House of Commons could have done nothing to mediate between them. A Catholic majority would have proscribed Protestantism in every form. A Calvinist majority would have proscribed not merely the Papal Church, but every vestige of the ancient creed and ceremonial. Men felt too deeply on such questions to submit to such summary dealing, and they would have preferred to fight out the quarrel to the death. Those who wished that things should not come to such a pitch would have been powerless to avert a rupture, because the great middle party which existed in an incoherent state was as yet unformed, and as yet unconscious of the principles on which it could act. It was Elizabeth's work to summon it into life, and to consolidate it, a work which often involved opposition to the House of Commons, all the more because the house was at that time far from being a fair mirror of the general feeling. The Catholics were excluded by the statute which required all members to take the oath of supremacy, and Elizabeth, therefore, was only exercising a sound discretion in throwing her authority in the balance against the attempts of the Commons to reduce the formularies of the Church to the expression of the opinions of a single party.

It was not in the nature of things that such a relation between the crown and the House of Commons should

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