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About the close of the first year of Elizabeth's reign, the Primacy of all England fell upon a man peculiarly fitted by habit of mind and by previous experience to employ the vast prerogatives of the archbishopric for the revival of ancient knowledge. Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and twice Vice-Chancellor of the University, Matthew Parker had already shown during the reigns of Henry VIII and his son that boundless zeal for the promotion of academic culture of which one of the later fruits was to be the education of Christopher Marlowe.
That the critical theories of the seventeenth-century French school of rules find numerous parallels in the work of Thomas Rymer has been perceived by various students of literary criticism. But the recognition of general resemblances has not served, apparently, to secure uniformity of opinion in classifying Rymer as a critic, or in determining the extent to which he represented, in English criticism, the French codification of the rules. Professor Saintsbury states that Eymer had a “charcoal-burner's faith in ‘the rules.‘” On the other hand, Professor Spingarn, who has gone farthest in tracing the parallelisms between Eymer's work and that of preceding critics, regards his work as rationalistic, or based upon common sense, rather than formalistic, based upon rule and precedent. The one would regard Eymer as a participant in the French tradition; the other, as primarily a continuator of certain previously existing English methods. An analysis of the relationship between Rymer and the French critics of the school of rules, more systematic than has yet been attempted, may aid in determining to what extent the critical standards and methods of the French Aristotelian formalists are approximated in Rymer, and what influence the French school had upon one whose criticism, however it may be regarded now, was of great weight and importance for years after it was written.
A comparison of Henry Medwall's Morality Nature and John Lydgate's poem, Reson and Sensuallyte, makes it plain that the two works exhibit remarkable coincidences of character, situation, and language. The general resemblance is obvious enough. In each of the works the plot is allegorical, and in each the hero, who is entitled “Man” in the Morality and, impersonally, “I” in the poem, is a type figure representing mankind. This representative of humanity is in each case approached by the lady Nature, who, after giving him a careful explanation of herself and a thorough list of admonitions, finally sends him away to travel through the world. The allegory which follows is of the familiar type in which the life of man is represented by a journey; but the manner in which this journey is undertaken is carefully specialized in the poem, and in this special form is so strikingly reproduced in the play that one may readily conclude that the former supplied much of the material to be found in the latter.
In the thirtieth canto of the Inferno we find a Florentine called Gianni Schicchi, whom Dante puts in Malebolge among the falsifiers for having impersonated Buoso Donati and dictated a false will. Several of the old Commentators tell the story of Gianni Schicchi (sometimes Sticchi), who, though belonging to the illustrious family of the Cavalcanti, seems to have been a notoriously unscrupulous character and particularly clever at impersonation. The best account of the story is given by the so-called Anonimo, and runs, briefly, as follows: Messer Buoso Donati being sick with a mortal sickness, wished to make his will, inasmuch as he thought he had much to return that belonged to others. Simone, his son, delayed the old gentleman until he died. Fearing then that his father might not have left a will in his favor, he sought advice from Gianni Schicchi, who said to Simone Donati : “Have a notary come, and say that Messer Buoso wants to make a will; I will enter his bed, we will thrust him behind, I will bandage myself well, will put his night cap on my head, and will make the will as you wish.” Then he added : “It is true that I want to gain by this.” Simone agreed, all was done accordingly and Gianni Schicchi in a broken voice began to dictate : “I leave twenty soldi to the Church of Santa Beparata, and five francs to the Frati Minori, and five francs to the Predicatori,” and thus he went on distributing for God, but very little money. “And I leave,” he continued, “five hundred florins unto Gianni Schicchi.” At that the son jumped up and said : “We must not put that in the will, father; I will give it to him as you leave it.” “Simone,” replied Gianni, “you will let me do with what is mine according to my judgment.” Simone, out of fear, kept silent. “And I leave unto Gianni Schicchi my mule,” for Messer Buoso had the finest mule in Tuscany. “Oh, Messer Buoso,” said Simone to his supposed father, “this man Schicchi really does not care for your mule.” At which the testator replied : “Silence, I know better than you what Gianni Schicchi wants.” Simone began to wax wrathful, but out of fear he kept silent. Gianni continued to dictate : “And I leave unto Gianni Schicchi one hundred florins which are owed to me by a certain neighbor, and for the rest I leave Simone my universal heir with this clause, that unless every bequest be executed within fifteen days, the whole heredity shall go to the Convent of Santa Croce.” And the notaries having departed, Gianni Schicchi got out of bed, the body of Messer Buoso was replaced in it, and Simone began bewailing his father's sudden death.
I wish to call attention to a work of national importance, which, in the judgment of those best entitled to an opinion, should be accomplished within the next decade, if it is to be well done. As is doubtless known to everyone here to-day, there has been in progress for many years a plan to prepare and publish an adequate dictionary of our American vernacular speech. But the details of the undertaking, the plan that should be followed, and the special reasons for making more rapid progress are matters that have received comparatively slight attention, even in this Association of representative American scholars.
A short Defence of two Excellent Comedies, viz. Sir Fopling Flutter, and The Conscious Lovers; in answer to many scandalous Reflections, on them both, by a certain terrible Critick, who never saw the latter, and scarce knows anything of Comedy at all.
Lovers of Milton's poetry occasionally note with regret signs that his great epic is losing its influence upon the mind of the race. Hence, any attempt to revive interest in Paradise Lost deserves the sympathetic attention of students of literature. Such an attempt is the article of Professor E. N. S. Thompson, The Theme of Paradise Lost, printed in the Publications of the Modern Language Association, March, 1913. As I venture to differ from the writer, however, in a number of important particulars, I shall attempt to formulate what seems a more comprehensive view of the meaning of Milton's epic.
Though no new light seems forthcoming on the nature of the accusation made by Cecily Chaumpaigne against Chaucer, the names of the witnesses (to her release) are not without interest. Of the five witnesses, four were prominent men in their day. Of the fifth, however, nothing has hitherto been known.