The French influence in English literature from the accession of Elizabeth to the Restoration (Alfred Horatio Upham 1908)

UPHAM, ALFRED HORATIO. The French influence in English literature from the accession of Elizabeth to the Restoration. THE COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS , 1908.




It is a commonplace in the study of English literature that the fourteenth century and the period immediately following the Stuart Restoration are peculiarly marked by extended influence from the literature of France. Equally commonplace is the dictum that the literature which in the wider sense we call Elizabethan is dominated rather by an Italian inspiration, operating largely by direct impulse, but in part, this time, through the medium of the French. The manner in which France rendered her service as an agent in this Elizabethan transaction, the amount of original reaction and fresh impulse she imparted to what passed through her hands, the literary results in England for which she may be held individually responsible, are certainly deserving of serious attention.

Especially is this the case, in view of the great mass of material bearing on such questions and in most instances easy of access. The period drawn upon for this study, though nominally extending from the accession of Elizabeth to the time of the Restoration, offers nothing of particular significance earlier than the partnership of literary interests and activities among Sidney and his friends, in the years 1579-1580. From that point the development of literature and the play of influence were rapid and significant enough.

The period as a whole was one marked by almost constant political relations between England and France, and for a considerable portion of it the great mass of English people watched with keenest interest every movement of their neighbors across the Channel, and devoured every scrap of information regarding French affairs. Elizabeth, from the moment of her accession, was confronted by the claims of Mary Stuart, wife of the dauphin of France, backed by the Catholic adherents in both realms. By the time the death of Francis left Mary a widow and sent her posting back to English soil, Elizabeth had committed herself to the policy of the French Huguenots and refused to take part in the Council of Trent. The religious struggle in France, held back for a time, at length broke forth in full vigor, with the beginning of Spanish depredations in the Netherlands; and every development promised to be pregnant with significance to the English people. Gradually Protestantism became synonymous with loyalty to the English throne, priests from Douay and Jesuit missionaries became objects of persecution, and all England hung eagerly upon the varying fortunes of the French Huguenots. Men and money from England aided Henry of Navarre in his extended struggle against the forces of Catholicism, to which faith he finally yielded to secure his throne.

After a short interim active relations with France began again, with negotiations for the marriage of Prince Charles of England with Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV. The marriage once consummated, there followed a long train of domestic difficulties, encouraged by the prejudice of the queen’s French advisers, and relieved at times by diplomatic visits from such men as Bassompierre. In 1627 England sent an ill-advised and disastrous expedition to the defense of the Protestant town of New Rochelle. This was distinctly at variance with the general policy of Charles, however, which turned emphatically toward Catholicism, and was thus friendly to the French crown. Finally, it was France that received the widowed queen of Charles I. and the bevy of faithful courtiers who attended her in exile.

While this history was unfolding, various men of importance from each country visited the other, frequently on business of state, and sometimes prolonged their stay and broadened their acquaintance. The extended residence of the Scotch Humanist Buchanan in France, as student and as teacher, preceded Elizabeth’s accession by only a few years. Such Scotchmen as William Barclay and James Crichton accompanied Mary Stuart into France. The young Sidney was present at the French court, a friend of Henry of Navarre and an acquaintance of Ronsard; he was an eye-witness of the Saint Bartholomew Massacre, and began abroad his line of friendship and intercourse with the French Protestants. Sir Thomas Smith had a long experience in France as ambassador of Elizabeth. Ben Jonson accompanied his young ward, the son of Sir Walter Raleigh. The Earl of Essex led the English troops sent by Elizabeth to the assistance of Henry TV. Bacon visited France in the suite of the diplomat Amyas Paulet. Hundreds of Catholic refugees were driven across the Channel as the Protestantism of England was intensified. As time went on, the continental tour — especially to France — became more of a necessity in the training of England’s young nobility. Then came the regicide in 1649, and nobility of all ages flocked to French shores. At least two Englishmen of note gave literary form to their views regarding France, — James Howell, in his Letters and his Instructions for forreine travell, and Lord Herbert of Cherbury, in his autobiography.

The names of those Frenchmen who visited England throughout the period form even a
more imposing array; although, with a few exceptions, they seem to have made little more impression upon England than the English did upon them. Ronsard spent about three years in Scotland and England. Du Bartas, on a diplomatic visit to Scotland, so won the heart of James VI. that the royal host was loath to permit his return. Jacques Grevin appeared twice at the court of Ehzabeth, as did also Brantome, who found little enough in his sojourn worth recalling. At the beginning of the seventeenth century Montchrestien visited England while in exile, and after him came Boisrobert, Voiture, Saint-Amant, Theophile de Viau, and Saint-Evremond. And yet, years after the Restoration, the language and literature of England were looked upon by France as crude
and in many respects barbarous.

The period affords several notable examples of correspondence carried on between leading spirits of the two countries, — not the least being that of Queen Elizabeth with Henry IV. Scholars especially engaged in this practice. Sidney corresponded freely with Hubert Languet, Henri Estienne, Hotman, Pibrac, and Duplessis-Mornay. William Camden exchanged letters with Hotman, De Thou, Peiresc, and the brothers Sainte-Marthe. The correspondence of De Thou and Peiresc included numerous other Englishmen, among them Cotton, Wotton, Barclay, and Selden.

In the reign of Elizabeth, as well as that of the Stuarts, ample evidence attests the wide knowledge of the French language, particularly among the educated classes of England, and likewise the familiarity of these people with French literature. Only a few years before Elizabeth’s coronation, Nisander Nucius had testified :  »Les Anglois se servent presque tous du langage françois. » During her reign Pasquier is authority for the statement that in all Germany, England, and Scotland there was no noble household that did not include a teacher of French. Edward Blount, in his introduction to an edition of Lyly’s comedies, 1632, described, the vogue of Lyly’s style at the court of Elizabeth by saying: « All our Ladies were then his Schollers; and that Beautie in Court which could not Parley Euphueisme was as little regarded as she which now there speaks not French. »

The drama itself, especially after the coming of Henrietta Maria, contains numerous references to the knowledge of French as a necessary courtly accomplishment. In Middleton’s More Dissemblers besides Women, the fourth scene of the first act, appears the statement: « You’ve many daughters so well brought up, they speak French naturally at fifteen, and they are turned to the Spanish and Italian half a year later. »


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