Page:The Palace of Pleasure, Volume 1 (1890).djvu/17

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INTRODUCTION.

A YOUNG man, trained in the strictest sect of the Pharisees, is awakened one morning, and told that he has come into the absolute possession of a very great fortune in lands and wealth. The time may come when he may know himself and his powers more thoroughly, but never again, as on that morn, will he feel such an exultant sense of mastery over the world and his fortunes. That image[1] seems to me to explain better than any other that remarkable outburst of literary activity which makes the Elizabethan Period unique in English literature, and only paralleled in the world's literature by the century after Marathon, when Athens first knew herself. With Elizabeth England came of age, and at the same time entered into possession of immense spiritual treasures, which were as novel as they were extensive. A New World promised adventures to the adventurous, untold wealth to the enterprising. The Orient had become newly known. The Old World of literature had been born anew. The Bible spoke for the first time in a tongue understanded of the people. Man faced his God and his fate without any intervention of Pope or priest. Even the very earth beneath his feet began to move. Instead of a universe with dimensions known and circumscribed with Dantesque minuteness, the mystic glow of the unknown had set tled down on the whole face of Nature, who offered her secrets to the first comer. No wonder the Elizabethans were filled with an exulting sense of man's capabilities, when they had all these realms of thought and action suddenly and at once thrown open before them. There is a confidence in the future and all it had

  1. It was suggested to me, if I remember right, by my friend Mr. R. G. Moulton.