Page:Arte or Crafte of Rhethoryke - 1899.djvu/9

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The Beginnings
of the Theory
of English

The beginnings of English literary criticism in the sixteenth century have a curious interest. In them, scanty and halting as they often are, we can trace the first expression of the self-consciousness which was awakening with the growth of the new literature and the new civilization of the Renaissance. In poetry it is long before there is a full statement of principles[1]; in prose, an artistic form much later in reaching its full development than poetry, it is longer still. The theory of prose, during the entire century and even far beyond the century to the traditions of oratory and the classifications and precepts of ancient rhetoric, as modified and interpreted by Mediaeval and Renaissance thought. The first steps in the formation of modern English prose are strangely timid and groping. Strong practical needs drive men to seek the means of ordered and effective expression in the prose vernacular. But native models of expression are lacking. Hence there is a movement of education and a resort to foreign teaching and aid. All England is at school to foreign models.

Interest and
Value of
Cox's Work.

It is in this way that the early English rhetorical treatises of the sixteenth century are of importance. They are documents in the history of English education as they are in English literary history. They did practical service in training men to ordered utterance, and at the same time they gave expression, at least in part, to the accepted theory of English prose.

The first of these treatises by a quarter-century, and in its way the most interesting, perhaps as much for what it lacks as for what it gives, is the little work by Leonard Cox on the Arte or Crafte of Rhethoryke, herewith reprinted for the first time.[2] It is characteristic of its period and highly interesting as one of the rather slender list of productions by that little band of humanists and reformers in letters, education, and religion, of whom Colet, Lilly, and More were the chief members in England.

  1. See Schelling's Poetic and Verse Criticism of the Reign of Elizabeth.
  2. The originals are excessively rare. I know of only two copies, that in the British Museum and that in the Bodleian Library.