Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/87

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was practically forgotten, when, nearly sixty years afterwards, Englishmen began once more to turn their attention to America. From the untroubled early years of Henry VIII, when America, as yet wholly savage, and its discovery received conspicuous notice in a serious philosophical drama, to the marriage of Philip and Mary, when it stood forth in the eyes of Europe as the source of more wealth than the world had ever seen, the New World is scarcely mentioned in English literature, though the continental press teemed with accounts of it and allusions to it. But an old dramatist's picture of the new continent, as it presented itself to English eyes about 1515, becomes all the more striking through its isolation. The play, or "interlude," is entitled The Four Elements; the leading personage, named Experience, discourses at some length on the "Great Ocean"—"so great that never man could tell it, since the world began, till now these twenty year"—and the new continent lately found beyond it; a continent "so large of room" as to be "much longer than all Christendom," for its coast has been traced above 5000 miles. The inhabitants, from the south, where they "go naked alway," to the north, where they are clad in the skins of beasts, are everywhere savages, living in woods and caves, and knowing nothing of God and the devil, of heaven and hell, but worshipping the sun for his great light. The fisheries, the timber, and the copper of America are named as its chief sources of wealth; and the speaker laments, in stanzas perfectly rhythmical, though the accent is somewhat forced, that England should have missed the opportunity of discovering and colonising this vast country:

O what a [great] thing had been then, If that they that be Englishmen

Might have been the first of all That there should have taken possession, And made first building and habitation,

A memory perpetual!

And also what an honourable thing, Both to the realm, and to the king, To have had his dominion extending

There into so far a ground, Which the noble king of late memory, The most wise prince the seventh Harry,

[Had] caused first for to be found!

Nor is this all that England has lost. Hers would have been the privilege of introducing civilisation and preaching the Gospel in this dark continent—of leading its brute-like tribes "to know of men the manner, and also to know God their Maker." This task, it is evidently felt, would more fittingly have fallen to the lot of England than of Castile and Portugal.

The American coast was doubtless occasionally sighted from English vessels. But it was only gazed on as a curious spectacle. The Northern