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A STUDY OF EUPHUISM.
BY J. MURRAY MOORE, M.D., F.R.G.S.
THE latter years of this nineteenth century are being marked by two dissimilar features of literary fashion. On the one hand, a slangy, Americanised, and slip-shod style of English prevails in our newspapers and cheap magazines on the other hand, great scholars, who devote themselves to the study of our real language, are reprinting with accuracy, and annotating with lucidity, longforgotten or unknown Elizabethan writings. John Lyly's Euphues is one of these; and Mr. Edward Arber deserves our warm thanks for his admirable reprint of this rare old book,-once so popular, then so ridiculed, afterwards buried. Though by no means a "masterpiece" of that Golden Age of our native literature,-extending from the publication of Roger Ascham's Scholemaster, in 1570, to the failure of Ben Jonson's last play, The New Inn, in 1629-I shall prove in this Paper that Euphues is not merely a bibliographical rarity, but that it possesses both historic interest and intrinsic literary merit. And, lest some critics among my audience should reproach me with attempting to interest them in an effete literary affectation. which had "deservedly" passed into oblivion, I ask their impartial consideration of some facts and inferences which, to my mind, render the whole subject of Euphuism worthy of careful study.
a. The book Euphues, like Sir Thomas More's Utopia, has added a word, "euphuism," to the English language, the exact meaning of which is not understood by the
general reader, who is apt to confuse it with "euphemism."
b. Euphues and its imitations formed a distinctly new phase of our native literature,-a group of works which mark the transition from verse to prose of English romantic fiction.
c. Nay, more: for according to the high authority of our own Professor Raleigh, who has deemed Euphues worthy of an entire chapter in his admirable University Extension Manual, The History of the English Novel, that work is absolutely the first original prose English
d. The immediate success of this book, at the time it issued from the press (1579 and 1580), can only be accounted for by the supposition that its novel style supplied to the reading public of that day something lacking in the pre-existent literature of the Renaissance in England.
e. The real merits of Euphues have been wholly obscured by the extreme contumely and ridicule thrown upon its obvious defects, and more especially upon the exaggerations of its imitators, who formed the euphuistic school of authors-Greene, Peele, Kyd, Lodge, Nash, Munday, Meres, and others. And further discredit has been cast upon it by the clumsy caricature of an euphuist, in the person of Sir Piercie Shafton, drawn by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, The Monastery.
f. A careful study of Shakspere's earlier plays has convinced me that Lyly's works had more influence on that master-mind than any other contemporary books, and that a knowledge of the latter must enhance our enjoyment of the former. I can show that Shakspere's earliest comedy, Love's Labour Lost, was written expressly to ridicule spoken euphuism, but that the "Swan of Avon" borrowed freely in other comedies from Lyly's plays.
g. Lastly, Euphues is a treasury to a philologist of interesting words, phrases, jests, proverbs, mediæval superstitions, etc.; and the book gives us many unstudied but graphic word-pictures of sixteenth-century fashions, manners, and customs.
JOHN LYLY, THE AUTHOR OF Euphues,
was a native of Kent, born in 1554, the year of birth both of Sir Philip Sidney and of Richard Hooker, "the judicious," on whose prose our own Ruskin modelled the style of his Modern Painters. The poet Spenser and the gallant, ill-fated Raleigh were then two years old. Men of ability, and not seldom of genius, in every line of thought and of action abounded in England at this period. Culture had revived. University education was more valued and more accessible than of old; and the production of literary work began to be recognised as a profession.
In an autobiographical passage in Euphues we learn that Lyly's parents were "honest and worshipful, although he was entered on the books of Magdalen College, Oxford, as plebeii filius. Though he appears to have neglected his more serious studies for the lighter arts of poetry and music, he took his B.A., and afterwards his M.A. degrees (1575), after the usual curriculum. Coming to the Court of Queen Elizabeth, Lord Burleigh, then Lord High Chamberlain, gave the young M.A. a small salaried appointment in his household, which Lyly accepted gratefully, as a stepping-stone to some higher post. His literary talents were chiefly employed in writing plays, masques and "revells" for the enjoyment of the Queen, whom he flatters in every piece most obsequiously, as was the usual fashion then. As no portrait of John Lyly is extant, we cannot judge of his personality further than from the remarks of his friend Thomas Nash, which
imply that he was a little man who was married, of lively wit, yet of earnest and serious heart, who smoked tobacco,-then an exotic luxury-in excess. He must have married early in his career: his wife's family are unknown to us. He seems to have been happy in his family life, for he never joined in the wild Bohemianism of Greene, Marlowe, Nash, and other literary friends. To the initiated, Lyly's autograph signature, which is found in No. 36 of the Lansdowne MSS., reveals a character of amiability, refinement, poetical imagination, ambition, and not inconsiderable affectation. He gives us, in the words of Fidus in the second volume of Euphues, some glimpses of his life at court, where, in the words of Anthony à Wood, "he was reputed a rare poet, witty, comical, and facetious." Young Lyly describes his early ambition, his difficulties, and his disappointments in a long discourse, of which I quote a few sentences, sufficient for my purpose. "At the age of xx yeares there was no trade or kind of lyfe that fitted my humour but the Court, thinking that place the onely meanes to clymbe high, and sit sure I was there enterteined as well by the great friendes my father made as by mine own forwardnesse.
.. but I flattered
I was not inferior in wit to manye
on my backe than my friendes could well bare, having many times a brave cloke and a thread-bare purse." Still, he was duly attentive to the fair sex, for whom, indeed, he is thought to have written Euphues. Who so conversant with Ladies as I, who so pleasant? Who so prodigall? Inasmuch as I thought the time lost which was not spent either in their company with delyght, or for their company in letters."
While occupied with literary and dramatic work,