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Unit 1: Development of Prose Writing through the Literary Ages

          order of theocratic government which the medieval world had hitherto accepted almost without  Notes
          In this combination of circumstances, one man stands out pre-eminently in England as realizing
          the drift of events and the kind of action needed to regulate them. This man was Wiclif, a scholar
          and theologian, but not merely a man of the study or the lecturer’s chair. Wiclif’s practical wisdom
          is particularly apparent in his deliberate choice of the English language as a means of exposition
          and persuasion. If English prose must have a father, no one is so worthy of this title of respect as
          Wiclif. Not a great master of prose style himself, Wiclif was the first Englishman clearly to realize
          the broad principles which underlie prose expression. He made a sharp distinction between prose
          and verse, and he foresaw, at least, the ends to be attained by a skillful use of the mechanism of
          daily colloquial speech for broader and less ephemeral purposes than those to which it had hitherto
          been applied. In a word, Wiclif was the first intelligent writer of English prose, a discoverer in the
          truest sense of the word. With him begins the long and unbroken line of English writers who have
          striven to use the English tongue as a means of conveying their message as directly and as forcibly
          as possible to their hearers and readers. The spirit of Wiclif is the spirit of Sir Thomas More, of
          Tindale, of Hooker, of Milton, of Burke, of Carlyle, of all the great masters of expositional and
          hortatory prose in the English language. Technical details have changed, exterior ornaments have
          varied, but the fundamental purpose and method have remained the same. With Wiclif and his
          period, therefore, we begin our study of the rise of English literary prose.
          The later limits of the present undertaking have not so easily determined themselves. It would
          have been interesting to carry the discussion down to the masters of prose in the seventeenth
          century, to Milton, Clarendon, Jeremy Taylor, Burton, Dryden, for they are indeed the fruit of the
          sixteenth-century flower. But the close of the sixteenth century and the opening of the seventeenth
          century mark the end of the great originating period in the development of English prose.  The
          tentative beginnings of Wiclifite prose are by that time fully realized in models of the plain style
          not surpassed by any later writers. The literary and more narrowly artistic interests have entered,
          and experimentation in this direction has been carried almost to the extreme limits of the possibilities
          of the language. Scarcely any side of human activity remains unexpressed in English prose at the
          end of the reign of Elizabeth, and though it by no means follows that the prose of later times is less
          admirable, it is nevertheless different from the prose of this first fresh and tremendously energetic
          age of invention and experimentation.
          Since that is the subject of the whole volume, it manifestly falls outside the province of these
          prefatory remarks to discuss the various processes and developments of this first formative period
          of English prose. It may be worth while to put down, however, as a kind of preliminary scaffolding,
          the opinions of one of the greatest of the early moderns, of one who from the vantage-ground of
          the end of a long life, cast his eye backward and formulated what seemed to him the prime
          moving causes and tendencies of writing in his day. Starting with the discussion of the origins of
          the fantastic or ornate literary style in Europe, Bacon continues with an analysis which, whether
          true for the whole European awakening or not, certainly applies in a peculiar degree to England,
          where the Renascence was from the first so largely a religious and theological movement :
          “Martin Luther, conducted (no doubt) by an higher Providence, but in discourse of reason finding
          what a province he had undertaken against the Bishop of Rome and the degenerate traditions of
          the church, and finding his own solitude, being no ways aided by the opinions of his own time,
          was enforced to awake all antiquity, and to call former times to his succors to make a part against
          the present time, so that the ancient authors, both in divinity and in humanity, which had long
          time slept in libraries, began generally to be read and revolved. This by con-sequence did draw on
          a necessity of a more exquisite travail in the languages original wherein those authors did write,
          for the better understanding of those authors and the better advantage of pressing and applying
          their words. And thereof grew again a delight in their manner of style and phrase, and an admiration

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