Home  »  Volume III: English RENASCENCE AND REFORMATION  »  § 16. Cosmopolitanism

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume III. Renascence and Reformation.

V. The Progress of Social Literature in Tudor Times

§ 16. Cosmopolitanism

While the social miseries of England were inspiring a whole literature of narrative and exposure, the sixteenth century spirit of cosmopolitanism was also finding popular expression. Curiosity with regard to other countries was by no means a creation of the age. The thirteenth and fourteenth centuries produced short Latin descriptions of the characteristics of different nations, and a series of pen and ink caricatures of the Irish, Welsh and Gascons are found in the margin of a document of the time of Edward I. But popular interest in the continent received a new impulse during the sixteenth century. The immigration of foreigners had, by 1517, become a marked feature of English commercial life, and the period from 1512 to 1558 is one of tentative exploration, which, though it produced no startling mercantile discoveries, accustomed England to the idea of the expansion of Europe, and helped to produce a revolt against insularity. As early as The Nature of the Four Elements, “declaringe many proper poynts of philosophy naturall and of dyvers strange landys and of dyvers straunge effects and causes,” we have a conception of cosmography serving as a basis for a morality play. The production, apparently, found no imitators. But the broadening of the national outlook is proved by the ever-increasing number of allusions to foreign countries, in the tracts of the time.