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

II. Reformation Literature in England

§ 18. Results of the reformation period

A general survey of the field teaches us how varied the religious impulses of the reformation were, and how vital they were for the national welfare, both upon their positive and negative sides. Party feeling and royal politics made the course of the movement sometimes slower, sometimes tumultuous. One change may be noted. In the lists of early printed books, a number of medieval manuals of devotion and instruction precede the controversial writings. At first, as in the Middle Ages, schools conceal individuals, the same material is re-used and authorship is difficult to settle. But, as in the cases of More and Tindale, the weight of well-known names begins to be felt, and the printing press, fixing once for all the very words of a writer, put an end to processes which had often hidden authorship. The needs of controversy hastened the change, and individualism in literature began. An author was now face to face with his public. It is trite to call the reformation an age of transition, and its significance for creative thought is sometimes over-estimated. But, at its outset, the problems of its literature, its methods and its processes are medieval; at its end, they are those which we know to-day. If, in Germany, the revolution was heralded by medieval theses, in England, the reformation controversies sprang out of a literature purely medieval. But, at the close of the period we have dealt with, the translation of an English Bible, the formation of an English prayer-book, stand out as great religious and literary results, and each of them is due less to individual labourers than to the continuous work of schools. There may have been many who regretted much that had been lost; but to have preserved and adapted so much was no mean gain. Many of the absorbing controversies died away; but these results, which they had helped to produce, remained.