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

III. The Dissolution of the Religious Houses

§ 3. New methods of thought

In the place of tradition, then, rose up enterprise. The same impulse of new life which drove Drake across the seas forty years later and burned in full blaze in the society of the brilliant Elizabethans, had begun to kindle, indeed, before the dissolution of the houses, but could not rise into flame until it had consumed them. In the world of letters it broke out in curious forms, showing a strange intermingling of the old and the new, few of them of intrinsic value and fewer yet, in any sense, final—always with the exception of the great leaders of humanist thought.

And the rich development that took place was furthered by the movement in which the fall of the religious houses was a notable incident. They were obstacles, and they were removed. The monastic ideal was one of pruning the tree to the loss of luxuriance; the new ideal was that of more generous cultivation of the whole of human nature.

As regards education, although, as has been seen, the years immediately following the crisis were years of famine—of destruction rather than reconstruction—they were, at the same time, the almost necessary prelude to greater wideness of thought. It was not until three centuries later that the state, as distinguished from the church, took the responsibilities of education—for both schools and universities continued to remain, until nearly the present day, under clerical control—but, so soon as the confusion had passed, education did, to some extent, begin to recover its balance on a new basis. What had been, under the system of great monastic centres, the province of the more studious, began, more and more, to be diffused among the rest, or, at least, to be put into more favourable conditions for that dissemination. The fortunes of Greek scholarship show a curiously waving line. That branch of study was introduced, together with Greek manuscripts, by scholars such as prior William Tilly of Selling, who had become fascinated by Italian culture; but, with the general uprush of the classical renascence, it fell once more under suspicion and the pulpit began to be turned against it. With the fall of the monasteries, however, curiously enough, it nearly disappeared altogether—for example, at Oxford, though Wolsey himself had founded a chair for its study—and it was not until things were quiet that it again took its place among its fellows, and is to be found generally recommended for grammar schools along with the arts of “good manners,” Latin, English, history, writing and even chess. Classics indeed, generally, when the confusion was over, found a fairer field than had been possible under clerical control. Pure Latin was, to a large extent, vitiated by its ecclesiastical rival; and Greek was associated vaguely in men’s minds with the principles of Luther and the suspected new translations of the Scriptures, in spite of Fisher’s zeal for its study at Cambridge, and the return of Wakefield from Tübingen in the same cause. “Graeculus,” in fact, had become a colloquial synonym for “heretic”; and both languages, as represented by such authors as Terence, Plautus and the Greek poets, were under grave suspicions as being vehicles for immoral sentiments. It is true that such men as prior Barnes lectured on Latin authors in his Augustinian house at Cambridge, yet it was not until a few years after the dissolution that even the classical historians began to be translated into English. Friars were reported actually to have destroyed books that in their opinion were harmful or even useless.