The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.
§ 4. Machiavellis Prince
No work had a profounder influence upon the thought and policy of Tudor England than Machiavelli’s Prince. It was a text-book to Thomas Cromwell; its precepts were obediently followed by Cecil and Leicester. The mingled fear and respect in which its author was held converted him into a monstrous legend. No writer is more frequently cited, generally with disapproval, than Machiavelli, and it is always the Prince, which was not translated, and not the Arte of Warre and the Florentine Historie, which were, that arouses the ire of Englishmen. A German scholar has counted more than three hundred references to the Prince in the works of the dramatists alone, and has traced them to the celebrated treatise of Gentillet: Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner et maintenir en bonne paix un royaume … contre N. Machiavel le Florentin (1576), a work translated into English by Simon Patericke (1602). Thus the hostility of the Elizabethans against the Florentine was inspired not by the study of the original but by the violent partisanship of a Huguenot. However, if the accident which took the Arte of Warre and left the Prince remains unexplained, the preference of French to Italian is natural enough. The truth is, French was the language best understood by the English of the sixteenth century. Not merely was it the avenue through which many of the classics passed into our language and our literature; its familiar use tempted the translators to make known in England the learning and philosophy of France. The French books which we find in English are many and of many kinds. First in importance is Florio’s Montaigne (1603), after which may be placed Danett’s Commines (1596), a finished portrait of the politician, which partly atones for the absence of the Prince. The indefatigable Arthur Golding translated the Politicke, Moral and Martiall Discourses, written in French by Jacques Hurault (1595), while Henri Estienne, La Noue and La Primaudaye all found their way into our English speech. And France, also, like Italy, has her paradox. As we have no Prince before Dacres, so we have no Rabelais before Sir Thomas Urquhart. The influence of Gargantua, now the legendary giant, now Rabelais’s own creation, and of Pantagruel, is plain for all to see. They are among the commonplaces of our dramatists, and, but for the example of Rabelais, at least two masters of prose, Nashe and Harvey, would have written far other than they did. But, though a version of Gargantua his Prophecie is entered in the Stationers’ registers (1592), either it was never published or it has disappeared, and those who studied the style and gospel of Messer Alcofribas must have studied them in the original.