Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
Critical Introduction by William Minto
William Cecil, Lord Burleigh (15201598)
[The life of Queen Elizabeths great treasurer belongs, in Horace Walpoles phrase, to the annals of his country. Born in 1520, he held office in the reign of Edward VI., retired into private life during the reign of Mary, and was Elizabeths prime minister for forty years, till his death in 1598. The suspicionit is no morethat he defeated his thrifty Mistresss generous intentions to the poet Spenser has rather prejudiced him with men of letters. Against this may be set his early friendship with Ascham, who gives a pleasing report of his hospitality to men of learning. His own contribution to letters is the brief Ten Precepts to his Son, first published in 1637, and since then often reprinted.]
THE CLUE to the character of Burleighs prose, and perhaps also to his indifference to Spenser, is to be found in one of his preceptsSuffer not thy sons to pass the Alps. He abhorred Italian influence in every shape and form, on literature as much as on morals and manners. He was already an old man, near sixty, when the tendency to Italianate terms culminated in Lylys Euphues, but the influence had been at work for many years before. There is not a trace of it in Burleighs prose. In this respect it is distinguished from the prose of his nephew Bacon, who was affected not a little by the fashion of the new generation. Burleigh belongs emphatically to the old school. His is the prose of a man of affairs, concerned chiefly to convey his meaning clearly and forcibly, terse, pithy, compact, disdainful of far-fetched graces, but not insensible to the effect of a biting epigram. Such illustrations as he uses are homely and apt. Not till we come down to Temple and Dryden, do we find a diction equal to Burleighs in simplicity of structure and in the homelier virtues of good prose.