Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Antiquaries > Summary
  Sir Thomas Urquhart  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

X. Antiquaries.

§ 15. Summary.


These four royalist writers—Urquhart, to some extent, but by no means wholly, being what Browne calls a “monstrous draught and caricatured representation” of what Browne himself presents magnificently, Fuller ingeniously and Walton in the simplest and least pretentious fashion—agree in something more than in their royalism and in that determined attention to the past which undoubtedly they all display. They represent their own age, not merely in the learning which attracted and rewarded that attention, and in which the earlier seventeenth century probably surpassed every other period, not merely in the obstinate quaintness which was also characteristic of it, but in a peculiar command of prose style which is likely to remain inimitable and unique. To set this down to something like an accident of time, the dying down or approaching extinction of the more “insolent and passionate” spirit of poetry and its temporary taking refuge in prose, is not irrational and is probably correct, but it is not quite sufficient. More went to the making of the group—and especially of Browne—than this; even if we leave to the idiosyncrasy of the individuals its first and incalculable value. Perhaps not a little should be allowed for the existence of a body of readers, not very large, perhaps, but not inconsiderable, interested in learning and thought and not yet accustomed to “light” reading of the more modern type. Something more may be set down to the absence of the restrictions of conventional grammar, conventional vocabulary, conventional propriety of various kinds. The revolt of the plain style, the demand for “a naked natural way of speaking” and the like may have been justified even by Browne and Fuller to a certain extent and more than amply by Urquhart in his serious work. Even Walton, though he speaks “naturally” enough, might be thought by a man like Sprat not to speak sufficiently nakedly—to to dress his thought with too many tags of learning and flights of fancy. But, if there was any sin, there was mighty and manifold solace. Without the liberty of syntax, to some extent; without the unrestrained abundance and variegated colour of vocabulary to a much greater; without the endless decoration of learning, and arabesque of imagination and conceit, the quaint flashing wit of Fuller would find itself miserably hampered and (which is of far greater importance) the magnificence of Browne could not exist. The wit may tease some and the magnificence appear too solemn and cumbrous, too much a matter of apparatus and circumstantial peroration to others. If so, these authors are not for those readers. But, fortunately, there are others for whom they are, and who should be able to perceive that without what, from some points of view, may seem their defects, their qualities could hardly exist. Walton’s simplicity would not be what it is without the contrast of its mannerism; and, though a little of the original writing of Urquhart may go a very long way, and to read too much, even of Fuller consecutively, is not well, the parenthetic and metaphysical wit of Broadwindsor can be returned to again and again with satisfaction, and a moderate dose even of Logopandecteision and Ekskubalauron has no unwelcome gust. On the other hand, the charm of Walton is unfailing and unfading; and the Rabelais of Sir Thomas of Cromarty has not merely a borrowed, but an earned and contributory, place in the utterances of the comic spirit of the world. While, as for those of the graver genius, the work of Sir Thomas of Norwich, its scepticism tempered by imagination and its style incrusted with the rarest gems of phrase and rhythm, stands practically alone, even in its own time—some things in Donne excepted—and without anything similar or second at any other.   44

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  Sir Thomas Urquhart  
 
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