But whether in the one work or the other, the flexibility, the music, the luminous clearness of Sidney's style remains the same. The quickness and vivacity of English prose, however, was first developed in the school of Italian imitators who appeared in Elizabeth's later years. The origin of English fiction is to be found in the tales and romances with which Greene and Nash crowded the market, models for which they found in the Italian novels. The brief form of these novelettes soon led to the appearance of the "pamphlet;" and a new world of readers was seen in the rapidity with which the stories or scurrilous libels which passed under this name were issued, and the greediness with which they were devoured. It was the boast of Greene that in the eight years before his death he had produced forty pamphlets. "In a night or a day would he have yarked up a pamphlet, as well as in seven years, and glad was that printer that might be blest to pay him dear for the very dregs of his wit." Modern eyes see less of the wit than of the dregs in the works of Greene and his compeers; but the attacks which Nash directed against the Puritans and his rivals were the first English works which shook utterly off the pedantry and extravagance of Euphuism. In his lightness, his facility, his vivacity, his directness of speech, we have the beginning of popular literature.
It had descended from the closet to the street, and the very change implied that the street was ready to receive it. The abundance indeed of printers and of printed books at the close of the Queen's reign shows that the world of readers and writers had widened far beyond the small circle of scholars and courtiers with which it began.
We shall have to review at a later time the great poetic burst for which this intellectual advance was paving the way, and the moral and religious change which was passing over the country through the progress of Puritanism. But both the intellectual and the religious impulses of the age united with the influence of its growing wealth to revive a spirit of independence in the nation at large, a spirit which it was impossible for Elizabeth to understand, but the strength of which her wonderful tact enabled her to feel. Long before any open conflict arose between the people and the Crown, we see her instinctive perception of the changes which were going on round her in the modifications, conscious or unconscious, which she introduced into the system of the monarchy. Of its usurpations on English liberty she abandoned none. But she curtailed and softened down almost all. She tampered, as her predecessors had tampered, "with personal freedom; there was the same straining of statutes and coercion of juries in political trials as before, and an arbitrary power of imprisonment was still exercised by the Council. The duties she imposed on cloth and sweet wines were an assertion of her right of arbitrary taxation. Proclamations in Council constantly assumed the force of law.
In one part of her policy indeed Elizabeth seemed to fall back from the constitutional attitude assumed by the Tudor sovereigns. Ever since Cromwell's time the Parliament had been convened almost year by year as a great engine of justice and legislation, but Elizabeth recurred to the older jealousy of the two Houses which had been entertained by Edward the Fourth, Henry the Seventh, and Wolsey. Her Parliaments were summoned at intervals of never less than three, and sometimes of five years, and never save on urgent necessity. Practically however the royal power was wielded with a caution and moderation that showed the sense of a gathering difficulty in the full exercise of it. The ordinary course of justice was left undisturbed. The jurisdiction of the Council was asserted almost exclusively over the Catholics; and defended in their case as a precaution against pressing dangers. The proclamations issued were temporary in character and of small importance. The two duties imposed were so slight as to pass almost unnoticed in the general satisfaction at Elizabeth's abstinence from internal taxation. She abandoned the benevolences and forced loans which had brought home the sense of tyranny to the subjects of her predecessors.
She treated the Privy Seals, which on emergencies she issued for advances to her Exchequer, simply as anticipations of her revenue (like our own Exchequer Bills), and punctually repaid them. The monopolies with which she fettered trade proved a more serious grievance; but during her earlier reign they were looked on as a part of the system of Merchant Associations, which were at that time regarded as necessary for the regulation and protection of the growing commerce. Her thrift enabled her in ordinary times of peace to defray the current expenses of the Crown from its ordinary revenues. But the thrift was dictated not so much by economy as by the desire to avoid summoning fresh Parliaments. The Queen saw that the "management" of the two Houses, so easy to Cromwell, was becoming harder every day. The rise of a new nobility, enriched by the spoils of the Church and trained to political life by the stress of events around them, was giving fresh vigour to the Lords. The increased wealth of the country gentry, as well as their growing desire to obtain a seat in the Commons, brought about the cessation at this time of the old practice of payment of members by their constituencies.
A change too in the borough representation, which had long been in progress but was now for the first time legally recognized, tended greatly to increase the vigour and independence of the Lower House. The members for boroughs had been required by the terms of the older writs to be chosen from the body of the burgesses; and an Act of Henry the Fifth gave this custom the force of law. But the passing of the Act shows that the custom was already widely infringed; and by the time of Elizabeth most borough seats were filled by strangers, often nominees of the great landowners round, but for the most part men of wealth and blood, whose aim in entering Parliament was a purely political one, and whose attitude towards the Crown was far bolder and more independent than that of the quiet tradesmen who preceded them. So changed, indeed, was the tone of the Commons, even as early as the close of Henry's reign, that Edward and Mary both fell back on the prerogative of the Crown to create boroughs, and summoned members from fresh constituencies, which were often mere villages, and wholly in the hands of the Crown. But this "packing of the House" had still to be continued by their successor.