Literature reflected the general tendency of the time; and the dumpy little quartos of controversy and piety, which still crowd our older libraries, drove before them the classical translations and Italian novelettes of the age of the Renascence. "Theology rules there," said Grotius of England only two years after Elizabeth's death; and when Casaubon, the last of the great scholars of the sixteenth century, was invited to England by King James, he found both King and people indifferent to pure letters. "There is a great abundance of theologians in England," he says, "all point their studies in that direction." Even a country gentleman like Colonel Hutchinson felt the theological impulse. " As soon as he had improved his natural understanding with the acquisition of learning, the first studies he exercised himself in were the principles of religion." The whole nation became, in fact, a Church. The great problems of life and death, whose questionings found no answer in the higher minds of Shakspere's day, pressed for an answer not only from noble and scholar but from farmer and shopkeeper in the age that followed him. We must not, indeed, picture the early Puritan as a gloomy fanatic. The religious movement had not as yet come into conflict with general culture.
With the close of the Elizabethan age, indeed, the intellectual freedom which had marked it faded insensibly away: the bold philosophical speculations which Sidney had caught from Bruno, and which had brought on Marlowe and Ralegh the charge of atheism, died, like her own religious indifference, with the Queen. But the lighter and more elegant sides of the Elizabethan culture harmonized well enough with the temper of the Puritan gentleman. The figure of Colonel Hutchinson, one of the Regicides, stands out from his wife's canvas with the grace and tenderness of a portrait by Vandyck. She dwells on the personal beauty which distinguished his youth, on "his teeth even and white as the purest ivory," "his hair of brown, very thickset in his youth, softer than the finest silk, curling with loose great rings at the ends." Serious as was his temper in graver matters, the young squire of Owthorpe was fond of hawking, and piqued himself on his skill in dancing and fence. His artistic taste showed itself in a critical love of " paintings, sculpture, and all liberal arts,' as well as in the pleasure he took in his gardens, " in the improvement of his grounds, in planting groves and walks and forest trees." If he was "diligent in his examination of the Scriptures," "he had a great love for music, and often diverted himself with a viol, on which he played masterly." We miss, indeed, the passion of the Elizabethan time, its caprice, its largeness of feeling and sympathy, its quick pulse of delight; but, on the other hand, life gained in moral grandeur, in a sense of the dignity of manhood, in orderliness and equable force.
The temper of the Puritan gentleman was just, noble, and self-controlled. The larger geniality of the age that had passed away was replaced by an intense tenderness within the narrower circle of the home. " He was as kind a father," says Mrs. Hutchinson of her husband, " as dear a brother, as good a master, as faithful a friend as the world had." The wilful and lawless passion of the Renascence made way for a manly purity. " Neither in youth nor riper years could the most fair or enticing woman ever draw him into unnecessary familiarity or dalliance. Wise and virtuous women he loved, and delighted in all pure and holy and unblameable conversation with them, but so as never to excite scandal or temptation. Scurrilous discourse even among men he abhorred; and though he sometimes took pleasure in wit and mirth, yet that which was mixed with impurity he never could endure." To the Puritan the wilfulness of life, in which the men of the Renascence had revelled, seemed unworthy of life's character and end. His aim was to attain self-command, to be master of himself, of his thought and speech and acts. A certain gravity and reflectiveness gave its tone to the lightest details of his converse with the world about him. His temper, quick as it might naturally be, was kept under strict control.
In his discourse he was ever on his guard against talkativeness or frivolity, striving to be deliberate in speech and "ranking the words beforehand." His life was orderly and methodical, sparing of diet and of self-indulgence; he rose early, " he never was at any time idle, and hated to see any one else so." The new sobriety and self-restraint marked itself even in his change of dress. The gorgeous colours and jewels of the Renascence disappeared. Colonel Hutchinson "left off very early the wearing of anything that was costly, yet in his plainest negligent habit appeared very much a gentleman." The loss of colour and variety in costume reflected no doubt a certain loss of colour and variety in life itself; but it was a loss compensated by solid gains. Greatest among these, perhaps, was the new conception of social equality. Their common calling, their common brotherhood in Christ, annihilated in the mind of the Puritans that overpowering sense of social distinctions which characterized the age of Elizabeth. The meanest peasant felt himself ennobled as a child of God. The proudest noble recognized a spiritual equality in the poorest "saint." The great social revolution of the Civil Wars and the Protectorate was already felt in the demeanour of gentlemen like Hutchinson. "He had a loving and sweet courtesy to the poorest, and would often employ many spare hours with the commonest soldiers and poorest labourers." " He never disdained the meanest nor flattered the greatest." But it was felt even more in the new dignity and self-respect with which the consciousness of their "calling" invested the classes beneath the rank of the gentry.
Take such a portrait as that which Nehemiah Wallington, a turner in East-cheap, has left us of a London housewife, his mother. " She was very loving," he says, "and obedient to her parents, loving and kind to her husband, very tender-hearted to her children, loving all that were godly, much misliking the Avicked and profane. She was a patterr of sobriety unto many, very seldom was seen abroad except at church: when others recreated themselves at holidays and other times, she would take her needle-work and say, ' here is my recreation.'... God had given her a pregnant wit and an excellent memory. She was very ripe and perfect in all stories of the Bible, likewise in all the stories of the Martyrs, and could readily turn to them; she was also perfect and well seen in the English Chronicles, and in the descents of the Kings of England. She lived in holy wedlock with her husband twenty years, wanting but four days".