The object of the Cambridge English Prose Texts is to
provide students, primarily though not exclusively those of English Literature, with the opportunity of reading significant prose writers who … are rarely studied.
What a wonderful idea to have an anthology of prose from the English Revolution of the 1640’s and 50’s! These were years of unprecedented turmoil and unprecedented liberty. The censorship and ecclesiastical controls broke down: freedom of the press, assembly and organization established themselves. Publication expanded enormously. The London bookseller George Thomason, who tried to buy every published book and pamphlet, collected twenty-two in 1640 and 1,966 in 1641. This literature catered for a vastly extended readership, as both sides in the civil war appealed for support outside the charmed circle of those who had previously dominated political life. Journalism became a profession overnight. In 1641 there were four newspapers; in 1645, 722. Pamphlets and books could be published on subjects hitherto taboo, including democracy, communism, free love and every known religious heresy.
All this naturally affected English prose. It had to be simplified to meet the capacities of the new reading public. It had to become more vivid, concrete, direct and convincing, less learned and allusive. Journalists like Marchamont Nedham on the Parliamentarian side and John Berkenhead of the royalists mastered a