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Tha makede a Frenchis clerc,
Wace was ihoten,

The wel conthe writen,

And he hoe yef thare aetheler.
Aelienor, the wes Henries quene,
Thes heyes kinges.

Layamon leide theos boc,
And tha leaf wende.

He heom leofliche bi-hoold
Lithe him beo Drihten.
Fetheren he nom mid fingren,
And fiede on boc-felle,

And tha sothe word
Sette to-gathere,
And tha thre boc
Thrumde to ane.

That is, literally :

He took the English book
That Saint Bede made;
Another he took in Latin,
That Saint Albin made,
And the fair Austin,

That baptism brought hither in.

The third book he took,

[And] laid there in midst,

That made a French clerk,

Wace was [he] called,

That well could write,

And he it gave to the noble

Eleanor, that was Henry's queen,

The high king's.

Layamon laid before him] these books

And the leaves turned.

He them lovingly beheld;

Merciful to him be [the] Lord.

Feather (pen) he took with fingers,

And wrote on book-skin,

And the true words

Set together,

And the three books

Compressed into one.

[blocks in formation]

His English book was no doubt the translation into the vernacular tongue, commonly attributed to King Alfred, of Bede's Ecclesiastical History, which Layamon does not seem to have known to have been originally written in Latin. about his Latin book is unintelligible.

What he says St. Austin died in

A.D. 604; and the only Albin of whom anything is known was Albin abbot of St. Austin's at Canterbury, who is mentioned by Bede as one of the persons to whom he was indebted for assistance in the compilation of his History; but he lived more than a century after St. Austin (or Augustine). Some Latin chronicle, however, Layamon evidently had; and his scholarship, therefore, extended to an acquaintance with two other tongues in addition to the now obsolete classic form of his own.

The principal, and indeed almost the only, passage in Layamon's poem from which any inference can be drawn as to the precise time when it was written, is one near the end (p. 31, 979-80) in which, speaking of the tax called Rome-feoh, Romescot, or Peter-pence, he seems to express a doubt whether it will much longer continue to be paid

Drihte wat hu longe

Theo lagen scullen ilaeste
(The Lord knows how long
The law shall last).

This his learned editor conceives to allude to a resistance which it appears was made to the collection of the tax by King John and the nobility in the year 1205; and that supposition, he further suggests, may be held to be fortified by the manner in which Queen Eleanor, who had retired to Aquitaine on the accession of John, and died abroad at an advanced age in 1204, is spoken of in the passage quoted above from what we may call the Preface, written, no doubt, after the work was finished"Aelienor, the wes Henries quene."

"The structure of Layamon's poem," Sir Frederic observes, "consists partly of lines in which the alliterative system of the Anglo-Saxons is preserved, and partly of couplets of unequal length rhiming together. Many couplets, indeed, occur which have both of these forms, whilst others are often met with which possess neither. The latter, therefore, must have depended wholly on accentuation, or have been corrupted in transcription. The relative proportion of each of these forms is not to be ascertained without extreme difficulty, since the author uses them everywhere intermixed, and slides from alliteration to rhime, or from rhime to alliteration, in a manner perfectly arbitrary. The alliterative portion, however, predominates on the whole greatly over the lines rhiming together, even including the imperfect or assonant terminations, which are very frequent." Mr. Guest, Sir Frederic notes, has shown by the specimen which he has given with the accents marked in his English Rhythms (ii. 114

124), "that the rhiming couplets of Layamon are founded on the models of accentuated Anglo-Saxon rhythms of four, five, six, or seven accents."

Layamon's poetical merit, and also his value as an original authority, are rated rather high by his editor. His additions to and amplifications of Wace, we are told, consist in the earlier part of the work "principally of the speeches placed in the mouths of different personages, which are often given with quite a dramatic effect." The text of Wace," it is added, “is enlarged throughout, and in many passages to such an extent, particularly after the birth of Arthur, that one line is dilated into twenty; names of persons and localities are constantly supplied, and not unfrequently interpolations occur of entirely new matter, to the extent of more than an hundred lines. Layamon often embellishes and improves on his copy; and the meagre narrative of the French poet is heightened by graphic touches and details, which give him a just claim to be considered, not as a mere translator, but as an original writer."


Another metrical work of considerable extent, that known as the Ormulum, from Orm, or Ormin, which appears to have been the name of the writer, has been usually assigned to the same, or nearly the same age with the Brut of Layamon. It exists only in a single manuscript, which there is some reason for believing to be the author's autograph, now preserved in the Bodleian Library among the books bequeathed by the great scholar Francis Junius, who appears to have purchased it at the Hague in 1659 at the sale of the books of his deceased friend Janus Ulitius, or Vlitius (van Vliet), also an eminent philologist and book-collector. It is a folio volume, consisting of 90 parchment leaves, besides 29 others inserted, upon which the poetry is written in double columns, in a stiff but distinct hand, and without division into verses, so that the work had always been assumed to be.in prose till its metrical character was pointed out by Tyrwhitt in his edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, 1775. Accordingly no mention is made of it by Warton, the first volume of whose History was published in 1774. But it had

previously been referred to by Hickes and others; and it has attracted a large share of the attention of all recent investigators of the history of the language. It has now been printed in full, under the title of The Ormulum; Now first edited from the

Original Manuscript in the Bodleian, with Notes and a glossary, by Robert Meadows White, D.D., late Fellow of St. Mary Magdalene College, and formerly Professor of Anglo-Saxon in the University of Oxford; 2 vols. 8vo. Oxford, at the University Press, 1852.


The Ormulum is described by Dr. White as being "a series of Homilies, in an imperfect state, composed in metre without alliteration, and, except in very few cases, also without rhyme; the subject of the Homilies being supplied by those portions of the New Testament which were read in the daily service of the Church." The plan of the writer is, we are further told, "first to give a paraphrastic version of the Gospel of the day, adapting the matter to the rules of his verse, with such verbal additions as were required for that purpose. He then adds an exposition of the subject in its doctrinal and practical bearings, in the treatment of which he borrows copiously from the writings of St. Augustine and Elfric, and occasionally from those of Beda." "Some idea," it is added, may be formed of the extent of Ormin's labours when we consider that, out of the entire series of Homilies, provided for nearly the whole of the yearly service, nothing is left beyond the text of the thirty-second." We have still nearly ten thousand long lines of the work, or nearly twenty thousand as Dr. White prints them, with the fifteen syllables divided into two sections, the one of eight the other of seven syllables,-the latter, which terminates in an unaccented syllable, being prosodically equivalent to one of six, so that the whole is simply our still common alternation of the eight-syllabled and the six-syllabled line, only without either rhyme or even alliteration, which makes it as pure a species of blank verse, though a different species, as that which is now in use.

The list of the texts, or subjects of the Homilies, as preserved in the manuscript, extends to 242, and it appears to be imperfect. Ormin plainly claims to have completed his long selfimposed task. Here is the beginning of the Dedication to his brother Walter, which stands at the head of the work:

Nu, brotherr Wallterr, brotherr min

[Now, brother Walter, brother mine]

Affterr the flaeshes kinde;

[After the flesh's kind (or nature)]

Annd brotherr min i Crisstenndom


[And brother mine in Christendom (or Christ's kingdom)]

Thurrh fulluhht and thurrh trowwthe;

[Through baptism and through truth]

Aund brotherr min i Godess hus,

[And brother mine in God's house]

Yet o the thride wise,

[Yet on (in) the third wise]

Thurrh thatt witt hafenn takenn ba
[Though that we two have taken both]
An reghellboc to folghenn,

[One rule-book to follow]

Unnderr kanunnkess had and lif,
[Under canonic's (canon's) rank and life]
Swa summ Sannt Awwstin sette;
[So as St. Austin set (or ruled)]
Icc hafe don swa summ thu badd
[I have done so as thou bade]
Annd forthedd te thin wille;

[And performed thee thine will (wish)]
Icc hafe wennd inntill Ennglissh

[I have wended (turned) into English]
Goddspelless hallghe lare,
[Gospel's holy lore]

Affterr thatt little witt tatt me
[After that little wit that me]
Min Drihhtin hafethth lenedd.
[My Lord hath lent]

One remarkable feature in this English is evidently something very peculiar in the spelling. And the same system is observed throughout the work. It is found on a slight examination to consist in the duplication of the consonant whenever it follows a vowel having any other than the sound which is now for the most part indicated by the annexation of a silent e to the single consonant, or what may be called the name sound, being that by which the vowel is commonly named or spoken of in our modern English. Thus pane would by Ormin be written pan, but pan pann; mean men, but men menn; pine pin, but pin pinn; own on, but on onn; tune fun, but tun tunn. This, as Mr. Guest has pointed out, is, after all, only a rigorous carrying out of a principle which has always been applied to a certain extent in English orthography,-as in tally, or tall, berry, witty, folly, dull, as compared with tale, beer, white, lone, mule. The effect, however, in Ormin's work is on a hasty inspection to make his English seem much more rude and antique than it really is. The entry of the MS. in the catalogue of Vliet's library, as quoted by Dr. White, describes it as an old Swedish or Gothic book. Other early notices speak of it as semi-Saxon, or half Danish, or possibly old Scottish. Even Hickes appears to have regarded it as belonging to the first age after the Conquest.

Ormin attaches the highest importance to his peculiar system of orthography. Nevertheless, in quoting what he says upon


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