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He has reigned long in contrar my highness.'
PROSE WRITERS OF THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY. In the general history of literature, poetry takes precedence of prose. At first, when the memory was the chief means of preserving literature, men seem to have found it necessary that composition should take a form different from ordinary discourse —a form involving certain measures, breaks, and pauses-not only as appropriate to its being something higher and finer than common speech, but in order that it might be the more easily remembered. Hence, while we cannot trace poetry to its origin, we know that the first prose dates from the sixth century before the Christian era, when it was assumed, in Greece, as the form of certain narratives differing from poetry in scarcely any other respect. In England, as in all other countries, prose was a form of composition scarcely practised for several centuries, during which poetry was comparatively much cultivated. The first specimens of it, entitled to any consideration, date from the reign of Edward III.
SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE.
SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE is usually held as the first English prose writer. He was born at St Albans in the year 1300, and received the liberal education requisite for the profession of medicine. During the
1 The necessary consequence of an interdict.
4 Expedition-his journey to the other world.
thirty-four years previous to 1356, he travelled in eastern countries, and on his return to England, wrote an account of all he had seen, mixed up with innumerable fables, derived from preceding historians and romancers, as well as from hearsay. His book was originally written in Latin, then translated into French, and finally into English, that every man of my nacioun may undirstonde it.' It is of little use as a description of foreign climes, but valuable as a monument of the language, and of the imperfect learning and reason, and homely ideas, of the age which produced it. The name of the author has become identified with our idea of a mendacious babbler; but this is in a great measure an injustice. Mandeville, with the credulity of the age, embodied in his work every wild grandam tale and monkish fiction which came in his way; but it has been found, that where he quotes preceding authors, or writes from his own observation, he makes no effort at either embellishment or exaggeration. Hence it is not uncommon to find him in one page giving a sensible account of something which he saw, and in the next repeating with equal seriousness the story of Gog and Magog, the tale of men with tails, or the account of the Madagascar bird which could carry elephants through the air. He gives, upon the whole, a pleasing and interesting account of the Mohamedan nations amongst whom he sojourned. Considering the exasperation which was likely to have been occasioned by the recent crusades, those nations appear to have treated the Christian traveller with surprising liberality and kindness. He is himself of a much more liberal spirit than many pious persons of more recent times, and dwells with pleasure upon the numerous Christian sects who lived peaceably under the Saracen dominion. And ye shall understand,' says he, that of all these countries, and of all these isles, and of all these diverse folk, that I have spoken of before, and of diverse laws and of diverse beliefs that they han [have]; yet there is none of them all but that they han some reason within them and understanding, articles of our faith and some good points of our but gif it be the fewer; and that they han certain belief; and that they believen in God, that formed all things and made the world, and clepen him God of
Nature. * *
But yet they can not speken perfeytly (for there is no man to techen them); but only that they can devise by their natural wit.' Further, in reference to the superior moral conduct of the Mohamedan nations, he relates a conversation with the Sultan of Egypt, which may be here given, not only as a specimen of his language, but with the view of turning this writer of the fourteenth century to some account in instructing the
[A Mohamedan's Lecture on Christian Vices.]
[Original Spelling. And therfore I shalle telle you what the
Soudan tolde me upon a day, in his chambre. He leet voyden he wolde spake with me in conseille. And there he asked me,
out of his chambre alle maner of men, lordes and othere; for
how the Cristene men governed hem in oure contree. And I
seyde him, righte wel, thonked be God. And he seyde, treulyche nay; for ye Cristene men ne recthen righte noghte how untrewly to serve God. Ye scholde geven ensample, &c.]
And therefore I shall tell you what the Soudan told me upon a day, in his chamber. He let voiden out of his chamber all manner of men, lords, and other; for he would speak with me in counsel. And there he asked me how the Christian men governed 'em in our country. And I said [to] him, 'Right well, thonked be God.' And he said [to] me, Truly nay, for ye Christian men ne reckon right not how untruly to serve God. Ye should given ensample to the lewed
people for to do well, and ye given 'em ensample to don evil. For the commons, upon festival days, when they shoulden go to church to serve God, then gon they to taverns, and ben there in gluttony all the day and all night, and eaten and drinken, as beasts that i have no reason, and wit not when they have enow. And therewithal they ben so proud, that they knowen not how to ben clothed; now long, now short, now strait, now large, now sworded, now daggered, and in all manner guises, They shoulden ben simple, meek, and true, and full of alms-deed, as Jesu was, in whom they trow; but they ben all the contrary, and ever inclined to the evil, and to don evil. And they ben so covetous, that for a little silver they sellen 'eir daughters, 'eir sisters, and 'eir own wives, to putten 'em to lechery. And one withdraweth the wife of another; and none of 'em holdeth faith to another, but they defoulen 'eir law, that Jesu Christ betook 'em keep for 'eir salvation. And thus for 'eir sins, han [have] they lost all this lond that we holden. For 'eir sins here, hath God taken 'em in our honds, not only by strength of ourself, but for 'eir sins. For we knowen well in very sooth, that when ye serve God, God will help you; and when he is with you, no man may be against you. And that know we well by our prophecies, that Christian men shall winnen this lond again out of our honds, when they serven God more devoutly. But as long as they ben of foul and unclean living (as they ben now), we have no dread of 'em in no kind; for here God will not helpen 'em in no wise.'
vale is plenty of gold and silver; wherefore many misbelieving men, and many Christian men also, gon1 in often time, for to have of the treasure that there is, but few comen again; and namely, of the misbelieving men, ne of the Christian men nouther; for they ben anon strangled of devils. And in mid place of that vale, under a rock, is an head of the visage of a devil bodily, full horrible and dreadful to see; and it showeth not but the head, to the shoulders. But there is no inan in the world so hardy, Christian man ne other, but that he would ben adrad3 for to behold it; and that it would seemen him to die for dread; so is it hideous for to behold. For he beholdeth every man so sharply with dreadful eyen that ben evermore moving and sparkling as fire, and changeth and steereth so often in divers manner, with so horrible countenance, that no man dare not nighen5 towards him. And fro him cometh smoke and stink, and fire, and so much abomination, that unethe7 no man may there endure. But the good Christian men, that ben stable in the faith, entren well withouten peril: for they will first shriven 'em,8 and marken hem with the token of the Holy Cross ; so that the fiends ne han no9 power over 'em. But albeit that they ben withouten peril, zit natheles10 ne ben they not withouten dread, when that they seen the devils visibly and bodily all about 'em, that maken full many divers assautsil and menaces in air and in earth, and agasten12 'em with strokes of thunder-blasts and of tempests. And the most dread is, that God will taken vengeance then, of that men han misdone again13 his will. And ye should understand, that when my fellows and I weren in that vale, we weren in great thought whether that we dursten putten our bodies in aventure, to gon in or non, in the protection of God. And some of our fellows accordeden14 to enter, and some noght.15 So there were with us two worthy men, friars minors that were of Lombardy, that said, that if any man would enter, they would go in with us. And when they had said so, upon the gracious trust of God and of 'em,16 we let sing mass; and made every man to be shriven and houseld ;17 and then we entered fourteen persons; but at our going out, we were but nine. And so we wisten18 never, whether that our fellows were lost, or elles19 turned again for dread; but we ne saw them never after; and tho20 were two men of Greece and three of Spain; and our other fellows that would not go in with us, they went by another coast to ben before us, and so they were. And thus we passed that perilous vale, and found therein gold and silver, and precious stones, and rich jewels great plenty, both here and there, as us seemed; but whether that it was, as us seemed, I wot nere ;21 for I touched none, because that the devils be so subtle to make a thing to seem otherwise than it is, for to deceive mankind; and therefore I touched none; and also because that I would not be put out of my devotion: for I was more devout than ever I was before or after, and all for the dread of fiends, that I saw in divers figures; and also for the great multitude of dead bodies that I saw there lying by the way, by all the vale, as though there had been a battle between two kings, and the mightiest of the country, and that the greater part had been discomfitted and slain. And I trow22 that unethe should any country have so much people within him, as lay slain in that vale, as us thought; the which was an hideous sight to seen.23 And I marvelled much, that there
And then I asked him how he knew the state of Christian men. And he answered me, that he knew all the state of the commons also by his messengers, that he sent to all londs, in manner as they were merchants of precious stones, of cloths of gold, and of other things, for to knowen the manner of every country amongs Christian men. And then he let clepel in all the lords that he made voiden first out of his chamber; and there he showed me four that were great lords in the country, that tolden me of my country, and of many other Christian countries, as well as if they had been of the same country; and they spak French right well, and the Soudan also, whereof I had great marvel. Alas, that it is great slander to our faith and to our laws, when folk that ben withouten law shall reproven us, and undernemen2 us of our sins. And they that shoulden ben converted to Christ and to the law of Jesu, by our good example and by our acceptable life to God, ben through our wickedness and evil living, far fro us; and strangers fro the holy and very3 belief shall thus appellen us and holden us for wicked levirs and cursed. And truly they say sooth. For the Saracens ben good and faithful. For they keepen entirely the commandment of the holy book Alcoran, that God sent 'em by his messager Mahomet; to the which, as they sayen, St Gabriel, the angel, oftentime told the will of God.
[The Devil's Head in the Valley Perilous.] Beside that isle of Mistorak, upon the left side, nigh to the river Phison, is a marvellous thing. There is a vale between the mountains, that dureth nigh a four mile. And some clepen it the Vale Enchanted, some clepen it the Vale of Devils, and some clepen it the Vale Perilous; in that vale hearen men oftentime great tempests and thunders, and great murmurs and noises, all day and nights; and great noise as it were sound of tabors and of nakeress and trumps, as though it were of a great feast. This vale is all full of devils, and hath been always. And men say there, that it is one of the entries of hell. In that
were so many, and the bodies all whole withouten rotting. But I trow that fiends made them seem to be so whole, withouten rotting. But that might not be to my avys, that so many should have entered so newly, ne so many newly slain, without stinking and rotting. And many of them were in habit of Christian men; but I trowe well, that it were of such that went in for covetyse of the treasure that was there, and had overmuch feebleness in faith; so that their hearts ne might not endure in the belief for dread. And therefore were we the more devout a great deal; and yet we were cast down, and beaten down many times to the hard earth, by winds and thunders, and tempests; but evermore, God, of his grace, helped us. And so we passed that perilous vale, without peril, and without incumbrance. Thanked be Almighty God.
how ye shulen behave you in gathering of your riches, and in what manner ye shulen usen 'em. First, ye shulen geten 'em withouten great desire, by good leisure, sokingly, and not over hastily, for a man that is too desiring to get riches abandoneth him first to theft and to all other evils; and therefore saith Solomon, He that hasteth him too busily to wax rich, he shall be non innocent: he saith also, that the riches that hastily cometh to a man, soon and lightly goeth and passeth from a man, but that riches that cometh little and little, waxeth alway and multiplieth. And, sir, ye shulen get riches by your wit and by your travail, unto your profit, and that withouten wrong or harm doing to any other person; for the law saith, There maketh no man himself rich, if he do harm to another wight; that is to say, that Nature defendeth and forbiddeth by right, that no man make himself rich unto the harm of another person. And Tullius saith, That no sorrow, ne no dread of death, ne nothing that may fall unto a man, is so muckle agains nature as a man to increase his own profit to harm of another man. And though the great men and the mighty men geten riches more lightly than thou, yet shalt thou not ben idle ne slow to do thy profit, for thou shalt in all wise flee idleness; for Solomon saith, That idleness teacheth a man to do many evils; and the same Solomon saith, That he that travaileth and busieth himself to tillen his lond, shall eat bread, but he that is idle, and casteth him to no business ne ocsim-cupation, shall fall into poverty, and die for hunger. And he that is idle and slow can never find covenable time for to do his profit; for there is a versifier saith, that the idle man excuseth him in winter because of the great cold, and in summer then by encheson of the heat. For these causes, saith Caton, waketh and inclineth you not over muckle to sleep, for over muckle rest nourisheth and causeth many vices; and therefore saith St Jerome, Doeth some good deeds, that the devil, which is our enemy, ne find you not unoccupied, for the devil he taketh not lightly unto his werking such as he findeth occupied in good works.
CHAUCER, though eminent chiefly as a poet, deserves to be mentioned also as a prose writer. His longest unversified production is an allegorical and meditative work called The Testament of Love, written chiefly for the purpose of defending his character against certain imputations which had been cast upon it. Two of the Canterbury Tales are in prose; and from the first, entitled the Tale of Melibeus, is extracted the following passage, not less remarkable for the great amount of ancient wisdom which it contains, than for the clearness and plicity of the diction:--
When Prudence had heard her husband avaunt himself of his riches and of his money, dispreising the power of his adversaries, she spake and said in this wise: Certes, dear sir, grant you that ye ben rich and mighty, and that riches ben good to 'em that han well ygetten 'em, and that well can usen 'em ; for, right as the body of a man may not liven withouten soul, no more may it liven withouten temporal goods, and by riches may a man get him great friends; and therefore saith Pamphilus, If a neatherd's daughter be rich, she may chese of a thousand men which she wol take to her husband; for of a thousand men one wol not forsaken her ne refusen her. And this Pamphilus Baith also, If thou be right happy, that is to sayn, if thou be right rich, thou shalt find a great number of fellows and friends; and if thy fortune change, that thou wax poor, farewell friendship and fellowship, for thou shalt be all alone withouten any company, but if it be the company of poor folk. And yet saith this Pamphilus, moreover, that they that ben bond and thrall of liniage shuln be made worthy and noble by riches. And right so as by riches there comen many goods, right so by poverty come there many harms and evils; and therefore clepeth Cassiodore, poverty the mother of ruin, that is to sayn, the mother of overthrowing or falling down; and therefore saith Piers Alfonse, One of the greatest adversities of the world is when a free man by kind, or of birth, is constrained by poverty to eaten the alms of his enemy. And the same saith Innocent in one of his books; he saith that sorrowful and mishappy is the condition of a poor beggar, for if he ax not his meat he dieth of hunger, and if he ax he dieth for shame; and algates necessity constraineth him to ax; and therefore saith Solomon, That better it is to die than for to have such poverty; and, as the same Solomon saith, Better it is to die of bitter death, than for to liven in such wise. By these reasons that I have said unto you, and by many other reasons that I could say, I grant you that riches ben good to 'em that well geten 'em, and to him that well usen tho' riches; and therefore wol I show you
Then thus in getting riches ye musten flee idleness; and afterward ye shulen usen the riches which ye han geten by your wit and by your travail, in such manner, than men hold you not too scarce, ne too sparing, ne fool-large, that is to say, over large a spender; for right as men blamen an avaritious man because of his scarcity and chinchery, in the same wise he is to blame that spendeth over largely; and therefore saith Caton, use (he saith) the riches that thou hast ygeten in such manner, that men have no matter ne cause to call thee nother wretch ne chinch, for it is a great shame to a man to have a poor heart and a rich purse: he saith also, The goods that thou hast ygeten, use 'em by measure, that is to sayen, spend measureably, for they that solily wasten and despenden the goods that they han, when they han no more proper of 'eir own, that they shapen 'em to take the goods of another man. I say, then, that ye shulen flee avarice, using your riches in such manner, that men sayen not that your riches ben yburied, but that ye have 'em in your might and in your wielding; for a wise man reproveth the avaritious man, and saith thus in two verse, Whereto and why burieth a man his goods by his great avarice, and knoweth well that needs must he die, for death is the end of every man as in this present life? And for what cause or encheson joineth he him, or knitteth he him so fast unto his goods, that all his wits mowen not disseveren him or departen him fro his goods, and knoweth well, or ought to know, that when he is dead he shall nothing bear with him out of this world? and therefore saith St Augustine, that the avaritious man is likened unto hell, that the
more it swalloweth the more desire it hath to swallow and devour. And as well as ye wold eschew to be
called an avaritious man or an chinch, as well should ye keep you and govern you in such wise, that men call you not fool-large; therefore, saith Tullius, The goods of thine house ne should not ben hid ne kept so close, but that they might ben opened by pity and debonnairety, that is to sayen, to give 'em part that han great need; ne they goods shoulden not ben so open to be every man's goods.
Afterward, in getting of your riches, and in using of 'em, ye shulen alway have three things in your heart, that is to say, our Lord God, conscience, and good name. First ye shulen have God in your heart, and for no riches ye shulen do nothing which may in any manner displease God that is your creator and maker; for, after the word of Solomon, it is better to have a little good, with love of God, than to have muckle good and lese the love of his Lord God; and the prophet saith, that better it is to ben a good man and have little good and treasure, than to be holden a shrew and have great riches. And yet I say furthermore, that ye shulden always do your business to get your riches, so that ye get 'em with a good conscience. And the apostle saith, that there nis thing in this world, of which we shulden have so great joy, as when our conscience beareth us good witness; and the wise man saith, The substance of a man is full good when sin is not in a man's conscience. Afterward, in getting of your riches and in using of 'em, ye must have great business and great diligence that your good name be alway kept and conserved; for Solomon saith, that better it is and more it availeth a man to have a good name than for to have great riches; and therefore he saith in another place, Do great diligence (saith he) in keeping of thy friends and of thy good name, for it shall longer abide with thee than any treasure, be it never so precious; and certainly he should not be called a gentleman that, after God and good conscience all things left, ne doth his diligence and business to keepen his good name; and Cassiodore saith, that it is a sign of a gentle heart, when a man loveth and desireth to have a good name. * And he that trusteth him so muckle in his good conscience, that he despiseth or setteth at nought his good name or los, and recketh not though he kept not his good name, nis but a cruel churl.
JOHN WICKLIFFE [1324-1384] was a learned ecclesiastic and professor of theology in Baliol College, Oxford, where, soon after the year 1372, he began to challenge certain doctrines and practices of the Romish church, which for ages had held unquestioned sway in England. The mental capacity and vigour requisite for this purpose, must have been of a very uncommon kind; and Wickliffe will ever, accordingly, be considered as one of the greatest names in our history. In contending against the Romish doctrines and the papal power, and in defending himself against the vengeance of the ecclesiastical courts, he produced many controversial works, some of which were in English. But his greatest work, and that which was qualified to be most effectual in reforming the faith of his countrymen, was a translation of the Old and New Testaments, which he executed in his latter years, with the assistance of a few friends, and which, though taken from the Latin medium, instead of the original Hebrew and Greek, and though performed in a timid spirit with regard to idioms, is a valuable relic of the age, both in a literary and theological view. Wickliffe was several times cited for heresy,
* Wickliffe's translation of the New Testament has been twice printed, by Mr Lewis in 1731, and Mr Baber in 1810. His version of the Old Testament still remains in manuscript;
to retract some of his reputed heresies. Upwards of forty years after his death, in consequence of a debut the announcement has been made, that Mr Forshall and Mr Madden, both of the British Museum, are now engaged in preparing an edition, which is to issue from the University press of Oxford. Mr Baber, after much research, has come to the conclusion, that no English translation of the entire Bible preceded that of Wickliffe. (See Historical Account of the Saxon and English versions of the Scriptures previous to the opening of the fifteenth century,' prefixed by Mr Baber to his edition of the New Testament, p. lxviii.) Portions of it had, however, been translated at various times.
cree of the Council of Constance, his bones were disinterred and burnt, and the ashes thrown into a brook. 'This brook,' says Fuller, the church historian, in a passage which brings quaintness to the borders of sublimity, hath conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean: and thus the ashes of Wickliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all the world over.'
As a specimen of the language of Wickliffe, his translation of that portion of Scripture which contains the Magnificat, may be presented
And Marye seyde, My soul magnifieth the Lord.
For he hath behulden the mekenesse of his handmayden: for lo for this alle generatiouns schulen seye that I am blessid.
For he that is mighti hath don to me grete thingis, and his name is holy.
And his mercy is fro kyndrede into kyndredis to men that dreden him.
He hath made myght in his arm, he scatteride proude men with the thoughte of his herte. He sette doun myghty men fro seete, and enhaunHe hath fulfillid hungry men with side meke men. goodis, and he has left riche men voide. He heuynge mynde of his mercy took up Israel his child.
As he hath spokun to oure fadris, to Abraham, and to his seed into worlds.
Among these was JAMES I. of Scotland, whose mind and its productions, notwithstanding his being a native of that country, must be considered as of English growth. James had been taken prisoner in his boyhood by Henry IV. of England, and spent the nineteen years preceding 1424 in that country, where he was instructed in all the learning and polite accomplishments of the age, and appears, in particular, to have carefully studied the writings of Chaucer. The only certain production of this young sovereign is a long poem, called The King's Quhair, or Book, in which he describes the circumstances of an attachment which he formed, while a prisoner in Windsor Castle, to a young English princess whom he saw
walking in the adjacent garden. This lady, a daughter of the Earl of Somerset, was afterwards married to the young king, whom she accompanied to Scot