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Saxons from Old Saxony, the country between the Elbe and the Eider; the Angles from the Duchy of Sleswick; and the Jutes from the north of Sleswick or the south of Jutland: but it is highly probable that we should reckon among them several bodies of Frisians. The Saxons settled successively in Sussex, Wessex and Essex; the first bands of the Angles occupied what we now call the eastern counties—the later ones pushed farther north to the Tweed and the Frith of Forth; the Jutes fixed themselves principally in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Though the language of them all was radically the same, dialectical differences existed; but all the Germanic settlers of the fifth century appear to have called themselves AEnglisc or English, and for this reason we propose to follow the example of Palgrave and most other modern scholars, and call their language, not AngloSaxon, but simply Old English. It must also be observed, that a considerable number of Scandinavian words found their way into England before and during the reigns of the Danish kings from Swein to Hardicanute, but these, belonging as they did to the Teutonic stock, made little change in the language of the country. For the sake of convenience we shall consider the English language in the following three phases, or stages of development:
I. Old English from the settlement of the Germanic tribes till about A. D. 1154. During this period, the language was synthetical or highly inflected, and the vocabulary contained but few words of foreign origin. II. Middle English, from the abovementioned date till about A. D. 1500. In this period the grammar of the language gradually lost its synthetical character, and the vocabulary became vastly enlarged, chiefly by the reception of Norman-French words. III. Modern English, from about 1500 to the present time. The grammar now took a decided analytical form; the vocabulary, though still receiving occasional trifling accessions, may be regarded as fixed. To the great majority of learners Modern English is incomparably the most important and useful; hence it has been thought advisable to open the present work with the brilliant literary galaxy which shed such a lustre on the Elizabethan age. Being, however, convinced that a synoptical view of the principal writers who flourished before the beginning of the sixteenth century will not only be acceptable to the student, but is almost indispensable to a perfect understanding of the modern literature, we proceed to make them the subject of a brief notice.
OLD ENGLISH VVFITEFS.
As a starting-point in English literature, the poem of Beowulf is generally taken. In its earliest form it was, no doubt, composed in Sleswick, before the Angles left their old homes; but several high authorities regard it as beyond doubt, that the interpolations and .#. it afterwards received were made to the poem in England. Beowulf, as we at present have it, is divided into twelve cantos or sections, and celebrates the exploits of the princely hero whose name it, bears. Accompanied by fourteen of his Geats, the champion crosses the sea, and arrives at the castle of a 1)anish prince named Hródhgār or Rudigar, whom he frees from the unwelcome visits of a singular half-human monster, called Grendel. This strange being, whose custom it is to enter the great banqueting-hall at midnight, and kill some of the warriors sleeping there, is stated to be the offspring of the first murderer Cain, but this is an evident addition by a Christian hand. He
of the Bi
is defeated by Beowulf, and retires into a marsh to die, but the conqueror has soon after a more terrible, though still a victorious combat to sustain against Grendel's mother, who comes to revenge her son. On the death of King Hygelak, Beowulf becomes king of the Geats, and he is already far advanced in years when tidings arrive that a dragon is devastating the country, and spreading terror all around. Beowulf goes forth to fight this second monster, which he kills with the aid of the faithful Wiglaf, but, dies of a mortal wound he has received in the neck. The earliest of the known poets on English soil was, however, Caedmon, an uneducated man, but a natural genius like Bloomfield and Burns. He made poetical paraphrases of some parts
|. and Bede tells us he composed a great deal, but it is doubted if all the poems ascribed to him, and contained in a manuscript of the tenth century, now in the Bodleian library, were really his own composition. It has been conjectured, that the elder of the two poetical versions of Genesis (coming down to the sacrifice of Abraham), that have been preserved, and perhaps the anonymous fragment Judith, may be by Caedmon, but on this subject we know nothing certain. We have ver little, indeed, that we can call his wit confidence. The manuscript above referred to was sent by Archbishop Usher to the celebrated scholar Junius, and published by him at Amsterdam in 1655. Four short poems are to be found in the Saxon Chronicle: the Brunanburh War-Song, a Fio lyric, composed to commemorate the victory of King Æthelstan and his brother Eadmund over the combined Scots, Cymbrians and Northmen in 937; a poem on the annexation of five Danish boroughs in Mercia in 942; a third on the coronation of King Edgar at Bath in 973; and a fourth, treating of the death of King Leadgar (975). Another very interesting poem is the Battle of Maldon, which celebrates the heroic exploits and death of the valiant Ealdorman Byrhtnoth in a combat with the pagan Northmen, in the year 991, at Maldon in Essex. The Traveller's Song relates the wanderings of a singer or gleeman, who lived about the time of Attila; and several other poems, including a collection of riddles, are attributed to Cynewulf, whose productions all bear the impress of deep Christian conviction. Besides these, numerous lyrical fragments have descended to us, many of which, such as: the Wanderer, the Navigator, Deor's Complaint, etc. by unknown authors, possess no mean poetical merit. Of the prose-writers during the Old English period the most imF. is King Alfred, deservedly called the reat (848–901), who first thought of doing something for the education of the people. This excellent monarch translated out of the Latin into the vulgar tongue, with the aid of Asser, afterwards Bishop of Sherborne, the treatise of the Roman Boethius on the Consolations of Philosophy, the historical works of Bede, called ‘the venerable,” the elementary work of the Spanish priest Orosius on history, and some other writings. The noble task of enlightening the people, which Alfred had imposed on himself, was continued after his death by Ælfric, archbishop of Canterbury, who translated the first seven books of the Old Testament into his native tongue, besides writing a large number of homilies and a Latin grammar. Wulfstan, archbishop of York,
is the Saxon Chronicle, the work of successive writers down to the year 1154. It has been alleged, though we believe without sufficient foundation, that this curious and important record, existing in seven separate forms, each named after the monastery where it was compiled, was begun in the reign of Alfred by Archbishop Plegmund of Canterbury, at the solicitation of the king. It is, however, quite possible that the oldest copy, the Winchester Chronicle, really dates from the time of Alfred, though we have no proof that he was concerned in its composition. The principal forms of the Saxon Chronicle are known as the Winchester, Worcester, Abingdon and Peterborough. A good translation into modern English was made by Miss Gurney in 1819. If we add the legend of Apollonius of Tyre and a version of the Gospels, hardly anything else before the Conquest remains to be mentioned. In those days little learning existed among the o and the monks and secular clergy wrote almost always in Latin.
It will be readily understood, that the Conquest in 1066 was highly prejudicial to the cultivation of English literature. Norman-French became the language of the Court and the nobility, and though the Norman minstrels, or troubadours, frequently borrowed the subjects of their metrical romances from British history or tradition, yet as these were composed by them in their own tongue, they cannot properly be classed as English, though the greater part of them were translated or imitated by English minstrels. The most interesting of those romances treat of the exploits of King Arthur; of the Quest of the San Greal, or chalice used by Christ at the last Supper; of the exploits of Sir Lancelot du |''. of Sir Tristan and Sir Gawaine, and of the death of King Arthur. It is maintained by some, that all the early English metrical romances were borrowed from the NormanFrench, but this view is rejected by Bishop Percy, who traces the Norman and early English popular poetry, to one common. source, namely, to the lyrical productions of the old Scandinavian bards. The probability is, that the Norman and the English minstrels borrowed freely from each other. A very singular production of this period, in the French language, is a poem called le Brut d'Angleterre, or the Brutus of England, narrating how an imaginary Brutus, a son of AEneas of Troy, founded the state of Britain. The author was a native
also made himself a name as a writer of of Jersey, called Wace, and his poem, homilies. But perhaps the most interesting written in 1155, is simply a translation of monument of Old English prose literature a serious history composed in Latin by the
monk, Geoffrey of Monmouth, who in his
turn had derived his materials from popular traditions collected by, and communicated to him by Walter Calenius, archdeacon of Oxford. Incredible as Geoffrey's stories are, they formed for several centuries a rich mine of romance, which even Spenser and Shakespeare did not disdain to explore. About the year 1200, nearly a century and a half after the Conquest, W ace's poem was translated into English, and extended to nearly double its length by Layamon, a priest of Ernley-by-Severn. The work bears strong traces of Norman influence, though the number of French words is not great, either in the earlier or the later text. The peculiar alliteration of the Old English metrical system is still retained, but rhymin
couplets in the Norman taste are introduce
as well. Layamon was succeeded by the monk, Robert of Gloucester, who continued his Chronicle to the end of Henry III.'s reign, and wrote in rhymed Alexandrines. About half a century later Robert Mannyng,
or Robert of Brunne (Bourne) in Lincolnshire, composed another Chronicle, the first part of which was borrowed from Wace; while the second part, derived from a different source, comes down to the death of Edward I. A work, which Dr. White describes as “a series of homilies in an imperfect state,’ and Professor Ten Brinck as a ‘torso, was written in the thirteenth century by a monk of the order of St. Augustine, named Orm or Ormin, and is hence entitled the Ormulum. It is written in metre without alliteration, and like a similar production, the Ancren Riwle, or Rule of female Anchorites, possesses small literary, but great philological value. A very curious work, which appeared about the same time, the Ayenbite of Inwyt, or Remorse of Conscience, by Dan Michel, a Kentish monk, is an attempt to write a book with exclusively Germanic words, and the author shows wonderful ingenuity in framing Teutonic equivalents for the most generally accepted terms of Latin derivation.
Though Layamon's Chronicle may be regarded as marking the dawn of Middle English, it is not till we come , nearer the time of Geoffrey Chaucer that its distinctive features clearly reveal themselves. Lawrence Minot, who wrote in the Northumbrian dialect ten poems on the victories of Edward III. in Scotland and France, and curiously combines the old alliteration with the rhyme and measure of the then fashionable metrical romance, is commonly regarded as the immediate predecessor of Chaucer. The satirical poet, Robert Longlande, author of the Visio de Petro Plowman, was a contemporary of both Minot and Chaucer, having been born about 1332 at Cleobury Mortimer in Shropshire. He was a churchman, though it seems not a regularly ordained priest, and in his vision he scourges both the vices of the religious orders and the generally, prevalent lying and corruption. The ploughman, Pierce, having fallen asleep on the §. hills, sees in a dream people of all classes passing over a wide field, which represents the world. A tower on a hill is the dwelling of Truth; a beautiful lady who descends from the hill, is the Church; and a castle in a hollow is the abode of sorrow, the dwelling-place of the father of lies. This first part was written in 1362. In the con
tinuation, or second vision, we meet with a number of pilgrims on their way to seek Saint Truth, and Pierce Ploughman offers himself as their guide. A discussion on absolution follows between Pierce and a priest. A third part, on the subject of Christian love or charity, subdivided into three heads, appeared in 1377, and the whole was revised by Longlande in 1393. The author evidently held the same religious views as Wickliffe. But with Geoffrey Chaucer a new epoch in English literature begins. . This great oet was born in London, in the year 1328 or 1340, and died in 1400. Of his family we know nothing certain, nor is it quite clear where he was educated; but it is probable that he was of noble birth, as we find him very early holding an important public office, and at a later period his sister-in-law became the wife of the celebrated Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt. When Edward III. laid claim to the French crown, and invaded France, Chaucer aecompanied him as an armed knight, was taken prisoner by the French at the siege of Rhetiers in 1359, but was ransomed, and returned to England in the following year. Under Richard II. Chaucer for a time enjoyed the favour of the Court, and was employed at least twice in confidential missions, but about , 1386 he experienced reverses, and thought it prudent to withdraw for a time to Holland. Though he seems to have been imprisoned on his return to England, he soon regained the favour of the king. When Henry of Bolingbroke ascended i. throne (1399) Chaucer, related to the royal family as he was by marriage, had the fairest prospects opened before him, but he preferred spending the remainder of his life in retirement. If we consider the manifold avocations of Chaucer, we shall find that he was a surprisingly fertile writer, as the following list of his works will show:— I. The Romaunt of the Rose, a translation of the similarly named French poem, begun by Guillaume de Lorris in the time of Louis IX., and continued forty years afterwards by Jean de Meung. The poem takes the favourite form of a vision, and the hero, introduced to the reader as the vassal of Love, has to contend with a multitude of enemies, such as Danger, Faux Semblant, etc., who endeavour to exclude him from a garden in which the Rose—the symbol of his Lady-Love—flourishes. Meung is witty but perhaps too sarcastic, and Chaucer has greatly curtailed his part of the poem. II. The Court of Love, in which Philogenet, being conducted to a temple, swears obedience to the twenty commandments of Love, and is then rewarded by being presented to a
lady whom he has seen and loved in a dream.
III. The Assembly of Fowls, in which three, eagles dispute the possession of a beautiful female bird, the symbol, it is *} of Lady Blanche of Lancaster. IV. The Cuckoo, and the Nightingale, which has been skilfully imitated in modern language by Wordsworth. The first is the representative of lewdness and profligacy, the latter that of virtuous j.". V. The Flower and the Leaf; of which Dryden has given us a modern, though somewhat tame version. A vision or allegory, written on the occasion of the marriage of John of Gaunt's daughter, Philippa, with King John of Portugal. It contains many passages of exquisite beauty. VI. The House of Fame, , a splendid poem, vastly superior to Pope's imitation, the Temple of Fame. VII. Chaucer's Dream, which seems to have been suggested by the marriage of John of Gaunt. VIII. The Book of the Duchess, which, though allegorical, refers to the death of John of Gaunt's first wife. IX. The Legend of Good Women, which gives us the stories of a number of women
famous in history, as having been unfortunate in love. X. Troilus and Creseide, evidently suggested by Boccaccio's Filostrato. Most of the o are taken from the Iliad, but the whole poem has a strong tinge of the Middle Ages. The great reputation of Chaucer, ‘the Morning Star of English poetry,’ as he has been called by Wordsworth, mainly rests, however, on his unfinished work, the Canterbury Tales. With all respect for the opinion of those critics who have laboured to prove, that Chaucer was unacquainted with Boccaccio's works, we must record our conviction, that the Canterbury Tales were suggested by the Decamerone. It is true, that, Chaucer has vastly improved on the original idea of Boccaccio. The Italian writer makes us acquainted with seven ladies and three gentlemen, who meet accidentally in one of the churches of Florence during the great plague of 1848, and agree to retire to a beautiful villa in the neighbourhood of the city, and there lead a luxurious and merry life till the virulence of the epidemic has abated. They remain in this retreat for ten days, and as each of them tells a story daily, we have one hundred stories in all. However amusing , and ingenious these stories may be, the mind of the reader involuntarily wanders from them to , the poor wretches in the city writhing in hopeless agony, to the lugubrious dead-cart, the open pits, desolate widows, fatherless children, and to the robbers and murderers who in such times take advantage of the public distress to § their horrid trade with impunity. In Xhaucer's design, on the contrary, there is nothing repulsive, nothing suggestive of unfeeling indifference to public calamity. He tells us, that having the intention of making a pilgrimage to the tomb of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury, he makes acquaintance, in the Tabard Inn, with twenty-nine other pilgrims. They all sup together, and the jovial landlord, H., Bailey, who offers to accompany them to co, makes the proposal that each of them shall tell two tales (tales tway), in going and two more in returning, and that when they again reach Southwark, the best story-teller shall sup at the expense of the rest. The proposal is unanimously accepted, and on the next morning the caravan takes the road to Canterbury. Had Chaucer lived to complete his o the number of tales (including four from Chaucer himself) would have been 120, for in our reckoning we must exclude the landlord, who having been
appointed judge and umpire, could, not himself be a competitor. We have, however, only twenty-four stories, and three of these are incomplete. It is somewhat remarkable that though Chaucer at first gives the number of the pilgrims he meets at the Tabard Inn as “nine and twenty in a compagnie,” he afterwards, in his detailed description, makes them thirty persons. Another superiority of the Canterbury Tales, as compared with the Decamerone, is to be found in the great variety of Chaucer's characters. Boccaccio's personages all belong to the same class of society, which necessarily leads to a certain monotony in the style of narration; while Chaucer places before us representatives of every rank and station. We have a Knight, who had fought on many a field, and seen many a strange country; a young romantic Squire, his son; a stout Yeoman, his servant; a Prioress, who could speak the French of the School, Stratford-atte-Bow, but not the French of Paris; a Nun and three Priests; a poor Parson, pious and charitable; a Man of Law; a Monk; a mendicant Friar, always ready to hear a confession, and to grant absolution for a small consideration; a Sumpnour, or summoner before the ecclesiastical courts, addicted to intemperance, hating and hated by the Friar; a Pardoner, or vender of indulgences, who also sold relics of saints; a Student of Oxford, very poor and devoted to learning; a Doctor of Medicine, with a smattering of astrology; a Merchant, wealthy but not happy in his wedded life; a Shipman, full of daring and fun; five tradesmen, a haberdasher, a carpenter, a weaver, a dyer, an upholsterer; a cook, seldom sober; a Manciple or college steward; a Franklin, or freeholder, fond of his ease; an athletic and gluttonous Miller; a Reeve, or land-steward, peevish and choleric; an honest Ploughman, brother to the poor Parson; a Wife of Bath, who had been married five times, and was looking out for a sixth husband. As might be expected, the twenty-four tales we possess differ widely in style. That told by the Knight, the story of Palamon and Arcite, has always been a favourite, and besides being turned to account by Shakespeare in his Midsummer Night's Dream, was dramatized by Beaumont and Fletcher with the title: The two 'oble Kinsmen. It is evidently, borrowed, in substance, from the Theseida of Boccaccio. The Prioress's legend of the murdered child, litel Hew of Lincoln,” the Man-of-Law's pathetic tale of Custance (from Gower's Confessio Amantis), the Clerk
of Oxford's beautiful narrative of the patient Griselda (which by the way is the last tale in the Decamerone), and the moving episode of Hugelin of Pise (borrowed from Dante) in the Monk's Tale, are justly admired. Of the humorous stories the best are those told by the Nun's Priest, the Miller, the Reeve, the Sumpnour, and the Yeoman of a Canon who joins the pilgrims on the road. The substance of the Reeve's tale may be found in the Decamerone, in the sixth novel of the ninth day. “The language of Chaucer,’ says Tyrwhitt, ‘has undergone two very different judgments. According to one, he is the ‘well of English undefiled,” according to the other, he has ‘corrupted and deformed the English idiom by an immoderate mixture of French words.' This able writer goes on to show, that Chaucer is not chargeable with the introduction of these French words into the English language, for this importation had begun before the Conquest, when Edward the Confessor, who had resided many years in Normandy, returned to England in 1043, bringing with him a crowd of Norman favourites. The process of mutation in the language, thus initiated, naturally received a new and immense impulse from the victory of Hastings and the accession of William of Normandy. If Chaucer's language differs from that of his contemporary, Wickliffe, the cause is to be sought in the fact, that the former wrote for the upper and the educated middle class, while the latter addressed himself principally to the mass of the people. Besides, we think the divergence in |. style has been overrated, as may be seen by comparing a passage taken at hasard from each of ão authors.
Wepen both yong and old in al that place,
Wickliffe. And lo tweyne of hem wenten in that day into a castel, that was fro Jerusalem the space
(i) Message. 2, Helm.