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Forty torches burning bright,
EARLY ENGLISH WRITERS. The century and a half from 1250 to 1400 has been designated the Early or Old English period of our language. A division into dialects also became more marked. There were the Northern (including the Lowlands of Scotland), the Midland, and the Southern; or as they have been historically termed, the Northumbrian, Mercian, and West Saxon dialects.
Among the old romances of pris' (price or praise) referred to by Chaucer, is supposed to be the Squire of Low Degree. The daughter of the King of Hungary had fallen into a state of melancholy from the supposed loss of the squire, her lover, and the king comforts his daughter by promising her many
presents and luxuries :
THOMAS OF ERCILDOUN. The military spirit then abroad, and the chivalrous enthusiasm of the Normans, were displayed in the literature of the day no less than in tournaments or in war and crusades. The mixed English language became a vehicle for romantic metrical tales, derived from the French. The name of one minstrel, THOMAS THE RHYMER, or THOMAS OF ERCILDOUN, is great in traditional story. He was a person of some consideration, owner of an estate, which he transmitted to his son, and he died shortly before 1299. Thomas, besides being a seer or prophet, is supposed to have been the author of our first metrical romance. An English rhyming chronicler, Robert de Brunne, refers to Sir Tristrem, a 'sedgeing tale,' or story for recitation, by Thomas of Ercildoun, which was esteemed above all other tales, if recited as written by the author. Few of the minstrels, however, gave it as it was made, in quaint or difficult English, but corrupted and lowered it in the course of recitation. It was a matter of regret that this genuine version of Sir Tristrem had been lost, and great satisfaction was expressed when Mr (afterwards Sir) Walter Scott, in 1804, published what he conceived to be a faithful copy of it, though modified in language in passing orally through different generations. This copy is contained in an old collection in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, called, from the name of its donor, the Auchinleck Manuscript, being presented by Lord Auchinleck, father of James Boswell, the biographer of John
The story of Sir Tristrem was familiar to poetical antiquaries. It was one of the ancient British legends taken up by the Norman minstrels. The style of the poem is elliptical and concise. It is divided into three 'fyttes' or cantos, and the following stanza will shew the style and orthography of the Auchinleck Manuscript :
Glad a man was he
The turnament dede crie,
And over the walles to lye;
To win the maistrie;
In Tour :
1 Go a-hunting.
Spiced wine. 6 Course.
3 Figured. 5 A drink of wine, honey, and spices. 7 Household.
Scottish origin of the poem has not been gener- art of printing was introduced. Chaucer, in his ally accepted. It is believed to be the production Rhime of Sire Thopas, has parodied the style of of some minstrel who had heard Thomas of these compositions, and made 'mine host' in the Ercildoun recite his romance. Mr Garnet, a high Canterbury Tales abuse all such drafty rhyming' authority on early English dialects, concludes that as destitute of mirth or doctrine. the present Sir Tristrem is a modernised copy of The principal metrical chroniclers were two an old Northumbrian romance which was probably ecclesiastics—ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER and written between 1260 and 1300, and derived from ROBERT DE BRUNNE. The former was a monk a Norman or Anglo-Norman source, but the author of Gloucester, who lived in the reigns of Henry may have availed himself of the previous labours III. and Edward I. His chief work is a rhymed of Ercildoun on the same theme.
chronicle of England from the legendary age of An elaborate work of about 20,000 lines, The Brutus to the close of Henry III.'s reign, partly Romance of King Alexander, appears to have been taken from the fabulous history of Geoffrey of written previous to 1300. It has been ascribed, Monmouth, and written in the long line (or but erroneously, to ADAM DAVIE, marshal of couplet) of fourteen syllables. This monk also Stratford-le-Bow, near London. Davie, however, wrote poems on the Martyrdom of Thomas à was a voluminous versifier, and wrote Visions, The Becket, and the Life of St Brandan, and other Battle of Jerusalem, &c. Two romances, Havelok saints. His language is strongly Anglo-Saxonthe Dane, and William and the Werwolf, have ninety-six per cent., according to Mr Marsh—but been edited (1828 and 1832) by an able antiquary, he speaks of the prevalence of the French tongue. Sir Frederick Madden. The story of Havelok relates the adventures of an orphan child, son of England and the Normans about 1300. a Danish king; the author is unknown.
Thuse come, lo ! Engelond into Normannes honde ;
And the Normans ne couthe speke tho bote her owe Extract from Havelok.
speche, Hwan he was hosled 1 and shriuen,
And speke French as dude atom, and here chyldren
dude al so teche;
So that heymen of thys lond, that of her blod come,
Holdeth alle thulke speche that hij of hem nome;
Vor bote a man couthe French me tolth of hym wel lute;
Ac lowe men holdeth to Englyss and to her kunde
Ich wene ther ne be man in world contreyes none
That ne holdeth to her kunde speche bot Engelond one.
Ac wel me wot vor to conne both wel yt ys;
Vor the more that a man con, the more worth he ys.
Thus came, lo! England into Normans' hand;
And the Normans could speak then but their own
speech, Helm on heued, and leden ut here
And spake French as [they] did at home, and their
children did all so teach ; (In his hand a spere stark),
So that high men of this land, that of their blood come,
Hold all the same speech that they of them took ;
For but [except] a man know French men tell of him
But low men hold to English and to their natural speech
I wene there not be man in world countries none
That not holdeth to their natural speech but England
But well I wot for to know both well it is ;
For the more that a man knows, the more worth he is.
Mr Ellis, in his Specimens of the Early English
Poets, praises Robert of Gloucester's description
of the first crusade, but the narrative is generally If their charge he undertook,
flat and prosaic. The following is a portion partly Till his son might [himself) bear
The Muster for the First Crusade.
A good pope was thilk time at Rome, that hecht? Urban, The Geste of King Horn, the romantic history Therefore he send preachers thorough all Christendom,
That preached of the creyserie, and creysed mony man. of Guy of Warwick (supposed to have been And himself a-this-side the mounts and to France come; written about 1292 by a Cornish friar, WALTER And preached so fast, and with so great wisdom, OF EXETER), Sir Bevis of Southampton, Richard That abo:at in each lond the cross fast me nome. Cæur de Lion, The King of Tars, La Morte In the year of grace a thousand and sixteen, Arthur, Sir Eglamour, and a host of other This great creyserie began, that long was i-seen. metrical romances, belong to this period, and most of so much folk nyme* the cross, ne to the holy lond go, of them were subsequently modernised when the Me ne see no time before, ne suth nathemo." 1 When he had the sacrament administered to him, and been
1 Was called. 2 Passed the mountains-namely, the Alps. shriven or confessed.
3 Was quickly taken up.
5 Since never more.
For self women ne beleved, that they ne wend thither fast,
Lordynges, that be now here, Ne young folk [that] feeble were, the while the voyage
If ye wille listene & lere y-last.
All the story of Inglande, So that Robert Curthose thitherward his heart cast,
Als Robert Mannyng wryten it fand, And, among other good knights, ne thought not be the
& on Inglysch has it schewed, last.
Not for the lerid bot for the lewed, He wends here to Englond for the creyserie,
For tho that in this land wonn, And laid William his brother to wed Normandy,
That the Latyn no Frankys conn, And borrowed of him thereon an hundred thousand mark,
For to haf solace & gamen To wend with to the holy lond, and that was some-deal
In felawschip when thai sitt samen.3 stark, ... The Earl Robert of Flanders mid 3 him wend also, Manning, or De Brunne, speaks of disours (Fr. And Eustace Earl of Boulogne, and mony good knight diseurs, reciters) and seggers, or sayers, in his day, thereto.
who recited metrical compositions, and took unThere wend the Duke Geoffrey, and the Earl Baldwin warrantable liberties with the text of the poets. there,
He did not write for them; he
Made nought for no disours,
Ne for no seggers, no harpours, had on hond,
But for the love of simple men
That strange English cannot ken.
The following is slightly modernised :
Interview of Vortigern with Rowen, the beautiful And Tancred his nephew, and the bishop also
Daughter of Hengist. Of Podys, and Sir Hugh the great earl thereto;
Hengist that day did his might, And folk also without tale,4 of all this west end
That all were glad, king and knight.
And as they were best in glading,
And well cup-shotten,4 knight and king,
Of chamber Rowenen so gent, Of Provence and of Saxony, and of Alemain,
Before the king in hall she went. Of Scotlond and of Greece, of Rome and Aquitain.
A cup with wine she had in hand,
And her attire was well farand.5 The good knight Robert Curthose was the
Before the king on knee set, bastard son of the Conqueror, and the monk thus And in her language she him gret. describes him :
'Laverd? king, wassail !' said she. Thick man he was enow, but he nas well long,
The king asked, What should be. Quarrys he was and well i-made for to be strong.
On that language the king ne couth. Therefore his father in a time i-see his sturdy deed,
A knight her language lerid in youth, The while he was young, and byhuld,? and these words
Bregh hight that knight, born Breton, said :
That lerid the language of Saxon.
This Bregh was the latimer, "By the uprising of God, Robelin, me shall i-see,
What she said told Vortiger.
Sir,' Bregh said, “Rowen you greets,
And king calls and lord you leets. 10
This is their custom and their gest, Other lack had he nought, but he was not well long ;
When they are at the ale or feast, He was quaint of counsel and of speech, and of body
Ilk man that loves where him think, strong. Never yet man ne might, in Christendom, ne in Paynim,
Shall say, Wassail! and to him drink.
He that bids shall say, Wassail !
That says Wassail drinks of the cup,
Rowen drank as her list,
There was the first wassail in dede,
And that first of fame gaed. contemporary of his own, and an Augustine canon
Of that wassail men told great tale, of Bridlington, in Yorkshire. This chronicle
And wassail when they were at ale, comes down to the death of Edward I. in 1307.
And drinkhail to them that drank, The earlier part is translated from Wace's Brut.
Thus was wassail ta'en to thank. Manning has been characterised as an industrious, Fell sithes 11 that maiden ying and, for the time, an elegant writer, possessing, in Wassailed and kissed the king. particular, a great command of rhymes. The Of body she was right avenant, 12 verse adopted in his chronicle is shorter than that Of fair colour with sweet semblant. of the Gloucester monk, making an approach to the octosyllabic stanza of modern times. The
1 Not for the learned, but for the laymen and unlearned.
2 Know. 3 When they sit the same-sit together. language is also nearer modern English :
4 Well advanced in convivialities.
5 of good appearance. This phrase is still used in Scotland. 1 Even women did not remain. 2 To wed, in pledge, in pawn.
8 Had no knowledge. 3 With. 4 Beyond reckoning.
11 Many times. Square. 6 Seeing his sturdy
deeds. 7 Beheld. 19 Graceful, beautiful.
Her attire full well it seemed,
to the Conquest, who deserved the name of a poet. His dialect is Northumbrian :
God that schopeboth se and sand
And tharto Jhesu grante him might ! A few more stanzas from the same poem (spelling simplified) will shew the animated style of Minot's narrative :
How Edward the King came in Brabant.
With many comely knight ;
To time 3 he think to fight.
Praise of Good Women. From the 'Handling of Sins.'
Nothing is to man so dear
The death of Edward I.-'the greatest of the Plantagenets'—July 7, 1307, called forth an elegy, preserved among the Harleian MSS. The following are two of the stanzas (spelling simplified) :
All that beeth of heart true
A stound hearkeneth to my song,
That maketh me sick and sorrow among,
Of whom God hath done his will,
That he (the king] so soon shall liggé ' still.
The flower of all chivalry,
Alas! that he yet should die !
Our banners that baeth 11 brought to ground;
Ere we such a king han y-found !
Thus in Brabånd has he been, Where he before was seldom seen
For to prove their japes ; 6 Now no langer will he spare, Bot unto France fast will he fare
To comfort him with grapes.
And all his company !
Ready to live or die.
Then the rich flower de lice?
Fast he fled for feared :
To shake him by the beard.
Sir Philip the Valays !
To battle had he thought : 10 He bade his men them purvey Withouten langer delay;
But he ne held it nought.
LAWRENCE MINOT-RICHARD ROLLE-WILLIAM
LANGLAND, LAWRENCE MINOT, about 1350, composed a series of ten poems on the victories of Edward III.-beginning with the battle of Halidon Hill (1333), and ending with the siege of Guines Castle (1352). His works were in a great measure unknown until the beginning of the present century, when they were published by Ritson, who praised them for the ease, variety, and harmony of the versification. Professor Craik considered Minot to be the earliest writer of English subsequent
In that morning fell a mist,
It changed all their cheer;
The weather wex full clear. Disposed, ordered (Ang:- Sax. scapan, to shape, to form). 2 Abode, dwelling.
2 Pagan. 3 Would not draw off a little, but granted all quickly. 'Tite, soon, is connected with tide, time.'-Morris.
4 According to pagan law. 8 Name.
6 Delight (Ang.-Sax. gleó, gliu, glee, music). 7 Hurd, herde, erde, carth.
10 Lost. 8 A little while, a moment. 11 Are.
3 Till the time. *Most of might 6 Company, host. 6. Jeers, devices. 7 Fleur de lis. 8 To come.
9 Philip VI. de Valois, king of France, 10 Resolved. 11 Number. 12 Alarm, outcry (Swedish anskri). 13 Petition, request (Ang.-Sax. ben, prayer).
RICHARD ROLLE, a hermit of the order of St both in this peculiarity and in its political characAugustine, and doctor of divinity, lived a solitary ter, characteristic of a great literary and political life near the priory of Hampole, four miles from revolution, in which the language as well as the Doncaster. He died in 1349. Rolle wrote metri- independence of the Anglo-Saxons had at last cal paraphrases of certain parts of Scripture, and gained the ascendency over those of the Normans. an original poem of a moral and religious nature, Piers is represented as falling asleep on the Malentitled The Pricke of Conscience, an elaborate vern Hills, and seeing in his sleep a series of work in seven books and nearly ten thousand visions; in describing these, he exposes the corlines. It was published for the Philological ruptions of society, and particularly the dissolute Society, edited by Mr Morris, in 1863. This lives of the religious orders, with much bitterness. poem is also in the Northumbrian dialect, many The first part of the work was written about 1362; words of which are still in use in Scotland—as it was enlarged in 1370, and still further enlarged thole, to bear; greeting, weeping; tine, lose; after 1378. Its great popularity induced some auld, old ; fae, foe; frae, from ; &c.
unknown writer to give a supplement in the same
alliterative verse, entitled Pierce the Ploughman's What is in Heaven.- From the 'Pricke of Conscience.' Crede, being a satire on the friars. Langland Ther is lyf withoute ony deth,
in his poem versifies the curious fable of the rats And ther is youthe without ony elde ;
conspiring to bell the cat, which figures in Scottish And ther is alle manner welthe to welde :
history of the time of James III. The alliterative And ther is rest without ony travaille ;
style of the work will be seen from the opening And ther is pees without ony strife,
lines : And ther is alle manner lykinge of lyf :
In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne, And ther is bright somer ever to se,
I shope me in shroudes as I a shepe were, And ther is nevere wynter in that countrie :
In habite as an heremite, unholy of workes, And ther is more worshipe and honour,
Went wyde in this world, wondres to here. Then evere hade kynge other emperour.
Ac? on a May mornynge, on Maluerne hulles, And ther is grete melodie of aungeles songe,
Me byfel a ferly of fairy, me thouhte;
I was wery forwandered, and went me to reste
And as I lay, and lened, and loked in the wateres, And ther is wisdom without folye,
I slombred in a slepyng, it sweyued so merye.
Warton and Ellis quote the following as a Ac yutte the most soveryn joye of alle
remarkable prediction of the Reformation (spelling Is the sighte of Goddes bright face, In wham resteth alle mannere grace.
Ac now is Religion a rider, a roamer about, WILLIAM LANGLAND, author of The Vision
A leader of lovedays, and a lond-buyer, concerning Piers the Plowman, was the most
A pricker on a palfrey from manor to manor. vigorous, truly English, and popular of all the
An heap of hounds [behind him) as he a lord were : poets preceding Chaucer. He was born about And but if his knave kneel that shall his cope bring, 1332, supposed to be a native of Cleobury Mor- He loured on him, and asketh him who taught him timer, in Shropshire, and the son of a franklin courtesy? or freeman. He wore the clerical tonsure, prob- Little had lords to done to give lond from her heirs ably as having taken minor orders, and earned a To religious, that have no ruth though it rain on her
altars. precarious living by singing the placebo, dirige, and seven psalms for the good of men's souls. In many places there they be parsons by hemself at
ease ; He says he was married, and this may perhaps
Of the poor have they no pity: and that is her charity! explain why he never rose in the church. He
And they letten hem as lords, her lands lie so broad. has many allusions to his extreme poverty. Lastly,
Ac there shall come a King and confess you, Religious, he describes himself as being in Bristol in the
And beat you, as the Bible telleth, for breaking of year 1399, when he wrote his last poem. This is the last trace of him, and he was then about And amend monials [nuns), monks, and canons, sixty-seven years of age, so that he may not have And put hem to her penance long survived the accession of Henry IV. (Sep- And then shall the Abbot of Abingdon, and all his tember 1399). In personal appearance he was
issue for ever so tall that he obtained the nickname of Long Have a knock of a King, and incurable the wound. Will, as he tells us in the line : I have lyved in londe, quod I, my name is Long
Of the allegorical personification of Langland, Wille.*
we subjoin some short specimens : Langland's poem is one of the most important
Envy and Avarice, works that appeared in England previous to the
Envy, with heavy heart, asketh after shrift, invention of printing. It is the popular repre- And greatly his gustus beginneth to shew, sentative of the doctrines which were silently As pale as a pellet in a palsy he seemed ; bringing about the Reformation, and it is a I-clothed in a caramauri,? I could him not descrive, peculiarly national poem, not only as being a As a leek that had i-lain long in the sun, much purer specimen of the English language So looked he with lean cheeks ; loured he foul. than Chaucer, but as exhibiting the revival of the same system of alliteration which charac- 1 Shepe, shepherd; it oftener means sheep. terised the Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is, in fact, 6 Sounded so merry or pleasant. We may add that the late
editors of Piers the 'Ploughman divide the lines in the middle, • Introduction to Piers the Plocuman, edited by Rev. W. W. where a pause is naturally made. Skeat (Oxford, 1869).
6 Gustias, gestes, decds. 7 A worm-eaten garment.
9 But. 4 A brook or burn.
3 A wonder.