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1. The Four Great Periods of History.-2. The Roman Period in England.-3. The
Dark Ages—The Anglo-Saxon Period in England.-4. The Middle Ages- The Normans in England.-5. Modern Times in England-Contrast with the Middle Ages.6. Relations between Literature and National History.–7. The Moral Rel of Literature and Literary History.
THE FOUR PERIODS OF ENGLISH HISTORY.
I. THE ROMAN PERIOD:-B. C. 55-A. D. 449.
1. The literature of our native country, like that of every other, is related, intimately and at many points, to the history of the nation. The great national epochs are thus also the epochs of intellectual cultivation; and, accordingly, our literary annals may be arranged in four successive periods.
The first, or Roman Period, may be held as beginning with the invasion of England by Julius Cæsar in the year 55 before the Advent: and it closes with the year of grace 449, which is usually supposed to have been the date of the earliest Germanic settlements in the island. It thus embraces five centuries.
Next comes our Anglo-Saxon Period, which, after having endured about six centuries, was brought to an end by the invasion of William the Conqueror in the year 1066. It corresponds with that tumultuous stage in European History, which we know by the name of the Dark Ages.
Our third Period, beginning with the Norman Conquest, may be set down as ending with the Protestant Reformation, or with the accession of Henry the Eighth in the year 1509. It has thus a length of about four centuries and a half; and these, the Dark Ages having already been set apart, are the Middle Ages of England as of Europe.
From the Reformation to the present day there has elapsed a Period of three centuries and a half
, which are the Modern Times of all Christendom.
Let us take, at the opening of our studies, a bird's-eye view of the regions thus laid down on our historical map.
The first of our four periods, having bequeathed no literary remains, will afterwards drop out of sight. To the other three, in their order, are referable all the shorter stages into which the history of our literary progress will be subdivided; and the particular features of each of these will be comprehended the more readily, if we remember the general character of the great historical division to which it belongs.
2. A hasty glance over the Roman or Classical Period teaches two facts which we ought to know.
In the first place, the only native inhabitants of England, certainly with few exceptions, and perhaps without any, belonged to the great race of Celts. Another Celtic tribe occupied Ireland, and was spread extensively over Scotland. None of these were the true founders of the English nation : but the state of the English Celts under the Romans affected in no small degree the events which next followed.
Secondly, then, Rome introduced into our island many changes; yet fewer and less extensive than those which she worked elsewhere.
In some continental countries, of which Gaul was an instance, the Romans, forming close relations with the vanquished, diffused almost universally their institutions, habits, and speech. Their position among us was quite unlike this.' It rather resembled that which, in the earliest settlements of the Europeans in India, a few armed garrisons of invaders held amidst the surrounding natives, from whom, whether they were snbmissive or rebellious, the foreign troops stood proudly apart. Nowhere, even when the conquerors were most powerful, did there take place, between them and the Britons, any union extensive enough to alter at all materially the nationality of the people. Nowhere, accordingly, did the Latin language either permanently displace, or greatly modify, the native tongues.
Still, besides the thinly scattered hordes who continued to hunt in the marshy forests, and build their log-villages in the wilderness for rude shelter and defence, there were a few large communities, to whom their millitary masters taught successfully both the useful arts and many of the luxuries of the south. There
cannot but have been a vast difference between the fierce savages who fought under Caractacus, Boadicea, or Galgacus, and those Britons who, in the fourth century, were citizens of the stately Roman towns in the southern half of the island, or cultivated the fertile districts that lay around their walls. The knowledge and tastes thus introduced among the British Celts were not uncommunicated to those vigorous invaders, whose occupation of the island speedily followed the retirement of the imperial armies.
3. The ages which succeeded the fall of the Roman Empire do, in many points, well deserve their name of Dark. But the gloom which covered them was that which goes before the dawn; and bright rays of light were already breaking through.
The great event was that vast series of emigrations which planted tribes of Gothic blood over large tracts of Europe, and established that race as sovereigns in other regions, where the population suffered but little change. The earliest stages of formation were then undergone by all the languages now spoken in European countries. Christianity, which had been made known in some quarters during the Roman Times, was professed almost universally before the Dark Ages reached their close.
Our Anglo-Saxon invaders were Goths of the Germanic or Teutonic stock. Their position in Britain was quite unlike that which had been held by the Romans. Instead of merely stationing garrisons to overawe, they planted colonies, large and many, which poured in an immense stream of population. They continued to emigrate from the continent for more than a hundred years after their first appearance; and by the end of that period they had established settlements covering a very large proportion of the island, as far northward as the shores of the Forth.
Before many generations had passed away, their language, and customs, and national character, were as generally prevalent throughout the provinces which they had seized, as the modern English tongue and its accompaniments have become in the United States. Elsewhere, however, there still survived independent Celtic tribes, occupying Wales and its neighbourhood, in the south of the island, and numerous also in Scotland beyond the Forth and Clyde. Against the Welsh Britons the AngloSaxons waged continual war. Their strength was further wasted, and their social advancement checked by their own separation into several small states, which were not perfectly at peace even after the chiefs of one of them were recognised as kings of Saxon England. At length, when their polity had been steadily