Imagens das páginas

d. 901.

know, there is one monument of their prose literature from which, rude and meagre as it is, modern scholars have derived specific and valuable instruction. It is a series of historical records, usually arranged together, under the name of The Saxon Chronicle. Registers of public occurrences were kept in several of the religious houses, much in the same way as the Irish Annals; the practice beginning perhaps as early as the time of Alfred, when such a record is said to have been carried on under the direction of the Primate Plegmund. For the earlier periods, the chroniclers appear to have borrowed freely from each other, or from common sources; but in the later times each of them set down, from his own knowledge, the great events of his own time. Our extant Saxon Chronicle is made up from the manuscripts of several such conventual records, all of them in some places identical, but each containing much that is not found in the rest. They close at different dates, the most recent being brought down to the year

1154. b. 849,

8. Our survey of Anglo-Saxon literature may fitly be closed with the illustrious name of Alfred ;

The pious Alfred, king to Justice dear,

Lord of the harp and liberating spear! The ninth century in England must be held in abiding reverence, if it had given birth to no distinguished man but him alone. From him went forth, over an ignorant and half-barbarous people, a spirit of moral strength, and a thirst for rational enlightenment, which worked marvels in the midst of the most formidable difficulties, and whose effects were checked only by that flood of national calamity which, rising ominously during his life, soon swept utterly away the ripening harvest of Saxon civilization.

His original compositions were very inconsiderable. His favourite literary employment was that of rendering, into his native tongue, the Latin works from which mainly his own knowledge was derived ; works understood by very few among his countrymen, and confessedly understood so imperfectly by himself, that his translations are to be regarded as the joint work of himself and his instructors. The books selected, as the objects of his chief efforts, indicate strongly his union of practical judgment, of serious and elevated sentiment, and of eager desire for the improvement of society. Thus, besides the labours on the Scriptures which he performed or encouraged, he translated selections from the Soliloquies of Saint Augustine of Hippo, the Treatise of Gregory the Great on the Duties of the Clergy, the Ecclesiastical History of Bede, the Ancient History of Orosius,

[ocr errors]

and the work of Boethius on the Consolation of Philosophy. Often, in dealing with these works, he was not a mere translator. If a passage of his author suggested a fact known to himself, or an apt train of reflection, the fact or the thought was added to the original, or substituted for it. Thus he incorporates devout reflection and prayer of his own with his extracts from St. Austin ; to the geographical portion of Orosius he adds an outline of the State of Germany, wonderfully accurate for his opportunities, and gives also accounts, taken from the mouths of the adventurers, of a voyage to the Baltic, and another towards the North Pole; and the finely thoughtful eloquence of the last of the philosophic Romans prompts to the Teutonic king long passages of meditation, not unworthy either of the model or of the theme.

It is probably impossible for us moderns to estimate justly the resolute patience of Alfred ; because we can hardly, by any stretch of conception, represent to ourselves strongly enough the obstacles which, in his time and country, impeded for all men both the acquisition of knowledge and the communication of it. We find it easier to perceive the extraordinary merit of studies pursued, with a success which, though imperfect, was beyond the standard of his age, by a man whose frame was racked by almost ceaseless pain ; a man, also, whom neither studious industry nor bodily torment disabled from toiling with unsurpassed energy as the governor, and legislator, and reformer of a nation

; and a man who, while he so worked and so suffered, was never allowed to unbuckle the armour which he had put on in youth, to defend his father-land against hordes of savage enemies. “ This,” declared he,“ is now especially to be saidt; that I have wished to live worthily while I lived, and after my life to leave, to the men that should be after me, my remembrance in good works.” He, too, who thus acknowledged duty as the great law of being, had learned humbly whence it is, that all strength for the performance of duty must be received. He has set down the momentous lesson with a labouring quaintness of phrase: “When the good things of life are good, then are they good through the goodness of the good man that worketh good with them : and he is good through God !”

[blocks in formation]

INTRODUCTION TO THE PERIOD. 1. Distribution of Races and Kingdoms.-2. Literary

Character of the Times.—THE REGULAR LATIN LITERATURE. 3. Learning in the Eleventh Century-Lanfranc-Anselm.-4. Philosophy and Physical Science in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries-Hales and Duns Scotus-Roger Bacon.-5. Historians-William of Malmesbury-Geoffrey of Monmouth-Girald du Barri-Matthew Paris.-6. Success in Poetry-Joseph of Exeter-Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Nigel Wircker's Ass.—THE IRREGULAR LATIN LITERATURE. 7. Latin Pasquinades—The Priest Golias—Walter Mapes.-8. Collections of Tales in Latin-Gervase of TilburyThe Seven Sages-The Gesta Romanorum-Nature of the Stories.-9. Uses of the Collections of Tales-Reading in Monasteries-Manuals for Preachers-Morals annexed in the Gesta-Specimens.--10. Use of the Latin Stories by the Poets--Chivalrous Romances taken from them-Chaucer and Gower-Shakspeare and Sir Walter Scott-Miscellaneous Instances.

INTRODUCTION TO THE PERIOD. 1. At this point we have to take account, for the last time, of events that affected the distribution of the nations inhabiting our country, and the languages spoken in the several regions.

The Norman Conquest introduced into England a foreign race of nobles and landholders, dispossessing certainly a large majority, and probably almost the whole body, of those who had been the ruling class in the preceding times. But the only new settlers were the kings, the barons with their military vassals, and the many churchmen who followed the Conqueror and his

The mass of the people continued to be Teutonic; and the mixture of the Saxons with the Britons was now completed in all those provinces that were subject to the Norman kings. The Anglo-Saxon tongue, in the state of transition which it was undergoing throughout the period now in question, spread itself everywhere over those territories in the course of two or three centuries, Cornwall being perhaps the only exception. The



Cymric tongue continued to be spoken in Wales, not only while the Welsh princes maintained their independence, but after they were subdued by Edward the First.

The boundaries of the kingdom of Scotland were now stretched southward, to the line which has marked them ever since. In the western district of the border, the two petty British states had already become dependent on their more powe ful neighbours. For Cumbria had been incorporated into Anglo-Saxon England, and had passed under the sceptre of the Normans; while the kings of Scotland had acquired, on the south of the Clyde, territories which may be supposed to have mainly constituted the ancient princedom of Strathclyde. On the eastern border, again, a long series of wars took place between England and Scotland; but, in the end, Berwickshire and the Lothians were, for a time at least, held by the Scottish kings as fiefs under the English

Gradually an Anglo-Saxon dialect became universal throughout the Scottish Lowlands; the Highlands retaining their Celtic inhabitants and Gaelic speech.

For Ireland, invaded by the English in the year 1170, there opened a series of ages, in which the misery and disorganization of native feuds were succeeded by the evils of foreign oppression, evils yet more irritating, and more thoroughly preventive both of social and of intellectual advancement. The literary history of that beautiful and unfortunate country must be for us a dead blank, till, in modern times, we gladly discover many Irishmen among the most valuable citizens in the republic of letters.

2. In England, during this long period, literature flowed onward in its course, with a ceaseless, though somewhat eddying

The generation which succeeded the Conquest gave birth, as we might have expected, to little that was very remarkable. The twelfth century, beginning with the reign of the accomplished Henry Beauclerc, and closing with that of the chivalrous Cour de Lion, was distinguished, beyond all parts of our mediaeval history, for the prosperity of classical scholarship; and the NormanFrench poetry, studied with ardour, began to find English imitators.

The thirteenth century was a decisive epoch, not more for the constitutional history of England, than for its intellectual progress. The Great Charter was extorted from King John; the commercial activity of the towns, and the representative functions of all the commons, were thoroughly grounded in the reign of his successor; and the ambition of Edward Longshanks, suiccessful in crushing the independence of Wales, was equally so in

. tide.

Scotland, till the single-handed heroism of Wallace gave warning of the spirit which was to achieve deliverance on the field of Bannockburn. During this momentous array of public events, the English universities were founded or regularly organized; the stream of learning which had descended from preceding generations was turned into a new channel, giving birth to some of the greatest philosophers and scientific men of the Middle Ages; the romantic poetry of Northern France continued to flourish, and now began to be transfused into a language intelligible throughout England; and, above all, the Anglo-Saxon tongue passed, in the course of this century, through the last of those phases which transformed it into English.

This was also a time when religious sentiment was very keen. Three of the crusades had previously taken place; and the other four fell within the thirteenth century. They not only diffused knowledge, but kindled a flame of zeal: and the foundation and prosperity of the rival monastic orders of Dominicans and Franciscans (the Black and Grey Friars of our history), showed alike the devotion of the age, the growing suspicion that the church needed reform, and the dexterity of the Papal See in using zealots and malcontents for her own ends.

The Literature of those two centuries and a half will now engage our attention, that which was couched in Latin being first examined.


3. In a generation or two after the Conquest, Classical and Theological learning, if profoundly acquired by few, was pursued by very many. There was no inconsiderable activity in the monasteries, as well as among the secular clergy; and, however apocryphal may be the alleged foundation of the older of the two English universities by Alfred, it is certain that, both at Oxford and Cambridge, by the beginning of the twelfth century, schools had been established, which were thenceforth permanent, and rapidly attained an academic organization. The continental universities, and the other ecclesiastical seminaries, both in France and elsewhere, were continually exchanging with England both pupils and teachers.

But the movement was, as yet, almost wholly among the Normans and their dependents : and the only great names which adorned the annals of erudition in England, in the latter half of the eleventh century, were those of two Lombard priests, Lanfranc and Anselm. Both of them were brought by Duke William from his famous Abbey of Bec; and, being raised in succession to the

« AnteriorContinuar »