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participation in the life of the Church, marked him out as, beyond all others, the man best fitted for this difficult, and, in many ways, novel task. In order to ensure its completion he drew to his side a collaborator, Dr Nicholas of Hereford, to whom he entrusted the Englishing of the Old Testament, while he reserved to himself the translation of the New. Wiclifs personal contribution was successfully made, and a similar remark will apply to the Canonical books of the Old Testament. With reference to the Apocrypha, Hereford had arrived at Baruch iii. 20, when, his life being in danger, he suddenly vanished. 'With this exception Wiclif might claim the proud distinction of being the originator, and in part author, of the first complete version of the Bible in the English tongue. This was a great achievement; but, as might be anticipated in a first attempt, the work was not in all respects satisfactory. Its prime defect, which Wiclif considered perhaps its chief virtue, lay in the circumstance that the translator's hand was too plainly revealed. The grand principle, apparently, which influenced both Wiclif and Hereford, was scrupulous fidelity to the Vulgate, and if greater experience in the composition of English rendered Wiclifs version less awkward and stiff than those of his yoke-fellow, it did not prevent even his style from swarming with Latinisms. His translation, completed about 1380, was revised and much modernised by John Purvey no later than 1388.
Little more can be said as to Wiclifs public proceedings; his permanent breach with the mendicant orders, on whose iniquities he poured the whole wealth of his sarcasm; his rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation ; and the odium theologicum these things brought upon him. The general effect of his conduct was to defeat, or, at least, to postpone, the realisation of his hopes. The authorities were alarmed, and adopted vigorous measures for repressing the new heresy. Wiclif himself was fain to retire to his Leicestershire living, where he spent the remainder of his days, peacefully enough, in ministering to his flock and writing fresh sermons and treatises.1 He died, from a stroke of apoplexy, on St Sylvester's day, 1384.
1 See Select English Works of John Wyclif, ed. T. Arnold, M.A.: Oxford, 1871, with the supplement of F. D. Matthew (E.E.T.S., 1880). A good edition of Wiclif's translation of the Bible is that of J. Forshall and Sir F. Madden (4 vols.: Oxford University Press, 1850), entitled, Tlie Holy Bible in the Earliest English Versions made from the Latin Vulgate, by John Wycliffe and his Followers.
Although such a process necessarily involves repetition, it is desirable, before closing the record, to "tabulate" the results obtained in the preceding pages —in other words, to exhibit, without special regard to authors or countries, the qualities characterising the period as a whole. The fourteenth century differs from earlier ages in being a time of great personalities. For centuries there had been no commanding name —no Homer, no Virgil even—to bespeak the homage of contemporaries and successors. Dante, it is true, speaks in high terms of Arnaut Daniel, but such compliments show the nakedness of the land, and Dante, moreover, knew nothing of Walther von der Vogelweide, sweetest and freshest of lyrical poets. Even Walther, however, though he carols charmingly, rises as the lark rises. He does not tower above his fellows by virtue of his own bulk; and, again, while his note is sweet, his plumage is plain. Perchance, in another age, he might have grown to larger proportions and attired himself in brighter vesture. There is something magical about the fourteenth century. Dante himself, whilst confined within the limits of the thirteenth century, is still a follower of Guido Guinicelli; but the moment he crosses the threshold of the fourteenth century, all is changed. In the year 1300 A.D. comes the wondrous vision, and the Divina Commedia, impossible before, becomes possible now. sophical, economic, social, artistic; it is all there, in his great poem. In this sense the nearest parallels to the Commedia are the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales. In them we find the same variety, the same juxtaposition of old and new, domestic and foreign, the same universality. Neither the one nor the other, however, possesses the same organic perfection. In the case of both later works, the relation of the parts to the whole is looser, less necessary, and the connection might be dissolved without fatal consequences. This circumstance might be interpreted as a sign of inferiority on the part of the writers, as it is certainly a proof of inferiority in the compositions themselves. But all three works are alike in their material genesis. They have been formed out of a pre-existing chaos of heterogeneous elements. They are alike, too, in their artistic ripeness. Where the past could show only half-hearted attempts, unfinished abbozzi, the products of Dante's, of Boccaccio's, of Chaucer's old age display firm outlines, contrasts of light and shade, and plenitude of detail.
But Dante, though incomparably the greatest man of his time, is not a solitary figure. Single reputations of the highest, or all but the highest, distinction were achieved in Italy by Petrarch and Boccaccio, in France by Froissart, in England by Chaucer. What is the explanation? Is it a simple accident that five of the world's greatest writers lived and laboured in the same age? Doubtless accident played some—and, indeed, an important—part in this, as in all human affairs, but there may have been other elements. Dante's example, for instance, proving that literary excellence was in no sense the prerogative of antiquity, exercised a powerful influence over the best minds of the succeeding generation. They could not indeed repeat his performance; but the memory of what he had accomplished stimulated them to fresh effort, and kept ambition in them awake. Boccaccio and Chaucer openly acknowledge Dante as their master, and if Petrarch long strove against his mastery, the final capitulation is for that reason all the more striking.
The fourteenth century is remarkable as an epoch of harvestings, of vast consummations. Dante sums up the whole of the Middle Age—theological, philo
The vital connection between politics and literature is a topic which in these days hardly needs emphasising; but, if emphasis be needed, it may be in some sort vicariously provided in Professor Fenini's brief Letteratura Italiana, based on the absolute recognition of the principle. The "system of actions and reactions" is capable of easy exemplification in the history, political and literary, of the fourteenth century. Thus the grand ideas of which the GuelfGhibelline riots were the caricature are worthily