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Modern King Years Events Literature
Literature Henry III... 1216-1273 1221 Friars 1210 “Ormulum"
land in England 1246 Welsh
1225 "Ancren Riwle"
rebel. Edward I... 1273-1307 1277
conquered Edward II.. 1307-1327 1314 Bannock
II.” Edward III.. 1327–1377 1346 France 1356 Mandeville's
and Scotland Travels
conquered 1349 Black
II." Great as it is, however, the value of the writings of Mandeville, Langland, and Wickliffe is slight in comparison with that of another writer of this period. Among the names of English literature only those of Shakespeare and Milton stand distinctly higher than that of Geoffrey Chaucer. The first of our great poets, his works are so important that he must have a chapter to himself.
QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES 1. Who was Layamon? 2. What is the significance of the poem beginning : “Sumer is i-cumen
in"? 3. In what literary form were Sir Gawain and the Green Knight written? 4. What was the subject of the “ Travels of Sir John Maundeville”? 5. The Monks were the only class with much education in the thirteenth
and fourteenth centuries. How is this reflected in the literature ? 6. What do you know of the Vision of William Concerning Piers the
Plowman”? 7. Who is known as The Morning Star of the Reformation”? What
was his work? 8. From an English history obtain an outline of England's relations to the
Continent between 1216 and 1400. 9. Write a three-hundred-word composition on the influences that came to
bear upon English literature before 1400. 10. Have we found anything definitely English up to this time?
Suggested Readings.-Sir John Mandeville's “Travels are easy and entertaining from cover to cover,
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
-Dryden. PERIODS of great literary activity are commonly associated, either as cause or effect, or both, with periods of great political activity and great material progress. Homer and Hesiod are thus, in all probability, associated with the Trojan war and the new sense of national pride which, in consequence of that war, must have sprung into being among the Greeks. Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle stand in a similar relation to the Grecian triumph over Persia. Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Catullus, Livy, and Nepos did their work just after the Romans had conquered Gaul, Asia Minor, and Egypt. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio lived in an age of remarkable political activity in Italy. Spenser, Bacon, and Shakespeare belong in the same generation with Queen Elizabeth and the new sense of English nationality that grew from the defeat of the Spanish Armada. John Milton's poetry and Oliver Cromwell's wars are first cousins. Lessing, Schiller, and Goethe stand in a somewhat similar relation to Frederick the Great. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars had a share in making Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Scott, Tennyson, and Browning what they were. Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, Emerson, and Poe carved the ornaments of rhyme, to borrow Longfellow's metaphor, that adorn that great national temple of which the foundation was laid by Washington, the walls built by Marshall, Webster, and Clay, and the roof completed by Lincoln. To the rule that great practical achievements go hand in hand with
supreme poetic achievement, the age of Geoffrey Chaucer, though we are accustomed to look upon it as dark and barbarous, will be found, upon examination, to be no exception.
The fourteenth century, in fact, is one of the most eventful in English history. It was then that the long process of amalgamation between the conquered Saxons and the victorious Normans drew ntar completion. It was then that our modern English first became the language of the court and cottage alike. It was then, too, that the people of Britain grew aware of the fact that, in spite of their heterogeneous origin, they had interests in common and foes against whom they could fight side by side. Material progress, successful campaigns against a foreign foe, and growing political freedom were followed naturally by investigation into science and philosophy, by vigorous writing and thinking on religious subjects, and by a brilliant summer-time of literature.
When Chaucer was born, Caedmon, the first English poet, had been dead seven hundred years. England had been nearly three hundred years under the sway of her Norman kings. Edward III was just entering upon his long and glorious reign. In Italy Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Rienzi were young men.
In France Froissart was writing his chronicles. William Tell had just won independence for Switzerland. The study of Greek had just been carried into Italy by scholars who had fled from Constantinople to escape the Turks. Clocks, cannon, and trial by jury were just coming into existence. Spain was held by the Moors, Germany was as little known as Russia is to-day, and to the men of that day Russia was more of a sealed book than equatorial Africa is to us. More than 120 years were destined to elapse before the invention of printing and more than 150 before the discovery of America.
Before Chaucer was twenty, the battle of Cressy had been fought and won.
Before he was thirty, this had been followed by the still more inspiring victory of Poictiers. Before he was thirty-five, Sir John Mandeville had given his fascinating book of travels and William Langland his soul-stirring " Vision” to the world. Before he was fifty, Wickliffe had published the first English Bible. He lived to witness the death of the great Prince who had done so much for the glory of England, the imbecility of the great King who had added so much to her power, the shameful incapacity of his successor, the loss of vast possessions on the Continent, the rapid and significant
rise of the power of Parliament, the final deposition of Richard II, and the accession to the throne of Henry IV.
The date of Chaucer's birth was probably 1332; the date of his death was 1400. He was the son, tradition says, of a London vintner. Of his life but little is actually known. That he was well educated;
that he was a man of polished address; that he was a lawyer, a soldier, az) a courtier; that he stood high in the favor of John of Gaunt; that he was once taken prisoner by the French; that he went several times as ambassador to foreign courts; that he was arrested and fined two shillings in his younger days for breaking the head of a Franciscan friar in Fleet Street; that at one time the king granted him a yearly pension of twenty marks (equal to 140 pounds at the present time), and at another a pitcher of wine daily; that these gifts were munificently supplemented by his generous patron; that he was an officer of the customs and a member of Parliament; that toward the end of his life he was deprived of nearly all his income, owing to the action of certain investigating and reforming committees appointed by the party opposed to John of Gaunt; that, in consequence, he was often in distress; that one of the first acts of Henry IV, upon
his accession, was to relieve him; that he died soon after; and that he was buried in Westminster Abbey, the first of the long line of poets whose remains repose in that stately edifice—these facts are about all that we know with any degree of certainty of his career.
From his own writings we get various glimpses of his character. He himself tells us that he loved books.
“On bookes for to rede I me delyte,
And to hem give I feyth and ful credence,” he says, but he makes haste to add that he loves Nature even more, taking pains to assure us that, though he reverences his books
“So hertely that there is game noon
[birds] And that the floures gynnen for to springe,
Farewell my boke and my devocioun.' It is certain that no one but a genuine lover of Nature could have written the following passage descriptive of a summer morning:
“ The busy lark, the messenger of day
[groves] The silver droppes, hanging on the leaves.”