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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:
To-morrow ye shall in hunting fare;1 And yede, my doughter, in a chair; It shall be covered with velvet red,
And cloths of fine gold all about your head, With damask white and azure blue,
Well diapered3 with lilies new. Your pommels shall be ended with gold, Your chains enamelled many a fold, Your mantle of rich degree, Purple pall and ermine free. Jennets of Spain, that ben so wight, Trapped to the ground with velvet bright. Ye shall have harp, sautry, and song, And other mirths you among. Ye shall have Rumney and Malespine, Both Hippocras and Vernage wine; Montrese and wine of Greek, Both Algrade and despice eke, Antioch and Bastard, Pyment also and garnard; Wine of Greek and Muscadel, Both claré, pyment, and Rochelle, The reed your stomach to defy, And pots of Osy set you by. You shall have venison y-bake, The best wild fowl that may be take; A leish of harehound with you to streek, And hart, and hind, and other like. Ye shall be set at such a tryst, That hart and hind shall come to you first, Your disease to drive you fro, To hear the bugles there y-blow. Homeward thus shall ye ride, On-hawking by the river's side, With gosshawk and with gentle falcón, With bugle-horn and merlión. When you come home your menzie' among, Ye shall have revel, dances, and song; Little children, great and small, Shall sing as does the nightingale. Then shall ye go to your even song, With tenors and trebles among. Threescore of copes of damask bright, Full of pearls they shall be pight.". Your censers shall be of gold, Indent with azure many a fold. Your quire nor organ song shall want, With contre-note and descant. The other half on organs playing, With young children full fain singing. Then shall ye go to your supper, And sit in tents in green arbér, With cloth of arras pight to the ground, With sapphires set of diamond. A hundred knights, truly told, Shall play with bowls in alleys cold, Your disease to drive away; To see the fishes in pools play, To a drawbridge then shall ye, Th' one half of stone, th' other of tree; A barge shall meet you full right, With twenty-four oars full bright, With trumpets and with clarion, The fresh water to row up and down. . . .
1 Go a-hunting.
4 Spiced wine. • Course.
3 Figured. 5 A drink of wine, honey, and spices. 8 Set.
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.
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 Johnson. 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, That maidens might him se And over the walles to lye; Thai asked who was fre To win the maistrie; Thai seyd that best was he The child of Ermonie In Tour: Forthi chosen was he To maiden Blaunche Flour.
Sir Walter's theory as to the originality and
Scottish origin of the poem has not been generally accepted. It is believed to be the production of some minstrel who had heard Thomas of Ercildoun recite his romance. Mr Garnet, a high authority on early English dialects, concludes that the present Sir Tristrem is a modernised copy of an old Northumbrian romance which was probably written between 1260 and 1300, and derived from a Norman or Anglo-Norman source, but the author may have availed himself of the previous labours of Ercildoun on the same theme.
An elaborate work of about 20,000 lines, The Romance of King Alexander, appears to have been written previous to 1300. It has been ascribed, but erroneously, to ADAM DAVIE, marshal of Stratford-le-Bow, near London. Davie, however, was a voluminous versifier, and wrote Visions, The Battle of Jerusalem, &c. Two romances, Havelok the Dane, and William and the Werwolf, have been edited (1828 and 1832) by an able antiquary, Sir Frederick Madden. The story of Havelok relates the adventures of an orphan child, son of a Danish king; the author is unknown.
Extract from Havelok.
Hwan he was hosled1 and shriuen,
Till hise sone mouthe bere
Helm on heued, and leden ut here
(In his hand a spere stark),
And king ben maked of Denmark.
When he was housled and shriven,
The Geste of King Horn, the romantic history of Guy of Warwick (supposed to have been written about 1292 by a Cornish friar, WALTER OF EXETER), Sir Bevis of Southampton, Richard Cœur de Lion, The King of Tars, La Morte Arthur, Sir Eglamour, and a host of other metrical romances, belong to this period, and most of them were subsequently modernised when the
art of printing was introduced. Chaucer, in his Rhime of Sire Thopas, has parodied the style of these compositions, and made 'mine host' in the Canterbury Tales abuse all such 'drafty rhyming' as destitute of mirth or doctrine.
1 When he had the sacrament administered to him, and been shriven or confessed.
The principal metrical chroniclers were two ecclesiastics-ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER and ROBERT DE BRUNNE. The former was a monk of Gloucester, who lived in the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I. His chief work is a rhymed chronicle of England from the legendary age of Brutus to the close of Henry III.'s reign, partly taken from the fabulous history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and written in the long line (or couplet) of fourteen syllables. This monk also wrote poems on the Martyrdom of Thomas à Becket, and the Life of St Brandan, and other saints. His language is strongly Anglo-Saxonninety-six per cent., according to Mr Marsh-but he speaks of the prevalence of the French tongue.
The Muster for the First Crusade.
A good pope was thilk time at Rome, that hecht1 Urban,
1 Was called.
2 Passed the mountains-namely, the Alps. 3 Was quickly taken up. 4 Take. 5 Since never more,
ROBERT DE BRUNNE, or more properly ROBERT MANNING, a native of Brunne or Bourn, in Lincolnshire, in the year 1303, translated, under the name of Handlyng Synne, a French work by William de Waddington entitled Le Manuel des Pechiez. He afterwards (between 1327 and 1338) translated a French chronicle of England, which had been written by Piers or Peter de Langtoft, a contemporary of his own, and an Augustine canon of Bridlington, in Yorkshire. This chronicle comes down to the death of Edward I. in 1307. The earlier part is translated from Wace's Brut. Manning has been characterised as an industrious, and, for the time, an elegant writer, possessing, in particular, a great command of rhymes. The verse adopted in his chronicle is shorter than that of the Gloucester monk, making an approach to the octosyllabic stanza of modern times. The language is also nearer modern English :
Lordynges, that be now here,
In felawschip when thai sitt samen.3
Manning, or De Brunne, speaks of disours (Fr. diseurs, reciters) and seggers, or sayers, in his day, who recited metrical compositions, and took unwarrantable liberties with the text of the poets. He did not write for them; he
Made nought for no disours, Ne for no seggers, no harpours, But for the love of simple men That strange English cannot ken.
The following is slightly modernised:
Interview of Vortigern with Rowen, the beautiful
Hengist that day did his might,
Her attire full well it seemed,
And Hors his brother consented soon.
They asked the king to give her Kent, In dowery to take of rent.
to the Conquest, who deserved the name of a poet. His dialect is Northumbrian :
6 Delight (Ang.-Sax. gleó, gliu, glee, music). 7 Hurd, herde, erde, earth. 8 A little while, a moment. 11 Are.
RICHARD ROLLE, a hermit of the order of St Augustine, and doctor of divinity, lived a solitary life near the priory of Hampole, four miles from Doncaster. He died in 1349. Rolle wrote metrical paraphrases of certain parts of Scripture, and an original poem of a moral and religious nature, entitled The Pricke of Conscience, an elaborate work in seven books and nearly ten thousand lines. It was published for the Philological Society, edited by Mr Morris, in 1863. This poem is also in the Northumbrian dialect, many words of which are still in use in Scotland-as thole, to bear; greeting, weeping; tine, lose; auid, old ; fae, foe; frae, from ; &c.
What is in Heaven.-From the 'Pricke of Conscience,
Ther is lyf withoute ony deth,
And ther is youthe without ony elde;
And ther is honeste without vileneye.
Is the sighte of Goddes bright face,
both in this peculiarity and in its political character, characteristic of a great literary and political revolution, in which the language as well as the independence of the Anglo-Saxons had at last gained the ascendency over those of the Normans. Piers is represented as falling asleep on the Malvern Hills, and seeing in his sleep a series of visions; in describing these, he exposes the corruptions of society, and particularly the dissolute lives of the religious orders, with much bitterness. The first part of the work was written about 1362; it was enlarged in 1370, and still further enlarged after 1378. Its great popularity induced some unknown writer to give a supplement in the same alliterative verse, entitled Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, being a satire on the friars. Langland in his poem versifies the curious fable of the rats conspiring to bell the cat, which figures in Scottish history of the time of James III. The alliterative style of the work will be seen from the opening lines:
WILLIAM LANGLAND, author of The Vision
I have lyved in londe, quod I, my name is Long
Langland's poem is one of the most important works that appeared in England previous to the invention of printing. It is the popular representative of the doctrines which were silently bringing about the Reformation, and it is a peculiarly national poem, not only as being a much purer specimen of the English language than Chaucer, but as exhibiting the revival of the same system of alliteration which characterised the Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is, in fact,
*Introduction to Piers the Plowman, edited by Rev. W. W. Skeat (Oxford, 1869).
In a somer seson whan soft was the sonne,
I was wery forwandered, and went me to reste
Envy and Avarice.
Envy, with heavy heart, asketh after shrift,
1 Shepe, shepherd; it oftener means sheep.