« PreviousContinue »
spak of beforn, syngen alle the tyme that this riche man etethe: and when that he eteth no more of his firste Cours, than other 5 and 5 of faire Damyseles bryngen him his seconde Cours, alle weys syngynge, as thei dide beforn. And so thei don contynuelly every day, to the ende of his Mete. And in this manere he ledeth his Lif. And so dide thei before him, that weren his Auncestres; and so schulle thei that comen aftir him.
SYLLABUS. Early Modern English dates from the middle of the fourteenth century.
In 1362 Edward III. passed a law enforcing the use of English in judicial pleadings.
Wycliffe's doctrines influenced the age.
The fourteenth century was a period of intellectual regeneration through. out Europe.
Dante, an Italian, was the first modern poet.
The earliest poems of Chaucer are copied after the poetry of Southern France.
Most of his allegorical poetry is in the form of dreams.
" The Vision of Piers Plowman,” by William Langlande, is an allegorical poem satirizing the abuses of the Church.
The "Creed of Piers Plowman,” published later, is the work of an unknown author.
Gower was a contemporary and friend of Chaucer. His chief work is the Confessio Amantis.
"Gesta Romanorum" was a compilation of old stories.
After Wycliffe there was no translation of the Bible for a century and a half.
Sir John Mandeville was a traveller. He wrote a history of his Voiage and Travaile.
REVIVAL OF LEARNING.
1400-1558. FTER Chaucer no great name appears in the history of
English Literature for nearly a century and a half. It was as if the fresh morning ushered in by that genial poet had suddenly been clouded over. Yet the period, however void of literary genius, was far from being one of inaction. It was an age of preparation, a gathering of forces for the great literary outburst of the following period. The seed sown by Wycliffe was expanding into the Reformation. Learning was universally encouraged. The Byzantine Empire had fallen into the hands of the Turks, and the learned men of Constantinople, obliged to flee for their safety, sought refuge in foreign countries, thus diffusing the accumulated learning of their capital. The court of Lorenzo de Medici, the great Italian patron of learning, was thrown open to receive them, and thither from every nation flocked the ripest scholars to gain instruction from these learned men. The study of Greek and Latin was everywhere revived.
The invention of printing was, however, the leading cause of the dissemination of learning in the latter part of the fifteenth century, while the spirit of discovery which incited daring maritime adventures, and added a New World to the Old, had increased the restless desire for knowledge.
England, notwithstanding her losses in France, and her devastating wars at home, in the conflict between the Houses
of York and Lancaster, shared the spirit of the age in contributing to the revival of learning. Her greatest scholars, GROCYN, COLET, and LINACRE, all studied under the Greek refugees at Florence; and Erasmus, a learned Hollander who visited England for the sake of acquiring a knowledge of Greek under Grocyn, writes :
"I have found in Oxford so much polish and learning, that now I hardly care about going to Italy at all, save for the sake of having been there. When I listen to my friend Colet, it seems like listening to Plato himself. Who does not wonder at the wide range of Grocyn's knowledge? What can be more searching, deep, and refined than the judgment of Linacre? When did Nature mould a temper more gentle, endearing, and happy than the temper of Thomas More?”
Again Erasmus illustrates the enthusiasm of the age for classic studies :
“I have given up my whole soul to Greek learning,” he writes, “and as soon as I get any money I shall buy Greek books, and then I shall buy some clothes."
Ballad Poetry. Poetry, the offspring of feeling and imagination, finds its truest expression in the mother tongue. In the age of which we now are speaking, the attention of the learned being called to the Greek and Latin, it followed, as a natural consequence, that the art of poetry was left in the hands of the common people. Hence, to this age we are indebted for our ballad poetry.* In these rude rhymes we obtain a more vivid glimpse of the national life of the people than through the more polished productions of the learned.
Among the ballads which may be referred to this time are Chevy-Chase, The Battle of Otterbourne, The Nut-Brown Mail, and various poems on Robin Hood, the bold outlaw. Original expression was not sought by the rustic composers, and sometimes whole lines seemed to be the common property of the various unknown minstrels. A favorite introductory line was :
* Excepting Spain, no countries in Europe are so rich in ballad literature as England and Scotland.
“ Lithe and listen, gentlemen,” “ Hearken to me, gentlemen,
Come and you shall heere,” while through nearly every recital the faithful and inevitable little foot-page keeps up the constant pace,
“ One while the little foot-page went,
Another while he ranne." Certain stereotyped adjectives were invariably used with certain nouns. All barons were “bold ;” every lady, “fair” and her hand,“ lily white; a rose was a “red, red rose," and England always “ merrie England."
Later versions of these charming old ballads utterly fail to express the vigor and rude melody of the originals. The most popular ballads suffered the most, by being transmitted orally from generation to generation, each reciter trying to make the meaning more intelligible by substituting the more polished phrase of his own time.
Of the known poets of this period, there were better writers among the Scotch than among the English. JAMES I. of SCOTLAND (1394-1437) ranks highest among the poets of the fifteenth century. Detained a prisoner in the court of England for nineteen years, he there received a princely education, which developed not only a poetical genius, but the qualities of mind and heart to render him a fit ruler of his nation when at last he obtained his liberty. His best work, entitled the King's Quair (book), was written during the last years of his captivity. It relates the romantic incidents of his life, chief of which was seeing from his prison window his future wife, the lovely Jane Beaufort, granddaughter of John of Gaunt. His description of this "freshe younge flower,” and the circumstances under which he saw her, remind us of “ Emilie ” and the imprisoned “cosyns " in Chaucer's Knight's Tale.* Although this Scotch poet was a devoted admirer of Chaucer and a professed follower, there is enough originality in his poem to redeem it from the reproach of being a mere imitation.
* See page 47.
Other Scotch poets of the fifteenth century were WYNTOUN and BLIND HARRY, but of scarcely sufficient merit to quote. In the early part of the sixteenth century the prominent Scotch poets were WILLIAM DUNBAR (1465–1530), GAWAIN DOUGLAS (1474–1522), and SIR DAVID LINDSAY (1490–1555).
English Poets. OCCLEVE and LYDGATE, in the early part of the fifteenth century, were, like James I. of Scotland, the professed followers of Chaucer. John SKELTON (1460–1529) was a coarse English satirist.
The two polishers of English verse in the early part of the sixteenth century were HENRY HOWARD, Earl of SURREY (1516-1547), and Sir THOMAS WYATT (1503-1542). United by the bonds of friendship, the names of these two poets will always be coupled together in the history of English literature. To elegant scholarship and courtly attainments they added true knightly virtues. Both were entrusted by the King, Henry VIII., with important commissions, and both lives were sacrificed to that monarch, Wyatt's indirectly, and through zeal in serving the King ; but Surrey, by direct order of Henry VIII., met his death on the scaffold.
There is but little in-Wyatt's poetry to attract the modern student of literature; and Surrey is chiefly held in remembrance as the first writer of sonnets and blank verse in the English language. Some of his sonnets are full of poetic grace, especially those addressed to “Geraldine.” Love is the chief theme of both Surrey's and Wyatt's songs and sonnets. Both poets wrote refined satires.
Prose Writers. The art of printing was first introduced into England by WILLIAM CAXTON (1412-1492), who, though he laid no great claim to authorship, wrote and translated several books, and with untiring industry brought into popular notice the best works of his own and of preceding times. One of his own translations from the German was the famous satire of Renard the Fox.
The first book printed in England was The Game of Chess, 1474. The first book printed in the English language was The History of Troy. This was printed in Cologne in 1471.