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grounded, it was shaken to the foundation by the long struggle which they had to maintain against their Gothic kinsmen from Scandinavia. These fierce pagans, known to us as Danes or Northmen, were able to establish large Norse settlements along the eastern English coast, and, for a time, to occupy the throne of the country.
We do not look with much hope for literary cultivation among the Anglo-Saxons. It is surprising that they should have left so many monuments of intellectual energy as they have. The fragments which are extant possess a singular value, as illustrations of the character of a very singular people: and they offer to us the additional attraction of being written in that which is really our mother-tongue.
During the six hundred years of their independence, the nation made wonderful progress in the arts of life and thought. They learned much from the subdued Britons, not a little from the continent, and yet more from their own practical good sense, guided wisely by several kings and churchmen. The pagans accepted the Christian faith : the piratical sea-kings betook themselves to the tillage of the soil, and to the practice of some of the ruder manufactures : the fierce soldiers constructed, out of the materials of legislation common to the whole Teutonic race, a manly and systematic political constitution.
4. The third of our Periods, here called the Middle Ages, differs strikingly from the Ages described as Dark. The latter were seemingly fruitful in nothing but undecided conflicts: now we reach a state of things which, with receding waves like the flowing tide, still, like it, presents to the eye an unflagging and perceptible progress. The painful convulsions of infant society made way for the growing vigour of healthy though undisciplined youth.
All the relations of life were henceforth modified, more or less, by two influences, predominant in the early part of the period, decaying in the latter. The one was that of Feudalism, the other that of the Church of Rome. Literature was especially nourished by the consolidation of the new Languages, which were successively developed in all European countries, so far that they soon became fully qualified as instruments for communicating the results of intellectual activity.
In the general history of European society, the Middle Ages are commonly held as closed by two events, occurring nearly at the same time: the erection of the great monarchies on the ruins of feudalism; and the shattering of the sovereignty of the Romish Church by the Protestant Reformation. These epochs likewise come close to the most important incident in the annals of Literature. The art of printing, invented a little earlier, became generally available as a means of enlightenment about the beginning of the sixteenth century. our
The Norman Conquest, which we take as the commencement of the Middle Ages for England, introduced the country, by one mighty stride, into the circle of continental Europe. Not only did it establish close relations between our island and its neighbours; but through the policy which the conquerors adopted, it subjected the nation at once to both of the ruling mediæval impulses. Feudalism, peremptorily introduced, metamorphosed completely the relative position of the people and the nobles ; the recognition of the papal supremacy altered not less thoroughly the standing of the church. Neither of these changes was unproductive of good in the state of society which then prevailed. But both of them were distasteful to our nation ; both of them rapidly became in reality injurious both to freedom and to knowledge; and the opposition of opinions in regard to them produced most of those civil broils, in which our kings, oui clergy, our aristocracy, and our people, played parts, and engaged in combinations, so shifting and so perplexing. At length, under the dynasty of the Tudors, the ecclesiastical shackles were cast away; while the feudal bonds, not yet ready for unriveting, began to be gradually slackened.
In this long series of revolutions, not a step was taken without arousing a literary echo. The earliest effects only call for immediate notice. Our Norman invaders were the descendants of an army of Norwegians, which, a hundred and fifty years before, had conquered a province of Northern France, thenceforth called Normandy. They were thus sprung from the same great Gothic race, another branch of which had sent forth the Anglo-Saxons. But they had long ago ląst all vestiges of their pedigree. They had abandoned, almost universally, their own Norse tongue, and adopted that which they found already used in Northern France, one of those dialects which had arisen out of the decaying Latin. This infant language they had nursed and refined, till it was now ready to give expression to fanciful and animated poetry. In other points they had accommodated themselves, with like readiness, to the habits and institutions of their French home; they had changed nothing radically, but developed and improved everything. By their fostering care of feudalism and of letters, as well as by other exertions, it was they that first guided France towards being what she afterwards became, the model and instructress of mediæval Europe.
They took possession of England, not as colonists, like the Anglo-Saxons, but as military masters, like the Romans. The Norman counts and their retainers sat in their castles, keeping down by armed power, and not without many a bloody contest, the large Saxon population that surrounded them. They supdressed the native polity by overwhelming force: they made their Norman-French the fashionable speech of the court and the aristocracy, and imposed it on the tribunals and the legislature; and their romantic literature soon weaned the hearts of educated men from the ancient rudeness of taste. But the mass of the English people, retaining their Teutonic lineage unmixed, clung also, with the twofold obstinacy of Teutons and persecuted men, to their old ancestral tongue. The Anglo-Saxon language, passing through changes which we shall hereafter learn, yet kept its hold in substance till it was evolved into modern English; and the Norman nobles, whose ancestors had volunteered to speak like their French subjects, were at length obliged to learn the dialect which had been preserved among their despised English vassals.
5. Emerging from the glimmer and gloom which alternate in the Middle Ages, we now cast our eyes along the illuminated vista of Modern History. The eye is dazzled by a multiplicity of striking objects, among which it is not always easy to distinguish those that most actively shaped and colored the literature of the times
How the world of letters has been able, during the last three centuries, to influence the world of action so much more powerfully than ever before; and how its power has gradually widened from age to
age, and been exercised in working more and more good, and good to a larger and larger proportion of mankind: these are events whose causes cannot become fully clear to us, until we have gained extensive historical knowledge, and been long accustomed to exercise mature and patient thought.
may, however, understand the facts in part; and our first step in the study of them should be to learn a few of the circumstances, in which we and our countrymen for many generations have had decisively the advantage over our forefathers, who lived amidst the mediæval trammels and struggles.
We have the art of printing : we have the constant literary use of a cultivated living language. Let us satisfy ourselves as to the importance of these benefits, by looking back to the consequences which followed from the want of them in the Middle Ages, consequences which had been yet more evil in the times that preceded.
Books, multiplied only by manuscript copies, were rare, because costly; and the fewness of books was in itself sufficient to cause fewness of readers. Indeed, till the very close of the period, the accomplishment of reading was unusual ; and those who possessed it derived a great part of their literary knowledge from oral communication. Information thus impeded could not be generally accessible; the few who attained it learned with difficulty, and, with some signal exceptions, did not learn thoroughly.' In several departments of composition we encounter peculiarities for which it is not easy to account, till we recollect that the works were framed with a view to oral delivery, such as the chanting of a ballad or poem by the minstrel. Nor is it unworthy of remark, that, through this mechanical obstacle, in great part, though not unpromoted by the struggle and repulsion which prevailed between the several classes of the community, there arose a disadvantageous splitting of literature into sections. We may say, though somewhat loosely, that the main body of middle
age literature constituted, in a manner, three distinct libraries, designed for three distinct classes of hearers or readers, and none of them known or cared for beyond the class of men to whom especially it belonged. The churchmen had their books, most of which were theological or philosophical ; the nobles had theirs, chiefly containing tales of warfare and adventure, out of which grew the chivalrous romances; and for the commons, or those of them at a distance from the nobility, there were historical traditions, popular ballads, and stories comic and satirical. It was always a rare thing, and for a long time was an occurrence quite unheard of, for a book to be written which aimed at interesting more than one of those groups. It was another characteristic fact, that only among the books of the clergy was there to be found any thing like systematic thinking or solid information.
The state of the languages has next to be observed. Not only, as has just been noticed, were all the higher kinds of knowledge the patrimony of one profession ; but they were generally or always recorded in the Latin tongue. In Italy, France, and Spain, where the language of the Romans was spoken by the people for centuries, and where, as it decayed, it became the foundation of the modern speech, this practice was natural enough, and, for a time, may have been harmless. But its effects were very different in those nations whose native dialects were quite alien to the Latin, our own being one of these. The use of the dead language made the position of such nations, in the earlier ages of Christendom, to be peculiarly unfavourable for all improvement which has to be gained through literature. At first, indeed, the native tongues being in their infancy, the Latin could not but be adopted for almost all literary works. Afterwards, when it had become needless, it was adhered to with such steadiness, that the Latin literature of the middle ages is larger in amount, beyond calculation, than the vernacular.
In respect of language, as in respect of easy access to books, every one knows how much wider the opportunities of gaining knowledge have been, from the very beginning of the times we call modern. The liberal sowing has been answered by the plentiful harvest.
6. We have, it is true, marked only some of the most obvious of the circumstances which have encouraged the modern literature of our country. A little reflection on the course of our national history would suggest many others. When we see our forefathers vindicating man's inalienable prerogative of free thought, and asserting, most strongly of all, his right to think on
ings sacred, with no responsibility but to the Omniscient Searcher of consciences; when we see them gaining, undismayed by many a defeat, victory after victory in the cause of constitutional freedom, and establishing, in regard to all points, a power for every man to speak and write as he would ; it cannot but occur to us, that these are facts not more important in their bearing on the social and religious interests of the community, than on the progress of literary culture.
Yet freedom, and the press, and the command of a language strong and copious, and understood by all, are only opportunities which allow literary excellence to exhibit itself; they are not causes to which it owes its birth. There is an intimate connection between literature and all the elements of society ; although the binding links are often but dimly perceptible.
The literature of a country grows up like the trees in its woods, which vegetate quickly and profusely in genial seasons, and again, chilled by biting frosts, cease to put forth leaf or shoot. But poetry, and eloquence, and philosophy itself, are unlike the oak and pine in this : that their summers and winters alternate irregularly, and that we do not understand either all the causes which foster their luxuriance, or all those by which it is checked. We do know, however, that men of letters, while they are in some sort the guides and teachers of their fellows, are also, especially in those sections of the art that are nourished by imagination and passion, swayed and prompted by the spirit of their age, by its tone of feeling, by its prevalent opinions, by