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jans to the death of the Welsh prince Cadwallader in the year 689.
About the beginning of the thirteenth century, or the end of the preceding, Layamon, a priest, living in the north of Worcestershire, composed, in the mixed Saxon of the day, his “Brut," or English Chronicle. This work deserves especial notice, alike as
of the fullest specimens of our early tongue, and on account of its eminent literary merit. It traverses the same ground as Wace's Chronicle, on which indeed it is founded in all its parts; borrowing only a little from Bede, and a good deal from traditional or other authorities of a fabulous kind. It is not a translation of Wace, but rather an amplified imitation. It has more than double the bulk : it adds many legends to his; and throughout, but especially in the earlier parts, it dramatizes speeches and incidents, and introduces, often with excellent effect, original de scriptions and thoughts. The versification is very peculiar. The old alliteration prevails; but there are many rhyming couplets, many which are both rhymed and alliterative, and others that are neither.
Since the recent publication of this venerable record, Layamon seems likely to be honoured as The English Ennius.” But this title had formerly been bestowed on Robert of Gloucester, a metrical chronicler then known better. His work was probably completed about the close of the thirteenth century, and certainly not three years earlier. Extending from Brutus to the death of Henry the Third, it follows Geoffrey of Monmouth so far as his work goes, adopting, as its chief authority afterwards, -William of Malmesbury. It is in rhymed lines of fourteen syllables or seven accents, usually divisible into a couplet of the common measure of the Psalms. Although it is much more than a mere translation, it shows exceedingly little of literary talent or skill.
There is still less of either in the last two of the metrical chronicles, in search of which, to complete the set, we may look forward into the fourteenth century. Soon after the death of Edward the First, a chronicle from Brutus to that date was written in French verse, by Peter Langtoft, an ecclesiastic in Yorkshire, who follows Geoffrey till the close of the Anglo-Saxon times. A little before the middle of the century was compiled, in English, the chronicle of Robert Mannyng, called De Brunne from his birthplace in Lincolnshire. His book is entirely taken from two of the French authorities, used in succession, and each translated into the rhymed metre of the original. Thus he renders Wace into the romance-couplets of eight syllables or four accents, and Langtoft into Alexandrines.
7. Of English Metrical remains, besides the romances and chronicles, we have very few, and none of any importance, from the time between the Conquest and the middle of the twelfth century. It is to be observed, as a feature very important, that, on the revival of such compositions, after the latter of those dates, they imitated, from the beginning, the comparative simplicity and bareness of style that prevailed in the French pieces. The old Anglo-Saxon taste for obscure metaphor and pompous diction had entirely vanished. The versification also shows, more decisively than that of the translations that have been noticed, the progress from the ancient alliterative metres to those rhymed measures which, at first copied from the French, soon supplanted all the older forms.
From the latter half of the twelfth century we have a composition which its author, a canon of some priory in the east of England, whimsically called the “Ormulum," from his own name Ormin or Orm. The design, executed only in part, was that of constructing a kind of metrical harmony of those passages from the Gospels, which are contained in the service of the mass
. It has less of poetical merit than of ingenuity in reflection and allegory: but great praise has been bestowed on its purity of doctrine; and it is second only to Layamon as an instructive specimen of the Semi-Saxon stage of our tongue. Its measure is a line of fourteen syllables, or, more properly, of seven accents; which is usually or always divisible into two lines, making a couplet of our common Psalm metre. The verses are unrhymed, and very imperfectly alliterative.
Perhaps to the same time, and certainly to no later period than the close of Edward the First's reign, belongs the long fable of “ The Owl and the Nightingale.” This is one of the most pleasing of our early relics, easy in rhythm, and natural and lively in description. It is a contest for superiority of merit, caried on in dialogue between the two birds. The measure is that which is most common in the romances, and has been made familiar to us by Scott; consisting of rhymed couplets, in which each line has eight syllables or four accents. Alliterative syllables also occur frequently as incidental ornaments; a fashion very prevalent in dur early poetry, even in pieces where rhymes chiefly prevailed. The poem has been attributed, on doubtful grounds, to an author otherwise unknown, called either Nicholas or John of Guildford.
To the thirteenth century belong several small pieces by Michael of Kildare, the first Irishman who is known to have written verses in English; and to him has been assigned, anong
others, the frequently quoted satirical poem, " The Land of Cockayne.” Of anonymous poems, chiefly lyrical, composed towards the end of the century, many have been published; some of which, both amatory and religious, are promising symptoms of the poetical success which was to distinguish the succeeding age. Of the same date are not a few metrical legends of the saints ; and Robert of Gloucester is said to have been the author of one large collection of these, the published specimens of which are, like his Chronicle, more curious than poetical.
It should be recorded, also, that the origin of the Old English Drama may be said to have been almost contemporaneous with the formation of the Old English Language. The earliest extant pieces are assigned to the close of Henry the Third's reign. But it is enough to note the fact in the way of parenthesis. The dramatic efforts of our ancestors were, till the sixteenth century, so exceedingly rude, that we may delay learning any thing in regard to this branch of our literature till we have emerged from the Middle Ages. They were designed exclusively for being acted, with no view, and as little aptitude, to the ordeal of reading: their spectators were the best instructed of the community: and the ecclesiastics, in whose hands (especially those of the monks) the management of them long continned, confined them to sacred and moral themes; and used them for communicating to the mass of the people such scraps of religious knowledge as it was thought right to impart.
THE LITERATURE OF ENGLAND IN THE FOURTEENTH
A. D. 1307-A, D. 1399.
INTRODUCTION. 1. Social and Literary Character of the Period,-LITERATURE FROM
1307 to 1850. 2. Occam's Philosophy-Ecclesiastics - English Poems.—PROSE FROM 1350 to 1999. 3. Ecclesiastical Reforms—John Wycliffe- His Translation of the Bible -Mandeville-Trevisa-Chaucer.-POETRY FROM 1350 TO 1999. 4. Minor PoetsThe Visions of Pierce Plowman-Character of their Inventions-Chivalrous Romances. 5. John Gower-His Works—Illustrations of the Confessio Amantis. 6. Geoffrey Chaucer-His Life-His Studies and Literary Character. 7. Chaucer's Metrical Translations and their Sources – His smaller Original Poems—The Flower and the Leaf. 8. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Their Plan-The Prologue-Description of the Pilgrims. 9. The Stories told by the Canterbury Pilgrims—Their diversified Character, Poetical and Moral.
1. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the afternoon and evening of the middle ages, are the picturesque period in English history.
In the contemporary chronicle of Froissart, the reign of Edward the Third shines like a long array of knightly pageants ; and a loftier cast of imaginative adornment is imparted, by Shakspeare's historical dramas, to the troubled rule of the house of Lancaster, the savage wars of the Roses, and the crimes and fall of the short-lived dynasty of York. The characters and incidents of those stormy scenes, coloured so brilliantly in descriptions from which all of us derive, in one way or another, most of our current ideas in regard to them, wear, in their real outline, a striking air of irregular strength and greatness. But the admiring registrar of courtly pomps, and the philosophic poet of human nature, alike passed over in silence some of those circumstances of the times, that influenced most energetically the state of society and knowledge.
It is with the fourteenth century only, that we are in the meantime concerned.
The reign of Edward the Second was as inglorious in literature, as it was in the history of the nation. That of his son, cov
ering half of the century, was not more remarkable for the victories of Crecy and Poitiers, than for the triumphs then achieved in poetry and abstract thinking. The Black Prince, our model of historic chivalry, and Occam, the last and greatest of our scholastic philosophers, lived in the same century with Chaucer, the father of English poetical literature, and Wveliffe, the herald of the Protestant Reformation. In the reign of Richard the Seeond, the insurrection of the peasants gave token of deep-seated evils for which the remedy was distant; while the more powerful classes, thinking themselves equally aggrieved, sought for redress through a change of dynasty, and thus prepared the way for several generations of conspiracy and bloodshed.
LITERATURE FROM 1307 TO 1350. 2. The earlier half of this century may conveniently be regarded, in all its literary relations, as a separate period from the later. The genius of the nation, which had already shown symptoms of weariness, seemed now to have fallen asleep.
England, it is true, became the birthplace of “ The Invincible 6. ab. 1300. Doctor," William Occam. But this distinguished
thinker neither remained in his own country, nor imparted any strong impulse to his countrymen. Educated abroad, he lived chiefly in France, and died at Munich. While the writings of his master Duns Scotus were then the chief authorities of the metaphysical sect called Realists, Occam himself was the ablest, as well as one of the earliest, among the Nominalists. In regard to his position, it must here be enough to say, that the question to which these technical names refer, was considered by the schoolmen to be the great problem of philosophy, and was discussed with a vehemence for which we cannot sufficiently account, without knowing that the metaphysical speculations of the middle ages were always conducted with an immediate regard to their bearings on theology. Realism was held to be especially favourable to the distinctive doctrines which had then been developed in the Roman Catholic church. Nominalisin, on the contrary, was discouraged not only as novel but as heretical ; and Occam was persecuted for having been the first to enunciate clearly opinions which, in modern times, are held, in one shape or another, by almost all metaphysicians.
Meanwhile, the English ecclesiastics were not very eminent for speculative ability, and still less so for accuracy in classical knowledge. Three of the theological writers have sine claim to notice in the history of philosophy. The Augustinian canon Robert Holcot was one of the few Nominalists of his day; w'