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Told that King Edward now was dead,
This chronicle ends very abruptly; Wace apparently having been much displeased with the honours bestowed by Plantagenet on Benoit St. More, who was engaged on a similar work; indeed, from a cursory survey of the rival production, it is impossible to avoid believing that maistre Wace was really ill used; since the wearisome prosings of Benoit, however flowing the style, contrast most unfavourably with his spirited sketches.
The works of Benoit St. More, which still exist, are "L'Histoire de la Guerre de Troy ;" and "L'Histoire des Dues de Normandie;5 # so voluminous a writer was he, that the number of lines in his two works have been calculated at nearly 46,0001 and, as may be well supposed, but little of
* This is a singularly beautiful manuscript, and the initial letters display some advances toward a correct delineation of the human face.
this immense collection of rhymes, deserves rescuing from oblivion. Benoit St. More, however, seems to have prided himself upon his talents, and probably on his extensive learning, since he commences his History of the Dukes of Normandy with an account of the creation; and then proceeds to give a long geographical essay on the three parts of the then known world, and their inhabitants. The following extract, from the conclusion of his first book, shews the high estimation in which he held learned men, and not the least among them himself.
"Many the studious toils, I wis,
The next writer that presents himself, although ungraced by royal patronage, advances higher claims to our notice than if he had received the gifts of Plantagenet, or the smiles of Elinor; since in his work we have a specimen, not merely of the religious poetry of the age, but of the form in which religious instruction was conveyed to the populace by the way-side preacher.* The title which this very curious work bears is, " Le Sermun du Guichart de Beaulieu and it has been considered, by abbe de la Rue, very plausibly to be the production of some zealous preacher, who, in his youthful days, had been foremost in all evil,—perhaps the leader of a band of plunderers during the disastrous reign of Stephen, but who, in advanced age, had sought the cloister, and become the inmate of Beaulieu, a cell belonging to the abbey of St. Albans, from whence he takes his name.f The introduction of this " Sermun "—a term which, at this period, rather signified an address, than that species of composition which modern times characterizes by that name— proves that it was intended for a popular auditory, for the style is precisely that in which the trouv&res commence their tales.
* This phrase may appear strange to some readers who are not aware how extensively the practice of itinerant preaching prevailed during the middle ages. Indeed, by a singular but most beneficial anomaly, the Latin church, whilst she insisted on the consecration of every place where the service was to be performed, allowed her preachers to go forth as unfettered in their great work as the Puritan; and thus, in the marketplace, on the sea-shore, or by the way-side, hundreds of earnest and warmhearted men preached, free from all superstitious adjuncts, the great truths of the Gospel; while, in the scorn with which they were viewed by the higher orders of the clergy, we have testimony to the purity of their doctrine.
fThe celebrated abbey of Beaulieu, in the isle of Wight, was not founded until the middle of the thirteenth century.
"Come listen to my lay, ye men of high and low degree,
He now proceeds to denounce the wickedness of the age, and the folly of men seeking so earnestly after earthly happiness, which, after all, "melts like ice but although he says it, they heed not, for
"This age, of fierce debate,
This is a graphic picture of the fierce and powerful baron of the period, and his invisible foeman lurking unseen.
"Look well upon this age, when all things promise well, And his riches make a goodly show, then, eager to excel, The man tall houses builds, and plants his vineyards carefully, That he his joy at full may take, and little doubteth he That long he shall enjoy them all; then he seeketh to be known, For he would be the greatest man, and hold his state alone; Then art and cunning both he wields his neighbours to subdue, And by force of arms the rich man robs, and takes from each their due. And when that he hath gained alf that his wild heart can crave, Then, that he may be feared around, right royal state he'll have, With flocks, and herds, and wild wood beasts, his wide lands hell supply, While to his neighing palfreys, his snorting mules reply.
Within is harping, sound of lute, and jongleurs' pleasant lay,
"Now you may wonder," continues he, " wherefore I should so denounce all those things which men seek after, I will, therefore, tell you why:
"It is, indeed, no marvel, that earnest I should be; I had a wound, a grievous wound, as I will show to ye; And long time did I hide it, but 'twould no longer hide; That wound was sin, and it, alas! was very deep and wide. Alas! I am a sinner great, so great, I cannot say, For mickle evil did I do, till God e'en turned away From me in wrath. Oh! wicked deeds I did, withouten fear, And His commandments lightly deemed, nor would His precepts hear, And much did I the devil serve, and aye with wicked glee. Oh! such a sinner as I've been, I ne'er can tell to ye. At length o'erwhelmed with fear I was, and in sore jeopardy; And then no other way I found, than e'en myself to throw Upon our dear Lord's mercy, though I had scorned it so; And only on His grace to lean, for other right I'd none; So I trusted I should mercy have, in holding this alone; Ye ne'er can tell how great that was, but I will show it you, For God is very pitiful, and gracious, and true."
He now commences a very complete epitome of the leading incidents in Scripture history; and the following extract gives a very fair specimen of his simple and pleasing style. After narrating that "God his own Son sent," he continues:
"Then God a star set forth on high, shining with rays most bright, That nuncio-star,* and o'er the world it shed its joyful light, Telling afar to every one, to men of each degree, That the Ruler of all worlds was come in his humility.
* " L'esteile d'annunciat/'