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Bute folc yt for gulte other yeres the worse be.
And brynge on lond god y now, a boute in eche ende.' But shall we look upon a desert of stumps, and exclaim, 'O my soul, what beauty! What is here in these metrical Lives of Saints, rhymed dissertations and chronicles, which are so well prolonged and so void of pleasure? What but poverty of intellect and taste? Wholly destitute of poetical merit, unable to develop a continuous idea, they disregard historical truth without securing the graces of fable by the sacrifice. They are, it is true, of interest to the lover of antiquities, and of importance to the linguist, as are fossil remains to the geologist. They exhibit the physiology of the English speech in its transition or larva and chrysalis states. Thus the Brut, though rendered from the French, contains fewer than fifty Norman words. A remarkable peculiarity of its grammar is the use of the pronoun his as a sign of the possessive case, as when in more modern English it was not unusual to write John his book. The Ormulum differs from the Anglo-Saxon models in wanting alliteration, and from the Norman-French in wanting rhyme. It contains a few words from the ecclesiastical Latin, but scarcely a trace of Norman influ
It has a peculiar device of spelling, consistent and uniform,— the doubling of the consonant after every short vowel,to indicate what, at a period of great confusion, the author deemed the standard pronunciation. Its immediate purpose, perhaps, was to guide the half-Normanized priests when the verses were read aloud for the good or pleasure of the people. On adherence to its orthography by readers and copyists, it lays great stress: And whase willen shall this booke
And whoso shall wish this book Eft other sithe writen,
After other time to write, Him bidde icc that he't write right
Him bid I that he it write right, Swa sum this booke him teacheth.'
So as this book him teacheth,
In Robert's Chronicle of England, the infusion of Norman words is still not more than four or five per cent, while it represents the language in a decidedly more advanced stage. He distinctly states the prevalence of French in his own day:
"Por bote a mon couthe French, me tolth of him well lute
Let us omit The Lay of Havelok the Dane, an orphan who marries an English princess; King Horn, who, thrown into a boat when a lad, is wrecked upon the coast of England, and, becoming a knight, reconquers the kingdom of his father; Sir Guy, who rescues enchanted knights, cuts down a giant, challenges and kills the Sultan in his tent; Alexander, the great hero of the heathen world, whose forgotten glory, after the downfall of the Empire, was revived on the Levantine shores of the Mediterranean, and then in Western Europe; – all which are of the thirteenth century, and restored or adapted from the French; all which, while they serve to illustrate the continuity of the English tongue, the growth of the French romantic manner of story-telling as the years grow nearer to 1300, and the demand of the Middle Age for glare and startling events, are utterly without power in delineating character or unity of conception in plan and execution.
In the midst of the story-tellers are satirists who, writing mostly in French or Latin, censure political abuses and Church corruptions, sometimes in a tone of mournful seriousness, as if the degradation to which the profession was reduced by the depravity of the higher clergy was deeply felt; sometimes with more force than respect or elegance. Thus an English poem of the Land of Cockaigne,- from coquina, a kitchen,-a form of satire current in many parts of Europe: 'List, for now my tale begins,
There the Pope for my offence,
Bade me straight in penance, thence,
The wondrous land that hight Cockaigne.' We are told of a region free from trouble, where the rivers run with oil, milk, wine, and honey; wherein the white and grey monks have an abbey of which the walls are built of pasties, which are paved with cakes, and have puddings for pinnacles.
Roasted geese fly about crying, 'Geese all hot'! This is the triumph of gluttony.
Here, also, like prophecies of the perfect bloom, are some
Al min hope is uppon the,
Bi day and bi nicht
Bricht and scene quen of storre,
So me liht and lere.
In this false fikele world,
So me led and steore.' What could be farther from the Saxon sentiment? A poem of some interest as the earliest imaginative piece of native invention after the Conquest is The Owl and the Nightingale, in octosyllabic rhyme, composed in the reign of Henry III. It is a dispute between the two birds as to which has the finer voice. After much reciprocal abuse, the question of superiority is referred to the author.
Love of nature is deep and national. To the Frenchman it is a light gladsomeness, soon gone, suggesting only a pleasing couplet as it passes – Now is winter gone, the hawthorn blossoms, the rose expands, the birds do voice their vows in melody." To the Englishman, all sad and moral, the circling seasons suggest a spiritual lesson,-chiefly vanity of vanities.' So is the following, of the reign of Edward I, truly English in spirit:
"Wynter wakeneth al my care,
For y not whider y shal, ne hou longe her duelle.' Yeomen and harpers throw off some spirited products; but their songs, first ignored, then transformed, reach us only in a late
edition, as Robin Hood, Chevy Chase, and the Nut-Brown Vaid.
Enough. The Saxon stock, stripped of its buds by the Norman axe, grows, though feebly. An occasional shoot displays genuine England to the light, as a vast rock crops up here and there from beneath the soil.
Prose. When the preservation of literary compositions by writing has given opportunity for their patient study, the next step is possible,—the use of prose; and histories, rude and meagre, serving rather to fix a date than to illuminate it, are its principal products. Nature makes men poets, -art makes them philosophers and critics.
English prose looks fondly back to Alfred, in his translations of Bede, for its true parentage. As Whitby, in the person of Cædmon, is the cradle of English poetry, so Winchester is that of English prose. Failing soon after, it is revived in Ælfrie, who, turning into English the first seven books and part of Job, becomes the first large translator of the Bible; repressed by the Danes, and again by the Normans, it dies in the death of the Sa.con Chronicle, nor lives again in any extended form till the reign of Edward III. There may
be mentioned a curious work in the vernacular, belonging to the latter part of the twelfth century,--the Ancren Rivle, that is, the Anchoresses' Rule, a code of monastic precepts for the guidance of a small nunnery, or rather religious society of Laddies:
“Ye ne schulen eten vieschs ne seim buten ine muchele secnesse; other hwoso is eller feble eteth potage blitheliche; and wunieth on to lutel drunch. ... Ye, mine levile sustren, ne schulen babben no best, bute kat one, ... Nexst fleshe ne schal mon Werien no linene cloth, bute yif hit beo of herde and of greate heorden. Stamin habbe hwose wule; and hwose wille mei beon buten. Ye schulen liggen in on heater, and i-gurd. ... Ower schone beon greate and warme. Ine sumer ye habbeth leane norto gon and sitten barnot. . . . Ye ne schulen senden lettres, ne underuon lettres, ne writen, buten leane, Ye schulen beon i-dodded four sithen ithe yere, norto lihten ower heaned; and ase ofte i-leten blod; and oftere yif neod is; and hwoso mei beon ther withuten, ich hit mei wel i-tholien.' 1
Ye shall not eat flesh nor lard but in much sickness; or whoso is ever feeble may eat potage blithely; and accustom yourselves to little drink, Ye, my dear sisters, shall have but one cat. ... Next the flesh ye shall wear no linen cloth, but if it be of hard and of coarse canvas. Whoso will may have a shirt of woolen and linen, and whowo will may be without. Ye shall lie in a garment and girt.... Let your shoes be large and warm. In summer are permitted to go and wit bure-foot.
Ye shall not send letters, nor receive letters, nor write without leave. Ye shall be cropped four times in the year, to lighten your head; and as often bled, oftener if need be; but whoso muy dispense with this, well,
“The slowe lith and slepeth ithe deofles berme, ase his deore deorling; and te deouel leieth his tutel adun to his earen, and tuteleth him al thet he euer wule. ... The giure glutun is thes fondes manciple. Vor he stiketh euer ithe celere, other ithe kuchene. His heorte is ithe disches; his thouht is al ithe neppe; his lif ithe tunne; his soule ithe
History.- Between the beginning and the end of history are legendary traditions, credulous chronicles, barren annals, the glitter and clatter of kings and warriors, luxuriant, tangled, and fanciful narratives. When, as in the Middle Ages, credulity and looseness of thought are universal, it is impossible for men to engage in a philosophic study of the past, or even to record with accuracy what is taking place around them. So great is the general aptitude for the marvellous, that even the ablest writers are compelled to believe the most childish absurdities. Thus, it was well known that the city of Naples was founded on eggs; also, that the order of St. Michael was instituted in person by the archangel, who was himself the first knight. The Tartars, it was taught, proceeded from Tartarus, which some theologians said was an inferior kind of hell, but others declared to be hell itself. Hence, as the Turks were identical with the Tartars, it was only a proper and natural consequence that, since the Cross had fallen into Turkish hands, all Christian children had ten teeth less than formerly. Here is a story which Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, one of the greatest and most vigorous minds in the twelfth century, tells of a certain St. Kieran. The saint, with thirty of his companions, has been executed in a wood by order of a Pagan prince, and their bodies are left lying there for the wolves and the wild birds. Note the fact, as the grave and good Anselm has really ascertained it:
“But now a miracle, such as was once heard of before in the Church in the person of the holy Denis, was again wrought by Divine Providence to preserve the bodies of these saints from profanation. The trunk of Kieran rose from the ground, and selecting first
! The sluggard lieth and sleepeth in the devil's bosom, as his dear darling; and the devil applieth his mouth to his ears, and tells him whatever he will. [For, this is certainly the case with every one who is not occupied in anything good: the devil assiduously talks, and the idle lovingly receive his lessons. Le that is idle and careless is the devil's bosom-sleeper: but he shall on Doomsday be fearfully started with the dreadful sound of the angels' trumpets, and whall awaken in terrible amazement in hell.
Arise, ye dead, who lie in graves: arise, and come to the Saviour's judgment."). The greedy gluton is the devil's purveyor: for he always haunts the cellar or the kitchen. His heart is in the dishes; all his thought is of the table-cloth: his life is in the tun, his soul in the pitcher. (He cometh into the presence of his lord besmutted and besmeared, with a dish in one hand and a bowl in the other. He talks much incoherently, and staggereth like drunken man who seemeth about to fall, looks at his great belly, and the devil laughs so that he bursteth.)