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handmaid, and Do-best her spiritual guide. Thence, for further instruction he is taken to dine with Clergy, and while they refresh themselves with psalms and texts, which are the bill of fare, Clergy gives his pupil a dissertation, in the course of which he refers to one Piers Plowman who had made light of all knowledge but love, and says that Do-well and Do-better are finders of Do-best, who saves men's souls. The pilgrim exclaims,
* This is a long lesson,
And litel am I the wiser,' and receives a reproof for his indocile temper. Vain is the wisdom of man. Do-well, Do-better, and Do-best are at last identified with the Saviour, who is Love. Of low estate, come to direct the erring and redeem the lost, he appears in the garb of Piers the Plowman,- type of the poor and simple. The Immortal dies, descends into Hell, rescues the patriarchs and prophets, triumphs over Death and the Devil. The righteous life is found, and the dreamer wakes in a transport, with the Easter chimes pealing in his ears. Alas, only in a dream is mortal victory complete. Over the beatific vision roll the mists of earth again, and Antichrist — the Man of Sin — with raised banner appears. Bells are rung, and the monks in solemn procession go out to receive with congratulations their lord and father. With seven great giants -- the seven Deadly Sins'-he besieges Conscience Idleness leads the assault, and brings with him more than a thousand prelates. Nature sends up a host of plagues and diseases to punish the sacrilegious show:
* Kynde Conscience tho herde,--and cam out of the planetes,
Contrition is implored for aid, but slumbers; and Conscience, hard pressed by Pride and Sloth, rouses himself with a final effort, and seizing his staff resumes his doubtful quest, praying for luck and health till he have Piers the Plowman'— till he find the Christ; no clear outlook, no sure hope; like the Wandering Jew, bowed beneath the burden of the curse, weary with unrelieved toil, worn with ceaseless trudging.
This serious poem, which makes Scripture and deed the test of creed — all outward observances but hollow shows — prepares the soil for the reception of that seed which Wycliffe and his associates are sowing. The imitations — the Plouman's Creed, by a nameless author, and the Plovoman's Tale, attributed to Chaucer - bear witness to its popularity and fame. Its wide circulation among the commonalty of the realm is chiefly due to its moral and social bearings. Like the Declaration of Independence, it expresses the popular sentiment on the subjects it discusses,—the vices of Church, State, and Society. A spiritual picture which brings into distinct consciousness what many feel and but dimly apprehend,- the solitary advocate of the children of want and oppression.
A part of its interest, at least for posterity, is derived from its antiquated Saxon and its rustic pith. Without artifice of connection or involution of plot, it is an impulsive voice from the wilderness, in the language of the people; and, as such, returns to or continues the old alliterative metre and unrhymed verse
the recurrence at certain regular intervals of like beginnings, without, as Milton contemptuously calls it, the jingling sound of like endings. Thus;
• In a somer réson - whan sóft was the sonnë,
Went wýde in this world – wondres to hérë.' The fashionable machinery of talking abstractions gives evidence of French influence. The satirist, like Bunyan, veils his head in allegory. Perhaps the ideal company who fit along the dreamy scenes of his wild invention, have some distant relationship to the shadowy pilgrimage of that 'Immortal Dreamer' to the Celestial City.
The second main stream of the poetical literature of the period is story-telling. Robert Manning garnishes with rhymes a history
of England beginning with the immemorial Brutus, and calls it a
*Lordynges that be now here,
[Q.1, uritten And on Inglysch has it schewed, Not for the lered but for the lewed;
(laity For tho that on this land worn
[those, duell That the Latin ne the Frankys conn
(know For to hauf solace and gamen, In felauschip when tha sitt samen;
(together And it is wisdom for to wytten
[hear Whilk were foles, and whilk were wyse
(which And whilk of tham couth most quantyse;
[knew, artfulness And whilk did wrong, and whilk ryght, And whisk mayntened pes and tight.'
[peace So forth and so forth. Loquacious, clear, and insipid, we imagine, as its French original.
But reverie and fantasy are needed to satisfy the pleasant indolence of the chivalric world and the courts that shine upon the heights. The tales that sufficed to allure the attention of a ruder ancestry, now demand more volume, more variety, more color; and all that history and imagination have gathered in the East, in France, in Wales, in Provence, in Italy, wrought and rewrought by the minst relsy of three centuries, heroics of the North that magnify the valor and daring of the cavalier, lyrics of the South that dwell on the devotion of the knight to his ladylove.serve as the stuff for the looms of the mighty weavers of verse. Before the frivolous unreality of the new chivalry, songs of martial achievement predominated; but the intellectual palate of the gentry now prefers the later poetry of sensuous enjoyment, – the trouvère, with its amours and mysticism; or the troubadour, with its romantic follies. The passion of war has degenerated into a pageant, and Romance, from the light fabliaux to the entangling fiction of many thousand lines, tells of little but the ecstasies of love. Love is the essential theme, love in its first emotions, love happy, jealous; the lover walking,
sitting, sleeping, sick, despairing, dead. In France they have Floral Games where the assembled poets are housed in artificial arbors dressed with flowers, and a violet of gold is awarded the best poem. The love-courts discuss -- and decide affirmatively whether each one who loves grows pale at the sight of her whom he loves; whether each action of the lover ends in the thought of her whom he loves; whether love can refuse anything to love. A company of enthusiasts, love-penitents, to prove the strength of their passion, dress in summer in furs and heavy garments, and in winter in light gauze. When Froissart presents to Richard his book bound in crimson velvet, guarded by clasps of silver, and studded with golden roses,
• Than the kyng demanded me whereof it treated, and I shewed hym how it treated maters of louc; wherof the kynge was gladde.'
While rowing on the Thames, Gower (1325-1408) meets the royal barge, and is called to the king's side. “Book some new thing,' says Richard, “in the way you are used, into which book I myself may often look '; and the request is the origin of Confessio Amantis — the Confession of a Lover. It is a dialogue between an unhappy lover and his confessor, the object of which is to explain and classify the impediments of love. Through thirty thousand weary lines, the lover, like a good Catholic, states his distress, and is edified, if not comforted, by expositions of hermetic science and Aristotelian philosophy, discourses on politics, litanies of ancient and modern legends, gleaned from the compilers for the morality they furnish. Thus a serpent, Aspidis, bears in his head the precious stone called the carbuncle, which enchanters strive to win from him by lulling him asleep with magic songs. The wise reptile, as soon as the charmer approaches, presses one ear flat upon the ground, and covers the other with his tail. Ergo, let us obstinately resist all temptations that assail us through the avenues of the bodily organs. Even as Ulysses stopped his companions' ears with wax and lashed himself to the ship's mast, to escape the enticement of the Sirens' song.
The confession terminates with some parting injunctions of the priest, the bitter judgment of Venus that he should remember his old age and leave off such fooleries, his cure from the wound of Cupid's dart, and his absolution. He is dismissed with advice from the goddess to go ‘where moral virtue dwelleth,'
To the last, Gower is learned, dignified, didactic. He would be nothing, if he were not moral. His principal merit lies in the sententious passages which are here and there interspersed, and the narratives culled with dull prolixity from legendary lore, some of which - as the Trumpet of Death -- deserve notice for their striking tone of reflection, and others for the charm of their details. Thus, it was a law in Hungary, that when a man was condemned to die, the sentence should be announced to him by the blast of a brazen trumpet before his house. At a magnificent court-festival, the monarch was plunged in deep melancholy, and his brother anxiously inquired the reason. No reply was made, but at break of morn the fatal trumpet sounded at the brother's gate. The doomed man came to the palace weeping and despairing. Then the king said solemnly, that if such grief were caused by the death of the body, how much profounder must be the sorrow awakened by the thought which afflicted him as he sat among his guests, the thought of that eternal death of the spirit which Heaven has ordained as the wages of sin.
The tale of Florent is in Gower's happiest manner, and reveals, in the desert of platitudes, some of the brilliancy and grace of older models. A knight riding through a narrow pass in search of adventures, is attacked, taken, and led to a castle. There, at the peril of his life, he is required to state
What alle women most desire.' That he may have time for reflection and consideration, he is granted a leave of absence, on condition that at the expiration of his term he shall return with his answer. He tells all what has befallen him, and asks the opinion of the wisest, but
"Such a thing they cannot find
By constellation ne kind,that is, neither by the stars nor by the laws of nature. Our hero-still pondering what to say — sets out on his return. His troubled meditations are at length interrupted by the discovery of an old woman sitting under a large tree,
* That for to speak of flesh and bone
So foul yet saw he never none.' He fain would pass quickly on, but she calls him by name, and warns him that he is riding to his death, adding, however, that she can save him. He begs her advice, and she asks, “What