Imágenes de página

%. Formal, almost exclusively poetic, and dividing itself into two schools — romantic and religious; the one following Continental models, the other reviving the laws of Saxon verse.

An age of heightened life, of wider culture, or more harmonized society, into which are born a reformer, whose call awakes the spirit of national independence and moral earnestness, and a poet — not a rhymer, but a 'maker,' who has something new to say, and has found the art of saying it beautifully. Against the ruder, sadder lines of Langland, which paint with terrible fidelity the hunger, toil, and misery of the poor man's life, are the fresh, glad notes of Chaucer, which breathe the perfumed elegance and luxury of the court.


Now I am comen hom to reste.

Biography.-Born at St. Albans, about twenty miles north of London, in the year 1300. He studied medicine, but the globe was his home; and, at a time when the Orient was but a Land of Fairy, impelled by an irresistible desire of change and a deep religious emotion, he set forth on the day of St. Michael, in the

year of our Lord 1322, passed the sea, and went the way to Hierusalem, to behold the mervayles of Inde. With no credentials but his honorable sword, and his medical science (which might sometimes prove as perilous), he penetrated into Turkey, Persia, Armenia, India, Ethiopia, China, spending three years at Pekin; joined a Mahometan army in Palestine, served under the Sultan of Egypt; and after an absence of more than thirty years, returned, as another Ulysses, to find himself forgotten save by a few thin and withered friends of his youth, who supposed him lost and dead.

Gout and the aching of his limbs had 'defined the end of my labor against my will, God knoweth.' He wrote for solace in his wretched rest'; then, with his thoughts ever passing beyond the equator, he set off again on another roving expedition, and overtaken with illness died at Belgium in 1371.

Writings.- Travels, first composed in Latin, which was afterwards translated into French, and lastly out of French into English, that every man of my nation may understand it. The book was submitted to the pope and to his wise council, who after a critical review ratified and confirmed my book in all points. In this 'true' book are many things very untrue, but the author himself designs no imposition. With the eyes and ears of a child, he has stood in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

and says:

*Zee schull undirstonde that whan men comen to Jerusalem her first pilgrymage is to the chirche of the Holy Sepulcr wher oure Lord was buryed, that is withoute the cytee on the north syde. But it is now enclosed in with the ton wall. And there is a full fair chirche all round, and open above, and covered with leed. And on the west syde is a fair tour and an high for belles strongly made. And in the myddes of the chirche is a tabernacle as it wer a lytyll hows, made with a low }ityll dore; and that tabernacle is made in maner of a half a compas right curiousely and richely made of gold and azure and othere riche coloures, full nobelyche made. And in the ryght side of that tabernacle is the sepulcre of oure Lord. And the tabernacle is viij fote long and v fote wide, and xj fote in heghte. And it is not longe sithe the sepulcre was all open, that men myghte kisse it and touche it. . . . And there is a lamp that hongeth befor the sepulcre that brenneth light, and on the Gode ffryday it goth out be him self, at that hour that our Lord roos fro deth to lyve. Also within the chirche at the right side besyde the queer of the churche is the Mount of Calvarye, wher our Lord was don on the cros. And it is a roche of white coloure and a lytill medled with red. And the cros was set in a morteys in the same robe, and on that roche dropped the woundes of our Lord, whan he was pyned on the cros, and that is cleped Golgatha. And men gon up to that Golgatha be degrees. And in the place of that morteys was Adamcs hed found after Noes flode, in tokene that the synnes of Adam scholde ben bought in that same place.' With pious artlessness, in which the marvellous delights, he relates how St. John sleeps placid and uncorrupted in abysmal gloom,

God-preserved, as though a treasure,
Kept unto the waking day':-

* From Pathmos men gone unto Epheism, a fair citee and nyghe to the see. And there dyede Seynte Johne, and was buryed behynde the highe Awtiere, in a toumbe. And there is a faire chirche. For Christene mene weren wont to holder that place alweyes. And in the tombe of Seynt John is noughte but manna, that is clept Aungeles mete. For his body was translated into Paradys. And Turkes holden now alle that place and the citee and the Chirche. And all Asie the leese is yclept Turkye. And ye shalle undrestond, that Seynt Johne bid make his grave there in his Lys, and leyd himself there-inne all quyk. And therefore somme men seyn, that he dyed noughte, but that he resteth there till the Day of Doom. And forsoothe there is a gret marveule: For men may see there the erthe of the tombe apertly many tymes steren and moven, as there weren quykke thinges undre.' A suggestion of the picturesque myth of the Seven Sleepers. So Rip Van Winkle passed twenty years slumbering in the Catskill mountains. Even Napoleon is believed among some of the French peasantry to be sleeping on in like manner.

Who has not reverted, fondly, regretfully, to the spring-time of his being, with its simple pleasures and unconscious joys, as the Eden of his individual existence? It may not be precisely defined, but it is there — the same for all — somewhere beyond the storm-line of perils and pitfalls. Even so the generations, world-worn and foot-sore, look longingly back to the shady bowers, the vernal airs, the roses without thorns, of Paradise. None has seen it, many have sought it in vain, but all concur in the fact. In the imagination of the ages it is there, -or was, somewhere in the dewy morn of mortal life before the immeasurable wreck. Thus our honest traveller's description of the locality of this delectable spot is much the same as given by men of finer genius centuries afterwards. He fairly acknowledges that he cannot speak of it properly, for I was not there." With charming simplicity he adds:

• The earthly Paradise, or Garden of Eden, as wise men say, is the highest point of the earth, and it is so high that it nearly touches the circle of the earth there as the moon makes her turn. And it is so high that the flood of Noah might not come to it. And Paradise is enclosed all abont with a wall, and men know not whereof it is, for the wall is all covered over with moss as it seems, and it seems not that this is natural stone.... And you shall understand that no man that is mortal shall approach to that Paradise, for by land may no man go, for wild beasts that are in the deserts, and for the high mountains and great huge rocks that no man may pass by for the dark places there; and by the rivers no man may go, for the water runs so roughly and sharply, because it comes down so outrageously from the high places above that it runs so in great waves that no ship may run or sail against it. Many lords in past time have attempted to pass by these rivers into Paradise, with full, great companies, but they might not speed in their voyage, and many died of weariness of rowing against the strong waves, and many of them became blind or deaf by the noise of the water, and many perished that were lost in the waves. So that no mortal man may approach that place without special grace of God, and of that place I can tell you no more.' When he relates from his own personal observation, it is no longer with the prelude of "men seyn.' Of Chinese royalty he says:

• The gret Kyng hathe every day, 50 fair Damyseles, alle Maydenes, that serven him everemore at his Mete. And whan he is at the Table, thei bryngen him hys Mete at every tyme, 5 and 5 to gedre. And in bryngynge hire Servyse, thei syngen a Song. And after that, thei kutten his Mete, and putten it in his Mouthe: for be touchethe no thing ne handlethe nought, but holdethe evere more his Hondes before him, upon the Table. For he hath so longe Nayles, that he may take no thing, ne handle no thing. For the Noblesse of that ('ontree is to have longe Nayles, and to make hem growen alle weys to ben as longe as men may. And there ben manye in that ('ontree, that han hyre Nayles so longe, that thei envyronne alle the Hond; and that is gret Noblesse. And the Noblesse of the Women, is for to have smale Feet and litille: and therefore anon as thei ben born, they leet hynde hire Feet so streyte, that thei may not growen half as nature wolde: And alle weys theise Damyseles, that I spak of beforn, syngen alle the tyme that this riche man etethe: and when that he etethe no more of his firste ('ours, thanne other 5 and 5 of faire Damyseles bryngen him his seconde Cours, alle weys syngynge, as thei

dide beforn. And so thei don contynuelly, cvery day, to the cnde of his Metc. And in this manere he ledethc his Lif. And so dide thci before him, that weren his Auncestres; and so shulle thei that comen aftre him, with outen doynge of ony Dedes of Armes: but Jyven evere more thus in ese, as a Swyn, that is fedde in Sty, for to ben made fatte.' He enters the Valley Perilous, of which he has heard with wondering awe; and what he does not see, his horrifying fancy supplies:

Beside that isle of the Mistorak, upon the left side, nigh to tbc river Phison, is a marvelous thing. There is a vale between the mountains that dureth near a four mile. And some clepen it the vale enchanted, some clepen it the vale of devils, and some clepen it the vale perilous. . . This vale is full of devils, and hath heen always. And men say there that it is one of the entries of hell. In that vale is plenty of gold and silver; wherefore many misbelieving men, and many Christian men also, yon in oftentime, for to have of the treasure that there is, but few comen again; and namely of the misbelieving men, ne of the Christian men nouther: for they ben anon strangled of devils. Naturally,

"I was more devout then than ever I was before or after, and all for the dread of fiends that I saw in divers figures.' He believes the earth to be round, but marvels how the antipodes, whose feet are right upwards toward us, do not fall into the firmament. The more wonderful the narrative, the deeper it sinks into the softest and richest moulds of the most germinating mind. “The trees of the sun and of the moon,” he observes, are well known to have spoken to King Alexander, and warned him of his death.' In the Island of Lango, not far from Crete, he forgets not the unfortunate Lady of the Land who remained a dragoness because no one had the hardihood to kiss her lips to disenchant her. Near Bethlehem, he assures us, is the field Floridus, in which a fair maiden was unjustly condemned to die:

And as the fire began to burn about her she made her prayers to onr Lord, that as truly as she was not guilty He would of His merciful grace help her and make it known to all men. And when she had thus said she entered into the fire and immediately it was extinguished, and the fagots that were burning became red rose trees, and those that were not kindled became white rose trees, full of roses. And these were the first rose trees, red and white, that ever man saw."

Style. Straightforward, unpoetical, unadorned, idiomatic, drawn-out, as if the idea, to be made plain, must be driven in and clinched. These several lines are representative:

"And zee schall vnderstonde Machamete [Mahomel] was born in Araybe, that was first a pore knaue that kept cameles that wenten with marchantes for marchandise, and $0 befell that he wente with the marchantes in to Egipt, and thei were thanne cristene in tho partyes. And at the desartes of Araybe he wente in to a chapell wher a Eremyte duelte. And whan he entered in to the chapell, that was but a lytill and a low thing, and had but a lytill dore and a low, than the entree began to were so gret and so large, and 80 high, as though it had be of gret mynstr, or the zate of a paleys.'

Rank.--An ingenuous voyager; the first example of the liberal and independent gentleman journeying over the world in pursuit of knowledge, honored wherever he went for his talents and personal accomplishments. If he was gossipy and credulous, it was because his age was so.

The critic who thus comprehends him, will neither calumniate nor ridicule him. A journey over the globe at that distant day was scarcely less solemn than a departure to the realm of spirits; and, considering the circumstances under which he travelled and wrote, he must be conceded to have been a remarkable man. If he related fables, he did it honestly, while other accounts, long resting on his single and unsupported authority, have been confirmed by later discoveries,as the burning of widows on the funeral pile of their husbandsthe artificial egg-hatching in Egypt — the spheroidal form of the earth -- the crocodile — the hippopotamus — the Chinese predilection for small feet the trees which bear wool of which clothing is made.

Character.- Studious from childhood, unconquerably curious to see the unknown, courageous to wander wherever the step of man could press; a knight of spotless honor, a man of unimpeached probity, and a Christian of devoted piety. Offered in marriage a Sultan's daughter and a province, he refused both when his faith was to be exchanged for Mahometanism. He who can mourn the wickedness of his country cannot be without a large measure of those moral, affectional, and religious faculties, whose fairest, sweetest blossom is goodness. On his return to Europe, he wrote:

'In our time it may be spoken more truly then of olde, that Vertue is gone, the Church is under foote, the Clergie is in errour, the Devill raigneth, and Simonie beareth the sway'

Influence.-By the popularity of his book, he did more, probably, than any other writer of the century, to increase the proportion of Latin and Romance words in the English vocabulary. The following are illustrative: assembly, inflame, moisten, nation, cruelty, corner, date, defend, idol, philosopher, plainly, promise, pronounce, reconcile, temporal, publish, monster, visit, environ, conquer, reverend, spiritual.

We, from whom the ethereal hues of that glowing day have faded (alas!), may smile at his budget of wonders, but to the

« AnteriorContinuar »