Obrázky na stránke

chimes pealing in his ears. But as Langland looked round on the world, the victory did not seem real, and the stern dreamer passed out of triumph into the dark sorrow in which he lived. He dreams again in Do Best, and sees, as Christ leaves the earth, the reign of Antichrist. Evils attack the Church and mankind. Envy, Pride, and Sloth, helped by the Friars, besiege Conscience. Conscience cries on Contrition to help him, but Contrition is asleep, and Conscience, all but despairing, grasps his pilgrim staff and sets out to wander over the world, praying for luck and health, 'till he have Piers the Plowman,' till he find the Saviour.

This is the poem which wrought so strongly in men's minds that its influence was almost as great as Wyclif's in the revolt which had now begun against Latin Christianity. Its fame was so great that it produced imitators. About 1394 another alliterative poem was set forth by an unknown author, with the title of Pierce the Plowman's Crede, and the Plowman's Tale, wrongly attributed to Chaucer, is another witness to the popularity of Langland.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY. ORMULUM AND PIERS PLOWMAN.-G. P. Marsh's Lectures on Eng. Lang., Lectures V., VI., XIX., and XXIV.; Marsh's Or. and Hist. Eng. Lang., Lectures IV. and VII. Also many works referred to at the end of Lesson 3.


LESSON 8. ENGLISH STORY-TELLING POETRY.—-" This grew out of historical literature. There was a Welsh priest at the court of Henry I., called GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH, who took upon himself to write history. He had been given, he said, an ancient Welsh book to translate, which told in verse the history of Britain from the days when Brut, the great grandson of Æneas, landed on its shores, through the whole history of King Arthur and his Round Table down to Cadwallo, a Welsh king who died in 689. The Latin translation he made of this he called a history. The real historians were angry at the fiction, and declared that throughout the whole of it ‘he had lied saucily and shamelessly.' It was indeed only a clever putting together of a number of Welsh legends, but it was the beginning of story-telling in England. Every one who read it was delighted with it; it made, as we should say, a sensation, and as much on the Continent as in England. In it the Welsh had in some sort their revenge, for in its stories they invaded English literature, and their tales have never since ceased to live in it. They charm us as much in Tennyson's Idylls of the King as they charmed the people in the days of Henry I. But the stories Geoffrey of Monmouth told were in the Latin tongue. They were put first into French verse by Geoffrey Gaimar. They got afterwards to France and, added to from Breton legends, were made into a poem and decked out with the ornaments of French romance. In that form they returned to England as the work of Wace, a Norman trouvenr, who called his poem the Brut, and completed it in 1155, shortly after the accession of Henry II.

LAYAMON'S BRUT.-In this French form the story drifted through England, and at last falling into the hands of an English priest in Worcestershire, he resolved to tell it in English verse to his countrymen, and doing so became the



author of the first English poem after the Conquest. We may roughly say that its date is 1205, ten years or so before the Ormulum was written, ten years before the Great Charter. It is plain that its composition, though it told a Welsh story, was looked on as a patriotic work by the writer.

• There was a priest in the land,' he writes of himself, whose name was Layamon; he was son of Leovenath: may the Lord be gracious unto him! He dwelt at Earnley, a noble church on the bank of Severn, near Radstone, where he read books. It came in mind to him and in his chiefest thought that he would tell the noble deeds of England, what the men were named, and whence they came who first had English land.' And it was truly of great importance. The poem opened to the imagination of the English people an immense past for the history of the island they dwelt in, and made a common bond of interest between Norman and Englishman. Though chiefly rendered from the French, there are not fifty Norman words in its more than 30,000 lines. The old English alliterative metre is kept up with a few rare rhymes. As we read the short, quick lines in which the battles are described, as we listen to the simple metaphors, and feel the strong, rude character of the poem, it is as if we were reading Cædmon; and what Cadmon was to early English poetry, Layamon is to English poetry after the Conquest. He is the first of the new singers.

STORY-TELLING GROWS FRENCH IN FORM.—After an interval, the desire for story-telling increased in England. The story of Genesis and Exodus was versified about 1250, and in it and some others about the same date, rhymes are used. Many tales of Arthur's knights, and other tales which had an English origin, such as the lays of Havelok the Dane and of King Horn (about 1280), were translated from the French; ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER wrote his Riming Chronicle. 1298; and the Romance of King Alexander, about 1280, originally a Greek work, was adapted from the French into English. As the

[ocr errors]

dates grow nearer to 1300, seven years before the death of Edward I., the amount of French words increases, and the French romantic manner of telling stories is more and more marked. In the Lay of Havelok, the spirit and descriptions of the poem still resemble old English work; in the Romance of Alexander, on the other hand, the natural landscape, the convention 1 introductions to the parts, the gorgeous descriptions of pomps and armor and cities, the magic wonders, the manners, and feasts, and battles of chivalry, the love passages are all steeped in the colors of French romantic poetry. Now this romance was adapted by a Frenchman in the year 1200.(?) It took, therefore, nearly a century before the French romantic manner of poetry could be naturalized in English; and it was naturalized, curious to say, at the very time when England as a nation had lost its French elements and become entirely English. Finally, the influence of this French school in England is seen in the earlier poems of Chaucer, and in poems, such as the Court of Love, attributed to him. It came to its height and died in the translation of the Romaunt of the Rose, the last and crowning effort also of French romance. After that time the story-telling of England sought its subjects in another country than France. It turned to Italy.

John Gower belongs to a school older than Chaucer, inasmuch as he is never touched by the Italian, only by the French, influence. He belongs to a different school even as an artist; for his tales are not pure story-telling like Chaucer’s, but tales with a special moral. Partly the religious and social reformer and partly the story-teller, he represents a transition, and fills up the intellectual space between Langland and Chaucer. In the church of St. Saviour, at Southwark, his head is still seen resting on his three great works, the Speculum Meditantis, the Vox Clamantis, and the Confessio Amantis, 1393. It marlas the unsettled state of the literary language that each of these was written in a different tongue, the first in French and the second in Latin.

The third is his English work. In 30,000 lines or more, he mingles up allegory, morality, the sciences, the philosophy of Aristotle, all the studies of the day with comic or tragic tales as illustrations. We have seen that Robert de Brunne was the first to do this; Gower was the second. The tales are wearisome and long, and the smoothness of the verse makes them more wearisome. Gower was a careful writer of English; and in his satire of evils and in his grave reproof of the follies of Richard II., he rises into his best strain. The king himself, even though reproved, was a patron of the poet. It was as Gower was rowing on the Thames that the royal barge drew near, and he was called to the king's side. Book

• some new thing,' said the king, “in the way you are used, into which book I myself may often look;' and the request was the origin of the Confessio Amantis, the Confession of a Lover."

“Of original imaginative power the poem shows not the slightest trace, and its principal merit lies in the sententious passages which are here and there interspersed, and which, whether borrowed or original, are often pithy and striking.”G. P. Marsh.

“Gower has positively raised tediousness to the precision of science; he has made dulness an heirloom for the students of our literary history. It matters not where you try him, whether his story be Christian or pagan, borrowed from history or fable, you cannot escape him. Dip in at the middle or at the end, dodge back to the beginning, the patient old man is there to take you by the button and go on with his imperturbable narrative. His tediousness is omnipresent, and, like Dogberry, he could find it in his heart to bestow it all on your worship. The word lengthy has been charged to our American account, but it must have been invented by the first reader of Gower's works—the only inspiration of which they were ever capable. Our literature had to lie by and recruit for more than four centuries ere it could give us an equal vacuity in Tupper, so persistent a uniformity of commonplace in the Recreations of a Country Parson.J. R. Lowell.

ENGLISH LYRICS. “In the midst of all this story-telling, like prophecies of what should afterwards be so lovely in English poetry, rose, no one can tell how, some lyric poems, country

« PredošláPokračovať »