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idylls, love songs, and, later on, some war songs. The English ballad, sung from town to town by wandering gleemen,* had never altogether died. A number of rude ballads collected round the legendary Robin Hood, and the kind of poetic literature which sung of the outlaw and the forest, and afterwards so fully of the wild border life, gradually took form. About 1280 a beautiful little idyll, called The Owl and the Nightingale, was written in Dorsetshire, in which the author, NICHOLAS OF GUILDFORD, judges between the rival birds. In 1300 we meet with a few lyric poems, full of charm. They sing of springtime with its blossoms, of the woods ringing with the thrush and nightingale, of the flowers and the seemly sun, of country work, of the woes and joy of love, and many other delightful things. They are tinged with the color of French romance, but they have an English background. We read nothing like them, except in Scotland, till we come to the Elizabethan time. After this, in 1352, the war lyrics of LAURENCE Minor sing the great deeds and battles of Edward III.”
BIBLIOGRAPHY. LAYAMON AND GOWER.–Marsh's Or. and Hist. Eng. Lang., Lects. IV. and IX.; R. Pauli's Ed. of Confessio Amantis; F. J. Child's Lang.. of Ch. and Gow, in A. J. Ellis' Early Eng. Pronunciation; Littell, v. 2, 1858; Fraser's Mag., v. 59. Also some of the works referred to in Less. 3.
*“The minstrel, or gleeman, was held in high esteem among the Saxons. His genius obtained for him everywhere the respect and protection of the great and powerful. His place was in the hall of princes, where he never failed to earn admiration and applause, attended generally with advantages of a more substantial nature. He was sometimes a household retainer of the chief whom he served, sometimes he wandered through different countries, visiting the courts of vari. ous princes. It was the minstrel's duty not only to tell the mythic history of the earlier ages but to relate contemporary events, and to clothe in poetry the deeds which fell under his eye, to turn into derision the coward or the vanquished enemy, and to laud and exalt the conduct of his patrons. At times the bard raised his song to higher themes, and laid open the sacred story of the cosmogony and the beginning of all things.
These minstrel-poets had by degrees composed a large mass of national poetry, which formed collectively one grand mythic cycle. Their education consisted chiefly in committing this poetry to memory, and it was thus preserved from age to age. They rehearsed such portions of it as might be asked for by the hearers, or as the circumstances of the moment might require. In their passage from one minstrel to another, these poems underwent successive changes.”—Wright.
LESSON 9. HISTORY.–6 The Normans carried a historical taste with them to England, and created a most valuable historical literature. It was written in Latin, and we have nothing to do with it till story-telling grew out of it in the time of the Great Charter. But it was in itself of such importance that a few things must be said about it.
1. The men who wrote it were called CHRONICLERS. At first they were mere annalists—that is, they jotted down the events of year after year without any attempt to bind them together into a connected whole. But afterwards, from the time of Henry I., another class of men arose, who wrote, not in scattered monasteries, but in the Court. Living at the centre of political life, their histories were written in a philosophic spirit, and wove into a whole the growth of law and national life and the story of affairs abroad. They are our great authorities for the history of these times. They begin with WILLIAM OF MALMESBURY, whose book ends in 1142, and die out after MATTHEW PARIS, 1235–73. Historical literature in England is represented after the death of Henry III. only by a few dry Latin annalists till it rose again in modern English prose in 1513, when Sir Thomas More's Life of Edward V. and Richard III. is said to have been written.
2. A distinct English feeling soon sprang up among these Norman historians. English patriotism was far from having died among the English themselves. The Sayings of Ælfred, about 1200, were written in English by the English. These and some ballads, as well as the early English war songs, interested the Norman historians and were collected by them. William of Malmesbury, who was born of English and Norman parents, has sympathies with both peoples, and his history marks how both were becoming one nation. The same welding together of the conquered and the conquerors is seen in the others till we come to Matthew Paris, whose view of history is entirely that of an Englishman. When he wrote, Norman noble and English yeoman, Norman abbot and English priest, were, and are in his pages, one in blood and one in interests.
MANDEVILLE.—He is called the first writer in forined English.' Chaucer himself, however, wrote some things, and especially one of his Tales, in rhythmical prose, and John of Trevisa translated into English prose, 1387, Higden’s Polychronicon. MANDEVILLE wrote his Travels first in Latin, then in French, and finally put them into the English tongue about 1356, ‘that every man of the nation might understand them.' His quaint delight in telling his traveller's tales,' and sometimes the grace with which he tells them rank him among the story-tellers of England.
WYCLIF.-At the time the Vision of Langland was being read all over England, John WYCLIF, about 1380, began his work in the English tongue with a nearly complete translation of the Bible, and in it did as much probably to fix the language as Chaucer did in his Tales. But he did much more than this for the English tongue. He made it the popular language of religious thought and feeling. In 1381 he was in full battle with the Church on the doctrine of transubstantiation, and was condemned to silence. He replied by appealing to the whole of England in the speech of the people. He sent forth tract after tract, sermon after sermon, couched not in the dry, philosophic style of the schoolmen, but in short, sharp, stinging sentences, full of the homely words used in his own Bible, denying one by one almost all the doctrines, and denouncing the practices, of the Church of Rome. He was the first Protestant. It was a new literary vein to open, the vein of the pamphleteer.
RELIGIOUS LITERATURE IN LANGLAND AND WYCLIF.—We have traced the work of “transition English,' as it has been called, along the lines of popular religion and story-telling. The first of these, in the realm of poetry, reaches its goal in the work of William Langland; in the realm of prose it reaches its goal in Wyclif. In both these writers, the work differs from any that went before it by its extraordinary power, and by the depth of its religious feeling. It is plain that it represented a society much more strongly moved by religion than that of the beginning of the fourteenth century. In Wyclif, the voice comes from the university, and it went all over the land in the body of preachers whom, like Wesley, he sent forth. In Langland's Vision, we have a voice from the centre of the people themselves; his poem is written in a rude English dialect, in alliterative English verse, and in the old English manner. The very ploughboy could understand it. It became the book of those who desired social and Church reform. It was as eagerly read by the free laborers and fugitive serfs who collected round John Ball and Wat Tyler.
CAUSES OF THE RELIGIOUS REVIVAL. -This was originally due to the preaching of the Friars in the last century and to the noble example they set of devotion to the poor. When the Friars, however, became rich, though pretending to be poor, and impure of life, though pretending to goodness, the religious feeling they had stirred turned against themselves, and its two strongest cries, both on the Continent and in England, were for Truth and for Purity in life and in the Church.
Another cause, common to the Continent and to England in this century, was the movement for the equal rights of man against the class system of the middle ages. It was made a religious movement when men said that they were equal before God, and that goodness in his eyes was the only nobility. And it brought with it a religious protest against the oppression of the people by the class of the nobles.
There were two other causes, however, special to England at this time. One was the utter misery of the people owing to the French wars. Heavy taxation fell upon them, and
they were ground down by severe laws, which prevented their bettering themselves. They felt this all the more because so many of them had bought their freedom, and began to feel the delight of freedom. It was then that in their misery they turned to religion, not only as their sole refuge, but as supplying them with reasons for a social revolution. The other cause was the Black Death, the great Plague which, in 1349, ’62, and ’69, swept over England. Grass grew in the towns; whole villages were left uninhabited; a wild panic fell upon the people, which was added to by a terrible tempest in 1362 that to men's minds told of the wrath of God. In their terror then, as well as in their pain, they fled to religion.
THE KING'S ENGLISH. — We have thus traced the rise of English literature to the time of Chaucer. We must now complete the sketch by a word or two on the language in which it was written. The literary English language seemed at first to be destroyed by the Conquest. It lingered till Stephen’s death in the English Chronicle; a few traces of it are still found about the time of Henry III.’s death in the Brut of Layamon. But, practically speaking, from the 12th century till the middle of the 14th, there was no standard of English. The language, spoken only by the people, fell back into that broken state of anarchy in which each part of the country has its own dialect, and each writer uses the dialect of his own dwelling-place. All the poems, then, of which we have spoken were written in dialects of English, not in a fixed English common to all writers. French or Latin was the language of literature and of the literary class. But towards the middle of Edward the Third's reign, English got the better of French. After the Black Death in 1349, French was less used; in 1362 English was made the language of the courts of law. At the same time a standard English language was born. It did not overthrow the dialects, for the Vision of Piers the Plowman and Wyclif's Translation of the Bible are both in a dialect; but it stood forth as the literary lan