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as of history. Even where a really historical person was adopted as a subject, such as Rollo of Normandy, or Charlemagne, his life was so amplified with romantic adventure, that it became properly a work of fiction. This, it must be remembered, was an age remarkable for a fantastic military spirit: it was the age of chivalry and of the crusades, when men saw such deeds of heroism and self-devotion daily performed before their eyes, that nothing which could be imagined of the past was too extravagant to appear destitute of the feasibility demanded in fiction. As might be expected from the ignorance of the age, no attempt was made to surround the heroes with the circumstances proper to their time or country. Alexander the Great, Arthur, and Roland, were all alike depicted as knights of the time of the poet himself. The basis of many of these metrical tales is supposed to have been certain collections of stories and histories compiled by the monks of the middle ages. Materials for the superstructure were readily found in an age when anecdotes and apologues were thought very necessary even to discourses from the pulpit, and when all the fables that could be gleaned from ancient writings, or from the relations of travellers, were collected into story books, and preserved by the learned for that purpose.'
It was not till the English language had risen into some consideration, that it became a vehicle for romantic metrical tales. One composition of the kind, entitled Sir Tristrem, published by Sir Walter Scott in 1804, was believed by him, upon what he thought tolerable evidence, to be the composition of Thomas of Ercildoun, identical with a person noted in Scottish tradition under the appellation of Thomas the Rhymer, who lived at Earlston in Berwickshire, and died shortly before 1299. If this had been the case, Sir Tristrem must have been considered a production of the middle or latter part of the thirteenth century. But the soundness of Sir Walter's theory is now generally denied. Another English romance, the Life of Alexander the Great, was attributed by Mr Warton to Adam Davie, marshall of Stratfordle-Bow, who lived about 1312; but this, also, has been controverted. One only, King Horn, can be assigned with certainty to the latter part of the thirteenth century. Mr Warton has placed some others under that period, but by conjecture alone; and in fact dates and the names of authors are alike wanting at the beginning of the history of this class of compositions. As far as probability goes, the reign of Edward II. (1307-27) may be set down as the era of the earlier English metrical romances, or rather of the earlier English versions of such works from the French, for they were, almost without exception, of that nature.
Sir Guy, the Squire of Low Degree, Sir Degore, King Robert of Sicily, the King of Tars, Impomedon, and La Mort Artur, are the names of some from which Mr Warton gives copious extracts. Others, probably of later date, or which at least were long after popular, are entitled Sir Thopas, Sir Isenbras, Gawan and Gologras, and Sir Bevis. In an Essay on the Ancient Metrical Romances, in the second volume of Dr Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, the names of many more, with an account of some of them, and a prose abstract of one entitled Sir Libius, are given. Mr Ellis has also, in his Metrical Romances, given prose abstracts of many, with some of the more agreeable passages. The metrical romances flourished till the close of the fifteenth century, and their spirit affected English literature till a still later period. Many of the ballads handed down amongst the common people are supposed to have been derived from them.
So he fared forsooth aplight,
That no man might him chast :5
And said to 'em in haste: 'Lordings,' he said, 'what to rede ?8 Me is done a great misdeed,
Of Tars the Christian king;
And he said, withouten fail,
And when they were all at his hest,12 The Soudan made a well-great feast, For love of his batail.
1 High seat at table. 2 Mad. 3 Became. Did hit. He struck the floor with his foot. 5 Chasten or check. 6 Both little and great. 8 What do you advise. 9 First. 11 It shall be ill-fortune to him that he 19 Order.
10 But assuredly. was born.
The Soudan gathered a host unride,1
All that he might of send;
Battle they set upon a day,
Ne longer nold they lend. The Soudan come with great power, With helm bright, and fair banner, Upon that king to wend.
The Soudan led an huge host,
Of helms leamed light.3
The king of Tars came also, The Soudan battle for to do,
With mony a Christian knight. Either host gan other assail, There began a strong batail,
That grisly was of sight, Three heathen again two Christian men, And felled them down in the fen, With weapons stiff and good. The stern Saracens in that fight, Slew our Christian men downright,
They fought as they were wood. When the king of Tars saw that sight, Wood he was for wrath aplight,
In hand he hent4 a spear, And to the Soudan he rode full right, With a dunt of much might, Adown he 'gan him bear. The Soudan nigh he had y-slaw, But thirty thousand of heathen law, Comen him for to weir ;6 And brought him again upon his steed, And holp him well in that need,
That no man might him der.7 When he was brought upon his steed, He sprung as sparkle doth of gleed, For wrath and for envy. And all that he hit he made 'em bleed, He fared as he wold a weed,
'Mahoun help!' he 'gan cry. Mony a helm there was unweaved, And mony a bassinet to-cleaved,
And saddles mony empty;
But fleeth to his own city.
Our Christian men so free.
That ruth it was to see;
And on the morrow for their sake,
For the folk that he had i-lore.1
And said, with sighing sore: 'Father,' she said, 'let me be his wife, That there be no more strife,' &c.
[Extract from the Squire of Low Degree.]
[The daughter of the king of Hungary having fallen into melancholy, in consequence of the loss of her lover, the squire of low degree, her father thus endeavours to console her. The passage is valuable, because,' says Warton, it delineates, in lively colours, the fashionable diversions and usages of ancient times.']
To-morrow ye shall in hunting fare;9 And yede,3 my doughter, in a chair; It shall be covered with velvet red,
And cloths of fine gold all about your head,
s Go a hunting. 1 Lost. 5 Spiced wine.
3 Go. 4 Figured. • A drink of wine, honey, and spices. 9 Set. 8 Household.
With cloth of arras pight to the ground,
That when ye sleep the taste may come ;
And if ye no rest can take,
All night minstrels for you shall wake.
Jerusalem, thou hast i-lore 2
The flour of all chivalerie,
Our baners that bueth broht to grounde;
Er we such a kyng han y-founde!
The first name that occurs in this department of our literature is that of LAWRENCE MINOT, who, about 1350, composed a series of short poems on the victories of Edward III., beginning with the battle of Halidon Hill, and ending with the siege of Guines Castle. His works were in a great measure unknown until the beginning of the present century, when they were published by Ritson, who praised them for the ease, variety, and harmony of the versification. About the same time flourished RICHARD ROLLE, a hermit of the order of St Augustine, and doctor of divinity, who lived a solitary life near the
1 Inlaid with pearls. Edward had intended to go on a crusade to the Holy Land. • High. 4 Call. * Mr Thomas Wright's Political Songs and Specimens of Lyric Poetry composed in England in the reign of Edward I. Reliquiæ Antiquæ, 2 vols.
nunnery of Hampole, four miles from Doncaster. He wrote metrical paraphrases of certain parts of Scripture, and an original poem of a moral and religious nature, entitled The Pricke of Conscience; but of the latter work it is not certainly known that he composed it in English, there being some reason for believing that, in its present form, it is a translation from a Latin original written by him. One agreeable passage (in the original spelling) of this generally dull work is subjoined :
[What is in Heaven.]
IMMEDIATE PREDECESSORS OF CHAUCER.
Hitherto, we have seen English poetry only in the forms of the chronicle and the romance: of its many other forms, so familiar now, in which it is employed to point a moral lesson, to describe natural scenery, The Vision of Pierce Ploughman, a satirical poem to convey satiric reflections, and give expression to of the same period, ascribed to ROBERT LONGLANDE, refined sentiment, not a trace has as yet engaged our a secular priest, also shows very expressively the attention. The dawn of miscellaneous poetry, as these forms may be comprehensively called, is to be progress which was made, about the middle of the faintly discovered about the middle of the thirteenth fourteenth century, towards a literary style. This century, when Henry III. sat on the English throne, poem, in many points of view, is one of the most and Alexander II. on that of Scotland. A consider-important works that appeared in England previous able variety of examples will be found in the volumes to the invention of printing. It is the popular reof which the titles are given below. The earliest presentative of the doctrines which were silently that can be said to possess literary merit is an elegy bringing about the Reformation, and it is a peculiarly on the death of Edward I. (1307), written in musical national poem, not only as being a much purer and energetic stanzas, of which one is subjoined :- specimen of the English language than Chaucer, but as exhibiting the revival of the same system of alliteration which characterised the Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is, in fact, both in this peculiarity and in its political character, characteristic of a great literary and political revolution, in which the language as well as the independence of the AngloSaxons had at last gained the ascendency over those of the Normans.* Pierce is represented as falling asleep on the Malvern hills, and as seeing, in his sleep, a series of visions; in describing these, he exposes the corruptions of society, but particularly the dissolute lives of the religious orders, with much bitterness.
Ther is lyf withoute ony deth,
And ther is youthe without ony elde ;1
And ther is nevere wynter in that countrie :-
And ther is alle manner frendshipe that may be,
And ther is wisdom without folye,
[Extracts from Pierce Plowman.]
Burd, i. e. a maiden.
1 Age. * A popular edition of this poem has been recently published by Mr Wright. The lines are there divided, as we believe in strictness they ought to be, in the middle, where a pause is naturally made.
With these imperfect models as his only native guides, arose our first great author, GEOFFREY CHAUCER, distinctively known as the Father of English poetry. Though our language had risen into importance with the rise of the Commons in the time of Edward I., the French long kept possession of the court and higher circles, and it required a genius like that of Chaucer-familiar with different modes of life both at home and abroad, and openly patronised by his sovereign-to give literary permanence and consistency to the language and poetry of England. Henceforward his native style, which Spenser terms the pure well of English undefiled,' formed a standard of composition, though the national dis
1 Hanging wider than his chin.
2 As the mouth of a bondman or rural labourer is with the bacon he eats, so was his beard beslabbered-an image still
familiar in England.
3 Loveday is a day appointed for the amicable settlement of
4A male servant.
tractions which followed, and the paucity of any striking poetical genius for at least a century and a half after his death, too truly exemplify the fine simile of Warton, that Chaucer was like a genial day in an English spring, when a brilliant sun enlivens the face of nature with unusual warmth and lustre, but is succeeded by the redoubled horrors of winter, and those tender buds and early blossoms which were called forth by the transient gleam of a temporary sunshine, are nipped by frosts and torn by tempests.'
Chaucer was a man of the world as well as a student; a soldier and courtier, employed in public affairs of delicacy and importance, and equally acquainted with the splendour of the warlike and magnificent reign of Edward III., and with the bitter reverses of fortune which accompanied the subsequent troubles and convulsions. He had partaken freely in all; and was peculiarly qualified to excel in that department of literature which alone can be universally popular, the portraiture of real life and genuine emotion. His genius was not, indeed, fully developed till he was advanced in years. His early pieces have much of the frigid conceit and pedantry of his age, when the passion of love was erected into a sort of court, governed by statutes, and a system of chivalrous mythology (such as the poetical worship of the rose and the daisy) supplanted the stateliness of the old romance. In time he threw off these conceits
He stoop'd to truth, and moralised his song.
When about sixty, in the calm evening of a busy life, he composed his Canterbury Tales, simple and varied as nature itself, imbued with the results of extensive experience and close observation, and coloured with the genial lights of a happy temperament, that had looked on the world without austerity, and passed through its changing scenes without losing the freshness and vivacity of youthful feeling and imagination. The poet tells us himself (in his Testament of Love) that he was born in London, and the year 1328 is assigned, by the only authority we possess on the subject, namely, the inscription on his tomb, as the date of his birth. One of his poems
is signed Philogenet of Cambridge, Clerk,' and
Learned at Padua of a worthy clerk-
And right anon as I the day espied,
All green and white was nothing else seen.
The destruction of the Royal Manor at Woodstock, and the subsequent erection of Blenheim, have changed the appearance of this classic ground; but the poet's morning walk may still be traced, and some venerable oaks that may have waved over him, lend poetic and historical interest to the spot. The opening of the reign of Richard II. was unpropitious to Chaucer. He became involved in the civil and religious troubles of the times, and joined with the party of John of Northampton, who was attached to the doctrines of Wickliffe, in resisting the measures of the court. The poet fled to Hainault (the country of his wife's relations), and afterwards to Holland. He ventured to return in 1386, but was thrown into the Tower, and deprived of his comptrollership. In May 1388, he obtained leave to dispose of his two patents of twenty marks each; a measure prompted, no doubt, by necessity. He obtained his release by impeaching his previous associates, and confessing to his misdemeanours, offering also to prove the truth of his information by entering the lists of combat with the accused parties. The tale thus learned is the pathetic story of Patient How far this transaction involves the character of Grisilde, which, in fact, was written by Boccaccio, the poet, we cannot now ascertain. He has painted and only translated into Latin by Petrarch. Why,' his suffering and distress, the odium which he inasks Mr Godwin, did Chaucer choose to confess curred, and his indignation at the bad conduct of his his obligation for it to Petrarch rather than to Boc- former confederates, in powerful and affecting lancaccio, from whose volume Petrarch confessedly guage in his prose work, the Testament of Love. The translated it? For this very natural reason-be- sunshine of royal favour was not long withheld after cause he was eager to commemorate his interview this humiliating submission. In 1389, Chaucer is with this venerable patriarch of Italian letters, and registered as clerk of the works at Westminster; to record the pleasure he had reaped from his society.' and next year he was appointed to the same office at We fear this is mere special pleading; but it would Windsor. These were only temporary situations, be a pity that so pleasing an illusion should be dis- held about twenty months; but he afterwards repelled. Whether or not the two poets ever met, the ceived a grant of £20, and a tun of wine, per anItalian journey of Chaucer, and the fame of Petrarch, num. The name of the poet does not occur again must have kindled his poetical ambition and refined for some years, and he is supposed to have retired his taste. The Divine Comedy of Dante had shed a to Woodstock, and there composed his Canterbury glory over the literature of Italy; Petrarch received Tales. In 1398, a patent of protection was granted his crown of laurel in the Capitol of Rome only five to him by the crown; but, from the terms of the years before Chaucer first appeared as a poet (his deed, it is difficult to say whether it is an amnesty Court of Love was written about the year 1346); and for political offences, or a safeguard from creditors. Boccaccio (more poetical in his prose than his verse) In the following year, still brighter prospects opened had composed that inimitable century of tales, his on the aged poet. Henry of Bolingbroke, the son Decameron, in which the charms of romance are of his brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, ascended the clothed in all the pure and sparkling graces of com- throne: Chaucer's annuity was continued, and forty position. These illustrious examples must have in-marks additional were granted. Thomas Chaucer, spired the English traveller; but the rude northern whom Mr Godwin seems to prove to have been the speech with which he had to deal, formed a chilling poet's son, was made chief butler, and elected Speaker contrast to the musical language of Italy! Edward of the House of Commons. The last time that the III. continued his patronage to the poet. He was poet's name occurs in any public document, is in a matle comptroller of the customs of wine and wool lease made to him by the abbot, prior and convent in the port of London, and had a pitcher of wine of Westminster, of a tenement situate in the gardaily from the royal table, which was afterwards den of the chapel, at the yearly rent of 53s. 4d. commuted into a pension of twenty marks. He was This is dated on the 24th of December 1399; and appointed a joint envoy to France to treat of a mar- on the 25th of October 1400, the poet died in Lonriage between the Prince of Wales and Mary, the don, most probably in the house he had just leased, daughter of the French king. At home, he is sup- which stood on the site of Henry VII.'s chapel. He posed to have resided in a house granted by the was buried in Westminster Abbey-the first of that king, near the royal manor at Woodstock, where, illustrious file of poets whose ashes rest in the sacred according to the description in his Dream, he was edifice. surrounded with every mark of luxury and distinction. The scenery of Woodstock Park has been described in the Dream with some graphic and picturesque touches :
The character of Chaucer may be seen in his works. He was the counterpart of Shakspeare in cheerfulness and benignity of disposition--no enemy to mirth and joviality, yet delighting in his books,