« AnteriorContinuar »
as of history. Even where a really historical person
[Extract from the King of Tars.] was adopted as a subject, such as Rollo of Normandy, or Charlemagne, his life was so amplified with ro
(The Soudan of Damascus, having asked the daughter of the mantic adventure, that it became properly a work king of Tarsus in marriage, receives a refusal. The extract of fiction. This, it must be remembered, was an age intelligence, and some of the subsequent transactions.
describes his conduct on the return of the messengers with this
The remarkable for a fantastic military spirit. it was the language of this romance greatly resembles that of Robert of age of chivalry and of the crusades, when men saw such deeds of heroism and self-devotion daily perginning of the fourteenth century.]
Gloucester, and it may therefore be safely referred to the ben formed before their eyes, that nothing which could
The Soudan sat at his dess, be imagined of the past was too extravagant to ap
Y-served of the first mess ; pear destitute of the feasibility demanded in fiction. As might be expected from the ignorance of the age,
They comen into the hall
To-fore the prince proud in press, no attempt was made to surround the heroes with the circumstances proper to their time or country.
Their tale they tolden withouten lees,
And on their knees 'gan fall ; Alexander the Great, Arthur, and Roland, were all alike depicted as knights of the time of the poet And said, “Sire, the king of Tars himself. The basis of many of these metrical tales
Of wicked words is not scarce, is supposed to have been certain collections of stories
Heathen hound he doth thee call and histories compiled by the monks of the middle And ere his daughter he give thee till ages. “Materials for the superstructure were readily Thine heart-blood he will spill, found in an age when anecdotes and apologues were
And thy barons all !' thought very necessary even to discourses from the
When the Soudan this y-heard, pulpit, and when all the fables that could be gleaned
As a wood? man he fared, 3 from ancient writings, or from the relations of tra
His robe he rent adown ; vellers, were collected into story books, and preserved He tare the hair of head and beard, by the learned for that purpose.'*
And said he would her win with swerd, It was not till the English language had risen into
By his lord St Mahoun, some consideration, that it became a vehicle for ro
The table adown right he smote, mantic metrical tales. One composition of the kind,
Into the floor foot hot, entitled Sir Tristrem, published by Sir Walter Scott
He looked as a wild lion. in 1804, was believed by him, upon what he thought
All that he hit he smote downright, tolerable evidence, to be the composition of Thomas of Ercildoun, identical with a person noted in Scot
Both sergeant and knight,
Earl and eke baron, tish tradition under the appellation of Thomas the Rhymer, who lived at Earlston in Berwickshire, and So he fared forsooth aplight, died shortly before 1299. If this had been the case, All a day and all a night, Sir Tristrem must have been considered a produc
That no man might him chast :3 tion of the middle or latter part of the thirteenth A-morron, when it was daylight, century. But the soundness of Sir Walter's theory
He sent his messengers full right, is now generally denied. Another English romance,
After his barons in haste, the Life of Alexander the Great, was attributed by That they comen to his parliament, Mr Warton to Adam Davie, marshall of Stratford- For to hearen his judgment, le-Bow, who lived about 1312; but this, also, has
Both least and maist.6 been controverted. One only, King Horn, can be When the parliament was playner, assigned with certainty to the latter part of the Thus bespake the Soudan fier',7 thirteenth century. Mr Warton has placed some
And said to 'em in haste : others under that period, but by conjecture alone; and in fact dates and the names of authors are alike
'Lordings,' he said, ' what to rede ?8
Me is done a great misdeed, wanting at the beginning of the history of this class
Of Tars the Christian king ; of compositions. As far as probability goes, the
I bade him both lond and lede, reign of Edward II. (1307-27) may be set down as
To have his doughter in worthy weed, the era of the earlier English metrical romances, or
And spouse her with my ring. rather of the earlier English versions of such works from the French, for they were, almost without ex- And he said, withouten fail, ception, of that nature.
Erst9 he would me slay in batail, Sir Guy, the Squire of Low Degree, Sir Degore,
And mony a great lording. King Robert of Sicily, the King of Tars, Impomedon,
Ac certesl0 he shall be forswore, and La Mort Artur, are the names of some from
Or to wroth-hail that he was bore, 11 which Mr Warton gives copious extracts. Others,
But he it thereto bring. probably of later date, or which at least were long Therefore, lordings, I have after you sent, after popular, are entitled Sir Thopas, Sir Isenbras, For to come to my parliament, Gawan and Gologras, and Sir Bevis. In an Essay
To wit of you counsail.' on the Ancient Metrical Romances, in the second And all answered with good intent, volume of Dr Percy's Reliques of Ancient English They would be at his commandement Poetry, the names of many more, with an account
Withouten any fail. of some of them, and a prose abstract of one entitled Sir Libius, are given. Mr Ellis has also, in
And when they were all at his hest, 12
The Soudan made a well-great feast, his Metrical Romances, given prose abstracts of
For love of his batail. many, with some of the more agreeable passages. The metrical romances flourished till the close of the
1 High seat at table. Mad.
8 Becama fifteenth century, and their spirit affected English
4 Did hit. He struck the floor with his foot. literature till a still later period. Many of the bal- 5 Chasten or check. 6 Both little and great. lads handed down amongst the common people are
8 What do you advise.
. First supposed to have been derived from them.
10 But assuredly. 11 It shall be ill-fortune to him that he * Ellis.
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 led an huge host,
Of helins leamed light.3
The king of Tars came also,
With mony a Christian knight.
That grisly was of sight,
They fought as they were wood.
The Soudan nigh he had y-slaw,
That no man might him der.7
Mahoun help!' he 'gan cry.
And saddles mony empty;
But fleeth to his own city.
Our Christian men so free.
That ruth it was to see;
8 Gleamed with light.
2 That gentle maid.
8 Red coal.
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; And yede,3 my doughter, in a chair; It shall be covered with velvet red,
And cloths of fine gold all about your head, With damask white and azure blue,
Well diapered with lilies new.
Your pommels shall be ended with gold,
3 Go. 4 Figured. 6 A drink of wine, honey, and spices. 9 Set. 8 Household.
1 Lost. Go a hunting. 5 Spiced wine.
IMMEDIATE PREDECESSORS OF CHAUCER.
With cloth of arras pight to the ground, nunnery of Hampole, four miles from Doncaster. With sapphires set of diamond.
He wrote metrical paraphrases of certain parts of A hundred knights, truly told,
Scripture, and an original poem of a moral and Shall play with bowls in alleys cold,
religious nature, entitled The Priche of Conscience; Your disease to drive away ;
but of the latter work it is not certainly known that To see the fishes in pools play,
he composed it in English, there being some reason To a drawbridge then shall ye,
for believing that, in its present form, it is a transTh’ one half of stone, th’ other of tree ;
lation from a Latin original written by him. One A barge shall meet you full right,
agreeable passage (in the original spelling) of this With twenty-four oars full bright,
generally dull work is subjoined :With trumpets and with clarion, The fresh water to row up and down.
[What is in Heaven.] Forty torches burning bright,
Ther is lyf withoute ony deth,
And ther is youthe without ony elde ; 1
And ther is alle manner welthe to welde :
And ther is rest without ony travaille ;
And ther is pees without ony strife,
And ther is alle manner lykinge of lyf : With diamonds set and rubies bright.
And ther is bright somer ever to se,
And ther is nevere wynter in that countrie :When you are laid in bed so soft,
And ther is more worshipe and honour,
Then evere hade kynge other emperour.
And ther is grete melodie of aungeles songe,
And ther is preysing hem amonge. That when ye sleep the taste may come ;
And ther is alle manner frendshipe that may be, And if ye no rest can take,
And ther is evere perfect love and charite ;
And ther is wisdomn without folye,
And ther is honeste without vileneye.
Is the sighte of Goddes bright face,
In wham resteth alle mannere grace. 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 satirie reflections, and give expression to refined sentiment, not a trace has as yet engaged our
of the same period, ascribed to ROBERT LONGLANDE, attention. The dawn of miscellaneous poetry, as
a secular priest, also shows very expressively the these forms may be comprehensively called, is to be progress wliich 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 Jerusalem, thou hast i-lore 2
alliteration which characterised the Anglo-Saxon The flour of all chivalerie,
poetry. It is, in fact, both in this peculiarity and Nou Kyng Edward liveth na more,
in‘its political character, characteristic of a great Alas! that he yet shulde deye !
literary and political revolution, in which the lanHe wolde ha rered up ful heyge 3
guage as well as the independence of the AngloOur baners that bueth broht to grounde ; Saxons had at last gained the ascendency over those Wel longe we mowe clepet and crie,
of the Normans.* Pierce is represented as falling Er we such a kyng han y-founde !
asleep on the Malvern hills, and as secing, in his
sleep, a series of visions ; in describing these, he The first name that occurs in this department of exposes the corruptions of society, but particularly our literature is that of LAWRENCE Minot, who, the dissolute lives of the religious orders, with much about 1350, composed a series of short poems on the bitterness. victories of Edward III., beginning with the battle of Halidon Hill, and ending with the siege of Guines
[Extracts from Pierce Plowman.] Castle. His works were in a great measure unknown until the beginning of the present century,
[Mercy and Truth are thus allegorised.] when they were published by Ritson, who praised Out of the west coast, a wench, as me thought, them for the ease, variety, and harmony of the ver- Came walking in the way, to hell-ward she looked ; sification. About the same time flourished RICHARD Merey hight that maid, a meek thing withal, Rolle, a hermit of the order of St Augustine, and A full benign burd,2 and buxom of speech; doctor of divinity, who lived a solitary life near the Her sister, as it seemed, came soothly walking,
Even out of the east, and westward she looked, 1 Inlaid with pearls. 9 Edward had intended to go on a crusade to the Holy Land.
2 Burd, i.e. a maiden. 4 Call.
* A popular edition of this poem has been recently published * Mr Thomas Wright's Political Songs and Specimens of Lyric by Mr Wright. The lines are there divided, as we believe in Poetry composed in England in the reign of Edward I. Reliquiæ strictness they ought to be, in the middle, where a pause is Antiqua, 2 vols.
A full comely creature, truth she hight,
[Covetousness is thus personified.]
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.'
(The existing condition of the religious orders is delineated in the following allegorical fashion. It might be supposed that the final lines, in which the Reformation is predicted, was an interpolation after that event; but this has been ascertained not to have been the case.] Ac now is Religion a rider, a roamer about, A leader of lovedays,3 and a lond-buyer, A pricker on a palfrey from manor to manor. An heap of hounds [behind him] as he a lord were: And but if his knavet kneel that shall his cope bring, He loured on him, and asketh him who taught him
courtesy ? Little had lords to done to give lond from her heirs To religious, that have no ruth though it rain on her
altars. In inany places there they be parsons by hemself at
Chaucer was a man of the world as well as a And beat you, as the Bible telleth, for breaking of student; a soldier and courtier, employed in public your rule,
affairs of delicacy and importance, and equally acAnd amend monials,5 monks, and canons,
quainted with the splendour of the warlike and And put hem to her penance
magnificent reign of Edward III., and with the
bitter reverses of fortune which accompanied the And then shall the Abbot of Abingdon, and all his subsequent troubles and convulsions. He had parissue for ever
taken freely in all; and was peculiarly qualified to Have a knock of a King, and incurable the wound.
excel in that department of literature which alone can be universally popular, the portraiture of real life and genuine emotion. His genius was not, in
deed, fully developed till he was advanced in years. With these imperfect models as his only native His early pieces have much of the frigid conceit and guides, arose our first great author, GEOFFREY pedantry of his age, when the passion of love was CHAUCER, distinctively known as the Father of erected into a sort of court, governed by statutes, English poetry. Though our language had risen into and a system of chivalrous mythology (such as the importance with the rise of the Commons in the time poetical worship of the rose and the daisy) supplanted of Edward I.
, the French long kept possession of the the stateliness of the old romance. In time he threw court and higher circles, and it required a genius off these conceits, like that of Chaucer—familiar with different modes of life both at home and abroad, and openly patron- When about sixty, in the calm evening of a busy
He stoop'd to truth, and moralised his song. ised by his sovereign-to give literary permanence and consistency to the language and poetry of Eng-life, he composed his Canterbury Tales, simple and land. Henceforward his native style, which Spenser varied as nature itself, imbued with the results terms the pure well of English undefiled,' formed of extensive experience and close observation, and a standard of composition, though the national dis- coloured with the genial lights of a happy tempera
ment, that had looked on the world without austerity,
and passed through its changing scenes without los1 Hanging wider than his chin.
2 As the mouth of a bondman or rural labourer is with the ing the freshness and vivacity of youthful feeling bacon he eats, so was his beard beslabbered-an image still and imagination. The poet tells us himself (in his familiar in England.
Testament of Love) that he was born in London, and 2 Loveday is a day appointed for the amicable settlement of 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
4 A male servant.
is signed Philogenet of Cambridge, Clerk,' and And right anon as I the day espied, hence he is supposed to have attended the Univer- No longer would I in my bed abide, sity there; but Warton and other Oxonians claim I went forth myself alone and boldely, him for the rival university. It is certain that he And held the way down by a brook side, accompanied the army with which Edward III. in- Till I came to a land of white and green, vaded France, and was made prisoner about the So fair a one had I never in been. year 1359, at the siege of Retters. At this time the The ground was green y-powdered with daisy, poet was honoured with the steady and effective The flowers and the groves alike high, patronage of John of Gaunt, whose marriage with All green and white was nothing else seen. Blanche, heiress of Lancaster, he commemorates in his poem of the Dream. Chaucer and “time-honoured The destruction of the Royal Manor at Woodstock, Gaunt' became closely connected. The former mar- and the subsequent erection of Blenheim, have ried Philippa Pyckard, or De Rouet, daughter of a changed the appearance of this classic ground; but knight of Hainault, and maid of honour to the queen, the poet's morning walk may still be traced, and and a sister of this lady, Catherine Swinford (widow some venerable oaks that may have waved over him, of Sir John Swinford) became the mistress, and ulti- lend poetic and historical interest to the spot. The mately the wife, of John of Gaunt. The fortunes of opening of the reign of Richard II. was unpropitious the poet rose and fell with those of the prince, his to Chaucer. He became involved in the civil and patron. In 1367, he received from the crown a grant religious troubles of the times, and joined with the of twenty marks, equal to about £200 of our present party of John of Northampton, who was attached money. 'In 1372, he was a joint envoy on a mission to the doctrines of Wickliffe, in resisting the meato the Duke of Genoa ; and it has been conjectured sures of the court. The poet fled to Hainault (the that on this occasion he made a tour of the northern country of his wife's relations), and afterwards to states of Italy, and visited Petrarch at Padua. The Holland. He ventured to return in 1386, but was only proof of this, however, is a casual allusion in thrown into the Tower, and deprived of his compthe Canterbury Tales, where the clerk of Oxford says trollership. In May 1388, he obtained leave to disof his tale
pose of his two patents of twenty marks each; a Learned at Padua of a worthy clerk
measure prompted, no doubt, by necessity. He obFrancis Petrarch, the laurcat poet,
tained his release by impeaching his previous assoIlight this clerk, whose rhetoric sweet
ciates, and confessing to his misdemeanours, offering Enlumined all Italy of poetry.
also to prove the truth of his information by enter
ing 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 lancaecio, from whose volume Petrarch confessedly guage in his prose work, the Testament of Lore. 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 anibition 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 made 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 er.voy 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 distinc- The character of Chaucer may be seen in his tion. The scenery of Woodstock Park has been works. He was the counterpart of Shakspeare in described in the Dream with some graphic and pic- cheerfulness and benignity of dispositio?--no enemy turesque touches :
to mirth and joviality, yet delighting in his books,