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From Chaucer to Tennyson by Henry A. Beers

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Chautauqua Reading Circle Literature








_Professor of English Literature in Yale University_.



In so brief a history of so rich a literature, the problem is how to get
room enough to give, not an adequate impression--that is impossible--but
any impression at all of the subject. To do this I have crowded out
every thing but _belles lettres_. Books in philosophy, history, science,
etc., however important in the history of English thought, receive the
merest incidental mention, or even no mention at all. Again, I have
omitted the literature of the Anglo-Saxon period, which is written in a
language nearly as hard for a modern Englishman to read as German is, or
Dutch. Caedmon and Cynewulf are no more a part of English literature than
Vergil and Horace are of Italian. I have also left out the vernacular
literature of the Scotch before the time of Burns. Up to the date of the
union Scotland was a separate kingdom, and its literature had a
development independent of the English, though parallel with it.

In dividing the history into periods, I have followed, with some
modifications, the divisions made by Mr. Stopford Brooke in his
excellent little _Primer of English Literature_. A short reading course
is appended to each chapter.






THE AGE OF MILTON, 1608-1674















_The required books of the C.L.S.C. are recommended by a Council of
six. It must, however, be understood that recommendation does not
involve an approval by the Council, or by any member of it, of every
principle or doctrine contained in the book recommended._




The Norman conquest of England, in the 11th century, made a break in the
natural growth of the English language and literature. The Old English
or Anglo-Saxon had been a purely Germanic speech, with a complicated
grammar and a full set of inflections. For three hundred years following
the battle of Hastings this native tongue was driven from the king's
court and the courts of law, from Parliament, school, and university.
During all this time there were two languages spoken in England. Norman
French was the birth-tongue of the upper classes and English of the
lower. When the latter got the better of the struggle, and became, about
the middle of the 14th century, the national speech of all England, it
was no longer the English of King Alfred. It was a new language, a
grammarless tongue, almost wholly stripped of its inflections. It had
lost half of its old words, and had filled their places with French
equivalents. The Norman lawyers had introduced legal terms; the ladies
and courtiers words of dress and courtesy. The knight had imported the
vocabulary of war and of the chase. The master-builders of the Norman
castles and cathedrals contributed technical expressions proper to the
architect and the mason. The art of cooking was French. The naming of
the living animals, _ox, swine, sheep, deer_, was left to the Saxon
churl who had the herding of them, while the dressed meats, _beef, pork,
mutton, venison_, received their baptism from the table-talk of his
Norman master. The four orders of begging friars, and especially the
Franciscans or Gray Friars, introduced into England in 1224, became
intermediaries between the high and the low. They went about preaching
to the poor, and in their sermons they intermingled French with English.
In their hands, too, was almost all the science of the day; their
_medicine, botany_, and _astronomy_ displaced the old nomenclature of
_leechdom, wort-cunning_ and _star-craft._ And, finally, the translators
of French poems often found it easier to transfer a foreign word bodily
than to seek out a native synonym, particularly when the former supplied
them with a rhyme. But the innovation reached even to the commonest
words in every-day use, so that _voice_ drove out _steven, poor_ drove
out _earm_, and _color, use_, and _place_ made good their footing beside
_hue, wont_, and _stead_. A great part of the English words that were
left were so changed in spelling and pronunciation as to be practically
new. Chaucer stands, in date, midway between King Alfred and Alfred
Tennyson, but his English differs vastly more from the former's than
from the latter's. To Chaucer, Anglo-Saxon was as much a dead language
as it is to us.

The classical Anglo-Saxon, moreover, had been the Wessex dialect, spoken
and written at Alfred's capital, Winchester. When the French had
displaced this as the language of culture, there was no longer a "king's
English" or any literary standard. The sources of modern standard
English are to be found in the East Midland, spoken in Lincoln, Norfolk,
Suffolk, Cambridge, and neighboring shires. Here the old Anglian had
been corrupted by the Danish settlers, and rapidly threw off its
inflections when it became a spoken and no longer a written language,
after the Conquest. The West Saxon, clinging more tenaciously to ancient
forms, sank into the position of a local dialect; while the East
Midland, spreading to London, Oxford, and Cambridge, became the literary
English in which Chaucer wrote.

The Normans brought in also new intellectual influences and new forms of
literature. They were a cosmopolitan people, and they connected England
with the Continent. Lanfranc and Anselm, the first two Norman
archbishops of Canterbury, were learned and splendid prelates of a type
quite unknown to the Anglo-Saxons. They introduced the scholastic
philosophy taught at the University of Paris, and the reformed
discipline of the Norman abbeys. They bound the English Church more
closely to Rome, and officered it with Normans. English bishops were
deprived of their sees for illiteracy, and French abbots were set over
monasteries of Saxon monks. Down to the middle of the 14th century the
learned literature of England was mostly in Latin, and the polite
literature in French. English did not at any time altogether cease to be
a written language, but the extant remains of the period from 1066 to
1200 are few and, with one exception, unimportant. After 1200 English
came more and more into written use, but mainly in translations,
paraphrases, and imitations of French works. The native genius was at
school, and followed awkwardly the copy set by its master.

The Anglo-Saxon poetry, for example, had been rhythmical and
alliterative. It was commonly written in lines containing four
rhythmical accents and with three of the accented syllables

_R_este hine tha _r_um-heort; _r_eced hlifade
_G_eap and _g_old-fah, _g_aest inne swaef.

Rested him then the great-hearted; the hall towered
Roomy and gold-bright, the guest slept within.

This rude, energetic verse the Saxon _scop_ had sung to his harp or
_glee-beam_, dwelling on the emphatic syllables, passing swiftly over
the others, which were of undetermined number and position in the line.
It was now displaced by the smooth metrical verse with rhymed endings,
which the French introduced and which our modern poets use, a verse
fitted to be recited rather than sung. The old English alliterative
verse continued, indeed, in occasional use to the 16th century. But it
was linked to a forgotten literature and an obsolete dialect, and was
doomed to give way. Chaucer lent his great authority to the more modern
verse system, and his own literary models and inspirers were all
foreign, French or Italian. Literature in England began to be once more
English and truly national in the hands of Chaucer and his
contemporaries, but it was the literature of a nation cut off from its
own past by three centuries of foreign rule.

The most noteworthy English document of the 11th and 12th centuries was
the continuation of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. Copies of these annals,
differing somewhat among themselves, had been kept at the monasteries in
Winchester, Abingdon, Worcester, and elsewhere. The yearly entries are
mostly brief, dry records of passing events, though occasionally they
become full and animated. The fen country of Cambridge and Lincolnshire
was a region of monasteries. Here were the great abbeys of Peterborough
and Croyland and Ely minster. One of the earliest English songs tells
how the savage heart of the Danish king Cnut was softened by the singing
of the monks in Ely.

Merie sungen muneches binnen Ely
Tha Cnut chyning reu ther by;
Roweth, cnihtes, noer the land.
And here we thes muneches sang.

Merrily sung the monks in Ely
When King Canute rowed by.
'Row boys, nearer the land,
And let us hear these monks' song.'

It was among the dikes and marshes of this fen country that the bold
outlaw Hereward, "the last of the English," held out for some years
against the conqueror. And it was here, in the rich abbey of Burgh or
Peterborough, the ancient Medeshamstede (meadow-homestead), that the
chronicle was continued nearly a century after the Conquest, breaking
off abruptly in 1154, the date of King Stephen's death. Peterborough had
received a new Norman abbot, Turold, "a very stern man," and the entry
in the chronicle for 1070 tells how Hereward and his gang, with his
Danish backers, thereupon plundered the abbey of its treasures, which
were first removed to Ely, and then carried off by the Danish fleet and
sunk, lost, or squandered. The English in the later portions of this
Peterborough chronicle becomes gradually more modern, and falls away
more and more from the strict grammatical standards of the classical
Anglo-Saxon. It is a most valuable historical monument, and some
passages of it are written with great vividness, notably the sketch of
William the Conquerer put down in the year of his death (1086) by one
who had "looked upon him and at another time dwelt in his court." "He
who was before a rich king, and lord of many a land, he had not then of
all his land but a piece of seven feet....Likewise he was a very stark
man and a terrible, so that one durst do nothing against his will....
Among other things is not to be forgotten the good peace that he made in
this land, so that a man might fare over his kingdom with his bosom full
of gold unhurt. He set up a great deer preserve, and he laid laws
therewith that whoso should slay hart or hind, he should be blinded. As
greatly did he love the tall deer as if he were their father."

With the discontinuance of the Peterborough annals, English history
written in English prose ceased for three hundred years. The thread of
the nation's story was kept up in Latin chronicles, compiled by writers
partly of English and partly of Norman descent. The earliest of these,
such as Ordericus Vitalis, Simeon of Durham, Henry of Huntingdon, and
William of Malmesbury, were contemporary with the later entries of the
Saxon chronicle. The last of them, Matthew of Westminster, finished his
work in 1273. About 1300, Robert, a monk of Gloucester, composed a
chronicle in English verse, following in the main the authority of the
Latin chronicles, and he was succeeded by other rhyming chroniclers in
the 14th century. In the hands of these the true history of the Saxon
times was overlaid with an ever-increasing mass of fable and legend. All
real knowledge of the period dwindled away until in Capgraves's
_Chronicle of England_, written in prose in 1463-1464, hardly any thing
of it is left. In history as in literature the English had forgotten
their past, and had turned to foreign sources. It is noteworthy that
Shakspere, who borrowed his subjects and his heroes sometimes from
authentic English history, sometimes from the legendary history of
ancient Britain, Denmark, and Scotland--as in Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth,
respectively--ignores the Saxon period altogether. And Spenser, who
gives in the second book of his _Faerie Queene_ a _resume_ of the reigns
of fabulous British kings--the supposed ancestors of Queen Elizabeth,
his royal patron--has nothing to say of the real kings of early England.
So completely had the true record faded away that it made no appeal to
the imaginations of our most patriotic poets. The Saxon Alfred had been
dethroned by the British Arthur, and the conquered Welsh had imposed
their fictitious genealogies upon the dynasty of the conquerors.

In the _Roman de Rou_, a verse chronicle of the dukes of Normandy,
written by the Norman Wace, it is related that at the battle of Hastings
the French _jongleur_, Taillefer, spurred out before the van of
William's army, tossing his lance in the air and chanting of
"Charlemagne and of Roland, of Oliver and the peers who died at
Roncesvals." This incident is prophetic of the victory which Norman
song, no less than Norman arms, was to win over England. The lines which
Taillefer sang were from the _Chanson de Roland_, the oldest and best of
the French hero sagas. The heathen Northmen, who had ravaged the coasts
of France in the 10th century, had become in the course of one hundred
and fifty years completely identified with the French. They had accepted
Christianity, intermarried with the native women, and forgotten their
own Norse tongue. The race thus formed was the most brilliant in Europe.
The warlike, adventurous spirit of the vikings mingled in its blood with
the French nimbleness of wit and fondness for display. The Normans were
a nation of knights-errant, with a passion for prowess and for courtesy.
Their architecture was at once strong and graceful. Their women were
skilled in embroidery, a splendid sample of which is preserved in the
famous Bayeux tapestry, in which the conqueror's wife, Matilda, and the
ladies of her court wrought the history of the Conquest.

This national taste for decoration expressed itself not only in the
ceremonious pomp of feast and chase and tourney, but likewise in
literature. The most characteristic contribution of the Normans to
English poetry were the metrical romances or chivalry tales. These were
sung or recited by the minstrels, who were among the retainers of every
great feudal baron, or by the _jongleurs_, who wandered from court to
castle. There is a whole literature of these _romans d'aventure_ in the
Anglo-Norman dialect of French. Many of them are very long--often
thirty, forty, or fifty thousand lines--written sometimes in a strophic
form, sometimes in long Alexandrines, but commonly in the short,
eight-syllabled rhyming couplet. Numbers of them were turned into
English verse in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. The translations
were usually inferior to the originals. The French _trouvere_ (finder
or poet) told his story in a straightforward, prosaic fashion, omitting
no details in the action and unrolling endless descriptions of dresses,
trappings, gardens, etc. He invented plots and situations full of fine
possibilities by which later poets have profited, but his own handling
of them was feeble and prolix. Yet there was a simplicity about the old
French language and a certain elegance and delicacy in the diction of
the _trouveres_ which the rude, unformed English failed to catch.

The heroes of these romances were of various climes: Guy of Warwick, and
Richard the Lion Heart of England, Havelok the Dane, Sir Troilus of
Troy, Charlemagne, and Alexander. But, strangely enough, the favorite
hero of English romance was that mythical Arthur of Britain, whom Welsh
legend had celebrated as the most formidable enemy of the Sassenach
invaders and their victor in twelve great battles. The language and
literature of the ancient Cymry or Welsh had made no impression on their
Anglo-Saxon conquerors. There are a few Welsh borrowings in the English
speech, such as _bard_ and _druid_; but in the old Anglo-Saxon
literature there are no more traces of British song and story than if
the two races had been sundered by the ocean instead of being borderers
for over six hundred years. But the Welsh had their own national
traditions, and after the Norman Conquest these were set free from the
isolation of their Celtic tongue and, in an indirect form, entered into
the general literature of Europe. The French came into contact with the
old British literature in two places: in the Welsh marches in England
and in the province of Brittany in France, where the population is of
Cymric race, and spoke, and still to some extent speaks, a Cymric
dialect akin to the Welsh.

About 1140 Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk, seemingly of Welsh
descent, who lived at the court of Henry the First and became afterward
bishop of St. Asaph, produced in Latin a so-called _Historia Britonum_,
in which it was told how Brutus, the great grandson of AEneas, came to
Britain, and founded there his kingdom called after him, and his city of
New Troy (Troynovant) on the site of the later London. An air of
historic gravity was given to this tissue of Welsh legends by an exact
chronology and the genealogy of the British kings, and the author
referred, as his authority, to an imaginary Welsh book given him, as he
said, by a certain Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford. Here appeared that line
of fabulous British princes which has become so familiar to modern
readers in the plays of Shakspere and the poems of Tennyson: Lear and
his three daughters; Cymbeline; Gorboduc, the subject of the earliest
regular English tragedy, composed by Sackville and acted in 1562;
Locrine and his Queen Gwendolen and his daughter Sabrina, who gave her
name to the river Severn, was made immortal by an exquisite song in
Milton's _Comus_ and became the heroine of the tragedy of _Locrine_,
once attributed to Shakspere; and above all, Arthur, the son of Uther
Pendragon, and the founder of the Table Round. In 1155 Wace, the author
of the _Roman de Rou_, turned Geoffrey's work into a French poem
entitled _Brut d'Angleterre_, "brut" being a Welsh word meaning
chronicle. About the year 1200 Wace's poem was Englished by Layamon, a
priest of Arley Regis, on the border stream of Severn. Layamon's _Brut_
is in thirty thousand lines, partly alliterative and partly rhymed, but
written in pure Saxon English with hardly any French words. The style is
rude but vigorous, and, at times, highly imaginative. Wace had amplified
Geoffrey's chronicle somewhat, but Layamon made much larger additions,
derived, no doubt, from legends current on the Welsh border. In
particular, the story of Arthur grew in his hands into something like
fullness. He tells of the enchantments of Merlin, the wizard; of the
unfaithfulness of Arthur's queen, Guenever, and the treachery of his
nephew, Modred. His narration of the last great battle between Arthur
and Modred; of the wounding of the king--"fifteen fiendly wounds he had,
one might in the least three gloves thrust"--; and of the little boat
with "two women therein, wonderly dight," which came to bear him away to
Avalun and the Queen Argante, "sheenest of all elves," whence he shall
come again, according to Merlin's prophecy, to rule the Britons; all
this left little, in essentials, for Tennyson to add in his _Passing of

This new material for fiction was eagerly seized upon by the Norman
romancers. The story of Arthur drew to itself other stories which were
afloat. Walter Map, a gentleman of the court of Henry II., in two French
prose romances connected with it the church legend of the Sangreal, or
holy cup, from which Christ had drunk at his last supper, and which
Joseph of Arimathea had afterward brought to England. Then it
miraculously disappeared and became thenceforth the occasion of knightly
quest, the mystic symbol of the object of the soul's desire, an
adventure only to be achieved by the maiden knight, Galahad, the son of
that Launcelot who in the romances had taken the place of Modred in
Geoffrey's history as the paramour of Queen Guenever. In like manner the
love-story of Tristan and Isolde, which came probably from Brittany or
Cornwall, was joined by other romancers to the Arthur-saga.

Thus there grew up a great epic cycle of Arthurian romance, with a fixed
shape and a unity and vitality which have prolonged it to our own day
and rendered it capable of a deeper and more spiritual treatment and a
more artistic handling by such modern English poets as Tennyson in his
_Idyls of the King_, Matthew Arnold, Swinburne, and many others. There
were innumerable Arthur romances in prose and verse, in Anglo-Norman and
continental French dialects, in English, in German, and in other
tongues. But the final form which the saga took in mediaeval England was
the prose _Morte Dartur_ of Sir Thomas Malory, composed at the close of
the 15th century. This was a digest of the earlier romances, and is
Tennyson's main authority.

Beside the literature of the knight was the literature of the cloister.
There is a considerable body of religious writing in early English,
consisting of homilies in prose and verse, books of devotion, like the
_Ancren Riwle_ (Rule of Anchoresses), 1225, and the _Ayenbite of Inwyt_
(Remorse of Conscience), 1340, in prose; the _Handlyng Sinne_, 1303, the
_Cursor Mundi_, 1320, and the _Pricke of Conscience_, 1340, in verse;
metrical renderings of the Psalter, the Pater Noster, the Creed, and the
Ten Commandments; the Gospels for the Day, such as the _Ormulum_, or
Book of Orm, 1205; legends and miracles of saints; poems in praise of
virginity, on the contempt of the world, on the five joys of the Virgin,
the five wounds of Christ, the eleven pains of hell, the seven deadly
sins, the fifteen tokens of the coming judgment; and dialogues between
the soul and the body. These were the work not only of the monks, but
also of the begging friars, and in smaller part of the secular or parish
clergy. They are full of the ascetic piety and superstition of the
Middle Age, the childish belief in the marvelous, the allegorical
interpretation of Scripture texts, the grotesque material horrors of
hell with its grisly fiends, the vileness of the human body and the
loathsome details of its corruption after death. Now and then a single
poem rises above the tedious and hideous barbarism of the general level
of this monkish literature, either from a more intensely personal
feeling in the poet, or from an occasional grace or beauty in his verse.
A poem so distinguished is, for example, _A Luve Ron_ (A Love Counsel),
by the Minorite friar, Thomas de Hales, one stanza of which recalls the
French poet Villon's _Balade of Dead Ladies_, with its refrain--

Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?
"Where are the snows of yester year?"

Where is Paris and Heleyne
That weren so bright and fair of blee[1]
Amadas, Tristan, and Ideyne
Yseude and alle the,[2]
Hector with his sharpe main,
And Caesar rich in worldes fee?
They beth ygliden out of the reign[3]
As the shaft is of the clee.[4]

A few early English poems on secular subjects are also worthy of
mention, among others, _The Owl and the Nightingale_, generally assigned
to the reign of Henry III. (1216-1272), an _estrif_, or dispute, in
which the owl represents the ascetic and the nightingale the aesthetic
view of life. The debate is conducted with much animation and a spirited
use of proverbial wisdom. _The Land of Cokaygne_ is an amusing little
poem of some two hundred lines, belonging to the class of _fabliaux_,
short humorous tales or satirical pieces in verse. It describes a
lubber-land, or fool's paradise, where the geese fly down all roasted on
the spit, bringing garlic in their bills for their dressing, and where
there is a nunnery upon a river of sweet milk, and an abbey of white
monks and gray, whose walls, like the hall of little King Pepin, are "of
pie-crust and pastry crust," with flouren cakes for the shingles and fat
puddings for the pins.

There are a few songs dating from about 1300, and mostly found in a
single collection (Harl. MS., 2253), which are almost the only English
verse before Chaucer that has any sweetness to a modern ear. They are
written in French strophic forms in the southern dialect, and sometimes
have an intermixture of French and Latin lines. They are musical, fresh,
simple, and many of them very pretty. They celebrate the gladness of
spring with its cuckoos and throstle-cocks, its daisies and woodruff.

[Footnote 1: Hue.]
[Footnote 2: Those.]
[Footnote 3: Realm.]
[Footnote 4: Bowstring.]

When the nightingale sings the woodes waxen green;
Leaf and grass and blossom spring in Averil, I ween,
And love is to my herte gone with a spear so keen,
Night and day my blood it drinks, my herte doth me tene.[5]

Others are love plaints to "Alysoun" or some other lady whose "name is
in a note of the nightingale;" whose eyes are as gray as glass, and her
skin as "red as rose on ris." [6] Some employ a burden or refrain.

Blow, northern wind,
Blow thou me my sweeting,
Blow, northern wind, blow, blow, blow!

Others are touched with a light melancholy at the coming of winter.

Winter wakeneth all my care
Now these leaves waxeth bare,
Oft I sigh and mourne sare
When it cometh in my thought
Of this worldes joy, how it goeth all to nought.

Some of these poems are love songs to Christ or the Virgin, composed in
the warm language of earthly passion. The sentiment of chivalry united
with the ecstatic reveries of the cloister had produced Mariolatry, and
the imagery of the Song of Solomon, in which Christ wooes the soul, had
made this feeling of divine love familiar. Toward the end of the 13th
century a collection of lives of saints, a sort of English _Golden
Legend_, was prepared at the great abbey of Gloucester for use on
saints' days. The legends were chosen partly from the hagiology of the
Church Catholic, as the lives of Margaret, Christopher, and Michael;
partly from the calendar of the English Church, as the lives of St.
Thomas of Canterbury, and of the Anglo-Saxons, Dunstan, Swithin--who is
mentioned by Shakspere--and Kenelm, whose life is quoted by Chaucer in
the _Nonne Preste's Tale_. The verse was clumsy and the style
monotonous, but an imaginative touch here and there has furnished a hint
to later poets. Thus the legend of St. Brandan's search for the earthly
paradise has been treated by Matthew Arnold and William Morris.

[Footnote 5: Pain.]
[Footnote 6: Branch.]

About the middle of the 14th century there was a revival of the Old
English alliterative verse in romances like _William and the Werewolf_,
and _Sir Gawayne_, and in religious pieces such as _Clannesse_ (purity),
_Patience_, and _The Perle_, the last named a mystical poem of much
beauty, in which a bereaved father sees a vision of his daughter among
the glorified. Some of these employed rhyme as well as alliteration.
They are in the West Midland dialect, although Chaucer implies that
alliteration was most common in the north. "I am a sotherne man," says
the parson in the _Canterbury Tales_. "I cannot geste rom, ram, ruf, by
my letter." But the most important of the alliterative poems was the
_Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman_.

In the second half of the 14th century French had ceased to be the
mother-tongue of any considerable part of the population of England. By
a statute of Edward III., in 1362, it was displaced from the law courts.
By 1386 English had taken its place in the schools. The Anglo-Norman
dialect had grown corrupt, and Chaucer contrasts the French of Paris
with the provincial French spoken by his prioress, "after the scole of
Stratford-atte-Bowe." The native English genius was also beginning to
assert itself, roused in part, perhaps, by the English victories in the
wars of Edward III. against the French. It was the bows of the English
yeomanry that won the fight at Crecy, fully as much as the prowess of
the Norman baronage. But at home the times were bad. Heavy taxes and the
repeated visitations of the pestilence, or Black Death, pressed upon the
poor and wasted the land. The Church was corrupt; the mendicant orders
had grown enormously wealthy, and the country was eaten up by a swarm
of begging friars, pardoners, and apparitors. That social discontent was
fermenting among the lower classes which finally issued in the
communistic uprising of the peasantry under Wat Tyler and Jack Straw.

This state of things is reflected in the _Vision of Piers Plowman_,
written as early as 1362, by William Langland, a tonsured clerk of the
west country. It is in form an allegory, and bears some resemblance to
the later and more famous allegory of the _Pilgrim's Progress_. The poet
falls asleep on the Malvern Hills, in Worcestershire, and has a vision
of a "fair field full of folk," representing the world with its various
conditions of men. There were pilgrims and palmers; hermits with hooked
staves, who went to Walsingham--and their wenches after them--great
lubbers and long that were loth to work; friars glossing the Gospel for
their own profit; pardoners cheating the people with relics and
indulgences; parish priests who forsook their parishes--that had been
poor since the pestilence time--and went to London to sing there for
simony; bishops, archbishops, and deacons, who got themselves fat
clerkships in the Exchequer, or King's Bench; in short, all manner of
lazy and corrupt ecclesiastics. A lady, who represents holy Church, then
appears to the dreamer, explains to him the meaning of his vision, and
reads him a sermon the text of which is, "When all treasure is tried,
truth is the best." A number of other allegorical figures are next
introduced, Conscience, Reason, Meed, Simony, Falsehood, etc., and after
a series of speeches and adventures, a second vision begins in which the
seven deadly sins pass before the poet in a succession of graphic
impersonations; and finally all the characters set out on a pilgrimage
in search of St. Truth, finding no guide to direct them save Piers the
Plowman, who stands for the simple, pious laboring man, the sound heart
of the English common folk. The poem was originally in eight divisions
or "passus," to which was added a continuation in three parts, _Vita Do
Wel, Do Bet, and Do Best_. About 1377 the whole was greatly enlarged by
the author.

_Piers Plowman_ was the first extended literary work after the Conquest
which was purely English in character. It owed nothing to France but the
allegorical cast which the _Roman de la Rose_ had made fashionable in
both countries. But even here such personified abstractions as
Langland's Fair-speech and Work-when-time-is, remind us less of the
Fraunchise, Bel-amour, and Fals-semblaunt of the French courtly
allegories than of Bunyan's Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and even of such
Puritan names as Praise-God Barebones, and Zeal-of-the-land Busy. The
poem is full of English moral seriousness, of shrewd humor, the hatred
of a lie, the homely English love for reality. It has little unity of
plan, but is rather a series of episodes, discourses, parables, and
scenes. It is all astir with the actual life of the time. We see the
gossips gathered in the ale-house of Betun the brewster, and the pastry
cooks in the London streets crying "Hote pies, hote! Good gees and
grys.[7] Go we dine, go we!" Had Langland not linked his literary
fortunes with an uncouth and obsolescent verse, and had he possessed a
finer artistic sense and a higher poetic imagination, his book might
have been, like Chaucer's, among the lasting glories of our tongue. As
it is, it is forgotten by all but professional students of literature
and history. Its popularity in its own day is shown by the number of
MSS. which are extant, and by imitations, such as _Piers the Plowman's
Crede_ (1394), and the _Plowman's Tale_, for a long time wrongly
inserted in the _Canterbury Tales_. Piers became a kind of typical
figure, like the French peasant, _Jacques Bonhomme_, and was appealed to
as such by the Protestant reformers of the 16th century.

The attack upon the growing corruptions of the Church was made more
systematically, and from the stand-point of a theologian rather than of
a popular moralist and satirist, by John Wiclif, the rector of
Lutterworth and professor of divinity in Baliol College, Oxford. In a
series of Latin and English tracts he made war against indulgences,
pilgrimages, images, oblations, the friars, the pope, and the doctrine
of transubstantiation. But his greatest service to England was his
translation of the Bible, the first complete version in the
mother-tongue. This he made about 1380, with the help of Nicholas
Hereford, and a revision of it was made by another disciple, Purvey,
some ten years later. There was no knowledge of Hebrew or Greek in
England at that time, and the Wiclifite versions were made not from the
original tongues but from the Latin Vulgate. In his anxiety to make his
rendering close, and mindful, perhaps, of the warning in the Apocalypse,
"If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy,
God shall take away his part out of the book of life," Wiclif followed
the Latin order of construction so literally as to make rather awkward
English, translating, for example, _Quib sibi vult hoc somnium?_ by
_What to itself wole[8] this sweven?_[9] Purvey's revision was somewhat
freer and more idiomatic. In the reigns of Henry IV. and V. it was
forbidden to read or to have any of Wiclif's writings. Such of them as
could be seized were publicly burned. In spite of this, copies of his
Bible circulated secretly in great numbers. Forshall and Madden, in
their great edition (1850), enumerate one hundred and fifty MSS. which
had been consulted by them. Later translators, like Tyndale and the
makers of the Authorized Version, or "King James's Bible" (1611),
followed Wiclif's language in many instances; so that he was, in truth,
the first author of our biblical dialect and the founder of that great
monument of noble English which has been the main conservative influence
in the mother-tongue, holding it fast to many strong, pithy words and
idioms that would else have been lost. In 1415, some thirty years after
Wiclif's death, by decree of the Council of Constance, his bones were
dug up from the soil of Lutterworth chancel and burned, and the ashes
cast into the Swift. "The brook," says Thomas Fuller, in his _Church
History_, "did convey his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into
the narrow seas; they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wiclif
are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world

[Footnote 7: Pigs.]
[Footnote 8: Will.]
[Footnote 9: Dream.]

Although the writings thus far mentioned are of very high interest to
the student of the English language and the historian of English manners
and culture, they cannot be said to have much importance as mere
literature. But in Geoffrey Chaucer (died 1400) we meet with a poet of
the first rank, whose works are increasingly read and will always
continue to be a source of delight and refreshment to the general reader
as well as a "well of English undefiled" to the professional man of
letters. With the exception of Dante, Chaucer was the greatest of the
poets of mediaeval Europe, and he remains one of the greatest of English
poets, and certainly the foremost of English story tellers in verse. He
was the son of a London vintner, and was in his youth in the service of
Lionel, Duke of Clarence, one of the sons of Edward III. He made a
campaign in France in 1359-60, when he was taken prisoner. Afterward he
was attached to the court and received numerous favors and appointments.
He was sent on several diplomatic missions by the king, three of them to
Italy, where, in all probability, he made the acquaintance of the new
Italian literature, the writings of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. He
was appointed at different times comptroller of the wool customs,
comptroller of petty customs, and clerk of the works. He sat for Kent in
Parliament, and he received pensions from three successive kings. He was
a man of business as well as books, and he loved men and nature no less
than study. He knew his world; he "saw life steadily and saw it whole."
Living at the center of English social and political life, and
resorting to the court of Edward III., then the most brilliant in
Europe, Chaucer was an eye-witness of those feudal pomps which fill the
high-colored pages of his contemporary, the French chronicler,
Froissart. His description of a tournament in the _Knight's Tale_ is
unexcelled for spirit and detail. He was familiar with dances, feasts,
state ceremonies, and all the life of the baronial castle, in bower and
hall: the "trompes with the loude minstralcie," the heralds, the ladies,
and the squires. He knew--

What hawkes sitten on the perch above,
What houndes liggen[10] on the floor adown.

But his sympathy reached no less the life of the lowly; the poor widow
in her narrow cottage, and that "trewe swynkere[11] and a good," the
plowman whom Langland had made the hero of his vision. He is, more than
all English poets, the poet of the lusty spring, of "Aprille with her
showres sweet" and the "foules song;" of "May with all her floures and
her green;" of the new leaves in the wood, and the meadows new powdered
with the daisy, the mystic Marguerite of his _Legend of Good Women_. A
fresh vernal air blows through all his pages.

[Footnote 10: Lie.]
[Footnote 11: Laborer.]

In Chaucer's earlier works, such as the translation of the _Romaunt of
the Rose_ (if that be his), the _Boke of the Duchesse_, the _Parlament
of Foules_, the _Hous of Fame_, as well as in the _Legend of Good
Women_, which was later, the inspiration of the French court poetry of
the 13th and 14th centuries is manifest. He retains in them the mediaeval
machinery of allegories and dreams, the elaborate descriptions of
palaces, temples, portraitures, etc., which had been made fashionable in
France by such poems as Guillaume de Lorris's _Roman de la Rose_, and
Jean Machault's _La Fontaine Amoureuse_. In some of these the influence
of Italian poetry is also perceptible. There are suggestions from
Dante, for example, in the _Parlament of Foules_ and the _Hous of Fame_,
and _Troilus and Cresseide_ is a free handling rather than a translation
of Boccaccio's _Filostrato_. In all of these there are passages of great
beauty and force. Had Chaucer written nothing else, he would still have
been remembered as the most accomplished English poet of his time, but
he would not have risen to the rank which he now occupies, as one of the
greatest English poets of all time. This position he owes to his
masterpiece, the _Canterbury Tales_. Here he abandoned the imitation of
foreign models and the artificial literary fashions of his age, and
wrote of real life from his own ripe knowledge of men and things.

The _Canterbury Tales_ are a collection of stories written at different
times, but put together, probably, toward the close of his life. The
frame-work into which they are fitted is one of the happiest ever
devised. A number of pilgrims who are going on horseback to the shrine
of St. Thomas a Becket, at Canterbury, meet at the Tabard Inn, in
Southwark, a suburb of London. The jolly host of the Tabard, Harry
Bailey, proposes that on their way to Canterbury, each of the company
shall tell two tales, and two more on their way back, and that the one
who tells the best shall have a supper at the cost of the rest when they
return to the inn. He himself accompanies them as judge and "reporter."
In the setting of the stories there is thus a constant feeling of
movement and the air of all outdoors. The little "head-links" and
"end-links" which bind them together give incidents of the journey and
glimpses of the talk of the pilgrims, sometimes amounting, as in the
prologue of the _Wife of Bath_, to full and almost dramatic
character-sketches. The stories, too, are dramatically suited to the
narrators. The general prologue is a series of such character-sketches,
the most perfect in English poetry. The portraits of the pilgrims are
illuminated with the soft brilliancy and the minute loving fidelity of
the miniatures in the old missals, and with the same quaint precision in
traits of expression and in costume. The pilgrims are not all such as
one would meet nowadays at an English inn. The presence of a knight, a
squire, a yeoman archer, and especially of so many kinds of
ecclesiastics, a nun, a friar, a monk, a pardoner, and a sompnour or
apparitor, reminds us that the England of that day must have been less
like Protestant England, as we know it, than like the Italy of some
fifty years ago. But however the outward face of society may have
changed, the Canterbury pilgrims remain, in Chaucer's descriptions,
living and universal types of human nature. The _Canterbury Tales_ are
twenty-four in number. There were thirty-two pilgrims, so that if
finished as designed the whole collection would have numbered one
hundred and twenty-eight stories.

Chaucer is the bright consummate flower of the English Middle Age. Like
many another great poet he put the final touch to the various literary
forms that he found in cultivation. Thus his _Knight's Tale_, based upon
Boccaccio's _Teseide_, is the best of English mediaeval romances. And yet
the _Rime of Sir Thopas_, who goes seeking an elf queen for his mate,
and is encountered by the giant Sir Olifaunt, burlesques these same
romances with their impossible adventures and their tedious rambling
descriptions. The tales of the prioress and the second nun are saints'
legends. The _Monk's Tale_ is a set of dry, moral apologues in the
manner of his contemporary, the "moral Gower." The stories told by the
reeve, miller, friar, sompnour, shipman, and merchant belong to the
class of _fabliaux_, a few of which existed in English, such as _Dame
Siriz_, the _Lay of the Ash_, and the _Land of Cokaygne_, already
mentioned. The _Nonne Preste's Tale_, likewise, which Dryden modernized
with admirable humor, was of the class of _fabliaux_, and was suggested
by a little poem in forty lines, _Dou Coc et Werpil_, by Marie de
France, a Norman poetess of the 13th century. It belonged, like the
early English poem of _The Fox and the Wolf_, to the popular animal saga
of _Reynard the Fox_. The _Franklin's Tale_, whose scene is Brittany,
and the _Wife of Bath's Tale_ which is laid in the time of the British
Arthur, belong to the class of French _lais_, serious metrical tales
shorter than the romance and of Breton origin, the best representatives
of which are the elegant and graceful _lais_ of Marie de France.

Chaucer was our first great master of laughter and of tears. His serious
poetry is full of the tenderest pathos. His loosest tales are
delightfully humorous and life-like. He is the kindliest of satirists.
The knavery, greed, and hypocrisy of the begging friars and the sellers
of indulgences are exposed by him as pitilessly as by Langland and
Wiclif, though his mood is not, like theirs, one of stern, moral
indignation, but rather the good-natured scorn of a man of the world.
His charity is broad enough to cover even the corrupt sompnour, of whom
he says,

And yet in sooth he was a good felawe.

Whether he shared Wiclif's opinions is unknown, but John of Gaunt, the
Duke of Lancaster and father of Henry IV., who was Chaucer's life-long
patron, was likewise Wiclif's great upholder against the persecution of
the bishops. It is, perhaps, not without significance that the poor
parson in the _Canterbury Tales_, the only one of his ecclesiastical
pilgrims whom Chaucer treats with respect, is suspected by the host of
the Tabard to be a "loller," that is, a Lollard, or disciple of Wiclif,
and that, because he objects to the jovial innkeeper's swearing "by
Goddes bones."

Chaucer's English is nearly as easy for a modern reader as Shakspere's,
and few of his words have become obsolete. His verse, when rightly read,
is correct and melodious. The early English was, in some respects, "more
sweet upon the tongue" than the modern language. The vowels had their
broad Italian sounds, and the speech was full of soft gutterals and
vocalic syllables, like the endings en, es, e, which made feminine
rhymes and kept the consonants from coming harshly together.

Great poet as Chaucer was, he was not quite free from the literary
weakness of his time. He relapses sometimes into the babbling style of
the old chroniclers and legend writers; cites "auctours" and gives long
catalogues of names and objects with a _naive_ display of learning; and
introduces vulgar details in his most exquisite passages. There is
something childish about almost all the thought and art of the Middle
Ages--at least outside of Italy, where classical models and traditions
never quite lost their hold. But Chaucer's artlessness is half the
secret of his wonderful ease in story-telling, and is so engaging that,
like a child's sweet unconsciousness, one would not wish it otherwise.

The _Canterbury Tales_ had shown of what high uses the English language
was capable, but the curiously trilingual condition of literature still
continued. French was spoken in the proceedings of Parliament as late as
the reign of Henry VI. (1422-1471). Chaucer's contemporary, John Gower,
wrote his _Vox Clamantis_ in Latin, his _Speculum Meditantis_ (a lost
poem), and a number of _ballades_ in Parisian French, and his _Confessio
Amantis_ (1393) in English. The last named is a dreary, pedantic work,
in some fifteen thousand smooth, monotonous, eight-syllabled couplets,
in which Grande Amour instructs the lover how to get the love of Bel

* * * * *

1. Early English Literature. Bernhard ten Brink. Translated
from the German by H.M. Kennedy. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1883.

2. Morris and Skeat's Specimens of Early English. (Clarendon
Press Series.) Oxford.

3. The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman.
Edited by W.W. Skeat. Oxford, 1886.

4. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Tyrwhitt's Edition. New
York: D. Appleton & Co., 1883.

5. The Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Edited by
Richard Morris. London: Bell & Daldy (6 volumes.)




The 15th century was a barren period in English literary history. It was
nearly two hundred years after Chaucer's death before any poet came
whose name can be written in the same line with his. He was followed at
once by a number of imitators who caught the trick of his language and
verse, but lacked the genius to make any fine use of them. The _manner_
of a true poet may be learned, but his style, in the high sense of the
word, remains his own secret. Some of the poems which have been
attributed to Chaucer and printed in editions of his works, as the
_Court of Love_, the _Flower and the Leaf_, the _Cuckow and the
Nightingale_, are now regarded by many scholars as the work of later
writers. If not Chaucer's, they are of Chaucer's school, and the first
two, at least, are very pretty poems after the fashion of his minor
pieces, such as the _Boke of the Duchesse_ and the _Parlament of

Among his professed disciples was Thomas Occleve, a dull rhymer, who, in
his _Governail of Princes_, a didactic poem translated from the Latin
about 1413, drew, or caused to be drawn, on the margin of his MS. a
colored portrait of his "maister dere and fader reverent."

This londes verray tresour and richesse
Dethe by thy dethe hath harm irreparable
Unto us done; hir vengeable duresse
Dispoiled hath this londe of the swetnesse
Of Rhetoryk.

Another versifier of this same generation was John Lydgate, a
Benedictine monk of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, in Suffolk, a very
prolix writer, who composed, among other things, the _Story of Thebes_,
as an addition to the _Canterbury Tales_. His ballad of _London
Lyckpenny_, recounting the adventures of a countryman who goes to the
law courts at Westminster in search of justice--

But for lack of mony I could not spede--

is of interest for the glimpse that it gives us of London street life.

Chaucer's influence wrought more fruitfully in Scotland, whither it was
carried by James I., who had been captured by the English when a boy of
eleven, and brought up at Windsor as a prisoner of state. There he wrote
during the reign of Henry V. (1413-1422) a poem in six cantos, entitled
the _King's Quhair_ (King's Book), in Chaucer's seven-lined stanza,
which had been employed by Lydgate in his _Falls of Princes_ (from
Boccaccio), and which was afterward called the "rime royal," from its
use by King James. The _King's Quhair_ tells how the poet, on a May
morning, looks from the window of his prison chamber into the castle
garden full of alleys, hawthorn hedges, and fair arbors set with

The sharpe, greene, sweete juniper.

He was listening to "the little sweete nightingale," when suddenly
casting down his eyes he saw a lady walking in the garden, and at once
his "heart became her thrall." The incident is precisely like Palamon's
first sight of Emily in Chaucer's _Knight's Tale_, and almost in the
very words of Palamon the poet addresses his lady:

Ah, sweet, are ye a worldly creature
Or heavenly thing in likeness of nature?
Or are ye very Nature, the goddess,
That have depainted with your heavenly hand
This garden full of flowres as they stand?

Then, after a vision in the taste of the age, in which the royal
prisoner is transported in turn to the courts of _Venus_, _Minerva_,
and _Fortune_, and receives their instruction in the duties belonging to
Love's service, he wakes from sleep and a white turtle-dove brings to
his window a spray of red gilly flowers, whose leaves are inscribed, in
golden letters, with a message of encouragement.

James I. may be reckoned among the English poets. He mentions Chaucer,
Gower, and Lydgate as his masters. His education was English, and so was
the dialect of his poem, although the unique MS. of it is in the Scotch
spelling. The _King's Quhair_ is somewhat overladen with ornament and
with the fashionable allegorical devices, but it is, upon the whole, a
rich and tender love song, the best specimen of court poetry between the
time of Chaucer and the time of Spenser. The lady who walked in the
garden on that May morning was Jane Beaufort, niece to Henry IV. She was
married to her poet after his release from captivity and became queen of
Scotland in 1424. Twelve years later James was murdered by Sir Robert
Graham and his Highlanders, and his wife, who strove to defend him, was
wounded by the assassins. The story of the murder has been told of late
by D.G. Rossetti, in his ballad, _The King's Tragedy_. The whole life of
this princely singer was, like his poem, in the very spirit of romance.

The effect of all this imitation of Chaucer was to fix a standard of
literary style, and to confirm the authority of the East-Midland English
in which he had written. Though the poets of the 15th century were not
overburdened with genius, they had, at least, a definite model to
follow. As in the 14th century, metrical romances continued to be
translated from the French, homilies and saints' legends and rhyming
chronicles were still manufactured. But the poems of Occleve and Lydgate
and James I. had helped to polish and refine the tongue and to prolong
the Chaucerian tradition. The literary English never again slipped back
into the chaos of dialects which had prevailed before Chaucer.

In the history of every literature the development of prose is later
than that of verse. The latter being, by its very form, artificial, is
cultivated as a fine art, and its records preserved in an early stage of
society, when prose is simply the talk of men, and not thought worthy of
being written and kept. English prose labored under the added
disadvantage of competing with Latin, which was the cosmopolitan tongue
and the medium of communication between scholars of all countries. Latin
was the language of the Church, and in the Middle Ages churchman and
scholar were convertible terms. The word _clerk_ meant either priest or
scholar. Two of the _Canterbury Tales_ are in prose, as is also the
_Testament of Love_, formerly ascribed to Chaucer, and the style of all
these is so feeble, wandering, and unformed that it is hard to believe
that they were written by the same man who wrote the _Knight's Tale_ and
the story of Griselda. _The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John
Maundeville_--the forerunner of that great library of oriental travel
which has enriched our modern literature--was written, according to its
author, first in Latin, then in French, and, lastly, in the year 1356,
translated into English for the behoof of "lordes and knyghtes and
othere noble and worthi men, that conne[12] not Latyn but litylle." The
author professed to have spent over thirty years in Eastern travel, to
have penetrated as far as Farther India and the "iles that ben abouten
Indi," to have been in the service of the Sultan of Babylon in his wars
against the Bedouins, and, at another time, in the employ of the Great
Khan of Tartary. But there is no copy of the Latin version of his
travels extant; the French seems to be much later than 1356, and the
English MS. to belong to the early years of the 15th century, and to
have been made by another hand. Recent investigations make it probable
that Maundeville borrowed his descriptions of the remoter East from many
sources, and particularly from the narrative of Odoric, a Minorite
friar of Lombardy, who wrote about 1330. Some doubt is even cast upon
the existence of any such person as Maundeville. Whoever wrote the book
that passes under his name, however, would seem to have visited the Holy
Land, and the part of the "voiage" that describes Palestine and the
Levant is fairly close to the truth. The rest of the work, so far as it
is not taken from the tales of other travelers, is a diverting tissue of
fables about gryfouns that fly away with yokes of oxen, tribes of
one-legged Ethiopians who shelter themselves from the sun by using their
monstrous feet as umbrellas, etc.

[Footnote 12: Know.]

During the 15th century English prose was gradually being brought into a
shape fitting it for more serious uses. In the controversy between the
Church and the Lollards Latin was still mainly employed, but Wiclif had
written some of his tracts in English, and, in 1449, Reginald Peacock,
Bishop of St. Asaph, contributed, in English, to the same controversy,
_The Repressor of Overmuch Blaming of the Clergy_. Sir John Fortescue,
who was chief-justice of the King's Bench from 1442-1460, wrote during
the reign of Edward IV. a book on the _Difference between Absolute and
Limited Monarchy_, which may be regarded as the first treatise on
political philosophy and constitutional law in the language. But these
works hardly belong to pure literature, and are remarkable only as
early, though not very good, examples of English prose in a barren time.
The 15th century was an era of decay and change. The Middle Age was
dying, Church and State were slowly disintegrating under the new
intellectual influences that were working secretly under ground. In
England the civil wars of the Red and White Roses were breaking up the
old feudal society by decimating and impoverishing the baronage, thus
preparing the way for the centralized monarchy of the Tudors. Toward the
close of that century, and early in the next, happened the four great
events, or series of events, which freed and widened men's minds, and,
in a succession of shocks, overthrew the mediaeval system of life and
thought. These were the invention of printing, the Renaissance, or
revival of classical learning, the discovery of America, and the
Protestant Reformation.

William Caxton, the first English printer, learned the art in Cologne.
In 1476 he set up his press and sign, a red pole, in the Almonry at
Westminster. Just before the introduction of printing the demand for MS.
copies had grown very active, stimulated, perhaps, by the coming into
general use of linen paper instead of the more costly parchment. The
scriptoria of the monasteries were the places where the transcribing and
illuminating of MSS. went on, professional copyists resorting to
Westminster Abbey, for example, to make their copies of books belonging
to the monastic library. Caxton's choice of a spot was, therefore,
significant. His new art for multiplying copies began to supersede the
old method of transcription at the very head-quarters of the MS. makers.
The first book that bears his Westminster imprint was the _Dictes and
Sayings of the Philosophers_, translated from the French by Anthony
Woodville, Lord Rivers, a brother-in-law of Edward IV. The list of books
printed by Caxton is interesting, as showing the taste of the time,
since he naturally selected what was most in demand. The list shows that
manuals of devotion and chivalry were still in chief request, books like
the _Order of Chivalry_, _Faits of Arms_, and the _Golden Legend_, which
last Caxton translated himself, as well as _Reynard the Fox_, and a
French version of the _Aeneid_. He also printed, with continuations of
his own, revisions of several early chronicles, and editions of Chaucer,
Gower, and Lydgate. A translation of _Cicero on Friendship_, made
directly from the Latin, by Thomas Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, was
printed by Caxton, but no edition of a classical author in the original.
The new learning of the Renaissance had not, as yet, taken much hold in
England. Upon the whole the productions of Caxton's press were mostly
of a kind that may be described as mediaeval, and the most important of
them, if we except his edition of Chaucer, was that "noble and joyous
book," as Caxton called it, _Le Morte Dartur_, written by Sir Thomas
Malory in 1469, and printed by Caxton in 1485. This was a compilation
from French Arthur romances, and was by far the best English prose that
had yet been written. It may be doubted, indeed, whether, for purposes
of simple story telling, the picturesque charm of Malory's style has
been improved upon. The episode which lends its name to the whole
romance, the death of Arthur, is most impressively told, and Tennyson
has followed Malory's narrative closely, even to such details of the
scene as the little chapel by the sea, the moonlight, and the answer
which Sir Bedwere made the wounded king, when bidden to throw Excalibur
into the water, "'What saw thou there?' said the king. 'Sir,' he said,
'I saw nothing but the waters wap and the waves wan.'"

I heard the ripple washing in the reeds
And the wild water lapping on the crag.

And very touching and beautiful is the oft-quoted lament of Sir Ector
over Launcelot, in Malory's final chapter: "'Ah, Launcelot,' he said,
'thou were head of all Christian knights; and now I dare say,' said Sir
Ector, 'thou, Sir Launcelot, there thou liest, that thou were never
matched of earthly knight's hand; and thou were the courtiest knight
that ever bare shield; and thou were the truest friend to thy lover that
ever bestrode horse; and thou were the truest lover of a sinful man that
ever loved woman; and thou were the kindest man that ever strake with
sword; and thou were the goodliest person that ever came among press of
knights; and thou were the meekest man and the gentlest that ever ate in
hall among ladies; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortal foe
that ever put spear in the rest.'"

Equally good, as an example of English prose narrative, was the
translation made by John Bourchier, Lord Berners, of that most brilliant
of the French chroniclers, Chaucer's contemporary, Sir John Froissart.
Lord Berners was the English governor of Calais, and his version of
Froissart's _Chronicles_ was made in 1523-1525, at the request of Henry
VIII. In these two books English chivalry spoke its last genuine word.
In Sir Philip Sidney the character of the knight was merged into that of
the modern gentleman. And although tournaments were still held in the
reign of Elizabeth, and Spenser cast his _Faerie Queene_ into the form
of a chivalry romance, these were but a ceremonial survival and literary
tradition from an order of things that had passed away. How antagonistic
the new classical culture was to the vanished ideal of the Middle Age
may be read in _Toxophilus_, a treatise on archery published in 1545, by
Roger Ascham, a Greek lecturer in Cambridge, and the tutor of the
Princess Elizabeth and of Lady Jane Grey: "In our forefathers' time,
when papistry as a standing pool covered and overflowed all England, few
books were read in our tongue saving certain books of chivalry, as they
said, for pastime and pleasure, which, as some say, were made in
monasteries by idle monks or wanton canons: as one, for example, _Morte
Arthure_, the whole pleasure of which book standeth in two special
points, in open manslaughter and bold bawdry. This is good stuff for
wise men to laugh at or honest men to take pleasure at. Yet I know when
God's Bible was banished the court, and _Morte Arthure_ received into
the prince's chamber."

The fashionable school of courtly allegory, first introduced into
England by the translation of the _Romaunt of the Rose_, reached its
extremity in Stephen Hawes's _Passetyme of Pleasure_, printed by
Caxton's successor, Wynkyn de Worde, in 1517. This was a dreary and
pedantic poem, in which it is told how Graunde Amoure, after a long
series of adventures and instructions among such shadowy personages as
Verite, Observaunce, Falshed, and Good Operacion, finally won the love
of La Belle Pucel. Hawes was the last English poet of note whose culture
was exclusively mediaeval. His contemporary, John Skelton, mingled the
old fashions with the new classical learning. In his _Bowge of Courte_
(Court Entertainment or Dole), and in others of his earlier pieces, he
used, like Hawes, Chaucer's seven-lined stanza. But his later poems were
mostly written in a verse of his own invention, called after him
_Skeltonical_. This was a sort of glorified doggerel, in short, swift,
ragged lines, with occasional intermixture of French and Latin.

Her beautye to augment.
Dame Nature hath her lent
A warte upon her cheke,
Who so lyst to seke
In her vysage a skar
That semyth from afar
Lyke to the radiant star,
All with favour fret,
So properly it is set.
She is the vyolet,
The daysy delectable,
The columbine commendable,
The jelofer[13] amyable;
For this most goodly floure,
This blossom of fressh colour,
So Jupiter me succour,
She flourysheth new and new
In beaute and vertew;
_Hac claritate gemina,
O gloriosa femina_, etc.

[Footnote 13: Gilliflower.]

Skelton was a rude railing rhymer, a singular mixture of a true and
original poet with a buffoon; coarse as Rabelais, whimsical, obscure,
but always vivacious. He was the rector of Diss, in Norfolk, but his
profane and scurrilous wit seems rather out of keeping with his
clerical character. His _Tunnyng of Elynoure Rummyng_ is a study of very
low life, reminding one slightly of Burns's _Jolly Beggars_. His
_Phyllyp Sparrowe_ is a sportive, pretty, fantastic elegy on the death
of a pet bird belonging to Mistress Joanna Scroupe, of Carowe, and has
been compared to the Latin poet Catullus's elegy on Lesbia's sparrow. In
_Spake, Parrot_, and _Why Come ye not to Courte?_ he assailed the
powerful Cardinal Wolsey with the most ferocious satire, and was, in
consequence, obliged to take sanctuary at Westminster, where he died in
1529. Skelton was a classical scholar, and at one time tutor to Henry
VIII. The great humanist, Erasmus, spoke of him as the "one light and
ornament of British letters." Caxton asserts that he had read Vergil,
Ovid, and Tully, and quaintly adds, "I suppose he hath dronken of
Elycon's well."

In refreshing contrast with the artificial court poetry of the 15th and
first three quarters of the 16th century, was the folk poetry, the
popular ballad literature which was handed down by oral tradition. The
English and Scotch ballads were narrative songs, written in a variety of
meters, but chiefly in what is known as the ballad stanza.

In somer, when the shawes[14] be shene,[15]
And leves be large and longe,
Hit is full merry in feyre forest,
To here the foulys song.

To se the dere draw to the dale,
And leve the hilles hee,[16]
And shadow them in the leves grene,
Under the grene-wode tree.

[Footnote 14: Woods.]
[Footnote 15: Bright.]
[Footnote 16: High.]

It is not possible to assign a definite date to these ballads. They
lived on the lips of the people, and were seldom reduced to writing till
many years after they were first composed and sung. Meanwhile they
underwent repeated changes, so that we have numerous versions of the
same story. They belonged to no particular author, but, like all
folk-lore, were handled freely by the unknown poets, minstrels, and
ballad reciters, who modernized their language, added to them, or
corrupted them, and passed them along. Coming out of an uncertain past,
based on some dark legend of heart-break or bloodshed, they bear no
poet's name, but are _ferae naturae_, and have the flavor of wild game.
In the form in which they are preserved, few of them are older than the
17th or the latter part of the 16th century, though many, in their
original shape, are doubtless much older. A very few of the Robin Hood
ballads go back to the 15th century, and to the same period is assigned
the charming ballad of the _Nut Brown Maid_ and the famous border ballad
of _Chevy Chase_, which describes a battle between the retainers of the
two great houses of Douglas and Percy. It was this song of which Sir
Philip Sidney wrote, "I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas
but I found myself more moved than by a trumpet; and yet it is sung but
by some blind crouder,[17] with no rougher voice than rude style." But
the style of the ballads was not always rude. In their compressed energy
of expression, in the impassioned way in which they tell their tale of
grief and horror, there reside often a tragic power and art superior to
any thing in English poetry between Chaucer and Spenser; superior to any
thing in Chaucer and Spenser themselves, in the quality of intensity.
The true home of the ballad literature was "the north country," and
especially the Scotch border, where the constant forays of moss-troopers
and the raids and private warfare of the lords of the marches supplied
many traditions of heroism, like those celebrated in the old poem of the
_Battle of Otterbourne_, and in the _Hunting of the Cheviot_, or _Chevy
Chase_, already mentioned. Some of these are Scotch and others English;
the dialect of Lowland Scotland did not, in effect, differ much from
that of Northumberland and Yorkshire, both descended alike from the old
Northumbrian of Anglo-Saxon times. Other ballads were shortened, popular
versions of the chivalry romances, which were passing out of fashion
among educated readers in the 16th century and now fell into the hands
of the ballad makers. Others preserved the memory of local country-side
tales, family feuds, and tragic incidents, partly historical and partly
legendary, associated often with particular spots. Such are, for
example, _The Dowie Dens of Yarrow_, _Fair Helen of Kirkconnell_, _The
Forsaken Bride_, and _The Twa Corbies_. Others, again, have a coloring
of popular superstition, like the beautiful ballad concerning _Thomas of
Ersyldoune_, who goes in at Eildon Hill with an elf queen and spends
seven years in fairy land.

[Footnote 17: Fiddler.]

But the most popular of all the ballads were those which cluster about
the name of that good outlaw, Robin Hood, who, with his merry men,
hunted the forest of Sherwood, where he killed the king's deer and
waylaid rich travelers, but was kind to poor knights and honest workmen.
Robin Hood is the true ballad hero, the darling of the common people as
Arthur was of the nobles. The names of his confessor, Friar Tuck; his
mistress, Maid Marian; his companions, Little John, Scathelock, and
Much, the miller's son, were as familiar as household words. Langland in
the 14th century mentions "rimes of Robin Hood," and efforts have been
made to identify him with some actual personage, as with one of the
dispossessed barons who had been adherents of Simon de Montfort in his
war against Henry III. But there seems to be nothing historical about
Robin Hood. He was a creation of the popular fancy. The game laws under
the Norman kings were very oppressive, and there were, doubtless, dim
memories still cherished among the Saxon masses of Hereward and Edric
the Wild, who had defied the power of the Conqueror, as well as of later
freebooters, who had taken to the woods and lived by plunder. Robin
Hood was a thoroughly national character. He had the English love of
fair play, the English readiness to shake hands and make up, and keep no
malice when worsted in a square fight. He beat and plundered the fat
bishops and abbots, who had more than their share of wealth, but he was
generous and hospitable to the distressed, and lived a free and careless
life in the good green wood. He was a mighty archer with those national
weapons, the long-bow and the cloth-yard shaft. He tricked and baffled
legal authority in the person of the proud sheriff of Nottingham,
thereby appealing to that secret sympathy with lawless adventure which
marked the free-born, vigorous yeomanry of England. And, finally, the
scenery of the forest gives a poetic background and a never-failing
charm to the exploits of "the old Robin Hood of England" and his merry

The ballads came, in time, to have certain tricks of style, such as are
apt to characterize a body of anonymous folk-poetry. Such is their use
of conventional epithets; "the red, red gold," "the good green wood,"
"the gray goose wing." Such are certain recurring terms of phrase like,

But out and spak their stepmother.

Such is, finally, a kind of sing-song repetition, which doubtless helped
the ballad singer to memorize his stock, as, for example,

She had'na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twae.

Or again,

And mony ane sings o' grass, o' grass,
And mony ane sings o' corn;
An mony ane sings o' Robin Hood,
Kens little whare he was born.

It was na in the ha', the ha',
Nor in the painted bower;
But it was in the gude green wood,
Amang the lily flower.

Copies of some of these old ballads were hawked about in the 16th
century, printed in black letter, "broadsides," or single sheets. Wynkyn
de Worde printed in 1489 _A Lytell Geste of Robin Hood_, which is a sort
of digest of earlier ballads on the subject. In the 17th century a few
of the English popular ballads were collected in miscellanies called
_Garlands_. Early in the 18th century the Scotch poet, Allan Ramsay,
published a number of Scotch ballads in the _Evergreen_ and _Tea-Table
Miscellany_. But no large and important collection was put forth until
Percy's _Reliques_ (1765), a book which had a powerful influence upon
Wordsworth and Walter Scott. In Scotland some excellent ballads in the
ancient manner were written in the 18th century, such as Jane Elliott's
_Lament for Flodden_, and the fine ballad of _Sir Patrick Spence_.
Walter Scott's _Proud Maisie is in the Wood_, is a perfect reproduction
of the pregnant, indirect method of the old ballad makers.

In 1453 Constantinople was taken by the Turks, and many Greek scholars,
with their manuscripts, fled into Italy, where they began teaching their
language and literature, and especially the philosophy of Plato. There
had been little or no knowledge of Greek in western Europe during the
Middle Ages, and only a very imperfect knowledge of the Latin classics.
Ovid and Statius were widely read, and so was the late Latin poet,
Boethius, whose _De Consolatione Philosophiae_ had been translated into
English by King Alfred and by Chaucer. Little was known of Vergil at
first hand, and he was popularly supposed to have been a mighty wizard,
who made sundry works of enchantment at Rome, such as a magic mirror and
statue. Caxton's so-called translation of the _Aeneid_ was in reality
nothing but a version of a French romance based on Vergil's epic. Of the
Roman historians, orators, and moralists, such as Livy, Tacitus, Caesar,
Cicero, and Seneca, there was almost entire ignorance, as also of poets
like Horace, Lucretius, Juvenal, and Catullus. The gradual rediscovery
of the remains of ancient art and literature which took place in the
15th century, and largely in Italy, worked an immense revolution in the
mind of Europe. Manuscripts were brought out of their hiding places,
edited by scholars, and spread abroad by means of the printing-press.
Statues were dug up and placed in museums, and men became acquainted
with a civilization far more mature than that of the Middle Age, and
with models of perfect workmanship in letters and the fine arts.

In the latter years of the 15th century a number of Englishmen learned
Greek in Italy and brought it back with them to England. William Grocyn
and Thomas Linacre, who had studied at Florence under the refugee,
Demetrius Chalcondylas, began teaching Greek at Oxford, the former as
early as 1491. A little later John Colet, Dean of St. Paul's and the
founder of St. Paul's School, and his friend, William Lily, the
grammarian, and first master of St. Paul's (1500), also studied Greek
abroad; Colet in Italy, and Lily at Rhodes and in the city of Rome.
Thomas More, afterward the famous chancellor of Henry VIII., was among
the pupils of Grocyn and Linacre at Oxford. Thither also, in 1497, came,
in search of the new knowledge, the Dutchman, Erasmus, who became the
foremost scholar of his time. From Oxford the study spread to the sister
university, where the first English Grecian of his day, Sir John Cheke,
who "taught Cambridge and King Edward Greek," became the incumbent of
the new professorship founded about 1540. Among his pupils was Roger
Ascham, already mentioned, in whose time St. John's College, Cambridge,
was the chief seat of the new learning, of which Thomas Nashe testifies
that it "was an universitie within itself; having more candles light in
it, every winter morning before four of the clock, than the four of
clock bell gave strokes." Greek was not introduced at the universities
without violent opposition from the conservative element, who were
nicknamed Trojans. The opposition came in part from the priests, who
feared that that new study would sow seeds of heresy. Yet many of the
most devout churchmen were friends of a more liberal culture, among them
Thomas More, whose Catholicism was undoubted and who went to the block
for his religion. Cardinal Wolsey, whom More succeeded as chancellor,
was also a munificent patron of learning, and founded Christ Church
College at Oxford. Popular education at once felt the impulse of the new
studies, and over twenty endowed grammar schools were established in
England in the first twenty years of the 16th century. Greek became a
passion even with English ladies. Ascham in his _Schoolmaster_, a
treatise on education, published in 1570, says that Queen Elizabeth
"readeth here now at Windsor more Greek every day, than some prebendarie
of this Church doth read Latin in a whole week." And in the same book he
tells how, calling once on Lady Jane Grey, at Brodegate, in
Leicestershire, he "found her in her chamber reading _Phaedon Platonis_
in Greek, and that with as much delite as some gentlemen would read a
merry tale in _Bocase_," and when he asked her why she had not gone
hunting with the rest, she answered, "I wisse,[18] all their sport in
the park is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato."
Ascham's _Schoolmaster_, as well as his earlier book, _Toxophilus_, a
Platonic dialogue on archery, bristles with quotations from the Greek
and Latin classics, and with that perpetual reference to the authority
of antiquity on every topic that he touches, which remained the fashion
in all serious prose down to the time of Dryden.

One speedy result of the new learning was fresh translations of the
Scriptures into English out of the original tongues. In 1525 William
Tyndal printed at Cologne and Worms his version of the New Testament
from the Greek.

[Footnote 18: Surely; a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon _gewis_.]

Ten years later Miles Coverdale made, at Zurich, a translation of the
whole Bible from the German and Latin. These were the basis of numerous
later translations, and the strong beautiful English of Tyndal's
Testament is preserved for the most part in our Authorized Version
(1611). At first it was not safe to make or distribute these early
translations in England. Numbers of copies were brought into the
country, however, and did much to promote the cause of the Reformation.
After Henry VIII. had broken with the pope the new English Bible
circulated freely among the people. Tyndal and Sir Thomas More carried
on a vigorous controversy in English upon some of the questions at issue
between the Church and the Protestants. Other important contributions to
the literature of the Reformation were the homely sermons preached at
Westminster and at Paul's Cross by Bishop Hugh Latimer, who was burned
at Oxford in the reign of Bloody Mary. The English Book of Common Prayer
was compiled in 1549-1552. More was, perhaps, the best representative of
a group of scholars who wished to enlighten and reform the Church from
the inside, but who refused to follow Henry VIII. in his breach with
Rome. Dean Colet and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, belonged to the
same company, and Fisher was beheaded in the same year (1535) with More,
and for the same offense, namely, refusing to take the oath to maintain
the act confirming the king's divorce from Catharine of Arragon and his
marriage with Anne Boleyn. More's philosophy is best reflected in his
_Utopia_, the description of an ideal commonwealth, modeled on Plato's
_Republic_, and printed in 1516. The name signifies "no place" [Greek:
oy thopst], and has furnished an adjective to the language. The _Utopia_
was in Latin, but More's _History of Edward V. and Richard III._ written
1513, though not printed till 1557, was in English. It is the first
example in the tongue of a history as distinguished from a chronicle;
that is, it is a reasoned and artistic presentation of an historic
period, and not a mere chronological narrative of events.

The first three quarters of the 16th century produced no great original
work of literature in England. It was a season of preparation, of
education. The storms of the Reformation interrupted and delayed the
literary renascence through the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., and
Queen Mary. When Elizabeth came to the throne, in 1558, a more settled
order of things began, and a period of great national prosperity and
glory. Meanwhile the English mind had been slowly assimilating the new
classical culture, which was extended to all classes of readers by the
numerous translations of Greek and Latin authors. A fresh poetic impulse
came from Italy. In 1557 appeared _Tottel's Miscellany_, containing
songs and sonnets by a "new company of courtly makers." Most of the
pieces in the volume had been written years before by gentlemen of Henry
VIII.'s court, and circulated in manuscript. The two chief contributors
were Sir Thomas Wiat, at one time English embassador to Spain, and that
brilliant noble, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who was beheaded in
1547 for quartering the king's arms with his own. Both of them were dead
long before their work was printed. The verses in _Tottel's Miscellany_
show very clearly the influence of Italian poetry. We have seen that
Chaucer took subjects and something more from Boccaccio and Petrarch.
But the sonnet, which Petrarch had brought to perfection, was first
introduced into England by Wiat. There was a great revival of
sonneteering in Italy in the 16th century, and a number of Wiat's poems
were adaptations of the sonnets and _canzoni_ of Petrarch and later
poets. Others were imitations of Horace's satires and epistles. Surrey
introduced the Italian blank verse into English in his translation of
two books of the _Aeneid_. The love poetry of _Tottel's Miscellany_ is
polished and artificial, like the models which it followed. Dante's
Beatrice was a child, and so was Petrarch's Laura. Following their
example, Surrey addressed his love complaints, by way of compliment, to
a little girl of the noble Irish family of Geraldine. The Amourists, or
love sonneteers, dwelt on the metaphysics of the passion with a tedious
minuteness, and the conventional nature of their sighs and complaints
may often be guessed by an experienced reader from the titles of their
poems: "Description of the restless state of a lover, with suit to his
lady to rue on his dying heart;" "Hell tormenteth not the damned ghosts
so sore as unkindness the lover;" "The lover prayeth not to be
disdained, refused, mistrusted nor forsaken," etc. The most genuine
utterance of Surrey was his poem written while imprisoned in Windsor--a
cage where so many a song-bird has grown vocal. And Wiat's little piece
of eight lines, "Of his Return from Spain," is worth reams of his
amatory affectations. Nevertheless the writers in _Tottel's Miscellany_
were real reformers of English poetry. They introduced new models of
style and new metrical forms, and they broke away from the mediaeval
traditions which had hitherto obtained. The language had undergone some
changes since Chaucer's time, which made his scansion obsolete. The
accent of many words of French origin, like _nature_, _courage_,
_virtue_, _matere_, had shifted to the first syllable, and the _e_ of
the final syllables _es_, _en_, _ed_, and _e_, had largely disappeared.
But the language of poetry tends to keep up archaisms of this kind, and
in Stephen Hawes, who wrote a century after Chaucer, we still find such
lines as these:

But he my strokes might right well endure,
He was so great and huge of puissance.[19]

Hawes's practice is variable in this respect, and so is his
contemporary, Skelton's. But in Wiat and Surrey, who wrote only a few
years later, the reader first feels sure that he is reading verse
pronounced quite in the modern fashion.

[Footnote 19: Trisyllable--like creature neighebour, etc., in Chaucer.]

But Chaucer's example still continued potent. Spenser revived many of
his obsolete words, both in his pastorals and in his _Faerie Queene_,
thereby imparting an antique remoteness to his diction, but incurring
Ben Jonson's censure, that he "writ no language." A poem that stands
midway between Spenser and the late mediaeval work of Chaucer's
school--such as Hawes's _Passetyme of Pleasure_--was the induction
contributed by Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, in 1563 to a collection
of narrative poems called the _Mirrour for Magistrates_. The whole
series was the work of many hands, modeled upon Lydgate's _Falls of
Princes_ (taken from Boccaccio), and was designed as a warning to great
men of the fickleness of fortune. The _Induction_ is the only noteworthy
part of it. It was an allegory, written in Chaucer's seven-lined stanza,
and described, with a somber imaginative power, the figure of Sorrow,
her abode in the "griesly lake" of Avernus, and her attendants, Remorse,
Dread, Old Age, etc. Sackville was the author of the first regular
English tragedy _Gorboduc_; and it was at his request that Ascham wrote
the _Schoolmaster_.

Italian poetry also fed the genius of Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). While
a student at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, he had translated some of the
_Visions of Petrarch_, and the _Visions of Bellay_, a French poet, but
it was only in 1579 that the publication of his _Shepheard's Calendar_
announced the coming of a great original poet, the first since Chaucer.
The _Shepheard's Calendar_ was a pastoral in twelve eclogues--one for
each month in the year. There had been a revival of pastoral poetry in
Italy and France, but, with one or two insignificant exceptions,
Spenser's were the first bucolics in English. Two of his eclogues were
paraphrases from Clement Marot, a French Protestant poet, whose psalms
were greatly in fashion at the court of Francis I. The pastoral
machinery had been used by Vergil and by his modern imitators, not
merely to portray the loves of Strephon and Chloe, or the idyllic charms
of rustic life; but also as a vehicle of compliment, elegy, satire, and
personal allusion of many kinds. Spenser, accordingly, alluded to his
friends, Sidney and Harvey, as the shepherds Astrophel and Hobbinol;
paid court to Queen Elizabeth as Cynthia; and introduced, in the form of
anagrams, names of the High-Church Bishop of London, Aylmer, and the
Low-Church Archbishop Grindal. The conventional pastoral is a somewhat
delicate exotic in English poetry, and represents a very unreal Arcadia.
Before the end of the 17th century the squeak of the oaten pipe had
become a burden, and the only poem of the kind which it is easy to read
without some impatience is Milton's wonderful _Lycidas_. The
_Shepheard's Calendar_, however, though it belonged to an artificial
order of literature, had the unmistakable stamp of genius in its style.
There was a broad, easy mastery of the resources of language, a grace,
fluency, and music which were new to English poetry. It was written
while Spenser was in service with the Earl of Leicester, and enjoying
the friendship of his nephew, the all-accomplished Sidney and it was,
perhaps, composed at the latter's country seat of Penshurst. In the
following year Spenser went to Ireland as private secretary to Arthur,
Lord Grey of Wilton, who had just been appointed Lord Deputy of that
kingdom. After filling several clerkships in the Irish government,
Spenser received a grant of the castle and estate of Kilcolman, a part
of the forfeited lands of the rebel Earl of Desmond. Here, among
landscapes richly wooded, like the scenery of his own fairy land, "under
the cooly shades of the green alders by the Mulla's shore," Sir Walter
Raleigh found him, in 1589, busy upon his _Faerie Queene_. In his poem,
_Colin Clout's Come Home Again_, Spenser tells, in pastoral language,
how "the shepherd of the ocean" persuaded him to go to London, where he
presented him to the queen, under whose patronage the first three books
of his great poem were printed, in 1590. A volume of minor poems,
entitled _Complaints_, followed in 1591, and the three remaining books
of the _Faerie Queene_ in 1596. In 1595-1596 he published also his
_Daphnaida, Prothalamion,_ and the four hymns on _Love_ and _Beauty_,
and on _Heavenly Love_ and _Heavenly Beauty_. In 1598, in Tyrone's
rebellion, Kilcolman Castle was sacked and burned, and Spenser, with his
family, fled to London, where he died in January, 1599.

The _Faerie Queene_ reflects, perhaps, more fully than any other English
work, the many-sided literary influences of the Renascence. It was the
blossom of a richly composite culture. Its immediate models were
Ariosto's _Orlando Furioso_, the first forty cantos of which were
published in 1515, and Tasso's _Gerusalemme Liberata_, printed in 1581.
Both of these were, in subject, romances of chivalry, the first based
upon the old Charlemagne epos--Orlando being identical with the hero of
the French _Chanson de Roland_: the second upon the history of the first
crusade, and the recovery of the Holy City from the Saracen. But in both
of them there was a splendor of diction and a wealth of coloring quite
unknown to the rude mediaeval romances. Ariosto and Tasso wrote with the
great epics of Homer and Vergil constantly in mind, and all about them
was the brilliant light of Italian art, in its early freshness and
power. The _Faerie Queene_, too, was a tale of knight-errantry. Its hero
was King Arthur, and its pages swarm with the familiar adventures and
figures of Gothic romance: distressed ladies and their champions,
combats with dragons and giants, enchanted castles, magic rings, charmed
wells, forest hermitages, etc. But side by side with these appear the
fictions of Greek mythology and the personified abstractions of
fashionable allegory. Knights, squires, wizards, hamadryads, satyrs, and
river gods, Idleness, Gluttony, and Superstition jostle each other in
Spenser's fairy land. Descents to the infernal shades, in the manner of
Homer and Vergil, alternate with descriptions of the Palace of Pride in
the manner of the _Romaunt of the Rose_. But Spenser's imagination was a
powerful spirit, and held all these diverse elements in solution. He
removed them to an ideal sphere "apart from place, withholding time,"
where they seem all alike equally real, the dateless conceptions of the
poet's dream.

The poem was to have been "a continued allegory or dark conceit," in
twelve books, the hero of each book representing one of the twelve moral
virtues. Only six books and the fragment of a seventh were written. By
way of complimenting his patrons and securing contemporary interest,
Spenser undertook to make his allegory a double one, personal and
historical, as well as moral or abstract. Thus Gloriana, the Queen of
Faery, stands not only for Glory but for Elizabeth, to whom the poem was
dedicated. Prince Arthur is Leicester, as well as Magnificence. Duessa
is Falsehood, but also Mary Queen of Scots. Grantorto is Philip II. of
Spain. Sir Artegal is Justice, but likewise he is Arthur Grey de Wilton.
Other characters shadow forth Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Philip Sidney,
Henry IV. of France, etc.; and such public events as the revolt of the
Spanish Netherlands, the Irish rebellion, the execution of Mary Stuart,
and the rising of the northern Catholic houses against Elizabeth are
told in parable. In this way the poem reflects the spiritual struggle of
the time, the warfare of young England against popery and Spain.

The allegory is not always easy to follow. It is kept up most carefully
in the first two books, but it sat rather lightly on Spenser's
conscience, and is not of the essence of the poem. It is an ornament put
on from the outside and detachable at pleasure. The "Spenserian stanza,"
in which the _Faerie Queene_ was written, was adapted from the _ottava
rima_ of Ariosto. Spenser changed somewhat the order of the rimes in
the first eight lines and added a ninth line of twelve syllables, thus
affording more space to the copious luxuriance of his style and the
long-drawn sweetness of his verse. It was his instinct to dilate and
elaborate every image to the utmost, and his similies, especially--each
of which usually fills a whole stanza--have the pictorial amplitude of
Homer's. Spenser was, in fact, a great painter. His poetry is almost
purely sensuous. The personages in the _Faerie Queene_ are not
characters, but richly colored figures, moving to the accompaniment of
delicious music, in an atmosphere of serene remoteness from the earth.
Charles Lamb said that he was the poet's poet, that is, he appealed
wholly to the artistic sense and to the love of beauty. Not until Keats
did another English poet appear so filled with the passion for outward
shapes of beauty, so exquisitively alive to all impressions of the
senses. Spenser was, in some respects, more an Italian than an English
poet. It is said that the Venetian gondoliers still sing the stanzas of
Tasso's _Gerusalemme Liberata_. It is not easy to imagine the Thames
bargees chanting passages from the _Faerie Queene_. Those English poets
who have taken strongest hold upon their public have done so by their
profound interpretation of our common life. But Spenser escaped
altogether from reality into a region of pure imagination. His aerial
creations resemble the blossoms of the epiphytic orchids, which have no
root in the soil, but draw their nourishment from the moisture of the

_Their_ birth was of the womb of morning dew,
And _their_ conception of the glorious prime.

Among the minor poems of Spenser the most delightful were his
_Prothalamion_ and _Epithalamion_. The first was a "spousal verse," made
for the double wedding of the Ladies Catherine and Elizabeth Somerset,
whom the poet figures as two white swans that come swimming down the
Thames, the surface of which the nymphs strew with lilies, till it
appears "like a bride's chamber-floor."

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,

is the burden of each stanza. The _Epithalamion_ was Spenser's own
marriage song, written to crown his series of _Amoretti_ or love
sonnets, and is the most splendid hymn of triumphant love in the
language. Hardly less beautiful than these was _Muiopotmos; or, the Fate
of the Butterfly_, an addition to the classical myth of Arachne, the
spider. The four hymns in praise of _Love_ and _Beauty_, _Heavenly Love_
and _Heavenly Beauty_, are also stately and noble poems, but by reason
of their abstractness and the Platonic mysticism which they express, are
less generally pleasing than the others mentioned. Allegory and
mysticism had no natural affiliation with Spenser's genius. He was a
seer of visions, of _images_ full, brilliant, and distinct; and not,
like Bunyan, Dante, or Hawthorne, a projector into bodily shapes of
_ideas_, typical and emblematic; the shadows which haunt the conscience
and the mind.

* * * * *

1. English Writers. Henry Morley. Cassell & Co., 1887.
4 vols.

2. Skeat's Specimens of English Literature, 1394-1579
(Clarendon Press Series.) Oxford.

3. Morte Darthur. London: Macmillan & Co., 1868.
(Globe Edition.)

4. English and Scottish Ballads. Edited by Francis J.
Child. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1859. 8 vols.

5. Spenser's Poetical Works. Edited by Richard Morris.
London: Macmillan & Co., 1877. (Globe Edition.)

6. "A Royal Poet." In Washington Irving's Sketch
Book. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1864.




The great age of English poetry opened with the publication of Spenser's
_Shepheard's Calendar_, in 1579, and closed with the printing of
Milton's _Samson Agonistes_, in 1671. Within this period of little less
than a century English thought passed through many changes, and there
were several successive phases of style in our imaginative literature.
Milton, who acknowledged Spenser as his master, and who was a boy of
eight years at Shakspere's death, lived long enough to witness the
establishment of an entirely new school of poets, in the persons of
Dryden and his contemporaries. But, roughly speaking, the dates above
given mark the limits of one literary epoch, which may not improperly be
called the Elizabethan. In strictness the Elizabethan age ended with the
queen's death, in 1603. But the poets of the succeeding reigns inherited
much of the glow and splendor which marked the diction of their
forerunners; and "the spacious times of great Elizabeth" have been, by
courtesy, prolonged to the year of the Restoration (1660). There is a
certain likeness in the intellectual products of the whole period, a
largeness of utterance and a high imaginative cast of thought which
stamp them all alike with the queen's seal.

Nor is it by any undue stretch of the royal prerogative that the name of
the monarch has attached itself to the literature of her reign and of
the reigns succeeding hers. The expression "Victorian poetry" has a
rather absurd sound when one considers how little Victoria counts for in
the literature of her time. But in Elizabethan poetry the maiden queen
is really the central figure. She is Cynthia, she is Thetis, great queen
of shepherds and of the sea; she is Spenser's Gloriana, and even
Shakspere, the most impersonal of poets, paid tribute to her in _Henry
VIII._, and, in a more delicate and indirect way, in the little allegory
introduced into _Midsummer Night's Dream_.

That very time I saw--but thou could'st not--
Flying between the cold moon and the earth,
Cupid all armed. A certain aim he took
At a fair vestal throned by the west,
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow
As it should pierce a hundred thousand hearts.
But I might see young Cupid's fiery shaft
Quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon,
And the imperial votaress passed on
In maiden meditation, fancy free--

an allusion to Leicester's unsuccessful suit for Elizabeth's hand.

The praises of the queen, which sound through all the poetry of her
time, seem somewhat overdone to a modern reader. But they were not
merely the insipid language of courtly compliment. England had never
before had a female sovereign, except in the instance of the gloomy and
bigoted Mary. When she was succeeded by her more brilliant sister the
gallantry of a gallant and fantastic age was poured at the latter's
feet, the sentiment of chivalry mingling itself with loyalty to the
crown. The poets idealized Elizabeth. She was to Spenser, to Sidney, and
to Raleigh, not merely a woman and a virgin queen, but the champion of
Protestantism, the lady of young England, the heroine of the conflict
against popery and Spain. Moreover Elizabeth was a great woman. In spite
of the vanity, caprice, and ingratitude which disfigured her character,
and the vacillating, tortuous policy which often distinguished her
government, she was at bottom a sovereign of large views, strong will,
and dauntless courage. Like her father, she "loved a _man_," and she
had the magnificent tastes of the Tudors. She was a patron of the arts,
passionately fond of shows and spectacles, and sensible to poetic
flattery. In her royal progresses through the kingdom, the universities,
the nobles, and the cities vied with one another in receiving her with
plays, revels, masques, and triumphs, in the mythological taste of the
day. "When the queen paraded through a country town," says Warton, the
historian of English poetry, "almost every pageant was a pantheon. When
she paid a visit at the house of any of her nobility, at entering the
hall she was saluted by the _penates_. In the afternoon, when she
condescended to walk in the garden, the lake was covered with tritons
and nereids; the pages of the family were converted into wood-nymphs,
who peeped from every bower; and the footmen gamboled over the lawns in
the figure of satyrs. When her majesty hunted in the park she was met by
Diana, who, pronouncing our royal prude to be the brightest paragon of
unspotted chastity, invited her to groves free from the intrusions of
Acteon." The most elaborate of these entertainments of which we have any
notice were, perhaps, the games celebrated in her honor by the Earl of
Leicester, when she visited him at Kenilworth, in 1575. An account of
these was published by a contemporary poet, George Gascoigne, _The
Princely Pleasures at the Court of Kenilworth_, and Walter Scott has
made them familiar to modern readers in his novel of _Kenilworth_.
Sidney was present on this occasion, and, perhaps, Shakspere, then a boy
of eleven, and living at Stratford, not far off, may have been taken to
see the spectacle; may have seen Neptune riding on the back of a huge
dolphin in the castle lake, speaking the copy of verses in which he
offered his trident to the empress of the sea; and may have

heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song.

But in considering the literature of Elizabeth's reign it will be
convenient to speak first of the prose. While following up Spenser's
career to its close (1599) we have, for the sake of unity of treatment,
anticipated somewhat the literary history of the twenty years preceding.
In 1579 appeared a book which had a remarkable influence on English
prose. This was John Lyly's _Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit_. It was in
form a romance, the history of a young Athenian who went to Naples to
see the world and get an education; but it is in substance nothing but a
series of dialogues on love, friendship, religion, etc., written in
language which, from the title of the book, has received the name of
_Euphuism_. This new English became very fashionable among the ladies,
and "that beauty in court which could not parley Euphuism," says a
writer of 1632, "was as little regarded as she which now there speaks
not French."

Walter Scott introduced a Euphuist into his novel the _Monastery_, but
the peculiar jargon which Sir Piercie Shaft on is made to talk is not at
all like the real Euphuism. That consisted of antithesis, alliteration,
and the profuse illustration of every thought by metaphors borrowed from
a kind of fabulous natural history. "Descend into thine own conscience
and consider with thyself the great difference between staring and
stark-blind, wit and wisdom, love and lust; be merry, but with modesty;
be sober, but not too sullen; be valiant, but not too venturous." "I see
now that, as the fish _Scolopidus_ in the flood _Araxes_ at the waxing
of the moon is as white as the driven snow, and at the waning as black
as the burnt coal; so Euphues, which at the first increasing of our
familiarity was very zealous, is now at the last cast become most
faithless." Besides the fish _Scolopidus_, the favorite animals of
Lyly's menagerie are such as the chameleon, "which though he have most
guts draweth least breath;" the bird _Piralis_, "which sitting upon
white cloth is white, upon green, green;" and the serpent _Porphirius_,
"which, though he be full of poison, yet having no teeth, hurteth none
but himself."

Lyly's style was pithy and sententious, and his sentences have the air
of proverbs or epigrams. The vice of Euphuism was its monotony. On every
page of the book there was something pungent, something quotable; but
many pages of such writing became tiresome. Yet it did much to form the
hitherto loose structure of English prose, by lending it point and
polish. His carefully balanced periods were valuable lessons in
rhetoric, and his book became a manual of polite conversation and
introduced that fashion of witty repartee, which is evident enough in
Shakspere's comic dialogue. In 1580 appeared the second part, _Euphues
and his England,_ and six editions of the whole work were printed before
1598. Lyly had many imitators. In Stephen Gosson's _School of Abuse_, a
tract directed against the stage and published about four months later
than the first part of _Euphues_, the language is directly Euphuistic.
The dramatist, Robert Greene, published, in 1587, his _Menaphon;
Camilla's Alarum to Slumbering Euphues_, and his _Euphues's Censure to
Philautus_. His brother dramatist, Thomas Lodge, published, in 1590,
_Rosalynde: Euphues's Golden Legacy_, from which Shakspere took the plot
of _As You Like It_. Shakspere and Ben Jonson both quote from _Euphues_
in their plays, and Shakspere was really writing Euphuism when he wrote
such a sentence as "'Tis true, 'tis pity; pity 'tis 'tis true."

[Illustration: Chaucer, Spenser, Bacon, Milton.]

That knightly gentleman, Philip Sidney, was a true type of the lofty
aspiration and manifold activity of Elizabethan England. He was scholar,
poet, courtier, diplomatist, soldier, all in one. Educated at Oxford and
then introduced at court by his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, he had
been sent to France when a lad of eighteen, with the embassy which went
to treat of the queen's proposed marriage to the Duke of Alencon, and
was in Paris at the time of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, in 1572.
Afterward he had traveled through Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands,
had gone as embassador to the emperor's court, and every-where won
golden opinions. In 1580, while visiting his sister Mary, Countess of
Pembroke, at Wilton, he wrote, for her pleasure, the _Countess of
Pembroke's Arcadia_, which remained in manuscript till 1590. This was a
pastoral romance, after the manner of the Italian _Arcadia_ of
Sanazzaro, and the _Diana Enamorada_ of Montemayor, a Portuguese author.
It was in prose, but intermixed with songs and sonnets, and Sidney
finished only two books and a portion of the third. It describes the
adventures of two cousins, Musidorus and Pyrocles, who were wrecked on
the coast of Sparta. The plot is very involved and is full of the stock
episodes of romance: disguises, surprises, love intrigues, battles,
jousts and single combats. Although the insurrection of the Helots
against the Spartans forms a part of the story, the Arcadia is not the
real Arcadia of the Hellenic Peloponnesus, but the fanciful country of
pastoral romance, an unreal clime, like the fairy land of Spenser.

Sidney was our first writer of poetic prose. The poet Drayton says that

did first reduce
Our tongue from Lyly's writing, then in use,
Talking of stones, stars, plants, of fishes, flies,
Playing with words and idle similes.

Sidney was certainly no Euphuist, but his style was as "Italianated" as
Lyly's, though in a different way. His English was too pretty for prose.
His "Sidneian showers of sweet discourse" sowed every page of the
_Arcadia_ with those flowers of conceit, those sugared fancies which his
contemporaries loved, but which the taste of a severer age finds
insipid. This splendid vice of the Elizabethan writers appears in
Sidney, chiefly in the form of an excessive personification. If he
describes a field full of roses, he makes "the roses add such a ruddy
show unto it, as though the field were bashful at his own beauty." If he
describes ladies bathing in the stream, he makes the water break into
twenty bubbles, as "not content to have the picture of their face in
large upon him, but he would in each of those bubbles set forth a
miniature of them." And even a passage which should be tragic, such as
the death of his heroine, Parthenia, he embroiders with conceits like
these: "For her exceeding fair eyes having with continued weeping got a
little redness about them, her round sweetly swelling lips a little
trembling, as though they kissed their neighbor Death; in her cheeks the
whiteness striving by little and little to get upon the rosiness of
them; her neck, a neck of alabaster, displaying the wound which with
most dainty blood labored to drown his own beauties; so as here was a
river of purest red, there an island of perfectest white," etc.

The _Arcadia_, like _Euphues_, was a lady's book. It was the favorite
court romance of its day, but it surfeits a modern reader with its
sweetness, and confuses him with its tangle of adventures. The lady for
whom it was written was the mother of that William Herbert, Earl of
Pembroke, to whom Shakspere's sonnets are thought to have been
dedicated. And she was the subject of Ben Jonson's famous epitaph.

Underneath this sable herse
Lies the subject of all verse,
Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother;
Death, ere thou hast slain another
Learn'd and fair and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

Sidney's _Defense of Poesy_ composed in 1581, but not printed till 1595,
was written in manlier English than the _Arcadia_, and is one of the
very few books of criticism belonging to a creative and uncritical time.
He was also the author of a series of love sonnets, _Astrophel and
Stella_, in which he paid Platonic court to the Lady Penelope Rich
(with whom he was not in love), according to the conventional usage of
the amourists.

Sidney died in 1586, from a wound received in a cavalry charge at
Zutphen, where he was an officer in the English contingent sent to help
the Dutch against Spain. The story has often been told of his giving his
cup of water to a wounded soldier with the words, "Thy necessity is yet
greater than mine." Sidney was England's darling, and there was hardly a
poet in the land from whom his death did not obtain "the meed of some
melodious tear." Spenser's _Ruins of Time_ were among the number of
these funeral songs; but the best of them all was by one Matthew Royden,
concerning whom little is known.

Another typical Englishman of Elizabeth's reign was Walter Raleigh, who
was even more versatile than Sidney, and more representative of the
restless spirit of romantic adventure, mixed with cool, practical
enterprise that marked, the times. He fought against the queen's enemies
by land and sea in many quarters of the globe; in the Netherlands and in
Ireland against Spain, with the Huguenot army against the League in
France. Raleigh was from Devonshire, the great nursery of English
seamen. He was half-brother to the famous navigator, Sir Humphrey
Gilbert, and cousin to another great captain, Sir Richard Grenville. He
sailed with Gilbert on one of his voyages against the Spanish treasure
fleet, and in 1591 he published a report of the fight, near the Azores,
between Grenville's ship, the _Revenge_, and fifteen great ships of
Spain, an action, said Francis Bacon, "memorable even beyond credit, and
to the height of some heroical fable." Raleigh was active in raising a
fleet against the Spanish Armada of 1588. He was present in 1596 at the
brilliant action in which the Earl of Essex "singed the Spanish king's
beard," in the harbor of Cadiz. The year before he had sailed to Guiana,
in search of the fabled El Dorado, destroying on the way the Spanish
town of San Jose, in the West Indies; and on his return he published
his _Discovery of the Empire of Guiana_. In 1597 he captured the town of
Fayal, in the Azores. He took a prominent part in colonizing Virginia,
and he introduced tobacco and the potato plant into Europe.

America was still a land of wonder and romance, full of rumors,
nightmares, and enchantments. In 1580, when Francis Drake, "the
Devonshire Skipper," had dropped anchor in Plymouth Harbor, after his
voyage around the world, the enthusiasm of England had been mightily
stirred. These narratives of Raleigh, and the similar accounts of the
exploits of the bold sailors, Davis, Hawkins, Frobisher, Gilbert, and
Drake; but especially the great cyclopedia of nautical travel, published
by Richard Hakluyt in 1589, _The Principal Navigations, Voyages, and
Discoveries made by the English Nation_, worked powerfully on the
imaginations of the poets. We see the influence of this literature of
travel in the _Tempest_, written undoubtedly after Shakspere had been
reading the narrative of Sir George Somers's shipwreck on the Bermudas
or "Isles of Devils."

Raleigh was not in favor with Elizabeth's successor, James I. He was
sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of high treason. The sentence
hung over him until 1618, when it was revived against him and he was
beheaded. Meanwhile, during his twelve years' imprisonment in the Tower,
he had written his _magnum opus_, the _History of the World_. This is
not a history, in the modern sense, but a series of learned
dissertations on law, government, theology, magic, war, etc. A chapter
with such a caption as the following would hardly be found in a
universal history nowadays: "Of their opinion which make Paradise as
high as the moon; and of others which make it higher than the middle
regions of the air." The preface and conclusion are noble examples of
Elizabethan prose, and the book ends with an oft-quoted apostrophe to
Death. "O eloquent, just and mighty Death! Whom none could advise, thou
hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the
world hath flattered, thou only hast cast out of the world and despised;
thou hast drawn together all the far-fetched greatness, all the pride,
cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all over with these two
narrow words, _hic jacet_."

Although so busy a man, Raleigh found time to be a poet. Spenser calls
him "the summer's nightingale," and George Puttenham, in his _Art of
English Poesy_ (1589), finds his "vein most lofty, insolent, and
passionate." Puttenham used _insolent_ in its old sense, _uncommon_; but
this description is hardly less true, if we accept the word in its
modern meaning. Raleigh's most notable verses, _The Lie_, are a
challenge to the world, inspired by indignant pride and the weariness of
life--the _saeva indignatio_ of Swift. The same grave and caustic
melancholy, the same disillusion marks his quaint poem, _The
Pilgrimage_. It is remarkable how many of the verses among his few
poetical remains are asserted in the manuscripts or by tradition to have
been "made by Sir Walter Raleigh the night before he was beheaded." Of
one such poem the assertion is probably true--namely, the lines "found
in his Bible in the gate-house at Westminster."

Even such is Time, that takes in trust,
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust!

The strictly _literary_ prose of the Elizabethan period bore a small
proportion to the verse. Many entire departments of prose literature
were as yet undeveloped. Fiction was represented--outside of the
_Arcadia_ and _Euphues_ already mentioned--chiefly by tales translated
or imitated from Italian _novelle_. George Turberville's _Tragical
Tales_ (1566) was a collection of such stories, and William Paynter's
_Palace of Pleasure_ (1576-1577) a similar collection from Boccaccio's
_Decameron_ and the novels of Bandello. These translations are mainly of
interest as having furnished plots to the English dramatists. Lodge's
_Rosalind_ and Robert Greene's _Pandosto_, the sources respectively of
Shakspere's _As You Like It_ and _Winter's Tale_, are short pastoral
romances, not without prettiness in their artificial way. The satirical
pamphlets of Thomas Nash and his fellows, against "Martin Marprelate,"
an anonymous writer, or company of writers, who attacked the bishops,
are not wanting in wit, but are so cumbered with fantastic
whimsicalities, and so bound up with personal quarrels, that oblivion

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