Specimens with Memoirs of the Less-known British Poets Vol 1 by George Gilfillan

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Marc D’Hooghe and the PG Online Distributed Proofreaders SPECIMENS WITH MEMOIRS OF THE LESS-KNOWN BRITISH POETS. * * * * * With an Introductory Essay, BY THE REV. GEORGE GILFILLAN. * * * * * IN THREE VOLS. VOL. I. M.DCCC.LX. INTRODUCTORY ESSAY We propose to introduce our ‘Specimens’ by a
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1860
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Marc D’Hooghe and the PG Online Distributed Proofreaders


* * * * *

With an Introductory Essay,


* * * * *





We propose to introduce our ‘Specimens’ by a short Essay on the Origin and Progress of English Poetry on to the days of Chaucer and of Gower. Having called, in conjunction with many other critics, Chaucer ‘the Father of English Poetry,’ to seek to go back further may seem like pursuing antenatal researches. But while Chaucer was the sun, a certain glimmering dawn had gone before him, and to reflect that, is the object of the following pages.

Britain, when the Romans invaded it, was a barbarous country; and although subjugated and long held by that people, they seem to have left it nearly as uncultivated and illiterate as they found it. ‘No magnificent remains,’ says Macaulay, ‘of Latian porches and aqueducts are to be found in Britain. No writer of British birth is to be reckoned among the masters of Latin poetry and eloquence. It is not probable that the islanders were, at any time, generally familiar with the tongue of their Italian rulers. From the Atlantic to the vicinity of the Rhine the Latin has, during many centuries, been predominant. It drove out the Celtic–it was not driven out by the Teutonic–and it is at this day the basis of the French, Spanish, and Portuguese languages. In our island the Latin appears never to have superseded the old Gaelic speech, and could not stand its ground before the German.’ It was in the fifth century that that modification of the German or Teutonic speech called the Anglo-Saxon was introduced into this country. It soon asserted its superiority over the British tongue, which seemed to retreat before it, reluctantly and proudly, like a lion, into the mountain-fastnesses of Wales or to the rocky sea-beach of Cornwall. The triumph was not completed all at once, but from the beginning it was secure. The bards of Wales continued to sing, but their strains resembled the mutterings of thunder among their own hills, only half heard in the distant valleys, and exciting neither curiosity nor awe. For five centuries, with the exception of some Latin words added by the preachers of Christianity, the Anglo-Saxon language continued much as it was when first introduced. Barbarous as the manners of the people were, literature was by no means left without a witness. Its chief cultivators were the monks and other religious persons, who spent their leisure in multiplying books, either by original composition or by transcription, including treatises on theology, historical chronicles, and a great abundance and variety of poetical productions. These were written at first exclusively in Latin, but occasionally, in process of time, in the Anglo- Saxon tongue. The theology taught in them was, no doubt, crude and corrupted, the history was stuffed with fables, and the poetry was rough and bald in the extreme; but still they furnished a food fitted for the awakening mind of the age. When the Christian religion reached Great Britain, it brought necessarily with it an impulse to intellect as well as to morality. So startling are the facts it relates, so broad and deep the principles it lays down, so humane the spirit it inculcates, and so ravishing the hopes it awakens, that, however disguised in superstition and clouded by imperfect representation, it never fails to produce, in all countries to which it comes, a resurrection of the nation’s virtue, and a revival, for a time at least, of the nation’s political and intellectual energy and genius. Hence we find the very earliest literary names in our early annals are those of Christian missionaries. Such is said to have been Gildas, a Briton, who lived in the first part of the sixth century, and is the reputed author of a short history of Britain in Latin. Such was the still more apocryphal Nennius, also called, till of late, the writer of a small Latin historical work. Such was St Columbanus, who was born in Ireland in 560; became a monk in the Irish monastery of Benchor; and afterwards, at the head of twelve disciples, preached Christianity, in its most ascetic form, in England and in France; founded in the latter country various monasteries; and, when banished by Queen Brunehaut on account of his stern inflexibility of character, went to Switzerland, and then to Lombardy, proselytising the heathen, and defending, by his letters and other writings, the peculiar tenets of the Irish Church in reference to the time of the celebration of Easter and to the popular heresies of the day. He died October 2, 615, in the monastery of Bobbio; and his religious treatises and Latin poetry gave an undoubted impulse to the age’s progress in letters.

About this period the better sort of Saxons, both clergy and laity, got into the habit of visiting Rome; while Rome, in her turn, sent emissaries to England. Thus, while the one insensibly imbibed new knowledge as well as devotion from the great centre, the other brought with them to our shores importations of books, including copies of such religious classics as Josephus and Chrysostom, and of such literary classics as Homer. About 680, died Caedmon, a monk of Whitby, one of the first who composed in Anglo-Saxon, and some of whose compositions are preserved. Strange and myth-like stories are told by Bede about this remarkable natural genius. He was originally a cow-herd. Partly from want of training, and partly from bashfulness, when the harp was given him in the hall, and he was asked, as all others were, to raise the voice of song, Caedmon had often to abscond in confusion. On one occasion he had retired to the stable, where he fell into a sound sleep. He dreamed that a stranger appeared to him, and said, ‘Caedmon, sing me something.’ Caedmon replied that it was his incapacity to sing which had brought him to take refuge in the stable. ‘Nay,’ said the stranger, ‘but thou hast something to sing.’ ‘What shall I sing?’ rejoined Caedmon. ‘Sing the Creation,’ and thereupon he began to pour out verses, which, when he awoke, he remembered, repeated, and to which he added others as good. The first lines are, as translated into English, the following:–

Now let us praise
The Guardian of heaven,
The might of the Creator
And his counsel–
The Glory!–Father of men!
He first created,
For the children of men,
Heaven as a roof–
The holy Creator!
Then the world–
The Guardian of mankind!
The Eternal Lord!
Produced afterwards
The Earth for men–
The Almighty Master!’

Our readers all remember the well-known story of Coleridge falling asleep over Purchas’s ‘Pilgrims’; how the poem of ‘Kubla Khan’ came rushing from dreamland upon his soul; and how, when awakened, he wrote it down, and found it to be, if not sense, something better–a glorious piece of fantastic imagination. We knew a gentleman who, slumbering while in a state of bad health, produced, in the course of a few hours, one or two thousand rhymed lines, some of which he repeated in our hearing afterwards, and which were full of point and poetry. We cannot see that Caedmon’s lines betray any weird inspiration; but when rehearsed the next day to the Abbess Hilda, to whom the town-bailiff of Whitby conducted him, she and a circle of learned men pronounced that he had received the gift of song direct from heaven! They, after one or two other trials of his powers, persuaded him to become a monk in the house of the Abbess, who commanded him to transfer to verse the whole of the Scripture history. It is said that he was constantly employed in repeating to himself what he had heard; or, as one of his old biographers has it, ‘like a clean animal ruminating it, he turned it into most sweet verse.’ In this way he wrote or rather improvised a vast quantity of poetry, chiefly on religious subjects. Thorpe, in his edition of this author, has preserved a speech of Satan, bearing a striking resemblance to some parts of Milton:–

‘Boiled within him
His thought about his heart,
Hot was without him,
His due punishment.
“This narrow place is most unlike
That other that we formerly knew
High in heaven’s kingdom,
Which my master bestowed on me,
Though we it, for the All-Powerful, May not possess.

* * * * *

That is to me of sorrows the greatest, That Adam,
Who was wrought of earth,
Shall possess
My strong seat;
That it shall be to him in delight, And we endure this torment,
Misery in this hell.

* * * * *

Here is a vast fire,
Above and underneath.
Never did I see
A loathlier landscape.
The flame abateth not
Hot over hell.
Me hath the clasping of these rings, This hard-polished band,
Impeded in my course,
Debarred me from my way.
My feet are bound,
My hands manacled;
Of these hell-doors are
The ways obstructed,
So that with aught I cannot
From these limb-bonds escape.
About me lie
Huge gratings
Of hard iron,
Forged with heat,
With which me God
Hath fastened by the neck.
Thus perceive I that he knoweth my mind, And that he knew also,
The Lord of hosts,
That should us through Adam
Evil befall,
About the realm of heaven,
Where I had power of my hands.”‘

Through these rude lines there flashes forth, like fire through a thick dull grating, a powerful conception–one which Milton has borrowed and developed–that of the Evil One feeling in his dark bosom jealousy at young Man, almost overpowering his hatred to God; and another conception still more striking, that of the devil’s thorough conviction that all his plans and thoughts are entirely known by his great Adversary, and are counteracted before they are formed–

‘Thus perceive I that he knoweth my mind.’

Compare this with Milton’s lines–

‘So should I purchase dear Short intermission, bought with double smart. _This knows_ my Punisher; therefore as far From granting he, as I from begging peace.’

Caedmon saw, without being able fully to express, the complex idea of Satan, as distracted between a thousand thoughts, all miserable–tossed between a thousand winds, all hot as hell–‘pale ire, envy, and despair’ struggling within him–fury at man overlapping anger at God–remorse and reckless desperation wringing each other’s miserable hands–a sense of guilt which will not confess, a fear that will not quake, a sorrow that will not weep, a respect for God which will not worship; and yet, springing out of all these elements, a strange, proud joy, as though the torrid soil of Pandemonium should flower, which makes ‘the hell he suffers seem a heaven,’ compared to what his destiny might be were he either plunged into a deeper abyss, or taken up unchanged to his former abode of glory. This, in part at least, the monk of Whitby discerned; but it was reserved for Milton to embody it in that tremendous figure which has since continued to dwindle all the efforts of art, and to haunt, like a reality, the human imagination.

Passing over some interesting but subordinate Saxon writers, such as Ceolfrid, Abbot of Wearmouth; Aldhelm, Abbot of Malmesbury; Felix of Croyland; and Alcuine, King Egbert’s librarian at York, we come to one who himself formed an era in the history of our early literature–the venerable Bede. This famous man was educated in the monastery of Wearmouth, and there appears to have spent the whole of his quiet, innocent, and studious life. He was the very sublimation of a book-worm. One might fancy him becoming at last, as in the ‘Metamorphoses’ of Ovid, one of the books, or rolls of vellum and parchment over which he con- stantly pored. That he did not marry, or was given in marriage, we are certain; but there is little evidence that he even ate or drank, walked or slept. To read and to write seemed the ‘be all and the end all’ of his existence. Important as well as numerous were his contributions to literature. He translated from the Scriptures. He wrote religious treatises, biographies, and commentaries upon portions of Holy Writ. Besides his very valuable Ecclesiastical History, he composed various pieces of Latin poetry. His works in all were forty-four in number: and it is said that on the very day of his death (it took place in 735) he was dictating to his amanuensis, and had just completed a book. His works are wonderful for his time, and not the less interesting for a fine cobweb of fable which is woven over parts of them, and which seems in keeping with their venerable character. Thus, in speaking of the Magi who visited the infant Redeemer, he is very particular in describing their age, appearance, and offerings. Melchior, the first, was old, had gray hair, and a long beard; and offered ‘gold’ to Christ, in, acknowledgment of His sovereignty. Gaspar, the second, was young, and had no beard; and he offered ‘frankincense,’ in recognition of our Lord’s divinity. Balthasar, the third, was of a dark complexion, had a large beard, and offered ‘myrrh’ to our Saviour’s humanity. We should, we confess, miss such pleasant little myths in other old books besides Bede’s Histories. They seem appropriate to ancient works, as the beard is to the goat or the hermit; and the truth that lies in them is not difficult to eliminate. The next name of note in our literary annals is that of the great Alfred. Surely if ever man was not only before his age, but before ‘all ages,’ it was he. A palm of the tropics growing on a naked Highland mountain-side, or an English oak bending over one of the hot springs of Hecla, were not a stranger or more preternatural sight than a man like Alfred appearing in a century like the ninth. A thousand theories about men being the creatures of their age, the products of circumstances, &c., sink into abeyance beside the facts of his life; and we are driven to the good old belief that to some men the ‘inspiration of the Almighty giveth understanding;’ and that their wisdom, their genius, and their excellency do not proceed from them-selves. On his deeds of valour and patriotism it is not necessary to dwell. These form the popular and bepraised side of his character, but they give a very inadequate idea of the whole. On one occasion he visited the Danish camp–a king disguised as a harper; but he was, all his life long, a harper disguised as a king. He was at once a warrior, a legislator, an architect, a shipbuilder, a philosopher, a scholar, and a poet. His great object, as avowed in his last will, was to leave his people ‘free as their own thoughts.’ Hence he bent the whole force of his mind, first, to defend them from foreign foes, by encouraging the new naval strength he had himself established; and then to cultivate their intellects, and make them, as well as their country, worth defending. Let us quote the glowing words of Burke:–‘He was indefatigable in his endeavours to bring into England men of learning in all branches from every part of Europe, and unbounded in his liberality to them. He enacted by a law that every person possessed of two hides of land should send their children to school until sixteen. He enterprised even a greater design than that of forming the growing generation–to instruct even the grown, enjoining all his sheriffs and other officers immediately to apply themselves to learning, or to quit their offices. Whatever trouble he took to extend the benefits of learning among his subjects, he shewed the example himself, and applied to the cultivation of his mind with unparalleled diligence and success. He could neither read nor write at twelve years old, but he improved his time in such a manner, that he became one of the most knowing men of his age, in geometry, in philosophy, in architecture, and in music. He applied himself to the improvement of his native language; he translated several valuable works from Latin, and wrote a vast number of poems in the Saxon tongue with a wonderful facility and happiness. He not only excelled in the theory of the arts and sciences, but possessed a great mechanical genius for the executive part. He improved the manner of shipbuilding, introduced a more beautiful and commodious architecture, and even taught his countrymen the art of making bricks; most of the buildings having been of wood before his time–in a word, he comprehended in the greatness of his mind the whole of government, and all its parts at once; and what is most difficult to human frailty was at the same time sublime and minute.’

Some exaggeration must be allowed for in all this account of Alfred the Great. But the fact that he left a stamp in his age so deep,–that nothing except what was good and great has been ascribed to him,–that the very fictions told of him are of such _vraisemblance_ and magnitude as to FIT IN to nothing less than an extraordinary man,–and that, as Burke says, ‘whatever dark spots of human frailty may have adhered to such a character, are entirely hid in the splendour of many shining qualities and grand virtues, that throw a glory over the obscure period in which he lived, and which is for no other reason worthy of our knowledge,’–all proclaim his supremacy. Like many great men,–like Julius Caesar, with his epilepsy–or Sir Walter Scott and Byron, with their lameness–or Schleiermacher, with his deformed appearance,–a physical infirmity beset Alfred most of his life, and at last carried him off at a comparatively early age. This was a disease in his bowels, which had long afflicted him, ‘without interrupting his designs, or souring his temper.’ Nay, who can say that the constant presence of such a memento of weakness and mortality did not operate as a strong, quiet stimulus to do with his might what his hand found to do–to lower pride, and to prompt to labour? If Saladin had had for his companion some such faithful hound of sorrow, it would have saved him the ostentatious flag stretched over his head, in the hour of wassail, with the inscription, ‘Saladin, Saladin, king of kings! Saladin must die!’

Alfred wrote little that was original, but he was a copious translator. He rendered into the Anglo-Saxon tongue–which he sought to enrich with the fatness of other soils–the historical works of Orosius and of Bede; nay, it is said the Fables of Aesop, and the Psalms of David–desirous, it would seem, to teach his people morality and religion, through the fine medium, of fiction and poetry.

Alfric, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the name of another important contributor to Saxon literature. He wrote a grammar of his native language, which procured him the name of the ‘Grammarian,’ besides a collection of homilies, some theological treatises, and a translation of the first seven books of the Old Testament. In imitation of Alfred, he devoted all his energies to the instruction of the common people, constantly writing in Anglo-Saxon, and avoiding as much as possible the use of compound or obscure words. After him appeared Cynewulf, Bishop of Winchester, Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, and others of some note. There was also slowly piled up in the course of ages, and by a succession of authors, that remarkable production, ‘The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.’ This is thought to have commenced soon after the reign of Alfred, and continued till the times of Henry II. Previous, however, to the Norman invasion, there had been a decided falling off in the learning of the Saxons. This arose from various causes. Incessant wars tended to conserve and increase the barbarism of the people. Various libraries of value were destroyed by the incursions of the Danes. And not a few bishops, and other ecclesiastical dignitaries, began to consider learning as prejudicial to piety-and grammar and ungodliness were thought akin. The effect of this upon the subordinate clergy was most pernicious. In the tenth century, Oswald, Archbishop of Canterbury, found the monks of his province so grossly ignorant, not only of letters, but even of the canonical rules of their respective orders, that he required to send to France for competent masters to give them instruction.

At length came the Conqueror, William, and one battle gave England to the Normans, which had cost the Romans, the Saxons, and the Danes so much time and blood to acquire. The people were not only conquered, but cowed and crushed. England was as easily and effectually subdued as was Ireland, sometime after, by Henry II. But while the Conquest was for a season fatal to liberty, it was from the first favourable to every species of literature, art, and poetry. ‘The influence,’ says Campbell, ‘of the Norman Conquest upon the language of England was like that of a great inundation, which at first buries the face of the landscape under its waters, but which, at last subsiding, leaves behind it the elements of new beauty and fertility. Its first effect was to degrade the Anglo- Saxon tongue to the exclusive use of the inferior orders, and by the transference of estates ecclesiastical benefices, and civil dignities to Norman possessors, to give the French language, which had begun to prevail at court from the time of Edward the Confessor, a more complete predominance among the higher classes of society. The native gentry of England were either driven into exile, or depressed into a state of dependence on their conqueror, which habituated them to speak his language. On the other hand, we received from the Normans the first germs of romantic poetry; and our language was ultimately indebted to them for a wealth and compass of expression which it probably would not have otherwise possessed.’

The Anglo-Saxon, however, held its place long among the lower orders, and specimens of it, both in prose and verse, are found a century after the Conquest. Gradually the Norman tongue began to amalgamate with it, and the result was, the English. At what precise year our language might be said to begin, it is impossible to determine. Throughout the whole of the twelfth century, great changes were taking place in the grammatical construction, as well as in the substance of the Anglo-Saxon. Some new words were imported from the Norman, but, as Dr Johnson remarks, ‘the language was still more materially altered by the change of its sounds, the cutting short of its syllables, and the softening down of its terminations, and inflections of words.’ Somewhere between 1180 and 1216, the majestic speech in which Shakspeare was to write ‘Macbeth’ and ‘King Lear,’ Lord Bacon his ‘Advancement of Learning,’ Milton his ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Areopagitica,’ Burke his ‘Reflections,’ and Sir Walter Scott the Waverley Novels, and whose rough, but manly accents were to be spoken by at least a hundred million tongues, commenced its career, and not since Homer,

“on the Chian strand,
Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee
Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea,”

had a nobler era been marked in the history of literature. For here was a tongue born which was destined to mate even with that of Greece in richness and flexibility, to make the language of Cicero and Virgil seem stiff and stilted in comparison, and, if not to vie with the French in airy grace, or with the Italian in liquid music, to excel them far in teeming resources and robust energy. Memorable and hallowed for ever be the hour when the ‘well of English undefiled’ first sparkled to the day!

Previous to this the chief of the poets, after the Conquest, were Normans. The country whence that people came had for some time been celebrated for poetry. France was, as to its poetic literature, divided into two great sections–the Provençal and the Northern. The first was like the country where it flourished–gay, flowery, and exuberant; it swam in romance, and its rhymers delighted, when addressing large audiences under the open skies of their delightful climate, to indulge in compliment and fanfaronade, to sing of war, wine, and love.

The Normans produced a race of simpler poets. That some of them were men as well as singers, is proved by the fact that it was a bard named Taillefer who first broke the English ranks at the battle of Hastings. After him came Philippe de Thaun, who tried to set to song the science of his day; Thorold, the author of a romance entitled ‘Roland;’ Samson de Nauteuil, the translator of Solomon’s Proverbs into French verse; Geoffrey Gaimar, who wrote a Chronicle of the Saxon kings; and one David, a minstrel of no little note and power in his day. But a more remarkable writer succeeded, and his work, like Aaron’s rod, swallowed up all the productions of these clever but petty poets. This was Wace, commonly called Maistre Wace, a native of Jersey. In 1160, or as some say 1155, Wace finished his ‘Brut d’Angleterre’ which is in reality a translation into French of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote a History of Britain from the imaginary Brutus of Troy down to Cadwallader in 689. Literature owes not a little to Wace’s poem. He collected into a permanent shape a number of traditions and legends–many of them interesting–which had been floating through Europe, just as Macpherson preserved in Ossian not a few real fragments of the songs of Selma. And, as we shall see immediately, Wace’s production became the basis of the earliest of English poems.

Maistre Wace is the author also of a History of the Normans, which he calls ‘Roman de Rou;’ or, ‘The Romance of Rollo.’ He was a great favourite with Henry II., who bestowed on him a canonry in the Cathedral of Bayeux. Besides Wace, there flourished about the same time Benoit, who wrote a History of the Dukes of Normandy; and Guernes, a churchman of Pont St Maxence in Picardy, who wrote in verse a Life of St Thomas à Becket.

At the beginning of the century following the Conquest, the chief authors, such as Peter of Blois, John of Salisbury, Joseph of Exeter, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, all wrote in Latin. Layamon, however, a priest of Ernesley- upon-Severn, used the vernacular in a poem which, as we have already hinted, was essentially a translation of Wace’s ‘Brut d’Angleterre.’ The most remarkable thing about Layamon’s poem is the language in which it is written-language in which you catch English in the very act of chipping the Saxon shell, or, as Campbell happily remarks, ‘the style of Layamon is as nearly the intermediate state of the old and new languages as can be found in any ancient specimen –something like the new insect stirring its wings before it has shaken off the aurelia state.’

Between Layamon and Robert of Gloucester a good many miscellaneous strains–some of a satirical, others of an amatory, and others again of a legendary and devout style–were produced. It was customary then for minstrels, at the instance of the clergy, to sing on Sundays devotional strains on the harp to the assembled multitudes. At public entertainments, during week-days, gay ditties were common. One of these is extant, but is too coarse for quotation. It is entitled ‘The Land of Cokayne,’ an allegorical satire on the luxury and vice of the Church, given under the description of an imaginary paradise, in which the nuns are represented as houris, and the black and grey monks as their paramours. ‘Richard of Alemaine’ is a ballad, composed by an adherent of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, after the defeat of the Royal party at the battle of Lewes in 1264. In the year after that battle the Royal cause rallied, and the Earl of Warren and Sir Hugh Bigod returned from exile, and helped the King in his victory. In the battle of Lewes, Richard, King of the Romans, his brother Henry III., and Prince Edward, with many others of the Royal party, were taken prisoners.
[Note: See ‘Richard of Alemaine,’ Percy’s Reliques, vol. ii., p. 2.]

The spirit and the allusions of this song shew that it was composed by Leicester’s party in the moment of their victory, and not after the reaction which took place against their cause, and it must therefore belong to the thirteenth century. To this period, too, probably belongs a political satire, published by Ritson, and which Campbell thus charac- terises:–‘It is a ballad on the execution of the Scottish patriots, Sir William Wallace and Sir Simon Frazer. The diction is as barbarous as we should expect from a song of triumph on such a subject. It relates the death and treatment of Wallace very minutely. The circumstance of his being covered with a mock crown of laurel in Westminster Hall, which Stow repeats, is there mentioned, and that of his legs being fastened with iron fetters “_under his horse’s wombe_” is told with savage exultation. The piece was probably indited in the very year of the political murders which it celebrates, certainly before 1314, as it mentions the skulking of Robert Bruce, which, after the battle of Bannockburn, must have become a jest out of season.’

Campbell quotes a love-ditty of this period, which is not devoid of merit:–

‘For her love I cark and cave,
For her love I droop and dare,
For her love my bliss is bare,
And all I wax wan.

‘For her love in sleep I slake,[1]
For her love all night I wake,
For her love mourning I make
More than any man.’

[1] ‘In sleep I slake:’ am deprived of sleep.

And another of a pastoral vein:–

‘When the nightingale singës the woods waxen green, Leaf, grass, and blossom springs in Avril I ween, And love is to my heart gone, with one spear so keen, Night and day my blood it drinks, my heart doth me teen.’

About a hundred years after Layamon (in 1280) appeared a poet not dissimilar to him, named Robert of Gloucester. His surname is unknown, and so are the particulars of his history. We know only that he was a monk of Gloucester Abbey, that he lived in the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I., and that he translated the Legends of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and continued the History of England down to the time of Edward I. This work is wonder- fully minute, and, generally speaking, accurate in its topography as well as narrative, and was of service to Selden when he wrote his Notes to Drayton’s ‘Polyolbion.’ It is more valuable in this respect than as a piece of imagination.

He narrates the grandest events–such as the first crusaders bursting into Asia, with a sword of fire hung in the firmament before them, and beckoning them on their way–as coolly as he might the emigration of a colony of ants. Yet, although there is little animation or poetry in his general manner, he usually succeeds in riveting the reader’s attention; and the speeches he puts into the mouths of his heroes glow with at least rhetorical fire. And as a critic truly remarks–‘Injustice to the ancient versifier, we should remember that he had still only a rude language to employ, the speech of boors and burghers, which, though it might possess a few songs and satires, could afford him no models of heroic narration. In such an age the first occupant passes uninspired over subjects which might kindle the highest enthusiasm in the poet of a riper period, as the savage treads unconsciously in his deserts over mines of incalculable value, without sagacity to discover or inplements to explore them.’ We give the following extracts from Robert of Gloucester’s poem:–


The king was to his palace, tho the service was ydo,[1] Yled with his meinie,[2] and the queen to her also. For they held the old usages, that men with men were By themselve, and women by themselve also there. When they were each one yset, as it to their state become, Kay, king of Anjou, a thousand knightës nome[3] Of noble men, yclothed in ermine each one Of one suit, and served at this noble feast anon. Bedwer the botyler, king of Normandy,
Nome also in his half a fair company Of one suit for to serve of the hotelery. Before the queen it was also of all such courtesy, For to tell all the nobley that there was ydo, Though my tongue were of steel, me should nought dure thereto. Women ne kept of no knight in druery,[4] But he were in arms well yproved, and atte least thrye.[5] That made, lo, the women the chaster life lead, And the knights the stalwarder, and the better in their deed. Soon after this noble meat, as right was of such tide, The knights atyled them about in eachë side, In fields and in meadows to prove their bachlery,[6] Some with lance, some with sword, without villany, With playing at tables, other attë chekere,[7] With casting, other with setting,[8] other in some other mannere. And which so of any game had the mastery, The king them of his giftës did large courtesy. Up the alurs[9] of the castle the ladies then stood, And beheld this noble game, and which knights were good. All the three extë dayës[10] ylastë this nobley, In halle’s and in fieldës, of meat and eke of play. These men come the fourth day before the kingë there, And he gave them large gifts, ever as they worthy were. Bishoprics and churches’ clerks he gave some, And castles and townës knights that were ycome.

[1] ‘Tho the service was ydo:’ when the service was done. [2] ‘Meinie:’ attendants.
[3] ‘Nome’: brought.
[4] ‘Druery.’ modesty, decorum.
[5] ‘Thrye:’ thrice.
[6] ‘Bachlery:’ chivalry, courage, or youth. [7] ‘Chekere:’ chess.
[8] ‘With casting, other with setting:’ different ways of playing at chess.
[9] ‘Alurs:’ walks made within the battlements of the castle. [10] ‘Extë dayës:’ high, or chief days.


It was a tradition invented by the old fablers that giants brought the stones of Stonehenge from the most sequestered deserts of Africa, and placed them in Ireland; that every stone was washed with juices of herbs, and contained a medical power; and that Merlin, the magician, at the request of King Arthur, transported them from Ireland, and erected them in circles on the plain of Amesbury, as a sepulchral monument for the Britons treacherously slain by Hengist. This fable is thus delivered, without decoration, by Robert of Glocester:–

‘Sir king,’ quoth Merlin then, ‘such thingë’s ywis Ne be for to shew nought, but when great need is, For if I said in bismare, other but it need were, Soon from me he would wend, the ghost that doth me lere.'[1] The king, then none other n’as, bid him some quaintise Bethink about thilk cors that so noble were and wise.[2] ‘Sir King,’ quoth Merlin then, ‘if thou wilt here cast In the honour of men, a work that ever shall ylast, To the hill of Kylar[3] send in to Ireland, After the noble stonës that there habbet[4] long ystand; That was the treche of giants,[5] for a quaintë work there is Of stonës all with art ymade, in the world such none is. Ne there n’is nothing that me should myd[6] strength adownë cast. Stood they here, as they doth there, ever a woulde last.’ The king somdeal to-lygh[7], when he heardë this tale: ‘How might,’ he said, ‘such stonës, so great and so fale,[8] Be ybrought of so far land? And yet mist of were, Me would ween that in this landë no stone to wonke n’ere.’ Sir king,’ quoth Merlin, ‘ne make nought an idle such laughing; For it n’is an idle nought that I tell this tiding. For in the farrest stude of Afric giants whilë fet [9] These stones for medicine and in Ireland them set, While they wonenden in Ireland to make their bathë’s there, There under for to bathë when they sick were. For they would the stonës wash and therein bathe ywis; For is no stone there among that of great virtue n’is.’ The king and his counsel rode the stones for to fet, And with great power of battle if any more them let. Uther, the kingë’s brother, that Ambrose hett[10] also, In another namë ychosë was thereto,
And fifteen thousand men, this deedë for to do, And Merlin for his quaintise thither went also.

[1] If I should say any thing out of wantonness or vanity, the spirit which teaches me would immediately leave me. [2] Bade him use his cunning, for the sake of the bodies of those noble and wise Britons.
[3] ‘Kylar:’ Kildare.
[4] ‘Habbet:’ have.
[5] ‘The treche of giants:’ ‘The dance of giants.’ The name of this collection of immense stones.
[6] ‘Myd:’ with.
[7] ‘Somdeal to-lygh:’ somewhat laughed. [8] ‘Fale:’ many.
[9] Giants once brought them from the furthest part of Africa. [10] ‘Hett:’ was called.


At the feast of Easter the king sent his sond,[1] That they comen all to London the high men of this lond, And the ladies all so good, to his noble feast wide, For he shouldë crown here, for the high tide. All the noble men of this land to the noble feast come, And their wivës and their daughtren with them many nome,[2] This feast was noble enow, and nobliche ydo; For many was the fair lady that ycome was thereto. Ygerne, Gorloys’ wife, was fairest of each one, That was Countess of Cornëwall, for so fair n’as there none. The king beheld her fast enow, and his heart on her cast, And thoughtë, though he were wise, to do folly at last. He made her semblant fair enow, to none other so great. The earl n’as not therewith ypayed[3], when he it under get. After meat he nome his wife myd[4] sturdy med enow, And, without leave of the king, to his country drow. The king sentë to him then, to byleve[5] all night, For he must of great counsel havë some insight. That was for nought. Would he not, the king sent yet his sond, That he byleved at his parlement, for need of the lond. The king was, when he n’oldë not, anguyssous and wroth. For despite he would a-wreak be he sworë his oath, But he come to amendëment. His power attë last He garked, and went forth to Cornëwall fast. Gorloys his castles a store all about.
In a strong castle he did his wife, for of her was all his doubt, In another himself he was, for he n’oldë nought, If cas[6] come, that they were both to death ybrought. The castle, that the earl in was, the king besieged fast, For he might not his gins for shame to the other cast. Then he was there seen not, and he speddë nought, Ygerne, the countessë, so much was in his thought, That he nustë none other wit, ne he ne might for shame Tell it but a privy knight, Ulfyn was his name, That he trustë most to. And when the knight heard thia, ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I ne can wit, what rede hereof is, For the castle is so strong, that the lady is in, For I ween all the land ne should it myd strengthë win. For the sea goeth all about, but entry one there n’is, And that is up on hardë rocks, and so narrow way it is, That there may go but one and one, that three men within Might slay all the laud, ere they come therein. And nought for then, if Merlin at the counsel were, If any might, he couthë the best rede thee lere.'[7] Merlin was soon of sent, pled it was him soon, That he should the best rede say, what were to don. Merlin was sorry enow for the kingë’s folly, And natheless, ‘Sir king,’ he said, ‘there may to mast’ry, The earl hath two men him near, Brithoel and Jordan. I will make thyself, if thou wilt, through art that I can, Have all the formë of the earl, as thou were right he, And Olfyn as Jordan, and as Brithoel me.’ This art was all clean ydo, that all changed they were, They three in the others’ form, the solve as it were. Against even he went forth, nustë[8] no man that cas; To the castle they come right as it even was. The porter ysaw his lord come, and his most privy twei, With good heart he let his lord in, and his men bey. The countess was glad enow, when her lord to her come And either other in their arms myd great joy nome. When they to beddë come, that so long a-two were, With them was so great delight, that between them there Begot was the best body, that ever was in this land, King Arthur the noble man, that ever worthy understand. When the king’s men nuste amorrow, where he was become, They fared as wodëmen, and wend[9] he were ynome.[10] They assaileden the castle, as it should adown anon, They that within were, garked them each one, And smote out in a full will, and fought myd there fone: So that the earl was yslaw, and of his men many one, And the castle was ynome, and the folk to-sprad there, Yet, though they haddë all ydo, they ne found not the king there. The tiding to the countess soon was ycome, That her lord was yslaw, and the castle ynome. And when the messenger him saw the earl, as him thought, That he had so foul plow, full sore him of thought, The countess made somedeal deol,[11] for no sothness they nustë. The king, for to glad her, beclipt her and cust. ‘Dame,’ he said,’ no sixt thou well, that les it is all this: Ne wo’st thou well I am alive. I will thee say how it is. Out of the castle stillëlich I went all in privity, That none of minë men it nustë, for to speak with thee. And when they mist me to-day, and nuste where I was, They fareden right as giddy men, myd whom no rede n’as, And foughtë with the folk without, and have in this mannere Ylore the castle and themselve, and well thou wo’st I am here. And for my castle, that is ylore, sorry I am enow, And for my men, that the king and his power slew. And my power is to lute, therefore I dreadë sore, Lestë the king us nyme[12] here, and sorrow that we were more. Therefore I will, how so it be, wend against the king, And make my peace with him, ere he us to shamë bring.’ Forth he went, and het[13] his men if the king come, That they shouldë him the castle yield, ere he with strength it nome. So he come toward his men, his own form he nome, And leaved the earl’s form, and the king Uther become. Sore him of thought the earlë’s death, and in other half he found Joy in his heart, for the countess of spousehed was unbound, When he had that he would, and paysed[14] with his son, To the countess he went again, me let him in anon. “What halt[15] it to tale longë? but they were set at one, In great love long enow, when it n’oldë other gon; And had together this noble son, that in the world his pere n’as, The king Arthur, and a daughter, Anne her namë was.

[1] ‘Sond’ message.
[2] ‘Nome:’ took.
[3] ‘Ypayed:’ satisfied.
[4] ‘Myd:’ with.
[5] ‘Byleve:’ stay.
[6] ‘Cas:’ chance.
[7] ‘Lere:’ teach.
[8] ‘Nustë:’ knew.
[9] ‘Wend:’ thought.
[10] ‘Ynome:’ taken.
[11] ‘Deol:’ grief.
[12] ‘Nyme:’ take.
[13] ‘Het:’ bade.
[14] ‘Paysed:’ made peace.
[15] ‘Halt:’ holdeth.

The next name of note is Robert, commonly called De Brunne. His real name was Robert Manning. He was born at Malton in Yorkshire; for some time belonged to the house of Sixhill, a Gilbertine monastery in Yorkshire; and afterwards became a member of Brunne or Browne, a priory of black canons in the same county. When monastical writers became famous, they were usually designated from the religious houses to which they belonged. Thus it was with Matthew of Westminster, William of Malmesbury, and John of Glastonbury–all received their appellations from their respective monasteries. De Brunne’s principal work is a Chronicle of the History of England, in rhyme. It can in no way be considered an original production, but is partly translated, and partly compiled from the writings of Maistre Wace and Peter de Langtoft, which latter was a canon of Bridlington in Yorkshire, of Norman origin, but born in England, and the author of an entire History of his country in French verse, down to the end of the reign of Edward I. Brunne’s Chronicle seems to have been written about the year 1303. We extract the Prologue, and two other passages:–


‘Lordlingës that be now here,
If ye willë listen and lere,
All the story of England,
As Robert Mannyng written it fand, And in English has it shewed,
Not for the leared but for the lewed;[1] For those that on this land wonn
That the Latin ne Frankys conn,[2] For to have solace and gamen
In fellowship when they sit samen, And it is wisdom for to witten
The state of the land, and have it written, “What manner of folk first it wan,
And of what kind it first began.
And good it is for many things,
For to hear the deeds of kings,
Whilk were fools, and whilk were wise, And whilk of them couth[3] most quaintise; And whilk did wrong, and whilk right,
And whilk maintained peace and fight. Of their deedës shall be my saw,
In what time, and of what law,
I shall you from gre to gre,[4]
Since the time of Sir Noe:
From Noe unto Eneas,
And what betwixt them was,
And from Eneas till Brutus’ time,
That kind he tells in this rhyme.
For Brutus to Cadwallader’s,
The last Briton that this land lees. All that kind and all the fruit
That come of Brutus that is the Brute; And the right Brute is told no more
Than the Britons’ timë wore.
After the Britons the English camen, The lordship of this land they nameu;
South and north, west and east,
That call men now the English gest. When they first among the Britons,
That now are English then were Saxons, Saxons English hight all oliche.
They arrived up at Sandwiche,
In the kings since Vortogerne
That the land would them not werne, &c. One Master Wace the Frankës tells
The Brute all that the Latin spells, From Eneas to Cadwallader, &c.
And right as Master Wacë says,
I tell mine English the same ways,’ &c.

[1] ‘Lowed:’ ignorant.
[2] ‘Conn:’ know.
[3] ‘Couth:’ knew.
[4] ‘Gre:’ step.


Hengist that day did his might,
That all were glad, king and knight, And as they were best in glading,
And wele cop schotin[1] knight and king, Of chamber Rouewen so gent,
Before the king in hall she went.
A cup with wine she had in hand,
And her attire was well-farand.[2] Before the king on knee set,
And in her language she him gret.
‘Lauerid[3] king, Wassail,’ said she. The king asked, what should be.
In that language the king ne couth.[4] A knight the language lered[5] in youth. Breg hight that knight, born Bretoun,
That lered the language of Sessoun.[6] This Breg was the latimer,[7]
What she said told Vortager.
‘Sir,’ Breg said, ‘Rowen you greets, And king calls and lord you leets.[8]
This is their custom and their gest, When they are at the ale or feast.
Ilk man that louis quare him think, Shall say Wosseil, and to him drink.
He that bidis shall say, Wassail,
The other shall say again, Drinkhail. That says Wosseil drinks of the cup,
Kissing his fellow he gives it up. Drinkheil, he says, and drinks thereof, Kissing him in bourd and skof.'[9]
The king said, as the knight ‘gan ken,[10] Drinkheil, smiling on Rouewen.
Rouwen drank as her list,
And gave the king, sine[11] him kist. There was the first wassail in deed,
And that first of fame gede.[12]
Of that wassail men told great tale, And wassail when they were at ale,
And drinkheil to them that drank,
Thus was wassail tane[13] to thank. Fele sithës[14] that maiden ying,[15]
Wassailed and kist the king.
Of body she was right avenant,[16] Of fair colour, with sweet semblant.[17] Her attire full well it seemed,
Mervelik[18] the king she quemid.[19] Out of measure was he glad,
For of that maiden he were all mad. Drunkenness the fiend wrought,
Of that paen[20] was all his thought. A mischance that time him led,
He asked that paen for to wed.
Hengist wild not draw a lite,[21]
But granted him, allë so tite.[22] And Hors his brother consented soon.
Her friendis said, it were to don. They asked the king to give her Kent,
In douery to take of rent.
Upon that maiden his heart so cast, That they asked the king made fast.
I ween the king took her that day, And wedded her on paien’s lay.[23]
Of priest was there no benison
No mass sungen, no orison.
In seisine he had her that night.
Of Kent he gave Hengist the right. The earl that time, that Kent all held, Sir Goragon, that had the sheld,
Of that gift no thing ne wist
To[24] he was cast out with[25] Hengist.

[1] ‘Schotin:’ sending about the cups briskly. [2] ‘Well-farand:’ very rich.
[3] ‘Lauerid:’ lord.
[4] ‘Ne couth:’ knew not.
[5] ‘Lered:’ learned.
[6] ‘Sessoun:’ Saxons.
[7] ‘Latimer:’ _for_ Latiner, or Latinier, an interpreter. [8] ‘Leets:’ esteems.
[9] ‘Skof:’ sport, joke.
[10] ‘Ken:’ to signify.
[11] ‘Sine:’ then.
[12] ‘Cede:’ went.
[13] ‘Tane:’ taken.
[14] ‘Sithës:’ many times.
[15] ‘Ying:’ young.
[16] ‘Avenant:’ handsome.
[17] ‘Semblant:’ countenance.
[18] ‘Mervelik:’ marvellously.
[19] ‘Quemid:’ pleased.
[20] ‘Paen:’ pagan, heathen.
[21] ‘Wild not draw a lite:’ would not fly off a bit. [22] ‘Tite:’ happeneth.
[23] ‘On paien’s lay:’ in pagan’s law; according to the heathenish custom.
[24] ‘To:’ till.
[25] ‘With:’ by.


The dikes were fullë wide that closed the castle about, And deep on ilka side, with bankis high without. Was there none entry that to the castle ‘gan ligg,[1] But a strait kaucë;[2] at the end a draw-brig, With great double chainës drawen over the gate, And fifty armed swainës porters at that gate. With slingës and mangonels they cast to king Richard, Our Christians by parcels casted againward. Ten sergeants of the best his targe ‘gan him bear That eager were and prest[3] to cover him and to were.[4] Himself as a giant the chainës in two hew, The targe was his warant,[5] that none till him threw. Eight unto the gate with the targe they yede, Fighting on a gate, under him they slew his steed, Therefore ne would he cease, alone into the castele Through them all would press; on foot fought he full wele. And when he was within, and fought as a wild lión, He fondred the Sarazins otuynne,[6] and fought as a dragon, Without the Christians ‘gan cry, ‘Alas! Richard is taken;’ Then Normans were sorry, of countenance ‘gan blaken, To slay down and to’ stroy never would they stint, They left fordied[7] no noye,[8] ne for no wound no dint, That in went all their press, maugre the Sarazins all, And found Richard on dais fighting, and won the hall.

[1] ‘Ligg:’ lying.
[2] ‘Kaucë:’ causey.
[3] ‘Prest:’ ready.
[4] ‘Were:’ defend.
[5] ‘Warant:’ guard.
[6] ‘He fondred the Sarazins otuynne:’ he formed the Saracens into two parties.
[7] ‘Fordied:’ undone.
[8] ‘No noye:’ annoy.

Of De Brunne, Warton judiciously remarks–‘Our author also translated into English rhymes the treatise of Cardinal Bonaventura, his contemporary, _De coena et passione Domini, et paenis S. Mariae Virgins_. But I forbear to give more extracts from this writer, who appears to have possessed much more industry than genius, and cannot at present be read with much pleasure. Yet it should be remembered that even such a writer as Robert de Brunne, uncouth and unpleasing as he naturally seems, and chiefly employed in turning the theology of his age into rhyme, contributed to form a style, to teach expression, and to polish his native tongue. In the infancy of language and composition, nothing is wanted but writers;–at that period even the most artless have their use.’

Here we may allude to the introduction of romantic fiction into English poetry. This had, as we have seen, reigned in France. There troubadours in Provence, and men more worthy of the name of poets in Normandy, had long sung of Brutus, of Charlemagne, and of Rollo. And thence a class, called sometimes Joculators, sometimes Jongleurs, and sometimes Minstrels, issued, harp in hand, wandering to and fro, and singing tales of chivalry and love, composed either by themselves, or by other poets living or dead. (We refer our readers to our first volume of Percy’s ‘Reliques,’ for a full account of this class, and of the poetry they produced.) These wanderers reached England in due time and brought with them compositions which found favour and excited emulation, or at least imitation, in our vernacular genius. Hence came a great swarm of romances, all more or less derived from the French, even when Saxon in subject and style; such as ‘Sir Tristrem,’ (which Sir Walter Scott tried in vain to prove to be written by the famous Thomas the Rhymer, of Ercildoun, or Earlston, in Berwickshire, who died before 1299;) ‘The Life of Alexander the Great,’ said to be written by Adam Davie, Marshall of Stratford-le-Bow, who lived about 1312; ‘King Horn,’ which certainly belongs to the latter part of the thirteenth century; ‘The Squire of Low Degree; ‘Sir Guy;’ ‘Sir Degore;’ ‘The King of Tars;’ ‘King Robert of Sicily;’ ‘La Mort d’Arthur;’ ‘Impodemon;’ and, more lately, ‘Sir Libius;’ ‘Sir Thopas;’ ‘Sir Isenbras;’ ‘Gawan and Gologras;’ and ‘Sir Bevis.’ Richard I. also formed the subject of a very popular romance. We give extracts from it:–


‘Thou sayst thy God is full of might: Wilt thou grant with spear and shield,
To detryve the right in the field, With helm, hauberk, and brandës bright, On strongë steedës good and light,
Whether be of more power,
Thy God almight, or Jupiter?
And he sent rue to sayë this
If thou wilt have an horse of his, In all the lands that thou hast gone
Such ne thou sawest never none:
Favel of Cyprus, ne Lyard of Prys,[1] Be not at need as he is;
And if thou wilt, this samë day,
He shall be brought thee to assay.’ Richard answered, ‘Thou sayest well
Such a horse, by Saint Michael,
I would have to ride upon.—-
Bid him send that horse to me,
And I shall assay what he be,
If he be trusty, withoutë fail,
I keep none other to me in battail.’ The messengers then homë went,
And told the Soldan in present,
That Richard in the field would come him unto: The rich Soldan bade to come him unto
A noble clerk that couldë well conjure, That was a master necromansour:
He commanded, as I you tell,
Thorough the fiendë’s might of hell, Two strong fiendë’s of the air,
In likeness of two steedës fair,
Both like in hue and hair,
As men said that there were:
No man saw never none sich;
That one was a mare iliche,
That other a colt, a noble steed,
Where that he were in any mead,
(Were the knight never so bold.)
When the mare neigh wold,
(That him should hold against his will,) But soon he wouldë go her till,
And kneel down and suck his dame,
Therewith the Soldan with shame
Shouldë king Richard quell,
All this an angel ‘gan him tell,
That to him came about midnight.
‘Awake,’ he said, ‘Goddis knight:
My Lord doth thee to understand
That thee shalt come an horse to land, Fair it is, of body ypight,
To betray thee if the Soldan might; On him to ride have thou no drede
For he thee helpë shall at need.’

The angel gives king Richard several directions about managing this infernal horse, and a general engagement ensuing, between the Christian and Saracen armies,

He leapt on horse when it was light; Ere he in his saddle did leap
Of many thingës he took keep.–
His men brought them that he bade, A square tree of forty feet,
Before his saddle anon he it set,
Fast that they should it brase, &c. Himself was richëly begone,
From the crest right to the tone,[2] He was covered wondrously wele
All with splentës of good steel,
And there above an hauberk.
A shaft he had of trusty werk,
Upon his shoulders a shield of steel, With the libards[3] painted wele;
And helm he had of rich entaile,
Trusty and true was his ventaile:
Upon his crest a dovë white,
Significant of the Holy Sprite,
Upon a cross the dovë stood
Of gold ywrought rich and good,
God[4] himself, Mary and John,
As he was done the rood upon,[5]
In significance for whom he fought, The spear-head forgat he nought,
Upon his shaft he would it have
Goddis name thereon was grave;
Now hearken what oath he sware,
Ere they to the battaile went there: ‘If it were so, that Richard might
Slay the Soldan in field with fight, At our willë evereachone
He and his should gone
Into the city of Babylon;
And the king of Macedon
He should have under his hand;
And if the Soldan of that land
Might slay Richard in the field
With sword or spearë under shield, That Christian men shouldë go
Out of that land for evermo,
And the Saracens their will in wold.’ Quoth king Richard, ‘Thereto I hold,
Thereto my glove, as I am knight.’ They be armed and ready dight:
King Richard to his saddle did leap, Certes, who that would takë keep
To see that sight it were sair;
Their steedës rannë with great ayre,[6] All so hard as they might dyre,[7]
After their feetë sprang out fire: Tabors and trumpettës ‘gan blow:
There men might see in a throw
How king Richard, that noble man,
Encountered with the Soldan,
The chief was toldë of Damas,
His trust upon his marë was,
And therefor, as the book[8] us tells, His crupper hungë full of bells,
And his peytrel[9] and his arsowne[10] Three mile men might hear the soun.
His mare neighed, his bells did ring, For greatë pride, without lesing,
A falcon brode[11] in hand he bare, For he thought he wouldë there
Have slain Richard with treasoun
When his colt should kneelë down,
As a colt shouldë suck his dame,
And he was ‘warë of that shame,
His ears with wax were stopped fast, Therefore Richard was not aghast,
He struck the steed that under him went, And gave the Soldan his death with a dent: In his shieldë verament
Was painted a serpent,
With the spear that Richard held
He bare him thorough under his sheld, None of his armour might him last,
Bridle and peytrel all to-brast,
His girthës and his stirrups also, His ruare to groundë wentë tho;
Maugre her head, he made her seech The ground, withoutë morë speech,
His feet toward the firmament,
Behinde him the spear outwent
There he fell dead on the green,
Richard smote the fiend with spurrës keen, And in the name of the Holy Ghost
He driveth into the heathen host,
And as soon as he was come,
Asunder he brake the sheltron,[12] And all that ever afore him stode,
Horse and man to the groundë yode, Twenty foot on either side.
When the king of France and his men wist That the mast’ry had the Christian,
They waxed bold, and good heart took, Steedës bestrode, and shaftës shook.

[1] ‘Favel of Cyprus, ne Lyard of Prys:’ Favel of Cyprus, and Lyard of Paris, horses of Kichard’s.
[2] ‘Tone:’ toes.
[3] ‘Libards:’ leopards.
[4] ‘God:’ our Saviour.
[5] ‘As he was done the rood upon:’ as he died upon the cross. [6] ‘Ayre:’ ire.
[7] ‘Dyre:’ dare.
[8] ‘The book:’ the French romance. [9] ‘Peytrel:’ the breast-plate or breast-band of a horse. [10] ‘Arsowne:’ saddle-bow.
[11] ‘falcon brode:’ F. bird.
[12] ‘Sheltrou:’ ‘schiltron:’ soldiers drawn up in a circle.

From ‘Sir Degore’ we quote the description of a dragon, which Warton thinks drawn by a master:–


Degorë went forth his way,
Through a forest half a day:
He heard no man, nor sawë none,
Till it past the high none,
Then heard he great strokës fall,
That it made greatë noise withal,
Full soonë he thought that to see, To weetë what the strokes might be:
There was an earl, both stout and gay, He was come there that samë day,
For to hunt for a deer or a doe,
But his houndës were gone him fro. Then was there a dragon great and grim, Full of fire and also venim,
With a wide throat and tuskës great, Upon that knight fast ‘gan he beat.
And as a lion then was his feet,
His tail was long, and full unmeet: Between his head and his tail
Was twenty-two foot withouten fail; His body was like a wine tun,
He shone full bright against the sun: His eyes were bright as any glass,
His scales were hard as any brass; And thereto he was necked like a horse, He bare his head up with great force:
The breath of his mouth that did out blow As it had been a fire on lowe[1].
He was to look on, as I you tell,
As it had been a fiend of hell.
Many a man he had shent,
And many a horsë he had rent.

[1] ‘On lowe:’ in flame.

From Davie’s supposed ‘Life of Alexander’ we extract a description of a battle, which shews some energy of genius:–


Alisander before is ryde,
And many gentle a knight him myde;[1] As for to gather his meinie free,
He abideth under a tree:
Forty thousand of chivalry
He taketh in his company,
He dasheth him then fast forthward, And the other cometh afterward.
He seeth his knightës in mischief, He taketh it greatly a grief,
He takes Bultyphal[2] by the side, So as a swallow he ‘ginneth forth glide. A duke of Persia soon he met,
And with his lance he him grett.
He píerceth his breny, cleaveth his shieldë, The heartë tokeneth the yrnë;
The duke fell downë to the ground, And starf[3] quickly in that stound:
Alisander aloud then said,
Other toll never I ne paid,
Yet ye shallen of mine pay,
Ere I go more assay.
Another lance in hand he hent,
Against the prince of Tyre he went He … him thorough the breast and thare And out of saddle and crouthe him bare, And I say for soothë thing
He brake his neck in the falling.
… with muchel wonder,
Antiochus haddë him under,
And with sword would his heved[4]
From his body have yreaved:
He saw Alisander the goodë gome,
Towards him swithë come,
He lete[5] his prey, and flew on horse, For to save his owen corse:
Antiochus on steed leap,
Of none woundës ne took he keep,
And eke he had fourë forde
All ymade with spearës’ ord.[6]
Tholomeus and all his felawen[7]
Of this succour so weren welfawen, Alysander made a cry hardy,
‘Ore tost aby aby.’
Then the knightës of Achaÿ
Jousted with them of Araby,
They of Rome with them of Mede,
Many land….
Egypt jousted with them of Tyre,
Simple knights with richë sire:
There n’as foregift ne forbearing
Betweenë vavasour[8] ne king;
Before men mighten and behind
Cunteck[9] seek and cunteck find.
With Persians foughten the Gregeys,[10] There was cry and great honteys.[11]
They kidden[12] that they weren mice, They broken spearës all to slice.
There might knight find his pere,
There lost many his distrere:[13]
There was quick in little thraw,[14] Many gentle knight yslaw:
Many armë, many heved[15]
Some from the body reaved:
Many gentle lavedy[16]
There lost quick her amy.[17]
There was many maim yled,[18]
Many fair pensel bebled:[19]
There was swordës liklaking,[20]
There was spearës bathing,
Both kingës there sans doute
Be in dash’d with all their route, &c.

[1] ‘Myde:’ with.
[2] ‘Bultyphal:’ Bucephalus.
[3] ‘Starf:’ died.
[4] ‘Heved: head.
[5] ‘Lete:’ left.
[6] ‘Ord:’ point.
[7] ‘Felawen;’ fellows.
[7] ‘Vavasour:’ subject.
[8] ‘Cunteck:’ strife.
[9] ‘Gregeys:’ Greeks.
[10] ‘Honteys:’ shame.
[11] ‘Kidden:’ thought.
[12] ‘Distrere:’ horse.
[13] ‘Little thraw:’ short time.
[14] ‘Heved:’ head.
[15] ‘Lavedy:’ lady.
[16] ‘Amy:’ paramour.
[17] ‘Yled:’ led along, maimed.
[18] ‘Many fair pensel bebled:’ many a banner sprinkled with blood. [19] ‘Liklaking:’ clashing.

Davie was also the author of an original poem, entitled, ‘Visions in Verse,’ and of the ‘Battle of Jerusalem,’ in which he versifies a French romance. In this production Pilate is represented as challenging our Lord to single combat!

In 1349, died Richard Rollo, a hermit, and a verse-writer. He lived a secluded life near the nunnery of Hampole in Yorkshire, and wrote a number of devotional pieces, most of them very dull. In 1350, Lawrence Minot produced some short narrative ballads on the victories of Edward III., beginning with Halidon Hill, and ending with the siege of Guisnes Castle. His works lay till the end of the last century obscure in a MS. of the Cotton Collection, which was supposed to be a transcript of the Works of Chaucer. On a spare leaf of the MS. there had been accidentally written a name, probably that of its original possessor, ‘Richard Chawsir.’ This the getter-up of the Cotton catalogue imagined to be the name of Geoffrey Chaucer. Mr Tyrwhitt, while foraging for materials to his edition of ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ accidentally found out who the real writer was; and Ritson afterwards published Minot’s ballads, which are ten in number, written in the northern dialect, and in an alliterative style, and with considerable spirit and liveliness. He has been called the Tyrtaeus of his age.

We come now to the immediate predecessor of Chaucer–Robert Langlande. He was a secular priest, born at Mortimer’s Cleobury, in Shropshire, and educated at Oriel College, Oxford. He wrote, towards the end of the fourteenth century, a very remarkable work, entitled, ‘Visions of William concerning Piers Plowman.’ The general object of this poem is to denounce the abuses of society, and to inculcate, upon both clergy and laity, their respective duties. One William is represented as falling asleep among the Malvern Hills, and sees in his dream a succession of visions, in which great ingenuity, great boldness, and here and there a powerful vein of poetry, are displayed. Truth is described as a magnificent tower, and Falsehood as a deep dungeon. In one canto Religion descends, and gives a long harangue about what should be the conduct of society and of individuals. Bribery and Falsehood, in another part of the poem, seek a marriage with each other, and make their way to the courts of justice, where they find many friends. Some very whimsical passages are introduced. The Power of Grace confers upon Piers Plowman, who stands for the Christian Life, four stout oxen, to cultivate the field of Truth. These are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the last of whom is described as the gentlest of the team. She afterwards assigns him the like number of stots or bullocks, to harrow what the evangelists had ploughed, and this new horned team consists of Saint or Stot Ambrose, Stot Austin, Stot Gregory, and Stot Jerome.

Apart from its fantastic structure, ‘Piers Plowman’ was not only a sign of the times, but did great service in its day. His voice rings like that of Israel’s minor prophets–like Nahum or Hosea–in a dark and corrupt age. He proclaims liberal and independent sentiments, he attacks slavery and superstition, and he predicts the doom of the Papacy as with a thunder-knell. Chaucer must have felt roused to his share of the reformatory work by the success of ‘Piers Plowman;’ Spenser is suspected to have read and borrowed from him; and even Milton, in his description of a lazar-house in ‘Paradise Lost,’ had him probably in his eye. (See our last extract from ‘Piers.’)

On account of the great merit and peculiarity of this work we proceed to make rather copious extracts.


Then ‘gan I to meten[1] a marvellous sweven,[2] That I was in wilderness, I wist never where: As I beheld into the east, on high to the sun, I saw a tower on a loft, richly ymaked, A deep dale beneath, a dungeon therein, With deep ditches and dark, and dreadful of sight: A fair field full of folk found I there between, Of all manner men, the mean and the rich, Working and wand’ring, as the world asketh; Some put them to the plough, playeden full seld, In setting and sowing swonken[3] full hard: And some put them to pride, &c.

[1] ‘Meten:’ dream.
[2] ‘Sweven:’ dream.
[3] ‘Swonken:’ toiled.


Thus robed in russet, I roamed about All a summer season, for to seek Dowell And freyned[1] full oft, of folk that I met If any wight wist where Dowell was at inn, And what man he might be, of many man I asked; Was never wight as I went, that me wysh[2] could Where this lad lenged,[3] lessë or more, Till it befell on a Friday, two friars I met Masters of the Minors,[4] men of greatë wit. I halsed them hendely,[5] as I had learned, And prayed them for charity, ere they passed further, If they knew any court or country as they went Where that Dowell dwelleth, do me to wit,[6] For they be men on this mould, that most widë walk And know countries and courts, and many kinnes[7] places, Both princes’ palaces, and poor mennë’s cotes, And Dowell, and Doevil, where they dwell both. ‘Amongst us,’ quoth the Minors, ‘that man is dwelling And ever hath as I hope, and ever shall hereafter.’ Contra, quod I, as a clerk, and cumsed to disputen, And said them soothly, _Septies in die cadit justus_, Seven sythes,[8] sayeth the book, sinneth the rightful, And whoso sinneth, I say, doth evil as methinketh, And Dowell and Doevil may not dwell together, Ergo he is not alway among you friars;
He is other while elsewhere, to wyshen[9] the people. ‘I shall say thee, my son,’ said the friar then, ‘How seven sithes the saddë[10] man on a day sinneth, By a forvisne'[11] quod the friar, ‘I shall thee fair shew; Let bring a man in a boat, amid the broad water, The wind and the water, and the boatë wagging, Make a man many time, to fall and to stand, For stand he never so stiff, he stumbleth if he move, And yet is he safe and sound, and so him behoveth, For if he ne arise the rather, and raght[12] to the steer, The wind would with the water the boat overthrow, And then were his life lost through latches[13] of himself. And thus it falleth,’ quod the friar, ‘by folk here on earth, The water is lik’ned to the world, that waneth and waxeth, The goods of this world are likened to the great waves That as winds and weathers, walken about, The boat is liken’d to our body, that brittle is of kind, That through the flesh, and the frailë world Sinneth the saddë man, a day seven times, And deadly sin doeth he not, for Dowell him keepeth, And that is Charity the champion, chief help against sin, For he strengtheth man to stand, and stirreth man’s soul, And though thy body bow, as boatë doth in water, Aye is thy soulë safe, but if thou wilt thyself Do a deadly sin, and drenchë[14] so thy soul, God will suffer well thy sloth, if thyself liketh, For he gave thee two years’ gifts, to teme well thyself, And that is wit and free-will, to every wight a portion, To flying fowlës, to fishes, and to beasts, And man hath most thereof, and most is to blame But if he work well therewith, as Dowell him teacheth.’ ‘I have no kind knowing,’ quoth I, ‘to conceive all your wordës And if I may live and look, I shall go learnë better; I beken[15] the Christ, that on the crossë died;’ And I said, ‘The samë save you from mischance, And give you grace on this ground good me to worth.’ And thus I went wide where, walking mine one By a wide wilderness, and by a woodë’s side, Bliss of the birdës brought me on sleep, And under a lind[16] on a land, leaned I a stound[17] To lyth[18] the layës, those lovely fowlës made, Mirth of their mouthës made me there to sleep. The marvellousest metelles mettë[19] me then That ever dreamed wight, in world as I went. A much man as me thought, and like to myself, Came and called me, by my kindë[20] namë. ‘What art thou,’ quod I then, ‘thou that my namë knowest?’ ‘That thou wottest well,’ quod he, ‘and no wight better.’ ‘Wot I what thou art?’ Thought said he then, ‘I have sued[21] thee this seven years, see ye me no rather?’ ‘Art thou Thought?’ quoth I then, ‘thou couldest me wyssh[22] Where that Dowell dwelleth, and do me that to know.’ ‘Dowell, and Dobetter, and Dobest the third,’ quod he, ‘Are three fair virtues, and be not far to find, Whoso is true of his tongue, and of his two handës, And through his labour or his lod, his livelod winneth, And is trusty of his tayling,[23] taketh but his own, And is no drunkelow ne dedigious, Dowell him followeth; Dobet doth right thus, and he doth much more, He is as low as a lamb, and lovëly of speech, And helpeth all men, after that them needeth; The baggës and the bigirdles, he hath to-broke them all, That the earl avarous heldë and his heirës, And thus to mammons many he hath made him friends, And is run to religion, and hath rend’red[24] the Bible And preached to the people Saint Paulë’s wordës, _Libenter suffertis insipientes, cum sitis ipsi sapientes_.

* * * * *

And suffereth the unwise with you for to live, And with glad will doth he good, for so God you hoteth.[25] Dobest is above both, and beareth a bishop’s cross Is hooked on that one end to halye[26] men from hell; A pike is on the potent[27] to pull down the wicked That waiten any wickedness, Dowell to tene;[28] And Dowell and Dobet amongst them have ordained To crown one to be king, to rule them boeth, That if Dowell and Dobet are against Dobest, Then shall the king come, and cast them in irons, And but if Dobest bid for them, they be there for ever. Thus Dowell and Dobet, and Dobestë the third, Crowned one to be king, to keepen them all, And to rule the realmë by their three wittës, And none otherwise but as they three assented.’ I thanked Thought then, that he me thus taught, And yet favoureth me not thy suging, I covet to learn How Dowell, Dobest, and Dobetter do among the people. ‘But Wit can wish[29] thee,’ quoth Thought, ‘where they three dwell, Else wot I none that can tell that now is alive.’ Thought and I thus, three dayës we yeden[30] Disputing upon Dowell, dayë after other. And ere we were ‘ware, with Wit ‘gan we meet. He was long and leanë, like to none other, Was no pride on his apparel, nor poverty neither; Sad of his semblance, and of soft cheer; I durst not move no matter, to make him to laugh, But as I bade Thought then be mean between, And put forth some purpose to prevent his wits, What was Dowell from Dobet, and Dobest from them both? Then Thought in that timë said these wordës; ‘Whether Dowell, Dobet, and Dobest be in land, Here is well would wit, if Wit could teach him, And whether he be man or woman, this man fain would espy, And work as they three would, this is his intent.’ ‘Here Dowell dwelleth,’ quod Wit, ‘not a day hence, In a castle that kind[31] made, of four kinds things; Of earth and air is it made, mingled together With wind and with water, witterly[32] enjoined; Kindë hath closed therein, craftily withal, A leman[33] that he loveth, like to himself, Anima she hight, and Envy her hateth,
A proud pricker of France, _princeps hujus mundi_, And would win her away with wiles and he might; And Kind knoweth this well, and keepeth her the better. And doth her with Sir Dowell is duke of these marches; Dobet is her damosel, Sir Dowell’s daughter, To serve this lady lelly,[34] both late and rathe.[35] Dobest is above both, a bishop’s pere;
That he bids must be done; he ruleth them all. Anima, that lady, is led by his learning, And the constable of the castle, that keepeth all the watch, Is a wise knight withal, Sir Inwit he hight, And hath five fair sonnës by his first wife, Sir Seewell and Saywell, and Hearwell-the-end, Sir Workwell-with-thy-hand, a wight man of strength, And Sir Godfray Gowell, great lordës forsooth. These five be set to save this lady Anima, Till Kind come or send, to save her for ever.’ ‘What kind thing is Kind,’ quod I, ‘canst thou me tell?’– ‘Kind,’ quod Wit, ‘is a creator of all kinds things, Father and former of all that ever was maked, And that is the great God that ‘ginning had never, Lord of life and of light, of bliss and of pain, Angels and all thing are at his will,
And man is him most like, of mark and of shape, For through the word that he spake, wexen forth beasts, And made Adam, likest to himself one,
And Eve of his ribbë bone, without any mean, For he was singular himself, and said _Faciamus_, As who say more must hereto, than my wordë one, My might must helpë now with my speech, Even as a lord should make letters, and he lacked parchment, Though he could write never so well, if he had no pen, The letters, for all his lordship, I ‘lieve were never ymarked; And so it seemeth by him, as the Bible telleth, There he saidë, _Dixit et facta sunt_.
He must work with his word, and his wit shew; And in this manner was man made, by might of God Almighty, With his word and his workmanship, and with life to last, And thus God gave him a ghost[36] of the Godhead of heaven, And of his great grace granted him bliss, And that is life that aye shall last, to all our lineage after; And that is the castle that Kindë made, Caro it hight, And is as much to meanë as man with a soul, And that he wrought with work and with word both; Through might of the majesty, man was ymaked. Inwit and Allwits closed been therein,
For love of the lady Anima, that life is nempned.[37] Over all in man’s body, she walketh and wand’reth, And in the heart is her home, and her most rest, And Inwit is in the head, and to the heartë looketh, What Anima is lief or loth,[38] he leadeth her at his will Then had Wit a wife, was hotë Dame Study, That leve was of lere, and of liche boeth. She was wonderly wrought, Wit me so teached, And all staring, Dame Study sternëly said; ‘Well art thou wise,’ quoth she to Wit, ‘any wisdoms to tell To flatterers or to foolës, that frantic be of wits;’ And blamed him and banned him, and bade him be still, With such wisë wordës, to wysh any sots, And said, ‘_Noli mittere_, man, _margaritae_, pearls, Amongë hoggës, that havë hawes at will. They do but drivel thereon, draff were them lever,[39] Than all precious pearls that in paradise waxeth.[40] I say it, by such,’ quod she, ‘that shew it by their works, That them were lever[41] land and lordship on earth, Or riches or rentës, and rest at their will, Than all the sooth sawës that Solomon said ever. Wisdom and wit now is not worth a kerse,[42] But if it be carded with covetise, as clothers kemb their wool; Whoso can contrive deceits, and conspire wrongs, And lead forth a lovëday,[43] to let with truth, He that such craftës can is oft cleped to counsel, They lead lords with lesings, and belieth truth. Job the gentle in his gests greatly witnesseth That wicked men wielden the wealth of this world; The Psalter sayeth the same, by such as do evil; _Ecce ipsi peccatores abundantes in seculo obtinuerunt divitias_. Lo, saith holy lecture, which lords be these shrewes? Thilkë that God giveth most, least good they dealeth, And most unkind be to that comen, that most chattel wieldeth.[44] _Quae perfecisti destrutxerunt, justus autem, &c_. Harlots for their harlotry may have of their goodës, And japers and juggelers, and janglers of jestës, And he that hath holy writ aye in his mouth, And can tell of Tobie, and of the twelve apostles, Or preach of the penance that Pilate falsely wrought To Jesu the gentle, that Jewës to-draw: Little is he loved that such a lesson sheweth; Or daunten or draw forth, I do it on God himself, But they that feign they foolës, and with fayting[45] liveth, Against the lawë of our Lord, and lien on themself, Spitten and spewen, and speak foulë wordës, Drinken and drivellen, and do men for to gape, Liken men, and lie on them, and lendeth them no giftës, They can[46] no more minstrelsy nor music men to glad, Than Mundie, the miller, of _multa fecit Deus_. Ne were their vile harlotry, have God my truth, Shouldë never king nor knight, nor canon of Paul’s Give them to their yearë’s gift, nor gift of a groat, And mirth and minstrelsy amongst men is nought; Lechery, losenchery,[47] and losels’ talës, Gluttony and great oaths, this mirth they loveth, And if they carpen[48] of Christ, these clerkës and these lewed, And they meet in their mirth, when minstrels be still, When telleth they of the Trinity a talë or twain, And bringeth forth a blade reason, and take Bernard to witness, And put forth a presumption to prove the sooth, Thus they drivel at their dais[49] the Deity to scorn, And gnawen God to their gorge[50] when their guts fallen; And the careful[51] may cry, and carpen at the gate, Both a-hunger’d and a-thirst, and for chill[52] quake, Is none to nymen[53] them near, his noyel[54] to amend, But hunten him as a hound, and hoten[55] him go hence. Little loveth he that Lord that lent him all that bliss, That thus parteth with the poor; a parcel when him needeth Ne were mercy in mean men, more than in rich; Mendynauntes meatless[56] might go to bed. God is much in the gorge of these greatë masters, And amongës mean men, his mercy and his workës, And so sayeth the Psalter, I have seen it oft. Clerks and other kinnes men carpen of God fast, And have him much in the mouth, and meanë men in heart; Friars and faitours[57] have founden such questions To please with the proud men, sith the pestilence time, And preachen at St Paulë’s, for pure envy of clerks, That folk is not firmed in the faith, nor free of their goods, Nor sorry for their sinnës, so is pride waxen, In religion, and in all the realm, amongst rich and poor; That prayers have no power the pestilence to let, And yet the wretches of this world are none ‘ware by other, Nor for dread of the death, withdraw not their pride, Nor be plenteous to the poor, as pure charity would, But in gains and in gluttony, forglote goods themself, And breaketh not to the beggar, as the book teacheth. And the more he winneth, and waxeth wealthy in riches, And lordeth in landës, the less good he dealeth. Tobie telleth ye not so, takë heed, ye rich, How the bible book of him beareth witness; Whoso hath much, spend manly, so meaneth Tobit, And whoso little wieldeth, rule him thereafter; For we have no letter of our life, how long it shall endure. Suchë lessons lordës shouldë love to hear, And how he might most meinie, manlich find; Not to fare as a fiddeler, or a friar to seek feasts, Homely at other men’s houses, and haten their own. Elenge[58] is the hall every day in the week; There the lord nor the lady liketh not to sit, Now hath each rich a rule[59] to eaten by themself In a privy parlour, for poorë men’s sake, Or in a chamber with a chimney, and leave the chief hall That was made for mealës men to eat in.’– And when that Wit was ‘ware what Dame Study told, He became so confuse he cunneth not look, And as dumb as death, and drew him arear, And for no carping I could after, nor kneeling to the earth I might get no grain of his greatë wits, But all laughing he louted, and looked upon Study, In sign that I shouldë beseechen her of grace, And when I was ‘ware of his will, to his wife I louted And said, ‘Mercie, madam, your man shall I worth As long as I live both late and early,
For to worken your will, the while my life endureth, With this that ye ken me kindly, to know to what is Dowell.’ ‘For thy meekness, man,’ quoth she, ‘and for thy mild speech, I shall ken thee to my cousin, that Clergy is hoten.[60] He hath wedded a wife within these six moneths, Is syb[61] to the seven arts, Scripture is her name; They two as I hope, after my teaching,
Shall wishen thee Dowell, I dare undertake.’ Then was I as fain as fowl of fair morrow, And gladder than the gleeman that gold hath to gift, And asked her the highway where that Clergy[62] dwelt. ‘And tell me some token,’ quoth I, ‘for time is that I wend.’ ‘Ask the highway,’ quoth she, ‘hencë to suffer Both well and woe, if that thou wilt learn; And ride forth by riches, and rest thou not therein, For if thou couplest ye therewith, to Clergy comest thou never, And also the likorous land that Lechery hight, Leave it on thy left half, a largë mile and more, Till thou come to a court, keep well thy tongue From leasings and lyther[63] speech, and likorous drinkës, Then shalt thou see Sobriety, and Simplicity of speech, That each might be in his will, his wit to shew, And thus shall ye come to Clergy that can many things; Say him this sign, I set him to school, And that I greet well his wife, for I wrote her many books, And set her to Sapience, and to the Psalter glose; Logic I learned her, and many other laws, And all the unisons to music I made her to know; Plato the poet, I put them first to book, Aristotle and other more, to argue I taught, Grammer for girlës, I gard[64] first to write, And beat them with a bales but if they would learn; Of all kindës craftës I contrived toolës, Of carpentry, of carvers, and compassed masons, And learned them level and line, though I look dim; And Theology hath tened[65] me seven score timës; The more I muse therein, the mistier it seemeth, And the deeper I divine, the darker me it thinketh.

[1] ‘Freyned:’ inquired.
[2] ‘Wysh:’ inform.
[3] ‘Lenged:’ lived.
[4] ‘Minors:’ the friars minors.
[5] ‘Halsed them hendely:’ saluted them kindly. [6] ‘Do me to wit:’ make me to know.
[7] ‘Kinnes:’ sorts of.
[8] ‘Sythes:’ times.
[9] ‘Wyshen:’ inform, teach.
[10] ‘Saddë:’ sober, good.
[11] ‘Forvisne:’ similitude.
[12] ‘Raght:’ reach.
[13] ‘Latches:’ laziness.
[14] ‘Drenchë:’ drown.
[15] ‘Beken:’ confess.
[16] ‘Lind:’ lime-tree.
[17] ‘A stound:’ a while.
[18] ‘Lyth:’ listen.
[19] ‘Mettë:’ dreamed.
[20] ‘Kinde:’ own.
[21] ‘Sued:’ sought.
[22] ‘Wyssh:’ inform.
[23] ‘Tayling:’ dealing.
[24] ‘Rend’red:’ translated.
[25] ‘Hoteth:’ biddeth.
[26] ‘Halve:’ draw.
[27] ‘Potent:’ staff.
[28] ‘Tene:’ grieve.
[29] ‘Wish:’ inform.
[30] ‘Yeden:’ went.
[31] ‘Kind:’ nature.
[32] ‘Witterly:’ cunningly.
[33] ‘Leman:’ paramour.
[34] ‘Lelly:’ fair.
[35] ‘Rathe:’ early.
[36] ‘Ghost:’ spirit.
[37] ‘Nempned:’ named.
[38] ‘Loth:’ willing.
[39] ‘Lever:’ rather.
[40] ‘Waxeth: grow.
[41] ‘Them were lever:’ they had rather. [42] ‘Kerse:’ curse.
[43] ‘Lovëday:’lady.
[44] ‘Wieldeth:’ commands.
[45] ‘Fayting:’ deceiving.
[46] ‘Can:’ know.
[47] ‘Losenchery:’ lying.
[48] ‘Carpen:’ speak.
[49] ‘Dais:’ table.
[50] ‘Gorge:’ throat.
[51] ‘Careful:’ poor.
[52] ‘Chill:’ cold.
[53] ‘Nymen:’ take.
[54] ‘Noye:’ trouble.
[55] ‘Hoten:’ order.
[56] ‘Mendynauntes meatless:’ beggars supperless. [57] ‘Faitours:’ idle fellows.
[58] ‘Elenge:’ strange, deserted.
[59] ‘Rule:’ custom.
[60] ‘Hoten:’ named.
[61] ‘Syb:’ mother.
[62] ‘Clergy:’ learning.
[63] ‘Lyther:’ wanton.
[64] ‘Gard:’ made.
[65] ‘Tened:’ grieved.


And then came Covetise; can I him no descrive, So hungerly and hollow, so sternëly he looked, He was bittle-browed and baberlipped also; With two bleared eyen as a blindë hag,
And as a leathern pursë lolled his cheekës, Well sider than his chin they shivered for cold: And as a bondman of his bacon his beard was bidrauled, With a hood on his head, and a lousy hat above. And in a tawny tabard,[1] of twelve winter age, Allë torn and baudy, and full of lice creeping; But that if a louse could have leapen the better, She had not walked on the welt, so was it threadbare. ‘I have been Covetise,’ quoth this caitiff, ‘For sometime I served Symmë at style,
And was his prentice plight, his profit to wait. First I learned to lie, a leef other twain Wickedly to weigh, was my first lesson: To Wye and to Winchester I went to the fair With many manner merchandise, as my master me hight.– Then drave I me among drapers my donet[2] to learn. To draw the lyfer along, the longer it seemed Among the rich rays,’ &c.

[1] ‘Tabard:’ a coat.
[2] ‘Donet:’ lesson.


And now is religion a rider, a roamer by the street, A leader of lovëdays,[1] and a loudë[2] beggar, A pricker on a palfrey from manor to manor, An heap of houndës at his arse as he a lord were. And if but his knave kneel, that shall his cope bring, He loured on him, and asked who taught him courtesy.

[1] ‘Lovëdays:’ ladies.
[2] ‘Loudë:’ lewd.


Out of the west coast, a wench, as methought, Came walking in the way, to heavenward she looked; Mercy hight that maidë, a meek thing withal, A full benign birdë, and buxom of speech; Her sister, as it seemed, came worthily walking, Even out of the east, and westward she looked, A full comely creature, Truth she hight, For the virtue that her followed afeared was she never. When these maidens met, Mercy and Truth, Either asked other of this great marvel, Of the din and of the darkness, &c.


Kind Conscience then heard, and came out of the planets, And sent forth his forriours, Fevers and Fluxes, Coughës and Cardiacles, Crampës and Toothaches, Rheumës, and Radgondes, and raynous Scallës, Boilës, and Botches, and burning Agues, Phreneses and foul Evil, foragers of Kind! There was ‘Harow! and Help! here cometh Kind, With Death that is dreadful, to undo us all!’ The lord that liveth after lust then aloud cried. _Age the hoar, he was in the va-ward,
And bare the banner before Death: by right he it claimed._ Kindë came after, with many keenë sorës, As Pocks and Pestilences, and much people shent. So Kind through corruptions, killed full many: Death came driving after, and all to dust pashed Kings and Kaisers, knightës and popës.
Many a lovely lady, and leman of knights, Swooned and swelted for sorrow of Death’s dints. Conscience, of his courtesy, to Kind he besought To cease and sufire, and see where they would Leave Pride privily, and be perfect Christian, And Kind ceased then, to see the people amend.

‘Piers Plowman’ found many imitators. One wrote ‘Piers the Plowman’s Crede;’ another, ‘The Plowman’s Tale;’ another, a poem on ‘Alexander the Great; ‘another, on the ‘Wars of the Jews;’ and another, ‘A Vision of Death and Life,’ extracts from all which may be found in Warton’s ‘History of English Poetry.’

We close this preliminary essay by giving a very ancient hymn to the Virgin, as a specimen of the once universally-prevalent alliterative poetry.


Hail be you, Mary, mother and may,
Mild, and meek, and merciable;
Hail, folliche fruit of soothfast fay, Against each strife steadfast and stable; Hail, soothfast soul in each, a say,
Under the sun is none so able;
Hail, lodge that our Lord in lay,
The foremost that never was founden in fable; Hail, true, truthful, and tretable,
Hail, chief ychosen of chastity,
Hail, homely, hendy, and amiable:
_To pray for us to thy Sonë so free!_ AVE.


Hail, star that never stinteth light; Hail, bush burning that never was brent; Hail, rightful ruler of every right,
Shadow to shield that should be shent; Hail, blessed be you blossom bright,
To truth and trust was thine intent; Hail, maiden and mother, most of might, Of all mischiefs an amendëment;
Hail, spice sprung that never was spent; Hail, throne of the Trinity;
Hail, scion that God us soon to sent, _You pray for us thy Sonë free!_ AVE.


Hail, heartily in holiness;
Hail, hope of help to high and low; Hail, strength and stel of stableness;
Hail, window of heaven wowe;
Hail, reason of righteousness,
To each a caitiff comfort to know; Hail, innocent of angerness,
Our takel, our tol, that we on trow; Hail, friend to all that beoth forth flow; Hail, light of love, and of beauty,
Hail, brighter than the blood on snow: _You pray for us thy Sonë free!_ AVE.