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table and “turning the leaves lovingly' while he transcribes into the language of the people, the rude epic of their nation.” That he should write in English a poem on a subject which was already treated in French in a far more finished manner than he could hope to render it, shows how stubbornly the English held on to their mother tongue. Layamon, with his Latin book, and his French book, and his Anglo-Saxon book open on the table before him, and “compressing them into one," seems to be presiding at the birth of the composite English language.

Among the numerous writers of the period, — poets, theologians, chroniclers, and romancers, - Robert of Gloucester Robert of

may be mentioned, not on account of any great Gloucester, literary merit, but because he wrote in middle English and in rhyme, using a long line copied from the Alexandrine of the French trouvère and entirely unlike the Saxon form. His chief work is a rhymed chronicle of England, from the siege of Troy to the death of Henry III. (1272). The first part is a rendition of Geoffrey of Monmouth's “ Historia”; but as the author approaches his own time he draws from contemporary accounts (oral, perhaps, in some cases), and consequently his book, like most of the monkish chronicles, possesses some historical value for the two or three generations preceding that of the writer. The vocabulary is free from Norman words, but the rhyme and the more sustained cadence of the line mark a change in poetic art. The following extract shows that the language (the Gloucestershire dialect) was not much different from our modern English, except in the absence of words of French derivation :

“ Thus come lo! Engelonde into Normannes honde,
And the Normans ne couthe speke tho bote her owe speche,

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And speke French as dude atom, and here chyldren dude al so teche,
So that heymen of thys lond, that of her blod come,
Holdeth alle thulke speche that hii of hem nome.
Vor bote a man couthe French, me tolth of hym well lute:
Ac lowe men holdeth to Englyss and to her kunde speche yute.
Ich wene ther be ne man in world contreyes none
That ne holdeth to her kunde speche, but Engelonde one.
Ac wel me wot vor to conne bothe wel yt ys,
Vor the more that a man con the more worth he ys.”

The passage is thus rendered by Mr. Craik :

“ Thus lo! England came into the hands of the Normans: and the Normans could not speak then but their own speech, and spoke French as they did at home, and their children did all so teach; so that high men of this land, that of their blood come, retain all the same speech that they of them took. For, unless a man know French, one talketh of him little. But low men hold to English, and to their natural speech yet. I imagine there be no people in any country of the world that do not hold to their natural speech, but in England alone. But well I wot it is well for to know both; for the more that a man knows, the more worth he is.”

The authors named above have been selected to give an idea of the transition character of the period and of the obstinacy with which the native English adhered to the use of their own language. There were many other writers in Latin and French.

Good judges declare that as many books were written in England during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in proportion to the population, as have appeared at any other time. By degrees English prevailed over the other languages, Latin and French. Among the chroniclers were William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, and Geraldus Cambrensis; among the sermonizers, or theologians, Robert Grosseteste, the monk, Orm, and the writer of the “ Ancren Riwle” (Rule of living for nuns or anchoresses), and Richard Rolle of

Hampole ; among the philosophers, Roger Bacon and John Duns Scotus.

Toward the end of the period, many French romances and shorter “lays” were translated into English by un

known authors. Metrical

Among these, besides parts Romances. of the Arthurian romances, are the long poems, “ Alexander,” “Guy of Warwick," " Richard Cour de Lion,” “ Florice and Blanchfleur,” “ Amys and Amylon.” The point of view of these “metrical romances” is that of mediæval chivalry, and Shakespeare's “Troilus and Cressida” may be said to have inherited a portion of their spirit and method. No matter whether the characters are Greeks, or Persians, or Saracens, or Romans, they are represented as mediaval knights. French words, of necessity, creep into the vocabulary to represent chivalric notions. One fine poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," appears in a formless waste of narrative poems and semiepic ballads. The language and the nation were forming. Normandy was lost, and England became the native country of the descendants of the Norman knights. In 1362, Edward III. being king, French and Latin gave place to English in the courts of law. Latin remained the language of theology, philosophy, and diplomacy for two hundred years longer, but French became the language of the national enemy.

The nation took up many elements of song and story from the Norman French, and the new composite English became the national language. Beginning as the language of poetry with its use by Chaucer, this language has, in the course of five centuries, been molded into many beautiful and artistic forms by the genius of a composite race. Its literary inethods and to some extent its literary spirit have at

times been affected by the literatures of ancient Rome and of contemporary France and Italy. We have, hereafter, a vast and complicated product, reflecting the tendencies of various streams in a vast and complicated civilization. We can only touch, and that briefly, on some of the most salient and striking points in its development.

istics of the

As the Norman period is composite and transitional, its characteristics are multiform. The most important results

from the literary point were the infusion of some Character

of the lighter and of some of the romantic qualiPeriod.

ties into English literature, and the educational effect which followed from making the English mind acquainted with the writings of a different civilization. The general characteristics of the French of the period were intellectual liveliness, wit, good sense, and something of a mocking or good-humoredly satiric spirit. The idea of chivalry as embodied in the conception of the pure knight, Galahad, and the quest for the Holy Grail was their highest inspiration, nor can it be denied that these are noble and pure poetic allegories however much it may be questioned whether they originated from a French source. But, as said before, cultured wit is the main contribution of the French mind to the literature of England. Poetry for the Norman knights was the “gay science," and the Saxon seriousness or the Celtic plaintive melancholy were both alien to their spirit. It is thought that the Norman jongleurs (joculatores) and minstrels introduced the mimetic element into the literature of amusement, and that the Norman ecclesiastics introduced the liturgical plays or mysteries into England, and so laid the foundation of dramatic art. However this may be, there can be no doubt that the Germanic solidity of the

English character shaped itself in time under the influence of the liveliness and culture of the French, and became capable — as shown in Chaucer - of much more brilliant, varied, and delicate expression than had been possible among the Anglo-Saxon English before the Norman Conquest.


What impress did the Normans leave on English character and manners ?

Show how the revival of letters which immediately followed the Conquest was a purely ecclesiastical revival.

Name three important monastic chronicles and their authors.

What is the relation of Geoffrey of Monmouth to the literature of the Arthurian legend ?

What were some of the political and ecclesiastical views of the Norman kings and churchmen?

Name three native Englishmen of this period who wrote in French ?
Describe the Norman lais and fabliaux.
For what works produced in England did they form the models ?


BRANDL, A. Mittelenglische Literatur.

(In Paul H. Grundriss,

Bd. 2.)

DUNLOP, J. History of Fiction, c. 3. * Marsh, G. P. Semi-Saxon Literature. (In his Origin and History

of the English Language, c. 4.) KER, W. P. Epic and Romance, 1897. MORLEY, H. English Writers, v. 3-5. TAINE, H. A. History of English Literature, bk. i, c. 2. * Wright, T. Biographia Britannica Literaria : Anglo-Norman

WARTON, T. History of English Poetry, v. 1, Sections 1-3.

* For advanced students.

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