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guiled into the charmed circle of the Metrical Romance, which has created a large literature of its own. Our business is with the main stream of English Verse, and not with the rivers or lakes which may have flowed out from it. We resume, therefore, its historical current, which we quitted for a moment when we came to Layamon, and proceed with it until we reach Peter Langtoft, a canon of Augustinians at Bridlington, who wrote in French verse a Chronicle of England, which need not detain us, and Robert of Gloucester, a monk of the abbey of that town, who also wrote, in English verse, a Chronicle of England. “It was in long lines of seven accents, and occasionally six, and was the first complete history of his country, from the earliest times to his own day, written in popular rhymes by an Englishman.” Robert of Gloucester was followed by Robert Mannyng, otherwise called Robert of Brunn, from his birthplace in Lincolnshire, who recast in English rhymes the French metrical chronicles of Wace and Langtoft, the former in octosyllables, the latter in Alexandrines. That we are able to indicate, even briefly, two of the elements of English Verse from the time of Cædmon to the time of Robert of Brunn, we owe to the zeal of the religious men who composed the writings that we have mentioned, and the industry of the religious men who transcribed them. Co-workers with these, toward the close of this period, were the writers of the French metrical romances, many of which were probably composed in England, as were the Lais of Marie de France. There were, no doubt, other elements in English Verse than those that have been indicated ; but they have disappeared from the body of it, because they were of a vocal and not of a literary nature. A people among whom minstrels and glee-men were as highly thought of as we know they were among the Anglo-Saxons cannot have been without songs of their own making. They must have had battle ballads,-a pæan over every battle that was won, a lamentation over every battle that was lost, and they must have had lyrics of love, for they abound among the folk-songs of all European peoples. Campbell quotes a stanza from one of these productions, and says it would not disgrace the lyric poetry of a refined age :
“For her love I cark and care,
And all I wax wan.
More than any man.”
If Campbell had not stripped this of its antiquated spelling one might approximate its date, but as it stands it would be rash to do so. It cannot, however, be very old. Belonging to an earlier period is this naturelyric :
“ Summer is y-comen in,
Loude sing cuckoo :
And springeth the wood now;
Loweth after calf cow,
Cuckoo, cuckoo !
Early English Verse should be read with a thorough knowledge of the people for whom it was written, and the language in which it was written, for read otherwise it possesses but little interest, and even that little is of a relative rather than a positive character. It must always have an important place in the intellectual history of England, and largely on account of the light that it sheds upon its early history and its early religion. It is in Wace and Geoffrey of Monmouth that we first find Sabrina, and Gorboduc, and Lear, and that noblest of all kingly figures—Arthur ; and it was from these and the Latin poet Walter Map, that the whole cycle of the Arthurian epic grew. And seven hundred years before Dante, and a thousand years before Milton, the genius of the groom, or monk, Layamon had penetrated the circles of Hell.
One form which the religious element in English Verse assumed in the eleventh or twelfth century remains to be noticed,—the dramatic form. It probably originated in France, in the Mysteries, through which the priests sought to impress the leading events and personages of Scripture upon the minds of the illiterate, and it was common to the period. Geoffrey of Gorham is said to have written a miracle-play of St, Katharine in the first years of the twelfth century, and Hilarius, who had studied under Abelard at Paraclete, certainly wrote three,-one turning upon a miracle of St. Nicholas, another upon the raising of Lazarus, and a third upon the history of Daniel. At first these sacred dramas appear to have been acted by priests in the interior of churches on holy days, but the churches soon proving too small to hold the crowds that thronged to witness them, they were acted upon scaffoldings erected outside. By the middle of the thirteenth century they were acted by the laity as well as the clergy, generally by different guilds, or companies, who ranked among their possessions the properties in which they were exhibited. The sets of these plays belonging to the guilds became so numerous that several days were occupied in acting them. Many sets have undoubtedly been lost, but three remain, and are known from the names of the places where they were acted as the Chester Plays, of which there are twenty-four, the Wakefield Plays, of which there are thirty-two, and the Coventry Plays, of which there are forty-two. The Chester Plays are believed to have been written by Ralph Higden, a Benedictine monk, whom tradition sends three times to Rome in order to obtain the Pope's leave to have them acted in English, and they are said to have been so acted—or a portion of them-at Chester in the years 1327-1328. This miracle-play literature can be read, but it demands great curiosity and great patience, for the feeling which is awakened in the reading is the reverse of pious.
The historical and religious elements of English Verse were active in the fourteenth century, the one in Lawrence Minot, and the other in William Langland. Of Minot, whom Morley pronounces the first national song-writer, nothing is known, except that he lived in the reign of Edward III., and that he celebrated ten of his battles in Scotland, and France, and Brabant. The ballads of Minot were probably written about the time of the actions they celebrate, which extended from the year 1333 to the year 1352. Little is known of Langland, the author of the Vision of Piers Ploughman. He is said to have been born at Cleobury, in Shropshire, and he is also said to have been born at Skipton-under-Wychwood, in Oxfordshire, and he is believed to have been attached at one time to the monastery at Great Malvern. The Vision of Piers Ploughman is a long allegorical poem, divided into twenty sections, or Passus, each of which professes, as Craik has observed, to form a separate vision, though the connection of the several parts is so inartificial or confused that the composition may be regarded as being in reality not so much one poem as a succession of poems. “The general subject," Craik continues, “may be said to be the same with that of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the exposition of the impediments and temptations which beset the crusade of this our mortal life ; and the method, too, like Bunyan's, is the allegorical ; but the spirit of the poetry is not so much picturesque or even descriptive, as satirical. Vices and abuses of all sorts come in for their share of the exposure and invective ; but the main attack throughout is directed against the corruptions of the church, and the hypocrisy and worldliness, the ignorance, indolence, and sensuality of the ecclesiastical order. To this favorite theme the author constantly returns with new affection and sharper zest from any higher