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is the language of the court, from it arose all poetry and elegance; he is but a clodhopper who is inapt at that style. They apply themselves to it as our old scholars did to Latin verses ; they are gallicized as those were latinized, by constraint, with a sort of fear, knowing well that they are but schoolboys and provincials. Gower, one of their best poets, at the end of his French works, excuses himself humbly for not having “de Français la faconde. Pardonnez moi,” he says, “que de ce je forsvoie; je suis Anglais."
And yet, after all, neither the race nor the tongue has perished. It is necessary that the Norman should learn English, in order to command his tenants; his Saxon wife speaks it to him, and his sons receive it from the lips of their nurse; the contagion is strong, for he is obliged to send them to France, to preserve them from the jargon which on his domain threatens to overwhelm and spoil them. From generation to generation the contagion spreads; they breathe it in the air, with the foresters in the chase, the farmers in the field, the sailors on the ships: for these coarse people, shut in by their animal existence, are not the kind to learn a foreign language; by the simple weight of their dullness they impose their idiom on their conquerors, at all events such words as pertain to living things. Scholarly speech, the language of law, abstract and philosophical expressions,-in short, all words depending on reflection and culture may be French, since there is nothing to prevent it. This is just what happens; these kind of ideas and this kind of speech are not understood by the commonalty, who, not being able to touch them, cannot change them. This produces a French, a colonial French, doubtless perverted, pronounced with closed mouth, with a contortion of the organs of speech, “after the school of Stratford-atte-Bow;" yet it is still French. On the other hand, as regards the speech employed about common actions and visible objects, it is the people, the Saxons, who fix it; these living words are too firmly rooted in his experience to allow of being parted with, and thus the whole substance of the language comes from him. Here, then, we have the Norman who, slowly and constrainedly, speaks and understands English, a deformed, gallicized English, yet English, in sap and root; but he has taken his time about it, for it has required two centuries. It was only under Henry III. that the new tongue is complete, with the new
constitution; and that, after the like fashion, by alliance and intermixture; the burgesses come to take their seats in Parliament with the nobles, at the same time that Saxon words settle down in the language side by side with French words.
So was modern English formed, by compromise, and the necessity of being understood. But we can well imagine that these nobles, even while speaking the rising dialect, have their hearts full of French tastes and ideas; France remains the home of their mind, and the literature which now begins, is but translation. Translators, copyists, imitators—there is nothing else. England is a distant province, which is to France what the United States were, thirty years ago, to Europe: she exports her wool, and imports her ideas. Open the Voyage and Travaile of Sir John Maundeville, the oldest prose-writer, the Villehardouin of the country: his book is but the translation of a translation.” He writes first in Latin, the language of scholars; then in French, the language of society; finally he reflects, and discovers that the barons, his compatriots, by governing the Saxon churls, have ceased to speak their own Norman, and that the rest of the nation never knew it; he translates his manuscript into English, and, in addition, takes care to make it plain, feeling that he speaks to less expanded understandings. He says in French :“ Il advint une fois que Mahomet allait dans une chapelle où il y avait un saint ermite. Il entra en la chapelle où il y avait une petite huisserie et basse, et était bien petite la chapelle; et alors devint la porte si grande qu'il semblait que ce fut la porte d'un
He stops, corrects himself, wishes to explain himself better for his readers across the Channel, and says in English :-“And at
1 He wrote in 1356, and died in 1372.
2 “And for als moche as it is longe time passed that ther was no generalle Passage ne Vyage over the See, and many Men desiren for to here speke of the holy Lond, and han thereof gret Solace and Comfort, I, John Maundevylle, Knyght, alle be it I be not worthi, that was born in Englond, in the town of Seynt-Albones, passed the See in the Zeer of our Lord Jesu-Crist 1322, in the Day of Seynt Michelle, and hidreto have been longe tyme over the See, and have seyn and gon thorghe manye dyverse londes, and many Provynces, and Kingdomes, and Iles.
“ And zee shulle undirstonde that I have put this Boke out of Latyn into Frensche, and translated it azen out of Frensche, into Englyssche, that every Man of
Nacioun may undirstonde it.”—Sir John Maundeville's Voyage and Travaile, ed. Halliwell, 1866, pro. logue, p. 4. VOL. I.
the Desertes of Arabye, he wente into a Chapelle where a Eremyte duelte. And whan he entred in to the Chapelle that was but a lytille and a low thing, and had but a lytill Dore and a low, than the Entree began to wexe so gret and so large, and so highe, as though it had ben of a gret Mynstre, or the Zate of a Paleys.”] You perceive that he amplifies, and thinks himself bound to clinch and drive in three or four times in succession the same idea, in order to get it into an English brain; his thought is drawn out, dulled, spoiled in the process. Like every copy, the new literature is mediocre, and repeats what it imitates, with fewer merits and greater faults.
Let us see, then, what our Norman baron gets translated for him; first, the chronicles of Geoffroy Gaimar and Robert Wace, which consist of the fabulous history of England continued up to their day, a dull-rhymed rhapsody, turned into English in a rhapsody no less dull. The first Englishman who attempts it is Layamon, a monk of Ernely, still fettered in the old idiom, who sometimes happens to rhyme, sometimes fails, altogether barbarous and childish, unable to develop a continuous idea,
i Sir John Maundeville's Voyage and Travaile, ed. Halliwell, 1866, xii. p. 139. It is confessed that the original on which Wace depended for his ancient History of England is the Latin compilation of Geoffrey of Monmouth.
2 Extract from the account of the proceedings at Arthur's coronation given by Layamon, in his translation of Wace, executed about 1180. Madden's Layamon, 1847, ii. p. 625, et passim: Tha the king igeten hafde
Monianes kunnes gomen
Ther heo gunnen driuen.
And wha swa mihte iwinne
Wurthscipe of his gomene,
Hine me ladde mid songe
At foren than leod kinge;
And the king, for his gomene,
Gaf him geven gode.
Alle tha quene
The icumen weoren there,
And alle tha lafdies,
Leoneden geond walles,
To bihalden the dugethen,
And that folc plaie.
This ilæste threo dæges,
Swulc gomes and swulc plæges,
Tha, at than veorthe dæie
The king gon to spekene
And agæf his goden cnihten
All heore rihten;
He gef seolver, he gæf gold,
He gef hors, he gef lond,
Castles, and clothes eke;
His monnen he iquende.
babbling in little confused and incomplete phrases, after the fashion of the ancient Saxons; after him a monk, Robert of Gloucester, and a canon, Robert of Brunne, both as insipid and clear as their French models, having become gallicized, and adopted the significant characteristic of the race, namely, the faculty and habit of easy narration, of seeing moving spectacles without deep emotion, of writing prosaic poetry, of discoursing and developing, of believing that phrases ending in the same sounds form real poetry. Our honest English versifiers, like their preceptors in Normandy and Ile-de-France, garnished with rhymes their dissertations and histories, and called them poems. At this epoch, in fact, on the Continent, the whole learning of the schools descends into the street; and Jean de Meung, in his poem of la Rose, is the most tedious of doctors. So in England, Robert of Brunne transposes into verse the Manuel des Péchés of Bishop Grostête; Adam Davie, certain Scripture histories; Hampole 3 composes the Pricke of Conscience. The titles alone make one yawn : what of the text ?
• Mankynde mad ys to do Goddus wylle,
As ye schal here after sone. There is a poem! You did not think so; call it a sermon, if you will give it its proper name. It goes on, well divided, well prolonged, flowing, but void of meaning; the literature which surrounds and resembles it bears witness of its origin by its loquacity and its clearness.
It bears witness to it by other and more agreeable features. Here and there we find divergences more or less awkward into the domain of genius; for instance, a ballad full of quips against Richard, King of the Romans, who was taken at the battle of Lewes. Sometimes, charm is not lacking, nor sweetness either. No one has ever spoken so bright and so well to the ladies as the French of the Continent, and they have not quite forgotten this talent while settling in England. You perceive it readily in the manner in which they celebrate the Virgin. Nothing could be more different from the Saxon sentiment, which
1 After 1297
2 About 1312.
3 About 1349.
4 Warton, ii. 36.
is altogether biblical, than the chivalric adoration of the sovereign Lady, the fascinating Virgin and Saint, who was the real deity of the middle ages. It breathes in this pleasing hymn:
“ Blessed beo thu, lavedi,
Ful of hovene blisse;
There is but a short and easy step between this tender worship of the Virgin and the sentiments of the court of love. The English rhymesters take it; and when they wish to praise their earthly mistresses, they borrow, here as elsewhere, the ideas and the very form of French verse. One compares his lady to all kinds of precious stones and flowers; others sing truly amorous songs, at times sensual.
“Bytuene Mershe and Aueril,
And lyht on Alisoun.”
“Suete lemmon, y preye the, of loue one speche,
1 Time of Henry III., Reliquice Antiqua, edited by Messrs. Wright and Halliwell, i
2 About 1278. Warton, i. 28.
3 Ibid, i. 31.