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and translated it like Luther, and in a | finally got themselves burned. What spirit similar to Luther's. "Cristen a sight for the fifteenth century, and men and wymmen, olde and yonge, what a promise! It seems as though, shulden studie fast in the Newe Testa- with liberty of action, liberty of mind ment, for it is of ful autorite, and opyn begins to appear; that these common to undirstonding of simple men, as to folk will think and speak; that under the poyntis that be moost nedeful to the conventional literature, imitated salvacioun." ." Religion must be secu- from France, a new literature is dawn lar, in order to escape from the hands ing; and that England, genuine Eng of the clergy, who monopolize it; each land, half-mute since the Conquest nust hear and read for himself the will at last find a voice. word of God: he will then be sure that it has not been corrupted; he will feel it better, and more, he will understand it better; for
"ech place of holy writ, both opyn and derk, techith me enes and charite; and therfore he that kepith mekenes and charite hath the trewe undirstondyng and perfectioun of al holi writ.
Therfore no simple man of wit be aferd unmesurabli to studie in the text of holy writ and no clerk be proude of the verrey undirstondying of holy writ, for whi undirstonding of hooly writ with outen charite that kepith Goddis heestis, makith a man depper dampned ... and pride and covetise of clerkis is cause of her blindees and eresie, and priveth them fro verrey undirstondyng of holy writ." ↑
These are the memorable words that began to circulate in the markets and in the schools. They read the translated Bible, and commented on it; they judged the existing Church after it. What judgments these serious and untainted minds passed upon it, with what readiness they pushed on to the true religion of their race, we may see from their petition to Parliament. One hundred and thirty years before Luther, they said that the pope was not established by Christ, that pilgrimages and image-worship were akin to idolatry, that external rites are of no importance, that priests ought not to possess temporal wealth, that the doctrine of transubstantiation made people idolatrous, that priests have not the power of absolving from sin. In proof of all this they brought forward texts of Scripture. Fancy these brave spirits, simple and strong souls, who began to read at night in their shops, by candle-light; for they were shopkeepers-tailors, skinners, and bakers-who, with some men of letters, began to read, and then to believe, and
Wiclif's Bible, ed. Forshall and Madden, 850, preface to Oxford edition, p. 2. Ibid.
↑ In 1395.
She had not yet found it. King and peers ally themselves to the Church pass terrible statutes, destroy books burn heretics alive, often with refinement of torture,-one in a barrel, another hung by an iron chain round his waist. The temporal wealth of the clergy had been attacked, and therewith the whole English constitution; and the great establishment above crushed out with its whole weight the revolutionists from below. Darkly, in silence, while the nobles were destroying each other in the War of the Roses, the commons went on working and living, separating themselves from the established Church. maintaining their liberties, amassing wealth, but not go ing further.t Like a vast rock which underlies the soil, yet crops up here and there at distant intervals, they barely show themselves. No great poetical or religious work displays them to the light. They sang; but their ballads, first ignored, then transformed, reach us only in a late edition. They prayed; but beyond one or two indifferent poems, their incomplete and repressed doctrine bore no fruit. We may well see from the verse, tcne, and drift of their ballads, that they are capable of the finest poetic originality,
1401, William Sawtré, the first Lollard burned alive.
+ Commines, v. ch. 19 and 20: "In my opin ion, of all kingdoms of the world of which I have any knowledge, where the public weal is best observed, and least violence is exercised on the people, and where no buildings are over thrown or demolished in war, England is the best; and the ruin and misfortune falls on them who wage the war... The kingdom nations, that the people art the country are of England has this advantage beyond other not destroyed or burnt, nor the buildings de molisned; and ill-fortune falls on men of war and especially on the nobles."
See the ballads of Chevy Chase, The Nu Brown Maid, etc. Many of them are admi rable little dramas.
but their poetry is in the hands of missioner in France for the marriage yeomen and harpers. We perceive, of the Prince of Wales, high up and by the precocity and energy of their re- low down on the political ladder, disigious protests, that they are capable graced, restored to place. of the most severe and impassioned perience of business, travel, war, and creeds; but their faith remains hidden the court, was not like a book-educa in the shop-parlors of a few obscure tion. He was at the court of Edward sectaries. Neither their faith nor thelr III., the most splendid in Europe, poetry has been able to attain its end amidst tourneys, grand receptions, mag or issue. The Renaissance and the nificent displays; he tock part in the Reformation, those two national out-pomps of France and Milan; conversed breaks, are still far off; and the litera- with Petrarch, perhaps with Boccaccio ture of the period retains to the end, and Froissart; was actor in, and spec like the highest ranks of English_so- tator of, the finest and most tragical of ciety, almost the perfect stamp of its dramas. In these few words, what French origin and its foreign models. ceremonies and cavalcades are implied! what processions in armor, what caparisoned horses, bedizened ladies! what display of gallant and lordly manners! what a varied and brilliant world, well suited to occupy the mind and eyes of a poet! Like Froissart, and better than he, Chaucer could depict the castles of the nobles, their conversations, their talk of love, and any thing else that concerned them, and please them by his portraiture.
The New Tongue.
many barren endeavors, throughout the long impotence of Norman literature, which was content to copy, and of Saxon literature, which bore no fruit, a definite language was nevertheless formed, and there was room for a great writer. Geoffrey Chaucer appeared, a man of mark, inventive though a disciple, original though a translator, who by his genius, education, and life, was enabled to know and to depict a whole world, but above all to Satisfy the chivalric world and the splendid courts which shone upon the heights. He belonged to it, though learned and versed in all branches of scholastic knowledge; and he took such a share in it, that his life from beginning to end was that of a man of the world, and a man of action. We find him by turns in King Edward's army, in the king's train, husband of a maid of honor to the queen, a pensioner, a placeholder, a member of Parliament, a knight, founder of a family which was hereafter to become allied to
royalty. Moreover, he was in the king's council brother-in-law of John of Gaunt, employed more than once in open embassies or secret missions at Florence, Genoa, Milan, Flanders, com• Born between 1328 and 1345, died in 1400.
Two notions raised the middle age above the chaos of barbarism: one religious, which had fashioned the gigantic cathedrals, and swept the
masses from their native soil to hur.
them upon the Holy Land; the other secular, which had built feudal fortresses, and set the man of courage erect and armed, within his own domain: the one had produced the adventurous hero, the other the mys tical monk; the one, to wit, the belief in God, the other the belief in self. ated by the violence of their own Both, running to excess, had degenerstrength: the cne had exalted inde pendence into rebellion, the other had turned piety into enthusiasm: the first made man unfit for civil life, the second drew him back from natural life: the one, sanctioning disorder, dissolved society; the other, enthroning infatua had need to be repressed because it tion, perverted intelligence Chivalry issued in brigandage; devotion re strained because it induced slavery Turbulent fcadalism grew feeble, like oppressive theocracy; and the twe
great master passions, deprived of their their long garments; then the poet sap and lopped of their stem, gave arrives, presents his manuscript place by their weakness to the monot- richly illuminated, bound in crimson ony of habit and the taste for world-violet, embellished with silver clasp liness, which shot forth in their stead and bosses, roses of gold:" they ask and flourished under their name. him what his subject is, and he an
Gradually, the serious element de-swers "Love." | clined, in books as in manners, in works of art as in books. Architecture, instead of being the handmaid of faith, became the slave of phantasy. It was exaggerated, became too ornamental, sacrincing general effect to detail, shot up its steeples to unreasonable heights, decorated its churches with canopies, pinnacles, trefoiled gables, open-work galleries. "Its whole ain was continually to climb higher, to clothe the sacred edifice with a gaudy bedizenment, as if it were a bride on her weding morning." Before this marvellous lacework, what emotion could one feel but a pleased astonishment? What becomes of Christian sentiment before such scenic ornamentations? In like manner literature sets itself to play. In the eighteenth century, the second age of absolute monarchy, we saw on one side finials and floriated cupolas, on the other pretty vers de société, courtly and sprightly tales, taking the place of severe beauty-lines and noble writings/Even so in the fourteenth century, the second age of feudalism, they had on one side the stone fretwork and slender efflorescence of ærial forms, and on the other finical verses and diverting stories, taking the place of the old grand architecture and the old simple literature. It is no longer the overflowing of a true sentiment which produces them, but the craving for excite ment. Consider Chaucer, his subjects, and how he selects them. He goes sar and wide to discover them, to Italy, France, to the popular legends, the ancient classics. His readers need diversity, and his business is to "provide fine tales: " it was in those days the poet's business. The lords at table have finished dinner, the minstrels come and sing, the brightness of the torches falls on the velvet and ermine, on the fantastic figures, the motley, the elaborate embroidery of
*Repan, De Art au Moyen Age. See Froissart, his life with the Count of Fox and with King Richard II.
In fact, it is the most agreeable sut ject, fittest to make the evening hours pass sweetly, amid the goblets filled with spiced wine and the burning per fumes. Chaucer translated first that great storehouse of gallantry, the Roman de la Rose. There is no pleas anter entertainment. It is about a rose which the lover wished to pluck : the pictures of the May months, the groves, the flowery earth, the greea hedgerows, abound and display their bloom. Then come portraits of the smiling ladies, Richesse, Fraunchise, Gaiety, and by way of contrast, the sad characters, Daunger and Travail, all fully and minutely described, with detail of features, clothing, attitude; they walk about, as on a piece of tapestry, amid landscapes, dances, castles, among allegorical groups, in lively sparkling colors, displayed, contrasted, ever renewed and varied so as to entertain the sight. For an evil has arisen, unknown to serious ages-ennui: novelty and brilliancy followed by novelty and brii. liancy are necessary to withstand it; and Chaucer, like Boccaccio and Froissart, enters into the struggle with all his heart. He borrows from Boccaccio his history of Palamon and Arcite, from Lollius his history of Troilus and Cressida, and rearranges them. How the two young Theban knights, Arcite and Palamon, both fall in love with the beautiful Emily, and how Arcite, victorious in tourney, falla and dies, bequeathing Emily to his rival; how the fine Trojan knight Troilus wins the favor of Cressida, and how Cressida abandons him for Diomedes-these are still tales in verse, tales of love//A little tedious they may be; all the writings of this age, French or imitated from French, are born of too prodigal minds; but how they glide along! A wding stream, which flows smoothly on level sand, and sparkles now and again in the
sun, is the only image we can com-
"The statue of Venus glorious for to see
And dounward from an hill under a bent, Ther stood the temple of Mars armipotent, Wrought all of burned stele, of which th'
Was longe and streite, and gastly for to see.
The dore was all of athamant eterne,
Was tonne-gret, of yren bright and shene." t Everywhere on the wall were representations of slaughter; and in the sanctuary
"The statue of Mars upon a carte stood
*Knight's Tale, ii. p. 59, & 1957-1964.
Ibid. p. 61, 7. 2043-2030.
Are not these contrasts well design ed to rouse the imagination? You wil meet in Chaucer a succession of simi lar pictures. Observe the train of combatants who came to joust iz tilting field for Arcite and Palamon: "With him ther wenten knightes many on. Som wol ben armed in an habergeon And in a brestplate, and in a gipon; And som wol have a pair of plates large; And som wol have a Pruce sheld, or a targe Som wol ben armed on his legges wele, And have an axe, and som a mace of stele.. Ther maist thou se coming with Palamon Licurge himself, the grete king of Trace: Blake was his berd, and manly was his face The cercles of his eyen in his hed They gloweden betwixen yelwe and red, And like a griffon loked he about, With kemped heres on his browes stout; His limmes gret, his braunes hard and stronge,
His shouldres brode, his armes round ani longe.
And as the guise was in his contree,
His sadel was of brent gold new ybete;
An hundred lordes had he with him there,
About this king ther ran on every part
Ful many a tame leon and leopart."
* Ibid. p. 63, 7. 2120-2188.
A herald would not describe them better nor more fully. The lords and ladies of the time would recognize here their tourneys and masquerades. There is something more pleasant than a fine narrative, and that is a collection of fine narratives, especially when the narratives are all of different colorings. Froissart gives us such under the name of Chronicles; Boccaccio still better; after him the lords of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles; and, later still, Marguerite of Navarre. What more natural among people who meet, talk and wish to amuse themselves. The manners of the time suggest them; for the habits and tastes of society had begun, and fiction thus conceived only brings into books the conversations which are heard in the hall and by the wayside. Chaucer describes a troop of pilgrims, people of every rank, who are going to Canterbury; a knight, a sergeant of law, an Oxford clerk, a doctor, a miller, a prioress, a monk, who agree to tell a story all round:
"For trewely comfort ne mirthe is non,
To riden by the way domb as the ston." They tell their stories accordingly; and on this slender and flexible thread all the jewels of feudal imagination, real or false, contribute one after another their motley shapes to form a necklace; side by side with noble and chivalrous stories: we have the miracle of an infant whose throat was cut by Jews, the trials of patient Griselda, Canace and marvellous fictions of Oriental fancy, obscene stories of marriage and monks, allegorical or moral tales, the fable of the cock and hen, a list of great unfortunate persons: Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Nebuchadnezzar, Zenobia, Croesus, Ugolino, Peter of Spain. I leave out some for I must be brief. Chaucer is like a jeweller with his hands ful: pearls and glass beads, sparkling diamonds and common agates, black jet and ruby roses, all that history and imagination had been able to gather and fashion during three centuries in the East, in France, in Wales, in Provence, in Italy, all that had rolled his way, clashed together, broken or polished by the stream of centuries, and by the great jumble
of human memory, he holds in his hand arranges it, composes therefrom long sparkling ornament, with twenty pendants, a thousand facets, which by its splendor, variety, contrasts, maj attract and satisfy the eyes of those most greedy for amusement and nov elty.
He does more. The universal bul burst of unchecked curiosity demand a more refined enjoyment: reverie and fantasy alone can satisfy it; not pro found and thoughtful fantasy as we find it in Shakspere, nor impassioned and meditative reverie as we find it in Dante, but the reverie and fantasy of the eyes, ears, external senses, which in poetry as in architecture call for singularity, wonders, accepted challenges, victories gained over the rational and probable, and which are satisfied only by what is crowded and dazzling. When we look at a cathedral of that time, we feel a sort of fear. Substance is wanting; the walls are hollowed out to make room for windows, the elaborate worki of the porches, the wonderful growth of the slender columns, the thin curvature of arches-every thing seems to menace us; support has been withdrawn to give way to ornament. Without external prop or buttress, and artificial aid of iron clamp-work, the building would have crumbled to pieces on the first day; as it is, it undoes itself; we have to maintain on the spot a colony of masons continually to ward off the continual decay. But our sight grows dim in following the waiv ings and twistings of the endless fretwork; the dazzling rose-window of the portal and the painted glass throw a chequered light on the carved stalls of the choir, the gold-work of the altar, the long array of damascened and glittering copes, the crowd of statues tier above tier; and amid this violet light, this quivering purple, amid these arrows of gold which pierce the gloom, the entire building is ke the tail of a mystical peacock. So most of the poems of the time are barren of foundation; at most a trite morality serves them for mainstay in short, the poet thought of nothing else than displaying before us a glow of colors and a jumble of forms. They are dreams or visions there are five or six in Chaucer, and