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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, ani 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 che 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 aust hear and read for himself the will at last find a voice. word of God: we will then be sure She had not yet found it. King and that it has not been corrupted; he will peers ally themselves to the Church, feel it better, and more, he will under- pass terrible statutes, destroy books, stand it better ; for
burn heretics alive, often with refine
ment of torture,-one in a barrel, an “ech place of holy writ, both opyn, and derk, other hung by an iron chain round his techith me: ?nes and charite ; and therfore he that kepith mekenes and charite hath the trewe
waist. The temporal wealth of the undirstondyng and perfectioun of al holi writ. clergy had been attacked, and there
Therfore no simple man of wit be aferd with the whole English constitution ; unmesurabli to studie in the text of holy writ and the great establishment above
and no clerk be proude of the verrey undirstondying of holy writ, for whi undirstonding crushed out with its whole weight the of hooly writ with outen charite that kepith revolutionists from below. Darkly, in Goddis heestis, makith a man depper dampned silence, while the nobles were destroy
and pride and covetise of clerkis is cause of her blindees and eresie, and priveth them fro ing each other in the War of the Roses, verrey undirstondyng of holy writ.” 1
the commons went on working and
living, separating themselves from the These are the memorable words established Church, maintaining their that began to circulate in the markets liberties, amassing wealth, but not 30and in the schools. They read the ing further.t Like a vast rock which translated Bible, and commented on underlies the soil, yet crops up here it; they judged the existing Church and there at distant intervals, they after it. What judgments these seri- barely show themselves.
No great ous and untainted minds passed upon poetical or religious work displays it, with what readiness they pushed on them to the light. They sang; but to the true religion of their race, we their ballads, first ignored, then transmay see from their petition to Parlia- formed, reach us only in a late edition. ment. [ One hundred and thirty years They prayed ; but beyond one or two before Luther, they said that the pope indifferent poems, their incomplete and was not established by Christ, that repressed doctrine bore no fruit. We pilgrimages and image-worship were may well see from the verse, tcne, akin to idolatry, that external rites are and drift of their ballads, that they are of no importance, that priests ought capable of the finest poetic originality, t not to possess temporal wealth, that the doctrine of transubstantiation made
1401, William Sawtré, the first Lillard
burned alive. popple idolatrous, that priests have
+ Commines, v. ch. 19 and 20: “In my opin. not the power of absolving from sin. on, of all kingdoms of the world of which I In proof of all this they brought for- have any knowledge, where the public weal is ward texts of Scripture. Fancy these best observed, and least violence is exercised
on the people, and where no buildings are over brave spirits, simple and strong souls, 1 thrown or demolished in war, England is the who began to read at night in their best; and the ruin and misfortune falls on stops, by candle-light; for they were
them who wage the war.. . The kingdom shopkeepers — tailors, skinners, and nations, that the people ar the country are
of England has this advantage beyond other bakers-who, with some men of letters, not destroyed or burnt, nor the buildings de began to read, and then to beiieve, and molished; and ill-fortune falls on men of war
and especially on the nobles." • Wiclif's Bible, ed. Forshall and Madden, See the ballads of Chevy Chase, The Na 1850, preface to Oxford edition, p. 2.
Brown Maid, etc. Many of them are admi rable little dramas.
1 In 1395
but their poetry is in the hands of missioner in France for the marriage geomen 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, disagious protests, that they are capable graced, restored to place.
This ex of the most severe and' impassioned perience of business, travel, war, and Creeds; but their faith remains hidden the court, was not lik: a book-educa: in the shop-parlörs 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 :und Milan; converses 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 i dramas. In these few words, what French origin and its foreign models. ceremonies and cavalcades are implied I
what processions in armor, what caparisoned horses, bedizened ladies ! what display of gallant and lordly
manners! what a varied and brilliant CHAPTER III.
world, well suited to occupy the mind
and eyes of a poet! Like Froissart, The New Tongue.
and better than he, Chaucer could
depict the castles of the nobles, their I.
conversations, their talk of love, and
any thing else that concerned them, AMID SO many barren endeavors, and please them by his portraiture. throughout the long impotence of Norman literature, which was content to
II. copy, and of Saxon literature, which bore no fruit, a definite language was
Two notions raised the middle age nevertheless formed, and there was above the chaos of barbarism : one room for a great writer. Geoffrey Chau- religious, which had fashioned the cer appeared, a man of mark, inventive gigantic cathedrals, and swept the though a disciple, original though a
masses from their native soil to hur. translator, who by his genius, education, them upon the Holy Land; the other and life, was enabled to know and to secular, which had built feudal fort. depict a whole world, but above all to satisfy the chivalric world and the resses, and set the man of courage
erect and armed, within his splendid courts which shone upon the domain: the one had produced the heights.* He belonged to it, though adventurous hero, the other the mys. learned and versed in all branches of tical monk; the one, to wit, the belief scholastic knowledge; and he took in God, the other the belief in self. such a share in it, that his life from be- Both, running to excess, had degener. ginning to end was that of a man of the ated by the violence of their own world, and a man of action. We find him strength: the cne had exalted inde by turns in King Edward's army, in the pendence into rebellion, the other had king's train, husband of a maid of turned piety into enthusiasm: the first honor to the queen, a pensioner, a made man unfit for civil life, the second placeholder, a member of Parliament, drew him back from natural life: the a knight, founder of a family which was hereafter to become allied to one, sanctioning disorder, dissolved royalty. Moreover, he was in the tion, perverted intelligence, Chivalry
society; the other, enthroning infatua. king's councið brother-in-law of John had' need to be repressed because it of Gaunt, employedo more than once issued in brigandage; devotion re in open embassies or secret missions at strained because it induced slavery Florence, Genoa, Milan, Flanders, com- Turbulent fcadalism grew feeble, lika • Born between 1328 and 1345, died in 1400.
oppressive theocracy; and the two
great master passions, deprived of their their long garments; then the poer Sap and lopped of their stem, gave arrives, presents
his manuscripi place by their weakness to the monot- “ richly illuminated, bound in crimson ony of habit and the taste for world- violet, embellished with silver claspe 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 deswers “ Love." clined, in books as in manners, in works
III. of art as in books. Architecture, instead of being the handmaid of faith, became In fact, it is the most agreeable sue the slave of phantasy. It was exagoject, fittest to make the evening hour gerated, became too ornamental, sac- pass sweetly, amid the goblets filled rigcing general effect to detail, shot up with spiced wine and the burning per. its steeples to unreasonable heights, fumes. Chaucer translated firs: tha: decorated its churches with canopies, great storehouse of gallantry, the pinnacles, trefoiled gables, open-work Roman de la Rose. There is no pleas galleries. “ Its whole ain was con- anter entertainment. It is about a tinually to climb higher, to clothe the rose which the lover wished to pluck : sacred' edifice with a gaudy bedizen- the pictures of the May months, tham inent, as if it were a bride on her wed-groves, the flowery earth, the greea ing morning.”* Before this marvel- hedgerows, abound and display their tous tacework, what emotion could one bloom. Then come portraits of the feel but a pleased astonishment ? smiling ladies, Richesse, Fraunchise, What becomes of Christian sentiment Gaiety, and by way of contrast, the sad before such scenic ornamentations? In characters, Daunger and Travail, all like manner literature sets itself to fully and minutely described, with deplay. In the eighteenth century, the tail of features, clothing, attitude; they second age of absolute monarchy, we walk about, as on a piece of tapestry, saw on one side finials and floriated amid landscapes, dances, castles, among cupolas, on the other pretty vers de allegorical groups, in lively sparkling société, courtly and sprightly tales, colors, displayed, contrasted, ever re taking the place of severe beauty-lines newed and varied so as to entertain the and noble writings/ Even so in the four-sight. For an evil has arisen, unknown teenth century, the second age of feudal- to serious ages--ennui: novelty and ism, they had on one side the stone fret- brilliancy followed by novelty and bril. work and slender efflorescence of ærial liancy are necessary to withstand it; forms, and on the other finical verses and Chaucer, like Boccaccio and and diverting stories, taking the place of Froissart, enters into the struggle with the old grand architecture and the old all his heart. He borrows from Boxcsimple literature. It is no longer the caccio his history of Palamon and overflowing of a true sentiment which Arcite, from Lollius his history of produces them, but the craving for excite- Troilus and Cressida, and rearranges ment. Consider Chaucer, his subjects, them. How the two young Theban and how he selects them. He goes knights, Arcite and Palamon, both fall sar and wide to discover them, to Italy, in love with the beautiful Emily, and France, to the popular legends, the how Arcite, victorious in tourney, falla ancient classics. His readers need and dies, bequeathing Emily to his diversity, and his business is to rival; how the fine Trojan knight s provide fine tales:" it was in those Troilus wins the favor of Cressida, and days the poet's business.t The lords how Cressida abandons him for it table have finished dinner, the min- Diomedes—these are still tales in verse, strels come and sing, the brightness of tales of love // A littie tedious they the torches falls on the velvet and may be ; all the writings of this age, crmine, on the fantastic figures, the French or imitated from French, are motley, the elaborate eubroidery of born of too prodigal minds; but how * Repan, De l'Art au Moyen Age.
they glide along! A Winding stream, 1 See Froissart, his life with the Count of which flows smoothly on level sand, cáx and with King Richard II.
and sparkles now and again in the
pare it to
sun, is the only image we can com- Are not these contrasts well design
The characters speak ed to rouse the imagination? You wil too nech, but then they speak so meet in Chaucer a succession of simi well! Even when they dispute, we lar pictures. Observe the train like to listen, their anger and offences combatants who came to joust ir ibt are so wholly based on a happy over- tilting field for Arcite and Palamon: Mow of unbroken converse. Remember
“ With him ther wenten knightes many on. Froissart, how slaughters, assassina
Som wol ben armed in an habergeon tions, plagues, the butcheries of the And in a brestplate, and in a gipon ; Jacquerie, the whole chaos of human And som wol have a pair of plates large;
And som wol have a Pruce sheld, or a targe misery, disappears in his fine ceaseless
Som wol ben armed on his legges wele, humor, so that the furious and grin- And have an axe, and som a mace of stele. . . aing figures seem but ornaments and Ther maist thou se coming with Palamon choice embroideries to relieve the
Licurge himself, the grete king of Trace:
Blake was his berd, and manly was his face skein of shaded and colored silk which
The cercles of his eyen in his hed forms the groundwork of his narra- They gloweden betwixen yelwe and red, tive I but in particular, a multitude of And like a griffon loked he about, descriptions spread their gilding over
With kemped heres on his browes stout;
His limmes gret, his braunes hard an: all. Chaucer leads you among arms, stronge, palaces, temples, and halts before each His shouldres brode, his arines round ani beautiful thing. Here:
And as the guise was in his contree, " The statue of Venus glorious for to see
Ful highe upon a char of gold stood he, Was naked fleting in the large see,
With foure white bolles in the trais. And fro the navel doun all covered was
Instede of cote-armure on his harnais, With wawes grene, and bright as any glas. With nayles yelwe, and bright as any gold, A citole in hire right hand hadde shé.
He hadde a beres skin, cole-blake for old. And on hire hed, ful semely for to see,
His longe here was kempt behind his bak, A rose gerlond fressh, and wel smelling, As any ravenes fether it shone for blake. Above hire hed hire doves fleckering."
A wreth of gold arm-gret, of huge weight,
Upon his hed sate ful of stones bright, Further on, the temple of Mars :
Of fine rubins and of diamants.
About his char ther wenten white alauns, • First on the wall was peinted a forest, In which ther wonneth neyther man ne best,
Twenty and mo, as gret as any stere,
To hunten at the leon or the dere, With knotty knarry barrein trees old
And folwed him, with mosel fast ybound, Of stubbes sharpe and hidous to behold; In which ther ran a romble and a swough,
Colered with gold, and torettes filed round.
An hundred lordes had he in his route, As though a storme shuld bresten every bough:
Armed ful wel, with hertes sterne and stoute
With Arcita, in stories as men find,
The gret Emetrius the king of Inde,
Upon a stede bay, trapped in stele,
Covered with cloth of gold diapred wele, entree
Came riding like the god of armes Mars. Was longe and streite, and gastly for to see.
His cote-armure was of a cloth of Tars, And therout came a rage and swiche a vise,
Couched with perles, white, and round and That it made all the gates for to rise.
grete. The northern light in at the dore shone,
His sadel was of brent gold new ybete ; For window on the wali ne was ther none, Thurgh which men mighten any light dis.
A mantelet upon his shouldres hanging
Bret-ful of rubies red, as fire sparkling. cerne.
His crispe here like ringes was yronne, The dore was all of athamant eterne,
And that was yelwe, and glitered as the sonne Yclenched overthwart and endelong
His nose was high, his eyen bright citrin With yren tough, and for to make it strong,
His lippes round, his colour was sanguin Every piler the temple to sustene
And as a leon he his loking caste. Was tonne-gret, of yren bright and shene.” |
Of five and twenty yere his age I caste. Everywhere on the wall were represen
His berd was well begonnen for to spring
His vois was as as a trompe thondering. tations of slaughter; and in the sanctu
Upon his hed he wered of laurer grene
A gerlond fresshe and lusty for to sene. "" The statue of Mars upon a carte stood
Upon his nond he bare for his deduit Armed, and loked grim as h: were wood, . .
Ar egle tame, as any lily whit. A wolf ther stood beforne him at his fete
An hundred lordes had he with him there With eyen red, and of a man he etc." +
All armed save hir heads in all hir gore,
Ful richely in alle manere thinges * Knight's Tale, ii. p. 59, 1957-1964.
About this king ther ran on every part f Ibid. h 1977, 1996.
Ful many a tame leon and leopari."* Ibid. po 61, 1. 2013-noge
* Ibid. p. 63, I. 2110-2188
A herald would not describe them of human memory, he holds in his hand better nor more fully. The lords and arranges it, composes tuerefrom i ladies of the time would recognize long sparkling ornament, with twenty here their tourneys and masquerades. pendants, a thousand facets, which by
There is something more pleasant | its splendor, variety, contrasts, may than a fine narrative, and that is a attract and satisfy the eyes of those collection of fine narratives, especially most greedy for amusement and nov when the narratives are all of different elty. colorings. Froissart gives us such
He does more. The universal pul under the name of Chronicles; Boc- burst of unchecked curiosity dem: nebs caccio still better; after him the lords a more refined enjoyment: reverie and of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles ; and, fantasy alone can satisfy it; not pro later still, Marguerite of Navarre. found and thoughtful fantasy as we find What more natural among people who it in Shakspere, nor impassioned and meet, talk and wish to amuse them- meditative reverie as we find it in Dante, selves. The manners of the time sug- but the reverie and fantasy of the eyes, gest them; for the habits and tastes of ears, external senses, which in poetry society had begun, and fiction thus con- as in architecture call for singularity, ceived only brings into books the con- wonders, accepted challenges, victories versations which are heard in the hall gained over the rational and probable, and by the wayside. Chaucer describes and which are satisfied only by what is a troop of pilgrims, people of every crowded and dazzling? When we look rank, who are going to Canterbury; at a cathedral of that time, we feel a a knight, a sergeant of law, an Oxford sort of fear. Substance is wanting; clerk, a doctor, a miller, a prioress, the walls are hollowed out to make a monk, who agree to tell a story all room for windows, the elaborate work round:
of the porches, the wonderful growth
of the slender columns, the thin curva“For trewely comfort ne mirthe is non, To riden by the way domb as the ston.'
ture of arches-every thing seems to
menace us; support has been with. They tell their stories accordingly ; drawn to give way to ornament. With and on this slender and flexible thread out external propor buttress, and all the jewels of feudal imagination, artificial aid of iron clamp-work, the real or false, contribute one after building would have crumbled to pieces another their motley shapes to form a on the first day; as it is, it undoes necklace; side by side with noble and itself; we have to maintain on the chiva!:ous stories: we have the mira- | spot a colony of masons continually to cle of an infant whose throat was cut ward off the continual decay. But ou by Jews, the trials of patient Grisel- sight grows dim in following the waiv. da, Canace and marvellous fictions of ings and twistings of the endless fretOriental fancy, obscene stories of work; the dazzling rose-window of the marriage and monks, allegorical or portal and the painted glass throw a moral tales, the fable of the cock and chequered light on the carved stalls of hen, a list of great unfortunate persons: the choir, the gold-work of the altar, Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Nebuchad- the long array of damascened and nezzar, Zenobia, Cræsus, Ugolino, glittering copes, the crowd of statues Peter of Spain. I leave out some for tier above tier, and amid this violet I must be brief. Chaucer is like a light, this quivering purple, amid these jeweller with his hands full : pearls arrows of gold which pierce the gloom, and glass beads, sparkling diamonds the entire building is ke the tail of a and common agates, black jet and ruhy mystical peacock. So most of the roses, all that history and imagination poems of the time are barren of foun. had been able to gather and fashion dation; at most a trite morality serves during three centuries in the East, in them for mainstay: in short, the poet France, in Wales, in Provence, in Italy, thought of nothing else than displaying all that had rolled his way, clashed to- before us a glow of colors and a jumble gether, broken or polished by the stream of forms. They are dreams or visions of centuries, and by the great jumble there are five or six in Chaucer, and