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belong to this period. Of these some of the most important are :King Horn, Sir Tristrem (attributed formerly to Thomas of Erlcedowne, called the Rhymer), King Alisaunder, and Havelok, all of which are assigned to the thirteenth century and the Early English Period; King Richard Cœur de Lion, Sir Gawayne, Iwaine and Gawin, William of Palerne, or William and the Werwolf, and others. They are chiefly written in octo-syllabic metre.





15. Progress of the English Language.—In the preceding chapter (see p. 17, s. 9) the progress of the written vernacular tongue was traced from the Norman Conquest to the middle of the fourteenth century. During that period it had undergone what has been styled its First Great Revolution, i.e. the change of its structure by its conversion from an inflected into an un-inflected language; and commenced its Second Great Revolution: i.e. the change of its substance by the admission into its vocabulary of numberless Norman-French words. During the period embraced in the present chapter-from the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the sixteenth century-this second revolution proceeded with accelerated vigour. It will be remembered that a prominent cause of the further alteration in the language was the gradual disuse of French. To this a new motive was now given by the Gallic wars of Edward III. By 1350 English had taken the place of French as a medium for teaching Latin in schools; and, in 1362, it was enacted that all trials at law should henceforth be conducted in English, upon the plea that French was become unknown in the realm (est trop desconue en le dit realme). As the supremacy of Norman-French declined, the reviving English made amends for its long period of suppression and stagnation by recruiting and increasing its powers from the very language which, in its servitude, it had persistently declined to assimilate. Simplified in its gram

mar, enriched in its vocabulary, it becomes henceforth more vigorous, more plastic, more fluent, and better fitted in every respect for expressing the varieties of a literary style.

If we adopt the classification of Professor Craik, that part of the Second Great Revolution, included in the foregoing chapter, would answer to the period from 1250 to 1350, which he calls the stage of 'Early English.' The present chapter, extending from 1350 to 1550, exactly embraces his 'Middle English' stage. It embraces, moreover, the whole of the time occupied by the growth and progress of the great English Protestant Reformation, and by another movement of no small importance to the advancement of our national literature, the introduction into and establishment in England of the art of printing, to which, in its chronological order, a reference will hereafter be made.

16. Langland, Gower, Barbour.-As the earlier works of Chaucer belong to the latter half of the reign of Edward III., he might fairly precede the writers of this period. But before giving any account of the 'Father of English Poetry' (as Dryden calls him), it will be convenient to deal with the three chief poets of his dayLangland, Gower, and Barbour. This arrangement is the more justifiable in that the writings of none of them, Gower, perhaps, excepted, can be said to have been vitally influenced by the works of Chaucer. The first on the list, William or Robert Langland (1332-1400?), conjectured to have been a secular priest, and a native of Cleobury Mortimer, in Shropshire, passes for the author of a remarkable allegorical poem entitled, The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman, in alliterative unrhymed metre. From internal evidence the earliest form of this poem is believed to belong to the year 1362, and to have been partly composed by its author while wandering about the Malvern Hills. Subsequently he appears to have come to London, to a minute knowledge of which he testifies by numberless allusions. About 1377 and again about 1380, he is supposed to have re-written or re-cast his work, so that its composition extends over a number of years. It consists of several passus or sections describing a series of visions. One prologue and the first seven of these passus only refer to the vision of Piers the Plowman-the typical honest man (at times identified with the human nature of Christ), after whom the entire collection has been named. The remainder (three prologues and ten passus) relate generally to the 'visions of William' concerning certain abstractions or virtues named respectively Do-well, Do-bet [ter], and

Do-best. A detailed analysis of the book is impossible in this place. But the following quotation will convey some idea of its character and intention: The Vision has little unity of plan, and indeed— considered as a satire against many individual and not obviously connected abuses in church and state-it needed none. But its aim and purpose are one. It was [is] a calm, allegorical exposition of the corruptions of the state, of the church, and of social life, designed, not to rouse the people to violent resistance or bloody vengeance, but to reveal to them the true causes of the evils under which they were suffering, and to secure the reformation of those grievous abuses, by a united exertion of the moral influence which generally accompanies the possession of superior physical strength.' † The popularity of Langland's satire gave rise, about 1394, to a shorter poem (with which it is sometimes confused) levelled against the friars, and entitled Pierce the Ploughman's Crede. Nothing is known of its author beyond the fact that he probably wrote the Plowman's Tale, sometimes printed as Chaucer's.

The next great poetical contemporary of Chaucer, faintly (but perhaps discriminately) commended by him as 'the morall Gower,' was a poet of a different but not more original stamp than the author of Piers the Plowman. Like Langland, John Gower (1325— 1408), too, had a purpose; but its expression was impaired by the diffuseness of his style, and overpowered by his unmanageable erudition. The senior and survivor of Chaucer, he was of a knightly family in Kent, where he possessed considerable estates. He was educated at Merton College, Oxford, lived much in London, in close relations with the court, married at an advanced age, and was buried in St. Saviour's, Southwark, to which church, says his epitaph, he was a distinguished benefactor.' His principal works are Balades, love-poems in the Provençal manner, preserved in a copy presented by the author to Henry IV.; the Speculum Meditantis, or Mirror of Man, written in French; the Vox Clamantis, in Latin elegiacs, and the Confessio Amantis, 1393, in English octo-syllabic metre. Of the second of these, which is described by a contemporary as seeking to teach 'by a right path, the way whereby a transgressed sinner ought to return to the knowledge of his Creator,' no MS. is known to exist. The Vox Clamantis, to which was after

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*The Crowley' or B. text of 1377 is here referred to.

† Marsh, Lectures on the English Language, quoted at p. xix. of the Introduction to The Vision, etc., by the Rev. W. W. Skeat, M.A. (Clarendon Press Series), which also contains a sketch of the whole poem. See also Appendix A Extract XI.

Quoted in Morley, English Writers, II. pt. i. 84.

wards added a supplement known as the Tripartite Chronicle, treats the insurrection of Wat Tyler (1381) allegorically, and then deviates into a didactic argument on the condition of society in Gower's time, prompted by the significant outbreak described in the first book.'* The Confessio Amantis is a dialogue of more than 30,000 lines between Genius, a priest or clerk of Venus, and the poet himself (he was then over sixty years of age), in the character of an unhappy lover. Genius subjects him to a minute and searching interrogatory as to the nature of his offences against Love, taking the sins in turn, and exemplifying each by apposite stories from different sources. Thus Chiding, a sub-sin of Anger, is illustrated by accounts of the patience of Socrates, the blinding of Tiresias, the White Crow turned black (cf. the Maunciple's Tale in Chaucer, Appendix B), and so forth. The patient prolixity and power of barren detail which are expended upon this leisurely performance would make it intolerable to a modern reader, and have indeed extorted from students and editors such epithets as 'petrifying' and 'tedious.' Nevertheless, Gower, says Mr. Hallam, indulgently, though not like Chaucer, a poet of nature's growth, had some effect in rendering the language less rude, and exciting a taste for verse; if he never rises, he never sinks low; he is always sensible, polished, perspicuous, and not prosaic in the worst sense of the word.' †

The remaining great poet of Chaucer's time, John Barbour (1316?-1395), Archdeacon of Aberdeen in 1357, is the author of an ‘animated and picturesque' metrical chronicle, or romaunt as he terms it, entitled The Brus, compiled about 1375, and relating the history of Scotland from 1286 to 1329, i.e., from the death of Alexander the Third to that of Robert Bruce, of whose life and adventures it principally treats. The author, in his introductory lines, prays God that he may say nought but suthfast thing;' and his work has always been regarded as reliable from an historical point of view. Barbour was also the author of a version of the Historia Trojana, from which Lydgate (see p. 41, s. 19) translated his Troy Book, and of a set of Lives of the Saints.


17. Chaucer.--The researches of later scholars, and the valuable Six-text and other issues of the Society founded by Mr. F. J. Furnivall in 1868 ‡ (a good work, to which, by the way, too great a

* Quoted in Morley, English Writers, II. pt. i. 93.

Lit. History, 1864, i., chap. i. 49.

In order to show how far the best unprinted manuscripts of Chaucer's works differ from the printed texts,' the Chaucer Society are printing (or have already printed) six of the best MSS. of the Canterbury Tales, in parallel columns.

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