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of the earliest improvers of the language, and as almost the first Englishman who devoted his talents to refine and elevate the manners of his coun. trymen, afterwards composed a Metrical Chronicle of England, in which romances of all kinds are pressed into the service. In this chronicle is given the origin of the custom of Wassaille, in the old traditionary story of Vortigern, king of the Britons, meeting at a banquet Rowena, the daughter of the Saxon, Hengist. This may serve as a specimen of Robert de Brunne :
Of chamber Rouwen so gent,
The king asked what should be; and it is explained by his Latimer, or interpreter, that such is the custom when the Saxons are at the ale or feast, the pledge being wassaille, the response drinkhaille ; and that when the pledger has drunk, he kisses him who pledged him. Vortigern, quickly apprehending his lesson, cries drinkhaille, when the whole ceremony is gone through. Of this institution of the Saxon social pledge De Brunne says,
Of that wassaille men told grete tale,
(a) Very becoming.
And drinkhaille to them that drank;
And then returns to the Saxon princess,
Fell sithes(a) that maiden ying
It is conjectured by some antiquaries, that De Brunne wrote the English Romance of Cæur de Lion, though there seems to be no foundation for the supposition.
Among the earliest productions of the English muse, is an Elegy on the Death of Edward the First, which marks the gradual progress of the language,
and shows the rudiments of the elegiac ballad, of which so many fine specimens afterwards enriched the national poetry. Edward, disappointed of going to Palestine a second time as he had vowed, directed his heart to be borne to the Holy Land by fourscore knights. The flow of the verse is free and even musical in this elegy. The panegyric of the Pope on the soldier of the Cross is one of the most striking parts of it. When the death of the chivalrous prince is announced to his Holiness,
Alas! he said, is Edward dead ?
Of Christendom he ber the flower ;
For dole he mihte ne speke na more;
(a) Sithes, often.
That muche couthen of Cristes lore.
The pope of Peyters stod at is masse
With ful gret solempnete,
“ Kyng Edward, honoured thou be :
“ Bringe to ende that thou hast bygonne, « The holy crois ymade of tre
“ So fain thou woldest hit have ywonne.
“ Jerusalem, thou hast ilore
“ The flourè of al chivalrie,
“ Alas, that he yet shuldè deye !
“ Our baners that bueth broht to grounde : “ Wel longe we may clepe (c) and crie,
“ Er we such a kyng have yfounde!"
Thah mi tonge were mad of stel
Ant min herte yzote of bras
That with kyng Edward was.
That ever was and ever ys.
In this reign, English, though still a rugged and disjointed language, began to be generally cultivated, and gradually to become more refined and
copious; and the fictions of romance and chivalry, by this time interwoven with the Arabesque ornaments and wild fantasies introduced by the Crusaders, gradually displaced in general favour the dull versified chronicles and homilies of an earlier period.
The reign of the Second Edward was distinguished by an English poet of greater pretensions than any of his predecessors, if the claim of Adam Davie to the authorship of the Life of Alexander the Great is allowed. This early writer describes himself as the Marshal of Stratford le Bow, near London. His first production was a sort of pious and loyal vision, so complimentary to Edward, that the Mar. shal probably expected to be something yet greater. So completely did the manners of chivalry pervade men's minds at this time, that this author, in a poem entitled the Battle of Jerusalem, makes Pi. late challenge our Saviour to single combat !
The procession of Olympias, in the Life of Alexander, whoever be its author, may serve as a specimen of the splendour of the early metrical romance, which now became generally known in England. The power of these compositions is nearly altogether descriptive. They show no ca. pacity of moral discrimination, and few touches of pathos. One chief is distinguished from another by the colour of his steed, or by his hair being yalewe or jete ; for all ride and joust about equally well ; and, save some prodigious favourite, as Cæur
de Lion, Arthur, or Tristrem, kill about equal numbers at any odds.
A mule, all so white as milk,
(a) A saddle-cloth, or housing. Fr.
(8) Seen; gazed at. (1) Satins.