Billeder på siden

Bright and sheen was her face;
Every fair-head in her was.

In this same old romance, in which the manners of chivalry are constantly ingrafted on classical his. tory, is found the well-known couplet in its true reading

Merry swithe it is in halle,
When the berdes waveth alle.

Among the poets of the Second Edward's reign was Robert Barton, a Carmelite friar, who accompanied the king into Scotland, to sing his anticipated triumph over the Scots, and who, according to a well-known tradition, being made prisoner, was ransomed by celebrating the victory of Robert de Bruce ; thus, like Balaam, constrained to bless those whom he had come to curse.

The adventures of the Scottish hero sung by Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, and those of Wallace, commemorated by a nameless minstrel known as Blind Harry, prove, that in the early part of the fourteenth century, and prior to the period of Chaucer, poetry was at least as diligently and successfully cultivated in Scotland as in the adjoining country. It is thus the old archdeacon describes the return of Summer :

This was in the midst of May,
When birdès sing on ilka spray,
Melland their notes with seemly soun,
For softness of the sweet seasoun ;
And leaves of the branches spreeds,
And bloomis bright beside them breeds,

And fieldis strewed are with flowers,
Well savouring of seir colours,
And all things waxeth blythe and gay.


The following description of Wallace’s bivouac, though not in the boldest style of the Blind Bard, may challenge comparison with any composition of his age ; the spelling has been considerably mod. ernised :Into a vale, by a small river fair, On either side where wild deer made repair, Set watches out that wisely could them keep, To supper went, and timeously they sleep. Of meat and sleep they cease with suffisaunce. The night was mirk; overdrave the darksome chance

The merry day sprang from the orient
With beamis bright illuminate the occident.


The clearè rede among the rockis rang,
Through green branches where the byrds blythly sang,
With joyous voice in heavenly harmony;
When Wallace thought it was no time to lie;
He crossed himself, syne suddenly arose
To take the air, out of his pallioun goes.
Maister John Blair was ready to revess,
In good intent syne bouned to the mass.
When it was done Wallace 'gan him array
In his armore, which goodly was and gay.
His shining shoes that burnisht was full bein;
His leg-harness he clapped on so clean ;
Pullane grees he braced on full fast;
A close birnie with many siker clasp ;
Breastplate, brasars that worthy were in wear;
Beside him forth Jop could his basnet bear;
His glittering gloves that graven on either side:
He seemed well in battle to abide.
His good girdle, and syne his burly brand;
A staff of steel he gripped his hand,
The host him blest! &c.

The apparition of Fawdoun in Blind Harry's history, has more power of the terrific than half the wizards of the contemporary romances ; and the following passage from Barbour more dignity of moral reflection than any thing that had previously appeared in English verse :

Ah ! freedom is a noble thing!
Freedom makes man to have liking ;
Freedom all solace to man gives :
He lives at ease, that freely lives!
A noble heart may have none ease,
Na ellys (a) nought that may him please,
If freedom fail : for free liking
Is yearned (6) o'er all other thing.
Na he, that aye has lived free
May not know well the properte,
The anger, na the wretched doom
That is coupled to foul thraldom.
But, if he had essayed it,
Then all perquer (c) he should it wit,
And should think freedom more to prize
Than all the gold in world that is.
Thus contrary things evermare
Discoverings of the tother are, &c.

The satirist may unhappily find sufficient scope for his pen in every age and in every state of society; but the avarice and luxury of churchmenthe drones of the hive-appear to have been a subject of uncommon zest and temptation to our an. cestors. No vices have been so well “pelted with good sentences" as those of the Romish clergy.

(a) Nor else.

(6) Eagerly desired. (c) Perfectly.

“ Satirical poets,” says Dryden, " are the check of the laity on bad priests;” and though this check be. gan to be used indirectly at very remote periods of English history, it was first vigorously applied by Longlande and Wickliffe, and incidentally by Chaucer, who is not without title to the character of an early reformer, which has been claimed for him.

About thirty years before the appearance of the Canterbury Tales, though not before Chaucer was known as a poet, the Visions of Pierce Plowman, the first poem of any considerable extent in the English language, appeared. The visions were composed by Robert Longlande, a secular priest, and fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. In a series of vi. sions seen by Pierce Plowman while asleep among the Malvern hills after a fatiguing ramble, the corruptions of all divisions of society are exposed and chastised. The visions, forwarded by the agency of such personifications as Avarice, Bribery, Simony, Conscience, &c., exhibit considerable powers of invention, and much occasional vigour of imagina. tion. Though the priesthood are the chief objects of reprehension, and especially those vagrants who, under the various denominations of Dominicans, Franciscans, pilgrims, and pardoners, made religion the cloak of an idle and dissolute life, all con. ditions of society are glanced at ; nor is the Court or the Bench wholly spared by this sweeping satirist, dangerous as these topics were.

Though Longlande displays much of the zeal

of a reformer and the sternness of a moralist, and is distinguished by a certain rude vigour of conception, his language is so obscure, and his verse so rugged, that his work is nearly a sealed book to the present age. His humour is more intelligible than his invective, as well as more facile. It is thus he ridicules the common tricks of the monks to procure donations for their convents, or for the nobler object of building those structures. The cunning monk is supposed to be working on the feelings of a mother as well as a penitent :

Than he assoyled her sone, and sithen he sayde,
We have a windowe in working, will set us ful high,
Wou'dst thou glaze the gable, and grave therin thy name,
Scher shoulde thy soule be heven to have, &c.

Another poet of later date, who took the same name of Piers Plowman—which long continued to be a favourite one with anonymous satirists of the clergy-promises that if the person he solicits shall bestow a liberal benefaction,

He should kneel before Christ in compass of gold,
In the wide window westward well nigh in the midel.

Chaucer's begging Monk is a still more irresistible person ; and, were he alive, the Society for the Conversion of the Jews would consider him invalu. able :

“ Yeve me then of thy golde to make our cloyster,"
Quod he, “ for many a muscle and many an oyster,
When other men have been full well at ease,
Have been our fode, our cloyster for to reyse :


« ForrigeFortsæt »