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CHAPTER III.

THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.

AFTER the birth of a Chaucer, a Shakspere, or a Milton, it is long before the genial force of a nation can again culminate in such a triumph: time is required for the growth of the conditions. Between the birth of Chaucer and the birth of Shakspere, his sole equal, a period of more than two centuries had to elapse. It is but small compensation for this, that the more original, that is simple, natural, and true to his own nature a man is, the more certain is he to have a crowd of imitators. I do not say that such are .of no use in the world. They do not indeed advance art, but they widen the sphere of its operation ; for many will talk with the man who know nothing of the master. Too often intending but their own glory, they point the way to the source of it, and are straightway themselves forgotten.

Very little of the poetry of the fifteenth century is worthy of a different fate from that which has befallen it. Possibly the Wars of the Roses may in some measure account for the barrenness of the time; but JOHN LYDGATE.

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I do not think they will explain it. In the midst of the commotions of the seventeenth century we find Milton, the only English poet of whom we are yet sure as worthy of being named with Chaucer and Shakspere.

It is in quality, however, and not in quantity that the period is deficient. It had a good many writers of poetry, some of them prolific. John Lydgate, the monk of Bury, a great imitator of Chaucer, was the principal of these, and wrote an enormous quantity of verse.

We shall find for our use enough as it were to keep us alive in passing through this desert to the Paradise of the sixteenth century-a land indeed flowing with milk and honey. For even in the desert of the fifteenth are spots luxuriant with the rich grass of language, although they greet the eye with few flowers of individual thought or graphic speech.

Rather than give portions of several of Lydgate's poems, I will give one entire--the best I know. It is entitled, Thonke God of alle 1

THANK GOD FOR ALL.

By a way wandering as I went,

Well sore I sorrowed, for sighing sad :
Of hard haps that I had hent

Mourning me made almost mad;2

1 A poem so like this that it may have been written immediately after reading it, is attributed to Robert Henryson, the Scotch poet. It has the same refrain to every verse as Lydgate's.

Mourning for mishaps that I had caught made me almost mad.”

2 66

1

Till a letter all one me lad,
That well was written on a wall,

A blissful word that on I rad, 2
That alway said, “Thank God for 3 all.'
And yet I read furthermore 4

Full good intent I took there till:5
Christ may well your state restore;

Nought is to strive against his will ; it is useless.

He may us spare and also spill :
Think right well we be his thrall.

slaves.
What sorrow we suffer, loud or still,
Alway thank God for all.
Though thou be both blind and lame,

Or any sickness be on thee set,
Thou think right well it is no shame-

think thou.
The grace of God it hath thee gret. 6
In sorrow or care though ye be knit,

snared. And worldés weal be from thee fall,

fallen. I cannot say thou mayst do bet,

better.
But alway thank God for all.
Though thou wield this world's good,

And royally lead thy life in rest,
Well shaped of bone and blood,

None the like by east nor west ;

Think God thee sent as him lest; as it pleased him.
Riches turneth as a ball ;
In all manner it is the best

in every condition.
Alway to thank God for all.
If thy good beginneth to pass,

And thou wax a poor man,
Take good comfort and bear good face,
And think on him that all good wan ;

did win.

1 “Led me all one :” “ brought me back to peace, unity, harmony."(?) 3 “That I read on (it).” 3 Of in the original, as in the title. 4 Does this mean by contemplation on it ? 5 “I paid good attention to it.” 6 « Greeted thee”-in the very affliction.

THANK GOD FOR ALL.

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Christ himself forsooth began-
He may renew both bower and hall:
No better counsel I ne kan

am capable of.
But alway thank God for all.
Think on Job that was so rich :

He waxed poor from day to day ;
His beastés died in each ditch;

His cattle vanished all away ;

He was put in poor array,
Neither in purple nor in pall,

But in simple weed, as clerkés say, clothes: learned men.
And alway he thanked God for all.
For Christés love so do we ;1

He may both give and take ;
In what mischief that we in be, Whatever trouble we

He is mighty enough our sorrow to slake. [be in.

Full good amends he will us make,
And we to him cry or call :

if.
What grief or woe that do thee thrall, 2
Yet alway thank God for all.
Though thou be in prison cast,

Or any distress men do thee bede,
For Christés love yet be steadfast,

And ever have mind on thy creed ;

Think he faileth us never at need,
The dearworth duke that deem us shall ;3

When thou art sorry, thereof take heed,
And alway thank God for all.
Though thy friendés from thee fail,

And death by rene hend 5 their life,
Why shouldest thou then weep or wail ?

It is nought against God to strive : it is useless.

2

offer.

4

1 “For Christ's love let us do the same.

? “Whatever grief or woe enslaves thee.” But thrall is a blunder, for the word ought to have rhymed with make. 3 "The precious leader that shall judge us."

“When thou art in sorry plight, think of this.”
“And death, beyond renewal, lay hold upon their life.”

Himself maked both man and wife-
To his bliss he bring us all :

may

he bring. However thou thole or thrive,

suffer.
Alway thank God for all.
What diverse sonde 1 that God thee send,

Here or in any other place,
Take it with good intent;

The sooner God will send his grace.
Though thy body be brought full base,

low. Let not thy heart adown fall,

But think that God is where he was,
And alway thank God for all.
Though thy neighbour have world at will,

And thou far’st not so well as he,
Be not so mad to think him ill,

wish.(?) For his wealth envious to be :

The king of heaven himself can see
Who takes his sonde, 2 great or small;

Thus each man in his degree,
I rede thanké God for all.

counsel. For Cristés love, be not so wild,

But rule thee by reason within and without;
And take in good heart and mind

The sonde that God sent all about ; the gospel.(?)

Then dare I say withouten doubt,
That in heaven is made thy stall. place, seat, room.
Rich and poor that low will lowte,

bow. Alway thank God for all.

I cannot say there is much poetry in this, but there is much truth and wisdom. There is the finest poetry, however, too, in the line—I give it now letter for letter :

But think that God ys ther he was.

i Sending, message : whatever varying decree God sends thee.” 2 “Receives his message :” “accepts his will."

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