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To keep in her pathway each year evermore,
Behold, too, O Father, Thou workest aright
Thou givest the trees a south-westerly breeze,
On earth and in heaven each creature and kind
Forever, Almighty One, Maker and Lord,
Evil men sit, each on earth's highest seat,
The sinner at all times is scorning the just,
The wiser in right, and the worthier of trust;
O Guide, if Thou wilt not steer fortune amain
My Lord, overseeing all things from on high
In wild waves of trouble they struggle and strive,
The character of this monarch, embracing so much gentleness, together with such manly vigor and dignity, and displaying, at the same time, so pure a taste, seems sufficient to have graced the most civilized age, nearly as much as it did the rude one in which he lived.
ALFRIC, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the next important name after Alfred, that graces British literature. This learned prelate was a voluminous writer, and, like Alfred, entertained a strong desire to enlighten the common people. He therefore wrote much in his native tongue, particularly a collection of homilies, a translation of the first seven books of the
For the translation of these poems we are indebted to the recent publication of King Alfred's Poems in English Metres by Martin F. Tupper, the author of 'Proverbial Philosophy.' They were kindly communicated to us by C. Edwards Lester, Esq.
Bible, and some religious treatises. He was also the author of a grammar of the Latin tongue, in consequence of which he is usually called 'the Grammarian.' Alfric himself declares that he wrote in Anglo-Saxon, and that he might be understood by the unlettered people, avoided the use of all obscure words. This interesting writer died 1006.
CYNEWULF, Bishop of Winchester, Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, and some others of less note, bring down the list of Anglo-Saxon authors to the Conquest, giving to this period of English literature a duration of nearly five hundred years. During this time there were many seats of learning in England, many writers, and many books; although these have now chiefly become matter of curiosity to the antiquary only. Saxon literature may, indeed, be said to have had a protracted existence, till the breaking up of the language in the latter part of the twelfth century; but during that whole period it was graced by no names of distinction. We must here, however, advert to the historical productions usually called the Anglo-Saxon Chroncle, which consists of a view of early English history, written it is believed by a series of authors, commencing soon after the time of Alfred, and continued to the reign of Henry the Second, the first prince of the house of Plantagenet. This Chronicle is chiefly valuable as the basis of our historical knowledge of the period of which it treats.
The Conquest, by which a Norman government and nobility were imposed upon England, led to a very great change in the language. Norman French, one of those modifications of Latin which arose in the middle ages, now became the language of education, of the courts of law, and of the higher classes of society generally, while Saxon shared in the degradation which the mass of the people experienced under their Conquerors. Though depressed, yet as the speech of the great body of the nation, it could not, however, be extinguished; but it was destined, in the course of the twelfth century, to undergo very essential grammatical changes. Its sounds were greatly altered, syllables were shortened in the pronunciation, and the termination, and inflections of words were softened down until they were entirely lost. Indeed, in the opinion of Dr. Johnson, the Normans affected the Anglo-Saxon language more in this manner than by the introduction of new words. The language which resulted from this change, was the commencement of the present English.
The first literary productions that call for attention after the Conquest, are a class which may, in a great measure, be considered foreign both to the country and to its language. Before the Conqueror's invasion of England, poetical literature had begun to be cultivated in France, with a considerable degree of spirit and taste. The language, which, from its origin, was called Romane, was separated into two great divisions-that of the South, which is represented popularly by the Provençal, and that of the North, which was subdivided into French and Anglo-Norman, the latter dialect being the one which was chiefly confined to England. The poets of the South were called
in their native dialect Troubadours, and those of the North were distinguished by the same title, though written in their language Trouvères. In Provence arose a series of elegant versifiers who employed their talents in composing romantic and complimentary poems, full of warlike and amatory sentiments, of the recitation of which, before assemblies of the great, many of them made a regular business. Norman poets writing with more plainness and simplicity, were celebrated even earlier than those of Provence; and one of them named Taillefer, was the first man to break the English ranks at the battle of Hastings. From the preference which the Norman kings of England gave to the poets of their own country, and from the general depression of the Anglo-Saxon language, the natural result was that the distinguished literary names of the first two centuries after the Conquest, should be those of Norman poets-men who are as frequently natives of France as of England.
Philippe de Thaun, author of treatises on popular sciences in verse; Thorold, who wrote the fine romance of Roland; Sampson de Nanteuil, who translated the Proverbs of Solomon into French verse; Geoffroi Gaimar, author of a chronicle of the Anglo-Saxon kings; and David, a trouvere of eminence, whose works are lost, were the most noted predecessors of one of much greater celebrity, named Maistre Wace, a native of Jersey.
About 1160, WACE wrote, in his native French, a narrative poem called Brutus of England. The principal hero of this poem was an imaginary son of Æneas of Troy, who was represented as having founded the state of Britain many centuries before the Christian era. This, however, was no creation of the fancy of the Norman poet, as he only translated a serious history, written in Latin a few years before, by a monk named Jeoffrey of Monmouth, in which the affairs of Britain were traced, with all possible gravity, through a series of imaginary kings, beginning with Brutus of Troy, and ending with Cadwalader, who was said to have lived in the year 689 of the Christian era.
This history is, on account of its origin and its influence on subsequent literature, a very remarkable work. The Britons settled in Wales, Cornwall, and Bretagne, were distinguished at this time for the numberless fanciful and fabulous legends which they possessed-a traditionary kind of literature resembling that which has since been found among a kindred people of the Scottish highlands. Walter Calenius, archdeacon of Oxford, collected some of these of a professedly historical kind relating to England, and communicated them to Jeoffrey, by whom they were put into the form of a regular historical work, and introduced, for the first time, to the then existing learned world. As little else than a mass of incredible stories, some of which may be slightly founded on fact, this production is of small value; but it formed a basis for Wace's poem, and proved an unfailing resource for the writers of romantic narrative for the ensuing two centuries. in a later age was its influence exhausted; for from it Shakspeare drew the
story of Lear, and Sackville that of Ferrax and Porrex, while Drayton reproduced much of it in his Polyolbion; and it has also given occasion to many allusions in the poems of Milton and other writers.
Maistre Wace also composed a history of the Normans, under the title of the Romance of Rolla, first duke of Normandy, and some other works. Henry the Second, through admiration of his writings, rewarded Wace for the efforts of his genius, by bestowing upon him a canonry in the Cathedral of Bayeux.
BENOIT, a contemporary of Wace, and author of a History of the Dukes of Normandy, and Guernes, an ecclesiastic of Pont St. Maxence, in Picardy, who wrote a metrical life of Thomas à Becket, are the other two Norman poets of most eminence, whose genius or whose writings can be connected with the history of English literature.
Besides the productions of these romancers, the century following the Conquest presents some compositions of a different kind, the principal of which were written in Latin by learned ecclesiastics, the most prominent of whom were John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois, Joseph of Exeter, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, the last being the author of the History of England, already alluded to, and which is supposed to have been written about 1138. About the year 1154, according to Dr. Johnson, the Saxon began to take a form in which the beginning of the present English may plainly be discovered. It does not, as already hinted, contain many Norman words, but its grammatical structure is considerably altered. There is a metrical Saxon or English translation, by one Layamon, a priest of Erenly on the Severn, from the 'Brutus of England' of Wace. Its date is not ascertained; but if it be as supposed by some writers, a composition of the latter part of the twelfth century, we must consider it as throwing a valuable light on the history of the English language at, perhaps, the most important period of its existence. Of an extract from this work Mr. Ellis remarks, As it does not contain any word which we are under the necessity of referring to a French origin, we can not but consider it as simple and unmixed, though very barbarous Saxon. At the same time its orthography seems to prove that the pronunciation of the language had already undergone a very considerable change. Layamon's versification is also no less remarkable than his language. Sometimes he seems anxious to imitate the rhymes, and to adopt the regular number of syllables which he had observed in his original; at other times he disregards both, either because he did not consider the laws of metre, or the consonance of final sounds as essential to the gratification of his readers, or because he was unable to adopt them throughout so long a work, from the want of models.'
LAYAMON, therefore, may be regarded as the first of a series of writers, who, about the end of the thirteenth century, began to be conspicuous in English literary history, which usually recognizes them under the general
appellation of Rhyming Chronicles. The first writer of this class after Layamon, though at a considerable distance, was Robert of Gloucester. He wrote in Alexandrian lines a history of England from the time of the imaginary 'Brutus' to his own time. Though cold and prosaic, Robert is not deficient in the valuable talent of arresting the attention. The orations with which he occasionally diversifies the thread of his story, are, in general, appropriate and dramatic, and not only prove his good sense, but exhibit no unfavorable specimen of his eloquence.
ROBERT MANNING is the next Rhyming Chronicler after Robert of Gloucester. He was a Gilbertine canon in the monastery of Brunne, in Lincolnshire, and he is hence usually called Robert de Brunne. The verse, however, adopted in his chronicles is shorter than that of the Gloucester monk, making an approach to the octo-syllabic stanza of modern times. Of this writer we present the following brief specimen, in reduced spelling:
PRAISE OF GOOD WOMAN.
As woman's love in good manner;
A good woman is man's bliss,
As a good woman that loveth true:
Ne dearer is none in God's hurd
Than a chast woman with lovely wurd.
Besides these Chroniclers, the period of which we are now speaking abounded with Metrical Romances, of which the Life of Alexander the Great,' 'Sir Guy,' 'King Robert of Sicily,' and 'The Death of Arthur,' were the principal; but these we can not farther notice. Another class of poets, called Minstrels or Jongleurs, at this time filled all western Europe. They wandered from mansion to mansion, and from court to court, and such was the general favor in which they were held, that even kings were frequently their companions, and often vied with them in their own favorite strains. Of the poetry of these minstrels, Sismondi has given many specimens; but of these our time and space will allow us to present but one. This, however, from the exalted source whence it emanated, should command special attention. It is the production of Richard the First, the second prince of the house of Plantagenet, and is supposed to have been written during his imprisonment in the Black Tower in Austria. It is thus sweetly rendered into modern English verse by Roscoe.
No wretched captive of his prison speaks