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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 GloucesHe 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.
Nothing is to man so dear
As woman's love in good manner;
When her love right and steadfast is.
That should a man so much glew,"
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
Where now is each ally, each baron, friend,
The smallest portion of his treasures vile.
Though none may blush that, ne'er two tedious years,
Had I been free a ransom should have found:
'Nor dead, nor captive, friend or kindred find!'
For lack of gold my fetters to unbind;
If, while a prisoner, death my eyes should close?
While none my cause has courage to espouse.
Yet through the dungeon's melancholy gloom,
Ye dear companions of my happy days,
Of Chail and Pausavin, aloud declare
My foes against me wage inglorious war.
The insults I receive, while captive here.
Know, all ye men of Anjou and Touraine,
And every bach'lor knight, robust and brave,
That duty, now, and love alike are vain
From bonds your sovereign and your friend to save.
Remote from consolation, here I lie,
The wretched captive of a powerful foe,
Who all your zeal and ardor can defy,
Nor leaves you aught but pity to bestow.
Our remarks upon the period of English literature of which we are now speaking, have thus brought us down to Roger Bacon, a man of genius so extraordinary, that he would have splendidly adorned any age or country.
ROGER BACON was descended from an ancient and honorable family, and was born at Ilchester, in Somersetshire, 1214, four years before the amiable
but weak Henry the Third ascended the throne. His early education appears to have been carefully attended to in the midst of domestic relations, and after he had made thorough preparation for college, he entered the University of Oxford, intending there to complete his studies. But the passion for studying upon the continent had already become very general with the sons of English gentlemen, and Bacon, with others, removed from Oxford to the University of Paris, at that time the most celebrated seat, of learning in Europe, there to complete his collegiate course. At Paris he became acquainted with many English students whom he had not hitherto known, and many of whom afterward rose to eminence in their own country. With some of these he there formed an intimacy which continued through life.
Having obtained his doctor's degree at the University, Bacon returned to England, and soon after, in 1240, he entered the Franciscan order of monks, though some writers suppose he had assumed the religious habit before he left France.
At the time of his return to Oxford, Bacon was regarded by the most learned and accomplished scholars of that University, as so able and indefatigable an inquirer after knowledge, that they willingly defrayed the expenses of advancing science by experiments-the method of investigation which he had determined to follow. His discoveries, however, were little understood by the mass even of his own order; and because, by the aid of mathematical knowledge, he performed things above the comprehension of the common people, he was suspected of magic. Even his own fraternity finally rose against him, and not only persecuted him, and refused to admit his works into their library, but finally had interest enough with the general of their order to obtain his apprehension and imprisonment. Clement the Fourth at that time occupied the papal chair, and having received information respecting the character of Bacon's works, he requested him to transmit a copy of them to Rome for inspection. Bacon, in compliance with the request, in 1267, collected and enlarged his various productions, and sent a copy of them thither. This collection is still extant, and is known as the Author's Opus Majus, or Great Work. Dr. Jebb, its learned and accomplished editor remarks, in his preface to the folio edition which he published of it, that 'Bacon seems in it to have principally proposed two things either by laying down a good scheme for philosophy to excite the pope to reform the errors which had then crept into the church; or, if he could not effect this, to propose such expedients as might break the power of Antichrist, and retard his progress. For he appears to have been firmly persuaded that the church would soon be reformed, either by means of the pope himself, who was a man of integrity, or because the exorbitant dominion of Antichrist would become obnoxious to mankind, and so fall to destruction.'
When Bacon had been confined ten years in prison, Jerome d'Ascoli, general of the Franciscan order, and who had condemned his doctrines, was
chosen pope, and assumed the name of Nicholas the Fourth. As he was reputed to be a person of great abilities, and one who had turned his thoughts much to philosophical subjects, Bacon resolved to apply to him for his release; and in order to show that his studies had been both innocent and useful, he addressed to him a treatise 'On the means of avoiding the infirmities of old age.' This important work was afterward translated into English, by Dr. Richard Browne, under the title of 'The cure of old age, and preservation of youth,' and was, by the learned translator, regarded as one of the most important works ever written.
Whether this treatise produced any immediate effect upon the mind of the pope or not, does not appear; but toward the latter part of Nicholas' reign, Bacon, through the influence of some of those English noblemen with whom he had formed an intimacy while pursuing his studies at Paris, obtained his liberty, and returned to Oxford, where he passed the remainder of his life in peace, and died in the college of his order on the eleventh of June, 1294, and in the eighty-first year of his age.
Bacon, in the opinion of Dr. Peter Shaw, a very competent judge of merit, was, 'beyond all comparison, the greatest man of his time, and might perhaps stand in competition with the greatest that have appeared since. It is wonderful, considering the ignorant age in which he lived, how he came to such a knowledge on all subjects. His writings are composed with such elegance, conciseness, and strength, and adorned with such just and exquisite observation on nature, that among all the chemists, we do not know his equal.' From a repeated perusal of his works,' the same skillful chemist proceeds to remark, 'we find that Bacon was no stranger to many of the most important discoveries of the present and of past ages. Gunpowder he certainly knew thunder and lightning, he tells us, may be produced by art; for that sulphur, nitre, and charcoal, which, when separate, have no sensible effect, yet when mixed together in a due proportion, and closely confined and fired, they yield a loud report. A more precise description of gunpowder could not be given in language.'
Dr. Freind unhesitatingly ascribes to Bacon the honor of first introducing chemistry into Europe; and observes that in different parts of his works, he speaks of almost every operation now made in that science. That he was entirely familiar with the science of Optics also, is perfectly evident from the accuracy with which he described the use of reading-glasses, and gave directions for making them. He also describes the camera obscura, and all sorts of glasses which magnify or diminish objects, bring them near to the eye, or remove them farther from it. A passage in his writings indicates a knowledge of the telescope also; for he expressly says, 'that he was able to form glasses in such a manner with respect to our sight and the object, that the shall be refracted and reflected wherever we please, so that we may see a thing under whatever angle we think proper, either near by or far off, and be able to read the smallest letters at an incredible distance, and to
count even the grains of dust and sand, in consequence of the greatness of the angle under which these objects shall be seen.'
Bacon's skill in astronomy too, when we consider the disadvantages under which he, in his investigations, must have labored, was amazingly great. He discovered the error in the computation of time, which resulted in the reformation of the calendar; one of the greatest efforts, in the opinion of Dr. Jebb, of human industry; and his plan for correcting it was followed by pope Gregory the Thirteenth, only varying from it in that Bacon would have had the correction reach back to the birth of Christ, while Gregory carried it only as far as the Nicene council.
All these mighty efforts of mind, it must not be forgotten, were made centuries before Schwarts developed, to the public, the composition of gunpowder, or Newton reduced to a science the principles of Optics, or Galileo constructed his telescope.
We are, however, admonished that our time will not permit us longer to dwell upon this important character in English literature; and we shall therefore here bring our remarks upon him, and upon the period which we have thus far contemplated, to a close-simply observing that its literary developments do great credit to the five or six centuries which it embraces. The immediate predecessors of Chaucer, that great poet himself, and his contemporaries, will not occupy our attention. We must, however, first briefly notice John Wickliffe; for, perhaps no man ever exerted a more powerful influence over his age, than did that learned ecclesiastic.