Abbildungen der Seite

Henceforward the English language ceases to be a written, and sinks into a spoken language only. The conquering race use French and Latin, and these for a time continue to be the only written languages in the country. The English language, now no longer fixed by being used as in literature and by the educated, undergoes continual change, and diverges more and more into local dialects. It was disused in the schools; the language of the scholar was Latin; of the courtier, French. 2. This continued to be the case for at least a English in

abeyance. century and a half. During this century and a half, 1066–1215. literature was not inactive; but it was not properly English literature, though produced on English soil. Chroniclers were numerous. Religious treatises were spread abroad by an active, but really foreign, clergy. With Geoffrey of Monmouth began the long line of Geoffrey of Arthurian romance, which was soon after read by much Circ. 1150. the same audience in the French version of Wace, where it blended with the legends of Brittany on the E.G.Glanvil. same subjects. Legal treatises again proved the active working of constitutional principles. The satire of Mapes and Wireker shows that abuses of the Church Walter

Mapes. were not sheltered from criticism. On the whole the time 1140-1200. was active; but it added nothing to English literature. Temp. Henry

3. Soon after the beginning of the thirteenth century, the English language began to recover itself. The English part of the population was no longer downtrodden and unimportant. Their language now began to have its literature. The first book of any importance

Circ. 1190.


Temp. John.

Temp. John.

was the Brut of Layamon, which gave in the English tongue the early legends of the island which had already received a Latin and a French dress (from Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace). It was followed by

the probably contemporary Ormulum of Ormin, in (1197–1216.) which the Gospel lessons were amplified for the English

reader; and by many other English books of less importance. In these books hardly a trace of French intermixture appears in the language; the Old English remains, but it is greatly transformed by dialectical peculiarities, and by the dropping of case inflexions ; both the results of its long use as a spoken language only.

4. The English language has thus regained so much of its position as to have a place in the literature of the country, after a lapse of one hundred and fifty years. But it still remains, for more than a century longer, a language less read in England than either French or

Latin. The new scientific impulse, of which Roger Roger Bacon. Bacon is the most striking representative, took a Latin

dress. The bulk of the romance literature, on the other hand, was written, for the use of the court and aristocracy, in French.

Only very slowly did the different channels converge, and a new language take shape out of the three which had previously divided the nation. X111. The New, or Mixed Language.

FROM 1360 TO 1500. 1. In 1360 the first part of Edward III.'s war with France was brought to a close in the peace of Bretigny.


The claim on the French crown was abandoned ; the feudal tie between the French and English kings was dissolved. The French spirit, the French manners and customs, did not die out of the society of the English court. There was not likely to be a falling back upon the Old English, already dissipated in local dialects. French sympathies could not be so rudely broken. But, on the other hand, England, no longer an appendage to France, must have a language of her own. The old language was asserting its importance; it had already pushed its way into the schools ; it soon became the language of the Law Courts. At length the two converged, and out of English, with a large infusion of French, was formed the New, or Mixed Language.

2. The impulse which led to the formation of this language, soon brought forth a poet who was to give it new grace. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in 1328, Chaucer. and lived to the end of the century. With him we have the first great outburst of genius in English literature. Chaucer was at first influenced by French literature in the shape of metrical romances. His English, although not more French than that of contemporary authors, yet was French enough to make it a ground of accusation against him that he spoiled the purity of the language. Besides this he lived at a court where French habits still prevailed. He served in Edward's wars, and was for some time a prisoner in France. Much of his subject matter is drawn from scenes which he saw at court, or in the course of the foreign embassies in which he was employed. But, in

1328-1400 1 See Prologue to

Tales : and


Bath's Tale. 3 See Clerk's Tale.

4 See

5 See their Tales.

spite of all this, Chaucer is very thoroughly English. He was English in his sympathy with all grades of the

national life. He could describe the “lvery perfect Canterbury gentle knight,” or the noble lady; but he could also Knight's describe those whose only gentleness was the doing of 2 See Wife of gentle deeds ; or the patient Griselda,who, though of

humble rank, proved herself worthy of the highest place by her meekness and fidelity. He can give us the polished speeches of knights of chivalry, and tell us

of pageants and tournaments ;4 but he can also repeat Knight's Tale.

the rough language of the miller, the merchant, and the shipman, and let us have glimpses of the homely life of England in the lower class. In his most famous poem, the Canterbury Tales,' he gives us an account of a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury; he describes the pilgrims to the life, and recounts the tales they tell to beguile the way. Each of

these tales is full of character; some are of high lords 16.9. Knights and ladies ;1 others are drawn from foreign sources ;2 e.g. Clerk's there are tales of miracles such as were popular Doctor's Tale. amongst the religious people of the day ;3 and tales, 3 e.g.

again, of a kind no doubt repeated from mouth to mouth, in which the knaveries and deceptions of those

who made their livelihood out of the religious feelings 42.9. Priar's of the devout were exposed. There are other tales, e.g. Cook's again, which are full of fun and merriment, and which

seem to carry us into a different world from that of the stately knights and dames whom we have just left,

Chaucer could not only describe the character and the life of those around him of whatever class ; he


Tale and

Second Nun's Tale.


could also see and describe the beauties of outside
nature. We see in his pages English scenery just as it
is in our own day; the morning mist rising slowly
from the new-ploughed earth; the sun piercing dully
through the misty vapour, and, high above, “the busy
lark” saluting the rising day with his song; below, the
daisy, or “ eye of day," opening to the morning sun in
May. Of all flowers Chaucer loved it most, and he
tells us how, after long poring over books, which he
calls “of remembrance the key,” he used to leave his
books to wander out over the meadows to seek the
daisy :

“ To see this flower again the sonne sprede
When it upriseth early by the morrow;
That blisful sight softeneth all my sorrow.”

Piers the

By William

Chaucer's was the greatest name in literature in his own age, and for long after. Yet he was not the only one who used this new mixed language, and who used it with some vigour. A poem called the 'Vision of vision of Piers the Ploughman,' that is to say, the vision in Ploughman. which Piers the ploughman appears, was written by Langland. William Langland, a contemporary of Chaucer. We do not know much of his life, and are not sure even of his surname. But he tells us he lived in the Cornhill, in London; that he wandered through the London streets, studying men and manners; that he loved best the long clothes which he wore as a poor clerk in the church. He was married, and tells us of his wife and daughter. But what is more important, and what we can gather from his poem, is, that he belonged to the

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