A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher
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|موضوع: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 14:13|| |
Chapter I. Period I. The Britons And The Anglo-Saxons. To A.D. 1066
FOREWORD. The two earliest of the nine main divisions of English Literature are by far the longest--taken together are longer than all the others combined--but we shall pass rather rapidly over them. This is partly because the amount of thoroughly great literature which they produced is small, and partly because for present-day readers it is in effect a foreign literature, written in early forms of English or in foreign languages, so that to-day it is intelligible only through special study or in translation.
THE BRITONS. The present English race has gradually shaped itself out of several distinct peoples which successively occupied or conquered the island of Great Britain. The earliest one of these peoples which need here be mentioned belonged to the Celtic family and was itself divided into two branches. The Goidels or Gaels were settled in the northern part of the island, which is now Scotland, and were the ancestors of the present Highland Scots. On English literature they exerted little or no influence until a late period. The Britons, from whom the present Welsh are descended, inhabited what is now England and Wales; and they were still further subdivided, like most barbarous peoples, into many tribes which were often at war with one another. Though the Britons were conquered and chiefly supplanted later on by the Anglo-Saxons, enough of them, as we shall see, were spared and intermarried with the victors to transmit something of their racial qualities to the English nation and literature.
The characteristics of the Britons, which are those of the Celtic family as a whole, appear in their history and in the scanty late remains of their literature. Two main traits include or suggest all the others: first, a vigorous but fitful emotionalism which rendered them vivacious, lovers of novelty, and brave, but ineffective in practical affairs; second, a somewhat fantastic but sincere and delicate sensitiveness to beauty. Into impetuous action they were easily hurried; but their momentary ardor easily cooled into fatalistic despondency. To the mysterious charm of Nature--of hills and forests and pleasant breezes; to the loveliness and grace of meadow-flowers or of a young man or a girl; to the varied sheen of rich colors--to all attractive objects of sight and sound and motion their fancy responded keenly and joyfully; but they preferred chiefly to weave these things into stories and verse of supernatural romance or vague suggestiveness; for substantial work of solider structure either in life or in literature they possessed comparatively little faculty. Here is a description (exceptionally beautiful, to be sure) from the story 'Kilhwch and Olwen':
'The maid was clothed in a robe of flame-colored silk, and about her neck was a collar of ruddy gold, on which were precious emeralds and rubies. More yellow was her head than the flowers of the broom, and her skin was whiter than the foam of the wave, and fairer were her hands and her fingers than the blossoms of the wood anemone amidst the spray of the meadow fountain. The eye of the trained hawk, the glance of the three-mewed falcon, was not brighter than hers. Her bosom was more snowy than the breast of the white swan, her cheeks were redder than the reddest roses. Who beheld her was filled with her love. Pour white trefoils sprang up wherever she trod. And therefore was she called Olwen.'
This charming fancifulness and delicacy of feeling is apparently the great contribution of the Britons to English literature; from it may perhaps be descended the fairy scenes of Shakespeare and possibly to some extent the lyrical music of Tennyson.
THE ROMAN OCCUPATION. Of the Roman conquest and occupation of Britain (England and Wales) we need only make brief mention, since it produced virtually no effect on English literature. The fact should not be forgotten that for over three hundred years, from the first century A. D. to the beginning of the fifth, the island was a Roman province, with Latin as the language of the ruling class of Roman immigrants, who introduced Roman civilization and later on Christianity, to the Britons of the towns and plains. But the interest of the Romans in the island was centered on other things than writing, and the great bulk of the Britons themselves seem to have been only superficially affected by the Roman supremacy. At the end of the Roman rule, as at its beginning, they appear divided into mutually jealous tribes, still largely barbarous and primitive.
The Anglo-Saxons. Meanwhile across the North Sea the three Germanic tribes which were destined to form the main element in the English race were multiplying and unconsciously preparing to swarm to their new home. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes occupied territories in the region which includes parts of the present Holland, of Germany about the mouth of the Elbe, and of Denmark. They were barbarians, living partly from piratical expeditions against the northern and eastern coasts of Europe, partly from their flocks and herds, and partly from a rude sort of agriculture. At home they seem to have sheltered themselves chiefly in unsubstantial wooden villages, easily destroyed and easily abandoned; For the able-bodied freemen among them the chief occupation, as a matter of course, was war. Strength, courage, and loyalty to king and comrades were the chief virtues that they admired; ferocity and cruelty, especially to other peoples, were necessarily among their prominent traits when their blood was up; though among themselves there was no doubt plenty of rough and ready companionable good-humor. Their bleak country, where the foggy and unhealthy marshes of the coast gave way further inland to vast and somber forests, developed in them during their long inactive winters a sluggish and gloomy mood, in which, however, the alternating spirit of aggressive enterprise was never quenched. In religion they had reached a moderately advanced state of heathenism, worshipping especially, it seems, Woden, a 'furious' god as well as a wise and crafty one; the warrior Tiu; and the strong-armed Thunor (the Scandinavian Thor); but together with these some milder deities like the goddess of spring, Eostre, from whom our Easter is named. For the people on whom they fell these barbarians were a pitiless and terrible scourge; yet they possessed in undeveloped form the intelligence, the energy, the strength--most of the qualities of head and heart and body--which were to make of them one of the great world-races.
THE ANGLO-SAXON CONQUEST AND SETTLEMENT. The process by which Britain became England was a part of the long agony which transformed the Roman Empire into modern Europe. In the fourth century A. D. the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes began to harry the southern and eastern shores of Britain, where the Romans were obliged to maintain a special military establishment against them. But early in the fifth century the Romans, hard-pressed even in Italy by other barbarian invaders, withdrew all their troops and completely abandoned Britain. Not long thereafter, and probably before the traditional date of 449, the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons began to come in large bands with the deliberate purpose of permanent settlement. Their conquest, very different in its methods and results from that of the Romans, may roughly be said to have occupied a hundred and fifty or two hundred years. The earlier invading hordes fixed themselves at various points on the eastern and southern shore and gradually fought their way inland, and they were constantly augmented by new arrivals. In general the Angles settled in the east and north and the Saxons in the south, while the less numerous Jutes, the first to come, in Kent, soon ceased to count in the movement. In this way there naturally came into existence a group of separate and rival kingdoms, which when they were not busy with the Britons were often at war with each other. Their number varied somewhat from time to time as they were united or divided; but on the whole, seven figured most prominently, whence comes the traditional name 'The Saxon Heptarchy' (Seven Kingdoms). The resistance of the Britons to the Anglo-Saxon advance was often brave and sometimes temporarily successful. Early in the sixth century, for example, they won at Mount Badon in the south a great victory, later connected in tradition with the legendary name of King Arthur, which for many years gave them security from further aggressions. But in the long run their racial defects proved fatal; they were unable to combine in permanent and steady union, and tribe by tribe the newcomers drove them slowly back; until early in the seventh century the Anglo-Saxons were in possession of nearly all of what is now England, the exceptions being the regions all along the west coast, including what has ever since been, known as Wales.
Of the Roman and British civilization the Anglo-Saxons were ruthless destroyers, exulting, like other barbarians, in the wanton annihilation of things which they did not understand. Every city, or nearly every one, which they took, they burned, slaughtering the inhabitants. They themselves occupied the land chiefly as masters of scattered farms, each warrior established in a large rude house surrounded by its various outbuildings and the huts of the British slaves and the Saxon and British bondmen. Just how largely the Britons were exterminated and how largely they were kept alive as slaves and wives, is uncertain; but it is evident that at least a considerable number were spared; to this the British names of many of our objects of humble use, for example mattoc and basket, testify.
In the natural course of events, however, no sooner had the Anglo-Saxons destroyed the (imperfect and partial) civilization of their predecessors than they began to rebuild one for themselves; possessors of a fertile land, they settled down to develop it, and from tribes of lawless fighters were before long transformed into a race of farmer-citizens. Gradually trade with the Continent, also, was reestablished and grew; but perhaps the most important humanizing influence was the reintroduction of Christianity. The story is famous of how Pope Gregory the Great, struck by the beauty of certain Angle slave-boys at Rome, declared that they ought to be called not Angli but Angeli (angels) and forthwith, in 597, sent to Britain St. Augustine (not the famous African saint of that name), who landed in Kent and converted that kingdom. Within the next two generations, and after much fierce fighting between the adherents of the two religions, all the other kingdoms as well had been christianized. It was only the southern half of the island, however, that was won by the Roman missionaries; in the north the work was done independently by preachers from Ireland, where, in spite of much anarchy, a certain degree of civilization had been preserved. These two types of Christianity, those of Ireland and of Rome, were largely different in spirit. The Irish missionaries were simple and loving men and won converts by the beauty of their lives; the Romans brought with them the architecture, music, and learning of their imperial city and the aggressive energy which in the following centuries was to make their Church supreme throughout the Western world. When the inevitable clash for supremacy came, the king of the then-dominant Anglian kingdom, Northumbria, made choice of the Roman as against the Irish Church, a choice which proved decisive for the entire island. And though our personal sympathies may well go to the finer-spirited Irish, this outcome was on the whole fortunate; for only through religious union with Rome during the slow centuries of medieval rebirth could England be bound to the rest of Europe as one of the family of cooperating Christian states; and outside that family she would have been isolated and spiritually starved.
One of the greatest gifts of Christianity, it should be observed, and one of the most important influences in medieval civilization, was the network of monasteries which were now gradually established and became centers of active hospitality and the chief homes of such learning as was possible to the time.
ANGLO-SAXON POETRY. THE EARLY PAGAN POETRY AND 'BEOWULF.' The Anglo-Saxons doubtless brought with them from the Continent the rude beginnings of poetry, such as come first in the literature of every people and consist largely of brief magical charms and of rough 'popular ballads' (ballads of the people). The charms explain themselves as an inevitable product of primitive superstition; the ballads probably first sprang up and developed, among all races, in much the following way. At the very beginning of human society, long before the commencement of history, the primitive groups of savages who then constituted mankind were instinctively led to express their emotions together, communally, in rhythmical fashion. Perhaps after an achievement in hunting or war the village-group would mechanically fall into a dance, sometimes, it might be, about their village fire. Suddenly from among the inarticulate cries of the crowd some one excited individual would shout out a fairly distinct rhythmical expression. This expression, which may be called a line, was taken up and repeated by the crowd; others might be added to it, and thus gradually, in the course of generations, arose the regular habit of communal composition, composition of something like complete ballads by the throng as a whole. This procedure ceased to be important everywhere long before the literary period, but it led to the frequent composition by humble versifiers of more deliberate poems which were still 'popular' because they circulated by word of mouth, only, from generation to generation, among the common people, and formed one of the best expressions of their feeling. At an early period also professional minstrels, called by the Anglo-Saxons scops or gleemen, disengaged themselves from the crowd and began to gain their living by wandering from village to village or tribe to tribe chanting to the harp either the popular ballads or more formal poetry of their own composition. Among all races when a certain stage of social development is reached at least one such minstrel is to be found as a regular retainer at the court of every barbarous chief or king, ready to entertain the warriors at their feasts, with chants of heroes and battles and of the exploits of their present lord. All the earliest products of these processes of 'popular' and minstrel composition are everywhere lost long before recorded literature begins, but the processes themselves in their less formal stages continue among uneducated people (whose mental life always remains more or less primitive) even down to the present time.
Out of the popular ballads, or, chiefly, of the minstrel poetry which is partly based on them, regularly develops epic poetry. Perhaps a minstrel finds a number of ballads which deal with the exploits of a single hero or with a single event. He combines them as best he can into a unified story and recites this on important and stately occasions. As his work passes into general circulation other minstrels add other ballads, until at last, very likely after many generations, a complete epic is formed, outwardly continuous and whole, but generally more or less clearly separable on analysis into its original parts. Or, on the other hand, the combination may be mostly performed all at once at a comparatively late period by a single great poet, who with conscious art weaves together a great mass of separate materials into the nearly finished epic.
Not much Anglo-Saxon poetry of the pagan period has come down to us. By far the most important remaining example is the epic 'Beowulf,' of about three thousand lines. This poem seems to have originated on the Continent, but when and where are not now to be known. It may have been carried to England in the form of ballads by the Anglo-Saxons; or it may be Scandinavian material, later brought in by Danish or Norwegian pirates. At any rate it seems to have taken on its present form in England during the seventh and eighth centuries. It relates, with the usual terse and unadorned power of really primitive poetry, how the hero Beowulf, coming over the sea to the relief of King Hrothgar, delivers him from a monster, Grendel, and then from the vengeance of Grendel's only less formidable mother. Returned home in triumph, Beowulf much later receives the due reward of his valor by being made king of his own tribe, and meets his death while killing a fire-breathing dragon which has become a scourge to his people. As he appears in the poem, Beowulf is an idealized Anglo-Saxon hero, but in origin he may have been any one of several other different things. Perhaps he was the old Germanic god Beowa, and his exploits originally allegories, like some of those in the Greek mythology, of his services to man; he may, for instance, first have been the sun, driving away the mists and cold of winter and of the swamps, hostile forces personified in Grendel and his mother. Or, Beowulf may really have been a great human fighter who actually killed some especially formidable wild beasts, and whose superhuman strength in the poem results, through the similarity of names, from his being confused with Beowa. This is the more likely because there is in the poem a slight trace of authentic history. (See below, under the assignments for study.)
'Beowulf' presents an interesting though very incomplete picture of the life of the upper, warrior, caste among the northern Germanic tribes during their later period of barbarism on the Continent and in England, a life more highly developed than that of the Anglo-Saxons before their conquest of the island. About King Hrothgar are grouped his immediate retainers, the warriors, with whom he shares his wealth; it is a part of the character, of a good king to be generous in the distribution of gifts of gold and weapons. Somewhere in the background there must be a village, where the bondmen and slaves provide the daily necessaries of life and where some of the warriors may have houses and families; but all this is beneath the notice of the courtly poet. The center of the warriors' life is the great hall of the king, built chiefly of timber. Inside, there are benches and tables for feasting, and the walls are perhaps adorned with tapestries. Near the center is the hearth, whence the smoke must escape, if it escapes at all, through a hole in the roof. In the hall the warriors banquet, sometimes in the company of their wives, but the women retire before the later revelry which often leaves the men drunk on the floor. Sometimes, it seems, there are sleeping-rooms or niches about the sides of the hall, but in 'Beowulf' Hrothgar and his followers retire to other quarters. War, feasting, and hunting are the only occupations in which the warriors care to be thought to take an interest.
The spirit of the poem is somber and grim. There is no unqualified happiness of mood, and only brief hints of delight in the beauty and joy of the world. Rather, there is stern satisfaction in the performance of the warrior's and the sea-king's task, the determination of a strong-willed race to assert itself, and do, with much barbarian boasting, what its hand finds to do in the midst of a difficult life and a hostile nature. For the ultimate force in the universe of these fighters and their poets (in spite of certain Christian touches inserted by later poetic editors before the poem crystallized into its present form) is Wyrd, the Fate of the Germanic peoples, cold as their own winters and the bleak northern sea, irresistible, despotic, and unmoved by sympathy for man. Great as the differences are, very much of this Anglo-Saxon pagan spirit persists centuries later in the English Puritans.
For the finer artistic graces, also, and the structural subtilties of a more developed literary period, we must not, of course, look in 'Beowulf.' The narrative is often more dramatic than clear, and there is no thought of any minuteness of characterization. A few typical characters stand out clearly, and they were all that the poet's turbulent and not very attentive audience could understand. But the barbaric vividness and power of the poem give it much more than a merely historical interest; and the careful reader cannot fail to realize that it is after all the product of a long period of poetic development.
THE ANGLO-SAXON VERSE-FORM. The poetic form of 'Beowulf' is that of virtually all Anglo-Saxon poetry down to the tenth century, or indeed to the end, a form which is roughly represented in the present book in a passage of imitative translation two pages below. The verse is unrimed, not arranged in stanzas, and with lines more commonly end-stopped (with distinct pauses at the ends) than is true in good modern poetry. Each line is divided into halves and each half contains two stressed syllables, generally long in quantity. The number of unstressed syllables appears to a modern eye or ear irregular and actually is very unequal, but they are really combined with the stressed ones into 'feet' in accordance with certain definite principles. At least one of the stressed syllables in each half-line must be in alliteration with one in the other half-line; and most often the alliteration includes both stressed syllables in the first halfline and the first stressed syllable in the second, occasionally all four stressed syllables. (All vowels are held to alliterate with each other.) It will be seen therefore that (1) emphatic stress and (2) alliteration are the basal principles of the system. To a present-day reader the verse sounds crude, the more so because of the harshly consonantal character of the Anglo-Saxon language; and in comparison with modern poetry it is undoubtedly unmelodious. But it was worked out on conscious artistic principles, carefully followed; and when chanted, as it was meant to be, to the harp it possessed much power and even beauty of a vigorous sort, to which the pictorial and metaphorical wealth of the Anglo-Saxon poetic vocabulary largely contributed.
This last-named quality, the use of metaphors, is perhaps the most conspicuous one in the style of the Anglo-Saxon poetry. The language, compared to that of our own vastly more complex time, was undeveloped; but for use in poetry, especially, there were a great number of periphrastic but vividly picturesque metaphorical synonyms (technically called kennings). Thus the spear becomes 'the slaughter-shaft'; fighting 'hand-play'; the sword 'the leavings of the hammer' (or 'of the anvil'); and a ship 'the foamy-necked floater.' These kennings add much imaginative suggestiveness to the otherwise over-terse style, and often contribute to the grim irony which is another outstanding trait.
ANGLO-SAXON POETRY. THE NORTHUMBRIAN PERIOD. The Anglo-Saxons were for a long time fully occupied with the work of conquest and settlement, and their first literature of any importance, aside from 'Beowulf,' appears at about the time when 'Beowulf' was being put into its present form, namely in the seventh century. This was in the Northern, Anglian, kingdom of Northumbria (Yorkshire and Southern Scotland), which, as we have already said, had then won the political supremacy, and whose monasteries and capital city, York, thanks to the Irish missionaries, had become the chief centers of learning and culture in Western Christian Europe. Still pagan in spirit are certain obscure but, ingenious and skillfully developed riddles in verse, representatives of one form of popular literature only less early than the ballads and charms. There remain also a few pagan lyric poems, which are all not only somber like 'Beowulf' but distinctly elegiac, that is pensively melancholy. They deal with the hard and tragic things in life, the terrible power of ocean and storm, or the inexorableness and dreariness of death, banishment, and the separation of friends. In their frequent tender notes of pathos there may be some influence from the Celtic spirit. The greater part of the literature of the period, however, was Christian, produced in the monasteries or under their influence. The first Christian writer was Caedmon (pronounced Kadmon), who toward the end of the seventh century paraphrased in Anglo-Saxon verse some portions of the Bible. The legend of his divine call is famous. The following is a modern rendering of the hymn which is said to have been his first work:
Now must we worship the heaven-realm's Warder,
The Maker's might and his mind's thought,
The glory-father's work as he every wonder,
Lord everlasting, of old established.
He first fashioned the firmament for mortals,
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator.
Then the midearth mankind's Warder,
Lord everlasting, afterwards wrought,
For men a garden, God almighty.
After Caedmon comes Bede, not a poet but a monk of strong and beautiful character, a profound scholar who in nearly forty Latin prose works summarized most of the knowledge of his time. The other name to be remembered is that of Cynewulf (pronounced Kinnywulf), the author of some noble religious poetry (in Anglo-Saxon), especially narratives dealing with Christ and Christian Apostles and heroes. There is still other Anglo-Saxon Christian poetry, generally akin in subjects to Cynewulf's, but in most of the poetry of the whole period the excellence results chiefly from the survival of the old pagan spirit which distinguishes 'Beowulf'. Where the poet writes for edification he is likely to be dull, but when his story provides him with sea-voyages, with battles, chances for dramatic dialogue, or any incidents of vigorous action or of passion, the zest for adventure and war rekindles, and we have descriptions and narratives of picturesque color and stern force. Sometimes there is real religious yearning, and indeed the heroes of these poems are partly medieval hermits and ascetics as well as quick-striking fighters; but for the most part the Christian Providence is really only the heathen Wyrd under another name, and God and Christ are viewed in much the same way as the Anglo-Saxon kings, the objects of feudal allegiance which is sincere but rather self-assertive and worldly than humble or consecrated.
On the whole, then, Anglo-Saxon poetry exhibits the limitations of a culturally early age, but it manifests also a degree of power which gives to Anglo-Saxon literature unquestionable superiority over that of any other European country of the same period.
THE WEST-SAXON, PROSE, PERIOD. The horrors which the Anglo-Saxons had inflicted on the Britons they themselves were now to suffer from their still heathen and piratical kinsmen the 'Danes' or Northmen, inhabitants or the Scandinavian peninsula and the neighboring coasts. For a hundred years, throughout the ninth century, the Danes, appearing with unwearied persistence, repeatedly ravaged and plundered England, and they finally made complete conquest of Northumbria, destroyed all the churches and monasteries, and almost completely extinguished learning. It is a familiar story how Alfred, king from 871 to 901 of the southern kingdom of Wessex (the land of the West Saxons), which had now taken first place among the Anglo-Saxon states, stemmed the tide of invasion and by ceding to the 'Danes' the whole northeastern half of the island obtained for the remainder the peace which was the first essential for the reestablishment of civilization. Peace secured, Alfred, who was one of the greatest of all English kings, labored unremittingly for learning, as for everything else that was useful, and he himself translated from Latin into Anglo-Saxon half a dozen of the best informational manuals of his time, manuals of history, philosophy, and religion. His most enduring literary work, however, was the inspiration and possibly partial authorship of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,' a series of annals beginning with the Christian era, kept at various monasteries, and recording year by year (down to two centuries and a half after Alfred's own death), the most important events of history, chiefly that of England. Most of the entries in the 'Chronicle' are bare and brief, but sometimes, especially in the accounts of Alfred's own splendid exploits, a writer is roused to spirited narrative, occasionally in verse; and in the tenth century two great battles against invading Northmen, at Brunanburh and Maldon, produced the only important extant pieces of Anglo-Saxon poetry which certainly belong to the West Saxon period.
For literature, indeed, the West-Saxon period has very little permanent significance. Plenty of its other writing remains in the shape of religious prose--sermons, lives and legends of saints, biblical paraphrases, and similar work in which the monastic and priestly spirit took delight, but which is generally dull with the dulness of medieval commonplace didacticism and fantastic symbolism. The country, too, was still distracted with wars. Within fifty years after Alfred's death, to be sure, his descendants had won back the whole of England from 'Danish' rule (though the 'Danes,' then constituting half the population of the north and east, have remained to the present day a large element in the English race). But near the end of the tenth century new swarms of 'Danes' reappeared from the Baltic lands, once more slaughtering and devastating, until at last in the eleventh century the 'Danish' though Christian Canute ruled for twenty years over all England. In such a time there could be little intellectual or literary life. But the decline of the Anglo-Saxon literature speaks also partly of stagnation in the race itself. The people, though still sturdy, seem to have become somewhat dull from inbreeding and to have required an infusion of altogether different blood from without. This necessary renovation was to be violently forced upon them, for in 1066 Duke William of Normandy landed at Pevensey with his army of adventurers and his ill-founded claim to the crown, and before him at Hastings fell the gallant Harold and his nobles. By the fortune of this single fight, followed only by stern suppression of spasmodic outbreaks, William established himself and his vassals as masters of the land. England ceased to be Anglo-Saxon and became, altogether politically, and partly in race, Norman-French, a change more radical and far-reaching than any which it has since undergone.
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|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 14:15|| |
Chapter II. Period II. The Norman-French Period. A.D. 1066 To About 1350
PERIOD II. THE NORMAN-FRENCH PERIOD. A.D. 1066 TO ABOUT 1350
THE NORMANS. The Normans who conquered England were originally members of the same stock as the 'Danes' who had harried and conquered it in the preceding centuries--the ancestors of both were bands of Baltic and North Sea pirates who merely happened to emigrate in different directions; and a little farther back the Normans were close cousins, in the general Germanic family, of the Anglo-Saxons themselves. The exploits of this whole race of Norse sea-kings make one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of medieval Europe. In the ninth and tenth centuries they mercilessly ravaged all the coasts not only of the West but of all Europe from the Rhine to the Adriatic. 'From the fury of the Norsemen, good Lord, deliver us!' was a regular part of the litany of the unhappy French. They settled Iceland and Greenland and prematurely discovered America; they established themselves as the ruling aristocracy in Russia, and as the imperial body-guard and chief bulwark of the Byzantine empire at Constantinople; and in the eleventh century they conquered southern Italy and Sicily, whence in the first crusade they pressed on with unabated vigor to Asia Minor. Those bands of them with whom we are here concerned, and who became known distinctively as Normans, fastened themselves as settlers, early in the eleventh century, on the northern shore of France, and in return for their acceptance of Christianity and acknowledgment of the nominal feudal sovereignty of the French king were recognized as rightful possessors of the large province which thus came to bear the name of Normandy. Here by intermarriage with the native women they rapidly developed into a race which while retaining all their original courage and enterprise took on also, together with the French language, the French intellectual brilliancy and flexibility and in manners became the chief exponent of medieval chivalry.
The different elements contributed to the modern English character by the latest stocks which have been united in it have been indicated by Matthew Arnold in a famous passage ('On the Study of Celtic Literature'): 'The Germanic [Anglo-Saxon and 'Danish'] genius has steadiness as its main basis, with commonness and humdrum for its defect, fidelity to nature for its excellence. The Norman genius, talent for affairs as its main basis, with strenuousness and clear rapidity for its excellence, hardness and insolence for its defect.' The Germanic (Anglo-Saxon and 'Danish') element explains, then, why uneducated Englishmen of all times have been thick-headed, unpleasantly self-assertive, and unimaginative, but sturdy fighters; and the Norman strain why upper-class Englishmen have been self-contained, inclined to snobbishness, but vigorously aggressive and persevering, among the best conquerors, organizers, and administrators in the history of the world.
SOCIAL RESULTS OF THE CONQUEST. In most respects, or all, the Norman conquest accomplished precisely that racial rejuvenation of which, as we have seen, Anglo-Saxon England stood in need. For the Normans brought with them from France the zest for joy and beauty and dignified and stately ceremony in which the Anglo-Saxon temperament was poor--they brought the love of light-hearted song and chivalrous sports, of rich clothing, of finely-painted manuscripts, of noble architecture in cathedrals and palaces, of formal religious ritual, and of the pomp and display of all elaborate pageantry. In the outcome they largely reshaped the heavy mass of Anglo-Saxon life into forms of grace and beauty and brightened its duller surface with varied and brilliant colors. For the Anglo-Saxons themselves, however, the Conquest meant at first little else than that bitterest and most complete of all national disasters, hopeless subjection to a tyrannical and contemptuous foe. The Normans were not heathen, as the 'Danes' had been, and they were too few in number to wish to supplant the conquered people; but they imposed themselves, both politically and socially, as stern and absolute masters. King William confirmed in their possessions the few Saxon nobles and lesser land-owners who accepted his rule and did not later revolt; but both pledges and interest compelled him to bestow most of the estates of the kingdom, together with the widows of their former holders, on his own nobles and the great motley throng of turbulent fighters who had made up his invading army. In the lordships and manors, therefore, and likewise in the great places of the Church, were established knights and nobles, the secular ones holding in feudal tenure from the king or his immediate great vassals, and each supported in turn by Norman men-at-arms; and to them were subjected as serfs, workers bound to the land, the greater part of the Saxon population. As visible signs of the changed order appeared here and there throughout the country massive and gloomy castles of stone, and in the larger cities, in place of the simple Anglo-Saxon churches, cathedrals lofty and magnificent beyond all Anglo-Saxon dreams. What sufferings, at the worst, the Normans inflicted on the Saxons is indicated in a famous passage of the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,' an entry seventy years subsequent to the Conquest, of which the least distressing part may be thus paraphrased:
'They filled the land full of castles. They compelled the wretched men of the land to build their castles and wore them out with hard labor. When the castles were made they filled them with devils and evil men. Then they took all those whom they thought to have any property, both by night and by day, both men and women, and put them in prison for gold and silver, and tormented them with tortures that cannot be told; for never were any martyrs so tormented as these were.'
[Footnote: This was only during a period of anarchy. For the most part the nobles lived in manor-houses, very rude according to our ideas. See Train's 'Social England,' I, 536 ff.]
THE UNION OF THE RACES AND LANGUAGES. LATIN, FRENCH, AND ENGLISH. That their own race and identity were destined to be absorbed in those of the Anglo-Saxons could never have occurred to any of the Normans who stood with William at Hastings, and scarcely to any of their children. Yet this result was predetermined by the stubborn tenacity and numerical superiority of the conquered people and by the easy adaptability of the Norman temperament. Racially, and to a less extent socially, intermarriage did its work, and that within a very few generations. Little by little, also, Norman contempt and Saxon hatred were softened into tolerance, and at last even into a sentiment of national unity. This sentiment was finally to be confirmed by the loss of Normandy and other French possessions of the Norman-English kings in the thirteenth century, a loss which transformed England from a province of the Norman Continental empire and of a foreign nobility into an independent country, and further by the wars ('The Hundred Years' War') which England-Norman nobility and Saxon yeomen fighting together--carried on in France in the fourteenth century.
In language and literature the most general immediate result of the Conquest was to make of England a trilingual country, where Latin, French, and Anglo-Saxon were spoken separately side by side. With Latin, the tongue of the Church and of scholars, the Norman clergy were much more thoroughly familiar than the Saxon priests had been; and the introduction of the richer Latin culture resulted, in the latter half of the twelfth century, at the court of Henry II, in a brilliant outburst of Latin literature. In England, as well as in the rest of Western Europe, Latin long continued to be the language of religious and learned writing--down to the sixteenth century or even later. French, that dialect of it which was spoken by the Normans--Anglo-French (English-French) it has naturally come to be called--was of course introduced by the Conquest as the language of the governing and upper social class, and in it also during the next three or four centuries a considerable body of literature was produced. Anglo-Saxon, which we may now term English, remained inevitably as the language of the subject race, but their literature was at first crushed down into insignificance. Ballads celebrating the resistance of scattered Saxons to their oppressors no doubt circulated widely on the lips of the people, but English writing of the more formal sorts, almost absolutely ceased for more than a century, to make a new beginning about the year 1200. In the interval the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' is the only important document, and even this, continued at the monastery of Peterboro, comes to an end in 1154, in the midst of the terrible anarchy of Stephen's reign.
It must not be supposed, notwithstanding, that the Normans, however much they despised the English language and literature, made any effort to destroy it. On the other hand, gradual union of the two languages was no less inevitable than that of the races themselves. From, the very first the need of communication, with their subjects must have rendered it necessary for the Normans to acquire some knowledge of the English language; and the children of mixed parentage of course learned it from their mothers. The use of French continued in the upper strata of society, in the few children's schools that existed, and in the law courts, for something like three centuries, maintaining itself so long partly because French was then the polite language of Western Europe. But the dead pressure of English was increasingly strong, and by the end of the fourteenth century and of Chaucer's life French had chiefly given way to it even at Court.
As we have already implied, however, the English which triumphed was in fact English-French--English was enabled to triumph partly because it had now largely absorbed the French. For the first one hundred or one hundred and fifty years, it seems, the two languages remained for the most part pretty clearly distinct, but in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries English, abandoning its first aloofness, rapidly took into itself a large part of the French (originally Latin) vocabulary; and under the influence of the French it carried much farther the process of dropping its own comparatively complicated grammatical inflections--a process which had already gained much momentum even before the Conquest. This absorption of the French was most fortunate for English. To the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary--vigorous, but harsh, limited in extent, and lacking in fine discriminations and power of abstract expression, was now added nearly the whole wealth of French, with its fullness, flexibility, and grace. As a direct consequence the resulting language, modern English, is the richest and most varied instrument of expression ever developed at any time by any race.
THE RESULT FOR POETRY. For poetry the fusion meant even more than for prose. The metrical system, which begins to appear in the thirteenth century and comes to perfection a century and a half later in Chaucer's poems combined what may fairly be called the better features of both the systems from which it was compounded. We have seen that Anglo-Saxon verse depended on regular stress of a definite number of quantitatively long syllables in each line and on alliteration; that it allowed much variation in the number of unstressed syllables; and that it was without rime. French verse, on the other hand, had rime (or assonance) and carefully preserved identity in the total number of syllables in corresponding lines, but it was uncertain as regarded the number of clearly stressed ones. The derived English system adopted from the French (1) rime and (2) identical line-length, and retained from the Anglo-Saxon (3) regularity of stress. (4) It largely abandoned the Anglo-Saxon regard for quantity and (5) it retained alliteration not as a basic principle but as an (extremely useful) subordinate device. This metrical system, thus shaped, has provided the indispensable formal basis for making English poetry admittedly the greatest in the modern world.
THE ENGLISH DIALECTS. The study of the literature of the period is further complicated by the division of English into dialects. The Norman Conquest put a stop to the progress of the West-Saxon dialect toward complete supremacy, restoring the dialects of the other parts of the island to their former positions of equal authority. The actual result was the development of three groups of dialects, the Southern, Midland (divided into East and West) and Northern, all differing among themselves in forms and even in vocabulary. Literary activity when it recommenced was about equally distributed among the three, and for three centuries it was doubtful which of them would finally win the first place. In the outcome success fell to the East Midland dialect, partly through the influence of London, which under the Norman kings replaced Winchester as the capital city and seat of the Court and Parliament, and partly through the influence of the two Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, which gradually grew up during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and attracted students from all parts of the country. This victory of the East Midland form was marked by, though it was not in any large degree due to, the appearance in the fourteenth century of the first great modern English poet, Chaucer. To the present day, however, the three dialects, and subdivisions of them, are easily distinguishable in colloquial use; the common idiom of such regions as Yorkshire and Cornwall is decidedly different from that of London or indeed any other part of the country.
THE ENGLISH LITERATURE AS A PART OF GENERAL MEDIEVAL EUROPEAN LITERATURE. One of the most striking general facts in the later Middle Ages is the uniformity of life in many of its aspects throughout all Western Europe. It was only during this period that the modern nations, acquiring national consciousness, began definitely to shape themselves out of the chaos which had followed the fall of the Roman Empire. The Roman Church, firmly established in every corner of every land, was the actual inheritor of much of the unifying power of the Roman government, and the feudal system everywhere gave to society the same political organization and ideals. In a truer sense, perhaps, than at any later time, Western Europe was one great brotherhood, thinking much the same thoughts, speaking in part the same speech, and actuated by the same beliefs. At least, the literature of the period, largely composed and copied by the great army of monks, exhibits everywhere a thorough uniformity in types and ideas.
We of the twentieth century should not allow ourselves to think vaguely of the Middle Ages as a benighted or shadowy period when life and the people who constituted it had scarcely anything in common with ourselves. In reality the men of the Middle Ages were moved by the same emotions and impulses as our own, and their lives presented the same incongruous mixture of nobility and baseness. Yet it is true that the externals of their existence were strikingly different from those of more recent times. In society the feudal system--lords with their serfs, towns struggling for municipal independence, kings and nobles doing, peaceably or with violence, very much what they pleased; a constant condition of public or private war; cities walled as a matter of course for protection against bands of robbers or hostile armies; the country still largely covered with forests, wildernesses, and fens; roads infested with brigands and so bad that travel was scarcely possible except on horseback; in private life, most of the modern comforts unknown, and the houses, even of the wealthy, so filthy and uncomfortable that all classes regularly, almost necessarily, spent most of the daylight hours in the open air; in industry no coal, factories, or large machinery, but in the towns guilds of workmen each turning out by hand his slow product of single articles; almost no education except for priests and monks, almost no conceptions of genuine science or history, but instead the abstract system of scholastic logic and philosophy, highly ingenious but highly fantastic; in religion no outward freedom of thought except for a few courageous spirits, but the arbitrary dictates of a despotic hierarchy, insisting on an ironbound creed which the remorseless process of time was steadily rendering more and more inadequate--this offers some slight suggestion of the conditions of life for several centuries, ending with the period with which we are now concerned.
In medieval literature likewise the modern student encounters much which seems at first sight grotesque. One of the most conspicuous examples is the pervasive use of allegory. The men of the Middle Ages often wrote, as we do, in direct terms and of simple things, but when they wished to rise above the commonplace they turned with a frequency which to-day appears astonishing to the devices of abstract personification and veiled meanings. No doubt this tendency was due in part to an idealizing dissatisfaction with the crudeness of their actual life (as well as to frequent inability to enter into the realm of deeper and finer thought without the aid of somewhat mechanical imagery); and no doubt it was greatly furthered also by the medieval passion for translating into elaborate and fantastic symbolism all the details of the Bible narratives. But from whatever cause, the tendency hardened into a ruling convention; thousands upon thousands of medieval manuscripts seem to declare that the world is a mirage of shadowy forms, or that it exists merely to body forth remote and highly surprising ideas.
Of all these countless allegories none was reiterated with more unwearied persistence than that of the Seven Deadly Sins (those sins which in the doctrine of the Church lead to spiritual death because they are wilfully committed). These sins are: Covetousness, Unchastity, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth, and, chief of all, Pride, the earliest of all, through which Lucifer was moved to his fatal rebellion against God, whence spring all human ills. Each of the seven, however, was interpreted as including so many related offences that among them they embraced nearly the whole range of possible wickedness. Personified, the Seven Sins in themselves almost dominate medieval literature, a sort of shadowy evil pantheon. Moral and religious questions could scarcely be discussed without regard to them; and they maintain their commanding place even as late as in Spenser's 'Faerie Queene,' at the very end of the sixteenth century. To the Seven Sins were commonly opposed, but with much less emphasis, the Seven Cardinal Virtues, Faith, Hope, Charity (Love), Prudence, Temperance, Chastity, and Fortitude. Again, almost as prominent as the Seven Sins was the figure of Fortune with her revolving wheel, a goddess whom the violent vicissitudes and tragedies of life led the men of the Middle Ages, in spite of their Christianity, to bring over from classical literature and virtually to accept as a real divinity, with almost absolute control in human affairs. In the seventeenth century Shakespeare's plays are full of allusions to her, but so for that matter is the everyday talk of all of us in the twentieth century.
LITERATURE IN THE THREE LANGUAGES. It is not to the purpose in a study like the present to give special attention to the literature written in England in Latin and French; we can speak only briefly of that composed in English. But in fact when the English had made its new beginning, about the year 1200, the same general forms flourished in all three languages, so that what is said in general of the English applies almost as much to the other two as well.
RELIGIOUS LITERATURE. We may virtually divide all the literature of the period, roughly, into (1) Religious and (2) Secular. But it must be observed that religious writings were far more important as literature during the Middle Ages than in more recent times, and the separation between religious and secular less distinct than at present. The forms of the religious literature were largely the same as in the previous period. There were songs, many of them addressed to the Virgin, some not only beautiful in their sincere and tender devotion, speaking for the finer spirits in an age of crudeness and violence, but occasionally beautiful as poetry. There were paraphrases of many parts of the Bible, lives of saints, in both verse and prose, and various other miscellaneous work. Perhaps worthy of special mention among single productions is the 'Cursor Mundi' (Surveyor of the World), an early fourteenth century poem of twenty-four thousand lines ('Paradise Lost' has less than eleven thousand), relating universal history from the beginning, on the basis of the Biblical narrative. Most important of all for their promise of the future, there were the germs of the modern drama in the form of the Church plays; but to these we shall give special attention in a later chapter.
SECULAR LITERATURE. In secular literature the variety was greater than in religious. We may begin by transcribing one or two of the songs, which, though not as numerous then as in some later periods, show that the great tradition of English secular lyric poetry reaches back from our own time to that of the Anglo-Saxons without a break. The best known of all is the 'Cuckoo Song,' of the thirteenth century, intended to be sung in harmony by four voices:
Sumer is icumen in;
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wde nu.
Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu.
Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth;
Murie sing, cuccu!
Wel singes thu, cuccu;
Ne swik thu never nu.
Summer is come in; loud sing, cuckoo! Grows the seed and blooms the mead [meadow] and buds the wood anew. Sing, cuckoo! The ewe bleats for the lamb, lows for the calf the cow. The bullock gambols, the buck leaps; merrily sing, cuckoo! Cuckoo, cuckoo, well singest thou, cuckoo; cease thou never now.
The next is the first stanza of 'Alysoun' ('Fair Alice'):
Bytuene Mersh ant Averil,
When spray beginnth to springe,
The lutel foul hath hire wyl
On hyre lud to synge.
Ieh libbe in love-longinge
For semlokest of alle thinge;
He may me blisse bringe;
Icham in hire baundoun.
An hendy hap ichabbe ybent;
Iehot from hevene it is me sent;
From alle wymmen mi love is lent
Ant lyht on Alysoun.
Between March and April, When the sprout begins to spring, The little bird has her desire In her tongue to sing. I live in love-longing For the fairest of all things; She may bring me bliss; I am at her mercy. A lucky lot I have secured; I think from heaven it is sent me; From all women my love is turned And is lighted on Alysoun.
There were also political and satirical songs and miscellaneous poems of various sorts, among them certain 'Bestiaries,' accounts of the supposed habits of animals, generally drawn originally from classical tradition, and most of them highly fantastic and allegorized in the interests of morality and religion. There was an abundance of extremely realistic coarse tales, hardly belonging to literature, in both prose and verse. The popular ballads of the fourteenth century we must reserve for later consideration. Most numerous of all the prose works, perhaps, were the Chronicles, which were produced generally in the monasteries and chiefly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the greater part in Latin, some in French, and a few in rude English verse. Many of them were mere annals like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but some were the lifelong works of men with genuine historical vision. Some dealt merely with the history of England, or a part of it, others with that of the entire world as it was known to medieval Europe. The majority will never be withdrawn from the obscurity of the manuscripts on which the patient care of their authors inscribed them; others have been printed in full and serve as the main basis for our knowledge of the events of the period.
THE ROMANCES. But the chief form of secular literature during the period, beginning in the middle of the twelfth century, was the romance, especially the metrical (verse) romance. The typical romances were the literary expression of chivalry. They were composed by the professional minstrels, some of whom, as in Anglo-Saxon times, were richly supported and rewarded by kings and nobles, while others still wandered about the country, always welcome in the manor-houses. There, like Scott's Last Minstrel, they recited their sometimes almost endless works from memory, in the great halls or in the ladies' bowers, to the accompaniment of occasional strains on their harps. For two or three centuries the romances were to the lords and ladies, and to the wealthier citizens of the towns, much what novels are to the reading public of our own day. By far the greater part of the romances current in England were written in French, whether by Normans or by French natives of the English provinces in France, and the English ones which have been preserved are mostly translations or imitations of French originals. The romances are extreme representatives of the whole class of literature of all times to which they have given the name. Frankly abandoning in the main the world of reality, they carry into that of idealized and glamorous fancy the chief interests of the medieval lords and ladies, namely, knightly exploits in war, and lovemaking. Love in the romances, also, retains all its courtly affectations, together with that worship of woman by man which in the twelfth century was exalted into a sentimental art by the poets of wealthy and luxurious Provence in Southern France. Side by side, again, with war and love, appears in the romances medieval religion, likewise conventionalized and childishly superstitious, but in some inadequate degree a mitigator of cruelty and a restrainer of lawless passion. Artistically, in some respects or all, the greater part of the romances are crude and immature. Their usual main or only purpose is to hold attention by successions of marvellous adventures, natural or supernatural; of structure, therefore, they are often destitute; the characters are ordinarily mere types; and motivation is little considered. There were, however, exceptional authors, genuine artists, masters of meter and narrative, possessed by a true feeling for beauty; and in some of the romances the psychological analysis of love, in particular, is subtile and powerful, the direct precursor of one of the main developments in modern fiction.
The romances may very roughly be grouped into four great classes. First in time, perhaps, come those which are derived from the earlier French epics and in which love, if it appears at all, is subordinated to the military exploits of Charlemagne and his twelve peers in their wars against the Saracens. Second are the romances which, battered salvage from a greater past, retell in strangely altered romantic fashion the great stories of classical antiquity, mainly the achievements of Alexander the Great and the tragic fortunes of Troy. Third come the Arthurian romances, and fourth those scattering miscellaneous ones which do not belong to the other classes, dealing, most of them, with native English heroes. Of these, two, 'King Horn' and 'Havelok,' spring direct from the common people and in both substance and expression reflect the hard reality of their lives, while 'Guy of Warwick' and 'Bevis of Hampton,' which are among the best known but most tedious of all the list, belong, in their original form, to the upper classes.
Of all the romances the Arthurian are by far the most important. They belong peculiarly to English literature, because they are based on traditions of British history, but they have assumed a very prominent place in the literature of the whole western world. Rich in varied characters and incidents to which a universal significance could be attached, in their own time they were the most popular works of their class; and living on vigorously after the others were forgotten, they have continued to form one of the chief quarries of literary material and one of the chief sources of inspiration for modern poets and romancers. It seems well worth while, therefore, to outline briefly their literary history.
The period in which their scene is nominally laid is that of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Great Britain. Of the actual historical events of this period extremely little is known, and even the capital question whether such a person as Arthur ever really existed can never receive a definite answer. The only contemporary writer of the least importance is the Briton (priest or monk), Gildas, who in a violent Latin pamphlet of about the year 550 ('The Destruction and Conquest of Britain') denounces his countrymen for their sins and urges them to unite against the Saxons; and Gildas gives only the slightest sketch of what had actually happened. He tells how a British king (to whom later tradition assigns the name Vortigern) invited in the Anglo-Saxons as allies against the troublesome northern Scots and Picts, and how the Anglo-Saxons, victorious against these tribes, soon turned in furious conquest against the Britons themselves, until, under a certain Ambrosius Aurelianus, a man 'of Roman race,' the Britons successfully defended themselves and at last in the battle of Mount Badon checked the Saxon advance.
Next in order after Gildas, but not until about the year 800, appears a strangely jumbled document, last edited by a certain Nennius, and entitled 'Historia Britonum' (The History of the Britons), which adds to Gildas' outline traditions, natural and supernatural, which had meanwhile been growing up among the Britons (Welsh). It supplies the names of the earliest Saxon leaders, Hengist and Horsa (who also figure in the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle'), and narrates at length their treacherous dealings with Vortigern. Among other stories we find that of Vortigern's tower, where Gildas' Ambrosius appears as a boy of supernatural nature, destined to develop in the romances into the great magician Merlin. In Nennius' book occurs also the earliest mention of Arthur, who, in a comparatively sober passage, is said, some time after the days of Vortigern, to have 'fought against the Saxons, together with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was leader in the battles.' A list, also, is given of his twelve victories, ending with Mount Badon. It is impossible to decide whether there is really any truth in this account of Nennius, or whether it springs wholly from the imagination of the Britons, attempting to solace themselves for their national overthrow; but it allows us to believe if we choose that sometime in the early sixth century there was a British leader of the name of Arthur, who by military genius rose to high command and for a while beat back the Saxon hordes. At most, however, it should be clearly realized, Arthur was probably only a local leader in some limited region, and, far from filling the splendid place which he occupies in the later romances, was but the hard-pressed captain of a few thousand barbarous and half-armed warriors.
For three hundred years longer the traditions about Arthur continued to develop among the Welsh people. The most important change which took place was Arthur's elevation to the position of chief hero of the British (Welsh) race and the subordination to him, as his followers, of all the other native heroes, most of whom had originally been gods. To Arthur himself certain divine attributes were added, such as his possession of magic weapons, among them the sword Excalibur. It also came to be passionately believed among the Welsh that he was not really dead but would some day return from the mysterious Other World to which he had withdrawn and reconquer the island for his people. It was not until the twelfth century that these Arthurian traditions, the cherished heritage of the Welsh and their cousins, the Bretons across the English Channel in France, were suddenly adopted as the property of all Western Europe, so that Arthur became a universal Christian hero. This remarkable transformation, no doubt in some degree inevitable, was actually brought about chiefly through the instrumentality of a single man, a certain English archdeacon of Welsh descent, Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey, a literary and ecclesiastical adventurer looking about for a means of making himself famous, put forth about the year 1136, in Latin, a 'History of the Britons' from the earliest times to the seventh century, in which, imitating the form of the serious chronicles, he combined in cleverly impudent fashion all the adaptable miscellaneous material, fictitious, legendary, or traditional, which he found at hand. In dealing with Arthur, Geoffrey greatly enlarges on Gildas and Nennius; in part, no doubt, from his own invention, in part, perhaps, from Welsh tradition. He provides Arthur with a father, King Uther, makes of Arthur's wars against the Saxons only his youthful exploits, relates at length how Arthur conquered almost all of Western Europe, and adds to the earlier story the figures of Merlin, Guenevere, Modred, Gawain, Kay, and Bedivere. What is not least important, he gives to Arthur's reign much of the atmosphere of feudal chivalry which was that of the ruling class of his own age.
Geoffrey may or may not have intended his astonishing story to be seriously accepted, but in fact it was received with almost universal credence. For centuries it was incorporated in outline or in excerpts into almost all the sober chronicles, and what is of much more importance for literature, it was taken up and rehandled in various fashions by very numerous romancers. About twenty years after Geoffrey wrote, the French poet Wace, an English subject, paraphrased his entire 'History' in vivid, fluent, and diffuse verse. Wace imparts to the whole, in a thorough-going way, the manners of chivalry, and adds, among other things, a mention of the Round Table, which Geoffrey, somewhat chary of the supernatural, had chosen to omit, though it was one of the early elements of the Welsh tradition. Other poets followed, chief among them the delightful Chretien of Troyes, all writing mostly of the exploits of single knights at Arthur's court, which they made over, probably, from scattering tales of Welsh and Breton mythology. To declare that most romantic heroes had been knights of Arthur's circle now became almost a matter of course. Prose romances also appeared, vast formless compilations, which gathered up into themselves story after story, according to the fancy of each successive editor. Greatest of the additions to the substance of the cycle was the story of the Holy Grail, originally an altogether independent legend. Important changes necessarily developed. Arthur himself, in many of the romances, was degraded from his position of the bravest knight to be the inactive figurehead of a brilliant court; and the only really historical element in the story, his struggle against the Saxons, was thrust far into the background, while all the emphasis was laid on the romantic achievements of the single knights.
LAGHAMON'S 'BRUT.' Thus it had come about that Arthur, originally the national hero of the Welsh, and the deadly foe of the English, was adopted, as a Christian champion, not only for one of the medieval Nine Worthies of all history, but for the special glory of the English race itself. In that light he figures in the first important work in which native English reemerges after the Norman Conquest, the 'Brut' (Chronicle) wherein, about the year 1200, Laghamon paraphrased Wace's paraphrase of Geoffrey.
[Footnote: Laghamon's name is generally written 'Layamon,' but this is incorrect. The word 'Brut' comes from the name 'Brutus,' according to Geoffrey a Trojan hero and eponymous founder of the British race. Standing at the beginning of British (and English) history, his name came to be applied to the whole of it, just as the first two Greek letters, alpha and beta, have given the name to the alphabet.]
Laghamon was a humble parish priest in Worcestershire, and his thirty-two thousand half-lines, in which he imperfectly follows the Anglo-Saxon alliterative meter, are rather crude; though they are by no means dull, rather are often strong with the old-time Anglo-Saxon fighting spirit. In language also the poem is almost purely Saxon; occasionally it admits the French device of rime, but it is said to exhibit, all told, fewer than a hundred words of French origin. Expanding throughout on Wace's version, Laghamon adds some minor features; but English was not yet ready to take a place beside French and Latin with the reading class, and the poem exercised no influence on the development of the Arthurian story or on English literature.
SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT. We can make special mention of only one other romance, which all students should read in modern translation, namely, 'Sir Gawain (pronounced Gaw'-wain) and the Green Knight.' This is the brief and carefully constructed work of an unknown but very real poetic artist, who lived a century and more later than Laghamon and probably a little earlier than Chaucer. The story consists of two old folk-tales, here finely united in the form of an Arthurian romance and so treated as to bring out all the better side of knightly feeling, with which the author is in charming sympathy. Like many other medieval writings, this one is preserved by mere chance in a single manuscript, which contains also three slightly shorter religious poems (of a thousand or two lines apiece), all possibly by the same author as the romance. One of them in particular, 'The Pearl,' is a narrative of much fine feeling, which may well have come from so true a gentleman as he. The dialect is that of the Northwest Midland, scarcely more intelligible to modern readers than Anglo-Saxon, but it indicates that the author belonged to the same border region between England and Wales from which came also Geoffrey of Monmouth and Laghamon, a region where Saxon and Norman elements were mingled with Celtic fancy and delicacy of temperament. The meter, also, is interesting--the Anglo-Saxon unrimed alliterative verse, but divided into long stanzas of irregular length, each ending in a 'bob' of five short riming lines.
'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' may very fittingly bring to a close our hasty survey of the entire Norman-French period, a period mainly of formation, which has left no literary work of great and permanent fame, but in which, after all, there were some sincere and talented writers, who have fallen into forgetfulness rather through the untoward accidents of time than from lack of genuine merit in themselves.
صلي على النبي
صل الله عليه وسلم
لايتوفر على اوسمة بعد:
|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 14:18|| |
Chapter III. Period III. The End Of The Middle Ages. About 1350 To About 1500
PERIOD III. THE END OF THE MIDDLE AGES. ABOUT 1350 TO ABOUT 1500
THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS. POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS. Of the century and a half, from 1350 to 1500, which forms our third period, the most important part for literature was the first fifty years, which constitutes the age of Chaucer.
The middle of the fourteenth century was also the middle of the externally brilliant fifty years' reign of Edward III. In 1337 Edward had begun the terrible though often-interrupted series of campaigns in France which historians group together as the Hundred Tears' War, and having won the battle of Crecy against amazing odds, he had inaugurated at his court a period of splendor and luxury. The country as a whole was really increasing in prosperity; Edward was fostering trade, and the towns and some of the town-merchants were becoming wealthy; but the oppressiveness of the feudal system, now becoming outgrown, was apparent, abuses in society and state and church were almost intolerable, and the spirit which was to create our modern age, beginning already in Italy to move toward the Renaissance, was felt in faint stirrings even so far to the North as England.
The towns, indeed, were achieving their freedom. Thanks to compact organization, they were loosening the bonds of their dependence on the lords or bishops to whom most of them paid taxes; and the alliance of their representatives with the knights of the shire (country gentlemen) in the House of Commons, now a separate division of Parliament, was laying the foundation of the political power of the whole middle class. But the feudal system continued to rest cruelly on the peasants. Still bound, most of them, to the soil, as serfs of the land or tenants with definite and heavy obligations of service, living in dark and filthy hovels under indescribably unhealthy conditions, earning a wretched subsistence by ceaseless labor, and almost altogether at the mercy of masters who regarded them as scarcely better than beasts, their lot was indeed pitiable. Nevertheless their spirit was not broken nor their state so hopeless as it seemed. It was by the archers of the class of yeomen (small free-holders), men akin in origin and interests to the peasants, that the victories in the French wars were won, and the knowledge that this was so created in the peasants an increased self-respect and an increased dissatisfaction. Their groping efforts to better their condition received strong stimulus also from the ravages of the terrible Black Death, a pestilence which, sweeping off at its first visitation, in 1348, at least half the population, and on two later recurrences only smaller proportions, led to a scarcity of laborers and added strength to their demand for commutation of personal services by money-payments and for higher wages. This demand was met by the ruling classes with sternly repressive measures, and the socialistic Peasants' Revolt of John Ball and Wat Tyler in 1381 was violently crushed out in blood, but it expressed a great human cry for justice which could not permanently be denied.
Hand in hand with the State and its institutions, in this period as before, stood the Church. Holding in the theoretical belief of almost every one the absolute power of all men's salvation or spiritual death, monopolizing almost all learning and education, the Church exercised in the spiritual sphere, and to no small extent in the temporal, a despotic tyranny, a tyranny employed sometimes for good, sometimes for evil. As the only even partially democratic institution of the age it attracted to itself the most ambitious and able men of all classes. Though social and personal influence were powerful within its doors, as always in all human organizations, nevertheless the son of a serf for whom there was no other means of escape from his servitude might steal to the nearest monastery and there, gaining his freedom by a few months of concealment, might hope, if he proved his ability, to rise to the highest position, to become abbot, bishop or perhaps even Pope. Within the Church were many sincere and able men unselfishly devoting their lives to the service of their fellows; but the moral tone of the organization as a whole had suffered from its worldly prosperity and power. In its numerous secular lordships and monastic orders it had become possessor of more than half the land in England, a proportion constantly increased through the legacies left by religious-minded persons for their souls' salvation; but from its vast income, several times greater than that of the Crown, it paid no taxes, and owing allegiance only to the Pope it was in effect a foreign power, sometimes openly hostile to the national government. The monasteries, though still performing important public functions as centers of education, charity, and hospitality, had relaxed their discipline, and the lives of the monks were often scandalous. The Dominican and Franciscan friars, also, who had come to England in the thirteenth century, soon after the foundation of their orders in Italy, and who had been full at first of passionate zeal for the spiritual and physical welfare of the poor, had now departed widely from their early character and become selfish, luxurious, ignorant, and unprincipled. Much the same was true of the 'secular' clergy (those not members of monastic orders, corresponding to the entire clergy of Protestant churches). Then there were such unworthy charlatans as the pardoners and professional pilgrims, traveling everywhere under special privileges and fleecing the credulous of their money with fraudulent relics and preposterous stories of edifying adventure. All this corruption was clear enough to every intelligent person, and we shall find it an object of constant satire by the authors of the age, but it was too firmly established to be easily or quickly rooted out.
'MANDEVILLE'S VOYAGE.' One of the earliest literary works of the period, however, was uninfluenced by these social and moral problems, being rather a very complete expression of the naive medieval delight in romantic marvels. This is the highly entertaining 'Voyage and Travels of Sir John Mandeville.' This clever book was actually written at Liege, in what is now Belgium, sometime before the year 1370, and in the French language; from which, attaining enormous popularity, it was several times translated into Latin and English, and later into various other languages. Five centuries had to pass before scholars succeeded in demonstrating that the asserted author, 'Sir John Mandeville,' never existed, that the real author is undiscoverable, and that this pretended account of his journeyings over all the known and imagined world is a compilation from a large number of previous works. Yet the book (the English version along with the others) really deserved its long-continued reputation. Its tales of the Ethiopian Prester John, of diamonds that by proper care can be made to grow, of trees whose fruit is an odd sort of lambs, and a hundred other equally remarkable phenomena, are narrated with skilful verisimilitude and still strongly hold the reader's interest, even if they no longer command belief. With all his credulity, too, the author has some odd ends of genuine science, among others the conviction that the earth is not flat but round. In style the English versions reflect the almost universal medieval uncertainty of sentence structure; nevertheless they are straightforward and clear; and the book is notable as the first example in English after the Norman Conquest of prose used not for religious edification but for amusement (though with the purpose also of giving instruction). 'Mandeville,' however, is a very minor figure when compared with his great contemporaries, especially with the chief of them, Geoffrey Chaucer.
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, 1338-1400. Chaucer (the name is French and seems to have meant originally 'shoemaker') came into the world probably in 1338, the first important author who was born and lived in London, which with him becomes the center of English literature. About his life, as about those of many of our earlier writers, there remains only very fragmentary information, which in his case is largely pieced together from scattering entries of various kinds in such documents as court account books and public records of state matters and of lawsuits. His father, a wine merchant, may have helped supply the cellars of the king (Edward III) and so have been able to bring his son to royal notice; at any rate, while still in his teens Geoffrey became a page in the service of one of the king's daughters-in-law. In this position his duty would be partly to perform various humble work in the household, partly also to help amuse the leisure of the inmates, and it is easy to suppose that he soon won favor as a fluent story-teller. He early became acquainted with the seamy as well as the brilliant side of courtly life; for in 1359 he was in the campaign in France and was taken prisoner. That he was already valued appears from the king's subscription of the equivalent of a thousand dollars of present-day money toward his ransom; and after his release he was transferred to the king's own service, where about 1368 he was promoted to the rank of esquire. He was probably already married to one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting. Chaucer was now thirty years of age, and his practical sagacity and knowledge of men had been recognized; for from this time on he held important public positions. He was often sent to the Continent--to France, Flanders, and Italy--on diplomatic missions; and for eleven years he was in charge of the London customs, where the uncongenial drudgery occupied almost all his time until through the intercession of the queen he was allowed to perform it by deputy. In 1386 he was a member of Parliament, knight of the shire for Kent; but in that year his fortune turned--he lost all his offices at the overthrow of the faction of his patron, Duke John of Gaunt (uncle of the young king, Richard II, who had succeeded his grandfather, Edward III, some years before). Chaucer's party and himself were soon restored to power, but although during the remaining dozen years of his life he received from the Court various temporary appointments and rewards, he appears often to have been poor and in need. When Duke Henry of Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, deposed the king and himself assumed the throne as Henry IV, Chaucer's prosperity seemed assured, but he lived after this for less than a year, dying suddenly in 1400. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, the first of the men of letters to be laid in the nook which has since become the Poets' Corner.
Chaucer's poetry falls into three rather clearly marked periods. First is that of French influence, when, though writing in English, he drew inspiration from the rich French poetry of the period, which was produced partly in France, partly in England. Chaucer experimented with the numerous lyric forms which the French poets had brought to perfection; he also translated, in whole or in part, the most important of medieval French narrative poems, the thirteenth century 'Romance of the Rose' of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, a very clever satirical allegory, in many thousand lines, of medieval love and medieval religion. This poem, with its Gallic brilliancy and audacity, long exercised over Chaucer's mind the same dominant influence which it possessed over most secular poets of the age. Chaucer's second period, that of Italian influence, dates from his first visit to Italy in 1372-3, where at Padua he may perhaps have met the fluent Italian poet Petrarch, and where at any rate the revelation of Italian life and literature must have aroused his intense enthusiasm. From this time, and especially after his other visit to Italy, five years later, he made much direct use of the works of Petrarch and Boccaccio and to a less degree of those of their greater predecessor, Dante, whose severe spirit was too unlike Chaucer's for his thorough appreciation. The longest and finest of Chaucer's poems of this period, 'Troilus and Criseyde' is based on a work of Boccaccio; here Chaucer details with compelling power the sentiment and tragedy of love, and the psychology of the heroine who had become for the Middle Ages a central figure in the tale of Troy. Chaucer's third period, covering his last fifteen years, is called his English period, because now at last his genius, mature and self-sufficient, worked in essential independence. First in time among his poems of these years stands 'The Legend of Good Women,' a series of romantic biographies of famous ladies of classical legend and history, whom it pleases Chaucer to designate as martyrs of love; but more important than the stories themselves is the Prolog, where he chats with delightful frankness about his own ideas and tastes.
The great work of the period, however, and the crowning achievement of Chaucer's life, is 'The Canterbury Tales.' Every one is familiar with the plan of the story (which may well have had some basis in fact): how Chaucer finds himself one April evening with thirty other men and women, all gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark (a suburb of London and just across the Thames from the city proper), ready to start next morning, as thousands of Englishmen did every year, on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury. The travelers readily accept the proposal of Harry Bailey, their jovial and domineering host, that he go with them as leader and that they enliven the journey with a story-telling contest (two stories from each pilgrim during each half of the journey) for the prize of a dinner at his inn on their return. Next morning, therefore, the Knight begins the series of tales and the others follow in order. This literary form--a collection of disconnected stories bound together in a fictitious framework--goes back almost to the beginning of literature itself; but Chaucer may well have been directly influenced by Boccaccio's famous book of prose tales, 'The Decameron' (Ten Days of Story-Telling). Between the two works, however, there is a striking contrast, which has often been pointed out. While the Italian author represents his gentlemen and ladies as selfishly fleeing from the misery of a frightful plague in Florence to a charming villa and a holiday of unreflecting pleasure, the gaiety of Chaucer's pilgrims rests on a basis of serious purpose, however conventional it may be.
Perhaps the easiest way to make clear the sources of Chaucer's power will be by means of a rather formal summary.
His Personality. Chaucer's personality stands out in his writings plainly and most delightfully. It must be borne in mind that, like some others of the greatest poets, he was not a poet merely, but also a man of practical affairs, in the eyes of his associates first and mainly a courtier, diplomat, and government official. His wide experience of men and things is manifest in the life-likeness and mature power of his poetry, and it accounts in part for the broad truth of all but his earliest work, which makes it essentially poetry not of an age but for all time. Something of conventional medievalism still clings to Chaucer in externals, as we shall see, but in alertness, independence of thought, and a certain directness of utterance, he speaks for universal humanity. His practical experience helps to explain as well why, unlike most great poets, he does not belong primarily with the idealists. Fine feeling he did not lack; he loved external beauty--some of his most pleasing passages voice his enthusiasm for Nature; and down to the end of his life he never lost the zest for fanciful romance. His mind and eye were keen, besides, for moral qualities; he penetrated directly through all the pretenses of falsehood and hypocrisy; while how thoroughly he understood and respected honest worth appears in the picture of the Poor Parson in the Prolog to 'The Canterbury Tales.' Himself quiet and self-contained, moreover, Chaucer was genial and sympathetic toward all mankind. But all this does not declare him a positive idealist, and in fact, rather, he was willing to accept the world as he found it--he had no reformer's dream of 'shattering it to bits and remoulding it nearer to the heart's desire.' His moral nature, indeed, was easy-going; he was the appropriate poet of the Court circle, with very much of the better courtier's point of view. At the day's tasks he worked long and faithfully, but he also loved comfort, and he had nothing of the martyr's instinct. To him human life was a vast procession, of boundless interest, to be observed keenly and reproduced for the reader's enjoyment in works of objective literary art. The countless tragedies of life he noted with kindly pity, but he felt no impulse to dash himself against the existing barriers of the world in the effort to assure a better future for the coming generations. In a word, Chaucer is an artist of broad artistic vision to whom art is its own excuse for being. And when everything is said few readers would have it otherwise with him; for in his art he has accomplished what no one else in his place could have done, and he has left besides the picture of himself, very real and human across the gulf of half a thousand years. Religion, we should add, was for him, as for so many men of the world, a somewhat secondary and formal thing. In his early works there is much conventional piety, no doubt sincere so far as it goes; and he always took a strong intellectual interest in the problems of medieval theology; but he became steadily and quietly independent in his philosophic outlook and indeed rather skeptical of all definite dogmas.Even in his art Chaucer's lack of the highest will-power produced one rather conspicuous formal weakness; of his numerous long poems he really finished scarcely one. For this, however, it is perhaps sufficient excuse that he could write only in intervals hardly snatched from business and sleep. In 'The Canterbury Tales' indeed, the plan is almost impossibly ambitious; the more than twenty stories actually finished, with their eighteen thousand lines, are only a fifth part of the intended number.
Even so, several of them do not really belong to the series; composed in stanza forms, they are selected from his earlier poems and here pressed into service, and on the average they are less excellent than those which he wrote for their present places (in the rimed pentameter couplet that he adopted from the French).
His Humor. In nothing are Chaucer's personality and his poetry more pleasing than in the rich humor which pervades them through and through. Sometimes, as in his treatment of the popular medieval beast-epic material in the Nun's Priest's Tale of the Fox and the Cock, the humor takes the form of boisterous farce; but much more often it is of the finer intellectual sort, the sort which a careless reader may not catch, but which touches with perfect sureness and charming lightness on all the incongruities of life, always, too, in kindly spirit. No foible is too trifling for Chaucer's quiet observation; while if he does not choose to denounce the hypocrisy of the Pardoner and the worldliness of the Monk, he has made their weaknesses sources of amusement (and indeed object-lessons as well) for all the coming generations.
He is one of the greatest of all narrative poets. Chaucer is an exquisite lyric poet, but only a few of his lyrics have come down to us, and his fame must always rest largely on his narratives. Here, first, he possesses unfailing fluency. It was with rapidity, evidently with ease, and with masterful certainty, that he poured out his long series of vivid and delightful tales. It is true that in his early, imitative, work he shares the medieval faults of wordiness, digression, and abstract symbolism; and, like most medieval writers, he chose rather to reshape material from the great contemporary store than to invent stories of his own. But these are really very minor matters. He has great variety, also, of narrative forms: elaborate allegories; love stories of many kinds; romances, both religious and secular; tales of chivalrous exploit, like that related by the Knight; humorous extravaganzas; and jocose renderings of coarse popular material--something, at least, in virtually every medieval type.
The thorough knowledge and sure portrayal of men and women which, belong to his mature work extend through, many various types of character. It is a commonplace to say that the Prolog to 'The Canterbury Tales' presents in its twenty portraits virtually every contemporary English class except the very lowest, made to live forever in the finest series of character sketches preserved anywhere in literature; and in his other work the same power appears in only less conspicuous degree.
His poetry is also essentially and thoroughly dramatic, dealing very vividly with life in genuine and varied action. To be sure, Chaucer possesses all the medieval love for logical reasoning, and he takes a keen delight in psychological analysis; but when he introduces these things (except for the tendency to medieval diffuseness) they are true to the situation and really serve to enhance the suspense. There is much interest in the question often raised whether, if he had lived in an age like the Elizabethan, when the drama was the dominant literary form, he too would have been a dramatist.
As a descriptive poet (of things as well as persons) he displays equal skill. Whatever his scenes or objects, he sees them with perfect clearness and brings them in full life-likeness before the reader's eyes, sometimes even with the minuteness of a nineteenth century novelist. And no one understands more thoroughly the art of conveying the general impression with perfect sureness, with a foreground where a few characteristic details stand out in picturesque and telling clearness.
Chaucer is an unerring master of poetic form. His stanza combinations reproduce all the well-proportioned grace of his French models, and to the pentameter riming couplet of his later work he gives the perfect ease and metrical variety which match the fluent thought. In all his poetry there is probably not a single faulty line. And yet within a hundred years after his death, such was the irony of circumstances, English pronunciation had so greatly altered that his meter was held to be rude and barbarous, and not until the nineteenth century were its principles again fully understood. His language, we should add, is modern, according to the technical classification, and is really as much like the form of our own day as like that of a century before his time; but it is still only early modern English, and a little definitely directed study is necessary for any present-day reader before its beauty can be adequately recognized.
The main principles for the pronunciation of Chaucer's language, so far as it differs from ours, are these: Every letter should be sounded, especially the final e (except when it is to be suppressed before another vowel). A large proportion of the rimes are therefore feminine. The following vowel sounds should be observed:
Stressed a like modern a in father.
Stressed e and ee like e in fete or ea in breath.
Stressed i as in machine.
oo like o in open.
u commonly as in push or like oo in spoon.
y like i in machine or pin according as it is stressed or not.
ai, ay, ei, and ey like ay in day.
au commonly like ou in pound.
ou like oo in spoon.
-ye (final) is a diphthong.
g (not in ng and not initial) before e or i is like j.
Lowell has named in a suggestive summary the chief quality of each of the great English poets, with Chaucer standing first in order: 'Actual life is represented by Chaucer; imaginative life by Spenser; ideal life by Shakespeare; interior life by Milton; conventional life by Pope.' We might add: the life of spiritual mysticism and simplicity by Wordsworth; the completely balanced life by Tennyson; and the life of moral issues and dramatic moments by Robert Browning.
JOHN GOWER. The three other chief writers contemporary with Chaucer contrast strikingly both with him and with each other. Least important is John Gower (pronounced either Go-er or Gow-er), a wealthy landowner whose tomb, with his effigy, may still be seen in St. Savior's, Southwark, the church of a priory to whose rebuilding he contributed and where he spent his latter days. Gower was a confirmed conservative, and time has left him stranded far in the rear of the forces that move and live. Unlike Chaucer's, the bulk of his voluminous poems reflect the past and scarcely hint of the future. The earlier and larger part of them are written in French and Latin, and in 'Vox Clamantis' (The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness) he exhausts the vocabulary of exaggerated bitterness in denouncing the common people for the insurrection in which they threatened the privileges and authority of his own class. Later on, perhaps through Chaucer's example, he turned to English, and in 'Confessio Amantis' (A Lover's Confession) produced a series of renderings of traditional stories parallel in general nature to 'The Canterbury Tales.' He is generally a smooth and fluent versifier, but his fluency is his undoing; he wraps up his material in too great a mass of verbiage.
THE VISION CONCERNING PIERS THE PLOWMAN. The active moral impulse which Chaucer and Gower lacked, and a consequent direct confronting of the evils of the age, appear vigorously in the group of poems written during the last forty years of the century and known from the title in some of the manuscripts as 'The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman.' From the sixteenth century, at least, until very lately this work, the various versions of which differ greatly, has been supposed to be the single poem of a single author, repeatedly enlarged and revised by him; and ingenious inference has constructed for this supposed author a brief but picturesque biography under the name of William Langland. Recent investigation, however, has made it seem at least probable that the work grew, to its final form through additions by several successive writers who have not left their names and whose points of view were not altogether identical.
Like the slightly earlier poet of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,' the authors belonged to the region of the Northwest Midland, near the Malvern Hills, and like him, they wrote in the Anglo-Saxon verse form, alliterative, unrimed, and in this case without stanza divisions. Their language, too, the regular dialect of this region, differs very greatly, as we have already implied, from that of Chaucer, with much less infusion from the French; to the modern reader, except in translation, it seems uncouth and unintelligible. But the poem, though in its final state prolix and structurally formless, exhibits great power not only of moral conviction and emotion, but also of expression--vivid, often homely, but not seldom eloquent.
The 'first passus' begins with the sleeping author's vision of 'a field full of folk' (the world), bounded on one side by a cliff with the tower of Truth, and on the other by a deep vale wherein frowns the dungeon of Wrong. Society in all its various classes and occupations is very dramatically presented in the brief description of the 'field of folk,' with incisive passing satire of the sins and vices of each class. 'Gluttonous wasters' are there, lazy beggars, lying pilgrims, corrupt friars and pardoners, venal lawyers, and, with a lively touch of realistic humour, cooks and their 'knaves' crying, 'Hot pies!' But a sane balance is preserved--there are also worthy people, faithful laborers, honest merchants, and sincere priests and monks. Soon the allegory deepens. Holy Church, appearing, instructs the author about Truth and the religion which consists in loving God and giving help to the poor. A long portrayal of the evil done by Lady Meed (love of money and worldly rewards) prepares for the appearance of the hero, the sturdy plowman Piers, who later on is even identified in a hazy way with Christ himself. Through Piers and his search for Truth is developed the great central teaching of the poem, the Gospel of Work--the doctrine, namely, that society is to be saved by honest labor, or in general by the faithful service of every class in its own sphere. The Seven Deadly Sins and their fatal fruits are emphasized, and in the later forms of the poem the corruptions of wealth and the Church are indignantly denounced, with earnest pleading for the religion of practical social love to all mankind.
In its own age the influence of 'Piers the Plowman' was very great. Despite its intended impartiality, it was inevitably adopted as a partisan document by the poor and oppressed, and together with the revolutionary songs of John Ball it became a powerful incentive to the Peasant's Insurrection. Piers himself became and continued an ideal for men who longed for a less selfish and brutal world, and a century and a half later the poem was still cherished by the Protestants for its exposure of the vices of the Church. Its medieval form and setting remove it hopelessly beyond the horizon of general readers of the present time, yet it furnishes the most detailed remaining picture of the actual social and economic conditions of its age, and as a great landmark in the progress of moral and social thought it can never lose its significance.
THE WICLIFITE BIBLE. A product of the same general forces which inspired 'Piers the Plowman' is the earliest in the great succession of the modern English versions of the Bible, the one connected with the name of John Wiclif, himself the first important English precursor of the Reformation. Wiclif was born about 1320, a Yorkshireman of very vigorous intellect as well as will, but in all his nature and instincts a direct representative of the common people. During the greater part of his life he was connected with Oxford University, as student, teacher (and therefore priest), and college head. Early known as one of the ablest English thinkers and philosophers, he was already opposing certain doctrines and practices of the Church when he was led to become a chief spokesman for King Edward and the nation in their refusal to pay the tribute which King John, a century and a half before, had promised to the Papacy and which was now actually demanded. As the controversies proceeded, Wiclif was brought at last to formulate the principle, later to be basal in the whole Protestant movement, that the final source of religious authority is not the Church, but the Bible. One by one he was led to attack also other fundamental doctrines and institutions of the Church--transubstantiation, the temporal possessions of the Church, the Papacy, and at last, for their corruption, the four orders of friars. In the outcome the Church proved too strong for even Wiclif, and Oxford, against its will, was compelled to abandon him; yet he could be driven no farther than to his parish of Lutterworth, where he died undisturbed in 1384.
His connection with literature was an unforeseen but natural outgrowth of his activities. Some years before his death, with characteristic energy and zeal, he had begun to spread his doctrines by sending out 'poor priests' and laymen who, practicing the self-denying life of the friars of earlier days, founded the Lollard sect. [Footnote: The name, given by their enemies, perhaps means 'tares.'] It was inevitable not only that he and his associates should compose many tracts and sermons for the furtherance of their views, but, considering their attitude toward the Bible, that they should wish to put it into the hands of all the people in a form which they would be able to understand, that is in their own vernacular English. Hence sprang the Wiclifite translation. The usual supposition that from the outset, before the time of Wiclif, the Church had prohibited translations of the Bible from the Latin into the common tongues is a mistake; that policy was a direct result of Wiclif's work. In England from Anglo-Saxon times, as must be clear from what has here already been said, partial English translations, literal or free, in prose or verse, had been in circulation among the few persons who could read and wished to have them. But Wiclif proposed to popularize the entire book, in order to make the conscience of every man the final authority in every question of belief and religious practice, and this the Church would not allow. It is altogether probable that Wiclif personally directed the translation which has ever since borne his name; but no record of the facts has come down to us, and there is no proof that he himself was the actual author of any part of it--that work may all have been done by others. The basis of the translation was necessarily the Latin 'Vulgate' (Common) version, made nine hundred years before from the original Hebrew and Greek by St. Jerome, which still remains to-day, as in Wiclif's time, the official version of the Roman church. The first Wiclifite translation was hasty and rather rough, and it was soon revised and bettered by a certain John Purvey, one of the 'Lollard' priests.
Wiclif and the men associated with him, however, were always reformers first and writers only to that end. Their religious tracts are formless and crude in style, and even their final version of the Bible aims chiefly at fidelity of rendering. In general it is not elegant, the more so because the authors usually follow the Latin idioms and sentence divisions instead of reshaping them into the native English style. Their text, again, is often interrupted by the insertion of brief phrases explanatory of unusual words. The vocabulary, adapted to the unlearned readers, is more largely Saxon than in our later versions, and the older inflected forms appear oftener than in Chaucer; so that it is only through our knowledge of the later versions that we to-day can read the work without frequent stumbling. Nevertheless this version has served as the starting point for almost all those that have come after it in English, as even a hasty reader of this one must be conscious; and no reader can fail to admire in it the sturdy Saxon vigor which has helped to make our own version one of the great masterpieces of English literature.
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY. With Chaucer's death in 1400 the half century of original creative literature in which he is the main figure comes to an end, and for a hundred and fifty years thereafter there is only a single author of the highest rank. For this decline political confusion is the chief cause; first, in the renewal of the Hundred Years' War, with its sordid effort to deprive another nation of its liberty, and then in the brutal and meaningless War of the Roses, a mere cut-throat civil butchery of rival factions with no real principle at stake. Throughout the fifteenth century the leading poets (of prose we will speak later) were avowed imitators of Chaucer, and therefore at best only second-rate writers. Most of them were Scots, and best known is the Scottish king, James I. For tradition seems correct in naming this monarch as the author of a pretty poem, 'The King's Quair' ('The King's Quire,' that is Book), which relates in a medieval dream allegory of fourteen hundred lines how the captive author sees and falls in love with a lady whom in the end Fortune promises to bestow upon him. This may well be the poetic record of King James' eighteen-year captivity in England and his actual marriage to a noble English wife. In compliment to him Chaucer's stanza of seven lines (riming ababbcc), which King James employs, has received the name of 'rime royal.'
THE 'POPULAR' BALLADS. Largely to the fifteenth century, however, belong those of the English and Scottish 'popular' ballads which the accidents of time have not succeeded in destroying. We have already considered the theory of the communal origin of this kind of poetry in the remote pre-historic past, and have seen that the ballads continue to flourish vigorously down to the later periods of civilization. The still existing English and Scottish ballads are mostly, no doubt, the work of individual authors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but none the less they express the little-changing mind and emotions of the great body of the common people who had been singing and repeating ballads for so many thousand years. Really essentially 'popular,' too, in spirit are the more pretentious poems of the wandering professional minstrels, which have been handed down along with the others, just as the minstrels were accustomed to recite both sorts indiscriminately. Such minstrel ballads are the famous ones on the battle of Chevy Chase, or Otterburn. The production of genuine popular ballads began to wane in the fifteenth century when the printing press gave circulation to the output of cheap London writers and substituted reading for the verbal memory by which the ballads had been transmitted, portions, as it were, of a half mysterious and almost sacred tradition. Yet the existing ballads yielded slowly, lingering on in the remote regions, and those which have been preserved were recovered during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by collectors from simple men and women living apart from the main currents of life, to whose hearts and lips they were still dear. Indeed even now the ballads and ballad-making are not altogether dead, but may still be found nourishing in such outskirts of civilization as the cowboy plains of Texas, Rocky Mountain mining camps, or the nooks and corners of the Southern Alleghenies.
The true 'popular' ballads have a quality peculiarly their own, which renders them far superior to the sixteenth century imitations and which no conscious literary artist has ever successfully reproduced. Longfellow's 'Skeleton in Armor' and Tennyson's 'Revenge' are stirring artistic ballads, but they are altogether different in tone and effect from the authentic 'popular' ones. Some of the elements which go to make this peculiar 'popular' quality can be definitely stated.
The 'popular' ballads are the simple and spontaneous expression of the elemental emotion of the people, emotion often crude but absolutely genuine and unaffected. Phrases are often repeated in the ballads, just as in the talk of the common man, for the sake of emphasis, but there is neither complexity of plot or characterization nor attempt at decorative literary adornment--the story and the emotion which it calls forth are all in all. It is this simple, direct fervor of feeling, the straightforward outpouring of the authors' hearts, that gives the ballads their power and entitles them to consideration among the far more finished works of conscious literature. Both the emotion and the morals of the ballads, also, are pagan, or at least pre-Christian; vengeance on one's enemies is as much a virtue as loyalty to one's friends; the most shameful sins are cowardice and treachery in war or love; and the love is often lawless.
From first to last the treatment of the themes is objective, dramatic, and picturesque. Everything is action, simple feeling, or vivid scenes, with no merely abstract moralizing (except in a few unusual cases); and often much of the story or sentiment is implied rather than directly stated. This too, of course, is the natural manner of the common man, a manner perfectly effective either in animated conversation or in the chant of a minstrel, where expression and gesture can do so much of the work which the restraints of civilized society have transferred to words.
To this spirit and treatment correspond the subjects of the ballads. They are such as make appeal to the underlying human instincts--brave exploits in individual fighting or in organized war, and the romance and pathos and tragedy of love and of the other moving situations of simple life. From the 'popular' nature of the ballads it has resulted that many of them are confined within no boundaries of race or nation, but, originating one here, one there, are spread in very varying versions throughout the whole, almost, of the world. Purely English, however, are those which deal with Robin Hood and his 'merry men,' idealized imaginary heroes of the Saxon common people in the dogged struggle which they maintained for centuries against their oppressive feudal lords.
The characters and 'properties' of the ballads of all classes are generally typical or traditional. There are the brave champion, whether noble or common man, who conquers or falls against overwhelming odds; the faithful lover of either sex; the woman whose constancy, proving stronger than man's fickleness, wins back her lover to her side at last; the traitorous old woman (victim of the blind and cruel prejudice which after a century or two was often to send her to the stake as a witch); the loyal little child; and some few others.
The verbal style of the ballads, like their spirit, is vigorous and simple, generally unpolished and sometimes rough, but often powerful with its terse dramatic suggestiveness. The usual, though not the only, poetic form is the four-lined stanza in lines alternately of four and three stresses and riming only in the second and fourth lines. Besides the refrains which are perhaps a relic of communal composition and the conventional epithets which the ballads share with epic poetry there are numerous traditional ballad expressions--rather meaningless formulas and line-tags used only to complete the rime or meter, the common useful scrap-bag reserve of these unpretentious poets. The license of Anglo-Saxon poetry in the number of the unstressed syllables still remains. But it is evident that the existing versions of the ballads are generally more imperfect than the original forms; they have suffered from the corruptions of generations of oral repetition, which the scholars who have recovered them have preserved with necessary accuracy, but which for appreciative reading editors should so far as possible revise away.
Among the best or most representative single ballads are: The Hunting of the Cheviot (otherwise called The Ancient Ballad of Chevy Chase--clearly of minstrel authorship); Sir Patrick Spens; Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne; Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, and William of Cloudeslee; Captain Car, or Edom o' Gordon; King Estmere (though this has been somewhat altered by Bishop Percy, who had and destroyed the only surviving copy of it); Edward, Edward; Young Waters; Sweet William's Ghost; Lord Thomas and Fair Annet. Kinmont Willie is very fine, but seems to be largely the work of Sir Walter Scott and therefore not truly 'popular.'
SIR THOMAS MALORY AND HIS 'MORTE DARTHUR.' The one fifteenth century author of the first rank, above referred to, is Sir Thomas Malory (the a is pronounced as in tally). He is probably to be identified with the Sir Thomas Malory who during the wars in France and the civil strife of the Roses that followed was an adherent of the Earls of Warwick and who died in 1471 under sentence of outlawry by the victorious Edward IV. And some passing observations, at least, in his book seem to indicate that if he knew and had shared all the splendor and inspiration of the last years of medieval chivalry, he had experienced also the disappointment and bitterness of defeat and prolonged captivity. Further than this we know of him only that he wrote 'Le Morte Darthur' and had finished it by 1467.
Malory's purpose was to collect in a single work the great body of important Arthurian romance and to arrange it in the form of a continuous history of King Arthur and his knights. He called his book 'Le Morte Darthur,' The Death of Arthur, from the title of several popular Arthurian romances to which, since they dealt only with Arthur's later years and death, it was properly enough applied, and from which it seems to have passed into general currency as a name for the entire story of Arthur's life. [Footnote: Since the French word 'Morte' is feminine, the preceding article was originally 'La,' but the whole name had come to be thought of as a compound phrase and hence as masculine or neuter in gender.] Actually to get together all the Arthurian romances was not possible for any man in Malory's day, or in any other, but he gathered up a goodly number, most of them, at least, written in French, and combined them, on the whole with unusual skill, into a work of about one-tenth their original bulk, which still ranks, with all qualifications, as one of the masterpieces of English literature. Dealing with such miscellaneous material, he could not wholly avoid inconsistencies, so that, for example, he sometimes introduces in full health in a later book a knight whom a hundred pages earlier he had killed and regularly buried; but this need not cause the reader anything worse than mild amusement. Not Malory but his age, also, is to blame for his sometimes hazy and puzzled treatment of the supernatural element in his material. In the remote earliest form of the stories, as Celtic myths, this supernatural element was no doubt frank and very large, but Malory's authorities, the more skeptical French romancers, adapting it to their own age, had often more or less fully rationalized it; transforming, for instance, the black river of Death which the original heroes often had to cross on journeys to the Celtic Other World into a rude and forbidding moat about the hostile castle into which the romancers degraded the Other World itself. Countless magic details, however, still remained recalcitrant to such treatment; and they evidently troubled Malory, whose devotion to his story was earnest and sincere. Some of them he omits, doubtless as incredible, but others he retains, often in a form where the impossible is merely garbled into the unintelligible. For a single instance, in his seventh book he does not satisfactorily explain why the valiant Gareth on his arrival at Arthur's court asks at first only for a year's food and drink. In the original story, we can see to-day, Gareth must have been under a witch's spell which compelled him to a season of distasteful servitude; but this motivating bit of superstition Malory discards, or rather, in this case, it had been lost from the story at a much earlier stage. It results, therefore, that Malory's supernatural incidents are often far from clear and satisfactory; yet the reader is little troubled by this difficulty either in so thoroughly romantic a work.
Other technical faults may easily be pointed out in Malory's book. Thorough unity, either in the whole or in the separate stories so loosely woven together, could not be expected; in continual reading the long succession of similar combat after combat and the constant repetition of stereotyped phrases become monotonous for a present-day reader; and it must be confessed that Malory has little of the modern literary craftsman's power of close-knit style or proportion and emphasis in details. But these faults also may be overlooked, and the work is truly great, partly because it is an idealist's dream of chivalry, as chivalry might have been, a chivalry of faithful knights who went about redressing human wrongs and were loyal lovers and zealous servants of Holy Church; great also because Malory's heart is in his stories, so that he tells them in the main well, and invests them with a delightful atmosphere of romance which can never lose its fascination.
The style, also, in the narrower sense, is strong and good, and does its part to make the book, except for the Wiclif Bible, unquestionably the greatest monument of English prose of the entire period before the sixteenth century. There is no affectation of elegance, but rather knightly straightforwardness which has power without lack of ease. The sentences are often long, but always 'loose' and clear; and short ones are often used with the instinctive skill of sincerity. Everything is picturesque and dramatic and everywhere there is chivalrous feeling and genuine human sympathy.
WILLIAM CAXTON AND THE INTRODUCTION OF PRINTING TO ENGLAND, 1476. Malory's book is the first great English classic which was given to the world in print instead of written manuscript; for it was shortly after Malory's death that the printing press was brought to England by William Caxton. The invention of printing, perhaps the most important event of modern times, took place in Germany not long after the middle of the fifteenth century, and the development of the art was rapid. Caxton, a shrewd and enterprising Kentishman, was by first profession a cloth merchant, and having taken up his residence across the Channel, was appointed by the king to the important post of Governor of the English Merchants in Flanders. Employed later in the service of the Duchess of Burgundy (sister of Edward IV), his ardent delight in romances led him to translate into English a French 'Recueil des Histoires de Troye' (Collection of the Troy Stories). To supply the large demand for copies he investigated and mastered the new art by which they might be so wonderfully multiplied and about 1475, at fifty years of age, set up a press at Bruges in the modern Belgium, where he issued his 'Recueil,' which was thus the first English book ever put into print. During the next year, 1476, just a century before the first theater was to be built in London, Caxton returned to England and established his shop in Westminster, then a London suburb. During the fifteen remaining years of his life he labored diligently, printing an aggregate of more than a hundred books, which together comprised over fourteen thousand pages. Aside from Malory's romance, which he put out in 1485, the most important of his publications was an edition of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales.' While laboring as a publisher Caxton himself continued to make translations, and in spite of many difficulties he, together with his assistants, turned into English from French no fewer than twenty-one distinct works. From every point of view Caxton's services were great. As translator and editor his style is careless and uncertain, but like Malory's it is sincere and manly, and vital with energy and enthusiasm. As printer, in a time of rapid changes in the language, when through the wars in France and her growing influence the second great infusion of Latin-French words was coming into the English language, he did what could be done for consistency in forms and spelling. Partly medieval and partly modern in spirit, he may fittingly stand at the close, or nearly at the close, of our study of the medieval period.
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|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 14:24|| |
Chapter IV. The Medieval Drama
For the sake of clearness we have reserved for a separate chapter the discussion of the drama of the whole medieval period, which, though it did not reach a very high literary level, was one of the most characteristic expressions of the age. It should be emphasized that to no other form does what we have said of the similarity of medieval literature throughout Western Europe apply more closely, so that what we find true of the drama in England would for the most part hold good for the other countries as well.
JUGGLERS, FOLK-PLAYS, PAGEANTS. At the fall of the Roman Empire, which marks the beginning of the Middle Ages, the corrupt Roman drama, proscribed by the Church, had come to an unhonored end, and the actors had been merged into the great body of disreputable jugglers and inferior minstrels who wandered over all Christendom. The performances of these social outcasts, crude and immoral as they were, continued for centuries unsuppressed, because they responded to the demand for dramatic spectacle which is one of the deepest though not least troublesome instincts in human nature. The same demand was partly satisfied also by the rude country folk-plays, survivals of primitive heathen ceremonials, performed at such festival occasions as the harvest season, which in all lands continue to flourish among the country people long after their original meaning has been forgotten. In England the folk-plays, throughout the Middle Ages and in remote spots down almost to the present time, sometimes took the form of energetic dances (Morris dances, they came to be called, through confusion with Moorish performances of the same general nature). Others of them, however, exhibited in the midst of much rough-and-tumble fighting and buffoonery, a slight thread of dramatic action. Their characters gradually came to be a conventional set, partly famous figures of popular tradition, such as St. George, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Green Dragon. Other offshoots of the folk-play were the 'mummings' and 'disguisings,' collective names for many forms of processions, shows, and other entertainments, such as, among the upper classes, that precursor of the Elizabethan Mask in which a group of persons in disguise, invited or uninvited, attended a formal dancing party. In the later part of the Middle Ages, also, there were the secular pageants, spectacular displays (rather different from those of the twentieth century) given on such occasions as when a king or other person of high rank made formal entry into a town. They consisted of an elaborate scenic background set up near the city gate or on the street, with figures from allegorical or traditional history who engaged in some pantomime or declamation, but with very little dramatic dialog, or none.
TROPES, LITURGICAL PLAYS, AND MYSTERY PLAYS. But all these forms, though they were not altogether without later influence, were very minor affairs, and the real drama of the Middle Ages grew up, without design and by the mere nature of things, from the regular services of the Church.
We must try in the first place to realize clearly the conditions under which the church service, the mass, was conducted during all the medieval centuries. We should picture to ourselves congregations of persons for the most part grossly ignorant, of unquestioning though very superficial faith, and of emotions easily aroused to fever heat. Of the Latin words of the service they understood nothing; and of the Bible story they had only a very general impression. It was necessary, therefore, that the service should be given a strongly spectacular and emotional character, and to this end no effort was spared. The great cathedrals and churches were much the finest buildings of the time, spacious with lofty pillars and shadowy recesses, rich in sculptured stone and in painted windows that cast on the walls and pavements soft and glowing patterns of many colors and shifting forms. The service itself was in great part musical, the confident notes of the full choir joining with the resonant organ-tones; and after all the rest the richly robed priests and ministrants passed along the aisles in stately processions enveloped in fragrant clouds of incense. That the eye if not the ear of the spectator, also, might catch some definite knowledge, the priests as they read the Bible stories sometimes displayed painted rolls which vividly pictured the principal events of the day's lesson.
Still, however, a lack was strongly felt, and at last, accidentally and slowly, began the process of dramatizing the services. First, inevitably, to be so treated was the central incident of Christian faith, the story of Christ's resurrection. The earliest steps were very simple. First, during the ceremonies on Good Friday, the day when Christ was crucified, the cross which stood all the year above the altar, bearing the Savior's figure, was taken down and laid beneath the altar, a dramatic symbol of the Death and Burial; and two days later, on 'the third day' of the Bible phraseology, that is on Easter Sunday, as the story of the Resurrection was chanted by the choir, the cross was uncovered and replaced, amid the rejoicings of the congregation. Next, and before the Norman Conquest, the Gospel dialog between the angel and the three Marys at the tomb of Christ came sometimes to be chanted by the choir in those responses which are called 'tropes':
'Whom seek ye in the sepulcher, O Christians ?' 'Jesus of Nazareth the crucified, O angel.' 'He is not here; he has arisen as he said. Go, announce that he has risen from the sepulcher.' After this a little dramatic action was introduced almost as a matter of course. One priest dressed in white robes sat, to represent the angel, by one of the square-built tombs near the junction of nave and transept, and three others, personating the Marys, advanced slowly toward him while they chanted their portion of the same dialog. As the last momentous words of the angel died away a jubilant 'Te Deum' burst from, organ and choir, and every member of the congregation exulted, often with sobs, in the great triumph which brought salvation to every Christian soul.
Little by little, probably, as time passed, this Easter scene was further enlarged, in part by additions from the closing incidents of the Savior's life. A similar treatment, too, was being given to the Christmas scene, still more humanly beautiful, of his birth in the manger, and occasionally the two scenes might be taken from their regular places in the service, combined, and presented at any season of the year. Other Biblical scenes, as well, came to be enacted, and, further, there were added stories from Christian tradition, such as that of Antichrist, and, on their particular days, the lives of Christian saints. Thus far these compositions are called Liturgical Plays, because they formed, in general, a part of the church service (liturgy). But as some of them were united into extended groups and as the interest of the congregation deepened, the churches began to seem too small and inconvenient, the excited audiences forgot the proper reverence, and the performances were transferred to the churchyard, and then, when the gravestones proved troublesome, to the market place, the village-green, or any convenient field. By this time the people had ceased to be patient with the unintelligible Latin, and it was replaced at first, perhaps, and in part, by French, but finally by English; though probably verse was always retained as more appropriate than prose to the sacred subjects. Then, the religious spirit yielding inevitably in part to that of merrymaking, minstrels and mountebanks began to flock to the celebrations; and regular fairs, even, grew up about them. Gradually, too, the priests lost their hold even on the plays themselves; skilful actors from among the laymen began to take many of the parts; and at last in some towns the trade-guilds, or unions of the various handicrafts, which had secured control of the town governments, assumed entire charge.
These changes, very slowly creeping in, one by one, had come about in most places by the beginning of the fourteenth century. In 1311 a new impetus was given to the whole ceremony by the establishment of the late spring festival of Corpus Christi, a celebration of the doctrine of transubstantiation. On this occasion, or sometimes on some other festival, it became customary for the guilds to present an extended series of the plays, a series which together contained the essential substance of the Christian story, and therefore of the Christian faith. The Church generally still encouraged attendance, and not only did all the townspeople join wholeheartedly, but from all the country round the peasants flocked in. On one occasion the Pope promised the remission of a thousand days of purgatory to all persons who should be present at the Chester plays, and to this exemption the bishop of Chester added sixty days more.
The list of plays thus presented commonly included: The Fall of Lucifer; the Creation of the World and the Fall of Adam; Noah and the Flood; Abraham and Isaac and the promise of Christ's coming; a Procession of the Prophets, also foretelling Christ; the main events of the Gospel story, with some additions from Christian tradition; and the Day of Judgment. The longest cycle now known, that at York, contained, when fully developed, fifty plays, or perhaps even more. Generally each play was presented by a single guild (though sometimes two or three guilds or two or three plays might be combined), and sometimes, though not always, there was a special fitness in the assignment, as when the watermen gave the play of Noah's Ark or the bakers that of the Last Supper. In this connected form the plays are called the Mystery or Miracle Cycles. [Footnote: 'Miracle' was the medieval word in England; 'Mystery' has been taken by recent scholars from the medieval French usage. It is not connected with our usual word 'mystery,' but possibly is derived from the Latin 'ministerium,' 'function,' which was the name applied to the trade-guild as an organization and from which our title 'Mr.' also comes.] In many places, however, detached plays, or groups of plays smaller than the full cycles, continued to be presented at one season or another.
Each cycle as a whole, it will be seen, has a natural epic unity, centering about the majestic theme of the spiritual history and the final judgment of all Mankind. But unity both of material and of atmosphere suffers not only from the diversity among the separate plays but also from the violent intrusion of the comedy and the farce which the coarse taste of the audience demanded. Sometimes, in the later period, altogether original and very realistic scenes from actual English life were added, like the very clever but very coarse parody on the Nativity play in the 'Towneley' cycle. More often comic treatment was given to the Bible scenes and characters themselves. Noah's wife, for example, came regularly to be presented as a shrew, who would not enter the ark until she had been beaten into submission; and Herod always appears as a blustering tyrant, whose fame still survives in a proverb of Shakespeare's coinage--'to out-Herod Herod.'
The manner of presentation of the cycles varied much in different towns. Sometimes the entire cycle was still given, like the detached plays, at a single spot, the market-place or some other central square; but often, to accommodate the great crowds, there were several 'stations' at convenient intervals. In the latter case each play might remain all day at a particular station and be continuously repeated as the crowd moved slowly by; but more often it was the, spectators who remained, and the plays, mounted on movable stages, the 'pageant'-wagons, were drawn in turn by the guild-apprentices from one station to another. When the audience was stationary, the common people stood in the square on all sides of the stage, while persons of higher rank or greater means were seated on temporary wooden scaffolds or looked down from the windows of the adjacent houses. In the construction of the 'pageant' all the little that was possible was done to meet the needs of the presentation. Below the main floor, or stage, was the curtained dressing-room of the actors; and when the play required, on one side was attached 'Hell-Mouth,' a great and horrible human head, whence issued flames and fiendish cries, often the fiends themselves, and into which lost sinners were violently hurled. On the stage the scenery was necessarily very simple. A small raised platform or pyramid might represent Heaven, where God the Father was seated, and from which as the action required the angels came down; a single tree might indicate the Garden of Eden; and a doorway an entire house. In partial compensation the costumes were often elaborate, with all the finery of the church wardrobe and much of those of the wealthy citizens. The expense accounts of the guilds, sometimes luckily preserved, furnish many picturesque and amusing items, such as these: 'Four pair of angels' wings, 2 shillings and 8 pence.' 'For mending of hell head, 6 pence.' 'Item, link for setting the world on fire.' Apparently women never acted; men and boys took the women's parts. All the plays of the cycle were commonly performed in a single day, beginning, at the first station, perhaps as early as five o'clock in the morning; but sometimes three days or even more were employed. To the guilds the giving of the plays was a very serious matter. Often each guild had a 'pageant-house' where it stored its 'properties,' and a pageant-master who trained the actors and imposed substantial fines on members remiss in cooperation.
We have said that the plays were always composed in verse. The stanza forms employed differ widely even within the same cycle, since the single plays were very diverse in both authorship and dates. The quality of the verse, generally mediocre at the outset, has often suffered much in transmission from generation to generation. In other respects also there are great contrasts; sometimes the feeling and power of a scene are admirable, revealing an author of real ability, sometimes there is only crude and wooden amateurishness. The medieval lack of historic sense gives to all the plays the setting of the authors' own times; Roman officers appear as feudal knights; and all the heathens (including the Jews) are Saracens, worshippers of 'Mahound' and 'Termagaunt'; while the good characters, however long they may really have lived before the Christian era, swear stoutly by St. John and St. Paul and the other medieval Christian divinities. The frank coarseness of the plays is often merely disgusting, and suggests how superficial, in most cases, was the medieval religious sense. With no thought of incongruity, too, these writers brought God the Father onto the stage in bodily form, and then, attempting in all sincerity to show him reverence, gilded his face and put into his mouth long speeches of exceedingly tedious declamation. The whole emphasis, as generally in the religion of the times, was on the fear of hell rather than on the love of righteousness. Yet in spite of everything grotesque and inconsistent, the plays no doubt largely fulfilled their religious purpose and exercised on the whole an elevating influence. The humble submission of the boy Isaac to the will of God and of his earthly father, the yearning devotion of Mary the mother of Jesus, and the infinite love and pity of the tortured Christ himself, must have struck into even callous hearts for at least a little time some genuine consciousness of the beauty and power of the finer and higher life. A literary form which supplied much of the religious and artistic nourishment of half a continent for half a thousand years cannot be lightly regarded or dismissed.
THE MORALITY PLAYS. The Mystery Plays seem to have reached their greatest popularity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the dawning light of the Renaissance and the modern spirit they gradually waned, though in exceptional places and in special revivals they did not altogether cease to be given until the seventeenth century. On the Continent of Europe, indeed, they still survive, after a fashion, in a single somewhat modernized form, the celebrated Passion Play of Oberammergau. In England by the end of the fifteenth century they had been for the most part replaced by a kindred species which had long been growing up beside them, namely the Morality Plays.
The Morality Play probably arose in part from the desire of religious writers to teach the principles of Christian living in a more direct and compact fashion than was possible through the Bible stories of the Mysteries. In its strict form the Morality Play was a dramatized moral allegory. It was in part an offshoot from the Mysteries, in some of which there had appeared among the actors abstract allegorical figures, either good or bad, such as The Seven Deadly Sins, Contemplation, and Raise-Slander. In the Moralities the majority of the characters are of this sort--though not to the exclusion of supernatural persons such as God and the Devil--and the hero is generally a type-figure standing for all Mankind. For the control of the hero the two definitely opposing groups of Virtues and Vices contend; the commonest type of Morality presents in brief glimpses the entire story of the hero's life, that is of the life of every man. It shows how he yields to temptation and lives for the most part in reckless sin, but at last in spite of all his flippancy and folly is saved by Perseverance and Repentance, pardoned through God's mercy, and assured of salvation. As compared with the usual type of Mystery plays the Moralities had for the writers this advantage, that they allowed some independence in the invention of the story; and how powerful they might be made in the hands of a really gifted author has been finely demonstrated in our own time by the stage-revival of the best of them, 'Everyman' (which is probably a translation from a Dutch original). In most cases, however, the spirit of medieval allegory proved fatal, the genuinely abstract characters are mostly shadowy and unreal, and the speeches of the Virtues are extreme examples of intolerable sanctimonious declamation. Against this tendency, on the other hand, the persistent instinct for realism provided a partial antidote; the Vices are often very lifelike rascals, abstract only in name. In these cases the whole plays become vivid studies in contemporary low life, largely human and interesting except for their prolixity and the coarseness which they inherited from the Mysteries and multiplied on their own account. During the Reformation period, in the early sixteenth century, the character of the Moralities, more strictly so called, underwent something of a change, and they were--sometimes made the vehicle for religious argument, especially by Protestants.
THE INTERLUDES. Early in the sixteenth century, the Morality in its turn was largely superseded by another sort of play called the Interlude. But just as in the case of the Mystery and the Morality, the Interlude developed out of the Morality, and the two cannot always be distinguished, some single plays being distinctly described by the authors as 'Moral Interludes.' In the Interludes the realism of the Moralities became still more pronounced, so that the typical Interlude is nothing more than a coarse farce, with no pretense at religious or ethical meaning. The name Interlude denotes literally 'a play between,' but the meaning intended between whom or what) is uncertain. The plays were given sometimes in the halls of nobles and gentlemen, either when banquets were in progress or on other festival occasions; sometimes before less select audiences in the town halls or on village greens. The actors were sometimes strolling companies of players, who might be minstrels 'or rustics, and were sometimes also retainers of the great nobles, allowed to practice their dramatic ability on tours about the country when they were not needed for their masters' entertainment. In the Interlude-Moralities and Interludes first appears The Vice, a rogue who sums up in himself all the Vices of the older Moralities and serves as the buffoon. One of his most popular exploits was to belabor the Devil about the stage with a wooden dagger, a habit which took a great hold on the popular imagination, as numerous references in later literature testify. Transformed by time, the Vice appears in the Elizabethan drama, and thereafter, as the clown.
THE LATER INFLUENCE OF THE MEDIEVAL DRAMA. The various dramatic forms from the tenth century to the middle of the sixteenth at which we have thus hastily glanced--folk-plays, mummings and disguisings, secular pageants, Mystery plays, Moralities, and Interludes--have little but a historical importance. But besides demonstrating the persistence of the popular demand for drama, they exerted a permanent influence in that they formed certain stage traditions which were to modify or largely control the great drama of the Elizabethan period and to some extent of later times. Among these traditions were the disregard for unity, partly of action, but especially of time and place; the mingling of comedy with even the intensest scenes of tragedy; the nearly complete lack of stage scenery, with a resultant willingness in the audience to make the largest possible imaginative assumptions; the presence of certain stock figures, such as the clown; and the presentation of women's parts by men and boys. The plays, therefore, must be reckoned with in dramatic history.
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|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 14:29|| |
Chapter V. Period IV. The Sixteenth Century. The Renaissance And The Reign Of Elizabeth
PERIOD IV. THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. THE RENAISSANCE AND THE REIGN OF ELIZABETH
The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are the period of the European Renaissance or New Birth, one of the three or four great transforming movements of European history. This impulse by which the medieval society of scholasticism, feudalism, and chivalry was to be made over into what we call the modern world came first from Italy. Italy, like the rest of the Roman Empire, had been overrun and conquered in the fifth century by the barbarian Teutonic tribes, but the devastation had been less complete there than in the more northern lands, and there, even more, perhaps, than in France, the bulk of the people remained Latin in blood and in character. Hence it resulted that though the Middle Ages were in Italy a period of terrible political anarchy, yet Italian culture recovered far more rapidly than that of the northern nations, whom the Italians continued down to the modern period to regard contemptuously as still mere barbarians. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, further, the Italians had become intellectually one of the keenest races whom the world has ever known, though in morals they were sinking to almost incredible corruption. Already in fourteenth century Italy, therefore, the movement for a much fuller and freer intellectual life had begun, and we have seen that by Petrarch and Boccaccio something of this spirit was transmitted to Chaucer. In England Chaucer was followed by the medievalizing fifteenth century, but in Italy there was no such interruption.
The Renaissance movement first received definite direction from the rediscovery and study of Greek literature, which clearly revealed the unbounded possibilities of life to men who had been groping dissatisfied within the now narrow limits of medieval thought. Before Chaucer was dead the study of Greek, almost forgotten in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, had been renewed in Italy, and it received a still further impulse when at the taking of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 Greek scholars and manuscripts were scattered to the West. It is hard for us to-day to realize the meaning for the men of the fifteenth century of this revived knowledge of the life and thought of the Greek race. The medieval Church, at first merely from the brutal necessities of a period of anarchy, had for the most part frowned on the joy and beauty of life, permitting pleasure, indeed, to the laity, but as a thing half dangerous, and declaring that there was perfect safety only within the walls of the nominally ascetic Church itself. The intellectual life, also, nearly restricted to priests and monks, had been formalized and conventionalized, until in spite of the keenness of its methods and the brilliancy of many of its scholars, it had become largely barren and unprofitable. The whole sphere of knowledge had been subjected to the mere authority of the Bible and of a few great minds of the past, such as Aristotle. All questions were argued and decided on the basis of their assertions, which had often become wholly inadequate and were often warped into grotesquely impossible interpretations and applications. Scientific investigation was almost entirely stifled, and progress was impossible. The whole field of religion and knowledge had become largely stagnant under an arbitrary despotism.
To the minds which were being paralyzed under this system, Greek literature brought the inspiration for which they longed. For it was the literature of a great and brilliant people who, far from attempting to make a divorce within man's nature, had aimed to 'see life steadily and see it whole,' who, giving free play to all their powers, had found in pleasure and beauty some of the most essential constructive forces, and had embodied beauty in works of literature and art where the significance of the whole spiritual life was more splendidly suggested than in the achievements of any, or almost any, other period. The enthusiasm, therefore, with which the Italians turned to the study of Greek literature and Greek life was boundless, and it constantly found fresh nourishment. Every year restored from forgotten recesses of libraries or from the ruins of Roman villas another Greek author or volume or work of art, and those which had never been lost were reinterpreted with much deeper insight. Aristotle was again vitalized, and Plato's noble idealistic philosophy was once more appreciatively studied and understood. In the light of this new revelation Latin literature, also, which had never ceased to be almost superstitiously studied, took on a far greater human significance. Vergil and Cicero were regarded no longer as mysterious prophets from a dimly imagined past, but as real men of flesh and blood, speaking out of experiences remote in time from the present but no less humanly real. The word 'human,' indeed, became the chosen motto of the Renaissance scholars; 'humanists' was the title which they applied to themselves as to men for whom 'nothing human was without appeal.' New creative enthusiasm, also, and magnificent actual new creation, followed the discovery of the old treasures, creation in literature and all the arts; culminating particularly in the early sixteenth century in the greatest group of painters whom any country has ever seen, Lionardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. In Italy, to be sure, the light of the Renaissance had its palpable shadow; in breaking away from the medieval bondage into the unhesitating enjoyment of all pleasure, the humanists too often overleaped all restraints and plunged into wild excess, often into mere sensuality. Hence the Italian Renaissance is commonly called Pagan, and hence when young English nobles began to travel to Italy to drink at the fountain head of the new inspiration moralists at home protested with much reason against the ideas and habits which many of them brought back with their new clothes and flaunted as evidences of intellectual emancipation. History, however, shows no great progressive movement unaccompanied by exaggerations and extravagances.
The Renaissance, penetrating northward, past first from Italy to France, but as early as the middle of the fifteenth century English students were frequenting the Italian universities. Soon the study of Greek was introduced into England, also, first at Oxford; and it was cultivated with such good results that when, early in the sixteenth century, the great Dutch student and reformer, Erasmus, unable through poverty to reach Italy, came to Oxford instead, he found there a group of accomplished scholars and gentlemen whose instruction and hospitable companionship aroused his unbounded delight. One member of this group was the fine-spirited John Colet, later Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, who was to bring new life into the secondary education of English boys by the establishment of St. Paul's Grammar School, based on the principle of kindness in place of the merciless severity of the traditional English system.
Great as was the stimulus of literary culture, it was only one of several influences that made up the Renaissance. While Greek was speaking so powerfully to the cultivated class, other forces were contributing to revolutionize life as a whole and all men's outlook upon it. The invention of printing, multiplying books in unlimited quantities where before there had been only a few manuscripts laboriously copied page by page, absolutely transformed all the processes of knowledge and almost of thought. Not much later began the vast expansion of the physical world through geographical exploration. Toward the end of the fifteenth century the Portuguese sailor, Vasco da Gama, finishing the work of Diaz, discovered the sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope. A few years earlier Columbus had revealed the New World and virtually proved that the earth is round, a proof scientifically completed a generation after him when Magellan's ship actually circled the globe. Following close after Columbus, the Cabots, Italian-born, but naturalized Englishmen, discovered North America, and for a hundred years the rival ships of Spain, England, and Portugal filled the waters of the new West and the new East. In America handfuls of Spanish adventurers conquered great empires and despatched home annual treasure fleets of gold and silver, which the audacious English sea-captains, half explorers and half pirates, soon learned to intercept and plunder. The marvels which were constantly being revealed as actual facts seemed no less wonderful than the extravagances of medieval romance; and it was scarcely more than a matter of course that men should search in the new strange lands for the fountain of perpetual youth and the philosopher's stone. The supernatural beings and events of Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' could scarcely seem incredible to an age where incredulity was almost unknown because it was impossible to set a bound how far any one might reasonably believe. But the horizon of man's expanded knowledge was not to be limited even to his own earth. About the year 1540, the Polish Copernicus opened a still grander realm of speculation (not to be adequately possessed for several centuries) by the announcement that our world is not the center of the universe, but merely one of the satellites of its far-superior sun.
The whole of England was profoundly stirred by the Renaissance to a new and most energetic life, but not least was this true of the Court, where for a time literature was very largely to center. Since the old nobility had mostly perished in the wars, both Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor line, and his son, Henry VIII, adopted the policy of replacing it with able and wealthy men of the middle class, who would be strongly devoted to themselves. The court therefore became a brilliant and crowded circle of unscrupulous but unusually adroit statesmen, and a center of lavish entertainments and display. Under this new aristocracy the rigidity of the feudal system was relaxed, and life became somewhat easier for all the dependent classes. Modern comforts, too, were largely introduced, and with them the Italian arts; Tudor architecture, in particular, exhibited the originality and splendor of an energetic and self-confident age. Further, both Henries, though perhaps as essentially selfish and tyrannical as almost any of their predecessors, were politic and far-sighted, and they took a genuine pride in the prosperity of their kingdom. They encouraged trade; and in the peace which was their best gift the well-being of the nation as a whole increased by leaps and bounds.
Lastly, the literature of the sixteenth century and later was profoundly influenced by that religious result of the Renaissance which we know as the Reformation. While in Italy the new impulses were chiefly turned into secular and often corrupt channels, in the Teutonic lands they deeply stirred the Teutonic conscience. In 1517 Martin Luther, protesting against the unprincipled and flippant practices that were disgracing religion, began the breach between Catholicism, with its insistence on the supremacy of the Church, and Protestantism, asserting the independence of the individual judgment. In England Luther's action revived the spirit of Lollardism, which had nearly been crushed out, and in spite of a minority devoted to the older system, the nation as a whole began to move rapidly toward change. Advocates of radical revolution thrust themselves forward in large numbers, while cultured and thoughtful men, including the Oxford group, indulged the too ideal hope of a gradual and peaceful reform.
The actual course of the religious movement was determined largely by the personal and political projects of Henry VIII. Conservative at the outset, Henry even attacked Luther in a pamphlet, which won from the Pope for himself and his successors the title 'Defender of the Faith.' But when the Pope finally refused Henry's demand for the divorce from Katharine of Spain, which would make possible a marriage with Anne Boleyn, Henry angrily threw off the papal authority and declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus establishing the separate English (Anglican, Episcopal) church. In the brief reign of Henry's son, Edward VI, the separation was made more decisive; under Edward's sister, Mary, Catholicism was restored; but the last of Henry's children, Elizabeth, coming to the throne in 1558, gave the final victory to the English communion. Under all these sovereigns (to complete our summary of the movement) the more radical Protestants, Puritans as they came to be called, were active in agitation, undeterred by frequent cruel persecution and largely influenced by the corresponding sects in Germany and by the Presbyterianism established by Calvin in Geneva and later by John Knox in Scotland. Elizabeth's skilful management long kept the majority of the Puritans within the English Church, where they formed an important element, working for simpler practices and introducing them in congregations which they controlled. But toward the end of the century and of Elizabeth's reign, feeling grew tenser, and groups of the Puritans, sometimes under persecution, definitely separated themselves from the State Church and established various sectarian bodies. Shortly after 1600, in particular, the Independents, or Congregationalists, founded in Holland the church which was soon to colonize New England. At home, under James I, the breach widened, until the nation was divided into two hostile camps, with results most radically decisive for literature. But for the present we must return to the early part of the sixteenth century.
SIR THOMAS MORE AND HIS 'UTOPIA.'
Out of the confused and bitter strife of churches and parties, while the outcome was still uncertain, issued a great mass of controversial writing which does not belong to literature. A few works, however, more or less directly connected with the religious agitation, cannot be passed by.
One of the most attractive and finest spirits of the reign of Henry VIII was Sir Thomas More. A member of the Oxford group in its second generation, a close friend of Erasmus, his house a center of humanism, he became even more conspicuous in public life. A highly successful lawyer, he was rapidly advanced by Henry VIII in court and in national affairs, until on the fall of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 he was appointed, much against his will, to the highest office open to a subject, that of Lord Chancellor (head of the judicial system). A devoted Catholic, he took a part which must have been revolting to himself in the torturing and burning of Protestants; but his absolute loyalty to conscience showed itself to better purpose when in the almost inevitable reverse of fortune he chose harsh imprisonment and death rather than to take the formal oath of allegiance to the king in opposition to the Pope. His quiet jests on the scaffold suggest the never-failing sense of humor which was one sign of the completeness and perfect poise of his character; while the hair-shirt which he wore throughout his life and the severe penances to which he subjected himself reveal strikingly how the expression of the deepest convictions of the best natures may be determined by inherited and outworn modes of thought.
More's most important work was his 'Utopia,' published in 1516. The name, which is Greek, means No-Place, and the book is one of the most famous of that series of attempts to outline an imaginary ideal condition of society which begins with Plato's 'Republic' and has continued to our own time.
'Utopia,' broadly considered, deals primarily with the question which is common to most of these books and in which both ancient Greece and Europe of the Renaissance took a special interest, namely the question of the relation of the State and the individual. It consists of two parts. In the first there is a vivid picture of the terrible evils which England was suffering through war, lawlessness, the wholesale and foolish application of the death penalty, the misery of the peasants, the absorption of the land by the rich, and the other distressing corruptions in Church and State. In the second part, in contrast to all this, a certain imaginary Raphael Hythlodaye describes the customs of Utopia, a remote island in the New World, to which chance has carried him. To some of the ideals thus set forth More can scarcely have expected the world ever to attain; and some of them will hardly appeal to the majority of readers of any period; but in the main he lays down an admirable program for human progress, no small part of which has been actually realized in the four centuries which have since elapsed.
The controlling purpose in the life of the Utopians is to secure both the welfare of the State and the full development of the individual under the ascendancy of his higher faculties. The State is democratic, socialistic, and communistic, and the will of the individual is subordinated to the advantage of all, but the real interests of each and all are recognized as identical. Every one is obliged to work, but not to overwork; six hours a day make the allotted period; and the rest of the time is free, but with plentiful provision of lectures and other aids for the education of mind and spirit. All the citizens are taught the fundamental art, that of agriculture, and in addition each has a particular trade or profession of his own. There is no surfeit, excess, or ostentation. Clothing is made for durability, and every one's garments are precisely like those of every one else, except that there is a difference between those of men and women and those of married and unmarried persons. The sick are carefully tended, but the victims of hopeless or painful disease are mercifully put to death if they so desire. Crime is naturally at a minimum, but those who persist in it are made slaves (not executed, for why should the State be deprived of their services?). Detesting war, the Utopians make a practice of hiring certain barbarians who, conveniently, are their neighbors, to do whatever fighting is necessary for their defense, and they win if possible, not by the revolting slaughter of pitched battles, but by the assassination of their enemies' generals. In especial, there is complete religious toleration, except for atheism, and except for those who urge their opinions with offensive violence. 'Utopia' was written and published in Latin; among the multitude of translations into many languages the earliest in English, in which it is often reprinted, is that of Ralph Robinson, made in 1551.
THE ENGLISH BIBLE AND BOOKS OF DEVOTION.
To this century of religious change belongs the greater part of the literary history of the English Bible and of the ritual books of the English Church. Since the suppression of the Wiclifite movement the circulation of the Bible in English had been forbidden, but growing Protestantism insistently revived the demand for it. The attitude of Henry VIII and his ministers was inconsistent and uncertain, reflecting their own changing points of view. In 1526 William Tyndale, a zealous Protestant controversialist then in exile in Germany, published an excellent English translation of the New Testament. Based on the proper authority, the Greek original, though with influence from Wiclif and from the Latin and German (Luther's) version, this has been directly or indirectly the starting-point for all subsequent English translations except those of the Catholics.
Ten years later Tyndale suffered martyrdom, but in 1535 Miles Coverdale, later bishop of Exeter, issued in Germany a translation of the whole Bible in a more gracious style than Tyndale's, and to this the king and the established clergy were now ready to give license and favor. Still two years later appeared a version compounded of those of Tyndale and Coverdale and called, from the fictitious name of its editor, the 'Matthew' Bible. In 1539, under the direction of Archbishop Cranmer, Coverdale issued a revised edition, officially authorized for use in churches; its version of the Psalms still stands as the Psalter of the English Church. In 1560 English Puritan refugees at Geneva put forth the 'Geneva Bible,' especially accurate as a translation, which long continued the accepted version for private use among all parties and for all purposes among the Puritans, in both Old and New England. Eight years later, under Archbishop Parker, there was issued in large volume form and for use in churches the 'Bishops' Bible,' so named because the majority of its thirteen editors were bishops. This completes the list of important translations down to those of 1611 and 1881, of which we shall speak in the proper place. The Book of Common Prayer, now used in the English Church coordinately with Bible and Psalter, took shape out of previous primers of private devotion, litanies, and hymns, mainly as the work of Archbishop Cranmer during the reign of Edward VI.
Of the influence of these translations of the Bible on English literature it is impossible to speak too strongly. They rendered the whole nation familiar for centuries with one of the grandest and most varied of all collections of books, which was adopted with ardent patriotic enthusiasm as one of the chief national possessions, and which has served as an unfailing storehouse of poetic and dramatic allusions for all later writers. Modern English literature as a whole is permeated and enriched to an incalculable degree with the substance and spirit of the English Bible.
WYATT AND SURREY AND THE NEW POETRY.
In the literature of fine art also the new beginning was made during the reign of Henry VIII. This was through the introduction by Sir Thomas Wyatt of the Italian fashion of lyric poetry. Wyatt, a man of gentle birth, entered Cambridge at the age of twelve and received his degree of M. A. seven years later. His mature life was that of a courtier to whom the king's favor brought high appointments, with such vicissitudes of fortune, including occasional imprisonments, as formed at that time a common part of the courtier's lot. Wyatt, however, was not a merely worldly person, but a Protestant seemingly of high and somewhat severe moral character. He died in 1542 at the age of thirty-nine of a fever caught as he was hastening, at the king's command, to meet and welcome the Spanish ambassador.
On one of his missions to the Continent, Wyatt, like Chaucer, had visited Italy. Impressed with the beauty of Italian verse and the contrasting rudeness of that of contemporary England, he determined to remodel the latter in the style of the former. Here a brief historical retrospect is necessary. The Italian poetry of the sixteenth century had itself been originally an imitation, namely of the poetry of Provence in Southern France. There, in the twelfth century, under a delightful climate and in a region of enchanting beauty, had arisen a luxurious civilization whose poets, the troubadours, many of them men of noble birth, had carried to the furthest extreme the woman-worship of medieval chivalry and had enshrined it in lyric poetry of superb and varied sweetness and beauty. In this highly conventionalized poetry the lover is forever sighing for his lady, a correspondingly obdurate being whose favor is to be won only by years of the most unqualified and unreasoning devotion. From Provence, Italy had taken up the style, and among the other forms for its expression, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, had devised the poem of a single fourteen-line stanza which we call the sonnet. The whole movement had found its great master in Petrarch, who, in hundreds of poems, mostly sonnets, of perfect beauty, had sung the praises and cruelty of his nearly imaginary Laura.
It was this highly artificial but very beautiful poetic fashion which Wyatt deliberately set about to introduce into England. The nature and success of his innovation can be summarized in a few definite statements.
Imitating Petrarch, Wyatt nearly limits himself as regards substance to the treatment of the artificial love-theme, lamenting the unkindness of ladies who very probably never existed and whose favor in any case he probably regarded very lightly; yet even so, he often strikes a manly English note of independence, declaring that if the lady continues obstinate he will not die for her love.
Historically much the most important feature of Wyatt's experiment was the introduction of the sonnet, a very substantial service indeed; for not only did this form, like the love-theme, become by far the most popular one among English lyric poets of the next two generations, setting a fashion which was carried to an astonishing excess; but it is the only artificial form of foreign origin which has ever been really adopted and naturalized in English, and it still remains the best instrument for the terse expression of a single poetic thought. Wyatt, it should be observed, generally departs from the Petrarchan rime-scheme, on the whole unfortunately, by substituting a third quatrain for the first four lines of the sestet. That is, while Petrarch's rime-arrangement is either a b b a a b b a c d c d c d or a b b a a b b a c d e c d e Wyatt's is usually a b b a a b b a c d d c e e.
In his attempted reformation of English metrical irregularity Wyatt, in his sonnets, shows only the uncertain hand of a beginner. He generally secures an equal number of syllables in each line, but he often merely counts them off on his fingers, wrenching the accents all awry, and often violently forcing the rimes as well. In his songs, however, which are much more numerous than the sonnets, he attains delightful fluency and melody. His 'My Lute, Awake,' and 'Forget Not Yet' are still counted among the notable English lyrics.
A particular and characteristic part of the conventional Italian lyric apparatus which Wyatt transplanted was the 'conceit.' A conceit may be defined as an exaggerated figure of speech or play on words in which intellectual cleverness figures at least as largely as real emotion and which is often dragged out to extremely complicated lengths of literal application. An example is Wyatt's declaration (after Petrarch) that his love, living in his heart, advances to his face and there encamps, displaying his banner (which merely means that the lover blushes with his emotion). In introducing the conceit Wyatt fathered the most conspicuous of the superficial general features which were to dominate English poetry for a century to come.
Still another, minor, innovation of Wyatt was the introduction into English verse of the Horatian 'satire' (moral poem, reflecting on current follies) in the form of three metrical letters to friends. In these the meter is the terza rima of Dante.
Wyatt's work was continued by his poetical disciple and successor, Henry Howard, who, as son of the Duke of Norfolk, held the courtesy title of Earl of Surrey. A brilliant though wilful representative of Tudor chivalry, and distinguished in war, Surrey seems to have occupied at Court almost the same commanding position as Sir Philip Sidney in the following generation. His career was cut short in tragically ironical fashion at the age of thirty by the plots of his enemies and the dying bloodthirstiness of King Henry, which together led to his execution on a trumped-up charge of treason. It was only one of countless brutal court crimes, but it seems the more hateful because if the king had died a single day earlier Surrey could have been saved.
Surrey's services to poetry were two:
He improved on the versification of Wyatt's sonnets, securing fluency and smoothness.
In a translation of two books of Vergil's 'Aneid' he introduced, from the Italian, pentameter blank verse, which was destined thenceforth to be the meter of English poetic drama and of much of the greatest English non-dramatic poetry. Further, though his poems are less numerous than those of Wyatt, his range of subjects is somewhat broader, including some appreciative treatment of external Nature. He seems, however, somewhat less sincere than his teacher. In his sonnets he abandoned the form followed by Wyatt and adopted (still from the Italian) the one which was subsequently used by Shakespeare, consisting of three independent quatrains followed, as with Wyatt, by a couplet which sums up the thought with epigrammatic force, thus: a b a b c d c d e f e f g g.
Wyatt and Surrey set a fashion at Court; for some years it seems to have been an almost necessary accomplishment for every young noble to turn off love poems after Italian and French models; for France too had now taken up the fashion. These poems were generally and naturally regarded as the property of the Court and of the gentry, and circulated at first only in manuscript among the author's friends; but the general public became curious about them, and in 1557 one of the publishers of the day, Richard Tottel, securing a number of those of Wyatt, Surrey, and a few other noble or gentle authors, published them in a little volume, which is known as
'Tottel's Miscellany.' Coming as it does in the year before the accession of Queen Elizabeth, at the end of the comparatively barren reigns of Edward and Mary, this book is taken by common consent as marking the beginning of the literature of the Elizabethan period. It was the premature predecessor, also, of a number of such anthologies which were published during the latter half of Elizabeth's reign.
THE ELIZABETHAN PERIOD.
The earlier half of Elizabeth's reign, also, though not lacking in literary effort, produced no work of permanent importance. After the religious convulsions of half a century time was required for the development of the internal quiet and confidence from which a great literature could spring. At length, however, the hour grew ripe and there came the greatest outburst of creative energy in the whole history of English literature. Under Elizabeth's wise guidance the prosperity and enthusiasm of the nation had risen to the highest pitch, and London in particular was overflowing with vigorous life. A special stimulus of the most intense kind came from the struggle with Spain. After a generation of half-piratical depredations by the English seadogs against the Spanish treasure fleets and the Spanish settlements in America, King Philip, exasperated beyond all patience and urged on by a bigot's zeal for the Catholic Church, began deliberately to prepare the Great Armada, which was to crush at one blow the insolence, the independence, and the religion of England. There followed several long years of breathless suspense; then in 1588 the Armada sailed and was utterly overwhelmed in one of the most complete disasters of the world's history. Thereupon the released energy of England broke out exultantly into still more impetuous achievement in almost every line of activity. The great literary period is taken by common consent to begin with the publication of Spenser's 'Shepherd's Calendar' in 1579, and to end in some sense at the death of Elizabeth in 1603, though in the drama, at least, it really continues many years longer.
Several general characteristics of Elizabethan literature and writers should be indicated at the outset.
The period has the great variety of almost unlimited creative force; it includes works of many kinds in both verse and prose, and ranges in spirit from the loftiest Platonic idealism or the most delightful romance to the level of very repulsive realism.
It was mainly dominated, however, by the spirit of romance.
It was full also of the spirit of dramatic action, as befitted an age whose restless enterprise was eagerly extending itself to every quarter of the globe.
In style it often exhibits romantic luxuriance, which sometimes takes the form of elaborate affectations of which the favorite 'conceit' is only the most apparent.
It was in part a period of experimentation, when the proper material and limits of literary forms were being determined, oftentimes by means of false starts and grandiose failures. In particular, many efforts were made to give prolonged poetical treatment to many subjects essentially prosaic, for example to systems of theological or scientific thought, or to the geography of all England.
It continued to be largely influenced by the literature of Italy, and to a less degree by those of France and Spain.
The literary spirit was all-pervasive, and the authors were men (not yet women) of almost every class, from distinguished courtiers, like Ralegh and Sidney, to the company of hack writers, who starved in garrets and hung about the outskirts of the bustling taverns.
The period saw the beginning, among other things, of English prose fiction of something like the later modern type. First appeared a series of collections of short tales chiefly translated from Italian authors, to which tales the Italian name 'novella' (novel) was applied. Most of the separate tales are crude or amateurish and have only historical interest, though as a class they furnished the plots for many Elizabethan dramas, including several of Shakespeare's. The most important collection was Painter's 'Palace of Pleasure,' in 1566. The earliest original, or partly original, English prose fictions to appear were handbooks of morals and manners in story form, and here the beginning was made by John Lyly, who is also of some importance in the history of the Elizabethan drama. In 1578 Lyly, at the age of twenty-five, came from Oxford to London, full of the enthusiasm of Renaissance learning, and evidently determined to fix himself as a new and dazzling star in the literary sky. In this ambition he achieved a remarkable and immediate success, by the publication of a little book entitled 'Euphues and His Anatomie of Wit.' 'Euphues' means 'the well-bred man,' and though there is a slight action, the work is mainly a series of moralizing disquisitions (mostly rearranged from Sir Thomas North's translation of 'The Dial of Princes' of the Spaniard Guevara) on love, religion, and conduct. Most influential, however, for the time-being, was Lyly's style, which is the most conspicuous English example of the later Renaissance craze, then rampant throughout Western Europe, for refining and beautifying the art of prose expression in a mincingly affected fashion. Witty, clever, and sparkling at all costs, Lyly takes especial pains to balance his sentences and clauses antithetically, phrase against phrase and often word against word, sometimes emphasizing the balance also by an exaggerated use of alliteration and assonance. A representative sentence is this: 'Although there be none so ignorant that doth not know, neither any so impudent that will not confesse, friendship to be the jewell of humaine joye; yet whosoever shall see this amitie grounded upon a little affection, will soone conjecture that it shall be dissolved upon a light occasion.' Others of Lyly's affectations are rhetorical questions, hosts of allusions to classical history, and literature, and an unfailing succession of similes from all the recondite knowledge that he can command, especially from the fantastic collection of fables which, coming down through the Middle Ages from the Roman writer Pliny, went at that time by the name of natural history and which we have already encountered in the medieval Bestiaries. Preposterous by any reasonable standard, Lyly's style, 'Euphuism,' precisely hit the Court taste of his age and became for a decade its most approved conversational dialect.
In literature the imitations of 'Euphues' which flourished for a while gave way to a series of romances inaugurated by the 'Arcadia' of Sir Philip Sidney. Sidney's brilliant position for a few years as the noblest representative of chivalrous ideals in the intriguing Court of Elizabeth is a matter of common fame, as is his death in 1586 at the age of thirty-two during the siege of Zutphen in Holland. He wrote 'Arcadia' for the amusement of his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, during a period of enforced retirement beginning in 1580, but the book was not published until ten years later. It is a pastoral romance, in the general style of Italian and Spanish romances of the earlier part of the century. The pastoral is the most artificial literary form in modern fiction. It may be said to have begun in the third century B. C. with the perfectly sincere poems of the Greek Theocritus, who gives genuine expression to the life of actual Sicilian shepherds. But with successive Latin, Medieval, and Renaissance writers in verse and prose the country characters and setting had become mere disguises, sometimes allegorical, for the expression of the very far from simple sentiments of the upper classes, and sometimes for their partly genuine longing, the outgrowth of sophisticated weariness and ennui, for rural naturalness. Sidney's very complicated tale of adventures in love and war, much longer than any of its successors, is by no means free from artificiality, but it finely mirrors his own knightly spirit and remains a permanent English classic. Among his followers were some of the better hack-writers of the time, who were also among the minor dramatists and poets, especially Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge. Lodge's 'Rosalynde,' also much influenced by Lyly, is in itself a pretty story and is noteworthy as the original of Shakespeare's 'As You Like It.'
Lastly, in the concluding decade of the sixteenth century, came a series of realistic stories depicting chiefly, in more or less farcical spirit, the life of the poorer classes. They belonged mostly to that class of realistic fiction which is called picaresque, from the Spanish word 'picaro,' a rogue, because it began in Spain with the 'Lazarillo de Tormes' of Diego de Mendoza, in 1553, and because its heroes are knavish serving-boys or similar characters whose unprincipled tricks and exploits formed the substance of the stories. In Elizabethan England it produced nothing of individual note.
EDMUND SPENSER, 1552-1599.
The first really commanding figure in the Elizabethan period, and one of the chief of all English poets, is Edmund Spenser. [Footnote: His name should never be spelled with a c. ] Born in London in 1552, the son of a clothmaker, Spenser past from the newly established Merchant Taylors' school to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, as a sizar, or poor student, and during the customary seven years of residence took the degrees of B. A. and, in 1576, of M. A. At Cambridge he assimilated two of the controlling forces of his life, the moderate Puritanism of his college and Platonic idealism. Next, after a year or two with his kinspeople in Lancashire, in the North of England, he came to London, hoping through literature to win high political place, and attached himself to the household of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Queen Elizabeth's worthless favorite. Together with Sidney, who was Leicester's nephew, he was for a while a member of a little group of students who called themselves 'The Areopagus' and who, like occasional other experimenters of the later Renaissance period, attempted to make over English versification by substituting for rime and accentual meter the Greek and Latin system based on exact quantity of syllables. Spenser, however, soon outgrew this folly and in 1579 published the collection of poems which, as we have already said, is commonly taken as marking the beginning of the great Elizabethan literary period, namely 'The Shepherd's Calendar.' This is a series of pastoral pieces (eclogues, Spenser calls them, by the classical name) twelve in number, artificially assigned one to each month in the year. The subjects are various--the conventionalized love of the poet for a certain Rosalind; current religious controversies in allegory; moral questions; the state of poetry in England; and the praises of Queen Elizabeth, whose almost incredible vanity exacted the most fulsome flattery from every writer who hoped to win a name at her court. The significance of 'The Shepherd's Calendar' lies partly in its genuine feeling for external Nature, which contrasts strongly with the hollow conventional phrases of the poetry of the previous decade, and especially in the vigor, the originality, and, in some of the eclogues, the beauty, of the language and of the varied verse. It was at once evident that here a real poet had appeared. An interesting innovation, diversely judged at the time and since, was Spenser's deliberate employment of rustic and archaic words, especially of the Northern dialect, which he introduced partly because of their appropriateness to the imaginary characters, partly for the sake of freshness of expression. They, like other features of the work, point forward to 'The Faerie Queene.'
In the uncertainties of court intrigue literary success did not gain for Spenser the political rewards which he was seeking, and he was obliged to content himself, the next year, with an appointment, which he viewed as substantially a sentence of exile, as secretary to Lord Grey, the governor of Ireland. In Ireland, therefore, the remaining twenty years of Spenser's short life were for the most part spent, amid distressing scenes of English oppression and chronic insurrection among the native Irish. After various activities during several years Spenser secured a permanent home in Kilcolman, a fortified tower and estate in the southern part of the island, where the romantic scenery furnished fit environment for a poet's imagination. And Spenser, able all his life to take refuge in his art from the crass realities of life, now produced many poems, some of them short, but among the others the immortal 'Faerie Queene.' The first three books of this, his crowning achievement, Spenser, under enthusiastic encouragement from Ralegh, brought to London and published in 1590. The dedication is to Queen Elizabeth, to whom, indeed, as its heroine, the poem pays perhaps the most splendid compliment ever offered to any human being in verse. She responded with an uncertain pension of L50 (equivalent to perhaps $1500 at the present time), but not with the gift of political preferment which was still Spenser's hope; and in some bitterness of spirit he retired to Ireland, where in satirical poems he proceeded to attack the vanity of the world and the fickleness of men. His courtship and, in 1594, his marriage produced his sonnet sequence, called 'Amoretti' (Italian for 'Love-poems'), and his 'Epithalamium,' the most magnificent of marriage hymns in English and probably in world-literature; though his 'Prothalamium,' in honor of the marriage of two noble sisters, is a near rival to it.
Spenser, a zealous Protestant as well as a fine-spirited idealist, was in entire sympathy with Lord Grey's policy of stern repression of the Catholic Irish, to whom, therefore, he must have appeared merely as one of the hated crew of their pitiless tyrants. In 1598 he was appointed sheriff of the county of Cork; but a rebellion which broke out proved too strong for him, and he and his family barely escaped from the sack and destruction of his tower. He was sent with despatches to the English Court and died in London in January, 1599, no doubt in part as a result of the hardships that he had suffered. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' is not only one of the longest but one of the greatest of English poems; it is also very characteristically Elizabethan. To deal with so delicate a thing by the method of mechanical analysis seems scarcely less than profanation, but accurate criticism can proceed in no other way.
1. Sources and Plan. Few poems more clearly illustrate the variety of influences from which most great literary works result. In many respects the most direct source was the body of Italian romances of chivalry, especially the 'Orlando Furioso' of Ariosto, which was written in the early part of the sixteenth century. These romances, in turn, combine the personages of the medieval French epics of Charlemagne with something of the spirit of Arthurian romance and with a Renaissance atmosphere of magic and of rich fantastic beauty. Spenser borrows and absorbs all these things and moreover he imitates Ariosto closely, often merely translating whole passages from his work. But this use of the Italian romances, further, carries with it a large employment of characters, incidents, and imagery from classical mythology and literature, among other things the elaborated similes of the classical epics. Spenser himself is directly influenced, also, by the medieval romances. Most important of all, all these elements are shaped to the purpose of the poem by Spenser's high moral aim, which in turn springs largely from his Platonic idealism.
In the last decade, especially, of the century, no other lyric form compared in popularity with the sonnet. Here England was still following in the footsteps of Italy and France; it has been estimated that in the course of the century over three hundred thousand sonnets were written in Western Europe. In England as elsewhere most of these poems were inevitably of mediocre quality and imitative in substance, ringing the changes with wearisome iteration on a minimum of ideas, often with the most extravagant use of conceits. Petrarch's example was still commonly followed; the sonnets were generally composed in sequences (cycles) of a hundred or more, addressed to the poet's more or less imaginary cruel lady, though the note of manly independence introduced by Wyatt is frequent. First of the important English sequences is the 'Astrophel and Stella' of Sir Philip Sidney, written about 1580, published in 1591. 'Astrophel' is a fanciful half-Greek anagram for the poet's own name, and Stella (Star) designates Lady Penelope Devereux, who at about this time married Lord Rich. The sequence may very reasonably be interpreted as an expression of Platonic idealism, though it is sometimes taken in a sense less consistent with Sidney's high reputation. Of Spenser's 'Amoretti' we have already spoken. By far the finest of all the sonnets are the best ones (a considerable part) of Shakespeare's one hundred and fifty-four, which were not published until 1609 but may have been mostly written before 1600. Their interpretation has long been hotly debated. It is certain, however, that they do not form a connected sequence. Some of them are occupied with urging a youth of high rank, Shakespeare's patron, who may have been either the Earl of Southampton or William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to marry and perpetuate his race; others hint the story, real or imaginary, of Shakespeare's infatuation for a 'dark lady,' leading to bitter disillusion; and still others seem to be occasional expressions of devotion to other friends of one or the other sex. Here as elsewhere Shakespeare's genius, at its best, is supreme over all rivals; the first recorded criticism speaks of the 'sugared sweetness' of his sonnets; but his genius is not always at its best.
JOHN DONNE AND THE BEGINNING OF THE 'METAPHYSICAL' POETRY.
The last decade of the sixteenth century presents also, in the poems of John Donne, a new and very strange style of verse. Donne, born in 1573, possessed one of the keenest and most powerful intellects of the time, but his early manhood was largely wasted in dissipation, though he studied theology and law and seems to have seen military service. It was during this period that he wrote his love poems. Then, while living with his wife and children in uncertain dependence on noble patrons, he turned to religious poetry. At last he entered the Church, became famous as one of the most eloquent preachers of the time, and through the favor of King James was rapidly promoted until he was made Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. He died in 1631 after having furnished a striking instance of the fantastic morbidness of the period (post-Elizabethan) by having his picture painted as he stood wrapped in his shroud on a funeral urn.
The distinguishing general characteristic of Donne's poetry is the remarkable combination of an aggressive intellectuality with the lyric form and spirit. Whether true poetry or mere intellectual cleverness is the predominant element may reasonably be questioned; but on many readers Donne's verse exercises a unique attraction. Its definite peculiarities are outstanding: 1. By a process of extreme exaggeration and minute elaboration Donne carries the Elizabethan conceits almost to the farthest possible limit, achieving what Samuel Johnson two centuries later described as 'enormous and disgusting hyperboles.' 2. In so doing he makes relentless use of the intellect and of verbally precise but actually preposterous logic, striking out astonishingly brilliant but utterly fantastic flashes of wit. 3. He draws the material of his figures of speech from highly unpoetical sources--partly from the activities of every-day life, but especially from all the sciences and school-knowledge of the time. The material is abstract, but Donne gives it full poetic concrete picturesqueness. Thus he speaks of one spirit overtaking another at death as one bullet shot out of a gun may overtake another which has lesser velocity but was earlier discharged. It was because of these last two characteristics that Dr. Johnson applied to Donne and his followers the rather clumsy name of 'Metaphysical' (Philosophical) poets. 'Fantastic' would have been a better word. 4. In vigorous reaction against the sometimes nerveless melody of most contemporary poets Donne often makes his verse as ruggedly condensed (often as obscure) and as harsh as possible. Its wrenched accents and slurred syllables sometimes appear absolutely unmetrical, but it seems that Donne generally followed subtle rhythmical ideas of his own. He adds to the appearance of irregularity by experimenting with a large number of lyric stanza forms--a different form, in fact, for nearly every poem. 5. In his love poems, while his sentiment is often Petrarchan, he often emphasizes also the English note of independence, taking as a favorite theme the incredible fickleness of woman.
In spirit Donne belongs much less to Elizabethan poetry than to the following period, in which nearly half his life fell. Of his great influence on the poetry of that period we shall speak in the proper place.
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|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 14:29|| |
What the plan of the poem is Spenser explains in a prefatory letter to Sir Walter Ralegh. The whole is a vast epic allegory, aiming, in the first place, to portray the virtues which make up the character of a perfect knight; an ideal embodiment, seen through Renaissance conceptions, of the best in the chivalrous system which in Spenser's time had passed away, but to which some choice spirits still looked back with regretful admiration. As Spenser intended, twelve moral virtues of the individual character, such as Holiness and Temperance, were to be presented, each personified in the hero of one of twelve Books; and the crowning virtue, which Spenser, in Renaissance terms, called Magnificence, and which may be interpreted as Magnanimity, was to figure as Prince (King) Arthur, nominally the central hero of the whole poem, appearing and disappearing at frequent intervals. Spenser states in his prefatory letter that if he shall carry this first projected labor to a successful end he may continue it in still twelve other Books, similarly allegorizing twelve political virtues. The allegorical form, we should hardly need to be reminded, is another heritage from medieval literature, but the effort to shape a perfect character, completely equipped to serve the State, was characteristically of the Platonizing Renaissance. That the reader may never be in danger of forgetting his moral aim, Spenser fills the poem with moral observations, frequently setting them as guides at the beginning of the cantos.
2. The Allegory. Lack of Unity. So complex and vast a plan could scarcely have been worked out by any human genius in a perfect and clear unity, and besides this, Spenser, with all his high endowments, was decidedly weak in constructive skill. The allegory, at the outset, even in Spenser's own statement, is confused and hazy. For beyond the primary moral interpretation, Spenser applies it in various secondary or parallel ways. In the widest sense, the entire struggle between the good and evil characters is to be taken as figuring forth the warfare both in the individual soul and in the world at large between Righteousness and Sin; and in somewhat narrower senses, between Protestantism and Catholicism, and between England and Spain. In some places, also, it represents other events and aspects of European politics. Many of the single persons of the story, entering into each of these overlapping interpretations, bear double or triple roles. Gloriana, the Fairy Queen, is abstractly Glory, but humanly she is Queen Elizabeth; and from other points of view Elizabeth is identified with several of the lesser heroines. So likewise the witch Duessa is both Papal Falsehood and Mary Queen of Scots; Prince Arthur both Magnificence and (with sorry inappropriateness) the Earl of Leicester; and others of the characters stand with more or less consistency for such actual persons as Philip II of Spain, Henry IV of France, and Spenser's chief, Lord Grey. In fact, in Renaissance spirit, and following Sidney's 'Defense of Poesie,' Spenser attempts to harmonize history, philosophy, ethics, and politics, subordinating them all to the art of poetry. The plan is grand but impracticable, and except for the original moral interpretation, to which in the earlier books the incidents are skilfully adapted, it is fruitless as one reads to undertake to follow the allegories. Many readers are able, no doubt, merely to disregard them, but there are others, like Lowell, to whom the moral, 'when they come suddenly upon it, gives a shock of unpleasant surprise, as when in eating strawberries one's teeth encounter grit.'
The same lack of unity pervades the external story. The first Book begins abruptly, in the middle; and for clearness' sake Spenser had been obliged to explain in his prefatory letter that the real commencement must be supposed to be a scene like those of Arthurian romance, at the court and annual feast of the Fairy Queen, where twelve adventures had been assigned to as many knights. Spenser strangely planned to narrate this beginning of the whole in his final Book, but even if it had been properly placed at the outset it would have served only as a loose enveloping action for a series of stories essentially as distinct as those in Malory. More serious, perhaps, is the lack of unity within the single books. Spenser's genius was never for strongly condensed narrative, and following his Italian originals, though with less firmness, he wove his story as a tangled web of intermingled adventures, with almost endless elaboration and digression. Incident after incident is broken off and later resumed and episode after episode is introduced, until the reader almost abandons any effort to trace the main design. A part of the confusion is due to the mechanical plan. Each Book consists of twelve cantos (of from forty to ninety stanzas each) and oftentimes Spenser has difficulty in filling out the scheme. No one, certainly, can regret that he actually completed only a quarter of his projected work. In the six existing Books he has given almost exhaustive expression to a richly creative imagination, and additional prolongation would have done little but to repeat.
Still further, the characteristic Renaissance lack of certainty as to the proper materials for poetry is sometimes responsible for a rudely inharmonious element in the otherwise delightful romantic atmosphere. For a single illustration, the description of the House of Alma in Book II, Canto Nine, is a tediously literal medieval allegory of the Soul and Body; and occasional realistic details here and there in the poem at large are merely repellent to more modern taste.
3. The Lack of Dramatic Reality. A romantic allegory like 'The Faerie Queene' does not aim at intense lifelikeness--a certain remoteness from the actual is one of its chief attractions. But sometimes in Spenser's poem the reader feels too wide a divorce from reality. Part of this fault is ascribable to the use of magic, to which there is repeated but inconsistent resort, especially, as in the medieval romances, for the protection of the good characters. Oftentimes, indeed, by the persistent loading of the dice against the villains and scapegoats, the reader's sympathy is half aroused in their behalf. Thus in the fight of the Red Cross Knight with his special enemy, the dragon, where, of course, the Knight must be victorious, it is evident that without the author's help the dragon is incomparably the stronger. Once, swooping down on the Knight, he seizes him in his talons (whose least touch was elsewhere said to be fatal) and bears him aloft into the air. The valor of the Knight compels him to relax his hold, but instead of merely dropping the Knight to certain death, he carefully flies back to earth and sets him down in safety. More definite regard to the actual laws of life would have given the poem greater firmness without the sacrifice of any of its charm.
4. The Romantic Beauty. General Atmosphere and Description. Critical sincerity has required us to dwell thus long on the defects of the poem; but once recognized we should dismiss them altogether from mind and turn attention to the far more important beauties. The great qualities of 'The Faerie Queene' are suggested by the title, 'The Poets' Poet,' which Charles Lamb, with happy inspiration, applied to Spenser. Most of all are we indebted to Spenser's high idealism. No poem in the world is nobler than 'The Faerie Queene' in atmosphere and entire effect. Spenser himself is always the perfect gentleman of his own imagination, and in his company we are secure from the intrusion of anything morally base or mean. But in him, also, moral beauty is in full harmony with the beauty of art and the senses. Spenser was a Puritan, but a Puritan of the earlier English Renaissance, to whom the foes of righteousness were also the foes of external loveliness. Of the three fierce Saracen brother-knights who repeatedly appear in the service of Evil, two are Sansloy, the enemy of law, and Sansfoy, the enemy of religion, but the third is Sansjoy, enemy of pleasure. And of external beauty there has never been a more gifted lover than Spenser. We often feel, with Lowell, that 'he is the pure sense of the beautiful incarnated.' The poem is a romantically luxuriant wilderness of dreamily or languorously delightful visions, often rich with all the harmonies of form and motion and color and sound. As Lowell says, 'The true use of Spenser is as a gallery of pictures which we visit as the mood takes us, and where we spend an hour or two, long enough to sweeten our perceptions, not so long as to cloy them.' His landscapes, to speak of one particular feature, are usually of a rather vague, often of a vast nature, as suits the unreality of his poetic world, and usually, since Spenser was not a minute observer, follow the conventions of Renaissance literature. They are commonly great plains, wide and gloomy forests (where the trees of many climates often grow together in impossible harmony), cool caves--in general, lonely, quiet, or soothing scenes, but all unquestionable portions of a delightful fairyland. To him, it should be added, as to most men before modern Science had subdued the world to human uses, the sublime aspects of Nature were mainly dreadful; the ocean, for example, seemed to him a raging 'waste of waters, wide and deep,' a mysterious and insatiate devourer of the lives of men.
To the beauty of Spenser's imagination, ideal and sensuous, corresponds his magnificent command of rhythm and of sound. As a verbal melodist, especially a melodist of sweetness and of stately grace, and as a harmonist of prolonged and complex cadences, he is unsurpassable. But he has full command of his rhythm according to the subject, and can range from the most delicate suggestion of airy beauty to the roar of the tempest or the strident energy of battle. In vocabulary and phraseology his fluency appears inexhaustible. Here, as in 'The Shepherd's Calendar,' he deliberately introduces, especially from Chaucer, obsolete words and forms, such as the inflectional ending in -en which distinctly contribute to his romantic effect. His constant use of alliteration is very skilful; the frequency of the alliteration on w is conspicuous but apparently accidental.
5. The Spenserian Stanza. For the external medium of all this beauty Spenser, modifying the ottava rima of Ariosto (a stanza which rimes abababcc), invented the stanza which bears his own name and which is the only artificial stanza of English origin that has ever passed into currency. [Footnote: Note that this is not inconsistent with what is said above, of the sonnet.] The rime-scheme is ababbcbcc and in the last line the iambic pentameter gives place to an Alexandrine (an iambic hexameter). Whether or not any stanza form is as well adapted as blank verse or the rimed couplet for prolonged narrative is an interesting question, but there can be no doubt that Spenser's stanza, firmly unified, in spite of its length, by its central couplet and by the finality of the last line, is a discovery of genius, and that the Alexandrine, 'forever feeling for the next stanza,' does much to bind the stanzas together. It has been adopted in no small number of the greatest subsequent English poems, including such various ones as Burns' 'Cotter's Saturday Night,' Byron's 'Childe Harold,' Keats' 'Eve of St. Agnes,' and Shelley's 'Adonais.'
In general style and spirit, it should be added, Spenser has been one of the most powerful influences on all succeeding English romantic poetry. Two further sentences of Lowell well summarize his whole general achievement:
'His great merit is in the ideal treatment with which he glorified common things and gilded them with a ray of enthusiasm. He is a standing protest against the tyranny of the Commonplace, and sows the seeds of a noble discontent with prosaic views of life and the dull uses to which it may be put.'
ELIZABETHAN LYRIC POETRY. 'The Faerie Queene' is the only long Elizabethan poem of the very highest rank, but Spenser, as we have seen, is almost equally conspicuous as a lyric poet. In that respect he was one among a throng of melodists who made the Elizabethan age in many respects the greatest lyric period in the history of English or perhaps of any literature. Still grander, to be sure, by the nature of the two forms, was the Elizabethan achievement in the drama, which we shall consider in the next chapter; but the lyrics have the advantage in sheer delightfulness and, of course, in rapid and direct appeal.
The zest for lyric poetry somewhat artificially inaugurated at Court by Wyatt and Surrey seems to have largely subsided, like any other fad, after some years, but it vigorously revived, in much more genuine fashion, with the taste for other imaginative forms of literature, in the last two decades of Elizabeth's reign. It revived, too, not only among the courtiers but among all classes; in no other form of literature was the diversity of authors so marked; almost every writer of the period who was not purely a man of prose seems to have been gifted with the lyric power.
The qualities which especially distinguish the Elizabethan lyrics are fluency, sweetness, melody, and an enthusiastic joy in life, all spontaneous, direct, and exquisite. Uniting the genuineness of the popular ballad with the finer sense of conscious artistic poetry, these poems possess a charm different, though in an only half definable way, from that of any other lyrics. In subjects they display the usual lyric variety. There are songs of delight in Nature; a multitude of love poems of all moods; many pastorals, in which, generally, the pastoral conventions sit lightly on the genuine poetical feeling; occasional patriotic outbursts; and some reflective and religious poems. In stanza structure the number of forms is unusually great, but in most cases stanzas are internally varied and have a large admixture of short, ringing or musing, lines. The lyrics were published sometimes in collections by single authors, sometimes in the series of anthologies which succeeded to Tottel's 'Miscellany.' Some of these anthologies were books of songs with the accompanying music; for music, brought with all the other cultural influences from Italy and France, was now enthusiastically cultivated, and the soft melody of many of the best Elizabethan lyrics is that of accomplished composers. Many of the lyrics, again, are included as songs in the dramas of the time; and Shakespeare's comedies show him nearly as preeminent among the lyric poets as among the playwrights.
Some of the finest of the lyrics are anonymous. Among the best of the known poets are these: George Gascoigne (about 1530-1577), a courtier and soldier, who bridges the gap between Surrey and Sidney; Sir Edward Dyer (about 1545-1607), a scholar and statesman, author of one perfect lyric, 'My mind to me a kingdom is'; John Lyly (1553-1606), the Euphuist and dramatist; Nicholas Breton (about 1545 to about 1626), a prolific writer in verse and prose and one of the most successful poets of the pastoral style; Robert Southwell (about 1562-1595), a Jesuit intriguer of ardent piety, finally imprisoned, tortured, and executed as a traitor; George Peele (1558 to about 1598), the dramatist; Thomas Lodge (about 1558-1625), poet, novelist, and physician; Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), the dramatist; Thomas Nash (1567-1601), one of the most prolific Elizabethan hack writers; Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), scholar and critic, member in his later years of the royal household of James I; Barnabe Barnes (about 1569-1609); Richard Barnfield (1574-1627); Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618), courtier, statesman, explorer, and scholar; Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618), linguist and merchant, known for his translation of the long religious poems of the Frenchman Du Bartas, through which he exercised an influence on Milton; Francis Davison (about 1575 to about 1619), son of a counsellor of Queen Elizabeth, a lawyer; and Thomas Dekker (about 1570 to about 1640), a ne'er-do-weel dramatist and hack-writer of irrepressible and delightful good spirits.
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|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 17:07|| |
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|موضوع: رد: A History of English Literature 1918 by Robert Huntington Fletcher 2011-12-20, 18:10|| |