Page images
PDF
EPUB

The date of the Large Testament is the last where Sermaise had struck him with the sword, date in the poet's biography. After having and what wrinkles the reader may imagine. achieved that admirable and despicable per- In default of portraits, this is all I have been formance, he disappears into the night from able to piece together, and perhaps even the whence he came. How or when he died, baldness should be taken as a figure of his whether decently in bed or trussed up to a destitution. A sinister dog, in all likelihood, gallows, remains a riddle for foolhardy com- but with a look in his eye, and the loose flexile mentators. It appears his health had suffered mouth that goes with wit and an overweening in the pit at Méun; he was thirty years of age sensual temperament. Certainly the sorriest and quite bald; with the notch in his under lip figure on the rolls of fame.

NOTES

INTRODUCTORY

That there is little literature in English that is of high quality between the Norman Conquest and the middle of the fourteenth century is not surprising if we remember the social conditions of the country. Scholars in England, as in the rest of Europe at that time, wrote and spoke and read Latin. Most books of learning, therefore, whether sacred or profane, histories, scientific, philosophical, religious, and literary treatises, etc., were written in Latin. The language of the upper classes was French. The French literature of the continent was accessible to them, and many of the most interesting literary works in Old French romances, plays, legends of saints, religious songs, love songs, and political satires were written in England: by persons whose native language was French. This continued until the fourteenth century, when, as we learn from many evidences, the upper classes began to give up French; see the picturesque account of this given by Trevisa, p. 71 of this book. The history of literature in England is therefore in this period a very different thing from the history of English literature, and we cannot judge of the literary ability, tastes, or culture of Englishmen from 1006 to 1350 without taking into account what they read and wrote in Latin and French as well as in English.

During all this time'the principal works written in English were such as were supposed to be of practical interest to those who could not read Latin or French: sermons, religious treatises, poems of sacred or secular history, didactic poems, and the like. Some works of entertainment were produced for those who understood English only, but as parchment was very expensive, few of

these were written down, the usual way of publishing them being to recite them.

Another fact must be taken into consideration in studying the literary culture of England in the Middle Ages. Only a small part of the writings which once existed have come down to us. A large portion of mediæval literature has perished by the ordinary decay and accidents natural to the passage of so long a time; but there have been also some special agencies of destruction. Chief among them was the disestablishment of the monasteries in England by Henry VIII. He did not, to be sure, order the destruction of the manu scripts; but no care was taken to preserve them, and many were destroyed by ignorant zealots, while many were wantonly used for the vilest . purposes. What happened may be read in Dr. Gasquet's Henry the VIII and the English Monasteries or in John Bale's Leyland's New Year's Gift to King Henry VIII. Bale, who was a learned scholar of that time, says: “Never had we bene offended for the losse of our lybraryes, beynge so many in nombre, and in so desolate places for the more parte, yf the chiefe monumentes and most notable workes of our excellent wryters had bene reserved. ... But to destroye all without consyderacyon is, and wyll be unto England for ever, a moste horryble infamy amonge the grave senyours of other nacyons. A greate nombre of them whych purchased those superstycyouse mansyons (i.l., the monasteries] reserved of those lybrarye bokes . . . some to scoure theyr candel styckes and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and sope sellers, and some they sent over see to the bokebynders, not in small nombre, but at times whole shyppes full, to the wonderynge of the foren nacyons. . .. I knowe a merchaunt man, whych shall at thys tyme be namelesse, that boughte the contentes of two noble lybraryes for xl shyllynges pryce, a shame it is to be spoken. This stuffe hathe he occupyed i.e., used) in the stede of graye paper (wrapping paper] by the space of more than X. yeares, and yet he hath store ynough for as many yeares to come.”

1 For convenience of reference, page numbers are given throughout. For the poetical selections, line numbers are also given; for the prose selections, e or b is added to the page number, when necessary, to indicate whether the passage discussed is in the first or the second column.

AE

677

THE PRONUNCIATION OF MIDDLE

ENGLISH

ch always as in such.
s, when between vowels, like o.
gh like German ch.
I was trilled.

There were no silent letters. The k in knoweth, the l in folk, the g in gnawe were sounded. Unaccented final e was pronounced like e in German Gabe or meine; but in verse when followed by a word beginning with a vowel or a weak h (such as his, hire, him, habbe, have, hadde, honour, hour) it was not sounded at all.

A few additional letters which are used in the early texts will be noticed as they occur.

EARLY MIDDLE ENGLISH

THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE

Even those students who do not try to read the original text of the Middle English selections should try to pronounce some parts of the poems, at least, in order to obtain a sense of the verse effects.

The pronunciation of Middle English changed considerably between the beginning and the end of the period and there were many differences between the different dialects at the same time. Besides this, we assume that as great differences existed then between different individuals as exist now in the pronunciation of Modern English. Therefore only very rough approximations to the actual sounds can be suggested; but such a conventional system will enable the reader to get some idea of the fuller tones of ancient English and to maintain in his reading a uniform and unbroken poetic feeling.

The following sounds are commonly given for Chaucer's English and may be used for Middle English in general:

VOWELS long a as in father. short a as in Florida. long e (or ee, ie) as in fêle, or fate. short e as in met. long i (or y) as in machine.

long o (or oo) as in note; oo is never pronounced like oo in boot.

short o'as in not. ou as oo in boot; but occasionally like 7 + 00. long u as French u or German ü. short u the same, but short.

short u and short o also often have the sound of u in full; this is in words which have in modern English the vowel sound of sun, son, but, wonder, etc.; u is never pronounced like u in but.

Pages 1 f. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle belongs for the most part, of course, to the history of English literature before the Norman Conquest; but the later records, especially those of the Peterborough version, from which our selection is taken, are of great importance for the study of modern English prose. The Chronicle seems to have been begun in the reign of Alfred the Great, perhaps in consequence of his efforts for the education of his people. It exists in six versions, differing more or less from one another both as to the events recorded and the period of time covered, but together forming, in a manner, a single work. The early entries, beginning with 60 B.C., were compiled from various sources and are, for the most part, very meager and uninteresting. Here are the complete records for two years: “An. DCCLXXII. Here (that is, in this year) Bishop Milred died." "An. DCCLXXIII. Kere a red cross appeared in the sky after sunset; and in this year the Mercians and the men of Kent fought at Otford; and wondrous serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons.” For long, weary stretches of years, there are, with the notable exception of the vivid account of the death of Cynewulf, few more exciting entries than these. Even when great events are recorded, there is no effort to tell how or why they occurred, no attempt to produce an interesting narrative. In the time of King Alfred, however, a change appears, and, though the records still have the character of annals rather than of history, the narrative is often very detailed and interesting, especially in regard to the long and fierce contest with the Danes.

After the Norman Conquest, one version of

[ocr errors]

DIPHTHONGS ai, ay originally like i in pine; in Chaucer's time like i ti or ey in they.

au, aw like ou in house, but occasionally like au in fraud.

ei, ey = ē ti or ey in they. eu, ew =

ē + 00 with emphasis on the ē. oi, oy as in noise, boy.

CONSONANTS As in modern English, with the following exceptions:

the Chronicle, that kept by the monks of Peterborough, contains entries of the greatest importance both for the history of the times and for the state of the English language then. The latest of these entries is for the year 1154, when the turbulent reign of the weak Stephen was followed by the strong and peaceful administration of Henry II. The selection we have chosen is from the entry for 1137, and gives a startling picture of the terrors of the time. But although the account is true, it would be a mistake to infer from it, as some have done, that civilization had perished in England. Not only were the monks of Peterborough at this very time rebuilding their beautiful monastery and other men erecting churches and cathedrals of wonderful beauty in other parts of England, it was in these very years that literature flourished with extraordinary vigor. The great stories of King Arthur and Merlin the Magician first appear in literature in King Stephen's reign. It may well give one a shock, at least of surprise, to learn that Geoffrey of Monmouth, who introduced these stories into literature, dedicated one of his books to the very Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, mentioned in 1. 12 and the other to Robert earl of Gloucester, King Stephen's half-brother and bitterest enemy.

The most notable things about this passage, considered as English prose, are its simplicity and straightforwardness and its strong resemblance to modern English in sentence structure and word order. These features are probably to be accounted for by the fact that, though the writer doubtless understood Latin, he did not feel that he was producing literature, but only making a plain record of facts, and consequently did not attempt the clumsy artificialities so often produced by those who tried to imitate Latin prose in English.

Pronunciation. In addition to the usual symbols of sounds (see p. 678), the following require special attention in this selection:

a like long e in there: gære, p. 1, l. 1, undergaton, l. 16, wæron, l. 21, ævric, l. 22, agænes, l. 23, dæies, p. 2, l. 1, uuæren, 1. 4, nævre, 1. 4, hæved, l. 10, gæde, l. 11, hærnes l. 11. 1.

a like short a: at, p. 1, l. 10.
a like long a: alle, p. 1, l. 14.
au like aw in saw: saule, p. 1, l. 8.

eo = = è +ō: com, p. 1, l. 4, heolden, 1. 20, heom, p. 2, ll. 2, 6.

c and cc like tch: micel, p. 1, 1. 6, avric, 1. 22, rice, 1. 22; uurecce, 1. 25, wrecce, p. 2, l. 17.

g like y: gære, p. 1, l. 1, get (pr. yet), l. 5, gæde, p. 2, l. 11.

i like y: iafen (pr. yaven), p. 1, l. 14.

sc like sh: sculde, p. 1, l. 3, biscop, l. 11. u and uu like w: suikes, p. 1, l. 15, suoren, l. 19, suencten, 1. 24, suythe, 1. 25; uuenden, p. I, 3, uurecce, 1. 25, uuaren, 1. 27, uuæren, p. 2, 1. 4, uurythen, 1. 10, uuerse, 1. 19.

POEMA MORALE

Pp. 2 ff. This is the first important English poem after the Norman Conquest. It consists of a large number (about 400 lines) of moral and religious precepts embodying the author's philosophy of life, and was evidently written for the purpose of inculcating right living in all who read or heard it. As the short specimen given here shows, the questions of life, present and future, are treated in a spirit of selfish prudence, and the sentiment most frequently and powerfully appealed to is that of self-preservation. The spirit of the author is a sincere but hard and narrow Christianity, untouched by the tenderness of personal affection for Jesus or of concern for one's friends and fellow-men notable in the best work of Richard Rolle, Thomas de Hales, or even the dull but lovable Orrm. The author has, however, much skill in language and versification, and at times the vigor and vividness of his work is undeniable. The poem must have been very popular in its day, as all peoples in the early stages of development are fond of proverbial sayings and similar forms of practical wisdom. Several copies of it, made in various parts of England, have come down to us.

The verse is the seven-stressed line known as the septenarius, or septenary. The rhythm seems 'to me trochaic, or falling. The line naturally falls into two parts rhythmically: one of four stresses and one of three. The weak final e is always pronounced except before a vowel sound. Every line, therefore, ends in a weak syllable, and an extra syllable often occurs at the cæsura (i.e., the metrical pause within the line). Many lines also have a weak syllable at the beginning before the first stress (see ll. 2, 3, 8, 10, etc.).

Pronunciation. The following require special

notice:

a like a in name: fale, 1. 10.

a like long e in there: walde, 1. 2, i-læd, 1. 5, ær, ll. 13, 17, arwe, l. 19, aie, l. 20, ach, 1. 27, avrich, 1. 32.

a like short a: am, 1. 1, scal, 1. 21. thanne, 1. 22,

ea like short a: sceal, 11. 26, 35.

ca like long a in father: cald, 1. 4.

« EelmineJätka »