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(see p. 677, above): the period of its reappearance in written literature is precisely that at which the upper classes were abandoning the use of French (see .Trevisa, p. 71, above); and the differences between this alliterative verse and the older form are just such as might be expected if the verse had existed continuously, changing as the language changed.
The structure of this verse is simple. Each line is divided into two half-lines, each having two principal stresses. The half-lines are bound together by alliteration of the stressed syllables; that is, these syllables begin with similar sounds. In the standard line, both of the stressed syllables in the first half-line and the first stressed syllable in the second begin alike; but all sorts of variations from the standard occur.
As to the identity of the author, he is now believed to have been one Jean de Bourgogne, an Englishman who fled from England after the execution of his lord, John baron de Mowbray, in 1322, but it is not certainly known whether Mandeville or Bourgogne was his real name. Two witnesses of the sixteenth century record having seen at Liège a tomb to the memory of Dominus Johannes de Mandeville, on which was an epitaph giving the date of his death as Nov. 17, 1371, and some verses declaring him to have been the English Ulysses. In any event, the book is one of the most fascinating books of marvels ever written, and the English version, although a translation, is of the highest importance for the history of English prose.
The story told in Chapter IV is the source of William Morris' fine poem, The Lady of the Land (pp. 634 ff.). Mandeville merely narrates the legend, Morris vizualizes the scene and all the occurrences, and transmits his vision to his readers.
SIR JOHN: MANDEVILLE (?)
THE VOIAGE AND TRAVAILE OF SIR JOHN
THE GOSPEL OF MATHEW
Pp. 30 ff.' The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundevile, Kt. is one of the greatest and most successful literary impostures ever perpetrated. It seems first to have been issued about 1371 in French, from which it was very soon translated into Latin, English, and many other languages. Its popularity was enormous, as is attested by the immense number of Mss. which have come down to us, and by the frequency with which it has been reprinted ever since 1475, the date of the first printed edition. Incredible as are many of the stories it contains, the apparent simplicity and candor of the author, his careful distinction between what he himself had seen and what he reported only on hearsay, his effort to avoid all exaggeration even in his most absurd statements, gained ready belief for his preposterous fabrications, and this was confirmed by the fact that some of the statements which at first seemed most incredible — such as the roundness of the earth were actually true and were proved to be so by the discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The book was really compiled from many sources, principally the travels of William of Boldensele, a German traveler of the previous century, and Friar Odoric of Pordenone, an Italian who visited Asia in 1316-1320, the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, a great mediæval compilation of history and legend, and Pliny's Natural History, that great storehouse of the marvelous.
Pp. 34 ff. Of John Wyclif no account is necessary here. Whatever may have been his own part in the translations of the Bible which go under his name, these translations are of great importance for the history of English prose style. The same selection (the fifth chapter of St. Matthew) has therefore been given from both the earlier and the later versions. The differences between them are very striking and instructive. In order to afford opportunity for further study of the gradual development of the matchless style of the Authorized Version of the English Bible, the same chapter is given from Tyndale's version (p. 96). Both the Authorized and the Revised versions are so easily
that it seems unnecessary to print the same chapter from them, but they should not be neglected in the comparison.
SYR GAWAYN AND THE GRENE KNYGHT
Pp. 37 ff. The author of Syr Gawayn and the Grene Knyght (p. 37) and Pearl (p. 46) -- if these poems are really by the same author, as is usually supposed -- was not merely a writer of great natural powers but a careful and conscious artist. It is
sed that Go zyn was written while the author was still occupied with worldly thoughts and interests and that Pearl and two (or three) other religious poems were composed after his conversion to a serious religious life; and this is The story is clearly derived from a Celtic tale of the Other-world, and it possesses in no small degree that power of natural magic which Matthew Arnold noted as the most eminent characteristic of Celtic poetry. Three modern English versions of it are accessible, two by Miss Jessie L. Weston: a condensed prose version in Arthurian Romances Unrepresented in Malory, Vol. I; and one in verse in Romance, Vision and Satire; and another prose version by E. J. B. Kirtlan.
a very reasonable supposition if the poems be the work of one man.
Gawayn belongs to the number of metrical romances dealing with the knights of the Round Table and their adventures, but in one important respect it is very different from most of them. They are, as a rule, the work of authors who had little qualification for their task beyond a certain ease in narration and versification and a retentive memory. The author of Gawayn, however, does not merely repeat a story which he has heard or read; he uses the materials of tradition as freely as Tennyson or Arnold or Swinburne or any other modern artist, and displays a power of construction, a skill in climax, a sense of pictorial effect, fairly comparable with theirs. All this can be seen in the brief episode here given, which has been chosen, not because it is better than many others, but because it is self-explanatory. The interest of the reader is maintained unflaggingly throughout the 2550 lines of the poem.
The situation presented in our extract is as foHows: King Arthur, the greatest of the kings of Britain, with the knights and ladies of his court, is celebrating the Christmas season. It is New Year's Day and all have attended service in the royal chapel and are seated in the banquet hall, where all “dainties” are served in double portions. The others ate; but Arthur, who was young and somewhat “wild of mood,” would never eat on such festival days until he had either witnessed some adventure or heard some wonderful tale. Suddenly there rode in at the hall-door a gigantic knight, clothed in green and riding a green horse. He had long green hair and a green beard as big as a bush. All the trappings of his horse were green, with gold ornaments. He wore no armor and carried no shield or spear. In his right hand he had a branch of holly and in his left a huge battle-axe. The axe was as keen as a razor; the shaft was bound with iron and wound with a green lace that ended in tassels, or buttons, of green. He saluted no one but looked about haughtily and cried: “Where is the head of this company? I wish to see him and speak with him.” At this point our selection begins. It contains the whole account of the occurrences in Arthur's hall.
The rest of the poem tells of the adventures of Gawain in the fulfilment of his promise: his search for the Green Chapel, his entertainment at a great castle, where his loyalty is tested thrice, and his meeting with the Green Knight on the morning of the next New Year's Day at the mysterious chapel.
Pp. 46 ff. Pearl (1212 lines), though entirely different in subject and tone and manner, is equally admirable. It seems to give the experience of a father who has lost a beloved little daughter, his “Pearl," and who, a few years later, falling asleep in his arbor, sees her in a vision, not as the helpless child he has lost, but as a radiant and beautiful young maiden, the Bride of the Lamb, and talks with her about the joys of her heavenly abode. Recently it has been argued with great learning and ingenuity that the poet is a cleric and can have had no child, that he is a man who,'being interested in the theological doctrine of grace, not works, as the basis of rewards in heaven, attempted to illustrate and enforce the doctrine by an imaginary case of a baptized child dying in infancy and receiving in heaven rewards equal to those given to the greater saints. There can be no doubt that, whether cleric or not, the poet was deeply versed in theology and believed ardently in the doctrine of grace, but no sufficient reason has been adduced for refusing to recognize the genuine personal tone of the poet's grief and love. That the child was not his own is reasonably clear from his remark that she was nearer to him than aunt or niece (line 233), and from the absence of the terms father and daughter in their conversation. But many a man has loved with great devotion a child not his own; Swinburne's charming poems (see p. 643 and the whole series entitled A Dark Month, written when the beloved child was away on a visit) may serve as a notable instance. That the bereaved heart of a lonely man here found consolation in the new and blessed doctrine of grace seems more likely than that a mere theologian devised this beautiful poem as the framework for promulgating a favorite dogma.
The technique of the poem is extremely elaborate. The stanza-form is intricate and difficult, requiring as it does two rhymes on one sound, four on another, and six on another, and demanding alliteration as an additional ornament. More
over, the stanzas are linked together by the repetition in the first line of each stanza of some phrase or word from the last line of the preceding stanza; and, finally, the stanzas are bound together in groups of five by the possession of a refrain which is carried, with slight variations, throughout the group. (By some oversight or error the fifteenth group contains six stanzas instead of five.)
As the poem is too long to be presented in full, we have given a few stanzas outlining the story and illustrating the writer's power. Modern versions of the whole have been published by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, Miss Sophie Jewett, and Dr. G. H. Gerould.
tells the story freely; and Il. 4039-4114, which are in the main original, or at least not derived from Ovid, are by no means the least picturesque. There are some errors, but they seem due in large part to the fact that Gower had an incorrect manuscript of Ovid. Thus in l. 3994, Crete is due to the reading Cretis or Creteis instead of Threces (1. 223) in Ovid; Eridian, l. 4005, for A pidanus (l. 228), is doubtless also based on a corrupt form; as is likewise the Rede See, 1. 4011 (cf. Ovid, 1. 267: Et quas Oceani refluum mare lavit harenas).
CONFESSIO AMANTIS Pp. 51 ff. Gower is not a great poet, but through being contrasted with Chaucer he has had less than his due of recognition. Mr. Lowell, one of the most genial of critics, sought to enhance his praise of Chaucer by setting him off against a dark background and playfully celebrating his contemporary and friend Gower as superhumanly dull. But Chaucer needs no such setting; we now know his age to have been one of extraordinary mental activity and poetical production, and he shines with undiminished brightness above all its light. And Gower, though no artist and undeniably monotonous, is not altogether lacking in power of swift narrative and picturesque description, as the story of Medea and Eson clearly proves.
The simple fact in regard to Gower would seem to be that, though no poet in the high sense of the term, he was one of the best educated and most learned men of his time and one of the most thoughtful and intelligent. His Latin poems on social and political affairs are vigorous, intelligent and original. He also wrote in French a volume of social criticism called Le Miroir de l'Homme (or, as it was called in Latin, Speculum Meditantis). But education and general intelligence do not make a man a poet; and Gower remained only a well-trained man of letters.
In the fifteenth century, when literary taste was not exacting and men cared rather for material than for art, Gower was ranked as high as Chaucer. Nowadays, when we have learned that the subject matter of story-tellers is universal and impersonal, we value only those writers who have art, and consequently we care little for Gower.
The story here told is based principally on Ovid's Metamorphoses, VII, 164-293. Gower, however,
Pp. 56 ff. Many of the writers of English verse before Chaucer were educated and welltrained men. They had studied logic, rhetoric, and grammar in the schools, they were familiar with good examples of Latin literature, and they set a high value on accuracy of versification and of rhyming, as their verses prove. Such loose composition, such careless rhymes, such impossible or irregular metres as we now see daily in the verses of ignorant versifiers are practically unknown in English verse before 1400. It is a great mistake to suppose that Chaucer or his predeces
were untrained men who wrote without reflection and without standards of composition. But although logical structure and rhetorical skill are elements in works of art, art requires also taste, imagination, creative ability; and comparatively few of the predecessors of Chaucer had great poetic powers.
Chaucer was not only a well-trained and skilful man of letters, but also a great poet. Both his creative faculty and his artistic ability, however,
to have developed comparatively late. The Book of the Duchess, written when he was nearly thirty, is a pleasant and skilful piece of work, but it is imitative, conventional, and lacking in individuality; and so far as we know, he produced nothing better than this until several years later. This slowness of development may have been due in part to his being too fully occupied with his official duties in these early years to devote much time to composition or to reflection on the aims and methods of art. We know too little of the details of his life to be able to say exactly when he obtained more leisure or came into contact with the literary world which gave him a new conception of poetry, but apparently both of these events occurred when he was between thirty and forty years of age.
In 1373 and 1378 he was sent on official business to Italy. Whether he had any knowledge of the
and confidant had awakened her interest by telling her how desperately Prince Troilus, the best of all the Trojan knights except his brother Hector, had fallen in love with her. The third (p. 58) tells briefly and pathetically how she forsook Troilus for Diomede, the Greek, after she had been compelled by her father to leave Troy and join him in the camp of the besieging army.
language or literature of Italy before his first visit to that country is uncertain. Certain it is that in some way, at some time, he acquired a knowledge of some of the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, the three great Italian writers with whom the great age of Italian literature began. All three of these men had a richer, finer conception of the meaning and value of literature and were more powerful as thinkers and more skilful as artists than the French poets who up to this time had been Chaucer's models. After becoming acquainted with these new and stimulating masterpieces, Chaucer, for a time, translated and imitated them; but the new poetic material with which they provided him was very far from constituting their chief value to him. He obviously began to reflect upon ihe difierences between the old and the new, to consider questions of literary art -- of narration, of description, of characterization, of background, of tone, of structure with the result that he developed a thoroughly original manner of thinking and of writing, indebted, to be sure, to all his models, English, French, Latin and Italian, but none the less original, individual, thoroughly his own. The poems of his mature years are those upon which his fame rests.
TROILUS AND CRISEYDE Pp. 56 ff. The story of Troilus and Cressida is one of the most famous love stories of literature, It does not appear in Homer's account of the siege of Troy but was developed by Boccaccio, an Italian writer of the fourteenth century, from slight hints in the Roman de Troye, by Benoit de Sainte-More, a French writer of the twelfth century, and the listoria Traiana of Guido delle Colonne, an Italian of the twelfth century who turned Benoit's French verse into Latin prose. Chaucer got the story from Boccaccio and greatly improved it by changing the characters of some of the actors and making the motives of action more psychological. Shakespeare derived the plot of his play Treil us and Cressida largely from Chaucer, but he introduced many changes of character and motive, and produced a cynical, unpleasant story very different from the piteous and beautiful tragedy told by Chaucer,
Our brst selection (p. 50) describes the first meeting of Troilus and Criseyde and his sudden love for her, in spite of all the sport he had previously made of love and lovers. The second (p. 37) describes Criseyde's first sight of Troilus, aiter Pandarus - her uncle and Troilus' friend
The PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY
Tales Pp. 59 ff. The Canterbury Tales are a collection of tales which Chaucer represents as told by a group of men and women who, having met by chance in an inn in Southwark, made a pilgrimage together to the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury. The Prologue tells when and how they met, and how, finding that they were all going to the same place, they agreed to go together and to enliven their journey by telling tales as they rode along. At his own suggestion, the innkeeper, Harry Bailey by name, agreed to accompany them and to act as presiding officer and as judge of the merits of the tales. The teller of the best tale was to have a supper at the expense of the rest upon their return, and any one who refused to obey the orders of the presiding officer was to pay for all that the company spent on the journey.
Chaucer tells us that there were twenty-nine, including himself and not counting the Host (or innkeeper). They came from various parts of England and represented almost every occupation and station in life. The upper classes were represented by the Knight and his son the Squire, who were attended by a servant, the Yeoman. The church, in accordance with the large part it played in mediæval lise, was predominant, with nine representatives: the Prioress, and her companions, the Nun and the Priest; the Monk, the Friar, the Pardoner, the Summoner, the Parson, and the Clerk (who had not yet obtained a benefice and was still studying at Oxford). Of the learned professions there were two representatives: the Doctor and the Sergeant-at-Law. From the country there were the Franklin (a large landowner), the Reeve (a sort of overseer of a large estate in Norfolk), the Miller, and a poor Plowman. From the city of London there were, besides Chaucer, who had recently been Comptroller of Customs for the post of London, a Merchant (or wholesale exporter), five tradesmen, a Cook, and a Manciple (steward of one of the organizations of lawyers). From the west of England
there was a Shipman of Dartmouth (master of a sailing vessel and a rather disreputable character, though a good sailor) and a buxom, red-checked widow from Bath, skillul in weaving cloth and fond of gadding about.
The intention at first was that each of these persons should tell four tales, two on the way to Canterbury and two on the way
but Chaucer seems to have decided later that one each way would be enough; and as a matter of fact he did not write enough tales to go once around. There are actually only twenty-four tales, and of these one is a second tale told by Chaucer himself after he had been stopped in the middle of his first tale by the Host's declaration that it was too dull, and another is an account of the tricks of an Alchemist who had overtaken them on the journey, given by his servant after the Alchemist had fled in shamc at the revelations of his swindling methods.
Chaucer also intended to tell how each tale led to the next and to report the conversations and discussions which arose. These bits between the tales are among the liveliest and most interesting parts of Chaucer's work; but as he did not write all the tales necessary, so also he did not fill in all the bits that should have come between. No part of the work, however, is more artistic than these and the descriptions of the pilgrims which Chaucer gives in the Prologue. They have never been surpassed in humor or in brilliance of characterization.
P. 59. 1. 8. In l. 1 Chaucer tells us that April had already begun. During April the sun is in the sign Aries until the rith and in Taurus the rest of the month. Line 8 therefore means that it is now after April 11th. In fact, we learn from a later passage that the pilgrims met on the evening of April 16th.
1. 17. Thomas a Becket, at one time Chancellor of Henry II, upon being made Archbishop of Canterbury resisted the efforts of Henry to deprive the church courts of some of the powers they had possessed. In the quarrel that ensued, four of Henry's knights rode to Canterbury and murdered Thomas in the Cathedral (in 1170). Although Henry had not ordered the murder, he was held responsible for it, and Thomas was worshipped as a saint. His tomb at Canterbury became the most famous shrine in England and for three hundred and fifty years was visited by pilgrims from all parts of the country, who brought gifts of gold and jewels in return for the saint's services to them. When the shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII, cart-loads of treasures were taken away.
11. 48 ff. When the Knight was not fighting for his lord, he sought service elsewhere. His campaigns were all against the heathen and fall into three groups: one in the orient (llisaundre, Lycys, Satalye, Tranissene, Turkeye), one against the Moors (Allgesir in Granada, and Belmarye in northern Africa), and one on the borders of Russia and Prussia (Ruce, Pruce, Lettow). His battles ranged in time from 1344 to the date of the pilgrimage (see l. 77). The Grand Master of the Knights of the Teutonic Order in Prussia was famous for his wisdom, his skill in war, and his courtesy.
P. 60. 11. 85-6. The expedition here referred to was doubtless that under Bishop Henry of Norwich in 1383
1. 115. Compare the images which Louis XI wore in his hat, in Quentin Durward.
II. 118 fi. The nunnery over which the Prioress presided was probably in the main a finishing school for young ladies of the upper classes. Hence her manners are those prescribed in the books of etiquette of the day.
1. 120. Most ladies of rank swore pretty vigorously in ancient times; cf. what Hotspur says to his wife in I llenry IV, III, i, 252–261, and Clarke's note on the strong oaths of Queen Elizabeth. By Seint Loy was a very mild oath, quite in keeping with the delicate manners of the Prioress.
11. 124-6. The French of Stratford-atte-Bowe (a nunnery near London) was boarding-school French.
1. 146. Nuns were so fond of little dogs that it was necessary to prohibit them from bringing them into the church.
P. 61. I. 162. Amor vincit omnia (Love conquers all things) is not a very appropriate motto for a nun, unless “Love" is taken in a spiritual sense.
1. 164. Presles three is probably wrong. Only one is mentioned elsewhere; three would make the number of pilgrims 31, instead of 29 (see l. 24), and it is strange that Chaucer does not here describe the Nun and the Priest, as he does the other pilgrims. Perhaps he left the passage incomplete, intending later to compose descriptions of these characters.
11. 165 ff. Many monasteries of Benedictine monks had become very wealthy through the increase in value of the lands given them at their foundation and later. Consequently the heads and other officials often'needed to be, and became, much engrossed in business and scarcely distinguishable in manners and ideas from nobles and other