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Art. III. (1.) “ Lazamon's Brut, or Chronicle of Britain ;" a
Poetical Semi-Saxon Paraphrase of the Brût of Wace. Now
(Society of Antiquaries, 1847.) (2.) “Early English Metrical Romances.” 1845. (Camden Society.) (3.) “ Reliquiæ Antiquæ.” Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts, illus
trating chiefly our early English Literature. Edited by Wright
and HALLIWELL. 1841–44. (4.) “ History of English Rhymes." By EDWIN GUEST. 2 vols.
1838. (5.) Haveloke the Dane. Edited by Sir F. MADDEN. (Roxburgh
Club.) (6.) The Metrical Romances of Ellis, Ritson, and Weber. (7.) Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle. Edited by HEARNE.
Many have been the pilgrimages of late to the pure well of English undefiled, for the way is right pleasant, nor have the pilgrims thither found their labour unrequited, although the well itself, like the romance-famed fountain of Brecheliant, has often appeared temptingly near, and then again quite eluded the eye. Indeed, the very existence of this well, from whose fancied source Spenser so fondly dreamed that the morning star of our poetical horizon, Chaucer, first drank, is now disbelieved; but the pilgrims, if disappointed in the ultimate object of their search, have gathered on their way many a garland of wild flowers, as they traced the upward course of that stream of English poetry which has flowed now unceasingly through full six centuries. The poetic spirit was indeed awakened from the very period that the English spirit was aroused; and long before Langland gave forth his marvellously life-like allegory, or Gower recited his graceful tales, or Chaucer hymned the glories and beauties of nature, as though high priest of her temple, many a poet,- with faltering and unequal voice indeed, but with true poet feeling,—had already sung many a pleasant lay, and many a right wondrous story to an eager and imaginative people. In a former article (No. IX., p. 159,) we directed the attention of our readers to those veritable poet fathers of England,' the trouvéres of the twelfth century; in the present we shall introduce the earliest poets who made use of the English tongue; a class, which even were they less deserving of notice than we think they will be found to be, are important, inasmuch as they form the connecting link between the trouvéres and those poets of the fourteenth century who have long been viewed as the fathers of English poesy. The resuscitation of the various works indicated at the head of this article, (for these were almost as completely buried for centuries as the writings of the trouvéres) is due to the laborious researches of those philological antiquaries, who early in the last century sought to trace the progress of our language from Saxon into English. Little did the Hearnes and the Hickes of that period care about the rude, but often spirited verse, still less for the wild tales of adventure, and chronicles full filled with marvels, which these mouldering remains contained; but it was reserved for Thomas Warton, to whose fine imagination Dugdale's Monasticon itself appeared witching as some gorgeously illuminated missal, and who sung with such truth
“ Nor rough nor barren are the winding ways
to ransack these stores, and bring them forth to the world in his history of English poetry. From that time to the present, a spirit of inquiry has been growing up, and the changes which our language has undergone, the characteristics of our early literature, the remains of our early writers, have more and more occupied the attention of our literary antiquaries. Libraries have been explored, copies collated, societies formed for the express purpose of rescuing our early literature from oblivion, nor could we possibly point to a more signal proof of the increasing interest felt in these studies, than that the Society of Antiquaries, after so long a period of slumber, should have aroused itself to print, at its own cost, that most bulky, but, in a philological point of view, most important work, Lazamon's Semi-Saxon • Chronicle of Britain.'
The transition of the Saxon tongue into English is closely connected with the history of our early poetry, and that the one exercised an important influence over the other, is, we think, evident from the number and variety of works which we meet with in the very earliest stage of what may be really called English. Sir Frederic Madden, the able editor of the first work on our list, suggests that the successive stages of development of our language may be indicated with tolerable correctness in the subjoined table:
It is with the two first stages that we are now to be engaged; but in passing, we cannot but remark, although with much deference to a writer who stands in the very first rank of English philologists, that the last division seems to us very arbitrary. Surely Heywood and Shakespere, Skelton and Marlowe, cannot be considered as using the same form of the English tongue; and yet these all flourished between 1500 and 1600. Our prose writers, too; how thoroughly old English is Lord Berner's Froissart, compared with the early writings of Bacon—the sermons of Latimer, too, with the curt and sententious style of Hall; surely, for the rise of the later English, the date 1550 might be better assigned.
The Saxon language, after having continued, with few variations, for some centuries, began to give indications of change soon after the beginning of the eleventh century. This, as the reader will remember, was an era of much confusion. The Saxon dynasty had been expelled, and that energetic barbarian, Canute, had seized the throne. On the death of his sons, the sceptre had indeed returned into the hand of a monarch of Saxon race, but the feeble Confessor was ill qualified to keep in check nobles, whose lands vied in extent with his domains, and whose coffers, from the predatory habits in which they gloried, were often better filled than his own. From contemporary writers, we learn that these nobles were divided into what may be called the Danish party, and the Norman party, and, from the partiality evinced by the latter to the NormanFrench, Ingulphus traces the decline of the pure Saxon. The story that William the Conqueror actually put down the birthtongue of the people scarcely finds a place, in the present day, even in popular histories of England; for we know that he gave his charters in Saxon, and we have the testimony of his chaplain that he actually made an attempt to learn it. But although Saxon was not proscribed by law, or by popular usage, it was scomed by the nobles, and neglected, probably scorned also, by the scholars, who gave a fresh impulse to the national mind. Under these circumstances, without a standard to which to refer, no wonder that the native language became subjected to changes which involved a certain degree of assimilation to that spoken by the educated and the noble. Sir Frederic Madden, we perceive, places the rise of the semi-Saxon about the year 1100, the year that witnessed the accession of Beauclerc, and a consequent re-action in favour of the Saxon people. The changes in the Saxon language, however, became, according to Turner, far more rapid about the period of the accession of Stephen; and, according to the same authority, the discontinuance of the Anglo-Saxon inversions, and the use of a simpler and more natural order of phrase,' date chiefly from the same period. The Saxon is indeed remarkable for its inversions, and we have often wondered how so'roundabout a style could ever have been used in common parlance. “Indeed, after this pope his death, then might not the Roman city without a pope continue.' This is by no means the strongest example which might be given, but the reader comparing it with the easy flow and natural order of the Norman-French of the twelfth century, may well consider that, whatever tended to approximate the language of the conquered, in this respect, to that of their conquerors, was a benefit. Now a period of civil war, such as was nearly the whole of Stephen's reign, was very likely to be the time when our forefathers exchanged their inverted and cumbrous phraseology for an easier and more direct mode of speech. The contest was essentially popular, for Earl Stephen had for years, in his uncle's court, been the idol of the people, and thus the nobles who took up arms on his side were brought into friendly contact with the Saxons; and the dwellers in the walled towns, mingling together in the strife with the 'uplandish men,' became accustomed to each other's peculiarities of speech. Itis, indeed, curious to observe, in the concluding pages of the venerable Saxon chronicle, written about this time, the number of Norman-French words; and these, too, are nearly all such as must have become familiar to their ears during the contest. Thus we find landes and rentes,' pais,'justise,'tresor,'' prisoun.'
During the following reign, little encouragement was given by the monarch either to the Saxon population or the Saxon tongue; but both were advancing: and the strife between him and his Saxon Archbishop was most beneficial in keeping the popular mind awake, and intent on what was passing around, and thus leading it onward. The Saxon tongue, too, was gradually rising into notice; for unless there had been a large portion of the people, among the middle class, too, who adhered to the language of their fathers, Lazamon, the priest of Ernleze, on the banks of the Severn, would never have undertaken his laborious version of the Brut' of Maistre Wace. That such a work should have been demanded, proves to us that there was-strange as it may appear to some of our readers
-a public eager to participate in the current literature of the day.
This chronicle, although based upon that of Maistre Waceto which we lately introduced our readers—is far from being a translation. The narrative is indeed largely amplified, many additional legends are inserted, and the work stretches out to the length of 32,000 lines! The greater portion is in short lines, and, according to Saxon usage, without rhyme; but in some parts, an attempt to imitate the flowing verse of the original is made, as in the following couplets, which will afford a sufficient specimen of this venerable work. Goneril, the daughter of King Lear, thus answers her father, and said
Than this world al clene." ' Although widely removed from modern English, we think the reader will perceive some approach to it, and particularly in the easy flow of the sentence. The exact period at which this work was written cannot be ascertained; Sir Frederic Madden inclines to assign it to the close of the twelfth century.
Although we have not as yet discovered translations-versions rather-of any other French works of as early a date, still there is reason to believe that many were made; and if we bear in mind how difficult it is, in the process of translation, to avoid falling into the very style of the work to be translated, we shall not be surprised to find, in the next stage of our language, that the order of the phraseology, the rhythm, even the varieties of rhyme, were all copied by the early English poet from the Norman French. The events of John's reign tended more and more to bring the two spoken languages into closer contact. Throughout the contest, Saxon London took a prominent part; and in the reiterated demands for the good laws of King Edward,' we think it probable that the populace kept in view the language in which these laws were promulgated, as well as their provisions. With the death of John, civil war ceased, but the strife of opinion was fiercely carried on during the whole of his son's long reign; and greatly interesting is it to trace how English views, English feelings, and at length the English language, became more and more prominent, until, finally, they achieved their ascendancy. All along the course of English history can we mark the inseparable connexion between the NO. XII.