Page images

or immediately after the Conquest, as its lan- | Conqueror, speaks of the popular ballads of the guage is comparatively modern. It contains English, in praise of their heroes, which were allusions to pinnacles in buildings, which were sung about the streets; and William of Malmsnot introduced till the reign of Henry III*. bury, in the twelfth century, continues to make Mr. Ellis is not so rash as to place that pro- mention of thems. The pretensions of these duction, which Hickes and Warton removed ballads to the name of poetry we are unhappily, to near the Conquest, earlier than the thir from the loss of them, unable to estimate. For teenth century; and I believe it may be placed a long time after the Conquest, the native mineven late in that century. In short, where strelsy, though it probably was never altogether shall we fix upon the first poem that is de extinct, may be supposed to have sunk to the cidedly English ? and how shall we ascertain lowest ebb. No human pursuit is more senits date to a certainty within any moderate sible than poetry to national pride or mortifinumber of years? Instead of supposing the

cation ; and a race of peasants, like the Saxons, period of the formation of English to com struggling for bare subsistence, under all the mence at 1180 [1185 ?), and to end at 1216, we dependence, and without the protection, of the might, without violence to any known fact, feudal system, were in a state the most ungeextend it back to several years earlier, and nial to feelings of poetical enthusiasm. For bring it down to a great many years later. In more than one century after the Conquest, as the fair idea of English we surely, in general, we are informed, an Englishman was a terin understand a considerable mixture of French of contempt. So much has time altered the wordst. Now, whatever may have been done associations attached to a name, which we in the twelfth century, with regard to that should now employ as the first appeal to the change from Saxon to English which consists pride or intrepidity of those who bear it. By in the extinction of Saxon grammatical inflec- degrees, however, the Norman and native tions, it is plain that the other characteristic races began to coalesce, and their patriotism of English, viz. its Gallicism, was only begin- and political interests to be identified. The ning in the thirteenth century. The English crown and aristocracy having become during language could not be said to be saturated their struggles, to a certain degree, candidates with French, till the days of Chaucer; i.e. it for the favour of the people, and rivals in did not, till his time, receive all the French affording them protection, free burghs and words which it was capable of retaining. Mr. chartered corporations were increased, and Ellis nevertheless tells us that the vulgar commerce and social intercourse began to English, not gradually, but suddenly, super-quicken. Mr. Ellis alludes to an Anglo-Norseded the legitimate Saxon. When this sudden man jargon having been spoken in commercial succession precisely began, it seems to be as intercourse, from which he conceives our synodifficult to ascertain, as when it ended. The nymes to have been derived. That individuals, sudden transition, by Mr. Ellis's own theory, imperfectly understanding each other, might occupied about forty years ; and, to all ap- accidentally speak a broken jargon, may be pearance, that term might be lengthened, easily conceived ; but that such a lingua Franca with respect to its commencement and con was ever the distinct dialect, even of a mertinuance, to fourscore years at least.

cantile class, Mr. Ellis proves neither by speThe Saxon language, we are told, had ceased cimens nor historical evidence. The synoto be poetically cultivated for some time pre- | nymes in our language may certainly be acvious to the Conquest. This might be the case counted for by the gradual entrance of French with regard to lofty efforts of composition ; words, without supposing an intermediate jarbut Ingulphus, the secretary of William the gon. The national speech, it is true, received [* So says Gray to Mason (Works by Mitford, vol. iji.

a vast influx of French words ; but it received p. 305); but this is endeavouring to settle a point by a them by degrees, and subdued them, as they questionable date-one uncertainty by another.)

came in, to its own idioms and grammar. [t In comparing Robert of Gloucester with Layamon, a native of the same county, and a writer on the saine

Yet, difficult as it may be to pronounce presubject, it will appear that a great quantity of French had flowed into the language since the loss of Normandy.

# William of Malmsbury drew much of his information HALLAM, Lil. Hist. vol. i. p. 61.]

from those Saxon bullads.

Whatever might be the case w our forms of versification, the

cisely when Saxon can be said to have ceased and English to have begun, it must be supposed that the progress and improvement of the national speech was most considerable at those epochs which tended to restore the importance of the people. The hypothesis of a sudden transmutation of Saxon into English appears, on the whole, not to be distinctly made out. At the same time, some public events might be highly favourable to the progress and cultivation of the language. Of those events, the establishment of municipal governments, and of elective magistrates in the towns, must have been very important, as they furnished materials and incentives for daily discussion and popular eloquence. As property and security increased among the people, we may also suppose the native minstrelsy to have revived. The minstrels, or those who wrote for them, translated or imitated Norman romances; and in so doing, enriched the language with many new words, which they borrowed from the originals, either from want of corresponding terms in their own vocabulary, or from the words appearing to be more agreeable. Thus, in a general view, we may say that, amidst the early growth of her commerce, literature, and civilisation, England acquired the new form of her language, which was destined to carry to the ends of the earth the blessings from which it sprung.

In the formation of English from its Saxon and Norman materials, the genius of the native tongue might be said to prevail, as it subdued to Saxon grammar and construction the numerous French words, which found their way into the language *. But it was otherwise with respect to our poetry-in which, after the Conquest, the Norman Muse must be regarded as the earliest preceptress of our own. Mr. Tyrwhitt has even said, and his opinion seems to be generally adopted, that we are indebted for the use of rhyme, and for all the forms of our versification, entirely to the Normans t.

interesting to many. With respect to rl some stress on the authority of Mr. Tu History of the Anglo-Saxons, says that versification possessed occasional rhyme; that rhyme formed no part of its constit fear of assuming too much, let it be a have no extant specimens of rhyme before the Conquest. One stanza of a b be mentioned, as an exception to thi admitted or rejected at the reader's ] mean time let it be recollected, that if w in the vernacular verse, we have exam poetry of the Anglo-Saxon churchmenin Bede's and loniface's Latin verses. the same writers, with lines which resem in their trochaic and iambic structure, structure not as classical but accentual i example, these verses:

“Quando Christus Deus nos

Natus est ex Virgine," which go precisely in the same cadence trochaics as

“Would you hear how once re

Great Eliza captive lay." And we have many such lines as these :

« Ut floreas cum domino

In sempiterno solio

Qua Martyres in cuneo," &c. which flow exactly like the lines in L'AI

“ The Mountain Nymph, sweet I.


And pomp, and feast, and revel

With masque, and antique pagThose Latin lines are, in fact, a prototype syllable iambic. It is singular that rhym as the above, which are generally suppos into the other modern languages from the the church, should not have found their into the Anglo-Saxon vernacular verse. tainly did not, we shall be told; for the ance of them in the specimens of Anglo-Sa the Conquest. Of such specimens, howe tended that we have anything like a full On the contrary, many Saxon ballads, alluded to by Anglo-Norman writers a antiquity, have been lost with the very composers. And from a few articles wreck, can we pronounce confidently on tents of the cargo? The following solie ever, has been preserved, from a ball: Canute the Great.

“ Merry sungen the Muneches bi

The Cnut Ching reüther by,
Roweth Cnites poer the land,
And here we thes Muniches sa
Merry sang the Monks in Ely,
When Canute King was sailing
Row, ye knights, near the land

And let us hear these Monks's There is something very like rhyme in stanza. I have no doubt that Canute singing Latin rhymes ; and I bave some finished his Saxon ballad in rhyme also.

* Vide Tyrwhitt's Preface to the Canterbury Tales, where a distinct account is given of the grammatical changes exhibited in the rise and progress of English.

+ It is likely that the Normans would have taught us the use of rhyme and their own metres, whether these had been known or not to the Anglo-Saxons before the Conquest. But respecting Mr. Tyrwhitt's position that we owo all our fornis of verse, and the use of rhyme, entirely to the Normans, I trust the reader will pardon me for introducing a mere doubt on a subject which cannot be

ment of our earliest versifiers certainly was to tury, or possibly later, no work of professed transplant the fictions of the Norman school, fiction, or bearing any semblance to epic fable, and to naturalise them in our language. can be traced in Norman verse-nothing but

The most liberal patronage was afforded to songs, satires, chronicles, or didactic works, to Norman minstrelsy in England by the first all of which, however, the name of Romance, kings of the new dynasty. This encourage- derived from the Roman descent of the French ment, and the consequent cultivation of the tongue, was applied in the early and wide acnorthern dialect of French, gave it so much ceptation of the word. To these succeeded the the superiority over the southern or trouba- genuine Metrical Romance, which, though often dour dialect, that the French language, accord- rhapsodical and desultory, had still invention, ing to the acknowledgment of its best informed ingenuity, and design, sufficient to distinguish antiquaries, received from England and Nor- it from the dry and dreary chronicle. The mandy the first of its works which deserve to reign of French metrical romance may be be cited. The Norman trouveurs, it is allowed, chiefly assigned to the latter part of the twelfth, were more eminent parrative poets than the and the whole of the thirteenth century; that Provençal troubadours. No people had of English metrical romance, to the latter part better right to be the founders of chivalrous of the thirteenth, and the whole of the fourpoetry than the Normans. They were the teenth * century. Those ages of chivalrous most energetic generation of modern men. song were, in the mean time, fraught with Their leader, by the conquest of England in the events which, while they undermined the eleventh century, consolidated the feudal sys feudal system, gradually prepared the way for tem upon a broader basis than it ever had the decline of chivalry itself. Literature and before possessed. Before the end of the same science were commencing, and even in the imcentury, Chivalry rose to its full growth as an provement of the mechanical skill employed institution, by the circumstance of martial zeal to heighten chivalrous or superstitious magnibeing enlisted under the banners of supersti ficence, the seeds of arts, industry, and plebeian tion. The crusades, though they certainly did independence were uncon

consciously sown. One not give birth to jousts and tournaments, must invention, that of gunpowder, is eminently have imparted to them a new spirit and inter marked out as the cause of the extinction of est, as the preparatory images of a consecrated Chivalry ; but even if that invention had not warfare. And those spectacles constituted a taken place, it may well be conjectured that source of description to the romancers, to the contrivance of other means of missile dewhich no exact counterpart is to be found in struction in war, and the improvement of tacthe her poetry of antiquity. But the growth tics, would have narrowed that scope for the of what may properly be called romantic prominence of individual prowess which was poetry was not instantaneous after the Con necessary for the chivalrous character, and quest; and it was not till “ English Richard that the progress of civilisation must have ploughed the deep,” that the crusaders seem to ultimately levelled its romantic consequence. have found a place among the heroes of ro But to anticipate the remote effects of such

Till the middle of the twelfth cen causes, if scarcely within the ken of philosowho knew the whole song, translates his specimen of it in

phy, was still less within the reach of poetry. Latin lines, which, whether by accident or design, rhyme Chivalry was still in all its glory; and to the to each other. The genius of the ancient Anglo-Saxon

eye of the poet appeared as likely as ever to be poetry, Mr. Turner observes, wa obscure, periphrastical,

immortal. The progress of civilisation even and elliptical ; but, according to that writer's conjecture, a new and humble but perspicuous style of poetry was

ministered to its external importance. The introduced at a later time, in the shape of the narrative early arts made chivalrous life, with all its ballad. In this plainer style we may conceive the possibility of rhymo having found a place; because the verse

pomp and ceremonies, more august and imwould stand in need of that ornament to distinguish it posing, and more picturesque as a subject for from prose, more than in the elliptical and inverted man- description. Literature, for a time, contributed ner. With regard to our anapæstic measure, or tripletime verse, Dr. Percy has shown that its rudiments can

to the same effect, by her jejune and fabulous be traced to Scaldic poetry. It is often found very dis * The practice of translating French rhyming romances tinct in Langlande; and that species of verse, at least, I con into English verse, however, continued down to the reign ceive, is not necessarily to be referred to a Norman origin. of Henry VII.


efforts at history, in which the athletic worthies Norman verse dwelt for a consic of classical story and of modern romance were in the tedious historic style, befor gravely connected by an ideal genealogy * Twelfth the shape of amusing fable Thus the dawn of human improvement smiled

century, the earliest efforts of the I on the fabric which it was ultimately to de- confined to translating Norman ve stroy, as the morning sun gilds and beautifies still retained its uninviting form those masses of frost-work, which are to melt nicle. The first of the Norman before its noonday heat.

whom any versifier in the langua The elements of romantic fiction have been to have translated, was Wace, a n traced up to various sources; but neither the sey, born in the reign of Henry Scaldic, nor Saracenic, nor Armorican theory year 1155, Wace finished his “B of its origin can sufficiently account for all its terre,” which is a French version materials. Many of them are classical, and of Monmouth's History of Great others derived from the Scriptures. The mi- duced from Brutus to Cadwalla grations of Science are difficult enough to be Layamon, a priest of Ernleye u traced ; but Fiction travels on still lighter translated Wace's Metrical Chron wings, and scatters the seeds of her wild flowers verse of the popular tongue; and in imperceptibly over the world, till they surprise ing Mr. Ellis's date of 1180, [11 us by springing up with similarity in regions supposed, with equal probability, the most remotely divided t. There was a duced his work within ten or fiftee vague and unselecting love of the marvellous the middle of the twelfth centu in romance, which sought for adventures, like mon's translation may be consic its knights errant, in every quarter where they earliest specimen of metre in the could be found ; so that it is easier to admit of guage, posterior to the Conquest; all the sources which are imputed to that spe- lines in the Saxon Chronicle on cies of fiction, than to limit our belief to any William I., and a few religious rl one of them I.

according to Matthew Paris, the * Geoffrey of Monmouth's history, of which the modern gin was pleased to dictate to St opinion seems to be, that it was not a forgery, but derived hermit, near Durham ; unless we from an Armorican original, and the pseudo-Turpin’s Life

the specimen of Saxon poetry pu of Charlemagne, were the grand historical magazines of the romancers. (Ellis's Met. Rom. vol. i. p. 75.) Popular Archaeologia by Mr. Conybeare, songs about Arthur and Charlemagne (or, as some will that composition to be posterio have it, Charles Martel), were probably the main sources

quest, and to be the last expiring of Turpin's forgery and of Geoffrey's Armorican book. Even the proverbial mendacity of the pseudo-Turpin must

to the Romances of Chivalry, modified a have been indebted for the leading hints to songs that

ners and the state of society, must necess were extant respecting Charlemagne. The stream of

in every part of the world, for the same fiction having thus spread itself in those grand prose

grows upon the surface of the soil in eve reservoirs, afterwards flowed out from thence again in the

every country. (Misc. P.W. vol. vi. p. 17 shape of verse, with a force renewed by accumulation.

says Southey, “mythological and roma. Once more, as if destined to alternations, romance, after

rent among all savages of whom we have the fourteenth century, returned to the shape of prose,

for man has his intellectual as well as hi and in many instances made and carried pretensions to

and these things are the food of his imag the sober credibility of history.

They are found wherever there is langu [1 It is common fairness to Mr. Campbell, to say that the late Mr. Price has cited this passage as one distin

of reason, in other words, wherever the

in similar stages of civilisation, or states guishable alike for its truth and its beauty,-that establishes the fact that popular fiction is in its nature

tions of different people will bear a cori traditive.-Introd. to Warton's Hist. p. 92.]

blance, notwithstanding the difference o [Various theories have been proposed for the purpose

-Pref. to Morte D'Arthur.] of explaining the origin of romantic fiction. Percy con

($ Ellis (p. 44) says, Henry I., whom he tended for a Scandinavian, Warton for an Arabian, and Warton (p. 67) says he was educ Leyden for an Armorican birth, to which Ellis inclined;

canon of Bayeux, and chaplain to Henry while some have supposed it to be of Provençal, and others (1 Two copies of Layamon's or Laza. of Norman invention. If every argument has not been the British Museum, Cott. MSS. Calig. A exhausted, every hypothesis has. But all their systems, as Warton and Price have only touche Sir Walter Scott says, seem to be inaccurate, in so far as Layamon, from Mr. Ellis and Mr. Ca they have been adopted exclusively of each other, and of one of the most important authors in the general proposition,-that fables of a nature similar guage.]



Saxon Muse *. Of the dialect of Layamon, tions which it had already begun to assume. Mr. Mitford, in his Harmony of Languages, Of the satirical style I have already alluded to observes, that it has “all the appearance of a one example in the “ Land of Cokayne," an language thrown into confusion by the circum- allegorical satire on the luxury of the church, stances of those who spoke it. It is truly nei- couched under the description of an imaginary ther Saxon nor English +.” Mr. Ellis's opinion paradise, in which the nuns are represented as of its being simple Saxon has been already houris, and the black and grey monks as their noticed. So little agreed are the most inge- paramours. This piece has humour, though nious speculative men on the characteristics of not of the most delicate kind; and the lanstyle, which they shall entitle Saxon or Eng- guage is easy and fluent, but it possesses nolish. We may, however, on the whole, consi- thing of style, sentiment, or imagery, approachder the style of Layamon to be as nearly the ing to poetry. Another specimen of the pleaintermediate state of the old and new lan- santry of the times is more valuable ; because guages as can be found in any ancient speci- it exhibits the state of party feeling on real men :-something like the new insect stirring events, as well as the state of the language at its wings, before it has shaken off the aurelia a precise time f. It is a ballad, entitled Ri. state. But of this work, or of any specimen chard of Alemaigne,” composed by one of the supposed to be written in the early part of the adherents of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicesthirteenth century, displaying a sudden transi- ter, after the defeat of the royal party at the tion from Saxon to English, I am disposed to battle of Lewes, in 1264. In the year after repeat my doubts.

that battle the royal cause was restored, and Without being over credulous about the an- the earl of Warren and Sir Hugh Bigod retiquity of the Lives of the Saints, and the other turned from exile, and assisted in the king's Thirteenth fragments of the thirteenth century, victory. In this satirical ballad, those two

which Mr. Ellis places in chronolo- personages are threatened with death, if they gical succession next to Layamon, we may al- should ever fall into the hands of their enelow that before the date of Robert of Glouces- mies. Such a song and such threats must have ter, not only the legendary and devout style, been composed by Leicester’s party in the mobut the amatory and satirical, had begun to ment of their triumph, and not after their debe rudely cultivated in the language. It was feat and dispersion ; so that the date of the customary, in that age, to make the minstrels piece is ascertained by its contents $. This sing devotional strains to the harp, on Sundays, political satire leads me to mention another, for the edification of the people, instead of the which the industrious Ritson published ll, and verses on gayer subjects which were sung at which, without violent anachronism, may be public entertainments ; a circumstance which, spoken of among the specimens of the thirwhile it indicates the usual care of the Ca- teenth century; as it must have been composed tholic church to make use of every hold over within a few years after its close, and relates the popular mind, discovers also the fondness to events within its verge. It is a ballad on of the people for their poetry, and the attrac the execution of the Scottish patriots, Sir * Two specimens of the ancient state of the language,

William Wallace and Sir Simon Fraser. The viz., the stanzas on old age, beginning “ Ile may him sore diction is as barbarous as we should expect adreden," and the quotation from the Ormulum, which Dr. Johnson placed, on the authority of Ilickes, nearly

from a song of triumph on such a subject. It after the Conquest, are considered by Mr. Tyrwhitt to be

relates the death and treatment of Wallace of a later date than Layamon's translation. Their language very minutely. The circumstance of his being is certainly more modern.

covered with a mock crown of laurel in West[t Mitford, p. 170. In the Specimen of Layamon published by Mr. Ellis, not a Gallicism is to be found, nor even # “ Though some make slight of Libels," says Selden, a Norman term: and so far from exhibiting any “appear ** yet you may see by them how the wind sits; as, take a ance of a language thrown into confusion by the circum straw, and throw it up into the air, you shall see by that stances of those who spoke it," nearly every important which way the wind is, which you shall not do by casting form of Anglo-Saxon grammar is rigidly adhered to; and up a stone. More solid things do not show the complexion so little was the language altered at this advanced period of the times, so well as ballads and libels."Table Talk. of Norman influence, that a few slight variations might ($ See it in Percy's Reliques, and in Wright's Political convert it into genuine Anglo-Saxon.-Price, Warton, Songs of England, p. 69.) vol. i. p. 109.]

| Ritson's Ancient Songs.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »