- How has the syllabus changed?
- Studies in English Medieval Language and Literature
- Edited By Magdalena Bator and Jacek Fisiak
- Language and Literature
Differences in Spelling. It is quite evident that the above pairs of words, although in reality one, have very different meanings and uses. Difference of English Dialects. Almost every county in England has its own dialect; but three main dialects stand out with great prominence in our older literature, and these are the Northern , the Midland , and the Southern.
The grammar of these dialects 13 was different; their pronunciation of words was different—and this has given rise to a splitting of one word into two. We shall find similar differences of hardness and softness in ordinary words. All of these are but different modes of pronouncing the same word in different parts of England; but the genius of the language has taken advantage of these different ways of pronouncing to make different words out of them, and to give them different functions, meanings, and uses.
The Oldest English Synthetic. These endings are called inflexions. Modern English Analytic. Short View of the History of English Grammar. On the other hand, it has lost just as steadily in the number of its inflexions. Put in a broad and somewhat rough fashion, it may be said that—. Causes of this Change. But, when a foreign people comes among natives, such a tendency is naturally encouraged, and often greatly increased. The natives discover that these inflexions are not so very important, if only they can get their meaning rightly conveyed to the foreigners.
Both parties, accordingly, come to see that the root of the word is the most important element; they stick to that, and they come to neglect the mere inflexions. Moreover, the accent in English words always struck the root; and hence this part of the word always fell on the ear with the greater force, and carried the greater weight. Let us try to trace some of these changes and losses. Grammar of the First Period, The gender of nouns was arbitrary, or—it may be—poetical; it did not, as in modern English it does, follow the sex.
Like nama , the proper names of men ended in a ; and we find such names as Isa, Offa, Penda, as the names of kings. Nouns at this period had five cases, with inflexions for each; now we possess but one inflexion—that for the possessive. This present participle may be said still to exist—in spoken, but not in written speech; for some people regularly say walkin , goin , for walking and going. In the perfect tense, the plural ending was on. Grammar of the Second Period, Even before the coming of the Normans, the inflexions of our language had—as we have seen—begun to drop off, and it was slowly on the way to becoming an analytic language.
The same changes—the same simplification of grammar, has taken place in nearly every Low German language. But the coming of the Normans hastened these changes, for it made the inflexional endings of words of much less practical importance to the English themselves.
The hard c or k was softened into ch ; and the hard guttural g was refined into a y or even into a silent w. The Oldest English or Anglo-Saxon had no indefinite article. Grammar of the Third Period, Grammar of the Fourth Period, There were many differences in the grammar of these dialects; but the chief of these differences is found in the plural of the present indicative of the verb. This part of the verb formed its plurals in the following manner:—. In time the Midland dialect conquered; and the East Midland form of it became predominant all over England.
As early as the beginning of the thirteenth century, this dialect had thrown off most of the old inflexions, and had become almost as flexionless as the English of the present day. Let us note a few of the more prominent changes. Thus nama becomes name , sunu son becomes sune , and withutan changes into withute. General View. But it had not, and could not have, any influence on the spoken language of other parts of England, for the simple reason that very few persons were able to travel, and it took days—and even weeks—for a man to go from Devonshire to Yorkshire.
In course of time the Midland dialect—that spoken between the Humber and the Thames—became the predominant dialect of England; and the East Midland variety of this dialect became the parent of modern standard English. This predominance was probably due to the fact that it, soonest of all, got rid of its inflexions, and became most easy, pleasant, and convenient to use.
And this disuse of inflexions was itself probably due to the early Danish settlements in the east, to the larger number of Normans in that part of England, to the larger number of thriving towns, and to the greater and more active communication between the eastern seaports and the Continent. The inflexions were first confused, then weakened, then forgotten, finally lost. The result was an extreme simplification, which still benefits all learners of the English language. Instead of spending a great deal of time on the learning of a large number of inflexions, which are to them arbitrary and meaningless, foreigners have only to fix their attention on the words and phrases themselves, that is, on the very pith and marrow of the language—indeed, on the language itself.
Hence the great German grammarian Grimm, and others, predict that English will spread itself all over the world, and become the universal language of the future. Hundreds, if not thousands, of our verbs were dissyllables, but, by the gradual loss of the ending en which was in Anglo-Saxon an , they became monosyllables. Thus bindan , drincan , findan , became bind , drink , find ; and this happened with hosts of other verbs.
Again, the expulsion of the guttural, which the Normans never could or would take to, had the effect of compressing many words of two syllables into one. Thus haegel , twaegen , and faegen , became hail , twain , and fain. So much is this the case, that whole books have been written for children in monosyllables. It must be confessed that the monosyllabic style is often dull, but it is always serious and homely. We can find in our translation of the Bible whole verses that are made up of words of only one syllable. Many of the most powerful passages in Shakespeare, too, are written in monosyllables.
In the following verse from Matthew Arnold the words are all monosyllables, with the exception of tired and contention which is Latin :—. An American writer has well indicated the force of the English monosyllable in the following sonnet:—. It will be observed that this sonnet consists entirely of monosyllables, and yet that the style of it shows considerable power and vigour.
The words printed in italics are all derived from Latin, with the exception of the word phrase , which is Greek. Change in the Order of Words. The syntax of an Old English sentence was clumsy and involved; it kept the attention long on the strain; it was rumbling, rambling, and unpleasant to the ear. It kept the attention on the strain, because the verb in a subordinate clause was held back, and not revealed till we had come to the end of the clause. Thus the Anglo-Saxon wrote though in different form and spelling —. The Old English sentence—which is very like the German sentence of the present day—has been compared to a heavy cart without springs, while the newer English sentence is like a modern well-hung English carriage.
Norman-French, then, gave us a brighter, lighter, freer rhythm, and therefore a sentence more easy to understand and to employ, more supple, and better adapted to everyday use. The Expulsion of Gutturals.
It is a remarkable fact that there is not now in the French language a single guttural. There is not an h in the whole language. The French write an h in several of their words, but they never sound it. Its use is merely to serve as a fence between two vowels—to keep two vowels separate, as in la haine , hatred.
No doubt the Normans could utter throat-sounds well enough when they dwelt in Scandinavia; but, after they had lived in France for several generations, they acquired a great dislike to all such sounds. No doubt, too, many, from long disuse, were unable to give utterance to a guttural.
This dislike they communicated to the English; and hence, in the present day, there are many people—especially in the south of England—who cannot sound a guttural at all. The muscles in the throat that help to produce these sounds have become atrophied—have lost their power for want of practice.
How has the syllabus changed?
The purely English part of the population, for many centuries after the Norman invasion, could sound gutturals quite easily—just as the Scotch and the Germans do now; but it gradually became the fashion in England to leave them out. The g at the beginning of many words also dropped off. Thus Gyppenswich became Ipswich ; gif became if ; genoh , enough. Thus halig became holy ; eordhlic , earthly ; gastlic , ghastly or ghostly. The same is the case in dough , through , plough , etc.
Thus rigg , egg , and brigg have become ridge , edge , and bridge. Thus sorg and mearh have become sorrow and marrow. The Story of the GH. The story is an odd one. Our Old English or Saxon scribes wrote—not light , might , and night , but liht , miht , and niht. But, if the Norman could not sound the h alone, still less could he sound the double guttural; and he very coolly let both alone— ignored both.
The Saxon scribe doubled the signs for his guttural, just as a farmer might put up a strong wooden fence in front of a hedge; but the Norman cleared both with perfect ease and indifference. And so it came to pass that we have the symbol gh in more than seventy of our words, and that in most of these we do not sound it at all. The gh remains in our language, like a moss-grown boulder, brought down into the fertile valley in a glacial period, when gutturals were both spoken and written, and men believed in the truthfulness of letters—but now passed by in silence and noticed by no one.
The Letters that represent Gutturals. The following words give all these forms: ha i l, da y , fo w l, tea ch , e dge , a j ar, dra g , truc k , and trou gh. Now hail was hagol , day was daeg , fowl was fugol , teach was taecan , edge was egg , ajar was achar. In seek , beseech , sought —which are all different forms of the same word—we see the guttural appearing in three different forms—as a hard k , as a soft ch , as an unnoticed gh. In think and thought , drink and draught , sly and sleight , dry and drought , slay and slaughter , it takes two different forms.
In dig , ditch , and dike —which are all the same word in different shapes—it again takes three forms. But, indeed, the manners of a guttural, its ways of appearing and disappearing, are almost beyond counting. Grammatical Result of the Loss of Inflexions. But the loss of inflexions which has taken place in the English language has resulted in depriving us of this advantage—if advantage it is. Instead of looking at the face of a word in English, we are obliged to think of its function ,—that is, of what it does. Words like bud , cane , cut , comb , cap , dust , fall , fish , heap , mind , name , pen , plaster , punt , run , rush , stone , and many others, can be used either as nouns or as verbs.
Again, fast , quick , and hard may be used either as adverbs or as adjectives ; and back may be employed as an adverb , as a noun , and even as an adjective. Shakespeare is very daring in the use of this licence. Shakespeare uses also such verbs as to glad , to mad , such phrases as a seldom pleasure , and the fairest she.
Vocabulary and Grammar. The difference is often startling. And yet, if we look closely at the words and their dress, we shall most often find that the words which look so strange are the very words with which we are most familiar—words that we are in the habit of using every day; and that it is their dress alone that is strange and antiquated. The effect is the same as if we were to dress a modern man in the clothes worn a thousand years ago: the chances are that we should not be able to recognise even our dearest friend.
A Specimen from Anglo-Saxon. The well-known verse, Luke ii. Now this looks like an extract from a foreign language; but it is not: it is our own veritable mother-tongue. Every word is pure ordinary English; it is the dress—the spelling and the inflexions—that is quaint and old-fashioned.
This will be plain from a literal translation:—. A Comparison. The alteration in the meanings of words, the changes in the application of them, the variation in the use of phrases, the falling away of the inflexions—all these things become plain to the eye and to the mind as soon as we thoughtfully compare the different versions.
The following are extracts from the Anglo-Saxon version , the version of Wycliffe and of Tyndale , of the passage in Luke ii. Oldest English and Early English. The breaking-down of the grammar becomes still more strikingly evident from this close juxtaposition. Comparisons of Words and Inflexions.
These changes will be best seen by displaying them in columns:—. Conclusions from the above Comparisons. These conclusions relate chiefly to verbs and nouns; and they may become useful as a KEY to enable us to judge to what period in the history of our language a passage presented to us must belong. Plurals in es separate syllable.
The English of the Thirteenth Century. Orm has also the peculiarity of always doubling a consonant after a short vowel. Thus, in his introduction, he says:—. Thus we read:—. The English of the Fourteenth Century. Chaucer also writes in an elaborate verse-measure that forms a striking contrast to the homely rhythms of Langlande. How different this is from the simple English of Langlande!
He is speaking of the great storm of wind that blew on January 15, —. The English of the Sixteenth Century. He had walk for a hundred sheep; and my mother milked thirty kine. The English of the Bible i. But this is not the case. The translators were commanded by James I. When we are reading the Bible, therefore, we are reading English of the sixteenth century, and, to a large extent, of the early part of that century.
It is true that successive generations of printers have, of their own accord, altered the spelling, and even, to a slight extent, modified the grammar. Thus we have fetched for the older fet , more for moe , sown for sowen , brittle for brickle which gives the connection with break , jaws for chaws , sixth for sixt , and so on. The English of the Bible ii. Thus we find, in Psalm v. Again, in Ezek. Grammar Fixed. Any Englishman of ordinary education can read a book belonging to the latter part of the fifteenth or to the sixteenth century without difficulty.
Since that time the grammar of our language has hardly changed at all, though we have altered and enlarged our vocabulary, and have adopted thousands of new words. The introduction of Printing, the Revival of Learning, the Translation of the Bible, the growth and spread of the power to read and write—these and other influences tended to fix the language and to keep it as it is to-day.
It is true that we have dropped a few old-fashioned endings, like the n or en in silvern and golden ; but, so far as form or grammar is concerned, the English of the sixteenth and the English of the nineteenth centuries are substantially the same. New Words. The discovery of the New World in gave an impetus to maritime enterprise in England, which it never lost, brought us into connection with the Spaniards, and hence contributed to our language several Spanish words. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Italian literature was largely read; Wyatt and Surrey show its influence in their poems; and Italian words began to come in in considerable numbers.
Commerce, too, has done much for us in this way; and along with the article imported, we have in general introduced also the name it bore in its own native country. In later times, Science has been making rapid strides—has been bringing to light new discoveries and new inventions almost every week; and along with these new discoveries, the language has been enriched with new names and new terms.
Let us look a little more closely at the character of these foreign contributions to the vocabulary of our tongue. Spanish Words. In addition to the ill-fated word armada , we have the Spanish for Mr , which is Don from Lat. They gave us also alligator , which is our English way of writing el lagarto , the lizard. They also presented us with a large number of words that end in o —such as buffalo , cargo , desperado , guano , indigo , mosquito , mulatto , negro , potato , tornado , and others.
The following is a tolerably full list:—. Italian Words. Hence it is that we owe to the Italian language a large number of words. The following is a complete list:—. Dutch Words. In the fourteenth century, the southern part of the German Ocean was the most frequented sea in the world; and the chances of plunder were so great that ships of war had to keep cruising up and down to protect the trading vessels that sailed between England and the Low Countries.
The following are the words which we owe to the Netherlands:—. French Words. The French have been for centuries the most polished nation in Europe; from France the changing fashions in dress spread over all the countries of the Continent; French literature has been much read in England since the time of Charles II. Some of these words are, in spelling, exactly like English; and advantage of this has been taken in a well-known epigram:—.
The following is a list of French words which have been imported in comparatively recent times:—. The Scotch have always had a closer connection with the French nation than England; and hence we find in the Scottish dialect of English a number of French words that are not used in South Britain at all. German Words. We have never borrowed directly from High-German, because we have never needed to borrow. Those modern German words that have come into our language in recent times are chiefly the names of minerals, with a few striking exceptions, such as loafer , which came to us from the German immigrants to the United States, and plunder , which seems to have been brought from Germany by English soldiers who had served under Gustavus Adolphus.
The following are the German words which we have received in recent times:—. Hebrew Words. Abbot and abbey come from the Hebrew word abba , father; and such words as cabal and Talmud , though not found in the Old Testament, have been contributed by Jewish literature.
The following is a tolerably complete list:—. Other Foreign Words. There is hardly a port or a country in the world into which an English ship has not penetrated; and our commerce has now been maintained for centuries with every people on the face of the globe. We exchange goods with almost every nation and tribe under the sun. When we import articles or produce from abroad, we in general import the native name along with the thing. Hence it is that we have guano , maize , and tomato from the two Americas; coffee , cotton , and tamarind from Arabia; tea , congou , and nankeen from China; calico , chintz , and rupee from Hindostan; bamboo , gamboge , and sago from the Malay Peninsula; lemon , musk , and orange from Persia; boomerang and kangaroo from Australia; chibouk , ottoman , and tulip from Turkey.
The following are lists of these foreign words; and they are worth examining with the greatest minuteness:—. Admiral Milton writes ammiral. Scientific Terms. Thus we have telegraph and telegram ; photograph ; telephone and even photophone. The word dynamite is also modern; and the unhappy employment of it has made it too widely known. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , said to have been begun by King Alfred, and brought to a close in. Normandy lost under King John. Norman-English now have their only home in England, and use our English speech more and more. William Shakespeare carried the use of the English language to the greatest height of which it was capable.
He employed 15, words. The Prayer-Book revised and issued in its final form. The Distribution of Literature. The oldest way is, of course, by one person repeating a poem or other literary composition he has made to another; and thus literature is stored away, not upon book-shelves, but in the memory of living men.
Father chanted them to son; the sons to their sons; and so on from generation to generation. The next way of distributing literature is by the aid of signs called letters made upon leaves, flattened reeds, parchment, or the inner bark of trees. The next is by the help of writing upon paper. The last is by the aid of type upon paper. This has existed in England for more than four hundred years—since the year ; and thus it is that our libraries contain many hundreds of thousands of valuable books.
This defect can be remedied only by education—that is, by training the memories of the young. While we possess so many printed books, it must not be forgotten that many valuable works exist still in manuscript—written either upon paper or on parchment. Verse, the earliest form of Literature. The oldest books, too, are those which are written in verse. It is also from the strong creative power and the lively inventions of poets that we are even now supplied with new thoughts and new language—that the most vivid words and phrases come into the language; just as it is the ranges of high mountains that send down to the plains the ever fresh soil that gives to them their unending fertility.
And thus it happens that our present English speech is full of words and phrases that have found their way into the most ordinary conversation from the writings of our great poets—and especially from the writings of our greatest poet, Shakespeare. The fact that the life of prose depends for its supplies on the creative minds of poets has been well expressed by an American writer:—.
Our oldest English Poetry. The old English or Anglo-Saxon writers used a kind of rhyme called head-rhyme or alliteration ; while, from the fourteenth century downwards, our poets have always employed end-rhyme in their verses. Such was the rough old English form. At least three words in each long line were alliterative—two in the first half, and one in the second.
Different statements of the same fact, different phrases for the same thing—what are called parallelisms in Hebrew poetry—as in the line—. The author of it is unknown. It was probably composed in the fifth century—not in England, but on the Continent—and brought over to this island—not on paper or on parchment—but in the memories of the old Jutish or Saxon vikings or warriors.
It was not written down at all, even in England, till the end of the ninth century, and then, probably, by a monk of Northumbria. For about twelve years this monster had been in the habit of creeping up to the banqueting-hall of King Hrothgar, seizing upon his thanes, carrying them off, and devouring them. Beowulf attacks and overcomes the dragon, which is mortally wounded, and flees away to die.
The poem belongs both to the German and to the English literature; for it is written in a Continental English, which is somewhat different from the English of our own island. But its literary shape is, as has been said, due to a Christian writer of Northumbria; and therefore its written or printed form—as it exists at present—is not German, but English.
Parts of this poem were often chanted at the feasts of warriors, where all sang in turn as they sat after dinner over their cups of mead round the massive oaken table. The poem consists of lines, the rhymes of which are solely alliterative. The First Native English Poem. On the dark wind-swept cliff which rises above the little land-locked harbour of Whitby , stand the ruins of an ancient and once famous abbey. To this man came the gift of song, but somewhat late in life. And it came in this wise. One night, after a feast, singing began, and each of those seated at the table was to sing in his turn.
Caedmon was very nervous—felt he could not sing. Fear overcame his heart, and he stole quietly away from the table before the turn could come to him. He crept off to the cowshed, lay down on the straw and fell asleep. When he awoke, he remembered some of the lines that had come to him in sleep, and, being brought before Hilda, he recited them to her. The Abbess thought that this wonderful gift, which had come to him so suddenly, must have come from God, received him into the monastery, made him a monk, and had him taught sacred history.
It was written about the year ; and he died in It was read and re-read in manuscript for many centuries, but it was not printed in a book until the year The War-Poetry of England. The first belongs to the date ; the second to The song tells the story of the fight of King Athelstan with Anlaf the Dane. The speeches of the chiefs are given; the single combats between heroes described; and, as in Homer, the names and genealogies of the foremost men are brought into the verse.
The First English Prose. He spent most of his life at the famous monastery of Jarrow-on-Tyne. He spent his life in writing. His works, which were written in Latin, rose to the number of forty-five; his chief work being an Ecclesiastical History. But though Latin was the tongue in which he wrote his books, he wrote one book in English; and he may therefore be fairly considered the first writer of English prose. His disciple Cuthbert tells the story of his last hours.
When the last day came, all his scholars stood around his bed. It is a great pity that this translation—the first piece of prose in our language—is utterly lost. No MS. The Father of English Prose. But a change was not long in coming. Horde after horde of Danes swept down upon the coasts, ravaged the monasteries, burnt the books—after stripping the beautiful bindings of the gold, silver, and precious stones which decorated them—killed or drove away the monks, and made life, property, and thought insecure all along that once peaceful and industrious coast.
Literature, then, was forced to desert the monasteries of Northumbria, and to seek for a home in the south—in Wessex, the kingdom over which Alfred the Great reigned for more than thirty years. He himself wrote many books, or rather, he translated the most famous Latin books of his time into English. In these books he gave to his people, in their own tongue, the best existing works on history, geography, and philosophy.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. It is the historical work which is known as The Saxon Chronicle. It was written by a series of successive writers, all of whom were monks; but Alfred himself is said to have contributed to it a narrative of his own wars with the Danes. The Chronicle is found in seven separate forms, each named after the monastery in which it was written.
It was the newspaper, the annals, and the history of the nation. It is a valuable storehouse of historical facts; and it is also a storehouse of specimens of the different states of the English language—as regards both words and grammar—from the eighth down to the twelfth century. In fact, between the landing of the Normans and the fourteenth century, two things may be noted: first, that during this time—that is, for three centuries—the inflections of the oldest English are gradually and surely stripped off; and, secondly, that there is little or no original English literature given to the country, but that by far the greater part consists chiefly of translations from French or from Latin.
It was probably written about the year It is the oldest, purest, and most valuable specimen of thirteenth-century English, and it is also remarkable for its peculiar spelling. It is written in the purest English, and not five French words are to be found in the whole poem of twenty thousand short lines. Orm, in his spelling, doubles every consonant that has a short vowel before it; and he writes pann for pan , but pan for pane.
The following is a specimen of his poem:—. Other famous writers of English between this time and the appearance of Chaucer were Robert of Gloucester and Robert of Brunne , both of whom wrote Chronicles of England in verse. The opening of the fourteenth century saw the death of the great and able king, Edward I. This century saw also many striking events, and many still more striking changes. King Alfred has also been called by this name; but as the English written by Alfred was very different from that written by Mandeville,—the latter containing a large admixture of French and of Latin words, both writers are deserving of the epithet.
The most influential prose-writer was John Wyclif , who was, in fact, the first English Reformer of the Church. He introduced a large number of French words into our speech, such as cause , contrary , discover , quantity , and many hundred others. His works were much admired, read, and copied; indeed, hundreds of manuscript copies of his book were made. There are nineteen still in the British Museum. The book was not printed till the year —that is, twenty-five years after printing was introduced into this country. Many of the Old English inflexions still survive in his style. John Wyclif his name is spelled in about forty different ways — —was born at Hipswell, near Richmond, in Yorkshire, in the year , and died at the vicarage of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, in His fame rests on two bases—his efforts as a reformer of the abuses of the Church, and his complete translation of the Bible.
This work was finished in , just one year before his death.
Studies in English Medieval Language and Literature
But the translation was not done by himself alone; the larger part of the Old Testament version seems to have been made by Nicholas de Hereford. Though often copied in manuscript, it was not printed for several centuries. John Gower was a country gentleman of Kent. As Mandeville wrote his travels in three languages, so did Gower his poems. Almost all educated persons in the fourteenth century could read and write with tolerable and with almost equal ease, English, French, and Latin.
No manuscript of the first work is known to exist. William Langlande , a poet who used the old English head-rhyme, as Chaucer used the foreign end-rhyme, was born at Cleobury-Mortimer in Shropshire, in the year The date of his death is doubtful. His poem is called the Vision of Piers the Plowman ; and it is the last long poem in our literature that was written in Old English alliterative rhyme. From this period, if rhyme is employed at all, it is the end-rhyme, which we borrowed from the French and Italians. The poem has an appendix called Do-well, Do-bet, Do-best —the three stages in the growth of a Christian.
The English used in the Vision is the Midland dialect—much the same as that used by Chaucer; only, oddly enough, Langlande admits into his English a larger amount of French words than Chaucer. The poem is a distinct landmark in the history of our speech. The following is a specimen of the lines. There are three alliterative words in each line, with a pause near the middle—. He lived in the reigns of Edward III. His father was a vintner.
The name Chaucer is a Norman name, and is found on the roll of Battle Abbey. In , he was appointed gentleman-in-waiting valettus to Edward III. While on an embassy to Italy, he is reported to have met the great poet Petrarch, who told him the story of the Patient Griselda. In , he was made Comptroller of Customs in the great port of London—an office which he held till the year In that year he was elected knight of the shire—that is, member of Parliament for the county of Kent. From to was probably the best and most productive period of his life; for it was in this period that he wrote the House of Fame , the Legend of Good Women , and the best of the Canterbury Tales.
From to was spent in writing the other Canterbury Tales , ballads, and some moral poems. We see from his life—and it was fortunate for his poetry—that Chaucer had the most varied experience as student, courtier, soldier, ambassador, official, and member of Parliament; and was able to mix freely and on equal terms with all sorts and conditions of men, from the king to the poorest hind in the fields. He was a stout man, with a small bright face, soft eyes, dazed by long and hard reading, and with the English passion for flowers, green fields, and all the sights and sounds of nature.
It is a collection of stories written in heroic metre—that is, in the rhymed couplet of five iambic feet. The finest part of the Canterbury Tales is the Prologue ; the noblest story is probably the Knightes Tale. It is worthy of note that, in , when Chaucer was a very young man, the session of the House of Commons was first opened with a speech in English; and in the same year an Act of Parliament was passed, substituting the use of English for French in courts of law, in schools, and in public offices.
English had thus triumphed over French in all parts of the country, while it had at the same time become saturated with French words. In the year the Bible was translated into English by Wyclif. The grammar of his works shows English with a large number of inflexions still remaining. The pilgrims, thirty-two in number, are fully described—their dress, look, manners, and character in the Prologue. It had been agreed, when they met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, that each pilgrim should tell four stories—two going and two returning—as they rode along the grassy lanes, then the only roads, to the old cathedral city.
But only four-and-twenty stories exist. All the best poems and histories in Latin, French, and Italian were well known to Chaucer; and he borrows from them with the greatest freedom. He handles, with masterly power, all the characters and events in his Tales; and he is hence, beyond doubt, the greatest narrative poet that England ever produced. His poetry reads like history. John Barbour Barbour was of Norman blood, and wrote Northern English, or, as it is sometimes called, Scotch. He studied both at Oxford and at the University of Paris. His chief work is a poem called The Bruce.
The English of this poem does not differ very greatly from the English of Chaucer. As a Norman he was proud of the doings of Robert de Bruce, another Norman; and Barbour must often have heard stories of him in his boyhood, as he was only thirteen when Bruce died. The fifteenth century, a remarkable period in many ways, saw three royal dynasties established in England—the Houses of Lancaster, York, and Tudor. Five successful French campaigns of Henry V. The Wars of the Roses did not contribute anything to the prosperity of the century, nor could so unsettled and quarrelsome a time encourage the cultivation of literature.
For this among other reasons, we find no great compositions in prose or verse; but a considerable activity in the making and distribution of ballads. The ballad was everywhere popular; and minstrels sang them in every city and village through the length and breadth of England. The famous ballad of Chevy Chase is generally placed after the year , though it did not take its present form till the seventeenth century. It tells the story of the Battle of Otterburn, which was fought in This century was also witness to the short struggle of Richard III.
And, in , just at its close, the wonderful apparition of a new world—of The New World — rose on the horizon of the English mind, for England then first heard of the discovery of America. But, as regards thinking and writing, the fifteenth century is the most barren in our literature. It is the most barren in the production of original literature; but, on the other hand, it is, compared with all the centuries that preceded it, the most fertile in the dissemination and distribution of the literature that already existed.
For England saw, in the memorable year of , the establishment of the first printing-press in the Almonry at Westminster, by William Caxton. The two greatest names in literature in the fifteenth century are those of James I. Two followers of Chaucer, Occleve and Lydgate are also generally mentioned. Put shortly, one might say that the chief poetical productions of this century were its ballads ; and the chief prose productions, translations from Latin or from foreign works.
James I. He was born in Whilst on his way to France when a boy of eleven, he was captured, in time of peace, by the order of Henry IV. It was no great misfortune, for he received from Henry the best education that England could then give in language, literature, music, and all knightly accomplishments. The poem is written in a stanza of seven lines called Rime Royal ; and the style is a close copy of the style of Chaucer.
After reigning thirteen years in Scotland, King James was murdered at Perth, in the year William Caxton is the name of greatest importance and significance in the history of our literature in the fifteenth century. He was born in Kent in the year He was not merely a printer, he was also a literary man; and, when he devoted himself to printing, he took to it as an art, and not as a mere mechanical device. Caxton in early life was a mercer in the city of London; and in the course of his business, which was a thriving one, he had to make frequent journeys to the Low Countries.
Here he saw the printing-press for the first time, with the new separate types, was enchanted with it, and fired by the wonderful future it opened. It had been introduced into Holland about the year It produced in all sixty-four books, nearly all of them in English, some of them written by Caxton himself.
The Wars of the Roses ended in , with the victory of Bosworth Field. The first half of the sixteenth century saw the beginning of a new era in poetry; and the last half saw the full meridian splendour of this new era. The beginning of this era was marked by the appearance of Sir Thomas Wyatt , and of the Earl of Surrey The most important prose-writers of the first half of the century were Sir Thomas More , the great lawyer and statesman, and William Tyndale , who translated the New Testament into English.
In the latter half of the century, the great poets are Spenser and Shakespeare ; the great prose-writers, Richard Hooker and Francis Bacon. It is written in a plain, strong, nervous English style. His opinions on religion and the rule of the Catholic Church, compelled him to leave England, and drove him to the Continent in the year He lived in Hamburg for some time. With the German and Swiss reformers he held that the Bible should be in the hands of every grown-up person, and not in the exclusive keeping of the Church.
He accordingly set to work to translate the Scriptures into his native tongue. Two editions of his version of the New Testament were printed in He next translated the five books of Moses, and the book of Jonah. In he was brought to Antwerp, tried, condemned, led to the stake, strangled, and burned. The Work of William Tyndale.
It is written in the purest and simplest English; and very few of the words used in his translation have grown obsolete in our modern speech. The best features of the translation of are derived from the version of Tyndale. In , we find him settled in his native city, where his best friend was the gallant Sir Philip Sidney, who introduced him to his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, then at the height of his power and influence with Queen Elizabeth. For some years he resided at Kilcolman Castle, in county Cork, on an estate which had been granted him out of the forfeited lands of the Earl of Desmond.
In Spenser brought out the first three books of The Faerie Queene. The second three books of his great poem appeared in In deep distress of body and mind, he made his way to London, where he died—at an inn in King Street, Westminster, at the age of forty-six, in the beginning of the year He was buried in the Abbey, not far from the grave of Chaucer. The Faerie Queene is written in a nine-lined stanza, which has since been called the Spenserian Stanza. The first eight lines are of the usual length of five iambic feet; the last line contains six feet, and is therefore an Alexandrine.
Edited By Magdalena Bator and Jacek Fisiak
Character of the Faerie Queene. Spenser has not only been the delight of nearly ten generations; he was the study of Shakespeare, the poetical master of Cowley and of Milton, and, in some sense, of Dryden and Pope. Keats, when a boy, was never tired of reading him. His rhythm is singularly sweet and beautiful. It is a labyrinth of sweet sounds. Thus he has—.
His father, John Shakespeare, was a wool dealer and grower. In , at the age of twenty-two, he quitted his native town, and went to London. He was connected with the theatre for about five-and-twenty years; and so diligent and so successful was he, that he was able to purchase shares both in his own theatre and in the Globe. As an actor, he was only second-rate: the two parts he is known to have played are those of the Ghost in Hamlet , and Adam in As You Like It. In , at the early age of thirty-three, he was able to purchase New Place, in Stratford, and to rebuild the house.
In , at the age of forty-eight, he left London altogether, and retired for the rest of his life to New Place, where he died in the year His old father and mother spent the last years of their lives with him, and died under his roof. Shakespeare had three children—two girls and a boy. The boy, Hamnet, died at the age of twelve. The best of his rhymed poems are his Sonnets, in which he chronicles many of the various moods of his mind. The plays consist of tragedies, historical plays, and comedies.
He wrote in the reign of Elizabeth as well as in that of James; but his greatest works belong to the latter period. In the first place, Shakespeare has very many sides; and, in the second place, he is great on every one of them. He seems to have been master of all human experience; to have known the human heart in all its phases; to have been acquainted with all sorts and conditions of men—high and low, rich and poor; and to have studied the history of past ages, and of other countries.
He also shows a greater and more highly skilled mastery over language than any other writer that ever lived.
Language and Literature
The vocabulary employed by Shakespeare amounts in number of words to twenty-one thousand. The vocabulary of Milton numbers only seven thousand words. Shakespeare had also a marvellous power of making new phrases, most of which have become part and parcel of our language. Such phrases as every inch a king ; witch the world ; the time is out of joint , and hundreds more, show that modern Englishmen not only speak Shakespeare, but think Shakespeare. And he has not drawn his characters from England alone and from his own time—but from Greece and Rome, from other countries, too, and also from all ages.
He has written in a greater variety of styles than any other writer. This never is and never can be the case. Great genius is the possession, not of one man, but of several in a great age; and we do not find a great writer standing alone and unsupported, just as we do not find a high mountain rising from a low plain. The largest group of the highest mountains in the world, the Himalayas, rise from the highest table-land in the world; and peaks nearly as high as the highest—Mount Everest—are seen cleaving the blue sky in the neighbourhood of Mount Everest itself.
And so we find Shakespeare surrounded by dramatists in some respects nearly as great as himself; for the same great forces welling up within the heart of England that made him created also the others. Marlowe , the teacher of Shakespeare, Peele , and Greene , preceded him; Ben Jonson , Beaumont and Fletcher , Massinger and Ford , Webster , Chapman , and many others, were his contemporaries, lived with him, talked with him; and no doubt each of these men influenced the work of the others.
But the works of these men belong chiefly to the seventeenth century. We must not, however, forget that the reign of Queen Elizabeth—called in literature the Elizabethan Period —was the greatest that England ever saw,—greatest in poetry and in prose, greatest in thought and in action, perhaps also greatest in external events. Christopher Marlowe , the first great English dramatist, was born at Canterbury in the year , two months before the birth of Shakespeare himself.
After leaving the university, he came up to London and wrote for the stage. He seems to have led a wild and reckless life, and was stabbed in a tavern brawl on the 1st of June His style is one of the greatest vigour and power: it is often coarse, but it is always strong. He received his education at Westminster School. It is said that, after leaving school, he was obliged to assist his stepfather as a bricklayer; that he did not like the work; and that he ran off to the Low Countries, and there enlisted as a soldier.
On his return to London, he began to write for the stage. In he was created Poet-Laureate. By the kind aid of Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, he was sent to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as a hard-working student, and especially for his knowledge of Hebrew. In he entered the Church. In the same year he made an imprudent marriage with an ignorant, coarse, vulgar, and domineering woman. He was appointed Master of the Temple in ; but, by his own request, he was removed from that office, and chose the quieter living of Boscombe, near Salisbury.
Here he wrote the first four books of his famous work, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity , which were published in the year In he was translated to the living of Bishopsborne, near Canterbury. His death took place in the year The complete work, which consisted of eight books, was not published till All things in heaven and earth do her homage; the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power: both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all, with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.
The year after, he produced his Apologie for Poetrie. His policy as a statesman was to side with Protestant rulers, and to break the power of the strongest Catholic kingdom on the Continent—the power of Spain. In the Queen sent him to the Netherlands as governor of the important fortress of Flushing.
He was mortally wounded in a skirmish at Zutphen; and as he was being carried off the field, handed to a private the cup of cold water that had been brought to quench his raging thirst. He died of his wounds on the 17th of October One of his friends wrote of him:—. He is fond of using personifications. The rhythm of his sentences is always melodious, and each of them has a very pleasant close. The First Half. The Spanish Armada had been defeated in ; the Spanish power had gradually waned before the growing might of England; and it could be said with perfect truth, in the words of Shakespeare:—.
The country was at peace; and every peaceful art and pursuit prospered. As one sign of the great prosperity and outstretching enterprise of commerce, we should note the foundation of the East India Company on the last day of the year The reign of James I. The two greatest prose-writers of the first half of the seventeenth century were Raleigh and Bacon ; the two greatest poets were Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.
Sir Walter Raleigh He was sent to Oriel College, Oxford; but he left at the early age of seventeen to fight on the side of the Protestants in France. From that time his life is one long series of schemes, plots, adventures, and misfortunes—culminating in his execution at Westminster in the year His life and adventures belong to the sixteenth; his works to the seventeenth century.
His style is calm, noble, and melodious. The following is the last sentence of the History of the World :—. Francis Bacon , one of the greatest of English thinkers, and one of our best prose-writers, was born at York House, in the Strand, London, in the year At the early age of twelve he was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, and remained there for three years. Original poetry, prose, photography and visual art from all corners of campus fill the pages of Soundings, a literary and visual arts journal celebrating creative excellence.
Students volunteer their gifts and abilities to edit, design and publish the annual journal. The committee leads fundraising events, encourages submissions and promotes the publication. The environment was conducive to both scholarship and community. Sigma Tau Delta conferences and capstone projects really prepared me for presenting in academic contexts. Some students choose law or graduate school after graduation, while others jump right into their careers.
Wherever you want to go, OC will help you get there! Eagle Spotlight Each year, my writing developed on grammatical and analytical levels. Ian Jayne.