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Provence arose with their legends and romances in the south; but from the time of the Conquest their occupations were little different from those of the gleemen.* It is true that the Normans introduced a more lively and romantic poetry, and had in some measure caught the spirit of the troubadours, but the verse of the period still extant consists chiefly of rhyming chronicles and scriptural paraphrases; the minstrels had ceased to rely upon their own imagination, they had lost their sturdy superstition, and became little better than tame imitators, pouring forth long poems, the incidents of which they collected from such historical legends as fell within their reach.

The prevalence of the French language amongst the Norman nobility, and its introduction into the court, tended to bring the old Anglo-Saxon tongue into disrepute, and the policy of the conquerors threatened to exterminate it entirely. But it is as difficult to work an immediate revolution in the language as in the manners of a nation; or (apart from national prejudices in favor of an old dialect) to teach a people a new tongue, without some extraordinary facilities for instructing them. The learned and the courtly composed either in the Norman French, or the language of romance; and as their performances were highly esteemed, so many of them have been

*The Norman minstrels divided the practice of their art into many branches, and distinguished its professors by different names, as "rimours, chanterres, contours, jouglours, jestours, lecours, and troubadours or trouveurs." Of these the trouveurs and contours composed the subjects they sung or related, and the jouglours and chanterres used the productions of others. The trouveurs, embellished their productions with rhyme, while the contours related their histories in prose.

preserved. But there were other poets among the people, who had no higher aim or abilities than to amuse the mass of their countrymen; and they sang their humble but national ballads in popular accents, with an occasional inspiration, which, notwithstanding their fugitive character, has rescued many of their rhymes from oblivion.

In the course of time however the Saxon and Norman languages gradually blended into one, and then was formed the basis of the English which is now spoken; although by a better acquaintance with ancient as well as with the modern literature of foreign countries, it has from time to time received additions from many sources, and attained a comprehensiveness and vigor, a power and a delicacy which it wanted at its origin, and which nothing but time and circumstance could have matured. New sentiments or more refined reasoning have suggested or required the adoption of new expressions, and poetry, as well as the more precise necessities of science and philosophy, has gradually introduced an improvement into the language of which at first it seemed scarcely susceptible; for though nervous it was rude, and though expressive yet limited.

The Crusades, arousing as they did the spirit of adventure, and the love of what was marvellous and exciting, gave rise to a flood of poetry in which the gallantry and extravagant heroism of the age appear in glowing colors. The dull and tedious rhyming chronicles

that were before popular at once gave way to more exuberant fancies. The minstrels were breathing of action, they selected monarchs and warriors for their heroes: Charlemagne and Roland, Arthur and Merlin, Godfrey and Solyman, were favorites of their muse, and even the legends of ancient mythology furnished them with subjects. All was tinged with the religious and warlike enthusiasm of the times. Their characters were as devout as valiant, and their gallantry to the fair sex almost fantastic. They were the heroes of the bower as well as of the field; and whether delivering virgins from giants or monsters, from enchanters or infidels, were always jealous of their renown, and as tender to female delicacy, as they were fearless of danger and anxious for combat. These romances were prolix, and occasionally tedious, teeming with the superstitious feeling of the age. Their authors had more fancy than learning, and would clothe the renowned of classic times with the manners, and endue them with the feelings of their own. This inconsistency is often sufficiently ridiculous, and is very apparent in the many productions of the minstrels which have been handed down to modern times. In better taste, and with more unity of purpose, we have seen their style successfully imitated and embellished by Sir Walter Scott and other poets of the present age.

The eign of chivalry, fantastic as it may have been, forms a history of itself; and however wild the spirit which gave rise to the institution, its effects were con

siderable. It soon spread over Europe, and aroused a more generous and enlightened sentiment than had previously existed. The poetry to which it gave birth was courted throughout the more civilized countries, and in the early part of the fourteenth century aroused the sublime genius of Dante, the tender delicacy of Petrarch, and the warm imagination of Boccacio-circumstances necessary to be remembered for it was the works of these three distinguished authors of Italy that gave a tone to the conception of Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of the English muse, the earliest of our national poets, who wove our newly formed language into the measures of verse, and rejecting the extravagances of the French romancers, wrote with a system and precision, and at the same time with a vigor that was foreign to their works.

Our earliest specimen of Saxon poetry is a fragment by Cadmon,* a monk of Whitby, which is preserved in the works of King Alfred. The poet, who was an unlearned man, paraphrased in rude but powerful verse such part of the scripture as he had gathered from the recitation of the the ecclesiastics. The venerable Bede, renowned for his learning and piety, who lived in the eighth century, composed a History of England and many other works in Latin, as was customary in the early ages when readers were few and learned, and authors looked for renown amongst the celebrated of other lands as well as their own. Alfred the Great translated Bede's History and other books

*Cædmon lived about 670.

into Anglo-Saxon, and there are examples of poetry in that language during the ninth century full of the wild and irregular imagination which is peculiarly adapted to the unfanciful yet superstitious minds of a generous but unlearned people.*

In the time of the Normans we have Wace, who translated into French the Brut of Geoffrey of Monmouth; Layamon, a priest, who translated Wace into the popular language of the period; Robert of Gloucester, the rhyming historian of Lear, Merlin, and Arthur ; Robert De Brunne, the Chronicler; Lawrence Minot, famed for his battle songs; and Langlande, the author of the Visions of Piers Plowman. Yet these were but

unworthy precursors of Chaucer. Their poetry was generally vague, tedious, and obscure, their language harsh and unsettled; their fancies weak and uncertain; they had little of that sterling truth or glowing imagination which is requisite, in all ages and under all circumstances, to render verse lasting and impressive. Chaucer, when he came, rose like a superior power, to claim the desecrated temples from which poetry had fled; he was one to whose searching glance the mystery of human motive lay bare and plain, and he could appreciate the beautiful in nature and the great in man. "He has been likened to the spring, and has been called the day star of English poetry, he was a sun whom no star

* The reader is referred to the notes at the end of the volume for a translation of a Saxon ode on a victory of King Athelstan in the year 938.

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