tion, either followed some system of his own, dependent upon artifices which, at this distance, we cannot appreciate, - which, at any rate, we have not yet discovered, or, which is probable, that he had no system of verse, but simply broke up his matter into short lines, like the original which he was translating, and that in so doing, he occasionally adopted both its metre and its rhyme. Though thus without any discoverable, or recognized, system of versification, the Brutus of Layamou has no little of poetic fire. The passage which is quoted at the end of this chapter contains something more than the creeping lines of a mere chronicler. It is the work of a creative imagination. It has the ring of true poetry.

Linguistic Value of the Chronicle. — The linguistic value of Layamon's Brutus is very great. The Chronicle is considerable in amount, numbering 32,250 lines; and it shows us the condition of the language in that interesting and curious transition stage, about midway between the pure old Saxon and the established modern English, having as yet adopted almost no Norman or Latin words, less than one hundred in the whole work, but having already lost the greater part of the Saxon grammatical inflections.

The Ormulum. The Ormulum is so called from its author, Orm, as he himself says, in the opening couplet:

This bóc is nemned Ormulum,
Forthy that Orm it wrote.

History of the Ormulum. - The history of this work is rather curious. Only a single manuscript copy exists, and that apparently the original copy or autograph of the author. It was found at the Hague, in Holland, in 1659, among the books of the deceased book-collector, Van Vliet, and was purchased by the eminent scholar, Francis Junius, and by him was bequeathed, among other treasures, to the Bodleian Library, at Oxford. It was supposed by Van Vliet to be an old Gothic or Swedish manuscript. As it is not broken up into verses, it was supposed to be in prose, until 1775, when Tyrwhitt discovered that it was in verse. Since the announcement of this discovery, the Ormulum has attracted increasing attention, as an important document in early English literature; and finally, in 1852, it was printed in handsome style by the Oxford University press, under the editorial care of Dr. White, formerly Professor of Anglo-Saxon in that University.

Subject of the Ormulum. - The Ormulum is a series of Homilies, the subjects of the homilies being those portions of the New Testament appointed to be read in the daily mass service of the church. The writer, Orm, first gives a paraphrastic version of the gospel for the day; changing freely, and adding to, the matter, so as to suit his verse. He then adds an exposition.

Date of the Ormulum. - The Ormulum was written somewhere in the early part of the thirteenth century, a little later than the Brutus of Layamon, perhaps about the year 1220.

Diction of the Ormulum. - The Ormulim, like the Brutus of Layamon, has almost no Norman-French words. It shows the language in that state in which the old Saxon inflections are nearly gone, the grammatical structure being almost

identical with modern English, but foreign words have not yet begun to intrude themselves. Ninety-seven per cent. of the words, according to Prof. Marsh, are of Saxop origin.

Versification of the Ormulum. — The verse, in the Ormulum, does not rhyme, nor has it the Saxon alliteration, but it is metrical throughout, and consists . of couplets, arranged in lines alternately of eight syllables and seven syllables, the first line having four exact iambics, and the second having three iambics with an additional short syllable. Thus:

| Now bröth čr Wält er, broth ěr min, I

Aftör | the lesh bs kind,ẻ.* This metrical construction is so thoroughly maintained that the ear soon unconsciously waits for and recognizes the line pausus, with the same feeling of pleased expectancy with which in rhyming verse we wait for the rhyme. It is a peculiar and not unpleasing form of blank verse.

The Ancren Riwle. The title, Ancren Riwle, means “Anchoresses' Rule," Ancren being the abbreviated form of the old genitive “Ancrena," and Riwle being the old spelling for “Rule.”

Object of the Work. — The Ancren Riwle is a treatise on the duties of the monastic life, written by an ecclesiastic, apparently one in high authority, for the direction of three ladies, to whom it is addressed, and who, with their domestic servants, or lay sisters, formed the entire community of a religious house.

Date of the Work. — The composition of the Ancren Riwle is referred to the same date as the Ormulum, possibly a little later. The year 1225 is given as a probable conjecture. It is interesting as an extended specimen of prose of the same period with the two poetical works already noticed.

Its Diction. — The Ancren Riwle has a larger percentage of Latin words than either of the two works before mentioned. This is easily explained. All the rules of the monastic orders, and most of the treatises then extant on religious topics, were in Latin. An ecclesiastic, composing a work in English for the direction of a company of ladies wishing to lead a recluse life, would naturally use occasionally the Latin terms with which he was most familiar. In other respects, the language is very much the same as in Layamon and the Ormulum.

The work was printed for the Camden Society, in 1853.

Robert of Gloucester. At the distance of nearly a century from Layamon, is a rhyming Chronicler, Robert of Gloucester. All we know of him is that he was a monk of Gloucester Abbey, and as

• See Hart's Composition and Rhetoric; subject, Versification, pp. 218, 219.

he alludes to events which occurred in 1297, he must have written, or at least finished, his Chronicle after that date.

Character of the Work. — Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle is a versified history of British affairs, from the imaginary Brutus of Troy down to the death of Henry III., A. D. 1272. The first part is a translation from Geoffrey of Monmouth. In later portions of his Chronicle he draws upon more trustworthy sources, and consequently his work has some value as history, particularly that describing the events and the social condition of England in the thirteenth century.

Its Versification. -- It is written for the most part in Alexandrine metre, or iambic twelve-syllable rhyming couplets. Sometimes the lines run into fourteen syllables.

Its Diction. - The language shows great advance from the documents previously described, and requires almost no change to be intelligible to the modern reader. The proportion of Romance, or Norman-French, words is about five per cent.

The Chronicle was printed in 1724, and again reprinted in 1810.

Robert of Brunne.

At the distance of nearly half a century from Robert of Gloucester, is Robert Manning, generally called, from his birthplace, Robert of Brunne. His Chronicle was finished in the


1338. Furthor Particulars. - Robert of Brunne's Chronicle is the most voluminous work extant in the English of this period. It gives a rhyming history of England from Brutus of Troy down to the death of Edward I., A. D. 1307. The first part, from Brutus to Cadwalader, A. D. 689, is a translation of Wace's Brutus, and is, like it, in eightsyllable rhyming couplets. The remaining portion is a translation from a contemporary Norman-French chronicle, and is, like it, in Alexandrian, or twelve - syllable rhyming couplets. It shows some advance, both in language and in poetical merit, upon its predecessors.

The Metrical Romance. The essential feature of the Metrical Romance was a tale of love and adventure, told in verse.

Origin of the Romance. – Metrical romances were first brought into England by the Normans. Works of this kind were immensely popular, both in France and England. At length, when the govern

ing race in England began to use the language of their adopted country, similar romances in English were composed for their amusement. These were imitations or translations from the Norman-French, and so little did the translators contribute to them of their own invention, that the names even of the authors have not come down to us.

Period of the Metrical Romance. - The Metrical Romance began as early as A. D. 1200, about the time of Layamon's Brutus. It flourished to some extent during the thirteenth century, but the time of its greatest ascendency was in the fourteenth. After A. D. 1400, it began to wane, and finally it gave way to the prose romance, and then disappeared altogether for more than three hundred years, when it was for a time quiekened into new life, though in a different form, by Sir Walter Scott.

The Chronicle and the Romance Compared. - The names, countries, persons, events, and so on, which are found in the Chronicle, are found also in the Romance. But the latter, instead of containing merely a dry succession of events, breathes in each case the spirit of the age in which it was written, which was pre-eminently the age of adventure. The subjects indeed were various : sometimes the siege of Troy ; sometimes the deeds of Arthur and Merlin, long before the coming of the Romans; sometimes the exploits of King Alexander, or of Charlemagne. But the time, the scene, the persons, made little difference in the character of the poem. Whatever was the name, date, or place of the events described, the real subjects were always a tale of love, an adventure for the true faith, a tournament, a troubadour, a Christian kpight, a pagan foe. In form and in name, the romances were based upon the legendary chronicles of the monks and the rhymers, but in reality they were poetical portraitures of the state of society in which they were produced.

Why Anonymous. — The interest of these works is in the story, and that was of Norman-French origin. The English translators thought so little of their own labors as not even to affix their names to their works. Nor is the English dress which was given them of a character to entitle it to any special consideration. This general review, therefore, is all that seems to be required.

Names of the Most Celebrated. – The names of some of the most celebrated of these Romances are Sir Tristram, King Horn, Sir Harelok, Sir Guy, The Squire of Low Degree, King Robert of Sicily, King Alisander, The King of Tars, The Death of Arthur, The Soudan of Damascus, etc. Most of them have been printed.

[ocr errors]

King Arthur's Dream.

The Same Modernized.
To niht a mine slepe,

To-night in my sleep, Ther ich laei on bure,

Where I lay in bower, Me imaette a sweven;

Me befel a dream; Ther vore ich ful sari aem. Therefor I full sorry am. Me imaette that mon me hof Me befel that men me hove (raised]

Uppen are halle.

Upon airy hall.
Tha halle ich gon bestriden, The hall I gan bestride,
Swulc ich wolde riden.

So as I would ride.
Alle tha lond tha ich ah, All the land that I owed [owned),
Alle ich ther over sah.

All I there oversaw. And Walwain sat bivoren me; And Walwain sat before me; Mi sweord he bar an honde. My sword he bore in hand. Tha com Modred faren ther Then came Modred 2 to fare there Mid un-imete volke.

With unmeasured folk. He bar an his honde

He bare in his hand Ane wiax stronge.

An axe strong. He bigon to hewene

He began to hew Hardliche swithe,

Hard-like very, And tha postes for-heou alle And the posts through-hewed all Tha heolden up the halle. That held up the hall. Ther ich isey Wenheuer eke, There I saw Guinever 3 eke, Wimmonen leofuest me:

Of women lovedest to me: Al there muche halle rof

All the much hall roof Mid hire honden heo to-droh. With her hands she down-drew. Tha halle gon to haelden, The hall began to tumble, And ich haeld to grunden, And I tumbled to ground, That mi riht aerm to-brac. That my right arm brake. Tha seide Modred, Have that! Then said Modred, Have that! Adun veol tha halle,

Adown fell the hall, And Walwain gon to valle,

And Walwain gan fall,
A feol a there eorthe;

And fell on the earth;
His aermes brekeen beine. His arms broken both.
And ich igrap mi sweord leofe And I griped my sword loved
Mid mire leoft honde,

With my left hand,
And smaet of Modred is haft, And smote off Modred his head,
That hit wond a there veld; That it wended on the field;
And tha quene ich al to-snathde, And the queen I all snedded,
Mid deore mine sweorde, With my dear sword,
And seodthen ich heo adun sette And thereafter I her adown set
In ane swarte putte.

In a black pit. And al mi volc riche

And all my rich folk
Sette to fleme,

Set to flight,
That nuste ich under Criste That ne-wist I under Christ

1 His armor-bearer.

2 His mortal foe. 3 The Queen, who seemed in the dream to be in conspiracy with Modred against him. 4 Cut to pieces.


« VorigeDoorgaan »