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in a modern poet would be intolerable prolixness and pedantry. Now it seems to us that the explanation of this is what we have stated; namely, that at the period of the revival of letters in Europe, information, and especially information connected with the history of literature, was so precious, that for a poet to exhibit the extent of his reading in his verses was deemed a perfectly legitimate mode of exciting interest. At such a period, for a poet to permit himself such digressions and long parenthetical passages as those which critics have sometimes found fault with in Chaucer, was to act under one of the most profound feelings of the time, veneration for books and reading; it was to disseminate in an agreeable manner, information deemed rare and valuable. On the same principle it is, that we would explain and vindicate another habit of Chaucer and his poetical contemporaries; the habit, namely, of borrowing sentences and passages from other authors. Numerous instances might be pointed out, in which Chaucer has translated passages from the classics, the romancists, and his great Italian predecessors into his own productions, not to mention those in which he has availed himself merely in a general way of what such writers had done, as for example, when he borrows the plot of a tale from Boccaccio. The fact is, that at that time, a thought, a sentiment, a plot, an image, a description, were all precious to the poet, whencesoever obtained; and that the duty of repeating or translating the fine passages of another author, was more strongly felt than the desire of being original. We remark, in the second place, a peculiar largeness, if we may so express it, about Chaucer's poetry, as if it were written not for men of ordinary stature or moderns, but for giants, or leisurely antediluvians. There is no haste about it, no literary eagerness, no deference to a standard of length or proportion, no subordination of parts to the whole; all is slow, calm, arbitrary, immense, as if an Egyptian temple were a-building. If the grief of a child parting from her parents is described, it is done on a scale so large and colossal as literally to fulfil the poet's own hyperbole in the ‘Man of Law's Tale:
‘s trow, at Troy, when Pyrrhus brake the wall
Perhaps the special manifestation of this largeness which will most readily strike a reader of Chaucer, is his fondness for minute and elaborate descriptions of scenery, ceremonials, &c. This characteristic may have been in some degree a constitutional peculiarity of Chaucer; we think, however, it may be referred to more general causes. In the age of manuscripts, when a reader could not turn as he pleased from one composition to another, what was written, behoved to be leisurely enjoyed; and the description of a wedding-procession in twenty stanzas, or of an arbor of honeysuckle in six, was less an offence against the feeling of proportion than it would be now. It is remarkable, however, that we do not observe this arbitrariness in the writings of the classics, whose circumstances were so far the same. The reason probably is, that in Chaucer's age the whole process of expressing one's thoughts and feelings in written language was more a mystery; so that it would have appeared more ungracious to interfere with the liberty of an author to gratify his own tastes as to what parts of his composition he should bestow most pains upon. Reviewing had not yet become a craft; and men still used the large incorrect utterance of the early gods. And with regard to Chaucer's attentiveness to the minutiae of external appearances, this appears to have belonged essentially to the spirit of his age, the age of chivalry and heraldry. We are tempted to assert that if a list of all the greatest poets of the world, from Homer downwards, were made out, it would be possible to show in their cases that this feeling of interest in the appearances of inanimate nature has undergone a series of marked modifications in the different ages of the world's progress. To extend the same remark, let us add that there could not in our opinion be a more interesting speculation than that which would arise from viewing the six or seven great poets whom the world has produced, purely in their connexion with their respective ages, with the endeavor to expiscate their profound characteristic differences, and thus to arrive at some feasible law of human development, according to which the great poets of different ages might be exhibited as constituting a natural series of Pythagorean transmutations or Hindoo avatars.
Our third remark is one concerning that naïveté and quaintness of expression, which delight us in Chaucer and other old writers, whether of prose or verse. These are to be accounted for, partly by the fact that the modes of thinking of people in those times were really different from ours, that aspects of things which were then common have now become unfamiliar; but partly also, we conceive, by the fact that at the time when such authors wrote, there was no established literary idiom. At the present day any one, with a little practice, may express himself tolerably upon paper, his memory being stocked with phrases and clumps of words which have for many years done service in print, so that they have been worn quite smooth. It is different when one tries to express himself in writing for the first time. However fluent in oral discourse such a person may be, the work of expression with the pen will be difficult to him; every phrase excogitated will be a victory, every sentence a conquest. Hence the naïveté so often remarked in the epistolary performances of illiterate persons. Now in the age of Chaucer, writers had the same difficult task to go through; they had to drive the plough of their ideas through the stubborn soil of an unformed language. And therefore it is that the word naïveté becomes less applicable to the productions of English writers after the age of Shakespeare; while it continues applicable to those of Scottish writers to a later period.
From the Athenaeum.
POPULAR SUPERSTITIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES.
Essays on Subjects connected with the Lit. erature, Popular Superstitions, and History of England in the Middle Ages. By Thomas Wright, M. A. 2 vols. J. R. Smith.
These volumes, as Mr. Wright informs us, are published with the view of spreading “a more general taste for the study of the literature and history of our forefathers in the Middle Ages;” and, in prosecution of this plan, the earlier portion of the work is devoted to “a popular view of the character of the literature of our island during the 12th and 13th centuries,” while the second part consists of essays on popular mythology and superstitions, on the history of romance, the transmission of popular
stories, on the Robin Hood ballads, and on our political songs. Here is a tolerably extensive bill of fare;—the promise is good, let us look at the performance. The first essay belongs to a period centuries earlier than the one specified; for it traces the progress of Anglo-Saxon poetry, and gives a few extracts from Caedmon, and that noble poem, “Beowulf.” The next should rather have been entitled notices of the French jongleurs, than “Anglo-Norman Poetry,” since, while we have only a line or two from Wace, and a few couplets from Benoit St. More—these originally appeared in Mr. Turner's History of England, and have done duty in some dozen works since —while, too, we have not a single notice of Marie of France, of Denis Pyramus, or Waddington, all affording illustrations, not only of the Anglo-Norman school of poetry, but, more valuable by far, of English opinions and manners, - we have an account of an old romance about Charlemagne—(what did Saxons, or even Anglo-Normans, care about him, when they had their own King Arthur to boast of 2)—together with some Middle-Age tales, which are tolerably well known already, and several extracts from the verses of a jongleur, named Rutebeuf, who, as he resided at Paris, and described French manners, could scarcely be expected to throw much light upon English. As Wace, admirable and characteristic a trouvère as he is, had been passed over in this chapter, we thought that in the following essay, devoted to “the historical romances of the Middle Ages,” amends might be made to him, more especially as some portions of his Brüt d'Angleterre' illustrate both our popular traditions and our mediaeval usages; but no-with a perverse partiality for French illustrations, Mr. Wright commences with the epitome of a “roman,” entitled ‘Garin de Lorrain.” In its place, this may doubtless be considered a valuable relic of French popular literature; but to pass over the numerous Anglo-Norman remains, written by Englishmen, or at least residents in England, and celebrating the deeds of British heroes, for a story about King Thierry, and King Pepin, is a strange sort of illustration. In his next specimen, Mr. Wright at length comes upon English ground, in the story of King Horn, although, singularly enough, he begins with the later French version, and then turns to the old original English. And this is all ! Without noticing one of the numerous romances about Arthur, without even mention
ing those curious ones relating to “King Alysaundre,'—both classes so popular among our forefathers, the essay, bearing the interesting title of “Chansous de Geste, or Historical Romances,” concludes.
With the same strange love for the soreign, | rather than the indigenous, Mr. Wright, in his next essay, “On Proverbs and Popular Sayings,” actually travels to Bayeux, in company with M. Plaquet, to bring back the important information, that to find a horseshoe is lucky; that thirteen persons at dinner is unlucky; and that “Little and little makes mickle” is a proverb common both to Normandy and England. Now, as during this period much Oriental knowledge, in the form of tales, circulated throughout Europe, we surely need not be surprised that the same proverbs and popular sayings are found amongst the people both in France and England.
As to the notion of thirteen being an unlucky number, we believe it to have arisen from the recollection that, including Judas, the number of the apostles would be thirteen. It is true that a successor was not appointed until after his death, and that subsequently a second was called; but we must bear in mind, that Scriptural knowledge was very confused in those ages, and men accustomed to the phrase of “the twelve blessed Apostles,” and yet equally accustomed to view Judas the traitor as one of them, might free themselves from the difficulty by believing him to have been the thirteenth—a belief quite sufficient to account for the actual alarm with which our fathers viewed thirteen at table.*
In regard to proverbs, although many af. ford even valuable illustrations of national character and popular usages, yet most of them are the result of common observation on common affairs. “Every bird loves its own nest,” “Strike the iron while it is hot,” and such like, are figures which must occur to every one who had seen a bird's nest, or a smith's forge. Such, therefore, are scarcely worth the tracing from one language to another. The essay on the Latin poetry of the 12th century, although of but little interest to the general reader, is at least not out of place, which is more than can be said of “Abelard and the Scholastic Philosophy.”
In his essay on Grimm's German Mythology—(why could not Mr. Wright give us an essay on English mythology?)—he labors earnestly to prove that “much of the popular mythology of the French was probably, as we suspect also is the case with that of the Sotch, Welsh and Irish, essentially Teutonic.” Now, we should think that as Britain was colonized by the Celts long ere any of the Teutonic tribes set a foot on the land, our most ancient and most widely diffused superstitions would of necessity be Celtic. And so they are—even by Mr. Wright's showing. The worship of trees, the keeping watch beside wells, both obtained among the earliest inhabitants; and these are among the most ancient of superstitions, brought, not improbably from the East, by the Celtic tribes in their earliest migration from thence. The following appears in a Saxon homily against witchcrast,--it is curious :—
“‘We are ashamed,’ says the writer, ‘to tell all the scandalous divinations that every man useth through the devil's teaching, either in taking a wise, or in going a journey, or in brewing, or at the asking of something when he begins any thing, or when anything is born to him.’ And again, “Some men are so blind, that they bring their offerings to immoveable rocks, and also to trees, and to wells, as witches teach, and will not understand how foolishly they do, or how the lifeless stone or the dumb tree may help them, or heal them, when they themselves never stir from the place.” “Moreover,’ he goes on to say, ‘many a silly woman goes to the meeting of ways, and draweth her child through the earth, and so gives to the devil both herself and her offspring.” In fact, as the same early writer observes, ‘Every one who trusts in divinations either '. fowls, or by sneezings, or by horses, or by dogs, he is no Christian, but a notorious apostate.’”
The following extract, too, from a Latin Penitentialia in the British Museum, is also worthy notice; not as proving the Teutonic source of these forbidden acts, but their purely Oriental origin:"—
* We might offer also another solution. Until Judas went out, there were, including “the master of the feast," exactly thirteen at the Last Sup
* Most of the acts mentioned here will be sound among the decrees of various continental councils of a still earlier period. One of these gives the substance of the second paragraph, in the followinz terms: “Let no woman boast that she rides by night with the Lady Hera or Benzoria, with an innumerable multitude, for this is an illusion of the demon.” This sanciful belief was linked with a wild fable, which still more proves its oriental derivation. It was, that this “innumerable company” were always bound to Palestine; for she among them who should first dip her hands in Jordan would become mustress of the world.
“He who endeavors by any incantation or magic to take away the stores of milk, or honey, or other things, belonging to another and to acquire them himself—He who, deceived by the illusion of hobgoblins, believes and confesses that he goes or rides in the com.
any of her whom the foolish peasantry call !. or Diana, and with immense multitude, and that he obeys her commands—He who prepares with three knives in the com: É. of persons, that they may predestine
appiness to children who are going to be born there.—He who makes his offering to a tree, or to water, or to any, thing, except, a church.-They who follow the custom of the
agans in inquiring into the future by magical incontations on the first of January, or begin works on that day, as though they would on that account prosper better the whole year.— They who make ligatures or incantations and various fascinations with magical charms, and hide them in the grass, or in a tree, or in the path, for the preservation of their cattle.—He who places his child on t'oe roof or in a surnace for the recovery of his health, or for this purpose uses any charms or characters, or magical figunents, or any art, unless it be holy prayers, or the liberal art of medicine.—He who shall say any charm in the collecting of medicinal herbs, except such as the paternoster and the credo.”
Now, the very names in the second paragraph, “Herodias, or Diana,” disprove the Tuetonic theory. It is curious, however, thus to trace the first beginning of that strange notion, to which, in the 16th and 17th centuries, so many an old woman fell a victim; and how, in the lapse of ages, the company of wild and joyous spirits, presided over by “the lady Diana” herself, degenerated into a squalid troop of witches, mounted on their broomsticks.
The English fairies, according to Mr. Wright, are of Teutonic origin; notwithstanding that he acknowledges Giraldus Cambrensis, to whom we are chiefly indebted for these tales, to have considered them as British. Here is one of his stories of a species of Puck:
“These hobgoblins sometimes appeared visibly; and one in Pembrokeshire, where they were very common, took up his abode in the house of one Elidor Stakepole, in the form of a red boy, who called himself Simon. Master Simon began, “impudently,’ says our au thor—hy taking the keys from the butler, and usurping his office. so provident a butler, that, while he held the office, every thing seemed to prosper. He never waited to be told to do any thing; but whatever his master or mistress were thinking of calling for, he brought it immediately, saying, ‘You want so and so; here it is.” More
However, he was himself
over, he know all about their money and their secret hoards; and often did he upbraid them on that account, for he hated nothing more than avarice, and he could not bear to see money laid up in holes which might be employed in good and charitable uses. There was nothing, on the contrary, he liked better than giving plenty to eat and drink to the rustics; and he used to tell his master, that it was right he should be sree in giving to them those things which by their labors he himself obtained. Indeed, Simon was an excellent servant: but he had one sailing, he never went to church, and he never uttered a single ‘Catholic word” (no c verbum aliquid Catholicum unquam promunciabat). One remarkable thing was, that he never slept in the house at night, though he was always at his post by daybreak. Once, however, he was watched, and sound to take op his lodging about the mill and the milldam. The next morning Simon came to his master, delivered up his keys, and left the house, after having filled the post of builer for about forty days. (Girald. Cam. Itin. lib. i. pp. 832, 853.)”
Here is another story, from the manuscript chronicle about the beginning of the thirteenth century, of Ralph, of Coggeshall :—
“During the reign of the first Richard, there appeared frequently, and for a long space of time, in the house of Sir Oshern de Bradwell, at Dagworth in Suffolk, ‘a certain fantastical spirit,” who conversed with the family of the aforesaid knight, always imitating the voice of an insant. He called himself Malkin; and he said that his mother and brother dwelt in a neighboring house, and that they often chided him because he had left them and had presumed to hold converse with mankind. The things which he did and said were both wonderful and very laughable, and he often told people's secrets. At first the family of the knight were extremely terrified, but by degrees they became used to him, and conversed familiarly with him. With the family he spoke English ; and that, too, in the |...}. of the place; but he was by no means deficient in learning; for, when the chaplain made his appearance, he talked in Latin with persect ease, and discoursed with him upon the Scriptures. He made himself heard and felt too, readily enough, but he was never seen but once. It seems that he was most attached to one of the female part of the family, a fair maiden, who had long prayed him to show himself to her; at last, after she had promised faithfully not to touch him, he granted her request, and there appeared to her a small infant, clad in a white frock. He also said that he was born at Lavenham ; that his mother lest him for a short time in a field where she was gleaning; that he had been thence suddenly carried away, and had been in his present condition seven years; and that after another seven years he should be restored to his former state. He said that he and his companions had each a cap, by means of which they were rendered invisible. This is the German tarn-kappe. He often asked for food and drink, which, when placed on a certain chest, immediately disappeared. The writer from whom this story is quoted asserts that he had it from the chaplain who figures in it.”
The words in the foregoing, “this is the German tarn-kappe,” are an interpolation introduced, we should imagine, for the mere purpose of helping out the “Teutonic” theory. Mr. Wright should, however, have remembered that the power of rendering themselves invisible, by means of cap, hood, mantle, or ring, is an attribute common to the supernatural beings of all ages and Countries. Friar Rush, although he had a passing degree of popularity about the close of the fifteenth, and during the sixteenth century, when the first little printed books introduced Ulenspiegel, and Reynard the Fox, and such like, to the English reader, cannot be placed among the objects of English popular belief. Still less can we believe that he was ever identified with Robin Goodfellow. In the twelfth essay we have a very desultory account of the history and transmission of popular stories. The chief illustration, that of the little Hunchback of the Arabian tales, has often been alluded to. Another, less known, is curious, as showing how the transmitted tale often loses its point :—
“A simple countryman carried a lamb to market, and six rogues agreed together to cheat him of his merchandise. They took their station in the six streets of the town through which he had to pass, and each accosted him in turn with the question, * For how much will you sell your dog ' At first the rustic asserts resolutely that it is a lamb ; but, finding so many persons in succession taking it for a dog, he becomes terrified, begins to believe that the animal is bewitched, and gives it up to the last of the six inquirers, in order to be relieved from his apprehensions. This story, in its original form, is sound in the Indian collection entitled Pantchatantra: and we there understand better why the man abandoned the animal when he was persuaded that it was a dog, because this in the Brahminic creed is an unclean animal. Three rogues meet a Brahmin carrying a goat which he has just bought for sacrifice: one as: ter another they tell him it is a dog which he is carrying ; and, at last, believing that his eyes are fascinated, and fearing to be polluted by the touch of an unclean animal, he abandons it to the thieves, who carry it away. The same story is found in several Arabian collec
tions, and srom them, no doubt, it came to the West.”
The following story, from the “Gesta Romanorum” is worth transcribing:—
“There was a rich smith, who lived in a certain city near the sea; he was very miserly and wicked, and he collected much money, and filled the trunk of a tree with it, and placed it beside his fire in every body's sight, so that none suspected that money was contained in it. It happened once when all the inhabitants were hard asleep, that the sea entered the house so high that the trunk swam, and when the sea retired it carried it away; and so the trunk swam many miles on the sea, until it came to a city in which was a certain man who kept a common inn. This man rose in the morning, and seeing the trunk afloat drew it to land, thinking it was nothing more than a peice of wood thrown away or abandoned by somebody. This man was very liberal and generous towards poor people and strangers. It happened one day that strangers were entertained in his house, and it was very cold weather. The host began to cut the wood with an axe, and aster three or four blows he heard a sound; and when he discovered the money, he rejoiced, and placed it under safe keeping, to restore it to the rightful owner, if he should apply for it. And the smith went from city to city in search of his money, and at last he came to the city and house of the innkeeper who had found the trunk. When the stranger spoke of his lost trunk, his host understood that the money was his, and he thought within himsels, ‘Now I will try if it be God's will that I should restore him his money.” The host caused to be made three pasties of dough; the first he filled with earth, the second with dead men's bones, and the third with the money which he sound in the trunk. Having done this, he said to the smith, * We will eat three good pasties of excellent flesh which I have ; you shall have which you choose.” And the smith listed them one after another, and he sound the one filled with earth was the theaviest, and he chose it, and sai to the host, ‘If I want more, I will choose that next,’ placing his hand on the pasty full of dead men's bones, you may keep the third pasty yourself.” The host seeing this, said in his heart, ‘Now I see clearly that it is not the will of God that this wretch should have the money again.” He immediately called together the poor and the weak, the blind and the lame, and, in the presence of the smith opened the . and said, ‘Behold, wretch, thy money, which I gave thee into thy hande, yet thou hast chosen in preference the pasties of earth and of dead men's bones, and thou hast done well, for it has not pleased God that thou shouldest have thy money again!’ And immediately the host divided the money before his eyes among the poor: and so the smith departed in confusion.”