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Lordynges, that be now here, Lords, that be now here,
If you will listen and learn
written, And in Inglysch has it schewed And in English has it showed, Not for the lerid but for the Not for the learned, but for the lewed,
rude, For tho that in this land wonn, For those that are in this land That the Latyn no Frankys conn; Who know neither Latin nor
French, For to have solace and gamen For to have solace and delight In felawgship when they sit When they sit together in
fellowship Even in the small quotations given above, it will be seen that French had little to do with the new language. The speech of the Normans may have had some influence in causing the changes which took place; but it must be remembered that the English language is not merely a mixture of French and Saxon, as some have called it, but is essentially Saxon, with the additional changes that time has made.
THE AGE OF CHAUCER.
Amalgamation of Normans and Saxons-Peculiarities of tho
Language at this time. POETRY.—Piers Ploughman-Geoffrey Chaucer--the Canterbury Tales-John Gower. ---John Barbour. PROSE.-Sir John Mandeville-John Wycliffe.
MIDDLE ENGLISH. TRE Saxons and the Normans, at first so disagreeable to each other, had at length found out that there were many matters of importance which required the attention of both. In this way they began to sympathize with each other; and as the Normans forgot or lost their old French homes, and found England to be more interesting to them
than France, they joined with the Saxons, and made, with them, an English people, speaking a common language, though Latin and French were also well known tongues.
The language, as written at this time, has several peculiarities which deserve to be noted. French words, which have since become English, had, at that period, more of a French dress. Thus, mischance was spelt mischaunce; pity, pite ; doctor, doctour.; and reign, regne. Secondly, words ending in the letter e, were pronounced as if the e were a separate syllable. Thus, love would be pronounced lov-é; hope, hop-é, and so on. The rhythms do not always require this pronunciation, but when the line seems to have a syllable too little, it will generally be found that an e has been overlooked. The following line will illustrate this; it should have ten syllables : “She wolde wepe
if that she saw a mouse." Here it will be seen that three words capable of being divided end in e; but the line requires but one of them to be sounded. Which shall it be? This is settled by the rhythm which requires a short syllable first, then a long one, and in that order to the end of the line. Thirdly, the syllable ed at the end of a word is always sounded as in this line, referring to a drunken man
“Thou fallest as it were a stick-ed swine." Lastly, we still find the remains of old German verbs which the Saxons brought with them from the continent. An infinitive of this kind ends in en, and a past participle is preceded by the syllable ge. In Middle English the latter was not retained, but we see traces of it in the
y or i often used in its place. Here is an example of the old infinitive
“In hope to stand-en in his ladies The participle is illustrated in the line
“ His here was by his er-es round y-shorne." With the aid of these explanations, the writings of the authors now to be spoken of will be used with tolerable ease.
Piers Ploughman.-- This is the name of the first really important poem in our language. It is allegorical, which means that qualities such as virtue, truth, &c., are spoken of as if they were real people. Thus, Mercy and Truth are represented as "comely maidens;" Covetousness,
“bettle-browed, blear-eyed, babber-lipped” old wretch; and Envy, as a pale, thin man, dressed as a friar, whose words were poison, and whose chief employment was in speaking ill of his neighbours. The poem is usually called the Vision of Piers Ploughman, and was written by ROBERT LANGLAND, about the year 1362. The principal object of its author seems to have been to chastise the priests of the time for the wicked way in which they lived. The following lines exhibit this:“In many places there, they be parsons by hemself at ease Of the poor have they no pity : and that is their charity !
Ac there shall come a king, and confess you, Religious,
And put them to her penance." This means- -There are parsons who live selfishly, and who are so uncharitable that they cannot give so much as their pity to the poor. But there is a king coming who will make you confess your sins, O dwellers in convents and monasteries! He will punish you, as the Bible has said, for breaking your holy vows. He will mend your ways, and cause nuns, monks, and higher dignitaries of the church to do penance for their wickedness.
GEOFFREY CHAUCER (6. 1328, d. 1400).-This is the first great poet of England; and he is, therefore, called the Father of English Poetry. He was born in London about 1328. His parents seem to have been wealthy people, and to have occupied a high place in society; because we find Chaucer receiving an excellent education at Oxford and Cambridge, and afterwards becoming attached to the court of Edward III. At this time the King was
THE CANTERBURY TALES.
fighting for the French crown, and on one occasion Chaucer followed him to France, where the poet fought bravely, as a good knight should; but, unfortunately, he was captured by the French, and kept in prison for several months. On his return to London, we find him once more at the court, where he daily grows in the favour of the King and his son the Duke of Lancaster. Pensions, royal gifts of land and houses, and rich offices were now heaped upon the lucky poet; and, ere long, he becomes not only the friend but the kinsman of a Prince, for the Duke married the sister of the poet's wife. In the year 1372, Chaucer is sent on some royal business to the Duke of Genoa, and this visit to Italy is of great use to him, because he reads the beautiful sonnets of Petrarch, and the famous stories in Boccaccio's book. When he returns to England, he will remember how soft and musical was the language of Italy, and he will try to make the rough English tongue more pleasant to listen
He will also tell once again the amusing Italian stories, but dressed up in such excellent language that they are as good as new, and often much better than the originals. Chaucer was sent once or twice afterwards to the continent, and, indeed, until the death of Edward III. he seems to have had frequent marks of royal confidence. But, when Richard II. became king, the times changed. Richard and his uncle Lancaster did not agree, and Chaucer espoused his friend's cause. After this the poet got into trouble, and was imprisoned in the Tower. When he was set at liberty, he seems to have been restored to royal favour, and when Lancaster's son, Henry IV., became king in 1399, the old man's pension was doubled. He did not long live to enjoy his good fortune, for he died in 1400, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where most of the very great English authors have also found a tomb.
The Canterbury Tales.—Chaucer wrote many poems, but the greatest of them all is the one now named. The first part is called the Prologue, which tells us that over thirty people of all sorts and conditions gathered together
at the Tabard Inn, Southwark. Some were on horseback, and some afoot. They were going to make a day's journey to Canterbury, to say their prayers at the tomb of Thomas à Becket; but the road was bad, and there were thieves besides, which made it desirable that they should all keep together. To make the long road seem lightsome, it is agreed that everybody is to tell two stories going, and two in returning, and the one who tells the best is to get his supper for nothing when they come back to the inn. Now, it is in describing the pilgrims that Chaucer shows us how well he observed persons and things. What do we care about Mr. Envy or Miss Mercy, so long as we have real persons who have lived and moved like ourselves? When we read this Prologue, we are carried away back to Chaucer's time, and see what the knights, squires, merchants, &c., were like. We see the jolly Monk, snapping his fingers at religion, and going a-hunting with bells on his bridle loud jingling in the wind; we see the hearty Franklin, so hospitable that “it snewëd in his house of meat and drink;" the Clerk of Oxford, “ glad to learn, and glad to teach;" the deaf Wife of Bath, going to church on Sunday with a valuable kerchief on her head, red stockings on her legs, and new shoes on her feet; and, in short, we have a set of portraits of the important characters of the time, from the “very perfect gentleman" down to the drunken Sompnour, who was so ugly that the children were sore afraid of him, and ran away when they saw him. The Tales themselves are, with two exceptions, written in verse. Chaucer did not live to complete the set. We should have had 128 stories, whereas we have only twenty-five. One of the most touching and beautiful of them all is the Knight's Tale. The story tells us that two close friends have been taken prisoners by Duke Theseus of Athens. Looking forth from their prison window one day, they behold the lovely Emily, sister of the Duke's wife, walking in the garden. Both princes are immediately smitten with her beauty; and the friends, now rivals for the hand of the same lady, become hateful