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Title: Amenities of Literature - Consisting of Sketches and Characters of English Literature
Author: Disraeli, Isaac, 1766-1848
Language: English
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[Illustration: Bodleian Library, Oxford.

London, Frederick Warne & C^o.]


Consisting of Sketches and Characters of English Literature.



A New Edition,

Edited by His Son,



Frederick Warne and Co.,
Bedford Street, Strand.

Bradbury, Agnew, & Co., Printers, Whitefriars.


A history of our vernacular literature has occupied my studies for many
years. It was my design not to furnish an arid narrative of books or of
authors, but following the steps of the human mind through the wide
track of Time, to trace from their beginnings the rise, the progress,
and the decline of public opinions, and to illustrate, as the objects
presented themselves, the great incidents in our national annals.

In the progress of these researches many topics presented themselves,
some of which, from their novelty and curiosity, courted investigation.
Literary history, in this enlarged circuit, becomes not merely a
philological history of critical erudition, but ascends into a
philosophy of books where their subjects, their tendency, and their
immediate or gradual influence over the people discover their actual

Authors are the creators or the creatures of opinion; the great form an
epoch, the many reflect their age. With them the transient becomes
permanent, the suppressed lies open, and they are the truest
representatives of their nation for those very passions with which they
are themselves infected. The pen of the ready-writer transmits to us the
public and the domestic story, and thus books become the intellectual
history of a people. As authors are scattered through all the ranks of
society, among the governors and the governed, and the objects of their
pursuits are usually carried on by their own peculiar idiosyncrasy, we
are deeply interested in the secret connexion of the incidents of their
lives with their intellectual habits. In the development of that
predisposition which is ever working in characters of native force, all
their felicities and their failures, and the fortunes which such men
have shaped for themselves, and often for the world, we discover what is
not found in biographical dictionaries, the history of the mind of the
individual--and this constitutes the psychology of genius.

In the midst of my studies I was arrested by the loss of sight; the
papers in this collection are a portion of my projected history.

The title prefixed to this work has been adopted to connect it with its
brothers, the "Curiosities of Literature," and "Miscellanies of
Literature;" but though the form and manner bear a family resemblance,
the subject has more unity of design.

The author of the present work is denied the satisfaction of reading a
single line of it, yet he flatters himself that he shall not trespass on
the indulgence he claims for any slight inadvertences. It has been
confided to ONE whose eyes unceasingly pursue the volume for him who can
no more read, and whose eager hand traces the thought ere it vanish in
the thinking; but it is only a father who can conceive the affectionate
patience of filial devotion.


  THE DRUIDICAL INSTITUTION                                    1

  BRITAIN AND THE BRITONS                                     12

  THE NAME OF ENGLAND AND OF THE ENGLISH                      24

  THE ANGLO-SAXONS                                            28

  CÆDMON AND MILTON                                           37

  BEOWULF; THE HERO-LIFE                                      51

  THE ANGLO-NORMANS                                           59

  THE PAGE, THE BARON, AND THE MINSTREL                       70

  GOTHIC ROMANCES                                             81


  ORIGIN OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE                             111

  VICISSITUDES OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE                       128

  DIALECTS                                                   142

  MANDEVILLE; OUR FIRST TRAVELLER                            151

  CHAUCER                                                    158

  GOWER                                                      177

  PIERS PLOUGHMAN                                            183

  OCCLEVE; THE SCHOLAR OF CHAUCER                            191

  LYDGATE; THE MONK OF BURY                                  196

  THE INVENTION OF PRINTING                                  203

  THE FIRST ENGLISH PRINTER                                  214

  EARLY LIBRARIES                                            221

  HENRY THE SEVENTH                                          228

  FIRST SOURCES OF MODERN HISTORY                            234

  ARNOLDE'S CHRONICLE                                        240

  THE FIRST PRINTED CHRONICLE                                243


  BOOKS OF THE PEOPLE                                        256


  SKELTON                                                    276

  THE SHIP OF FOOLS                                          285


  THE EARL OF SURREY AND SIR THOMAS WYATT                    303

  THE SPOLIATION OF THE MONASTERIES                          316

  A CRISIS AND A REACTION; ROBERT CROWLEY                    322

  PRIMITIVE DRAMAS                                           339

  THE COURT JESTER                                           353

  ROGER ASCHAM                                               359

  PUBLIC OPINION                                             368

  ORTHOGRAPHY AND ORTHOEPY                                   381

  THE ANCIENT METRES IN MODERN VERSE                         393

  ORIGIN OF RHYME                                            399

  RHYMING DICTIONARIES                                       403

  THE ARTE OF ENGLISH POESIE                                 405

  THE DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT                               413

  THE FIRST JESUITS IN ENGLAND                               423

  HOOKER                                                     439

  SIR PHILIP SIDNEY                                          451

  SPENSER                                                    460

  THE FAERY QUEEN                                            475

  ALLEGORY                                                   487

  THE FIRST TRAGEDY AND THE FIRST COMEDY                     502


  SHAKESPEARE                                                529

  THE "HUMOURS" OF JONSON                                    578

  DRAYTON                                                    584


  THE OCCULT PHILOSOPHER, DR. DEE                            617

  THE ROSACRUSIAN FLUDD                                      642

  BACON                                                      650

  THE FIRST FOUNDER OF A PUBLIC LIBRARY                      661

  TO AUTHORS BY PROFESSION                                   670

  THE AGE OF DOCTRINES                                       681

  PAMPHLETS                                                  685

  THE OCEANA OF HARRINGTON                                   692


  COMMONWEALTH                                               712



  THE WAR AGAINST BOOKS                                      738



England, which has given models to Europe of the most masterly
productions in every class of learning and every province of genius, so
late as within the last three centuries was herself destitute of a
national literature. Even enlightened Europe itself amid the revolving
ages of time is but of yesterday.

How "that was performed in our tongue, which may be compared or
preferred, either to insolent Greece or haughty Rome,"[1] becomes a tale
in the history of the human mind.

In the history of an insular race and in a site so peculiar as our own,
a people whom the ocean severed from all nations, where are we to seek
for our ABORIGINES? A Welsh triad, and a Welsh is presumed to be a
British, has commemorated an epoch when these mighty realms were a
region of impenetrable forests and impassable morasses, and their sole
tenants were wolves, bears, and beavers, and wild cattle. Who were the
first human beings in this lone world?

Every people have had a fabulous age. Priests and poets invented, and
traditionists expatiated; we discover gods who seem to have been men, or
men who resemble gods; we read in the form of prose what had once been a
poem; imaginations so wildly constructed, and afterwards as strangely
allegorised, served as the milky food of the children of society,
quieting their vague curiosity, and circumscribing the illimitable
unknown. The earliest epoch of society is unapproachable to human
inquiry. Greece, with all her ambiguous poetry, was called "the
mendacious;" credulous Rome rested its faith on five centuries of
legends; and our Albion dates from that unhistorical period when, as our
earliest historian, the Monk of Monmouth, aiming at probability,
affirms, "there were but a few giants in the land,"[2] and these the
more melancholy Gildas, to familiarise us with hell itself, accompanied
by "a few devils." Every people however long acknowledged, with national
pride, beings as fabulous, in those tutelary heroes who bore their own

The landing of Brutus with his fugitive Trojans on "the White Island,"
and here founding a "Troynovant," was one of the results of the
immortality of Homer, though it came reflected through his imitator
Virgil, whose Latin in the mediæval ages was read when Greek was
unknown. The landing of Æneas on the shores of Italy, and the pride of
the Romans in their Trojan ancestry, as their flattering Epic
sanctioned, every modern people, in their jealousy of antiquity, eagerly
adopted, and claimed a lineal descent from some of this spurious progeny
of Priam. The idle humour of the learned flattered the imaginations of
their countrymen; and each, in his own land, raised up a fictitious
personage who was declared to have left his name to the people. The
excess of their patriotism exposed their forgeries, while every
pretended Trojan betrayed a Gothic name. France had its Francion,
Ireland its Iberus, the Danes their Danus, and the Saxons their Saxo.
The descent of Brutus into Britain is even tenderly touched by so late a
writer as our CAMDEN; for while he abstains from affording us either
denial or assent, he expends his costly erudition in furnishing every
refutation which had been urged against the preposterous existence of
these fabulous founders of every European people.

Such is the corruption of the earliest history, either to gratify the
idle pride of a people, or to give completeness to inquiries extending
beyond human knowledge. Even BUCHANAN, to gratify the ancestral vanity
of his countrymen, has recorded the names of three hundred fabulous
monarchs, and presents a nomenclature without an event; and in his
classical latinity we must silently drop a thousand unhistorical years.
Even HENRY and WHITAKER, in the gravity of English history, sketched the
manners and the characteristics of an unchronicled generation from the
fragmentary romances of Ossian.

Cæsar imagined that the inhabitants of the interior of Britain, a
fiercer people than the dwellers on the coasts, were an indigenous race.
But the philosophy of Cæsar did not exceed that of Horace and Ovid, who
conceived no other origin of man than _Mater Terra_. Man indeed was
formed out of "the dust of the ground," but the Divine Spirit alone
could have dictated the history of primeval man in the solitude of Eden.
To Cæsar was not revealed that man was an oriental creature; that a
single locality served as the cradle of the human race; and that the
generations of man were the offspring of a single pair, when once "the
whole earth was of one language and of one speech." "And there is no
antiquity but this that can tell _any other beginning_," exclaims our
honest VERSTEGAN, exulting in his Teutonic blood, while furnishing an
extraordinary evidence of the retreat of Tuisco and his Teutons from the
conspiracy against the skies.[3]

The dispersion of Babel, and, consequently, the diversity of languages,
is the mysterious link which connects sacred and profane history. There
is but a single point whence human nature begins--the universe has been
populated by migrations. Wherever the human being is found, he has been
transplanted; however varied in structure and dissimilar in dialect, the
first inhabitants of every land were not born there: unlike plants and
animals, which seem coeval with the region in which they are found,
never removing from the soil they occupy. Thus the miracle of Holy Writ
solves the enigmas of philosophical theories; of more than one Adam, of
distinct stocks of mankind, and of the mechanism of language--vague
conjectures, and contested opinions! which have left us without even a
conception how the human being is white, or tawny, or sable; or how the
first letters of the alphabet are Aleph and Bêt, or Alpha and Beta, or A
and B!

In tracing the origin of nations later speculators have therefore more
discreetly, though not wanting in hardy conjectures or fanciful
affinities, conducted people after people, from the mysterious fount of
human existence in the Asian region. Through countless centuries they
have followed the myriads who, propelling each other, took the right or
the left, as chance led them: vanished nations may have received names
which they themselves might not have recognised. Kelt or Kimmerian,
Scandinavian or Goth, Phoenician or Iberian, have been hurried to the
Isles of Britain. Their tale is older, though less "divine," than the
tale of Troy; and the difficulty remains to unravel the reality of the
fabulous. The learned have rarely satisfied their consciences in
arranging their dates in the confusion of unnoted time; nor in that
other confusion of races, often mingling together under one common
appellative, have they always agreed in assigning that ancient people
who were the progenitors of the modern nation; and the aborigines have
been more than once described as "an ancient people whose name is
unknown." In the pride of erudition, and the irascibility of
confutation, they have involved themselves in interminable discussions,
yet one might be seduced to adopt any hypothesis, for more or less each
bears some ambiguous evidence, or some startling circumstance sufficient
to rock the dreaming antiquary, and to kindle the bitter blood of
pedantic patriots. The origin of the population of Europe and the first
inhabitants of our British Isles has produced some antiquarian romances,
often ingenious and amusing, till the romances turn out to be mere
polemics, and give us angry words amid the most quaint fancies. This
theme, still continued, becomes a cavern of antiquity, where many waving
their torches, the light has sometimes fallen on an unperceived angle;
but the scattered light has shown the depth and the darkness.

Among those shadows of time we grasp at one certainty. Whoever might be
the first-comers to this solitary island, when we obtain any knowledge
of the inhabitants, we are struck by their close resemblance to those
tribes of savage life whom our navigators have discovered, and who are
now found in almost a primitive state among that innumerable cluster of
what has recently been designated the Polynesian Isles. The aborigines
of Britain took the same modes of existence, and fell into similar
customs. We discover their rude population divided into jealous tribes,
in perpetual battle with one another; they lived in what Hobbes has
called the _status belli_, with no notion of the _meum_ and _tuum_; in
the same community of their women as was found in Otaheite;[4] and with
the same ignorance of property, when its representative in some form was
not yet invented. Our aborigines resembled these races even in their
personal appearance; a Polynesian chief has been drawn and coloured
after the life, and the figure exhibits the perfect picture of an
ancient Briton, almost naked, the body painted red; the British savage
chose blue, and made deep incisions in the flesh to insert his indelible
woad.[5] The fierce eye, and the bearded lip, with the long hair
scattered to the waist, exhibit the Briton as he was seen by Cæsar, and,
a century afterwards, as the British monarch Caractacus appeared before
the Emperor Claudius at Rome: his sole ornaments consisted of an iron
collar, and an iron girdle; but as his naked majesty had his skin
painted with figures of animals, however rudely, this was probably a
distinctive dress of British royalty. These Britons lived in thick
woods, herding among circular huts of reed, as we find other tribes in
this early state of society; and submissive to the absolute dominion of
a priesthood of magicians, as we find even among the Esquimaux; and
performing sanguinary rites, similar to those of the ancient Mexicans:
we are struck with the conviction that men in a parallel condition
remain but uniform beings.

It seems a solecism in the intellectual history of man to discover among
such a semi-barbarous people a government of sages, who, we are assured,
"invented and taught such philosophy and other learning as were never
read of nor heard of by any men before."[6] This paradoxical incident
deepens in mystery when we are to be taught that the druidical
institution of Britain was Pythagorean, or patriarchal, or Brahminical.
The presumed encyclopedic knowledge which this order possessed, and the
singular customs which they practised, have afforded sufficient
analogies and affinities to maintain the occult and remote origin of
Druidism. Nor has this notion been the mere phantom of modern
system-makers. It was a subject of inquiry among the ancients whether
the Druids had received their singular art of teaching by secret
initiation, and the prohibition of all writing, with their doctrine of
the pre-existence and transmigration of souls, from Pythagoras; or,
whether this philosopher in his universal travels had not alighted among
the Druids, and had passed through their initiation?[7] This discussion
is not yet obsolete, and it may still offer all the gust of novelty. A
Welsh antiquary, according to the spirit of Welsh antiquity, insists
that the Druidical system of the Metempsychosis was conveyed to the
Brahmins of India by a former emigration from Wales; but the reverse may
have occurred, if we trust the elaborate researches which copiously
would demonstrate that the Druids were a scion of the oriental
family.[8] Every point of the Druidical history, from its mysterious
antiquity, may terminate with reversing the proposition. A recent writer
confidently intimated that the knowledge of Druidism must be searched
for in the Talmudical writings; but another, in return, asserts that the
Druids were older than the Jews.

Whence and when the British Druids transplanted themselves to this lone
world amid the ocean, bringing with them all the wisdom of far
antiquity, to an uncivilized race, is one of those events in the history
of man which no historian can write. It is evident that they long
preserved what they had brought; since the Druids of Gaul were fain to
resort to the Druids of Britain to renovate their instruction.

The Druids have left no record of themselves; they seem to have
disdained an immortality separate from the existence of their order; but
the shadow of their glory is reflected for ever in the verse of Lucan,
and the prose of Cæsar. The poet imagined that if the knowledge of the
gods was known to man, it had been alone revealed to these priests of
Britain. The narrative of the historian is comprehensive, but, with all
the philosophical cast of his mind and the intensity of his curiosity,
Cæsar was not a Druid;[9] and only a Druid could have written--had he
dared!--on DRUIDHEACHT--a sacred, unspeakable word at which the people
trembled in their veneration.

The British Druids constituted a sacred and a secret society, religious,
political, and literary. In the rude mechanism of society in a state of
pupilage, the first elements of government, however gross, or even
puerile, were the levers to lift and to sustain the unhewn masses of the
barbaric mind. Invested with all privileges and immunities, amid that
transient omnipotence which man in his first feeble condition can
confer, the wild children of society crouched together before those
illusions which superstition so easily forges; but the supernatural
dominion lay in the secret thoughts of the people; the marauder had not
the daring to touch the open treasure as it lay in the consecrated
grove; and a single word from a Druid for ever withered a human being,
"cut down like grass." The loyalty of the land was a religion of wonder
and fear, and to dispute with a Druid was a state crime.

They were a secret society, for whatever was taught was forbidden to be
written; and not only their doctrines and their sciences were veiled in
this sacred obscurity, but the laws which governed the community were
also oral. For the people, the laws, probably, were impartially
administered; for the Druids were not the people, and without their
sympathies, these judges at least sided with no party. But if these
sages, amid the conflicting interests of the multitude, seemed placed
above the vicissitudes of humanity, their own more solitary passions
were the stronger, violently compressed within a higher sphere:
ambition, envy, and revenge, those curses of nobler minds, often broke
their dreams. The election of an Arch-Druid was sometimes to be decided
by a battle. Some have been chronicled by a surname which indicates a
criminal. No king could act without a Druid by his side, for peace or
war were on his lips; and whenever the order made common cause, woe to
the kingdom![10] It was a terrible hierarchy. The golden knife which
pruned the mistletoe beneath the mystic oak, immolated the human victim.

The Druids were the common fathers of the British youth, for they were
the sole educators; but the genius of the order admitted of no inept
member. For the acolyte unendowed with the faculty of study all
initiation ceased; nature herself had refused this youth the glory of
Druidism; but he was taught the love of his country. The Druidical lyre
kindled patriotism through the land, and the land was saved--for the

The Druidical custom of unwritten instruction was ingeniously suggested
by Cicero, as designed to prevent their secret doctrines from being
divulged to those unworthy or ill fitted to receive them, and to
strengthen the memory of their votaries by its continued exercise; but
we may suspect, that this barbarous custom of this most ancient sodality
began at a period when they themselves neither read nor wrote, destitute
of an alphabet of their own; for when the Druids had learned from the
Greeks their characters, they adopted them in all their public and
private affairs. We learn that the Druidical sciences were contained in
twenty thousand verses, which were to prompt their perpetual memory.
Such traditional science could not be very progressive; what was to be
got by rote no disciple would care to consider obsolete, and a century
might elapse without furnishing an additional couplet. The Druids, like
some other institutions of antiquity, by not perpetuating their
doctrines, or their secrets, in this primeval state of theology and
philosophy, by writing, have effectually concealed their own puerile
simplicity. But the monuments of a people remain to perpetuate their
character. We may judge of the genius or state of the Druidical arts and
sciences by such objects. We are told that the Druids were so wholly
devoted to nature, that they prohibited the use of any tool in the
construction of their rude works; all are unhewn masses, or heaps of
stones; such are their cairns and cromleches and corneddes, and that
wild architecture whose stones hang on one another, still frowning on
the plains of Salisbury.[11] A circle of stones marked the consecrated
limits of the Druidical tribunal; and in the midst a hillock heaped up
for the occasion was the judgment-seat. Here, in the open air, in "the
eye of light and the face of the sun," to use the bardic style, the
decrees were pronounced, and the Druids harangued the people. Such a
scene was exhibited by the Hebrew patriarchs, from whom some imagined
these Druids descended; but whether or not the Celtic be of this origin
we must not decide by any analogous manners or customs, because these
are nearly similar, wherever we trace a primitive race--so uniform is
nature, till art, infinitely various, conceals nature herself.

In the depth of antiquity, misty superstition and pristine tradition
gave a false magnitude to the founders of human knowledge; and our own
literary historians who have been over-curious about "the Genesis" of
their antiquities, have inveigled us into the mystic groves of Druidism
in all their cloudy obscurity. The "Antiquities of the University of
Oxford" open with "the Originals of Learning in this Nation;" and our
antiquary discerns the first shadowings of the University of Oxford in
"the universal knowledge" of the Druidical institution in "ethics,
politics, civil law, divinity, and poetry." Such are the reveries of an


  [1] Ben Jonson.

  [2] The existence of these _giants_ was long historical, and their
    real origin was in the fourth verse of the fifth chapter of Genesis,
    which no commentator shall ever explain. AYLET SAMMES in his
    "Britannia Antiqua Illustrata, or the Antiquities of Ancient Britain
    derived from the Phoenicians," has particularly noticed "two teeth of
    a certain giant, of such a huge bigness, that two hundred such teeth
    as men now-a-days have might be cut out of them." Becanus and Camden
    had however observed, that "_the bones of sea-fish_ had been taken
    for _giants' bones_;--but can it be rationally supposed that men ever
    entombed fishes?" triumphant in his arguments, exclaims Aylet Sammes.
    The revelations of geology had not yet been surmised, even by those
    who had discovered that giants were but sea-fish. So progressive is
    all human knowledge.

  [3] The miraculous event was perpetuated by the whole Teutonic
    people, "while it was fresh in their memories," as our honest Saxon
    asserts; hence to this day we in our Saxon _English_, and our
    Teutonic kinsmen and neighbours in their idiom, describe a confusion
    of idle talk by the term of _Babel_, now written from our harsh love
    of supernumerary consonants _Babble_; and any such workmen of Babel
    are still indicated as _Babblers_.--"A Restitution of Decayed
    Intelligence," 138, 4to. Antwerp, 1605.

    The erudite Menage offers a memorable evidence of the precarious
    condition of etymology when it connects things which have no other
    affinity than that which depends on _sounds_. See his "Dictionnaire
    Etymologique, ou Origines de la Langue Françoise," ad verbum BABIL.
    Not satisfied with the usual authorities deduced from _Babel_, this
    verbal sage appeals to us English to demonstrate the natural
    connexion between _Babbling and Childishness_; for thus he has
    shrewdly opined "The English in this manner have _Babble_ and

    After all the convulsion of lips at Babel, and confusion among the
    etymologists, the word is Hebrew, which with a few more such are
    found in many languages.

  [4] Julia, the empress of Severus, once in raillery remonstrated with
    a British female against this singular custom, which annulled every
    connubial tie. The British woman, whose observation had evidently
    been enlarged during her visit to Rome, retorted by her disdain of
    the more polished corruption of the greater nation. "We British women
    greatly differ from the Roman ladies, for we follow in public the men
    whom we esteem the most worthy, while the Roman women yield
    themselves secretly to the vilest of men."

    Such was the noble sentiment which broke forth from a lady of savage
    education--it was, however, but a savage's view of social life. This
    female Briton had not felt how much remained of life which she had
    not taken into her view; when the attractions of her sex had ceased,
    and the season of flowers had passed, she was left without her
    connubial lord amid a progeny who had no father.

  [5] This practice of savage races may have originated in a natural
    circumstance. The naked body by this slight covering is protected
    from the atmosphere, from insects, and other inconveniences to which
    the unclothed are exposed. But though it may not have been considered
    merely as personal finery, which seems sometimes to have been the
    case, it became a refinement of barbarism when they painted their
    bodies frightfully to look terrible to the enemy.

  [6] See Mr. Tate's twelve questions about the Druids, with Mr.
    Jones's answers; a learned Welsh scholar who commented on the ancient
    laws of his nation.--Toland's "History of the Druids."

    A later Welsh scholar affirms, "beyond all doubt there has been an
    era when science diffused a light among the Cymry--in a very early
    period of the world."--Owen's "Heroic Elegies of Llywarç Hen."
    Preface, xxi.

    This style is traditional and still kept up among Welsh and Irish
    scholars, who seem familiar with an antiquity beyond record.

  [7] Toland's "History of the Druids" in his Miscellaneous Works, ii.

  [8] "The Celtic Druids, or an Attempt to show that the Druids were
    the Priests of Oriental Colonies, who emigrated from India." By
    Godfrey Higgins, Esq. London, 1829.

    This is a quarto volume abounding with recondite researches and many
    fancies. It is more repulsive, by the absurd abuse of "the Christian
    priests who destroyed their (the Druids') influence, and unnerved the
    arms of their gallant followers." There are philosophical fanatics!

  [9] Cæsar was a keen observer of the Britons. He characterizes the
    Kentish men, _Ex his omnibus longè sunt humanissimi_,--"Of all this
    people the Kentish are far the most humane." Cæsar describes the
    British boats to have the keel and masts of the lightest wood, and
    their bodies of wicker covered with leather; and the hero and sage
    was taught a lesson by the barbarians, for Cæsar made use of these in
    Spain to transport his soldiers,--a circumstance which Lucan has
    recorded. In the size and magnitude of Britain, confiding to the
    exaggerated accounts of the captives, he was mistaken; but he
    acknowledges, that many things he heard of, he had not himself

  [10] Toland's "Hist. of the Druids," 56.

  [11] The origin of Stonehenge is as unknown as that of the Pyramids.
    As it is evident that those huge masses could not have been raised
    and fixed without the machinery of art, Mr. Owen, the Welsh
    antiquary, infers, that this building, if such it may be called,
    could not have been erected till that later period when the Druidical
    genius declined and submitted to Christianity, and the Druids were
    taught more skilful masonry in stone, though without mortar. It has
    been, however, considered, that those masses which have been ascribed
    to the necromancer Merlin, or the more ancient giants, might have
    been the work of the Britons themselves, who, without our knowledge
    of the mechanical powers in transporting or raising ponderous bodies,
    it is alleged, were men of mighty force and stature, whose
    co-operation might have done what would be difficult even to our
    mechanical science. The lances, helmets, and swords of these Britons
    show the vast size and strength of those who wore them. The native
    Americans, as those in Peru, unaided by the engines we apply to those
    purposes, have raised up such vast stones in building their temples
    as the architect of the present time would not perhaps hazard the
    attempt to remove. "Essays by a Society at Exeter," 114.


Britain stood as the boundary of the universe, beyond Which all was air
and water--and long it was ere the trembling coasters were certain
whether Britain was an island or a continent, a secret probably to the
dispersed natives themselves. It was the triumphant fleet of Agricola,
nearly a century after the descent of Cæsar, which, encircling it,
proclaimed to the universe that Britain was an island. From that day
Albion has lifted its white head embraced by the restless ocean, but
often betrayed by that treacherous guardian, she became the possession
of successive races.

Nations have derived their names from some accidental circumstance; some
peculiarity marking their national character, or descriptive of the site
of their country. The names of our island and of our islanders have
exercised the inquiries, and too often the ingenuity, of our antiquarian
etymologists. There are about half a hundred origins of the name of
Britain; some absurd, many fanciful, all uncertain.[1] Our primitive
ancestors distinguished themselves, in pride or simplicity, as _Brith_
and _Brithon_; _Brith_ signified stained, and _Brithon_, a stained man,
according to Camden.[2] The predilection for colouring their bodies
induced the civilized Romans to designate the people who were driven to
the Caledonian forests as _Picts_, or a painted people.

That the native term of _Brith_ or _Brithon_, by its curt harshness,
would clash on the modulating ear of the Greek voyager, or the Latin
poet, seems probable, for by them it was amplified. And thus we owe to
sonorous antiquity the name now famous as their own, for BRITANNIA first
appeared in their writings, bequeathed to us by the masters of the world
as their legacy of glory.

To the knowledge of the Romans the island exceeded in magnitude all
other islands; and they looked on this land with pride and anxiety,
while they dignified Britain as the "Roman island." The Romans even
personified the insular Genius with poetic conceptions. Britannia is
represented as a female seated on a rock, armed with a spear, or leaning
on a prow, while the ship beside her attests her naval power. We may yet
be susceptible of the prophetic flattery, when we observe the Roman has
also seated her on a globe, with the symbol of military power, and the
ocean rolling under her feet.[3]

The tale of these ancient Britons who should have been our ancestors is
told by the philosophical historian of antiquity. Under successive Roman
governors they still remained divided by native factions: "A
circumstance," observes Tacitus, "most useful for us, among such a
powerful people, where each combating singly, all are subdued." A
century, as we have said, had not elapsed from the landing of Cæsar to
the administration of Agricola. That enlightened general changed the
policy of former governors; he allured the Britons from their forest
retreats and reedy roofs to partake of the pleasures of a Roman city--to
dwell in houses, to erect lofty temples, and to indulge in dissolving
baths. The barbarian who had scorned the Roman tongue now felt the
ambition of Roman eloquence; and the painted Briton of Cæsar was
enveloped in the Roman toga. Severus, in another century after Agricola,
as an extraordinary evidence of his successful government, appealed to
Britain--"Even the Britons are quiet!" exclaimed the emperor. The
tutelary genius of Rome through four centuries preserved Britain--even
from the Britons themselves; but the Roman policy was fatal to the
national character, and when the day arrived that their protector
forsook them, the Britons were left among their ancient discords: for
provincial jealousies, however concealed by circumstances, are never
suppressed; the fire lives in its embers ready to be kindled.

The island of Britain, itself not extensive, was broken into petty
principalities: we are told that there were nearly two hundred
kinglings, the greater part of whom did not presume to wear crowns.
Sometimes they united in their jealousies of some paramount tyrant, but
they raged among themselves; and the passion of Gildas has figured them
as "the Lioness of Devonshire" encountering a "Lion's Whelp" in
Dorsetshire, and "the Bear-baiter," trembling before his regal brother,
"the Great Bull-dog." "These kings were not appointed by God," exclaims
the British Jeremiah; he who wrote under the name of Gildas. Thus the
Britons formed a powerless aggregate, and never a nation. The naked
Irish haunted their shores, covering their sea with piracy; and the
Picts rushed from their forests--giants of the North who, if Gildas does
not exaggerate, even dragged down from their walls the amazed Britons.
Such a people in their terrified councils were to be suppliants to the
valour of foreigners; from that hour they were doomed to be chased from
their natal soil. They invited, or they encouraged, another race to
become their mercenaries or their allies. The small and the great from
other shores hastened to a new dominion. Britain then became "a field of
fortune to every adventurer when nothing less than kingdoms were the
prize of every fortunate commander."[4]

We have now the history of a people whose enemies inhabited their
ancient land: the flame and the sword ceaselessly devouring the soil;
their dominion shrinking in space, and the people diminishing in number;
victory for them was fatal as defeat. The disasters of the Britons
pursued them through the despair of almost two centuries; it would have
been the history of a whole people ever retreating, yet hardly in
flight, had it been written. Shall we refuse, on the score of their
disputed antiquity the evidence of the Welsh bards? The wild grandeur of
the melancholy poetry of those ancient Britons attests the reality of
their story and the depth of their emotions.[5]

We have spun the last thread of our cobweb, and we know not on what
points it hangs, such irreconcileable hypotheses are offered to us by
our learned antiquaries, whenever they would account for the origin or
the disappearance of a whole people. The mystery deepens, and the
confusion darkens amid contradictions and incredibilities, when the
British historian contemplates in the perspective the Fata Morgana of
another Britain on the opposite shores of the ancient Armorica, another
Britain in La Brétagne.

The ancient Armorica was a district extending from the Loire to the
Seine, about sixty leagues, and except on the land side, which joined
Poictou, is encircled by the ocean. Composed of several small states, in
the decline of the Roman empire they shook off the Roman yoke, and their
independence was secured by the obscurity of their sequestered locality.

The tale runs that Maximus, having engaged his provincial Britons in his
ambitious schemes, rewarded their military aid by planting them in one
of these Armorican communities. To give colour to this tradition, the
story adds that this Roman general had a considerable interest in Wales,
"having married the daughter of a powerful chieftain, whose chapel at
Carnarvon is still shown."[6] The marriage of this future Roman emperor
with a Welsh princess would serve as an embellishment to a Welsh
genealogy. This event must have occurred about the year 384. When the
Britons were driven out of their country by faithless allies, Armorica
would offer an easy refuge for fugitives; there they found brothers
already settled, or friends willing to receive them.[7]

In this uncertainty of history, amid the dreams of theoretical
antiquaries, we cannot doubt that at some time there was a powerful
colony of Britons in Armorica; they acquired dominion as well as
territory. They changed that masterless Armorican state to which they
were transplanted from an aristocracy into a monarchy--that government
to which they had been accustomed; they consecrated the strange land by
the baptism of their own national name, and to this day it is called
Brétagne, or Britain; and surely the Britons carried with them all their
home-affections, for they made the new country an image of the old: not
only had they stamped on it the British name, but the Britons of
Cornwall called a considerable district by their own provincial name,
known in France as "Le Pays de Cornouaille;" and their speech
perpetuated their vernacular Celtic. At the siege of Belleisle in 1756,
the honest Britons of the principality among our soldiers were amazed to
find that they and the peasants of Brittany were capable of conversing
together. This expatriation reminds us of the emotions of the first
settlers in the New World. Ancient Spain reflected herself in her New
Spain; and our first emigrants called their "plantations" "New England;"
distributing local names borrowed from the land of their birth--undying
memorials of their parent source!

This singular event in the civil annals of the ancient Britons has given
rise to a circumstance unparalleled in the literary history of every
people, for it has often involved in a mysterious confusion a part of
our literary and historical antiquities. The Britain in France is not
always discriminated from our own; and this double Britain at times
becomes provokingly mystifying. Two eminent antiquaries, Douce and
Ritson, sometimes conceived that Bretagne meant England; a circumstance
which might upset a whole hypothesis.

In the fastnesses of Wales, on the heights of Caledonia, and on the
friendly land of Armorica, are yet tracked the fugitive and ruined
Britons. It is most generally conceded that they retreated to the
western coasts of England, and that, often discomfited, they took their
last refuge in those "mountain heights" of Cambria.

Their shadowy Arthur has left an undying name in romance, and is a
nonentity in history. Whether Arthur was a mortal commander heading some
kings of Britain, or whether religion and policy were driven to the
desperate effort for rallying their fugitives by a national name, and "a
hope deferred," like the Sebastian of Portugal, this far-famed chieftain
could never have been a fortunate general; he displayed his
invincibility but in some obscure and remote locality; he struck no
terror among his enemies, for they have left his name unchronicled: nor
living, have the bards distinguished his pre-eminence. "The grave of
Arthur is a mystery of the world," exclaimed Taliessin, the great bard
of the Britons. But the mortal who vanished in the cloud of conflict had
never seen death; and to the last the Britons awaited for the day of
their Redeemer when Arthur should return in his immortality, accompanied
by "the Flood-King of the Deluge," from the Inys Avallon, the Isle of
the Mystic Apple-tree, their Eden or their Elysium. Arthur was a myth,
half Christian and half Druidical. In Armorica, as in Wales, his coming
was long expected, till "Espérance brétonne" became proverbial for all
chimerical hopes.

Thus the aborigines of this island vanished, but their name is still
attached to us. The Anglo-Saxons became our progenitors, and the Saxon
our mother-tongue. Yet so complex and incongruous is the course of time,
that we still call ourselves Britons, and "true Britons;" and the land
we dwell in Great Britain. Nor is it less remarkable, that the days of
the Christian week commemorate the names of seven Saxon idols.[8] There
are improbabilities and incongruities in authentic history as hard to
reconcile as any we meet with in wild romance.

During six centuries the Saxons and the Normans combined to banish from
the public mind the history of the Britons: it was lost; it did not
exist even among the Britons in Wales. In the reign of Henry the First,
an Archdeacon of Oxford, who was that king's justiciary, being curious
in ancient histories, opportunely brought out of "Britain in France," "a
very ancient book in the British tongue." This book, which still forms
the gordian knot of the antiquary, he confided to the safe custody and
fertile genius of Geoffry, the Monk of Monmouth. It contained a regular
story of the British kings, opening with Brute, the great grandson of
Priam in this airy generation; kings who, Geoffry "had often wondered,
were wholly unnoticed by Gildas and Bede." "Yet," adds our historian,
"their deeds were celebrated by many people in a _pleasant manner_, and
_by heart, as if they had been written_." This remarkable sentence aptly
describes that species of national songs which the early poets have
always provided for the people, traditions which float before history is
written. Whether this very ancient British book, almost five centuries
old, was a volume of these poetical legends, which our historian might
have arranged into that "regular history" which is furnished by his
Latin prose version, we are left without the means of ascertaining,
since it proved to be the only copy ever found, and was never seen after
the day of the translation. The Monk of Monmouth does not arrogate to
himself any other merit than that of a faithful translator, and with
honest simplicity warns of certain additions, which, even in a history
of two thousand years contained in a small volume, were found necessary.

We are told that the Britons who passed over into France carried with
them "their archives." But there were other Britons who did not fly to
the sixty leagues of Armorica; and of these the only "archives" we hear
of are those which the romancers so perpetually assure us may be
consulted at Caerleon, or some other magical residence of the visionary
Arthur. The Armorican colony must have formed but a portion of the
Britons; and it would be unreasonable to suppose, that these fugitives
could by any human means sequestrate and appropriate for themselves the
whole history of the nation, without leaving a fragment behind. Yet
nothing resembling the Armorican originals has been traced among the
Welsh. Our Geoffry modestly congratulates his contemporary annalists,
while he warns them off the preserve where lies his own well-stocked
game. And thus he speaks:--"The history of the kings who were the
successors in Wales of those here recorded, I leave to Karadoc of
Lancarven, as I do also the kings of the Saxons to William of Malmesbury
and Henry of Huntingdon; but I advise them to be silent concerning the
British kings, since they have not that book written in the British
tongue which Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, brought out of Britain." Well
might Geoffry exult. He possessed the sole copy ever found in both the

The British history is left to speak for itself in a great simplicity of
narrative, where even the supernatural offers no obstacle to the faith
of the historian--a history which might fascinate a child as well as an
antiquary. These remote occurrences are substantiated by the careful
dates of a romantic chronology. Events are recorded which happened when
David reigned in Judea, and Sylvius Latinus in Italy, and Gad, Nathan,
and Asaph prophesied in Israel. And the incidents of Lear's pathetic
story occurred when Isaiah and Hosea flourished, and Rome was built by
the two brothers. It tells of one of the British monarchs, how the lady
of his love was concealed during seven years in a subterraneous palace.
On his death, his avengeful queen cast the mother and her daughter into
the river which still bears that daughter's name, Sabrina, or the
Severn, and was not forgotten by Drayton. Another incident adorns a
canto of Spenser; the Lear came down to Shakspeare, as the fraternal
feuds of Ferrex and Porrex created our first tragedy by Sackville. There
are other tales which by their complexion betray their legendary origin.

Whatever assumed the form of history was long deemed authentic; and such
was the authority of this romance of Geoffry, that when Edward the First
claimed the crown of Scotland in his letter to the pope, he founded his
right on a passage in Geoffry's book; doubtless this very passage was
held to be as veracious by the Scots themselves, only that on this
occasion they decided to fight against the text. Four centuries after
Geoffry had written, when Henry the Seventh appointed a commission to
draw up his pedigree, they traced the royal descent from the imaginary
Brutus, and reckoning all Geoffry's British kings in the line--the
fairies of history--made the English monarch a descendant in the
hundredth degree. We now often hear of "the fabulous" History of Geoffry
of Monmouth; but neither his learned translator in 1718, nor the most
eminent Welsh antiquaries, attach any such notion to a history crowded
with domestic events, and with names famous yet unknown.

After the lapse of so many centuries, the scrutinising investigation of
a thoughtful explorer in British antiquities has demonstrated, through a
chain of recondite circumstances, that this History of Geoffry of
Monmouth, and its immediate predecessor, the celebrated Chronicle of the
pseudo-Archbishop Turpin, were sent forth on the same principle on which
to this day we publish party pamphlets, to influence the spirit of two
great nations opposed in interest and glory to each other; in a word,
that they were two Tales of a Tub thrown out to busy those mighty
whales, France and England.[9]

One great result of their successful grasp of the popular feelings could
never have been contemplated by these grave forgers of fabulous history.
The Chronicle of Archbishop Turpin and the British History of Geoffry of
Monmouth became the parents of those two rival families of romances
which commemorate the deeds of the Paladins of Charlemagne, and the
Knights of Arthur, the delight of three centuries.

The Welsh of this day possess very ancient manuscripts, which they
cherish as the remains of the ancient Britons. These preserve the deep
strains of poets composed in triumph or in defeat, the poetry of a
melancholy race. Gray first attuned the Cymry harp to British notes,
more poetical than the poems themselves, while others have devoted their
pens to translation, unhappily not always master of the language of
their version. These manuscripts contain also a remarkable body of
fiction in the MABINOGION, or juvenile amusements, a collection of prose
tales combining the marvellous and the imaginative. Some are chivalric
and amatory, stamped with the manners and customs of the middle ages;
others apparently of a much higher antiquity, like all such national
remains, are considered mythological; some there are not well adapted,
perhaps, to the initiation of youth. Obviously they are nothing more
than short romances; but we are solemnly assured that the Mabinogion
abound with occult mysteries, and that simple fiction only served to
allure the British neophyte to bardic mysticism. A learned writer, who
is apt to view old things in a new light, and whose boldness invigorates
the creeping toil of the antiquary, reveals the esoteric
doctrine----"the childhood alluded to in their title is an early and
preparatory stage of initiation; they were calculated to inflame
curiosity, to exercise ingenuity, and lead the aspirant gradually into a
state of preparation for things which ears not long and carefully
disciplined were unfit to hear."[10]

Every people have tales which do not require to be written to be
remembered, whose shortness is the salt which preserves them through
generations. Our ancestors long had heard of "Breton lays" and "British
tales," from the days of Chaucer to those of Milton; but it was reserved
for our own day to ascertain the species, and to possess those forgotten
yet imaginative effusions of the ancient Celtic genius. Our literary
antiquaries have discovered reposing among the Harleian manuscripts the
writings of Marie de France,[11] an Anglo-Norman poetess, who in the
thirteenth century versified many old Breton lais, which, she says, "she
had heard and well remembered." Who can assure us whether this
Anglo-Norman poetess gathered her old tales, for such she calls them, in
the French Britain or the English Britain, where she always resided?

It is among the Welsh we find a singular form of artificial memory which
can be traced among no other people. These are their TRIADS. Though
unauthorized by the learned in Celtic antiquities, I have sometimes
fancied that in the form we may possess a relic of druidical genius. A
triad is formed by classing together three things, neither more nor
less, but supposed to bear some affinity, though a fourth or fifth might
occur with equal claim to be admitted into the category.[12] To connect
three things together apparently analogous, though in reality not so,
sufficed for the stores of knowledge of a Triadist; but to fix on any
three incidents for an historical triad discovered a very narrow range
of research; and if designed as an artificial memory, three insulated
facts, deprived of dates or descriptions or connexion, neither settled
the chronology, nor enlarged the understanding. It is, however, worthy
of remark, that when the Triad is of an ethical cast, the number _three_
may compose an excellent aphorism; for three things may be predicated
with poignant concision, when they relate to our moral qualities, or to
the intellectual faculties: in this capricious form the Triad has often
afforded an enduring principle of human conduct, or of critical
discrimination; for our feelings are less problematical than historical
events, and more permanent than the recollection of three names.[13]


  [1] See the opening of Speed's "Chronicle."

  [2] The historian of our land in the solemnity of his high office,
    unwilling that an obscure Welsh prince named _Prydain_ should have
    left his immemorable name to this glorious realm, as a Welsh triad
    professes, was delighted to draw the national name out of the native
    tongue, appositely descriptive of the prevalent custom. But when,
    seduced by this syren of etymology, our grave Camden, to display the
    passion of a painted people for colours, collects a long list of
    ancient British names of polysyllabic elongation, and culls from each
    a single syllable which by its sound he conceives alludes to blue, or
    red, or yellow, our sage, in proving more than was requisite, has
    encumbered his cause, and has thrown suspicion over the whole. The
    doom of the etymologist, so often duped by affinity of _sounds_,
    seems to have been that of our judicious Camden.

  [3] Evelyn's "Numismata." Pinkerton has engraven ten of these
    Britannias struck by the Romans in his "Essay on Medals."

  [4] Milton.

  [5] See Mr. Turner's able "Vindication of the Genuineness of the
    Ancient British Bards."

  [6] Warton draws his knowledge from Rowland's "Mona Antiqua;" Geoffry
    of Monmouth would have extended his inquiry. Camden, judicious as he
    was, has actually bestowed the kingdom, as well as the princess, on
    this Roman general; and Gibbon has sarcastically noticed that Camden
    has been authority for all "his blind followers." The source of this
    sort of history lies in the volume of the "Monk of Monmouth," where
    Gibbon might have found the number of the numerous army of Maximus.
    Rowland's "Mona Antiqua Restaurata" is one of the most extraordinary
    pieces of our British Antiquities. It is written with the embrowned
    rust of our old English Antiquaries, where nothing on a subject seems
    to be omitted; but our author, unlike his contemporary antiquaries,
    is sceptical even on his own acquisitions; he asserts little and
    assumes nothing. One may conceive the native simplicity of an author,
    who having to describe the Isle of Anglesey, opens his work with the
    history of Chaos itself, to explain by the division of land and water
    the origin of islands. I have heard that this learned antiquary never
    travelled from his native island.

  [7] "L'Art de vérifier les Dates," article _Brétagne_, is thrown into
    utter confusion. It seems, however, to indicate that there were many
    migrations; but all is indistinct or uncertain.

  [8] Verstegan has finely engraved these idols in his "Restitution,"
    so delighted was this Teutonic Christian with these hideous
    absurdities of his pagan ancestors, and so proud of his Saxon

  [9] Turner's "History of England during the Middle Ages," iv. 326.

  [10] "Britannia after the Romans." The literary patriotism of Wales
    has been more remarkable among humble individuals than among the
    squirearchy, if we except the ardent Pennant. Mr. Owen Jones, an
    honest furrier in Thames-street, kindled by the love of father-land,
    offered the Welsh public a costly present of the "Archæology of
    Wales," containing the bardic poetry, genealogies, triads,
    chronicles, &c. in their originals: the haughty descendant of the
    Cymry disdained to translate for the Anglo-Saxon. To Mr. William Owen
    the lore of Cambria stands deeply indebted for his persevering
    efforts. Under the name of Meirion he long continued his literal
    versions of the Welsh bards in the early volumes of the "Monthly
    Magazine;" he has furnished a Cambrian biography and a dictionary.

    Some years ago, a learned Welsh scholar, Dr. Owen Pughe, issued
    proposals to publish the "Mabinogion," accompanied by translations,
    on the completion of a subscription list sufficient to indemnify the
    costs of printing.--See Mr. Crofton Croker's interesting work on
    "Fairy Legends," vol. iii. He appealed in vain to the public, but the
    whole loss remains with them. Recently a munificent lady [Lady
    Charlotte Guest] has resumed the task, and has presented us in the
    most elegant form with two tales such as ladies read. Since this note
    was written several cheering announcements of some important works
    have been put forth. [Many have since been published.]

  [11] See Warton and Ellis. "Poésies de Marie de France" have been
    published by M. de Roquefort, Paris, 1820.

  [12] "The translators do the triadist an injustice in rendering _Tri_
    by '_The Three_' when he has put no _The_ at all. The number was
    accounted fortunate, and they took a pleasure in binding up all their
    ideas into little sheaves or fasciculi of three; but in so doing they
    did not mean to imply that there were no more such."--"Britannia
    after the Romans."

  [13] As these artificial associations, like the topics invented by
    the Roman rhetoricians, have been ridiculed by those who have
    probably formed their notions from unskilful versions, I select a few
    which might enter into the philosophy of the human mind. They denote
    a literature far advanced in critical refinement, and appear to have
    been composed from the sixth to the twelfth century.

    "The three foundations of genius; the gift of God, human exertion,
    and the events of life."

    "The three first requisites of genius; an eye to see nature, a heart
    to feel it, and a resolution that dares follow it."

    "The three things indispensable to genius; understanding, meditation,
    and perseverance."

    "The three things that improve genius; proper exertion, frequent
    exertion, and successful exertion."

    "The three qualifications of poetry; endowment of genius, judgment
    from experience, and felicity of thought."

    "The three pillars of judgment; bold design, frequent practice, and
    frequent mistakes."

    "The three pillars of learning; seeing much, suffering much, and
    studying much." See Turner's "Vindication of the Ancient British
    Bards."--Owen's "Dissertation on Bardism, prefixed to the Heroic
    Elegies of Llywarç Hen."


Two brothers and adventurers of an obscure Saxon tribe raised their
ensign of the White Horse on British land: the visit was opportune, or
it was expected--this remains a state secret. Welcomed by the British
monarch and his perplexed council amid their intestine dissensions, as
friendly allies, they were renowned for their short and crooked swords
called _Seax_, which had given the generic name of Saxons to their

These descendants of Woden, for such even the petty chieftains deemed
themselves, whose trade was battle and whose glory was pillage, showed
the spiritless what men do who know to conquer, the few against the
many. They baffled the strong and they annihilated the weak. The Britons
were grateful. The Saxons lodged in the land till they took possession
of it. The first Saxon founded the kingdom of Kent; twenty years after,
a second in Sussex raised the kingdom of the South-Saxons; in another
twenty years appeared the kingdom of the West-Saxons. It was a century
after the earliest arrival that the great emigration took place. The
tribe of the Angles depopulated their native province and flocked to the
fertile island, under that foeman of the Britons whom the bards describe
as "The Flame Bearer," and "The Destroyer." Every quality peculiar to
the Saxons was hateful to the Britons; even their fairness of
complexion. Taliessin terms Hengist "a white-bellied hackney," and his
followers are described as of "hateful hue and hateful form." The
British poet delights to paint "a Saxon shivering and quaking, his
_white hair_ washed in blood;" and another sings how "close upon the
backs of the _pale-faced_ ones were the spear-points."[1]

Already the name itself of _Britain_ had disappeared among the invaders.
Our island was now called "Saxony beyond the Sea," or "West Saxon land;"
and when the expatriated Saxons had alienated themselves from the land
of their fathers, those who remained faithful to their native hearths
perhaps proudly distinguished themselves as "the old Saxons," for by
this name they were known by the Saxons in Britain.

Eight separate but uncertain kingdoms were raised on the soil of
Britain, and present a moveable surface of fraternal wars and baffled
rivals. There was one kingdom long left kingless, for "No man dared,
though never so ambitious, to take up the sceptre which many had found
so hot; the only effectual cure of ambition that I have read"--these are
the Words of Milton. Finally, to use the quaint phrase of the Chancellor
Whitelock, "the Octarchy was brought into one." At the end of five
centuries the Saxons fell prostrate before a stronger race.

But of all the accidents and the fortunes of the Saxon dynasty, not the
least surprising is that an obscure town in the duchy of Sleswick,
_Anglen_, is commemorated by the transference of its name to one of the
great European nations. The _Angles_, or _Engles_, have given their
denomination to the land of Britain--_Engle-land_ is _England_, and the
_Engles_ are the _English_.[2]

How it happened that the very name of _Britain_ was abolished, and why
the Anglian was selected in preference to the more eminent race, may
offer a philosophical illustration of the accidental nature of LOCAL

There is a tale familiar to us from youth, that Egbert, the more
powerful king of the West Saxons, was crowned the first monarch of
England, and issued a decree that this kingdom of Britain should be
called England; yet an event so strange as to have occasioned the change
of the name of the whole country remains unauthenticated by any of the
original writers of our annals.[3] No record attests that Egbert in a
solemn coronation assumed the title of "King of England." His son and
successor never claimed such a legitimate title; and even our
illustrious Alfred, subsequently, only styled himself "King of the West

The story, however, is of ancient standing; for Matthew of Westminster
alludes to a similar if not the same incident, namely, that by "a common
decree of all the Saxon kings, it was ordained that the title of the
island should no longer be Britain, from Brute, but henceforward be
called from the English, England." Stowe furnishes a positive
circumstance in this obscure transaction--"Egbert caused the brazen
image of Cadwaline, King of the Britons, to be thrown down." The decree
noticed by Matthew of Westminster, combined with the fact of pulling
down the statue of a popular British monarch, betrays the real motive of
this singular national change: whether it were the suggestion of Egbert,
or the unanimous agreement of the assembled monarchs who were his
tributary kings, it was a stroke of deep political wisdom; it knitted
the members into one common body, under one name, abolishing, by
legislative measures, the very memory of Britain from the land.
Although, therefore, no positive evidence has been produced, the state
policy carries an internal evidence which yields some sanction to the
obscure tradition.

It is a nicer difficulty to account for the choice of the Anglian name.
It might have been preferred to distinguish the Saxons of Britain from
the Saxons of the Continent; or the name was adopted, being that of the
far more numerous race among these people. Four kingdoms of the octarchy
were possessed by the Angles. Thus doubtful and obscure remains the real
origin of our national name, which hitherto has hinged on a suspicious

The casual occurrence of the ENGLES leaving their name to this land has
bestowed on our country a foreign designation; and--for the contingency
was nearly occurring--had the kingdom of Northumbria preserved its
ascendancy in the octarchy, the seat of dominion had been altered. In
that case, the Lowlands of Scotland would have formed a portion of
England; York would have stood forth as the metropolis of Britain, and
London had been but a remote mart for her port and her commerce. Another
idiom, perhaps, too, other manners, had changed the whole face of the
country. We had been Northmen, not Southerns; our neighbourhood had not
proved so troublesome to France. But the kingdom of Wessex prevailed,
and became the sole monarchy of England, Such local contingencies have
decided the character of a whole people.[4]

The history of LOCAL NAMES is one of the most capricious and fortuitous
in the history of man; the etymologist must not be implicitly trusted,
for it is necessary to be acquainted with the history of a people as
much as the history of languages, to be certain of local derivations. We
have recently been cautioned by a sojourner in the most ancient of
kingdoms,[5] not too confidently to rely on etymology, or to assign too
positively any reason for the origin of LOCAL NAMES. No etymologist
could have accounted for the name of our nation had he not had recourse
to our annals. Sir WALTER RALEIGH, from his observations in the New
World, has confirmed this observation by circumstances which probably
remain unknown to the present inhabitants. The actual names given to
those places in America which they still retain, are nothing more than
the blunders of the first Europeans, demanding by signs and catching at
words by which neither party were intelligible to one another.[6]


  [1] "Britannia after the Romans," 62, 4to.

  [2] It is a singular circumstance that our neighbours have preserved
    the name of our country more perfectly than we have done by our
    mutilated term of _England_, for they write it with antiquarian
    precision, _Angle-terre_--the land of the Angles. Our counties bear
    the vestiges of these Saxons expelling or exterminating the native
    Britons, as our pious Camden ejaculates, "by God's wonderful

  [3] The diligent investigator of the history of our Anglo-Saxons
    concludes that this unauthorised tale of the coronation and the
    decree of Egbert is unworthy of credence.

    Camden, in his first edition, had fixed the date of the change of the
    name as occurring in the year 810; in his second edition he corrected
    it to 800. Holinshed says _about_ 800. Speed gives a much later date,
    819. It is evident that these disagreeing dates are all hazarded

  [4] Mitford's "Harmony of Language," 429. I might have placed this
    possible circumstance in the article "A History of Events which have
    not happened," in "Curiosities of Literature."

  [5] Sir GARDNER WILKINSON, in the curious volume of his recondite
    discoveries in the land of the Pyramids.

  [6] "History of the World," 167, fol. 1666. We have also a curious
    account of the ancient manner of naming persons and places among our
    own nation in venerable Lambarde's "Perambulations of Kent," 349,


The history and literature of England are involved in the transactions
of a people who, living in such remote times at the highest of their
fortunes, never advanced beyond a semi-civilization. But political
freedom was the hardy and jealous offspring nursed in the forests of
Germany; there was first heard the proclamation of equal laws, and there
a people first assumed the name of Franks or Freemen. Our language, and
our laws, and our customs, originate with our Teutonic ancestors; among
them we are to look for the trunk, if not the branches, of our national
establishments. In the rude antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon church, our
theoretical inquirers in ecclesiastical history trace purer doctrines
and a more primitive discipline; and in the shadowy Witenagemot, the
moveable elements of the British constitution: the language and
literature of England still lie under their influence, for this people
everywhere left the impression of a strong hand.

The history of the Anglo-Saxons as a people is without a parallel in the
annals of a nation. Their story during five centuries of dominion in
this land may be said to have been unknown to generations of Englishmen;
the monuments of their history, the veritable records of their customs
and manners, their polity, their laws, their institutions, their
literature, whatever reveals the genius of a people, lie entombed in
their own contemporary manuscripts, and in another source which we long
neglected--in those ancient volumes of their northern brothers, who had
not been idle observers of the transactions of England, which seems
often to have been to them "the land of promise." The Anglo-Saxon
manuscripts, those authentic testimonies of the existence of the nation,
were long dispersed, neglected, even unintelligible, disfigured by
strange characters, and obscured by perplexing forms of diction. The
language as well as the writing had passed away; all had fallen into
desuetude; and no one suspected that the history of a whole people so
utterly cast into forgetfulness could ever be written.

But the lost language and the forgotten characters antiquity and
religion seemed to have consecrated in the eyes of the learned
Archbishop MATTHEW PARKER, who was the first to attempt their
restitution by an innocent stratagem. To his edition of Thomas
Walsingham's History in 1574, his Grace added the Life of Alfred by this
king's secretary, Asser, _printed in the Saxon character_; we are told,
as "an invitation to English readers to draw them in unawares to an
acquaintance with the _handwriting of their ancestors_."[1] "The
invitation" was somewhat awful, and whether the guests were delighted or
dismayed, let some Saxonist tell! SPELMAN, the great legal archæologist,
was among the earliest who ventured to search amid the Anglo-Saxon
duskiness, at a time when he knew not one who could even interpret the
writing. This great lawyer had been perplexed by many barbarous names
and terms which had become obsolete; they were Saxon. He was driven to
the study; and his "Glossary" is too humble a title for that treasure of
law and antiquity, of history and of disquisition, which astonished the
learned world at home and abroad--while the unsold copies during the
life of the author checked the continuation; so few was the number of
students, and few they must still be; yet the devotion of its votary was
not the less, for he had prepared the foundation of a Saxon
professorship. Spelman was the father; but he who enlarged the
inheritance of these Anglo-Saxon studies, appeared in the learned
SOMNER; and though he lived through distracted times which loved not
antiquity, the cell of the antiquary was hallowed by the restituted
lore. HICKES, in his elaborate "Thesaurus," displayed a literature which
had never been read, and which he himself had not yet learned to read.
These were giants; their successors were dwarfs who could not add to
their stores, and little heeded their possessions. Few rarely succeeded
in reading the Saxon; and at that day, about the year 1700, no printer
could cast the types, which were deemed barbarous, or, as the antiquary
Rowe Mores expresses it, "unsightly to politer eyes." A lady--and she
is not the only one who has found pleasure in studying this ancient
language of our country--Mrs. ELSTOB, the niece of Hickes, patronised by
a celebrated Duchess of Portland, furnished several versions; but the
Saxon Homilies she had begun to print, for some unknown cause, were
suspended: the unpublished but printed sheets are preserved at our
National Library. These pursuits having long languished, seemed wholly
to disappear from our literature.

None of our historians from MILTON to HUME ever referred to an original
Saxon authority. They took their representations from the writings of
the monks; but the true history of the Anglo-Saxons was not written in
Latin. It was not from monkish scribes, who recorded public events in
which the Saxons had no influence, that the domestic history of a race
dispossessed of all power could be drawn, and far less would they record
the polity which had once constituted their lost independence. The
annalist of the monastery, flourishing under another dynasty, placed in
other times and amid other manners, was estranged from any community of
feeling with a people who were then sunk into the helots of England.
MILTON, in his history of Britain, imagined that the transactions of the
Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, or Octarchy, would be as worthless "to chronicle
as the wars of kites or crows flocking and fighting in the air." Thus a
poet-historian can veil by a brilliant metaphor the want of that
knowledge which he contemns before he has acquired--this was less
pardonable in a philosopher; and when HUME observed, perhaps with the
eyes of Milton, that "he would hasten through the obscure and
uninteresting period of Saxon Annals," however cheering to his reader
was the calmness of his indolence, the philosopher, in truth, was wholly
unconscious that these "obscure and uninteresting annals of the
Anglo-Saxons" formed of themselves a complete history, offering new
results for his profound and luminous speculations on the political
state of man. Genius is often obsequious to its predecessors, and we
track BURKE in the path of Hume; and so late as in 1794, we find our
elegant antiquary, Bishop PERCY, lamenting the scanty and defective
annals of the Anglo-Saxons; naked epitomes, bare of the slightest
indications of the people themselves. The history of the dwellers in our
land had hitherto yielded no traces of the customs and domestic economy
of the nation; all beyond some public events was left in darkness and

We find ELLIS and RITSON still erring in the trackless paths. All this
national antiquity was wholly unsuspected by these zealous
investigators. In this uncertain condition stood the history of the
Anglo-Saxons, when a new light rose in the hemisphere, and revealed to
the English public a whole antiquity of so many centuries. In 1805, for
the first time, the story and the literature of the Anglo-Saxons was
given to the country. It was our studious explorer, SHARON TURNER, who
first opened these untried ways in our national antiquities.[2]

Anglo-Saxon studies have been recently renovated, but unexpected
difficulties have started up. A language whose syntax has not been
regulated, whose dialects can never be discriminated, and whose
orthography and orthoepy seem irrecoverable, yields faithless texts when
confronted; and treacherous must be the version if the construction be
too literal or too loose, or what happens sometimes, ambiguous.
Different anglicisers offer more than one construction.[3]

It is now ascertained that the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts are found in a
most corrupt state.[4] This fatality was occasioned by the inattention
or the unskilfulness of the caligrapher, whose task must have required a
learned pen. The Anglo-Saxon verse was regulated by a puerile system of
alliteration,[5] and the rhythm depended on accentuation. Whenever the
strokes, or dots, marking the accent or the pauses are omitted, or
misplaced, whole sentences are thrown into confusion; compound words are
disjoined, and separate words are jumbled together. "Nouns have been
mistaken for verbs, and particles for nouns."

These difficulties, arising from unskilful copyists, are infinitely
increased by the genius of the Anglo-Saxon poets themselves. The
tortuous inversion of their composition often leaves an ambiguous sense:
their perpetual periphrasis; their abrupt transitions; their pompous
inflations, and their elliptical style; and not less their portentous
metaphorical nomenclature where a single object must be recognised by
twenty denominations, not always appropriate, and too often clouded by
the most remote and dark analogies[6]--all these have perplexed the most
skilful judges, who have not only misinterpreted passages, but have
even failed to comprehend the very subject of their original. This last
circumstance has been remarkably shown in the fate of the heroic tale of
BEOWULF. When it first fell to the hard lot of WANLEY, the librarian of
the Earl of Oxford, to describe "The Exploits of Beowulf," he imagined,
or conjectured, that it contained "the wars which this Dane waged
against the reguli, or petty kings of Sweden." He probably decided on
the subject by confining his view to the opening page, where a hero
descends from his ship--but for a very different purpose from a military
expedition. Fortunately Wanley lauded the manuscript as a "tractatus
nobilissimus," and an "egregium exemplum" of the Anglo-Saxon poetry.
Probably this manuscript remained unopened during a century, when SHARON
TURNER detected the error of Wanley, but he himself misconceived the
design of these romantic "Exploits." Yet this diligent historian
carefully read and analysed this heroic tale. CONYBEARE, who had fallen
into the same erroneous conception, at length caught up a clue in this
labyrinth; and finally even a safer issue has been found, though
possibly not without some desperate efforts, by the version of Mr.

Even the learned in Saxon have not always been able to distinguish this
verse from prose; the verse unmarked by rhyme being written continuously
as prose.[7] A diction turgid and obscure was apparent; but in what
consisted the art of the poet, or the metrical system, long baffled the
most ingenious conjectures. RITSON, in his perplexity, described this
poetry or metre as a "rhymeless sort of poetry, a kind of bombast or
insane prose, from which it is very difficult to be distinguished."
TYRWHIT and ELLIS remained wholly at a loss to comprehend the fabric of
Anglo-Saxon poesy. HICKES, in the fascination of scholarship, had
decided that it proceeded on a metrical system of syllabic quantities,
and surmounted all difficulties by submitting the rhythmical cadences of
Gothic poesy to the prosody of classical antiquity. This was a literary
hallucination, and a remarkable evidence of a favourite position
maintained merely by the force of prepossession.

To what cause are we to ascribe the complex construction of the diction,
and the multiplied intricacies of the metres of the poetry of the
Northmen? Bishop Percy noticed, that the historian of the Runic poetry
has counted up among the ancient Icelandic poets one hundred and
thirty-six different metres. The Icelandic and the Anglo-Saxon are
cognate languages, being both dialects of the ancient Gothic or
Teutonic. The genius of the Danish Scalds often displays in their
Eddas[8] a sublime creative power far out of the reach of the creeping
and narrow faculty of the Saxon, yet the same mechanism regulated both;
the fixed recurrence of certain letters or syllables which constitutes
that perpetual alliteration, which oftener than rhyme gratified the ear
of barbaric poesy, and a metaphorical phraseology or poetical vocabulary
appropriated by the bards, furnishing the adept with phrases when he had
not always ready any novel conceptions. Shall we deem such arbitrary
forms and such artificial contrivances, the mere childishness of tastes,
to have been invented in the wintry years of these climates, to amuse
themselves in their stern solitudes; or rather, may we not consider them
as a mystery of the Craft, the initiation of the Order? for by this
scholarlike discipline in multiplying difficulties the later bards
separated themselves from those humbler minstrels who were left to their
own inartificial emotions.

Such prescribed formulæ, and such a mechanism of verse, must have
tethered the imagination in a perpetual circle; it was art which
violated the free course of nature. In this condition we often find even
the poetry of the Scandinavians. The famous death-song of Regner Lodbrog
seems little more than an iteration of the same ideas. An Anglo-Saxon
poem has the appearance of a collection of short hints rather than
poetical conceptions, curt and ejaculative: a paucity of objects yields
but a paucity of emotions, too vague for detail, too abrupt for deep
passion, too poor in fancy to scatter the imagery of poesy. The
Anglo-Saxon betrays its confined and monotonous genius: we are in the
first age of art, when pictures are but monochromes of a single colour.
Hence, in the whole map of Anglo-Saxon poetry, it is difficult to
discriminate one writer from another.[9]

Their prose has taken a more natural character than their verse. The
writings of Alfred are a model of the Anglo-Saxon style in its purest
state; they have never been collected, but it is said they would form
three octavo volumes; they consist chiefly of translations.

The recent versions in literal prose by two erudite Saxonists of two of
the most remarkable Anglo-Saxon poems, will enable an English reader to
form a tolerable notion of the genius of this literature. CONYBEARE'S
poetical versions remained unrivalled. But if a literal version of a
primitive poetry soon ceases to be poetry, so likewise, if the rude
outlines are to be retouched, and a brilliant colouring is to be
borrowed, we are receiving Anglo-Saxon poetry in the cadences of Milton
and "the orient hues" of Gray.


  [1] Bp. Nicholson's Eng. Lib.

  [2] It is pleasing to record a noble instance of the enthusiasm of
    learned research. "The leisure hours of sixteen years" furnished a
    comprehensive history of which "two-thirds had not yet
    appeared."--_Mr. Turner's Preface._

  [3] A sufferer, moreover, fully assures us that some remain, which
    "must baffle all conjecture;" and another critic has judicially
    decreed that, in every translation from the Anglo-Saxon that has
    fallen under his notice, "there are blunders enough to satisfy the
    most unfriendly critic." "The Song of the Traveller," in "The Exeter
    Book," was translated by CONYBEARE; a more accurate transcript was
    given by Mr. KEMBLE in his edition of Beowulf; and now Mr. GUEST has
    furnished a third, varying from both. We cannot be certain that a
    fourth may not correct the three.

  [4] "Without exception!" is the energetic cry of the translator of

  [5] The first line contains two words commencing with the same
    letter, and the second line has its first word also beginning with
    that letter. This difficulty seems insurmountable to a modern reader,
    for our authority confesses that, "In the Saxon poetry; as it is
    preserved in manuscripts, the first line often contains but one
    alliterating word, and, from the negligence of the scribes, the
    alliteration is in many instances entirely lost."--_Dissertation on
    Anglo-Saxon Poetry, Fraser's Magazine_, xii. 81.

  [6] A striking instance how long a universal error can last, arising
    from one of these obscure conceits, is noticed by Mr. GRENVILLE
    PIGOTT in his "Manual of Scandinavian Mythology."

    These warlike barbarians were long reproached that even their
    religion fomented an implacable hatred of their enemies; for in the
    future state of their paradisiacal Valhalla, their deceased heroes
    rejoiced at their celestial compotations, _to drink out of the skulls
    of their enemies_.

    A passage in the death-song of Regner Lodbrog, literally translated,
    is, "Soon shall we _drink_ out of the _curved trees of the head_;"
    which Bishop Percy translates, "Soon, in the splendid hall of Odin,
    we shall drink beer out of the skulls of our enemies." And thus also
    have the Danes themselves, the Germans, and the French.

    The original and extraordinary blunder lies with Olaus Wormius, the
    great Danish antiquary, to whose authority poets and historians bowed
    without looking further. Our grave Olaus was bewildered by this
    monstrous style of the Scalds, and translated this drinking bout at
    Valhalla according to his own fancy,--"Ex concavis crateribus
    craniorum;"--thus turning the "trees of the head" into a "skull," and
    the skull into a hollow cup. The Scald, however, was innocent of this
    barbarous invention; and, in his violent figures and disordered
    fancy, merely alluded to the branching horns, growing as trees, from
    the heads of animals--that is, the curved horns which formed their
    drinking cups. If Olaus here, like Homer, nodded, something might be
    urged for his defence; for who is bound to understand such remote, if
    not absurd conceits? but I do not know that we could plead as fairly
    for his own interpolating fancy of "drinking out of the skulls of
    their enemies."

    This grave blunder became universal, and a century passed away
    without its being detected. It was so familiar, that Peter Pindar
    once said that the booksellers, like the heroes of Valhalla, drank
    their wine out of the skulls of authors.

  [7] HICKES and WANLEY mistook the "Ormulum," a paraphrase of Gospel
    history, as mere prose; when in fact it is composed in long lines of
    fifteen syllables without rhyme.

  [8] See "A Manual of Scandinavian Mythology," by Mr. Grenville
    Pigott. 1839. "The Northern Mythology" will be found here not only
    skilfully arranged, but its wondrous myths and fables elucidated by
    modern antiquaries. It is further illustrated by the translation of
    the poem of Oehlenschläger, on "The Gods of the North;" whose genius
    has been transfused in the nervous simplicity of the present version.

  [9] Such is the critical decision of CONYBEARE, a glorious
    enthusiast. "Illustrations of Anglo-Saxon Poetry," by John Josiah
    Conybeare. 1826.

    The late Mr. Price, the editor of Warton's History, announced an
    elaborate work on the Anglo-Saxon poetry. The verse of CONYBEARE and
    the disquisitions of PRICE would have completed this cycle of our
    ancient poetry. But a fatal coincidence marked the destiny of these
    eminent votaries of our poetic antiquity--both prematurely ceasing to
    exist while occupied on their works. CONYBEARE has survived in his
    brother, whose congenial tastes collected his remains; PRICE, who had
    long resided abroad, and there had silently stored up the whole
    wealth of Northern literature, on his return home remained little
    known till his valued edition of Warton announced to the literary
    world the acquisitions they were about to receive. He has left a name
    behind him, but not a work, for Price had no fraternal friend.

    Since this chapter was written, Mr. Thos. Wright has published "An
    Essay on the State of Literature and Learning under the
    Anglo-Saxons." It displays a comprehensive view taken by one to whose
    zealous labours the lovers of our ancient literature are so deeply


Cædmon, the Saxonists hail as "the Father of English Song!"

The personal history of this bard is given in the taste of the age.
Cædmon was a herdsman who had never read a single poem. Sitting in his
"beership," whenever the circling harp, that "Wood of Joy!" as the Saxon
gleemen have called it, was offered to his hand, all unskilled, the
peasant, stung with shame, would hurry homewards. Already past the
middle of life, never had the peasant dreamt that he was a sublime poet,
or at least a poet composing on sublime themes, incapable as he was even
of reading his own Saxon.

As once he lay slumbering in a stall, the apparition of a strange man
thus familiarly greeted him:--"Cædmon, sing some song to me!" The
cowherd modestly urged that he was mute and unmusical:--"Nevertheless
thou shalt sing!" retorted the benignant apparition. "What shall I
sing?" rejoined the minstrel, who had never sung. "Sing the origin of
things!" The peasant, amazed, found his tongue loosened, and listened to
his own voice; a voice which was to reach posterity!

He flew in the morning to the town-reeve to announce a wonder, that he
had become a poet in the course of a single night. He recited the poem,
which, however--for we possess it--only proves that between sleeping and
waking eighteen lines of dreamy periphrasis may express a single idea.
Venerable Bede held this effusion as a pure inspiration: the modern
historian of the Anglo-Saxons indulgently discovers three ideas:
Conybeare, more critical, acknowledges that "the eighteen lines expand
the mere proposition of 'Let us praise God, the maker of heaven and
earth.'" But this was only the first attempt of a great enterprise--it
was a thing to be magnified for the neighbouring monastery of Whitby,
who gladly received such a new brother.

For a poet who had never written a verse, it was only necessary to open
his vein: a poet who could not read only required to be read to. The
whole monkery came down with the canonical books; they informed him of
all things, from "Genesis" down to "the doctrine of the apostles." "The
good man listened," as saith Venerable Bede, "like a clean animal
ruminating; and his song and his verse were so winsome to hear, that his
teachers wrote them down, and learned from his mouth." These teachers
could not have learned more than they themselves had taught. We can only
draw out of a cistern the waters which we have poured into it. Every
succeeding day, however, swelled the Cædmonian Poem; assuredly they
wanted neither zeal nor hands--for the glory of the monastery of Whitby!

Such is a literary anecdote of the seventh century conveyed to us by
ancient Bede. The dream of the apparition's inspiration of this
unlettered monk was one more miracle among many in honour of the
monastery; and it was to be told in the customary way, for never yet in
a holy brotherhood was found a recusant.

Even to this day we ourselves dream grotesque adventures; but in the
days of monachism visions were not merely a mere vivid and lengthened
dream, a slight delirium, for they usually announced something
important. A dream was a prognostic or a prelude. The garrulous
chroniclers, and saintly Bede himself, that primeval gossiper, afford
abundant evidence of such secret revelations. Whenever some great act
was designed, or some awful secret was to be divulged, a dream announced
it to the world. Was a king to be converted to Christianity, the people
were enlightened by the vision which the sovereign revealed to them; was
a maiden to take the vow of virginity, or a monastery to be built, an
angelical vision hovered, and sometimes specified the very spot. Was a
crime of blood to be divulged by some penitent accessory, somebody had a
dream, and the criminal has stood convicted by the grave-side, which
gave up the fatal witness in his victim. In those ages of simplicity and
pious frauds, a dream was an admirable expedient by which important
events were carried on, and mystification satisfactorily explained the

The marvellous incident on which the history of Cædmon revolves may only
veil a fact which has nothing extraordinary in itself when freed from
the invention which disguises it. Legends like the present one were
often borrowed by one monastery from another, and an exact counterpart
of the dream and history of our Saxon bard, in a similar personage and a
like result, has been pointed out as occurring in Gaul. A vernacular or
popular version of the Scriptures being required, it was supplied by a
_peasant wholly ignorant of the poetic art till he had been instructed
in a_ DREAM.[1]

Scriptural themes were common with the poets of the monastery.[2] The
present enterprise, judging from the variety of its fragments from both
Testaments and from the Apocrypha, in its complete state would have
formed a chronological poem of the main incidents of the Scriptures in
the vernacular Saxon. This was a burden of magnitude which no single
shoulder could have steadily carried, and probably was supported by
several besides "the Dreamer." Critical Saxonists, indeed, have detected
a variation in the style, and great inequalities in the work; such
discordances indicate that the paraphrase was occasionally resumed by
some successor, as idling monks at a later period were often the
continuators of voluminous romances. I would class the Cædmonian poem
among the many attempts of the monachal genius to familiarize the people
with the miraculous and the religious narratives in the Scriptures, by a
paraphrase in the vernacular idiom. The poem may be deemed as equivocal
as the poet; the text has been impeached; interpolations and omissions
are acknowledged by the learned in Saxon lore. The poem is said to have
been written in the seventh century, and the earliest manuscript we
possess is of the tenth, suffering in that course of time all the
corruptions or variations of the scribes, while the ruder northern
dialect has been changed into the more polished southern. If we may
confide in a learned conjecture, it may happen that Cædmon is no name at
all, but merely a word or a phrase; and thus the entity of the Dreamer
of the Monastery of Whitby may vanish in the wind of two Chaldaic
syllables![3] Be this as it may, for us the poem is an entity, whatever
becomes of the pretended Dreamer.

It has become an arduous inquiry whether MILTON has not drawn largely
from the obscurity of this monkish Ennius? "In reading Cædmon," says
SHARON TURNER, "we are reminded of Milton--of a 'Paradise Lost' in rude
miniature." Conybeare advances, "the pride, rebellion, and punishments
of Satan and his princes have a resemblance to Milton so remarkable that
_much of this portion might be almost literally translated by a cento of
lines from the great poet_."[4] A recent Saxonist, in noticing "the
creation of Cædmon as beautiful," adds, "it is still more interesting
from _its singular correspondence even in expression with 'Paradise

The ancient, as well as the modern, of these scriptural poets has
adopted a narrative which is not found in the Scriptures. The rebellion
of Satan before the creation of man, and his precipitation with the
apostate angels into a dungeon-gulf of flame, and ice, and darkness,
though an incident familiar to us as a gospel text, remains nothing more
than a legend unhallowed by sacred writ.

Where are we, then, to seek for the origin of a notion universal
throughout Christendom? I long imagined that this revolt in heaven had
been one of the traditions hammered in the old rabbinical forge; and in
the Talmudical lore there are tales of the fallen angels; but I am
assured by a learned professor in these studies, that the Talmud
contains no narrative of "the Rebellion of Satan." The Hebrews, in their
sojourn in Babylon, had imbibed many Chaldean fables, and some fanciful
inventions. At this obscure period did this singular episode in sacred
history steal into their popular creed? Did it issue from that awful
cradle of monstrous imaginings, of demons, of spirits, and of terrifying
deities, Persia and India? In the Brahminical Shasters we find a
rebellion of the angels before the creation, and their precipitation
from light into darkness; their restoration by the clemency of the
Creator, however, occurs after their probationary state, during millions
of years in their metamorphoses on earth. But this seems only the veil
of an allegory designed to explain their dark doctrine of the
metempsychosis. The rebellion of the angels, as we have been taught it,
is associated with their everlasting chains and eternal fire; how the
legend became universally received may baffle inquiry.[5]

But the coincidence of the Cædmonian with the Miltonian poem in having
adopted the same peculiar subject of the revolt of Satan and the
expulsion of the angels, is not the most remarkable one in the two
works. The same awful narrative is pursued, and we are startled at the
opening of the Pandemonium by discovering the same scene and the same
actors. When we scrutinise into minuter parts, we are occasionally
struck by some extraordinary similarities.

Cædmon, to convey a notion of the ejection from heaven to hell, tells
that "the Fiend, with all his comrades, fell from heaven above, through
as long as _three nights and days_." Milton awfully describes Satan
"confounded, though immortal," rolling in the fiery gulf--

  _Nine times the space that measures day and night_
  To mortal men.

Cædmon describes the Deity having cast the evil angel into that "House
of perdition, down on that new bed; after, gave him a _name_ that the
highest (of the devils which they had now become) should be called
_Satan_ thenceforwards." Milton has preserved the same notice of the
origin of _the name_, thus--

                To whom the _Arch-Enemy_,
  And thence in heaven called _Satan_--

Satan in Hebrew signifying "the Enemy," or "the Adversary."

The harangue of Satan to his legions by the Saxon monk cannot fail to
remind us of the first grand scene in the "Paradise Lost," however
these creations of the two poets be distinct. "The swart hell--a land
void of light, and full of flame," is like Milton's--

                   ----yet from these flames
  No light, but rather darkness visible.

The locality is not unlike, "There they have at even, immeasurably long,
each of all the fiends a renewal of fire, with sulphur charged; but
cometh ere dawn the eastern wind frost, bitter-cold, ever fire or dart."
This torment we find in the hell of Milton--

                                The bitter change
  Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
  From beds of raging _fire_ to starve in _ice_.

                                     The parching air
  _Burns frore_, and _cold performs the effect of fire_.[6]

The "Inferno" of Dante has also "its eternal darkness for the dwellers
in fierce _heat_ and in _ice_."[7] It is evident that the Saxon, the
Italian, and the Briton had drawn from the same source. The Satan of
Cædmon in "the torture-house" is represented as in "the dungeon of
perdition." He lies in chains, his feet bound, his hands manacled, his
neck fastened by iron bonds; Satan and his crew the monk has degraded
into Saxon convicts. Milton indeed has his

  Adamantine chains and penal fire,


  A dungeon horrible on all sides round.

But as Satan was to be the great actor, Milton was soon compelled to
find some excuse for freeing the evil spirit from the chains which
Heaven had forged, and this he does--

  Chain'd on the burning lake, _nor ever thence
  Had ris'n or heaved his head, but that the will
  And high permission of all-ruling Heaven
  Left him at large to his own dark designs_,
  That with reiterated crimes he might
  Heap on himself damnation, while he sought
  Evil to others.

The Saxon monk had not the dexterity to elude the difficult position in
which the arch-fiend was for ever fixed; he was indissolubly chained,
and yet much was required to be done. It is not, therefore, Satan
himself who goes on the subdolous design of wreaking his revenge on the
innocent pair in Paradise; for this he despatches one of his associates,
who is thus described: "Prompt in arms, he had a crafty soul; this chief
set his helmet on his head; he many speeches knew of guileful words:
wheeled up from thence, he _departed through the doors of hell_." We are
reminded of

  The infernal doors, that on their hinges grate
  Harsh thunder.

The emissary of Satan in Cædmon had "a strong mind, lion-like in air,
_in hostile mood he dashed the fire aside with a fiend's power_."[8]
That demon flings aside the flames of hell with the bravery of his
sovereign, as we see in Milton--

  Forthwith upright he rears from off the pool
  His mighty stature; _on each hand the flames
  Driv'n backward, slope their pointing spires, and roll'd
  In billows_, leave in the midst a horrid vale.[9]

Cædmon thus represents Satan:--"Then spoke the haughty king, who of
angels erst was _brightest, fairest in heaven_--beloved of his
master--_so beauteous was his form_, he was like to the light stars."

Milton's conception of the form of Satan is the same.

                    His form had not yet lost
  All her _original brightness_, nor appear'd
  Less than archangel ruin'd.[10]


  His countenance as the _morning star_ that guides
  The starry flock, allured them.[11]

Literary curiosity may be justly excited to account for these apparent
resemblances, and to learn whether similarity and coincidence
necessarily prove identity and imitation; and whether, finally, Cædmon
was ever known to Milton.

The Cædmonian manuscript is as peculiar in its history as its subject.
This poem, which we are told fixed the attention of our ancestors "from
the sixth to the twelfth century," and the genius of whose writer was
"stamped deeply and lastingly upon the literature of our country,"[12]
had wholly disappeared from any visible existence. It was accidentally
discovered only in a single manuscript, the gift of Archbishop Usher to
the learned Francis JUNIUS. During thirty years of this eminent
scholar's residence in England, including his occasional visits to
Holland and Friesland, to recover, by the study of the Friesic living
dialect, the extinct Anglo-Saxon, he devoted his protracted life to the
investigation of the origin of the Gothic dialects. A Saxon poem,
considerable for its size and for its theme, in a genuine manuscript,
was for our northern student a most precious acquisition; and that this
solitary manuscript should not he liable to accidents, Junius printed
the original at Amsterdam in 1655, unaccompanied by any translation or
by any notes.

We must now have recourse to a few dates.

Milton had fallen blind in 1654. The poet began "Paradise Lost" about
1658; the composition occupied three years, but the publication was
delayed till 1667.

If Milton had any knowledge of Cædmon, it could only have been in the
solitary and treasured manuscript of Junius. To have granted even the
loan of the only original the world possessed, we may surmise that
Junius would not have slept through all the nights of its absence. And
if the Saxon manuscript was ever in the hands of Milton, could our poet
have read it?

We have every reason to believe that Milton did not read Saxon. At that
day who did? There were not "ten men to save the city." In Milton's
"History of England," a loose and solitary reference to the Saxon
Chronicle, then untranslated, was probably found ready at hand; for all
his Saxon annals are drawn from the Latin monkish authorities: and in
that wonderful list of one hundred dramatic subjects which the poet had
set down for the future themes of his muse, there are many on Saxon
stories; but all the references are to Speed and Hollinshed. The nephew
of the poet has enumerated all the languages in which Milton was
conversant--"the Hebrew, (and I think the Syriac,) the Greek, the
Latin, the Italian, the Spanish, and French." We find no allusion to any
of the northern tongues, which that votary of classical antiquity and of
Ausonian melody and fancy would deem--can we doubt it?--dissonant and
barbarous. The Northern Scalds were yet as little known as our own
Saxons. A recent discovery that Milton once was desirous of reading
Dutch may possibly be alleged by the Saxonists as an approach to the
study of the Saxon; but at that time Milton was in office as "the
Secretary for Foreign Tongues," and in a busy intercourse with the

"Secretary Milton" at that moment was probably anxious to con the
phrases of a Dutch state-paper, to scrutinise into the temper of their
style. Had Milton ever acquired the Dutch idiom for literary purposes,
to study Vondel, the Batavian Shakspeare,[14] from whom some foreigners
imagine our poet might have drawn his "Lucifer," it could not have
escaped the nephew in the enumeration of his uncle's philological
acquirements. But even to read Dutch was not to read a Saxon manuscript,
whose strange characters, uncouth abbreviations, and difficult
constructions, are only mastered by long practice. To have known
anything about the solitary Cædmon, the poet must have been wholly
indebted to the friendly offices of its guardian; a personal intimacy
which does not appear. The improbability that this scholar translated
the manuscript phrase by phrase is nearly as great as the supposition
that the poet could have retained ideas and expressions to be reproduced
in that epic poem, which was not commenced till several years after.

The personal habits of Junius were somewhat peculiar; to his last days
he was unrelentingly busied in pursuits of philology, of which, he has
left to the Bodleian such monuments of his gigantic industry. Junius was
such a rigid economist of time, that every hour was allotted to its
separate work; each day was the repetition of the former, and on a
system he avoided all visitors. Such a man could not have submitted to
the reckless loss of many a golden day, in hammering at the obscure
sense of the Saxon monk, which the critics find by his own printed text
he could not always master; nor is it more likely that Milton himself
could have sustained his poetic excitement through the tedious progress
of a verbal or cursory paraphrase of Scripture history by this Gothic
bard. At that day even Junius could not have discovered those "elastic
rhythms," which solicit the ear of a more modern Saxon scholar in his
studies of Cædmon,[15] but which we entirely owe to the skill, and
punctuation, and accentuation of the recent editor, Mr. Thorpe.

Be it also observed, that Milton published his "Paradise Lost" in the
lifetime of Junius, the only judge who could have convicted the bard who
had daringly proposed

                   -----------to pursue
  Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme--

of concealing what he had silently appropriated.

There are so many probabilities against the single possibility of Milton
having had any knowledge of Cædmon, that we must decide by the numerical
force of our own suggestions.

The startling similarities which have led away critical judgments, if
calmly scrutinised, may be found to be those apparent resemblances or
coincidences which poets drawing from the same source would fall into.
There is a French mystery of "The Conception," where the scene is hell;
Lucifer appeals to its inmates in a long address. This Satan of "The
Conception" strikingly reminds us of the Prince of Darkness of Milton,
and indeed has many creative touches; and had it been written after the
work of Milton, it might have seemed a parody.[16]

Similarity and coincidence do not necessarily prove identity and
imitation. Nor is the singular theme of "the Rebellion of the Angels"
peculiar to either poet, since those who never heard of the Saxon monk
have constructed whole poems and dramas on the celestial revolt.[17]

We may be little interested to learn, among all the dubious inquiries of
"the origin of 'Paradise Lost,'" whether a vast poem, the most elaborate
in its parts, and the most perfect in its completion--a work, in the
words of the great artist--

            ------who knows how long
  Before had been contriving?--P. L., ix. 138.

was or could be derived from any obscure source. The interval between
excellence and mediocrity removes all connexion; it is that between
incurable impotence and genial creation. A great poet can never be
essentially indebted even to his prototype.

If we may still be interested in watching the primitive vigour of the
self-taught, compared with the intellectual ideal of the poetical
character, we must not allow ourselves, as might be shown in one of the
critics of the Saxon school, to mistake nature in her first poverty,
bare, meagre, squalid, for the moulded nudity of the Graces. The nature
of Ennius was no more the nature of Virgil than the nature of Cædmon was
that of Milton, for what is obvious and familiar is the reverse of the
beautiful and the sublime. We have seen the ideal being,

  Whose stature reach'd the sky, and on his crest
  Sat Horror plumed--

by the Saxon monk sunk down to a Saxon convict, "fastened by the neck,
his hands manacled, and his feet bound."

Cædmon represents Eve, after having plucked the fruit, hastening to Adam
with the apples,--

  Some in her hands she bare,
  Some in her bosom lay,
  Of the unblest fruit.

However natural or downright may be this specification, it is what could
not have occurred with "the bosom" of our naked mother of mankind, and
the artistical conception eluded the difficulty of carrying these

  ------------from the tree returning, in her hand
  _A bough of fairest fruit_.--ix. 850.

In Cædmon, it costs Eve a long day to persuade the sturdy Adam, an
honest Saxon, to "the dark deed;" and her prudential argument that "it
were best to obey the pretended messenger of the Lord than risk his
aversion," however natural, is very crafty for so young a sinner. In
Milton we find the Ideal, and before Eve speaks one may be certain of
Adam's fall--for

        ----------in her face excuse
  Came prologue, and apology too prompt,
  Which with bland words at will, she thus address'd.

A description too metaphysical for the meagre invention of the old Saxon

We dare not place "the Milton of our forefathers" by the side of the
only Milton whom the world will recognise. We would not compare our
Saxon poetry to Saxon art, for that was too deplorable; but, to place
Cædmon in a parallel with Milton, which Plutarch might have done, for he
was not very nice in his resemblances, we might as well compare the
formless forms and the puerile inventions of the rude Saxon artist,
profusely exhibited in the drawings of the original manuscript of
Cædmon,[18] with the noble conceptions and the immortal designs of the
Sistine Chapel.


  [1] Sir Francis Palgrave's "Dissertation on Cædmon," in the

    In another work this erudite antiquary explains the marvellous part
    of Cædmon's history by "natural causes;" and such a principle of
    investigation is truly philosophical; but we must not look over
    imposture in the search for "natural causes." "Cædmon's inability to
    perform his task," observes our learned expositor, "appears to have
    arisen rather from the want of musical knowledge than from his
    dulness, and therefore it is quite possible that, _allowing for some
    little exaggeration_, his poetical talents may have been _suddenly
    developed in the manner described_."--"Hist. of England," i. 162.
    Thus the Saxon Milton rose in one memorable night after a whole life
    passed without the poet once surmising himself to be poetical; and
    thus, for we consent not to yield up a single point in the narrative
    of "the Dream," appeared the patronising apparition and the
    exhilarating dialogue. A lingering lover of the Mediæval genius can
    perceive nothing more in a _circumstantial legend_ than "a little
    exaggeration." I seem to hear the shrill attenuated tones of Ritson,
    in his usual idiomatic diction, screaming, "It is a _Lie_ and an
    _Imposture_ of the stinking _Monks_!"

    The Viscount de Chateaubriand is infinitely more amusing than the
    plodders in the "weary ways of antiquity." The mystical tale of the
    Saxon monk is dashed into a glittering foam of enigmatical brevity.
    "_Cædmon rêvait en vers et composait des poèmes en dormant; Poésie
    est Songe._" And thus dreams may be expounded by dreams!--"Essai sur
    la Litérature Anglaise," i. 55.

  [2] "The Six Days of the Creation" offered a subject for an heroic
    poem to Dracontius, a Spanish monk, in the fifth century, and who was
    censured for neglecting to honour the seventh by a description of the
    Sabbath of the Divine repose. It is preserved in "Bib. Patrum," vol.
    viii., and has been published with notes. Genesis and Exodus--the
    fall of Adam--the Deluge--and the passage of the Red Sea, were themes
    which invited the sacred effusions of Avitus, the Archbishop of
    Vienne, who flourished in the sixth century. His writings were
    collected by Père Sirmond. This Archbishop attacked the Arians, but
    we have only fragments of these polemical pamphlets; as these were
    highly orthodox, what is wanting occasioned regrets in a former day.
    Other histories in Latin verse drawn from the Old Testament are

  [3] Among our ancestors all proper names were significant; and when
    they are not, we have the strongest presumptive reasons for
    suspecting that the name has been borrowed from some other tongue.
    The piety of many monks in their pilgrimages in the Holy Land would
    induce them to acquire some knowledge of the Hebrew or even the
    Chaldee--Bede read Hebrew. A scholar who has justly observed this,
    somewhat cabalistically has discovered that "the initial word of
    Genesis in Chaldee," and printed in Hebraic characters [Hebrew:
    behadsin], exhibits the presumed name of the Saxon monk.

  [4] This sort of cento seems to have been a favourite fancy with this
    masterly versifier; for of another Anglo-Saxon bard who composed on
    warlike subjects, this critic says--"If the names of Patroclus and
    Menelaus were substituted for Byrthnoth and Godric, some of the
    scenes might be almost literally translated into a cento of lines
    from Homer." Homer's claim to originality, however, is secure from
    any critical collation with the old Saxon monk.

    [5] Notwithstanding the information with which I was favoured, I
    cannot divest myself of the notion that "the rebellion of the angels"
    must be more explicitly described among the Jewish traditions than
    yet appears; because we find allusions to it in two of the
    apostolical writings. In the epistle of Jude, ver. 6: "_The angels
    which kept not their first estate_, but left their own habitation, He
    hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment
    of the great day." And in Peter, ii. 4: "_God spared not the angels
    that sinned, but cast them down to Hell_, and delivered them unto
    chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment." These texts have
    admitted of some dispute; but it seems, however, probable that the
    apostles, just released from their Jewish bondage, had not
    emancipated themselves from the received Hebraical doctrines.

  [6] Paradise Lost, ii. 594.

  [7] Inferno, Canto iii. 5.

  [8] Cædmon, p. 29.

  [9] Paradise Lost, i. 221.

  [10] Paradise Lost, i. 592.

  [11] Paradise Lost, v. 798.

  [12] Guest's "History of English Rhythms," ii. 23.

  [13] This curious literary information has been disclosed by ROGER
    WILLIAMS, the founder of the State of Rhode Island, who was
    despatched to England in 1651, to obtain the repeal of a charter
    granted to Mr. Coddington. I give this remarkable passage in the
    words of this Anglo-American:--"It pleased the Lord to call me for
    some time and with some persons to practise the Hebrew, the Greek,
    Latin, French and Dutch. _The secretary of the council, Mr. Milton,
    for my Dutch I read him, read me many more languages._ Grammar rules
    begin to be esteemed a tyranny. I taught two young gentlemen, a
    parliament-man's sons, as we teach our children English--by words,
    phrases, and constant talk, &c." This vague &c. stands so in the
    original, and leaves his "wondrous tale half-told." "Memoirs of Roger
    Williams, the Founder of the State of Rhode Island, by James D.
    Knowles, Professor of Pastoral Duties in the Newton Theological
    Institution," 1834, p. 264.

    I am indebted for this curious notice to the prompt kindness of my
    most excellent friend ROBERT SOUTHEY; a name long dear to the public
    as it will be to posterity; an author, the accuracy of whose
    knowledge does not yield to its extent.

  [14] Mr. SOUTHEY observes, in a letter now before me, that "VONDEL'S
    'Lucifer' was published in 1654. His 'Samson,' the same subject as
    the 'Agonistes,' 1661. His 'Adam,' 1664. CÆDMON, ANDREINI, and
    VONDEL, each or all, may have led Milton to consider the subject of
    his 'Paradise Lost.' But Vondel is the one who is most likely to have
    impressed him. Neither the Dutch nor the language were regarded with
    disrespect in those days. Vondel was the greatest writer of that
    language, and the _Lucifer_ is esteemed the best of his tragedies.
    Milton alone excepted, he was probably the greatest poet then

    This critical note furnishes curious dates. Milton was blind when the
    _Lucifer_ was published; and there is so much of the personal
    feelings and condition of the poet himself in his "Samson Agonistes,"
    that it is probable little or no resemblance could be traced in the
    Hollander. The "Adam" of Milton, and the whole "Paradise" itself, was
    completed in 1661. As for Cædmon, I submit the present chapter to Mr.
    Southey's decision.

    No great genius appears to have made such free and wise use of his
    reading as Milton has done, and which has led in several instances to
    an accusation of what some might term plagiarism. We are not certain
    that Milton, when not yet blind, may not have read some of those
    obscure modern Latin poets whom Lauder scented out.

  [15] Guest's "History of English Rhythms."

  [16] This speech, in which Satan appeals to and characterises his
    Infernals, may be read in Parfait's analysis of the Mystery.--_Hist.
    du Théâtre François_, i. 79.

  [17] _L'Angeleida_ of VALVASONE, the _Adamo_ of ANDREINI, and
    others.--Hayley's Conjectures on the Origin of "Paradise Lost." See
    also Tiraboschi, and Ginguéné.

  [18] These singular attempts at art may be inspected in above fifty
    plates, in the Archæologia, vol. xx. We may rejoice at their
    preservation, for art, even in the attempts of its children, may
    excite ideas which might not else have occurred to us.


The Anglo-Saxon poetical narrative of "The Exploits of Beowulf" forms a
striking contrast with the chronological paraphrase of Cædmon. Its
genuine antiquity unquestionably renders it a singular curiosity; but it
derives an additional interest from its representation of the primitive
simplicity of a Homeric period--the infancy of customs and manners and
emotions of that Hero-life, which the Homeric poems first painted for
mankind:--that Hero-life of which Macpherson in his Ossian caught but
imperfect conceptions from the fragments he may have collected, while he
metamorphosed his ideal Celtic heroes into those of the sentimental
romance of another age and another race.

The northern hordes under their petty chieftains, cast into a parallel
position with those princes of Greece whose realms were provinces, and
whose people were tribes, often resembled them in the like
circumstances, the like characters, and the like manners. Such were
those kinglings who could possess themselves of a territory in a single
incursion, and whose younger brothers, stealing out of their lone bays,
extended their dominion as "Sea-Kings" on the illimitable ocean.[1] The
war-ship and the mead-hall bring us back to that early era of society,
when great men knew only to be heroes, flattered by their bards, whose
songs are ever the echoes of their age and their patrons.

We discover these heroes, Danes or Angles, as we find them in the
Homeric period, audacious with the self-confidence of their bodily
prowess; vaunting, and talkative of their sires and of themselves; the
son ever known by denoting the father, and the father by his marriage
alliance--that primitive mode of recognition, at a period when, amid the
perpetual conflicts of rival chieftains, scarcely any but relations
could be friends; the family bond was a sure claim to protection. Like
the Homeric heroes, they were as unrelenting in their hatreds as
indissoluble in their partisanship; suspicious of the stranger, but
welcoming the guest; we find them rapacious, for plunder was their
treasure, and prodigal in their distributions of their golden armlets
and weighed silver, for their egotism was as boundless as their
violence. Yet pride and glory fermented the coarse leaven of these
mighty marauders, who were even chivalric ere chivalry rose into an
order. The religion of these ages was wild as their morality; few heroes
but bore some relationship to Woden; and even in their rude paganised
Christianity, some mythological name cast its lustre in their
genealogies. In the uncritical chronicles of the middle ages it is not
always evident whether the mortal was not a divinity. Their mythic
legends have thrown confusion into their national annals, often accepted
by historians as authentic records.[2] But if antiquaries still wander
among shadows, the poet cannot err. BEOWULF may be a god or a nonentity,
but the poem which records his exploits must at least be true, true in
the manners it paints and the emotions which the poet reveals--the
emotions of his contemporaries.

BEOWULF,[3] a chieftain of the Western Danes, was the Achilles of the
North. We first view him with his followers landing on the shores of a
Danish kingling. A single ship with an armed company, in those predatory
days, could alarm a whole realm. The petty independent provinces of
Greece afford a parallel; for Thucydides has marked this period in
society, when plunder well fought for was honoured as an heroic
enterprise. When a vessel touched on a strange shore, the adventurers
were questioned "whether they were thieves?" a designation which the
inquirers did not intend as a term of reproach, nor was it scorned by
the valiant;[4] for the spoliation of foreigners, at a time when the law
of nations had no existence, seemed no disgrace, while it carried with
it something of glory, when the chieftain's sword maintained the swarm
of his followers, or acquired for himself an extended dominion.

Beowulf was a mailed knight, and his gilded ensign hung like a meteor in
the air, and none knew the fate it portended. The warder of the coast,
for in those days many a warder kept "ocean-watch" on the sea-cliffs,
takes horse, and hastens to the invader; fearlessly he asks, "Whence,
and what are ye? Soonest were best to give me answer."

The hero had come not to seek feud, nor to provoke insult, but with the
free offering of his own life to relieve the sovereign of the Eastern
Danes, whose thanes, for twelve years, had vainly perished, struggling
with a mysterious being--one of the accursed progeny of Cain--a foul
and solitary creature of the morass and the marsh. In the dead of the
night this enemy of man, envious of glory and abhorrent of pleasure,
glided into the great hall of state and revelry, raging athirst for the
blood of the brave there reposing in slumber. The tale had spread in
songs through all Gothland. This life-devourer, who comes veiled in a
mist from the marshes, may be some mythic being; but though monstrous,
it does little more than play the part of the Polyphemus of antiquity
and the Ogre of modern fairyism.

In the timber-palace chambers were but small and few, and the guests of
the petty sovereign slept in the one great hall, under whose echoing
roof the Witenagemot assembled, and the royal banquet was held; there
each man had his "bed and bolster" laid out, with his shield at his
head, and his helmet, breastplate, and spear placed on a rack beside
him--"at all times ready for combat both in house and field."

This scene is truly Homeric; and thus we find in the early state of
Greece, for the historian records this continual wearing of armour,
_like the barbarians_, because "their houses were unfenced, and
travelling was unsafe."[5]

The watchman of the seas leaves not the coast, duteous in his lonely
cares; while Beowulf, with his companions, marches onwards. They came to
where the streets were paved; an indication in that age of a regal
residence. The iron rings in their mailed coats rang as they trod in
their "terrible armour." They reach the king's house; they hang up their
shields against the lofty wall. They seat themselves on a bench, placing
in a circle their mailed coats, their bucklers, and their javelins. This
warlike array called forth an Ulysses, "famed for war and wisdom;" they
parley; the thane hastens to announce the warlike but the friendly
visitor; and the hero, so famed for valour, yet would not obtrude his
person, standing behind the thane, "for he knew the rule of ceremony."
The prince of the East Danes joyfully exclaims, that "he had known
Beowulf when a child; he remembered the name of his father, who married
the only daughter of Hrethel the Goth. It is said that he has the
strength of thirty men in the grip of his hand. God only could have
sent him."

Beowulf, he whose beautiful ship had come over "the swan-path," may now
peacefully show himself in his warlike array. Beowulf stood upon the
dais; his "sark of netted mail" glittered where the armourer's skill had
wrought around the war-net. Here we discover the ornamental artist as in
the Homeric period. He found the prince of the East Danes, "old and
bald" like Priam, seated among his earls. Our hero, whom we have
observed so decorous in "his rule of ceremony," now launches forth in
the commendation of his own prowess.

He who had come to vanquish a fiend exulted not less in a swimming-match
in the seas, "when the waves were boiling with the fury of winter,"
during seven whole days and nights, combating with the walruses.

The exploits of Beowulf are of a supernatural cast; and this
circumstance has bewildered his translator amid mythic allusions, and
thus the hero sinks into the incarnation of a Saxon idol,--a protector
of the human race. It is difficult to decide whether the marvellous
incidents be mythical, or merely exaggerations of the northern poetic
faculty. We, however, learn by these, that corporeal energies and an
indomitable spirit were the glories of the hero-life; and the outbreaks
of their self-complacency resulted from their own convictions, after
many a fierce trial.

Such an heroic race we deem barbarous; but what are the nobler spirits
of all times but the creatures of their age? who, however favoured by
circumstances, can only do that which is practicable in the condition of

Henforth, the son of Eglaff, sate at the feet of the king; jealousy
stirred in his breast at the prowess of "the proud seafarer." This
cynical minister of the king ridicules his youthful exploits, and
sarcastically assured the hero, that "he has come to a worse matter now,
should he dare to pass the space of one night with the fiend." This
personage is the Thersites of our northern Homer--

  With witty malice studious to defame,
  Scorn all his joy, and laughter all his aim.

And like Thersites, the son of Eglaff receives a blasting reproach:--"I
tell thee, son of Eglaff, drunken with mead, that I have greater
strength upon the sea than any other man. We two (he alludes to his
competitor), when we were but boys, with our naked swords in our hands,
where the waves were fiercest, warred with the walruses. The whale-fish
dragged me to the bottom of the sea, grim in his gripe; the mighty
sea-beast received the war-rush through my hand. The sea became calm, so
that I beheld the ocean promontories, as the light broke from the east.
Never since have the sea-sailors been hindered of their way; never have
I heard of a harder battle by night under the concave of heaven, nor of
a man more wretched on the ocean-streams. Of such ambushes and fervour
of swords I have not heard aught of thee, else had the fiend I come to
vanquish never accomplished such horrors against thy prince. I boast
not, therefore, son of Eglaff! but never have I slaughtered those of my
kin, for which hast thou incurred damnation, though thy wit be good."

In this state of imperfect civilization, we discover already a right
conception of the female character. At the banquet the queen appears;
she greeted the young Goth, bearing in her own hand the bright sweet
liquor in the twisted mead-cup. She went among the young and the old
mindful of their races; the free-born queen then sate beside the
monarch. There was laughter of heroes. A bard sung serene on "the origin
of things," as Iopas sang at the court of Dido, and Demodocus at that of
Alcinous. The same bard again excites joy in the hall by some warlike
tale. Never was banquet without poet in the Homeric times.

Here our task ends, which was not to analyse the tale of Beowulf, but
solely to exhibit the manners of a primeval epoch in society. The whole
romance, though but short, bears another striking feature of the mighty
minstrel of antiquity; it is far more dramatic than narrative, for the
characters discover themselves more by dialogue than by action.

The literary history of this Anglo-Saxon metrical romance is too
remarkable to be omitted. It not only cast a new light on a disputed
object in our own literary history, but awoke the patriotism of a
foreign nation. Beowulf had shared the fate of Cædmon, being preserved
only in a single manuscript in the Cottonian Library, where it escaped
from the destructive fire of 1731, not, however, without injury. In
1705, Wanley had attempted to describe it, but he did not surmount the
difficulty. Our literary antiquaries, with Ritson for their leader,
stubbornly asserted that the Anglo-Saxons had no metrical romance, as
they opined by their scanty remains. The learned historian of our
Anglo-Saxons, in the progress of his ceaseless pursuit, unburied this
hidden treasure--which at once refuted the prevalent notions; but this
literary curiosity was fated to excite deeper emotions among the honest

The existing manuscript of "The Exploits of Beowulf" is of the tenth
century; but the poem was evidently composed at a far remoter period;
though, as all the personages of the romance are Danes, and all the
circumstances are Danish, it may be conjectured, if it be an original
Anglo-Saxon poem, that it was written when the Danes had a settlement in
some parts of Britain. At Copenhagen the patriotism of literature is
ardent. The learned there claimed Beowulf as their own, and alleged that
the Anglo-Saxon was the version of a Danish poem; it became one of the
most ancient monuments of the early history of their country, and not
the least precious to them for its connexion with English affairs. The
Danish antiquaries still amuse their imagination with the once Danish
kingdom of Northumbria, and still call us "brothers;" as at Caen, where
the whole academy still persist in disputations on the tapestry of
Bayeux, and style themselves our "masters."

It was, therefore, a national mortification to the Danes that it was an
Englishman who had first made known this relic; and further, that it
existed only in the library of England. The learned THORKELIN was
despatched on a literary expedition, and a careful transcript of the
manuscript of Beowulf was brought to the learned and patriotic Danes. It
was finished for the press, accompanied by a translation and a
commentary, in 1807. At the siege of Copenhagen a British bomb fell on
the study of the hapless scholar, annihilating "Beowulf," transcript,
translation, and commentary, the toil of twenty years. It seemed to be
felt, by the few whose losses by sieges never appear in royal Gazettes,
as not one of the least in that sad day of warfare with "our brothers."
THORKELIN was urged to restore the loss. But it was under great
disadvantages that his edition was published in 1815. Mr. Kemble has
redeemed our honour by publishing a collated edition, afterwards
corrected in a second with a literal version. Such versions may supply
the wants of the philologist, but for the general reader they are doomed
to be read like vocabularies. Yet even thus humbled and obscured,
BEOWULF aspires to a poetic existence. He appeals to nature and excites
our imagination--while the monk, CÆDMON, restricted by his faithful
creed, and his pertinacious chronology--seems to have afforded more
delight by his piety than the other by his genius--and remains renowned
as "the Milton of our forefathers!"


  [1] See the curious delineation of the Vikings of the North, in
    Turner's "Hist. of the Anglo-Saxons," i. 456, third edition.

  [2] Mr. KEMBLE, the translator of BEOWULF, has extricated himself out
    of an extraordinary dilemma. The first volume, which exhibits the
    Anglo-Saxon text, furnished in the preface, with an elaborate
    abundance, all the historical elucidations of his unknown hero.
    Subsequently when the second volume appeared, which contains the
    translation, it is preceded by "A Postscript to the Preface," far
    more important. Here, with the graceful repentance of precipitate
    youth, he moans over the past, and warns the reader of "the
    postscript to cut away the preface root and branch," for all that he
    had published was delusion! particularly "all that part of my preface
    which assigns dates to one prince or another, I declare to be null
    and void!" The result of all this scholar's painful researches is,
    that Mr. Kemble is left in darkness with Beowulf in his hand; an
    ambiguous being, whom the legend creates with supernatural energies,
    and history labours to reduce to mortal dimensions.

    The fault is hardly that of our honest Anglo-Saxon, as trustful of
    the Danes as his forefathers were heretofore. It is these, our old
    masters, who, with Count Suhm, the voluminous annalist of Denmark, at
    their head, have "treated mythic and traditional matters as
    ascertained history. It is the old story of Minos, Lycurgus, or Numa,
    furbished up for us in the North." What a delightful phantasmagoria
    comes out while we remain in darkness! But a Danish Niebuhr may yet
    illuminate the whole theatre of this Pantheon.

  [3] These Teutonic heroes were frequently denominated by the names of
    animals, which they sometimes emulated: thus, the hero exulting in
    bone and nerve was known as "the Bear;" the more insatiable, as "the
    Wolf;" and "the Wild Deer" is the common appellative of a warrior.
    The term "Deer" was the generic name for animal, and not then
    restricted to its present particular designation.

      "Rats and Mice, and such SMALL DEER,"

    baffled our Shakspearean commentators, who rarely looked to the great
    source of the English language--the Anglo-Saxon, and, in their
    perplexity, proposed to satisfy the modern reader by a botch of their
    own--and read _geer_ or _cheer_. Percy discovered in the old metrical
    romance of "Sir Bevis of Southampton," the very distich which Edgar
    had parodied.--Warton, iii. 83.

  [4] Thucydides, Lib. i.

  [5] Thucydides.


The Anglo-Saxon dominion in England endured for more than five

A territorial people had ceased to be roving invaders, but stood
themselves in dread of the invasions of their own ancient brotherhood.
They trembled on their own shores at those predatory hordes who might
have reminded them of the lost valour of their own ancestors. But their
warlike independence had passed away. And, as a martial abbot declared
of his countrymen, "they had taken their swords from their sides and had
laid them on the altar, where they had rusted, and their edges were now
too dull for the field."[1] They could not even protect the soil which
they had conquered, and often wanted the courage to choose a king of
their own race. Sometimes they stood ready to pay tribute to the Dane,
and sometimes suffered the throne to be occupied by a Danish monarch. In
a state of semi-civilization their rude luxury hardly veiled their
unintellectual character. Feeble sovereigns and a submissive people
could not advance into national greatness.

When the Duke of Normandy visited his friend and kinsman, Edward the
Confessor, he beheld in England a mimetic Normandy; Norman favourites
were courtiers, and Norman soldiers were seen in Saxon castles. Edward,
long estranged from his native realm, had received his education in
Normandy; and the English court affected to imitate the domestic habits
of these French neighbours--the great speaking the foreign idiom in
their houses, and writing in French their bills and accompts.[2] Already
there was a faction of Frenchified Saxons in the court of the unnational
English sovereign.

William the Norman surveyed an empire already half Norman; and in the
prospect, with his accustomed foresight, he mused on a doubtful
succession. A people who had often suffered themselves to fall the prey
of their hardier neighbour, lie open for conquest to a more intelligent
and polished race.

The victory of Hastings did not necessarily include the conquest of the
people, and William still condescended to march to the throne under the
shadow of a title. After a short residence of only three months in his
newly-acquired realm, "the Conqueror" withdrew into his duchy, and there
passed a long interval of nine months. William left many an unyielding
Saxon; a spirit of resistance, however suppressed, bound men together,
and partial insurrections seemed to be pushing on a crisis which might
have reversed the conquest of England.[3]

During this mysterious and protracted visit, and apparent abandonment of
his new kingdom to the care of others, was a vast scheme of dominion
nursed in the councils of Norman nobles, and strengthened by the
boundless devotion of hardy adventurers, who were all to share in the
present spoliation and the future royalty? In his prescient view did
William there anticipate a conquest of long labour and of distant days;
the state, the nobles, the ecclesiastics, the people, the land, and the
language, all to be changed? Hume has ventured to surmise that the mind
of the Norman laboured with this gigantic fabric of dominion. It is
probable, however, that this child of a novel policy was submitted to a
more natural gestation, and expanded as circumstances favoured its awful
growth. One night in December the King suddenly appeared in England, and
soon unlimited confiscations and royal grants apportioned the land of
the Saxons among the lords of Normandy, and even their lance-bearers. It
seemed as if every new-comer brought his castles with him, so rapidly
did castles cover the soil.[4] These were strongholds for the tyrant
foreigner, or open retreats for his predatory bands; stern overlookers
were they of the land!

The Norman lords had courts of their own; sworn vassals to their
suzerain, but kinglings to the people. Sometimes they beheld a Saxon
lord, whose heart could not tear itself from the lands of his race, a
serf on his own soil; but they witnessed without remorse the rights of
the sword. Norman prelates were silently substituted for Saxon
ecclesiastics, and whole companies of claimants arrived to steal into
benefices or rush into abbeys. It was sufficient to be a foreigner and
land in England, to become a bishop or an abbot. Church and State were
now indissolubly joined, for in the general plunder each took their
orderly rank. It was the triumph of an enlightened, perhaps a cunning
race, as the Norman has been proverbially commemorated, over "a rustic
and almost an illiterate generation," as the simplicity of our Saxon
prelates, who could not always speak French, is described by Ordericus
Vitalis, a monk who, long absent from England, wrote in Normandy.
Ingulphus, the monk of Croyland, though partial to "the Conqueror,"
however, honestly confesses that when the English were driven from their
dignities, their successors were not always their superiors.

All who were eager to court their new lords were brought to dissemble
their native rusticity. They polled their crowns, they cut short their
flowing hair, and throwing aside the loose Saxon gown, they assumed the
close vest of the more agile Norman. "Mail of iron and coats of steel
would have better become them," cried an indignant Saxon. We have seen
what a martial Saxon abbot declared to the Conqueror, while he mourned
over his pacific countrymen. This was the time when it was held a shame
among Englishmen to appear English. It became proverbial to describe a
Saxon who ambitioned some distinguished rank, that "he would be a
gentleman if he could but talk French."

Fertile in novelties as was this amazing revolution, the most peculiar
was the change of the language. The style of power and authority was
Norman; it interpreted the laws, and it was even to torment the rising
generation of England; children learned the strange idiom by construing
their Latin into French, and thus, by learning two foreign languages
together, wholly unlearned their own. Not only were they taught to speak
French, but the French character was adopted in place of their own
alphabet. It was a flagrant instance of the Conqueror's design to
annihilate the national language, that finding a College at Oxford with
an establishment founded by Alfred to maintain divines who were "to
instruct the people in their own vulgar tongue," William decreed that
"the annual expense should never after be allowed out of the King's

The Norman prince on his first arrival could have entertained no scheme
of changing the language, for he attempted to acquire it. The secretary
of the Conqueror has recorded that when the monarch seemed inclined to
adopt the customs of his new subjects, which his moderate measures at
first indicated, the Norman prince had tried his patience and his ear to
babble the obdurate idiom, till he abhorred the sound of the Saxon
tongue. If because the Conqueror could not learn the Saxon language he
decided wholly to abolish it, this would seem nothing more than a
fantastic tyranny; but in truth, the language of the conquered is
usually held in contempt by the conquerors for other reasons besides
offending the delicacy of the ear. The Normans could not endure the
Saxon's untunable consonants, as it had occurred even to the unlettered
Saxons themselves; for barbarians as their hordes were when they first
became the masters of Britain, they had declared that the British tongue
was utterly barbarous.[6]

But not at his bidding could the military chief for ever silence the
mother-tongue. Enough for "this stern man" to guard the land in peace,
while every single hyde of land in England was known to him, and "put at
its worth in HIS BOOK," as records the Saxon chronicler. The language of
a people is not to be conquered as the people themselves. The
"birth-tongue" may be imprisoned or banished, but it cannot die--the
people think in it; the images of their thoughts, their traditional
phrases, the carol over the mead-cup, and their customs far diffused,
survived even the iron tongue of the curfew.

The Saxons themselves, who had chased the native Britons from their
land, still found that they could not suppress the language of the
fugitive people. The conquerors gave their Anglo-Saxon denominations to
the towns and villages they built; but the hills, the forests, and the
rivers retain their old Celtic names.[7] Nature and nationality will
outlast the transient policy of a new dynasty.

The novel idiom became the language of those only with whom the
court-language, whatever it be, will ever prevail--the men who by their
contiguity to the great affect to participate in their influence. In
that magic circle of hopes and fears where royalty is the sole magician
of the fortunes of men, the Conqueror perpetuated his power by
perpetuating his language. Ignorance of the French tongue was deemed a
sufficient pretext for banishing an English bishop pertinacious in his
nationality, who had for a while been admitted to the royal councils,
but whose presence was no longer necessary to the dominant party.

To the successors of the Norman William it might appear that the English
idiom was wholly obliterated from the memories of men; not one of our
monarchs and statesmen could understand the most ordinary words in the
national tongue. When Henry the Second was in Pembrokeshire, and was
addressed in English--"Goode olde Kynge," the King of England inquired
in French of his esquire what was meant? Of the title of "Kynge," we are
told that his majesty was wholly ignorant! A ludicrous anecdote of the
chancellor of Richard the First is a strange evidence that the English
language was wholly a foreign one for the English court. This chancellor
in his flight from Canterbury, disguised as a female hawker, carrying
under his arm a bundle of cloth, and an ell-measure in his hand, sate by
the sea-side waiting for a vessel. The fishermen's wives inquired the
price of the cloth; he could only answer by a burst of laughter; for
this man, born in England, and chancellor of England, did not know a
single word of English! One more evidence will confirm how utterly the
Saxon language was cast away. When the famous Grosteste, bishop of
Lincoln (who would no doubt have contemned his Saxon surname of
"Great-head"), a voluminous writer, once condescended to instruct "the
ignorant," he wrote pious books for their use in French; the bishop
making no account of the old national language, nor of the souls of
those who spoke it.

When the fate of conquest had overthrown the national language, and thus
seemed to have bereaved us of all our literature, it was in reality only
diverging into a new course. For three centuries the popular writers of
England composed in the French language. Gaimar, who wrote on our Saxon
history; Wace, whose chronicle is a rhymed version of that of Geoffry of
Monmouth; Benoit de Saint Maur (or Seymour); Pierre Langtoft, who
composed a history of England; Hugh de Rotelande (Rutland), and so many
others, were all English; some were descendants from Norman progenitors,
but in every other respect they were English. Some were of a third

Our Henry the Third was a prodigal patron of these Anglo-Norman poets.
This monarch awarded to a romancer, Rusticien de Pise, who has
proclaimed the regal munificence to the world, a couple of fine
"chateaux," which I would not, however, translate as has been done by
the English term "castles." Well might a romancer so richly remunerated
promise his royal patron to finish "The Book of Brut," the never-ending
theme to the ear of a British monarch who, indeed, was anxious to
possess such an authentic state-paper. Who this Rusticien de Pise was,
one cannot be certain; but he was one of a numerous brood who,
stimulated by "largesses" and fair chateaux, delighted to celebrate the
chivalry of the British court, to them a perpetual fountain of honour
and preferment. We may now smile at the Count de Tressan's querulous
nationality, who is indignant that the writers of the French romances of
the Round Table show a marked affectation of dwelling on everything that
can contribute to the glory of the throne and court of England,
preferring a fabulous Arthur to a true Charlemagne, and English knights
to French paladins.[8] When Tressan wrote, this striking circumstance
had not received its true elucidation; the hand of these writers had
only flowed with their gratitude; these writers composed to gratify
their sovereign, or some noble patron at the English court, for they
were English natives or English subjects, long concealed from posterity
as Englishmen by writing in French. It had then escaped the notice of
our literary antiquaries at home and abroad, that these Englishmen could
have composed in no other language. How imperfect is the catalogue of
early English poets by Ritson! for it is since his day that this
important fact in our own literary history has been acknowledged by the
French themselves, who at length have distinguished between Norman and
Anglo-Norman poets. M. Guizot was enabled by the French government to
indulge his literary patriotism by sending a skilful collector to
England to search in our libraries for Norman writings; and we are told
that none but Anglo-Norman writers have been found--that is, Englishmen
writing on English affairs, and so English that they have not always
avoided an unguarded expression of their dislike of foreigners, and even
of Normans!

It is worthy of observation, that even those Norman writers who came
young into England soon took the colour of the soil; and what rather
surprises us, considering the fashion of the court at that period,
studied the original national language, translated our Saxon writings,
and often mingled in their French verse phrases and terms which to this
day we recognise as English. Of this we have an interesting evidence in
an Anglo-Norman poetess, but recently known by the name of "Marie de
France;" yet had she not written this single verse accidentally--

  Me nummerai par remembrance,
  _Marie ai num, si sui de France_--

we should from her subjects, and her perfect knowledge of the vernacular
idiom of the English, have placed this Sappho of the thirteenth century
among the women of England. This poetess tells us that she had turned
into her French rhymed verse the Æsopian Fables, which one of our kings
had translated into English from the Latin. This royal author could have
been no other than Alfred, to whom such a collection has been ascribed.
We learn from herself the occasion of her version. Her task was
performed for a great personage who read neither Latin nor English; it
was done for "the _love_ of the renowned Earl William Longsword"--

              ----Cunte Willaume,
  Le plus vaillant de cest Royaume.

Who would calculate the "largesse" "Count William," this puissant
Longsword, cast into the lap of this living muse when she offered all
this melodious wisdom; whose beautiful simplicity a child might
comprehend, but whose moral and politic truths would throw even the
Norman Longsword into a state of rational musing? Her "Lais," short but
wild "Breton Tales," which our poetess dedicated to her sovereign, our
Henry the Third, are evidence that Marie could also skilfully touch the
heart and amuse the fancy.

In her poems, Marie has translated many French terms into pure English,
and abounds with allusions to English places and towns whose names have
not changed since the thirteenth century. Her local allusions, and her
familiar knowledge of the vernacular idiom of the English people, prove
that "Marie," though by the accident of birth she may be claimed by
France, yet by her early and permanent residence, and by the constant
subjects of her writings, her "Breton Tales," and her "Fables" from the
English, by her habits and her sympathies, was an Englishwoman.

At this extraordinary period when England was a foreign kingdom, the
English people found some solitary friends--and these were the rustic
monk and the itinerant minstrel, for they were Saxons, but subjects too
mean and remote for the gripe of the Norman, occupied in rooting out
their lords to plant his own for ever in the Saxon soil.

The monks, who lived rusticated in their scattered monasteries,
sojourners in the midst of their conquered land, often felt their Saxon
blood tingle in their veins. Not only did the filial love of their
country deepen their sympathies, but a more personal indignation rankled
in their secret bosoms at the foreign intruders, French or Italian--the
tyrannical bishop and the voluptuous abbot. There were indeed monks, and
some have been our chroniclers, base-born, humiliated, and living in
fear, who in their leiger-books, when they alluded to their new
masters, called them "the conquerors," noticed the year when some
"conqueror" came in, and recorded what "the conquerors" had enacted. All
these "conquerors" designated the foreigners, who were the heads of
their houses. But there were other truer Saxons. Inspired equally by
their public and their private feeling, these were the first who,
throwing aside both Latin and French, addressed the people in the only
language intelligible to them. The patriotic monks decided that the
people should be reminded that they were Saxons, and they continued
their history in their own language.

This precious relic has come down to us--the "Saxon Chronicle"[9]--but
which in fact is a collection of chronicles made by different persons.
These Saxon annalists had been eye-witnesses of the transactions they
recorded, and this singular detail of incidents as they occurred without
comment is a phenomenon in the history of mankind, like that of the
history of the Jews contained in the Old Testament, and, like that, as
its learned editor has ably observed, "a regular and chronological
panorama of a people described in rapid succession by different writers
through many ages in their own VERNACULAR LANGUAGE." The mutations in
the language of this ancient chronicle are as remarkable as the fortunes
of the nation in its progress from rudeness to refinement; nor less
observable are the entries in this great political register from the
year One of Christ till 1154, when it abruptly terminates. The
meagreness of the earlier recorders contrasts with the more impressive
detail of later enlarged and thoughtful minds. When we come to William
of Normandy, we have a character of that monarch by one who knew him
personally, having lived at his court. It is not only a masterly
delineation, but a skilful and steady dissection. The earlier Saxon
chronicler has recorded a defeat and retreat which Cæsar suffered in his
first invasion, which would be difficult to discover in the Commentaries
of Cæsar.

The true language of the people lingered on their lips, and it seemed to
bestow a shadowy independence to a population in bondage. The remoter
the locality, the more obdurate was the Saxon; and these indwellers were
latterly distinguished as "Uplandish" by the inhabitants of cities. For
about two centuries "the Uplandish" held no social connexion; separated
not only by distance, but by their isolated dialects and peculiar
customs, these natives of the soil shrunk into themselves, intermarrying
and dying on the same spot; they were hardly aware that they were
without a country.

It was a great result of the Norman government in England that it
associated our insular and retired dominion with that nobler theatre of
human affairs, the Continent of Europe. In Normandy we trace the first
footings of our national power; the English Sovereign, now a prince of
France, ere long on the French soil vied in magnitude of territory with
his paramount Lord, the Monarch of France. Such a permanent connexion
could not fail to produce a conformity in manners; what was passing
among our closest neighbours, rivals or associates, was reflected in the
old Saxon land which had lost its nationality.


  [1] Speed, 441. This was said to "the Conqueror," and this Abbot of
    St. Alban's paid dearly for the patriotism which had then become

  [2] A circumstance which Milton has recorded.

  [3] Our great lawyers probably imagined that the honour of the
    country is implicated in the title usually accorded to William the
    Norman; SPELMAN, the great antiquary, and BLACKSTONE, the historian
    and the expounder of our laws, have absolutely explained away the
    assumed title of "the Conqueror" to a mere technical feudal term of
    "_Conquestor, or acquirer of any estate out of the common course of
    inheritance_." The first purchaser (that is, he who brought the
    estate into the family which at present owns it) was styled "the
    Conqueror," _and such is still the proper phrase in the law of
    Scotland_. RITSON is indignant at what he calls "a pitiful forensic

    But another great lawyer and lord chancellor, the sedate WHITELOCKE,
    positively asserts that "William only conquered Harold and his army;
    for he never was, nor _pretended to be_, the conqueror of England,
    although the _sycophant monks of the time_ gave him that
    title."--Whitelocke's "Hist. of England," 33.

    In a charter, granting certain lands for the church of St. Paul's,
    which Stowe has translated from the record in the Tower, William
    denominates himself, "by the grace of God, _King of Englishmen_" (Rex
    Anglorum), and addresses it "to all his well-beloved _French and
    English people_, greeting."--Stowe's "Survey of London," 326, Edit.
    1603. Did William on any occasion declare that he was "the Conqueror"
    as well as the sovereign of England? When William attempted to learn
    the Saxon language, it is obvious that he did not desire to remind
    his new subjects that he ruled as Voltaire sang of his hero,--

      ------------------qui regna sur la France,
      Par droit de Conquête et par droit de Naissance.

  [4] The final history of these citadels may illustrate that verse of
    Goldsmith which reminds us--

      "To fly from PETTY TYRANTS--to THE THRONE!"

    In the short space of seventy years the owners of those castles
    bearded even majesty itself; these lords, by their undue share of
    power, were in perpetual revolt; till two royal persons, though
    opposed to each other, Stephen and Maude, decreed for their mutual
    interest the demolition of fifteen hundred and fifteen castles. They
    were razed by commission, or by writs to the sheriffs; and a law was
    further enacted that "none hereafter, without license, should
    embattle his house." And thus was broken this aristocracy of castles.
    See two dissertations on "Castles," by Sir ROBERT SUTTON, and by
    AGARD; "Curious Discourses by Eminent Antiquaries," i. 104 and 188.

    This number of castles seems incredible; possibly many were
    "embattled houses." My learned friend, the Rev. Joseph Hunter, an
    antiquary most versant in manuscripts, inclines to think there may be
    some scriptural error of the ancient scribe, who was likely to add or
    to leave out a cipher, without much comprehension of the numerals he
    was transcribing without a thought, like what happened to the eleven
    thousand virgins of St. Ursula.

  [5] Speed, 440.

  [6] A curious fact discovered by Mr. Turner in a Cottonian manuscript
    has brought this circumstance to our knowledge. In a grant of land in
    Cornwall, an Anglo-Saxon king, after mentioning the Saxon name of the
    place, adds, "which the inhabitants there called, _barbarico nomine_,
    by the barbarous name of Pendyfig;" which was the British or Welsh
    name.--"Vindication of the Ancient British Poems," 8.

  [7] Camden has noticed this striking circumstance in his "Britannia."
    See also Percy's Preface to Mallett's "Northern Antiquities," xxxix.

  [8] See his Preface to the prose romance of "La Fleur des Batailles."

  [9] Miss Gurney, who has honourably been hailed as "the Elstob of her
    age," privately printed her own close version of the "Saxon
    Chronicle" from the printed text, 1810. Happy lady! who, when
    sickness had made her its prisoner, opened the "Saxon Chronicle;" and
    she learned that she might teach the learned.

    The Rev. Dr. INGRAM, principal of Trinity College, Oxon, has since
    published his translation, accompanied by the original, a collation
    of the manuscripts, and notes critical and explanatory. 1823. 4to. A
    volume not less valuable than curious.


When learning was solely ecclesiastical and scholastical, there were no
preceptors for mankind. The monastery and the university were far
removed from the sympathies of daily life; all knowledge was out of the
reach of the layman. It was then that the energies of men formed a
course of practical pursuits, a system of education of their own. The
singular institution of chivalry rose out of a combination of
circumstances where, rudeness and luxury mingling together, the utmost
refinement was found compatible with barbaric grandeur, and holy justice
with generous power. In lawless times they invented a single law which
included a whole code--the law of knightly honour. _L'Ordenne de
Chevalerie_ is the morality of knighthood, and invests the aspirant with
every moral and political virtue as every military qualification.[1]

Destitute of a national education, the higher orders thus found a
substitute in a conventional system of manners. Circumstances, perhaps
originally accidental, became customs sealed with the sign of honour. In
this moral chaos order marshalled confusion, as refinement adorned
barbarism. A mighty spirit lay as it were in disguise, and it broke out
in the forms of imagination, passion, and magnificence, seeking their
objects or their semblance, and if sometimes mistaken, yet still laying
the foundations of social order and national glory in Europe.

A regular course of practical pursuits was assigned to the future noble
"childe" from the day that he left the parental roof for the baronial
hall of his patron. In these "nurseries of nobility," as Jonson has well
described such an institution, in his first charge as varlet or page,
the boy of seven years was an attendant at the baron's table, and it
was no humiliating office when the youth grew to be the carver and the
cupbearer. He played on the viol or danced in the brawls till he was
more gravely trained in "the mysteries of woods and rivers," the arts of
the chase, and the sciences of the swanery, and the heronry, and the
fishery; the springal cheerily sounded a blast of venery, or the
falconer with his voice caressed his attentive hawk, which had not
obeyed him had he neglected that daily flattery.

At fourteen the varlet became an esquire, vaulting on his fiery steed,
and perfecting himself in all noble exercises, nicely adroit in the
science of "courtesie," or the etiquette of the court; and already this
"servant of love" was taught to elect _La dame de ses pensées_, and wore
her favour and her livery for "the love of honour, or the honour of
love," as Sir Philip Sydney in the style of chivalry expressed it.

At the maturity of twenty and one years the late varlet, and now the
esquire, stood forth a candidate to blazon his shield by knighthood--the
accomplished gentleman of these Gothic days, and right learned too, if
he can con his Bible and read his romance. Enchanting mirror of all
chivalry! if he invent songs and set them to his own melodies. Yet will
the gentle "batchelor" he dreaming on some gallant feat of arms, or some
martial achievement, whereby "to win his spurs." On his solemn entrance
into the church, laying his sword upon the altar, he resumed it by the
oath which for ever bound him to defend the church and the churchmen.
Thus all human affairs then were rounded by the ecclesiastical orbit,
out of which no foot dared to stray. All began and all ended as the
romances which formed his whole course of instruction--with the devotion
which seemed to have been addressed to man as much as to Heaven.

After the termination of the Crusades, the grand incident in the life of
the BARON was a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem; what the
penitent of the Cross had failed to conquer, it seemed a consolation to
kneel at and to weep over: a custom not obsolete so late as the reigns
of our last Henries; and still, though less publicly avowed, the
melancholy Jerusalem witnesses the Hebrew and the Christian performing
some secret vow, to grieve with a contrition which it seems they do not
feel at home.

In these peregrinations a lordly Briton might chance to find some French
or Italian knight as rash and as haughty; it was a law in chivalry that
a knight should not give way to any man who demanded it as a right, nor
decline the single combat with any knight under the sun; a challenge
could not therefore be avoided. But a _pas d'armes_ was not always a
friendly invitation, for often under the guise of chivalry was concealed
the national hostility of the parties.

But when no crusade nor pilgrimage in the East, nor predatory excursion
in the West, nor even the blazonry of a tournament, which fed his eyes
with a picture of battle, summoned to put on his mail-coat, how was the
vacant Lord to wear out his monotonous days in his castle of indolence?
The domestic fool stood beside him, archly sad, or gravely mirthful, as
his master willed, with a proverb or a quip; and, with his licensed
bauble, was the most bitterly wisest man in the castle. Patron of the
costly manuscript which he could not himself read, the romancer of his
household awaited his call; the great then had fabulators or
tale-tellers, as royalty has now, by title of their office--its readers.
But this Lord was too vigorous for repose, and the tranquillity of chess
was too trying for his brain; the chess-board was often broken about the
head of some mute dependent, or perchance on one who returned the dagger
for the board. There was little peace for his restlessness, when, weary
in his seat, his priceless Norway hawk perched above his head,[2] and
his idle hounds spread over the floor, ceaselessly reminded him of those
wide and frowning forests which were continually encroaching on the
tillage of the contemned agriculturist, offering a mimetic war, not only
against the bird and the beast, but man himself; for the lairs of the
forest concealed the deer he chased, and often the bandit who chased the
Lord--the terrible Lord of this realm of wood and water, where, whoever
would fowl a bird or strike a buck, might have his eyes torn from their
sockets, or on the spot of his offence mount the instant gallows.[3]

There was a disorderly grandeur about the castellated mansion which
should have required the ukase of this Sovereign of many leagues,
surrounded by many hundreds of his retainers; but rarely the cry of the
oppressed was allowed to disturb the Lord, while all within were exact
in their appointments, as clock-work movements which were wound up in
the government of these immense domestic establishments. Great families
had their "household books," and in some the illegible hand of the
lordly master himself, when the day arrived that even barons were
incited to scriptural attempts, may yet be seen.[4] These nobles, it
appears, were more select in their falconer and their _chef de cuisine_
than in their domestic tutor, for such there was among the retainers of
the household. This humiliated sage, indeed, in his own person was a
model for the young varlets, on whom it was his office to inculcate that
patient suppleness and profound reverence for their Lord and their
superiors, which seemed to form the single principle of their education.
At this period we find a domestic proverb which evidently came from the
buttery. As then eight or ten tables were to be daily covered, it is
probable the chivalric epicures sometimes found their tastes
disappointed by the culinary artists; it would seem that this put them
into sudden outbreakings of ill-humour, for the proverb records that
"the minstrels are often beaten for the faults of the cooks."

Too much leisure, too many loungers, and the tedium of prolonged
banquets, a want of the pleasures of the luxurious sedentary would be as
urgent as in ages more intellectual and refined; those pleasures in
which we participate though we are passive, receiving the impressions
without any exertion of our own--pleasures which make us delighted
auditors or spectators. The theatre was not yet raised, but the
listlessness of vacuity gave birth to all the variegated artists of
revelry. If they had not comedy itself, they abounded with the comic,
and without tragedy the tragic often moved their emotions. Nor were they
even then without their scenical illusions, marvels which came and
vanished, as the Tregetour clapped his hands--enchantments! which though
Chaucer opined to be only "natural magic," all the world tremblingly
enjoyed as the work of devils; a sensation which we have totally lost in
the necromancy of our pantomimes. And thus it was that in the illumed
hall of the feudal Lord we discover a whole dramatic company; which,
however dissimilar in their professional arts, were all enlisted under
the indefinite class of MINSTRELS; for in the domestic state of society
we are now recalling, the poetic minstrel must be separated from those
other minstrels of very different acquirements, with whom, however, he
was associated.

There were minstrels who held honourable offices in the great
households, sometimes chosen for their skill and elocution to perform
the dignified service of heralds, and were in the secret confidence of
their Lord; these were those favourites of the castle, whose guerdon was
sometimes as romantic as any incident in their own romance.

No festival, public or private, but there the minstrel poet was its
crowning ornament. They awakened national themes in the presence of
assembled thousands at the installation of an abbot, or the reception of
a bishop.[5] Often, in the Gothic hall, they resounded some lofty
"Geste," or some old "Breton" lay, or with some gayer Fabliau, indulging
the vein of an improvvisatore, altering the old story when wanting a new
one. Delightful rhapsodists, or amusing tale-tellers, combining the
poetic with the musical character, they displayed the influence of the
imagination over a rude and unlettered race--

          ----They tellen Tales
  Both of WEEPYING and of GAME.

Chaucer has portrayed the rapture of a minstrel excited by his harp, a
portrait evidently after the life.

  Somewhat he _lisped_ for his wantonness
  _To make the English swete upon his tonge_;
  And in his Harping when that he had songe,
  _His Eyen twinkled in his Hed aright,
  As don the Sterrés in a frosty night_.

The minstrel more particularly delighted "the Lewed," or the people,
when, sitting in their fellowship, the harper stilled their attention by
some fragment of a chronicle of their fathers and their father-land. The
family harper touched more personal sympathies; the ancestral honours of
the baron made even the vassal proud--domestic traditions and local
incidents deepened their emotions--the moralising ditty softened their
mind with thought, and every county had its legend at which the heart of
the native beat. Of this minstrelsy little was written down, but
tradition lives through a hundred echoes, and the "reliques of ancient
English poetry," and the minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and some
other remains, for the greater part have been formed by so many metrical
narratives and fugitive effusions.

There were periods in which the minstrels were so highly favoured that
they were more amply rewarded than the clergy--a circumstance which
induced Warton to observe with more truth than acuteness, that "in this
age, as in more enlightened times, the people loved better to be pleased
than to be instructed."[6] Such was their fascination and their passion
for "Largesse!" that they were reproached with draining the treasury of
a prince. It is certain that this thoughtless race have suffered from
the evil eye of the monkish chroniclers, who looked on the minstrels as
their rivals in sharing the prodigality of the great; yet even their
monkish censors relented whenever these revellers appeared. It was a
festive day among so many joyless ones when the minstrel band
approached the lone monastery. Then the sweet-toned Vielle, or the merry
Rebeck, echoed in the hermit-hearts of the slumbering inmates; vaulters
came tumbling about, jugglers bewitched their eyes, and the grotesque
Mime, who would not be outdone by his tutored ape. Then came the stately
minstrel, with his harp borne before him by his smiling page, usually
called "The Minstrel's Boy." One of the brotherhood has described the
strolling troop, who

    Walken fer and wyde,
  Her, and ther, in every syde,
    In many a diverse londe.

The easy life of these ambulatory musicians, their ample gratuities, and
certain privileges which the minstrels enjoyed both here and among our
neighbours, corrupted their manners, and induced the dissipated and the
reckless to claim those privileges by assuming their title. A disorderly
rabble of minstrels crowded every public assembly, and haunted the
private abode. At different periods the minstrels were banished the
kingdom, in England and in France; but their return was rarely delayed.
The people could not be made to abandon these versatile dispensers of
solace, amid their own monotonous cares.

At different periods minstrels appear to have been persons of great
wealth--a circumstance which we discover by their votive religious acts
in the spirit and custom of those days. The Priory of St. Bartholomew in
Smithfield, in 1102, was founded by "Rahere," the king's minstrel, who
is described as "a pleasant-witted gentleman," such as we may imagine a
wealthy minstrel, and moreover "the king's," ever to have been.[7] In
St. Mary's Church at Beverley, in Yorkshire, stands a noble column
covered with figures of minstrels, inscribed, "This Pillar made the
Minstrels;" and at Paris, a chapel dedicated to St. Julian of the
Minstrels, was erected by them, covered with figures of minstrels
bearing all the instruments of music used in the middle ages, where the
violin or fiddle is minutely sculptured.[8]

If in these ages of romance and romancers the fair sex were rarely
approached without the devotion of idolatry, whenever "the course of
true love" altered--when the frail spirit loved too late and should not
have loved, the punishment became more criminal than the crime; for
there was more of selfish revenge and terrific malignity than of
justice, when autocratical man became the executioner of his own decree.
The domestic chronicles of these times exhibit such harrowing incidents
as those of _La Châtelaine de Vergy_, where suddenly a scene of
immolation struck through the devoted household; or that of "La Dame du
Fayel,"[9] who was made to eat her lover's heart. And those who had not
to punish, but to put to trial, the affections of women who were in
their power, had their terrible caprices, a ferocity in their barbarous
loves. Year after year the Gothic lord failed to subdue the immortalised
patience of Griselda, and such was our "Childe Waters," who put to such
trials of passion, physical and mental, the maiden almost a mother. In
the fourteenth century, one century later than the histories of the
"_Châtelaine_" and the "_Dame_," either the female character was
sometimes utterly dissolute, or the tyranny of husbands utterly
reckless, when we find that it was no uncommon circumstance that women
were strangled by masked assassins, or walking by the riverside were
plunged into it. This drowning of women gave rise to a popular
proverb--"It is nothing! only a woman being drowned." La Fontaine,
probably without being aware of this allusion to a practice of the
fourteenth century, has preserved the proverbial phrase in his "La Femme
noyée," beginning,

  Je ne suis pas de ceux qui disent ce n'est rien,
  C'est une Femme qui se noye![10]

The personages and the manners here imperfectly sketched, constituted
the domestic life of our chivalric society from the twelfth century to
the first civil wars of England. In this long interval few could read;
even bishops could not always write; and the Gothic baron pleaded the
privilege of a layman for not doing the one nor the other.

The intellectual character of the nation can only be traced in the
wandering minstrel and the haughty ecclesiastic. The minstrel mingling
with all the classes of society reflected all their sympathies, and in
reality was one of the people themselves; but the ecclesiastic stood
apart, too sacred to be touched, while his very language was not that
either of the noble or of the people.

A dense superstition overshadowed the land from the time of the first
crusade to the last. It may be doubtful whether there was a single
Christian in all Christendom, for a new sort of idolatry was introduced
in shrines, and relics, and masses; holy wells, awful exorcisms, saintly
vigils, month's minds, pilgrimages afar and penances at home;
lamp-lighting before shrines decked with golden images, and hung with
votive arms and legs of cripples who recovered from their rheumatic
ails. The enthusiasm for the figure of the cross conferred a less pure
sanctity on that memorial of pious tribulation. Everywhere it was placed
before them. The crusader wore that sign on his right shoulder, and when
his image lay extended on his tomb, the crossed legs were reverently
contemplated. They made the sign of the cross by the motion of their
hand, in peril or in pleasure, in sorrow and in sin, and expected no
happy issue in an adventure without frequently signing themselves with
the cross. The cross was placed at the beginning and at the end of their
writings and inscriptions, and it opened and closed the alphabet. The
mystical virtues of the cross were the incessant theme of the Monachal
Orders, and it was kissed in rapture on the venal indulgence expedited
by the papal Hierophant. As even in sacred things novelty and fashion
will perversely put in their claim, we find the writers and sculptors
varying the appearance of the cross; its simple form [Symbol] became
inclosed in a circle [Symbol], and again varied by dots [Symbol].[11]
The guardian cross protected a locality; and in England, at the origin
of parishes, the cross stood as the hallowed witness which marked the
boundaries, and which it had been sacrilege to disturb. It was no
unusual practice to place the sign at the head of private letters,
however trivial the contents, as we find it in charters and other public
documents. In one of the Paston letters, the piety of the writer at a
much later period could not detail the ordinary occurrences of the week
without inserting the sacred letters I.H.S.; and similar invocations are
found in others.[12]

The material symbol of Christianity had thus been indiscriminately
adopted without conveying with it the virtues of the Gospel. The cross
was a myth--the cross was the _Fetish_[13] of an idolatrous
Christianity--they bowed before it, they knelt to it, they kissed it,
they kissed a palpable and visible deity; never was the Divinity
rendered more familiar to the gross understandings of the vulgar; and in
these ages of unchristian Christianity, the cross was degraded even to a
vulgar mark, which conveniently served for the signature of some
unlettered baron.


  [1] St. Palaye, to whom we owe the ideal of chivalry, has truly
    observed, "Toutes les vertus recommandées par la Chevalerie
    tournoient au bien public, au profit de l'Etat." It was when the
    causes of its institution ceased, and nothing remained but its forms
    without its motive, that altered manners could safely ridicule some
    noble qualities which, though now displaced, have not always found
    equal substitutes. In the advancement of society we may count some

  [2] I recollect this trait in Chaucer. The Norway hawk was among the
    most valuable articles of property, valued at a sum equal to £300 of
    the present day.--Nicholls, "History of Leicestershire," xxxix.

  [3] The Norman William punished men with loss of eyes for taking his
    venery.--Selden's notes to "Drayton's Polyolbion," Song ii.

    An instant execution of two youths by the gamekeepers, at the command
    of their Lord, appears in an ancient romance recently published in
    France.--_Journal des Savans_, 1838.

  [4] A curious specimen of these "Household Books," though of a later
    period, is that of the Northumberland family, printed by Bishop
    Percy. Many exist in manuscript, and contain particulars more
    valuable than the prices of commodities, for which they are usually
    valued; they offer striking pictures of the manners of their age.
    [The Wardrobe accounts of Edward the Fourth, the Privy Purse expenses
    of Edward IV. and Henry VIII., have been since published by Sir
    Harris Nicolas; and those of the Princess Mary, afterwards Queen, by
    Sir Frederick Madden. The judicious notes and dissertations of these
    editors render them of much use in illustration of the history of
    each era.--ED.]

  [5] "Warton," i. 94.

  [6] "Warton," ii. 412.

  [7] Stowe's "Survey by Strype," book iii. 235. We might wish to learn
    the authority of Stowe for ascribing this "pleasant wit" to Rahere of
    the eleventh century! As the pen of venerable Stowe never moved idly,
    our antiquary must have had some information which is now lost. "The
    king's minstrel" is also a doubtful designation: was the founder of
    this priory "a king of the minstrels?" an office which the French
    also had, _Roy des Ménéstraulx_, a governor instituted to keep order
    among all minstrels. Our Rahere, however "pleasant-witted," seems to
    have fallen into penance for his "wit," for he became the first

  [8] _Antiquités Nationales_, par Millin, xli. Two plates exhibit this
    Gothic chapel and the various musical instruments.

  [9] Both these romantic tales may be considered as authentic
    narratives, though they have often been used by the writers of
    fiction. _La Châtelaine de Vergy_ has been sometimes confounded with
    _Le Châtelaine de Coucy_, the lover of _La Dame du Fayel_. The story
    of the Countess of Tergy (on which a romance of the thirteenth
    century is founded, Hist. Litt. de France, xviii. 779) has been a
    favourite with the tale-tellers--the Queen of Navarre, Bandello, and
    Belle Forest, and is elegantly versified in the "Fabliaux, or Tales,"
    of Way. That of the Dame du Fayel, one of the fathers of French
    literary history, old Fauchet, extracted it from a good old chronicle
    dated two centuries before he wrote. The story is also found in an
    ancient romance of the thirteenth century, in the Royal Library of
    France.--Hist. Litt. de la France, xiv. 589; xvii. 644. The story of
    Childe Waters in Percy's Collection has all the pathetic simplicity
    of ancient minstrelsy, which is more forcibly felt when we compare it
    with the rifaccimento by a Mrs. Pye, in Evans's Old Ballads.

  [10] Montaigne was so well acquainted with this practice, that he has
    used it as a familiar illustration of the obstinacy of some
    women--which I suppose the good man imagined could not be paralleled
    by instances from the masculine sex; however, his language must not
    be disguised by a modern version. "Celui qui forgea le conte de la
    femme qui, pour aucune correction de ménaces et bastonnades, ne
    cessait d'appeler son mari, Pouilleux, et qui, précipité dans l'eau,
    haussoit encore, en s'étouffant, les mains et faisoit au-dessus de sa
    tête signe de tuer des poux, forgea un conte duquel en vérité tous
    les jours on voit l'image expresse de l'opiniâtreté des femmes."

    The punishment of our "Ducking-stool" for female brawlers possibly
    originated in this medieval practice of throwing women into the
    river: but this is but an innocuous baptism, while we find the
    obstinate wife here, who probably spoke true enough,
    _s'étouffant_,--merely for correcting the filthy lubbard, her lord
    and master.

  [11] Leland's "Itinerary," ii. 126.

  [12] Paston's "Letters," v. 17.

  [13] See the very curious chapter on the "Fetish Worship," in that
    very original and learned work "The Doctor," v. 133.


A new species of literature arose in the progress of that practical
education which society had assumed; a literature addressed to the
passions which rose out of the circumstances of the times; dedicated to
war, to love, and to religion, when the business of life seemed
restricted to the extreme indulgence of those ennobling pursuits. In too
much love, too much war, too much devotion, it was not imagined that
knights and ladies could ever err. If sometimes the loves were utterly
licentious, wondrous tales are told of their immaculate purity; if their
religion were then darkened by the grossest superstition, their faith
was genuine, and would have endured martyrdom; and if the chivalric
valour often exulted in its ferocity and its rapacity, its generous
honour amid a lawless state of society maintained justice in the land,
by the lance which struck the oppressor, and by the shield which covered
the helpless.

Everything had assumed a more extended form: the pageantry of society
had varied and multiplied; the banquet was prolonged; the festival day
was frequent; the ballad narrative, or the spontaneous lyric, which had
sufficed their ruder ancestors to allure attention, now demanded more
volume and more variety; the romance with a deeper interest was to
revolve in the entangling narrative of many thousand lines. There was a
traditional store, a stock of fabling in hand, heroical panegyrics,
satirical songs, and legendary ballads; all served as the stuff for the
looms of mightier weavers of rhyme, whose predecessors had left them
this inheritance. The marvellous of Romance burst forth, and this
stupendous fabric of invention bewitched Europe during three centuries.

ROMANCE, from the light fabliau to the voluminous fiction, has admitted,
in the luxury of our knowledge and curiosity, not only of critical
investigation, but of its invention, by tracing it to a single source.
The origin of Romance has been made to hinge on a theoretical history;
and by maintaining exclusive systems, mostly fanciful and partly true,
it has been made complicate. Whether invention in the form of ROMANCE
came from the oriental tale-teller or the Scandinavian Scald, or whether
the fictions of Europe be the growth of the Provençal or the Armorican
soil, our learned inquirers have each told; nor have they failed in
considerably diminishing the claims of each particular system opposed to
their own; but the greatest error will be found in their mutual
refutations.[1] While each stood entrenched in an exclusive system, they
were only furnishing an integral portion of a boundless and complicate
inquiry. They scrutinised with microscopic eyes into that vast fabric of
invention, which the Gothic genius may proudly oppose to the fictions of
antiquity, and they seemed at times forgetful of the vicissitudes which,
at distant intervals, and by novel circumstances, enlarged and modified
the changeful state of romantic fiction among every people.

In the attempt to retrace the Nile of Romance to a solitary source, in
the eagerness of their discoveries they had not yet ascertained that
this Nile bears many far-divided heads, and some from which Time shall
never remove its clouds; for who dares assign an origin to the ancient
Milesian tales, the tales and their origin being alike lost?[2]

Warton, encumbered by his theory of an Eastern origin, opened the map to
track the voyage of an Arabian tale: he landed it at Marseilles, that
port by which ancient Greece first held its intercourse with our Europe,
and thence the tale was sent forwards through genial Italy, but forced
to harbour in this voyage of Romance at the distant shores of Brittany,
that land of Romance and of the ancient Briton. The result of his system
startled the literary world by his assumption, that "the British
history" of Geoffry of Monmouth entirely consists of Arabian inventions!
the real source of the airy existence of our British Arthur! Bishop
Percy had been nearly as adventurous in his Gothic origin, by landing a
number of the northern bards with the army of Rollo in Normandy; an
event which contributed to infuse the Scaldic genius into the romances
of chivalry, whose national hero is Charlemagne--the tutelary genius of
France and Germany.

They had looked to the east, and to the north--and wherever they looked
for the origin of Romance it was found. They had sought in a corner of
the universe for that which is universal.

ROMANCE sprang to birth in every clime, native wherever she is found,
notwithstanding that she has been a wanderer among all lands, and as
prodigal a dispenser as she has been free in her borrowings and artful
in her concealments.

The art of fabling may be classed among the mimetic arts--it is an
aptitude of the universal and plastic faculties of our nature; and man
might not be ill defined and charactered as "a mimetic and fabling

The earliest Romances appear in a metrical form about the middle of the
twelfth century. The first were "Estoires," or pretended chronicles,
like that of the Brut of Wace; the Romances of martial achievement then
predominated, those of the Knights of Arthur, and the Paladins of
Charlemagne; the adventures of love and gallantry were of a later epoch.
In the mutability of taste an extraordinary transition occurred; after
nearly two centuries passed in rhyming, all the verse was to be turned
into prose. Whether voluminous rhymes satiate the public ear, or novelty
in the form was sought even when they had but little choice, the writers
of Romance, a very flexible gentry, who of all other writers servilely
accommodate themselves to the public taste, with more fluent pens
loitered into a more ample page; or, as they expressed themselves,
"translatés de rime en prose," or "mis en beau langage." Many of the old
French metrical Romances, in the fourteenth century, were disguised in
this humbled form; but their "mensogne magnanime," to use Tasso's style,
who loved them, lost nothing in number or in hardihood. On the discovery
of the typographic art, in the fifteenth century, many of these prose
Romances in manuscript received a new life by passing through the press;
and these, in their venerable "lettres Gothiques," are still hoarded for
the solace of the curious in fictions of genuine antiquity, and of
invention in its prime, both at home and abroad; and in a reduced form
we find them surviving among the people on the Continent. It is singular
that the metrical Romances seem never to have received the honours
conferred on the prose.[3]

These Romances, in their manuscript state, were cherished objects;[4]
the mighty tomes, sometimes consisting of forty or fifty thousand lines,
described as those "great books of parchment," or "the great book of
Romances," were usually embellished by the pen and the pencil with every
ornament that fancy could suggest; bound in crimson velvet, guarded by
clasps of silver, and studded with golden roses; profuse of gorgeous
illuminations, and decorated with the most delicate miniatures, "lymned
with gold of graver's work" on an azure ground; or the purple page
setting off the silvery letters;--objects then of perpetual attraction
to the story-believing reader, and which now charm the eye which could
not as patiently con the endless page. The fashions of the times are
exactly shown in the dresses and the domestic furniture; as well as
their instruments, military and musical.

Studies for the artist, as for the curious antiquary,[5] we may view
the plumage in a casque curved and falling with peculiar grace, and a
lady's robe floating in its amplitude; and ornaments of dress arranged,
which our taste might emulate. A French amateur who possessed _le Roman
de la Violette_, a romance of a fabulous Count of Nevers, was so deeply
struck by its exquisite and faithful miniatures, that he employed the
best artists to copy the most interesting, and placed them in his
collection of the costume and fashions of the French nation; a
collection preserved in the Royal Library of France.[6] If their hard
outline does not always flow into grace, their imagination worked under
the mysterious influence of the Romance through all their devoted
labour. In a group of figures we may observe that the heads are not
mechanically cast by one mould, but the distinct character looks as if
the thoughtful artist had worked out his recollections on which he had
meditated. In some of the heads, portraits of distinguished persons have
been recognised. Not less observable are the arabesques often found on
the margins, where the playful pencil has prodigally flung flowers and
fruit, imitating the bloom, or insects which look as if they had lighted
on the leaf. These margins, however, occasionally exhibit arabesques of
a very different character; figures or subjects which often amused the
pencil of the monastic limners, satirical strokes aimed at their
brothers and sisters--the monks and the nuns! I have observed a wolf, in
a monk's frock and cowl, stretching its paw to bless a cock bending its
submissive head; a cat, in the habit of an abbess, holding a platter in
its paws to a mouse approaching to lick it, alluding to the allurements
of abbesses to draw young women into the convents; and a sow, in a nun's
veil, mounted on stilts. A pope appears to be thrown by devils into a
cauldron, and cardinals are roasting on spits. All these expressions of
suppressed opinion must have been executed by the monks themselves.
These reformers before the Reformation sympathised with the popular
feeling against the haughty prelate and the luxurious abbot.

The great Romance of Alexander, preserved in the Bodleian Library,
reveals a secret of the cost of time freely bestowed on that single and
mighty tome. The illuminator, by preserving the date when he had
completed his own work compared with that of the transcriber when he had
finished his part, appears to have employed nearly six years on the
paintings which embellish this precious volume.[7]

Such a metrical Romance was a gift presented to royalty, when engrossed
by the rapturous hand of the Romancer himself; the autograph, in a
presentation copy, might count on the meed of "massy goblets" when the
munificent patron found the new volume delectable to his taste, which
indeed had been anticipated by the writer. This incident occurred to
Froissart in presenting his Romance to Richard the Second, when, in
reply to his majesty's inquiry after the contents, the author exultingly
told that "the book treated of Amour!"

To the writers of these ancient Romances we cannot deny a copious
invention, a variegated imagination, and, among their rambling
exuberances and their grotesque marvels, those enchanting enchantments
which the Greeks and Romans only partially and coldly raised. We may
often, too, discover that truth of human nature which is not always
supposed to lie hid in these desultory compositions. Amid their peculiar
extravagances, which at least may serve to raise an occasional smile,
the strokes of nature are abundant, and may still form the studies of
the writers of fiction, however they may hang on the impatience of the
writers and the readers of our duodecimos. Ancient writers are
pictorial: their very fault contributes to produce a remarkable
effect--a fulness often overflowing, but which at least is not a
scantiness leaving the vagueness of imperfect description. Their details
are more circumstantial, their impressions are more vivid, and they
often tell their story with the earnestness of persons who had conversed
with the actors, or had been spectators of the scene. We may be wearied,
as one might be at a protracted trial by the witnesses, but we are often
struck by an energetic reality which we sometimes miss in their
polished successors. Their copiousness, indeed, is without selection;
they wrote before they were critics, but their truth is not the less
truth because it is given with little art.

The dilations of the metrical Romances into tomes of prose, Warton
considered as a proof of the decay of invention. Was not this censure
rather the feeling of a poet for his art, than the decision of a critic?
for the more extended scenes of the Romances in prose required a wider
stage, admitted of a fuller dramatic effect in the incidents, and a more
perfect delineation of the personages through a more sustained action.
If the prose Romances are not epics by the conventional code of the
Stagyrite, at least they are epical; and some rude Homers sleep among
these old Romancers, metrical or prosaic. A living poetic critic, one
best skilled to arbitrate, for he is without any prepossessions in
favour of our ancient writers, has honestly acknowledged their
faithfulness to nature in their touching simplicity; "nor," he adds, "do
they less afford, by their bolder imagination, adequate subjects for the
historical pencil." And he has more particularly noticed "Le bone
Florence de Rome,"--thus written by our ungrammatical minstrels.
"Classical poetry has scarcely ever conveyed in shorter boundaries so
many interesting and complicated events as may be found in this good old
Romance."[8] This indeed is so true, that we find these romantic tales
were not only recited or read, but their subjects were worked into the
tapestries which covered the walls of their apartments. The Bible and
the Romance equally offered subjects to eyes learned in the "Estoires"
never to be forgotten.

Our master poets have drawn their waters from these ancient fountains.
SIDNEY might have been himself one of their heroes, and was no unworthy
rival of his masters: SPENSER borrowed largely, and repaid with
munificence: MILTON in his loftiest theme looked down with admiration on
this terrestrial race,

  -----------and what resounds
  In fable or romance of Uther's son,
  Begirt with British or Armoric knights.

"In 'Amadis of Gaul,'" has said our true laureate, "may be found the
Zelmane of the 'Arcadia,' the Masque of Cupid of the 'Faery Queen,' and
the Florizel of the 'Winter's Tale.' Sidney, Spenser, and Shakspeare
imitated this book: was ever book honoured by three such imitators?"[9]

A great similarity is observable among these writers of fiction, both in
their incidents and the identity of their phrases; an evidence that
these inventors were often drawing from a common source. In these ages
of manuscripts they practised without scruple many artifices, and might
safely appropriate the happiest passages of their anonymous
brothers.[10] One Romance would produce many by variations; the same
story would serve as the groundwork of another: and the later Romancer,
to set at rest the scruples of the reader, usually found fault with his
predecessors, who, having written the same story, had not given "the
true one!" By this innocent imposture, or this ingenious impudence, they
designed to confer on their Romance the dignity of History. The metrical
Romances pretend to translate some ancient "Cronik" which might be
consulted at Caerleon, the magical palace of the vanished Arthur: or
they give their own original Romance as from some "Latyn auctour," whose
name is cautiously withheld; or they practise other devices, pretending
to have drawn their work from "the Greek," or "the English," and even
from an "unknown language." In some Colophons of the prose Romances the
names of real persons are assigned as the writers;[11] but the same
Romance is equally ascribed to different persons, and works are given as
translations which in fact are originals. Amid this prevailing
confusion, and these contradictory statements, we must agree with the
editor of Warton, that we cannot with any confidence name the author of
any of these prose Romances. RITSON has aptly treated these pseudonymous
translators as "men of straw." We may say of them all as the antiquary
DOUCE, in the agony of his baffled researches after one of their
favourite authorities, a Will o' the Wisp named Lollius, exclaimed,
somewhat gravely--"Of Lollius it will become every one to speak with
diffidence." Ariosto seems to have caught this bantering humour of
mystifying his readers in his own Gothic Romance, gravely referring his
extravagances to "the Chronicle of the pseudo Archbishop Turpin" for his
voucher! What was with the Italian but a playful stroke of satire on the
pretended verity of Turpin himself, may have covered a more serious
design with these ancient romance-writers. Père Menestrier ascribed
these productions to Heralds, who, he says, were always selected for
their talents, their knowledge and their experience; qualifications not
the most essential for romance-writing. "According to the bad taste of
those ignorant ages," he proceeds, "it is from them so many Romances on
feats of arms and on chivalry issued, by which they designed to elevate
their own office, and to celebrate their voyages in different
lands."[12] St. Palaye, in adopting this notion of these Heraldical
Romancers, with more knowledge of the ancient Romancers than the good
Father possessed, has added a more numerous body, the _Trouvères_, who,
either in rehearsing or in composing these poetical narratives, might
urge a stronger claim.

When Père Menestrier imagined that it was the intention of these
Heralds, by these Romances, "to celebrate their voyages in different
lands," it seems to have escaped him that "the voyages" of these
Romancers to the visionary Caerleon, to England, or to Macedonia, were
but a geography of Fairy Land.

In the History of Literature we here discover a whole generation of
writers, who, so far from claiming the honour of their inventions, or
aspiring after the meed of fame, have even studiedly concealed their
claims, and, with a modesty and caution difficult to comprehend, dropped
into their graves without a solitary commemoration.

These idling works of idlers must have been the pleasant productions of
persons of great leisure, with some tincture of literature, and to whom,
by the peculiarity of their condition, fame was an absolute nullity. Who
were these writers who thus contemned fame? Who pursued the delicate
tasks of the illuminator and the calligrapher? Who adorned Psalters with
a religious patience, and expended a whole month in contriving the
vignette of an initial letter? Who were these artists who worked for no
gain? In those ages the ecclesiastics were the only persons who answer
to this character; and it would only be in the silence and leisure of
the monastery that such imaginative genius and such refined art could
find their dwelling-place. I have sometimes thought that it was Père
Hardouin's conviction of all this literary industry of the monks which
led him to indulge his extravagant conjecture, that the classical
writings of antiquity were the fabrications of this sedentary
brotherhood; and his "pseudo-Virgilius" and "pseudo-Horatius" astonished
the world, though they provoked its laughter.

The Gothic mediæval periods were ages of imagination, when in art works
of amazing magnitude were produced, while the artists sent down no
claims to posterity. We know not who were the numerous writers of these
voluminous Romances, but, what is far more surprising, we are nearly as
unacquainted with those great and original architects who covered our
land with the palatial monastery, the church, and the cathedral. In the
religious societies themselves the genius of the Gothic architect was
found: the bishop or the abbot planned while they opened their treasury;
and the sculptor and the workmen were the tenants of the religious
house. The devotion of labour and of faith raised these wonders, while
it placed them beyond the unvalued glory which the world can give.[13]

We cannot think less than Père Hardouin that there were no poetical and
imaginative monks--Homers in cowls, and Virgils who chanted vespers--who
could compose in their unoccupied day more beautiful romances than their
crude legends, or the dry annals of the Leiger book of their abbey. Some
knowledge these writers had of the mythological, and even the Homeric
and Virgilian fictions, for they often gave duplicates of the classical
fables of antiquity. Circe was a fair sorceress, the one-eyed Polyphemus
a dread giant, and Perseus bestrode a winged dragon, before they were
reflected in romances. But what we discover peculiar in these works is a
strange mixture of sacred and profane matters, always treated in a
manner which scents of the cloister. Before he enters the combat, the
knight is often on his knees, invoking his patron-saint; he proffers his
vows on holy relics; while ladies placed in the last peril, or the most
delicate positions, by their fervent repetitions of the sign of the
cross, or a vow to found an abbey, are as certainly saved: and for
another refined stroke of the monachal invention, the heroes often close
their career in a monastery or a hermitage. The monkish morality which
sat loosely about them was, however, rigid in its ceremonial discipline.
Lancelot de Lac leaves the bed of the guilty Genevra, the Queen of the
good king Arthur, at the ring of the matin-bell, to assist at mass; so
scrupulous were such writers that even in criminal levities they should
not neglect all the offices of the Church. The subject of one of these
great romances is a search after the cup which held the real blood of
Christ; and this history of the _Sang-real_ forms a series of romances.
Who but a monk would have thought, and even dared to have written it
down, that all the circumstances in this romance were not only certain,
but were originally set down by the hand of Jesus himself? and further
dared to observe, that Jesus never wrote but twice before--the Lord's
Prayer, and the sentence on the woman taken in adultery. Such a pious,
or blasphemous fraud, was not unusual among the dark fancies of the
monastic legendaries.

Some of these Homers must have left their lengthening Iliad, as Homer
himself seems to have done, unfinished; tired, or tiring, for no doubt
there was often a rehearsal, "the tale half told" was resumed by some
Elisha who caught the mantle his more inspired predecessor had let fall.
It appears evident that several were the continuators of a favourite
romance; and from deficient attention or deficient skill a fatal
discrepancy has been detected in the identical characters--the ordinary
fate of those who write after the ideas of another, with indistinct
conceptions, or with fancies going contrary to those of the first

These metrical romances in manuscript, and the printed prose in their
original editions, are now very costly. By the antiquary and the poet
these tomes may be often opened. With the antiquary they have served as
the veritable registers of their ages. The French antiquaries, and Carte
in England, have often illustrated by those ancient romances many
obscure points in geography and history. Except in the mere machinery of
their fancy, these writers had no motive to pervert leading facts, for
these served to give a colour of authenticity to their pretended
history, or to fix their locality. As they had not the erudition to
display, nor were aware of the propriety of copying, the customs and
manners of the age of their legendary hero, they have faithfully
transmitted their own; we should never have had but for this lucky
absurdity the "Tale of Thebes" turned into a story of the middle ages;
while Alexander the Great is but the ideal of a Norman baron in the
splendour and altitude of the conception of the writers. It was the
ignorance of the illuminators of our Latin and Saxon manuscripts of any
other country than their own which enabled STRUTT to place before the
eye a pictorial exhibition of our Anglo-Saxon fathers. Compared with the
realities of these originals, with all their faults of tediousness, the
modern copiers of ancient times, in their mock scenes of other ages, too
often reflect in the cold moonlight of their fancy a shadowy
unsubstantial antiquity.

The influence of these fabulous achievements of unconquerable heroes and
of self-devoted lovers over the intellect and the passions of men and
women, during that vast interval of time when they formed the sole
literature, was omnipotent. In the early romances of chivalry, when
their genius was purely military, and directed to kindle a passion for
joining the crusades, we rarely find adventures of the tender passion;
but, since women cannot endure neglect, and the female character has all
the pliancy of sympathy, and has performed her part in every age on the
theatre of society, we discover the extraordinary fact that many ladies
assumed the plumy helmet and dexterously managed the lance. The ladies
rode amid armed knights resistless as themselves. It was subsequently,
when we find that singularly fantastic institution of "The Courts of
Love," which delivered their "Arrets" in the style of a most refined
jurisprudence, that these beautiful companions-at-arms were satisfied to
conquer the conquerors by more legitimate seductions, and that the
romances told of little but of loves. Ariosto and Tasso are supposed to
have drawn their female warriors from the Amazonian Penthesilea and the
Camilla of Homer and Virgil; but it would seem that the prototype of
these feminine knights these poets also found among those old romances
which they loved.

It is unquestionable that these martial romances of chivalry inflamed
the restlessness of those numerous military adventurers who found an
ample field for their chivalry after the crusades, in our continued
incursions into France, of which country we were long a living plague,
from the reign of Edward III. to that of Henry V., nearly a century of
national tribulation. Many "a gentyl and noble esquyer," if perchance
the English monarch held a truce with France or Scotland, flew into some
foreign service. Sir Robert Knolles was known to the French as "le
véritable démon de la guerre;" and Sir John Hawkwood, when there was no
fighting to be got at home, passed over into Italy, where he approved
himself to be such a prodigy of "a man-at-arms," that the grateful
Florentines raised his statue in their cathedral; this image of English
valour may still be proudly viewed. This chivalric race of
romance-readers were not, however, always of the purest "order of
chivalry." If they were eager for enterprise, they were not less for its
more prudential results. A castle or a ransom in France, a lordly
marriage, or a domain in Italy, were the lees that lie at the bottom of
their glory.

We continued long in this mixed state of glory clouded with barbarism;
for at a time when literature and the fine arts were on the point of
breaking out into the splendour of the pontificate of Leo the Tenth, in
our own country the great Duke of Buckingham, about 1500, held the old
romance of "The Knight of the Swan" in the highest estimation, because
the translator maintained that our duke was lineally descended from that
hero; the first peer of the realm was proud of deriving his pedigree
from a fabulous knight in a romantic genealogy.

But all the inventions and fashions of man have their date and their
termination. For three centuries these ancient romances, metrical or
prose, had formed the reading of the few who read, and entranced the
circle of eager listeners. The enchantment was on the wane; their
admirers had become somewhat sceptical of "the true history" which had
been so solemnly warranted; another taste in the more chastened
writings of Roman and Grecian lore was now on the ascendant. One last
effort was made in this decline of romantic literature, in that
tesselated compilement where the mottled pieces drawn out of the French
prose romances of chivalry were finely squared together by no unskilful
workman, in Sir THOMAS MALORY, to the English lover of ancient romance
well known by the title of _La Morte d'Arthur_. This last of these
ancient romances was finished in the ninth year of the reign of Edward
IV., about 1470. CAXTON exulted to print this epical romance; and at the
same time he had the satisfaction of reproaching the "laggard" age.
"What do ye now," exclaimed the ancient printer, "but go to the
_Bagnes_, and play at dice? Leave this! leave it! and read these noble
volumes." Volumes which not many years after, when a new system of
affairs had occurred to supplant this long-idolised "order of chivalry,"
ROGER ASCHAM plainly asserted only taught "open manslaughter and bold
bawdry." Such was the final fate of Love and Arms!


  [1] Warton and Percy, Ritson and Leyden, Ellis and Turner and Price,
    and recently the late Abbé de la Rue.

  [2] A profound and poetic genius has thrown out a new suggestion on
    the origin of these Eastern tales. "I think it not unlikely that the
    'Milesian Tales' contained the germs of many of those _now in the_
    'Arabian Nights.' The Greek empire must have left deep impressions on
    the Persian intellect--so also many of the Roman Catholic _Legends_
    are taken from _Apuleius_. The exquisite story of Cupid and Psyche is
    evidently a philosophical attempt to parry Christianity with a quasi
    Platonic account of the fall and redemption of man."--Coleridge's
    "Literary Remains," i. 180. Whatever were these "Milesian Tales,"
    they amused the Grecian sages in the earliest period of their

  [3] Ritson and Weber have elegantly printed some of the best English
    metrical romances. In France they have recently enriched literature
    with many of these manuscript romances. See "Gentleman's Magazine,"
    Oct. 1839.

  [4] It is a curious fact, that in 1390 Sir James Douglas, of
    Dalkeith, the ancestor of the Earl of Morton, apparently valued them
    as about equal to the statutes of the realm; for he bequeathed in his
    will to his son, "Omnes libros meos tam _Statutorum_ Regni Scocie
    quam _Romancie_."--Laing's "Early Metrical Tales," Edinburgh, 1826.

  [5] A collection of these romances formed into three folio tomes in
    manuscript was enriched by seven hundred and forty-seven miniatures,
    _avec les Initiales peintes en or et couleurs_. 6093, Roxburgh Cat.

  [6] Cat. of the Duke de la Vallière, 4507. Strutt would have done as
    much for ourselves, but he worked in unrequited solitude with all the
    passion of the French amateur, but without his "best artists."

  [7] This romance was composed about the year 1200; the present copy
    was made in 1338. There is also a splendid manuscript with rich and
    delicate illuminations of the ancient romance of Alexander in prose
    in the Brit. Mus., Bib. Reg. 15, E. 6.

  [8] Campbell's "Essay on English Poetry."

  [9] Our vernacular literature owes to the unremitting ardour of our
    laureate recent editions of "La Morte d'Arthur," "Palmerin of
    England," and a new translation from the Portuguese of "Amadis of
    Gaul." For readers who are not antiquaries, and who may recoil from
    the prolixity of the ancient romances, there is a work of their
    species which may amply gratify their curiosity, and it is of easy
    acquisition. It is not an unskilful compilation from the romances of
    chivalry made by RICHARD JOHNSON, a noted bookwright in the reign of
    Elizabeth; it has passed through innumerable editions, and has at
    last taken its station in the popular library of our juvenile
    literature. I suspect that the style has been too often altered in
    the modern editions, which has injured its raciness. It is well known
    as "The Renowned History of the Seven Champions of Christendom." The
    compiler has metamorphosed the Rowland, Oliver, Guy, Bevis, &c., into
    seven saints or champions of Christendom; but "he has preserved some
    of the most capital fictions of the old Arabian romance."--Warton,
    iii. 63, Ed. 8vo. It may serve as a substitute for the old
    black-letter romances, being a compendium of their rich or their
    grotesque fancies; or, as Ritson observes with his accustomed
    energetical criticism, "It is a compound of superstition, and, as it
    were, all the lyes in Christendom in one lye, and is in many parts of
    the country believed at this day to be as true as the
    gospel."--"Dissertation on Romance," xxxiv.

  [10] One of the most celebrated romantic histories is "the Troy-book
    of Guido delle Colonne," which has been considered as the original of
    all the later tales of Troy. On the acute suggestion of Tyrwhit,
    Douce ascertained that this fabulous history, by many regarded as
    original, is only a Latin translation of a Norman poet,* which Guido
    passes off as a history collected from Dares and other fictitious
    authorities, but disingenuously conceals the name of Benoit de Saint
    Maur, whose works he appears to have found when he came to England.
    It was a prevalent practice in the middle ages to appropriate a work
    by a cautious suppression of any mention of the original. Tiraboschi
    might now be satisfied that Guido delle Colonne was in England, which
    he doubted, since he now stands charged with only turning into Latin
    prose the poem of a Norman, that is, an English poet at the court of
    our Henry the Second.

      * Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare."

  [11] In the curious catalogue of these romances in the Roxburgh
    Library, the cataloguer announced three or four of these pretended
    authors as "names unknown to any literary historians," and considered
    the announcement a literary discovery.

  [12] Père Menestrier, "Chevalerie Ancienne et Moderne," chap. v. On

  [13] See Bentham's "History and Antiquities of Ely," 27.


The predominance of the Latin language, during many centuries, retarded
the cultivation of the vernacular dialects of Europe. When the barbarous
nations had triumphed over ancient Rome, the language of the Latins
remained unconquered; that language had diffused itself with the
universal dominion, and, living in the minds of men, required neither
legions nor consuls to maintain its predominance.

From accident, and even from necessity, the swarming hordes, some of
whom seem to have spoken a language which had never been written, and
were a roving people at a period prior to historical record, had adopted
that single colloquial idiom which their masters had conveyed to them,
attracted, if not by its beauty, at least by its convenience. This
vulgar Latin was not, indeed, the Latin of the great writers of
antiquity; but in its corrupt state; freed from a complex construction,
and even from grammar, had more easily lent itself to the jargon of the
ruder people. Teutonic terms, or Celtic words with corrupt latinisms,
were called "the scum of ancient eloquence, and the rust of vulgar
barbarisms," by an indignant critic in the middle of the fifth
century.[1] It was amid this confusion of races, of idioms, and of
customs, that from this heterogeneous mass were hewed out those
VERNACULAR DIALECTS of Europe which furnished each people with their own
idiom, and which are now distinguished as the MODERN LANGUAGES.

In this transference and transfusion of languages, Italy retained the
sonorous termination of her paternal soil, and Spain did not forget the
majesty of the Latin accent; lands favoured by more genial skies, and
men blessed with more flexible organs. But the Gothic and the Northern
races barbarously abbreviated or disfigured their Latin words--to sounds
so new to them they gave their own rude inflections; there is but one
organ to regulate the delicacy of orthoepy--a musical and a tutored ear.
The Gaul,[2] in cutting his words down, contracted a nasal sharpness;
and the Northmen, in the shock of their hard, redundant consonants, lost
the vowelly confluence.

This vulgar or corrupt Latin, mingled with this diversity of jargons,
was the vitiated mother of the sister-languages of Europe--sisters still
bearing their family likeness, of the same homely origin, but of various
fortunes, till some attained to the beauty and affluence of their Latin
line. From the first the people themselves had dignified their spurious
generation of language as _Romans_, or _Romance_, or _Romaunt_, still
proud perhaps of its Roman source; but the critical Latins themselves
had distinguished it as _Rustic_, to indicate a base dialect used only
by those who were far removed from the metropolis of the world.

But when these different nations had established their separate
independence, this vernacular idiom was wholly left to the people; it
was the image of their own barbaric condition, unworthy of the studies,
and inadequate to the genius, of any writer. The universal language
maintained its pre-eminence over the particular dialect, and as the
course of human events succeeded in the overwhelming of ancient Rome,
another Rome shadowed the world. Ecclesiastical Rome, whence the novel
faith of Christianity was now to emanate, far more potent than military
Rome, perpetuated the ancient language. The clergy, through the
diversified realms of Europe, were held together in strict conformity,
and by a common bond chained to the throne of the priesthood--one faith,
one discipline, one language!

The Latin tongue, both in verse and prose, was domiciliated among people
of the most opposite interests, customs, and characters. The primitive
fathers, the later schoolmen, the monkish chroniclers, all alike
composed in Latin; all legal instruments, even marriage-contracts, were
drawn in Latin: and even the language of Christian prayer was that of
abolished paganism.

The idiom of their father-land--or as we have affectionately called it,
our "mother-tongue," and as our ancient translator of the
"Polychronicon" energetically terms it, "the birth-tongue"--those first
human accents which their infant ear had caught, and which from their
boyhood were associated with the most tender and joyous recollections,
every nation left to fluctuate on the lips of the populace, rude and
neglected. Whenever a writer, proposing to inform the people on subjects
which more nearly interested them, composed in the national idiom, it
was a strong impulse only which could induce him thus to submit to
degrade his genius. One of the French crusaders, a learned knight, was
anxious that the nation should become acquainted with the great
achievements of the deliverers of Jerusalem; it was the command of his
bishop that induced him to compose the narrative in the vernacular
idiom; but the twelve years which he bestowed on his chronicle were not
considered by him as employed for his glory, for he avows that the
humiliating style which he had used was the mortifying performance of a
religious penance.

All who looked towards advancement in worldly affairs, and were of the
higher orders in society, cultivated the language of Rome. It is owing
to this circumstance, observes a learned historian of our country, that
"the Latin language and the classical writers were preserved by the
Christian clergy from that destruction which has entirely swept from us
the language and the writings of Phoenicia, Carthage, Babylon, and
Egypt."[3] We must also recollect that the influence of the Latin
language became far more permanent when the great master-works of
antiquity were gradually unburied from their concealments. In this
resurrection of taste and genius, they derived their immortality from
the imperishable soul of their composition. All Europe was condemned to
be copiers, or in despair to be plagiarists.

It is well known how the admirable literatures of Greece and Rome struck
a fresh impulse into literary pursuits at that period which has been
distinguished as the restoration of letters. The emigration of the
fugitive Greeks conveyed the lost treasures of their more ancient
literature to the friendly shores of Italy. Italy had then to learn a
new language, and to borrow inspiration from another genius.

The occupation of disinterring manuscripts which had long been buried in
dungeon-darkness, was carried on with an enthusiasm of which perhaps it
would be difficult for us at this day to form an adequate conception.
Many exhausted their fortunes in remote journeys, or in importations
from the East; and the possession of a manuscript was considered not to
have been too dearly purchased by the transfer of an estate, since only
for the loan of one the pledge was nothing less.[4] The discovery of an
author, perhaps heard of for the first time, was tantamount to the
acquisition of a province; and when a complete copy of "Quintilian" was
discovered, the news circulated throughout Europe. The rapture of
collation, the restoration of a corrupt text, or the perpetual
commentary, became the ambition of a life, even after the era of

This was the useful age of critical erudition. It furnished the studious
with honours and avocations; but they were reserved only for themselves:
it withdrew them from the cultivation of all vernacular literature. They
courted not the popular voice when a professorial chair or a dignified
secretaryship offered the only profit or honour the literary man
contemplated. Accustomed to the finished compositions of the ancients,
the scholar turned away from the rudeness of the maternal language.
There was no other public opinion than what was gathered from the
writings of the Few who wrote to the Few who read; they transcribed as
sacred what authority had long established; their arguments were
scholastic and metaphysical, for they held little other communication
with the world, or among themselves, but through the restricted medium
of their writings. This state was a heritage of ideas and of opinions,
transmitted from age to age with little addition or diminution.
Authority and quotation closed all argument, and filled vast volumes.
University responded to university, and men of genius were following
each other in the sheep-tracks of antiquity. Even to so late a period as
the days of Erasmus, every Latin word was culled with a classical
superstition; and a week of agony was exhausted on a page finely inlaid
with a mosaic of phrases.[5] While this verbal generation flourished,
some eminent scholars were but ridiculous apes of Cicero, and, in a
cento of verses, empty echoes of Virgil. All native vigour died away in
the coldness of imitation; and a similarity of thinking and of style
deprived the writers of that raciness which the nations of Europe
subsequently displayed when they cultivated their vernacular literature.

It is remarkable of those writers who had already distinguished
themselves by their Latin works, that when they began to compose in
their native language, those classical effusions on which they had
confidently rested their future celebrity sank into oblivion; and the
writers themselves ceased to be subjects either of critical inquiry or
of popular curiosity, except in that language in which they had opened a
vein of original thought, in a manner and diction the creation of their
own feelings. Here their natural power and their freed faculties placed
them at a secure interval from their imitators. Modern writers in Latin
were doomed to find too many academical equals; but those who were
inimitable in their vernacular idiom could dread no rival, and
discovered how the productions of the heart, rather than those of the
lexicon, were echoed to their authors in the voice of their

The people indeed were removed far out of the influence of literature.
The people could neither become intelligent with the knowledge, nor
sympathise with the emotions, concealed in an idiom which had long
ceased to be spoken, and which exacted all the labour and the leisure of
the cloistered student.

This state of affairs had not occurred among the Greeks, and hardly
among the Romans, who had only composed their immortal works in their
maternal tongue. Their arts, their sciences, and their literature were
to be acquired by the single language which they used. It was the
infelicity of their successors in dominion, to weary out the tenderness
of youth in the repulsive labours of acquiring the languages of the two
great nations whose empire had for ever closed, but whose finer genius
had triumphed over their conquerors.

With the ancients, instruction did not commence until their seventh
year; and till they had reached that period Nature was not disturbed in
her mysterious workings: the virgin intellect was not doomed to suffer
the violence of our first barren studies--that torture of learning a
language which has ceased to be spoken by the medium of another equally
unknown. Perhaps it was owing to this favourable circumstance that,
among the inferior classes of society in the two ancient nations, their
numerous slaves displayed such an aptitude for literature, eminent as
skilful scribes, and even as original writers.

One of the earliest prose writers in our language when style was
beginning to be cultivated, has aptly described, by a domestic but
ingenious image, the effect of our youth gathering the burdens of
grammatical faggots in the Sylva of antiquity. It is Sir THOMAS ELYOT
who speaks, in "The Boke of the Governor," printed in 1531: "By that
time the learner cometh to the most sweet and pleasant rendering of old
authors, the sparks of fervent desire are extinct with the burthen of
grammar, like as a little fire is even quenched with a great heap of
small sticks, so that it can never come to the principal logs, where it
should burn in a great pleasant fire."

It was Italy, the Mother and the Nurse of Literature (as the filial zeal
of her sons has hailed her), which first opened to the nations of Europe
the possibility of each creating a vernacular literature, reflecting
the image not of the Greeks and of the Romans, but of themselves.

Three memorable men, of the finest and most contrasted genius, appeared
in one country and at one period. With that contempt for the language of
the people in which the learned participated, busied as they were at the
restoration of letters by their new studies and their progressive
discoveries, PETRARCH contemned his own Italian "Rime," and was even
insensible to the inspiration of a mightier genius than his own,--that
genius who, with a parental affection, had adopted the orphan idiom of
his father-land; an orphan idiom, which had not yet found even a name;
for it was then uncertain what was the true language of Italy. DANTE had
at first proposed to write in Latin; but with all his adoration of his
master Virgil, he rejected the verse of Virgil, and anticipated the
wants of future ages. A peculiar difficulty, however, occurred to the
first former of the vernacular literature of Italy. In the state of this
unsettled language--composed of fragments of the latinity of a former
populace, with the corruptions and novelties introduced by its new
masters--deformed by a great variety of dialects--submitted, in the
mouths of the people, to their caprices, and unstamped by the hand of a
master--it seemed hopeless to fix on any idiom which, by its inherent
nobleness, should claim the distinguished honour of being deemed
Italian. DANTE denied this envied grace to any of the rival
principalities of his country. The poet, however, mysteriously asserted
that the true Italian "volgare" might be discovered in every Italian
city; but being common to all, it could not be appropriated by any
single one. Dante dignified the "volgare illustre" which he had
conceived in his mind, by magnificent titles;--it was "illustrious," it
was "cardinal," it was "aulic," it was "courtly," it was the language of
the most learned who had composed in the vulgar idiom, whether in
Sicily, in Tuscany, in Puglia, even in Lombardy, or in the marshes of
Ancona! This fanciful description of the Italian language appeared
enigmatical to the methodical investigations of the cold and cautious
TIRABOSCHI. That grave critic submitted the interior feeling of the poet
to the test of facts and dates. With more erudition than taste, he
marked the mechanical gradations--the stages of every language, from
rudeness to refinement. The mere historical investigator could conceive
no other style than what his chronology had furnished. But the spirit of
DANTE had penetrated beyond the palpable substances of the explorer of
facts, and the arranger of dates. DANTE, in his musings, had thrown a
mystical veil over the Italian language; but the poet presciently
contemplated, amid the distraction of so many dialects, that an Italian
style would arise which at some distant day would be deemed classical.
DANTE wrote, and DANTE was the classic of his country.

The third great master of the vernacular literature of Italy was
BOCCACCIO, who threw out the fertility of his genius in the _volgare_ of
nature herself. This Shakspeare of a hundred tales transformed himself
into all the conditions of society; he touched all the passions of human
beings, and penetrated into the thoughts of men ere he delineated their
manners. Even two learned Greeks acknowledged that the tale-teller of
Certaldo, in his variegated pages, had displayed such force and
diversity in his genius, that no Greek writer could be compared with his
"volgare eloquenza."

The Italian literature thus burst into birth and into maturity; while it
is remarkable of the other languages of Europe, that after their first
efforts they fell into decrepitude. Our Saxon rudeness seems to have
required more hewing and polishing to be modelled into elegance, and
more volubility to flow into harmony, than even the genius of its
earliest writers could afford. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio were the
contemporaries of Gower, of Chaucer, and of "the Ploughman;" they
delight their nation after the lapse of many centuries; while the
critics of the reign of Elizabeth complained that Piers Ploughman,
Chaucer, and Gower then required glossaries; and so, at a later period,
did Ronsard, Baif, and Marot in France. In prose we had no single author
till the close of the sixteenth century who had yet constructed a style;
and in France Rabelais and Montaigne had contracted the rust and the
rudeness of antiquity, as it seemed to the refinement of the following

It cannot be thought that the genius of the Italians always excelled
that of other countries, but the material which those artists handled
yielded more kindly to their touch. The shell they struck gave a more
melodious sound than the rough and scrannel pipe cut from the northern

Custom and prejudice, however, predominated over the feelings of the
learned even in Italy. Their epistolary correspondence was still carried
on in Latin, and their first dramas were in the language of ancient
Rome. ANGELO POLITIAN appears to have been the earliest who composed a
dramatic piece, his "Orfeo," in "stilo volgare," and for which he
assigns a reason which might have occurred to many of his
predecessors--"perchè degli spettatori fusse meglio intesa," that he
might be better understood by the audience!

The vernacular idiom in Italy was still so little in repute, while the
prejudice in favour of the Latin was so firmly rooted, that their youths
were prohibited from reading Italian books. A curious anecdote of the
times which its author has sent down to us, however, shows that their
native productions operated with a secret charm on their sympathies; for
VARCHI has told the singular circumstance that his father once sent him
to prison, where he was kept on bread and water, as a penance for his
inveterate passion for reading works in the vernacular tongue.

The struggle for the establishment of a vernacular literature was
apparent about the same period in different countries of Europe; a
simultaneous movement to vindicate the honour and to display the merits
of their national idiom.

JOACHIM DE BELLAY, of an illustrious literary family, resided three
years with his relative the Cardinal at Rome; the glory of the great
vernacular authors of Italy inflamed his ardour; and in one of his poems
he developes the beauty of "composing in our native language," by the
deeper emotions it excites in our countrymen. Subsequently he published
his "Defense et Illustration de la Langue Françoise," in 1549, where
eloquently and learnedly he would persuade his nation to write in their
own language. FERREIRA, the Portuguese poet, about the same time, with
all the feelings of patriotism, resolved to give birth to a national
literature; exhorting his countrymen to cultivate their vernacular
idiom, which he purified and enriched. He has thus feelingly expressed
this glorious sentiment--

  Eu desta gloria so' fico contente
  Que a minha terra amei, e a minha gente.

In Scotland we find Sir DAVID LYNDSAY, in 1553, writing his great work
on "The Monarchie," in his vernacular idiom, although he thought it
necessary to apologise, by alleging the example of Moses, Aristotle,
Plato, Virgil, and Cicero, who had all composed their works in their own

In our own country Lord BERNERS had anticipated this general movement.
In 1525, when he ventured on the toil of his voluminous and spirited
Froissart, he described it as "translated out of Frenshe into our
_maternal English tongue_;" an expression which indicates those filial
yearnings of literary patriotism which were now to give us a native

The predominant prejudice of writing in Latin was first checked in
Germany, France, and England by the leaders of that great Revolution
which opposed the dynasty of the tiara. It was one of the great results
of the Reformation, that it taught the learned to address the people.
The versions of the Scriptures seemed to consecrate the vernacular idiom
of every nation in Europe. Peter Waldo began to use the vernacular
language in his version, however coarse, of the Bible for the Vaudois,
those earliest Reformers of the Church; and though the volume was
suppressed and prohibited, a modern French literary historian deduces
the taste for writing in the maternal tongue to this rude but great
attempt to attract the attention of the people. The same incident
occurred in our own annals; and it was the English Bible of Edward the
Sixth which opened the sealed treasures of our native language to the
multitude. Calvin wrote his great work. "The Institute of the Christian
Religion," at the same time in the Latin language and in the French; and
thus it happens that both these works are alike original. Calvin deemed
that to render the people intelligent their instructor should be
intelligible; and that if books are written for a great purpose, they
are only excellent in the degree that they are multiplied. Calvin
addressed not a few erudite recluses, but a whole nation.

It is unquestionable that the Reformation began to diminish the
veneration for the Latin language. Whether from the love of novelty, or
rather by that transition to a new system of human affairs, the pedantry
of ancient standing was giving way to the cultivation of a national
tongue. A great revolution was fast approaching, which would give a new
direction to the studies of the scholastic gentry, and introduce a new
mode of addressing the people. It was a revolution alarming those who
would have walled in public opinion by circumscribing all knowledge to a
privileged class. A remarkable evidence of this disposition appears in
an incident which occurred to Sir THOMAS WILSON, the author of two
English treatises on the arts of Logic and of Rhetoric. An emigrant in
the days of the Papistic Mary, he was arraigned at Rome before the
Inquisition, on the general charge of heresy, but especially for having
written his "Arts of Logic" and "of Rhetoric" in a language which, at
least we may presume, the whole conclave could not have criticised. The
torture was not only shown to him, but he tells us that "he had felt
some smart of it." The dark inquisitors taught our critic a new canon in
his own favourite arts; and our English Aristarchus soon discovered how
far those perfidious arts of reasoning and of eloquence may betray the
hapless orator, when his words are listened to by malicious judges,
equally skilled in mutilating sentences, or catching at loose words.
"They brought down my great heart by telling me plainly that my
_defence_ had put me into further peril." Our baffled rhetorician saw
that his only safety was to abstain from using the great instrument of
his art, which was now locked up in silence. He was left, as he
expresses himself, "without all help and without all hope, not only of
liberty, but also of life." He escaped by a strange incident. It would
seem that in an insurrection of the populace they set fire to the
prison, and in a burst of popular freedom, forgetful of their bigotry,
or from the spirit of vengeance on their hateful masters, they suffered
the heretics to creep out of their cells; an ebullition of public spirit
in "the worthy Romans," which the luckless English expounder of logic
and rhetoric might well account as "an enterprise never before
attempted." On Wilson's return to England be was solicited to revise his
admirable "Art of Rhetoric," but he strenuously refused to "meddle with
it, either hot or cold." Still smarting from the torture which his
innocent progeny had occasioned, he seems to have alleviated his
martyrdom with the quaint humour of a querulous prologue.

In these awful transitions from one state of society to another, even
the most sagacious are predisposed to discover what they secretly wish.
Erasmus foresaw that a great change was approaching; but although he has
delivered a prediction, it seems doubtful whether he had discerned the
object aright. "I see," he writes, "a certain golden age ready to arise,
which perhaps will not be my lot to partake of, yet I congratulate the
world, and the younger sort I congratulate, in whose minds, however,
Erasmus shall live and remain, by the remembrance of good offices he
hath done." These "good offices" were restricted to his ardent labours
in classical literature; but did Erasmus foresee in the change the
subversion of the papal system by which Luther had often terrified the
timid quietness of our gentle recluse, or the rise of the vernacular
literature which had yet no existence? Erasmus, indeed, was so little
sensible of this approaching change, that his amusing Colloquies, and
his Panegyric on Folly, whose satirical humour had been so happily
adapted to open the minds of men, he confined to the lettered circles;
as Sir Thomas More did his "Utopia," which, had it been intelligible to
the people, might have impressed them with some principles of political
government. The Sage of Rotterdam imagined that the great movement of
the age was to restore the classical pursuits of antiquity, and never
dreamed of that which, in opposition to the ancient, soon obtained the
distinction of "the New Learning," as it is expressed by Roger
Ascham--the knowledge which was adapted to the wants and condition of
the people. Erasmus would have been startled at the truth, that the
language of antiquity would even be neglected by the generality of
writers; that every European nation would have classics of their own;
and that the finest geniuses would make their appeals to the people in
the language of the people.

The predilection for composing in the Roman language long continued
among the most illustrious writers both at home and abroad. A judicious
critic in the reign of James I., Edmund Bolton, in his "Nero Cæsar,"
recommends that the history of England should be composed in Latin by
the classical pen of the learned Sir Henry Saville, the editor of
"Chrysostom." It is indeed a curious circumstance that when an English
play was performed at the University of Cambridge before Queen
Elizabeth, the Vice-Chancellor was called on to remonstrate with the
ministers of Elizabeth against such a derogation of the learning and the
dignity of the University. This very Vice-Chancellor, who had to protest
against all English comedies, had, however, himself been the writer of
"Gammer Gurton's Needle," which was long considered to be the first
attempt at English comedy.[6] This conduct of the University offered no
encouragement to men of learning and genius to compose in their
vernacular idiom.

The genius of VERULAM, whose prescient views often anticipated the
institutions and the discoveries of succeeding times, appears never to
have contemplated the future miracles of his maternal tongue. Lord BACON
did not foresee that the English language would one day be capable of
embalming all that philosophy can discover or poetry can invent; that
his country, at length, would possess a national literature, and exult
in models of its own. So little did Lord Bacon esteem the language of
his country, that his favourite works are composed in Latin; and what he
had written in English he was anxious to have preserved, as he expresses
himself, in "that universal language which may last as long as books
last." It might have surprised Lord Bacon to have been told that the
learned in Europe would one day study English authors to learn to think
and write, and prefer his own "Essays," in their living pith, to the
colder transfusions of the Latin versions of his friends. The taste of
the philosophical Chancellor was probably inferior to his invention. Our
illustrious CAMDEN partook largely of this reigning fatuity when he
wrote the reign of Elizabeth--the history of his contemporaries, and the
"Britannia"--the history of our country, in the Latin language; as did
BUCHANAN that of Scotland, and DE THOU his great history, which includes
that of the Reformation in France. All these works, addressed to the
deepest sympathies of the people, were not imparted to them.

There was a peculiar absurdity in composing modern history in the
ancient language of a people alike foreigners to the feelings as well as
to the nature of the transactions. The Latin had neither proper terms to
describe modern customs, nor fitting appellatives for titles and for
names and places. The fastidious delicacy of the writers of modern
latinity could not endure to vitiate their classical purity by the
Gothic names of their heroes, and of the barbarous localities where
memorable transactions had occurred. These great authors, in their
despair, actually preferred to shed an obscurity over their whole
history, rather than to disturb the collocation of their numerous
diction. Buchanan and De Thou, by a ludicrous play on words, translated
the proper names of persons and of places. A Scottish worthy,
_Wiseheart_, was dignified by Buchanan with a Greek denomination,
_Sophocardus_; so that in a history of Scotland the name of a
conspicuous hero does not appear, or must be sought for in a Greek
lexicon, which, after all, may require a punster for a reader. The
history of De Thou is thus frequently unintelligible; and two separate
indexes of names and places, and the public stations which his
personages held, do not always agree with the copy preserved in the
family. The names of the persons are latinised according to their
etymology, and all public offices are designated by those Roman ones
which bore some fancied affinity. But the modern office was ill
indicated by the ancient; the constable of France, a military charge,
differed from the _magister equitum_, and the marshals of France from
the _tribunus equitum_. His equivocal personages are not always
recognised in this travesty of their Roman masquerade.

A remarkable instance of the gross impropriety of composing an English
history in Latin, and of the obstinate prejudice of the learned, who
imagined that the ancient idiom conferred dignity on a theme wholly
vernacular, appeared when the delegates of Oxford purchased ANTHONY
WOOD'S elaborate work on "The History and Antiquities of the University
of Oxford." Our honest antiquary, with a true vernacular feeling, had
written the history of an English university, during an uninterrupted
labour of ten years, in his artless but natural idiom. The learned
delegates opined that it was humiliating the Oxford press, to have its
history pass through it in the language of the country; and Dr. Fell,
with others, was chosen to dignify it into Latin. What was the result of
this pompous and inane labour? The author was sorely hurt at the sight
of his fair offspring disguised in its foreign and fantastic dress. What
was clear in English, was obscure in the circumlocution of rotund
periods and affected phraseologies; the circumstantial narrative and the
local descriptions, so interesting to an English reader, were not only
superfluous, but repulsive to the foreigner. ANTHONY WOOD indignantly
re-transcribed the whole of his English copy, and left the fair volumes
to the care of the university itself, not without the hope which has
been realized, that his work should be delivered to posterity stamped by
its author's native genius.[7]

Such was the crisis, and such the difficulties and the obstructions of
that native literature in whose prosperous state every European people
now exults. Homogeneous with their habitual associations, moulded by
their customs and manners, and everywhere stamped by the peculiar
organization of each distinct race, we see the vernacular literature
ever imbued with the qualities of the soil whence it springs,
diversified, yet ever true to nature. Had the native genius of the great
luminaries of literature not found a vein which could reach to the
humblest of their compatriots, they who are now the creators of our
vernacular literature had remained but pompous plagiarists or frigid
babblers, and the moderns might still have been pacing in the trammels
of a mimetic antiquity.


  [1] Sidonius Apollinaris.

  [2] An ingenious literary antiquary has given us a copious
    vocabulary, as complete evidence of Latin words merely abbreviated by
    omitting their terminations, whence originated those numerous
    monosyllables which impoverish the French language. In the following
    instances the Gauls only used the first syllable for the entire word,
    damnum--_damn_; aureum--_or_; malum--_mal_; nudum--_nud_;
    amicus--_ami_: vinum--_vin_; homo--_hom_, as anciently written;
    curtus--_court_; sonus--_son_; bonus--_bon_: and thus made many

    The nasal sound of our neighbours still prevails; thus Gracchus sinks
    into _Gracque_; Titus Livius is but _Tite Live_; and the historian of
    Alexander the Great, the dignified Quintus Curtius, is the ludicrous
    _Quinte Curce_!--Auguis, "Du Génie de la Langue Françoise."

  [3] Turner's "History of England."

  [4] See "Curiosities of Literature," article Recovery of Manuscripts.

  [5] ERASMUS composed a satirical dialogue between two vindictive
    Ciceronians; it is said that a duel has been occasioned by the
    intrepidity of maintaining the purity of a writer's latinity. The
    pedantry of mixing Greek and Latin terms in the vernacular language
    is ridiculed by RABELAIS in his encounter with the Limousin student,
    whom he terrified till the youngster ended in delivering himself in
    plain French, and left off "Pindarising" all the rest of his
    days.--"Pantagruel," lib. ii. c. 6.

  [6] Collier's "History of Dramatic Poetry," ii. 463.

  [7] We now possess this valued literary history, which none, perhaps,
    but Anthony à Wood could have so fervently pursued: "The History and
    Antiquities of the University of Oxford," in five volumes, quarto.
    Edited by John Gutch. It is a distinct work from the far-known
    "Athenæ Oxonienses." Why did this great work, as well as some others,
    come forth with a Latin title? This absurdity was a remaining taint
    of the ancient prejudice. But an English work was not the more
    classical for bearing a Latin title.


Johnson pronounced it impossible to ascertain when our speech ceased to
be Saxon and began to be English; and although since his day English
philology has extended its boundaries, the lines of demarcation are very
moveable for the literary antiquary. At whatever point we set out, we
may find that something which preceded has been omitted; a century may
pass away and leave no precise epoch; and transitions of words and
styles, like shades melting into each other, may elude perception. Too
often wanting sufficient data, the toil of the antiquary becomes
baffled, and the microscopic eye of the philologist pores on empty
space. The learned have their theories; but in darkness we are doomed to
grope, and in a circle we can fix on no beginning.

The elegant researches of Ellis, the antiquarian lore of Ritson, the
simplicity of taste of Percy, the poetic fervour of Campbell, the
elaborate diligence of Sharon Turner, and more recent names skilled in
Saxon lore, have given opposite hypotheses, conjectures, and
refutations. "A modification of language is not in reality a change,"
observes a powerful researcher in literary history,[1] who is at a loss
"whether some compositions shall pass for the latest offspring of the
mother, or the earliest fruit of the daughter's fertility"--a shrewd
suspicion which the genealogists of words may entertain concerning the
legitimate and the illegitimate, or the pure and the corrupt.

The Saxon language had been tainted by some Latin terms from the
ecclesiastics, and some fashionable Normanisms from the court of the
Confessor; when the Norman-French, fatal as the arrow which pierced
Harold, by a single blow struck down that venerable form--and never has
it arisen! And now, with all its pomp, such as it was, it lies entombed
and coffined in some scanty manuscripts.

We indeed triumph that the language of our forefathers never did depart
from the land, since it survived among the people. What survived? It
soon ceased to be a written tongue, for no one cared to cultivate an
idiom no longer required, and utterly contemned. After the Conquest, the
miserable Saxons lost their "book-craft." We find nothing written but
the continuation of a meagre chronicle. A few pietists still lingered in
occasional homilies, and a solitary charter has been perpetuated; but
the style was already changed, and as a literary language the
Anglo-Saxon had for ever departed! It had sunk to the people, and they
treated the ancient idiom after their fashion--the language of books
served not simple men; laying aside its inflections, and its inversions,
and its arbitrary construction, they chose a shorter and more direct
conveyance of their thoughts, and only kept to a language fitted to the
business of daily life. This getting free from the encumbrances of the
Anglo-Saxon we may consider formed the obscure beginnings of THE ENGLISH
LANGUAGE. All the gradual changes or the sudden innovations through more
than two centuries may not be perceivable by posterity; but philologists
have marked out how first the inversion was simplified, and then the
inflections dropped; how the final E became mute, and at length was
ejected; how ancient words were changed, and Norman neologisms
introduced. As this English cleared itself of the nebulosity, the
anomalies, and all the complex machinery of the mother idiom, a natural
style was formed, very homely, for this vaunted Saxon now came from the
mouths of the people, and from those friends of the people, the monks,
who only wrote for their humble brother-Saxons. The English writers who
were composing in French, and the more learned who displayed their
clerkship by their Latinity, had a standard of literature which would
regulate or advance their literary workmanship; but there was no
standard in the language of bondage: it had mixed, as Ritson oddly
describes it, "with one knows not what," a disorganization of words and
idioms. Numerous DIALECTS pervaded the land; the east and the west
agreed as ill together as both did with the north and the south; and
they who wrote for the people each chose the dialect of their own

The "Saxon Chronicle," which closes with the year 1155, had been
continued at progressive intervals by different writers; this authentic
document of the Anglo-Saxon diction exhibits remarkable variations of
style; and a critical Saxonist has detected the corruptions of its
idiom, its inflections, and its orthography--in a word, that through
successive periods it had suffered a material alteration in its

Somewhat more than a century after the Norman invasion, about 1180,
Layamon made an English version of Wace's "Brut"--that French metrical
chronicle which the Anglo-Norman had drawn from the Latin history of
"Geoffry of Monmouth." Here we detect an entire changeableness of style,
or rather a transformation; but what to call it the most skilful have
not agreed. George Ellis drew a copious specimen of a writer unnoticed
by Warton; but, confounded by "its strange orthography," and mournfully
doubtful of his own meritorious glossary, he considered the style,
"though simple and unmixed, yet a very barbarous Saxon." A recent critic
opines that Layamon "seems to have halted between two languages, the
written and the spoken." Mr. Campbell imagines it "the dawn" of our
language; while some Saxonists have branded it as semi-Saxon. It seems a
language thrown into confusion, struggling to adapt itself to a new
state of things; it has no Norman-French, it is saturated with Saxon,
but the sentences are freed from inversions.[3]

About the same period as Layamon's version of Wace, we have a very
original attempt of a writer, in those days of capricious pronunciation,
to convey to the reader the orthoepy by regulating the orthography. As
it is only recently that we have obtained any correct notion of a
writing which has suffered many misconceptions from our earlier English
scholars, the history of this work becomes a bibliographical curiosity.

An ecclesiastic paraphrased the Gospel-histories. He was a critical
writer, projecting a system to which he strictly adhered, warning his
transcribers as punctually to observe, otherwise "they would not write
the word right;" they were therefore "to write those letters twice which
he had written so." The system consisted in doubling the consonant after
a short vowel to regulate the pronunciation. He wrote broth_err_ and
afft_err_; is _iss_, and it _itt_.[4]

It is evident that this critical was also a refined writer; for it
indicated some delicacy, when we find him apologising for certain
additions in his version, which was metrical, not found in the original,
and merely used by him for the convenience of filling up his metre. The
first literary historians to whose lot it fell to record this anomalous
work, among whom were HICKES and WANLEY, judging by appearances, in the
superabundance of the rugged consonants, deemed this refined
Anglo-Saxon's writing as the work of an ignorant scribe, or as a rude
provincial dialect, or harsh enough to be the work of an English Dane;
its metrical form eluded all detection, as the verses were a peculiar
metre of fifteen syllables, all jumbled together as prose: as such they
gave some extracts, but it is evident that this was done with little
intelligence of their author. TYRWHIT, occupied on his "Chaucer," had a
more percipient ear for these Anglo-Saxon metres, and discovered that
this prose was strictly metrical; but he surely advanced no farther--he
did not discover the writer's design that "the Ennglisshe writ" was for
"Ennglisshe menn to lare"--to learn. Indeed, Tyrwhit, who complains that
Hickes in noticing this peculiarity of spelling "has not explained the
author's reason for it," himself so little comprehended the system of
the double consonants, that in his extract, humorously "begging pardon"
of this old and odd reformer whom the critic was not only offending,
but massacring, "for not following his injunctions," he discards "all
the superfluous letters!" not aware that it was the intention of the
writer to preserve the orthoepy. Even our Anglo-Saxon historian missed
the secret; for he has remarked on the words, that they were "needlessly
loaded with double consonants." Yet he was not wholly insensible to the
substantial qualities of the writer, for he discovered in the diction
that "the order of words is uniformly more natural, the inflections are
more unfrequent, and the phrases of our English begin to emerge." And,
finally, our latest authority decides that this work, so long
misinterpreted, is "the oldest, the purest, and by far the most valuable
specimen of our old English dialect that time has left us."[5]

What is "old English" is the question. The title of this work may have
perplexed the first discoverers as much as the double consonants. The
writer was an ecclesiastic of the name of ORM, and he was so fascinated
with his own work for the purity of its diction, and the precision of
its modulated sounds, that in a literary rapture he baptized it with
reference to himself; and _Orm_ fondly called his work the _Ormulum_!
One hardly expected to meet with such a Narcissus of literature in an
old Anglo-Saxon, philologist of the year so far gone by, yet we now find
that Orm might fairly exult in his Ormulum!

Nearly a century after Layamon, in the same part of England, the monk,
ROBERT OF GLOUCESTER, wrote his "Chronicle," about 1280. This honest
monk painfully indited for his brother-Saxons the whole history of
England, in the shape of Alexandrine verse in rhyme; the diction of the
verse approaches so nearly to prose, that it must have been the
colloquial idiom of the west. The "Ingliss," as it was called in the
course of the century between Layamon and Robert of Gloucester, betrays
a striking change; and modern philologists have given the progressive
term of "middle English" to the language from this period to the
Reformation.[6] Our chronicler has fared ill with posterity, of whom
probably he never dreamt. Robert of Gloucester, who is entirely divested
of a poetical character, as are all rhyming chroniclers, has had the
hard hap of being criticised by two merciless poets; and, to render his
uncouthness still more repulsive, the black-letter fanaticism of his
editor has vauntingly arrayed the monk whom he venerated in the sable
Gothic, bristling with the Saxon characters.[7] It has therefore
required something like a physical courage to sit down to Robert of
Gloucester. Yet in the rhymer whom Warton has degraded, Ellis has
discovered a metrical annalist whose orations are almost eloquent, whose
characters of monarchs are energetic, and what he records of his own age
matter worthy of minute history.

Another monk, ROBERT MANNYNG, of Brunne, or Bourne, in Lincolnshire, who
had versified PIERS LANGTOFT'S "Chronicle," has left a translation of
the "Manuel des Péchés," ascribed to Bishop Grosteste, who composed it
in politer French. In this "Manual of Sins," or, as he terms it, "A
Handlyng of Sinne," according to monkish morality and the monkish
devices to terrify sinners, our recreative monk has introduced short
tales, some grave, and some he deemed facetious, which convey an idea of
domestic life and domestic language. It is not without curiosity that we
examine these, the earliest attempts at that difficult trifle--the art
of telling a short tale, Robert de Brunne is neither a Mat Prior nor a
La Fontaine, but he is a block which might have been carved into one or
the other, and he shows that without much art a tale may be tolerably
told.[8] His octosyllabic verse is more fluent than the protracted
Alexandrine of his "Chronicle." The words fall together in natural
order, and we seem to have advanced in this rude and artless "Ingliss."
But the most certain evidence that "the English" was engaging the
attention of those writers who professedly were devoting their pens to
those whom they called "the Commonalty," is, that they now began to
criticise; and we find Robert de Brunne continually protesting against
"strange Ingliss." This phrase has rather perplexed our inquirers.
"Strange Ingliss" would seem to apply to certain novelties in diction
used by the tale-reciters and harpers, for so our monk tells us,

                 "I wrote
  In symple speeche as I couthe,
  That is _lightest in manne's mouthe_.
  I mad (made) nought for no disoúrs (tale-tellers),
  Ne for no seggers nor harpoúrs,
  Bot for the luf (love) of symple menu
  That _strange Inglis_ cann not ken."

It was about this time that the metrical romances, translated from the
French, spread in great number, and introduced many exotic phrases. In
the celebrated romance of "Alisaundre" we find French expressions,
unalloyed by any attempt at Anglicising them, overflowing the page. The
phrase is, however, once applied to certain strange metres which our
monk avoided, for many "that read English would be confounded by them."

Whatever Robert de Brunne might allude to by his "strange Ingliss,"[9]
the same cry and the identical expressions are repeated by a writer not
many years afterwards--RICHARD ROLLE, called "the Hermit of Hampole." He
produced the earliest versions of the Psalms into English prose, with a
commentary on each verse; and a voluminous poem in ten thousand lines,
entitled "The Prikke of Conscience," translated from the Latin for "the
unletterd men of Engelonde who can only understand English." In the
prologue to this first Psalter in English prose he says, "I seke no
_straunge Ynglyss_, bot _lightest_ and _communest_, and wilk (such) that
is most like unto the Latyn; and thos I fine (I find) no proper Inglis I
felough (follow) the wit of the words, so that thai that knowes noght
(not) the Latyne, be (by) the Ynglys may come to many Latyne wordys."
Here we arrive at open corruption! Already a writer appears refined
enough to complain of the poverty of the language in furnishing "proper
Inglis" or synonymes for the Latin; the next step must follow, and that
would be in due time the latinising "the Ynglys."

A great curiosity of the genuine homeliness of our national idiom at
this time has come down to us in a manuscript in the Arundel
Collection, now in our national library. It is a volume written by a
monk of St. Austin's at Canterbury, in the Kentish dialect, about a
century and a half after Layamon, and half a century after Robert of
Gloucester, in 1340. This honest monk, like others of the Saxon
brotherhood, was writing for his humbled countrymen, or, as he expresses
himself, with a rude Doric simplicity,

  Vor Vader and for Moder and for other Ken.

I throw into a note what I have transcribed of this specimen of the old
Saxon-English, or, as it is called, "Semi-Saxon."[10] In this specimen
of the language as spoken by the people the barbarism is native, pure in
its impurity, and unalloyed by any spurious exotic. This English spoken
in the Weald of Kent, Caxton tells us, in his time, was "as broad and
rude English as is spoken in any place in England." When contrasted with
the diction of a northern bard, whom a singular accident retrieved for
us,[11] it offers a curious picture of the English language, so
different at precisely the same period. The minstrel's flow of verse
almost anticipates the elegance of a writer of two centuries later.

The poems of LAURENCE MINOT consist of ten narrative ballads on some of
the wars of Edward the Third in Scotland and in France. The events this
bard records show that his writings were completed in 1352. His editor
is surprised that "the great monarch whom he so eloquently and so
earnestly panegyrised was either ignorant of his existence or insensible
of his merit." Minot was probably nothing more than a northern minstrel,
whose celebrity did not extend many leagues. His verses convey to us a
perfect conception of the minstrel character, throwing out his almost
extemporaneous "Lays" on the predominant incidents of his day. All these
narrative poems open by soliciting the attention of the auditors:--

  LITHES! and I sall tell you tyll
  The bataile of Halidon Hyll.

And in another,--

  HERKINS how long King Edward lay,
  With his men before Tournay.

The singularity of these "Lays" consists in coming down to us in a
written form, evidently with great care and fondness, bearing their
author's unknown name. They might have appropriately been preserved in
Percy's "Reliques of English Poetry."[12]

Three centuries had now passed, and still the national genius languished
in the Norman bondage of the language. But the commonalty were
increasing in number and in weight, and an indignant sense of the
destitution of a national language was not confined to the laity; it was
attracting the attention of those who thought and who wrote. Richard of
Bury, Bishop of Durham, who put forth the first bibliographical treatise
by an Englishman, and may he ranked among the earliest critical
collectors of a private library, in his celebrated treatise on the love
of books, the "Philo-biblion,"[13] breathes all the enthusiasm of study;
but while he directs our attention to the classical writers of
antiquity, he stimulates his contemporaries to emulate them by composing
new books. Although he himself wrote in Latin, he regrets that no
institution for children in the English language existed; and he
complains, that our English youth "first learned the French, and from
the French the Latin." Our youth were sent into France to polish their
nasal Norman. This writer flourished about 1330, and thus ascertains,
that in the beginning of the reign of Edward III. no English was taught.
The "Polychronicon," a Latin chronicle compiled by the monk Higden, was
finished somewhat later, about 1365; and we find the complaint more
bitterly renewed. "There is no nation," wrote this honest monk, "whose
children are compelled to leave their own language, as we have since the
Normans came into England. A gentleman's child must speak French from
the time that he is rocked in a cradle, or plays with a child's breche."

The Latin Chronicle of Higden, twenty years later, was translated into
English by John de Trevisa. On this passage the translator furnishes the
important observation, that, since this was written, a revolution had
occurred through our grammar-schools: the patriotic efforts of one Sir
John Cornewaile, in teaching his pupils to construe their Latin into
English, had been generally adopted; "so that now," proceeds Trevisa,
"the yere of our Lorde 1385, in all the grammere scoles of Engelond,
children leaveth Frensche and construeth and lerneth in Englische." The
innovation had startled our translator, for, like all innovations, there
was loss as well as profit, when, quitting what we are accustomed to,
we launch dubiously into a new acquisition. The disuse of the French
would detriment their intercourse abroad, and, on great occasions, at
home. This was a time when Trevisa himself, in selecting some Scriptural
inscriptions for the chapel of Berkley Castle, where he was chaplain,
had them painted on boards in Norman-French, and Latin, in alternate
lines. They are still visible. English itself was yet too base for the
service of God.

It was still a debateable question, as appears by the prefatory dialogue
between Trevisa and his patron, Lord Berkley, whether any translation of
the Chronicle were at all necessary, Latin being the general language.
It was, however, a noble enterprise, being the first great effort in our
vernacular prose. This mighty volume is a universal history, which, in
its amplitude and miscellaneous character, seemed to contain all that
men could know; and the version long enjoyed the favour of all readers
as the first historical collection in the English language. It bears the
seal of the monkish taste, being equally pious and fabulous. It not only
opens before the days of Adam, but, like the creation, has its seven
divisions; it has monsters, however, which are not found in Genesis. The
monk is doubtful whether they came of Adam or of Noah. They, indeed,
came from the elder Pliny, to whose puerile wonders and hasty
compilation we owe the foundation of our natural history.

It was about the period that Higden concluded his labours, that Sir John
Mandeville deemed it wise, having written his Travels in Latin and
French, to compose them also in the vernacular idiom;--a strong
indication of the rising disposition to cultivate the national tongue.
The policy of our Government now accorded with the general disposition;
and hence originated the noble decision of Edward III., in 1362, to
banish from our courts of law the Norman-French; but so awkward seemed
this great novelty, that the statute is written in the very language it
abolishes,[14] and, indeed, to which our great lawyers, the timid
slaves of precedents, long afterwards clung in their barbarous
law-French phrases mingled with their native English.

A mightier movement even than the royal decree in favour of fostering
the national language was a translation of the Scriptures, by the
intrepid spirit of Wickliffe. This had been done with the pledge of his
life, for that was often in peril while he thus struck the first impulse
of that reformation which not only influenced his own age, but one more
remote. The translation of Wickliffe was a new revelation of the Word of
God in the language of many. The streets were crowded with Lollards, as
his followers were denominated, of which, like similar odious names
attached to a rising party, the origin remains uncertain; Lollardy was,
however, a convenient term to describe treason in the Church and the
State. Wickliffe's translation of the Old Testament still lies in
numerous manuscripts, for our cold neglect of which we have incurred the
censure of the foreigner. The New Testament has happily been

If we place by the side of the text of Wickliffe our later versions, we
may become familiar with that Saxon-English which our venerable Caxton
subsequently considered was "more like to Dutch than English."

But the picturesque language of our emotions, the creative diction of
poetry, appeared in the courtly style of Chaucer, who nobly designed to
render the national language refined and varied, while his great
contemporaries, the author of Piers Ploughman lingered in a rude
dialect, and Gower was still composing alternately in Latin and in

The emancipation of the national language was subsequently confirmed by
another monarch. A curious anecdote in our literary history has recently
been disclosed of Henry V. To encourage the use of the vernacular
tongue, this monarch, in a letter missive to one of the city companies,
declared that "_the English tongue hath in modern days begun to be
honourably enlarged and adorned, and for the better understanding of the
people_ the common idiom should be exercised in writing:" this was at
once setting aside the Norman-French and the Latin for the daily
business of civil life. By this record it appears that many of the craft
of brewers, to whose company this letter was addressed, had "knowledge
of writing and reading in the English idiom, but Latin and French they
by no means understood." We further learn that now "the LORDS and the
COMMONS BEGAN _to have their proceedings noted down in the mother
tongue_;" and this example was therefore to be followed by the city

At this advanced age of transition, so unsettled was the language of
ordinary affairs, that the same document bears evidence of three
different idioms. We find the petition of an Irish chieftain, a prisoner
in the Tower, written in the French language, while the endorsed royal
answer is in English, and the order of the council in Latin.[17] The
bulletins of Henry V. to the mayor and aldermen of London are written in
English, but endorsed in French.

As if they designed to hold out a model to their subjects and to
sanction the use of their native English, both this prince, and his
father, Henry IV., left their wills in the national language,[18] at a
time when the nobles employed Latin or French for such purposes.

There has often existed a sympathy between ourselves and our near
neighbours of France, when not disturbed by war. This great movement of
establishing a national language, and freeing themselves from the Roman
bondage, was tried at a later period by the French government, who were
nearly baffled in the attempt. An ordinance of Louis XII. was issued _to
abolish the use of the Latin tongue_; but such was the prejudice in
favour of the ancient language, that notwithstanding that the Latin of
the bar had degenerated into the most ludicrous barbarism, the lawyers
were unwilling to yield to the popular wish. The use of Latin in France
in all legal instruments lasted till the succeeding reign of Francis I.,
who, by two ordinances, declared that THE FRENCH LANGUAGE should be
solely used in all public acts. It was, however, as late as forty years
after, in 1629, that at length the public offices consented to draw
their instruments in their vernacular language.[19] So long has general
improvement to contend with the force of habit and the passion of
prepossession; and such were the difficulties which the vernacular style
of both these great empires had to overcome.

When the learned HICKES, in his patriotic fervour to trace the
legitimacy of the English from its parent language, adjudged that
"nine-tenths of our words were of Saxon origin," he exultingly appealed
to the Lord's Prayer, wherein there are only three words of French or
Latin extraction. This startled TYRWHIT, then busied on his Chaucerian
glossary, and who in that labour had before him a different aspect of
our mottled English. That was not the day when writers would maintain
opinions against authority. Awed by the great Saxonist, the poetical
antiquary compromised, alleging that "though the _form_ of our language
was still Saxon, yet the _matter_ was in a great measure French." His
successor in English philology, GEORGE ELLIS, still further faltered and
arbitrated; suggesting that the great Saxonist, to complete his
favourite scheme, would trace some _old Gaulish_ French to a _Teutonic_
origin. In tracing the formation of the English language, we are
sensible that the broad and solid foundations lie in the Saxon, but the
superstructure has often, with a magical movement, varied in its
architecture. An enamoured Saxonist has recently ventured to assert that
"English is but another term for Saxon;" but an ocular demonstration has
been exhibited in specimens of the _modern English_ of our
master-writers, marking by italics all the words of Saxon derivation. By
these it appears that the translators of the Bible have happily
preserved for us the pristine simplicity of our Saxon-English, like the
light in a cathedral through its storied and saintly window, shedding
its antique hues on hallowed objects. But as we advance, we discover in
our most eminent writers the anglicisms diminish; and SHARON TURNER has
observed that a fifth of the Saxon language has ceased to be used. A
recent critic[20] has curiously calculated that the English language,
now consisting of about 38,000 words, contains 23,000, or nearly
five-eighths, Anglo-Saxon in their origin; that in our most idiomatic
writers, there is about one-tenth _not_ Anglo-Saxon, and in our least
about one-third.[21] A cry of our desertion of our Saxon purity has
been raised by those who have not themselves practised it in their more
elevated compositions; but are we to deem that English corrupted which
recedes from its Saxon character, and compels the daughter to lose the
likeness of her mother? Are we to banish to perpetuity those foreigners
who have already fructified our Saxon soil? In an age of extended
literature, conversant with objects and productive of associations which
never entered into the experience of our forefathers, the ancient
language of the people must necessarily prove inadequate; a new language
must start out of new conceptions. Look into our present "exchequer of
words;" there lies many a refined coinage struck out of the arts and the
philosophies of Europe. Every word which genius creates, and which time
shall consecrate, is a possession of the language which must be
inscribed into that variable doomsday book of words--the English
Dictionary. Devotees of Thor and Woden! the day of your idolatries has
passed, and your remonstrances are vain as your superstitions.


  [1] Mr. Hallam.

  [2] Dr. Bosworth.

  [3] Of this recondite writer Ellis has said, "probably Layamon never
    will be printed;" but we live in an age of publication, and Layamon
    is said to be actually in the press. [Since this was written, the
    work has been published at the cost of the Society of Antiquaries,
    under the editorial care of Sir Frederick Madden.]

  [4] Dr. Bosworth, or Mr. Thorpe, has explained this attempt more
    fully. "From this idea of doubling the consonant after a short vowel,
    as in German, we are enabled to form some tolerably accurate notions
    as to the pronunciation of our forefathers. Thus, Orm (or Ormin)
    writes _min_ and _win_ with a single _n_ only, and _lif_ with a
    single f, because the i is long, as in _mine_, _wine_, and _life_. On
    the other hand, wherever the consonant is doubled, the vowel
    preceding is sharp and short, as _winn_, pronounced _win_, not
    _wine_."--"Origin of the Germanic and Scandinavian Languages," 24.

  [5] Guest's "Hist. of English Rhythms," ii. 186.

  [6] During the thirteenth century, the organic change proceeded so
    rapidly that there is quite as wide a difference between the language
    of Layamon and that which was written at the beginning of the
    fourteenth century (about the time of Robert of Gloucester), as there
    is between the English language of the reign of Edward the Second and
    the tongue of the present day.--See Mr. Wright's learned "Essay on
    the Literature of the Anglo-Saxons," 107.

  [7] Hearne, in his preface, exclaims in ecstacy--"This is the _first
    book_ ever printed in this kingdom, it may be in _the whole world, in
    the black letter_, with a mixture of _the Saxon characters_, which is
    the very garb that was in vogue in the author's time, that is, in the
    thirteenth century." Hearne often claims our gratitude, while his
    earnest simplicity will extort a smile. On our ancient Bibles he
    could not refrain from exclaiming--"Though I have taken so much
    pleasure in perusing the English Bible of the year 1541, yet 'tis
    nothing equal to that I should take in turning over that of the year
    1539." His antiquarianism kindled his piety over Cranmer's Bible.

    Thomas was haunted by a chimera that whatever was obsolete deserved
    to be revived. This honest spirit of antiquarianism, working on a
    most undiscerning intellect, seems to have kindled into a literary
    bigotry in his sateless delight of "the black-letter of our
    grandfathers' days." Hearne set this unhappy example of printing
    ancient writers with all their obsolete repulsiveness in orthography
    and type. He was closely followed by RITSON, and by WHITAKER in his
    edition of "Piers Ploughman;" and these editors assuredly have scared
    away many a neophyte in our vernacular literature. RITSON printed his
    "Ancient Songs" with the Saxon characters and abbreviations, which
    render them often unintelligible. This literary antiquary lived to
    regret this superstitious antiquarianism. He had prepared a new
    edition entirely cleared of these offences, but which unfortunately
    he destroyed at the morbid close of his life.

  [8] Turner's "History of England," v. 217, will furnish the curious
    reader readily with several of these specimens of the modes of
    thinking and of acting of the middle ages, when monks only were the
    preceptors of mankind.

  [9] This term of "strange Ingliss" has yet been found so obscure as
    to occasion some strictures, which, like the Interpreter in the
    Critic, are the most difficult to comprehend. I must refer to
    Monsieur Thierry's very delightful "History of the Conquest of
    England," ii. 271, for a very refined speculation on our Robert de
    Brunne's unlucky obscurity. Monsieur Thierry imagines that the
    "strange Ingliss" was the refined English which had flown into
    Scotland, and there become the cultivated language of the minstrels
    and the court, and which our hapless Saxons on _this side of the
    Tweed_ had sunk into a dialect only fitted for serfs. This finer and
    more elevated English could not be understood by a base commonalty;
    this was "strange Ingliss" to them. A very interesting event in the
    history of both nations had transplanted the purer English to the
    Scottish court:--Malcolm, whom the usurpation of Macbeth had driven
    from the Scottish throne, was expatriated in England during an
    interval of near twenty years; the affection of the monarch for the
    English was such, that he adopted their language, and when the royal
    family of England was expelled by the Conqueror, the king received
    them and the emigrant Saxons, and married the English princess. This
    gave rise to that intercourse with the south of Scotland, of which
    the result in our literary, if not in our civil, history is
    remarkable. Certain it is that much broad Scotch is good old English,
    and the noblest minstrelsy cometh "fra the North Countrie."

  [10] On the leaf appears, in the handwriting of the author, "This Boc
    is Dan Michelis of Northgate ywrite an Englis of his ozene hand that
    hatte _Ayenbyte of inwyt_, and is of the boc-house of Seynt Austyn's
    of Cantorberi." The writer was seventy years of age; and he tells us
    that he was not--

      "Blind, and dyaf, and alsuo dumb,
      Of zeventy yer al not rond,
      Ne ssette by draze to the grond,
      Uor peny nor mark, ne nor pond."

    At the end the monk tells us for whom he writes--

      "Nou ich wille that ye ywite hou hitt is ywent
      Thet this Boc is ywrite mid Engliss of Kent.
      This Boc is ymade vor lewede men,
      Vor Vader and vor Moder and vor other Ken,
      Ham vor to berze uram alle manyere Zen
      Thet ine have inwytte ne bleue no uoul wen.
      Huo ase God is his name yzed
      Thet this Boc made God him yeue that bread
      Of Angles of Hauene and thereto his red,
      And underuongè his Zoule, huanne that is dyad."

  [11] While Tyrwhit was busied on the "Canterbury Tales" his attention
    was excited by the old cataloguer of the Cottonian manuscripts to a
    _Chaucer exemplar emendate scriptum_. On a spare leaf the name of
    Richard Chawfer had been scrawled, which might have been that of some
    former possessor. There are two fatalities which hang over the pen of
    a slumbering cataloguer--ignorance and indolence. Our present one
    caught an immortal name and never travelled onwards; and, struck by
    the fairness of the writing, inferred that it was a copy of Chaucer
    critically accurate. It turned out to be the compositions of an
    unknown poet who not willingly relinquished his claim on posterity,
    for he has subscribed his name, LAURENCE MINOT. [The manuscript is
    marked Galba, E. IX.; specimens were first published from it by
    Tyrwhit and Warton, and the entire series ultimately by Ritson.]

  [12] Ritson's first edition (1795) of Minot having become very
    difficult to procure, an elegant re-impression, and apparently a
    correct one, was published in 1825.

  [13] "Philobiblion, sive de Amore Librorum et Institutione
    Bibliothecæ," ascribed to Richard of Bury, Bishop of Durham; but
    Fabricius says it was written by Robert Holcot, a learned friar, at
    his desire.--Fab. "Bib. Med. Ævi," vol. i. It is the bishop, however,
    who was the collector, and always speaks in his own person. It has
    been recently translated by Mr. Inglis.

  [14] Barrington on the Statutes.

    In Blackstone's "Commentaries," book iii. chap. 21, we find much
    curious information, and some philosophical reflections. The use of
    the technical law-Latin is adroitly defended. Under Cromwell the
    records were turned into English; at the Restoration the practisers
    declared they could not express themselves so significantly in
    English, and they returned to their Latin. In 1730, a statute ordered
    that the proceedings at law should be done into English, that the
    common people might understand the process, &c. But after many years'
    experience the people are as ignorant in matters of law as before,
    and suffer the inconveniences of increasing _the expense of all legal
    proceedings_ by being bound by the stamp-duties to write only a
    stated number of words in a sheet, _and the English language, through
    the multitude of its particles, is so much more verbose than the
    Latin, that the number of sheets is much augmented_. Two years
    subsequently it was necessary to make a new act to allow all
    technical terms to continue Latin, which were too ridiculous to be
    translated, such as _nisi prius, fieri facias, habeas corpus_. This
    last act, in 1732, has defeated every beneficial purpose intended by
    the preceding statute of 1730.

    One hardly expected to find philological acumen in the dry discussion
    of law-Latin, but when the _three_ words, "_secundum formam
    statuti_," require _seven_ in English, "according to the form of the
    statute," one easily comprehends the heavy weight of the _stamp-duty_
    for _writing English_. The Saxons, who made no use of particles of
    speech, had more merit than we were aware of.

  [15] By the Rev. JOHN LEWIS, 1731, fo., and republished by the Rev.
    H. H. BABER, 1810, 4to.

    The censure of Fabricius deserves our notice. After mention of
    Wickliffe's version of the Bible, he adds, "Mirum est Anglos eam
    (versionem) tam diu neglexisse quum vel linguæ causa ipsis in pretio
    esse debeat."--"Bib. Lat.," v. 321.

    It is provoking to be reminded of our neglected duties by a
    foreigner. We might assuredly be curious to learn how the sublimity
    and the colloquial and narrative parts of this vast treasure of our
    ancient language were produced under the primitive pen of Wickliffe.
    A fine copy of Wickliffe's Bible was in the library of Mr. Douce, and
    I have heard, with great satisfaction, that it will probably be
    edited by Sir Francis Madden.

  [16] Herbert's "History of the City Companies."

  [17] I derive this curious fact from Mr. Tyler's "History of Henry of
    Monmouth," ii. 245.

  [18] These wills are preserved in Mr. Nichols' "Collection of Royal

  [19] Le Comte de Neufchateau, "Essay on French Literature," prefixed
    to the late edition of Pascal's works.

  [20] "Edinburgh Review," Oct., 1839.

  [21] See "Quarterly Rev.," lix. 34.--The critic is deeply imbued with
    his delight of Saxon-English. "The first bursts in our literature
    (probably the noblest are meant) are in almost pure Saxon." The
    critic particularly appeals to Milton for two instances; yet surely
    the Greekised, the Latinised, and even the Italianised Milton will
    not serve to assert the pre-eminence of our venerable dialect. "A
    country congregation" is its more certain test; where the language of
    the people is the only language required. Cobbett's writings
    throughout are Saxon-English. Coleridge considered Asgill and De Foe
    the most idiomatic writers.


The vicissitudes of the English language are more evident than its
origin. In the history of a language we are perpetually reminded, by the
remonstrances of the critics, of the corruptions of its purity, the
perils of innovation, and the obtrusion of neologisms, while we find
these same critics fastidiously rejecting what they deem the antiquated
and the obsolete; many causes are constantly operating these changes of
language. The style of one age ceases to be that of another; new
modifications of thought create new modes of expression; and as
knowledge enlarges its sphere, and society changes its manners, novel
objects imperiously demand adequate terms.

Our language has been subjected to those dominant events in the history
of our country which have so powerfully influenced our genius and our
destiny; and, our insular position occasioning a general intercourse
with all the Continental nations, our national idiom has been mottled by
foreign neologisms.

For more than five centuries was the Saxon language the language of
England; the awful revolution of 1066 produced novelties of all kinds,
but none greater than the entire change in our Saxon language, which,
however, our Norman masters could never eradicate from among the people.
During three centuries most of our English writers composed in French.
When Greek was first studied in the reign of Henry the Seventh, it
planted many a hellenism in our English; the translation of the
Scriptures in that of Edward the Sixth, while it transmitted many
latinisms, at the same time revived the simplicity of the Saxon-English,
which seemed to bear a sort of evidence that a primitive language was
most suitable for primitive Christianity in contrast with the pompous
corruptions of Rome.

Under Elizabeth favourite phrases were insinuated into the dialect by
over-refined travellers, who spoke "minionlike," while the revolution
of the Netherlands incorporated among us many a rough but vigorous
inmate. In the days of James and Charles, the long residence of the
Spanish Gondomar at our court, and the romantic pilgrimage of love to
Madrid, and the political ties which bound the two nations, framed the
style of courtesy, as well as set the fashions.

The puritanic commonwealth under Cromwell sunk down the language to its
basest uses. Stripped to nakedness, the jargon of the market and the
shop hid itself under the gibberish of its cant. Writers then abounded
equally illiterate and fanatical. Perhaps we owe to these mean
scribblers the scorn and pride with which Milton constructed on the
Latin model of inversions and involutions of sentences his artificial
and learned prose, unlike the style of his contemporaries, and which was
never to be that of his successors; it was a machinery too costly for
its price, and too unwieldy for the handling of an ordinary workman.
Under the second Charles we see the nation and the language equally
gallicised, and so it remained to the days of Anne. Suppose for a moment
that when the first Georges were appointed to the English throne, the
Germany of that day had been the Germany of the present. What would have
been the result? Instead of two torpid Germans, destitute of every
sensibility to literature and art, we might have seen an accomplished
Duke of Weimar at St. James's, and a Wieland, a Schiller, and a Goethe
at our court; our authors had been impressed by the German genius, in
our emulation and delight. Such is the simple history of the English
language as it has been, or might have been, subjected to our national

The history of the vernacular language of other European nations
discovers the same mutability, though not always produced by those great
public incidents which may have been peculiar to ourselves. In Spain,
however, we find that the possession of that land by the Moors has left
in the Castilian language a whole dictionary of Arabic words which now
mingle with the vernacular idiom, and for ever shall bear witness of the
triumphs of their ancient masters. But in the history of a vernacular
language it may also happen that the first writers, combining in a
singleness of taste, may construct a particular style. The earliest
writers of France had modelled their taste by the Greek; Jodelle,
Ronsard, Du Bartas, and others, imbued with Attic literature, Greekised
the French idiom, by their compounds, their novel terms, and their
sonorous periphrases. The Court and the ladies were adopting this new
style, and, as usual, the unskilful were diverging into the most
ridiculous affectations. But it was possible that the French language
might have acquired a concision and vigour of which it is now destitute,
for those early writers threw out a more original force than their tame
successors. The artificial delicacy of the French critics has condemned
these attempts as barbarisms; but to have transplanted these atticisms
into the native soil, partook more of boldness than of barbarism. The
attempt failed, if it could ever have succeeded, by the civil wars which
soon drew off the minds of men from the placable innovators of language.

The French, though not an insular people, have been subject to rapid
revolutions in their language. The ancient Gaulish-French has long been
as unintelligible to a modern Frenchman as our Saxon is to us; even
those numerous poets of France who at a later period composed in their
_langue Romane_, are strewed in the fields of their poesy only as
carcasses, which no miracle of antiquarian lore shall ever resuscitate.
Compare the style of one writer with another only two centuries later,
or Rabelais with Voltaire! The age of Louis XIV. effected the most rapid
change in the vernacular style, insomuch that the diction of the writers
of the preceding reign of Louis XIII. had fallen obsolete in the short
space of half a century. And yet the chastened style of the age of Louis
XIV., with its cold imitation of classical antiquity, was to receive a
higher polish from the hand of a Pascal, a novel brilliancy from the
touch of a Montesquieu, and a more numerous prose from the impassioned
Rousseau. The age of erudition and taste was to be succeeded by the more
energetic age of genius and philosophy. An anecdote recorded of Vaugelas
may possibly be true, and is a remarkable evidence of this perpetual
mobility of style. This writer lived between 1585 and 1650, and during
thirty years had been occupied, _more suo_, on a translation of Quintus
Curtius. It was during this protracted period that the French style was
passing through its rapid transitions. So many phrases had fallen
superannuated, that this martyr to the purity of his diction was
compelled to re-write the former part of his version to modernise it
with his later improved composition. The learned Menage lived to be old
enough to have caught alarm at this vicissitude of taste, and did not
scruple to avow that no work could last which was not composed in Latin.

The languages of highly cultivated nations are more subject to this
innovation and variableness than the language of a people whose native
penury receives but rare accessions. Hence the ancient and continued
complaints through all the generations of critics, from the days of
Julius Cæsar and Quintilian to those in which we are now writing.[1] The
same hostility against novelty in words or in style is invariably
proclaimed. The captiousness of criticism has usually referred to the
style of the preceding authors as a standard from which the prevalent
style of its contemporaries has erringly diverged. The preceptors of
genius at all times seem to have been insensible to the natural progress
of language, resisting new qualities of style and new forms of
expression; in reality, this was inferring, that a perfect language
exists, and that a creative genius must be trammelled by their limited
and arbitrary systems. This prejudice of the venerable brotherhood may,
I think, be traced to its source. Every age advantageously compares
itself with its predecessor, for it has made some advances, and rarely
suspects that the same triumph is reserved for its successor; but
besides this illusion in regard to the style, which, like the manners of
the time, is passing away, the veteran critic has long been a practised
master, and in the daring and dubious novelties which time has not
consecrated, he must descend to a new pupilage; but his rigid habits are
no longer flexible; and for the matured arbiter of literature who tastes
"the bitterness of novelty," what remains but an invective against the
minting of new words, and the versatility of new tastes?

The fallacy of the systematic critics arises from the principle that a
modern language is stationary and stable, like those which are
emphatically called "the dead languages," in which every deviation
unsupported by authority is legally condemned as a barbarism. But the
truth is, that every modern language has always existed in fluctuation
and change. The people themselves, indeed, are no innovators; their very
phrases are traditional. Popular language can only convey the single
uncompounded notions of the people; it is the style of facts; and they
are intelligible to one another by the shortest means. Their
Saxon-English is nearly monosyllabic, and their phraseology curt. Hence
we find that the language of the mob in the year 1382 is precisely the
natural style of the mob of this day.[2] But this popular style can
never be set up as the standard of genius, which is mutable with its
age, creating faculties and embodying thoughts which do not enter into
the experience of the people, and therefore cannot exercise their

A series of facts will illustrate our principle, that the language of
every literary people exists in a fluctuating condition, and that its
vaunted purity and its continued stability are chimerical notions.

In this history of the vicissitudes of the English language, we may
commence with our remote ancestors the Anglo-Saxons. When their studies
and their language received a literary character, they coveted great
pomposity in their style. They interlarded their staves with Latin
words; and, even in the reign of the Confessor, the French language was
fashionable. "The affectation of the Anglo-Saxon literati was evidently
tending to adulterate their language; and even if the Conquest had not
taken place, the purity of the English language would have been speedily
destroyed by the admixture of a foreign vocabulary."[3] Thus early were
we perilling our purity!

In 1387, John de Trevisa, translating the Latin Polychronicon of Higden,
tells us he avoids what he calls "the old and ancient English." A
century afterwards, Caxton, printing this translation of Trevisa, had to
re-write it, to change the "rude and old English, that is, to wit,
certain words which in these days be neither used nor understood." It
might have startled Master Caxton to have suspected that he might be to
us what Trevisa was to him, as it had equally amazed Trevisa, when he
discovered archaisms which had contracted the rust of time, to have
imagined that his fresher English were to be archaisms to his printer in
the succeeding century.

At the period at which our present vernacular literature opened on us,
Eliot, More, and Ascham maintained great simplicity of thought and
idiom; yet even at this period, about 1550, the language seemed in
imminent danger; it raised the tone of our primitive critics, and the
terrors of neologism took all frightful shapes to their eyes!

A refined critic of our language then was the learned Sir JOHN CHEKE,
who at this early period considered that the English language was
capable of preserving the utmost purity of style, and he was jealously
awake to its slightest violations. A friend of his, Sir THOMAS HOBY, a
courtly translator of the "Courtier of Castiglione," had solicited his
critical opinion. The learned Cheke, equally friendly and critical,
insinuated his abhorrence of "an unknown word," and apologises for his
corrections, lest he should be accounted "overstraight a deemer of
things, by marring his handywork." Hoby had evidently alarmed, by some
sprinklings of Italianisms--some capriccios of "new-fangled" words--the
chaste ear of our Anglican purist. I preserve this remarkable letter to
serve as a singular specimen of our English, unpolluted even by a

"Our own tongue should be written _clean_ and _pure_, unmixt and
unmangled with borrowing of other tongues, wherein, if we take not heed,
by time, ever borrowing and never paying, she shall be fain to keep her
house as bankrupt. For then doth our tongue naturally and praisably
utter her meaning, when she borroweth no counterfeitness of other
tongues to attire herself withal; but used plainly her own, with such
shift as nature, craft, experience, and following of other excellent,
doth lead her unto; and if she want at any time (as, being imperfect,
she must), yet let her borrow with such bashfulness that it may appear,
that if either the mould of our own tongue could serve us to fashion a
word of our own, or if the old denizened words could content and ease
this need, we would not boldly venture on unknown words. This I say, not
for reproof of you, who have scarcely and necessarily used, where
occasion seemeth, a strange word so, as it seemeth to grow out of the
matter, and not to be sought for; but for my own defence, who might be
counted overstraight a deemer of things, if I give not this account to
you, my friend, of my marring this your handy work."

Such was the tone even of our primitive critics! the terrors of
neologism were always before their eyes. All those accessions of the
future opulence of the vernacular language were either not foreseen or
utterly proscribed, while, at the same time, the wants and imperfections
of the language, amid all its purity or its poverty, were felt and
acknowledged. We perceive that even this stern champion of his
vernacular idiom confesses that "he may want at time, being imperfect,
and must borrow with bashfulness." The cries of the critics suddenly
break on us. Another contemporary critic of not inferior authority
laments that "there seemed to be no mother-tongue." "The far-journeyed
gentlemen" returned home not only in love with foreign fashions, but
equally fond "to powder their talk with over-sea language." There was
French-English, and English Italianated. Professional men disfigured the
language by conventional pedantries; the finical courtier would prate
"nothing but Chaucer." "The mystical wisemen and the poetical clerks
delivered themselves in quaint proverbs and blind allegories."[5] The
pedantic race, in their furious Latinisms, bristling with polysyllabic
pomposity, deemed themselves fortunate when they could fall upon "dark
words," which our critic aptly describes "catching an ink-horn term by
the tail." The eloquence of the more volatile fluttered in the splendid
patches of modern languages. It seemed as if there were to be no longer
a native idiom, and the good grain was choked up by the intruding cockle
which flourished by its side. Another contemporary critic announces that
"our English tongue was a gallimaufry or hodge-podge of all other
speeches." ARTHUR GOLDING grieves over the disjected members of the

  "Our English tongue driven almost out of kind (nature),
  Dismember'd, hack'd, maim'd, rent, and torn,
  Defaced, patch'd, marr'd, and made in scorn."

A critic who has left us "An Arte of English Poetry," written perhaps
about 1550 or 1560, exhorting the poet to render his language, which,
however, he never could in his own verses, "natural, pure, and the most
usual of all his country," seemed at a loss where to fix on the standard
of style. He would look to the Court to be the modellers of speech, but
there he acknowledges that "the preachers, the secretaries, and
travellers," were great corrupters, and not less "our Universities,
where scholars use much peevish affectation of words out of the
primitive languages." The coarse bran of our own native English was,
however, to be sifted; but where was the genuine English idiom to be
gathered? Our fastidious critic remonstrates against "the daily talk of
northern men." The _good southern_ was that "we of Middlesex or Surrey
use." Middlesex and Surrey were then to regulate the idiom of all
British men! and all our England was doomed to barbarism, as it varied
from "the usual speech of the Court, and that of London within sixty
miles, and not much above." But was our English more stable within this
assigned circumference of the metropolis than any other line of
demarcation? About 1580, CAREW informs us that "Within these sixty years
we have incorporated so many Latin and French words as the third part of
our language consisteth in them."

Some there were among us who, alarmed that such ceaseless infusions were
polluting the native springs of English, would look back with veneration
and fondness on our ancient masters. Our great poet SPENSER,[6] then
youthful, declared that the language of CHAUCER was the purest English;
and our bard hailed, in a verse often quoted by the critics--

  Dan Chaucer, well of English undefiled.

But in this well are deposited many waters. Chaucer has been accused of
having enriched the language with the spoils of France, blending the old
Saxon with the Norman-French and the modern Gallic of his day, for which
he has been vehemently censured by the austerity of philological
antiquaries. Skinner and his followers have condemned Chaucer for
introducing "a waggon-load of words," and have proclaimed that Chaucer
"wrote the language of no age;" a reproach which has been transferred to
our Spenser himself, who has transplanted many an exotic into the
English soil, and re-cast many an English word for the innocent forgery
of a rhyme! So that two of the finest geniuses in our literature, for
recasting the language, must lay their heads down to receive the heavy
axe of verbal pedantry.

Descending a complete century, in 1656 we are surprised at discovering
HEYLIN, at a period relatively modern, reiterating the language of his
ancient predecessors. This latter critic published his animadversions on
the pedantic writings of HAMON L'ESTRANGE, who had opened on us a
floodgate of Latinisms. Heylin observes: "More French and Latin words
have gained ground upon us since _the middle of Queen Elizabeth's
reign_ than were admitted by our ancestors, not only since the Norman,
but the Roman conquest." This was written before the Restoration of
Charles the Second, when we were to be overrun by Gallicisms. This
complaint did not cease with Heylin, for it has often been renewed.
Heylin drew up in alphabetical order the uncouth and unusual words which
are to be found in Hamon L'Estrange's "History," and yet many of these
foreigners since the days of Heylin have become denizens. So unsettled
were the notions of our philology with regard to style, that L'Estrange
could venture in his rejoinder, which contains sufficient vinaicre, as
he writes it, a defence of these hard words, which is entertaining. "As
to those lofty words, I declare to all the world this not uningenuous
acknowledgment, that having conversed with authors of the noblest and
chief remark in several languages, not only their notions but their very
words especially being of the most elegant import, became at length so
familiar with me, as when I applied myself to this present work I found
it very difficult to renounce my former acquaintance with them; but as
they freely offered themselves, so I entertained them upon these
considerations. First, I was confident that among learned men they
needed no other passe than their own extraction; and for those who were
mere English readers I saw no reason they should wonder at them,
considering that for their satisfaction I had sent along with every
foreigner his interpreter, to serve instead of a dictionary." Hamon
L'Estrange's "Life of Charles I." was certainly a piece of infelicitous
pedantry, as we may judge by this specimen.[7]

Even great authors glanced with a suspicious eye on these vicissitudes
of language, not without a conviction that they themselves were
personally interested in these uncertain novelties. It would seem as if
Milton, from the new invasion of Gallic words and Gallic airiness which
broke in at the Restoration, had formed some uneasy anticipations that
his own learned diction and sublime form of poetry might suffer by the
transition, and that Milton himself might become as obsolete as some of
his great predecessors appeared to his age. The nephew of Milton, in the
preface to his "Theatrum Poetarum," where the critical touch of the
great master so frequently betrays itself, pleads for our ancient poets,
who are not the less poetical because their style is antiquated. Writing
in the reign of Charles II., in 1675, he says: "From Queen Elizabeth's
reign, the language hath not been so unpolished as to render the poetry
of that time ungrateful to such as at this day will take the pains to
examine it well. If no poetry should please but what is calculated to
every refinement of a language, of how ill consequence this would be for
the future let him consider, and make it his own case, who, being now in
fair repute, shall, two or three ages hence, when the language comes to
be double-refined, understand that his works are come obsolete and
thrown aside. I cannot--" he, perhaps Milton, continues--"I cannot but
look upon it as a very pleasant humour that we should be so compliant
with the French custom as to follow set fashions, not only in garments,
but in music and poetry. For clothes, I leave them to the discretion of
the modish; breeches and doublet will not fall under a metaphysical
consideration. But in arts and sciences, as well as in moral notions, I
shall not scruple to maintain, that what was '_verum et bonum_' once,
continues to be so always. Now whether the trunk-hose fancy of Queen
Elizabeth's days, or the pantaloon genius of ours be best, I shall not
be hasty to determine."

Would we learn the true history of a modern language, we must not apply
to the CRITICS, who only press for conformity and appeal to precedents;
but we must look to those other more practical dealers in words, the
LEXICOGRAPHERS, who at once reveal to us all the incomings and outgoings
of their great "exchequer of words." Turn over the prefaces of our elder
lexicographers. Every one of them pretends to prune away the vocabulary
of his predecessors, and to supply, in this mortality of words, those
which live on the lips of contemporaries. In the great tome of his
record of archaisms and neologisms, the grey moss hangs about the oak,
and the graft shoots forth with fresh verdure. BARET, one of our
earliest lexicographers, in the reign of Elizabeth thus expresses
himself:--"I thought it not meete to stuffe this worke with old obsolete
words which now a daies no good writer will use."[8] Words spurned at by
the lexicographer of 1580 had been consecrated by the venerable fathers
of our literature and of the Reformation, not a century past; yet
another century does not elapse when another dictionary throws all into
confusion. HENRY COCKRAM, whose volume has been at least twelve times
reprinted, boldly avows that "what any before me in this kind have
begun, I have not only fully finished, but thoroughly perfected;" and,
presuming on the privilege of "an interpreter of hard English words,"
the language is wrecked in a stormy pedantry of Latin and Greek terms,
which however indicate that new corruption of our style which some
writers and speakers, as Hamon L'Estrange, were attempting.[9] What a
picture have we sketched of the mortality of words, through all the
fleeting stages of their decadency from TREVISA to CAXTON, from CAXTON
to BARET, from BARET to COCKRAM, and from COCKRAM to his numerous

Thus then has our language been in perpetual movement, and that "purity
of style," whose presumed violation has raised such reiterated
querulousness, has in reality proved to be but a mocking phantom,
fugitive or unsubstantial. Our English has often changed her dress, to
attract by new graces, and has spoken with more languages than one. She
has even submitted to Fashion, that most encroaching usurper of words,
who sends them no one knows how and no one knows why, banishing the old
and establishing the new; and who has ever found her legitimacy
unquestioned when in her matured age we recognise Fashion under the
consecrated name of CUSTOM.

But let us not quit this topic of "purity of style" without offering our
sympathies for those who have suffered martyrdom in their chimerical
devotion. In the days of my youth there were some who would not write a
word unwarranted by Swift or Tillotson; these were to be held fast for
pure idiomatic prose, by those who felt insulted by the encumbering
Lexiphanicisms of the ponderous numerosity of Johnson; and recently a
return to our Saxon words, diminutive in size, has been trumpeted in a
set oration at the University of Glasgow by a noble personage. This
taste is rife among critics of limited studies. Charles Fox, a fine
genius who turned towards the pursuits of literature too late in life,
was a severe sufferer, and purified his vocabulary with a scrupulosity
unknown to any purist, so nervously apprehensive was this great man lest
he should not write English. Addison, Bolingbroke, and Middleton were
not of sufficient authority, for he would use no word which was not to
be found in Dryden. Alas! what disappointments await the few who creep
along their Saxon idiom, or who would pore on the free gracefulness of
Dryden as a dictionary of words and phrases! Could the chimerical purity
which these are in search of be ever found, never would it lend
enchantment to their page, should their taste be cold or their fancy
feeble. The language of genius must be its own reflection, and the good
fortune of authors must receive the stamp used in their own mint.

It happens with the destiny of words, as in the destiny of empires. Men
in their own days see only the beginnings of things, and more sensibly
feel the inconvenience of that state of transition inflicted by
innovation, in its first approaches often capricious, always empirical.
These vicissitudes of language in their end were to produce a vernacular
idiom more wealthy than our native indigence seemed to promise. All
those vehement cries of the critics which we have brought together were
but the sharp pangs and throes of a parturient language in the natural
progress of a long-protracted birth.

A national idiom in its mighty formation, struggling into its perfect
existence, encumbered by the heavy mass in which it lies involved,
resembles the creation of the lion of the Bard of Paradise, when

            --------Half appear'd
  The tawny Lion, PAWING TO GET FREE


  [1] "Curiosities of Literature," Art. "HISTORY OF NEW WORDS."

  [2] These are political squibs thrown out by the mobocracy in the
    reign of Richard the Second. They are preserved in Mr. Turner's
    "History of England." I print them in their modern orthography. The
    first specimen runs in familiar rhymes:--

    "Jack the Miller asked help to turn his mill aright. He hath ground
    small, small! The King's son of Heaven he shall pay for all. Look thy
    Mill go aright with the four sails, and the post stand in
    steadfastness. With Right and with Might, with Skill and with Will,
    let Might help Right, and Skill go before Will, and Right before
    Might, then goes our Mill aright, and if Might go before Right, and
    Will before Skill, then is our Mill mis adyght."

    Now we have plain, intelligible prose--

    "Jack Carter prays you all that ye make a good end of that ye have
    begun, and do well, and still better and better; for at the even men
    near the day. If the end be well, then is all well. Let Piers the
    ploughman dwell at home, and dyght us corn. Look that Hobbe the
    robber be well chastised. Stand manly together in truth, and help the
    truth, and truth shall help you."

  [3] Sir Francis Palgrave's "Rise and Progress of the English Common
    wealth;" Proofs and Illustrations, ccxiii.

  [4] This letter to the translator Hoby has been passed over by those
    who collected the few letters of the learned CHEKE; and, what seems
    strange, appears only in the first edition of Hoby's translation,
    having been omitted in the subsequent editions. Perhaps the
    translator was not enamoured of his excellent critic.

  [5] Sir Thomas Wilson's "Arte of Rhetoric," 1553.

  [6] Spenser's protest against the Innovators of Language may be seen
    in his "Three Letters," which are preserved unmutilated in Todd's
    "Spenser;" they are deficient in Hughes' edition.

  [7] Heylin's "Observations on the Historie of the Reign of King
    Charles." L'Estrange's rejoinder may be found in the second edition
    of his History.

  [8] "Alvearie, or quadruple Dictionary of Four Languages," 1580.

  [9] "The English Dictionary, or an Interpreter of Hard English
    Words," by H. C., gent., 1658. The eleventh and twelfth editions are
    before me. The last, edited by another person, is not so copious as
    the former. In Cockram's own edition we have a first "Book" of his
    "Hard Words," followed by a second of what he calls "Vulgar Words,"
    which are English. The last editor has wholly omitted the second
    part. Of the first part, or the "Hard Words," Cockram observes that
    "They are the _choicest words now in use_, and wherewith our language
    is enriched and become so copious, to which words the common sense is
    annexed." [See note on this Dictionary, with some few specimens of
    its contents, in "Curiosities of Literature," vol. iii.]


Dialects reflect the general language diversified by localities.

A dialect is a variation in the pronunciation, and necessarily in the
orthography of words, or a peculiarity of phrase or idiom, usually
accompanied by a tone which seems to be as local as the word it utters.
It is a language rarely understood out of the sphere of the population
by whom it is appropriated. A language is fixed in a nation by a
flourishing metropolis of an extensive empire, a dialect may have
existed coeval with that predominant dialect which by accident has
become the standard or general language; and moreover, the contemned
dialect may occasionally preserve some remains or fragments of the
language which, apparently lost, but hence recovered, enable us rightly
to understand even the prevalent idiom.

All nations have had dialects. Greece had them, as France, and Italy
have them now. Homer could have included in a single verse four or five
dialects; but though the Doric and the Ionic were held the most
classical, none of them were barbarous, since their finest writers have
composed in these several dialects. Even some Italian poets and comic
writers have adopted a favourite dialect; but no classical English
author could have immortalised any one of our own.

Ancient Greece, as Mitford describes, "though a narrow country, was very
much divided by mountains and politics." And mountains and politics,
which impede the general intercourse of men, inevitably produce
dialects. Each isolated state with fear or pride affected its
independence, not only by its own customs, but by its accent or its
phrase. In France the standard language was long but a dialect. There
potent nobles, each holding a separate court and sovereignty in his own
province, offered many central points of attraction. The Counts of Foix,
of Provence and of Toulouse, and the Dukes of Guienne, of Normandy and
of Brétagne, were all munificent patrons of those who cultivated what
they termed "l'art du beau parler," each in their provincial idiom.
These were all subdivisions of the two rival dialects to which the
Romane language had given birth. But the river Loire ran between them;
and a great river has often been the boundary of a dialect: France was
thus long divided. On the south of the Loire their speech was called the
language of _Oc_, and on the north the language of _Oil_; names which
they derived from the different manner of the inhabitants pronouncing
the affirmative _Oui_. The language of the poetical Troubadours on the
south of the Loire had not the happier destiny of its rival, used by the
Trouvères on the north. It was this which became the standard language,
while the other remains a dialect. Here we have a remarkable incident in
the history of dialects in a great country; it was long doubtful which
was to become the national language; and it has happened, if we may
trust an enthusiast of Languedoc, that his idiom, expressing with more
vowelly softness and _naïveté_ the familiar emotions of love and
friendship, and gaiety and _bonhomie_, gave way to a harsher idiom and a
sharp nasal accent; and all ended by the Parisian detecting the
provincials by their shibboleth, and calling them all alike Gascons, and
their taste for exaggeration and rhodomontade gasconades; while the
southerns, who hold that what is called the French language is only a
perversion of their own dialect, like our former John Bull, fling on the
Parisian the old Gaulish appellative of _Franchiman_.[1]

The dialects of England were produced by occurrences which have happened
to no other nation. Our insular site has laid us open to so many
masters, that it was long doubtful whether Britain would ever possess a
uniform language. The aboriginal Britons left some of their words
behind them in their flight, as the Romans had done in their
dominion,[2] and even the visiting Phoenician may have dropped some
words on our coasts. The Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons brought in a
new language, and, arriving from separate localities, that language came
to us diversified by dialects; and the Danes, too, joined the northern
brotherhood of pirate-kings who planted themselves in our soil. The
gradual predominance of the West-Saxon over the petty kingdoms which
subdivided Britain first approached to the formation of a national
language. The West-Saxon was the land of Alfred, and the royal
cultivation of its dialect, supreme in purity as the realm stood in
power, rendered it the standard language which we now call Anglo-Saxon.

"Had the Heptarchy (Octarchy) continued," observed Bishop Percy, "our
English language would probably have been as much distinguished for its
dialects as the Greek, or at least as that of the several independent
states of Italy." In truth, we remained much in that condition while a
power hostile to the national character assumed the sovereignty. So
unsettled was the English language, that a writer at the close of the
fourteenth century tells us that different parts of the island
experienced a difficulty to understand one another. A diversity of
pronunciation, as well as a diversity in the language, was so prevalent,
that the Northern, the Southern, and the Middle-land men were
unintelligible when they met; the Middle-land understood the Northern
and the Southern better than the Northman and the Southman comprehended
one another; the English people seemed to form an assemblage of distinct
races. Even to this day, a scene almost similar might be exhibited.
Should a peasant of the Yorkshire dales, and one from the vales of
Taunton, and another from the hills of the Chiltern, meet together, they
would require an interpreter to become intelligible to each other; but
in this dilemma what county could produce the Englishman so versed in
provincial dialects as to assist his three honest countrymen?

If etymology often furnishes a genealogy of words through all their
authentic descents, so likewise a map of provincial idioms might be
constructed to indicate the localities of the dialects. There we might
observe how an expansive and lengthened river, or intervening fells and
mountains which separate two counties, can stop the course of a dialect,
so that the idiom current on one side, when it passes the borders
becomes intrusive, little regarded, and ere it reaches a third county
has expired in the passage. Thus the Parret, we are told, is the
boundary of the Somersetshire dialect; for words used cast of the Parret
are only known by synonyms on the west side. The same incident occurs in
Italy, where a single river runs through the level plain; there the
Piedmontese peasant from the western end meeting with a Venetian from
the eastern could hold but little colloquial intercourse together; a
Genoese would be absolutely unintelligible to both, for, according to
their proverb, "Language was the gift of God, but the Genoese dialect
was the invention of the devil." In those rank dialects left to run to
seed in their wild state, without any standard of literature, we hardly
recognise the national idiom; the Italian language sprung from one
common source--its maternal Latin; but this we might not suspect should
we decide solely by its dialects: and we may equally wonder how some of
our own could ever have been mangled and distorted out of the fair
dimensions of the language of England.

All who speak a dialect contract a particular intonation which, almost
as much as any local words, betrays their soil; these provincial tones
are listened to from the cradle; and, as all dialects are of great
antiquity, this sounding of the voice has been bequeathed from
generation to generation.[3] It is sometimes a low muttering in the
throat, a thick guttural like the Welsh, or a shrill nasal twang, or a
cadence or chant; centuries appear not to have varied the tone more than
the vocable. The Romance of "Octavien Imperator," which was written
possibly earlier than the reign of Henry VI., is in the Hampshire
dialect nearly as it is spoken now. The speech of a Yorkshireman is
energetically described by our ancient Trevisa. "It is so sharpe,
slytting, frotyng, and unshape, that we sothern men maye unneth
understond that language." As we advance in the North, the tones of the
people are described as "round and sonorous, broad open vowels, and the
richness and fulness of the diphthongs fill their mouths" with a firm,
hardy speech.

A striking contrast is observable among those who by their secluded
position have held little intercourse with their neighbours, and have
contracted an overweening estimation of themselves, and a provincial
pride in their customs, manners, and language. Norfolk, surrounded on
three sides by the sea, remains unaltered to this day, and still
designates as "Shiremen" all who are born out of Norfolk, not without
"some little expression of contempt." There is "a narrowness and tenuity
in their pronunciation," such as we may fancy--for it is but a
fancy--would steal out of the lips of reserved, proudful men, and who,
as their neighbours of Suffolk run their common talk into strange
melancholy cadences, have characterised their peculiar intonation as
"the Suffolk whine!" In Derbyshire the pronunciation is broad, and they
change the G into K. The Lancashire folk speak quick and curt, omit
letters, or sound three or four words all together; thus, _I
wou'didd'n_, or _I woudyedd'd_, is a cacophony which stands for _I wish
you would_! When the editor of a Devonshire dialect found that it was
aspersed as the most uncouth jargon in England, he appealed to the

But such vile rustic dissonance or mere balderdash concerns not our
vernacular literature, though it seems that even such agrestic rubbish
may have its utility in a provincial vocabulary; for the glossary to the
"Exmoor language" was drawn up for the use of lawyers on the western
circuit, who frequently mistook the evidence of a rustic witness for
want of an interpretation of his words. Some ludicrous misconceptions of
equivocal terms or some ridiculous phraseology have been recorded in
other counties, among the judges and the bar at a county assize.

But it is among our provincial dialects that we discover many beautiful
archaisms, scattered remnants of our language, which explain those
obscurities of our more ancient writers, singularities of phrase, or
lingual peculiarities, which have so often bewildered the most acute of
our commentators. After all their voluminous research and their
conjectural temerity, a villager in Devonshire or in Suffolk, and, more
than either, the remoter native of the North Countree, with their common
speech, might have recovered the baffled commentators from their agony.
The corrections of modern editors have often been discovered to be only
ingenious corruptions of their own whenever the original provincial
idiom has started up.

These provincial modes of speech have often actually preserved for us
the origin of English phraseology, and enlightened the philologist in a
path unexplored. In one of the most original and most fanciful of the
dramas of Ben Jonson, "The Sad Shepherd," the poet designed to
appropriate a provincial dialect to the Witch Maudlin's family. He had
consulted Lacy the comedian, who was a native of Yorkshire, respecting
the northern phraseology. Unfortunately, this drama was never finished;
and the consequence is, that the dialects are incorrectly given, and are
worsened by the orthography of the printer. Yet it was from this
imperfect attempt to convey some notion of our dialects that Horne Tooke
was able to elucidate one of his grammatical discoveries, in regard to
the conjunction IF, which, from "The Sad Shepherd," is demonstrated to
be anciently the imperative of the verb GIF, or give. Thus it was, by
apparently very rude dialects, this famous philologist was enabled to
substantiate beyond doubt a signification which had occurred to no one
but himself.[5]

A language in the progress of its refinement loses as well as gains in
the amount of words, and the good fortune of expressive phrases. Some
become equivocal by changing their signification, and some fall
obsolete, one cannot tell why, for custom or caprice arbitrate, guided
by no law, and often with an unmusical ear. These discarded but faithful
servants, now treated as outcasts, and not even suspected to have any
habitation, are safely lodged in some of our dialects. As the people are
faithful traditionists, repeating the words of their forefathers, and
are the longest to preserve their customs, they are the most certain
antiquaries; and their oral knowledge and their ancient observances
often elucidate many an archæological obscurity. Hence, two remarkable
consequences have been discovered in the history of our popular idioms;
many words and phrases used in the land of Cockney, now deemed not only
vulgar but ungrammatical, are in fact not corruptions of the native
tongue, but the remains of what was anciently at different periods the
established national dialect.[6] This transmitted language descended to
the humbler classes, unimpaired and unaugmented, through a long line of
ancestry. Again, it is often probable that the provincial word which in
its pronunciation merely reverses the order of the letters, as now
uttered, and which is only heard from the mouths of the people, may
convey the original spoken sound, and be the genuine English. Are we
quite sure that the polishers may not often have been the corrupters of
our language? Nor let us be positive that the metropolitan taste has
always fixed on the most felicitous or the most forcible of our
idiomatic words or phrases, since we may discover some lingering among
our provincial dialects which should never have been dismissed, and
which claim to be restored. When JOHNSON compiled his "Dictionary," he
was not aware of the authentic antiquity of our dialectic terms and
phrases. Our literary antiquities had not yet engaged the attention of
general scholars. Provincialisms were not deemed by the legislator of
our language legitimate words; he did not recognise their primitive
claims, nor their relative affinities, but ejected them as vagabonds.
But words are not barbarous nor obsolete because no longer used in our
written composition, since some of the most exquisite and picturesque,
which have ceased to enrich our writings, live in immortal pages. After
the issue of Johnson's great labour, our national literature began to
attract the studies of literary men, who soon perceived how this
neglected but existing stock of idiomatic English in our provincialisms
more certainly explained our elder writers in verse and prose. Amid the
murmurs raised by the archæologists, ASH attempted to supply the
palpable deficiency of Johnson; but the matter was too abundant, and his
space too contracted. In vain he attempted his "Supplement;" all the
counties in England seemed to rise against the luckless glossarist; but
notwithstanding its limited utility, his vocabulary was often preferred
for its copiousness to the more elaborate lexicon. The spirit of inquiry
was now abroad after the "winged words;" and ingenious persons, within
these twenty years,[7] have produced a number of provincial glossaries;
but several are still wanting, particularly those of Kent, and Sussex,
and Hampshire. All these glossaries collected together might form a
provincial lexicon marking each county. A few might be allowed to enter
into the great dictionary of the English language; but that would not be
their safest place, for they would then lie at the mercy of successive
editors, who would not always discern a precious archaism amid the
baseness and corruption of language. The origin, the nature, and the
history of our provincial idioms have yet never been investigated,
though the subject, freed from its mere barbarisms, opens a diversified
field to the philosopher, the antiquary, and the philologist.

Grose, who wrote in 1785, notices the state of those counties which were
remote from the metropolis, or which had no immediate intercourse with
it before "newspapers and stage-coaches imported scepticism, and made
every ploughman and thresher a politician and a freethinker." The
accelerated intercourse of the people has long passed beyond the diurnal
folio and the evanescent stage-coach, and in a century of railroads and
national schools the provincial glossary will finally vanish away.


  [1] "Dictionnaire Languédocien-françois," par l'Abbé de Sauvages.
    "_Franchiman_ est formé de l'Allemand, et signifie _homme de
    France_." The Abbé wrote in 1756, when he did not care to translate
    too literally; the Frank-man meant the _Free man_, for the Franks
    called themselves so, as "the free people." This learned Gascon, in
    his zeal for the _Langue d'oc_, explains, "_Parla Franchiman_," means
    "parler avec l'accent (bon ou mauvais) des provinces du nord du
    royaume:" an insinuation that the French accent might not be
    positively the better one. The good Abbé had such a perfect
    conviction of the superiority of his Languedocians, that he would
    have no other servants not only for their superior integrity, but for
    that of their language.

  [2] "Palgrave," 174. They also received some in exchange, many words
    in Cæsar being British.--Hearne's "Leland's Itinerary," vi.

  [3] In that very curious "Logonomia Anglica" of the learned Alexander
    Gill--the father, for his son of the same name succeeded him as
    master of St. Paul's--we have the orthoepy of our dialects given with
    great exactness. This work was produced about 1619, and we find the
    peculiar provincial pronunciation of the present day. A work so
    curious in the history of our vernacular tongue should not have been
    composed in Latin. Mr. Guest has carefully translated a judicious
    extract,--"History of English Rhythms," ii, 204.

  [4] The late Dr. Valpy told me that Mr. Walker, the orthoepist, had
    so intimate a knowledge of the provincial peculiarities of
    pronunciation, that in a private course of reading at Oxford with
    twelve undergraduates, he told each of them the respective place of
    their birth or early education.

  [5] Tooke's "Diversions of Purley," p. 141.

  [6] In "Anecdotes of the English Language," by Samuel Pegge, an
    antiquary, who called himself "an old modern," the reader will find
    several curious exemplifications of the vulgar dialect, sometimes
    fancifully, but often satisfactorily ascertained. It is amusing to
    detect what we call _vulgarisms_ composing the language of Chaucer
    and Shakspeare, and even our Bibles and Liturgies.

  [7] RAY was the first who collected "Local Words, _North Country_ and
    _South_ and _East Country_." "The Exmoor Scolding and Courtship" is
    an authentic specimen of the _Exmoor Language_. The words were
    collected by a blind fiddler, and the dialogues were written by a
    clergyman with the fiddler's assistance, before 1725. We have a
    glossary of Lancashire words and phrases, contained in the humorous
    works of Tim Bobbin. Other county glossarists have appeared within
    the last fifteen years:--BROCKETT'S "North Country Words;" "Suffolk
    Words and Phrases," by Major MOOR; Mr. ROGER WILBRAHAM'S "Attempt at
    a Glossary of Cheshire Words;" Mr. JENNINGS' "Dialect of the West of
    England," particularly the Somersetshire words; Mr. BRITTON on those
    of Wiltshire; and the Rev. JOSEPH HUNTER has given "The Hallamshire
    Glossary," to which are appended "Words used in Halifax," by the Rev.
    JOHN WATSON, and also an addition to the "Yorkshire Words," by
    THORESBY, the Leeds antiquary.

    An investigation of the origin, nature, and history of DIALECTS was
    proposed by the late Dr. BOUCHER for a complete glossary of all the
    dialects of the kingdom. But these precious stores, not only of the
    vocables but of the domestic history of England--its manners,
    occupations, amusements, diet, dress, buildings, and other
    miscellaneous topics--rich in all the affluence of the laborious
    readings of more years than the siege of Troy, was but bread cast
    away on the waters, and was never given to the public for want of
    public support. After the author's death, two eminent editors
    zealously resumed the work, which was already prepared; but the
    public remained so little instructed of its value, it suddenly
    ceased! Works of national utility should be consecrated as national
    property, and means should be always ready to avert such a calamity
    to the literature of England, and to the information of Englishmen,
    as was the suppression of the labours of BOUCHER.


Mandeville was the Bruce of the fourteenth century, as often calumniated
and even ridiculed. The most ingenuous of voyagers has been condemned as
an idle fabulist; the most cautious, as credulous to fatuity; and the
volume of a genuine writer, which has been translated into every
European language, has been formally ejected from the collection of
authentic travels. His truest vindication will be found by comprehending
him; and to be acquainted with his character, we must seek for him in
his own age.

At a period when Europe could hardly boast of three leisurely wayfarers
stealing over the face of the universe; when the Orient still remained
but a Land of Faery, and "the map of the world" was yet unfinished; at a
time when it required a whole life to traverse a space which three years
might now terminate, Sir JOHN MANDEVILLE set forth to enter unheard-of
regions. Returning home, after an absence of more than thirty years, he
discovered a "mervayle" strange as those which he loved to record--that
he was utterly forgotten by his friends!

He had returned "maugre himself," for four-and-thirty years had not
satiated his curiosity; his noble career had submitted to ordinary
infirmities--to gout and the aching of his limbs; these, he lamentably
tells, had "defined the end of my labour against my will, God knoweth!"
The knight in this pilgrimage of life seems to have contracted a duty
with God, that while he had breath he should peregrinate, and, having
nothing to do at home, be honourable in his generation by his enterprise
over the whole earth. And earnestly he prays "to all the _readers_ and
_hearers_ of my book," (for "hearers" were then more numerous than
"readers,") "to say for him a _Pater-Noster_ with an _Ave-Maria_." He
wrote for "solace in his wretched rest;" but the old passion, the
devotion of his soul, finally triumphed over all arthritic pangs. The
globe evidently was his true home; and thus Liege, and not London,
received the bones of an unwearied traveller, whose thoughts were ever
passing beyond the equator.

With us, to whom an excursion to "the Londe of Promyssioun or of Behest"
has sometimes arisen out of a morning engagement--we who impelled by
steam go "whither we list," with those billets which might serve as
letters of recommendation in the steppes of Tartary,--we may wonder how
our knight, who would not win his way by the arts of commerce, like his
predecessor Marco Polo, bore up his chivalry; for in his traversing he
had nothing to offer but his honourable sword, and probably his medical
science, which might be sometimes as perilous. But difficulties
insuperable to us could not enter into the emotions, nor were they the
accidents which impeded the traveller, "who, on the day of St. Michael,
in the year of our Lord 1322, passed the sea, and went the way to
Hierusalem, and to behold the mervayles of Inde." A deep religious
emotion, an obscure indefinite curiosity, and a courageous decision to
wander wherever the step of man could press on the globe, to tell the
world "the mervayles" it unconsciously holds within its orb, were the
inspiration of a journey which stood next in solemnity to a departure to
the world of spirits. Sir John had prepared himself, for he was learned
not only in languages, but in authentic romance, and in romantic
history; and he honestly resolved to tell all "the mervayles" which he
had seen, and those which he had not; and these last were not the least.

Sir John Mandeville's probity remains unimpeached; for the accuracy of
whatever he relates from his own personal observation has been confirmed
by subsequent travellers. On his return to Europe he hastened to Rome to
submit his book to the Pope, and to "his wise council," and "those
learned men of all nations who dwell at that court." The volume was
critically reviewed; and his holiness "ratified and confirmed my book in
all points," by referring to an account in Latin: this account was
probably written by some missionary; Rubriquis had been dispatched on an
unsuccessful mission to Christianize the great Khan of Tartary in 1230;
or it was the writings of Marco Polo, which could not be unknown at
Rome. In that day all real information was consigned to the fugitive
manuscript, partially known, and often subject to the interpolations and
capricious alterations of its possessor, and what sometimes occurred, to
the silent plagiarisms of other writers--of which even Mandeville
himself has been suspected.

The Pope decreed that not only all that Mandeville related was
veracious, but that the Latin book which his holiness possessed
contained _much more_, and from whence the Mappa Mundi had been made.
Indeed Mandeville has himself told us that he wrote only from his
recollections as they "would come into his mind;" these necessarily were
often broken and obscure. Some "mervayles" remained unrecorded, and
hereafter were to be "more plainly told;" but I fear these are lost for

In this "true" book we find many things very untrue, but we may doubt
whether any in that day were as positive in this opinion. The author
himself designed no imposition on his readers; he tells us what he
believed; part of which he had seen and the rest he had heard, and
sometimes had transcribed from sources deemed by him authentic. Who can
suspect the knight of spotless honour, and whose piety would not
relinquish his _Ave-Marias_ for a dominion? Having fought during two
years under the ensign of the Sultan of Egypt, and being offered in
marriage the Sultan's daughter and a province, he refused both, when his
Christianity was to be exchanged for Mahometanism.

This was a period when the marvellous never weakened the authenticity of
a tale. The mighty tome of Pliny, that awful repository of all the
errors of antiquity, and other writers of equal name, detail prodigies
and legends, and so do the Fathers. Who would not have rejoiced to
transcribe Pliny or St. Austen? Who imagined that all the delectable
adventures of the romances, over which they passed many a dreamy day,
with the very names of the personages and the very places where they
occurred, were solely chimeras of the brain? The learned Mandeville was
evidently not one of these sceptics: for he observes, that "the trees of
the sun and of the moon are well known to have spoken to King
Alisaundre, and warned him of his death." The unquestioned fact is in
that famed romance; and others might be referred to if we required
additional authority. I have read of these talking trees of the sun and
moon in _Guarino detto il Meschino_, who lived a year among them to
learn his own genealogy, and then was graceless enough to laugh at
these timber-oracles. Mandeville forgot not in the island of Lango, not
distant from Crete, the legend of the unfortunate "Lady of the Land,"
who remained a dragoness, because no one had the hardihood to kiss her
lips to disenchant her. He tells likewise of the Faery Lady who guarded
the sparrow-hawk; whoever ventured to assist that lady during three days
and nights, was rewarded by the boon of having whatever he wished. A
king who, not wanting anything, had the audacity to wish to have the
lady herself, was fairly warned that he did not know what he asked, as
happens to the reckless; but, persisting in his absolute will, he
incurred the curse of perpetual war to the last of his race!

We trace such tales among the romances, with all their circumstances;
and some may have reached the listener from the Arabian tale-teller. The
monsters he describes Mandeville never invented; these, human and
animal, he gave as some of his predecessors had done, from Pliny, or
Ælian, or Ctesias,[1] who have sent them down to be engraven in the
Great Nuremberg Chronicle, and adorned in the immortal page of
Shakspeare. Marco Polo had noticed that portentous bird which could lift
an elephant by its claws; he does not tell us that he had seen any bird
of this wing, but we all know where it is to be found--in the Arabian
Tales! Sir Thomas Browne accuses Mandeville of _confirming_ the fabulous
accounts of India by Ctesias; but, in truth, our knight does not
"confirm these refuted notions of antiquity;" he only repeats them, with
the prelude of "men seyn." No one was more honest than Mandeville, for
when he had to describe the locality of paradise, he fairly acknowledges
that "he cannot speak of it properly, for I was not there; it is far
beyond, but as I have _heard say_ of wise men, it is on the highest
part of the earth, nigh to the circle of the moon." However, he has
contrived to describe the wall, which is not of stone, but of moss, with
but a single entrance, "closed with brennynge fyre;" and though no
mortal could enter, yet it was known that there was a well in paradise,
whence flowed the four floods that run through the earth. "Wise men," he
tells us, said this; some of these "wise men" were the Rabbins; and
three centuries afterwards, the accounts of paradise, by a finer genius
than Mandeville, the illustrious Rawleigh, remained much the same.

To explain some of those incredible incidents which occurred to the
author himself might exercise some critical ingenuity. Mandeville's
adventure in "the Valley Perilous," when he saw the Devil's head with
eyes of flame, great plenty of gold and silver, which he was too
frightened to touch, and, moreover, a multitude of dead bodies, as if a
battle had been fought there, might probably be resolved into some
volcanic eruption, the rest supplied by his own horrifying imagination;
for he tells, with great simplicity, "I was more devout then than ever I
was before or after, and all for the dread of fiends that _I saw in
divers figures_;" that is, at the _shapes_ of the disparted rocks. The
travellers were beaten down by tempests, winds, and thunder, which raged
in this pent-up vale. As he marks the locality, the spot may yet be

There was no imposition practised in all such legends; it is we who are
startled by the supernatural in a personal narrative; but in the
fourteenth century the more wonderful the tale, the more authentic it
appeared, as it sunk into the softest and richest moulds of the most
germinating imagination. The readers, or the hearers, were as well
prepared to believe, as the writers prompt to gather up, their fictions.
Collections of "Mirabilia Mundi," "Wonders," were a fashionable title
applied to any single country, as well as to the world--to England or
Ireland, to the Holy Land or the Indies. The "Mirabilia" might be the
running title for a whole system of geography. The age of imagination
has long been unfurnished of all its ingenious garniture, and yet we
still catch at some evanescent hour of fancy susceptible of those
ancient delights. We have lost something for which we have no
substitute. Would not the modern novelist rejoice in the privilege of
intermingling supernatural inventions to break the level of his
every-day incidents and his trivial passions so soon forgotten? But that
glowing day has set, leaving none of its ethereal hues in our cold
twilight. Mandeville may still be read for those wild arabesques which
so long unjustly proved fatal to his authentic narrative. His simplicity
often warrants its truth; he assures us that Jerusalem is placed in the
middle of the earth, because when he stuck his staff in the ground,
exactly at noon, it cast no shadow; and having ascertained the spherical
form of the globe, he marvels how the antipodes, whose feet are right
upwards towards us, yet do not fall into the firmament! When he
describes the elegant ornaments of "a vine made of gold that goeth all
about the hall, with many bunches of grapes, some white, and the red
made of rubies," he tells what he had seen in some divan; but when he
records that "the Emperor hath in his chamber a pillar of gold, in which
is a ruby and carbuncle a foot long, which lighteth all his chamber by
night," it may be questioned whether this carbuncle be anything more
than an Arabian fancy, a tale to which he had listened. Some of his
ocular marvels have been confirmed by no questionable authority.
Mandeville's description of a magical exhibition before the Khan of
Tartary is a remarkable instance of the strange optical illusions of the
scenical art, and the adroitness of the Indian jugglers--a similar scene
appears in a recent version of the autobiography of the Emperor Akber.
What seemed the spells of magic to the Europeans of that age, and of
which some marvellous descriptions were brought to Europe by the
crusaders or the pilgrims, and embellished the romances, our exquisite
masques and our grand pantomimes have realized. Three centuries were to
elapse ere the court of England could rival the necromancy of the court
of Tartary.

Mandeville first composed his travels in the Latin language, which he
afterwards translated into French, and lastly out of French into
English, that "every man of my nation may understand it." We see the
progressive estimation of the languages by this curious statement which
Mandeville has himself given. The author first secured the existence of
his work in a language familiar to the whole European world; the French
was addressed to the politer circles of society; and the last language
the author cared about was the vernacular idiom, which, at that time the
least regarded, required all the patriotism of the writer in this
devotion of his pen.

Copies of these travels were multiplied till they almost equalled in
number those of the Scriptures; now we may smile at the "mervayles" of
the fourteenth century, and of Mandeville, but it was the spirit of
these intrepid and credulous minds which has marched us through the
universe. To the children of imagination perhaps we owe the
circumnavigation of the globe and the universal intercourse of


  [1] CTESIAS, a physician in high repute at the Persian Court, and
    often referred to by Diodorus. He has been universally condemned as a
    fabulous writer, to which charge his descriptions of some animals was
    liable. But a naturalist of the highest order, the famous CUVIER, has
    perhaps done an act of justice to this fabricator of animals. Ctesias
    reported the mythological creations which he had witnessed in
    hieroglyphical representations as actual living animals. It is
    glorious to remove from the darkened name of a writer, unjustly
    condemned, the obloquy of two thousand years.--"Theory of the Earth,"
    translated by Professor Jameson, 76.

  [2] Of modern editions of Mandeville's "Travels in England," that of
    1725, printed by Bowyer, is a large octavo. There are numerous
    manuscripts of Mandeville in existence. An edition collated might
    discover either omissions or interpolations. This might serve as the
    labour of an amateur. Mandeville has not had the fortune of his
    predecessor Marco Polo, to have met with a Marsden, learned in
    geographical and literary illustration.

    Long subsequently to the time that this article was written, this
    edition of 1725 has been reprinted, with the advantage of a
    bibliographical introduction by Mr. Halliwell, and a collation of
    texts. [It was published in 1839, in an octavo volume of 326 pages,
    with illustrative engravings from manuscripts and printed books.]


In the chronology of our poetical collectors, GOWER takes precedence of
CHAUCER unjustly, for Chaucer had composed many of his works in the only
language which he has written before the elder claimed the honours of an
English vernacular poet, and, probably, then only emulating the success
of him who first set the glorious example. Nor less in the rank of
poetry must Chaucer hold the precedence. The first true English poet is
Chaucer; and notwithstanding that the rhythmical cadences of his unequal
metre are now lost for us, Chaucer is the first modeller of the heroic
couplet and other varieties of English versification. By the felicity of
his poetic character, Chaucer was not only the parent, but the master,
of those two schools of poetry which still divide its votaries by an
idle rivalry, and which have been traced, like our architecture, the one
to a Gothic origin, and the other to a classical model.

The personal history of CHAUCER, poetical and political, might have been
susceptible of considerable development had the poet himself written it,
for his biographers had no life to record. Speght, one of the early
editors, in the good method of that day, having set down a variety of
heads, including all that we might wish to know of any man, when this
methodiser of commonplaces came to fill up these well-planned divisions
concerning Chaucer, he could only disprove what was accepted, and supply
only what is uncertain. The "Life of Chaucer" by Godwin is a theoretical
life, and, as much as relates to Chaucer himself, a single fatal fact,
when all was finished, dispersed the baseless vision.[1] The whole
rested on the unauthenticated and contradictory statements of Leland,
who, writing a century after the times of Chaucer, hastily collected
unsubstantial traditions, and, what was less pardonable in Leland, fell
into some anachronisms.

This defective chronology in the life of the poet has involved the more
important subject of the chronology of his works. Posterity may be
little concerned in the dates of his birth and his burial--his unknown
parentage--his descriptive name--and, above all, his suspicious shield,
which the heralds opined must have been blazoned out of the
twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth propositions of the first book of
Euclid, from the poet's love of geometry, or, more obviously, from
having no coat-of-arms to show of "far more ancient antiquity." But
posterity would have been interested in the history of the genius of
Chaucer, who having long paced in a lengthened circuit of verbal version
and servile imitation, passed through some remarkable transitions,
kindling the cold ashes of translation into the fire of invention; from
cloudy allegory breaking forth into the sunshine of the loveliest
landscape-painting; and from the amatory romance gliding into that vein
of humour and satire which in his old age poured forth a new creation.
All this he might himself have told, or Gower might have revealed, had
the elder bard who lauded the lays and "ditties" of the youth of "the
Clerk of Venus" loved him as well in his old age. But elegant
literature, as distinguished from scholastic, was then without price or
reward. The few men of genius who have written at this early period are
only known to us by their writings, and probably were more known to
their contemporaries by the station which they may have occupied, than
by that which they maintain with posterity.

By royal patents and grants to the poet, we trace his early life at
court, his various appointments, and his honourable missions to Genoa
and to France--we must not add as confidently his visit to Petrarch.

Chaucer, in his political life, was bound up with the party of John of
Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; and, by a congenial spirit, with the novel
doctrines of his friend, Dr. Wickliffe. The sister of his lady finally
became the third Duchess of Lancaster, and the family alliance
strengthened the political bond. How the Lancastrian exploded in the
poet, something we know, but little we comprehend; and those who have
attempted to lift the veil have not congratulated themselves on their
success. The poet himself has not entrusted his secret to posterity,
except, as is usual with poets, by eloquent lamentations. The exposition
of a political transaction is never without some valued results; and
though deprived of names and dates, we are not without some dim lights:
the palpable truth may not be obvious, but it may happen that we may
stumble on it.

Chaucer himself has stated, "In _my youth_ I was drawn in to be
assenting to certain _conjurations_ and other _great matters of ruling
of citizens_, and those things have been my _drawers in and exciters_ in
the matters _so painted and coloured_, that _first_ to me seemed then
_noble and glorious for all the people_."

Here the tale is plain, for this is the language of one who early in
life had engaged in some popular scheme, and these early indications of
the temper of the Wickliffite or the Lancastrian, or both, had
subsequently led to some more perilous attempts. They were, like all
reforms, something "noble and glorious for the people," and as sometimes
happens among reformers, what _at first_ appeared to promise so well,
ended in disappointment and "penance in a dark prison."

The locality of this patriotic act was the city of London. He alludes to
"free elections by great clamours of much people," for great disease of
misgovernment in the hands of "_torcentious citizens_." When the fatal
day arrived that he openly joined with a party for "the people," against
those citizens whom he has so awfully denounced, it is evident, though
we have no means to discriminate factions in an age of factions,[2]
that he and his "conjurors" discovered that "all the people" were not of
one mind. This votary or this victim of reform suddenly flings his
contempt at "the hatred of the mighty senators of London or of its
commonalty," and closes with a painful remembrance of "the janglings of
THE SHEEPY PEOPLE!" The style of Chaucer bears the stamp of passionate
emotions; words of dimension, or of poignant sarcasm. The "torcentious
citizens" is an awful bolt, and "the sheepy people" is sufficiently

In dismay the whole party took flight. Chaucer, in Zealand, exhausted
his means to supply the wants of his political associates, till he
himself found that even the partnership of common misery does not always
preserve men from ingratitude. Returning home, potent persecutors cast
him into a dungeon. Was the Duke of Lancaster absent, or the Duke of
Gloucester in power? Let us observe that in all these dark events the
loyalty of the poet is never impeached, for Chaucer enjoyed without
interruption the favour of both his sovereigns, Edward III. and Richard
II.; and we discover that once when dismissed from office, Richard
allowed him to serve by deputy, which was evidence that Chaucer had
never been dismissed by the king himself. The whole transaction,
whatever it was, was a political movement between two factions. Chaucer
indeed pleads that whatever he had done was under the control of others,
himself being but "the servant of his sovereign." At that period the
factions in the state were more potent than the monarch. In the
convulsive administration of a youthful prince, they who oppose the
court are not necessarily opposing the sovereign.

It was behind the bars of a gloomy window in the Tower, where "every
hour appeared to be a hundred winters," that Chaucer, recent from exile,
and sore from persecution, was reminded of a work popular in those days,
and which had been composed in a dungeon--"The Consolations of
Philosophy," by Boethius--and which he himself had formerly translated.
He composed his "TESTAMENT OF LOVE," substituting for the severity of an
abstract being the more genial inspiration of love itself. But the
fiction was a reality, and the griefs were deeper than the fancies. In
this chronicle of the heart the poet mourns over "the delicious hours he
was wont to enjoy," of his "richesse," and now of his destitution--the
vain regret of his abused confidence--the treachery of all that
"summer-brood" who never approach the lost friend in "the winter hour"
of an iron solitude. The poet energetically describes his condition;
there he sate "witless, thoughtful; and sightless, looking." This work
the poet has composed in prose; but in the leisure of a prison the
diction became more poetical in thoughts and in words than the language
at that time had yet attained to, and for those who read the black
letter it still retains its impressive eloquence.

But this apology which Chaucer has left of his conduct in this political
transaction has incurred a fatal censure. "Never," observes Mr.
Campbell, "was an obscure affair conveyed in a more obscure apology."
His political integrity has been freely suspected. Chaucer has even been
struck by the brilliant arrow of the Viscount de Chateaubriand.
"Courtisan, Lancastrien, Wickliffist, infidèle à ses convictions,
traitre à son parti, tantôt banni, tantôt voyageur, tantôt en faveur,
tantôt en disgrace." No, thou eloquent Gaul! Chaucer never was out of
favour, however he may have been more than once dismissed from his
office; nor can we know whether the poet was ever "infidèle à ses

Obscure must ever remain the tale of justification in a political
transaction which terminated on the part of the apologist by revealing
"disclosures for the peace of the kingdom," denied by those whom they
implicated, though their truth was offered to be maintained by the
accuser, in the custom of the times, by single combat; and by
confessions which acknowledge errors of judgment, but not of intention;
and by penitence, which, if the patriot designed what was "glorious to
all the people," he should never have repented of.

This obscure apology conceals the agony of conflicting
emotions--indignation at ungrateful associates, and a base desertion of
ancient friends, who were plotting against him. Whether Chaucer was
desirous of burying in obscurity a story of torturous details, or one
too involved in confused motives for any man to tell with the precision
of a simple statement, we know of no evidence which can enable us to
decide with any certainty on an affair which no one pretends to
understand. Chaucer might have been the scapegoat of the sovereign, or
the champion of the people. We can rather decide on his calamity than
his conduct. Many are the causes which may dissolve the bonds of
faithless "conjurations;" and it is not always he who abandons a party
who is to be criminated by political tergiversation.

The circumstances of Chaucer's life had combined with his versatile
powers. He had mingled with the world's affairs both at home and abroad:
accomplished in manners, and intimately connected with a splendid court,
Chaucer was at once the philosopher who had surveyed mankind in their
widest sphere, the poet who haunted the solitudes of nature, and the
elegant courtier whose opulent tastes are often discovered in the
graceful pomp of his descriptions. It was no inferior combination of
observation and sympathy which could bring together into one company the
many-coloured conditions and professions of society, delineated with
pictorial force, and dramatised by poetic conception, reflecting
themselves in the tale which seemed most congruous to their humours. The
perfect identity of these assembled characters, after the lapse of near
five centuries, make us familiar with the domestic habits and modes of
thinking of a most interesting period in our country, not inspected by
the narrow details of the antiquarian microscope, but in the broad
mirror reflecting that truth or satire which alone could have
discriminated the passions, the pursuits, and the foibles of society.
Thus the painter of nature, who caught the glow of her skies and her
earth in his landscape, was also the miniature portrayer of human
likenesses. When Chaucer wrote, the classics of antiquity were
imperfectly known in this country--the Grecian muse had never reached
our shores; this was, probably, favourable to the native freedom of
Chaucer. The English poet might have lost his raciness by a cold
imitation of the Latin masters; among the Italians, Dante, Petrarch, and
Boccaccio, Chaucer found only models to emulate or to surpass. Hence the
English bard indulged that more congenial abundance of thoughts and
images which owns no other rule than the pleasure it yields in the
profusion of nature and fancy. A great poet may not be the less Homeric
because he has never read Homer.

Nature in her distinct forms lies open before this poet-painter; his
creative eye pursued her through all her mutability, but in his details
he was a close copier. In his rural scenery there is a freshness in its
luxuriance; for his impressions were stamped by their locality. This
locality is so remarkable, that Pope had a notion, which he said no one
else had observed, that Chaucer always described real places to
compliment the owners of particular gardens and fine buildings. Let us
join him in his walks--

  When that the misty vapour was agone,
  And clear and fair was the morníng,
  The dews, like silver, shiníng
  Upon the leaves.

The flowers sparkle in "their divers hues"--he sometimes counts their
colours--"white, blue, yellow, and red"--on their stalks, spreading
their leaves in breadth against the sun, gold-burned. His grass is "so
small, so thick, so fresh of hue." The poet goes by a river whose water
is "clear as beryl or crystal;" turning into "a little way" towards a
park in compass round, and by a small gate.

  Whoso that would freely might gone (go)
  Into this Park walled with green stone.

The owner of that park, probably, was startled when he came to "the
little way," and to "the small gate." This was either the park of some
great personage, or possibly Woodstock Park, where stood a stone lodge,
so long known by the name of "Chaucer's House," that in the days of
Elizabeth it was still described as such in the royal grant. If poets
have rarely built houses, at least their names have consecrated many.


  Garden upon a river in a green mead;
  The gravel gold, the water pure as glass,

and "the eglantine and sycamore arbour, so thickly woven, where the
priers who stood without all day could not discover whether any one was
within," was assuredly some particular garden. The stately grove has all
the characters of its trees--the oak, the ash, and the fir--to "the
fresh hawthorn,"

  Which in white motley that so swote doth smell.

In all these lovely scenes there was a delicious sense of joyous
existence; the inmates of the forest burst forth, from "the little
conies, the beasts of gentle kind," to "the dreadful roe and the buck,"
and from their green leaves they who "with voice of angels" entranced
the poet-musician--

  So loud they sang that all the woodés rung
  Like as it should shiver in pieces small,
  And as methought that the Nightingale
  With so great might her voice out-wrest,
  Right as her heart for love would brest (burst).

So true is the accidental remark of the celebrated Charles Fox, that "of
all poets Chaucer seems to have been the fondest of the singing of
birds." These were the peculiar delights in the poetic habits of
Chaucer, who was an early riser, and often mused on many a rondel in
gardens, and meads, and woods, at earliest dawn. This poet's sun-risings
are the most exhilarating in our poetry.

We may doubt if the vernal scenes of Chaucer can be partaken by his more
chilly posterity. Did England in the seasons of Chaucer flourish with a
more genial May and a more refulgent June? Or should we suspect that the
travelled poet clothed our soil with the luxuriance of Provençal fancy,
and borrowed the clear azure of Italy to soften the British roughness
even of our skies?

Tyrwhit, the able commentator of Chaucer, has thrown out an incidental
remark, which seems equally refined and true. "Chaucer in his serious
pieces often follows his author with the servility of a mere translator;
and in consequence his narration is jejune and constrained (as often
appears in the "Romaunt of the Rose" and his translations of Dante),
whereas in the comic he is generally satisfied with borrowing a slight
hint of his subject, which he varies, enlarges, and embellishes at
pleasure, and gives the whole the air and colour of an original; a sure
sign that his genius rather led him to compositions of the latter kind."

This remark is an instance of critical sagacity. The creative faculty in
Chaucer had not broken forth in his translations, which evidently were
his earliest writings. The native bent of his genius, the hilarity of
his temper, betrays itself by playful strokes of raillery and concealed
satire when least expected. His fine irony may have sometimes left his
commendations, or even the objects of his admiration, in a very
ambiguous condition. The learned editor of the second part of the
"Paston Letters" hence has been induced to infer that the spirit of
chivalry, from the reign of the third Edward, had entirely declined, and
only existed in the forms of conventional and fashionable society, and
had sunk into a mere foppery, a system of forms and etiquettes, because
Chaucer, a court-poet, treats with irony the chivalric manners. Whether
this ingenious inference will hold with literary antiquaries, I will not
decide; but I am inclined to suspect that Chaucer's indulgence of his
taste for irony was not in the mind of this learned editor. Our poet has
stamped with his immortal ridicule the tale told in his own person--"The
Rime of Sir Thopas," which is considered as a burlesque of the metrical
romances. In those days there was an inundation of these romances, as
"the thirst and hunger" of the present is accommodated with as spurious
a brood. We have our "drafty prose" as they had their "drafty riming."
But shall we infer from this ludicrous effusion of the great poet, that
he held so light the venerable fablers, the ancient romancers, with
whose "better parts" he had nourished his own genius? This is his own
confession. Often in his years of grief, when the poet wondered

  How he lived, for day ne night,
  I may not sleep--
  Sitting upright in my bed,

then it was that he prescribed for his "secret sorrows" that medicine
which, "drunk deeply," makes us forget ourselves. In those hours the

  Bade one reach me a Boke,
  A ROMANCE, and he it me took
  To read, and drive the Night away;
  For methought it better play
  Than play either at Chess or Tables.

And assuredly Chaucer found many passages in the old fablers not less
entrancing than some of his own. Our poet indulged this vein of playful
irony on persons as well as on things. A sly panegyric, sufficiently
ambiguous for us to accept as a refined stroke, we find on the abstruse
and interminable question of predestination; on which the Nonne's priest

  But I ne cannot boult it to the bren,
  As can the holy doctor Augustín,
  Or Boecé, or _the bishop Bradwardín_.

As this bishop, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, was the first who
treated theology on mathematical principles, and likewise wrote on the
"Quadrature of the Circle," we may presume "Bishop Bradwardin" rather
perplexed the poet. Chaucer discovers his ironical manner when gravely
stating the different theories of dreaming--

  ---------What causeth Suevenes[3]
  On the morrow or on evens?

he playfully concludes, and modern philosophy could no better assist the

  ---------Whoso of these Miracles
  The causes know bet[4] than I
  Define he, for I certainly
  Ne can them not, ne never thinke
  To busie my witte for to swinke
  To know why this is more than that is,
  Well worthé of this thing Clerkés,
  That treaten of this and of other werkés,
  For I, of none opinion

It is with the same pleasantry he avoids all commonplace descriptions,
by playfully suggesting his pretended unskilfulness for the detail, or
his want of learning--

  Me list not of the chaf, ne of the stre,
  Maken so long a tale, as of the corn.
                        "Man of Lawe's Ta'e."

Yet humour and irony are not his only excellences, for those who study
Chaucer know that this great poet has thoughts that dissolve in
tenderness; no one has more skilfully touched the more hidden springs of
the heart.

The Herculean labour of CHAUCER was the creation of a new style. In this
he was as fortunate as he was likewise unhappy. He mingled with the
native rudeness of our English words of Provençal fancy, and some of
French and of Latin growth. He banished the superannuated and the
uncouth, and softened the churlish nature of our hard Anglo-Saxon; but
the poet had nearly endangered the novel diction when his artificial
pedantry assumed what he called "the ornate style" in "the Romaunt of
the Rose," and in his "Troilus and Cressida." This "ornate style"
introduced sesquipedalian Latinisms, words of immense dimensions, that
could not hide their vacuity of thought. Chaucer seems deserted by his
genius when "the ornate style" betrays his pangs and his anxiety. As the
error of a fine genius becomes the error of many, because monstrous
protuberances may be copied, while the softened lines of beauty remain
inimitable, this "ornate style" corrupted inferior writers, who, losing
all relish of the natural feeling and graceful simplicity of their
master, filled their verse with noise and nonsense. This vicious style,
a century afterwards, was resumed by STEPHEN HAWES. We have, however, a
glorious evidence, amid this struggle both with a new and with a false
style, of Chaucer's native good taste; he finally wholly abandoned this
artificial diction; and his later productions, no longer disfigured by
such tortured phrases and such remote words, awaken our sympathy in the
familiar language of life and passion.

TYRWHIT has ingeniously constructed a metrical system to arrange the
versification to the ear of a modern reader; by this contrivance he
would have removed all obstructions in the pronunciation and in the
syllabic quantities. He maintained that the lines were regular
decasyllabics. But who can read this poet for any length, even the
"Canterbury Tales" in the elaborated text of Tyrwhit, without being
reminded of its fallacy? Even the E final, on which our critic has laid
such stress, though often sounded, assuredly is sometimes mute. Dan
Chaucer makes at his pleasure words long or short, and dyssyllabic or
trisyllabic; and this he has himself told us--

  But for the rime is light and lewde,
  Yet make it somewhat agreáble,
  Though some verse fail in a sylláble.

Our critic was often puzzled by his own ingenuity, for in some
inveterate cases he has thrown out in despair an observation, that "a
reader who cannot perform such operations for himself (that is, helping
out the metre) had better not trouble his head about the versification
of our ancient authors." The verse of Chaucer seems more carefully
regulated in his later work, "the Tales;" but it is evident that Chaucer
trusted his cadences to his ear, and his verse is therefore usually
rhythmical, and accidentally metrical.

On a particular occasion the poet submitted to the restraint of equal
syllables, as we discover in "The Court of Love," elaborately metrical,
and addressed to "his princely lady," with the hope that she might not
refuse it "for lack of ornate speech." It is evident, therefore, that
Chaucer had a distinct conception of the heroic or decasyllabic verse,
but he did not consider that the mechanical construction of his verse
was essential to the free spirit of his fancy. "I am no metrician," he
once exclaimed; he wrote

  Books, songs, ditees
  In RIME, or else in CADENCE.
                   "The House of Fame."

This circumstance arose from the custom of the age, when poems were
_recited_, and not _read_; readers there were none among the people,
though auditors were never wanting; it was much the same among the
higher orders. Poems were usually performed in plain chant, and a verse
was musical by the modulation of the harp. There was no typographical
metre placed under the eye of the reciter; the melody of the poet too
often depended on the adroitness of the performer; and the only
publishers of the popular poems of Chaucer were the harpers, who, in
stately halls on festal days, entranced their audience with Chaucer's
Tale, or his "Ballade." His poem of "Troilus and Cressida," although
almost as long as the Æneid, was intended to be _sung_ to the harp as
well as _read_, as the poet himself tells us, in addressing his poem---

  And _redde_ where so thou be, or elles _sung_.

In the most ancient manuscripts of Chaucer's works the cæsura in every
line is carefully noted, to preserve the rhythmical cadence with
precision; without this precaution the harmony of such loose
versification would be lost. In the later editions, when the race of
roaming minstrels had departed, and our verse had become solely
metrical, the printers omitted this guide to the ancient recitation. We
perceive this want in the uncertain measures of Chaucer's versification;
and a dexterous modulation is still required to catch the recitative of
Chaucer's poems.

Are the works of our great poet to be consigned to the literary dungeon
of the antiquary's closet? I fear that there is more than one
obstruction which intervenes between the poet's name, which will never
die, and the poet's works, which will never be read. A massive tome,
dark with the Gothic type, whose obsolete words and difficult phrases,
and, for us, uncadenced metre, are to be conned by a glossary as
obsolete as the text, to be perpetually referred to, to the interruption
of all poetry and all patience, appalled even the thorough-paced
antiquary, Samuel Pegge, as appears by his honest confession. Already a
practised bibliosopher proclaims, alluding to the edition by Tyrwhit of
Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," "And who reads any other portion of the
poet?" Yet the "Canterbury Tales" are but the smallest portion of
Chaucer's works! But some skilful critics have perpended and decided
differently: even among the projected labours of Johnson was an edition
of Chaucer's works; and Godwin, when diligently occupied on this great
poet, with just severity observed that "a vulgar judgment had been
propagated by slothful and indolent persons, that the 'Canterbury Tales'
are the only part of the works of Chaucer worthy the attention of a
modern reader, and this has contributed to the wretched state in which
his works are permitted to exist."

Are we then no longer to linger over the visionary emotions of the great
poet in the fine portraitures of his genius from his youthful days, when
the fever of his soul, not knowing where to seek for its true aliment,
careless of life, fed on its own sad musings, in Chaucer's "DREME," or,
onwards in life, in the "TESTAMENT OF LOVE," that chronicle of the heart
in a prison solitude? And are we no longer interested in those personal
traits Chaucer has so frequently dropped of his own tastes and humours,
so that we are in fact better acquainted with Chaucer than we are with
Shakspeare? Even during his official occupations, this poet loved his
studious solitary nights, and frequently alludes to his passion. Must we
close that "HOUSE OF FAME," with whose fragments Pope reared "The
Temple?" Has all the enchantment of the moonlight-land of chivalry and
fairyism in "THE FLOURE AND THE LEAFE" vanished? Are we no longer to
listen to "THE COMPLAINT OF THE BLACK KNIGHT," which touched a duchess
or a queen? or the stanzas of "THE CUCKOO AND THE NIGHTINGALE," which
musically resound that musical encounter? Is the legend of pathetic
tenderness in the impassioned "TROILUS," and "the sillie woman who
falsed Troilus," ever to be closed? there may we pursue the vicissitudes
of love, in what the poet calls "a little tragedy;" and we find Ovidian
graces amid its utter simplicity. There are, indeed, vicissitudes of
taste as well as of love. "Troilus and Cressida" was the favourite in
the days of Henry VIII. over the "Canterbury Tales" and "The Floure and
the Leafe;" it was, too, the model of Sidney in the court of Elizabeth;
Love triumphed at court over Humour and Fancy.

It is true that the language of Chaucer has failed, but not the writer.
The marble which Chaucer sculptured has betrayed the noble hand of the
artist; the statue was finished; but the grey and spotty veins came
forth, clouding the lucid whiteness.

For the poet or the poetical, the difficulty of the language may be
surmounted with a reasonable portion of every-day patience. I know, from
several of my literary contemporaries, that this, however, has not been
conceded. The more familiar I became with Chaucer, the more I delighted
in the significance of the Chaucerian words. From some modern critics,
occasionally the name of Chaucer startles the ear. One, indeed, has
recently complained that "Chaucer's divine qualities are languidly
acknowledged by his unjust countrymen;"[5] and Coleridge emphatically
said, "I take unceasing delight in Chaucer. His manly cheerfulness is
especially delicious in my old age. How exquisitely tender he is!"[6]

But the popularity of this gifted child of nature, and this shrewd
observer of mankind, is doomed to another obstruction than that of his
curious diction. The playfulness of his comic invention, and the freedom
of his simplicity, will no longer be allowed to atone for the levity of
some of his incidents. When Warton, to display the genuine vein of the
Chaucerian humour, imprudently analysed the "Miller's Tale," having
reached the middle, the critic, recollecting himself, suddenly breaks
off with a curt remark--"The sequel cannot be repeated here!" In a
recklessness of all knowledge, and in an unhappy hour, the poet of "Don
Juan" decided, while he probably would have started from Chaucer's
black-letter tome, that "Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed
on him, I think obscene and contemptible. He owed his celebrity merely
to his antiquity." As if the greatest of our poets had only been
celebrated in the day when Byron wrote! Yet in all the unfettered
invention and nudity of style, there was no grossness in the temper, and
less in the habits, of the poet. He addressed his own age as his
contemporaries were doing in France and in Italy, and from whom he had
borrowed the very two tales on which this censure has fallen. In telling
"a merrie tale," Chaucer could not have anticipated this charge; and, in
truth, for subjects which are obscene and disgustful he had no taste, as
he showed in his reproof of Gower for having selected two repulsive
ones--the unnatural passions of Canace and Apollonius Tyrius. Of these
our Chaucer cries,--

  Of all swiche cursed stories I say, Fy!

Our poet has himself pleaded that having fixed on his personage, he had
no choice to tell any other tale than what that individual would himself
have told. Before we immolate Chaucer on the altar of the Graces, we
should not only listen to his plea, but to his own easy remedy for this
disorder produced by his too faithful copy after nature.

  --------Whoso list not to hear,
  Turn over the leaf, and chese another tale!

Our notions and our customs of delicacy are the result of a change in
our manners of no distant period; and, compared with our neighbours,
many are still but conventional. They are so even in respect to
ourselves, for, not to go back to the golden days of Elizabeth, the
language and the manners of the court of Anne would have startled modern
decorum. The "polite conversation" of Swift has fortunately preserved
for us specimens which we could not have imagined. Our poems, our
comedies, and our tales, so late as the days of Swift and Pope, have
allusions, and even incidents and descriptions, which we no longer
tolerate. How far our fastidiousness lies on the surface of our lesser
morals, I will not decide; but men of genius have complained that this
fastidiousness has become too restrictive, by contracting the sphere of
inventive humour, which flashes often in such small matters as ludicrous
tales and playful levities, which must not lie on our tables.

Chaucer long remained a favourite in the most polite circles; Aubrey, at
the close of the seventeenth century, in his "Idea," recommends the
study of Chaucer, as the poet in full reputation. At a later period, the
days of Dryden and Pope, our versifiers were continually renovating his
humour and his more elegant fictions. OGLE, with others, attempted to
modernize Chaucer; but it is as impossible to give such a version of
Chaucer as to translate the Odes of Horace. They corrupted by their
interpolations, and weakened by their diffusion; Chaucer was not
discernible in the dimness of their paraphrase. The great beauties of
Chaucer spring up from the soil in which they lie embedded; and the most
skilful hand will discover that in gathering the flower it must cease to
live without its root.

We never possessed a tolerably correct edition of this master-poet; and
the very circumstance of the continued popularity of the poems with the
many has occasioned their present wretched condition. When works
circulated in their manuscript state, before the era of printing, the
popularity of a poet made his text the more liable to corruption.
Multiplied transcripts were produced by heedless or licentious scribes,
whose careless omissions, and whose perpetuated blunders and even
interpolations can only be credited by the collators of the manuscripts
of Chaucer. This happened with the very first printed edition by Caxton.
Our patriarchal publisher discovered that he had printed from a very
faulty manuscript, and, in that primitive age of simplicity and
printing, nobly suppressed the edition which dishonoured the author, and
substituted an improved one. Doubtless GOWER, a grave and learned poet,
whose copies are remarkably elegant, has descended to us in a purer
condition than CHAUCER, for he was rarely transcribed. Speght was the
first editor who gave a more complete edition of Chaucer, with the
useful appendage of a glossary, the first of its kind, and which has
been a fortunate acquisition for later glossographers. But Speght, with
the aid of Stowe, who was equally industrious, was so deficient in
critical acumen, as to have impounded any stray on the common stamped
with the initials of Chaucer. Thus our poet has suffered all the
mischances of faithless scribes, unintelligent printers, and uncritical
editors. To make the bad worse, the last modern edition of Chaucer, by
URRY, though recommended by the white letter, offering this bland relief
to a modern reader, is a showy volume, of which we are forbidden to read
a line! The history of this edition is an evidence how ill our scholars,
at no remote period, were qualified to decide on the fate of a great
vernacular author. Urry, the pupil of Dean Aldrich, and the friend of
Bishop Atterbury, appears to have been one of that galaxy or confederacy
of wits called "the Wits of Christ Church." The "Student of Christ
Church, Oxon," offered a title and a place which would sanction an
edition of Chaucer; one object of which was to contribute five hundred
pounds to finish Peckwater Quadrangle. The pompous folio appeared
heralded by the queen's licence for the exclusive sale for fourteen
years. Our editor at first seems to have been reluctant and modest, till
instigated by his great patrons to divest himself of all fear of the
author. In his innocence conceiving that the strokes of his own pen
would silently improve an obsolete genius, this merciless interpolator,
changing words and syllables at pleasure, has furnished a text which
Chaucer never wrote![7] If the worst edition that was ever published
contributed to finish Peckwater Quadrangle, it is amusing to be reminded
that causes are often strangely disproportionate to their effects.

The famous portion of Chaucer's Miscellaneous Volume has been fortunate
in the editorial cares of TYRWHIT. Tyrwhit, a scholar as well as an
antiquary, was an expert philologer; his extensive reading in the lore
of our vernacular literature and our national antiquities promptly
supplied what could not have entered into his more classical studies;
and his sagacity seems to have decided on the various readings of all
the manuscripts, by piercing into the core of the poet's thoughts.[8]

It is remarkable that some of the most lively productions of several
great writers have been the work of their maturest age. Johnson
surpassed all his preceding labours in his last work, the popular Lives
of the Poets. The "Canterbury Tales" of Chaucer were the effusions of
his advanced age, and the congenial verses of Dryden were thrown out in
the luxuriance of his later days. Milton might have been classed among
the minor poets had he not lived to be old enough to become the most
sublime. Let it be a source of consolation, if not of triumph, in a long
studious life of true genius, to know that the imagination may not
decline with the vigour of the frame which holds it; there has been no
old age for many men of genius.

We must lament that at such an early period in our vernacular
literature, we have to record that the two fathers of our poetry,
congenial spirits as they were, too closely resembled most of their
sons--in one of the most painful infirmities of genius. I have said
elsewhere that jealousy, long supposed to be the offspring of little
minds, is not, however, confined to them. We do not possess the secret
history of the two great poets, Chaucer and Gower; but we are told by
Berthelet in his edition of Gower's "Confessio Amantis," when he quotes
the commendatory lines on Gower by Chaucer, that the poets "were both
excellently learned, _both great friendes together_." Ancient
biographers usually fall into this vague style of eulogy, which served
their purpose rather than a more critical research. True it is that
"they were both great friends," but, what Berthelet has not told, they
became also "both great enemies." We know that Chaucer has commemorated
the dignified merits of "the moral Gower," and that Gower has poured
forth an effusion not less fervid than elegant from the lips of Venus,
who calls Chaucer "her own clerk, who in the flower of his youth had
made ditees and songes glad which have filled the land." Did this little
passion of poetic jealousy creep into their great souls? Else how did it
happen that Chaucer, who had once solicited the correcting hand of his
friend, in his latest work, reprehended the sage and the poet, and that
Gower, who had not stinted the rich meed of his eulogy which appeared in
the first copies of his "Confessio Amantis," erased the immortality
which he had bestowed. The justice of their reciprocal praise neither of
these rivals could efface, for that outlives their little jealousies.


  [1] After Godwin had sent to press his biography of Chaucer, a
    deposition on the poet's age in the Herald's College detected the
    whole erroneous arrangement: as the edifice so ingeniously
    constructed had fallen on the aërial architect, he alleged truly that
    the deposition "contradicted the received accounts of all the
    biographers;" in fact, they had repeated original misstatements. The
    appendix, therefore, to the history of this modern biographer stands
    as a perpetual witness against its authenticity;--there are some
    histories to which an appendix might prove to be as fatal. In this
    dilemma, our bold sophist was "absurd and uncharitable enough" to add
    one more conjecture to his "Life of Chaucer,"--that "the poet, from a
    motive of vanity, had been induced _to state on oath_ that he was
    about forty when, in truth, he was fifty-eight!"--Hippisley's
    "Chapters on Early English Literature," 85.

  [2] It has been alleged by more than one writer, that this mysterious
    affair relates to the election for the mayoralty of John of
    Northampton, a Wickliffite and a Lancastrian. But Mr. Turner, whose
    researches are on a more extended scale than any of his predecessors,
    truly observes that--"There are other periods besides the one usually
    selected to which the personal evils which Chaucer complains of are
    applicable."--"Hist. of England," v. 296. It is as likely to have
    occurred when Nicholas Brambre, a confidential partisan of government
    in the City, appointed to the mayoralty by his party, caught "the
    Freemen" by ambushes of armed men, and turned the Guildhall into a
    fortress. At such a time "Free Elections" might have been considered
    by Chaucer as something "noble and glorious for all the people."

  [3] Dreams.

  [4] Better.

  [5] Autobiography of an Opium-Eater.--"Tait's Mag." August, 1835.

  [6] Coleridge's "Table-Talk."

  [7] So unskilful or so incurious was Warburton in the language of our
    ancient poets, that in his notes on Pope he quotes the following
    lines of Chaucer--

      "Love wol not be _constreined_ by maistrie.
      Whan maistrie cometh, the _God_ of love anon
      _Beteth_ his wings, and _farewel_, he is gon"--

    from Urry's edition, in which they appear thus transformed and

      Love will not be _confined_ by maisterie.
      When maisterie comes, the _Lord_ of love anon
      _Flutters_ his wings, and _forthwith_ is he gone.

    [An excellent example of the superior vigour of Chaucer may be seen
    in an original passage of his "Palamon and Arcite," contrasted with
    Dryden's tamer modernization of the same, in "Curiosities of
    Literature," vol. ii. p. 107.--ED.]

  [8] This "sagacity" has been much and justly questioned by the more
    advanced students of medieval literature. Sir Harris Nicolas has
    produced an excellent edition of the poet; but the best text of the
    "Canterbury Tales" has been published by Mr. Thos. Wright, from a
    careful collation of the oldest manuscript.--ED.


In the church of St. Saviour in Southwark may be viewed an ancient
monument with its sculptured and Gothic canopy; pictured on its side the
three visionary virgins, Charity, Mercy, and Pity, solicit the prayer of
the passenger for the soul of the suppliant whose image lies extended on
the tomb, with folded hands, and in his damask habit flowing to his
feet. His head reposes on three mighty tomes, and is decked with a
garland, either of roses which proclaim his knighthood, or the wreath of
literature which would more justly distinguish the wearer,--JOHN GOWER,
the poet.

In the life of this poet, almost the only certain incident seems to be
his sepulchral monument: and even this it had been necessary to repair
after the malignity of the Iconoclasts; and of the three sculptured
volumes which support the poet's head, a single one only has been opened
by the world, for the tomb has perpetuated what the press has not.

The three tomes on the tomb of Gower represent his three great works;
but what is remarkable, and shows the unsettled state of our literature,
each of these great works is written in a different language, though
equally graced with Latin titles. The first, in French, is the "Speculum
Meditantis;" the moral reflections relieved by historical examples. The
second, in Latin verse, is "Vox Clamantis;" this "Voice" comes not from
the desert, for it is that of the clamours of the people; a satire on
all ranks, and an exhortation to the youthful monarch to check his own
self-indulgence; it includes a chronicle of the insurrection of the
populace, or "the clowns," as they were called in Richard the Second's
reign. The vernacular style, rather than Latin verse, would have more
aptly celebrated the feats of Wat Tyler, or Bet and Sim, Gibbe and Hyke,
Hudde and Judde, Jack and Tib. The reporter had no doubt been present at
the active scene. The swarm rush on to the call of one another, in
hexameters and pentameters. The singularity of the subject, which gives
no bad picture of the hurry of a disorderly mob, and the felicity of an
old translation, induce me to preserve a partial extract from the
manuscript. Our own age has witnessed similar scenes.

  Watte vocat, cui Thome venit, neque Symme retardat,
    Betteque, Gibbe simul Hyke venire jubent.
  Colle furit, quem Gibbe juvat nocumenta parantes,
    Cum quibus ad dampnum Wille coire vovet.
  Grigge rapit, dam Dawe strepit, comes est quibus Hobbe,
    Lorkin et in medio non minor esse putat.
  Hudde ferit, quos Judde terit, dum Tebbe juvatur,
    Jacke domos que viros vellit, et ense necat.

  Tom comes, thereat, when called by Wat, and Simon as forward we find;
  Bet calls as quick to Gibb, and to Hyck that neither would tarry
  Gibbe, a good whelp of that litter, doth help mad Coll more mischief
    to do,
  And Will he doth vow, the time is come now, he'll join with their
    company too.
  Davie complains whiles Grigg gets the gains, and Hobb with them doth
  Lorkin aloud, in the midst of the crowd, conceiveth as deep is his
  Hudde doth spoil, whom Judde doth foile, and Tebbe lends his helping
  But Jack, the mad-patch, men and horses doth snatch, and kills all at
    his command.

The third and greater work, and the only printed one of Gower, is the
"Confessio Amantis," an English poem of about thirty thousand lines; a
singular miscellany of allegory, of morality, and of tales. It is
studded with sententious maxims and proverbs, and richly diversified
with narrations, pleasant and tragic; but the affectation of learning,
for learning in its crude state always obtrudes itself, even in works of
recreation, has compressed the Aristotelian philosophy, to edify and
surprise the readers of the poet's fairy or romantic tales. Robert de
Brunne, to illustrate monachal morals, interspersed domestic stories;
and amidst the prevalent penury of imagination, that rhyming monk
affords the most ancient specimens of English tales in verse: and as
Gower's single printed work is of the same species of composition, a
system of ethics illustrated by tales, it has been thought that the
monk who rhymed in 1300 was the true predecessor of the poet who
flourished at the close of that century, however Gower may have purified
the "rime doggrel," and elevated the puerile tale. The straw-roof must
be raised before the cupola. Genius in its genealogy must not blush at
its remote ancestor; the noblest knight may often go back to the mill or
the forge. If this rude moralising rhymer really be the poetical father
of Gower, then is this antiquated monk the inventor of that narrative
poetry which Chaucer, Spenser, Dryden, and even some of our
contemporaries, have so delightfully diversified. But story-telling has
been of all periods.

There is a portion in this volume which concerns the personal history of
the poet.

This work was composed at the suggestion of Richard the Second himself,
who among other luxuries loved Froissart's romance and Chaucer's rhymes,
and was even willing to be taught the grave lessons which he could not
practise. As Gower one day was rowed in his boat on the Thames, he met
his "liege lord" in the royal barge, who commanded the poet to enter,
and, in a long unrestrained conversation, desired him "to book some new
thing in the way he was used." Probably the youthful monarch alluded to
the "Vox Clamantis," in which the poet had exhorted his "liege lord" to
exercise every kingly virtue, and had without reserve touched on too
many imperfections of a court-life. It was to be "a book," added the
young monarch, "in which he himself might often look." The poet aspired
to fix the honour which he had received, and resolved, in his own words,

  To write in such a manner-wise,
  Which may be wisdom to the wise,
  And play to them that list to play.

In a word, we have here the great Horatian precept by the intuition of
our earliest poet.

The political admonitions, and the keen satire on the youthful
favourites of the youthful monarch of a luxurious court, and the relaxed
morals of the higher ranks, the clergy, and the judges, were all offered
with more than the freedom of a poet--they sound the deep tones of the
patriot. The sage had solemnly contemplated on the discontents and
clamours of the people, and presciently observed the rising of that
state-tempest, which in an instant dethroned this magnificent and
thoughtless prince.

In the course of the reign of Richard the Second it appears that several
alterations were made in the poem. The dedicatory preface was
suppressed. Berthelet, the ancient printer of the "Confessio Amantis,"
discovered that "the prologue" had disappeared, though the same number
of lines were substituted, "cleane contrary both in sentence and in
meaning." Gower has therefore incurred the reproach of a disloyal
desertion of his hapless master to court a successful usurper. One
critic tells that "he was given to change with the turns of state."
Bishop Nicholson, with dull levity, has a fling at all poets, for he
censures Gower for "making too free with his prince--a liberty, it
seems, allowed to men of his profession;" while Thomas Hearne, the blind
bigot of passive obedience, in editing a monkish life of Richard the
Second, would have all Gower condemned to oblivion, because "he had
treated the monarch's memory ill, and spoke with equal freedom of the
clergy." This vacillating conduct of "the moral Gower," however, need
not leave any stain on his memory. We see he had never at any time
adulated the youthful monarch; however his tales may have charmed the
royal ear, the verse often left behind a wholesome bitterness. Gower had
praised Henry of Lancaster at a period when he could not have
contemplated the change of dynasty; and when it happened, the poet was
of an age far too advanced either to partake of the hopes or the fears
that wait on a new reign.

But this tale of Gower's free and honest satire on courts and courtiers
is not yet concluded. The sphere of a poet's influence is far wider than
that of his own age; and however we may now deem of this grave and
ancient poet, he still found understanding admirers so late as in the
reign of Charles the First. In the curious "Conference" which took place
when Charles the First visited the Marquess of Worcester, at Ragland
Castle, with his court, there is the following anecdote respecting the
poet Gower.

The marquess was a shrewd though whimsical man, and a favourite of the
king for his frankness and his love of the arts. His lordship
entertained the royal guest with extraordinary magnificence. Among his
rare curiosities was a sumptuous copy of Gower's volume.

Charles the First usually visited the marquess after dinner. Once he
found his lordship with the book of John Gower lying open, which the
king said he had never before seen. "Oh!" exclaimed the marquess; "it is
a book of books! and if your majesty had been well versed in it, it
would have made you a king of kings." "Why so, my lord?" "Why, here is
set down how Aristotle brought up and instructed Alexander the Great in
all the rudiments and principles belonging to a prince." And under the
persons of Aristotle and Alexander, the marquess read the king such a
lesson that all the standers-by were amazed at his boldness.

The king asked whether he had his lesson by heart, or spake out of the
book? "Sir, if you would read my heart, it may be that you might find it
there; or if your majesty pleased to get it by heart, I will lend you my
book." The king accepted the offer.

Some of the new-made lords fretted and bit their thumbs at certain
passages in the marquess's discourse; and some protested that no man was
so much for the absolute power of a king as Aristotle. The marquess told
the king that he would indeed show him one remarkable passage to that
purpose; and turning to the place, read--

  A king can kill, a king can save;
  A king can make a lord a knave;
  And of a knave, a lord also.

On this several new-made lords slank out of the room, which the king
observing, told the marquess, "My lord, at this rate you will drive away
all my nobility."

This amusing anecdote is an evidence that this ethical poet, after two
centuries and a half, was not forgotten; his spirit was still vital, his
volume still lay open on the library table; it afforded a pungent lesson
to the courtiers of Charles the First as it had to those of Richard the

GOWER was learned, didactic, and dignified. The manuscripts of his works
are usually noble and sumptuous copies; more elegantly written and more
richly illuminated than the works of other poets. His commonplaces and
his legendary lore seem to have awed the simplicity of the readers of
two centuries, whose taste did not yet feel that failure of the poet who
narrated a fable from Ovid with the dull prolixity of a matter-of-fact
chronicler. His fictions are rarely imaginative; yet critics, far abler
judges of his relative merits than ourselves, since they lived within
the sphere of his influence, hailed this grave father of our poesy.
Leland, the royal antiquary of Henry the Eighth, expressed his ideas
with great elegance and sensibility, when he said of Gower that "his
diligent culture of our poesy had extirpated the ordinary herbs; and
that the soft violet and the purple narcissus were now growing, where
erst was nothing seen but the thistle and the thorn." There are indeed
some graceful flowers in his desert. But all criticism is usually
relative to the age, and excellence is always comparative. GOWER stamped
with the force of ethical reasoning his smooth rhymes; and this was a
near approach to poetry itself. If in the mind of CHAUCER we are more
sensible of the impulses of genius--those creative and fugitive
touches--his diction is more mixed and unsettled than the tranquil
elegance of GOWER, who has often many pointed sentences and a surprising
neatness of phrase. A modern reader, I think, would find the style of
Gower more easily intelligible than the higher efforts of the more
inventive poet.


Contemporary with GOWER and CHAUCER lived the singular author of "The
Visions of William concerning PIERS PLOUGHMAN;" singular in more
respects than one, for his subject, his style, and, we may add, for the
intrepidity and the force of his genius.

This extraordinary work is ascribed to one whose name is merely
traditional, to Robert Langland, a secular priest of Salop; when he
wrote, and where he died, are as dubious as his text, the authenticity
of which is often uncertain from the variations in all the manuscripts.
But the real life of an author, at least for posterity, lies beyond the
grave; and no writer is nameless whose volume has descended to us as one
of the most memorable in our ancient vernacular literature.

In character, in execution, and in design, "The Visions of William of
PIERS PLOUGHMAN" are wholly separated from the polished poems of GOWER
and CHAUCER; the work bears no trace of their manner, nor of their
refinement, nor of their versification; and it has baffled conjectural
criticism to assign the exact period of a composition which appears more
ancient than any supposed contemporary writings. Those who would decide
of the time in which an author wrote by his style, here are at a loss to
conceive that the splendid era of romantic chivalry, the age of Edward
the Third and his grandson, which produced the curious learning and the
easy rhymes of the "Confessio Amantis," and the pleasantry and the fine
discriminations of character of the "Canterbury Tales," could have given
birth to the antiquated Saxon and rustic pith of this genuine English
bard. Either his labour was concluded ere the writings of the court
poets had travelled to our obscure country priest in his seclusion in a
distant county, or else he disdained their exotic fancies, their
Latinisms, their Gallicisms, and their Italianisms, and their trivial
rhymes, that in every respect he might remain their astonishing
contrast, with no inferiority of genius. There was no philosophical
criticism in the censure of this poet by Warton, when he condemns him
for not having "availed himself of the rising and rapid improvements of
the English language," and censures him for his "affectation of obsolete
English." These rising improvements may never have reached our bard, or
if they had he might have disdained them; for the writer of the "Visions
concerning Piers Ploughman" was strictly a national poet; and there was
no "affectation of obsolete English" in a poet preserving the forms of
his native idiom, and avoiding all exotic novelties in the energy of his
Anglo-Saxon genius. His uncontaminated mind returned to or continued the
Anglo-Saxon alliterative metre and unrhymed verse; he trusted its
cadence to the ear, scorning the subjection of rhyme. WEBBE, a critic of
the age of Elizabeth, considered this poet as "the first who had
observed the quantity of our verse without the curiosity of rhyme."

It is useless to give the skeleton of a desultory and tedious
allegorical narrative. The last editor, Dr. Whitaker, imagined that "he
for the first time had shown that it was written after a regular and
consistent design," notwithstanding that he himself confesses, that "the
conclusion is singularly cold and comfortless and _leaves the inquirer,
after a long peregrination, still remote from the object of his
search_"--a conclusion where nothing is concluded! The visionist might
have been overtaken by sleep among the bushes of the Malvern Hills for
twenty cantos more, without at all deranging anything which he had said,
or inconveniencing anything which he might say. In truth, it is a heap
of rhapsodies, without any artifice of connexion or involution of plot,
or any sustained interest of one actor more than another among the
numerous ideal beings who flit along the dreamy scenes.

The true spirit of this imaginative work is more comprehensible than any
settled design. That mysterious or mythical personage, "Piers
Ploughman," is the representative of "the Universal Church," says Dr.
Whitaker; or "Christian life," says Mr. Campbell. What he may be is very
doubtful, for we have "True Religion," a fair lady, who puts in surely a
higher claim to represent "the Universal Church," or "Christian life,"
than "the Ploughman," who has to till his half-acre and save his idling
companions from "waste" and "wane." The most important personage is
"Mede," or bribery, who seems to exert an extraordinary influence over
the Bench, and the Bar, and the Church, and through every profession
which occurred to the poet.

The pearls in these waters lie not on the surface. The visionist had
deeper thoughts and more concealed feelings than these rhapsodical
phantoms. In a general survey of society, he contemplates on the court
and the clergy, glancing through all the diversified ranks of the laity,
not sparing the people themselves, as their awful reprover. It was a
voice from the wilderness in the language of the people. The children of
want and oppression had found their solitary advocate. The prelacy,
dissolved in the luxuriousness of papal pomp, and a barbarous
aristocracy, with their rapacious dependents, were mindless of the
morals or the happiness of those human herds, whose heads were counted,
but whose hearts they could never call their own.

We are curious to learn, in this disordered state of the Commonwealth,
the political opinions entertained by this sage. They are as mysterious
as Piers Ploughman himself.

Passive obedience to the higher powers is inculcated apparently rather
for its prudence than its duty. This we infer from his lively parable of
"the Cat of a Court," and "A Route of Ratones and Small Mice."
"Grimalkin, though sometimes apt to play the tyrant when appetite was
sharp, would often come laughing and leaping among them. A rat, a
whisker of renown, cunningly proposed to adorn the cat with an ornament,
like those which great lords use who wear chains and collars about their
necks; it should be a tinkling bell, which, if cats would fancy the
fashion, would warn us of their approach. We might then in security be
all lords ourselves, and not be in this misery of creeping under
benches. But not a raton of the whole rout, for the realm of France, or
to win all England, would bind the bell round the imperial neck. A
mouseling, who did not much like rats, concluded that if they should
even kill the cat, then there would come another to crunch us and our
kind; for men will not have their meal nibbled by us mice, nor their
nights disturbed by the clattering of roystering rats. Better for us to
let the cat alone! My old father said a kitten was worse. The cat never
hurt me; when he is in good-humour, I like him well,--and by my counsel
cat nor kitten shall be grieved. I will suffer and say nothing. The
beast who now chastiseth many, may be amended by misfortune. Are the
rats to be our governors? I tell ye, we would not rule ourselves!" The
poet adds, "What this means, ye men who love mirth interpret for me, for
I dare not!"

The parable seems sufficiently obvious. The ratons represent a haughty
aristocracy, and "the small mouse" is one of the people themselves, who
in his mouse-like wisdom preferred a single sovereign to many lords. But
the poet's own reflection, addressed to "the men of mirth," seems
enigmatic. Is he indulging a secret laugh at the passive obedience of
the prudential mouse?

Our author's indignant spirit, indeed, is vehemently democratic. He
dared to write what many trembled to whisper. Genius reflects the
suppressed feelings of its age. It was a stirring epoch. The spirit of
inquisition had gone forth in the person of Wickliffe; and wherever a
Wickliffe appears, as surely will there be a Piers Ploughman. When a
great precursor of novel opinions arises, it is the men of genius in
seclusion who think and write.

But our country priest, in his contemplative mood, was not less
remarkable for his prudence than for his bold freedom, aware that the
most corrupt would be the most vindictive. The implacable ecclesiastics,
by the dread discipline of the church, would doom the apostle of
humanity, but the apostate of his order, to perpetual silence--by the
spell of an anathema; and the haughty noble would crush his victim by
the iron arm of his own, or of the civil power. The day had not yet
arrived when the great were to endure the freedom of reprehension. The
sage, the satirist, and the seer, for prophet he proved to be, veiled
his head in allegory; he published no other names than those of the
virtues and the vices; and to avoid personality, he contented himself
with personification.

A voluminous allegory is the rudest and the most insupportable of all
poetic fictions; it originates in an early period of society--when its
circles are contracted and isolated, and the poet is more conversant
with the passions of mankind than with individuals. A genius of the
highest order alone could lead us through a single perusal of such a
poem, by the charm of vivifying details, which enables us to forget the
allegory altogether--the tedious drama of nonentities or abstract
beings. In such creative touches the author of Piers Ploughman displays
pictures of domestic life, with the minute fidelity of a Flemish
painting; so veracious is his simplicity! He is a great satirist,
touching with caustic invective or keen irony public abuses and private
vices; but in the depth of his emotions, and in the wildness of his
imagination, he breaks forth in the solemn tones and with the sombre
majesty of Dante.

But this rude native genius was profound as he was sagacious, and his
philosophy terminated in prophecy. At the era of the Reformation they
were startled by the discovery of an unknown writer, who, two centuries
preceding that awful change, had predicted _the fate of the religious
houses from the hand of a king_. The visionary seer seems to have fallen
on the principle which led Erasmus to predict that "_those who were in
power_" would seize on the rich shrines, because _no other class of men_
in society could mate with so mighty a body as the monks. Power only
could accomplish that great purpose, and hence our Vaticinator fixed on
the highest as the most likely; and the deep foresight of an obscure
country priest, which required two centuries to be verified, became a
great moral and political prediction.

Without, however, depreciating the sagacity of the predictor, there is
reason to suspect that the same thought was occurring to some of the
great themselves. The Reformation of Henry the Eighth may be dated from
the reign of Richard the Second. That mighty transition into a new order
of events in our history would then have occurred, for the stag was
started, and the hunt was up. It was an accidental and unexpected
circumstance which turned aside the impending event, which was to be
future and not immediate. Henry Bolingbroke, in the early part of his
life, seems to have entertained some free opinions respecting the
property of the church. He seemed not unfavourable to Wickliffe's
doctrines, and, when Earl of Derby, once declared that "princes had too
little, and religious houses too much." This unguarded expression, which
was not to be forgotten, we are told, occasioned one of the rebellions
during his reign. But when Henry Bolingbroke usurped the throne, age and
prudence might have come together; the monarch balanced the dread of a
turbulent aristocracy, and the uncertain tenure of dominion to be held
at their pleasure, against the security of sheltering the throne under
the broad alliance of a potent prelacy; a potent prelacy whose doom was
fixed, though the hour had not yet struck! The monarch affixed a bloody
seal to this political convention by granting a statute which made the
offence of heresy capital; a crime which heretofore in law was as
unknown as it seemed impossible to designate, and described only in
figurative terms, as something very alarming, but which any prudent
heretic might easily, if not explain, at least recant. To give it more
solemnity, the statute is delivered in Latin, and the punishment of
burning was to be inflicted "_corum populo, in eminente loco_."[1]

The "Visions of Piers Ploughman," when the day which his prescience
anticipated arrived, were eagerly received; it is said the work passed
through three editions in one year, about 1550, in the reign of the
youthful monarch of the Reformation; the readers at that early period of
printing would find many passages congenial to the popular sentiments,
and our nameless author was placed among the founders of a new era.

The "VISIONS OF PIERS PLOUGHMAN" will always offer studies for the
poetical artist. This volume, and not Gower's nor Chaucer's, is a well
of English undefiled. SPENSER often beheld these Visions; MILTON, in his
sublime description of the Lazar House, was surely inspired by a
reminiscence of Piers Ploughman. Even Dryden, whom we should not suspect
to be much addicted to black-letter reading beyond his Chaucer, must
have carefully conned our Piers Ploughman; for he has borrowed one very
striking line from our poet, and possibly may have taken others. BYRON,
though he has thrown out a crude opinion of Chaucer, has declared that
"the Ploughman" excels our ancient poets. And I am inclined to think
that we owe to Piers Ploughman an allegorical work of the same wild
invention, from that other creative mind, the author of the "Pilgrim's
Progress." How can we think of the one, without being reminded of the
other? Some distant relationship seems to exist between the Ploughman's
_Dowell_ and _Dobet_, and _Dobest_, Friar _Flatterer_, _Grace_ the
Portress of the magnificent Tower of _Truth_ viewed at a distance, and
by its side the dungeon of _Care_, _Natural Understanding_, and his lean
and stern wife _Study_, and all the rest of this numerous company, and
the shadowy pilgrimage of the "Immortal Dreamer" to "the Celestial
City." Yet I would mistrust my own feeling, when so many able critics,
in their various researches after a prototype of that singular
production, have hitherto not suggested what seems to me obvious.[2]

Why our rustic bard selected the character of a ploughman as the
personage adapted to convey to us his theological mysteries, we know not
precisely to ascertain; but it probably occurred as a companion fitted
to the humbler condition of the apostles themselves. Such, however, was
the power of the genius of this writer, that his successors were content
to look for no one of a higher class to personify their solemn themes.
Hence we have "The Crede of Piers Ploughman;" "The Prayer and Complaint
of the Ploughman;" "The Ploughman's Tale," inserted in Chaucer's volume;
all being equally directed against the vicious clergy of the day.

"The Crede of Piers Ploughman," if not written by the author of the
"Vision," is at least written by a scholar who fully emulates his
master; and Pope was so deeply struck with this little poem, that he has
very carefully analysed the whole.


  [1] Barrington's "Observations on the more ancient Statutes."

  [2] For the general reader I fear that "The Visions of Piers
    Ploughman" must remain a sealed book. The last edition of Dr.
    WHITAKER, the most magnificent and frightful volume that was ever
    beheld in the black letter, was edited by one whose delicacy of taste
    unfitted him for this homely task: the plain freedom of the vigorous
    language is sometimes castrated, with a faulty paraphrase and a
    slender glossary; and passages are slurred over with an annihilating
    &c. Much was expected from this splendid edition; the subscription
    price was quadrupled, and on its publication every one would rid
    himself of the mutilated author. The editor has not assisted the
    reader through his barbarous text interspersed with Saxon characters
    and abbreviations, and the difficulties of an obscure and elliptical
    phraseology in a very antiquated language. Should ever a new edition
    appear, the perusal would be facilitated by printing with the white
    letter. There is an excellent specimen for an improved text and
    edition in "Gent. Mag.," April, 1834. [This improved text of the
    "Vision" and "Crede" has, since this note was originally written,
    been published with notes by T. Wright, M.A.; and has been again
    reprinted recently.]


Warton passed sentence on OCCLEVE as "a cold genius, and a feeble
writer." A literary antiquary, from a manuscript in his possession,
published six poems of Occleve; but that selection was limited to the
sole purpose of furnishing the personal history of the author.[1]
Ritson's sharp snarl pronounced that they were of "peculiar stupidity;"
George Ellis refused to give "a specimen;" and Mr. Hallam, with his
recollection of the critical brotherhood, has decreed, that "the poetry
of Occleve is wretchedly bad, abounding with pedantry, and destitute of
grace or spirit." We could hardly expect to have heard any more of this
doomed victim--this ancient man, born in the fourteenth century,
standing before us, whose dry bones will ill bear all this shaking and

A literary historian, who has read manuscripts with the eagerness which
others do the last novelty, more careful than Warton, and more
discriminate than Ritson, has, with honest intrepidity, confessed that
"OCCLEVE has not had his just share of reputation. His writings greatly
assisted the growth of the popularity of our infant poetry."[2] Our
historian has furnished from the manuscripts of OCCLEVE testimonies of
his assertion.

Among the six poems printed, one of considerable length exhibits the
habits of a dissipated young gentleman in the fourteenth century.

OCCLEVE for more than twenty years was a writer in the Privy Seal, where
we find quarter days were most irregular; and though briberies
constantly flowed in, yet the golden shower passed over the heads of
the clerks, dropping nothing into the hands of these innocents.

Our poet, in his usual passage from his "Chestres Inn by the Strond" to
"Westminster Gate," by land or water--for "in the winter the way was
deep," and "the Strand" was then what its name indicates--often was
delayed by

  The outward signe of Bacchus and his lure,
  That at his dore hangeth day by day,
  Exciteth Folk to taste of his moistúre
  So often that they cannot well say Nay!

There was another invitation for this susceptible writer of the Privy

  I dare not tell how that the fresh repaír
  Of Venus femel, lusty children dear,
  That so goodlý, so shapely were, and fair,
  And so pleasánt of port and of manére.

There he loitered,

  To talk of mirth, and to disport and play.

He never "pinched" the taverners, the cooks, the boatmen, and all such

  Among this many in mine audience,
  Methought I was ymade a man for ever--
  So tickled me that nyce reverénce,
  That it me made larger of dispence;--
  For Riot payeth largely ever mo;
  He stinteth never till his purse be bare.

He is at length seized amid his jollities,

  By force of the penniless maladíe,
  Ne lust[3] had none to Bacchus House to hie.
  Fy! lack of coin departeth compaigníe;
  And hevé purse with Herté liberál
  Quencheth the thirsty heat of Hertés drie,
  Where chinchy Herté[4] hath thereof but small.

This "mirror of riot and excess" effected a discovery, and it was, that
all the mischiefs which he recounts came from the high reports of
himself which servants bring to their lord. The Losengour or pleasant
flatterer was too lightly believed, and honied words made more harmful
the deceitful error. Oh! babbling flattery! he spiritedly exclaims,
author of all lyes, that causest all day thy lord to fare amiss. Such
is the import of the following uncouth verse:--

  Many a servant unto his Lord saith
  That all the world speaketh of him, Honoúr,
  When the contrarie of that is sooth in faith;
  And lightly leeved is this Losengoúr,[5]
  His hony wordés wrapped in Erroúr,
  Blindly conceived been, the more harm is,
  O thou, FAVELE, of lesynges auctoúr,[6]
  Causest all day thy Lord to fare amiss.
  The Combre worldés;[7] 'clept been Enchantoúrs
  In Bookes, as I have red----.

OCCLEVE was a shrewd observer of his own times. That this rhymer was
even a playful painter of society we have a remarkable evidence
preserved in the volume of his great master. "The Letter of Cupid," in
the works of Chaucer, was the production of Occleve, and appears to have
been overlooked by his modern critics. He had originally entitled it, "A
Treatise of the Conversation of Men and Women in the Little Island of
Albion." It is a caustic "polite conversation;" and deemed so execrably
good, as to have excited, as our ancient critic Speght tells, "such
hatred among the gentlewomen of the Court, that Occleve was forced to
recant in that boke of his called 'Planetas Proprius.'"[8] The Letter of
Cupid is thus dated:--

  Written in the lusty month of May,
  In our Paléis where many a millión
  Of lovers true have habitatión,
  The yere of grace joyfull and jocúnd,
  A thousand four hundred and secónd.

Imagery and imagination are not required in the school of society.
Occleve seems, however, sometimes to have told a tale not amiss, for
WILLIAM BROWN, the pastoral bard, inserted entire a long story by old
Occleve in his "Shepherd's Pipe." To us he remains sufficiently uncouth.
The language had not at this period acquired even a syntax, though with
all its rudeness it was neither wanting in energy nor copiousness, from
that adoption of the French, the Provençal, and the Italian, with which
Chaucer had enriched his vein. The present writer seems to have had some
notions of the critical art, for he requests the learned tutor of Prince
Edward, afterwards Edward the Fourth, to warn him, when,--

  Metring amiss;

and when

            He speaks unsyttingly,[9]
  Or not by just peys[10] my sentence weigh,
  And not to the order of enditing obey,
  And my colours set ofté sythe awry.

We might be curious to learn, with all these notions of the suitable,
the weighty, the order of enditing, and the colours often awry, whether
these versifiers had really any settled principles of criticism. Occleve
is a vernacular writer, bare of ornament. He has told us that he knew
little of "Latin nor French," though often counselled by his immortal
master. His enthusiastic love thus exults:--

  Thou wer't acquainted with Chaucer?--Pardie!
  God save his soul!
  The first findér of our faire langáge!

There is one little circumstance more which connects the humble name of
this versifier with that of Chaucer. His affectionate devotion to the
great poet has been recorded by Speght in his edition of Chaucer.
"Thomas Occleve, for the love he bare to his master, caused his picture
to be truly drawn in his book 'De Regimine Principis,' dedicated to
Henry the Fifth." In this manuscript, with "fond idolatry," he placed
the portraiture of his master facing an invocation. From this portrait
the head on the poet's monument was taken, as well as all our prints. It
bears a faithful resemblance to the picture of Chaucer painted on board
in the Bodleian Library.[11] Had Occleve, with his feelings, sent us
down some memorial of the poet and the man, we should have conned his
verse in better humour; but the history of genius had not yet entered
even into the minds of its most zealous votaries.[12]


  [1] "_Poems by_ THOMAS HOCCLEVE, _never before printed, selected from
    a manuscript in the possession of George Mason, with a preface,
    notes, and glossary_," 1796. The notes are not amiss, and the
    glossary is valuable; but the verses printed by Mason are his least
    interesting productions. The poet's name is here written with an H,
    as it appeared in the manuscript; but there is no need of a modern
    editor changing the usual mode, because names were diversely written
    or spelt even in much later times. The present writer has been called
    not only _Occleve_, but _Occliffe_, as we find him in Chaucer's

  [2] Turner's "History of England," v. 335.

  [3] No desire.

  [4] Niggardly heart.

  [5] A Chaucerian word, which well deserves preservation in the

  [6] FAVELL, author of "Lyes." FAVELL, the editor of Hoccleve,
    explains as _cajolerie_, or flattery, by words given by Carpentier in
    his supplement to "Du Cange." Pavel is personified by "Piers
    Ploughman," and in Skelton's "Bouge of Court." FAVELE in langue
    Romane is Flattery--hence _Fabel_, Fabling.--Roquefort's
    "Dictionnaire." The Italian FAVELLIO, parlerie, babil,
    caquet--Alberti's "Grand Dictionnaire"--does not wholly convey the
    idea of our modern _Humbug_, which combines _fabling_ and _caquet_.

  [7] The encumbrances to the world. In another poem he calls death
    "that Coimbre-world." It was a favourite expression with him, taken
    from Chaucer. See "Warton," ii. 352, note.

  [8] A title which does not appear in the catalogue of his writings by
    Ritson, in his "Bibliographia Poetica."

  [9] Unfittingly.

  [10] Weight; probably from the French _poids_.

  [11] It is in Royal MS. 17 D. 6. The best is in the Harleian MS.
    4866. There is also a very curious full-length preserved in a single
    leaf of vellum, Sloane MS. 5141; which has been copied in Shaw's
    "Dresses and Decorations of the Middle Ages," vol. i.--ED.

  [12] A single trait, however, has come down to us from that other
    scholar of Chaucer, whom we are next to follow. Lydgate assures us,
    from what he heard, that the great poet would not suffer petty
    criticisms "to perturb his reste." He did not like to groan over, and
    "pinch at every blot," but always "did his best."--

      My master Chaucer that founde ful many spot,
      Hym lyste not gruche, nor pynch at every blot;
      Nor move himself to perturb his reste;
      I have perde tolde, but seyd alway his beste.

        LYDGATE's "Troy."


LYDGATE, the monk of Bury, was also the scholar of Chaucer: our monk had
not passed a whole sequestered life in his Benedictine monastery; he had
journeyed through France and Italy, and was familiar with the writings
of Dante, and Petrarch, and Boccaccio, and of Alain Chartier. The
delectable catalogue of his writings, great and small, exceeds two
hundred and fifty, and may not yet be complete, for they lie scattered
in their manuscript state. A great multitude of writings, the incessant
movements of a single mind, will at first convey to us a sense of
magnitude; and in this magnitude, if we observe the greatest possible
diversity of parts, and, if we may use the term, the flashings of the
most changeable contrasts, we must place such a universal talent among
the phenomena of literature.

LYDGATE composed epics, which were the lasting favourites of two whole
centuries--so long were classical repetitions of "Troy" and of "Thebes"
not found irksome.[1] In his graver hours he instructed the world by
ethical descants, Æsopian fables, and quaint proverbs; fixed their
wonder by saintly legends and veracious chronicles; and disported in
amorous ditties, and many a merrie tale: translating or inventing,
labour or levity, rounded the unconscious day of the versifying monk. We
descend from the "Siege of Troy," a romance of nearly thirty thousand
lines, which long graced the oriel window, to the freer vein of humour
of "London Lick-penny," which opens the street scenery of London in the
fourteenth century, and "The Prioresse and her Three Wooers," that
exquisitely ludicrous narrative ballad for the people.[2]

Ritson, whose rabid hostility to the clerical character was part of his
constitutional malady, whether it related to "a mendacious prelate" or
"a stinking monk," after having expended twenty pages in the mere
enumeration of the titles of Lydgate's writings, heartlessly hints at
the "cart-loads of rubbish of a voluminous poetaster; a prosaic and
drivelling monk." And this is greedily seized on by the hand of the
bibliographer. Percy and Ellis, too, mention DAN LYDGATE with contempt.
Critics often find it convenient to resemble dogs, by barking one after
the other, without any other cause than the first bark of a brother, who
had only bayed the moon. It now seemed concluded that the rhyming monk
was to be dismissed for ever. A very credible witness, however, at last
deposed that "Lydgate has been oftener abused than read."[3] And now Mr.
Hallam tells us that "GRAY, no light authority, speaks more favourably
of Lydgate than either Warton or Ellis;" and this nervous writer, with
his accustomed correct discernment, has alleged a valid reason why Gray
excelled them in this criticism; for "great poets have often the taste
to discern, and the candour to acknowledge, those beauties which are
latent amidst the tedious dulness of their humbler brethren."

Warton has, however, afforded three copious chapters on Lydgate, which
are half as much as his enthusiasm bestowed on Chaucer. A Gothic monk,
composing ancient romances, was a subject too congenial to have been
neglected by the historian of our poetry, and he has limned and
illuminated the feudal priest with the love of the votary, who deemed,
in his "lone-hours,"

  Nor rough nor barren are the winding ways
  Of hoar Antiquity, but strown with flowers.

His miniature is exquisitely touched. "He was not only the poet of his
monastery, but of the world in general. If a _disguising_ was intended
by the company of goldsmiths, a _mask_ before his majesty, a _may-game_
for the sheriffs and aldermen of London, a _mumming_ before the
lord-mayor, a procession of _pageants_ for the festival of Corpus
Christi, or a _carol_ for the coronation, Lydgate was consulted, and
gave the poetry."[4]

Mr. HALLAM objects that "the attention fails in the school-boy stories
of Thebes and Troy; but it seems probable that Lydgate would have been a
better poet in satire upon his own times, or delineation of their
manners--themes which would have gratified us much more than the fate of

This is relatively true--true as regards some of us, but not at all as
respects Lydgate, nor the people of his age, nor the king and the
princes who commanded themes congenial with their military character,
and their simple tastes, romantically charming the readers of two
centuries. If our critic, in the exercise of his energetic faculties,
lives out of the necromancy of the old Romaunt, afar from Thebes and
Troy, Thomas Warton was cradled among the children of fancy, and in his
rovings had tasted their wild honey. The only works of Lydgate which
attracted his attention were precisely these tedious "Fate of Princes"
and "The Troy Book."

The other modern critics--Ritson, Percy, and Ellis--had but a slight
knowledge of DAN[5] LYDGATE. They have generally acted on the pressure
of the moment, to get up a hasty court of _Pie-poudre_--that fugitive
tribunal held at fairs--to determine on the case of a culprit even
before they could shake the dust off their feet. But time calls for an
arrest of hasty judgments, or brings forward some illustrious advocate
to reverse the judicial decision, or set forth the misfortunes of the
accused. Two, most eminent in genius, stand by the side of the monk of
Bury--COLERIDGE and GRAY. Coleridge has left us his protest in favour of
Lydgate, for he deeply regrets that in the general collection of our
poets, the unpoetic editor "had not substituted _the whole of Lydgate's
works from the manuscript extant_, for the almost worthless Gower."[6]
Gray alone has taken an enlarged view of the state of our poetry and our
language at this period. When that master-spirit abandoned the history
of our poetry from his fastidious delicacy or from his learned
indolence, because Warton had projected it, English literature sustained
an irreparable loss.[7] In Gray surely we have lost a literary historian
such as the world has not yet had; so rare is that genius who happily
combines qualities apparently incompatible. In his superior learning,
his subtle taste, his deeper thought, and his more vigorous sense, we
should have found the elements of a more philosophical criticism, with a
more searching and comprehensive intellect, than can be awarded to our
old favourite, THOMAS WARTON. In the neglected quartos of GRAY we
discover that the poet had set earnestly to work on the archæology of
our poetry; we also find in his works those noble versions of the
northern Scalds, and the Welsh bards, which he designed to have
introduced into his history; thus to have impressed on us a perfect
notion of a national poetry, by poetry itself; a rare good fortune
which does not enliven the toil of prosaic critics or verbal
interpreters. Gray had found the manuscripts of Lydgate at Cambridge,
and has made them a vehicle for the most beautiful disquisitions. On a
passage in Lydgate, the poet-critic developes a curious occurrence in
the history of the poetic art--namely, that proneness to minute
circumstances which lengthens the strains of our elder poets, and which
the impatience of modern taste rejects as tediousness; yet this will be
found to be "the essence of poetry and oratory." This topic is
important; and as I can neither add nor dare to take away from this
perfect criticism, I submit to the task of transcribing what I am sure
will come to most of my readers in all its freshness and novelty.

Our ancient poet seems to be apologising for telling long stories, which
he asserts cannot be told "in wordes few"--

  For a storye which is not plainly told,
  But constreyned under _wordes few_
  For lack of truth, wher they ben new or olde,
  Men by reporte cannot the matter shewe;
  These oakés greaté be not down yhewe
  First at a stroke, but by a _long prócesse_;
  Nor long stories a word may not expresse.

    LYDGATE, in his "Fall of Princes."

On this Gray has delivered the following observations:--"These 'long
processes,' indeed, suited wonderfully with the attention and simple
curiosity of the age in which LYDGATE lived; many a _stroke_ have he and
the best of his contemporaries spent upon _a sturdy old story_, till
they had blunted their own edge and that of their readers--at least a
modern reader will find it so: but it is a folly to judge of the
understanding and patience of those times by our own. They loved, I will
not say tediousness, but _length_ and a train of circumstances in a
narration. The vulgar do so still: it gives an air of reality to facts;
it fixes the attention; raises and keeps in suspense their expectation,
and supplies the defects of their little and lifeless imagination; and
it keeps pace with the slow motion of their own thoughts. Tell them a
story as you would tell it to a man of wit; it will appear to them as an
object seen in the night by a flash of lightning: but when you have
placed it in various lights and in various positions, they will come at
last to see and feel it as well as others. But we need not confine
ourselves to the vulgar, and to understandings beneath our own.
Circumstance ever was and ever will be the life and the essence both of
oratory and of poetry. It has in some sort the same effect upon every
mind that it has upon that of the populace; and I fear the _quickness
and delicate impatience of these polished times_ in which we live are
but the forerunners of the decline of all those beautiful arts which
depend upon the imagination. Homer, the father of _circumstance_, has
occasion for the same apology which I am making for Lydgate and for his

At the monastery of Bury we might have listened to that Gothic monk's
"goodly tale," or "notable proverb of Æsopus" for the nonce; or saintly
legend, or "merrie balade;" or the story of "Thebes," which the scholar
took up from his master Chaucer: or that from "Bochas," and Guido
Colonna's "Troy Book:" but too numerous were the volumes to tell, and
too voluminous was many a volume. Verbose and diffuse, yet clear and
fluent, ran his page; too minutely copious were his descriptions, yet
the delineations seemed the more graphical; his verse, too long or too
short, halts in his measures till we fall into the minstrel's "metring,"
and lines break forth, beautiful as any in our day. He expands the same
image, and loses all likeness in a prolix simile, for his readers were
not so impatient as ourselves. These poets suffered or enjoyed a fatal
facility of rhyming, lost for us, from the use of polysyllabic words
from the French and the Latin accented on the last syllable, a custom
continued by the Scots; and these provided them with too ready an
abundance of poetic terminations or rhymes, tending to make their poems
voluminous. The art of selection is the art of an age less florid and
more fastidious, but not always more genial or more inventive. The
pruning-hook was not in use when planters were too eager to gather the
first fruits from the trees which their own hands had put into the

Alas! apologies only leave irremediable faults as they were! The
tediousness of Dan Lydgate remains as languid, his verse as halting, and
"Thebes" and "Troy" as desolate, as we found them!

Let us, however, be reminded, that he who wholly neglects the study of
our ancient poets must submit to the loss of knowledge which a
philosopher would value; the manners of the age, the modes of feeling,
the stream of thought, the virgin fancies, and that position which the
human character takes in distant ages--these will imbue his memory with
the genius of his country and the eternal truth of authentic nature. No
English poet should wholly resign these masses of vernacular poetry to
the lone closet of the antiquary; he who loves the gain of labour will
excavate these quarries for their marble, for we know they are marble,
since many a noble column has been raised from these shapeless and
unhewed blocks.


  [1] "The Troy Tale" was composed at the command of the King, Henry
    the Fifth; as "the Fall of Princes," from Boccace, was at the desire
    of Humphrey, the good Duke of Gloucester. He wrote regal poems for
    kings, while he dispersed wisdom and merriment for their subjects.

  [2] While this volume is passing through the press, "A Selection from
    the Minor Poems of Lydgate" has been edited by Mr. Halliwell. The
    versatility of Lydgate's poetical skill is advantageously shown in
    his comic satire, and his ethics drawn from a deep insight into human
    nature. The editor suggests a new reading for the title of the ballad
    of "London _Lick-penny_," more suitable to the misadventures of its
    hero,--"London _Lack-penny_," for London could not lick a penny from
    the forlorn hero who had not one to offer to it. GROSE, probably
    taken by the humorous designation, has placed it among his local

    The tale of the "Prioress and her Three Wooers" is one of the
    happiest fabliaux. Mr. Campbell transcribed "the merrie tale" for his
    Specimens, when he discovered that a preceding forager had
    anticipated him in Mr. Jamieson, who has preserved it in his "Popular
    Ballads," i. 253.

  [3] Turner's "Hist. of England," v.

  [4] I may point out the raw material which our poetical antiquary has
    here worked up with such perfect effect in this picturesque
    enumeration. Appended to Speght's "Chaucer," that editor furnished a
    very curious list of about a hundred works by Lydgate, which were in
    his own possession. Most of the singular poetical exhibitions here
    enumerated are mentioned towards the end of that list, and which
    Warton has happily appropriated, and so turned a dry catalogue into a
    poetical picture. [A selection of Lydgate's Poems, 44 in number, were
    printed by the Percy Society in 1840.]

  [5] DAN, as Ritson tells us, is a title given to the individuals of
    certain religious orders, from the barbarous Latin _Domnus_, a
    variation of _Dominus_, or the French _Dam_, or _Dom_. _Dan_ became a
    corruption of _Don_ for _Dominus_. The title afterwards extended to
    persons of respectable condition, as vague as our complimentary
    esquire. It was applied to Chaucer by Spenser, and when obsolete it
    became jocular; for we have "Dan Cupid." Prior renewed it with
    ludicrous gravity when telling a tale which he had from "Dan Pope."
    It is still used in an honourable sense by the Spaniards in their

  [6] "Literary Remains," ii. 130.

  [7] The great poet has left two or three most precious fragments; but
    these have long been buried in those ill-fated quartos, consisting
    chiefly of notes on Greek and on Plato, which Matthias published with
    extraordinary pomp; and, so he used to say, as a monument for himself
    as well as the bard--a monument which, his egregious self-complacency
    lived to witness, partook more of the properties of a tombstone than
    the glory of a column.

  [8] "Gray's Works," by Matthias, ii. p. 60.


Printing remained, as long as its first artificers could keep it, a
secret and occult art; and it is the only one that ceaselessly operates
all the miracles which the others had vainly promised.

Who first thought to carve the wooden immoveable letters on blocks?--to
stamp the first sheet which ever was imprinted? Or who, second in
invention, but first in utility, imagined to cast the metal with fusile
types, separate from each other?--to fix this scattered alphabet in a
form, and thus by one stroke write a thousand manuscripts, and, with the
identical letters, multiply not a single work, but all sorts of works
hereafter? Was it fortunate chance, or deliberate meditation, or both in
gradual discovery, which produced this invention? In truth, we can
neither detect the rude beginnings, nor hardly dare to fix on the
beginners. The _Origines Typographicæ_ are, even at this late hour,
provoking a fierce controversy, not only among those who live in the
shades of their libraries, but with honest burghers; for the glory of
patriotism has connected itself with the invention of an art which came
to us like a divine revelation in the history of man. But the place, the
mode, and the person--the invention and the inventor--are the subjects
of volumes! Votaries of Fust, of Schöffer, of Gutenberg, of Costar! A
sullen silence or a deadly feud is your only response. Ye jealous cities
of Mentz, of Strasburg, and of Haarlem, each of ye have your armed
champion at your gates![1]

The mystical eulogist of the art of printing, who declared that "the
invention came from Heaven," was not more at a loss to detect the origin
than those who have sought for it among the earliest printers.[2]
Learned but angry disputants on the origin of printing, what if the art
can boast of no single inventor, and was not the product of a single
act? Consider the varieties of its practice, the change of wood to
metal, the fixed to the moveable type; view the complexity of its
machinery; repeated attempts must often have preceded so many inventions
ere they terminated in the great one. From the imperfect and
contradictory notices of the early essays--and of the very earliest we
may have no record--we must infer that the art, though secret, was
progressive, and that many imperfect beginnings were going on at the
same time in different places.

Struck by the magnitude and the magnificence of the famous Bible of
Fust, some have decided on the invention of the art by one of its most
splendid results; this, however, is not in the usual course of human
affairs, nor in the nature of things. "The Art of Printing," observes
Dr. Cotton, in his introduction, "was brought almost to perfection in
its infancy; so that, like Minerva, it may be said to have sprung to
life, mature, vigorous, and armed for war." But in the article
"Moguntia, or Mentz," this acute researcher states that "after all that
has been written with such angry feelings upon the long-contested
question of the _origin of the Art of Printing_, Mentz appears still to
preserve the best-founded claim to the honour of being the _birth-place
of the Typographic Art_; because," he adds, "the specimens adduced in
favour of Haarlem and Strasburg, even if we should allow their
genuineness, are confessedly of _a rude and imperfect execution_." We
require no other evidence of the important fact, that the art, in its
early stages, had to pass through many transitions--from the small
school-books, or Donatuses, of Costar, to the splendid Bible of Fust.
Had the art been borrowed or stolen from a single source, according to
the popular tradition, the works would have borne a more fraternal
resemblance, and have evinced less inferiority of execution; but if
several persons at the same time were working in secrecy, each by his
own method, their differences and their inferiority would produce "the
rude and imperfect specimens." Mr. Hallam has suffered his strong
emotion on the greatness of the invention to reflect itself back on the
humble discoverers themselves; and, unusual with his searching
inquiries, calls once more on Dr. Cotton's Minerva, but with a more
celestial panoply. "The _high-minded inventors_ of this great art tried,
at _the very outset_, so bold a flight as the printing _an entire
Bible_. It was Minerva leaping on earth, in her divine strength and
radiant armour, ready at the moment of her nativity to subdue and
destroy her enemies."[3] The Bible called the Mazarine Bible, thus
distinguished from having been found in the Cardinal's library, remains
still a miracle of typography, not only for its type, but for the
quality of the paper and the sparkling blackness of its ink.[4] The
success of the art was established by this Bible; but the goldsmith
Fust, who himself was no printer, was no otherwise "high-minded," than
by the usurious prices he speculated on for this innocent imposture of
vending what was now a printed book for a manuscript copy!

No refined considerations of the nature and the universal consequences
of their discovery seem to have instigated the earliest printers; this
is evident by the perpetual jealousy and the mystifying style by which
they long attempted to hide that secret monopoly which they had now

The first notions of printing might have reached Europe from China. Our
first block-printing seems imitated from the Chinese, who print with
blocks of wood on one side of the paper, as was done in the earliest
essays of printing; and the Chinese seem also to have suggested the use
of a thick black ink. European traders might have imported some fugitive
leaves; their route has even been indicated, from Tartary, by the way of
Russia; and from China and Japan, through the Indies and the Arabian
Gulf. The great antiquity of printing in China has been ascertained. Du
Halde and the missionary Jesuits assert that this art was practised by
the Chinese half a century before the Christian era! At all events, it
is evident that they exercised it many centuries before it was attempted
in Europe. The history of gunpowder would illustrate the possibility of
the same extraordinary invention occurring at distinct periods. Roger
Bacon indicated the terrible ingredients a hundred years before the monk
Schwartz, about 1330, actually struck out the fiery explosion, and had
the glory of its invention. Machines to convey to a distance the thunder
and the lightning described by their discoverers were not long after
produced. But it would have astonished these inventors to have learnt
that guns had been used as early as the year 85 A.D., and that the fatal
powder had been invented previously by the Chinese. Well might the
philosophical Langles be struck by "the singular coincidence of the
invention in Europe of the compass, of gunpowder, and of printing, about
the same period, within a century." These three mighty agents in human
affairs have been traced to that wary and literary nation, who, though
they prohibit all intercourse with "any barbarian eye," might have
suffered these sublime inventions to steal away over "their great wall."

What has happened to the art of printing also occurred to the sister-art
of engraving on copper. Tradition had ascribed the invention as the
accidental discovery of the goldsmith Maso Finiguerra. But the Germans
insist that they possess engravings before the days of the Italian
artist; and it is not doubtful that several of the compatriots of
Finiguerra were equally practising the art with himself. Heinecken would
arbitrate between the jealous patriots; he concedes that Vasari might
ascribe the invention of the art in Italy to Finiguerra, yet that
engraving might have been practised in Germany, though unknown in Italy.
Buonarotti, the great judge of all art, was sensible that in this sort
of invention every artist makes his own discoveries. Alluding to the art
of engraving, he says, "It would be sufficient to occasion our
astonishment, that the ancients did not discover the art of
chalcography, were it not known that DISCOVERIES OF THIS SORT generally
occur ACCIDENTALLY to the mechanics in the exercise of their
calling."[5] On this principle we may confidently rest. All the early
printers, like the rivals of Finiguerra at home, and his unknown
concurrents in Germany, were proceeding with the same art, and might
urge their distinct claims.

The natural magic of concave and convex lenses, those miracles of
optical science, one of which searches Nature when she eludes the eye,
and the other approximates the remotest star--the microscope and the
telescope; who were their inventors, and how have those inventions
happened? These instruments appeared about the same time. The Germans
ascribe the invention of the microscope to a Dutchman, one Drebell;
while the Neapolitan Fontana claims the anterior invention; but which
Viviani, the scholar of Galileo, asserts, from his own knowledge, was
presented to the King of Poland by that father of modern philosophy long
anterior to the date fixed on by the Germans. The history of the
telescope offers a similar result. Fracastorius may have accidentally
combined two lenses; but he neither specified the form nor the quality;
and in these consisted the real discovery, which we find in Baptista
Porta, and which subsequently was perfected by Galileo. The invention of
the art of printing seems a parallel one. It appeared in various
quarters about the same time; and in the process of successive attempts,
by intimation, by conjecture, and by experiment, each artificer
insensibly advanced into a more perfect invention; till some fortunate
claimant for the discovery puts aside all preceding essayists, who, not
without some claims to the invention, leave their advocates in another
generation to dispute about their rights, which are buried in oblivion,
or falsified by traditional legends.

Thus it has happened that obscure traditions envelope the origin of
some of the most interesting inventions. Had these ingenious discoveries
been as simple and as positive as their historians oppositely maintain,
these origins had not admitted of such interminable disputes. We may
therefore reasonably suspect that the practitioners in every art which
has reached to almost a perfect state, such as that of printing, have
silently borrowed from one another; that there has often existed a
secret connexion in things, and a reciprocal observation in the
intercourse of men alike intent on the same object; that countries have
insensibly transferred a portion of their knowledge to their neighbours;
that travellers in every era have imparted their novelties, hints
however crude, descriptions however imperfect; all such slight notices
escape the detection of an historian; nothing can reach him but the
excellence of some successful artist. In vain rival concurrents dispute
the invention; the patriotic historian of the art clings to his people
or his city, to fix the inventor and the invention, and promulgates
fairy tales to authenticate the most uncertain evidence.[6]

The history of printing illustrates this view of its origin. The
invention has been long ascribed to GUTENBERG, yet some have made it
doubtful whether this presumed father of the art ever succeeded in
printing a book, for we are assured that no colophon has revealed his
name. We hear of his attempts and of his disappointments, his bickerings
and his lawsuits. He seems to have been a speculative bungler in a
new-found art, which he mysteriously hinted was to make a man's fortune.
The goldsmith, Fust, advanced a capital in search of the novel
alchymy--the project ends in a lawsuit, the goldsmith gains his cause,
and the projector is discharged. Gutenberg lures another simple soul,
and the same golden dream vanishes in the dreaming. These copartners,
evidently tired of an art which had not yet found an artist, a young
man, probably improving on Gutenberg's blunders, one happy day displayed
to the eyes of his master, Fust, a proof pulled from his own press. In
rapture, the master confers on this Peter Schoeffer a share of his
future fortunes; and to bind the apprentice by the safest ties of
consanguinity, led the swart youth, glorious with printer's ink, to the
fair hand of his young daughter. The new partnership produced their
famed Psalter of 1457; and shortly followed their magnificent Bible.

While these events were occurring, COSTAR, of Haarlem, was plodding on
with the same "noble mystery," but only printing on one side of a leaf,
not having yet discovered that a leaf might be contrived to contain two
pages. The partisans of Costar assert that it was proved he substituted
moveable for fixed letters, which was a giant's footstep in this new
path. A faithless servant ran off with the secret. The history of
printing abounds with such tales. Every step in the progress of the
newly-invented art indicates its gradual accessions. The numbering of
the pages was not thought of for a considerable time; the leaves were
long only distinguished by letters or signatures--a custom still
preserved, though apparently superfluous.

There is something attractive for rational curiosity in the earliest
beginnings of every art; every slight improvement, even though trivial,
has its motive, and supplies some want. On this principle the history of
punctuation enters into the history of literature. Caxton had the merit
of introducing the Roman pointing as used in Italy; and his successor,
Pynson, triumphed by domiciliating the Roman letter. The dash, or
perpendicular line, thus, | was the only punctuation they used. It was,
however, discovered that "the craft of poynting well used makes the
sentence very light." The more elegant comma supplanted the long uncouth
|; the colon was a refinement, "showing that there is more to come." But
the semicolon was a Latin delicacy which the obtuse English typographer
resisted. So late as 1580 and 1590 treatises on orthography do not
recognise any such innovator; the Bible of 1592, though printed with
appropriate accuracy, is without a semicolon; but in 1633 its full
rights are established by Charles Butler's "English Grammar." In this
chronology of the four points of punctuation it is evident that
Shakspeare could never have used the semicolon--a circumstance which the
profound George Chalmers mourns over, opining that semicolons would
often have saved the poet from his commentators.

FUST had bound his workmen to secrecy by the solemnity of an oath; but
at the siege of Mentz that freemasonry was lost. These early printers
dispersed, some were even bribed away. Two Germans set up their press in
the monastery of Subiaco, in the vicinity of Naples, whose confraternity
consisted of German monks. These very printers finally retreated to Rome
for that patronage they had still to seek; and at Rome they improved the
art by adopting the Roman character. Not only the invention of the art
was progressive, but the art itself was much more so.

We have other narratives of printers romantically spirited away from the
parent-presses; one of the most extraordinary is the history of printing
set up at Oxford, ten years before the art was practised in Europe,
except at Haarlem and Mentz. Henry VI., by advice of the Archbishop of
Canterbury, despatched a confidential agent in disguise, under the
guidance of Caxton, in his trading journeys to Flanders. The Haarlemites
were so jealous of idling strangers who had come on the same insidious
design, that foreigners had frequently been imprisoned.

The royal agent never ventured to enter the city, but by heavy bribes in
a secret intercourse with the workmen, one dark night he smuggled a
printer aboard a vessel, and carried away Frederick Corsellis. That
printer, on landing in England, was attended by a guard to Oxford. There
he was constantly watched till he had revealed the mysterious craft. The
evidence of this unheard-of history hinged on a record at Lambeth-palace
authenticating the whole narrative, and on a monument of Corsellis's
art, which any one might inspect at the Bodleian, being a book bearing a
date six years prior to any printing by Caxton. The record at Lambeth,
however, was never found, and never heard of, and the date of the book
might have been accidentally or designedly falsified. An x dropped in
the date of the impression would account for the singularity of a book
printed before our Caxton had acquired the art. The tale long excited a
sharp controversy, when Corsellis at Oxford was considered as the first
printer in England. The possibility of the existence of this person at
Oxford, and even of the book he printed, appears by a lively
investigation of Dr. Cotton;[7] and I have been assured of a
circumstance which, if true, would render the story of Corsellis
probable; it is that a family of this name may still be found in
Oxfordshire. The whole history has, however, by some been considered as
supposititious, standing on the single evidence of a Sir Richard Atkyns,
a servile lawyer and royalist of no great character in the days of
Charles the Second.[8] Grafting his tale on the accident of the date of
this book, he had a covert design--to maintain a theory or a right that
printing was "a flower of the crown," constituting the sovereign the
printer of England! all others being his servants. This enormous
prevention of the abuses of the press was not deemed too extravagant for
those desperate times.

The only certainty in the history of printing, after all the fables of
its origin, is its native place. It is a German romance enlivened by
some mysterious adventures, wanting only the opening pages, which no one
can supply.[9] Even the most philosophic of bibliographers, Daunou,
utters a cry of despair, and moreover, at this late day, seems at a
loss to decide on the nature of the influence of the art of printing!
"We live too near the epoch of the discovery of printing to judge
accurately of its influence, and too far from it to know the
circumstances which gave birth to it." Our sage seems to think that
another cycle of at least a thousand years must pass away ere we can
decide on the real influence of printing over the destinies of man: this
new tree of knowledge bears other fruit than that of its own sweetness,
source of good and evil, of sense and of nonsense! whence we pluck the
windy fruitage of opinions, crude and changeable!

How has it happened that such a plain story as that of the art of
printing should have sunk into a romance? Solely because the
monopolisers dreaded discovery. It originated in deception, and could
only flourish for their commercial spirit in mysterious obscurity. Among
the first artisans of printing every one sought to hide his work, and
even to blind the workmen. After their operations, they cautiously
unscrewed the four sides of their forms, and threw the scattered type
beneath, for, as one craftily observed to his partner, "When the
component parts of the press are in pieces, no one will understand what
they mean." One of the early printers of the fifteenth century at
Mutina, or Modena, professes his press to have been _in ædibus
subterraneis_--doubtless, if possible, still further to darken the
occult mystery. They delivered themselves in a mystical style when they
alluded to their unnamed art, and impressed on the marvelling reader
that the volume he held in his hand was the work of some supernatural
agency. They announced that the volumes in this newly-found art were
"neither drawn, nor written with a pen and ink, as all books before had
been." In the "Recuyel of the Historyes of Troye," our honest printer,
plain Caxton, caught the hyperbolical style of the dark monopolising
spirit of the confraternity. I give his words, having first spelt them.
"I have practised and learned at my great charge, and dispense to ordain
(put in order) this said book in print after the manner and form as ye
may here see, and is not written with pen and ink as other books be, to
the end that _every man may have them_ AT ONCE; for all the books of
this story, thus imprinted as ye see, were _begun in one day, and also
finished in one day_." A volume of more than seven hundred folio
pages, "begun and finished in one day," was not the less marvellous for
being impossible. But for the times was the style! Caxton would keep up
the wonder and the mystery of an art which men did not yet comprehend;
and because a whole sheet might have been printed in one day, and was
_all at once_ pulled off, and not line by line, our venerable printer
mystified the world. And all this was said at a time when so slow was
the process of transcription, that one hundred Bibles could not be
procured under the expense of seven thousand days, or of nearly twenty
years' labour. Honest men, too eager in their zeal, particularly when
their personal interests are at stake, sometimes strain truth on the
tenter-hooks of fiction. The false miracle which our primeval printer
professed he had performed we seem to have realized: it is amusing to
conceive the wonderment of Caxton, were he now among us, to view the
steam working that cylindrical machine which disperses the words of a
speaker throughout the whole nation, when the voice which uttered them
is still lingering on our ear!


  [1] The city of Haarlem designs to erect a statue of COSTAR [since
    this was written the statue has been placed in the great square];
    thus publicly, in the eyes of Europe, to vindicate the priority of
    this inventor of typography. But a statue is not the final argument
    which, like the cannon of monarchs (that _ultima ratio regum_), will
    carry conviction on the spot it is placed. Mentz has already erected
    a statue of GUTENBERG. I have no doubt that, in the present state of
    agitation, both these statues will have much to say to one another,
    as the mystical Pasquin and Marforio of typography.

  [2] "Some Observations on the Use and Original of the noble Art and
    Mystery of Printing," by F. Burges. Norwich, 1701. This is declared
    to be the first book printed at Norwich; where it appears that the
    establishment of a printing-office, so late as in 1701, encountered a
    stern opposition from its sage citizens. The writer did not know that
    as far back as 1570 a Dutch printer had exercised the novel art by
    printing religious books for a community of Dutch emigrants who had
    taken refuge at Norwich, according to the recent discovery of Dr.
    Cotton, in his "Typographical Gazetteer"--a volume abounding with the
    most vigorous researches.

  [3] Hallam's "Introduction to the Literature of Europe," i. 211.

  [4] Twenty copies of this famous Bible exist; one is preserved in our
    Royal Library.

  [5] Ottley's "Inquiry into the Early History of Engraving." See also
    note in "Curiosities of Literature," vol. i, p. 43.

  [6] Dr. WETTER, of Mentz, has lately shown that, contrary to the
    common opinion, Gutenberg himself printed long with _wooden blocks_;
    and that, instead of the invention of moveable types having been the
    result of long study, _it arose out of a "sudden fancy."_

    How the Doctor has authenticated "the sudden fancy," I know not, but
    the apotheosis has passed. In three successive days, in the month of
    August, 1837, all Mentz congregated to worship the statue, by
    Thorwaldsen, of their ancient citizen in the square that henceforward
    bears his name. A chorus of 700 voices resounded the laud of the
    German printer; the flags in the regatta waved to his honour; and the
    festival rejoiced the city: and when the figure of Gutenberg was
    unveiled, the artillery, the music, and the people's voices, blending
    together, seemed to echo in the skies.

  [7] Dr. Cotton's curious "Typographical Gazetteer," art. OXONIA. Of a
    class of the earliest printed books, having no printer's name, he
    observes, "These may have been printed by Corsellis, or any one

  [8] Atkyns on the "Original and Growth of Printing." This quarto
    pamphlet is highly valued among collectors for Loggan's beautiful
    print of Charles the Second, Archbishop Shelden, and General Monk.
    Dr. Middleton refuted this ridiculous tale of an ideal printer, one
    Corsellis, in his "Dissertation on the Origin of Printing in
    England," first published 1735, and which now may be seen in his

  [9] The fourth day of the "Bibliographical Decameron" of Dr. Dibdin
    exhibits an ample view of the pending controversies on the "Origines
    Typographicæ." Every bibliographer has his favourite hero. The reader
    will observe that I have none! And yet possibly my tale may be the


The ambitious wars of a potent aristocracy inflicted on this country
half a century of public misery. Our fields were a soil of blood; and
maternal England long mourned for victories she obtained over her own
children--lord against lord, brother against brother, and the son
against the father. Rival administrations alternately dispossess each
other by sanguinary conflict; a new monarch attaints the friends of his
predecessor; conspiracy rises against conspiracy--scaffold against
scaffold; the king is re-enthroned--the king perishes in the Tower; York
is triumphant--and York is annihilated.

Few great families there were who had not immolated their martyrs or
their victims; and it frequently occurred that the same family had
fallen equally on both sides, for it was a war of the aristocracy with
the aristocracy: "Save the commons and kill the captains," was the
general war-cry. The distracted people were perhaps indifferent to the
varying fortunes of the parties, accustomed as they were to behold after
each battle the heads of lords and knights raised on every bridge and

During this dread interval, all things about us were thrown back into a
state of the rudest infancy; the illiterature of the age approached to
barbarism; the evidences of history were destroyed; there was such a
paucity of readers, that no writers were found to commemorate
contemporary events. Indeed, had there been any, who could have ventured
to arbitrate between such contradictory accounts, where every party had
to tell their own tale? Oblivion, not history, seemed to be the
consolation of those miserable times.

It was at such an unhappy era that the new-found art of printing was
introduced into England by an English trader, who for thirty years had
passed his life in Flanders, conversant with no other languages than
were used in those countries.

Our literature was interested in the intellectual character of our
first English printer. A powerful mind might, by the novel and mighty
instrument of thought, have created a national taste, or have sown that
seed of curiosity without which no knowledge can be reared. Such a
genius might have anticipated by a whole century that general passion
for sound literature which was afterwards to distinguish our country.
But neither the times nor the man were equal to such a glorious

The first printed book in the English language was not printed in
England. It is a translation of Ráoul le Fevre's "Recuyel of the
Historyes of Troye," famed in its own day as the most romantic history,
and in ours, for the honour of bibliography, romantically valued at the
cost of a thousand guineas. This first monument of English printing
issued from the infant press at Cologne in 1471, where Caxton first
became initiated in "the noble mystery and craft" of printing, when
printing was yet truly "a mystery," and Caxton himself did not import
the art which was to effect such an intellectual revolution till a year
or two afterwards, on his return home. The first printer, it is evident,
had no other conception of the machine he was about to give the nation
than as an ingenious contrivance, or a cheap substitute for costly
manuscripts--possibly he might, in his calculating prudence, even be
doubtful of its success!

At the announcement of the first printed book in our vernacular idiom,
the mind involuntarily pauses: looking on the humble origin of our
bibliography, and on the obscure commencement of the newly-found art of
printing itself, we are startled at the vast and complicated results.

The contemporaries of our first printer were not struck by their novel
and precious possession, of which they participated in the first fruits
in the circulation and multiplication of their volumes. The introduction
of the art into England is wholly unnoticed by the chroniclers of the
age, so unconscious they were of this new implement of the human mind.
We find Fabian, who must have known Caxton personally--both being
members of the Mercers' Company--passing unnoticed his friend; and
instead of any account of the printing-press, we have only such things
as "a new weathercock placed on the cross of St. Paul's steeple." Hall,
so copious in curious matters, discovered no curiosity to memorialize
in the printing-press; Grafton was too heedless; and Holinshed, the most
complete of our chroniclers, seems to have had an intention of saying
something by his insertion of a single line, noticing the name of
"Caxton as the first practiser of the art of printing;" but he was more
seriously intent in the same paragraph to give a narrative of "a bloody
rain, the red drops falling on the sheets which had been hanged to dry."
The history of printing in England has been vainly sought for among
English historians; so little sensible were they to those expansive
views and elevated conceptions, which are now too commonplace eulogies
to repeat.

By what subdolous practices among the first inventors of this secret art
Caxton obtained its mastery, we are not told, except that he learnt the
new art "at his own great cost and expense;" and on his final return
home, he was accompanied by foreigners who lived in his house, and after
his death became his successors. Wynkyn de Worde, Pynson, Machlinia and
others, by their names betray their German origin. We have recently
discovered that we had even a French printer who printed English books.
Francis Regnault (or Reynold, anglicised) was a Frenchman who fell under
the displeasure of the Inquisition for printing the Bible in English. He
resided in England, and had in hand a number of primers in English and
other similar books, which at length excited the jealousy of _the
Company of Booksellers in London_--in the reign of Henry the Eighth. To
allay this bibliopolic storm, the affrighted French printer, with all
his stock in hand, procured Coverdale and Grafton to intercede with
Cromwell to grant him a licence to sell what he had already printed,
engaging hereafter "to print no more in the _English tongue_ unless he
have an _Englishman_ that is learned to be his corrector;" and further,
he offers to cancel and reprint any faulty leaf again.[1]

Caxton did not extend his views beyond those of a mercantile printer and
an indifferent translator. As a writer, Caxton had reason to speak with
humility of the style of his vernacular versions. His patroness, the
Lady Margaret, sister to our Edward the Fourth, and Duchess of
Burgundy, after inspecting some quires of his translation of the
"Recuyel of the Historyes of Troye," returned them, finding, as Caxton
ingenuously acknowledges, "some defaut in his English which she
commanded him to amend." Tyrwhit sarcastically observes, that the
duchess might have been a purist. As we are not told what were these
"defauts," we cannot decide on the good taste or the fastidiousness of
the sister of Edward the Fourth. But the duchess was not the only critic
whom Caxton had to encounter, for we learn by his preface to his "Boke
of Æneydos compiled by Virgil," now metamorphosed into a barbarous
French prose romance, and the French translation translated, that there
were "gentlemen who of late have blamed me that in my translations I had
over-curious terms which could not be understood by common people. I
fain would satisfy every man." He apologises for his own style by
alleging the unsettled state of the English language, of which he tells
us that "the language now used varieth far from that which was used and
spoken when I was born." An absence of thirty years from his native land
did not improve a diction which originally had been none of the purest.
We find in his translations an abundance of pure French words, and it is
remarkable that the printer of the third edition of the Troy history, in
1607, altered whole sentences "into plainer English," alleging, "the
translator, William Caxton, being, _as it seemeth_, no Englishman!"

The "curious" prices now given among the connoisseurs of our earliest
typography for their "Caxtons," as his Gothic works are thus honourably
distinguished, have induced some, conforming to traditional prejudice,
to appreciate by the same fanciful value "the Caxtonian style." But
though we are not acquainted with the "defauts" which offended the Lady
Margaret, nor with the "terms which were not easily understood," as
alleged by "the gentlemen," nor with "the sentences improperly
Englished," as the later printer declared, we shall not, I suspect, fall
short of the mark if we conclude that the style of a writer destitute of
a literary education, a prolix genius with a lax verbosity, and almost a
foreigner in his native idiom, could not attain to any skill or felicity
in the maternal tongue.

As a printer, without erudition, Caxton would naturally accommodate
himself to the tastes of his age, and it was therefore a consequence
that no great author appears among "the Caxtons." The most glorious
issues of his press were a Chaucer and a Gower, wherein he was simply a
printer. The rest of his works are translations of fabulous histories,
and those spurious writings of the monkish ages ascribed by ignorant
transcribers to some ancient sage. He appears frequently to have been at
a loss what book to print, and to have accidentally chosen the work in
hand; so he tells us--"Having no work in hand, I sitting in my study,
where as lay many diverse paunflettes and bookys, happened that to my
hand came a lytel boke in French, which late was translated out of Latin
by some noble clerk of France, which book is named Æneydos." And this
was the origin of his puerile romance! He exercised no discrimination in
his selection of authors, and the simplicity of our first printer far
exceeded his learning. One of his greater works is "The noble History of
King Arthur and of certain of his Knights." Caxton, who had charmed
himself and his ignorant readers with his authentic "Æneydos," hesitated
to print "this history," for there were different opinions that "there
was no such Arthur, and that all such books as be made of him be but
feigned and fables." It would be difficult to account for the scepticism
of one who always found the marvellous more delectable than the natural,
and who had published so many "feigned" histories--as "The veray trew
History of the valiant Knight Jason," or the "Life of Hercules," and all
"The Merveilles of Virgil's Necromancy," solemnly vouching for their
verity! His sudden scruples were, however, relieved, when "a gentleman"
assured our printer that "it was great folly and blindness in the
disbelievers of this true history."

In the early stage of civilization men want knowledge to feel any
curiosity; like children, they are only affected through the medium of
their imagination. But it is a phenomenon in the history of the human
mind, that at a period of refinement we may approximate to one of
barbarism. This happens when the ruling passion wholly returns to
fiction, and thus terminates in a reckless disregard for all other
studies. Whenever history, severe and lofty, displaying men as they are,
is degraded among the revels and the masques of romance; and the slow
inductions of reasoning, and the minute discoveries of research, and the
nice affinities of analogy, are impatiently rejected, while fiction in
her exaggerated style swells every object into a colossal size, and
raises every passion into hyperbolical violence; a distaste for
knowledge, and a coldness for truth, which must follow, are fatal to the
sanity of the intellect. And thus in the day of our refinement we may be
reverting to our barbarous infancy.

Caxton, mindful of his commercial interests and the taste of his
readers, left the glory of restoring the classical writers of antiquity,
which he could not read, to the learned printers of Italy.[2] The Orator
of Cicero, the histories of Herodotus and Polybius, the ethics of
Seneca, and the elaborate volumes of St. Austin, were some of the rich
fruits of the early typography of the German printers who had conveyed
their new art to the Neapolitan monastery of Subiaco. Our English
printer, indeed, might have heard of their ill-fortune, when, in a
petition to the Pope, they sent forth this cry--"Our house is full of
proof-sheets, but we have nothing to eat!" The trivial productions from
Caxton's press, romantic or religious legends, and treatises on hunting
and hawking, and the moralities of the game of chess, with Reynard the
Fox, were more amusing to the ignorant readers of his country; but the
national genius was little advanced by a succession of "merveillous
workes;" nor would the crude, unformed tastes of the readers be matured
by stimulating their inordinate appetites. The first printing-press in
England did not serve to raise the national taste out of its barbarous
infancy. Caxton was not a genius to soar beyond his age, but he had the
industry to keep pace with it, and with little judgment and less
learning he found no impediment in his selection of authors or his
progress in translation.

Our earliest printed works consist of these translations of French
translations; and the historian of our poetry considered that this very
circumstance, which originated in the general illiteracy of the times,
was more favourable to our vernacular literature than would have been
the publication of Roman writers in their original language. Had it not
been for these French versions, Caxton could not have furnished any of
his own. The multiplication of English copies multiplied English
readers, and when at length there was a generation of readers, an
English press induced many to turn authors who were only qualified to
write in their native tongue.

Venerable shade of Caxton! the award of the tribunal of posterity is a
severe decision, but an imprescriptible law! Men who appear at certain
eras of society, however they be lauded for what they have done, are
still liable to be censured for not doing what they ought to have done.
Patriarch of the printing-press! who to thy last and dying day withdrew
not thy hand from thy work, it is hard that thou shouldst be amenable to
a law which thy faculties were not adequate to comprehend; surely thou
mayst triumph, thou simple man! amid the echoes of thy "Caxtonians"
rejoicing over thy Gothic leaves--but the historian of the human mind is
not the historian of typography.


  [1] "State Papers of Henry the Eighth," vol. i. 589.

  [2] We have Caxton's own confession in his preface to "The Book of
    Æneydos," or the Æneid of Virgil, where, in soliciting the
    late-created poet-laureat in the University of Oxford, John Skelton,
    to oversee his prose translation of the French translation, he
    notices the translations of Skelton of "The Epistles of Tully," and
    the "History of Diodorus Siculus," _out of Latin into English_, and
    as "one that had read Virgil, Ovid, Tully, and all the other noble
    poets and orators to _me unknown_."


There probably was a time when there existed no private libraries in the
kingdom, nor any save the monastic; that of Oxford, at the close of the
thirteenth century, consisted of "a few tracts kept in chests." In that
primeval age of book-collecting, shelves were not yet required. Royalty
itself seems to have been destitute of a royal library. It appears, by
one of our recently published records, that King John borrowed a volume
from a rich abbey, and the king gave a receipt to Simon his Chancellor
for "the book called Pliny," which had been in the custody of the Abbot
and Convent of Reading. "The Romance of the History of England," with
other volumes, have also royal receipts. The king had either deposited
these volumes for security with the Abbot, or, what seems not
improbable, had no established collection which could be deemed a
library, and, as leisure or curiosity stimulated, commanded the loan of
a volume.

The borrowing of a volume was a serious concern in those days, and heavy
was the pledge or the bond required for the loan. One of the regulations
of the library of the Abbey of Croyland, Ingulphus has given. It regards
"the lending of their books, as well the smaller without pictures as the
larger with pictures;" any loan is forbidden under no less a penalty
than that of excommunication, which might possibly be a severer
punishment than the gallows.

Long after this period, our English libraries are said to have been
smaller than those on the Continent; and yet, one century and a half
subsequently to the reign of John, the royal library of France,
belonging to a monarch who loved literature, Jean le Bon, did not exceed
ten volumes. In those days they had no idea of establishing a library;
the few volumes which each monarch collected, at great cost, were always
dispersed by gifts or bequests at their death; nothing passed to their
successor but the missals, the _heures_, and the _offices_ of their
chapels. These monarchs of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
amid the prevailing ignorance of the age, had not advanced in their
comprehension of the uses of a permanent library beyond their great
predecessor of the ninth, for Charlemagne had ordered his books to be
sold after his death, and the money given to the poor.

Yet among these early French kings there were several who were lovers of
books, and were not insensible of the value of a studious intercourse,
anxious to procure transcribers and translators. A curious fact has been
recorded of St. Louis, that, during his crusade in the East, having
learned that a Saracen prince employed scribes to copy the best writings
of philosophy for the use of students, on his return to France he
adopted the same practice, and caused the Scriptures and the works of
the Fathers to be transcribed from copies found in different abbeys.
These volumes were deposited in a secure apartment, to which the learned
might have access; and he himself passed much of his time there,
occupied in his favourite study, the writings of the Fathers.[1]

Charles le Sage, in 1373, had a considerable library, amounting to nine
hundred volumes. He placed this collection in one of the towers of the
Louvre, hence denominated the "Tour de la Librarie," and entrusted it to
the custody of his valet-de-chambre, Gilles Malet, constituting him his
librarian.[2] He was no common personage, for great as was the care and
ingenuity required, he drew up an inventory with his own hand of this
royal library. In that early age of book-collecting, volumes had not
always titles to denote their subjects, or they contained several in one
volume,[3] hence they are described by their outsides, their size, and
their shape, their coverings and their clasps. This library of Charles
the Fifth shines in extreme splendour, with its many-coloured silks and
velvets, azure and vermeil, green and yellow, and its cloths of silver
and of gold, each volume being distinctly described by the colour and
the material of its covering. This curious document of the fourteenth
century still exists.[4]

This library passed through strange vicissitudes. The volumes in the
succeeding reigns were seized on, or purchased at a conqueror's price,
by the Duke of Bedford, Regent of France. Some he gave to his brother
Humphrey, the Duke of Gloucester, and they formed a part of the rich
collection which that prince presented to Oxford, there finally to be
destroyed by a fanatical English mob; others of the volumes found their
way back to the Louvre, repurchased by the French at London. The
glorious missal that bears the Regent's name remains yet in this
country, the property of a wealthy individual.[5]

Accident has preserved a few catalogues of libraries of noblemen in the
fourteenth and fifteenth century, more pleasant than erudite. In the
fourteenth century, the volumes consisted for the greater part of those
romances of chivalry, which so long formed the favourite reading of the
noble, the dame and the damoiselle, and all the lounging damoiseaux in
the baronial castle.[6]

The private libraries of the fifteenth century were restricted to some
French tomes of chivalry, or to "a merrie tale in Boccace;" and their
science advanced not beyond "The Shepherd's Calendar," or "The Secrets
of Albert the Great." There was an intermixture of legendary lives of
saints, and apocryphal adventures of "Notre Seigneur" in Egypt; with a
volume or two of physic and surgery and astrology.

A few catalogues of our monastic libraries still remain, and these
reflect an image of the studies of the middle ages. We find versions of
the Scriptures in English and Latin--a Greek or Hebrew manuscript is not
noted down; a commentator, a father, and some schoolmen; and a writer on
the canon law, and the mediæval Christian poets who composed in Latin
verse. A romance, an accidental classic, a chronicle and legends--such
are the usual contents of these monastic catalogues. But though the
subjects seem various, the number of volumes were exceedingly few. Some
monasteries had not more than twenty books. In such little esteem were
any writings in the vernacular idiom held, that the library of
Glastonbury Abbey, probably the most extensive in England, in 1248,
possessed no more than four books in English,[7] on religious topics;
and in the later days of Henry the Eighth, when Leland rummaged the
monasteries, he did not find a greater number. The library of the
monastery of Bretton, which, owing to its isolated site, was among the
last dissolved, and which may have enlarged its stores with the spoils
of other collections which the times offered, when it was dissolved in
1558, could only boast of having possessed one hundred and fifty
distinct works.[8]

In this primitive state of book-collecting, a singular evidence of their
bibliographical passion was sometimes apparent in the monastic
libraries. Not deeming a written catalogue, which might not often be
opened, sufficiently attractive to remind them of their lettered stores,
they inscribed verses on their windows to indicate the books they
possessed, and over these inscriptions they placed the portraits of the
authors. Thus they could not look through their windows without being
reminded of their volumes; and the very portraits of authors,
illuminated by the light of heaven, might rouse the curiosity which
many a barren title would repel.[9]

To us accustomed to reckon libraries by thousands, these scanty
catalogues will appear a sad contraction of human knowledge. The
monastic studies could not in any degree have advanced the national
character; they could only have kept it stationary; and, excepting some
scholastic logomachies, in which the people could have no concern, one
monkish writer could hardly ever have differed from another.

The monastic libraries have been declared to have afforded the last
asylums of literature in a barbarous era; and the preservation of
ancient literature has been ascribed to the monks: but we must not
accept a fortuitous occurrence as any evidence of their solicitude or
their taste. In the dull scriptorium of the monk, if the ancient authors
always obtained so secure a place, they slept in comparative safety, for
they were not often disturbed by their first Gothic owners, who hardly
ever allude to them. If ancient literature found a refuge in the
monastic establishments, the polytheistical guests were not slightly
contemned by their hosts, who cherished with a different taste a
bastardised race of the Romans. The purer writers were not in request;
for the later Latin verse-makers being Christians, the piety of the
monks proved to be infinitely superior to their taste. Boethius was
their great classic; while Prudentius, Sedulius, and Fortunius, carried
the votes against Virgil, Horace, and even Ovid; though Ovid was in some
favour for his marvellous Romance. The polytheism of the classical poets
was looked on with horror, so literally did they construe the
allegorical fables of the Latin muse. Even till a later day, when
monkery itself was abolished, the same Gothic taste lingered among us in
its aversion to the classical poets of antiquity, as the works of

Had we not obtained our knowledge of the great ancients by other
circumstances than by their accidental preservation by the monks, we
should have lost a whole antiquity. The vellum was considered more
precious than the genius of the author; and it has been acutely
conjectured that the real cause of the minor writers of antiquity having
come down to us entire, while we have to lament for ever the lacerations
of the greater, has been owing to the scantiness of the parchment of a
diminutive volume. They coveted the more voluminous authors to erase
some immortal page of the lost decades of Livy, or the annals of
Tacitus, to inscribe on it some dull homily or saintly legend. That the
ancients were neglected by these guardians appears by the
dungeon-darkness from which the Italian Poggio disinterred many of our
ancient classics; and Leland, in his literary journey to survey the
monastic libraries of England, often shook from the unknown author a
whole century of dust and cobwebs. When libraries became one source of
the pleasures of life, the lovers of books appear to have been curious
in selecting their site for perfect seclusion and silence amid their
noble residences, and also in their contrivances to arrange their
volumes, so as to have them at instant command. One of these Gothic
libraries, in an old castle belonging to the Percys, has been described
by Leland with congenial delight. I shall transcribe his words,
accommodating the reader with our modern orthography.

"One thing I liked extremely in one of the towers; that was a STUDY
called PARADISE; where was a closet in the middle of eight squares
latticed 'abrate;' and at the top of every square was a desk ledged to
set books on, on coffers within them, and these seemed as joined hard to
the top of the closet; and yet by pulling, one or all would come down
breast-high in rabbets (or grooves), and serve for desks to lay books

However clumsy this invention in "Paradise" may seem to us, it was not
more so than the custom of chaining their books to the shelves, allowing
a sufficient length of chain to reach the reading-desk--a mode which
long prevailed when printing multiplied the cares of the librarian.

[Illustration: _King's Library, British Museum_

London, Frederick Warne & C^o.]

All these libraries, consisting of manuscripts, were necessarily limited
in their numbers; their collectors had no choice, but gladly received
what occurred to their hands; it was when books were multiplied by the
press, that the minds of owners of libraries shaped them to their own
fancies, and stamped their characters on these companions of their

We have a catalogue of the library of Mary Queen of Scots, as delivered
up to her son James the Sixth, in 1578,[10] very characteristic of her
elegant studies; the volumes chiefly consist of French authors and
French translations, a variety of chronicles, several romances, a few
Italian writers, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Ariosto, and her favourite
poets, Alain Chartier, Ronsard, and Marot. This library forms a striking
contrast with that of Elizabeth of England, which was visited in 1598 by
Hentzner, the German traveller. The shelves at Whitehall displayed a
more classical array; the collection consisted of Greek, Latin, as well
as Italian and French books.

The dearness of parchment, and the slowness of the scribes, made
manuscripts things only purchasable by princely munificence. It was the
discovery of paper from rags, and the novel art of taking copies without
penmen, which made books mere objects of commerce, and dispersed the
treasures of the human mind free as air, and cheap as bread.


  [1] "Essai Historique sur la Bibliothèque du Roi," par M. Le Prince.

  [2] This Gilles Malet, who was also the king's reader, had great
    strength of character; he is thus described by Christine de
    Pise:--"Souverainement bien lisoit, et bien ponttoit, et entendens
    homs estoit;" "he read sovereignly well, with good punctuation, and
    was an understanding man." She has recorded a personal anecdote of
    him. One day a fatal accident happened to his child, but such was the
    discipline of official duties, that he did not interrupt his
    attendance on the king at the usual hour of reading. The king having
    afterwards heard of the accident which had bereaved the father of his
    child, observed, "If the intrepidity of this man had not exceeded
    that which nature bestows upon ordinary men, his paternal emotion
    would not have allowed him to conceal his misfortune."

  [3] The reader may form some idea of the discordant arrangement of a
    volume of manuscripts by the following entries:--"Un Livre qui
    commence de Genesis, et aussi traite des fais Julius Cesar, appelle
    Suetoine." "Un Livre en François, en un volume, qui ce commence de
    Genesis, et traite du fait des Romains, de la vie des SS. Peres
    Hermites, et de Merlin."

  [4] "Hist. de l'Académie Royale des Inscriptions," tome i. 421, 12mo.

  [5] It has, within the last few years, been added to the British

  [6] _Dame_ was the lady of the knight; the _Damoiselle_, the wife of
    an esquire; _Dameisel_, or _Damoiseau_, was a youth of noble
    extraction, but who had not yet attained to knighthood.--Rocquefort,
    "Glossaire de la Langue Romane."

  [7] Ritson's "Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy," lxxxi.

  [8] See an "Essay on English Monastic Libraries," by that learned and
    ingenious antiquary, the Rev. Joseph Hunter.

  [9] Some of these extraordinary window-catalogues of the monastic
    library of St. Albans were found in the cloisters and presbytery of
    that monastery, and are preserved in the "Monasticon Anglicanum."

  [10] Dibdin's "Bibliographical Decameron," iii. 245.


There was a state of transition in our literature, both classical and
vernacular, which deserves our notice in the progress of the genius of
the nation.

A prudent sovereign in the seventh Henry, amid factions rather joined
together than cemented, gave a semblance of repose to a turbulent land,
exhausted by its convulsions. A martial rudeness still lingered among
the great; and we discover by a curious conversation which the learned
Pace held with some of the gentry, with whom, perhaps, he had
indiscreetly remonstrated, attempting to impress on their minds the
advantages of study, that his advice was indignantly rejected. Such
pursuits seemed to them unmanly, and intolerable impediments in the
practice of those more active arts of life which alone were worthy of
one of gentle blood; their fathers had been good knights without this
idling toil of reading.

Henry the Seventh, when Earl of Richmond, during his exile in France
from 1471 to 1485, had become a reader of French romances, an admirer of
French players, and an amateur of their peculiar architecture. After his
accession we trace these new tastes in our poetry, our drama, and in a
novel species of architecture which Bishop Fox called Burgundian, and
which is the origin of the Tudor style.[1] A favourer of the histrionic
art, he introduced a troop of French players. Wary in his pleasures as
in his politics, this monarch was moderate in his patronage either of
poets or players, but he was careful to encourage both. The queen
participated in his tastes, and appears to have bestowed particular
rewards on "players", whose performances had afforded her unusual
delight; and among the curious items of her majesty's expenditure, we
find that many of these players were foreigners--"a French player, an
Italian poet, a Spanish tumbler, a Flemish tumbler, a Welshman for
making a ryme, a maid that came out of Spain and danced before the

This monarch had suffered one of those royal marriages which are a
tribute paid to the interests of the State. Henry had yielded with
repugnance to a union with Elizabeth the Yorkist; the sullen Lancastrian
long looked on his queen with the eyes of a factionist. Toward the
latter years of his life this repugnance seems to have passed away, as
this gentle consort largely participated in his tastes. It was probably
in their sympathy that the personal prejudices of Henry melted away.
This indeed was a triumph of the arts of imagination over the warped
feelings of the individual; it marked the transition from barbaric arms
to the amenities of literature, and the softening influence of the
mimetic arts; it was the presage of the magnificence of his successor.
The nation was benefited by these new tastes; the pacific reign made a
revolution in our court, our manners, and our literature.

We may date from this period that happy intercourse which the learned
English opened with the Continent, and more particularly with literary
Italy; our learned travellers now appear in number. Colet, the founder
of St. Paul's School, not only passed over to Paris, but lingered in
Italy, and returned home with the enthusiasm of classical antiquity.
Grocyn, to acquire the true pronunciation of the Greek, which he first
taught at Oxford, domesticated with Demetrius Chalcondyles and Angelo
Politian, at Florence. Linacre, the projector of the College of
Physicians, visited Rome and Florence. Lilly, the grammarian, we find at
Rhodes and at Rome, and the learned Pace at Padua. We were thus early
great literary travellers; and the happier Continentalists, who rarely
move from their native homes, have often wondered at the restless
condition of those whom they have sometimes reproached as being
_Insulaires_; yet they may be reminded that we have done no more than
the most ancient philosophers of antiquity. Our reproachers fortunately
possessed the arts, and even the learning, which we were willing by
travel and costs to acquire. "The Islanders" may have combined all the
knowledge of all the world, a freedom and enlargement of the mind, which
those, however more fortunately placed, can rarely possess, who restrict
their locality and narrow their comprehension by their own home-bound

The king, delighting in poetry, fostered an English muse in the learned
rhyme of STEPHEN HAWES, who was admitted to his private chamber, for the
pleasure which Henry experienced in listening to poetic recitation. It
was probably the taste of his royal master which inspired this bard's
allegorical romance of chivalry, of love, and of science. This elaborate
work is "The Pastime of Pleasure, or the History of Graunde Amour and la
bell Pucell, containing the knowledge of the seven sciences and the
course of man's life." At a time when sciences had no reality, they were
constantly alluding to them; ignorance hardily imposed its erudition;
and experimental philosophy only terminated in necromancy. The seven
sciences of the accomplished gentleman were those so well known,
comprised in the scholastic distich.

In the ideal hero "Graunde Amour," is shadowed forth the education of a
complete gentleman of that day. From the Tower of "Doctrine," to the
Castle of "Chivalry," the way lies equally open, but the progress is
diversified by many bye-paths, and a number of personified ideas or
allegorical characters. These shadowy actors lead to shadowy places; but
the abounding incidents relieve us among this troop of passionless

This fiction blends allegory with romance, and science with chivalry. At
the early period of printing, it was probably the first volume which
called in the graver's art to heighten the inventions of the writer, and
the accompanying wood-cuts are an evidence of the elegant taste of the
author, although that morose critic of all poesy, honest Anthony à Wood,
sarcastically concludes that these cuts were "to enable the reader to
understand the story better." This once courtly volume, our sage
reports, "is now thought but worthy of a ballad-monger's stall."[2]
"The Pastime of Pleasure" was even despised by that great
book-collector, General Lord Fairfax, who, on the copy he possessed, has
left a memorandum "that it should be changed for a better book!" The
fate of books vacillates with the fancies of book-lovers, and the
improvements of a later age. In the days of Fairfax, the gloom of the
civil wars annihilated their imaginations.

But the gorgeousness of this romance struck the Gothic fancy of the
historian of our poetry, magic, chivalry, and allegory! In the
circumstantial analysis of Warton, the reader may pursue his "course of
man's life" through the windings of the labyrinth. It seems as if the
patience of the critic had sought a relief amid his prolonged chronicle
of obscure versifiers, in a production of imagination, the only one
which had appeared since Chaucer, and which, to the contemplative poetic
antiquary, showed him the infant rudiments of the future Spenser.

This allegorical romance is imbued with Provençal fancy, and probably
emulated the "Roman de la Rose," which could not fail to be a favourite
with the royal patron, among those French books which he loved. Fertile
in invention, it is, however, of the old stock; fresh meads and
delicious gardens,--ladies in arbours,--magical trials of armed knights
on horses of steel, which, touched by a secret spring, could represent a
tourney. We strike the shield at the castle-gate of chivalry, and we
view the golden roof of the hall, lighted up by a carbuncle of
prodigious size; we repose in chambers walled with silver, and
enamelling many a story. There are many noble conceptions among the
allegorical gentry. She, whom Graunde Amour first beheld was mounted on
her palfrey, flying with the wind, encircled with tongues of fire, and
her two milkwhite greyhounds, on whose golden collars are inscribed in
diamond letters, _Grace_ and _Governance_. She is Fame, her palfrey is
Pegasus, and her burning tongues are the voice of Posterity! There are
some grotesque incidents, as in other romances; a monster wildly
created, the offspring of Disdain and Strangeness--a demon composed of
the seven metals! We have also a dwarf who has to encounter a giant with
seven heads; our subdolous David mounts on twelve steps cut in the rock;
and to the surprise of the giant, he discovered in "the boy whom he had
mocked," his equal in stature, and his vanquisher, notwithstanding the
inconceivable roar of his seven heads!

Warton transcribed a few lines to show this poet's "harmonious
versification and clear expression;" but this short specimen may convey
an erroneous notion. Our verse was yet irregular, and its modulation was
accidental rather than settled; the metrical lines of Hawes, for the
greater part, must be read rhythmically, it was a barbarism that even
later poets still retained. He also affected an ornate diction; and
Latin and French terms cast an air of pedantry, more particularly when
the euphony of his verse is marred by closing his lines with his
elongated polysyllables; he probably imagined that the dimensions of his
words necessarily lent a grandeur to his thoughts. With all these
defects, Hawes often surpasses himself, and we may be surprised that, in
a poem composed in the court of Henry the Seventh, about 1506, the poet
should have left us such a minutely-finished picture of female beauty as
he has given of La Pucelle; Hawes had been in Italy, and seems with an
artist's eye to have dwelt on some picture of Raphael, in his early
manner, or of his master Perugino, in his hard but elaborate style.

  Her shining hair, so properly she dresses,
  Aloft her forehead, with fayre golden tresses;
  Her forehead stepe, with fayre browés ybent;
  Her eyen gray; her nosé straight and fayre;
  In her white cheeks, the faire bloudé it went
  As among the white, the reddé to repayre;
  Her mouthe right small; her breathe sweet of ayre;
  Her lippes soft and ruddy as a rose;
  No hart alive but it would him appose.
  With a little pitte in her well-favoured chynne;
  Her necke long, as white as any lillye,
  With vaynés blewe, in which the bloude ranne in;
  Her pappés rounde, and thereto right pretýe;
  Her armés slender, and of goodly bodýe;
  Her fingers small, and thereto right longe,
  White as the milk, with blewé vaynes among;
  Her feet propér; she gartred well her hose;
  I never sawe so fayre a créatúre.

The reign of Henry the Seventh was a misty morning of our vernacular
literature, but it was the sunrise; and though the road be rough, we
discover a few names by which we may begin to count--as we find on our
way a mile-stone, which, however rudely cut and worn out, serves to
measure our distances.


  [1] Speed's "History," 995.

  [2] This forlorn volume of Anthony's "Stalls" is now a gem placed in
    the caskets of black-letter. This poetic romance, by its excessive
    rarity,--the British Museum is without a copy,--has obtained most
    extraordinary prices among our collectors. A copy of the first
    edition at the Roxburgh sale reached 84_l._, which was sold at Sir M.
    M. Sykes' for half the price; later editions, for a fourth. A copy
    was sold at Heber's sale for 25_l._ It may, however, relieve the
    distress of some curious readers to be informed that it may now be
    obtained at the most ordinary cost of books. Mr. SOUTHEY, with
    excellent judgment, has preserved the romance in his valuable volume
    of "Specimens of our Ancient Poets," from the time of Chaucer; it is
    to be regretted, however, that the text is not correctly printed, and
    that the poem has suffered mutilation--six thousand lines seem to
    have exhausted the patience of the modern typographer. [A more
    perfect and accurate edition, from that printed in 1555, was
    published by the Percy Society in 1845, under the editorship of Mr.
    Thos. Wright.]


Society must have considerably advanced ere it could have produced an
historical record; and who could have furnished even the semblance but
the most instructed class, in the enjoyment of uninterrupted leisure,
among every people? History therefore remained long a consecrated thing
in the hands of the priesthood, from the polytheistical era of the Roman
Pontiffs who registered their annals, to the days that the history of
Christian Europe became chronicled by the monastic orders.[1] Had it not
been for the monks, exclaimed our learned Marsham, we should not have
had a history of England.

The monks provided those chronicles which have served both for the
ecclesiastical and civil histories of every European people. In every
abbey the most able of its inmates, or the abbot himself, was appointed
to record every considerable transaction in the kingdom, and sometimes
extended their views to foreign parts. All these were set down in a
volume reserved for this purpose; and on the decease of every sovereign
these memorials were laid before the general chapter, to draw out a sort
of chronological history, occasionally with a random comment, as the
humour of the scribe prompted, or the opinions of the whole monastery

Besides these meagre annals the monasteries had other books more curious
than their record of public affairs. These were their Leiger-books, of
which some have escaped among the few reliques of the universal
dissolution of the monasteries. In these registers or diaries they
entered all matters relating to their own monastery and its
dependencies. As time never pressed on the monkish secretary, his
notabilia runs on very miscellaneously. Here were descents of families,
and tenures of estates; authorities of charters and of cartularies;
curious customs of counties, cities, and great towns. Strange accidents
were not uncommon then; and sometimes, between a miracle or a natural
phenomenon, a fugitive anecdote stole in. The affairs of a monastery
exhibited a moving picture of domestic life. These religious houses,
whose gate opened to the wayfarer, and who were the distributors of
useful commodities to the neighbouring poor--for in their larger
establishments they included workmen of every class--did not, however,
maintain their munificence untainted by mundane passions. Forged
charters had often sealed their possessions, and supposititious grants
of mortuary donations silently transferred the wealth of families. These
lords of the soil, though easy landlords, still cast an "evil eye" on
the lands of their neighbour. Even rival monasteries have fought in
meadows for the ownership; the stratagems of war and the battle-array of
two troops of cudgelling monks might have furnished some cantos to an
epic, less comic perhaps than that of "The Rape of the Bucket."

In the literary simplicity of the twelfth to the fourteenth century,
while every great monastery had its historian, every chronicle derived
its title from its locality; thus, among others, were the Glastonbury,
the Peterborough, and the Abingdon Chronicles: and when Leland, so late
as the reign of Henry the Eighth, in his search into monastic libraries,
discovered one at St. Neot's, he was at a loss to describe it otherwise
than as "The Chronicle of St. Neot's." The famous Doomsday Book was
originally known as "Liber de Winton," or "The Winchester Book," from
its first place of custody. The same circumstance occurred among our
neighbours, where _Les grandes Chroniques de Saint Denys_ were so called
from having been collected or compiled by the monks of that abbey. An
abstract notion of history, or any critical discrimination of one
chronicle from another, was not as yet familiar even to our scholars;
and in the dearth of literature the classical models of antiquity were
yet imperfectly contemplated.

It is not less curious to observe that, at a time when the literary
celebrity of the monachal scribe could hardly pass the boundaries of the
monastery, and the monk himself was restricted from travelling, bound by
indissoluble chains, yet this lone man, as if eager to enjoy a literary
reputation, however spurious, was not scrupulous in practising certain
dishonest devices. Before the discovery of printing, the concealment of
a manuscript for the purpose of appropriation was an artifice which, if
we may decide by some rumours, more frequently occurred than has been
detected. Plagiarism is the common sin of the monkish chronicler, to
which he was often driven by repeating a mouldy tale a hundred times
told; but his furtive pen extended to the capital crime of felony. I
shall venture to give a pair of literary anecdotes of monkish writers.

Matthew of Paris, one of these chroniclers, is somewhat esteemed, and
Matthew of Westminster is censured, for having copied in his "Flores
Historiarum" the other Matthew; but we need not draw any invidious
comparison between the two Matthews, since Matthew the first had himself
transcribed the work of Roger the Prior of Wendover. The famous
"Polychronicon," which long served as a text-book for the encyclopædic
knowledge of the fourteenth century, has two names attached to it, and
one, however false, which can never be separated from the work,
interwoven in its texture. This famed volume is ascribed to Ranulph, or
Ralph Higden of St. Werberg's Monastery, now the Cathedral of Chester.
Ralph, that he might secure the tenure of this awful edifice of
universal history for a thousand years, most subdolously contrived that
the initial letter of every chapter, when put together, signified that
Ralph, a monk of Chester, had compiled the work. Centuries did not
contradict the assumption; but time, that blabber of more fatal secrets
than those of authors, discovered in the same monastery that another
brother Roger had laboured for the world their universal history in his
"Polycratica Temporum." On examination, the truth flashed! For lo! the
peccant pen of Ralph had silently transmigrated the "Polycratica" into
the "Polychronicon," and had only laid a trap for posterity by his
treacherous acrostics![2]

These universal chroniclers usually opened, _ab initio_, with the
Creation, dispersed at Babel reach home, and paused at the Norman
Conquest. This was their usual first division; it was a long journey,
but a beaten path. Whatever they found written was history to them, for
they were without means of correcting their aptitude for credence. Their
anachronisms often ludicrously give the lie to their legendary

Most of these monastic writers composed in a debased Latinity of their
own, bald and barbarous, but which had grown up with the age; their
diction bears a rude sort of simplicity. Yet though they were not
artists, there were occasions when they were inevitably graphic--when
they detail like a witness in court. These writers have been lauded by
the gratitude of antiquaries, and valued by philosophical historians. A
living historian has observed of them, that "nothing can be more
contemptible as compositions; nothing can be more satisfactory as
authorities." But it is necessary that we should be reminded of the
partial knowledge and the partial passions of these sources of our
earlier modern history. Lift the cowl from the historiographers in their
cells recording those busy events in which they never were busied,
characterising those eminent persons from whom they were far removed;
William of Malmesbury, not one of the least estimable of these writers,
confesses that he drew his knowledge from public rumours, or what the
relaters of news brought to them.[3] In some respects their history
sinks to the level of one of our newspapers, and is as liable to be
tinged with party feelings. The whole monastery had as limited notions
of public affairs as they had of the kingdom itself, of which they knew
but little out of their own county.

No monastic writer, as an historian, has descended to posterity for the
eminence of his genius, for the same stamp of mind gave currency to
their works. Woe to the sovereign who would have clipt their wings! then
"tongues talked and pens wrote" monkish. There was a proverb among them,
that "The giver is blessed, but he who taketh away is accursed." None
but themselves could appeal to Heaven, and for their crowned slaves they
were not penurious of their beatitude. They knew to crouch as well as to
thunder. They usually clung to the reigning party; and a new party or a
change of dynasty was sure to change their chronicling pen. HALL, the
chronicler of Henry the Eighth, at the first moment when it was
allowable to speak distinctly concerning these monkish writers,
observed, "These monastical persons, learned and unliterate, better fed
than taught, took on them to write and register in the book of fame the
arts, and doings, and politic governance of kings and princes." It seems
not to have occurred to the chronicler of Henry the Eighth that, had not
those monks "taken on them to write and register," we should have had no
"Book of Fame." It is a duty we owe to truth to penetrate into the
mysteries of monkery, but the monks will always retain their right to
receive their large claims on our admiration of their labours.

There was also another class of early chroniclers throughout Europe; men
who filled the office of a sort of royal historiographer, who
accompanied the king and the army in their progress, to note down the
occurrences they deemed most honourable or important to the nation. But
incidents written down by a monk in his cell, or by a diarist pacing the
round with majesty, would be equally warped, by the views of the
monastery in the one case, or by a flattering subservience to the higher
power in the other.

In this manner the early history of Europe was written; the more ancient
part was stuffed with fables; and when it might have become useful in
recording passages and persons of the writer's own times, we have a
one-sided tale, wherein, while half is suppressed, the other is
disguised by flattery or by satire. Such causes are well known to have
corrupted these first origins of modern history, a history in which the
commons and the people at large had very little concern, till the day
arrived, in the progress of society, when chronicles were written by
laymen in the vernacular idiom for their nation.


  [1] Archbishop Plegmund superintended the Saxon Annals to the year
    891. The first Chronicles, those of Kent or Wessex, were regularly
    continued by the Archbishops of Canterbury, or by their directions,
    as far as 1000, or even 1070.--"The Rev. Dr. Ingram's preface to the
    Saxon Chronicle."

    These were our earliest Chronicles; the Britons possibly never wrote

  [2] We have a remarkable instance among the Italian historians of
    this period. Giovanni Villani wrote about 1330; Muratori discovered
    that Villani had wholly transcribed the ancient portion of his
    history from an old Chronicle of Malespini, who wrote about 1230,
    without any acknowledgment whatever. Doubtless Villani imagined that
    an insulated manuscript, during a century's oblivion, had little
    chance of ever being classed among the most ancient records of
    Italian history. Malespini's "Chronicle," like its brothers, was
    stuffed with fables; Villani was honest enough not to add to them,
    though not sufficiently so not silently to appropriate the whole
    chronicle--the only one Dante read.--"Tiraboschi," v. 410, part 2nd.

  [3] We have an elegant modern version of this monk's history by the
    Rev. J. Sharpe.


Very early in the sixteenth century appeared a volume which seems to
have perplexed our literary historians by its mutable and undefinable
character. It is a book without a title, and miscalled by the deceptive
one of "Arnolde's Chronicle, or the Customs of London;" but "the
Customs" are not the manners of the people, but rather "the Customs" of
the Custom-House, and it in no shape resembles, or pretends to be "a
chronicle." This erroneous title seems to have been injudiciously
annexed to it by Hearne the antiquary, and should never have been
retained. This anomalous work, of which there are three ancient
editions, had the odd fate of all three being sent forth without a title
and without a date; and our bibliographers cannot with any certainty
ascertain the order or precedence of these editions. One edition was
issued from the press of a Flemish printer at Antwerp, and possibly may
be the earliest. The first printer, whether English or Flemish, was
evidently at a loss to christen this monstrous miscellaneous babe, and
ridiculously took up the title and subjects of the first articles which
offered themselves, to designate more than a hundred of the most
discrepant variety. The ancient editions appeared as "The names of the
Baylyfs, Custos, Mayres, and Sherefs of the Cyte of London, with the
Chartour and Lybartyes of the same Cyte, &c. &c., with other dyvers
matters good and necessary for every Cytezen to understand and know;"--a
humble title equally fallacious with the higher one of a "Chronicle,"
for it has described many objects of considerable curiosity, more
interesting than "mayors and sheriffs," and even "the charter and
liberties" of "the cyte."

In conveying a notion of a jumble,[1] though the things themselves are
sufficiently grave, we cannot avoid a ludicrous association; yet this
should not lessen the value of its information.

A considerable portion of this medley wholly relates to the municipal
interests of the citizens of London--charters and grants, with a vast
variety of forms or models of public and private instruments, chiefly of
a commercial description. Parish ordinances mix with Acts of Parliament;
and when we have conned the oath of the beadle of the ward, we are
startled by Pope Nicholas' Bull. We have the craft of grafting trees and
altering of fruits, as well in colour as in taste, close to an oration
of the messenger of "the Soudan of Babylon" to the Pope in 1488. Indeed,
we have many more useful crafts, besides the altering of the flavour of
fruits, and the oration of the Mahometan to the representative of St.
Peter; for here are culinary receipts, to keep sturgeon, to make vinegar
"shortly," "percely to grow in an hour's space," and to make ypocras,
straining the wine through a bag of spices--it was nothing more than our
mulled wine; and further, are receipts to make ink, and compound
gunpowder, to make soap, and to brew beer. Whether we may derive any
fresh hints from our ancestor of the year 1500 exceeds my judgment; but
to this eager transcriber posterity owes one of the most passionate
poems in our language; for betwixt "the composition between the
merchants of England and the town of Antwerp," and "the reckoning to buy
wares in Flanders," first broke into light "A Ballade of the Notbrowne
Mayde." Thus, when an indiscriminating collector is at work, one cannot
foresee what good fortune may not chance to be his lot.

Warton has truly characterised this work as "the most heterogeneous and
multifarious miscellany that ever existed;" but he seems to me to have
mistaken both the design of the collector, and the nature of the
collection. Some supposed that the collector, Richard Arnolde, intended
the volume to be an antiquarian repertory; but as the materials were
recent, that idea cannot be admitted; and Warton censures the compiler,
who, to make up a volume, printed together whatever he could amass of
notices and papers of every sort and subject. The modern editor of
"Arnolde's Chronicle" was perplexed at the contents of what he calls "a
strange book."

The critical decision of Warton is much too searching for a volume in
which the compiler never wrote a single line, and probably never
entertained the remotest idea of the printer's press. This book without
a name is, in fact, nothing more than a simple collection made by an
English merchant engaged in the Flemish trade. Nor was such a work
peculiar to this artless collector; for in a time of rare publications,
such men seemed to have formed for themselves a sort of library, of
matters they deemed worthy of recollection, to which they could have
easy recourse.[2] By the internal evidence, Arnolde was no stranger at
Antwerp, nor at Dordrecht. Antwerp was then a favourite residence of the
English merchants; there the typographic art flourished, and the
printers often printed English books; and as this collection was printed
at Antwerp by Doesborowe, a Flemish printer, we might incline with Douco
to infer that the Flemish was the first edition; for it seems not
probable that a foreign printer would have selected an English volume of
little interest to foreigners, to reprint; although we can imagine that
from personal consideration, or by the accident of obtaining the
manuscript, he might have been induced to be the first publisher.
Whoever was the first printer, the collector himself seems to have been
little concerned in the publication, by the suppression of his name, by
the omission of a title, by not prefixing a preface, nor arranging in
any way this curious medley of useful things, which he would familiarly
turn to as his occasions needed, and--if we may compare a grave volume
with the lightest--was of that class which ladies call their
"scrap-books," and assuredly not, according to its fallacious title, a


  [1] In Oldys' "British Librarian" there is an accurate analysis of
    the work, in which every single article is enumerated.

  [2] A similar volume to Arnolde's may be found in the "Harl. MSS.,"
    No. 2252.


The first chronicle in our vernacular prose, designed for the English
people, was the earnest labour of one of themselves, a citizen and
alderman, and sometime sheriff of London, ROBERT FABYAN. Here, for the
first time, the spectacle of English affairs, accompanied by what he has
called "A Concordance of Stories," which included separate notices of
French history contemporaneous with the periods he records, was opened
for "the unlettered who understand no Laten." Our chronicler, in the
accustomed mode, fixes the periods of history by dates from Adam or from
Brute. He opens with a superfluous abridgment of Geoffry of
Monmouth--the "Polychronicon" is one of his favourite sources, but his
authorities are multifarious. His French history is a small stream from
"La Mere des Chroniques," and other chronicles of his contemporary
Gaguin, a royal historiographer who wandered in the same taste, but who,
Fabyan had the sagacity to discover, carefully darkened all matters
unpleasant to Frenchmen, but never "leaving anything out of his book
that may sound to the advancement of the French nacyon."

It was a rare occurrence in a layman, and moreover a merchant, to have
cultivated the French and the Latin languages. Fabyan was not a learned
man, for the age of men of learning had not yet arrived, though it was
soon to come. At that early day of our typography, when our native
annalists lay scattered in their manuscript seclusion, it was no
ordinary delving which struck into the dispersed veins of the dim and
dark mine of our history. So little in that day was the critical
knowledge of our writers, that Fabyan has "quoted the same work under
different appellations," and some of our historical writers he seems not
to have met with in his researches, for the chronicles of Robert of
Gloucester and of Peter Langtoft, though but verse, would have
contributed some freshness to his own. In seven unequal divisions, the
chronicle closes with the days of the seventh Henry. These seven
divisions were probably more fantastical than critical; the number was
adopted to cheer the good man with "the seven joys of the Virgin," which
he sings forth in unmetrical metre, evidently participating in the
rapturous termination of each of his own "seven joys."

Our grave chronicler, arrayed in his civic dignities, seems to have
provoked the sensitiveness of the poetical critic in Warton, and the
caustic wit in Horace Walpole. "No sheriff," exclaims Walpole, "was ever
less qualified to write a history of England. He mentions the deaths of
princes and revolutions of government with the same phlegm and brevity
as he would speak of the appointment of churchwardens."

We may suspect that our citizen and chronicler, however he might be
familiar with the public acts of royalty, had no precise notions of the
principles of their government. We cannot otherwise deem of an
historical recorder whose political sagacity, in that famous interview
between our Edward the Fourth and Louis the Eleventh, of which Comines
has left us a lively scene, could not penetrate further than to the
fashion of the French monarch's dress. He tells us of "the nice and
wanton disguised apparel that the King Louys wore upon him at the time
of this meeting, _I might make a long rehearsal_, apparalled more like a
minstrel than a prince." Fabyan shared too in the hearty "John Bullism"
of that day in a mortal jealousy of the Gaul, and even of his _Sainte
Ampoule_. Though no man had a greater capacity of faith for miracles and
saints on English ground, yet for those of his neighbours he had found
authority that it was not necessary for his salvation to believe them,
and has ventured to decide on one, that "they must be folys (fools) who
believe it." Had the _Sainte Ampoule_, however, been deposited in
Westminster Abbey for our own coronations, instead of the Cathedral at
Rheims for a French king, Fabyan had not doubted of the efficacy of
every drop of the holy oil.

But the dotage of FABYAN did not particularly attach to him; and though
his intellectual comprehension was restricted to the experience of an
alderman, he might have been the little Machiavel of his wardmote--for
he has thrown out a shrewd observation, which no doubt we owe to his
own sagacity. In noticing the neglect of a mayor in repairing the walls
which had been begun by his predecessor, he observes that this generally
happens, for "one mayor will not finish that thing which another
beginneth, for then they think, be the deed ever so good and profitable,
that the honour thereof shall be ascribed to the beginner, and not to
the finisher, which lack of charity and desire of vainglory causeth many
good acts and deeds to die, and grow out of mind, to the great decay of
the commonwealth of the city." A profound observation, which might be
extended to monarchs as well as mayors.

Indulging too often the civic curiosity of "a citizen and alderman,"
FABYAN has been taunted for troubling posterity. "FABYAN," says Warton,
"is equally attentive to the succession of the mayors of London and the
monarchs of England. He seems to have thought the dinners at Guildhall
and the pageantries of the city companies more interesting transactions
than our victories in France and our struggles for public liberty at

This seems to be a random stricture. The alderman, indeed, has carefully
registered the mayors and the sheriffs of London; and the scientific in
"high and low prices" perhaps may be grateful that our pristine
chronicler has also furnished the prices of wheat, oxen, sheep, and
poultry--but we cannot find that he has commemorated the diversified
forms these took on the solemn tables of the Guildhall, nor can we meet
with the pasteboard pomps of city pageants, one only being recorded, on
the return of Henry the Sixth from France.

Our modern critic, composing in the spirit of our day, alludes to "the
struggle for public liberty"; but "public liberty" must have been a very
ambiguous point with the honest citizen who had been a sad witness to
the contests of two murderous families, who had long sought their mutual
destruction, and long convulsed the whole land. We may account for the
tempered indifference, and "the brief recitals" for which this simple
citizen is reproached, who had lived through such changeful and
ensanguined scenes, which had left their bleeding memories among the
families of his contemporaries.

The faculties of Fabyan were more level with their objects when he had
to chronicle the "tempestuous weathering of thunder and lightning," with
the ominous fall of a steeple, or "the image of our Lady" dashed down
from its roof; or when he describes the two castles in the air, whence
issued two armies, black and white, combating in the skies till the
white vanished! Such portents lasted much later than the days of Fabyan,
for honest Stowe records what had once ushered in St. James's night,
when the lightning and thunder coming in at the south window and
bursting on the north, the bells of St. Michael were listened to with
horror, ringing of themselves, while ugly shapes were dancing on the
steeple. Their natural philosophy and their piety were long stationary,
yet even then some were critical in their remarks; for when Fabyan
recorded "flying dragons and fiery spirits in the air," this was
corrected by omitting "the fiery spirits," but agreeing to "the flying
dragons." Fabyan, however, has preserved more picturesque and ingenious
visions in some legends of saints or apparitions--still delightsome.
These legends formed their "Works of Fiction," and were more affecting
than ours, for they were supernatural, and no one doubted their verity.

Our pristine chronicler, as we have seen, has received hard measure from
the two eminent critics of the eighteenth century, who have censured as
a history that which is none. Chronicles were written when the science
of true history had yet no existence; a chronicle then in reality is but
a part of history. Every fact dispersed in its insulated state refuses
all combination; cause and effect lie remote and obscured from each
other; disguised by their ostensible pretexts, the true motives of
actions in the great actors of the drama of history cannot be found in
the chronological chronicler. The real value of his diligence consists
in copiousness and discrimination; qualities rather adverse to each
other. FABYAN betrays the infirmities of the early chronicler, not yet
practised even in the art of simple detail, without distinction of the
importance or the insignificance of the matters he records: his eager
pen reckoned the number without knowing to test the weight; to him all
facts appeared of equal worth, for all alike had cost him the same toil;
and thus he yields an abundance without copiousness. In raising the
curiosity which he has not satisfied for us, his mighty tome shrinks
into a narrow scope, and his imperfect narratives, brief and dry, offer
only the skeletons of history. The mere antiquarian indeed prefers the
chronicle to the history; the acquisition of a fact with him is the
limit of his knowledge, and he is apt to dream that he possesses the
superstructure when he is only at work on the foundations.

The Chronicle of FABYAN attracts our notice for a remarkable incident
attending its publication. The Chronicle was finished in 1504, and
remained in manuscript during the author's life, who died in 1512. The
first edition did not appear till 1516. The cause which delayed the
printing of an important work, for such it was in that day, has not been
disclosed; yet perhaps we might have been interested to have learned
whether this protracted publication arose out of neglect difficult to
comprehend, or from the printer, reluctant to risk the cost, or from any
impediment from a higher quarter.

Be this as it may, we possess the writer's genuine work, for the
printer, Pynson, was faithful to his author. The rarity of this first
edition Bale, on a loose rumour which no other literary historian has
sanctioned, ascribes to its suppression by Cardinal Wolsey, who is
represented in his fury to have condemned the volume to a public
ignition, which no one appears to have witnessed, for its "dangerous
exposition of the revenues of the clergy," which is not found in the
volume. FABYAN truly was _ter Catholicus_; he was of the old religion,
dying in the odour of sanctity, and was spared the trial of the new. The
alderman's voluminous will is now for us at least as curious as anything
in his chronicle.[1] We here behold the play of the whole machinery of
superstition, when men imagined that they secured the repose of their
souls by feeing priests and bribing saints by countless masses. This
funereal rite was then called "the month's mind," and which, at least
for that short period, prolonged the memory of the departed. For this
lugubrious performance were provided ponderous torches for the bearers,
tapers for shrines, and huge candlesticks to be kept lighted at the
altar. Three trentballs--that is, thirty masses thrice told--were to be
chorused by the Grey Friars; six priests were to perform the high mass,
chant the requiem, and recite the _De Profundis_ and the _Dirige_; and
for nine years, on his mortuary day, he charges his "tenement in
Cornhill" to pay for an _Obite_! But not only friars and priests were to
pray or to sing for the repose of the soul of Alderman Fabyan, all
comers were invited to kneel around the tomb; and at times children were
to be called in, who if they could not read a _De Profundis_ from the
Psalter, the innocents were to cry forth a _Pater-Noster_ or an _Ave_!
There was a purveyance of ribs of beef and mutton and ale, "stock-fish,
if Lent," and other recommendations for "the comers to the _Dirige_ at
night." The Alderman, however, seems to have planned a kind of economy
in his "month's mind," for not only was the repose of his soul in
question, but also "the souls of all above written"--and these were a
bead-roll of all the branches of Fabyan's family.

The Chronicle of FABYAN was not long given to the world when it
encountered the doom of a system at its termination, just before the
beginnings of a coming one; that fatal period of a change in human
affairs and human opinions, usually described as a state of transition.
But in this particular instance, the change occurred preceded by no
transitional approach; for within the small circuit of thirty years it
seemed as if the events of whole centuries had been more miraculously
compressed, than any in those "lives of the saints" whose legendary
lore, provided the saints were English, Master FABYAN had loved to
perpend. It was Henry the Eighth who turned all the sense of our
chronicler into nonsense, all his honest faith into lying absurdities,
all his exhortations to maintain "religious houses" into treasonable

Successive editors of the editions of 1533, 43, and 55, surpassed each
other in watchfulness, to rid themselves of the old song. Never was
author so mutilated in parts, nor so wholly changed from himself; and
when, as it sometimes happened, neither purgation nor castration availed
the reforming critics, the author's sides bore their marginal
flagellations. The corrections or alterations were, however, dexterously
performed, for the texture of the work betrayed no trace of the rents.
The omission of a phrase saved a whole sentence, and the change of an
adjective or two set right a whole character. It is true they swept away
all his delightful legends, without sparing his woful metres of "the
seven joys of the Blessed Virgin," and his appreciation of some
favourite relics. They disbanded all the saints, or treated them as they
did "the holy virgin Edith," of whom Fabyan has recorded that "many
_virtues_ be rehearsed," which they delicately reduced to _verses_. His
Holiness the Pope is simply "the Bishop of Rome;" and on one memorable
occasion--the Papal interdiction of John--this "Bishop" is designated in
the margin by the reformer as "that monstrous and wicked Beast." The
narrative of Becket cost our compurgators, as it has many others, much
shifting, and more omissions. In the tale of the hardy and ambitious
Archbishop murdered by knightly assassins, Fabyan said, "They _martyred_
the blessed Archbishop;" our corrector of the press simply reads, "They
slew the traitorous Bishop." The _omissions_ and the commissions in the
Chronicle of FABYAN are often amusing and always instructive; but these
could not have been detected but by a severe collation, which has been
happily performed. When the antiquary Brand discovered that FABYAN had
been "_modernized_" in later editions, his observation would seem to
have extended no further than to the style: but the style of FABYAN is
simple and clear even to modern readers: modernized truly it was, not
however for phrases, but for notions--not for statements, but for
omissions--not for words, but for things.


  [1] We are indebted to the zealous research of Sir Henry Ellis for
    the disinterment of this document as well as for the collations which
    appear in his edition.


Peace and policy had diffused a halcyon calmness over the land, and the
people now discerned the approach of another era. Henry the Eighth, who
appears with such opposite countenances in the great gallery of history,
gave the country more glorious promises of an accomplished sovereign
than England had yet witnessed; and however he may appear differently
before the calm eye of posterity, the passions of his own times secured
his popularity even to his latter days. Youthful, with all its vigorous
and generous temper, and not inferior in the majesty of his intellect
any more than in that of his person--learned in his closet, yet
enterprising in action--this sovereign impressed his own commanding
character on the nation. Such a monarch gave wings to their genius. Long
pent up in their unhappy island, they soon indulged in a visionary
dominion in France, and in rapid victories in Scotland; insular England
once more aspired to be admitted into the great European family of
states; and Henry was the arbiter of Francis of France, and of Charles
of Germany. The awakened spirit of the English people unconsciously was
preparatory to the day which yet no one dreamed of. The minds of men
were opening to wider views; and he who sate on the throne was one who
would not be the last man in the kingdom to be mindless of its progress.

This lettered monarch himself professed authorship, and a sceptre was
his pen. When he sent forth a volume which all Europe was to read, and
was graced by a new title which all Europe was to own, who dared to
controvert the crowned controversialist, or impugn the validity of that
airy title? His majesty alone was allowed to confute himself.[1] Trained
from his early days in scholastic divinity, for he was designed to be
an archbishop, the volume, however aided by others, was the native
growth of his own mind. The king's taste for this learning was
studiously flattered by the great cardinal, who gently recommended to
his restless master a perusal of the nineteen folios of Thomas Aquinas,
possibly with the hope of fixing the royal fly in the repose of the
cobwebs of the schoolmen. Such, indeed, were his habits of study, that
he could interest himself in compiling a national Latin grammar, when
the schools succeeded to the dissolved monasteries. The grammar was
issued as an act of parliament; no other but the royal grammar was to be
thumbed without incurring the peril of a premunire.[2]

It is to be regretted that we are supplied with but few literary
anecdotes of this literary monarch. Some we may incidentally glean, and
some may be deduced from inference. The age was not yet far enough
advanced in civilization to enjoy that inquisitive leisure which leaves
its memorials for a distant posterity in the court tattle of a
Suetonius, or the secret history of a Procopius. It has, however, been
recorded that certain acts of parliament and proclamations were
corrected by the royal pen, and particularly the first draught of the
act which empowered the king to erect bishoprics was written by his own
hand; and he was the active editor of those monarchical pamphlets, as
they may be classed, on religious topics, which were frequently required
during his reign.

This learned monarch was unquestionably the first patron of our
vernacular literature; he indulged in a literary intercourse with our
earliest writers, and evinced a keen curiosity on any novelty in the
infant productions of the English press. On frequent occasions he took a
personal interest in the success, and even in the concoction, of
literary productions. He fully entered into the noble designs of Sir
Thomas Elyot to create a vernacular style, and critically discussed
with him the propriety of the use of new words, "apt for the purpose."
And on one occasion, when Sir Thomas Elyot projected our first Latin
dictionary, the king, in the presence of the courtiers, commended the
design, and offered the author not only his royal counsel, but a supply
of such books as the royal library possessed.

The king was not offended, as were some of the courtiers, with the
freedom displayed by Elyot in some of his ethical works. Elyot tells
us--"His grace not only took it in the better part, but with princely
words, full of majesty, commended my diligence, simplicity, and courage,
in that I spared no estate in the rebuking of vice." The king, at the
same time that he protected Elyot from his petty critics, rewarded the
early efforts of another vernacular author, who had dedicated to him his
first work in English prose, by a pension, which enabled the young
student, Roger Ascham, to set off on his travels. A remarkable instance
of Henry's quick attention to the novelties of our literature appears by
his critical conversation with the antiquary, Thynne, who had presented
to him his new edition of Chaucer. His Majesty soon discovered the
novelty of "The Pilgrim's Tale," a bitter satire on the pride and state
of the clergy, which at the time was ascribed to Chaucer. The king
pointing it out to the learned editor, observed, in these very
words--"William Thynne! I doubt this will not be allowed, for I suspect
the bishops will call thee in question for it." The editor submitted,
"If your grace be not offended, I hope to be protected by you." The king
"bade him go! and fear not!" It is evident that his majesty was "not
offended" at a severe satire on the clergy. But even Henry the Eighth
could not always change at will his political position--the minister in
power may find means to counteract even the absolute king. A great stir
was made in Wolsey's parliament; it was even proposed that the works of
Chaucer should be wholly suppressed--some good-humoured sprite rose in
favour of the only poet in the nation, observing that all the world knew
that Dan Chaucer had never written anything more than fables! The
authority of Wolsey so far prevailed that "The Pilgrim's Tale" was
suppressed, and it seems that the haughty prelate would willingly have
suppressed the editor in his own person. THYNNE was an intimate
acquaintance of SKELTON, whose caustic rhymes of "Colin Clout" had been
concocted at his country-house. THYNNE, in this perilous adventure of
publishing "The Pilgrim's Tale," was saved from the talons of the
cardinal, for this monarch's royal word was at all times sacred with

A literary anecdote of this monarch has been recently disclosed, which
at least attests his ardour for information. When Henry wanted time, if
not patience, to read a new work, he put copies into the hands of two
opposite characters, and from the reports of these rival reviewers the
king ventured to deduce his own results. This method of judging a work
without meditating on it, was a new royal cut in the road of literature,
to which we of late have been accustomed; but it seemed with Henry
rather to have increased the vacillations of his opinions, than steadied
the firmness of his decisions.

The court of Henry displayed a brilliant circle of literary noblemen,
distinguished for their translations, and some by their songs and
sonnets. Parker, Lord Morley, was a favourite for his numerous versions,
some of which he dedicated to the king; the witty Wyat, who always
sustained the anagram of his name, was a familiar companion; nor could
Henry be insensible to the elegant effusions of Surrey, unless his
political feelings indisposed his admiration. It was at the king's
command that Lord Berners translated the "Chronicles of Froissart," and
the volume is adorned by the royal arms. Sternhold, the memorable
psalm-enditer, was a groom of the chamber, and a personal favourite with
his master; and Henry appointed the illustrious Leland to search for and
to preserve the antiquities of England, and invested him with the
honourable title of "The King's Antiquary."

Scholars, too, stood around the royal table; and the company at the
palace excelled that of any academy, as Erasmus has told us. Learning
patronised by a despot became a fashionable accomplishment, and the
model for the court was in the royal family themselves. It is from this
period that we may date that race of learned ladies which continued
through the long reign of our maiden queen. Yet, before the accession
of Henry the Eighth, half a century had not elapsed when female
literature was at so low an ebb that Sir Thomas More noticed as an
extraordinary circumstance that Jane Shore could read and write. When
Erasmus visited the English court, he curiously observed that "The
course of human affairs was changed; the monks, famed in time passed for
learning, are become ignorant, and WOMEN LOVE BOOKS." Erasmus had
witnessed at the court of Henry the Eighth the Princess Mary and
Elizabeth, both of whom held an epistolary correspondence in Latin; the
daughter of Sir Anthony Cook, and Lady Jane Grey, versed in Greek; and
the Queen Catherine Parr, his fervent admirer for his paraphrase on the
four gospels. Erasmus had frequented the house of the More's, which he
describes as a perfect _musarum domicilium_. The venerable Nicholas
Udall, a contemporary, has also left us a picture of that day. "It is
now a common thing to see young virgins so nouzeld (nursed) and trained
in the study of letters, that they willingly set all other vain pastimes
at nought--reading and writing, and with most earnest study, both early
and late." The pliable nobility of Henry the Eighth easily took the bend
of the royal family, and among their daughters, doubtless, there were
more learned women than are chronicled in Ballard's "Memoirs." Lady Jane
Grey meditating on Plato was not so uncommon an incident as it appears
to us in the insulated anecdote. The learning of that day must not be
held as the pedantry of a later, for it was laying the foundations of
every knowledge in the soil of England.

The king's more elegant tastes diffused themselves among the finer arts
at a time when they were yet strangers in this land; his father's
travelled taste had received a tincture of these arts when abroad, in
Henry the Eighth they burst into existence with a more robust aptitude.
He eagerly invited foreign artists to his court; but the patronage of an
English monarch was not yet appreciated by some of the finest geniuses
of Italy; we lay yet too far out of their observation and sympathies;
and it is recorded of one of the Italian artists, a fiery spirit, who
had visited England, that he designated us as _quelle bestie Inglesi_.
Raphael and Titian could not be lured from their studios and their blue
skies; but, fortunately, a northern genius, whose name is as immortal as
their own, was domiciliated by the liberal monarch, the friend of
Erasmus and of More--Hans Holbein.

Among the musicians of Henry we find French, Italians, and Germans; he
was himself a musician, and composed several pieces which I believe are
still retained in the service of the Royal Chapel.[3] He had a taste for
the gorgeous or grotesque amusements of the Continent, combining them
with a display of the fine arts in their scenical effects. One memorable
night of the Epiphany, the court was startled by a new glory, where the
king and his companions appeared in a scene which the courtiers had
never before witnessed. "It was a mask after the manner of Italy, a
thing not seen afore in England," saith the chronicler of Henry's
court-days. Once, to amaze a foreign embassy, and on a sudden to raise
up a banqueting-house, the monarch set to work the right magicians; an
architect, and a poet, and his master of the revels, were months
inventing and labouring. The regal banqueting-house was adorned by the
arts of picture and music, of sculpture and architecture; all was full
of illusion and reality; the house itself was a pageant to exhibit a
pageant. The magnificent prince was himself so pleased, that he
anxiously stopped his visitors at the points of sight most favourable to
catch the illusion of the perspective. A monarch of such fine tastes and
gorgeous fancies would create the artists who are the true inventors.


  [1] The manuscript of Henry the Eighth reposes in the Vatican,
    witnessed by his own hand in this inscription:--"Anglorum Rex,
    Henricus Leoni X. 'mittit hoc opus et fidei testem et amicitiæ.'"--I
    found this inscription in one of the notes of Selden to the
    "Polyolbion" of Drayton.

  [2] The famous Grammar of Lilly was the work of a learned
    association, in which it appears that both the king and the cardinal
    had the honour to co-operate. Sir Thomas Elyot has designated Henry
    "as the chief author."--Preface to "The Castle of Health."

  [3] Sir John Hawkins' "History of Music," vol. ii.


The people of Europe, who had no other knowledge of languages than their
own uncultivated dialects, seem to have possessed what, if we may so
dignify it, we would call a fugitive literature of their own. It is
obvious that the people could not be ignorant of the important
transactions in their own land; transactions in which their fathers had
been the spectators or the actors, the sons would perpetuate by their
traditions; the names of their heroes had not died with them on the
battle-field. Nor would the villain's subjection to the feudal lord
spoil the merriment of the land, nor dull the quip of natural

Before the people had national books they had national songs. Even at a
period so obscure as the days of Charlemagne there were "_most ancient
songs_, in which the acts and wars of the old kings were sung." These
songs which, the secretary of Charlemagne has informed us, were
sedulously collected by the command of that great monarch, are described
by the secretary, according to his classical taste, as _barbara et
antiquissima carmina_; "barbarous," because they were composed in the
rude vernacular language; yet such was their lasting energy that they
were, even in the eighth century, held to be "most ancient," so long had
they dwelt in the minds, of the people! The enlightened emperor had more
largely comprehended their results in the vernacular idiom, on the
genius of the nation, than had the more learned and diplomatic
secretary. It was an ingenious conjecture, that, possibly, even these
ancient songs may in some shape have come down to us in the elder
northern and Teutonic romances, and the Danish, the Swedish, the
Scottish, and the English popular ballads. The kindling narrative, and
the fiery exploits which entranced the imagination of Charlemagne,
mutilated or disguised, may have framed the incidents of a romance, or
been gathered up in the snatches of old wives' tales, and, finally, may
have even lingered in the nursery.

Our miserable populace had poets for themselves, whose looser carols
were the joy of the streets or the fields. Unfortunately we only learn
that they had such artless effusions, for these songs have perished on
the lips of the singers. The monks were too dull or too cunning to
chronicle the outpourings of a people whom they despised, and which
assuredly would have often girded them to the quick. A humorous satire
of this kind has stolen down to us in that exquisite piece of drollery
and grotesque invention, "The Land of Cokaigne."[1] They had historical
ballads which were rehearsed to all listeners; and it was from these
"old ballads, popular through succeeding times," that William of
Malmesbury tells us that "he learned more than from books written
expressly for the information of posterity," though he will not answer
for their precise truth. They had also political ballads. A memorable
one, free as a lampoon, made by one of the adherents of Simon de
Montfort, Earl of Leicester, in the fugitive day of his victory in 1264,
occasioned a statute against "slanderous reports or tales to cause
discord betwixt king and people," a spirit which by no means was put
down by that enactment.[2] This was a ballad sung to the people, as
appears by the opening line,--

  Sitteth all stille, and harkeneth to me!

This ballad strikingly contrasts with another of unnerving dejection,
after the irreparable defeat of the party, and the death of the Earl of
Leicester, which, it is remarkable, is written in French, having been
probably addressed solely to that discomfited nobility who would
sympathise with the lament.[3]

The people, or the inferior classes of society, who despised the courtly
French then in vogue, formed such a multitude, that it was for them that
ROBERT of GLOUCESTER wrote his Chronicle, and that ROBERT of BRUNNE
translated the Chronicle of Peter Langtoft, and a volume of recreative
tales from the French. The people even then were eager readers, or, more
properly, auditors; and this further appears in the naïveté of our
rhymer's prologue to this Chronicle. The monk tells us, that this story
of England which he now shows in English, is not intended for the
learned, but the illiterate; not for the clerk, but the layman;

  Not for the lerid, but the lewed;[4]

and he describes the class, "they who take solace and mirth when they
sit together in fellowship," and deem it "wisdom for to witten" (to

  The state of the land, and haf it written.

The Hermit of Hampole expressly wrote his theological poems for the
people, for those who could understand only English.

At a period when we glean nothing from any literature of the people, we
find that it had a positive existence; for two chronicles and a
collection of tales and theological poems were furnished for them in
their native idiom, by writers who unquestionably sought for celebrity.
The people, too, had what in every age has been their peculiar
property,--all the fragmentary wisdom of antiquity in those "Few words
to the Wise," so daily useful, or so apt in the contingencies of human
life; proverbs and Æsopian fables, delightedly transmitted from father
to son. The memories of the people were stored with short narratives;
for a startling tale was not easily forgotten. They had songs of trades,
appropriated to the different avocations of labourers. These were a
solace to the solitary task-worker, or threw a cheering impulse when
many were employed together. Such HALL aptly describes as

  Sung to the wheel, and sung unto the payle.[5]

These songs are found among the people of every country; and these
effusions were the true poetry of the heart, which kept alive their
social feelings. The people had even the greater works brought down for
them to a diminutive size; the lays of minstrelsy were usually fragments
of the metrical chronicles, or a disjointed tale from some romance;[6]
such as the popular Fabliaux, which form the amusing collection of Le

These proverbs and these fables, these songs and these tales, all these
were a library without books, till the day arrived when the people had
books of their own, open to their comprehension, and responding to their
sympathies. That this traditional literature was handed down from
generation to generation appears from the circumstance, that hardly had
the printing-press been in use when a multitude of "the people's books"
spread through Europe their rude instruction or their national humour.
They were even rendered more attractive by the expressive woodcuts which
palpably appealed to a sense which required no "cunning" to comprehend.
Their piety and their terror were long excited by that variety of Satan
and his devils, which were exhibited to their appalled imaginations--the
the mouth of hell gaping wide, and the crowd of the damned driven in by
the flaming pitchforks. "The Calendar of Shepherds," originally a
translation from the French, was a popular handbook, and rich were its
contents--a perpetual almanac, the saints' days, with the signs of the
zodiac, a receptacle of domestic receipts, all the wisdom of proverbs,
and all the mysteries of astrology, divinity, politics, and geography,
mingled in verse and prose. It was the encyclopædia for the poor man,
and even for some of his betters.

The courtly favourites of a former age descended from the oriel window
to the cottage-lattice; perpetuated in our "chap-books," sold on the
stalls of fairs, and mixed with the wares of "the chapman," they became
the books of the people. "The Gestes" of Guy of Warwick and Sir Bevis
of Hampton, and other fabulous heroes of chivalry, have been recognised
in their humble disguise of the "Tom Thumb," and "Tom Hickathrift," and
"Jack the Giant-Killer" of the people.

In France their "bibliothèque bleue," books now in the shape of
pamphlets, deriving their name from the colour of their wrappers,
preserves the remains of the fugitive literature of the people; and in
Italy to this day several of the old romances of chivalry are cut down
to a single paul's purchase, and delight the humble buyers.[7] Guerin
Meschino, of native origin, still retains his popularity. In Germany
some patriotic antiquaries have delighted to collect this household
literature of the illiterate. The Germans, who, more than any other
nation, seem to have cherished the hallowed feelings of the homestead,
have a term to designate this class of literature; they call these
volumes _Volksbücher_, or "the people's books."

There existed a more intimate intercourse between the vernacular writers
of Germany and our own than appears yet to have been investigated. "The
Merry Jests of Howleglas," most delectable to the people from their
grossness and their humour, is of German origin; and it has been
recently discovered that "The History of Friar Rush," which perplexed
the researches of Ritson, is a literal prose version of a German poem,
printed in 1587.[8] "Reynard the Fox"--a most amusing Æsopian
history--an exquisite satire on the vices of the clergy, the devices of
courtiers, and not sparing majesty itself--an intelligible manual of
profound Machiavelism, displaying the trickery of circumventing and
supplanting, and parrying off opponents by sleights of wit--was
translated by Caxton from the Dutch.[9]

This political fiction has been traced in several languages to an
earlier period than the thirteenth century. The learned Germans hold it
to be a complete picture of the feudal manners; and Heineccius, one of
the most able jurists, declares that it has often assisted him in
clearing up the jurisprudence of Germany, and that for the genius of the
writer the volume deserves to be ranked with the classics of antiquity.
The writer probably had good reasons for concealing his name, but his
intimacy with a Court-life is apparent. He has dexterously described the
wiles of Reynard, whose cunning overreached his opponents; his wit, his
learning, his humour, and knowledge of mankind, are of no ordinary
degree; and this favourite satire contributed, no less than the works of
Erasmus, of Rabelais, and of Boccaccio, to pave the way for the
Reformation. It was among the earliest productions of the press in
Germany and in England, and became so popular here that on the old
altar-piece of Canterbury cathedral are several paintings taken from
this pungent satire. The modern Italian poet, CASTI, seems to have
borrowed the plan of his famous political satire "Gl' Animali Parlanti"
from Reynard the Fox.

The Germans have occasionally borrowed from us, as we also from the
Italian jest-books, many of our "tales and quick answers;" the facetiæ
of Poggius and Domenichi, and others, have been a fertile source of our

All tales have wings, whether they come from the east or the north, and
they soon become denizens wherever they alight. Thus it has happened
that the tale which charmed the wandering Arab in his tent, or cheered
the Northern peasant by his winter-fire, alike held on its journey
toward England and Scotland. Dr. Leyden was surprised when he first
perused the fabliaux of "The Poor Scholar," "The Three Thieves," and
"The Sexton of Cluni," to recognise the popular stories which he had
often heard in infancy. He was then young in the poetical studies of the
antiquary, or he would not have been at a loss to know whether the Scots
drew their tales from the French, or the French from their Scottish
intercourse; or whether they originated with the Celtic, or the
Scandinavian, or sometimes even with the Orientalists.

The genealogy of many a tale, as well as the humours of native jesters,
from the days of Henry the Eighth to those of Joe Miller, who, as
somebody has observed, now, too, begins to be ancient, may be traced not
only to France, to Spain, and to Italy, but to Greece and Rome, and at
length to Persia and to India. Our most familiar stories have afforded
instances. The tale of "Whittington and his Cat," supposed to be
indigenous to our country, was first narrated by Arlotto, in his
"Novella delle Gatte," in his "Facetie," which were printed soon after
his death, in 1483; the tale is told of a merchant of Genoa. We must,
however, recollect that Arlotto had been a visitor at the Court of
England. The other puss, though without her boots, may be seen in
Straparola's "Piacevoli Notti." The familiar little Hunchback of the
"Arabian Nights" has been a universal favourite; it may be found
everywhere; in "The Seven Wise Masters," in the "Gesta Romanorum," and
in Le Grand's "Fabliaux." The popular tale of Llywellyn's greyhound,
whose grave we still visit at Bethgelert, Sir William Jones discovered
in Persian tradition, and it has given rise to a proverb, "As repentant
as the man who killed his greyhound." In "Les Maximes des Orientaux" of
Galland, we find several of our popular tales.

"Bluebeard," "Red-riding Hood," and "Cinderella," are tales told alike
in the nurseries of England and France, Germany and Denmark; and the
domestic warning to the Lady Bird, the chant of our earliest day, is
sung by the nurse of Germany.[10] All nations seem alike concerned in
this copartnership of tale-telling; borrowing, adulterating, clipping,
and even receiving back the identical coin which had circulated wherever
it was found. Douce, one of whose favourite pursuits was tracing the
origin and ramification of tales, to my knowledge could have afforded a
large volume of this genealogy of romance; but that volume probably
reposes for the regale of the next century, that literary antiquary
being deterred by caustic reviewers from the publication of his useful

The people, however, did not advance much in intelligence, even after
the discovery of printing, for new works, which should have been
designed for popular purposes, were still locked up in a language which
none spoke and only the scholar read; and this, notwithstanding a noble
example had been set by the Italians to the other nations of Europe. In
the early days of our printing, the vernacular productions of the press
were thrown out to amuse the children of society, fashioned as their
toys. We have an abundance of poetical and prose facetiæ, all of which
were solely adapted to the popular taste, and some of the writers of
which were eminent persons. Few but have heard of "The Merry Tales of
the Madmen of Gotham," and of "Scogin's Jests, full of witty mirth and
pleasant shifts." These facetious works are said to be "gathered" by
Andrew Borde,[11] a physician and humorist of a very original cast of
mind, and who professedly wrote for "the Commonwealth," that is, the
people, many other works on graver topics, not less seasoned with
drolleries. He was the first who composed medical treatises in the
vernacular idiom. His "Breviarie of Health" is a medical dictionary, and
held to be a "jewel" in his time, as Fuller records. In this
alphabetical list of all diseases, his philosophy reaches to the
diseases of the mind, whose cure he combines with that of the body, the
medicine and the satire often pleasantly illustrating each other. From
the "Dietarie of Health" the modern apostles of regimen might expand
their own revelations; it contains many curious matters, not only on
diet, but on the whole system of domestic economy, even to the building
of a house, regulating a family, and choosing a good air to dwell in,
&c. Another of his books, "The Introduction of Knowledge," is a
miscellany of great curiosity, describing the languages and manners of
different countries; in it are specimens of the Cornish, Welsh, Irish,
and Scotch languages, as also of the Turkish and Egyptian, and others,
and the value of their coins. The apt yet concise discrimination of the
national character of every people is true to the hour we are writing.

The writings of Borde incidentally preserve curious notices of the
domestic life and of the customs and arts of that period. Whitaker, in
his history of Whalley, has referred to his directions for the
construction of great houses, in illustration of our domestic
architecture. In all his little books much there is which the antiquary
and the philosopher would not willingly pass by.

Andrew Borde was one of those eccentric geniuses who live in their own
sphere, moving on principles which do not guide the routine of society.
He was a Carthusian friar; his hair-shirt, however, could never mortify
his unvarying facetiousness; but if he ever rambled in his wits, he was
a wider rambler, even beyond the boundaries of Christendom, "a thousand
or two and more myles;" an extraordinary feat in his day. He took his
degree at Montpelier, was incorporated at Oxford, and admitted into the
College of Physicians in London, and was among the physicians of Henry
the Eighth. His facetious genius could not conceal the real learning and
the practical knowledge which he derived from personal observation.
Borde has received hard measure from our literary historians. This
ingenious scholar has been branded by Warton as a mad physician. To
close the story of one who was all his days so facetious, we find that
this Momus of philosophers died in the Fleet. This was the fate of a
great humorist, neither wanting in learning or genius.

It is said that such was his love of "the commonwealth," that he
sometimes addressed them from an open stage, in a sort of gratuitous
lecture, as some amateurs of our own days have delighted to deliver; and
from whence has been handed down to us the term of "MERRY-ANDREW."

In the limited circles which then divided society, the taste for humour
was very low. We had not yet reached to the witty humours of Shakspeare
and Jonson. Sir Thomas More's "Long Story," in endless stanzas, which
Johnson has strangely placed among the specimens of the English
language, was held as a tale of "infinite conceit," assuredly by the
great author himself, who seems to have communicated this sort of taste
to one of his family. Rastall, the learned printer, brother-in-law of
More, and farther, the grave abbreviator of the statutes in English,
issued from his press in 1525, "The Widow Edith's Twelve Merrie Gestys."
She was a tricking widow, renowned for her "lying, weeping, and
laughing," an ancient mumper, who had triumphed over the whole state
spiritual, and the temporality: travelling from town to town in the full
practice of dupery and wheedling, to the admiration of her numerous
victims. The arts of cheatery were long held to be facetious; most of
the "Merrie Jests" consist of stultifying fools, or are sharping tricks,
practised on the simple children of dupery. There is a stock of this
base coinage. This taste for dupery was carried down to a much later
period; for the "Merrie conceited jests of George Peele," and of
Tarleton, are chiefly tricks of sharpers.

"The Hye Way to the Spyttel Hous," or as we should say, "the road to
ruin," exposes the mysteries and craft of the venerable brotherhood of
mendicancy and imposture; their ingenious artifices to attract the eye,
and their secret orgies concealed by midnight; all that flourishes now
in St. Giles's, flourished then in the Barbican. Not long after we have
the first vocabulary of cant language of "The Fraternitye of
Vacabondes:" whose honorary titles cannot be yet placed in Burke's
Extinct Peerage.

There were attacks on the fair sex in those days which were parried by
their eulogies. We seem to have been early engaged in that battle of the
sexes, where the perfections or the imperfections of the female
character offered themes for a libel or a panegyric. From the days of
Boccaccio, the Italians have usually paid their tribute to "illustrious
women," notwithstanding the free insinuations of some malicious
novelists; that people preceded in the refinement of social life the
tramontani. England and France, in their ruder circle of society,
contracted a cynicism which appears in a variety of invectives and
apologies for the beautiful sex.

One of the most popular attacks of this sort was "The School-house of
Women," a severe satire, published anonymously. One of the heaviest
charges is their bitter sarcasm on the new dresses of their friends. The
author, one Edward Gosynhyll, charmed, no doubt, by his successful
onset, and proud in his victory, threw off the mask; mending his
ambidextrous pen for "The Praise of all Women," called "Mulierum Pean,"
he acknowledged himself to be the writer of "The School-house." Probably
he thought he might now do so with impunity, as he was making the
_amende honorable_. Whether this saved the trembling Orpheus from the
rage of the Bacchantes, our scanty literary history tells not; but his
defence is not considered as the least able among several elicited by
his own attack.

"The Wife lapped in Morels' Skins, or the Taming of a Shrew," was the
favourite tale of the Petruchios of those days, where a haughty dame is
softened into a degrading obedience by the brutal command of her mate; a
tale which some antiquaries still chuckle over, who have not been so
venturous as this hero.[12]

All these books, written for the people, were at length consumed by the
hands of their multitudinous readers; we learn, indeed, in Anthony à
Wood's time, that some had descended to the stalls; but at the present
day some of these rare fugitive pieces may be unique. This sort of
pamphlet, Burton, the anatomist of melancholy, was delighted to heap
together: and the collection formed by such a keen relish of popular
humours, he actually bequeathed to the Bodleian Library, where, if they
are kept together, they would answer the design of the donor; otherwise,
such domestic records of the humours and manners of the age, diffused
among the general mass, would bear only the value of their rarity.


  [1] Mr. Ellis has preserved it entire, with notes which make it
    intelligible to any modern reader.

  [2] Percy's "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," ii. 1.--"The
    liberty of abasing their kings and princes at pleasure, assumed by
    the good people of this realm, is a privilege of very long standing."

  [3] The Political Songs of England have been recently given by Mr.
    Thomas Wright, to whom our literature owes many deep obligations. [In
    the series of volumes published by the Camden Society.]

  [4] _Lewed_ Mr. Campbell interprets _low_, which is not quite
    correct. Hearne explains the term as signifying "the laity, laymen,
    and the illiterate."--The _layman_ was always considered to be
    _illiterate_, by the devices of the monks.

  [5] It is to be regretted that Mr. JAMIESON, in his "Popular
    Ballads," was unavoidably prevented enlarging this class of his
    songs. He has given the carols of the _Boatmen_, the _Corn-grinders_,
    and the _Dairy-women_.--Jamieson's "Popular Ballads," ii. 352. [See
    also "Curiosities of Literature," vol. ii., p. 142, for an article on
    Songs of Trades, or Songs of the People. A volume of "Songs of the
    English Peasantry" was published by the Percy Society; and several
    others are given with the tunes in Chappell's "Popular Music of the
    Olden Time."]

  [6] Hearne's "Preface to Peter Langtoft's Chronicle," xxxvii.

  [7] The curious researches of a French antiquary in this class of
    literature are given in the two octavo volumes entitled "Histoire des
    Livres Populaires, ou de la Littérature du Colportage," (Paris,
    1854,) by M. Chas. Nisard, who was appointed to the task by a Royal

  [8] "Foreign Quarterly Review," vol. 18. [It is reprinted in the
    first Volume of Thoms' "Early English Prose Romances."]

  [9] It has been frequently reprinted, and recently in Germany, as a
    _livre de luxe_, illustrated with admirable designs by Kaulbach.--ED.

  [10] Weber. "Brit. Bib.," vol. iv.--The German song of the Ladybird
    is beautifully versified in the preface to "German Popular Stories,"
    by the late Edgar Taylor.

  [11] A calamity to which wits are incident is that of having their
    names prefixed to collections to give them currency. I do not know
    whether this has not happened to our author. "The Merry Tales of the
    Madmen of Gotham" are no doubt of great antiquity; they are
    characterised by a peculiar simplicity of silliness. "Scogin's
    Jests," of the sixty which we have, a very few tradition may have
    preserved, but they must have received in the course of time the
    addition of pointless jests, tales marred in the telling, and some
    things neither jest nor tale; and it is remarkable that these are
    always accompanied by an inane moralisation, while the more tolerable
    appear to be preserved in their original condition. Some future
    researcher may be so fortunate as to compare them with the first
    editions if they exist.

    John Scogin was a gentleman of good descent, who was invited to court
    by Edward the Fourth for the pleasantry of his wit; he was a caustic
    Democritus, and gave rise to a proverbial phrase, "What says Scogin?"
    If he usually said two-thirds of what is ascribed to him in this
    volume, he had never given rise to a proverb. "The Merry Tales of the
    Madmen of Gotham" have been recently reprinted by Mr. Halliwell.

    [12] Several of these pieces are preserved in Mr. Utterson's "Select
    Pieces of Early Popular Poetry." This attack on women proved not a
    theme less fertile among our neighbours; how briskly the skirmish was
    carried on the notice of a single writer will show:--"Alphabet de
    l'Imperfection et Malice des Femmes, par J. Olivier, licencier aux
    loix, et en droit-canon," 1617; three editions of which appeared in
    the course of two years. This blow was repelled by "Defense des
    Femmes contre l'Alphabet de leur pretendue Malice," by Vigoureux,
    1617; the first author rejoined with a "Réponse aux Impertinences de
    l'Aposté Capitaine Vigoureux," by Olivier, 1617. The fire was kept up
    by an ally of Olivier, in "Réplique à l'Anti-Malice du Sieur
    Vigoureux," by De la Bruyere, 1617. At a period earlier than this
    conflict, the French had, as well as ourselves, many works on the


Sir Thomas Elyot is the first English prose writer who avowedly
attempted to cultivate the language of his country. We track the prints
of the first weak footsteps in this new path; and we detect the
aberrations of a mind intent on a great popular design, but still vague
and uncertain, often opposed by contemporaries, yet cheered by the
little world of his readers.

ELYOT for us had been little more than a name, as have been many retired
students, from the negligence of contemporaries, had he not been one of
those interesting authors who have let us into the history of their own
minds, and either prospectively have delighted to contemplate on their
future enterprises, or retrospectively have exulted in their past

This amiable scholar had been introduced at Court early in life; his
"great friend and crony was Sir Thomas More;" so plain Anthony à Wood
indicates the familiar intercourse of two great men. Elyot was a
favourite with Henry the Eighth, and employed on various embassies,
particularly on the confidential one to Rome to negotiate the divorce of
Queen Katherine. To his public employments he alludes in his first work,
"The Governor," which "he had gathered as well of the sayings of most
noble authors, Greek and Latin, as by his own experience, he being
continually trained in some daily affairs of the public weal from his

A passion for literature seems to have prevailed over the ambition of
active life, and on his return from his last embassy he decided to write
books "in our vulgar tongue," on a great variety of topics, to instruct
his countrymen. The diversity of his reading, and an unwearied pen,
happily qualified, in this early age of the literature of a nation, a
student who was impatient to diffuse that knowledge which he felt he
only effectually possessed in the degree, and in the space, which he
communicated it.

His first elaborate work is entitled, "The Boke of the Governor, devised
by Sir Thomas Elyot," 1531,--a work once so popular, that it passed
through seven or eight editions, and is still valued by the collectors
of our ancient literature.

"The Governor" is one of those treatises which, at an early period of
civilization, when general education is imperfect, becomes useful to
mould the manners and to inculcate the morals which should distinguish
the courtier and the statesman. Elyot takes his future "Governor" in the
arms of his nurse, and places the ideal being amid all the scenes which
may exercise the virtues, or the studies which he developes. The work is
dedicated to Henry the Eighth. The design, the imaginary personage, the
author and the patron, are equally dignified. The style is grave; and it
would not be candid in a modern critic to observe that, in the progress
of time, the good sense has become too obvious, and the perpetual
illustrations from ancient history too familiar. The erudition in
philology of that day has become a schoolboy's learning. They had then
no other volumes to recur to of any authority, but what the ancients had

Elyot had a notion that, for the last thousand years, the world had
deteriorated, and that the human mind had not expanded through the
course of ages. When he compared the writers of this long series of
centuries, the babbling, though the subtle, schoolmen, who had chained
us down to their artificial forms, with the great authors of antiquity,
there seemed an appearance of truth in his decision. Christianity had
not yet exhibited to modern Europe the refined moralities of Seneca, and
the curious knowledge of Plutarch, in the homilies of Saints and
Fathers; nor had its histories of man, confined to our monkish
annalists, emulated the narrative charms of Livy, nor the grandeur of
Tacitus. Of the poets of antiquity, Elyot declared that the English
language, at the time he wrote, could convey nothing equivalent, wanting
even words to express the delicacies, "the turns," and the euphony of
the Latin verse.

A curious evidence of the jejune state of the public mind at this period
appears in this volume. Here a learned and grave writer solemnly sets
forth several chapters on "that honest pastime of dancing," in which he
discovers a series of modern allegories. The various figures and
reciprocal movements between man and woman, "holding each other by the
hand," indicate the order, concord, prudence, and other virtues so
necessary for the common weal. The _singles_ and _reprinses_ exhibit the
virtue of circumspection, which excites the writer to a panegyric of the
father of the reigning sovereign. These ethics of the dance contain some
curious notices, and masters in the art might hence have embellished
their treatises on the philosophy of dance; for "in its wonderful
figures, which the Greeks do call _idea_, are comprehended so many
virtues and noble qualities." It is amusing to observe how men willingly
become the dupes of their fancies, by affecting to discover motives and
analogies, the most unconnected imaginable with the objects themselves.
Long after our polished statesman wrote, the Puritan excommunicated the
sinful dancer, and detected in the graceful evolutions of "the honour,"
the "brawl," and the "single," with all their moral movements, the
artifices of Satan, and the perdition of the souls of two partners,
dancing too well. It was the mode of that age thus to moralise, or
allegorise, on the common acts of life, and to sanction their idlest
amusements by some religious motive. At this period, in France, we find
a famous _Veneur_, Gaston Phebus, opening his treatise on "hunting" in
the spirit that Elyot had opened to us the mysteries of dancing. "By
hunting, we escape from the seven mortal sins, and therefore, the more
we hunt, the salvation of our souls will be the more secure. Every good
hunter in this world will have joyance, glee, and solace, (_joyeuseté,
liesse, et deduit_,) and secure himself a place in Paradise, not perhaps
in the midst, but in the suburbs, because he has shunned idleness, the
root of all evil."

"The Boke of the Governor" must now be condemned to the solitary
imprisonment of the antiquary's cell, who will pick up many curious
circumstances relative to the manners of the age--always an amusing
subject of speculation, when we contemplate on the gradations of social
life. I suspect the world owed "The Governor" to a book more famous than
itself--the _Cortegiano_ of Castiglione, which appeared two years before
the first edition of this work of Elyot, and to whose excellence Elyot
could have been no stranger in his embassies to his holiness, and to the
emperor. But of "The Governor," and "The Cortegiano," what can we now
say, but that three centuries are fatal to the immortality of volumes,
which, in the infancy of literature, seemed to have flattered themselves
with a perpetuity of fame.

It was, however, a generous design, in an age of Latin, to attempt to
delight our countrymen by "the vulgar tongue;" but these "first fruits,"
as he calls them, gave their author a taste of the bitterness of "that
tree of knowledge."

In a subsequent work, "Of the Knowledge which maketh a Wise Man," Elyot
has recorded how he had laid himself open to "the vulgar." In the circle
of a Court there was equal peril in moralising, which was deemed to be a
rebuke, as in applying rusty stories, which were considered as nothing
less than disguised personalities. "The Boke" was not thankfully
received. The _persifleurs_, those butterflies who carry waspish stings,
accounted Sir Thomas to be of no little presumption, that "in noting
other men's vices he should correct _magnificat_." This odd neologism of
"magnificat" was a mystical coinage, which circulated among these
aristocratic exclusives who, as Elyot describes them, "like a galled
horse abiding no plaisters, be always knapping and kicking at such
examples and sentences as they do feel sharp, or do bite them." The
chapters on "The Diversity of Flatterers," and similar subjects, had
made many "a galled jade wince;" and in applying the salve, he got a
kick for the cure. They wondered why the knight wrote at all! "Other
much wiser men, and better learned than he, do forbear to write
anything." They inscribed modern names to his ancient portraits. The
worried author exclaims--"There be Gnathos in Spain as well as in
Greece; Pasquils in England as well as in Rome, &c. If men will seek for
them in England which I set in other places, I cannot let (hinder)
them." But in another work--"Image of Governance," 1540--when he
detailed "the monstrous living of the Emperor Heliogabalus," and
contrasted that gross epicurean with Severus, such a bold and open
execration of the vices of a luxurious Court could not avoid being
obvious to the royal sensualist and his companions, however the
character and the tale were removed to a bygone age.

In this early attempt to cultivate "the vulgar tongue," some cavilled
at his strange terms. It is a striking instance of the simplicity of the
critics at that early period of our language, that our author formally
explains the word _maturity_--"a Latin word, which I am constrained to
usurp, lacking a name in English, and which, though it be strange and
dark, yet may be understood as other words late comen out of Italy and
France, and made denizens among us." Augustus Cæsar, it seems, had
frequently in his mouth this word _matura_--do maturely! as "if he
should have said, Do neither too much nor too little--too swiftly nor
too slowly." Elyot would confine the figurative Latin term to a
metaphysical designation of the acts of men in their most perfect state,
"reserving," as he says, "the word ripeness to fruit and other things,
separate from affairs, as we have now in usage." Elyot exults in having
augmented the English language by the introduction of this Latin term,
now made English for the first time! It has flourished as well as this
other, "the _redolent_ savours of sweet herbs and flowers." But his ear
was not always musical, and some of his neologisms are less
graceful--"_an alective_," to wit; "_fatigate_," to fatigue; "_ostent_,"
to show, and to "_sufficate_ some disputation." Such were the first weak
steps of the fathers of our language, who, however, culled for us many a
flower among their cockle.

But a murmur more prejudicial arose than the idle cavil of new and hard
words; for some asserted that "the Boke seemed to be overlong." Our
primeval author considered that "knowledge of wisdom cannot be shortly
declared." Elyot had not yet attained, by sufficient practice in
authorship, the secret, that the volume which he had so much pleasure in
writing could be over tedious in reading. "For those," he observes
sarcastically, "who be well willing, it is soon learned--in good faith
sooner than primero or gleek." The nation must have then consisted of
young readers, when a diminutive volume in twelves was deemed to be
"overlong." In this apology for his writings, he threw out an undaunted
declaration of his resolution to proceed with future volumes.--"If the
readers of my works, by the noble example of our most dear sovereign
lord, do justly and lovingly interpret my labours, I, during the residue
of my life, will now and then set forth such fruits of my study,
profitable, as I trust, unto this my country, leaving malicious readers
with their incurable fury." Such was the innocent criticism of our
earliest writer--his pen was hardly tipped with gall.

As all subjects were equally seductive to the artless pen of a primitive
author, who had yet no rivals to encounter in public, Elyot turned his
useful studies to a topic very opposite to that of political ethics. He
put forth "The Castle of Health," a medical treatise, which passed
through nearly as many honourable editions as "The Governor." It did
not, however, abate the number, though it changed the character of his
cavillers, who were now the whole corporate body of the physicians!

The author has told his amusing story in the preface to a third edition,
in 1541.

"Why should I be grieved with reproaches wherewith some of my country do
recompense me for my labours, taken without hope of temporal reward,
only for the fervent affection which I have ever borne toward the public
weal of my country? 'A worthy matter!' saith one; 'Sir Thomas Elyot has
become a physician, and writeth on physic, which beseemeth not a knight;
he might have been much better occupied.' Truly, if they will call him a
physician who is studious of the weal of his country, let men so name

But there was no shame in studying this science, or setting forth any
book, being--

"Thereto provoked by the noble example of my noble master King Henry
VIII.; for his Highness hath not disdained to be the chief author of an
introduction to grammar for the children of his subjects.

"If physicians be angry that I have written physic in English, let them
remember that Greeks wrote in Greek, the Romans in Latin, and Avicenna
in Arabic, which were their own proper and maternal tongues. These were
paynims and Jews, but in this part of charity they far surmounted us

Several years after, when our author reverted to his "Castle of Health,"
the Castle was brightened by the beams of public favour. Its author now
exulted that "It shall long preserve men, be some physicians never so
angry." The work had not been intended to depreciate medical
professors, but "for their commodity, by instructing the sick, and
observing a good order in diet, preventing the great causes of sickness,
or by which they could the sooner be cured." Our philosopher had
attempted to draw aside that mystifying veil with which some affected to
envelope the arcana of medicine, as if they were desirous "of writing in
cypher that none but themselves could read." Our author had anticipated
that revolution in medical science which afterwards, at a distant
period, has been productive of some of the ablest treatises in the
vernacular languages of Europe.

The patriotic studies of Elyot did not terminate in these ethical and
popular volumes, for he had taxed his daily diligence for his country's
weal. This appeared in "The Dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot, 1535," a
folio, which laid the foundation of our future lexicons, "declaring
Latin by English," as Elyot describes his own labour.

Elyot had suffered some disappointments as a courtier in the days of
Wolsey, who lavished the royal favours on churchmen. In a letter to Lord
Cromwell, he describes himself with a very narrow income, supporting his
establishment, "equal to any knight in the country where I dwell who
have much more to live on;" but a new office, involving considerable
expense in its maintenance, to which he had been just appointed, he
declares would be his ruin, having already discharged "five honest and
tall personages."--"I wot not by what malice of fortune I am constrained
to be in that office, whereunto is, as it were, appendent loss of money
and good name, all sharpness and diligence in justice now-a-days being
everywhere odious." And this was at a time when "I trusted to live
quietly, and by little and little to repay my creditors, and _to
reconcile myself to mine old studies_."

This letter conveys a favourable impression of the real character of
this learned man; but Elyot had condescended abjectly to join with the
herd in the general scramble for the monastic lands; and if he feigned
poverty, the degradation is not less. There are cruel epochs in a great
revolution; moments of trial which too often exhibit the lofty
philosopher shrinking into one of the people. It is probable that he
succeeded in his petition, for I find his name among the commissioners
appointed to make a general inquiry after lands belonging to the Church,
as also to the colleges of the universities, in 1534.

But in this day of weakness Elyot sunk far lower than petitioning for
suppressed lands. Elyot was suspected of inclining to Popery, and being
adverse to the new order of affairs. His former close intimacy with Sir
Thomas More contributed to this suspicion, and now, it is sad to relate,
he renounces this ancient and honourable friendship! Peter denied his
Master. "I beseech your good lordship now to lay apart the remembrance
of the amity betwixt me and Sir Thomas More, which was but _usque ad
aras_, as is the proverb, considering that I was never so much addicted
unto him as I was unto truth and fidelity towards my sovereign lord."
Was the influence of such illustrious friendships to be confined to
chimney-corners? Had Elyot not listened to the wisdom, and revered the
immutable fortitude, of "his great friend and crony?"--he, the stern
moralist, who, in his "Governor," had written a remarkable chapter on
"the constancy of friends," and had illustrated that passion by the
romantic tale of Titus and Gesippus, where the personal trials of both
parties far exceed those of the Damon and Pythias of antiquity, and are
so eloquently developed and so exquisitely narrated by the great Italian

The literary history of Sir THOMAS ELYOT exhibits the difficulties
experienced by a primitive author in the earliest attempts to open a new
path to the cultivation of a vernacular literature; and it seems to have
required all the magnanimity of our author to sustain his superiority
among his own circle, by disdaining their petulant criticism, and by the
honest confidence he gathered as he proceeded, in the successive
editions of his writings.


At a period when satire had not yet assumed any legitimate form, a
singular genius appeared in Skelton. His satire is peculiar, but it is
stamped by vigorous originality. The fertility of his conceptions in his
satirical or his humorous vein is thrown out in a style created by
himself. The Skeltonical short verse, contracted into five or six, and
even four syllables, is wild and airy. In the quick-returning rhymes,
the playfulness of the diction, and the pungency of new words, usually
ludicrous, often expressive, and sometimes felicitous, there is a
stirring spirit which will be best felt in an audible reading. The
velocity of his verse has a carol of its own. The chimes ring in the
ear, and the thoughts are flung about like coruscations. But the magic
of the poet is confined to his spell; at his first step out of it he
falls to the earth never to recover himself. Skelton is a great creator
only when he writes what baffles imitation, for it is his fate, when
touching more solemn strains, to betray no quality of a poet--inert in
imagination and naked in diction. Whenever his muse plunges into the
long measure of heroic verse, she is drowned in no Heliconian stream.
Skelton seems himself aware of his miserable fate, and repeatedly, with
great truth, if not with some modesty, complains of

  Mine homely rudeness and dryness.

But when he returns to his own manner and his own rhyme, when he riots
in the wantonness of his prodigal genius, irresistible and daring, the
poet was not unconscious of his faculty; and truly he tells,--

  Though my rime be ragged,
  Tattered and jagged,
  Rudely rain-beaten,
  Rusty, moth-eaten,
  If ye take well therewith,
  It hath in it some pith.

Whether Skelton really adopted the measures of the old tavern-minstrelsy
used by harpers, who gave "a fit of mirth for a groat," or "carols for
Christmas," or "lascivious poems for bride-ales," as Puttenham, the
arch-critic of Elizabeth's reign, supposes; or whether in Skelton's
introduction of alternate Latin lines among his verses he caught the
Macaronic caprice of the Italians, as Warton suggests; the Skeltonical
style remains his own undisputed possession. He is a poet who has left
his name to his own verse--a verse, airy but pungent, so admirably
adapted for the popular ear that it has been frequently copied,[1] and
has led some eminent critics into singular misconceptions. The minstrel
tune of the Skeltonical rhyme is easily caught, but the invention of
style and "the pith" mock these imitators. The facility of doggrel
merely of itself could not have yielded the exuberance of his humour and
the mordacity of his satire.

This singular writer has suffered the mischance of being too original
for some of his critics; they looked on the surface, and did not always
suspect the depths they glided over: the legitimate taste of others has
revolted against the mixture of the ludicrous and the invective. A taste
for humour is a rarer faculty than most persons imagine; where it is not
indigenous, no art of man can plant it. There is no substitute for such
a volatile existence, and where even it exists in a limited degree, we
cannot enlarge its capacity for reception. A great master of humour, who
observed from his experience, has solemnly told us that "it is not in
the power of every one to taste humour, however he may wish it--it is
the gift of God; and a true feeler always brings half the entertainment
along with him."[2]

Puttenham was the first critic who prized Skelton cheaply; the
artificial and courtly critic of Elizabeth's reign could not rightly
estimate such a wild and irregular genius. The critic's fastidious ear
listens to nothing but the jar of rude rhymes, while the courtier's
delicacy shrinks from the nerve of appalling satire. "Such," says this
critic, "are the rhymes of Skelton, usurping the name of a Poet Laureat,
being indeed but a rude rayling rhimer, and all his doings
ridiculous--pleasing only the popular ear." This affected critic never
suspected "the pith" of "the ridiculous;" the grotesque humour covering
the dread invective which shook a Wolsey under his canopy. Another
Elizabethan critic, the obsequious Meres, re-echoes the dictum. These
opinions perhaps prejudiced the historian of our poetry, who seems to
have appreciated them as the echoes of the poet's contemporaries. Yet we
know how highly his contemporaries prized him, notwithstanding the host
whom he provoked. One poetical brother[3] distinguishes him as "the
Inventive Skelton," and we find the following full-length portrait of
him by another:--[4]

  A poet for his art,
    Whose judgment sure was high,
  And had great practise of the pen,
    His works they will not lie;
  His termes to taunts did leane,
    His talk was as he wrate,
  Full quick of wit, right sharpe of wordes,
    And skilful of the state;

       *       *       *       *       *

  And to the hateful minde,
    That did disdaine his doings still,
  A scorner of his kinde.

When Dr. Johnson observed that "Skelton cannot be said to have attained
great elegance of language," he tried Skelton by a test of criticism at
which Skelton would have laughed, and "jangled and wrangled." Warton
has also censured him for adopting "the familiar phraseology of the
common people." The learned editor of Johnson's "Dictionary" corrects
both our critics. "If Skelton did not attain great elegance of language,
he however possessed great knowledge of it." From his works may be drawn
an abundance of terms which were then in use among the vulgar as well as
the learned, and which no other writer of his time so obviously (and
often so wittily) illustrated. Skelton seems to have been fully aware of
the condition of our vernacular idiom when he wrote, for he has thus
described it:--

  Our natural tongue is rude,
  And hard to be enneude
  With polished termes lusty;
  Our language is so rusty,
  So cankered, and so full
  Of frowards, and so dull,
  That if I would apply
  To write ordinately,
  I wot not where to find
  Terms to serve my mind.

It was obviously his design to be as great a creator of words as he was
of ideas. Many of his mintage would have given strength to our idiom.
Caxton, as a contemporary, is some authority that Skelton improved the

Let not the reader imagine that Skelton was only "a rude rayling
rhimer." Skelton was the tutor of Henry the Eighth; and one who knew him
well describes him as--

  Seldom out of prince's grace.

Erasmus distinguished him "as the light and ornament of British
letters;" and one, he addresses the royal pupil, "who can not only
excite your studies, but complete them." Warton attests his classical
attainments--"Had not his propensity to the ridiculous induced him to
follow the whimsies of Walter Mapes, Skelton would have appeared among
the first writers of Latin poetry in England." Skelton chose to be
himself; and this is what the generality of his critics have not taken
in their view.

Skelton was an ecclesiastic who was evidently among those who had
adopted the principles of reformation before the Reformation. With equal
levity and scorn he struck at the friars from his pulpit or in his
ballad, he ridiculed the Romish ritual, and he took unto himself that
wife who was to be called a concubine. To the same feelings we may also
ascribe the declamatory invective against Cardinal Wolsey, from whose
terrible arm he flew into the sanctuary of Westminster, where he
remained protected by Abbot Islip until his death, which took place in
1529, but a few short months before the fall of Wolsey. It is supposed
that the king did not wholly dislike the levelling of the greatness of
his overgrown minister; and it is remarkable that one of the charges
subsequently brought by the council in 1529 against Wolsey--his
imperious carriage at the council-board--is precisely one of the
accusations of our poet, only divested of rhyme; whence perhaps we may
infer that Skelton was an organ of the rising party.

"Why Come you not to Court?"--that daring state-picture of an omnipotent
minister--and "The Boke of Colin Clout," where the poet pretends only to
relate what the people talk about the luxurious clergy, and seems to be
half the reformer, are the most original satires in the language. In the
days when Skelton wrote these satires there appeared a poem known by the
title of "Reade me and be not Wrothe," a voluminous invective against
the Cardinal and the Romish superstitions, which has been ascribed by
some to Skelton. The writer was WILLIAM ROY, a friar; the genius, though
not the zeal, of ROY and SKELTON are far apart--as far as the buoyancy
of racy originality is removed from the downright earnestness of grave
mediocrity. Roy had been the learned assistant of Tyndale in the first
edition of the translation of the New Testament, and it was the public
conflagration at London of that whole edition which aroused his
indignant spirit. The satire, which had been printed abroad, was
diligently suppressed by an emissary of the Cardinal purchasing up all
the copies; and few were saved from the ravage;[5] the author, however,
escaped out of the country.

In "The Crown of Lawrell" Skelton has himself furnished a catalogue of
his numerous writings, the greater number of which have not come down to
us. Literary productions were at that day printed on loose sheets, or in
small pamphlets, which the winds seem to have scattered. We learn there
of his graver labours. He composed the "Speculum Principis" for his
royal pupil--

  To bear in hand, therein to read,

and he translated Diodorus Siculus--

  Six volumes engrossed, it doth contain.

To have composed a manual for the education of a prince, and to have
persevered through a laborious version, are sufficient evidence that the
learned Skelton had his studious days as well as his hours of caustic
jocularity. He appears to have written various pieces for the court
entertainment; but for us exists only an account of the interlude of the
"Nigramansir," in the pages of Warton, and a single copy of the goodly
interlude of "Magnificence,"[6] in the Garrick collection. If we accept
his abstract personations merely as the names, and not the qualities of
the dramatic personages, "Magnificence" approaches to the true vein of

Skelton was, however, probably more gratified by his own Skeltonical
style, moulding it with the wantonness of power on whatever theme, comic
or serious. In a poem remarkable for its elegant playfulness, a very
graceful maiden, whose loveliness the poet has touched with the most
vivid colouring, grieving over the fate of her sparrow from its feline
foe, chants a dirige, a paternoster, and an Ave Maria for its soul, and
the souls of all sparrows. In this discursive poem, which glides from
object to object, in the vast abundance of fancy, a general mourning of
all the birds in the air, and many allusions to the old romances,
"Philip Sparrow," for its elegance, may be placed by the side of
Lesbia's Bird, and, for its playfulness, by the Vert Vert of Gresset.

But Skelton was never more vivid than in his Ale-wife, and all

  The mad mummyng
  Of Elynour Rummyng,--

a piece which has been more frequently reprinted than any of his works.
It remains a morsel of poignant relish for the antiquary, still
enamoured of the portrait of this grisly dame of Leatherhead, where her
name and her domicile still exist. Such is the immortality a poet can
bestow.[7] "The Tunnyng of Elynoure Rummyng" is a remarkable production
of THE GROTESQUE, or the low burlesque; the humour as low as you please,
but as strong as you can imagine. Cleland is reported, in Spence's
Anecdotes of Pope, to have said, that this "Tunnyng of Elynoure Rummyng"
was taken from a poem of Lorenzo de' Medici. There is indeed a jocose
satire by that noble bard, entitled "I Beoni," the Topers; an elegant
piece of playful humour, where the characters are a company of thirsty
souls hastening out of the gates of Florence to a treat of excellent
wine. It was printed by the Giunti, in 1568,[8] and therefore this
burlesque piece could never have been known to Skelton. The manners of
our Alewife and her gossips are purely English, and their contrivances
to obtain their potations such as the village of Leatherhead would

The latest edition of Skelton was published in the days of Pope, which
occasioned some strictures in conversation from the great poet. The
laureated poet of Henry the Eighth is styled "beastly;" probably Pope
alluded to this minute portrait of "Elynoure Rummynge" and her crowd of
customers. Beastliness should have been a delicate subject for censure
from Pope. But surely Pope had never read Skelton; for could that great
poet have passed by the playful graces of "Philip Sparrow" only to
remember the broad gossips of "Elynoure Rummyng?"

The amazing contrast of these two poems is the most certain evidence of
the extent of the genius of the poet; he who with copious fondness dwelt
on a picture which rivals the gracefulness of Albano, could with equal
completeness give us the drunken gossipers of an Ostade. It is true that
in the one we are more than delighted, and in the other we are more than
disgusted; but in the impartiality of philosophical criticism, we must
award that none but the most original genius could produce both. It is
this which entitles our bard to be styled the "Inventive Skelton."

But are personal satires and libels of the day deserving the attention
of posterity? I answer, that for posterity there are no satires nor
libels. We are concerned only with human nature. When the satirical is
placed by the side of the historical character, they reflect a mutual
light. We become more intimately acquainted with the great Cardinal, by
laying together the satire of the mendacious Skelton with the domestic
eulogy of the gentle Cavendish. The interest which posterity takes is
different from that of contemporaries; our vision is more complete; they
witnessed the beginnings, but we behold the ends. We are no longer
deceived by hyperbolical exaggeration, or inflamed by unsparing
invective; the ideal personage of the satirist is compared with the real
one of the historian, and we touch only delicate truths. What Wolsey was
we know, but how he was known to his own times, and to the people, we
can only gather from the private satirist; corrected by the passionless
arbiter of another age, the satirist becomes the useful historian of the

The extraordinary combination in the genius of Skelton was that of two
most opposite and potent faculties--the hyperbolical ludicrous masking
the invective. He acts the character of a buffoon; he talks the language
of drollery; he even mints a coinage of his own, to deepen the colours
of his extravagance--and all this was for the people! But his hand
conceals a poniard; his rapid gestures only strike the deeper into his
victim, and we find that the Tragedy of the State has been acted while
we were only lookers-on before a stage erected for the popular gaze.[9]


  [1] George Ellis, although an elegant critic, could not relish "the
    Skeltonical minstrelsy." In an extract from a manuscript poem
    ascribed to Skelton, "The Image of Hypocrisy," and truly Skeltonical
    in every sense, he condemned it as "a piece of obscure and
    unintelligible ribaldry;" and so, no doubt, it has been accepted. But
    the truth is, the morsel is of exquisite poignancy, pointed at Sir
    Thomas More's controversial writings, to which the allusions in every
    line might be pointed out. As these works were written after the
    death of Skelton, the merit entirely remains with this fortunate

    In the public rejoicings at the defeat of the Armada, in 1589, a
    ludicrous bard poured forth his patriotic effusions in what he called
    "A Skeltonical Salutation, or Condign Gratulation," of the Spaniard,
    who, he says,--

      ----In a bravado,
      Spent many a crusado.

    In a reprint of the poem of "Elynoure Rummynge," in 1624, which may
    be found in the "Harl. Miscellany," vol. i., there is a poem prefixed
    which ridicules the lovers of tobacco; this anachronism betrays the
    imitator. At the close there are some verses from the Ghost of
    Skelton; but we believe it is a real ghost.

  [2] Sterne.

  [3] Henry Bradshaw. "Warton," iii. 13.

  [4] Thomas Churchyard.

  [5] After the death of the Cardinal it was reprinted, in 1546; but
    the satire was weakened, being transferred from Wolsey and wholly
    laid on the clergy. The very rare first edition is reprinted in the
    "Harleian Miscellany," by Parke, vol. ix. Tyndale has reproached his
    colleague with being somewhat artful and mutable in his friendships;
    but the wandering man proved the constancy of his principles, for as
    a heretic he perished at the stake in Portugal.

  [6] It has passed through a reprint by the Roxburgh Club.

  [7] A noble amateur laid on the shrine of this antiquated beauty
    20_l._ to possess her rare portrait; and, on the republication of
    this portrait, Steevens wrote some sarcastic verses on the
    print-collectors in the "European Mag." 1794; they show this famous
    commentator to have been a polished wit, though he pronounced the
    Sonnets of Shakspeare unreadable. These verses have been reprinted in
    "Dibdin's Bibliomania."

  [8] Roscoe's "Lorenzo de' Medici," i. 290.

  [9] The first collection of some of the works of Skelton was made by
    Thomas Marshe, in 1568. Another edition, by an unknown editor, was in
    1736; the text of which is, as Gifford justly observed, execrable.
    Many of his writings still remain in their manuscript state--see
    Harleian MSS., 367, 2252; and many printed ones have not been
    collected. There is no task in our literature so desperately
    difficult as that of offering a correct text of this anomalous poet;
    but we may hope to receive it from the diligent labours of Mr. Dyce,
    so long promised; it would form one of the richest volumes of the
    Camden publications. [Since this note was written, the poetical works
    of Skelton have been published by the Rev. A. Dyce, (2 vols. 8vo, T.
    Rodd, 1843,) with an abundance of elucidatory notes and
    bibliographical information; so that this difficult task has been
    performed with great success; and the volumes are among the most
    valuable of the many works of that conscientious editor.]


The Stultifera Navis, or Ship of Fools, composed in verse by Sebastian
Brandt, a learned German civilian, is a general satire on society. It
has been translated into verse, or turned into prose, in almost every
European language; and no work of such dimensions has been made so
familiar to general readers.

There are works whose design displays the most striking originality;
but, alas! there are so many infelicitous modes of execution! To freight
a ship with fools, collected from all the classes and professions of
society, would have been a creative idea in the brain of Lucian, or
another pilgrimage for the personages of Chaucer; and natural or
grotesque incidents would have started from the invention of Rabelais.
These men of genius would have sportively navigated their "Ship," and
not have driven aboard fool after fool, an undistinguishable shoal, by
the mere brutal force of the pen, only to sermonise with a tedious
homily or a critical declamation. Erasmus playfully threw out a small
sparkling volume on folly, which we still open; Brandt furnishes a
massive tome, with fools huddled together; and while we lose our own, we
are astonished at his patience.

The severity of this decision, we own, is that of a critic of the
nineteenth century on an author of the sixteenth.

It is amusing to observe the perplexities of an eminent French critic,
Monsieur Guizot, in his endeavour to decide on the "Stultifera Navis." A
critic of his school could not rightly comprehend how it happened that
so dull a book had been a popular one, multiplied by editions in all the
languages of Europe. "It is," says M. Guizot, "a collection of
extravagant or of gross _plaisanteries_--which may have been poignant at
their time, but which at this day have no other merit than that of
having had great success three hundred years ago." The salt of
plaisanteries cannot be damped by three centuries, provided they were
such; but our author is by no means facetious: he is much too downright;
the tone is invariably condemnatory or exhortative; and the Proverbs,
the Psalms, and Jeremiah, are more frequently appealed to than Cicero,
Horace, and Ovid, who occasionally show their heads in his margin.

We must look somewhat deeper would we learn why a book which now tries
our patience was not undeserving of those multiplied editions which have
ascertained its popularity.

At the period when this volume appeared, we in the north were far
removed from the urbanity and the elevated ethics of lettered Italy.
Brandt took this general view of society at the time when the
illustrious Castiglione was an ambassador to our Henry the Seventh, and
was meditating to model the manners of his countrymen by his _Libro
dell' Cortigiano_; and La Casa, by his _Galateo_, was founding a code of
minute politeness. But neither France, nor Germany, nor England, had yet
greatly advanced in the civil intercourse of life, and could not
appreciate such exility of elegance, and such sublimated refinement.
With us, the staple of our moral philosophy was of a homespun but firm
texture, and had in it more of yarn than of silk. Men had little to
read; they were not weary of that eternal iteration of admonition on
whatever was most painful or most despicable in their conduct; their
ideas were uncertain, and their minds remained to be developed; nothing
was trite or trivial. In his wide survey of human life, the author
addressed the mundane fools of his age in the manner level to their
comprehension; the ethical character of the volume was such, that the
Abbot Trithemus designated it as a divine book; and in this volume,
which read like a homily, while every man beheld the reflection of his
own habits and thoughts, he chuckled over the sayings and doings of his
neighbours. If any one quipped the profession of another, the sufferer
had only to turn the leaf to find ample revenge; and these were the
causes of the uninterrupted popularity of this ethical work.

"The Ship of Fools" is, indeed, cumbrous, rude, and inartificial, and
was not constructed on the principles which regulate our fast-sailing
vessels; yet it may be prized for something more than its curiosity. It
is an ancient satire, of that age of simplicity which must precede an
age of refinement.

If man in society changes his manners, he cannot vary his species; man
remains nothing but man; for, however disguised by new modes of acting,
the same principles of our actions are always at work. The same follies
and the same vices in their result actuate the human being in all ages;
and he who turns over the volume of the learned civilian of Germany will
find detailed those great moral effects in life which, if the modern
moralist may invest with more dignity, he could not have discovered with
more truth. We have outgrown his counsels, but we never shall elude the
vexatious consequences of his experience; and many a chapter in the
"Ship of Fools" will point many an argument _ad hominum_, and awaken in
the secret hours of our reminiscences the pang of contrite sorrows, or
tingle our cheek with a blush for our weaknesses. The truths of human
nature are ever echoing in our breasts.

"The Ship of Fools," by Alexander Barclay--a volume of renown among
literary antiquaries, and of rarity and price--is at once a translation
and an original. In octave stanza, flowing in the ballad measure,
Barclay has a natural construction of style still retaining a vernacular
vigour. He is noticed by Warton for having contributed his share in the
improvement of English phraseology; and, indeed, we are often surprised
to discover many felicities of our native idiom; and the work, though it
should be repulsive to some for its black-letter, is perfectly
intelligible to a modern reader. The verse being prosaic, preserves its
colloquial ease, though with more gravity than suits sportive subjects;
we sometimes feel the tediousness of the good sense of the Priest of St.
Mary Ottery.

The edition of 1570 of the "Ship of Fooles"[1] contains other
productions of Barclay. In his "Eclogues,"[2] our good priest, who did
not write, as he says, "for the laud of man," indulged his ethical and
theological vein in pastoral poetry; and the interlocutors are citizens
disputing with men of the country, and poets with their patrons. To have
converted shepherds into scholastic disputants or town-satirists was an
unnatural change; but this whimsical taste had been introduced by
Petrarch and Mantuan; and the first eclogues in the English language,
which Warton tells us are those of Barclay, took this strange form--an
incongruity our Spenser had not the skill to avoid, and for which Milton
has been censured. The less fortunate anomalies of genius are often
perpetuated by the inconsiderate imitation of those who should be most
sensible of their deformity.

In the eclogues of Barclay, the country is ever represented in an
impoverished, depressed state; and the splendour of the city, and the
luxurious indulgence of the citizen and the courtier, offer a singular
contrast to the extreme misery of the agriculturist. We may infer that
the country had been deplorably ravaged or neglected in the civil wars,
which, half a century afterwards, was to be covered by the fat beeves of
the graziers of Elizabeth.


  [1] The woodcuts in this edition are wretched; though in part they
    are copied from the fine specimens of the art which embellish the
    Latin version of Locherus.

  [2] One of these, a "Dialogue between a Citizen and Uplandishman,"
    has been reprinted by the Percy Society, under the editorship of Mr.
    Fairholt, who has given a digest of the other Eclogues in a


If the art of biography be the development of "the ruling passion," it
is in strong characters that we must seek for the single feature.
Learned and meditative as was Sir THOMAS MORE, a jesting humour, a
philosophical jocundity, indulged on important as well as on ordinary
occasions, served his wise purpose. He seems to have taken refuge from
the follies of other men by retreating to the pleasantry of his own.
Grave men censured him for the absence of all gravity; and some imagined
that the singularity of his facetious disposition, which sometimes
seemed even ludicrous, was carried on to affectation. It was certainly
inherent,--it was a constitutional temper--it twined itself in his
fibres,--it betrayed itself on his countenance. We detect it from the
comic vein of his boyhood when among the players; we pursue it through
the numerous transactions of his life; and we leave him at its last
solemn close, when life and death were within a second of each other,
uttering three jests upon the scaffold. Even when he seemed to have
quitted the world, and had laid his head on the block, he bade the
executioner stay his hand till he had removed his beard, observing,
"that that had never committed any treason."

This mirthful mind had, indeed, settled on his features. ERASMUS, who
has furnished us with an enamelled portrait of MORE, among its minuter
touches reluctantly confessed that "the countenance of Sir Thomas More
was a transcript of his mind, inclining to an habitual smile;" and he
adds, "ingenuously to confess the truth, that face is formed for the
expression of mirth rather than of gravity or dignity." But, lest he
should derange the gravity of the German to whom he was writing, Erasmus
cautiously qualifies the disparaging delineation--"though as far as
possible removed from folly or buffoonery." MORE, however, would assume
a solemn countenance when on the point of throwing out some facetious
stroke. He has so described himself when an interlocutor in one of his
dialogues addresses him--"You use to look so sadly when you mean
merrily, that many times men doubt whether you speak in sport when you
mean good earnest."[1]

The unaffected playfulness of the mind; the smile whose sweetness
allayed the causticity of the tongue; the tingling pleasantry when
pointed at persons; the pungent raillery which corrected opinions
without scorn or contumely; and the art of promptly amusing the mind of
another by stealing it away from a present object--appeared not only in
his conversations, but was carried into his writings.

The grave and sullen pages of the polemical labours of MORE, whose
writings chiefly turn on the controversies of the Romanists and the
Reformers, are perhaps the only controversial ones which exhibit in the
marginal notes, frequently repeated, "a merrie tale." "A merry tale
cometh never amiss to me," said MORE truly of himself. He has offered an
apology for introducing this anomalous style into these controversial
works. He conceived that, as a layman, it better became him "to tell his
mind merrily than more solemnly to preach." Jests, he acknowledges, are
but sauce; and "it were but an absurd banquet indeed in which there were
few dishes of meat and much variety of sauces; but that is but an
unpleasant one where there were no sauce at all."

The massive folio of Sir THOMAS MORE'S "English Works"[2] remains a
monument of our language at a period of its pristine vigour. Viewed in
active as well as in contemplative life, at the bar or on the bench, as
ambassador or chancellor, and not to less advantage where, "a good
distance from his house at Chelsea, he builded the new building, wherein
was a chapel, a library, and a gallery," the character, the events, and
the writings of this illustrious man may ever interest us.

These works were the fertile produce of "those spare hours for writing,
stolen from his meat and sleep." We are told that "by using much
writing, towards his latter end he complained of the ache of his
breast." He has himself acknowledged that "those delicate dainty folk,
the evangelical brethren (so More calls our early reformers), think my
works too long, for everything that is, they think too long." More
alludes to the rising disposition in men for curtailing all forms and
other ceremonial acts, especially in the church service.

MORE, however skilful as a Latin scholar, to promulgate his opinions
aimed at popularity, and cultivated our vernacular idiom, till the
English language seems to have enlarged the compass of its expression
under the free and copious vein of the writer. It is only by the
infelicity of the subjects which constitute the greater portion of this
mighty volume, that its author has missed the immortality which his
genius had else secured.

MORE has been fortunate in the zeal of his biographers; but we are
conscious, that had there been a Xenophon or a Boswell among them, they
could have told us much more. The conversations of Sir THOMAS MORE were
racy. His was that rare gift of nature, perfect presence of mind,
deprived of which the fullest is but slow and late. His conversancy with
public affairs, combined with a close observation of familiar life, ever
afforded him a striking aptitude of illustration; but the levity of his
wit, and the luxuriance of his humour, could not hide the deep sense
which at all times gave weight to his thoughts, and decision to his
acts. Of all these we are furnished with ample evidence.

Domestic affection in all its naïve simplicity dictated the artless
record of Roper, the companion of More, for sixteen years, and the
husband of his adored daughter Margaret.[3] The pride of ancestry in the
pages of his great-grandson, the ascetic Cresacre More, could not borrow
the charm of that work whence he derived his enlarged narrative.[4] More
than one beadsman, the votaries of their martyr, have consecrated his
memory even with their legendary faith;[5] while recent and more
philosophical writers have expatiated on the wide theme, and have
repeated the story of this great Chancellor of England.[6]

"The child here waiting at table, whomever shall live to see it, will
prove a marvellous man." It was thus that the early patron of More,
Cardinal Morton, sagaciously contemplated on the precocity of More's
boyhood. His prompt natural humour broke out at the Christmas revels,
when the boy, suddenly slipping in among the players, acted an extempore
part of his own invention. Yet this jocund humour, which never was to
quit him to his last awful minute, at times indulged a solemnity of
thought, as remarkable in a youth of eighteen. In the taste of that day,
he invented an allegorical pageant. These pageants consisted of
paintings on rolls of cloth, with inscriptions in verse, descriptive of
the scenical objects. They formed a series of the occupations of
childhood, manhood, the indolent liver, "a child again," and old age,
thin and hoar, wise and discreet. The last scenes exhibited more
original conceptions. The image of DEATH, where under his "misshapen
feet" lay the sage old man; then came "the Lady FAME," boasting that she
had survived death, and would preserve the old man's name "by the voice
of the people." But FAME was followed by TIME, "the lord of every hour,
the great destroyer both of sea and land," deriding simple "Fame;" for
"who shall boast an eternal name before me?" Yet was there a more potent
destroyer than TIME; Time itself was mortal! and the eighth pageant
revealed the triumph of ETERNITY. The last exhibited the poet himself,
meditating in his chair--he "who had fed their eyes with these fictions
and these figures." The allegory of Fame, Time, and Eternity, is a
sublime creation of ideal personifications. The conception of these
pageants reminds one of the allegorical "Trionfi" of Petrarch; but they
are not borrowed from the Italian poet. They were, indeed, in the taste
of the age, and such pageants were exhibited in the streets; but the
present gorgeous invention, as well as the verses, were the fancies of
the youthful More.

MORE in his youth was a true poet; but in his active life he soon
deserted these shadows of the imagination.

A modern critic has regretted, that, notwithstanding the zeal of his
biographers, we would gladly have been better acquainted with MORE'S
political life, his parliamentary speeches, his judicial decrees, and
his history as an ambassador and a courtier.

There is not, however, wanting the most striking evidence of MORE'S
admirable independence in all these characters. I fix on his
parliamentary life.

As a burgess under Henry the Seventh, he effectually opposed a royal
demand for money. When the king heard that "a beardless boy had
disappointed all his purpose," the malice of royalty was wreaked on the
devoted head of the judge his father, in a causeless quarrel and a heavy
fine. When MORE was chosen the Speaker of the Commons, he addressed
Henry the Eighth on the important subject of _freedom of debate_. There
is a remarkable passage on the heat of discussion, and the diversity of
men's faculties, which displays a nice discrimination in human nature.
"Among so many wise men, neither is every one wise alike; nor among so
many alike well-witted, every man alike well-spoken; and it often
happeneth, that likewise as much folly is uttered with painted polished
speeches, so many boisterous and rude in language see deep, indeed, and
give right substantial counsel. And since also in matters of great
importance the mind is so often occupied in the matter, that a man
rather studies what to say than how, by reason whereof the wisest man
and best-spoken in a whole country fortuneth, while his mind is fervent
in the matter, somewhat to speak in such wise as he would afterward wish
to have been uttered otherwise; and yet no worse will had he when he
spake it, than he had when he would gladly change it."

Once the potent cardinal, irritated at the free language of the Commons,
to awe the House, came down in person, amid the blazonry of all the
insignia of his multiform state. To check his arrogance, it was debated
whether the minister should be only admitted with a few lords. MORE
suggested, that as WOLSEY had lately taxed the lightness of their
tongues, "it would not be amiss to receive him in all his pomp, with his
(silver) pillars, emblems of his ecclesiastical power, as a pillar of
the church, his maces, his pole-axes, his crosses, his hat, and his
great seal too, to the intent that if he find the like fault with us
hereafter, we may the more boldly lay the blame on those his grace
brings with him." The cardinal made a solemn oration; and when he
ceased, behold the whole House was struck by one unbroken and dead
silence! The minister addressed several personally--each man was a mute:
discovering that he could not carry his point by his presence, he seemed
to recollect that the custom of the House was to speak by the mouth of
their Speaker, and WOLSEY turned to him. MORE, in all humility,
explained the cause of the universal silence, by the amazement of the
House at the presence of so noble a personage; "besides, that it was not
agreeable to the liberty of the House to offer answers--that he himself
could return no answer except every one of the members could put into
his head their several wits." The minister abruptly rose and departed
_re infectâ_. Shortly after, WOLSEY in his gallery at Whitehall told
MORE, "Would to God you had been at Rome, Mr. More, when I made you
Speaker!" "So would I too!" replied MORE; and then immediately
exclaimed, "I like this gallery much better than your gallery at Hampton
Court;" and thus, talking of pictures, he broke off "the cardinal's
displeasant talk."

This was a customary artifice with MORE. He withdrew the mind from
disturbing thoughts by some sudden exclamation, or broke out into some
facetious sally, which gave a new turn to the conversation. Of many, to
give a single instance. On the day he resigned the chancellorship, he
went after service to his wife's pew; there bowing, in the manner and
with the very words the Lord Chancellor's servant was accustomed to
announce to her, that "My lord was gone!" she laughed at the idling
mockery; but when assured, in sober sadness, that "My lord was gone!"
this good sort of lady, with her silly exclamation of "Tillie vallie!
Tillie vallie! will you sit and make goslings in the ashes?" broke out
into one of those domestic explosions to which she was very liable. The
resigned chancellor, now resigned in more than one sense, to allay the
storm he had raised, desired his daughters to observe whether they could
not see some fault in their mother's dress. They could discover none.
"Don't you perceive that your mother's nose stands somewhat awry?" Thus
by a stroke of merriment, he dissipated the tedious remonstrances and
perplexing inquiries which a graver man could not have eluded.

At the most solemn moments of his life he was still disposed to indulge
his humour. When in the Tower, denied pen and ink, he wrote a letter to
his beloved Margaret, and tells her that "This letter is written with a
coal; but that to express his love a peck of coals would not suffice."

His political sagacity equalled the quickness of his wit or the flow of
his humour. He knew to rate at their real value the favours of such a
sovereign as Henry VIII. The king suddenly came to dine at his house at
Chelsea, and while walking in the garden, threw his arm about the neck
of the chancellor. Roper, his son-in-law, congratulated More on this
affectionate familiarity of royalty. More observed, "Son, the king
favours me as (much as) any subject within the realm; howbeit I have no
cause to be proud thereof, for if my head would win him a castle in
France, it should not fail to go!"

MORE seems to have descried the speck of the Reformation, while others
could not view even the gathering cloud in the political horizon. He and
Roper were conversing on their "Catholic prince, their learned clergy,
their sound nobility, their obedient subjects, and finally that no
heretic dare show his face." More went even beyond Roper in his
commendation; but he proceeded, "And yet, son Roper, I pray God that
some of us, as high as we seem to sit upon the mountains, treading
heretics under our feet like ants, live not the day that we would gladly
be at league and composition with them, to let them have their churches
quietly to themselves, so that they would be contented to let us have
ours quietly to ourselves." Roper, somewhat amazed, alleged his reasons
for not seeing any cause which could produce such consequences. The zeal
of the juvenile Catholic broke out into "a fume," which More perceiving,
with his accustomed and gentle artifice exclaimed merrily, "Well, son
Roper, it shall not be so! it shall not be so!"

No one was more sensible than MORE that to gain over the populace it is
necessary to descend to them. But when raillery passed into railing, and
sarcasm sunk into scurrility, in these unhappy polemical effusions, our
critics have bitterly censured the intolerance and bigotry of Sir THOMAS
MORE. All this, however, lies on the surface. The antagonists of MORE
were not less free, nor more refined. MORE wrote at a cruel crisis; both
the subjects he treated on, and the times he wrote in, and the distorted
medium through which he viewed the new race as the subverters of
government, and the eager despoilers of the ecclesiastical lands, were
quite sufficient to pervert the intellect of a sage of that day, and
throw even the most genial humour into a state of exacerbation.

Our sympathies are no longer to be awakened by the worship of images and
relics--prayers to saints--the state of souls in purgatory--and the
unwearied blessedness of pilgrimages--nor even by the subtle inquiry,
Whether the church were before the gospel, or the gospel before the
church?--or by the burning of Tyndale's Testament, and "the confutation
of the new church of Frere Barnes:" all these direful follies, which
cost Sir Thomas More many a sleepless night, and bound many a harmless
heretic to the stake, have passed away, only, alas! to be succeeded by
other follies as insane, which shall in their turn meet the same fate.
Those works of MORE are a voluminous labyrinth; but whoever winds its
dark passages shall gather many curious notices of the writer's own age,
and many exquisite "merrie tales," delectable to the antiquary, and not
to be contemned in the history of the human mind.

The impending Reformation was hastened by a famous invective in the form
of "The Supplication of Beggars." Its flagrant argument lay in its
arithmetic. It calculated all the possessions of the clergy, who though
but "the four-hundredth part of the nation, yet held half of the

MORE replied to "The Supplication of the Beggars" by "The Supplications
of the Souls in Purgatory." These he represented in terror at the
sacrilegious annihilation of the masses said for their repose; and this
with the Romanist was probably no weak argument in that day.

MORE more reasonably ridicules the extravagance of the estimates. Such
accounts, got up in haste and designed for a particular purpose, are
necessarily inaccurate; but the inaccuracy of a statement does not at
all injure the drift of the argument, should that be based on truth.

With MORE "the heretics" were but ordinary rebels, as appears by the
style of his narrative. "A rabble of heretics at Abingdon did not intend
to lose any more labour by putting up bills (petitions) to Parliament,
but to make an open insurrection and subvert all the realm, to kill the
clergy, and sell priests' heads as good and cheap as sheep's
heads--three for a penny, buy who would! But God saved the church and
the realm. Yet after this was there one John Goose roasted at
Tower-hill, and thereupon some other John Goose began to make some
gaggling awhile, but it availed him not. And now we have this gosling
with his 'Supplication of Beggars.' He maketh his bill in the name of
the beggars. The bill is couched as full of _lies_ as the beggar
swarmeth full of _lice_. We neither will nor shall need to make much
business about this matter; we trust much better in the goodness of good

The marriage of the clergy was no doubt at first abused by some. MORE
describes one Richard Mayfield, late a monk and a priest, and, it may be
added, a martyr, for he was burned. Of this man he says, "His holy life
well declares his heresies, when being both a priest and a monk he went
about two wives, one in Brabant, another in England. What he meant I
cannot make you sure, whether he would be sure of the one if t'other
should happen to refuse him, or that he would have them both, the one
here, the other there; or else both in one place, the one because he was
priest, the other because he was monk."[7]

Such is the ludicrous ribaldry which runs through the polemical works of
Sir THOMAS MORE: the opposite party set no better example, and none
worse than the redoubtable Simon Fish, the writer of the "Supplication
of Beggars." Oldmixon expresses his astonishment that "the famous Sir
Thomas More was so hurried by his zeal that he forgot he was a
gentleman, and treated Mr. Fish with the language of a monk."

Writers who decide on other men and on other times by the spirit of
their own, try human affairs by a false standard. MORE was at heart a
monk. He wore a prickly hair-shirt to mortify the flesh; he scourged
himself with the knotted cord; he practised the penance; and he appeals
to miraculous relics as the evidences of his faith! I give his own words
in alluding to the Sudarium, that napkin sent to king Abgarus, on which
Jesus impressed the image of his own face: "And it hath been by like
miracle in the thin corruptible cloth kept and preserved these 1500
years fresh and well preserved, to the inward comforts, spiritual
rejoicing, and great increase of fervour in the hearts of good Christian
people." To this he joins another similar miraculous relic, "the
evangelist Luke's portrait of our blessed Lady, his mother."[8]

Such were considered as the evidences of the true faith of the
Romanists; but MORE with his relics was then dealing in a damaged
commodity. Lord Herbert has noticed the great fall of the price of
relics at the dissolution of the monasteries: some which had been left
in pawn no one cared to redeem.

"The History of King Richard the Third," which first appeared in a
correct state in this folio, has given rise to "historic doubts" which
led to some paradoxes. The personal monster whom MORE and SHAKSPEAKE
exhibited has vanished, but the deformity of the revolting parricide was
surely revealed in the bones of the infant nephews. This, the earliest
history in our vernacular literature, may still be read with delight. As
a composition the critical justice of Lord Orford may be cited. "Its
author was then in the vigour of his fancy, and fresh from the study of
the Greek and Roman historians, whose manner he has imitated." The
details in this history of a prince of the house of York, though they
may be tinged with the gall of the Lancastrian Cardinal Morton, descend
to us with the weight of contemporary authority. It is supposed that
MORE may have derived much of the materials of his history from his
early patron, but the charms which still may retain us are the natural
yet dramatic dialogue--the picturesque touches--and a style, at times,
whose beauty three centuries have not wrinkled--and the emotions which
such vital pages leave in the reader's mind.[9]

The "UTOPIA" of Sir THOMAS MORE, which being composed in Latin is not
included in this great volume of his "Workes," may be read by the
English reader in its contemporary spirited translation,[10] and more
intelligibly in Bishop Burnet's version. The title of his own coinage
has become even proverbial; and from its classical Latinity it was
better known among foreigners even in Burnet's day than at home. This
combination of philosophy, politics, and fiction, though borrowed from
the ideal republic of Plato, is worthy of an experienced statesman and a
philosopher who at that moment was writing not only above his age, but,
as it afterwards appeared, above himself. It has served as the model of
that novel class of literature--political romances. But though the
"Utopia" is altogether imaginary, it displays no graces of the
imagination in an ingeniously constructed fable. It is the dream of a
good citizen, and, like a dream, the scenes scattered and unconnected
are broken into by chimerical forms and impracticable achievements. In
times of political empiricism it may be long meditated, and the "Utopia"
may yet pass through a million of editions before that new era of the
perfectibility of the human animal, the millennium of political
theorists, which it would seem to have anticipated.

This famous work was written at no immature period of life, for MORE was
then thirty-six years of age. The author had clear notions of the
imperfections of governments, but he was not as successful in proposing
remedies for the disorders he had detected. A community where all the
property belongs to the government, and to which every man contributes
by his labour, that he may have his own wants supplied; a domestic
society which very much resembles a great public school, and converts a
citizen, through all the gradations of his existence, from form to form;
and where every man, like an automatical machine, must be fixed in his
proper place,--supposes a society of passionless beings which social
life has never shown, and surely never can. The art of carrying on war
without combating, by the wiliness of stratagems; or procuring a peace
by offering a reward for the assassination of the leaders of the enemy,
with whom rather than with the people all wars originate; the injunction
to the incurable of suicide; the paucity of laws which enabled every man
to plead his own cause; the utmost freedom granted to religious sects,
where every man who contested the religion of another was sent into
exile, or condemned to bondage; the contempt of the precious metal,
which was here used but as toys for children, or as fetters for
slaves;--such fanciful notions, running counter to the experience of
history, or to the advantages of civilised society, induced some to
suspect the whole to be but the incoherent dreams of an idling
philosopher, thrown down at random without much consideration. It is
sobriety indulging an inebriation, and good sense wandering in a
delirium. Burnet, in his translation, cautiously reminds his readers
that he must in nowise be made responsible for the matter of the work
which "he ventured" to translate. Others have conceived "the Utopia"
dangerous for those speculators in politics who might imagine the author
to have been serious. MORE himself has adjudged the book "no better
worthy than to lye always in his own island, or else to be consecrated
to Vulcan."

But assuredly many of the extraordinary principles inculcated in "the
Utopia" were not so lightly held by its illustrious author. The
sincerity of his notions may be traced in his own simple habits, his
opinions in conversation, and the tenor of his invariable life. His
contempt of outward forms and personal honours, his voluntary poverty,
his fearlessness of death--all these afford ample evidence that the
singularity of the man himself was as remarkable as the work he
produced. The virtues he had expatiated on, he had contemplated in his
own breast.

This singular, but great man, was a sage whose wisdom lay concealed in
his pleasantry; a politician without ambition; a lord chancellor who
entered into office poor, and left it not richer. When his house was to
be searched for treasure, which circumstance had alarmed his friends,
well did that smile become him when he observed that "it would be only a
sport to his family," and he pleasantly added, "lest they should find
out my wife's gay girdle and her gold beads." When the clergy, in
convention, had voted a donation amounting to no inconsiderable fortune,
"not for services to be performed, but for those which he had chosen to
do," More rejected the gift with this noble confession--"I am both
over-proud, and over-slothful also, to be hired for money to take half
the labour and business in writing that I have taken since I began." And
when accused by Tyndale and others for being "the proctor of the
clergy," and richly fed, how forcible was his expression! "He had
written his controversial works only that God might give him thanks."

It happened, however, that his after-conduct in life, in regard to that
religious toleration which he had wisely maintained in his ideal
society, was as opposite as night to noon. Could he then have ever been
earnest in his "Utopia?"--he who exults over the burning of a heretic,
who "could not agree that before the day of doom there were either any
saint in heaven or soul in purgatory, or in hell either," for which
horrible heresy he was delivered at last into the secular hands, and
"burned as there was never wretch I ween better worth."[11] This
harmless and hapless metaphysical theologian did not disagree with More
on the existence of saints, of souls, nor of hell. The heretic
conceived--and could he change by volition the ideas which seemed to him
just?--that no reward or punishment could be inflicted before the final
judgment. A conversation of five minutes might have settled the
difference, for they only varied about the precise time!

In that great revolution which was just opening in his latter days, MORE
seems sometimes to have mistaken theology for politics. A strange and
mysterious change, such as the history of man can hardly parallel,
occurred in the mind of MORE, by what insensible gradations is a secret
which must lie in his grave.

This great man laid his head on the block to seal his conscience with
his blood. Protestants have lamented this act as his weakness, the
Romanists decreed a martyrdom. In a sudden change of system in the
affairs of a nation, when even justice may assume the appearance of
violence, the most enlightened minds, standing amidst their ancient
opinions and their cherished prejudices subverted, display how the
principle of integrity predominates over that of self-preservation.


  [1] "Sir Thomas More's Workes," 127.

  [2] "The Workes of Sir Thomas More in the English Tongue, 1557, fo.,"
    a venerable folio of nearly 1500 pages in double columns, is closely
    printed in black-letter.

  [3] Roper's "Life of Sir Thomas More," which had been suppressed
    through the reign of Elizabeth, only first appeared in 1626, at
    Paris, when a Roman Catholic princess in the person of Henrietta, the
    queen of Charles the First, had ascended the throne of England; it
    was republished in 1729. There is also an elegant modern reprint by
    Mr. Singer.

  [4] The Life by his great-grandson was printed in 1627, and
    republished in 1726. This biography is the one usually referred to.
    Though with a more lucid arrangement, and a fuller narrative, than
    Roper's life, the writer inherited little of the family genius,
    except the bigotry of his great ancestor.

  [5] _Tres Thomæ._ The three Thomases are, Aquinas, à Becket, and
    More--by Dr. Thomas Stapleton. Another Life by J. H. is an
    abridgment, 1662. These writers, Romanists, as well as the
    great-grandson, have interspersed in their narrative more than one of
    those fabulous incidents and pious frauds, visions, and miracles,
    which have been the opprobrium of Catholic biographers.

  [6] Macdiarmid, in his "Lives of British Statesmen," has chiefly
    considered the political character of this Lord-Chancellor. Others
    have written lives merely as accompaniments to the editions of some
    of his works.

  [7] Works, fo. 346.

  [8] "Works of Sir Thomas More," 113, col. 2.

  [9] Mr. Singer has furnished us with a correct reprint of this
    history. More's "Life of Richard the Third" had been given by our
    chroniclers from copies mutilated or altered. A work whose merits
    arise from the beauty of its composition admits of neither.

  [10] The old translation, "by Raphe Robinson, 1551," has been
    republished by Dr. Dibdin, accompanied by copious annotations. Almost
    everything relating to the family, the life, and the works of the
    author may be found in "the biographical and literary introduction."
    It is the first specimen of an edition where the diligence of the
    editor has not been wasted on trivial researches or nugatory

  [11] "Sir Thomas More's Workes," 348.


Not many years intervened between the uncouth gorgeousness of HAWES, the
homely sense of BARCLAY, the anomalous genius of SKELTON, and the pure
poetry of Henry Howard the EARL of SURREY. In the poems of SURREY, and
his friend, Sir Thomas Wyatt,[1] the elder, the age of taste, if not of
genius, opens on us. Dryden and Pope sometimes seem to appear two
centuries before their date. There is no chronology in the productions
of real genius; for, whenever a great master appears, he advances his
art to a period which labour, without creation, toils for centuries to

The great reformer of our poetry, he who first from his own mind,
without a model, displayed its permanent principles, was the poetic Earl
of Surrey. There was inspiration in his system, and he freed his genius
from the barbaric taste or the undisturbed dulness which had prevailed
since the days of Chaucer. His ear was musical, and he formed a metrical
structure with the melodies of our varied versification, rejecting the
rude rhythmical rhyme which had hitherto prevailed in our poetry. He
created a poetic diction, and graceful involutions; a finer selection of
words, and a delicacy of expression, were now substituted for vague
diffusion, and homeliness of phrases and feeble rhymes, or, on the other
hand, for that vitiated style of crude pedantic Latinisms, such as
"purpúre, aureáte, pulchritúde, celatúre, facúnde," and so many others,
laborious nothings! filling the verse with noise. The contemplative and
tender SURREY charms by opening some picturesque scene or dwelling on
some impressive incident. He had discerned the error of those
inartificial writers, whose minute puerility, in their sterile
abundance, detailed till nothing was remembered, and described, till
nothing was perceptible. Hitherto, our poets had narrowed their powers
by moulding their conceptions by temporary tastes, the manners and modes
of thinking of their day; but their remoteness, which may delight the
antiquary, diminishes their interest with the poetical reader. SURREY
struck into that secret path which leads to general nature, guided by
his art: his tenderness and his thoughtful musings find an echo in our
bosoms, and are as fresh with us as they were in the court of Windsor
three centuries past.

These rare qualities in a poet at such a period would of themselves form
an era in our literature; but SURREY also extended their limits; the
disciple of Chaucer was also the pupil of Petrarch, and the Earl of
SURREY composed the _first sonnets_ in the English language, with the
amatory tenderness and the condensed style of its legitimate structure.
Dr. Nott further claims the honour for Surrey of the invention of heroic
blank verse; Surrey's version of Virgil being unrhymed.

When Warton suggested that Surrey borrowed the idea of blank verse from
Trissino's "Italia Liberata," he seems to have been misled by the
inaccurate date of 1528, which he affixed to the publication of that
epic. Trissino's epic did not appear till 1547,[2] and Surrey perished
in the January of that year. It was indeed long a common opinion that
Trissino invented the _versi sciolti_, or blank verse, though Quadrio
confesses that such had been used by preceding poets, whose names he has
recorded. The mellifluence and flexibility of the vowelly language were
favourable to unrhymed verse; while the poverty of the poetic diction,
and the unmusical verse of France, could never venture to show itself
without the glitter of rhyme. The heroic blank verse, however, was an
after-thought of Surrey: he first composed his unrhymed verse in the
long Alexandrine, had afterwards felicitously changed it for the
decasyllabic verse, but did not live to correct the whole of his
version. Surrey could not therefore have designed the pauses and the
cadences of blank verse in his first choice, nor will they be found in
his last. Nor can it be conceded that blank verse was wholly unknown
among us. Webbe, a critic long after, in the reign of Elizabeth,
considers the author of Pierce Ploughman as "the first whom he had met
with who observed the quantity of our verse, _without the curiosity of

Dr. Nott, with editorial ardour, considers that the unfinished model of
Surrey was the prototype of all subsequent blank verse, and was also the
origin of its introduction into dramatic composition. A sweeping
conclusion! when we consider the artificial structure of our blank verse
from the days of Milton, who, not without truth, asserted that "he first
gave the example of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem from the
troublesome and modern bondage of rhyming." This indeed has been denied
to Milton by those who look to dates, and have no ear; and are apt to
imagine that rhymeless lines, mere couplets, with ten well-counted
syllables in each, must necessarily form blank verse. Dr. Nott, in
quoting the eulogy of Ascham on this noble effort of Surrey "to bring
our national poetry to perfection," has omitted to add what followed,
namely, the censure of Surrey for not having rejected our heroic verse
altogether, and substituted the hexameter of Virgil, in English verse.
It is therefore quite evident that Ascham had formed no conception of
blank verse, no more than had Surrey, such as it was to be formed by the
ear of Milton, and by some of his successors. All beginnings are
obscure; something is borrowed from the past, and something is invented
for the future, till it is vain to fix the gradations of invention which
terminate in what at length becomes universally adopted.

Could the life, or what we have of late called the psychological
history, of this poetic Earl of SURREY be now written, it would
assuredly open a vivid display of fine genius, high passions, and
romantic enthusiasm. Little is known, save a few public events; but the
print of the footsteps shows their dimension. We trace the excellence,
while we know but little of the person.

The youth of SURREY, and his life, hardly passed beyond that period,
betrayed the buoyancy of a spirit vehement and quick, but rarely under
guidance. Reckless truth, in all its openness and its sternness, was his
habit, and glory was his passion; but in this restlessness of generous
feelings his anger too easily blazed forth. He was haughty among his
peers, and he did not even scorn to chastise an inferior. We are not
surprised at discovering that one of so unreserved a temper should in
that jealous reign more than once have suffered confinement. But the
youthful hero who pursued to justice a relative and a court favourite,
for a blow, by which that relative had outraged Surrey's faithful
companion--he who would eat flesh in Lent--he who issued one night to
break the windows of the citizens, to remind them that they were a
sinful race, however that might have been instigated by zeal for "the
new religion"--all such things betrayed his enthusiastic daring, but his
deeds, to become splendid, depended on their direction. The lofty
notions he attached to his descent; his proud shield quartering the arms
of the Confessor, which the duke, his father, dared not show to a
jealous monarch; his feats of arms at the barriers, and his military
conduct in his campaigns,

    ----------Who saw Kelsal blaze,
  Landrecy burnt, and battered Boulogne render;
    At Montreuil's gate hopeless of a recure (recovery),

there, where that twin-spirit, his beloved associate, Clere, to save his
wounded friend, had freely yielded his own life; his magnificence as a
courtier, the companion of the princely Richmond; all "the joy and feast
with a king's son;" his own record of the brilliant days, and the
soothing fancies of "proud Windsor:" "its large open courts;" "the
gravelled ground for the foaming horse;" "the palm-play;" "the stately
seats and dances;" "the secret groves," and "the wild forest, with cry
of hounds;" and more than all, the mysterious passion for "the fair
Geraldine," cover the misty shade of Surrey with a cloud of glory,
which, while it veils the man from our sight, seems to enlarge the
object we gaze on.

We see this youth, he who first taught the English Muse accents she had
never before tried, hurried from his literary seclusion to be immolated
on the scaffold, by the arts of a remorseless rival, of him whose pride
at last sent him to the block, and who signed the death-warrant of his
own brother! It was at a moment when the dying monarch, as the breath
was fleeting from his lips, once in his life was voiceless to condemn a
state victim, that Somerset took up the stamp which Henry used, to affix
it to the death-warrant of SURREY. Victim of his own domestic circle!
The father disunited with the son, from fear or jealousy; the mother
separated from the father, to the last vowing unforgiving vengeance; a
sister disnatured of all kin, hastening to be the voluntary accuser of
her father and her brother! These domestic hatreds were the evil spirits
which raged in the house of the Howards, and hurried on the fate of the
accomplished, the poetic, the hapless Earl of Surrey.

A tale of such grandeur and such woe passed away unheeded even by a
slight record, so inexpert were the few writers of those days, and
probably so perilous was their curiosity. The pretended trial of Surrey,
who being no lord of parliament, was tried by a timorous jury at
Guildhall, seems to have been studiously suppressed, and the last solemn
act of his life, "the leaving it," is alike concealed. Even in the
registers of public events by our chroniclers, they unanimously pass
over the glorious name and the miserable death--to spare the monarch's
or the victim's honour.

The poems of SURREY were often read, as their multiplied editions show;
but of the noble poet and his Geraldine, tradition had not sent down
even an imperfect tale. In this uncertainty, the world was disposed to
listen to any romantic story of such genius and love and chivalry.

The secret history of SURREY was at length revealed, and the gravity of
its discloser vouched for its authenticity. Who would doubt the
testimony of plain Anthony à Wood?

SURREY is represented hastening on a chivalric expedition to Italy; at
Florence he challenges the universe, that his Geraldine was the peerless
of the beautiful. In his travels, Cornelius Agrippa exhibited to Surrey,
in a magical mirror, his fair mistress as she was occupied at the moment
of inspection. He beheld her sick, weeping in bed, reading his poems, in
all the grief of absence. This incident set spurs to his horse. At
Florence he hastened to view the chamber which had witnessed the birth
of so much beauty. At the court he affixed his challenge, and maintained
this emprise in tilt and tourney. The Duke of Florence, flattered that a
Florentine lady should be renowned by the prowess of an English
nobleman, invited Surrey to a residence at his court. But our Amadis
more nobly purposed to hold on his career through all the courts of
Italy, shivering the lances of whoever would enter the lists, whether
"Christian, Jew, or Saracen." Suddenly the Quixotism ends, by this
paragon of chivalry being recalled home by the royal command.

This Italian adventure seemed congenial with the romantic mystery in
which the poet had involved the progress of his passion for his poetic
mistress. He had himself let us into some secrets. Geraldine came from
"Tuscany;" Florence was her ancient seat, her sire was an earl, her dame
of "princes' blood," "yet she was fostered by milk of an Irish breast;"
and from her tender years in Britain "she tasted costly food with a
king's child." The amatorial poet even designates the spots hallowed by
his passion; he first saw her at Hunsdon, Windsor chased him from her
sight, and at Hampton Court "first wished her for mine!"

These hints and these localities were sufficient to irritate the vague
curiosity of Surrey's readers, and more particularly of our critical
researchers, of whom Horace Walpole first ventured to explain the
inexplicable. With singular good fortune, and from slight grounds,
Walpole conjectured that Geraldine was no Italian dame, but Lady
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, one of the daughters of the Earl of Kildare; the
family were often called the Geraldines. The Italian descent from the
Geraldi was made out by a spurious genealogy. The challenge and the
tournament no one doubted. But some harder knots were to be untied; and
our theoretical historian, unfurnished by facts and dates, it has been
recently shown, discovered some things which never existed.

But every writer followed in the track. Warton compliments the sagacity
of Walpole, and embroiders the narrative. The historian of our poetry
not only details the incident of the magical mirror, but adds that "the
imagination of Surrey was _heated anew_ by this _interesting
spectacle_!" He therefore had no doubt of the reality; and, indeed, to
confirm the whole adventure of the romantic chivalry, he refers the
curious to a finely sculptured shield which is still preserved by the
Dukes of Norfolk. The Italian adventures of Surrey, and all that Walpole
had erroneously suggested, are fully accepted, and our critic
observes--"Surrey's life throws so much light on the character and the
subjects of his poetry, that it is almost impossible to consider the one
without exhibiting the _few anecdotes_ of the other." But the critical
sagacity of Warton did not wholly desert him through all the
circumstantial narrative, for suddenly his pen pauses, and he exclaims
on these travels of Surrey, that "they have the air of a romance!"

And it was a romance! and it served for history many a year![3] This
tale of literary delusion may teach all future investigators into
obscure points of history to probe them by dates.

It was long after the days of Walpole and Warton, and even of George
Ellis, that it was discovered that these travels into Italy by Surrey
had been transferred literally from an "Historical Romance." A great
wit, in Elizabeth's reign, Tom Nash, sent forth in "the Life of Jack
Wilton, an unfortunate traveller," this whole legend of Surrey. The
entire fiction of Nash annihilates itself by its extraordinary

In what respect Nash designed to palm the imposture of his "Historical
Romance" on the world, may be left to be explained by some "Jack
Wiltons" of our own. He says "all that in this _phantastical treatise_ I
can promise is some _reasonable conveyance of history_, and variety of
mirth." Must we trust to their conscience for "the reasonable

We now trace the whole progress of this literary delusion.

On Surrey's ideal passion, and on this passage misconceived--

  From Tuscan came my lady's worthy race;
  Fair Florence was sometime her ancient seat--

the romancer inferred that Geraldine must be a fair Florentine; Surrey
had alluded to the fanciful genealogy of the Geralds from the Geraldi.
On this single hint the romancer sends him on his aërial journey in this
business of love and chivalry.

This romance, of which it is said only three copies are known, was
published in 1594. Four years after, DRAYTON, looking about for subjects
for his Ovidian epistles, eagerly seized on a legend so favourable for
poetry, and Geraldine and Surrey supplied two amatory epistles. Anthony
à Wood, finding himself without materials to frame a life of the poetic
Surrey, had recourse to "the famous poet," as he calls Drayton, whom he
could quote; for Drayton was a consecrated bard for the antiquary, since
Selden had commented on his great topographical poem. But honest Anthony
on this occasion was not honest enough. He did not tell the world that
he had fallen on the romance itself, Drayton's sole authority. Literally
and silently, our antiquary transcribed the fuller passages from a
volume he was ashamed to notice, disingenuously dropping certain
incidents which would not have honoured the memory of Surrey. Thus the
"phantastical" history for ever blots the authentic tomes of the grave
_Athenæ Oxonienses_. A single moment of scrutiny would have detected the
whole fabricated narrative; but there is a charm in romance which
bewitched our luckless Anthony.

Thus it happened that the romancer, on a misconception, constructs an
imaginary fabric; the poet Drayton builds on the romancer; the sober
antiquary on both; then the commentators stand upon the antiquary. Never
was a house of cards of so many stories. The foundation, Surrey's poetic
passion, may be as fictitious as the rest; for the visionary Geraldine,
viewed in Agrippa's magic mirror was hardly a more mysterious shadow.

Not one of these writers was informed of what recent researches have
demonstrated. They knew not that this Earl of Surrey in boyhood was
betrothed to his lady, also a child--one of the customs to preserve
wealth or power in great families of that day. These historians were
unfurnished with any dates to guide them, and never suspected that when
Surrey is made to set off on his travels in Italy, after a Donna Giraldi
who had no existence, he was the father of two sons, and "the fair
Geraldine" was only _seven_ years of age! that Surrey's first love broke
out when she was _nine_; that he declared his passion when she was about
_thirteen_; and finally, that Geraldine, having attained to the womanly
discretion of _fifteen_, dismissed the accomplished Earl of Surrey, with
whom she never could be united, to accept the hand of old Sir Anthony
Brown, aged sixty. Lady Brown disturbs the illusion of Geraldine, in the
modest triumph of sixteen over sixty.

Dr. Nott is in trepidation for the domestic morality of the noble poet;
yet some of these amatory sonnets may have been addressed to his
betrothed. He has perplexed himself by a formal protest against the
perils of Platonic love, but apologises for his hero in the manners of
the age. It appears that not only the mistress of Petrarch, but those of
Bayard the chevalier "sans reproche," and Sir Philip Sidney, were
married women, with as crystalline reputations as their lovers. Nor
should we omit the great friend of Surrey, Sir Thomas Wyatt, who was a
staid married man, notwithstanding his romantic passion for Anne Bullen.
The courtly imitators of Petrarch had made love fashionable. It is
evident that Surrey found nothing so absorbing in his passion, whatever
it might be; for whenever called into public employment he ceased to be
Petrarch--which Petrarch never could, and possibly for a want of
occupation. A small quantity of passion, dexterously meted out, may be
ample to inspire an amatorial poet. Neither Surrey nor Petrarch,
accomplished lovers and poets, with all their mistress' coquetry and
cruelty, broke their hearts in the tenderness of their ideas, or were
consumed by "the perpetual fires" of their imagination.

We have now traced the literary delusion which long veiled the personal
history of the Earl of Surrey, and which has duped so many ingenious
commentators. The tale affords an additional evidence of that "confusion
worse confounded" by truth and fiction, where the names are real, and
the incidents fictitious; a fatality which must always accompany
"Historical Romances." The same mischance occurred to "The Cavalier" of
DE FOE, often published under different titles, suitable to the designs
of the editors, and which tale has been repeatedly mistaken for an
authentic history written at the time. Under the assumed designation by
"a Shropshire Gentleman," whole passages have been transferred from the
Romance into the authentic history of Nichols's Leicestershire--just as
Anthony à Wood had felicitously succeeded in his historical authority of
Tom Nash's "Life of Jack Wilton."

In the story of SURREY and WYATT, one circumstance is too precious to be
passed over. WYATT commenced as a writer nearly ten years before Surrey,
and his earlier poetic compositions are formed in the old rhythmical
school. His manuscripts, which still exist, bear his own strong marks in
every line to regulate their cæsura; for our ancient poets, to satisfy
the ear, were forced to depend on such artificial contrivances. It was
in the strict intercourse of their literary friendship that the elder
bard surrendered up the ancient barbarism, and by the revelation of his
younger friend, studied an art which he had not himself discovered.
Wyatt is an abundant writer; but he has wrought his later versification
with great variety, though he has not always smoothed his workmanship
with his nail. For many years Wyatt had smothered his native talent, by
translation from Spanish and Italian poets, and in his rusty rhythmical
measures. He lived to feel the truth of nature, and to practise happier
art. Of his amatory poems, many are graceful, most ingenious. The
immortal one to his "Lute," the usual musical instrument of the lover or
the poet, as the guitar in Spain, composed with as much happiness as
care, is the universal theme of every critic of English poetry.

His defrauded or romantic passion for Anne Bullen often lends to his
effusions a deep mysterious interest, when we recollect that the poet
alludes to a rival who must have made him tremble as he wrote.

  Who list to hunt? I know where is an hind!
    But as for me alas! I may no more,
    The vain travail hath wearied me so sore;
  I am of them that furthest come behind.
  Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
    As well as I may spend his time in vain;
    Graven with diamonds, in letters plain,
  There is written, her fair neck round about--
    "Noli me tangere, for Cæsar's I am,
    _And wild to hold, though I seem tame_."

We perceive Wyatt's keen perception of character in the last verse,
admirably expressive of the playfulness and levity of the thoughtless
but susceptible Anne Bullen, which never left her when in the Tower or
on the scaffold. The poems of WYATT accompanied the unhappy queen in her
imprisonment; and it was Wyatt's sister who received her prayer-book
with her last smile, for the block before her could not disturb the
tenderness of her affections.

WYATT is an ethical poet, more pregnant with reflection than
imagination; he was intimately conversant with the world; and it is to
be regretted that our poet has only left three satires, the first
Horatian Epistles we possess. These are replete with the urbanity and
delicate irony of the Roman, but what was then still unexampled, flowing
with the fulness and freedom of the versification of Dryden. Wyatt had
much salt, but no gall.

WYATT excelled SURREY in his practical knowledge of mankind; he had been
a sojourner in politic Madrid, and had been employed on active
embassies. Surrey could only give the history of his own emotions,
affections, and habits; he is the more interesting poet for us; but we
admire a great man in Wyatt, one whose perception was not less subtile
and acute, because it spread on a far wider surface of life.

WIAT, for so he wrote his name, was a great wit; as, according to the
taste of his day, his anagram fully maintained. We are told that he was
a nice observer of times, persons, and circumstances, knowing when to
speak, and we may add, how to speak. That happened to Wyatt which can be
recorded probably of no other wit: three prompt strokes of pleasantry
thrown out by him produced three great revolutions--the fall of Wolsey,
the seizure of the monastic lands, and the emancipation of England from
the papal supremacy. The Wyatts, besides their connexion with Anne
Bullen, had all along been hostile to the great Cardinal. One day Wyatt
entering the king's closet, found his majesty much disturbed, and
displeased with the minister. Ever quick to his purpose, Wyatt, who
always told a story well, now, to put his majesty into good humour, and
to keep the Cardinal down in as bad a one, furnished a ludicrous tale of
"the curs baiting a butcher's dog." The application was obvious to the
butcher's son of Ipswich, and we are told, for the subject but not the
tale itself has been indicated, that the whole plan of getting rid of a
falling minister was laid down by this address of the wit. It was with
the same dexterity, when Wyatt found the king in a passion on the delay
of his divorce, that, with a statesmanlike sympathy, appealing to the
presumed tendency of the royal conscience, he exclaimed, "Lord! that a
man cannot repent him of his sin but by the pope's leave!" The hint was
dropped; the egg of the Reformation was laid, and soon it was hatched!
When Henry the Eighth paused at the blow levelled at the whole ponderous
machinery of the papal clergy, dreading from such wealth and power a
revolution, besides the ungraciousness of the intolerable transfer of
all abbey lands to the royal domains, Wyatt had his repartee for his
counsel:--"Butter the rooks' nests!"--that is, divide all these houses
and lands with the nobility and gentry.

Wyatt should have been the minister of Henry; we should then have
learned if a great wit, where wit was ever relished, could have saved
himself under a monarch who dashed down a Wolsey.

Surrey and Wyatt, though often engaged, the one as a statesman, the
other as a general, found their most delightful avocation in the
intercourse of their studies. Their minds seemed cast in the same mould.
They mutually confided their last compositions, and sometimes chose the
same subject in the amicable wrestlings of their genius. It was a
community of studies and a community of skill; the thoughts of the one
flowed into the thoughts of the other, and we frequently discover the
verse from one in the poem of the other. Wyatt was the more fortunate
man, for he did not live to see himself die in the partner of his fame
perishing on a scaffold, and he has received a poet's immortality from
that friend's noble epitaph. In his epitaph, Surrey dwells on every
part of the person of his late companion; he expatiates on the
excellences of the head, the face, the hand, the tongue, the eye, and
the heart--but these are not fanciful conceits; the solemnity of his
thoughts and his deep emotions tell their truth. Wyatt's was

  A head, where Wisdom's mysteries did frame,
    Whose hammers beat still in that lively brain,
  As on a stithy,[4] where some work of fame
    Was daily wrought.


  [1] "The Works of the Earl of Surrey and Sir Thomas Wyatt," by Dr.
    Nott, form an important accession to our national literature. If we
    cannot always agree with the conclusions of our literary antiquary,
    we must value the variety of his researches, not less profound than

  [2] "Tiraboschi," vol. vii.--Haym's "Bibliotheca Italiani." When
    Conybeare communicated the same information to Dr. Bliss, it must
    have been derived from Warton.

  [3] And, strange to add, it is still history! Mr. Godwin, in "The
    Lives of Necromancers," details every part of this apocryphal tale!
    And the Edinburgh reviewer very philosophically, not doubtful of its
    verity, accounts for all its supernatural magic, and clearly explains
    the inexplicable!

  [4] The smith's forge.


Incidents of such an overwhelming nature in political history as are
those of the Reformation can have no sudden origin. They are but the
consequences of something which has preceded. In our country the
suppression of the monasteries and the abbeys had been long prepared; it
was not, and it could not have been, the temporary passions, nor the
absolute will, of an arbitrary monarch, which by a word could have
annihilated an awful power, had not the royal edict been but the echo of
many voices. It was attacking but an aged power dissolving in its own
corruption, which, blind with pride, looked with complacency on its own
unnatural greatness, its political anasarca. Its opulence was an object
it could not conceal from its enviers, and its paramount eminence was
too heavy a yoke for its rising rivals. This power, in the language of
the times, had "covered the land with an Egyptian darkness," and when
appeared the "Godly and learned king," as the eighth Henry was called,
he was saluted as "a Moses who delivered them from the bondage of
Pharaoh." It is not therefore strange that the act which at a single
blow annihilated the monastic orders and their "lands and tenements,"
was hailed as the most patriotic which had been ever passed by an
English sovereign. It made even a tyrannous and jealous monarch, who cut
off more heads of men and women than any other on record, popular and
extolled even in his latter days.

Henry the Eighth had paused at the blow he was about to level. The
plunder was too monstrous even for the hand of an arbitrary monarch. Its
division among the nobility and gentry was an expedient which removed
the odium from royalty, and invested it with that munificence which
dazzled the pride of Henry. In the vast harvest, the king refused the
lion's share, looking for his safer portion in the secure loyalty of the
new possessors to whom he transferred this vast and novel wealth.

As the scheme was managed, therefore, it was a compromise or
co-partnership of the king and his courtiers. The lands now lie the open
prey of the hardy claimant or the sly intriguer; crowds of suppliants
wearied the crown to participate in that national spoliation. Every one
hastened to urge some former service, or some present necessity, as a
colourable plea for obtaining a grant of some of the suppressed lands. A
strange custom was then introduced, that of "begging for an estate."
Kneeling to the king, and specifying some particular lands, was found a
convenient method to acquire them; and these royal favours were
sometimes capriciously and even ludicrously bestowed. Fuller has a
pleasant tale concerning one Master Champernoun. One day, observing two
or three gentlemen waiting at a door through which the king was to pass,
he was inquisitive to learn their suit, which they refused to tell. On
the king's appearance, they threw themselves on their knees, and
Champernoun was prompt in joining them, with an implicit faith, says
Fuller, that courtiers never ask anything hurtful to themselves. They
were begging for an estate. The king granted their petition. On this
Champernoun claimed his share of the largesse; they remonstrated that he
had never come to beg with them; he appealed to the king, and his
brother beggars were fain to allot him the considerable priory of St.
Germains, which he sold to the ancestor of the present possessor, the
Earl of St. Germains.

The king was prodigal in his grants; for the more he multiplied the
receivers of his bounties, the more numerous would be the stanch
defenders of their new possessions:[1] gratitude was the least of their
merits. He counted on their resolution and their courage. The bait was
relishing, and there were some, when land-grants became more scarce,
whose voracity of reformation attempted to snatch at the lands of the
universities, which had certainly gone had not Henry's love of
literature protected their trembling colleges. We have his majesty's own
words, in replying to the suggestion of some hungry courtier:--"Ha!
sirrah! I perceive the abbey-lands have fleshed you, and set your teeth
on edge, to ask also those colleges. We pulled down sin by defacing the
monasteries; but you desire to throw down all goodness by subversion of
colleges. I tell you, sir, that I judge no land in England better
bestowed than on our universities, which shall maintain our realm when
we be dead and rotten. Follow no more this vein; but content yourselves
with what you have already, or else seek honest means whereby to
increase your worldhoods."

Lord Cromwell was the chief minister through whose mediation these novel
royal grants of houses and lands were distributed. There was evidently
no chance of attention from his lordship without the most open and
explicit offers of the grossest bribery. The Chancellor Audley, in
bargaining with Lord Cromwell for the abbey of St. Osyth, for "some
present trouble in this suit," one day sent twenty pounds, with "my poor
hearty good will, during my life." Perhaps the bribe, though only placed
to account, had not its full weight, as the chancellor does not appear,
in the present instance, to have possessed himself of this abbey,
though, afterwards, with the spoils of two rich monasteries, he built
the most magnificent mansion in England, by which he perpetuated his own
name in the once-famed Audley-End. Sir Thomas Elyot, in soliciting his
lordship's mediation with the king to reward him with "some convenient
portion of the suppressed lands," found it advisable to offer a
conditional promise! "Whatsoever portion of land that I shall attain by
the king's grace, I promise to give to your lordship the first year's
fruits, with my assured and faithful heart and service." All were
offering their hearts and the rest of their lives to Lord Cromwell.

As for the regal dispenser himself, so stupendous was his portion that
it became necessary to found a court never heard of before--"The Court
of Augmentation," an expressive designation, indicating its plenary
character, with its chancellor and its treasurer, and a long routine of
officers, and none too many, "that the king might be justly dealt with,"
says Cowell, "the interpreter," "for all the manors and parks, the
colleges and chantries, and the religious houses which the king did not
sell or give away;" that is, the selected prey which the royal eagle
grasped in his own talons.

We are accustomed to trace the Reformation to Henry the Eighth; but in
verity small are the claims of this sovereign on posterity, for through
all the multiplied ramifications of superstition, nothing under him was
reformed. The other great event of the Reformation--the assumption of
the spiritual supremacy--accorded with the national independence from a
foreign jurisdiction. The policy was English; but it originated in the
private passions of the monarch. Assuredly, had the tiara deigned to nod
to the regal solicitor, then had "the Defender of the Faith" only given
to the world another edition of his book against Luther.

In the last years of his reign, Henry vacillated in his uncertain
reform. Sometimes leaning on one party and sometimes on another; he had
lost the vigour of his better days. In his last parliament, though not
without some difficulty, both from Protestant and Papist, they had voted
for "the augmentation" of the royal revenue, their grant of the
chantries. These chantries were the last wrecks of the monastic lands. A
single church had often several chantries attached to it. Chantries were
endowments of estates by the sinners of that age for the benefit of
having eternal masses sung for their departed souls. Henry on this
occasion, in his last speech, strongly animadverts on the national
disunion; and among his thanks mingles his menaces "to unite them in a
more unacceptable way" than the tenderness with which at that moment he
addressed them, for their concessions to his "Court of Augmentation."

It is also evident, by this able and extraordinary speech, that Henry
would gladly have revoked his gift to the people of "the Word of God in
their mother-tongue," as his majesty expresses himself.[2] He had,
indeed, already in part withdrawn the freedom he had granted by
restricting it to a few persons, and only to be used on particular
occasions. His majesty proceeds--"You lay too much stress on your own
expositions and fantastical opinions. In such sublime matters you may
easily mistake. This permission of reading the Bible is only designed
for private information, not to furnish you with reprimanding phrases
and expressions of reproach against priests and preachers. I am
extremely sorry to find with how little reverence the Word of God is
mentioned; how people squabble about the sense; how it is turned into
wretched rhyme, sung and jingled in every alehouse and tavern." This
part of the king's speech was pointed at the general readers of the
Scriptures; but his majesty did not discover any happier union among the
clergy themselves, whom he roundly rates:--"I am every day informed that
you of the clergy are declaiming against each other in the pulpit; and
here your charity and discretion are quite lost in vehemence and satire.
Some are too stiff in their old _mumpsimus_, and others too busy and
curious in their new _sumpsimus_.[3] Thus the pulpits are, as it were,
batteries against each other; the noise is hostile and ruinous. How can
we expect the poor people should live friendly with their neighbours
when they have such unhappy precedents of discord and dissension in
those that teach them?"

Henry the Eighth rejected the Pope, but surely he died a Romanist. His
unwieldy huge form was lifted up from his death-bed that he might
prostrate himself, and, in the writer's language, who, however, was a
papist, "bury himself in the earth," to testify his reverence for "the
real presence," when it was brought before him. His will, which, though
it was put aside, was not the less the king's will, attested his last
supplications to "the Virgin Mary, and all her holy company of Heaven."
And he endowed an altar at Windsor, "to be honourably kept up with all
things necessary for _a daily mass_, there to be read _perpetually while
the world shall endure_." At the same time Henry endowed the poor
knights of Windsor, upon condition that they should repeat their
eternal masses for his soul. His magnificence was proportionate to his
sins; but his perpetual masses, and the world, did not endure together.

With this fact before us, it is not therefore strange that foreign
historians should have declared that our Henry the Eighth never designed
a Reformation, that he altered nothing; and had only raised a schism
which those who contest the papal sovereignty in their civil affairs, as
the Gallican Church affected to do, would incline more to approve than
to censure.

This monarch has been lauded as a patriot king for the suppression of
the monasteries and the national emancipation from the tiara--but
patriotism has often covered the most egotistical motives.


  [1] A fear of the restitution of these abbey-lands to their former
    uses appears to have prevailed long after their alienation. So late
    as in the reign of James the First, the founder of Dulwich College,
    in a dispute respecting the land, observes hypothetically--"If the
    State should be at any time pleased to returne all abbey lands to
    their former use, I must lose Dulwich, for which I have paid now
    5000_l._" At a later revolution, when the bishops' lands were seized
    on by the parliamentarians, many obtained those lands at easy rates,
    or at no rate at all; the greater part reverted, but, if I am not
    misinformed, there are still descendants of some of these
    parliamentarians who hold estates without title-deeds.

  [2] See an abstract from one of his Proclamations in "Curiosities of
    Literature," vol. iii. p. 373.--ED.

  [3] This alludes to the well-known story of the old priest, who
    having blunderingly used _mumpsimus_ for _sumpsimus_, would never be
    put right, alleging that "he hated all novelties."


There is a state of transition in society which we usually call a
crisis. A crisis is the most active moment of conflicting principles;
the novel must extirpate the ancient, the ancient must eject the novel;
the one looks to be continued and the other to be settled; it is a
painful state of obstinate resistance, like that of two wrestlers when
neither can cast down the other.

Fortunate are the people who have only to pass through a single crisis.
But in the wrath of Providence there may be reserved another connecting
crisis in the chain of human events, and this we term a reaction,
usually accompanied by a retaliation; then comes the hoarded vengeance
and the day of retribution on which issues no amnesty. In physics,
action and reaction are equal; the reciprocation of any impulse not
being greater than the impulse itself. Nature in her operations thus
preserves an equilibrium; but the human hatreds and the partial
interests which man has contrived for his own misery, can only find that
equilibrium when he submits to a toleration. But a toleration is a
partition of power, and predominance is the vitality of a party. The
Catholic vengeance of Mary in its reaction was out of all proportion
greater than the Protestant docility of Edward. Our nation has been more
subject to this crisis and this reaction than perhaps any other. The
reign of Charles the First was a crisis, that of Charles the Second a
reaction; that of James the Second brought on a crisis, and the
revolution of 1688 was the consequential reaction. But never have the
people suffered more than during the three reigns of Edward the Sixth,
Mary, and Elizabeth; a terrible intolerance disorganized the whole
community: the conflict of old and of new creeds; of reciprocal
persecutions, and alternate triumphs; of abjurations and recantations;
of supple compliers and rabid polemics; and of pugilistic contests of
the ejected with the ejectors--rapid scenes at once tragic and

Henry the Eighth died in 1547, and the accession of Elizabeth was in
1558. In this short period of eleven years we were governed by two
sovereigns, whose reigns, happily for the English people, were the
shortest in our annals.

A new era was opening under the dominion of Henry, for he was a monarch
of enlarged views. But the intellectual character of England in its
vernacular literature was retarded by the events which occurred in the
reigns of the two successors of this sovereign. The nation indeed
suffered no longer from the civil wars of the rival Roses; but another
war now shook the empire with as merciless a rivalry--it was a universal
conflict of opinions and dogmas. The governing powers themselves
combated each other; and whether in opposing the Reformer to the
Romanist, or in restoring "the papelin" to root out "the gospeller," in
these two mutable reigns, they neutralised or distracted the unhappy
people; and while both maintained that they were proffering "the true
religion," religion itself seemed to have lost its eternal truth. Edward
with an infirm hand established, what from her short reign Mary, with
her barbarous energy, could only imperfectly cast down.

Edward the Sixth, a boy-king, and a puppet-prince, invested with supreme
power, acted without any volition of his own. We are prepossessed in his
favour by his laborious diary. It is, however, remarkable that no
solitary entry made in that book of life, no chance effusion, disturbs
the uninterrupted equanimity. Whether the young king signs for the
decapitation of his two uncles, or jots down the burning of Joan of
Kent, an Arian, and another of a Dutchman, a Socinian, or records how a
live goose suspended had its head sliced off by those who run at the
ring, they seem equally to be matters of course, and by him were only
distinguished by their respective dates. A nation's hope has always been
the flattering painter of every youthful prince who dies immaturely; in
the royal youth is lamented the irreparable loss of the future great
monarch. But his father had been the most glorious youthful prince who
ever adorned a throne; and it would be hard to decide, by the heartless
chronicle of Edward, whether such an imperturbable spirit would have
closed his life as a Nero or a Titus. This unhappy young prince must
have felt the utter misery of his condition, for his was that curse of
power, when in its exercise power itself becomes powerless, while its
hands must be directed by another's. Had the reign of Edward the Sixth
been prolonged, we should have had a polemical monarch, if we may judge
by a collection of texts of Scripture, in proof of the doctrine of
justification by faith, which exists in his own handwriting, written in
French, and dedicated to his uncle.[1]

This was a calamitous period for the nation; we derive little
consolation when we discover that not more than three centuries ago our
ancestors were a semi-barbarous race? We seem to be consulting the
annals of some Asiatic dynasty, when we see a royal nephew tranquilly
affixing his signature to the death-warrants of his uncles; imprisonment
or exile would have been too tender for these state victims; we see one
brother attainted by another, and the scaffold finally receiving both;
and a Queen of England, in the captivity of the Romish superstition,
hailing with a benediction her own _autos da fè_. What we should have
gained had the accomplished prince lived, we cannot conjecture; but what
the nation were spared by the death of the melancholy Mary, is not
doubtful. Edward and Mary were opposite bigots; and both alike presumed
that they were appointed to the work of sanctity; but every reform which
requires to be carried on by coercion will long appear ambiguous to the
better-tempered. The bigotry as well as the puerile taste of the prince
appeared when he composed a comedy or interlude against _The Whore of
Babylon_, and the _The False Gods_; but the brawls of polemics, at
least, are more tolerable than torture and the sacrifice of fire.

It was one of the first evils of the Reformation, that the people were
ill prepared to receive their emancipation. All sense of subordination
rapidly disappeared in society; even the spell of devotion was
dissolved; and the people seemed to consider that, having rid themselves
of one spurious mode of religion, there was no longer any religion in
the world. "Thus for religion ye keep no religion," wrote the learned
Cheke, in once addressing an armed multitude, who cruelly would not
tolerate the Christianity of their neighbours.

An immature reformation is accompanied by certain unavoidable
inconveniences. Its first steps are incomprehensible to the thoughtless,
and too vague for the considerate, doing what it should not do, and
leaving undone what it ought to do, comprehending too much, and omitting
many things. A revolutionary reform breaks out with an ebullition of
popular feelings; but in escaping from one tyranny, men do not
necessarily enter into freedom. The reformer, in abandoning what is
known, looks to an uncertain and distant futurity; the anti-reformer
appeals to precedent, and clings to what is real--his good is positive,
and his evil is not concealed. In the removal of some long-standing
evils in civil society, some portion of good goes with them; for many of
these served as expedients to supply certain wants, and therefore
relatively were or may be beneficial. Even our old prejudices, when
scrutinised, often will be found to have struck their roots in the
common welfare. The complicate interests of civil society were at first
a web woven by strong hands, so that much of the antiquated may retain
its soundness, while the gloss of the new may set off but a loose and
flimsy texture. These are some of the difficulties of an age of
innovation, which may wisely check without stopping the velocity of its
movements. The only unerring reformer who partakes not of human
infirmities, neither deceived by illusions, nor overcome by prejudices,
and whose only wisdom is experience, must be that silent and unceasing
worker of the destinies of man--Time!

At the period now before us, the crisis and the reaction were alike
remarkable. The people who witnessed in four successive reigns four
different systems of religion, mutable with the times, amidst their
incertitude were in fact taught a religious scepticism. One of the great
innovations in divine service was that of preaching from the pulpit,
instead of reading set homilies or other prescribed lessons, by which
the Romanists had reduced their whole devotion to a mumbled ritual and a
mechanical service--formularies and forms which ceased to operate on
the heart, and carried on a religion that was not religious.

The introduction of _preaching_ appears to have been followed by an
unhappy effect. Latimer, in the rude simplicity of his style, complains
of some that went to church for the benefit of being "lulled into a
nap." There was a still greater grievance in this novel custom of
preaching; for from the pulpits the turbulent were rousing the passions
of the people, by declaiming against what some termed "the abuses which
ought to be put away;" while others, persevering in their old doctrine,
were alarming their auditors, for the loss of what had been put away.
Pulpit thundered against pulpit; for it was not only the reformer, but
the anti-reformer, who were the preachers. The fact was, that by an
avaricious policy, "the court of augmentation," which had to pension the
monks of the suppressed houses, filled up the vacant benefices as fast
as they occurred, by appointing these annuitants, to curtail the
pension-list. The enemy was thus settled in the camp of the reformers.
This spirit of division was caught by the rude stage of that day in
their comedies or interludes. This inundation of popular clamour was
only to be stayed by coercion--by proclamations and orders in council.
The Council of State issued their orders, or rather their instructions,
how the preachers were to preach, and that none but the licensed should
be permitted to ascend into the pulpit. Even Latimer himself was
discountenanced for his apostolical freedoms, by inveighing against the
gentry, who sent their sons to college, instead of educating them at
home for the church. Academical degrees were abrogated as
anti-Christian; Greek was heresy; and all human learning was to be vain
and useless to "the gospellers." As the preachers were to be licensed,
it came to the turn of the players and the printers not to enact or
print their interludes, without a special licence from the privy
council; and at length the interludes were actually inhibited for
"containing matter relating to sedition;" and this proclamation more
particularly specifies those that "play in English." The Romanists had
their interludes as well as the Reformers. Bishop Percy once observed
that the excellence of the drama, as every wise man would have it, is
to form a supplement to the pulpit,--this literally occurred in the
present instance; but the pulpit was itself as disorderly, to use the
words of the proclamation, "as any light and fantastical head could list
to invent and devise." Our most skilful delver into dramatic history,
amidst his curious masses of disinterments, has brought up this
proclamation. We must connect the state of these rude players with these
rude preachers; the interludes were nothing more than reflections from
the sermons; player and preacher were the same. By connecting these
together, we form a juster notion of their purpose than we find in the
isolated fact. There was now sedition in religion as well as in

The prevalent fervour scattered its sparks through all the ranks of
society, and the thoughts of all were concentrated on the sole object of
"the new religion." The Reformation was the great political topic in the
court of Edward the Sixth; discussions in theology were no longer
confined to colleges or to the clergy. Our poets, ever creatures of
their age, reflecting its temper, and who best tell its story, confined
their genius to ballads and interludes, making rough sport for loungers
and for the common people; or, in their quieter moods, were devoted to
metrical versions from the Scriptures. In a history of our vernacular
literature, the introduction of a versified psalter and of psalm-singing
forms an incident; as the passion for psalmody itself is a portion of
the history of the Reformation. "This infectious frenzy of sacred song,"
as Thomas Warton describes what he condemns as puritanic, we adopted
from the practice of Calvin, who had introduced psalm-singing into the
Geneva discipline, but really had himself borrowed it from the
popularity of the first psalms in French metre, by Clement Marot. This
natural and fine genius, as a commutation for an irregular life--and he
had been imprisoned for eating flesh in Lent--was persuaded by the
learned Vatable, the Hebrew Professor, to perform this signal act of
penance. The gay novelty charmed the court, and was equally delightful
to the people; every one chose the psalm which expressed his own
personal feelings or described his own condition, adapted to some
favourite air for the instrument or the voice. At the time it could have
been little suspected that while Calvin was stripping the religious
service of its pageantry, and denuding it even of its decent ceremonies,
he would have condescended to anything so human as a tune and a chorus;
yet the austere reformer of Geneva showed no deficient knowledge of
human nature, when he contrived to make men sing in concert, or carol in
the streets, and shorten their work by a song cheerful or sad; for
psalms there are for joy or for affliction, effusions for all hours,
suitable to all ranks.[2]

Another incident in which our vernacular literature was remotely
connected, was the calling in of the ancient Rituals, Missals, and other
books of the Latin service, and establishing the book of Common Prayer
in the common language. But the people at large seemed reluctant to
alter their antiquated customs, which habit had long endeared to them.
While they had listened to an unintelligible Mass, they had, from their
childhood, contracted a spirit of devotion. Their fathers had bowed to
the Mass as a holy office from time immemorial; and from their childhood
they had attached to it those emotions of holiness which were not the
less so by their erroneous association of ideas. When their religion
became a mere Act of Parliament, and their prayers were in plain
English, all appeared an affair of yesterday. The church service seemed
no longer venerable, the new priesthood no longer apostolical; and the
giddy populace protested against the common dues exacted by their
neighbour the curate, for their marriages and baptisms and funerals.
They forsook their churches, and even refused to pay tithes.

It is in revolutionary periods that we find men adapted for these rare
occasions; who, had they not lived amid the commotions around them, had
probably not emerged out of the sphere of their neighbours. Such minds
quickly sympathise with popular grievances and popular clamours, and
obtain their reformation, often at the sacrifice of their individual
interest, as if the cause were their appointed vocation. They are
advocates who plead, imbued even by all the prejudices of their clients;
they are organs resounding the fulness of the passions around them: a
character of this order is the true representative of the multitude;
and we listen to all their cries in the single voice of such a man.

And such a man was ROBERT CROWLEY, a universal reformer through Church
and State; whose unwearied industry run the pace of his zeal; whose
declarations were as open as his designs were definite; and whose
resolved spirit pursued its object in every variable form which his
imagination could invent, and which incessant toil never found irksome.

Crowley had been a student at Magdalen College at Oxford, and obtained a
fellowship. At the close of the reign of Henry the Eighth, Crowley
appears to have sojourned in "the great city;" and in that of Edward the
Sixth, we must not be surprised to discover the Fellow of Magdalen
established as a printer and bookseller, and moreover combining the
elevated characters of poet and preacher. How it happened that a man of
letters, and not undistinguished by his genius, adopted a mechanical
profession, we may account for from the exigencies of the time. Possibly
Crowley's fellowship was what Swift once called "a beggarly fettleship."
In the hurried reform of the day, "the universal good" was attended by
"a great partial evil." In the dissolution of the abbeys and priories
they had also demolished those useful exhibitions proceeding from them,
by which poor students were maintained at the universities. Many, thus
deprived of the means of existence at college, were compelled to forsake
their Alma-Mater and seek another course of life. It was probably this
incident which had thrown this learned man among the people. How Crowley
contrived to fulfil his fourfold office of printer, bookseller, poet,
and preacher, with eminent success, the scanty notices of his life
disappoint our curiosity. We would gladly enter into the recesses of
this man's arduous life. Did he partition the hours of his day? What
habits harmonised such clashing pursuits? Was he a sage whose wisdom
none of his followers have gathered? Was the shop of the studious man
haunted by learned customers? When we think of the printer's press and
the bookseller's counter, we are disposed to inquire, Where mused the
poet, and where stood the preacher?

Crowley is the author of many controversial pieces, and some satirical
poems reflecting the manners and the passions of his day, all which
enjoyed repeated editions. But he was not less a favourite sermoniser.
He touched a tremulous chord in the hearts of the people, and his
opinions found an echo in their breasts. The pulpit and the press,
perhaps, had been his voluntary choice, to print out what he had spoken
ere it perished, or offer a supplement to a sermon in some awful tome of
theology and reform. His Pulpit and his Press!--"those two prolific
sources of faction," exclaimed Thomas Warton.

As a printer and book-vendor, Crowley is distinguished by that curiosity
of research which led him to be the first publisher of "The Visions of
Piers Ploughman," which had hitherto slept in the dust of its manuscript
state. Warton restricts the merit of his discovery merely to the fervour
of a controversialist eager to propagate his own opinions; and truly the
bold spirit of reform, and the satirical strokes on the ecclesiastics of
the times of Edward the Third, in that remarkable and unknown author,
were in unison with a Reformer in the age of Reformation. It must be
confessed that the historian of our poetry cherished some collegiate
prejudices, and that his native good humour is liable to change when his
pen scourges a puritan and a predestinarian, as was Robert Crowley. But
Warton wrote when he imagined that the suppressed absurdities of Popery
required no longer any strong satire from a Calvinist; and as Crowley,
too, lived to hold many dignities in the reign of Elizabeth, Crowley
appeared to Warton to be the member of "a Church whose doctrines and
polity his undiscerning zeal had a tendency to destroy." Strype has only
ventured to describe Crowley as "an earnest professor of religion." The
meek curate of Low-Leyton could not rise to the magisterial indignation
of one of the "heads of houses," one who, at least, ought to have been,
and who, I understand, probably missed the honour and the profit by his
own ingenuous carelessness.

One of the most striking productions of this earnest Reformer, for its
freedom, was his address to the assembled Parliament. The title is
expressive--"An Information and Petition against the _Oppressors of the
Commoners of this Realm_. Compiled and imprinted for this only purpose,
that among them that have to do in the Parliament, some godly-minded
men may hereat take occasion to speak more in the matter than the author
was able to write." Crowley too modestly alludes to any deficiencies of
his own; his "information" is ample, and doubtless conveyed to the ear
of those "who had to do in the Parliament," what must have startled the
oldest senator.

Who are "the oppressors of the poor commoners?" All the orders in
society! the clergy--the laity--and, above all, "the Possessioners!"

This term, "the Possessioners," was a popular circulating coinage struck
in the Mint of our reformer--and probably included much more than meets
our ear. Every land-owner, every proprietor, was a "Possessioner."
Whether in an orderly primitive commonwealth there should be any
"Possessioners," might be a debateable point in a parliament composed of
"the poor Commons" themselves, with our Robin for their speaker. But
however this might be, "the Possessioners of this realm," as he calls
them, "could only be reformed by God working in their hearts, as he did
in the primitive church, when the _Possessioners_ were contented and
very willing _to sell their possessions, and give the price thereof to
be common to all the faithful believers_." This seems perfectly
intelligible, but our reformer judged it required some explanation--as
thus:--"He would not have any to take him as though he went about to
make all things common." Doubtless, there were some propagators of this
new revelation of a primitive Christian community, and as little doubt
that Robin himself was one; for he adds, "If the Possessioners know how
they ought to bestow their possessions," and he had already instructed
them, in that case "he doubted not _it should not need to have all
things made common_." Such was the logic of this primitive radical
reformer. A bland compromise, and a sturdy menace! This "grievance" of
the "Possessioners" might be reformed, till poverty itself became a test
of patriotism. They had yet to learn that to impoverish the rich is not
to enrich the poor.

At that day they were bewildered in their notions of property, and their
standards of value; they had neither discovered the sources nor the
progress of the wealth of a nation. They murmured at importation, for
which they seemed to pay the penalties, and looked on exportation as a
conveyance of the national property to the foreigner. They fixed the
prices at which all consumable articles were to be sold; the farmer's
garner was inspected; the landlords who became graziers were denounced;
forestallers and regraters haunted the privy councils of the king; the
markets were never better supplied; and the people wondered why every
article was dearer. About this time the prices of all commodities, both
in France and England, had gradually risen. The enterprise of commerce
was probably working on larger capitals. As expenses increased, the
landlords held that they were entitled to higher rents. In Crowley's
denunciations, "God's plague" is invoked against all "lease-mongers,
pilling and polling the poor commoner." The Parliament of Henry the
Eighth had legalized the interest of money at ten per cent.; Robin would
have this "sinful act" repealed: loans should be gratuitous by the
admonition in Luke, "Do ye lend, looking for no gain thereof." In this
manner he applies the text against usury. They seemed to have no notion
that he who bought ever intended to sell. This rude political economist
proposed that all property should be kept stationary. No one should have
a better portion than he was born to. Where then was to be found the
portion of "the poor commoner" not born to any? or him whose loss of
fortune was to be repaired by industry and enterprise? Prices advanced;
double rents! double tithes! Our radical preacher attacks his brother
ecclesiastics. "We can neither come into the world, nor remain in it,
nor go out of it, but they must have a fleece! Let it be lawful to
perform all their ministries by ourselves; we can lay an honest man in
his grave without a set of carrion-crows scenting their prey." The
splendour of the ancient landed aristocracy and the prodigal luxury of
the ecclesiastics more forcibly struck their minds than those silent
arts of enlarged traffic which were perpetuating the wealth of the
nation, and producing its concomitant evils.

While the people were thus agitated, divided, and distracted, the same
state of disorder was shaking the more intelligent classes of society.
Our mutable governments during four successive reigns gave rise to
incidents which had not occurred in the annals of any other people. With
the higher orders it was not only a conflict of the old and the new
religions; public disputations were frequent, creeds were yet to be
drawn from school-divinity, the artificial logic of syllogisms and
metaphysical disputations held before mixed audiences, where the
appellant, when his memory or his acumen failed him, was disconcerted by
the respondent; but when the secular arm was called in, alternately as
each faction predominated, and the lives and properties of men were to
be the result of these opinions, then men knew not what to think, nor
how to act. What had served as argument and axiom within a few years, a
state proclamation condemned as false and erroneous. A dereliction of
principle spread as the general infection of the times, and in despair
many became utterly indifferent to the event of affairs to which they
could apply no other remedy than to fall in with the new course,
whatever that might be.

The history of the universities exhibits this mutable picture of the
nation. There were learned doctors who, under Henry the Eighth, abjured
their papacy--under Edward vacillated, not knowing which side to lean
on--under Mary recanted--and under Elizabeth again abjured. Many an
apostate on both sides seemed converted into zealous penitents;
persecutors of the friends with whom they had consorted, and deniers of
the very opinions which they had so earnestly propagated. The facility
with which some illustrious names are recorded to have given way to the
pressure of events seems almost incredible; but, for the honour of human
nature, on either side there were some who were neither so tractable nor
so infirm.

The heads of houses stood for antiquity, with all its sacred rust of
time; they looked on reform with a suspicious eye, while every man in
his place marked his eager ejector on the watch. Under Edward the Sixth,
Dr. Richard Smith, a potent scholastic, stood forth the stern advocate
of the ancient order of things. However, to preserve his professorship,
this doctor recanted of "his popish errors;" shortly afterwards he
declared that it was no recantation, but a retractation signifying
nothing: to make the doctor somewhat more intelligible, and a rumour
spreading that "Dr. Smith was treading in his old steps," he was again
enforced to read his recantation, with an acknowledgment that "his
distinction was frivolous, both terms signifying the same thing." He did
not recant the professorship till Cranmer invited Peter Martyr from
Germany to the chair of the disguised Romanist. The political Jesuit
attended even the lectures of his obtrusive rival, took notes with a
fair countenance, till suddenly burst the latent explosion. An armed
party menaced the life of Peter Martyr, and a theological challenge was
sent from the late professor to hold a disputation on "the real
presence." Peter Martyr protested against the barbarous and ambiguous
terms of the scholastic logic, and would only consent to explain the
mystery of the sacrament by the terms of _carnaliter_ and
_corporaliter_; for the Scriptures, in describing the Supper, mention
the flesh and the body, not the matter and substance. He would, however,
indulge them to accept the terms of _realiter_ and _substantialiter_.

There was "a great hubbub" at Oxford on this most eventful issue. The
popish party and the reformers were alike hurried and busied; books and
arguments were heaped together; the meanest citizen took his stand. The
reforming visitors of Edward arrived; all met, all but Dr. Smith, who
had flown to Scotland, on his way to Louvain. However, he had left his
able deputies, who were deep in the lore in which it appears Peter
Martyr required frequent aid to get on. Both the adverse parties
triumphed; that is usual in these logomachies; but the Romanists account
for the success of the Reformed by the circumstance that their judges
were Reformers.

Such abstruse subjects connected with religious associations, and
maintained or refuted by the triumph or the levity of some haughty
polemic, produced the most irreverent feelings among the vulgar. As the
Reformation was then to be predominant, the common talk of the populace
was diversified by rhymes and ballads; and it was held, at least by the
wits, that there was "no real presence," since Dr. Smith had not dared
to show himself. The papistical sacrament was familiarly called "Jack in
the Box," "Worm's meat," and other ludicrous terms, one of which has
descended to us in the term which jugglers use of _hocus pocus_. This
familiar phrase, Anthony Wood informs us, originated in derision of the
words, "Hoc est corpus," slovenly pronounced by the mumbling priest in
delivering the emblem as a reality. As opprobrious words with the
populace indicate their furious acts, scandalous scenes soon followed.
The censers were snatched from the hands of the officiating priests;
mass-books were flung at their heads; all red-lettered and illuminated
volumes were chopped in pieces by hatchets: nor was this done always by
the populace, but by students, who in their youth and their reform knew
of no better means to testify their new loyalty to the visitors of
Edward. One of the more ludicrous scenes among so many shameful ones,
was a funereal exhibition of the schoolmen. Peter Lombard, "the master
of sentences," accompanied by Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, carried on
biers, were tumbled into bonfires!

Five years after these memorable scenes, the same drama was to be
repeated, performed by a different company of actors. Religion assumed a
new face; that which had hardly been established was blasted by the name
of heresy. All who had flourished under Edward were now called in
question. The ancient tenants now ejected the newcomers, and affronted
them by the same means they had themselves been affronted. No one at
first knew how affairs were to turn out; some still clung to the reform;
others were reverting to the old system. There were in fact for some
time two religions at once in the university. The Common Prayer-book in
English was, however, but faintly read, while the Mass was loudly
chanted. Jewel's letter to the Queen was cautiously worded. This zealous
reformer, in an unhappy moment, had yielded to his fears, and subscribed
a recantation, which he soon after abjured before a Protestant
congregation in Germany. When Peter Martyr heard the little bell ring to
Mass, he sighed, and said, "that bell would destroy all the sound
doctrine in the college." Gardiner gave him a safe-conduct homewards,
which saved Peter Martyr from the insolent triumph of his rival, the
scholastic Dr. Smith, and the Spanish friars with whom Mary supplied his

But the Marians also burned books, as likewise men!

The funeral of the schoolmen carried on their biers was too recent to be
forgotten; and in return, all Bibles in English, and all the
commentators on the Bible in the vernacular idiom, and which, we are
told, "for their number seemed almost infinite," were thrown together in
the market-place; and the lighted pyre proclaimed to Oxford the ominous
flames of superstition, which consumed, not long after, opposite to
Baliol College, the great unfortunate victims of reformation. There
Latimer and Ridley bowed their spirits in the fires, while Cranmer, from
the top of the Bocardo, witnessed the immolation, praying to God to
strengthen them, and felt in anticipation his own coming fate. Then
followed expulsions and emigrations. We have a long list of names. Five
years afterwards, such was the rapid change of scenery, these fugitives
returned to re-possess themselves of their seats, and were again and
finally the ejectors under Elizabeth.

The history of this mutable period is remarkably shown in the singular
incident of Catherine, the wife of Peter Martyr, and St. Frideswide.

Peter Martyr, when celibacy was the indispensable virtue of an
ecclesiastic, brought his wife into his college, and also his bawling
children. This spirit of reform was an abhorrence to the conscience and
the quiet of the monks. A brothel, a prostitute, and a race of bastards,
formed, according to the old inmates, the residence of the family of the
reformer. The wife of Martyr died, and was interred near the relics of
St. Frideswide. In the Marian days, it was resolved that the departed
female should be condemned for heresy, and, since the corpse lay not
distant from "that religious virgin, St. Frideswide," it should be
disinterred; and the Dean of Christ Church had the remains of Martyr's
wife dug up and buried in the dunghill of his stable. Five years after,
when Elizabeth reigned, the fate of the disturbed bones of the wife of
Martyr was recollected, and, by command, with patience and ingenuity,
the sub-dean collected from the dunghill the bones which time had
disjointed, and placed them in a coffin in the cathedral till they
should be reburied with greater solemnity. A search was at the same time
made by the sub-dean for the bones of St. Frideswide, which were not
found where they had reposed for centuries. They had been hidden by some
relic-adoring Catholic, to save them from the profane hands of the
triumphant heretics of Edward the Sixth. In the obscurest part of the
church, after much seeking, two silken bags were discovered, which had
carefully preserved the relics of St. Frideswide. The sub-dean, who
seems to have been at once a Romanist and a Reformer, considered that
these bones of Peter Martyr's wife and the female saint should receive
equal honours. He put them in the same coffin, and they were re-interred
together. This incident provoked some scoffs from the witless, and some
grave comments from those who stood more in awe of the corpse of the
saint than of the sinner. Thus they were buried and coupled together;
and a scholar, whether a divine or a philosopher his ambiguous style
will not assure us, inscribed this epitaph:--

  _Hic jacet Religio cum Superstitione._

Did the profound writer insinuate a wish that in one grave should lie
mingled together Religion with Superstition? or that they are still as
inseparable as the bones of the wife of Peter Martyr with the bones of
St. Frideswide? Or did he mean nothing more than the idle antithesis of
a scholar's pen?

At this uncertain crisis of the alliance between Church and State, the
history of our English Bible exhibits a singular picture of the Church,
which, from courting the favour of the great, gradually grew into its
own strength, and rested on its own independence. We perceive it first
attracting the royal eye, and afterwards securing the patronage of
ministers. This phenomenon is observable in the Bible commanded to be
printed by Edward the Sixth. There we view his majesty's portrait
printed and illumined in red. Under Elizabeth, in the same Bible,
omitting only the Papistic fish-days, we are surprised by the two
portraits of the Earl of Leicester, placed before the Book of Joshua,
and Cecil Lord Burleigh, adorning the Psalms. This is the first edition
of the Bishops' Bible. But subsequently, in 1574, we discover that the
portraits of the royal favourites are both withdrawn, and a map of the
Holy Land substituted, while the arms of Archbishop Parker seem to have
been let into the vacancy which Lord Burleigh erst so gloriously
occupied. The map of the Holy Land unquestionably is more appropriate
than the portraits of the two statesmen; but the arms of the archbishop
introduced into the Scriptures indicate a more egotistic spirit in the
good prelate than, perhaps, becomes the saintly humility of the pastor.
The whole is an exhibition of that worldliness which in its first
weakness is uncertain of the favour of the higher powers, but which
cannot conceal its triumph in its full-grown strength; the great
ecclesiastic, no longer collecting portraits of ministers, stamps his
own arms on the sacred volume, to ratify his own power!


  [1] It will be found in the additional manuscripts at the British

  [2] See an article on Psalms in vol. ii. of "Curiosities of


Scriptural dramas, composed by the ecclesiastics, furnished the nations
of Europe with the only drama they possessed during many centuries.
Voltaire ingeniously suggested, that GREGORY of Nazianzen, to wean the
Christians of Constantinople from the dramas of Greece and Rome,
composed sacred dramas; _The Passion of Christ_ afforded one of the
deepest interest. This remarkable transition might have occurred to this
father of the Church, from the circumstance that the ancient Greek
tragedy had originally formed a religious spectacle; and the choruses
were turned into Christian hymns. Warton considered this fact as a new
discovery in the obscure annals of the earliest drama.[1] The temples of
the idols were for ever to be closed, for true religion and triumphant
faith could show the miraculous Being who, blending the celestial with
the human nature, was no longer the empty fable of the poet. The gross
simplicity of the inventors, and the undisturbed faith of the people,
perceived nothing profane in the representation of an awful mystery by a
familiar play. Christian or Pagan, the populace remains the same, and
must be amused; the invention of scriptural plays would keep alive their
religious faith, and sacred dramas would be a happy substitute for those
of which they were denied evermore to be spectators.

This attempt to christianise the drama did not produce an immediate
effect; but the Roman dramatic art could not fail to degenerate with the
Roman empire; and the actors themselves were but the descendants of the
mimi, a race of infamous buffoons, objects of the horror and the
excommunication of the primitive fathers.[2]

In the obscurity of the medieval period, the origin of these sacred
dramas in Europe is lost. They are only incidentally noticed by those
who had yet no notions of the drama. But though in England their remains
are found at a much earlier period than in any other country, this seems
to have been a mere accident from the utter neglect, or rather
ignorance, of other nations of the origin of their own early drama; for
these scriptural plays, judging by those which we possess, seem struck
in the same mint, and are worked out of a common stock, and their
appearance we can hardly doubt was coeval. Monks were the writers or
inventors, and a general communication was kept up with Rome throughout
every European realm. The subjects and the personages of these biblical
dramas are treated with the same inartificial arrangement, and when
translated it would be difficult to distinguish between a French, a
Flemish, or an English mystery; and in their progressive state,
branching out into three distinct classes, they passed in all countries
through the same mutations.

It has been conjectured that they were first introduced into Italy, from
its intercourse with the metropolis of the Greek Empire; but when we
have recourse to its literary recorder, we gather nothing but ambiguity.
Tiraboschi is dubious whether the early Italian mysteries exhibited in
the year 1264 were anything more than a dumb show, or the processional
display of a religious pageant. Decided, on system, not to approve of
such familiar exhibitions of sacred themes, the Jesuit has cautiously
noticed two companies who evidently had performed a mystery, or
miracle-play. In that piece there is a direction that "An angel and the
virgin _sing_;" but our learned Jesuit will not venture even to surmise
that "the virgin and the angel" _acted_ their parts, but merely chanted
a poem.[3] The literary antiquary Signorelli inclines to fix the
uncertain date of the first sacred drama so late as in 1445.[4] In
France these early scriptural exhibitions were so little comprehended,
that Le Grand D'Aussy, in his pretension that his nation possessed the
drama in the thirteenth century, derives the origin of their mysteries
from such pieces as the three fabliaux which he has given, as the
earliest dramas.[5] So little conversant in his day--not a distant
one--were the French antiquaries with a subject which has of late become
familiar to their tastes. We learn nothing positive of their "Mysteries"
till their "Confraerie de la Passion" was incorporated in 1402.

The earliest of these representations necessarily would be in Latin,[6]
and performed in monasteries by the ecclesiastics themselves, on
festival days; in this state, how could they have been designed for the
people? Aware of this difficulty, and convinced that these holy plays
were in their origin intended for popular instruction and recreation, it
has been conjectured that the Latin mystery was accompanied by a
pantomimic show, for the benefit of the people; but an impatient
concourse could be little affected by the action of the performers,
almost as incomprehensible as the language was unintelligible. The
people, a great animal only to be fondled in one way, as usual, worked
out their own wants; they taught learned clerks the only method by which
they were to be amused, by having the same thing after their own
fashion, and to be comprehended in their own language; and the day at
last arrived when even the people themselves would be actors. In the
obscurity of the medieval period, the literary antiquary has often to
feel his way in the darkness, till among uncertain things he fancies
that he grasps the palpable. We are not furnished with precise dates,
but some natural circumstances may account for the introduction of the
mysteries in the _vernacular idiom_. About the eighth century, merchants
carried on their trades in the great fairs, and to attract the people
together, jugglers, minstrels, and buffoons were well paid, and the
populace flocked. Such a multitudinous concourse appears to have created
alarm among their great lords; and the ecclesiastics in vain proscribed
these licentious revelries. It would be nothing more than a stroke of
their accustomed policy if we imagine that, seeing the people were eager
after such public entertainments, the monks should take them into their
own hands; and offering a far more imposing exhibition than even the
tricks of jugglers, combining piety with merriment, at once awe and
delight the people by their scriptural histories and the legends of
saints, in the language common to them all, thus enticing them from
profane mummeries. It was a revolution in the history of the people,
who, without education, seemed to grow learned in the mysteries and to
be witnesses of miracles!

This account is not incongruous with another probably not less true, and
which indeed has been received as indisputable among the more ancient
literary historians of France, and is well known by the verses of
Boileau in his "Art of Poetry." Palmers and Pilgrims--the one returning
from the East, bearing in their caps the hallowed palm-branch of
Palestine, and the other from some distant shrine, their chaplets and
cloaks covered with the many-coloured scallops--taking their stand in
thoroughfares, and leaning on their staffs, while their pendent relics
and images attracted the gazer, would win an audience from among the
people. These venerable itinerants or semi-saints recited their sacred
narratives in verse or even in prose; they had sojourned amid "the holy
places," which they described; they had their adventures to tell,
serious or comic; and that many of these have entered into the great
body of ROMANCE, and were caught up by the Trouvères, we can easily
imagine. These strollers excited the piety and contributed to the
amusement of their simple auditors, who, in the course of time,
occasionally provided for these actors a stage on a green in the
vicinage of their town; thus an audience of burghers and clowns, and no
critics, was first formed. The ecclesiastics adopted performances so
certain of popular attraction, and became the sole authors of these
inartificial dramas, as they were of romances and chronicles. They had
but one object, and knew to treat it only in one way. They imagined that
they were instructing the people by initiating them into scriptural
history, the only history then known, and by keeping the sources of
popular recreation in their own hands, they looked for their success in
the degree they excited their terror or their piety, and not less their
ribald merriment; and for the people the profane drollery and the
familiar dialogue were as consistent with their feelings as the articles
of their creed, for which they would have died, as well as laughed at.

These primeval dramas are not inconsiderable objects in the philosophy
of literary history. In England,[7] and probably throughout Europe, they
long kept their standing; they linger in Italy, and still possess devout
Spain. Not long since at Seville they had their mysteries adapted to the
seasons--the Crucifixion for Good Friday, and the Nativity for
Christmas, and the Creation whenever they chose; and a recent editor of
the plays of Cervantes assures us, that these _Autos Sacramentales_
still form a source of amusement and edification to the pilgrims at the
Shrine of St. Jago de Compostella, which it seems still receives such

These scriptural plays were known in England before 1119; they formed
public performances in the metropolis in 1180. They were then confined
to the monasteries, and when the audience required the space, they were
exhibited in churches, and sometimes even in cemeteries. So true it is
that the first theatres were churches and the first actors churchmen.
Some reprobated the sight of the priestly character, or the "fols
clers," "mad clerks," in their grotesque disguisings; if they were
sanctioned by one pope, they were condemned by another. The clergy,
except on some rare occasion, when exhibiting before royalty or
nobility,[9] were at length not reluctant to yield their places to a new
race of performers. In the metropolis they never lost their control over
these representations, for they consigned them to the care of their
inferior brethren, the parish clerks; but in provincial towns it was not
long ere the people themselves discovered that they, with some little
assistance from the neighbouring monasteries, were competent to take
them into their own hands. The honest members of guilds or corporations,
of mechanics and tradesmen, formed themselves into brotherhoods of
actors, ambitious of displaying their mimetic faculty to their
townsfolk. The play had now become the people's play, and the scale of
the representation widened at every point; it was to be acted in an open
plain, and it was to extend sometimes through eight days.[10] Such was
the concourse of spectators, and indeed the performers were themselves
a crowd. All were anxious to show themselves in some part, and such a
play might require nearly a hundred personages. In a miracle-play, the
whole life of a saint, from the cradle to martyrdom, was displayed in
the same piece; the youth, the middle-age, and the caducity of the
eminent personage required to be enacted by three different actors, so
that there were the first, the second, and the third Jacob, to emulate
one another, and provoke bickerings; townsfolk when acting, it appears,
being querulously jealous. Something of scenical illusion was contrived,
and what in the style of the green-room is termed "properties"[11] was
attempted, by the description we find in the directions to the actors,
and by the mischances which occurred to the unpractised performers by
their clumsy machinery. Their mode of representation was so much alike,
that the same sort of ludicrous accidents have come down to us relative
to our native mysteries, as occurred in those of France. Bishop Percy
has quoted a malicious trick played by the Flemish Owl-glass, the
buffoon of the times, among his neighbours in one of these
mysteries;[12] a Judas had nearly hanged himself, and the cross had
nearly realised a crucifixion. Among these unlucky attempts they gilded
over the face to represent the Eternal Father; the honest burgher,
nearly suffocated, never appeared again; and the next day it was
announced that for the future the Deity should lie "covered by a cloud."
A scaffold was built up of three or more divisions for "the stage-play:"
Paradise opened at the top, the world moved in the centre, and the
yawning throat of an immeasurable dragon, as the devils run in and out,
showed the bottomless pit; and whenever the protruding wings of that
infernal monster approached, "and fanned" the near spectators, the
terror was real.

These mysteries abound with a licentiousness to which the rude
simplicity of the age was innocently insensible; a ludicrous turn is
often given to the solemn incidents of holy writ; and the legend of a
saint opened an unbounded scope to their mother-wit. The usual remark of
the people when they had been pleased with a performance was, "To-day
the mystery was very fine and devout; and the devils played most
pleasantly."[13] The devils were the buffoons, and compliment one
another with the most atrocious titles. The spectators, who shed tears
at the torturous crucifixion, would listen with delight to the volume of
reciprocal abuse voided by Satan and the Satanic, whose very names, at
any other time or place, would have paralysed the intellect. This
strange mixture of religious and ludicrous emotions attests that the
authors and the spectators were in the childhood of society, satisfied
that they were good Christians. Such were the earliest attempts of our
dramatic representations; but men must tread with naked feet before they
put on the sock and buskin.

Several of these annual exhibitions in provincial towns have descended
to us, as those of the Chester Whitsun-plays, and others in great towns.
Originally, doubtless, written in Latin, they soon submitted to the
Norman rule, vigilant to practise every means to diffuse the _French_
language; but in this state they could not deeply delight the great body
of the Saxon people.[14] The monk, Ralph Higden, under the influence of
that national spirit which had been evinced by some former native
monks, directed his efforts to the relief of his countrymen. Thrice he
journeyed to Rome to obtain the permission of his holiness to translate
these holy plays into the vernacular _English_ for the people.[15] Three
journeys to Rome indicate some difficulty about the propriety of this
mode of edifying the populace, of which indeed there were conflicting
opinions. But the time was favourable; the youthful monarch on the
throne, our third Edward, was beginning to encourage the use of the
vernacular idiom, and in 1338, Higden put forth mysteries in the native
tongue, and thus accomplished what, in the great volume of the
Polychronicon, he has so energetically exhorted should be done, for the
maintenance of what he termed "the birth-tongue."

The day could not fail to arrive in the gradations of the public
intellect, even such as it then was, that society would feel the want of
something more directly operating on their sympathies, or their daily
experience, than the unvaried scriptural tale. Mysteries however devout,
by such familiar repetition, would lose something of their awfulness, as
miracle-plays would satiate their tastes, as they became deficient in
the freshness of invention. The first approaches of this change in their
feelings are observable in the later miracle-plays, where, as a novel
attraction to the old plays, abstract personations are partially
introduced; but this novelty was to be carried much higher, and to
include a whole set of new dramatic personages. A more intellectual
faculty was now exercised in the plan of the MORALITY, or moral
play.[16] This was no inconsiderable advancement in the progress of
society; it was deepening the recesses of the human understanding,
awakening and separating the passions; it was one of those attempts
which appear in the infancy of imagination, consisting not of human
beings, but of their shadowy reflections, in the personification of
their passions,--in a word, it was allegory! To relieve the gravity of
this ethical play, which was in some danger of calling on the audience
for deeper attention than their amusement could afford, the morality not
only retained their old favourite, the Devil, but introduced a more
natural buffoon in the Vice, who performed the part of the domestic fool
of our ancestors, or the clown of our pantomime.

These unsubstantial personages of allegory--these apparitions of human
nature--were to assume a more bodily shape, when not only the passions,
but the individual characters whom they agitated, were exhibited in
every-day life, not however yet venturing into a wide field of society,
but peeping from a corner,--it was nothing more than a single act,
satirical and comic, in a dialogue sustained by three or four
professional characters of the times. It was called the INTERLUDE, or
"_a play between_," to zest by its pleasantry the intervals of a
luxurious, and sometimes a wearisome, banquet. The most dramatic
interludes were the invention of JOHN HEYWOOD, the jester of Henry the
Eighth. The Scottish Bard, Douglas, the Bishop of Dunkeld, alludes to
these interludes, in his "Paleys of Honour."

  Grete was the preis the feast royál to sene,
  At ease they eat, with INTERLUDES between.[17]

Such was the march of events, the steppings which were conducting the
national genius to the verge of tragedy and comedy; a vast interval of
time and labour separates the writers of these primitive plays from the
fathers of dramatic art; yet however ludicrous to us the simplicity of
the age, often these singular productions betray shrewd humour and
natural emotions. To condemn them as barbarous and absurd would be
forming a very inadequate notion of the influence of these earliest of
our European dramas on their contemporaries. An enlightened lover of the
arts has said, perhaps with great truth, that Raphael never received
from his age such flattering applause, and excited such universal
approbation, as did Cimabué, the rude father of his art. The first
essays strike more deeply than even the masterpieces of a subsequent age
after all its successful labour; for its more finished excellence
depends partly on reflection, as well as on sensation.

The mystery and the morality lingered among us; but in the improved
taste and literature of the court of Henry the Eighth, the facetious
INTERLUDE, while it was facetious, won the royal smile. The successive
agitations of the age, however, could not fail to reflect its tempers in
these public exhibitions. In the reforming government of Edward the
Sixth, the miracle-plays were looked on as Romish spectacles, and were
fast sinking into neglect, when the clergy of the papistic queen
retrograded into this whole fabulous mythology; adepts not only in the
craft of miracles, but desirous, by these shows or "plays of miracles,"
to revive the taste in the imaginations of the people. The public
authorities patronised what recently they had laughed at or had scorned.
On Corpus Christi day, the Lord Mayor and the Privy Council were
spectators of _The Passion of Christ_, always an affecting drama; and it
was again represented before this select audience: and on St. Olave's
day, the truly "miracle-play" of that legendary saint was enacted in the
church dedicated to the saint.[18]

The history of the INTERLUDE more particularly marks an epoch, for it
enters into our political history. Mysteries and moralities were purely
religious or ethical themes, but the comic interludes took a more
adventurous course; and their writers, accommodating themselves to the
fashions of the day, were the organs of the prevalent factions then
dividing the unquiet realm.

From the earliest moment of the projected reformation or emancipation
from the Papal dominion by Henry, we discover the players of interludes
at their insidious work; but affairs were floating in that uncertain
state when the new had by no means displaced the old. In 1527, Henry the
Eighth was greatly diverted at an interlude where the heretic Luther and
his wife were brought on the stage, and the Reformers were
ridiculed.[19] The king in the Creed and the ceremonies remained a
Romanist; and in 1533, a proclamation inhibits "the playing of
enterludes concerning doctrines now in question and controversy."[20]
"The Defender of the Faith" was still irresolute to defend or to attack.
In 1543, an act of parliament was passed for the control of dramatic
representations; and at this later date, this reforming monarch decreed,
that "no person should play in interludes any matter contrary to the
doctrines of the Church of Rome!" Chronology in history is not only
useful to date events, but to date the passions of sovereigns. It was
absolutely necessary for Edward the Sixth on his ascension immediately
to repeal this express act of parliament of his father;[21] and then the
emancipated interluders now, openly, with grave logic or laughing
ridicule, struck at all "the Roman superstitions." Hence we had Catholic
and Protestant dramas. The Romanists had made very free strictures on
Cromwell, Cranmer, and their followers; and on the side of the reformed
we have no deficiency of oppugners of the Romish Church. Under Henry the
Eighth, we have the sacred drama of _Every-man_, a single personage, by
whom the writer not unaptly personifies human nature. This drama came
from the Romanists to recall the auditors back to the forsaken
ceremonies and shaken creed of their fathers. Under Edward the Sixth, we
have _Lusty Juventus_, whom Satan and his old son Hypocrisy, with an
extraordinary nomenclature of "holy things," would inveigle back to that
seductive harlot, "Abominable Living," which the Reformer imagined was
the favourite Dulcinea of "the false priests."[22] On the accession of
Mary, this queen hastened a proclamation against the interludes of the
Reformers. The term used in the proclamation looks like an ironical
allusion to a word which now had long been bandied on the lips of the
populace. It specifies to be for "the _reformation_ of busy meddlers in
matters of religion." A strict watch was kept on the players, some of
whom suffered for enacting a reformed interlude. Such plays seem to have
been patronised in domestic secrecy. The interference of the Star
Chamber was called forth in 1556 for the total suppression of dramatic
entertainments. In many places some magistrates had slackened their
pursuit after "players," and reluctantly obeyed the public authorities.
The first act of Elizabeth resembled in its character those of her
brother Edward and her sister Mary, however opposite were the systems of
their governments. The queen put a sudden stop to the enacting of all
interludes which opposed the progress of the Reformation; there seemed
to be no objection to any of a different cast; but Elizabeth lived to be
an auditor of more passionate dramas than these theological logomachies
performed on the stage, where the dull poet had sometimes quoted chapter
and verse in Genesis or St. Matthew.

It is not generally known that, while these Catholic and Protestant
dramas were opposed to each other in England, at the same period the
Huguenots in France had also entertained the derisory muse of the more
comic interludes. There was, however, this difference in the fortunes of
the writers; as in France the government had never reformed nor changed
their position, there could have been no period which admitted of the
public representation of these satirical dramas. In their dramatic
history, it was long considered that the subjects of these Hugonistic
dramas were too tender to bear the handling; and the brothers Parfait,
in their copious "History of the French Theatre," only afford a slight
indication of "the turbulent Calvinists," who had spread "pieces of
dangerous heresy and fanaticism against the Pope, the cardinals, and the
bishops; works which could not be noticed without profaning the
page!"--and therefore they refrain from giving even their titles! It is
in this spirit, and with such apologies, that historians have often
castrated their own history. The existence of these dramas might have
escaped our knowledge, had not the more enlightened judgment of the Duke
de la Vallière supplied what the more stubborn Romanists had suppressed.
This lover of literature has favoured the curious with the interesting
analysis of two rare French Protestant plays, _Le Marchand Converti_, in
1558; and _Le Pape Malade et tirant à sa Fin_, in 1561. Allowing largely
for the gross invectives of the Calvinist--"_les impiétés_"--they
display an original comic invention, and sparkle with the most lively
sallies.[23] It is remarkable that _Le Marchand Converti_, at such an
early period of modern literature, is a regular comedy of five acts,
introduced by a prologue in verse; odes are interspersed, and each act
concludes with a chorus, whom the author calls "the company." The
classical form of this unacted play, instinct with the spirit of the new
reform, betrays the work of a learned hand.


  [1] Warton's "Hist. of Eng. Poetry," iii. 195, 8vo edition; but it
    has been suggested that, as Saint Gregory composed more poetically,
    this earliest sacred drama was the production of a later writer,
    another Gregory, bishop of Antioch, A.D. 572. The dramatist, however,
    was an ecclesiastic, and that point only is important on the present

    vehemently declaimed against theatres and actors. It is doubtless the
    invectives of the Fathers which have been the true origin of the
    puritanic denouncement against "stage-plays" and "play-goers." The
    Fathers furnished ample quotations for PRYNNE in his "Histriomastix."
    It is, however, curious to observe that at a later day, in the
    thirteenth century, the great schoolman, Thomas Aquinas, greatly
    relaxed the prohibitions; confessing that amusement is necessary to
    the happiness of man, he allows the decent exercise of the histrionic
    art. See a curious tract, "The Stage Condemned," which contains a
    collection of the opinions of the Fathers, 1698. Riccoboni, "Sur les
    Théâtres," does not fail to appeal to the great schoolman.

  [3] "Tiraboschi," iv.

  [4] These dramas subsequently formed no uncommon spectacle in the
    streets of Italy, whence some Italian critics have fancied that the
    Gothic poem of Dante--his Hell, his Purgatory, and his Paradise--was
    an idea caught from the threefold stage of a mystery which often
    fixed his musings in the streets of his own Florence. As late as in
    the year 1739, a mystery of _The Damned Soul_, acted by living
    personages, was still exhibited by a company of strollers in Turin;
    we have the amusing particulars in a letter by Spence.--Spence's
    "Anecdotes," 397. They have sunk to the humble state of puppet-shows,
    and are still exhibited at Carnival time at Venice and elsewhere.

  [5] See the note and this extraordinary blunder in _Fabliaux_, ii.

  [6] Mr. Wright has published a curious collection of Latin mysteries
    of the twelfth century. [For a detailed notice of other printed
    collections see note to "Curiosities of Literature," vol. i. p.

  [7] Perhaps the very last remains of such rude dramatic exhibitions
    are yet to be traced in our counties--about Christmas-tide, or rather
    old Christmas, whose decrepit age is personified. In Lancashire and
    Yorkshire, and also in Dorsetshire, families are visited by "the
    great Emperor of the Turks" and St. George of England, or by the
    lion-hearted Richard. After a fierce onset, ringing their tin swords,
    the Saracens groan and drop. The Leech appears holding his phial;
    from some drops the dead survive their fate, and rise for the
    hospitable supper. The dialogue, however, has not been so traditional
    as the exhibition. The curious portion of these ancient exhibitions
    is, therefore, totally lost in the substitutions of the rude rustics.
    The Wassail Songs, or the Christmas Carols, have come down with fewer
    losses than these ancient "Tales of the Crusaders;" for the language
    of emotion, and the notice of old picturesque customs, cling to the
    memory, and endure with their localities. But for these we must
    travel far from the land of the Cockneys.

  [8] Bouterwek.

  [9] The clergy long continued to assist at these exhibitions, if they
    did not always act in them. In 1417, an _English Mystery_ was
    exhibited before the Emperor Sigismund, at the Council of Constance,
    on the usual subject of the Nativity. The _English Bishops_ had it
    rehearsed several days, that the actors might be perfect before their
    imperial audience. We are not told in what language their _English
    Mystery_ was recited; but we are furnished with a curious fact, that
    "the Germans consider this play as the first introduction of that
    sort of dramatic performance in their country."--"Henry of Monmouth,"
    by the Rev. J. E. Tyler, ii. 61.

  [10] The Spanish nation, unchangeable in their customs, have retained
    the last remains of the ancient Mysteries in the divisions of their
    dramas, called "Jornadas."

  [11] "A sheep-skin for Jews, wigs for the Apostles, and vizards for
    Devils," appear in the churchwardens' accounts at Tewkesbury, 1578,
    "for the players' geers."--"Hist. of Dramatic Poetry," ii. 140. The
    same diligent inquirer has also discovered the theatrical term
    "properties," in allusion to the furniture of the stage, and which is
    so used by Shakspeare, employed in its present sense in an ancient
    morality.--Ib. ii. 129.

  [12] "Reliques of Ancient Poetry," i. 129.

  [13] "Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française."--The proverbial phrase
    is accompanied by a very superfluous remark--"Ce mot a passé d'usage
    avec les moeurs de ces temps anciens." See also "Dict. de Trevoux,"
    art. _Mystère_.

  [14] That the translation of the "Chester Plays" was made from the
    _French_, and not from the _Latin_, as Warton supposed, is
    ingeniously elucidated by Mr. Collier. In the English translation,
    some of the original French passages have been preserved.--"Annals of
    the Stage," ii. 129.

    When Warton found that these plays were translated into English, he
    concluded that they were from the Latin. He totally forgot that the
    French was long the prevalent language of England. And this important
    circumstance, too often overlooked by preceding inquirers, has thrown
    much confusion in our literary history.

    The best account we have of Ralph Higden may be found in the _first_
    volume of Lardner's Cyclopædia on "The Early History of the English
    Stage," a work of some original research, at page 193.

  [15] The earliest and rudest known miracle-play in English has been
    published by Mr. Halliwell--_The Harrowing of Hell_. It was written
    in the reign of Edward the Second, and is a curious instance of the
    childhood of the drama.

  [16] The reign of Henry the Sixth may he fixed upon as the epoch of a
    new species of dramatic representation, known by the name of a
    moral.--_Collier_, i. 23.

  [17] The reader may gratify his curiosity, and derive considerable
    amusement, from the skilful analysis of primitive dramas, both
    manuscript and printed, which Mr. COLLIER has drawn up with true
    dramatic taste. There are also copious specimens in a curious article
    on Heywood in the volume on "The English Drama" of Lardner's
    Cyclopædia,--the labour of a learned antiquary. [One of Heywood's
    Interludes was printed by the Percy Society from his MS. in the
    British Museum, under the editorial care of Mr. Fairholt; who
    prefixed an analysis with copious extracts from his other
    Interludes.] The progress of the drama was similar both in France and
    England, yet our vivacious neighbours seem to have invented a
    peculiar burlesque piece of their own, under the title of _Sotties_,
    and whose chief personage takes the quality of _Prince des Sots_; and
    _La Mère Sotte_, who is represented with her infant _Sots_. These
    pieces still retained their devout character, with an intermixture of
    profane and burlesque scenes, highly relished by the populace. "Ils
    le nommèrent par un quolibet vulgaire, _Jeux de Pois pilez_, et ce
    fut selon toutes les apparences à cause de mélange du sacré et du
    profane qui régnait dans ces sortes de jeux." The cant phrase which
    the people coined for this odd mixture of sacred and farcical
    subjects, of _Mashed Peas_, may lose its humour with us, but we find
    by Bayle, art. "D'Assoucy," that they were collected and printed
    under this title, and fetched high prices among collectors. These
    _Sotties_ were acted by a brotherhood calling themselves _Enfans sans
    Soucy_.--Parfait, "Hist. du Théâtre Français," i. 52. One of their
    chief composers was PIERRE GRINGOIRE, of whose rare _Sotties_ I have
    several reprints by the learned Abbé Caron. Gringoire invented and
    performed his _Sotties_, in ridicule of the Pope, on a scaffold or
    stage, to charm his royal master, Louis the Twelfth, in 1511; for an
    ample list of his gay satires see "Biog. Universelle," art.

  [18] Strype's "Mem. of Eccles. Hist.," iii. 379.

  [19] "Annals of the Stage," i. 107.

  [20] Warton's "Hist. of Eng. Poetry," iii. 428, 8vo.

  [21] Rastell's "Collection of Statutes," fo. 32--d.

  [22] Both these ancient dramas are reprinted in Hawkins' "Origin of
    the English Drama." Many such dramas remain in manuscript.

  [23] "Bibliothèque du Théâtre Français," iii. 263, ascribed to the
    Duke de la Vallière. He has preserved many passages exquisitely
    humorous. He felt awkwardly in performing his duty to his readers,
    after what his predecessors, Messieurs Parfait, had declared;--and,
    to calm the terrors of _les personnes scrupuleuses_, it is amusing to
    observe his plea, or his apology, for noticing these admirable
    antipapistic satires:--"They are outrageous and abound with
    impieties; but they are extremely well written for their time, and
    truly comic. I considered that I could not avoid giving these
    extracts, were it only to show to what lengths the first pretended
    reformers carried their unreasonable violence against the holy
    Father, and the court of Rome." The apology for their transcription,
    if not more ingenuous, is at least more ingenious than the apology
    for their suppression.


BALE, Bishop of Ossory, and JOHN HEYWOOD, the court jester, were
contemporaries, and both equally shared in the mutable fortunes of the
satiric dramas of their times; but they themselves were the antipodes of
each other: the earnest Protestant BALE, the gravest reformer, and the
inflexible Catholic HEYWOOD, noted for "his mad merry wit," form one of
those remarkable disparities which the history of literature sometimes

BALE was originally educated in a monastery; he found an early patron,
and professed the principles of the Reformation; and, like Luther,
sealed his emancipation from Catholic celibacy by a wife, whom he
tenderly describes as "his faithful Dorothea." It was a great thing for
a monk to be mated with such constancy at a time when women were usually
to be described as shrews, or worse. From the day of marriage the malice
of persecution haunted the hapless heretic; such personal hatreds could
not fail of being mutual. He seems to have too hastily anticipated the
Reformation under Henry the Eighth, for though that monarch had freed
himself from "the bishop of Rome," he had by no means put aside the
doctrines, and Bale, who had already begun a series of two-and-twenty
reforming interludes in his "maternal idiom," found it advisable to
leave a kingdom but half reformed. He paused not, however, till he had
written a whole library against "the Papelins," the last production
always seemed the most envenomed. On the death of Henry he unexpectedly
appeared before Edward the Sixth, who imagined that he had died. Bale
had the misfortune to be promoted to the Irish bishopric of Ossory--to
plant Protestantism in a land of Papistry! Frustrated in his unceasing
fervour, Bale escaped from martyrdom by hiding himself in Dublin. The
death of Edward relieved our Protestant bishop from this sad dilemma;
for on the accession of Mary he flew into Switzerland. There he
indulged his anti-papistical vein; the press sent forth a brood, among
which might have been some of better growth, for he laboured on our
British biography and literature; but as there were yet but few
Protestants to record, it flowed, and sometimes overflowed, against all
the friends of the Papacy; Pits, who subsequently resumed the task, a
sullen and fierce Papist, in revenge omitted in the line of our
illustrious Britons, Wickliffe and every Wickliffite. Such were the
beginnings of our literary history. On the accession of Elizabeth, his
country received back its exile; but Bale refused to be reinstated in
his Irish see, and sunk into a quiet prebendary of Canterbury. Fuller
has called our good bishop "Bilious Bale." Some conceive that this
bishop has suffered ill-treatment merely for having thrown out some
remarkable, or abominable, invectives. Proselytes, however sincere in
their new convictions and their old hatreds, both operating at once,
colour their style as some do their faces, till by long use the
heightened tint seems faint, and they go on deepening it, and thus at
last the natural countenance is lost in the artificial mass.

If Bale were no poet, in the singular dramas we have, he at least
displays a fluent invention; he tells plainly what is meant, which we
like to learn; and I do not know whether it be owing to his generally
indifferent verse that we sometimes are struck by an idiomatic phrase,
and a richness of rhymes peculiar to himself, which sustain our

Of JOHN HEYWOOD, the favourite jester of Henry the Eighth and his
daughter Mary, and the intimate of Sir Thomas More, whose congenial
humour may have mingled with his own, more table-talk and promptness at
reply have been handed down to us than of any writer of the times. His
quips, and quirks, and quibbles are of his age, but his copious
pleasantry still enlivens; these smoothed the brow of Henry, and relaxed
the rigid muscles of the melancholy Mary. He had the _entrée_ at all
times to the privy-chamber, and often to administer a strong dose of
himself, which her majesty's physicians would prescribe. He is
distinguished as Heywood the epigrammatist; a title fairly won by the
man who has left six centuries of epigrams, collected and adjusted as
many English proverbs in his verse, besides the quaint conceits of
"crossing of proverbs."[2] Of these six hundred epigrams it is possible
not a single one is epigrammatic: we have never had a Martial. Even when
it became a fashion, to write books of epigrams half a century
subsequently, they usually closed in a miserable quibble, a dull
apophthegm, or at the best, like those of Sir John Harrington, in a
plain story rhymed. Wit, in our sense of the term, was long unpractised,
and the modern epigram was not yet discovered.

Heywood, who had flourished under Henry, on the change in the reign of
Edward, clung to the ancient customs. He was a Romanist, but had he not
recovered in some degree from the cecity of superstition, he had not so
keenly exposed, as he has done, some vulgar impostures. It happened,
however, that some unlucky jest, trenching on treason, flew from the
lips of the unguarded jester; it would have hanged some--but pleasant
verses promptly addressed to the young sovereign saved him at the
pinch,--however, he gathered from "the council" that this was no
jesting-time, and he left the country in the day that Bale was returning
from his emigration under King Henry. On Mary's accession, Bale again
retired, and Heywood suddenly appeared at court. Asked by the queen
"What wind blew him there?" "Two specially; the one to see your
majesty!" he replied. "We thank you for that," said the queen, "but I
pray you what is the other?" "That your grace might see me!" There was
shrewdness in this pleasantry, to bespeak the favour of his royal
patroness. Four short years did not elapse ere Elizabeth opened her long
reign, and then the merry Romanist for ever bid farewell to his native
land, while Bale finally sat beside his English hearth. These were very
moveable and removeable times, and no one was certain how long he should
remain in his now locality.

The genius of HEYWOOD created "The Merrie Interlude;" unlike BALE, as in
all things, he never opened the Bible for a stage-play, but approaching
Comedy, he became the painter of manners, and the chronicler of domestic
life. Warton certainly has hastily and contradictorily censured Heywood,
without a right comprehension of his peculiar subjects; yet he admired
at least one of Heywood's writings, in which, being anonymous, he did
not recognise the victim of his vague statements. Warton and his
followers have obscured a true genius for exuberant humour, keen irony,
and exquisite ridicule, such as Rabelais and Swift would not have
disdained, and have not always surpassed. One of his interludes is
accessible for those who can revel in a novel scene of comic invention.
This interlude is "The Four P's; the Palmer, the Pardoner, the Poticary,
and the Pedler." Each flouts the other, and thus display their
professional knaveries.[3]

The ludicrous strokes of this piece could never have come from a bigot
to the ancient superstition, however attached to the ancient creed. We
cannot tell how far the jester may have been influenced by a
proclamation of 28th of Henry the Eighth, to protect "the poor innocent
people from those light persons called pardoners by colour of their
indulgences," &c. He has curiously exhibited to us all the trumpery
regalia of papistry; as he also exposed "The Friery" in another
interlude which has all the appearance of a merry tale from Boccaccio.

So plays the jocund spirit of Heywood the Jester, in his minstrel-verse
and pristine idiom; but we have now to tell another tale. Heywood is the
author of a ponderous volume, and an interminable "parable" of "The
Spider and the Fly." It is said to have occupied the thoughts of the
writer during twenty years. This unlucky "heir of his invention" is
dressed out with a profusion of a hundred woodcuts--then rare and
precious things--among which starts up the full-length of the author
more than once. Warton impatiently never reached the conclusion, where
the author has confided to us the secret of his incomprehensible
intention. There Warton would have found that "we must understand that
the spiders represent the Protestants, and the flies the Catholics; that
the maid with the broom sweeping away the cobwebs (to the annoyance of
their weavers) is Mary armed with the civil power, executing the
commands of her Master (Christ), and her mistress (Mother Church)." We
see at once all the embarrassments and barrenness of this wearying and
perplexed fancy. Warton contents himself with what he calls "a sensible
criticism," taken from Harrison, a Protestant minister, and one of the
partners of Holinshed's Chronicle; it is as mordacious as a periodical
criticism. "Neither he who made this book, nor any who reads it, can
reach unto the meaning." Warton, to confirm "the sensible criticism,"
alleges as a proof of its unpopularity, that it was never reprinted; but
it was published in 1556, and Mary died in 1558. A vindication of "the
maid with the broom" might be equally unwelcome to "spiders and flies."

How it happened that the court jester who has sent forth such volumes of
mirth could have kept for years hammering at a dull and dense poem, is a
literary problem which perhaps admits of a solution. We may ascribe this
aberration of genius to the author's position in society. Heywood was a
Romanist from principle; that he was no bigot, his free satires on
vulgar superstitions attest. But the jester at times was a thoughtful
philosopher. One of his interludes is _The Play of the Weather_, where
the ways of Providence are vindicated in the distribution of the
seasons. But "mad, merry Heywood" was the companion of many
friends--Papists and Protestants--at court and in all the world over.
His creed was almost whole in broken times, perhaps agreeing a little
with the Protestant, and then reverting to the Romanist. In this
unbalanced condition, mingling the burlesque with the solemn, unwilling
to excommunicate his friend the Protestant "spider," and intent to
vindicate the Romanist "fly;" often he laid aside, and often resumed,
his confused emotions. It might require dates to settle the precise
allusions; what he wrote under Henry and Edward would be of another
colour than under the Marian rule. His gaiety and his gravity offuscate
one another; and the readers of his longsome fiction, or his dark
parallel, were puzzled, even among his contemporaries, to know in what
sense to receive them. Sympathising with "the fly," and not uncourteous
to "the spider," our author has shown the danger of combining the
burlesque with the serious; and thus it happened that the most facetious
genius could occupy twenty years in compounding, by fits and starts, a
dull poem which neither party pretended rightly to understand.


  [1] One of these interludes has been recently published by the Camden
    Society, under the skilful editorship of Mr. Collier, from a
    manuscript corrected by Bale himself in the Devonshire collection--it
    is entitled "Kynge Johan," [and founded on events in his reign, made
    subservient to the ultra-protestantism of Bale.] Others have been
    printed in the "Harleian Collection," vol. i.; and in Dodsley's "Old
    English Drama."

  [2] That is, proverbs with humorous answers to them. See the
    "Bibliographical and Critical Catalogue," by Mr. Payne Collier, of
    Lord Francis Egerton's "Library of Early English Literature," p. 2.

  [3] Dodsley's "Old Plays," vol. i.


It would, perhaps, have surprised ROGER ASCHAM, the scholar of a learned
age, and a Greek professor, that the history of English literature might
open with his name; for in his English writings he had formed no
premeditated work, designed for posterity as well as his own times. The
subjects he has written on were solely suggested by the occasion, and
incurred the slight of the cavillers of his day, who had not yet learned
that humble titles may conceal performances which exceed their promise,
and that trifles cease to be trivial in the workmanship of genius.

An apology for a favourite recreation, that of archery, for his
indulgence in which his enemies, and sometimes his friends, reproached
the truant of academic Greek; an account of the affairs of Germany while
employed as secretary to the English embassy; and the posthumous
treatise of "The Schoolmaster," originating in an accidental
conversation at table, constitute the whole of the claims of Ascham to
the rank of an English classic--a degree much higher than was attained
by the learning of Sir Thomas Elyot, and the genius of Sir Thomas More.

The mind of Ascham was stored with all the wealth of ancient literature
the nation possessed. Ascham was proud, when alluding to his master the
learned Cheke, and to his royal pupil Queen Elizabeth, of having been
the pupil of the greatest scholar, and the preceptor to the greatest
pupil in England; but we have rather to admire the intrepidity of his
genius, which induced him to avow the noble design of setting an example
of composing in our vernacular idiom. He tells us in his "Toxophilus,"
"I write this English matter in the English language for Englishmen." He
introduced an easy and natural style in English prose, instead of the
pedantry of the unformed taste of his day; and adopted, as he tells us,
the counsel of Aristotle, "to speak as the common people do, to think as
wise men do."

The study of Greek was the reigning pursuit in the days of Ascham. At
the dispersion of the Greeks on the loss of Constantinople, the learned
emigrants brought with them into Europe their great originals; and the
subsequent discovery of printing spread their editions. The study of
Greek, on its first appearance in Europe, alarmed the Latin Church, and
was long deemed a dangerous and heretical innovation. The cultivation of
this language was, however, carried on with enthusiasm, and a
controversy was kindled, even in this country, respecting the ancient
pronunciation. A passion for Hellenistic lore pervaded the higher
classes of society. There are fashions in the literary world as sudden
and as capricious as those of another kind; and which, when they have
rolled away, excite a smile, although possibly we have only adopted
another of fresher novelty. The Greek mania raged. Ascham informs us
that his royal pupil Elizabeth understood Greek better than the canons
of Windsor; and, doubtless, while the queen was translating Isocrates,
the ladies in waiting were parsing. Lady Jane Grey studying Plato was
hardly an uncommon accident; but the touching detail which she gave to
Ascham of her domestic persecution, on trivial forms of domestic life,
which had induced her to fly for refuge to her Greek, has thrown a deep
interest on that well-known incident. All educated persons then studied
Greek; when Ascham was secretary to our ambassador at the Court of
Charles the Fifth, five days in the week were occupied by the ambassador
reading with the secretary the Greek tragedians, commenting on
Herodotus, and reciting the Orations of Demosthenes. But this rage was
too capricious to last, and too useless to be profitable; for neither
the national taste nor the English language derived any permanent
advantage from this exclusive devotion to Greek, and the fashion became
lost in other studies.

It was a bold decision in a collegiate professor, who looked for his
fame from his lectures on Greek, to venture on modelling his native
idiom, with a purity and simplicity to which it was yet strange. Ascham,
indeed, was fain to apologise for having written in English, and offered
the king, Henry the Eighth, to make a Greek or a Latin version of his
"Toxophilus," if his grace chose. "To have written in another tongue
had been both more profitable for my study, and also more honest
[honourable] for my name; yet I can think my labour well bestowed, if,
with a little hindrance of my profit and name, may come any furtherance
to the pleasure or commodity of _the gentlemen and yeomen of England_.
As for the Latin and Greek tongue, everything is so excellently done in
them that none can do better; _in the English tongue_, contrary,
_everything in a manner so meanly, both for the matter and handling,
that no man can do worse_."

Such were the first difficulties which the fathers of our native
literature had to overcome. Sir Thomas Elyot endured the sneer of the
cavillers, for his attempt to inlay our unpolished English with Latin
terms; and Roger Ascham, we see, found it necessary to apologise for at
all adopting the national idiom. Since that day neologisms have
fertilised the barrenness of our Saxon, and the finest geniuses in
Europe have abandoned the language of Cicero, to transfuse its grace
into an idiom whose penury was deemed too rude for the pen of the
scholar. Ascham followed his happier genius, and his name has created an
epoch in the literature of England.

A residence of three years in Germany in the station of confidential
secretary of our ambassador to the Emperor Charles the Fifth, placed him
in a more extensive field of observation, and brought him in contact
with some of the most remarkable men of his times. It is much to be
regretted, that the diary he kept has never been recovered. That Ascham
was inquisitive, and, moreover, a profound observer at an interesting
crisis in modern history, and that he held a constant intercourse with
great characters, and obtained much secret history both of persons and
of transactions, fully appears in his admirable "Report of the Affairs
and State of Germany, and the Emperor Charles' Court." This "Report" was
but a chance communication to a friend, though it is composed with great
care. Ascham has developed with a firm and masterly hand the complicated
intrigues of the various powers, when Charles the Fifth seemed to give
laws to Germany and Italy. This emperor was in peace with all the world
in 1550, and in less than two years after, he was compelled to fly from
Germany, surrounded by secret enemies. Ascham has traced the
discontents of the minor courts of Italian dukes, and German princes,
who gradually deserted the haughty autocrat--an event which finally led
to the emperor's resignation. It is a moral tale of princes openly
countenancing quietness, and "privily brewing debate"--a deep
catastrophe for the study of the political student. Ascham has explained
the double game of the court of Rome, under the ambitious and restless
Julius the Third, who, playing the emperor against the French monarch,
and the French monarch against the emperor, worked himself into that
intricate net of general misery, spun out of his own crafty
ambidexterity. This precious fragment of secret history might have
offered new views and many strokes of character to the modern historian,
Robertson, who seems never to have discovered this authentic document;
yet it lay at hand. So little even in Robertson's day did English
literature, in its obscurer sources, enter into the pursuits of our
greatest writers.

Ascham's first work was the "Toxophilus, the Schole, or Partitions of
Shootinge." At this time fire-arms were so little known, that the term
"shooting" was solely confined to the bow, then the redoubtable weapon
of our hardy countrymen. In this well-known treatise on archery, he did
what several literary characters have so well done, apologised for his
amusement in a manner that evinced the scholar had not forgotten himself
in the archer.

It affords some consolation to authors, who often suffer from neglect,
to observe the triumph of an excellent book. Its first appearance
procured him a pension from Henry the Eighth, which enabled him to set
off on his travels. Subsequently, in the reign of Mary, when that
eventful change happened in religion and in politics, adverse to Ascham,
our author was cast into despair, and hastened to hide himself in safe
obscurity. It was then that this excellent book, and a better at that
time did not exist in the language, once more recommended its author;
for Gardiner, the papal bishop of Winchester, detected no heresy in the
volume, and by his means, the Lords of the Council approving of it, the
author was fully reinstated in royal favour. Thus Ascham twice owed his
good fortune to his good book.

"The Schoolmaster," with its humble title, "to teach children to
understand, write, and speak the Latin tongue," conveys an erroneous
notion of the delight, or the knowledge which may be drawn from this
treatise, notwithstanding that the work remains incomplete, for there
are references to parts which do not appear in the work itself. "The
Scholemaster" is a classical production in English, which may be placed
by the side of its great Latin rivals, the Orations of Cicero, and the
Institutes of Quintilian. It is enlivened by interesting details. The
first idea of the work was started in a real conversation at table,
among some eminent personages, on occasion of the flight of some
scholars from Eton College, driven away by the iron rod of the master.
"Was the schoolhouse to be a house of bondage and fear, or a house of
play and pleasure?" During the progress of the work the author lost his
patron, and incurred other disappointments; he has consigned all his
variable emotions to his volume. The accidental interview with Lady Jane
Grey; his readings with Queen Elizabeth in their daily intercourse with
the fine writers of antiquity, and their recreations at the regal game
of chess--for such was the seduction of Attic learning, that the queen
on the throne felt a happiness in again becoming the pupil of her old
master; these, and similar incidents, present those individual touches
of the writer, which give such a reality to an author's feelings.[1]

It is to be regretted that Ascham held but an indolent pen. Yet it were
hard to censure the man for a cold neglect of his fame, who seems
equally to have neglected his fortune. Ascham has written little; and
all he left his family was "this little book" (The Schoolmaster), and
which he bequeathed to them, as the right way to good learning, "which,
if they follow, they shall very well come to sufficiency of living."
This was an age when the ingenious clung to a patron; the widow and the
son of Ascham found the benefits of this testamentary recommendation. It
must, however, be confessed to have been but a capricious legacy, for no
administrator might have been found to "the will." The age of patronage
was never that of independence to an author.

Johnson, in his admirable "Life of Ascham," observed, that "his
disposition was kind and social; he delighted in the pleasure of
conversation, and was probably not much inclined to business." It is
certain that he preferred old books to pounds sterling, for once he
requested to commute a part of his pension for a copy of the "Decem
Rhetores Græci," which he could not purchase at Cambridge. His frequent
allusions in his letters when abroad to "Mine Hostess Barnes," who kept
a tavern at Cambridge in the reign of Edward the Sixth, with tender
reminiscences of her "fat capons," and the "good-fellowship" there; and
further, his sympathy at the deep potation, when standing hard by the
emperor at his table, he tells us, "the emperor drank the best I ever
saw,--he had his head in the glass five times as long as any of us, and
never drank less than a good quart at once of Rhenish wine," and his
determination of providing "every year a little vessel of Rhenish" for
his cronies: and still further, his haunting the cockpit, and sometimes
trusting fortune by her dice, notwithstanding that he describes "dicing"
as "the green pathway of Hell;" all these _traits_ mark the boon
companion loving his leisure and his lounge.

When engaged in public life, a collegiate fellowship appeared to him to
offer supreme felicity. He writes thus,--"Ascham to his friends: who is
able to maintain his life at Cambridge, knows not what a felicity he
hath." Such was the conviction of one who had long lived in courts.

But when we consider that Ascham was Latin secretary to Edward the
Sixth, to Mary, and to Elizabeth, and intimately acquainted with the
transactions of these cabinets, with the sovereigns, and the ministers;
and during three years held a personal intercourse with the highest
foreign court;--we must regret, if we no not censure, the man who,
possessing these rare advantages, with a vigorous intellect, and a
felicitous genius, has left the world in silence. Assuredly, in Ascham,
we have lost an English Comines, who would have rivalled our few
memoir-writers, who, though with pens more industrious, had not eyes
more observant, nor heads more penetrating, than this secretary of three

There is, however, reason to conclude, that he himself was not
insensible to these higher claims which his station might have urged on
his genius and his diligence. Every night during his residence abroad,
which was of no short period, he was occupied by filling his Diary,
which has not, in any shape, come down to us. He has also himself told,
that he had written a book on "The Cockpit," one of the recreations of
"a courtly gentleman." We cannot imagine that such writings, by the hand
of Ascham, would be destroyed by his family, who knew how to value them.
A modern critic, indeed, considers it fortunate for Ascham's credit,
that this work on "The Cockpit" has escaped from publication. The
criticism is fallacious, for if an apology for cock-fighting be odious,
the author's reputation is equally hurt by the announcement as by the
performance. But the truth is, that such barbarous sports, like the
bear-baiting of England and the bull-fights of Spain, have had their
advocates. Queen Elizabeth had appointed Ascham her bear-keeper; and he
was writing in his character when disclosing the mysteries of the
cockpit. But the genius of our author was always superior to his
subject; and this was a treatise wherein he designed to describe "all
kinds of pastimes joined with labour used in open place, and in the
day-light." The curious antiquary, at least, must regret the loss of
Ascham's "Cockpit."

Ascham lived in the ferment of the Reformation: zealously attached to
the new faith under Edward the Sixth and Elizabeth, how did he preserve
himself during the intermediate reign, when he partook of the favours of
the papistical sovereign? His master and friend, the learned Sir John
Cheke, had only left for himself the choice of a recantation, or a
warrant for execution; but of Ascham's good fortune, nothing is known
but its mystery. The novel religion had, however, early heated the
passions, and narrowed the judgment, of Ascham. He wrote at a period
when the Romanist and the Protestant reciprocally blackened each other.
Ascham not only abhorred all Italians as papists, but all Italian books
as papistical. He invokes the interposition of the civil magistrate
against Petrarch and Boccaccio, whose volumes were then selling in every
shop. Baretti strikes at his manes with his stiletto-pen, in an animated
passage;[2] and Warton is indignant at his denunciation of our ancient
romances, of which the historian of our poetry says, "he has written in
the spirit of an early Calvinistic preacher, rather than as a sensible
critic and a polite scholar"--he who, in his sober senses, was eminently

We may lament that the first steps in every revolution are taken in
darkness, and that the reaction of opinions and prejudices is itself
accompanied by errors and prejudices of its own. The bigotry of the new
faith was not inferior to the old. The reforming Archbishop Grindal
substituted the dull and barbarous Palingenius, Sedulius, and
Prudentius, for the great classical authors of antiquity. The
Reformation opened with fanaticism; and men were reformers before they
were philosophers. Had Ascham, a learned scholar, and a man of fine
genius, been blessed with the prescient eye of philosophy, he had
perceived that there was not more papistry in the solemn "Trionfi" of
Petrarch, and not less "honest pastime" in a "merrie tale" of Boccaccio,
than in cock-fighting and dicing; and that with these works the
imagination of the public was gradually stepping out of a supernatural
world of folio legends, into a world of true nature, which led to that
unrivalled era which immortalised the closing century.

We must recollect that the bigotry of the Reformation, or that which
afterwards assumed the form of puritanism, in their absurd notion of the
nature of idolatry attached to every picture and every statue on sacred
subjects, eventually banished the fine arts from England for a long
century, and retarded their progress even to our own days. A curious
dialogue has been preserved by Strype, whose interlocutors are Queen
Elizabeth and a Dean. The Dean having obtained some of those fine German
paintings, those book-miniatures which are of the most exquisite finish,
placed them in her majesty's prayer-book. For this the queen proscribed
the dean, as she did those beautiful illuminations, as "Romish and
idolatrous;" and with a Gothic barbarism, strange in a person with her
Attic taste, commanded the clergy "to wash all pictures out of their
walls." To this circumstance the painter Barry ascribes the backward
state of the fine arts, which so long made us a by-word among the
nations of Europe, and even induced the critical historian of the arts,
Winkelman, to imagine that the climate of England presented an internal
obstruction to the progress of art itself; it was too long supposed that
no Englishman could ever aspire to be an artist of genius. The same
principle which urged Ascham to denounce all Italian books, instigated
his royal pupil "to wash out all pictures;" and even so late as the
reign of George the Third, when the artists of England made a noble
offer, gratuitously to decorate our churches with productions of their
own composition, the Bishop of London forbade the glorious attempt to
redeem English art from the anathema of foreign critics.

Ascham, whose constitutional delicacy often impeded his studies, died
prematurely. The parsimonious queen emphatically rated his value by
declaring, that she would rather have lost ten thousand pounds--no part
of which, during his life, the careless yet not the neglected Ascham
ever shared.

Roger Ascham was truly what Pope has described Gay to have been, "in wit
a man, simplicity a child;" and he has developed his own character in
his letters. Latin and English, they are among the earliest specimens of
that domestic and literary correspondence in which the writer paints
himself without reserve, with all the warm touches of a free pencil, gay
sallies of the moment, or sorrows of the hour, confiding to the bosom of
a friend the secrets of his heart and his condition; such as we have
found in the letters of Gray and of Shenstone.

The works of Ascham, which are collected in a single volume, remain for
the gratification of those who preserve a pure taste for the pristine
simplicity of our ancient writers. His native English, that English
which we have lost, but which we are ever delighted to recover, after
near three centuries, is still critical without pedantry, and beautiful
without ornament: and, which cannot be said of the writings of Sir
THOMAS ELYOT and Sir THOMAS MORE, the volume of ASCHAM is indispensable
in every English library, whose possessor in any way aspires to connect
together the progress of taste and of opinion in the history of our


  [1] There were five editions of "The Scholemaster" within twenty
    years of its first publication, of which that of 1573 is the most
    correct and rare.--Dr. Valpy's "Cat."

  [2] Baretti's "Account of the Manners of Italy," ii. 137--the most
    curious work of this Anglo-Italian.


How long has existed that numerous voice which we designate as "Public
Opinion;" which I shall neither define nor describe?

The history of the English "people," considered in their political
capacity, cannot be held to be of ancient date. The civil wars of
England, and the intestine discords of the bloody Roses, seem to have
nearly reduced the nation to a semi-barbarous condition; disputed
successions, cruel factions, and family feuds, had long convulsed the
land, and the political disorganization had been as eventful as were,
not long after, the religious dissensions.

The grandfather of Elizabeth, Henry the Seventh, had terminated a
political crisis. It was his policy to weaken the personal influence of
the higher nobility, whose domination our monarchs had often fatally
experienced. This seems to have been the sole "public" concern of this
prudential and passionless sovereign, who, as the authority of the
potent aristocracy declined, established that despotic regality which
remained as the inheritance of the dynasty of the Tudors.

In the days of the queen's father all "public interests" were
concentrated in the court-circle and its dependencies. The Parliament
was but the formal echo of the voice which came from the cabinet. The
learned Spelman has recorded that when the Lower House hesitated to pass
the bill for the dissolution of the monasteries, they were summoned into
the king's presence; and the Commons being first kept in waiting some
hours in his gallery, the king entered, looking angrily on one side and
then on the other: the dark scowl of the magnificent despot announced
his thoughts; and they listened to the thunder of his voice. "I hear,"
said he, "that my bill will not pass, but I will have it pass, or I will
have some of your heads."[1] I do not recollect whether it was on this
occasion that his majesty saluted his faithful Commons as "brutes!" but
the burly tyrant treated them as such. The penalty of their debates was
to be their heads; therefore this important bill passed _nemine

However contemptuously this monarch regarded those who were within his
circle, he was sufficiently enlightened in the great national revolution
he meditated to desire to gain over the multitude on his side. The very
circumstance of the king allowing, as the letters patent run, "the free
and liberal use of the Bible in _our own natural English tongue_," was a
_coup-d'état_, and an evidence that Henry at one time designed to create
a people of readers on whom he counted to side with him. The people were
already possessed of the Reformation, before Henry the Eighth had
renounced the papacy. The reformers abroad had diligently supplied them
with versions of the Scriptures, and no small numbers of pamphlets
printed abroad in English were dispersed among the early "gospellers,"
the expressive distinction of the new heretics; a humble but fervent
rabble of tailors, joiners, weavers, and other handicraftsmen, who left
"the new for the old God," ready martyrs against the gross papistical
impostures, and many females theological, who turned away from the
corporal presence, and whom no bishop could seduce to curtsey to a

The new concession made to this people was indeed received with
enthusiasm. All flocked to read, or to be read to. Never were the
Scriptures so artlessly scrutinised; they furnished whole scenes for
interludes, and were tagged with rhymes for ballads; even the grave
judges, before they delivered their charges, prefaced them by a text.
Each reader became an expounder, and new schismatics were busied with
new heresies. The king had not calculated on this result; and when he
found the nation abounded not with readers so much as with
disputants--that controversies raged where uniformity was
expected--Henry became so irritated at the universal distraction of
opinion, that his first attempt to raise a public voice ended, as has
been since often attempted, in its suppression. The permission to read
the sacred volume was contracted by the most qualifying clauses. The
noble and the gentry might read it "alone in their garden or orchard, or
other retired places," but men and women in the lower ranks were
absolutely forbidden to read it, or to have it read to them.[2]

The clashing polemics of the brother and the sister of Elizabeth did not
advance the progress of civil society. The novelists, if we may so term
these lovers of novelty, flushed with innovation, were raging with every
rapid change, while the ancients, in spite and in despondence, sullenly
clung to the old, which they held could never be the obsolete. The first
movements of the great reform seemed only to have transferred the late
civil wars which had distracted the land, to the minds of the people in
a civil war of opinions.

When Elizabeth ascended the throne, there was yet no recognised "public"
in the commonwealth; the people were mere fractional and incoherent
parts of society. This heroic queen, whose position and whose masculine
character bear some affinity to those of the great Catharine of Russia,
had to create "a people" subservient to the very design of advancing the
regal authority in its ascendancy. The policy of the maiden queen was
that of her ancestors; but the same jealousy of the aristocracy turned
her genius to a new source of influence, unknown to her progenitors, and
which her successors afterwards hardly recognised. In the awful
mutations through which society had been passing, some had been silently
favourable to the queen's views. The population had considerably risen
since the reign of Henry the Seventh.[3] Property had changed hands, and
taken new directions; and independent classes in society were rising

The great barons formerly had kept open houses for all comers and goers;
five hundred or a thousand "blue coats" in a single family crowded their
castles or their mansions; these were "trencher slaves" and
"swash-bucklers;" besides those numerous "retainers" of great lords,
who, neither menial nor of the household, yet yielded their services on
special occasions, for the privilege of shielding their own insolence
under the ostentatious silver "badge," or the family arms, which none
might strike with impunity, and escape from the hostility of the whole
noble family. In the opening scene of _Romeo and Juliet_ our national
bard has perpetuated the insolence of the wearers with all the reality
of nature and correctness of custom. Such troops of idling partisans
were only reflecting among themselves the feuds and the pride of their
rival masters; shadows of the late civil wars which still lingered in
the land.[4]

The first blow at the independent grandeur of the nobles had been struck
by the grandfather of the queen; the second was the consequence of the
acts of her father. The new proprietors of the recently-acquired
abbey-lands, and other monastic property, were not only courtiers, but
their humbler dependents; many of them the commissioners who had
undervalued all these manors and lordships, that they might get such
"Robin Hood's pennyworths" more easily by the novelty of "begging" for
them. These formed a new body of proprietors, who gradually constituted
_a new gentry_, standing between the nobles and the commonalty; and from
the nature of their property they became land-jobbers, letting and
under-letting, raising rents, enhancing the prices of commodities,
inclosing the common lands, and swallowing up the small farms by large
ones. There arose in consequence a great change in agricultural
pursuits, no longer practised to acquire a miserable subsistence; the
land was changed into a new mine of wealth; and among the wealthiest
classes of English subjects were the graziers, who indeed became the
founders of many families.[5]

The nobles found their revenues declining, as an excess of expenditure
surprised them; this changeable state only raised their murmurs, for
they seemed insensible to the cause. Their ancient opulence was secretly
consuming itself; their troops of domestics were thinned in numbers; and
a thousand families disappeared, who once seemed to have sprung out of
the soil, where whole generations had flourished through the wide
domains of the lord. A great change had visibly occurred in the baronial
halls. The octogenarians in Elizabeth's later days complained that the
country was depopulating fast; and the chimneys of the great mansions
which had smoked the year round, now scarcely announced "a merry

A transition from one state of society to another will always be looked
on suspiciously by those who may deem the results problematical; but it
will be eagerly opposed by those who find the innovation unfavourable to
themselves. The results of the new direction of landed property,
incomprehensible to the nobles, were abhorrent to the feelings of the
people. Among "the people," that is, the populace, there still survived
tender reminiscences of the warmth of the abbots' kitchens; and many a
wayfaring guest could tell how erst by ringing at the monastic gate the
wants of life had been alleviated. The monks, too, had been excellent
landlords living amid their tenants; and while the husbandmen stood at
easy rents, the public markets were regularly maintained by a constant
demand. In the breaking up of the monasteries many thousands of persons
had been dispersed; and it would seem that among that sturdy community
of vagabonds which now rose over the land, some low Latin words in their
"pedler's French," as the canting language they devised is called,
indicate their origin from the familiar dialect of the ejected poor
scholars of the late monastic institutions.

The commotions which rose in all parts of the country during the brief
reign of Edward the Sixth were instigated by the ancient owners of these
lands, who conceived that they had been disinherited by the spoliators;
thus weakly they avenged their irrecoverable losses; nor did such
leaders want for popular pretences among a discontented populace, who,
as they imagined, were themselves sufferers in the common cause. We are
informed, on the indubitable authority of the diary of the youthful
Edward, that "_the_ PEOPLE had conceived a wonderful hatred against
GENTLEMEN whom they held as _their enemies_." The king seems distinctly
to distinguish the gentry from the nobility.

In the decline of the great households a result, however, occurred,
which tended greatly to improve the independent condition of "the
people." The manual arts had been practised from generation to
generation, the son succeeding the father in the wide domains of some
noble; but when the great lords were contracting the scale of their
establishments, and failed to furnish occupation to these dependents,
the mechanics and artificers took refuge in the towns; there localised,
they were taught to reap the fruits of their own daily industry; and as
their labour became more highly appreciated, and the arts of commerce
were more closely pursued, they considerably heightened the cost of
those objects of necessity or pleasure which supplied the wants or the
luxuries of the noble. In becoming citizens, they ceased to be mere
domestics in the great households; a separate independence was raised
between the lord and his mechanic; the humble class lost something in
leaving the happy carelessness of life for a condition more anxious and
precarious; but the influence of the noble was no longer that of the
lord paramount, but simply the influence of the customer over the
tradesman; "an influence," as Hume shrewdly remarks, "which can never be
dangerous to civil government."

We now distinctly perceive new classes in civil society rising out of
the decline of the preponderating power of the great barons, and of the
new disposition of landed property; the gentry, the flourishing
agriculturist, and those mechanics and artificers who carried on their
trades, independently of their former lordly patrons; we now, therefore,
discern the first elements of popularity.

There was now "a people," who might be worthy of entering into the views
of the statesman; but it was a divided people. Among them, the queen
knew, lay concealed her domestic enemies; a more novel religion than the
new was on the watch to shake her established church; and no
inconsiderable portion of her subjects in their papal consciences were
traitors. The arts of juncture, or the keeping together parts broken and
separated, making hearts compliant which were stubbornly opposed to each
other, demanded at once the firmness and the indulgence of the wisest
policy; and such was the administration of Elizabeth. A reign of
continued struggle, which extended to nearly half a century, was a
probationary period for royalty; and a precarious throne, while it
naturally approximated the sovereign to the people, also taught the
nation its own capacities, by maintaining their monarch's glory amid her
external and internal enemies.

The nobility was to feel the weight of the royal prerogative; no noble
families were permitted to intermarry, and no peer could leave the
kingdom, without the license of the queen. But at the very time she was
ruling them with a potent hand, Elizabeth courted the eyes and the
hearts of "the people;" she sought every occasion to exhibit her person
in processions and progresses, and by her speech and manner shed her
graciousness on the humblest of her subjects. Not slow to perceive their
wants and wishes, she it was who first gave the people a theatre, as her
royal style expressed it, "for the recreation of our loving subjects, as
for our solace and pleasure;" and this at a time when her council were
divided in their opinion.

Participating in the inmost feelings of the people, she commanded that
the awful tomes of Fox's "Acts and Monuments," a book written, as the
author has himself expressed it, for "the simple people," should be
chained to the desk of every church and common hall. In this "Book of
Martyrs," gathered from all quarters, and chronicling the obscurest
individuals, many a reader, kindling over the lengthened page, dwelt on
his own domestic tale in the volume of the nation. These massy volumes
were placed easy of access for perpetual reference, and doubtless their
earnest spirit multiplied Protestants.

No object which concerned the prosperity of the people but the Queen
identified herself with it; she saluted Sir Thomas Gresham as her "royal
merchant," and opening with her presence his Exchange, she called it
Royal. It is a curious evidence of her system to win over the people's
loyalty, that she suggested to Sir Thomas Wilson to transfuse the
eloquence of Demosthenes into the language of the people, to prepare
them by such solemn admonitions against the machinations of her most
dreaded enemy. Our translator reveals the design by his title: "The
Three Orations of Demosthenes, with those his fower Orations titled
expressly and by name against King Philip of Macedonie, most needful to
be redde in these dangerous dayes, of all them that love their
countrie's libertie." The Queen considered the aptness of their
application, and the singular felicity of transferring the inordinate
ambition of Philip of Macedon to Philip of Spain. To these famous
"philippics" was prefixed the solemn oath that the young men of Greece
took to defend their country against the royal invader, "at this time
right needful for all Christians, not only for Englishmen, to observe
and follow."

It was not until eighteen years after that the Armada sailed from the
shores of Spain, and this translation perpetuates an instance of
political foresight.

The genius of Elizabeth created her age; surrounding herself by no puny
favourites of an hour, in the circle of her royalty were seen the most
laborious statesmen our annals record, and a generation of romantic
commanders; the secretaries of state were eminently learned; and the
queen was all these herself, in her tried prudence, her dauntless
intrepidity, and her lettered accomplishments. The energies of the
sovereign reached the people, and were responded to; the spirit-stirring
events rose with the times: it was a reign of enterprise and emulation,
a new era of adventure and glory. The heroes of England won many a day's
battle in the Netherlands, in France, in Spain, and in Portugal; and the
ships of England unfurled their flags in unknown seas, and left the
glory of the maiden queen in new lands.

It would be no slight volume which should contain the illustrious names
of a race of romantic adventurers, who lost their sleep to gain new
trophies in a campaign, to settle a remote colony, or to give a name to
a new continent. All ranks in society felt the impulse of the same
electrical stroke, and even the cupidity of the mere trader was elevated
into heroism, and gained a patent of heraldry. The spirits of that age
seemed busied with day-dreams, of discovering a new people, or founding
a new kingdom. Shakespeare alludes to this passion of the times:

  Some to the wars, to try their fortune there;
  Some to discover islands far away.

If our Drake was considered by the Spaniard as the most terrible of
pirates, in England he was admired as another Columbus. The moral
feeling may sometimes be more justly regulated by the degree of
latitude. The Norrises, the Veres, the Grenvilles, the Cavendishes, the
Earl of Cumberland, and the Sidneys, bear a lustre in their characters
which romance has not surpassed; and many there were as resolutely
ambitious as Sir John Davies, who has left his name to the Straits still
bearing it. Sir Henry Sidney, the father of Sir Philip, who became a
distinguished statesman, had once designed to raise a new kingdom in
America; and his romantic son resumed this design of founding an empire
for the Sidneys. The project was secretly planned between our puerile
hero and the adventurous Drake, and was only frustrated by the queen's
arrest of our hero at Plymouth. Of the same batch of kingdom-founders
was Sir Walter Rawleigh; he baptised with the spirit of loyalty his
"Virginia." Muscovy, at that stirring period, was a dominion as strange
as America and the Indies; during the extraordinary events of this
period, when Elizabeth had obtained a monopoly of the trade of that
country, the Czar proposed to marry an English lady; a British alliance,
both personal and political, he imagined, should his subjects revolt,
might secure an asylum in the land of his adoption. The daughter of the
Earl of Huntington was actually selected by the queen to be the Czarina;
but her ladyship was so terrified at the Muscovite and his icy region,
that she lost the honour of being a romantic empress, and the civilizer
of all the Russias. Thus, wherever the winds blew, the name of Elizabeth
was spread; "the great globe itself" seemed to be our "inheritance," and
seemed not too vast a space to busy the imaginations of the people.

This was the time of first beginnings in the art of guiding public
opinion. Ample volumes, like those of Fox, powerful organs of the
feelings of the people, were given to them. The Chronicles of Hall and
Holinshed opened for them the glory of the love of their father-land. It
was the genius of this active age of exploits which inspired RICHARD
HAKLUYT to form one of the most remarkable collections in any language,
yet it was solely to be furnished from our own records, and the mighty
actors in the face of the universe were solely to be Englishmen. Now
appeared the three tomes of "The Principal Navigations, Voyages, and
Discoveries, made by the English Nation;" northward, southward, and
westward, and at last "the new-found world of America;" a world, with
both Indies, discovered within their own century!--these amazed and
delighted all classes of society. The legendary voyages of the monkish
chroniclers, their maritime expeditions, opening with the fabulous
Arthur, hardly exceeded the simplicity of our first discoverers. Many a
hero had led on the adventurers; but their secretaries and historians
were often themselves too astonished at what they witnessed, and stayed
too short a time, to recover their better judgment in new places, and
among new races of men. Sanctioned by many noble and genuine adventures,
not less authentic appeared their terrors and their wonder; in polar
icebergs, or before that island which no ship could approach, wherein
devils dwelt; or among the sunny isles of Greece, and the burning
regions of Ormus and Malacca, and the far realms of Cambaya and Cathay;
in Ethiopia and in Muscovy, in Persia and in Peru; on the dark coast of
Guinea, and beyond in Africa; and in Virginia, with her feathered
chiefs; with many a tale of Tripoli and Algiers, where Britons were
found in chains, till the sovereign of England demanded their
restitution, and of the Holy Land, where the peaceful crusaders now only
knelt in pilgrimage. All this convinced them that the world was
everywhere inhabited; and that all was veracious, as Sebastian Cabot,
the true rival of Columbus, and perhaps our countryman, had marked in
his laborious maps, which he had engraved, and which were often wondered
at, as they hung in the Privy Gallery at Westminster. Alas! for the
readers of modern travels, who can no longer participate in the wild and
awful sensations of the all-believing faith of "the home-bred wit" of
the Elizabethan era--the first readers of HAKLUYT'S immense collection.

The advancement of general society out of its first exclusive circle
became apparent when "the public" themselves were gradually forming a
component part of the empire.

"The new learning," as the free discussions of opinions and the popular
literature of the day were distinguished, widely spread. Society was no
longer scattered in distant insulations. Their observation was more
extended, their thought was more grave; tastes multiplied, and finer
sympathies awakened. "The theatre" and "the ordinary" first rose in this
early stage of our civilization; and the ceaseless publications of the
day, in the current form of pamphlets, were snatched up, even in the
intervening pauses of theatrical representation, or were commented upon
by some caustic oracle at the ordinary, or in Powles' walk. We were now
at the crisis of that great moral revolution in the intellectual history
of a people, when the people become readers, and the people become
writers. In the closer intercourse with their neighbours, their
insulated homeliness was giving way to more exotic manners; they seemed
to imitate every nation while they were incurring the raillery or the
causticity of our satirists, who are not usually the profoundest
philosophers. The satirists are the earliest recorders of manners, but,
fugitive historians of fugitive objects, they only sport on the surface
of things. The progressive expansion of social life, through its
homeliest transitions, are more clearly discerned in the perspective
view; for those who are occupied by opening their narrow ways, and by
lengthening their streets, do not contemplate on the architectural city
which is reserved for posterity.

It was popular to ridicule the finical "Monsieur Traveller," who was
somewhat insolent by having "swum in a gondola;" or to raise a laugh at
him who had "bought his doublet in Italy, his round hose in France, and
his bonnet in Germany." It did not occur to our immortal satirist that
the taste which had borrowed the doublet and the bonnet, had also
introduced to his happier notice the tales of Bandello and the Giuletta
of Luigi Porto. The dandy of Bishop Hall almost resembles the fantastic
picture of Horace, in illustrating a combination of absurdities. Hall
paints with vigour:

  A French head join'd to neck Italian;
  His thighs from Germany, his breast from Spain;
  An Englishman in none, a fool in all.

But if this egregious man of fashion borrowed the wordiness of Italian
compliment, or the formality of the Spanish courtesy, he had been also
taught the sonnet and the stanza, and those musical studies which now
entered into the system of education, and probably gave delicacy to our
emotions, and euphony to our language. The first attempts in the
refinements of manners are unavoidably vitiated by too close a copy; and
it is long before that becomes graceful which began in affectation. When
the people experienced a ceaseless irritability, a marvelling curiosity
to learn foreign adventures and to inspect strange objects, and "laid
out ten doits to see a dead Indian," these were the nascent propensities
which made Europe for them a common country, and indicated that insular
genius which at a distant day was to add new dominions to the British

This public opinion which this sovereign was creating she watched with
solicitude, not only at home, but even abroad. No book was put forth
against her government, but we find her ministers selecting immediately
the most learned heads or the most able writers to furnish the replies.
Burghley, we are told, had his emissaries to inform him of the ballads
sung in the streets; and a curious anecdote at the close of the reign of
Elizabeth informs us how anxiously she pondered on the manifestations of
her people's feelings. The party of Lord Essex, on the afternoon before
their insurrection, ordered the play of the tragical abdication of
Richard the Second. It is one of the charges in their trial; and we
learn, from a more secret quarter than the public trial, that the queen
deeply felt the acting of this play at that moment as the watchword of
the rebels, expressive of their designs. The queen's fears transformed
her into Richard the Second; and a single step seemed to divide her
throne from her grave. The recollection of this circumstance long
haunted her spirits; for, a year and a half afterwards, in a literary
conversation with the antiquary Lambarde, the subject of a portrait of
Richard the Second occurring, the queen exclaimed, "I am Richard the
Second, know ye not that?" The antiquary, at once wary and ingenuous,
replied, well knowing that the virgin queen would shrink were her
well-beloved Essex to be cast among ordinary rebels, "Such a wicked
imagination was attempted by a most unkind gentleman, the most adorned
creature that ever your majesty made." The queen replied, "He that will
forget God will also forget his benefactors." So long afterwards was
the royal Elizabeth still brooding over the gloomy recollection.

In the art of government a new principle seemed to have arisen, that of
adopting and guiding public opinion, which, in the mutations of civil
and political society, had emerged as from a chaos. A vacillating and
impetuous monarch could not dare it; it was the work of a thoughtful
sovereign, whose sex inspired a reign of love. Elizabeth not only lived
in the hearts of her people, but survived in their memories; when she
was no more, her birthday was long observed as a festival day; and so
prompt was the remembrance of her deeds and her words, that when Charles
the First once published his royal speech, an insidious patriot sent
forth "The Speech of Queen Elizabeth," which being innocently printed by
the king's printer, brought him into trouble. Our philosophic
politician, Harrington, has a remarkable observation on the
administration of Elizabeth, which, laying aside his peculiar views on
monarchy, and his theoretical balances in the State, we may partly
adopt. He says, "If the government of Elizabeth be rightly weighed, it
seems rather the exercise of a principality in a commonwealth than a
sovereign power in a monarchy. Certain it is that she ruled wholly with
an art she had to high perfection, by humouring and blessing her

Did Harrington imagine that political resembles physical science? In the
revelations of the Verulamian philosophy, it was a favourite axiom with
its founder, that we subdue Nature by yielding to her.


  [1] Spelman's "History of Sacrilege."

  [2] 34 Henry VIII.

  [3] Hallam's "Constitution of England," i. 8, 4to.

  [4] The remains of this feudal pomp and power were visible even at a
    later period in the succeeding reign, when we find the Earl of
    Nottingham, in his embassy to Spain, accompanied by a retinue of five
    hundred persons, and the Earl of Hertford, at Brussels, carried three
    hundred gentlemen.

  [5] "The graziers have assured me of their credit, and some of them
    may be trusted for a hundred thousand pounds."--Sir J. Harrington's
    Prologue to _The Metamorphosis of Ajax_.


Some of the first scholars of our country stepped out of the circle of
their classical studies with the patriotic design of inculcating the
possibility of creating a literary language. This was a generous effort
in those who had already secured their supremacy by their skill and
dexterity in the two languages consecrated by scholars. Many of the
learned engaged in the ambitious reform of our _orthography_, then
regulated by no certain laws; but while each indulged in some scheme
different from his predecessors, the language seemed only to be the more
disguised amid such difficult improvements and fantastic inventions.

A curious instance of the monstrous anomalies of our orthography in the
infancy of our literature, when a spelling-book was yet a precious thing
which had no existence, appears in this letter of the Duchess of Norfolk
to Cromwell, Earl of Essex.

  "_My ffary gode lord--her I sand you in tokyn hoff the neweyer a
  glasse hoff Setyl set in Sellfer gyld I pra you take hit (in) wort An
  hy wer habel het showlde be bater I woll hit war wort a m crone._"

These lines were written by one of the most accomplished ladies of the
sixteenth century, "the friend of scholars and the patron of
literature." Dr. Nott, who has supplied this literary curiosity, has
modernized the passage word by word; and though the idiom of the times
is preserved, it no longer wears any appearance of vulgarity or of

"My very good lord,--Here I send you, in token of the New Year, a glass
of setyll set in silver gilt; I pray you take it (in) worth. An I were
able, it should be better. I would it were worth a thousand crowns."

The domestic correspondence, as appears in letters of the times, seems
to indicate that the writers imagined that, by conferring larger
dimensions on their words by the duplication of redundant consonants,
they were augmenting the force, even of a monosyllable![1]

In such disorder lay our orthography, that writers, however peculiar in
their mode of spelling, did not even write the same words uniformly.
Elizabeth herself wrote one word, which assuredly she had constantly in
her mind, seven different ways, for thus has this queen written the word
_sovereign_. The royal mistress of eight languages seemed at a loss
which to choose for her command. The orthography of others eminent for
their learning was as remarkable, and sometimes more eruditely
whimsical, either in the attempt to retrace the etymology, or to modify
exotic words to a native origin; or, finally, to suit the popular
pronunciation. What system or method could be hoped for at a time when
there prevailed a strange discrepancy in the very names of persons, so
variously written not only by their friends but by their owners? Lord
Burleigh, when Secretary of State, daily signing despatches with the
favourite _Leicester_, yet spelt his name _Lecester_; and Leicester
himself has subscribed his own name eight different ways.[2]

At that period down to a much later, every one seems to have been at a
loss to write their own names. The name of _Villers_ is spelt fourteen
different ways in the deeds of that family. The simple dissyllabic but
illustrious name of _Percy_, the bishop found in family documents, they
had contrived to write in fifteen different ways.

This unsettled state of our _orthography_, and what it often depended
on, our _orthoepy_, was an inconvenience detected even at a very early
period. The learned Sir JOHN CHEKE, the most accomplished Greek scholar
of the age, descended from correcting the Greek pronunciation to invent
a system of English orthography. Cheke was no formal pedant; with an
enlarged notion of the vernacular language, he aimed to restore the
English of his day to what then he deemed to be its purity. He would
allow of no words but such as were true English, or of Saxon original;
admitting of no adoption of any foreign word into the English language,
which at this early period our scholar deemed sufficiently copious. He
objected to the English translation of the Bible, for its introduction
of many foreign words; and to prove them unnecessary he retranslated the
Gospel of St. Matthew, written on his own system of a new orthography.
His ear was nice, and his Attic taste had the singular merit of giving
concision to the perplexed periods of our early style. But his
orthography deterred the eyes of his readers; however the learned Cheke
was right in his abstract principle, it operated wrong when put in
practice, for every newly-spelt word seemed to require a peculiar

When Secretaries of State were also men of literature, the learned Sir
THOMAS SMITH, under Elizabeth, composed his treatise on "The English
Commonwealth," both in Latin and in English--the worthy companion of the
great work of Fortescue. Not deterred by the fate of his friend, the
learned Cheke, he projected even a bolder system, to correct the writing
of English words. He designed to relieve the ear from the clash of
supernumerary consonants, and to liquify by a vowelly confluence. But
though the scholar exposed the absurdity of the general practice, where
in certain words the redundant letters became mutes, or do not
comprehend the sounds which are expressed, while in other words we have
no letters which can express the sounds by which they are spoken, he had
only ascertained the disease, for he was not equally fortunate in the
prevention. An enlargement of the alphabet, ten vowels instead of five,
and a fantastical mixture of the Roman, the Greek, and the Saxon
characters, required an Englishman to be a very learned man to read and
write his maternal language. This project was only substituting for one
difficulty another more strange.

Were we to course the wide fields which these early "rackers of
orthography" have run over, we should start, at every turn, some strange
"winged words;" but they would be fantastic monsters, neither birds with
wings nor hares with feet. Shakspeare sarcastically describes this
numerous race: "Now he is turned ORTHOGRAPHER his words are a very
fantastical banquet; just so many strange dishes." Some may amuse. One
affords a quaint definition of the combination of _orthoepy_ with
_orthography_, for he would teach "how to write or _paint the image of
man's voice_ like to the life or nature."[3] The most popular amender of
our defective orthography was probably BULLOKAR, for his work at least
was republished. He proposed a bold confusion, to fix the fugitive
sounds by recasting the whole alphabet, and enlarging its number from
twenty-four to more letters, giving two sounds to one letter, to some
three; at present no mark or difference shows how the sounded letters
should be sounded, while our speech (or orthography) so widely differed;
but the fault, says old Bullokar, is in the _picture_, that is, the
letters, not the speech. His scheme would have turned the language into
a sort of music-book, where the notes would have taught the tones.[4] I
extract from his address to his country a curious passage. "In true
orthographie, both the _eye_, the _voice_, and the _eare_ must consent
perfectly without any let, doubt, or maze. Which want of concord in the
eye, voice, and ear I did perceive almost thirtie yeares past by the
very voice of children, who, guided by the eye with the letter, and
giving voice according to the name thereof, as they were taught to name
letters, yielded the eare of the hearer a degree contrary sound to the
word looked for; hereby grewe quarrels in the teacher, and lothsomeness
in the learner, and great payne to both, and the conclusion was that
both teacher and learner must go by rote, or no rule could be followed,
when of 37 parts 31 kept no square, nor true joint."

All these reformers, with many subsequent ones, only continued to
disclose the uneasy state of the minds of the learned in respect to our
inveterate orthography; so difficult was it, and so long did it take to
teach the nation how to spell, an art in which we have never perfectly
succeeded. Even the learned Mulcaster, in his zealous labour to "the
right writing of the English tongue," failed, though his principle
seems one of the most obvious in simplicity. This scholar, a master of
St. Paul's school, freed from collegiate prejudices, maintained that
"words should be written as they were spoken." But where were we to seek
for the standard of our orthoepy? Who was to furnish the model of our
speech, in a land where the pronunciation varied from the court, the
capital, or the county, and as mutable from age to age? The same effort
was made among our neighbours. In 1570 the learned Joubert attempted to
introduce a new orthography, without, however, the aid of strange
characters. His rule was only to give those letters which yield the
proper pronunciation; thus he wrote, _oeuvres_, uvres; _françoise_,
fransaise; _temps_, tems.

Among the early reformers of our vernacular idiom, the name of RICHARD
MULCASTER has hardly reached posterity. Our philologer has dignified a
small volume ostensibly composed for "the training of children,"[5] by
the elevated view he opened of far distant times from his own of our
vernacular literature--and he had the glory of having made this noble
discovery when our literature was yet in its infancy.

This learned master of St. Paul's school developes the historical
progress of language, on the great philosophical principle that no
impediment existed to prevent the modern from rivalling the more perfect
ancient languages. In opposition to the many who contended that no
subject can be philosophically treated in the maternal English, he
maintained that no one language, naturally, is more refined than
another, but is made so by the industry of "eloquent speech" in the
writers themselves, and by the excellence of the matter; a native soil
becomes more genial in emulating a foreign. I preserve the pleasing
illustration of his argument in the purity of his own prose, and because
he was the prophet of our literature.

"The people of Athens thus beautified their speech and enriched their
tongue with all kinds of knowledge, both bred within Greece and borrowed
from without. The people of Rome having plotted (planned) their
government much like the Athenians, became enamoured of their
eloquence, and translated their learning wherewith they were in love.
The Roman authority first planted the Latin among us here, by force of
their conquest; the use thereof for matters of learning doth cause it
continue, though the conquest be expired. And, therefore, the learned
tongues, so termed of their store, may thank their own people both for
their fining (refinement) at home and their favour abroad. But did not
these tongues use even the same means to brave (adorn) themselves, ere
they proved so beautiful?

"There be two special considerations which keep the Latin and other
learned tongues, though chiefly the Latin, in great countenance among
us; the one is the knowledge which is registered in them; the other is
the conference which the learned of Europe do commonly use by them, both
in speaking and writing. We seek them for profit, and keep them for that
conference; but whatever else may be done in our tongue, either to serve
private use, or the beautifying our speech, I do not see but it may well
be admitted, _even though in the end it displaced the Latin_, as the
Latin did others, and furnished itself by the Latin learning. For is it
not indeed a marvellous bondage to become servants to one tongue for
learning sake, the most of our time, with loss of most time, whereas we
may have the very same treasure in our own tongue, with the gain of most
time? Our own, bearing the joyful title of our liberty and freedom; the
Latin tongue remembering us of our thraldom. I honour the Latin, but I
worship the English. I wish all were in ours which they had from others;
and by their own precedent, do let us understand how boldly we may
venture, notwithstanding the opinion of some of our people, as desire
rather to please themselves with a foreign tongue wherewith they are
acquainted, than to profit their country in her natural language, where
their acquaintance should be. The tongues which we study were not the
first getters, though by learned travel (labour) they prove good
keepers; but they are ready to return and discharge their trust when it
shall be demanded, in such a sort, as it was committed for term of
years, and not for inheritance."

"But it is objected," our learned Mulcaster proceeds, with his engaging
simplicity, that "the English tongue is of small reach, stretching no
further than this island of ours, nay not there over all. What tho'
(then)? It reigneth there, though it go not beyond sea. And be not
English folk finish (refined) as well as the foreign, I pray you? And
why not our tongue for speaking, and our pen for writing, as well as our
bodies for apparel, and our tastes for diet? But you say that we have no
cunning (knowledge) proper to our soil to cause foreigners to study it,
as a treasure of such store. What tho' (then)? Why raise not the English
wits, if they will bend their wills either, for matter or for method, in

We, who have lived to verify the prediction, should not less esteem the
prophet; the pedagogue, MULCASTER, is a philosopher addressing men--a
genius who awakens a nation. His indeed was that "prophetic eye," which,
amid the rudeness of its own days, in its clear vision contemplated on
the futurity of the English language; and the day has arrived, when "_in
the end it displaced the Latin_," and "FOREIGN STUDENTS" learn our

The design of Mulcaster to regulate orthography by orthoepy was revived
so late as in 1701, in a curious work, under the title of "Practical
Phonography," by John Jones, M.D. He proposed to write words as they are
"fashionably" sounded. He notices "the constant complaints which were
then rife in consequence of an unsettled orthography." He proclaims war
against "the visible letters," which, not sounded, occasion a faulty
pronunciation. I suspect we had not any spelling-books in 1701. I have
seen Dyche's of 1710, but I do not recollect whether this was the first
edition; this sage of practical orthography was compelled to submit to
custom, and taught his scholars to read by the _ear_, and not by the
_eye_. "Yet custom," he adds, "is not the truest way of speaking and
writing, from not regarding the originals whence words are derived;
hence, abundance of errors have crept both into the pronunciation and
writing, and English is grown a medley in both these respects." Such was
the lamentation of an honest pedagogue in 1710.

The "Phonography" of Dr. Jones was probably well received; for three
years after, in 1704, he returned to his "spelling," which, he observed,
"however mean, concerned the benefit of millions of persons." He had a
notion to "invent a universal language to excel all others, if he
thought that people would be induced to use it."[7]

Even the learned of our own times have indulged some of these
philological reveries. One would hardly have suspected that Dr.
FRANKLIN, whose genius was so wholly practical, contemplated to
revolutionise the English alphabet: words were to be spelt by the sounds
of their letters, which were to be regulated by six new characters, and
certain changes in the vowels. He seems to have revived old Bullokar.
PINKERTON has left us a ludicrous scheme of what he calls "an improved
language." Our vowel terminations amount but to one-fourth of the
language; all substantives closing in hard consonants were to have a
final vowel, and the consonant was to be omitted after the vowel. We
were to acquire the Italian euphony by this presumed melody for our
harsh terminations. In this disfigurement of the language, a _quack_
would be a _quaco_, and _that_ would be _tha_. Plurals were to
terminate in _a_: _pens_ would be _pena_; papers, _papera_. He has very
innocently printed the entire "Vision of Mirza" from the "Spectator," on
his own system; the ludicrous jargon at once annihilates itself. Not
many years ago, JAMES ELPHINSTONE, a scholar, and a very injudicious
one, performed an extraordinary experiment. He ventured to publish some
volumes of a literary correspondence, on the plan of writing the words
as they are pronounced. But this editor, being a Scotchman, had two
sorts of Scotticisms to encounter--in idiom and in sound.
Notwithstanding the agreeable subjects of a literary correspondence, it
is not probable that any one ever conquered a single perusal of pages,
which tortured the eye, if they did not the understanding.

We may smile at these repeated attempts of the learned English, in their
inventions of alphabets, to establish the correspondence of
pronunciation with orthography, and at their vowelly conceits to
melodise our orthoepy. All these, however, demonstrate that our language
has never been written as it ought to have been. All our writers have
experienced this inconvenience. Considerable changes in spelling were
introduced at various periods, by way of experiment; this liberty was
used by the Elizabethan writers, for an improvement on the orthography
of Gower and Chaucer. Since the days of Anne we have further deviated,
yet after all our efforts we are constrained to read words not as they
are written, and to write different words with the same letters, which
leaves them ambiguous. And now, no reform shall ever happen, short of
one by "the omnipotence of parliament," which the great luminary of law
is pleased to affirm, "can do anything except making a man a woman."
Customary errors are more tolerable than the perplexing innovations of
the most perverse ingenuity.[8] The eye bewildered in such uncouth pages
as are here recorded, found the most capricious orthography in popular
use always less perplexing than the attempt to write words according to
their pronunciation, which every one regulated by the sounds familiar
to his own ear, and usually to his own county. Even the dismemberment of
words, omitting or changing letters, distracts attention;[9] and modern
readers have often been deterred from the study of our early writers by
their unsettled orthography. Our later literary antiquaries have,
therefore, with equal taste and sagacity, modernised their text, by
printing the words as the writers, were they now living, would have
transcribed them.

Such have been the impracticable efforts to paint the voice to the eye,
or to chain by syllables airy sounds. The imperfections for which such
reforms were designed in great part still perplex us. Our written
language still remains to the utter confusion of the eye and the ear of
the baffled foreigner, who often discovers that what is written is not
spoken, and what is spoken is not written. The orthography of some words
leads to their false pronunciation. Hence originated that peculiar
invention of our own, that odd-looking monster in philology, "a
pronouncing dictionary," which offends our eyes by this unhappy attempt
to write down sounds. They whose eyes have run over Sheridan, Walker,
and other orthoepists, must often have smiled at their arbitrary
disfigurements of the English language. These ludicrous attempts are
after all inefficient, while they compel us to recollect, if the thing
indeed be possible, a polysyllabic combination as barbarous as the
language of the Cherokees.[10]

We may sympathise with the disconcerted foreigner who is a learner of
the English language. All words ending in _ugh_ must confound him: for
instance, _though_, _through_, and _enough_, alike written, are each
differently pronounced; and should he give us _bough_ rightly, he may be
forgiven should he blunder at _cough_; if he escape in safety from
_though_, the same wind will blow him out of _thought_. What can the
foreigner hope when he discovers that good judges of their language
pronounce words differently? A mere English scholar who holds little
intercourse with society, however familiar in his closet be his
acquaintance with the words, and even their derivations, might fail in a
material point, when using them in conversation or in a public speech. A
list of names of places and of persons might be given, in which not a
single syllable is pronounced of those that stand written.

That a language should be written as it is spoken we see has been
considered desirable by the most intelligent scholars. Some have
laudably persevered in writing the past tense _red_, as a distinction
from the present _read_, and anciently I have found it printed _redde_.
Lord Byron has even retained the ancient mode in his Diary. By not
distinguishing the tenses, an audible reader has often unwarily contused
the times. _G_ before _I_ ungrammatical orthoepists declare is sounded
hard, but so numerous are the exceptions, that the exceptions might
equally be adopted for the rule. It is true that the pedantry of
scholarship has put its sovereign veto against the practice of writing
words as they are spoken, even could the orthoepy ever have been settled
by an unquestioned standard. When it was proposed to omit the mute _b_
in _doubt_ and _debt_, it was objected that by this castration of a
superfluous letter in the pronunciation, we should lose sight of their
Latin original. The same circumstance occurred in the reform of the
French orthography: it was objected to the innovators, that when they
wrote _tems_, rejecting the _p_ in _temps_, they wholly lost sight of
the Latin original, _tempus_. Milton seems to have laid down certain
principles of orthography, anxiously observed in his own editions
printed when the poet was blind. An orthography which would be more
natural to an unlearned reader is rejected by the etymologist, whose
pride and pomp exult in tracing the legitimacy of words to their
primitives, and delight to write them as near as may be according to the
analogy of languages.


  [1] See "The Paston Letters," edited by Sir JOHN FENN; and LODGE'S
    authentic and valuable Collection.

  [2] George Chalmers' "Apology for the Believers in the Shakspeare
    Papers," 94.--See on this subject in "Curiosities of Literature,"
    art. "Orthography of Proper Names." [Also a note on the orthography
    of Shakspeare's name, in an Essay on that Poet, in a future page of
    the present volume.]

  [3] "An Orthographie, composed by J(ohn) H(art), Chester Herald,"
    1569. A book of extreme rarity. A copy at Horne Tooke's sale was sold
    for 6_l._ 6_s._ It is in the British Museum.

  [4] "Bullokar's Booke at large for the Amendment of Orthographie for
    English Speech," &c. &c., 1580, 4to; republished in 1586.

  [5] "The first part of the Elementarie, which entreateth chieflie of
    the _right writing of our English Tong_," 1582, 12mo.

  [6] In this copious extract from Mulcaster's little volume, we have a
    specimen of the unadulterated simplicity of the English language. I
    have only modernised the orthography for the convenience of the
    reader, but I have not altered a single word.

  [7] The second work of our Phonographer is entitled "The New Art of
    Spelling, designed chiefly for Persons of Maturity, teaching them to
    Spell and Write Words by the Sound thereof, and to Sound and Read
    Words by the Sight thereof,--rightly, neatly, and fashionably, &c.,"
    by J. Jones, M.D., 1704.

    I give a specimen of his words as they are written and as they are

          Mayor                     Mair.
          Worcester                 Wooster
          Dictionary                Dixnary
          Bought                    Baut.

    "All words", he observes, "were originally written as sounded, and
    all which have since altered their sounds did it for ease and
    pleasure's sake from

      the harder to the easier     \
      the harsher to the pleasanter > sound."
      the longer to the shorter    /

  [8] The Grammar prefixed to Johnson's Dictionary, curiously
    illustrated by the notes and researches of modern editors, will
    furnish specimens of many of these abortive attempts.

  [9] When we began to drop the letter K in such words as _physic_,
    _music_, _public_, a literary antiquary, who wrote about 1790,
    observed on this new fashion, that "forty years ago no schoolboy had
    dared to have done this with impunity." These words in older English
    had even another superfluous letter, being _physicke_, _musicke_,
    _publicke_. The modern mode, notwithstanding its prevalence, must be
    considered anomalous; for other words ending with the consonants _ck_
    have not been shorn of their final _k_. We do not write _attac_,
    _ransac_, _bedec_, nor _bulloc_, nor _duc_, nor good _luc_.

    The appearance of words deprived of their final letter, though
    identically the same in point of sound, produces a painful effect on
    the reader. Pegge furnishes a ludicrous instance. It consists of
    monosyllables in which the final and redundant _k_ is not
    written,--"_Dic_ gave _Jac_ a _kic_ when _Jac_ gave _Dic_ a _knoc_ on
    the _bac_ with a _thic stic_." If even such familiar words and simple
    monosyllables can distract our attention, though they have only lost
    a single and mute letter, how greatly more in words compounded,
    disguised by the mutilation of several letters.

  [10] A most serious attempt was made a few years ago to establish
    English spelling by sound. A journal called the _Fonetic Nuz_ (_sic_
    to give the idea of the pronunciation of the word _News_) was
    published, and Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield" printed with a type
    expressly cast for the novel forms. The ruin of the projector closed
    the experiment.--ED.


A strong predilection to reproduce the ancient metres in their
vernacular poetry was prevalent among the scholars of Europe; but, what
is not less remarkable, the attempt everywhere terminated in the same
utter rejection by the popular ear. What occasioned this general
propensity of the learned, and this general antipathy in the unlearned?

These repeated attempts to restore the metrical system of the Greeks and
the Romans would not only afford a classical ear, long exercised in the
nice artifices of the ancient prosody, a gratification entirely denied
to the uninitiated; but at bottom there was a deeper design--that of
elevating an art which the scholar held to be degraded by the native but
unlettered versifiers; and, as one of them honestly confessed, the true
intent was to render the poetic art more difficult and less common. Had
this metrical system been adopted, it would have established a
privileged class. The thing was practicable; and, even in our own days,
iambics and spondees, dactyls and tribrachs, charm a few classical ears
by their torturous arrangement of words without rhythm and cadence.[1]
Fortunately for all vernacular poetry, it was attempted too late among
the people of modern Europe ever to be substituted for their native
melody, their rhythm, the variety of their cadences, or the consonance
of rhyme.

With us the design of appropriating the ancient metres to our native
verse was unquestionably borrowed from Italy, so long the model of our
fashions and our literature. There it had early begun, but was neither
admired nor imitated.[2] The nearly forgotten fantasy was again taken
up by Claudio Tolommei, an eminent scholar, who composed an Italian poem
with the Roman metres. More fortunate and profound than his neglected
predecessors, Tolommei, in 1539, published his _Versi e Regole della_
POESIA NUOVA--the very term afterwards adopted by the English
critics--and promised hereafter to establish their propriety on
principles deduced from philosophy and music. But before this code of
"new poetry" appeared the practice had prevailed, for Tolommei
illustrates "the rules" not only by his own verses, but by those of
other writers, already seduced by this obsolete novelty. But what
followed? Poets who hitherto had delighted by their euphony and their
rhyme, were now ridiculed for the dissonance which they had so
laboriously struck out. A literary war ensued! The champions for "the
new poetry" were remarkable for their stoical indifference amid the loud
outcries which they had raised; something of contempt entered into their
bravery, and it was some time before these obdurate poets capitulated.

In France the same attempt encountered the same fate. A few scholars,
Jodelle, Passerat, and others, had the intrepidity to versify in French
with the ancient metres; and, what is perhaps not generally known,
later, D'Urfé, Blaise de Vigneres, and others, adopted _blank verse_,
for Balzac congratulates Chapelain in 1639 that "Les vers sans rime sont
morts pour jamais." French poetry, which at that period could hardly
sustain itself with rhyme, denuded of this slight dress must have
betrayed the squalidness of bare poverty. The "new poetry" in France,
however, seems to have perplexed a learned critic; for with the learned
his prejudices leaned in its favour, but as a faithful historian the
truth flashed on his eyes. The French antiquary, Pasquier, stood in this
awkward position, and on this subject has delivered his opinions with
great curiosity and honest naïveté. "Since only these two nations, the
Greeks and the Romans, have given currency to these measures without
rhymes, and that on the contrary there is no nation in this universe
which poetises, who do not in their vulgar tongue use rhymes, which
sounds have naturally insinuated themselves into the ear of every people
for more than seven or eight centuries, even in Italy itself, I can
readily believe that the ear is more delighted by our mode of poetry
than with that of the Greeks and the Romans."[3]

The candour of the avowal exceeds the philosophy. Our venerable
antiquary had greater reason in what he said than he was himself aware
of; for rhyme was of a far more ancient date than his eight centuries.

It was in the Elizabethan period of our literature that, in the
wantonness of learned curiosity, our critics attempted these experiments
on our prosody; and, on the pretence of "reformed verse," were for
revolutionising the whole of our metrical system.

The musical impression made by a period consisting of long and short
syllables arranged in a certain order is what the Greeks called
_rhythmus_, the Latins _numerus_, and we _melody_ or _measure_. But in
our verse, simply governed by accent, and whose rhythm wholly depends on
the poet's ear, those durations of time, or sounds, like notes in music,
slow or quick, long or short, which form the quantities or the time of
the measured feet of the ancients, were no longer perceptible as in the
inflection, the inversion, and the polysyllabic variety of the voluble
languages of Greece and Rome. The artificial movements in the hexameter
were inflicting on the ear of the uninitiated verse without melody, and,
denuded of rhyme, seemed only a dislocated prose, in violation of the
genius of the native idiom.

Several of our scholars, invested by classical authority, and carrying
their fasces wreathed with roses, unhappily influenced several of our
poets, among whom were Sidney and Spenser, in their youth subservient to
the taste of their learned friend Gabriel Harvey, to submit their
vernacular verse to the torturous Roman yoke. Had this project of
versification become popular it would necessarily have ended in a
species of poetry, not referring so much to the natural ear affected by
the melody of emotion, as to a mechanical and severe scansion. To this
Milton seems to allude in a sonnet to Lawes, the musician--

  Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured song
  First taught our English music how to span
  Words with just _note_ and _accent_, not to scan
  _With Midas' ears, committing short and long_.

The poet of all youthful poets had a narrow escape from "dark
forgetfulness" when from the uncouth Latin hexameters, his "Fairy Queen"
took refuge in the melodious stanza of modern Italy. STANYHURST has left
a memorable woful version of Virgil, and the pedantic GABRIEL HARVEY had
espoused this Latin intruder among the English muses. The majestic march
of the Latin resounding lines, disguised in the miserable English
hexameters, quailed under the lash of the satirical TOM NASH, who
scourged with searching humour. "The Hexameter verse I grant to be a
gentleman of an ancient house (so is many an English beggar), yet this
clime of ours he cannot thrive in; our speech is too craggy for him to
set his plough in; he goes twitching and hopping in our language like a
man running upon quagmires, up the hill in one syllable, and down the
dale in another, retaining no part of that stately smooth gait which he
vaunts himself with among the Greeks and Latins."

A treatise on "the New Poetry," or "the Reformed Verse," for it assumed
this distinction, was expressly composed by WILLIAM WEBBE,
recommendatory of this "Reformation of our English verse."[4] Some years
after Dr. THOMAS CAMPION, accomplished in music and verse, a composer of
airs, and a poet of graceful fancy in masques, fluent and airy in his
rhymes, seating himself in the critic's chair, renewed the exotic
system. Notwithstanding his own felicity in the lighter measures of
English verse, he denounces "the vulgar and inartificial custom of
RIMING, which hath, I know, deterred many excellent wits from the
exercise of English poetry."[5] He calls it "the childish titillation of

We may regret that Dr. Campion, who composed in Latin verse, held his
English in little esteem, since he scattered them whenever he was called
on, and not always even printed them. The physician, for such was
Campion, held too cheap his honours as a poet and a musician; however,
he was known in his days as "SWEET MASTER CAMPION," and his title would
not be disputed in ours. In dismissing his critical "Observations," he
has prefixed a poem in what he calls "Licentiate Iambicks," which is our
blank verse; it is a humorous address of an author to his little book,
consisting only of nearly five leaves:--

                  Alas, poor book, I rue
  Thy rash selfe-love; go spread thy papery wings;
  Thy lightness cannot helpe, or hurt my fame.

The poet DANIEL replied by his "Defence of Rime," an elaborate and
elegant piece of criticism, to which no reply was sent forth by the

It has often been inquired how came the vernacular rhyme to be wholly
substituted for the classical metres, since the invaders of the Roman
empire everywhere adopted the language of Rome with their own, for in
the progress of their dominion everywhere they found that cultivated
language established. The victors submitted to the vanquished when the
contest solely turned on their genius.

A natural circumstance will explain the occasion of this general
rejection of the ancient metres. These artificial structures were
operations too refined for the barbarian ear. Their bards, who probably
could not read, had neither ability nor inclination to be initiated into
an intricate system of metre, foreign to their ear, their tastes, and
their habits, already in possession of supremacy in their own poetic
art. Their modulation gave rhythm to their recitative, and their musical
consonance in their terminable sounds aided their memory; these were all
the arts they wanted; and for the rest they trusted to their own
spontaneous emotions.

Rhyme then triumphed, and the degenerate Latinists themselves, to court
the new masters of the world, polluted their Latin metres with the
rhymes too long erroneously degraded as mere "Gothic barbarisms." Had
the practice of the classical writers become a custom, we should now be
"committing long and short," and we should have missed the discovery of
the new world of poetic melody, of which the Grecians and the Latins
could never have imagined the existence.


  [1] For a remarkable effusion of this ancient idolatry and classical
    superstition, see _Quarterly Review_, August, 1834.

    The ancient poetry of the Greeks was composed for recitation. The
    people never read, for they had no books; they listened to their
    rhapsodists; and their practised ear could decide on the artificial
    construction of verses regulated by _quantity_, and not by the latent
    delicacy and numerosity of which modern versification is susceptible.

  [2] Quadrio, "Storia e raggione d'ogni Poesia," i. 606.

  [3] Pasquier, "Les Recherches de la France," p. 624, fo. 1533.

  [4] "A Discourse of English Poetrie; together with the Author's
    Judgment touching the Reformation of our English Verse," by WILLIAM
    WEBBE, graduate, 1586, 4to.

  [5] "Observations on the Art of English Poesie, by THOMAS CAMPION,
    wherein is demonstratively proved, and by example confirmed, that the
    English tongue will receive eight several kinds of numbers proper to
    itself, which are all in this Book set forth, and were never before
    this time by any man attempted," 1602.


Contending theories long divided the learned world. One party asserted
that the use of Rhyme was introduced by the Saracenic conquerors of
Spain and of Sicily, for they had ascertained that the Arabian poets
rhymed; the other, who had traced Rhyme to a northern source among the
Scandinavian bards, insisted that Rhyme had a Gothic origin; and as
Rhyme was generally used among the monks in the eighth century, they
imagined that in the decline of ancient literature the dexterous monks
had borrowed the jingle for their church hymns, to win the ear of their
Gothic lords; both parties alike concurred in condemning Rhyme as a
puerile invention and a barbarous ornament, and of a comparatively
modern invention.

The opinions of the learned are transmitted, till by length of time they
are accepted as facts; and in this state was Rhyme considered till our
own days. Warton, in the course of his researches in the history of our
poetry, was struck at the inaccuracy of one of these statements; for he
had found that rhymed verse, both Latin and vernacular, had been
practised much earlier than the period usually assigned. But Warton,
though he thus far corrected the misstatements of his predecessors,
advanced no further. No one, indeed, as yet had pursued this intricate
subject on the most direct principle of investigation; conjecture had
freely supplied what prevalent opinion had already sanctioned; and we
were long familiarised to the opprobrious epithet of "Monkish Rhymes."
The subject was not only obscure, but apparently trivial; for Warton
dismisses an incidental allusion to the origin of Rhyme by an apology
for touching on it. "Enough," he exclaims, in his impatience, "has been
said on a subject of so little importance;"[1] and it is curious to
observe, that the same vexatious exclamation occurred to a French
literary antiquary. "We must not believe," said Lenglet du Fresnoy,
"that we began to rhyme in France about 1250, as Petrarch pretends. The
romance of Alexander existed before, and it is not probable that the
first essay of our versification was a great poem. Abelard composed
love-songs in the preceding century. I believe Rhyme was still more
ancient; and it is useless to torment ourselves to discover from whom we
learned to rhyme. As we always had poets in our nation, so we have also
had Rhyme."[2] Thus two great poetical antiquaries in England and France
had been baffled in their researches, and came to the same mortifying
conclusion. They were little aware how an inquiry after the origin of
Rhyme could not be decided by chronology.

The origin of Rhyme was an inquiry which, however unimportant Warton in
his despair might consider it, had, though inconclusively treated, often
engaged the earnest inquiries of the learned in Italy and in Spain, in
Germany and in France. It is remarkable that all the parties were
equally perplexed in their researches, and baffled in their conclusions.
Each inquirer seemed to trace the use of Rhyme by his own people to a
foreign source, for with no one it appeared of native growth. The
Spaniard Juan de la Enzina, one of the fathers of the Spanish drama, and
who composed an "Art of Poetry," (_Arte de Trovar_, as they expressively
term the art of invention,) fancied that Rhyme had passed over into
Spain from Italy, though in the land of Redondillas the guitar seemed
attuned to the chant of their Moorish masters; but in Italy Petrarch, at
the opening of his epistles, declares that they had drawn their use of
Rhyme from Sicily; and the Sicilians had settled that they had received
it from the Provençals; while those roving children of fancy were
confident that they had been taught their artless chimes by their former
masters, the Arabians! Among the Germans it was strenuously maintained
that this modern adjunct to poetry derived its origin and use from the
Northern Scalds. Fauchet, the old Gaulish antiquary, was startled to
find that Rhyme had been practised by the primitive Hebrews!

Fauchet, struck by discovering the use of Rhyme among this ancient
people, and finding it practised by the monks in their masses in the
eighth century, suggested for its modern prevalence two very dissimilar
causes. With an equal devotional respect for "the people of God," and
for the monks, whom he considered as sacred, he concluded that "possibly
some pious Christian by the use of Rhyme designed to imitate the holy
people;" but at the same time holding, with the learned, Rhyme to be a
degenerate deviation from the classical metres of antiquity, he
insinuates, "or perchance some vile poetaster, to eke out his deficient
genius, amused the ear by terminating his lines with these ending
unisons." He had further discovered that the Greek critics had, among
the figures of their rhetoric, mentioned the _homoioteleuton_, or
consonance. The abundance of his knowledge contradicted every system
which the perplexed literary antiquary could propose; and impatiently he
concludes,--"Rhyme has come to us from some part of the world, or
nation, whoever it may be; for I confess I know not where to seek, nor
what to conclude. It was current among the people and the languages
which have arisen since the ruin of the Roman empire."[3]

Since the days of ancient Fauchet, no subsequent investigators, even
such great recent literary historians as Warton, Quadrio, Crescembini
and Gray, Tiraboschi, Sismondi and Ginguené, have extricated us by their
opposite theories from these uncertain opinions. It was reserved for the
happy diligence of the learned Sharon Turner to explore into this abyss
of darkness.[4] To defend the antiquity of the Rhyming Welsh bards, he
pursued his researches through all languages, and demonstrated its early
existence in all. His researches enable us to advance one more step, and
to effect an important result, which has always baffled the
investigators of these curious topics.

Rhyming poems are found not only in the Hebrew but in the Sanscrit, in
the Bedas, and in the Chinese poetry,[5] as among the nations of Europe.
It was not unknown to the Greeks, since they have named it as a
rhetorical ornament; and it appears to have been practised by the
Romans, not always from an accidental occurrence, but of deliberate

To deduce the origin of rhyme from any particular people, or to fix it
at any stated period, is a theory no longer tenable. The custom of
rhyming has predominated in China, in Hindustan, in Ethiopia; it chimes
in the Malay and Javanese poetry, as it did in ancient Judea: this
consonance trills in the simple carol of the African women; its echoes
resounded in the halls of the frozen North, in the kiosque of the
Persian, and in the tent of the Arab, from time immemorial. RHYME must
therefore be considered _as universal as poetry itself_.

Yet rhyme has been contemned as a "monkish jingle," or a "Gothic
barbarism;" but we see it was not peculiar to the monks nor the Goths,
since it was prevalent in the vernacular poetry of all other nations
save the two ancient ones of Greece and Rome. Delighting the ear of the
man as it did that of the child, and equally attractive in the most
polished as in the rudest state of society, rhyme could not have
obtained this universality had not this concord of returning sounds a
foundation in the human organization influencing the mind. We might as
well inquire the origin of dancing as that of rhyming; the rudest
society as well as the most polished practised these arts at every era.
And thus it has happened, as we have seen, that the origin of rhyme was
everywhere sought for and everywhere found.


  [1] Warton's "Second Dissertation on the Introduction of Learning
    into England."

  [2] Lenglet du Fresnoy--Preface to his edition of the "Roman de la

  [3] Much curious matter will be found in the rare volume of Fauchet
    "Recueil de l'Origine de la Langue et Poesie Françoise Ryme et Romans
    plus les Noms et Summaire des Oeuvres, de cxxvii. Poètes François,
    vivant avant l'an MCCC.;" liv. i. ch. vii., 1610, 4to.

  [4] See "Two Inquiries respecting the Early Use of Rhyme," by Sharon
    Turner, Esq.--_Archæologia,_ vol. xiv. The subject further enlarged,
    "On the Origin and Progress of Rhyme in the Middle Ages."--_Hist. of
    England_, iv. 386.

  [5] The second book the Chinese children read is a collection
    conveyed in _rhyming lines_.--_Davis on the Chinese._


If our poets in rhyme dared to disclose one of the grand mysteries of
their art, they would confess that, to find rhymes for their lines is a
difficulty which, however overcome, after all has botched many a fine
verse; the second line has often altered the original conception of the
preceding one. The finest poems in the language, if critically examined,
would show abundant evidence of this difficulty _not overcome_. This
difficulty seems to have occurred to our earliest critics, for
GASCOIGNE, in his "Certain Notes of Instruction concerning the making
Verse or Rhyme in English"--and WEBBE, in his "Discourse," repeats the
precept--would initiate the young poet in the art of rhyme-finding: the
simplicity of the critic equals the depth of his artifice.

"When you have one verse _well settled_ and _decently ordered_, which
you may dispose at your pleasure to end it with _what word you will_;
then whatsoever the word is, you may speedily run over the other words
which are answerable thereunto (for more readiness through all the
letters alphabetically),[1] whereof you may choose that which will _best
fit the sense_ of your matter in that place; as, for example, if your
last word end in book, you may straightway in your mind run them over
thus--book, cook, crook, hook, look, nook, pook, &c. &c. Now it is
_twenty to one but always one of these shall jump with your former word
and matter in good sense_."

The poet in _rhyme_ has therefore in his favour "twenty to one" of a
chance that his second line may "jump" with his former one. We were not
aware that the odds were so favourable, even when we look over the
finished poetry of Pope, who has written so much, or of Gray, who has
written so little. Boileau tells us he always chose a rhyme for his
second line before he wrote out his first, that by this means he might
secure the integrity of the sense; and this he called "the difficult
art of rhyming." These are mysteries which only confirm the hazard which
rhymers incur; and, on the whole, though we do marvellously escape, the
poet at every rhyming line still stands in peril.

This torture of rhyme-finding seems to have occasioned a general
affliction among modern poets; and an unhappy substitute was early found
in arranging collections of rhymes, and which subsequently led to a
monstrous device. In Goujet's "Bibliothèque Française," vol. iii., will
be found a catalogue of these rhyming dictionaries: the earliest of the
French was published in 1572. Indeed, some of these French critics
looked upon these rhyming dictionaries as part of the art of poetry,
recommending pocket editions for those who in their walks were apt to
poetise, as if finding a rhyme would prompt a thought.

Among these early attempts is an extravagant one by Paul Boyer. It is a
kind of encyclopædia, in which all the names are arranged by their
terminations, so that it furnishes a dictionary of rhymes.

The demand for rhymes seems to have continued; for in 1660, D'Ablancourt
Fremont published a _Dictionnaire_, which was enlarged by Richelet in
1667. It seems we were not idle in threading rhymes in our own country,
for Poole, in 1657, in his "Parnassus," furnishes a collection of
rhymes; and he has had his followers. But the perfect absurdity or
curiosity of a rhyming lexicographer appears in one of Walker's
Dictionaries of the English Language. As he was a skilful philologist,
he has contrived to make it useful for orthography and pronunciation. He
advances it as on a plan "not hitherto attempted;" and his volume on the
whole, as Moreri observes of Boyer's, is a thing "_plaisant à

A dictionary of rhymes is as miserable a contrivance to assist a verse
as counting the syllables by the finger is to regulate the measure; in
the case of rhyme it is sense which should regulate the verse, and in
that of metre it is the ear alone which can give it melody.


  [1] Here is the first idea of "A Dictionary of Rhymes," which has
    inspired so many unhappy bards.


Among the arts of English poesie, the most ample and most curious is an
anonymous work.[1] The history of an anonymous book is sometimes liable
to the most contradictory evidence. The present, first printed in 1589,
we learn from the work itself, was in hand as early as in 1553. The
author inscribed the volume to Queen Elizabeth, and the courtly critic
has often adroitly addressed "the most beautiful, or rather the beauty,
of queens;" and to illustrate that figure which he terms "the gorgeous,"
has preserved for us some of her regal verses.

Yet notwithstanding this votive gift to royalty, the printer has
formally dedicated the volume to Lord Burleigh, acknowledging that "this
book came into my hands with _its bare title without any author's
name_." The author himself could not have been at all concerned in
delivering this work to the press, for having addressed the volume to
the queen, he would never have sought for a patron in the minister.

This ambiguous author remained unknown after the publication, for Sir
John Harrington, who lived in the circle of the court, designates him as
"the unknown _Godfather_, that, this last year save one (1589), set
forth a book called 'The Arte of English Poesie.'" About twelve years
afterwards, Carew, in his "Survey of Cornwall," appears to have been the
first who disclosed the writer's name as "Master Puttenham;" but this
was so little known among literary men, that three years later, in 1605,
Camden only alludes to the writer as "the _gentleman_ who proves that
poets are the first politicians, the first philosophers, and the first
historiographers." Eleven years after, Edmund Bolton, in his
"Hypercritica," notices "this work (_as the fame is_) of one of Queen
Elizabeth's pensioners, Puttenham." The qualifying parenthesis "as the
fame is," leaves the whole evidence in a very ticklish condition.

Who was Puttenham? A name unknown, and whose writings are unnoticed by
any contemporary. Even the baptismal name of this writer has been
subject to contradiction.[2]

In the work itself the writer has interspersed many allusions to
himself, from his nursery to his court-days. His nurse, a right-lined
ancestor of the garrulous nurse of the Capulets, had exercised his
prurient faculties in expounding an indecent riddle,[3] which our mature
critic still deemed "pretty;" but, according to one of his rhetorical
technical terms, "it holds too much of the _cachemphaton_ or _foule
speech_, and may be drawn unto a reprobate sense." Our author was a
travelled gentleman, and by his residence at various courts, seems to
have been connected with the _corps diplomatique_, for he had been
present on some remarkable occasions at foreign courts, which we
discover by coeval anecdotes of persons and places. One passage
relating to himself requires attention. Alluding to the polished
hypocrisy practised in courts, he observes:--"These and many such like
disgustings we find in men's behaviour, and specially in the courtiers
of foreign countries, _where in my youth I was brought up_, and very
well observed their manner of life and conversation; for of _mine own
country I have not made so great experience_."

This seems as ambiguous as any part of our author's history, for at
eighteen years of age he had addressed Edward the Sixth by "Our Eclogue
of Elpine." When he tells us that "he had not had so great experience of
his own country as of others," we may be surprised, for no contemporary
writer has displayed such intimacy with the court anecdotes of England,
which have studded many of his pages. Neither does the style, which
bears no mark of foreign idiom, nor the collected matter of his art of
poetry, which discovers a minute acquaintance with every species of
English composition, preserving for us much fragmentary poetry, at all
betray a stranger's absence from home. But, what seems more
extraordinary, the writer frequently alludes to learned disquisitions,
critical treatises, and to dramatic compositions of his own--to "our
comedy" and to "our enterlude," and has frequent illustrations drawn
from poems of all sorts and measures of his own growth. It is one of the
singularities of this unknown person that his writings were numerous,
and that no contemporary has ever mentioned the name of Puttenham. How
are we to reconcile these discrepancies, and how account for these
numberless vernacular compositions, with the condition of one who was
"brought up abroad," and who had such "little experience of his own
country?" We appear to read a work composed by different persons.

The same anomalous character is attached to the work as we have
discovered concerning the writer.

This "Arte of English Poesie," which Warton observes "remained long as a
rule of criticism," and still may be consulted for its comprehensive
system, its variety of poetic topics, and its contemporary historical
anecdotes, is the work of a scholar, and evidently of a courtier. His
scholastic learning furnished the terms of his numerous figures of
rhetoric, each of which is illustrated by examples drawn from English
literature; but aware that this uncouth nomenclature might deter, as he
says, "the sort of readers to whom I write, too scholastical for our
MAKERS," as he classically calls our poets, "and more fit for clerks
than for courtiers, for whose instruction this travail is taken," our
logician was cast into the dilemma of inventing English descriptions for
these Greek rhetorical figures. We had no English name--"the rule might
be set down, but there was no convenient name to hold it in memory."

To familiarise the technical terms of rhetoric by substituting English
descriptive ones, led to a ludicrous result. The Greek term of _histeron
proteron_ was baptised the _preposterous_; these are words misplaced,
or, as our writer calls it, "in English proverb, the cart before the
horse," as one describing his landing on a strange coast said thus
_preposterously_, that is, placing before what should follow--

  When we had climb'd the cliff, and were ashore.

instead of

  When we had come ashore, and climb'd the cliff.

The _hipallage_ he calls _the changeling_, when changing the place of
words changes the sense; as in the phrase "come dine with me, and stay
not," turned into "come stay with me, and dine not." This change of
sense into nonsense he called "the changeling," in allusion to the
nursery legend when fairies steal the fairest child, and substitute an
ill-favoured one. This at least is a most fanciful account of nonsense!
I will give the technical terms of satire; they display a refinement of
conception which we hardly expected from the native effusions of the
wits of that day. _Ironia_, he calls the _dry-mock_; _sarcasmus_, the
_bitter taunt_; the Greek term _asteismus_ he calls _the merry
scoff_--it is the jest which offends not the hearer. When we mock
scornfully comes the _micterismus_, the _fleering frumpe_, as he who
said to one to whom he gave no credit, "_No doubt, sir, of that!_" The
_antiphrasis_, or the _broad flout_, when we deride by flat
contradiction, antithetically calling a dwarf a giant; or addressing a
black woman, "In sooth ye are a fair one!" The _charientismus_ is _the
privy nippe_, when you mock a man in a _sotto voce_; and the
_hyperbole_, as the Greeks term the figure, and the Latins _dementiens_,
our vernacular critic, for its immoderate excess, describes as "the
over-reacher, or the loud liar." The rhetorical figures of our critic
exceed a hundred in number, if Octavius Gilchrist has counted rightly,
all which are ingeniously illustrated by fragments of our own
literature, and often by poetical and historical anecdotes by no means
common and stale. We must appreciate this treasure of our own antiquity,
though we may smile when we learn that while we speak or write, however
naturally, we are in fact violating, or illustrating, this heap of
rhetorical figures, without whose aid unconsciously our _fleering
frumpes_, our _merry scoffs_, and our _privy nippes_, have been
intelligible all our days.

In the more elevated spirit of this work, the writer opens by defining
the poet, after the Greek, to be "a maker" or creator, drawing the verse
and the matter from his native invention,--unlike the _translator_, who
therefore may be said to be a versifier, and not a poet. This canon of
criticism might have been secure from the malignity of hypercriticism.
It happened, however, that in the year following that in which "The Art
of Poetry" was published, Sir John Harrington put forth his translation
of Ariosto, and, presuming that none but a poet could translate a poet,
he caught fire at the solemn exclusion. The vindictive "versifier"
invented a merciless annihilation both of the critic and his "Art," by
very unfair means; for he proved that the critic himself was a most
detestable poet, and consequently the very existence of "The Art" itself
was a nullity! "All the receipts of poetry prescribed," proceeds the
enraged translator of Ariosto, "I learn out of this very book, never
breed excellent poets. For though the poor gentleman laboureth to make
poetry an art, he proveth nothing more plainly than that it is a _gift_
and not an _art_, because making himself and many others so cunning in
the art, yet he sheweth himself so slender a gift in it."

Was this critic qualified by nature and art to arbitrate on the
destinies of the Muses? Were his taste and sensibility commensurate with
that learning which dictated with authority, and that ingenuity which
reared into a system the diversified materials of his critical fabric?
We hesitate to allow the claims of a critic whose trivial taste values
"the courtly trifles," which he calls "pretty devices," among the
inventions of poesy; we are startled by his elaborate exhibition of
"geometrical figures in verse," his delight in egg or oval poems,
tapering at the ends and round in the middle, and his columnar verse,
whose pillars, shaft, and capital, can be equally read upwards and
downwards. This critic, too, has betrayed his utter penury of invention
in "parcels of his own poetry," obscure conceits in barbarous rhymes; by
his intolerable "triumphals," poetical speeches for recitation; and a
series of what he calls "partheniades, or new year's gifts,"--bloated
eruptions of those hyperbolical adulations which the maiden queen could
endure, but which bear the traces of the poetaster holding some
appointment at court.

When the verse flowed beyond the mechanism of his rule of scanning, and
the true touch of nature beyond the sympathy of his own emotions, the
rhetorician showed the ear of Midas. He condemns the following lines as
"going like a minstrel's music in a metre of eleven, very harshly in my
ear, whether it be for lack of good rime or of good reason, or of both,
I wot not." And he exemplifies this lack of "good rime and good reason,
or both," by this exquisitely tender apostrophe of a mother to her

  Now suck, child, and sleep, child, thy mother's own joy,
  Her only sweet comfort to drown all annoy;
  For beauty, surpassing the azured sky,
  I love thee, my darling, as ball of mine eye.

Such a stanza indeed may disappoint the reader when he finds that we are
left without any more.

In the history of this ambiguous book, and its anonymous author, I
discover so many discrepancies and singularities, such elaborate
poetical erudition, combined with such ineptitude of poetic taste, that
I am inclined to think that the more excellent parts could never have
been composed by the courtly trifler. It is remarkable that this curious
Art of English Poetry was ascribed to SIDNEY; and Wanley, in his
catalogue of the Harley Library, assigns this volume to Spenser.[4] I
lay no stress on the singular expression of Sir John Harrington,
applied to the present writer, as "the unknown _godfather_," which seems
to indicate that the presumed writer had named an offspring without
being the parent. Nor will I venture to suggest that this work may at
all have been connected with that treatise of "the English poets," which
Spenser, we know, had lost and never recovered. The poet lived ten years
after the present publication, and it does not appear that he ever
claimed this work. Manuscripts, however, we may observe, strangely
wandered about the world in that day, and such literary foundlings often
fell into the hands of the charitable. In that day of modest
publication, some were not always solicitous to claim their own; and
there are even instances of the original author, residing at a distance
from the metropolis, who did not always discover that his own work had
long passed through the press; so narrow then was the sphere of
publication, and so partial was all literary communication.

One more mystery is involved in the authorship of this remarkable work:
first printed in 1589, we gather from the book itself that it was in
hand at least as early as in 1553. This glorious retention of a work
during nearly forty years, would be a literary virtue with which we
cannot honour the trifler who complacently alludes to so many of his own
writings which no one else has noticed, and unluckily for himself has
furnished for us so many "parcels of his poetry," to exemplify "the

If we resolve the enigma, by acknowledging that this learned and curious
writer has not been the only critic who has proved himself to be the
most woful of poetasters, this decision will not account for the
mysterious silence of the writer in allowing an elaborate volume, the
work of a great portion of a life, to be cast out into the world unnamed
and unowned.

I find it less difficult to imagine that some stray manuscript,
possibly from the relics of SIDNEY, or perhaps the lost one of SPENSER,
might have fallen into the hands of some courtly critic, or "the
Gentleman Pensioner," who inlaid it with many of his own trivialities:
the discrepancy in the ingenuity of the writing with the genius of the
writer in this combination of learning and ineptitude would thus be
accounted for; at present it may well provoke our scepticism.


  [1] "The Arte of English Poesie, contrived in three bookes--the first
    of Poets and Poesie, the second of Proportion, the third of
    Ornament," 1589, 4to.

  [2] Ames appears first to have called him _Webster_ Puttenham.
    Possibly Ames might have noted down the name from Carew, as Master
    Puttenham, which by an error of the pen, or the printer, was
    transformed into the remarkable Christian name of _Webster_. I cannot
    otherwise account for this misnomer. Steevens, in an indistinct
    reference to a manuscript, revealed it to be _George_; and probably
    was led to that opinion by the knowledge of a manuscript work in the
    Harleian Collection by a George Puttenham. It is a defence of
    Elizabeth in the matter of the Scottish Queen. Ellis, our poetic
    antiquary, has distinguished our author as "Webster, _alias_ George."
    All this taken for granted, the last editor, probably in the course
    of his professional pursuits, falls on a nuncupative will, dated
    1590, of a _George_ Puttenham; already persuaded that such a name
    appertained to the author of the "Art of English Poetry," he ventured
    to corroborate what yet remained to be ascertained. All that he could
    draw from the nuncupative will of this _George_ Puttenham is, that he
    "left all his goods, movable and immovable, moneys, and bonds," to
    Mary Symes, a favourite female servant; but he infers that "he
    probably was our author." Yet, at the same time, there turned up
    another will of one _Richard_ Puttenham, "a prisoner in her Majesty's
    Bench." _Richard_, therefore, may have as valid pretensions to "The
    Arte of English Poesie," as _George_, and neither may be the author.
    This matter is trivial, and hardly worth an inquiry.

    Haslewood, laborious but unfortunately uneducated, is the editor of
    an elegant reprint of this "Arte of English Poesie." A modern reader
    may therefore find an easy access to a valuable volume which had been
    long locked up in the antiquary's closet.

  [3] See page 157 of "The Arte of English Poesie."

  [4] The following letter is an evidence of the uncertain accounts
    respecting this author among the most knowing literary historians.
    Here, too, we find that Webster, or George, or Richard, is changed
    into Jo!--

    "What authority Mr. Wood has for Jo. Puttenham's being the author of
    the 'Art of English Poetry' I do not know. Mr. Wanley, in his
    'Catalogue of the Harley Library,' says that _he had been told that
    Edmund Spenser was the author of that book, which came out
    anonymous_. But Sir John Harrington, in his preface to 'Orlando
    Furioso,' gives so hard a censure of that book, that Spenser could
    not possibly be the author."--"Letter from THOMAS BAKER to the Hon.
    James West," printed in the "European Magazine," April, 1788.


A single volume sent forth from the privacy of a retired student, by its
silent influence may mark an epoch in the history of the human mind
among a people.

Such a volume was "The Discoverie of Witchcraft, by Reginald Scot," a
singular work which may justly claim the honour in this country of
opening that glorious career which is dear to humanity and fatal to

Witchcraft and magic, and some similar subjects, through a countless
succession of ages, consigned the human intellect to darkness and to
chains. In this country these conspiracies against mankind were made
venerable by our laws and consecrated by erring piety. They were long
the artifices of malignant factions, who found it mutually convenient to
destroy each other by the condemnation of crimes which could never be
either proved or disproved. The sorcerers and witches under the Church
of Rome were usually the heretics; and our Henry the Eighth, who was a
Protestant pope, transferred the grasp of power to the civil law, and an
Act of Parliament of the Reformation made witchcraft felony. Dr.
Bulleyn, a celebrated physician and a reformer, who lived through the
gloomy reign of Philip and Mary, bitterly laments "that while so many
blessed men are burned, witches should walk at large." When the Act fell
into disuse, Elizabeth was reminded, by petitions from the laity and by
preaching from the clergy, that "witches and sorcerers were wonderfully
increasing, and that her Majesty's subjects pined away until death."
Witchcraft was again confirmed to be felony.

The learned and others were fostering the traditions of the people about
spirits, the incubus, and the succubus, the assemblies of witches, and
the sabbaths of Satan. Some constructed their theories to explain the
inexplicable; and too many, by torture, extorted their presumed facts
and delusive confessions. The sage doated--the legal functionaries were
only sanguinary executioners; and the merciful, with the kindest
intentions, were practising every sort of cruelty, by what was termed
trials to save the accused. The history of these dismal follies belongs
even to a late period of the civilization of Christian Europe! An
enlightened physician of Germany had raised his voice in defence of the
victims who were suffering under the imputation of Sorcery;[1] not
denying the Satanic potency, he maintained that the devil was very well
able to execute his own malignant purposes without the aid of such
miserable agents. It required a protracted century ere Balthaser
Bekker's "World Bewitched" could deprive Satan himself of his
personality, indeed of his very existence. But it was a subject to be
tenderly touched; superstition was a sacred thing, and too often riveted
with theology; and though the learned Wierus had thus guarded his
system, to a distant day he encountered the polemical divines. One of
his fiercest assailants was a layman, the learned Bodin, he who has
composed so admirable a treatise on Government, now deeply plunged into
the "Demonomanie des Sorciers." The volume of Wierus, he tells us, "made
his hair stand on end." "Shall we," he cries, "credit a little
physician" before all the philosophers of the world, and the laws of God
which condemn sorcerers?

While Wierus and Bodin had been thus employed, an Englishman, Reginald
Scot, in the serene retreat of a studious life, was silently labouring
on the development of this great moral conquest over the prejudices of
Europe. Reginald Scot, who passed his life in the occupation of his
studies, seems to have concentrated them on this great subject, for he
has left no other work, except an esteemed tract on the cultivation of
the hop--the vine of his Kentish county. Although he took no degree at
college, his erudition was not the less extensive, as appears by his
critical knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek. But it was chiefly by his
miscellaneous reading, where nothing seems to have escaped his
insatiable curiosity on the extraordinary subjects which he ventured to
scrutinise with such minute attention, that he was enabled to complete
one of the most curious investigations of the age. Anthony Wood, in his
peculiar style, tells us that "Scot gave himself up solely to _solid
reading_, and to the perusal of _obscure authors_ that had by the
generality of the learned been neglected." This is a curious description
of the early state of our vernacular literature, and of those students
who, watchful over the spirit of the times, sought a familiar
acquaintance with the opinions of their contemporaries. All writers were
condemned as "obscure" who stood out of the pale of classical antiquity;
and plain Anthony, who rarely dipped into the writings of Greece and
Rome, but was an incessant lover of the miscellaneous writers of modern
date, distinguishes his favourites as "solid reading." In the days of
Reginald Scot our scholars never ventured to quote other authority than
some ancient; but the poets from Homer to Ovid, the historians from
Tacitus to Valerius Maximus, and the essayists from Plutarch to Aulus
Gellius, could not always supply arguments and knowledge for an age and
on topics which had nothing in common with their own.

With more elevated views than Wierus, Scot denied the power of
sorcerers, because it attributed to them an omnipotence which can only
be the attribute of divine power. Our philosopher could publish only
half the truth. "My question is not, as many fondly suppose, whether
there be witches or not, but whether they can do such miraculous works
as are imputed unto them." He thus adroitly eludes an argument which the
public mind was not yet capable of comprehending. The "Discoverer" had
to encounter a fierce host in shaking the predominant creed. The
passions of mankind were enlisted against the zealous antagonist of an
ancient European prejudice; the vital interests of priestly exorcists
were at stake. To doubt of a supernatural agency seemed to some to be
casting a suspicion over miracles and mysteries. The most ticklish point
was the difficulty of explaining Scriptural phrases, which Reginald Scot
denied related to witches, in the ordinary sense attached to these
miserable women; the Hebrew term merely designating a female who
practised the arts of "a poisoner," or "a cozener or cheat." The whole
scene of the witch of Endor seems to have racked the "Discoverer's"
invention through several chapters, to unveil the preparatory management
of such incantations, by the ventriloquising Pythonissa, and her
confederate, some lusty priest. All these Scot presumes to trace in the
obscure and interrupted narrative of the Israelitish Macbeth, who, in
his despair, hastened by night to listen to his approaching fate, which
hardly required the gift of prophecy to predict.

Our "Discoverer" prepared his readers for a revolution in their
opinions. It appears that in his day, notwithstanding some fairies still
lurking in the bye-corners of our poets, the whole fairy creed had in
fact passed away. He appeals to this native mythology, now utterly
exploded, as an evidence of popular infatuation; and our philosopher
observes that he cannot hope that the partial reader should look with
impartial eyes on this book; it were labour lost to ask for this, for,
he adds, "I should no more prevail therein than if _a hundred years
since I should have entreated your predecessors_ to believe that Robin
Goodfellow, that great but antient bull-beggar, had been but a cousening
merchant, and no devil indeed." This was a philosophical parallelism;
and the corollary pinched the present generation concerning their
witches, they who were now holding their fathers dotards for their
belief in fairies.

The volume abounds with many strange incidents, which its singular
subject involved. The solitary witch of the homestead was not the poetic
witch uttering her incantations at her mystic cauldron. Her homely feats
are familiar, but the revelations of the impostures are not. "The devils
and spirits," the powers of the kingdom of darkness, are more fantastic.
These raw materials have been woven in the rich looms of Shakspeare and
Goethe. Our author included in his volume a complete treatise of
legerdemain, or the conjuring art. To convince the people that many acts
may appear miraculous without the intervention of a miracle, he
ingeniously initiated himself into the deceptious practices of the
juggler; but he dreaded lest the spectators of his dexterity should
depose against his own witchcraft, and "the Familiar," his confederate.
Our seer, to save himself from fire or water, has not only minutely
explained these "deceitful arts," but cautiously accompanied them by
woodcuts of the magical instruments used on these occasions. At the
time, these were surprising revelations. The sagacity of our author
anticipated the fate of his work. It appears to have shaken the
credulity of a very few reflecting magistrates; yet such scholars as Sir
Thomas Smith, the great political writer, when he retired from public
life, as a justice of peace, was active in punishing witches. But the
book was denounced by the divines.

When Reginald Scot's work was translated into Dutch, we learn from an
arch-enemy of philosophy, the intolerant Calvinistical polemic, Voetius,
that "this book was an inexhaustible source, whence not a few learned
and unlearned persons in the Netherlands have begun to doubt, and grow
sceptics and libertines with regard to witchcraft. Our country is
infected with libertines and half libertines, and they have proceeded to
such a pitch of ignorance, that this set of new Sadducees laugh at all
the operations and apparitions of the devils as phantoms and fables of
old women, and timorous superstition." The work was more successful
abroad than at home; and, indeed, how often have the benefactors of
mankind experienced that the voice of foreigners is the voice of
posterity! They decide without prepossessions.

The FIRST edition of the "Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584, is of extreme
rarity, the copies having been burned by the order of James, on his
accession to the English throne, in compliance with the act of
parliament of 1603, which ratified a belief in witchcraft throughout the
three kingdoms; but the author had not survived to see that day. This
awful prejudice broke out afresh under the fanatical government, and
gave rise to an infamous class of men who were called "witch-finders."
When a reward was publicly offered, there seemed to be no end in finding
witches. It was probably this great evil which reminded the people of
Scot, whose work was reprinted in 1651, but the public so eagerly
required another edition, that it was again republished in 1665. The
fact was, that justices, judges, and juries, had so little improved by
the _second_ edition, that many had kept with great care their
note-books of "Examinations of Witches," and were discovering "hellish
knots of them." It was only in the preceding year that Sir Matthew Hale
had left for execution two female victims, without even summing up the
evidence, solely resting on the fact that "there were witches," for
which assumption he appealed "to the Scriptures," and he added, to "the
wisdom of all nations!" What is not less remarkable in this trial, the
illustrious corrector of "vulgar errors," Sir Thomas Browne, in his
medical character examining the accused person, who was liable to
fainting fits, acknowledged that the fits were natural and common; but
the philosopher was so prepossessed that the woman was a witch, that he
pronounced against her, alleging this mystical explanation of "the
subtleties of the devil," who had taken this opportunity of her natural
fits to be "co-operating with her malice!" What a demonstration that
superstition holds its mastery even over the philosophic intellect!

The popular prejudice was confirmed by narratives of witchcraft, by
Joseph Glanvil, one of the early founders of the Royal Society; by the
visionary learning of the platonic Dr. More; and by the theological
dogmatism of Meric Casaubon. Dr. More was desirous that every parish
should keep a register of all authentic histories of apparitions and
witchcraft: and Glanvil was so staunch a believer, that he considered
that the strong unbelief in some persons was an evidence of what they
denied; for that so confident an opinion could not be held but by some
kind of witchcraft and fascination in the senses. All these, and such as
these, treat with extreme contempt and cover with obloquy "the Father of
the modern Witch-advocates," "the Gallant of the Old Hags!" This was our
Reginald Scot.

The most elaborate treatise on the subject was now sent forth by John
Webster; "The Displaying of Supposed Witchcraft," 1677, fo. He defends
Scot and Wierus against Glanvil and Casaubon. He was a clergyman, and
dares not agitate the question, _an sint_, whether there be witches or
not; but _quomodo sint_, in what manner they act, and what the things
are they do, or can perform. The state of the question is not simply the
being of witches, or _de existencia_, but only _de modo existendi_. The
dispute of their manner of existing necessarily supposes their
existence. He has, however, detected many singular impostures, and the
volume is full and curious.[2]

Glanvil and his "Sadducismus Triumphatus, or full evidence concerning
Witches," 1668, a book so popular that I have never met with a very fair
copy, introduced with plenary evidence a minute narrative of "the Demon
of Tedworth," whose invisible drum beat every night for above a year, in
the house of some reverend magistrate, who had evidently raised a spirit
which he could not lay, and whose Puck-like pranks wofully deranged the
whole unsuspicious family. This tale, confirmed by affidavits, but
shaken by demurrers, was long an article of faith, but finished by
furnishing the comedy of Addison's "Drummer." The controversy about
witches, including that of ghosts, which were equally the incessant but
volatile phantoms of their chase, now assumed a more serious aspect than
ever. The illustrious Boyle, who had observed the unguarded heat with
which it was pursued, vainly cautioned the parties, that even religion
might suffer by weak arguments drawn from uncertain statements. Boyle
had more reason to say this than one might suppose; for Dr. More, ever
too vehement and too fanciful, had exclaimed in his unhappy conviction,
"No bishop, no king! no spirit, no God!"[3]

Shadwell in his "Lancashire Witches," resolved to advance nothing
without authority, accompanies that comedy with ample notes, drawn from
the writings of witch-believers. His witches, therefore, are far beneath
those of Shakspeare, for they do nothing but what we are told witches
do; the whole system of witchery is here exhibited. In his remarkable
preface, Shadwell tells us, that if he had not represented them as
_real_ witches, "it would have been called atheistical by a prevailing

The belief in witchcraft was maintained chiefly by that fatal error
which had connected the rejection of any supernatural agency in old
women with religious scepticism; and it was fostered by the statutes,
which with the lawyer admitted of no doubt. "We cannot doubt of the
existence of witchcraft, seeing that our law ordains it to be punished
by death," was the argument of Sir George Mackenzie, the great Scottish
advocate; nor is it less sad to see such minds as that of the great Dr.
Clarke, celebrated for his logical demonstrations, thus reasoning on
witchcraft, astrology, and fortune-telling; "All things of this sort,
whenever they have any reality in them, are evidently diabolical; and
when they have no reality, they are cheats and lying impostures."[4] The
great demonstrator thus confesses "the reality" of these chimeras!
Another not less celebrated divine, Dr. Bentley, infers that "no English
priest need affirm the existence of sorcery or witchcraft, since they
now have a public law which they neither enacted nor procured, declaring
these practices to be felony!"[5] Did the doctor know that churchmen
have had no influence in creating that belief, or in enacting this

The gravity of Blackstone seems strangely disturbed when as a lawyer he
was compelled to acknowledge its existence. "It is a crime of which one
knows not well what account to give." The commentator on the laws of
England found no other resource than to turn to Addison, whose gentle
sagacity could only discover that "_in general_, there has been such a
thing as witchcraft, though one cannot give credit to any _particular_
modern instance of it." Not one of these writers had yet ventured to
detect the hallucinations of self-credulity in the victims, and the
crimes of remorseless men in their persecutors. The name and the volume
of their own countryman had never reached them, who two centuries before
had elucidated these chimeras.

After the statute against witchcraft had been repealed in England, we
must not forget that an act of the Assembly of the Calvinistic Church of
Scotland confesses "as a great national sin, the act of the British
Parliament abolishing the burning and hanging of witches."

The name of Reginald Scot does not appear in the "Biographia
Britannica;" and it was only from a short notice by Bayle, that Dr.
Birch, in his translation of the General Dictionary, was induced to draw
up a life of our earliest philosopher. Such was the fate of this
"English gentleman," as Bayle has described him; and the philosophical
reader, in what is now before him, may detect the shifting shades of
truth, till it settles in its real and enduring colour; the philosopher
had demonstrated a truth which it required a century and a half for the
world to comprehend.

That such courageous and generous tempers as that of REGINALD SCOT
should fail themselves of being the spectators of that noble revolution
in public opinion which was the ripening of their own solitary studies,
is the mortifying tale of the benefactors of mankind.


  [1] "De Prestigiis Demonum et Incantationibus ac Veneficiis," 1564.

  [2] Webster notices the popular delusions of the country people in
    the following passage, in which he is speaking of a sound judgment as
    necessary to a competent witness:--"They ought to be of a sound
    judgment, and not of a vitiated and distempered phantasie, nor of a
    melancholic constitution; for these will take a bush to be a bugbear,
    and a black sheep to be a demon; the noise of the wild swans, flying
    high in the night, to be spirits--or, as they call them here in the
    north, _Gabriel Ratchets_; the calling of a daker hen, in the meadow,
    to be the _whistlers_; the howling of the female fox in a gill or
    clough for the male, to be the cry of fairies." "The _Gabriel
    Ratchets_," in our author's time, seem to have been the same with the
    German _Rachtvogel_, or _Rachtraven_. The word and the superstition
    are well known in Lancashire, though in a sense somewhat different;
    for the _Gable-Rachets_ are supposed to be something like litters of
    puppies yelping (gabbling) in the air. _Ratch_ is certainly a dog in

    The _whistlers_ are the green or whistling plovers, which fly very
    high in the night uttering their characteristic note.--Whitaker's
    "History of Whalley."

  [3] In a correspondence I have read between Dr. More and one of his
    enthusiastic disciples, the Rev. Edmund Elys, the letters usually
    turn on the reality of apparitions and magical incantations; both
    these learned men were hunting about all their lifetimes to find a
    true ghost. Elys often breaks out in triumph that he has at length
    discovered an authentic ghost; in subsequent letters the evidence
    gradually diminishes, and finally the apparition and evidence vanish
    together. The following pious doubts, addressed to the philosophic
    More, may amuse the reader:--

      "Most honoured dear Sir,

    "I should be troublesome to you if I did not repress many strong
    inclinations to write to you, for I do not take greater comfort in
    anything than in the thoughts of _you_ and the _notions_ you have
    communicated to the world.

    "I now entreat you to tell me one of your arguments why this act is
    unlawfull, viz., to inquire by this black art (as I am sure it is,
    though I am told some preachers allow it), whether such or such a
    _suspected person_ has stolen a thing; viz., by putting a key into
    the midst of a Bible, and clasping or tying the Bible on it, and then
    hanging the key upon some man's finger put into the hollow of the
    handle; and then one of the company saying these words--Ps. 1. 19,
    20, 'When thou a thief dost see,' &c., to these words, 'To use that
    life most vile.' If the Bible turn upon the finger (holding it by the
    key) when such or such a person is named, then he is judged to be the
    thief. Some persons that dined at the same table with me had an
    humour to try this trick. I declared it was very _wicked_, &c., but,
    however, they would do it. And a gentleman of great acquaintance in
    the world said that a learned divine asserted it was no hurt, &c. I
    thought it might not be a sin for me to stay in the room, after I had
    made that profession of my dissent, &c. They tried what would be
    done; and, upon the naming of one or two, the key did not move, but
    on the naming of one (who afterwards was known to be an accomplice in
    the theft) the Bible turned on the finger very plainly in the sight
    of divers persons, myself being one. The gentleman that was most
    eager to have the _experiment_ holds that there never were any
    _apparitions_, &c. I told him that this was equivalent to _an
    apparition_; for here was an _ocular demonstration_ of the existence
    and operation of an intelligent invisible being, &c."

  [4] In his "Exposition of the Church Catechism."

  [5] Remarks upon a late "Discourse of Free-Thinking," 1743, p. 47.


The fate of the English Protestants, exiles under the Marian
administration, was, as the day arrived, to be the lot of the English
Papists under the government of Elizabeth. These opposing parties, when
cast into the same precise position, had only changed their place in it;
and in this revolution of England, in both cases alike, the expatriated
were to return, and those at home were to become the expatriated.

During the short reign of Edward, conformity was not pressed; and
notwithstanding two statutes, the one to maintain the queen's supremacy,
and the other strictly to enjoin the use of the Book of Common Prayer,
through the first ten or twelve years of Elizabeth Romanist and
Protestant entered into the same parish church. "The old Marian
priests," whom the rigid papists indeed afterwards scornfully decried,
were wont to inquire of any one, to use their own term, "whether they
were _settled_?" and were satisfied to lure from the seduction of a
protestant pulpit some lonely waverer, if by chance they found an easy
surrender. There were, indeed, many who would neither "settle" nor
"waver," and these were called "Occasionalists;" they insisted that
"Occasional conformity" had nothing _per se malum_--that human laws
might be complied with or neglected according to circumstances; so
learned doctors had opined! The old religion seemed melting into the
new, when the Romanists, of another temper than "the old Marian
priests," protested against this pacific toleration, and procured from
the fathers of the Council of Trent a declaration against schismatics
and heretics: this was but the prelude of what was to come from a final
authority; but this was sufficient to divide the Romanists of England,
and to alarm the Protestants, yet tender in their reformation.

The sterner Romanists gradually seceded from their preferments in the
church or their station in the universities, and at length forsook the
land. Two eminent persons effected a revolution among their
brother-exiles, of which our national history bears such memorable
traces. These extraordinary men were Dr. ALLEN, of Oriel College, a
canon in the cathedral of York, and who subsequently was invested with
the purple as the English cardinal, and ROBERT PARSONS, of Baliol,
afterwards the famous Jesuit. They left England at different periods,
but when they met abroad, their schemes were inseparable--and possibly
some of their writings; though it may be doubted whether the subtile and
daring genius of Parsons, which Cardinal Allen declared equalled the
greatest whom he had known, ever acted a secondary part.

Allen abandoned his country for ever in 1565. He soon projected the
gathering of his English brothers, scattered in foreign lands; he
conceived the formation for the fugitive Romanists of England of another
Oxford, ostensibly to furnish a succession of Romish priests to preserve
the ancient papistry of England, which was languishing under "the old
Marian priests." In 1568 an English college was formed at Douay; in
twenty years Allen witnessed his colleges rise at Rheims, at Rome,[1] at
Louvain and St. Omer, and at Valladolid, at Seville, and at Madrid. From
these cradles and nurseries of holiness to Rome, and of revolt to
England, issued those seminary priests whose political religionism
elevated them into martyrdom, and involved them in inextricable

In these labours Allen had, as early as 1575, associated himself with
Parsons, who in that year had entered into the order of the Jesuits.
Allen sought the vigorous aid of the "soldiery of Jesus," alleging "that
England was as glorious a field for the propagation of faith as the
Indies." From that time the more ambiguous policy and deeper views of
that celebrated Society gave a new character to the Romish missionaries
to England, and were the cause of all their calamities; a history
written in blood, at whose legal horrors our imagination recoils, and
our sympathy for the honourable and the hapless may still dim our eyes
with tears.

Parsons, pensioned by Spain and patronised by Rome--wide and deep in his
comprehensive plans--slow in deliberation, but decisive in execution--of
a cold and austere temper, yet flexible and fertile in intrigue--with
his working head and his ceaseless hand--once at least looked for
nothing less than the dominion of England, ambitious to restore to Papal
Rome a realm which had once been her fief. This daring Machiavelian
spirit had long been the subtle and insidious counsellor, conjointly
with Allen, of the cabinets of Madrid and of Rome. From Rome came the
denunciatory bull of 1569, renewed with an artful modification in 1580,
and again in 1588; and from Spain the Armada.

It has been ascertained by his own writings that the Jesuit Parsons, who
had obtained free access to the presence of the Spanish monarch, left
Madrid in 1585, about the time when the preparations for the Armada
began, and returned to Madrid in 1589, the year after its destruction;
so that the English Jesuit, whose sanguine views had aided the
inspiration, had also the fortitude to console and to assure the Spanish
monarch that "the punishment of England had only been deferred." Of this
secret intercourse with the Court of Madrid we have the express avowal
of the English Cardinal, Allen, in that infuriated "Admonition to the
Nobility and People of England," the precursor of the Armada; in which
this Italianated Englishman, contrary to those habits and that language
of amenity to which he had been accustomed, suddenly dropped the veil,
and, at the command of his sacerdotal suzerain, raged against Elizabeth
more furiously than had the Mar-prelate Knox.

In the year 1580 PARSONS and CAMPIAN came the first Jesuit missionaries
to their native soil. Camden was acquainted with both these personages
at college. The contrast of their personal dispositions might have
occasioned their selection; for the chiefs of this noted order not only
exercised a refined discernment in the psychology of their brothers and
agents, but always acted on an ambidextrous policy. Campian, with
amenity of manners and sweetness of elocution, with a taste imbued with
literature, was adapted to win the affections of those whom Parsons
sometimes terrified by his hardihood. They landed in England at
different ports; and, though at first separated, subsequently they
sometimes met. They travelled under a variety of disguises, sure of
concealment in the priests' secret chamber of many a mansion, or they
haunted unfrequented paths. A tradition in the Stonor family still
points at a tangled dell in the park where Campian wrote his "Decem
Rationes," and had his books and his food conveyed to him.

We have an interesting account of the perilous position which he
occupied; his devoted spirit, not to be subdued by despair, but tinged
with the softest melancholy, is disclosed in a letter to the general of
the order. He tells him that he is obliged to assume a most antick
dress, which he often changes as well as his name; but his studious
habits were not interrupted amid this scene of trouble; he says, "Every
day I ride about the country. Sitting on my horse, I meditate a short
sermon, which coming into the house I more perfectly polish. Afterwards,
if any come to me I discourse with them, to which they bring thirsty
ears." But notwithstanding that most threatening edicts were dispersed
against them, he says, that "by wariness and the prayers of good people,
we have in safety gone over a great part of the island. I see many
forgetting themselves to be careful for us." He concludes, "We cannot
long escape the hands of heretics, so many are the eyes, the tongues,
and treacheries of our enemies. Just now I read a letter where was
written, 'Campian is taken.' This old song now so rings in mine ears
wheresoever I come, that very fear hath driven all fear from me; my life
is always in my hand. Let them that shall be sent hither for our supply
bring this along with them, well thought on beforehand."

Our Jesuits in some respects betrayed themselves by their zeal in
addressing the nation through their own publications. Parsons, under the
lugubrious designation of John Howlet, that is, Owlet, sent forth his
"screechings;" and Campian, too confident of his irrefutable "Decem
Rationes," was so imprudent as to publish "A Challenge for a Public
Disputation" in the presence of the queen. The eye of Walsingham opened
on their suspected presence. A Roman Catholic servant unwittingly
betrayed Campian, who suffered as a state victim.[3] Parsons saw his own
doom approaching, and vanished! This able Jesuit was confident that the
great scheme was to be realised by means more effective than the
martyrdom of young priests. His awful pen was to change public opinion,
and nearly forty works attest his diligence, while he mused on other
resources than the pen to overturn the kingdom.

The history of the order records that, thirty years afterwards, Father
Parsons, lying on his death-bed, ordered to be brought to him the cords
which had served as the instruments of torture of his martyred friend,
and, having kissed them fervently, bound round his body these sad
memorials of the saintly Campian.[4]

Two of the numerous writings ascribed to Parsons, one before the Armada,
and the other subsequent to it, are remarkably connected with our
national history; the ability of the writer, and the boldness of the
topics, have at various periods influenced public opinion and national
events. The first "A Dialogue between a Scholar, a Gentleman, and a
Lawyer," was printed abroad in 1583 or 1584, and soon found a conveyance
into England. The first edition was distinguished as "Father Parsons'
Green Coat," from its green cover. It is now better known as
"Leicester's Commonwealth," a title drawn from one of its sarcastic

To describe this political libel as a mere invective would convey but
an imperfect notion of its singularity. The occasion which levelled this
artful and elaborate scandalous chronicle at Leicester, and at Leicester
alone, remains as unknown as this circumstantial narrative descends to
us unauthenticated and unrefuted. That the whole was framed by invention
is as incredible as that the favourite of Elizabeth during thirty years
could possibly have kept his equal tenor throughout such a criminal
career, besides not a few atrocities which were prevented by intervening
accidents with which the writer seems equally conversant as with those
perpetrated. The mysterious marriages of Leicester--his first lady found
at the foot of the stairs with her neck broken, but "without hurting the
hood on her head"--husbands dying quickly--solemnised marriages reduced
to contracts--are remarkable accidents. We find strange persons in the
earl's household; Salvador, the Italian chemist, a confidential
counsellor, supposed to have departed from this world with many secrets,
succeeded by Dr. Julio, who risked the promotion. We are told of the
lady who had lost her hair and her nails--of the exquisite salad which
Leicester left on the supper-table when called away, which Sir Nicholas
Throgmorton swore had ended his life--of the Cardinal Chatillon, who,
after having been closeted with the queen, returning to France, never
got beyond Canterbury--of the sending a casuist with a case of
conscience to Walsingham, to satisfy that statesman of the moral
expediency of ridding the state of the Queen of Scots by an Italian
philtre--all these incidents almost induce one to imagine the existence
of an English Borgia, drawn full-length by the hand of a Machiavel.

If this strange history were true, it would not be wanting in a moral;
for if Leicester were himself this poisoner, there seems some reason to
believe that the poisoner himself was poisoned. "The beast," as
Throgmorton called this earl, found but a frail countess in the Lady
Lettice, whose first husband, the Earl of Essex, had suddenly expired.
The Master of the Horse had fired her passion--a hired bravo, in
cleaving his skull, did not succeed in despatching the wounded lover:
where the blow came from they did not doubt. Leicester was conducting
his countess to Kenilworth; stopping at Cornbury Hall, in Oxfordshire,
the lady was possibly reminded of the tale of Cumnor Hall. To Leicester,
after his usual excessive indulgence at table, the countess deemed it
necessary to administer a cordial--it was his last draught! Such is the
revelation of the page, and latterly the gentleman, of this earl.
Certain it is that Leicester was suddenly seized with fever, and died on
his way to Kenilworth, and that the Master of the Horse shortly after
married the poisoning countess of the great poisoner.[5]

Had the writer unskilfully heaped together such atrocious acts or such
ambiguous tales the libel had not endured; the life of this new Borgia
is composed of richer materials than extravagant crimes. It furnishes a
picture of eventful days and busied personages; truth and fiction
brightening and shadowing each other. Some close observer in the court
circle, one who sickened at the queen's insolent favourite, was a
malicious correspondent. Some realities lie on the surface; and Sir
Philip Sidney was baffled or confounded when he would have sent forth
his chivalric challenge to the veiled accuser.

The adversaries of the Jesuits referred to Busenbaum, a favourite author
with the order, to inform the world that among the artifices of the
political brotherhood was inculcated the doctrine of systematic calumny.
"Whenever you would ruin a person or a government, you must begin by
spreading calumnies to defame them. Many will incline to believe or to
side with the propagator. Repetition and perseverance will at length
give the consistency of probability, and the calumnies will stick to a
distant day." A nickname a man may chance to wear out; but a system of
calumny, pursued by a faction, may descend even to posterity. This
principle has taken full effect on this state-favourite. The libel was
most diligently spread about--"La Vie Abominable" was read throughout
Europe. This story of the "subject without subjection," who "shoots at
a diadem" in England or Scotland, and turns England into a "Leicesterian
commonwealth," raised princely anger: the queen condescended to have
circular letters written to protest against it, considering the libel as
reflecting on herself, in the choice of so principal a counsellor: and
though her majesty discovered that the author was nothing less than "an
incarnate devil," yet to this day the state-favourite Leicester remains
the most mysterious personage in our history; nor is there any historian
from the days of Camden who dares to extenuate suspicions which come to
us palpable as realities. In truth, the life of Leicester is darkness;
his political intrigues probably were carried on with all parties, which
probably he adopted and betrayed by turns: at last his caprice stood
above law. And even in his domestic privacy there were strange
incidents, dark and secret, which eye was not to see, nor ear to listen
to; and we have a remarkable chance-evidence of this singular fact in
that mysterious sonnet of Spenser, prefixed to his version of Virgil's
"Gnat," whose sad tale was his own, dedicated "to the deceased lord;"
his "cloudy tears" have left "this riddle rare" to some "future Oedipus"
who has never arisen.[6]

The Armada flying from our coasts evinced to Spain and Rome that
Elizabeth was not to be dethroned. What then remained to hold a
flattering vision of the English crown to Philip, and to cast the
heretical land into confusion? The genius of this new Machiavel rose
with the magnitude of the subject and the singularity of the occasion.

The policy or the weakness of Elizabeth never consented to settle the
succession; and as the queen aged, all Europe became more interested in
that impending event. This was a cause of national uneasiness, and an
implement for political mischief.

In 1594 was printed at Antwerp "A Conference about the next Succession
to the Crown of England." The purpose of this memorable tract is
twofold. The first part inculcates the doctrine that society is a
compact made by man with man for the good of the commonwealth; that the
forms of government are diverse, and therefore are by God and nature
left to the choice of the people; that kings do not derive their title
from any birthright, or lineal descent, but from their coronation, with
conditions and admissions by the consent of the people; and that kings
may be deposed, or the line of succession may be altered, as many of our
own and other monarchs have suffered from various causes, being
accountable for their misgovernment or natural incompetency.
"Commonwealths have sometimes chastised lawfully their lawful princes,
though never so lawfully descended." This has often been "commodious to
the weal-public," and "it may seem that God prospered the same by the
good success and successors that hence ensued."[7]

This theory of monarchical government was opposed to those "absurd
flatterers who yield too much power to princes," and was not likely, as
we shall see, to be only a work of temporary interest. Let us, however,
observe that this advocate of the people's supremacy over their
sovereign's was himself the vowed slave to passive obedience, and the
indefeasible and absolute rule of the sacerdotal suzerain.

The second division is a very curious historical treatise on the titles
and pretensions of ten or eleven families of the English blood-royal,
"what may be said for them, and what against them." From its topics it
was distinguished as "The Book of Titles." It was well adapted to
perplex the nation or raise up competitors, while, however, it reminded
them "of the slaughter and the executions of the nobility of England."
In this uncertainty of the succession, Isabella of Spain, whose ancestry
is drawn from the Conquest through many descents, is shown to have the
best title, and James of Scotland the worst.

The book appeared in London with a dedication to the Earl of Essex--this
was a stroke of refined malice, and produced its full effect on the
queen. In this panegyric on the earl's "eminence in place and in
dignity, in favour of the prince and in high liking of the people," the
wily Jesuit intimated that "no man is like to have greater sway on
deciding of this great affair (the succession), when time shall come for
that determination, and those that shall assist you and are likest to
follow your fame and fortune." The jealous alarm of Elizabeth had often
been roused by the imprudence of the earl, and on this occasion it
thundered with all her queenly rage; she herself showed him the
dangerous eulogiums of the insidious dedicator, till the hapless earl
was observed to grow pale, and withdrew from court with a mind
disturbed, and was confined by illness till the queen's visit once more
restored him to favour.

The immediate effect of the "Conference" appears by an act of Parliament
of the 35th of Elizabeth, enacting that "whoever was found to have it in
his house should be guilty of high treason;" but its more permanent
influence is remarkable on several national occasions. This tract
contributed to hasten the fate of the hapless Charles. The doctrine of
cutting off the heads of kings, "the whole body being of more authority
than the only head," was too opportune for the business in hand to be
neglected by the Independents. The first part, licensed by their
licenser, was printed at the charge of the Parliament, disguised as
"Several Speeches delivered at a Conference concerning the Power of
Parliament to proceed against their King for Misgovernment." The nine
chapters of the Conference were turned into these nine pretended
speeches![8] These furnished the matter of the speech of Bradshaw at the
condemnation of the monarch; and even Milton, in his "Defence of the
English People," adopted the doctrines. Never has political pamphlet
directed an event more awful, and on which the destiny of a nation was
suspended. Even an abstract of it served for the nonce, under the title
of "The Broken Succession of the Crown of England," at the time that
Cromwell was aiming at restoring the English monarchy in his own person.
It was again renovated in 1681, at the time of agitating the bill of
exclusion against James the Second. I believe it has appeared in other
forms. Nor was the fortune of "Leicester's Commonwealth" less remarkable
in serving the designs of a party. It was twice reprinted, in 1641, as a
melancholy picture of a royal favourite, and again, probably with the
same political design, in 1706.

Parsons' claim to these two memorable tracts has been impugned. My
ingenious friend Dr. Bliss has referred to two letters of Dr. Ashton,
Master of Jesus College, and Dean Mosse, on the subject of "Leicester's
Commonwealth," which he considers "fully prove" that it was not the work
of Parsons. I give these letters.

  _Dr. Ashton to Dean Mosse._

"There is nothing in the book that favours the Spanish invasion, and all
the treason is only against Leicester. Parsons has been esteemed the
author of it; but I can't yet believe that 'twas his, for several

"First; there's nothing in it of the fierce and turbulent spirit of that
Jesuit; but a tender concern for the Queen and government both in church
and state.

"Secondly; the book makes a papist own that several of the priests and
others were traitors, and often commends Burleigh, who was the chief
persecutor, and ordered the writing of 'The Book of Justice,' &c., which
certainly Parsons would not have done, whose errand into England not
long before was to renew the excommunication of the Queen, and declare
her subjects freed from their allegiance, nay bound to take up arms
against her; especially since Campian, his brother missionary, was one
of those martyrs, and he himself very narrowly escaped.

"Thirdly; when Parsons and Campian came into England in '80, it was to
further the designs of the King of Spain, and persuade the people that
upon the Queen's forfeiture he had a right to take possession of her
crown. But there's nothing looks that way in the book, unless defending
the title of the Queen of the Scots and her son be writing for the
invasion. There was a book written a little before this, for the Scotch
succession, by Lesly, bishop of Rosse, under the name of Morgan, even
by the connivance of Queen Elizabeth, as Camden tells us; but the
seminary priests and Jesuits were all upon the Spanish right by virtue
of the Pope's bull of excommunication; and upon this foot Parsons
afterwards wrote his 'Andr. Philopater,' and 'Book of Titles,' in the
name of N. Doleman.

"Fourthly; I can't think Parsons capable of writing this book; for how
could a man that from '75 to his dying day (bating a few months in the
year '80) lived at Rome, be able to know all the secret transactions,
both in _court_ and _country_, in England, which perhaps were mysteries
to all the nation except a few statesmen about the Queen?

"Lastly; I can't believe that Parsons, who was expelled (or forced to
resign his fellowship in Baliol) for his immoralities, and then
pretended to be a physician, and at last went to Rome and turned Jesuit,
would tell that story of Leicester's management of the University of
Oxford. There are several other improbabilities.

"The book seems to be written by a man moderate in religion (whether
Papist or Protestant, I can't say), but a bitter enemy to Leicester--one
that was intimate with all the court affairs, and, to cover himself from
_the bear's_ fury, contrived that this book should come as it were from
abroad, under the name of Parsons."

  _Dr. Mosse's Notes on the above Letter._

"First, He points out several facts to show that the book must have been
written at the end of 1584, certainly between 1583 and '85, when in '85
Leicester went general into Holland, of which there is no mention in the
book, as Drake observes.

"Secondly, The design. I see nothing in the book relating to the
invasion, the design being to support the title of the Queen of Scots
and her son. Dr. James was the first who in print affirmed Parsons to be
the only author--which was then in many mouths, that he wrote it from
materials sent him by Burleigh. But as it is not very likely that
Parsons, who lived at Rome, should be acquainted with all the
transactions set down in that book, so 'tis less probable that Burleigh
should pitch upon him for such a work; and I take the report to be
grounded only on a passage in the book that mentions the _papers_
Burleigh had against Leicester."

Dr. Mosse then gives what Wood has written, and Wood's inference, that
neither Pitts nor Ribadeneira giving it in the list of his writings is a
sufficient argument; and the doctor concludes--

"In short, the author is very uncertain; and, for anything that appears
in it, it may as well be a protestant's as a papist's. I should rather
think it the work of some subtle courtier, who for safety got it printed
abroad, and sent into England under the name of Parsons."[9]

Allowing these arguments to the fullest extent, they are not sufficient
to disprove the authorship ascribed to Parsons. The drift and character
of this English Jesuit seem not to have been sufficiently taken in by
these critics. There would certainly be no difficulty in the Jesuit
assuming the mask of a moderate religionist, and a loyal subject; for
the advantage of the disguise, he would even venture the bold stroke of
condemning the martyrs. The conclusion of Dr. Mosse, that the book might
be written by either a protestant or a papist, betrays its studied
ambiguity. It was usual with the Jesuits to conform to prevalent
opinions to wrestle with them. Sometimes the Jesuit was the advocate for
the dethronement of monarchs, and at other times urged passive obedience
to the right divine. In truth, it is always impossible to decide on the
latent meaning of the Jesuitic pen. Pascal has exhausted the argument.

Dr. Ashton may be mistaken when he asserts that Parsons and Campian came
to England in 1580, to further the designs of the King of Spain. The
policy of the Roman Catholic party at that moment did not turn on the
Spanish succession; during the life of the Scottish Mary, the party were
all united in one design; it was at her death, in 1587, that it split
into two opposite factions. At the head of one stood the Jesuit Parsons;
in his rage and despair, having failed to win over the Scottish prince,
he raised up the claims of the Spanish line, reckless of the ruin of
his country by invasion and internal dissension: the other party,
British at heart, consisting of laymen and gentlemen, would never concur
in the invasion and conquest of England by a foreign prince. This
curious contingency has been elucidated by our ambassador at the court
of France, Sir Henry Neville, in a letter to Cecil.[10] It is therefore
quite evident why "the book did not look _that way_," as Dr. Ashton
expresses it, and why all Parsons' subsequent writings did.

Dr. Ashton considers it impossible that Parsons, who lived abroad so
much of his lifetime, should be so intimate with the secret transactions
of the court and country of England. But Parsons kept up a busy
communication with this country. This he has himself incidentally told
us, in his "Memorial for Reformation," written in 1596; he says, "I have
had occasion, _above others_, for more than twenty years, not only to
know the state of matters in England, but also of many foreign nations."
It is recorded that he received three hundred letters from England on
his Book of Titles. He was very critical in the history of our great
families, and had a taste for personal anecdote, even to the gossip of
the circle. In a remarkable work which he sent forth under the name of
Andreas Philopater, a Latin reply to the queen's proclamation, he
describes her ministers as _sprung from the earth_. Of Sir Nicholas
Bacon, he says that he was an under-butler at Gray's Inn; of Lord
Burleigh, that his father served under the king's tailor, and that his
grandfather kept an alehouse, and that for himself during Mary's reign
he had always his beads in his hand. In this defamatory catalogue, the
Earl of Leicester is not forgotten: the son of a duke, the grandson of
an esquire, and the great-grandson of a carpenter; a more flagitious
man, a more insolent tyrant England never knew; _never had the Catholics
a more bitter enemy_; books, both in the French and the English
language, have exposed his debaucheries, his adulteries, his homicides,
his parricides, his thefts, his rapines, his perjuries, his oppressions
of the poor, his cruelties, his deceitfulness, and the injuries he did
to the Catholic religion, to the public, and to private families. This
is quite a supplement to Leicester's "Commonwealth," condensing all its
original spirit.

That Lord Burleigh should have supplied materials for this political
libel, stands next to an impossibility. One passage asserts that "the
Lord Treasurer hath as much in his keeping of Leycester's own
hand-writing as is sufficient to hang him, if he durst present it to her
majesty." This could only have been a random stroke of the hardy writer;
for were it absolutely true, that sage would never have entrusted that
secret to any man. It would have been placing his own life in jeopardy.
As for the tattle of the lady who, in delivering a letter from Leicester
into the hands of Lord Burleigh, "at the door of the withdrawing
chamber," was instructed to drop it in a way that it might attract the
queen's notice, and induce her majesty to read it, it surely was not
necessary for Lord Burleigh to communicate this "shift" of Leicester's
practices; the lady might have deposited this secret manoeuvre in the
ear of the faithless courtier who unquestionably contributed his zealous
quota to this Leicesterian Commonwealth.

With regard to "the Conference," the Roman Catholic historian, Dodd, and
others, have inclined to doubt whether Parsons was the author; and their
argument is--not an unusual one with the Jesuits--you cannot prove it,
and he has denied it. Cardinal Allen and Sir Francis Englefield may have
contributed to this learned work, but Parsons held the pen. It appeared
under the name of Doleman; and it is said that the harmless secular
priest who bore that name fell into trouble in consequence. We may for
once believe Parsons himself, that the name was chosen for its
significance, as "a man of dole," grieving for the loss of his country.
He has in other writings continued the initials, N. D., associating his
feelings with these letters. On the same querulous principle, he had
formerly taken that of "John Howlett," or Owlet. He fancied such
significant pseudonyms, in allusion to his condition; thus he took that
of "Philopater." He varied his initials, as well as his fictitious
names. He was a Proteus whenever he had his pen in his hand; Protestant
and Romanist, Englishman and Spaniard.

It is now, however, too late to hesitate in fixing on the true parent of
these twin-productions; twins they are, though in the intellectual state
twins are not born on the same day. These productions are marked by the
same strong features; their limbs are fashioned alike; and their
affinity betrays itself, even in their tones. The author could not
always escape from adopting a peculiar phraseology, or identical
expressions, which unavoidably associate the later with the earlier
work, the same in style, in manner, and in plan. Imitation is out of the
question where there is identity. One pen composed these works, as they
did thirty more.

The English writings of the Jesuit PARSONS have attracted the notice of
some of our philological critics. Parsons may be ranked among the
earliest writers of our vernacular diction in its purity and pristine
vigour, without ornament or polish. It is, we presume, Saxon English,
unblemished by an exotic phrase. It is remarkable that our author, who
passed the best part of his days abroad, and who had perfectly acquired
the Spanish and the Italian languages, and slightly the French, yet
appears to have preserved our colloquial English, from the vicissitudes
of those fashionable novelties which deform the long unsettled
Elizabethan prose. To the elevation of Hooker his imagination could
never have ascended; but in clear conceptions and natural expressions no
one was his superior. His English writings have not a sentence which to
this day is either obsolete or obscure. Swift would not have disdained
his idiomatic energy. Parsons was admirably adapted to be a libeller or
a polemic.


  [1] At Rome there was "The English Hospital," founded by two of the
    kings of our Saxon Heptarchy; a thousand years had consecrated that
    small domicile for the English native; but now the emigrants, and not
    the pilgrims, of England claimed an abode beneath the papal eye. It
    had been a refuge to the fugitives from the days of Henry the Eighth;
    subsequently this English Hospital, under the auspices of Cardinal
    Allen, assumed the higher title of "The English College at Rome," and
    the Jesuit Parsons closed his days as its rector without attaining to
    the cardinalship.

  [2] The seminarists were universally revered as candidates of
    martyrdom.--See Baronius, "Martyrol." Rome, 29 Dec. St. Philip Neri,
    who lived in the neighbourhood of the English Seminary in Rome, would
    frequently stand near the door of the house to view the students
    going to the public schools. This saint used to bow to them, and
    salute them with the words--"_Salvete flores martyrum._"--Plowden's
    "Remarks on Missions of Gregorio Panzani," Liege, 1794, p. 97.

  [3] As Roman Catholics usually interpolate history with miracles, so
    we find one here; being assured that the judge, while passing
    sentence on Campian, drawing off his glove, found his hand stained
    with blood, which he could not wash away, as he showed to several
    about him who can witness of it.--Lansdowne MSS., 982, fo. 21.

  [4] "Hist. Soc. Jesu." Pars quinta, Tomus posterior. Auctore Jos.
    Juvencio, 1710.

  [5] This remarkable incident, in keeping with the rest, was
    discovered by Dr. Bliss in a manuscript note on "Leicester's Ghost,"
    as communicated by the page to the writer from his own personal
    observations.--"Athenæ Oxon.," ii. col. 74.

    If this voracious Apicius did not die of a surfeit, the fever might
    have been caught from the cordial. The marriage of the Master of the
    Horse seems to wind up the story.

  [6] See the subsequent article on "SPENSER."

  [7] "There is," continues our author, "a point much to be noted,"
    which is, "what men have commonly succeeded in the places of such as
    have been deposed?" The successors of five of our deposed monarchs
    have been all eminent princes; "John, Edward the Second, Richard the
    Second, Henry the Sixth, and Richard the Third, have been succeeded
    by the three Henries--the Third, Fourth, and Seventh; and two
    Edwards--Third and Fourth."

  [8] I have not seen this edition of "The Conference," or "Speeches,"
    but it must assuredly have suffered some mutilations; for Parsons
    often puts down some marginal notes which were not suitable to the
    republicans of that day. Such, for instance, as these--"A Monarchy
    the best Government;" "Miseries of Popular Governments." Mabbott, the
    licenser, must have rescinded such unqualified axioms.

  [9] Cole's MSS., xxx. 129. Cole adds, that Baker, in a manuscript
    note upon Pitt's and Ribadeneira's silence, observes, "That's no
    argument--the book was a libel, and libels are not mentioned in
    catalogues by friends."

  [10] Winwood's "Memorials," vol. i., p. 51.


The government of Elizabeth, in the settlement of an ecclesiastical
establishment, had not only to pass through the convulsive transition of
the "old" to the "new religion," as it was called at the time; but
subsequently it was thrown into a peculiar position, equally hateful to
the zealots of two antagonist parties or factions.

The Romanists, who would have disputed the queen's title to the crown,
were securely circumscribed by their minority, or pressed down by the
secular arm; they were silenced by penal statutes, or they vanished in a
voluntary exile; and even their martyrs were only allowed to suffer as
traitors. A more insidious adversary was lurking at home; itself the
child of the Reformation, it had been nourished at the same breast, and
had shared in the common adversity; and this youthful protestantism was
lifting its arm against its elder sister.

A public event, when it becomes one of the great eras of a nation, has
sometimes inspired one of those "monuments of the mind," which take a
fixed station in its literature, addressed to its own, but written for
all times. And thus it happened with the party of the MAR-PRELATES; for
these mean and scandalous satirists, and their abler chiefs, were the
true origin of Hooker's "Ecclesiastical Polity." The scandalous
pamphlets of the MAR-PRELATES met their fate, crushed by the sharper
levity of more refined wits; the more solemn volumes of their learned
chiefs encountered a master genius, such as had not yet risen in the

In the state of the language, and the polemical temper of these early
opposite systems of church, and indeed of civil government, it was
hardly to be expected that the vindication of the ruling party should be
the work of an elevated genius. The vernacular style was yet imperfectly
moulded, the ear was not yet touched by modulated periods, nor had the
genius of our writers yet extended to the lucid arrangement of
composition; moreover, none had attained to the philosophic disposition
which penetrates into the foundations of the understanding, and appeals
to the authority of our consciousness. On a sudden appeared this
master-mind, opening the hidden springs of eloquence--the voice of one
crying from the wilderness.

It had been more in the usual course of human affairs, that the whole
controversy of ecclesiastical polity should have remained in the
ordinary hands of the polemics; the cold mediocrity of the Puritan
Cartwright might have been answered by the cold mediocrity of the
Primate Whitgift. Their quarrel had then hardly passed their own times;
and "the admonition," and "the apology," and all "the replies and
rejoinders," might have been equally suffered to escape the record of an

But such was not the issue of this awful contest; and the mortal
combatants are not suffered to expire, for a master-genius has involved
them in his own immortality.[1]

The purity and simplicity of Izaak Walton's own mind reflected the
perfect image of HOOKER; the individualising touches and the careful
statements in that vital biography seem as if Hooker himself had written
his own life.

We first find our author in a small country parsonage, at
Drayton-Beauchamp, near Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire; where a singular
occurrence led to his elevation to the mastership of the Temple.

Two of his former pupils had returned from their travels--Sir Edwin
Sandys and George Cranmer, men worthy of the names they bore; for the
one became his ardent patron, and the other the zealous assistant in
his great work. Longing to revisit their much-loved tutor, who did not
greatly exceed them in age, they came unexpectedly; and, to their
amazement, surprised their learned friend tending a flock of sheep, with
a Horace in his hand. His wife had ordered him to supply the absence of
the servant. When released, on returning to the house, the visitors
found that they must wholly furnish their own entertainment--the lady
would afford no better welcome; but even the conversation was
interrupted by Hooker being called away to rock the cradle. His young
friends reluctantly quit his house to seek for quieter lodgings,
lamenting that his lot had not fallen on a pleasanter parsonage, and a
quieter wife to comfort him after his unwearied studies. "I submit to
God's will while I daily labour to possess my soul in patience and
peace," was the reply of the philosophic man who could abstract his mind
amid the sheep, the cradle, and the termagant.

The whole story of the marriage of this artless student would be
ludicrous, but for the melancholy reflection that it brought waste and
disturbance into the abode of the author of the "Ecclesiastical Polity."

According to the statutes of his college he had been appointed to preach
a sermon at Paul's-cross: he arrived from Oxford weary and wet, with a
heavy cold; faint and heartless, he was greatly agitated lest he should
not be able to deliver his probationary sermon; but two days' nursing by
the woman of the lodgings recovered our young preacher. She was an
artful woman, who persuaded him that his constitutional delicacy
required a perpetual nurse; and for this purpose offered, as he had no
choice of his own, to elect for him a wife. On his next arrival she
presented him with her daughter. There was a generosity in his gratitude
for the nursing him for his probationary sermon, which only human beings
wholly abstracted from the concerns of daily life could possibly
display. He resigned the quiet of his college to be united to a female
destitute alike of personal recommendations and of property. As an
apology for her person, he would plead his short-sightedness; and for
the other, that he never would have married for any interested motive.
Thus, the first step into life of a very wise man was a folly which was
to endure with it. The wife of Hooker tyrannized over his days, and at
last proved to be a traitress to his fame.

The mastership of the Temple was procured for the humble rector of
Drayton-Beauchamp by the recommendation of his affectionate Edwin
Sandys. But not without regret did this gentle spirit abandon the lowly
rectory-house for "the noise" of the Temple-hall. Hooker required for
his happiness neither elevation nor dignities, but solely a spot wherein
his feeble frame might repose, and his working mind meditate; solitude
to him was a heaven, notwithstanding his eternal wife Joan!

Hooker might have looked on the Temple as a vignette represents the
greater picture. The Temple was a copy reduced of the kingdom, with the
same passions and the same parties. What had occurred between the
Archbishop Whitgift and the Puritan Cartwright, was now opened between
the lecturer and the master of the Temple.

The Evening Lecturer at the Temple was Walter Travers--an eminent man,
of insinuating manners and of an irreproachable life. He had been nursed
in the presbytery of Geneva, and was the correspondent of Beza in the
French, and of Knox in the Scottish Church; above all, Travers was the
firm associate of Cartwright, and the consulted oracle of the English
dissenters. He ruled over an active party of the younger members, and,
by insensible innovations, appears to have there established the new
ecclesiastical commonwealth, which at first consisted of the most
trivial innovations in ceremonies and the most idle distinctions.
Travers was looking confidently to the mastership, when the appointment
of Hooker crossed his ambitious hopes.

With the disciples of parity, a free election, and not a royal
appointment, was a first state principle. To preserve the formality,
since he could not yet possess the reality, Travers suggested to the new
master of the Temple that he should not make his appearance till Travers
had announced his name to the body of the members, and then he would be
admitted by their consent. To this point in "the new order of things,"
the sage Hooker returned a reasonable refusal. "If such custom were here
established, I would not disturb the order; but here, where it never
was, I might not of my own head take upon me to begin it." The
formality required was, in fact, a masked principle, which cast a doubt
on his right and on the authority which had granted it. "You conspire
against me," exclaimed the nonconformist, "affecting superiority over
me;" and condensing all the bitterness of his mingled religion and
politics, he reproached Hooker that "he had entered on his charge by
virtue _only of an human creature_, and not by the _election of the
people_." With TRAVERS the people were more than "human creatures;" the
voice of the people was a revelation of Heaven; this sage probably
having first counted his votes. These were the inconveniences of a
transition to a new political system; the parties did not care to
understand one another. These two good men, for such they were, now
brought into collision, bore a mutual respect, connected too by blood
and friendly intercourse. But in a religious temper or times, while men
mix their own notions with the inscrutable decrees of Heaven, who shall
escape from the torture of insolvable polemics? Abstruse points of
scholastic theology opened the rival conflict. A cry of unsound doctrine
was heard. "What are your grounds?" exclaimed TRAVERS. "The words of St.
Paul," replied HOOKER. "But what author do you follow in expounding St.
Paul?" Hooker laid a great stress on reason on all matters which allowed
of the full exercise of human reason. Two opposite doctrines now came
from the same pulpit! The morning and the evening did not seem the same
day. The son of Calvin thundered his shuddering dogmas; the child of
Canterbury was meek and merciful. If one demolished an unsound doctrine,
it was preached up again by the other. The victor was always to be
vanquished, the vanquisher was always to be victor. The inner and the
outer Temple appeared to be a mob of polemics.

Travers was silenced by "authority." He boldly appealed to her majesty
and the privy council, where he had many friends. His petition argued
every point of divinity, while he claimed the freedom of his ministry.
But there stood Elizabeth's "black husband," as the virgin queen deigned
in her coquetry to call the archbishop. The party of Travers circulated
his petition, which was cried up as unanswerable; it was carried in
"many bosoms:" Hooker was compelled to reply; and the churchmen
extolled "an answer answerless:" the buds of the great work appear among
these sterile leaves of controversy.[2]

The absence of Travers from the Temple seemed to be more influential
than even his presence. He had plenteously sown the seeds of
nonconformity, and the soil was rich. Hooker had foreseen the far-remote
event; "Nothing can come of contention but the mutual waste of the
parties contending, till a common enemy dance in the ashes of them
both." It must be confessed that Hooker had a philosophical genius.

It was amid the disorders around him that the master of the Temple
meditated to build up the great argument of polity, drawn from the
nature of all laws, human and divine. The sour neglect and systematic
opposition of the rising party of the dissenters had outwearied his
musings. Clinging to the great tome which was expanding beneath his
hand, the studious man entreated to be removed to some quieter place. A
letter to the primate on this occasion reveals, in the sweetness of his
words, his innate simplicity. He tells that when he had lost the freedom
of his cell at college, yet he found some degree of it in his quiet
country parsonage: but now he was weary of the noise and opposition of
the place, and God and nature did not intend him for contention, but for
study and quietness. He had satisfied himself in his studies, and now
had begun a treatise in which he intended the satisfaction of others: he
had spent many thoughtful hours, and he hoped not in vain; but he was
not able to finish what he had begun, unless removed to some quiet
country parsonage, where he might see God's blessings spring out of our
mother earth, and "eat his own bread in peace and privacy."

The humble wish was obtained, and the great work was prosecuted.

In 1594, four books of the "Ecclesiastical Polity" were published, and
three years afterwards the fifth. These are for ever sanctioned by the
last revisions of the author. The intensity of study wore out a frame
which had always been infirm; and his premature death left his
manuscripts roughly sketched, without the providence of a guardian.

These unconcocted manuscripts remained in the sole custody of the widow.
Strange rumours were soon afloat, and transcripts from Hooker's papers
got abroad, attesting that in the termination of the "Ecclesiastical
Polity," the writer had absolutely sided with the nonconformists. The
great work, however, was appreciated of such national importance, that
it was deemed expedient to bring it to the cognizance of the privy
council, and the widow was summoned to give an account of the state of
these unfinished manuscripts. Consonantly with her character, which we
have had occasion to observe, in the short interval of four months which
had passed since the death of Hooker, this widow had become a wife. She
had at first refused to give any account of the manuscripts; but now, in
a conference with the archbishop, she confessed that she had allowed
certain puritanic ministers "to go into Hooker's study and to look over
his writings; and further, that they burned and tore many, assuring her
that these were writings not fit to be seen." There never was an
examination by the privy council, for the day after her confession this
late widow of Hooker was found dead in her bed. A mysterious
coincidence! The suspected husband was declared innocent, so runs the
tale told by honest Izaac Walton.

These manuscripts were now delivered up to the archbishop, who placed
them in the hands of the learned Dr. Spenser to put into order; he was
an intimate friend of Hooker, and long conversant with his arguments.
However, as this scholar was deeply occupied in the translation of the
Bible, he entrusted the papers to a student at Oxford, Henry Jackson, a
votary of the departed genius.

On the decease of Dr. Spenser, the manuscripts of Hooker were left as "a
precious legacy" to Dr. King, bishop of London, in 1611. They were
resigned with the most painful reluctance by the speculative and
ingenious student to whom they had been so long entrusted, that he
looked on them with a parental eye, having transcribed them and put many
things together according to his idea of the system of Hooker.[3] During
the time the manuscripts reposed in the care of the bishop of London, an
edition of the five books of the "Ecclesiastical Polity," with some
tractates and sermons, was published in 1617;[4] had Dr. King thought
that these manuscripts were in a state fitted for publication, he would
have doubtless completed that edition. He died in 1621, and the
manuscripts were claimed by Archbishop Abbot for the Lambeth library.

Again, in 1632, the five undoubted genuine books were reprinted. Laud,
then archbishop of Canterbury, attracted probably by this edition,
examined the papers--he was startled by some antagonist principles, and
left the phantom to sleep in its darkness; whether some doctrines which
broadly inculcate _jure divino_ were touches from the Lambeth quarter,
or whether the interpolating hand of some presbyter had insidiously
turned aside the weapon, the conflicting opinions could not be those of
the judicious Hooker.

But their fate and their perils had not yet terminated; the episcopalian
walls of Lambeth were no longer an asylum, when the manuscripts of
Hooker were to be grasped by the searching hands and heads of Prynne and
Hugh Peters, by a vote of the Commons! At this critical period the sixth
and eighth books were given to the world, announced as "a work long
expected, and now published according to the most authentique copies."
We are told of six transcripts with which this edition was collated. It
is perplexing to understand when these copies got forth, and how they
were all alike deficient in the seventh book, which the setter forth of
this edition declares to be irrecoverable. After the Restoration, Dr.
Gauden made an edition of Hooker; in the dedication to the king he
offers the work as "now augmented and I hope completed, with the three
last books, so much desired and so long concealed." This remarkable
expression indicates some doubt whether he possessed the perfect copies,
nor does he inform us of the manner in which he had recovered the lost
seventh book. The recent able editor of the works of Hooker favours its
genuineness by internal evidence, notwithstanding it bears marks of
hasty writing; but he irresistibly proves that the sixth book is wholly
lost, that which is named the sixth being never designed as a part of
the "Ecclesiastical Polity."

Both the great parties are justly entitled to suspect one another; a
helping hand was prompt to twist the nose of wax to their favourite
shape; and the transcripts had always omissions, and we may add,
commissions. Some copies of the concluding book asserted that "Princes
on earth are only accountable to Heaven," while others read "to the
people." We perceive the facility of such slight emendations, and may be
astonished at their consequences; but we need not question the hands
which furnished the various readings. When we recollect the magnificent
entrance into the work, we must smile at the inconclusive conclusion,
the small issue from so vast an edifice. "Too rigorous it were that the
breach of human law should be held a deadly sin. A mean there is between
extremities, _if so be that we can find it out_." Never was the _juste
milieu_ suggested with such hopeless diffidence. Such was not the tone,
nor could be the words, of our eloquent and impressive HOOKER. From the
first conception of his system, his comprehensive intellect had surveyed
all its parts, and the intellectual architecture was completed before
the edifice was constructed. This admirable secret in the labour of a
single work, on which many years were to be consumed, our author has
himself revealed to us; a secret which may be a lesson. "I have
endeavoured that every former part might give strength unto all that
follow, and every latter bring some light unto all before; so that if
the judgments of men do but hold themselves in suspense, as touching the
first more general meditations, till in order they have perused the rest
that ensue, what may seem dark at the first will afterwards be found
more plain, even as the latter particular decisions will appear, I doubt
not, more strong, when the other have been read before."[5] Here we have
an allusion to a noble termination of his system.

This great work of Hooker strictly is theological, but here it is
considered simply as a work of literature and philosophy. The first book
lays open the foundations of law and order, to escape from "the mother
of confusion which breedeth destruction. The lowest must be knit to the
highest." We may read this first book as we read the reflections of
Burke on the French revolution; where what is peculiar, or partial, or
erroneous in the writer does not interfere with the general principles
of the more profound views of human policy. And it is remarkable that
during the anarchical misrule of France, when all governments seemed
alike unstable, some one who had not wholly lost his senses among those
raving politicians, published separately this _first book of
Ecclesiastical Polity_; a timely admonition, however, alas! timeless! I
was not surprised to find classed among "Legal Bibliography" the works
of Hooker.

The fate of those controversies which in reality admit of no argument,
is singularly exemplified in the history of this great work. These are
the controversies where the parties apparently going the same course,
and intent on the same object, but impelled by opposite principles, can
never unite; like two parallel lines, they may run on together, but
remain at the same distance, though they should extend themselves to
infinity. Opposite propositions are assigned by each party, or from the
same premises are educed opposite inferences. In the present case both
parties inquired after a model for church-government; there was none!
Apostolical Christianity had hardly left the old synagogue. Hooker
therefore asserted that the form of church-government was merely a human
institution regulated by laws; and that laws were not made for private
men to dispute, but to obey. The nonconformist urged the Protestant
right of private judgment and a satisfied conscience. Hooker, alarmed at
this irruption of schisms, to maintain established authority, or rather
supremacy, was driven to take refuge in the very argument which the
Romanist used with the Protestant.

The elaborate preface of Hooker is a tract of itself; it is the secret
history of nonconformity, and of the fiery Calvin. Yet was it from
positions here laid down that James the Second declared that it was one
of the two books which sent him back to the fold of Rome. It is not
therefore surprising that when a part was eagerly translated by an
English Romanist to his Holiness, who had declared that "he had never
met with an English book whose writer deserved the name of an
author!"--so low then stood our literature in the eyes of the
foreigner,--that the Pope perceived nothing anti-papal in the eloquent
advocate of established authority, while he was deeply struck at the
profundity of the genius of "a poor obscure English priest;" and the
bishop of Rome exclaimed, "There is no learning that this man has not
searched into; nothing too hard for his understanding, and his books
will get reverence by age." Our James the First, who it must be allowed
was no ordinary judge of polemics, on his arrival in England inquired
after Hooker, and was informed that his recent death had been deeply
lamented by the queen. "And I receive it with no less sorrow," observed
the new English monarch, "for I have received more satisfaction in
reading a leaf in Mr. Hooker than I have had in large treatises by many
of the learned: many others write well, but yet in the next age they
will be forgotten."

The attestations of his Holiness and our James the First, to some of my
readers, may appear very suspicious. They are, however, prophetic; and
this is an evidence that the "Ecclesiastical Polity" must contain
principles more deeply important than those which might more
particularly have been grateful to these regal critics. Our sage, it is
true, has not escaped from a severer scrutiny, and has been taxed as
"too apt to acquiesce in all ancient tenets." What was transitory, or
what was partial, in this great work, may be subtracted without injury
to its excellence or its value. Hooker has written what posterity reads.
The spirit of a later age, progressive in ameliorating the imperfect
condition of all human institutions, must often return to pause over
the first book of "Ecclesiastical Polity," where the master-genius has
laid the foundations and searched into the nature of all laws whatever.
HOOKER is the first vernacular writer whose classical pen harmonised a
numerous prose. While his earnest eloquence, freed from all scholastic
pedantry, assumed a style stately in its structure, his gentle spirit
sometimes flows into natural humour, lovely in the freshness of its


  [1] When our literary history was only partially cultivated, the
    readers of Hooker were often disturbed amidst the profound reasonings
    of "The Ecclesiastical Polity," by frequent references to volumes and
    pages of T. C. The editors of Hooker had thrown no light on these
    mysterious initials. Contemporaries are not apt to mortify themselves
    by recollecting that what is familiar to them may be forgotten by the
    succeeding age. Sir John Hawkins, a literary antiquary, drew up a
    memoir which explains these initials as those of Thomas Cartwright,
    and has correctly arranged the numerous tracts of the whole
    controversy. But Hawkins having consigned this accurate catalogue to
    "The Antiquarian Repertory," it could be little known; and Beloe, in
    his "Anecdotes of Literature," vol. i., transcribing the entire
    memoir of Hawkins, _verbatim_, without the slightest acknowledgment,
    obtains a credit for original research. Beloe is referred to for this
    _authentic_ information by Burnet, in his "Specimens of English

  [2] Both these papers of Travers and Hooker are preserved in Hooker's
    Works. Many curious points are discussed by Hooker with admirable
    reasoning. The divinity of Hooker, who is the firm advocate of legal
    authority, is enlightened and tolerant; while Travers, who advocated
    unrestrained personal freedom, is in his divinity narrow and
    merciless. He sees only "the Elect," and he casts human nature into
    the flames of eternity.

  [3] "A studious and cynical person, who never expected or desired
    more than his small preferment. He was a great admirer of Richard
    Hooker, and collected some of his small treatises."--_Athenæ

  [4] Anthony Wood has said it contained all the eight books, (followed
    by General Dictionary and Biographia Britannica,) and accused Gauden
    of pretending to publish three books for the first time in 1662.

  [5] "Ecclesiastical Polity," book First.


Were I another Baillet, solely occupied in collecting the "_jugemens des
sçavans_"--the decisions of the learned--the name of Sir Philip Sidney
would bring forth an awful crash of criticism, rarely equalled in
dissonance and confusion.

He who first ventured to pronounce a final condemnation on "THE ARCADIA"
of Sir PHILIP SIDNEY as a "tedious, lamentable, pedantic, pastoral
romance," was Horace Walpole;--a decision suited to the heartlessness
which wounded the personal qualities of an heroic man, the pride of a
proud age. Have modern critics too often caught the watchword when given
out by an imposing character? The irregular Hazlitt honestly confides to
us, in an agony of despair, that "Sir Philip Sidney is a writer for whom
I cannot acquire a taste," tormented by a conviction that a taste should
be acquired. The peculiar style of this critic is at once sparkling and
vehement, antithetical and metaphysical. The volcano of his criticism
heaves; the short, irruptive periods clash with quick repercussion; the
lava flows over his pages, till it leaves us in the sudden darkness of
an hypercriticism on "the celebrated description of the 'Arcadia.'"

Gifford, once the Coryphæus of modern criticism, whose native shrewdness
admirably fitted him for a partisan, both in politics and in literature,
did not deem Walpole's depreciation of Sidney "to be without a certain
degree of justice; the plan is poor, the incidents trite, the style
pedantic." But our prudential critic harbours himself in some security
by confessing to "some nervous and elegant passages."

At our northern Athens, the native coldness has touched the leaves of
"The Arcadia" like a frost in spring. The agreeable researcher into the
history of fiction confesses the graceful beauty of the language, but
considers the whole as "extremely tiresome." Another critic states a
more alarming paroxysm of criticism, that of being "lulled to sleep over
the interminable 'Arcadia.'"

What innocent lover of books does not imagine that "The Arcadia" of
Sidney is a volume deserted by every reader, and only to be classed
among the folio romances of the Scuderies, or the unmeaning pastorals
whose scenes are placed in the golden age? But such is not the fact.
"Nobody, it is said, reads 'The Arcadia;' we have known very many
persons who read it, men, women, and children, and never knew one read
it without deep interest and admiration," exclaims an animated critic,
probably the poet Southey.[1] More recent votaries have approached the
altar of this creation of romance.

It may be well to remind the reader that, although this volume, in the
revolutions of times and tastes, has had the fate to be depreciated by
modern critics, it has passed through fourteen editions, suffered
translations in every European language, and is not yet sunk among the
refuse of the bibliopolists. "The Arcadia" was long, and it may still
remain, the haunt of the poetical tribe. SIDNEY was one of those writers
whom Shakespeare not only studied but imitated in his scenes, copied his
language, and transferred his ideas.[2] SHIRLEY, BEAUMONT and FLETCHER,
and our early dramatists turned to "THE ARCADIA" as their text-book.
Sidney enchanted two later brothers in WALLER and COWLEY; and the
dispassionate Sir WILLIAM TEMPLE was so struck by "The Arcadia," that he
found "the true spirit of the vein of ancient poetry in Sidney." The
world of fashion in Sidney's age culled their phrases out of "The
Arcadia," which served them as a complete "Academy of Compliments."

The reader who concludes that "The Arcadia" of Sidney is a pedantic
pastoral, has received a very erroneous conception of the work. It was
unfortunate for Sidney that he borrowed the title of "The Arcadia" from
Sannazaro, which has caused his work to be classed among pastoral
romances, which it nowise resembles; the pastoral part stands wholly
separated from the romance itself, and is only found in an interlude of
shepherds at the close of each book; dancing brawls, or reciting verses,
they are not agents in the fiction. The censure of pedantry ought to
have been restricted to the attempt of applying the Roman prosody to
English versification, the momentary folly of the day, and to some other
fancies of putting verse to the torture.

"The Arcadia" was not one of those spurious fictions invented at random,
where an author has little personal concern in the narrative he forms.

When we forget the singularity of the fable, and the masquerade dresses
of the actors, we pronounce them to be real personages, and that the
dramatic style distinctly conveys to us incidents which, however veiled,
had occurred to the poet's own observation, as we perceive that the
scenes which he has painted with such precision must have been
localities. The characters are minutely analyzed, and so correctly
preserved, that their interior emotions are painted forth in their
gestures as well as revealed in their language. The author was himself
the tender lover whose amorous griefs he touched with such delicacy, and
the undoubted child of chivalry he drew; and in these finer passions he
seems only to have multiplied himself.

The manners of the court of Elizabeth were still chivalric; and Sidney
was trained in the discipline of those generous spirits whom he has
nobly described as men of "high-erected thoughts seated in a heart of
courtesy." Hume has censured these "affectations, conceits, and
fopperies," as well became the philosopher of the Canongate; but there
was a reality in this shadow of chivalry. Amadis de Gaul himself never
surpassed the chivalrous achievements of the Earl of Essex; his life,
indeed, would form the finest of romances, could it be written. He
challenged the governor of Corunna to single combat for the honour of
the nation, and proposed to encounter Villars, governor of Rouen, on
foot or on horseback. And thus run his challenge:--"I will maintain the
justice of the cause of Henry the Fourth of France, against the league;
and that I am a better man than thou, and that my mistress is more
beautiful than thine." This was the very language and the deed of one of
the Paladins. It was this spirit, fantastic as it may appear to us,
which stirred Sidney, when Parsons the Jesuit, or some one who lay
concealed in a dark corner of the court, sent forth anonymously the
famous state-libel of "Leicester's Commonwealth." To the unknown
libeller who had reflected on the origin of the Dudleys, that "the Duke
of Northumberland was not born a gentleman," Sir Philip Sidney, in the
loftiest tone of chivalry, designed to send a cartel of defiance.
Touched to the quick in any blur in the _Stemmata Dudleiana_, which, it
is said, occupied the poet Spenser when under the princely roof of
Leicester, Sidney exclaims, "I am a Dudley in blood, that Duke's
daughter's son; my chief honour is to be a Dudley, and truly am I glad
to have cause to set forth the nobility of that blood; none but this
fellow of invincible shamelessness could ever have called so palpable a
matter in question." He closed with the intention of printing at London
a challenge which he designed all Europe to witness. "Because that thou
the writer hereof doth most falsely lay want of gentry to my dead
ancestors, I say that thou therein liest in thy throat, which I will be
ready to justify upon thee in any place of Europe where thou wilt assign
me a free place of coming, as within three months after the publishing
thereof I may understand thy mind. And this which I write, I would send
to thine own hands if I knew thee; but I trust it cannot be intended
that he should be ignorant of this printed in London, who knows the very
whisperings of the Privy-chamber."[3]

We, who are otherwise accustomed to anonymous libels, may be apt to
conclude that there was something fantastical in sending forth a
challenge through all Europe:--we, who are content with the obscure
rencontre of a morning, and with the lucky chance of an exchange of

The narrative of "The Arcadia" is peculiar; but if the reader's
fortitude can yield up his own fancy to the feudal poet, he will find
the tales diversified. Sidney had traced the vestiges of feudal warfare
in Germany, in Italy, and in France; those wars of petty states where
the walled city was oftener carried by stratagem than by storm, and
where the chivalrous heroes, like champions, stepped forth to challenge
each other in single combat, almost as often as they were viewed as
generals at the head of their armies. Our poet's battles have all the
fierceness and the hurry of action, as if told by one who had stood in
the midst of the battle-field; and in his "shipwreck," men fight with
the waves, ere they are flung on the shore, as if the observer had sat
on the summit of a cliff watching them.

He describes objects on which he loves to dwell with a peculiar richness
of fancy; he had shivered his lance in the tilt, and had managed the
fiery courser in his career; that noble animal was a frequent object of
his favourite descriptions; he looks even on the curious and fanciful
ornaments of its caparisons; and in the vivid picture of the shock
between two knights, we see distinctly every motion of the horse and the
horseman.[4] But sweet is his loitering hour in the sunshine of
luxuriant gardens, or as we lose ourselves in the green solitudes of the
forests which most he loves. His poetic eye was pictorial; and the
delineations of objects, both in art and nature, might be transferred to
the canvas.

There is a feminine delicacy in whatever alludes to the female
character, not merely courtly, but imbued with that sensibility which
St. Palaye has remarkably described as "full of refinement and
fanaticism." And this may suggest an idea not improbable, that
Shakespeare drew his fine conceptions of the female character from
Sidney. Shakespeare solely, of all our elder dramatists, has given true
beauty to woman; and Shakespeare was an attentive reader of "The
Arcadia." There is something, indeed, in the language and the conduct of
Musidorus and Pyrocles, two knights, which may startle the reader, and
may be condemned as very unnatural and most affected. Their friendship
resembles the love which is felt for the beautiful sex, if we were to
decide by their impassioned conduct and the tenderness of their
language. Coleridge observed that the language of these two friends in
"The Arcadia" is such as we would not now use, except to women; and he
has thrown out some very remarkable observations.[5] Warton, too, has
observed, that the style of friendship between males in the reign of
Elizabeth would not be tolerated in the present day; sets of sonnets, in
a vein of tenderness which now could only express the most ardent
affection for a mistress, were then prevalent.[6] They have not
accounted for this anomaly in manners by merely discovering them in the
reigns of Elizabeth and James. It is unquestionably a remains of the
ancient chivalry, when men, embarking in the same perilous enterprise
together, vowed their mutual aid and their personal devotion. The
dangers of one knight were to be participated, and his honour to be
maintained, by his brother-in-arms. Such exalted friendships, and such
interminable affections, often broke out both in deeds and words which,
to the tempered intercourse of our day, offend by their intensity. A
male friend, whose life and fortune were consecrated to another male,
who looks on him with adoration, and who talks of him with excessive
tenderness, appears to us nothing less than a chimerical and monstrous
lover! It is certain, however, that in the age of chivalry, a Damon and
Pythias were no uncommon characters in that brotherhood.

It is the imperishable diction, the language of Shakespeare, before
Shakespeare wrote, which diffuses its enchantment over "The Arcadia;"
and it is for this that it should be studied; and the true critic of
Sidney, because the critic was a true poet, offers his unquestioned
testimony in Cowper--


Even those playful turns of words, caught from Italian models, which are
usually condemned, conceal some subtility of feeling, or rise in a
pregnant thought.[7] The intellectual character of Sidney is more
serious than volatile; the habits of his mind were too elegant and
thoughtful to sport with the low comic; and one of the defects of "The
Arcadia" is the attempt at burlesque humour in a clownish family.
Whoever is not susceptible of great delight in the freshness of the
scenery, the luxuriant imagery, the graceful fancies, and the stately
periods of "The Arcadia," must look to a higher source than criticism,
to acquire a sense which nature and study seem to deny him.

I have dwelt on the finer qualities of "The Arcadia;" whenever the
volume proves tedious, the remedy is in the reader's own hands, provided
he has the judgment often to return to a treasure he ought never to

It is indeed hardly to be hoped that the volatile loungers over our
duodecimos of fiction can sympathise with manners, incidents, and
personages which for them are purely ideal--the truth of nature which
lies under the veil must escape from their eyes; for how are they to
grow patient over the interminable pages of a folio, unbroken by
chapters, without a single resting-place?[8] And I fear they will not
allow for that formal complimentary style, borrowed from the Italians
and the Spaniards, which is sufficiently ludicrous.

The narrative too is obstructed by verses, in which Sidney never
obtained facility or grace. Nor will the defects of the author be always
compensated by his beauties, for "The Arcadia" was indeed a fervent
effusion, but an uncorrected work. The author declared that it was not
to be submitted to severer eyes than those of his beloved sister, "being
done in loose sheets of paper, most of it in her presence, the rest by
sheets sent as fast as they were done." The writer, too, confesses, to
"a young head having many fancies begotten in it, which, if it had not
been in some way delivered, would have grown a monster, and more sorry
might I be that they came in, than they gat out." So truly has Sidney
expressed the fever of genius, when working on itself in darkness and in
doubt--absorbing reveries, tumultuous thoughts, the ceaseless
inquietudes of a soul which has not yet found a voice. Even on his
death-bed, the author of "The Arcadia" desired its suppression; but the
fame her noble brother could contemn was dear to his sister, who
published these loose papers without involving the responsibility of the
writer, affectionately calling the work, "The Countess of Pembroke's
Arcadia;" and this volume of melodious prose, of visionary heroism, and
the pensive sweetness of loves and friendships, became the delight of

There is one more work of Sidney, perhaps more generally known than "The
Arcadia"--his "Defence of Poetry." Lord Orford sarcastically apologised,
in the second edition of his "Royal and Noble Authors," for his omission
of any notice of this production. "I had forgotten it," he says; and he
adds, "a proof that I at least did not think it sufficient foundation
for so high a character as he acquired." It was a more daring offence to
depreciate this work of love, than the romance which at least lay
farther removed from the public eye. The "Defence of Poetry" has had,
since the days of Walpole, several editions by eminent critics. Sidney,
in this luminous criticism, and effusion of poetic feeling, has
introduced the principal precepts of Aristotle, touched by the fire and
sentiment of Longinus; and, for the first time in English literature,
has exhibited the beatitude of criticism in a poet-critic.

Sir PHILIP SIDNEY assuredly was one of the most admirable of mankind,
largely conspicuous in his life, and unparalleled in his death. But was
this singular man exempt from the frailties of our common nature? If we
rely on his biographer Zouch, we shall not discover any; if we trust to
Lord Orford, we shall perceive little else. The truth is, that had
Sidney lived, he might have grown up to that ideal greatness which the
world adored in him; but he perished early, not without some of those
errors of youth, which even in their rankness betrayed the generous soil
whence they sprung. His fame was more mature than his life, which indeed
was but the preparation for a splendid one. We are not surprised, that
to such an accomplished knight the crown of Poland was offered, and that
all England went into mourning for their hero. We discover his future
greatness, if we may use the expression, in the noble termination of his
early career, rather than in the race of glory which he actually ran.
The life of Sidney would have been a finer subject for the panegyric of
a Pliny, than for the biography of a Plutarch; his fame was sufficient
for the one, while his actions were too few for the other.[9]


  [1] "Annual Review," iv. 547.

  [2] Who does not recognise a well-known passage in SHAKESPEARE,
    copied too by COLERIDGE and BYRON, in these words of SIDNEY--"More
    sweet than a gentle south-west wind which comes creeping over flowery
    fields and shadowed waters in the extreme heat of summer." Such
    delightful diction, which can only spring out of deep poetic emotion,
    may be found in the poetic prose of Sidney.

      "Oh, it came o'er my ear like the sweet south,
      That breathes upon a bank of violets,
      Stealing and giving odour."--

        Shaks. _Twelfth Night_, act 1, sc. i.

      "And sweeter than the gentle south-west wind,
      O'er willowy meads and shadow'd waters creeping,
      And Ceres' golden fields."--

        Coleridge's _First Advent of Love_.

      "Breathing all gently o'er his cheek and mouth,
      As o'er a bed of violets the sweet south."--

        _Don Juan_, canto 2, verse 168.

  [3] Sidney alludes to all that secret history of Leicester which
    Parsons the Jesuit pretends to disclose in his "Leicester's
    Commonwealth." This challenge was found among the Sidney papers, but
    probably was not issued.

  [4] See "The Arcadia," p. 267; eighth edition, 1633.

  [5] See Coleridge's "Table-Talk," ii. 178.

  [6] Richard Barnfielde's "Affectionate Shepherd" forms such a
    collection of sonnets which were popular. The poet bewails his
    unsuccessful love for a beautiful youth, yet professing the chastest
    affection. Poets, like mocking-birds, repeat the notes of others,
    till the cant becomes idle, and the fashion of style obsolete.

  [7] A lady who has become enamoured of the friend who is pleading for
    her lover, and suddenly makes the fatal avowal to that friend, thus
    expresses her emotion--"Grown bolder or madder, or bold with madness,
    I discovered my affection to him." "He left nothing unassayed to
    disgrace himself, to grace his friend."--p. 39.

  [8] In the late Mr. Heber's treasures of our vernacular literature
    there was a copy of "The Arcadia," with manuscript notes by Gabriel
    Harvey. He had also divided the work into chapters, enumerating the
    general contents of each.--"Bib. Heberiana," part the first. A
    republication of this copy--omitting the continuations of the Romance
    by a strange hand, and all the eclogues, and most of the
    verses--would form a desirable volume, not too voluminous.

  [9] This summary of the character of Sidney I wrote nearly thirty
    years ago, in the "Quarterly Review."


Though little is circumstantially related, yet frequent outbreakings,
scattered throughout the writings of Spenser, commemorate the main
incidents of his existence. His emotions become dates, and no poet has
more fully confided to us his "secret sorrows."

Spenser in the far north was a love-lorn youth when he composed "The
Shepherd's Calendar." This rustic poem, rustic from an affectation of
the Chaucerian style, though it bears the divisions of the twelve
months, displays not the course of the seasons so much as the course of
the poet's thoughts; the themes are plaintive or recreative, amatorial
or satirical, and even theological, in dialogues between certain
interlocutors. To some are prefixed Italian mottoes; for that language
then stamped a classical grace on our poetry. In the eclogue of January
we perceive that it was still the season of hope and favour with the
amatory poet, for the motto is, _Anchora Speme_ ("yet I hope"); but in
the eclogue of June we discover _Gia Speme Spenta_ ("already hope is
extinguished"). A positive rejection by Rosalind herself had for ever
mingled gall with his honey, and he ungenerously inveighs against the
more successful arts of a hated rival. Rosalind was indeed not the
Cynthia of a poetic hour: deep was the poet's first love; and that
obdurate mistress had called him "her Pegasus," and laughed at his

It was when the forlorn poet had thus lost himself in the labyrinth of
love, and "The Shepherd's Calendar" had not yet closed, that his learned
friend Harvey, or, in his poetical appellative, Hobbinol, to steal him
away from the languor of a country retirement, invited him to southern
vales, and with generous warmth introduced "the unknown" to Sir Philip
Sidney. This important incident in the destiny of Spenser has been
carefully noted by a person who conceals himself under the initials E.
K., and who is usually designated as "the old commentator on 'The
Shepherd's Calendar.'" This E. K. is a mysterious personage, and will
remain undiscovered to this day, unless the reader shall participate in
my own conviction.

"The Shepherd's Calendar" was accompanied by a commentary on every
separate month; and this singularity of an elaborate commentary in the
first edition of the work of a living author was still more remarkable
by the intimate acquaintance of the commentator with the author himself.
E. K. assures us, and indeed affords ample evidence, that "he was privy
to all his (the poet's) designs." He furnishes some domestic details
which no one could have told so accurately, except he to whom they
relate; and we find our commentator also critically conversant with many
of the author's manuscripts which the world has never seen. Rarely has
one man known so much of another. The poet and the commentator move
together as parts of each other. In the despair of conjecture some
ventured to surmise that the poet himself had been his own commentator.
But the last editor of Spenser is indignant at a suggestion which would
taint with strange egotism the modest nature of our bard. Yet E. K. was
no ordinary writer; an excellent scholar he was, whose gloss has
preserved much curious knowledge of ancient English terms and phrases.
We may be sure that a pen so abundant and so skilfully exercised was not
one to have restricted itself to this solitary lucubration of his life
and studies. The commentary, moreover, is accompanied by a copious and
erudite preface, _addressed to Gabriel Harvey_, and the style of these
pages is too remarkable not to be recognised. At length let me lift the
mask from this mysterious personage, by declaring that E. K. is
Spenser's dear and generous friend Gabriel Harvey himself. I have judged
by the strong peculiarity of Harvey's style; one cannot long doubt of a
portrait marked by such prominent features. Pedantic but energetic,
thought pressed on thought, sparkling with imagery, mottled with learned
allusions, and didactic with subtle criticism--this is our Gabriel! The
prefacer describes the state of our bardling as that of "young birds
that be nearly crept out of their nest, who, by little, first prove
their tender wings before they make a greater flight. And yet our new
poet flieth as a bird that in time shall be able to keep wing with the

From this detection, we may infer that the Commentary was an innocent
_ruse_ of the zealous friend to overcome the resolute timidity of our
poet.[1] His youthful muse, teeming with her future progeny, was,
however, morbidly sensible in the hour of parturition. Conscious of her
powers, thus closes the address "To his Booke:"--

  And when thou art past jeopardie,
  Come tell me what was said of me,
  And I will send more after thee.

After several editions, the work still remained anonymous, and the
unnamed poet was long referred to by critics of the day only as "the
late unknown poet," or "the gentleman who wrote 'The Shepherd's

In Sir Philip Sidney the youthful poet found a youthful patron. The
shades of Penshurst opened to leisure and the muse. "The Shepherd's
Calendar" at length concluded, "The Poet's Year" was dedicated to
"Maister Philip Sidney, worthy of all titles, both of learning and
chivalry." Leicester, the uncle of Sidney, was gained, and from that
moment Spenser entered into a golden servitude.

The destiny of Spenser was to be thrown among courtiers, and to wear the
silken trammels of noble patrons--a life of honourable dependence among
eminent personages. Here a seductive path was opened, not easily scorned
by the gentle mind of him whose days were to be counted by its reveries,
and the main business of whose life was to be the cantos of his "Faery

Of the favours and mortifications during his career of patronage, and of
his intercourse with the court, too little is known; though sufficient
we shall discover to authenticate the reality of his complaints, the
verity of his strictures, and all the flutterings of the sickening heart
of him who moves round and round the interminable circle of "hope

Our poet was now ascending the steps of favouritism; and the business of
his life was with the fair and the great. He looked up to the smiles of
distinguished ladies, for to such is the greater portion of his poems
dedicated. If her Majesty gloried in "The Faery Queen," we are surprised
to find that the most exquisite of political satires, "Mother Hubbard's
Tale," should be addressed to the Lady Compton and Monteagle; that "The
Tears of the Muses" were inscribed to Lady Strange; and that "The Ruins
of Time" are dedicated to the Countess of Pembroke. For others, their
nuptials were graced by the music of his verse, or their sorrows were
soothed by its elegiac tenderness.[2] In the Epithalamion on his own
marriage, the poet reminds

  The sacred sisters who have often times
  Been to the aiding others to adorn,
  Whom ye thought worthy of your graceful rymes,
  That even the greatest did not greatly scorn
  To hear their names sung in your simple lays,
  But joyed at their praise.

"The Tears of the Muses," as one of his plaintive poems is called, had
possibly been spared had the poet only moved among that bevy of ladies
whose names are enshrined in his volumes, around the Queen, whose
royalty so frequently rises with splendour in his verse. Unawares,
perhaps, the gentle bard discovered that personal attachments by cruel
circumstances were converted into political connexions; that a favourite
must pay the penalty of favouritism; and that in binding himself more
closely to his patrons, he was wounded the more deeply by their great
adversary; and in gaining Sidney, Leicester, and Essex, Spenser was
doomed to feel the potent arm of the scornful and unpoetic Burleigh.

The Queen was the earliest and the latest object of our poet's musings.
"The Maiden Queen" enters into almost every poem. Shortly after the
publication of "The Shepherd's Calendar," wherein her Majesty occupies
the month of April, Spenser, in writing to Harvey, has this remarkable
passage:--"Your desire to hear of my late being with her Majesty must
die in itself." By this ambiguous reply, it is, however, evident that
Harvey, and probably Spenser himself, had looked forwards, by the
intervention of his great patrons, that "the unknown poet," as he is
called by "the old commentator," would have been honoured by an
interview with the royal poetess. Elizabeth, among her princely
infirmities, had the ambition of verse. She was afterwards saluted as

  A peerless prince and peerless poetess,

by Spenser, who must, however, have closed his ear at her harsher
numbers.[3] We may regret that we know so little of our Spenser's
intercourse with the Queen. If Sidney made him known to her Majesty, as
Philips has told, the poet might have read to the Queen the earlier
cantos of his romantic epic. The poet himself has only recorded that
"The Shepherd of the Ocean," Sir Walter Raleigh, brought him into the
presence of Cynthia, "The Queen of the Ocean," who

      To his oaten pipe inclined her ear,
  And it desired, at timely hours, to hear.

The Lord Treasurer Burleigh seems to have marred those "timely hours."
Spenser had lingered before the fountain of court favour; and how often
the dark shadow of the political minister intervened between the poet
and the throne we are reminded by the deep sensitiveness of the victim,
the murmurs, and even the scorn of the indignant bard.

Under the patronage of Leicester, the poet's services were transferred
to Lord Arthur Grey, the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, who appointed
Spenser his secretary. He has vindicated this viceroy's administration
in the "Faery Queen," by shadowing forth his severe justice in Arthegal,
accompanied by his "Iron Man," whose iron flail "threshed out
falsehood" in their quest of Ierne, in that "Land of Ire" where justice
and the executioner were ever erratic.

Of the brief life of the poet, his better years were consumed in
Ireland, where he filled several appointments more honourable than
lucrative. His slender revenue seems not to have flourished under a
grant of land from the crown, on the conditions attached to it in
1585.[4] Cast into active service, the musings of the "Faery Queen" were
assuredly often thrown aside; its fate was still dubious, for Ireland
was not a land of the muses, as he himself declared, when a chance
occurrence, the visit of Rawleigh to that country, gave Spenser another
Sidney. The "Faery Queen" once more opened its mystical leaves on the
banks of the Mulla, before a judge, whose voice was fame.

  And when he heard the music that I made,
  He found himself full greatly pleased at it;
  He gan to cast great liking to my lore,
  And great disliking to _my luckless lot,
  That banish'd had myself, like wight forlore,
  Into that waste where I was quite forgot_.

Spenser has here disclosed involuntarily "the secret sorrow."

The acres of Kilcolman offered no delights to "the wight forlore,
forgotten in that waste." Our tender and melancholy poet was not blessed
with that fortitude which, even in a barren solitude, can muse on its
own glory, as Petrarch and Rousseau were wont, and which knows also to
value a repose freed from spiteful rivalries and mordacious malignity.
And now opened his tedious suings at court, for what, but to obtain some
situation in his native home, which offered repose of mind, and
carelessness of the future? We know of his restless wanderings to
England, and his constant returns to Ireland. We find the poet, in
1590, wearied by solicitations, throwing out the immortal lines so
painfully descriptive of

  What hell it is in suing long to bide.

It was in this year that the first three books of the romantic epic were
published, which was followed by the grant of a pension in February,
1591. But five years afterwards the poet still remains the same
querulous court-suitor; the miserable man wasting his days and his
nights; for then he tells us in his "Prothalamion," how on a summer's
day he

  Walk'd forth to ease his pain,
  Along the shore of silver-streaming Thames.
  ------------------I whose sullen care,
  Through discontent of my long fruitless stay
  In princes' court, and expectation vain
  Of idle hopes which still do fly away,
  Like empty shadows, to afflict my brain.

When this was written Spenser had possessed the lands of Kilcolman more
than ten years, and held his pension. Were the lands profitless, and the
pension still to be solicited? The poet has only perpetuated his "secret
sorrows;" his pride or his delicacy has thrown a veil over them. He has
sent down to posterity his disappointments, without alluding to the
nature of his claims.

It was in 1597 that Spenser laid before the Queen his memorable "View of
the State of Ireland." This state-memorial still makes us regret that
our poet only wrote verse; there is a charm in his sweet and voluble
prose, a virgin grace which we have long lost in the artificial
splendour of English diction. Here is no affectation of Chaucerian
words; the gold is not spotted with rust. The vivid pictures of the
poet; the curiosity of the antiquary; and above all, a new model of