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deadly show, and leads so many plumed and disorderly processions to the silence and the eternity of the grave. All this visible world is vain ; there is nothing true but human virtue,—the courageous energy with which man attains to self-command, the generous energy with which he employs himself in the service of others. On this view he fixes his eyes; they pierce through worldly gauds, neglect sensual joys, to attain this. By such internal action the ideal is displaced; a new source of action springs up—the idea of righteousness. What sets them against ecclesiastical pomp and insolence, is neither the envy of the poor and low, nor the anger of the oppressed, nor a revolutionary desire to experimentalise abstract truth, but conscience. They tremble lest they should not work out their salvation if they continue in a corrupted church; they fear the menaces of God, and dare not embark on the great journey with unsafe guides. What is righteousness ?' asked Luther anxiously, and how shall I obtain it?' With like anxiety Piers Ploughman goes to seek Do-well, and asks each one to show him where he shall find him. With us,' say the friars. Contra quath ich, Septies in die cadit justus, and ho so syngeth certys doth nat wel;' so he betakes himself to study and writing,' like Luther; the clerks at table speak much of God and of the Trinity, and taken Bernarde to witnesse, and putteth forth presompcions ... ac the carful mai crie and quaken atte gate, bothe a fyngred and a furst, and for defaute spille ys non so hende to have hym yn. Clerkus and knyghtes carpen of God ofte, and haveth hym muche in hure mouthe, ac mene men in herte;' and heart, inner faith, living virtue, are what constitute true religion. This is what these dull Saxons had begun to discover; the Teutonic conscience, and English good sense too, had been aroused, with individual energy, the resolution to judge and to decide alone, by and for one's self. Christ is our hede that sitteth on hie, Heddis ne ought we have no mo,' says a poem, attributed to Chaucer, and which, with others, claims independence for Christian consciences
• We ben his membres bothe also,
Father he taught us call him all,
Al maisters ben wickid and fals.' No mediator between man and God. In vain the doctors state that they have authority for their words; there is a word of greater authority, to wit, God's. We hear it in the fourteenth century, this grand word. It quitted the learned schools, the dead languages, the dusty shelves on which the clergy suffered it to sleep, covered with a confusion of commentaries and Fathers. Wiclif appeared and translated it like Luther, and in a spirit similar to Luther's. Cristen men and wymmen, olde and yonge, shulden studie fast in the Newe Testament, for it is of ful autorite, and opyn to undirstonding of simple men, as to the poyntis that be moost nedeful to salvacioun.'' Religion must be secular, in order to escape from the hands of the clergy, who forestall it; each must hear and read for himself the word of God: he will be sure that it has not been corrupted in the passage; he will feel it better, and more, he will understand it better; for 'ech place of holy writ, both opyn and derk, techith mekenes and charite ; and therfore he that kepith mekenes and charite hath the trewe undirstondyng and perfectioun of al holi writ. ... Therfore no simple man of wit be aferd unmesurabli to studie in the text of holy writ . .. and no clerk be proude of the verrey undirstondyng of holy writ, for whi undirstonding of hooly writ with outen charite that kepith Goddis heestis, makith a man depper dampned . . . and pride and covetise of clerkis is cause of her blindees and eresie, and priveth them fro verrey undirstondyng of holy writ.' 3
| Piers Plowman's Crede; the Plowman's Tale, printed in 1550. There were three editions in one year, it was so manifestly Protestant.
2 Knighton, about 1400, wrote thus of Wiclif: “Transtulit de Latino in angli. cam linguam, non angelicam. Unde per ipsum fit vulgare, et magis apertum
These are the memorable words that began to circulate in the markets and in the schools. They read the translated Bible, and commented on it; they judged the existing Church after it. What judgments these serious and renovated minds passed upon it, with what readiness they pushed on to the true religion of their race, we may see from their petition to Parliament. One hundred and thirty years before Luther, they said that the pope was not established by Christ, that pilgrimages and image-worship were akin to idolatry, that external forms are of no importance, that priests ought not to possess temporal wealth, that the doctrine of transubstantiation made a people idolatrous, that priests have not the power of absolving from sin. In proof of all this they brought forward texts of Scripture. Fancy these brave spirits, simple and strong souls, who began to read at night, in their shops, by candle-light; for they were shopmen—a tailor, and a furrier, and a baker—who, with some men of letters, began to read, and then to believe, and finally got themselves burned. What a sight for the fifteenth century, and what a promise! It seems as though, with liberty of action, liberty of mind begins to appear; that these common folk will think and speak; that under a conventional literature, introduced from France, a new literature is dawning; and that England, genuine England, half-mute since the Conquest, will at last find a voice.
She had not found it. King and peers ally themselves to the Church, pass terrible statutes, destroy lives, burn heretics alive, often
laicis et mulieribus legere scientibus quam solet esse clericis admodum litteratis, et bene intelligentibus. Et sic evangelica margerita spargitur et a porcis conculcatur ... (ita) ut laicis commune æternum quod ante fuerat clericis et ecclesiæ doctori. bus talentum supernum.'
1 Wiclif's Bible, ed. Forshall and Madden, 1850, preface to Oxford edition, p. 2. 2 Ibid.
3 In 1395. • 1401, William Sawtré, the first Lollard burned alive.
with refinement of torture,-one in a barrel, another hung by an iron chain round his waist. The temporal wealth of the clergy had been attacked, and therewith the whole English constitution; and the great establishment above crushed out with its whole weight the assailants from below. Darkly, in silence, while in the Wars of the Roses the nobles were destroying each other, the commoners went on working and living, separating themselves from the official Church, maintaining their liberties, amassing their wealth, but not going beyond. Like a vast rock which underlies the soil, yet crops up here and there at distant intervals, they barely exhibit themselves. No great poetical or religious work displays them to the light. They sang; but their ballads, first ignored, then transformed, reach us only in a late edition. They prayed; but beyond one or two indifferent poems, their incomplete and repressed doctrine bore no fruit. One may well see from the verse, tone, and drift of their ballads, that they are capable of the finest poetic originality, but their poetry is in the hands of yeomen and harpers. We perceive, by the precocity and energy of their religious protests, that they are capable of the most severe and impassioned creeds; but their faith remains hidden in the shop-parlours of a few obscure sectaries. Neither their faith nor their poetry has been able to attain its end or issue. The Renaissance and the Reformation, those two national outbreaks, are still far off; and the literature of the period retains to the end, like the highest ranks of English society, almost the perfect stamp of its French origin and its foreign models.
1 Commines, v. ch. 19 and 20: 'In my opinion, of all kingdoms of the world of which I have any knowledge, where the public weal is best observed, and least violence is exercised on the people, and where no buildings are overthrown or demolished in war, England is the best ; and the ruin and misfortune falls on them who wage the war. ... The kingdom of England has this advantage beyond other nations, that the people and the country are not destroyed or burnt, nor the buildings demolished ; and ill-fortune falls on men of war, and especially on the nobles.'
? See the ballads of Chevy Chase, The Nut-Brown Maid, etc. Many of them are admirable little dramas.
The New Tongue.
I. Chancer–His education-His political and social life-Wherein his talent
was serviceable-He paints the second feudal society. II. How the middle age degenerated—Decline of the serious element in manners,
books, and works of art-Need of excitement-Analogies of architecture
and literature. III. Wherein Chaucer belongs to the middle age-Romantic and ornamental poems
-Le Roman de la Rose—Troilus and Cressida—Canterbury Tales-Order of description and events—The House of Fame-Fantastic dreams and visions -Love poems—Troilus and Cressida—Exaggerated development of love in the middle age-Why the mind took this path—Mystic love—The Flower
and the Leaf-Sensual love-Troilus and Cressida. IV. Wherein Chaucer is French-Satirical and jovial poems-Canterbury Tales
foonery, waggery, and coarseness in the middle age. V. Wherein Chaucer was English and original—Idea of character and individual
-Van Eyck and Chaucer contemporary-Prologue to Canterbury TalesPortraits of the franklin, monk, miller, citizen, knight, squire, prioress, the good clerk-Connection of events and characters-General idea-Importance of the same-Chaucer a precursor of the Reformation-He halts by the way-Delays and Childishness-Causes of this feebleness-His prose,
and scholastic notion-How he is isolated in his age. VI. Connection of philosophy and poetry-How general notions failed under
the scholastic philosophy - Why poetry failed-Comparison of civilisation and decadence in the middle age, and in Spain - Extinction of the English literature-Translators—Rhyming chronicles–Didactic poets -Compilers of moralities–Gower-Occleve-Lydgate-Analogy of taste in costumes, buildings, and literature-Sad notion of fate, and human misery-Hawes-Barclay-Skelton-Elements of the Reformation and of the Renaissance.
I. MID so many barren endeavours, throughout the long impotence A of Norman literature, which was content to copy, and of Saxon literature, which bore no fruit, a definite language was nevertheless attained, and there was room for a great writer. Geoffrey Chaucer appeared, a man of mark, inventive though a disciple, original though a translator, who by his genius, education, and life, was enabled to know and to depict a whole world, but above all to satisfy the chivalric
world and the splendid courts which shone upon the heights. He belonged to it, though learned and versed in all branches of scholastic knowledge; and he took such part in it, that his life from end to end was that of a man of the world, and a man of action. We find him alternately in King Edward's army, in the king's train, husband of a queen's maid of honour, a pensioner, a placeholder, a deputy in Parliament, a knight, founder of a family which was hereafter to become allied to royalty. Moreover, he was in the king's council, brother-inlaw, of the Duke of Lancaster, employed more than once in open embassies or secret missions at Florence, Genoa, Milan, Flanders, commissioner in France for the marriage of the Prince of Wales, high up and low down in the political ladder, disgraced, restored to place. This experience of business, travel, war, the court, was not like a book education. He was at the court of Edward 111., the most splendid in Europe, amidst tourneys, grand entrances, displays; he took part in the pomps of France and Milan; conversed with Petrarch, perhaps with Boccacio and Froissart; was, actor in, and spectator of, the finest and most tragical of dramas. In these few words, what ceremonies and processions are implied ! what pageantry of armour, caparisoned horses, bedecked ladies ! what display of gallant and lordly manners! what a varied and brilliant world, well suited to occupy the mind and eyes of a poet! Like Froissart, better than he, Chaucer could depict the character of the nobles, their mode of life, their amours, even other things, and please them by his portraiture.
Two notions raised the middle age above the chaos of barbarism : one religious, which had fashioned the gigantic cathedrals, and swept the masses from their native soil to hurl them upon the Holy Land ; the other secular, which had built feudal fortresses, and set the man of courage armed, upon his feet, within his own domain : the one had produced the adventurous hero, the other the mystical monk; the one, to wit, the belief in God, the other the belief in self. Both, running to excess, had degenerated by expenditure of force: the one had exalted independence into rebellion, the other had changed piety into enthusiasm : the first made man unfit for civil life, the second drew him back from natural life: the one, sanctioning disorder, dissolved society; the other, enthroning irrationality, perverted intelligence. Chivalry had need to be repressed before issuing in brigandage ; devotion restrained before inducing slavery. Turbulent feudalism grew feeble, like oppressive theocracy; and the two great master passions, deprived of their sap and lopped of their stem, gave place by their weakness to the monotony of habit and the taste for worldliness, which shot forth in their stead and flourished under their name.
Born between 1328 and 1345, died in 1400.