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THE ANGLo-SAxon CHRONICLE (p. 1) belongs for the most part, of course, to the history of English literature before the Norman Conquest; but the later records, especially those of the Peterborough version, from which our selection is taken, are of great importance for the study of modern English prose. The Chronicle seems to have been begun in the reign of Alfred the Great, perhaps in consequence of his efforts for the education of his people. It exists in six versions, differing more or less from one another both as to the events recorded and the period of time covered, but together forming, in a manner, a single work. The early entries, beginning with 60 B.C., were compiled from various sources and are, for the most part, very meager and uninteresting. Here are the complete records for two years: “An, DCCLXXII. Here (that is, in this year) Bishop Milred died;” “An. DCCLXXIII. Here a red cross appeared in the sky after sunset; and in this year the Mercians and the men of Kent fought at Otford; and wondrous serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons.” For long, weary stretches of years, there are, with the notable exception of the vivid account of the death of Cynewulf, few more exciting entries than these. Even when great events are recorded, no effort is made to tell how or why they occurred, no attempt to produce an interesting narrative. In the time of King Alfred, however, a change appears, and, though the records still have the character of annals rather than of history, the narrative is often very detailed and interesting, especially in regard to the long and fierce contest with the Danes. After the Norman Conquest, one version of the Chronicle, that kept by the monks of Peterborough, contains entries of the greatest importance both for the history of the times and for the state of the English language then. The latest of these entries is for the year 1154, when the turbulent reign of the weak Stephen was followed by the strong and peaceful administration of Henry II. The selection we have chosen is from the entry for 1137, and gives a startling picture of the terrors of the time. It is almost astounding to recall that it was just at this time that Geoffrey of Monmouth started the story of King Arthur on its long and brilliant career in literature. The most notable things about the passage, considered as English prose, are its simplicity and straightforwardness and its strong resemblance to modern English in sentence structure and word order. These features are probably to be acCounted for by the fact that, though the writer doubtless understood Latin, he did not feel that he was producing literature, but only making a plain record of facts, and consequently did not attempt the clumsy artificialities so often produced by those who tried to imitate Latin prose in English. . The OLD ENGLISH Homily (p. 1) may serve to illustrate the kind of sermons preached in the twelfth century. The homilies that have come down to us, show scarcely any originality of conception or expression. All are reproductions of older English homilies or are based upon similar compositions in Latin by such writers as St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugo of St. Victor, and Radulphus Ardens. In both matter and manner they follow closely their chosen models. The short extract here given has been selected principally because of the curious and amusing anecdote of the young tsab and the old, which is its sole touch of freshness or originality. Very noticeable in all of these homilies is the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, which was in vogue for * many centuries; and, in some of them, the mysticism which was rapidly developing
under the influence of the ideals and sentiments of chivalry. The style is determined
greatest and most successful literary impostures ever perpetrated. It seems first to have been issued about 1371 in French, from which it was very soon translated into Latin, English, and many other languages. Its popularity was enormous, as is attested by the immense number of Mss. which have come down to us, and by the frequency with which it has been reprinted ever since 1475, the date of the first printed edition, Incredible as are many of the stories it contains, the apparent simplicity and candor of the author, his careful distinction between what he himself had seen and what he reported only on hearsay, his effort to avoid all exaggeration even in his most absurd statements, gained ready belief for his preposterous fabrications, and this was confirmed by the fact that some of the statements which at first seemed most incredible — such as the roundness of the earth — were actually true and were proved to be so by the discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The book was really compiled from many sources, principally the travels of William of Boldensele, a German traveler of the previous century, and Friar Odoric of Pordenone, an Italian who visited Asia in 1316–1320, the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, a great mediaeval compilation of history and legend, and Pliny’s Natural History, that great storehouse of the marvelous. As to the identity of the author, he is now believed to have been one Jean de Bourgogne, an Englishman who fled from England after the execution of his lord, John baron de Mowbray, in 1322, but it is not certainly known whether Mandeville or Bourgogne was his real name. Two witnesses of the sixteenth century record having seen at Liège a tomb to the memory of Dominus Johannes de Mandeville, on which was an epitaph giving the date of his death as Nov. 17, 1371, and some verses declaring him to have been the English Ulysses. In any event, the book is one of the most fascinating books of marvels ever written, and the English version, although a translation, is of the highest importance for the history of English prose. Of JoHN WICLIF (p. 9) no account is necessary here. Whatever may have been his own part in the translations of the Bible which go under his name, these translations are of great importance for the history of English prose style. The same selection (the fifth chapter of St. Matthew) has therefore been given from both the earlier and the later version. The differences between them are very striking and instructive. In order to afford opportunity for further study of the gradual development of the matchless style of the Authorized Version of the English Bible, the same chapter is given from Tyndale's version (p. 34, below). Both the Authorized and the Revised versions are so easily accessible that it seems unnecessary to print the same chapter from them, but they should not be neglected in the comparison. JoHN DE TREVISA (p. 11) translated into English in 1387 the Polychronicon of Ranulph Higden, a sort of universal history and geography written about half a century earlier. Higden's work is largely a compilation from other authors, whose names he often gives, – Sometimes wrongly, to be sure, — but he added a good deal from his own personal knowledge. Trevisa, in his turn, made some additions in his translation. The chapter here given is interesting as a specimen of fourteenth-century English prose, but still more so for the glimpses it affords as to the state of the language in the time of Higden and the changes that took place between then and the time when Trevisa wrote. . GEOFFREY CHAUCER (p. 12) is also too well known to require an additional note. It may, however, be remarked that the simplicity of the Prologue to the Astrolabe and the skill shown in the translation of Boethius indicate that, had prose been regarded as a proper medium for literary art in his day, Chaucer could have told his tales in a prose as simple, as musical, and as flexible as his verse, for he obviously could have wrought out such a prose had there been the incentive to do so. THE REPREssor of Over MUCH BLAMING of THE CLERGY (p. 16) is the most imPortant monument of English prose in the first two thirds of the fifteenth century. It is
clear and vigorous in style, and well organized and arranged as a discussion. It was
and noble adventures of feats of arms, done and achieved by the wars of France and England, should notably be enregistered and put in perpetual memory, whereby the prewe (noble) and hardy may have ensample to encourage them in their well-doing.” His accounts of events are sometimes colored by this pious intention, as well as by the prejudices of his informants; and that is the case with the selection here given. It appears from other sources that the young king did not act as nobly and bravely at Mile-end Green as Froissart represents him, but no doubt his friends persuaded themselves and Froissart that he did, and it seemed a fine example to record for the encouragement of high-spirited young men. The interest and importance of the passage may excuse its length; it has been quoted or paraphrased by every historian who has written about the famous Revolt of 1381. The style of the translator, Lord Berners, is admirable in its simple dignity and its wonderful freshness and vividness of diction. SIR THOMAS MoRE (p. 29) is one of the most striking and charming figures in the brilliant court of Henry VIII, and is known to all students of literature as the author of Uiopia. Unfortunately for our purposes that interesting book was written in Latin and, though soon translated into English, cannot represent to us the author's English style. I have chosen a selection from his Dialogues rather than from the History of Richard III, partly because the style seems to me more touched with the author's emotion, and partly because the passage presents the attitude of the writer on a question which may interest many modern readers. It is characteristic in its mixture of dignity, good sense, prejudice, enlightenment, spiritual earnestness, and playfulness of temper. The Sermon by HUGH LATIMER, an extract from which is here given (p. 36), represents English pulpit oratory of the middle of the sixteenth century at its very best. Latimer was famous for his sound learning, his sturdy common sense, his pithy colloquial style, and his intellectual and spiritual fearlessness. A very fair conception of the man may be obtained from this sermon and Foxe's account of his death (p. 41, below). ROGER ASCHAM, tutor to Queen Elizabeth and one of the most learned men of his time, declared that he could more easily have written his Scholemaster (p. 38) in Latin than in English, and no doubt he could; but, fortunately, other considerations than ease induced him to write in English. The book is intensely interesting, because of the thoroughly wholesome attitude towards learning, not as of value for its own sake, but as a means for the cultivation of mind and spirit and an aid toward the development of the perfect man, perfect in body, in mind, and in soul, in agility and strength, in intellectual Power and knowledge, in courtesy and honor and religion, which was the finest ideal of the leaders of that great intellectual and spiritual awakening which we call the Renaissance. The same attitude is displayed in his other interesting book, the Toxophilus, which is also well worth reading, especially by all who care both for learning and for outdoor sports. The methods of training children and of teaching Latin outlined in the Scholemaster are so humane and sane and effective, that it is hard to believe that, having once been practiced or even suggested, they could have been forgotten and neglected, and needed to be redisovered within our own time, – indeed have not yet been discovered in their entirety by all teachers. In spite of Ascham's facility in Latin, his English is simple, clear, and idiomatic, and is permeated by the attractiveness of his nature. Foxe's Acts and Monuments of these latter and perillous Dayes (p. 41), better known * Foxe's Book of Martyrs, was for many years one of the most popular books in the English language and was reprinted many times. It is, of course, in many respects a barba. ous book, the product of an age when scarcely any one, Catholic or Protestant, doubted that cruel torture was a proper means of inculcating the true faith, and death a proper onally for refusing to accept it. The book long kept alive the bitter and distorted memo: of that time. The style is usually plain and a trifle stiff, but occasionally rises to eloquence.