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is an account in much detail of the coming of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. For 774 we read:
"In this year a red cross appeared in the heavens after sunset; and in this year the Mercians and Kentish men fought at Otford, and wondrous serpents were seen in the South Saxons' land."
Occasionally the simple prose of the Chronicle is broken by a spirited poem, of which the best are the Battle of Brunanburh, celebrating the victory of Alfred's grandson Athelstan over the Danes in 937; and the Battle of Maldon, recording the defeat in 991 of the Saxons under Byrhtnoth by the Danes. A good idea of the Battle of Brunanburh may be got from the concluding section of Tennyson's translation:
"Never had huger
Slain by the sword-edge
Such as old writers
Hold of the land." 1
Decay of Anglo-Saxon Literature. With the passing of Alfred a great incentive to literary production passed; and both the Anglo-Saxon literature and the Anglo-Saxon lan
1 The translation gives a good idea of the form of Anglo-Saxon poetry. See pages 7-8.
guage underwent a rapid decay. During the century and a half between Alfred's death (901) and the Norman Conquest (1066) it seems that no poetry was produced; and the small amount of prose from the same period is not of high order. Besides the Chronicle the chief contributions to literature were sermons and saints' lives. Two writers of these are known to us by name Elfric, abbot of Eynsham near Oxford, and Wulfstan, Archbishop of York. Their interest for us to-day is very slight. It is merely, says Andrew Lang, "that they upheld a standard of learning and of godly living, in evil times of fire and sword, and that English prose became a rather better literary instrument in their hands."
Under Alfred's successors the Danes regained most of their lost territory; and the decay of national life went along with, possibly helped to bring about, the decay of language and literature. The nation needed new life; and this was brought to it by the great event - the Norman Conquestwith which our next chapter begins.
FROM THE NORMAN CONQUEST TO THE DEATH OF CHAUCER (1066-1400)
Origin of the Normans. A few years after Alfred's death some Scandinavian pirates sailed southward and invaded what is now
northern France. So
bold and pressing were they that Charles the Simple ceded to them the duchy of Normandy to stop their encroachments. The newcomers, called Normans (that is, Northmen), soon mixed with the natives, producing a new race having the strength and boldness of the North, and the grace and refinement of the South. In 1066 they invaded England, and defeated Harold,
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.
the last of the Saxon kings, in the battle of Hastings. The coming of this new race was unquestionably beneficial in every way to the people of Britain.
Too much emphasis is usually laid upon the antagonism and separation between Saxons and Normans. In the popular mind the picture in Ivanhoe fairly represents conditions at the end of the twelfth century; whereas the distinction between Norman and Saxon had virtually disappeared within half a century after the Conquest. When Henry I, third of the Norman sovereigns of England, married a direct descendant of Alfred the Great, there could be no further ground for calling a man superior or inferior because he was a Norman or a Saxon. Henry, moreover, was born and educated in England, and almost certainly learned the English language in school.
Immediate Effect of Conquest on Language and Literature. -The English began immediately to adopt many NormanFrench words, though neither the written nor the spoken language became anything like French. The fact that even at the present time English has more words from other sources than from Anglo-Saxon does not signify that the native element of our vocabulary is small; for of the words used oftenest by us all, the Anglo-Saxon are far more numerous. For about a century and a half after the conquest, moreover, it does not appear that literature was greatly enriched by works in either Norman-French, English, or a mixture of the two. Latin was the literary language of Europe, and the meagre literary product of Britain was in the same language.
Geoffrey of Monmouth: Arthurian Legends. British literature in Latin is chiefly in the form of chronicles, of which the work most important to English literature is the Historia Regum Britannia ("History of the Kings of Britain"), written about 1135 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey, a Welsh priest, claimed that he compiled his history from authentic sources; but his learned contemporaries
disputed his claim, and subsequent scholarship has not certainly discovered authorities for any large portion of his work.
Of Geoffrey's life we know almost nothing; but neither his life nor his literary antecedents can add to or detract from his importance to English literature. It is to Geoffrey's History that we must trace the stories used by Shakspere in King Lear and Cymbeline; and more important even than these, the stories of King Arthur. Whether or not Geoffrey invented the romance of Arthur will probably never be known; but the important fact to note is that Geoffrey first put the material into literary form. His work was soon done into French verse by one Wace, and from French into English about 1205 by Layamon. Parts of the legend were put into French by Chrétien de Troyes and others, into German by Wolfram von Eschenbach, into numerous anonymous romances, both prose and verse, in all the languages of Europe. A compilation from all sorts of sources was made toward the close of the fifteenth century by Malory; and from that day to our own the legend has attracted the pens of many poets, including Tennyson, Swinburne, Matthew Arnold, and William Morris.
Other Romances. Besides Arthur and his knights other heroes were made the subjects of romances. Some of these deal with Charlemagne and his peers, others with Alexander the Great, still others with purely Germanic figures like Bevis of Hampton, Havelok the Dane, and King Horn. Of most of these romances versions exist in various other languages, and it is usually impossible to say which is the original or whether the original is extant. Such a thing as literary property was unknown until very modern times; and writers 1 See page 38.