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of bold outlaws, in whose lives there was the last struggle against Norman tyranny.

The strong hand of the conqueror had seized large tracts of land for royal hunting-grounds, the ancient owners outcast and well may the oppressed people have applauded the exploits of the hardy archers who claimed their own again within the forbidden limits, and thus Robin Hood became indeed “the English ballad-singers' joy," asserting, as he did, what, under a complicated tyranny of authority, seemed

“ The good old rule, the simple plan

That they should take who have the power,

and they should keep who can.” The old songs have kept his name, but no historians, like Niebuhr with the Roman legends, has unwoven the tangled threads of fact and Sction.

It would be a study of much interest to compare the early British ballad poetry with the other ballad poetry most famous in European literature. I mean that of Spain. Mr. Lockhart's fine version of the Spanish ballads, and our countryman Mr. Ticknor's recent classic work on Spanish Literature would give facilities for the comparison. The higher civilization in Spain, both Moorish and Christian, and the struggle for centuries between the two races, as the Saracen was driven slowly from his last foothold in the West of Europe, wars which had the dignity of the highest sentiments of religion and loyalty, the greater refinement of society--all these things would be found in strong contrast with the rudeness of a poetry, picturing the feuds of petty chieftains, and the mingled ferocity ard frolic of the border warfare.

Our early minstrelsy, with all its comparative rudeness, was not without its gentle elements; and we can conceive how it helped to civilize the people, when we observe how much of pathos is woven into it, how it tells of the tenderness and pity that are congenial with courage and with the love of fierce adventure, springing often out of the sternest heart: the pathos is social, too, so free from sentimentalism, and told so simply. When Edom of Gordon, in his fierce assault on the castle, adding the terrors of fire to those of the sword, not staying his spear's point from the little girl who is lowered over the wall: as his victim lies before him, the blood dripping over her yellow hair, remorse is in the words he said:

"You are the first that ere

I wish't alive again.

"I might have spared that bonny face,

To have been some man's delight.”


He calls his men away fronı his fierce victory

:: Ill dooms I do guess;
I cannot look on that bonny face,

As it lies on the grass.”

This transition of feeling is sometimes given in these rude strains with deep effect: observe it, for instance, in the contrast between the opening and the close, in these few detached stanzas :

“ Beardslee rose up on a May morning,

Called for water to wash his hands; "Gar loose to me the good gray dogs,

That are bound wi' iron bands.'' The outlaw's mother, with a presentiment of his fate, entreats him to give over what was to prove a woful hunting, but in vain; and in spite of her forebodings and the terrors of the forest-laws, he goes

forth. The rude and animated strain continues :

“Beardslee shot, and the dun deer leaped,

And he wounded her in the side;
But a'tween the water and the brae,

His hounds, they laid her pride.
And Beardslee has bryttled the deer so well,

That he's had out her liver and lungs;
And with these he has feasted his bloody hounds,

As if they had been Earl's sons." The hunter and his dogs fall asleep, and are surprised by the foresters, who overpower him, and, after a desperate conflict, leave him dying in the lonely wood. The outlaw's breath passes away in a very gentle strain :

"O! is there no a bonny bird,

Can sing as I can say,
Would flee away to my mother's bower

And tell to fetch Beardslee away.
There's no a bird in a' this forest

Will do as mickle for me,
As dip its wing in the wan water,

And streak it on my e'e bree." Another characteristic of this poetry is the remarkable dramatic power that pervades it, the vividness of the dialogue. This is shown in that, the finest specimen of all, which Coleridge called “the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens.” It is a poem with a certain air of historical interest, heightened by the mysterious uncertainty of its incidents, and remarkable both for the power of description and its depth of passion. It has come down from a remote antiquity, and has manifestly escaped the tampering of modern hands. Let me mention, respecting it, that after I had quoted it in a lecture of a former course, I was told by one of my very kind friends that I had carried him back to the days of his childhood in the old country, when he had heard this very ballad chaunted by the old Scotch people, who must have been familiar with it only by tradition, and not by books. I mention this incident, because it brought home to my mind most distinctly the inanner in which the minstrel literature has been perpetuated.

When the earliest poetry of Greece, the mighty songs of Homer, was a tradition from age to age, on the shores and the islands of the Ægean, with no surer abiding-place than the memories and the tongues of the Rhapsodists, the wisest of Athenian lawgivers, and one of the most politic of Athenian statesmen, made it a part of their wisdom and their policy to gather the scattered poetry into safer keeping for the good of all after generations. No British Solon, no British Pisistratus, took like heed for Britain's early popular poetry. Doubtless, much of it has perished, and the names of the minstrels, like the names of the great church architects of the Middle Ages, have perished utterly. They did their appointed work in their day and generation; and again, when in the last century (as I propose to show at a latter part of the course), English poetry became artificial, feeble, unreal, and sophisticate, the early song was revived, to breathe into it again health, and strength, and truth.


Literature of tøe Sixteenth Century.




In approaching the early English literature in my last lecture, I stated that, in forming a general notion of the extent of it, we may regard the era of our literature as a period of five centuries, frorn about 1350 to the present time—the middle of the fourteenth century down to the middle of the nineteenth. The student would, however, be misguided, were he led to believe, as he might naturally do, that, during those five centuries, there was a continuous and uninterrupted progress, that the light of literature was faithfully handed from sire to son, and that new fires were kindled, in due succession, to light the new ages as the world moved on. Looking to that little island of our forefathers, we shall see, in its history, how it travelled on with other lights flashing over it than the quiet illumination that shines from the studious watchtowers of poets and scholars. Such tranquil beams were, in many a year, dimmed with the fierce and lurid fires which war in its worst form, civil strife, and ecclesiastical persecutions were casting over the land.

The familiar and well-known metaphor which has long designated Chaucer as the “Morning Star” of English poetry, while it is most apt in telling of that primal and fair shining in the eastern sky of our literature, is not so truthful in its relations to the later as to the earlier times. The light of day came on too slowly; and, indeed, a long night followed that early outbreak of the imagination of England's first great poet. Nearly two centuries passed before another arose worthy to take place beside him. Mr. Hallam's historical study of the progress of the European mind during the Middle Ages, has led him to remark, that “The trite metaphors of light and darkness, of dawn

and twilight, are used carelessly by those who touch on the literature of the Middle Ages, and suggest, by analogy, an uninterrupted succession, in which learning, like the sun, has dissipated the shadows of barbarism. But, with closer attention, it is easily seen that this is not a correct representation; that taking Europe generally, far from being in a more advanced stage of learning at the beginning of the fifteenth century than two hundred years before, she had, in many respects, gone backward, and gave little sign of any tendency to recover her ground. There is, in fact, no security, as far as the past history of mankind assures us, that any nation will be uniformly progressive in science, arts, and letters ; nor do I perceive, whatever may be the current language, that we can expect this with much greater confidence of the whole civilized world."

One of the most remarkable relapses of the kind in intellectual advancement is the long interval between the death of Chaucer, in the year 1400, and the birth of the next of England's great poets, Edmund Spenser, in 1653, and the appearance of the earliest of the great English prose-writers in the latter part of the sixteenth century. This period of more than a century and a half is, comparatively, a desolate tract of time; and, parting with Chaucer in the era of the Middle Ages, we gain companionship with no other master-spirit until, crossing the threshold of modern times, the year 1500, we find ourselves in the domain of the later civilization which succeeds the thousand years that separate the Roman world from modern times. In this transition we pass, let it also be remembered, from the ages in which the thoughts of men and the oracles of God were recorded only by the slow labour of the pen—the stupendous toil which modern art may marvel at rather than despise—into the times which become, in some respects, a new intellectual era by the agency of printing. It was near a century after the death of Chaucer that the first of English printers died-the honoured William Caxton-whose life is to be thought of, like that of the Venerable Bede, as monitory of “perpetual industry;" for, as the aged Saxon expired dictating the last words of a translation of St. John's Gospel

" In the hour of death, The last dear service of his parting breath,” so did the old printer carry forward his last labour, on a volume of sacred lore, to the last day of a life that bore its burden of four-score years.

Having alluded to the familiar figure which is so often used to typify the position of the earliest of the great English authors, I may

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