Monday, April 8, 2019
A Brief History of English and American Literature Essay Example for Free
A Brief History of side and American Literature EssayThe Nor macrocosm conquest of England, in the eleventh century, made a break in the natural growth of the side of meat language and literature. The old side or AngloSaxon had been a purely Germanic mother tongue, batting orderh a complicated grammar and a full make of inflections. For three hundred years following the battle of Hastings. this native tongue was driven from the kings butterfly and the courts of law, from parliament, school, and university. During every last(predicate) this time there were two languages intercommunicate in England. Norman French was the birthtongue of the fastness classes and position of the lower. When the latter fin each(prenominal)y got the better in the struggle, and became, about the middle(a) of the 14th century, the national speech of all England, it was no longer the position of King Alfred. It was a new language, a grammarless tongue, al about totally 12 stripped of its i nflections. It had lost a half of its old words, and had filled their places with French equiva contributes.The Norman lawyers had introduced sound terms the ladies and courtiers, words of dress and courtesy. The knight had imported the vocabulary of war and of the chase. The masterbuilders of the Norman castles and cathedrals contri scarcelyed practiced expressions proper to the architect and the mason. The art of cooking was French. The naming of the living animals, ox, swine, sheep, deer, was left to the Saxon churl who had the herding of them, time the dressed meats, beef, pork, mutton, venison, received their baptism from the tabletalk of his Norman master. The four orders of begging friars, and especially the Franciscans or hoary Friars, introduced into England in 1224, became intermediaries between the high and the low. They went about preaching to the poor, and in their sermons they intermingled French with English. In their manpower, too, was almost all the science of t he day their medicine, botany, and astronomy displaced the old nomenclature of leechdom, wortcunning, and starcraft. And, finally, the translators of French poems often found it easier to commute a foreign word bodily than to seek out a native synonym, particularly when the origin supplied them with a rhyme.But the innovation reached even to the commonest words in everyday design, so that verbalize drove out steven, poor drove out earm, and color, use, and place made good their footing beside hue, 13wont, and stead. A great part of the English words that were left were so changed in spelling and orthoepy as to be practically new. Chaucer stands, in date, midway between King Alfred and Alfred Tennyson, but his English differs immensely more than from the formers than from the latters. To Chaucer AngloSaxon was as much a dead language as it is to us. The classical AngloSaxon, moreoer, had been the Wessex dialect, spoken and written at Alfreds capital, Winchester. When the French had displaced this as the language of culture, there was no longer a kings English or any literary standard. The sources of modern standard English are to be found in the East Midland, spoken in Lincoln, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, and neighboring shires.Here the old Anglian had been corrupted by the Danish identifytlers, and apace threw off its inflections when it became a spoken and no longer a written language, after the Conquest. The West Saxon, clinging more tenaciously to ancient forms, sunk into the topographic point of a local dialect while the East Midland, dispersion to London, Oxford, and Cambridge, became the literary English in which Chaucer wrote. The Normans brought in also new intellectual influences and new forms of literature. They were a oecumenical people, and they connected England with the continent. Lanfranc and Anselm, the first two Norman archbishops of Canterbury, were learned and splendid prelates of a 14 type sort of unknown to the AngloSaxons. Th ey introduced the scholastic philosophy taught at the University of Paris, and the re organise discipline of the Norman abbeys.They bound the English perform more closely to Rome, and officered it with Normans. English bishops were deprived of their sees for illiteracy, and French abbots were set over monasteries of Saxon monks. Down to the middle of the 14th century the learned literature of England was mostly in Latin, and the polite literature in French. English did non at any time altogether cease to be a written language, but the extant re principal(prenominal)s of the period from 1066 to 1200 are few and, with one exception, unimportant. After 1200 English came more and more into written use, but mainly in translations, paraphrases, and imitations of French works. The native genius was at school, and followed awkwardly. The AngloSaxon poetry, for example, had been swinging and alliterative. It was commonly written in lines containing four rhythmical accents and with three o f the accented syllables alliterating.R_este hine th r_mheort r_ced hlifadeG_ep and g_ldfh, gst inne swf.Rested him consequently the greathearted the hall toweredRoomy and goldbright, the knob slept within.This rude energetic verse the Saxon scp had sung to his harp or gleebeam, dwelling on the 15 emphatic syllables, passing swiftly over the others which were of undetermined number and position in the line. It was now displaced by the smooth metrical verse with rhymed endings, which the French introduced and which our modern poets use, a verse fitted to be recited rather than sung. The old English alliterative verse continued, indeed, in occasional use to the 16th century. But it was linked to a forgotten literature and an obsolete dialect, and was doomed to give way. Chaucer lent his great creatority to the more modern verse system, and his own literary models and inspirers were all foreign, French or Italian. Literature in England began to be once more English and truly nation al in the custody of Chaucer and his contemporaries, but it was the literature of a nation cut off from its own past by three centuries of foreign rule.The most noteworthy English document of the 11th and 12th centuries was the continuation of the AngloSaxon write up. Copies of these annals, differing evenhandedly among themselves, had been kept at the monasteries in Winchester, Abingdon, Worcester, and elsewhere. The yearly entries were mostly brief, dry records of passing events, though occasionally they father full and animated. The fen country of Cambridge and Lincolnshire was a region of monasteries. Here were the great abbeys of Peterborough and Croyland and Ely minster. One of the earliest English songs tells how the savage heart of the Danish 16 king Cnut was softened by the singing of the monks in Ely.Merie sungen muneches binnen ElyTha Cnut chyning reu ther byRoweth, cnihtes, noer the land,And here we thes muneches sang.It was among the dikes and marshes of this fen c ountry that the bold outlaw Hereward, the last of the English, held out for some years against the conqueror. And it was here, in the rich abbey of Burch or Peterborough, the ancient Medeshamstede (meadowhomestead) that the chronicle was continued for nearly a century after the Conquest, break of serve off abruptly in 1154, the date of King Stephens death. Peterborough had received a new Norman abbot, Turold, a very stern man, and the entry in the chronicle for 1170 tells how Hereward and his gang, with his Danish backers, thereupon plundered the abbey of its treasures, which were first removed to Ely, and then carried off by the Danish fleet and sunk, lost, or squandered. The English in the later portions of this Peterborough chronicle sires piecemeal more modern, and falls away more and more from the strict grammatical standards of the classical AngloSaxon.It is a most valuable historical monument, and some passages of it are written with great vividness, notably the sketch of William the Conqueror puzzle down in the year of his death (1086) by one who had looked upon him and at another time dwelt in his court. 17 He who was forward a rich king, and lord of many a land, he had not then of all his land but a piece of seven feet. . . . Likewise he was a very stark man and a terrible, so that one durst do nothing against his will. . . . Among other things is not to be forgotten the good peace that he made in this land, so that a man might fare over his kingdom with his bosom full of gold unhurt. He set up a great deer preserve, and he laid laws therewith that whoso should slay hart or hind, he should be blinded. As greatly did he love the tall deer as if he were their father.With the discontinuation of the Peterborough annals, English history written in English prose ceased for three hundred years. The thread of the nations story was kept up in Latin chronicles, compiled by writers partly of English and partly of Norman descent. The earliest of these, muc h(prenominal) as Ordericus Vitalis, Simeon ofDurham, Henry of Huntingdon, and William of Malmesbury, were contemporary with the later entries of the Saxon chronicle. The last of them, Matthew of Westminster, finished his work in 1273. to the highest degree 1300 Robert, a monk of Gloucester, composed a chronicle in English verse, following in the main the authority of the Latin chronicles, and he was succeeded by other rhyming chroniclers in the 14th century. In the hands of these the true history of the Saxon times was overlaid with an everincreasing mass of fable and legend.All authoritative knowledge of the period 18 dwindled away until in Capgraves Chronicle of England, written in prose in 146364, exactly any thing of it is left. In history as in literature the English had forgotten their past, and had turn to foreign sources. It is noteworthy that Shakspere, who borrowed his subjects and his hitmanes sometimes from authentic English history, sometimes from the legendary his tory of ancient Britain, Denmark,and Scotland, as in Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth, ignores the Saxon period altogether. And Spenser, who gives in his second book of the Faerie Queene, a resum of the reigns of fabulous British kingsthe supposed ancestors of Queen Elizabeth, his royal patronhas nothing to say of the real kings of early England.So only had the true record faded away that it made no appeal to the imaginations of our most patriotic poets. The Saxon Alfred had been dethroned by the British Arthur, and the conquered Welsh had imposed their fictitious genealogies upon the dynasty of the conquerors. In the Roman de Rou, a verse chronicle of the dukes of Normandy, written by the Norman Wace, it is related that at the battle of Hastings the French jongleur, Taillefer, spurred out before the van of Williams army, tossing his lance in the air and chanting of Charlemagne and of Roland, of Oliver and the peers who died at Roncesvals. This incident is prophetic of the victory which N orman song, no less than Norman arms, was to win over England. The lines which Taillefer 19 sang were from the Chanson de Roland, the oldest and best of the French hero sagas.The heathen Northmen, who had ravaged the coasts of France in the 10th century, had be sire in the course of one hundred and fifty years, completely identified with the French. They had accepted Christianity, intermarried with the native women, and forgotten their own Norse tongue. The race thus formed was the most brilliant in Europe. The war exchangeable, adventurous spirit of the vikings mingled in its blood with the French nimbleness of wit and fondness for display. The Normans were a nation of knightserrant, with a passion for prowess and for courtesy. Their architecture was at once cockeyed and graceful. Their women were skilled in embroidery, a splendid sample of which is preserved in the famous Bayeux tapestry, in which the conquerors wife, Matilda, and the ladies of her court wrought the history of t he Conquest.This national taste for decoration expressed itself not only in the grandiloquent pomp of feast and chase and tourney, but likewise in literature. The most characteristic contribution of the Normans to English poetry were the metrical romances or chivalry tales. These were sung or recited by the minstrels, who were among the retainers of every great feudal baron, or by the jongleurs, who wandered from court to castle. There is a whole literature of these romans d aventure in the AngloNorman dialect of French. Many of them are 20 very longoften thirty, forty, or fifty gram lineswritten sometimes in a strophic form, sometimes in long Alexandrines, but commonly in the short, eightsyllabled rhyming couplet. Numbers of them were turned into English verse in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.The translations were commonly inferior to the originals. The French trouvere (finder or poet) told his story in a straightforward, prosaic fashion, omitting no dilate in the action a nd unrolling endless descriptions of dresses, trappings, gardens, etc. He invented plots and situations full of fine possibilities by which later poets wee-wee profited, but his own handling of them was feeble and prolix. Yet there was a simpli urban center about the old French language and a certain elegance and delicacy in the diction of the trouveres which the rude, unformed English failed to catch. The heroes of these romances were of various climes Guy of Warwick, and Richard the Lion Heart of England, Havelok the Dane, Sir Troilus of Troy, Charlemagne, and Alexander. But, strangely enough, the favorite hero of English romance was that mythical Arthur of Britain, whom Welsh legend had celebrated as the most formidable enemy of the Sassenach invaders and their victor in dozen great battles. The language and literature of the ancient Cymry or Welsh had made no impression on their AngloSaxon conquerors.There are a few Welsh borrowings in the English speech, such as bard and dru id but in the old AngloSaxon literature there are 21 no more traces of British song and story than if the two races had been sundered by the ocean instead of being borderers for over six hundred years. But the Welsh had their own national traditions, and after the Norman Conquest these were set free from the isolation of their Celtic tongue and, in an indirect form, entered into the general literature of Europe. The French came into feeling with the old British literature in two places in the Welsh marches in England and in the province of Brittany in France, where the population is of Cymric race and spoke, and still to some extent speaks, a Cymric dialect alike to the Welsh.About 1140 Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk, seemingly of Welsh descent, who lived at the court of Henry the First and became subsequently bishop of St. Asaph, produced in Latin a socalled Historia Britonum in which it was told how Brutus, the great grandson of Aeneas, came to Britain, and founded the re his kingdom called after him, and his city of New Troy (Troynovant) on the site of the later London. An air of historic gravity was apt(p) to this tissue of Welsh legends by an exact chronology and the genealogy of theBritish kings, and the author referred, as his authority, to an imaginary Welsh book given him, as he said, by a certain Walter, archdeacon of Oxford. Here appeared that line of fabulous British princes which has become so familiar to modern readers in the plays of Shakspere and the poems of Tennyson Lear and his 22 three daughters Cymbeline, Gorboduc, the subject of the earliest regular English tragedy, composed by Sackville and acted in 1562 Locrine and his Queen Gwendolen, and his daughter Sabrina, who gave her name to the river Severn, was made immortal by an pretty song in Miltons Comus, and became the heroine of the tragedy of Locrine, once attributed to Shakspere and above all, Arthur, the son of Uther Pendragon, and the founder of the Table Round.In 1155 Wace, the author of the Roman de Rou, turned Geoffreys work into a French poem entitled Brut d Angleterre, brut being a Welsh word meaning chronicle. About the year 1200 Waces poem was Englished by Layamon, a priest of Arley Regis, on the border stream of Severn. Layamons Brut is in thirty thousand lines, partly alliterative and partly rhymed, but written in pure Saxon English with hardly any French words. The style is rude but vigorous, and, at times, highly imaginative. Wace had amplified Geoffreys chronicle somewhat, but Layamon made much large additions, derived, no doubt, from legends current on the Welsh border.In particular the story of Arthur grew in his hands into something like fullness. He tells of the enchantments of Merlin, the wizard of the unfaithfulness of Arthurs queen,Guenever and the treachery of his nephew, Modred. His narration of the last great battle between Arthur and Modred of the keen of the kingfifteen fiendly wounds he had, one might in the least 23 thr ee gloves compel and of the little boat with two women therein, wonderly dight, which came to bear him away to Avalun and the Queen Argante, sheenest of all elves, whence he shall come again, according to Merlins prophecy, to rule the Britons all this left little, in essentials, for Tennyson to add in his Death of Arthur. This new material for fiction was eagerly seized upon by the Norman romancers. The story of Arthur drew to itself other stories which were afloat.