English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History eBook

Henry Coppée
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 540 pages of information about English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History.

THE DANES.—­The Danes thronged into the realm in new incursions, until 850,000 of them were settled in the North and East of England.  The Danegelt or tribute, displaying at once the power of the invaders and the cowardice and effeminacy of the Saxon monarchs, rose to a large sum, and two millions[11] of Saxons were powerless to drive the invaders away.  In the year 1016, after the weak and wicked reign of the besotted Ethelred, justly surnamed the Unready, who to his cowardice in paying tribute added the cruelty of a wholesale massacre on St. Brice’s Eve—­since called the Danish St. Bartholomew—­the heroic Edmund Ironsides could not stay the storm, but was content to divide the kingdom with Knud (Canute) the Great.  Literary efforts were at an end.  For twenty-two years the Danish kings sat upon the throne of all England; and when the Saxon line was restored in the person of Edward the Confessor, a monarch not calculated to restore order and impart strength, in addition to the internal sources of disaster, a new element of evil had sprung up in the power and cupidity of the Normans.

Upon the death of Edward the Confessor, the claimants to the throne were Harold, the son of Godwin, and William of Normandy, both ignoring the claims of the Saxon heir apparent, Edgar Atheling.  Harold, as has been already said, fell a victim to the dissensions in his own ranks, as well as to the courage and strength of William, and thus Saxon England fell under Norman rule.

THE LITERARY PHILOSOPHY.—­The literary philosophy of this period does not lie far beneath the surface of the historic record.  Saxon literature was expiring by limitation.  During the twelfth century, the Saxon language was completely transformed into English.  The intercourse of many previous years had introduced a host of Norman French words; inflections had been lost; new ideas, facts, and objects had sprung up, requiring new names.  The dying Saxon literature was overshadowed by the strength and growth of the Norman, and it had no royal patron and protector since Alfred.  The superior art-culture and literary attainments of the South, had long been silently making their impression in England; and it had been the custom to send many of the English youth of noble families to France to be educated.

Saxon chivalry[12] was rude and unattractive in comparison with the splendid armor, the gay tournaments, and the witching minstrelsy which signalized French chivalry; and thus the peaceful elements of conquest were as seductive as the force of arms was potent.  A dynasty which had ruled for more than six hundred years was overthrown; a great chapter in English history was closed.  A new order was established, and a new chapter in England’s annals was begun.

CHAPTER V.

THE NORMAN CONQUEST AND ITS EARLIEST LITERATURE.

   Norman Rule.  Its Oppression.  Its Benefits.  William of Malmesbury. 
   Geoffrey of Monmouth.  Other Latin Chronicles.  Anglo-Norman Poets. 
   Richard Wace.  Other Poets.

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English Literature, Considered as an Interpreter of English History from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.