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.

Robert Grostete, Bishop of Lincoln, died 1253, was probably the author of the Manuel des Peches, and also wrote a treatise on the sphere.

Sir Michael Scott:  He lived in the latter half of the thirteenth century; was a student of the “occult sciences,” and also skilled in theology and medicine.  He is referred to by Walter Scott as the “wondrous wizard, Michael Scott.”

Thomas of Ercildoun—­called the Rhymer—­supposed by Sir Walter Scott, but erroneously, as is now believed, to be the author of “Sir Tristram.”

The King of Tars is the work of an unknown author of this period.

In thus disposing of the authors before Chaucer, no attempt has been made at a nice subdivision and classification of the character of the works, or the nature of the periods, further than to trace the onward movement of the language, in its embryo state, in its birth, and in its rude but healthy infancy.

CHAPTER VII.

CHAUCER, AND THE EARLY REFORMATION.

   A New Era—­Chaucer.  Italian Influence.  Chaucer as a Founder.  Earlier
   Poems.  The Canterbury Tales.  Characters.  Satire.  Presentations of
   Woman.  The Plan Proposed.

THE BEGINNING OF A NEW ERA.

And now it is evident, from what has been said, that we stand upon the eve of a great movement in history and literature.  Up to this time everything had been more or less tentative, experimental, and disconnected, all tending indeed, but with little unity of action, toward an established order.  It began to be acknowledged that though the clergy might write in Latin, and Frenchmen in French, the English should “show their fantasyes in such words as we learneden of our dame’s tonge,” and it was equally evident that that English must be cultivated and formed into a fitting vehicle for vigorous English thought.  To do this, a master mind was required, and such a master mind appeared in the person of Chaucer.  It is particularly fortunate for our historic theory that his works, constituting the origin of our homogeneous English literature, furnish forth its best and most striking demonstration.

CHAUCER’S BIRTH.—­Geoffrey Chaucer was born at London about the year 1328:  as to the exact date, we waive all the discussion in which his biographers have engaged, and consider this fixed as the most probable time.  His parentage is unknown, although Leland, the English antiquarian, declares him to have come of a noble family, and Pitts says he was the son of a knight.  He died in the year 1400, and thus was an active and observant contemporary of events in the most remarkable century which had thus far rolled over Europe—­the age of Edward III. and the Black Prince, of Crecy and Poitiers, of English bills and bows, stronger than French lances; the age of Wiclif, of reformation in religion, government, language, and social order.  Whatever his family antecedents, he was a courtier, and a successful one; his wife was Philippa, a sister of Lady Katherine Swinford, first the mistress and then the wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

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