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.

But his English Bible, the parent of the later versions, cannot be too highly valued.  For the first time, English readers could search the whole Scriptures, and judge for themselves of doctrine and authority:  there they could learn how far the traditions and commandments of men had encrusted and corrupted the pure word of truth.  Thus the greatest impulsion was given to a reformation in doctrine; and thus, too, the exclusiveness and arrogance of the clergy received the first of many sledge-hammer blows which were to result in their confusion and discomfiture.

“If,” says Froude,[19] “the Black Prince had lived, or if Richard II. had inherited the temper of the Plantagenets, the ecclesiastical system would have been spared the misfortune of a longer reprieve.”

THE ASHES OF WICLIF.—­The vengeance which Wiclif escaped during his life was wreaked upon his bones.  In 1428, the Council of Constance ordered that if his bones could be distinguished from those of other, faithful people, they should “be taken out of the ground and thrown far off from Christian burial.”  On this errand the Bishop of Lincoln came with his officials to Lutterworth, and, finding them, burned them, and threw the ashes into the little stream called the Swift.  Fuller, in his Church History, adds:  “Thus this brook has conveyed his ashes into Avon, Avon into Severn, Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wiclif are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over;” or, in the more carefully selected words of an English laureate of modern days,[20]

                   ... this deed accurst,
    An emblem yields to friends and enemies,
    How the bold teacher’s doctrine, sanctified
    By truth
, shall spread, throughout the world dispersed.

CHAPTER IX.

CHAUCER (CONTINUED.)—­PROGRESS OF SOCIETY, AND OF LANGUAGES.

   Social Life.  Government.  Chaucer’s English.  His Death.  Historical
   Facts.  John Gower.  Chaucer and Gower.  Gower’s Language.  Other Writers.

SOCIAL LIFE.

A few words must suffice to suggest to the student what may be learned, as to the condition of society in England, from the Canterbury Tales.

All the portraits are representatives of classes.  But an inquiry into the social life of the period will be more systematic, if we look first at the nature and condition of chivalry, as it still existed, although on the eve of departure, in England.  This is found in the portraits of certain of Chaucer’s pilgrims—­the knight, the squire, and the yeoman; and in the special prologues to the various tales.  The knight, as the representative of European chivalry, comes to us in name at least from the German forests with the irrepressible Teutons. Chivalry in its rude form, however, was destined

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