Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Britain.

The old Teutonic poetry, with its treble system of accent, alliteration, and parallelism, was wholly different from the Romance poetry, with its double system of rime and metre.  But, from an early date, the English themselves were fond of verbal jingles, such as “Scot and lot,” “sac and soc,” “frith and grith,” “eorl and ceorl,” or “might and right.”  Even in the alliterative poems we find many occasional rimes, such as “hlynede and dynede,” “wide and side,” “Dryht-guman sine drencte mid wine,” or such as the rimes already quoted from Cynewulf.  As time went on, and intercourse with other countries became greater, the tendency to rime settled down into a fixed habit.  Rimed Latin verse was already familiar to the clergy, and was imitated in their works.  Much of the very ornate Anglo-Saxon prose of the latest period is full of strange verbal tricks, as shown in the following modernised extract from a sermon of Wulfstan.  Here, the alliterative letters are printed in capitals, and the rimes in italics:—­

No Wonder is it that Woes befall us, for Well We Wot that now full many a year men little care what thing they dare in word or deed; and Sorely has this nation Sinned, whate’er man Say, with Manifold Sins and with right Manifold Misdeeds, with Slayings and with Slaughters, with robbing and with stabbing, with Grasping deed and hungry Greed, through Christian Treason and through heathen Treachery, through guile and through wile, through lawlessness and awelessness, through Murder of Friends and Murder of Foes, through broken Troth and broken Truth, through wedded unchastity and cloistered impurity.  Little they trow of marriage vow, as ere this I said:  little they reck the breach of oath or troth; swearing and for-swearing, on every side, far and wide, Fast and Feast they hold not, Peace and Pact they keep not, oft and anon.  Thus in this land they stand, Foes to Christendom, Friends to heathendom, Persecutors of Priests, Persecutors of People, all too many; spurners of godly law and Christian bond, who Loudly Laugh at the Teaching of God’s Teachers and the Preaching of God’s Preachers, and whatso rightly to God’s rites belongs.

The nation was thus clearly preparing itself from within for the adoption of the Romance system.  Immediately after the Conquest, rimes begin to appear distinctly, while alliteration begins to die out.  An Anglo-Saxon poem on the character of William the Conqueror, inserted in the Chronicle under the year of his death, consists of very rude rimes which may be modernised as follows—­

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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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