Vincent of Beauvais, a learned Dominican of France, who flourished in the thirteenth century, observes that it was a practice of preachers to rouse their congregation by relating a fable of AEsop. In the British Museum there is a collection of two hundred and fifteen stories, romantic, allegorical, and legendary, evidently compiled for the use of monastic preachers. Mystic similitudes were at this time greatly affected in all branches of learning. In the “Romaunt of the Rose,” the difficulties of a lover are represented under the form of a man seeking a rose in an inaccessible garden. This flower, alchemists considered to be emblematic of the Philosopher’s Stone, while theologians referred it to the white rose of Jericho—a state of grace into which the wicked could not enter.
Anglo-Saxon Humour—Rhyme—Satires against the Church—The Brunellus—Walter Mapes—Goliardi—Piers the Ploughman—Letters of Obscure Men—Erasmus—The Praise of Folly—Skelton—The Ship of Fools—Doctour Doubble Ale—The Sak full of Nuez—Church Ornamentation—Representations of the Devil.
The rude character of the Anglo-Saxon humour may be gathered from our having derived from it the word fun. This term which we often apply to romping and boisterous games, refers principally to the sense of feeling, and always implies some low kind of amusement connected with the senses. We also discover among the Anglo-Saxons an unamiable tendency to give nicknames to people from their personal peculiarities. But if we look for anything better, we can find only a translation of the Latin riddles of Symposius by Aldhelm, Bishop of Shirburn. This prelate, who was a relation of Ina, King of the West Saxons, was in attainments far superior to his age. He was celebrated as a harper, poet, and theologian, and wrote several works, especially one in praise of Virginity. His translations from Symposius were probably intended for the post-prandial delectation of the monks.
Aristophanes seems to have made the first approach to rhyming, for he introduced some repetitions of the same word at the end of lines. He probably thought the device had an absurd effect and used it as a kind of humour. Aulus Gellius blames Isocrates, who lived about 400 B.C., for introducing jingles into his orations, and as he also refers to Lucilius’ condemnation of them, he would probably have objected to them in poetry.
Classic Latin versification is supposed to have died out with Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers in the sixth century, but an advance was made towards playing with words by the introduction of rhymes in the church hymns. Some trace of them is found in the verses of Hilary in the fourth century, but we find them first regularly adopted in a Latin panegyric written for Clotaire II. in France at the commencement of the seventh. Some suppose that “Leonine verses” were invented shortly afterwards by Pope Leo II.