Page images
[blocks in formation]


prodigious industry sustained for fourteen years. The little we know of
Caxton personally seems to indicate that he was in addition an active member
of society, well esteemed by his fellow citizens. At one time he audited the
parochial accounts. He died at some uncertain date in 1491, and was
interred in St. Margaret's, Westminster, where his memory is honoured with a -
tablet and a stained glass
Caxton's literary gifts

Caxton as

Jhelu endles Mbetnes of 40 were not inconsiderable.

author and

antho His experience of life,

lourng foules 1 3hsu both as merchant and

gostly ioye passing E er: Market courtier, had been of a

cedung ait gladnes and RI nature to enlarge his

aliter. Ožbesu belthe el mind, and endow him

Jalandu louer of al opentaût sinners that with Auency of expres

Ylikiest to owelle as thou sayæst the role sion and ease of manner.

W Dbith the childwen of men) [Foz that was ) These qualities are ap

Will the cause Poby thou Obete incarnab)anok parent when he speaks Nmade man in the end of the Doozla. Tha: canal for himself, as in his Q uemyna Blessed Illesu of all the foro Poco prefaces. As a translator that thou suffææst in thy máhode drabb he did much to enrich Kwagnge nybe to the blessed passion! Jys the the language, something is which most bolsom passion Dbas oræp also to alloy it by an ned to be in the wupne fero / By curele s over liberal employment 19 of all the hole tzynyte for the rauson of of French words and I al mankynde Haue mynde blefleo Jásul idioms, hardly to be Il of al the good dw&b & anguplTheo erol avoided under his cir

to Wed that thou suffeast in the cenowe 3 cumstances. He did not

1 flesh afor the passion on the crossi/Doha sa pique himself upon fidel

thou Doeve betraied of the discyple Judas AS ity to his original, nor was it requisite that he should, as he was not dealing with masterpieces, and had neither the am

From the “XV. D'es," circa 1491 bition nor the capacity

The fifteen prayers, so called from the fact of their all commencing to produce a monument

with the letter o of fine English like Lord Berners' Froissart. He frequently paraphrases and interpolates, but his versions are not really the worse. That he could appreciate the literary rank of a great writer is shown by his enthusiastic praise of Chaucer which we are about to quote; even though, except by the slight references to “metre” (stanzas) and “rhyme” (heroic couplets), it would hardly have been discovered that he was speaking of a poet. Of Chaucer's services to the language he writes much as a critic of the eighteenth century might have written about Dryden. When his orthography is


Qüfter druezle Wezkes made/ translated and achieued/ h& uyng noo Doerke in hand.3 sitting in my studye Dolleve as lave many opuerle paunflettio and Bookys. happened that to my hand cam a lytel Booke in foensbebisbe late Das translated oute of latyn By Tome noble eletke of fzaúc Dohi che Booke is named Eneroos, made in latyy Be that noble poete & grebe clerke Byrgplet Which booke J Tavbe ouez and woæ dhezin. Tobb afar the generall aestruccpón of the gre & tuore, Eneas æpazko berynge his olæ fader anchises Bpon his (Bolores/hio litrl fon polus on his hóna.hio vby. Te Doyth moche othez people folobbyngeland Bobb Be Thopped and æpazad boyth alte thustorpe of his aduentures that he had er be cam to the achicuement of his conquest of ytalpe as att a longe sbatt & Verbed in this present Boke.Jn Doli: che booke I had gube playsyz.By cause of the Farr and bone It Qumes e Doras in feenshe/ Dhpche j neuer sabbe to For none so plapsaunt ne so Ibel orded. Dohicke boo ke as me femred Tholæ de moche vequplya to noble men to see ao Del Foz the eloquence as the historyeo/ Holb Del that many honderd perpo palico Was the sayo booke of cnepos Dayth other Werkes made and lerned dayly in folio specyal: ly in ytalye & other places which historpe the layo Byzgple made in metice! And Dhan) had aduysed me in this sapo bo ke. I alybered and concluded to translađe it in to englythe Bind fozch Worth tolle a penne e ynkie and Dorote a leef oz tlbeyne /Whycle Jouersale agayn to covecke it jiWnd tbhā Flatbe the fayz & Straite ærmes therin/J dubts that it Tholæ not please Tome gentylmen Pohicle lace blamed me layeng ô in my translacpono I had outa curyous ærmes

Dbhiche mud not be Bnaistande of comyn æple land ælized me & Blé olæ and homely berints in my translacyons, and

A Page from “The Boke of Eneydos,” printed by Caxton in 1490

[blocks in formation]

modernised it will be seen how nearly he approaches the standard English of our day :

Great thanks, laud, and honour ought to be given unto the clerks, poets, and historiographs, that have written many noble books of wisdom, of the lives, passions, and miracles, of holy saints, of histories of noble and famous acts and feats, and of the chronicles with the beginning of the creation of the world unto this present time, by which we be daily informed and have knowledge of many things of whom we should not have known if they had not left us their monuments written. Among whom and in especial to-fore all other we ought to give a singular laud unto that noble and great philosopher Geoffry Chaucer, the which for his ornate writing in our tongue may well have the name of a laureate poet. For to-fore that he by his labour embellished, ornated, and made fair our English, in this royame was had rude speech and incongrue, as yet it appeareth by old books, which at this day ought not to have place nor be compared among us to his beauteous volumes and adornate writings, of whom he made many books and treatises of many a noble history as well in metre as in rhyme and prose, and them so craftily made that he comprehended his matters in short, quick and high sentences, eschewing prolixity, casting away the chaff of superfluity, and showing the picked grain of sentence uttered by crafty and sugared eloquence. Of whom among all other of his books I purpose to imprint by the grace of God his Tales of Canterbury, in which I find many a noble history of every estate and degree, first rehearsing the conditions and the array of each of them as proper as possible is to be said, and after these tales, which be of noblesse, wisdom, gentleness, mirth, and also of very holiness and virtue, wherein he finisheth this said book, which book I have diligently overseen and duly examined to the end that it be made according to his own making. For I find many of the said books which writers have abridged and many things left out ; and in some places have set certain verses that he never made nor set in his book, of which books so incorrect was one brought to me six years passed which I supposed had been very true and correct. And according to the same I did to imprint a certain number of them, which anon were sold to many and divers gentlemen, of whom one gentleman came to me and said that this book was not according in many places to the book Geoffry Chaucer had made. To whom I answered that I had made it according to my copy, and that by me was nothing added or minished. Then he said he knew a book which his father had and much loved, that was very true and according to his [Chaucer's] own first book by him made, and said more, if I would imprint it again he would get me the same book for a copy, howbeit he wist well that his father would not gladly depart from it.

Caxton proceeds to describe how, the more correct manuscript being courteously placed at his disposition by the gentleman's father, he amended his former edition by its aid. The probable date of this edition is 1478, and that of the improved one 1484. The episode shows how faulty MSS. were becoming when printing appeared to stop further degeneracy, but also in some cases to perpetuate errors already existing. He was succeeded by his apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, and Richard Pynson about the same time took up the business of his rival, William de Machlinia. We part from him with the remark that in his day literature was first officially recognised as a meet subject for encouragement by Government by a proclamation of Richard the Third repealing duties on the importation of books, and allowing them to be sold in England by foreign booksellers.




ballad litera. ture

Scotch and We have now arrived at the brink of the great revival of literature which has

continued to our own times. The chief barrier between writer and reader has been broken down by the invention of printing, and henceforth the stream of literary production is to be continuous, and literature is to acquire more and more influence as an agency in the affairs of the world. Hitherto, as we have had ample opportunity of observing, the course of literature has been liable to such interruptions as to render it difficult of treatment as a whole : but henceforth every people with pretensions to civilisation has a continuous literary history. The wish to preserve as much continuity as possible in the record of British literature has induced us to reserve for special treatment two departments clearly demarcated from the rest of the subject. These are the literature of Scotland and ballad literature, both originating and attaining a considerable development before the introduction of printing, and therefore to be dealt with ere we trace the consequences of the greatest intellectual revolution hitherto effected by a material process. This parenthesis involves no considerable retrogression in our narrative, as literature hardly existed in Scotland before Barbour in the middle of the fourteenth century: and the ballad, though already on the lips of the people, rarely enlisted the pen of

the scribe until an even later date. English and Before entering upon the history of Scottish literature, it may be necessary alite virtually to remove some misconceptions. We are accustomed to regard the Scotland

prior to the accession of James I. as a foreign country, but in fact, however politically estranged, the Lowland Scotch, with whose literature alone we are concerned, were in blood and character as English as any of the dwellers to the south of the Tweed. There was indeed a large Celtic admixture in the Western Lowlands, where British chieftains had for a considerable period maintained their independence, but this has for centuries ceased to be recognisable. The Anglian colonisation of the Eastern Lowlands is manifested by the fact that the Scottish metropolis itself bears the name (Edwin's burgh) given to it by the Northumbrian monarch who made it his capital in the seventh century. At subsequent periods, indeed, the Eastern Lowlands were conquered, now by Celts, now by Danes, but the close resemblance of the Northumbrian dialect to the Scotch shows how slightly the composition of the population was affected by these political changes. “The Danes chose


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]




Deira, not Bernicia; their traces are found in Yorkshire, not in Northumberland.” Cumberland for a long time belonged to Scotland, the English Kings did not finally renounce their claims upon the Lothians until 1016, but neither the linguistic nor the ethnological character of the districts was affected except by the absorption of the Celtic element. Meanwhile a powerful Celtic monarchy was growing up in central Scotland, formed by the fusion of the Picts, an ancient people of uncertain extraction, but entirely Celticised, with the Scoti or immigrants from Scotia, i.e., Ireland. But the monarch under whom this kingdom was finally consolidated, Malcolm Canmore, was half an Englishman in virtue of his mother ; his queen, a princess of the royal family of Hungary, was half Saxon also; and ere long a succession of matrimonial alliances made his successors Anglo-Normans. When, at the beginning of the twelfth century, King Edgar made Edinburgh his capital, the Celtic element retired definitively into the background. The institutions of the kingdom became substantially Anglo-Norman ; and, except in the illiterate Highlands, Saxon speech prevailed so thoroughly that the Scotch poets describe their language as “English.” The first author who professed to write “Scottish” was Gavin Douglas, under the influence of the anti-English feeling generated by the disaster of Flodden Field.

The slow literary progress of Scotland in comparison with England is Slow progress solely attributable to external causes—the poor and unpeopled condition of Scotch the country, the perpetual feuds, foreign and intestine, and the absence of any foundation for a literary superstructure. England possessed a national literature before the Conquest, which although almost obliterated was capable of revival : she also had an imported literature which for long supplied its place, and by which, when the time for fusion came, it was enormously enriched. Scotland had no ancient indigenous literature for modern writers to develop, and no imported literature to rouse the emulation and stimulate the ambition of her own children. The themes of her poets were frequently national, but their execution and even their language were English. The best of them continually remind us of Chaucer, but not until near the close of the fifteenth century do they seem in any measure to prefigure Burns or Scott. No one thought of attempting prose literature. Scotland in the thirteenth century produced powerful minds in Michael Scott and Duns Scotus, but they wrote in Latin on subjects infinitely remote from the comprehension of ordinary readers. No one seemed to have an idea that the ordinary speech could be fit for anything beyond the transaction of the ordinary affairs of life.

Many, perhaps most, ancient literatures claim a patriarchal founder, who from some points of view wears the semblance of a fable and from others that of a fact. Scotland has her Orpheus or Linus in THOMAS of ERCILDOUNE, called Thomas the also THOMAS the RHYMER, who does not indeed precede her Ennius, John Rhyme Barbour, by any immense interval of time, but is still sufficiently in advance of him to fulfil the requisites of a venerable ancestor, could we but be sure that he was indeed an author. His actual existence is unquestionable. Ercildoune

« PreviousContinue »