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the crystal of clearness—the banner of beauty—the lily of largesse_and has many more alliterative fine qualities. In a finer strain, a lover of the same age celebrates his mistress as the most beautiful female between “ Lyncolne and Londe:” and, with more natural elegance and feeling than are found in many modern love-songs, goes on to say,
When the nytengale singes the wodes waxen grene,
Before chivalry had given romantic poetry the exhaustless theme of beautiful damsels and peerless dames, or classic poetry made known its goddess of Love and Beauty to rude rhymsters, the Virgin Mary was the object of much poetic praise ; and some of the early hymns to her have considerable elegance as well as devotional warmth. The author of the beautiful hymn to the Virgin in the Lady of the Lake, must, in all probability, have seen the effusion preserved by the venerable types of Caxton or de Worde.
Mary Moder, wel thou bee,
Sweete lady, Mayden clene,
And oute of synne, lady, schilde thou me,
Swete lady, Mayden mylde,
The metrical romance, which soon made so important a part of polite literature, had now been natu. ralized by the numerous translations of the Norman and French minstrels; and the GESTE OF KING HORN or HORNE CHILDE, said to be the first original romance in the language, appeared about this time. There is, however, reason to suppose that it, like the other contemporary romances, is of French origin. A satirical ballad on the unfortunate issue of the battle of Lewes, which was fought about 1264, is with more certainty ascertained to be of native growth, and is remarkable for having, it is conjectured, occasioned the first penal statute against libels.
Before this period, a court-poet or laureate was become an established office at the court of Henry the Third, with a fixed salary. The person who first held this office, termed Henry the Versifier, was a native of France, as were all the minstrels attached to the court; so that it is probable he did as little for the native muses as Blondel, Fouquett, and Fayditt, the celebrated French minstrels of CEUR DE Lion, had done before him.
Advancing to the reign of Edward the First, we
have Robert of Gloucester, a monk who wrote a dull rhyming chronicle of the fabulous and real annals of England, curious, and even valuable to the antiquarian, but intolerably tedious to every less patient reader. This was about the year 1280 ; and twenty-three years before a person of more talent and celebrity, Robert de Brunne, as he is called from the monastery in which he resided, began to write in verse in his native language, avowedly for the advantage of his untaught country
His first performance was a translation from a work written in French by an English bishop, and entitled the MANUAL OF SINs. The translator prefaces his work by saying,
For lewed(a) men, I undyrtoke,
The translator, in describing his author, Robert Grosthead, Bishop of Lincoln, gives a curious picture of the private character of the prelate :
He lovede moche to hear the harpe,
Robert de Brunne, who must be regarded as one
(6) Truth and all.
of the earliest improvers of the language, and as almost the first Englishman who devoted his talents to refine and elevate the manners of his countrymen, afterwards composed a Metrical Chronicle of England, in which romances of all kinds are pressed into the service. In this chronicle is given the origin of the custom of Wassaille, in the old traditionary story of Vortigern, king of the Britons, meeting at a banquet Rowena, the daughter of the Saxon, Hengist. This may serve as a specimen of Robert de Brunne:
Of chamber Rouwen so gent,
The king asked what should be; and it is explained by his Latimer, or interpreter, that such is the custom when the Saxons are at the ale or feast, the pledge being wassaille, the response drinkhaille ; and that when the pledger has drunk, he kisses him who pledged him. Vortigern, quickly apprehending his lesson, cries drinkhaille, when the whole ceremony is gone through. Of this institution of the Saxon social pledge De Brunne says,
Of that wassaille men told grete tale,
(a) Very becoming.
And drinkhaille to them that drank;
And then returns to the Saxon princess,
Fell sithes(a) that maiden ying
It is conjectured by some antiquaries, that De Brunne wrote the English Romance of Cæur de Lion, though there seems to be no foundation for the supposition.
Among the earliest productions of the English muse, is an Elegy on the Death of Edward the First, which marks the gradual progress of the language, and shows the rudiments of the elegiac ballad, of which so many fine specimens afterwards enriched the national poetry. Edward, disappointed of going to Palestine a second time as he had vowed, directed his heart to be borne to the Holy Land by fourscore knights. The flow of the verse is free and even musical in this elegy. The panegyric of the Pope on the soldier of the Cross is one of the most striking parts of it. When the death of the chivalrous prince is announced to his Holiness,
Alas! he said, is Edward dead ?
Of Christendom he ber the flower ;
For dole he mihte ne speke na more;
(a) Sithes, often.