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EDITED BY

Williams

W. JA LINTON AND R. H. STODDARD

68648

CHAUCER TO BURNS

LONDON
KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH & CO.

MDCCCXC

Printed by Trow's Printing and Bookbinding Company,

New York, U. S. A.

INTRODUCTION.

The origins of English Verse are to be sought in various directions, recondite as well as obvious; for while there is no difficulty in following it from Chaucer down, we must remember that when it reached Chaucer it.was not a rill but a river,-a river whose volume had been increased by many affluents, each with a spring or well-head of its own. The first singers were the minstrels, or glee-men, who chanted at feasts and festivals and accompanied themselves on the harp. Who they were and what they sung we have to conjecture, for their names and their songs have alike perished. We only know that their profession was a recognized one, and that grave dignitaries of the Church thought it an honor to be skilled therein. The first poet whose name has reached us is Cædmon. There is a touch of the marvellous in his story as it is related by Bede, and a touch of the romantic as it is related by Morley. What appears to be authentic in it is that he lived in the seventh century, and was a tenant on some abbey lands at Whitby. He was so much less instructed than his equals, Wright tells us, that he had not even learned any poetry, and when the harp was turned toward him in the hall where at supper it was customary for each person to sing in his turn, he would often retire to hide his shame. On one of these occasions he quitted the table, and went to the stable,for it was his duty that night to watch the cattle,and watching awhile he laid himself down, and fell into a sound slumber. In his sleep a stranger came to him, and said, “Cædmon, sing." And he answered, “I know nothing to sing, for my incapacity in this respect was the cause of my leaving the hall to come hither.” “Nay,” said the stranger, “but thou hast something to sing.” “What must I sing ?” “Sing the Creation.” And thereupon he began to sing verses which he had never heard before. When he awoke he not only remembered the lines that he had made in his sleep, but he found that he could go on with them in the same strain. In the morning he went to the steward, and, telling him what had happened to him, was conducted to the Abbess Hilda, who, ordering portions of the Scriptures to be related to him, bade him go home and turn them into verse. He returned the next day with his task accomplished, and in a short time was received into the monastery, where he continued his Scriptural studies and Scriptural verses. Cædmon paraphrased the whole of Genesis, with the exception of the portion devoted to events subsequent to Isaac, and passed on to the history of Moses and his laws, and the passage through the Red Sea. Then he made an abrupt transition to the Book of Daniel, that he might tell the story of the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, set forth the wisdom of Daniel in expounding dreams, and denounce the doom of Belshazzar. His

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