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story of Lear, and Sackville that of Ferrax and Porrex, while Drayton reproduced much of it in his Polyolbion; and it has also given occasion to many allusions in the poems of Milton and other writers.
Maistre Wace also composed a history of the Normans, under the title of the Romance of Rolla, first duke of Normandy, and some other works. Henry the Second, through admiration of his writings, rewarded Wace for the efforts of his genius, by bestowing upon him a canonry in the Cathedral of Bayeux.
Benoit, a contemporary of Wace, and author of a History of the Dukes of Normandy, and Guernes, an ecclesiastic of Pont St. Maxence, in Picardy, who wrote a metrical life of Thomas à Becket, are the other two Norman poets of most eminence, whose genius or whose writings can be connected with the history of English literature.
Besides the productions of these romancers, the century following the Conquest presents some compositions of a different kind, the principal of which were written in Latin by learned ecclesiastics, the most prominent of whom were John of Salisbury, Peter of Blois, Joseph of Exeter, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, the last being the author of the History of England, already alluded to, and which is supposed to have been written about 1138. About the year 1154, according to Dr. Johnson, the Saxon began to take a form in which the beginning of the present English may plainly be discovered. It does not, as already hinted, contain many Norman words, but its grammatical structure is considerably altered. There is a metrical Saxon or English translation, by one Layamon, a priest of Erenly on the Severn, from the ‘Brutus of England' of Wace. Its date is not ascertained; but if it be as supposed by some writers, a composition of the latter part of the twelfth century, we must consider it as throwing a valuable light on the history of the English language at, perhaps, the most important period of its exist
Of an extract from this work Mr. Ellis remarks, ' As it does not contain any word which we are under the necessity of referring to a French origin, we can not but consider it as simple and unmixed, though very barbarous Saxon. At the same time its orthography seems to prove that the pronunciation of the language had already undergone a very considerable change. Layamon's versification is also no less remarkable than his language. Sometimes he seems anxious to imitate the rhymes, and to adopt the regular number of syllables which he had observed in his original; at other times he disregards both, either because he did not consider the laws of metre, or the consonance of final sounds as essential to the gratification of his readers, or because he was unable to adopt them throughout so long a work, from the want of models.'
Layamon, therefore, may be regarded as the first of a series of writers, who, about the end of the thirteenth century, began to be conspicuous in English literary history, which usually recognizes them under the general
appellation of Rhyming Chronicles. The first writer of this class after Layamon, though at a considerable distance, was Robert of Gloucester. He wrote in Alexandrian lines a history of England from the time of the imaginary ‘Brutus' to his own time. Though cold and prosaic, Robert is not deficient in the valuable talent of arresting the attention. The orations with which he occasionally diversifies the thread of his story, are, in general
, appropriate and dramatic, and not only prove his good sense, but exhibit no unfavorable specimen of his eloquence.
Robert Manning is the next Rhyming Chronicler after Robert of Gloucester. He was a Gilbertine canon in the monastery of Brunne, in Lincolnshire, and he is hence usually called Robert de Brunne. The verse, however, adopted in his chronicles is shorter than that of the Gloucester monk, making an approach to the octo-syllabic stanza of modern times. Of this writer we present the following brief specimen, in reduced spelling :
PRAISE OF GOOD WOMAN.
Than a chast woman with lovely wurd. Besides these Chroniclers, the period of which we are now speaking abounded with Metrical Romances, of which the Life of Alexander the Great,' 'Sir Guy,' 'King Robert of Sicily,' and 'The Death of Arthur,' were the principal; but these we can not farther notice. Another class of poets, called Minstrels or Jongleurs, at this time filled all western Europe. They wandered from mansion to mansion, and from court to court, and such was the general favor in which they were held, that even kings were frequently their companions, and often vied with them in their own favorite strains. Of the poetry of these minstrels, Sismondi has given many specimens; but of these our time and space will allow us to present but one. This, however, from the exalted source whence it emanated, should command special attention. It is the production of Richard the First, the second prince of the house of Plantagenet, and is supposed to have been written during his imprisonment in the Black Tower in Austria. It is thus sweetly rendered into modern English verse by Roscoe.
No wretched captive of his prison speaks
Unless with pain and bitterness of soul;
Whose voice alone misfortune can control.
Where now is each ally, each baron, friend,
Whose face I ne'er beheld without a smile ?
The smallest portion of his treasures vile.
Without relief my bondage has endured,
Not one of you should thus remain immur'd :
Had I been free a ransom should have found:
Yet still I wear them on a foreign ground.
Nor dead, nor captive, friend or kindred find !
For lack of gold my fetters to unbind;
That no compassion from my subjects flows:
If, while a prisoner, death my eyes should close ?
To find, in spite of all his solemn vows,
While none my cause has courage to espouse.
Yet through the dungeon's melancholy gloom,
* Perpetual thraldom is not yet thy doom.'
Of Chail and Pausavin, aloud declare
My foes against me wage inglorious war.
Did breach of faith, deceit, or fraud, appear;
The insults I receive, while captive here.
And every bach'lor knight, robust and brave,
From bonds your sovereign and your friend to save.
The wretched captive of a powerful foe,
Nor leaves you aught but pity to bestow.
Our remarks upon the period of English literature of which we are now speaking, have thus brought us down to Roger Bacon, a man of genius so extraordinary, that he would have splendidly adorned any age or country.
Roger Bacon was descended from an ancient and honorable family, and was born at Ilchester, in Somersetshire, 1214, four years before the amiable
but weak Henry the Third ascended the throne. His early education appears to have been carefully attended to in the midst of domestic relations, and after he had made thorough preparation for college, he entered the University of Oxford, intending there to complete his studies. But the passion for studying upon the continent had already become very general with the sons of English gentlemen, and Bacon, with others, removed from Oxford to the University of Paris, at that time the most celebrated seat of learning in Europe, there to complete his collegiate course. At Paris he became acquainted with many English students whom he had not hitherto known, and many of whom afterward rose to eminence in their own country. With some of these he there formed an intimacy which continued through life.
Having obtained his doctor's degree at the University, Bacon returned to England, and soon after, in 1240, he entered the Franciscan order of monks, though some writers suppose he had assumed the religious babit before he left France.
At the time of his return to Oxford, Bacon was regarded by the most learned and accomplished scholars of that University, as so able and indefatigable an inquirer after knowledge, that they willingly defrayed the expenses of advancing science by experiments—the method of investigation which he had determined to follow. His discoveries, however, were little understood by the mass even of his own order; and because, by the aid of mathematical knowledge, he performed things above the comprehension of the common people, he was suspected of magic. Even his own fraternity finally rose against him, and not only persecuted him, and refused to admit his works into their library, but finally had interest enough with the general of their order to obtain his apprehension and imprisonment. Clement the Fourth at that time occupied the papal chair, and having received information respecting the character of Bacon's works, he requested him to transmit
copy of them to Rome for inspection. Bacon, in compliance with the request, in 1267, collected and enlarged his various productions, and sent a copy of them thither. This collection is still extant, and is known as the Author's Opus Majus, or Great Work. Dr. Jebb, its learned and accomplished editor remarks, in his preface to the folio edition which he published of it, that ‘Bacon seems in it to have principally proposed two things—either by laying down a good scheme for philosophy to excite the pope to reform the errors which had then crept into the church; or, if he could not effect this, to propose such expedients as might break the power of Antichrist, and retard his progress. For he appears to have been firmly persuaded that the church would soon be reformed, either by means of the pope himself, who was a man of integrity, or because the exorbitant dominion of Antichrist would become obnoxious to mankind, and so fall to destruction.'
When Bacon had been confined ten years in prison, Jerome d'Ascoli, general of the Franciscan order, and who had condemned his doctrines, was
chosen pope, and assumed the name of Nicholas the Fourth. As he was reputed to be a person of great abilities, and one who had turned his thoughts much to philosophical subjects, Bacon resolved to apply to him for his release; and in order to show that his studies had been both innocent and useful, he addressed to him a treatise “On the means of avoiding the infirmities of old age. This important work was afterward translated into English, by Dr. Richard Browne, under the title of “The cure of old age, and preservation of youth,' and was, by the learned translator, regarded as one of the most important works ever written.
Whether this treatise produced any immediate effect upon the mind of the pope or not, does not appear; but toward the latter part of Nicholas' reign, Bacon, through the influence of some of those English noblemen with whom he had formed an intimacy while pursuing his studies at Paris, obtained his liberty, and returned to Oxford, where he passed the remainder of his life in peace, and died in the college of his order on the eleventh of June, 1294, and in the eighty-first year of his age.
Bacon, in the opinion of Dr. Peter Shaw, a very competent judge of merit, was, “ beyond all comparison, the greatest man of his time, and might perhaps stand in competition with the greatest that have appeared since. It is wonderful, considering the ignorant age in which he lived, how he came to such a knowledge on all subjects. His writings are composed with such elegance, conciseness, and strength, and adorned with such just and exquisite observation on nature, that among all the chemists, we do not know his equal.' 'From a repeated perusal of his works,' the same skillful chemist proceeds to remark, ‘we find that Bacon was no stranger to many of the most important discoveries of the present and of past ages. Gunpowder he certainly knew: thunder and lightning, he tells us, may be produced by art; for that sulphur, nitre, and charcoal, which, when separate, have no sensible effect, yet when mixed together in a due proportion, and closely confined and fired, they yield a loud report. A more precise description of gunpowder could not be given in language.'
Dr. Freind unhesitatingly ascribes to Bacon the honor of first introducing chemistry into Europe; and observes that in different parts of his works, he speaks of almost every operation now made in that science. That he was entirely familiar with the science of Optics also, is perfectly evident from the accuracy with which he described the use of reading-glasses, and gave directions for making them. He also describes the camera obscura, and all sorts of glasses which magnify or diminish objects, bring them near to the eye, or remove them farther from it. A passage in his writings indicates a knowledge of the telescope also; for he expressly says, that he was able to form glasses in such a manner with respect to our sight and the object, that the rays
shall be refracted and reflected wherever we please, so that we may see a thing under whatever angle we think proper, either near by or far off, and be able to read the smallest letters at an incredible distance, and to