Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

Summary. — We have now reached the close of an era in the history of English literature. The first English were, as we have seen, a northern people of Teutonic or Germanic stock, and in this first era it is chiefly the Teutonic genius, the spirit of the north, that inspires their literature. The northern spirit is indeed stimulated, broadened, and refined by the religion and culture of southern Europe, but it is more or less present in their poetry from Beowulf to the Battle of Maldon. Helped forward by this contact with foreign education and with higher ideas of life before unknown to them, the English of the eighth century surpass every other nation of northern Europe in scholarship and literary achievement. But this superiority does not last, literature and learning are swept away by a fresh invasion of barbarian warriors. And while the genius and energy of Alfred bring about a revival of letters in the south, even in the south the progress of literature after Alfred's death is not steady. Creditable prose treatises are written from time to time, but, so far as we can judge, the genius of England stands in need of some new inspiration, some power that shall stir it to life as the influence of Christianity had done some four centuries earlier. It is possible that the English genius would have revived without any help from the Continent, that the learning and literature which during the tenth century seemed a dim and flickering flame would of themselves have burst into a sudden blaze. This is possible, but it is not likely. We cannot tell what might have been, but one thing is certain, we do know that when the genius of Anglo-Saxon England seemed in need of fresh energy, when the fire to use our same illustration — seemed to be burning low, that energy was given, that fuel was supplied by the entrance of the Normans.

IMPORTANT DATES First permanent settlement of the English in Britain.... about 449 St. Augustine introduces Christianity into Kent

597 Aidan and other missionaries preach Christianity in north of England ...

about 635 ALDHELM, poet of the south: Abbot of Malmesbury

671 CÆDMON composes religious poems at Whitby in the north

about 670 Beowulf, the old English epic; probably first transcribed in the north

about 7th or 8th Cent. LITERARY SUPREMACY OF THE NORTH

about 670 to 800 or 850 (Includes CÆDMON, BEDE, CYNEWULF, ALCUIN, etc.) The culture and literature of the north attacked and at last destroyed by the Danes

.about 787-878 LITERARY SUPREMACY OF THE SOUTH

. about 886-1066 (Includes King ALFRED, reigns 871–901; DUNSTAN, ÆLFRIC,

etc.) The entrance of Norman influence under EDWARD THE CON

. reigned 1042-1066 THE NORMAN CONQUEST

1066

FESSOR

CHAPTER II

THE RULE OF THE NORMANS

In the ninth century we find bands of northern pirates sailing from the creeks and bays of Scandinavia and Denmark to rob and conquer, as the English tribes had done three or four centuries before. One of the places they attacked was the coast of France, and early in the tenth century (912) a band of these wild adventurers, under a leader named Rolf, or Rollo, forced the French King to grant them possession of a tract of land in northern France, stretching back from the English Channel on either side of the River Seine. These northern adventurers were called Normans, that is, men from the north, and the land they won in France came to be known as Normannia, or Normandy, the land of the Northmen. When they won this country, the Normans were hard, fierce, untamed men, like their kinsmen the English when they conquered Britain, or like the Danish sea rovers that destroyed the English monasteries. But once settled on French territory, these northern heathen showed themselves wonderfully quick to give up their old half-barbarous manners and ideas, and to learn new ways. They became Christians; they gave up their own language, adopting and improving the language of the people they had conquered. In the north they had been skilful seamen, in the south they became the most expert horsemen in Europe. Moreover, as many of them married French

wives, the Normans in France soon ceased to be a people of purely northern stock.

As the Normans were thus changed in so many ways by the civilization of the people among whom they had settled, it is a good thing for us to know whence that civilization came. The Normans had established themselves in a country which had once been a part of the great Roman Empire, and the civilization which they acquired was thus largely Roman in its origin and character. The very language of the people, for example, which the Norman took for his own, was a corruption of the Latin which had been learned in the old days from the Roman conqueror. In France, these northern barbarians were surrounded on every side by the influences of the south. They built splendid churches in a style derived, it is thought, from northern Italy, and before they conquered England they welcomed famous Italian scholars among them, and set them to teach in the Norman schools.

The result of all this was, that through their readiness to give up their own traditions and their old ways for foreign fashions, the Normans, by the time they came to conquer England, had become a very different people from their rough ancestors who had sailed up the Seine to win a home for themselves a century and a half before. They had lost their boorish manners, and had become comparatively polished and courtly. They were lovers of the new code of chivalry. They were, says an old Chronicler, “ proudly apparelled, delicate in their food, but not excessive," and they looked down upon the English, despising them for their ignorance and their rude ways. And so, although the Normans were originally men of the north, the civilization which the Norman brought with him into England was in

many ways not northern at all but southern, based as it was on that of Italy and France.

The Effect of the Norman Rule. Such were the people who became the masters of England in 1066, by

[graphic][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]

the victory of the Norman duke, William, over the English king, Harold, on the field of Senlac, or Hastings. How did this great event affect England and her literature?

1. The Norman Conquest brought a foreign language and a foreign civilization into England.

The Normans spoke differently, dressed differently, lived differently, and thought differently from the English, and they carried with them throughout England a world of strange ways and new ideas. Indeed, they did even more than bring in these foreign ways, for the fact that by the Conquest the Normans became the upper or ruling class was an incentive to some of the English to learn the language and adopt the customs of those in authority. It is not enough to say that Norman and English lived side by side; to understand what

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »