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estates.” Ball's teachings were socialistic: he declared that, “everything should be common;" and many, while they stopped short of this extreme, shared in his democratic feeling and in his demand for a social reform. Religion. — In religion, too, we
In religion, too, we notice signs of a coming change. Medieval Christianity was still supreme; the Church was enormously wealthy and powerful; prelates dressed richly and lived in luxury; her services were splendid and impressive. In England Westminster Abbey was being enlarged; noble cathedrals were being erected; the great builder, William of Wykeham, was busy at Winchester. But the forces of disruption were already active. The Church no longer inspired that devotion which we find in the days of the earlier crusades. In 1309 the Pope removed from Rome to Avignon, and the reverence and awe with which he had been regarded were greatly lessened when men saw him made the political tool of the growing power of France. Englishmen resented the Pope's interference in the affairs of their kingdom; they refused (1366) to pay the tribute which England had paid the Pope since the reign of King John. The sale of pardons, and the multiplying corruptions and abuses in the Church, the sordidness and lack of spirituality in many of its clergy, moved earnest men to scorn and satire. The Church of the Middle Ages, like the feudalism of the Middle Ages, was shaken by the modern spirit, and the Reformation was at hand.
The New Learning and the New Art. — Although at Oxford and Cambridge, and among a large number of scholars, the old educational system and the scholasticism of the Middle Ages still prevailed, we find that learning too was undergoing a change. A “new learning” had already arisen in Italy; a liberation of the intellect had
already begun in which Chaucer himself shared. Twenty years before Chaucer's birth, Dante, the first supremely great poet since the classic writers of Greece and Rome, had died in exile at Ravenna, leaving behind him, in his Divine Comedy, the supreme expression in poetry of medieval Christendom. When Chaucer was a year old, Petrarch, poet and scholar, and the great pioneer in the new way of thinking and feeling, was crowned with laurel at Rome. Boccaccio, in the prose tales of his Decamerone, was describing the fresh and careless pleasure in love, laughter, and the beauty of this world, that was to characterize the Italy of the Renaissance. Art, too, guided by the same new impulse, was freeing itself from medieval restrictions. Sculpture was advancing in the work of such men as Nicola Pisano and Ghiberti; and in painting, Giotto (1276–1337) stands at the beginning of a new and mighty era in the history of art.
In England these social, religious, and intellectual changes, which marked the breaking up of the medieval and the beginning of the modern world, found expression in three great writers, WILLIAM LANGLAND, JOHN WYCLIF, and GEOFFREY CHAUCER.
LITERATURE IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY Literature in fourteenth-century England shows that diversity in language, that confusion of traditions and ideals, which characterized the time. When the century opened, London had not yet taken its place as the literary center of the nation; literature was still local, and writers of the north, south, or middle-west still used the dialect, or form of English, peculiar to their section. During the early half of the century there was some literary activity in the north, followed by a remarkable development of poetry in the West-Midland dis
trict. In the latter half of the century, however, a greater unity developed, and a truly national literature began. The East-Midland form of English, the language of Oxford, Cambridge, and London, became of constantly increasing importance, especially in the writings of John Wyclif, of Chaucer, and of his fellow poet, the learned JOHN GOWER (1330-1408). With the establishing of Chaucer's reputation as a great poet in England, London became the literary capital of the whole people. There Chaucer was born, and there he lived. And from that time to this, from Chaucer to Shakespeare, from Shakespeare to Pope and Johnson, from Johnson to Carlyle, the scene of England's literary history is laid, for the most part; in the streets and theaters, the taverns, clubs, and coffee-houses of the city of London.
Literature before Chaucer. - During the first half of the fourteenth century several remarkable works were produced in the north, one of the old centers of AngloSaxon culture. RICHARD ROLLE, who returned from Oxford to live the life of a hermit at Hampole in Yorkshire, wrote a somber, distressful poem, The Prick .of Conscience (about 1340), and contributed to the development of English prose. Near the Welsh border an unknown author wrote one of the most beautiful of English romances, Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight, (about 1370). He is supposed to have written also the famous elegy of The Pearl. But these authors wrote before literature in England had become truly national.
Rise of English Prose. -- The fourteenth century was a period not only of new poetic achievement, but also of the development of prose. The work of King Alfred in behalf of a native prose literature in Old English times had been so effectually undone by the numerous foreign Churchmen who came into England after the
Norman Conquest, that, from the middle of the twelfth to the latter part of the fourteenth century, only a few specimens of native prose emerge from the great stream of Latin. English prose was much slower than English poetry in regaining its freedom, but by the end of the century it had made a decided advance. This advance was not due so much to any one writer as to the social, political, and religious condition of the realm. It was connected with the ever increasing importance of the English language, and it was nearly related to that rise of the people which is one of the great historic features of the time. Underneath the violence and clamor of the popular uprisings, men felt, if vaguely, the appearance of a new social force. The people were to be reckoned with, to be appealed to, argued with, persuaded; and to reach the people, the scholar must abandon Latin and the scholastic phrase, and address them in simple English prose.
John Wyclif. — This was the course adopted by JOHN WYCLIF (about 1324–1384), “ the last of the Schoolmen, the first of the Protestant reformers,” and the most famous English scholar of his time. A man of strong and subtle intellect, he mastered the scholastic philosophy at Oxford. At a comparatively early age he was made Master of Balliol College, and he soon became prominent as a daring thinker and a skilful controversialist. At first, like the Schoolmen before him, he wrote in Latin; but if his language and manner were medieval, his spirit was modern. The new note of independence, the desire to examine into the basis of authority, sound in his works. He counseled England to refuse to pay the tribute demanded by the Pope.
. He opposed the interference of the Church in matters of state. As the controversy progressed,
Wyclif's position became more radical and revolutionary. Over against the authority of the Church and the priesthood, he set the authority of the Bible, and the right of every man to read it for himself.
His Translation of the Bible. — Such a position forced Wyclif to turn to the people; and to reach the people, the great scholar must abandon Latin and speak to them in a language all could understand. If the Bible was to be a guide for the individual conscience, it must be made the book of the people. About 1378, therefore, Wyclif, with the aid of Nicholas Herford and John Purvey, began to translate the entire Bible into English (completed 1383). Wyclif also sent out his followers, his “ poor priests ” as they were called, to spread his doctrines; while he himself spoke to the people in innumerable sermons and tracts, teaching them in plain and homely phrase. Memorable as these tracts and sermons are, the position of Wyclif's Bible in the history of English prose is probably even more important.
It is safe to say that the English translation of the Bible is the greatest monument of our prose literature. Its influence on prose literature has been incalculable. Many of the greatest masters of English prose have drawn from it as from a great storehouse, so that biblical illustrations and biblical phrases have been wrought into the very fabric of the literature. The style of our English Bible has a dignity, simplicity, and force that have seldom been approached and never excelled. Now the basis of the English Bible was Wyclif's translation. Later translators corrected, modernized, and improved upon his version; but Wyclif was not merely the pioneer, his work was the model for all that came after.
Wyclif was but one of a group of writers who were contributing to the development of English prose. Chaucer