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English literature through the ages, Beowulf to Stevenson online

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ENGLISH LITERATURE
THROUGH THE AGES




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From MS. of Thomas Occleve's Poem, De regimine Principnm , in the British
Museum. (Early XV'th Century)



ENGLISH LITERATURE
THROUGH THE AGES

BEOWULF TO STEVENSON



BY AMY CRUSE

Author of " Elizabethan Lyrists and their
Poetry " etc.




NEW YORK
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

PUBLISHERS



PRINTED AT

THE BALLANTYNE PRESS
LONDON ENGLAND



PREFACE

THIS book aims at telling the story of English litera-
ture through the stones of individual books. Minor
writers and minor literary movements have been
disregarded altogether, and space has thus been gained for
a fuller treatment of the selected works, which have been
chosen in the first place because they arc great literary
masterpieces, and in the second because each is representative
of a particular period, a certain class of writers, or a common
literary tendency. Of these books the author has told the
story in considerable detail, aiming at making each appear
to her readers as a living reality, not merely a constituent
part of a great whole known as English literature. She has
hoped by so doing to set up along the road that must be
travelled a series of bright lights, which, although they do
not form a perfectly continuous line, and although they do
not mark every winding and every change of level, yet do show
the main features and general outline of the road, and do
reveal it as a fair and pleasant path along which those who
have once travelled will be willing to return again and again,
exploring by-paths and finding new beauties.

This plan naturally excludes much of what is ordinarily
found in histories of English literature, but at the same time
care has been taken that no essential should be neglected. A
few introductory or connecting notes have been added to
certain chapters where the continuity is not clear, but for the
most part the writer has relied upon the connexion naturally

5
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ENGLISH LITERATURE

established between the chapters in the course of the story.
Each chapter is, in a sense, complete in itself, though threads
pass fromjone to another, weaving them all into one connected
whole.

The book is not designed as a substitute for the actual
text of the works dealt with ; where it is not practicable to
read those in their entirety such selections from them as are
provided by Mrs. B. Iy. Elias in English Literature in Prose and
Verse will be found useful.

A. CRUSE



CONTENTS

BOOK ONE
THE ANGLO-SAXON PERIOD

CHAPTER PACE

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 15

I BEOWULF 17

II. C^DMON'S PARAPHRASE 26

III. THE EXETER BOOK 33

IV. BEDE'S ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH

RACE 39

V. THE ENGLISH CHRONICLE 45

THE MIDDLE ENGUSH PERIOD

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 49

VI. THE CHRONICA MAJORA OF MATTHEW PARIS 53

VII. PEARL : SIR GA WAYNE AND THE GREEN KNIGHT 61

VIILJ^HE VISION OF PIERS PLOWMAN 68

IX. THE CANTERBURY TALES 75

X. WICLIF'S BIBLE 87

XI. THEVOIAGE AND TRAVAILE OF SIR JOHNMANDEVILLE 93

THE RENAISSANCE PERIOD

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 99

XII. UTOPIA 103

7



ENGLISH LITERATURE

CHAPTER PACK

XIII. TIND ALE'S BIBLE 114

XIV. EUPHUES : THE ANATOMIE OF WIT 119
XV. THE SONNETS OF SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 127

^.XVI. DR. FAUSTUS : FRIAR BACON AND FRIAR

BUNGAY 133

XVII. THE FAERIE QUEENE 143

XVIII. THE PLAYS OF SHAKESPEARE 154

XIX. ENGLAND'S HELICON 172

XX. HAKLUYT'S VOYAGES 180

XXI. ECCLESIASTICAL POLITY 187



FROM THE DEATH OF ELIZABETH TO
THE RESTORATION

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 195

XXII. THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING 197

XXIII. THE ALCHEMIST 205

xxiv. THE TEMPLE 214

XXV. THE HESPERIDES 222



THE RESTORATION PERIOD

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 231

XXVI. PARADISE LOST 233

XXVII. ABSALOM AND ACHITOPHEL 247

XXVIII. THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS 255



CONTENTS

BOOK TWO
THE AUGUSTAN AGE

CHAPTER F AGK

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 265

XXIX. THE TATTER : THE SPECTATOR 267
XXX. THE RAPE OF THE LOCK : THE ESSAY

ON MAN 283

XXXI. ROBINSON CRUSOE 293
XXXII. THE JOURNAL TO STELLA : GULLIVER'S

TR'A$EJ<S * 300

XXXIII. THE SEASONS 315



LATER EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 319

XXXIV. PAMELA : JOSEPH ANDREWS 321
XXXV. JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY : THE LIVES OF

THE POETS 333

XXXVI. THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD 343
XXXVII. THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN

EMPIRE 354

XXXVIII. EVELINA 362

XXXIX. THE TASK 372

XL. THE POEMS OF ROBERT BURNS 384

EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY

INTRODUCTORY NOTK 395

XLI. THE LYRICAL BALLADS 397

9



ENGLISH LITERATURE

CHAPTER PAGE

XI/II. BYRON'S CHILDE HAROLD : SHELLEY'S

LYRICS 412

XI/III. ENDYMION 430

XL/IV. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE 440
XI/V. THE I/AY OF THE LAST MINSTREL :

WAVERLEY 448

XIVVT. THE ESSAYS OF ELIA 457

THE VICTORIAN AGE

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 469

XlvVII. VANITY FAIR 471

XIvVIII. DAVID COPPERFIEL.D 479

. JANE EYRE 490

It. SCENES OF CLERICAL I/IFE 502

U. SARTOR RESARTUS 512

MODERN PAINTERS 523

THE IDYLLS OF THE KING 533
UV. BELLS AND POMEGRANATES : AURORA

LEIGH 544

. THYRSIS : CULTURE AND ANARCHY 556

KIDNAPPED : CATRIONA 565



10



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

THE AUTHENTIC PORTRAIT OF CHAUCER Frontispiece

A FRAGMENT OF THE MS. OF " BEOWULF " 22

A SCRIBE WRITING 30

" THE EXETER BOOK " 36

A PAGE FROM MS. OF BEDE'S " ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY " 40

A PAGE FROM MS. OF " THE ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE " 46

A PAGE FROM MS. OF " CHRONICA MAJORA " 54

AN ILLUMINATION FROM MS. OF " PEARL " 62

AN ILLUMINATION FROM MS. OF " SIR GA WAYNE " 66

A PAGE FROM MS. OF " PIERS PLOWMAN " 72

CHAUCER READING TO EDWARD III 80

JOHN WICLIF 88

SIR JOHN MANDEVILLE 94

PILGRIMS SETTING OUT 96

CAXTON SHOWING THE FIRST SPECIMEN OF HIS PRINTING

TO EDWARD IV 100

SIR THOMAS MORE "o

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY 128

ILLUSTRATION TO " DR. FAUSTUS " 138

EDMUND SPENSER M4

UNA AND THE FAUNES AND SATYRS 150

SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHPLACE AND ANN HATHA WAY'S

COTTAGE 156

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE 160

THE GLOBE THEATRE IN 1613 166

II



ENGLISH LITERATURE

PACK

THE SHAKESPEARE MEMORIAL THEATRE 170

RALEIGH : THE EARL OP SURREY : DRAYTON 176

BISHOPSBOURNE CHURCH 192

SIR FRANCIS BACON 198

BEN JONSON 206

GEORGE HERBERT 216

ROBERT HERRICK 224

MILTON'S MULBERRY TREE 236

JOHN MILTON 244

JOHN DRYDEN 250

JOHN BUNYAN 258

SIR RICHARD STEELE 268

JOSEPH ADDISON 278

ALEXANDER POPE 286

FRONTISPIECE TO "ROBINSON CRUSOE" 294

JONATHAN SWIFT 306

SAMUEL RICHARDSON 322

DR. JOHNSON IN THE HEBRIDES 338

GOLDSMITH AT LISSOY 344

EDWARD GIBBON 356

FANNY BURNEY 364

WILLIAM COWPER 374

ROBERT BURNS 386

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE 398

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH 406

LORD BYRON 4 ! 4
SHELLEY WRITING THE DEDICATION OF " THE REVOLT OF

ISLAM " 422

JOHN KEATS 432

JANE AUSTEN 442
12



ILLUSTRATIONS

PACK

SIR WALTER SCOTT 450

CHARLES LAMB 460

WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY 472

CHARLES DICKENS 482

CHARLOTTE BRONTE 492

GEORGE ELIOT 50

THOMAS CARLYLE 51

JOHN RUSKIN 526

LORD TENNYSON 534

ROBERT BROWNING 546

ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING 550

MATTHEW ARNOLD 558

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON 566



BOOK ONE

The Anglo-Saxon Period

THE history of this period is only gradually being written.
Modern research is discovering old manuscripts that
have lain hidden for ages, and is throwing fresh
light on others that have been little regarded. But already
we possess enough specimens of our early literature to enable
us to make broad general statements as to its nature and the
circumstances under which it was written.

The greater part of our early literature is in verse. Anglo-
Saxon verse has certain definite characteristics which distinguish
it from the verse of any other period. Its metre is quite
unlike the metre of modern English verse, and does not depend
upon the number of syllables contained in each line. The
lines are divided into halves by means of a pause, and each
half line contains two accented syllables. There is no rhyme
in Anglo-Saxon verse. Instead, there is studied alliteration,
which forms an important element in the metrical structure ;
the two accented syllables in the first half of the line, and one
of the accented syllables of the second half begin with the same
letter. This is the rule, though there are many variations.

The prose written during the Anglo-Saxon period is meagre
in quantity and of small literary value. The English Chronicle,
a few prefaces and translations by Alfred the Great, a collection
of homilies and addresses these are all the specimens we
possess. Bede, we know, translated the Gospel of St. John
into the English tongue, but no copy of his work has come
down to us.

After the death of Bede his work was carried on by his
pupils. One of these founded the great school at York, to



ENGLISH LITERATURE

which, for more than sixty years, students from all parts of
Europe came for the teaching that was unattainable in their
own countries. From York scholars went to the court of
Charlemagne at Paris, and founded there the great schools
that became the glory of his Empire. Scarcely had they left
England when a fresh incursion of the Danes into Northumbria
took place ; whole districts were laid waste, and instead of a
centre of learning and culture, Northumbria became for many
years a region of desolation and ruin.

In the ninth century the efforts of Alfred the Great created
a new centre of learning in the south, but after his death
it almost immediately declined. The latter half of the tenth
century brought the peaceful and prosperous reign of King
Edgar. The monastic revival which resulted from the efforts
of Dunstan set up a much higher standard of culture among the
clergy. The English schools once more became famous, and
it is to this period that the homilies which have before
been mentioned belong. Fresh incursions of the Danes, which
led to the establishment of the Danish rule in 1013, once
more set England in turmoil. literature died out, and did
not again revive until long after the Norman Conquest.



16



CHAPTER I
BEOWULF

IN the Manuscript Room of the British Museum there is
a small parchment book of one hundred and forty
pages, old and worn and discoloured. It has evidently
suffered from fire, for its edges are charred and broken, and
there are holes in some of the leaves. It is written in the clear
beautiful hand which the Irish monks introduced into England
during the seventh century ; its language is the West Saxon
form of Old English. There is no attempt at illumination or
ornament, except that the capital letters beginning a fresh
division of the poem are larger and blacker than the others.
In recent years the book has been carefully and skilfully bound,
and the edges of each page protected with strips of parchment ;
for its importance as a unique and priceless literary treasure
has at last been recognized. If one of the chances of its
long and adventurous existence had brought it to destruction,
and it had never reached its safe resting-place in the British
Museum we should have lost the most important part of the
first chapter in the history of our literature. We should,
besides, have lost our most valuable witness to the manner
of life our ancestors led in those far-off days, to their spirit
and temper, and to the aims and ideals which they set before
themselves. For this is the only copy known to be in existence
of the old Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf.

Beowulf stands for us as a type of the stories our ancestors
loved. It tells of fierce fighting and hand-to-hand encounters,
of strange and terrible beasts whose lair is in " fearsome halls "
under the sea, or in fiery caverns on the high heath. Mighty
deeds of valour are done as man and monster face each other

B 17



ENGLISH LITERATURE

in the midnight darkness, or as the "fierce-flaming breath"
of the fiery dragon " springeth far and wide. The hero of
the story is young, handsome, brave, and nobly born, cool in
the midst of danger, high-hearted when disaster comes, modest
in victory. English literature has given us many such heroes
since the time of Beowulf ; he stands the first of a long line
which reaches on even to our own day.

Briefly outlined the story is this. Hrothgar, king of the
Scyldings, built a great and magnificent hall which he called
Heorot. In the night a monster half man, half beast-
named Grendel, entered the hall, and carried off thirty thanes.
Similar attacks, constantly renewed, filled Hrothgar's kingdom
with mourning. The news reached Beowulf, the Geat, who
took ship, came to the land of the Scyldings, and offered his
services to Hrothgar to rid him of the fiend. That night
Grendel came as before, but was seized by Beowulf, who
struggled with him until the monster, mortally wounded,
fled away, leaving his arm and shoulder in the grip of Beowulf.
Great was the rejoicing, but sorrow was renewed, when,
during the following night, the mother of Grendel, came to
avenge her son. She carried off Hrothgar's favourite thane,
J^schere. The news was told to Beowulf, who at once started
to find the lair of the monster. He descended to the bottom
of the sea where he found a roofed hall, the home of Grendel's
mother. Beowulf wrestled with and overcame her, cut off
her head and returned with it to land. Hrothgar gave him
great rewards and he went back with glory to his home.

The next adventure took place when Beowulf had succeeded
to the throne of the Geats and had reigned for fifty years.
Then the kingdom began to be troubled by a fire-drake, who
guarded a huge treasure in a stone barrow on the heath.
Beowulf sought him out in his lair, and after a fierce encounter,
killed him, but died himself from the poison of a wound given
him by the dragon.

Interest in the Beowulf manuscript was first aroused about
a hundred years ago, and since that time it has been closely
studied by scholars and experts. Several theories with regard
18



BEOWULF

to its date and origin have been put forward, and the
known facts of its history have been supplemented by surmises
based upon its language, its style, its story, the allusions it
contains, and other internal marks. To give anything like
an authoritative account of the poem is, therefore, impossible ;
but by reasoning upon the conclusions which research has
up to the present time established, it is possible to sketch
out the lines upon which its inception and growth have probably
proceeded.

The races that dwelt in Northern Europe round about the
shores of the Baltic Sea seem, at some time during those
ages which lie behind history, to have evolved for themselves
a religion that was really a nature mythology. By means of
this they accounted for the creation of the world, light and
darkness, summer and winter, and all the operations of Nature.
It is probable that the story of Beowulf had its ultimate
origin in one of the myths so formed. In those wild, marshy,
sea-girt regions, winter was a time of dread. Its furious
storms turned the sea into a devouring monster " greedy
and dark of mood " ; its treacherous fogs, like " a dark death
shadow," " night after night held the murky moors." But
the short, bright summer came at last, drove away darkness
and terror, and brought joyful relief. These facts the old
Teutonic races represented in primitive and picturesque
fashion. They conceived winter as a terrible monster, strong,
cruel, fierce, and cunning, and kindly summer as a beneficent
deity who grappled with this enemy and finally overthrew him.
So a nature myth was formed, and soon distinct personalities
were given to its characters. In some of the old Scandinavian
records we find that the god of summer days is called Beowa,
and it is not unreasonable to suppose that his name has some
connexion with the name of the hero of the poem we are
considering.

The myth grew, as we know myths did grow among all
the early peoples. Episode after episode was added. The
wiligloomy jnatur_e_ofjyeat part o the country the desolate
fens, the coast wrapped in mirk and mist, the sea dark and

19



ENGLISH LITERATURE

treacherous had a stern influence upon the imagination of
the men who inhabited it. They peopled the land and the
sea with creatures dire and terrible sea-wolves and fire-
drakes, " many of the dragon kind breathing fire," nickers
or water spirits, eotens loathly giants half human and half
beast. All these Beowa must conquer, and the warlike
spirit of our fathers loved to dwell on the details of the struggle,
the fierce hand-to-hand grapple, the hard blows given and
received. Their minstrels or ' scops ' the ' smiths of song '
fashioned the story into verse and sang it to eager listeners
gathered round the winter fire in the hall of some great king or
chieftain.

As we approach the sixth century and records grow a little
clearer, the story begins to connect itself with historic fact.
Hygelac, king of the Geats, Beowulf's liege lord, has been
identified with Chochilaicus mentioned in the L,atin history of
Gregory of Tours. Between the years 512 and 520 Gregory tells
us, at the time when the advance of the Saxons in England
had been for the time stopped through the exertions of the
Britons under the renowned King Arthur, Chochilaicus made
a raid upon the Frisian shore. His band had worked great
havoc, plundering and slaying all around, and were carrying
their spoil back to the ships when a force sent by the Frankish
king overtook and conquered them. Chochilaicus was killed,
and the spoil recovered. Reference is made to this raid
several times in Beowulf. " Hygelac/' we are told, " came
faring with a fleet to the Frisians' land, when the Hetware
humbled him in battle, speedily attained through greater
might, that the armed warrior must bow him to his fall. He
fell in the midst of his fighting bands." And again, " They
slew Hygelac, son of Hrethel, when in Friesland in storm of
battle, the king of the Geats, gracious lord of his people, died
of the sword-drink, struck down by the war-blade."

Historical originals have also been found for several of the
other characters of the poem, including Beowulf himself.
Scandinavian tradition preserves the memory of a thane of
Hygelac's, Bothvari Biarki, whose story bears, in some points,
20



BEOWULF

a marked resemblance to the story of the hero of the poem.
It seems probable, therefore, that a thane of this period became
famous among his countrymen for his victorious encounters
with the wild beasts that infested the land, as well as for his
prowess in battle. l<ays were sung in his honour, his deeds
were magnified, and he became a popular hero. In process
of time the resemblance between his story and the myth of
Beowa brought about a fusion of the two, and the hero of this
composite tale emerged with all the characteristic and attractive
human qualities of the warrior and the supernatural attributes
of the god added thereto.

In this new form the story again became subject to alterations
and additions. At that time stories of great deeds were
spread abroad over the land, and passed from one generation
to another by means of the songs of the minstrels. In these
songs several unconnected incidents were often united to form
one story, and as the names of the various heroes died out of
the memories of the people the scops freely attributed their
deeds to favourite legendary characters. In this way it is
possible that Beowulf has been credited with heroic actions
and gallant words which really belong to forgotten worthies of
his race.

At what time or by what means the story came to England
we are not certain. Some scholars think that the Geats,
over whom Beowulf ruled, were a L,ow German tribe, related
to the Anglo-Saxons. In that case the minstrels of the tribe
would naturally have carried their lays to our country some
time during the years occupied by the Saxon conquest of
Britain. Other scholars believe the Geats to have been
Scandinavians or Danes, and think that it was during the
Danish raids and settlements of the ninth and tenth centuries
that the poem was introduced. However that may be,
introduced it was, not in any written form, but by means of
the lays held in the memories of the scops. In its new home
it soon, we may believe, stood as high in favour as it had
done in the farther North. Its wild and warlike tone suited the
spirit of the conquerors, even when, as the years passed by

21



ENGLISH LITERATURE

they gradually settled down to peaceable occupations, and
adopted Christianity. Yet still their pulses would stir and
their hearts glow at a tale of some grim and mighty combat,
where, by sheer valour of heart and strength of limb the
victory was gained. So Beowulf lived on, sung by the scops,
and applauded by their hearers at feast and revel.

There may have been several versions of the poem, each
differing widely from the others, for by this time many hands
had been at work on it, altering and revising it according to
individual taste. It is significant, however, that no allusions
to any national event that took place later than the first half
of the sixth century are introduced. Also, all the descriptive
passages apply to the scenery and natural features of the
countries bordering the Baltic Sea. The site of Hrothgar's
great hall, Heorot, is almost certainly the little village of
lyeire on the island of Zealand. It is evident, therefore, that the
story underwent no fundamental alteration after it came to
England.

The chief changes that this period witnessed were due to the
religion of the country. The poem, as we have it now, shows
a very curious mixture of paggn and Christian elements. The
general tone is undoubtedly pagan and there are allusions to
pagan beliefs and pagan ceremonies. But throughout the poem
are scattered lines and passages, many of them of great beauty,
which are distinctly Christian in character. " The Almighty,"
sang the scop in the hall of Heorot, " framed the world, the
plain bright in beauty which the waters encircle, and, glorying
in his handiwork, set the sun and moon to lighten the earth-
dwellers, and decked the corners of the earth with boughs and
leaves, and gave life to every kind of creature that walks
alive." Nothing could be more opposed to the pagan concep-
tion of the creation of the world than this passage. The
introduction of such sentiments was a natural result of the lay
being sung by minstrels who were, nominally/at least, Christians.
Their knowledge of the doctrines of their religion was probably
of the most elementary kind, and the mixture of pagan and
Christian sentiments which strikes modern readers as incon-
22



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A Fragment of the MS. of "Beowulf
In the British Museum



BEOWULF

gruous, did not appear strange to them. How far their work
extended we do not know, but it seems probable that to these
singers of the lay some, at least, of the Christian interpolations
are due.

At last the time came when the poem was written down.
In the tenth century (so much the language of the manuscript
indicates) a copyist, who was probably a monk, undertook the
work.

The north of England was at this period the great home of
learning, and it is believed that the first copy of Beowulf was
made in a Northumbrian monastery. Who the copyist was
that did this great service to his country, and under whose
orders he worked we do not know. Whether he found the
poem ready to his hand, or whether he brought together
several separate lays and combined them into the Beowulf as we
have it now can only be a matter of conjecture. Perhaps he
was attracted to the story by some fighting instinct in himself,
either inherited or surviving from a warlike youth before he
left the turbulence of the world for the quiet of the cloister ;
perhaps he felt something of the old joy of battle revive as
he wrote down the minstrel's words. But he would realize
that, as a follower of the White Christ, he must try to conquer
this feeling, and it may be that, partly as a result of this
consciousness, he tried to give to the old pagan epic some
transforming touches which should cause it to redound to the
honour and glory of God.

Many copies of the original manuscript were probably made,
and in this new form Beowulf again went on its way through
the country. All the copies have perished or remain still
hidden, saving only that which is now treasured in the British
Museum. A close examination of the text of this has led
scholars to the belief that the poem was first written in the



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