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CHAPTER IV

CENTURY XV

THE PEOPLE'S CENTURY

31. The imitators of Chaucer. Chaucer's poetry was so much better than any that had preceded it that the poets who lived in the early part of the fifteenth century made many attempts at imitation. They were not very successful. Chaucer wrote, for instance :

The bisy larke, messager of day,
Salueth in hir song the morwe gray;
And fiery Phoebus riseth up so brighte
That al the orient laugheth of the lighte,
And with his stremes dryeth in the greves
The silver droppes hangyng on the leves.

One of Chaucer's imitators wrote:

1395

Ther he lay to the larke song

With notes newe, hegh up in the ayr.
The glade morowe, rody and right fayr,
Phebus also casting up his bemes,

The heghe hylles gilt with his stremes,
The syluer dewe upon the herbes rounde,
Ther Tydeus lay upon the grounde.

The best of these imitators was a king, James I James I of Scotland, who was captured by the Engof Scotland, lish when he was a boy of eleven, and was 1437. kept a prisoner in England for nineteen years. During his captivity he fell in love with the king's niece, and to her he wrote the tender verses of.

The King's Quair. He describes his loneliness as follows:

Bewailing in my chamber thus allone,

Despeired of all joye and remedye,
For-tiret of my thought and wo-begone,

And to the wyndow gan I walk in hye,
To see the warld and folk that went forbye,
As for the tyme though I of mirthis fude

Mycht have no more, to luke it did me gude.

He catches sight of the princess walking in the garden,

The fairest or the freschest younge floure

That ever I sawe, methought, before that houre.

He gazes at her; then,

And in my hede I drew rycht hastily,

And eft sones I lent it out ageyne,

And saw hir walk that verray womanly,

With no wight mo, bot only women tueyne,
Than gan I studye in myself and seyne,
Ah! suete, are ye a warldly creature,
Or hevinly thing in likeness of nature?

So it is that the captive king wrote his love, with a frank, admiring imitation of Chaucer, but so simply and so naturally that he is more than a name on a printed page; and it is really a pleasure to know that the course. of his love ran smooth, and that he was finally allowed to return to his kingdom with the wife whom he had chosen. This seven-line stanza was not original with him by any means, but because a king had used it, it became known as "rhyme royal."

32. Sir Thomas Malory. This century began and ended with royalty, for in its early years King James wrote its best poetry, and toward its end Sir Thomas Malory of whom little is known

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wrote its best

prose,

Morte 'd'Arthur,

about 1470.

the Morte d'Arthur, the old stories of King Arthur grown more full, more simple, and more beautiful than ever. "Thys noble and Joyous book," Caxton called it when he put it into print. At the close of Arthur's life he bids, according to Malory, Syr Bedwere" to throw the sword Excalibur into the lake. Syr Bedwere obeys. Then says the author:

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He threwe the swerde as farre in to the water as he myght, & there cam an arme and an hande aboue the water and mette it, & caught it and so shake it thryse and braundysshed, and then vanysshed awaye the hande wyth the swerde in the water. . . . Than syr Bedwere toke the Kyng vpon his backe and so wente wyth hym to that water syde, & whan they were at the water syde euen fast by the banke houed a lytyl barge wyth many fayr ladyes in hit, & emange hem al was a quene, and al they had blacke hoodes, and al they wepte and shryked whan they sawe Kyng Arthur. "Now put me in to the barge," sayd the kyng, and so he dyd softelye.

No great literature

33. The age of arrest. The fifteenth century is sometimes called the " age of arrest" because it is not marked by any great literary work like that of Chaucer. There are good reasons why no such produced. work should have been produced. First, the greater part of the century was full of warfare. The Hundred Years' War did not close until 1453, and there was hardly time to sharpen the battle-axes and put new strings to the bows before another war far more fierce than the first broke out, and did not come to an end until 1485. This was the War of the Roses, which was fought between the supporters of rival claimants to the English throne. Sometimes one side had the advantage and sometimes the other; and whichever party was in power put to death the prominent men of the opposing party. Second, there was not only no rest or quiet in the kingdom for great literary productions, but at

least half of the nobles, the people of leisure, were killed in the terrible slaughter. Third, the church, which paid. no taxes, owned so much of the land that the whole burden of taxation had to be borne by only a part of the people.

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Gain of the

people.

Poor in literature as this century of fighting was, there were two reasons why it was good for the " mon folk." In the first place, knighthood was becoming of less and less value, partly because common of the increasing use of gunpowder, but even more because the English had at last learned that a man encased in armor so heavy that he could hardly mount his horse without help was not so valuable a soldier as a man on foot with a bow or a battle-axe. In the second place, war could not be carried on without money, and money must come by vote of the House of Commons, which represented, however poorly and unfairly, the masses of the people. If the king and his counsellors wished to obtain money, they were obliged to pay more attention than ever before to the desires of the people.

34. Ballads. It was from the common folk that the most interesting literature of the century came, the ballads. An age of turmoil and unrest was, as has been said, no time for elaborate literary work, but the flashes of excitement, the news of a battle lost or a battle won, the story of some brave fighter returning from the war, - all these inspired short, strong ballads. Of course there had been many ballads before then, especially those of Robin Hood, but the fifteenth was the special century of the ballad, the time when the strong undercurrent of this poetry of the people came most conspicuously to the surface. No one knows who composed these ballads, but the wording shows that many of them came from

Scotland, and were inspired by the wild forays that were continually taking place between the Scotch and Chevy the English who dwelt near the border line of Chase. the two countries. The most famous of all the border ballads is that of Chevy Chase, which begins:

The marks

The Persé out of Northomberlonde,

and a vowe to God mayd he
That he wold hunte in the mountayns
off Chyviat within days thre
In the magger of doughté Dogles,
and all that ever with him be.

A ballad is not merely a story told in rhyme; of a ballad. it has several distinctive marks:

I. It plunges into the tale without a moment's delay. There is not a shade of Chaucer's leisurely description. Chevy Chase does not even stop to explain who the two heroes, Percy and Douglas, may be.

2. It does something and says something. Every word counts in the story. We know from their deeds. and words what the ballad people think, but "He longed strange countries for to see," or he "fell in love with Barbara Allen," is about as near a description of their thoughts as the ballad ever gives.

3. It is very definite. If people are bad, they are very bad; and if they are good, they are very good. "Alison Gross" is "the ugliest witch in the north countrie." The bonny maiden is the fairest flower of all England. Colors are bright and strong:

O bonnie, bonnie was her mouth

And cherry were her cheeks;
And clear, clear was her yellow hair,

Whereon the red blude dreeps.

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Comparisons are of the simplest; the maiden has a milk.

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