ePub 版

tricks on Satan in much the fashion of the clown or fool of later days. At first sight, the morality seems dreary reading, especially when compared with the liveliness and rapid action of the mystery. There is no dreariness, however, to one who reads between the lines and is mindful of how intensely real the story was to those who listened to it in the earlier ages. One of the best of the moralities is Everyman, which was taken from the Dutch. In this play, Death, God's messenger, is sent to bid the merry young Everyman to make the long journey. Everyman pleads for a respite, he offers a bribe, he begs that some one may go with him. "Ye, yf ony be so hardy," Death replies. Then Everyman in sore distress appeals to Fellowship to keep him company.


For no man that is lyvynge to daye
I will not go that lothe journaye,

replies Fellowship. Kindred refuse the petition. Good Deeds would go with him, but Everyman's sins have so weighed her down that she is too weak to stand. At last Knowledge leads him to confession. He does penance and starts on his lonely pilgrimage. One by one, Beauty, Strength, Honor, Discretion, and his Five Wits forsake him. Good Deeds alone stands as his friend, and says sturdily with renewed strength, “Fere not, I wyll speke for the." Everyman descends fearfully but trustfully into the grave. Knowledge cries, "Nowe hath he suffred that we all shall endure;" and the play ends with a solemn prayer,

And he that hath his accounte hole and sounde,

Hye in heven he shall be crounde,

Unto whiche place God brynge us all thyder

That we may lyve body and soule togyder.

This is not entertaining, but it is far from being dull. With the simple stage setting of four centuries ago, the realistic grave, and the ghastly, ashen gray figure of Death, it must have thrilled and solemnized the hushed listeners as neither play nor sermon could do in later generations.

37. Introduction of printing into England, 1476. In the last quarter of the century there were two notable events that were destined to do more for the masses of the people than anything that had preceded.

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Earl Rivers giving the book to the king, while Caxton kneels beside him The first of these events was the introduction of printing into England. Through these centuries of the beginning of literature, plays, homilies, poems, and


Caxton, 1422 ?1491.

lengthy books of prose had all been copied by the pen on parchment or vellum. Cheap picture books were printed on a coarse, heavy paper from wooden blocks, and some of these "block books" contained text also; but to print with movable types was a German invention of the middle of the century. Fortunately for English book lovers, an Englishman named William Caxton, who was then living in Germany, was interested in the wonderful new art, and paid well for lessons in typesetting and all the other details of the trade. He was not only a keen business man, who thought money could be made by printing, but he was also a man of literary taste and ability, and the first English book that he printed was a translation of his own, called The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. He wrote triumphantly to a friend that his book was "not written with pen and ink as other books be." This was in 1474. Two years later, he and his press came to England, and there he printed volume after volume. The Canterbury Tales, Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Æsop's Fables, and nearly one hundred other volumes came from his press.

The first printed English

book, prob

ably 1474.

In the simple, primitive fashion of the fifteenth century, which ascribed to Satanic agency whatever was new or mysterious, there were many people in England who looked upon Caxton's magical output of books as

Decrease in the price of books.

unquestionably the work of the devil; but the press was still kept busy, and the price of books became rapidly less. Before Caxton began to print, they were enormously expensive. A library of twenty or thirty volumes was looked upon as a rare collection; and it was no wonder, for the usual rate for copying was a sum equal to-day to nearly fifty cents a page. Caxton's most expensive book could be

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purchased for about $30. How amazed he would have

been if he could have looked forward to 1885 and seen

one of his earlier and less perfect volumes sold for nearly $10,000!

38. Signs of progress. England was not so wildly enthusiastic over literature that every tradesman or even every noble who could command a few pounds hastened to


purchase a book; but

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filtered down through EARLIEST KNOWN REPRESENTATION OF A the various classes of


people, until that one printing-press at Westminster had given new thoughts and new hopes to thousands.

New thoughts were coming from yet another source. Columbus had discovered what was supposed to be a shorter way to India; Vasco da Gama had Foreign rounded Africa; hundreds had gazed with wide- discoveries. open eyes upon the ship of the Cabots as it sailed from the English wharfs, and had followed the "Grand Admiral" as he walked about the streets on his return, with all the glory of his discoveries about him. No one

yet suspected that he had landed on the shores of a continent, but it was enough to hear the sailors' stories of strange plants and animals and people. Who could say what other marvels might be discovered?

The people and the century.

Then came the end of the century. The homes of the masses of the people had made small addition of comfort; the noble treated the peasants who still lived on his land with perhaps small increase of respect; but for all that, the fifteenth century was marked by the increasing importance of the common people. They had shown their prowess in fighting; they held more firmly the money-bags of the kingdom; the ballads were theirs; the mystery plays were theirs; the new art of printing would benefit them rather than the wealthy nobles; the discovery of America would be to their gain, and it was already a stimulus to their intellect and their imagination. The sixteenth century was at hand, and men had a right to expect from it such a display of universal intellectual ability as England had never known.

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The poets of the early part of the century tried to imitate Chaucer. Of these imitators, King James I of Scotland was the best. Toward the end of the century, Sir Thomas Malory wrote the best prose, the Morte d'Arthur.

Only a small amount of good literature was produced be


1. The Hundred Years' War and the Wars of the Roses filled the age with fighting.

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