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Bright and sheen was her face;
In this same old romance, in which the manners of chivalry are constantly ingrafted on classical his. tory, is found the well-known couplet in its true reading :
Merry swithe it is in halle,
Among the poets of the Second Edward's reign was Robert Barton, a Carmelite friar, who accompanied the king into Scotland, to sing his antici. pated triumph over the Scots, and who, according to a well-known tradition, being made prisoner, was ransomed by celebrating the victory of Robert de Bruce ; thus, like Balaam, constrained to bless those whom he had come to curse.
The adventures of the Scottish hero sung by Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, and those of Wallace, commemorated by a nameless minstrel known as Blind Harry, prove, that in the early part of the fourteenth century, and prior to the period of Chaucer, poetry was at least as diligently and successfully cultivated in Scotland as in the adjoining country. It is thus the old archdeacon describes the return of Summer :
This was in the midst of May,
And fieldis strewed are with flowers,
And all things waxeth blythe and gay. The following description of Wallace's bivouac, though not in the boldest style of the Blind Bard, may challenge comparison with any composition of his age; the spelling has been considerably mod. ernised :Into a vale, by a small river fair, On either side where wild deer made repair, Set watches out that wisely could them keep, To supper went, and timeously they sleep. Of meat and sleep they cease with suffisaunce. The night was mirk; overdrave the darksome chance ; The merry day sprang from the orient With beamis bright illuminate the occident.
* * * * *
The apparition of Fawdoun in Blind Harry's history, has more power of the terrific than half the wizards of the contemporary romances; and the following passage from Barbour more dignity of moral reflection than any thing that had previously appeared in English verse :
Ah! freedom is a noble thing!
The satirist may unhappily find sufficient scope for his pen in every age and in every state of society; but the avarice and luxury of churchmenthe drones of the hive-appear to have been a subject of uncommon zest and temptation to our ancestors. No vices have been so well “pelted with good sentences” as those of the Romish clergy.
(a) Nor else.
(6) Eagerly desired. (c) Perfectly.
“ Satirical poets,” says Dryden, “ are the check of the laity on bad priests;" and though this check be. gan to be used indirectly at very remote periods of English history, it was first vigorously applied by Longlande and Wickliffe, and incidentally by Chaucer, who is not without title to the character of an early reformer, which has been claimed for him.
About thirty years before the appearance of the Canterbury Tales, though not before Chaucer was known as a poet, the Visions of Pierce Plowman, the first poem of any considerable extent in the English language, appeared. The visions were composed by Robert Longlande, a secular priest, and fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. In a series of vi. sions seen by Pierce Plowman while asleep among the Malvern hills after a fatiguing ramble, the corruptions of all divisions of society are exposed and chastised. The visions, forwarded by the agency of such personifications as Avarice, Bribery, Simony, Conscience, &c., exhibit considerable powers of invention, and much occasional vigour of imagina. tion. Though the priesthood are the chief objects of reprehension, and especially those vagrants who, under the various denominations of Dominicans, Franciscans, pilgrims, and pardoners, made reli. gion the cloak of an idle and dissolute life, all con. ditions of society are glanced at ; nor is the Court or the Bench wholly spared by this sweeping sa. tirist, dangerous as these topics were.
Though Longlande displays much of the zeal
of a reformer and the sternness of a moralist, and is distinguished by a certain rude vigour of conception, his language is so obscure, and his verse so rugged, that his work is nearly a sealed book to the present age. His humour is more intelligible than his invective, as well as more facile. It is thus he ridicules the common tricks of the monks to procure donations for their convents, or for the nobler object of building those structures. The cunning monk is supposed to be working on the feelings of a mother as well as a penitent:
Than he assoyled her sone, and sithen he sayde,
Another poet of later date, who took the same name of Piers Plowman-which long continued to be a favourite one with anonymous satirists of the clergy-promises that if the person he solicits shall bestow a liberal benefaction,
He should kneel before Christ in compass of gold,
Chaucer's begging Monk is a still more irresistible person ; and, were he alive, the Society for the Conversion of the Jews would consider him invalu. able :
“ Yeve me then of thy golde to make our cloyster,"