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than any thing in the early annals of the country can warrant. (a)
(a) of the ancient northern poetry, finer specimens cannot be given than Gray's Translations, which are already familiar to every reader. Many battle-songs, love-verses, and drinking-songs of the Welsh bards are preserved ; and as these are little known, save to antiquarians and scholars, a specimen of them may be acceptable as a literary curiosity.
SONG BY TALIESSEN, A WELSH BARD OF THE SIXTH CENTURY, ON A BATTLE FOUGHT WITH THE SAXONS NEAR CATTRAETH, IN WHICH ALL THE BRITONS (OR Welzh) WERE CUT OFF, SAVE THE BARD AND OTHER TWO WARRIORS.
" The men, whose drink was mead, comely in shape, hastened to Cattraeth. These impetuous warriors in ranks, armed with red spears long and bending, began the battle. Might I speak my revenge against the people of the Deiri, I would overwhelm them, like a deluge, in one slaughter; for, unheeding, I have lost a friend, who was brave in resisting his enemies. I drank of the wine and metheglin of Mordai, whose spear was of huge size. In the shock of battle he prepared for the eagle. When Cydwal hastened forward, a shout arose before the yellow morning,-when he gave the signal, he broke the shield into small splinters. The men hastened to Cattraeth noble in birth : their drink was of wine and mead out of golden cups. There were three hundred and sixty-three adorned with chains of gold ;-but of those who, filled with wine, rushed on to the fight, only three escaped, who hewed their way with the sword; the warrior of Acna, Conan Dacarwd, and I, the bard,” &c. &c.
The bard then proceeds to give the most distinguished of the fallen warriors the meed of praise. Such was a bulletin or despatch after a skirmish in the sixth century. The following is a softer strain. It is evidently the original of Mr Southey's beautiful drinking-song in Madoc:
“Fetch the drinking-horn, whose gloss is like the waves of The conversion of the Saxons to Christianity in the sixth century must have produced a strong effect on their poetry. The character of the bard or scald soon merged in that of the priest; and devotional invocations, versified legends, and histories of saints, displaced the heroic ballads and battlehymns of their northern ancestors, though the ancient Gothic imagery long continued to mingle with the tamer style,--saints and hero Paradise and Valhalla, Purgatory and the Eddic hell, grotesquely enough blending together in these rude effusions.
A feeble period in Saxon history succeeded the brilliant reign of Alfred ; and though the scalds and rhymers, who must in all probability have at.
the sea. Tudor is like a wolf rushing on his prey. They were all covered with blood when they returned, and the hills and the dales enjoyed the sun* equally. Othou virgin that shinest like the snow on the brows of Arun, like the fine spiders' webs on the grass on a summer's day! The army at Offa's dyke panted for glory; the soldiers of Venedolia were as the alternate motion of the waves on the sea-shore where the seamew screams. The hovering crows were numberless. The ravens croaked ; they were ready to suck the prostrate carcasses. The enemies are scattered as leaves on the side of the hills driven by hurri. canes. He is a warrior, like the surge on the beach that covers the wild salmons. Her eye was piercing like that of the hawk; her face shone like the pearly dew on Evyri. Llewelyn is a hero that setteth castles on fire. I have watched all night on the beach where the seagulls, whose plumes glitter, sport on the bed of billows, and where herb. age growing in a solitary place is of a deep green,
* That is, it was the hour of noon.
tended the Danes in their subsequent invasion of England, might have renovated the national poetry, the long distractions of the country which followed, and the change of the language from what is called the British, or original Saxon, to the Danish Saxon introduced by the invaders, must have marred its progress.
Literature of all kinds was thus at a very low ebb in England, when, at the period of the Nor. man invasion, in the early part of the eleventh century, that little seed was received into her bosom, which has since grown into a great tree overshadowing the earth with its boughs.
But for generations this fruitful seed lay dormant; for, though the Conqueror and the first princes of the Norman dynasty patronized literature, and cultivated liberal as well as warlike arts, they jealously depressed every indication of national spirit, every thing which could make the Saxons remember they had ever been a people, or other than the bondsmen of their Norman lords. The Saxon tongue and manners, which were falling into contempt among the noble and polite even before the Norman accession—the English even then send. ing their youth to France for education were now consigned to the lowest vulgar. The Norman language was not only that of the court and the camp, but of the national seminaries, whence the Saxon tongue was banished. The name of Englishman became a mark of opprobrium ; every office in the state and in the church was filled by Normans ; the laws were administered in French ; the Saxons forgot even their national handwriting ; and the Norman nobility who accompanied or followed the Conqueror, settling in all parts of the country, spread every where their language, their manners, and their arts.
Though the Norman minstrels attached to the court of the Conqueror and his successors enriched the literature of the period with some original productions, and many romances and lays from the minstrelsy of Provence, England could boast of no native poetry till, in the lapse of years, the language of the Normans and the Saxons, having passed through an intermediate jargon called the Norman-Saxon, became intimately blended in that dialect of strangely-mixed origin, which has gathered beauty and strength in repeated crosses of the original Saxon breed, till three centuries afterwards it became nearly the pure classic English of modern times.
The reign of Edward III., which forms a splendid epoch in the annals of England, received its highest glory from the name of Chaucer. The latter half of the fourteenth century was indeed a memorable and brilliant period over all Europe. It was a new birth-period to renovated chivalry and to poetic romance. Edward instituted the Order of the Garter, and “ raised the Table Round again.” Tilts and tournaments were exhibited at several courts. In Italy, Boccaccio and Petrarch composed their immortal works; and Froissart, the romantic
historian of gallantry and chivalry, travelled from one brilliant court to another blazoning the magnificent spectacles which he promoted and witnessed,—or at the castle of Gaston de Foix, the flower of modern chivalry, read romances and virelais to his munificent host. Such were some of the picturesque and romantic circumstances of the age of Chaucer. In its learning he was carefully instructed ; and though his genius was of the hardy kind that predominates over every obstacle, many events favoured its felicitous development. From an accomplished scholar, he became a man of business and a courtier. He was employed in important foreign embassies, and enjoyed a more liberal intercourse with society than any English poet had hitherto done. He was also the friend of Petrarch, and probably of Boccaccio, the daily witness and sharer in court pageants, the companion of the most polished persons of Edward's court, the favourite poet of that magnificent prince, the kinsman of John of Gaunt, familiar with all modes of life, and with the literature of all Europe. A mind of such original strength had probably never before been sent forth to expatiate in so wide a field of observation.
It is stated by Warton, the historian of English poetry, that at the marriage of Violante, the daughter of the Duke of Milan, with the Duke of Clarence, Chaucer was introduced to Petrarch. Froissart was there ; and Warton says, probably Boccaccio. It is pleasing to believe in the possibility of