Ten Years in Early English
THE Early English Text Society is well known to all who have pursued investigations in the philology and literature of the English language. Founded in 1864, it has fully established its position as a trusty helper to students and an honor to the scholarship of both England and America. Like the Chaucer Society, it derives a large share of its support from our side of the Atlantic, a share out of proportion to the number of American scholars, or to the antiquity of the institutions of learning with which they are connected. The class of studies which these societies represent has, however, not been pursued even in England many years, and soon after it began to attract attention there it came into notice here, American students being found ready to take it up with avidity and to carry it forward with characteristic enthusiasm.
The idea of using philosophy in philological studies was, it is true, suggested by Bacon in the reign of James I., and put into practice by Leibnitz a little over a hundred years afterwards; but until the foundation of the Asiatic Society by Sir William Jones, in 1784, very little progress was made. It was not until tbc discovery of Grimm’s Law, almost within the present, generation, that the historical investigation of language and the science of comparative philology were established on a sure foundation. The brotherhoods of languages were then marked out, and their connections indicated so clearly that research was encouraged and progress became rapidThe earliest laurels were won by Germany, and to that country we still look, not only for the most thorough scholarship in comparative philology, but even for many careful investigations into the language and literature of England and America.
The Philological Society of London was not organized until 1842, and its operations, so far as they related to the English language, were hindered for nearly a quarter of a century by the want of good texts of the earliest specimens of our literature. This want led first to the spasmodic publication by the society of a few texts, and next, in 1864, to the formation of the Early English Text Society. The members of the new society purposed to issue for their own use correct texts of those works of great philological and literary value which were very difficult of access, and, in many instances, in danger of being permanently lost. They defined their field of labor so that it should include but three general classes of publications : I. Writings illustrating romances connected with King Arthur and the other mediaeval heroes. II. Early dictionaries and other works bearing upon the history of the English language and its dialects. III. Versions of the Bible and religious treatises, and such other remarkable texts as might prove useful to philological and literary students. These divisions were evidently not intended to limit the operations of the society very materially; but the establishment of other working bodies, such as the Chaucer Society, the Ballad Society, the Spencer Society, and the Roxburgho Library, in 1868; the Hunterian Club, in 1871; the Palæographical Society, the English Dialect Society, and the Shakspere Society, in 1878, has given the Early English Text Society more definite work than it at first had. These organizations are, to a certain extent at least, fruits of the interest awakened by the transactions of the one we have under consideration, an interest that seems to have been shared by German scholars as well as by those of America. We are indebted to Dr. Edward Mätzner for a valuable work entitled Altenglische Sprachproben, the publication of which was begun in Berlin in 1867, and is not yet completed. This important work was preceded by an English grammar that has since been republished in English in London and Boston. While we cannot here refer with more detail to the influence that the Early English Text Society has exerted, it must not be forgotten that, to use the words of another, it, “ has stirred up the study of English historically; it makes possible a knowledge of the language; it makes accessible the most valuable documents of that history; and it shows how, in the teeth of ignorance, civil war, and obstacles of all kinds, literature, that is, the power of expression, went on growing, now slowly, now quickly, putting forth in this direction and that tiny tendrils that were destined to grow in time into great branches laden with the fruits of labor and genius.”
The society comprises five hundred and forty-two members, and, during the first decade of its existence expended nearly fifty thousand dollars in printing texts that occupy over seventeen thousand pages. It has had the services of the best scholars as editors, and their works are the highest authorities in their special line of study. Among them are Frederic J. Furnivall, H. B. Wheatley, J. S. Stuart Glennie, the Rev. Richard Morris, LL. D., the Rev. G. G. Perry, the Rev. W. W. Skeat, Thomas Wright, W. Aldis Wright, Miss Lucy Toulmin Smith, William Michael Rossetti, and that voluminous writer, the Rev. J. H. Blunt, author of The Annotated Book of Common Prayer. It is invidious to make such a selection from the long list of editors who have labored with such diligence and efficiency for the mere love of the work, and with the laudable desire to make the publications of the society creditable alike to the first authors of England and to the scholarship of the nineteenth century.
The society issued, during its first ten years, seventy-four volumes, which comprise a much larger number of publications, for many of them contain a number of tracts or books that were originally separate. Of these, twenty-two maybe classed as legends and moral and theological treatises ; nineteen relate to history, political affairs, and social life; sixteen are romances; eight describe manners and customs; six refer to grammar and criticism; and three are works on philosophy and science. This enumeration will show the student what an interesting range of subjects is opened to him by the society. He is in fact given opportunities for culture that were almost entirely lacking to the adult of to-day in his younger years. Then the teacher pointed to the genial poet of the Canterbury pilgrimage as the ne plus ultra, and gave Ins pupil no reason to suspect that a whole ocean of literature lay hidden beyond old Pan Geoffrey. We were not told then, as we are told now, that “ our Chaucer was only a middle link in a long chain. Before his birth the literature of our country [England] had maintained, for a longer time than has passed since his birth, a prominent place in the intellectual history of Europe. To say nothing of the yet earlier Beowulf, English Cædmon poured the soul of a Christian poet into noble song six hundred and fifty years before Chaucer was born. Six centuries before Chaucer, Bede, foremost of Christian scholars, was the historian of England, and Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales not quite five centuries ago. . . . In prose and verse, for century after century before the time of Chaucer, there was a literature here of home-speaking earnestness; practical wit and humor that attacked substantial ills of life; sturdy resistance against tyrannies in church and state; and, as the root of all its strength, a faithful reverence for God.” 1
The publications of the Early English Text Society thus far are specimens of the literature of our language from the tenth to the seventeenth century, about one half of them dating earlier than the works of Chaucer, who himself lived midway between the extremes of the period they cover. The tenth century is represented by King Alfred’s version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care. The reprints of the eleventh and twelfth centuries arc homilies, as are also those of the first half of the thirteenth century; hut the last half of the thirteenth century gives us the stories of Havelok the Dane and of King Horn, which, though not wanting in exhibitions of the influence of religion on literature, show also the workings of the English mind and imagination in the line of romance. The lay of Havelok the Dane and the story of King Horn belong to what is called the DanoSaxon cycle of romances, in which that of fitly of Warwick has also been included. They all show the influence of the Crusades, which give their chivalric flavor to each European literature and lend a charm to the stories of Scott. It is not our purpose to give in detail the character of the books that arc presented by the society as specimens of the taste and style of the centuries treated, but to turn to a consideration of the various classes of books on the list.
Forgetting for the present the vague divisions of its work which the founders laid down at the outset for their general guidance, we purpose looking at the publications in a slightly different classification. They present a history of the language that is beyond price, and the numerous glossaries, prefaces, and notes furnish the student of language very efficient guidance. In addition to these helps, however, one class of the hooks is composed of such works as Thynne’s Animadversions on Speght’s Chaucer (1599); Hume’s Orthographie and Congruitie of the Britan Tongue (1617), Mr. A. J. Ellis’s exhaustive treatises on Early English Pronunciation, and Levins’s Manipulus Vocabulornm of 1570. The last mentioned is an interesting rhyming dictionary of nine thousand words, and is not only the first of its class, but also one of the earliest efforts to popularize learning and create a supply of cheap books. Levins says there was another similar work in existence, but it was great and costly, fit only for “ them yt are richable to haue it,” while his book is a “handful ” of words, of “ light price,” for “them yt are pooreable to haue no better.” He argues in favor of cheap books (hear, O ye authors and publishers!) that if they he not furnished it would be “ like as if no man should worke in the Mint hut such as brought with them golden hammers,” in which case we should have little work done, and poor men would he discouraged. Levins made an avowed and earnest effort to cheapen the tools of the literary worker, not for his own praise or profit, “ but for the prospering and good proceeding of our poore youth in good learning and knowledge.” He says his little book is “ necessary not onely for Scholers that want varietie of words, but also for such as use to write in English Meetre.” It is, therefore, a thesaurus. The author tells us that even in his day it was the manner of some writers, in publishing their works, “ to excuse the rashnesse of the edition thereof, as being by their friends counsell,” that they print what was only intended as “a priuat exercise to them selues.” He avers that when he began his “ long trauaile ” he “ thought and always did entend, with so much speed as he could, to publishe and set abroade the same.”
Hume’s Orthographic is an English grammar written in racy style by the sometime head - master of the highschool, Edinburgh. Writing of Sum Idiomes in our Orthographic, he longs for a reform in spelling, specifying, among others words, “peple,” which be says some write “people,” and then asks why they do not also pronounce it so. He objects to the “ idle e ” which many put at the end of every word, a practice that he follows himself, however. How much trouble would have been saved to Mr. A. J. Ellis and Professor Francis J. Child, not to mention others, if Chancer had dropped his “ idle e,” or had at least given some explanation of his manner of using it. Hume owns that we have " the exemple of franee to speak ane way and wryte an-other,” but that it is a bad example, for “ all examples are not imitable.” On the subject Of our Abusing Sum Consonantes, he writes, “ Now I am cum to a knot that I have noe wedg to cleave,” and pleads for phonographic spelling, or the giving of but one sound to a letter, and urges that reason and nature crave this reform. Again he says, “I wald have them name w, not duble u, nor v, single u, as now they doe; but the last vau or ve, and the first wau or we; and j. for difference of the voual i, written with a long tail, I wald wish to be called jod, or je.” The treatise is very sensible and very short, many of the definitions being the same that we learned in our own school-days. The author concludes with a definition of the parenthesis, giving the following example : —
Our King and Queen ; and keep their seed thy name to magnified’
He says his treatise is no shorter than necessary for the schools, which is a way of putting it that must have been approved by the pupils, at least, who were not likely to complain of brevity in textbooks of grammar.
The only other volume, in the class which treats of language specifically, that needs mention here is Ellis’s Early English Pronunciation. It is a work of most thorough research, and, though it has special reference to Shakespeare and Chaucer, it comprises an investigation of the correspondence of writing with speech in England, from the earliest times when English can be said to have been spoken to the present day, and a new system for the expression of all spoken sounds by means of ordinary printing types. There is also a rearrangement of Professor Child’s Memoirs on the Language of Chaucer and Gower, published by the American Academy in 1862 and 1866. Mr. Ellis makes prominent mention of other American scholars, and gives an interesting examination of Pennsylvania German, which he considers exactly analogous to Chaucer’s English. These inquiries into pronunciation are as useful and as scholarly as any of the publications of the society, and they enable those not conversant with early English to enunciate it correctly.
Turning now to the class of books treating religious themes, we find that it includes those of the greatest antiquity, King Alfred’s version of Gregory’s Pastoral Care being the only representative of the tenth century, and collections of homilies forming the staple literary productions until we reach the second half of the thirteenth century. Before that time the churchmen had been almost the only professional authors, but under the Angevin kings a purely literary class grew up outside of the church. Geoffrey of Monmouth laid the foundation, in his History of the Britons, for the romances of the Bound Table, and Walter Map wove the legends of Arthur and his knights, of Tristram and Gawain and Launcelot, with those of Galahad and the Sangreal and Merlin so successfully that Arthur’s tomb became a reality, Merlin’s prowess was proved by the stones on Salisbury Plain, and the entire cycle of romances was fixed forever in the literature of the nation.
King Alfred was undoubtedly wise to give his people a translation of the message brought, as he says, by Augustine, over the salt sea, from Gregorius, “best of Romans, wisest of men, most gloriously famous.” The king’s preface is worthy of reproduction, although we have no room for it here. He bewails the decline of the learning that formerly brought foreigners to England in search of wisdom and instruction, and hopes a. time of tranquillity will come when young men of riches will devote themselves to study, “ as long as they are not fit for any other occupation [!], until that they are well able to read English writing.” Anticipating the approach of that golden age, and while few could read English because still fewer could read Latin, Alfred made this translation, aud sent a copy to every bishop in the kingdom, not to be lent or taken from the minster, but to be read by the learned bishops to the people.
The homilies republished by the society are dissertations upon the Seven Deadly Sins, or on the Creed, or meditations appropriate for days of feasting or fasting. From the dryest and dullest of them it is possible to extract some sort of grim humor, while they all give an insight of the times and the habits of the people, and are extremely valuable in a philological or dialectical aspect.
Among the religious publications of the society is one edited by Dr. Richard Morris, containing Legends of the Holy Rood, dating from the eleventh to the fifteenth century. The feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross (May 3), which commemorates the finding of the true cross by the Empress Helena, furnishes the motif of the legends. When Adam died, as is related, Seth, directed by an angel, put three “ kernels ” of an apple under his tongue, from which grew three wands, of cedar, cypress, and pine, respectively, and they stood in Adam’s mouth until the time of Moses. They represented the trinity. Moses found them one evening after he had crossed the Red Sea, preserved them until near his death, and then planted them under Mount Tabor. The wands, an ell in length, were undisturbed until the time of David. He found them again, set them out one evening, and, lo, the next morning they had become a single tree with three branches. The tree grew for thirty years, and then stopped. Under it David did penance for his sins and composed the Psalter. When Solomon had nearly completed the temple he found that he needed a large beam, and ordered the tree cut down that David had planted. The beam could not be used, for it miraculously extended or shortened itself whenever the carpenters thought they had it of the proper length. It was, therefore, made to serve as a bridge over Kedron. There the Queen of Sheba found it, and advised Solomon lobule it, for she prophesied a man should die on it who should destroy the law of Moses. However, it came to light just in time, and was actually used at the crucifixion. It was afterwards hidden by the Jews, to be found by the Empress Helena. These incredible stories are supplemented by accounts of a series of legends and miracles and a list of symbolisms connected with the Holy Rood which are familiar to readers of works on the prolific theme, — a theme which appealed at once to mediæval superstition and love of the wonderful.
Another of the publications relating to religious themes is Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede, a production begotten of the popularity that was attained by the well-known Vision concerning Piers the Plowman, though not composed until nearly forty years later. It takes a more commonplace view of Piers, or Pierce, than the earlier and much abler poem took, but is evidently suggested by it. Pope made an epitome of the argument of the poem as follows: “ An ignorant, plain man, having learned his Paternoster and Avemary, wants to learn his creed. He asks several religious men of the several orders to teach it him. First, of a friar Minor, who bids him beware of the Carmelites, and assures him that they can teach him nothing, describing their faults, etc., but that the friars Minors shall save him, whether he learns his creed or not. He goes next to the friars Preachers, whose magnificent monastery he describes; there be meets a fat friar who declaims against the Augustines. He is shocked at his pride, and goes to the Augustines. They rail at the Minorites. He goes to the Carmes [Carmelites]; they abuse the Domi nicans, but promise him salvation without the creed, for money. He leaves them with indignation, and finds an honest, poor Plowman in the field, and tells him how he was disappointed by the four orders. The Plowman answers with a long invective against them.”
The Crede is edited by the Rev. Mr. Skeat, who is one of the most careful of the workers for the society. He says that the poem has always been a favorite, and it improves on acquaintance. He points out its celebrated and wholly admirable description of a Dominican convent. It was rich with painted, polished, and quaintly carved pillars; brilliant with broad and lofty windows; and secure with strong walls that bad privy passages into orchards and gardens that surrounded it. Its minster was well built and boasted gilded arches, painted windows, and tombs adorned with curiously carved statues. Its pillared and painted cloisters were covered with lead and paved with tiles; its chapter-house was a great church with a seemly ceiling; its refectory was like a king’s hall, and glazed like a church; while there were, beside houses with chimneys, other gay chapels, kitchens, dormitories, an infirmary, and all the conveniences known to luxurious livers of the period. In this establishment be found the Dominican, “ a greet cherl & a grym, growen as a tonne,” with cheeks like bags, with a fat double chin as great as a goose egg, and bearing a mountain of flesh that “wagged as a quyk mire”! This the man who would beg a bagful of wheat of a poor fellow with half his rent in arrears! It is easy to see what opportunities such a theme presents to the satirist, and how entertaining its lively descriptions must be; but the Crede is of much value also to the lexicographers, who have used it freely.
Among the most valuable romances preserved by the society in very early forms are the following: King Horn (1250); Havelok the Dane (1280); Gest Hystoriale of the Destruction of Troye (1360); Morte Arthure (1360); Sir Gawayno and the Green Knight (1360); William of Palerne (1360); Barbour’s Bruce (1375); Joseph of Arimathie, or the Holy Grail (1390); Merlin (1440); Lancelot of the Laik (1500); and Partenay or Lusignen (1500). These dates are mainly conjectural, but there is little doubt that the series exhibit the romance literature enjoyed by our fathers for two centuries and a half before the death of Henry VIII., in the very words that they read. These romances present a most interesting phase of the English mind,— a mind that delighted in the exhibition of prowess, that admired a gentleness of its own sort, and that mixed superstition and religion, deeds of righteousness and shame and blood, in a style past the comprehension of our times.
We have reserved for final consideration those volumes which have the most direct bearing upon the modes of living in England during the period covered by the investigations of the Early English Text Society. In some respects they are the most interesting of the entire series, if any can be said to excel in a collection each one of which has an unique importance and a particular charm. The topics treated in this class may be described as more human, as enabling us to obtain an intimate knowledge of old English households, as admitting us to the home, the festive group, and even to the shop of the artisan and the herd-yard of the yeoman. To a certain extent this is done by some of the books already mentioned, but none of them do it of set purpose and with the directness that we shall find in those we are about to consider.
Eight principal books may be enumerated: —
I. That ever fresh and always charming allegory in which Piers Plowman is the humble hero (1362).
II. Toulmin Smith’s exhaustive account of the origin, ordinances, and history of more than one hundred early English guilds, — guilds originated nearly twelve hundred years ago, being mentioned in the laws of Ina of Northumbria.
III. The Book of the Knight of La Tour-Landry, compiled for the instruction of his daughters, which was translated into English in the reign of Henry VI., though written in French in 1372.
IV. Caxton’s Book of Curtesye, printed by him at Westminster about 1477.
V. A volume comprising three important books, namely: The Fyrst Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge, made by Andrew Boorde, of Physycke Doctor; A Compendius Regyment, or A Dyetary of Hcltk, compiled by the same; and The Treatyse Answerynge the Boke of Berdes, being a defense of the beard against some arguments of Boorde in favor of shaving. The editor of this volume is Mr. Furnivall, one of the most enthusiastic and persistent of the many students of early English. While his work is invaluable, his style of writing modern English, although sometimes piquant, is too frequently flippant and undignified.
VI. A Supplyeaeyon for the Beggers, and three other supplications made to Henry VIII., whom the petitioners call the “Moste ernest Defender of Christes Gospell; Supreme Heade under God here in Erthe, next and immedyatly of his Churches of Englandeand Irelaride.
VII. A volume comprising Queene Elizabethes Achademy, by Sir Humphrey Gilbert; A Booke of Precedence; The Ordering of a Funerall; Lydgate’s Order of Fools; and a variety of brief tracts on cognate subjects.
VIII. The last volume to be mentioned is called The Babees Book, and contains a vast collection of items descriptive of meals, manners, and customs of early times. Among the specific tracts are Aristotle’s A, B, C; The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke; The Boke of Nurture of Hugh Rhodes, and that of John Russell; Wynkyn de Worde’s Boke of Keruynge (Carving); and Latin and French poems on the same subjects.
The first-mentioned work in this class — The Vision of William concerning Piers the Plowman — was perhaps the most popular literary production of the second half of the fourteenth century (it was first published in 1362), and it has never lost its charm for those who have been acquainted with it. Until this society undertook to edit it, however, no accurate text was available by students. Taking the form of an allegory, and of a series of dreams, it displays the difficulties and the events of a pilgrimage through life, in a manner not very dissimilar to that afterwards adopted by Banyan, but its author fails to give to the characters in his lively scenes the human interest that characterizes those of the Pilgrim’s Progress. He indulges in satire, too, much more freely than Bunyan does, for the reason that his object is different. In the Vision it is the old story of priestly corruption and illdoiug which we are told over and over again by earlier and later writers. The author is anonymous, but we can hardly think of him as unknown as we smile at his garrulous genial humor and his audacious satire of the follies and sins of his times. Students have been unwilling to own that they do not know him, and indeed it would be much more convenient if we could safely call his work Langland’s or Langley’s Vision, instead of being obliged to use the equivocal periphrase, The Vision of Piers Plowman. Three valuable texts are given us by the society, all edited by the Rev. W. W. Skeat, who has also done a similar service for the Clarendon Press, which presents the more important portion of the Vision in a small volume at a moderate price.
The History and Development of Gilds and the Origin of Trade-Unions is one of the most bulky volumes issued by the society, and it possesses a peculiar interest at a time like the present, when those ancient organizations seem to be rising to a new importance, and to be exerting a vast influence upon manufactures and commerce. The word gild meant “ a ratable payment,”and as compounded in “ dane-geld ” is familiar to students of history. The essence of the regulations of the earliest gilds is stated to be the brotherly handing together into close unions between man and man (sometimes even established on and fortified by oath) for (he purpose of mutual help and support.
Tracing the history of gilds from the beginning to the time of the “ Knights of St. Crispin in Massachusetts,” the author points out the common characteristics they have all borne: he shows their utility, their dangers, and their influence upon society. We believe that only men enjoy membership in modern tradesunions, though “ systeren ” 2 are constantly mentioned in the gilds of olden time. In one ease, at least, it is required that on the reception of a new brother or sister he or she shall in token of love, charity, and peace kiss every other member then present, a custom that has probably fallen into desuetude in the lapse of time.
The Supplicacyon for the Beggers, written at about the year 1529, set forth the fact that the lepers, the impotent, blind, lame, and sick of the realm, who could only live by charity, were dying of hunger, because a set of strong and able beggars had crept into the kingdom, who counterfeited “holy and idle beggars and vagabonds,” and took the alms from them. These counterfeiters were " bishops, abbots, priors, deacons, archdeacons, suffragans, priests, monks, canons, friars, pardoners, and summoners.” This is a long list, truly, and the supplicant adds that there were fifty-two thousand parish churches with innumerable begging friars, who made grievous and plentiful exactions, from which, he asserts, the ancient Briton was free. The Danes and the Saxons would never have been able to bring their armies so far and to conquer the land, if they had been cursed by such an idle class at home. Noble King Arthur would never have been able to resist Lucius the emperor, if he had been troubled by them. The Greeks would never have continued so long at the siege of Troy, if they “ had had at home suehe an idell sort of cormorauntes to finde.” The ancient Romans would never have been able to put the whole world under their control, nor would the Turks have been able to get so much ground in Christendom, if such locusts had devoured their substance. Thus the author argues with gentle King Henry, growing more energetic and lively as he proceeds, until at last he urges that “ these sturdy lobies ” be made to get their living with their labor in the sweat of their faces; and that if they refuse to labor they be tied to the carts, to be whipped naked about every market town until they listen to reason. The people were in earnest, and no halfway measures would please them. It was only seven years later that Henry began the destruction of the monasteries, which gave England the picturesque ruins that are exhibited to tourists nowadays. It was also just before the divorce of Catherine, the death of More, and before those days of terror and distress when all but men of the stoutest hearts held their breaths in astonishment at the royal assumption and outlawry.
The second supplication pleads for a reform of the clergy in accordance with scriptural standards, which are freely quoted. It contains an interesting passage in regard to the “ costliness of apparel and the diversity and change of fashions,” a theme that is still a fresh one to the reformer. This touches men, but specially women, who must wear “ sometime cap, sometime hood; now the French fashion, now the Spanish fashion; then the Italian fashion, and then the Milan fashion; so that there is no end of consuming of substance, and that vainly, and all to please the proud and foolish man and woman’s fantasy.” The petition ends with a very fervent prayer for the king.
The third supplication is very like the first, but the fourth is much more interesting. It is an argument against the inclosing of vast tracts for sheep pastures, which has led, the petitioners say, to the decay of England, a dearth of corn, and other notable “ discommodityes.” They support their argument by the following proverbs: —
“ The more sheep, the dearer the wool. The more sheep, the dearer the mutton. The more sheep, the dearer the beef. The more sheep, the dearer the corn. The more sheep, the scantier the white meat. The more sheep, the fewer eggs for a penny.”
The truth of these proverbial statements is established to the satisfaction of the petitioners, who then enter upon a calculation of the loss to the realm by sheep husbandry. Beginning with the fact that there were upwards of fifty thousand towns and villages in England, they asserted that one plow less was used in each for the reason stated; that every plow was able to maintain six persons; and that, consequently, three hundred thousand persons were deprived of their subsistence who had previously been “ wont to have meat, drink, and raiment, uprising and down-lying, paying scot and lot to God and to the king.” Now they could only go about to beg, steal, and be hanged. An investigation of the premises was asked. This was before the passage of the Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds, in 1547, which provided for the branding and enslaving of idle persons, but it was not before much more cruel punishments had been established in vain. Few subjects connected with English history are more important than those relating to the momentous changes of this remarkable period of transition.
The Knight of La Tour-Landry (a feudal castle in the old province of Anjou), whose book has been mentioned, had three daughters. His wife had been dead twenty years, and remembering, as he says, how his fellows used to behave towards women, and doubting not that there were “ such fellows now, or worse,” he determined to make a little book about good and evil women, to the intent that his daughters should take pattern of the good ones. He directed two priests and two clerks to extract from the Bible and from the chronicles of France, Greece, and England examples of Good and bad women. These the knight arranged and recorded in prose rather than in verse, for he wished to study brevity and to be more plainly understood. The morality inculcated by the stories is often questionable, but there is an unequivocal utterance on the subordination of the woman to the man in matrimony. The ease of Vashti, who refused to exhibit herself to the “ barons ” of Ahasuerus, is made much of to show that wives ought to do worship to their husbands and “ show a semblance of love,” though the knight would permit them when alone to “ more largely say” their own will. The whole of this little book is entertaining, and it shows that the relations of knights and ladies remained in the fourteenth century in very much the state in which they are pictured in the Romances of the Round Table.
The remaining volumes to be considered in this class refer to a later period, — the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They are remarkable for their repetition and redundancy. Caxton’s Book of Curtesye (1477) contains the same directions that we find again and again in the Booke of Precedence and in the Babees Book. One suggestion of Caxton must not be forgotten. He urges the young to exercise themselves in reading books adorned with eloquence, especially Gower’s Confessio Amantis, and the work of the “ founder of ornate eloquence that illumined all Britain, father Chaucer,” whose words, he says, seem not words, but the things themselves. He also recommends Occleve and Lydgate, but mentions no others.
Andrew Boorde’s two books, The Introduction of Knowledge, and Dyetary of Helth, are second to none in interest. The writer was a genius in his way. In the first-mentioned treatise he attempts to give directions how to speak all manner of languages, and to describe the habits and customs of men of all countries. A few quotations from Andrew Boorde will establish his place as the father of the writers of travelers’ wordbooks.
French. — Of whens be you? Unde eta vou ?
I am of England. le sues de Angliater.
I fare wel. Ie porta bene.
There is ryght good lodgyng. II i en ya ung tresbon lagis.
Geve me bred. Done moy de pane.
German.— God morow, my master! Goed morgen, myh hern!
Hostess, have you good meate? Wartyn, hab ye god eften ?
Boorde’s delineation of the various countries and their people, is much better than his vocabularies. He begins his itinerary with England; one of the first traits which he mentions is the profanity of the people, — a trait that still gives them notoriety. “ In all the world,” he says, “ there is no region nor country that doth use more swearing than is used in England; for a child that scarce can speak, a boy, a girl, a wench, nowadays will swear as great oaths as an old knave and an old drab.” Still, he says the Italian proverb, “ England, good land, bad people,” is not true, for there is no land equal to England in manners and manhood. “Englishmen be bold and strong and mighty; the women be full of beauty, and they be decked gayly. They fare sumptuously, and God is served in their churches devoutly.” It were vain, however, to attempt to follow our author in his praises of his native land. Let us see what he says of other countries.
He next travels into Wales, where the people are prone to steal, though boasting very ancient pedigrees. They love toasted cheese and metheglin, and are hardy, strong men, whose voices and harps are like the buzzing of a bumblebee. Ireland he finds a country inhabited by one set of people like the English, but naturally testy, and by another, called the Wild Irish, who are slothful, ill-mannered, rude, untaught, and uncivilized. The Scotch are boastful, and not to be trusted. They drink bad ale, eat oaten cakes, and bate Englishmen. The Flemmings and the Dutch are great drinkers; they eat toad-stools and the hinder loins of frogs, and have fine church spires and meat shambles, at least in Antwerp. The High Germans are rude, badly dressed, and loud in their talk. Denmark and Saxony Boorde finds small and bare countries, which leads him to express his astonishment that they ever conquered England, and his confidence that they and all the world beside can never do it again. Thus this sagacious and gossipy author rattles away with his hurried delineation of the countries of Europe. We shall follow him only far enough to learn what he discovered in two or three other countries.
Greece was under the Turks then. In its capital, Constantinople, he found the fairest cathedral church in the world, with a “ wonderful sight, ” of priests and a remarkable collection of relics. Venice was a noble city, full of beauty and riches, standing seven miles within the sea, having water running in its streets, on which the merchants were rowed in fair little barges. There was no poverty in Venice. The merchants wore long gowns with close sleeves; they polled their heads and let their beards grow. Lombardy was a “champion” country. The people “ set much ” on their beards, and were scornful of speech, giving answers to questions by “ wrying the head at the one side, displaying the hands abroad, and shrugging up the shoulders! They ate snails and frogs, and kept very vicious cur dogs. The French had “ no great fantasy ” to Englishmen, though their country was full of goodly towns, where a man could get good cheese for his money. The people delighted in gorgeous apparel, and gave the fashions to all nations. Spain was a very poor country, except on the seaboard, and the men wore Spanish cloaks to hide their old coats and other wornout clothes. Finally, Boorde came back to his island home through France, which he declares belongs to England “ by right many ways,” or “ why should Henry VI. have been crowned King of France at Paris? and has not royal King Henry VIII. conquered Boulogne? ”
If we turn to Boorde’s Dyetary we shall learn much more of the mode of living in England, as well as of the general information of the period in medical and sanitary matters. His Dyetary begins with a description of a home, and tells the reader how to make it healthful and convenient. The singular habit of the time of distorting Scripture, with good intent, is shown in the directions how to situate the house for the health of the body. He says the builder must take heed to the counsel of God to Abraham to find a country abounding with milk and honey, It is to be noted that where there is plenty of milk there is plenty of pasture, and where there is much honey there is no scarcity of wood; and that, therefore, to follow the divine directions, a man must situate his house where he is sure to have both water and wood ! Boorde adds that the house ought to be built where there is plenty of “ elbow room ” and a fair prospect, to satisfy the eye and to content the mind. Explicit directions are then given on sanitary matters: so thorough are they, indeed, that an English health officer says they comprehend all that reformers have been teaching for the past twenty years, and that it is difficult to say that any advance has been made upon them !
After instructing the reader on these points, Boorde gives advice about the management of one’s income, and about clothing, eating, drinking, and caring for the sick, closing with the details of arrangements of a sick-room and the care of the dying, to the end that the sick man “ may finish his life catholickly, in the faith of Jesh Christ, and so depart out of this miserable world.”
There remains of the books we have purposed to discuss only that one which Mr. Furnivall has named, from the first chapter of its varied contents, The Babees Book. The volume comprises also the Books of Nurture, of Hugh Rhodes and John Russell; Wynkyn de Worde’s Boko of Keruynge (Carving); the Book of Demeanor; the Book of Courtesy; the School of Virtue; and a number of other small works on the general subject of manners and meals. Like the volume of Boorde that we have just laid down, The Babees Book is almost priceless on account of its pictures of the manners and customs of mediaeval England, while it is of nearly equal value as a philological study.
The sub-title of The Babees Book proper is A Little Report of how Young People should Behave. Taking us back three quarters of a century before the accession of Elizabeth, it brings before us the author praying for divine direction as be translates from the Latin. He then appeals directly to his readers in terms that prove his book to be intended for children of high rank: —
With grace, feature and high hability
Hath adorned, on you it is I call
To know this book ; for it were great pity,
Since in you is set sovereign beauty,
If virtue and nurture were not with all;
To you, therefore, I speak in special.”
Only eight pages are occupied by this portion of the volume. The children are exhorted to speak when they are spoken to, to be courteous, to answer briefly, to stand until told to sit, to thank one who praises them, and to be very careful about manners at meals.
In other places in the volume the good youth are directed to take their broth with spoons, and not directly from the dish without an intermediate agent; they are counseled not to cut their meat like field laborers, who have appetites so ravenous that they do not care for the rules of good manners; they are encouraged not to carry food to the mouth, with the knife, nor to hold it in the hand. This was two hundred years after Chaucer, whose nun proved her dainty breeding by the skill with which she fed herself with her fingers. There had been, no doubt, much progress in indoor civilization in the interim, more progress indeed, than has been made since, — in the theory, at least. As we find in Boorde that the principles of ventilation, drainage, and good living were well understood in his day, so we learn from The Babees Book rules of good table-manners that still hold sway, and would do good service if inculcated in hundreds of public houses and families of Europe and America, in the present year of grace.
Much of the advice is as elementary as that found in the Guides to Good Manners of 1877, but no more. In the Book of Courtesy, for example, we are warned never to speak “ unhonestly ” of womankind, nor even to harbor thoughts derogatory to them, for, it argues axiomatically, we are all of woman born, as our fathers were before us. At meals we are admonished not to quarrel nor to make grimaces; not to come with unwashed hands or with filthy nails; not to cram, nor to laugh with the mouth full, nor to “ sup soup with great sounding,” all of which practices, like evil communications, tend undoubtedly to corrupt good manners. But this is not all. We are told not to spit on the table nor to fondle the dog; not to use a knife, a straw, ora stick as a tooth-pick; not to drink with food in the mouth nor to blow the food, either to warm or to cool it; not to wipe the teeth or the eyes with the table-cloth, nor to lean on the elbow, nor to put the thumb into the drinking-cup, nor the food into the saltcellar.
Some of the advice is whimsical or superstitious, as when we are urged by no means to put up at a house where there is a man or a woman with red hair, for such are to be dreaded! We are told to chew two or three drams of mastic before retiring, to guard the body from bad humors, and to have a hole in the top of the night - cap (which should be of scarlet stuff), to permit the vapor of the head to pass off at night.
Nothing is more marked in mediæval manners than the attention given to personal cleanliness and to regular devotions. The veriest Pharisee would have been satisfied with the frequent washings prescribed, and the devoutest saint could find little to object to in the prayers. Over and over again it is urged, “ Say your morning prayers, and desire God to bless you, to preserve you from all dangers, and to direct you in all your actions. . . . Therefore see that you be mindful of him, aud remember that to that intent were you born, to wit, to set forth his glory, and most holy name.” “ Pray fervently to God before you sleep, to inspire you with his grace, to defend you from all perils and subtleties of wicked fiends, and to prosper you in all your affairs; and then lay aside your cares and business, as well public as private, for that night; in so doing you shall sleep more quietly.”
Two very interesting documents are entitled, How the Goodwife taught her Daughter, and How the Wise Man taught his Son, the former being so naïve and suggestive that it repays careful perusal. It opens with this advice:
Go to church when thou may,
Look thou spare for no rain,
For thou farest the best that ilk day
When thou hast God y-seyn [seen],
He must needs well thrive
That liveth well all his life,
My leef child.”
In church she is to give alms; she must not chatter nor gossip, but he courteous to all. Having given good counsel on the subject of devotion, the good-wife turns to matrimony, which was in those antiquated times, apparently, the chief end of woman, and directs her daughter to scorn the worship of no man whosoever he be, but to beware of man, however, in a general way: —
Is evil for to still,
My leef child.”
Once wedded “before God with a ring,” she must love, honor, and obey with the meekest old-fashioned submission, and become a mild, circumspect matron, never laughing loudly, nor walking fast, nor talking much, nor swearing much, nor haunting the tavern, nor drinking too much, even in private, nor being often drunken: —
Thrift is from them sunk,
My leef child.”
Next, the young wife is instructed in detail about household economy, the management of servants, and in regard to dealings with neighbors, with the poor, the rich, the sick, and the distressed. These portions are replete with practical wisdom. As regards her children, if they rebel and will not behave, she is not to “ curse ” them nor “ blow ” them, but to take a smart rod and beat them until they cry mercy and acknowledge their guilt. As soon as daughters are born she is to gather goods in view of their marriage, and to wed them as promptly as possible, for, says the goodwife, —
But of their love full unstable,
My leef child.”
In conclusion, the daughter is assured that she had better never have been born than to have been untaught of this lore, and the mother calls down upon her blessings numberless from all the patriarchs, from God himself, from Mary, and all angels, and all archangels; in brief, she adds “from all holy wights” whatsoever!
If time and space sufficed it would be entertaining to consider in detail all the divisions of The Bahees Book. It must suffice, however, to say in conclusion that in it we learn what food our forefathers ate, and 1IOWT they cooked it; how they laid their tables, cut their bread, and folded their napkins; how they dressed, washed, slept, and cared for their bodies in sickness and health; how they prayed in public and private; how they nurtured their children, and how they buried their dead. To Americans it is comforting to find that habits and customs which have been attributed to them as their originators were long, long ago bred in the English bone. There is a grim consolation in learning that oft-repeated rules against expectoration in public were needed in England four hundred years gone by. The exhortation contained in the following lines is frequently given: —
Thou canst it not forbear,
Remember do it modestly,
Consider who is there.”
Without pursuing our fruitful theme at greater length, it remains to be said that the valuable series of volumes, the contents of which it has been our object to sketch, is available for the use of American students on the shelves of many public and private libraries. In some cases the volumes may be found, as in the library of Mr. Mendlicott, of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, in the largepaper edition. The ordinary edition is in the library of Amherst College; the Mercantile Library, Baltimore; the Boston Athenaeum; the Mercantile Library, Brooklyn; the Public Library, Cincinnati; the library of the Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; Harvard College Library; the library of the college of New Jersey, Princeton; the library of the Peabody Institute, Baltimore; the Public Library, Philadelphia; the Mercantile Library, Philadelphia; the Library of Congress, Washington; at the University of Wisconsin; and at Yale College.