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THE NORMANS. The name Norman, which is a softened form of Northman, tells its own story. The men who bore the name came originally from Scandinavia, bands of big, blond, fearless men cruising after plunder and adventure in their Viking ships, and bringing terror wherever they appeared. It was these same “Children of Woden” who, under the Danes’ raven flag, had blotted out Northumbrian civilization in the ninth century. Later the same race of men came plundering along the French coast and conquered the whole northern country; but here the results were altogether different. Instead of blotting out a superior civilization, as the Danes had done, they promptly abandoned their own. Their name of Normandy still clings to the new home; but all else that was Norse disappeared as the conquerors intermarried with the native Franks and accepted French ideals and spoke the French language. So rapidly did they adopt and improve the Roman civilization of the natives that, from a rude tribe of heathen Vikings, they had developed within a single century into the most polished and intellectual people in all Europe. The union of Norse and French (i.e. Roman-Gallic) blood had here produced a race having the best qualities of both, the will power and energy of the one, the eager curiosity and vivid imagination of the other. When these Norman-French people appeared in Anglo-Saxon England they brought with them three noteworthy things: a lively Celtic disposition, a vigorous and progressive Latin civilization, and a Romance language. We are to think of the conquerors, therefore, as they thought and spoke of themselves in the Domesday Book and all their contemporary literature, not as Normans but as Franci, that is, Frenchmen.

THE CONQUEST. At the battle of Hastings (1066) the power of Harold, last of the Saxon kings, was broken, and William, duke of Normandy, became master of England. Of the completion of that stupendous Conquest which began at Hastings, and which changed the civilization of a whole nation, this is not the place to speak. We simply point out three great results of the Conquest which have a direct bearing on our literature. First, notwithstanding Caesar’s legions and Augustine’s monks, the Normans were the first to bring the culture and the practical ideals of Roman civilization home to the English people; and this at a critical time, when England had produced her best, and her own literature and civilization had already begun to decay. Second, they forced upon England the national idea, that is, a strong, centralized government to replace the loose authority of a Saxon chief over his tribesmen. And the world’s history shows that without a great nationality a great literature is impossible. Third, they brought to England the wealth of a new language and literature, and our English gradually absorbed both. For three centuries after Hastings French was the language of the upper classes, of courts and schools and literature; yet so tenaciously did the common people cling to their own strong speech that in the end English absorbed almost the whole body of French words and became the language of the land. It was the welding of Saxon and French into one speech that produced the wealth of our modern English.

Naturally such momentous changes in a nation were not brought about suddenly. At first Normans and Saxons lived apart in the relation of masters and servants, with more or less contempt on one side and hatred on the other; but in an astonishingly short time these two races were drawn powerfully together, like two men of different dispositions who are often led into a steadfast friendship by the attraction of opposite qualities, each supplying what the other lacks. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was continued for a century after Hastings, finds much to praise in the conquerors; on the other hand the Normans, even before the Conquest, had no great love for the French nation. After conquering England they began to regard it as home and speedily developed a new sense of nationality. Geoffrey’s popular History, written less than a century after the Conquest, made conquerors and conquered alike proud of their country by its stories of heroes who, curiously enough, were neither Norman nor Saxon, but creations of the native Celts. Thus does literature, whether in a battle song or a history, often play the chief rôle in the development of nationality. Once the mutual distrust was overcome the two races gradually united, and out of this union of Saxons and Normans came the new English life and literature.

LITERARY IDEALS OF THE NORMANS. The change in the life of the conquerors from Norsemen to Normans, from Vikings to Frenchmen, is shown most clearly in the literature which they brought with them to England. The old Norse strength and grandeur, the magnificent sagas telling of the tragic struggles of men and gods, which still stir us profoundly, these have all disappeared. In their place is a bright, varied, talkative literature, which runs to endless verses, and which makes a wonderful romance out of every subject it touches. The theme may be religion or love or chivalry or history, the deeds of Alexander or the misdeeds of a monk; but the author’s purpose never varies. He must tell a romantic story and amuse his audience; and the more wonders and impossibilities he relates, the more surely is he believed. We are reminded, in reading, of the native Gauls, who would stop every traveler and compel him to tell a story ere he passed on. There was more of the Gaul than of the Norseman in the conquerors, and far more of fancy than of thought or feeling in their literature. If you would see this in concrete form, read the Chanson de Roland, the French national epic (which the Normans first put into literary form), in contrast with Beowulf, which voices the Saxon’s thought and feeling before the profound mystery of human life. It is not our purpose to discuss the evident merits or the serious defects of Norman-French literature, but only to point out two facts which impress the student, namely, that Anglo-Saxon literature was at one time enormously superior to the French, and that the latter, with its evident inferiority, absolutely replaced the former. “The fact is too often ignored,” says Professor Schofield, “that before 1066 the Anglo-Saxons had a body of native literature distinctly superior to any which the Normans or French could boast at that time; their prose especially was unparalleled for extent and power in any European vernacular.” Why, then, does this superior literature disappear and for nearly three centuries French remain supreme, so much so that writers on English soil, even when they do not use the French language, still slavishly copy the French models?

To understand this curious phenomenon it is necessary only to remember the relative conditions of the two races who lived side by side in England. On the one hand the Anglo-Saxons were a conquered people, and without liberty a great literature is impossible. The inroads of the Danes and their own tribal wars had already destroyed much of their writings, and in their new condition of servitude they could hardly preserve what remained. The conquering Normans, on the other hand, represented the civilization of France, which country, during the early Middle Ages, was the literary and educational center of all Europe. They came to England at a time when the idea of nationality was dead, when culture had almost vanished, when Englishmen lived apart in narrow isolation; and they brought with them law, culture, the prestige of success, and above all the strong impulse to share in the great world’s work and to join in the moving currents of the world’s history. Small wonder, then, that the young Anglo-Saxons felt the quickening of this new life and turned naturally to the cultured and progressive Normans as their literary models.


In the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh there is a beautifully illuminated manuscript, written about 1330, which gives us an excellent picture of the literature of the Norman period. In examining it we are to remember that literature was in the hands of the clergy and nobles; that the common people could not read, and had only a few songs and ballads for their literary portion. We are to remember also that parchments were scarce and very expensive, and that a single manuscript often contained all the reading matter of a castle or a village. Hence this old manuscript is as suggestive as a modern library. It contains over forty distinct works, the great bulk of them being romances. There are metrical or verse romances of French and Celtic and English heroes, like Roland, Arthur and Tristram, and Bevis of Hampton. There are stories of Alexander, the Greek romance of “Flores and Blanchefleur,” and a collection of Oriental tales called “The Seven Wise Masters.” There are legends of the Virgin and the saints, a paraphrase of Scripture, a treatise on the seven deadly sins, some Bible history, a dispute among birds concerning women, a love song or two, a vision of Purgatory, a vulgar story with a Gallic flavor, a chronicle of English kings and Norman barons, and a political satire. There are a few other works, similarly incongruous, crowded together in this typical manuscript, which now gives mute testimony to the literary taste of the times.

Obviously it is impossible to classify such a variety. We note simply that it is mediaeval in spirit, and French in style and expression; and that sums up the age. All the scholarly works of the period, like William of Malmesbury’s History, and Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo, and Roger Bacon’s Opus Majus, the beginning of modern experimental science, were written in Latin; while nearly all other works were written in French, or else were English copies or translations of French originals. Except for the advanced student, therefore, they hardly belong to the story of English literature. We shall note here only one or two marked literary types, like the Riming Chronicle (or verse history) and the Metrical Romance, and a few writers whose work has especial significance.

GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH. (d 1154). Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae is noteworthy, not as literature, but rather as a source book from which many later writers drew their literary materials. Among the native Celtic tribes an immense number of legends, many of them of exquisite beauty, had been preserved through four successive conquests of Britain. Geoffrey, a Welsh monk, collected some of these legends and, aided chiefly by his imagination, wrote a complete history of the Britons. His alleged authority was an ancient manuscript in the native Welsh tongue containing the lives and deeds of all their kings, from Brutus, the alleged founder of Britain, down to the coming of Julius Caesar. From this Geoffrey wrote his history, down to the death of Cadwalader in 689.

The “History” is a curious medley of pagan and Christian legends, of chronicle, comment, and pure invention, all recorded in minute detail and with a gravity which makes it clear that Geoffrey had no conscience, or else was a great joker. As history the whole thing is rubbish; but it was extraordinarily successful at the time and made all who heard it, whether Normans or Saxons, proud of their own country. It is interesting to us because it gave a new direction to the literature of England by showing the wealth of poetry and romance that lay in its own traditions of Arthur and his knights. Shakespeare’s King Lear, Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King were founded on the work of this monk, who had the genius to put unwritten Celtic tradition in the enduring form of Latin prose.

WORK OF THE FRENCH WRITERS. The French literature of the Norman period is interesting chiefly because of the avidity with which foreign writers seized upon the native legends and made them popular in England. Until Geoffrey’s preposterous chronicle appeared, these legends had not been used to any extent as literary material. Indeed, they were scarcely known in England, though familiar to French and Italian minstrels. Legends of Arthur and his court were probably first taken to Brittany by Welsh emigrants in the fifth and sixth centuries. They became immensely popular wherever they were told, and they were slowly carried by minstrels and story-tellers all over Europe. That they had never received literary form or recognition was due to a peculiarity of mediaeval literature, which required that every tale should have some ancient authority behind it. Geoffrey met this demand by creating an historical manuscript of Welsh history. That was enough for the age. With Geoffrey and his alleged manuscript to rest upon, the Norman-French writers were free to use the fascinating stories which had been-for centuries in the possession of their wandering minstrels. Geoffrey’s Latin history was put into French verse by Gaimar (c 1150) and by Wace (c 1155), and from these French versions the work was first translated into English. From about 1200 onward Arthur and Guinevere and the matchless band of Celtic heroes that we meet later (1470) in Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur became the permanent possession of our literature.

LAYAMON’S BRUT (c 1200). This is the most important of the English riming chronicles, that is, history related in the form of doggerel verse, probably because poetry is more easily memorized than prose. We give here a free rendering of selected lines at the beginning of the poem, which tell us all we know of Layamon, the first who ever wrote as an Englishman for Englishmen, including in the term all who loved England and called it home, no matter where their ancestors were born.

Now there was a priest in the land named Layamon. He was son of Leovenath may God be gracious unto him. He dwelt at Ernley, at a noble church on Severn’s bank. He read many books, and it came to his mind to tell the noble deeds of the English. Then he began to journey far and wide over the land to procure noble books for authority. He took the English book that Saint Bede made, another in Latin that Saint Albin made, and a third book that a French clerk made, named Wace. Layamon laid these works before him and turned the leaves; lovingly he beheld them. Pen he took, and wrote on book-skin, and made the three books into one.

The poem begins with the destruction of Troy and the flight of “AEneas the duke” into Italy. Brutus, a great-grandson of AEneas, gathers his people and sets out to find a new land in the West. Then follows the founding of the Briton kingdom, and the last third of the poem, which is over thirty thousand lines in length, is taken up with the history of Arthur and his knights. If the Brut had no merits of its own, it would still interest us, for it marks the first appearance of the Arthurian legends in our own tongue. A single selection is given here from Arthur’s dying speech, familiar to us in Tennyson’s Morte d’Arthur. The reader will notice here two things: first, that though the poem is almost pure Anglo-Saxon, our first speech has already dropped many inflections and is more easily read than Beowulf; second, that French influence is already at work in Layamon’s rimes and assonances, that is, the harmony resulting from using the same vowel sound in several successive lines:

And ich wulle varen to Avalun:  And I will fare to Avalun,
To vairest alre maidene,        To fairest of all maidens,
To Argante there quene,         To Argante the queen,
Alven swithe sceone.            An elf very beautiful.
And heo seal mine wunden        And she shall my wounds
Makien alle isunde,             Make all sound;
Al hal me makien                All whole me make
Mid haleweiye drenchen.         With healing drinks.
And seothe ich cumen wulle      And again will I come
To mine kiueriche               To my kingdom
And wunien mid Brutten          And dwell with Britons
Mid muchelere wunne.            With mickle joy.
Aefne than worden               Even (with) these words
Ther com of se wenden           There came from the sea
That wes an sceort bat lithen,  A short little boat gliding,
Sceoven mid uthen,              Shoved by the waves;
And twa wimmen ther inne,       And two women therein,
Wunderliche idihte.             Wondrously attired.
And heo nomen Arthur anan       And they took Arthur anon
And an eovste hine vereden      And bore him hurriedly,
And softe hine adun leiden,     And softly laid him down,
And forth gunnen lithen.        And forth gan glide.

METRICAL ROMANCES. Love, chivalry, and religion, all pervaded by the spirit of romance, these are the three great literary ideals which find expression in the metrical romances. Read these romances now, with their knights and fair ladies, their perilous adventures and tender love-making, their minstrelsy and tournaments and gorgeous cavalcades, as if humanity were on parade, and life itself were one tumultuous holiday in the open air, and you have an epitome of the whole childish, credulous soul of the Middle Ages. The Normans first brought this type of romance into England, and so popular did it become, so thoroughly did it express the romantic spirit of the time, that it speedily overshadowed all other forms of literary expression.

Though the metrical romances varied much in form and subject-matter, the general type remains the same, a long rambling poem or series of poems treating of love or knightly adventure or both. Its hero is a knight; its characters are fair ladies in distress, warriors in armor, giants, dragons, enchanters, and various enemies of Church and State; and its emphasis is almost invariably on love, religion, and duty as defined by chivalry. In the French originals of these romances the lines were a definite length, the meter exact, and rimes and assonances were both used to give melody. In England this metrical system came in contact with the uneven lines, the strong accent and alliteration of the native songs; and it is due to the gradual union of the two systems, French and Saxon, that our English became capable of the melody and amazing variety of verse forms which first find expression in Chaucer’s poetry.

In the enormous number of these verse romances we note three main divisions, according to subject, into the romances (or the so-called matter) of France, Rome, and Britain. The matter of France deals largely with the exploits of Charlemagne and his peers, and the chief of these Carlovingian cycles is the Chanson de Roland, the national epic, which celebrates the heroism of Roland in his last fight against the Saracens at Ronceval. Originally these romances were called Chansons de Geste; and the name is significant as indicating that the poems were originally short songs celebrating the deeds (gesta) of well-known heroes. Later the various songs concerning one hero were gathered together and the Geste became an epic, like the Chanson de Roland, or a kind of continued ballad story, hardly deserving the name of epic, like the Geste of Robin Hood.

The matter of Rome consisted largely of tales from Greek and Roman sources; and the two great cycles of these romances deal with the deeds of Alexander, a favorite hero, and the siege of Troy, with which the Britons thought they had some historic connection. To these were added a large number of tales from Oriental sources; and in the exuberant imagination of the latter we see the influence which the Saracens those nimble wits who gave us our first modern sciences and who still reveled in the Arabian Nights had begun to exercise on the literature of Europe.

To the English reader, at least, the most interesting of the romances are those which deal with the exploits of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, the richest storehouse of romance which our literature has ever found. There were many cycles of Arthurian romances, chief of which are those of Gawain, Launcelot, Merlin, the Quest of the Holy Grail, and the Death of Arthur. In preceding sections we have seen how these fascinating romances were used by Geoffrey and the French writers, and how, through the French, they found their way into English, appearing first in our speech in Layamon’s Brut. The point to remember is that, while the legends are Celtic in origin, their literary form is due to French poets, who originated the metrical romance. All our early English romances are either copies or translations of the French; and this is true not only of the matter of France and Rome, but of Celtic heroes like Arthur, and English heroes like Guy of Warwick and Robin Hood.

The most interesting of all Arthurian romances are those of the Gawain cycle, and of these the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is best worth reading, for many reasons. First, though the material is taken from French sources, the English workmanship is the finest of our early romances. Second, the unknown author of this romance probably wrote also “The Pearl,” and is the greatest English poet of the Norman period. Third, the poem itself with its dramatic interest, its vivid descriptions, and its moral purity, is one of the most delightful old romances in any language.

In form Sir Gawain is an interesting combination of French and Saxon elements. It is written in an elaborate stanza combining meter and alliteration. At the end of each stanza is a rimed refrain, called by the French a “tail rime.” We give here a brief outline of the story; but if the reader desires the poem itself, he is advised to begin with a modern version, as the original is in the West Midland dialect and is exceedingly difficult to follow.

On New Year’s day, while Arthur and his knights are keeping the Yuletide feast at Camelot, a gigantic knight in green enters the banquet hall on horseback and challenges the bravest knight present to an exchange of blows; that is, he will expose his neck to a blow of his own big battle-ax, if any knight will agree to abide a blow in return. After some natural consternation and a fine speech by Arthur, Gawain accepts the challenge, takes the battle-ax, and with one blow sends the giant’s head rolling through the hall. The Green Knight, who is evidently a terrible magician, picks up his head and mounts his horse. He holds out his head and the ghastly lips speak, warning Gawain to be faithful to his promise and to seek through the world till he finds the Green Chapel. There, on next New Year’s day, the Green Knight will meet him and return the blow.

The second canto of the poem describes Gawain’s long journey through the wilderness on his steed Gringolet, and his adventures with storm and cold, with, wild beasts and monsters, as he seeks in vain for the Green Chapel. On Christmas eve, in the midst of a vast forest, he offers a prayer to “Mary, mildest mother so dear,” and is rewarded by sight of a great castle. He enters and is royally entertained by the host, an aged hero, and by his wife, who is the most beautiful woman the knight ever beheld. Gawain learns that he is at last near the Green Chapel, and settles down for a little comfort after his long quest.

The next canto shows the life in the castle, and describes a curious compact between the host, who goes hunting daily, and the knight, who remains in the castle to entertain the young wife. The compact is that at night each man shall give the other whatever good thing he obtains during the day. While the host is hunting, the young woman tries in vain to induce Gawain to make love to her, and ends by giving him a kiss. When the host returns and gives his guest the game he has killed Gawain returns the kiss. On the third day, her temptations having twice failed, the lady offers Gawain a ring, which he refuses; but when she offers a magic green girdle that will preserve the wearer from death, Gawain, who remembers the giant’s ax so soon to fall on his neck, accepts the girdle as a “jewel for the jeopardy” and promises the lady to keep the gift secret. Here, then, are two conflicting compacts. When the host returns and offers his game, Gawain returns the kiss but says nothing of the green girdle.

The last canto brings our knight to the Green Chapel, after he is repeatedly warned to turn back in the face of certain death. The Chapel is a terrible place in the midst of desolation; and as Gawain approaches he hears a terrifying sound, the grating of steel on stone, where the giant is sharpening a new battle-ax. The Green Knight appears, and Gawain, true to his compact, offers his neck for the blow. Twice the ax swings harmlessly; the third time it falls on his shoulder and wounds him. Whereupon Gawain jumps for his armor, draws his sword, and warns the giant that the compact calls for only one blow, and that, if another is offered, he will defend himself.

Then the Green Knight explains things. He is lord of the castle where Gawain has been entertained for days past. The first two swings of the ax were harmless because Gawain had been true to his compact and twice returned the kiss. The last blow had wounded him because he concealed the gift of the green girdle, which belongs to the Green Knight and was woven by his wife. Moreover, the whole thing has been arranged by Morgain the fay-woman (an enemy of Queen Guinevere, who appears often in the Arthurian romances). Full of shame, Gawain throws back the gift and is ready to atone for his deception; but the Green Knight thinks he has already atoned, and presents the green girdle as a free gift. Gawain returns to Arthur’s court, tells the whole story frankly, and ever after that the knights of the Round Table wear a green girdle in his honor.

THE PEARL. In the same manuscript with “Sir Gawain” are found three other remarkable poems, written about 1350, and known to us, in order, as “The Pearl,” “Cleanness,” and “Patience.” The first is the most beautiful, and received its name from the translator and editor, Richard Morris, in 1864. “Patience” is a paraphrase of the book of Jonah; “Cleanness” moralizes on the basis of Bible stories; but “The Pearl” is an intensely human and realistic picture of a father’s grief for his little daughter Margaret, “My precious perle wythouten spot.” It is the saddest of all our early poems.

On the grave of his little one, covered over with flowers, the father pours out his love and grief till, in the summer stillness, he falls asleep, while we hear in the sunshine the drowsy hum of insects and the faraway sound of the reapers’ sickles. He dreams there, and the dream grows into a vision beautiful. His body lies still upon the grave while his spirit goes to a land, exquisite beyond all words, where he comes suddenly upon a stream that he cannot cross. As he wanders along the bank, seeking in vain for a ford, a marvel rises before his eyes, a crystal cliff, and seated beneath it a little maiden who raises a happy, shining face, the face of his little Margaret.

More then me lyste my drede aros,
I stod full stylle and dorste not calle;
Wyth yghen open and mouth ful clos,
I stod as hende as hawk in halle.

He dares not speak for fear of breaking the spell; but sweet as a lily she comes down the crystal stream’s bank to meet and speak with him, and tell him of the happy life of heaven and how to live to be worthy of it. In his joy he listens, forgetting all his grief; then the heart of the man cries out for its own, and he struggles to cross the stream to join her. In the struggle the dream vanishes; he wakens to find his eyes wet and his head on the little mound that marks the spot where his heart is buried.

From the ideals of these three poems, and from peculiarities of style and meter, it is probable that their author wrote also Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. If so, the unknown author is the one genius of the age whose poetry of itself has power to interest us, and who stands between Cynewulf and Chaucer as a worthy follower of the one and forerunner of the other.

MISCELLANEOUS LITERATURE OF THE NORMAN PERIOD. It is well-nigh impossible to classify the remaining literature of this period, and very little of it is now read, except by advanced students. Those interested in the development of “transition” English will find in the Ancren Riwle, i.e. “Rule of the Anchoresses” (c 1225), the most beautiful bit of old English prose ever written. It is a book of excellent religious advice and comfort, written for three ladies who wished to live a religious life, without, however, becoming nuns or entering any religious orders. The author was Bishop Poore of Salisbury, according to Morton, who first edited this old classic in 1853. Orm’s Ormulum, written soon after the Brut, is a paraphrase of the gospel lessons for the year, somewhat after the manner of Caedmon’s Paraphrase, but without any of Caedmon’s poetic fire and originality. Cursor Mundi (c 1320) is a very long poem which makes a kind of metrical romance out of Bible history and shows the whole dealing of God with man from Creation to Domesday. It is interesting as showing a parallel to the cycles of miracle plays, which attempt to cover the same vast ground. They were forming in this age; but we will study them later, when we try to understand the rise of the drama in England.

Besides these greater works, an enormous number of fables and satires appeared in this age, copied or translated from the French, like the metrical romances. The most famous of these are “The Owl and the Nightingale,” a long debate between the two birds, one representing the gay side of life, the other the sterner side of law and morals, and “Land of Cockaygne,” i.e. “Luxury Land,” a keen satire on monks and monastic religion.

While most of the literature of the time was a copy of the French and was intended only for the upper classes, here and there were singers who made ballads for the common people; and these, next to the metrical romances, are the most interesting and significant of all the works of the Norman period. On account of its obscure origin and its oral transmission, the ballad is always the most difficult of literary subjects. We make here only three suggestions, which may well be borne in mind: that ballads were produced continually in England from Anglo-Saxon times until the seventeenth century; that for centuries they were the only really popular literature; and that in the ballads alone one is able to understand the common people. Read, for instance, the ballads of the “merrie greenwood men,” which gradually collected into the Geste of Robin Hood, and you will understand better, perhaps, than from reading many histories what the common people of England felt and thought while their lords and masters were busy with impossible metrical romances.

In these songs speaks the heart of the English folk. There is lawlessness indeed; but this seems justified by the oppression of the times and by the barbarous severity of the game laws. An intense hatred of shams and injustice lurks in every song; but the hatred is saved from bitterness by the humor with which captives, especially rich churchmen, are solemnly lectured by the bandits, while they squirm at sight of devilish tortures prepared before their eyes in order to make them give up their golden purses; and the scene generally ends in a bit of wild horse-play. There is fighting enough, and ambush and sudden death lurk at every turn of the lonely roads; but there is also a rough, honest chivalry for women, and a generous sharing of plunder with the poor and needy. All literature is but a dream expressed, and “Robin Hood” is the dream of an ignorant and oppressed but essentially noble people, struggling and determined to be free.

Far more poetical than the ballads, and more interesting even than the romances, are the little lyrics of the period, those tears and smiles of long ago that crystallized into poems, to tell us that the hearts of men are alike in all ages. Of these, the best known are the “Luve Ron” (love rune or letter) of Thomas de Hales (c 1250); “Springtime” (c 1300), beginning “Lenten (spring) ys come with luve to toune”; and the melodious love song “Alysoun,” written at the end of the thirteenth century by some unknown poet who heralds the coming of Chaucer:

Bytuene Mersh and Averil,
When spray biginneth to springe
The lutel foul hath hire wyl
On hyre lud to synge.
Ich libbe in love longinge
For semlokest of all thinge.
She may me blisse bringe;
Icham in hire baundoun.
An hendy hap ichabbe yhent,
Ichot from hevene it is me sent,
From alle wymmen mi love is lent
And lyht on Alysoun.

SUMMARY OF THE NORMAN PERIOD. The Normans were originally a hardy race of sea rovers inhabiting Scandinavia. In the tenth century they conquered a part of northern France, which is still called Normandy, and rapidly adopted French civilization and the French language. Their conquest of Anglo-Saxon England under William, Duke of Normandy, began with the battle of Hastings in 1066. The literature which they brought to England is remarkable for its bright, romantic tales of love and adventure, in marked contrast with the strength and somberness of Anglo-Saxon poetry. During the three centuries following Hastings, Normans and Saxons gradually united. The Anglo-Saxon speech simplified itself by dropping most of its Teutonic inflections, absorbed eventually a large part of the French vocabulary, and became our English language. English literature is also a combination of French and Saxon elements. The three chief effects of the conquest were (1) the bringing of Roman civilization to England; (2) the growth of nationality, i.e. a strong centralized government, instead of the loose union of Saxon tribes; (3) the new language and literature, which were proclaimed in Chaucer.

At first the new literature was remarkably varied, but of small intrinsic worth; and very little of it is now read. In our study we have noted: (1) Geoffrey’s History, which is valuable as a source book of literature, since it contains the native Celtic legends of Arthur. (2) The work of the French writers, who made the Arthurian legends popular. (3) Riming Chronicles, i.e. history in doggerel verse, like Layamon’s Brut. (4) Metrical Romances, or tales in verse. These were numerous, and of four classes: (a) the Matter of France, tales centering about Charlemagne and his peers, chief of which is the Chanson de Roland; (b) Matter of Greece and Rome, an endless series of fabulous tales about Alexander, and about the Fall of Troy; (c) Matter of England, stories of Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwick, Robin Hood, etc.; (d) Matter of Britain, tales having for their heroes Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. The best of these romances is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (5) Miscellaneous literature, the Ancren Riwle, our best piece of early English prose; Orm’s Ormulum; Cursor Mundi, with its suggestive parallel to the Miracle plays; and ballads, like King Horn and the Robin Hood songs, which were the only poetry of the common people.