« PreviousContinue »
Rey Edward le viel chanu,
Qe tant ama ta seignurie.
Ore est-il mort ; jeo ne sai mie
Sun duz quor par grant druerie
• Jerusalem, thou hast i-lore
The flour of al chivalerie;
Alas! that he yet shulde deye!
He wolde ha rered up fol heye
Wel longe we mowe clepe and crie
The lament concludes with a prayer that Edward of Caernarvon may be equal to his father in wisdom and power, that he may do right to poor men, and govern the realm well. An unanswered prayer, as England soon found.
One of the first songs composed during this disastrous reign is on the king's breaking his confirmation of Magna Charta. It presents a curious mixture of Anglo-Norman and English.
Nostre prince de Engletere,
Par le consail de sa gent,
Made a gret parlement,
Jeo l'enteink et bien le crey,
And is molten al awey.'-Ib. p. 253.
That the charter was made of wax, is not to be understood by any allusion to the seal, but to the custom then, and still later in practice, of covering a board with a thin coating of wax, and then writing on it with an iron pen. This was generally done in the monastic schools in teaching boys to write; the meaning of this passage, therefore, seems rather to be, that the king, like a school boy, was set to copy out the charter, but determined not to maintain its provisions; no sooner had he finished it than he held it to the fire, and thus the letters were obliterated. The mixture of French and English here, seems not to have been uncommon at this time. There is another song which gives successive half lines of French, Latin, and English; and there are others, in the third work on our table, 'Reliquiæ An'tiquæ,' in which Latin and English are intermixed with really a graceful effect. The following two stanzas from an address
to the Virgin about the middle of the thirteenth century, are remarkably sweet and flowing. • Of one that is so fayr and bright,
velut maris stella,
parens et puella.
rosa sine spina,
- Reliquiæ Antique, p. 89. The song on the king's breaking the charter, goes on, after the few lines at the beginning, in what was then good plain English, to tell how four wise old men met together to discourse about the troubles of England.
• The ferste seide, 'I unnderstonde
Under God Almihte,
For might is riht,
And fiht is Aiht.
Off sorwe he shal drinke;
Nu one is two,
For one is two, that lond is streintheles ;
- Political Songs, p. 254, 255.
The phrase "whoso roweth against the flood, seems to refer to the pertinacious perversity of the king, in adhering to Gaveston in despite of his wisest counsellors; and the line for one
is two, the land is strengthless,' seems also to refer to the same cause, for we find, in a contemporaneous chronicle, it was remarked that there were two kings instead of one; while ' for
friend is foe, the land is loveless,' may be an allusion to the quarrel of Earl Thomas of Lancaster, who from friend had become the king's foe, on account of the protection which he persisted in affording to his worthless favorite.
The conclusion of this curious poem breathes a spirit of conciliation which is very pleasing, and we think that political writers even in the present day might take a lesson from this homely versifier.
· Riche and pore, bond and fre,
Love clepeth ech man brother ;
Al theih he do other.
• Love we God, and he us alle,
And for us don on rode (cross).
That we sholde be gode.
Haven heven blisse.
That joye for to misse.'—Ib. pp. 256, 257.
That Gaveston had rendered himself for years before his death most obnoxious to the people we have the concurrent testimony of contemporary historians, but we scarcely expected to find so fierce a spirit manifested against him, and by the clergy too, as both the Latin poems on his execution breathe. They are parodies on two of the finest hymns of the Latin church,—the Vexilla Regis prodeunt' and the ‘Pange Lingua, and they celebrate, in the most exulting strains, the death of him
who had reigned far too long' who had so long vexed England.' This is the more remarkable, since we are not aware of Gaveston's having evinced any hostility to the church or to her ministers. The joy felt by the clergy at his death can, therefore, only be attributed to their hatred of foreigners, and their advocacy of free principles.
There were doubtless, numerous English songs written on the same occasion, and breathing the same spirit; but none of these have been discovered; and for exemplifications of the popular feeling not only on the death of Gaveston, but on the cruel execution of Earl Thomas of Lancaster, we must turn to the compositions of churchmen. The death of this great friend of the commons was viewed as a martyrdom; the mound on which he was beheaded became the place of pilgrimage to multitudes, and St. Paul's, the metropolitan cathedral, as we learn from a precept in the Federa, was thronged by thousands who asserted that “a certain picture of him wrought miracles. Again was the honor of canonization performed, not by the Pope in conclave, but by the superstitious gratitude of a marvelling and warm-hearted age; and again was the fine GoodFriday hymn adapted to the celebration of St. Thomas of Lancaster.
Pange lingua gloriosi, comitis martyrium,
With this celebration of the martyr of freedom the present volume of the Political Songs of England' ends; we are promised a second, which will include our political songs to the close of the reign of Richard the Third, and we look forward to its publication with much interest.
The third work on our table, ‘Reliquiæ Antiquæ,' has not hitherto afforded much illustration of the political condition of our forefathers; but on their social and religious condition it has thrown some additional light. The first point that struck us was the numerous translations, eight or nine at least, of the Lord's Prayer, the commandments, the creed, and other parts of the regular service, which, while they are most valuable for tracing the gradual progress of the English language, are more valuable still as proofs that the people from the eleventh to the fifteenth century were by no means so utterly destitute of common religious knowledge as the writers at the period of the Reformation would lead us to suppose. These translations, indeed, afford strong corroborations of our opinion, that the service in the parish churches, but especially in the friars' churches, was performed in English; and from the circumstance
of many of the Latin hymns being also translated into English verse, of which there are specimens by a Franciscan, we have little doubt that the whole congregation joined in singing them. One of the most curious poems in these numbers is the ‘Proverbs of Hendyng,' a collection of moral precepts in verse, each ending with a popular proverb. Many of these are still in use. Good beginning makes good ending;' • A fool's bolt is
soon shot,' The burnt child dreads the fire,' and many of them exhibit a favorable specimen of the popular instruction afforded during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. We will give two verses in modernized spelling, as the original is almost unreadable.
"If thou havest bread and ale,
But deal some part about.
Thou shalt not go without.
Quoth Hendyng. * * *
Ne wax thee not too wild (joyous) –
And be thou meek and mild.
We have exceeded the limits we proposed, or we should have proceeded to give some curious illustrations of the general opinions, the superstitions, and the modes of instruction
in use among our forefathers. We may, however, probably again return to this subject in our review of the subsequent numbers of this third and very interesting collection. Sufficient has, however, we trust, been said to show the importance of works like these, especially as enabling us to form a correct estimate of the actual condition of the people during the middle ages. A far different aspect do the contests under Simon de Montfort in the thirteenth century, and those under Earl Thomas of Lancaster in the following, assume when contemplated in the light of contemporary documents, and illustrated by the popular songs, and hymns actually sung by those engaged in the struggle, to that in the pages of the soi disant philosophical historian, who having first formed his theory, seeks to bend historical evidence to it. The liberties of England, and her high national