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Outlines of English and American Literature
by Long, William J.

The period included in the Age of Chaucer and the Revival of Learning covers two centuries, from 1350 to 1550. The chief literary figure of the period, and one of the greatest of English poets, is Geoffrey Chaucer, who died in the year 1400. He was greatly influenced by French and Italian models; he wrote for the middle and upper classes; his greatest work was The Canterbury Tales.

Langland, another poet contemporary with Chaucer, is famous for his Piers Plowman, a powerful poem aiming at social reform, and vividly portraying the life of the common people. It is written in the old Saxon manner, with accent and alliteration, and is difficult to read in its original form.

After the death of Chaucer a century and a half passed before another great writer appeared in England. The time was one of general decline in literature, and the most obvious causes were: the Wars of the Roses, which destroyed many of the patrons of literature; the Reformation, which occupied the nation with religious controversy; and the Renaissance or Revival of Learning, which turned scholars to the literature of Greece and Rome rather than to English works.

In our study of the latter part of the period we reviewed: (1) the rise of the popular ballad, which was almost the only type of literature known to the common people. (2) The work of Malory, who arranged the best of the Arthurian legends in his Morte d'Arthur. (3) The work of Caxton, who brought the first printing press to London, and who was instrumental in establishing the East-Midland dialect as the literary language of England.

Selections for Reading

Typical selections from all authors of the period are given in Manly, English Poetry, and English Prose; Newcomer and Andrews, Twelve Centuries of English Poetry and Prose; Ward, English Poets; Morris and Skeat, Specimens of Early English.

Chaucer's Prologue, Knight's Tale, and other selections in Riverside Literature, King's Classics, and several other school series. A good single-volume edition of Chaucer's poetry is Skeat, The Student's Chaucer (Clarendon Press). A good, but expensive, modernized version is Tatlock and MacKaye, Modern Reader's Chaucer (Macmillan).

Metrical version of Piers Plowman, by Skeat, in King's Classics; modernized prose version by Kate Warren, in Treasury of English Literature (Dodge).

Selections from Malory's Morte d'Arthur in Athenĉum Press Series (Ginn and Company); also in Camelot Series. An elaborate edition of Malory with introduction by Sommer and an essay by Andrew Lang (3 vols., London, 1889); another with modernized text, introduction by Rhys, illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley (London, 1893).

The best of the old ballads are published in Pocket Classics, and in Maynard's English Classics; a volume of ancient and modern English ballads in Ginn and Company's Classics for Children; Percy's Reliques, in Everyman's Library. Allingham, The Ballad Book; Hazlitt, Popular Poetry of England; Gummere, Old English Ballads; Gayley and Flaherty, Poetry of the People; Child, English and Scottish Popular Poetry (5 vols.); the last-named work, edited and abridged by Kittredge, in one volume.


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