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