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To the hiftorians whofe works were compofed in Latin, we are to add the name of one who wrote in English. This was Robert Fabian, a merchant and alderman of London, and confequently a member of a corporation which has produced few literary men, and in which many literary men are not, in the nature of the thing, to be expected. His fituation, therefore, in life, efpecially confidering the age in which he exifted, may be regarded as giving a certain degree of celebrity to his hiftorical character. The chronicle which he compofed, and which was entitled by him the "Concordance of Stories," is intelligible in its language, and written with fincerity. Befides the more public facts which it includes, it contains a variety of particulars relative to the city of London, As Fabian's work is carried down to the twentieth year of the reign of king Henry the Seventh, he may in part be confidered as belonging to a fubfequent period.
A few other hiftorical names might be mentioned; but we have as much enlarged upon the fubject as is confiftent with the nature of our defign.
It is worthy of obfervation, that we are not to look to the English hiftorians for the beft accounts of the public tranfactions of this age. Foreign writers must be applied to, as the most copious fources of information. To Froiffart, Philip de Comines, and Monftrelet, recourse must be had for the fulleft, the most interesting, and the most entertaining intelligence concerning the political events and revolutions of our own country.
There is no fituation of human affairs, however difagreeable and calamitous, which is not converted by divine Providence to the production of fome advantage, Even the civil wars had their ufe, at least in one refpect, as they contributed to the declenfion of flavery. The contending parties, in order to carry on the purposes of their ambi tion, and to fupply their armies with fufficient forces, were occafionally obliged to fet their bondmen at liberty. Some little enlargement of mind upon this fubject began likewife to prevail, and experience ferved to convince our ancestors by degrees, that agriculture and other services
were better performed by hired labourers than by unwilling and refractory flaves. It is certain that, in the period we are writing of, their number confiderably decreased; and though this may be thought to have been principally a political event, yet, fo far as it might proceed from any juftice or liberality of principle, it deferves to be noticed in a hiftory of the progrefs of knowledge and mental improvement.
The circumstance of there being rival candidates for the crown was favourable to the free form of our government. Our princes, in a fituation fo critical, being perpetually liable to be caít down from, the throne, and standing in need of the fupport of as many of their fubjects as possible, could not make, in general, those strides in arbitrary power which they would probably have done if their claims and their authority had been more firmly established.. The conftitution was not indeed greatly altered in this age, and it must be allowed that many irregularities were permitted to continue; but yet fome advantageous changes were introduced. The rights and qualifications of electors, efpecially of freeholders, were more accurately afcertained; and the method of enacting laws was conducted with a precision, an order, and a folemnity which had not hitherto been obferved. Edward the Fourth, from his intimate connection with the court of Burgundy, had opened his mind to a difcernment of the benefits of commerce. Hence he became himself one of the greatest merchants in Europe, and paffed feveral excellent acts for the regulation and encouragement of trade and manufactures. The ftatutes of Richard the Third were the first that were enacted in English, which alteration, while it was an acceffion of honour to our native language, was favourable to the right conduct of political government, and to the better adminiftration of justice. Upon the whole, amidst a variety of defects which still fubfifted, the conftitution and laws of England were confiderably improved. The other nations of Europe were not in a condition to be compared with us in this respect. This point is ftrongly maintained by Fortescue, and is teftified by an illuftrious foreign hi
hiftorian*, who declares it to be his opinion, that of all the states which he knew in the world, England was the country where the commonwealth was beft governed, and the people the leaft oppreffed. It must be added, that, during the latter part of thefe times, the common law of the kingdom was in eminent perfection.
Amidst the fcarcity of good writers, two lawyers greatly diftinguished themselves in this period. Thefe were fir Thomas Littleton and the lord chief justice Fortescue. Sir Thomas Littleton wrote the famous book on English Tenures, which was commented upon by fir Edward Coke, and which is fo much ftudied by gentlemen of the profeffion. The celebrity and usefulness of this work have fubfifted to our own time; and, notwithstanding the prodigious acceffion of ftatutes and reports, the large alterations both in the knowledge and practice of the law, and the accumulation of publications, Littleton, with Coke's Commentary, will ever continue to demand the attention and applause of our ableft advocates.
As an author, and among men of literature in general, Fortescue will probably be regarded as entitled to ftill greater commendations. Indeed he appears with extraordinary luftre, among the men of that age, in the character of a writer. He compofed both in Latin and in his native tongue; and the fubjects he treated upon, together with the fentiments which were delivered by him concerning them, will always endear his memory to true Englishmen. In Latin he wrote upon the praises of the laws of England, and in English on the difference between an abfolute and limited monarchy. In thefe works he hath done juftice to the excellence of our conftitution and laws, and has fhewn himself to have been a firm friend to the cause of liberty. His admirable tracts form an eternal answer to those who are willing to maintain that there was no freedom in this country previously to the last century, or, as fome have afferted, even before the Revolution.
*Philip de Comines.
From Law we pafs on to a very different object, that of Poetry; an object which is always pleafing to minds that are endued with the principles of fenfibility and taste. The period in which Chaucer, Gower, and Langland flourished, was fucceeded by an age that did not, in any tolerable degree, fuftain the fame reputation. There was only one poet in the reign of king Henry the Fourth, and he contributed nothing to the improvement of our verfification and language. His real name was John Walton, though he is called Johannes Capellanus. He tranflated into English verfe Boethius's treatife on the Confolation of Philofophy, a work of genius and merit, which in the middle ages was admired above every other compofition.
Henry the Fifth, though he is faid to have been fond of reading, derives his luftre from his character as a warrior, and not from his patronage of the fine arts. Although his coronation was attended with harpers, who must have accompanied their inftruments with heroic rhymes, he was no great encourager of the popular minstrelfy, then in a high ftate of perfection. When, on his entrance into the city of London in triumph, after the battle of Agincourt, children had been placed to fing verfes as he paffed, an edict was iffued by him, commanding that, for the future, no fongs fhould be recited in praife of the late victory. This humility perhaps was affected; and, if it was real, doth not appear to have been the refult of true wisdom. While his heart was fet on performing eminent military exploits, he ought to have cherished the perfons who were beft able to do juftice to his prowefs. The little regard, however, which was paid by Henry to the poets, could not prevent their celebration of his warlike actions. Among other productions, a minstrel piece was compofed on the fiege of Harfleur, and the battle of Agincourt. It was adapred to the harp, and contained fome fpirited lines; but the ftyle was barbarous, compared with that of Chaucer and Gower. The improvement of our language was attended to only by a few men, who had enjoyed the advantages of a fuperior education, and made compofition their
ftudy. As to the minstrels, they were, in general, too illiterate to feek after the refinements of diction.
Concerning Occleve, though of fome note in the poetical hiftory of this period, very high things cannot be faid. His principal poem is a tranflation of Egidius on the Government of Princes. Occleve did not excel in vigour of fancy, and there is no great strength in his writings. He had, however, the merit of contributing to the melioration of our language. His pathetic lines on Chaucer, who was his model, and with whom he had probably formed a connection in early life, reflect honour upon the gratitude and fenfibility of his heart.
John Lydgate, a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Bury, in Suffolk, was the poet whofe reputation ftands the highest among the English bards of this age. He poffeffed the advantage of as good an education as the times could afford. After having studied at the university of Oxford, he travelled for improvement into France and Italy. Here he acquired the knowledge not only of the language but of the literature of thefe countries, and paid a very particular attention to the poetry of both nations. Befides obtaining an acquaintance with all the polite learning which was then cultivated, he was no inconfiderable proficient in the fashionable philofophy and theology of his contemporaries. The vivacity of his genius, and the verfatility of his talents, enabled him to write a great number of poems, extremely diverfified in their fubjects, and in the nature of their compofition. His three chief productions were the "Fall of Princes," the "Siege of Thebes," and the "Destruction of Troy." Lydgate is to be reckoned among the improvers of the English tongue. His language is uncommonly perfpicuous for the times he lived in, and his verfes frequently excite furprize from their modern caft. He feems to have been ambitious, at leaft in the ftructure and modulation of his ftyle, of having rivalled Chaucer; but undoubtedly he was far inferior to him in the grand requifites of poetical excellence. His mode of writing is diffufe, and he is not diftinguished by