Beginnings of English Literature. The Difficulties attend.
ing them. The Advisability of taking Chaucer as our
Starting Point. The Necessity of Knowing the Outlines of
Earlier Days before even Chaucer is attempted.
ENGLISH LITERATURE may be said to begin with some fragments
of poetry that date back as far as the fourth century; and,
for the ten centuries following, our literature is extremely
difficult to understand, because it is written either in Anglo-
Saxon, or else in one of the dialects of Middle English. It took
a thousand years for English literature to develop properly ;
and we do not come across any author who can be easily
mastered until we arrive at the middle of the fourteenth
century. Then we find Geoffrey Chaucer one of the greatest
of our poets, who died in the year 1400. We cannot, however,
properly appreciate even his work unless we know something of
the condition of English between the fourth and the fourteenth
centuries ; and this knowledge we must try to obtain by
learning a little about the principal things that happened to
the language before Chaucer's time.
II. THE OLD ENGLISH TIMES.
I. The Teutonic Tribes in Britain. Nature of their Poetry.
Alliteration, and what it means. How the Fragments of
Ancient Songs have been preserved. Examples of them.
“The Fight at Finnesburg,” and “Beowulf."
We have to begin by thinking of the tribes that came over
to Britain in the fifth century, and slowly transformed it into
England. They were Teutonic tribes, and spoke various Teu-
tonic tongues. Like all the other branches of the great family
to which they belonged—the Aryan family--they possessed a