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Crist and Sainte Marie swa on scamel me iledde
That ic on this erde ne silde with mine bare fote itredde. Which Ritson translates :-“ Christ and Mary, thus supported, have me brought, that I on earth should not with my bare foot tread.” The other is a hymn to St. Nicholas :
Sainte Nicholaes, Godes druth,
Sainte Nicholaes, bring us wel there. “ That is,” says Ritson, “ Saint Nicholas, God's lover, build us a fair beautiful house. At thy birth, at thy bier, Saint Nicholas, bring us safely thither.”
As for the rhymes given by Lambarde and Camden as of the twelfth century, they can hardly in the shape in which we have them be of anything like that antiquity : they are, in fact, in the common English of the sixteenth century. Lambarde (in his Dictionary of England, p. 36) tells us that a rabble of Flemings and Normans brought over in 1173 by Robert Earl of Leicester, when they were assembled on a heath near St. Edmonds Bury, “ fell to dance and sing,
Hoppe Wylikin, hoppe Wyllykin,
Ingland is thyne and myne, &c.” Camden's story is that Hugh Bigott, Earl of Norfolk, in the reign of Stephen used to boast of the impregnable strength of his castle of Bungey after this fashion :
“ Were I in my castle of Bungey,
I would ne care for the king of Cockency." What Sir Frederick Madden describes as “the prophecy said to have been set up at Here in the year 1189” is given by Ritson as follows:
Whan thu sees in Here hert yreret,
The thridde into Airhahen herd all wreken drechegen. These lines, which he calls a “specimen of English poetry, apparently of the same age” (the latter part of the 12th century), Ritson says are preserved by Benedictus Abbas, by Hoveden, and by the Chronicle of Lanercost; and he professes to give them,
and the account by which they are introduced, from " the former,” by which he means the first of the three. But in truth the verses do not occur as he has printed them in any of the places to which he refers. And there is no ground for supposing, thet they were ever inscribed or set up upon any house at “ Here” or elsewhere. What is said both by Benedict and Hoveden (who employ nearly the same words) is simply that the figure of a hart was set upon the pinnacle of the house, in order, as was believed, that the prophecy contained in the verses might be accomplished—which prophecy, we are told immediately before, had been found engraven in ancient characters upon stone tables in the neighbourhood of the place. It is clearly intended to be stated that the prophecy was much older than the building of the house, and the erection of the figure of a stag, in the year 1190.
The Brut of Layajon. Layamon, or, as he is also called, Laweman—for the old character represented in this instance by our modern y is really only a guttural (and by no means either a j or a z, by which it is sometimes rendered)-tells us himself that he was a priest, and that he resided at Ernley, near Radstone, or Redstone, which appears to have been what is now called Arley Regis, or Lower Arley, on the western bank of the Severn, in Worcestershire. He seems to say that he was employed in the services of the church at that place :-“ther he bock radde” (there he book read). And the only additional information that he gives us respecting himself is, that his father's name was Leovenath (or Leuca, as it is given in the later of the two texts).
His Brut, or Chronicle of Britain (from the arrival of Brutus to the death of King Cadwalader in A.D. 689), is in the main, though with many additions, a translation of the French Brut d'Angleterre of Wace, which is itself, as has been stated above, a translation, also with considerable additions from other sources, of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin Historia Britonum, which again professes, and probably with truth, to be translated from a Welsh or Breton original. So that the genealogy of the four versions or forms of the narrative is ;-first, a Celtic original, believed to be now lost; secondly, the Latin of Geoffrey of Monmouth; thirdly, the French of Wace; fourthly, the English of Layamon. The Celtic or British version is of unknown date; the Latin is of the earlier, the French of the latter, half of the twelfth century; and that of Layamon would appear to have been completed in the first years of the thirteenth. We shall encounter a second English translation from Wace's French before the middle of the fourteenth.
The existence of Layamon's Chronicle had long been known, but it had attracted very little attention till comparatively recent times. It is merely mentioned even by Warton and Tyrwhittthe latter only remarking (in his Essay on the Language and Versification of Chaucer), that, “though the greatest part of this work of Layamon resembles the old Saxon poetry, without rhyme or metre, yet he often intermixes a number of short verses of unequal lengths, but rhyming together pretty exactly, and in some places he has imitated not unsuccessfully the regular octosyllabic measure of his French original.” George Ellis, in his Specimens of the Early English Poets, originally published in 1790, was, we believe, the first to introduce Layamon to the general reader, by giving an extract of considerable length, with explanatory annotations, from what he described as his “ very curious work,” which, he added, never had been, and probably never would be, printed. Subsequently another considerable specimen, in every way much more carefully and learnedly edited, and accompanied with a literal translation throughout into the modern idiom, was presented by Mr. Guest in his History of English Rhythms, 1838 (ii. 113-123). But now the whole work has been edited by Sir Frederic Madden, for the Society of Antiquaries of London, in three volumes 8vo. 1847. This splendid publication, besides a Literal Translation, Notes, and a Grammatical Glossary, contains the Brut in two texts, separated from each other by an interval apparently of about half a century, and, whether regarded in reference to the philological, to say nothing of the historical, value and importance of Layamon's work, or to the admirable and alto. gether satisfactory manner in which the old chronicle is exhibited and illustrated, may fairly be characterized as by far the most acceptable present that has been made to the students of early English literature in our day.
His editor conceives that we may safely assume Layamon's English to be that of North Worcestershire, the district in which he lived and wrote. But this western dialect, he contends, was also that of the southern part of the island, having in fact originated to the south of the Thames, whence, he says, it gradually extended itself “as far as the courses of the Severn, the Wye, the Tame, and the Avon, and more or less pervaded the counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Warwickshire, and Oxfordshire,”—besides prevailing “throughout the channel counties from east to west,”—notwithstanding that several of the counties that have been named, and that of Worcester especially, had belonged especially to the non-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. “ The language of Layamon,” he farther holds, “belongs to that transition period in which the groundwork of Anglo-Saxon phraseology and grammar still existed, although gradually yielding to the influence of the popular forms of speech. We find in it, as in the later portion of the Saxon Chronicle, marked indications of a tendency to adopt those terminations and sounds which characterise a language in a state of change, and which are apparent also in some other branches of the Teutonic tongue.” As showing “ the progress made in the course of two centuries in departing from the ancient and purer grammatical forms, as found in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts,” he mentions “the use of a as an article ;-the change of the Anglo-Saxon terminations a and an into e and en, as well as the disregard of inflexions and genders ;—the masculine forms given to neuter nouns in the plural ;—the neglect of the feminine terminations of adjectives and pronouns, and confusion between the definite and indefinite declensions; the introduction of the preposition to before infinitives, and occasional use of weak preterites of verbs and participles instead of strong ;-the constant occurrence of en for on in the plurals of verbs, and frequent elision of the final e ;-together with the uncertainty in the rule for the government of prepositions.” In the earlier text one of the most striking peculiarities is what has been termed the nunnation, defined by Sir Frederic as “ consisting of the addition of a final n to certain cases of nouns and adjectives, to some tenses of verbs, and to several other parts of speech.” The western dialect, of which both texts, and especially the earlier, exhibit strong marks, is further described as perceptible in the “ termination of the present tense plural in th, and infinitives in i, ie, or y; the forms of the plural personal pronouns, heo, heore, heom; the frequent occurrence of the prefix i before past participles; the use of v for f; and prevalence of the vowel u for i or y, in such words as dude, hudde, hulle, putte, hure, &c.” “But,” it is added, “on comparing the two texts carefully together, some remarkable variations are apparent in the later, which seem to arise, not from its having been composed at a more recent period, but from the infusion of an Anglian or Northern element into the dialect.” From these indications the learned editor is disposed to think that the later text “may have been composed or transcribed in one of the counties conterminous to the Anglian border, and he suggests that “perhaps we might fix on the eastern side of Leicestershire as the locality.”
One thing in the English of Layamon that is eminently deserving of notice with reference to the history of the language is the very small amount of the French or Latin element that is found in it. " The fact itself," Sir F. Madden observes, “ of a translation of Wace's poem by a priest of one of the midland counties is sufficient evidence how widely the knowledge of the writings of the trouvères was dispersed, and it would appear a natural consequence, that not only the outward form of the Anglo-Norman versification, but also that many of the terms used in the original would be borrowed. This, however, is but true in a very trifling degree, compared with the extent of the work; for, if we number the words derived from the French (even including some that may have come directly from the Latin), we do not find in the earlier text of Layamon's poem so many as fifty, several of which were in usage, as appears by the Saxon Chronicle, previous to the middle of the twelfth century. Of this number the later text retains about thirty, and adds to them rather more than forty which are not found in the earlier version; so that, if we reckon ninety words of French origin in both texts, containing together more than 56,800 lines, we shall be able to form a tolerably correct estimate how little the English language was really affected by foreign converse, even as late as the middle of the thirteenth century."*
Layamon's poem extends to nearly 32,250 lines, or more than double the length of Wace's Brut. This may indicate the amount of the additions which the English chronicler has made to his French original. That, however, is only one, though the chief, of several preceding works to which he professes himself to have been indebted. His own account is :
He nom tha Englisca boc
* Preface xxiii.