Ball (d. 1381) [q. v.] to the commons of Essex.
The first edition consisted of only twelve passus or cantons, the second contained twenty, the third twenty-three. All the versions can be dated with considerable precision. In one set of manuscripts are found no allusions beyond the year 1362, though there are several—e.g. that to the peace of Brétigny—that belong to 1360 and thereabouts. A mention of 'this south-western wynt on a Saturday at ruen' (A text, v. 13) obviously alludes, as Tyrwhitt first noted, to a violent storm on Saturday, 15 Jan. 1362, of which an account is given by Thorn, by Walsingham, and by the continuator of Adam Murimuth. A second group of manuscripts connects itself with 1377 and thereabouts. The decisive allusion is to the time between the death of the Black Prince and the accession of Richard II, and the perils of the crown and the kingdom at that time, especially from John of Gaunt (see B text, prol. 87–209). A third group of manuscripts carries us on another fifteen years to 1392 and thereabouts. In 1392, as Professor Skeat points out, the city of London refused the King a loan of 1,000l., and a Lombard who lent it him was beaten by the Londoners nearly to death. Now, in a line, not occurring in the 'A' and the 'B' groups, Conscience, addressing the king, declares that unseemly tolerance [vusittynge suffrance] (of bad men) has almost brought it about, 'hote Maria the help' [unless the Virgin succours him] that no land loves him, and least of all his own (C text, iv. 210); and in another passage, also additional, Reason assures him that if he will rule wisely, and not let 'unseemly tolerance' 'seal his privy letters,' Love will lend him silver
To wage thyne, & help wynne that thow wilnest, aftar,
More than al thy merchauns other thy mytrede bishops
Other Lumbardes of Lukes that lynan by lone as Jewes.
A more complete indication of the various dates of 'Piers Plowman,' and for a minute account of the differences between the three chief texts, is given in Dr. Skeat's (2 vols. 8vo) edition published by the Clarendon press in 1886.
Langland put into his poem all that from time to time he had to say on the questions of the day and on the great questions of life. He thought eagerly on these things, and all the thoughts of his heart 'sodalibus olim credebat libris;' and these books his contemporaries read with scarcely lees eagerness. He was not only a keen observer and thinker, but also an effective writer. His intense feeling for his fellow-men, his profound pity for their sad plight, unshepherded and guideless as he beheld them, were made effective by his imaginative power and his masterly gift of language and expression. He sees vividly the objects and the sights he describes, and makes his readers see them vividly. He is as exact and realistic as Dante, however inferior in the greatness of his conceptions or in nobleness of poetic form. In this last respect Langland is connected with the past rather than with what was the metrical fashion of his own day; he is the representative of the Teutonic revival in England which completed itself in the fourteenth century. He adopts the old English metre, the unrimed alliterative line of most usually four accents. Even Layamon [q. v.] had a century and a half before largely admitted rime into his verses, though they, too, are chiefly of the Anglo-Saxon style. Langland in this matter was probably somewhat retrogressive, though we must remember that he knew his audience better than his modern critics can know it. In the more cultivated circles certainly the taste for the old metrical form was wellnigh extinct. But Langland went pretty much his own way.
Near the close of the fourteenth century Langland seems to have returned to the west. In 1399, if the poem written in the September of that year to remonstrate with Richard II—the poem well entitled by Dr. Skeat 'Richard the Redeless'—is his composition, he was residing at Bristol; and, though there is no manuscript authority for ascribing it to him, the language, the style, the thought, all seem thoroughly to justify the judgment of Mr. T. Wright and Dr. Skeat. Years before, the poet had been offended by Richard's misgovernment. He makes one last appeal to this unworthy king, or was making it, when it would seem the news of his unthroning reached him. The poem ends in the middle of a paragraph.