Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/467

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But it was wielded in that age by one writer of the highest genius, the historian Titus Livius. He greatly enriched the tissue of Latin prose with ornament which hitherto had been confined to poetry; this enables him, in the course of his vast annals, “ to advance without flagging through the long and intricate narrative where a simpler diction must necessarily have grown monotonous ” (Mackail). The periodic structure of Latin prose, which had been developed by Cicero, was carried by Livy “to an even greater complexity.” The style of Pollio, who wrote a History of the Civil Laws, was much admired, and the loss of this work must be deplored. A different species of prose, the plebius sermo, or colloquial speech of the poor, is partly preserved in the invaluable fragments of a Neronian writer, Petronius Arbiter. Of the Latin prose-writers of the silver age, the elder Pliny, Quintilian and Tacitus, who adorned the last years before the decay of classical Latin, nothing need here be said.

English.—It was long supposed that the conscious use of prose in the English language was a comparatively recent thing, dating back at farthest to the middle of the 16th century, and due directly to French influences. Earle was the first to show that this was not the case, and to assert that we “ possess a longer pedigree of prose literature than any other country in Europe.” Though this may be held to be a somewhat violent statement, the independence of English prose is a fact which rests on a firm basis. “ The Code of Laws of King's Inn” dates from the 7th century, and there are various other legal documents which may be hardly literature in themselves, but which are worded in a way that seems to denote the existence of a literary tradition. After the Danish invasion, Latin ceased to be the universal language of the educated, and translations into the vernacular began to be required. In 887, Alfred, who had collected the principal scholars of England around him, wrote with their help, in English, his Hand-Book; this, probably the earliest specimen of finished English prose, is unhappily lost. Alfred's preface to the English version of the Cura pastoralis was in Latin; this translation was probably completed in 890. Later still Alfred produced various translations from Bede, Orosius, Boethius and other classics of the latest Latin, and, in 900, closing a translation from St Augustine, we read “ Here end the sayings of King Alfred.” The prose of Alfred is simple, straightforward and clear, without any pretension to elegance. He had no direct followers until the time of the monastic revival, when the first name of eminence which we encounter is that of Ælfric, who, about 997, began to translate, or rather to paraphrase, certain portions of the Bible. The prose of Ælfric, however, though extremely interesting historically, has the fault that it presents too close a resemblance, in structure and movement, to the alliterative verse of the age. This is particularly true of his Homilies. A little later vigorous prose was put forth by Wulfstan, archbishop of York, who died in 1023. At the Norman Conquest, the progress of English prose was violently checked, and, as has been acutely said, it “ was just kept alive, but only like a man in catalepsy.” The Annals of Winchester, Worcester and Peterborough were carried on in English until 1154, when they were resumed in Latin; the chronicle which thus came to an end was the most important document in English prose 'written before the Norman Conquest. Except in a few remote monasteries, English now ceased to be used, even for religious purposes, and the literature became exclusively Latin or French. There was nothing in prose that was analogous to the revival of verse in the Ormulum or the metrical chronicles. All the pre-Norman practice in prose belongs to what used to be distinguished as Anglo-Saxon literature. The distinction has fallen into desuetude, as it has become more clearly perceived that there is no real break between the earlier and the, later language. The Norman check, however, makes it fair to say that modern English prose begins with the Testament of Love of Thomas Usk, an imitation of the De consolatione of Boethius, which a certain London Lollard wrote in prison about 1584. About the same time were written a number of translations, The Tale of Melibee and The Parson's Sermon by Chaucer; the treatises of John of Trevisa, whose style in the Polychronicon has a good deal of vigour; and the three versions of the Travels of Jean à Barbe, formerly attributed to a fabulous “ Sir John Mandeville.” The composite text of these last-mentioned versions really forms the earliest specimen of purely secular prose which can be said to possess genuine literary value, but again the fact, which has only lately been ascertained, that “ Sir John Mandeville ” was not an original English writer robs it of much of its value. The anonymous compiler-translator can no longer be styled “ the father of English prose.” That name seems more properly to belong to John Wyclif, who, in the course of his fierce career as a controversialist, more and more completely abandoned Latin for English as the vehicle of his tracts. The earliest English Bible was begun by Nicholas Hereford, who had carried it up to Baruch, when he abruptly dropped it in June 1382. The completion of this great work is usually attributed, but on insufficient grounds, to Wyclif himself. A new version was almost immediately started by John Purvey, another Wyclifite, who completed it in 1388. We are still among translators, but towards the middle of the 14th century Englishmen began, somewhat timidly, to use prose as the vehicle for original work. Capgrave, an Augustinian friar, wrote a chronicle of English history down to 1417; Sir John Fortescue, the eminent constitutional jurist, produced about 1475 a book on The Governance of England; and Reginald Pecock, bishop of Chichester, attacked the Lollards in his Repressor of Over Much Blaming of the Clergy (1455), which was so caustic and scandalous that it cost him his diocese. The prose of Pecock is sometimes strangely modern, and to judge what the ordinary English prose familiarly in use in the 15th century was it is more useful to turn to The Paston Letters. The introduction of printing into England is coeval with a sudden development of English prose, a marvellous example of which is to be seen in Caxton's 1485 edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur, a compilation from French sources, in which the capacities of the English language for melody and noble sweetness were for the first time displayed, although much was yet lacking in strength and conciseness. Caxton himself, Lord Berners and Lord Rivers, added an element of literary merit to their useful translations. The earliest modern historian was Robert Fabyan, whose posthumous Chronicles were printed in 1515. Edward Hall was a better writer, whose Noble Families of Lancaster and York had the honour of being studied by Shakespeare. With the advent of the Renaissance to England, prose was heightened and made more colloquial. Sir Thomas More's Richard III. was a work of considerable importance; his finer Utopia (1516) was unfortunately composed in Latin, which still held its own as a dangerous rival to the vernacular in prose. In his Governor (1531) Sir Thomas Elyot added moral philosophy to the gradually widening range of subjects which were thought proper for English prose. In the same year Tyndale began his famous version of the Bible, the story of which forms one of the most romantic episodes in the chronicles of literature; at Tyndale's death in 1536 the work was taken up by Miles Coverdale. The Sermons of Latimer (1549) introduced elements of humour, dash and vigour which had before been foreign to the stately but sluggish prose of England. The earliest biography, a book in many ways marvellously modern, was the Life of Cardinal Wolsey, by George Cavendish, written about 1557, but not printed (even in part) until 1641. In the closing scenes of this memorable book, which describe what Cavendish had personally experienced, we may say that the perfection of easy English style is reached for the first time. The prose of the middle of the 16th century—as we see it exemplified in the earliest English critic, Sir Thomas Wilson; the earliest English pedagogue, Roger Ascham; the distinguished humanist, Sir John Cheke—is clear, unadorned and firm, these Englishmen holding themselves bound to resist the influences coming to them from Italy and Spain, influences which were in favour of elaborate verbiage and tortured construction. Equal simplicity marked such writers as Foxe, Stow and Holinshed, who had definite information to purvey, and wished a straightforward prose in which to present it. But Hoby and North, who