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English Literature

WHILE Caedmon sang his English lays and Bede wrote his Latin books, Northumbria had grown into a center, not only of English learning, but of learning for western Europe. The abbots of Jarrow and Wearmouth made journeys to Rome and brought back with them precious MSS. for the monastery libraries. Scholars from all parts of Europe came to visit the Northumbrian monasteries, or sent thither for teachers.

IF the fifteenth century has been called the Golden Age of Scottish poetry, it was also the dullest age in English literature. During the fifteenth century few books were written in England. One reason for this was that in England it was a time of foreign and of civil war. The century opened in war with Wales, it continued in war with France. Then for thirty years the wars of the Roses laid desolate the land. They ended at length in 1485 with Bosworth field, by which Henry VII became King.

IN this chapter I am going to tell you in a few words the story of one of Shakespeare's plays called The Merchant of Venice. It is founded on an Italian story, one of a collection made by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino.

WE all know what it is to feel hurt and angry, to feel that we are misunderstood, that no one loves us. At such times it may be we want to hurt ourselves so that in some mysterious way we may hurt those who do not love us. We long to die so that they may be sorry. But these feelings do not come often and they soon pass. We cry ourselves to sleep perhaps and wake up to find the evil thoughts are gone. We forget all about them, or if we remember them we remember to smile at our own foolishness, for we know that after all we are understood, we are loved.

WHEN Sir Walter Scott ceased to write Metrical Romances, he said it was because Byron had beaten him. But the metrical romances of these two poets are widely different. With Sir Walter we are up among the hills, out on the wide moorland. With him we tramp the heather, and ford the rushing streams; his poems are full of healthy, generous life. With Byron we seem rather to be in the close air of a theater. His poems do not tell of a rough and vigorous life, but of luxury and softness; of tyrants and slaves, of beautiful houris and dreadful villains.

    "William came o'er the sea, 
    With bloody sword came he. 
    Cold heart and bloody sword hand 
    Now rule the English land." 
            The Heimskringla

MANY of you have, no doubt, been to the theater. You have seen pantomimes and Peter Pan, perhaps; perhaps, too, a play of Shakespeare, - a comedy, it may be, which made you laugh, or even a tragedy which made you want to cry, or at least left you sad. Some of you, too, have been to "Pageants," and some may even have been to an oratorio, which last may have been sung in a church.

OF all the dramatists who were Shakespeare's friends, of those who wrote before him, with him, and just after him, we have little room to tell. But there is one who stands almost as far above them all as Shakespeare stands above him. This is Ben Jonson, and of him we must speak.

DURING the years in which Swift found time to write these playful letters to Stella he was growing into a man of power. Like Defoe he was a journalist, but one of far more authority. The power of his pen was such that he was courted by his friends, feared by his enemies. He threw himself into the struggle of party, first as a Whig, then as a Tory; but as a friend said of him later, "He was neither Whig nor Tory, neither Jacobite nor Republican. He was Dr. Swift."* He was now, he says:—

*Lord Orrery.

WHEN Byron wandered upon the Continent he met and made friends with another poet, a greater than himself. This poet was called Percy Bysshe Shelley, and of him I am going to tell you something in this chapter.

On the 4th of August, 1792, Percy Bysshe Shelley was born at Field Place, near the village of Warnham, in Sussex. His father, "a well-meaning, ill-doing, wrong-headed man," was of a good family, and heir to a baronetcy. His mother was a beautiful woman.

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