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English Literature

WHO wrote the stories which are found in the old Gaelic manuscripts we do not know, yet the names of some of the old Gaelic poets have come down to us. The best known of all is perhaps that of Ossian. But as Ossian, if he ever lived, lived in the third century, as it is not probable that his poems were written down at the time, and as the oldest books that we have containing any of his poetry were written in the twelfth century, it is very difficult to be sure that he really made the poems called by his name.

WHEN Langland fell asleep upon the Malvern Hills he dreamed a wondrous dream. He thought that he saw a "fair field full of folk," where was gathered "all the wealth of the world and the woe both."

    "Working and wondering as the world asketh, 
    Some put them to the plough and played them full seldom, 
    In eareing and sowing laboured full hard."

RENAISSANCE means rebirth, and to make you understand something of what the word means in our literature I must take you a long way. You have been told that the fifteenth century was a dull time in English literature, but that it was also a time of new action and new life, for the discovery of new worlds and the discovery of printing had opened men's eyes and minds to new wonders. There was a third event which added to this new life by bringing new thought and new learning to England. That was the taking of Constantinople by the Turks.

WHEN we are little, there are many things we cannot understand; we puzzle about them a good deal perhaps, and then we ask questions. And sometimes the grown-ups answer our question and make the puzzling things clear to us, sometimes they answer yet do not make the puzzling things any clearer to us, and sometimes they tell us not to trouble, that we will understand when we grow older. Then we wish we could grow older quick, for it seems such a long time to wait for an answer. But worst of all, sometimes the grown-ups tell us not to talk so much and not to ask so many question.

SAMUEL JOHNSON was the son of a country bookseller, and he was born at Lichfield in 1709. He was a big, strong boy, but he suffered from a dreadful disease, known then as the King's Evil. It left scars upon his good-looking face, and nearly robbed him of his eyesight. In those days people still believed that this dreadful disease would be cured if the person suffering from it was touched by a royal hand. So when he was two, little Samuel was taken to London by his father and mother, and there he was "touched" by Queen Anne.

KEATS had lain beneath the Roman violets six years, and Shelley somewhat less than five, when a little volume of poems was published in England. It was called Poems by two Brothers. No one took any notice of it, and yet in it was the first little twitter of one of our sweetest singing birds. For the two brothers were Alfred and Charles Tennyson, boys then of sixteen and seventeen. It is of Alfred that I mean to tell you in this last chapter. You have heard of him already in one of the chapters on the Arthur story, and also you have heard of him as a friend of Carlyle.

"CATHULLIN sat by TURA's wall, by the tree of the rustling sound. His spear leaned against a rock. His shield lay on grass, by his side. And as he thus sat deep in thought a scout came running in all haste and cried, 'Arise! Cathullin, arise! I see the ships of the north. Many, chief of men, are the foe! Many the heroes of the sea-born Swaran!'

"Then to the scout the blue-eyed chief replied, 'Thou ever tremblest. Thy fears have increased the foe. It is Fingal King of deserts who comes with aid to green Erin of streams.'

IN all the land there is perhaps no book so common as the Bible. In homes where there are no other books we find at least a Bible, and the Bible stories are almost the first that we learn to know.

WHILE the New Learning was stirring England, and Greek was being for the first time taught in Oxford, a young student of fourteen came to the University there. This student was named Thomas More. He was the son of a lawyer who became a judge, and as a little boy he had been a page in the household of Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Archbishop was quick to see that the boy was clever. "This child here waiting at the table, whoever will live to see it, will prove a marvellous man,"* he would say. And so he persuaded More's father to send the boy to Oxford to study law.

ATLANTIS was a fabled island of the Greeks which lay somewhere in the Western Sea. That island, it was pretended, sank beneath the waves and was lost, and Bacon makes believe that he finds another island something like it in the Pacific Ocean and calls it the New Atlantis. Here, as in More's Utopia, the people living under just and wise laws, are happy and good. Perhaps some day you will be interested enough to read these two books together and compare them. Then one great difference will strike you at once.

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