The Interdependence of Literature
Georgina Pell Curtis

Etext prepared by Dianne Bean, Prescott Valley, Arizona.



"There is first, the literature of knowledge, and secondly the
literature of power. The function of the first is to teach, the
function or the second is to move; the first is a rudder, the
second an oar or a sail. The first speaks to the mere discursive
understanding, the second speaks ultimately, it may happen, to
the higher understanding or reason, but always through affections
of pleasure and sympathy."
Thomas De Quincey "Essays on the Poets." (Alexander Pope.)

B. Herder,
17 South Broadway, St. Louis, Mo.
and 68 Great Russell St., London, W.C.



The author has endeavored in these pages to sketch, in outline, a
subject that has not, as far as she knows, been treated as an
exclusive work by the schoolmen.

Written more in the narrative style than as a textbook, it is
intended to awaken interest in the subject of the interdependence
of the literatures of all ages and peoples; and with the hope
that a larger and more exhaustive account of a very fascinating
subject may some day be published.

Chicago, Ill., June, 1916.

Ancient Babylonian and Early Hebrew
Heroic Poetry
Chivalrous and Romantic
The Drama
Latin Literature and the Reformation
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Philosophy


From the misty ages of bygone centuries to the present day there
has been a gradual interlinking of the literatures of different
countries. From the Orient to the Occident, from Europe to
America, this slow weaving of the thoughts, tastes and beliefs of
people of widely different races has been going on, and forms,
indeed, a history by itself.

The forerunner and prophet of subsequent Christian literature is
the Hebrew. It is not, however, the first complete written
literature, as it was supposed to be until a few years ago.

The oldest Semitic texts reach back to the time of Anemurabi, who
was contemporaneous with Abraham, five hundred years before
Moses. These Semites possessed a literature and script which they
largely borrowed from the older non-Semitic races in the
localities where the posterity of Thare and Abraham settled.

Recent researches in Assyria, Egypt and Babylonia has brought
this older literature and civilization to light; a literature
from which the Hebrews themselves largely drew. Three thousand
years before Abraham emigrated from Chaldea there were sacred
poems in the East not unlike the psalms of David, as well as
heroic poetry describing the creation, and written in nearly the
same order as the Pentateuch of Moses.

The story of the Deluge, and other incidents recorded in the Old
Testament, together with numerous legends, were known and
treasured by the Ancients as sacred traditions from the earliest
ages of the world.

We learn from St. Paul that "Moses was skilled in all the
knowledge of the Egyptians." He must therefore have been familiar
not only with the ancient poems and sacred writings, but also
with the scientific, historical, legal and didactic literature of
the times, from which, no doubt, he borrowed all that was best in
the Mosiac Code that he drew up for the Chosen People of God.
This old literature Moses confirmed and purified, even as Christ
at a later period, confirmed and elevated all that was best in
the Hebrew belief. Hence from these Oriental scholars we learn
that the Hebrew was only one of several languages which enjoyed
at different times a development of the highest culture and
polish, although the teaching of the old Rabbis was that the
Bible was the first set of historical and religious books to be
written. Such was the current belief for many ages; and while
this view of the Scriptures is now known to be untrue, they are,
in fact, the most ancient and complete writings now in existence,
although the discovery in Jerusalem, thirty-five or forty years
ago, of the inscriptions of Siloe, take us back about eight
hundred years before Christ; but these Siloeian inscriptions are
not complete examples of literature.

"The Ancient culture of the East," says Professor A. H. Sayce,
"was pre-eminently a literary one. We have learned that long
before the day of Moses, or even Abraham, there were books and
libraries, readers and writers; that schools existed in which all
the arts and sciences of the day were taught, and that even a
postal service had been organized from one end of Western Asia to
the other. The world into which the Hebrew patriarchs were born,
and of which the book of Genesis tells us, was permeated with a
literary culture whose roots went back to an antiquity of which,
but a short time ago, we could not have dreamed. There were books
in Egypt and Babylonia long before the Pentateuch was written;
the Mosaic age was in fact an age of a widely extended literary
activity, and the Pentateuch was one of the latest fruits of long
centuries of literary growth."

There is no doubt that these discoveries of modern times have
been a distinct gain to Christianity, as well as to the older
Hebrew literature, for it confirms (if confirmation is needed),
the history of the creation, to find it was believed by the
ancient peoples, whom we have seen were a learned and cultivated

In the present day the great College of St. Etienne in Jerusalem,
founded by the Dominicans expressly for the study of the
Scriptures, carries on a never ending and widely extended perusal
of the subject. Parties of students are taken over the Holy
Places to study the inscriptions and evidences of Christianity,
and the most learned and brilliant members of the Order are
engaged in research and study that fits them to combat the errors
of the Higher Criticism. Their work, which is of a very superior
order, has attracted attention among scholars of every country in

In the ancient development of the world there came a time when
there was danger of truth being corrupted and mingled with fable
among those who did not follow the guidance of God, as did
Abraham and the patriarchs; then the great lawgiver, Moses, was
given the divine commission to make a written record of the
creation of the world and of man and to transmit it to later
ages; and because he was thus commanded and inspired by God, his
literature represents the most perfect and trustworthy expression
of the primitive revelations. From the very beginning, therefore,
we trace this interdependence of literature. Moses, authorized by
God, turns to all that is best in the older Babylonian, Egyptian
and Indic literature, and uses it to regenerate and uplift the
Hebrew race, so that we see the things contained in the Bible
remained the same truths that God had been teaching from the
beginning of time. The older Egyptian and Babylonian literature
became lost to the world for thousands of years until in the
nineteenth century modern research in the Pyramids and elsewhere,
brought it to light; but the Hebrew literature was passed down to
the Christian era, and thence to our own times, intact. It excels
in beauty, comprehensiveness, and a true religious spirit, any
other writing prior to the advent of Christ. Its poetry, which
ranges from the most extreme simplicity and clearness, to the
loftiest majesty of expression, depicts the pastoral life of the
Patriarchs, the marvellous history of the Hebrew nation, the
beautiful scenery in which they lived and moved, the stately
ceremonial of their liturgy, and the promise of a Messiah. Its
chief strength and charm is that it personifies inanimate
objects, as in the sixty-fourth Psalm, where David says:

"The beautiful places of the wilderness shall grow fat; and the
hills shall be girded about with joy. The rams of the flock are
clothed, and the vales shall abound with corn they shall shout,
yea they shall sing a hymn."

And again in the seventeenth Psalm, he says:

He bowed the Heavens and came down . . . and He flew upon the
wings of the winds . . . He made darkness His covert, His
pavilion round about Him: dark waters in the clouds of the air."

In time the Hebrew language began to be influenced by others,
although, as a people, they rank with the Greeks and Spaniards as
being very little moulded by any outside influence on their
literature. From the time of Abraham to the age of Moses the old
stock was changed by the intermarriage of some of their race with
the Egyptians and Arabians. During this period their literature
was influenced by Zoroaster, and by the Platonist and Pythagorean
schools. This is especially noticeable in the work of Philo of
Alexandria, who was born a few years B.C.

Josephus, who first saw the light in A.D. 37; and Numenius, who
lived in the second century, were Jews, who as such remained,
while adopting Greek philosophy. The learned writings of the
Rabbis became known as Rabbinical literature. It is written in a
language that has its roots in the Hebrew and Chaldaic; though it
has also borrowed largely from the Arabian, Greek and Latin. In
the sixteenth century Christian scholars began to make an
extensive study of Hebrew and Rabbinical literature, and they
were not slow to discover the value of these Oriental works.
These writings, however, are subject to change, and it is in the
Bible alone that we find the fundamental teaching of Hebrew
literature. Differing entirely from the Mythological and Oriental
Nations, it taught, as its cardinal principle, the unity of God.
Its historical worth has been recognized by the greatest scholars
in all ages, and it has influenced not only the ancient world,
but also the literature and poetry of the Middle Ages and of
modern times. It forms a contrast to the philosophy of the
Greeks, and to that of Europeans of a later age. When the latter
have tried to explain the great mystery of God and man, they have
invariably failed. In the beautiful writings of the Greeks,
wherein we find the height of artistic expression and polish,
there is a subsequent gradual decline; but such is not the case
in the Old Testament. In every age fresh beauty and hidden
treasure is found in its pages. Another phase of the Bible which
has had a far reaching and lasting effect upon all language and
literature, is its prevailing spirit of types and symbols. This
is conspicuous both in the poetical books and in those that are
didactic or historical. It has had the same influence on the
thoughts and imagination of all Christian people and upon the
poetry and imitative arts of the Middle Ages (and nearly the same
upon later and more cultivated times) that Homer had upon the
Ancients. For in it we find the standard of all our Christian
images and figures, and it gives us a model of imitation that is
far more beautiful in itself, and far more world-wide in its
application than anything we can borrow from the Greeks. We see
this in Dante and Tasso, and in other Christian poets. To the
Hebrew, as the original custodians of the Old Testament, we are
indebted for keeping the faith pure when all other nations either
forgot or abandoned it, or else mixed it up with errors and
idolatry. What Moses records of the creation of the world and the
first ten Fathers, is embodied by the Persians, Indians and
Chinese in whole volumes of mythology, and surrounded by a host
of fanciful traditions. Thus we see in the Hebrew as the chosen
people of God, a nation able to preserve its literature intact
through captivity, dispersion and persecution, for a period of
four thousand years.


Sanskrit has only recently become known to Europe through the
researches of English and German Oriental scholars. It is now
acknowledged to be the auxiliary and foundation of all civilized
speech, and is important as being the language of an extensive
literature which records the life of a wonderful people from a
remote age nearly to the present time.

The ancient home of the Aryan, or Indo-European race, was in
Central Asia, whence many of its people migrated to the West, and
became the founders of the Persian, Greek and Roman Nations,
besides settling in Spain and England. Other offshoots of the
original Aryans took their lives in their hands and penetrated
the passes of the Himalayas, spreading all over India. Wherever
they went, they seem to have held themselves superior to the
aboriginal people whom they found in possession of the soil.

"The history of civilization," says a well-known authority on
literature, "is everywhere the history of the Aryan race. The
forefathers of the Greek and Roman, of the Englishman and the
Hindu, dwelt together in India, spoke the same language, and
worshipped the same gods. The languages of Europe and India are
merely different forms of the original Aryan speech. This is
especially true of the words of common family life. Father,
Mother, brother, sister and widow, are substantially the same in
most of the Aryan languages whether spoken on the banks of the
Ganges, the Tiber or the Thames. The word daughter, which occurs
in nearly all of them, is derived from the Sanskrit word
signifying to draw milk, and preserves the memory of the time
when the daughter was the little milkmaid in the primitive Aryan

The Hindu language is founded on the Sanskrit, of which we may
name the books of the Vedas, 1500 B.C.

All the poetical works of Asia, China and Japan are taken almost
entirely from the Hindu, while in Southern Russia the meagre
literature of the Kalmucks is borrowed entirely from the same
source. The Ramayana, or great Hindu poem, must have had its
origin in the history-to-be of Christ. It has been translated
into Italian and published in Paris. The Hitopadesa, a collection
of fables and apologues, has been translated into more languages
than any book except the Bible. It has found its way all over the
civilized world, and is the model of the fables of all countries.

The dramas of Kalidasa, the Hindu Shakespeare, contain many
episodes borrowed from the great Epic poems. The Messenger Cloud
of this poet is not surpassed by any European writer of verse.
The Ramayon and the Mahabharata are the two great Epic poems of
India, and they exceed in conception and magnitude any of the
Epic poems in the world, surpassing the Iliad, the Odyssey and
the Jerusalem Delivered. The Ramayon, of seven Cantos, has
twenty-five thousand verses, and the hero, Rama, in his
wanderings and misfortunes, is not unlike Ulysses. The
Mahabharata records the doings of gods, giants, and heroes, who
are all fighting against each other. It contains two hundred
thousand verses, embodied in eighteen Cantos, and is thought to
be not the work of one man; but different songs sung from the
earliest ages by the people, and gradually blended into one poem.
In it we find the ancient traditions which nearly all people
possess, of a more free, active and primitive state of nature,
whose world of greatness and heroism has been suppressed in later
ages. Among the Hindustans there exists a religion resembling in
part that of Greece, with traces of the Egyptian; and yet
containing in itself many ideas, both moral and philosophical,
which in spite of dissimilarity in detail, is evidently akin to
our doctrines of the Christian religion. In fact, the resemblance
between the Hindu and Christian religion is so remarkable that
some scholars think the Hindu was taken from the Christian. It is
more probable that it was of greater antiquity, and that the
similarity between them springs from the seed of all truth and
all Nature implanted in man by God. Indian and Christian both
teach regeneration. In the Indian creed, as soon as the soul is
touched with the love of divine things it is supposed to drop its
life of sin and become "new born."

In a higher region all these truths in the lower world which have
to do with divine things, are mysteriously akin to each other. It
needs only the first spark of light from above to make them
instinct with life.

The Recluses or Gymnosophists of India are not unlike the first
Recluses of Egypt, and the first hermits of the desert in the
Christian era.

The doctrines of India first obtained a foothold in Europe
through the dogma of Metempsychosis. It was introduced into the
Hellenes by Pythagoras; but never became popular among the
Greeks. This Metempsychosis (or the transmigration of souls) was
believed by the Indians from the earliest period, and their whole
history is built upon it. A very ancient connection can be traced
between India and Egypt, manifested by Castes, which are found
equally in both countries, and by similiar Mythologies. When
Alexander the Great invaded Northern India from Persia, the
Greeks found an Indian Mythology far more like their own than the
Persian or Hebrew. They thought they had met with the same gods
they had been accustomed to worship, though clothed in a
different form and color. They showed their faith in this
discovery by the names of the Indian Hercules and the Indian
Bacchus, later so common among them.

The worship of Vishnoo and Krishnoo in Hindostan differs very
little from the religion of Buddha and Fo which was established
in China and Thibet during the first century of Christianity. The
former retained caste, while the latter, following the teaching
of Buddha, have repudiated any class distinctions.

Decimal cyphers originated in Hindostan.


In everything appertaining to their religious belief the Persians
bear a close resemblance to the Hebrew, but the poetical part of
their mythology is more similiar to the Northern theology, while
their manners bear a strong resemblance to the Germans. The
spiritual worship of nature, light, fire, and of other pure
elements, is embodied in both the Zend Avesta (Persian) and the
Edda (Scandinavian). The two nations have the same opinion
concerning spirits which rule and fill nature, and this has given
rise to poetical fancies about giants, dwarfs and other beings,
found equally in Persian and Northern Sagas.

The work of Lokman, existing now only in Arabic, has caused some
people to think that it is of Arabian origin; but it is really
Persian, and of the tenth century B.C. His Apologues are
considered the foundation on which Greek fable was reared. The
Code of Zoroaster, in which the two great principles of the world
are represented by Ormuzd (goodness and light), and Ahriman
(darkness and sin) are as old as the creation.

Ormuzd is worshiped in the sun, the stars, and in fire. Zoroaster
explained the history of man as being one long contest between
these two powers until a time to come when Ormuzd would be
victorious over Ahriman. Ormuzd, as the ruler of the universe,
seeks to draw men to the light, to dispel the darkness of
ignorance, and to extend the triumph of virtue over the material
and spiritual world. It may be said of the Persians, as
Tertullian said of the Roman Pagans, "that in their highest moods
and beliefs they were naturally Christian." Among a Persian sect
called the Sufis' there is a belief that nothing exists
absolutely but God; that the human soul is an emanation from His
essence, and will ultimately be restored to Him, and that the
supreme object of life should be a daily approach to the eternal
spirit, so as to form as perfect a union with the divine nature
as possible. How nearly this belief approaches the Christian
doctrine, will be easily seen.

Persian poetry is nearly all in the form of love stories, of
which the "Misfortunes of Mejnoun and Leila" represent the
Eastern Romeo and Juliet, and may have been known to Shakespeare
in the writing of his own drama.


Egypt shared with ancient Babylon and Assyria in the civilization
of its primitive literature. It is from five of its Pyramids,
opened in 1881, that valuable writings have been brought to light
that carry us back one thousand years before the time of Moses.

Their famous "Book of the Dead,"of which many copies are found in
our museums of antiquities, is one instance of their older
civilization. These copies of the original, in the form of
scrolls, are some of them over a hundred feet long, and are
decorated with elaborate pictures and ornamentation. The book
gives conclusive proof of the teaching of the Egyptians of a life
beyond this. Their belief in the journey of the soul after death
to the Underworld, before it is admitted to the Hall of Osiris,
or the abode of light, is akin to the Catholic doctrine of
Purgatory and Heaven. The Egyptian literature is painted or
engraved on monuments, written on papyrus, and buried in tombs,
or under the ruins of temples, hence, as has been said elsewhere,
much of it remained hidden until nineteenth century research
brought it to light. Even at the present time many inscriptions
are still undeciphered.

Geometry originated with the Egyptians, and their knowledge of
hydrostatics and mechanics (shown in the building of the
Pyramids), and of astronomy and medicine, is of remotest
antiquity. The Greeks borrowed largely from them, and then became
in turn their teacher. The Egyptian priests, from the earliest
age, must have preserved the annals of their country; but they
were destroyed by Cambyses (500 B.C.), who burned the temples
where they were stored.

In the fourth century B.C., Egypt was conquered by Alexander the
Great, who left it under the rule of the Ptolemies. The next
century after the Alexandrian age the philosophy and literature
of Athens was transferred to Alexandria. The Alexandrian library,
completed by Ptolemy Philadelphus, in the third century before
Christ, was formed for the most part of Greek books and it also
had Greek librarians; so that in the learning and philosophy of
Alexandria at this time, the Eastern and Western systems were
combined. During the first century of the Christian era Egypt
passed from the control of the Greek Kings to that of the Roman
Emperors, under whom it continued to flourish. In the seventh
century the country was conquered by the Saracens, who burned the
great Alexandrian library. Following them came the Arabian
Princes, who protected literature, and revived the Alexandrian
schools, establishing also other seats of learning. But in the
thirteenth century the Turks conquered Egypt, and all its
literary glory henceforth departed. It has had no further
development, and no influence in shaping the literature of
foreign nations. What it might have been if the literary
treasures of Egypt had not been destroyed by Cambyses and the
Saracens, we can only guess. Great literary monuments must have
been lost, which would shed more light on the civilization of the
ancient world.


A modern writer says of the Greeks:

"All that could beautify the meagre, harmonize the incongruous,
enliven the dull, or convert the crude material of metaphysics
into an elegant department of literature, belongs to the Greeks
themselves, for they are preeminently the 'nation of beauty.'
Endowed with profound sensibility and a lively imagination,
surrounded by all the circumstances that could aid in perfecting
the physical and intellectual powers, the Greeks early acquired
that essential literary and artistic character which produced
their art and literature."

Whatever the Greeks learned or borrowed from others, by the skill
with which they improved, and the purposes to which they applied
it, became henceforth altogether their own. If they were under
any obligation to those who had lived before them for some few
ideas and hints, the great whole of their intellectual refinement
was undoubtedly the work of their own genius; for the Greeks are
the only people who may be said in almost every instance to have
given birth to their own literature. Their creations stand almost
entirely detached from the previous culture of other nations. At
the same time it is possible to trace a thread running back to
remote antiquity, to show that their first hints of a literature
came from Asia. Their oldest traditions and poems have many
points of resemblance to the most ancient remains of the Asiatic
nations. Some writers say that "this amounts to nothing more than
a few scattered hints or mutilated recollections, and may all be
referred to the common origin of mankind, and the necessary
influence of that district of the world in which mental
improvement of our species was first considered as an object of
general concern." But this proves at least that there was an
older civilization and literature than the Greeks, and that that
civilization had its root in the East. According to their own
testimony the Greeks derived their alphabet from the Phoenicians,
and the first principles of architecture, mathematical science,
detached ideas of philosophy, as well as many of the useful arts
of life, they learned from the Egyptians, or from the earliest
inhabitants of Asia.

The essential characteristic of the Greeks as a nation was the
development of their own idea, their departure from whatever
original tradition they may have had, and their far-reaching
influence on all subsequent literature throughout the world. They
differed in this from all other nations; for to quote again:

"the literature of India,with its great antiquity, its language,
which is full of expression, sweetness of tone, and regularity of
structure, and which rivals the most perfect of those western
tongues to which it bears such a resemblance, with all its
richness of imagery and its treasures of thought, has hitherto
been void of any influence on the development of general
literature. China contributed still less, Persia and Arabia were
alike isolated until they were brought in contact with the
European mind through the Crusaders, and the Moorish Empire in

This independence and originality of Greek literature is due in
some measure to the freedom of their institutions from caste; but
another and more powerful cause was that, unlike the Oriental
nations, the Greeks for a long time kept no correct record of
their transactions in war or peace. This absence of authentic
history made their literature become what it is. By the purely
imaginary character of its poetry, and the freedom it enjoyed
from the trammels of particular truths, it acquired a quality
which led Aristotle to consider poetry as more philosophical than

The Homeric poems are in a great measure the fountainhead from
which the refinement of the Ancients was derived. The history of
the Iliad and the Odyssey represent a state of society warlike it
is true, but governed by intellectual, literary and artistic
power. Philosophy was early cultivated by the Greeks, who first
among all nations distinguished it from religion and mythology.

Socrates is the founder of the philosophy that is still
recognized in the civilized world. He left no writings behind
him; but by means of lectures, that included question and answer,
his system, known as the dialectics, has come down to us.

Aesop, who lived 572 B.C., was the author of some fables which
have been translated into nearly every language in the world, and
have served as a model for all subsequent writings of the same
kind. In 322 B.C., the centre of learning owing to the conquests
of Alexander the Great, was moved to Egypt in the city that bears
his name. Here the first three Ptolemies founded a magnificent
library where the literary men of the age were supported by
endowments. The second Ptolemy had the native annals of Egypt and
Judea translated into Greek, and he procured from the Sanhedrim
of Jerusalem the first part of the Sacred Scriptures, which was
later completed and published in Greek for the use of the Jews at
Alexandria. This translation was known as the Septuagint, or
version of the Seventy; and is said to have exercised a more
lasting influence on the civilized world than any book that has
ever appeared in a new language. We are indebted to the Ptolemies
for preserving to our times all the best specimens of Greek
literature that have come down to us.


The interdependence of Greek literature includes some reference
to the Greek fathers and their writings.

Many of the books of the Old Testament, regarded as canonical by
the Catholic Church; but known as the Apochrypha among
non-Catholics, were written in Greek. A number of them are
historical, and of great value as illustrating the spirit and
thought of the age to which they refer. The other class of
writers includes the work of Christian authors. Greek and Latin
writings wholly different from Pagan literature, began to appear
soon after the first century, and their purifying and ennobling
influence was more and more felt as time passed. The primitive
Christians held these writings of the Greek and Latin fathers in
great esteem, and in the second and third centuries Christianity
counted among its champions many distinguished scholars and
philosophers, particularly among the Greeks. Their writings,
biblical, controversial, doctrinal, historical and homiletical,
covered the whole arena of literature.

Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Athanasius,
Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and John Chrysostom are only a few of
the brilliant names among Greek and Latin writers, who added a
lasting glory to literature and the Church.


To the Roman belongs the second place in the classic literature
of antiquity. The original tribes that inhabited Italy, the
Etruscans, the Sabines, the Umbrians and the Vituli had no
literature, and it was not until the conquest of Tarentum in 272
B.C. that the Greeks began to exercise a strong influence on the
Roman mind and taste; but Rome had, properly speaking, no
literature until the conclusion of the first Punic war in 241

This tendency to imitate the Greek was somewhat modified by Roman
national pride. We catch sight of this spirit in Virgil and
Horace, in Cicero and Caesar. The graceful softening of language
and art among the imaginative Greeks, becomes in the Romans
austere power and majesty, with a tendency to express greatness
by size. These early indications of race characteristics never
died out, as we may see by the contrast between the Apollo
Belvidere of the Greeks, and the Moses of Michelangelo. The
oldest existing example of Latin or Roman literature is the
sacred chant of the Frates Arvales. These latter composed a
college of Priests whose prescribed duty was to offer prayers for
abundant harvests. This took place in the spring, in solemn
dances and processions, not unlike the Bacchic festivals of the
Greeks, although the Roman dances took place in the temple with
closed doors. The dance was called the tripudium from its having
three rhythmical beats. The inscription of this litany of the
Frates was discovered in Rome in 1778, and experts have agreed
that the monument belongs to the reign of Heliogabalus, 218 A.D.
It is said to contain the very words used by the priests in the
earliest times.

"Most of the old literary monuments in Rome," says a modern
writer, "were written in Saturnian verse, the oldest measure used
by the Latin poets. It was probably derived from the Etruscans,
and until Ennius introduced the heroic hexameter the strains of
the Italian bards flowed in this metre. The structure of the
Saturnian is very simple, and its rhythmical arrangement is found
in the poetry of every age and country. Macaulay adduces as an
example of this measure, the following line from the well-known
nursery song:

'The queen was in her parlor,
Eating bread and honey.'

From this species of verse, which probably prevailed among the
natives of Provence (the Roman Provencia) and into which at a
later period, rhyme was introduced as an embellishment, the
Troubadours derived the metre of their ballad poetry, and thence
introduced it into the rest of Europe."

Literature with the Romans was not of spontaneous growth; it was
chiefly due to the influence of the Etruscans, who were their
early teachers, they lacked that delicate fancy and imagination
that made the Greeks, even before they emerged from a state of
barbarism, a poetical people. The first written literature of the
Romans was in the form of history, in which they excelled. Like
other nations, they had oral compositions in verse long before
they possessed any written literature. The exploits of heroes
were recited and celebrated by the bards of Rome as they were
among the Northern nations. Yet these lays were so despised by
the Romans that we can scarcely see any trace of their existence
except in certain relics which have been borrowed from true
poetry and converted into the half fabulous history of the infant
ages of Rome. That the Romans, as a people, had no great national
drama, and that their poems never became the groundwork of a
later polished literature was due to the incorporation of
foreigners into their nation who took little interest in the
traditions of their earlier achievements. Father Ennius (239-169
B.C.), as Horace calls him, was the true founder of Latin poetry.
He enriched the Latin language, gave it new scope and power; and
paid particular attention to its grammatical form. What he has
done was so well done, that it has never been undone, although
later ages added new improvements to the language. In fable Rome
was an imitator of Greece; but nevertheless Phaedrus (16 A.D.)
struck out a new line for himself, and became both a moral
instructor and a political satirist. Celsus, who lived in the
reign of Tiberius, was the author of a work on medicine which is
used as a textbook even in the present advanced state of medical

The Greek belief in destiny becomes in the Romans stoicism. This
doctrine, found in the writings of Seneca, and in the tragedies
attributed to him, led to the probability that he was their
author. Seneca has had many admirers and imitators in modern
times. The French school of tragic poets took him for their

Corneille and Racine seem to consider his works real tragedy.

Cicero's philosophical writings are invaluable in order to
understand the minds of those who came after him. Not only all
Roman philosophy of the time; but a great part of that of the
Middle Ages was Greek philosophy filtered through Latin, and
mostly founded on that of Cicero. But of all the Roman creations,
the most original was jurisprudence. The framework they took from
Athens; but the complete fabric was the work of their own hands.
It was first developed between the consulate of Cicero and the
death of Trajan (180 years), and finally carried to completion
under Hadrian. This system was of such a high order that the
Romans have handed it down to the whole of modern Europe, and
traces of Roman law can be found in the legal formulas of the
entire civilized world.

After the fall of the Western Empire these laws had little force
until the twelfth century, when Irnerius, a German lawyer, who
had lived in Constantinople, opened a school at Bologna, and thus
brought about a revival in the West of Roman civil law. Students
came to this school from all parts of Europe, and through them
Roman jurisprudence was carried into, and took root in foreign
countries. By common consent the invention of satire is
attributed to the Romans. The originator of the name was Ennius;
but the true exponent of Roman satire was Lucilius, who lived
148-102 B.C. His writings mark a distinct era in Roman literature
and filled no less than thirty volumes, some fragments of which
remain. After his death there was a decline in satire until fifty
years later, when Horace and Juvenal gave it a new impetus,
although their style was different from that of Lucilius. Doctor
Johnson was such an admirer of the two finest of Juvenal's
satires that he took pains to imitate them.

Boethius, the last of the Roman philosophers, left a work "on the
Consolations of Philosophy," which is known in all modern
languages. A translation was made into Anglo-Saxon by King Alfred
in 900 A.D. Virgil (70-19 B.C.) has taken Homer as his model in
his great national poem of the Aeneid. In many passages it is an
imitation of the Iliad and the Odyssey. In his didactic poems,
known as the Bucolics, Virgil has made use of Theocritus, while
in the Georgics he has chosen Hesiod as his model. The later
didactic poets of all ages have imitated Virgil, particularly in
England, where Thomson's Seasons is a thoroughly Virgilian poem.
It is easy to see in Virgil where borrowed methods end and native
strength begins; for, in spite of being close imitators of the
Greek, there is a character peculiar to the writers of Rome by
means of which they have acquired an appearance of dignity and
worthiness all their own.


The traditions of all nations go back to an age of heroes.
Nature, also, has had her time of stupendous greatness, a period
of great revolutions in nature, of which we can see traces to
this day; and of huge animals, whose bones are still being dug
up. The history of civilization also has its period of great
achievements, and poetry has had its time of the wonderful and
gigantic. In numerous heroic poems of different nations we can
trace the unity of all heroic personages, as in the Iliad and the
Odyssey of Greece, the Sagas of the North in the Nibelungen-lied,
and the Ramayon of the Orient. Freedom, greatness and heroism are
embodied in these poems, and many of them breathe a martial

We find the same character, however touched by local color, in
all these beautiful traditions of whatever nation or clime; at
the zenith of success, in the spring-time of youth and hope, on
the very eve of joy unutterable, there often seizes on the soul
of man an overwhelming sense of the hollowness and fleetingness
of life. It is this touch of the spiritual which raises these old
heroic poems to such sublime beauty and power. Poetry of this
kind implies a nation, one which is still, or has been, great;
one which has a past, a legendary history, vivid recollections,
and an original and poetical manner of thought, as well as a
clearly defined mythology.

Poetry of this order--lyric as well as epic--is much more the
child of nature than of art. These great mythological poems for
hundreds of years were never written; but were committed to
memory, sung by the bards, and handed down from one generation to
another until in time they were merged, after the Christian era,
into the historical heroic poems. These in turn were the origin
of the chivalrous poetry which is peculiar to Christian Europe,
and has produced such remarkable effect on the national spirit of
the noblest inhabitants of the world. Nor has this oral poetry
entirely died out. In the present day Mr. Stephen Gwynne has
astonished the world by telling of how he heard aged peasants in
Kerry reciting the classics of Irish-Gaelic literature, legendary
poems and histories that had descended from father to son by oral
tradition; and the same phenomena was found by Mr. Alexander
Carmichael among the Gaelic peasants in the Scottish Highlands
and surrounding islands. It has been said that heroic poetry is
of the people, and that dramatic poetry is the production of city
and society; and cannot exist unless it has a great metropolis to
be the central point of its development, and it is only by the
study of the literature of all nations that we see how
essentially these heroic poems were the foundation of all that
followed them in later ages.


The Scandinavian Nation held, during the Middle Ages, the first
and strongest influence over the poetry and thought of Western
Europe. The oldest and purest remains of the poets of German
Nations are contained in the Scandinavian Edda. Its mythology is
founded on Polytheism; but through it, as through the religion of
all nations of the world, there is a faint gleam of the one
Supreme God, of infinite power, knowledge and wisdom, whose
greatness and justice could not be represented in the form of
ordinary man. Such was the God of the Pagan Germans, and such was
the earliest belief of mankind.

Perhaps the poet priests of primitive times, who shaped the
imaginative mythology of the North, were conscious of the one
true God; but considered Him above the comprehension of the rude
men of the times, so they invented the deities who were more
nearly akin to the material forces that these people alone
understood. The second part of the first Edda contains the great
Icelandic poems, the first of which is the song of Voland, the
famous northern smith.

Voland, or Wayland, the Vulcan of the North, is of unknown
antiquity; and his fame, which spread all over Europe, still
lives in the traditions of all the nations of the North. These
poems, although fragmentary, still far surpass the
Nibelungen-lied, and in their powerful pathos and tragic passion
they surpass any ancient poetry except that of Greece.

The Scandinavians in general, and Icelanders in particular,
traveled over every part of the West, and penetrated into
hitherto unexplored seas, collecting in every quarter the facts
and fancies of the age. In the character of wandering Normans
they exerted a strong influence in shaping poetry, and in
developing the Crusades. They brought back with them to their
Northern homes the Christian and chivalrous poems of the South.
In many of these the likeness to the Icelanders own Northern
Sagas was remarkable, suggesting some still more remote age when
one heroic conception must have dominated all peoples.

After bringing home these poems of Southern Europe, the
Scandinavians proceeded to adapt them to their own use, giving
them a new force and beauty. The marvellous in Southern poetry
became with them something fraught with deeper meaning; and the
Northern version of the Nibelungen-lied acquired an ascendency in
its strength and poetical beauty, over the German heroic. Hence,
during the Middle Ages, the Scandinavians in general, and
Icelanders in particular, came to possess a peculiar chivalrous
poetry of their own. It was, however, destined to share the same
fate as the great poems of the rest of Europe; first to be
reduced to prose romance, and then broken up into ballads. The
chief cause of this breaking up of the old order of poetry was
due to the Reformation. The national poetry was left to be
carried on by the common people alone, and of course in their
hands was corrupted and mutilated. Scott speaks of this in his
Lay of the Last Minstrel, where he describes the old bard, who

" 'Tuned to please a peasant's ear
The harp a King had loved to hear."

These Bards, or Scalds, meaning Smoothers of Language, were
welcome guests in the early ages, at the Courts of Kings and
Princes. Up to the twelfth century, when the Monks and the art of
writing, put an end to their profession, these poets continued to
come from Iceland and travel all over the world. In return for
their songs they received rings and jewels of more or less value;
but never money. We have a list of 230 Scalds who made a name for
themselves from the time of Dagnar Lodbrok to that of Vladimir
II, or from the end of the eighth to the beginning of the
thirteenth century. When Christianity entered Scandinavia the
spirit of the old tradition still remained with the people, and
became their literature under the name of "Folk Sagas," or as we
would call them, fairy tales. These legends are found not only in
modern Scandinavia, but they have made their way into all the
literature of Europe. Jack the Giant Killer, Cinderella, Blue
Beard, the Little Old Woman Cut Shorter, and the Giant who
smelled the blood of an Englishman (the Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum of our
nursery days), were all heroes and heroines of Scandinavian
songs, later adapted in various ways to the use of different
countries. After awhile this lost art revived in the Romances of
chivalry, and in popular ballads. They describe all the changes
in life and society, and are akin to the ballads of the British
Isles. In them we find the common expression of the life and
feelings of a common race. The same stories often influenced the
bards of all countries at different periods. These ballads are
all written in the same form and express a certain poetic feeling
which is not found in the Epic Age. In all countries they had a
refrain, or chorus, which marks the migration of poetry from the
Epic to the Lyric form.

"This simple voice of song," to quote a modern author, "travelled
onward from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, the language of
the general sorrows, hopes and memories; strange, and yet near to
every one, centuries old, yet never growing older, since the
human heart, whose history it relates in so many changing images
and notes, remains forever the same."


Schlegel says of the Russian Nation:

"Her subjection to the Greek Church was alone sufficient during
the Middle Ages, and is in some measure sufficient even in our
own time, to keep Russia politically and intellectually at a
distance from the rest of the Western world."

Little if any part was taken by the Slavs in the Crusades. They
had hardly any of the spirit of chivalry, and their belief,
during their period of barbaric heathenism, was not so romantic
and ideal as the Gothic.

The heroic prose tales of Russia are older and more popular than
her ballads. They are told in the nurseries, and recount the
heroic deeds of Vladimir the Great. The ballads are mostly a
recital of the feuds between the Poles and the Tartars, not
unlike the Border ballads of Scotland.

Their greatest hero is Yermak, who conquered the Mongols, and in
the fifteenth century won for the Czars the country that is now
called Siberia. Yermak's deeds and praises are sung from one end
of Russia to the other, even at the present day; and the poorest
peasants usually have a colored print representing him on
horseback, nailed to the wall of their cabins.


The popular poetry of the Slavic race, which still survives, is
found in its perfection among the Serbians and Dalmatians, while
it is almost extinct among the other nations. It is of unknown
antiquity, and has been handed down from one century to another.

The Slavs have always been a singing race, and must have been so
from Pagan times, as their songs abound with heathen gods and
customs, dreams, omens, and a true Eastern fatalism. Love and
heroism are the usual themes, and among the Serbians the peculiar
relation of sister and brother forms the principal subject of

A Serbian woman who has no brother is considered a fit subject
for sympathy. The Serbian poetry is nearly all Epic, and in this
particular class of verse no modern nation has been so
productive. There is a grand and heroic simplicity in their song,
as it recounts their daily life; the hall where the women sit
spinning near the fire, the windswept mountain side, where the
boys are pasturing their flocks, the village square where youths
and maidens dance, the country ripe for the harvest, and the
forest through which the traveller journeys, all reecho with
song. This Serbian poetry first became generally known in Europe
through Goethe and Grimm in Germany, and Bowring and Lytton in


The Finnish race reached a high degree of civilization at a very
early period. They have always been distinguished by a love of
poetry, especially for the elegy, and they abound in tales,
legends and proverbs. Until the middle of the twelfth century
they had their own independent kings, since then they have been
alternately conquered by the Russians and Swedes; but like the
Poles, they have preserved a strong national feeling, and have
kept their native language. Their greatest literary monument is
the Kalevala, an epic poem. Elias Lonnrot, its compiler, wandered
from place to place in the remote and isolated country in
Finland, lived with the peasants, and took from them their
popular songs, then he wrote the Kalevala, which bears a strong
resemblance to Hiawatha. Max Muller says that this poem deserves
to be classed as the fifth National Epic in the world, and to
rank with the Mahabharata and the Nibelungen-lied. The songs are
doubtlessly the work of different minds in the earliest ages of
the nation.


The Magyars, or Hungarians as they are called, came into Europe
from Asia, and first settled between the Don and the Dneiper.
They possessed from remote antiquity a national heroic poetry,
the favourite subject of which was their migration and conquests
under the Seven Leaders. They laid claim to Attila as being of
their nation, and many of their most warlike songs recounted his
deeds and those of the other Gothic heroes. The Magyars have
never taken kindly to foreign influence, and when, in the
fifteenth century, Mathias Corvin tried to bring Italian
influence to bear on them, the result was a decline in
literature, and neglect of the old poems and legends. During the
Turkish invasions the last remnants of the national songs and
traditions disappeared; and under the Austrian rule the
Hungarians have become decidedly Germanized.

Within the past century Kisfalud has sought to restore the
national legends of his country, and a new impetus has been given
to the restoration and preservation of the Hungarian language and


Gothic poems were sung in the time of Attila; but the Gothic
language and monuments have everywhere perished except in Spain,
where the Spanish Monarchs are anxious to trace their descent
from the Gothic Kings. Attila, Odoascar, Theodoric, and the
Amali, with other heroes, Frankish and Burgundian, all appear in
these old poems. The German songs that Charlemagne had collected
and put in writing are undoubtedly the outcome of these ancient
Gothic poems of the first Christian era. Their substance is found
in the Nibelungen-lied and the Heldenbuch.

As in the legends of Troy and Iceland, so also in the
Nibelungen-lied, the story centres on a young hero glowing with
beauty and victory, and possessed of loftiness of character; but
who meets with an early and untimely death. Such is Baldur the
Beautiful of Iceland, and such, also, are Hector and Achilles of
Troy. These songs mark the greatness and the waning of the heroic
world In the Nibelungen-lied the final event is a great calamity
that is akin to a half historical event of the North. Odin
descends to the nether world to consult Hela; but she, like the
sphinx of Thebes, will not reply save in an enigma, which enigma
is to entail terrible tragedies, and lead to destruction the
young hero who is the prey of the gods.

In this we can trace a similarity to the life's history and death
of Christ. In the Middle Ages a passionate love of poetry
developed in the Teutonic race, and caused them to embody
Christianity in verse. The South Germans, and the Saxons in
England, tried to copy the old heroic poems.

In the time of Theodoric, the Goths began to influence the Roman
language and literature; and it is at this period that Roman
antiquity comes to an end and the Roman writers from that time
are classed as belonging to the Middle Ages.

The whole history of literature during the Middle Ages was of a
twofold character. The first, Christian and Latin, was found all
over Europe, and made the protection and extension of knowledge,
its chief object. The other was a more insular literature for
each nation, and always in the language of the people. Theodoric
the Goth, Charlemagne, and Alfred the Great, the chief patrons of
the literature of their age, sought to carry on, side by side,
and to improve, these two literatures, the Latin and the
vernacular. They aimed to refine and educate man by the Latin,
and to increase the national spirit by preserving their national
poetry. While these old heroic poems of the different races are
full of interest and charm for us, we must not forget that the
Latin kept alive and preserved from extinction the whole of
classical and Christian antiquity.

The Middle Ages, so inaptly called "dark," are in truth little
understood. A German writer of the nineteenth century, Friedrich
von Schlegel, says:

"The nations have their seasons of blossoming, as well as
individuals. The age of the Crusades, of chivalry, romance and
minstrelsy, was an intellectual spring among all the nations of
the West. In literature the time of invention must precede the
refinements of art. Legend must go before history, and poetry
before criticism. Vegetation must precede spring, and spring must
precede the maturity of fruit.

"The succeeding ages could have had no such burst of intellectual
vigor, if the preparing process had not been going on in the
Middle Ages. They sowed and we reaped."

Hence, it will be seen that what is looked on as a period of
stagnation and ignorance, was in truth, the waiting time, during
which the inner process of development was going on, soon to
blossom into glorious fruit.


From the time of the first Crusade, A.D. 1093, to the end of the
twelfth century, was the golden age of chivalry in Europe. Hence
the poetry of this period partook of the spirit that was abroad
in the world. Of this chivalrous poetry of the Middle Ages there
are three classifications: The first, taken from old legends,
shows a style of verse peopled with the Gothic, Frankish and
Burgundian heroes who flourished in the time of the great
Northern emigrations; and for these there is usually some
historical foundation, while they are also closely knit to the
traditions of the old heathenish mythology of the Gothic Nations.
The second subject of chivalrous verse was Charlemagne, the
Saracens and Roncesvalle. These were chiefly composed by the
Normans, who, after the Crusades, gave a new direction to
literature. Marked changes were introduced by them, not only into
France, but throughout Europe. They were filled with the spirit
of adventure and enthusiasm, and in their onward march conquered
England and Sicily, and took the lead in the next Crusade.
Essentially a poetic people, the wonderful was the object of all
their admiration and desire. Hence they sang old war songs,
especially of the battle of Roncesvalles in which Roland dies
when the Franks are conquered by the Spaniards and Turks.

In the tale of a fabulous Crusade, invented in the ninth century,
and which was embodied in poetry by the Normans, the true history
of the Empire became so bewilderingly mixed up with magicians,
genii, sultans, Oriental fables, and comical characters, who met
with astonishing adventures, that it was difficult to distinguish
the true from the false. There was nothing of the romantic and
wonderful in the history of the East, which did not find its way
into the poetry that treated of Charlemagne and Roland, until it
lost all traces of the real wars and achievements of Charlemagne.
The third subject of chivalric verse was Arthur of the Round
Table; but this, at the time, was also invested with Oriental
wonders and attachments. Other chivalric poetry of this epoch had
to do with Godfrey of Bouillon, the Crusades, and old French
tales and fabliaux which were brought into Europe by the oral
narratives of the Crusaders.

The Northern mythology always abounded with mountain spirits,
mermaids, giants, dwarfs, dragons, elves and mandrakes. These
reappear in the songs of the Crusades, and are elements of the
old Northern and Persian superstitions. All that the East
contributed to the song of the chivalric period was a Southern
magic, and a brilliance of Oriental fancy with which some of the
poems were clothed.

A Persian poem that became very popular in Europe in the Middle
Ages was Ferdusi's Book of Heroes. It has had a marked influence
on the Arabian "Thousand and One Nights." In this poem of
Ferdusi's we note the contest between light and darkness (an idea
nowhere found in Greek poetry). It seemed to touch the poetical
thought of the age of chivalry; for we find it reproduced in
their songs, mingled with Scriptural and love scenes.

Next to Chivalric poetry, the age of the Crusaders was
essentially a period of love songs. They attained their greatest
perfection in Provence, whence they spread over the whole of
France, and from there into Germany in the twelfth century.

Love poetry in Italy failed to attain any degree of perfection
until the time of Petrarch in the fourteenth century; and its
real era in Spain was not until a century later. Love poetry
developed in different ways in Europe, and, as we have seen, at
different times. Except among the Italians it was not so much
borrowed from one nation to another as had been the case with
other branches of literature.

It is different with Chivalric poetry, which was considered the
common property of all. The form of poetical composition also
varied in each country, and the only thing common to all the
nations was rhyme. Almost all the love poems seem to have been
written to be sung, and this was carried to such lengths that in
the reign of Lewis the Pious of Germany, an edict had to be sent
to the nuns of the German Cloisters by their Bishops, forbidding
them to sing their love songs, or Mynelieder.


The history of the drama may be divided into two classes, the
Christian, which began with the Mystery and Morality plays; and
the Greek, which was eminently classic. These two types were the
foundation of all that came after them.

The first dawn of the drama was in Greece; for although the
Hindus also had dramatic poetry, it did not arise until there had
been a lengthened intercourse between Greece and India, so that
the latter undoubtedly borrowed from the former. The learned
writers of ancient times agree that both tragedy and comedy were
originally choral song. It has been said that poetry and song are
divided into three periods of a nation's history, that the Epic
has to do with the first awakening of a people, telling of their
legends, or of some great deeds in remote antiquity. This is
followed by the second stage, which embraces elegiac and lyric
poetry and arose in stirring and martial times, during the
development of new forms of government, when each individual
wanted to express his own thoughts and wishes; and the third is
the drama, which can only be born in a period of civilization,
and which, it has been said, implies a nation.

Hence Greek drama arose at the height of Grecian civilization and
splendor. It originated in the natural love of imitation, of
dancing and singing, especially at the Bacchic feasts. The
custom at these feasts of taking the guise of nymphs and satyrs,
and of wearing masks while they danced and sang in chorus, seems
to have been the beginnings of the Greek drama.

Ancient tragedy was ideal, and had nothing to do with ordinary
life; it arose from the winter feasts of Bacchus, while comedy
was the outcome of the harvest feasts, and the accompanying
Bacchanalian processions, which were more in the nature of a
frolic than of real acting. The influence of the Middle and New
Greek comedy, especially, that of Menander, on the Roman comedy
of Terence is well defined. Under Ennius and Plautus the Roman
comedy was fairly original; but Terence wrote for the fashionable
set, like Caecilius and Scipio Africanus, and consequently
imitated Greek models very carefully. The drama in Rome never
attained any noteworthy height although the French tragic poets
took Seneca for their model.

In the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent there was a great revival
in Italy of the ancient classic drama, of which Poliziano was the
most successful exponent. Both he and the later writers, however,
made no attempt to found any National Italian drama--their works
are entirely an imitation of the tragedies of Sophocles and
Euripides, and the comedies of Plautus and Terence.

The Melodrama, which arose in the seventeenth century, is
distinctly Italian and national, and has been extensively
produced all over the civilized world. Alfieri, in the eighteenth
century, is the greatest and most patriotic of the Italian
tragedians, and he did as much to revive the national character
in modern times as Dante did in the fourteenth century.

In France we have the dramatic representation of the Mysteries in
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, introduced by the pilgrims
who had returned from the Crusades. At first these performances
were given in the street, but later a company was formed, called
the "Confraternity of the Passion," the suffering of Christ being
its chief representation. This Mystery is the most ancient
dramatic work of modern Europe, and gives the whole Gospel
narrative from the birth of our Saviour until His death. Being
too long for a play of one act, it was continued from day to day.
What would seem irreverent on a modern stage was regarded as
perfectly simple and natural in the Middle Ages, and it was a
potent factor in teaching the masses the truths of their faith.

Following these Mysteries of the Passion came a host of other
plays taken from the Old Testament, or from the lives of the
Saints. The earliest "Miracle" on record is the Play of St.
Catherine, which was represented at Dunstable about 1119, written
in French; it was in all probability a rude picture of the
miracles and martyrdom of the saint.

The stage was divided into three different floors, with Heaven on
top, hell on the ground floor, and the earth between. Frequently
the play would proceed in all three divisions at once, with
angels and devils ascending and descending by means of ladders,
as their help was needed in the different worlds.

The Devil generally played the part of clown or jester. The
modern puppet play of Punch is a tradition handed down from these
ancient miracles, in which the Evil One was alternately the
conqueror or victim of the human Buffoon; who was also called by
the names of Jester or Vice.

These early miracle plays were generally written in mixed prose
and verse.

The oldest manuscript of a miracle play in English is The
Harrowing of Hell, believed to have been written in 1350.

The Morality plays were the outcome of the Mysteries; they were
either allegorical or else taken from the Parables, or from the
historical events in the Bible. The chief Moralities were
Everyman, Lusty Juventus, Good Counsel, and Repentance. The
oldest English Morality play now extant is The Castle of
Perseverance, written about 1450. It is a dramatic allegory of
human life representing the many conflicting influences that
surround man on his way through the world. Lusty Juventus depicts
in a vivid and humorous way the extravagances and follies of a
young heir surrounded by the virtues and vices, and the misery
which follows a departure from the path of religion and virtue.
Gradually these Moralities were corrupted and became mixed with a
species of comedy called Interludes, a merry and farcical
dialogue. The Four P's, one of the best of these early
Interludes, was written by John Heywood, an entertainer at the
Court of Henry VIII. It turns upon a dispute between a Peddler, a
Palmer, a Pardoner and a Poticary, in which each tries to tell
the greatest lie; plays of this kind are seen in France at the
present day. In the fifteenth century the drama in France became
more secularized and included political events and satire, but
the French were undoubtedly the fathers of drama in the Middle
Ages. Their plays were known a whole century before Spain or
Italy had any theater, while the romantic drama in other
countries of Europe was founded on the early French drama.
Modern drama in France during the time of Corneille, Racine and
Voltaire was almost entirely classic. The French regarded the
Greek standard as the highest art; and sought to imitate it
faithfully, so much so that the French Academy, criticizing a
tragedy of Corneille, said "that the poet, from the fear of
sinning against the rules of art, had chosen rather to sin
against the rules of nature."

Comic drama in France from the end of the sixteenth to the middle
of the seventeenth century was borrowed from Spain, and had to do
with a multiplication of trap doors, dark lanterns, intrigues,
and puzzling disguises, until Moliere, in his "Precieuses
Ridicules" successfully attacked these follies of his age.

The Romantic drama, which arose in the second quarter of the
nineteenth century, holds at present the first place in France.
Its chief exponents have been Victor Hugo, the two Dumases,
Sardou and Octave Feuillet. Between them and the followers of the
Classic School there was for some time a lively war. The latter
wanted to exclude the Romanticists from the Theatre Francais, but
without success. In spite of the beauty of its French, and the
polish of its style, this latest form of the drama in France
frequently offends strongly against morality. In Spain the drama
was at all times thoroughly national. Even when they introduced
mythological, Greek or Roman characters, it was always in a
Castilian dress. In this respect Spain stands alone among the
nations of Europe, as it borrowed nothing from France, Italy or
England. Its earliest plays were the Mysteries, which it is
supposed to have obtained from Constantinople, where the ancient
theatre of Greece and Rome was kept up, in a grosser form, far
into the Middle Ages. In later times this Eastern drama became so
corrupt that the Christian Church tried to offset it by
introducing the Mysteries, and it became a common custom every
year at Christmas, for the Manger at Bethlehem, the Worship of
the Shepherds, and the Adoration of the Magi, to be exhibited
before the Altar, just as the Mysteries of the Passion were
introduced during Lent. The Passion Play at Oberammergau and the
Creche, representing the Manger at Bethlehem, as seen in Catholic
Churches at Christmas, are the sole survivals of these ancient

The second dramatic period in Spain was pastoral and satirical.
Nothing worthy of note adorns this period in the fifteenth
century. In the sixteenth century de Rueda and Lope de Vega
founded the true national drama of Spain. It was unlike anything
of an earlier period, and yet, resting faithfully on tradition,
it gave a vivid picture of the National Spanish life in all
classes of society. From the gallantries of the "dramas of the
Cloak and Sword," to the historical plays in which Dings and
Princes figure; down to the manners and incidents of common life,
all is essentially Spanish. A fourth class still represented
Scriptural and sacred scenes. Calderon wrote at the height of the
Spanish drama during the reign of Philip II; and after his time
the drama in Spain declined until, in the eighteen century, it
was at its lowest ebb. At this time plays were still held in open
courtyards, and in the daytime, as in the earlier ages. Efforts
were made to subject it to French and Italian rule, but this had
only a limited success; stiff, cold translation from the French
could not please a people who always found in the Spanish drama
an essentially popular entertainment.

In Germany traces of the drama first appeared in the thirteenth
century, when rude attempts to imitate the Mystery plays were
conducted in churches by the priests. But when the populace tried
to introduce the Burlesque, the performances were banished to the
open fields. Students in the universities took part in them, and
they continued until after the Reformation. Brought into Europe
from Constantinople by the Crusaders and pilgrims, the Mystery
plays became the chief amusement of an illiterate age.
Christianity was first thoroughly impressed on the mind of
Northern Europe by means of them; and the first missionaries
familiarized the rude Goths and Huns with Biblical incidents at a
time when reading was unknown outside of the Cloister. No change
in German drama occurred until the seventeenth century, when
operas after the Italian superseded the Mysteries and Moralities.
The production of this age, however, were characterized by bad
taste and pedantry; and it was not until Goethe brought his
genius to bear on the subject, that the Germans acquired any
drama worthy of the name. Whether in his national play Gotz von
Berlichingen or in his classical drama of Iphigenia, this great
German master stands at the summit of his art. Lessing attacked
French drama as enacted in Germany prior to Goethe, and brought
forward the Shakespearian plays as a model.

Schiller's Wallenstein obtained a worldwide reputation, and among
the Romantic dramatists Werner's Attila and Grillparzer's
Ancestress are the best examples of the extravagant and fertile
mind of the German romanticist.

Modern German drama has found the highest art it has ever
attained in the compositions of Richard Wagner, whose operas are
entirely German and National, and mostly founded on the old
German legends. Tannhauser is taken from the epic poem of
"Parzifal," written by Wolfram von Eschenbach in the Middle Ages.
Lohengrin, which is touched on in the "Parzifal," Wagner also
found in the poem of an obscure Bavarian poet; and a more
complete account of the celebrated "Swan Knight" appears in a
collection of stories edited by the brothers Grimm. Lohengrin is
a Knight of the Holy Grail, so part of the legend is borrowed
from ancient Britain.

All dramatic effort in England before the sixteenth century was
so rude as to be of little account. The Miracle and Mystery plays
were introduced into England in the reign of Henry VI, and many
of them had a personage called "Iniquity," a coarse buffoon,
whose object was to amuse the audience. After the Reformation the
Protestant Bishop Bale wrote plays on the same plan as the
Mysteries, intended to instruct the people in the supposed errors
of Popery. These plays, which deal largely in satire, became
popular and after the era of Henry VIII were known as Interludes.
In the beginning of the sixteenth century real comedy and tragedy
began to exist in a rude form. The oldest known English comedy,
Ralph Royster Doyster, was written by Nicholas Udall, and
describes a character whose comic misadventures are somewhat akin
to Don Quixote.

The earliest tragedy, Gorboduc, known also Ferrex and Porrex, was
played in the Lower Temple. It is founded on the legends of
fabulous British history. The tragedies of Marlowe and the
legendary plays of Greene come next in order, followed by the
golden age of English drama, from the dawn of the Shakespeare
plays in 1585 until the closing of the theatre in 1645 on the
breaking out of the Civil war in England. For a period of sixty
years the splendid genius of the world's greatest dramatist gave
to mankind a series of plays that have no equal in the literature
of any country or age.

Contemporaneous with Shakespeare, or coming after him, were
Beaumont and Fletcher, Ben Jonson, Massinger, Ford, and Shirley;
these Elizabethan dramatists took their subjects from the stories
and legends of all countries and ages--or else they depicted the
national life. For this reason English drama has been called
Irregular, in contrast to the Greek, which is called the Regular,
and that of modern France, founded upon the Greek. The chief rule
of the Regular is the Unity of Time, Place and Action. In the
Greek, the time of action was allowed to extend to twenty-four
hours, and the scene to change from place to place in the same
city; but Shakespeare and his contemporaries acknowledged no
fixed limit either of time, place or action. The operation of
their plays covered many different countries, and the time
extended over many years; but the rule that laid down in the
Greek drama the principle that there should be unity of action
(everything being subordinate to a series of events, which form
the thread of the plot), was adopted by Shakespeare and his
contemporaries. It has been called "unity of impression," as
opposed to unity of time and place.


The rise and development of Arabian literature occurs at an epoch
when the rest of Europe was struggling through a period of
transition. From the middle of the sixth to the beginning of the
eleventh century, at a time when the Roman dominions were overrun
by Northern hordes, and the Greek Nation was groaning under the
Byzantine power, when both Greek and Latin literature was exposed
to the danger of extinction, the splendor of Arabian literature
reached its zenith and through the mingling of the Troubadours
with the Moors of the Peninsula, and of the Crusaders with the
Arabs, it began to influence the literature of Europe.

Arabia, peopled by wandering tribes, had no history other than
the songs of the national bards, until after the rise of Mohammed
in the sixth century. The desire of the prophet was to bring his
people back from idolatry and star worship to the primitive and
true worship of God. He studied the Old and New Testament, the
legends of the Talmud and the traditions of Arabian and Persian
mythology, then he wrote the Koran, which became the sacred book
of the Arabians, and in which is traced in outline the true plan
of man's salvation--Death, Resurrection, the Judgment, Paradise
and the place of torment. Good and evil spirits, the four
archangels, Gabriel, Michael, Azrael and Izrafeel, are all found
in the Koran; but clothed with a true Oriental fancy. Besides the
angels there are creatures, partly human and partly spiritual,
called Genii, Peris (or fairies) and Deev (or giants). The Genii
have the power of making themselves seen or invisible at
pleasure. Some of them delight in mischief, and raise whirlwinds,
or lead travellers astray. The Arabians used to say that shooting
stars were arrows shot by the angels against the Genii when they
approached too near the forbidden regions of bliss.

This fairy mythology of the Arabians was introduced into Europe
by the Troubadours in the eleventh century, and became an
important factor in the literature of Europe. From it, and the
Scandinavian mythology spring all the fairy tales of modern
nations. And these romances of the Koran form the groundwork of
the fabliaux of the Trouveres, and of the romantic epics of
Boccaccio, Tasso, Ariosto, Spenser and Shakespeare. Mohammed's
teaching unified the different tribes of Arabia, and fostered a
feeling of national pride, and a desire for learning. So rapidly
did this develop that in less than a century the Arabian power
and religion, as well as its language, had gained the ascendency
over nearly half of Africa, a third of Asia, and a part of Spain;
and from the ninth century to the sixteenth, the Arabian
literature surpassed that of any nations of the same period.

This people, who, in a barbarous state had tried to abolish all
cultivation in science and literature, now became the masters of
learning, and they drew from the treasure houses of the countries
that they had acquired by conquest, all the riches of knowledge
at their command.

The learning of the Chaldeans and of the Magi, the poetry and
fine arts of Asia Minor, the eloquence and intellect of Africa,
all became theirs.

Greece counts nearly eight centuries from the Trojan war to the
summit of her literary development. From the foundation of Rome
till the age of Augustus the same number of centuries passed over
the Roman world; while in French literature the age of Louis XIV
was twelve centuries removed from the advent of Clovis; but in
Arabian literature, from the time of the family of the Abassides,
who mounted the throne in 750--and who introduced a passionate
love for poetry, science and art--until the time of Al Mamoun,
the Augustus of Arabia, there elapsed only one hundred and fifty
years, a rate of progress in the development of literature among
a nation that has no parallel in history.

Tournaments first originated among the Arabs, and thence found
their way into France and Italy. Gunpowder was known to them a
century before it appeared in Europe, and they were in possession
of the compass in the eleventh century, and this notwithstanding
the fact that a German chemist is supposed to have discovered
gunpowder a century after the Arabs made use of it, while the
compass is more frequently supposed to be a French or Italian
invention of the thirteenth century.

Botany and chemistry were more familiar to them than they were to
the Greeks or Romans. Bagdad and Cordova had famous schools of
astronomy and medicine, and here in the tenth and eleventh
centuries the Arabians were the teachers of the world. Students
came to them from France and other parts of Europe; and their
progress, especially in arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, was
marvellous. The poetry of the Arabs is rhymed like ours, and is
always the poetry of passion and love; but it is in their prose
works, the Arabian tales of the Thousand and One Nights, that
they have become most famous. Their richness of fancy in these
prose tales is different from that of the other chivalric
nations. The supernatural world is identical in both; but the
moral world is different. The Arabian tales, like the old
chivalric romances, take us to the realms of fairyland, but the
human beings they introduce are very unlike. Their people are
less noble and heroic, more moved by love and passion, and they
depict women by turn as slaves and divinities. The original
author of the Arabian Nights is unknown; but the book has become
a household possession in every civilized country in the world.


For six centuries before the advent of the Arabs in Spain the
country was under the Roman yoke, and had adopted the language
and arts of the Romans; but in the eighth century the overthrow
of the Romans, the coming of the Arabs, and contact with Arabian
civilization--as well as the struggle against their Moorish
invaders--began to develop in the Spaniards a spirit that was the
foundation of their national literature. No other people have
ever possessed in so strong a degree the true national feeling-
-no other has produced such a uniformly pure, deeply religious,
and elevated tone, in poetry and literature. Their poetry
remained at all times free from any foreign influence, and is
entirely romantic, while the Christian chivalric poetry of the
Middle Ages remained with them longer than with any other nation,
and received from their hands a more finished and elegant polish.

After the Moorish conquest the Spaniards withdrew to the
mountains of Asturias; they took with them a corrupted form of
the Latin language, as they had received it from the Romans;
reaching these mountains, they found themselves thrown with the
Iberians (the earliest of the Spanish races). These people had
remained half barbaric, had resisted both Romans and Goths, and
retained their original or Basque language. Coming now in contact
with them, the Christian Spaniards learned their language. Later
they met with another tribe of their own race who had remained
with the Arabians, known as the Mocarabes, a people of superior
refinement and civilization. Hence a new dialect from these
contending elements was gradually formed, and became known, like
the other languages of southern Europe, as the Romanic. The
distinguishing feature of Spanish literature, from its birth, to
the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, is religious faith and
knightly loyalty. Qualities which sustained the whole nation in
its struggle against the infidel Moors.

The first great Spanish work is the poem of the Cid. It is the
only epic Spain has ever produced, and is the most ancient of any
in the Romance language. It is also valuable as a faithful
picture of the manners and characters of the eleventh century.
Indeed, the chief characteristic of Spanish song and poetry is
its delineation of the national life. It is said that the Cid is
the foremost poem produced in Europe from the thousand years that
marked the decline of Greek and Roman civilization, to the
appearance of the Divine Comedy. The Count Lucanor, a work of the
fourteenth century, was one of the earliest prose writings in the
Spanish tongue, as the Decameron, which was written about the
same time, was the first in Italian. Both are narrative tales;
but their moral tone is very dissimilar--the Decameron was
written to amuse, while the Count Lucanor is addressed to a grave
and serious nation. These stories have frequently been
dramatized, and one of them gave Shakespeare the outline of his
Taming of the Shrew.

Alfonso the Wise, in the thirteenth century, was the author of a
legislative code known as Las Sieta Partides, or the Seven Parts.
It forms the Spanish common law, and has been the foundation of
Spanish Jurisprudence ever since; and being used also in the
colonies of Spain, it has, since the Louisiana Purchase, become
in some cases the law in our own country.

Juan Ruiz, who lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
wrote a poem, partly fiction and partly allegorical, called the
Battle of Don Carnival, which strongly resembles Chaucer; both
poets found their material in northern French verse.

Santob, a Jew in the fourteenth century, wrote a poem called the
Dance of Death, which became a favourite subject with both
painters and poets for several succeeding ages.

The literature of Spain may be divided into four classes--the old
Ballads, the Chronicles, the Romances of Chivalry, and the Drama.
The most interesting of the old ballads are historical; but there
are also ballads that have to do with private life wherein appear
the effusions of love, the shafts of satire, the descriptions of
pastoral life, and the oddities of burlesque. One and all,
however, faithfully represent Spanish life. No such popular
poetry is found in any other language. The English and Scotch
ballads belong to a more barbarous state of society, and their
verse is less dignified and lofty than that of the Spaniards, who
were uplifted by a deep religious sense, and an unswerving
loyalty to their sovereign. A state of feeling that elevated them
far above the men and events of border feuds, and the wars of
rival Barons.

The great Spanish heroes, the Cid, Bernardo del Carpo, and
Pelayo, are to this day a vital part of the belief and poetry of
the lower classes in Spain, and are revered as they were hundreds
of years ago. The wandering Mulateers still sing of Guarinos and
of the defeat at Roncesvalles as they did when Don Quixote heard
them on his way to Toboso; and the street showmen in Seville
rehearse to this day the same wonderful adventures that the Don
saw in the Inn at Montesinos. The Chronicles developed among the
more refined and educated classes. The most celebrated is the
Chronicle of Spain, written by Alfonso the Wise. It starts with
the creation of the world, and ends with the death of Alfonso's
father, St. Ferdinand. It contains all the time-honored
traditions of the country, as well as exact historical truth. The
story of the Cid is supposed to be taken from this work.

From the time of Alfonso the Wise to the accession of Charles V
(or from the thirteenth century to the sixteenth), Spain was
flooded by romantic chronicles. The most celebrated is that of
Don Roderick, or an account of the reign of King Roderick in the
eighth century, the conquest of the country by the Moors, and the
efforts to wrest it from them. On this chronicle Robert Southey
has founded most of his poem of Roderic the Last of the Goths.
Whether resting on truth or fable, these old records struck their
roots deep down in the hearts of the people; and their romance,
their chivalry, their antique traditions, and their varied
legends, form a rich deposit from which all the nations of Europe
have drawn material for their own literature. It was not until
the fourteenth century that the romances of chivalry--known in
France two centuries earlier in the stories of Arthur and the
Round Table, and the deeds of Charlemagne--found their way across
the Pyrenees.

Spain, so essentially the land of knighthood, welcomed them
eagerly, and speedily produced a number of like romances which
were translated into French and became famous. The most
celebrated is Amadis, written by de Lobeira, a Portuguese. Its
sole purpose is to set forth the type of a perfect knight, sans
peur et sans reproche. Amadis is an imaginative character; but he
is the first of a long line of doers of knightly deeds,
culminating in Don Quixote, whose adventures have charmed and
delighted the Spaniards, as well as the men of other nations.

Provencal literature began to have an influence on the Spanish in
1113, after the crown of Provence had been transferred from Arles
to Barcelona by the marriage of the then Provencal heiress to
Beranger, Count of Barcelona. This introduction of the Provencal
literature into northeastern Spain had a beneficial result on the
two literatures, fusing them into a more vigorous spirit.

Spain had always maintained the closest relations with the See of
Rome, and numerous Spanish students were educated at the Italian
Universities, hence the Italian literature had some influence on
the Spanish, more lasting as a whole than the effects of
Provencal literature. From 1407 to 1454 King John II tried to
form an Italian school in Spain, gathering around him a poetical
court. This Italian influence extended into the sixteenth
century. Diego de Mendoza, during the reign of Charles V wrote a
clever satirical prose work called Lazarillo de Tormes, which
became the foundation of a class of fiction of which Gil Blas, by
Le Sage, is the best known and most celebrated example.

Except for the Cid, Spain had no historical narrative poems of
any account, and her prose historical works, especially on the
discovery and conquest of America, are of a purely local
character, and had no influence outside of Spain. The beginning
of the eighteenth century saw the accession to the throne of
Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV; and this brought a strong
French influence into the country, which for a time dominated the
national literature.

A new poetical system founded on Boileau was introduced by Luzan
in his Art of Poetry; but it did not seem to bring about any real
advance in literature; and it was not until Spain threw off this
foreign yoke, that any revival in her literature took place. It
is due to a monk, Benito Feyjoo, in the middle of the eighteen
century that a renaissance in Spanish literature took place.
Feyjoo, a devout Catholic, labored to bring to light scientific
truths, and to show how they harmonized with the true Catholic
spirit. In the same century Isla, a Jesuit, undertook with entire
success, to purify the Spanish pulpit, which had become lowered
both in style and tone. His history of Friar Gerund, which
slightly resembles Don Quixote, aimed a blow at bombastic
oratory, causing it soon to die out. Proverbs which Cervantes had
styled "short sentences drawn from long experience," have always
been a distinctive Spanish product, and can be traced back to the
earliest ages of the country. No fewer than 24,000 have been
collected, and many more circulate among the lower classes which
have not been recorded in writing.


The earliest imitators in Europe of the bucolic poetry of Virgil,
were the Portuguese; and as a people they thought that the
pastoral life was the ideal model for poetry. This idea is
strongly brought out by Ribeyro in the sixteenth century.

The great number of Mocarbians that settled in Portugal infused
into them as a nation, a stronger Orientalism than is found
elsewhere in Europe, and their poetry was of an enthusiastic
order, more marked than that of the Spaniards.

Henry of Burgundy, who married a daughter of Alfonso XI of Spain,
in the eleventh century, introduced Provencal poetry. The
Cancioneros, or courtly ballads, in imitation of the Provencal,
were sung by wandering minstrels, and Portuguese poetry retained
its Provencal character until the end of the fourteenth century.

In the fifteenth century, the Portuguese invaded Africa, and
Vasco de Gama pointed out to Europe the new and unknown route to
India. Fifteen years later, toward the close of the century, a
Portuguese kingdom was founded in Hindostan, causing a strong
counter-current of Orientalism to invade Portugal. The people
awoke to a desire for greatness; and poetry and the arts
flourished. This period, extending into the sixteenth century, is
called the golden age of Portuguese literature.

The Os Lusiades, an epic poem, that has been called "one of the
noblest monuments ever raised to the national glory of any
people," was written by Luis de Camoens, a Portuguese of the
sixteenth century. It is intensely patriotic, although it is
touched by both Greek mythology, and the Italian style, which
during this epoch had been slightly blended with the Portuguese.
Portugal had little or no influence on the literature of any
nation but her own, receiving her strongest impressions from
outsiders. In the eighteenth century she was dominated both in
taste and manners by the French, and the beginning of the
nineteenth century found her a great admirer and imitator of
English literature.

National songs are known to have been sung in Portugal during the
earliest times; but none of them have come down to us. They were
doubtless similar to the other bardic songs of Europe.


It is in the first ages of national existence that the
foundations of national character and poetry are laid; and the
farther back that history is studied, the more closely do we find
the different peoples of the world united in their literature.
Its first history in France is undoubtedly that of the
Troubadours. Provence, where it originated, early became an
independent kingdom, while in the north the literature of the
Trouveres became the foundation of the national literature of
France. Latin was the language of the country after its conquest
by Julius Caesar; then came the Northern hordes, when language
became corrupted, until, in the time of Charlemagne, German was
the Court language, Latin the written language, and the Romance
dialect, still in its barbaric state, was the speech of the
people. The Gauls in the North, who used the Romance, were also
called the Roman-Wallons; they were distinguished from
Charlemagne's German subjects, while in the South the natives
were called the Romans-Provencaux.

In the tenth century the Normans invaded France, and infused
another element in the language, which gradually became Norman-
French; and from the twelfth century the two dialects were known
as Provencal and French. The Provencal dialect, although much
changed, is still spoken in Provence, Languedoc, Catalonia,
Valencia, Majorca, and Minorca, while the French was brought, by
gradual polish, to its present perfection.

The Troubadours who flourished for three centuries, from 950 to
1250, used the Romance language in their poems. The brilliance of
this period of literature, its sudden rise, and as sudden
disappearance, is not unlike the rise and fall of the Arabian

Among the thousands of poets who flourished during this time,
none ever wrote anything of any special note. The love, romance
and imagination of these poems breathes that chivalry toward
women, amounting almost to veneration, which was a feature of
this class of poetry. It is therefore to be regretted that as
actual tales, shorn of the poetical and chivalric setting, there
was something left to be desired. The immorality of the
incidents, and the coarseness of the language, makes this "Gay
Science," as the Troubadours called it, unfit to be classed with
the best literature. In 1092 the crown of Provence passing to the
Count of Barcelona brought a more refined taste into the
Provencal poetry; the arts and the sciences of the Arabians
obtained a foothold in the country; rhyme--the method used in
Arabian poetry, was adopted by the Troubadours, and from them has
been handed down to the nations of modern Europe.

This period has been described as "one that shone out at once
over Provence and all the south of Europe, like an electric flash
in the midst of profound darkness, illuminating all things with
the splendor of its flame."

During the Crusades many of the Troubadours departed for the Holy
Land. In the history of the world there is no event that fired
the poetry and imagination of the people like these holy wars,
and religious enthusiasm began to influence the poetry of the
time. When the Plantagenet kings of England assumed by right the
sovereignty over Languedoc (as Provence was called), a new
impetus was given to the Provencal poetry, as well as a wider
scope, when it was introduced into England. Chaucer, the father
of English literature, found in the Provencal literature all his
first models.

With the decline of the Troubadours occurred the rise of the
Trouveres in northern France.

In the tenth century Normany was invaded by Rollo the Dane, who
incorporated himself and his followers with the Normans. They
adopted the Norman-French; but gave it a power and scope it had
hitherto lacked. While the Romance-Provencal in the South was a
language of sweetness and beauty, the Northern language after the
advent of Rollo, was strong and warlike. Its poetry, which
differed from the love chansons of the South, was the song of
brave warriors, recounting the heroic deeds of their ancestors.

The Langue d'oui, as this Northern speech was called, became, in
the twelfth century, the universal medium of literature. The
poets and story writers called themselves Trouveres, and they
invented the fabliaux, the dramatic mysteries and romances of
ancient chivalry. The first great literary work of this class is
a marvellous history of the early kings of England, commencing
with Brutus, a grandson of Aeneas, who, sailing among many
enchanted Isles, at length settles in England, where he meets
Arthur of the Round Table, and the old wizard, Merlin, one of the
most popular creations of the Middle Ages. Born of this legend
were some of the best known of modern romances. The word romance,
which in the early history of France was used to distinguish the
common dialect from the Latin, was later applied to all
imaginative and inventive tales. Of this class was "Tristam de
Leonois," written in 1190; the "San Graal," and "Lancelot." In
the same century appeared "Alexander," a poem which became so
celebrated that poetry, written in the same measure, is to this
day called Alexandrine verse.

A poetess known as Marie of France, wrote twelve lays to
celebrate the glories of the Round Table. She addresses herself
to a king supposed to be Henry VI, and has made extensive use of
early British legends. Chaucer and other English poets, have
drawn many inspirations from her poems.

The Trouveres not only originated the romances of chivalry; but
they also invented allegorical poems. The most celebrated is the
"Romance of the Rose," written in the thirteenth century. It
consisted of 20,000 verses, and although tedious, because of its
length, it was universally admired, and became the foundation of
all subsequent allegory among the different nations. The poetry
of the Trouveres was unlike anything in antiquity, and unlike,
too, to what came after it. It dealt with high-minded love and
honor, the devotion of the strong to the weak, and the
supernatural in fiction. All this, which formed part of its
composition, has been attributed to both the Arabians and the
Germans; but it was in truth a peculiar production of the
Normans, the most active and enterprising people in Europe, a
nation who pushed into Russia, Constantinople, England, France,
Sicily and Syria. A treasury of a later date, from which the
Trouveres drew their fabliaux in the thirteenth century, was a
collection of Indian tales that had been translated into Latin in
the tenth century. These fabliaux show that inventiveness,
gaiety, and simple, yet delightful esprit, which is found nowhere
but among the French. The Arabian tales, which had found their
way into France, were also turned into verse, while the anecdotes
that were picked up in the castles and towns of France, furnished
other material for the fabliaux. These tales were the common
property of the country at large, and are the source from which
Boccaccio, La Fontaine, and others drew their inspiration. Some
of them became famous and have been passed down from one age to

The Renard of Goethe, and the Zaire of Voltaire were taken from
the old fabliaux. In the fourteenth century the coming of the
Popes and the Roman Court to Avignon introduced an Italian
element, and the language of Tuscany took the place of the
Provencal among the upper classes.

La Fontaine, called the "Prince of Fablists," appeared in the
seventeenth century. Many of his fables were borrowed from
ancient sources; but clothed in a new dress. He has been closely
imitated by his Confreres and by the fablists of other nations;
but has easily remained the most renowned of them all.

The philosophy of Descartes in the sixteenth century prepared the
way for Locke, Newton and Leibnitz; and his system, although now
little used, was really the foundation of what followed. He is
said to have given new and fresher impulse to mathematical and
philosophical study than any other student, either ancient or

Pascal, a contemporary of Descartes, is renowned for his
Provencal Letters, a book that has become a classic in France. It
is full of wit, and of exquisite beauty of language; but its
teaching is pure sophistry. Pascal first set the example of
writing about religion in a tone of mock levity, especially when
by so doing, he could abuse the Jesuits. In the end this weapon
of keen and delicate satire was turned against Christianity
itself, when Voltaire in the eighteenth century recognized its
possibilities, and made use of it.

The older French literature in the sixteenth century had become
so neglected, and was so lacking in cultivation; so little
adapted to poetry, that the nation seemed in danger of losing all
its earlier traditions. For a hundred years France was given over
to profane and light literature. Montaigne, Charyon, Ronsard and
de Balzac are some of the names of this period. The death of a
cat or dog was made the subject of a poem that was no real
poetry. It is due to the women of France--to Madame de
Rambouillet and her confreres, and to the literary coteries that
arose in the middle of the seventeenth century--that French
literature acquired a deeper and more serious tone. This period
was followed by the founding of the French Academy, of which
Cardinal Richelieu was the chief patron. The tragic dramatists,
Corneille and Racine, now appeared on the literary horizon.
Racine's language and versification was said to be far superior
to either Milton in English or Virgil in Latin.

In tragedy the French stand pre-eminent; but it is matter for
regret that their subjects are never taken from their own
nation--they rarely represent French heroes; and it is a weakness
of their literature that they make no direct appeal to the
national feeling. There is a close connection between the
classical dramas of Racine and Corneille, and such works as
Pope's Iliad, Addison's Cato and Dryden's Alexander's Feast,
showing the general interest in Greek and Roman subjects during
their time.

The older poetry of the chivalric period was entirely discarded,
though it would have been possible to unite the old chivalric
spirit, the freedom and romance of mediaeval times, with the
later renaissance, as was done by other nations. The French
literature is more closely formed on the model of the earlier
refined nations of antiquity, as the Roman was on the Greek.

The later French poetry of the seventeenth century came into
opposition with the teaching of Rousseau, this gave birth to a
taste for English poetry and the classic poetry of France was a
copy of the descriptive poetry of England. In the eighteenth
century prose writings superseded verse. At this time the English
had taken the lead in literature, and modern French philosophy
was built on that of Bacon and Locke. It was no part of the plan
of the English philosophers, however, to inculcate such ideas as
the French philosophers drew from their writings. Bacon, who was
profoundly Christian, believed that man alone was the type of
God, and nature the work of God's hands; but the French leaders
in philosophy went beyond this, they deified nature, and threw
aside as mysticism whatever could not be proved by sense.
Voltaire made use of all the wonderful greatness of science, as
revealed by Bacon and Newton, not to exalt the Creator; but to
lower man to the level of the brute. Like the old Greek sophists,
who defended first one side of a question, and then the one
diametrically opposed to it, Voltaire would write one book in
favor of God, and another to deny Him; but it is not difficult to
see which is his real belief. This perverted philosophy of
Voltaire in turn reacted on the English mind, and particularly on
history. We see its workings in both Gibbon and Hume. The "little
philosophy" which "inclineth a man's mind to atheism," led the
eighteenth century philosophers to fancy that Newton's
discoveries meant that everything could be attained without
religion, and that the only true and wide vision could be reached
by the senses alone. They taught a pure materialism, to their own
undoing; for it is not possible to thus lightly throw aside our
great links with the past, in which both Christian and heathen,
knowingly and unknowingly, in mediaeval poetry, in heroic ballad,
and in Egyptian prose, testified to the existence of God.

The nineteenth century in France has been rich in dramatists,
novelists, historians and poets, as well as in science and
learning of all kinds; but it has had no especial power, or aim,
and its opinions are constantly changing. The early novelists
were strongly directed by the writings of Sir Walter Scott, while
later ones have sought to imitate Victor Hugo and George Sand.
The literature of this period has had no effect outside of
France. Poetry has not risen any higher than Alfred de Musset;
and any further greatness in French poetry must come from a
revival of their own ancient poems and legends.

Poetry that deals only with the present becomes local, and in the
end is influenced by the constant caprice and change of fashion
instead of by the deep, heart-stirring beliefs of a strong and
united people.


The first general language of Italy was the Latin, and so
strongly was the Italian mind dominated by the influence of
ancient Rome that her earliest writers sought to keep alive the
Roman tradition. This spirit of freedom led to the establishment
of the Italian Republics, and after the Lombard cities threw off
the yoke of Frederick Barbarossa they turned their chief
attention to education and literature. The spirit of chivalry and
chivalric poetry never took such root in Italy as it did in other
European countries. Nevertheless, Italy was not uninfluenced by
the Crusades, and the Arabs, establishing a celebrated school of
medicine at Salerno, gave a new impetus to the study of the
classics. In Bologna was opened a school of jurisprudence, where
Roman law was studied, and these schools, or universities soon
appeared in other parts of Italy.

The Italians devoted more time to the study of law and history,
and to making translations from the Greek philosophers, than to
the cultivation of chivalric poetry, although many of the Italian
poets wrote in Provencal and French; and Italian Troubadours made
journeys to the European Courts.

It has been said that the only poetry that has any real power
over a people is that which is written or composed in their own
language. This is especially true of Italy. Following this early
Latin period came Dante, the most glorious, and inventive of the
Italian poets, and indeed one of the greatest masters of verse in
the world. He perfected the Tuscan, or Florentine dialect, which
was gradually becoming the literary language of Italy. Petrarch,
who succeeded Dante, is greatest in his Italian poems, and it is
by these that he is best known, while his Latin works, which he
hoped would bring him fame, have been almost forgotten.

In the fifteenth century the use of the national language in
literature entirely died out, through the rise of the Humanists,
and the craze for Greek and Latin classics; but toward the end of
the fifteenth century, under Lorenzo de'Medici and Leo X,
interest in their own literature among the Italians began to
revive again. Ariosto and Tasso wrote their magnificent epics;
and once more Italian poetry was read and appreciated, and
reached the height of its renown. Again in the seventeenth
century it declined under the influence of the Marini school;
whose bad taste and labored and bombastic style, was
unfortunately imitated in both France and Spain. In the
eighteenth century, under the patronage of Benedict XIV, the
Arcadian poets of the Marini school were banished from
literature, and other and more brilliant writers arose, possessed
of the true national feeling. Under Pope Pius VI, by whom he was
liberally patronized, Quirico Visconti undertook his "Pio
Clementine Museum," and his "Greek and Roman Iconography," said
to be the two greatest archaeological works of all ages.

With the rise of Napoleon, Italy was flooded with French
writings, and French translations, not always of the best, and
even the French language was used instead of the Italian. The
Italian literature again suffered a decline, and it was not until
after the treaty of Vienna in 1815 that the foreign influence was
again shaken off. It will thus be seen that it was when Italian
poets wrote in their own language that their greatest and most
lasting success was attained. During the periods when a craze for
imitating foreign works existed, the national languages
deteriorated. In Germany, under the Emperor Maximilian, a crown
was publicly bestowed on any poet who achieved success in Latin
verse, while no reward or emolument was given to those who wrote
in German. The religion of Humanism in Italy went to such lengths
that many seemed to lose not only their belief but also their
good sense, as they considered it vulgar to talk of the Deity in
the language of the Bible. God was spoken of in the plural--gods.
The Father was Jupiter, the Son, Apollo; and the Devil, Pluto;
but these various errors had no lasting or far-reaching
influence. The Divine Comedy, the most powerful and lifelike
exponent of the thoughts and feelings of the age in which Dante
lived--an allegory, written in the form of a vision, at a time
when men believed that the things that are unseen are eternal--is
the most perfect and magnificent monument of earthly love,
refined and spiritualized, that has ever been written. It stands
alone; for no man of any country, coming after Dante, has been
able to write from the same motive, and in the same spirit, that
he did. Petrarch, the next greatest after Dante, is chiefly
celebrated for his lyrical poems, which were used as models by
all the most celebrated poets of the South of Europe. They are
written in two forms, the canzone taken from the Provencals, and
the sonnet, taken from the Sicilians. Petrarch kept up a wide
correspondence with the literary men of Europe; and through his
influence a sort of literary republic arose which joined together
the literati of many different countries. Boccaccio, next in rank
to Petrarch, evolved a poetry consisting of Norman wit and
Provencal love, joined to an elaborate setting of his own. He
took Livy and Cicero for his models, and tried to combine ancient
mythology with Christian history, the result being that his
writings were not so fine as they would have been had they
displayed a greater freedom a of style. His most celebrated work
is the Decameron, the idea of which is taken from an old Hindu
romance which was translated into Latin in the twelfth century.
Most of these tales have also been found in the ancient French
fabliaux, and while Boccaccio cannot be said to have really
invented them, he did clothe them anew, and his tales in their
turn have been translated into all the European languages.

It is due to Cosmo and Lorenzo de' Medici, and to Pope Leo X,
that there was such a glorious development of the fine arts in
the fifteenth century, an era whose benefits have been felt among
the cultivated nations for over three hundred years.

At the same time Poliziano created the pastoral tragedy, which
served to revive the study of Virgil. Other poets seizing on the
old romance of the Trouveres, added to them an element of
mockery, in place of the old religious belief. This new spirit
was adopted by Ariosto. From the East he borrowed the magic and
sorcery interwoven in the adventures of his knights and ladies,
giants and magicians. It remained for Torquato Tasso to revive
the heroic epic in his Jerusalem Delivered, in which he depicts
the struggle between the Christians and Saracens. Neither the
Siege of Trod, nor the Adventures of Aeneas could compare with
the splendid dramatic element in Tasso's immortal poem, which has
been said to combine the classic and the romantic style in a new
and unusual degree.

In the sixteenth century Strapparola, an Italian novelist, wrote
a number of fairy tales, which have been a treasure house for
later writers, and to which we are indebted for Puss in Boots,
Fortunio, and other stories which have now become familiar in the
nursery lore of most modern nations. Bandello, in the same
century, was a novelist from whom Shakespeare and other English
dramatists have borrowed much material.

One thing which is peculiar to Italy, and which has found its way
into nearly the whole civilized world, is Italian Opera or
melodrama. It was an outcome of the Pastoral drama, and first
took shape in 1594 under Rinuccini, a Florentine. But the true
father of Italian opera is Metastasio, who flourished in the
eighteenth century. He regarded opera as the national drama of
Italy, and raised it to a plane that it has ever since retained;
though of late years it has become more the fashion to cultivate
German opera.


Erasmus said of Ghent at the end of the fifteenth century that
there was no city in Europe that could compare with it in
greatness, power, and the cultivation of its people. The lays of
the minstrels and the chivalric romances of other nations were
translated into Dutch. In the middle of the thirteenth century
Reynard the Fox was rendered into the same language, while this
era also saw a translation of the Bible made into Flemish rhyme.

The close of the fourteenth century saw the rise of some
wandering poets called Sprekers, who visited the courts of Kings
and Princes and became so popular that in the fifteenth century
they were federated into different societies that became known as
"Chambers of Rhetoric," somewhat similar to the German Guilds of
the Meistersingers. These societies spread rapidly through the
country, and from rhyme the members passed to the mystery plays,
and to the beginnings of the drama.

The Court of Burgundy in the fifteenth century brought a strong
French element into the literature of the Dutch nation, and the
poets and chroniclers of that age are chiefly Flemish.

The taste for Greek and Latin was introduced into Holland in the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Erasmus and Grotius, the two
most learned men among the Dutch literati of their age.

Hooft in the seventeenth century made an extensive study of
Italian poetry, and succeeded in imparting to his tragic and
lyric verse a certain quality of sweetness and volume which it
has since retained. His style, which also embraces tragedy, has
been extensively imitated by his own countrymen.

Nearly the whole of the eighteenth century passed without any
advancement in Dutch literature. The country experienced the
French influence, in common with the rest of Europe; and French
works and translations abounded. Toward the close of this century
German taste began to predominate, and a young Dutchman, Van
Effen, founded a magazine in French, called the "Spectator,"
which was in imitation of, and on the same lines as the English
magazine of the same name. Many native writers arose at this time
and gained distinction in poetry, prose and the drama; but the
overthrow of the Dutch Republic, and the confusion attending it,
for a time extinguished the national literature, and the
beginning of the nineteenth century saw the country flooded with
poor translations of foreign books, and all the noble national
literature was forgotten. This evil was partly remedied in the
latter part of the nineteenth century; but as a whole, the Dutch
literature, while it has been influenced by foreign taste, has
had little or no weight outside of its own nation, and has not in
any way shaped the literature of other peoples.


Germany, like the other Northern nations, had primitive war songs
sung by the bards. Her mythology is akin to the Scandinavian, and
like the latter she assigns a high place to women. Tacitus says:
"It is believed that there is something holy and prophetic about
them, and therefore the warriors neither despise their counsels
nor disregard their responses."

This German paganism was eminently fanciful--it peopled the
earth, air and sea with supernatural beings--the rivers had their
Undines, the caverns their Gnomes, the woods their Sprites, and
the ocean its Nixes. Besides these, there were a host of
mythological figures--the Walkyres or bridal maidens, the river
maids; and the white women, Hertha and Frigga. These legends have
formed a rich treasure house from which later German authors have
freely drawn for song or story. Before the Christian age Germany
had no literature and the first national work that can be
dignified by the name is a translation of the Bible into
Moeso-Gothic by Ulphilas, a bishop of the Goths, in the fourth
century A.D. This is a Catholic work that antedated Luther by a
thousand years.

Bishop Ulphilas invented an alphabet of Runic, Greek and Roman
letters, and this translation of the Bible remained the only
literary monument of the Germans for four hundred years. The
minstrel lays of this period were later collected by Charlemagne,
of which two specimens have come down to us. Like the Icelandic,
Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, old English, and old Saxon, they are
in a measure called alliteration, that is, a repetition of the
sound without the regular rhyme at the end of lines, or such as
we call rhyme. This circumstance made Klopstock, at a later
period, try to banish rhyme as not being correct according to
ancient usage. One of these poems, the Hildebrand-lied, belongs
to the time of Theodoric the Great. The songs collected by
Charlemagne, were later remodelled and have come down to us as
the Heldenbuch and the Nibelungen-lied. The intellectual light in
Germany went out with the death of Charlemagne, except in the

The Normans on the West and the Hungarians in the East menaced
the country, and the only important literary work of the time is
a poem written by a monk at the close of the ninth century. It is
called "Ludwig's Lied;" and celebrates the triumph of Louis over
the Normans. Roswitha, a nun in the tenth century, wrote some
Christian dramas in Latin that are remarkable as coming from the
pen of a woman in the Middle Ages.

The invasions of the Hungarians and Slavs in the eleventh century
effectually prevented the blossoming of any literary effort,
except for some poems known as the Lombard Cycle, in which the
rude pagan legends of antiquity were blended with the dawnings of
Christianity. But in 1138, when Conrad III became Emperor of
Germany, his accession was followed by the Crusades, which spread
a flame of enthusiasm and chivalry among the Germans.

In 1149 Conrad and Louis VII of France joined forces to lead a
Crusade to the Holy Land, and thus the German and French nobility
became intimately acquainted, and Provencal poetry soon began to
have an effect on German literature.

Emperors and nobles held court and received their foreign guests
with splendid display and hospitality. Poets and singers were
welcomed, and the chivalric literature was soon taken up by the
Suabian minstrels who became known as the Minnesingers.

From 1150 to 1300 was the golden age of Suabian literature and
German chivalry. During this period numerous romances of chivalry
were translated into German.

They have been divided into different classes, or cycles.

The first, and most ancient, have to do with Arthur and the
Knights of the Round Table. Their origin is Anglo-Norman, and
they were probably taken from old Welsh chronicles in an early
age, and were known in Britain and Brittany before the poets
began to put them in rhyme.

The most popular of these romances was the San Graal, or Holy
Grail, a subject that has engaged some of the best poets of all
countries. In this legend the Cup, which was supposed to have
been used at the Last Supper, in some way is brought to Golgotha
during the Crucifixion, and is used to preserve some of the blood
that flows from Christ's side, when it is opened by the soldier's
spear. Joseph of Arimathea is thought to have brought this
precious Cup to Europe, and to have given it into the keeping of
Sir Parsifal. Knowledge of its whereabouts was then lost, so that
knights and heroes make it the object of long and fruitless

The second cycle of romance has to do with Charlemagne, and is
mostly in the form of translations from French literature.

The third, or classic cycle, relates to the great ones of ancient
times, presented in the role of chivalry. These embrace stories
of Alexander the Great, the Aeneid, and the Trojan war. During
this period there were two classes of songs in Germany; the
minstrelsy, most in favor with the nobility; and the old ballads,
which were most popular with the people. The latter were
gradually collected by different poets of the time, especially by
Wolfram of Eschenbach and put into epic verse, in which form they
have come down to us as the Heldenbuch (or book of heroes), and
the Nibelungen-lied.

The Heldenbuch relates the deeds of Theodoric and Attila and the
outpouring of the Goths into the Roman Empire. In the
Nibelungen-lied the hero is Siegfried, the Achilles of the North,
the embodiment of beauty, courage and virtue. The same personages
are met with in these German legends, as in the Scandinavian
mythology, only in the latter they take on a more godlike form.
The German Brunhild, in the Scandinavian story becomes a

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed the decline of
the romanticists, the loss of most of the Southern culture, and
all the literature of this time is at a low ebb, partly owing to
the wars of the Germans against the Huns.

The fourteenth century was productive of one class of literature
that was common to all Europe; namely, simple and humorous fables
and satires. "Reynard the Fox" was one of the earliest of these
fables, and remained a great favorite with the Germans, being
finally immortalized by Goethe. The same author has made us
familiar with a personage who figures in an interesting legend of
the fifteenth century. Doctor Faust, or Faustus, is a magician
who by unlawful arts gains a mastery over nature. This legend
became the foundation of a number of stories and dramas, and was
put into verse by Christopher Marlowe, the English dramatist.

The end of the sixteenth century saw a craze for Latin in
Germany. The national tongue was neglected and national poetry
was translated into Latin verse. German poets wrote in the same
classic language, and the university lectures were all delivered
in the same tongue. The seventeenth century saw the Thirty Years'
War, during which all literary activity was completely paralyzed,
and in the course of these thirty years a whole generation,
especially among the lower classes, had grown up unable either to
read or write. But after the Treaty of Westphalia matters began
to improve, and a desire to cultivate the native language awoke.
In 1688 German superseded Latin in the universities. Novels were
published; and about this time appeared a German translation of
Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" that became very popular. Poets wrote
plays in the style of Terence, or copied English models; and even
in the present day the Germans recall with pride the fact that
the Shakespearean plays were appreciated by them during and after
the Elizabethan age much more than they were by the English

Science under Leibnitz also began to take shape in this century,
while Opitz wrote operas in imitation of the Italian style; and
translations from the Italian Marini came into vogue. In the
eighteenth century arose the Saxonic and Swiss schools of
literature, neither of which was devoted to national works.
Gottsched, the founder and imitator of French standards in art
and poetry, is known as the leader in the Saxonic school at
Leipsic, and an advocate of classical poetry.

Bodmer cultivated the English style, and retired to Switzerland
with his friends, where they founded the Swiss school. The
English lyric and elegiac poets had a wonderful influence in
Germany. The followers of this school who were, or pretended to
be, poets, began to write "Seasons" in imitation of Thomson; and
the novels of the time were full of shepherds and shepherdesses.
The craze spread to France, where the French Court took up the
fad of living in rustic lodges, and Marie Antoinette posed as a
shepherdess tending sheep. Each of these poets had numerous
followers, of whom Rambler is known as the German Horace.

Frederick the Great preferred French works, and no one seems to
have thought of starting a German school except Klopstock, who
stands almost alone in the literature of his time and country. A
man of lofty ideals, he believed that Christianity on the one
hand and Gothic mythology on the other, should be the chief
elements in all new European poetry and inspiration. Had he been
encouraged by the German Court he would have been as powerful for
good in German literature during the eighteenth century, as
Voltaire was powerful for evil in France. Wielland, a friend of
Klopstock, and a romantic poet, might have been the German
Ariosto had he not abandoned poetry for prose. He tried to copy
the Greek, in which he failed to excel. During this conflict in
Germany between the French and English school, German literature
was much influenced by Macpherson's Ossian, and Scotch names are
found in a great many German works of this period. The literature
of Germany attained its highest beauty and finish in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; and its people may well be
proud of the splendid names that adorn that period. The Gottingen
School, which embraced Goethe and Schiller, includes love,
philosophy and the classics for its theme, with a touch of the
bucolic, modelled after Virgil, as in the "Louise" of Voss. But
it remained for the Romantic School, founded by Novalis, the two
Schlegels and Tieck, to oppose the study of the classic antique
on the ground that it killed all native originality and power.
They turned to the Middle Ages, and drew from its rich stores all
that was noblest and best. The lays of the Minnesingers were
revived--the true German spirit was cultivated, and the romantic
German imagination responded readily, so that during the dark
period of the French invasion, the national feeling was preserved
pure and untouched by means of these stirring and patriotic songs
of the past.

About the same time as the advent of the Romanticists in Germany
appeared Walpole's "Castle of Otranto" in England, which is
supposed to belong to the same school of literature and to have
been influenced by the German. Scott was also numbered in this
class; and it is from these old German legends of the
Minnesingers that Richard Wagner has drawn the material for
Lohengrin, Parsifal, and others of his magnificent operas. In one
department German scholars have attained a high standard, and
that is as historians of ancient classical literature.

Their researches into the language, religion, philosophy, social
economy, arts and sciences of ancient nations, has brought to
light much for which the student of literature will always be
their debtor.


It has been said that the literati of the Middle Ages--the monks
and schoolmen--sought to keep the people in ignorance by writing
in Latin. Those who so think can ill have studied the trend of
events in Europe for several hundred years before the
Reformation, or its bearing on literature.

After the fall of the Roman Empire vast hordes of barbarians
invaded Europe. In every country the language was in a state of
transition. One nation often spoke two or three different
dialects according to locality. In England the Gaelic,
Anglo-Saxon, the Cymric (or Welsh) and the Norman-French all had
their day. Under these circumstances it was impossible to have a
literature in the language of the people until, in the course of
time, the national languages were formed, and during this period
of transition the Latin was the language of literature, the one
medium of communication between the literati of different
countries; and had it not been for the preservation of learning
in the cloisters during these ages, all knowledge, and
literature, and even Christianity itself, would have been lost.
The monks, therefore, deserve more credit than is usually meted
out to them by hasty or superficial critics.

In the earliest ages Ireland was the seat of the greatest
learning in Europe. While England was still plunged in barbarism,
and France and Germany could boast of no cultivation, Ireland was
full of monasteries where learned men disseminated knowledge. The
Latin language thus became a means for preserving the records of
history, and it has also been a treasure house of stories,
furnishing material for much of the poetry of Europe. One of
these legends gave Scott the story of the combat between Marmion
and the Spectre Knight.

It has been said that the Ancients did not know how to hold
converse with nature, and that little or no sign of it can be
found in their writings. Matthew Arnold has traced to a Celtic
source the sympathy with, and deep communing with nature that
first appeared among European poets. Under the patronage of
Charlemagne the cloisters and brotherhoods became even more
learned and cultivated than they had been before. Whatever the
people knew of tilling the soil, of the arts of civilization, and
of the truths of religion, they learned from the monks. By their
influence States were rendered more secure, and it is to the
monks alone that Western Europe is indebted for the superiority
she attained over the Byzantines on the one hand (who were
possessed of far more hereditary knowledge than she), and over
the Arabs on the other, who had the advantage of eternal power.
The cloisters were either the abode, or the educators, of such
men as the Venerable Bede, Lanfranc and Anselm, Duns Scotius,
William of Malmesbury, Geoffrey of Monmouth (who preserved the
legends of Arthur, of King Lear, and Cymbeline), of Geraldus
Cambrensis, of St. Thomas a Kempis, of Matthew Paris, a
Benedictine monk, and of Roger Bacon, a Franciscan friar, who
came very near guessing several important truths which have since
been made known to the world by later scholars.

The Bible was protected and cherished from age to age in these
cloisters, where it was, in fact, preserved solely by the labors
of the monks, who translated it by hand, with illuminated border
and text. When a new religious house was opened, it would obtain
from some older monastery a copy of one of these priceless copies
of the Sacred Scriptures; and then this new house in its turn,
would set to work to multiply the number of Bibles, through the
labor of its monks and brothers.

The German translation of the Bible was made in classic High
Dutch, and many later writers have fashioned their style from it,
although modern scholars, Catholic and Protestant, have found
many faults in it, especially whole passages, wherein Luther has
erred. This craze for High Dutch caused the historians of both
Denmark and Sweden to utter a vigorous protest against the influx
of High Dutch literature into their respective countries in the
sixteenth century. They averred it was ruining the native
language and literature; but, in spite of this, Lutheranism got a
firm foothold in both these nations.

In the sixteenth century the poetry of all Southern Europe was
affected by the upheaval caused by Luther and his teachings,
while in the Northern countries it was even worse; for, as a
great German author (von Schlegel), has said:

"The old creed could not be driven into contempt without carrying
along with it a variety of images, allusions, poetic traditions
and legends, and modes of composition, all more or less connected
with the old faith."

The struggle that we can trace (in all the works Luther has left)
of his own internal conflict between light and darkness, faith
and passion, God and himself, is a type and indication of what
took place in literature during the Reformation, when the old was
in opposition to the new.


Eighteenth century philosophy in France, Germany and England was
a very different thing from the philosophy of the Ancients. The
latter, says a profound German writer, "recognized in time and
space an endless theatre for the display of the eternal, and of
the living pulsation of eternal love. By the contemplation of
such things, however imperfect, the natural, even the merely
sensible man, was affected by a stupendous feeling of admiration,
well calculated to prepare the way for religious thoughts. It
extended and ennobled his soul to thus regard the past, present,
and future."

French philosophy took its rise in the seventeenth century, but
the philosophers of that age--Descartes, Bayle and others--
assumed the soul of man to be the starting point in all
investigations of physical science. The eighteenth century
philosophers went a step further and rejected all idea of God and
the soul. Voltaire, De Montesquieu, D'Holbach, D'Alembert,
Diderot, Helvetius and the Abbe Raynal, are the chief minds who
shaped the thought of France in the eighteenth century, and by
their cynicism, sensuality, and contempt for law and order,
helped to pave the war for the horrors of the French Revolution.
What they offered to the world the lower classes could only grasp
in its most material sense, and they wrested it indeed to their
own, and to others, destruction.

Voltaire, Diderot, D'Holbach and their school in France, with
Hume, Bolingbroke and Gibbon in England, formed a coterie whose
desire it was to edit a vast encyclopaedia, giving the latest
discoveries, in philosophy and science in particular, and in
literature in general. These men became known as the
Encyclopaedists, and their history is fully set forth by
Condillac. They rejected all divine revelation and taught that
all religious belief was the working of a disordered mind, and
that physical sensibility is the origin of all our thoughts.
Alternately gross or flippant, or else both, the French
philosophers offered nothing pure or elevating in philosophic
thought. Their teaching spread to England, where the philosophy
of the eighteenth century, less gross than the French, is chiefly
distinguished for being cold and indifferent, rather than
actively opposed, to religion. Hume is a type of the class of
thinkers whom we find uncertain and unworthy of confidence. The
histories of Hume, Robertson and Gibbon are the offspring of this
degraded material philosophy of the eighteenth century. They
surpassed the histories of other nations in comprehensiveness and
power, and became standard works in France and Germany, but in
all of them we can trace a lack of true philosophy, due to the
blighting influence of the eighteenth century skepticism; for, as
the greatest minds, in which Christianity and science are
blended, have agreed--"without some reasonable and due idea of
the destiny and end of man, it is impossible to form just and
consistent opinions on the progress of events, and the
development and fortunes of nations. History stripped of
philosophy becomes simply a lifeless heap of useless materials,
without either inward unity, right purpose, or worthy result;
while philosophy severed from history results in a disturbed
existence of different sects, allied to formality."

The originator of English philosophy was John Locke, whose
teachings were closely allied to the sensual philosophy of the
French. It remained for the Scottish school under Thomas Reid to
combat both the sensualistic philosophy of Voltaire and Locke,
and the skepticism of Hume. Reid was a sincere lover of truth, a
man of lofty character, and his philosophy, such as it is, is the
purest that can be found, more akin to the profound reasoning of

In Italy, during the eighteenth century, the theory that
experience is the only ground of knowledge, as taught by Locke
and Condillac, gained some followers; but none of them were men
of any great influence. Gallupi in the beginning of the
nineteenth century endeavored to reform this philosophy; others
took up his work, and the result was a change of thought similar
to that brought about by Reid in England and Scotland.

The earlier German philosophers were influenced by the grosser
forms of the science, as found in Locke and Helvetius. Leibnitz
and Wolf taught pure Idealism, as did Bishop Berkeley in England.
It remained for Kant to create a new era in modern philosophy.
His system vas what has become known as the Rationalistic, or
what we can know by pure reason. Kant was followed by Lessing,
Herder, Hegel, Fichte, and a host of others.

These German philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries have had a powerful influence in shaping literature in
England, France, Denmark, Sweden and America. The mystic and
profound German mind has often been led astray; but its
intellectual strength cannot be questioned. Schelling was the
author of theories in philosophy that have been adopted and
imitated by both Coleridge and Wordsworth, while Van Hartmann
teaches that there is but one last principle of philosophy, known
by Spinoza as substance, by Fichte as the absolute I., by Plato
and Hegel as the absolute Idea, by Schopenhauer as Will, and by
himself as a blind, impersonal, unconscious, all-pervading Will
and Idea, independent of brain, and in its essence purely
spiritual, and he taught that there could be no peace for man's
heart or intellect until religion, philosophy and science were
recognized as one root, stem and leaves all of the same living

It is curious to trace how these various philosophies, recognized
by Van Hartmann under different names to be one, can be merged
into the sublime Christian philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, who
taught that religion, philosophy and science were indeed
one--root, stem and leaves of the one life-giving tree, which is

All that is deepest and most profound is to be found in this
modern German philosophy, which is diametrically opposed to the
flippant and sensual philosophy of the Voltarian school. However
far the German philosophers are from true philosophy as seen in
the light of Christian truth, they command a respect as earnest
thinkers and workers, which it is impossible to accord the
eighteenth century French school.


No country in the beginning owed so much to the language and
literature of other nations as the English.

Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Norman-French, Cymric and Gaelic have all
been moulded into its literature.

Three periods stand out in its history--the first beginning with
the end of the Roman occupation, to the Norman conquest--this
includes the literature of the Celtic, Latin and Anglo-Saxon
tongues. The second from the Norman conquest to the time of Henry
VIII, embracing the literature of the Norman-French, the Latin
and Anglo-Saxon; the gradual evolution of the Anglo-Saxon into
English; and the literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth

The third period includes the Reformation, and the golden age of
Elizabethan literature; followed by the Restoration, Revolution,
and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Another division is called the Old English, Early English, and
Middle English. The latter was used by Chaucer, and with a little
care in reading can readily be understood by any educated person
at the present day, though it contains many words nationalized
from the French. It is a curious fact that the Anglo-Saxons, who
in the present day, through their descendants, the English, have
the strongest national life and literature, cannot boast of such
a treasure house of ancient literature as is possessed by the
Irish and Welsh.

Ireland has its bardic songs and historical legends older than
the ninth century, at which time appeared the "Psalter of
Cashel," which has come down to the present day.

There are also prose chronicles, said to be the outcome of others
of a still earlier period, and which give a contemporary history
of the country in the Gaelic language of the fifth century. There
is no other modern nation in Europe that can point to such a
literary past. The Scotch Celts had early metrical verse, of
which the Ossian, wherein is related the heroic deeds of Fingal,
was supposed to have been sung by all the ancient Celtic bards.
In the eighteenth century, Macpherson, a Scotchman, found some of
these poems sung in the Highlands of Scotland; and, making a
careful study of them, he translated all he could find from the
Gaelic into English, and gave them to the world. At the time of
publication, in 1762, their authenticity was questioned, and even
at the present day scholars are divided in their opinion as to
their genuineness. The literature of the Cymric Celts, the
early inhabitants of Britain, has given us the glorious legends
of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. All the bardic
songs refer to this mighty prince, who resisted the Saxon
invaders, and whose deeds were sung by all the Welsh Britons.
Some of these people took refuge in France, and gradually the
fame of their legends spread all over Europe, and were eagerly
seized upon and rendered into song, by the chivalric poets of all
countries. From these tales Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth
century compiled a Latin historical work of Britain, while in
later times Tennyson in England, and Richard Wagner in Germany,
have made the deeds of Arthur and his Knights the theme of some
of their most magnificent creations.

Other ancient Welsh writings are still extant, among them the
Triads, which is a work that has come down from primitive times.
It comprises a collection of historical and mythological maxims,
traditions, theological doctrines, and rules for constructing

The Mabinogi, or "Tales of Youth," are old Welsh romances similar
to the Norse Sagas, which are supposed by critics to date from a
very rude and early age.

The Anglo-Saxon is very different from these ancient literatures.
It has no legends or romances, no national themes, and its early
prose and verse were written more in the style of religious
narrative, and to give practical information, than to amuse.

The poems of Beowulf, a thorough Norse Saga, embodies the doings
of the Anglo-Saxons before they emigrated to England, and must
have been written long before they set foot on English soil.
Older than Beowulf is the lyric poem of Widsith, which has some
historical interest as depicting the doings of kings, princes and
warriors. It contains traces of the epic, which in Beowulf, whose
English poem is next in point of time, is more markedly

During the fifth and sixth centuries the Germanic tribes who
emigrated to Britain brought with them a heathen literature. The
oldest fragment now extant are the Hexenspruche and the Charms.
They have elements of Christian teaching in them, which would
seem to imply that the Church tried to give them a Christian
setting. In some respects they resemble the old Sanskrit, and are
supposed to be among the earliest examples of lyric poetry in

Alfred the Great improved the Anglo-Saxon prose and soon after
his time a translation of the Bible in that language was made,
forming the second known copy in a national language, the first
being the Moeso-Gothic of Bishop Ulphilus. The Saxon Chronicles,
dating from the time of Alfred to 1154 were copies of the Latin
Chronicles kept in the monasteries.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw the age of the Crusades,
which added a new impulse to learning through the co-mingling of
different races. French poetry was translated into English,
which, in the thirteenth century, in its evolution from the
Anglo-Saxon became a fixed language. Classical learning in this
age was generally diffused through the schoolmen, of whom
Lanfranc, Anselm, John of Salisbury, Duns Scotius, William of
Malmesbury, and other great names of this period, mentioned
elsewhere, are instances.

In the thirteenth century appeared also the Gesta Romanorum, a
collection of fables, traditions, and various pictures of
society, changing with the different countries that the stories
dealt with. The romance of Apollonius in this collection gave
Chaucer the plots for two or three of his tales, and furnished
Cowers with the theme for most of his celebrated poem, the
Confessio Amantis. This poem, in its turn, suggested to
Shakespeare the outlines for his characters of Pericles, Prince
of Tyre, and the Merchant of Venice. Other and less celebrated
works are also taken from the Gesta Romanorum.

After the accession of the Norman kings of England, the chief
literary works in England for two centuries are those of the
Norman poets. Wace in the twelfth century wrote in French his
"Brut d'Angleterre." Brutus was the mythical son of Aeneas, and
the founder of Britain. The Britons were settled in Cornwall,
Wales and Bretagne, and were distinguished for traditionary
legends, which had been collected by Godfrey of Monmouth in 1138.
They formed the groundwork for Wace's poem, which was written in
1160, and from that time proved to be an inexhaustible treasury
from which romantic writers of fiction drew their materials.

From this source Shakespeare obtained King Lear; Sackville found
his Ferrex and Porrex; and Milton and other poets are also
indebted to these legends. They furnished, also, the romances of
chivalry for the English Court, and have had an effect on English
poetry that can be seen even in the present day. The six romances
of the British cycle, celebrating Arthur, his Knights, and the
Round Table, were written in the last part of the twelfth
century, at the instigation of Henry II. They were the work of
Englishmen; but were composed in French, and from them the poets
of France fashioned a number of metrical romances.

Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century borrowed freely from
French, Latin and Italian works. The comic Fabliaux and the
allegorical poetry of the Trouveres and Troubadours furnished him
with many of his incidents and characters. The Romance of the
Rose was taken from a French poem of the thirteenth century.

Troilus and Cressida is regarded as a translation from Boccaccio,
and Chaucer's Legend of Good Women is founded on Ovid's Epistles.
John Lydgate, a Benedictine monk in the fifteenth century, wrote
poetry in imitation of Chaucer, taking his ideas from the Gesta
Romanorum, while Thomas Mallory, a priest in the time of Edward
IV, has given us one of the best specimens of old English in the
romantic prose fiction of Morte d'Arthur, in which the author has
told in one tale the whole history of the Round Table.

The "Bruce" of the Scotch John Barbour in the same century, gives
the adventures of King Robert, from which Sir Walter Scott has
drawn largely for his "Lord of the Isles."

The close of the fifteenth century saw a passion develop for
Scotch poetry, which speedily became the fashion. Henry the
Minstrel, or Blind Harry, wrote his "Wallace," which is full of
picturesque incident and passionate fervor.

Robert Henryson wrote his Robin and Makyne, a charming pastoral,
which has come down to us in Percy's Reliques.

Gavin Douglas, Scotch Bishop of Dunkeld in the beginning of the
sixteenth century, translated the Aeneid into English. This is
the earliest known attempt in the British Isles to render
classical poetry into the national language.

In the sixteenth century Erasmus gave a new impulse in England to
the study of Latin and Greek, and Sir Thomas More in his "Utopia"
(wherein he imagines an ideal commonwealth with community of
property), unconsciously gave birth to a word (utopia), which has
ever since been used to designate the ideally impossible.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, in the same century made a
translation of the Aeneid and wrote sonnets and lyrical poems.
The sonnet he borrowed from Petrarch, giving it the amatory tone
common to the Italians. He also took from the Italian poets the
blank verse of his Aeneid, a style in which the best poetry of
England has since been written.

The genius of John Milton has been greatly hampered by the
self-inflicted laws under which he labored, conditions which did
not affect Dante and Tasso, who were his models; for Milton
denied in a great measure the use of history, tradition and
symbolism. Of this defect he was sensible, so he tried to make
amends for it by borrowing fables and allegories out of the Koran
and Talmud. English poetry has inclined more to the style of
Milton than to that of Spenser, who was thoroughly embued with
the romantic spirit of the Teutons and the Troubadours, though,
like Milton, he was influenced by Tasso; and unlike him, by
Ariosto. His Faerie Queene, Gloriana, is supposed to be the
beloved of the courtly Arthur of the British legends.

The English poets of the Elizabethan age were under deep
obligations to the Italian poets, especially Tasso; and this is
particularly true of Spenser, many critics think his eighty-first
sonnet is almost a literal translation of Tasso. Be that as it
may, the obligations of many English poets of the age to the
Italians, is unmistakable.

After the Puritan period the English language and literature was
strongly influenced by the French, and in both Pope and Addison
there is a marked leaning toward French poetry. Pope's
translation of Homer while it lacks the simple majesty and
naturalness of the original (a trait which Bryant in the
nineteenth century happily caught), nevertheless gave to the
English world the opportunity to become somewhat acquainted with
the incomparable poet of antiquity.

Thomson's descriptive poetry of nature found many imitators in
Germany and France, and a taste for outdoor life and simplicity
became the rage, so that some years after the author of the
"Castle of Indolence" had passed away, Marie Antoinette in her
rustic bower, "Little Trianon," pretended to like to keep sheep
and pose as a shepherdess, as has been said elsewhere.

Percy's Reliques of ancient English poetry, in 1765 opened a
storehouse of the fine old English ballads, which speedily became
popular through the patronage of Scott, who made them his
textbook for a variety of subjects. These poems, with
Macpherson's "Fingal" introduced a new school of poetry into
England. The originals of Scott were these romances of chivalry,
and even Byron has not disdained to follow the same trend in the
pilgrimage of his "Childe Harold." The nineteenth century poets
and novelists do not seem to have borrowed especially from any
foreign element; but in history Niebuhr's researches in Germany
have greatly influenced Arnold in his "Roman History." The close
of the nineteenth century and opening of the twentieth is chiefly
remarkable for the interdependence of literature through the
magazines and reviews. Translations of any striking or brilliant
articles are immediately made, and appear in the magazines of
different countries almost as soon as the originals, so that the
literature of the future bids fair to become more cosmopolitan,
and perhaps less strongly directed by racial and social influence
than in the past.

And yet--in studying the literature of ancient and modern
times--we are struck by the unity in diversity of its history,
just as a world-wide traveller comes to see the similarity of
nature everywhere. In literature strange analogies occur in ages
and races remote from each other, as, when the mother in the old
North country Scotch ballad sings to her child, and says:

"The wild wind is ravin,' thy minnies heart's sair,
The wild wind is ravin,' but ye dinna care."

And we find nearly the same verse in the song of Danae to the
infant Perseus:

"The salt spume that is blown o'er thy locks,
Thou heedst not, nor the roar of the gale;
Sleep babe, sleep the sea,
And sleep my sea of trouble."

There is also the story of the Greek child who in ancient times
sang nearly the same invocation for fair weather that we used in
our nursery days, when, with noses flattened against the window
pane, we uttered our sing-song:

"Rain, rain, go to Spain."

And in blindman's buff, perhaps the most ancient of games, we
have words that have come down from remote times. The blindfolded
one says:

"I go a-hunting a brassy fly."

To which the others answer:

"A-hunting thou goest; but shalt not come nigh."

And there are the marvellous stories of the Giant Killer, and the
wonders of Puss in Boots and Cinderella, which have descended to
us from that vast cloud-country of bygone ages; that dreamland of
fairy imagery, which is as real to the little maid in the
twentieth century as it was to her young sisters in the shadow of
the Pyramids, on the banks of the Tiber and the Ganges, in the
neighborhood of solemn Druid Temples, or among the fjords and
floes of the far-off Icelandic country, in centuries long since
gone by.


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