« السابقةمتابعة »
Syr Gawayn and the Grene Knyzt.
HIS curious poem is printed for the first time from a manuscript, believed to be unique, preserved in the Cottonian Collection, and marked Nero, A. x The volume had undoubtedly been seen by Warton, since he quotes some other pieces contained in it', and it is singular he should not have noticed the poem in question, which he seems to have confounded with a preceding one, on a totally different subject. The same error, indeed, pervades the Cottonian Catalogues compiled by Smith in 1696, and by Planta in 1802; and to this cause, in all probability, may be ascribed the oblivion in which for so long a period such a remarkable composition should have remained. Accident, however, threw it in the way of Mr. Price, the able editor of Warton, who extracted a passage in illustration of his argument against the Scotish authorship of Sir Tristrem, and announced his intention of publishing the entire Romance, under the designation of "Aunter of Sir Gawaine," in an octavo volume, to be intitled "Illustrations of Warton's History of English Poetry;" but which he relinquished some time previous to his decease2. Price, however, omitted all reference to the MS. containing the poem, and the same chance which had brought it under his notice subsequently made it known to myself and to Mr. Stevenson, the latter of whom frequently quotes it in his additions to
1 History of English Poetry, vol. iii. pp. 107, 108, ed. 4to, 1781; and vol. iii. p. 393, ed. 8vo, 1824. 2 See H. E. P. Preface, p. 17, vol. i. p. 187; and Advertisement annexed at the end of vol. iv.
Boucher's Glossary'. A transcript was made by me shortly after the discovery, and the subject of the romance communicated in October, 1829, to Sir Walter Scott, who with his well-known courtesy, and zeal in the cause of ancient Scotish literature, at once proposed to have it edited, together with the similar poems of The Awntyrs of Arthure, and Golagros and Gawane, by subscription. I subsequently received from Sir Walter, during his visit to London, in October, 1831, permission to dedicate the work to himself; and a prospectus was circulated containing proposals of publication, which circumstances afterwards prevented being carried into effect. To those noblemen and gentlemen who on that occasion sent me their names, I have never hitherto had an opportunity of expressing my thanks, and although tardy they are not the less sincere.
Having said thus much to account for the non-appearance of the poem in print, previous to its being so liberally taken under the patronage of the Bannatyne Club, I shall proceed to discuss briefly the questions which arise respecting the age of this composition, its author, and the sources whence it was derived.
Warton, in quoting two poems in the same volume, written by the same hand as the present, assigns them to the age of Minot, i. e. to the middle of the fourteenth century, and adds, that the writing cannot be later than the reign of Edward III. But the historian of English poetry is too poor a critic in matters of this kind to cause any weight to be attached to his opinion, unless supported by other evidence. His editor, Price, was evidently inclined to give the poem a much greater antiquity, and the whole scope of his argument would refer it to the thirteenth century, previous to the time of Robert de Brunne. "It abounds," says this ingenious writer, in those "selcouth names which in the fourteenth century were rapidly growing into disuse, and which were only retained by the writers in alliterative metre." To refute this notion, which has been adopted too hastily by the Rev. W. Conybeare and Mr. Laing, there is abundant evidence in the poem itself, independent of the proofs afforded by the language and metrical structure. Stevenson merely notices that the poem was "probably written about the end of the fourteenth century 5," and Guest, who is the latest writer on the subject, says, that the MS. "certainly belongs to the latter half of the fourteenth century," which he modifies in another
1 This new edition of Boucher, under the superintendence of the Rev. Joseph Hunter, and Josephi Stevenson, Esq., came out in 1832. Only two parts, extending to the middle of letter B, have hitherto appeared.
2 The work had previously been proposed to Messrs. Longman and Co., and Mr. Murray. The former party civilly declined it, but the latter never even took the trouble to answer the letter!
3 Illustrations of A. S. Poetry, p. Ixix, 8vo, 1826.
4 Poems of Dunbar, vol. i. p. 38, 8vo, 1834.
5 Add. to Boucher, voce Balze.
passage to "about the year 14001." It will not be difficult from a careful inspection of the manuscript itself, both in regard to the writing and illuminations, to assign it to the reign of Richard the Second; and the internal evidence, arising from the peculiarities of costume, armour, and architecture, would lead us to assign the romance to the same period, or a little earlier. There are three other metrical pieces in the volume 2, all most unquestionably composed by the author of the romance, and these I have carefully read over with the hope of detecting some more direct indication of the age, but without success. Jean de Meung is indeed referred to, in fol. 71, under his surname of Clopinel, in the following lines:
For Clopyngnel in the compas of his clene Rose,
Ther he expoune; a speche to hym that spede wolde,
Of a lady to be loued, loke to hir sone,
Of wich beryng that ho be, & wych ho best louyes. etc.
But as this writer completed, before the year 1300, the Roman de la Rose, commenced by Guillaume de Lorris, it will only prove the popularity of the work in Scotland as well as in England, during the course of the fourteenth century. In another passage the author alludes to a proverbial phrase,
Thay blwe a boffet in blande, that banned peple,
That thay blustered as blynde as Bayard watz euer.—fol. 69.
Yet since this proverb is also found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, nothing can be inferred from the contemporaneous use of a saying, of which the origin is too obscure to assist our inquiry.
In regard to the author of these poems much uncertainty also exists. There is sufficient internal evidence of their being Northern, although the manuscript containing them appears to have been written by a scribe of the midland counties, which will account for the introduction of forms differing from those used by writers beyond the Tweed.
It is, I think, certain, that the writer of the romance must have been a man of birth and education, for none but a person intimately versed in the gentle science of wode-craft could so minutely describe the various sports of the chase, nor could any but an educated individual have been so well acquainted with the early French
1 See History of English Rhythms, vol. ii. pp. 159, 171, note, 8vo, 1838.
2 These all possess great merit, and deserve to be printed as the remains of one of the earliest existing Scotish poets.
literature. Of his poetical talent the pieces contained in the manuscript afford unquestionable proofs, and the descriptions of the change of the seasons', the bitter aspect of winter, the tempest which preceded the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra3, and the sea-storm occasioned by the wickedness of Jonas1, are equal to any similar passages in Douglas or Spenser. The individual who has the best claim to be recognised as the author, is "Huchowne of the Awle Ryale," mentioned by Wyntown 5, who writes of him thus:
Men of gud dyscretyowne
He wes curyws in hys style,
Made in metyre mete his dyte".
Mr. Chalmers was of opinion, that this Huchowne and the Sir Hugh of Eglintoun, mentioned by Dunbar in his "Lament for the Makkaris," who flourished in the middle of the fourteenth century, and died it is supposed about the year 1381, were one and the same person; but there are so many difficulties in this supposition, as justly to prevent our yielding assent to it without some additional evidence". Admitting, however, Huchowne to be the author of the romance, we are sin
2 pp. 28, 74.
3 MS. Cott. Nero A. x. f. 70.
4 Ibid. f. 85.
5 Wyntown was elected Prior of St. Serf's, in Loch Leven, in 1395, so that he must have been contemporary with Huchowne. His Chronicle was not finished till the year 1420-1424.
Cronykil of Scotland, vol. i. p. 122. ed. Macpherson, 1795.
7 See the notices of this Sir Hugh collected in the admirable edition of Dunbar's poems by my friend Mr. Laing, vol. ii. 355; and his remarks, vol. i. p. 38. Consult also the Select Remains of the Popular Poetry of Scotland, pref. to Pystyl of Susan, 4to, 1822; Lyndsay's Works, by Chalmers, vol. i. p. 132, note, 8vo, 1806; and Tytler's History of Scotland, vol. ii. p. 367, 8vo, 1829.
8 Mr. Guest regards as the most decisive proof of what is here assumed, the fact, that in the void space at the head of the poem in the MS., a hand of the fifteenth century (Mr. G. says, “not much later than the year 1500,") has scribbled the name Hugo de, as shown in the fac-simile annexed to the description of this MS., but, I confess, to this I do not attach much weight. Mr. Guest's wish to regard any signature as the name of the author, has led him into some awkward mistakes, particularly in the case of the English lives of Saints, composed probably in the early part of the thirteenth century, and contained in a MS. written not long after, MS. Reg. 17 A. xxvii., which Mr. Guest
gularly fortunate in possessing probably all the pieces written by him noticed by Wyntoun, together with three others on allegorical or scriptural subjects, hitherto not pointed out. It is very evident on the chronicler's authority, that the Gret Gest of Arthure, the Gest Hystoryale, and the Gest of Broyttys auld story, are one and the same poem, and relate to the exploits of Arthur and his knights against the Romans. In this work Huchowne makes Lucius Hiberius emperor, in the time of Arthur, whereas Wyntown, following other authorities, names Leo as emperor. He first defends himself, and then good-naturedly excuses his predecessor, by saying that in the Brute, (by which he here means Geoffrey of Monmouth,) Lucius is called Procurator, which was more correct, but that had Huchowne done so,
That had mare greuyd the cadens,
Than had releuyed the sentens.
Had Sir Walter Scott ever read through the Arthour and Merlin of the Auchinleck MS., he would have known that it could not be the Gest referred to in the above passage by Wyntown; and Mr. Turnbull, the editor of this romance, is less excusable on this account in repeating the error without correction'. But of what in all probability is the veritable Gest of Arthure composed by Huchowne, and written in alliterative metre, I possess a transcript, from a MS. in Lincoln Cathedral Library, which may, probably, at some future period be given to the press. It is, perhaps, too much to assume positively with Mr. Guest, that Huchowne "is certainly the oldest English poet, born north of the Tweed, whose works have reached us," since Barbour, who wrote between 1370-1380, possesses equal claims to be so considered; but we have this remarkable fact before us, that the oldest manuscripts containing genuine Scotish poetry, are the Cotton MS., Nero, A. x., the Vernon MS. in the Bodleian library, and a MS. formerly in the possession of Dr. Whitaker, and afterwards of Mr. Heber, all of which are of the reign of Richard the Second, all apparently written in England, and all contain poems of Huchowne 2. Now if it be supposed that some time must necessarily elapse to account for the transmission of poems composed on the other side of the Tweed to
attributes to "one John Thayer" [Theyer], whose name occurs at the commencement, and who was the possessor in the reign of Charles the Second! The whole of Theyer's MSS. were subsequently purchased for the Royal Library. See History of Rhythms, ii. 139, note. In the same page for "Latin original,” read “Latin version," as may be proved, perhaps, on some future occasion.
1 Preface to Romance of Arthour and Merlin, 4to, 1838; printed for the Maitland Club. I have no doubt that the author is the same who wrote the English romance of Alexander, printed in Weber. 2 The MS. of Barbour's Bruce, followed by Jamieson, is dated in 1489; and is in the Advocate Library. Another copy, dated one year earlier, is at Cambridge.