ENGLISH LITERATURE FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
ENGLISH LITERATURE FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
Chapter I IN THE LISTENING TIME
Chapter II THE STORY OF THE CATTLE RAID OF COOLEY
Chapter III ONE OF THE SORROWS OF STORY-TELLING
Chapter IV THE STORY OF A LITERARY LIE
Chapter V THE STORY OF FINGAL
Chapter VI ABOUT SOME OLD WELSH STORIES AND STORY-TELLERS
Chapter VII HOW THE STORY OF ARTHUR WAS WRITTEN IN ENGLISH
Chapter VIII THE BEGINNING OF THE READING TIME
Chapter IX "THE PASSING OF ARTHUR"
Chapter X THE ADVENTURES OF AN OLD ENGLISH BOOK
Chapter XI THE STORY OF BEOWULF
Chapter XII THE FATHER OF ENGLISH SONG
Chapter XIII HOW CAEDMON SANG AND HOW HE FELL ONCE MORE ON SILENCE
Chapter XIV THE FATHER OF ENGLISH HISTORY
Chapter XV HOW ALFRED THE GREAT FOUGHT WITH HIS PEN
Chapter XVI WHEN ENGLISH SLEPT
Chapter XVII THE STORY OF HAVELOK THE DANE
Chapter XVIII ABOUT SOME SONG STORIES
Chapter XIX "PIERS THE PLOUGHMAN"
Chapter XX "PIERS THE PLOUGHMAN" -- continued
Chapter XXI HOW THE BIBLE CAME TO THE PEOPLE
Chapter XXII CHAUCER--BREAD AND MILK FOR CHILDREN
Chapter XXIII CHAUCER--"THE CANTERBURY TALES"
Chapter XXIV CHAUCER--AT THE TABARD INN
Chapter XXV THE FIRST ENGLISH GUIDE-BOOK
Chapter XXVI BARBOUR--"THE BRUCE" THE BEGINNINGS OF A STRUGGLE
Chapter XXVII BARBOUR--"THE BRUCE" THE END OF THE STRUGGLE
Chapter XXVIII A POET KING
Chapter XXIX THE DEATH OF THE POET KING
Chapter XXX DUNBAR--THE WEDDING OF THE THISTLE AND THE ROSE
Chapter XXXI AT THE SIGN OF THE RED PALE
Chapter XXXII ABOUT THE BEGINNING OF THE THEATER
Chapter XXXIII HOW THE SHEPHERDS WATCHED THEIR FLOCKS
Chapter XXXIV THE STORY OF EVERYMAN
Chapter XXXV HOW A POET COMFORTED A GIRL
Chapter XXXVI THE RENAISSANCE
Chapter XXXVII THE LAND OF NOWHERE
Chapter XXXVIII THE DEATH OF SIR THOMAS MORE
Chapter XXXIX HOW THE SONNET CAME TO ENGLAND
Chapter XL THE BEGINNING OF BLANK VERSE
Chapter XLI SPENSER--THE "SHEPHERD'S CALENDAR"
Chapter XLII SPENSER--THE "FAERY QUEEN"
Chapter XLIII SPENSER--HIS LAST DAYS
Chapter XLIV ABOUT THE FIRST THEATERS
Chapter XLV SHAKESPEARE--THE BOY
Chapter XLVI SHAKESPEARE--THE MAN
Chapter LXVII SHAKESPEARE--"THE MERCHANT OF VENICE"
Chapter XLVIII JONSON--"EVERY MAN IN HIS HUMOUR"
Chapter XLIX JONSON--"THE SAD SHEPHERD"
Chapter L RALEIGH--"THE REVENGE"
Chapter LI RALEIGH--"THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD"
Chapter LII BACON--NEW WAYS OF WISDOM
Chapter LIII BACON--THE HAPPY ISLAND
Chapter LIV ABOUT SOME LYRIC POETS
Chapter LV HERBERT--THE PARSON POET
Chapter LVI HERRICK AND MARVELL--OF BLOSSOMS AND BOWERS
Chapter LVII MILTON--SIGHT AND GROWTH
Chapter LVIII MILTON--DARKNESS AND DEATH
Chapter LIX BUNYAN--"THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS"
Chapter LX DRYDEN--THE NEW POETRY
Chapter LXI DEFOE--THE FIRST NEWSPAPERS
Chapter LXII DEFOE--"ROBINSON CRUSOE"
Chapter LXIII SWIFT--THE "JOURNAL TO STELLA"
Chapter LXIV SWIFT--"GULLIVER'S TRAVELS"
Chapter LXV ADDISON--THE "SPECTATOR"
Chapter LXVI STEELE--THE SOLDIER AUTHOR
Chapter LXVII POPE--THE "RAPE OF THE LOCK"
Chapter LXVIII JOHNSON--DAYS OF STRUGGLE
Chapter LXIX JOHNSON--THE END OF THE JOURNEY
Chapter LXX GOLDSMITH--THE VAGABOND
Chapter LXXI GOLDSMITH--"THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD"
Chapter LXXII BURNS--THE PLOWMAN POET
Chapter LXXIII COWPER--"THE TASK"
Chapter LXXIV WORDSWORTH--THE POET OF NATURE
Chapter LXXV WORDSWORTH AND COLERIDGE--THE LAKE POETS
Chapter LXXVI COLERIDGE AND SOUTHEY--SUNSHINE AND SHADOW
Chapter LXXVII SCOTT--THE AWAKENING OF ROMANCE
Chapter LXXVIII SCOTT--"THE WIZARD OF THE NORTH"
Chapter LXXIX BYRON--"CHILDE HAROLD'S PILGRIMAGE"
Chapter LXXX SHELLEY--THE POET OF LOVE
Chapter LXXXI KEATS--THE POET OF BEAUTY
Chapter LXXXII CARLYLE--THE SAGE OF CHELSEA
Chapter LXXXIII THACKERAY--THE CYNIC?
Chapter LXXXIV DICKENS--SMILES AND TEARS
Chapter LXXXV TENNYSON--THE POET OF FRIENDSHIP
Chapter I IN THE LISTENING TIME
HAS there ever been a time when no stories were told? Has there
ever been a people who did not care to listen? I think not.
When we were little before we could read for ourselves did we
not gather eagerly round father or mother friend or nurse at
the promise of a story? When we grew older what happy hours did
we not spend with our books. How the printed words made us
forget the world in which we live and carried us away to a
"Where waters gushed and fruit trees grew
And flowers put forth a fairer hue
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here
And their dogs outran our fallow deer
And honey bees had lost their stings
And horses were born with eagles' wings."*
And as it is with us so it is with a nation with a people.
In the dim far-off times when our forefathers were wild naked
savages they had no books. Like ourselves when we were tiny
they could neither read nor write. But do you think that they
had no stories? Oh yes! We may be sure that when the day's
work was done when the fight or the chase was over they
gathered round the wood fire and listened to the tales of the
These stories were all of war. They told of terrible combats
with men or with fierce strange beasts they told of passion of
revenge. In them there was no beauty no tenderness no love.
For the life of man in those far-off days was wild and rough; it
was one long struggle against foes a struggle which left little
room for what was beautiful or tender.
But as time went on as life became more easy in one way or
another the savage learned to become less savage. Then as he
changed the tales he listened to changed too. They were no
longer all of war of revenge; they told of love also. And
later when the story of Christ had come to soften men's hearts
and brighten men's lives the stories told of faith and purity
At last a time came when minstrels wandered from town to town
from castle to castle singing their lays. And the minstrel who
had a good tale to tell was ever sure of a welcome and for his
pains he was rewarded with money jewels and even land. That
was the true listening time of the world.
It was no easy thing to be a minstrel and a man often spent ten
or twelve years in learning to be one. There were certain tales
which all minstrels had to know and the best among them could
tell three hundred and fifty. Of these stories the minstrels
used to learn only the outline and each told the story in his
own way filling it in according to his own fancy. So as time
went on these well-known tales came to be told in many different
ways changing as the times changed.
At length after many years had passed men began to write down
these tales so that they might not be forgotten. These first
books we call Manuscripts from the Latin words manus a hand
and scribere to write for they were all written by hand. Even
after they were written down there were many changes made in the
tales for those who wrote or copied them would sometimes miss
lines or alter others. Yet they were less changed than they had
been when told only by word of mouth.
These stories then form the beginnings of what is called our
Literature. Literature really means letters for it comes from a
Latin word littera meaning a letter of the alphabet. Words are
made by letters of the alphabet being set together and our
literature again by words being set together; hence the name.
As on and on time went every year more stories were told and
sung and written down. The first stories which our forefathers
told in the days long long ago and which were never written
down are lost forever. Even many of those stories which were
written are lost too but a few still remain and from them we
can learn much of the life and the history of the people who
lived in our land ten and twelve hundred years ago or more.
For a long time books were all written by hand. They were very
scarce and dear and only the wealthy could afford to have them
and few could read them. Even great knights and nobles could not
read for they spent all their time in fighting and hunting and
had little time in which to learn. So it came about that the
monks who lived a quiet and peaceful life became the learned men.
In the monasteries it was that books were written and copied.
There too they were kept and the monasteries became not only the
schools but the libraries of the country.
As a nation grows and changes its literature grows and changes
with it. At first it asks only for stories then it asks for
history for its own sake and for poetry for its own sake;
history I mean for the knowledge it gives us of the past;
poetry for joy in the beautiful words and not merely for the
stories they tell. Then as a nation's needs and knowledge grow
it demands ever more and more books on all kinds of subjects.
And we ourselves grow and change just as a nation does. When we
are very young there are many books which seem to us dull and
stupid. But as we grow older and learn more we begin to like
more and more kinds of books. We may still love the stories that
we loved as children but we love others too. And at last
perhaps there comes a time when those books which seemed to us
most dull and stupid delight us the most.
At first too we care only for the story itself. We do not mind
very much in what words it is told so long as it is a story. But
later we begin to care very much indeed what words the story-
teller uses and how he uses them. It is only perhaps when we
have learned to hear with our eyes that we know the true joy of
books. Yes hear with our eyes for it is joy in the sound of
the words that makes our breath come fast which brings smiles to
our lips or tears to our eyes. Yet we do not need to read the
words aloud the sight of the black letters on the white page is
In this book I am going to tell you about a few of our greatest
story-tellers and their books. Many of these books you will not
care to read for yourselves for a long time to come. You must be
content to be told about them. You must be content to know that
there are rooms in the fairy palace of our Literature into which
you cannot enter yet. But every year as your knowledge grows
you will find that new keys have been put into your hands with
which you may unlock the doors which are now closed. And with
every door that you unlock you will become aware of others and
still others that are yet shut fast until at last you learn with
something of pain that the great palace of our Literature is so
vast that you can never hope to open all the doors even to peep
Chapter II THE STORY OF THE CATTLE RAID OF COOLEY
OUR earliest literature was history and poetry. Indeed we might
say poetry only for in those far-off times history was always
poetry it being only through the songs of the bards and
minstrels that history was known. And when I say history I do
not mean history as we know it. It was then merely the gallant
tale of some hero's deeds listened to because it was a gallant
Now the people who lived in the British Isles long ago were not
English. It will be simplest for us to call them all Celts and
to divide them into two families the Gaels and the Cymry. The
Gaels lived in Ireland and in Scotland and the Cymry in England
It is to Ireland that we must go for the very beginnings of our
Literature for the Roman conquest did not touch Ireland and the
English who later conquered and took possession of Britain
hardly troubled the Green Isle. So for centuries the Gaels of
Ireland told their tales and handed them on from father to son
undisturbed and in Ireland a great many old writings have been
kept which tell of far-off times. These old Irish manuscripts
are perhaps none of them older than the eleventh century but the
stories are far far older. They were we may believe passed on
by word of mouth for many generations before they were written
down and they have kept the feeling of those far-off times.
It was from Ireland that the Scots came to Scotland and when
they came they brought with them many tales. So it comes about
that in old Scottish and in old Irish manuscripts we find the
Many of the manuscripts which are kept in Ireland have never been
translated out of the old Irish in which they were written so
they are closed books to all but a few scholars and we need not
talk about them. But of one of the great treasures of old Irish
literature we will talk. This is the Leabhar Na h-Uidhre or
Book of the Dun Cow. It is called so because the stories in it
were first written down by St. Ciaran in a book made from the
skin of a favorite cow of a dun color. That book has long been
lost and this copy of it was made in the eleventh century.
The name of this old book helps us to remember that long ago
there was no paper and that books were written on vellum made
from calf-skin and upon parchment made from sheep-skin. It was
not until the twelfth century that paper began to be made in some
parts of Europe and it was not until the fifteenth century that
paper books became common in England.
In the Book of the Dun Cow and in another old book called the
Book of Leinster there is written the great Irish legend called
the Tain Bo Chuailgne or the Cattle Raid of Cooley.
This is a very old tale of the time soon after the birth of
Christ. In the book we are told how this story had been written
down long long ago in a book called the Great Book Written on
Skins. But a learned man carried away that book to the East.
Then when many years had passed people began to forget the
story of the Cattle Raid. So the Chief minstrel called all the
other minstrels together to ask if any of them knew the tale.
But none of them could remember more than a few verses of it.
Therefore the chief minstrel asked all his pupils to travel into
far countries to search for the rest which was lost.
What followed is told differently in different books but all
agree in this that a great chief called Fergus came back from
the dead in order to tell the tale which was again written down.
The story is one of the beautiful Queen Meav of Connaught. For
many years she had lived happily with her husband and her
children. But one day the Queen and her husband began to argue
as to which of them was the richer. As they could not agree
they ordered all their treasures to be brought before them that
they might be compared.
So first all their wooden and metal vessels were brought. But
they were both alike.
Then all their jewels their rings and bracelets necklets and
crowns were brought but they too were equal.
Then all their robes were brought crimson and blue green
yellow checked and striped black and white. They too were
Next from the fields and pastures great herds of sheep were
brought. They too were equal.
Then from the green plains fleet horses champing steeds came.
Great herds of swine from forest and glen were brought. They
too were equal.
Lastly droves and droves of cattle were brought. In the King's
herd there was a young bull named White-horned. When a calf he
had belonged to Meav's herd but being very proud and thinking
it little honor to be under the rule of a woman he had left
Meav's herd and joined himself to the King's. This bull was very
beautiful. His head and horns and hoofs were white and all the
rest of him was red. He was so great and splendid that in all
the Queen's herd there was none to match him.
Then Meav's sorrow was bitter and calling a messenger she asked
if he knew where might be found a young bull to match with White-
The messenger replied that he knew of a much finer bull called
Donn Chuailgne or Brown Bull of Cooley which belonged to Dawra
the chief of Ulster.
"Go then' said Meav "and ask Dawra to lend me the Bull for a
year. Tell him that he shall be well repaid that he shall
receive fifty heifers and Brown Bull back again at the end of
that time. And if Dawra should seem unwilling to lend Brown
Bull tell him that he may come with it himself and that he
shall receive here land equal to his own a chariot worth thirty-
six cows and he shall have my friendship ever after."
So taking with him nine others the messenger set out and soon
arrived at Cooley. And when Dawra heard why the messengers had
come he received them kindly and said at once that they should
have Brown Bull.
Then the messengers began to speak and boast among themselves.
"It was well" said one "that Dawra granted us the Bull
willingly otherwise we had taken it by force."
As he spoke a servant of Dawra came with food and drink for the
strangers and hearing how they spoke among themselves he
hastily and in wrath dashed the food upon the table and
returning to his master repeated to him the words of the
Then was Dawra very wrathful. And when in the morning the
messengers came before him asking that he should fulfill his
promise he refused them.
So empty-handed the messengers returned to Queen Meav. And
she full of anger decided to make good the boastful words of
her messenger and take Brown Bull by force.
Then began a mighty war between the men of Ulster and the men of
Connaught. And after many fights there was a great battle in
which Meav was defeated. Yet was she triumphant for she had
gained possession of the Brown Bull.
But the Queen had little cause for triumph for when Brown Bull
and White-horned met there was a fearful combat between them.
The whole land echoed with their bellowing. The earth shook
beneath their feet and the sky grew dark with flying sods of
earth and with flecks of foam. After long fighting Brown Bull
conquered and goring White-horned to death ran off with him
impaled upon his horns shaking his shattered body to pieces as
But Brown Bull too was wounded to death. Mad with pain and
wounds he turned to his own land and there
"He lay down
Against the hill and his great heart broke there
And sent a stream of blood down all the slope;
And thus when all the war and Tain had ended
In his own land 'midst his own hills he died."*
*The Tain by Mary A. Hutton.
The Cattle Raid of Cooley is a strange wild tale yet from it we
can learn a great deal about the life of these old far-away
times. We can learn from it something of what the people did and
thought and how they lived and even of what they wore. Here is
a description of a driver and his war chariot translated of
course into English prose. "It is then that the charioteer
arose and he put on his hero's dress of charioteering. This was
the hero's dress of charioteering that he put on: his soft tunic
of deer skin so that it did not restrain the movement of his
hands outside. He put on his black upper cloak over it outside.
. . . The charioteer took first then his helm ridged like a
board four-cornered. . . . This was well measured to him and it
was not an over weight. His hand brought the circlet of red-
yellow as though it were a plate of red gold of refined gold
smelted over the edge of the anvil to his brow as a sign of his
charioteering as a distinction to his master.
"He took the goads to his horses and his whip inlaid in his
right hand. He took the reins to hold back his horses in his
left hand. Then he put the iron inlaid breast-plate on his
horses so that they were covered from forehead to fore-foot with
spears and points and lances and hard points so that every
motion in this chariot was war-near so that every corner and
every point and every end and every front of this chariot was a
way of tearing."*
*The Cattle Raid of Cualnge by L. W. Faraday.
We can almost see that wild charioteer and his horses sheathed
in bristling armor with "every front a way of tearing" as they
dash amid the foe. And all through we come on lines like these
full of color and detail which tell us of the life of those folk
of long ago.
Chapter III ONE OF THE SORROWS OF STORY-TELLING