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eradicated. "It is certain that the Reformation had virtually broken out in the secret Bible readings of the Cambridge reformers before either the trumpet call of Luther or the exigencies of Henry VIII.'s personal and political position set men free once more to talk openly against the Pope and the monks and to teach a simpler and more spiritual gospel than the system against which Wyclif had striven."
Contemporary with Wyclif, or even before him in point of time, we have the strange and mystical book of Piers Plowman. Along with Wyclif's sermons and Chaucer's tales it aids us in forming a large yet accurate conception of the social life of the time. It is, however, neither an exhortation nor a humorous reflection, but a calm allegorical exposition of the corruptions of the State, of the Church, and of social life, revealing to the people the true causes of the evil under which they were suffering. The author is a stern reformer, influenced to some extent no doubt by Wyclif in his later work. Without the inward power of religion outer observances are to him but hollow shows, mockeries, hypocrisies. He is a severe judge of those dignitaries whom he takes to be blind guides and betrayers of their trust. Amidst the wealth and corruption of the world, the poet, whose moral feeling is intense and all-absorbing, looks to poverty as the best of purifiers. Like Chaucer, he looks for charity and unselfishness in the Plowman, and he almost adores the industrious, the downtrodden, rustic poverty of the humble and lowly.
Such opinions were wrapped by the poet in a prudent allegory, but they reached the ear and the heart of the people. During the whole of the fifteenth century it is probable that the rhythm of Long Wille passed current among the rural population of Central England, especially among followers of Wyclif. The author who thus describes himself as Long Wille is believed to have been William
Langland, or Langley, a Shropshire man who was born at Cleobury Mortimer about 1332. His father and friends put him to school possibly in the monastery at Great Malvern, made a clerk or scholar of him, and taught him what holy writ meant. In 1362 he wrote the first draft of his poem, which he apparently began to compose in the month of May, while wandering on the Malvern Hills. Soon afterwards he went to live in Cornhill, with his wife Kitte, and his daughter Calote, for many long years. In 1377 he began to expand and modify his poem, in which he now alludes to the accession of Richard II. Fifteen years later, he wrote another and final draft of it. The poems were very popular, but the poet sought no patron, and remained exceeding poor, earning a precarious living by singing penitential psalms and hymns for the good of men's souls, and possibly by acting as a scrivener, and transcribing legal documents. He was probably a clerk in minor orders, and his time was spent between London and the West; the last we hear of him is at Bristol. We have no trace of him after 1399.
His poem was not written in rhyme, but, with certain differences, in the old Anglo-Saxon alliterative metre, and in the West Midland dialect. No less than fifty MSS. of the three various drafts exist, but the poem was not printed until 1550.
A translation of the English of Edward III. is almost essential to an Englishman under Edward VII.1 A lover
1 There are two excellent ones: (1) A rhythmical version preserving the old alliterative measure, itself a modification of the Anglo-Saxon measure, by Prof. Skeat (The King's Classics), 1905. (2) A modern prose version by Kate M. Warren, 1899. There is a delightful book on Piers Plowman * (1894), by J. J. Jusserand, and a more recent study (1900) by Mensendieck. For social conditions reflected in the poem, see G. M. Trevelyan's England in the Age of Wycliffe (1899, and a new edition 1904). About 1394, when the Book of Piers Plowman was
guides Guillaume de Lorris through the paths of the Garden of the Rose, Virgil led Dante through the Inferno; the English visionary is led by Piers Plowman-the real hero of the work. Bent over the soil, patient as the oxen that he goads, he performs each day his sacred tasks, the years pass over his whitening head, and from the dawn of life to its twilight he follows ceaselessly the same endless furrow, pursuing behind the plough his eternal pilgrimage. Around him the idle sleep, the careless sing. Piers shall feed them all except the useless ones. There must be no unfairness to classes, but social endeavour must be the touchstone of each class alike. Every class that is content to perform its duties imperfectly, and without sincerity, without passion, without pleasure, without striving to attain the best possible results and do better than the preceding generation, will perish. So much more surely shall perish the class that fails to justify its privileges by its services. Langland let loose upon the indolent, the careless, the busybodies who talk much and work little, a terrible foe-Hunger. "Then Hunger seized Waster quickly by the Maw," but Piers intervened. "Let him live with the hogs," he prayed.
Piers Plowman soon became a sign and a symbol-a personification of the labouring class, of the honest and courageous workman. John Ball invoked his authority in his letter to the rebel peasants of 1381. His credit was made use of by the reformers and a remedy claimed for
at the height of its popularity, this popularity was taken advantage of by an unknown writer, who produced a sharp satire against the friars, less mystical and less charitable than Langland's poem, though written in the same metre, to which was given the name Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, a short poem of 850 lines. For Wyclif see Dictionary of National Biography, and H. B. Workman, Dawn of the Reformation, 1901; see also Morris and Skeat, Specimens of Early English, part ii. (1298-1393).
abuses in his name. The vehement and passionate England that produced the great rising of 1381, the heresy of Wyclif, and later the Puritan revolution of 1642, all these latent possibilities are indicated by the rumblings of Piers Plowman.
William Tyndale was born on the borders of Wales, probably about 1485. He was apparently brought up in Gloucestershire, a stronghold of the Church, where religious abuses are said to have flourished with some vigour. In 1510 he was entered at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and is related to have improved himself in tongues, in which he excelled, and in theology. After taking his degree there in 1515, he proceeded to Cambridge, where the fame of Erasmus was still fresh in men's minds. There we know that he read with delight that wonderful satire, that encomium moria in which Erasmus smothered with ridicule the defenders of the old traditional ignorance. "I totally dissent," says Erasmus in another work, "from those who are unwilling that the sacred Scriptures translated into the vulgar tongue should be read by private individuals. The mysteries of kings it were perhaps better to conceal, but Christ wishes His mysteries to be published as widely as possible. I would wish even all women to read the gospel, and St. Paul's Epistles, and I wish they were translated into all languages of all people, that they might be read and known, not merely by the Scotch and Irish, but even by the Turks and Saracens. I wish that the husbandman would sing parts of them at his plough, that the weaver may warble them at his shuttle, that the traveller may with their narratives beguile the weariness of the way."
When in 1522 Tyndale, convinced already of the special antidote which the obscurantism of the Church needed, avowed his intention of turning the Word of God into English, it was in terms which were the very echo of these noble words of Erasmus. With this idea of translation in
his mind, he sought the patronage of a distinguished scholar, Bishop Tunstall, in the summer of 1523. But Tunstall was a typical bishop in his timidity with regard to dissent, and Tyndale soon found that it would be impossible for him to accomplish his translation in England. A few sympathisers supplied him with money, and, with his amanuensis, William Roy, he proceeded through Hamburg and Wittenburg, where he paid a long visit to Luther, to Cologne, and there began printing his version of the New Testament. A prominent Catholic got wind of the enterprise, and procured an order from the senate of Cologne interdicting the printers from proceeding with the work. Tyndale and Roy managed to escape to Worms with the sheets in October, 1525, and the work was soon set up again, and printed by Schoeffer, not in quarto, as originally designed, but in octavo. Copies were smuggled over to England early in 1526. But the king and bishops had been warned of the threatened danger, and the importation of the copies was strictly prohibited. Tunstall himself felt bound to preach against it; by such means the circulation was greatly stimulated. Two copies of the octavo of 1525 and one of the original Cologne quarto are still extant, the latter in a fragmentary condition in the Grenville collection at the British Museum. Apart from its merit as a model of English vernacular style, Tyndale's New Testament is a sound piece of English translation, not, as the learned Hallam erroneously states, taken from the German of Luther and the Latin of the Vulgate, but based primarily upon Erasmus's third edition of the Greek text. Even Sir Thomas More admits that Tyndale "before he fell into his Lutheran frenzies was full prettily learned." "Of the translation itself," says Froude, "though since that time it has been many times revised and altered, we may say that it is substantially the Bible with which we are all familiar. The peculiar genius, if such a word may