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Anglo-Saxon life page 3

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After the death of Charlemagne, literature and the arts in France experienced a gradual decline until the tenth century, when a new and remarkable impetus was given to learning by the Arabs in Spain, whose literature, derived from that of Greece, was disseminated over the Continent. English learning, which had nourished during the reigns of Alfred and his immediate successors, began rapidly to decay during the stormy period of the Danish invasions; and from the time of the accession of Canute to that of the Norman Conquest little or no revival of letters appears to have taken place. During the period which intervened between these two events, the country enjoyed a considerable degree of repose, and it can hardly be doubted that some of the schools and religious houses were re-established; but the long period of peace was marked by the growth of indolence and sensuality among the people, rather than by the spread of education.

William the Conqueror, says a modern writer, "patronised and loved letters. He filled the bishoprics and abbacies of England with the most learned of his countrymen, who had been educated at the University of Paris, at that time the most flourishing school in Europe. Many of the Norman prelates preferred in England by the Conqueror were polite scholars. Godfrey, Prior of St. Swithin's, at Winchester, a native of Cambray, was an elegant Latin epigrammist, and wrote with the smartness and ease of Martial; a circumstance which, by the way, shows that the literature of the monks at this period was of a more liberal cast than that which we commonly annex to their character and profession."

William founded the abbeys of Battle and Selby, with other religious houses, and endowed them with ample revenues. Many of his nobles were incited by his example to the erection of monasteries upon their estates. These institutions, which afforded leisure and protection to men of letters, acted as powerful incentives to the pursuit of learning, and promoted in no small degree the interest of literature.

The art of the sculptor ha-1 made little progress in Europe previous to the tenth century. Two centuries later, the Burgundian school was in its zenith, and enriched the churches and monasteries of France with many admirable specimens of sculpture. Hughes, Abbe of Cluny, had a magnificent tomb; Bernard II., Abbe of Montier-Saint-Jean, in rebuilding the door of his church, caused it to be adorned with representations of the Saviour and the twelve apostles; and in other instances the arts were applied to decorate the religious houses, or the graves of the illustrious dead.

In Normandy we find at this period the names of several sculptors celebrated for their works. Among these was Otho, the sculptor of the tomb of William the Conqueror, in 1087, and other monuments of a similar kind; Azo, Guilder of the cathedral of Sens, and of several others. The masons and sculptors of Normandy formed at this epoch an important corporation.

At the beginning of the eleventh century, when the Normans became securely established in their conquests, they displayed the utmost activity in the erection of magnificent buildings, both in England and Normandy. According to William of Malmesbury (The historical works of William of Malmesbury consist of seven books containing a record of the acts of the English kings, from the arrival of the Saxons to the time of the author's death, in the year 1143.), churches rose up in every village, and monasteries in the towns and cities, built in a style unknown before. "You might behold ancient buildings restored upon their sites throughout the country, so that each wealthy man considered that day as lost to him, on which he neglected to perform some magnificent action."

The Anglo-Norman barons who engaged in these works obtained from their own country and from France the assistance of the best architects and sculptors. Guillaume of Sens, one of these artists, reconstructed the cathedral of Canterbury in 1176; and other foreign artists were employed to restore the abbeys of Croyland, of York, of Wearmouth, and others. The character of the Norman architecture will be treated of hereafter.

While it is evident that results highly favourable to the progress of literature and the arts in this country were produced by the Norman conquest, there is also every reason to believe that the tendency to sensuality, which was so strong among the Saxon people, experienced a salutary check from the introduction of Norman manners. The foreign invasion entailed immediate sufferings upon the conquered race, but its results were favourable to the progress of civilisation, and tended in no small degree to the advance of the nation in power and greatness.

The Normans are understood to have introduced into England many elegancies and refinements in the habits of common life and the customs of the table. It has been already state 1 that the Saxons were a people of gross appetite, who were accustomed to spend many hours of the day at feasts. The Normans, on the other hand, appear, on their arrival in England, to have distinguished themselves | by the moderation and refinement of their mode of living. Among the dainties held in the highest esteem by the Normans were the peacock and the crane. The boar's head was considered a regal dish, and it was brought in at great feasts in a kind of procession, preceded by musicians.

It would appear that the improvements thus introduced were rather Amoral than material, as we find no mention made of new articles of furniture or other conveniences as having appeared at the time of the Conquest. Our information on this subject is, however, scanty, and it is probable that the improvement of taste and increase wealth were soon manifested in the application of the useful and decorative arts to the conveniences of domestic life.

A most faithful and valuable record of costumes and manners at the time of the Conquest is to be found in the remarkable work known as the Bayeux Tapestry. It has. been already stated that in the days of the Conqueror the Anglo-Saxon ladies were remarkable for their skill in ornamental needlework, and the embroidery of their manufacture was celebrated throughout Europe under the name of English work.

The Saxon nobles who accompanied William to the Continent after the battle of Hastings, are supposed to have taken with them their wives and daughters. It is probable that at this tuna Matilda, the wife of the Conqueror, assisted by English ladies as well as those of her own country, constructed the tapestry which has been preserved for ages in the town of Bayeux. Some degree of doubt must always rest upon the precise date and origin of the work, but the balance of opinion, among the best authorities, is in favour of the popular tradition which has always ascribed it to the wife of the Conqueror.

The Bayeux tapestry is a chronicle of the conquest of England by the Normans, opening with the mission of Harold to Duke William, and terminating with the battle of Hastings. The designs, which were probably the work of an Italian artist, are represented in worsted work, the colours of which, notwithstanding the great age of the tapestry, are still bright and distinct. The tapestry was placed at an early period in a side chapel of the cathedral of Bayeux, where it was regarded with veneration by the people. During the consulate of Napoleon, the ancient relic was removed from Bayeux to Paris, where it remained for several months, and was visited by the First Consul himself. At the present time the tapestry is preserved in. the library of the town of Bayeux, and is exposed to view in glass cases.

This remarkable monument of skill and industry originally formed one piece; and, according to a recent writer (The Rev. J. C. Bruce - "The Bayeux Tapestry Elucidated."), measures two hundred and twenty-seven feet in length, by about twenty inches in breadth. The groundwork of it is a strip of rather fine linen cloth, which, through age, has assumed the tinge of brown Holland. The stitches consist of lines of coloured worsted laid side by side, and bound down at intervals by cross fastenings. The colours chiefly used by the fair artists are, dark and light blue, red, pink, yellow, buff, and dark and light green.

The central portion of the tapestry is occupied with the delineation of the narrative, and there is also an ornamental border at the top and bottom of the field, which contains figures of birds and blasts. Many of these are of fantastic shapes, and are, probably, meant to represent the dragons, griffins, and other fabulous creatures which are so often referred to in the romances of that period.

The two upper lines of the engraving of the tapestry (opposite page) are consecutive. They have been chosen for illustration as affording a favourable view of the character of the design. The story is taken up at the part where Harold, after swearing fealty to William of Normandy on the relics of the saints, returns to England, and presents himself to King Edward. The first words which occur over the figures at the top of the page are, "Anglicam terrain" The complete sentence, the former part of which is omitted in the engraving, reads thus: - "Hic Harold dux reversus est Anglicam terram" (Here the lord Harold returned to England). The horsemen of Harold's train are represented on their way to the court: "Et venit ad Edwardum regem" (And came to Edward the king). Farther on we see Edward seated on his throne, and Harold receiving audience and communicating the ill success of his mission.

Worn clown by anxiety, and by the anticipation of evils which he foresaw, but was unable to prevent, Edward the Confessor soon afterwards died, and was buried at Westminster, in the church which he had himself built in a new and costly style of architecture. The tapestry shows us the Church of St. Peter, at Westminster, and the funeral procession of the king. It will be observed that the church, which was built in the Early Norman style, is provided at one end with a weathercock, which a workman is represented in the act of putting up. "By this," says the authority already quoted, "the designer of the tapestry means to show that the work was but just completed, when the interment of the Confessor took place. A hand appears over the western end of the church to denote the finger of Providence, and to indicate that it was the will of God that the remains of the deceased king should be deposited in that building." The arrangements of the funeral procession are simple - a boy appears at each side of the bier ringing bells, and various attendants and priests are following. The words written above are - "Hic portatur corpus Edwardi regis ad ecclesiam sancti Petri Apostoli" (Here the body of j King Edward is carried to the church of St. Peter the Apostle).

The two lower divisions of the preceding page are taken from another portion of the tapestry, and represent the battle of Hastings. The thick of the combat is here delineated, according to the inscription, "Hic ceciderunt simul Angli et Franci in prelio" (Here at the same time English and French fell in the battle). Horses and men are tumbling about in the agonies of death. The mailed coats and pointed helmets of the Normans are easily distinguished from the Saxon costume. Further on we find a party of Saxons posted on a hill, who are making a desperate stand against the enemy with their lances. At a time when the fortune of the day seemed turning against the Normans, Odo of Bayeux galloped among the soldiers, and restored their drooping courage. He is represented in the tapestry with a staff, probably a badge of authority, and the inscription above is, "Hic Odo episcopus, tenens baculum confortat Pueros" (Here Bishop Odo, holding a staff, encourages the soldiers).

The last figure in the engraving is that of the Duke of Normandy, who is represented at the head of his troops waving his sword. The inscription runs - "Hic est Dux Wilhelm" (This is Duke William).

The tapestry itself goes on to delineate other details of the battle, describes the place where Harold fell, and ends with the flight of the English before the conquering troops of Normandy.

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