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DEVELOPMENT OF VERSIFICATION.           261
of the language. In proof of the mixture of lan­guages in use about the middle of the fourteenth century, Gmver (1328—1408), the immediate pre­decessor of Chaucer, wrote his three important poems, one in French, one in Latin, and the Con-fessio Amantis in English. Our native tongue was in this transition state when Wiclif and Chaucer found it; the former's prose Translation of the New Testament, 1384, did much to fix it in its present form, but it was the latter's masterly hand that polished and stamped it with the marks of perma­nency. By his judicious selection of conflicting grammatical forms, and the blending of foreign and native words, he moulded and stereotyped our tongue into that English which, with slight modi­fications, we speak and write to-day.
Chaucer (1328 or 40—1400), the prince of story­tellers in verse and the ' Father of English poetry,' was well fitted to weld the varied elements of our mediaeval tongue into harmonious unity. Fully con­versant with the literature of Rome, Italy, and France, he was, moreover, a typical Englishman of the middle class, and a man of the world. His matchless Canterbury Tales remained for two hun­dred years the one great poem of the language, and is still unique in portraiture of character, simple descriptive beauty, and metrical sweetness. Nearly all the tales are composed in rhymed heroics, i.e. in iambic pentameter arranged in continuous couplets.*
During the next hundred years, embracing the whole of the fifteenth century—the period of the
• See the opening lines oi the Prologue, p. 113.






E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III