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WILLIAM STUBBS Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects

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WILLIAM STUBBS
Seventeen lectures on the study of medieval and modern history and kindred subjects
page 181



VII.] LATIN PROSE. Fitz-Stephen, the biographer of Becket, courted the ear of Henry II with a poem which he presented to him at Brill, and which seems to have been so far successful that the king pardoned him for his adherence to the archbishop ; Giraldus Cambrensis wrote epigrams, Walter Map hymns and poems of edification as well as satires ; the author of the Dialogue de Scaccario and the Latin biographer of Richard I both run into what would be doggerel if it were not Latin, apparently out of the very glee of their hearts and devotion to their subject-matter. But as every one who could write prose thought that he could write verse, and as good Latin verse required a somewhat higher strain than passable Latin prose, it is not surprising that the verse has been mostly forgotten. The question then which this point seems to suggest, to what did it all come, what amount of real, critical, and literary culture does this great mass of Latin writing truly imply ? must be answered thus : The Latin of the twelfth century is fairly good and grammatical Latin ; adjective agrees with substantive and verb with its nominative case; ut governs the subjunctive, and the dependent sentence follows the mood and tense prescribed by the principal sentence. There is a great fertility of vocabulary, there are frequent and consistent uses of words which in classical Latin are somewhat rare, as if the miter prided himself on knowing how to use dumtaxat and quippe and utpote, and brought them in at every turn : but even here there is nothing that is laboured ; the Latin, if too free, is scarcely ever unnatural. It is Latin written as by men who on literary matters talked and thought in Latin ; it is not a dead but a living language, senescent, perhaps, but in a green old age. The more pretentious writers, like Peter of Blois, wrote perhaps with fewer solecisms but with more pedantry, and certainly lost freedom by straining after elegance.


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