Longland, Robert

, the reputed author of “The Visions of Pierce Plowman,” is considered as one of our most ancient English poets, and one of the first disciples of Wickliff. He was a secular priest, born at Mortimer’s Cleobury, in Shropshire, and was a fellow of Oriel college, Oxford. According to Bale, he completed his work in 1369, when John Chichester was mayor of London. It is divided into twenty parts (passus, as he styles them), and consists of many distinct visions, which have no mutual dependance upon each other, but form a satire on almost every occupation of lite, particularly on the Romish clergy, in censuring whom his master Wickliff had led the way. The piece abounds with humour, spirit, and imagination; all which are drest to great disadvantage in a very uncouth versification and obsolete language. It is written without rhyme, an ornament which the poet has endeavoured to supply, by making every verse to consist of words beginning with the same letter. This practice has contributed not a little to render his | poem obscure and perplexed, exclusive of its obsolete style; for, to introduce his alliteration, he must have been often necessarily compelled to depart from the natural and obvious way of expressing himself. Dr. Hickes observes, that this alliterative versification was drawn by Langelande from the practice of the Saxon poets, and that these visions abound with many Saxonisms. As he did not follow the example of Gower and Chaucer, who sought to reform the roughness of their native tongue, by naturalizing many new words from the Latin, French, and Italian, and who introduced the seven-lined stanza from Petrarch and Dante into our poetry, the inquirer into the original of our language will find in him a greater fund of materials to elucidate the progress of the Saxon tongue.

In the introduction to the vision, the poet (shadowed by the name and character of Peter or Pierse, a plowman) represents himself as weary of wandering, on a May-morning, and at last laid down to sleep by the side of a brook; where, in a vision, he sees a stately tower upon a hill, with a dungeon, and dark dismal ditches belonging to it, and a very deep dale under the hill. Before the tower a large field or plain is supposed, filled with men of every rank or occupation, all being respectively engaged in their several pursuits; when suddenly a beautiful lady appears to him, and unravels to him the mystery of what he had seen. Before every vision the manner and circumstances of his falling asleep are distinctly described; before one of them in particular, P. Plowman is supposed, with equal humour and satire, to fall asleep while he is bidding his beads. In the course of the poem, the satire is carried on by means of several allegorical personages, such as Avarice, Simony, Conscience, Sloth, &c. Selden mentions this author with honour; and by Hickes he is frequently styled, “Celeberrimus il-le Satyrographus, morum vindex acerrimus,” Sue. Chaucer, in the “Plowman’s Tale,” seems to have copied from our author. Spenser, in his Pastorals, seems to have attempted an imitation of his visions; and Milton is considered as under some obligations to him. The memory of this satire has been of late years revived by Percy, Warton, and Ellis, in whose works more ample information may be found than it is necessary to admit in a work professedly biographical. Perhaps indeed it does not belong to our department, since some of the most profound of our poetical critics have considered it as | anonymous; Mr Tycwhitt remarks that in the best Mss. the author is called William, without any surname, and the name of Robert Longland, or Langlande, rests upon the authority only of Crowley, its earliest editor. Three of Crowley’s editions were published in 1550, doubtless owing to its justifying the Reformation then begun under king Edward, by exposing the abuses of the Romish church. There is also an edition printed in 1561, by Owen Rogers, to which is sometimes annexed a poem of nearly the same tendency, and written in the same metre, called “Pierce the Plowman’s Crede,” the first edition of which, however, was printed by Wolfe in 1553. Of both these works, new editions have recently been announced. 1


Warton’s Hist, of Poetry. Percy’s Reliques. Eil is’s Specimens. Cooper’s Muses’ Library, &c.