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LITERATURE IN SOUTHAMPTON.
Southampton took its part in many stirring events in our island's history. To say nothing of earlier times, Roman or Saxon, it was one of the most frequented and noted seaports of the country in the Norman period. In the Great 100 Years War it was as exclusively the military port of embarkation for France as in 1899-1903 it was for South Africa. For some centuries the galleys of the great Republic of the Adriatic brought here all the glamour and riches of the East. In the wars with Spain Southampton still had some part. But by this time Southampton's trade and importance were already on the decline, and the decline continued until the last Century. Here we have probably the cause of the Town's deficiency in this respect; for this commencement of decline coincided with the first development of an English national literature. Southampton was declining just at the time when the expansion of England's power was showing itself, as in more material ways, so also in the growth and maturity of literary genius.
It is curious indeed that the one bit of literature, the one extended work, that was pretty certainly written in the neighbourhood and very likely in the Town itself, should have belonged to the period of the French Wars, and the days of Venetian commerce. This was one of those poetical Romances in which our language, readjusting itself after all the disturbing influences of the Norman-French period, found in the Middle Ages its first adequate expression.
It is interesting to note that the story of the exploits of " Sir Beves (or Bevis), of Hamtune," upon which this Early English romance is based, is said to still form the stock piece of the puppet shows of Venice ; and still more so to find that in our own version it was a favourite of John Bunyan, and possibly suggested some of the framework of the Pilgrims Progrens.
We all know'the outlines of this legendary and mythical, or mainly mythical story. I qualify the statement in this way advisedly. With recent discoveries in mind it is no longer safe in any department of traditional knowledge to dismiss even the most apparently improbable narrative as entirely without foundation. When every successive step in excavation and decipherment in Egypt, in Assyria, in Asia Minor, Greece, Crete and even Italy, is providing solid foundation of fact for stories and narratives long since dismissed by the superior critical person as mythical, poetical, purely the creation of an active and exuberant fancy, who knows but that Sir Beves, of local name and fame, may not prove to have been a very real personage ?
Let me briefly recall the story to your memories. Sir Guy is the elderly Earl of South Hampton: he marries, and has a son, the famous Sir Beves, or Bevis. But his young wife, getting tired of an elderly husband, and regretting still the lover, the Emperor of Almaine, whom her father had rejected in order to marry her to Sir Guy, contrives with him to plot and to accomplish the death of her
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