Marx Engels on Art and Literature
From: Karl Marx, “Chronological Extracts from Schlosser’s A World History for the German People,” written in English and German;
Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Moscow 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.
In the 9th century — the new Franco-Romance language had developed to the extent that it became necessary to proceed to translation of the Vulgate; this point came up for discussion, among others, at the Councils of Tours (813), Mainz (847) and Arles (851). Two of the oldest documents of the French language: Translation of a poem on Boethius (9th century) and a poem of the Waldenses, treated as very important by Reynouard (historian of the troubadours). — The clergy in southern France engaged in biblical poetry and accurate translation of the sections of the holy scriptures told in poetic form. As early as the 11th century there were translations of the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings or, as both are called in the Vulgate, the four books of Kings; these works indicate an attempt to combat the poetry of secular (Provenšal) poets with biblical poetry.
Right after peace, “John Ball,” whom the courtly Froissart calls “a mad priest of Kent,” finds for twenty years an audience for his sermons, despite interdict and imprisonment, in the stout yeomen gathered around him in the churchyards of Kent.
“Good People,” cried John Ball, “things will never be good in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk ‘than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came from the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are clothed in velvet and warm in their furs and their ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread; and we oat-cake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and our toil that these men hold their state.”
In popular rhyme is in fact condensed the levelling doctrine, says the green Green:
“When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?”
Contrast the contrast between: William Langland’s “Complaint of Piers the Ploughman,” and the courtly Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (Langland, nicknamed for his tall stature “Long Bill,” probably born in Shropshire where he had been to school and received minor orders as a cleric, found his way soon to London, etc.)