The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

VIII. The Norman Conquest

§ 6. Norman Gifts

As before hinted, we do not know the extent of what we lost, and we cannot, with any advantage, proceed far on the road of aesthetic comparision between old and new. We must be content, therefore, to recognise to the full the gifts of the Norman race, and these were not confined to the making of literary English. For, as an outward and visible sign, still remaining in many places to testify, with the strengthening of our literature, to the change in art that accompanied the change in blood, and that gave expression to the change in thought, there stand the buildings erected throughout the land, as William of Malmesbury said, “after a style unknown before.”

After the axe came the chisel; and this change of tool which helps us to follow the steps that mark the development of Anglo-Norman architecture, may symbolise the development of language and letters in England under Anglo-Norman kings, a development that had begun years before the Conqueror had landed. When inflections had been well-nigh lopped off, and the language had been made more copious by additions to its ornamental vocabulary, the new “smiths of song”—whether graceless minstrel or ascetic priest—were able to give more adequate expression to the work of their hands and to branch out into less imitative ways. They were beating out the material in preparation for the coming of Chaucer.