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

XI. Early Transition English

§ 8. Hali Meidenhad; Lives of the Saints

Hali Meidenhad and the Lives of the Saints are connected with this movement by the incitement they furnish to convent life. The former, an alliterative prose homily, is based on the text of Psalm X1V. 10; but the methods of the writer are entirely wanting in that gentle grace and persuasion which are found elsewhere. He sets forth his arguments in a coarse, repellent manner. Where others dwell on the beauty of cloistered affection, he derides rather gracelessly the troubles of the married state; and, if these troubles are related with something like humour, it is of a grim kind and easily slides into odious invective. Maidently ideals are exalted in more becoming fashion in the Lives of the Saints, which appeared about the same date. They consist of three rhythmical alliterative prose lives of St. Margaret, St. Katharine and St. Juliana, based on Latin originals. Saintly legends had revived in England in the early thirteenth century, and were already taking the place of the homily in the services of the church. With the later multiplying of themes a distinct falling-off in point of style became visible. Of the three lives, that of St. Katharine is, in some respects, the most attractive. As compared with its original, the character of the saint becomes somewhat softened and refined in the English version. She has lost something of that impulsiveness, that hardy revengeful spirit which earlier writers had regarded as not inconsistent with the Christian profession. The English adapter also shows some idea of the art of story-telling, in removing certain superfluous details. But, in all three works, sufficient horrors remain to perpetuate the terrors of an earlier age, and, in general, the saintly heroines are more remarkable for stern undaunted courage of the Judith type than for the milder charms of later ideals. Their aim however is clear—to glorify the idea of the virgin life.