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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XII. English Prose in the Fifteenth Century, I

§ 1. The Master of Game

THE WORK of popularising prose was a slow and humble process. In the “century of the commons”literature was consistently homely. Works of utility—books of manners and of cookery, service books and didactic essays, as well as old romances copied and modernised and chronicles growing ever briefer and duller—familiarised the middle classes with books. Dictionaries prove the spread of study; and, though verse was more popular reading than prose, countless letters and business papers remain to show that soldiers, merchants, servants and women were learning to read and write with fluency. The House of Commons and the king’s council now conducted business in English; and, in the latter part of the century, politicians began to appeal to the sense of the nation in short tracts. In the meantime, the art of prose writing advanced no further. The Mandeville translations mark its high tide, for even The Master of Game, the duke of York’s elaborate treatise on hunting, was, save for the slightest of reflections—“imagynacioun (is) maistresse of alle werkes”—purely technical. A fashionable treatise, as the number of manuscripts proves, it was, in the main, a translation of a well known French work; it is chiefly interesting for its technical terms, mostly French, and as witness to the excessive elaborateness of the hunting pleasures of the great.

Save for the solitary and unappreciated phenomenon of Pecock, Latin, for the greater part of the century, maintained its position as the language of serious books. The other two learned men of the itme wrote first in Latin, and seem to have been driven to use English by the political ascendency of a middle-class and unlettered faction. The praises of Henry V are recorded in Latin; nearly two dozen Latin chronicles were compiled to some seven in English; the books given by the duke of Gloucester and the earl of Worcester to the universities were in Latin, and so were the volumes purchased by the colleges themselves.