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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.

XVIII. Political and Religious Verse to the Close of the Fifteenth Century—Final Words

§ 10. The Fifteenth Century

A word may be permitted by way of postscript, not merely to this chapter but also to the present volume. It has been sometimes urged that the fifteenth century, in the matter of purely English literature, is dull and uninteresting; that it is an uninviting, barren waste, in which it were idle and unprofitable to spend one’s time when it can be fleeted carelessly in “the demesnes that here adjacent lie,” belonging to the stately pleasure houses of Chaucer and the Elizabethans on the one side and on the other. It would rather appear that a century, the beginning of which saw the English Madeville translators at work, and the end of which was one of those versions printed; a century to which may be credited The Flower and the Leaf, the Paston letters, Caxton’s prefaces and translations, the immortal Malory, lyrics innumerable, sacred and secular, certain ballads, in the main, as we now know them, The Nut Brown Maid (in itself sufficient, in form and music and theme, to “make the fortune” of any century), carols and many of the miracle plays in their present form, can well hold its own in the history of our literature as against the centuries that precede or follow it. At least it is not deficient either in variety of utterance or in many-sidedness of interest. It is not merely full of the promise that all periods of transition possess, but it actual accomplishment is not to be contemned and its products are not devoid either of humour or of beauty.