The Flourishing of Romance and the Rise of Allegory - (Periods of European Literature, vol. II)
by George Saintsbury
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[Transcriber's Notes: To improve readability, dashes between entries in the Table of Contents and in chapter subheadings have been converted to periods. The Anglo-Saxon yogh symbol is here represented by [y].]

Periods of European Literature







"The criticism which alone can much help us for the future is a criticism which regards Europe as being, for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great confederation, bound to a joint action and working to a common result."


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As this volume, although not the first in chronological order, is likely to be the first to appear in the Series of which it forms part, and of which the author has the honour to be editor, it may be well to say a few words here as to the scheme of this Series generally. When that scheme was first sketched, it was necessarily objected that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain contributors who could boast intimate and equal knowledge of all the branches of European literature at any given time. To meet this by a simple denial was, of course, not to be thought of. Even universal linguists, though not unknown, are not very common; and universal linguists have not usually been good critics of any, much less of all, literature. But it could be answered that if the main principle of the scheme was sound—that is to say, if it was really desirable not to supplant but to supplement the histories of separate literatures, such as now exist in great numbers, by something like a new "Hallam," which should take account of all the simultaneous and contemporary developments and their interaction—some sacrifice in point of specialist knowledge of individual literatures not only must be made, but might be made with little damage. And it could be further urged that this sacrifice might be reduced to a minimum by selecting in each case writers thoroughly acquainted with the literature which happened to be of greatest prominence in the special period, provided always that their general literary knowledge and critical habits were such as to render them capable of giving a fit account of the rest.

In the carrying out of such a scheme occasional deficiencies of specialist dealing, or even of specialist knowledge, must be held to be compensated by range of handling and width of view. And though it is in all such cases hopeless to appease what has been called "the rage of the specialist" himself—though a Mezzofanti doubled with a Sainte-Beuve could never, in any general history of European literature, hope to satisfy the special devotees of Roumansch or of Platt-Deutsch, not to mention those of the greater languages—yet there may, I hope, be a sufficient public who, recognising the advantage of the end, will make a fair allowance for necessary shortcomings in the means.

As, however, it is quite certain that there will be some critics, if not some readers, who will not make this allowance, it seemed only just that the Editor should bear the brunt in this new Passage Perilous. I shall state very frankly the qualifications which I think I may advance in regard to this volume. I believe I have read most of the French and English literature proper of the period that is in print, and much, if not most, of the German. I know somewhat less of Icelandic and Provencal; less still of Spanish and Italian as regards this period, but something also of them: Welsh and Irish I know only in translations. Now it so happens that—for the period—French is, more than at any other time, the capital literature of Europe. Very much of the rest is directly translated from it; still more is imitated in form. All the great subjects, the great matieres, are French in their early treatment, with the exception of the national work of Spain, Iceland, and in part Germany. All the forms, except those of the prose saga and its kinsman the German verse folk-epic, are found first in French. Whosoever knows the French literature of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, knows not merely the best literature in form, and all but the best in matter, of the time, but that which all the time was imitating, or shortly about to imitate, both in form and matter.

Again, England presents during this time, though no great English work written "in the English tongue for English men," yet the spectacle, unique in history, of a language and a literature undergoing a sea-change from which it was to emerge with incomparably greater beauty and strength than it had before, and in condition to vie with—some would say to outstrip—all actual or possible rivals. German, if not quite supreme in any way, gives an interesting and fairly representative example of a chapter of national literary history, less brilliant and original in performance than the French, less momentous and unique in promise than the English, but more normal than either, and furnishing in the epics, of which the Nibelungenlied and Kudrun are the chief examples, and in the best work of the Minnesingers, things not only of historical but of intrinsic value in all but the highest degree.

Provencal and Icelandic literature at this time are both of them of far greater intrinsic interest than English, if not than German, and they are infinitely more original. But it so happens that the prominent qualities of form in the first, of matter and spirit in the second, though intense and delightful, are not very complicated, various, or wide-ranging. If monotony were not by association a question-begging word, it might be applied with much justice to both: and it is consequently not necessary to have read every Icelandic saga in the original, every Provencal lyric with a strictly philological competence, in order to appreciate the literary value of the contributions which these two charming isolations made to European history.

Yet again, the production of Spain during this time is of the smallest, containing, perhaps, nothing save the Poem of the Cid, which is at once certain in point of time and distinguished in point of merit; while that of Italy is not merely dependent to a great extent on Provencal, but can be better handled in connection with Dante, who falls to the province of the writer of the next volume. The Celtic tongues were either past or not come to their chief performance; and it so happens that, by the confession of the most ardent Celticists who speak as scholars, no Welsh or Irish texts affecting the capital question of the Arthurian legends can be certainly attributed to the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries. It seemed to me, therefore, that I might, without presumption, undertake the volume. Of the execution as apart from the undertaking others must judge. I will only mention (to show that the book is not a mere compilation) that the chapter on the Arthurian Romances summarises, for the first time in print, the result of twenty years' independent study of the subject, and that the views on prosody given in chapter v. are not borrowed from any one.

I have dwelt on this less as a matter of personal explanation, which is generally superfluous to friends and never disarms foes, than in order to explain and illustrate the principle of the Series. All its volumes have been or will be allotted on the same principle—that of occasionally postponing or antedating detailed attention to the literary production of countries which were not at the moment of the first consequence, while giving greater prominence to those that were: but at the same time never losing sight of the general literary drift of the whole of Europe during the whole period in each case. It is to guard against such loss of sight that the plan of committing each period to a single writer, instead of strapping together bundles of independent essays by specialists, has been adopted. For a survey of each time is what is aimed at, and a survey is not to be satisfactorily made but by one pair of eyes. As the individual study of different literatures deepens and widens, these surveys may be more and more difficult: they may have to be made more and more "by allowance." But they are also more and more useful, not to say more and more necessary, lest a deeper and wider ignorance should accompany the deeper and wider knowledge.

The dangers of this ignorance will hardly be denied, and it would be invidious to produce examples of them from writings of the present day. But there can be nothing ungenerous in referring—honoris, not invidiae causa—to one of the very best literary histories of this or any century, Mr Ticknor's Spanish Literature. There was perhaps no man of his time who was more widely read, or who used his reading with a steadier industry and a better judgment, than Mr Ticknor. Yet the remarks on assonance, and on long mono-rhymed or single-assonanced tirades, in his note on Berceo (History of Spanish Literature, vol. i. p. 27), show almost entire ignorance of the whole prosody of the chansons de geste, which give such an indispensable light in reference to the subject, and which, even at the time of his first edition (1849), if not quite so well known as they are to-day, existed in print in fair numbers, and had been repeatedly handled by scholars. It is against such mishaps as this that we are here doing our best to supply a guard.[1]

[Footnote 1: One of the most difficult points to decide concerned the allowance of notes, bibliographical or other. It seemed, on the whole, better not to overload such a Series as this with them; but an attempt has been made to supply the reader, who desires to carry his studies further, with references to the best editions of the principal texts and the best monographs on the subjects of the different chapters. I have scarcely in these notes mentioned a single book that I have not myself used; but I have not mentioned a tithe of those that I have used.]




Reasons for not noticing the bulk of mediaeval Latin literature. Excepted divisions. Comic Latin literature. Examples of its verbal influence. The value of burlesque. Hymns. The Dies Irae. The rhythm of Bernard. Literary perfection of the Hymns. Scholastic Philosophy. Its influence on phrase and method. The great Scholastics 1



European literature in 1100. Late discovery of the chansons. Their age and history. Their distinguishing character. Mistakes about them. Their isolation and origin. Their metrical form. Their scheme of matter. The character of Charlemagne. Other characters and characteristics. Realist quality. Volume and age of the chansons. Twelfth century. Thirteenth century. Fourteenth, and later. Chansons in print. Language: oc and oil. Italian. Diffusion of the chansons. Their authorship and publication. Their performance. Hearing, not reading, the object. Effect on prosody. The jongleurs. Jongleresses, &c. Singularity of the chansons. Their charm. Peculiarity of the geste system. Instances. Summary of the geste of William of Orange. And first of the Couronnement Loys. Comments on the Couronnement. William of Orange. The earlier poems of the cycle. The Charroi de Nimes. The Prise d'Orange. The story of Vivien. Aliscans. The end of the story. Renouart. Some other chansons. Final remarks on them 22



Attractions of the Arthurian Legend. Discussions on their sources. The personality of Arthur. The four witnesses. Their testimony. The version of Geoffrey. Its lacunae. How the Legend grew. Wace. Layamon. The Romances proper. Walter Map. Robert de Borron. Chrestien de Troyes. Prose or verse first? A Latin Graal-book. The Mabinogion. The Legend itself. The story of Joseph of Arimathea. Merlin. Lancelot. The Legend becomes dramatic. Stories of Gawain and other knights. Sir Tristram. His story almost certainly Celtic. Sir Lancelot. The minor knights. Arthur. Guinevere. The Graal. How it perfects the story. Nature of this perfection. No sequel possible. Latin episodes. The Legend as a whole. The theories of its origin. Celtic. French. English. Literary. The Celtic theory. The French claims. The theory of general literary growth. The English or Anglo-Norman pretensions. Attempted hypothesis 86



Oddity of the Classical Romance. Its importance. The Troy story. The Alexandreid. Callisthenes. Latin versions. Their story. Its developments. Alberic of Besancon. The decasyllabic poem. The great Roman d'Alixandre. Form, &c. Continuations. King Alexander. Characteristics. The Tale of Troy. Dictys and Dares. The Dares story. Its absurdity. Its capabilities. Troilus and Briseida. The Roman de Troie. The phases of Cressid. The Historia Trojana. Meaning of the classical romance 148



Special interest of Early Middle English. Decay of Anglo-Saxon. Early Middle English Literature. Scantiness of its constituents. Layamon. The form of the Brut. Its substance. The Ormulum: Its metre, its spelling. The Ancren Riwle. The Owl and the Nightingale. Proverbs. Robert of Gloucester. Romances. Havelok the Dane. King Horn. The prosody of the modern languages. Historical retrospect. Anglo-Saxon prosody. Romance prosody. English prosody. The later alliteration. The new verse. Rhyme and syllabic equivalence. Accent and quantity. The gain of form. The "accent" theory. Initial fallacies, and final perversities thereof 187



Position of Germany. Merit of its poetry. Folk-epics: The Nibelungenlied. The Volsunga saga. The German version. Metres. Rhyme and language. Kudrun. Shorter national epics. Literary poetry. Its four chief masters. Excellence, both natural and acquired, of German verse. Originality of its adaptation. The Pioneers: Heinrich von Veldeke. Gottfried of Strasburg. Hartmann von Aue. Erec der Wanderaere and Iwein. Lyrics. The "booklets." Der Arme Heinrich. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Titurel. Willehalm. Parzival. Walther von der Vogelweide. Personality of the poets. The Minnesingers generally 225



The predominance of France. The rise of Allegory. Lyric. The Romance and the Pastourelle. The Fabliaux. Their origin. Their licence. Their wit. Definition and subjects. Effect of the fabliaux on language. And on narrative. Conditions of fabliau-writing. The appearance of irony. Fables proper. Reynard the Fox. Order of texts. Place of origin. The French form. Its complications. Unity of spirit. The Rise of Allegory. The satire of Renart. The Fox himself. His circle. The burial of Renart. The Romance of the Rose. William of Lorris and Jean de Meung. The first part. Its capital value. The rose-garden. "Danger." "Reason." "Shame" and "Scandal." The later poem. "False-Seeming." Contrast of the parts. Value of both, and charm of the first. Marie de France and Ruteboeuf. Drama. Adam de la Halle. Robin et Marion. The Jeu de la Feuillie. Comparison of them. Early French prose. Laws and sermons. Villehardouin. William of Tyre. Joinville. Fiction. Aucassin et Nicolette 265



Resemblances. Contrasts. Icelandic literature of this time mainly prose. Difficulties with it. The Saga. Its insularity of manner. Of scenery and character. Fact and fiction in the sagas. Classes and authorship of them. The five greater sagas. Njala. Laxdaela. Eyrbyggja. Egla. Grettla. Its critics. Merits of it. The parting of Asdis and her sons. Great passages of the sagas. Style. Provencal mainly lyric. Origin of this lyric. Forms. Many men, one mind. Example of rhyme-schemes. Provencal poetry not great. But extraordinarily pedagogic. Though not directly on English. Some troubadours. Criticism of Provencal 333



Limitations of this chapter. Late Greek romance. Its difficulties as a subject. Anna Comnena, &c. Hysminias and Hysmine. Its style. Its story. Its handling. Its "decadence." Lateness of Italian. The "Saracen" theory. The "folk-song" theory. Ciullo d'Alcamo. Heavy debt to France. Yet form and spirit both original. Love-lyric in different European countries. Position of Spanish. Catalan-Provencal. Galician-Portuguese. Castilian. Ballads? The Poema del Cid. A Spanish chanson de geste. In scheme and spirit. Difficulties of its prosody. Ballad-metre theory. Irregularity of line. Other poems. Apollonius and Mary of Egypt. Berceo. Alfonso el Sabio 375










[Sidenote: Reasons for not noticing the bulk of mediaeval Latin literature.]

This series is intended to survey and illustrate the development of the vernacular literatures of mediaeval and Europe; and for that purpose it is unnecessary to busy ourselves with more than a part of the Latin writing which, in a steadily decreasing but—until the end of the last century—an always considerable proportion, served as the vehicle of literary expression. But with a part of it we are as necessarily concerned as we are necessarily compelled to decline the whole. For not only was Latin for centuries the universal means of communication between educated men of different languages, the medium through which such men received their education, the court-language, so to speak, of religion, and the vehicle of all the literature of knowledge which did not directly stoop to the comprehension of the unlearned; but it was indirectly as well as directly, unconsciously as well as consciously, a schoolmaster to bring the vernacular languages to literary accomplishment. They could not have helped imitating it, if they would; and they did not think of avoiding imitation of it, if they could. It modified, to a very large extent, their grammar; it influenced, to an extent almost impossible to overestimate, the prosody of their finished literature; it supplied their vocabulary; it furnished models for all their first conscious literary efforts of the more deliberate kind, and it conditioned those which were more or less spontaneous.

But, even if we had room, it would profit us little to busy ourselves with diplomatic Latin or with the Latin of chronicles, with the Latin of such scientific treatises as were written or with the Latin of theology. All these except, for obvious reasons, the first, tended away from Latin into the vernaculars as time went on, and were but of lesser literary moment, even while they continued to be written in Latin. Nor in belles lettres proper were such serious performances as continued to be written well into our period of capital importance. Such a book, for instance, as the well-known Trojan War of Joseph of Exeter,[2] though it really deserves much of the praise which it used to receive,[3] can never be anything much better than a large prize poem, such as those which still receive and sometimes deserve the medals and the gift-books of schools and universities. Every now and then a man of irrepressible literary talent, having no vernacular or no public in the vernacular ready to his hand, will write in Latin a book like the De Nugis Curialium,[4] which is good literature though bad Latin. But on the whole it is a fatal law of such things that the better the Latin the worse must the literature be.

[Footnote 2: Included with Dictys and Dares in a volume of Valpy's Delphin Classics.]

[Footnote 3: Cf. Warton, History of English Poetry. Ed. Hazlitt, i. 226-292.]

[Footnote 4: Gualteri Mapes, De Nugis Curialium Distinctiones Quinque. Ed. T. Wright: Camden Society, 1850.]

[Sidenote: Excepted divisions.]

We may, however, with advantage select three divisions of the Latin literature of our section of the Middle Ages, which have in all cases no small literary importance and interest, and in some not a little literary achievement. And these are the comic and burlesque Latin writings, especially in verse; the Hymns; and the great body of philosophical writing which goes by the general title of Scholastic Philosophy, and which was at its palmiest time in the later portion of our own special period.

[Sidenote: Comic Latin literature.]

It may not be absolutely obvious, but it does not require much thought to discover, why the comic and burlesque Latin writing, especially in verse, of the earlier Middle Ages holds such a position. But if we compare such things as the Carmina Burana, or as the Goliardic poems attributed to or connected with Walter Map,[5] with the early fabliaux, we shall perceive that while the latter, excellently written as they sometimes are, depend for their comedy chiefly on matter and incident, not indulging much in play on words or subtle adjustment of phrase and cadence, the reverse is the case with the former. A language must have reached some considerable pitch of development, must have been used for a great length of time seriously, and on a large variety of serious subjects, before it is possible for anything short of supreme genius to use it well for comic purposes. Much indeed of this comic use turns on the existence and degradation of recognised serious writing. There was little or no opportunity for any such use or misuse in the infant vernaculars; there was abundant opportunity in literary Latin. Accordingly we find, and should expect to find, very early parodies of the offices and documents of the Church,—things not unnaturally shocking to piety, but not perhaps to be justly set down to any profane, much less to any specifically blasphemous, intention. When the quarrel arose between Reformers and "Papists," intentional ribaldry no doubt began. But such a thing as, for example, the "Missa de Potatoribus"[6] is much more significant of an unquestioning familiarity than of deliberate insult. It is an instance of the same bent of the human mind which has made very learned and conscientious lawyers burlesque law, and which induces schoolboys and undergraduates to parody the classics, not at all because they hate them, but because they are their most familiar literature.

[Footnote 5: Carmina Burana, Stuttgart, 1847; Political Songs of England (1839), and Latin Poems attributed to Walter Mapes (1841), both edited for the Camden Society by T. Wright.]

[Footnote 6: Wright and Halliwell's Reliquiae Antiquae (London, 1845), ii. 208.]

At the same time this comic degradation, as may be seen in its earliest and perhaps its greatest practitioner Aristophanes—no bad citizen or innovating misbeliever—leads naturally to elaborate and ingenious exercises in style, to a thorough familiarity with the capacities of language, metre, rhyme. And expertness in all these things, acquired in the Latin, was certain sooner or later to be transferred to the vernacular. No one can read the Latin poems which cluster in Germany round the name of the "Arch-Poet,"[7] in England round that of Map, without seeing how much freer of hand is the Latin rhymer in comparison with him who finds it "hard only not to stumble" in the vernacular. We feel what a gusto there is in this graceless catachresis of solemn phrase and traditionally serious literature; we perceive how the language, colloquially familiar, taught from infancy in the schools, provided with plentiful literary examples, and having already received perfect licence of accommodation to vernacular rhythms and the poetical ornaments of the hour, puts its stammering rivals, fated though they were to oust it, out of court for the time by its audacious compound of experience and experiment.

[Footnote 7: On this Arch-Poet see Scherer, History of German Literature (Engl. ed., Oxford, 1886), i. 68.]

[Sidenote: Examples of its verbal influence.]

The first impression of any one who reads that exceedingly delightful volume the Camden Society's Poems attributed to Walter Mapes may be one of mere amusement, of which there are few books fuller. The agreeable effrontery with which the question "whether to kiss Rose or Agnes" is put side by side with that "whether it is better to eat flesh cooked in the cauldron or little fishes driven into the net;" the intense solemnity and sorrow for self with which Golias discourses in trochaic mono-rhymed laisses of irregular length, De suo Infortunio; the galloping dactylics of the "Apocalypse"; the concentrated scandal against a venerated sex of the De Conjuge non Ducenda, are jocund enough in themselves, if not invariably edifying. But the good-for-nothing who wrote

"Fumus et mulier et stillicidia Expellunt hominem a domo propria,"

was not merely cracking jokes, he was exercising himself, or his countrymen, or at farthest his successors, in the use of the vernacular tongues with the same lightness and brightness. When he insinuated that

"Dulcis erit mihi status Si prebenda muneratus, Reditu vel alio, Vivam, licet non habunde, Saltem mihi detur unde Studeam de proprio,"—

he was showing how things could be put slyly, how the stiffness and awkwardness of native speech could be suppled and decorated, how the innuendo, the turn of words, the nuance, could be imparted to dog-Latin. And if to dog-Latin, why not to genuine French, or English, or German?

[Sidenote: The value of burlesque.]

And he was showing at the same time how to make verse flexible, how to suit rhythm to meaning, how to give freedom, elasticity, swing. No doubt this had in part been done by the great serious poetry to which we shall come presently, and which he and his kind often directly burlesqued. But in the very nature of things comic verse must supple language to a degree impossible, or very seldom possible, to serious poetry: and in any case the mere tricks with language which the parodist has to play, familiarise him with the use of it. Even in these days of multifarious writing, it is not absolutely uncommon to find men of education and not devoid of talent who confess that they have no notion how to put things, that they cannot express themselves. We can see this tying of the tongue, this inability to use words, far more reasonably prevalent in the infancy of the vernacular tongues; as, for instance, in the constant presence of what the French call chevilles, expletive phrases such as the "sikerly," and the "I will not lie," the "verament," and the "everidel," which brought a whole class of not undeserving work, the English verse romances of a later time, into discredit. Latin, with its wide range of already consecrated expressions, and with the practice in it which every scholar had, made recourse to constantly repeated stock phrases at least less necessary, if necessary at all; and the writer's set purpose to amuse made it incumbent on him not to be tedious. A good deal of this comic writing may be graceless: some of it may, to delicate tastes, be shocking or disgusting. But it was at any rate an obvious and excellent school of word-fence, a gymnasium and exercising-ground for style.

[Sidenote: Hymns.]

And if the beneficial effect in the literary sense of these light songs is not to be overlooked, how much greater in every way is that of the magnificent compositions of which they were in some cases the parody! It will be more convenient to postpone to a later chapter of this volume a consideration of the exact way in which Latin sacred poetry affected the prosody of the vernacular; but it is well here to point out that almost all the finest and most famous examples of the mediaeval hymn, with perhaps the sole exception of Veni, Sancte Spiritus, date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.[8] Ours are the stately rhythms of Adam of St Victor, and the softer ones of St Bernard the Greater. It was at this time that Jacopone da Todi, in the intervals of his eccentric vernacular exercises, was inspired to write the Stabat Mater. From this time comes that glorious descant of Bernard of Morlaix, in which, the more its famous and very elegant English paraphrase is read beside it, the more does the greatness and the beauty of the original appear. And from this time comes the greatest of all hymns, and one of the greatest of all poems, the Dies Irae. There have been attempts—more than one of them—to make out that the Dies Irae is no such wonderful thing after all: attempts which are, perhaps, the extreme examples of that cheap and despicable paradox which thinks to escape the charge of blind docility by the affectation of heterodox independence. The judgment of the greatest (and not always of the most pious) men of letters of modern times may confirm those who are uncomfortable without authority in a different opinion. Fortunately there is not likely ever to be lack of those who, authority or no authority, in youth and in age, after much reading or without much, in all time of their tribulation and in all time of their wealth, will hold these wonderful triplets, be they Thomas of Celano's or another's, as nearly or quite the most perfect wedding of sound to sense that they know.

[Footnote 8: A few more precise dates may be useful. St Bernard, 1091-1153; Bernard of Morlaix, exact years uncertain, but twelfth century; Adam of St Victor, ob. cir. 1190; Jacopone da Todi, ob. 1306; St Bonaventura, 1221-1274; Thomas of Celano, fl. c. 1226. The two great storehouses of Latin hymn-texts are the well-known books of Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, and Mone, Hymni Latini Medii AEvi. And on this, as on all matters connected with hymns, the exhaustive Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892) of the Rev. John Julian will be found most valuable.]

[Sidenote: The Dies Irae.]

It would be possible, indeed, to illustrate a complete dissertation on the methods of expression in serious poetry from the fifty-one lines of the Dies Irae. Rhyme, alliteration, cadence, and adjustment of vowel and consonant values,—all these things receive perfect expression in it, or, at least, in the first thirteen stanzas, for the last four are a little inferior. It is quite astonishing to reflect upon the careful art or the felicitous accident of such a line as

"Tuba mirum spargens sonum,"

with the thud of the trochee[9] falling in each instance in a different vowel; and still more on the continuous sequence of five stanzas, from Judex ergo to non sit cassus, in which not a word could be displaced or replaced by another without loss. The climax of verbal harmony, corresponding to and expressing religious passion and religious awe, is reached in the last—

"Quaerens me sedisti lassus, Redemisti crucem passus: Tantus labor non sit cassus!"—

where the sudden change from the dominant e sounds (except in the rhyme foot) of the first two lines to the a's of the last is simply miraculous, and miraculously assisted by what may be called the internal sub-rhyme of sedisti and redemisti. This latter effect can rarely be attempted without a jingle: there is no jingle here, only an ineffable melody. After the Dies Irae, no poet could say that any effect of poetry was, as far as sound goes, unattainable, though few could have hoped to equal it, and perhaps no one except Dante and Shakespeare has fully done so.

[Footnote 9: Of course no one of the four is a pure classical trochee; but all obey the trochaic rhythm.]

Beside the grace and the grandeur, the passion and the art, of this wonderful composition, even the best remaining examples of mediaeval hymn-writing may look a little pale. It is possible for criticism, which is not hypercriticism, to object to the pathos of the Stabat, that it is a trifle luscious, to find fault with the rhyme-scheme of Jesu dulcis memoria, that it is a little faint and frittered; while, of course, those who do not like conceits and far-fetched interpretations can always quarrel with the substance of Adam of St Victor. But those who care for merits rather than for defects will never be weary of admiring the best of these hymns, or of noticing and, as far as possible, understanding their perfection. Although the language they use is old, and their subjects are those which very competent and not at all irreligious critics have denounced as unfavourable to poetry, the special poetical charm, as we conceive it in modern days, is not merely present in them, but is present in a manner of which few traces can be found in classical times. And some such students, at least, will probably go on to examine the details of the hymn-writers' method, with the result of finding more such things as have been pointed out above.

[Sidenote: The rhythm of Bernard.]

Let us, for instance, take the rhythm of Bernard the Englishman (as he was really, though called of Morlaix). "Jerusalem the Golden" has made some of its merits common property, while its practical discoverer, Archbishop Trench, has set those of the original forth with a judicious enthusiasm which cannot be bettered.[10] The point is, how these merits, these effects, are produced. The piece is a crucial one, because, grotesque as its arrangement would probably have seemed to an Augustan, its peculiarities are superadded to, not substituted for, the requirements of classical prosody. The writer does not avail himself of the new accentual quantification, and his other licences are but few. If we examine the poem, however, we shall find that, besides the abundant use of rhyme—interior as well as final—he avails himself of all those artifices of what may be called word-music, suggesting beauty by a running accompaniment of sound, which are the main secret of modern verse. He is not satisfied, ample as it may seem, with his double-rhyme harmony. He confines himself to it, indeed, in the famous overture-couplet—

"Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt, vigilemus! Ecce! minaciter imminet arbiter ille supremus."

[Footnote 10: Sacred Latin Poetry (2d ed., London, 1864), p. 304. This admirable book has not been, and from its mixture of taste and learning is never likely to be, superseded as an introduction to, and chrestomathy of, the subject. Indeed, if a little touch of orthodox prudery had not made the Archbishop exclude the Stabat, hardly a hymn of the very first class could be said to be missing in it.]

But immediately afterwards, and more or loss throughout, he redoubles and redoubles again every possible artifice—sound-repetition in the imminet, imminet, of the third line, alliteration in the recta remuneret of the fourth, and everywhere trills and roulades, not limited to the actually rhyming syllables of the same vowel—

"Tunc nova gloria pectora sobria clarificabit... Candida lilia, viva monilia, sunt tibi Sponsa... Te peto, te colo, te flagro, te volo, canto, saluto."

He has instinctively discovered the necessity of varying as much as possible the cadence and composition of the last third of his verse, and carefully avoids anything like a monotonous use of his only spondee; in a batch of eighteen lines taken at random, there are only six end-words of two syllables, and these only once rhyme together. The consequence of these and other devices is that the whole poem is accompanied by a sort of swirl and eddy of sound and cadence, constantly varying, constantly shifting its centres and systems, but always assisting the sense with grateful clash or murmur, according as it is loud or soft, of word-music.

[Sidenote: Literary perfection of the Hymns.]

The vernacular languages were not as yet in case to produce anything so complicated as this, and some of them have never been quite able to produce it to this day. But it must be obvious at once what a standard was held up before poets, almost every one of whom, even if he had but small Latin in a general way, heard these hymns constantly sung, and what means of producing like effects were suggested to them. The most varied and charming lyric of the Middle Ages, that of the German Minnesingers, shows the effect of this Latin practice side by side, or rather inextricably mingled, with the effects of the preciser French and Provencal verse-scheme, and the still looser but equally musical, though half-inarticulate, suggestions of indigenous song. That English prosody—the prosody of Shakespeare and Coleridge, of Shelley and Keats—owes its origin to a similar admixture the present writer at least has no doubt at all, while even those who deny this can hardly deny the positive literary achievement of the best mediaeval hymns. They stand by themselves. Latin—which, despite its constant colloquial life, still even in the Middle Ages had in profane use many of the drawbacks of a dead language, being either slipshod or stiff,—here, owing to the millennium and more during which it had been throughout Western Europe the living language and the sole living language of the Church Universal, shakes off at once all artificial and all doggerel character. It is thoroughly alive: it comes from the writers' hearts as easily as from their pens. They have in the fullest sense proved it; they know exactly what they can do, and in this particular sphere there is hardly anything that they cannot do.

[Sidenote: Scholastic Philosophy.]

The far-famed and almost more abused than famed Scholastic Philosophy[11] cannot be said to have added to positive literature any such masterpieces in prose as the hymn-writers (who were very commonly themselves Scholastics) produced in verse. With the exception of Abelard, whose interest is rather biographical than strictly literary, and perhaps Anselm, the heroes of mediaeval dialectic, the Doctors Subtle and Invincible, Irrefragable and Angelic, have left nothing which even on the widest interpretation of pure literature can be included within it, or even any names that figure in any but the least select of literary histories. Yet they cannot but receive some notice here in a history, however condensed, of the literature of the period of their chief flourishing. This is not because of their philosophical importance, although at last, after much bandying of not always well-informed argument, that importance is pretty generally allowed by the competent. It has, fortunately, ceased to be fashionable to regard the dispute about Universals as proper only to amuse childhood or beguile dotage, and the quarrels of Scotists and Thomists as mere reductions of barren logomachy to the flatly absurd. Still, this importance, though real, though great, is not directly literary. The claim which makes it impossible to pass them over here is that excellently put in the two passages from Condorcet and Hamilton which John Stuart Mill (not often a scholastically minded philosopher) set in the forefront of his Logic, that, in the Scottish philosopher's words, "it is to the schoolmen that the vulgar languages are indebted for what precision and analytical subtlety they possess;" and that, as the Frenchman, going still further, but hardly exaggerating, lays it down, "logic, ethics, and metaphysics itself owe to Scholasticism a precision unknown to the ancients themselves."

[Footnote 11: I should feel even more diffidence than I do feel in approaching this proverbially thorny subject if it were not that many years ago, before I was called off to other matters, I paid considerable attention to it. And I am informed by experts that though the later (chiefly German) Histories of Philosophy, by Ueberweg, Erdmann, Windelband, &c., may be consulted with advantage, and though some monographs may be added, there are still no better guides than Haureau, De la Philosophie Scolastique (revised edition) and Prantl, Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande, who were our masters five-and-twenty years ago. The last-named book in especial may be recommended with absolute confidence to any one who experiences the famous desire for "something craggy to break his mind upon."]

[Sidenote: Its influence on phrase and method.]

There can be no reasonable or well-informed denial of the fact of this: and the reason of it is not hard to understand. That constant usage, the effect of which has been noted in theological verse, had the same effect in philosophico-theological prose. Latin is before all things a precise language, and the one qualification which it lacked in classical times for philosophic use, the presence of a full and exact terminology, was supplied in the Middle Ages by the fearless barbarism (as pedants call it) which made it possible and easy first to fashion such words as aseitas and quodlibetalis, and then, after, as it were, lodging a specification of their meaning, to use them ever afterwards as current coin. All the peculiarities which ignorance or sciolism used to ridicule or reproach in the Scholastics—their wiredrawnness, their lingering over special points of verbal wrangling, their neglect of plain fact in comparison with endless and unbridled dialectic—all these things did no harm but much positive good from the point of view which we are now taking. When a man defended theses against lynx-eyed opponents or expounded them before perhaps more lynx-eyed pupils, according to rules familiar to all, it was necessary for him, if he were to avoid certain and immediate discomfiture, to be precise in his terms and exact in his use of them. That it was possible to be childishly as well as barbarously scholastic nobody would deny, and the famous sarcasms of the Epistolae Obscurorum Virorum, two centuries after our time, had been anticipated long before by satirists. But even the logical fribble, even the logical jargonist, was bound to be exact. Now exactness was the very thing which languages, mostly young in actual age, and in all cases what we may call uneducated, unpractised in literary exercises, wanted most of all. And it was impossible that they should have better teachers in it than the few famous, and even than most of the numerous unknown or almost unknown, philosophers of the Scholastic period.

[Sidenote: The great Scholastics.]

It has been said that of those most famous almost all belong specially to this our period. Before it there is, till its very latest eve, hardly one except John Scotus Erigena; after it none, except Occam, of the very greatest. But during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there is scarcely a decade without its illustration. The first champions of the great Realist and Nominalist controversy, Roscellinus and William of Champeaux, belong to the eleventh century in part, as does their still more famous follower, Abelard, by the first twenty years of his life, while almost the whole of that of Anselm may be claimed by it.[12] But it was not till the extreme end of that century that the great controversy in which these men were the front-fighters became active (the date of the Council of Soissons, which condemned the Nominalism of Roscellinus as tritheistic is 1092), and the controversy itself was at its hottest in the earlier part of the succeeding age. The Master of the Sentences, Peter Lombard, belongs wholly to the twelfth, and the book which gives him his scholastic title dates from its very middle. John of Salisbury, one of the clearest-headed as well as most scholarly of the whole body, died in 1180. The fuller knowledge of Aristotle, through the Arabian writers, coincided with the latter part of the twelfth century: and the curious outburst of Pantheism which connects itself on the one hand with the little-known teaching of Amaury de Bene and David of Dinant, on the other with the almost legendary "Eternal Gospel" of Joachim of Flora, occurred almost exactly at the junction of the twelfth and thirteenth. As for the writers of the thirteenth century itself, that great period holds in this as in other departments the position of palmiest time of the Middle Ages. To it belong Alexander Hales, who disputes with Aquinas the prize for the best example of the Summa Theologiae; Bonaventura, the mystic; Roger Bacon, the natural philosopher; Vincent of Beauvais, the encyclopaedist. If, of the four greatest of all, Albert of Bolstadt, Albertus Magnus, the "Dumb Ox of Cologne," was born seven years before its opening, his life lasted over four-fifths of it; that of Aquinas covered its second and third quarters; Occam himself, though his main exertions lie beyond us, was probably born before Aquinas died; while John Duns Scotus hardly outlived the century's close by a decade. Raymond Lully (one of the most characteristic figures of Scholasticism and of the mediaeval period, with his "Great Art" of automatic philosophy), who died in 1315, was born as early as 1235. Peter the Spaniard, Pope and author of the Summulae Logicales, the grammar of formal logic for ages, died in 1277.

[Footnote 12: Some exacter dates may be useful. Anselm, 1033-1109; Roscellin, 1050?-1125; William of Champeaux, ?-1121; Abelard, 1079-1142; Peter Lombard, ob. 1164; John of Salisbury, ?-1180; Alexander of Hales, ?-1245; Vincent of Beauvais, ?-1265?; Bonaventura, 1221-1274; Albertus Magnus, 1195-1280; Thomas Aquinas, 1225?-1274; Duns Scotus, 1270?-1308?; William of Occam, ?-1347; Roger Bacon, 1214-1292; Petrus Hispanus, ?-1277; Raymond Lully, 1235-1315.]

Of the matter which these and others by hundreds put in forgotten wealth of exposition, no account will be expected here. Even yet it is comparatively unexplored, or else the results of the exploration exist only in books brilliant, but necessarily summary, like that of Haureau, in books thorough, but almost as formidable as the original, like that of Prantl. Even the latest historians of philosophy complain that there is up to the present day no "ingoing" (as the Germans say) monograph about Scotus and none about Occam.[13] The whole works of the latter have never been collected at all: the twelve mighty volumes which represent the compositions of the former contain probably not the whole work of a man who died before he was forty. The greater part of the enormous mass of writing which was produced, from Scotus Erigena in the ninth century to Gabriel Biel in the fifteenth, is only accessible to persons with ample leisure and living close to large and ancient libraries. Except Erigena himself, Anselm in a few of his works, Abelard, and a part of Aquinas, hardly anything can be found in modern editions, and even the zealous efforts of the present Pope have been less effectual in divulging Aquinas than those of his predecessors were in making Amaury of Bena a mystery.[14] Yet there has always, in generous souls who have some tincture of philosophy, subsisted a curious kind of sympathy and yearning over the work of these generations of mainly disinterested scholars who, whatever they were, were thorough, and whatever they could not do, could think. And there have even, in these latter days, been some graceless ones who have asked whether the Science of the nineteenth century, after an equal interval, will be of any more positive value—whether it will not have even less comparative interest than that which appertains to the Scholasticism of the thirteenth.

[Footnote 13: Remusat on Anselm and Cousin on Abelard long ago smoothed the way as far as these two masters are concerned, and Dean Church on Anselm is also something of a classic. But I know no other recent monograph of any importance by an Englishman on Scholasticism except Mr R.L. Poole's Erigena. Indeed the "Erin-born" has not had the ill-luck of his country, for with the Migne edition accessible to everybody, he is in much better case than most of his followers two, three, and four centuries later.]

[Footnote 14: The Amalricans, as the followers of Amaury de Bene were termed, were not only condemned by the Lateran Council of 1215, but sharply persecuted; and we know nothing of the doctrines of Amaury, David, and the other northern Averroists or Pantheists, except from later and hostile notices.]

However this may be, the claim, modest and even meagre as it may seem to some, which has been here once more put forward for this Scholasticism—the claim of a far-reaching educative influence in mere language, in mere system of arrangement and expression, will remain valid. If, at the outset of the career of modern languages, men had thought with the looseness of modern thought, had indulged in the haphazard slovenliness of modern logic, had popularised theology and vulgarised rhetoric, as we have seen both popularised and vulgarised since, we should indeed have been in evil case. It used to be thought clever to moralise and to felicitate mankind over the rejection of the stays, the fetters, the prison in which its thought was mediaevally kept. The justice or the injustice, the taste or the vulgarity, of these moralisings, of these felicitations, may not concern us here. But in expression, as distinguished from thought, the value of the discipline to which these youthful languages were subjected is not likely now to be denied by any scholar who has paid attention to the subject. It would have been perhaps a pity if thought had not gone through other phases; it would certainly have been a pity if the tongues had all been subjected to the fullest influence of Latin constraint. But that the more lawless of them benefited by that constraint there can be no doubt whatever. The influence of form which the best Latin hymns of the Middle Ages exercised in poetry, the influence in vocabulary and in logical arrangement which Scholasticism exercised in prose, are beyond dispute: and even those who will not pardon literature, whatever its historical and educating importance be, for being something less than masterly in itself, will find it difficult to maintain the exclusion of the Cur Deus Homo, and impossible to refuse admission to the Dies Irae.



[Footnote 15: I prefer, as more logical, the plural form chansons de gestes, and have so written it in my Short History of French Literature (Oxford, 4th ed., 1892), to which I may not improperly refer the reader on the general subject. But of late years the fashion of dropping the s has prevailed, and, therefore, in a book meant for general reading, I follow it here. Those who prefer native authorities will find a recent and excellent one on the whole subject of French literature in M. Lanson, Histoire de la Litterature Francaise, Paris, 1895. For the mediaeval period generally M. Gaston Paris, La Litterature Francaise au Moyen Age (Paris, 1888), speaks with unapproached competence; and, still narrowing the range, the subject of the present chapter has been dealt with by M. Leon Gautier, Les Epopees Francaises (Paris, 4 vols., 1878-92), in a manner equally learned and loving. M. Gautier has also been intrusted with the section on the Chansons in the new and splendidly illustrated collection of monographs (Paris: Colin) which M. Petit de Julleville is editing under the title Histoire de la Langue et de la Litterature Francaise. Mr Paget Toynbee's Specimens of Old French (Oxford, 1892) will illustrate this and the following chapters.]


[Sidenote: European literature in 1100.]

When we turn from Latin and consider the condition of the vernacular tongues in the year 1100, there is hardly more than one country in Europe where we find them producing anything that can be called literature. In England Anglo-Saxon, if not exactly dead, is dying, and has for more than a century ceased to produce anything of distinctly literary attraction; and English, even the earliest "middle" English, is scarcely yet born, is certainly far from being in a condition for literary use. The last echoes of the older and more original Icelandic poetry are dying away, and the great product of Icelandic prose, the Saga, still volitat per ora virum, without taking a concrete literary form. It is in the highest degree uncertain whether anything properly to be called Spanish or Italian exists at all—anything but dialects of the lingua rustica showing traces of what Spanish and Italian are to be; though the originals of the great Poema del Cid cannot be far off. German is in something the same trance between its "Old" and its "Middle" state as is English. Only in France, and in both the great divisions of French speech, is vernacular literature active. The northern tongue, the langue d'oil, shows us—in actually known existence, or by reasonable inference that it existed—the national epic or chanson de geste; the southern, or langue d'oc, gives us the Provencal lyric. The latter will receive treatment later, the former must be dealt with at once.

It is rather curious that while the chansons de geste are, after Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic poetry, the oldest elaborate example of verse in the modern vernaculars; while they exhibit a character, not indeed one of the widest in range or most engaging in quality, but individual, interesting, intense as few others; while they are entirely the property of one nation, and that a nation specially proud of its literary achievements,—they were almost the last division of European literature to become in any degree properly known. In so far as they were known at all, until within the present century, the knowledge was based almost entirely on later adaptations in verse, and still later in prose; while—the most curious point of all—they were not warmly welcomed by the French even after their discovery, and cannot yet be said to have been taken to the heart of the nation, even to the limited extent to which the Arthurian romances have been taken to the heart of England, much less to that in which the old, but much less old, ballads of England, Scotland, Germany, and Spain have for periods of varying length been welcomed in their respective countries. To discuss the reason of this at length would lead us out of our present subject; but it is a fact, and a very curious fact.

[Sidenote: Late discovery of the chansons.]

[Sidenote: Their age and history.]

The romances of Charlemagne, or, to employ their more technical designation, the chansons de geste, form a large, a remarkably homogeneous, and a well-separated body of compositions. These, as far as can be decided, date in time from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, with a few belated representatives in the fourteenth; but scarcely, as far as probability shows, with any older members in the tenth. Very little attention of any kind was paid to them, till some seventy years ago, an English scholar, Conybeare, known for his services to our own early literature, following the example of another scholar, Tyrwhitt, still earlier and more distinguished, had drawn attention to the merit and interest of, as it happens, the oldest and most remarkable of all. This was the Chanson de Roland, which, in this oldest form, exists only in one of the MSS. of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. But they very soon received the care of M. Paulin Paris, the most indefatigable student that in a century of examination of the older European literature any European country has produced, and after more than half a century of enthusiastic resuscitation by M. Paris, by his son M. Gaston, and by others, the whole body of them has been thoroughly overhauled and put at the disposal of those who do not care to read the original, in the four volumes of the remodelled edition of M. Leon Gautier's Epopees Francaises, while perhaps a majority of the actual texts are in print. This is as well, for though a certain monotony is always charged against the chansons de geste[16] by those who do not love them, and may be admitted to some extent even by those who do, there are few which have not a more or less distinct character of their own; and even the generic character is not properly to be perceived until a considerable number have been studied.

[Footnote 16: This monotony almost follows from the title. For geste in the French is not merely the equivalent of gesta, "deeds." It is used for the record of those deeds, and then for the whole class or family of performances and records of them. In this last sense the gestes are in chief three—those of the king, of Doon de Mayence, and of Garin de Montglane—besides smaller ones.]

[Sidenote: Their distinguishing character.]

The old habit of reading this division of romance in late and travestied versions naturally and necessarily obscured the curious traits of community in form and matter that belong to it, and indeed distinguish it from almost all other departments of literature of the imaginative kind. Its members are frequently spoken of as "the Charlemagne Romances"; and, as a matter of fact, most of them do come into connection with the great prince of the second race in one way or another. Yet Bodel's phrase of matiere de France[17] is happier. For they are all still more directly connected with French history, seen through a romantic lens; and even the late and half-burlesque Hugues Capet, even the extremely interesting and partly contemporary set on the Crusades, as well as such "little gestes" as that of the Lorrainers, Garin le Loherain and the rest, and the three "great gestes" of the king, of the southern hero William of Orange (sometimes called the geste of Montglane), and of the family of Doon de Mayence, arrange themselves with no difficulty under this more general heading. And the chanson de geste proper, as Frenchmen are entitled to boast, never quite deserts this matiere de France. It is always the Gesta Francorum at home, or the Gesta Dei per Francos in the East, that supply the themes. When this subject or group of subjects palled, the very form of the chanson de geste was lost. It was not applied to other things;[18] it grew obsolete with that which it had helped to make popular. Some of the material—Huon of Bordeaux, the Four Sons of Aymon, and others—retained a certain vogue in forms quite different, and gave later ages the inexact and bastard notion of "Charlemagne Romance" which has been referred to. But the chanson de geste itself was never, so to speak, "half-known"—except to a very few antiquaries. After its three centuries of flourishing, first alone, then with the other two "matters," it retired altogether, and made its reappearance only after four centuries had passed away.

[Footnote 17: Jean Bodel, a trouvere of the thirteenth century, furnished literary history with a valuable stock-quotation in the opening of his Chanson des Saisnes for the three great divisions of Romance:—

"Ne sont que trois matieres a nul home attendant, De France et de Bretaigne et de Rome la grant." —Chanson des Saxons, ed. Michel, Paris, 1839, vol. i. p. 1.

The lines following, less often quoted, are an interesting early locus for French literary patriotism.]

[Footnote 18: Or only in rare cases to later French history itself—Du Guesclin, and the Combat des Trente.]

[Sidenote: Mistakes about them.]

This fact or set of facts has made the actual nature of the original Charlemagne Romances the subject of much mistake and misstatement on the part of general historians of literature. The widely read and generally accurate Dunlop knew nothing whatever about them, except in early printed versions representing their very latest form, and in the hopelessly travestied eighteenth-century Bibliotheque des Romans of the Comte de Tressan. He therefore assigned to them[19] a position altogether inferior to their real importance, and actually apologised for the writers, in that, coming after the Arthurian historians, they were compelled to imitation. As a matter of fact, it is probable that all the most striking and original chansons de geste, certainly all those of the best period, were in existence before a single one of the great Arthurian romances was written; and as both the French and English, and even the German, writers of these latter were certainly acquainted with the chansons, the imitation, if there were any, must lie on their side. As a matter of fact, however, there is little or none. The later and less genuine chansons borrow to some extent the methods and incidents in the romances; but the romances at no time exhibit much resemblance to the chansons proper, which have an extremely distinct, racy, and original character of their own. Hallam, writing later than Dunlop, and if with a less wide knowledge of Romance, with a much greater proficiency in general literary history, practically passes the chansons de geste over altogether in the introduction to his Literature of Europe, which purports to summarise all that is important in the History of the Middle Ages, and to supplement and correct that book itself.

[Footnote 19: Dunlop, History of Prose Fiction (ed. Wilson, London, 1888), i. 274-351. Had Dunlop rigidly confined himself to prose fiction, the censure in the text might not be quite fair. As a matter of fact, however, he does not, and it would have been impossible for him to do so.]

[Sidenote: Their isolation and origin.]

The only excuse (besides mere unavoidable ignorance, which, no doubt, is a sufficient one) for this neglect is the curious fact, in itself adding to their interest, that these chansons, though a very important chapter in the histories both of poetry and of fiction, form one which is strangely marked off at both ends from all connection, save in point of subject, with literature precedent or subsequent. As to their own origin, the usual abundant, warm, and if it may be said without impertinence, rather futile controversies have prevailed. Practically speaking, we know nothing whatever about the matter. There used to be a theory that the Charlemagne Romances owed their origin more or less directly to the fabulous Chronicle of Tilpin or Turpin, the warrior-Archbishop of Rheims. It has now been made tolerably certain that the Latin chronicle on the subject is not anterior even to our existing Chanson de Roland, and very probable that it is a good deal later. On the other hand, of actual historical basis we have next to nothing except the mere fact of the death of Roland ("Hruotlandus comes Britanniae") at the skirmish of Roncesvalles. There are, however, early mentions of certain cantilenae or ballads; and it has been assumed by some scholars that the earliest chansons were compounded out of precedent ballads of the kind. It is unnecessary to inform those who know something of general literary history, that this theory (that the corruption of the ballad is the generation of the epic) is not confined to the present subject, but is one of the favourite fighting-grounds of a certain school of critics. It has been applied to Homer, to Beowulf, to the Old and Middle German Romances, and it would be very odd indeed if it had not been applied to the Chansons de geste. But it may be said with some confidence that not one tittle of evidence has ever been produced for the existence of any such ballads containing the matter of any of the chansons which do exist. The song of Roland which Taillefer sang at Hastings may have been such a ballad: it may have been part of the actual chanson; it may have been something quite different. But these "mays" are not evidence; and it cannot but be thought a real misfortune that, instead of confining themselves to an abundant and indeed inexhaustible subject, the proper literary study of what does exist, critics should persist in dealing with what certainly does not, and perhaps never did. On the general point it might be observed that there is rather more positive evidence for the breaking up of the epic into ballads than for the conglomeration of ballads into the epic. But on that point it is not necessary to take sides. The matter of real importance is, to lay it down distinctly that we have nothing anterior to the earliest chansons de geste; and that we have not even any satisfactory reason for presuming that there ever was anything.

[Sidenote: Their metrical form.]

One of the reasons, however, which no doubt has been most apt to suggest anterior compositions is the singular completeness of form exhibited by these poems. It is now practically agreed that—scraps and fragments themselves excepted—we have no monument of French in accomplished profane literature more ancient than the Chanson de Roland.[20] And the form of this, though from one point of view it may be called rude and simple, is of remarkable perfection in its own way. The poem is written in decasyllabic iambic lines with a caesura at the second foot, these lines being written with a precision which French indeed never afterwards lost, but which English did not attain till Chaucer's day, and then lost again for more than another century. Further, the grouping and finishing of these lines is not less remarkable, and is even more distinctive than their internal construction. They are not blank; they are not in couplets; they are not in equal stanzas; and they are not (in the earliest examples, such as Roland) regularly rhymed. But they are arranged in batches (called in French laisses or tirades) of no certain number, but varying from one to several score, each of which derives unity from an assonance—that is to say, a vowel-rhyme, the consonants of the final syllable varying at discretion. This assonance, which appears to have been common to all Romance tongues in their early stages, disappeared before very long from French, though it continued in Spanish, and is indeed the most distinguishing point of the prosody of that language. Very early in the chansons themselves we find it replaced by rhyme, which, however, remains the same for the whole of the laisse, no matter how long it is. By degrees, also, the ten-syllabled line (which in some examples has an octosyllabic tail-line not assonanced at the end of every laisse) gave way in its turn to the victorious Alexandrine. But the mechanism of the chanson admitted no further extensions than the substitution of rhyme for assonance, and of twelve-syllabled lines for ten-syllabled. In all other respects it remained rigidly the same from the eleventh century to the fourteenth, and in the very latest examples of such poems, as Hugues Capet and Baudouin de Seboure—full as enthusiasts like M. Gautier complain that they are of a spirit very different from that of the older chansons—there is not the slightest change in form; while certain peculiarities of stock phrase and "epic repetition" are jealously preserved. The immense single-rhymed laisses, sometimes extending to several pages of verse, still roll rhyme after rhyme with the same sound upon the ear. The common form generally remains; and though the adventures are considerably varied, they still retain a certain general impress of the earlier scheme.

[Footnote 20: Editio princeps by Fr. Michel, 1837. Since that time it has been frequently reprinted, translated, and commented. Those who wish for an exact reproduction of the oldest MS. will find it given by Stengel (Heilbronn, 1878).]

[Sidenote: Their scheme of matter.]

[Sidenote: The character of Charlemagne.]

That scheme is, in the majority of the chansons, curiously uniform. It has, since the earliest studies of them, been remarked as odd that Charlemagne, though almost omnipresent (except of course in the Crusading cycle and a few others), and though such a necessary figure that he is in some cases evidently confounded both with his ancestor Charles Martel and his successor Charles the Bald, plays a part that is very dubiously heroic. He is, indeed, presented with great pomp and circumstance as li empereres a la barbe florie, with a gorgeous court, a wide realm, a numerous and brilliant baronage. But his character is far from tenderly treated. In Roland itself he appears so little that critics who are not acquainted with many other poems sometimes deny the characteristic we are now discussing. But elsewhere he is much less leniently handled. Indeed the plot of very many chansons turns entirely on the ease with which he lends an ear to traitors (treason of various kinds plays an almost ubiquitous part, and the famous "trahis!" is heard in the very dawn of French literature), on his readiness to be biassed by bribes, and on the singular ferocity with which, on the slightest and most unsupported accusation, he is ready to doom any one, from his own family downwards, to block, stake, gallows, or living grave. This combination, indeed, of the irascible and the gullible tempers in the king defrays the plot of a very large number of the chansons, in which we see his best knights, and (except that they are as intolerant of injustice as he is prone to it) his most faithful servants, forced into rebellion against him, and almost overwhelmed by his own violence following on the machinations of their and his worst enemies.

[Sidenote: Other characters and characteristics.]

Nevertheless, Charlemagne is always the defender of the Cross, and the antagonist of the Saracens, and the part which these latter play is as ubiquitous as his own, and on the whole more considerable. A very large part of the earlier chansons is occupied with direct fighting against the heathen; and from an early period (at least if the Voyage a Constantinoble is, as is supposed, of the early twelfth century, if not the eleventh) a most important element, bringing the class more into contact with romance generally than some others which have been noticed, is introduced in the love of a Saracen princess, daughter of emperor or "admiral" (emir), for one of the Christian heroes. Here again Roland stands alone, and though the mention of Aude, Oliver's sister and Roland's betrothed, who dies when she hears of his death, is touching, it is extremely meagre. There is practically nothing but the clash of arms in this remarkable poem. But elsewhere there is, in rather narrow and usual limits, a good deal else. Charlemagne's daughter, and the daughters of peers and paladins, figure: and their characteristics are not very different from those of the pagan damsels. It is, indeed, unnecessary to convert them,—a process to which their miscreant sisters usually submit with great goodwill,—and they are also relieved from the necessity of showing the extreme undutifulness to their more religiously constant sires, which is something of a blot on Paynim princesses like Floripas in Fierabras. This heroine exclaims in reference to her father, "He is an old devil, why do you not kill him? little I care for him provided you give me Guy," though it is fair to say that Fierabras himself rebukes her with a "Moult grant tort aves." All these ladies, however, Christian as well as heathen, are as tender to their lovers as they are hard-hearted to their relations; and the relaxation of morality, sometimes complained of in the later chansons, is perhaps more technical than real, even remembering the doctrine of the mediaeval Church as to the identity, for practical purposes, of betrothal and marriage. On the other hand, the courtesy of the chansons is distinctly in a more rudimentary state than that of the succeeding romances. Not only is the harshest language used by knights to ladies,[21] but blows are by no means uncommon; and of what is commonly understood by romantic love there is on the knights' side hardly a trace, unless it be in stories such as that of Ogier le Danois, which are obviously late enough to have come under Arthurian influence. The piety, again, which has been so much praised in these chansons, is of a curious and rather elementary type. The knights are ready enough to fight to the last gasp, and the last drop of blood, for the Cross; and their faith is as free from flaw as their zeal. Li Apostoiles de Rome—the Pope—is recognised without the slightest hesitation as supreme in all religious and most temporal matters. But there is much less reference than in the Arthurian romances, not merely to the mysteries of the Creed, but even to the simple facts of the birth and death of Christ. Except in a few places—such as, for instance, the exquisite and widely popular story of Amis and Amiles (the earliest vernacular form of which is a true chanson de geste of the twelfth century)—there are not many indications of any higher or finer notion of Christianity than that which is confined to the obedient reception of the sacraments, and the cutting off Saracens' heads whensoever they present themselves.[22]

[Footnote 21: V. infra on the scene in Aliscans between William of Orange and his sister Queen Blanchefleur.]

[Footnote 22: Even the famous and very admirable death-scene of Vivien (again v. infra) will not disprove these remarks.]

[Sidenote: Realist quality.]

In manners, as in theology and ethics, there is the same simplicity, which some have called almost barbarous. Architecture and dress receive considerable attention; but in other ways the arts do not seem to be far advanced, and living is still conducted nearly, if not quite, as much in public as in the Odyssey or in Beowulf. The hall is still the common resort of both sexes by day and of the men at night. Although gold and furs, silk and jewels, are lavished with the usual cheap magnificence of fiction, very few details are given of the minor supellex or of ways of living generally. From the Chanson de Roland in particular (which, though it is a pity to confine the attention to it as has sometimes been done, is undoubtedly the type of the class in its simplest and purest form) we should learn next to nothing about the state of society depicted, except that its heroes were religious in their fashion, and terrible fighters. But it ought to be added that the perusal of a large number of these chansons leaves on the mind a much more genuine belief in their world (if it may so be called) as having for a time actually existed, than that which is created by the reading of Arthurian romance. That fair vision we know (hardly knowing why or how we know it) to have been a creation of its own Fata Morgana, a structure built of the wishes, the dreams, the ideals of men, but far removed from their actual experience. This is not due to miracles—there are miracles enough in the chansons de geste most undoubtingly related: nor to the strange history, geography, and chronology, for the two divisions are very much on a par there also. But strong as the fantastic element is in them, the chansons de geste possess a realistic quality which is entirely absent from the gracious idealism of the Romances. The emperors and the admirals, perhaps even their fair and obliging daughters, were not personages unknown to the contemporaries of the Norman conquerors of Italy and Sicily, or to the first Crusaders. The faithful and ferocious, covetous and indomitable, pious and lawless spirit, which hardly dropped the sword except to take up the torch, was, poetic presentation and dressing apart, not so very different from the general temper of man after the break up of the Roman peace till the more or less definite mapping out of Europe into modern divisions. More than one Vivien and one William of Orange listened to Peter the Hermit. In the very isolation of the atmosphere of these romances, in its distance from modern thought and feeling, in its lack (as some have held) of universal quality and transcendent human interest, there is a certain element of strength. It was not above its time, and it therefore does not reach the highest forms of literature. But it was intensely of its time; and thus it far exceeds the lowest kinds, and retains an abiding value even apart from the distinct, the high, and the very curious perfection, within narrow limits, of its peculiar form.

[Sidenote: Volume and age of the chansons.]

[Sidenote: Twelfth century.]

It is probable that very few persons who are not specially acquainted with the subject are at all aware of the enormous bulk and number of these poems, even if their later remaniements (as they are called) both in verse and prose—fourteenth and fifteenth century refashionings, which in every case meant a large extension—be left out of consideration. The most complete list published, that of M. Leon Gautier, enumerates 110. Of these he himself places only the Chanson de Roland in the eleventh century, perhaps as early as the Norman Conquest of England, certainly not later than 1095. To the twelfth he assigns (and it may be observed that, enthusiastic as M. Gautier is on the literary side, he shows on all questions of age, &c., a wariness not always exhibited by scholars more exclusively philological) Acquin, Aliscans, Amis et Amiles, Antioche Aspremont, Auberi le Bourgoing, Aye d'Avignon, the Bataille Loquifer, the oldest (now only known in Italian) form of Berte aus grans Pies, Beuves d'Hanstone (with another Italian form more or less independent), the Charroi de Nimes, Les Chetifs, the Chevalerie Ogier de Danemarche, the Chevalerie Vivien (otherwise known as Covenant Vivien), the major part (also known by separate titles) of the Chevalier au Cygne, La Conquete de la Petite Bretagne (another form of Acquin), the Couronnement Loys, Doon de la Roche, Doon de Nanteuil, the Enfances Charlemagne, the Enfances Godefroi, the Enfances Roland, the Enfances Ogier, Floovant, Garin le Loherain, Garnier de Nanteuil, Giratz de Rossilho, Girbert de Metz, Gui de Bourgogne, Gui de Nanteuil, Helias, Hervis de Metz, the oldest form of Huon de Bordeaux, Jerusalem, Jourdains de Blaivies, the Lorraine cycle, including Garin, &c., Macaire, Mainet, the Moniage Guillaume, the Moniage Rainoart, Orson de Beauvais, Rainoart, Raoul de Cambrai, Les Saisnes, the Siege de Barbastre, Syracon, and the Voyage de Charlemagne. In other words, nearly half the total number date from the twelfth century, if not even earlier.

[Sidenote: Thirteenth century.]

By far the larger number of the rest are not later than the thirteenth. They include—Aimeri de Narbonne, Aiol, Anseis de Carthage, Anseis Fils de Gerbert, Auberon, Berte aus grans Pies in its present French form, Beton et Daurel, Beuves de Commarchis, the Departement des Enfans Aimeri, the Destruction de Rome, Doon de Mayence, Elie de Saint Gilles, the Enfances Doon de Mayence, the Enfances Guillaume, the Enfances Vivien, the Entree en Espagne, Fierabras, Foulques de Candie, Gaydon, Garin de Montglane, Gaufrey, Gerard de Viane, Guibert d'Andrenas, Jehan de Lanson, Maugis d'Aigremont, the Mort Aimeri de Narbonne, Otinel, Parise la Duchesse, the Prise de Cordres, the Prise de Pampelune, the Quatre Fils d'Aymon, Renaud de Montauban (a variant of the same), Renier, the later forms of the Chanson de Roland, to which the name of Roncevaux is sometimes given for the sake of distinction, the Siege de Narbonne, Simon de Pouille, Vivien l'Amachour de Montbranc, and Yon.

[Sidenote: Fourteenth, and later.]

By this the list is almost exhausted. The fourteenth century, though fruitful in remaniements, sometimes in mono-rhymed tirades, but often in Alexandrine couplets and other changed shapes, contributes hardly anything original except the very interesting and rather brilliant last branches of the Chevalier au CygneBaudouin de Seboure, and the Bastart de Bouillon; Hugues Capet, a very lively and readable but slightly vulgar thing, exhibiting an almost undisguised tone of parody; and some fragments known by the names of Hernaut de Beaulande, Renier de Gennes, &c. As for fifteenth and sixteenth century work, though some pieces of it, especially the very long and unprinted poem of Lion de Bourges, are included in the canon, all the chanson-production of this time is properly apocryphal, and has little or nothing left of the chanson spirit, and only the shell of the chanson form.

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