We also possess a rhymed chronicle of the war of in Navarre, by Guillem Anelier. Blandin de Cornoalha is another existing romance, and so is the far more interesting Flamenca , a lively picture of manners dating from the middle of the thirteenth century. A very few narrative poems of a sacred character are also found, and vestiges of drama may be traced. But, as we have said, the real importance of the period consists in its lyrical poetry, the poetry of the Troubadours. The names of separate poets are given, and pieces have come down to us without the names of their writers.
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The chief forms in which these poets exercised their ingenuity were as follows. The simplest and oldest was called simply vers ; it had few artificial rules, was written in octosyllabic lines, and arranged in stanzas. Here the rhymes were interlaced, and the alternation of masculine and feminine by degrees observed. The length of the lines varied. Both these forms were consecrated to love verse; the Sirvente, on the other hand, is panegyrical or satirical, its meaning being literally 'Song of Service.
The planh or Complaint was a dirge or funeral song written generally in decasyllabics. The tenson or debate is in dialogue form, and when there are more than two disputants is called torneijamens. The retroensa is a longer refrain poem of later date, but in neither is the return of the same rhyme in each stanza necessarily observed, as in the French ballade. The alba is a leave-taking poem at morning, and the serena if it can be called a form, for scarcely more than a single example exists a poem of remembrance and longing at eventide. The pastorela , which had numerous sub-divisions, explains itself.
The descort is a poem something like the irregular ode, which varies the structure of its stanzas. Not merely the rhymes but the words which rhyme are repeated on a regular scheme. The breu-doble double-short is a curious little form on three rhymes, two of which are repeated twice in three four-lined stanzas, and given once in a concluding couplet, while the third finishes each quatrain. Other forms are often mentioned and given, but they are not of much consequence.
Its most considerable remains, besides religious works and a few scientific and grammatical treatises, are a prose version of the Chanson des Albigeois , and an interesting collection of contemporary lives of the Troubadours. This poet, like most of the other literary names of the period, belongs to the school of Toulouse, a somewhat artificial band of writers who flourished throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, held poetical tournaments on the first Sunday in May, invented or adopted the famous phrase gai saber for their pursuits, and received, if they were successful, the equally famous Golden Violet and minor trinkets of the same sort.
The brotherhood directed itself by an art of poetry in which the half-forgotten traditions of more spontaneous times were gathered up. To this period, and to its latter part, the Waldensian writings entitled La Nobla Leyczon , to which ignorance and sectarian enthusiasm had given a much earlier date, are now assigned. With a few words on these two points this chapter may be concluded.
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It may be regarded as not proven that any initial influence was exercised over northern French literature by the literature of the South, and more than this, it may be held to be unlikely that any such influence was exerted. With regard to lyric poetry the case is rather different.
The earliest existing lyrics of the North are somewhat later than the earliest songs of the Troubadours, and no great lyrical variety or elegance is reached until the Troubadours' work had, by means of Thibaut de Champagne and others, had an opportunity of penetrating into northern France. On the other hand, the forms which finished lyric adopted in the North are by no means identical with those of the Troubadours.
The scientific and melodious figures of the Ballade, the Rondeau, the Chant-royal, the Rondel, and the Villanelle, cannot by any ingenuity be deduced from Canso or Balada, Retroensa or Breu-Doble. The Alba and the Pastorela agree in subject with the Aubade and the Pastourelle, but have no necessary or obvious connection of form. The Troubadours undoubtedly preceded their Northern brethren in scrupulous attention to poetical form, and in elaborate devices for ensuring such attention.
They preceded them too in recognising that quality in poetry for which there is perhaps no other word than elegance. There can be little doubt that they sacrificed to these two divinities, elegance and the formal limitation of verse, matters almost equally if not more important. The motives of their poems are few, and the treatment of those motives monotonous. Love, war, and personal enmity, with a certain amount of more or less frigid didactics, almost complete the list. In dealing with the first and the most fruitful, they fell into the deadly error of stereotyping their manner of expression.
The objection would hardly be fatal, if this eternity did not extend to a great many things besides hawthorn and nightingales. In the later Troubadours especially, the fault which has been urged against French dramatic literature just before the Romantic movement was conspicuously anticipated. Every mood, every situation of passion, was catalogued and analysed, and the proper method of treatment, with similes and metaphors complete, was assigned.
There was no freshness and no variety, and in the absence of variety and freshness, that of vigour was necessarily implied. It may even be doubted whether the influence of this hot-house verse on the more natural literature of the North was not injurious rather than beneficial. In this chapter the information given is based on a smaller acquaintance at first hand with the subject than is the case in the chapters on French proper. Herr Karl Bartsch has been the guide chiefly followed. The passion for narrative poetry, which at first contented itself with stories drawn from the history or tradition of France, took before very long a wider range.
The origin of the Legend of King Arthur, of the Round Table, of the Holy Graal, and of all the adventures and traditions connected with these centres, is one of the most intricate questions in the history of mediaeval literature. It would be beyond the scope of this book to attempt to deal with it at length. It is sufficient for our purpose, in the first place, to point out that the question of the actual existence and acts of Arthur has very little to do with the question of the origin of the Arthurian cycle. The history of mediaeval literature, as distinguished from the history of the Middle Ages, need not concern itself with any conflict between the invaders and the older inhabitants of England.
The question which is of historical literary interest is, whether the traditions which Geoffrey of Monmouth, Walter Map, Chrestien de Troyes, and their followers, wrought into a fabric of such astounding extent and complexity, are due to Breton originals, or whether their authority is nothing but the ingenuity of Geoffrey working upon the meagre data of Nennius As far as this question concerns French literature, the chief champions of these rival opinions were till lately M.
Paulin Paris. In no instance was the former able to produce Breton or Celtic originals of early date. On the other hand, M. Paris showed that Nennius is sufficient to account for Geoffrey, and that Geoffrey is sufficient to account for the purely Arthurian part of subsequent romances and chronicles. The religious element of the cycle has a different origin, and may possibly not be Celtic at all.
It must, however, still be admitted that the extraordinary rapidity with which so vast a growth of literature was produced, apparently from the slenderest stock, is one of the most surprising things in literary history. Before the middle of the twelfth century little or nothing is heard of Arthur.
Before that century closed at least a dozen poems and romances in prose, many of them of great length, had elaborated the whole legend as it was thenceforward received, and as we have it condensed and Englished in Malory's well-known book two centuries and a half later. The probable genesis of the Arthurian legend, in so far as it concerns French literature, appears to be as follows. First in order of composition, and also in order of thought, comes the Legend of Joseph of Arimathea, sometimes called the 'Little St.
There is nothing in this work which is directly connected with Arthur. By some it has been attributed to a Latin, but not now producible, 'Book of the Graal,' by others to Byzantine originals. Anyhow it fell into the hands of the well-known Walter Map 53 , and his exhaustless energy and invention at once seized upon it. He produced the 'Great St. Graal,' a very much extended version of the early history of the sacred vase, still keeping clear of definite connection with Arthur, though tending in that direction.
From this, in its turn, sprang the original form of Percevale , which represents a quest for the vessel by a knight who has not originally anything to do with the Round Table. The link of connection between the two stories is to be found in the Merlin , attributed also to Robert de Borron, wherein the Welsh legends begin to have more definite influence.
This, in its turn, leads to Artus , which gives the early history of the great king. Then comes the most famous, most extensive, and finest of all the romances, that of Lancelot du Lac , which is pretty certainly in part, and perhaps in great part, the work of Map; as is also the mystical and melancholy but highly poetical Quest of the Saint Graal , a quest of which Galahad and Lancelot, not, as in the earlier legends, Percival, are the heroes.
To this succeeds the Mort Artus , which forms the conclusion of the whole, properly speaking. This, however, does not entirely complete the cycle. Other legends were worked up into the omnium gatherum of Giron le Courtois , and with this the cycle proper ceases. But not the slightest testimony can be adduced to show that any such persons ever had existence These prose romances form for the most part the original literature of the Arthurian story.
As is the case with most of these early writers, little or nothing is known of Chrestien de Troyes but his name. He lived in the last half of the twelfth century, he was attached to the courts of Flanders, Hainault, and Champagne, and he wrote most of his works for the lords of these fiefs. Besides his Arthurian work he translated Ovid, and wrote some short poems.
Chrestien de Troyes deserves a higher place in literature than has sometimes been given to him. But Percevale and the Chevalier au Lyon are very charming poems, deeply imbued with the peculiar characteristics of the cycle — religious mysticism, passionate gallantry, and refined courtesy of manners. Chrestien de Troyes undoubtedly contributed not a little to the popularity of the Arthurian legends. Although, by a singular chance, which has not yet been fully explained, the originals appear to have been for the most part in prose, the times were by no means ripe for the general enjoyment of work in such a form.
The reciter was still the general if not the only publisher, and recitation almost of necessity implied poetical form.
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Chrestien did not throw the whole of the work of his contemporaries into verse, but he did so throw a considerable portion of it. Percevale is, perhaps, the best example of Chrestien's fashion of composition. The work of Borron is very short, amounting in all to some ninety pages in the reprint. The Percevale le Gallois of Chrestien and his continuators, on the other hand, contains, as has been said, more than forty-five thousand verses.
This amplification is produced partly by the importation of incidents and episodes from other works, but still more by indulging in constant diffuseness and what we must perhaps call commonplaces. From a literary point of view the prose romances rank far higher, especially those in which Map is known or suspected to have had a hand.
The peculiarity of what may be called their atmosphere is marked. An elaborate and romantic system of mystical religious sentiment, finding vent in imaginative and allegorical narrative, a remarkable refinement of manners, and a combination of delight in battle with devotion to ladies, distinguish them. This is, in short, the romantic spirit, or, as it is sometimes called, the spirit of chivalry; and it cannot be too positively asserted that the Arthurian romances communicate it to literature for the first time, and that nothing like it is found in the classics.
In the work of Map and his contemporaries it is clearly perceivable. The most important element in this — courtesy — is, as we have already noticed, almost entirely absent from the Chansons de Gestes, and where it is present at all it is between persons who are connected by some natural or artificial relation of comradeship or kin. Nor are there many traces of it in such fragments and indications as we possess of the Celtic originals, which may have helped in the production of the Arthurian romances.
No Carlovingian knight would have felt the horror of Sir Bors when the Lady of Hungerford exercises her undoubted right by flinging the body of her captive enemy on the camp of his uncle.
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