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is like the tail of a mystical peacock. So most of the poems of the time are barren of foundation; at most a trite morality serves them for mainstay: in short, the poet thought of nothing else than spreading out before us a glow of colours and a jumble of forms. They are dreams or visions; there are five or six in Chaucer, and you will meet more on your advance to the Renaissance. Yet the show is splendid. Chaucer is transported in a dream to a temple of glass, where on the walls are figured in gold all the legends of Ovid and Virgil, an infinite train of characters and dresses, like that which, on the painted glass in the churches, still occupies the gaze of the faithful. Suddenly a golden eagle, which soars near the sun, and glitters like a carbuncle, descends with the swiftness of lightning, and carries him off in his talons above the stars, dropping him at last before the House of Fame, splendidly built of beryl, with shining windows and lofty turrets, and situated on a high rock of almost inaccessible ice. All the southern side was graven with the names of famous men, but the sun was continuously melting them. On the northern side, the names, better protected, still remained. On the turrets appeared the minstrels and jongleurs, with Orpheus, Orion, and the great harp-players, and behind them myriads of musicians, with horns, flutes, pipes, and reeds, in which they blew, and which filled the air; then all the charmers, magicians, and prophets. He enters, and in a high hall, wainscotted with gold, embossed with pearls, on a throne of carbuncle, he sees a woman seated, a 'gret and noble quene,' amidst an infinite number of heralds, whose embroidered cloaks bore the arms of the most famous knights in the world, and heard the sounds of instruments, and the celestial melody of Calliope and her sisters. From her throne to the gate stretched a row of pillars, on which stood the great historians and poets; Josephus on a pillar of lead and iron; Statius on a pillar of iron stained with blood ; Ovid,
Venus' clerk,' on a pillar of copper; then, on one higher than the rest, Homer and Livy, Dares the Phrygian, Guido Colonna, Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the other historians of the war of Troy. Must I go on copying this phantasmagoria, in which confused erudition mars picturesque invention, and frequent banter shows sign that the vision is only a planned amusement? The poet and his reader have imagined for half an hour decorated halls and bustling crowds; a slender thread of common sense has ingeniously crept along the transparent golden mist which they amuse themselves with following. That suffices; they are pleased with their fleeting fancies, and ask nothing beyond.
Amid this exuberancy of mind, amid these refined cravings, and this insatiate exaltation of imagination and sense, there was the passion of love, which, combining all, was developed in excess, and displayed in short the sickly charm, the fundamental and fatal exaggeration, which are the characteristics of the age, and which, later, the Spanish civilisa
1 The House of Fame.
tion exhibits both in its flower and its decay. Long ago, the courts of love in Provence had established the theory. 'Each one who loves,' they said, 'grows pale at the sight of her whom he loves ; each action of the lover ends in the thought of her whom he loves. Love can refuse nothing to love." This search after excessive sensation had ended in the ecstasies and transports of Guido Cavalcanti, and of Dante; and in Languedoc a company of enthusiasts had established themselves, love-penitents, who, in order to prove the violence of their passion, dressed in summer in furs and heavy garments, and in winter in light gauze, and walked thus about the country, so that many of them fell ill and died. Chaucer, in their wake, explained in his verses the craft of love, the ten commandments, the twenty statutes of love; and praised his lady, his daieseye,' his ‘Margaruite,' his vermeil rose ;' depicted love in ballads, visions, allegories, didactic poeins, in a hundred guises. This is chivalrous, lofty love, as it was conceived in the middle age; above all, tender love. Troilus loves Cressida like a troubadour; without Pandarus, her uncle, he would have languished, and ended by dying in silence. He will not reveal the name of her he loves. Pandarus has to tear it from him, perform all the bold actions himself, plan every kind of stratagem. Troïlus, however brave and strong in battle, can but weep before Cressida, ask her pardon, and faint. Cressida exhibits every delicacy. When Pandarus brings her Troilus' first letter, she begins by refusing it, and is ashamed to open it: she opens it only because she is told the poor knight is about to die. At the first words "all rosy hewed tho woxe she;' and though the letter is respectful, she will not answer it. She yields at last to the importunities of her uncle, and answers Troïlus that she will feel for him the affection of a sister. As to Troïlus, he trembles all over, grows pale when he sees the messenger return, doubts his happiness, and will not believe the assurance which is given him :
* But right so as these holtes and these hayis
Woxe suddainly his herte full of joy.'3 Slowly, after many pains, and thanks to the efforts of Pandarus, he obtains her confession ; and in this confession what a delightful grace!
• And as the newe abashed nightingale
1 André le Chapelain, 1170.
2 Also the Court of Love, and perhaps The Assemble of Ladies and La Belle Dame sans Merci. 3 Troilus and Cressida, vol. v. bk. 3, p. 12.
Right so Creseide, whan that her drede stent,
Opened her herte, and told him her entent.''
In chaunged voice, right for his very drede,
Was twice: “Mercy, mercy, O my sweet herte !"! This ardent love breaks out in impassioned accents, in bursts of happiness. Far from being regarded as a fault, it is the source of all virtue. Troilus becomes braver, more generous, more upright, through it; his speech runs now on love and virtue;' he scorns all villany; he honours those who possess merit, succours those who are in distress; and Cressida, delighted, repeats all day, with exceeding tenderness, this song, which is like the warbling of a nightingale:
• Whom should I thanken but you, god of love,
And his in me, that it shall ever last.'3 But misfortune comes. Her father Calchas demands her back, and the Trojans decide that they will give her up in exchange for prisoners. At this news she swoons, and Troïlus is about to slay himself. Their love at this time seems imperishable; it sports with death, because it constitutes the whole of life. Beyond that better and delicious life which it created, it seems there can be no other:
“But as God would, of swough she abraide,
(Quod she), and therewithal she sore sight,
Alas, how nigh we weren bothe dede !”'1
6" Where is mine owne lady lefe and dere?
Now, good sweete, love me well I pray.'
i Troilus and Cressida, vol. v. bk. 4, p. 97.
2 Ibid. bk. 5, p. 119 et passim.
None has since found more true and tender words. These are the charming poetic branches' which flourished amid the gross ignorance and pompous parades. Human intelligence in the middle age had blossomed on that side where it perceived the light.
But mere narrative does not suffice to express his felicity and fancy; the poet must go where shoures sweet of rain descended soft,'
* And every plaine was clothed faire
He must forget himself in the vague felicity of the country, and, like Dante, lose himself in ideal light and allegory. The dreams of love, to continue true, must not take a too visible form, nor enter into a too consecutive history; they must float in a misty distance; the soul in which they hover cannot think of the laws of existence; it inhabits another world; it forgets itself in the ravishing emotion which troubles it, and sees its well-loved visions rise, mingle, come and go, as in summer we see the bees on a hill-slope flutter in a haze of light, and circle round and round the flowers.
One morning,' a lady sings, I entered at the dawn of day, I entered an oak-grove
• With branches brode, laden with leves new,