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are not capable of such an access of enthusiasm and such excess of emotions. They never cry out, they speak, or rather they converse, and that at moments when the soul, overwhelmed by its trouble, might be expected to cease thinking and feeling. Thus Amis, in a mysteryplay, being leprous, calmly requires his friend Amille to slay his two sons, in order that their blood should heal him of his leprosy; and Amille replies still more calmly. If ever they try to sing, even in heaven, "a roundelay high and clear,' they will produce little rhymed arguments, as dull as the dullest conversations. Pursue this literature to its conclusion ; regard it, like the Skalds, at the time of its decadence, when its vices, being exaggerated, display, like the Skalds, with marked coarseness the kind of mind which produced them. The Skalds fall off into nonsense; it loses itself into babble and platitude. The Saxon could not master his craving for exaltation; the Frenchinan could not restrain the volubility of his tongue. He is too diffuse and too clear; the Saxon is too obscure and brief. The one was excessively agitated and carried away; the other explains and develops without measure. From the twelfth century the Gestes degenerate into rhapsodies and psalmodies of thirty or forty thousand verses. Theology enters into them ; poetry becomes an interminable, intolerable litany, where the ideas, developed and repeated
Sun destre guant à Deu en puroffrit.
L'anme del cunte portent en pareis.
Et de grant charité plaine,
ad infinitum, without an outburst of emotion nor an accent of originality, flow like a clear and insipid stream, and send off their reader, by dint of their monotonous rhymes, into a comfortable slumber. What a deplorable abundance of distinct and facile ideas! We meet with it again in the seventeenth century, in the literary gossip which took place at the feet of men of distinction; it is the fault and the talent of the race. With this involuntary art of conceiving, and isolating instantaneously and clearly each part of every object, people can speak, even for speaking's sake, and for ever.
Such is the primitive process ; how will it be continued ? Here appears a new trait in the French genius, the most valuable of all. It is necessary to comprehension that the second idea shall be continuous with the first; otherwise that genius is thrown out of its course and arrested : it cannot proceed by irregular bounds; it must walk step by step, on a straight road; order is innate in it; without study, and at first approach, it disjoints and decomposes the object or event, however complicated and entangled it may be, and sets the parts one by one in succession to each other, according to their natural connection. True, it is still in a state of barbarism ; yet intelligence is a reasoning faculty, which spreads, though unwittingly. Nothing is more clear than the style of the old French narrative and of the earliest poems : we do not perceive that we are following a narrator, so easy is the gait, so even the road he opens to us, so smoothly and gradually every idea glides into the next; and this is why he narrates so well. The chroniclers Villehardouin, Joinville, Froissart, the fathers of prose, have an ease and clearness approached by none, and beyond all, a charm, a grace, which they had not to go out of their way to find. Grace is a national possession in France, and springs from the native delicacy which has a horror of incongruities; the instinct of Frenchmen avoids violent shocks in works of taste as well as in works of argument; they desire that their sentiments and ideas shall harmonise, and not clash. Throughout they have this measured spirit, exquisitely refined. They take care, on a sad subject, not to push emotion to its limits; they avoid big words. Think how Joinville relates in six lines the death of the poor sick priest who wished to finish celebrating the mass, and never more did sing, and died.' Open a mystery-play-Théophile, the Queen of Hungary, for instance : when they are going to burn her and her child, she says two short lines about this gentle dew which is so pure an innocent,' naught beside. Take a fabliau, even a dramatic one: when the penitent knight, who has undertaken to fill a barrel with his tears, dies in the hermit's company, he asks from him only one last gift :
Do but put thy arms on me, and then I'll die embraced by thee.' Could a more touching sentiment be expressed in more sober language ? One has to say of their poetry what is said of certain
See H. Taine, La Fontaine and his Fables, p. 15.
pictures : This is made out of nothing. Is there in the world anything more delicately graceful than the verses of Guillaume de Lorris? Allegory clothes his ideas so as to dim their too great brightness; ideal figures, half transparent, float about the lover, luminous, yet in a cloud, and lead him amidst all the sweets of delicate-hued ideas to the rose, of which the gentle odour embalms all the plain.' This refinement goes so far, that in Thibaut of Champagne and in Charles of Orléans it turns to affectation and insipidity. In them impressions grow more slender; the perfume is so weak, that one often fails to catch it; on their knees before their lady they whisper their waggeries and conceits ; they love politely and wittily; they arrange ingeniously in a bouquet their painted words, all the flowers of fresh and beautiful language;' they know how to mark fleeting ideas in their flight, soft melancholy, uncertain reverie; they are as elegant as eloquent, and as charming as the most amiable abbés of the eighteenth century. This lightness of touch is proper to the race, and appears as plainly under the armour and amid the massacres of the middle ages as amid the salutations and the musk-scented, wadded clothes of the last court. You will find it in their colouring as in their sentiments. They are not struck by the magnificence of nature, they see only her pretty side ; they paint the beauty of a woman by a single feature, which is only polite, saying, 'She is more gracious than the rose in May. They do not experience the terrible emotion, ravishment, sudden oppression of heart which is displayed in the poetry of neighbouring nations; they say directly, "She began to smile, which vastly became her.' They add, when they are in a descriptive humour, that she had a sweet and perfumed breath,' and a body 'white as new-fallen snow on a branch. They do not aspire higher; beauty pleases, but does not transport them. They delight in agreeable emotions, but are not fitted for deep sensations. The full rejuvenescence of being, the warm air of spring which renews and penetrates all existence, suggests but a pleasing couplet; they remark in passing,
Now is winter gone, the hawthorn blossoms, the rose expands,' and so pass on about their business. It is a light pleasure, soon gone, like that which an April landscape affords. For an instant "the author glances at the mist of the streams rising about the willow trees, the pleasant vapour which imprisons the brightness of the morning; then, humming a burden of a song, he returns to his narrative. He seeks amusement, and herein lies his power.
In life, as in literature, it is pleasure he aims at, not sensual pleasure or emotion. He is gay, not voluptuous; dainty, not a glutton. He takes love for a pastime, not for an intoxication. It is a pretty fruit which he plucks, tastes, and leaves. And we must · remark yet further, that the best of the fruit in his eyes is the fact of
its being forbidden. He says to himself that he is duping a husband, that he deceives a cruel woman, and thinks he ought to obtain
tory, the rarely begins of his padalom
a pope's indulgence for the deed.'' He wishes to be merry-it is the state he prefers, the end and aim of his life; and especially to laugh at another's expense. The short verse of his fabliaux garnbols and leaps like a schoolboy released from school, over all things respected or respectable ; criticising the church, women, the great, the monks. Scoffers, hanterers, our fathers have abundance of the same expressions and things; and the thing comes to them so naturally, that without culture, and surrounded by coarseness, they are as delicate in their raillery as the most refined. They touch upon ridicule lightly, they mock without emphasis, as it were innocently; their style is so harmonious, that at first sight we make a mistake, and do not see any harm in it. They seem artless; they look so very demure; only a word shows the imperceptible smile : it is the ass, for example, which they call the high priest, by reason of his padded cassock and his serious air, and who gravely begins to play the organ.' At the close of the history, the delicate sense of comicality has touched you, though you cannot say how. They do not call things by their name, especially in love matters; they let you guess it; they suppose you to be as sharp of intellect and as wary as themselves. Be sure that one might discriminate, embellish at times, even refine upon them, but that their first traits are incomparable. When the fox approaches the raven to steal the cheese, he begins as a hypocrite, piously and cautiously, and as one of the family. He calls the raven his "good father Don Robart, who sings so well;' he praises his voice, so sweet and fine.' 'You would be the best singer in the world if you beware of nuts.' Renard is a Scapin, an artist in the way of invention, not a mere glutton; he loves roguery for its own sake; he rejoices in his superiority, and draws out his mockery. When Tibert, the cat, by his counsel hung himself at the bell rope, wishing to ring it, he uses irony, smacks his lips and pretends to wax impatient against the poor fool whom he has caught, calls him proud, complains because the other does not answer, and because he wishes to rise to the clouds and visit the saints. And from beginning to end this long epic is the same; the raillery never ceases, and never fails to be agreeable. Renard has so much wit, that he is pardoned for everything. The necessity for laughter is national-SO indigenous to the French, that a stranger cannot understand, and is shocked by it. This pleasure does not resemble physical joy in any respect, which is to be despised for its grossness; on the contrary, it sharpens the intelligence, and brings to light many a delicate and suggestive idea. The fabliaux are full of truths about men, and still more about women, about low conditions, and still more about high ; it is
1 La Fontaine, Contes, Richard Minutolo.
Parler lui veut d'une besogne
a method of philosophising by stealth and boldly, in spite of conventionalism, and in opposition to the powers that be. This taste has nothing in common either with open satire, which is hideous because it is cruel ; on the contrary, it provokes good humour. One soon sees that the jester is not ill-disposed, that he does not wish to wound: if he stings, it is as a bee, without venum ; an instant later he is not thinking of it; if need be, he will take himself as an object of his pleasantry; all he wishes is to keep up in himself and in us sparkling and pleasing ideas. Do we not see here in advance an abstract of the whole French literature, the incapacity for great poetry, the quick and durable perfection of prose, the excellence of all the moode of conversation and eloquence, the reign and tyranny of taste and method, the art and theory of development and arrangement, the gift of being measured, clear, amusing, and pungent? We have taught Europe how ideas fall into order, and which ideas are agreeable; and this is what our Frenchmen of the eleventh century are about to teach their Saxons during five or six centuries, first with the lance, next with the stick, next with the birch.
IV. Consider, then, this Frenchman or Norman, this man from Anjou or Maine, who in his well-closed coat of mail, with sword and lance, came to seek his fortune in England. He took the manor of some slain Saxon, and settled himself in it with his soldiers and comrades, gave them land, houses, the right of levying taxes, on condition of their fighting under him and for him, as men-at-arms, marshals, standard-bearers; it was a league in case of danger. In fact, they were in a hostile and conquered country, and they have to maintain themselves. Each one hastened to build for himself a place of refuge, castle or fortress,' well fortified, of solid stone, with narrow windows, strengthened with battlements, garrisoned by soldiers, pierced with loopholes. Then these men went to Salisbury, to the number of sixty thousand, all holders of land, having at least enough to support a complete horse or armour. There, placing their hands in William's, they promised him fealty and assistance; and the king's edict declared that they must be all united and bound together like brothers in arms, to defend and succour each other. They are an armed colony, and encamped in their dwellings, like the Spartans amongst the Helots; and they make laws accordingly. When a Frenchman is found dead in any district, the inhabitants are to give up the murderer, unless they pay forty-seven marks as compensation ; if the dead man is English, it rests with the people of the place to prove it by the oath of four near relatives of the deceased. They are to beware of killing a stag, boar, or fawn; for an offence against the forest-laws they will lose their eyes. They have nothing of all their property assured
. * At King Stephen's death there were 1115 castles.