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It shall be covered with velvet red,
A hundred knights, truly told,
All night minstrels for you shall wake. '? Amid such fancies and splendours the poets delight and lose themselves; and the result, like the embroideries of their canvas, bears the mark of this love of decoration. They weave it out of adventures, of extraordinary and surprising events. Now it is the life of King Horn, who, thrown into a vessel when quite young, is driven upon the coast of England, and, becoming a knight, reconquers the kingdom of his father. Now it is the history of Sir Guy, who rescues enchanted knights, cuts down the giant Colbrand, challenges and kills the Sultan in his tent. It is not for me to recount these poems, which are not English, but only translations; still, here as in France, they are multiplied, they fill the imaginations of the young society, and they grow by exaggeration, until, falling to the lowest depth of insipidity and improbability, they are buried for ever by Cervantes. What would you say of a society which had no literature but the opera with its unrealities?
Yet it was a literature of this kind which nourished the genius of the middle ages. They did not ask for truth, but entertainment, and that vehement and hollow, full of glare and startling events. They asked for impossible voyages, extravagant challenges, a racket of contests, a confusion of magnificence and entanglement of chances. For introspective history they had no liking, cared nothing for the adventures of the heart, devoted their attention to the outside. They lived like
1 Warton, i. 176, spelling modernised.
children, with eyes glued to a series of exaggerated and coloured images, and, for lack of thinking, did not perceive that they had learnt nothing.
What was there beneath this fanciful dream ? Brutal and evil human passions, unchained at first by religious fury, then delivered to their own devices, and, beneath a show of external courtesy, as vile as before. Look at the popular king, Richard Cæur de Lion, and reckon up his butcheries and murders : ‘King Richard,' says a poem, “is the best king ever mentioned in song.'' I have no objection; but if he has the heart of a lion, he has also that brute's appetite. One day, under the walls of Acre, being convalescent, he had a great desire for some pork. There was no pork. They killed a young Saracen, fresh and tender, cooked and salted him, and the king eat him and found him very good; whereupon he desired to see the head of the pig. The cook brought it in trembling. The king falls a laughing, and says the army has nothing to fear from famine, having provisions ready at hand. He takes the town, and presently Saladin's ambassadors come to sue for pardon for the prisoners. Richard has thirty of the most noble beheaded, and bids his cook boil the heads, and serve one to each ambassador, with a ticket bearing the name and family of the dead man. Meanwhile, in their presence, he eats his own with a relish, bids them tell Saladin how the Christians make war, and ask him if it is true that they feared him. Then he orders the sixty thousand prisoners to be led into the plain:
• They were led into the place full even.
Thereon they behead them all. When he took a town, it was his wont to murder every one, even children and women. That was the devotion of the middle ages, not only in romances, as here, but in history. At the taking of Jerusalem the whole population, seventy thousand persons, were massacred.
Thus even in chivalrous accounts break out the fierce and unbridled instincts of the bloodthirsty brute. The authentic narratives show it equally. Henry 11., irritated against a page, attempted to tear out his eyes. John Lackland let twenty-three hostages die in prison of hunger. Edward 11. caused at one time twenty-eight nobles to be hanged and disembowelled, and was himself put to death by the inser
1 Warton, i. 123:
In Fraunce these rhymes were wroht,
Every Englyshe ne knew it not.'
tion of a red-hot iron into his bowels. Look in Froissart for the debaucheries and murders, in France as well as in England, of the Hundred Years' War, and then for the slaughters of the Wars of the Roses. In both countries feudal independence ended in civil war, and the middle age founders under its vices. Chivalrous courtesy, which cloaked the native ferocity, disappears like a garment suddenly consumed by the breaking out of a fire; at that time in England they killed nobles in preference, and prisoners too, even children, with insults, in cold blood. What, then, did man learn in this civilisation and by this literature? How was he humanised ? What precepts of justice, habits of reflection, store of true judgments, did this culture interpose between his desires and his actions, in order to moderate his passion ? He dreamed, he imagined a sort of elegant ceremonial in order to address better lords and ladies; he discovered the gallant code of little Jehan de Saintré. But where is the true education ? Wherein has Froissart profited by all his vast experience ? He was a fine specimen of a babbling child; what they called his poesy, the poésie neuve, is only a refined gabble, a senile puerility. Some rhetoricians, like Christine de Pisan, try to round their periods after an ancient model; but their literature amounts to nothing. No one can think. Sir John Maundeville, who travelled all over the world a hundred and fifty years after Villehardouin, is as contracted in his ideas as Villehardouin himself. Extraordinary legends and fables, every sort of credulity and ignorance, abound in his book. When he wishes to explain why Palestine has passed into the hands of various possessors instead of continuing under one government, he says that it is because God would not that it should continue longer in the hands of traitors and sinners, whether Christians or others. He has seen at Jerusalem, on the steps of the temple, the footmarks of the ass which our Lord rode on Palm Sunday. He describes the Ethiopians as a people who have only one foot, but so large that they can make use of it as a parasol. He instances one island where be people as big as gyants, of 28 feet long, and have no cloathing but beasts' skins ;' then another island, 'where there are many evil and foul women, but have precious stones in their eyes, and have such force that if they behold any man with wrath, they slay him with beholding, as the basilisk doth.' The good man relates; that is all : hesitation and good sense scarcely exist in the world he lives in. He has neither judgment nor personal reflection; he piles facts one on top of another, with no further connection ; his book is simply a mirror which reproduces recollections of his eyes and ears. “And all those who will say a Pater and an Ave Maria in my behalf, I give them an interest and a share in all the holy pilgrimages I ever made in my life.' That is his farewell, and accords with all the rest. Neither public morality nor public knowledge has gained anything from these three centuries of culture. This French culture, copied in vain throughout Europe, has but superficially adorned mankind, and the varnish with
which it decked them, already fades away or scales off. It was worse in England, where the thing was more superficial and the application worse than in France, where strange hands daubed it on, and where it only half-covered the Saxon crust, which remained coarse and rough. That is the reason why, during three centuries, throughout the first feudal age, the literature of the Normans in England, made up of imitations, translations, and clumsy copies, ends in nothing.
VI. Meantime, what has become of the conquered people? Has the old stock on which the brilliant continental flowers were grafted, engendered no shoot of its own speciality? Did it continue barren during this time under the Norman axe, which stripped it of all its shoots ? It grew very feebly, but it grew nevertheless. The subjugated race is not a dismembered nation, dislocated, uprooted, sluggish, like the populations of the Continent, which, after the long Roman oppression, were delivered over to the disorderly invasion of barbarians ; it remained united, fixed in its own soil, full of sap: its members were not displaced ; it was simply lopped in order to receive on its crown a cluster of foreign branches. True, it had suffered, but at last the wound closed, the saps mingled. Even the hard, stiff ligatures with which the Conqueror bound it, henceforth contributed to its fixity and vigour. The land was mapped out; every title verified, defined in writing ;? every right or tenure valued; every man registered as to his locality, condition, duty, resources, worth, so that the whole nation was enveloped in a network of which not a mesh would break. Its future development was according to this pattern. Its constitution was settled, and in this determinate and stringent enclosure men were bound to unfold themselves and to act. Solidarity and strife: these were the two effects of the great and orderly establishment which shaped and held together, on one side the aristocracy of the conquerors, on the other the conquered people; even as in Rome the systematic importation of conquered peoples into the plebs, and the constrained organisation of the patricians in contrast with the plebs, enrolled the several elements in two orders, whose opposition and union formed the state. Thus, here as in Rome, the national character was moulded and completed by the habit of corporate action, the respect for written law, political and practical aptitude, the development of combative and patient energy. It was the Domesday Book which, binding this young
1 Pictorial History, i. 666 ; Dialogue on the Exchequer, temp. Henr. II.
• Domesday Book. Froude's Hist. of England, 1858, i. 13: Through all these arrangements a single aim is visible, that every man in England should have his definite place and definite duty assigned to him, and that no human being should be at liberty to lead at his own pleasure an unaccountable existence. The disci. pline of an army was transferred to the details of social life.'