« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
petty region of threadbare cavils, scratched himself in the briers of quibbles, and burdened himself with his bundle of texts; nothing more. The vast body of science which was to have formed and vivified the whole thought of man, was reduced to a text-book.
So, little by little, the conception which fertilized and ruled all others, dried up; the deep spring, whence flowed all poetic streams, was found empty; science furnished nothing more to the world. What further works could the world produce? As Spain, later on, renewing the middle age, after having shone splendidly and foolishly by her chivalry and devotion, by Lope de Vega and Calderon, Loyola and St. Theresa, became enervated through the Inquisition and through casuistry, and ended by sinking into a brutish silence; so the middle age, outstripping Spain, after displaying the senseless heroism of the crusades, and the poetical ecstasy of the cloister, after producing chivalry and saintship, Francis of Assisi, St. Louis, and Dante, languished under the Inquisition and the scholastic learning, and became extinguished in idle raving and inanity.
Must we quote all these good people who speak without having anything to say? You may find them in Warton; 1 dozens of translators, importing the poverties of French literature, and imitating imitations; rhyming chroniclers, most commonplace of men, whom we only read because we must accept history from every quarter, even from imbeciles; spinners and spinsters of didactic poems, who pile up verses on the training of falcons, on heraldry, on chemistry; editors of moralities, who invent the same dream over again for the hundredth time, and get themselves taught universal history by the goddess Sapience. Like the writers of the Latin decadence, these folk only think of copying, compiling, abridging, constructing in text-books, in rhymed memoranda, the encyclopedia of their times.
Listen to the most illustrious, the grave Gower—"morall Gower," as he was called !2 Doubtless here and there he contains a remnant of brilliancy and grace. He is like an old secretary of a Court of Love, André le Chapelain or any other, ; who would pass the day in solemnly registering the sentences of ladies, and in the evening, partly asleep on his desk, would see
i Hist. of English Poetry, vol. ii.
in a half-dream their sweet smile and their beautiful eyes. The ingenious but exhausted vein of Charles of Orléans still flows in his French ballads. He has the same fondling delicacy, almost a little affected. The poor little poetic spring flows yet in thin transparent streamlets over the smooth pebbles, and murmurs with a babble, pretty, but so low that at times you cannot hear it. But dull is the rest ! His great poem, Confessio Amantis, is a dialogue between a lover and his confessor, imitated chiefly from Jean de Meung, having for object, like the Roman de la Rose, to explain and classify the impediments of love. perannuated theme is always reappearing, covered by a crude erudition. You will find here an exposition of hermetic science, lectures on the philosophy of Aristotle, a treatise on politics, a litany of ancient and modern legends gleaned from the compilers, marred in the passage by the pedantry of the schools and the ignorance of the age. It is a cartload of scholastic rubbish; the sewer tumbles upon this feeble spirit, which of itself was flowing clearly, but now, obstructed by tiles, bricks, plaster, ruins from all quarters of the globe, drags on darkened and sluggish. Gower, one of the most learned of his time, supposed that Latin was invented by the old prophetess Carmentis; that the grammarians, Aristarchus, Donatus, and Didymus, regulated its syntax, pronunciation, and prosody; that it was adorned by Cicero with the flowers of eloquence and rhetoric; then enriched by translations from the Arabic, Chaldæan, and Greek; and that at last, after much labor of celebrated writers, it attained its final perfection in Ovid, the poet of love. Elsewhere he discovers that Ulysses learned rhetoric from Cicero, magic from Zoroaster, astronomy from Ptolemy, and philosophy from Plato. And what a style! so long, so dull, so drawn out by repetitions, the most minute details, garnished with references to his text, like a man who, with his eyes glued to his Aristotle and his Ovid, a slave of his musty parchments, can do nothing but copy and string his rhymes together. Schoolboys even in old age, they seem to believe that every truth, all wit, is in their great woodbound books; that they have no need to find out and invent for themselves; that their whole business is to repeat; that this is, in fact, man's business. The scholastic system had enthroned
1 History of Rosiphele. Ballads.
2 Warton, ii. 240. 3 See, for instance, his description of the sun's crown, the most poetical passage in book vii
the dead letter, and peopled the world with dead understandings.
After Gower come Occleve and Lydgate. 1 My father Chaucer would willingly have taught me,” says Occleve, “but I was dull, and learned little or nothing.” He paraphrased in verse a treatise of Egidius, on government; these are moralities: There are others, on compassion, after Augustine, and on the art of dying; then love-tales; a letter from Cupid, dated from his court in the month of May. Love and moralities, 2 that is, abstractions and affectation, were the taste of the time; and so, in the time of, Lebrun, of Esménard, at the close of contemporaneous French literature, they produced collections of didactic poems, and odes to Chloris. As for the monk Lydgate, he had some talent, some imagination, especially in high-toned descriptions: it was the last flicker of a dying literature; gold received a golden coating, precious stones were placed upon diamonds, ornaments multiplied and made fantastic; as in their dress and buildings, so in their style. 4 Look at the costumes of Henry IV. and Henry V., monstrous heart-shaped or horn-shaped head-dresses, long sleeves covered with ridiculous designs, the plumes, and again the oratories, armorial tombs, little gaudy chapels, like conspicuous flowers under the naves of the Gothic perpendicular. When we can no more speak to the soul, we try to speak to the eyes. This is what Lydgate does, nothing more. Pageants or shows are required of him, “disguisings” for the Company of goldsmiths; a mask before the king, a May-entertainment for the sheriffs of London, a drama of the creation for the festival of Corpus Christi, a masquerade, a Christmas show; he gives the plan and furnishes the verses. In this matter he never runs dry; two hundred and fifty-one poems are attributed to him. Poetry thus conceived becomes a manufacture; it is composed by the yard. Such was the judgment of the Abbot of St. Albans, who, having got him to translate a legend in verse, pays a hundred shillings for the whole, verse, writing, and illuminations, placing the three works on a level. In fact, no more thought was required for the one than for the others. His three great works,
1420, 1430. 2 This is the title Froissart (1397) gave to his collection when presenting it to Richard II. 3 Lebrun, 1729-1807; Esménard, 1770-1812.
4 Lydgate, The Destruction of Troy_description of Hector's chapel. Especially read the Pageants or Solemn Entries.
The Fall of Princes, The Destruction of Troy, and The Siege of
Thebes, are only translations or paraphrases, verbose, erudite, descriptive, a kind of chivalrous processions, colored for the twentieth time, in the same manner, on the same vellum. The only point which rises above the average, at least in the first poem, is the idea of Fortune, and the violent vicissitudes of human life. If there was a philosophy at this time, this was it. They willingly narrated horrible and tragic histories; gather them from antiquity down to their own day; they were far from the trusting and passionate piety which felt the hand of God in the government of the world; they saw that the world went blundering here and there like a drunken man. A sad and gloomy world, amused by eternal pleasures, oppressed with a dull misery, which suffered and feared without consolation or hope, isolated between the ancient spirit in which it had no living hope, and the modern spirit whose active science it ignored. Fortune, like a black smoke, hovers over all, and shuts out the sight of heaven. They picture it as follows:
“Her face semyng cruel and terrible
Which cast another in grete adversite.” 2 They look upon the great unhappy ones, a captive king, a dethroned queen, assassinated princes, noble cities destroyed, lamentable spectacles as exhibited in Germany and France, and of which there will be plenty in England; and they can only regard them with a harsh resignation. Lydgate ends by reciting a commonplace of mechanical piety, by way of consolation. The reader makes the sign of the cross, yawns, and goes away. In fact, poetry and religion are no longer capable of suggesting a genuine sentiment. Authors copy, and copy again. Hawes * copies the House of Fame of Chaucer, and a sort of allegorical amorous poem, after the Roman de la 'Rose. Barclays translates
See the Vision of Fortune, a gigantic figure. In this painting he shows both feeling and talent.
? Lydgate, Fall of Princes. Warton, ii. 280.
6 About 1500.
the Mirror of Good Manners and the Ship of Fools. Continually we meet with dull abstractions, used up and barren ; it is the scholastic phase of poetry. If anywhere there is an accent of greater originality, it is in this Ship of Fools, and in Lydgate's Dance of Death, bitter buffooneries, sad gaieties, which, in the hands of artists and poets, were having their run througlıout Europe. They mock at each other, grotesquely and gloomily; poor, dull, and vulgar figures, shut up in a ship, or made to dance on their tomb to the sound of a fiddle, played by a grinning skeleton. At the end of all this mouldy talk, and amid the disgust which they have conceived for each other, a clown, a tavern Triboulet, composer of little jeering and macaronic verses, Skelton” makes his appearance, a virulent pamphleteer, who, jum| bling together French, English, Latin phrases, with slang, and fashionable words, invented words, intermingled with short rhymes, fabricates a sort of literary mud, with which he bespatters Wolsey and the bishops. Style, metre, rhyme, language, art of every kind, is at an end; beneath the vain parade of official style there is only a heap of rubbish. Yet, as he says,
"Though my rhyme be ragged,
It hath in it some pithe.” It is full of political animus, sensual liveliness, English and popular instincts; it lives. It is a coarse life, still elementary, swarming with ignoble vermin, like that which appears in a great decomposing body. It is life, nevertheless, with its two great features which it is destined to display: the hatred of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is the Reformation; the return to the senses and to natural life, which is the Renaissance.
1 The court fool in Victor Hugo's drama of Le Roi s'amuse.—TR.
2 Died 1529; Poet-Laureate 1489. His Bouge of Court, his Crown of Laurel, his Elegy on the Death of the Earl of Northumberland, are well written, and belong to official poetry.