Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]


grants, spoke Romance or French so quickly, that the second Duke, wishing to have his son taught Danish, had to send him to Bayeux, where it was still spoken. The great masses always form the race in the end, and generally the genius and language. Thus this people, so transformed, quickly became polished; the composite race showed itself of a ready genius, far more wary than the Saxons across the Channel, closely resembling their neighbors of Picardy, Champagne, and Ile-de-France. “The Saxons," says an old writer,1 “vied with each other in their drinking feats, and wasted their income by day and night in feasting, whilst they lived in wretched hovels; the French and Normans, on the other hand, living inexpensively in their fine large houses, were besides refined in their food and studiously careful in their dress." The former, still weighted by the German phlegm, were gluttons and drunkards, and then aroused by poetical enthusiasm; the latter, made sprightlier! by their transplantation and their alloy, felt the cravings of the mind already making themselves manifest. "You inight see amongst them churches in every village, and monasteries in the cities, towering on high, and built in a style unknown before," first in Normandy, and later in England.? Taste had come to them at once—that is, the desire to please the eye, and to express a thought by outward representation, which was quite a new idea : the circular arch was raised on one or on a cluster of columns; elegant mouldings were placed about the windows; the rose window made its appearance, simple yet, like the flower which gives it its name“ rose des buissons ;” and the Norman style unfolded itself, original yet proportioned between the Gothic, whose richness it foreshadowed, and the Romance, whose solidity it recalled.

With taste, just as natural and just as quickly, was developed ! the spirit of inquiry. Nations are like children; with some the tongue is readily loosened, and they comprehend at once; with others it is loosened with difficulty, and they are slow of comprehension. The men we are here speaking of had educated themselves nimbly, as Frenchmen do. They were the first in France who unraveled the language, regulating it and writing it

i William of Malmesbury.

2 Churches in London, Sarum, Norwich, Durham, Chichester, Peterborough, Rochester, Hereford, Gloucester, Oxford, etc.-William of Malmesbury.

[ocr errors]


so well, that to this day we understand their codes and their poems. In a century and a half they were so far cultivated as to find the Saxons “unlettered and rude.” 1 That was the excuse they made for banishing them from the abbeys and all valuable ecclesiastical offices. And, in fact, this excuse was rational, for they instinctively hated gross stupidity. Between the Conquest and the death of King John, they established five hundred and fifty-seven schools in England. Henry Beauclerk, son of the Conqueror, was trained in the sciences; so were Henry II. and his three sons: Richard, the eldest of these, was a poet. Lanfranc, first Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, a subtle logician, ably argued the Real Presence; Anselm, his successor, the first thinker of the age, thought he had discovered a new proof of the existence of God, and tried to make religion philosophical by adopting as his maxim, “Crede ut intelligas." The notion was doubtless grand, especially in the eleventh century; and they could not have gone more promptly to work. Of course the science I speak of was but scholastic, and these terrible folios slay more understandings than they confirm. But people must begin as they can; and syllogism, even in Latin, even in theology, is yet an exercise of the mind and a proof of the understanding. Among the continental priests who settled in England, one established a library; another, founder of a school, made the scholars perform the play of Saint Catherine; a third wrote in polished Latin, “ epigrams as pointed as those of Martial.” Such were the recreations of an intelligent race, eager for (ideas, of ready and flexible genius, whose clear thought was not

clouded, like that of the Saxon brain, by drunken hallucinations and the vapors of a greedy and well-filled stomach. They loved (conversations, tales of adventure. Side by side with their Latin chroniclers, Henry of Huntingdon, William of Malmesbury, thoughtful men already, who could not only relate, but criticize here and there, there were rhyming chronicles in the vulgar (tongue, as those of Geoffroy Gaimar, Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Robert Wace. Do not imagine that their verse-writers were sterile of words or lacking in details. They were talkers, tale( tellers, speakers above all, ready of tongue, and never stinted in speech. Not singers by any means; they speak—this is their

1 Ordericus Vitalis.

strong point, in their poems as in their chronicles. They were the earliest who wrote the Song of Roland; upon this they accumulated a multitude of songs concerning Charlemagne and his peers, concerning Arthur and Merlin, the Greeks and Romans, King Horn, Guy of Warwick, every prince and every people. Their minstrels (trouvères), like their knights, draw in abundance from Welsh, Franks, and Latins, and descend upon East and West in the wide field of adventure. They address themselves to a spirit of inquiry, as the Saxons to enthusiasm, and dilute in their long, clear, and flowing narratives the lively colors of German and Breton traditions ; battles, surprises, single combats, embassies, speeches, processions, ceremonies, huntings, a variety of amusing events, employ their ready and wandering imaginations. At first, in the Song of Roland, it is still kept in check; it walks with long strides, but only walks. Presently its wings have grown; incidents are multiplied; giants and monsters abound, the natural disappears, the song of the jongleur grows a poem under the hands of the trouvère ; he would speak, like Nestor of old, five, even six years running, and not grow tired or stop. Forty thousand verses. are not too much to satisfy their gabble; a facile mind; copious, inquisitive, descriptive, such is the genius of the race. The Gauls, their fathers, used to delay travelers on the road to make them tell their stories, and boasted, like these, “ of fighting well and talking with ease.”

With chivalric poetry, they are not wanting in chivalry; princi- | pally, it may be, because they are strong, and a strong man loves to prove

his strength by knocking down his neighbors; but also from a desire of fame, and as a point of honor. By this one word honor the whole spirit of warfare is changed. Saxon poets painted war as a murderous fury, as a blind madness which shook flesh and blood, and awakened the instincts of the beast of prey ; Norman poets describe it as a tourney. The new passion which they introduce is that of vanity and gallantry; Guy of Warwick dismounts all the knights in Europe, in order to deserve the hand of the prude and scornful Félice. The tourney itself is but a ceremony, somewhat brutal I admit, since it turns upon the breaking of arms and limbs, but yet brilliant and French. To show skill and courage, display the magnificence of dress and armor, be applauded by and please the ladies,—such feelings indicate men of greater sociality, more under the influence of public opinion,

less the slaves of their own passions, void both of lyric inspiration and savage enthusiasm, gifted by a different genius, because inclined to other pleasures.

Such were the men who at this moment were disembarking in England to introduce their new manners and a new spirit, French jat bottom, in mind and speech, though with special and provincial features; of all the most matter-of-fact, with an eye to the main chance, calculating, having the nerve and the dash of our own soldiers, but with the tricks and precautions of lawyers; heroic undertakers of profitable enterprises; having gone to Sicily and Naples, and ready to travel to Constantinople or Antioch, so it be to take a country or bring back money; subtle politicians, accustomed in Sicily to hire themselves to the highest bidder, and capable of doing a stroke of business in the heat of the Crusade, like Bohémond, who, before Antioch, speculated on the dearth of his Christian allies, and would only open the town to them under condition of their keeping it for himself; methodical and persevering conquerors, expert in administration, and fond of scribbling on paper, like this very William, who was able to organize such an expedition, and such an army, and kept a written roll of the same, and who proceeded to register the whole of England in his Domesday Book. Sixteen days after the disembarkation, the contrast between the two nations was manifested at Hastings by its visible effects.

The Saxons “ate and drank the whole night. You might have seen them struggling much, and leaping and singing," with shouts of laughter and noisy joy. In the morning they packed behind their palisades the dense masses of their heavy infantry, and with battle-axe hung round their neck awaited the attack. The

wary Normans weighed the chances of heaven and hell, and tried to enlist God upon their side. Robert Wace, their historian and compatriot, is no more troubled by poetical imagination than they were by warlike inspiration; and on the eve of the battle his mind is as prosaic and clear as theirs.? The same

1 Robert Wace, Roman du Rou.
2 Ibid.
Et li Normanz et li Franceiz

Et qui n'en out proveires prèz,
Tote nuit firent oreisons,

A son veizin se fist confèz,
Et furent en aflicions.

Pour co ke samedi esteit
De lor péchiés confèz se firent

Ke la bataille estre debveit.
As proveires les regehirent,

Unt Normanz a pramis e voé,


spirit showed itself in the battle. They were for the most part bowmen and horsemen, well-skilled, nimble, and clever. Taillefer, the jongleur, who asked for the honor of striking the first blow, went singing, like a true French volunteer, performing tricks all the while. Having arrived before the English, he cast his lance three times in the air, then his sword, and caught them again by the handle; and Harold's clumsy foot-soldiers, who only knew how to cleave coats of mail by blows from their battle-axes, were astonished, saying to one another that it was magic.” As for William, amongst a score of prudent and cun-1 ning actions, he performed two well-calculated ones, which, in this sore embarrassment, brought him safe out of his difficulties. He ordered his archers to shoot into the air; the arrows wounded many of the Saxons in the face and one of them pierced Harold in the eye. After this he simulated flight; the Saxons, intoxicated with joy and wrath, quitted their entrenchments, and exposed themselves to the lances of his horsemen. During the remainder of the contest they only make a stand by small companies, fight with fury, and end by being slaughtered. The strong, mettlesome, brutal race threw themselves on the enemy like a savage bull; the dexterous Norman hunters wounded them adroitly, knocked them down, and placed them under the yoke.

III. What then is this French race, which by arms and letters makes such a splendid entrance upon the world, and is so mani

Si com li cler l'orent loé,
Ke à ce jor mez s'il veskeient,
Char ni saunc ne mangereient
Giffrei, éveske de Coustances,

A plusors joint lor pénitances.
Cli reçut li confessions
Et dona li béneiçons.

1 Robert Wace, Roman du Rou:
Taillefer ki moult bien cantout
Sur un roussin qui tot alout
Devant li dus alout cantant
De Kalermaine e de Rolant,
E d'Oliver et des vassals
Ki moururent à Roncevals.
Quant ils orent chevalchié tant
K'as Engleis vindrent aprismant:
“Sires! dist Taillefer, merci!
Je vos ai languement servi.
Tut mon servise me debvez,
Hui, si vos plaist, me le rendez
Por tout guerredun vos requier,
Et si vos voil forment preier,

Otreiez-mei, ke jo n'i faille,
Li primier colp de la bataille."
Et li dus répont: "Je l'otrei."
Et Taillefer point à desrei;
Devant toz li altres se mist,
Un Englez féri, si l'ocist.
De sos le pis, parmie la pance,
Li fist passer ultre la lance,
A terre estendu l'abati.
Poiz trait l'espée, altre féri.
Poiz a crié: “Venez, venez!
Ke fetes-vos ? Férez, férez !'
Donc l'unt Englez avironé,
Al secund colp k'il ou doné.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »