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festly destined to rule, that in the East, for example, their name of Franks will be given to all the nations of the West ? Wherein consists this new spirit, this precocious pioneer, this key of all middle age civilization? There is in every mind of the kind a fundamental activity which, when incessantly repeated, moulds its plan, and gives it its direction; in town or country, cultivated or not, in its infancy and its age, it spends its existence and employs its energy in conceiving an event or an object. This is its original and perpetual process; and whether it change its region, return, advance, prolong, or alter its course, its whole motion is but a series of consecutive steps ; so that the least alteration in the size, quickness, or precision of its primitive stride transforms and regulates the whole course, as in a tree the structure of the first shoot determines the whole foliage, and governs the whole
growth. When the Frenchman conceives an event or an object, 1 he conceives quickly and distinctly; there is no internal disturb
ance, no previous fermentation of confused and violent ideas, which, becoming concentrated and elaborated, end in a noisy outbreak. The movement of his intelligence is nimble and prompt like that of his limbs; at once and without effort he seizes
upon his idea. But he seizes that alone; he leaves on one side all the long entangling offshoots whereby it is entwined and twisted amongst its neighboring ideas; he does not embarrass himself with nor think of them; he detaches, plucks, touches but slightly, and that is all. He is deprived, or if you prefer it, he is exempt from those sudden half-visions which disturb a man, and open up to him instantaneously vast deeps and far perspectives. Images are excited by internal commotion; he, not being so moved, imagines not. He is only moved superficially; he is without large sympathy; he does not perceive an object as it is, complex and combined, but in parts, with a discursive and superficial knowledge. That is why no race in Europe is less poetical. Let us look at their epics; none are more prosaic. They are not wanting in number: The Song of Roland, Garin le Loherain, Ogier le Danois, Berthe aux grands Pieds. There is a library of them. Though their manners are heroic and their spirit fresh, th Jugh they have originality, and deal with grand events, yet, spite of this, the narrative is as dull as that of the
i The idea of types is applicable throughout all physical and moral nature.
? Danois is a contraction of le d'Ardennois, from the Ardennes.—Tr.
babbling Norman chroniclers. Doubtless when Homer relates he is as clear as they are, and he develops as they do: but his magnificent titles of rosy-fingered Morn, the wide-bosomed Air, the divine and nourishing Earth, the earth-shaking Ocean, come in every instant and expand their purple bloom over the speeches and battles, and the grand abounding similes which interrupt the narrative tell of a people more inclined to enjoy beauty than to proceed straight to fact. But here we have facts, always facts, I nothing but facts; the Frenchman wants to know if the hero will kill the traitor, the lover wed the maiden; he must not be delayed by poetry or painting. 'He advances nimbly to the end of the story, not lingering for dreams of the heart or wealth of landscape. There is no splendor, no color, in his narrative; his style is quite bare, and without figures; you may read ten thousand verses in these old poems without meeting one. the most ancient, the most original, the most eloquent, at the most moving point, the Song of Roland, when Roland is dying? The narrator is moved, and yet his language remains the same, smooth, accentless, so penetrated by the prosaic spirit, and so void of the poetic! He gives an abstract of motives, a sum 1-1 mary of events, a series of causes for grief, a series of causes for : consolation. Nothing more. These men regard the circumstance or the action by itself, and adhere to this view. Their idea remains exact, clear, and simple, and does not raise up a similar image to be confused with the first, to color or transform itself. It remains dry; they conceive the divisions of the object one by one, without ever collecting them, as the Saxons would,
Shall we open
1 Genin, Chanson de Roland:
Li quens Rollans se jut desuz un pin,
Ne poet muer n'en plurt et ne susprit.
“Veire paterne, ki unques ne mentis,
in an abrupt, impassioned, glowing semi-vision. Nothing is more opposed to their genius than the genuine songs and profound hymns, such as the English monks were singing beneath the low
vaults of their churches They would be disconcerted by the ) unevenness and obscurity of such language. They are not capable of such an access of enthusiasm and such excess of emotion. 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 mystery-play, being leprous, calmly requires his friend Amille to slay his two sons, in order that their blood may 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 talk.” Pursue this literature to its conclusion; regard it, like that of the Skalds, at the time of its decadence, when its vices, being exaggerated, display, like those of the Skalds, only still more strongly the kind of mind which produced it. The Skalds fall off into nonsense; it loses itself into babble and platitude. The Saxon could not master his craving for exaltation; the Frenchman 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 spun out degenerate into rhapsodies and psalmodies of thirty or forty thousand verses. Theology enters into them; poetry becomes an interminable, intolerable litany, where the ideas, expounded, developed, and repeated aa infinitum, without one outburst of emotion or one touch 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
1 Mon trés-chier ami débonnaire,
l'on doit moult resongnier.
Puisque garison autrement
2 Vraiz Diex, moult est excellente,
Et de grant charité plaine,
Vraix Diex, moult est excellente,
à ce desir l'amaine
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 perceiving, and isolating instantaneously and clearly each part of every object, people can speak, even for speaking's sake, and for ever.
Such 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 contiguous to 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 in the first place, 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
state of barbarism; yet its intelligence is a reasoning faculty, which spreads, though unwittingly. Nothing is more clear than the style of the old French narratives 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 harmonize, 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, Théophilus, or that of 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,” nothing more. Take a fabliau, even a dramatic one: when the penitent knight, who has undertaken to fill
1 See H. Taine, La Fontaine and his Fables, p. 15.
a barrel with his tears dies in the hermit's company, he asks from him only one last gift: “Do but embrace me, and then I'll die in the arms of my friend.” Could a more touching sentiment be expressed in more sober language? We must say of their poetry what is said of certain 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 delicate and gentle-hued ideas to the rose, whose "sweet 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 all 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, vague reverie; they are as elegant as talkative, 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 armor and amid the massacres of the middle ages as amid the courtesies and the musk-scented, wadded coats of the last court. You will find it in their coloring 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, ecstasy, sudden oppression of heart which is displayed in the poetry of neighboring nations; they say discreetly, “She began to smile, which vastly became her.” They add, when they are in a descriptive humor, “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 enjoy agreeable emotions, but are not fitted for deap 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