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about their business. It is a light gladsomeness, 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, that pleasant vapor 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 lively, 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
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 a pope's indulgence for the deed."1 He wishes to be merry—it is the state he prefers, the end and aim of his life; and especially to laugh at other people. The short verse of his fabliaux gambols and leaps like a schoolboy released from school, over all things respected or respectable; criticizing the church, women, the great, the monks. Scoffers, banterers, our fathers have abundance both of expression and matter; and the matter 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 names, especially in love matters; they let you guess it; they assume that you are as sharp and knowing as themselves. A man might discriminate, embellish at times, perhaps refine upon them, but their first traits are incomparable. When the fox approaches the raven to steal the cheese, he begins
1 La Fontaine, Contes, Richard Minutolo.
as a hypocrite, piously and cautiously, and as one of the family. He calls the raven his “good father Don Rohart, who sings so well;" he praises his voice, “so sweet and fine.” “You would be the best singer in the world if you kept clear of nuts.” Reynard is a rogue, 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, enjoys and relishes it, pretends to wax impatient with 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 of Reynard the Fox is the same; the raillery never ceases, and never fails to be agreeable. Reynard 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 or ticklish idea. The fabliaux are full of truths about men, and still more about women, about people of low rank, and still more about those of high rank; it is a method of philosophizing 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 offensive because it is cruel; on the contrary, it provokes good humor. We soon see that the jester is not ill-disposed, that he does not wish to wound: if he stings, it is as a bee, without venom; 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 sudden and durable perfection of prose, the excellence of all the moods 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 piquant? We have taught Europe how ideas fall into order, and which ideas are agrerable; 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.
Consider, then, this Frenchman or Norman, this man from Anjou or Maine, who in his well-knit 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 maintain a man with horse or arms. 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 succor each other. They are an armed colony, stationary, 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, or failing to do so, they must pay forty-seven marks as a fine; 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 offense against the forest-laws they will lose their eyes. They have nothing of all their property assured to them except as alms, or on condition of paying tribute, or by taking the oath of allegiance. Here a free Saxon proprietor is made a body-slave on his own estate.? Here a noble and rich Saxon lady feels on her shoulder the weight of the hand of a Norman valet, who is become by force her husband or her lover. There were Saxons of one sol, or of two sols, according to the sum which they gained for their masters; they sold them, hired them, worked them on joint account, like an ox or an ass. One Norman abbot has his Saxon predecessors dug up, their bones thrown without the gates. Another keeps men-at-arms, who bring his recalcitrant monks to reason by blows of their swords.
1 At King Stephen's death there were 1115 castles.
Imagine, if you can, the pride of these new lords, conquerors, strangers, masters, nourished by habits of violent activity, and by the savagery, ignorance, and passions of feudal life. “They thought they might do whatsoever they pleased,” say the old chroniclers. “ They shed blood indiscriminately, snatched the morsel of bread from the mouth of the wretched, and seized upon all the money, the goods, the land.” 1 Thus “all the folk in the low country were at great pains to seem humble before Ivo Taillebois, and only to address him with one knee on the ground; but although they made a point of paying him every honour, and giving him all and more than all which they owed him in the way of rent and service, he harassed, tormented, tortured, imprisoned them, set his dogs upon their cattle, ...
. . broke the legs and backbones of their beasts of burden, and sent men to attack their servants on the road with sticks and swords." The Normans would not and could not borrow any idea or custom from such boors ;3 they despised them as coarse and stupid. They stood amongst them, as the Spaniards amongst the Americans in the sixteenth century, superior in force and culture, more versed in letters, more expert in the arts of luxury. They preserved their manners and their speech. England, to all outward appearance -the court of the king, the castles of the nobles, the palaces of the bishops, the houses of the wealthy—was French; and the Scandinavian people, of whom sixty years ago the Saxon kings used to have poems sung to them, thought that the nation had forgotten its language, and treated it in their laws as though it were no longer their sister.
It was a French literature, then, which was at this time domiciled across the channel,4 and the conquerors tried to make it purely French, purged from all Saxon alloy. They made such a point of this that the nobles in the reign of Henry II. sent their sons to France, to preserve them from barbarisms.
" For two hundred years,” says Higden,5 “ children in scole, agenst the usage and manir of all other nations beeth compelled for to leve hire own langage, and for to construe hir lessons and hire thynges in Frensche.” The statutes of the universities obliged the students
1 William of Malmesbury. A. Thierry, ïi. 20, 122-203.
2 A. Thierry. 3 “In the year 652,” says Warton, i. 3, “it was the common practice of the Anglo-Saxons to send their youth to the monasteries of France for education; and not only the language but the manners of the French were esteemed the most polite accomplishments." 4 Warton, i. 5.
5 Trevisa's translation of the Polycronycon.
to converse either in French or Latin. 6 Gentilmen children beeth taught to speke Frensche from the tyme that they bith rokked in hire cradell; and uplondissche men will likne himself to gentylmen, and fondeth with greet besynesse for to speke Frensche.” Of course the poetry is French. The Norman brought his minstrel with him; there was Taillefer, the jongleur, who sang the Song of Roland at the battle of Hastings; there was Adeline, the jongleuse, who received an estate in the partition which followed the Conquest. The Norman who ridiculed the Saxon kings, who dug up the Saxon saints and cast them without the walls of the church, loved none but French ideas and verses.
It was into French verse that Robert Wace rendered the legendary history of the England which was conquered, and the actual history of the Normandy in which he continued to live. Enter one of the abbeys where the minstrels come to sing, “where the clerks after dinner and
the chronicles of kingdoms, the wonders of the world,”1 you will only find Latin or French verses, Latin or French prose. What becomes of English ? Obscure, despised, we hear it no more, except in the mouths of degraded franklins, outlaws of the forest, swineherds, peasants, the lowest orders. It is no longer, or scarcely written; gradually we find in the Saxon chronicle that the idiom alters, is extinguished; the chronicle itself ceases within a century after the Conquest. The people who have leisure or security enough to read or write are French; for them authors devise and compose; literature always adapts itself to the taste of those who can appreciate and pay for it. Even the English 3 endeavor to write in French : thus Robert Grostête, in his alle gorical poem on Christ; Peter Langtoft, in his Chronicle of England, and in his Life of Thomas à Becket; Hugh de Rotheland, in his poem of Hippomedon ; John Hoveden, and many others. Several write the first half of the verse in English, and the second in French ; a strange sign of the ascendency which is moulding and oppressing them. Even in the fifteenth century4 many of these poor folk are employed in this task; French
1 Statutes of foundation of New College, Oxford. In the abbey of Glastonbury, in 1247: Liber de excidio Troja, gesta Ricardi regis, gesta Alexandri Magni, etc. In the abbey of Peterborough: Amys et Amelion, Sir Tristam, Guy de Bourgogne, gesta Otuclis les prophe éties de Merlin, le Charlemagne de Turpin, la destruction de Troie, etc. Warton, ibidem.
3 Warton, i. 72-78. 4 In 1400. Warton, ü. 248. Gower died in 1408; his French ballads belong to the end of the fourteenth century.
2 In 1154