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the heroic category. Nor is their historical greater than their literary value, for they are not documents which assist us in envisaging a society that at any time existed or in forming a picture of the period to which they belong. The inferiority of the English romances, of which about a hundred are extant, may be traced to several causes—the degradation of native literature following upon the Norman Conquest, the absence of a tradition in technique and the necessity of meeting the requirements of more popular and less refined audiences—the middle class then rising into prominence than their French originals. These native lays exerted no influence upon the future literature of the country, though they remained in favour till the fifteenth century or even later, and they are to-day hardly known even by their titles to any save students of literary history. Their true importance is as precursors of the modern novel.

Romance in the Arthurian cycle tends to be reflective, to move away from the pole of action to the pole of thought, to exchange the blue sky, the open field, and men in action for the palace of the mind. It remains akin to epic where the interest turns, not upon what a man shall choose to do, but on how he manages to do it; not on the passionate slips and hesitations of the conscience, but on the problems of the body and of the practical intelligence, in clean open-air adventure, the shock of arms, or the diplomacy of life.1 When it forsakes these and becomes more and more taken up with ideas, more with character in itself than with character displayed through deeds, more with motives than with what has happened, more with what can be seen by the eye of the mind than with what has been or can be seen by the bodily eye, no magic of words can save it, narrative begins to lose the arresting power of heroic poetry. For in all heroic poetry the paramount interest is in the thing itself rather than in thoughts about it. “Crusoe recoiling from the foot-print, Achilles shouting over against the Trojans, Ulysses bending the great bow, Christian running with his fingers in his ears, these are such culminating moments in the legend, and each has been printed on the mind's eye for ever. Other things we may

* R. L. Stevenson, A Gossip on Romance.

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forget; we may forget the words, although they are beautiful; we may forget the author's comment, although perhaps it was ingenious and true; but these epoch-making scenes, which put the last mark of truth upon a story, and fill up at one blow our capacity for sympathetic pleasure, we so adopt into the very bosom of our mind that neither time nor tide can efface or weaken the impression. This then is the plastic part of literature: to embody character, thought, or emotion in some act or attitude that shall be remarkably striking to the mind's eye. This is the highest and hardest thing to do in words: the thing which, once accomplished, equally delights the schoolboy and the sage, and makes in its own right the quality of epics.” 1

Besides the "matter of France," the Chansons, and the

matter of Britain," the Arthurian cycle and the Anglo-Saxon romances, there exists another great division of mediæval narrative, the stories of antiquity, the matter of Rome the great,” like the Tale of Troy and the Alexander, which through various tongues and versions made their way into immense popularity. Curious it is, and indicative of the medieval reverence for antiquity, that Chaucer's irony at the expense of Arthurian romance, those worn-out impressions of the feigned

nowhere acts, of Arthur of the Round Table," should barely appear when he faces towards the ancient legends. The opening lines of The Wife of Bath's Tale very clearly betray his attitude towards the chivalric splendours of an outworn day.

In tholde dayes of the King Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken great honour,
All was this land fulfild of fayerye.
The elf-queen, with hir joly companye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede;
This was the olde opinion as I rede.
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago;

But now can no man see none elves mo.” Both here and in Sir Thopas, where in the way of parody he ridicules the knightly romance, the new world has parted company with the old, but the fascination of the still older world of classic fable endured, with power unshaken. The " matter of Rome" had, indeed, undergone strange transforma

* R. L. Stevenson, A. Gossip on Romance.

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tions in its passage through the mediæval mind, but the Tale of Troy, even when feudalised, its Greeks and Trojans converted into knights dwelling in castles, fasting and praying like good Catholics, its chiefs into dukes, its women freshly fashioned into ladies and surrounded by kneeling cavaliers, still resisted, as only immortal beauty can resist, the disfigurement of time. A later poet than Chaucer, who himself did not disdain to make a version of part of the Arthurian cycle, seems to have shared his feeling.

“No part have these wan legends in the sun

Whose glory lightens Greece and gleams on Rome.
Their elders live; but these their day is done:

Their records written of the winds, in foam

Fly down the wind, and darkness takes them home.
What Homer saw, what Virgil dreamed, was truth
And died not, being divine, but where in sooth

Might shades that never lived win deathless youth?Nothing in its way could well be stranger than the history of the two cycles of legend through which the Middle Ages derived almost exclusively their knowledge of antiquity, the antiquity for which their reverence was as unbounded as it was uncritical. These were the Alexander story and the story of Troy. For generations they equalled, if they did not surpass in popularity, the celebrated tales of Arthur and Charlemagne, and to them the peculiar mediæval interpretation of ancient history and distorted rendering of antique fable are undoubtedly due. Two accounts, both apocryphal, both claiming contemporary knowledge of the events described, made the tale of Troy famous in the Middle Ages—the wholly imaginary narratives of wholly fictitious persons entitled Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis.1 Of astonishing interest these narratives are, because they so impressed the mediæval mind, drew again with such quaintness and stained with such curious dyes the picture of the classical age as to render it in our eyes rather an original than a copy, but almost more because these forgeries were by far the most influential and successful literary impositions that the world has ever known. It was believed that Dares and Dictys were veracious historians—Dares, who fought on the Trojan side,

* See Dares and Dictys by N. E. Griffin. Baltimore.

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Dictys, a native of Crete and companion of Idomeneus, the suitor of Helen who led a fleet of ships to the siege. By the Middle Ages it was believed that these men lived before Homer -by whom Dares was mentioned as a priest of Hephaestus and as authentic prose historians deserved credence far beyond the poet, who

“madé lies Feigning in his poetries.” 1 Since both claimed to be eye-witnesses of the Trojan war, omitted or rationalised the supernatural machinery of Homer, preserved an air of honesty and accuracy, explained, as did Dictys, that the events before the war were communicated to him by Ulysses, those subsequent to it by Menelaus and Neoptolemus, or, as did Dares, that he remained in Troy after its capture, and was thus able to state exactly the number of slain and the number of prisoners taken by the Greeks, no hesitation was felt in the acceptance of the whole magnificent fiction. Nor was belief in it easily dissipated. It was accepted by Sidney and Shakespeare in the sixteenth century and by many even among the learned as late as the seventeenth. Of such materials are spun the convictions of centuries, of such the cherished opinions of men! The history of Dares was discovered, the tradition ran, by Cornelius in the fifth century, and by him translated into Latin; that of Dictys, given currency in the same language, was originally written upon bark in Phænician characters, buried with the author, and by his command, in a metal box, and only brought to light by the accidental intervention of an earthquake in the reign of Nero. Nor is this the whole story. The material of these narratives formed the basis of a long poem by Benoît de Sainte-More, in the twelfth century, but it was not destined to make him famous. By some singular fortune the Latin version of a Sicilian, Guido da Colonna, or de Columnis, who says not a word of Benoît de Sainte-More, his original, became the authority for the legend and secured immense celebrity. The prose plagiarist reaped the glory which belonged of right to the poet. So fitly ended the history of a superb deceit.

1 Chaucer, Hous of Fame, 1477.

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The Alexander legend, setting forth the life and exploits of Alexander the Great, was no less famous than that of Troy.

“ The storie of Alisaundre is so comune
That every wight that hath discrecioun

Hath herd somwbat or al of his fortune." 1 Of this narrative—the great versions were the French Roman D'Alexandre and the English King Alisaunderthe chief source appears to have been a book of obscure origins and very early date, declared, probably not without warrant, to have had more readers than any other except the Bible, a Greek book by the unknown Pseudo-Callisthenes, which obtained currency through a fourth-century translation by Julius Valerius, supplemented by later versions and traditions. The Oriental flavours and colours, the Eastern marvels of this fabulous biography profoundly influenced the Middle Age and permeated its romance. So incongruous are its elements—one meets there Darius and Aristotle, Gog and Magog, Amazons and flower-maidens, whose raiment grew on their bodies, red like flowers and white as snow, one hears of Greeks and Babylonians, rivers of Paradise and fountains of immortality—that we accept Alexander as a Christian king without surprise, an earlier Charlemagne surrounded by a feudal court.

Dreams of childhood rather than history indeed it all seems, pieced from a nurse's evening tales. Yet misunderstood and misrepresented as antiquity was in these accounts, and in the mediæval romances which they inspired, they did something by their popularity to prepare the mediæval mind for the acceptance of the same material in the far nobler but still untutored presentation of Chaucer. To know them is to approach him with sympathy, to appreciate his “infantine familiar clasp" of the ancient and divine myths, by which, as by some early Italian painter of the Renaissance, things already rare and lovely are made to yield for us new and exquisite sensation.

The exclusion of Chaucer from an account of English heroic poetry might quite well be justified but for his authorship of a

1 Chaucer, Monk's Tale, 3821-3823.

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