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ter. Instead of rewarding his benefactor, he causes him to be cruelly beaten. The historian Matthew of Paris tells us, that this fable was frequently in the mouth of Richard Cour-de-Lion; and that he applied it as representing the ingratitude to heaven shown by those princes of Christendom, who refused to assist in wresting the Holy Sepulchre from the infidels.
10. The re-appearances of those monastic fantasies in English poetry have been so frequent and so interesting, that we are tempted to anticipate a little for the purpose of making ourselves acquainted with some of them.
Both in the Latin, and in French translations, they became current in England, as elsewhere, before the close of the thirteenth century. Stories either identical with some of them, or very like, appear early among the Chivalrous Romances ; a class of works whose history, both in their original French, and in the English translations and imitations, we shall immediately begin to study. Indeed it is not always certain whether the minstrels have borrowed from the monks, or the monks from the minstrels. Two of the most famous of the romances which still survive in our own language, are in substance the same with stories of the “ Gesta." The one is “Guy of Warwick,” which, in its simplest shape, is truly a devout legend, breathing a darkly ascetic spirit
. The hero deserts his wife and child to do battle in the Holy Land: returning home, he thinks proper, instead of rejoining his family, to hide himself in a hermitage near his castle; and only on his deathbed does he allow himself to be recognised. The other romance is Robert of Sicily, which shrouds a fine moral under a fantastic disguise. The prince being puffed up with pride, an angel is sent to assume his figure and take his place; while he, changed so as not to be known, is insulted and neglected, and becomes thankful to be received as the jester of the court. After long penance has taught him humility, he is restored to dignity and happiness.
When we reach the poetry which adorned England in the latter half of the fourteenth century, we shall have to examine the works of its two chief masters so closely, that their obligations to the Latin books of amusement could not at present be specified without causing a risk of repetition. But we ought here to learn that Chaucer, the greatest of our old poets, owes to the “ Gesta” two at least, if not more, of his tales; and that Gower, a man of much weaker invention, borrows from them with yet greater freedom.
The latter of these names, however, introduces us, with seeming abruptness, to the most celebrated name in our literature. The longest piece in the “Gesta” is the romance of “ Apollonius,” a
very popular fiction throughout the middle ages, and preserved even in an Anglo-Saxon version. It was the foundation of Gower's most elaborate poem: and this again furnished the plot of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” The drama so called is usually printed among the works of Shakspeare, and not without good reason ; since it is, in all likelihood, either wholly a production of his early manhood, or one of those plays which, in that stage of his life, he concocted by altering and augmenting older dramas. Further, our immortal poet's “Merchant of Venice” is doubly indebted, if not to the Latin “Gesta,” yet certainly to the English translation, or to some of the compilations which borrowed from its stores. For in it appeared, perhaps for the first time, the story which was the original of the caskets exhibited for choice by Portia to her lovers; and there we find, also, the incident of the bond in which the forfeit was a pound of flesh, and the device by which the
penalty was evaded.
The spectre-legend, too, which has been noticed as re-modelled in Marmion, is in the “Gesta;” though it was taken from the older source by the Scottish poet. Not a few jests, likewise, which in their modern shape have received the credit of being new, really flow from this venerable source. It is enough to cite, as an instance, a story occurring in some of our school-books, that of “The Three Black Crows." Parnell's pleasing poem “The Hermit” has the same origin. Nor is it unworthy of remembrance, that one of the Æsop-fables of the old books suggested, directly or indirectly, the phrase of Belling the Cat," used by the Earl of Angus in the rebellion against James the Third of Scotland. The mice hold a council, to deliberate how they may protect themselves from the cunning of the cat. They adopt unanimously a resolution proposed by one of the sages of the race; that a bell shall be hung round the neck of their enemy, to warn them of his approach by its ringing. The scheme proves useless by reason of one trifling difficulty: no mouse is brave enough to un dertake putting it in execution.
THE NORMAN TIMES.
A. D. 1066-A. D. 1307.
LITERATURE IN THE NORMAN-FRENCH AND
NormaN-FRENCH. 1. The Two Languages of France-Poetry of the Normans-The
Fabliaux and Chivalrous Romances. :-2. Anglo-Norman Romances from English History—The Legend of Havelou — Growth of Fictitious Embellishments-Translations into English.-3. Anglo-Norman Romances of the Round Table–Outline of their Story.-4 Authors and Translators of Anglo-Norman Romances-Chiefly Englishmen-Borron-Gast-Mapes.-SAXON-ENGLISH. 5 Decay of the Anglo-Saxon Tongue-The Saxon Chronicle.-6. Extant Relics of Semi-Saxon English VerseHistorical Works partly from the French-Approach to the English Tongue-The Brut of Layamon-Robert of Gloucester-Robert Mannyng.-7. Other Metrical Relics of Semi-Saxon and Early English Verse-The Ormulum-The Owl and the Nightingale-Michael of Kildare—The Ancient English Drama.
1. We must now learn something as to that vigorous and imaginative school of Poetry, which arose in the Norman-French tongue, and was the model of all the earliest poetical efforts in
Before the close of the Dark Ages, there were formed in France, out of the decayed Latin, with some Teutonic additions from the Franks, two leading dialects. They were spoken in different quarters ; and each of them became, early in the Middle Ages, the vehicle of a characteristic literature.
In Southern France was used the Provençal, or tongue of Provence, named also the Langue d'Oc, or tongue of Oc, from the word in it corresponding to our “yes.” It was liker to the Italian and Spanish than to the modern French. Its poete called themselves Troubadours, that is, Inventors; just as our old English and Scottish poets were named Makers. Its poetry was chiefly lyrical, and became the favourite model of the earlier poets of Italy, affecting our own literature to some extent, but not very early or very materially.
The dialect of Northern France was known as the Languo d'Oil or d'Oui. But we speak of it oftenest as Norman-French ; because it was in Normandy that its cultivation was completed,
and there also that important literary works were first composed in it. It became the standard tongue of France, and has continued to be so. Its poets had the name of Trouvères or Trou
The greater part of its poetry was narrative; and most of the tales may be referred to the one or the other of two classes, There were the poems called Fabliaux, usually short stories, which had a familiar and comic tone, even when they dealt with the same kind of incidents as poems of the other class. There were, again, the Chivalrous Romances, compositions more bulky, and almost always more serious in temper as well as more ambitious in design.
The Fabliaux affected our literature little till the time of Chaucer. In regard to their character, we hardly require to know more than that which we may gather from remembering the likeness which, as we have learned, subsisted between thern and the lighter stories in the monastic collections of Latin fiction. It should also be observed, however, that many poems, usually described as Fabliaux, rise decidedly into the serious and imaginative tone of the romances; and that some collections of narratives, in Norman-French verse, exhibit the same author as attempting both kinds of composition. Of this mixed kind are the works of a poetess, usually known as Marie of France, who probably wrote in Brittany, but made copious use of British materials, and addresses herself to a king, supposed to have been our Henry the Third. Her twelve “ Lays,” some of which have their scene laid in England, and celebrate the marvels of the Round Table, are among the most beautiful relics which the middle ages have left us. They were well known, and freely. used, by Chaucer and others of our poets. Her “ Fables” are interesting in another way. She acknowledges having translated them from the English tongue; and one of the manuscripts makes her assign the authorship of her originals to king Alfred.
The Romances of Chivalry we must learn to understand more exactly than the Fabliaux. They are the effusions of a rude minstrelsy, using an imperfect language, and guided by irregular impulse, not by laws of art; but many of them are, in parts at least, delightfully imaginative, spirited, or pathetic. The ħistory of the whole class is important, not only for their value as illustrations of mediæval manners and customs, but also for their intimate connection with our early literature ;
Where, in the chronicle of wasted time,
We see descriptions of the fairest wights,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knighte.
The earliest of them, except such as were really nothing more than devout legends, were founded on historical traditions of England; and tales engrafted on these were the best and most popular of the series. Native Englishmen, also, writing in French, were among the most active of those who worked up our national stories into the romantic shape; all the French works were composed for our English court and nobles; and translation of them was the most frequent use to which our infant-language was applied. Above all
, they imprinted on our poetry, in its oldest stages, characteristics which it did not lose for centuries, if indeed it can be said to have lost them at all.
2. The oldest among them, like other earlier pieces of narrative poetry, are based on national events, and are not distinguishable, by any well-drawn line, from popular and legendary histories. Such is the character of an ancient French romance, which is particularly interesting to us, both on account of its story, and because it exists also in a very ancient English dress. It relates one of those traditions of the east of England, by which the Norse settlers strove to give dignity to their arrival in the island. This romance of “ Havelok” was written, in French, early in the twelfth century. The poem
is almost free from the anachronisms of manners and sentiment which soon became universal ; and the cast of the story is simple and antique. Its hero, the orphan child of a Danish king, exposed at sea by the treachery of his guardian, is drifted on the coast of Lincolnshire, and fostered by the fisherman Grim, who afterwards gives his name to an English town. A princess of England, imprisoned by guardians as false as Havelok’s, is forced by them to marry him, that she may thus be irretrievably degraded : he reveals his royal descent, already marked by a flame playing round his head; and, in fierce battles, he reconquers his wife's inheritance and his own.
The writers of the romances gradually departed, more and more, from the facts given to them by the chroniclers and popular traditions. They substituted private exploits and perils for national events, with increasing frequency, till their incidents and their
personages were equally the offspring of pure invention : they ceased to aim at true representation of the manners and institutions of antiquity, and minutely described the past from their observation of the present. Seizing on the most poetical features of society, as it appeared among the nobles in whose halls their songs were to be chanted, they wove out of these the gorgeously colored web of chivalry, with its pictures of life eccentrically yet attractively unreal, and its anomalous code of morals, alternately severe and loose, generous and savage. They