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tower dropping slowly to decay. In one of these is the grave of Jeanne d'Albret.
A marble entablature in the wall above contains the inscription, which is nearly effaced, though enough still remains to tell the curious traveller that there lies buried the mother of the “ Bon Henri.” To this is added a
To this is added a prayer that the repose of the dead may be respected.
Here ended my foot excursion. The object of my journey was accomplished; and, delighted with this short ramble through the valley of the Loire, I took my seat in the diligence for Paris, and on the following day was again swallowed up in the crowds of the metropolis, like a drop in the bosom of the
Quant recommence et revient biaux estez,
Que foille et flor resplendit par boschage,
JACQUES DE Chison.
him speak of their exertions in widening the sphere of human knowledge, and pouring in light upon the darkness of their age.
For some," says Alcuin, the director of the school of St. Martin de Tours, “I cause the honey of the Holy Scriptures to flow; I intoxicate others with the old wine of ancient history; these I nourish with the fruits of grammar, gathered by my own hands; and those I enlighten by pointing out to them the stars, like lamps attached by the vaulted ceiling of a great palace!”
Besides this classic erudition of the schools, the age had also its popular literature. Those who were untaught in scholastic wisdom were learned in traditionary lore; for they had their ballads, in which were described the valor and achievements of the early kings of the Franks. These ballads, of which a collection was made by order of Charlemagne, animated the rude
1 The following amusing description of this Restorer of Letters, as his biographers call him, is taken from the fabulous Chronicle of John T'urpin, chap. xx.
“ The Emperor was of a ruddy complexion, with brown hair ; of a well-made, handsome form, but a stern visage. His height was about eight of his own feet, which were very long He was of a strong, robust make ; his legs and thighs very stout, and his sinews firm. His face was thirteen inches long ; his beard a palm ; his nose half a palm ; his forehead a foot over. His lion-like
flashed fire like carbuncles ; his eyebrows were half a palm over.
When he was angry, it was a terror to look upon him. He required eight spans for his girdle beside what hung loose. He ate sparingly of bread ; but a whole quarter of lamb, two fowls, a goose, or a large portion of pork ; a peacock, a crane, or a whole hare. He drank moderately of wine and water. He was so strong that he could at a single blow cleave asunder an armed soldier on horseback, from the head to the waist, and the horse likewise. He easily vaulted over four horses harnessed together ; and could raise an armed man from the ground to his head, as he stood erect upon his hand.”
soldier as he rushed to battle, and were sung in the midnight bivouacs of the camp. “Perhaps it is not too much to say," observes the literary historian Schlegel, “ that we have still in our possession, if not the original language and form, at least the substance, of many of those ancient poems which were collected by the orders of that prince ; -- I refer to the Nibelungenlied, and the collection which goes by the name of the Heldenbuch.”
When at length the old Tudesque language, which was the court language of Charlemagne, had given place to the Langue d'Oil, the northern dialect of the French Romance, these ancient ballads passed from the memories of the descendants of the Franks, and were succeeded by the romances of Charlemagne and his Twelve Peers, — of Rowland, and Olivir, and the other paladins who died at Roncesvalles. Robert Wace, a Norman Trouvère of the twelfth century, says in one of his poems, that a minstrel named Taillefer, mounted on a swift horse, went in front of the Norman army at the battle of Hastings, singing these ancient poems.
These Chansons de Geste, or old historic romances of France, are epic in their character, though, without doubt, they were written to be chanted to the sound of an instrument. To what period many of them belong, in their present form, has never yet been fully determined; and should it finally be proved by philological research that they can claim no higher antiquity than the twelfth or thirteenth century, still there can be little doubt that in their original form many of them reached far back into the ninth or tenth. The long prevalent theory, that the romances of the Twelve Peers of France all originated in the fabulous chronicle of Charlemagne and Rowland, written by the Archbishop Turpin in the twelfth century, if not as yet generally exploded, is nevertheless fast losing ground.
To the twelfth and thirteenth centuries also belong most of the Fabliaux, or metrical tales of the Trouvères. Many of these compositions are remarkable for the inventive talent they display, but as poems they have, generally speaking, little merit, and at times exhibit such a want of refinement, such open and gross obscenity, as to be highly offensive.
It is a remarkable circumstance in the literary history of France, that, while her antiquarians and scholars have devoted themselves to collecting and illustrating the poetry of the Troubadours, the early lyric poets of the South, that of the Trouvères, or the Troubadours of the North, has been almost entirely neglected. By a singular fatality, too, what little time and attention have hitherto been bestowed upon the fathers of French poetry have been so directed as to save from oblivion little of the most valuable portions of their writings; while the more tedious and worthless parts have been brought forth to the public eye, as if to deaden curiosity, and put an end to further research. The ancient historic romances of the land have, for the most part, been left to slumber unnoticed; while the lewd and tiresome Fabliaux have been ushered into the world as fair specimens of the ancient poetry of France. This has created unjust prejudices in the minds of many against the literature of the olden time, and has led them to regard it as nothing more than a confused mass of coarse and vulgar fictions, adapted to a rude and inelegant state of society.
Of late, however, a more discerning judgment has been brought to the difficult task of ancient research ; and, in consequence of this, the long-established prejudices against the crumbling monuments of the national literature of France during the Middle Ages is fast disappearing. Several learned men are gaged in rescuing from oblivion the ancient poetic romances of Charlemagne and the Twelve Peers of France, and their labors seem destined to throw new light, not only upon the state of literature, but upon the state of society, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Among the voluminous remains of Troubadour literature, little else has yet been discovered than poems of a lyric character. The lyre of the Troubadour seems to have responded to the impulse of momentary feelings only, — to the touch of local and transitory circumstances. His song was a sudden burst of excited feeling; — it ceased when the passion was subdued, or rather when its first feverish excitement passed away; and as the
liveliest feelings are the most transitory, the songs which embodied them are short, but full of spirit and energy. On the other hand, the great mass of the poetry of the Trouvères is of a narrative or epic character. The genius of the North seems always to have delighted in romantic fiction; and whether we attribute the origin of modern romance to the Arabians or to the Scandinavians, this at least is certain, that there existed marvellous tales in the Northern languages, and from these, in part at least, the Trouvères imbibed the spirit of narrative poetry
There are no traces of lyric compositions among their writings, till about the commencement of the thirteenth century ; and it seems probable that the spirit of songwriting was imbibed from the Troubadours of the South.
Unfortunately, the neglect which has so long attended the old historic and heroic romances of the North of France has also befallen in some degree its early lyric poetry. Little has yet been done to discover and bring forth its riches; and doubtless many a sweet little ballad and melancholy complaint lies buried in the dust of the thirteenth century. It is not, however, my object, in this paper, to give an historical sketch of this ancient and almost forgotten poetry, but simply to bring forward a few specimens which shall exhibit its most striking and obvious characteristics.
In these examples it would be in vain to look for high-wrought expressions suited to the prevailing taste of the present day. Their most striking peculiarity, and perhaps their greatest merit, consists in the simple and direct expression of feeling which they contain. This feeling, too, is one which breathes the languor of that submissive homage which was paid to beauty in the days of chivalry; and I am aware, that, in this age of masculine and matter-of-fact thinking, the love-conceits of a more poetic state of society are generally looked upon as extremely trivial and puerile. Nevertheless I shall venture to present one or two of these simple poems, which, by recalling the distant age wherein they were composed, may peradventure please by the power of contrast.
I have just remarked that one of the greatest beauties of these ancient ditties is naïveté
of thought and simplicity of expression. These I shall endeavor to preserve as far as possible in the translation, though I am fully conscious how much the sparkling beauty of an original loses in being filtered through the idioms of a foreign language.
The favorite theme of the ancient lyric poets of the North of France is the wayward passion of love. They all delight to sing “les douces dolors et li mal plaisant de fine amor.” With such feelings the beauties of the opening spring are naturally associated. Almost every loveditty of the old poets commences with some such exordium as this: 66 When the snows of winter have passed away, when the soft and gentle spring returns, and the flower and leaf shoot in the groves, and the little birds warble to their mates in their own sweet lauguage, then will I sing my lady-love !”
Another favorite introduction to these little rhapsodies of romantic passion is the approach of morning and its sweet-voiced herald, the lark. The minstrel's song to his lady-love frequently commences with an allusion to the hour.
“ When the rose-bud opes its een,
And the bluebells droop and die,
Sparkling dew-drops lie." The following is at once the simplest and prettiest piece of this kind which I have met with among the early lyric poets of the North of France. It is taken from an anonymous poem, entitled “ The Paradise of Love.” A lover, having passed the “livelong night in tears, as he was wont," goes forth to beguile his sorrows with the fragrance and beauty of morning. The carol of the vaulting skylark salutes his ear, and to this merry musician he makes his complaint.
“ Hark! hark !
Pretty lark ! Little heedest thou my pain ! But if to these longing arms Pitying Love would yield the charms
Of the fair
With smiling air,
“ Hark! hark ! Pretty lark !
Little heedest thou my pain !
may force me still to bear, While he lists, consuming care ;
But in anguish
Though I languish, Faithful shall my heart remain.
“ Hark! hark !
Pretty lark ! Little heedest thou my pain ! Then cease, Love, to torment me so ; But rather than all thoughts forego
Of the fair
With flaxen hair,
ments; and in the sweetness of their diction, and the structure of their verse, stand far in advance of the age in which they lived. These are Charles d'Orléans and Clotilde de Surville.
Charles, Duke of Orléans, the father of Louis the Twelfth, and uncle of Francis the First, was born in 1391. In the general tenor of his life, the peculiar character of his mind, and his talent for poetry, there is a striking resemblance between this noble poet and James the First of Scotland, his contemporary. Both were remarkable for learning and refinement; both passed a great portion of their lives in sorrow and imprisonment; and both cheered the solitude of their prison-walls with the charms of poetry. Charles d'Orléans was taken prisoner at the battle of Agincourt, in 1415, and carried into England, where he remained twenty-five years in captivity. It was there that he composed the greater part of his poetry.
The poems of this writer exhibit a singular delicacy of thought and sweetness of expression. The following little Renouveaux, or songs on the return of spring, are full of delicacy and beauty.
“Hark! hark !
Pretty lark ! Little heedest thou my pain ! ”
Besides the 66 woful ballad made to his mistress's eyebrow,” the early lyric poet frequently indulges in more calmly analyzing the philosophy of love, or in questioning the object and destination of a sigh. Occasionally these quaint conceits are prettily expressed, and the little song flutters through the page like a butterfly. The following is an example:
“ And whither goest thou, gentle sigh,
Breathed so softly in my ear ?
Say, dost thou bear his fate severe
What secret message bring'st thou here? And whither goest thou, gentle sigh,
Breathed so softly in my ear ?
“ Now Time throws off his cloak again
Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain, And clothes him in the embroidery Of glittering sun and clear blue sky. With beast and bird the forest rings, Each in his jargon cries or sings ; And Time throws off his cloak again Of ermined frost, and wind, and rain.
May Heaven conduct thee to thy will,
And safely speed thee on thy way ;
This only I would humbly pray, Pierce deep, — but oh ! forbear to kill. And whither goest thou, gentle sigh,
Breathed so softly in my ear ? ”
“River, and fount, and tinkling brook
The ancient lyric poets of France are generally spoken of as a class, and their beauties and defects referred to them collectively, and not individually. In truth, there are few characteristic marks by which any individual author can be singled out and ranked above the rest. The lyric poets of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries stand upon nearly the same level. But in the fifteenth century there were two who surpassed all their contemporaries in the beauty and delicacy of their senti
The second upon the same subject presents a still more agreeable picture of the departure of winter and the return of spring. “Gentle spring ! — in sunshine clad,
Well dost thou thy power display ! For winter maketh the light heart sad, And thou,
thou makest the sad heart gay. He sees thee, and calls to his gloomy train, The sleet, and the snow, and the wind, and the rain ; And they shrink away, and they flee in fear,
When thy merry step draws near.
The only person of that age who can dispute the laurel with Charles d'Orléans is Clotilde de Surville. This poetess was born in the Bas-Vivarais, in the year 1405. Her style is singularly elegant and correct; and the reader who will take the trouble to decipher her rude provincial orthography will find her writings full of quiet beauty. The following lines, which breath the very soul of maternal tenderness, are part of a poem to her first-born.
“Sweet babe ! true portrait of thy father's face,
Sleep on the bosom that thy lips have pressed ! Sleep, little one ; and closely, gently place
Thy drowsy eyelid on thy mother's breast !
I have touched upon the subject before me in a brief and desultory manner, and have purposely left my remarks unencumbered by learned reference and far-sought erudition ; for these are ornaments which would ill become so trivial a pen as this wherewith I write, though, perchance, the want of them will render my essay unsatisfactory to the scholar and the critic. But I am emboldened thus to skim with a light wing over this poetic lore of the past, by the reflection, that the greater part of my readers belong not to that grave and serious class who love the deep wisdom which lies in quoting from a quaint, forgotten tome, and who are ready on all occasions to say, “ Commend me to the owl!"
“Upon that tender eye, my little friend,
Soft sleep shall come that cometh not to me! I watch to see thee, nourish thee, defend ;
'Tis sweet to watch for thee, — alone for thee !
“ His arms fall down ; sleep sits upon his brow ;
His eye is closed ; he sleeps, — how still and calm !