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Then lift thine own rich
THE LITERARY HISTORY OF THE PROVENÇALS. WHEN the taste and habitual sentiment of our own age shall have become the object of literary history, it is probable that its distinguishing characteristic will be the mode in which we have disentangled ourselves from the trammels of the artificial and conventional system of the French school, and returned with renewed delight to the natural and universal poetry of our earlier writers. We became disgusted with the insipidity of the followers of Dryden and Pope, of men who conceived weakness and dullness to be an imitation of subdued and regulated enthusiasm ; who imagined themselves to be correct writers, because they were precluded by nature herself from the glorious offences of greater wits; and substituted monotony for harmony, and conventional phrases for elegance of language. We discovered that what was termed poetic diction could not supply the place of poetic thought and poetic feeling. We became weary of the tribe, who trifled with words instead of seeking for ideas; who aspired to the praise of originality by varying and exaggerating, without regard to propriety, the terms of recognised metaphors; and who, by a process almost mechanical, compiled poems, like pieces of mosaic work, of set figures and phrases discreetly selected from their predecessors. We ceased at last to be pleased with sentiments, and characters, and descriptions, not drawn from the universal treasury of nature, but borrowed by poet from poet ; and like images reflected from mirror to mirror, losing in vividness and distinctness at every transmission. We turned to nature herself, and to those poets of the olden time whose images and feelings were impressed upon their minds immediately from nature.
This impulse of true taste and sensibility has become a fashion and an affectation. In our own literature, that which had been forgotten, because it deserved to be forgotten, has been recalled to remembrance, admired, and consecrated, because it is old. The antique and obsolete of the literature of other nations has been ransacked ; and much that is valuable, and much that is worthless, have been brought to light together. The investigation has been like a search in the lumber-room of an old family mansion. We have discovered tables, and chairs, and cabinets, of massive bulk and rich workmanship, and venerable from the associations of antiquity. The dust has been wiped from pictures that seem to speak from the canvass; gorgeous tapestry has been unrolled ; records of the joys and sorrows of those who had been long forgotten in the
have once more moved smiles and tears. But with all this, we have often wearied ourselves with fruitless labour, covered ourselves with dust and cobwebs, and pulled out from the receptacles, where it had been left to decay in peace, the accumulated rubbish of preceding generations, and stuck up the fragments in our collection of curiosities.
In this general passion for the antique, the Provençal poetry has attracted scarcely a fair proportion of enthusiasm or attention. It is true that the ties which connect it with English literature are neither
many nor strong. Chaucer, in one or two of his smaller poems, appears to have followed the style of the later Troubadours; and Dryden, in the preface to his Fables, has borrowed from Rymer the remark, that the Provençal was in that age the most cultivated of modern languages, and' that Chaucer profited by it to adorn and enrich the English. But in the interval which intervened between the father of our poetry and the next writers who were worthy to succeed him, the Troubadours, and all their works, and all their fame, had already passed into oblivion ; and the Italian writers remained as our models. In France and Italy, during the last century, the Provençal literature became an object of the curiosity of the learned. Of La Crusca Provenzale of Bastero I can merely report the name. Crescimbeni, in his Istoria della Volgar Poesia has devoted a volume to the Lives of the Provençal Poets, which are taken (except some corrections and additions) from the lives published in 1575, by Jean Nostradamus, Procureur to the Parliament of Provence, and father of the celebrated astrologer Michael Nostradamus. There are also Spanish writers who have illustrated this portion of literary history * M. de Sainte Palaye, the learned author of the Memoirs of Ancient Chivalry, with indefatigable industry made a collection of the works of the Troubadours, which with his own comments
* Sismondi, Litterature du Midi de l'Europe. T. I. ch. iii. p. 82.
and illustrations filled at least five and twenty folio volumes in manuscript. From this immense treasury L'Abbé Millot extracted his Histoire Littéraire des Troubadours *, in which he has given a short account of the lives and productions of each. That fastidiousness of national taste, which impels a Frenchman to make every thing that he touches French, has detracted very materially from the value of this work. All the strong and coarse lines, which mark the sentiments and manners of a rude and uncultivated age, have been refined and softened down, for fear of offending the decorous precision of Parisian criticism. The Abbé appears unable to feel and estimate rightly the simplicity and vigour of ancient times; and even where he has ventured beyond his usual limits, he is evidently trembling with apprehension, and haunted by the dread of grossièreté and malséance. His history is consequently tame and dull, though apparently exceedingly correct; his translations are diffuse and without raciness; and he seems as if instead of a picture of the age of the Troubadours, glowing with all the colours of light and life, he had merely sketched a pencil outline. M. de Sismondi in his History of the Literature of the South of Europe has devoted four chapters to a comprehensive and luminous survey of the rise, and progress, and decay of the Provençal poetry. "For personal anecdotes of the Troubadours he has relied upon Millot; but from his knowledge of the political history of their age he has thrown a singular light on his view of the history of their literature. By reference to the original manuscripts, he has frequently given more vigour to his translations than Millot : he has perceived and enjoyed with much more delicacy of taste the peculiar beauties of the Provençal poetry; and he has diffused over the whole subject the charm of his animated and elegant style. He seems, however, to have experienced the sensation of disappointment which must be felt by every student of the poetry of the Troubadours. He appears to have been at first even enthusiastically delighted with this national and universal developement of imagination, and feeling, and sensibility, in the perception of grace and harmony; but to have become gradually weary of the sameness of all its productions, and grieved, and even ashamed, that it should have left no great monument of superior genius, and impressed no durable character upon the literature of Europe.
The literature of Provence, till within a very few years, was concealed in the obscurity of manuscripts, and could be known only by the observations and partial extracts of critics. The elaborate work of M. Raynouard has thrown it open to the curiosity
* In three volumes 12mo, à Paris, 1774.
of the learned*. In one volume he has investigated the origin and formation of the Langue Romane, and the principles of its grammar. In the second volume he has given, in a free and elegant translation, specimens of the general style of subject and sentiment among the Troubadours; he has investigated the existence and the institutions of the Courts of Love; he has collected monuments of the Langue Romane anterior to the age of the Troubadours, both public Acts and Deeds, and various religious poems; and he has explained, in an accurate and entertaining essay, the various forms of poetical composition which were employed by the Provençals. The third volume contains their amatory poetry; the fourth, their military, political, and moral pieces. The fifth volume is a biographical dictionary of the Troubadours, in which are given all the narratives respecting them which are found in the ancient Provençal manuscripts, and very numerous extracts from those
pieces which were not thought worthy of being published entire. The sixth volume may be considered as a supplement to the first, and comprehends very extensive philological researches on the connexion of the Langue Romane with the other languages of modern Europe, derived from the Latin.
If a person of an ardent and romantic temperament should make the Troubadours the object of his enthusiasm, it is probable that upon his first researches he will experience no slight feeling of dissatisfaction. We picture to ourselves the very country,
and age of chivalry: a climate of serene and deep-blue skies; a land of budding springs and fruitful autumns; sunny hills, rich plains, and winding rivers ; forests of ancient days, and lordly castles looking out from the broken thickets of their woodland parks. The magnificence and festivity of feudal courts ; princes and nobles in their dimly-lighted council-chamber; knights and squires pacing impatiently the lofty hall, or basking in the glare of blazing logs ; ladies and damsels, descending from their bowers to see the gallant chase sweep by, or on their palfreys watching the flight of the falcon with turned necks and heavenward eyes ; tournaments with all their heraldry, and Courts of Love with all their array of beauty ; pass in splendid vision before our half-dreaming phantasy. Then every knight was religious and loyal, full of faith, and honour, and valour, devoted to the lady of his heart, wearing her tokens in the Holy Land, wandering through distant and unknown regions, and returning to sue with music and with song for the recompense of his pure, and fervent, and enduring love. Then every lady was beautiful, and chaste, and humble, and pious; noble in birth, and form, and face, and soul; watching, with all a woman's love, for the return of her devoted warrior, and
* Choix des Poésies Originales des Troubadours, in 6 vols. 8vo. à Paris, 816-1 821.
only affecting coldness or indifference till the praises of her beauty had become familiar to melodious lips. Then the courts of sovereigns were the resort of valour and genius; and a knight glowing with their mingled enthusiasm, and who in true knightly guise could break a lance and compose a canzon, became at once the friend of princes, and found no rank too high for the aspirations of his ambitious love. In such an age, and from such feelings, we expect in poetry all that is romantic, and tender, and imaginative.
Such in fact, in many aspects, was the theory of morals and manners in the time of the Troubadours: but in practice this golden age of chivalry had never an actual existence. If we look more closely into the records of those days, we find, that princes could even then be ambitious and unjust; that courts were crowded with flatterers and slanderers ; that feudal lords were often prodigal, and rapacious, and oppressive, the clergy selfish, and luxurious, and bigotted, and bloodthirsty, and knights faithless at once to their sovereign and their lady-love. In the place of piety we meet with an ignorant and blasphemous ascription of human feelings and infirmities to the divine nature. Crimes have not even the terrific grandeur which we anticipated, if any crimes were to deface the beauty and splendour of our ideal world. — We have all the pettiness of modern perfidy and treachery. We find heartless profligacy, where we expected the purest and most refined passion ; and we discover that adultery was the recognised fashion of the times. Of this state of morals the result is a false ness of sentiment, an insincerity and affectation, which is utterly destructive of genuine poetry. The poetry of the Troubadours has frequently the defects of an uncultivated and unintellectual age, without the simplicity, or force, or grandeur, which we expect from rude unadulterated nature. Instead of pathos and sublimity we often meet with a coldness and dullness, a want of originality, and a passion for false ornament, and artificial restraint, and laboured obscurity, which might have become the rhyming cavaliers of the court of Charles the First. Yet if we have patience to endure this partial disappointment, we find very many pieces which breathe the genuine spirit of passionate tenderness or military enthusiasm; traits of feeling, and character, and manners, which embody to us the genius of the age ; and much that is interesting to the student of human nature, even in the detail of its vices and excesses.
It is clear that the peculiar character of the Provençal poetry must be intimately connected with the political and social state of the country in which it took its rise : and this is especially true of the singular intermixture of the simplicity and straightforwardness, and unlaboured and unconscious beauty, which characterize the literature of an uncultivated people, not only with refinement and elegance, but with the affectation of sentiment, and the false