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"There were scalds at the Court of Harald Fairhair, and their poems are known, and likewise poems about all the kings that have been in Norway since. And we have taken evidence chiefly from those poems that were recited before the great lords themselves or their sons: we hold it all for truth that is found in these poems about their expeditions and battles. It is indeed the custom of poets to praise him most before whom they stand; but no one would dare to tell the king of exploits which every one who heard, and the king himself, would know to be vanity and lies; that were scorn and no praise." This is Icelandic historical criticism, in the preface to the history commonly called Heimskringla. But the historical matter of the Court poems is not expressed in an epic way. The Oxford editors have given a convenient diagram of the regular Court method, which shows the difference clearly.1 "The type and plan of the Court poem might be represented in six lines:—
Introduction. The Poet brings the King a poem.
!The King launched his ship. \ Historical
He met his foes at N. 'fact.
He battened the wolf, \ Embellish
And quenched the raven's thirst. / ment. End. The King will reward the Poet.
And every subject and object throughout every poem is put into a more or less dark and rigid dressing of metaphor." Here the adventures themselves are not the main thing: what the poet wishes to bring out is
1 C. P. B., ii. 449.
their value as proof of the king's excellence in war. Epic matter goes into the lyric of praise, as in the song of Deborah or in Pindar, but the narrative interest is not the chief motive, and does not determine the form of the poem.
While it is convenient and necessary to distinguish between popular and courtly poetry, the distinction need not be carried too far. It does not mean that there was no relation between the two. On the contrary, the history of the most polite and artificial of the mediaeval forms of verse—e.g., of the lyrics of Provence and Germany—proves a close connection between the wild stock and the cultivated varieties, while the Celtic and the Icelandic types of elaborate poetry are found spreading wide among the common people. To begin with, in the great houses of an heroic age there is no very marked difference between the tastes and occupations of the king and his followers, even the meaner sort. What the earl likes the churl can admire in his own way. The epic that requires the society of a court, and something of pride and warlike honour to inspire it and give it substance, is not retained at court and obliged to be exclusively noble. The epic soon finds its way to the same sort of gatherings as listen to the rustic ballads. The minstrel publishes the epic, and is welcomed in simple houses, drawing children from their play and old men from the chimney-corner, like Bernlef, the blind Frisian harper, " who was loved by his neighbours because he was of an open and free nature, and would repeat the actions of the men of old and the contests of kings, singing to his harp courteously " (non inurbane1), or like Carolan, the Irish bard, described in much the same tone by Goldsmith.2 Minstrels less gentle than Bernlef or Carolan, the common jugglers of fairs and market-places, took about with them the heroic lays and made them popular. But it was not in the fairs that the heroic poets learned their manners. Their temper is not that of the common people. The kings and warriors of their poems are not the vague magnificences of fairy tales; they are personages drawn from the life, by authors who understood their way of living and thinking. Heroic poetry, which has no scruples about the truth of historical events, is never far from truth in regard to fashions, behaviour, and sentiment. The manners that it represents are courteous and noble.
It is disputed whether the epic verse of Beowulf was meant for singing. But the question rather Narrative loses its point when the modern distincverse. ^on between singing and recitation is discovered to have been marvellously uncertain in the Middle Ages, and later. The epic of Tasso is known to have been a song in Venice; and a Spanish writer on music in the sixteenth century gives the tune belonging to a favourite didactic poem of Juan de Mena, which in print looks tame enough and scarcely chantable. Though Beowulf were sung, it would be none the less a narrative poem, and the verse of it is not lyrical. The verse is continuous, not in stanzas; it is recitative verse, fit for narrative. The invention of narrative verse, such as will carry on a long story, is one of the great distinctions that mark the appearance of true epic, and that give to epic its proper nature, unlike the lyrical ballad or the choral hymn, though these of course may have much in common with epic, much history and adventure mingled in their argument. The creation of epic verse was one of the achievements of the Dark Ages, in Teutonic and in French poetry.
1 Vita IAudgeri, Mon. Germ., Scr. ii. p. 402.
2 "Of all the bards this country ever produced, the last and the greatest was Carolan the Blind. He was at once a poet, a musician, a composer, and sung his own verses to his harp. The original natives never mention his name without rapture; both his poetry and music they have by heart; and even some of the English themselves who have been transplanted there, find his music extremely pleasing" (Goldsmith, Essay xx).
Besides the fairly well established types of Beowulf and Roland, forms in which epic poetry may be said to have culminated in England and France, there are other early kinds of literature with much of the character of epic, narrative literature with much of the epic spirit in it, the presentation of life in an heroic age, yet without the complete poetic form, without the epic verse. Epic in prose is authorised by Sidney, Tasso, Cervantes, and M. de Scud4ry (not to speak of Fielding), and the ideal which is described with so much enthusiasm and eloquence by the Canon in Don Quixote was already realised in the Middle Ages in the Icelandic prose histories of Grettir, Gisli, and Njal. These come later than our time and are described in the next volume of this series, but the Dark Ages in our restricted sense may claim another order of heroic prose in Ireland; the old Irish tales, mythical and fantastic as many of them are, include also the more human motives of epic; the meeting of Cuchulinn and his son Conlaoch corresponds to the German story of Hildebrand; and the stand made by the sons of Usnech against the treachery of Conchobar is told with the same sort of epic interest, the same tragic heroism, as the death of Eoland or of Grettir the Strong.1
It is not perhaps of much importance for the history of epic, yet it can hardly be ignored, that Homeric there are certain commonplaces of actual manners. jife which reappear in the heroic literature of different countries and make a kind of prosaic stuff for the poetic imagination to work upon. Epic requires a particular kind of warfare, not too highly organised, and the manner of the Homeric battle is found again in Germany, Ireland, and old France. The fighters are bound by loyalty to their chieftains; their lords are their patrons and entertainers who have given them gifts. When the time comes they may have to be reminded of their obligations, and one of the constantly recurring passages in epic is the appeal to memory of benefits received. The captain reminds his host, or one of the elder men reminds his associates, of the bygone feasting in hall when the horn went round and the
1 For analogies between the Irish and the Greek heroic ages, see D'Arbois de Jubainville, La civilisation des Celtes et celle de Vtpoque homirique (Cours de UtUrature celtique, Tome vi.)