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means exhausted the debt which literature owes to her during this period. It is indeed not a little curious that the productions of this time, long almost totally ignored in France itself, and even now rather grudgingly acknowledged there, are the only periodic set of productions that justify the claim, so often advanced by Frenchmen, that their country is at the head of the literary development of Europe. It was not so in the fourteenth century, when not only Chaucer in England, but Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio in Italy, attained literary heights to which none of their French contemporaries even approached. It was not so in the fifteenth, when France, despite Willon and others, was the very School of Dulness, and even England, with the help of the Scottish poets and Malory, had a slight advantage over her, while she was far outstripped by Italy. It was not so in the sixteenth, when Italy hardly yet fell behind, and Spain and England far outwent her: nor, according to any just estimate, in the seventeenth. In the eighteenth her pale correctness looks faint enough, not merely beside the massive strength of England, but beside the gathering force of Germany: and if she is the equal of the best in the nineteenth, it is at the very most a bare equality. But in the twelfth and thirteenth France, if not Paris, was in reality the eye and brain of Europe, the place of origin of almost every literary form, the place of finishing and polishing, even for those forms which she did not originate. She not merely taught, she wrought—and wrought consummately. She revived and transformed the fable; perfected, if she did not invent, the beastepic; brought the short prose tale to an exquisite completeness; enlarged, suppled, chequered, the somewhat stiff and monotonous forms of Provençal lyric into myriad-noted variety; devised the prose-memoir, and left capital examples of it; made attempts at the prose history; ventured upon much and performed no little in the vernacular drama; besides the vast performance, sometimes inspired from elsewhere but never as literature copied, which we have already seen, in her fostering if not mothering of Romance. When a learned and enthusiastic Icelander speaks of his patrimony in letters as “a native literature which, in originality, richness, historical and artistic worth, stands unrivalled in modern Europe,” we can admire the patriot but must shake our heads at the critic. For by Dr Vigfusson's own confession the strength of Icelandic literature consists in the sagas, and the sagas are the product of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. At that very time France, besides the chansons de geste—as native, as original, as the sagas, and if less rich, far more artistic in form—France has to show the great romances proper, which Iceland herself, like all the world, copied, a lyric of wonderful charm and abundance, the vast comic wealth of the Jabliaua, and the Fow-epic, prose not merely of laws and homilies and rudimentary educational subjects, but of every variety, drama, history, philosophy, allegory, dream. To give an account of these various things in great detail would not merely be impossible here, but would
injure the scheme and thwart the purpose of this hisThe ris, of tory. We must survey them in the gross, * or with a few examples—showing the lessons taught and the results achieved, from the lyric, which was probably the earliest, to the drama and the prose story, which were pretty certainly the latest of the French experiments. But we must give largest space to the singular growth of Allegory. This, to Some extent in the beast-epic, to a far greater in one of the most epoch-making of European books, the Romance of the Rose, set a fashion in Europe which had hardly passed away in three hundred years, and which, latterly rather for the worse, but in the earlier date not a little for the better, coloured not merely the work directly composed in imitation of the great originals, but all literary stuff of every kind, from lyric to drama, and from Sermons to prose tales. It has been said elsewhere that the shaping of a prosody suitable for lyric was the great debt which Europe owes to the language of Provence. And this is not at all inconsistent with the undoubted critical fact that in a Corpus Lyricorum the best songs of the northern tongues would undoubtedly rank higher, according to all sound canons of poetical criticism, than the best lyrics of the southern. For, as it happens, we have lyrics in at least two most vigorous northern tongues before they had gone to School to southern prosody, and we can see at once the defects in them. The scanty remains of AngloSaxon lyric and the more copious remains of Icelandic
display, with no little power and pathos, and plenty of ill-organised “cry,” an almost total lack of ability to sing. Every now and then their natural genius enables them to hit, clumsily and laboriously, on something—the refrain of the Complaint of Deor, the stepped stanzas of the Lesson of Loddfafni—resembling the more accomplished methods of more educated and long-descended literatures. But the poets are always in a Robinson Crusoe condition, and worse: for Robinson had at least seen the tools and utensils he needed, if he did not know how to make them. The scóps and scalds were groping for the very pattern of the tools themselves. The langue d'oc, first of all vernacular tongues, borrowed from Latin, as Latin had borrowed from Greek, such of the practical outcomes of the laws of lyric harmony in Aryan speech as were suitable to itself; and passed the lesson on to the trouvères of the north of France—if indeed these did not work out the transfer for themselves almost independently. And as there was much more northern admixture, and in particular a less tyrannous softness of vowel-ending in the langue d'oïl, this second stage saw a great increase of suppleness, a great emancipation from monotony, a wonderful freshness and wealth of colour and form. It has been said, and I see no reason to alter the saying, that the French tongue in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was actually better suited for lyrical poetry, and did actually produce lyrical poetry, as far as prosody is concerned, of a fresher, freer, more spontaneous kind, from the twelfth century to the
beginning of the fifteenth than has ever been the case
s is not inconsistent with allowing that no single French lyric is the equal of Walther von der Vogelweide, and that the exerof all are hampered by the lack—after the earliest examples— *Yllabic metres.
men ti J eanroy, as is also the case with other writers of monographs
> o (v. p. 23) on his subject.