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verse - compositions, known as fabliaua. These, for
back; and in fact, leave us at the last with no alternative except that which we might have adopted at the first. That, however, some assistance may have been given to the general tendency to produce the same forms by the literary knowledge of earlier, especially Eastern, collections of tales is no extravagant supposition, and is helped by the undoubted fact that actual translations of such collections—Dolopathos, the Seven Sages of Rome," and so forth—are found early in French, and chiefly at second-hand from the French in other languages. But the general tendency of mankind, reinforced and organised by a certain specially literary faculty and adaptability in the French genius, is on the whole sufficient to account for the fabliau. It presents, as we have said, the most striking and singular contrast to the Lyric poems which we have just noticed. The technical morality of these is extremely accommodating, indeed (in its conventional and normal form) very low. But it is redeemed by an exquisite grace and charm, by true passion, and also by a great decency and accomplishment of actual diction. Coarse language—very rare in the romances, though there are a few examples of it—is rarer still in the elaborate formal lyric of the twelfth and thirteenth century in French. In the fabliaua, which are only a very little later, and which seem not to have been a favourite form of composition very long after the fourteenth century had reached its prime, coarseness of diction, though not quite invariable, is the rule. Not merely are the subjects, in the majority of cases, distinctly “broad,” but the treatment of them is broader still. In a few instances it is very hard to discern any wit at all, except a kind similar to that known much later in England as “selling bargains”; and almost everywhere the words which, according to a famous classical French tag, bravent l’honnéteté, in Latin, the use of which a Roman poet has vaunted as Romana Simplicitas, and which for some centuries have been left alone by regular literature in all European languages till very recently,–appear to be introduced on purpose as part of the game. In fact, it is in the fabliau, that the characteristic which Mr Matthew Arnold selected as the opprobrium of the French in life and literature practically makes its first appearance. And though the “lubricity” of these poems is free from some ugly features which appear after the Italian wars of the late fifteenth century, it has never been more frankly destitute of shamefacedness. It would, however, be extremely unfair to let it be supposed that the fabliaua, Čontain nothing but obscenity, or that they can offer attractions to no one save those whom obscenity attracts. As in those famous English followings of them, where Chaucer considerably reduced the licence of language, and still more considerably increased the dose of wit
* For these see the texts and editorial matter of Dolopathos, ed. Brunet and De Montaiglon (Bibliothèque Elzévirienne), Paris, 1856; and of Le Roman des Sept Sages, ed. G. Paris (Soc. des Anc. Teactes), Paris, 1875. The English Seven Sages (in Weber, vol. iii.) has been thought to be of the thirteenth century. The Gesta Romanorum in any of its numerous forms is probably later.
—the Reeve's and Miller's sections of the Canterbury Tales—the lack of decency is very often accompanied by no lack of sense. And a certain proportion, including some of the very best in a literary point of view, are not exposed to the charge of any impropriety either of language or of subject. There is, indeed, no special reason why the fabliau should be “improper” (except for the greater ease of Definition and getting a laugh) according to its definition, subjects. which is capable of being drawn rather more sharply than is always the case with literary kinds. It is a short tale in verse—almost invariably octosyllabic couplets—dealing, for the most part from the comic point of view, with incidents of ordinary life. This naturally admits of the widest possible diversity of subject: indeed it is only by sticking to the condition of “ordinary life” that the fabliau can be differentiated from the short romance on one side and the allegoric beast-fable on the other. Even as it is, its most recent editors have admitted among their 157 examples not a few which are simple jeua d'esprit on the things of humanity, and others which are in effect short romances and nothing else. Of these last is the best known of all the non-Rabelaisian fabliaua, “Le Vair Palefroi,” which has been Englished by Leigh Hunt and shortly paraphrased by Peacock, while examples of the former may be found without turning very long over even one of MM. de Montaiglon and Raynaud's pretty and learned volumes. A very large proportion, as might be expected, draw their comic interest from satire on priests, on women, or on both together; and this very general character of the Jabłłauw (which, it must be remembered, were performed or recited by the very same jongleurs who conducted the publication of the chansons de geste and the romances) was no doubt partly the result and partly the cause of the persistent dislike and disfavour with which the Church regarded the profes*ion of jonglerie. It is, indeed, from the fabliauw themselves that we learn much of what we know about the jongleurs; and one of not the least amusing' deals with the half-clumsy, half-satiric boasts of two members of the order, who misquote the titles of their orépertoire, make by accident or intention *9010 Comments on its contents, and in short do * magnify their office in a very modern spirit of humorous writing.
Every now and then, too, we find, in the half-random and wholly scurrile slander of womankind, a touch of real humour, of the humour that has feeling behind it, as here, where a sufficiently ribald variation on the theme of the “Ephesian matron” ends—
“Por ce teng-je celui à fol
So too, again, in “La Housse Partie," a piece which perhaps ranks next to the “Vair Palefroi” in general
i to Les Deux Bordeors [bourders, jesters] Ribaux.”