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One of the reasons, however, which no doubt has been most apt to suggest anterior compositions is the Their metrica, singular completeness of form exhibited by Jorm. these poems. It is now practically agreed that—scraps and fragments themselves excepted—we have no monument of French in accomplished profane literature more ancient than the Chanson de Roland. And the form of this, though from one point of view it may be called rude and simple, is of remarkable perfection in its own way. The poem is written in decasyllabic iambic lines with a caesura at the second foot, these lines being written with a precision which French indeed never afterwards lost, but which English did not attain till Chaucer's day, and then lost again for more than another century. Further, the grouping and finishing of these lines is not less remarkable, and is even more distinctive than their internal construction. They are not blank; they are not in couplets; they are not in equal stanzas; and they are not (in the earliest examples, such as Roland) regularly rhymed. But they are arranged in batches (called in French laisses or tirades) of no certain number, but varying from one to several score, each of which derives unity from an assonance—that is to say, a vowel-rhyme, the consonants of the final syllable varying at discretion. This assonance, which appears to have been common to all Romance tongues in their early stages, disappeared before very long from French, though it continued in Spanish, and is indeed the most distinguishing point of the prosody of that language. Very early in the chansons themselves we find it replaced by rhyme, which, however, remains the same for the whole of the laisse, no matter how long it is. By degrees, also, the ten-syllabled line (which in some examples has an octosyllabic tail-line not assonanced at the end of every laisse) gave way in its turn to the victorious Alexandrine. But the mechanism of the chanson admitted no further extensions than the substitution of rhyme for assonance, and of twelve-syllabled lines for ten-syllabled. In all other respects it remained rigidly the same from the eleventh century to the fourteenth, and in the very latest examples of such poems, as Hugues Capet and Baudouin de Seboure— full as enthusiasts like M. Gautier complain that they are of a spirit very different from that of the older chansons—there is not the slightest change in form; while certain peculiarities of stock phrase and “epic repetition " are jealously preserved. The immense single-rhymed laisses, sometimes axtending to several pages of verse, still roll rhyme after rhyme with the same sound upon the ear. The common form generally remains; and though the adventures are considerably varied, they still retain a certain general impress of the earlier scheme. That scheme is, in the majority of the chansons, curiTheir schemue ously uniform. It has, since the earliest of matter studies of them, been remarked as odd that Charlemagne, though almost omnipresent (except of course in the Crusading cycle and a few others), and though such a necessary figure that he is in some cases evidently confounded both with his ancestor Charles Martel and his successor Charles the Bald, plays a part that is very dubiously heroic. He is, indeed, presented with great pomp and circumstance as li Theoharacter of empereres à la barbe florie, with a gorgeous * court, a wide realm, a numerous and brilliant baronage. But his character is far from tenderly treated. In Roland itself he appears so little that critics who are not acquainted with many other poems sometimes deny the characteristic we are now discussing. But elsewhere he is much less leniently handled. Indeed the plot of very many chansons turns entirely on the ease with which he lends an ear to traitors (treason of various kinds plays an almost ubiquitous part, and the famous “trahis l’ is heard in the very dawn of French literature), on his readiness to be biassed by bribes, and on the singular ferocity with which, on the slightest and most unsupported accusation, he is ready to doom any one, from his own family downwards, to block, stake, gallows, or living grave. This combination, indeed, of the irascible and the gullible tempers in the king defrays the plot of a very large number of the chansons, in which we see his best knights, and (except that they are as intolerant of injustice as he is prone to it) his most faithful servants, forced into rebellion against him, and almost overwhelmed by his own violence following on the machinations of their and his worst enemies. Nevertheless, Charlemagne is always the defender C
* Editio princeps by Fr. Michel, 1837. Since that time it has been frequently reprinted, translated, and commented. Those who wish for an exact reproduction of the oldest MS. will find it given by Stengel (Heilbronn, 1878).
of the Cross, and the antagonist of the Saracens, and the part which these latter play is as Other characters and character. ubiquitous as his own, and on the whole istics. more considerable. A very large part of the earlier chansons is occupied with direct fighting against the heathen; and from an early period (at least if the Voyage & Constantinoble is, as is supposed, of the early twelfth century, if not the eleventh) a most important element, bringing the class more into contact with romance generally than some others which have been noticed, is introduced in the love of a Saracen princess, daughter of emperor or “admiral” (emir), for one of the Christian heroes. Here again Roland stands alone, and though the mention of Aude, Oliver's sister and Roland's betrothed, who dies when she hears of his death, is touching, it is extremely meagre. There is practically nothing but the clash of arms in this remarkable poem. But elsewhere there is, in rather narrow and usual limits, a good deal else. Charlemagne's daughter, and the daughters of peers and paladins, figure: and their characteristics are not very different from those of the pagan damsels. It is, indeed, unnecessary to convert them,--a process to which their miscreant sisters usually submit with great goodwill,— and they are also relieved from the necessity of showing the extreme undutifulness to their more religiously constant sires, which is something of a blot on Paynim princesses like Floripas in Fierabras. This heroine exclaims in reference to her father, “He is an old devil, why do you not kill him little I care for him provided you give me Guy,” though it is fair to say that Fierabras himself rebukes her with a “Moult grant tort aves.” All these ladies, however, Christian as well as heathen, are as tender to their lovers as they are hard-hearted to their relations; and the relaxation of morality, sometimes complained of in the later chansons, is perhaps more technical than real, even remembering the doctrine of the mediaeval Church as to the identity, for practical purposes, of betrothal and marriage. On the other hand, the courtesy of the chansons is distinctly in a more rudimentary state than that of the succeeding romances. Not only is the harshest language used by knights to ladies," but blows are by no means uncommon; and of what is commonly understood by romantic love there is on the knights' side hardly a trace, unless it be in stories such as that of Ogier le Danois, which are obviously late enough to have come under Arthurian influence. The piety, again, which has been so much praised in these chansons, is of a curious and rather elementary type. The knights are ready enough to fight to the last gasp, and the last drop of blood, for the Cross; and their faith is as free from flaw as their zeal. Li Apostoiles de Rome— the Pope—is recognised without the slightest hesitation as supreme in all religious and most temporal matters. But there is much less reference than in the Arthurian romances, not merely to the mysteries of the Creed, but even to the simple facts of the birth and death of Christ. Except in a few places—such as, for instance, the exquisite and widely popular story of Amis and