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attracted by fashion. This work of “the old caitiff,” as the author calls himself with a rather Hibernian coaxingness, is what has been called a cantosable—that is to say, it is not only obviously written, like verse romances and fabliaua, for recitation, but it consists partly of prose, partly of verse, the music for the latter being also given. Mr Swinburne, Mr Pater, and, most of all, Mr Lang, have made it unnecessary to tell in any detailed form the story how Aucassin, the son of Count Garin of Beaucaire, fell in love with Nicolette, a Saracen captive, who has been bought by the Wiscount of the place and brought up as his daughter; how Nicolette was shut up in a tower to keep her from Aucassin; how Count Bongars of Valence assailed Beaucaire and was captured by Aucassin on the faith of a promise from his father that Nicolette shall be restored to him; how the Count broke his word, and Aucassin, setting his prisoner free, was put in prison himself; how Nicolette escaped, and by her device Aucassin also ; how the lovers were united; and how, after a comic interlude in the country of “Torelore,” which could be spared by all but folk-lorists, the damsel is discovered to be daughter of the King of Carthage, and all ends in bowers of bliss. But even the enthusiasm and the art of three of the best writers of English and lovers of literature in this half-century have not exhausted the wonderful charm of this little piece. The famous description of Nicolette, as she escapes from her prison and walks through the daisies that look black against her white feet, is certainly the most beautiful thing of the kind in mediaeval Prose-work, and the equal of anything of the kind anywhere. And for original audacity few things surpass Aucassin's equally famous inquiry, “En Paradis qu’aije a faire 2" with the words with which he follows it up to the Viscount. But these show passages only concentrate the charm which is spread all over the novelette, at least until its real conclusion, the union and escape of the lovers. Here, as in the earlier part of the Rose—to which it is closely akin—is the full dreamy beauty, a little faint, a little shadowy, but all the more attractive, of mediaeval art; and here it has managed to convey itself in prose no less happily and with more concentrated happiness than there in verse.
RESEMBLANCES – CONTRASTS — ICELANDIC LITERATURE OF THIS TIME MAINLY PROSE—DIFFICULTIES WITH IT-THE SAGA.—ITS INSULARITY OF MANNER—OF SCENERY AND CHARACTER—FACT AND FICTION IN THE SAGAS – CLASSES AND AUTHORSHIP OF THEM – THE FIVE GREATER SAGAs—‘NJALA —‘LAXDELA’—‘EYRBYGGJA’—‘EGLA’— ‘GRETTLA'—ITS CRITICs—MERITS OF IT-THE PARTING OF ASDIs AND HER SONS — GREAT PASSAGES OF THE SAGAS — STYLE – PROVENGAL MAINLY LYRIC — ORIGIN OF THIS LYRIG-ForMs—MANY MEN, ONE MIND–EXAMPLE OF RHYME-scHEMEs—PROVENQAL POETRY NOT GREAT — BUT EXTRAORDINARILY PEDAGOGIC — THOUGH NOT DIRECTLY ON ENGLISH – SOME TROUBADOURS – CRITICISM OF PROVENQAL.
THERE may seem at first to be no sufficient reason for treating together two such literatures as those named in the title of this chapter. But the connection, both of likeness and unlikeness, between them is too tempting to the student of comparative literature, and too useful in such a comparative survey of literature as that which we are here undertaking, to be mistaken or refused. Both attaining, thanks to very different causes, an extraordinarily early maturity, completely worked themselves out in an
extraordinarily short time. Neither had, so far as we know, the least assistance from antecedent vernacular models. Each achieved an extraordinary perfection and intensity, Icelandic in spirit, Provençal in form. And their differences are no less fascinating, since they start from this very diversity of similar perfection. Icelandic, after a brief period of copying French and other languages, practically died out as a language producing literature; and, perhaps for that very reason, maintained itself in all the more continuity as a spoken language. Even its daughter —or at least successor—Norse tongues produced nothing worthy to take up the tradition of the Sagas and the Poems. It influenced (till the late and purely literary revival of it biassed to some extent the beginnings of the later Romantic revival in Western Europe, a hundred and fifty years ago) nothing and nobody. It was as isolated as its own island. To Provençal, on the other hand, though its own actual producing-time was about as brief, belongs the schooling, to no small extent, of the whole literature of Europe. Directly, it taught the trouvères of Northern France and the poets of Spain and Italy prosody, and a certain amount of poetical style and tone; indirectly, or directly through France, it influenced England and Germany. It started, indeed, none of the greater poetical kinds except lyric, and lyric is the true grass of Parnassus—it springs up naturally everywhere; but it started the form of all, or at least was the first to adapt from Latin a prosody suitable to all. The most obvious, though not the least interesting,
points of likeness in unlikeness have been left to the last. The contrasts between the hawthorn and nightingale of Provence, her “winds heavy with the rose,” and the grey firths, the ice- and foam-fretted skerries of Iceland; between the remains of Roman luxury pushed to more than Roman effeminacy in the one, and the rough Germanic virtue exasperated to sheer ferocity in the other, are almost too glaring for anything but a schoolboy's or a rhetorician's essay. Yet they are reproduced with an incredible—a “copy-book”—fidelity in the literatures. The insistence of experts and enthusiasts on the law-abiding character of the sagas has naturally met with some surprise from readers of these endless private wars, and burnings, and “heathslayings,” these feuds where blood flows like water, to be compensated by fines as regular as a water-rate, these methodical assassinations, in which it is not in the least discreditable to heroes to mob heroes as brave as themselves to death by numbers, in which nobody dreams of measuring swords, or avoiding vantage of any kind. Yet the enthusiastic experts are not wrong. Whatever outrages the Icelander may commit, he always has the law — an eccentric, unmodern, conventional law, but a real and recognised one—before his eyes, and respects it in principle, however much he may sometimes violate it in practice. To the Provençal, on the other hand, law, as such, is a nuisance. He will violate it, so to speak, on principle—less because the particular violation has a particular temptation for him than because the thing is forbidden. The Icelander may covet and take an