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THE FLOURISHING OF ROMANCE
RISE OF ALLEGORY.
THE FUNCTION OF LATIN.
REASONS FOR NOT NOTICING THE BULK OF MEDIAEWAL LATIN LITERATURE —ExCEPTED DIVISIONS.–COMIC LATIN LITERATURE–EXAMPLES OF ITS VERBAL INFLUENCE—THE VALUE OF BURLESQUE–HYMNS—THE “DIES IRAE’”—THE RHYTHM OF BERNARD–LITERARY PERFECTION OF THE HYMNS — SCHOLASTIC PHILOSOPHY — ITS INFLUENCE ON PHRASE AND METHOD–THE GREAT SCHOLASTICS.
THIS series is intended to survey and illustrate the development of the vernacular literatures of mediaeval p.m., and modern Europe; and for that purpose of noticing it is unnecessary to busy ourselves with the bulk of - -
maios Latin more than a part of the Latin writing *” which, in a steadily decreasing but—until the end of the last century—an always considerable proportion, served as the vehicle of literary expression.
But with a part of it we are as necessarily concerned as we are necessarily compelled to decline the whole. For not only was Latin for centuries the universal means of communication between educated men of different languages, the medium through which such men received their education, the court-language, so to speak, of religion, and the vehicle of all the literature of knowledge which did not directly stoop to the comprehension of the unlearned; but it was indirectly as well as directly, unconsciously as well as consciously, a schoolmaster to bring the vernacular languages to literary accomplishment. They could not have helped imitating it, if they would; and they did not think of avoiding imitation of it, if they could. It modified, to a very large extent, their grammar; it influenced, to an extent almost impossible to overestimate, the prosody of their finished literature; it supplied their vocabulary; it furnished models for all their first conscious literary efforts of the more deliberate kind, and it conditioned those which were more or less spontaneous. But, even if we had room, it would profit us little to busy ourselves with diplomatic Latin or with the Latin of chronicles, with the Latin of such scientific treatises as were written or with the Latin of theology. All these except, for obvious reasons, the first, tended away from Latin into the vernaculars as time went on, and were but of lesser literary moment, even while they continued to be written in Latin. Nor in belles lettres proper were such serious performances as continued to be written well into our period of capital importance. Such a book, for instance, as the wellknown Trojan War of Joseph of Exeter," though it really deserves much of the praise which it used to receive,” can never be anything much better than a large prize poem, such as those which still receive and sometimes deserve the medals and the gift-books of schools and universities. Every now and then a man of irrepressible literary talent, having no vernacular or no public in the vernacular ready to his hand, will write in Latin a book like the De Nugis Curialium,” which is good literature though bad Latin. But on the whole it is a fatal law of such things that the better the Latin the worse must the literature be. We may, however, with advantage select three divisions of the Latin literature of our section of the Excepted Middle Ages, which have in all cases no * Small literary importance and interest, and in some not a little literary achievement. And these are the comic and burlesque Latin writings, especially in verse; the Hymns; and the great body of philosophical writing which goes by the general title of Scholastic Philosophy, and which was at its palmiest time in the later portion of our own special period. It may not be absolutely obvious, but it does not comic Latin require much thought to discover, why the *** comic and burlesque Latin writing, especially in verse, of the earlier Middle Ages holds such a posi
* Included with Dictys and Dares in a volume of Valpy's Delphin Classics.
* Cf. Warton, History of English Poetry. Ed. Hazlitt, i. 226-292.
* Gualteri Mapes, De Nugis Curialium Distinctiones Quinque. Ed. T. Wright: Camden Society, 1850.
tion. But if we compare such things as the Carmina Burana, or as the Goliardic poems attributed to or connected with Walter Map," with the early fabliaua, we shall perceive that while the latter, excellently written as they sometimes are, depend for their comedy chiefly on matter and incident, not indulging much in play on words or subtle adjustment of phrase and cadence, the reverse is the case with the former. A language must have reached some considerable pitch of development, must have been used for a great length of time seriously, and on a large variety of serious subjects, before it is possible for anything short of supreme genius to use it well for comic purposes. Much indeed of this comic use turns on the existence and degradation of recognised serious writing. There was little or no opportunity for any such use or misuse in the infant vernaculars; there was abundant opportunity in literary Latin. Accordingly we find, and should expect to find, very early parodies of the offices and documents of the Church,-things not unnaturally shocking to piety, but not perhaps to be justly set down to any profane, much less to any specifically blasphemous, intention. When the quarrel arose between Reformers and “Papists,” intentional ribaldry no doubt began. But such a thing as, for example, the “Missa de Potatoribus” is much more significant of an unquestioning familiarity than of deliberate insult. It is an instance of the same bent of the human mind which has made very learned and conscientious lawyers burlesque law, and which induces schoolboys and undergraduates to parody the classics, not at all because they hate them, but because they are their most familiar literature. At the same time this comic degradation, as may be seen in its earliest and perhaps its greatest practitioner Aristophanes—no bad citizen or innovating misbeliever —leads naturally to elaborate and ingenious exercises in style, to a thorough familiarity with the capacities of language, metre, rhyme. And expertness in all these things, acquired in the Latin, was certain sooner or later to be transferred to the vernacular. No one can read the Latin poems which cluster in Germany round the name of the “Arch-Poet,” in England round that of Map, without seeing how much freer of hand is the Latin rhymer in comparison with him who finds it “hard only not to stumble” in the vernacular. We feel what a gusto there is in this graceless catachresis of solemn phrase and traditionally serious literature; we perceive how the language, colloquially familiar, taught from infancy in the schools, provided with plentiful literary examples, and having already received perfect licence of accommodation to vernacular rhythms and the poetical ornaments of the hour, puts its stammering rivals, fated though they were to oust it, out of court for the time by its audacious compound of experience and experiment.
* Carmina Burana, Stuttgart, 1847; Political Songs of England (1839), and Latin Poems attributed to Walter Mapes (1841), both edited for the Camden Society by T. Wright.
*Wright and Halliwell's Reliquiae Antiquae (London, 1845), ii. 208. * On this Arch-Poet see Scherer, History of German Literature (Engl. ed., Oxford, 1886), i. 68.