« AnteriorContinuar »
The first impression of any one who reads that exceedingly delightful volume the Camden Society's Examples of its Poems attributed to Walter Mapes may be losi insii. one of mere amusement, of which there are ence. few books fuller. The agreeable effrontery with which the question “whether to kiss Rose or Agnes” is put side by side with that “whether it is better to eat flesh cooked in the cauldron or little fishes driven into the net ; ” the intense solemnity and sorrow for self with which Golias discourses in trochaic mono-rhymed laisses of irregular length, De suo Infortunio; the galloping dactylics of the “Apocalypse”; the concentrated scandal against a venerated sex of the De Conjuge non Ducenda, are jocund enough in themselves, if not invariably edifying. But the goodfor-nothing who wrote
“Fumus et mulier et stillicidia
was not merely cracking jokes, he was exercising himself, or his countrymen, or at farthest his successors, in the use of the vernacular tongues with the same lightness and brightness. When he insinuated that “Dulcis erit mihi status Si prebenda muneratus, Reditu vel alio, Vivam, licet non habunde,
Saltem mihi detur unde
he was showing how things could be put slyly, how the stiffness and awkwardness of native speech could be suppled and decorated, how the innuendo, the turn of words, the nuance, could be imparted to dogLatin. And if to dog-Latin, why not to genuine French, or English, or German 2 And he was showing at the same time how to make verse flexible, how to suit rhythm to meaning, how to give freedom, elasticity, swing. No doubt this had in part been done by the great serious poetry to which we shall come presently, and which he and his kind The value of often directly burlesqued. But in the very * nature of things comic verse must supple language to a degree impossible, or very seldom possible, to serious poetry: and in any case the mere tricks with language which the parodist has to play, familiarise him with the use of it. Even in these days of multifarious writing, it is not absolutely uncommon to find men of education and not devoid of talent who confess that they have no notion how to put things, that they cannot express themselves. We can see this tying of the tongue, this inability to use words, far more reasonably prevalent in the infancy of the vernacular tongues; as, for instance, in the constant presence of what the French call chevilles, expletive phrases such as the “sikerly,” and the “I will not lie,” the “verament,” and the “everidel,” which brought a whole class of not undeserving work, the English verse romances of a later time, into discredit. Latin, with its wide range of already consecrated expressions, and with the practice in it which every scholar had, made recourse to constantly repeated stock phrases at least less necessary, if necessary at all; and the writer's set purpose to amuse made it incumbent on him not to be tedious. A good deal of this comic writing may be graceless: some of it may, to delicate tastes, be shocking or disgusting. But it was at any rate an obvious and excellent school of word-fence, a gymnasium and exercising-ground for style. And if the beneficial effect in the literary sense of these light songs is not to be overlooked, how much no. greater in every way is that of the magnificent compositions of which they were in some cases the parody It will be more convenient to postpone to a later chapter of this volume a consideration of the exact way in which Latin sacred poetry affected the prosody of the vernacular; but it is well here to point out that almost all the finest and most famous examples of the mediaeval hymn, with perhaps the sole exception of Veni, Sancte Spiritus, date from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.” Ours are the stately rhythms of Adam of St Victor, and the softer ones of St Bernard the Greater. It was at this time that Jacopone da Todi, in the intervals of his eccentric vernacular exercises, was inspired to write the Stabat Mater. From this time comes that glorious descant of Bernard of Morlaix, in Which, the more its famous and very elegant English paraphrase is read beside it, the more does the greatness and the beauty of the original appear. And from this time comes the greatest of all hymns, and one of the greatest of all poems, the Dies Irae. There have been attempts—more than one of them—to make out that the Dies Irae is no such wonderful thing after all: attempts which are, perhaps, the extreme examples of that cheap and despicable paradox which thinks to escape the charge of blind docility by the affectation of heterodox independence. The judgment of the greatest (and not always of the most pious) men of letters of modern times may confirm those who are uncomfortable without authority in a different opinion. Fortunately there is not likely ever to be lack of those who, authority or no authority, in youth and in age, after much reading or without much, in all time of their tribulation and in all time of their wealth, will hold these wonderful triplets, be they Thomas of Celano's or another's, as nearly or quite the most perfect wedding of sound to sense that they know. It would be possible, indeed, to illustrate a complete dissertation on the methods of expression in serious poetry from the fifty-one lines of the Dies Irae. Rhyme, alliteration, cadence, and adjustment of vowel and consonant values, all these things receive perfect expression in it, or, at least, in the first thirteen stanzas, for the last four are a little inferior. It is quite astonishing to reflect upon the careful art or the felicitous accident of such a line as
* A few more precise datés may be useful. St Bernard, 1091-1153; Bernard of Morlaix, exact years uncertain, but twelfth century; Adam of St Victor, ob. cir. 1190; Jacopone da Todi, ob. 1306; St Bonaventura, 1221-1274; Thomas of Celano, fl. c. 1226. The two great storehouses of Latin hymn-texts are the well-known books of Daniel, Thesaurus Hymnologicus, and Mone, Hymni. Latin Medii dovi. And on this, as on all matters connected with hymns, the exhaustive Dictionary of Hymnology (London, 1892) of the Rev. John Julian will be found most valuable.
with the thud of the trochee falling in each instance in a different vowel; and still more on the continuous sequence of five stanzas, from Judea, ergo to mom sit cassus, in which not a word could be displaced or replaced by another without loss. The climax of verbal harmony, corresponding to and expressing religious passion and religious awe, is reached in the last— “Quaerens me sedisti lassus, Redemisti crucem passus: Tantus labor non sit cassus !”— where the sudden change from the dominant e sounds (except in the rhyme foot) of the first two lines to the a's of the last is simply miraculous, and miraculously assisted by what may be called the internal sub-rhyme of sedisti and redemisti. This latter effect can rarely be attempted without a jingle: there is no jingle here, only an ineffable melody. After the Dies Irae, no poet could say that any effect of poetry was, as far as sound goes, unattainable, though few could have hoped to equal it, and perhaps no one except Dante and Shakespeare has fully done so. Beside the grace and the grandeur, the passion and the art, of this wonderful composition, even the best remaining examples of mediaeval hymn-writing may look a little pale. It is possible for criticism, which is not hypercriticism, to object to the pathos of the Stabat, that it is a trifle luscious, to find fault with the rhymescheme of Jesu dulcis memoria, that it is a little faint and frittered ; while, of course, those who do not like
1 Of course no one of the four is a pure classical trochee ; but all obey the trochaic rhythm.