Imagens das páginas

than once mentioned. They show, as has been said, the latest form of the chanson, and are almost pure fiction, though they have a sort of framework or outline in the wars in Northern Arabia, at and round the city of Jöf, whose crusading towers still, according to travellers, look down on the had route through the desert. Garim le Loherain, on the other hand, and its successors, are pure early feudal fighting, as is also the early, excellent, and very characteristic Raoul de Cambrai. These are instances, and no doubt not the only ones, of what may be called district or provincial gestes, applying the principles of the chansons generally to local quarrels and fortunes. Of what purists call the Sophisticated chansons, those in which general romance-motives of different kinds are embroidered on the strictly chanson canvas, there are probably none more interesting than the later forms of Huon de Bordeaua and Ogier de Danemarche. The former, since the fortunate reprinting of Lord Berners's version by the Early English Text Society, is open to every one, though, of course, the last vestiges of chanson form have departed, and those who can should read it as edited in M. Guessard’s series. The still more gracious legend, in which the ferocious champion Ogier, after his early triumphs over the giant Caraheu and against the paladins of Charles, is, like Huon, brought to the loadstone rock, is then subjected to the enchantments—loving, and now not baneful—of Arthur's sister Morgane, and tears himself from fairyland to come to the rescue of France, is by far the most delightful of the attempts to F

“cross” the Arthurian and Carlovingian cycles. And of this we fortunately have in English a poetical version from the great trouvère among the poets of our day, the late Mr William Morris. Of yet others, the often-mentioned Voyage & Constantinoble, with its rather unseemly galz (boasting jests of the peers, which are overheard by the heathen emperor with results which seem like at one time to be awkward), is among the oldest, and is a warning against the tendency to take the presence of comic elements as a necessary evidence of late date. Les Saisnes, dealing with the war against the Saxons, is a little loose in its morals, but vigorous and interesting. The pleasant pair of Aiol and Elie de St Gilles; the touching history of Charlemagne's mother, Berte aus grams Piés; Acquin, one of the rare chansons dealing with Brittany (though Roland was historically count thereof); Gérard de Roussillon, which has more than merely philological interest; Macaire, already mentioned; the famous Quatre Fils d’Aymon, longest and most widely popular, must be added to the list, and are not all that should be added to it. On the whole, I must repeat that the chansons de geste, which as we have them are the work of the Final remark, twelfth and thirteenth centuries in the on them. main, form the second division in point of literary value of early mediaeval literature, while they possess, in a certain “sincerity and strength,” qualities not to be found even in the Arthurian story itself. Despite the ardour with which they have been philologically studied for nearly three-quarters of a century, despite (or perhaps because of) the enthusiasm which one or two devotees have shown for their literary qualities, it does not seem to me that fair justice, or anything like it, has yet been generally done. German critics care little for literary merit, and are perhaps not often trained to appreciate it; in England the chansons have been strangely little read. But the most singular thing is the cold reception, slightly if at all thawed recently, which they have met in France itself. It may give serious pause to the very high estimate generally entertained of French criticism by foreigners to consider this coldness, which once reached something like positive hostility in M. Ferdinand Brunetière, the chief French literary critic of our generation. I regret to see that M. Lanson, the latest historian of French literature, has not dared to separate himself from the academic grew. “On ne saurait nier,” he says, “que quelques uns aient eu du talent;” but he evidently feels that this generous concession is in need of guards and caveats. There is no “beauté formelle” in them, he says—no formal beauty in those magnificently sweeping laisses, of which the ear that has once learnt their music can no more tire thereafter than of the sound of the sea itself. The style (and if it be objected that his previous words have been directly addressed to the later chansons and chanson writers, here he expressly says that this style “est le même style que dans le Roland,” though “moins Sobre, moins plein, moins sur”) has “no beauty by itself,” and finally he thinks that the best thing to do is “to let nine-tenths of the chansons follow nine of them are remarkably good of their kind, few of them can be called positively bad in it. And yet again, if he has been fortunately gifted by nature with that appreciation of form which saves the critic from mere prejudice and crotchet, from mere partiality, he will, I believe, go further still, and say that while owing something to spirit, they owe most to form itself, to the form of the single-assonanced or monorhymed tirade, assisted as it is by the singular beauty of Old French in sound, and more particularly by the sonorous recurring phrases of the chanson dialect. No doubt much instruction and some amusement can be got out of these poems as to matters of fact: no doubt some passages in Roland, in Aliscans, in the Couronnement Loys, have a stern beauty of thought and sentiment which deserves every recognition. But these things are not all-pervading, and they can be found elsewhere: the clash and clang of the tirade are everywhere here, and can be found nowhere else.

tenths of our tragedies.” I have read many chansons
and many tragedies; but I have never read a chanson
that has not more poetry in it than ninety-nine French
tragedies out of a hundred.
The fact is that it is precisely the beauté formelle,
assisted as it is by the peculiar spirit of which so much
has been said already, which constitutes the beauty of
these poems: and that these characteristics are present,
not of course in uniform measure, but certainly in the
great majority of the chansons from Roland to the
Bastard. Of course if a man sits down with a pre-
conceived idea of an epic poem, it is more likely than
not that his preconceived idea will be of something
very different from a chanson de geste. And if, refusing
to depart from his preconceived idea, and making that
idea up of certain things taken from the Iliad, certain
from the Æneid, certain from the Divina Commedia,
certain from Paradise Lost,--if he runs over the list
and says to the chanson, “Are you like Homer in
this point 2 Can you match me Virgil in that ?” the
result will be that the chanson will fail to pass its
But if, with some knowledge of literature in the
wide sense, and some love for it, he sits down to take
the chansons as they are, and judge them on their
merits and by the law of their own poetical state,
then I think he will come to a very different con-
clusion. He will say that their kind is a real kind,
a thing by itself, something of which if it were not,
nothing else in literature could precisely supply the
want. And he will decide further that while the best

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »