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At first this might seem to intimate a long step in advance, but, in actual fact, the imagination of romanciers was " cribb'd, cabin'd, and confined." Whatever originality may have been theirs, the demands of their audience could not be ignored, and set bounds that they dared not pass. One class of romances devoted itself to celebrating "la fine et loyale amour," a very elevated attachment of which the royal poet had predicated that "of it comes sense and goodness," but which, in romance at least, is conspicuous rather for the latter than the former quality. A young vassal lifts his eyes to his lord's daughter, who not unnaturally despises him, but relents on his falling sick. Or perchance, as in Blancandin, to prove his worth, he sets forth in search of adventures. Sometimes, however, these "traverseurs de voies perilleuses" are merely plain folk, a husband looking for his wife, a father looking for a son, and, oddest of all, some infatuated person seeking the answer to a riddle. Also, pilgrims to Eome, the Holy Land, and St James of Compostella.
A pathetic figure often encountered in these romances —notably in the Manekine of Philippe de Beaumanoir and the rather later Comte d'Anjou of Jean Maillart— is the innocent wife on whose fair fame a rival has cast a blot. Driven from her husband, we find her in a frail boat on the open sea, or wandering in the forest, until Providence is pleased to vindicate her character. In Guillaume de Palerne, on the contrary, it is the knight that suffers. Through the felony of his step-mother he is turned into a wolf. Here and
there may be traced the influence of the Romance of the Rose. In La Poire} for instance, a tale of two thousand eight hundred lines, the actors are allegorical personages — Franchise, Simplesse, DouxRegard, Beaute, Eaison, and Curtoisie. Finally, the Christian idea of penitence, or penance, supplies a motive. A career of crime is atoned for by voluntary pains of the severest kind, borne without faltering. Thus the epic, whether it was originally Breton or Carlovingian, ended by becoming a mere story designed to gratify idle readers.
The last stage was reached when poetry ceased, even in the outward sense, to be poetry at all. The great age of the prose versions was the fifteenth
century, by which time the writings of Froissart had given to prose a vogue, an air of distinction. Some, however, are earlier. In 1858 MM. Moland and d'Héricault published three romances, mutually distinct, though each is interesting — Asseneth, Foulques Fitzwarin, and Troilus.2 Concerning Asseneth something may be said here.
Of the story of Joseph, as recorded in the Book of Genesis, Voltaire remarked that in the whole range of Arabian fiction he could not find its equal in beauty and pathos. It is
1 Li Romanz de la Poire. Ed. Stehlich, Halle, 1881.
2 NouveUes francaises en prose du xiv" siecle. Paris, Janet. Fitzwarin, which is in very interesting Norman, or rather EnglishFrench, had been previously published by Thomas Wright for the Warton Club (1855). It has probably been "disrhymed" from an earlier poem, and is a family history of an outlaw baron, full of spirit.
evident, however, that somebody, less convinced of its unapproachable perfection, had ere this attempted an improvement, possibly for the benefit of the young. The credit of the idea has been conjecturally assigned to Jewish converts in the first ages of Christianity. After floating about for many centuries, the revised account found a haven in a Latin compilation which served as a sort of commonplace-book for writers in the "dialects "—Vincent de Beauvais' Mirror of History. Somewhere between 1317 and 1327 the tale was translated into French by Jean de Vignay, who succeeded in investing it with much of the charm of the old metrical romances.
Asseneth, the daughter of Potiphar, Pharaoh's chief counsellor, dwelt in the topmost storey of a tower adjoining her father's house, and rising in the midst of a magnificent orchard, watered by living streams. Her chamber, formed of coloured marble, incrusted with precious stones, and hung with cloth-of-gold, contained a gilt bed lined with purple woven with gold and jacinths. There slept Asseneth alone, and no man had ever sat on that bed. Asseneth was tall like Sarah, graceful like Rebecca, and fair like Eachel. One day Joseph came to the tower on an errand from Potiphar. Joseph was arrayed in a white coat, very splendid, and a purple cloak woven with gold. He bore on his head a gilt crown, and in this crown were twelve very fine stones, and over these stones were twelve stars of gold; and he held in his hand a royal wand and an olive branch very full of fruit.
When Asseneth beheld him approaching in a fair chariot drawn by four snow-white steeds, she cried, "Lo, here is the sun coming to us in his chariot. I knew not that Joseph was a son of God. Who can beget so great beauty, and what woman's womb can bear such light?" Joseph agrees to marry her on condition that she will cast away her idols. So Asseneth, sick with fear and joy, renounces her gods, and does penance. For seven days, in black apparel and ashes on her brow, she weeps bitterly. She has thrown her idols out of the window, and given all her royal food to the dogs. Then a light gleams in the east; an angel, his face all aflame, comes down from heaven into her chamber. He lays his hand on her head and blesses her. "Asseneth! Asseneth! rejoice and be comforted, for thy virgin's name is written in the book of the living, and I have given thee to Joseph to wife." On the morrow Joseph returns to the tower. Pharaoh sets on their heads crowns of gold, the best that he has, makes a great wedding and great feasts that last seven days, and commands that none do any work during the interval.
It would be pleasant to give some account of Perceforest, which, according to M. Gaston Paris, belongs to the fourteenth century. Unluckily, the composition as a whole exists only in black-letter. Some notion of its character, however, may be gleaned from a liberal excerpt in Bartsch's Chrestomathie describing in considerable detail the knighting of a young "damoysel." It is tempting to compare this narrative with the overture to Dmi QuioMc: here, a handsome youth, at the outset of his career, arrayed by fair ladies and gallant knights; there, the old, lean, crack-brained, but withal magnanimous, adventurer of La Mancha, who essays the same part amidst solitude and ridicule. In Perceforest is no jarring note of the mad, the mundane, and the modern. All is sweet, and serious, and serene. Each garment, each armour-piece wherewith the lad is attired, has its mystical meaning; and, while the rites and ceremonies remind us of freemasonry, the doctrinal exposition accompanying each act, and the pious responses of the novice, compel us to see in chivalry a type of the Church militant.
The first part of the programme is undertaken by three ladies. They enter a little pavilion and seat the candidate, "tout nud fors les brayes," on a chair. His white and tender flesh excites the admiration of Queen Fezonas, who slaps him on the shoulder, saying, "Sire damoyseau, bien vous a nourry celle, qui vous a eu en garde jusques a ores." However, there is no suspicion of impropriety, and the investiture is at once begun. First they put on him a white shirt, which, the ladies explain, is a symbol of purity. Over this they place a red silk tunic, which signifies an ardent desire for all knightly virtues and graces. Lastly, one of them fastens a belt—symbol of retention, this—round his waist. Fourteen knights then receive the youth, and dress him in armour, while Perceforest gives him the accolade with the words, "Chevalier, soyes hardi et preux."