« AnteriorContinuar »
fection may help to explain the insouciance with which Ayala records the vilest crimes
Ayala is a very remarkable figure in the literature of Spain, and, on account of his versatility, I shall again have occasion to mention him in the
iMtin influence. _
succeeding chapter. Here he will be dealt with as an early and prominent representative of the classical tendency, one of the characteristics of the period which extends from the time of Pedro L to that of Ferdinand and Isabella. A symptom of this tendency is the host of translations of Latin authors, accomplished sometimes by the way of French and still oftener by that of Italian "middlemen "; and, in this context, it may be noted that Boccaccio, director of the humanist movement, is already raised to the rank of a classic. Ayala's chief contributions to this popularisation of learning consist in translations of the History of Troy, of Boccaccio's Casus Principum (Caida de Principes), and the first, second, and fourth Decades of Livy. It is the last circumstance that I desire to emphasise. The classical tendency showed itself nowhere more strikingly than in the field of history. Attempts are made to emulate the Latin period, and these attempts not infrequently realise the position of "vaulting ambition which o'erleaps itself."1 There is other evidence of ambition. It appears that Ayala's translation of Livy was undertaken at the instance of Enrique III. Possibly, therefore, the insertion of fictitious speeches in the Chancellor's
1 This criticism, however, does not apply to Ayala's style, which is simplicity itself.
chronicle was dictated by a wish to propitiate that monarch; but however that may be, it cannot be doubted that the innovation is due to the influence of the Latin historian. The older Crdnicas are quite innocent of anything of the sort, and content themselves with a simple narration of facts. As an historical expedient, fancy orations are not free from exception. They constitute an artificial and more or less arbitrary element in what, by its nature and profession, ought to be rigorously truthful and scientifically precise. Nevertheless, at a certain stage of human development the artifice may be useful, as enabling the reader to enter more adequately into the complexities of a situation, just as is done in an historical play or novel. The fictitious speech, therefore, with its pros and cons, may be regarded as a stepping-stone from a primitive, puerile, unintelligent stringing together of events to the philosophical probing of a mature historical method.
These chronicles relating to Castile are written in the Castilian variety of the Spanish language, the Catalan classical dialect for prose. The neighbourhistories. mg kingdom of Aragon exhibits a similar condition of things. In the sphere of history we come upon the "four pearls" of Catalan literature —the Libre dels feyts esdevenguts en la vida del molt alt senyor rey En Jacme lo Conqueridor, which, there is reason to believe, was penned by Jacme himself; and the chronicles of Bernat Desclot (which exists only in a Castilian translation), of Eamon Muntaner, and of Peter IV. of Aragon. This last was supposed,
until quite lately, to have been the work of Peter IV.; but documents found in the archives of Aragon render it certain that Bernat Desclot, counsellor and treasurer of John L, drew up the record, which extends from 1335 to 1387, under the direction of Peter IV. Taken together, these writings throw abundant and continuous light on the state of affairs in Aragon during the fourteenth century; but the only work of which it is necessary to say anything in particular is the Chronicle of Eamon Muntaner. Unlike the rest, it bears a. personal impress, and is, in various senses, an actual work of art. It abounds in vivid touches and local colour only attainable by a sympathetic observer of the events described. Hence it is that Eamon Muntaner has been styled, not inaptly, the Catalan Froissart.
It is not clear whether this Chronicle was begun in the year 1325 or 1335, but it concludes with the itaTOon coronation of Alfonso III. in 1327. MunMuntaner. taner's account of the way he came to undertake it is characteristic alike of the man and the age. His career as a soldier was ended, and he was asleep in his castle of Xiluella, when the vision of an old man clad in white appeared to him and bade him make a book of the great marvels he had witnessed, and that God had wrought in the wars he had been in. Muntaner did not at once comply, and the vision was repeated. Thereupon he hesitated no more, but began his task, "that he might draw down the blessings of God on himself, his wife, and his children."
As we have already seen, Catalan literature was the offspring and heir of the literature of Provence, suppressed by the brutalities of bigots and hypocrites. The kingdom of Aragon comprised at the beginning of the thirteenth century Provence, Bearn, Gascony, and the towns of Carcassonne, Beziers, and Montpellier; and Muntaner, in his Chronicle, traces for us the nature of these relations which must, of necessity, have produced a great effect on the intellectual development of Aragon proper. Unquestionably, however, the chief interest of the book lies in the story of the Aragonese in Greece. The Emperor Andronicus Palaelogus hired a company of Catalan troops to oppose the advance of the Turks. Under their valiant commander, Eoger de Flor, they succeeded in delivering Andronicus, but the emperor, after creating Roger high admiral and conferring upon him the title of Caesar, caused him to be perfidiously assassinated at his own table. The Aragonese manifested their resentment by ravaging the country, and finally established themselves as masters of the duchy of Athens. All this is described by Muntaner in a vein of ardent patriotism, combined with much shrewdness and sufficiency of literary style. In this last respect, it is inevitable that his work should be compared with the history of the same expedition by a very elegant Spanish writer some three centuries later. Such a comparison, however, is not likely to affect prejudicially the reputation of Ramon Muntaner. It is Don Francisco de Moncada who is on his trial, and who, often enough, does little more than substitute for the racy Catalan of his predecessor the pure and polished Castilian exacted by the times.
Muntaner may be regarded—partly on account of the personal note, partly from the fact that the most interesting portion of his narrative concerns a foreign and an eastern land—as a connecting link between historians proper and the class of explorers of which Marco Polo and Sir John Maundeville are the worthiest representatives. The former was born at Venice in 1254, and he came of an adventurous stock. When he was still an infant, his father, Niccolo Polo, and the second of his uncles set out for Mongolia on a mercantile expedition. They were well received by Koubilai Khaan — a name rendered familiar to us by Coleridge — and, in 1266, he permitted them to return home with a proposal to the Pope that he should send missionaries, and if they could prove the superiority of Christianity to all other forms of religion, he and his people would be converted. Two preaching friars were accordingly despatched on this errand; but when they had got as far as Armenia, their hearts failed them and they turned back. It was otherwise with the Polo brethren. In 1271 they determined to revisit the East, and this time took with them Niccolo's son, Marco, who had now attained to man's estate. "Par les maus temps que il orent et pour les granz froidures," they occupied in the journey three years and a half.
Marco Polo's exile in the East lasted seventeen years. During that time he found such favour with the Khan