Слике страница

every thing to awaken the feelings and fancy; the lofty opinions of the worth and dignity of the order which the members imbibed from their infancy; the religious character and seeming devotion of all its ceremonies, giving even to the most trifling form an air of solemn importance ; the sleepless nights passed in the church by moonlight or the glimmering lamp, in fasting and in prayer; the veneration for all those who had voluntarily sacrificed wealth and life for the oppressed, for their country or for the church; the retirement of the female sex in castles encircled by moat and towers; the long separation of the warrior from the mistress at whose hands he had received prizes and other tokens of favour, from whose lips he bad heard praises and thanks, and to whom in his distant expeditions be could render homage only in his thoughts; the variety of his own adventures in foreign climates and among unknown people; all this and much more that depended upon accident aroused, nourished, strained and winged the imagination of the knights, and instead of the chaunts with which they formerly sung themselves hoarse and weary, they gained new themes for the play of the imagination-love and enterprize and gallantry consecrated by religion.

Aud imagination soon began to show its power to beguile, to flatter, and to please; to pass from the light and soft airs of love, to the serious strife of arms, from witty enigmas to amusing tales; from real deeds to the fancied imaginary combats of monsters,-even the languages of Europe gradually submitted to its power. The rhymes and cadences of poetry softened the roughness of the most barbarous tongue.

Encouragement on all sides awaited the poet. He was every where respected, honoured and admired. The women whose virtues and charms he sung, rewarded him with courtesy, sometimes even with tenderness. In the greater as well as the smaller courts of Europe, poets found fortune and flattering applause. The princes and kings of Arragon and Poitou, Thoulouse and Provence; the emperors of Swabia, the Dukes of Austria, the Landgraves of Thuringia, and the Norman Kings of England emulated each other in heaping on their minstrels honour and rewards. The gratitude of the poets in turn grew loud, and their songs more enthusiastic. Even princes at length mingled in their ranks; and emperors and kings, as well as barons and knights, contended not only with lance, but in the song of love and of war for the thanks or the smiles of the fair.

A poetical epidemic seized then on all Europe. The whole world rhymed; knights, squires, and pages, clergy and laymen, monks and students, gambollers and musicians. They turned everything into poetry; they versified real and imaginary events, chronicles and legends, merry impromptus and prayers to the divine mother. Everything which could be written was rhymed; the bible and the mass, the rules of St. Augustin and the feodal laws, ancient history and the latest fables. Gates and walls, furniture and windows, tombstones and pillars were covered with verse; in short, it appeared as if plain prose eould no longer exist.

This universal rage for versifying, ridiculous as it was in itself, had yet some useful consequences. Language and expression, the mechanism and rhythm of the verses, abstract ideas and the representation of real objects, were by these frequent trials improved, and even solid mental culture made some advances; on one hand, beauty and elegance of expression were introduced, on the other, neatness and energy. The strains of fiction were elevated by poetry or pointed by wit ; the heart was flattered with sentiments, and the reason by wisdom; ideas were improved and augmented by mental exertion, and by exercise in expression, they became more clear and definite. The objects of poetry also became more manifold, and the classes of poetical composition increased; the constant practice also led gradually to rules, and poetry was no longer dependent on chance or blind habit. On the other hand, this universal passion could not exist without some bad consequences. Many addicted themselves to poetry, without plan and with an empty head. Without any poetical gifts, only for fashion or for fortune's sake, they rhymed awkwardly and ridiculously. Kings and princes rhymed that they might not fall behind their nobles, and often set bad examples. The better poets soon exhausted their genius, but as they were obliged to write, they became hyberbolical in matter and expression, or enigmatical, in order to attract attention. Good taste came slowly. The very manner of composing was an obstacle to its progress.

The subjects of their favourite songs, were, according to the genius of the age, war and love, religion and chivalrous emprize. In most of them, these subjects were united, though sometimes they were separately treated. But the minstrel chiefly dedicated his lays to the female sex. The mistress of his heart was placed before him in sweet and tender strains, in all her beauty and grace. Penetrated and charmed with the dignity of her birth and her character, the poet sung all her virtues and her charms, and sighed for her favours. The whole of these airs will seldom satisfy a severe taste, yet many are remarkable for

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

their simplicity and nuivetéfor their happy representations of nature, and sometimes for the metaphysical fanaticism of love.

Other short poems describe war and its chances, and contain the praises of the knight's equipage, weapons and courage. We find in them a war represented sometimes with all its heroic details, sometimes merely in a general view. They also celebrate the acts which many heroes have performed in concert, the revolutions of provinces or of empires, the martial deeds of single tribes as well as of whole nations. The crusades, the captivity of Richard of the Lion Heart, the incorporation of many French provinces with England, the conquests of the French under Philip Augustus, the violent contests of tbe house of Swabia with the Popes and the Lombards, the tragic scenes and fierce battles in the interior of the empire, these great events gave to this ininstrelsy a few strong poetical and heroic features. These songs contained sometimes the personal danger and misfortunes of the poet, sometimes those of a friend and companion in war. The more they come from the heart, the more energetic is the expression. The more strongly they bring to view persons and facts of importance and interest, the more does the soul and imagination appear exalted and excited.

The religious feelings of many knights, their love of God, their veneratiou for the saints, their hopes of heaven and anxious fears of hell, were sometimes breathed in strains full of ardent devotion, in which they alternately praised the divine mother and the saints, the merits of fasting and prayer, pilgrimage and peregrinations ; of masses and processions, and of vows of perpetual obedience to the church. Yet these religious paroxysms were not always the paramount feeling of the poets. More frequently—particularly in the latter times of chivalry—their poems contained satires on the assumed power and dissolute lives of the clergy. They saw this order governing on all sides with anathema and escommunication, endeavouring to dethrone kings, to subjugate nations, convulsing states and empires by internal disorders, and many at last began to perceive that religion was abused, and converted into an instrument of temporal policy. The enthusiasm of the more enlightened grew cold even to the praises of the once celebrated crusades, as the unfortunate results of these expeditions could no longer be concealed, and censures and satires began to be levelled even against the crusaders themselves, the song of the poet strongly contrasting with the prejudices of the common people. Particular incidents strengthened these feelings in Germany. The noble race of the Hohenstauffens had been marked out, pursued, persecuted by the intrigues of Rome, until the last of the name, the un

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

happy Conradin, to the horror of half the christian world, perished on the scaffold. The first free opinions on the encroachments of the clergy expressed in the South of France, were brought before an inquisitorial tribunal, and the authors condemned, proscribed and exterminated, while the Church obtained territory at the expense of the Raymonds (VI. and VII.) of Thoulouse. A noble indignation against such wrongs, often induced the poets of Provence, to attack the clergy with bitterness. The poetical license of the times was not, however, satisfied with the clergy and the church alone. It was unsparing, and with a freedom than even now might be wondered at, kings and princes, courtiers and vassals, inferiors and equals, were alike assailed. The censure of the poets was directed against every species of injustice, the oppression and disloyalty of the higher classes as well as the robberies and licentiousness of the lower ; and although they were unable to reform the vicious, they sometimes humbled vice itself. Besides these smaller poetical pieces, the poets of chivalry composed larger rhymed tales or romances, a French invention, as the name will prove.* Soon after the first crusade, they wished to animate and excite the people by the rehearsal of the deeds of Godfrey of Bouillon : and for this purpose, they celebrated them in French rhyme. The experiment succeeded, and in a short time the whole country was inundated with rhymed tales.

We find in the ages of chivalry, two kinds of them-simple ehronicles for the use of laymen, (for the learned the chronicles were written in Latin) which, although rhymed, and not without fables, yet relate the history of their times simply, without any ornament or studied poetical invention; or rhymed stories forming epopees in romantic taste, in which poetic inventions were added to the facts of real history. Chivalry was wonderfully well calculated to nourish the love of heroic tales. Every knight was under an obligation to give on oath a relation of his expeditions to the herald, who composed of them a protocol, and handed it to the king-at-arms, by whom it was transmitted to posterity. Knights eminent for rank or character, had their own heralds, who were to notice the deeds of their lords, attend them in all their excursions, be always at their side, and as eyewitnesses describe their exploits with more precision and truth.* For this purpose they chose the ablest men, under the rank of esquires, as their heralds, and confided to them only such trusts and duties as would qualify them to become the historians of their masters and of the age. At tournaments, they were to observe the combatants, and after their conclusion, to give a report of every event to the installed judges of these games; who then pronounced their judgment, deciding on the victory and the victors. On other public festivals and at feasts, they were required, partly for the pleasant recollection of each merry day, partly to aid them in future on similar occasions, to note down all remarkable circumstances, as the number, rank and quality of the guests; the dress and ornaments of the ladies, the armour and weapons of the knights, the conversation, the acts of courtesy, the arrangement of the tables, the number and rarity of the dishes; the changes of dresses and masks, the supper and banquet, the number and behaviour of the by-standers, &c. They were also sent to foreign countries and courts to announce war, to carry messages of peace, to assist at tournaments and coronation feasts, and were ordered to observe everything, especially those peculiarities in manners and customs-in arms and dresses which were unknown in their native land, that on future occasions, all that were approved of might be employed. These constant and detailed descriptions and reports, soon gave them a facility in expression and representation, but on the other hand, the habit of noticing and describing even the most trifling circuinstances, made them prolix beyond all necessity or moderation.

* From Romanzo, or the country dialect, as distinguished from the written language of the learned men of that time who composed intirely in Latin. The lan. guage of the whole of France was called Lingua Romana after the irruption of the Northern tribes, although it was corrupted by the Germans. This appellation was at first applied to the language adopted in Gaul during the Roman Government, as the Germans called the native Gauls, Romanos. See Lex. Salica, tit. 57-si komanus Francum ligaverit—and again, si Francus Romanum ligaverit, &c.

+ He was the chief of the heralds; his subordinates were commonly called, Pour snivants.

* The chief author on the functions of the Heralds is Menestrier, de la Chevalerie Ancienne et Moderne, c. v. p. 192 and 215—Origines des Armoir, p. 64. See also, du Cange verb: Araldus and Prosecutor. Sainte Palaye sur la Chevalerie, vol. i. pp. 47–56–283. There exists still a description of the deeds of the Black Prince, composed by his herald; a romance of the exploits of the renowned French Knight, John Seintrè, in the 14th century, also written by his berald. The romance of Lancelot of the Lake and Perceforest, appeal often to such Protocols to verify their relations. The latter romance says distinctly, that the Knights were obliged to attest their reports to the herald by an oath See Matthias de Couci in the Recueil des hist. de Charles Vil. par Godefroi, p. 677. In Wolfram of Eschilback, we find that Gamuret the father of Parzipal, made an adventurous excursion with twenty shield bearers, (squires) and tbree Italian fiddlers (minstrels) &c. According to this old custom, Edward II. took in his campaign in Scotland, the Monk, Robert Baston with him to celebrate bis victories as an eye witness. This royal bard sung also the seige of Striveling (Stirling) Castle, in monkish latin hexameters, which are printed in Fordun's Scoti Chron. c. xxiii. 1. 12. He had however the misfortune to be caught by the Scots, and to be compelled to sing, for his ranscm, the praises of Ro. bert Bruce-Warton's Hist. of English Poetry I. i. p. 232. In pursuance of this early custom, it was made in the statutes and regulations of the order of chivalry in later times, a duty on every knight to suffer his deeds to be carefully and exactly written down; as in the rules of the orders of the Garter and Golden Fleece.

+ In this taste are composed the Chronicles of Froissart, but even on this account he is become so much the more instructive to modern critics in bistory and ethics,

« ПретходнаНастави »