« ПретходнаНастави »
In the middle of the thirteenth century, also appeared the mythological history of Greece, together with the fall of Troy and of Thebes. The first was made known by the works of Dictys Cretevsis and Daris Phrygius. Guido of Colonna from Messina, a learned lawyer and celebrated poet, made (about 1266) many romantic additions to them ; tournaments and single combats, and other chivalrous adventures. The applause with which Guido was rewarded for thus enlarging the Trojan history, induced him in 1267, to compose a romance of the Trojan war in Latin, in which he inserted not only the expedition against Thebes, but the voyage and adventures of the Argonauts, taken from Ovid, Statius and Valerius Flaccus* and in order to embellish and heighten the exploits of his beroes by all the lice ise of poetry, the author mingles with them every possible incident, (besides many impossible) old and new, Greek and Arabic, Asiatic and European—the heroes understand alchemy and astrology, the Triviuin and Quadrivium, witchcraft and exorcism, and fought with dragons and griffins. This strange and romantic work was translated from the Latin into the modern languages-into Italian, French, German, and the Scandinavian dialects,* and came into general circulation. The great men of Europe became so enraptured with the Greek and and Trojan heroes, that all wished to trace their descent from such noble progenitors. The monks, in order to show their learning, contended against each other in efforts to compose for the noble families around them, a lineage derived from the ancient Greek and Roman chiefs, showing their close affinity. Fortunately, Asia had been the cradle of the human race, so that it became more easy for Europeans to claim their descent and trace a direct pedigree from that country. These materials were all intermingled with the gallantry and heroism, and respect for the honour of the female sex, which distinguished the age of chivalry, and especially with devotion to the church, which was assiduously impressed on all. In this way, were brought into existence many agreeable works, though checquered with the most absurd and incongruous materials. Yet, perhaps, even on this account, they were adapted to an age when ignorance was predominant, when all original thought was alloyed with foreigu opinions, and overwhelmed by authority. To an age of civil and political ignorance, mental dullness must also belong. They arise, endure and vanish together.
Qualichino (alias Aretino) metrice edita incipit. Stellarum curis JEgyptus dedita quondam est Habetur quoque ejusdem Alexandri Magni historia, meris fabulis referta, scripta anno 1217, excripta vero anno 1465. In Velasquez' istory of Spanish Poetry, is mentioned also, a work on the life and deeds of Alexander in Castilian verses, a production of the 13th century. This is no translation of that of Simeon Seth, but a fabulous life of Alexander, composed from many incorrect sources, as may be seen in Sanchez Collection de Poesias Castellanas i. iii. In the library of the University of Goettingen, there exists of the editions of the Latin text and translations—1. a work with the title “Historia Alexandri magni regis Macedoniæ de pær. liis," at the end, “ Historia Alexandri magni finit feliciter. Impressa Argentinæ anno domini MCCCCLXXXVI. Finita die sancti Calixti Papæ et Martiris. 2d. His toria Alexandri magni regis Macedonie de proeliis; at the end Historia Alexandri finit feliciter Impressa Argentinæ, anno domini MCCCCXCIII. Finita altera die Urbani. They are in folio, (on the empty page to the left of the title of the first mentioned work, some one of its first proprietors has written, Mattaire, t. I. p. 479. mentionem facit hujus editionis sibi non visæ. Ex catalogis quibusdam recenset illain, M. Clement Biblioth. curieuse. Mattaire, p. 514, edit. Argen. 1489, ex catal. Biblioth. Kilmanseg, et p. 528, edit. 1490, ex catalogis, et p. 584, edit Argent 1494. Casimer Ondinus, ap. Jo. Christ. Wolf in monument. typogr. t. ii, p. 902, edit. Messanæ 1486, in fol. quam exstare vix credo.) An Italian translation brars the title, Tavola nela historia de Alexandro magno sive del suo nascimento et delle sue prosperose battaglie et de la morte sua infortunata idibus Octobris, MCCCCLXXVII.
* Guido de Colonna, (Columna or Columpna,) from Messina in Sicily, flourished about 1260, Vossius de hist. lat. I. ii. c. 60, (in arte historica edit. Amstelod, fol. p. 154.) Warton hist. English Poetry, t. i. p. 126. This prose romance de Bello Trojano in 15 books, was as a general favourite, published soon after the invention of printing. In the Goettingen library are two editions, sine anno aut loco. The one with the title, Hystoria I'rojana Guidonis, and a supplement to it with the title, Historia Alexandri magni regis Macedonia de Proeliis, at the end, Impressa Argentinæ anno domini MCCCCLXXXIX. Finiti in die Sctæ, Gerdrudis Virginis. The other, Historia Trojana Guidonis, in the middle, Historia destructionis Troiæ composita per judicem Guidonem de Columna Messanen-init feliciter in civitate Argentinæ impressa novissime anno domini MCCCCLXXXXIIII. circa festam sancti Jacobi.
The paroxysm of knight-errantry at length subsided. Civil order was gradually re-established, and with it re-appeared a better knowledge, purer ideas and mental discipline. The chimeras of chivalry began to be estimated at their real value, and to be considered as absurd and ridiculous. The admiration of the romances of chivalry ceased, because they no longer suited the age; and they would have lost favour like everything founded on unnatural and antiquated customs, although they had not been attacked by the caustic satire of Cervantes.
The sweet strains of gallantry and the romantic ballads might have lasted a little longer, if they had not at their rise, borne within themselves the seeds of decay. Songs of these descriptions, however popular when new, finally become tiresome, if continued with enthusiasm for some centuries, unless they breathe the spirit of poetry itself. But these all wanted the spirit of true poetry as well as an opulence of thought. The poets did not penetrate deeply into their subjects ; their representations of love and of living nature, were lifeless, and glided only upon the surface. There were none of those touching and magical allusions to history and mythology, to the deep feeling
* Warton Hist. of English Poetry, t. i. p. 126-127.
and hidden sympathies of man, which had distinguished the verse of the classic world. Besides, the poetry of those days was not always the fruit of internal sentiment, it became soon a matter
and courtly pageantry, a thing of habit, fashion or duty, and, therefore, often cold and barsh. The love of song had induced many a noble head to search in classic authors for assistance,* or to receive it without their knowledge; but the sense of those old authors, such was the total want of learned resources, was a riddle, and their beauty and spirit a secret in that age. The better minds, however, began to feel by comparison, the rudeness and poverty of their own poetry; the uni. formity of its adventures, the grotesqueness of its representations in its graver strains, as well as the monotony of its ideas in its lighter measures, and became disgusted wiib its eternal sameness. Yet, notwithstanding the enterprizes and adventures of the knights became daily more limited, as the power of the cities and their armed militia arose in the neighbourhood of the castles, and rendered the institutions of chivalry of no service and effect, still some of the noble bards continued to rhyme, and (for want of new adventures to decorate new strains,) to imitate their early poets, or repeat their old histories with diminished interest and feebler powers.
The poetry of chivalry remained in this state, until the nobles reduced and impoverished retired into their castles. Some still fond of poetry repaired to courts, to be supported in the train of princes, and revive their dying popularity. But their strains were become insipid. The poetry which in an ignorant and excited or excitable age, had been hailed with rapture, was now treated with contempt, and however slowly a better taste arose, it yet in time finally silenced the poets of this school.
The course prescribed by nature to the human mind, would without other circumstances, bave led the poetry of the chivalric ages to its fated catastrophe. In every nation, the powers of imagination come first into action, and flow without rule and by a mere internal impulse, in rough and simple poetry This may be styled the awakening of a nation when culture first begins, and the imagination exercises a superintendance until the higher faculties assume the right of government. This progressive developement in nations as in individuals from the dawn of fancy, to the period when reason begins to create, to form, to arrange, compare, and associate ideas is a work of
* There exist many imitations of the ancient classics, as the Ovid of Halbrecht of Halberstadt ; Veldeck's Virgil; Adene, a French romantic poet, translated Æsop from the Greek into Latin ; Marie de France translated in the 13th century, Æsop's Fables and Phædrus, from English into French-and many others might be noted.
time and labour. Even when the period of maturity renders a people dissatisfied with the glowing, but undisciplined play of youthful imagination, it is not easy to correct the error, because language is to be reformed as well as opinions. The picturesque, but often rude and coarse expressions of youth no longer suit; they were formed only to embody the perceptions of the senses, intellectual ideas are now to be clothed; they afford only poetical riches when philosophical power is wanted. The vagueness of poetry must yield to the direct definite purposes of the understanding. Progressive reason has to struggle with an uncultured language, to dress its thoughts in an idiom not its own, to divide its powers between language and ideas, to advance slowly, and to form a middle state between roughness and refinement, between the crude wanderings of thei magination, and the perfect exercise of the understanding, an intellectual chaos in which all thoughts are fermenting; and which however little it might be expected is often a period of great power. After continued labour, language finally yields to ideas, and becomes precise, settled and refined; this is the era of the first prose, , and of the ascendancy of the intellectual powers. If a vivid imagination should now be combined with the understanding, man is finally enabled to penetrate more profoundly and accurately into bis own nature and principles, to render again figurative the language of philosophy, and to teach it to represent graphically and truly the forms of the external world as well as the feelings and passions of the human race. Nature seems almost to have prescribed mechanical laws to the mind, so that after the rude and simple poetry of barbarous ages, there should be a pause, during which, reason shall have an opportunity of forming itself, so as to counterbalance the imagination. This period occurred in the middle ages, about the period when chivalry declined. It appears wonderful that such poets as Chaucer, Shakspeare and Spencer, Petrarch and Danie, should have burst forth immediately as the Troubadours disappeared—as Lucretius and Virgil on the footsteps of Ennius. A philosophical period ought to have come between them. It seems, however, as if genius had power to create a new language, new feelings, new views of nature and of life, and to pour forth the sweet and rapturous tones of poetry, not only with all the vigour and luxuriance of youthful fancy, but in the beauty, brilliancy and symmetry of the most perfect maturity, and to delight in making its most splendid exhibitions in that doubtful hour, amidst the glimmering and uncertain light, which intervenes between utter darkness and the brightness of meridian day.
However imperfect may have been the poetry of the age of chivalry, no one can doubt that it conferred some benefit on its contemporaries. The poets made use of their mother tongues, and shewed that even in their rudest state, they might be made fit vehicles of thought and passion—and thus contributed essentially to the formation of our modern languages. Their verses were intelligible to all ranks, and while they made the idioms in which they were uttered popular, shewed how usefully they could be employed, to produce a prodigious influence over the public mind. They sung too of virtue and religion, and represented, though with many embellishments, the inanners of their age; and the love of country was often heightened and ennobled by their patriotic strains. They chastised vice, and if they could not subdue it, they often restrained it within narrower limits.
To our own age this poetry is interesting and valuable; it enables us to trace the dawning taste of the Europeans, it furnishes monuments of the sentiments and manners, the integrity, loyalty and rough honesty of the most peculiar, and most highly esteemed order of the middle ages. It furnishes materials to the historian of the feudal ages and of its literature, to the philologist and antiquary, to the geographer and genealogist; even to the modern poet, it offers many embellishments, and many of the themes on which fancy loves to dwell. Time deserves many thanks for having spared such a relique of the middle ages, and the eighteenth century has claims on the gratitude of posterity, for having appreciated these remains, and taken pains to bring to light many unknown or concealed fragments. An enlightened posterity may yet find amongst them many facts and truths that will repay the trouble of an investigation.
We must not forget, also, that this age is perhaps not a fair judge of one so remote. Much of their poetry, particularly their amatory strains may be underrated. We may determine whether the poets were intellectual or childish, tedious or abrupt, various or monotonous in their measures, but we cannot feel the charms of their most beautiful airs, according to their peculiar spirit. The language itself creates difficulty, and the true intonation of the verses can no longer be restored. The loss of this deprives us of a great part of the effects which the mechanism of the verses, as well as the harmony of the language must have produced among their contemporaries. Besides, the difficulties of a language only half understood, renders translations into modern tongues almost indispensable, and translations of lyric poems, in which the poet calculates almost entire