Fiction at the beginning of the Sixteenth Century. The Heptameron. Noel du Fail. Moyen de Parvenir. Du Bellay. Daurat, Jodelle, Pontus de Tyard. Minor Ronsardists. Du Bartas. The last Age of the Mediaeval Theatre. Beginnings of the Classical Drama. Prose Writers of the Renaissance. Minor Reformers and Controversialists. Preachers of the League. Minor Translators. Henri Estienne. Olivier de Serres. Disenchantment of the late Renaissance.
Du Vair. Bodin and other Political Writers. La Noue. Marguerite de Valois. Pierre de l'Estoile. Minor Memoir-writers. General Historians. The School of Malherbe. Epic School. Bacchanalian School. Saint Amant. La Fontaine. Minor Poets of the Seventeenth Century. Minor predecessors of Corneille. Minor Tragedians. Development of Comedy. The Heroic Romances. Cyrano de Bergerac. Madame de la Fayette.
Fairy Tales. Historical Essayists. Madame de Motteville. Cardinal de Retz. La Rochefoucauld. Saint Simon. Historical Antiquaries. Du Cange. Literary Degeneracy of the Eighteenth Century, especially manifest in Poetry. Descriptive Poets. Minor Poets. Light Verse. Divisions of Drama. La Motte. Voltaire and his followers. Characteristics of Eighteenth-century Drama. Bernardin de St. Restif de la Bretonne. Xavier de Maistre. Benjamin Constant.
Characteristics and Divisions of Eighteenth-century History. Madame d'Epinay. Minor Memoirs. Memoirs of the Revolutionary Period. Abundance of Letter-writers. Madame du Deffand. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse. Occasional Writing in the Eighteenth-century. La Harpe. Orthodox Apologists. Philosophe Criticism. Les Feuilles de Grimm.
Diderot's Salons. His General Criticism. Newspapers of the Revolution. The Influence of Journalism. The philosophe movement. Lettres Persanes. Esprit des Lois. Political Economists. Vauban, Quesnay, etc. La Mettrie. Joseph de Maistre. The Romantic Movement. Writers of the later Transition. Victor Cousin. The Romantic Propaganda in Periodicals. Victor Hugo. His Method. Dangers of the Method. Dumas the Elder. George Sand. Alfred de Musset.
Project MUSE - University of Toronto Quarterly-Volume 70, Number 1, Winter /
Influence of the Romantic Leaders. Minor Poets of Alfred de Vigny. Auguste Barbier. Louis Bertrand. Second Group of Romantic Poets. Leconte de Lisle. Charles Baudelaire. Minor Poets of the Second Romantic Group. The Parnasse. Minor and later Dramatists. Emile Augier. Dumas the Younger. Victorien Sardou. Classes of Nineteenth-century Fiction. Minor and later Novelists. Jules Janin.
Charles de Bernard. Jules Sandeau. Octave Feuillet. Edmond About. Gustave Droz. The Naturalists. Emile Zola. Journalists and Critics. Paul de St. Hippolyte Taine. Academic Critics. Linguistic and Literary Study of French. Philosophical Writers. Theological Writers. Ernest Renan. Minor Historians. An attempt to present to students a succinct history of the course of French literature compiled from an examination of that literature itself, and not merely from previous accounts of it is, I believe, a new one in English.
There will be observed in the parts of this Short History a considerable difference of method; and as such a difference is not usual in works of the kind, it may be well to state the reasons which have induced me to adopt it. Early French literature is to a great extent anonymous. Moreover, even where it is not, the authors were usually more influenced by certain prevalent styles or forms than by anything else.
Into these forms they threw without considerations of congruity whatever they had to say. Nothing, for instance, can be less suitable for historical or scientific disquisition than the octosyllabic metre of a satiric poem. But Jean de Meung and one at least of the authors of Renart le Contrefait 1 do not think of composing prose diatribes. At one moment and place the form of the Chanson de Geste is all-absorbing, at another the form of the Roman d'Aventures, at another the form of the Fabliau. In Book I. I shall therefore proceed by these forms, giving an account of each separately.
After Villon the case changes. During this time, therefore, and especially during that brilliant age of French literature, the sixteenth century, I shall proceed by authors, taking the most remarkable individually, and grouping their followers around them. From the time of Malherbe the system of schools begins, divided according to subjects. The poet, the dramatist, the historian, have their predecessors, and either intentionally copy them or intentionally innovate upon them. In this part, therefore, I shall proceed by subjects, taking historians, poets, dramatists, etc.
One difference will be noticed between the third and fourth Books, dealing respectively with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It has seemed unnecessary to allot a special chapter to theological and ecclesiastical writing in the latter, or to scientific writing in the former. Almost all writers who have attempted literary histories in a small compass have recognised the difficulty, or rather impossibility, of treating contemporary or recent work on the same scale as older authors.
In treating, therefore, of literature subsequent to the appearance of the Romantic movement, I shall content myself with giving a rapid sketch of the principal literary developments and their exponents. There are doubtless objections to this quadripartite arrangement; but it appears to me better suited for the purpose of laying the foundations of an acquaintance with French literature than a more uniform plan.
The space at my disposal does not admit of combining full information as to the literature with elaborate literary comment upon its characteristics, and there can be no doubt that in such a book as this, destined for purposes of education chiefly, the latter must be sacrificed to the former. As an instance of the sacrifice I may refer to Bk. There are some forty or fifty Chansons de Gestes in print, all of which save two or three I have read, and almost every one of which presents points on which it would be most interesting to me to comment.
But to do this in the limits would be impossible. Nor is it easy to enter upon disputed literary questions, however tempting they may be. Generally speaking, the scale of treatment will be found to be adjusted to the system of division already stated. In the middle ages, where the importance of the general form surpasses that of the individual practitioners, comparatively small space is given to these individuals, and little attempt is made to follow up the scanty and often conjectural particulars of their lives. If, as seems very likely, these explanations should not content some of my critics, I can only say that the passages which they may miss here would have been far easier and far pleasanter for me to write than the passages which they will here find.
This volume attempts to be, not a series of causeries on the literary history of France, but a Short History of French Literature. Two things only I have uniformly aimed at, accuracy as absolute as I could secure, and completeness as thorough as space would allow. In the pursuit of the former object I have thought it well to take no fact or opinion at second-hand where the originals were accessible to me.
Manuscript sources I do not pretend to have consulted; but any judgment which is passed in this book may be taken as founded on personal acquaintance with the book or author unless the contrary be stated. Some familiarity with the subject has convinced me that nowhere are opinions of doubtful accuracy more frequently adopted and handed on without enquiry than in the history of literature. Those who read this book for purposes of study will, it is hoped, be already acquainted with the Primer , which is, in effect, an introduction to it, and which contains what may be called a bird's-eye view of the subject.
But, lest the wood should be lost sight of for the trees, notes or interchapters have been inserted between the several books, indicating the general lines of development followed by the great literature which I have attempted to survey. To these I have for the most part confined generalisations as distinct from facts. I have, I believe, given in the notes a sufficient list of authorities which those who desire to follow up the subject may consult. I have not been indiscriminately lavish in indicating editions of authors, though I believe that full information will be found as to those necessary for a scholarly working knowledge of French literature.
I had originally hoped to illustrate the whole book with extracts; but I discovered that such a course would either swell it to an undesirable bulk, or else would provide passages too short and too few to be of much use. I have therefore confined the extracts to the mediaeval period, which can be illustrated by selections of moderate length, and in which such illustration, from the general resemblance between the individuals of each class, and the comparative rarity of the original texts, is specially desirable.
To avoid the serious drawback of the difference of principle on which old French reprints have been constructed, as many of these extracts as possible have been printed from Herr Karl Bartsch's admirable Chrestomathie. But in cases where extracts were either not to be found there, or were not, in my judgment, sufficiently characteristic, I have departed from this plan.
The illustration, by extracts, of the later literature, which requires more space, has been reserved for a separate volume. I had also intended to subjoin some tabular views of the chief literary forms, authors, and books of the successive centuries. But when I formed this intention I was not aware that such tables already existed in a book very likely to be in the hands of those who use this work, M.
Gustave Masson's French Dictionary. Although the plan I had formed was not quite identical with his, and though the execution might have differed in detail, it seemed both unnecessary and to a certain extent ungracious to trespass on the same field. With regard to dates the Index will, it is believed, be found to contain the date of the birth and death, or, if these be not obtainable, the floruit of every deceased author of any importance who is mentioned in the book.
It has not seemed necessary invariably to duplicate this information in the text. I have also availed myself of this Index for the compilation of which I owe many thanks to Miss S. Ingham to insert a very few particulars, which seemed to find a better place there than in the body of the volume, as being not strictly literary. In conclusion, I think it well to say that the composition of this book has, owing to the constant pressure of unavoidable occupations, been spread over a considerable period, and has sometimes been interrupted for many weeks or even months.
This being the case, I fear that there may be some omissions, perhaps some inconsistencies, not improbably some downright errors. I do not ask indulgence for these, because that no author who voluntarily publishes a book has a right to ask, nor, perhaps, have critics a right to give it.
But if any critic will point out to me any errors of fact, I can promise repentance, as speedy amendment as may be, and what is more, gratitude. Preface to the Second Edition. All corrections of fact indicated by critics and private correspondents, both English and French among whom I owe especial thanks to M. Beljame , have, after verification, been made. A considerable number of additional dates of the publication of important books have been inserted in the text, and the Index has undergone a strict examination, resulting in the correction of some faults which were due not to the original compiler but to myself.
On the suggestion of several competent authorities a Conclusion, following the lines of the Interchapters, is now added. If less deference is shown to some strictures which have been passed on the plan of the work and the author's literary views, it is due merely to the conviction that a writer must write his own book in his own way if it is to be of any good to anybody. But in a few places modifications of phrases which seemed to have been misconceived or to be capable of misconception have been made. I have only to add sincere thanks to my critics for the very general and, I fear, scarcely deserved approval with which this Short History of a long subject has been received, and to my readers for the promptness with which a second edition of it has been demanded.
Preface to the Third Edition. I have found some such mistakes, and I make no doubt that I have left some. In the process of examination I have had the assistance of two detailed reviews of parts of the book by two French critics, each of very high repute in his way. The first of these, by M. The assistance thus given by M. Paris whose forbearance in using his great learning as a specialist I have most cordially to acknowledge has been supplemented by the appearance, quite recently, of an admirable condensed sketch of his own 2 , which, compact as it is, is a very storehouse of information on the subject.
If in this book I have not invariably accepted M. Paris' views or embodied his corrections, it is merely because in points of opinion and inference as opposed to ascertained fact, the use of independent judgment seems to me always advisable. The other criticism in this case of the later part of my book , by M. Edmond Scherer, would not seem to have been written in the same spirit. Scherer holds very different views from mine on literature in general and French literature in particular; he seems which is perhaps natural not to be able to forgive me the difference, and to imagine which if not unnatural is perhaps a little unreasonable, a little uncharitable, and even, considering an express statement in my preface, a little impolite that I cannot have read the works on which we differ.
I am however grateful to him for showing that a decidedly hostile examination, conducted with great minuteness and carefully confined to those parts of the subject with which the critic is best acquainted, resulted in nothing but the discovery of about half a dozen or a dozen misprints and slips of fact 3. Such slips I have corrected with due gratitude. But I have not altered passages where M.
Scherer mistakes facts or mistakes me. I need hardly say that I have made no alterations in criticism, and that the passage referring to M. Scherer himself with the exception of a superfluous accent stands precisely as it did. Some additions have been made to the latter part of the book, but not very many: for the attempt to 'write up' such a history to date every few years can only lead to confusion and disproportion.
I have had, during the decade which has passed since the book was first planned, rather unusual opportunities of acquainting myself with all new French books of any importance, but a history is not a periodical, and I have thought it best to give rather grudging than free admittance to new-comers.
On the other hand, I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to obliterate chronological references which the effluxion of time has rendered, or may render, misleading. The notes to which it seemed most important to attract attention, as modifying or enlarging some statement in the text, are specially headed 'Notes to Third Edition': but they represent only a small part of the labour which has been expended on the text.
I have also again overhauled and very considerably enlarged the index; while the amplification of the 'Contents' by subjoining to each chapter-heading a list of the side-headings of the paragraphs it contains, will, I think, be found an advantage. And so I commend the book once more to readers and to students 4. Gaston Paris expresses some surprise at my saying 'one of the authors,' and attributes both versions to the Troyes clerk see pp. I can only say that so long as Renart le Contrefait is unpublished, if not longer, such a question is difficult to decide: and that the accepted monograph on the subject that of Wolf left on my mind the impression of plural authorship as probable.
As however M. Scherer, thanks chiefly to the late Mr. Matthew Arnold, enjoys some repute in England, I may give an example of his censure. He accuses me roundly of giving in my thirty dates of Corneille's plays 'une dizaine de fausses,' and he quotes as I do M. As since the beginning, years ago, of my Cornelian studies, I have constantly used that excellent edition, though, now as always, reserving my own judgment on points of opinion, I verified M.
Scherer's appeal with some alarm at first, and more amusement afterwards. The eminent critic of the Temps had apparently contented himself with turning to the half-titles of the plays and noting the dates given, which in ten instances do differ from mine. Had his patience been equal to consulting the learned editor's Notices , he would have found in every case but one the reasons which prevailed and prevail with me given by M.
Marty-Laveaux himself. The one exception I admit. I was guilty of the iniquity of confusing the date of the publication of Othon with the date of its production, and printing instead of So dangerous is it to digest and weigh an editor's arguments, instead of simply copying his dates. Had I done the latter, I had 'scaped M. Scherer's tooth. Scherer in this preface and I need hardly say still more those which occur in the body of the book with reference to a few others of his criticisms were written long before his fatal illness, and had been sent finally to press some time before the announcement of his death.
I had at first thought of endeavouring to suppress those which could be recalled. But it seemed to me on reflection that the best compliment to the memory of a man who was himself nothing if not uncompromising, and towards whom, whether alive or dead, I am not conscious of having entertained any ill-feeling, would be to print them exactly as they stood, with the brief addition that I have not known a critic more acute within his range, or more honest according to what he saw, than M.
Edmond Scherer. Of all European literatures the French is, by general consent, that which possesses the most uniformly fertile, brilliant, and unbroken history. In actual age it may possibly yield to others, but the connection between the language of the oldest and the language of the newest French literature is far closer than in these other cases, and the fecundity of mediaeval writers in France far exceeds that of their rivals elsewhere. For something like three centuries England, Germany, Italy, and more doubtfully and to a smaller extent, Spain, were content for the most part to borrow the matter and the manner of their literary work from France.
This brilliant literature was however long before it assumed a regularly organized form, and in order that it might do so a previous literature and a previous language had to be dissolved and precipitated anew. With a few exceptions, to be presently noticed, French literature is not to be found till after the year , that is to say until a greater lapse of time had passed since Caesar's campaigns than has passed from the later date to the present day.
Taking the earliest of all monuments, the Strasburg Oaths, as starting-point, we may say that French language and French literature were nine hundred years in process of formation.
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The result was a remarkable one in linguistic history. French is unquestionably a daughter of Latin, yet it is not such a daughter as Italian or Spanish. A knowledge of the older language would enable a reader who knew no other to spell out, more or less painfully, the meaning of most pages of the two Peninsular languages; it would hardly enable him to do more than guess at the meaning of a page of French. The long process of gestation transformed the appearance of the new tongue completely, though its grammatical forms and the bulk of its vocabulary are beyond all question Latin.
The history of this process belongs to the head of language, not of literature, and must be sought elsewhere. It is sufficient to say that the first mention of a lingua romana rustica is found in the seventh century, while allusions in Latin documents show us its gradual use in pulpit and market-place, and even as a vehicle for the rude songs of the minstrel, long before any trace of written French can be found. Meanwhile, however, Latin was doing more than merely furnishing the materials of the new language.
The literary faculty of the Gauls was early noticed, and before their subjection had long been completed they were adepts at using the language of the conquerors. It does not fall within our plan to notice in detail the Latin literature of Gaul and early France, but the later varieties of that literature deserve some little attention, because of the influence which they undoubtedly exercised on the literary forms of the new language.
In early French there is little trace of the influence of the Latin forms which we call classical. It was the forms of the language which has been said to have 'dived under ground with Naevius and come up again with Prudentius' that really influenced the youthful tongue. Ecclesiastical Latin, and especially the wonderful melody of the early Latin hymn-writers, had by far the greatest effect upon it. Ingenious and not wholly groundless efforts have been made to trace the principal forms of early French writing to the services and service-books of the church, the chronicle to the sacred histories, the lyric to the psalm and the hymn, the mystery to the elaborate and dramatic ritual of the church.
The Chanson de Geste , indeed, displays in its matter and style many traces of Germanic origin, but the metre with its regular iambic cadence and its rigid caesura testifies to Latin influence. The service thus performed to the literature was not unlike the service performed to the language. In the one case the scaffolding, or rather the skeleton, was furnished in the shape of grammar; in the other a similar skeleton, in the shape of prosody, was supplied. Important additions were indeed made by the fresh elements introduced. Rhyme Latin had itself acquired.
But of the musical refrains which are among the most charming features of early French lyric poetry we find no vestige in the older tongue. The history of the French language, as far as concerns literature, from the seventh to the eleventh century, can be rapidly given. The earliest mention of the Romance tongue as distinguished from Latin and from German dialect refers to , and occurs in the life of St. Mummolinus or Momolenus, bishop of Noyon, who was chosen for that office because of his knowledge of the two languages, Teutonic and Romanic 5.
We may therefore assume that Mummolinus preached in the lingua Romana. To the same century is referred the song of St. Faron, bishop of Meaux 6 , but this only exists in Latin, and a Romance original is inferred rather than proved. In the eighth century the Romance eloquence of St. Adalbert is commended 7 , and to the same period are referred the glossaries of Reichenau and Cassel, lists containing in the first case Latin and Romance equivalents, in the second Teutonic and Romance 8.
By the beginning of the ninth century it was compulsory for bishops to preach in Romance, and to translate such Latin homilies as they read 9 ; and to this same era has been referred a fragmentary commentary on the Book of Jonah 10 , included in the latest collection of 'Monuments The text of the MS. We now come to documents less shapeless. The tenth century itself gives us the song of St. Eulalie, a poem on the Passion, a life of St. Leger, and perhaps a poem on Boethius. These four documents are of the highest interest.
Not merely has the language assumed a tolerably regular form, but its great division into Langue d'Oc and Langue d'Oil is already made, and grammar, prosody, and other necessities or ornaments of bookwriting, are present. The following extracts will illustrate this part of French literature. The Romance oaths and the 'St. Eulalie' are given in full, the 'Passion' and the 'St. Leger' in extract; it will be observed that the interval between the first and the others is of very considerable width.
This interval probably represents a century of active change, and of this unfortunately we have no monuments to mark the progress accurately. Pro deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum on per dreit son fradra salvar dist, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid nunqua prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.
Considering the great extent and the political divisions of the country called France, it is not surprising that the language which was so slowly formed should have shown considerable dialectic variations. The characteristics of these dialects, Norman, Picard, Walloon, Champenois, Angevin, and so forth, have been much debated by philologists.
But it so happens that the different provinces displayed in point of literature considerable idiosyncrasy, which it is scarcely possible to dispute. Hardly a district of France but contributed something special to her wide and varied literature. The South, though its direct influence was not great, undoubtedly set the example of attention to lyrical form and cadence. Britanny contributed the wonderfully suggestive Arthurian legends, and the peculiar music and style of the lai.
It is however with the eleventh century that the history of French literature properly so called begins. We have indeed few Romance manuscripts so early as this, the date of most of them not being earlier than the twelfth. But by the eleventh century not merely were laws written in French charters and other formal documents were somewhat later , not merely were sermons constantly composed and preached in that tongue, but also works of definite literature were produced in it.
From this date it is therefore possible to abandon generalities, and taking the successive forms and developments of literature, to deal with them in detail. Before however we attempt a systematic account of French literature as it has been actually handed down to us, it is necessary to deal very briefly with two questions, one of which concerns the antecedence of possible ballad literature to the existing Chansons de Gestes, the other the machinery of diffusion to which this and all the early historical developments of the written French language owed much.
It has been held by many scholars, whose opinions deserve respect, that an extensive literature of Cantilenae 12 , or short historical ballads, preceded the lengthy epics which we now possess, and was to a certain extent worked up in these compositions. It is hardly necessary to say that this depends in part upon a much larger question — the question, namely, of the general origins of epic poetry. There are indeed certain references 13 to these Cantilenae upon which the theories alluded to have been built.
But the Cantilenae themselves have, as one of the best of French literary historians, the late M. No remnant of them survives save the already-mentioned Latin prose canticle of St. Faron, in which vestiges of a French and versified original are thought to be visible, and the ballad of Saucourt, a rough song in a Teutonic dialect In default of direct evidence an argument has been sought to be founded on the constant transitions, repetitions, and other peculiarities of the Chansons, some of which and especially Roland , the most famous of all present traces of repeated handlings of the same subject, such as might be expected in work which was merely that of a diaskeuast 15 of existing lays.
It is however probable that the explanation of this phenomenon need not be sought further than in the circumstances of the composition and publication of these poems, circumstances which also had a very considerable influence on the whole course and character of early French literature.
We know nothing of the rise or origin of the two classes of Trouveurs and Jongleurs. The former which it is needless to say is the same word as Troubadour , and Trobador , and Trovatore is the term for the composing class, the latter for the performing one. The natural consequence of this irregular form of publication was a good deal of repetition in the works published. We may therefore conclude, without entering further into the details of a debate unsuitable to the plan of this history, that, while but scanty evidence has been shown of the existence previous to the Chansons de Gestes of a ballad literature identical in subject with those compositions, at the same time the existence of such a literature is neither impossible nor improbable.
It is otherwise with the hypothesis of the existence of prose chronicles, from which the early epics and Roland in particular are also held to have derived their origin. But this subject will be better handled when we come to treat of the beginnings of French prose. For the present it is sufficient to say that, with the exception of the scattered fragments already commented upon, there is no department of French literature before the eleventh century and the Chansons de Gestes , which possesses historical existence proved by actual monuments, and thus demands or deserves treatment here.
The chronicler Sigebert confirms the statement that he was made bishop 'quod Romanam non minus quam Teutonicam calleret linguam. Faron, his predecessor, towards the end of the ninth century. Helgaire uses the words 'juxta rusticitatem,' 'carmen rusticum;' and Lingua Rustica is usually if not universally synonymous with Lingua Romana. It was published in by Holtzmann. The Cassel Glossary, which came from Fulda, was published in the last century Paris, Gaston Paris speaks with apparent confidence of the pre-existing chants , and, in matter of authority, no one speaks with more than he: but it can hardly be said that there is proof of the fact.
The earliest form which finished literature took in France was that of epic or narrative poetry. Towards the middle of the eleventh century certainly, and probably some half-century earlier, poems of regular construction and considerable length began to be written. These are the Chansons de Gestes , so called from their dealing with the Gestes 17 , or heroic families of legendary or historical France.
It is remarkable that this class of composition, notwithstanding its age, its merits, and the abundant examples of it which have been preserved, was one of the latest to receive recognition in modern times. The matter of many of the Chansons, under their later form of verse or prose romances of chivalry, was indeed more or less known in the eighteenth century. But an appreciation of their real age, value, and interest has been the reward of the literary investigations of our own time.
It was not till that the oldest and the most remarkable of them was first edited from the manuscript found in the Bodleian Library Since that time investigation has been constant and fruitful, and there are now more than one hundred of these interesting poems known. The origin and sources of the Chansons de Gestes have been made a matter of much controversy. We have already seen how, from the testimony of historians and the existence of a few fragments, it appears that rude lays or ballads in the different vernacular tongues of the country were composed and sung if not written down at very early dates.
According to one theory, we are to look for the origin of the long and regular epics of the eleventh and subsequent centuries in these rude compositions, first produced independently, then strung together, and lastly subjected to some process of editing and union. It has been sought to find proof of this in the frequent repetitions which take place in the Chansons, and which sometimes amount to the telling of the same incident over and over again in slightly varying words.
Others have seen in this peculiarity only a result of improvisation in the first place, and unskilful or at least uncritical copying in the second. This, however, is a question rather interesting than important. What is certain is that no literary source of the Chansons is now actually in existence, and that we have no authentic information as to any such originals. At a certain period — approximately given above — the fashion of narrative poems on the great scale seems to have arisen in France. It spread rapidly, and was eagerly copied by other nations.
The definition of a Chanson de Geste is as follows. It is a narrative poem, dealing with a subject connected with French history, written in verses of ten or twelve syllables, which verses are arranged in stanzas of arbitrary length, each stanza possessing a distinguishing assonance or rhyme in the last syllable of each line. The assonance, which is characteristic of the earlier Chansons, is an imperfect rhyme, in which identity of vowel sound is all that is necessary. Thus traitor , felon , compaingnons , manons , noz , the first, fourth, and fifth of which have no character of rhyme whatever in modern poetry, are sufficient terminations for an assonanced poem, because the last vowel sound, o, is identical.
There is moreover in this versification a regular caesura, sometimes after the fourth, sometimes after the sixth syllable; and in a few of the older examples the stanzas, or as they are sometimes called laisses , terminate in a shorter line than usual, which is not assonanced. This metrical system, it will be observed, is of a fairly elaborate character, a character which has been used as an argument by those who insist on the existence of a body of ballad literature anterior to the Chansons.
We shall see in the following chapters how this double definition of a Chanson de Geste , by matter and by form, serves to exclude from the title other important and interesting classes of compositions slightly later in date. The period of composition of these poems extended, speaking roughly, over three centuries. In the eleventh they began, but the beginnings are represented only by Roland , the Voyage de Charlemagne , and perhaps Le Roi Louis. Most and nearly all the best date from the twelfth. The thirteenth century also produces them in great numbers, but by this time a sensible change has come over their manner, and after the beginning of the fourteenth only a few pieces deserving the title are written.
They then undergo transformation rather than neglect, and we shall meet them at a later period in other forms. Before dealing with other general characteristics of the early epics of France it will be well to give some notion of them by actual selection and narrative. For this purpose we shall take two Chansons typical of two out of the three stages through which they passed. Roland will serve as a sample of the earliest, Amis et Amiles of the second. Of the third, as less characteristic in itself and less marked by uniform features, it will be sufficient to give some account when we come to the compositions which chiefly influenced it, namely the romances of Arthur and of antiquity.
The Chanson de Roland , the most ancient and characteristic of these poems, though extremely popular in the middle ages 19 , passed with them into obscurity. The earliest allusion to the Oxford MS. Conybeare forty years later dealt with it in the Gentleman's Magazine of , and by degrees the reviving interest of France in her older literature attracted French scholars to this most important monument of the oldest French.
It was first published as a whole by M. Michel in , and since that time it has been the subject of a very great amount of study. Its length is decasyllabic lines, and it concludes with an obscure assertion of authorship, publication or transcription by a certain Turoldus The date of the Oxford MS. There are other MSS. The argument of the poem is as follows:—.
Charlemagne has warred seven years in Spain, but king Marsile of Saragossa still resists the Christian conqueror. Unable however to meet Charlemagne in the field, he sends an embassy with presents and a feigned submission, requesting that prince to return to France, whither he will follow him and do homage. Roland opposes the reception of these offers, Ganelon speaks in their favour, and so does Duke Naimes. Then the question is who shall go to Saragossa to settle the terms.
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Roland offers to go himself, but being rejected as too impetuous, suggests Ganelon — a suggestion which bitterly annoys that knight and by irritating him against Roland sows the seeds of his future treachery. Ganelon goes to Marsile, and at first bears himself truthfully and gallantly. The heathen king however undermines his faith, and a treacherous assault on the French rearguard when Charlemagne shall be too far off to succour it is resolved on and planned.
Then the traitor returns to Charles with hostages and mighty gifts. The return to France begins; Roland is stationed to his great wrath in the fatal place, the rest of the army marches through the Pyrenees, and meanwhile Marsile gathers an enormous host to fall upon the isolated rearguard. There is a long catalogue of the felon and miscreant knights and princes that follow the Spanish king. The pagan host, travelling by cross paths of the mountains, soon reaches and surrounds Roland and the peers.
Oliver entreats Roland to sound his horn that Charles may hear it and come to the rescue, but the eager and inflexible hero refuses. Archbishop Turpin blesses the doomed host, and bids them as the price of his absolution strike hard. The battle begins and all its incidents are told. The French kill thousands, but thousands more succeed. Peer after peer falls, and when at last Roland blows the horn it is too late. Charlemagne hears it and turns back in an agony of sorrow and haste.
But long before he reaches Roncevaux Roland has died last of his host, and alone, for all the Pagans have fallen or fled before him. The arrival of Charlemagne, his grief, and his vengeance on the Pagans, should perhaps conclude the poem. There is however a sort of afterpiece, in which the traitor Ganelon is tried, his fate being decided by a single combat between his kinsman Pinabel and a champion named Thierry, and is ruthlessly put to death with all his clansmen who have stood surety for him.
Episodes properly so called the poem has none, though the character of Oliver is finely brought out as contrasted with Roland's somewhat unreasoning valour, and there is one touching incident when the poet tells how the Lady Aude, Oliver's sister and Roland's betrothed, falls dead without a word when the king tells her of the fatal fight at Roncevaux. The following passage will give an idea of the style of this famous poem.
It may be noticed that the curious refrain Aoi has puzzled all commentators, though in calling it a refrain we have given the most probable explanation:—. As Roland is by far the most interesting of those Chansons which describe the wars with the Saracens, so Amis et Amiles 21 may be taken as representing those where the interest is mainly domestic. Amis et Amiles is the earliest vernacular form of a story which attained extraordinary popularity in the middle ages, being found in every language and in most literary forms, prose and verse, narrative and dramatic.
This popularity may partly be assigned to the religious and marvellous elements which it contains, but is due also to the intrinsic merits of the story. The Chanson contains lines, dates probably from the twelfth century, and is written, like Roland , in decasyllabic verse, but, unlike Roland , has a shorter line of six syllables and not assonanced at the end of each stanza.
Its story is as follows:—. Amis and Amiles were two noble knights, born and baptized on the same day, who had the Pope for sponsor, and whose comradeship was specially sanctioned by a divine message, and by the miraculous likeness which existed between them. They were however brought up, the one in Berri, the other in Auvergne, and did not meet till both had received knighthood. As soon as they had joined company, they resolved to offer their services to Charles, and did him great service against rebels. Here the action proper begins. The latter declares that Amis deserves her better, and to Amis she is married, bearing however no good-will to Amiles for his resignation of her and for his firm hold on her husband's affection.
He at once accuses Amiles of treason, and the knight is too conscious of the dubiousness of his cause to be very willing to accept the wager of battle. From this difficulty he is saved by Amis, who comes to Paris from his distant seignory of Blaivies Blaye , and fights the battle in the name and armour of his friend, while the latter goes to Blaye and plays the part of his preserver.
Both ventures are made easier by the extraordinary resemblance of the pair. This embroglio is smoothed out, and Amiles and Bellicent are happily united. The generous Amis however has not been able to avoid forswearing himself while playing the part of Amiles; and this sin is punished, according to a divine warning, by an attack of leprosy.
His wife Lubias seizes the opportunity, procures a separation from him, and almost starves him, or would do so but for two faithful servants and his little son. At last a means of cure is revealed to him. If Amiles and Bellicent will allow their two sons to be slain the blood will recover Amis of his leprosy. The stricken knight journeys painfully to his friend and tells him the hard condition. Amiles does not hesitate, and the following passage tells his deed:—.
No sooner has the blood touched Amis than he is cured, and the knights solemnly visit the church where Bellicent and the people are assembled. The story is told and the mother, in despair, rushes to the chamber where her dead children are lying. But she finds them living and in full health, for a miracle has been wrought to reward the faithfulness of the friends now that suffering has purged them of their sin.
This story, touching in itself, is most touchingly told in the Chanson. No poem of the kind is more vivid in description, or fuller of details of the manners of the time, than Amis et Amiles. Bellicent and Lubias, the former passionate and impulsive but loving and faithful, the latter treacherous, revengeful, and cold-hearted, give perhaps the earliest finished portraits of feminine character to be found in French literature. Amis and Amiles themselves are presented to us under so many more aspects than Roland and Oliver that they dwell better in the memory. Not even the immolation of Ganelon's hostages is so striking as the calm ferocity with which Charlemagne dooms his wife and son as well as his daughter to pay with their lives the penalty of Bellicent's fault; while the sudden lapse of Amis from his position of feudal lordship at Blaye to that of a miserable outcast, smitten and marked out for public scorn and ill-treatment by the visitation of God, is unusually dramatic.
Amis et Amiles bears to Roland something not at all unlike the relation of the Odyssey to the Iliad. Its continuation, Jourdains de Blaivies , adds the element of foreign travel and adventure; but that element is perhaps more characteristically represented, and the representation has certainly been more generally popular, in Huon de Bordeaux. Of the remaining Chansons, the following are the most remarkable. Aliscans twelfth century deals with the contest between William of Orange, the great Christian hero of the south of France, and the Saracens.
This poem forms, according to custom, the centre of a whole group of Chansons dealing with the earlier and later adventures of the hero, his ancestors, and descendants. The series formed by these and others 22 is among the most interesting of these groups. Le Chevalier au Cygne is a title applied directly to a somewhat late version of an old folk-tale, and more generally to a series of poems connected with the House of Bouillon and the Crusades.
Antioche , the first of these, which describes the exploits of the Christian host, first in attacking and then in defending that city, is one of the finest of the Chansons, and is probably in its original form not much later than the events it describes, being written by an eye-witness. The variety of its personages, the vivid picture of the alternations of fortune, the vigour of the verse, are all remarkable. This group is terminated by Baudouin de Sebourc 24 , a very late but very important Chanson, which falls in with the poetry of the fourteenth century, and the Bastart de Bouillon La Chevalerie Ogier de Danemarche 26 is the oldest form in which the adventures of one of the most popular and romantic of Charlemagne's heroes are related.
Fierabras had also a very wide popularity, and contains some of the liveliest pictures of manners to be found in these poems, in its description of the rough horse-play of the knights and the unfilial behaviour of the converted Saracen princess. This poem is also of much interest philologically Garin le Loherain 28 is the centre of a remarkable group dealing not directly with Charlemagne, but with the provincial disputes and feuds of the nobility of Lorraine.
Raoul de Cambrai 29 is another of the Chansons which deal with 'minor houses,' as they are called, in contradistinction to the main Carlovingian cycle. Hugues Capet 31 , though very late, is attractive by reason of the glimpses it gives us of a new spirit supplanting that of chivalry proper.
In it the heroic distinctly gives place to the burlesque. Macaire 32 , besides being written in a singular dialect, in which French is mingled with Italian, supplies the original of the well-known dog of Montargis. Huon de Bordeaux 33 , already mentioned, was not only more than usually popular at the time of its appearance, but has supplied Shakespeare with some of the dramatis personae of A Midsummer Night's Dream , and Wieland and Weber with the plot of a well-known poem and opera.
Jourdains de Blaivies , the sequel to Amis et Amiles , contains, besides much other interesting matter, the incident which forms the centre of the plot of Pericles. Les Saisnes 35 deals with Charlemagne's wars with Witekind. Doon de Mayence 37 , though not early, includes a charming love-episode. In these numerous poems there is recognisable in the first place a distinct family likeness which is common to the earliest and latest, and in the second, the natural difference of manners which the lapse of three hundred years might be expected to occasion.
There is a sameness which almost amounts to monotony in the plot of most Chansons de Gestes: the hero is almost always either falsely accused of some crime, or else treacherously exposed to the attacks of Saracens, or of his own countrymen. The agents of this treachery are commonly of the blood of the arch-traitor Ganelon, and are almost invariably discomfited by the good knight or his friends and avengers.
The part 40 which Charlemagne plays in these poems is not usually dignified: he is represented as easily gulled, capricious, and almost ferocious in temper, ungrateful, and ready to accept bribes and gifts. In the earliest Chansons the part played by women is not so conspicuous as in the later, but in all except Roland it has considerable prominence.
Sometimes the heroine is the wife, daughter, or niece of Charlemagne, sometimes a Saracen princess. But in either case she is apt to respond without much delay to the hero's advances, which, indeed, she sometimes anticipates. The conduct of knights to their ladies is also far from being what we now consider chivalrous. Blows are very common, and seem to be taken by the weaker sex as matters of course. The prevailing legal forms are simple and rather sanguinary. The judgment of God, as shown by ordeal of battle, settles all disputes; but battle is not permitted unless several nobles of weight and substance come forward as sponsors for each champion; and sponsors as well as principal risk their lives in case of the principal's defeat, unless they can tempt the king's cupidity.
These common features are necessarily in the case of so large a number of poems mixed with much individual difference, nor are the Chansons by any means monotonous reading. Their versification is pleasing to the ear, and their language, considering its age, is of surprising strength, expressiveness, and even wealth.
Though they lack the variety, the pathos, the romantic chivalry, and the mystical attractions of the Arthurian romances, there is little doubt that they paint, far more accurately than their successors, an actually existing state of society, that which prevailed in the palmy time of the feudal system, when war and religion were deemed the sole subjects worthy to occupy seriously men of station and birth. In giving utterance to this warlike and religious sentiment, few periods and classes of literature have been more strikingly successful.
Nowhere is the mere fury of battle better rendered than in Roland and Fierabras. Nowhere is the valiant indignation of the beaten warrior, and, at the same time, his humble submission to providence, better given than in Aliscans. Nowhere is the devout sentiment and belief of the same time more fully drawn than in Amis et Amiles. The method of composition and publication of these poems was peculiar. The poet was commonly a man of priestly or knightly rank, the performer who might be of either sex was probably of no particular station. The Jongleur, or Jongleresse, wandered from castle to castle, reciting the poems, and interpolating in them recommendations of the quality of the wares, requests to the audience to be silent, and often appeals to their generosity.
Some of the manuscripts which we now possess were originally used by Jongleurs, and it was only in this way that the early Chanson de Geste was intended to be read. The process of hawking about naturally interfered with the preservation of the poems in their original purity, and even with the preservation of the author's name.
In very few cases 41 is the latter known to us. The question whether the Chansons de Gestes were originally written in northern or southern French has often been hotly debated. The facts are these. Two of these 42 are admitted translations or imitations of Northern originals. The third, Girartz de Rossilho , is undoubtedly original, but is written in the northernmost dialect of the Southern tongue.
The inference appears to be clear that the Chanson de Geste is properly a product of northern France. Such a hypothesis is evidently unreasonable, and would probably never have been started had not some of the earliest students of Old French been committed by local feeling to the championship of the language of the Troubadours. On the other hand, almost all the dialects of Northern French are represented, Norman and Picard being perhaps the commonest Chabaille, dans Journal des savants , , p.
Comptes rendus: Gaston Paris, dans Romania , 18, , p. Mussafia, dans Romania , 18, , p. Compte rendu: Paul Meyer, dans Romania , 38, , p. Compte rendu: Raynouard, dans Journal des savans , , p. Comptes rendus: Lionel J. Friedman, dans Speculum , , , p. Jackson, dans The Romanic Review , 63, , p. Press, dans The Modern Language Review , 69, , p. Serper, dans Romance Philology , 29, , p. Zumthor, dans Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire , 52, , p.
Comptes rendus: C. Heck, dans Scriptorium , 33, , p. Wittig, dans Speculum , 55, , p. Compte rendu: Adolf Mussafia, dans Germania , 8, , p. Compte rendu: Cohn, G. Comptes rendus: Gilles Roques, dans Revue critique de philologie romane , , , p. Compte rendu: William A. Nitze, dans Modern Philology , , , p. Comptes rendus: Urban T. Holmes, Jr. King, dans The Modern Language Review , , , p. Minis, dans Neophilologus , 50, , p. Compte rendu: G.
Reappearing Characters in Nineteenth-Century French Literature
Paris et J. Loth, dans Romania , 29, , p. Brunel, dans Journal des savants , , p. Hamilton, dans Modern Language Notes , , , p. Herbert Alexander, dans The Romanic Review , 11, , p. Foulet, dans Romania , 46, , p. Essays in Literature and Criticism, , Compte rendu: T. Akademisk avhandling , Stockholm, Marcus, , p. Petit de Julleville, Paris, Colin, , t. Vuilhorgne, L. II Les hailes de courtoise ms. A, inc. D, inc. G, inc. T, inc.