Part 5 out of 8
Des plus riches et des plus chieres
Qui en mer ne en terre soient.
Totes autres pierres passoient
Celes del graal sanz dotance.
Tot ainsi con passa la lance
Par devant le lit trespasserent
Et d'une chambre a l'autre alerent.
Et li vaslet les vit passer,
Ni n'osa mire demander
Del graal cui l'an an servoit.
And, within, the hall was bright
As any hall could be with light
Of candles in a house at night.
So, while of this and that they talked,
A squire from a chamber walked,
Bearing a white lance in his hand,
Grasped by the middle, like a wand;
And, as he passed the chimney wide,
Those seated by the fireside,
And all the others, caught a glance
Of the white steel and the white lance.
As they looked, a drop of blood
Down the lance's handle flowed;
Down to where the youth's hand stood.
From the lance-head at the top
They saw run that crimson drop....
Presently came two more squires,
In their hands two chandeliers,
Of fine gold in enamel wrought.
Each squire that the candle brought
Was a handsome chevalier.
There burned in every chandelier
Two lighted candles at the least.
A damsel, graceful and well dressed,
Behind the squires followed fast
Who carried in her hands a graal;
And as she came within the hall
With the graal there came a light So brilliant that the candles all
Lost clearness, as the stars at night
When moon shines, or in day the sun.
After her there followed one
Who a dish of silver bore.
The graal, which had gone before,
Of gold the finest had been made,
With precious stones had been inlaid,
Richest and rarest of each kind
That man in sea or earth could find.
All other jewels far surpassed
Those which the holy graal enchased.
Just as before had passed the lance
They all before the bed advance,
Passing straightway through the hall,
And the knight who saw them pass
Never ventured once to ask
For the meaning of the graal.
The simplicity of this narration gives a certain dramatic effect to
the mystery, like seeing a ghost in full daylight, but Christian
carried simplicity further still. He seemed either to feel, or to
want others to feel, the reality of the adventure and the miracle,
and he followed up the appearance of the graal by a solid meal in
the style of the twelfth century, such as one expects to find in
"Ivanhoe" or the "Talisman." The knight sat down with his host to
the best dinner that the county of Champagne afforded, and they ate
their haunch of venison with the graal in full view. They drank
their Champagne wine of various sorts, out of gold cups:--
Vins clers ne raspez ne lor faut
A copes dorees a boivre;
they sat before the fire and talked till bedtime, when the squires
made up the beds in the hall, and brought in supper--dates, figs,
nutmegs, spices, pomegranates, and at last lectuaries, suspiciously
like what we call jams; and "alexandrine gingerbread"; after which
they drank various drinks, with or without spice or honey or pepper;
and old moret, which is thought to be mulberry wine, but which
generally went with clairet, a colourless grape-juice, or piment. At
least, here are the lines, and one may translate them to suit one's
Et li vaslet aparellierent
Les lis et le fruit au colchier
Que il en i ot de moult chier,
Dates, figues, et nois mugates,
Girofles et pomes de grenates,
Et leituaires an la fin,
Et gingenbret alixandrin.
Apres ce burent de maint boivre,
Piment ou n'ot ne miel ne poivre
Et viez more et cler sirop.
The twelfth century had the child's love of sweets and spices and
preserved fruits, and drinks sweetened or spiced, whether they were
taken for supper or for poetry; the true knight's palate was fresh
and his appetite excellent either for sweets or verses or love; the
world was young then; Robin Hoods lived in every forest, and Richard
Coeur-de-Lion was not yet twenty years old. The pleasant adventures
of Robin Hood were real, as you can read in the stories of a dozen
outlaws, and men troubled themselves about pain and death much as
healthy bears did, in the mountains. Life had miseries enough, but
few shadows deeper than those of the imaginative lover, or the
terrors of ghosts at night. Men's imaginations ran riot, but did not
keep them awake; at least, neither the preserved fruits nor the
mulberry wine nor the clear syrup nor the gingerbread nor the Holy
Graal kept Perceval awake, but he slept the sound and healthy sleep
of youth, and when he woke the next morning, he felt only a mild
surprise to find that his host and household had disappeared,
leaving him to ride away without farewell, breakfast, or Graal.
Christian wrote about Perceval in 1174 in the same spirit in which
the workmen in glass, thirty years later, told the story of
Charlemagne. One artist worked for Mary of Champagne; the others for
Mary of Chartres, commonly know as the Virgin; but all did their
work in good faith, with the first, fresh, easy instinct of colour,
light, and line. Neither of the two Maries was mystical, in a modern
sense; none of the artists was oppressed by the burden of doubt;
their scepticism was as childlike as faith. If one has to make an
exception, perhaps the passion of love was more serious than that of
religion, and gave to religion the deepest emotion, and the most
complicated one, which society knew. Love was certainly a passion;
and even more certainly it was, as seen in poets like Dante and
Petrarch,--in romans like "Lancelot" and "Aucassin,"--in ideals like
the Virgin,--complicated beyond modern conception. For this reason
the loss of Christian's "Tristan" makes a terrible gap in art, for
Christian's poem would have given the first and best idea of what
led to courteous love. The "Tristan" was written before 1160, and
belonged to the cycle of Queen Eleanor of England rather than to
that of her daughter Mary of Troyes; but the subject was one neither
of courtesy nor of France; it belonged to an age far behind the
eleventh century, or even the tenth, or indeed any century within
the range of French history; and it was as little fitted for
Christian's way of treatment as for any avowed burlesque. The
original Tristan--critics say--was not French, and neither Tristan
nor Isolde had ever a drop of French blood in their veins. In their
form as Christian received it, they were Celts or Scots; they came
from Brittany, Wales, Ireland, the northern ocean, or farther still.
Behind the Welsh Tristan, which passed probably through England to
Normandy and thence to France and Champagne, critics detect a far
more ancient figure living in a form of society that France could
not remember ever to have known. King Marc was a tribal chief of the
Stone Age whose subjects loved the forest and lived on the sea or in
caves; King Marc's royal hall was a common shelter on the banks of a
stream, where every one was at home, and king, queen, knights,
attendants, and dwarf slept on the floor, on beds laid down where
they pleased; Tristan's weapons were the bow and stone knife; he
never saw a horse or a spear; his ideas of loyalty and Isolde's
ideas of marriage were as vague as Marc's royal authority; and all
were alike unconscious of law, chivalry, or church. The note they
sang was more unlike the note of Christian, if possible, than that
of Richard Wagner; it was the simplest expression of rude and
primitive love, as one could perhaps find it among North American
Indians, though hardly so defiant even there, and certainly in the
Icelandic Sagas hardly so lawless; but it was a note of real
passion, and touched the deepest chords of sympathy in the
artificial society of the twelfth century, as it did in that of the
nineteenth. The task of the French poet was to tone it down and give
it the fashionable dress, the pointed shoes and long sleeves, of the
time. "The Frenchman," says Gaston Paris, "is specially interested
in making his story entertaining for the society it is meant for; he
is 'social'; that is, of the world; he smiles at the adventures he
tells, and delicately lets you see that he is not their dupe; he
exerts himself to give to his style a constant elegance, a uniform
polish, in which a few neatly turned, clever phrases sparkle here
and there; above all, he wants to please, and thinks of his audience
more than of his subject."
In the twelfth century he wanted chiefly to please women, as Orderic
complained; Isolde came out of Brittany to meet Eleanor coming up
from Guienne, and the Virgin from the east; and all united in giving
law to society. In each case it was the woman, not the man, who gave
the law;--it was Mary, not the Trinity; Eleanor, not Louis VII;
Isolde, not Tristan. No doubt, the original Tristan had given the
law like Roland or Achilles, but the twelfth-century Tristan was a
comparatively poor creature. He was in his way a secondary figure in
the romance, as Louis VII was to Eleanor and Abelard to Heloise.
Every one knows how, about twenty years before Eleanor came to
Paris, the poet-professor Abelard, the hero of the Latin Quarter,
had sung to Heloise those songs which--he tells us--resounded
through Europe as widely as his scholastic fame, and probably to
more effect for his renown. In popular notions Heloise was Isolde,
and would in a moment have done what Isolde did (Bartsch, 107-08):--
Quaint reis Marcs nus out conjeies
E de sa curt nus out chascez,
As mains ensemble nus preismes
E hors de la sale en eissimes,
A la forest puis en alasmes
E un mult bel liu i trouvames
E une roche, fu cavee,
Devant ert estraite la entree,
Dedans fu voesse ben faite,
Tante bel cum se fust portraite.
When King Marc had banned us both,
And from his court had chased us forth,
Hand in hand each clasping fast
Straight from out the hall we passed;
To the forest turned our face;
Found in it a perfect place,
Where the rock that made a cave
Hardly more than passage gave;
Spacious within and fit for use,
As though it had been planned for us.
At any time of her life, Heloise would have defied society or
church, and would--at least in the public's fancy--have taken
Abelard by the hand and gone off to the forest much more readily
than she went to the cloister; but Abelard would have made a poor
figure as Tristan. Abelard and Christian of Troyes were as remote as
we are from the legendary Tristan; but Isolde and Heloise, Eleanor
and Mary were the immortal and eternal woman. The legend of Isolde,
both in the earlier and the later version, seems to have served as a
sacred book to the women of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,
and Christian's Isolde surely helped Mary in giving law to the Court
of Troyes and decisions in the Court of Love.
Countess Mary's authority lasted from 1164 to 1198, thirty-four
years, during which, at uncertain intervals, glimpses of her
influence flash out in poetry rather than in prose. Christian began
his "Roman de la Charette" by invoking her:--
Puisque ma dame de Chanpaigne
Vialt que romans a faire anpraigne
Si deist et jel tesmoignasse
Que ce est la dame qui passe
Totes celes qui sont vivanz
Si con li funs passe les vanz
Qui vante en Mai ou en Avril
Dirai je: tant com une jame
Vaut de pailes et de sardines
Vaut la contesse de reines?
Christian chose curious similes. His dame surpassed all living
rivals as smoke passes the winds that blow in May; or as much as a
gem would buy of straws and sardines is the Countess worth in
queens. Louis XIV would have thought that Christian might be
laughing at him, but court styles changed with their masters. Louis
XIV would scarcely have written a prison-song to his sister such as
Richard Coeur-de-Lion wrote to Mary of Champagne:--
Ja nus bons pris ne dirat sa raison
Adroitement s'ansi com dolans non;
Mais par confort puet il faire chanson.
Moult ai d'amins, mais povre sont li don;
Honte en avront se por ma reancon
Suix ces deus yvers pris.
Ceu sevent bien mi home et mi baron,
Englois, Normant, Poitevin et Gascon,
Ke je n'avoie si povre compaingnon
Cui je laissasse por avoir au prixon.
Je nel di pas por nulle retraison,
Mais ancor suix je pris.
Or sai ge bien de voir certainement
Ke mors ne pris n'ait amin ne parent,
Cant on me lait por or ne por argent.
Moult m'est de moi, mais plus m'est de ma gent
C'apres ma mort avront reprochier grant
Se longement suix pris.
N'est pas mervelle se j'ai lo cuer dolent
Cant li miens sires tient ma terre en torment.
S'or li menbroit de nostre sairement
Ke nos feismes andui communament,
Bien sai de voir ke ceans longement
Ne seroie pas pris.
Ce sevent bien Angevin et Torain,
Cil bacheler ki or sont fort et sain,
C'ancombreis suix long d'aus en autrui main.
Forment m'amoient, mais or ne m'aimment grain.
De belles armes sont ores veut cil plain,
Por tant ke je suix pris.
Mes compaingnons cui j'amoie et cui j'aim,
Ces dou Caheu et ces dou Percherain,
Me di, chanson, kil ne sont pas certain,
C'onques vers aus n'en oi cuer faus ne vain.
S'il me guerroient, il font moult que villain
Tant com je serai pris.
Comtesse suer, vostre pris soverain
Vos saut et gart cil a cui je me claim
Et par cui je suix pris.
Je n'ou di pas de celi de Chartain
La meire Loweis.
No prisoner can tell his honest thought
Unless he speaks as one who suffers wrong;
But for his comfort he may make a song.
My friends are many, but their gifts are naught.
Shame will be theirs, if, for my ransom, here
I lie another year.
They know this well, my barons and my men,
Normandy, England, Gascony, Poitou,
That I had never follower so low
Whom I would leave in prison to my gain.
I say it not for a reproach to them,
But prisoner I am!
The ancient proverb now I know for sure:
Death and a prison know nor kin nor tie,
Since for mere lack of gold they let me lie.
Much for myself I grieve; for them still more.
After my death they will have grievous wrong
If I am prisoner long.
What marvel that my heart is sad and sore
When my own lord torments my helpless lands!
Well do I know that, if he held his hands,
Remembering the common oath we swore,
I should not here imprisoned with my song,
Remain a prisoner long.
They know this well who now are rich and strong
Young gentlemen of Anjou and Touraine,
That far from them, on hostile bonds I strain.
They loved me much, but have not loved me long.
Their plains will see no more fair lists arrayed,
While I lie here betrayed.
Companions, whom I loved, and still do love,
Geoffroi du Perche and Ansel de Caleux,
Tell them, my song, that they are friends untrue.
Never to them did I false-hearted prove;
But they do villainy if they war on me,
While I lie here, unfree.
Countess sister! your sovereign fame
May he preserve whose help I claim,
Victim for whom am I!
I say not this of Chartres' dame,
Mother of Louis!
Richard's prison-song, one of the chief monuments of English
literature, sounds to every ear, accustomed to twelfth-century
verse, as charming as when it was household rhyme to
mi ome et mi baron
Englois, Normant, Poitevin et Gascon.
Not only was Richard a far greater king than any Louis ever was, but
he also composed better poetry than any other king who is known to
tourists, and, when he spoke to his sister in this cry of the heart
altogether singular among monarchs, he made law and style, above
discussion. Whether he meant to reproach his other sister, Alix of
Chartres, historians may tell, if they know. If he did, the reproach
answered its purpose, for the song was written in 1193; Richard was
ransomed and released in 1194; and in 1198 the young Count "Loweis"
of Chartres and Blois leagued with the Counts of Flanders, Le
Perche, Guines, and Toulouse, against Philip Augustus, in favor of
Coeur-de-Lion to whom they rendered homage. In any case, neither
Mary nor Alice in 1193 was reigning Countess. Mary was a widow since
1181, and her son Henry was Count in Champagne, apparently a great
favourite with his uncle Richard Coeur-de-Lion. The life of this
Henry of Champagne was another twelfth-century romance, but can
serve no purpose here except to recall the story that his mother,
the great Countess Mary, died in 1198 of sorrow for the death of
this son, who was then King of Jerusalem, and was killed, in 1197,
by a fall from the window of his palace at Acre. Coeur-de-Lion died
in 1199. In 1201, Mary's other son, who succeeded Henry,--Count
Thibaut III,--died, leaving a posthumous heir, famous in the
thirteenth century as Thibaut-le-Grand--the Thibaut of Queen
They were all astonishing--men and women--and filled the world, for
two hundred years, with their extraordinary energy and genius; but
the greatest of all was old Queen Eleanor, who survived her son
Coeur-de-Lion, as well as her two husbands,--Louis-le-Jeune and
Henry II Plantagenet,--and was left in 1200 still struggling to
repair the evils and fend off the dangers they caused. "Queen by the
wrath of God," she called herself, and she knew what just claim she
had to the rank. Of her two husbands and ten children, little
remained except her son John, who, by the unanimous voice of his
family, his friends, his enemies, and even his admirers, achieved a
reputation for excelling in every form of twelfth-century crime. He
was a liar and a traitor, as was not uncommon, but he was thought to
be also a coward, which, in that family, was singular. Some
redeeming quality he must have had, but none is recorded. His mother
saw him running, in his masculine, twelfth-century recklessness, to
destruction, and she made a last and a characteristic effort to save
him and Guienne by a treaty of amity with the French king, to be
secured by the marriage of the heir of France, Louis, to Eleanor's
granddaughter, John's niece, Blanche of Castile, then twelve or
thirteen years old. Eleanor herself was eighty, and yet she made the
journey to Spain, brought back the child to Bordeaux, affianced her
to Louis VIII as she had herself been affianced in 1137 to Louis
VII, and in May, 1200, saw her married. The French had then given up
their conventional trick of attributing Eleanor's acts to her want
of morals; and France gave her--as to most women after sixty years
old--the benefit of the convention which made women respectable
after they had lost the opportunity to be vicious. In French eyes,
Eleanor played out the drama according to the rules. She could not
save John, but she died in 1202, before his ruin, and you can still
see her lying with her husband and her son Richard at Fontevrault in
her twelfth-century tomb.
In 1223, Blanche became Queen of France. She was thirty-six years
old. Her husband, Louis VIII, was ambitious to rival his father,
Philip Augustus, who had seized Normandy in 1203. Louis undertook to
seize Toulouse and Avignon. In 1225, he set out with a large army in
which, among the chief vassals, his cousin Thibaut of Champagne led
a contingent. Thibaut was five-and-twenty years old, and, like
Pierre de Dreux, then Duke of Brittany, was one of the most
brilliant and versatile men of his time, and one of the greatest
rulers. As royal vassal Thibaut owed forty days' service in the
field; but his interests were at variance with the King's, and at
the end of the term he marched home with his men, leaving the King
to fall ill and die in Auvergne, November 8, 1226, and a child of
ten years old to carry on the government as Louis IX.
Chartres Cathedral has already told the story twice, in stone and
glass; but Thibaut does not appear there, although he saved the
Queen. Some member of the royal family must be regent. Queen Blanche
took the place, and of course the princes of the blood, who thought
it was their right, united against her. At first, Blanche turned
violently on Thibaut and forbade him to appear at the coronation at
Rheims in his own territory, on November 29, as though she held him
guilty of treason; but when the league of great vassals united to
deprive her of the regency, she had no choice but to detach at any
cost any member of the league, and Thibaut alone offered help. What
price she paid him was best known to her; but what price she would
be believed to have paid him was as well known to her as what had
been said of her grandmother Eleanor when she changed her allegiance
in 1152. If the scandal had concerned Thibaut alone, she might have
been well content, but Blanche was obliged also to pay desperate
court to the papal legate. Every member of her husband's family
united against her and libelled her character with the freedom which
enlivened and envenomed royal tongues.
Maintes paroles en dit en
Comme d'Iseult et de Tristan.
Had this been all, she would have cared no more than Eleanor or any
other queen had cared, for in French drama, real or imaginary, such
charges were not very serious and hardly uncomplimentary; but Iseult
had never been accused, over and above her arbitrary views on the
marriage-contract, of acting as an accomplice with Tristan in
poisoning King Marc. French convention required that Thibaut should
have poisoned Louis VIII for love of the Queen, and that this secret
reciprocal love should control their lives. Fortunately for Blanche
she was a devout ally of the Church, and the Church believed evil
only of enemies. The legate and the prelates rallied to her support
and after eight years of desperate struggle they crushed Pierre
Mauclerc and saved Thibaut and Blanche.
For us the poetry is history, and the facts are false. French art
starts not from facts, but from certain assumptions as conventional
as a legendary window, and the commonest convention is the Woman.
The fact, then as now, was Power, or its equivalent in exchange, but
Frenchmen, while struggling for the Power, expressed it in terms of
Art. They looked on life as a drama,--and on drama as a phase of
life--in which the bystanders were bound to assume and accept the
regular stage-plot. That the plot might be altogether untrue to real
life affected in no way its interest. To them Thibaut and Blanche
were bound to act Tristan and Isolde. Whatever they were when off
the stage, they were lovers on it. Their loves were as real and as
reasonable as the worship of the Virgin. Courteous love was avowedly
a form of drama, but not the less a force of society. Illusion for
illusion, courteous love, in Thibaut's hands, or in the hands of
Dante and Petrarch, was as substantial as any other convention;--the
balance of trade, the rights of man, or the Athanasian Creed. In
that sense the illusions alone were real; if the Middle Ages had
reflected only what was practical, nothing would have survived for
Thibaut was Tristan, and is said to have painted his verses on the
walls of his chateau. If he did, he painted there, in the opinion of
M. Gaston Paris, better poetry than any that was written on paper or
parchment, for Thibaut was a great prince and great poet who did in
both characters whatever he pleased. In modern equivalents, one
would give much to see the chateau again with the poetry on its
walls. Provins has lost the verses, but Troyes still keeps some
churches and glass of Thibaut's time which hold their own with the
best. Even of Thibaut himself, something survives, and though it
were only the memories of his seneschal, the famous Sire de
Joinville, history and France would be poor without him. With
Joinville in hand, you may still pass an hour in the company of
these astonishing thirteenth-century men and women:--crusaders who
fight, hunt, make love, build churches, put up glass windows to the
Virgin, buy missals, talk scholastic philosophy, compose poetry:
Blanche, Thibaut, Perron, Joinville, Saint Louis, Saint Thomas,
Saint Dominic, Saint Francis--you may know them as intimately as you
can ever know a world that is lost; and in the case of Thibaut you
may know more, for he is still alive in his poems; he even vibrates
with life. One might try a few verses, to see what he meant by
courtesy. Perhaps he wrote them for Queen Blanche, but, to whomever
he sent them, the French were right in thinking that she ought to
have returned his love (edition of 1742):--
Nus hom ne puet ami reconforter
Se cele non ou il a son cuer mis.
Pour ce m'estuet sovent plaindre et plourer
Que mis confors ne me vient, ce m'est vis,
De la ou j'ai tote ma remembrance.
Pour bien amer ai sovent esmaiance
A dire voir.
Dame, merci! donez moi esperance
De joie avoir.
Jene puis pas sovent a li parler
Ne remirer les biaus iex de son vis.
Ce pois moi que je n'i puis aler
Car ades est mes cuers ententis.
Ho! bele riens, douce sans conoissance,
Car me mettez en millor attendance
De bon espoir!
Dame, merci! donez moi esperance
De joie avoir.
Aucuns si sont qui me vuelent blamer
Quant je ne di a qui je suis amis;
Mais ja, dame, ne saura mon penser
Nus qui soit nes fors vous cui je le dis
Couardement a pavours a doutance
Dont puestes vous lors bien a ma semblance
Mon cuer savoir.
Dame, merci! donez moi esperance
De joie avoir.
There is no comfort to be found for pain
Save only where the heart has made its home.
Therefore I can but murmur and complain
Because no comfort to my pain has come
From where I garnered all my happiness.
From true love have I only earned distress
The truth to say.
Grace, lady! give me comfort to possess
A hope, one day.
Seldom the music of her voice I hear
Or wonder at the beauty of her eyes.
It grieves me that I may not follow there
Where at her feet my heart attentive lies.
Oh, gentle Beauty without consciousness,
Let me once feel a moment's hopefulness,
If but one ray!
Grace, lady! give me comfort to possess
A hope, one day.
Certain there are who blame upon me throw
Because I will not tell whose love I seek;
But truly, lady, none my thought shall know,
None that is born, save you to whom I speak
In cowardice and awe and doubtfulness,
That you may happily with fearlessness
My heart essay.
Grace, lady! give me comfort to possess
A hope, one day.
Does Thibaut's verse sound simple? It is the simplicity of the
thirteenth-century glass--so refined and complicated that sensible
people are mostly satisfied to feel, and not to understand. Any
blunderer in verse, who will merely look at the rhymes of these
three stanzas, will see that simplicity is about as much concerned
there as it is with the windows of Chartres; the verses are as
perfect as the colours, and the versification as elaborate. These
stanzas might have been addressed to Queen Blanche; now see how
Thibaut kept the same tone of courteous love in addressing the Queen
De grant travail et de petit esploit
Voi ce siegle cargie et encombre
Que tant somes plain de maleurte
Ke nus ne pens a faire ce qu'il doit,
Ains avons si le Deauble trouve
Qu'a lui servir chascuns paine et essaie
Et Diex ki ot pour nos ja cruel plaie
Metons arrier et sa grant dignite;
Molt est hardis qui pour mort ne s'esmaie.
Diex que tout set et tout puet et tout voit
Nous auroit tost en entre-deus giete
Se la Dame plaine de grant bonte
Pardelez lui pour nos ne li prioit
Si tres douc mot plaisant et savoure
Le grant courous dou grant Signour apaie;
Molt par est fox ki autre amor essai
K'en cestui n'a barat ne fausete
Ne es autres n'a ne merti ne manaie.
La souris quiert pour son cors garandir
Contre l'yver la noif et le forment
Et nous chaitif nous n'alons rien querant
Quant nous morrons ou nous puissions garir.
Nous ne cherchons fors k'infer le puant;
Or esgardes come beste sauvage
Pourvoit de loin encontre son domage
Et nous n'avons ne sens ne hardement;
Il est avis que plain somes de rage.
Li Deable a getey por nos ravir
Quatre amecons aescbies de torment;
Covoitise lance premierement
Et puis Orguel por sa grant rois emplir
Et Luxure va le batel trainant
Felonie les governe et les nage.
Ensi peschant s'en viegnent au rivage
Dont Diex nous gart par son commandement
En qui sains fons nous feismes homage.
A la Dame qui tous les bien avance
T'en va, chancon s'el te vielt escouter
Onques ne fu nus di millor chaunce.
With travail great, and little cargo fraught,
See how our world is labouring in pain;
So filled we are with love of evil gain
That no one thinks of doing what he ought,
But we all hustle in the Devil's train,
And only in his service toil and pray;
And God, who suffered for us agony,
We set behind, and treat him with disdain;
Hardy is he whom death does not dismay.
God who rules all, from whom we can hide nought,
Had quickly flung us back to nought again
But that our gentle, gracious, Lady Queen
Begged him to spare us, and our pardon wrought;
Striving with words of sweetness to restrain
Our angry Lord, and his great wrath allay.
Felon is he who shall her love betray
Which is pure truth, and falsehood cannot feign,
While all the rest is lie and cheating play.
The feeble mouse, against the winter's cold,
Garners the nuts and grain within his cell,
While man goes groping, without sense to tell
Where to seek refuge against growing old.
We seek it in the smoking mouth of Hell.
With the poor beast our impotence compare!
See him protect his life with utmost care,
While us nor wit nor courage can compel
To save our souls, so foolish mad we are.
The Devil doth in snares our life enfold;
Four hooks has he with torments baited well;
And first with Greed he casts a mighty spell,
And then, to fill his nets, has Pride enrolled,
And Luxury steers the boat, and fills the sail,
And Perfidy controls and sets the snare;
Thus the poor fish are brought to land, and there
May God preserve us and the foe repel!
Homage to him who saves us from despair!
To Mary Queen, who passes all compare,
Go, little song! to her your sorrows tell!
Nor Heaven nor Earth holds happiness so rare.
NICOLETTE AND MARION
C'est d'Aucassins et de Nicolete.
Qui vauroit bons vers oir
Del deport du viel caitiff
De deus biax enfans petis
Nicolete et Aucassins;
Des grans paines qu'il soufri
Et des proueces qu'il fist
For s'amie o le cler vis.
Dox est li cans biax est li dis
Et cortois et bien asis.
Nus hom n'est si esbahis
Tant dolans ni entrepris
De grant mal amaladis
Se il l'oit ne soit garis
Et de joie resbaudis
Tant par est dou-ce.
This is of Aucassins and Nicolette.
Whom would a good ballad please
By the captive from o'er-seas,
A sweet song in children's praise,
Nicolette and Aucassins;
What he bore for her caress,
What he proved of his prowess
For his friend with the bright face?
The song has charm, the tale has grace,
And courtesy and good address.
No man is in such distress,
Such suffering or weariness,
Sick with ever such sickness,
But he shall, if he hear this,
Recover all his happiness,
So sweet it is!
This little thirteenth-century gem is called a "chante-fable," a
story partly in prose, partly in verse, to be sung according to
musical notation accompanying the words in the single manuscript
known, and published in facsimile by Mr. F. W. Bourdillon at Oxford
in 1896. Indeed, few poems, old or new, have in the last few years
been more reprinted, translated, and discussed, than "Aucassins,"
yet the discussion lacks interest to the idle tourist, and tells him
little. Nothing is known of the author or his date. The second line
alone offers a hint, but nothing more. "Caitif" means in the first
place a captive, and secondly any unfortunate or wretched man.
Critics have liked to think that the word means here a captive to
the Saracens, and that the poet, like Cervantes three or four
hundred years later, may have been a prisoner to the infidels. What
the critics can do, we can do. If liberties can be taken with
impunity by scholars, we can take the liberty of supposing that the
poet was a prisoner in the crusade of Coeur-de-Lion and Philippe-
Auguste; that he had recovered his liberty, with his master, in
1194; and that he passed the rest of his life singing to the old
Queen Eleanor or to Richard, at Chinon, and to the lords of all the
chateaux in Guienne, Poitiers, Anjou, and Normandy, not to mention
England. The living was a pleasant one, as the sunny atmosphere of
the Southern poetry proves.
Dox est li cans; biax est li dis,
Et cortois et bien asis.
The poet-troubadour who composed and recited "Aucassins" could not
have been unhappy, but this is the affair of his private life, and
not of ours. What rather interests us is his poetic motive,
"courteous love," which gives the tale a place in the direct line
between Christian of Troyes, Thibaut-le-Grand, and William of
Lorris. Christian of Troyes died in 1175; at least he wrote nothing
of a later date, so far as is certainly known. Richard Coeur-de-Lion
died in 1199, very soon after the death of his half-sister Mary of
Champagne. Thibaut-le-Grand was born in 1201. William of Lorris, who
concluded the line of great "courteous" poets, died in 1260 or
thereabouts. For our purposes, "Aucassins" comes between Christian
of Troyes and William of Lorris; the trouvere or jogleor, who sang,
was a "viel caitif" when the Chartres glass was set up, and the
Charlemagne window designed, about 1210, or perhaps a little later.
When one is not a professor, one has not the right to make inept
guesses, and, when one is not a critic, one should not risk
confusing a difficult question by baseless assumptions; but even a
summer tourist may without offence visit his churches in the order
that suits him best; and, for our tour, "Aucassins" follows
Christian and goes hand in hand with Blondel and the chatelain de
Coucy, as the most exquisite expression of "courteous love." As one
of "Aucassins'" German editors says in his introduction: "Love is
the medium through which alone the hero surveys the world around
him, and for which he contemns everything that the age prized:
knightly honour; deeds of arms; father and mother; hell, and even
heaven; but the mere promise by his father of a kiss from Nicolette
inspires him to superhuman heroism; while the old poet sings and
smiles aside to his audience as though he wished them to understand
that Aucassins, a foolish boy, must not be judged quite seriously,
but that, old as he was himself, he was just as foolish about
Aucassins was the son of the Count of Beaucaire. Nicolette was a
young girl whom the Viscount of Beaucaire had redeemed as a captive
of the Saracens, and had brought up as a god-daughter in his family.
Aucassins fell in love with Nicolette, and wanted to marry her. The
action turned on marriage, for, to the Counts of Beaucaire, as to
other counts, not to speak of kings, high alliance was not a matter
of choice but of necessity, without which they could not defend
their lives, let alone their counties; and, to make Aucassins'
conduct absolutely treasonable, Beaucaire was at that time
surrounded and besieged, and the Count, Aucassins' father, stood in
dire need of his son's help. Aucassins refused to stir unless he
could have Nicolette. What were honours to him if Nicolette were not
to share them. "S'ele estait empereris de Colstentinoble u
d'Alemaigne u roine de France u d'Engletere, si aroit il asses peu
en li, tant est france et cortoise et de bon aire et entecie de
toutes bones teces." To be empress of "Colstentinoble" would be none
too good for her, so stamped is she with nobility and courtesy and
high-breeding and all good qualities.
So the Count, after a long struggle, sent for his Viscount and
threatened to have Nicolette burned alive, and the Viscount himself
treated no better, if he did not put a stop to the affair; and the
Viscount shut up Nicolette, and remonstrated with Aucassins: "Marry
a king's daughter, or a count's! leave Nicolette alone, or you will
never see Paradise!" This at once gave Aucassins the excuse for a
charming tirade against Paradise, for which, a century or two later,
he would properly have been burned together with Nicolette:--
En paradis qu'ai je a faire? Je n'i quier entrer mais que j'aie
Nicolete, ma tres douce amie, que j'aim tant. C'en paradis ne vont
fors tex gens con je vous dirai. Il i vont ci viel prestre et cil
vieil clop et cil manke, qui tote jour et tote nuit cropent devant
ces autex et en ces vies cruutes, et ci a ces vies capes ereses et a
ces vies tatereles vestues, qui sont nu et decauc et estrumele, qui
moeurent de faim et d'esci et de froid et de mesaises. Icil vont en
paradis; aveuc ciax n'ai jou que faire; mais en infer voil jou aler.
Car en infer vont li bel clerc et li bel cevalier qui sont mort as
tornois et as rices gueres, et li bien sergant et li franc home.
Aveuc ciax voil jou aler. Et si vont les beles dames cortoises que
eles ont ii amis ou iii avec leurs barons. Et si va li ors et li
agens et li vairs et li gris; et si i vont herpeor et jogleor et li
roi del siecle. Avec ciax voil jou aler mais que j'aie Nicolete, ma
tres douce amie, aveuc moi.
In Paradise what have I to do? I do not care to go there unless I
may have Nicolette, my very sweet friend, whom I love so much. For
to Paradise goes no one but such people as I will tell you of. There
go old priests and old cripples and the maimed, who all day and all
night crouch before altars and in old crypts, and are clothed with
old worn-out capes and old tattered rags; who are naked and footbare
and sore; who die of hunger and want and misery. These go to
Paradise; with them I have nothing to do; but to Hell I am willing
to go. For, to Hell go the fine scholars and the fair knights who
die in tournies and in glorious wars; and the good men-at-arms and
the well-born. With them I will gladly go. And there go the fair
courteous ladies whether they have two or three friends besides
their lords. And the gold and silver go there, and the ermines and
sables; and there go the harpers and jongleurs, and the kings of the
world. With these will I go, if only I may have Nicolette, my very
sweet friend, with me.
Three times, in these short extracts, the word "courteous" has
already appeared. The story itself is promised as "courteous";
Nicolette is "courteous"; and the ladies who are not to go to heaven
are "courteous." Aucassins is in the full tide of courtesy, and
evidently a professional, or he never would have claimed a place for
harpers and jongleurs with kings and chevaliers in the next world.
The poets of "courteous love" showed as little interest in religion
as the poets of the eleventh century had shown for it in their poems
of war. Aucassins resembled Christian of Troyes in this, and both of
them resembled Thibaut, while William of Lorris went beyond them
all. The literature of the "siecle" was always unreligious, from the
"Chanson de Roland" to the "Tragedy of Hamlet"; to be "papelard" was
unworthy of a chevalier; the true knight of courtesy made nothing of
defying the torments of hell, as he defied the lance of a rival, the
frowns of society, the threats of parents or the terrors of magic;
the perfect, gentle, courteous lover thought of nothing but his
love. Whether the object of his love were Nicolette of Beaucaire or
Blanche of Castile, Mary of Champagne or Mary of Chartres, was a
detail which did not affect the devotion of his worship.
So Nicolette, shut up in a vaulted chamber, leaned out at the marble
window and sang, while Aucassins, when his father promised that he
should have a kiss from Nicolette, went out to make fabulous
slaughter of the enemy; and when his father broke the promise, shut
himself up in his chamber, and also sang; and the action went on by
scenes and interludes, until, one night, Nicolette let herself down
from the window, by the help of sheets and towels, into the garden,
and, with a natural dislike of wetting her skirts which has
delighted every hearer or reader from that day to this, "prist se
vesture a l'une main devant et a l'autre deriere si s'escorca por le
rousee qu'ele vit grande sor l'erbe si s'en ala aval le gardin"; she
raised her skirts with one hand in front and the other behind, for
the dew which she saw heavy on the grass, and went off down the
garden, to the tower where Aucassins was locked up, and sang to him
through a crack in the masonry, and gave him a lock of her hair, and
they talked till the friendly night-watch came by and warned her by
a sweetly-sung chant, that she had better escape. So she bade
farewell to Aucassins, and went on to a breach in the city wall, and
she looked through it down into the fosse which was very deep and
very steep. So she sang to herself--
Peres rois de maeste
Or ne sai quel part aler.
Se je vois u gaut rame
Ja me mengeront li le
Li lions et li sengler
Dont il i a a plente.
Father, King of Majesty!
Now I know not where to flee.
If I seek the forest free,
Then the lions will eat me,
Wolves and wild boars terribly,
Of which plenty there there be.
The lions were a touch of poetic licence, even for Beaucaire, but
the wolves and wild boars were real enough; yet Nicolette feared
even them less than she feared the Count, so she slid down what her
audience well knew to be a most dangerous and difficult descent, and
reached the bottom with many wounds in her hands and feet, "et san
en sali bien en xii lius"; so that blood was drawn in a dozen
places, and then she climbed up the other side, and went off bravely
into the depths of the forest; an uncanny thing to do by night, as
you can still see.
Then followed a pastoral, which might be taken from the works of
another poet of the same period, whose acquaintance no one can
neglect to make--Adam de la Halle, a Picard, of Arras. Adam lived,
it is true, fifty years later than the date imagined for Aucassins,
but his shepherds and shepherdesses are not so much like, as
identical with, those of the Southern poet, and all have so singular
an air of life that the conventional courteous knight fades out
beside them. The poet, whether bourgeois, professional, noble, or
clerical, never much loved the peasant, and the peasant never much
loved him, or any one else. The peasant was a class by himself, and
his trait, as a class, was suspicion of everybody and all things,
whether material, social, or divine. Naturally he detested his lord,
whether temporal or spiritual, because the seigneur and the priest
took his earnings, but he was never servile, though a serf; he was
far from civil; he was commonly gross. He was cruel, but not more so
than his betters; and his morals were no worse. The object of
oppression on all sides,--the invariable victim, whoever else might
escape,--the French peasant, as a class, held his own--and more. In
fact, he succeeded in plundering Church, Crown, nobility, and
bourgeoisie, and was the only class in French history that rose
steadily in power and well-being, from the time of the crusades to
the present day, whatever his occasional suffering may have been;
and, in the thirteenth century, he was suffering. When Nicolette, on
the morning after her escape, came upon a group of peasants in the
forest, tending the Count's cattle, she had reason to be afraid of
them, but instead they were afraid of her. They thought at first
that she was a fairy. When they guessed the riddle, they kept the
secret, though they risked punishment and lost the chance of reward
by protecting her. Worse than this, they agreed, for a small
present, to give a message to Aucassins if he should ride that way.
Aucassins was not very bright, but when he got out of prison after
Nicolette's escape, he did ride out, at his friends' suggestion, and
tried to learn what had become of her. Passing through the woods he
came upon the same group of shepherds and shepherdesses:--
Esmeres et Martinet, Fruelins et Johannes, Robecons et
who might have been living in the Forest of Arden, so like were they
to the clowns of Shakespeare. They were singing of Nicolette and her
present, and the cakes and knives and flute they would buy with it.
Aucassins jumped to the bait they offered him; and they instantly
began to play him as though he were a trout:--
"Bel enfant, dix vos i ait!"
"Dix vos benie!" fait cil qui fu plus enparles des autres.
"Bel enfant," fait il, "redites le cancon que vos disiez ore!"
"Nous n'i dirons," fait cil qui plus fu enparles des autres. "Dehait
ore qui por vos i cantera, biax sire!"
"Bel enfant!" fait Aucassins, "enne me connissies vos?"
"Oil! nos savions bien que vos estes Aucassins, nos damoisiax, mais
nos ne somes mie a vos, ains somes au conte."
"Bel enfant, si feres, je vos en pri!"
"Os, por le cuer be!" fait cil. "Por quoi canteroie je por vos, s'il
ne me seoit! Quant il n'a si rice home en cest pais sans le cors le
conte Garin s'il trovait mes bues ne mes vaces ne mes brebis en ses
pres n'en sen forment qu'il fust mie tant hardis por les es a crever
qu'il les en ossast cacier. Et por quoi canteroie je por vos s'il ne
"Se dix vos ait, bel enfant, si feres! et tenes x sous que j'ai ci
en une borse!"
"God bless you, fair child!" said Aucassins.
"God be with you!" replied the one who talked best.
"Fair child!" said he, "repeat the song you were just singing."
"We won't!" replied he who talked best among them. "Bad luck to him
who shall sing for you, good sir!"
"Fair child," said Aucassins, "do you know me?"
"Yes! we know very well that you are Aucassins, our young lord; but
we are none of yours; we belong to the Count."
"Fair child, indeed you'll do it, I pray you!"
"Listen, for love of God!" said he. "Why should I sing for you if it
does not suit me? when there is no man so powerful in this country,
except Count Garin, if he found my oxen or my cows or my sheep in
his pasture or his close, would not rather risk losing his eyes than
dare to turn them out! and why should I sing for you, if it does not
"So God help you, good child, indeed you will do it! and take these
ten sous that I have here in my purse."
"Sire les deniers prenderons nos, mais je ne vos canterai mie, car
j'en ai jure. Mais je le vos conterai se vos voles."
"De par diu!" faits Aucassins. "Encore aim je mix center que nient."
"Sire, the money we will take, but I'll not sing to you, for I've
sworn it. But I will tell it you, if you like."
"For God's sake!" said Aucassins; "better telling than nothing!"
Ten sous was no small gift! twenty sous was the value of a strong
ox. The poet put a high money-value on the force of love, but he set
a higher value on it in courtesy. These boors were openly insolent
to their young lord, trying to extort money from him, and
threatening him with telling his father; but they were in their
right, and Nicolette was in their power. At heart they meant
Aucassins well, but they were rude and grasping, and the poet used
them in order to show how love made the true lover courteous even to
clowns. Aucassins' gentle courtesy is brought out by the boors'
greed, as the colours in the window were brought out and given their
value by a bit of blue or green. The poet, having got his little
touch of colour rightly placed, let the peasants go. "Cil qui fu
plus enparles des autres," having been given his way and his money,
told Aucassins what he knew of Nicolette and her message; so
Aucassins put spurs to his horse and cantered into the forest,
Se diu plaist le pere fort
Je vos reverai encore
Suer, douce a-mie!
So please God, great and strong,
I will find you now ere long,
Sister, sweet friend!
But the peasant had singular attraction for the poet. Whether the
character gave him a chance for some clever mimicry, which was one
of his strong points as a story-teller: or whether he wanted to
treat his subjects, like the legendary windows, in pairs; or whether
he felt that the forest-scene specially amused his audience, he
immediately introduced a peasant of another class, much more
strongly coloured, or deeply shadowed. Every one in the audience
was--and, for that matter, still would be--familiar with the great
forests, the home of half the fairy and nursery tales of Europe,
still wild enough and extensive enough to hide in, although they
have now comparatively few lions, and not many wolves or wild boars
or serpents such as Nicolette feared. Every one saw, without an
effort, the young damoiseau riding out with his hound or hawk,
looking for game; the lanes under the trees, through the wood, or
the thick underbrush before lanes were made; the herdsmen watching
their herds, and keeping a sharp look-out for wolves; the peasant
seeking lost cattle; the black kiln-men burning charcoal; and in the
depths of the rocks or swamps or thickets--the outlaw. Even now,
forests like Rambouillet, or Fontainebleau or Compiegne are enormous
and wild; one can see Aucassins breaking his way through thorns and
branches in search of Nicolette, tearing his clothes and wounding
himself "en xl lius u en xxx," until evening approached, and he
began to weep for disappointment:--
Il esgarda devant lui enmi la voie si vit un vallet tei que je vos
dirai. Grans estoit et mervellex et lais et hidex. Il avoit une
grande hure plus noire qu'une carbouclee, et avoit plus de planne
paume entre ii ex, et avoit unes grandes joes et un grandisme nez
plat, et une grans narines lees et unes grosses levres plus rouges
d'unes carbounees, et uns grans dens gaunes et lais et estoit
caucies d'uns housiax et d'uns sollers de buef fretes de tille
dusque deseure le genol et estoit afules d'une cape a ii envers si
estoit apoiies sor une grande macue. Aucassins s'enbati sor lui
s'eut grand paor quant il le sorvit...
"Baix frere, dix ti ait!"
"Dix vos benie!" fait cil. "Se dix t'ait, que fais tu ilec?"
"A vos que monte?" fait cil.
"Nient!" fait Aucassins; "je nel vos demant se por bien non."
"Mais pour quoi ploures vos?" fait cil, "et faites si fait doel?
Certes se j'estoie ausi rices hom que vos estes, tos li mons ne me
feroit mie plorer."
"Ba! me conissies vos!" fait Aucassins.
"Oie! je sai bien que vos estes Aucassins li fix le conte, et se vos
me dites por quoi vos plores je vos dirai que je fac ici."
As he looked before him along the way he saw a man such as I will
tell you. Tall he was, and menacing, and ugly, and hideous. He had
a great mane blacker than charcoal and had more than a full palm-
width between his two eyes, and had big cheeks, and a huge flat nose
and great broad nostrils, and thick lips redder than raw beef, and
large ugly yellow teeth, and was shod with hose and leggings of raw
hide laced with bark cord to above the knee, and was muffled in a
cloak without lining, and was leaning on a great club. Aucassins
came upon him suddenly and had great fear when he saw him.
"Fair brother, good day!" said he.
"God bless you!" said the other.
"As God help you, what do you here?"
"What is that to you?" said the other.
"Nothing!" said Aucassins; "I ask only from good-will."
"But why are you crying!" said the other, "and mounring so loud?
Sure, if I were as great a man as you are, nothing on earth would
make me cry."
"Bah! you know me?" said Aucassins.
"Yes, I know very well that you are Aucassins, the count's son; and
if you will tell me what you are crying for, I will tell you what I
am doing here."
Aucassins seemed to think this an equal bargain. All damoiseaux were
not as courteous as Aucassins, nor all "varlets" as rude as his
peasants; we shall see how the young gentlemen of Picardy treated
the peasantry for no offence at all; but Aucassins carried a softer,
Southern temper in a happier climate, and, with his invariable
gentle courtesy, took no offence at the familiarity with which the
ploughman treated him. Yet he dared not tell the truth, so he
invented, on the spur of the moment, an excuse;--he has lost, he
said, a beautiful white hound. The peasant hooted--
"Os!" fait cil; "por le cuer que cil sires eut en sen ventre! que
vos plorastes por un cien puant! Mal dehait ait qui ja mais vos
prisera quant il n'a si rice home en ceste tere se vos peres len
mandoit x u xv u xx qu'il ne les envoyast trop volontiers et s'en
esteroit trop lies. Mais je dois plorer et dol faire?"
"Et tu de quoi frere?"
"Sire je lo vos dirai. J'estoie liues a un rice vilain si cacoie se
carue. iiii bues i avoit. Or a iii jors qu il m'avint une grande
malaventure que je perdi le mellor de mes bues Roget le mellor de me
carue. Si le vois querant. Si ne mengai ne ne bue iii jors a passes.
Si n'os aler a le vile c'on me metroit en prison que je ne l'ai de
quoi saure. De tot l'avoir du monde n'ai je plus vaillant que vos
vees sor le cors de mi. Une lasse mere avoie, si n'avoit plus
vaillant que une keutisele, si h a on sacie de desous le dos si gist
a pur l'estrain, si m'en poise asses plus que denu. Car avoirs va et
viaent; se j'ai or perdu je gaaignerai une autre fois si sorrai mon
buef quant je porrai, ne ja por cien n'en plorerai. Et vos plorastes
por un cien de longaigne! Mal dehait ait qui mais vos prisera!"
"Certes tu es de bon confort, biax frere! que benois sois tu! Et que
valoit tes bues!"
"Sire xx sous m'en demande on, je n'en puis mie abatre une seule
"Or, tien" fait Aucassins, "xx que j'ai ci en me borse, si sol ten
"Listen!" said he, "By the heart God had in his body, that you
should cry for a stinking dog! Bad luck to him who ever prizes you!
When there is no man in this land so great, if your father sent to
him for ten or fifteen or twenty but would fetch them very gladly,
and be only too pleased. But I ought to cry and mourn."
"And--why you, brother?"
"Sir, I will tell you. I was hired out to a rich farmer to drive his
plough. There were four oxen. Now three days ago I had a great
misfortune, for I lost the best of my oxen, Roget, the best of my
team. I am looking to find him. I've not eaten or drunk these three
days past. I dare n't go to the town, for they would put me in
prison as I've nothing to pay with. In all the world I've not the
worth of anything but what you see on my body I've a poor old mother
who owned nothing but a feather mattress, and they've dragged it
from under her back so she lies on the bare straw, and she troubles
me more than myself. For riches come and go if I lose to day, I gain
to-morrow; I will pay for my ox when I can, and will not cry for
that. And you cry for a filthy dog! Bad luck to him who ever thinks
well of you!"
"Truly, you counsel well, good brother! God bless you! And what was
your ox worth?"
"Sir, they ask me twenty sous for it. I cannot beat them down a
"Here are twenty," said Aucassins, "that I have in my purse! Pay for
"Sire!" fait il, "grans mercies! et dix vos laist trover ce que vox
"Sir!" said he; "many thanks! and Go! grant you find what you seek!"
The little episode was thrown in without rhyme or reason to the
rapid emotion of the love-story, as though the jongleur were showing
his own cleverness and humour, at the expense of his hero, as
jongleurs had a way of doing; but he took no such liberties with his
heroine. While Aucassins tore through the thickets on horseback,
crying aloud, Nicolette had built herself a little hut in the depths
of the forest:--
Ele prist des flors de lis
Et de l'erbe du garris
Et de le foille autresi;
Une belle loge en fist,
Ainques tant gente ne vi.
Jure diu qui ne menti
Se par la vient Aucassins
Et il por l'amor de li
Ne si repose un petit
Ja ne sera ses amis
So she twined the lilies' flower,
Roofed with leafy branches o'er,
Made of it a lovely bower,
With the freshest grass for floor
Such as never mortal saw.
By God's Verity, she swore,
Should Aucassins pass her door,
And not stop for love of her,
To repose a moment there,
He should be her love no more,
Nor she his dear!
So night came on, and Nicolette went to sleep, a little distance
away from her hut. Aucassins at last came by, and dismounted,
spraining his shoulder in doing it. Then he crept into the little
hut, and lying on his back, looked up through the leaves to the
moon, and sang:--
Estoilete, je te voi,
Que la lune trait a soi.
Nicolete est aveuc toi,
M'amiete o le blond poil.
Je quid que dix le veut avoir
Por la lumiere de soir
Que par li plus clere soit.
Vien, amie, je te proie!
Ou monter vauroie droit,
Que que fust du recaoir.
Que fuisse lassus o toi
Ja te baiseroi estroit.
Se j'estoie fix a roi
S'afferies vos bien a moi
Suer douce amie!
I can see you, little star,
That the moon draws through the air.
Nicolette is where you are,
My own love with the blonde hair.
I think God must want her near
To shine down upon us here
That the evening be more clear.
Come down, dearest, to my prayer,
Or I climb up where you are!
Though I fell, I would not care.
If I once were with you there
I would kiss you closely, dear!
If a monarch's son I were
You should all my kingdom share,
Sweet friend, sister!
How Nicolette heard him sing, and came to him and rubbed his
shoulder and dressed his wounds as though he were a child; and how
in the morning they rode away together, like Tennyson's "Sleeping
O'er the hills and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
Beyond the night, beyond the day,
singing as they rode, the story goes on to tell or to sing in verse-
Aucassins, li biax, li blons,
Li gentix, It amorous,
Est issous del gaut parfont,
Entre ses bras ses amors
Devant lui sor son arcon.
Les ex li baise et le front,
Et le bouce et le menton.
Elle l'a mis a raison.
"Aucassins, biax amis dox,
"En quel tere en irons nous?"
"Douce amie, que sai jou?
"Moi ne caut u nous aillons,
"En forest u en destor
"Mais que je soie aveuc vous."
Passent les vaus et les mons,
Et les viles et les bors
A la mer vinrent au jor,
Si descendent u sablon
Les le rivage.
Aucassins, the brave, the fair,
Courteous knight and gentle lover,
From the forest dense came forth;
In his arms his love he bore
On his saddle-bow before;
Her eyes he kisses and her mouth,
And her forehead and her chin.
She brings him back to earth again:
"Aucassins, my love, my own,
"To what country shall we turn?"
"Dearest angel, what say you?
"I care nothing where we go,
"In the forest or outside,
"While you on my saddle ride."
So they pass by hill and dale,
And the city, and the town,
Till they reach the morning pale,
And on sea-sands set them down,
Hard by the shore.
There we will leave them, for their further adventures have not much
to do with our matter. Like all the romans, or nearly all,
"Aucassins" is singularly pure and refined. Apparently the ladies of
courteous love frowned on coarseness and allowed no licence. Their
power must have been great, for the best romans are as free from
grossness as the "Chanson de Roland" itself, or the church glass, or
the illuminations in the manuscripts; and as long as the power of
the Church ruled good society, this decency continued. As far as
women were concerned, they seem always to have been more clean than
the men, except when men painted them in colours which men liked
Perhaps society was actually cleaner in the thirteenth century than
in the sixteenth, as Saint Louis was more decent than Francis I, and
as the bath was habitual in the twelfth century and exceptional at
the Renaissance. The rule held good for the bourgeoisie as well as
among the dames cortoises. Christian and Thibaut, "Aucassins" and
the "Roman de la Rose," may have expressed only the tastes of high-
born ladies, but other poems were avowedly bourgeois, and among the
bourgeois poets none was better than Adam de la Halle. Adam wrote
also for the court, or at least for Robert of Artois, Saint Louis's
nephew, whom he followed to Naples in 1284, but his poetry was as
little aristocratic as poetry could well be, and most of it was
cynically--almost defiantly--middle-class, as though the weavers of
Arras were his only audience, and recognized him and the objects of
his satire in every verse. The bitter personalities do not concern
us, but, at Naples, to amuse Robert of Artois and his court, Adam
composed the first of French comic operas, which had an immense
success, and, as a pastoral poem, has it still. The Idyll of Arras
was a singular contrast to the Idyll of Beaucaire, but the social
value was the same in both; Robin and Marion were a pendant to
Aucassins and Nicolette; Robin was almost a burlesque on Aucassins,
while Marion was a Northern, energetic, intelligent, pastoral
"Li Gieus de Robin et de Marion" had little or no plot. Adam strung
together, on a thread of dialogue and by a group of suitable
figures, a number of the favourite songs of his time, followed by
the favourite games, and ending with a favourite dance, the
"tresca." The songs, the games, and the dances do not concern us,
but the dialogue runs along prettily, with an air of Flemish
realism, like a picture of Teniers, as unlike that of "courtoisie"
as Teniers was to Guido Reni. Underneath it all a tone of satire
made itself felt, good-natured enough, but directed wholly against
The scene opens on Marion tending her sheep, and singing the pretty
air: "Robin m'aime, Robin ma'a," after which enters a chevalier or
esquire, on horseback, and sings: "Je me repairoie du tournoiement."
Then follows a dialogue between the chevalier and Marion, with no
other object than to show off the charm of Marion against the
masculine defects of the knight. Being, like most squires, somewhat
slow of ideas in conversation with young women, the gentleman began
by asking for sport for his falcon. Has she seen any duck down by
Mais veis tu par chi devant
Vers ceste riviere nul ane?
"Ane," it seems, was the usual word for wild duck, the falcon's
prey, and Marion knew it as well as he, but she chose to
C'est une bete qui recane;
J'en vis ier iii sur che quemin,
Tous quarchies aler au moulin.
Est che chou que vous demandes?
"It is a beast that brays; I saw three yesterday on the road, all
with loads going to the mill. Is that what you ask?" That is not
what the squire has asked, and he is conscious that Marion knows it,
but he tries again. If she has not seen a duck, perhaps she has seen
Hairons, sire? par me foi, non!
Je n'en vi nesun puis quareme
Que j'en vi mengier chies dame Eme
Me taiien qui sorit ches brebis.
"Heron, sir! by my faith, no! I've not seen one since Lent when I
saw some eaten at my grandmother's--Dame Emma who owns these sheep."
"Hairons," it seems, meant also herring, and this wilful
misunderstanding struck the chevalier as carrying jest too far:--
Par foi! or suis j'ou esbaubis!
N'ainc mais je ne fui si gabes!
"On my word, I am silenced! never in my life was I so chaffed!"
Marion herself seems to think her joke a little too evident, for she
takes up the conversation in her turn, only to conclude that she
likes Robin better than she does the knight; he is gayer, and when
he plays his musette he starts the whole village dancing. At this,
the squire makes a declaration of love with such energy as to spur
his horse almost over her:--
Aimi, sirel ostez vo cheval!
A poi que il ne m'a blechie.
Li Robin ne regiete mie
Quand je voie apres se karue.
"Aimi!" is an exclamation of alarm, real or affected: "Dear me, sir!
take your horse away! he almost hurt me! Robin's horse never rears
when I go behind his plough!" Still the knight persists, and though
Marion still tells him to go away, she asks his name, which he says
is Aubert, and so gives her the catchword for another song:--"Vos
perdes vo paine, sire Aubert!"--which ends the scene with a duo. The
second scene begins with a duo of Marion and Robin, followed by her
giving a softened account of the chevalier's behaviour, and then
they lunch on bread and cheese and apples, and more songs follow,
till she sends him to get Baldwin and Walter and Peronette and the
pipers, for a dance. In his absence the chevalier returns and
becomes very pressing in his attentions, which gives her occasion to
J'oi Robin flagoler
Au flagol d'argent.
When Robin enters, the knight picks a quarrel with him for not
handling properly the falcon which he has caught in the hedge; and
Robin gets a severe beating. The scene ends by the horseman carrying
off Marion by force; but he soon gets tired of carrying her against
her will, and drops her, and disappears once for all.
Certes voirement sui je beste
Quant a ceste beste m'areste.
Bete the knight certainly was, and was meant to be, in order to give
the necessary colour to Marion's charms. Chevaliers were seldom
intellectually brilliant in the mediaeval romans, and even the
"Chansons de Geste" liked better to talk of their prowess than of
their wit; but Adam de la Halle, who felt no great love for
chevaliers, was not satisfied with ridiculing them in order to exalt
Marion; his second act was devoted to exalting Marion at the expense
of her own boors.
The first act was given up to song; the second, to games and dances.
The games prove not to be wholly a success; Marion is bored by them,
and wants to dance. The dialogue shows Marion trying constantly to
control her clowns and make them decent, as Blanche of Castile had
been all her life trying to control her princes, and Mary of
Chartres her kings. Robin is a rustic counterpart to Thibaut. He is
tamed by his love of Marion, but he has just enough intelligence to
think well of himself, and to get himself into trouble without
knowing how to get out of it. Marion loves him much as she would her
child; she makes only a little fun of him; defends him from the
others; laughs at his jealousy; scolds him on occasion; flatters his
dancing; sends him on errands, to bring the pipers or drive away the
wolf; and what is most to our purpose, uses him to make the other
peasants decent. Walter and Baldwin and Hugh are coarse, and their
idea of wit is to shock the women or make Robin jealous. Love makes
gentlemen even of boors, whether noble or villain, is the constant
moral of mediaeval story, and love turns Robin into a champion of
decency. When, at last, Walter, playing the jongleur, begins to
repeat a particularly coarse fabliau, or story in verse, Robin stops
Ho, Gautier, je n'en voeil plus! fi!
Dites, seres vous tous jours teus!
Vous estes un ors menestreus!
"Ho, Walter! I want no more of that: Shame! Say! are you going to be
always like that? You're a dirty beggar!" A fight seems inevitable,
but Marion turns it into a dance, and the whole party, led by the
pipers, with Robin and Marion at the head of the band, leave the
stage in the dance which is said to be still known in Italy as the
"tresca." Marion is in her way as charming as Nicolette, but we are
less interested in her charm than in her power. Always the woman
appears as the practical guide; the one who keeps her head, even in
Elle l'a mis a raison:
"Aucassins, biax amis dox,
En quele tere en irons nous?"
"Douce amie, que sai jou?
Moi ne caut ou nous aillons."
The man never cared; he was always getting himself into crusades, or
feuds, or love, or debt, and depended on the woman to get him out.
The story was always of Charles VII and Jeanne d'Arc, or Agnes
Sorel. The woman might be the good or the evil spirit, but she was
always the stronger force. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were
a period when men were at their strongest; never before or since
have they shown equal energy in such varied directions, or such
intelligence in the direction of their energy; yet these marvels of
history,--these Plantagenets; these scholastic philosophers; these
architects of Rheims and Amiens; these Innocents, and Robin Hoods
and Marco Polos; these crusaders, who planted their enormous
fortresses all over the Levant; these monks who made the wastes and
barrens yield harvests;--all, without apparent exception, bowed down
before the woman.
Explain it who will! We are not particularly interested in the
explanation; it is the art we have chased through this French
forest, like Aucassins hunting for Nicolette; and the art leads
always to the woman. Poetry, like the architecture and the
decoration, harks back to the same standard of taste. The specimens
of Christian of Troyes, Thibaut, Tristan, Aucassins, and Adam de la
Halle were mild admissions of feminine superiority compared with
some that were more in vogue, If Thibaut painted his love-verses on
the walls of his castle, he put there only what a more famous poet,
who may have been his friend, set on the walls of his Chateau of
Courteous Love, which, not being made with hands or with stone, but
merely with verse, has not wholly perished. The "Roman de la Rose"
is the end of true mediaeval poetry and goes with the Sainte-
Chapelle in architecture, and three hundred years of more or less
graceful imitation or variation on the same themes which followed.
Our age calls it false taste, and no doubt our age is right;--every
age is right by its own standards as long as its standards amuse
it;--but after all, the "Roman de la Rose" charmed Chaucer,--it may
well charm you. The charm may not be that of Mont-Saint-Michel or of
Roland; it has not the grand manner of the eleventh century, or the
jewelled brilliancy of the Chartres lancets, or the splendid self-
assertion of the roses: but even to this day it gives out a faint
odour of Champagne and Touraine, of Provence and Cyprus. One hears
Thibaut and sees Queen Blanche.
Of course, this odour of true sanctity belongs only to the "Roman"
of William of Lorris, which dates from the death of Queen Blanche
and of all good things, about 1250; a short allegory of courteous
love in forty-six hundred and seventy lines. To modern taste, an
allegory of forty-six hundred and seventy lines seems to be not so
short as it might be; but the fourteenth century found five thousand
verses totally inadequate to the subject, and, about 1300, Jean de
Meung added eighteen thousand lines, the favourite reading of
society for one or two hundred years, but beyond our horizon. The
"Roman" of William of Lorris was complete in itself; it had shape;
beginning, middle, and end; even a certain realism, action,--almost
The Rose is any feminine ideal of beauty, intelligence, purity, or
grace,--always culminating in the Virgin,--but the scene is the
Court of Love, and the action is avowedly in a dream, without time
or place. The poet's tone is very pure; a little subdued; at times
sad; and the poem ends sadly; but all the figures that were
positively hideous were shut out of the court, and painted on the
outside walls:--Hatred; Felony; Covetousness; Envy; Poverty;
Melancholy, and Old Age. Death did not appear. The passion for
representing death in its horrors did not belong to the sunny
atmosphere of the thirteenth century, and indeed jarred on French
taste always, though the Church came to insist on it; but Old Age
gave the poet a motive more artistic, foreshadowing Death, and quite
sad enough to supply the necessary contrast. The poet who approached
the walls of the chateau and saw, outside, all the unpleasant facts
of life conspicuously posted up, as though to shut them out of
doors, hastened to ask for entrance, and, when once admitted, found
a court of ideals. Their names matter little. In the mind of William
of Lorris, every one would people his ideal world with whatever
ideal figures pleased him, and the only personal value of William's
figures is that they represent what he thought the thirteenth-
century ideals of a perfect society. Here is Courtesy, with a
translation long thought to be by Chaucer:-
Apres se tenoit Cortoisie
Qui moult estoit de tous prisie.
Si n'ere orgueilleuse ne fole.
C'est cele qui a la karole,
La soe merci, m'apela,
Ains que nule, quand je vins la.
Et ne fut ne nice n'umbrage,
Mais sages auques, sans outrage,
De biaus respons et de biaus dis,
Onc nus ne fu par li laidis,
Ne ne porta nului rancune,
Et fu clere comme la lune
Est avers les autres estoiles
Qui ne resemblent que chandoiles.
Faitisse estoit et avenant;
Je ne sai fame plus plaisant.
Ele ert en toutes cors bien digne
D'estre empereris ou roine.
And next that daunced Courtesye,
That preised was of lowe and hye,
For neither proude ne foole was she;
She for to daunce called me,
I pray God yeve hir right good grace,
When I come first into the place.
She was not nyce ne outrageous,
But wys and ware and vertuous;
Of faire speche and of faire answere;
Was never wight mysseid of her,
Ne she bar rancour to no wight.
Clere browne she was, and thereto bright
Of face, of body avenaunt.
I wot no lady so pleasaunt.
She were worthy forto bene
An empresse or crowned quene.
You can read for yourselves the characters, and can follow the
simple action which owes its slight interest only to the constant
effort of the dreamer to attain his ideal,--the Rose,--and owes its
charm chiefly to the constant disappointment and final defeat. An
undertone of sadness runs through it, felt already in the picture of
Time which foreshadows the end of Love--the Rose--and her court, and
with it the end of hope:--
Li tens qui s'en va nuit et jor,
Sans repos prendre et sans sejor,
Et qui de nous se part et emble
Si celeement qu'il nous semble
Qu'il s'arreste ades en un point,
Et il ne s'i arreste point,
Ains ne fine de trespasser,
Que nus ne puet neis penser
Quex tens ce est qui est presens;
S'el demandes as clers lisans,
Aincois que l'en l'eust pense
Seroit il ja trois tens passe;
Li tens qui ne puet sejourner,
Ains vait tous jors sans retorner,
Com l'iaue qui s'avale toute,
N'il n'en retourne arriere goute;
Li tens vers qui noient ne dure,
Ne fer ne chose tant soit dure,
Car il gaste tout et menjue;
Li tens qui tote chose mue,
Qui tout fait croistre et tout norist,
Et qui tout use et tout porrist.
The tyme that passeth nyght and daye.
And restelesse travayleth aye,
And steleth from us so prively,
That to us semeth so sykerly
That it in one poynt dwelleth never,
But gothe so fast, and passeth aye
That there nys man that thynke may
What tyme that now present is;
Asketh at these clerkes this,
For or men thynke it readily
Thre tymes ben ypassed by.
The tyme that may not sojourne
But goth, and may never returne,
As water that down renneth ay,
But never drope retourne may.
There may no thing as time endure,
Metall nor earthly creature:
For alle thing it frette and shall.
The tyme eke that chaungith all,
And all doth waxe and fostered be,
And alle thing distroieth he.
The note of sadness has begun, which the poets were to find so much
more to their taste than the note of gladness. From the "Roman de la
Rose" to the "Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis" was a short step for
the Middle-Age giant Time,--a poor two hundred years. Then Villon
woke up to ask what had become of the Roses:--Ou est la tres sage
Pour qui fut chastie puis moyne,
Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?
Pour son amour ot cest essoyne.
Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine
Qu' Englois brulerent a Rouan;
Ou sont elles, Vierge Souvraine?
Mais ou sont les neiges dantan?
Where is the virtuous Heloise,
For whom suffered, then turned monk,
Pierre Abelard at Saint-Denis?
For his love he bore that pain.
And Jeanne d'Arc, the good Lorraine,
Whom the English burned at Rouen!
Where are they, Virgin Queen?
But where are the snows of spring?
Between the death of William of Lorris and the advent of John of
Meung, a short half-century (1250-1300), the Woman and the Rose
became bankrupt. Satire took the place of worship. Man, with his
usual monkey-like malice, took pleasure in pulling down what he had
built up. The Frenchman had made what he called "fausse route."
William of Lorris was first to see it, and say it, with more sadness
and less bitterness than Villon showed; he won immortality by
telling how he, and the thirteenth century in him, had lost himself
in pursuing his Rose, and how he had lost the Rose, too, waking up
at last to the dull memory of pain and sorrow and death, that "tout
porrist." The world had still a long march to make from the Rose of
Queen Blanche to the guillotine of Madame du Barry; but the "Roman
de la Rose" made epoch. For the first time since Constantine
proclaimed the reign of Christ, a thousand years, or so, before
Philip the Fair dethroned Him, the deepest expression of social
feeling ended with the word: Despair.
LES MIRACLES DE NOTRE DAME
Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
Umile ed alta piu che creatura,
Termine fisso d'eterno consiglio,
Tu sei colei che l'umana natura
Nobilitasti si, che il suo fattore
Non disdegno di farsi sua fattura....
La tua benignita non pur soccorre
A chi dimanda, ma molte fiate
Liberamente al dimandar precorre.
In te misericordia, in te pietate,
In te magnificenza, in te s'aduna
Quantunque in creatura e di bontate.
Vergine bella, che di sol vestita,
Coronata di stelle, al sommo sole
Piacesti si che'n te sua luce ascose;
Amor mi spinge a dir di te parole;
Ma non so 'ncominciar senza tu aita,
E di colui ch'amando in te si pose.
Invoco lei che ben sempre rispose
Chi la chiamo con fede.
Vergine, s'a mercede
Miseria estrema dell' umane cose
Giammai ti volse, al mio prego t'inchina!
Soccorri alia mia guerra,
Bench'i sia terra, e tu del del regina!
Dante composed one of these prayers; Petrarch the other. Chaucer
translated Dante's prayer in the "Second Nonnes Tale." He who will
may undertake to translate either;--not I! The Virgin, in whom is
united whatever goodness is in created being, might possibly, in her
infinite grace, forgive the sacrilege; but her power has limits, if
not her grace; and the whole Trinity, with the Virgin to aid, had
not the power to pardon him who should translate Dante and Petrarch.
The prayers come in here, not merely for their beauty,--although the
Virgin knows how beautiful they are, whether man knows it or not;
but chiefly to show the good faith, the depth of feeling, the
intensity of conviction, with which society adored its ideal of
The Virgin filled so enormous a space in the life and thought of the
time that one stands now helpless before the mass of testimony to
her direct action and constant presence in every moment and form of
the illusion which men thought they thought their existence. The
twelfth and thirteenth centuries believed in the supernatural, and
might almost be said to have contracted a miracle-habit, as morbid
as any other form of artificial stimulant; they stood, like
children, in an attitude of gaping wonder before the miracle of
miracles which they felt in their own consciousness; but one can see
in this emotion, which is, after all, not exclusively infantile, no
special reason why they should have so passionately flung themselves
at the feet of the Woman rather than of the Man. Dante wrote in
1300, after the height of this emotion had passed; and Petrarch
wrote half a century later still; but so slowly did the vision fade,
and so often did it revive, that, to this day, it remains the
strongest symbol with which the Church can conjure.
Men were, after all, not wholly inconsequent; their attachment to
Mary rested on an instinct of self-preservation. They knew their own
peril. If there was to be a future life, Mary was their only hope.
She alone represented Love. The Trinity were, or was, One, and
could, by the nature of its essence, administer justice alone. Only
childlike illusion could expect a personal favour from Christ. Turn
the dogma as one would, to this it must logically come. Call the
three Godheads by what names one liked, still they must remain One;
must administer one justice; must admit only one law. In that law,
no human weakness or error could exist; by its essence it was
infinite, eternal, immutable. There was no crack and no cranny in
the system, through which human frailty could hope for escape. One
was forced from corner to corner by a remorseless logic until one
fell helpless at Mary's feet.
Without Mary, man had no hope except in atheism, and for atheism the
world was not ready. Hemmed back on that side, men rushed like sheep
to escape the butcher, and were driven to Mary; only too happy in
finding protection and hope in a being who could understand the
language they talked, and the excuses they had to offer. How
passionately they worshipped Mary, the Cathedral of Chartres shows;
and how this worship elevated the whole sex, all the literature and
history of the time proclaim. If you need more proof, you can read
more Petrarch; but still one cannot realize how actual Mary was, to
the men and women of the Middle Ages, and how she was present, as a
matter of course, whether by way of miracle or as a habit of life,
throughout their daily existence. The surest measure of her reality
is the enormous money value they put on her assistance, and the art
that was lavished on her gratification, but an almost equally
certain sign is the casual allusion, the chance reference to her,
which assumes her presence.
The earliest prose writer in the French language, who gave a picture
of actual French life, was Joinville; and although he wrote after
the death of Saint Louis and of William of Lorris and Adam de la
Halle, in the full decadence of Philip the Fair, toward 1300, he had
been a vassal of Thibaut and an intimate friend of Louis, and his
memories went back to the France of Blanche's regency. Born in 1224,
he must have seen in his youth the struggles of Thibaut against the
enemies of Blanche, and in fact his memoirs contain Blanche's
emphatic letter forbidding Thibaut to marry Yolande of Brittany. He
knew Pierre de Dreux well, and when they were captured by the
Saracens at Damietta, and thrown into the hold of a galley, "I had
my feet right on the face of the Count Pierre de Bretagne, whose
feet, in turn, were by my face." Joinville is almost twelfth-century
in feeling. He was neither feminine nor sceptical, but simple. He
showed no concern for poetry, but he put up a glass window to the
Virgin. His religion belonged to the "Chanson de Roland." When Saint
Louis, who had a pleasant sense of humour put to him his favourite
religious conundrums, Joinville affected not the least hypocrisy.
"Would you rather be a leper or commit a mortal sin?" asked the
King. "I would rather commit thirty mortal sins than be a leper,"
answered Joinville. "Do you wash the feet of the poor on Holy
Thursday?" asked the King. "God forbid!" replied Joinville; "never
will I wash the feet of such creatures!" Saint Louis mildly
corrected his, or rather Thibaut's, seneschal, for these impieties,
but he was no doubt used to them, for the soldier was never a
churchman. If one asks Joinville what he thinks of the Virgin, he
answers with the same frankness:--
Ung jour moi estant devant le roi lui demanday congie d'aller en
pelerinage a nostre Dame de Tourtouze [Tortosa in Syria] qui estoit
ung veage tres fort requis. Et y avoit grant quantite de pelerins
par chacun jour pour ce que c'est le premier autel qui onques fust
fait en l'onneur de la Mere de Dieu ainsi qu'on disoit lors. Et y
faisoit nostre Dame de grans miracles a merveilles. Entre lesquelz
elle en fist ung d'un pouvre homme qui estoit hors de son sens et
demoniacle. Car il avoit le maling esperit dedans le corps. Et
advint par ung jour qu'il fut amene a icelui autel de nostre Dame de
Tourtouze. Et ainsi que ses amys qui l'avoient la amene prioient a
nostre Dame qu'elle lui voulsist recouvrer sante et guerison le
diable que la pouvre creature avoit ou corps respondit: "Nostre Dame
n'est pas ici; elle est en Egipte pour aider au Roi de France et aux
Chrestiens qui aujourdhui arrivent en la Terre sainte centre toute
paiennie qui sont a cheval." Et fut mis en escript le jour que le
deable profera ces motz et fut apporte au legat qui estoit avecques
le roi de France; lequel me dist depuis que a celui jour nous estion
arrivez en la terre d'Egipte. Et suis bien certain que la bonne Dame
Marie nous y eut bien besoin.
This happened in Syria, after the total failure of the crusade in
Egypt. The ordinary man, even if he were a priest or a soldier,
needed a miraculous faith to persuade him that Our Lady or any other
divine power, had helped the crusades of Saint Louis. Few of the
usual fictions on which society rested had ever required such
defiance of facts; but, at least for a time, society held firm. The
thirteenth century could not afford to admit a doubt. Society had
staked its existence, in this world and the next, on the reality and
power of the Virgin; it had invested in her care nearly its whole
capital, spiritual, artistic, intellectual, and economical, even to
the bulk of its real and personal estate; and her overthrow would
have been the most appalling disaster the Western world had ever
known. Without her, the Trinity itself could not stand; the Church
must fall; the future world must dissolve. Not even the collapse of
the Roman Empire compared with a calamity so serious; for that had
created, not destroyed, a faith.
If sceptics there were, they kept silence. Men disputed and doubted
about the Trinity, but about the Virgin the satirists Rutebeuf and
Adam de la Halle wrote in the same spirit as Saint Bernard and
Abelard, Adam de Saint-Victor and the pious monk Gaultier de Coincy.
In the midst of violent disputes on other points of doctrine, the
disputants united in devotion to Mary; and it was the single
redeeming quality about them. The monarchs believed almost more
implicitly than their subjects, and maintained the belief to the
last. Doubtless the death of Queen Blanche marked the flood-tide at
its height; but an authority so established as that of the Virgin,
founded on instincts so deep, logic so rigorous, and, above all, on
wealth so vast, declined slowly. Saint Louis died in 1270. Two
hundred long and dismal years followed, in the midst of wars,
decline of faith, dissolution of the old ties and interests, until,
toward 1470, Louis XI succeeded in restoring some semblance of
solidity to the State; and Louis XI divided his time and his money
impartially between the Virgin of Chartres and the Virgin of Paris.
In that respect, one can see no difference between him and Saint
Louis, nor much between Philippe de Commines and Joinville. After
Louis XI, another fantastic century passed, filled with the foulest
horrors of history--religious wars; assassinations; Saint
Bartholomews; sieges of Chartres; Huguenot leagues and sweeping
destruction of religious monuments; Catholic leagues and fanatical
reprisals on friends and foes,--the actual dissolution of society in
a mass of horrors compared with which even the Albigensian crusade
was a local accident, all ending in the reign of the last Valois,
Henry III, the weirdest, most fascinating, most repulsive, most
pathetic and most pitiable of the whole picturesque series of French
kings. If you look into the Journal of Pierre de l'Estoile, under
date of January 26,1582, you can read the entry:--
The King and the Queen [Louise de Lorraine], separately, and each
accompanied by a good troop [of companions] went on foot from Paris
to Chartres on a pilgrimage [voyage] to Notre-Dame-de-dessous-Terre
[Our Lady of the Crypt], where a neuvaine was celebrated at the last
mass at which the King and Queen assisted, and offered a silver-gilt
statue of Notre Dame which weighed a hundred marks [eight hundred
ounces], with the object of having lineage which might succeed to
In the dead of winter, in robes of penitents, over the roughest
roads, on foot, the King and Queen, then seven years married, walked
fifty miles to Chartres to supplicate the Virgin for children, and
back again; and this they did year after year until Jacques Clement
put an end to it with his dagger, in 1589, although the Virgin never
chose to perform that miracle; but, instead, allowed the House of
Valois to die out and sat on her throne in patience while the House
of Bourbon was anointed in their place. The only French King ever
crowned in the presence of Our Lady of Chartres was Henry IV--a
The year 1589, which was so decisive for Henry IV in France, marked
in England the rise of Shakespeare as a sort of stage-monarch. While
in France the Virgin still held such power that kings and queens
asked her for favours, almost as instinctively as they had done five
hundred years before, in England Shakespeare set all human nature
and all human history on the stage, with hardly an allusion to the
Virgin's name, unless as an oath. The exceptions are worth noting as
a matter of curious Shakespearean criticism, for they are but two,
and both are lines in the "First Part of Henry VI," spoken by the
Maid of Orleans:--
Christ's mother helps me, else I were too weak!
Whether the "First Part of Henry VI" was written by Shakespeare at
all has been a doubt much discussed, and too deep for tourists; but