Part 2 out of 3
Thy silence says 'tis not for me!
"With Pity's softer-flowing strain,
Awake thy sleeping wires again!
For she must somewhere wander near,
In following danger, death, and fear!
From her regard no shade conceals;
Her ear e'en sorrow's whisper steals:
She leads us on all griefs to find;
To raise the fall'n, their wounds to bind--
Oh! not in that reproachful tone,
Advise me first to heal my own!
"Alas! I cannot blame the lyre!
What strain, what theme can she inspire,
Whose tongue a hopeless mandate brings!
Whose tears are frozen on the strings!
And whose recoiling, languid prayer,
Denies itself, in mere despair?
So tamely, faintly, forth it springs;
Just felt upon the pliant strings,
It flits in sickly languor by,
Nerv'd only with a feeble sigh!
"I yield submissive, and again
Resume my half-abandon'd strain!
Leading enchain'd sad thoughts along,
Remembrance prompting all the song!
But, in the journey, drawing near
To what I mourn, and what I fear,
The sad realities impress
Too deeply; hues of happiness,
And gleams of splendors past, decay;
The storm despoiling such a day,
Gives to the eye no clear, full scope,
But scatters wide the wrecks of Hope!
Yet the dire task I may not quit--
'Twas self impos'd; and I submit,
To paint, ah me! the heavy close,
The full completion of my woes!
And, as a man that once was free,
Whose fate impels him o'er the sea,
Now spreads the sail, now plies the oar,
Yet looks and leans towards the shore,
I feel I may not longer stay,
Yet even in launching court delay.
"Before De Stafford should unfold
That secret which must soon be told;
My terrors urg'd him to comply;
For oh! I dar'd not then be nigh;
And let the wide, tumultuous sea,
Arise between the king and me!
'O! tell him, my belov'd, I pine away,
So long an exile from my native home;
Tell him I feel my vital powers decay,
And seem to tread the confines of the tomb;
But tell him not, it is extremest dread
Of royal vengeance falling on my head!
"'Say, if that favour'd land but bless my eyes,
That land of sun and smiles which gave me birth,
Like the renew'd Antaeus I shall rise,
On touching once again the parent earth!
Say this, but whisper not that all delight,
All health, is only absence from his sight!'
"My Eustace smil'd--' It shall be so;
From me and love shall Marie go!
But on the land, and o'er the sea,
Attended still by love and me!
The eagle's eye, to brave the light,
The swallow's quick, adventurous flight,
That faithfulness shall place in view,
That service, daring, prompt, and true,
Yet insufficient emblems be
Of zeal for her who flies from me!
"'Deserter? hope not thus to scape!
Thy guardian still, in every shape,
Shall covertly those steps pursue,
And keep thy welfare still in view!
More fondly hovering than the dove
Shall be my ever watchful love!
Than the harp's tones more highly wrought,
Shall linger each tenacious thought!
Apt, active shall my spirit be
In care for her who flies from me!'
"And, it had been indeed a crime
To leave him, had I known the time,
The fearful length of such delay,
Protracting but from day to day,
Which reach'd at length two tedious years
Of dark surmises and of fears!
"How often, on a rocky steep,
Would I upon his summons keep
An anxious watch: there patient stay
Till light's thin lines have died away
In the smooth circle of the main,
And render'd all expectance vain.
"At the blue, earliest glimpse of morn,
Pleas'd with the lapse of time, return;
For now, perchance, I might not fail,
To see the long expected sail!
Then, as it blankly wore away,
Courted the fleeting eye to stay!
As they regardless mov'd along,
Wooed the slow moments in a song.
The time approaches! but the Hours
With languid steps advance,
And loiter o'er the summer flowers,
Or in the sun-beams dance!
Oh! haste along! for, lingering, ye
Detain my Eustace on the sea!
"Hope, all on tiptoe, does not fail
To catch a cheering ray!
And Fancy lifts her airy veil,
In wild and frolic play!
Kind are they both, but cruel ye,
Detaining Eustace on the sea!
"Sometimes within my cot I staid,
And with my precious infant play'd.
'Those eyes,' I cried, 'whose gaze endears,
And makes thy mother's flow in tears!
Those tender lips, whose dimpled stray
Can even chase suspense away!
Those artless movements, full of charms,
Those graceful, rounded, rosy arms,
Shall soon another neck entwine,
And waken transports fond as mine!
That magic laugh bespeaks thee prest
As surely to another breast!
That name a father's voice shall melt,
Those looks within his heart be felt!
Drinking thy smiles, thy carols, he
Shall weep, for very love, like me!
"Those who in children see their heirs,
Have numberless, diverging cares!
Less pure for them affection glows,--
Less of intrinsic joy bestows,
Less mellowing, less enlivening, flows!
Oh! such not even could divine
A moment's tenderness like mine!
Had he been destin'd to a throne,
His little darling self alone,
Bereft of station, grandeur, aught
But life and virtue, love and thought,
Could wake one anxious thrill, or share
One hallow'd pause's silent prayer!
"Ye scenes, that flit my memory o'er,
Deck'd in the smiles which then ye wore,
In the same gay and varied dress,
I cannot but admire and bless!
What though some anxious throbs would beat,
Some fears within my breast retreat,
Yet then I found sincere delight,
Whenever beauty met my sight,
Whether of nature, chance, or art;
Each sight, each sound, impress'd my heart,
Gladness undrooping to revive,
All warm, and grateful, and alive!
But ere my spirit sinks, so strong
Remembrance weighs upon the song,
Pass we to other themes along!
"Say, is there any present here,
Whom I can have a cause to fear?--
Whom it were wrongful to perplex,
Or faulty policy to vex?
In what affrights the quiet mind
My bitter thoughts employment find!
In what torments a common grief
Do I alone expect relief!
Our aching sorrows to disclose,
Our discontents, our wrongs repeat,
To hurl defiance at our foes,
And let the soul respire, is sweet!
All that my conscience wills I speak
At once, and then my heart may break!
"Too sure King Henry's presage rose;--
De Brehan link'd him with our foes:
Yes! ours! the Brehans us'd to be
Patterns of faith and loyalty:
And many a knightly badge they wore,
And many a trace their 'scutcheons bore,
Of noble deeds in days of yore,--
Of royal bounty, and such trust
As suits the generous and the just.
"From every record it appears,
That Normandy three hundred years
Has seen in swift succession run
With English kings, from sire to son:
But which of all those records saith,
That we may change and barter faith:
That if our favour is not sure,
Or our inheritance secure;
If envy of a rival's fame,
Or hatred at a foeman's name,
Or other reason unconfest,
Now feigning sleep in every breast;
Upon our minds, our interest weigh,
While any fiercer passion sway;
We may invite a foreign yoke,
All truth disown'd, allegiance broke?
Plot, and lay guileful snares to bring,
At cost of blood, a stranger king?
And of what blood, if it succeed,
Do ye atchieve the glorious deed?
Not of the base! when ye surprize
A lurking mischief in the eyes,
Dark hatred, cunning prompt to rise,
And leap and catch at any prey,
Such are your choice! your comrades they!
But if a character should stand
Not merely built by human hand;
Common observances; the ill
Surrounding all; a wayward will;
Envy; resentment; falsehood's ease
To win its way, evade, and please:
If, turning from this worldly lore,
As soul-debasing, servile, poor,
The growing mind becomes, at length,
Healthy and firm in moral strength;
Allows no parley and no plea,
The sources of its actions free,
They spring strait forward, to a goal
Which bounds, surmounts, and crowns the whole!
Ye seek not to allay such force,
To interrupt so bold a course!
What were the use of minds like these,
That will not on occasion seize,
Nor stoop to aid the dark design,
Nor follow in the devious line?
As soon, in the close twisted brake,
Could lions track the smooth, still snake,
As they the sinuous path pursue
Which policy may point to you!
Nay, menace not with eyes, my lords!
Ye could not fright me with your swords.
"E'en threats to punish, and to kill
With tortures difficult to bear,
Seem as they would not higher fill
The measure of my own despair!
"Such terrors could not veil the hand
Now pointing to my husband's bier;
Nor could such pangs a groan command
The childless mother should not hear!
"All now is chang'd! all contest o'er,
Here sea-girt England reigns no more;
And if your oaths are bound as fast,
And kept more strictly than the last,
Ye may, perchance, behold the time
Service to her becomes a crime!
"The troubles calling Eustace o'er,
Refresh'd my eyes, my heart, once more;
And when I gave, with pleasure wild,
Into his circling arms our child,
I seem'd to hold, all evil past,
My happiness secure at last;
But found, too soon, in every look,
In every pondering word he spoke,
Receding thought, mysterious aim:
As I did all his pity claim.
A watchfulness almost to fear
Did in each cautious glance appear.
And still I sought to fix his eye,
"And read the fate impending there,--
In vain; for it refus'd reply.
"'Canst thou not for a moment bear
Even thy Marie's look,' I cried,
'More dear than all the world beside?'
He answer'd,' Do not thou upbraid!
And blame me not, if thus afraid
A needful, dear request to make.
One painful only for thy sake,
I hesitate, and dread to speak,
Seeing that flush upon thy cheek,
That shrinking, apprehensive air.--
Oh! born with me some ills to share,
But many years of future bliss,
Of real, tranquil happiness;
I may not think that thou wouldst choose
This prospect pettishly to lose
For self-indulgence! Understood,
Love is the seeking others' good.
If we can ne'er resign delight,
Nor lose its object from our sight;
And only present dangers brave,
That which we dearest hold to save;--
If, when remov'd beyond our eye,
All faith in heaven's protection die,
Can all our tenderness atone
For ills which spring from that alone?'
My fancy rush'd the pause between--
'What can this fearful prelude mean?
Art thou but seeking some pretence,
So lately met! to send me hence?
Believ'st thou terrors will not shake,
Nor doubts distract, nor fears awake,
In absence? when no power, no charm,
Can grant a respite from alarm!
Unreal evils manifold,
Often and differently told,
Scaring repose, each instant rise,
False, but the cause of tears and sighs.
How often I should see thee bleed!
New terrors would the past succeed,
With not a smile to intervene
Of fair security between!'
"'No, Marie, no! my wife shall share
With me the trials soldiers bear:
No longer and no more we part.---
Thy presence needful to my heart
I now more evidently know;
Making the careful moments flow
To happy music! on my brow
The iron casque shall lighter prove,--
The corslet softer on my breast,
The shield upon my arm shall rest
More easy, when the hand of love
There places them. Our succours soon
Arrive; and then, whatever boon
I shall think fitting to demand,
My gracious monarch's bounteous hand
Awards as guerdon for my charge,
And bids my wishes roam at large.
Then if we from these rebels tear
The traitor honours which they wear,
Thy father's tides and domain
Shall flourish in his line again!
And Marie's child, in time to come,
Shall call his grandsire's castle, home!
Alas! poor babe! the scenes of war
For him too harsh and frightful are!
Would that he might in safety rest
Upon my gentle mother's breast!
That in the vessel now at bay,
In Hugh de Lacy's care he lay!
My heart and reason would be free,
If he were safe beyond the sea.
"'Nay, let me not my love displease!
But is it fit, that walls like these
The blooming cherub should inclose!
And when our close approaching foes
Are skirmishing the country o'er,
We must adventure forth no more.'
"At length I gave a half consent,
Resign'd, submissive, not content:
For, only in intensest prayer,
For, only kneeling did I dare,
Sustaining thus my sinking heart,
Suffer my infant to depart.
Oh! yet I see his sparkling tears;
His parting cries are in my ears,
As, strongly bending back the head,
The little hands imploring spread,
Him from my blinding sight they bore,
Down from the fort along the shore.
"From the watch-tower I saw them sail,
And pour'd forth prayers--of no avail!
Yet, when a tempest howl'd around,
Hurling huge branches on the ground
From stately trees; when torrents swept
The fields of air, I tranquil kept.--
"Hope near a fading blossom
Will often take her stand;
Revive it on her bosom,
Or screen it with her wand:
But to the leaves no sunbeams press,
Her fair, thick locks pervading;
Through that bright wand no dew-drops bless,
Still cherish'd, and still fading:--
Beneath her eye's bright beam it pines,
Fed by her angel smile, declines.
"Eustace, meanwhile, with feverish care,
Seem'd worse the dire suspense to bear.
Bewilder'd, starting at the name
Of messenger, when any came,
With body shrinking back, he sought,
While his eye seem'd on fire with thought,
Defying, yet subdued by fear,
To ask that truth he dar'd not hear.
"He went his rounds.--The duty done,
His mind still tending toward his son;
With spirit and with heart deprest,
A judgment unsustain'd by rest;--
Fainting in effort, and at strife
With feelings woven into life;
And with the chains of being twin'd
By links so strong, though undefin'd,
They curb or enervate the brain,
Weigh down by languor, rack by pain,
And spread a thousand subtil ties
Across the tongue, and through the eyes;
Till the whole frame is fancy vext,
And all the powers of mind perplext.
"What wonder, then, it sunk and fail'd!
What wonder that your plans prevail'd!
In vain by stratagem you toil'd;--
His skill and prudence all had foil'd;
For one day's vigilance surpast
Seeming perfection in the last.
Each hour more active, more intent,
Unarm'd and unassail'd he went;
While every weapon glanc'd aside,
His armour every lance defied.
The blow that could that soul subdue
At length was struck--but not by you!
It fell upon a mortal part--
A poison'd arrow smote his heart;
The winds impelling, when they bore
Wrecks of the vessel to our shore!
"Oh! ever dear! and ever kind!
What madness could possess thy mind,
From me, in our distress, to fly?
True, much delight had left my eye;
And, in the circle of my bliss,
One holy, rapturous joy to miss
Was mine!--Yet I had more than this,
Before my wounds were clos'd, to bear!
See thee, an image of despair,
Just rush upon my woe, then shun
Her who alike deplor'd a son;
And, ere alarm had taken breath,
Be told, my husband, of thy death!
And feel upon this blighted sphere
No tie remain to bind me here!
Still in my life's young summer see
A far and weary path to thee!
Along whose wild and desert way
No sportive tribes of fancy play;
No smiles that to the lips arise,
No joys to sparkle in the eyes;--
No thrills of tenderness to feel,
No spring of hope, no touch of zeal.
All sources of heart-feeling stopt,
All impulse, all sustainment dropt.
With aching memory, sinking mind,
Through this drear wilderness to find
The path to death;--and pining, roam
Myriads of steps to reach the tomb!
Of which to catch a distant view,
The softest line, the faintest hue,
As symbol when I should be free,
Were happiness too great for me!"
Here clos'd at once, abrupt, the lay!
The Minstrel's fingers ceas'd to play!
And, all her soul to anguish given,
Doubted the pitying care of Heaven.
But evil, in its worst extreme,
In its most dire, impending hour,
Shall vanish, like a hideous dream,
And leave no traces of its power!
The vessel plunging on a rock,
Wreck threatening in its fellest shape,
No moment's respite from the shock,
No human means or power to 'scape,
Some higher-swelling surge shall free,
And lift and launch into the sea!
So, Marie, yet shall aid divine
Restore that failing heart of thine!
Though to its centre wounded, griev'd,
Though deeply, utterly bereav'd.
There genial warmth shall yet reside,
There swiftly flow the healthful tide;
And every languid, closing vein,
Drink healing and delight again!
At present all around her fades,
Her listless ear no sound pervades.
Her senses, wearied and distraught,
Perceive not how the stream of thought,
Rising from her distressful song,
In hurrying tide has swept along,
With startling and resistless swell,
The panic-stricken Isabel!
Who--falling at her father's feet,
Like the most lowly suppliant, kneels;
And, with imploring voice, unmeet
For one so fondly lov'd, appeals.--
"Those looks have been to me a law,
And solely by indulgence bought,
With zeal intense, with deepest awe,
A self-devoted slave, I caught
My highest transport from thy smile;
And studied hourly to beguile
The lightest cloud of grief or care
I saw those gracious features wear!
If aught induced me to divine
A hope was opposite to thine,
My fancy paus'd, however gay;
My silent wishes sunk away!
Displeasure I have never seen,
But sickness has subdued thy mien;
When, lingering near, I still have tried
To cheer thee, and thou didst approve;
But something still each act belied,
My manner chill'd, restrain'd my love!
E'en at the time my spirit died
With aching tenderness, my eye,
Encountering thine, was cold and dry!
To maim intention, fondness,--came
The sudden impotence of shame.
Thy happiness was thriftless wealth,
For I could only hoard by stealth!
Affection's brightly-glowing ray
Shone with such strong, o'erpowering sway,
That service fainted by the way!
"But now an impulse, like despair,
Makes me these inner foldings tear!
With desperate effort bids me wrest
The yearning secret from my breast!
Far be the thought that any blame
Can fix on thy beloved name!
The hapless Minstrel may not feign;
But thou, I know, canst all explain--
Yet let me from this place depart,
To nurse my fainting, sicken'd heart!
Yet let me in a cloister dwell,
The veiled inmate of a cell;
To raise this cowering soul by prayer!--
Reproach can never enter there!
"Turn quickly hence that look severe!
And, oh! in mercy, not a tear!
The most profuse of parents, thou
Didst every wish fulfil--allow;
Till that which us'd to please--invite,
Had ceas'd to dazzle and delight;
And all thy gifts almost despis'd,
The love that gave alone I priz'd.
"My yielding spirit bows the knee;
My will profoundly bends to thee:
But paltry vanities resign'd,
Wealth, gauds, and honours left behind,
I only wanted, thought to quit
This strange, wild world, and make me fit
For one of better promise--given
To such as think not this their heaven!
Nay, almost in my breast arose
A hope I scarcely dare disclose;
A hope that life, from tumult free,--
A life so harmless and so pure,
A calm so shelter'd, so secure,
At length might have a charm for thee!
That supplications, patient, strong,
Might not remain unanswer'd long!
And all temptations from thee cast,
The altar prove thy home at last!"
The artless Isabel prevails--
That hard, unbending spirit fails!
Not many words her lips had past,
Ere round her his fond arms were cast;
But, while his vengeful conscience prais'd,
He chid; and, frowning, would have rais'd
Till her resistance and her tears,
The vehemence of youthful grief,
Her paleness, his paternal fears,
Compell'd him to afford relief;
And forc'd the agonizing cry--
That he could never her deny!
Of what ambition sought, beguil'd,
His crimes thus fruitless! and his child,
The beautiful, the rich and young--
Now, in his most triumphant hours!
The darling he had nurs'd in flowers!
His pride, the prais'd of every tongue!
So gentle as she was!--the rein
Of influence holding, to restrain
His harsher power, without pretence,
In graceful, gay beneficence--
An angel deem'd, her only care
To comfort and to please!
Whose smiling, whose unconscious air,
Bespoke a heart at ease--
By her--on whom sweet hopes were built,
His cup when fill'd thus rashly spilt!
The treasures he had heap'd in vain,
Thrown thankless on his hands again!
While--father to this being blest,
He saw a dagger pierce her breast,
In knowledge of his former guilt!
And of his projects thus bereft,
What had the wretched parent left?
Oh! from the wreck of all, he bore
A richer, nobler freight ashore!
And filial love could well dispense
On earth a dearer recompense,
If he its real worth had known,
Than full success had made his own.
So ardent and so kind of late,
Is Marie careless of their fate,
That, wrapt in this demeanour cold,
Her spirits some enchantments hold?
That thus her countenance is clos'd,
Where high and lovely thoughts repos'd!
Quench'd the pure light that us'd to fly
To the smooth cheek and lucid eye!
And fled the harmonizing cloud
Which could that light benignly shroud,
Soothing its radiance to our view,
And melting each opposing hue,
Till deepening tints and blendings meet
Made contrast' self serene and sweet.
Vainly do voices tidings bring,
That succours from the former king,
Too late for that intent,--are come
To take the dead and wounded home;
Waiting, impatient, in the bay,
Till they can safely bear away,--
Not men that temporize and yield,
But heroes stricken in the field;
True sons of England, who, unmov'd,
Could hear their fears, their interest plead;
Led by no lure they disapprov'd,
Stooping to no unsanction'd deed!
Spirits so finely tun'd, so high,
That grovelling influences die
Assailing them! The venal mind
Can neither fit inducement find
To lead their purpose or their fate--
To sway, to probe, or stimulate!
What knowledge can they gain of such
Whom worldly motives may not touch?
Those who, the instant they are known,
Each generous mind springs forth to own!
Joyful, as if in distant land,
Amid mistrust, and hate, and guile,
Insidious speech, and lurking wile,
They grasp'd a brother's cordial hand!
Hearts so embued with fire from heaven,
That all their failings are forgiven!
Nay, o'er, perchance, whose laurel wreath
When tears of pity shine,
We softer, fonder sighs bequeath;
More dear, though less divine.
Can kind and loyal bosoms bleed,
And Marie not bewail the deed?
Can England's valiant sons be slain,
In whose fair isle so long she dwelt--
To whom she sang, with whom she felt!
Can kindred Normans die in vain!
Or, banish'd from their native shore,
Enjoy their sire's domains no more!
Brothers, with whom her mind was nurs'd,
Who shar'd her young ideas first!--
And not her tears their doom arraign?
Alas! no stimulus avails!
Each former potent influence fails:
No longer e'en a sigh can part
From that oppress'd and wearied heart.
What broke, at length, the spell? There came
The sound of Hugh de Lacy's name!
It struck like lightning on her ear--
But did she truly, rightly hear?
For terror through her senses ran,
E'en as the song of hope began.--
His charge arriv'd on England's coast,
Consign'd where they had wish'd it most,
Had brave De Lacy join'd the train
Which sought the Norman shores again?--
_Then_ liv'd her darling and her pride!
What anguish was awaken'd there!
A joy close mating with despair--
He liv'd for whom her Eustace died!
Yes! yes! he lives! the sea could spare
That Island warrior's infant heir!
For whom, when thick-surrounding foes,
Nigh spent with toil, had sought repose,
Slow stealing forth, with wary feet,
From covert of secure retreat,--
A soldier leading on the way
To where his dear commander lay,--
Over the field, at dead midnight,
By a pale torch's flickering light,
Did _Friendship_ wander to behold,
Breathing, but senseless, pallid, cold,
With many a gash, and many a stain,
Him,--whom the morrow sought in vain!
_Love_ had not dar'd that form to find,
Ungifted with excelling grace!
Nor, thus without a glimpse of mind,
Acknowledg'd that familiar face!
Disfigur'd now with many a trace
Of recent agony!--Its power
Had not withstood this fatal hour!
_Friendship_ firm-nerv'd, resolv'd, mature,
With hand more steady, strong, and sore,
Can torpid Horror's veil remove,
Which palsies all the force of _Love!_
What is _Love's_ office, then? To tend
The hero rescued by a friend!
All unperceiv'd, with balmy wing
To wave away each restless thing
That wakes to breathe disturbance round!
To temper all in peace profound.
With whisper soft and lightsome touch,
To aid, assuage,--relieving much
Of trouble neither seen nor told--
Of pain, which it alone divines,
Which scarcely he who feels defines,
Which lynx-like eyes alone behold!
And heavy were De Stafford's sighs,
And oft impatient would they rise;
Though Friendship, Honour's self was there,
Until he found a nurse more fair!
A nicer tact, a finer skill,
To know and to perform his will--
Until he felt the healing look,
The tones that only Marie spoke!
How patient, then, awaiting ease,
And suffering pain, he cross'd the seas!
How patient, when they reach'd the shore,
A long, long tract he journey'd o'er!
Though days and months flow'd past, at length,
Ere he regain'd his former strength,
He yet had courage to sustain,
Without a murmur, every pain!
"At home once more--with friends so true--
My boy recover'd thus"--he cried,
"His mother smiling by my side--
Resigned each lesser ill I view!
As bubbles on the Ocean's breast,
When gloriously calm, will rise;
As shadows from o'er-clouded skies,
Or some few angry waves may dance
Nor ruffle that serene expanse;
So lightly o'er my comfort glides
Each adverse feeling--so subsides
Each discontent--and leaves me blest!"
_The Lay of Marie_.--Title.
The words _roman, fabliau_, and _lai_, are so often used indifferently
by the old French writers, that it is difficult to lay down any positive
rule for discriminating between them. But I believe the word _roman_
particularly applies to such works as were to be supposed strictly
historical: such are the romances of Arthur, Charlemagne, the Trojan
War, &c. The _fabliaux_ were generally, stories supposed to have been
invented for the purpose of illustrating some moral; or real anecdotes,
capable of being so applied. The _lai_, according to Le Grand, chiefly
differed from the _fabliau_, in being interspersed with musical
interludes; but I suspect they were generally translations from the
British. The word is said to be derived from _leudus_; but _laoi_ seems
to be the general name of a class of Irish metrical compositions, as
"Laoi na Seilge" and others, quoted by Mr. Walker (Hist. Mem. of Irish
Bards), and it may be doubted whether the word was not formerly common
to the Welsh and American dialects.--_Ellis's Specimens_.
The conclusion of Orfeo and Herodiis, in the Auchinlech MS, seems to
prove that the lay was set to music:
That lay Orfeo is yhote,
Gode is the lay, swete is the note.
In Sir Tristrem also, the Irish harper is expressly said to sing to the
harp a merry _lay_.
It is not to be supposed, what we now call metrical romances were always
read. On the contrary, several of them bear internal evidence that they
were occasionally chaunted to the harp. The Creseide of Chaucer, a long
performance, is written expressly to be read, or else sung. It is
evident that the minstrels could derive no advantage from these
compositions, unless by reciting or singing them; and later poems have
been said to be composed to their _tunes_.--_Notes to Sir Tristrem_.
_Baron De Brehan seem'd to stand_.--p. 6. l. 10.
Brehan--Maison reconnue pour une des plus anciennes. _Vraie race
d'ancienne Noblesse de Chevalerie_, qui dans les onxieme et douzieme
siecles, tenoit rang parmi les _anciens Barons_, avant la reduction
faite en 1451.
_Where does this idle Minstrel stay?_--p. 5. l. 13.
It appears that female minstrels were not uncommon, as one is mentioned
in the Romance of Richard Coeur de Lion, without any remark on the
strangeness of the circumstance.
A goose they dight to their dinner
In a tavern where they were.
King Richard the fire bet;
Thomas to the spit him set;
Fouk Doyley tempered the wood:
Dear abought they that good!
When they had drunken well, a fin,
A minstralle com theirin,
And said, "Gentlemen, wittily,
Will ye have any minstrelsy?"
Richard bade that she should go;
That turned him to mickle woe!
The minstralle _took in mind_,
And said, "Ye are men unkind;
And, if I may, ye shall _for-think_
Ye gave me neither meat ne drink.
For gentlemen should bede
To minstrels that abouten yede,
Of their meat, wine, and ale;
For _los_ rises of minstrale."
She was English, and well true,
By speech, and sight, and hide, and hue.
_Ellis's Specimens of early English Metrical Romances_.
 Was offended.
 Reputation, glory.
_On which the slightest touch alone would kill_.--p. 24. l. 6.
An unfortunate mistake in printing the word _trill_ instead of _kill_,
has made this appear ridiculous: it alludes to the old proverb--
You should neither tell friend nor foe
Where life-blood go.
Any wound in a place while this pulsation passed through being esteemed
_Abrupt his native accents broke_.--p. 50. l. 7.
The Anglo-Norman dynasty, with their martial nobility, down to the reign
of Edward III. continued to use, almost exclusively, the Romance or
ancient French language; while the Saxon, although spoken chiefly by the
vulgar, was gradually adopting, from the rival tongue, those
improvements and changes, which fitted it for the use of Chaucer and
Gower. In the introduction to the Metrical Romance of _Arthur and
Merlin_, written during the minority of Edward V. it appears that the
English language was then gaining ground. The author says, he has even
seen many gentlemen who could speak no French (though generally used by
persons of that rank), while persons of every quality understood
_The broider'd scarf might wave in vain_.--p. 57. l. 1.
To such as were victorious, prizes were awarded by the judges, and
presented by the hands of the ladies; who also honoured the combatants
with the wreath or chaplet, silken drapery, and other appropriate
ornaments; and by presenting them with ribbands, or scarfs, of chosen
colours, called liveries, spoken of in romance, appear to have been the
origin of the ribbands which still distinguish knighthood.
_Laden with presents and with praise_.--p. 57. l. 9.
In the ancient metrical romance of Sir Tristrem, an Irish earl arrives
at the court of Cornwall, in the disguise of a minstrel, and bearing a
harp of curious workmanship. He excites the curiosity of King Mark, by
refusing to play upon it till he shall grant him a boon. The king having
pledged his knighthood to satisfy his request, he sings to the harp a
lay, in which he demands the queen as his promised gift--
"Y prove the for fals man,
Or Y shall have thi quen."
He accordingly carries her off; but her lover Tristrem, who had been
absent at the time,
"chidde with the king,
Gifstow glewemen thy quen,
Hastow no other thing?"
The usual gifts to minstrels when they sung were often profuse; rich
clothes, &c. They were, by rank, classed with knights and heralds, and
permitted to wear silk robes, a dress limited to persons who could spend
a hundred pounds of land rent.--_Sir Tristrem, edited by Walter Scott,
Generosity to minstrels is perpetually recommended in the lays, of
fabliaux and romances.
_The peacock crown with all its eyes_.--p. 57. l.17.
According to Menestria and St. Palaye, the troubadours, or poets of
Provence, were adorned by the ladies with crowns, interwoven with
peacock's feathers; (the eyes of which expressed the universal attention
they attracted)--a plumage in great request, and equivalent to the
laurel of the academic bards. Differing, perhaps, little in intrinsic
value, but superior in beauty and permanence, and more consonant with
the decorations of chivalry. They were not restricted to the
troubadours; for such a diadem, ornamented with gold, was sent by Pope
Urban III. to Henry II. wherewith one of his sons was crowned King of
Ireland; as mentioned by Selden, under the title Lord, and by Lord
Lyttleton, under the year MCLXXXVI. _A Summary Review of Heraldry, by
Thomas Brydson, F.A.S. Edinburgh_.
_Extracts from a Dissertation on the Life and Writings of Marie, an
Anglo-Norman Poetess of the thirteenth century. By Monsieur La Rue.
Archaelogia, vol. 13._
Mary must be regarded as the Sappho of her age; she made so considerable
a figure amongst the Anglo Norman _Trouveurs_, that she may very fairly
lay claim to the minutest investigation of whatever concerns her memory.
She informs us that she was born in France, but has neither mentioned
the province that gave her birth, her family name, nor the reasons of
her going to England. As she appears, however, to have resided in that
country at the commencement of the 13th century, we may reasonably
conclude that she was a native of Normandy. Philip Augustus having made
himself master of that province in 1204, many Norman families, whether
from regard to affinity, from motive of adventure, or from attachment to
the English government, went over to Great Britain, and there
established themselves. If this opinion be not adopted, it will be
impossible to fix upon any other province of France under the dominion
of the English, as her birth-place, because her language is neither that
of Gascony, nor of Poitou, &c. She appears, however, to have been
acquainted with the _Bas-Breton_, or Armoric tongue; whence it may be
inferred that she was born in Bretayne. The Duke of that province was
then Earl of Richmond in England; many of his subjects were in
possession of knight's fees in that honour, and Mary might have belonged
to one of these families. She was, besides, extremely well versed in the
literature of this province; and we shall have occasion to remark, that
she frequently borrowed much from the works of its writers in the
composition of her own. If, however, a preference should be given to the
first opinion, we must suppose that Mary got her knowledge, both of the
Armoric and English languages, in Great Britain. She was, at the same
time, equally mistress of the Latin; and from her application to three
several languages, we must take it for granted that she possessed a
readiness, a capacity, and even a certain rank in life, that afforded
time and means to attain them. It should seem that she was solicitous to
be personally known only at the time she lived in. Hence we find in her
works those general denominations, those vague expressions, which
discourage the curious antiquary, or compel him to enter into dry and
laborious discussions, the result of which, often turns out to be little
more than conjecture. In short, the silence or the modesty of this
lady, has contributed, in a great degree, to conceal from us the names
of those illustrious persons whose patronage her talents obtained.
The first poems of Mary are a collection of Lays, in French verse;
forming various histories and gallant adventures of our valiant knights:
and, according to the usage of those times, they are generally
remarkable for some singular, and often marvellous catastrophe. These
Lays are in the British Museum, among the Harleian MSS. No. 978. They
constitute the largest, and, at the same time, most ancient specimen of
Anglo-Norman poetry, of this kind, that has been handed down to us. The
romances of chivalry, amongst the old Welsh and Armoric Britons, appear
to have furnished the subjects of these various Lays; not that the
manuscripts of those people were continually before her when she
composed them; but, as she herself has told us, depending upon an
excellent memory, she sometimes committed them to verse, after hearing
them recited only: and, at others, composed her poems from what she had
read in the Welsh and Armoric MSS.
Plusurs en ai oi conter,
Nes voil laisser ne oublies, &c.
Plusurs le me ant conte et dit
Et jeo l'ai trove en escrit, &c
She confined herself to these subjects, and the event justifies her
choice. To the singularity of such a measure was owing its celebrity. By
treating of love and chivalry, she was certain of attuning her lyre to
the feelings of the age; and consequently of ensuring success. Upon this
account her Lays were extremely well received by the people. Denis
Pyramus, an Anglo-Norman poet, and the contemporary of Mary, informs us
that they were heard with pleasure in all the castles of the English
barons, but that they were particularly relished by the women of her
time. He even praises them himself; and this from the mouth of a rival,
could not but have been sincere and well deserved, since our equals are
always the best judges of our merit. Insomuch as Mary was a
foreigner, she expected to be criticised with severity, and therefore
applied herself with great care to the due polishing of her works.
Besides, she thought, as she says herself, that the chief reward of a
poet, consists in perceiving the superiority of his own performance, and
its claims to public esteem. Hence the repeated efforts to attain so
honourable a distinction, and the constant apprehensions of that chagrin
which results from disappointment, and which she has expressed with so
much natural simplicity.
Ki de bone mateire traite,
Mult li peise si bien n'est faite, &c.
She has dedicated her lays to some king, whom she thus addresses in
En le honur de vos nobles reis,
Ki tant estes preux et curteis,
M'entremis de Lais assembler.
Par rime faire et reconter;
En mon quoer pensoe et diseie,
Sire, le vos presentereie.
Si vos les plaist a receveir.
Mult me ferez grant joie aveir,
A tuz juirs mais en serai lie, &c.
But who is this monarch? 1. We may perceive in it her apprehension of
the envy which her success might excite in a strange country: for this
reason she could not have written in France. 2. When at a loss for some
single syllable, she sometimes intermixes in her verses words that are
pure English, when the French word would not have suited the
measure.--"Fire et chaundelez alumez." It should seem, therefore, that
she wrote for the English, since her lines contain words that
essentially belong to their language, and not at all to the _Romance_.
3. She dedicates her lays to a king who understood English, because she
takes care to translate into that tongue all the Welsh and Armoric
proper names that she was obliged to introduce. Thus in the Lay of
_Bisclaveret_, she says, the English translate this name by that of
_Garwaf_, (Were-wolf); in that of _Laustic_, that they call it
_Nihtgale_ (Nightingale); and in that of _Chevrefeuille, Gotelef_,
(Goatleaf) &c. It is certain, then, she composed for a king who
understood English. 4. She tells us that she had declined translating
Latin histories into _Romance_; because so many others having been thus
occupied, her name would have been confounded with the multitude, and
her labours unattended with honour. Now this circumstance perfectly
corresponds with the reign of Henry III. when such a number of Normans
and Anglo-Normans had, for more than half a century, translated from
the Latin so many romances of chivalry; and especially those of the
Round Table, which we owe to the Kings of England. 5. Fauchet and
Pasquier inform us, that Mary lived about the middle of the 13th
century, and this would exactly coincide with the reign of that
prince. 6. Denis Pyramu, an Anglo-Norman poet, speaks of Mary as
an author, whose person was as much beloved as her writings, and who
therefore must have lived in his own time. Now it is known that this
poet wrote under Henry III. and this opinion could only be confuted by
maintaining that it was rather a King of France of whom she speaks,
which king must have been Louis VIII. or St. Louis his son. But this
alteration will not bear the slightest examination; for how could it be
necessary to explain Welsh and Armoric words to a French king in the
English language? How could the writer permit herself to make use of
English words, in many parts of her work, which would most probably be
unintelligible to that prince, and most certainly so to the greatest
part of his subjects? It is true that she sometimes explains them in
Romance, but not always; and when, upon the other hand, she makes a
constant practice of translating them into English, she proves to what
sort of readers she was principally addressing herself. The list of the
lays of Mary is omitted here, as a translation follows.
The smaller poems of Mary are, in general, of much importance, as to the
knowledge of ancient chivalry. Their author has described manners with a
pencil at once faithful and pleasing. She arrests the attention of her
readers by the subjects of her stories, by the interest which she
skilfully blends in them, and by the simple and natural language in
which she relates them. In spite of her rapid and flowing style, nothing
is forgotten in her details--nothing escapes her in her descriptions.
With what grace has she depicted the charming deliverer of the unhappy
Lanval! Her beauty is equally impressive, engaging, and seductive; an
immense crowd follows but to admire her; the while palfrey on which she
rides seems proud of his fair burden; the greyhound which follows her,
and the falcon which she carries, announce her nobility. How splendid
and commanding her appearance; and with what accuracy is the costume of
the age she lived in observed! But Mary did not only possess a most
refined taste, she had also to boast of a mind of sensibility. The
English muse seems to have inspired her; all her subjects are sad and
melancholy; she appears to have designed to melt the hearts of her
readers, either by the unfortunate situation of her hero, or by some
truly afflicting catastrophe. Thus she always speaks to the soul, calls
forth all its feelings, and very frequently throws it into the utmost
Fauchet was unacquainted with the Lays of Mary, for he only mentions her
fables. But, what is more astonishing, Monsieur le Grand, who
published many of her lays, has not ascribed them all to her. He had
probably never met with a complete collection like that in the British
Museum; but only some of those that had been separately transcribed;
and, in that case, he could not have seen the preface, in which Mary has
The second work of our poetess consists of a collection of fables,
generally called Aesopian, which she translated into French verse. In
the prologue she informs her readers that she would not have engaged in
it, but for the solicitation of a man who was "_the flower of chivalry
and courtesy_," and whom, at the conclusion of her work, she styles
Por amor le counte Guillaume,
Le plus vaillant de cest royaume,
Mentremis de cest livre faire,
Et de l'Anglois en Romans traire, &c.
M. le Grand, in his preface to some of Mary's fables, which he has
published in French prose, informs us that this person was _Earl William
de Dampierre_. But William, Lord of Dampierre, in Champagne, had in
himself no right whatever to the title of Earl. During the 13th century,
this dignity was by no means assumed indiscriminately, and at pleasure,
by French gentlemen; it was generally borne by whoever was the owner of
a province, and sometimes of a great city, constituting an earldom: such
were the earldoms of Flanders, of Artois, of Anjou, of Paris, &c. It was
then, that these great vassals of the crown had a claim to the title of
earl, and accordingly assumed it. Now, the territory of Dampierre
was not in this predicament during the 13th century; it was only a
simple lordship belonging to the lords of that name.
Convinced, as I am, that Mary did not compose her fables in France, but
in England, it is rather in England that the Earl William, alluded to by
Mary, is to be sought for; and luckily, the encomium she has left upon
him is of such a nature, as to excite an opinion that he was William
Longsword, natural son of Henry II. and created Earl of Salisbury and
Romare by Richard Coeur de Lion. She calls him "_the flower of chivalry,
the most valiant man in the kingdom_," etc.; and these features
perfectly characterize William Longsword, so renowned for his
prowess. The praise she bestows on him expresses, with great
fidelity, the sentiments that were entertained by his contemporaries;
and which were become so general, that for the purpose of making his
epitaph, it should seem that the simple eulogy of Mary would have
Flos comitum, Wilhelmus obit, stirps regia, longus
Ensis vaginam capit habere brevem.
This earl died in 1226; so that Mary must have written her fables
before that time. The brilliant reputation she had acquired by her lays,
had no doubt determined William to solicit a similar translation of
_Aesopian Fables_, which then existed in the English language. She, who
in her lays had painted the manners of her age with so much nature and
fidelity, would find no difficulty in succeeding in this kind of
apologue. Both require that penetrating glance which can distinguish
the different passions of mankind; can seize upon the varied forms which
they assume; and marking the objects of their attention, discover, at
the same moment, the means they employ to attain them. For this reason,
her fables are written with all that acuteness of mind, that penetrates
into the very inmost recesses of the human heart; and, at the same time,
with that beautiful simplicity so peculiar to the ancient romance
language, and which causes me to doubt whether La Fontaine has not
rather imitated our author, than the fabulists either of Rome, or of
Athens. It most, at all events, be admitted that he could not find, in
the two latter, the advantages which the former offered him. Mary wrote
in French, and at a time when that language, yet in its infancy, could
boast of nothing but simple expressions, artless and agreeable turns,
and, on all occasions, a natural and unpremeditated phraseology.
On the contrary, Aesop and Phaedrus, writing in Latin, could not supply
the French fabulist with any thing more than subject matter and ideas;
whilst Mary, at the same time that she furnished him with both, might
besides have hinted expression, manner, and even rhyme. Let me add, that
through the works of La Fontaine will be found scattered an infinite
number of words in our ancient language, which are at this day
unintelligible without a commentary.
There are, in the British Museum, three MS. copies of Mary's fables.
The first is in the Cotton library, Vesp. b. xiv. the second in the
Harleian, No. 4333; and the third in the same collection, No. 978. In
the first, part of Mary's prologue is wanting, and the transcriber has
entirely suppressed the conclusion of her work. This MS. contains only
sixty-one fables. The second has all the prologue, and the conclusion.
It has 83 fables. The third is the completest of all, and contains 104
fables. M. le Grand says that he has seen four MSS. of these fables in
the libraries of Paris, but all different as to the number. He cites one
in the library of St. Germain des Pres, as containing 66 fables; and
another in the Royal Library, No. 7615, with 102. As he has said
nothing about the other MSS. it is to be supposed that he has purposely
mentioned that which had the greatest number of fables, and that which
had the least. Under this idea, the Harleian MS. No. 978, is the
completest of all that have been yet cited.
In examining the manner in which she speaks of herself, we shall
perceive she does not call herself _Marie de France_, as he has stated,
but says _she is from France_.
Al finement de cest escrit,
Me nomerei par remembrance,
Marie ai non si suis de France, &c.
If we consider well the latter verse, there will be no difficulty in
perceiving that Mary wrote in England. Indeed, it was formerly a very
common thing for authors to say that they were of such a city, and even
to assume the name of it. Or even, when writing in Latin, state
themselves either natives of England, or of France. But when an author
writes in France, and in the language of the country, he does not say
that _he is of France_. Now this precaution, on the part of Mary,
implies that she wrote in a foreign country, the greater part of whose
inhabitants spoke her native language; which was the case in England.
She stated herself to be a native of France, that her works might be
regarded as written in a purer and correcter style.
Monsieur le Grand does not believe that Mary really translated from a
collection that existed in her time in the English language, under the
title of the _Fables of Aesop_; but, if we examine the fables
themselves, we shall discover in them internal evidence of their being
translated from the English.
Mention is made of counties and their judges, of the great assemblies
held there for the administration of justice, the king's writs, &c. &c.
Now what other kingdom, besides England, was at that time divided into
counties? What other country possessed similar establishments? But Mary
has done more; in her French translation she has preserved many
expressions in the English original; such as _welke_, in the fable of
the Eagle, the Crow, and the Tortoise; _witecocs_, in that of the Three
Wishes; _grave_, in that of the Sick Lion; _werbes and wibets_, in that
of the Battle of the Flies with other Animals; _worsel_, in that of the
Mouse and the Frog, &c.
The completest MS. of Mary's translation, has but 104 fables; out of
which, 31 only are Aesop's. So the English version that she had before
her, was not a true and complete translation of that fabulist, but a
compilation from different authors, in which some of his fables had been
inserted. Nevertheless, Mary has intitled her work, "_Cy Commence li
Aesope_;" she repeats, also, that she had turned this fabulist into
romance language. Mary, therefore, imagined that she was really
translating Aesop; but her original had the same title; and I am the
more convinced of this, because, in the Royal MS. before cited, which
contains a collection of Aesopian fables, there are but 56. According to
the introduction, they had been already translated into Latin prose, and
then into English prose; and in this MS. as well as in Mary's, there are
many fables and fabliaux ascribed to Aesop, which never could have been
composed by him.
Again, if we compare the fables which generally pass for Aesop's, with
those written by Mary, we shall perceive that the translation of the
latter could never have been regarded as a literal version of the
former. She is a great deal more particular than Aesop; her
moralizations are not the same. In a word, I think she comes nearer to
Phaedrus than to the Greek writer.
It will, no doubt be answered, that the Works of Phaedrus have only been
known since the end of the 16th century. This I admit; but am not the
less persuaded that Mary was better acquainted with Phaedrus than with
Aesop. It will, moreover, be contended, that she has herself declared,
that the English version, which served her as a model, was a translation
from the Greek. To this I reply; first, that Phaedrus's fables may very
properly be stiled _Aesopian_, as he has himself called them:
Aesopus auctor quam materiam reperit,
Hanc ego polivi versibus senariis.
And, secondly, that although Mary possessed the fire, the imagination,
and the genius of a poet, she nevertheless had not the criticism, or
erudition, of a man of letters. For example; she informs us, that before
her fables were translated into English, they had already been turned
from Greek into Latin by Aesop. She then gives the fable of an ox
that assisted at mass, of a wolf that keeps Lent, of a monk disputing
with a peasant, &c.
Amongst these compilers of fables, we find the names of Romulus, Accius,
Bernardus, Talon, and many others anonymous. The first is the most
celebrated; he has addressed his fables to his son Tiberius; they are
written in Latin prose, sixty in number, and many of them are founded
upon those of Aesop and Phaedrus. Rimilius published them at the end of
the 15th century, and Frederic Nilant gave an edition in 1709, at
Leyden, with some curious and interesting notes. Fabricius, in his
Bibliotheca Latina, says, that these sixty fables are more than five
hundred years old. I have already mentioned that there is a MS. of
them in the Royal Library in the British Museum, 15 A. VII., which was
written in the 13th century, and contains only fifty-six fables. They
are said, in the preface, to have been translated out of Greek into
Latin, by the Emperor Romulus. Mary likewise mentions this Romulus, and
gives him the same title. After having remarked with how much advantage
learned men might occupy themselves, in extracting from the works of the
ancient philosophers, proverbs, fables, and the morals they contained,
for the purpose of instructing men, and training them to virtuous
actions, she adds, that the emperor had very successfully pursued the
plan, in order to teach his son how to conduct himself with propriety
Vincent de Beauvois, a contemporary of Mary, speaks likewise of this
Romulus and his fables; and lastly, Fabricius informs us that this
author has very much imitated Phaedrus, and often preserved even his
expressions. But, after all, it is uncertain who is this Romulus,
thus invested with the title of emperor; whether the last Roman emperor
of that name, who is likewise called Augustulus or Romulus the
grammarian. I should rather attribute them to some monk of the 11th or
12th century. The rites of the Roman Catholic worship are several times
alluded to, and entire passages of the Vulgate very frequently inserted.
It is, however, enough to know that in the time of Mary, there did
actually exist a collection of fables called Aesopian, and published
under the name of Romulus; that this author, whether real or imaginary,
had very much imitated Phaedrus; that these Latin fables had been
translated into English; that, without doubt, those of some other
unknown writers were added to them; and, finally, that from this latter
version Mary made her translation into French verse.
In a MS. of the fables of Mary, it is said this English version was the
work of King Mires. The Harleian MS. No. 978, makes the translation
to have been King _Alurez_. The MS. cited by Pasquier, calls him King
Auvert. The MS. in the Royal Library, 15 A. VII. says the
translation was made by the order of King _Affrus_; and, lastly, the
Harleian MS. No. 4333, makes it the work of King _Henry_.
With respect to King _Alurez_ or _Auvert_, every one who has examined
our ancient writers of romance, during the 12th and 13th centuries, must
know that the name of Alfred was thus disfigured by them. Thus, two
kings of England, Alfred and Henry, have a claim to that honour. But
whence is it that the historian of Alfred, Asser, as well as William of
Malmesbury, have mentioned the different translations of this prince,
without having noticed that of Aesop? Is it credible that an
Anglo-Saxon version of the ninth century would have been intelligible to
Mary, who had only learned the English of the thirteenth? Had not the
lapse of time, and the descents of the Danes and Normans in the eleventh
century, contributed, in the first place, to alter the Anglo-Saxon? and
afterwards, during the twelfth, the rest of the people from the northern
and western provinces of France, having become dependent upon England,
did not they, likewise, by their commerce, and residence in that
country, introduce a considerable change into its language? The names of
Seneschal, Justiciar, Viscount, Provost, Bailiff, Vassal, &c. which
occur in these fables, both in the Latin text and French translation by
Mary, ought naturally to have been found in the English version. Now
these several terms were all, according to Madox, introduced by the
Normans; and the morals to these fables, which make frequent
allusion to the feudal system, prove more and more, that this English
translation must have been posterior to the time of Alfred.
In the last place, the Harleian MS. No. 4333, ascribes the translation
to King Henry. The Normans were acquainted with the fables of Aesop, or,
at least, those which were attributed to him during the middle ages. The
collateral heirs of Raoul de Vassy, who died in 1064, when, after the
death of William the Conqueror, they found means to establish their
claims against Robert Courthose; in asserting it, reproach his father
with having made the _lion's partition_ in seizing Upon their
This proverbial expression very clearly shews that the writings of the
Greek fabulist, or at least of those who had followed him, were known to
the Normans from the eleventh century. It is possible, therefore, that
Henry I. might have studied and translated them into English. Again, all
historians agree in giving this prince the title of _Beauclerk_, though
no one has assigned any reason for a designation so honourable: and this
opinion would justify history, which has given to Henry a name with
which authors alone were dignified.
Whether Mary followed the English version literally cannot be
ascertained, as we do not even know whether it now exists; and are
therefore under the necessity of collating her fables with those of the
middle ages: and it appears, she translated from the English 104 fables
into French verse; and of this number there are 65, the subjects of
which had already been treated of by Aesop, Phaedrus, Romulus, and the
anonymous author of the _Fabulae Antiquae_, published by Niland.
The English translation was not only compiled from these different
authors, but from many other fabulists, whose names are unknown to us;
since, out of the 104 fables of Mary, there are 39 which are neither
found in the before mentioned authors, nor in any other known to us.
The English version contained a more ample assemblage of fables than
that of Mary, since out of the 56 in the Royal MS. 15 A. VII, which made
a part of the former, it appears that she made a selection of subjects
that were pleasing to her, and rejected others. It is very singular,
that England appears to have had fabulists during the ages of ignorance,
whilst Athens and Rome possessed theirs only amidst the most refined
periods of their literature.
Some may, perhaps, be disposed to conclude that the 39 additional fables
were actually composed by Mary; but I believe, upon reflection, this
opinion must be abandoned. She terms her work a translation, glories in
the enterprize; and, if it had been only in part the labours of her
genius, would scarcely have passed over that circumstance in silence.
Monsieur Le Grand has published 43 of Mary's fables in prose. His
translation, however, is not always literal; and seems, in many places,
to have departed from the original. He has likewise published many of
the _fabliaux_, or little stories, which he has unadvisedly attributed
to the transcribers of them, and which belong indisputably to her.
I have examined La Fontaine, to ascertain whether he were acquainted
with the fables of Mary, and had actually borrowed his subjects from the
39 fables which are wanting in all the writers of this kind with whom we
are at present acquainted; and have actually discovered, that he is
indebted to them for those of the Drowning Woman, the Fox and the Cat,
and the Fox and the Pigeon. From others he has only taken the subject,
but changed the actors; and, by retouching the whole in his peculiar
manner, has enriched them with a new turn, and given them an appearance
The third work of Mary consists of a history, or rather a tale, in
French verse, of St. Patrick's Purgatory. This performance was
originally commenced in Latin, at the Abbey of Saltrey, and dedicated to
the abbot of that monastery, and is to be found in MS. in many public
libraries. There are two translations of it into French verse. The first
of these is in the Cotton Library, Domit. A. IV. and the second in the
Harleian, No. 273, but they are not from the same pen: the former
consists of near 1000 lines, and the latter of about 700. M. Le Grand
has given an analysis of one of these translations in his _fabliaux_,
vol. V.; and it is upon the authority of this writer that I have
ascribed it to Mary, as he maintains that she was the author of it, but
without adducing the necessary proofs for this assertion. The Cotton MS.
however, contains nothing that gives the least support to M. Le Grand's
opinion, or even screens it with probability. Neither is Mary's name
mentioned in the Harleian MS.; but as the translator, in his preface,
entitles the work "a lay," and professes he had rather engage in it than
_relate fables_, it may afford a conjecture that Mary has sufficiently
developed herself in speaking of her labours. This, however, is merely a
conjecture. It is not impossible that the MS. which M. Le Grand
consulted contained more particular details on this subject; but he is
certainly mistaken in one respect, and that is, in supposing Mary to
have been the original author of this piece, whilst all the MSS. that
exist attest that she could have been only the translator: and if the
translation in the Harleian MS. actually be her performance, she there
positively declares that she had been desired to translate the work from
Latin into Romance.
This poem was, at a very early period, translated into English verse. It
is to be found in the Cotton library, Calig. A. II. under the title of
_Owayne Miles_, on account, of Sir Owen being the hero of the piece, and
whose descent into St. Patrick's purgatory is related. Walter de Metz,
author of the poem entitled _Image du Monde_, mentions also the wonders
of St. Patrick's purgatory, the various adventures of those who
descended into it, and the condition of those who had the good fortune
to return from it; but I am uncertain whether he speaks from the
original Latin of the monk of Saltrey, or from Mary's French
translation. In the latter case it should appear that Mary finished her
translation before 1246, the year in which Walter says he composed his
Whether Mary was the author of any other pieces I have not been able to
ascertain: her taste, and the extreme facility with which she wrote
poetry of the lighter kind, induce a presumption that she was; but I
know of none that have come down to us.
 _Prologue des Lais de Marie._
 _Lai du chevrefeuille_.
 Pyramus, Vie de St Edmund, Bibl. Cotton. Domit. A. XI.
 Prolog. des Lais de Marie.
 It is reasonable to conclude, that writers flocked in
greater numbers to the court where they were most in request, and were
likely to be most liberally rewarded. Now it is evident that the Dukes
of Normandy, when possessed of the crown of England, were incomparably
more wealthy, though not in the same proportion more powerful, than the
contemporary Kings of France; and it may be presumed that the crowd of
candidates for their patronage, was consequently, much more numerous.
Our Henry the Second possessed, in right of his father, Maine, Anjou,
and Touraine; in right of his wife Eleanor, divorced by Louis le Jeune,
the counties of Poictou and Guienne; in right of his mother Matilda,
Normandy and England; and his power in the latter, the most valuable
part of his dominions, was paramount and uncontrolled, while Louis was
surrounded by powerful and rival vassals. We are, therefore, justified
in suspecting that the courts of our Norman sovereigns, rather than
those of the Kings of France, produced the birth of romance literature;
and this suspicion is confirmed by the testimony of three French
writers, whose authority is the more conclusive, because they have
formed their opinion from separate and independent premises.
The first of these is M. de la Ravallere. In his Essay on the
Revolutions of the French Language, a work of considerable learning,
supported by original authorities, whose words he almost constantly
quotes, he distinctly asserts that the pretended patronage of the French
princes, anterior to Philippe Auguste, had no visible effect on their
domestic literature; that while so many poets were entertained at the
courts of the Anglo-Norman princes, no one can be traced to that of
Louis le Jeune; that the chronicles of Britain and Normandy, the
subjects chosen by Wace and his contemporaries, were not likely to
_interest_ the French, &c.
The second authority is M. le Comte de Tressan, a writer, perhaps, of no
deep research, but whose good taste is conclusive on points of internal
evidence. In his preface to the prose romance of "La Fleur des
Batailles," (one of those relating to Charlemagne) he says--The style
and character of these romances lead us to think that they were composed
at the court of the English kings, descended from William the Conqueror.
We find in those of the Round Table, a marked affectation of dwelling on
every thing which can contribute to the glory of the throne and court of
England, whose princes and knights always play the chief and most
brilliant part in the piece.
Thirdly, the Abbe de la Rue may be considered as having proved the fact,
by pointing out, in English history, the persons to whom the original
romances were addressed. His three dissertations on the Anglo-Norman
poets, in the twelfth and thirteenth volume of the Archaelogia, will
convince the reader that no man has studied, with more attention, the
early history and poetry of France; and he has given it as his decided
opinion, that "_it was from England and Normandy that the French
received the first works which deserve to be cited in their
language."--Ellis's Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances_.
 Prolog. des Lais de Marie.
 Oeuvres de Fauchet, 579. Recherches de la France, l.8. s. i.
 Pyramus loco citate.
 Oeuvres de Fauchet, p. 579.
 Conclusion of Mary's Fables.
 Dictionaire Raisonnee de Diplomatique Verbo _Comte_.
 Martineus Dict. Geographique, v. Dampierre.
 Sandford's Genealogical History of the Kings of England,
 Ibid, p. 116, and M. Paris, p. 817
 Sandford, ibid.
 Fabliaux, vol. iv. p.330.
 Conclusion of Mary's Fables.
 Phaedr. Prolog. lib. i.
 Preface to Mary's Fables.
 Fabric. Bibl. Latin, lib. ii. c. 3.
 Preface to the Fables of Mary
 Vincent Bellovac, lib. iv. c. 2.
 Fabric. loco citato.
 Menage Diction. Etymol. V. Romans. Duchesne, Oeuvres de
Maistre Alain Chartris, p. 861.
 Pasquier Recherches, liv. viii. c. 1.
 Asser, Vita Alfredi, Malsmb.
 Madox's Hist. of the Exchequer, c. 4.
 Ordoric. Vitalis Hist. apud Duchesne, pp. 488, 681, &
 See his Works amongst the Harleian MSS. No. 4333.
Versions of only two of the Lays can be given; but it will be better to
lay before the reader an abstract of the whole collection, which is in
many respects interesting, because it was certainly written in this
country, was never printed, and is known to exist only in one
manuscript, viz. Harl. MSS. No. 978.
About 56 lines at the beginning of the work are intended as a general
prologue; and 26 more form the introduction to the first Lay. This
prefatory matter is written in a style of considerable obscurity, which
the author defends by the example of the ancients, and quotes Priscian
as her authority. But the doctrine she means to inculcate is, that those
who possess talents are bound to employ them; and that study is always
good as a preservative from vice and from affliction. She tells us, she
had therefore form'd a plan of translating, from Latin into romance,
_some good history_, but found her project had been anticipated by
others. She then thought of the numerous lays which she _had heard, and
carefully treasured in her memory_. These, she was sure, must be new to
the generality of her readers; and, in this confidence, she offers to
the king the fruits of her labours. After complaining she has met with
envy and persecution where she deserved praise, she declares her
intention to persevere, and relate, as briefly as possible, such stories
as she _knows to be true_, and to have been _formed into lays by the
Les contes ke jeo sai _rerrais,
Dunt li Bretun ont fait ces lais_,
Vus conterai asez briefment, &c.
The Lays are twelve in number; nine of which, with the above
introduction, are extracted, with some trifling abridgment, from the
Specimens of early English Metrical Romances, by George Ellis, Esq.; the
two in verse from Way's Fabliaux; and the other from the notes to Sir
Tristrem, by Walter Scott, Esq.
No. 1.--_The Lay of_ SIR GUGEMER, _or_ GUIGEMAR.
While Arthur reign'd, (so chim'd, in earlier day,
Loud to the twanging harp the Breton lay,)
While Arthur reign'd, two kingdoms born to bless,
Great Britain's king, and suzerain of the less;
A lord of Leon, one of fair report
Among the vassal barons of his court,
Own'd for his son a youth more bravely thew'd
Than aught both countries yet had seen of good.
Dame Nature gave the mould; his sire combin'd
Due culture, exercise of limbs and mind,
Till the rare strippling, now no longer boy,
Chang'd his fond parents' fearful hope for joy.
His name was Gugemar: as strength grew on,
To Arthur's court the sire consign'd his son.
There soon in feats of arms the youth excell'd,
Magnanimous, in sports, or deadly field.
Chief of the Table-round, from time to time
Illustrious Arthur mark'd his opening prime,
Then dealt him noble meed; the honour high,
From his own hand, of glorious chivalry.
Knightly in arms he was; one grievous blot,
So deem'd full many a courtly dame, I wot,
Cross'd the full growth of his aspiring days,
And dimm'd the lustre of meridian praise:
With bootless artifice their lures they troll'd;
Still, Gugemer lov'd not, or nothing told.
The court's accustom'd love and service done,
To his glad sire returns the welcome son.
Now with his father dwelt he, and pursued
Such pastimes as are meet for youth of noble blood.
The woods of Leon now would shrilly sound
Oft with his joyous shout and choral hound
At length, one morn his disadventurous dart,
Lanc'd, as the game was rous'd, at hind or hart,
Wing'd through the yielding air its weetless way,
And pierc'd unwares a metamorphos'd fay.
Lo! back recoiling straight, by fairy craft,
Back to its master speeds the reeking shaft;
Deep in his sinewy thigh inflicts a wound,
And strikes the astonish'd hunter to the ground,
While, with a voice which neither bray'd nor spoke,
Thus fearfully the beast her silence broke:--
"Pains, agonizing pains must thou endure,
Till wit of lady's love shall work the cure:
Wo, then, her fated guerdon she shall find
The heaviest that may light on womankind!"
Sir Gugemer, who strove, with courage vain,
Up from the earth to rise, distraught with pain,
While hies his varlet home for succour strong,
Crawls slow with trailing limb the sward along;
'Twas part precipitate, steep rocky shore;
Hoarse at its foot was heard old Ocean's roar;
And in a shelter'd cove at anchor rode,
Close into land, where slept the solemn flood,
A gallant bark, that with its silken sails
Just bellying, caught the gently rising gales,
And from its ebon sides shot dazzling sheen
Of silvery rays with mingled gold between.
A favouring fairy had beheld the blow
Dealt the young hunter by her mortal foe:
Thence grown his patroness, she vows to save,
And cleaves with magick help the sparkling wave:
Now, by a strange resistless impulse driven,
The knight assays the lot by fortune given:
Lo, now he climbs, with fairy power to aid,
The bark's steep side, on silken cordage stay'd;
Gains the smooth deck, and, wonders to behold,
A couch of cypress spread with cloth of gold,
While from above, with many a topaz bright,
Two golden globes sent forth their branching light:
And longer had he gaz'd, but sleep profound,
Wrought by the friendly fairy, wrapt him round.
Stretch'd on the couch the hunter lies supine,
And the swift bark shoots lightly o'er the brine.
For, where the distant prospect fading dies,
And sea and land seem mingling with the skies,
A massy tower of polish'd marble rose;
There dwelt the fair physician of his woes:
Nogiva was the name the princess bore;
Her spouse old, shrewd, suspicious evermore,
Here mew'd his lovely consort, young and fair,
And watch'd her with a dotard's bootless care.
Sure, Love these dotards dooms to jealous pain,
And the world's laugh, when all their toil proves vain.
This lord, howe'er, did all that mortal elf
Could do, to keep his treasure to himself:
Stay'd much at home, and when in luckless hour
His state affairs would drag him from his tower,
Left with his spouse a niece himself had bred,
To be the partner of her board and bed;
And one old priest, a barren lump of clay,
To chant their mass, and serve them day by day.
Her prison room was fair; from roof to floor
With golden imageries pictur'd o'er;
There Venus might be seen, in act to throw
Down to the mimick fire that gleam'd below
The 'Remedies of Love' Dan Ovid made;
Wrathful the goddess look'd, and ill-repaid;
And many more than I may well recall,
Illumining throughout the sumptuous wall.
For the old ghostly guide--to do him right--
He harbour'd in his breast no jailor's spite;
Compassionate and poor, he bore in mind
His prisoner's health might languish, much confin'd
And oft would let her feet and fancy free,
Wander along the margin of the sea.
There then it chanc'd, upon the level sand,
That aunt and niece were pacing hand in hand,
When onward to the marble tower they spied
With outspread sail the fairy vessel glide:
Both felt a momentary fear at first,
(As women oft are given to think the worst)
And turn'd for flight; but ere they far were fled,
Look'd round to view the object of their dread;
Then, seeing none on board, they backward hied,
Perchance by fairy influence fortified,
Where the trim bark was run its course to end,
And now both dames its ebon deck ascend;
There on a couch, a silken pall beneath,
So wrapt in sleep he scarcely seem'd to breathe,
Sir Gugemer they spied, defil'd with gore,
And with a deadly pale his visage o'er:
They fear them life was fled; and much his youth,
And much his hap forlorn did move their ruth:
With lily hand his heart Nogiva press'd,
"It beats!" she cried, "beats strong within his breast!"
So loud her sudden voice express'd delight,
That from his swoon awoke the wondering knight:
His name, his country, straight the dames demand,
And what strange craft had steer'd his bark to land?
He, on his elbow rais'd, with utterance weak,
Such as his feeble strength avail'd to speak,
Recounts his piteous chance, his name, his home,
How up the vessel's side ere while he clomb,
And then sunk down in sleep; but who impell'd
Its ebon keel, or tissued canvas swell'd,
He wist not: faint, and lacking vital heat,
He sought some needful aid from looks so sweet.
"So brave a knight!--to yield of succour nought--
What heart of flint could cherish such a thought?
Yet where to harbour him, and how to hide?--
The husband not at home, means must be tried!"--
So thought these dames, I ween, that fateful hour,
While feebly onward to the marble tower,
Propp'd, right and left, by snowy shoulders twain,
Sir Gugemer repair'd with mickle pain.
There on a bed of down they plac'd their guest,
Cleans'd the deep wound, with healing balsam dress'd,
Brought, for his plight most fit, choice simple food,
And, watchful how he far'd, attendant stood;
Till now returning strength grew swiftly on,
And his firm voice confess'd his anguish gone.
In sooth, the fay, protectress of his worth,
Had shower'd down balm, unknown to wights on earth;
One night achieves his cure; but other smart
Plays o'er the weetless region of his heart;
Pains, such as beam from bright Nogiva's eyes,
Flit round his bed, and quiral [Errata: genial] slumber flies.
Now, as the ruddy rays of morning peer,
Him seem'd his kind physician's step drew near;
She comes; his cheeks with new-found blushes burn;
Nogiva--she, too, blushes in her turn:
Love sure had neither spar'd; yet at the last
Faintly she asks him how the night had pass'd?
O! how the trembling patient then confess'd
Strange malady at heart, and banish'd rest:
And sued once more for life, restor'd so late,
Now hers alone to grant, the mistress of his fate.
She speaks assurance kind with witching smile,
"No ill from sickness felt so little while!"
Yet nought the knight believes; a kiss, I ween,
Fell from her dainty lips, and clos'd the scene.
One year or more within some secret bower,
So dwelt the knight beneath the marble tower;
Thoughts of his sire, at last, how he might bear
His son's long absence, so awaken'd care,
Needs must he back to Leon: vainly here
Sues fond Nogiva's interdicting tear.
"Sad leave reluctantly I yield!" she cries,
"Yet take this girdle, knit with mystick ties,
Wed never dame till first this secret spell
Her dextrous hands have loosen'd:--so farewell!"
"Never, I swear, my sweet! so weal betide!"
With heavy heart Sir Gugemer replied;
Then hied him to the gate, when lo! at hand
Nogiva's hoary lord is seen to stand,
(Brought by the fairy foe's relentless ire,)
And lustily he calls for knight and squire:
Now with his trusty blade, of temper good,
The stout knight clears his course to ocean's flood,
Sweeps right and left the scatter'd rout away,
And climbs the bark of his protectress fay;
Light glides the ebon keel the waters o'er,
And his glad footsteps press his native shore.
His father, who had long time, woe-begone,
Bewail'd the absence of his darling son;
Ween'd the best course to hold him now for life,
Should be to link him closely to a wife.
Sir Gugemer, urg'd sore, at length avows,
He never will take woman's hand for spouse,
Save her's, whose fingers, skill'd in ladies' lore,
Shall loose that knot his mystick girdle bore.
Straight all that Bretany contain'd of fair,
Widows, and dainty maids, the adventure dare:
Clerks were they all, I ween; but knots like these
May not be loos'd when earthly beauties please.
Thus while it fares with those, in dungeon deep
See sad Nogiva never cease to weep!
Doom'd by her jealous lord's revengeful mood,
The well her beverage, bitter bread her food,
Lo there with iron gyves chain'd down she lies,
And wails unheard her hopeless miseries:
Scarce brooking longer life, but that the thought
Of Gugemer some gleams of solace brought:
Him would she name full oft, and oft implore
Heaven, but to view his winning face once more.
Long had she sorrow'd thus; her fairy friend
Hears at the last, and bids her sufferings end:
Burst by her magic touch the fetters fall,
Wide springs the gate, and quakes the obdurate wall;
Close to the shore the enchanted pinnace glides,
Feels its fair guest within its arching sides,
Then ploughs the foaming main with gallant state,
Till Bretany's far coast receives the freight.
Meriadus--(that name the monarch bore,
Where first Nogiva's footsteps prest the shore,)
Meriadus such charms not vainly view'd;
He saw, felt love, and like a sovereign woo'd:
She briefly answers:--"None this heart may move,
This bosom none inspire with mutual love,
Save he whose skill this girdle shall unbind,
Fast round my waist with mystick tie confin'd."
Much strove Meriadus, strove much in vain,
Strove every courtly gallant of his train:
All foil'd alike, he blazons far and wide
A tournament, and there the emprize be tried!
There who may loose the band, and win the expectant bride!
Sir Gugemer, when first the tidings came
Of the quaint girdle, and the stranger dame.
Ween'd well Nogiva's self, his dame alone,
Bore this mysterious knot so like his own.
On to the tournament elate he hies,
There his liege lady greets his wistful eyes:
What now remain'd? "Meriadus! once more
I view," he cries, "the mistress I adore;
Long have our hearts been one! great king, 'tis thine
Twin [Errata: Twain] lovers, sadly sunder'd long, to join.
So will I straight do homage, so remain
Thy liegeman three full years, sans other gain,
Thine with a hundred knights, and I their charge maintain."
Brave was the proffer, but it prosper'd nought;
Love rul'd alone the unyielding monarch's thought.
Then Gugemer vows vengeance, then in arms
Speaks stern defy, and claims Nogiva's charms:
And, for his cause seem'd good, anon behold
Many a strange knight, and many a baron bold,
Brought by the tourney's fame, on fiery steeds
Couch lance to aid; and mortal strife succeeds.
Long time beleagur'd gape the castle walls;
First in the breach the indignant monarch falls:
Nogiva's lord next meets an equal fate;
And Gugemer straight weds the widow'd mate.
A prince of Bretagne, so passionately attached to chivalrous amusements,
that he cared neither for business nor gallantry. Nothing but the
necessity of heading his troops could withdraw him from the pleasures of
hunting and hawking; and all affairs of state were managed by his
steward, a man of equal loyalty and experience. Unfortunately this
steward had a beautiful wife: the prince heard her much praised; and
insensibly began to think his sport most agreeable, when it conducted
him, at the end of the day, to the steward's castle; where he had a
natural opportunity of seeing and conversing with the lovely hostess.
Overcome by his passion, almost before he was conscious of it, he began
by reflecting on the baseness of the part he was preparing to act; and
ended, by determining not to endure the misery of privation and
disappointment, if he could succeed in seducing her. Having devised, in
the course of a sleepless night, as many arguments as were necessary to
satisfy his own morality, and formed a plan for securing a long
interview, he set off for the chase; returning after a short time, under
pretence of sudden indisposition, and retiring to bed, he sent to
request a visit from the lady, who then received a very long and
eloquent declaration of love. To this she replied, at first, by proper
expostulations; but when at length assured, with the utmost solemnity,
that if her husband was dead she should become the partner of his
throne, she suddenly gave way, and proposed, with his assistance, to
destroy the steward, so artfully, that neither should incur the
slightest suspicion. Equitan, far from being startled at this atrocious
proposition, assured her of his concurrence, and she continued thus:
"Return, sir, for the present, to your court; then come to pursue your
diversion in this forest, and again take up your abode under our roof.
You must once more pretend to be indisposed; cause yourself to be
blooded; and on the third day order a bath, invite my husband to bathe
and afterwards to dine with you. I will take care to prepare the bathing
tubs: that which I destine for him shall be filled with boiling water,
so that he will be instantly scalded to death; after which you will call
in your and his attendants, and explain to them how your affectionate
steward had expired in the act of bathing." At the end of three months
every thing was arranged for the execution of this diabolical plot; but
the steward, who had risen early for some purpose of business or
amusement, happening to stay rather beyond the time, the lovers had met
during his absence, forgetting that their guilty project was not yet
accomplished. A maid was stationed at the door, near which stood the
fatal bath; but the husband returning with precipitation, suddenly
forced it open, in spite of her feeble opposition, and discovered his
wife in the arms of Equitan. The prince, under the first impulse of
surprize and remorse, started from the bed, and, heedlessly plunging
into the boiling bath, was instantly suffocated or scalded to death. The
husband, almost at the same instant, seized on his guilty partner, and
threw her headlong after her paramour. Thus were the wicked punished, by
the means which they contrived for the destruction of another; and such
is the substance of the lay which was composed by the Bretons under the
name of Equitan.
* * * * *
No. III.--LAY LE FRAINE.
This ancient and curious little poem, translated from the French of
Marie, is preserved in the Auchinlech MSS. It was communicated by Mr.
Walter Scott to Mr. Ellis, and is inserted amongst his Miscellaneous
Romances. It is mutilated in two places, and wants the conclusion. These
defects are supplied from the French prose.
The prologue begins by observing, that in ancient times, lays, intended
to be accompanied by the harp, were composed on all sorts of subjects.
Some both of war, and some of woe;
And some of joy and mirth also;
And some of treachery and of guile;
Of old aventures that fell while;
And some of _bourdes_ and ribaudy;
And many there beth of fairy;
Of all thinges that men seth,
Most of love, forsooth, there beth.
In Bretayne, by old time,