The Flourishing of Romance and the Rise of Allegory

The Flourishing of Romance

THE FUNCTION OF LATIN.

Reasons for not noticing the bulk of mediæval Latin literature. Excepted divisions. Comic Latin literature. Examples of its verbal influence. The value of burlesque. Hymns. The Dies Iræ. The rhythm of Bernard. Literary perfection of the Hymns. Scholastic Philosophy. Its influence on phrase and method. The great Scholastics.

CHANSONS DE GESTE.
European literature in 1100. Late discovery of the chansons. Their age and history. Their distinguishing character. Mistakes about them. Their isolation and origin. Their metrical form. Their scheme of matter. The character of Charlemagne. Other characters and characteristics. Realist quality. Volume and age of the chansons. Twelfth century. Thirteenth century. Fourteenth, and later. Chansons in print. Language: oc and oïl. Italian. Diffusion of the chansons. Their authorship and publication. Their performance. Hearing, not reading, the object. Effect on prosody. The jongleurs. Jongleresses, &c. Singularity of the chansons. Their charm. Peculiarity of the geste system. Instances. Summary of the geste of William of Orange. And first of the Couronnement Loys. Comments on the Couronnement. William of Orange. The earlier poems of the cycle. The Charroi de Nîmes. The Prise d’Orange. The story of Vivien. Aliscans. The end of the story. Renouart. Some other chansons. Final remarks on them

THE MATTER OF BRITAIN.
Attractions of the Arthurian Legend. Discussions on their sources. The personality of Arthur. The four witnesses. Their testimony. The version of Geoffrey. Its lacunæ. How the Legend grew. Wace. Layamon. The Romances proper. Walter Map. Robert de Borron. Chrestien de Troyes. Prose or verse first? A Latin Graal-book. The Mabinogion. The Legend itself. The story of Joseph of Arimathea. Merlin. Lancelot. The Legend becomes dramatic. Stories of Gawain and other knights. Sir Tristram. His story almost certainly Celtic. Sir Lancelot. The minor knights. Arthur. Guinevere. The Graal. How it perfects the story. Nature of this perfection. No sequel possible. Latin episodes. The Legend as a whole. The theories of its origin. Celtic. French. English. Literary. The Celtic theory. The French claims. The theory of general literary growth. The English or Anglo-Norman pretensions. Attempted hypothesis

ANTIQUITY IN ROMANCE.


Oddity of the Classical Romance. Its importance. The Troy story. The Alexandreid. Callisthenes. Latin versions. Their story. Its developments. Alberic of Besançon. The decasyllabic poem. The great Roman d’Alixandre. Form, &c. Continuations. King Alexander. Characteristics. The Tale of Troy. Dictys and Dares. The Dares story. Its absurdity. Its capabilities. Troilus and Briseida. The Roman de Troie. The phases of Cressid. The Historia Trojana. Meaning of the classical romance

THE MAKING OF ENGLISH AND THE SETTLEMENT OF EUROPEAN PROSODY.


Special interest of Early Middle English. Decay of Anglo-Saxon. Early Middle English Literature. Scantiness of its constituents. Layamon. The form of the Brut. Its substance. The Ormulum: Its metre, its spelling. The Ancren Riwle. The Owl and the Nightingale. Proverbs. Robert of Gloucester. Romances. Havelok the Dane. King Horn. The prosody of the modern languages. Historical retrospect. Anglo-Saxon prosody. Romance prosody. English prosody. The later alliteration. The new verse. Rhyme and syllabic equivalence. Accent and quantity. The gain of form. The “accent” theory. Initial fallacies, and final perversities thereof

MIDDLE HIGH GERMAN POETRY.


Position of Germany. Merit of its poetry. Folk-epics: The Nibelungenlied. The Volsunga saga. The German version. Metres. Rhyme and language. Kudrun. Shorter national epics. Literary poetry. Its four chief masters. Excellence, both natural and acquired, of German verse. Originality of its adaptation. The Pioneers: Heinrich von Veldeke. Gottfried of Strasburg. Hartmann von Aue. Erec der Wanderære and Iwein. Lyrics. The “booklets.” Der Arme Heinrich. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Titurel. Willehalm. Parzival. Walther von der Vogelweide. Personality of the poets.

If, however, even Gottfried’s own authorship of the Trista is rather a matter of extremely probable inference than of certain knowledge, and if the lives of most of the poets are very little known, the poems themselves are fortunately there, for every one who chooses to read and to form his own opinion about them. The palm for work of magnitude in every sense belongs to Gottfried’s Tristan and to Wolfram’s Parzival, and as it happens—as it so often happens—the contrasts of these two works are of the most striking and interesting character. The Tristram story, as has been said above, despite its extreme popularity and the abiding hold which it has exercised on poets as well as readers, is on the whole of a lower and coarser kind than the great central Arthurian legend. The philtre, though it supplies a certain excuse for the lovers, degrades the purely romantic character of their affection in more than compensating measure; the conduct of Iseult to the faithful Brengwain, if by no means unfeminine, is exceedingly detestable; and if Tristram was nearly as good a knight as Lancelot, he certainly was not nearly so good a lover or nearly so thorough a gentleman. But the attractions of the story were and are all the greater, we need not say to the vulgar, but to the general; and Gottfried seems to have been quite admirably and almost ideally qualified to treat them. His French original is not known, for the earlier French versions of this story have perished or only survive in fragments; and there is an almost inextricable coil about the “Thomas” to whom Gottfried refers, and who used to be (though this has now been given up) identified with no less a person than Thomas the Rhymer, Thomas of Erceldoune himself. But we can see, as clearly as if we had parallel texts, that Gottfried treated his original as all real and sensible poets do treat their originals—that is to say, that he took what he wanted, added what he chose, and discarded what he pleased. In his handling of the French octosyllable he at once displays that impatience of the rigidly syllabic system of prosody which Teutonic poetry of the best kind always shows sooner or later. At first the octosyllables are arranged in a curious and not particularly charming scheme of quatrains, not only mono-rhymed, but so arranged that the very same words occur in alternate places, or in 1, 4, and 2, 3—”Man,” “kan,” “man,” “kan”; “list,” “ist,” “ist,” “list,”—the latter order being in this interesting, that it suggests the very first appearance of the In Memoriam stanza. But Gottfried was much too sensible a poet to think of writing a long poem—his, which is not complete, and was continued by Ulrich von Turheim, by an Anon, and by Heinrich von Freiberg, extends to some twenty thousand lines—in such a measure as this. He soon takes up the simple octosyllabic couplet, treated, however, with great freedom. The rhymes are sometimes single, sometimes double, occasionally even triple. The syllables constantly sink to seven, and sometimes even to six, or extend themselves, by the admission of trisyllabic feet, to ten, eleven, if not even twelve. Thus, once more, the famous “Christabel” metre is here, not indeed in the extremely mobile completeness which Coleridge gave it, nor even with quite such an indulgence in anapæsts as Spenser allows himself in “The Oak and the Brere,” but to all intents and purposes fully constituted, if not fully developed. If, however, even Gottfried’s own authorship of the Tristan[116] is rather a matter of extremely probable inference than of certain knowledge, and if the lives of most of the poets are very little known, the poems themselves are fortunately there, for every one who chooses to read and to form his own opinion about them. The palm for work of magnitude in every sense belongs to Gottfried’s Tristan and to Wolfram’s Parzival, and as it happens—as it so often happens—the contrasts of these two works are of the most striking and interesting character. The Tristram story, as has been said above, despite its extreme popularity and the abiding hold which it has exercised on poets as well as readers, is on the whole of a lower and coarser kind than the great central Arthurian legend. The philtre, though it supplies a certain excuse for the lovers, degrades the purely romantic character of their affection in more than compensating measure; the conduct of Iseult to the faithful Brengwain, if by no means unfeminine, is exceedingly detestable; and if Tristram was nearly as good a knight as Lancelot, he certainly was not nearly so good a lover or nearly so thorough a gentleman. But the attractions of the story were and are all the greater, we need not say to the vulgar, but to the general; and Gottfried seems to have been quite admirably and almost ideally qualified to treat them. His French original is not known, for the earlier French versions of this story have perished or only survive in fragments; and there is an almost inextricable coil about the “Thomas” to whom Gottfried refers, and who used to be (though this has now been given up) identified with no less a person than Thomas the Rhymer, Thomas of Erceldoune himself. But we can see, as clearly as if we had parallel texts, that Gottfried treated his original as all real and sensible poets do treat their originals—that is to say, that he took what he wanted, added what he chose, and discarded what he pleased. In his handling of the French octosyllable he at once displays that impatience of the rigidly syllabic system of prosody which Teutonic poetry of the best kind always shows sooner or later. At first the octosyllables are arranged in a curious and not particularly charming scheme of quatrains, not only mono-rhymed, but so arranged that the very same words occur in alternate places, or in 1, 4, and 2, 3—”Man,” “kan,” “man,” “kan”; “list,” “ist,” “ist,” “list,”—the latter order being in this interesting, that it suggests the very first appearance of the In Memoriam stanza. But Gottfried was much too sensible a poet to think of writing a long poem—his, which is not complete, and was continued by Ulrich von Turheim, by an Anon, and by Heinrich von Freiberg, extends to some twenty thousand lines—in such a measure as this. He soon takes up the simple octosyllabic couplet, treated, however, with great freedom. The rhymes are sometimes single, sometimes double, occasionally even triple. The syllables constantly sink to seven, and sometimes even to six, or extend themselves, by the admission of trisyllabic feet, to ten, eleven, if not even twelve. Thus, once more, the famous “Christabel” metre is here, not indeed in the extremely mobile completeness which Coleridge gave it, nor even with quite such an indulgence in anapæsts as Spenser allows himself in “The Oak and the Brere,” but to all intents and purposes fully constituted, if not fully developed.

romance

And Gottfried is quite equal to his form. One may feel, indeed, and it is not unpleasant to feel, that evidence of the “young hand,” which consists in digressions from the text, of excursus and ambages, essays, as it were, to show, “Here I am speaking quite for myself, and not merely reading off book.” But he tells the story very well—compare, for instance, the crucial point of the substitution of Brengwain for Iseult in him and in the English Sir Tristrem, or the charming account of the “Minnegrotte” in the twenty-seventh song, with the many other things of the kind in French, English, and German of the time. Also he has constant little bursts, little spurts, of half-lyrical cry, which lighten the narrative charmingly.

is the very thing the want of which mars the pleasantly flowing but somewhat featureless octosyllables of his French models. In the famous passage[117] where he has been thought to reflect on Wolfram, he certainly praises other poets without stint, and shows himself a generous as well as a judicious critic. How Hartmann von Aue hits the meaning of a story! how loud and clear rings the crystal of his words! Did not Heinrich von Veldeke “imp the first shoot on Teutish tongues” (graft French on German poetry)? With what a lofty voice does the nightingale of the Bird-Meadow (Walther) warble across the heath! Nor is it unpleasant to come shortly afterwards to our old friends Apollo and the Camœnæ, the nine “Sirens of the ears”—a slightly mixed reminiscence, but characteristic of the union of classical and romantic material which communicates to the Middle Ages so much of their charm. Indeed nowhere in this Pisgah sight of literature would it be pleasanter to come down and expatiate on the particular subject than in the case of these Middle High German poets.

romance

Hartmann von Aue,[118] the subject of Gottfried’s highest eulogy, has left a bulkier—at least a more varied—poetical baggage than his eulogist, whose own legacy is not small. It will depend a good deal on individual taste whether his actual poetical powers be put lower or higher. We have of his, or attributed to him, two long romances of adventure, translations or adaptations of the Chevalier au Lyon and the Erec et Énide of Chrestien de Troyes; a certain number of songs, partly amatory, partly religious, two curious pieces entitled Die Klage and Büchlein, a verse-rendering of a subject which was much a favourite, the involuntary incest and atonement of St Gregory of the Rock; and lastly, his masterpiece, Der Arme Heinrich.

In considering the two Arthurian adventure-stories, it is fair to remember that in Gottfried’s case we have not the original, while in Hartmann’s we have, and that the originals here are two of the very best examples in their kind and language. That Hartmann did not escape the besetting sin of all adapters, and especially of all mediæval adapters, the sin of amplification and watering down, is quite true. It is shown by the fact that while Chrestien contents himself in each case with less than seven thousand lines (and he has never been thought a laconic poet), Hartmann extends both in practically the same measure (though the licences above referred to make the lines often much shorter than the French, while Hartmann himself does not often make them much longer)—in the one case to over eight thousand lines, in the other to over ten. But it would not be fair to deny very considerable merits to his versions. They are readable with interest after the French itself: and in the case of Erec after the Mabinogion and the Idylls of the King also. It cannot be said, however, that in either piece the poet handles his subject with the same appearance of mastery which belongs to Gottfried: and this is not to be altogether accounted for by the fact that the stories themselves are less interesting. Or rather it may be said that his selection of these stories, good as they are in their way, when greater were at his option, somewhat “speaks him” as a poet. The next or lyrical division shows Hartmann more favourably, though still not exactly as a great poet. The “Frauenminne,” or profane division, of these has something of the artificial character which used very unjustly to be charged against the whole love-poetry of the Middle Ages, and which certainly does affect some of it. There is nowhere the “cry” that we find in the best of Gottfried’s “nightingales”—the lyric poets as opposed to the epic. He does not seem to have much command of trisyllabic measures, and is perhaps happiest in the above-mentioned mono-rhymed quatrain, apparently a favourite measure then, which he uses sometimes in octosyllables, but often also in decasyllables. I do not know, and it would probably be difficult to say, what was the first appearance of the decasyllable, which in German, as in English, was to become on the whole the staple measure of non-lyrical poetry and the not infrequent medium of lyrical. But this must be fairly early, and certainly is a good example. The “Gottesminne,” or, as our own old word has it, the “Divine” Poems, are very much better. Hartmann himself was a crusader, and there is nothing merely conventional in his few lays from the crusading and pilgrim standpoint. Indeed the very first words, expressing his determination after his lord’s death to leave the world to itself, have a better ring than anything in his love-poetry; and the echo is kept up in such simple but true sayings as this about “Christ’s flowers” (the badge of the cross applied to different matter. In size the two “booklets” stand in a curiously diminishing ratio to Erec with its ten thousand verses, Iwein with its eight, and Gregorius with its four; for Die Klage has a little under two thousand, and the Büchlein proper a little under one. Die Klage is of varied structure, beginning with octosyllables, of which the first—

romance

“Minne waltet grozer kraft”—
has a pleasant trochaic cadence: continuing after some sixteen hundred lines (if indeed it be a continuation and not a new poem) in curious long laisses, rather than stanzas, of eights and sevens rhymed on one continuous pair of single and double rhymes, cit unde: ant ende, &c. The Büchlein proper is all couplets, and ends less deplorably than its beginning—

“Owê, Owê, unde owê!”—
might suggest. It is, however, more serious than the Klage, which is really a débat (as the technical term in French poetry then went) between Body and Soul, and of no unusual kind. Fortunately for Hartmann, he has left another work, Der Arme Heinrich, which is thought to be his last, and is certainly his most perfect. It is almost a pity that Longfellow, in his adaptation of it, did not stick closer to the original; for pleasant as The Golden Legend is, it is more of a pastiche and mosaic than Der Arme Heinrich, one of the simplest, most direct, and most touching of mediæval poems. Heinrich (also Von Aue) is a noble who, like Sir Isumbras and other examples of the no less pious than wise belief of the Middle Ages in Nemesis, forgets God and is stricken for his sin with leprosy. He can only recover by the blood of a pure maiden; and half despairing of, half revolting at, such a cure, he gives away all his property but one farm, and lives there in misery. The farmer’s daughter learns his doom and devotes herself. Heinrich refuses for a time, but yields: and they travel to Salerno, where, as the sacrifice is on the point of completion, Heinrich sees the maiden’s face through a crack in the doctor’s room-wall, feels the impossibility of allowing her to die, and stops the crime. He is rewarded by a cure as miraculous as was his harm; recovers his fortune, and marries the maiden. A later termination separates them again; but this is simply the folly and bad taste of a certain, and only a certain, perversion of mediæval sentiment, the crowning instance of which is found in Guy of Warwick. Hartmann himself was no such simpleton; and (with only an infinitesimal change of a famous sentence) we may be sure that as he was a good lover so he made a good end to his story.

Although German writers may sometimes have mispraised or over-praised their greatest mediæval poet, it certain that we find in Wolfram von Eschenbach qualities which, in the thousand years between the Fall and the Renaissance of classical literature, can be found to anything like the same extent in only two known writers, the Italian Dante and the Englishman Langland; while if he is immensely Dante’s inferior in poetical quality, he has at least one gift, humour, which Dante had not, and is far Langland’s superior in variety and in romantic charm. He displays, moreover, a really curious contrast to the poets already mentioned, and to most of the far greater number not mentioned. It is in Wolfram first that we come across, in anything like noticeable measure, that mastery of poetical mysticism which is the pride, and justly the pride, of the German Muse. Gottfried and Hartmann are rather practical folk. Hartmann has at best a pious and Gottfried a profane fancy; of the higher qualities of imagination there is little or nothing in them; and not much in the vast crowd of the Minnesingers, from the chief “nightingale” Walther downwards. Wolfram, himself a Minnesinger (indeed the term is loosely applied to all the poets of this time, and may be very properly claimed by Gottfried and Hartmann, though the former has left no lyric), has left us few but very remarkable aubades, in which the commonplace of the morning-song, with its disturbance of lovers, is treated in no commonplace way. But his fame rests on the three epics, Parzival, Titurel, and Willehalm. It is practically agreed that Parzival represents the flourishing time, and Willehalm the evening, of his work; Titurel. there is more critical disagreement about the time of composition of Titurel, which, though it was afterwards continued and worked up by another hand, exists only in fragments, and presents a very curious difference of structure as compared both with Parzival (with which in subject it is connected) and with Willehalm. Both these are in octosyllables: Titurel is in a singular and far from felicitous stanza, which stands to that of Kudrun much as the Kudrun stanza does to that of the Nibelungen. Here there are none but double rhymes; and not merely the second half of the fourth, but the second half of the second line “tails out” in the manner formerly described. The consequence is, that while in Kudrun it is, as was remarked, difficult to get any swing on the metre, in Titurel it is simply impossible; and it has been thought without any improbability that the fragmentary condition of the piece is due to the poet’s reasonable discontent with the shackles he had imposed on himself. The substance is good enough, and would have made an interesting chapter in the vast working up of the Percevale story which Wolfram probably had in his mind.

“Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any organization. The information provided is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. Readers are encouraged to consult appropriate professionals in making decisions based on the information contained in this article. The author and publisher disclaim any responsibility for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on the information provided herein.”

Leave a Comment