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except as a local patois, irrecoverably dead. there wanting French archæologists, quite equal in knowledge of the subject to their opponents, who maintain that in this there is nothing to regret, but the contrary— that the northern Romance tongue was as superior to the southern intrinsically as it has proved in fortune, and that its early literature was of far higher value and promise than the Provençal.*
NORMAN TROUVEURS-DUKE RICHARD I.-THIBAUT DE VERNON-TAILLEFER-CHANSON DE ROLAND.
Be that as it may, it is this early literature of the Langue d'Oyl which is for us in England of most interest. It is, in fact, in a manner a part of our own. Not only did it spring up, and for a long time flourish exclusively, among those same wonderful Normans whose greatest and most enduring dominion has been established in this island; the greater part of it appears to have been produced not in France, but in England. This has been shown by the late Abbé de la Rue, the first writer by whom the history of the poctry of the Trouvères, or
* What has come to be called the French tongue, it may be proper to notice, has no relationship whatever to that of the proper French, or Franks, who were a Teutonic people, speaking a purely Teutonic language, resembling the German, or more nearly the Flemish. This old Teutonic French, which the Franks continued to speak for several centuries after their conquest of Gaul, is denominated by philologists the Frankish, or Francic. The modern French, which is a Latin tongue, has come to be so called, from the accident of the country in which it was spoken having been conquered by the French or Franks-the conquerors, as in other cases, in course of time adopting the language of the conquered, and bestowing upon it their own name.
northern Troubadours, was accurately investigated, in a series of dissertations published in 1796 and 1797, in the twelfth and thirteenth volumes of the Archæologia, or Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries, and subsequently, at more length and with more elaborate research, in his valuable work entitled' Essais Historiques sur les Bardes, les Jongleurs, et les Trouvères Normands et Anglo-Normands;' 3 vols. 8vo., Caen, 1834.
The earliest recorded writer of French verse appears to be Richard I., Duke of Normandy, the natural but only son of William I., son and successor of Rollo, the great founder of the duchy. Richard, who afterwards acquired for himself the surname of Sans-peur (the Fearless), was born in 933, was recognised as duke on the death of his father, ten years after, and died, after a glorious reign of more than half a century, in 996. Of his poetry, however, nothing remains except the fame, preserved in the writings of another Trouvère of the next age. Richard, it may be observed, had been sent by his father to be educated at Bayeux, where the Danish language was still spoken, instead of at Rouen, the capital of the duchy, where even already, only a generation after the arrival of the Normans, they or their children, as well as the native population, spoke only French; and his taste for poetry iɛ sɛid to have been first awakened by the songs of the land of his ancestors. Much of the peculiar character, indeed, of the early northern French poetry betokens a Scandinavian inspiration. With this influence was probably combined that of the old Celtic poetry of Britany, or Armorica, of which the country now called Normandy had been originally a part, and with which it still continued to be intimately connected.
In this way may be reconciled the various theories that have been proposed on the subject of the origin of romantic poetry and fiction in Europe; one deducing it from a Scandinavian, another from a Celtic, a third from an Oriental source; and each, separately looked at, appearing to support itself by facts and considerations of great force. When these several theories were advanced in opposition to one another by ingenious and more or less well-informed speculators of the last century, the distinction between the early language and poetry of the south and those of the north of France had been little attended to, and was very imperfectly understood. Had the love-songs of the Provençal Troubadours, and the lays and tales of the Norman Trouvères, not been confounded together, it might have been perceived that both the internal and the external evidence concurred in assigning, in great part at least, a Saracenic origin to the former, and a mixed Scandinavian and Armorican parentage to the latter.
Another early Norman Trouvère, whose name only has been preserved, is Thibaut de Vernon, who was a canon of Rouen in the early part of the eleventh century, or in the age intermediate between that of Duke Richard Sans-peur and that of the Conqueror. A collection of fifty-nine old French Lives of Saints, of which three are in verse and the rest in prose, has been attributed to De Vernon; but erroneously, as is shown by M. de la Rue. What he really wrote was a verse Life of St. Vandrille (the Abbot Wandregisilus), which appears to be lost.
The renowned minstrel Taillefer, who struck the first blow at the battle of Hastings, is described by his coun
tryman Wace, in the next century, as having dashed on horseback among the ranks of the Saxons, to meet his glorious death, singing of Charlemagne and Roland and Oliver, and the other peers who died at Roncesvaux :
De Karlemaigne et de Rollant,
E d'Oliver, et des vassals,
Cy morurent en Roncesvals.
Various pieces of ancient verse have been from time to time produced, claiming to be this Song of Roland (as it is styled by several later chroniclers); and it has been generally assumed that it was a short lyrical strain, and a composition of Taillefer's own. Lately, however, much attention has been attracted to a long poem, of nearly three hundred stanzas, or some three thousand lines, which M. Francisque Michel has published, from the manuscript in the Bodleian Library, under the title of 'La Chanson de Roland, ou de Roncevaux' (8vo., Paris, 1837), and which he contends is the true old epic of which a portion was recited by Taillefer on this occasion. The existence of this poem was, we believe, first pointed out in a note to his edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (v. 13,741), by Tyrwhitt, so many of whose hints and conjectures on such subjects have anticipated or been confirmed by more recent inquiry, and who observes that the "romance, which in the MS. has no title, may possibly be an older copy of one which is frequently quoted by Du Cange, under the title of 'Le Roman de Roncereaux."" "The author's name," he adds, "is Turold,
as appears from the last line :
Ci fait le geste que Turold' declinet.
He is not mentioned by any of the writers of French
literary history that I have seen." There are in fact other manuscripts of the work, but of a later age. It appears, however, to have been generally forgotten until it was again mentioned by the late Rev. J. F. Conybeare, in announcing, in the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1817, his Illustrations of the Early History of English and French Poetry' '—a work which, unfortunately, he did not live to publish. That same year an analysis of the poem was given in the first volume of the Mémoires et Dissertations de la Société Royale des Antiquaires de France,' by M. de Musset, who at the same time announced an edition of it as in preparation by M. Guyot des Herbiers. This, however, never appeared, any more than an edition which was announced in 1832 as then preparing by M. Bourdillon. Nor, although it was subsequently made the subject of much discussion by M. H. Monin, who published a Dissertation upon it in an 8vo. volume, at Paris, in 1832, by M. Paulin Paris, by M. Le Roux de Lincy, in his Analyse du Roman de Garin le Loherain' (12mo. Paris, 1835), and other French poetical antiquaries, was the poem made accessible to the public, till M. Michel was enabled to produce his edition of it (of which the impression, however, was very limited) by the liberality of the French government. But whether the learned editor was justified in the title he has prefixed to it may still be questioned. The 'Chanson de Roland' would seem to be a more appropriate name for some particular portion of such a long composition than for the whole.