Page images


To our King Henry I., surnamed Beauclerk, or the Scholar, who was carefully educated under the superintendence of the learned Lanfranc, afterwards archbishop and saint, M. de la Rue attributes both an English translation of a collection of Latin Æsopian fables, mentioned in the next age by Marie de France, and rendered by her into French verse, and a short poem in romance entitled 'Urbanus,' or 'Le Dictié d'Urbain,' being a sort of code of the rules of politeness as understood and observed in his day. The evidence, however, is not very conclusive as to either production; and the English fables, in particular, now only known from Marie's translation, have been claimed, with perhaps more probability, for the Saxon king Alfred, whose name appears instead of that of Henry in some manuscripts of Marie's work.* Both Henry's queens, it may be noticed, are recorded to have been, as well as himself, fond of literature and poetry. M. de la Rue refers to the works of Hildebert, Bishop of le Mans, as containing several pieces of Latin poetry addressed to the first of them, Matildis, or Matilda, the daughter of the Scottish king Malcolm Canmore and the Saxon Margaret, herself a learned as well as pious princess. But the liveliest picture of this part of Queen Matilda's character is that drawn by William of Malmesbury, who, it will be perceived however, is no

*See a note upon this subject (which, however, appears not to have convinced De la Rue) by the late Mr. Price, in his edition of Warton's History of English Poetry, i. lxxiv., &c.

great admirer of some of the tastes which he describes :-"She had a singular pleasure in hearing the service of God; and on this account was thoughtlessly prodigal towards clerks of melodious voice; addressed them kindly, gave to them liberally, and promised still more abundantly. Her generosity becoming universally known, crowds of scholars, equally famed for verse and for singing, came over; and happy did he account himself who could soothe the ears of the queen by the novelty of his song. Nor on those only did she lavish money, but on all sorts of men, especially foreigners, that, through her presents, they might proclaim her liberality abroad; for the desire of fame is so rooted in the human mind that scarcely is any one contented with the precious fruits of a good conscience, but is fondly anxious, if he does anything laudable, to have it generally known. Hence, it was generally observed, the disposition crept upon the queen to reward all the foreigners she could, while the others were kept in suspense, sometimes with effectual, but often with empty promises. Hence, too, it arose that she fell into the error of prodigal givers; bringing many claims on her tenantry, exposing them to injuries, and taking away their property; by which, obtaining the credit of a liberal benefactress, she little regarded their sarcasms. ** With all this vanity, however, and love of admiration and applause, if such it is to be called, Matilda is admitted by the historian to have constantly practised the humblest and most self-denying offices of

* Willelmi Malmesbiriensis Gesta Regum Anglorum, lib. v. ad an. 1107. We have availed ourselves of the excellent translation of the Rev. John Sharpe, 4to. London, 1815, p. 516.

religion; she did not shrink, we are told, either from washing the feet of diseased persons, or even from touching and dressing their sores and pressing their hands for a long time with devout affection to her lips; and her chief pleasure was in the worship of God. It is a trait of the times to find the same person the chief patroness of piety and of poetry. Henry's second queen, Adelais, or Alice, of Louvain, is addressed by several of the Norman and Anglo-Norman trouvères as the special protectress of them and their art.


One of those by whom she is thus distinguished is Philip de Than (anciently Thaon or Thaun), who, if the age of Turold and his Roman de Roncevaux be disputed, may be regarded as the earliest of the trouvères any of whose works have certainly come down to us. He is the author of two French poems of considerable length; one a treatise on chronological computation, which he entitles 'Liber de Creaturis;' the other, called 'Bestiarius,' being a sort of natural history, comprising an account of both animal and mineral productions. The latter, however, which is dedicated to Queen Adelais, and was probably written between 1120 and 1130, is merely a translation of a Latin work of the same title.

We have already mentioned Geffroy, or Geoffrey, also a native of Normandy, who died abbot of the monastery of St. Albans in 1146, and his miracle-play of St. Catherine, which is stated by Matthew Paris to have been acted by the boys attending his school at Dunstable about the year 1110, and is generally referred to as the

earliest drama upon record in any modern tongue." * But in truth we have no information in what language this lost production of Geoffrey was composed; it may have been in French, in English, or in Latin, though it is most probable that it was in the first-mentioned tongue. If so, it is by much the most ancient French play of which the name has been preserved. Its claim to stand at the head of modern dramatic literature, however, has been disputed. "Perhaps," observes a late learned writer, "the plays of Roswitha, a nun of Gandersheim in Lower Saxony, who lived towards the close of the tenth century, afford the earliest specimens of dramatic composition since the decline of the Roman empire." † These plays of Roswitha's appear to have been intended only for reading, and are not known ever to have been acted; but they have been twice published;-first by Conrad Celtes in 1501, and again by Leonard Schurtzfleisch in 1707.


Another of the poetical protégés or celebrators of Queen Adelais is the unknown author of a poem of between 800 and 900 verses on the Pilgrimage of St. Brandan. There were, it appears, in the sixth century two Irish ecclesiastics of the name of Brandan or Brendan, both of whom have since been canonized, the day assigned in the Calendar to the one being the 29th of November, to the other the 16th of May. It is the latter with whom we have here to do. He has the credit of having been the founder of the abbey of Clonfert in

*See ante, p. 46.

Note by Price to Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poet., ii. 68.

Galway; but the most memorable passage of his history is his voyage, along with some of his monks, in quest of a more profound seclusion from the world, which was believed in an after age to have conducted him to one of the Fortunate Islands, or one of the Canaries according to a still later interpretation. He did not find the scheme of so distant a retirement to answer, and he soon returned to Ireland; but M. de la Rue thinks it probable that he drew up a narrative of his adventures for the information of the European public of that day, out of which there grew in course of time the legend which bears the name of his Voyage to the Terrestrial Paradise, and which is as full of marvels and miracles as that of Ulysses, or any of those of Sinbad the Sailor. Indeed one of Sinbad's principal wonders, his landing on the whale, is actually found in the Voyage of St. Brandan. De la Rue has given copious extracts from the poem on this subject which he notices, and which professes to have been composed at the command of Queen Adelais, and immediately after her marriage in 1121. But the fullest account of St. Brandan and his Pilgrimage will be found in the Preface to a more recent publication by M. Achille Jubinal, entitled 'La Légende Latine de S. Brandaines, avec une traduction inédite en prose et en poésie Romane, publiée d'après les manuscrits de la Bibliothèque du Roi, remontant aux xie, xiie, et xiiie siècles;' 8vo., Paris, 1836. Of the French metrical legend here printed, which is different from the AngloNorman romance analysed by De la Rue, M. Jubinal states that there are many manuscripts; it is found as part of a poem of the thirteenth century written by Gauthier de Metz, entitled 'Image du Monde.' Several

« PreviousContinue »