« PreviousContinue »
copies of the story in Latin prose also exist; of the French prose version there is only one known text, which is in the Bibliothèque du Roi at Paris. It is found, however, both in verse and prose in most of the other European tongues-in Irish, in Welsh, in Spanish, in German of various dialects, in Flemish, in English; and there are printed editions of it, both recent and in the earlier ages of typography, in several of these languages. M. Jubinal mentions an edition of it in English prose, printed by Wynken de Worde, in folio, in 1516: it appears to be a translation from a Latin version contained in a volume of Lives of the Saints, compiled under the title of Legenda Aurea, by John Capgrave, who was an English monk of the fourteenth century, and the author also of a quantity of verse, some of which still exists, in his native tongue.* It is remarkable that St. Brandan, or Brandain, has given his name to an imaginary island long popularly believed to form one of the Canary group, although become invisible since his day, or at least not to be discovered by modern navigators, to whom it was a frequent object of search from the beginning of the sixteenth down to so late a date as the beginning of the eighteenth century: the last expedition in quest of it was fitted out from Spain in 1721. The Spaniards, who call the lost island San Borendon, believe it to be the retreat of their King Rodrigo; the Portuguese assign it to their Don Sebastian.† The acquaint
*See Warton's Hist. of Eng. Poet., ii. 355; and additional note by Parke, p. 514 (edit. of 1824).
+ Both the Abbé de la Rue and M. Jubinal refer the reader for information upon the subject of the Isle of St. Brandan to the Noticias de la Historia de las islas de
ance of the modern nations of Europe with the Canary Islands dates only from about the year 1330, when a French ship was driven upon one of them in a storm.
Along with this romance on the pilgrimage of St. Brandon may be noticed another old French poem on a fabulous journey of Charlemagne to Constantinople and Jerusalem, which is perhaps of still earlier date, and which has also from the language been supposed to have been written in England. An account of it is given by De la Rue (Essais, ii. 23-32); and the poem has been since published by M. Francisque Michel, from the Royal MS. 16 E. viii., at the British Museum, under the title of' Charlemagne, an Anglo-Norman poem of the Twelfth Century, with an Introduction and a Glossarial Index ;' 12mo. Lon. 1836. It consists of only 870 lines.
But the farther we pursue the history of this early Norman poetry, the closer becomes its connexion with our own country. Not only does it seek its chief audience in England, but the subjects with which it occupies itself come to be prencipally or almost exclusively English. The earliest of the old French versifiers of our English history appears to be Geffroy Gaimar, who must have written his chronicle before 1146. As commonly known, it consists of a history of the Anglo-Saxon kings only; but at the end the writer expressly states that he had also composed a Brut d'Angleterre,' or History of the Britons, the materials for which he had found in various Latin, Romance, and English manuscripts, and especially
Canaria,' of Dom Joseph da Viera y Clavigo (Madrid, 1672 or 1771).
in a history of the British kings which Robert Earl of Gloucester had procured to be translated from the books of the Welsh, and of which he (Gaimar) had obtained the use, through the Lady Constance, the wife of Raoul Fitz-Gilbert; she sent to Helmeslac, or Hamlac (now Helmesley-Blackmoor, in the Vale of Ryedale), in Yorkshire, to ask the book from the Baron Walter Espec, who thereupon borrowed it for her from the earl. This account the Abbé de la Rue considers to be highly curious and valuable as establishing the fact that the Welsh were in possession of a British history of their own different from the Armorican one brought over by Walter Archdeacon of Oxford, the translation of which Gaimar also mentions, telling us, as the Abbé understands his expressions, that he had compared the two versions, and corrected the one by the other. Afterwards the Abbé states that he had been informed by Mr. Petrie, the late keeper of the records in the Tower, that a copy of the earlier portion of Gaimar's chronicle had at last been found. "This discovery," he adds, "would be so much the more precious, that, by comparing the history of the British kings by Gaimar with that of Geoffrey of Monmouth in Latin, or the translation of it into romance verse [presently to be noticed] by Robert Wace, we might learn whether the sources whence the Armoricans and the Welsh have drawn are the same, whether the legends of each country are indigenous and different from those of the other, what corrections Gaimar, in compiling his Brut, had been able to make upon the work on the same subject by Geoffrey of Monmouth, which he says he had amended, and finally what relations may have originally
existed between the two countries, and whether any subsisted in the twelfth century.'
*We have not been able to learn that any such discovery as that spoken of in the text has actually been made. It appears, indeed, that the Brut contained in Royal MS. 13 A. xxi., at the British Museum, varies greatly from other copies of the work attributed to Wace; M. Le Roux de Lincy, in his late edition of Wace's Brut (Rouen, 1836, 1838) states (Description des Manuscrits,' p. lxxi.), on the information of Sir Frederick Madden and Mr. Thomas Wright, that after the first fifty-two verses the text in the Royal MS. is quite different from the text he has printed down to the birth of Arthur, or for about 7800 verses, being about half the poem; and we observe that, in the copy of Casley's Catalogue of the MSS. in the King's Library,' 4to. Lond. 1734, which belongs to the Reading-room at the British Museum, the description (at p. 218) of the Brut in 13 A. xxi. -"Le Brut, ke Maistre Wace translata de Latin en Franceis, &c."—has recently had the word Brut underscored, and the word Gaimar written on the margin. But, if this be intended to intimate that the 'Brut' to which the entry refers is by Gaimar, we are not aware of the grounds for such a conclusion; the chronicle is expressly declared to be by "Meistre Wace," not only in the title, but both in its introductory and again in its concluding lines. All the correction that Casley's entry seems to want is an addition to it, stating that the second portion of the romance, beginning on fol. 111 r., and entitled 'Lestorie des Engles,' is by Gaimar. The Brut' of this Royal MS., we should suspect, will be found to have a better claim to be accounted the genuine work of Wace than that printed by M. Le Roux de Lincy, who has evidently adopted his text in the first instance upon considerations of convenience, and then set about defending it upon those of criticism. But this gentleman, moreover, in his loose, precipitate, and blundering disquisition, entitled 'Analyse Critique et Littéraire,' appended to his second volume, contends that the Abbé de la Rue is altogether mistaken in his interpretation of what Gaimar says about the book of Walter Archdeacon of Oxford, and maintains that this Latin translation of the
Of David, a contemporary of Gaimar, who is noticed by the latter as having written a history of Henry I. in French verse, which was highly esteemed, and was especially a favourite book with the queen Adelais, althouglı Gaimar holds that it did not go sufficiently into details to do justice to the nobleness, the liberality, the magnificence, and the other brilliant qualities of that great king, nothing remains but the name. His poem was probably only a short composition; Gaimar calls it a chanson, or song, and speaks of it as having been set to music.
The most famous of these writers of early English history in romance verse is Master Wace-Maitre Wace, clerc lisant (that is, writing clerk), as he calls himself— in Latin Magister Wacius. The name is also otherwise written in his own day Waice, Gace, Gasse, and Gasce; but Guace, Huace, Huistace, Wistace, Extasse, Eustace, Eustache, are the corruptions of a subsequent age or modern variations, and Wate, which is the form adopted by some modern writers, is a mere mistranscription. Bishop Huet (in his 'Origines de Caen,' Rouen, 1702) has called him Robert Wace; but his Christian name appears rather to have been Richard. He was a native of the island of Jersey, where he was probably born in the last decade of the eleventh century, and of a good family; his father was one of the Norman barons who accompanied the Conqueror to England and fought at Hastings; he himself was educated for the ecclesiastical
Armorican history by Walter was, in fact, the very volume which Gaimar obtained the loan of from the Earl of Gloucester, for whom Walter had made the translation.