Page images


Gotfried von Strasburgh, a German minstrel of the thirteenth century, by whom there remains a long metrical in his own language, on the subject of Sir Tristrem-whether he be the same Thomas to whom we owe the Roman du Roi Horn (which Scott was also willing to claim as a translation from another English romance of his Thomas of Ercildown), and what may be the real connexion between either the French or the German 'Tristrem' and the English-as well as whether the latter work be the Sir Tristrem of Thomas of Ercildown mentioned by Robert de Brunne (in the early part of the fourteenth century)—or to what age, country, and author it is to be assigned-are questions upon which we cannot here enter. They will be found profusely discussed in Scott's Introduction and Notes to his edition of Sir Tristrem (8vo. Edinb. 1803); in a long Note, in reply to his views, by Mr. Price, inserted at the end of the first volume of his edition of Warton's History (pp. 181-198); in an Advertisement by Mr. Lockhart, prefixed to his republication of Scott's volume (12mo., Edinb. 1833); in M. de la Rue's Essais Historiques (ii. 251-269); in a valuable paper, known to be by Sir Frederick Madden, in the Gentleman's Magazine for October, 1833 (vol. civ., pp. 307-312); and in M. Michel's elaborate Introduction to his publication of 'The Poetical Romances of Tristan in French, in AngloNorman, and in Greek' (2 vols. 12mo. London and Paris, 1835).


M. de la Rue mentions, in one of his papers in the Archæologia, a Life of Becket in French verse by a cou

temporary of the name of Guernes, an ecclesiastic of Pont Sainte Maxence, in Picardy, which is curious from the statement of the author that he had several times read his composition publicly at the tomb of the archbishop. This, the Abbé observes, would seem to show that, in the time of Henry II., the Romance or old French was understood in England even by many of the common people.* Guernes appears to have begun his poem in France; but he came over to England in 1172, and finished it here in 1177. It consists of above 6000 lines, in stanzas in each of which all the verses terminate in the same rhyme. The only manuscript of it known to De la Rue was one in the Harleian collection (No. 270) ; but another has since been discovered in the ducal library at Wolfenbüttel, from which the poem has been published by Immanuel Bekker, under the title of 'Leben des h. Thomas von Canterbury, Altfranzosisch' (8vo. Berlin, 1838). The Wolfenbüttel manuscript, however, wants the beginning, and contains only about 5220 lines.†


William Herman, who was no doubt of English birth, is the author of several religious romance poems :—a Life of Tobias, in about 1400 verses, written at the request of William Prior of Kenilworth, in Warwickshire (Keneilleworth en Ardenne); another of 1152 verses on the * Archæologia, xii. 324.

† An account of Guernes, nearly the same as in the Archiæologia, is given by De la Rue in his Essais' (vol. ii. pp. 309 -313), under the name of 'Gervais de Pont Ste. Maxence.' In the Harleian MS. the poem is entitled, in Latin, Vita Thome Cantuar. per Guernes de Ponte Sti. Maxentii.' This title is in a more recent hand than the poem; and under "Guernes" is written "Garnerius." But he is called "Gervais," or "Gerveis," by the transcriber of another work.

birth of the Redeemer, entitled 'Les Joies de Notre Dame;' a third, of 844 verses, on a curious theme,Smoke, Rain, and Woman considered as the three disturbers of a man's domestic comforts,-which was given him, it seems, by Alexander Bishop of Lincoln; a fourth, in 712 verses, on the Miracles of Magdalen of Marseilles; a fifth, on the life, death, and burial of the Virgin Mary; a sixth, a sort of mystery, or scriptural drama, on the divine scheme of redemption, also written at the request of the Prior of Kenilworth; and a seventh, a History of the ten ancient Sibyls, extending to 2496 verses, which professes to be a translation from the Latin, and which he composed at the desire of the Empress Matilda. The era of this poet (whose supposed names, by the by, are only collected from two copies of his poem on the history of the Virgin, in one of which he calls himself Guillame, in the other Hermans) is ascertained from that of his patron, Alexander Bishop of Lincoln, who died in 1147, and that of Matilda, who died in 1167, while he was employed on his last-mentioned work. In both editions of his poem on the Virgin he calls himself a priest.


Other English trouveurs of the same age were Hughes de Rotelande, or Hugh of Rutland, who lived, it seems, according to his own account, at Credenhill in Cornwall,* and who is the author of two romances, each containing between 10,000 and 11,000 verses, the Roman d'Ypomedon' and its continuation the 'Roman de Protesilaus,' which are remarkable as having their scene in

*There is a place of this name in Hereford.


Magna Græcia, or the south of Italy, ana as not drawing their subject from the Welsh or Armorican legends of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which were now become the common source of the chivalrous romance; a religious poet of the name of Boson, from whom we have a volume of lives of nine of the Saints, and who is not improbably the same person with a learned theologian of that name who was nephew and secretary to Pope Adrian IV.; † and Simon du Fresne, canon of the Cathedral of Hereford (sometimes called by later authorities Simon Ash), the friend and correspondent of Gyraldus Cambrensis, and well known among the Latin versifiers of his time, who has left us a French poem of considerable merit entitled in one manuscript 'Dictié du Clerc et de la Philosophie,' in another 'Romance Dame Fortunée,' founded on the favourite classic work of the middle ages, Boethius de Consolatione Philosophiæ.'‡

[ocr errors]


De la Rue has introduced among his Anglo-Norman poets of the twelfth or the early part of the thirteenth century the great Stephen Langton, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1207 to 1228, and also a cardinal. The only undoubted specimen of Cardinal Langton's French poetry occurs, strangely enough, in the course of one of his Latin Sermons (preserved in one of the Arundel MSS., now in the British Museum), where, deserting his prose and the more learned language, he suddenly breaks out into song in the idiom of the trou

* See an account of these two poems in De la Rue, Essais, ii. 285-296.

† Id. pp. 297-300.

Id. pp. 329-334.

veurs, and, after having pronounced eight graceful and lively lines relating how “belle Alice” rose betimes, and having bedecked herself, went out into a garden and there gathered five flowers which she wove into a chaplet, proceeds throughout the remainder of the discourse to make a mystical application of the several points of this little anecdote to the Holy Virgin-exclaiming at the close of each enthusiastic paragraph,

Ceste est la bele Aliz,

Ceste est la flur, ceste est le lis.
(She is the fair Alice,

She is the flower, she is the lily.)

"It will be admitted," remarks the Abbé de la Rue, "that the taste for French poetry must have been very general in England when we find the chief prelate of the kingdom taking this way of conciliating the attention of his audience." The Abbé thinks it highly probable that Cardinal Langton is also the author of two poetical pieces which occur in the same manuscript with his sermon; the first a little theological drama on the subject of the fall and restoration of man, the other a canticle or song of 126 strophes on the Passion of Christ. Both are stated to be of considerable merit.


Finally, we have to enrol in this list of the early English writers of French poetry the renowned King Richard I., if we may put faith in old tradition. The poetical performances attributed to Richard are several Sirventes or Serventois,* and his share in the song formerly composed

*M. de la Rue shows that, originally and properly, a Serventois, or Sirvente (the former the northern, the latter



« PreviousContinue »