« PreviousContinue »
(or French);* the anonymous author of a continuation of Wace's Brut, in the common octosyllabic verse, in which he brings down the history in a fierce anti-Norman spirit, from the death of Cadwallader at the close of the seventh century to the twenty-fourth year of the reign of Henry III. (A.D. 1240), telling, among other things not elsewhere to be found, a remarkable story of a prophetic revelation made to the Conqueror touching the fates of his three sons ;† Pierre du Ries, a Norman, described as a writer of true poetical genius, who is the author of the romance of 'Anseis de Carthage,' one of the Paladins of Charlemagne, in 10,850 verses, of the Roman de Beuves de Hamton et de s'amie, Josiane, fille du Roi d'Armenie' (our English Bevis of Hampton), in 18,525 verses, and of a continuation of a romance on the subject of Judas Machabeus begun by Gautier de Belleperche ;‡ Godfrey of Waterford, an Irish Dominican monk, the author of a verse translation of the pretended Trojan History of Dares Phrygius, and also of several other versions of Latin works into French prose; § Robert Bikez, the writer, in the latter part of the thirteenth century, of the 'Lai du Corn,' founded on a very popular Arthurian fiction;|| two anonymous writers of the same age, to each of whom we owe a short poem on the Purgatory of St. Patrick (one of about 1800, the other of about 760
* See De la Rue, Essais, iii. 150, 151; see also Tyrwhitt, Essay, note 55.
† See De la Rue, Essais, iii. 157-169; also in Archæologia, xiii. 242-246.
De la Rue, Essais, iii. 170-179.
§ Id. p. 211.
See Tyrwhitt, Discourse, note 24: Warton, Hist. ii. 432; and De la Rue, Essais, iii. 216.
verses) ;* Walter of Exeter, a Franciscan monk of Cornwall, to whom is attributed the romance of Guy de Warwick, et de Felice fille du Comte de Bukingham' (extending to nearly 11,500 verses); and Peter de Langtoft, a canon of the priory of St. Augustin at Bridlington, in Yorkshire, who has left us a translation of the British History of Geoffrey of Monmouth, a continuation of the English story in the same style, from the arrival of the Saxons to the reign of Edward I., a Life of that King, a translation of Herbert de Bosham's Latin Life of Becket, and one or two shorter pieces, all in French verse.†
FRENCH PROSE ROMANCES.-FROISSART.
Down to the end of the twelfth century verse was probably the only form in which romances, meaning originally any compositions in the Romance or French language, then any narrative compositions whatever, were written; in the thirteenth, a few may have appeared in prose; but before the close of the fourteenth, prose had become the usual form in which such works were produced, and many of the old metrical romances had been recast in this new shape. The early French prose romances, however, do not, like their metrical predecessors, belong in any sense to the literature of this country; many of them were no doubt generally read for a time in
* De la Rue, Essais, iii. 245. Upon this subject see 'St. Patrick's Purgatory,' an Essay on the Legends of Purgatory, Hell, and Paradise, current during the Middle Ages; by Thomas Wright, Esq., 8vo. Lond. 1844.
+ Id. pp. 234-239.
England as well as in France, but we have no reason for believing that any of them were primarily addressed to the English public, or were written in England or by English subjects, and even during the brief space that they continued popular they seem to have been regarded as foreign importations. Their history, therefore, is no part of our present subject. But there is one remarkable product of the French literature of the fourteenth century which must be made an exception, the Chronicle of the inimitable Sire Jean Froissart. This work indeed has, in everything except the language in which it is written, nearly as much of an English as of a French interest. Froissart was a native of Valenciennes, where he appears to have been born about 1337; but the four books of his Chronicle, which relate principally to English affairs, though the narrative embraces also the course of events in France, Flanders, Scotland, and other countries, comprehend the space from 1326 to 1400, or the whole of the reigns of our Edward III. and Richard II. Froissart, however, is rather of authority as a painter of manners than as an historian of events; for his passion for the marvellous and the decorative was so strong, that the simple fact, we fear, would have had little chance of acceptance with him in any case when it came into competition with a good story. In his own, and in the next age, accordingly, his history was generally reckoned and designated a romance. Caxton, in his 'Boke of the Ordre of Chevalrye or Knighthood,' classes it with the romances of Lancelot and Percival; and indeed the 'Roman au Chroniques' seems to have been the title by which it was at first commonly known. On the other hand, however, it is fair to remember that a romance was
not in those days held to be necessarily a fiction. Froissart's Chronicle is certainly the truest and most lively picture that any writer has bequeathed to us of the spirit of a particular era; it shows "the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." In a higher than the literal sense, the most apocryphal incidents of this most splendid and imaginative of gossips are full of truth; they cast more light upon the actual men and manners that are described, and bring back to life more of the long-buried past, than the most careful details of any other historian. The popularity of Froissart's Chronicle has thrown into the shade his other productions; but his highest fame in his own day was as a writer of poetry. His greatest poetical work appears to have been a romance entitled 'Meliador, or the Knight of the Sun of Gold;' and he also wrote many shorter pieces, chants royaux, ballads, rondeaux, and pastorals, in what was then called the New Poetry, which, indeed, he cultivated with so much success that he has by some been regarded as its inventor." On his introduction to Richard II., when he paid his last visit to England in 1396, he presented that monarch, as he tells us, with a book beautifully illuminated, engrossed with his own hand, bound in crimson velvet, and embellished with silver bosses, clasps, and golden roses, comprehending all the pieces of Amours
* See Warton, Hist. of Eng. Poetry, ii. 173, 300.-" It is a proof of the decay of invention among the French in the beginning of the fourteenth century, that about that period they began to translate into prose their old metrical romances. At length, about the year 1380, in the place of the Provencial a new species of poetry succeeded in France, consisting of Chants Royaux, Balades, Rondeaux, and Pastorales. This was distinguished by the appellation of the New Poetry."
and Moralities which he had composed in the twentyfour preceding years. Richard, he adds, seemed much pleased, and examined the book in many places; for he was fond of reading as well as speaking French.
ASCENDANCY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.
But for the last fifty years of the fourteenth century the French language had been rapidly losing the ascendancy it had held among us from the middle of the tenth, and becoming among all classes in England a foreign tongue. We have already produced the testimonies of Higden writing immediately before the commencement of this change, and of Trevisa after it had been going on for about a quarter of a century; to these may now be added what Chaucer writes, probably within ten years after the date (1383) which Trevisa expressly notes as that of his statement. In the Prologue to his 'Testament of Love,' a prose work, which seems to have been far advanced, if not finished, in 1392,* the great father of our English poetry, speaking of those of his countrymen who still persisted in writing French verse, expresses himself thus:-"Certes there ben some that speke thyr poysy mater in Frenche, of whyche speche the Frenche men have as good a fantasye as we have in hearing of French mennes Englyshe." And afterwards he adds, “Let then clerkes endyten in Latyn, for they have the propertye in science and the knowinge in that facultye, and lette Frenchmen in theyr Frenche also endyte theyr queynt termes, for it is kyndly [natural] to theyr mouthes; and let us shewe our fantasyes in suche
* See Tyrwhitt's Account of the Works of Chaucer, prefixed to his Glossary.