Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

himself as giving no quarter, burning and plundering ; howerer, some
ladies of those days were not much more scrupulous than their knights.

Tell me not of lady's charms ;
Bring my horse, prepare my arms,
Let me hear the trumpet sound,
Feel the squadron shake the ground,
See the hostile banners streaming,
See the low-couch'd lances gleaming,
Headlong let me meet the foe,
Lend

my soul to every blow ;
Thus to battle would I fly,
Conquer—or in combat die.

Speak not of the beaming eye,
Slender waist, and bosom high;
Point not to the secret bower
Where she sleeps the noontide hour ;
Lead me to the leaguer'd wall
Whence the arrows thickest fall,
Whence the deadly mangonel
Hurls the stone and huge quarrēl ;
Let me then the breach assay,
For my soldiers lead the way;
Let me see the flames ascending

O'er each roof in spiry flash,
Whilst the haughty towers seem bending

Ere they sink with thund'ring crash !
And from out the blacken'd walls
Many a voice for mercy calls,
And calls in vain—whilst massy spoil
Richly pays the warrior's toil

Fearless then the valiant knight
May approach the lady bright,

To the proud and peerless fair
Boldly may his love declare-
When a daring deed is done,

Beauty's smile is fairly won !
But the feeling that pervaded by far the greater part of these songs,
was of a widely different nature from the tenderness of the two first
specimens I have given, or the martial, though ferocious ardour, pour-
trayed in the last; the follies and crimes of the age afforded rich
materials for the sirventes, or satires, in which the troubadours most
excelled, and where they give a terrific sketch of prevailing vices,
whilst they exalt the merits of the preceding times, (though these
were even more deserving of censure) so convenient is it, or even to
invent virtues for the ancients, that, from the contrast, we may
censure with more bitterness the vices of the moderns.

De tout le temps l'homme fut coupable,

De tout le temps il fut malheureux.-Gresset. The most interesting poems of this class, however, have been composed by those nobles or princes, who, though they had enrolled them

Z

[ocr errors]

MARCH, 1827.

selves as troubadours, had not the remotest idea of pursuing their poetic studies in a learned solitude, of dwelling in “the cool sequestered vale of life,” but grasped at dominion, fought, and plundered, with as much eagerness as their illiterate contemporaries, who, like the peasants of our own days, could only scrawl the sign of the cross, when, by some rare chance, it was necessary for them to affix their signature. When these illustrious personages write, they give us a clear idea of their sentiments, their passions, the medium through which they behold whatever closely interests them, and their manner of expressing themselves on such subjects. They may sometimes be compared to the heroes of Homer, insolent, arrogant, brave, and presumptuous; not sparing of the most abusive language when they considered themselves aggrieved ; and, with rude candour, displaying, somewhat at a tedious length, all that passes in their inmost soul. The sirvente of Richard Cour de Lion, composed during his severe and tedious captivity, (in which, we are informed, he was confined in a wooden cage, placed in the highest apartment of a high and lofty tower,) and directed against his barons for allowing him to remain two winters, as he expresses it, in prison, and several others of the same description, deserve the curious investigation of whoever wishes to become acquainted with the heart of man, and with the manners of our ancestors.

These sirventes were not, however, always so personal, nor consequently so severe. I am here tempted to give two, written by Pierre Vidal, about 1229, of which the satire, directed against the female sex in general, is so light, that even the fading beauty, or the termagant wife, might fail to recognise herself in them, or at least might, by joining in the mirth, cast the imputation on some other. They give too, some of the earliest specimens of the rond, afterwards so successively imitated by the more modern French in their rondeau ; indeed, I have somewhere seen an imitation, or translation, of one of these ronds of Vidal into French, considerably older than the time of Francis the First. They may interest too in another point of view, as giving an idea of the ridiculous legends believed in the age immediately preceding that of Vidal, and of the progressive improvement of the human understanding, which enabled those who followed to laugh at them, when introduced in a comic poem.

At a critical time came Ogier into France,

That the Saracens thence he might chace :
Why need I tell his valour ? he soon made then prance,

For not one dared to look in his face.
Then leaving the kingdom so safe and so sound,

He still travellid through each foreign clime,
'Till the water of youth he in Paradise found,

Which he drank-at a critical time.
Now since by that water, the warrior so bold
In an instant was changed (though decrepid and old)

To a straight, ruddy youth, in his prime:
'Tis a pity, methinks, this is but an old tale!
There are damsels whose bloom is heginning to fail,
Who this water with transport would buy, beg, or steal,

And 'twould come at a critical time!

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Of this valorous knight in a legend I've read,

Whose calm courage all danger defied ;
Though in female disguise, to his board and his bed

He received the foul fiend as his bride ;
For this shocking mistake, when at last 'twas found out,

Made that courage but shine the more bright!
Then his fame through all Christendom was spread about,

'Till all heard of this valorous knight.
It chanceth that soon after, a princess so grand,
Fix'd her heart on bold Richard, then offer'd her hand;

And he wedded again with delight.
Now which of the two most disturbed his rest?
Or whether the dame or the devil was the best?
If you're so very dull as not yet to have guess'd,

Go and ask of that valorous knight.
But Vidal was not always so fortunate, or rather so prudent, as to
confine his satirical effusions to the folly of women in general. He
indiscreetly and ungenerously exposed the weakness of the Lady de
Saint Gilles, boasting that he spoke of her from personal knowledge.
Her enraged husband took what was then considered a very slight
revenge; he merely slit, or bored the tongue of the defamer. Hugh,
the Lord of Baux, had compassion on him, and sent his own physician
to heal him; but to the day of his death, when bis satiric humour
provoked his brother troubadours, (which was frequently the case),
they reproached him with his well merited punishment, wishing he
had been totally deprived both of tongue and hands.

Our poets were desirous of attracting particular notice to their tensons, or dialogues; in these, they attacked in alternate couplets the opinions of others; they defended their own, and supported contradictory notions on different questions, almost all on subjects of gallantry. I need not here explain what is meant by their pastourelles, and of their novelles or tales. I shall only remark at present, that though rather devoid of wit or humour, they have a species of naïve originality, that makes them interesting.

The didactic poetry of the troubadours is not voluminous, but extremely curious from the subjects on which it treats. Some poems of this class contain maxims of general morality, and afford a strong proof, that though the germ of moral truth may be enclosed in the human heart, yet it must be cultivated by reason, before it can bring forth good fruit. Others give instructions relating to the various classes of society, in particular to the candidates for knighthood, to young ladies, to poets, to jongleurs or minstrels, &c. &c. They have sometimes the address to place their precepts in a strong relief, as I may call it, by affixing them on a back ground of fiction. For example, in one, a youth is supposed to come to the castle of an illustrious noble, to ask his advice as to the principles by which he is to direct his conduct, and to profit by his example. In another, they represent a person, respectable from his age, his character, and bis rank, giving, in a casual conversation with a young lady, lessons on external propriety and decorum (for they never even thought of going

deeper). Had they been acquainted with the writings of the ancients, they might have brought this judicious plan to great perfection, but it was from their own stores alone they drew; had they been mere imitators, it is likely that what they would have gained in taste, they might have lost in simplicity.

I now take my leave of the Troubadours, happy if what I have said may induce some of my readers to search in their neglected poems for the rich treasures of antiquity they abound in. At a future time, I may give some extracts from those of their writings, that exhibit to most advantage the strange manners of the times in which they flourished. Nor can I better sum up the character of that amorous, warlike, jovial race, who like shadows have glided from the face of the earth, than by concluding with the following rough, but faithful translation of Virelai, composed on himself, in his old age, by Rambaud de Vaqueiras, who having made his first campaigns against the Saracens, under the King of Arragon, (himself a Troubadour,) changed to the service of the Marquis of Monserrat ; followed him to his wars for years, and in particular to a crusade ; was rewarded by the Emperor, Frederic the Second, for both his talents and his valour, by the government of Salonika, lately conquered from the infidels ; and finally, after seeing his patron fall by his side, in a desperate engagement with the Turks in Romelia, retired to a convent, (in which it should seem he led rather a joyous life,) where he died in the year 1215.

At that blest age, devoid of care,

When hearts will throb, they know not why,
Slight, blooming, graceful was the fair,

That caught, that fix'd my roving eye.
Her gentle glance, her thrilling voice,

Inspired a verse so warm, so pure,
For love said, “ Sing thine heart's first choice,

Sing, sing of bliss, young Troubadour !”
And when to meet the turban'd foe

My liege I follow'd to the field,
Saw thousands in their blood laid low,

Yet scorn'd for life one inch to yield ;
When clashing swords met armour bright,

When hand to hand I met the Moor!
Even then, a voice cried, “ Sing the fight,

Sing, sing of fame, bold Troubadour!"
But age has furrow'd o'er my brow,

My form is bent, my locks are grey;
No lord, no lady claims me now,

And love and fame have past away.
Yet love and fame I well may spare,

Whilst thus the rosy draught I pour ;
Each age has had of joys its share-
Sing then thy wine, old Troubadour.

R.E.S.

SELF-INTRODUCTION.

Fitz-Henry was the descendant of an improvident race of ancestors, all of whom successively diminished the patrimonial resources by gaming and extravagance, without abating, in the smallest degree, their family pretensions. Each in his turn viewed himself as the representative of an estate, which had given a degree of baronial importance to its first possessor, but which unfortunately had been by each generation so surcharged, as to have become, at the birth of the present expectant, a mere nominal, or rather negative property; worse than nothing in more than mere algebraic signification, since it entailed hopes and prejudices utterly incompatible with any pursuit by which the family fortunes might have been retrieved.

The father of Fitz-Henry was not marked with the hereditary propensities that formed the moral stigmata of his race. The taint had been eradicated in him by measures of necessitous retrenchment, to which none of his progenitors had been reduced; but the tendency remained, and showed itself in a manner scarcely less pernicious to income, and infinitely more destructive of the better inheritance of mental energy. He took to the gambling of law, as a substitute and remedy for the evils engendered by that of the dice-box, and thrust his soul into the trammels held out for him by the advocates of litigation, till he found himself so tangled in their meshes, that, even when the delusion was apparent, he was forced, like one bound in compact with the fiend, to put off the day of ruin by a meek compliance with the dictates of his fate-holders.

Thus he continued, to the hour of his death, the victim of mental and bodily decrepitude, early brought on by that withering paralysis, to which the process of British jurisdiction so frequently subjects its victims. The promise of success which his purchasers had given him through design in the first instance, they were induced, out of mercy, to extend to his later days ; it was the only opiate short of death that could assuage his sufferings; so that he lingered on in a sort of galvanic existence, life being alternately withdrawn and supplied by the sentence of his legal operators.

That an individual so racked should have ‘little thought to devote from bis actual distractions to the future destinies of his heir, can scarcely be surprising; and that in his bright hours those destinies should appear to him tinged by the same hues that lent such a glowing effulgence to his own, can hardly be reproached to him as an enhancement of his weakness. There was at least no selfishness in rearing bis son for that station in life which he hoped himself to fill, and which it required a highly-braced resolution to reject. Fitz-Henry was, therefore, reared for the post of an independent gentleman ; a post which so many claim, and so few know how to maintain. It was not contemplated that any exertion of his abilities would be requisite for that station, except such a moderate use of them as would suffice for some official employ, should the splendid prophecies of the law-oracles unhappily fail of fulfilment.

Thus Fitz-Henry continued during that period of adolescence, which has not unaptly been termed l'etat de force, while yet his energies

« PreviousContinue »