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which included in its ranks kings and kaisers, dukes and earls, and many other personages of high distinction, were, perhaps, the founders, but certainly the most distinguished cultivators of this refined art-the jongleurs -whose appellation some curious antiquarian has derived from "ongles" (the nails), because we suppose these gentlemen, when under the influence of the "divine afflatus," and hard up for some form of expression, had recourse to the usual relief in such cases, of biting their nails--united the instrumental performance with the vocal art; or somewhat similar to the duties of that class of our Irish bards, known by the denomination of Orfidigh. The old French melodies chanted by these erratic minstrels were called lais-an epithet apparently of doubtful derivation; the Latin extraction of lessus, or lamentation, assigned to it, by no means solving the difficulty, for many of these compositions were of the most sportive and amatory description. The Emperor Frederick Barbarosa and our lionhearted Richard were, as it is well known, members of this illustrious order-distinguished by the fair as well as the brave-for many ladies of the highest caste were included in its ranks.
The famous court of love, of which the beautiful Countess of Champagne was the learned chief-we presume chief justice-and whose judgments, called "arrêts d'amour," became so celebrated, was composed of sixty ladies of rank, all members of the same learned and joyous profession. There is a case on record of an appeal against a judgment of this fair functionary, which came before the Queen of France. Counsel learned in the law were heard on both sides; but the result was, that the decree of the court below was affirmed with costs, her majesty exclaiming, with considerable energy, "God forbid that I should meddle with a decree of the Countess of Champagne !"
What a glorious profession was this uniting in one the now rival branches of love, of law, and of song-when the sweet judges rewarded the pleader's art with a peacock's feather, or a kiss (how numerous in these pleasant times, more so perhaps than at present, must have been the members of the junior bar). We should willingly, although in the full tide of practice,
exchange our existence now for professional employment then. Lawyer as we are, we would willingly exchange the benign approval with which the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench listens to our arguments, for a smile from the rosy lips of that fair arbitress, and right willingly would we give the heaviest cause in which we were ever retained in the Court of Chancery here, for a brief in that court of love. to return to these heroes of romance, their life was spent in journeying about from castle to castle, where they always found the warmest welcome. Rich vestments, rare repasts, and bright smiles ever awaited them; and several of the order, by reason of their superior excellence in the tuneful art, were admitted to the rank of knighthood. The works of many of these ancient minstrels are still extant. "The old Poem of the Knight of Curtesy and the Lady of Fayel" is a tolerable specimen of the class. It is a simple history of the unhappy fate of Rayoul Chatelain de Coucy, who lived in the age of Thibaut, King of Navarre. The Lord of Fayel, unfortunately for the Chatelain, happened to be possessed of a most beautiful wife, with whom the troubadour fell passionately in love. The lady returned his affection. The green-eyed monster of Fayel grew, therefore, desperately jealous, and the Chatelain thought it would be the most prudent plan for him to go and cure his love by a little fighting in the Holy Land. He received, however, a fatal wound at the siege of Rhodes, and his dying injunctions to his faithful squire were to the effect, that he should
"Bear his heart to his mistress dear."
The squire fulfilled his lord's behest, but upon drawing near the castle of Fayel he was met by the worthy signeur, who flew into a terrific passion, and deprived him of his precious burthen, which the old savage was brute enough to have cooked and served up for the dinner of the countess and having enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing her partake largely of this dainty, he had the ill-nature to inform the poor lady what it was she had just eaten. She coolly informed him, however, that it was so delicious she should never eat any thing else, and, rising from the table, went to the window, from which she precipitated herself,
and was killed on the spot. The curious reader will find this affecting episode detailed at full length, in verse, in the "Ancient English Historical Romances," by Mr. Ritson.
Spain, famous to this day for her songs and ballads, appears also to have held a high position, at a very early period, among the lands of song, for the excellent skill of her minstrels. The most ancient of her ballads, known at the present day, are "Las Coplas de La Zarabanda,"-songs full of expression and humour, commonly sung at convivial assemblies. They are almost similar to the "Canzone a ballo" of the Italians, and were, doubtless, composed for a similar purpose. The profession of minstrels in Spain was also divided into different orders, each of which had assigned to it the performance of a distinct duty. The institution of this order was clearly derived from France, for we are informed that in the fourteenth century the king of Arragon, having dispatched ambassadors to France for this purpose, was furnished with two troubadours of rare skill from the College of Toulouse, who instructed the rising generation of Spain in the cultivation and improvement of "La Gaia ciencia," an appellation adopted from the minstrelsy of France.
But ancient as was the origin of minstrelsy, in other and adjoining countries, to none of them does Ireland yield in regard of antiquity. The institution of the celebrated order of Irish Bards unquestionably took place at a period nearly five hundred years before the Christian era. "Innisfail, or the Isle of Destiny," as our country is called in some of the oldest ballads, after having been the prey of the Fomorians, the Belgians, and the Tuatha de Danans respectively, was invaded, about 1015 years before Christ, by the Milesians, a colony of the Iberian Spaniards, who settled in this country, from whom are descended the ancient Irish kings. It is to this invasion that the beautiful lyric of Mr. Thomas Moore refers. As it is not in many of the collections of his works, we shall give it for the benefit of our readers :
"They came from a land beyond the sea, And now o'er the western main Set sail in their good ships gallantly,
From the sunny land of Spain. Oh, where's the isle we've seen in dreams, Our destined home or graveThus sung they, as by the morning's beams,
They swept the Atlantic wave. "And lo! where afar o'er ocean shines A sparkle of radiant green, As tho' in that deep lay emerald mines, Whose light in the wave was seen. 'Tis Innisfail-'tis Innisfail,
Rings o'er the echoing sea, While bending to heaven, the warriors hail
That home of the brave and free.
"Then turned they into the eastern
Where now their day-god's eye A look of such sunny omen gave, As lighted up sea and sky. Nor frown was seen through sky or sea, Nor tear o'er leaf or sod, When first on the isle of Destiny Our great forefathers trod."*
It appears that when the Danans had possession of the island, Ith, a Spanish prince, a visitant of the country, was slain. The kinsmen of this prince, eight in number, then invaded the country, for the purpose of avenging his death. Having encountered shipwreck, five of the number were lost. The survivors landed, at the head of a considerable army, and conquered the Danans in a pitched battle, at Tailten, in the county Meath. These three brothers afterwards founded the order of Irish bards, and from them are descended the Heremonian, Heberian and Irian lines of Irish kings.
That the Celtic nation, however, had songs amongst them, we have the evidence of Posidonius, who says, that in making war they carried with them table companions, who celebrate the praises of their masters, and these men they call bards. By no nation and in no country was the order treated with so much distinction as by the ancient Irish. The profession was one both of dignity and of emolument; it was hereditary, enjoyed by the most illustrious families, and grants of land were bestowed upon its members.
This little ballad, which is unquestionably one of great beauty, is given in a collection of Irish national poetry, the selection of the pieces contained in which evinces much taste.
Their songs were of such great value, that they were usually preserved in the depository of the records of the kingdom. And we are sorry to be obliged to state, and we fear the story is nevertheless true, that our tutelary saint, St. Patrick, in his zeal for the religion he was about to establish, burned nearly eight hundred volumes of the most ancient of these Pagan songs.
It may not be uninteresting to our readers to cast a rapid, cursory glance at the history of Irish literature, prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion; at which period, we are informed, by the "Annals of the Four Masters," many of the most distinguished bards lived. The bardic order was an office of considerable honor. Its duties were, to preside over the interests of literature, history, and religion; and the candidate was obliged to undergo twelve years of probationary education in one of the Druidic colleges, before he was thought competent to fulfil the duties of his order. Once admitted, he passed the remainder of his existence careless and free, like the bachelor in the old song; land was allotted to him; his person was deemed sacred; he became one of the most honoured and revered members of the community, being distinguished by a dress of plaid, the colours of which, with the exception of a single stripe, were similar to those worn by royalty. The duties of this office were afterwards separated into four branchesthe Brehon had the task of framing, and perhaps of administering, the laws, which, set to the music of his harp, were doubtless conveyed through a much more agreeable medium than at the present more enlightened age; the Filea, or chief bard, who used to march in the front of battle, in flowing robes, with a golden harp, to animate the troops; the Seanchie, whose office was, for the most part, of an antiquarian nature; and the Orfidigh, whose functions were solely instrumental.
The great Irish orator of the age may not, perhaps, be aware that he had a namesake, who lived in the fifth century, from whom, if he is able to trace his pedigree, the descent may in some manner account for the rhetorical beauty by which that right honorable gentleman's speeches are distinguished. Sheil, or in the Latin
Sedulius, was one of the most distinguished of his order, and besides his works in his native tongue, some beautiful poems, written by him in the purest Latin, have still survived.
About this period, the bardic order had increased to such an extent, and had become so formidable to the native princes and the nobility, by their uncontrolled licence and audacity, that measures were contemplated for the purpose of checking their power and reducing their numbers. It was even proposed that the order should be abolished altogether, but the influence of St. Columba procured an adjustment of the differences; and, by a proper regulation of the abuses which had crept in, he obtained for them a reinstatement into their ancient privileges and immunities. Dallan was the most remarkable poet of the ninth century; he seems to have derived his chief renown from an attempt made by him, at the instigation of the Prince of Breifne, to obtain possession of a celebrated golden shield, called the Dubh-giolla, which was then in the possession of Aodh, King of Orgiall. This worthy monarch's callous heart, however, proved insensible to the charms of song: the ode which the bard recited for the occasion was ineffective; and we are told that King Aodh refused to reward the minstrel with anything except gold and silver, or precious gems. We wonder if the bards of the present day would have been quite so hard to please. But the minstrel, baffled in his object, returned to the Prince of Breifne in a very disconsolate and discontented
The last of the Pagan bards whom it is necessary for us to mention, was Torna Egeas, the chief bard of the kingdom, some of whose poems are still extant. Of these, the most remarkable was a dirge composed upon the death of two princes of whom he was the preceptor-of Corc, king of Munster, and Nial the Great, who derived this soubriquet from the number of princes from whom he had obtained hostages. A warrior of renown, he defeated the Picts, invaded the Roman territories, and after a successful descent upon the coast of Brittany, he returned, bringing with him a youthful captive (well known to our countrymen by the name of St. Patrick), who
was destined by Providence to convert the land of his captivity to the Christian faith. The stormy career of the conquering Nial was terminated abruptly at Liege, where he fell a victim to the enmity of one of his own followers, and was slain in a sudden quarrel.
One of the most beautiful of the ancient bardic odes is the lament of Torna for his chieftain's death, translated by Mr. Ferguson, and selected in the "Ancient Poetry of Ireland," by Mr. Montgomery. The spirited and glowing versification of this piece, with the beautiful and touching expressions of sorrow, will remind the reader of some of the finest stanzas of that master of ballad poetry, Sir Walter Scott. Although it is rather in anticipation of our plan, we cannot resist the temptation of presenting it to the reader's notice as we proceed :
"My foster-children were not slack;
"There the foster-children twain
"Therefore Neal I ever set
On my right hand, thus to get
Judgments grave, and weighty words,
Gone is valiant Neal O'Con-woe is me!
Gone the root of Tara's stock-woe is me!
Gone the head of Cashel rock-woe is me!
Broken is my witless brain-
The most accomplished bards succeeding these we have just mentioned, were the learned Bishop Feich-whose remarkable poem is, of course, familiar to every lover of Irish antiquarian lore Columcille, Dallan, and Seanchan, several of whose poems are to be found in Mr. Hardiman's collection. Many of these pieces, the learned author tells us, afford incontestable proof —as well by their construction as by their versification-that their origin has been derived from the ancient songs of the Pagan bards.
The melodies of Ireland were, about this period, hushed by the war-cries of the Danes; but notwithstanding these unfavourable circumstances, that skilful and truly learned poet, Maolmura Miles, found an audience ready to appreciate his minstrelsy. The bard who has not inaptly been styled, in the "Annals of the Four Masters," the Virgil of Ireland, succeeded him; and then, among a host of others of inferior note, the harps of the bards, Mac Giolla Caoimh and Eochy O'Floin, awakened the tuneful echoes of their native mountains. Mac Liag, their successor-who was secretary and biographer of the Irish monarch, Brian-was killed at the battle of Clontarf, in 1014. His songs, full of tenderness and exquisite pathos, are filled with wailings for the untimely death of his sovereign. O'Mulconry-who lived in the twelfth century, and whose songs have been handed down to us in the Book of Lecan-with O'Cassidy, the abbot of Ardbracken, in Meath an ecclesiastic dis
tinguished for his piety and eruditionand O'Dun, chief bard to the prince of Leinster-whose poems are to be found in the Book of Ballymote, and other ancient Irish manuscripts-bring us down to the period when the invasion of Henry II. silenced, for a space, the melodious strains of the Irish bards, who appear to have always been very obnoxious to the conquerors, probably for reasons equally potent with those which influenced the "ruthless king" to exterminate the Welsh minstrels. It appears to have been the policy of the conquerors to lessen, as far as they possibly could, the numbers of those who sung of the ancient glories of their country, who mourned over her oppressions and wrongs, or stimulated, by passionate appeals, their suffering fellow-countrymen to fresh deeds of courage and of resistance. Though the voice is mute-though the harp is broken though the hand that swept, with a master's skill, its tuneful chords, is now long-forgotten dust, these strains of patriotism and of genius-the sweet songs of our native land-have lived through the storms of war, the destructive influence of time, and the rage of persecution, and are handed down to us as perfect and imperishable as when they first burst, fresh and glowing with impassioned eloquence, from the minstrel's heart.
The bardic race were most flourishing under the reign of Ollam Fodhla, the great Irish legislator; by whom were founded those halls of Tara, which have been immortalized by Moore. "No music," says an ancient MS. quoted by Mr. Hardiman, "then delighted the people more than each other's voices-such peace and concord reigned among them, that their voices sounded sweeter than the warblings of a melodious harp. The name of the place owing its origin to its fame for harmony, Te-mur, or Tara, signifying the hall of music."
Royne File, the next bard of any celebrity, whose name has reached us, was of royal lineage; and Ferciertne, the panegyrist of the Irish law-giver, with a few others of inferior note, bring us down to the period of the founding of the order of the Red Branch Knights, of whom the most remarkable were Conal Cearnagh, the master; Cuchullin; Naoise, Anile, and Ardun, the three sons of Usmoth.
This was about the commencement of the Christian era, and the island was then agitated by a revolutionary movement against the Brehons, who, invested as they were with an undue proportion of judicial influence, became so tyrannical and overbearing, that their total expulsion was nearly determined on, when Corcoran, one of the provincial monarchs of the day, prevented matters being carried to such an extremity by a timely reduction of their numbers.
In the tenth century, under the reign of the great Brian Boru, the people of Ireland, long harassed by the invasion of the hordes of Danes and Northmen, seem to have got a brief respite from persecution - -peace and tranquillity were restored, and literature flourished under his mild but vigorous sway. The invaders, however, daily increased in power and numbers; and at length, seizing a favourable opportunity, they attacked the stout old monarch, then in the eighty-third year of his age, in great force.
Overpowered by numbers, and baffled by treachery, the last illustrious scion of Irish royalty, was slain at the battle of Clontarf; and we are sorry to say that in the varied collection before us, with the one exception we have already mentioned, we cannot discover any elegaic stanzas upon the death of this accomplished monarch worth selecting. We cannot avoid thinking that this speaks very little for the gratitude or the ability of these, of the rights of whose order King Brian Boru was the most illustrious champion.
The harp of this monarch was sent to Henry VIII., and by him given to the Marquis of Clanrickarde; it was afterwards presented by Mr. Conyngham to the museum of Trinity College, where it now remains. It is thus described in a work quoted by Mr. Montgomery :
"It is thirty-two inches high, and of good workmanship; the sounding-board is of oak, the arms of red sally; the extremity of the uppermost arm, in part, is capped with silver, extremely well wrought and chiselled. It contains a large crystal, set in silver; and under it was another stone, now lost. The buttons, or ornamented knobs, at the side of this arm, are of silver. On the front arm are the arms, chased in silver, of the O'Brien family-the bloody hand supported by