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a long time, the favorite amusement of all the ancient knights therefore, if, in any possible way, we can ascertain the origin of these military pastimes, we shall also fix that of the tales which they produced; but, unfortunately, at the very first starting of the question, we find ourselves lost in darkness, and the writers, who have pretended to develope the matter and lead us to the truth, have all gone very far astray from the right road. Instead of endeavouring to enlighten their reader, they seem desir. ous only to inspire him with the same esprit de corps by which they were animated; since the only object which, generally speaking, they all have had in view, has been to establish the pre-eminence of their respective nations. The French, in fact, pretend that the inventor of them was Godfrey II. a prince of their nation, and Lord of Previlly, who died in the year 1066; and from whom is descended the family of Vendomme. The Germans, on the contrary, assert, that the institution of the tournaments is due to Henry l'Oisselleurs, who lived in the year 934, that is at least a century before the French Godfrey. Our own nation also puts in her claim, by refering the origin of the justs to our celebrated king Arthur, who reigned in the year 493, nearly six centuries before the French Godfrey, and more than four before the German Henry. To complete the whole, M. Sismondi comes in with the rest, and, under the appellation of romance, he ascribes the whole credit to the Normans.
We shall not trouble either ourselves or our readers to analyze the opinion of M. Sismondi and ascertain its probability. As he has not thought proper to communicate any thing about the authority on which he has' grounded his system, we shall leave him in the same darkness with which he has been pleased to sur. round himself. Consequently, we shall confine our observations to the pretensions of the French, German, and English, who all produce their arguments, their authorities, and their chronicles, All these nations severally call on the Italians, and endeavour to establish their respective claims on the authority of the best writers of that country. Thus the Italians, being made arbiters and judges, we may consider their opinion as a verdict; and though we shall acknowledge with Andres, Tiraboschi, and Crescimbeni, that they have received from the Germans the ina stitution of tournaments, yet, upon the authority of the same writers, we shall assert, that to our king Arthur, or rather to his descendants, we must refer the origin of the round table; that is the very origin of these military establishments. The fact is, that very early after the year. 1000, we find at the court of many princes of Europe different round tables instituted upon the same plan as that of King Arthur; and there is some ground to believe
hat this round table had its origin in England, but not before the ninth century. It is attributed to King Arthur, not be. cause he was the real inventor of such an institution, but because being a prince of great reputation, he was considered by his pos. terity as the greatest protector of chivalry.
Had not the want of information put it out of our power to ascertain the real origin of tournaments and justs, we might perhaps trace them to the fights of the Roman gladiators, rendered less despicable, and, by degrees, more honorable. On the other hand, if we consider that these fights of the Roman gladiators were derived from nearly a similar institution of more ancient times, to cast to the wild beasts all those who had infringed the laws of the country, then the origin of justs and tournaments wil be lost in the obscurity of time.
Why this institution should be called the Round Table of King Arthur is a matter of equal controversy. Lesly, iu bis history, asserts it to have been a real table, and gravely assures us. that he has seen it at Winchester, with the names of many knights still engraved on its border. The celebrated Laurey relates the same thing as an historical fact; but Camden, with less credulity, and a great deal more of criticism, observes, that this round table of Winchester shewed a more modern taste than what we discover in the works of the seventh century; and the famous Papebrok has proved, with a great deal of erudition, that, before the tenth century, no one knew any thing about chivalry in Europe. To this we may add the authority of Jovius, who dates the establishment of the Round Table about the age of Frederic Barbarousse.
The fact is, we have received such an institution from the. Arabians. Amongst them, as afterwards amongst us, the Round Table was a military exercise, a mere just of two knights, while, in tournaments, they fought in troops and, as afterwards, they went to a banquet with the person who had given this en tertainment, to avoid quarrel for precedency, the table was round.
These tournaments and justs gave occasion to the poets and to the prose writers, who flourished in Provence, to celebrate these knightly achievements. The poets especially, having re. course to memoirs of Arabian imagination, began to aggrandize these deeds of valour; and as these tournaments had originally been friendly meetings, on some great occasions, to shew the dexterity of the knights in gaining the highest reward which was bestowed on them by the hand of beauty, the poets described them as pitched battles between the warriors of one nation against those of another; and by intermixing with them monsters, giants, and enchantments, they gave origin to those fabulous
books which we now mean under the name of Romances of Chivalry.
It is generally asserted, that the earliest romance that was ever written was a book of chronicle, or a history of the achievements of King Arthur, under the title of Round Table. It is generally attributed to Telesinus, who flourished about the year 540; and for this reason we are inclined to believe it to have been a production of later ages. For as it is demonstrated that the tournaments and justs, or rather the institution itself of the Round Table, did not take place before the ninth century; so we can with safety assert, that the book which treated of this institution could not have been written before the institution itself had been established. We find, in fact, among the MSS. which Queen Christina bequeathed to the Vatican Library, a romance of King Arthur, nearly five hundred years old, and written in the Provençal language. It is true that many authors, and M. Sismondi with the rest, pretend that this Provençal romance of King Arthur was a translation of that which had been written by Telesinus more than 300 years before ; but as this opinion rests upon the slight basis of supposition, and no one has seen as yet this Chronicle of Telesinus, we may be allowed to stick to facts, and doubt the existence of the book altogether.
Besides, as this Provençal romance of King Arthur does not appear to be the original copy, would it not be more reasonable to suppose it to have been a transcript of a still older Provençal manuscript, without being a translation of that which was written by Telesinus? And, indeed, if we consider the little intercourse that then must have existed among distant nations, the ignorance of the times, on which account the cultivation of foreign languages was next to impossible, and the earliest date in which the Troubadours began to flourish, we shall be convinced that it is by far more reasonable to suppose this romance to have been written during the first part of the twelfth century, that is, about 200 years after the institution of justs and tournaments, which were the very subject of this chronicle.
As to the chronicle of the good Archbishop Turpin, all the world knows it to be a production of a monk of the thirteenth century. It is to be found in the Schardii rerum Germanicarum quatuor vetustiores Chronographi, Frankfort, 1556, in folio. So that even this table may be considered as it is, a production of the Troubadours.
Such is the fact concerning the origin of Romances of Chivalry, apd, from this short but plain statement, the reader will be able to judge of the degree of credit which is due to the system which M. Sismondi has been pleased to lay down. What he says soncerning the origin of the sacred mysteries stands on no better ground; it does still more convince us, that, if our author had been acquainted with the classical works which the French possess, on the modern literature of their nation, he would perhaps have written less ; but he would have been less visionary, and by far more correct; at all events, he would have altogether relinquished his system concerning the origin of Chivalry, Romance, and Mysteries.
« Il appartenait aux Français de découvrir les premiers cette vie nouvelle qu'on pouvait donner aux ouvrages de l'esprit, par la représentation dramatique. Ils avaient défini la poésie et les beauxarts, en les nommant des arts d'imitation; tandis
les autres nations les considéraient comme une effusion des sentimens du cæur: ils avaient beaucoup plus cherché dans leurs récits, dans leurs romans, dans leurs fabliaux, à revêtir avec vérité le caractère d'autrui, qu’à se développer eux-mêmes. Ce furent eux encore qui, dans le temps où le théâtre des anciens était complètement oublié, inventèrent les premiers de mettre sous les yeux
de spectateurs rassemblés, ou les grands événemens qui ont accompagné l'établissement de la religion chrétienne, ou les mystères dont elle ordonne la croyance, ou même les faits particuliers de la vie domestique, qui pouvaient apprêter à rire, après des contemplations plus sérieuses. Avec le même genre de talent avec lequel ils avaient versifié une longue histoire dans le genre héroïque, ou une anecdote dans le genre bouffon, ils versifièrent encore des sujets de même nature, dans un mètre tout sembable, mais en faisant parler à son tour chaque interlocuteur; et ils laissèrent, à ceux qui devaient réciter ces poésies dialoguées, le soin de leur donner Faccent de la vérité, et le prestige du spectacle.
« Les premiers, qui éveillèrent" l'attention du peuple par ces compositions à plusieurs personnages, furent des pèlerins revenant de la Terre-Sainte, qui mettaient ainsi sous les yeux de leurs compatriotes ce qu'ils avaient vu de leurs propres yeux, et que tout le monde désirait connaître.'. On croit que c'est dans le douzième, ou tout au moins dans le treizième siècle, qu'on vit les premières de ces représentations dramatiques, exécutées dans les carrefours. Mais ce fut seulement à la fin du quatorzième siècle qu'une compagnie de pèlerins, qui avaient solennisé, par un brillant spectacle, les noces de Charles VI. et d’Isabeau de Bavière, s'établit à Paris d'une manière stable, et entreprit d'amuser le public par des représentations régulières. On la nomma la Confrérie de la Passion, parce que la plus célèbre de leurs spectacles devoit représenter le Mystère de la Passion.
« Ce mystère, le plus ancien de tous les ouvrages dramatiques, depuis le renouvellement de la civilisation, comprend l'histoire entière de Notre Seigneur, depuis son baptême jusqu'à sa mort. II est trop long pour pouvoir être représenté en un seul jour; aussi continuait-on la représentation d'un jour à l'autre, et divisait-on le mystère entier en un certain nombre de journées, dont chacune
comprenait le travail ou la représentation d'un jour. Ce nom de journée pour les divisions des pièces de théâtre, qui a été abandonné en France avec les mystères, est demeuré dans la langue espagnole, où l'on a oublié son origine. Quatre-vingt-sept personnes paraissaient successivement dans le mystère de la Passion : parmi elles on voyait les trois personnes de la Trinité, six anges ou archanges, douze apôtres, six diables, Hérode avec toute sa cour, et beaucoup de personnages de l'invention du poète. Des machines hardies paraissent avoir été employées pour donner à la représentation toute la pompe qu'on réserve aujourd'hui aux opéras; plu*sieurs scènes paraissent avoir été chantées ; il y a même des cheurs, et le mélange des vers semble indiquer une connaissance assez exacte de l'harmonie du langage. Quelques caractères sont bien tracés; quelques scènes ont de la grandeur, de la rapidité, ou un effet tragique; et quoique la pièce retombe souvent dans le langage le plus trivial et le plus traînant, qu'on y voie enchaînées les scènes les plus absurdes, on ne peut méconnaître un grand talent dans la conception de ce terrible drame, qui devançait tout les modèles, et qui, mettant sous les yeux des Chrétiens des événemens auxquels se rattachaient alors toutes leurs pensées, devait les ébranler bien plus fortement que ne le font aujourd'hui les tragédies les plus artistement conduites.” Tom. I. p. 329.
Now it is a well-known fact, that the Sacred Mysteries did not originate in France, nor were the French amongst the first who even adopted, on their stage, this foolish invention of the East. It is a melancholy fact to own, that such was the ignorance and the absurdity of the ages which succeeded that of Augustus, that any reading, except ecclesiastical, was considered vain, and the study of the classical writers most wicked and impious. Many popes, in writing to the different bishops, charged them to prevent the clergy from reading any production of the ancients; and Gregory the Great actually forbade them by a Bull.' Animated by the same spirit of predilection for ecclesiastical reading, and of intolerance towards every other species of writers, Gregory Nazianzen, about the middle of the fourth century, began to write holy tragedies; to supersede, as he thought, the wicked and impious theatre of the Greeks. Fortunately for the progress of the stage, these holy rhapsodies were not able to obtain ulti. mately their desired intent. Perhaps the many phrases and sentences of the ancients, which Gregory Nazianzen the first intró. duced in his new tragedies, was not the last of the reasons“wby the reading of the dramatic writers of antiquity was not laid aside altogether, though their dramas, for a long time, were not acted on the stage.
Among the moderns, it is certain that England, and not France, was the first to adopt this absurd votion of theatrical representation. We discover its first image even from the twelfth