« ForrigeFortsæt »
was thus invested with a sacred character, that cannot but have conduced to render the peaceful labours of agriculture estimable, in the eyes even of those who were accustomed to look upon the profession of arms as the most glorious of all.
The same ideas and necessities which gave rise to the institution of the *Peace of God' likewise engendered another which exercised a still more efficacious and lasting influence on society. This was the institution of chivalry, which no doubt owes its origin to the customs of the Germanic tribes that established themselves in Gaul at the period of the invasion of the barbarians. Its most estimable characteristics, however, it owes to the all-powerful influence of the Christian church, which consecrated the swords of those aspirants in arms, who pledged themselves to devote their best energies to the defence of the weak and the oppressed, and to fight only in the interests of religion and of the commonwealth. Thus the warlike tastes and habits, which until then had greatly retarded the progress of society, were engaged in its service against all evil. Chivalry, in the full purity of its conception, was never realised ; but it was an ideal of perfection in accordance with the notions of the times, to attain which every man might strive, and a standard by which others measured his actions, and as such its influence was immense. ‘Like the candidate for holy orders, the aspirant to the dignity of knighthood had to go through a novitiate, during which he learned, in the service of a superior, to perform those military exploits, and to practise those chivalrous virtues, which could entitle him to that honour. In like manner as the feudal chief, knight, or baron, was surrounded by his varlets, his pages, and his esquires, who, in serving him, endeavoured to render themselves worthy of one day being his equals, his lady assembled around her in her castle the daughters of her husband's vassals, who were there educated in a manner suitable to the position they were to hold in society, the moral guidance of which was, by the laws and customs of chivalry, in a great measure placed in their hands.
After the introduction of chivalry, military exercises became the sole occupation of all men who could aspire to its honours, and the valour which could not find a battle-field on which to display itself sought glory in the tournaments which formed the great delight of young and old. In these military games—the first traces of which appear in France during the reign of Charles the Bald (866)—the laws of courtesy, generosity, and loyalty reigned paramount, and thence were transferred to the more serious combats of which they were a playful imitation; and besides benefiting civilisation in this direction, they were the means of gathering together large masses of people of all ranks. They gave rise to social meetings and entertainments, and to a display of gallantry and luxury which softened the manners of the times and gave a great impulse to industry and trade.
Such was the society amidst which the trouvères and troubadours flourished. France, the birthplace of chivalry, was also that of these poets, who drew from it their chief inspirations, but who, though children of the times, in their turn exercised a most powerful influence on the development of social manners and civilisation.
The chief merit of these inventors-such is the meaning of the words trouvère and troubadour— is to have enriched the languages of the countries in which they flourished with new expressions and noble and graceful forms, at a period when they were just emerging from the barbarism of the dark ages. Sixty years after the establishment in Gaul of the first Roman colonists (120 B.C.), who introduced into that country the use of the Latin tongue, the language of the conquerors had already in a certain measure been corrupted by that of the conquered; and though Rome, as she extended her conquests and established her institutions in these regions, also spread her language more and more, and even enforced its adoption, its purity could not be maintained at so great a distance from the parent source, and surrounded as it was by so many foreign elements. Such a difference, indeed, was there between the Latin of Gaul and of Italy during the first centuries of our era, when this language had become the popular idiom of the people of the former country, that it was necessary to translate the one into the other; and though these translations, which were undertaken chiefly in the interests of religion, and carried out by ecclesiastics of superior attainments, no doubt served to refine the rustic Roman, as the language of the people was called, they must at the same time have established on a firmer basis the different dialects which had been developed in the course of centuries; because, as popular instruction was the object, each prelate was obliged to translate the homilies, the liturgy, &c. into the idiom spoken by the inhabitants of his diocese. Thus each province seems to have had its own Roman or Romance language, until the period when the written language of France appears divided into two great branches—the langue d'Oi and the langue d'Oc; or the Romance to the north of the Loire
, and the Romance to the south of that river. The latter was also called the Provençal language, and extended its influence over a part of Spain and Italy; while the former, which, after the conquest of England, was for a time the written language of this country also, obtained the name of French, and ultimately became the sole language of the French monarchy. Each of these idioms had its poets—those of the north being called trouvères, those of the south troubadours.
Upon the relative merits and antiquity, and the mutual influences of the trouvères and troubadours, there seems to exist a strange rivalry between the writers of the south and of the north of France even in our day. As we mean here to treat of the poems of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries rather as monuments of history than as literary productions, we will not undertake to enter upon a formal discussion of the first point, but will merely observe, that if the troubadours excel in that vivacity and sprightliness of mind, and that gracefulness and felicity of expression, which distinguish the people of the south, the trouvères seem superior to them in earnestness of purpose, in originality of invention, and in the richness and variety of their productions. The troubadours, who wrote and sung in & language considered the richest and most harmonious ever spoken by man, were more exclusively the poets of love. This passion was not only the constant theme of their songs, but it was the business of their life; and through the influence of their poetry as well as of their example, it assumed that character of an all-regulating power in which we see it appear in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The trouvères, living in the same age, and being consequently in an equal degree under its influence, do not, however, appear to have run into the same extremes, and their muse, though equally inspired by chivalry and love, seems, in accordance with the less passionate and more thoughtful genius of the north, to have inclined to more serious studies. While, therefore, the gravest works produced by the troubadours are limited to violent diatribes against the corruptions of the times, we find among the productions of the trouvères works of history and science, which, though dressed in the fanciful garb of the day, nevertheless give evidence of more profound studies and more earnest minds than were then generally found among men of the world. As for the second point in dispute between the north and south of France, history decides it in favour of the north ; for though his works are not extant, it is recorded in the chronicles of the province that Thibaud de Vernon, canon of Rouen in Normandy, who lived in the commencement of the eleventh century, wrote poems in the vulgar tongue—that is, in the Romance language of the north ; while the first poet of the south of whom we have any knowledge—William IX. Count of Poitiers—was only born in 1071. As regards the influence exercised by the poets of north or south, it must without a doubt have been reciprocal; for though the territory of France did not then, as now, form one compact monarchy, but was divided into many independent principalities, these were nevertheless in a certain measure connected by the link-within-link system established by the modes of feudal tenure, and a constant intercourse was kept up between their inhabitants by the peculiar institutions and pageants of chivalry. Besides this, the roving lives generally led by the trouvères and troubadours, and the prevalent fashion of making their compositions known to the world at large by means of itinerant jongleurs, cannot but have made the poets of the north and south acquainted with each other's productions, particularly as the difference of language was not sufficiently great to preclude this knowledge. Their appreciation of each other does not, however, seem to have been equal; for though the troubadours frequently allude to the talents and attainments of the trouvères, the latter make no mention of their rivals of the south.
Appearing on the horizon as morning-stars of a new civilisation, just as the thick mists of the dark ages of our era had rolled away from France, these poets stand forth as utterly unconnected with the past, and are therefore the first literary representatives of modern European society, as distinguished from the ancient societies of Greece and Rome. "Though several allusions and imitations,' says Reynouard—a writer who has devoted immense labour to the study of the language and writings of the troubadours—prove that they were not quite unacquainted with the master-works of the Latin and even Greek languages, it is nevertheless apparent that their taste was not sufficiently cultivated to enable them effectually to admire and reproduce the beauties of the classic writers of Greece and Rome. The new literature which they created was, therefore, in no manner beholden to the lessons and examples of the ancients. It possessed its own distinct and independent means, its native forms, and its own peculiar spirit and local colouring. The ignorance so generally prevalent, the absence of all serious studies, abandoned these poets of the middle ages entirely to the influence of the religious ideas, the chivalrous manners, and the political views of the times, as also to the influence of the reigning prejudices and the national peculiarities; and it was therefore easier for them to invent a new school of poetry than to imitate the classics.'* Another writer, who has likewise profoundly studied the subject, † maintains, however, that the lays of the Celtic bards, which can never have been quite forgotten in Gaul, and the poetry of Scandinavia, introduced with the Norman conquest of one of the provinces of Gaul, has exercised some influence on the poetry of the trouvères at least, if not on that of their brothers of the south. This opinion seems indeed to be well-founded, particularly when we consider how slowly the popular songs die out on the lips of a nation; and that in spite of its Roman organisation and administration, the mass of the population in Gaul must in a great measure have retained its nationality and its language. However this may be, it is certain that the trouvères and troubadours were preceded by popular poets, commonly designated by the name of jongleurs, who, though their compositions, from a literary point of view, were greatly inferior to the productions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, nevertheless invented all those different kinds of poetry in which their successors so greatly distinguished themselves. The jongleurs were a class of men, who, uniting the arts of poetry and music, sang the verses which they composed, to the accompaniment of divers instruments—a custom which very likely they inherited from the ancient Gallic bards, whose name does not appear in history after the fifth century, but whose functions and privileges seem in a great measure to have devolved upon the jongleurs, which latter denomination dates only from the reign of the second race of French kings (687– 987.) The change of name, however, indicated a change of character also. The character of the bards was serious, and even sacred; their muse never condescended to treat of any but elevated subjects, and the nobleness of their strains corresponded to the dignity of their themes. But in the eighth and ninth centuries-during which period they were in such high repute that even bishops, abbots, and abbesses used to have jongleurs attached to their personal service—the poets lost their ancient gravity, and began to accompany
songs with gesticulations and feats of agility, calculated to excite the wonder, but also the merriment, of their auditors-a custom to which they owe the name of jongleur or juggler, derived from the Latin word joculator, from jocus, to play. The battle of Hastings, which subjected England to the Normans, was commenced, says the chronicler Robert Ware, by the jongleur Taillefer, attached to the army of William the Conqueror, who advanced singing of the fabulous exploits of some hero of the times, and performing feats of agility with his lance and sword, which struck terror into the Saxons, who thought his dexterity must be the effect of witchcraft. Like the bards, the jongleurs formed a separate corporation, under the special protection of the laws, and headed by a chief
, who was called king of the jongleurs, and who was nominated by the chief of the state. They were also attached to the courts of kings and princes, and barons, whose glorious exploits formed the theme of many of their songs; and they were admitted to all public festivities and assemblies. But when the jongleurs began to rove through the country, accompanied
* Reynouard-Choix des Poésies Originales des Troubadours.
by troops of women, dancers and mountebanks, all affinity between them and their predecessors ceased, and they gradually degenerated, until their once so honourable craft sank into such contempt that their name became a term of reproach, and their morals so scandalous, that it was considered degrading to receive them, or to be present at their representations. They continued, however, to exist until the sixteenth century, and must probably have retrieved their character somewhat, subsequent to the period when Philip Augustus, king of France, caused them to be expelled from his domains; for in the lives of several troubadours we read of their having jongleurs in their service, who followed them in their peregrinations, sang their compositions, and shared in the honours of their masters : and instances are also mentioned of troubadours, who, having lost their fortunes, became jongleurs, and of jongleurs who attained to the honour of knighthood. The latter fact seems, however, to have been of very rare occurrence; but it is believed that the jongleurs were generally engaged by the high-born knights and mighty barons, who cultivated the art of poetry, to sing their compositions in public, to do which was probably considered below their own dignity; and that they were in like manner employed by the lady poetesses, several of whom bear an honourable name in the literary annals of the times.
When the jongleur travelled on foot, his instrument—a kind of violin with three strings—was suspended round his neck; when on horseback, it was attached to the saddlebow. Sometimes, however, these itinerant poets made use of harps, but then the ancient romances denominate them harpers. Their dress was frequently partycoloured; and from the belt was suspended a kind of purse, which they called a malette or almoner, in which they deposited the money they received in return for the amusement they bestowed; for, unlike the trouvères and troubadours, who cultivated poetry as a liberal art, the jongleurs exercised their art for money-a circumstance which probably had no small share in their degeneracy, as the desire of gain led them to flatter the vices of the times, and to sell their services to whoever would bid for them. Thus, at the time when their licentious manners and libellous tongues had caused their expulsion from France, they overspread all the adjoining countries, and numbers came over to England on the invitation of William de Longchamps, bishop of Ely, who governed this kingdom during the absence of King Richard the Lionhearted, and who, desirous of blinding the people to the vices of his administration, hired the voices of these strolling singers to proclaim his virtues to the public.* At times, also, the jongleurs were rewarded with gifts of horses and fine clothes; and when a wealthy knight or baron wished to confer an uncommon favour, he pulled off his own rich cloak, and placed it on the shoulders of the minstrel. Such marks of esteem were, however, only bestowed during the period when the jongleurs were held high in honour; afterwards they were conferred on trouvères and troubadours only. Indeed, passages which occur in the works of the troubadours and trouvères point it out as a distinctive mark between these poets and the jongleurs, that the former receive only presents in return for the pleasure they bestow, while the latter accept of money. Another dis
De la Rue-Essais Historiques sur les Bardes, les Jongleurs et les Trouvères. No. 81.