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in England; and to them we are indebted for the models and the materials for a very large portion of the lyrics and romances of subsequent times. Of the love-poetry and the lively satiric effusions of the Troubadour literature we shall speak in another chapter.
The metrical romances of the Trouvères probably took their rise from the historical odes sung in pagan times by the Scandinavian bards; for the Normans, we should remember, were of the Scandinavian stock, and had but recently abandoned paganism. Be this as it may, however, they seem to have discarded their ancient heroes as well as their ancient faith, and to have sought the subjects of their songs in the histories and traditions of Greece and Rome, and of Britain. At the time of the Conquest some of the most popular Trouvère romances had already been composed. Wace, in his Roman du Rou, says that in the battle of Hastings a certain jongleur named “Taillefer, who sang very well, rode before the duke upon a horse which quickly went, and he sang of Charlemagne, and of Roland, and of Oliver and his vassals who died at Roncevaux."
The Normans not only carried with them into England the knowledge of the Trouvère romances so popular in their own country, but they found there the materials for new songs and poems. From the Saxon bards and gleemen they learned the story of King Horn and Rimenhild, of Havelok the Dane, of Guy of Warwick, and of numerous heroes of Celtic and Saxon legend; and forth with they dressed these stories in the garb of French romance, adding to or taking from the original as best suited their fancy or convenience. Soon, however, the English language having gained strength and popularity in England in spite of its attempted proscription, there came a demand for English books. But, as we have learned in the preceding chapter, the demand was chiefly for translations, and not many original works were written in the vernacular. The object of these translations was doubtless to place in the reach of the unlearned and humbler classes, who
knew only English, those works which had attained a high degree of popularity among their educated Norman rulers.
One of the oldest romances of the class above mentioned is the Geste of King Horn, rendered into English during the reign of Henry III. The story is of Scandinavian origin, but whether it was brought to England during the time of the Danish invasion, or to France with the Norse vikings, we cannot say. In either case the author of the poem has added many scenes and incidents derived from his knowledge of feudalism and the crusades. Mury, king of the Saracens, having conquered the kingdom of Suddene and murdered its king, seizes upon Prince Horn, a beautiful boy of fifteen and heir to the throne, and sets him adrift in a boat with two of his playfellows, Achulph and Fykenild. The vessel is driven upon the coast of Westernesse, the boys are rescued, and Horn becomes the page of King Aylmer. Being brave and handsome, he is dubbed a knight, and the Princess Rimenhild falls in love with him and declares her passion, and they are betrothed. Then, according to the custom of chivalry, he leaves the princess for seven years, in order to demonstrate by his noble deeds his worthiness of her affection. At the end of that time, having recovered his native land from the infidel, he returns to Westernesse and finds that Rimenhild has been carried off by his treacherous friend Fykenild. Disguised as a harper, he goes to Fykenild's castle, kills him, and carries Rimenhild in triumph to his own country, where he reigns with her in great splendor and prosperity.
The Lay of Havelok the Dane was of similar origin. It was translated into English towards the close of the thirteenth century. Havelok, a young prince, is in danger of death at the hands of a usurper named Godard, but is saved by a fisherman named Grim. Sailing across the sea with the fisherman and his family, he lands at a place in England called, in honor of his preserver, Grimsby. There he enters the service of a usurping earl named Godrich, who holds in captivity a Princess Goldeburgh. The earl
promises to wed the princess to the strongest man in England; but, after Havelok has proven himself to be that man, he treacherously refuses to keep his promise. Then the story relates how Havelok, after a series of adventures, overcomes both the usurpers, and how he and Goldeburgh ruled thereafter sixty years in England. There must have been some historical truth connected with this legend, as in the town of Grimsby there is to this day a street named Havelok; and a stone marking the boundary between Grimsby and the adjoining parish has from time immemorial been called Havelok stone.
One would think that had there been any capacity for original composition, or any poetical genius among the English people of that period, they might have found in the adventures of King Richard Caur de Lion ample materials for an original English poem. But such was not the case. Although the exploits of Richard are made the theme of more than one poem, they are never related in English at first-hand. Like the other romances of the period, they are translated from the French. The following passage is extracted from one of these translations made about the middle of the fourteenth century:
Lordynges, herkens beforne,
Into manye diverse londes,
One of the most fertile subjects for romance-poetry was the life and exploits of King Alexander. In the year 1060 a Greek scholar in the palace of Antiochus at Constantinople had written a long poem on the Life and Actions of Alexander the Macedonian. The work was soon translated into Latin, and from that into French and Italian; and from these latter many English translations and paraphrases were made. In the reign of John, a French version of the Romance of Alexander was composed, containing altogether about 20,000 twelve-syllabled lines, since known, from their use in that poem, as Alexandrines. An English translation of this poem was made about the middle of the fourteenth century.
In a former chapter we have spoken of the fabulous Historia Britonum of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey's work was not so much a history as a collection of the ancient traditions of Britain, embellished no doubt to a considerable degree by materials drawn directly from the fertile imagination of the author. Be that as it may, he it was who first brought to the notice of literary men the story of Arthur, and the old British legends which cluster around that mythical king and his “knights of the round table.” There is no doubt but that the Arthurian myth, as it existed in a crude and imperfect form among the Celts
* Weber : Metrical Romances. Vol. II.
a on both sides of the channel, had long been known to the Trouvères. But Geoffrey's version of the story inspired many persons with a desire to translate it into the French, and some to paraphrase it into a metrical romance. Among these were Luces de Gast, Walter Map, archdeacon of Oxford; Robert de Borron, and Rusticien of Pisa. From various French prose versions the Trouvères and other poets drew the materials for their poems.
It was Walter Map who first conceived the idea of arranging all the different legends relating to Arthur into one harmonious whole. And, to lend a kind of spiritual significance to the story, he determined to associate with it the favorite Christian legend of the Holy Graal. Accordingly, in conjunction with Robert de Borron, he produced a series of five prose romances.
The first was the Romance of the FIoly Graal, or, as it is sometimes called, The Romance of Joseph of Arimathea; the second was the story of Merlin; the third, the Romance of Lancelot of the Lake; the fourth was the Romance of the Quest of the Holy Graal; and the fifth, the Mort Artus, the death of Arthur. Soon after this, Luces de Gast and Helie de Borron added to the series the story of Sir Tristram and the fair Isolt; and Chretien de Troyes produced a metrical version of Erec and Enid and the romance of Perceval de Gallois. The story of the renowned Arthur, as related in this series of romances, is briefly as follows:
The Holy Graal was the dish which contained the paschal lamb at the Last Supper. It was presented by Pilate to Joseph of Arimathea, who, at the taking down of