Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

been led, precisely correspond with the historical facts recorded in the chronicles of that period. Turner, in his "History of England," has cited from the latter many examples of predatory violence by the Norman barons, and even ecclesiastics. From their fortified castles and convents, they sallied out upon the unarmed traveller, who, in the absence of civil authority, could find redress only in the stronger arm of the knight-errant.

Not only the general condition of society depicted in these ancient romances, but many of the most extravagant circumstances appear to be countenanced by historical precedent. It is frequent in tales of chivalry, to find one knight maintaining against another, or against the whole world, the superior beauty, merit, &c. of his mistress; or to see him pledging himself by some valiant vow, not to eat, or drink, or see the face of his lady, until he has achieved a certain deed of emprise, taken some knight or monster captive, and sent him in chains to her feet. All which affords much reasonable merriment to Cervantes. That these incredibilia are not erroneous pictures of the age, however, the ancient chroniclers, and the circumstantial Froissart in particular, amply attest. Among instances of the latter kind, we remember one of a cavalier, who, in gratitude for some inconsiderable favour conferred upon him by Joanna, Queen of Naples, made a vow to pay her the tribute of two knights; which gallant feat he accomplished, after a perilous errantry through France, Germany, and Spain. Joanna graciously liberated her prisoners, acting much more magnanimously than the canons of St Peter's church in Rome, who, upon a knight being delivered to them in consequence of a similar vow, despoiled him of his horse and military equipments, and detained him a captive the rest of his life.

As to defiances and duels in honour of one's mistress, the gallant Froissart has related several with all the animated details of an amateur. Among other instances is a remarkable one that occurred at Cherbourg in 1379; where, in the midst of a hot rencontre between the French and English squadrons, an amatory challenge passed between two knights of the hostile nations, and both armies desisted from the engagement, until the duel was determined by the death of one of the parties. Froissart records another defiance equally extravagant, given in his time by three French knights to all Europe, and maintained at St Ingleverre, near Calais, for thirty days, against all comers, among whom were the flower of the English nobility. At Poictiers, the knights fought with the scarfs of their mistresses bound around their arms, challenging whoever might dispute their paramount beauty. The same Quixotic gallantry may be traced to a much later period; and as recently as the reign of Elizabeth, the accomplished Earl of Surry, a poet and a soldier, proclaimed a tournament at Flo

rence, and in the true spirit of romance, broke a lance there, in honour of his mistress.

But although the ancient romances represented the manners of the age in which they were written, they sought for the subject of their fictions in a much earlier period of history; and especially in the popular traditions respecting Arthur and Charlemagne. So little is known of the former of these worthies, that some learned antiquaries have doubted, others have denied his existence. Turner, in his "History of the Anglo-Saxons," has collected facts of sufficient authenticity, in his opinion, fully to establish it. Among others he ascertains the place of his interment at Glastonbury, by means of an author who was present at the exhumation of the body, made by order of Henry II. six hundred years after the death of the Welch chieftain. That this was the real place of the sepulture of Arthur, he considers proved by their finding a leaden cross lying horizontally, at twelve feet distance above the coffin, with this inscription;

"Hic jacet sepultus inclytus rex Arthurus, in insulâ Avalloniâ."

As Arthur, however, according to Mr Turner's own chronology, died some fifty years before the introduction of Christianity into the island,* the discovery of a cross, with the above inscripsion upon it, six centuries after his death, may be thought to furnish very doubtful evidence of the truth of his hypothesis.

All that is pretended to be ascertained of his history shows him to have been a rude, warlike, and sanguinary chief, who ruled over the southwestern parts of Britain in the beginning of the fifth century. His life was spent in conflicts with neighbouring princes, and with the Saxon invaders of his country. To these last wars, he is principally indebted for his celebrity in romance. But however insignificant may have been his character, however doubtful even his actual existence, the illusions of poetry have conferred upon him an immortality, like that which Homer has given to some of his imaginary heroes. His return was fondly expected, to a very late period, by the lower classes among the Welch, in the same manner as was Don Sebastian's by the Portuguese. He has been the constant burthen of the songs of the minstrels; his name has been inscribed on one of the most splendid monuments of human genius, in the 'Faery Queen' of Spenser; and he is now recommended to our imaginations as the earliest hero of Christianity, the patron of the Round Table, of chivalry and romance.

The other cyclus of Norman fictions is borrowed from Charlemagne. A name of such notoriety might naturally have suggest

* Vide vol. I. p. 272, & p. 326.

ed them; but it is a whimsical fact, that this long line of epics is derived from a circumstance in his history, which, in the opinion of many writers, never happened at all, and which, if it did, was certainly attended with no important consequence. A spurious chronicle, of the 12th century, contains the particulars of this celebrated defeat of Charles by the Saracens, in the valley of Roncesvalles [Red Valley.] The chronicle of the pseudo-Turpin is destitute of all historical probability, and is contemptible as a work of invention. But notwithstanding this, it has been the fruitful source of fiction, not only in Normandy, but in the cultivated ages of Italian letters.

There has been much dispute between the French and English scholars, respecting the comparative merit of the romances of the Round Table, and those of Charlemagne. These two classes, although, for the most part, originally written in the Norman language, exhibit each, in some measure, the peculiarities of their national literatures, and have very naturally found favour accordingly. The Comte de Tressan is the only one of his countrymen, whom we recollect to have given it for the former class of fictions. Perhaps the prejudices of education have led us to take greater satisfaction in the British romances. They have less brilliancy of imagination than the French, but more tenderness and simplicity. The latter are embellished with the elegant creations of oriental fable, and the reader finds himself transported into the same scenes of enchantment, with which he had early learned to be familiar in the " Arabian Nights." The English, on the other hand, are very meagre in this way; they have neither fairies nor genii, palaces glittering with diamonds, nor gardens breathing perfumes in the midst of the desert. Giants, dwarfs, necromancers, a clumsy mythology, conceived in the cold brains of the North, constitute the bulk of their supernatural apparatus. But though inferior in artificial contrivance, they are much richer in pictures of natural scenery. Scott, who has transferred much of the spirit of these old epics into his romantic poems, has shown a nice observation of their beauties in this particular.

The French may be said to display more fancy, the English more feeling. Dante, in his affecting episode of Francesca da Rimini, makes her say, that the sympathy she manifests for Lancelot, one of the Round Table heroes, betrayed her own passion to her lover. The French romances are generally vivacious and exhilarating. The English are often plaintive, and the two best, "Tristrem" and "Sir Launcelot du Lac," have a most tragical conclusion. The former class exhibit greater variety of incident, the latter greater depth and truth of character. There is no portrait, that we recollect, in the French cyclus equal to that of Sir Lancelot du Lac. This romance, which indicates most fully the

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

frank and martial chivalry of the age, may be cited as the best of those of the Round Table, as "Ogier le Danois" affords, perhaps, the most perfect specimen of the other class. [To be continued.]

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

The Indian chief, Jeckoyva, as tradition says, perished alone on the mountain which now bears his name. Night overtook him whilst hunting among the cliffs, and he was not heard of till after a long time, when his half-decayed corpse was found at the foot of a high rock, over which he must have fallen. Mount Jeckoyva is near the White Hills.

They made the warrior's grave beside
The dashing of his native tide:
And there was mourning in the glen-
The strong wail of a thousand men-

O'er him thus fallen in his pride,
Ere mist of age—or blight or blast
Had o'er his mighty spirit past.
They made the warrior's grave beneath
The bending of the wild-elm's wreath,
When the dark hunter's piercing eye
Had found that mountain rest on high,

Where, scattered by the sharp wind's breath,
Beneath the rugged cliff were thrown
The strong and the mouldering bone.
Where was the warrior's foot, when first
The red sun on the mountain burst?-
Where when the sultry noon-time came
On the green vales with scorching flame,

And made the woodlands faint with thirst?
'T was where the wind is keen and loud,
And the grey eagle breasts the cloud.

Where was the warrior's foot, when night
Veiled in thick cloud the mountain height?
None heard the loud and sudden crash,-
None saw the fallen warrior dash

Down the bare rock so high and white!-
But he that drooped not in the chase
Made on the hills his burial-place.

They found him there, when the long day
Of cold desertion passed away,
And traces on that barren cleft

Of struggling hard with death were left-
Deep marks and foot-prints in the clay!
And they have laid this feathery helm
By the dark river and green elm.

H. W. L.

[ocr errors]
« НазадПродовжити »