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1. Reinaert de Vos, naer de oudste Beryming, door (Reynard
the Fox, according to the oldest berhyming rhymes, by) J. F. WILLEMS. Small 8vo.
Small 8vo. Eecloo, 1834. 2. Reinaert de Vos, Episch Fabeldicht van de Twaelfde en Der
tiende Eeuw, met Aenmerkingen en Ophelderingen, van (Reynard the Fox, an Epic-Fable-Poem of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, with Annotations and Explanations by) J. F. WILLEMS, Member of the Royal Academy of Brussels, of the Royal Netherland Institution,
&c. 8vo. Ghent, 1836. . 3. Le Roman du Renard, traduit pour la première fois d'après un
texte Flamand du XIIe siècle, édité par J. F. Willems; augmenté d'une Analyse de ce qu'ont écrit, au sujet des Romans Français du Renard, Legrand d'Aussy, Robert, Raynouard, Saint-Marc Girardin, Prosper Marchand, 8c. (The Romaunt of the Fox, now first translated from the text of a Flemish MS. of the Twelfth Century, edited by J. F. Willems; enlarged by an Analysis of what has been written concerning the French Romaunts of the Fox, by Legrand d'Aussy, &c. &c.); by OCTAVE DELEPIERRE, Advocate, Archivist of West Flanders, Member of the Ghent Royal Society of the Fine Arts and Literature, &c. 8vo. Brussels, 1838. .
We must introduce our notice of the volumes before us by a few observations upon the actual condition of the Flemish language and literature in Belgium, respecting which a change has occurred within the last few years, that can hardly be uninteresting, at least in reference to its political causes and effects, to those who would be loath to see France again increase her population and her power by extending her limits as far as the Rhine.
The British public cannot have forgotten the strong Gallic tendencies prevalent throughout Belgium at the epoch of the revolution which severed that country from Holland ; tendencies so strong, as even to have produced, at least in the Walloon provinces, a desire for re-incorporation with France, a longing for participation in the advantages enjoyed by the members of a large, a preponderant state, in preference to national independence. These French propensities, which, we have been assured upon good authority, were fostered by the Catholic clergy as preventatives against the contagion of Dutch Protestantism, naturally gave birth to a contemptuous dislike of the old Flemish language, a form of Low-German nearly identical with Dutch; or rather, perhaps, encouraged and continued feelings and opinions that had arisen during the subjection of the Netherlands to France.
But when the independence of the kingdom of Belgium had been generally recognized, when all motives for fear or jealousy of Holland had died away, the German sovereign of the new state, and his enlightened and patriotic Belgian counsellors, quickly perceived that the real dangers threatening this independence lay in the ambition of a large and militarily formidable, not of a small mercantile people ; to wit, in French regretful aspirations after the Rhine as the boundary of France. They perceived that these dangers were not to be averted by an alliance with the royal family of France, and that to ensure the stability of Belgian independence, Belgian nationality must be rather Teutonic than Gallic; and indeed, in point of fact, so it is and ever has been ; the majority of the population being of the Teutonic race. We have seen a table in which the population is thus divided according to origin and language; for it must be remembered that even where the higher classes speak French, the lower orders have steadily adhered to their mother-tongue. Flemish and German are still the popular languages in French Flanders and Alsace, respectively, long as these provinces have now formed part of France.
Actuated, we apprehend, by these considerations, king Leopold, some five or six years since, turned the sunshine of royal favour and patronage upon those learned Low-German Belgians, who, with Heer Willems at their head, had, even whilst their country was nominally French, shared in the European impulse towards nationality and national archaiology, heretofore noticed as a potent motive and cause of the literary revolutions of the current century; and laboured, then of course unsuccessfully, to rekindle in their countrymen a love for, and culture of the Flemish language and literature. Under this genial influence Flemish Literary Societies have been formed; even the long-forgotten Rhetorykkamers (Chambers of Rhetoric), a kind of academic institution which once flourished in every town and village of the Netherlands, are reviving ; prizes have been, and are daily offered by these societies and by the king himself, for Flemish essays upon the Flemish language, for Flemish poems upon various subjects, chiefly national and patriotic, etc., etc. And the result of all this actively stimulating patronage is, that Flemish writers, in every branch of literature, are arising on all sides, in all parts of the kingdom.
Our readers may perhaps wonder, that whilst so much of novelty offers in Belgium, we should bring before them, instead of some new work of some one of these nascent authors, a production of the middle ages, which, such of them as chance to be unacquainted with the labours and the European reputation of the profoundly erudite German Professor Jacob Grimm, with the very name of the learned Fleming, J. F. Willems, who is emulously treading in his footsteps, and even with those of the critical French archæologists, Reynouard, Legrand d’Aussy, etc., may consider as a mere childish fable or old wife's tale. Our reason for this is twofold; in the first place, that these authors are, as we have said, nascent, the produce of the newly regenerated Flemish muse, though full of talent, though most satisfactory as to her future prospects, yet to our mind somewhat immature, perhaps somewhat deficient in skilful horticulture; and hence,-as it is only when of a very brilliant and striking description, or otherwise very importantly significative, that we deem the light literature of foreign countries entitled to divert our attention from the stirring interests of the day,—we are disposed . to allow the said muse to make further progress in her education and development ere we present her to the British public; and this the rather, because without bringing forward her early fruits,-shall we say, blossoms?—we have here found the opportunity we have for some time desired, of making the Belgian intellectual revolution, now in progress, known in this country.
Our second reason, which would alone have been all-sufficient, is the high value we set upon the old poem here newly collated, edited, commented, modernized and translated, that has afforded this opportunity. To persons acquainted with the labours, we might say, with the reputation, of the erudite persons above-mentioned, or with the strong interest that has been excited in the continental learned world concerning Reynard the Fox, it is needless to add a word respecting its literary and antiquarian dignity. To those who are not, it may be satisfactory to learn the opinion entertained upon the subject by our own celebrated antiquary, Thomas Hearne, who, in his notes ad Gulielmi Neubrigensis Historiam Anglicanam, p. 743, says,
Reynard the Fox was one of the first things printed in England, being done by the famous William Caxton, in the year 1481. It was an admirable thing; and the design, being political, and to represent a wise government, was equally good ; so little reason is there to look upon this as a poor, despicable book But it is strange to see the changes that have been made in the book of Reynard the Fox, from the original editions."
When the reader shall have perused our brief abstract of the poem, he will perhaps think that one of these changes is from the representation of a wise government to a satire upon a weak one.
That the story or poem of Reynard the Fox is extant in the Swedish, Danish, English, and Latin languages, as well as in High and Low German and French, adds not much to its dignity, since it is evident that all nations, except one, must probably have translated or borrowed it. But the question whether this one, the original Reynard, were German, High or Low, or French, has given rise to much speculation and controversy upon the continent. The literary pride of the nations laying claim to it is aroused, and deeply
. interested in the decision which can hardly be deemed a matter of indifference to scholars and archæologists, to critics and poets of other, of all countries.
The age or date of the poem itself is, however, one of more general interest. Reynard the Fox has, by different critics, been ascribed to the 10th and to the 13th, as also to every intermediate century. Upon both these points we shall offer our readers extracts from the reasonings of the Flemish editor,-confining our notice to him, partly because we are writing of Flemish literature in Belgium ; but mainly because he is the latest commentator, and deeply conversant with the arguments of all his predecessors. In the introduction to the second book, named at the head of this article, Heer Willems says:
“No nation in the world has ever shown more care of cattle and domestic animals than the Franks. This is abundantly proved by almost every page of Charlemagne's Capitularies*. It cannot therefore be matter of surprise that amongst them should first arise a species of animal fable, the prototype of which would be sought in vain amongst other nations; of which Grimm says, “There is nothing that can stand a comparison with it. The fullness of its germination and development surpasses every production of antiquity in the line of fable. Unfolding bud out of bud, with the whole energy of the epopæia, it blossomed upon the German stock, in the Netherlands, in Northern France, (French Flanders, and the circumjacent region) and Western Germany. In fact where else can such poems be produced as the Isengrimus, the Reinardus vulpes, and the Reinaert, all three the growth of Flemish soil ?
“What other poets have ever ventured to compose a continuous tale, of which the subject was taken from the brute creation ; of which the wolf and the fox were the principal personages, ay, the heroes, opposing each other in hatred and revenge, like Agamemnon and Achilles in the Iliad; which exemplifies epic unity so admirably, combined with episodic variety, whilst all the acting animals so thoroughly maintain and display their natural qualities and dispositions, that the poem is perused with an interest such as would be excited by a true history? And a poem of this description first appeared amongst the Belgians, both in the Flemish and the Latin language !
Great diversity of opinion exists with respect to the age of the Reinardus vulpes. Mone, the editor of the Latin version, holds this Carmen Epicum, as it is entitled, to have been partly composed in the
* It will be recollected that the Franks are supposed to have been a Low-German tribe, and that the Carlovingians were a Netherland family, with large do. mains, extending pretty nearly from Liège to the frontier of Holland,