The service thus performed to the literature was not unlike the service performed to the language. In the one case the scaffolding, or rather the skeleton, was furnished in the shape of grammar; in the other a similar skeleton, in the shape of prosody, was supplied.
Important additions were indeed made by the fresh elements introduced. Rhyme Latin had itself acquired. But of the musical refrains which are among the most charming features of early French lyric poetry we find no vestige in the older tongue. The history of the French language, as far as concerns literature, from the seventh to the eleventh century, can be rapidly given. The earliest mention of the Romance tongue as distinguished from Latin and from German dialect refers to , and occurs in the life of St. Mummolinus or Momolenus, bishop of Noyon, who was chosen for that office because of his knowledge of the two languages, Teutonic and Romanic 5.
We may therefore assume that Mummolinus preached in the lingua Romana. To the same century is referred the song of St. Faron, bishop of Meaux 6 , but this only exists in Latin, and a Romance original is inferred rather than proved. In the eighth century the Romance eloquence of St. Adalbert is commended 7 , and to the same period are referred the glossaries of Reichenau and Cassel, lists containing in the first case Latin and Romance equivalents, in the second Teutonic and Romance 8.
By the beginning of the ninth century it was compulsory for bishops to preach in Romance, and to translate such Latin homilies as they read 9 ; and to this same era has been referred a fragmentary commentary on the Book of Jonah 10 , included in the latest collection of 'Monuments The text of the MS.
We now come to documents less shapeless. The tenth century itself gives us the song of St.
Eulalie, a poem on the Passion, a life of St. Leger, and perhaps a poem on Boethius. These four documents are of the highest interest. Not merely has the language assumed a tolerably regular form, but its great division into Langue d'Oc and Langue d'Oil is already made, and grammar, prosody, and other necessities or ornaments of bookwriting, are present. The following extracts will illustrate this part of French literature.
The Romance oaths and the 'St. Eulalie' are given in full, the 'Passion' and the 'St. Leger' in extract; it will be observed that the interval between the first and the others is of very considerable width. This interval probably represents a century of active change, and of this unfortunately we have no monuments to mark the progress accurately.
Pro deo amur et pro christian poblo et nostro commun salvament, d'ist di in avant, in quant deus savir et podir me dunat, si salvarai eo cist meon fradre Karlo et in aiudha et in cadhuna cosa, si cum on per dreit son fradra salvar dist, in o quid il mi altresi fazet, et ab Ludher nul plaid nunqua prindrai, qui meon vol cist meon fradre Karle in damno sit.
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Considering the great extent and the political divisions of the country called France, it is not surprising that the language which was so slowly formed should have shown considerable dialectic variations. The characteristics of these dialects, Norman, Picard, Walloon, Champenois, Angevin, and so forth, have been much debated by philologists. But it so happens that the different provinces displayed in point of literature considerable idiosyncrasy, which it is scarcely possible to dispute.
Hardly a district of France but contributed something special to her wide and varied literature. The South, though its direct influence was not great, undoubtedly set the example of attention to lyrical form and cadence. Britanny contributed the wonderfully suggestive Arthurian legends, and the peculiar music and style of the lai. It is however with the eleventh century that the history of French literature properly so called begins.
We have indeed few Romance manuscripts so early as this, the date of most of them not being earlier than the twelfth. But by the eleventh century not merely were laws written in French charters and other formal documents were somewhat later , not merely were sermons constantly composed and preached in that tongue, but also works of definite literature were produced in it. From this date it is therefore possible to abandon generalities, and taking the successive forms and developments of literature, to deal with them in detail. Before however we attempt a systematic account of French literature as it has been actually handed down to us, it is necessary to deal very briefly with two questions, one of which concerns the antecedence of possible ballad literature to the existing Chansons de Gestes, the other the machinery of diffusion to which this and all the early historical developments of the written French language owed much.
It has been held by many scholars, whose opinions deserve respect, that an extensive literature of Cantilenae 12 , or short historical ballads, preceded the lengthy epics which we now possess, and was to a certain extent worked up in these compositions. It is hardly necessary to say that this depends in part upon a much larger question — the question, namely, of the general origins of epic poetry. There are indeed certain references 13 to these Cantilenae upon which the theories alluded to have been built. But the Cantilenae themselves have, as one of the best of French literary historians, the late M.
No remnant of them survives save the already-mentioned Latin prose canticle of St. Faron, in which vestiges of a French and versified original are thought to be visible, and the ballad of Saucourt, a rough song in a Teutonic dialect In default of direct evidence an argument has been sought to be founded on the constant transitions, repetitions, and other peculiarities of the Chansons, some of which and especially Roland , the most famous of all present traces of repeated handlings of the same subject, such as might be expected in work which was merely that of a diaskeuast 15 of existing lays.
It is however probable that the explanation of this phenomenon need not be sought further than in the circumstances of the composition and publication of these poems, circumstances which also had a very considerable influence on the whole course and character of early French literature.
à : to, toward, towards
We know nothing of the rise or origin of the two classes of Trouveurs and Jongleurs. The former which it is needless to say is the same word as Troubadour , and Trobador , and Trovatore is the term for the composing class, the latter for the performing one. The natural consequence of this irregular form of publication was a good deal of repetition in the works published.
We may therefore conclude, without entering further into the details of a debate unsuitable to the plan of this history, that, while but scanty evidence has been shown of the existence previous to the Chansons de Gestes of a ballad literature identical in subject with those compositions, at the same time the existence of such a literature is neither impossible nor improbable. It is otherwise with the hypothesis of the existence of prose chronicles, from which the early epics and Roland in particular are also held to have derived their origin. But this subject will be better handled when we come to treat of the beginnings of French prose.
For the present it is sufficient to say that, with the exception of the scattered fragments already commented upon, there is no department of French literature before the eleventh century and the Chansons de Gestes , which possesses historical existence proved by actual monuments, and thus demands or deserves treatment here. The chronicler Sigebert confirms the statement that he was made bishop 'quod Romanam non minus quam Teutonicam calleret linguam. Faron, his predecessor, towards the end of the ninth century.
Helgaire uses the words 'juxta rusticitatem,' 'carmen rusticum;' and Lingua Rustica is usually if not universally synonymous with Lingua Romana. It was published in by Holtzmann. The Cassel Glossary, which came from Fulda, was published in the last century Paris, Gaston Paris speaks with apparent confidence of the pre-existing chants , and, in matter of authority, no one speaks with more than he: but it can hardly be said that there is proof of the fact.
The earliest form which finished literature took in France was that of epic or narrative poetry. Towards the middle of the eleventh century certainly, and probably some half-century earlier, poems of regular construction and considerable length began to be written.
These are the Chansons de Gestes , so called from their dealing with the Gestes 17 , or heroic families of legendary or historical France. It is remarkable that this class of composition, notwithstanding its age, its merits, and the abundant examples of it which have been preserved, was one of the latest to receive recognition in modern times.
The matter of many of the Chansons, under their later form of verse or prose romances of chivalry, was indeed more or less known in the eighteenth century.
But an appreciation of their real age, value, and interest has been the reward of the literary investigations of our own time. It was not till that the oldest and the most remarkable of them was first edited from the manuscript found in the Bodleian Library Since that time investigation has been constant and fruitful, and there are now more than one hundred of these interesting poems known.
The origin and sources of the Chansons de Gestes have been made a matter of much controversy. We have already seen how, from the testimony of historians and the existence of a few fragments, it appears that rude lays or ballads in the different vernacular tongues of the country were composed and sung if not written down at very early dates. According to one theory, we are to look for the origin of the long and regular epics of the eleventh and subsequent centuries in these rude compositions, first produced independently, then strung together, and lastly subjected to some process of editing and union.
It has been sought to find proof of this in the frequent repetitions which take place in the Chansons, and which sometimes amount to the telling of the same incident over and over again in slightly varying words. Others have seen in this peculiarity only a result of improvisation in the first place, and unskilful or at least uncritical copying in the second.
This, however, is a question rather interesting than important. What is certain is that no literary source of the Chansons is now actually in existence, and that we have no authentic information as to any such originals. At a certain period — approximately given above — the fashion of narrative poems on the great scale seems to have arisen in France.
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It spread rapidly, and was eagerly copied by other nations. The definition of a Chanson de Geste is as follows. It is a narrative poem, dealing with a subject connected with French history, written in verses of ten or twelve syllables, which verses are arranged in stanzas of arbitrary length, each stanza possessing a distinguishing assonance or rhyme in the last syllable of each line. The assonance, which is characteristic of the earlier Chansons, is an imperfect rhyme, in which identity of vowel sound is all that is necessary.
Thus traitor , felon , compaingnons , manons , noz , the first, fourth, and fifth of which have no character of rhyme whatever in modern poetry, are sufficient terminations for an assonanced poem, because the last vowel sound, o, is identical. There is moreover in this versification a regular caesura, sometimes after the fourth, sometimes after the sixth syllable; and in a few of the older examples the stanzas, or as they are sometimes called laisses , terminate in a shorter line than usual, which is not assonanced.
This metrical system, it will be observed, is of a fairly elaborate character, a character which has been used as an argument by those who insist on the existence of a body of ballad literature anterior to the Chansons. We shall see in the following chapters how this double definition of a Chanson de Geste , by matter and by form, serves to exclude from the title other important and interesting classes of compositions slightly later in date.
The period of composition of these poems extended, speaking roughly, over three centuries. In the eleventh they began, but the beginnings are represented only by Roland , the Voyage de Charlemagne , and perhaps Le Roi Louis. Most and nearly all the best date from the twelfth. The thirteenth century also produces them in great numbers, but by this time a sensible change has come over their manner, and after the beginning of the fourteenth only a few pieces deserving the title are written.
They then undergo transformation rather than neglect, and we shall meet them at a later period in other forms. Before dealing with other general characteristics of the early epics of France it will be well to give some notion of them by actual selection and narrative. For this purpose we shall take two Chansons typical of two out of the three stages through which they passed. Roland will serve as a sample of the earliest, Amis et Amiles of the second. Of the third, as less characteristic in itself and less marked by uniform features, it will be sufficient to give some account when we come to the compositions which chiefly influenced it, namely the romances of Arthur and of antiquity.
The Chanson de Roland , the most ancient and characteristic of these poems, though extremely popular in the middle ages 19 , passed with them into obscurity. The earliest allusion to the Oxford MS. Conybeare forty years later dealt with it in the Gentleman's Magazine of , and by degrees the reviving interest of France in her older literature attracted French scholars to this most important monument of the oldest French. It was first published as a whole by M. Michel in , and since that time it has been the subject of a very great amount of study.