1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Reynard the Fox

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REYNARD THE FOX, a beast-epic, current in French, Dutch and German literature. The cycle of animal stories collected round the names of Reynard the Fox and Isengrim the Wolf in the 12th century seems to have arisen on the borderland of France and Flanders. Much of the material may be found in Aesop, in Physiologus, and in the 12th-century Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsus. But the difference is very great. The intention of the trouvères who recited the exploits of Reynard was, in the earlier stages, in no sense didactic. The tales, like those of “Uncle Remus,” were amusing in themselves; they were based on widely diffused folklore, and Reynard and his companions were not originally men disguised as animals. Jacob Grimm (Reinhart Fuchs, 1834) maintained their popular origin; his theories, which have been much contested, have received additional support from the researches of K. Krohn, who discovered many of the stories most characteristic of the cycle in existing Finnish folklore, where they can hardly have arrived through learned channels.

There is abundant evidence that Isengrim and Reynard were firmly established in the popular imagination in the 13th century, and even earlier. Guibert de Nogent {De Vita sua, book 3, chap. viii., printed Paris, 1651), in referring to the disturbances at Laon in 1112, says that the bishop Gaudri was accustomed to call one of his enemies Isengrim, and it is obvious from the context that the taunt was perfectly understood by the popular mind. Philip the Fair is said to have annoyed Pope Boniface III., who died in 1303, by the representation of the “Procession Renart”; and in 1204-1206 in Flanders two opposing parties were designated Isangrini and Blavotini (blue-footed). The principal names of the Reynard cycle, and the earliest in use, were German. Reynard himself (Raginohardus, strong in counsel), Bruin the Bear, Baldwin the Ass, Tibert the Cat, Hirsent the She-wolf, had German names, most of which were used as person-names in Lorraine. Whatever the sources of the stories, it was in France that the cycle obtained its greatest vogue. The Roman de Renart as printed by Méon (Paris, 4 yols., 1826) runs to over 40,000 lines, and contains a great number of detached episodes or branches, to which the trouvères gave a certain unity by attaching them to the traditionary feud between Reynard and Isengrim. This rapidly became symbolic of the triumph of craft and eloquence over brute strength. Renart was a popular epic parodying feudal institutions as represented in the romances of chivalry, and readily adapting itself to satire of the rich, of the forms of justice, and of the clergy.

The early French originals are lost, the most ancient existing fragments being in Latin. The fable of the lion's sickness and his cure by the wolf's skin occurs in the Ecbasis cujusdam captivi per Tropologiam (ed. E. Voigt; Strassburg, 1875), written by a monk of St Evre at Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle) about 940. Ysengrimus (ed. E. Voigt; Halle, 1884), a clerical satire written by Nivard of Ghent about 1148, includes the story of the lion's sickness and the pilgrimage of Bertiliana the Goat. Another Latin poem, Reinardus vulpes (ed. F. J. Mone; Stuttgart, 1832), contains in addition the theft of the bacon, and how Isengrim is induced to fish with his tail. A simpler version, derived probably from a French original, is Isingrînes nôt, written in German about 1180 by the Alsatian Heinrich der Glîchezäre. Only fragments of this poem are preserved, but about a quarter of a century later it was re-written with little change in the subject matter as Reinhart Fuchs (ed. J. Grimm, Berlin, 1834; and K. Reissenberger, Halle, 1886). Most later versions of Reynard have been derived, however, from the Flemish Reinaert de vos (ed. J. F. Willems, Ghent, 1836; and E. Martin, Paderborn, 1874), written about 1250 in East Flanders by Willem. Reinaert is a poem of 3474 lines. The corresponding branch of the French Roman de Renart (for which and its satirical sequels, Le Courounement Renart, Renart le nouveau, and Renart le contrefait, see French Literature) is one of the earliest and best of the great French cycle.

The fable was, like other French works, known in England, but did not at once pass into the popular stock. Odo of Cheriton, who died in 1247, used the Reynard stories in his sermons, and many of them occur in his collection of Parabolae (ed. Hervieux, Fabulistes latins, 1884, vol. i.). The English poem of the Vox and the Wolf dates from the 13th century; and the “Nonne Preestes Tale” of Chaucer, in which, however, the fox is Rossel and the ass Brunel, is a genuine Reynard history.

Willem's Reinaert de Vos was left incomplete, and the continuation about 4000 lines in a more didactic vein was added by an unknown writer of West Flanders about 1370. The first copy printed in any language was the Dutch prose version, Hystorie van Reynaert de Vos, printed at Gouda by Gheraert Leeuw in 1479. On this Caxton based his Historye of reynart the foxe (reprinted by E. Arber, 1878), which he finished on the 6th of June 1481. As a satire on the church, especially on monks and nuns, Reynard became popular with reformers, and numerous versions followed in England and Germany. A Low German version, Reineke Fuchs, with a prose commentary by Hinrek Alckmer (Henry of Alkmaar), was issued from the Antwerp press of Gheraert Leeuw in 1487. From this rifacimento was derived the Low German Reynke de Vos (ed. Hoffmann von Fallersleben, Breslau, 1834; and Friedrich Prien, Halle, 1887), which was printed at Lübeck in 1498. Michael Beuther is said to have been the translator into High German (Reiniken Fuchs, 1544); and the book was made available to the general European public in the Latin version of Hartmann Schopper, Opus Poeticum de admirabili fallacia et astutia Vulpeculae Reinikes Libras quatuor (Frankfort, 1567). The modern German version (1794) of Goethe has been often reprinted, notably in 1846 with illustrations by Wilhelm von Kaulbach.

Reynard is dealt with by Carlyle in an essay “On German Literature of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries” in the Foreign Quarterly Renew (1831). An admirable account of the Reynard cycle is given by W. J. Thorns in his edition of Caxton's version for the Percy Society (1844). Prien's edition of Reynke de Vos contains bibliographical particulars of the German, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and English editions (cp. Brunet, Manuel du libraire, s.v. Renart). The best edition of the Roman de Renart is by Ernest Martin (3 vols., Strassburg and Paris, 1881-1887). See also Léopold Sudre, Les Sources du roman de Renard (Paris, 1890); Jacob Grimm, Sendschreiben an C. Lachmann über Reinhart Fuchs (Leipzig, 1840); Gaston Paris, “Le Roman de Renard” in the Journal des savants (Dec. 1894 and Feb. 1895); Kaarle Krohn, Bär und Fuchs (Helsingfors, 1888), and the editions mentioned above. The story is told in modern French by Paulin Paris, Les Aventures de Maître Renart et d'Ysengrin son compère (1861), and in English by Joseph Jacobs, following a modernized text of Caxton made by “Felix Summerley” (Sir H. Cole), in The Most Delectable History of Reynard the Fox (1895), with a valuable introduction.