Page:Marie de France Lays Mason.djvu/11

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INTRODUCTION

The tales included in this little book of translations are derived mainly from the "Lays" of Marie de France. I do not profess them to be a complete collection of her stories in verse. The ascription varies. Poems which were included in her work but yesterday are withdrawn to-day, and new matter suggested by scholars to take the place of the old. I believe it to be, however, a far fuller version of Marie's "Lays" than has yet appeared, to my knowledge, in English. Marie's poems are concerned chiefly with love. To complete my book I have added two famous mediæval stories on the same excellent theme. This, then, may be regarded as a volume of French romances, dealing, generally, with one aspect of mediaeval life.

An age so feminist in its sympathies as ours should be attracted the more easily to Marie de France, because she was both an artist and a woman. To deliver oneself through any medium is always difficult. For a woman of the Middle Ages to express herself publicly by any means whatever was almost impossible. A great lady, a great Saint or churchwoman, might do so very occasionally. But the individuality of the ordinary wife was merged in that of her husband, and for one Abbess of Shrewsbury or Whitby, for one St. Clare or St. Hilda, there were how many thousand obscure sisters, who were buried in the daily routine of a life hidden with Christ in God! Doubtless the artistic temperament burst out now and again in woman, and would take no denial. It blew where it listed, appearing in the most unexpected places. A young nun in a Saxon convent, for instance,

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