Page:Marie de France Lays Mason.djvu/16

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French Legends

porary, and learn from Chrestien de Troyes' "Knight of the Cart," how an even more considerable poet than Marie could deal with a Celtic legend. The fact is that Marie's romances derive farther back than any Breton or Celtic dream. They were so old that they had blown like thistledown about the four quarters of the world. Her princesses came really neither from Wales nor Brittany. They were of that stuff from which romance is shaped. "Her face was bright as the day of union; her hair dark as the night of separation; and her mouth was magical as Solomon's seal." You can parallel her "Lays" from folklore, from classical story and antiquity. Father and son fight together unwittingly in "The Lay of Milon"; but Rustum had striven with Sohrab long before in far Persia, and Cuchulain with his child in Ireland. Such stories are common property. The writer takes his own where he finds it. Marie is none the less admirable because her stories were narrated by the first man in Eden; neither are Boccaccio and the Countess D'Aulnoy blameworthy since they told again what she already had related so well. Marie, indeed, was an admirable narrator. That was one of her shining virtues. As a piece of artful tale telling, a specimen of the craft of keeping a situation in suspense, the arrival of the lady before Arthur's Court, in "The Lay of Sir Launfal," requires a deal of beating. The justness and fineness of her sentiment in all that concerns the delicacies of the human heart are also remarkable. But her true business was that of the storyteller. In that trade she was almost unapproachable in her day. There may have been—indeed, there was—a more considerable poet living; but a more excellent writer of romances, than the author of "Eliduc," it would have been difficult to find.

The ladies who found the "Lays" of Marie after their own hearts were not only admirers of beautiful stories; they had the delicate privilege also of admiring themselves in their habit as they lived—perhaps even lovelier than in reality—amidst their accustomed surroundings. The pleasure of a modern reader in such tales as these is enhanced by the