Page:Marie de France Lays Mason.djvu/20

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xvi
French Legends

speaks a word more than they like, then they catch up a stick, and begin to cudgel her; while the hen that cackles all day, and gives you no rest, you take patience with her for the sake of her miserable egg—and sometimes she will break more in your house than she herself is worth, yet you bear it in patience for the egg's sake. Many fidgetty fellows, who sometimes see their wives turn out less neat and dainty than they would like, smite them forthwith; and meanwhile the hen may make a mess on the table, and you suffer her. Have patience; it is not right to beat your wife for every cause, no!"

At the commencement of this Introduction I stated that Marie's romances are concerned mainly with love. Her talent was not very wide nor rich, and I have no doubt that there were facets of her personality which she was unable to get upon paper. The prettiest girl in the world can only give what she has to give. By the time any reader reaches the end of this volume he will be assured that the stories are stories of love. Probably he will have noticed also that, in many cases, the lady who inspires the most delicate of sentiments is, incidentally, a married woman. He may ask why this was so; and in answer I propose to conclude my paper with a few observations upon the subject of mediaeval love.

I doubt in my own mind whether romance writers do not exaggerate what was certainly a characteristic of the Middle Ages. To be ordinary is to be uninteresting; and it is obvious that the stranger the experience, the more likely is it to attract the interest and attention of the hearer. Blessed is the person—as well as the country—who has no history. But it was really very difficult for the twelfth century poet to write a love story, with a maiden as the central figure. The noble maiden seldom had a love story. It is true enough that she was sometimes referred to in the choice of her husband: two young ladies in " A Story of Beyond the Sea " are both consulted in the matter. As a rule, however, her inclination was not permitted to stand in the way of the