Page:Marie de France Lays Mason.djvu/22

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xviii
French Legends

would imagine that his proceedings were not always calculated to further their purpose. A famous singer, for instance, in honour of a lady who was named Lupa, caused himself to be sewn in a wolf's skin, and ran before the hounds till he was pulled down, half dead. Another great minstrel and lover bought a leper's gown and bowl and clapper from some afflicted wretch. He mutilated his forefinger, and sat before his lady's door, in the company of a piteous crowd of sick and maimed, to await her alms. No doubt he trusted that his devotion would procure him a different kind of charity. From such discussions as these, and from conduct such as this, a type of love came into being which was peculiar to the period. Since the lovers were not bound in the sweet and common union of children and home, since on the side of the lady all was of grace and nought of debt, they searched out other bands to unite them together. These they found in a system of devotion, silence and faithfulness, which added a dignity to their relations. These virtues they took so seriously that we find the Chatelaine of Vergi dying because she believed her lover to have betrayed her trust. The mediæval romancer contemplated such unions with joy and pity; but for all their virtues we must not deceive ourselves with words. Such honour was rooted in dishonour, and the measure of their guilt was that they debased the moral currency. Presently the greatest of all the poets of the Middle Ages would arise, to teach a different fashion of devotion. His was a love that sought no communion with its object, neither speech nor embrace. It was sufficient for Dante to contemplate Beatrice from afar, as one might kneel before the picture of a saint. I do not say that a love like this—so spiritual and so aloof—will ever be possible to men. It did not suffice even to Dante, for all his tremendous moral muscle. Human love must always and inevitably be founded on a physical basis. But the burning drop of idealism that Dante contributed to the passion of the Middle Ages has made possible the love of which we now and again catch a glimpse in the union of