Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/511

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496
PROVENÇAL LITERATURE


in writing. Slowly and gradually the Romanic languages, especially those of France, came to occupy part of the ground formerly occupied by Latin, but even after the middle ages had passed away the parent tongue retained no small portions of its original empire. Consequently Romanic literature's in general (and this is especially true of Provencal, as it does not extend beyond the medieval period) afford only an incomplete representation of the intellectual development of each country. Those literature's even which are most truly national, as having been subjected to no external influence, are only to a limited extent capable of teaching us what the nation was. They were, in short, created in the interests of the illiterate part of the people, and to a considerable degree by men themselves almost devoid of literary learning. But that does not make them less interesting.

Origin.-It was in the 11th century, and at several places in the extensive territory whose limits have been described in the foregoing account of the Provencal language, that Provengal literature first made its appearance. It took pretic form; and its oldest monuments show a relative perfection and a variety from which it may be concluded that poetry had already received a considerable development. The oldest poetic text, of which the date and origin are not surely determined, is said to be a Provengal burden (Fr. refrain) attached to a Latin poem which has been published (Zeitschrzftfur deutsche Philologie, 1881, p. 335) from a Vatican MS., written, it is asserted, in the 10th century. But it is useless to linger over these few words, the text of which seems corrupt, or at least has not yet been satisfactorily interpreted. The honour of being the oldest literary monument of the Provencal language must be assigned to a fragment of two hundred and fifty-seven decasyllabic verses preserved in an Orleans MS. and frequently edited and annotated since it was first printed by Raynouard in 1817 in his Choix des poésies origin ales des troubadours. The writing of the MS. is of the first half of the 11th century. The peculiarities of the language point to the north of the Provencal region, probably Limousin or Marche. It is the beginning of a poem in which the unknown author, taking Boethius's treatise De cousolatiohe philosophies as the groundwork of his composition, adopts and develops its ideas and gives them a Christian colouring of which there is no trace in the original. Thus from some verses in which Boethius contrasts his happy youth with his afliicted old age he draws a lengthy homily on the necessity of laying up from early years a treasure of good works. The poem is consequently a didactic piece composed by a “ clerk " knowing Latin. He doubtless preferred the poetic form to prose because his illiterate contemporaries were accustomed to poetry in the vulgar tongue, and because this form was better adapted to recitation; and thus his work, while a product of erudition in as far as it was an adaptation of a Latin treatise, shows that at the time when it was composed a vernacular poetry was in existence. A little later, at the close of the same century, we have the poems of William IX., count of Poitiers, duke of Guienne. They consist of eleven very diverse strophic pieces, and were consequently meant to be sung. Several are love songs; one relates a bouue fortune in very gross terms; and the most important of all-the only one which can be approximately dated, being composed at the time when William was setting out for Spain to fight the Saracens (about IIIQ) -expresses in touching and often noble words the writer's regret for the frivolity of his past life and the apprehensions which oppressed him as he bade farewell, perhaps for ever, to his country and his young son. We also know from Ordericus Vitalis that William IX. had composed various poems on the incidents of his ill-fated expedition to the Holy Land in Iror. And it must further be mentioned that in one of his pieces (Beu voil que sapchoh li plusor) he makes a very clear allusion to a kind of poetry which we know only by the specimens of later date, the partimen, or, as it is called in France, the jeu parti. William IX. was born in 1071 and died in 1127./ There is no doubt that the most prolific period of his literary activity was his youth. On the other hand there is no reason to believe that he created the type of poetry of which he is to us the oldest representative. It is easy to understand how his high social rank saved some of his productions from oblivion whilst the poems of his predecessors and contemporaries disappeared with the generations who heard and sang them; and in the contrast in form and subject between the Boethius poem and the stanzas of William IX. we find evidence that by the II century Provengal poetry was being rapidly developed in various directions. Whence came this poetry? How and by whose work was it formed? That it has no connexion whatever with Latin poetry is generally admitted. There is absolutely nothing in common either in form or ideas between the last productions of classical Latinity, as they appear in Sidonius Apollinaris or Fortunatus, and the first poetic compositions in Romanic. The view which seems to meet with general acceptance, though it has not been distinctly formulated by any one, is that Romanic poetry sprang out of a popular poetry quietly holding its place from the Roman times, no specimen ofwhich has survived just as the Romanic languages are only continuations with local modifications of vulgar Latin. There are both truth and error in this opinion. The question is really a very complex one. First as to the form Romanic versification, as it appears in the Boethius poem and the verses of William IX., and a little farther north in the poem of the Passion and the Life of St Leger (10th or rrth century), has with all its variety some general and permanent characteristics; it is rhymed, and it is composed of a definite number of syllables certain of which have the syllabic accent. This form has evident affinity with the rhythmic Latin versification, of which specimens exist from the close of the Roman Empire in ecclesiastical poetry. The exact type of Romanic verse is not found, however, in this ecclesiastical Latin poetry; the latter was not popular. However, it may be assumed that there was a popular variety of rhythmic poetry from which Romanic verse is derived. Again, as regards the substance, the poetic material, we find nothing in the earliest Provencal which is strictly popular. The extremely personal compositions of William IX. have nothing in common with folk-lore. They are subjective poetry addressed to a very limited and probably rather aristocratic audience. The same may be said of the Boethius poem, though it belongs to the quite different species of edifying literature§ at any rate it is not popular poetry. Vernacular compositions seem to have been at first produced for the amusement, or in the caseof religious poetry, for the edification, of that part of lay society which had leisure and lands, and reckoned intellectual pastime among the good things of life. Gradually this class, intelligent, but with no Latin education, enlarged the circle of its ideas. In the 12th century, and still more in the 13th, historical works and popular treatises on contemporary science were composed for its use in the only language it understood; and vernacular literature continued gradually to develop partly on original lines and partly by borrowing from the literature of the “ clerks. ” But in the rrth century vernacular poetry was still rather limited, and has hardly any higher object than the amusement or the edification of the upper classes. An aristocratic poetry, such as it appears in the oldest Provencal compositions, cannot be the production of shepherds and husbandmen; and there is no probability that it was invented or even very notably improved by William IX.

From what class of persons then did it proceed? Latin chroniclers of the middle ages mention as jocular es, joculatores, men of a class not very highly esteemed whose profession consisted in amusing their audience either by what we still call jugglers' tricks, by exhibiting performing animals, or by recitation and song. They are called joglars in Provengal, jouglers or jougleors in French. A certain Barnaldus, styled joglarius, appears as witness in IO58 to a charter of the chartulary of St Victor at Marseilles. In 1106 the act of foundation of a salva terra in Rouergue specifies that neither knight nor man-atarms nor joculaiar is to reside in the village about to be created. These individuals-successors of the mimi and the thymelici of antiquity, who were professional amusers of the public-were