Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/512

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
497
PROVENÇAL LITERATURE


the first authors of poetry in the vernacular both in the south and in the north of France. To the upper classes who welcomed them to their castles they supplied that sort of entertainment now sought at the theatre or in books of light literature. There were certain of them who, leaving buffoonery to the ruder and less intelligent members of the profession, devoted themselves to the composition of pieces intended for singing, and consequently in verse. In the north, where manners were not so refined and where the taste for warlike adventure prevailed, the jongleurs produced chansons de geste full of tales of battle and combat. In the courts of the southern nobles, where wealth was more abundant and a life of ease and pleasure was consequently indulged in, they produced love songs. There is probably a large amount of truth in the remark made by Dante in ch. xxv. of his Vita nuova, that the first to compose in the vulgar tongue did so because he wished to be understood by a lady who would have found it difficult to follow Latin verses.[1] And in fact there are love songs among the pieces by William of Poitiers; and the same type preponderates among the compositions of the troubadours who came immediately after him. But it is worthy of note that in all this vast body of love poetry there is no epithalamium nor any address to a marriageable lady. The social conditions of the south of France in the feudal period explain in great measure the powerful development of this kind of poetry, and also its peculiar characteristics—the profound respect, the extreme deference of the poet towards the lady whom he addresses. Rich heiresses were married young, often when hardly out of their girlhood, and most frequently without their fancy being consulted. But they seem after marriage to have enjoyed great liberty. Eager for pleasure and greedy of praise, the fair ladies of the castle became the natural patronesses of the mesnie or household of men-at-arms and jongleurs whom their husbands maintained in their castles. Songs of love addressed to them soon became an accepted and almost conventional form of literature; and, as in social position the authors were generally far below those to whom they directed their amorous plaints, this kind of poetry was always distinguished by great reserve and an essentially respectful style. From the beginning the sentiments, real or assumed, of the poets are expressed in such a refined and guarded style that some historians, over-estimating the virtue of the ladies of that time, have been misled to the belief that the love of the troubadour for the mistress of his thoughts was generally platonic and conventional.

The conditions under which Romanic poetry arose in the south of France being thus determined as accurately as the scarcity of documents allows, we now proceed to give a survey of the various forms of Provençal literature, chronological order being followed in each division. By this arrangement the wealth of each form will be better displayed; and, as it is rare in the south of France for the same person to distinguish himself in more than one of them, there will be generally no occasion to introduce the same author in different sections.

Poetry of the Troubadours.—Though he was certainly not the creator of the lyric poetry of southern France, William, count of Poitiers, by personally cultivating it gave it a position of honour, and indirectly contributed in a very powerful degree to ensure its development and preservation. Shortly after him centres of poetic activity make their appearance in various places-first in Limousin and Gascony. In the former province lived a Viscount of Ventadour, Eble, who during the second part of William of Poitiers's life seems to have been brought into relation with him, and according to a contemporary historian, Geffrei, prior of Vigeois, erat valde gratiosus in cantilenis. We possess none of his compositions; but under his influence Bernart of Ventadour was trained to poetry, who, though only the son of one of the serving-men of the castle, managed to gain the love of the lady of Ventadour, and when on the discovery of their amour he had to depart elsewhere, received a gracious welcome from Eleanor of Guienne, consort (from 1152) of Henry II. of England. Of Bernart's compositions we possess about fifty songs of elegant simplicity, some of which may be taken as the most perfect specimens of love poetry Provençal literature has ever produced. Bernart must therefore have been in repute before the middle of the 12th century; and his poetic career extended well on towards its close. At the same period, or probably a little earlier, flourished Cercamon, a poet certainly inferior to Bernart, to judge by the few pieces he has left us, but nevertheless of -genuine importance among the troubadours both because of his early date and because definite information regarding him has been preserved. He was a Gascon, and composed, says his old biographer, “ pastorals ” according to the ancient custom (pastorelas a la uzansa amiga). This is the record of the appearance in the south of France of a poetic form which ultimately acquired large development. The period at which Cercamon lived is determined by a piece where he alludes very clearly to the approaching marriage of the king of France, Louis VII., with Eleanor of Guienne (1137). Among the earliest troubadours may also be reckoned Marcabrun, a pupil of Cercamon's, from whose pen we have about forty pieces, those which can be approximately dated ranging from 1135 to 1148 or thereabout. This poet has great originality of thought and style. His songs, several of which are historical, are free from the commonplaces of their class, and contain curious strictures on the corruptions of the time.

We cannot here do more than enumerate the leading troubadours and briefly indicate in what conditions their poetry was developed and through what circumstances it fell into decay and finally disappeared: Peter of Auvergne (Peire d'Alvernha), who in certain respects must be classed with Marcabrun; Arnaut Daniel, remarkable for his complicated versification, the inventor of the sestina, a poetic form for which Dante and Petrarch express an admiration difficult for us to understand; Arnaut of Mareuil, who, while less famous than Arnaut Daniel, certainly surpasses him in elegant simplicity of form and delicacy of sentiment; Bertran de Born, now the most generally known of all the troubadours on account of the part he is said to have played both by his sword and his sirventescs in the struggle between Henry II. of England and his rebel sons, though the importance of his part in the events of the time seems to have been greatly exaggerated; Peire Vidal of Toulouse, a poet of varied inspiration who grew rich with gifts bestowed on him by the greatest nobles of his time; Guiraut de Borneil, lo maeslre dels lrobadors, and at any rate master in the art of the so-called “ close ” style (trabar clus), though he has also left us some songs of charming simplicity; Gaucelm Faidit, from whom we have a touching lament (plank) on the death of Richard Coeur de Lion; F olquet of Marseilles, the most powerful thinker among the poets of the south, who from being a troubadour became first a monk, then an abbot, and finally bishop of Toulouse (d. 1231).

It is not without interest to discover from what class of society the troubadours came. Many of them, there is no doubt, had a very humble origin. Bernart of Ventadour's father was a servant, Peire Vidal's a maker of furred garments, Perdigon's a fisher. Others belonged to the bourgeoisie: Peire d'Alvernha, for example, Peire Raimon of Toulouse, Elias Fonsalada. More rarely we see traders' sons becoming troubadours; this was the case with F olquet of Marseilles and Aimeric de Pegulhan. A great many were clerics, or at least studied for the Church, for instance, Arnaut of Mareuil, Hugh of Saint Circq (Uc de Saint Circ), Aimeric de Belenoi, Hugh Brunet, Peire Cardinal; some had even taken orders: the monk of Montaudon, the monk Gaubert of Puicibot. Ecclesiastical authority did not always tolerate this breach of discipline. Gui d'Uissel, canon and troubadour, was obliged by the injunction of the pontifical legate to give up his song-making. One point is particularly striking, the number of nobles (usually poor knights whose incomes were insufficient to support their rank) who became troubadours, or even, by an inferior descent, jongleurs: Raimon de Miraval, Pons de Capdoill, Guillem Azemar,

Cadenet, Peirol, Raimbaut de Vacqueiras, and many more.

  1. “E lo primo che comenciò a dire sicome poeta vulgare si mosse peròche volle fare intend ere le sue parole a donna al a quale era malagevole ad intendere i versi lat1m.”