Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/610

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

Romania, the Zeitschrift filr romanische Philologie and Romanische Forschungen, as also in Modern Language Notes (Baltimore) and the Modern Language Review (Cambridge).

2. Catalan Literature. — Although the Catalan language is simply a branch of the southern Gallo-Roman, the literature, Poetry of in its origin at least, should be considered as supple- Mlddie mentary to that of Provence. Indeed, until about 4**s. t ne second half of the 13th century there existed

in the Catalan districts no other literature than the Provencal, and the poets of north-eastern Spain used no other language than that of the troubadours. Guillem de Bergadan, Uc de Mataplana, Ramon Vidal de Besalu, Guillem de Cervera, Serveri de Gerona and other verse writers of still more recent date were all genuine Provencal poets, in the same sense as are those of Limousin, Quercy or Auvergne, since they wrote in the langue d'oc and made use of all the forms of poetry cultivated by the troubadours north of the Pyrenees. Ramon Vidal (end of the 12th century and beginning of 13th) was a grammarian as well as a poet; his Rasos de trobar became the code for the Catalan poetry written in Provencal, which he called Lemosi, a name still kept up in Spain to designate, not the literary idiom of the troubadours only, but also the local idiom — Catalan — which the Spaniards chose to consider as derived from the former. The influence of R. Vidal and other grammarians of his school, as well as that of the troubadours we have named, was enduring; and even after Catalan prose — an exact reflection of the spoken language of the south-east of the Pyrenees — had given evidence of its vitality in some considerable works, Catalan poetry remained faithful to the Provencal tradition. From the combination of spoken Catalan with the literary language of the troubadours there arose a sort of composite idiom, which has some analogy with the Franco-Italian current in certain parts of Italy in the middle ages, although in the one case the elements of the mixture are more distinctly apparent than are the romance of France and the romance of Italy in the other. The poetical works of Raymond Lully or Ramon Lull are among the oldest examples of this Provencalised Catalan; one has only to read the fine piece entitled Lo Desconort (" Despair "), or some of his stanzas on religious subjects, to apprehend at once the eminently composite nature of that language. Muntaner in like manner, whose prose is exactly that spoken by his contemporaries, becomes a troubadour when he writes in verse; his Sermd on the conquest of Sardinia and Corsica (1323), introduced into his Chronicle of the kings of Aragon, exhibits linguistically the same mixed character as is found in Lully, or, we may venture to say, in all Catalan verse writers of the 14th century. These are not very numerous, nor are their works of any great merit. The majority of their compositions consist of what were called noves rimades, that is, stories in octosyllabic verse in rhymed couplets. There exist poems of this class by Pere March, by a certain Torrella, by Bernat Metge (an author more celebrated for his prose), and by others whose names we do not know; among the works belonging to this last category special mention ought to be made of a version of the romance of the Seven Sages, a translation of a book on good breeding entitled Facetus, and certain tales where, by the choice of subjects, by various borrowings, and even occasionally by the wholesale introduction of pieces of French poetry, it is clearly evident that the writers of Catalonia under- stood and read the langue d'oui. Closely allied to the noves rimades is another analogous form of versification — that of the codolada, consisting of a series of verses of eight and four syllables, rhyming in pairs, still made use of in one portion of the Catalan domain (Majorca).

The 1 sth century is the golden age of Catalan poetry. At the instigation and under the auspices of John I. (1387-1395), Martin I- (1395-1410), and Ferdinand I. (1410-1416), kings of Century. Aragon, there was founded at Barcelona a consistory of the " Gay Saber," on the model of that of Toulouse, and this official protection accorded to poetry was the beginning of a new style much more emancipated from Provencal influence. It cannot be denied, indeed, that its forms are of foreign importa- tion, that the Catalan verse writers accept the prescriptions of

the Leys d'amor of Guillaume Molinier, and that the names which they gave to their cobles (stanzas) are all borrowed from the same art de trobar of the Toulouse school; but their language begins to rid itself more and more of Provenpalisms and tends to become the same as that of prose and of ordinary conversa- tion. With Pere and Jaume March, Jordi de Sant Jordi, Johan de Masdovelles, Francesch Ferrer, Pere Torroella, Pau de Bellviure, Antoni Vallmanya, and, above all, the Valencian Auzias March, there developed a new school, which flourished till the end of the 15th century, and which, as regards the form of its versification, is distinguished by its almost exclusive employment of eight-verse cobles of ten syllables, each with " crossed " or " chained " rhymes (cobla crohada or encadenada), each composition ending with a tornada of four verses, in the first of which the " device " {divis or senyal) of the poet is given out. Many of these poems are still unedited or have only recently been extracted from the canqoners, where they had been collected in the 15th century. Auzias March alone, the most inspired, the most profound, but also the most obscure of the whole group, was printed in the 16th century; his cants d'amor and cants de mort contain the finest verses ever written in Catalan, but the poet fails to keep up to his own high level, and by his studied obscurity occasionally becomes unintelligible to such a degree that one of his editors accuses him of having written in Basque. Of a wholly different class, and in quite another spirit, is the Libre de les dones of Jaume Roig (d. 1478), a Valencian also, like March; this long poem is a nova rimada, only comediada, that is to say, it is in quadrisyllabic instead of octosyllabic verse. A bitter and caustic satire upon women, it purports to be a true history- — the history of the poet himself and of his three unhappy marriages in particular. Notwithstanding its author's allegations, how- ever, the Libre de les dones is mostly fiction; but it derives a very piquant interest from its really authentic element, its vivid picture of the Valencia of the 1 5th century and the details of contemporary manners. After this bright period of efflores- cence Catalan poetry rapidly faded, a decline due more to the force of circumstances than to any fault of the poets. The union of Aragon with Castile, and the resulting predominance of Castilian throughout Spain, inflicted a death-blow on Catalan literature, especially on its artistic poetry, a kind of composition more ready than any other to avail itself of the triumphant idiom which soon came to be regarded by men of letters as the only nbble one, and alone fit to be the vehicle of elevated or refined thoughts. The fact that a Catalan, Juan Boscan, inaugurates in the Castilian language a new kind of poetry, and that the Castilians themselves regard him as the head of a school, is important and characteristic; the date of the publica- tion of the works of Boscan (1543) marks the end of Catalan poetry.

The earliest prose works in Catalan are later than the poems of the oldest Catalan troubadours of the Provencal school; these prose writings date no further back than the Prose of close of the 13th century, but they have the advan- I3th-isth tage of being entirely original. Their language is Centuries. the very language of the soil which we see appearing in charters from about the time of the accession of James I. (1213). This is true especially of the chronicles, a little less so of the other writings, which, like the poetry, do not escape the influence of the more polished dialect of the country tc the north of the Pyrenees. Its chronicles are the best ornament of medieval Catalan prose. Four of them — that of James I., apparently reduced to writing a little after his death (1276) with the help of memoirs dictated by himself during his lifetime; that of Bernat Desclot, which deals chiefly with the reign of Pedro III. of Aragon (1276-1286); that of Ramon Muntaner (first half of the 14th century), relating at length the expedition of the Catalan com- pany to the Morea and the conquest of Sardinia by James II.; finally that of Pedro IV., the Ceremonious (1335-1387), genuine commentaries of that astute monarch, arranged by certain officials of his court, notably by Bernat Descoll — these four works are distinguished alike by the artistic skill of their