Page:Marie de France Lays Mason.djvu/14

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French Legends

who came from a family in which the patronage of singers was a tradition. Her husband, too, had a pronounced liking for literature. He was fond of books, and once paid a visit to Glastonbury to visit King Arthur's tomb. These, perhaps, are limited virtues, but Henry the Second had need of every rag. It is somewhat difficult to recognise in that King of the Prologue, "in whose heart all gracious things are rooted,"[1] the actual King who murdered Becket; who turned over picture-books at Mass, and never confessed or communicated. It is yet more difficult to perceive "joy as his handmaid" who, because of the loss of a favourite city, threatened to revenge himself on God, by robbing Him of that thing—i.e., the soul—He desired most in him; and whose very last words were an echo of Job's curse upon the day that he was born.[2] Marie's phrases may be regarded, perhaps, as a courtly flourish, rather than as conveying truth with mathematical precision. If not, we should be driven to suggest an alternative to the favourite simile of lying like an epitaph. But I think it unlikely that Marie suffered with a morbidly sensitive conscience. There is little enough real devotion to be met with in her "Lays"; and if her last book—a translation from the Latin of the Purgatory of St. Patrick—is on a subject she avoids in her earlier work, it was written under the influence of some high prelate, and may be regarded as a sign that she watched the shadows cast by the western sun lengthening on the grass.

Gaston Paris suggests 1175 as an approximate date for the composition of the "Lays" of Marie de France. Their success was immediate and unequivocal, as indeed was to be expected in the case of a lady situated so fortunately at Court. We have proof of this in the testimony of Denis Pyramus, the author who wrote a Life of St. Edmund the King, early in the following century. He says, in that poem, "And also Dame Marie, who turned into rhyme and made verses of 'Lays' which are not in the least true. For these she is much praised, and her rhyme is loved everywhere; for counts, barons, and knights greatly admire it, and hold it

  1. Prologue of this work (Wikisource contributor note)
  2. Job 3 (Wikisource contributor note)