Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

romantic fiction are enumerated as the subject of their lays.

“ ROLLANS
Les quatre fils Haimon, et CHARLON li plus grans
Li dus Lions de BOURGES, et GULON DE CONNANS
PERCEVAL LI GALOIS, LANCELOT, et TRISTANS
ALEXANDRE, ARTus, Godefror li sachans
De quoy cils menestriers font les noble romans.

There are but

very
few
prose

books of chivalry in the world, which are not either still extant, or are at least known to have existed originally in the form of metrical romances. The very name by which such compositions are distinguished, is derived from the romance or corrupted Latin employed by the minstrels, and long signified any history or fable narrated in vulgar poetry. It would be almost endless to cite examples of this proposition. The tales of Arthur and his Round Table, by far the most fertile source of the romances of chivalry, are all known to have existed as metrical compositions long before the publication of the prose folios on the same subject. These poems the minstrels used to chant at solemn festivals; nor was it till the decay of that extraordinary profession that romances in prose were substituted for their lays. The invention of printing hastened the declension of poetical romance.

The sort of poetry employed by the minstrels, differed only from prose in being more easily retained by the memory; but when copies were readily and cheaply multiplied by means of the press, the exertion of recollection became unnecessary.

As early as the fifteenth century, numerous prose versions of the most celebrated romances were executed in France and England, which were printed in the course of the sixteenth. These works are now. become extremely rare. Mr Southey attributes this to their great popularity. But if their popularity lasted, as he supposes, till they were worn out by repeated perusal, the printers would Piave found their advantage in supplying the public with new editions. The truth is, that the editions first published of these expensive folio romances were very small. Abridgements and extracts served the purpose of the vulgar. Mean while, the taste of the great took another turn; and the books of chivalry disappeared, in consequence of the neglect and indifference of their owners. More than a century elapsed betwixt their being read for amusement, and sought for as curiosities; and such a lapse of time would render any work scarce, were the editions as numerous as those of the Pilgrin's Progress.

To return to our subject-It appears highly probable to us, that Lobeira's prose Amadis was preceded by a metrical romance, according to the general progress which we observe in the history of similar productions.

Another general remark authorizes the same conclusion. It is well known that the romances of the middle ages were not announced to the hearers as works of mere imagination. On the contrary, they were always affirmed by the narrators to be matter of historical fact; nor was this disputed by the simplicity of the audience. The gallant knights and lovely dames, for whose delight these romanıces were composed and sung, were neither shocked by the incongruities of the work, nor the marvellous turn of the adventures. Some old tradition was adopted for the subject of the tale; favourite and well-known names were introduced. An air of authenticity was thus obtained; the prejudices of the audience conciliated; and the feudal baron believed as firmly in the exploits of Roland and Oliver, as a sturdy Celt of our day in the equally sophisticated poems of Ossian.—Hence, the grand sources of romantic fiction have been traced to the Brut of Maister Wace, himself a translator of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who put into form the traditions of the bards of Wales and Armorica; to the fabulous history of Turpin, from which sprung the numerous romances of Charlemagne and his twelve Peers; and finally to the siege of Troy, as narrated by Dares Phrygius, and to the exploits of Alexander. Other and later heroes became also the subject of Romance. Such were William of Orange, called Short-nose, Richard of Normandy, Ralph Blundeville, Earl of Chester, Richard Cour de Lion, Robert the Bruce, Bertrand du Guesclin, &c. &c. The barons also, before whom these tales were recited, were often flattered by a fabulous genealogy which deduced their pedigree from some hero of the story. A peer of England, the Earl of Oxford, if we recollect aright, conceited himself to be descended of the doughty Knight of the Swan ; and, what is somewhat to our present purpose. the French family of Bonneau deduce their pedigree from Dariolette, the complaisant confidant of Elisene, mother to Amadis.— See Mr Rose's work,

P. 52.

A Portuguese minstrel would therefore have erred grossly in choosing for his subject a palpable and absolute fiction, in which he could derive no favour from the partialities and preconceived opinions of those whose applause he was ambitious to gain. But if we suppose Amadis to have been the exclusive composition of Lobeira, we must suppose him to have invented a story, not only altogether unconnected with the history of his own country, but identified with the real or fabulous history of France, which was then the ally of Castile, and the mortal foe of Portugal. The difficulty is at once removed, if we allow that author to have adopted from the French minstrels a tale of their country, founded probably upon some ancient and vague tradition, in the same manner as they themselves had borrowed from the British bards, and Geoffrey of Monmouth, their translator, the slender foundation

upon which they erected the voluminous and splendid history of Arthur, and the doughty chivalry of his Round Table. This is the more probable, as we actually find Amadis enumerated among other heroes of French Romance mentioned in an ancient collection of stories, called Cursor Mundi, translated from the French into English metre.

“ Men lykyn jestis for to here,
And Romans rede in diverse manere,

Of Alexandre the conquerour;
Of Julius Cæsar the emperour ;
Of Greece and Troy the strong stryfe ;
There many a man lost his lyf;
Of Brut, that baron bold of hond,
The first conquerour of Englond;
Of Kyng Artour, that was so ryche,
Was non in his tyme so ilyche ;
Of wonders that among his knights fell,
And auntyrs deden as men her telle :
As Gaweyn and othir full abylle,
Which that kept the round tabyll ;
Hou King Charles and Rowland fawghte
With Sarazins nold thei be cawght;
Of Tristram and Ysoude the swete,
Hou thei with love first gan mete ;
Of King John and of Isenbras ;
Of Ydoine and Amadas."

Warton's History of Poetry. If the hero last mentioned be really Amadis de Gaul, the question as to the existence of a French or Picard history of his exploits, is fairly put to rest. For, not to mention that the date of the poem above quoted is at least coeval with Vasco de Lobeira, it is admitted, that no French translation of the Portuguese work was made till that of Herberay in 1575; and, consequently, the author of the Cursor Mundi must have alluded to a French original, altogether independent of Lobeira's work.

Mr Southey himself, with the laudable impartiality of an editor more attached to truth than system, has produced the evidence of one Portuguese author, who says that Pedro de Lobeira translated the history of Amadis de Gaul from the French language, at the instance of the Infant Don

« AnteriorContinua »