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and which, by the popularity of the subjects, have raised them in general estimation above their Southern rivals. Yet if their poetic excellence is to be tried by the standard of these compositions, it will, with few exceptions, stand rather low; for certainly tamer or more prosaic performances are scarcely to be met with than the generality of their tales; and in point of talent and poetic feeling, there is no comparison between the powers of these tellers of stories and of the Provencaux, after giving the latter their full share of blame for their follies and conceits.
But, though little known (having hitherto been left to slumber in MS.), there is almost as prolific a school of lyric poetry among the Northern as the Southern French poets. Indeed, it would be singular if there were not a great community of subjects when the poets of the two dialects were brought together at such courts as those of Henry II. and Eleanor of Guienne, and of their son Richard Cceur de Lion, who was himself a poet in both tongues, had dominions in each country, and was moreover allied, like most of the monarchs of his day, to a lady of one of the courts of the South—the daughter of the king of Navarre;
"Her name was Berengere, faire woman of age,
Accident has prevented our perusing the MS. stores of these neglected and almost unknown singers in the king's library of Paris, and making such selections from them for the present work as were desirable for comparing them with their cotemporaries; but from all that has been seen, there is little doubt they possess much of the sprightliness of heart which sparkles in the songs of the Troubadours and Minnesingers. The same devotion to the female sex, the same zeal in their service, the same curious blending of religious and amatory feelings and associations, distinguish these writers, as appear in the works of the Troubadours; they had institutions of gallantry corresponding in most respects to those of the South; they had their Puys or courts of love, and their Gieux sous l'ormel in May, where their Gieux-partis were the counterparts of the Provencal Tensons; they were as pathetic martyrs to "cis jolis maux," the pains of love; and that some of them were as keen pursuers of concetti is well known to those who have perused the chansons of king Thibaud, and seen the poet "in the prison of which Love keeps the keys, aided by his three bailiffs, Hope deferred, Beauty, and Anxiety."
Among the crowd of lyric poets of about the age of Philip Augustus, rank many of the nobility of the kingdom, such as Henry duke of Brabant, Peter Mauclerc count of Bretagne, the count of Anjou (brother of St. Louis, afterwards king of Naples, and the husband of one of the daughters of the great Provencal house of Berengar), the count de la Marche, Gaces Brulez (the friend of Thibaud), Hughes de Bercy, Raoul de Soissons, and many others; none of whom, as Le Grand d'Aussy observes with some astonishment, ever attempted fabliaux, which he assumes must naturally have pleased them much better. He admits, however, that the language of these chansonniers, "sans etre plus pure ni plus elegante que celle des autres auteurs leurs contemporains, est au moins plus coulante et plus douce."
The poet of this class who is most known, though perhaps he least deserves it, is Thibaud count of Champagne and king of Navarre, the " buon re Tebaldo" of Dante (inf. xxii.), whose chansons the learned Ravalliere has edited with so much sound erudition. Thibaud was born of a family that truly belongs to the literary history of the age. He was the grandson of Marie de France, that countess of Champagne who was so zealous a patron of the Provencal poets, and whose decisions were ever held to be law in the courts of love; and Marie herself was the daughter of Eleanor, whom we have seen to be the object of the worship of Bernard de Ventadour.
Bossuet has very summarily dismissed this riming monarch by describing him as one who made verses which he was fool enough to publish. The Chroniclers of St. Denis, on the contrary, say that he "fit les plus belles chansons et les plus delitables et melodieuses qui furent oncques oyees." The reader must decide this for himself; but certainly the "buon re" is not gifted with the happiest turn of Troubadour feeling. He has none of the buoyant gallant spirit of his predecessors and of many of his cotemporaries; he aims at a more imposing march,—at a more philosophical turn of thought,—without much poetic genius to elevate, or either feeling or fancy to enliven, what we must often pronounce a very dull subject. He may be accurately classed with the early Italian sonnetteers.
In his own estimation of his mental powers (chanson 17), he dismisses as trifling the poets whose songs testified their joy in the smiles of their mistresses, by dressing up nature in her gayest robes, and revelling in her sweets; such ornaments are beneath his notice, for he tells us,
Feuttle nejlars ne vaut riens en chantant,
GeofFroi Rudel would have taught him that such topics were not always sought as resources to cover poverty of invention, but that the poet might see in the book of nature types of that beauty which he celebrated, and exhortations to the gaiety of heart which was most likely to attract its smiles;
Pro, ai del chan essenhadors
In those of Thibaud's chansons which relate to the Crusades, there is a solemnity of feeling, which interests, because it appears to come from the heart; but in general his style is very quaint, dull and meagre. Perhaps one of his prettiest thoughts opens his 15th chanson, in which he alludes to the tradition that the nightingale sometimes so strains his throat in singing, as to fall dead at the foot of the tree on which he sits:
Li rossignols chante taut
Ke mors chiet de 1' arbre jus;
Si belle mort ne vit nus,
Taut douce, ne si plaisant:
Among the compositions of the earliest of the Norman French poets, there are a great many pastorals, with which the genius of the language very well accorded. They are not very easy to translate;— perhaps they are scarcely worth the trouble;—and one of them may therefore be quoted more properly here, as published by Roquefort from the MS. col