« PreviousContinue »
trusting that in their present forlorn state no one will recognise them, yet knowing they run danger of being put to death on discovery. They reach the paternal castle, their mother the duchess is at home alone, and when they enter the hall she said—Barons, are ye noble knights ? for ye seem to me to be more like hermits and penitents ; nevertheless, whatever you require shall be at your service, for the love of God who is to judge the world, and in the hope that he will protect my four sons whom I have not seen these ten years, last February.'--Renaud asks how that is; the duchess tells them their own story and looks at Renaud, who feels all his blood tremble in his veins. The duchess beholds Renaud change colour; she looks in his face, recognises a scar there which he had from a child, and cries, Renaud, if ye are he indeed, why conceal yourself? Fair son, I conjure you by God the Lord of all, if you are Renaud, tell me so instantly.' As Renaud hangs down his head and weeps, the duchess has no more doubt, but bursting into tears, with arms thrown up-brace leveé,-goes and kisses her child and his brothers one after the other, an hundred times at least; then she clothes them and feasts them, and sits by her sons with tearful eyes while they eat venison and flying fowl, and drink wine and spiced wine (claret) in large cups. Upon this enters the Duke Aymon, who came home from hunting, where he had taken four stags after hard chase, he sees the four men at table, ‘Dame, who are these men ? they look like penitents. "Sire,' says the Duchess, these are your sons whom you have harassed so, let them stay here the night, they shall go in the morning at early dawn, I do not know if ever in my life I shall see them again. When the Duke heard this he turned red with anger, he put on a stern countenance and made a most characteristic speech, full of the most savage instincts of the age. Children, it is ill for you to have come here: what do you want of me? Are there no knights and men at arms to take and hold at ransom? no men of religion, clerks and priests, and fat monks, who are white on the ribs and buttocks, who have livers and lungs buried in fat, and tender flesh and fat kidneys, finer are these to eat than swan or peacock. Go and break into their abbeys and ruffle them without stint. Those who give you of their substance, let them have peace, but those who will not let them be roasted with fire and embers. May God confound me if a roasted monk is not better than mutton. Out of my hall; clear out of my donjon. You shall not get a spear's worth from me.' If it had been any other man than Renaud's father who had spoken this, he had struck his head from his trunk; as it was, he looked often at his sword, half drew it once, and was about to jump to his feet, when his brother stopped him. For the love of God let be; in good and evil one must love one's father; if he commits folly we must put up with it.' After an angry retort of Renaud the Duke's anger abates, and he says to Renaud, “Fair son, you are a brave fellow; in all the world there is not your equal.' Then he tells his sons to do as they will, to take what they like of his gold and silver, of his horses, palfreys, and destriers, of his hauberks, helms, and spears, of his pelisses of sable and ermine-du vair et du gris-only he will not look on, he will go out while they equip themselves in order to keep his oath to Karl; he cannot stay with them, he must leave them to the care of their mother, who has taken no oath against them. The aged father is driven to more singular subterfuges still at the siege of Renaud's castle of Montauban, when his sons are reduced to the last extremity of famine, and where under pain of losing his head he has been constrained Karl to erect mangonels and catapults, and rain down missiles day and night into the famished fortress. Renaud finding his state hopeless, goes and seeks his father under the walls and explains their necessity. The old man says he must still be true to his oath and give him nothing ; but his tent is full of good things to eat and drink, let Renaud go there and help himself and carry away what he can while he looks another way. On the next morning he assembles his most trusty followers together and explains the straits his sons are in, and begs them every morning to throw into the castle by means of his engines, not the pitiless missives they were accustomed to despatch, but slaughtered hogs-bacons'-and vessels of wine. - Through all the monotonous single combats, ambuscades, pitched battles, and incidents with which the poem abounds, Renaud (Reinhold) stands forth as the most prominent character; his courage, his impetuosity, his quick sense of insult, his hatred of treachery, his fidelity to his friends and relations, his love of his brave steed Baiart,* and his fidelity in spite of all his sufferings to his feudal attachment to Karlemaine, except when carried away by sudden passion, were just the qualities to make him the hero of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when he was as popular in France as the Cid in Spain, and his brother outlaw Robin Hood in England. If Renaud continues to war against his feudal chief, it is because he cannot break faith with his friends, because he can accept no conditions of peace which
* Baiart has quite a human sympathy with his master, and is endowed with supernatural powers. On one occasion when about to run a match, he feigns lameness in order to further his master's plans. At another he wakes up the brothers just as they were about to be surprised by ambuscade. They all live on his blood at one time.
do not include all his followers, and especially Maugis, his cousin, a sort of necromantic warrior, who several times succeeds by cunning, or by the aid of magic, in placing Karl in a most ridiculous position. Thus, knowing how much Karl detested him, on one occasion Maugis visits Karl in his tent in the disguise of a palmer, and feigning great sickness, by aid of some invented story of a prescription of an Eastern doctor, who has told him that he will never recover until he has been fed with peacock’s flesh from the hand of a king, works on the goodnature of the Emperor to cut up a peacock for him and feed him like a child with his own hand, chuckling inwardly all the time at the idea of the rage the Emperor will be in when he discovers that he has been thus meekly feeding the enemy he hates most in the world. another occasion he throws Karl into a sleep and transports him into the midst of the castle he is besieging, and then takes himself off, as the chief cause of continued warfare. The generosity which Renaud displays on this occasion, brings about a suspension of hostilities, and Renaud is allowed to depart as a pilgrim with Maugis to the Holy Land to do penance for the past. There they do battle with the Saracens. On their return to Europe, Maugis settles down as a hermit, and Renaud at last retires also from the world and the feudal state which surrounds him, leaves his castle in disguise, and works as a common porter for the masons employed in the building of the Cathedral at Cologne. The master-mason was astonished at his prowess as a carrier of stones and offers him twelve deniers' a day,
• Car ains ne vi el mont nul si très bon ouvrier.' Renaud, however, would take but one denier,' just sufficient to buy bread, and his fellow - workmen enraged at this contempt of their notions of the laws of political economy, formed a sort of Trades Union against him to put him to death.
We now proceed to give some account of a poem of a very different character; for of all the romances of the Carlovingian cycle • Berte aus grans Piés' is the most modern in feeling and perfect in construction, and the story is of really touching interest and delicately and artistically wrought out. Older romances of this title doubtless existed, for the romance as we now possess it was the work of · Le Roi Adenès'-his title Le Roi simply notifying that he was the acknowledged chief of the confraternity of Menestiers of the time, a sort of chef d'orchestre in fact. * Berte' is nearly the latest of all the cycle, being produced at the end of the 13th century. Adenès was a Fleming, and was born about 1240. His poetic talent introduced him early in life to the notice of Henri III. Duc de Brabant, a great patron of the arts. After the death of the latter he travelled in Italy with Guy Count of Flanders, and there Marie de Brabant, daughter of his patron the Duc de Brabant, took charge of Adenès' worldly prospects. He followed the Princess to Paris, when she married Philip III., and it was at her suggestion that he executed various poetic works of which •Cleomades' was the largest ; none of them, however, equal · Berte' in poetic skill or pathetic interest.
Bertha,' the mother of Charlemagne, has retained a proverbial celebrity both in France and Italy, as evidenced by the expressions du temps que Berthe filait, non ès più tempo che Berta filava.' Her statue is to be discovered among the statues adorning the west fronts of many of the great cathedrals of France, but always, alas! distinguished by large feet. Her statue, in popular language, has been known as that of the * Reine Pedauque' (pes oca), the 'goose-footed queen ;'* and at Toulouse people swore ‘par la quenouille de la Reine Pedauque,' and her tomb was still to be seen among the Royal sepulchres at Saint Denis before the Jacobins disturbed the ashes of so many kings and queens in 1793, and broke up their tombs. Bertha's ashes had lain undisturbed since 783, for 1100 years, in a sarcophagus with the inscription ‘Berta mater Caroli Magni.'
It were to be desired, it must be said, that the fact of Bertha having had large feet had been suppressed, but in every other respect her person was charming, and her character was winning and delightful. She was, according to the romance, the daughter of Floire, King of Hungary, and of his wife Blanchefleur, a model of excellence and virtue. The Hungarians and the French were, says the romance, in those days, firm allies; it was the custom for the Hungarian Court to send their children to Paris to learn French, and moreover, in past time, they had fought as allies against the Arabs,'S'aidoient li uns l'autre contre les Arabis.'
Pepin made proposals of marriage for Bertha, and when the arrangements for the marriage were complete the King Floire dismissed his daughter with many tears and much fatherly advice; telling her to be like her mother; to be neither severe nor bitter with the poor, but sweet and gentle; of frank demeanour, so that her goodness might appear both to God and the world, for he who does no good in the end pays for it. • Never more beautiful woman than you did king or emperor behold. I commend you to God, who is a true governor, that he may watch over you ever in the spirit and in the flesh.'
* It is suggested by a French archæologist that the large-footed lady sculptured on the west front of French cathedrals may, after all, be the Queen of Saba, who is said in the Talmud to have had surpassing hands, but very big feet.
• Fille * De par Dieu. De parte Dei. Like De par le roi. De parte regis.
Fille, ce dist li rois, ressemblez votre mère;
Qui en ame et en cor en soit toujours gardère.' The Queen Blanchefleur accompanied her daughter part of the way, and after a pathetic parting sent her onwards in charge of Margiste, an old attendant, and Aliste her daughter, generally called in the poem la Serve, with various opprobrious epithets. Aliste bore a wonderful resemblance to Berthe, which was the cause of the troubles the latter had to undergo.
When Berthe arrived in Paris the bells rang lustily, the streets were hung richly with cloth and strewed with grass and rushes, the ladies were all dressed in their richest attire, and the capital was glittering with jewels and wealthy display. The marriage took place with all due solemnity, but on the night of the wedding Margiste persuaded Berthe, by a cunningly-devised tale, to absent herself from the bed of her husband, and contrived to put her daughter in her place, and Berthe was given over into the hands of two ruffians with injunctions to take her into the forest of Mans and make away with her. The two ruffians take the queen off to the forest, but, as in the case of the two bravoes who quarrel about the fate of the ‘Babes in the Wood,' so here one of these takes compassion on the poor lady, and the two fall into dispute about the fate of Berthe. While they are fighting Berthe takes flight through the forest, where she passed a night of wretchedness and terror, trembling at the howling of wolves and beasts of the forest, and flying hither and thither in fear and bewilderment. In the morning she arrives, wearied and fainting, and torn with briars, at a hermit's lodge, with a door and a little wicket, and a wooden mallet to knock with. She knocks and the hermit looks out, sees a fair lady, and at this makes a cross before his face and asks her if she comes from God or the devil.
• Devant son vis fit croix, puis lui a demandé,
S'ele estoit de par Dieu, moult l'en a conjuré.' • Sir,' she says, 'I am but a woman, pleine de povreté, let me come in, and I will tell you everything. •Fair lady,' says the hermit, neither in winter nor in summer can I let any woman enter here; such is the order our superiors have laid down many