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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Of which Aliscans is the most famous


[Sidenote: Some instances of this.]

The striking, and to all but unusually dull or hopelessly "modern" imaginations as unusually beautiful, centre-point of _Amis et Amiles_,--where one of the heroes, who has sworn a "white" perjury to save his friend and is punished for it by the terror, "white" in the other sense, of leprosy, is abandoned by his wife, and only healed by the blood of the friend's children, is the crowning instance of another set of appeals. The catholicity of a man's literary taste, and his more special capacity of appreciating things mediaeval, may perhaps be better estimated by his opinion of _Amis et Amiles_ than by any other touchstone; for it has more appeals than this almost tragic one--a much greater development of the love-motive than either _Roland_ or _Aliscans_, and a more varied interest generally. Its continuation, _Jourdains de Blaivies_, takes the hero abroad, as do many other _chansons_, especially two of the most famous, _Huon de Bordeaux_ and _Ogier de Danemarche_. These two are also good--perhaps the best--examples of a process very much practised in the Middle Ages and leaving its mark on future fiction--that of expansion and continuation. In the case of Ogier, indeed, this process was carried so far that enquiring students have been known to be sadly disappointed in the almost total disconnection between William Morris's beautiful section of _The Earthly Paradise_ and the original French, as edited by Barrois in the first attempt to collect the _chansons_ seventy or eighty years ago. The great "Orange" subcycle, of which _Aliscans_ is the most famous, extends in many directions, but is apt in all its branches to cling more to "war and politics." William of Orange is in this respect partly matched by Garin of Lorraine. No _chanson_ retained its popularity, in every sense of that word, better than the _Quatre Fils d'Aymon_--the history of Renaut de Montauban and his brothers and cousin, the famous enchanter-knight Maugis. As a "boy's book" there is perhaps none better, and the present writer remembers an extensive and apparently modern English translation which was a favourite "sixty years since." _Berte aux grands Pies_, the earliest form of a well-known legend, has the extrinsic charm of being mentioned by Villon; while there is no more agreeable love-story, on a small scale and in a simple tone, than that of Doon and Nicolette[16] in _Doon de Mayence_. And not to make a mere catalogue which, if supported by full abstracts of all the pieces, would be inordinately bulky and would otherwise convey little idea to readers, it may be said that the general _chanson_ practice of grouping together or branching out the poems (whichever metaphor be preferred) after the fashion of a family-tree involves of itself no inconsiderable call on the tale-telling faculties. That the writers pay little or no attention to chronological and other possibilities is hardly much to say against them; if this be an unforgivable sin it is not clear how either Dickens or Thackeray is to escape damnation, with Sir Walter to greet them in their uncomfortable sojourn.

But it is undoubtedly true that the almost exclusive concentration of the attention on war prevents the attainment of much detailed novel-interest. Love affairs--some glanced at above--do indeed make, in some of the _chansons_, a fuller appearance than the flashlight view of lost tragedy which we have in _Roland_. But until the reflex influence of the Arthurian romance begins to work, they are, though not always disagreeable or ungraceful, of a very simple and primitive kind, as indeed are the delineations of manners generally.


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