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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

One of the judges of the tourney


there are little bits of almost Chaucerian vividness and terseness here and there, contrasting oddly with the _chevilles_--the stock phrases and epithets--elsewhere. When the tourney actually comes off and Partenopeus is supposed to be prisoner of a felon knight afar off, the two sisters and Persewis take their places at the entrance of the tower crossing the bridge at Melior's capital, "Chef d'Oire."[65] Melior is labelled only "whom all the world loves and prizes," but Urraca and her damsel "have their faces pale and discoloured--for they have lost much of their beauty--so sorely have they wept Partenopeus." On the contrary, when, at the close of the first day's tourney, the usual "unknown knights" (in this case the Count of Blois himself and his friend Gaudins) ride off triumphant, they "go joyfully to their hostel with lifted lances, helmets on head, hauberks on back, and shields held proudly as if to begin jousting."

Bel i vinrent et bel s'en vont,

says King Corsols, one of the judges of the tourney, but not in the least aware of their identity. This may occur elsewhere, but it is by no means one of the commonplaces of Romance, and a well hit-off picture is motived by a sharply cut phrase.[66]

It is this sudden enlivening of the commonplaces of Romance with vivid picture and phrase which puts _Partenopeus_ high among its fellows. The story is very simple, and the variation

and multiplication of episodic adventure unusually scanty; while the too common genealogical preface is rather exceptionally superfluous. That the Count of Blois is the nephew of Clovis can interest--outside of a peculiar class of antiquarian commentator--no mortal; and the identification of "Chef-d'Oire," Melior's enchanted capital, with Constantinople, though likely enough, is not much more important. Clovis and Byzantium (of which the enchantress is Empress) were well-known names and suited the _abonne_ of those times. The actual "argument" is of the slightest. One of Spenser's curious doggerel common measures--say:

A fairy queen grants bliss and troth On terms, unto the knight: His mother makes him break his oath, Her sister puts it right--

would almost do; the following prose abstract is practically exhaustive.

Partenopeus, Count of Blois, nephew of King Clovis of France, and descendant of famous heroes of antiquity, including Hector, the most beautiful and one of the most valiant of men, after displaying his prowess in a war with the Saracen Sornagur, loses his way while hunting in the Ardennes. He at last comes to the seashore, and finds a ship which in fifteen days takes him to a strange country, where all is beautiful but entirely solitary. He finds a magnificent palace, where he is splendidly guested by unseen hands, and at last conducted to a gorgeous bedchamber. In the dark he, not unnaturally, lies awake speculating on the marvel; and after a time light footsteps approach the bed, and a form, invisible but tangible, lies down beside him. He touches it, and finds it warm and soft and smooth, and though it protests a little, the natural consequences follow. Then the lady confesses that she had heard of him, had (incognita) seen him at the Court of France, and had, being a white witch as well as an Empress, brought him to "Chef d'Oire," her capital, though she denies having intentionally or knowingly arranged the shepherd's hour itself.[67] She is, however, as frank as Juliet and Miranda combined. She will be his wife (she makes a most interesting and accurate profession of Christian orthodoxy) if he will marry her; but it is impossible for the remainder of a period of which two and a half years have still to run, and at the end of which, and not till then, she has promised her vassals to choose a husband. Meanwhile, Partenopeus must submit to an ordeal not quite so painful as hot ploughshares. He must never see her or attempt to see her, and he must not, during his stay at Chef d'Oire, see or speak to any other human being. At the same time, hunting, exploring the palace and the city and the country, and all other pastimes independent of visible human companionship, are freely at his disposal by day.

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