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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

The Pelerinage de l'Ame a vision of hell


lyric note, imaginative fire,

colour, melody, these were gifts that compensated the poet's poverty, his conjugal miseries, his lost eye, his faithless friends, his swarming adversaries. The personification of vices and virtues, occasional in the _Besant_ and other poems, becomes a system in the _Songe d'Enfer_, a pilgrim's progress to hell, and the _Voie de Paradis_, a pilgrim's progress to heaven, by Raoul de Houdan (after 1200). The _Pelerinage de la Vie Humaine_--another "way to Paradise"; the _Pelerinage de l'Ame_--a vision of hell, purgatory, and heaven; and the _Pelerinage de Jesus-Christ_--a narrative of the Saviour's life, by Guillaume de Digulleville (fourteenth century), have been imagined by some to have been among the sources of Bunyan's allegories. Human life may be represented in one aspect as a pilgrimage; in another it is a knightly encounter; there is a great strife between the powers of good and evil; in _Le Tornoiement Antecrist_, by Huon de Meri, Jesus and the Knights of the Cross, among whom, besides St. Michael, St. Gabriel, Confession, Chastity, and Alms, are Arthur, Launcelot, and Gawain, contend against Antichrist and the infernal barons--Jupiter, Neptune, Beelzebub, and a crowd of allegorical personages. But the battles and _debats_ of a chivalric age were not only religious; there are battles of wine and water, battles of fast and feasting, battles of the seven arts. A disputation between the body and the soul, a favourite subject for separate treatment by mediaeval poets, is found
also in one of the many sermons in verse; the _Debat des Trois Morts et des Trois Vifs_ recalls the subject of the memorable painting in the Campo Santo at Pisa.

II SERMONS

The Latin sermons of the Middle Ages were countless; but it is not until Gerson and the close of the fourteenth century that we find a series of discourses by a known preacher written and pronounced in French. It is maintained that these Latin sermons, though prepared in the language of the Church, were delivered, when addressed to lay audiences, in the vernacular, and that those composite sermons in the macaronic style, that is, partly in French, partly in Latin, which appear in the thirteenth century and are frequent in the fifteenth, were the work of reporters or redactors among the auditory. On the other hand, it is argued that both Latin and French sermons were pronounced as each might seem suitable, before the laity, and that the macaronic style was actually practised in the pulpit. Perhaps we may accept the opinion that the short and simple homilies designed for the people, little esteemed as compositions, were rarely thought worthy of preservation in a Latin form; those discourses which remain to us, if occasionally used before an unlearned audience, seem to have been specially intended for clerkly hearers. The sermons of St. Bernard, which have been preserved in Latin and in a French translation of the thirteenth century, were certainly not his eloquent popular improvisations; they are doctrinal, with crude or curious allegorisings of Holy Scripture. Those of Maurice de Sully, Archbishop of Paris, probably also translated from the Latin, are simpler in manner and more practical in their teaching; but in these characteristics they stand apart from the other sermons of the twelfth century.

It was not until the mendicant orders, Franciscans and Dominicans, began their labours that preaching, as preserved to us, was truly laicised and popularised. During the thirteenth century the work of the pulpit came to be conceived as an art which could be taught; collections of anecdotes and illustrations--_exempla_--for the enlivening of sermons, manuals for the use of preachers were formed; rules and precepts were set forth; themes for popular discourse were proposed and enlarged upon, until at length original thought and invention ceased; the preacher's art was turned into an easy trade. The effort to be popular often resulted in pulpit buffoonery. When GERSON preached at court or to the people towards the close of the fourteenth century, gravely exhorting high and low to practical duties, with tender or passionate appeals to religious feeling, his sermons were noble exceptions to the common practice. And the descent from Gerson to even his more eminent successors is swift and steep. The orators of the pulpit varied their discourse from burlesque mirth or bitter invective to gross terrors, in which death and judgment, Satan and hell-fire were largely displayed. The sermons of Michel Menot and Olivier Maillard, sometimes eloquent in their censure of sin, sometimes trivial or grotesque, sometimes pedantic in their exhibition of learning, have at least an historical value in presenting an image of social life in the fifteenth century.


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