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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

Unhappily Froissart was afterwards moved by his patron


England and Scotland, noting

everything that impressed his imagination, and gathering with delight the testimony of those who had themselves been actors in the events of the past quarter of a century. He accompanied the Black Prince to Aquitaine, and, later, the Duke of Clarence to Milan. The death of Queen Philippa, in 1369, was ruinous to his prospects. For a time he supported himself as a trader in his native place. Then other patrons, kinsfolk of the Queen, came to his aid. The first revised redaction of the first book of his Chronicles was his chief occupation while cure of Lestinnes; it is a record of events from 1325 to the death of Edward III., and its brilliant narrative of events still recent or contemporary insured its popularity with aristocratic readers. Under the influence of Queen Philippa's brother-in-law, Robert of Namur, it is English in its sympathies and admirations. Unhappily Froissart was afterwards moved by his patron, Gui de Blois, to rehandle the book in the French interest; and once again in his old age his work was recast with a view to effacing the large debt which he owed to his predecessor, Jean le Bel. The first redaction is, however, that which won and retained the general favour. If his patron induced Froissart to wrong his earlier work, he made amends, for it is to Gui de Blois that we owe the last three books of the history, which bring the tale of events down to the assassination of Richard II. Still the cure of Lestinnes and the canon of Chimai pursued his early method
of travel--to the court of Gaston, Count of Foix, to Flanders, to England--ever eager in his interrogation of witnesses. It is believed that he lived to the close of 1404, but the date of his death is uncertain.

Froissart as a poet wrote gracefully in the conventional modes of his time. His vast romance _Meliador_, to which Wenceslas, Duke of Brabant, contributed the lyric part--famous in its day, long lost and recently recovered--is a construction of external marvels and splendours which lacks the inner life of imaginative faith. But as a brilliant scene-painter Froissart the chronicler is unsurpassed. His chronology, even his topography, cannot be trusted as exact; he is credulous rather than critical; he does not always test or control the statements of his informants; he is misled by their prejudices and passions; he views all things from the aristocratic standpoint; the life of the common people does not interest him; he has no sense of their wrongs, and little pity for their sufferings; he does not study the deeper causes of events; he is almost incapable of reflection; he has little historical sagacity; he accepts appearances without caring to interpret their meanings. But what a vivid picture he presents of the external aspects of fourteenth-century life! What a joy he has in adventure! What an eye for the picturesque! What movement, what colour! What a dramatic--or should we say theatrical?--feeling for life and action! Much, indeed, of the vividness of Froissart's narrative may be due to the eye-witnesses from whom he had obtained information; but genius was needed to preserve--perhaps to enhance--the animation of their recitals. If he understood his own age imperfectly, he depicted its outward appearance with incomparable skill; and though his moral sense was shallow, and his knowledge of character far from profound, he painted portraits which live in the imagination of his readers.

The fifteenth century is rich in historical writings of every kind--compilations of general history, domestic chronicles, such as the _Livre des Faits du bon Messire Jean le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut_, official chronicles both of the French and Burgundian parties, journals and memoirs. The Burgundian Enguerrand de Monstrelet was a lesser Froissart, faithful, laborious, a transcriber of documents, but without his predecessor's genius. On the French side the so-called _Chronique Scandaleuse_, by Jean de Roye, a Parisian of the time of Louis XI., to some extent redeems the mediocrity of the writers of his party.


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