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A History of French Literature by Edward Dowden

Was a disciple of Machaut if he was not a poet

style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER IV LATEST MEDIAEVAL POETS--THE DRAMA


The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries form a period of transition from the true Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The national epopee was dead; the Arthurian tales were rehandled in prose; under the influence of the _Roman de la Rose_, allegory was highly popular, and Jean de Meun had shown how it could be applied to the secularisation of learning; the middle classes were seeking for instruction. In lyric poetry the free creative spirit had declined, but the technique of verse was elaborated and reduced to rule; ballade, chant royal, lai, virelai, rondeau were the established forms, and lyric verse was often used for matter of a didactic, moral, or satirical tendency. Even Ovid was tediously moralised (_c_. 1300) in some seventy thousand lines by Chretien Legouais. Literary societies or _puys_[1] were instituted, which maintained the rules of art, and awarded crowns to successful competitors in poetry; a formal ingenuity replaced lyrical inspiration; poetry accepted proudly the name of "rhetoric." At the same time there is gain in one respect--the poets no longer conceal their own personality behind their work: they instruct, edify, moralise, express their real or simulated passions in their own persons; if their art is mechanical, yet through it we make some acquaintance with the men and manners of the age.

style="text-align: justify;">[Footnote 1: _Puy_, mountain, eminence, signifying the elevated seat of the judges of the artistic competition.]

The chief exponent of the new art of poetry was GUILLAUME DE MACHAUT. Born about 1300, he served as secretary to the King of Bohemia, who fell at Crecy. He enjoyed a tranquil old age in his province of Champagne, cultivating verse and music with the applause of his contemporaries. The ingenuities of gallantry are deployed at length in his _Jugement du Roi de Navarre_; he relates with dull prolixity the history of his patron, Pierre de Lusignan, King of Cyprus, in his _Prise d'Alexandrie_; the _Voir dit_ relates in varying verse and prose the course of his sexagenarian love for a maiden in her teens, Peronne d'Armentieres, who gratified her coquetry with an old poet's adoration, and then wedded his rival.

In the forms of his verse EUSTACHE DESCHAMPS, also a native of Champagne (_c_. 1345-1405), was a disciple of Machaut: if he was not a poet, he at least interests a reader by rhymed journals of his own life and the life of his time, written in the spirit of an honest bourgeois, whom disappointed personal hopes and public misfortune had early embittered. Eighty thousand lines, twelve hundred ballades, nearly two hundred rondeaux, a vast unfinished satire on woman, the _Miroir de Mariage_, fatigued even his own age, and the official court poet of France outlived his fame. He sings of love in the conventional modes; his historical poems, celebrating events of the day, have interest by virtue of their matter; as a moralist in verse he deplores the corruption of high and low, the cupidity in Church and State, and, above all, applies his wit to expose the vices and infirmities of women. The earliest Poetic in French--_L'art de dictier et de fere chancons, balades, virelais, et rondeaulx_ (1392)--is the work of Eustache Deschamps, in which the poet, by no means himself a master of harmonies, insists on the prime importance of harmony in verse.

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