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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Adam de Saint Victor (Twelfth Century)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Maurice Francis Egan (1852–1924)
 
THE LATIN hymns or sequences of Adam de Saint Victor came from that great period, the Middle Ages, so wonderful and so misconceived. They belong to literature because they reflect the vital motive of the time, Faith; because they are expressions of the personality of their author; and because their style is governed by delicate canons of art little understood by the modern world of poetry-lovers.  1
  To the strict classicist, to the man who reverences Horace and Catullus, their rhymes are an abomination. But to one who approaches these sacred poems of the twelfth century remembering that they were part of that greater religious poem, the daily sacrifice of the Catholic Church, they are worthy of critical study, and they will amply repay it. They can neither be studied nor even dimly appreciated through the medium of translations. They are as intricate and technical as the Gothic architecture of the time which produced them; they have the sonorousness and aspirational cadence, without the simplicity, of the Gregorian chant which their music seems to echo; and above all, they are musical.  2
  The sequence was sung between the Epistle and Gospel of the Mass. It was called “a prose,” too, because in no regular metre; but in the Middle Ages these sequences, which were at first merely prolongations of “the last note of the Alleluia,” were arranged for all feasts of the Church in such profusion that much weak and careless “prose” crept in. The consequence was that by the revision of the Roman Missal in the sixteenth century, only the ‘Victimæ Paschali’ (for Easter), the ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ (for Pentecost), ‘Lauda Sion’ (for Corpus Christi), and ‘Dies Iræ’ (in masses for the dead), were retained. In this revision, the thirty-nine sequences of Adam de Saint Victor disappeared from general usage. M. Félix Clément, in an enthusiastic notice of Saint Victor’s poetry, regrets this, and welcomes M. Charles Barthélemy’s edition of the sequences as an act of reparation to a genius too long misunderstood.  3
  There is no doubt that the almost merciless precision of Adam de Saint Victor’s rhyme had a great influence on French poetry, although neither his rhythm nor rhyme ever reaches the monotony of the later French recurrences; and some of the poems are most exquisitely lyrical, artificial, and intricate, yet with an appearance of simplicity that might easily deceive the unlearned in the metrical modes of the twelfth century. Take for instance the sequence beginning ‘Virgini Mariæ Laudes.’ It is a marvel of skill; it has the quaintness of an old ballad and the play on words of a rondeau. It is modeled on the Easter sequence of the monk Notker, with, as M. Clément says, “extraordinary skill.” It is untranslatable: no prose version can represent it, and no metrical imitation reproduce its unique shades of verbiage. In the sequence ‘Of the Holy Ghost,’ occur the famous lines which were part of the liturgy of France for four centuries:—

  “THOU who art Giver and the gift,
Who from the naught all good didst lift,
Incline our hearts thy name to praise,
And form our words thy songs to raise,—
      Thee, thee high lauding.”
  
    (Tu qui dator es et donum,
    Tu qui condis omne bonum,
    Cor ad laudem redde pronum,
    Nostræ linguæ formans sonum,—
        In tua præconia.)
  4
 
  Adam de Saint Victor was born in the twelfth century, and he died in either 1177 or 1192. It is certain that he was a canon regular of the Abbey of Saint-Victor-les-Paris; he composed certain treatises, and lived, honored and admired, for a part of his life under the rule of the Abbot Guérin, and was regarded as the foremost poet of his time. He drew his inspiration from the sacred Scriptures; and he applied both the teachings and the splendid figures of the Bible with the force and fervor of Dante. Modern hymn-writers—who seem to grow weaker every year—would do well to study the elevation and harmony of Adam de Saint Victor: he is a mine of riches. In the ‘Carmina e Poetis Christianis’ (Songs from Christian Poets), etc., by M. Félix Clément (Paris, Gaume & Co.), and in an appendix to M. Charles Barthélemy’s translation into French of the ‘Rationale Divinorum Officiorum’ (Rationale of Divine Services), the material for a study of this poet’s work may be found. An analysis of the sequence ‘Of the Resurrection of Our Lord,’ a prose version of which is given here, will show the skill with which it is constructed,—a skill as technical as that of a Petrarcan sonnet. The rhythm is as marked as the time of a military march.  5
 
 
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