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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Aucassin and Nicolette (Twelfth Century?)
Critical Introduction by Frederick Morris Warren (1859–1931)
THIS charming tale of mediæval France has reached modern times in but one manuscript, which is now in the National Library at Paris. It gives us no hint as to the time and place of the author, but its linguistic forms would indicate for locality the borderland of Champagne and Picardy, while the fact that the verse of the story is in assonance would point to the later twelfth century as the date of the original draft. It would thus be contemporaneous with the last poems of Chrétien de Troyes (1170–80). The author was probably a minstrel by profession, but one of more than ordinary taste and talent. For, evidently skilled in both song and recitation, he so divided his narrative between poetry and prose that he gave himself ample opportunity to display his powers, while at the same time he retained more easily, by this variety, the attention of his audience. He calls his invention—if his invention it be—a “song-story.” The subject he drew probably from reminiscences of the widely known story of Floire and Blanchefleur; reversing the parts, so that here it is the hero who is the Christian, while the heroine is a Saracen captive baptized in her early years. The general outline of the plot also resembles indistinctly the plot of Floire and Blanchefleur, though its topography is somewhat indefinite, and a certain amount of absurd adventure in strange lands is interwoven with it. With these exceptions, however, few literary productions of the Middle Ages can rival ‘Aucassin and Nicolette’ in graceful sentiment and sympathetic description.  1
  The Paris manuscript gives the music for the poetical parts,—music that is little more than a modulation. There is a different notation for the first two lines, but for the other lines this notation is repeated in couplets, except that the last line of each song or laisse—being a half-line—has a cadence of its own. The lines are all seven syllables in length, save the final half-lines, and the assonance, which all but the half-lines observe, tends somewhat towards rhyme.  2
  The story begins with a song which serves as prologue; and then its prose takes up the narrative, telling how Aucassin, son of Garin, Count of Beaucaire, so loved Nicolette, a Saracen maiden, who had been sold to the Viscount of Beaucaire, baptized and adopted by him, that he had forsaken knighthood and chivalry and even refused to defend his father’s territories against Count Bougart of Valence. Accordingly his father ordered the Viscount to send away Nicolette, and he walled her up in a tower of his palace. Later, Aucassin is imprisoned by his father. But Nicolette escapes, hears him lamenting in his cell, and comforts him until the warden on the tower warns her of the approach of the town watch. She flees to the forest outside the gates, and there, in order to test Aucassin’s fidelity, builds a rustic tower. When he is released from prison, Aucassin hears from shepherd lads of Nicolette’s hiding-place, and seeks her bower. The lovers, united, resolve to leave the country. They take ship and are driven to the kingdom of Torelore, whose queen they find in child-bed, while the king is with the army. After a three years’ stay in Torelore they are captured by Saracen pirates and separated. Contrary winds blow Aucassin’s boat to Beaucaire, where he succeeds to Garin’s estate, while Nicolette is carried to Carthage. The sight of the city reminds her that she is the daughter of its king, and a royal marriage is planned for her. But she avoids this by assuming a minstrel’s garb, and setting sail for Beaucaire. There, before Aucassin, she sings of her own adventures, and in due time makes herself known to him. Now in one last strain our story-teller celebrates the lovers’ meeting, concluding with—
  “Our song-story comes to an end,
    I know no more to tell.”
And thus he takes leave of the gentle and courageous maiden.
  The whole account of these trials and reunions does not occupy over forty pages of the original French, which has been best edited by H. Suchier at Paderborn (second edition, 1881). In 1878, A. Bida published, with illustrations, a modern French version of the story at Paris, accompanied by the original text and a preface by Gaston Paris. This version was translated into English by A. Rodney Macdonough under the title of ‘The Lovers of Provence: Aucassin and Nicolette’ (New York, 1880). Additional illustrations by American artists found place in this edition. F. W. Bourdillon has published the original text and an English version, together with an exhaustive introduction, bibliography, notes, and glossary (London, 1887), and, later in the same year, Andrew Lang wrote out another translation, accompanied by an introduction and notes: ‘Aucassin and Nicolette’ (London). The extracts given below are from Lang’s version, with occasional slight alterations.  4

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