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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Pierre of Provence and the Beautiful Maguelonne
Critical Introduction by Olga Flinch
 
THE STORY of Pierre of Provence and the beautiful Maguelonne comes to us in a quaint little edition printed in Avignon in the year 1770; but goes back much farther than this date, and is one of the floating stories of the Middle Ages, which, passing from mouth to mouth and province to province, finally found their way into print in sometimes two or three different languages. There is said to be a German edition of Pierre of Provence, and there are also whispers of an Italian one. The present French edition comes without name of author or editor: and whoever the one that kindly saved it for us, he has the good grace of allowing the little story to speak for itself; naïvely relating it with a simplicity that suggests the fairy tale told of a winter evening to a group of children eagerly crowding around the log fire.  1
  The scene is laid in Provence, which “seems always to have been the home of Poetry: be it because the sunlight, stronger and purer there than elsewhere, creates a more vivid and life-giving imagination; or because in this fresh country, hardly ever darkened by the colds of winter, it requires no effort to call forth the most smiling picture.”  2
  This little earthly paradise had been for some time the seat of intestine wars, when Count Jean de Provence, in spite of his title to the throne, preferred “quiet obscurity to a glory built upon murder; kept his title of count, and settled at Cavaillon, where he enjoyed the fruits of his virtue in peace, and where the happiness of loving and being loved by a most beautiful and most virtuous wife meant more to him than the empire of the world.” Together this happy couple spent their time and efforts on the education of their son Pierre, who from early childhood was trained in all the arts, sciences, and accomplishments of the period, so that when “age and experience had ripened his principles, Pierre was one of the most redoubtable of knights;… no one could conquer him, neither in hand-to-hand fight, nor in races, nor with sword or lance. The most celebrated troubadours, the most practiced jongleurs, had to acknowledge him their master. In his twentieth year Pierre was the delight of his parents, and in the whole of Provence the talk was but of him.”  3
  But so much valor would naturally only await an opportunity to distinguish itself further; and after a tournament in which Pierre covered himself with fresh glory, a new direction was given to his ambition. At the repast after the tournament the talk fell on Maguelonne, daughter of the King of Naples, “for whose sake all the knights seeking her father’s court attempted the most astonishing feats. Much was said of her charms and her beauty. She was described minutely, and Pierre had the description repeated twenty times. One of the knights asked him if he did not intend to see the world and seek adventures. Pierre did not answer, but remained lost in thought and absent-minded.” At this time our hero was at the happy age when “the need of loving gives new life to the soul; and makes of a well-disposed character an excellent one, and of an evil-disposed character a vicious one.” The beauty of Maguelonne made a deep impression on him; and all his thoughts were now of her, of the court of Naples, and of the glories to be won there. His only sorrow was the thought of the sorrow he would cause his devoted parents by leaving them: but kneeling before his father and opening his heart to him, he “reminded him modestly of the advantages he had taken of the education granted him, of the reputation he had won; ‘but to what use,’ added he, ‘are the principles you have inculcated, the little talent I have won, if I am to spend my life in inactivity? It is not for his own sake, it is in order to be an example to the world, the defender of the oppressed, the protector of the unhappy, that a knight must live his life.’” And asking his parents to weigh carefully the life awaiting him in his home against the life of the world outside, he leaves the decision with them. They see the justice of his wishes, and all preparations are made for his departure; his father recalling to him the teachings of his childhood, and his mother giving him as a parting gift three costly rings.  4
  Pierre finally arrives in Naples, where reigns the father of the beautiful Maguelonne; but although he has a brilliant suite, he prefers to remain unknown,—that he may win the love of Maguelonne on his own merits, and also that he may not attract the attention of his father’s brother, Count Jacques of Provence, who might fear that with the help of the King of Naples, Pierre would attempt to regain for his father the throne which Count Jacques had usurped. Pierre chose as his emblem two keys, and had them embroidered on his clothes and on the harness of his horses; and dressed in his richest apparel, he went the following Sunday to the tournament called in honor of Maguelonne, who was to grace it with her presence. Pierre finds the princess far exceeding all that had been said of her: inspired by her beauty, he enters the lists and conquers all his combatants, as much by his skill and agility as by his strength; and to the King’s messenger, who asks the name of so valiant a stranger, he answers that he is merely a poor French knight in search of glory, who has vowed not to disclose his name.  5
  Maguelonne is so charmed with his prowess, that the King, at her wish, orders several other tournaments, out of which Pierre comes equally victorious, each time gaining in her esteem. “She had seen many knights, but none had made the same impression on her…. Maguelonne was both gentle and vivacious; she had all the virtues of a tender heart, and all the qualities of an active and gifted mind: but at this time her strongest feeling was the fear that her father might lack in courtesy to the unknown knight.” Her joy was therefore great when the King invited Pierre to dine at the palace, and gave him the seat of honor at her side. “Pierre, without forgetting that he was seated next to the King, saw nothing but the beauty of the daughter. He suppressed his sighs, and his heart was the prey of the most passionate love. Maguelonne experienced the same feeling, but would not believe it: she took her emotion for natural admiration, and her tenderness for the esteem due so many virtues.”  6
  In this way their mutual love grows, causing them to pass through all the various phases of emotion, from joy to sadness, from hope to fear, scarcely understanding what can be this new imperious feeling. After Maguelonne has passed several sleepless nights, she goes to her old nurse Nicé one morning at dawn, and confesses her love for the unknown knight; and being reproved for loving an adventurer, she says: “Nicé, you speak to me of thrones, grandeur, riches,—what is all that compared to love? You would make me despise my rank, were it to prevent me from loving the virtues of an honest man because he is neither rich nor powerful. Power should be the reward of valor and not of birth; but, cruel Nicé, who has told you that this stranger is of low birth? It is only because you fear him that you oppose my wishes. Go then to him, use all your tact to discover which is his country and who are his parents: not that I doubt him, but I would be justified in your sight. I would that you might help me with your counsel without blushing.” Maguelonne conquers all Nicé’s scruples; and having assured her that whatever happens, she will marry none other than the knight of the keys, she adds: “It is late: go, my dear friend, hasten, and if necessary make your way to the unknown; question him, ask him most urgently, and if you must tell him all I feel for him, it will not cause me a blush;—love ceases to be a weakness when it is wedded to virtue. Farewell; you know my heart,—my life is in your hands.”  7
  Pierre, who does not dare to hope that the princess will ever accept his love, is thinking over the difficulties of his position when Nicé comes to him. Assuring him of the friendship of the King and Queen, and telling him that he has inspired the princess with “the feelings which he deserves,” she begs him to disclose his name and rank, that envious courtiers may not make his silence a pretext to hurt him. Pierre declares that no fear of intrigues would make him disclose his identity; but that the sole wish to please the princess forces him to acknowledge that he belongs to an illustrious family of France. Thereupon he presents Nicé with one of the rings given him by his mother, not daring to give it to the princess herself; and Nicé, to reward him for his confidence, pledges herself to make Maguelonne accept it. She returns to find the princess more impatient than ever, in her delight over his ring able to talk of nothing but her love, spending her days and nights thinking of him and dreaming of him.  8
  Pierre meanwhile, fearing the result of his message, seeks Nicé, who promises to help him if she is sure of the purity of his love for Maguelonne. “May I die before your eyes,” he exclaims, “if carried away by base passion I should ever cast a bold look on the one I love so tenderly. I adore Maguelonne; I would give my life for her; and if I could win her hand thereby, there is no danger that I would not brave.” Conquered by these protestations, Nicé confesses the love of the princess; Pierre promises to tell Maguelonne who he is, and sends her another ring. Their first meeting is set for the next day. Nicé meets Pierre and brings him to the princess, leaving them together overwhelmed by a happiness that finds no words to express itself. Maguelonne finally, reminding him of her great trust in him, begs him to have equal confidence in her; and kneeling before her, he confesses his vow not to disclose his name and title until he had succeeded in winning her love. Then, with Maguelonne’s permission, and being assured of her love, he tells her all, and dwells upon the danger it would mean to his father, to herself, and him, if his uncle the reigning Count of Provence should hear of his intention to marry the heiress of a kingdom; by such an alliance making himself a much more redoubtable claimant to the throne of Provence.  9
  Maguelonne trembles at the thought of the danger her lover is exposed to; but, assured that her father would approve of their union if he knew who Pierre was, “she feels that she does not lack in her duty toward her father in giving her heart and promise to so brave a knight, who is moreover of the blood of kings.” Consequently they exchange the most solemn vows; Pierre gives Maguelonne the third of his mother’s rings, and she takes from her neck a golden chain which she passes around his.  10
  But the secrecy to which they are forced naturally weighs heavy on them; and when Maguelonne is alone with Nicé she cannot help contrasting her fate with that of her poorest subject, who can freely marry the man of her choice. “‘If Pierre were a reigning monarch, might he even be the most detested but powerful tyrant, he had only to will it and he could be my husband. And if he were the son of a shepherd, although he had the courage of the greatest heroes and the wisdom of the best of kings, he would be punished for daring to aspire to the hand of a princess. Yes, Nicé, this is the fate of my lover. As prince he is lost if he becomes known, as simple citizen his love would be a crime if it were discovered.’ ‘What reasons for discontent?’ said the nurse: ‘you must expect everything from time and your own prudence.’”  11
  Pierre meanwhile gains the heart of everybody at court by his repeated triumphs, beauty, and modesty; and this awakens the jealousy of Ferrier, Duke of Normandie, who aspires to Maguelonne’s hand. Confident of his strength, Ferrier begs the King to call another tournament, at which he unseats all his adversaries until in turn he is thrown off his horse by Pierre. As victor, Pierre is to continue the fight with the next adversary; and great is his surprise when he recognizes his uncle, Count Jacques of Provence. Pierre, without making himself known, tries to dissuade the count from fighting; but his uncle insists upon his rights. Pierre contents himself with merely evading the count’s thrusts, until “Count Jacques, rendered furious, takes his sword in both hands; Pierre, without attempting to evade him again, only turns his head a little, and the stroke merely grazes Pierre’s armor; the count by the violence of his own motion is thrown over the head of his horse and falls at the feet of Pierre’s. He rises with a low murmur. Everybody is surprised at the skill and strength of the knight of the keys: nobody understands why, being so superior to the count, he should have first refused to fight him; only Maguelonne understands all. As for the count, he dared not begin again, and was obliged to acknowledge that the unknown knight was the most redoubtable and at the same time the most courteous of all those he had fought until that day.” Humiliated by his defeat, the count leaves at once, thus losing the chance of recognizing Pierre.  12
  Before the tournament, Maguelonne had seized the opportunity of a conversation with Count Jacques to inquire after Pierre’s parents; and when Pierre comes to her the next day, he hears from her that his mother is suffering great anxiety at not having heard from him, and he immediately asks Maguelonne’s permission to go home and reassure his parents. But the prospect of his absence, and the fear of being forced to marry Ferrier, who will make the most of his opportunity, is more than Maguelonne can bear; and she implores Pierre not to leave, or at least not to leave without her. “‘What!’ exclaimed Pierre, ‘you would have so great a confidence in me that you would go with me? O most adorable princess, the sacrifice which you propose deserves that I should forget the entire world to belong only to you. Well then, I will not go. But my mother! my mother to whom I am giving this great sorrow may die, and I shall be the cause of her death!’ Maguelonne’s heart softened, and she begged Pierre to leave and take her with him.”  13
  Thus the lovers make up their mind to flee, and to be married as soon as they are out of reach, that Maguelonne may accompany her husband. The next night they leave, Pierre taking three horses carrying provisions, and Maguelonne taking with her all her jewels and valuables. “Maguelonne rode beside her lover; one of Pierre’s servants rode ahead, and the two others behind. With the dawn of day they reached a thick wood bordering on the sea…. They dismounted and sat down on the grass. Maguelonne, who had been strengthened on the way by love and fear, felt tired out; she laid her head on Pierre’s knees; with one of his hands he held her beautiful face, and with the other he held a veil to protect her from the dew falling from the leaves. To cleave helmets, break lances, and throw knights, demand great courage: but to be young, in love, hold in your arms in the solitude of the woods the woman who loves you, and still to treat her as a sister, is an effort of which not many knights would be capable; but Pierre was, and Maguelonne fell calmly asleep.”  14
  At the court of Naples all is consternation and despair. Nicé had known nothing of the lovers’ flight; and after a fruitless search, the recent sight of Moorish ships on the coast gives rise to the suspicion that the unknown knight was a Moorish prince. The King sends out troops, who do not find the Moors, but do all the harm of which growing anxiety has accused the Moors.  15
  Meanwhile our lovers were in the forest. “Maguelonne was asleep in Pierre’s lap; her morning dreams with their happy fancies made her more beautiful than ever. Her face, half reclining on her lover’s arm, was flushed with color; a light wind which raised her veil and fanned her cheek showed Pierre a throat whose whiteness made the color of her face all the more beautiful. Pierre looked at her, his heart full of love: from time to time he touched one of Maguelonne’s hands with his lips, and tempted by her half-opened lips, he bent down a thousand times to pluck the kisses she seemed to offer him; and a thousand times fear and respect for his promises to her held him back. Ah, Pierre! Pierre! how dearly you will pay for your fatal prudence! He noticed at Maguelonne’s side a little box of precious wood; he wanted to know what it contained. Ah, Pierre, is that the kind of curiosity you ought to have? He opens it, and finds therein the three rings left him by his mother which he had given her; Maguelonne kept them like a precious token of Pierre’s love. He closes the box, puts it beside him, and is lost in thought. But while he gives himself up to his reveries, a bird of prey seizes upon the box and flies away with it; Pierre follows it with his eyes; he foresees Maguelonne’s disappointment at this loss: he takes off his coat, as quietly as possible spreads it over his beloved, takes a sling, tries to hit the bird with a stone; his efforts are useless: the bird perches on a rock in the water; Pierre hits it without wounding it; the bird flies away, letting the box fall into the water.”  16
  Pierre takes a boat and goes out for the ring, is drifted out to sea by a sudden strong current, appeals for help to a ship coming his way, is taken on board by the sailors, who are Moorish pirates, and is carried away to spend five years in captivity on the coast of Africa. He renders the Sultan great services, succeeds in putting down a State conspiracy, and finally obtains as a reward his freedom and innumerable riches, which are packed in barrels and covered with salt to avoid suspicion and robbery. He embarks for Provence, but on the way the ship puts in at a small island port, and he is left behind by mistake. On reaching shore, the sailors send his barrels to a convent hospital, the superior of which has a great reputation for kindness to strangers. Pierre after many trials reaches French soil, ill and suffering; and upon the advice of some sailors he seeks help at the convent hospital, where he is tenderly cared for. Among the patients are two knights that he knew at the court of Naples. From them he hears that Maguelonne is supposed to be dead; that the King of Naples has died of grief, the Queen reigning in his place; that the Count and Countess of Provence are still mourning the loss of their son. At the news of Maguelonne’s death he is thrown into a violent fever; the mother superior, Emilie, is sent for, and seeing that his illness has a mental cause, she begs him to confide in her. He tells her his story; and when he names Maguelonne and acknowledges that he is Pierre of Provence, she exclaims, “‘O eternal justice, O Providence! What! you are the valiant Pierre, Maguelonne’s lover? O Heaven! have mercy on me, support me and strengthen me.’… She was trembling and could hardly breathe, but she controlled herself: she feared that the news she had to tell the unfortunate Pierre might cause him so violent an emotion that he would not be able to bear it.”  17
  She tells him that she is a friend of Maguelonne’s, and has reason to think that Maguelonne is still alive. The next day she comes again and brings him the news that Maguelonne is in a convent, but not bound by any vow, and that she still lives but for him; and adding that she must take a journey of a few days, she hands him a letter from Maguelonne. The letter, written to Emilie, is full of love, hope, and impatience; “of sentences not finished, of lines half effaced by tears, expressions that had no sense, tender ravings, a thousand ideas that clashed with each other; the purest religious sentiments and the most devoted love, the severest moral rectitude and the most passionate forgetfulness, all are united therein, and any one but a lover would have thought Maguelonne bereft of reason. She promised her friend to come and see her, and then to unite her fate with Pierre’s forever; but she did not set the time.”  18
  Pierre awaits Emilie’s return most impatiently; and is finally told that she has come back, and asks him to sup with her that evening. Tortured by a thousand fears, Pierre imagines that she chooses this means of preparing him for the sad news that Maguelonne is bound by a convent vow, and goes to her in the evening with many misgivings. But she calms his fears, and tells him that she has brought Nicé, who is awaiting them in the adjoining room. “In a separate apartment Emilie had prepared a room with as much taste as magnificence; a table, carefully set, awaited five guests; Pierre and Emilie arrive, the door is opened, and Pierre finds himself in the arms of his father and mother. ‘Great God,’ cries Pierre, embracing them, ‘cruel Emilie, you did not prepare me for this extreme happiness. O my father! O my mother! my joy is killing me.’ They were all weeping tears of delight; the knight was in the arms now of the count, now of the countess; broken words, sighs, caresses, express the feeling that possessed him; it would have been hard for him to stand this touching scene if the presence of Nicé, who came to his aid, had not reminded him of Maguelonne’s absence. He embraced Nicé, he assured her of his deep gratitude for the interest she had formerly taken in his love. ‘Ah, Nicé! will you forgive me all the sorrow that our flight must have caused you? How many times have I not blushed at the thought of the opinion my imprudence must have given you of me! And Maguelonne, the virtuous Maguelonne, the victim of my rashness, has undoubtedly suffered part of the shame of this elopement in the minds of her parents and of the people of Naples. Ah, my dear Nicé, paint to her, if you can, my remorse!’… ‘Will you then always be unjust to me?’ exclaims Emilie, lifting her veil and embracing the knight, who finally recognizes Maguelonne. ‘How can you speak of “victim”? you are only the accomplice of my crime, if our flight was a crime; forget your remorse, and speak to me only of your love. Ah, Pierre!’”  19
  The next day Maguelonne relates her adventures: her distress at finding herself alone on awakening, her first decision to return to Naples, and her determination then to brave the world alone rather than to return and be forced to marry another than Pierre; how she landed on the island on which the convent is now situated, and bought three houses there, with the aim of establishing a shelter for people who were ill and suffering; how she was joined in her undertaking by several young girls, who “thought it more meritorious in the sight of God to spend their days comforting suffering humanity than to waste their lives in a retreat useless to the world.” The Count and Countess of Provence, hearing of her good work, had sought the convent to obtain if possible some comfort in their great distress; and she, telling them her true name and relation to their son, had upheld their courage by her never-failing hope.  20
  Maguelonne and Pierre are then married; the barrels of treasures are brought to light; the Queen of Naples only too gladly gives up her throne to her daughter and son-in-law; Count Jacques of Provence chooses Pierre his heir after his own death. “Pierre and Maguelonne had a long, happy, and peaceful reign; they had no sorrows except those caused by the deaths of their parents. Pierre recovered Provence; he had a son who was heir to Naples, Provence, and all the riches of Robert [the son of Count Jacques]. This couple remained lovers to their grave, into which they did not descend until ripe old age.”  21
  And this ends our fairy tale; leaving us to imagine, perhaps not what was the actual life of those ages, but at least what was then the ideal of human glory and happiness.  22
 
 
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