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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Provençal Literature (The Troubadours), 1090–1290
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Harriet Waters Preston (1836–1911)
 
A CURIOUS natural feature of Dalmatia—that long, narrow country straitened between the mountains and the Adriatic—is the number of rivers which come up suddenly from underground, or burst full-grown from the bases of the hills, and seek the sea with a force and velocity of current all the more impressive from the mystery of their origin. Just so the poetry of the Troubadours leaps abruptly, in full volume, out of the mirk of the unlettered ages, and spreads itself abroad in a laughing flood of which the superficial sparkle may sometimes deceive concerning the strength of the undercurrent passion on which it is upborne.  1
  Gai Saber—the Gay Science—was the name bestowed by these gushing singers themselves upon their newly discovered art of verse-making; and the epithet was perfectly descriptive. To the serious, disciplined, and systematic nineteenth-century mind, there is something incongruous, not to say indecent, in the association of science and joy. Whatever else the science may be, in whose sign we are supposed to conquer, it is not gay. But the Troubadour did not even know the difference between science and art. His era in the life of modern Europe corresponds exactly with the insouciant season when “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” The Troubadour was palpitating, moreover, with the two masterful enthusiasms of his time: the religious enthusiasm of the Crusades, and the high-flown sentiments and noble chimeras of the lately formulated code of chivalry.  2
  Seizing the instrument nearest to his hand,—a supple and still growing offshoot from the imperishable root of Latin speech,—he shaped his pipe, fashioned his stops, and blew his amorous blast; and was so overcome by amazement at the delightful result, that he was fain loudly to proclaim himself the happy finder (trobaire) of the verbal music he had achieved, rather than its maker or poet.  3
  Lengua Romana, or Romans, was what he called his own language. To Dante, in the beginning of the fourteenth century, it was Provençal as distinguished from the lengua materna, or Italian: and Provençal it is, to this day, loosely called. But it was spoken in substantially the same form, far outside the fluctuating limits of mediæval Provence; and one of the Troubadours themselves—Raimon Vidal—has in fact defined its limits very explicitly. “The only true language of poetry,” he says, “is that of Limousin, Provence, Auvergne, and Quercy;… and every man born and brought up in those countries speaks the natural and right speech.”  4
  The time at which the troubadour minstrelsy flourished is as distinctly marked as its locality. Two hundred years, from the last decade of the eleventh century to the last of the thirteenth, comprise it all. Fifty years for its rise, a hundred for its most exuberant period, fifty more for its decline,—and the brief but picturesque and exciting story is all told. The love of man for woman is its perpetual and almost exclusive theme; primarily that same “simple and sensuous” motif which was already old in the world when the all-knowing King of Israel sang,—“Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away! For lo! the winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land!” The special form of the tender passion to which the troubadour tuned his lay was, however, the love of chivalry: theoretically a selfless and spiritual sentiment, having even a touch about it of religious exaltation. It involved the absolute devotion of life, wit, and prowess to the service of a formally chosen lady-love; and was as much a part of the sacramental obligations of a full-made knight as the service of God and of his feudal seigneur. The art in which this love found expression was thus essentially an aristocratic one; reserved for the practice of those who were either élite by birth and fortune, or ennobled by the possession of rare poetic gifts. Marriage was no part of its aim, and was never once, in the case of any well-known troubadour, its dénouement. The minstrel’s lady was quite regularly the wife of another man; often of his feudal lord or sovereign ruler. The scope for tragedy and crime afforded by so fantastic a relation is obvious, and history has plenty to tell of the calamities which attended it in particular cases. Yet the austere ideal was never totally eclipsed; and that it survived the final disappearance of the troubadour as a court-minstrel and titular lover, we have abundant proof in the mystic lauds addressed by Dante to Beatrice and by Petrarch to Laura.  5
  For the rest, the precocious perfection of form exhibited by some of the earliest troubadour songs which we possess, is not quite as miraculous as at first sight it appears. The main points in the mechanism of troubadour verse, both in its earlier and simpler, and in its later and highly elaborate developments, are two: strong tonic accents—mostly iambic, though sometimes of trochaic lines—and terminal rhymes. By these features it is radically distinguished from the quantitative measures of classic Greece and Rome; and in these respects it has furnished the model for almost all modern European poetry. But the rustic and popular poetry of the Latin race had been, from the first, a poetry of accent: and the tradition of it had been handed down through the early hymns of the Christian Church, and the rude staves and ballads trolled from town to town and from castle to castle during the Dark Ages, by the joculatores or jongleurs; those vagrant mimes and minstrels who played so large a part afterwards, in diffusing and popularizing the more refined compositions of the troubadours. Rhyme, on the other hand, though it might well have occurred to anybody as a fitting ornament of song,—rhyming words and syllables being exactly as obvious and essential a form of harmony as musical chords,—was very probably borrowed immediately from that Arabian verse in which it is so lavishly employed, during the long sojourn of the Saracens in Southern Europe.  6
  It seems a curious freak of philological fate whereby a literature so juvenile and impulsive as that of the troubadours, so destitute of connected thought, and at the same time so instinct with emotions, so that the very stress of feeling often renders its utterances vague, stammering, and all but unintelligible, should have become—largely by virtue of its important historical position midway between the written word of ancient Rome and that of modern France—a favorite and hard-trodden field for dry research, grammatical quibbling, and controversy on technical points. But so it is. Every sigh of the troubadour minstrel has been analyzed, and every trill conjugated. Yet when all has been said and read, the reader’s appreciation of this unique body of song will have to depend rather more upon personal divination and temperamental sympathy than upon any laboriously acquired skill in interpretation. Even for the name and lineage of many of the most famous and successful finders, as well as for the incidents of their lives, we are mainly dependent upon two sets of brief biographies, compiled by nameless monks, one in the twelfth and one in the fourteenth century. Of these cloistered authors, the earlier was no doubt contemporary with a certain number of his subjects; but we may safely conclude that they both adorned their facts, to some extent, with fancy and with fable. In selecting, out of a hundred or two of these romantic lives, a few as typical of all, we may think ourselves fortunate if, as in the case of the name that heads all the lists, the poet be a sufficiently exalted personage to have had a place in general history, and to have borne a part in the leading events of his time.  7
  William IX., Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine, was born in the year 1071, and succeeded in his fifteenth year to the sovereignty of a region comprising, besides Gascony and the southern half of Aquitaine, Limousin, Berry, and Auvergne. Almost alone among the great lords of southern France, he resisted the call of Raymond of Toulouse to the First Crusade in 1095; but when in the last year of the century the great news arrived of the capture of Jerusalem, and an appeal was made for the reinforcement of the small garrison left in the Holy Land, William was overborne, and prepared, though still reluctantly, to go. His amours had been numerous, and he had already written love songs,—many of which are licentious to a degree, though some few reflect in sweet and simple strains the most refined ideals of chivalry.  8
  Now, on the eve of his departure for the East, early in 1101, he composed a farewell to Provence, being haunted by a sad presentiment that he should see that fair land no more. His foreboding was not realized. He came back unscathed at the end of two years, after many wild adventures and narrow escapes, and wrote a burlesque account in verse (which has not survived) of his experiences in Palestine. He lived until 1127, and made ruthless war in his later years upon his young and defenseless neighbor, Alphonse Jourdain of Toulouse, for the sovereignty of that province. Alphonse was a son of the heroic Raymond, the leader of the first crusade, born in the Holy Land and baptized in the Jordan,—whence his surname. A daughter of his was distinguished by the tuneful homage of a troubadour named Guiraud le Roux, of knightly rank but poor, who had taken service at Alphonse’s court. This Guiraud is remarkable as being the only troubadour on record who loved but one woman; and there is a quality about his whimsical and subtle but always irreproachable verses which reminds one a little of the Elizabethan lyric.  9
  William IX. of Poitiers was succeeded by his son William X.; and he in turn was the father of one of the most illustrious women of her age,—a great patroness of the troubadours, and past-mistress of all that nebulous lore which was made the absurd matter of solemn discussion and adjudication in the so-called Courts of Love. This was no other than the beautiful and stately Eleanor,—Princess of Aquitaine and Duchess of Normandy, first married to Louis VII. of France, then divorced and married to Henry II. of England,—the merciless but by no means immaculate censor of the fair Rosamond Clifford, and the mother of Richard of the Lion Heart. She was already married to Henry, who was ten years her junior; but she had not yet visited England when she welcomed and installed as her formal worshiper at the Norman court one of the most famous and prolific of all the troubadours,—a true poet, though a light and inconstant lover,—Bernard of Ventadour. Very humbly born, the son in fact of the castle baker, Bernard’s exquisite talent was early discovered by his master, Ebles III. of Ventadour, who is described in the old chronicles as having “loved, even to old age, the songs of alacrity.” Ebles not only educated the boy, but permitted and even encouraged him, for a long time, to afficher himself as the adorer of his own youthful second wife, Adelaide of Montpellier. The day came, however, when the youth’s homage was suddenly discovered to have passed the proper ceremonial bounds; and he was abruptly dismissed, to take new service in Normandy. It is next to impossible to separate, in his remains, the songs of the two periods: Adelaide or Eleanor, it is all virtually one. The limpid stream of babbling minstrelsy flows on for some forty years, always dulcet and delicate, sometimes lightly pathetic, but reflecting indifferently the image of either lady. Within the long period of Bernard’s placid ascendency were comprised the rapid and fiery careers of two men of a very different stamp,—the most tragical figures in all the miscellaneous choir.  10
  Jaufré Rudel, the Prince of Blaya, fell in love with a certain Countess of Tripoli on the mere rumor of her charms; assumed the cross for the sole and sacrilegious purpose of meeting her; fell ill upon the voyage, and on his arrival was recovered from a death-like trance by his lady’s embrace, only to die almost immediately in her arms.  11
  The horrible story of William of Cabestaing would seem quite beyond belief were it not given circumstantially, and with very slight variations, by an unusual number of writers. Himself a gallant and accomplished cavalier, William won such favor in the eyes of the Lady Margarida, wife of Raymond of Roussillon, that he aroused the savage jealousy of the latter, who waylaid and slew him, and then cut out his heart, which he ordered cooked and seasoned and set before his wife. The hapless lady partook of it; then, on being brutally told the ghastly truth, she swore that she would never eat again, sprang past her husband, who had drawn his sword, leaped from the high balcony of an open window, and perished. Both Raymond and William were vassals of Alphonse II. of Aragon, himself a troubadour, and a great patron of the art. He had Raymond arrested, and caused him to die in prison; while the tomb of the lovers before the door of the church at Perpignan was long a place of pious resort for the pilgrims of passion in those parts.  12
  A different and less melodramatic interest attaches to the names of the two Arnauts,—Arnaut Daniel and Arnaut de Maroill: of whom the former, as we know from Canto xxvi. of the ‘Purgatorio,’ spoke in Provençal to Dante when he met him in the shades; while the latter is mentioned by Petrarch in a canzone as “the less famous Arnaut.” The distinction seems a strange one: for while the verses of the former are chiefly remarkable for an extraordinary artificiality and complexity of rhythm, the latter, who had vowed his devotions to a certain lovely Viscountess of Béziers, was the author of some of the most exquisitely tender bits of Provençal song which we possess.  13
  The laborious verbal conceits and metrical intricacies of Dante’s Arnaut were imitated with great ingenuity, and even exaggerated, by Raimon de Miraval, who fought in the Albigensian war; during which so many of the local poets and their patrons fell, that a whole civilization seemed to perish with them. That cruel contest may be held to mark the beginning of the end of the Provençal school of song.  14
  The name of a woman, the Countess Die,—who also, like the royal Eleanor, presided over a Court of Love,—remains attached to one plaintive lament much admired in its day; and another woman, though unnamed, was the author of the most artless and impassioned of all the peculiar class of poems known as albas or morning-songs.  15
  Another very beautiful alba was written by Guiraut de Borneil, of whom it is said by his ancient biographer that he composed the first true chanson, all previous poets having made verses only. He won a weightier kind of renown by the virile force and fire of his sirventes,—didactic or satiric pieces,—in which he mourned the accumulated misfortunes of his country, or lashed the crimes and vices of the men who had brought her to the verge of ruin.  16
  Contemporary with Guiraut was another intrepid censor of the corruptions of his time, Peire Cardinal; of whom we have a satire beginning with the burning words, “Who desires to hear a sirventes woven of grief and embroidered with anger? I have spun it already, and I can make its warp and woof!” Both these brave men died not far from the year 1230, and the course of Provençal literature after their day is one of steady deterioration.  17
 
  BIBLIOGRAPHY.—There is no adequate history in English of the elder Provençal literature; nothing to compare, for instance, with Friedrich Diez’s ‘Leben und Werke der Troubadours.’ This has been brought quite up to date in the revision of Bartsch (1883), and includes also copious poetical versions. The chief general treatises in English are Rutherford’s ‘Troubadours’ (London, 1873), and Hüffer’s ‘Troubadours’ (London, 1878). More accessible and quite as trustworthy is the article in the ‘Britannica’ on Provençal literature.  18
  The curiosity of the modern reader as to the social conditions which created and upheld the so-called Courts of Love, is best gratified by J. F. Rowbotham’s ‘The Troubadours and Courts of Love,’ one of the series entitled ‘Social England’ (Macmillan, New York, 1895). Another interesting and recent work is Ida Farnell’s ‘Lives of the Troubadours,’ translated from Provençal sources. This little book is illustrated with poetical English versions. Miss Preston’s own volume, ‘Troubadours and Trouvères’ (Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1876) is devoted, in spite of its title, chiefly to Jasmin and the more recent Provençal poets of this century. The chapter on the Troubadours (pages 151 to 231) is largely made up of spirited versions, which are in part repeated, in revised form, in the course of the present article.  19
  For those who wish to study the Provençal texts in the original, the most convenient collection is Karl Appel’s ‘Chrestomathie’ (Leipzig, 1895). There is an elementary introduction to the old Provençal language by Kitchin.  20
  [The dates at the head of these pieces represent, approximately, the time within which the several authors wrote.]  21
 
 
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