La Malédiction des Templiers (French Edition)
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Langlois, "is assuredly this anonymous poem, so long forgotten, and henceforth classic. Prose, however, in due time proved itself to be the fitting medium for historical narrative, and verse was given over to the extravagances of fantasy.
He was probably a chief agent in the intrigue which diverted the fourth Crusade from its original destination—the Holy Land—to the assault upon Constantinople. In the events which followed he had a prominent part; before the close of Villehardouin was dead.
Villehardouin is the first chronicler who impresses his own personality on what he wrote: a brave leader, skilful in resource, he was by no means an enthusiast possessed by the more extravagant ideas of chivalry; much more was he a politician and diplomatist, with material interests well in view; not, indeed, devoid of a certain imaginative wonder at the marvels of the East; not without his moments of ardour and excitement; deeply impressed with the feeling of feudal loyalty, the sense of the bond between the suzerain and his vassal; deeply conscious of the need of discipline in great adventures; keeping in general a cool head, which could calculate the sum of profit and loss.
In general he writes with a grave simplicity, sometimes with baldness, disdaining ornament, little sensible to colour or grace of style; but by virtue of his clear intelligence and his real grasp of facts his chronicle acquires a certain literary dignity, and when his words become vivid we know that it is because he had seen with inquisitive eyes and felt with genuine ardour. Happily for students of history, while Villehardouin presents the views of an aristocrat and a diplomatist, the incidents of the same extraordinary adventure can be seen, as they struck a simple soldier, in the record of Robert de Clari, which may serve as a complement and a counterpoise to the chronicle of his more illustrious contemporary.
The unfinished Histoire de l'Empereur Henri , which carries on the narrative of events for some years subsequent to those related by Villehardouin, the work of Henri de Valenciennes, is a prose redaction of what had originally formed a chanson de geste. The versified chronicle or history in the thirteenth century declined among Anglo-Norman writers, but was continued in Flanders and in France.
Prose translations and adaptations of Latin chronicles, ancient and modern, were numerous, but the literary value of many of these is slight. In the Abbey of Saint-Denis a corpus of national history in Latin had for a long while been in process of formation. Utilising this corpus and the works from which it was constructed, one of the monks of the Abbey—perhaps a certain Primat—compiled, in the second half of the century, a History of France in the vernacular—the Grandes Chroniques de Saint-Denis —with which later additions were from time to time incorporated, until under Charles V.
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Joinville, born about , possessed of such literary culture as could be gained at the Court of Thibaut IV. The memory of the King remained the most precious possession of his follower's elder years. It is probable that soon after Joinville prepared an autobiographic fragment, dealing with that period of his youth which had been his age of adventure. When he was nearly eighty, Jeanne of Navarre, wife of Philippe le Bel, invited the old seneschal to put on record the holy words and good deeds of Saint Louis.
Joinville willingly acceded to the request, and incorporating the fragment of autobiography, in which the writer appeared in close connection with his King, he had probably almost completed his work at the date of Queen Jeanne's death April 2, ; to her son, afterwards Louis X. His purpose was to recite the pious words and set forth the Christian virtues of the royal Saint in one book of the History, and to relate his chivalric actions in the other; but Joinville had not the art of construction, he suffered from the feebleness of old age, and he could not perfectly accomplish his design; in Joinville died.
Deriving some of his materials from other memoirs of the King, especially those by Geoffroy de Beaulieu and Guillaume de Nangis, he drew mainly upon his own recollections. Unhappily the most authoritative manuscripts of the Histoire de Saint Louis have been lost; we possess none earlier than the close of the fourteenth century; but by the learning and skill of a modern editor the text has been substantially established. We must not expect from Joinville precision of chronology or exactitude in the details of military operations.
His recollections crowd upon him; he does not marshal them by power of intellect, but abandons himself to the delights of memory. He is a frank, amiable, spirited talker, who has much to tell; he succeeds in giving us two admirable portraits—his own and that of the King; and unconsciously he conveys into his narrative both the chivalric spirit of his time, and a sense of those prosaic realities which tempered the ideals of chivalry. What his eyes had rested on lives in his memory, with all its picturesque features, all its lines and colours, undimmed by time; and his curious eyes had been open to things great and small.
But Joinville felt deeply the attraction of a nature more under the control of high, ideal motives than was his own; he would not himself wash the feet of the poor; he would rather commit thirty mortal sins than be a leper; but a kingly saint may touch heights of piety which are unattainable by himself. And, at the same time, he makes us feel that Louis is not the less a man because he is a saint. Certain human infirmities of temper are his; yet his magnanimity, his sense of justice, his ardent devotion, his charity, his pure self-surrender are made so sensible to us as we read the record of Joinville that we are willing to subscribe to the sentence of Voltaire: "It is not given to man to carry virtue to a higher point.
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During the fourteenth century the higher spirit of feudalism declined; the old faith and the old chivalry were suffering a decay; the bourgeoisie grew in power and sought for instruction; it was an age of prose, in which learning was passing to the laity, or was adapted to their uses. Yet, while the inner life of chivalry failed day by day, and self-interest took the place of heroic self-surrender, the external pomp and decoration of the feudal world became more brilliant than ever. War was a trade practised from motives of vulgar cupidity; but it was adorned with splendour, and had a show of gallantry.
Born in , at Valenciennes, of bourgeois parents, Froissart, at the age of twenty-two, a disappointed lover, a tonsured clerk, and already a poet, journeyed to London, with his manuscript on the battle of Poitiers as an offering to his countrywoman, Queen Philippa of Hainault. For nearly five years he was the ditteur of the Queen, a sharer in the life of the court, but attracted before all else to those "ancient knights and squires who had taken part in feats of arms, and could speak of them rightly. The death of Queen Philippa, in , was ruinous to his prospects. For a time he supported himself as a trader in his native place.
Then other patrons, kinsfolk of the Queen, came to his aid. Under the influence of Queen Philippa's brother-in-law, Robert of Namur, it is English in its sympathies and admirations. Unhappily Froissart was afterwards moved by his patron, Gui de Blois, to rehandle the book in the French interest; and once again in his old age his work was recast with a view to effacing the large debt which he owed to his predecessor, Jean le Bel. The first redaction is, however, that which won and retained the general favour.
If his patron induced Froissart to wrong his earlier work, he made amends, for it is to Gui de Blois that we owe the last three books of the history, which bring the tale of events down to the assassination of Richard II. It is believed that he lived to the close of , but the date of his death is uncertain. Froissart as a poet wrote gracefully in the conventional modes of his time. But as a brilliant scene-painter Froissart the chronicler is unsurpassed. His chronology, even his topography, cannot be trusted as exact; he is credulous rather than critical; he does not always test or control the statements of his informants; he is misled by their prejudices and passions; he views all things from the aristocratic standpoint; the life of the common people does not interest him; he has no sense of their wrongs, and little pity for their sufferings; he does not study the deeper causes of events; he is almost incapable of reflection; he has little historical sagacity; he accepts appearances without caring to interpret their meanings.
But what a vivid picture he presents of the external aspects of fourteenth-century life! What a joy he has in adventure! What an eye for the picturesque! What movement, what colour! What a dramatic—or should we say theatrical? Much, indeed, of the vividness of Froissart's narrative may be due to the eye-witnesses from whom he had obtained information; but genius was needed to preserve—perhaps to enhance—the animation of their recitals. If he understood his own age imperfectly, he depicted its outward appearance with incomparable skill; and though his moral sense was shallow, and his knowledge of character far from profound, he painted portraits which live in the imagination of his readers.
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The fifteenth century is rich in historical writings of every kind—compilations of general history, domestic chronicles, such as the Livre des Faits du bon Messire Jean le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut , official chronicles both of the French and Burgundian parties, journals and memoirs. The Burgundian Enguerrand de Monstrelet was a lesser Froissart, faithful, laborious, a transcriber of documents, but without his predecessor's genius. Born about , in Flanders, of the family of Van den Clyte, Commines, whose parents died early, received a scanty education; but if he knew no Latin, his acquaintance with modern languages served him well.
His treason to the Duke may be almost described as inevitable; for Commines could not attach himself to violence and folly, and was naturally drawn to the counsels of civil prudence. The bargain was as profitable to his new master as to the servant. In he died. And, though Commines rather hides than thrusts to view his own personality, every page betrays the presence of a remarkable intellect.
He was no artist either in imaginative design or literary execution; he was before all else a thinker, a student of political phenomena, a searcher after the causes of events, an analyst of motives, a psychologist of individual character and of the temper of peoples, and, after a fashion, a moralist in his interpretation of history.
He cared little, or not at all, for the coloured surface of life; his chief concern is to seize the master motive by which men and events are ruled, to comprehend the secret springs of action. He is aristocratic in his politics, monarchical, an advocate for the centralisation of power; but he would have the monarch enlightened, constitutional, and pacific.
He values solid gains more than showy magnificence; and knowing the use of astuteness, he knows also the importance of good faith. He has a sense of the balance of European power, and anticipates Montesquieu in his theory of the influence of climates on peoples. There is something of pity, something of irony, in the view which he takes of the joyless lot of the great ones of the earth. Having ascertained how few of the combinations of events can be controlled by the wisest calculation, he takes refuge in a faith in Providence; he finds God necessary to explain this entangled world; and yet his morality is in great part that which tries good and evil by the test of success.
By the intensity of his thought Commines sometimes becomes striking in his expression; occasionally he rises to a grave eloquence; occasionally his irony is touched by a bitter humour. But in general he writes with little sentiment and no sense of beauty, under the control of a dry and circumspect intelligence. 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. 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. He enjoyed a tranquil old age in his province of Champagne, cultivating verse and music with the applause of his contemporaries.
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.