C'est d'Aucassins et de Nicolete.

Qui vauroit bons vers oir
Del deport du viel caitiff
De deus biax enfans petis
Nicolete et Aucassins;
Des grans paines qu'il soufri
Et des proueces qu'il fist
For s'amie o le cler vis.
Dox est li cans biax est li dis
Et cortois et bien asis.
Nus hom n'est si esbahis
Tant dolans ni entrepris
De grant mal amaladis
Se il l'oit ne soit garis
Et de joie resbaudis
Tant par est dou-ce.

This is of Aucassins and Nicolette.

Whom would a good ballad please
By the captive from o'er-seas,
A sweet song in children's praise,
Nicolette and Aucassins;
What he bore for her caress,
What he proved of his prowess
For his friend with the bright face?
The song has charm, the tale has grace,
And courtesy and good address.
No man is in such distress,
Such suffering or weariness,
Sick with ever such sickness,
But he shall, if he hear this,
Recover all his happiness,
So sweet it is!

This little thirteenth-century gem is called a "chante-fable," a story partly in prose, partly in verse, to be sung according to musical notation accompanying the words in the single manuscript known, and published in facsimile by Mr. F. W. Bourdillon at Oxford in 1896. Indeed, few poems, old or new, have in the last few years been more reprinted, translated, and discussed, than "Aucassins," yet the discussion lacks interest to the idle tourist, and tells him little. Nothing is known of the author or his date. The second line alone offers a hint, but nothing more. "Caitif" means in the first place a captive, and secondly any unfortunate or wretched man. Critics have liked to think that the word means here a captive to the Saracens, and that the poet, like Cervantes three or four hundred years later, may have been a prisoner to the infidels. What the critics can do, we can do. If liberties can be taken with impunity by scholars, we can take the liberty of supposing that the poet was a prisoner in the crusade of Coeur-de-Lion and Philippe- Auguste; that he had recovered his liberty, with his master, in 1194; and that he passed the rest of his life singing to the old Queen Eleanor or to Richard, at Chinon, and to the lords of all the chateaux in Guienne, Poitiers, Anjou, and Normandy, not to mention England. The living was a pleasant one, as the sunny atmosphere of the Southern poetry proves.

  Dox est li cans; biax est li dis,
Et cortois et bien asis.

The poet-troubadour who composed and recited "Aucassins" could not have been unhappy, but this is the affair of his private life, and not of ours. What rather interests us is his poetic motive, "courteous love," which gives the tale a place in the direct line between Christian of Troyes, Thibaut-le-Grand, and William of Lorris. Christian of Troyes died in 1175; at least he wrote nothing of a later date, so far as is certainly known. Richard Coeur-de-Lion died in 1199, very soon after the death of his half-sister Mary of Champagne. Thibaut-le-Grand was born in 1201. William of Lorris, who concluded the line of great "courteous" poets, died in 1260 or thereabouts. For our purposes, "Aucassins" comes between Christian of Troyes and William of Lorris; the trouvere or jogleor, who sang, was a "viel caitif" when the Chartres glass was set up, and the Charlemagne window designed, about 1210, or perhaps a little later. When one is not a professor, one has not the right to make inept guesses, and, when one is not a critic, one should not risk confusing a difficult question by baseless assumptions; but even a summer tourist may without offence visit his churches in the order that suits him best; and, for our tour, "Aucassins" follows Christian and goes hand in hand with Blondel and the chatelain de Coucy, as the most exquisite expression of "courteous love." As one of "Aucassins'" German editors says in his introduction: "Love is the medium through which alone the hero surveys the world around him, and for which he contemns everything that the age prized: knightly honour; deeds of arms; father and mother; hell, and even heaven; but the mere promise by his father of a kiss from Nicolette inspires him to superhuman heroism; while the old poet sings and smiles aside to his audience as though he wished them to understand that Aucassins, a foolish boy, must not be judged quite seriously, but that, old as he was himself, he was just as foolish about Nicolette."

Aucassins was the son of the Count of Beaucaire. Nicolette was a young girl whom the Viscount of Beaucaire had redeemed as a captive of the Saracens, and had brought up as a god-daughter in his family. Aucassins fell in love with Nicolette, and wanted to marry her. The action turned on marriage, for, to the Counts of Beaucaire, as to other counts, not to speak of kings, high alliance was not a matter of choice but of necessity, without which they could not defend their lives, let alone their counties; and, to make Aucassins' conduct absolutely treasonable, Beaucaire was at that time surrounded and besieged, and the Count, Aucassins' father, stood in dire need of his son's help. Aucassins refused to stir unless he could have Nicolette. What were honours to him if Nicolette were not to share them. "S'ele estait empereris de Colstentinoble u d'Alemaigne u roine de France u d'Engletere, si aroit il asses peu en li, tant est france et cortoise et de bon aire et entecie de toutes bones teces." To be empress of "Colstentinoble" would be none too good for her, so stamped is she with nobility and courtesy and high-breeding and all good qualities.

So the Count, after a long struggle, sent for his Viscount and threatened to have Nicolette burned alive, and the Viscount himself treated no better, if he did not put a stop to the affair; and the Viscount shut up Nicolette, and remonstrated with Aucassins: "Marry a king's daughter, or a count's! leave Nicolette alone, or you will never see Paradise!" This at once gave Aucassins the excuse for a charming tirade against Paradise, for which, a century or two later, he would properly have been burned together with Nicolette: -

En paradis qu'ai je a faire? Je n'i quier entrer mais que j'aie Nicolete, ma tres douce amie, que j'aim tant. C'en paradis ne vont fors tex gens con je vous dirai. Il i vont ci viel prestre et cil vieil clop et cil manke, qui tote jour et tote nuit cropent devant ces autex et en ces vies cruutes, et ci a ces vies capes ereses et a ces vies tatereles vestues, qui sont nu et decauc et estrumele, qui moeurent de faim et d'esci et de froid et de mesaises. Icil vont en paradis; aveuc ciax n'ai jou que faire; mais en infer voil jou aler. Car en infer vont li bel clerc et li bel cevalier qui sont mort as tornois et as rices gueres, et li bien sergant et li franc home. Aveuc ciax voil jou aler. Et si vont les beles dames cortoises que eles ont ii amis ou iii avec leurs barons. Et si va li ors et li agens et li vairs et li gris; et si i vont herpeor et jogleor et li roi del siecle. Avec ciax voil jou aler mais que j'aie Nicolete, ma tres douce amie, aveuc moi.

In Paradise what have I to do? I do not care to go there unless I may have Nicolette, my very sweet friend, whom I love so much. For to Paradise goes no one but such people as I will tell you of. There go old priests and old cripples and the maimed, who all day and all night crouch before altars and in old crypts, and are clothed with old worn-out capes and old tattered rags; who are naked and footbare and sore; who die of hunger and want and misery. These go to Paradise; with them I have nothing to do; but to Hell I am willing to go. For, to Hell go the fine scholars and the fair knights who die in tournies and in glorious wars; and the good men-at-arms and the well-born. With them I will gladly go. And there go the fair courteous ladies whether they have two or three friends besides their lords. And the gold and silver go there, and the ermines and sables; and there go the harpers and jongleurs, and the kings of the world. With these will I go, if only I may have Nicolette, my very sweet friend, with me.

Three times, in these short extracts, the word "courteous" has already appeared. The story itself is promised as "courteous"; Nicolette is "courteous"; and the ladies who are not to go to heaven are "courteous." Aucassins is in the full tide of courtesy, and evidently a professional, or he never would have claimed a place for harpers and jongleurs with kings and chevaliers in the next world. The poets of "courteous love" showed as little interest in religion as the poets of the eleventh century had shown for it in their poems of war. Aucassins resembled Christian of Troyes in this, and both of them resembled Thibaut, while William of Lorris went beyond them all. The literature of the "siecle" was always unreligious, from the "Chanson de Roland" to the "Tragedy of Hamlet"; to be "papelard" was unworthy of a chevalier; the true knight of courtesy made nothing of defying the torments of hell, as he defied the lance of a rival, the frowns of society, the threats of parents or the terrors of magic; the perfect, gentle, courteous lover thought of nothing but his love. Whether the object of his love were Nicolette of Beaucaire or Blanche of Castile, Mary of Champagne or Mary of Chartres, was a detail which did not affect the devotion of his worship.

So Nicolette, shut up in a vaulted chamber, leaned out at the marble window and sang, while Aucassins, when his father promised that he should have a kiss from Nicolette, went out to make fabulous slaughter of the enemy; and when his father broke the promise, shut himself up in his chamber, and also sang; and the action went on by scenes and interludes, until, one night, Nicolette let herself down from the window, by the help of sheets and towels, into the garden, and, with a natural dislike of wetting her skirts which has delighted every hearer or reader from that day to this, "prist se vesture a l'une main devant et a l'autre deriere si s'escorca por le rousee qu'ele vit grande sor l'erbe si s'en ala aval le gardin"; she raised her skirts with one hand in front and the other behind, for the dew which she saw heavy on the grass, and went off down the garden, to the tower where Aucassins was locked up, and sang to him through a crack in the masonry, and gave him a lock of her hair, and they talked till the friendly night-watch came by and warned her by a sweetly-sung chant, that she had better escape. So she bade farewell to Aucassins, and went on to a breach in the city wall, and she looked through it down into the fosse which was very deep and very steep. So she sang to herself -

Peres rois de maeste
Or ne sai quel part aler.
Se je vois u gaut rame
Ja me mengeront li le
Li lions et li sengler
Dont il i a a plente.

Father, King of Majesty!
Now I know not where to flee.
If I seek the forest free,
Then the lions will eat me,
Wolves and wild boars terribly,
Of which plenty there there be.

The lions were a touch of poetic licence, even for Beaucaire, but the wolves and wild boars were real enough; yet Nicolette feared even them less than she feared the Count, so she slid down what her audience well knew to be a most dangerous and difficult descent, and reached the bottom with many wounds in her hands and feet, "et san en sali bien en xii lius"; so that blood was drawn in a dozen places, and then she climbed up the other side, and went off bravely into the depths of the forest; an uncanny thing to do by night, as you can still see.

Then followed a pastoral, which might be taken from the works of another poet of the same period, whose acquaintance no one can neglect to make - Adam de la Halle, a Picard, of Arras. Adam lived, it is true, fifty years later than the date imagined for Aucassins, but his shepherds and shepherdesses are not so much like, as identical with, those of the Southern poet, and all have so singular an air of life that the conventional courteous knight fades out beside them. The poet, whether bourgeois, professional, noble, or clerical, never much loved the peasant, and the peasant never much loved him, or any one else. The peasant was a class by himself, and his trait, as a class, was suspicion of everybody and all things, whether material, social, or divine. Naturally he detested his lord, whether temporal or spiritual, because the seigneur and the priest took his earnings, but he was never servile, though a serf; he was far from civil; he was commonly gross. He was cruel, but not more so than his betters; and his morals were no worse. The object of oppression on all sides, - the invariable victim, whoever else might escape, - the French peasant, as a class, held his own - and more. In fact, he succeeded in plundering Church, Crown, nobility, and bourgeoisie, and was the only class in French history that rose steadily in power and well-being, from the time of the crusades to the present day, whatever his occasional suffering may have been; and, in the thirteenth century, he was suffering. When Nicolette, on the morning after her escape, came upon a group of peasants in the forest, tending the Count's cattle, she had reason to be afraid of them, but instead they were afraid of her. They thought at first that she was a fairy. When they guessed the riddle, they kept the secret, though they risked punishment and lost the chance of reward by protecting her. Worse than this, they agreed, for a small present, to give a message to Aucassins if he should ride that way.

Aucassins was not very bright, but when he got out of prison after Nicolette's escape, he did ride out, at his friends' suggestion, and tried to learn what had become of her. Passing through the woods he came upon the same group of shepherds and shepherdesses: -

  Esmeres et Martinet,   Fruelins et Johannes,   Robecons et
Aubries, -

who might have been living in the Forest of Arden, so like were they to the clowns of Shakespeare. They were singing of Nicolette and her present, and the cakes and knives and flute they would buy with it. Aucassins jumped to the bait they offered him; and they instantly began to play him as though he were a trout: -

"Bel enfant, dix vos i ait!"

"Dix vos benie!" fait cil qui fu plus enparles des autres.

"Bel enfant," fait il, "redites le cancon que vos disiez ore!"

"Nous n'i dirons," fait cil qui plus fu enparles des autres. "Dehait ore qui por vos i cantera, biax sire!"

"Bel enfant!" fait Aucassins, "enne me connissies vos?"

"Oil! nos savions bien que vos estes Aucassins, nos damoisiax, mais nos ne somes mie a vos, ains somes au conte."

"Bel enfant, si feres, je vos en pri!"

"Os, por le cuer be!" fait cil. "Por quoi canteroie je por vos, s'il ne me seoit! Quant il n'a si rice home en cest pais sans le cors le conte Garin s'il trovait mes bues ne mes vaces ne mes brebis en ses pres n'en sen forment qu'il fust mie tant hardis por les es a crever qu'il les en ossast cacier. Et por quoi canteroie je por vos s'il ne me seoit?"

"Se dix vos ait, bel enfant, si feres! et tenes x sous que j'ai ci en une borse!"

"God bless you, fair child!" said Aucassins.

"God be with you!" replied the one who talked best.

"Fair child!" said he, "repeat the song you were just singing."

"We won't!" replied he who talked best among them. "Bad luck to him who shall sing for you, good sir!"

"Fair child," said Aucassins, "do you know me?"

"Yes! we know very well that you are Aucassins, our young lord; but we are none of yours; we belong to the Count."

"Fair child, indeed you'll do it, I pray you!"

"Listen, for love of God!" said he. "Why should I sing for you if it does not suit me? when there is no man so powerful in this country, except Count Garin, if he found my oxen or my cows or my sheep in his pasture or his close, would not rather risk losing his eyes than dare to turn them out! and why should I sing for you, if it does not suit me!"

"So God help you, good child, indeed you will do it! and take these ten sous that I have here in my purse."

"Sire les deniers prenderons nos, mais je ne vos canterai mie, car j'en ai jure. Mais je le vos conterai se vos voles."

"De par diu!" faits Aucassins. "Encore aim je mix center que nient."

"Sire, the money we will take, but I'll not sing to you, for I've sworn it. But I will tell it you, if you like."

"For God's sake!" said Aucassins; "better telling than nothing!"

Ten sous was no small gift! twenty sous was the value of a strong ox. The poet put a high money-value on the force of love, but he set a higher value on it in courtesy. These boors were openly insolent to their young lord, trying to extort money from him, and threatening him with telling his father; but they were in their right, and Nicolette was in their power. At heart they meant Aucassins well, but they were rude and grasping, and the poet used them in order to show how love made the true lover courteous even to clowns. Aucassins' gentle courtesy is brought out by the boors' greed, as the colours in the window were brought out and given their value by a bit of blue or green. The poet, having got his little touch of colour rightly placed, let the peasants go. "Cil qui fu plus enparles des autres," having been given his way and his money, told Aucassins what he knew of Nicolette and her message; so Aucassins put spurs to his horse and cantered into the forest, singing: -

Se diu plaist le pere fort
Je vos reverai encore
Suer, douce a-mie!

So please God, great and strong,
I will find you now ere long,
Sister, sweet friend!

But the peasant had singular attraction for the poet. Whether the character gave him a chance for some clever mimicry, which was one of his strong points as a story-teller: or whether he wanted to treat his subjects, like the legendary windows, in pairs; or whether he felt that the forest-scene specially amused his audience, he immediately introduced a peasant of another class, much more strongly coloured, or deeply shadowed. Every one in the audience was - and, for that matter, still would be - familiar with the great forests, the home of half the fairy and nursery tales of Europe, still wild enough and extensive enough to hide in, although they have now comparatively few lions, and not many wolves or wild boars or serpents such as Nicolette feared. Every one saw, without an effort, the young damoiseau riding out with his hound or hawk, looking for game; the lanes under the trees, through the wood, or the thick underbrush before lanes were made; the herdsmen watching their herds, and keeping a sharp look-out for wolves; the peasant seeking lost cattle; the black kiln-men burning charcoal; and in the depths of the rocks or swamps or thickets - the outlaw. Even now, forests like Rambouillet, or Fontainebleau or Compiegne are enormous and wild; one can see Aucassins breaking his way through thorns and branches in search of Nicolette, tearing his clothes and wounding himself "en xl lius u en xxx," until evening approached, and he began to weep for disappointment: -

Il esgarda devant lui enmi la voie si vit un vallet tei que je vos dirai. Grans estoit et mervellex et lais et hidex. Il avoit une grande hure plus noire qu'une carbouclee, et avoit plus de planne paume entre ii ex, et avoit unes grandes joes et un grandisme nez plat, et une grans narines lees et unes grosses levres plus rouges d'unes carbounees, et uns grans dens gaunes et lais et estoit caucies d'uns housiax et d'uns sollers de buef fretes de tille dusque deseure le genol et estoit afules d'une cape a ii envers si estoit apoiies sor une grande macue. Aucassins s'enbati sor lui s'eut grand paor quant il le sorvit...

"Baix frere, dix ti ait!"

"Dix vos benie!" fait cil. "Se dix t'ait, que fais tu ilec?"

"A vos que monte?" fait cil.

"Nient!" fait Aucassins; "je nel vos demant se por bien non."

"Mais pour quoi ploures vos?" fait cil, "et faites si fait doel? Certes se j'estoie ausi rices hom que vos estes, tos li mons ne me feroit mie plorer."

"Ba! me conissies vos!" fait Aucassins.

"Oie! je sai bien que vos estes Aucassins li fix le conte, et se vos me dites por quoi vos plores je vos dirai que je fac ici."

As he looked before him along the way he saw a man such as I will tell you. Tall he was, and menacing, and ugly, and hideous. He had a great mane blacker than charcoal and had more than a full palm- width between his two eyes, and had big cheeks, and a huge flat nose and great broad nostrils, and thick lips redder than raw beef, and large ugly yellow teeth, and was shod with hose and leggings of raw hide laced with bark cord to above the knee, and was muffled in a cloak without lining, and was leaning on a great club. Aucassins came upon him suddenly and had great fear when he saw him.

"Fair brother, good day!" said he.

"God bless you!" said the other.

"As God help you, what do you here?"

"What is that to you?" said the other.

"Nothing!" said Aucassins; "I ask only from good-will."

"But why are you crying!" said the other, "and mounring so loud? Sure, if I were as great a man as you are, nothing on earth would make me cry."

"Bah! you know me?" said Aucassins.

"Yes, I know very well that you are Aucassins, the count's son; and if you will tell me what you are crying for, I will tell you what I am doing here."

Aucassins seemed to think this an equal bargain. All damoiseaux were not as courteous as Aucassins, nor all "varlets" as rude as his peasants; we shall see how the young gentlemen of Picardy treated the peasantry for no offence at all; but Aucassins carried a softer, Southern temper in a happier climate, and, with his invariable gentle courtesy, took no offence at the familiarity with which the ploughman treated him. Yet he dared not tell the truth, so he invented, on the spur of the moment, an excuse; - he has lost, he said, a beautiful white hound. The peasant hooted -

"Os!" fait cil; "por le cuer que cil sires eut en sen ventre! que vos plorastes por un cien puant! Mal dehait ait qui ja mais vos prisera quant il n'a si rice home en ceste tere se vos peres len mandoit x u xv u xx qu'il ne les envoyast trop volontiers et s'en esteroit trop lies. Mais je dois plorer et dol faire?"

"Et tu de quoi frere?"

"Sire je lo vos dirai. J'estoie liues a un rice vilain si cacoie se carue. iiii bues i avoit. Or a iii jors qu il m'avint une grande malaventure que je perdi le mellor de mes bues Roget le mellor de me carue. Si le vois querant. Si ne mengai ne ne bue iii jors a passes. Si n'os aler a le vile c'on me metroit en prison que je ne l'ai de quoi saure. De tot l'avoir du monde n'ai je plus vaillant que vos vees sor le cors de mi. Une lasse mere avoie, si n'avoit plus vaillant que une keutisele, si h a on sacie de desous le dos si gist a pur l'estrain, si m'en poise asses plus que denu. Car avoirs va et viaent; se j'ai or perdu je gaaignerai une autre fois si sorrai mon buef quant je porrai, ne ja por cien n'en plorerai. Et vos plorastes por un cien de longaigne! Mal dehait ait qui mais vos prisera!"

"Certes tu es de bon confort, biax frere! que benois sois tu! Et que valoit tes bues!"

"Sire xx sous m'en demande on, je n'en puis mie abatre une seule maille."

"Or, tien" fait Aucassins, "xx que j'ai ci en me borse, si sol ten buef!"

"Listen!" said he, "By the heart God had in his body, that you should cry for a stinking dog! Bad luck to him who ever prizes you! When there is no man in this land so great, if your father sent to him for ten or fifteen or twenty but would fetch them very gladly, and be only too pleased. But I ought to cry and mourn."

"And - why you, brother?"

"Sir, I will tell you. I was hired out to a rich farmer to drive his plough. There were four oxen. Now three days ago I had a great misfortune, for I lost the best of my oxen, Roget, the best of my team. I am looking to find him. I've not eaten or drunk these three days past. I dare n't go to the town, for they would put me in prison as I've nothing to pay with. In all the world I've not the worth of anything but what you see on my body I've a poor old mother who owned nothing but a feather mattress, and they've dragged it from under her back so she lies on the bare straw, and she troubles me more than myself. For riches come and go if I lose to day, I gain to-morrow; I will pay for my ox when I can, and will not cry for that. And you cry for a filthy dog! Bad luck to him who ever thinks well of you!"

"Truly, you counsel well, good brother! God bless you! And what was your ox worth?"

"Sir, they ask me twenty sous for it. I cannot beat them down a single centime."

"Here are twenty," said Aucassins, "that I have in my purse! Pay for your ox!"

"Sire!" fait il, "grans mercies! et dix vos laist trover ce que vox queres!"

"Sir!" said he; "many thanks! and Go! grant you find what you seek!"

The little episode was thrown in without rhyme or reason to the rapid emotion of the love-story, as though the jongleur were showing his own cleverness and humour, at the expense of his hero, as jongleurs had a way of doing; but he took no such liberties with his heroine. While Aucassins tore through the thickets on horseback, crying aloud, Nicolette had built herself a little hut in the depths of the forest: -

Ele prist des flors de lis
Et de l'erbe du garris
Et de le foille autresi;
Une belle loge en fist,
Ainques tant gente ne vi.
Jure diu qui ne menti
Se par la vient Aucassins
Et il por l'amor de li
Ne si repose un petit
Ja ne sera ses amis
N'ele s'a-mie.

So she twined the lilies' flower,
Roofed with leafy branches o'er,
Made of it a lovely bower,
With the freshest grass for floor
Such as never mortal saw.
By God's Verity, she swore,
Should Aucassins pass her door,
And not stop for love of her,
To repose a moment there,
He should be her love no more,
Nor she his dear!

So night came on, and Nicolette went to sleep, a little distance away from her hut. Aucassins at last came by, and dismounted, spraining his shoulder in doing it. Then he crept into the little hut, and lying on his back, looked up through the leaves to the moon, and sang: -

Estoilete, je te voi,
Que la lune trait a soi.
Nicolete est aveuc toi,
M'amiete o le blond poil.
Je quid que dix le veut avoir
Por la lumiere de soir
Que par li plus clere soit.
Vien, amie, je te proie!
Ou monter vauroie droit,
Que que fust du recaoir.
Que fuisse lassus o toi
Ja te baiseroi estroit.
Se j'estoie fix a roi
S'afferies vos bien a moi
Suer douce amie!

I can see you, little star,
That the moon draws through the air.
Nicolette is where you are,
My own love with the blonde hair.
I think God must want her near
To shine down upon us here
That the evening be more clear.
Come down, dearest, to my prayer,
Or I climb up where you are!
Though I fell, I would not care.
If I once were with you there
I would kiss you closely, dear!
If a monarch's son I were
You should all my kingdom share,
Sweet friend, sister!

How Nicolette heard him sing, and came to him and rubbed his shoulder and dressed his wounds as though he were a child; and how in the morning they rode away together, like Tennyson's "Sleeping Beauty," -

  O'er the hills and far away
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
Beyond the night, beyond the day,

singing as they rode, the story goes on to tell or to sing in verse -

Aucassins, li biax, li blons,
Li gentix, It amorous,
Est issous del gaut parfont,
Entre ses bras ses amors
Devant lui sor son arcon.
Les ex li baise et le front,
Et le bouce et le menton.
Elle l'a mis a raison.
"Aucassins, biax amis dox,
"En quel tere en irons nous?"
"Douce amie, que sai jou?
"Moi ne caut u nous aillons,
"En forest u en destor
"Mais que je soie aveuc vous."
Passent les vaus et les mons,
Et les viles et les bors
A la mer vinrent au jor,
Si descendent u sablon
Les le rivage.

Aucassins, the brave, the fair,
Courteous knight and gentle lover,
From the forest dense came forth;
In his arms his love he bore
On his saddle-bow before;
Her eyes he kisses and her mouth,
And her forehead and her chin.
She brings him back to earth again:
"Aucassins, my love, my own,
"To what country shall we turn?"
"Dearest angel, what say you?
"I care nothing where we go,
"In the forest or outside,
"While you on my saddle ride."
So they pass by hill and dale,
And the city, and the town,
Till they reach the morning pale,
And on sea-sands set them down,
Hard by the shore.

There we will leave them, for their further adventures have not much to do with our matter. Like all the romans, or nearly all, "Aucassins" is singularly pure and refined. Apparently the ladies of courteous love frowned on coarseness and allowed no licence. Their power must have been great, for the best romans are as free from grossness as the "Chanson de Roland" itself, or the church glass, or the illuminations in the manuscripts; and as long as the power of the Church ruled good society, this decency continued. As far as women were concerned, they seem always to have been more clean than the men, except when men painted them in colours which men liked best.

Perhaps society was actually cleaner in the thirteenth century than in the sixteenth, as Saint Louis was more decent than Francis I, and as the bath was habitual in the twelfth century and exceptional at the Renaissance. The rule held good for the bourgeoisie as well as among the dames cortoises. Christian and Thibaut, "Aucassins" and the "Roman de la Rose," may have expressed only the tastes of high- born ladies, but other poems were avowedly bourgeois, and among the bourgeois poets none was better than Adam de la Halle. Adam wrote also for the court, or at least for Robert of Artois, Saint Louis's nephew, whom he followed to Naples in 1284, but his poetry was as little aristocratic as poetry could well be, and most of it was cynically - almost defiantly - middle-class, as though the weavers of Arras were his only audience, and recognized him and the objects of his satire in every verse. The bitter personalities do not concern us, but, at Naples, to amuse Robert of Artois and his court, Adam composed the first of French comic operas, which had an immense success, and, as a pastoral poem, has it still. The Idyll of Arras was a singular contrast to the Idyll of Beaucaire, but the social value was the same in both; Robin and Marion were a pendant to Aucassins and Nicolette; Robin was almost a burlesque on Aucassins, while Marion was a Northern, energetic, intelligent, pastoral Nicolette.

"Li Gieus de Robin et de Marion" had little or no plot. Adam strung together, on a thread of dialogue and by a group of suitable figures, a number of the favourite songs of his time, followed by the favourite games, and ending with a favourite dance, the "tresca." The songs, the games, and the dances do not concern us, but the dialogue runs along prettily, with an air of Flemish realism, like a picture of Teniers, as unlike that of "courtoisie" as Teniers was to Guido Reni. Underneath it all a tone of satire made itself felt, good-natured enough, but directed wholly against the men.

The scene opens on Marion tending her sheep, and singing the pretty air: "Robin m'aime, Robin ma'a," after which enters a chevalier or esquire, on horseback, and sings: "Je me repairoie du tournoiement." Then follows a dialogue between the chevalier and Marion, with no other object than to show off the charm of Marion against the masculine defects of the knight. Being, like most squires, somewhat slow of ideas in conversation with young women, the gentleman began by asking for sport for his falcon. Has she seen any duck down by the river?

  Mais veis tu par chi devant
Vers ceste riviere nul ane?

"Ane," it seems, was the usual word for wild duck, the falcon's prey, and Marion knew it as well as he, but she chose to misunderstand him: -

C'est une bete qui recane;
J'en vis ier iii sur che quemin,
Tous quarchies aler au moulin.
Est che chou que vous demandes?

"It is a beast that brays; I saw three yesterday on the road, all with loads going to the mill. Is that what you ask?" That is not what the squire has asked, and he is conscious that Marion knows it, but he tries again. If she has not seen a duck, perhaps she has seen a heron: -

  Hairons, sire? par me foi, non!
Je n'en vi nesun puis quareme
Que j'en vi mengier chies dame Eme
Me taiien qui sorit ches brebis.

"Heron, sir! by my faith, no! I've not seen one since Lent when I saw some eaten at my grandmother's - Dame Emma who owns these sheep." "Hairons," it seems, meant also herring, and this wilful misunderstanding struck the chevalier as carrying jest too far: -

  Par foi! or suis j'ou esbaubis!
N'ainc mais je ne fui si gabes!

"On my word, I am silenced! never in my life was I so chaffed!" Marion herself seems to think her joke a little too evident, for she takes up the conversation in her turn, only to conclude that she likes Robin better than she does the knight; he is gayer, and when he plays his musette he starts the whole village dancing. At this, the squire makes a declaration of love with such energy as to spur his horse almost over her: -

  Aimi, sirel ostez vo cheval!
A poi que il ne m'a blechie.
Li Robin ne regiete mie
Quand je voie apres se karue.

"Aimi!" is an exclamation of alarm, real or affected: "Dear me, sir! take your horse away! he almost hurt me! Robin's horse never rears when I go behind his plough!" Still the knight persists, and though Marion still tells him to go away, she asks his name, which he says is Aubert, and so gives her the catchword for another song: - "Vos perdes vo paine, sire Aubert!" - which ends the scene with a duo. The second scene begins with a duo of Marion and Robin, followed by her giving a softened account of the chevalier's behaviour, and then they lunch on bread and cheese and apples, and more songs follow, till she sends him to get Baldwin and Walter and Peronette and the pipers, for a dance. In his absence the chevalier returns and becomes very pressing in his attentions, which gives her occasion to sing:-

  J'oi Robin flagoler
Au flagol d'argent.

When Robin enters, the knight picks a quarrel with him for not handling properly the falcon which he has caught in the hedge; and Robin gets a severe beating. The scene ends by the horseman carrying off Marion by force; but he soon gets tired of carrying her against her will, and drops her, and disappears once for all.

  Certes voirement sui je beste
Quant a ceste beste m'areste.
Adieu, bergiere!

Bete the knight certainly was, and was meant to be, in order to give the necessary colour to Marion's charms. Chevaliers were seldom intellectually brilliant in the mediaeval romans, and even the "Chansons de Geste" liked better to talk of their prowess than of their wit; but Adam de la Halle, who felt no great love for chevaliers, was not satisfied with ridiculing them in order to exalt Marion; his second act was devoted to exalting Marion at the expense of her own boors.

The first act was given up to song; the second, to games and dances. The games prove not to be wholly a success; Marion is bored by them, and wants to dance. The dialogue shows Marion trying constantly to control her clowns and make them decent, as Blanche of Castile had been all her life trying to control her princes, and Mary of Chartres her kings. Robin is a rustic counterpart to Thibaut. He is tamed by his love of Marion, but he has just enough intelligence to think well of himself, and to get himself into trouble without knowing how to get out of it. Marion loves him much as she would her child; she makes only a little fun of him; defends him from the others; laughs at his jealousy; scolds him on occasion; flatters his dancing; sends him on errands, to bring the pipers or drive away the wolf; and what is most to our purpose, uses him to make the other peasants decent. Walter and Baldwin and Hugh are coarse, and their idea of wit is to shock the women or make Robin jealous. Love makes gentlemen even of boors, whether noble or villain, is the constant moral of mediaeval story, and love turns Robin into a champion of decency. When, at last, Walter, playing the jongleur, begins to repeat a particularly coarse fabliau, or story in verse, Robin stops him short -

Ho, Gautier, je n'en voeil plus! fi!
Dites, seres vous tous jours teus!
Vous estes un ors menestreus!

"Ho, Walter! I want no more of that: Shame! Say! are you going to be always like that? You're a dirty beggar!" A fight seems inevitable, but Marion turns it into a dance, and the whole party, led by the pipers, with Robin and Marion at the head of the band, leave the stage in the dance which is said to be still known in Italy as the "tresca." Marion is in her way as charming as Nicolette, but we are less interested in her charm than in her power. Always the woman appears as the practical guide; the one who keeps her head, even in love: -

   Elle l'a mis a raison:
"Aucassins, biax amis dox,
En quele tere en irons nous?"
"Douce amie, que sai jou?
Moi ne caut ou nous aillons."

The man never cared; he was always getting himself into crusades, or feuds, or love, or debt, and depended on the woman to get him out. The story was always of Charles VII and Jeanne d'Arc, or Agnes Sorel. The woman might be the good or the evil spirit, but she was always the stronger force. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a period when men were at their strongest; never before or since have they shown equal energy in such varied directions, or such intelligence in the direction of their energy; yet these marvels of history, - these Plantagenets; these scholastic philosophers; these architects of Rheims and Amiens; these Innocents, and Robin Hoods and Marco Polos; these crusaders, who planted their enormous fortresses all over the Levant; these monks who made the wastes and barrens yield harvests; - all, without apparent exception, bowed down before the woman.

Explain it who will! We are not particularly interested in the explanation; it is the art we have chased through this French forest, like Aucassins hunting for Nicolette; and the art leads always to the woman. Poetry, like the architecture and the decoration, harks back to the same standard of taste. The specimens of Christian of Troyes, Thibaut, Tristan, Aucassins, and Adam de la Halle were mild admissions of feminine superiority compared with some that were more in vogue, If Thibaut painted his love-verses on the walls of his castle, he put there only what a more famous poet, who may have been his friend, set on the walls of his Chateau of Courteous Love, which, not being made with hands or with stone, but merely with verse, has not wholly perished. The "Roman de la Rose" is the end of true mediaeval poetry and goes with the Sainte- Chapelle in architecture, and three hundred years of more or less graceful imitation or variation on the same themes which followed. Our age calls it false taste, and no doubt our age is right; - every age is right by its own standards as long as its standards amuse it; - but after all, the "Roman de la Rose" charmed Chaucer, - it may well charm you. The charm may not be that of Mont-Saint-Michel or of Roland; it has not the grand manner of the eleventh century, or the jewelled brilliancy of the Chartres lancets, or the splendid self- assertion of the roses: but even to this day it gives out a faint odour of Champagne and Touraine, of Provence and Cyprus. One hears Thibaut and sees Queen Blanche.

Of course, this odour of true sanctity belongs only to the "Roman" of William of Lorris, which dates from the death of Queen Blanche and of all good things, about 1250; a short allegory of courteous love in forty-six hundred and seventy lines. To modern taste, an allegory of forty-six hundred and seventy lines seems to be not so short as it might be; but the fourteenth century found five thousand verses totally inadequate to the subject, and, about 1300, Jean de Meung added eighteen thousand lines, the favourite reading of society for one or two hundred years, but beyond our horizon. The "Roman" of William of Lorris was complete in itself; it had shape; beginning, middle, and end; even a certain realism, action, - almost life!

The Rose is any feminine ideal of beauty, intelligence, purity, or grace, - always culminating in the Virgin, - but the scene is the Court of Love, and the action is avowedly in a dream, without time or place. The poet's tone is very pure; a little subdued; at times sad; and the poem ends sadly; but all the figures that were positively hideous were shut out of the court, and painted on the outside walls: - Hatred; Felony; Covetousness; Envy; Poverty; Melancholy, and Old Age. Death did not appear. The passion for representing death in its horrors did not belong to the sunny atmosphere of the thirteenth century, and indeed jarred on French taste always, though the Church came to insist on it; but Old Age gave the poet a motive more artistic, foreshadowing Death, and quite sad enough to supply the necessary contrast. The poet who approached the walls of the chateau and saw, outside, all the unpleasant facts of life conspicuously posted up, as though to shut them out of doors, hastened to ask for entrance, and, when once admitted, found a court of ideals. Their names matter little. In the mind of William of Lorris, every one would people his ideal world with whatever ideal figures pleased him, and the only personal value of William's figures is that they represent what he thought the thirteenth- century ideals of a perfect society. Here is Courtesy, with a translation long thought to be by Chaucer:-

Apres se tenoit Cortoisie
Qui moult estoit de tous prisie.
Si n'ere orgueilleuse ne fole.
C'est cele qui a la karole,
La soe merci, m'apela,
Ains que nule, quand je vins la.
Et ne fut ne nice n'umbrage,
Mais sages auques, sans outrage,
De biaus respons et de biaus dis,
Onc nus ne fu par li laidis,
Ne ne porta nului rancune,
Et fu clere comme la lune
Est avers les autres estoiles
Qui ne resemblent que chandoiles.
Faitisse estoit et avenant;
Je ne sai fame plus plaisant.
Ele ert en toutes cors bien digne
D'estre empereris ou roine.

And next that daunced Courtesye,
That preised was of lowe and hye,
For neither proude ne foole was she;
She for to daunce called me,
I pray God yeve hir right good grace,
When I come first into the place.
She was not nyce ne outrageous,
But wys and ware and vertuous;
Of faire speche and of faire answere;
Was never wight mysseid of her,
Ne she bar rancour to no wight.
Clere browne she was, and thereto bright

Of face, of body avenaunt.
I wot no lady so pleasaunt.
She were worthy forto bene
An empresse or crowned quene.

You can read for yourselves the characters, and can follow the simple action which owes its slight interest only to the constant effort of the dreamer to attain his ideal, - the Rose, - and owes its charm chiefly to the constant disappointment and final defeat. An undertone of sadness runs through it, felt already in the picture of Time which foreshadows the end of Love - the Rose - and her court, and with it the end of hope: -

Li tens qui s'en va nuit et jor,
Sans repos prendre et sans sejor,
Et qui de nous se part et emble
Si celeement qu'il nous semble
Qu'il s'arreste ades en un point,
Et il ne s'i arreste point,
Ains ne fine de trespasser,
Que nus ne puet neis penser
Quex tens ce est qui est presens;
S'el demandes as clers lisans,
Aincois que l'en l'eust pense
Seroit il ja trois tens passe;
Li tens qui ne puet sejourner,
Ains vait tous jors sans retorner,
Com l'iaue qui s'avale toute,
N'il n'en retourne arriere goute;
Li tens vers qui noient ne dure,
Ne fer ne chose tant soit dure,
Car il gaste tout et menjue;
Li tens qui tote chose mue,
Qui tout fait croistre et tout norist,
Et qui tout use et tout porrist.

The tyme that passeth nyght and daye.
And restelesse travayleth aye,
And steleth from us so prively,
That to us semeth so sykerly
That it in one poynt dwelleth never,
But gothe so fast, and passeth aye

That there nys man that thynke may
What tyme that now present is;
Asketh at these clerkes this,
For or men thynke it readily
Thre tymes ben ypassed by.
The tyme that may not sojourne
But goth, and may never returne,
As water that down renneth ay,
But never drope retourne may.
There may no thing as time endure,
Metall nor earthly creature:
For alle thing it frette and shall.
The tyme eke that chaungith all,
And all doth waxe and fostered be,
And alle thing distroieth he.

The note of sadness has begun, which the poets were to find so much more to their taste than the note of gladness. From the "Roman de la Rose" to the "Ballade des Dames du Temps jadis" was a short step for the Middle-Age giant Time, - a poor two hundred years. Then Villon woke up to ask what had become of the Roses: - Ou est la tres sage Helois

Pour qui fut chastie puis moyne,
Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?
Pour son amour ot cest essoyne.

Et Jehanne la bonne Lorraine
Qu' Englois brulerent a Rouan;
Ou sont elles, Vierge Souvraine?
Mais ou sont les neiges dantan?

Where is the virtuous Heloise,
For whom suffered, then turned monk,
Pierre Abelard at Saint-Denis?
For his love he bore that pain.

And Jeanne d'Arc, the good Lorraine,
Whom the English burned at Rouen!
Where are they, Virgin Queen?
But where are the snows of spring?

Between the death of William of Lorris and the advent of John of Meung, a short half-century (1250-1300), the Woman and the Rose became bankrupt. Satire took the place of worship. Man, with his usual monkey-like malice, took pleasure in pulling down what he had built up. The Frenchman had made what he called "fausse route." William of Lorris was first to see it, and say it, with more sadness and less bitterness than Villon showed; he won immortality by telling how he, and the thirteenth century in him, had lost himself in pursuing his Rose, and how he had lost the Rose, too, waking up at last to the dull memory of pain and sorrow and death, that "tout porrist." The world had still a long march to make from the Rose of Queen Blanche to the guillotine of Madame du Barry; but the "Roman de la Rose" made epoch. For the first time since Constantine proclaimed the reign of Christ, a thousand years, or so, before Philip the Fair dethroned Him, the deepest expression of social feeling ended with the word: Despair.